Archive for April, 2011
25 Apr 2011

14th Century Horde Found in Backyard in Lower Austria

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Ring with precious stones

An Austrian residing in or near the city of Wiener Neustadt, referred to in news accounts only as “Andreas K.”, was digging to expand a small pond in his backyard garden in 2007 when he discovered a medieval horde of 200 pieces of jewelry, buckles, and silver plates embedded with precious stones, pearls, and fossilized coral.

The finder failed to recognize their value at the time, and simply placed all the objects in a box. He sold his house and moved in 2009, at which time he happened to glance in the box previously stored in the basement. The dirt covering the object had dried and begun to fall off revealing jewels and precious metals.

The finder made inquiries on the Internet and knowledgeable collectors advised him to contact the Bundesdenkmalamt Österreich (BDA), the Austrian Heritage Office.

The BDA press office released a news report on Friday, but it is obvious that the objects have yet to be seriously analyzed and evaluated.

World Weekly News

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.


Belt buckle with pearl inlay

25 Apr 2011

PC Kills at Princeton

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Antonio Calvo

International news sources, including Britain’s Daily Mail are reporting on the tragic recent death of Antonio Calvo, formerly a Senior Lecturer at Princeton University, whose 10-year-career at the university was abruptly terminated for reasons the Princeton Administration refuses to explain.

A popular Princeton professor who mysteriously stabbed himself to death last month did so because he was abruptly dismissed from his job and faced deportation to his homeland Spain.

Antonio Calvo, 45, who was called St Antonio by students due to his kind heartedness and generosity, stabbed himself to death in his Manhattan apartment on April 12.

Less than a week before, a security guard escorted the Spanish instructor from the building after an unblemished ten-year career that should have culminated in tenure.

Devastated colleagues and students are blaming a campaign by another lecturer and several students for his death, saying they launched a hate campaign against him to get him ousted from his job.

On the Princeton campus where he worked, private grieving has erupted into public recrimination, with a tight community of scholars and students demanding the university take responsibility for his death.

It is unclear what exactly led to his departure from the job but because the university sponsored his visa, he would have had to leave the U.S. and return to Spain.

According to the New York Times, several graduate students and a lecturer mounted a campaign to block the renewal of his contract as a senior lecturer of Spanish and Portuguese.

As director of the university’s Spanish language programme, Dr Calvo supervised graduate students, most of whom teach undergraduates. The graduate students, his friends said, criticized his management style and singled out comments that they felt were inappropriately harsh.

In one episode earlier this academic year, Dr Calvo told a graduate student that she deserved a slap on the face, and slapped his own hands together.

In another, he jokingly referred to a male student’s genitalia in an e-mail, saying: ‘You’re spending too much time touching your balls. Why don’t you go to work?’ which is said to be a common Spanish expression.

One ex-colleague told the New York Post: ‘He knew that something was happening. He commented to a couple of friends that some people at the school were trying to ruin his reputation.’

Another colleague said: ‘Those people didn’t want his contract renewed. The campaign was led by graduate students who teach Spanish who were essentially under Antonio’s supervision, and a lecturer also teaching there.

‘Some people saw him as politically incorrect, but it was just the way he was — his personality.

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The Center-Left Madrid national daily El Pais reported:

–translated–

Although his department had advised its renewal, this past April 8th an employee of the university took away the keys to his office, six weeks before the end of the semester. It was the last day for Calvo in a job for which he lived. “Antonio was confident that they would renew his contract and apparently had the support of the Spanish Department,” said his friend and, in the past, also an employee of Princeton, Marco Aponte Moreno, who now teaches in Surrey, UK. “Antonio had told several colleagues and friends who believed that a group wanted to discredit him. I knew he was trying to find out what was going on and that several colleagues had been called to talk about it. However, he felt safe, at least until Friday April 8th, when he was suspended, that the administration of Princeton would confirm the renewal. ”

The University Administration maintains a total silence on the matter. Their spokesmen maintains that contractual negotiations are a personal matter and that the rules prevent him from talking about them publicly. On the day of dismissal, his students were waiting in the classroom for 20 minutes without being given information. The same scene was repeated the day before his suicide, his students waited 20 minutes until they received a substitute and were told that Calvo no longer taught at Princeton. Three days after the suicide, the rector sent a letter to students saying that their teacher had died, without giving further details. The university newspaper covered the story in the same way on April 18th.

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The Daily Princetonian‘s report today essentially confirms the essentials of he story and especially the allegations of stonewalling on the part of Princeton’s Administration.

In a statement to The Daily Princetonian on Sunday, University President Shirley Tilghman expressed her condolences to the University community and elaborated on the University’s position of remaining silent on issues of personnel in order to protect employees’ privacy.

“Those of you who knew Professor Calvo as a valued and beloved colleague, teacher and friend are seeking answers,” she said in the statment. “This is natural, but in my experience it is never possible to fully understand all the circumstances that lead someone to take such an irreversible decision.”

Reiterating previous statements by University spokespeople and Dean of the Faculty David Dobkin, Tilghman said she would continue to uphold University policy and that the school would not reveal any further details about the circumstances leading to his termination.

“The specific events leading up to Professor Calvo’s abrupt leave from the University came out of a review whose contents cannot be disclosed without an unprecedented breach of confidentiality,” she said.

Shortly before his death, Calvo had been undergoing a routine reappointment review after his first three years as a senior lecturer.

According to Marco Aponte Moreno, Calvo’s close friend and a former University lecturer, “Antonio was confident that his contract was going to be renewed as the department had recommended his reappointment.”

Members of the department confirm that Calvo was expected to continue as a senior lecturer. “The department wanted to renew his contract but for whatever reason, they couldn’t,” said one undergraduate concentrator who asked to remain anonymous.

As a normal part of the review process, statements are solicited from coworkers of the faculty member in question. According to Aponte Moreno, only those with known problems with Calvo were asked to provide letters.

Instead of the reappointment Calvo expected, Aponte Moreno said, the University “decided to send a security guard to Antonio’s office on Friday, April 8, removing his keys and closing his email account.”

Calvo was not physically escorted from the building or from University grounds, as some outlets have reported, but he missed a scheduled meeting with a dean on the following Monday.

In the early hours of Tuesday, April 12, Calvo took his own life at his apartment in New York City. The cause of death was slash wounds on his neck and upper arm, according to the New York City medical examiner’s office.

In response to questions about the transparency of Calvo’s review process and accusations that the decision about his contract renewal was made based on intradepartmental politics, Tilghman denounced what she described as the “untrue and misleading rumors” that have been implicating “innocent individuals on campus.”

Those rumors sound perfectly true and the implicated individuals President Tilghman refers to sound anything but innocent.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

24 Apr 2011

Welfare and Justice

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As the financial burden of the Welfare State is bringing the economies of Europe and the United States to their knees, the Telegraph reports that the results of a British think tank’s investigation of public opinion on the issue of fairness strikes at its moral foundation.

As we report today, Policy Exchange – supposedly the Prime Minister’s favourite ideas outlet – has done a brave and unusual thing. Rather than polling the public just on policy and voting intention, it has put a far more abstract moral issue before them. It instructed the pollsters at YouGov to find out precisely what the public thought the most powerful term of approbation in the political lexicon – “fair” – actually amounted to.

The quite unequivocal reply that was received (with breathtakingly enormous majorities in some forms) came as no surprise to this column. To most voters, fairness does not mean an equal distribution of resources and wealth, or even a redistribution of these things according to need. It means, as the report’s title – “Just Deserts” – implies, that people get what they deserve. And what is deserved, the respondents made clear, refers to that which is achieved by effort, talent or dedication to duty: in other words, earned on merit.

As I have written so often on this page, when ordinary people use the word “fair”, they mean that you should get out of life pretty much what you put in. Or, as the report’s authors put it, “Voters’ idea of fairness is strongly reciprocal – something for something.” By obvious inference, a “something for nothing” society is the opposite of fair. And this view, interestingly, is expressed by Labour voters in pretty much the same proportion as all others.

Imagine that. After all these years of being morally blackmailed by the poverty lobby, harried by socialist ideologues and shouted at by self-serving public sector axe-grinders, the people are not cowed. Even after being bludgeoned by the BBC thought monitors and browbeaten by Left-liberal media academics with the soft Marxist view of a “fair” society – from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs – they have not bought it. They do not believe that if people are poor, it is necessarily society’s fault, and therefore society’s duty to deal with the consequences.

No, they say, as often as not, poverty is a consequence of lack of effort or self-control – and, therefore, the individual must accept the consequences. And they do not believe that such character failings and their consequences should be disregarded in the apportioning of welfare or help from the state – help which they know is made possible by the efforts of those who do “the right thing”. They still have a firm and undaunted conception of the “undeserving poor” – a term so unfashionable that no politician would be capable of uttering it – and would like such people to be made to accept their reciprocal obligation to society in return for any assistance from public funds.

24 Apr 2011

Easter

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Piero della Francesca, Resurrection, circa 1463, Museo Civico, Sansepolcro

From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

Easter

Easter, the anniversary of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, is one of the three great festivals of the Christian year,—the other two being Christmas and Whitsuntide. From the earliest period of Christianity down to the present day, it has always been celebrated by believers with the greatest joy, and accounted the Queen of Festivals. In primitive times it was usual for Christians to salute each other on the morning of this day by exclaiming, ‘Christ is risen;’ to which the person saluted replied, ‘Christ is risen indeed,’ or else, ‘And hath appeared unto Simon;’—a custom still retained in the Greek Church.

The common name of this festival in the East was the Paschal Feast, because kept at the same time as the Pascha, or Jewish passover, and in some measure succeeding to it. In the sixth of the Ancyran Canons it is called the Great Day. Our own name Easter is derived, as some suppose, from Eostre, the name of a Saxon deity, whose feast was celebrated every year in the spring, about the same time as the Christian festival—the name being retained when the character of the feast was changed; or, as others suppose, from Oster, which signifies rising. If the latter supposition be correct, Easter is in name, as well as reality, the feast of the resurrection.

Though there has never been any difference of opinion in the Christian church as to why Easter is kept, there has been a good deal as to when it ought to be kept. It is one of the moveable feasts; that is, it is not fixed to one particular day—like Christmas Day, e. g., which is always kept on the 25th of December—but moves backwards or forwards according as the full moon next after the vernal equinox falls nearer or further from the equinox. The rule given at the beginning of the Prayer-book to find Easter is this: ‘Easter-day is always the first Sunday after the full moon which happens upon or next after the twenty-first day of March; and if the full moon happens upon a Sunday, Easter-day is the Sunday after.’

The paschal controversy, which for a time divided Christendom, grew out of a diversity of custom. The churches of Asia Minor, among whom were many Judaizing Christians, kept their paschal feast on the same day as the Jews kept their passover; i. e., on the 14th of Nisan, the Jewish month corresponding to our March or April. But the churches of the West, remembering that our Lord’s resurrection took place on the Sunday, kept their festival on the Sunday following the 14th of Nisan. By this means they hoped not only to commemorate the resurrection on the day on which it actually occurred, but also to distinguish themselves more effectually from the Jews. For a time this difference was borne with mutual forbearance and charity. And when disputes began to arise, we find that Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, when on a visit to Rome, took the opportunity of conferring with Anicetas, bishop of that city, upon the question. Polycarp pleaded the practice of St. Philip and St. John, with the latter of whom he had lived, conversed, and joined in its celebration; while Anicetas adduced the practice of St. Peter and St. Paul. Concession came from neither side, and so the matter dropped; but the two bishops continued in Christian friendship and concord. This was about A.D. 158.

Towards the end of the century, however, Victor, bishop of Rome, resolved on compelling the Eastern churches to conform to the Western practice, and wrote an imperious letter to the prelates of Asia, commanding them to keep the festival of Easter at the time observed by the Western churches. They very naturally resented such an interference, and declared their resolution to keep Easter at the time they had been accustomed to do. The dispute hence-forward gathered strength, and was the source of much bitterness during the next century. The East was divided from the West, and all who, after the example of the Asiatics, kept Easter-day on the 14th, whether that day were Sunday or not, were styled Qiccertodecimans by those who adopted the Roman custom.

One cause of this strife was the imperfection of the Jewish calendar. The ordinary year of the Jews consisted of 12 lunar months of 292 days each, or of 29 and 30 days alternately; that is, of 354 days. To make up the 11 days’ deficiency, they intercalated a thirteenth month of 30 days every third year. But even then they would be in advance of the true time without other intercalations; so that they often kept their passover before the vernal equinox. But the Western Christians considered the vernal equinox the commencement of the natural year, and objected to a mode of reckoning which might sometimes cause them to hold their paschal feast twice in one year and omit it altogether the next. To obviate this, the fifth of the apostolic canons decreed that, ’ If any bishop, priest, or deacon, celebrated the Holy Feast of Easter before the vernal equinox, as the Jews do, let him be deposed.’

At the beginning of the fourth century, matters had gone to such a length, that the Emperor Constantine thought it his duty to take steps to allay the controversy, and to insure uniformity of practice for the future. For this purpose, he got a canon passed in the great Ecumenical Council of Nice (A.D. 325), that everywhere the great feast of Easter should be observed upon one and the same day; and that not the day of the Jewish passover, but, as had been generally observed, upon the Sunday afterwards. And to prevent all future disputes as to the time, the following rules were also laid down:

    ‘That the twenty-first day of March shall be accounted the vernal equinox.’

    ‘That the full moon happening upon or next after the twenty-first of March, shall be taken for the full moon of Nisan.’

    ‘That the Lord’s-day next following that full moon be Easter-day.’

    ‘But if the full moon happen upon a Sunday, Easter-day shall be the Sunday after.’

As the Egyptians at that time excelled in astronomy, the Bishop of Alexandria was appointed to give notice of Easter-day to the Pope and other patriarchs. But it was evident that this arrangement could not last long; it was too inconvenient and liable to interruptions. The fathers of the next age began, therefore, to adopt the golden numbers of the Metonic cycle, and to place them in the calendar against those days in each month on which the new moons should fall during that year of the cycle. The Metonie cycle was a period of nineteen years. It had been observed by Meton, an Athenian philosopher, that the moon returns to have her changes on the same month and day of the month in the solar year after a lapse of nineteen years, and so, as it were, to run in a circle. He published his discovery at the Olympic Games, B.C. 433, and the cycle has ever since borne his name. The fathers hoped by this cycle to be able always to know the moon’s age; and as the vernal equinox was now fixed to the 21st of March, to find Easter for ever. But though the new moon really happened on the same day of the year after a space of nineteen years as it did before, it fell an hour earlier on that day, which, in the course of time, created a serious error in their calculations.

A cycle was then framed at Rome for 84 years, and generally received by the Western church, for it was then thought that in this space of time the moon’s changes would return not only to the same day of the month, but of the week also. Wheatley tells us that, ‘During the time that Easter was kept according to this cycle, Britain was separated from the Roman empire, and the British churches for some time after that separation continued to keep Easter according to this table of 84 years. But soon after that separation, the Church of Rome and several others discovered great deficiencies in this account, and therefore left it for another which was more perfect.’—Book on the Common Prayer, p. 40. This was the Victorian period of 532 years. But he is clearly in error here. The Victorian period was only drawn up about the year 457, and was not adopted by the Church till the Fourth Council of Orleans, A.D. 541.

Now from the time the Romans finally left Britain (A.D. 426), when he supposes both churches to be using the cycle of 84 years, till the arrival of St. Augustine (A.D. 596), the error can hardly have amounted to a difference worth disputing about. And yet the time the Britons kept Easter must have varied considerably from that of the Roman missionaries to have given rise to the statement that they were Quartodecimans, which they certainly were not; for it is a well-known fact that British bishops were at the Council of Nice, and doubtless adopted and brought home with them the rule laid down by that assembly. Dr. Hooke’s account is far more probable, that the British and Irish churches adhered to the Alexandrian rule, according to which the Easter festival could not begin before the 8th of March; while according to the rule adopted at Rome and generally in the West, it began as early as the fifth. ‘They (the Celts) were manifestly in error,’ he says; ‘but owing to the haughtiness with which the Italians had demanded an alteration in their calendar, they doggedly determined not to change.’—Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, vol. i. p. 14.

After a good deal of disputation had taken place, with more in prospect, Oswy, King of Northumbria, determined to take the matter in hand. He summoned the leaders of the contending parties to a conference at Whitby, A.D. 664, at which he himself presided. Colman, bishop of Lindisfarne, represented the British church. The Romish party were headed by Agilbert, bishop of Dorchester, and Wilfrid, a young Saxon. Wilfrid was spokesman. The arguments were characteristic of the age; but the manner in which the king decided irresistibly provokes a smile, and makes one doubt whether he were in jest or earnest. Colman spoke first, and urged that the custom of the Celtic church ought not to be changed, because it had been inherited from their forefathers, men beloved of God, &c. Wilfrid followed:

    ‘The Easter which we observe I saw celebrated by all at Rome: there, where the blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, lived, taught, suffered, and were buried.’ And concluded a really powerful speech with these words: ‘And if, after all, that Columba of yours were, which I will not deny, a holy man, gifted with the power of working miracles, is he, I ask, to be preferred before the most blessed Prince of the Apostles, to whom our Lord said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and to thee will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven” ?’

The King, turning to Colman, asked him, ‘Is it true or not, Colman, that these words were spoken to Peter by our Lord?’ Colman, who seems to have been completely cowed, could not deny it. ‘It is true, 0 King.’ ‘Then,’ said the King, ‘can you shew me any such power given to your Columba? ’ Colman answered, ’ No.’ ‘You are both, then, agreed,’ continued the King, are you not, that these words were addressed principally to Peter, and that to him were given the keys of heaven by our Lord?’ Both assented. ‘Then,’ said the King, ‘I tell you plainly, I shall not stand opposed to the door-keeper of the kingdom of heaven; I desire, as far as in me lies, to adhere to his precepts and obey his commands, lest by offending him who keepeth the keys, I should, when I present myself at the gate, find no one to open to me.’

This settled the controversy, though poor honest Colman resigned his see rather than submit to such a decision.

On Easter-day depend all the moveable feasts and fasts throughout the year. The nine Sundays before, and the eight following after, are all dependent upon it, and form, as it were, a body-guard to this Queen of Festivals. The nine preceding are the six Sundays in Lent, Quinquagesima, Sexagesima, and Septuagesima; the eight following are the five Sundays after Easter, the Sunday after Ascension Day, Whit Sunday, and Trinity Sunday.

EASTER CUSTOMS

The old Easter customs which still linger among us vary considerably in form in different parts of the kingdom. The custom of distributing the ‘pace’ or ‘pasche ege,’ which was once almost universal among Christians, is still observed by children, and by the peasantry in Lancashire. Even in Scotland, where the great festivals have for centuries been suppressed, the young people still get their hard-boiled dyed eggs, which they roll about, or throw, and finally eat. In Lancashire, and in Cheshire, Staffordshire, and Warwickshire, and perhaps in other counties, the ridiculous custom of ‘lifting’ or ‘heaving’ is practised.

On Easter Monday the men lift the women, and on Easter Tuesday the women lift or heave the men. The process is performed by two lusty men or women joining their hands across each other’s wrists; then, making the person to be heaved sit down on their arms, they lift him up aloft two or three times, and often carry him several yards along a street. A grave clergyman who happened to be passing through a town in Lancashire on an Easter Tuesday, and having to stay an hour or two at an inn, was astonished by three or four lusty women rushing into his room, exclaiming they had come ‘to lift him.’ ‘To lift me!’ repeated the amazed divine; ‘what can you mean?’ ‘Why, your reverence, we’re come to lift you, ‘cause it’s Easter Tuesday.’ ‘Lift me because it’s Easter Tuesday? I don’t understand. Is there any such custom here?’ ‘Yes, to be sure; why, don’t you know? all us women was lifted yesterday; and us lifts the men today in turn. And in course it’s our rights and duties to lift ‘em.’

After a little further parley, the reverend traveller compromised with his fair visitors for half-a-crown, and thus escaped the dreaded compliment. In Durham, on Easter Monday, the men claim the privilege to take off the women’s shoes, and the next day the women retaliate. Anciently, both ecclesiastics and laics used to play at ball in the churches for tansy-cakes on Eastertide; and, though the profane part of this custom is happily everywhere discontinued, tansy-cakes and tansy-puddings are still favourite dishes at Easter in many parts. In some parishes in the counties of Dorset and Devon, the clerk carries round to every house a few white cakes as an Easter offering; these cakes, which are about the eighth of an inch thick, and of two sizes —the larger being seven or eight inches, the smaller about five in diameter— have a mingled bitter and sweet taste. In return for these cakes, which are always distributed after Divine service on Good Friday, the clerk receives a gratuity- according to the circumstances or generosity of the householder.

23 Apr 2011

Everybody Votes For Another Round of Drinks, If Somebody Else Is Picking Up the Check

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David Harsanyi argues that good government requires broadening, not narrowing, the impact of the burden of federal taxes.

(It is well-documented that the rich pay the majority of income taxes.) There are many arguments against progressive taxation economically, but it is also true that it erodes the health of our democratic institutions. Rather than shared responsibility, we have a growing number of people who rely on others to pay for their votes as they become increasingly disconnected from the cost of government.

The Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank, estimated this week that 45 percent of U.S. households paid not a single dollar in federal income tax for 2010. And The Fiscal Times reported this week that “for the first time since the Great Depression, households are receiving more income from the government than they are paying the government in taxes.” This, in Obamaland, is called job creation. But does anyone believe the trajectory is healthy? No doubt, these events allow Obama to spread the wealth around to those who deserve it — clean energy outfits, teachers unions, czars, etc. — but they also create a growing number of voters with little stake in stopping out-of-control growth.

Many conservatives argued that lowering the tax burden would free up capital and induce job creation. “Washington would likely see increased revenues as prosperity grows,” they claimed. This must be a fact, as economists I choose to believe say it is. It’s unfortunate, though, that most Republicans won’t go further and argue that everyone, even the rich — even the super-filthy rich! — deserves to be treated equally by the government.

It is also too bad that these politicians won’t admit that revenue, whether we have more of it or less, is basically irrelevant. After all, doesn’t the federal government have enough money? We need spending caps and entitlement reform, not ways to generate more revenue — as if Washington’s expenditures ever match revenue anyway. The real size of government can only be measured by what D.C. spends, not by what it takes in.

If, as the enlightened voices on the left contend, the American people deeply love their federal services, their dependency programs, their regulations, their industrious public education department, let’s all pay. Why shouldn’t we take on a proportionally fair share in the joy? Even income tax-paying Americans don’t really feel the cost of government because of how we collect taxes. But let’s create better consumers. Consumers pay and demand results. Dependents, on the other hand, just demand. They have no reason not to.

23 Apr 2011

One Constitutional Law Expert’s Perspective

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22 Apr 2011

What’s In Your Intestine?

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Wired describes a newly published scientific paper offering a new form of human taxonomic classification. This development offers promise of assistance in treating gastrointestinal diseases and obesity and in more specifically personalizing medical treatment in general.

In much the same way that every person has one of eight common blood types, each of us may contain one of several possible bacterial communities, suggests new research. …

In the latest study [Published Apr. 21 in Nature], [Mani] Arumugam, fellow EMBL bionformaticist Peer Bork and dozens of other researchers sequenced every gene they could find in fecal samples from 22 people from Denmark, France, Italy and Spain. Then they searched the data for patterns, looking to see if certain arrangements of bacteria tended to be found in certain people.

The search returned three distinctive “enterotypes,” or bacterial communities dominated by a distinct genus — Bacteroides, Prevotella or Ruminococcus — each of which is found with a particular community of bacteria (see picture above).

“One analogy that people draw — I don’t know how accurate it is yet — is blood type,” said Arumugam. “It’s not exactly the same. Blood types don’t change, but we don’t know if enterotypes do.”

Further analysis of microbiomes from 13 Japanese and four Americans returned the same three clusters, suggesting the patterns are widespread and unconnected to ethnicity, age or gender. With such a limited sample size, however, containing no microbiomes from South Asia, Africa, South America and Australia, it remains to be seen whether other enterotypes exist.

Beyond identifying the enterotypes, “anything we say now will be a hypothesis,” said Arumugam. In terms of function, each of the enterotype-defining genera has been linked to nutrient-processing preferences — Bacteroides to carbohydrates, Prevotella to proteins called mucins, or Ruminococcus to mucins and sugars — but far more may be going on.

“Exactly what they are doing in there is still to be explored,” said Arumugam.

22 Apr 2011

Unhappy Days Are Here Again

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The Fiscal Times reports that the United States is experiencing a level of dependency on government unknown since the depth of the Great Depression.

For the first time since the Great Depression, households are receiving more income from the government than they are paying the government in taxes. The combination of more cash from various programs, called transfer payments, and lower taxes has been a double-barreled boost to consumers’ buying power, while also blowing a hole in the deficit. The 1930s offer a cautionary tale: The only other time government income support exceeded taxes paid was from 1931 to 1936. That trend reversed in 1936, after a recovery was underway, and the economy fell back into a second leg of recession during 1937 and 1938.

22 Apr 2011

A Strike I’d Actually Support

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A drink or two helps with this sort of thing.

The Telegraph reports that the French riot police are threatening to go out on strike to resist the French nanny state. The issuing of alcohol to men going into physical combat used to be a routine step during the ancien regime. France with its Catholic tradition ought to be more resistant to the pettiness of modern Puritanism.

The CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité), which made its name quelling student demonstrators during nationwide disturbances in 1968, has always enjoyed a glass of beer or wine with its meals.

However, following photos of riot police drinking bottles of beer during Paris street protest, police chiefs have decided to put an end to the tradition.

They were wearing body armour and carrying weapons as they sipped from beer and wine bottles. Some were also smoking.

Didier Mangione, national secretary of the police union, said bosses were “trying to turn us into priests, but without the altar wine”.

“Nobody should object to a small drink on jobs,” he said. “CRS officers do not have any more or less alcohol problems than anybody else in society. They should be allowed to drink in moderation.”

While British police are strictly barred from drinking on duty, the French have traditionally been allowed 25cl of wine or a small beer with their main meal of the day.

It was normally served on an official tray and sometimes eaten in full view of the public, often outside riot-control vans.

“Our right to drink alcohol with our food is protected by the law and our members are very unhappy at being treated like children,” Mr Mangione added.

The CRS, which was formed after the Second World War to “protect” the Republic from internal threats, has always been renowned for employing particularly tough officers.

They are often seen bracing themselves for action on the streets of major cities like Paris, Marseilles and Lyon.

Whenever a riot is threatened in a housing project or outside a university, it is invariably the CRS who are called to mobilise. Their tactics involve responding swiftly, and often violently.

Mr Mangione said he would be making a formal appeal against the new rules to the police authority.

Hat tip to Ralph Coti.

21 Apr 2011

So, What Would Be Fair?

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Philip Klein wants to know, If rich aren’t paying their “fair share,” then what’s fair?

The question is, though, if a society in which the top 1 percent already pay nearly 40 percent of the nation’s income taxes (and when combined, the top 10 percent pay nearly 70 percent), then what would it take for liberals to be satisfied that the rich are paying their fair share? Should the top 10 percent pay 90 percent of the taxes? Should the bottom 50 percent pay zero income taxes? President Obama’s vision to subsidize the ballooning social safety net by shifting even more of the tax burden on the wealthy – while increasing the percentage of people who are net takers in society – is simply unsustainable.

21 Apr 2011

Today’s Best Selling Titles

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Propelled by the release last Friday of the new film version, Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, in three different editions, is today occupying positions 1, 2, and 3 on Amazon’s Bestseller List of Classic Literature & Fiction.

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Meanwhile, the Number 1 Best Seller on Amazon in the category of all books is Jerome Corsi’s Where’s the Birth Certificate?: The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President, which is not even published yet, and which will not be released until May 17th.

The new Corsi expose is described:

Over the course of more than three years of research, Jerome Corsi assembles the evidence that Barack Obama is constitutionally ineligible for the office of the presidency. As a New York Times bestselling author, Harvard graduate, and investigative journalist, Corsi exposes in detail key issues with Obama’s eligibility, including the fact the President has spent millions of dollars in legal fees to avoid providing the American people with something as simple as a long-form birth certificate.

21 Apr 2011

Return to Clinton Era Tax Levels

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Moderate Megan McArdle warns that accepting the liberal Kevin Drum‘s prescription to return to Clinton era tax rates would not come even close to paying for the federal deficit but would have very serious economic consequences.

Saying “all we have to do is go back to the tax rates under Clinton” is effectively saying “all we need is another asset price bubble that funnels a huge amount of money into the pockets of the rich”. This seems neither particularly feasible, nor desirable.

If we pick, somewhat optimistically, the mean tax take of the Clinton years, that means that we need a tax hike of 5-6% of GDP. And not over 20-30 years. …

A tax hike of 5-6% of GDP doesn’t sound like much. But that’s a big tax hike if your baseline is 19%–it means that everyone’s taxes go up by about a third. If the equilibrium tax revenue at Clinton rates is more like 18-18.5% of GDP, then obviously, they have to go up even higher, from a lower baseline. If you try to concentrate the pain on the wealthy or corporations, it’s an even bigger whack. Meanwhile, state and local taxes will be going up too; they have many of the same pension and entitlement problems that the federal government does.

These aren’t little adjustments. They’re huge changes in the overall tax burden, and they will have big effects on peoples lives, and the economy.

20 Apr 2011

The Donald and 2012

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Donald Trump is manifestly not all that bright. Educationally, he makes Sarah Palin look like Erasmus, and he has truly execrable taste: running to the Mafioso Miami school of interior design and that signature combover hairdo. But he has lately been doing great in Republican polls, while amusing a lot of the country by taking potshots at the mystery of Barack Obama’s unwillingness to release his long-form birth certificate.

David Brooks describes why Donald Trump strikes a deep cultural chord.

[T]here has always been a fan base for the abrasive rich man. There has always been a market for books by people like George Steinbrenner, Ross Perot, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Bobby Knight, Howard Stern and George Soros. There has always been a large clump of voters who believe that America could reverse its decline if only a straight-talking, obnoxious blowhard would take control. …

He is riding something else: The strongest and most subversive ideology in America today. Donald Trump is the living, walking personification of the Gospel of Success.

It is obligatory these days in a polite society to have a complicated attitude toward success. If you attend a prestigious college or professional school, you are supposed to struggle tirelessly for success while denying that you have much interest in it. If you do achieve it, you are expected to shroud your wealth in locally grown produce, understated luxury cars and nubby fabrics.

Trump, on the other hand, is utterly oblivious to such conventions. When it comes to success, as in so many other things, he is the perpetual boy. He is the enthusiastic adventurer thrilled to have acquired a gleaming new bike, and doubly thrilled to be showing it off.

He labors under the belief — unacceptable in polite society — that two is better than one and that four is better than two. If he can afford a car, a flashy one is better than a boring one. In private jets, lavish is better than dull. In skyscrapers, brass is better than brick, and gold is better than brass.

This boyish enthusiasm for glory has propelled him to enormous accomplishment. He has literally changed the landscape of New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas and many places in between. He has survived a ruinous crash and come back stronger than ever.

Moreover, he shares this unambivalent attitude toward success with millions around the country. Though he cannot possibly need the money, he spends his days proselytizing the Gospel of Success through Trump University, his motivational speeches, his TV shows and relentlessly flowing books.

A child of wealth, he is more at home with the immigrants and the lower-middle-class strivers, who share his straightforward belief in the Gospel of Success, than he is among members of the haute bourgeoisie, who are above it. Like many swashbuckler capitalists, he is essentially anti-elitist.

Now, I don’t mean to say that Donald Trump is going to be president or get close. There is, for example, his hyper-hyperbolism and opportunism standing in the way. …

But I do insist that Trump is no joke. He emerges from deep currents in our culture, and he is tapping into powerful sections of the national fantasy life.

In my own hyper-elitist way, I am every bit as anti-elitist (when our so-called elite is in question) as Donald Trump, and I have been enjoying the spectacle of Trump giving Obama a hard time.

I’d be delighted to have the GOP National Committee agree to give Donald Trump a special bit of air time late on election evening of November in 2012 to point his index finger, and on behalf of America, say “Barack Obama, you’re fired!”

But Donald Trump falls decidedly into Glenn Reynolds’ syphylitic camel category of candidates. We just have to hope hope that The Donald is sufficiently patriotic to get out of the way of a more serious Republican contender and does not decide to play the role of a Perot.

20 Apr 2011

King Tutankhamun’s Trumpets

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The Pharoah Tutankhamen ruled Egypt for nine years, from approximately 1355 to 1346 BC. He ascended the throne at age nine, and he remained in power until his sudden death at age 18.

His tomb was discovered in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt on November 22, 1922, by Howard Carter, who described the discovery thusly:

“At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flames to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold – everywhere the glint of gold.

For the moment – an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by – I was dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’ it was all I could do to get out the words, “Yes, wonderful things.”‘

Among the wonderful things found in Tutankhamun’s tomb were two trumpets, one silver and one bronze.

The shorter silver trumpet is in the key of B natural. The bronze trumpet from the tomb is about 3cm longer, and is in the key of A flat.

In 2001 the BBC broadcast a series of programmes about Verdi’s operas to mark the centenary of the composer’s death; in the programme about Aïda, the conductor Edward Downes explained how two groups play on very long trumpets during the Grand March, one in A flat and the other in B natural, which is very unusual.

He commented on the amazing coincidence that Verdi chose these extraordinary keys for his trumpets, 50 years before the tomb was discovered and about 3,200 years after the two very long trumpets were buried with Tutankhamun.

When rioting broke out recently in Cairo, the silver trumpet was away on display at a touring exhibition, but the bronze trumpet was one of the objects looted from the Cairo Museum. It was, however, recovered, a little later, found discarded in a bag with some other items stolen from the museum in a Cairo metro station.

The trumpets have only been rarely played since the time of their discovery, but a recording of the kind of sounds which once must have signaled the advance to battle of the infantrymen and chariots of the pharoahs in Antiquity was made in 1939 for the BBC.

The trumpets were played by Bandsman James Tappern of the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own).

3:15 audio

The BBC story (characteristically and traditionally for journalistic pieces of this kind) ends with a bit of superstition.

Bandsman Tappern… played the trumpet shortly before World War II broke out. Cairo Museum’s Tutankhamun curator claims the trumpet retains “magical powers” and was blown before the first Gulf War, and by a member of staff the week before the Egyptian uprising.

But, which one?

One is inclined to guess the more opulent silver trumpet, but the bronze trumpet is longer, and reputedly more difficult to blow.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

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