Archive for September, 2012
25 Sep 2012

New Member of the Field

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Yesterday: there is an addition to the Blue Ridge Hunt’s field waiting for the appearance of huntsman and hounds on the road outside Greenwood in White Post, Virginia.(photo: David Norman) click on picture for larger image

Although it’s the preseason, and Blue Ridge is cubbing and therefore the field is attired in Ratcatcher, our professional staff wears red as a safety measure while cubbing to help deer hunters who often share the same woods distinguish them from the local whitetails.

24 Sep 2012

The Undecideds

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The 2012 election will be decided by the undecided middle-of-the-roaders who have so far refused to declare any preference between the two candidates. SNL looks at the people in America with the deciding power.

Hat tip to the Daily Caller.

24 Sep 2012

Good Times in the Capital

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Banquet at President Snow’s Palace

The United States is experiencing the worst economic times since the Great Depression, but there is one region of the country that has been enjoying boom times all its own.

Matt Yglesias:

It used to seem shocking that five of the ten richest counties in the United States were part of the DC Metropolitan Statistical Area, but the 2011 American Community Survey numbers released yesterday show that the DC suburbs now account for seven of the ten richest counties in America.

Loudon, Fairfax, and Arlington in Virginia lead the way followed by Hunterdon County, NJ then Howard County in Maryland; Somerset, NJ; Prince William and Fauquier in Virginia; Douglas, CO; and Montgomery County, MD.

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Ross Douthat, sounding unusually conservative, noted yesterday that the comparative advantage in affluence of America’s capital these days seemed to resemble that of the capital of a particular dystopian fantasy novel recently made into a successful film, and remarked that, if relations between the provinces and the capital have not yet completely reached the point depicted in The Hunger Games, their differences in prosperity have exactly the same moral basis.

If you don’t mind congested roads and insanely competitive child rearing, all this growth is good news for those of us inside the Beltway bubble. But is it good for America? After all, like the ruthless Capital in “The Hunger Games,” the wealth of Washington is ultimately extracted from taxpayers more than it is earned. And over the last five years especially, D.C.’s gains have coincided with the country’s losses.

There aren’t tributes from Michigan and New Mexico fighting to the death in Dupont Circle just yet. But it doesn’t seem like a sign of national health that America’s political capital is suddenly richer than our capitals of manufacturing and technology and finance, or that our leaders are more insulated than ever from the trends buffeting the people they’re supposed to serve. …

In reality, our government isn’t running trillion-dollar deficits because we’re letting the working class get away with not paying its fair share. We’re running those deficits because too many powerful interest groups have a stake in making sure the party doesn’t stop.

When you look around the richest precincts of today’s Washington, you don’t see a city running on paternalism or dependency. You see a city running on exploitation.

Read the whole thing.

23 Sep 2012

He Wanted To Be One with the Tiger, and He Nearly Was

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David M. Villalobos, a 25-year-old realtor from Mahopac, New York, yesterday jumped 17′ from a Bronx Zoo monorail into the Siberian tiger pen. After his rescue, Villalobos informed police that he “wanted to be one with the tiger.”

Mr. Villalobos describes himself on Facebook as “a Messenger of the Return of the Divine Mother.” He listed under his Religious Views: “Mother Earth.” Villalobos goes on to tell his readers: “Fear is irrelevant, there is no greater bliss than living in My Divine Light and in the Womb of My Unconditional Love.”

Naturally, a 400 lb. male tiger named Bachuta mistook Mr. Villalobos for a new toy, and proceeded to play with him. Villalobos wound up with “bites and punctures on his arms, legs, shoulders and back, as well as a broken right shoulder, right rib, right ankle and pelvis, and a collapsed lung.” Zoo workers were able to rescue him by using fire hoses to distract the tiger, and instructing Villalobos to roll to safety.

Villalobos was upgraded to stable from critical condition at the hospital, but will be charged with trespass.

His Facebook page.

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It seems clear that the combination of the exploitation by the entertainment industry of charismatic predators in nature films and the sentimental emotionalism of the modern cult of Nature worship with some regularity impact impressionable people so strongly as to produce a mental disorder we might refer to as Theraphilia, “the passionate love of, and self identification with, large, dangerous animals.”

The victim of Theraphilia becomes obsessed with some large predator, and gets so carried away with admiration and affection that he comes to believe that one of the most dangerous killers in the wild is going to love him back. He insists on getting himself into the immediate proximity of his favored critter, talking to it, and trying to touch and pet it, and he eventually winds up, as the famous Timothy Treadwell did, as the main course for lunch.

It’s not likely that any individual seriously afflicted with this pattern of delusion is going to be cured. The victims derive too much emotional gratification, and place too much personal dependency, on their fantasy. The real root of the problem is cultural. It is extremely profitable to purvey misleading, sentimentalist natural images and story lines, both commercially and in the course of fund raising for environmentalism and preservation. Consequently, contemporary culture will inevitably continue to be awash with feel-good images and stories peddling anthropomorphic notions of animal behavior, all laying the foundation for uncritical self-identification and emotional involvement with animals by neurotics.

22 Sep 2012

Voting by the Dumb and Ill-Informed

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Beyond a certain point of negative understanding, of course, it is better for someone not to vote.

Joseph C. McMurray discusses the Marquis de Condorcet’s mathematical analysis favoring decision-making by larger numbers of people.

An interesting, if somewhat uncommon, lens through which to view politics is that of mathematics. One of the strongest arguments ever made in favor of democracy, for example, was in 1785 by the political philosopher-mathematician, Nicolas de Condorcet. Because different people possess different pieces of information about an issue, he reasoned, they predict different outcomes from the same policy proposals, and will thus favor different policies, even when they actually share a common goal. Ultimately, however, if the future were perfectly known, some of these predictions would prove more accurate than others. From a present vantage point, then, each voter has some probability of actually favoring an inferior policy. Individually, this probability may be rather high, but collective decisions draw information from large numbers of sources, mistaking mistakes less likely.

To clarify Condorcet’s argument, note that an individual who knows nothing can identify the more effective of two policies with 50% probability; if she knows a lot about an issue, her odds are higher. For the sake of argument, suppose that a citizen correctly identifies the better alternative 51% of the time. On any given issue, then, many will erroneously support the inferior policy, but (assuming that voters form opinions independently, in a statistical sense) a 51% majority will favor whichever policy is actually superior. More formally, the probability of a collective mistake approaches zero as the number of voters grows large.

Condorcet’s mathematical analysis assumes that voters’ opinions are equally reliable, but in reality, expertise varies widely on any issue, which raises the question of who should be voting? One conventional view is that everyone should participate; in fact, this has a mathematical justification, since in Condorcet’s model, collective errors become less likely as the number of voters increases. On the other hand, another common view is that citizens with only limited information should abstain, leaving a decision to those who know the most about the issue. Ultimately, the question must be settled mathematically: assuming that different citizens have different probabilities of correctly identifying good policies, what configuration of voter participation maximizes the probability of making the right collective decision?

It turns out that, when voters differ in expertise, it is not optimal for all to vote, even when each citizen’s private accuracy exceeds 50%. In other words, a citizen with only limited expertise on an issue can best serve the electorate by ignoring her own opinion and abstaining, in deference to those who know more. …

This raises a new question, however, which is who should continue voting: if the least informed citizens all abstain, then a moderately informed citizen now becomes the least informed voter; should she abstain, as well?

Mathematically, it turns out that for any distribution of expertise, there is a threshold above which citizens should continue voting, no matter how large the electorate grows. A citizen right at this threshold is less knowledgeable than other voters, but nevertheless improves the collective electoral decision by bolstering the number of votes. The formula that derives this threshold is of limited practical use, since voter accuracies cannot readily be measured, but simple example distributions demonstrate that voting may well be optimal for a sizeable majority of the electorate.

The dual message that poorly informed votes reduce the quality of electoral decisions, but that moderately informed votes can improve even the decisions made even by more expert peers, may leave an individual feeling conflicted as to whether she should express her tentative opinions, or abstain in deference to those with better expertise. Assuming that her peers vote and abstain optimally, it may be useful to first predict voter turnout, and then participate (or not) accordingly: when half the electorate votes, it should be the better-informed half; when voter turnout is 75%, all but the least-informed quartile should participate. …

If Condorcet’s basic premise is right, an uninformed citizen’s highest contribution may actually be to abstain from voting, trusting her peers to make decisions on her behalf. At the same time, voters with only limited expertise can rest assured that a single, moderately-informed vote can improve upon the decision made by a large number of experts. One might say that this is the true essence of democracy.

His conclusion seems to accord with observed results. Ordinary people are surprisingly well able to correct the follies and delusions which too commonly afflict the experts and elites, but there are also people so clueless that they are always going to vote wrong.

21 Sep 2012

Not Really the Same

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Captions: “Believer wounded by the unbelievers.” — “Unbeliever wounded by the believers.”

From Hara-Kiri, journal bête et méchant via Jose Guardia (on FB).

21 Sep 2012

“Honey, You Didn’t Build That”

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Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

21 Sep 2012

Jesuit Final Exam

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Steve Bodio offers a bit of a challenge.

This was sent by the biographer [Anne Winter] of the late legendary Jesuit adventurer, mountaineer, hunter, and my sometime mentor Father Anderson Bakewell, S J, who found it in an 80’s Jesuit newsletter among his effects. It has been around in various iterations, but I wonder, given the rifle, if he were also involved in its creation. His was the only sloth bear in Rowland Ward’s top ten guided by “self” and he was the youngest member of Tilman’s Everest crew, whose pioneering south route was finally accomplished by Hillary– among a lot of other things.

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New York Times, November 21, 1999:

BAKEWELL-Anderson, the Rev. Reverend Anderson Bakewell, a Jesuit priest, missionary, mountain climber and explorer died of cancer at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico on October 13, 1999. He was 86. Fr. Bakewell was born in St. Louis, MO. He graduated from St. Louis University in 1937. In 1942, he entered the Society of Jesus, volunteering five years later for a mission to India. He worked with fellow Jesuits at the Haffkine Institute in Bombay, preparing antivenin for snake bites and studying cobras, krait and vipers. After ordination in Calcutta in 1951, he worked at a jungle mission in Bihar. Returning to the U.S. in 1955, he raised money to build a Jesuit retreat house in Faulkner, MD. Later he served as assistant pastor at Holy Trinity Church, Georgetown, where the Kennedys attended Mass. In 1967, he volunteered for a mission to Delta, Alaska where he had a 35,000 square mile parish, ministering to four churches and three pipeline camps, twice carrying out rescues at 70 degrees below zero. In 1978, he became chaplain of the Carmelite Monastery in Santa Fe. In 1939, Father Bakewell made the first ascent of Cristobal Colon, the highest peak in the Columbian coastal range. In 1941, he was in the first party to climb Mt. Wood, in the St. Elias Range, Yukon, then the highest unclimbed peak in North America. In 1950, he participated in the first attempt to climb Mt. Everest from the south. In 1965, as a member of the Explorers Club, he participated in the first nonstop, round-the-world flight across both poles. As a naturalist he collected reptiles, mammals and plants material for U.S. scientific institutions. He was also a trophyholding big game hunter. Funeral masses were held in Santa Fe and St. Louis. Burial was in St. Louis.

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INSTRUCTIONS: Read each question carefully. Answer all questions. Time limit: four hours. Begin immediately.

SAMPLE QUESTIONS:

PUBLIC SPEAKING: Storming the classroom are 2500 riot-crazed aborigines. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.

ENGINEERING: The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. You will also find an instruction manual, printed in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. Take whatever action you feel appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.

Complete examination.

21 Sep 2012

Most Interesting Man

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20 Sep 2012

Polish Drought Lowers Vistula to Reveal Architectural Elements Looted By Swedes in the 17th Century

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The small number of readers familiar with Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel of the 17th Century Swedish Invasion of Poland-Lithuania The Deluge will have some sense of its devastating impact on the country. No one living today, however, realised that Swedish looting included the theft of Polish architecture on a massive scale.

A recent major drought in Poland caused the waters of the River Vistula to recede to levels unprecedented in living memory, revealing tons of architectural masonry looted by the Swedes and loaded onto barges for transport down the river to Gdansk, and thence across the Baltic to Sweden. The invaders’ greed apparently exceeded their navigational judgment, and one or more of the barges sank in the river, possibly as the result of overloading.

Reuters recently reported:

Low rainfall over the past few months has brought the Vistula, Poland’s longest river, to its lowest level since regular records began 200 years ago. …

Historians believed that the Swedes who invaded Poland in the 17th century planned to move the looted cargo up the Vistula to Gdansk, where the river joins the Baltic Sea, and from there transport it home. There is still no firm explanation of why the boats sank on the way.

Kowalski said he and his team had so far located up to 10 tonnes of stonework, but this was only the beginning. “The boats had a capacity of 50-60 tonnes (each), so we think that we should find much more,” he said.

Once it has been removed from the river bed and catalogued, the plan is to take the masonry to Warsaw’s Royal Castle, one of the sites from which, historians believe, it was looted by the Swedish invaders.

For now though, the low water levels that revealed the artefacts are hampering efforts to retrieve them. Regular lifting equipment would sink into the mud, but the river is too low for the researchers to bring in floating cranes.

“We need to wait until it gets higher,” Kowalski said.

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Gość Warszawski [Warsaw’s Guest] has a slideshow

There are also some photos at Archaeology News Network.

20 Sep 2012

Viral Image of the Day

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Via Iowahawk through Glenn Reynolds.

20 Sep 2012

A West Virginia Flea Market Renoir

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paysage Bords de Seine [Landscape Banks of the Seine], c.1879

The Boston Globe story explains that the frame featured a very broad hint, and it didn’t take a lot of research to authenticate the painting.

A woman who paid $7 for a box of trinkets at a West Virginia flea market two years ago apparently acquired an original painting by French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir without knowing it.

The woman considered discarding the painting to salvage its frame, but instead made an appointment to have it evaluated in July by the Potomack Co. auction house in Alexandria, Va., said its fine arts director Anne Norton Craner.

When the woman pulled the painting out of a garbage bag she carried it in, Craner was nearly certain the painting was a Renoir with its distinct colors, light and brushwork. A plaque on the front labeled it ‘‘Renoir.’’

‘‘My gut said that it was right, but you have to then check,’’ Craner said.

French handwriting on the back of the canvass included a label and number. Craner turned to the catalog by French gallery Bernheim-Jeune that’s published all of Renoir’s work.

‘‘Low and behold, it was in volume one,’’ she said.

An image of the painting was published in black and white, and the gallery’s stock number matched the flea market find. So Craner made a digital image of the flea market painting, converted it to black and white for a closer look, and the brush strokes also matched, she said.

‘‘It’s not a painting you would fake,’’ Craner said. ‘‘If you’re going to fake something, you’d fake something easier.’’

Painting No. 24349 turns out to be Renoir’s painting ‘‘Paysage Bords de Seine,’’ which translates to Banks of the River Seine, Craner determined. It dates to about 1879 and measures 6 inches by 10 inches.

The painting is set for auction Sept. 29. It could fetch $75,000 or more, Craner said.

Potomack Auction Sale 40, Lot 1

19 Sep 2012

France Closes 20 Embassies After French Satire Magazine Again Publishes Mohammed Cartoons

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Captions: “Untouchables 2 — Must Not Mock”

The French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo again has published some cartoon images mocking Islamic religious hypersensitivity, as the Australian Herald Sun reported:

The cover of Charlie Hebdo today shows a Muslim in a wheelchair being pushed by an Orthodox Jew under the title Intouchables 2, referring to an award-winning French film about a poor black man who helps an aristocratic quadriplegic.

Another cartoon on the back page of the weekly magazine shows a naked turbaned Mohammed exposing his posterior to a film director, a scene inspired by a 1963 film starring French film star Brigitte Bardot.

Charlie Hebdo’s website crashed today after being bombarded with comments that ranged from hate mail to approbation.

The magazine is no stranger to controversy over issues relating to Islam.

Last year it published an edition ”guest-edited” by Prophet Mohammed that it called Sharia Hebdo.

The magazine’s offices in Paris were subsequently fire-bombed.

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The government of France responded bravely by announcing the closing of twenty embassies all over the Islamic world.

France 24:

France announced Wednesday it will close 20 embassies across the Muslim world on Friday after French weekly Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed naked, amid growing unrest over an anti-Islamic film that has left dozens dead.

The French foreign ministry announced Wednesday that France will close 20 of its embassies in Muslim countries this Friday following the publication of controversial Prophet Mohammed cartoons by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Major protests in the Muslim world generally take place after Friday prayers.

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Charlie Hebdo’s web-site was successfully shut down by denial of service attacks, and its offices were today surrounded by French riot police.

Daily Mail


Captions: top: “The film which embarrassed the Muslim world.” Mohammed says: “And my buttocks. Do you like my buttocks?” below: “Mohammed a star is born!”

18 Sep 2012

“Why Do You Like Obama?”

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Oscar E. forwarded this excellent Blues song.

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