Archive for March, 2012
26 Mar 2012

On the Bumper of Steve Bodio’s Girl Yoga Instructor’s Car

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25 Mar 2012

Katy Perry “Part of Me” Marine Corps Video

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I bet my Aunt Eleanor, who was a Woman Marine during WWII, would have gotten a kick out of this one.

U-T San Diego:

In the girl power-themed video, Perry dumps her cheating boyfriend, then enlists after seeing a bumper sticker that says “All Women Are Created Equal, Then Some Become Marines.”

The Corps green-lighted the video because it was an opportunity to feature female Marines and reach the young, worldwide audience that follows music videoss, said Lt. Col. Jason Johnston, director of the Marine Corps Motion Picture & Television Liaison Office in Los Angeles.

“My job is really to educate the public about what the Marine Corps does,” he said.

“Millions of people who probably have no exposure to the Marine Corps got a chance to see our female Marines and what they do,” Johnston said. “So I thought that was pretty cool.”

Also, he said, the director would probably make the video anyway. The Marine Corps saw it would be better for it to be realistic.

As for Perry, she told MTV News, “For three days, I was like a wannabe Marine, which was so difficult.”

She was sore and exhausted, but, “I learned how to flip someone. I learned how to flip them on their back. I learned how to wrestle underwater.”

But though the Marines taught Perry how to salute, carry a rifle and perform mixed-martial arts moves, the video isn’t ultra realistic.

It shows her storming a beach in an amphibious assault vehicle, which is something female Marines probably wouldn’t do.

Johnston said he has seen women as passengers in these beach-storming “amtracks” during training exercises, so he cleared it for the video.

“They’ve got to get to shore somehow. Just because they are women, they’re not going to take the ‘nice’ boat,” he said. “The way I looked at it, ‘Could this happen? Yes.’ Therefore, I would allow this to happen on camera.”

Also, Perry and her comrades are shown carrying logs and boats overhead and lying with linked arms in the pounding surf. Those are Navy SEAL training tactics, not ones usually employed by Marines.

But Johnston said the director liked them. It’s Hollywood, after all.

The magic of the camera made 80 Marines and six military vehicles look like a sizable invasion force.

Hat tip to Bruce Kesler.

25 Mar 2012

Mozart Allegro Molto in C-Major Rediscovered

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Last Friday, the harpsichordist Florian Birsak performed in the Dancing Master’s Hall of the Mozart Residence in Salzburg, for the first time in something like two centuries, a small, 84-measure, Allegro Molto for keyboard believed to have been written by the eleven-year-old prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart circa 1767.

The composition was found last year in a 160-page collection of musical pieces discovered in the attic of a private home in the Tyrol. The manuscript was apparently written by a John Reiserer, born 1765 in Rattenburg, while a student at the Universitätsgymnasium in Salzburg, which he attended between 1778 and 1780.

Musicologists agree that the Allegro is a composition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart unrecorded in the Köchel directory of his compositions.

The Allegro is a sonata movement, reminiscent of an Allegro in Nannerl Mozart’s Notenbuch and of the opening movement of the Piano Sonata No. 1 in C-Major K.279.

Neu entdecktes Mozart-Stück zu hören has a link to the 3:48 Birsak performance.

So klingt das „Allegro molto“ von Mozart also links the performance.

24 Mar 2012

The Intellectual Roots of Liberal Energy Policy

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24 Mar 2012

Language, Culture, and Equality

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The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses the potentially revolutionary impact on Linguistics of Daniel L. Everett’s new book Language: The Cultural Tool.

Everett’s study of the Pirahã language offers evidence directly contradicting Noam Chomsky’s regnant belief in a Universal Grammar and taking linguistics back to the thoroughly out-of-fashion Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis which contended that language created the categories by which cognition classifies the world.

Chomsky’s view of linguistics, known as Universal Grammar,… has dominated the field for a half-century.

[Daniel Everett] believes that the structure of language doesn’t spring from the mind but is instead largely formed by culture, and he points to the Amazonian tribe he studied for 30 years as evidence. It’s not that Everett thinks our brains don’t play a role—they obviously do. But he argues that just because we are capable of language does not mean it is necessarily prewired. As he writes in his book: “The discovery that humans are better at building human houses than porpoises tells us nothing about whether the architecture of human houses is innate.”

The language Everett has focused on, Pirahã, is spoken by just a few hundred members of a hunter-gatherer tribe in a remote part of Brazil. Everett got to know the Pirahã in the late 1970s as an American missionary. With his wife and kids, he lived among them for months at a time, learning their language from scratch. He would point to objects and ask their names. He would transcribe words that sounded identical to his ears but had completely different meanings. His progress was maddeningly slow, and he had to deal with the many challenges of jungle living. His story of taking his family, by boat, to get treatment for severe malaria is an epic in itself.

His initial goal was to translate the Bible. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics along the way and, in 1984, spent a year studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in an office near Chomsky’s. He was a true-blue Chomskyan then, so much so that his kids grew up thinking Chomsky was more saint than professor. “All they ever heard about was how great Chomsky was,” he says. He was a linguist with a dual focus: studying the Pirahã language and trying to save the Pirahã from hell. The second part, he found, was tough because the Pirahã are rooted in the present. They don’t discuss the future or the distant past. They don’t have a belief in gods or an afterlife. And they have a strong cultural resistance to the influence of outsiders, dubbing all non-Pirahã “crooked heads.” They responded to Everett’s evangelism with indifference or ridicule.

As he puts it now, the Pirahã weren’t lost, and therefore they had no interest in being saved. They are a happy people. Living in the present has been an excellent strategy, and their lack of faith in the divine has not hindered them. Everett came to convert them, but over many years found that his own belief in God had melted away.

So did his belief in Chomsky, albeit for different reasons. The Pirahã language is remarkable in many respects. Entire conversations can be whistled, making it easier to communicate in the jungle while hunting. Also, the Pirahã don’t use numbers. They have words for amounts, like a lot or a little, but nothing for five or one hundred. Most significantly, for Everett’s argument, he says their language lacks what linguists call “recursion”—that is, the Pirahã don’t embed phrases in other phrases. They instead speak only in short, simple sentences.

Beyond mere linguistics, the differences in the two theories have powerful implications overflowing into the moral and political question of equality. If certain peoples perceive and understand the world in fundamentally different ways, it is possible that their language and entire culture may not be equal to our own. Their language and culture may fundamentally limit their capabilities, and Imperialism may actually be morally obligatory.

24 Mar 2012

Danish Television Punches Obama Above Its Weight

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It turns out that small countries pay attention to what insincere US presidents say about other US allied countries and themselves.

Hat tip to Peter Somerville.

23 Mar 2012

Miniature Kiev

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Incredibly detailed miniature animated portrait of the capital of Ukraine.

Hat tip to Walter Olson.

23 Mar 2012

RMS Titanic

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Sonar image of the wreck

The upcoming April issue of the National Geographic will be devoted to coverage, including then and now photographs, commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, which struck an iceberg on April 15, 1912.

22 Mar 2012

Osage Oranges Were Made For Megafauna

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Since arriving in Virginia, Karen and I have frequently marveled at the Osage orange, a fruit-producing tree not encountered in my native Pennsylvania or in New England where we attended college and resided for decades.

The Osage orange was evidently ill-advisedly imported into Virginia as a decorative tree, and it responds to that hospitality by covering the ground every Fall with enormous bumpy fruits that nothing eats and which simply lie on the ground and rot.

I wondered out loud recently why a tree would bother to produce enormous fruits in great quantity that were inedible. Fruit production, after all, constitutes a system of bribery by members of the botanical kingdom. The tree or bush produces a tasty fruit or berry, and birds and animals consume them and consequently carry away and redistribute the plant’s seeds.

There are all those Osage orange trees busily producing gigantic, but inedible, citrus fruits that nobody wants. Why is this? I wondered. It just seemed very strange.

Happily, Karen found the answer just a few days later, in American Forests.

It turns out the Osage orange fruits, like certain others, used to have customers who liked eating them. Unfortunately, their natural Pleistocene megafauna audience went extinct.

[L]et’s return to the forlorn fruit of the Osage orange. Nothing today eats it. Once it drops from the tree, all of them on a given tree practically in unison, the only way it moves is to roll downhill or float in flood waters. Why would you evolve such an over-engineered, energetically expensive fruit if gravity and water are your only dispersers, and you like to grow on higher ground? You wouldn’t. Unless you expected it to be eaten by mammoths or ground-sloths.

According to my field guide, Osage-orange has a limited natural range in the Red River region of east-central Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, and adjacent Arkansas. Indians used to travel hundreds of miles for the wood, prized as the finest for making bows. Then European settlers planted it widely as living fences, taking advantage of the tree’s ability to spread via shoots from lateral roots. But Osage-orange persisted, and became widely naturalized long after the invention of barbed wire rendered them useless to farmers. The tree can now be found in 39 states and Ontario. If Osage-orange does so well elsewhere, why was it restricted to such a small area?

The answer likely lies in the disappearance of its primary disperser. Without mammoths, groundsloths, and other megafauna to transport its seeds uphill, the range of the species gradually shrank to the Red River region. In fact, fossils tell us that Osage-orange was much more widespread and diverse before the megafaunal extinctions. Back then, Osage-oranges could be found north up to Ontario, and there were seven, not just one, species in the Osage-orange genus, Maclura.

Another anachronistic tree is the Kentucky coffeetree, so named because early Kentucky settlers used its beans as a coffee substitute. Coffeetrees have tough, leathery pods with large, toxic seeds surrounded by a sweet pulp. Water cannot penetrate the thick seed coat to begin germination unless it is abraded or cut. Sounds like mammoth food to me. The natural range of coffeetrees is concentrated in the Midwest, but without its megafauna disperser, it is generally rare and mostly limited to floodplains.

Much the same can be said about the honeylocust, with its sweet seedpods up to 18 inches long. It is more common than coffeetrees, and is found in upland areas because cattle have filled in for the mastodons, camels, or some other dearly departed megamammal with a sweet tooth. The big-fruited pawpaws, persimmons, desert gourds, and wild squash may also have been dispersed more efficiently by recently extinct mammals.

Now when you see an Osage-orange, coffeetree, or honeylocust, you might sense the ghosts of megafauna munching on treats made just for them.

21 Mar 2012

The Republican Budget Versus the Obama Budget

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I’d call that a significant choice.

Ezra Klein offers the left’s intellectually bankrupt and futile response. Young Ezra has nothing to offer but emotionally manipulative appeals to sentimentality. The Obama budget must be supported, regardless of consequences or affordability because it spends lots of money on the poor. “The poor” are a species of Brahmanic sacred cattle whose interests trump reality.

It doesn’t matter if you bankrupt the country and strangle economic growth affecting everyone. If you fail to immolate the American economy on the altar of bleeding heart social consciousness, you are just mean!

Ezra is a member of the economic school that wants to raise taxes (and stifle economic activity) now. After all, as unidentified “experts” cited by the Associated Press announced today, no study accepted by the left proves that drilling (and thereby increasing petroleum supply) reduces gas prices.

If you are simply an irrational emotionalist, economics is whatever left-wing studies say it is, and the proper operation of any economy really consists of transfers of wealth from the more affluent to the less affluent members of society.

Hat tip to Bruce Kessler.

21 Mar 2012

Activist Left Whipping Up a Lynch Mob

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Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

Yesterday, the more intellectually conformist element of my Facebook female friends began linking leftwing agitprop stories, like this one featuring a petition and all presenting one-sided, partisan, and axe-grinding accounts of the February 26th shooting of a 17-year-old African American by a 28-year-old Latino neighborhood watch captain in the Orlando, Florida, suburb of Sanford.

Zimmerman was not charged by the Sanford police, and accusations of racial bias being behind the failure of local authorities to prosecute the shooter originally leveled by the family of the 17-year-old were taken up by the local African American community and spread through the left-wing activist grape-vine to the Huffington Post’s Trymaine Lee, who one week ago produced a professionally researched, carefully drafted, and thoroughly partisan account complete with 12 pages of pictures of Trayvon Martin as a baby and small boy.

Coverage spread to standard extremist left-wing outlets like Daily Kos, Fire Dog Lake, and Mother Jones, and to mainstream media outlets which happily accepted the narrative carefully framed by representatives of the professional left.

Trayvon Martin, we are informed, was unarmed, innocently returning from a trip to the convenience store, carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. He began to be followed by George Zimmerman, an allegedly self-appointed neighborhood watch captain armed with a 9mm handgun. Zimmerman was racially profiling Trayvon Martin as his Sanford gated community had experienced 8 burglaries in the last 15th months, typically by young black males.

Zimmerman made numerous 911 calls (46 over 12 years) and on February 26 called and reported Trayvon Martin as a suspicious person. Despite being advised not to follow him, Zimmerman went after and accosted Martin.

Trayvon Martin recognized that he was being followed and phoned a 16-year-old girlfriend to discuss this, rather than calling the police. Martin also responded to finding himself under surveillance by deciding to “put his hoodie on,” i.e. to put his sweatshirt hood up over his head so as largely to conceal his face.

At that point published accounts of what happened omit vital details and contradictions begin to appear.

It is evident that Zimmerman confronted Martin and a physical struggle ensued which was ended by a fatal gunshot to Trayvon Martin’s chest.

There is a very incomplete version of events provided by Stanford Police Chief Bil Lee to the Miami Herald:

“Mr. Zimmerman’s claim is that the confrontation was initiated by Trayvon,” Police Chief Bill Lee said in an interview. “I am not going into specifics of what led to the violent physical encounter witnessed by residents. All the physical evidence and testimony we have independent of what Mr. Zimmerman provides corroborates this claim to self-defense.”

To claim self-defense, someone has to show there was danger of great bodily harm or death, Lee said. “Zimmerman had injuries consistent with his story,” Lee said.

Zimmerman had a damp shirt, grass stains, a bloody nose and was bleeding from a wound in back of his head, according to police reports.

“If someone asks you, ‘Hey do you live here?’ is it OK for you to jump on them and beat the crap out of somebody?” Lee said. “It’s not.”

Immediately before the shot was fired, a witness reports hearing “someone crying — not boo-hoo crying, but scared or terrified or hurt maybe.” This witness thought she was hearing a child. It is disputed whether the cries for assistance came from Trayvon Martin or from Zimmerman.

As of this moment, the activist left has gotten 821,488 people to sign a petition accepting their own one-sided, ultra-partisan version of events and demanding the prosecution of George Zimmerman, which I think shows that you can use racial stereotypes just as effectively to whip up mob indignation today as you could a hundred years ago. The stereotypes have changed, but the human inclination to respond with predictable emotions when the right buttons are pushed has not.

The truth of the matter is we do not know what Trayvon Martin was really doing. We do not know what actually happened. And we have nothing beyond the unsupported testimony of the same combination of the local black community and the activist national left that always testifies to the absolute innocence of every African American who gets into trouble with the police, or is shot during a hold-up by an ordinary armed citizen, to go on. It was precisely the same kind of reliable sources that, a few decades ago, told us all about what those white police officers had done to poor Tawana Brawley.

Meanwhile, the same Obama Administration Department of Justice that declined to do anything about voter intimidation by Black Panthers in Philadelphia has announced its intention of intervening to deliver its own version of justice. George Zimmerman would be well advised not only to lawyer up, but to Latino up.

19 Mar 2012

Whit Stillman is Back

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After 12 years of silence, Whit Stillman, to young American haute bourgeoisie what Akira Kurosawa was to ronin samurai, has returned to feature film directing. Damsels in Distress, theoretically released in 2011 in order to qualify for various cinema awards is about to start showing in the theaters.

The New York Times‘ description sounds exactly like a Whit Stillman flick.

“Damsels in Distress” follows four college girls, Heather, Lily, Rose and Violet, as they grapple with problems ranging from love troubles to toxic frat-house odors and suicide attempts by education majors who insist on throwing themselves off two-story buildings. (“If they can’t even destroy themselves, how are they going to teach America’s youth?” Rose asks.) The students at Seven Oaks, the fictional college, have a lot in common with the preppies and patricians of “Metropolitan” (1990), “Barcelona” (1994) and “The Last Days of Disco” (1998), the autobiographical trilogy that prompted reviewers to call Stillman “the WASP Woody Allen” and “the Dickens of people with too much inner life.” They grope for direction but are seldom lost for words, and beneath their barmy crotchets and pretentious dissertations there’s heartache and yearning. Stillman is the knight-errant of sneered-at bourgeois values. He extols the overlooked merits of convention and the hidden virtues of the status quo. Inveighing against “cool people” and the social cachet of “uniqueness, eccentricity, independence,” the transfer student Lily asks: “Does the world really want or need more of such traits? Aren’t such people usually terrible pains in the neck? What the world needs to work properly is a large mass of normal people — I’d like to be one those.”


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