Thursday, September 30, 2010

Friday photo (special Thursday edition)

Mercury and Moonrise over Absaroka Mountains,
Yellowstone National Park. September 30, 1997.

(Be sure to click on the image for the enlarged version)

My 35mm slides are dated only to month and year, but according to Stellarium, this conjunction of Mercury and the new moon occurred on September 30, 1997. I didn't know it just yet, but that was the day my brother's wife gave birth to their first daughter. In fact, I never connected that event to this photo until I was preparing to post it a couple months ago. So here's wishing a Happy Birthday to Olivia, whose birth 13 years ago was announced with unusual and beautiful signs in the heavens.

And Mercury is an unusual sight, even if the moon weren't so close by*. Most folks will never glimpse it -- not knowingly anyway. Being closer to the sun than Earth, it can only appear at sunrise or sunset, like Venus does, but it's so much closer to the sun that it's usually much harder to spot. It needs to be well out to the side, as seen from Earth, or it's overwhelmed in the sun's glare. Also, if its path around the sun - the ecliptic - is parallel to Earth's horizon, then it will rise at the same time as the sun and again the sky is too light. The best viewing is in the early spring or early autumn, when the ecliptic is more vertical to our horizon. This allows Mercury to rise higher before sunrise, or set later after sunset, when the sky is slightly dimmer, like so:

This is the arrangement on 9/30/1997, so you can see that Mercury was in a good position, although not the best. However, I wanted the moon in the photo, and the moon changes position every day; it was the 30th or nothing.

t also happens that Mercury is most visible when it's on the opposite side of the sun from Earth, even though it's farther away then. Otherwise, even though it's closer, it presents mostly its dark side to the world -- much like the moon in the photo, or a Goth chick.

* "Close by," of course, as viewed from Earth. The planet was actually 500 times farther away than the moon was.

On the revolutionary(?) power of social networking

Malcolm Gladwell has a thought-provoking article at the New Yorker, entitled "Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted."

The upshot: social networking fosters many weak ties, with weak enthusiasm and commitment. Comparing that to the tightly-organized civil rights movement, he argues against the ability of Twitter networks to create revolutionary change.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book review: American Insurgents, American Patriots

Ah, the American Revolution. The King was a tyrant so the colonists rebelled - it's as simple as that, isn't it? If you're not sure, just see what Schoolhouse Rock had to say about it. It's not too different from what my 6th grade teacher taught me.

Ah, but then you make the mistake of going to college, taking a history class or two, and it all gets more complicated. The taxes weren't that high, the colonists seem to have never felt prouder of the British Empire than they did in the 1760's, and the complaints mostly came from a handful of merchants in just one city. How did that turn into a wholesale revolution?

John Adams famously commented, "But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people." TH Breen's latest book, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People, addresses both how and when that happened.

In Breen's view, the revolution is not a steadily-rising tide of resistance as it's usually portrayed, from the Stamp Act crisis, through the Tea Party, and culminating in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Instead, there was a particular revolutionary moment, and it occurred in 1774 when the British government reacted to the Boston Tea Party by imposing the Coercive Acts, designed to harshly punish the entire city of Boston.

The Coercive Acts were indeed dramatic. First, they reorganized the governor's Council and filling it with royal appointees, where before the democratically-elected Assembly had the councilors. Parliament judged that there was too much democracy in Boston and they intended to correct the imbalance.

More punitive yet, they closed Boston Harbor to all commercial traffic until the East India Company was compensated for the vandalism. This not only attacked merchants like John Hancock, but guaranteed economic distress among the poorer classes who worked on the wharves. Everyone would suffer until everyone had submitted.

And to enforce it all, the navy arrived to blockade the harbor, unloaded three thousand British troops in the city, and replaced the governor with a military commander. After eight years of negotiation and appeasement, Parliament had decided that the time for patience was over, and this time they would teach the colonists a hard lesson in obedience. The decision was disastrous.

The British believed that the loyal populace - surely the majority of the colonists? - would take courage from the invigorated royal presence and turn against that handful of noisy agitators who had gotten then all into such trouble. Wrong, utterly wrong. In the modern parlance, the battle for hearts and minds was over and the British had just lost, decisively and irrevocably. To the waverers who might have thought cries of Tyranny! were overblown, there was no longer any doubt. No, it was all true: Parliament had sent an army to wage war on Americans and intended to grind them into poverty and deny them the self-government they were accustomed to. Fear and anger overwhelmed the common folks outside Boston, who had until now been more spectators to the crisis. Almost overnight they became revolutionaries - or, Breen now calls them, insurgents. The moderates were suddenly radicalized.

The fear spread to the other colonies at the beginning of September that same year of 1774, when a strange event happened. Rumors began to fly around Massachusetts and Connecticut that the British navy had bombarded Boston, then landed and burned the entire city. They hadn't, but thousands of farmers and townsmen in New England grabbed up whatever guns they had and began marching toward Boston to exact revenge, before learning the truth and turning back.

The first consequence was that mob of farmers and townspeople - the folks who would come to style themselves Minutemen - had proven to themselves that they would really turn out in the event of war. Until then, they had been full of talk, but who knew how many of these braggarts would actually risk their lives if the British army began shooting? Now they knew: perhaps more than 20,000 had grabbed their guns and begun to march, easily enough to overwhelm Gage and his men. No matter that they had responded to a false alarm - they had responded, when the danger seemed extreme. Their pride, confidence, and radicalism soared.

But it also just happened that a first Continental Congress was gathering in Philadelphia right when the hysteria broke, and this had a strong effect in rallying the other colonies to Massachusetts's side. In the aftermath of the horror they had felt at believing the British army was killing people in Boston, the delegates voted to support the Suffolk Resolves, an appeal from a rather ordinary town in Massachusetts that called for the colonists to stop cooperating with the British government and to boycott all commerce with Great Britain. The members of this Congress were still rattled, but they also saw how inflamed the rest of the public was. In fact, the "leaders" of the resistance were now scrambling to stay in front of the mob.

At this point, a local resistance movement an intercolonial rebellion. The Continental Congress called for the total boycott and recommended that all communities set up a committee to enforce it. Breen loves these committees, because they made the Revolution a creative event and not just a destructive one. The rebels could retain their attachment to law and order, even as they removed the existing governmental structure by chasing away royal officials, and they could restrain mob violence and retain a fig leaf of due process, even as they enforced the revolution upon the unenthusiastic.

That due process was a bare cover for coercion, to be sure. The rebels tolerated no dissenting opinions or evasion of the boycott. Violators were likely to be called before the committee, or even visited by a mob of angry neighbors, and strongly urged to confess their error and recant. If they didn't, they could find themselves shunned by the rest of their community, perhaps wearing tar and feathers, or even having their house pulled down. Freedom of speech was not one of the revolutionary virtues in 1774. But two points bear emphasizing here.

One, these were neighbors, and violence was fairly uncommon, especially compared with other insurgencies and revolutions we know about. The patriots wanted reconciliation, harmony, and they wanted to control the message. All you had to do was go along: a full confession and apology would usually restore one to good graces. It was mainly outsiders (Scottish Presbyterian merchants, for example), former royal officials, or the most stubborn loyalists who received the rough treatment.

Second, I used the language of a religious inquisition. Breen doesn't use that terminology himself, but I don't think he would disagree with it, either. Many of the common people did understand their revolution in religious terms. Without reading Locke (and here I am returning to Breen's arguments), they believed their rights came from God himself. As a corollary, any government that would trample its citizens' rights had ceased to be godly and resisting tyranny was virtually a religious obligation. Just like religious authorities, the rebels wanted unanimity, or at least the public illusion of unanimity. And they had great success. The British hoped a majority of loyalists would stand up for the Empire; the rebels were out to prevent it and, whether or not they were more numerous (we don't really know), they were far more energetic than their opponents. For all practical purposes, the entire countryside really was on the side of the rebellion.

Despite their reliance on intimidation, the occasional use of tar and feathers, and even beatings and vandalism, the insurgents of 1774 managed to minimize mob violence, keep order, and maintain a functioning quasi-government in the midst of revolution. This is what Breen admires about the common people of the Revolution. He sees what so often happens in revolutions: unrestrained violence, endless cycles of recrimination, and the destruction of a previously-functioning society. The American patriots created, perhaps accidentally, new institutions that created more than was destroyed.*

Although Breen never references it, the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan always hovers around this book, not least in the use of the word insurgents. In fact, from the title I expected a more revisionist book, one that applying theories of insurgency and counter-insurgency to understanding the Revolution. That's not what this book is, but the experience of the last eight years intrudes anyway, especially in the use of contemporary language such as "losing hearts and minds." In retrospect, one wonders whether the British could ever have reestablished control over the colonies, even if they succeeded in crushing Washington's army; they certainly could not afford to keep foreign mercenaries on permanent garrison from Massachusetts to South Carolina forever. We Americans like to boast of the long odds against us in the Revolution, but we've tried counter-insurgency from the other side, too, and it's harder than it looks. Killing enemy fighters and controlling the country are vastly different matters and I wonder if, had the American army dissolved at Valley Forge, the British would only have found themselves back in 1774 again.

* Incidentally, Breen has compared our current Tea Partiers to their more orderly forebears and believes the latter were the better people.

World War I to end Sunday

Here's something I didn't know: Germany is about to make its final payment on the reparations debts which were imposed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

Sunday's sum is the final payment on interest accrued between 1945 and 1952 on foreign bonds the German government had issued between the two world wars to raise capital for Treaty of Versailles payments. The money Germany pays on Sunday will therefore actually go to private investors who own these bonds.

The actual reparations payments themselves were finished in 1983. Under the London Agreement on German External Debts, signed by then Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in 1953, Germany was excused from paying off the €125 million in interest on the bonds until after the country was reunified.

Why Google Scholar makes me roll my eyes

Here's part of the latest Google Scholar alert I received for scholarly articles on "Yellowstone National Park." Note the authors:

B. Bear, M. Lions, P. Safety, and E.E. Home (that is, the home page for the Encyclopedia of the Earth). Add the fact that none of those sites is "scholarly," unless you're writing a report for middle school. I still use Google Scholar for passive searches, or to look for particularly obscure citations. But as a discovery tool, they have a long way to go.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Heroes in their own minds

Have you ever seen one of those adolescent males, maybe 20 years old, who loves The Matrix too much? He's the guy who has gotten it into his head that if he just drapes his too-skinny or too-pudgy body in a full-length leather coat ... why, then surely he looks just like Keanu Reeves and can date Carrie-Anne Moss.

That was rather my impression of the GOP's new Pledge to America. Because it reeks of the same self-delusions as this guy:

Look, we all have our Walter Mitty moments, seeing ourselves as the protagonist of some heroic, secret fantasy. Most of us are smart enough to do what Mitty did - keep it secret. When you go public, like our dorky adolescent Neo's, you just look ridiculous.

So, regarding that Pledge. The one that -- betcha didn't see this coming -- promises to cut taxes, raise defense spending, protect Medicare, and balance the budget all at the same time; the one that promises to cut Congress's budget while simultaneously reviewing each and every regulation issued by the Executive Department; the one that shockingly reveals that government spending in nominal dollars has doubled since 1980*; the one which shamelessly claims that the Republicans balanced the budget in the 1990s. The one whose photographs portray an America which is 99.5% white.

That Pledge. The one which clumsily tries to evoke the Declaration of Independence by opening with:

America is an idea – an idea that free people can govern themselves, that government’s powers are derived from the consent of the governed, that each of us is endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. America is the belief that any man or woman can – given economic, political, and religious liberty – advance themselves, their families, and the common good.

America is an inspiration to those who yearn to be free and have the ability and the dignity to determine their own destiny.

Whenever the agenda of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to institute a new governing agenda and set a different course.

Okay, so the GOP has no one who can write like Thomas Jefferson. Who does anymore? But "institute a new governing agenda and set a different course"? How do you get from the ringing challenge of "it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government” to the mewling "institute a new governing agenda"?

You get there by indulging your fantasies of 1775, even while recognizing that the comparison is just beyond ridiculous. Even for the people who can write the absurdities above (only a bare sample, I assure you), the Declaration is an embarrassment to them, because they simply are not oppressed the way their ancestors were.

Oh, they feel oppressed, no doubt about it. And they certainly do imagine themselves as modern day Sam Adamses and Paul Reveres, bravely standing up to tyranny. But when they begin to state the causes of their discontent, the truth is so embarrassing that they have to scramble and scratch for some formulation that won’t invite, no, demand ridicule.

The colonists famously rebelled against “taxation without representation.” Our GOP revolts against losing free and fair elections. They dream of themselves as heroic Sons of Liberty, bravely pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor against a tyrannical government; in reality, they whine because they don’t get their way every time. But they can't say that out lod. So they tell this lie instead:
An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many.

Alas, that mouse doesn't roar. Not one member of Congress is self-appointed. Not a single one can maintain his seat against the will of the majority. That's why the Pledge uses the word many: because saying majority would give the game away. The truth is that they not only have the right to institute a new governing agenda, they also have the means to do so. All they have to do is win an election. Last time they lost; this time out they’re likely to win. That’s democracy, not tyranny.

The GOP and the Tea Partiers don't share the grievances of the colonial rebels -- they get to vote for the people who tax them. The Sons of Liberty didn’t have representatives in Parliament; if they didn't like the British government which ruled them, the SoL were SOL. The Tea Partiers are just Sore Losers. Which is why, when they try to dress themselves as heroes, they look like adolescent dorks instead.

*That works out to 2.5% growth per year, which compares well with the average inflation rate of 3.3% over the same period (calculated from the Bureau of Labor Statistics's CPI Inflation Calcualtor)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday photo

Ravens raiding snowmobiles, Yellowstone National Park. January 2001.

Ravens are smart, and one is tempted to say they may be smarter than people. Or at least smarter than snowmobilers, which any Yellowstone XC skier will tell you sets the bar somewhat lower. In any event, the snowmobilers who come into Old Faithful during the winter have a difficult task protecting their lunches from the ravens. If you think keeping your backpack zipped is sufficient, you're likely to go hungry on the way home. Carefully fastened buckles can slow them down, but not for long: they've figured out how to open those, too.

Think about that achievement for a moment. How many dogs or cats, with careful training, do you suppose could learn to unfasten a buckle? Not many, if any, I would venture. Ravens, on the other hand, can work it out on their own.

How clever are ravens? In his wonderful book Mind of the Raven, the biologist Bernd Heinrich describes an experiment he conducted. What he did was this: he attached a piece of food to the end of a string, a little over two feet long, and hung it from a horizontal bar. The raven could stand on the bar, but couldn't reach the food from any available perch. By using a piece of hard salami, Heinrich also guaranteed that the bird could not tear off a piece while in flight. His problem was to figure out how to get the food within reach of his bill.

The only way to succeed was for the bird to reach down below the perch, grab the string and raise it above the perch, then -- and here's where it gets particularly tricky -- pin this loop of string against the perch with his foot, release the loop from his bill, reach down, and repeat the procedure until the morsel came into reach. Could a raven figure all that out?

The first day, they struggled some with the string and quickly gave up. The next day Heinrich put out the food again, in the same arrangement, and the first raven that tried it performed the entire procedure on his first attempt. It was no fluke:the raven had figured it all out and could repeat it every time thereafter. Other ravens got it right the first time, and the initial failure seems to have owed more to the birds being spooked by a weird and unfamiliar arrangement than with being stumped over what to do with it.

Once a biologist has some success with an experiment, he's likely to create many variations on the theme and Heinrich did exactly that. He put up two strings, one holding food and the other suspending a rock; that didn't take long to figure out. Then he crossed the strings: to get the food, a bird would have to stand over the rock and pull the nearest string. They could figure this out, too, but they it always gave them trouble: most of them would test the string above the food, see the rock jiggle, and then move to the other string. Heinrich, perhaps surprisingly, takes this as evidence that they were thinking and not just responding to positive conditioning: "[C]onsciousness of what they thought they knew* took precedence over trial-and-error learning, which was glacially slow even for this one extremely simple task."

It's a bold claim, because what Heinrich is saying is that the ravens weren't plucking the first string just out of habit; they plucked it because they had a mental concept of how the game worked and they had a hard time letting go of it - otherwise, they'd have learned the new system much easier.

To test this hypothesis, Heinrich next placed a rock on a familiar piece of string, and hung the food from a brand-new string, one of a different color, thickness, or texture than the birds had seen before. Had they been conditioned like mice pressing a button to get a reward, the ravens would have tested the most familiar string first; but that's not what happened. Instead, they always went for the novel string attached to the food and ignored the familiar-looking string. The fact that the old string was associated with past success did not impress them as you might think. This time, their mental concepts were leading them to the correct solution.

Clever birds. Clever experimenter, too, and a good writer. I highly recommend Heinrich's books ( Mind of the Raven and Ravens in Winter).

* These were birds who had already solved the one-string problem, in case that wasn't clear.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A pox am I

Have you ever wondered what sort of protein you would be, if the letters in your name corresponded to amino acids? Of course you didn't; only a complete geek would wonder something like that.

So a f(r)iend threw my name into this Name-to-DNA translator and, well, here are the results:

The highlighted portion reads: "This protein is found in the species Camelpox virus (strain CMS)."

So be nice to me or I'll make your camel sick.

Home is where they have to take you in

The official Montana GOP platform states:

We support the clear will of the people of Montana expressed by legislation to keep homosexual acts illegal.

Which had drawn a bit of attention, needless to say. But I love this bit from state Senator John Brueggeman:

"I looked at that and said, 'You've got to be kidding me.' Should it get taken out? Absolutely. Does anybody think we should be arresting homosexual people? If you take that stand, you really probably shouldn't be in the Republican Party."

And I wonder, why? Where else would they go?

Don't do this

Irony. I loves it.

A Taiwanese man who won a poster design competition to promote copyright protection has been stripped of his prize after he was exposed as a copycat, officials said Thursday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Memories of WWI

This is what every history-minded person dreams of: a British woman inherited a mass of family papers and found her great-grandfather's diary from World War I. It seems her ancestor was also skilled with pen and ink, as these sketches indicate:

and this page describing the Christmas truce in 1916, when the British and Germans allowed each other an unmolested holiday dinner:

On top of these skills, the soldier - Lt. Kenneth Wootton, tank driver - was decorated for gallantry and devotion to duty. I hope the entire work finds a publisher soon.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Those poor rich

Via Paul Krugman, I became acquainted with this post by J. Bradford DeLong over the travails of being rich in America. A certain professor of law at the University of Chicago and his physician wife probably pul in half a million dollars a year between the two of them, but he presents himself as just a poor working stiff, being taxed to death and barely scraping by. The problem? DeLong probably has it right: our Prof. X is trying to keep up with the megamillionaire Joneses, which puts a strain even on his resources. The Joneses can afford everything and more besides; Prof. X can only afford everything, and then only if he budgets carefully. What's a poor millionaire to do?

It's the basis of our economic problems today. This country spent the last eight years with an economic policy designed solely to gratify X and the Joneses; now that the bubble has burst, guess who expects to be last in line to pay for the damage? Ah, that would be Prof. X and the Joneses.

Really, I don't mind that people are rich. Prof. X and his wife have certainly worked harder than I have and I don't begrudge them their wealth. But at the same time to be such whiners! It's ... well, let's remain civil and just call it unseemly.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday photo

Goldeneye Ducks, Yellowstone Lake. May 2005.

Following up on the photo of a frozen Yellowstone Lake, here's what it looks like from the ground. I was taking photos of this pair of ducks when they hopped out of the water and first one, then the other, took flight. I was lucky to catch this one in the act of lifting off. As you can see, the sliver of open water was closing as the ice pushed up against the shore, so they had to vacate immediately or get their little legs squished.

Although I heard the sudden increase of crackling in the ice all along the shore, I was staring through the viewfinder and concentrating on the birds, so I didn't see what had spooked them until I downloaded the photos later.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The ice melts

Image courtesy of Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center. ISS015-E-7109

This is too gorgeous for words, so I won't waste many. The image here was taken in early May of 2007 and shows Yellowstone Lake in the mid-to-late stages of its spring thaw. Some of these cracks are enormous - the lake is about 20 miles from the tip of the Southeast Arm (bottom center), where the Yellowstone River enters, to the outlet at Fishing Bridge (center top). And as you can judge from the color, it's really more slush than ice. The lake may have been frozen three feet deep in January and the water never does warm up, even in a hot August, so the thaw is a protracted process.

Here's a view just one week earlier, on the last day of April:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Friday photo (belated Saturday edition)

Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon. July 2005.

One of the beautiful things about canyons is that they have steep walls, and the beauty of steep walls is that they create wonderful waterfalls. Here is the most famous one in Oregon, and no wonder: a narrow, 542-foot fall, followed by another drop of 69 feet before emptying into the Columbia River. Also famous because it's so accessible: just 40 minutes from downtown Portland, via Interstate Highway 84. If you were looking for that solitary wilderness experience, never mind; but if you're wiling to share a spot of amazing beauty with a few hundred other people, by all means pull off the highway and visit Multnomah Falls.

The Columbia River Gorge, home to Multnomah Falls, has a remarkably ancient history. There seems to have been a river here at least 12 million years ago, making it older than the Cascade Mountains. When the Cascades began their uplift, they deflected the river to the north, creating that conspicuous bend downstream of Portland, where the Willamette flows into the Columbia.

By then, there was probably some sort of canyon here, but the major action occurred only 12-15,000 years ago. During the most recent ice age, expanding glaciers would block up the Clark's Fork River in Montana, creating a vast lake (known as "Glacial Lake Missoula") behind an ice dam. Periodically, the dam would fail, sending some 500 cubic miles of water rushing through Couer d'Alene and eastern Washington at speeds estimated to be as high as 65 MPH. Imagine the combined waters of Lakes Erie and Ontario being emptied in two days - that's what it was like. By the time this water reached the Pacific, it had left behind a deeply scoured landscape in Washington and a wider, deeper Columbia River Gorge. And this flood didn't happen only once, because the ice dam would slowly reform, until it had built up a large enough reservoir to undermine itself again. It happened a least a couple dozen times over several thousand years.1

Multnomah Falls is such a rewarding stop that it comes as a slight surprise that Lewis and Clark didn't single it out for special praise. But it makes sense, because there are more waterfalls than this along the Columbia River Gorge and foot travelers would have seen many of them. L&C merely commented that
several small streams fall from a much greater hight, and in their decent become a perfect mist which collecting on the rocks below again become visible and decend a second time in the same manner before they reach the base of the rocks.
However understated, Cpt. Lewis always had an eye for the scenery.

Bonus: a Wasco legend on the origins of Multnomah Falls. The setting of the story, a devastating epidemic of incredible suddenness and mortality, makes me think this legend doesn't predate European contact. Or perhaps it only means that an ancient legend was retold to reflect more recent experiences.

1. For more information, see Cascades Volcano Observatory - Glacial Lake Missoula; Digital Geology of Idaho - Lake Missoula Floods; As always, Wikipedia was also consulted.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday photo

North State Street Transit Station, Ann Arbor, Michigan. August 2010.

Creeping socialism continues to destroy America. See it? Right in front of your eyes! The destruction of individualism and God-given capitalism is happening right now and only the most discerning Americans can recognize it!

In his 1887 book, Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy explained the crucial distinction between liberty and the socialist nightmare that he hoped to bring about. It's all about umbrellas:

A heavy rainstorm came up during the day, and I had concluded that the condition of the streets would be such that my hosts would have to give up the idea of going out to dinner, although the dining-hall I had understood to be quite near. I was much surprised when at the dinner hour the ladies appeared prepared to go out, but without either rubbers or umbrellas.

The mystery was explained when we found ourselves on the street, for a continuous waterproof covering had been let down so as to inclose the sidewalk and turn it into a well lighted and perfectly dry corridor, which was filled with a stream of ladies and gentlemen dressed for dinner. At the comers the entire open space was similarly roofed in. Edith Leete, with whom I walked, seemed much interested in learning what appeared to be entirely new to her, that in the stormy weather the streets of the Boston of my day had been impassable, except to persons protected by umbrellas, boots, and heavy clothing. "Were sidewalk coverings not used at all?" she asked. They were used, I explained, but in a scattered and utterly unsystematic way, being private enterprises. She said to me that at the present time all the streets were provided against inclement weather in the manner I saw, the apparatus being rolled out of the way when it was unnecessary. She intimated that it would be considered an extraordinary imbecility to permit the weather to have any effect on the social movements of the people.

Dr. Leete, who was walking ahead, overhearing something of our talk, turned to say that the difference between the age of individualism and that of concert was well characterized by the fact that, in the nineteenth century, when it rained, the people of Boston put up three hundred thousand umbrellas over as many heads, and in the twentieth century they put up one umbrella over all the heads.

As we walked on, Edith said, "The private umbrella is father's favorite figure to illustrate the old way when everybody lived for himself and his family. There is a nineteenth century painting at the Art Gallery representing a crowd of people in the rain, each one holding his umbrella over himself and his wife, and giving his neighbors the drippings, which he claims must have been meant by the artist as a satire on his times."

Now UM has replaced its puny little brick bus shelter with this grandiose abomination designed to coddle their students into accepting the nanny state and believing they don't need to take responsibility for keeping themselves dry. Can our final enslavement be far behind?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Football returns!

For me, summer is just this sports wasteland. I'm not into baseball; the Olympics or World Cup only come around every few years and don't last all summer anyway. I do like IRL and F1 auto racing, but unlike most sports, everyone plays at the same time and so there aren't very many events.

But that's all over now, because college football is back. The long boredom is over. And so I totally feel for this guy.

Via Dr. Saturday.