Monday, May 31, 2010

Nordlinger in Norway

I've been remiss not sharing this with you sooner. Jay Nordlinger has been sharing his journal from his recent travels in Norway.

As usual with Nordlinger, it's a fun read, with gentle stories interspersed with trenchant observations.

Part 1

Part 2

Aside in the Corner 1

Part 3

Aside in the Corner 2

Part 4

Well worth your time.

Memorial Day

In the midst of the barbeques, reunions, and other fun events of a rare day off, take a moment to remember those who gave "the last full measure of devotion."

Be glad that they lived, and served.

Most of all, remember.

On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Sickles' Third Corps, having advanced from this line to the Emmitsburg Road, eight companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, numbering 262 men were sent to this place to support a battery upon Sickles repulse.

As his men were passing here in confused retreat, two Confederate brigades in pursuit were crossing the swale. To gain time to bring up the reserves & save this position, Gen Hancock in person ordered the eight companies to charge the rapidly advancing enemy.

The order was instantly repeated by Col Wm Colvill. And the charge as instantly made down the slope at full speed through the concentrated fire of the two brigades breaking with the bayonet the enemy's front line as it was crossing the small brook in the low ground there the remnant of the eight companies, nearly surrounded by the enemy held its entire force at bay for a considerable time & till it retired on the approach of the reserve the charge successfully accomplished its object. It saved this position & probably the battlefield. The loss of the eight companies in the charge was 215 killed & wounded. More than 83% percent. 47 men were still in line & no man missing. In self sacrificing desperate valor this charge has no parallel in any war. Among the severely wounded were Col Wm Colvill, Lt Col Chas P Adams & Maj Mark W. Downie. Among the killed Capt Joseph Periam, Capt Louis Muller & Lt Waldo Farrar. The next day the regiment participated in repelling Pickett's charge losing 17 more men killed & wounded.

Memorial to the First Minnesota, at Gettysburg

Friday, May 28, 2010

Change is not Progress

But it’s boring to criticize the 50s for not being as “enlightened” as the 70s, or think that “progress” doesn’t have trade-offs. I put “progress” in “quotes” because the term is generally used to describe the devolution of social strictures, and while I think many such erosions had salutary effects, civilizations often mistake change for progress. Any change premised on the mutability of human nature usually ends up being a mistake. Not the mutability of people; we’re quite pliable. Our natures, however, are fixed.

Too Little Too Late

Time to get your 90's on.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Me Neither

Jay Nordlinger, writing today:
You know Sen. Bob Bennett, the Utah Republican who has been pushed aside by more sparky conservatives? You know all the good press — good liberal press — that Bennett is getting now? About how sensible and decent and patriotic he is? Such an admirable legislator? Do you remember Bennett’s ever getting such press, before he was upended by his fellow conservatives in Utah?

I don’t either.

Why You Should Read The Corner - and put out an APB for one Thomas Crown

From Thursday:
Thieves made off with about $600 million worth of art from a Paris museum last night, including paintings by Matisse and Picasso. Art lovers, be not afraid: The blackguards are sure to return the priceless works once they get wind of this major scolding from Pierre Cornette de Saint-Cyr, director of a neighboring museum:
"You cannot do anything with these paintings. All countries in the world are aware, and no collector is stupid enough to buy a painting that, one, he can't show to other collectors, and two, risks sending him to prison," he said on LCI television. "In general, you find these paintings," he said. "These five paintings are un-sellable, so thieves, sirs, you are imbeciles, now return them."
The possibility de Saint-Cyr appears to be overlooking: The theft was commissioned by a private collector, and the thieves won't have to worry about selling the paintings.
05/20 09:59 AMShare

And the reply:
Stephen, I'd keep an eye out for this man.

Steve McQueen in the Thomas Crown Affair

UPDATE: Yes, I know Steve McQueen's Thomas Crown robbed banks, not museums. But he's also dead, so suspend a little disbelief people. Besides, McQueen is much cooler than Pierce Brosnan (who I once sat next to at a Springsteen concert — guy's got no rhythm).
05/20 10:51 AMShare
Hey, I'll take any excuse to use Steve McQueen to class up this joint.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Steel and Steam Heat

I need relaxing. Hence, here's some train content.

Here is film of VIA Rail's Atlantic departing Halifax for Montreal in 1993.

This was the last Atlantic to be steam-heated, as trains had been for the previous hundred-plus years. Steam heat had been gone from Amtrak for nearly a decade. This was a train as my grandparents would have remembered.

The blue-and-yellow railroad cars you see would be retired after this trip; not worth rebuilding, a few would go to tourist trains, most to the scrapper. The silver stainless-steel cars had a better chance; several of their siblings run still on VIA's trains. The Atlantic had as bleak a future as its consist; it would be discontinued in 1994, supplanted by the Ocean.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 18, 1980 - 8:32 A.M. PDT

Animated initial eruption sequence.

USGS Photograph taken on May 18, 1980, by Robert Krimmel.

At 8:32 AM, May 18, 1980, the largest earthquake recorded at Mt. St. Helens crumbled the weak north face of the mountain. Suddenly, an enormous mass of superheated rock and gas was released, and the cataclysm began.

Within ten minutes, the ash column from the mountain reached 12 miles high (63,000 feet); by noon, ash was falling as far away as Idaho.

Closer to the mountain, a low-hanging cloud of superheated gas and pulverized rock (known as a pyroclastic surge) had been launched by the initial landslide across the surrounding ridges, killing everything its path. Mudflows swelled by melted glaciers roared down the surrounding river valleys, eventually reaching the Columbia River and dropping enough sediment to close the river to navigation for more than a month.

Mt. St. Helens had surprised; no one had expected in 1979 what Mt. St. Helens would do before June 1980. Never had a volcano erupted so catastrophically in the United States in historic time. A major reassessment of the volcanic hazards of the United States would be launched, for the risks were dramatically more apparent, and there are other slumbering mountains that rest far closer to major population centers.

And the mountain continues to surprise. Even now, the mountain is regrowing. Mt. St. Helens' story is far from over.

Slab erupted from the 2004-2006 dome-building eruptions.

For more information:
Fire Mountains of the West by Stephen L. Harris
Wikipedia - Mount St. Helens
Portland's KGW - May 18, 1980 newscast 

UPDATE: has a great collection of photographs.

Monday, May 17, 2010

May 17, 1980

Mt. St. Helens, May 17th, 1980. Ash-shrouded and quiet.

From the USGS Mt. St. Helens 30th Anniversary site:
The mountain remained quiet. Seismic activity reached the lowest level for May, with only 18 earthquakes larger than 3.0 recorded, including 6 larger than magnitude 4.0. In response to pressure from property owners and with the Governor's consent, law enforcement officials escorted about 50 carloads of property owners into the Red Zone to retrieve possessions. Those who entered were required to sign liability waivers at the roadblocks and to leave by nightfall. Authorities agreed to allow another caravan of property owners in at 10:00 a.m. the following morning, May 18.

March 19, 1980

Mt. St Helens, viewed from Spirit Lake. Photo from USGS.

Mt. St Helens, viewed from the southwest. Photo from USGS.

Mount St. Helens, a quiet, regal peak located about sixty miles north-northwest of Portland, Oregon.

One of a chain of Cascade volcanoes, formed by the submergence of a small tectonic plate (the Juan de Fuca Plate) underneath the far larger North American plate, the mountain's volcanism was well known. St. Helens had even erupted within the short recorded history of the Pacific Northwest, throwing up embers and ash in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. Since then, the mountain had been silent, becoming a recreation destination by 1980.

On March 20, 1980, that changed, as the first of thousands of earthquakes began to rumble beneath the mountain. For only the second time in the twentieth century, a Lower 48 volcano awakened from its slumber. The second would prove very different from the first.

For more information:
Fire Mountains of the West by Stephen L. Harris
Wikipedia - Mount St. Helens

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Distant Thunder

I've been travelling up and down Israel the last several weeks talking with the young men and women who are either in service or recently out of service. They are an incredible group. They are bright, fit, clear, and incredibly pleasant company. They are also very sober with how things are shaping up. They will be the ones in Harm's Way.

There's a place where I go to look at stars where the Israel Trail cuts through.

On any given night, I will run into four to six young people eager to play with telescopes, share some tea and food around a campfire, and talk about things to come.

The coming war is on everyone's mind.
I cannot comment on the veracity of Mr. Jackson's comments, but there is a building tension in the Middle East as the United States and Europe wallow in their self-inflicted misery and turn their focus ever-more myopically inward.

Rumors of moves and counters, of Israeli plans and Iranian initiatives, of Hezbollah rockets and Syrian chemical weapons. Israel views Iran as an existential threat; Iran views Israel as the paramount obstacle to its Arabian ambitions. Israel is said to be considering a preemptive strike to slow Iran's nuclar program; Iran is now rumored to be planning a strike of is own to forestall that, figuring it better to take the initiative while its nuclear capabilities are an open question.

I've been reading too much about World War One of late, so these rumors cannot help but invite comparisons to the various crises that lead to that horrible war. Much like the summer of 1914, I feel that we are in for a long, tense summer of diplomatic initiatives that ultimately fail to prevent a horrible war. And regardless of your feelings about it, Americans will be caught in the crossfire, in Israel, in the Persian Gulf and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's going to be a long, hot summer.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In Harm's Way

"I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way."

--John Paul Jones, letter to M. Le Ray de Chaumont, 1778

Monday, May 10, 2010

Euros and T-Shirts

On the other hand, Elgar is one of those artists who’s distinctly British. Decent, just, regal, solid. Every European culture has distinct composers who capture the national flavor – Wagner’s theatrically tragic romanticism, Respighi’s time-soaked Roman interludes, all the mournful bipolar Russians. (France had no distinct classical voices until Debussy and Ravel started blowing smoke and pouring absinthe; they got in on the tail-end of the tradition to make its decline seem comfortingly modern. There was Berlioz, who was amazingly French, but: how many great French symphonists? Right.) These are sounds that shape cultures, create and reinforce identity. As an American I don’t believe in this sort of cultural homogeneity – for us. But for them? It’s who they are. You can be an Italian in Europe with Italian values in an European context, but the idea of making everyone Europeans with European values, with nothing to distinguish the individual cultures but varieties of cheese seems foolish. Because these things will assert themselves again, and they will do so at the worst times.

O Irony: Europe could be truly multicultural if it defined the term to mean a large geographical entity with several distinct cultural identities sharing simple values – parliamentary democracy, degrees of socialism, abhorrence of militarism, and so on. But the leaders have pushed multiculturalism down to the local level, where immigrant cultures abrade long-standing traditions, and the pub that had no trouble being down the block from the Church is now forbidden a license to move because it would be too close to a Mosque. The pretense of continental old-culture integration must assume that immigrant cultures assume to the new transnational model, when most immigrant cultures will simply maintain their old ways. Why not? I would. It’s human nature.

The American experience – in theory, anyway – required acceptance of a set of civic ideals, because those were the cultural norms. As played out in the 19th and early 20th century, this meant learning how to operate the System that ran large cities, and if you were in smaller cities, it meant forming discrete isolated organizations that kept private traditions alive while maintaining involvement with the civic apparatus. It generally worked because everyone was from somewhere else, and everyone was interested in Doing Better. Getting Ahead. Making Things. Baking a bigger pie to be carved up, or inventing a new pie altogether.

Bromides and generalities, I know. But of all the Outrage of the Day stories that gush over the wires, the tale of the high school kids who were expelled for not hiding American flag T-shirts on the Fifth of May is one that just . . . depressed me, completely, for a while. So the act of wearing a flag on another nation’s non-holiday holiday is an act of provocation and malice. So we are now to assume that other American citizens will be insulted by the presence of the American flag on a day that commemorates a battle against France in another nation, and must be protected from the sight lest they . . . what? Get violent? I doubt any school administrator would admit he or she suspected that would happen, which leaves us with: The presence of the flag is offensive. So says a public official.

Tell me how this goes someplace we want to be.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Mists of Down Below

Mists of Down Below, by The Duhks.

Last Days of the Dragon Lady

The last days of the U-2 spy plane are ending, and one of the small U-2 pilot fraternity offers this remembrance:

...It may seem odd to grieve for a machine. But the U-2 is no ordinary vehicle. Some in my world call flying the plane a religion, others a calling. For me it was a gift.

The U-2 is nicknamed the Dragon Lady for good reason. You never knew what to expect when you took it into the air, no matter how seasoned a pilot you were. This was an unfortunate consequence of its design. The trade-off of a plane built light enough to fly above 70,000 feet is that it is almost impossible to control. And 13 miles above the ground, the atmosphere is so thin that the “envelope” between stalling and “overspeed” — going so fast you lose control of the plane, resulting in an unrecoverable nose dive — is razor-thin, making minor disruptions, even turbulence, as deadly as a missile. The challenge is even greater near the ground, since to save weight, the plane doesn’t have normal landing gear.

And more:

...Were the risks worth it? Absolutely. The advantage of having a human being in the pilot’s seat of a reconnaissance plane is overwhelming. A person can troubleshoot problems in mid-flight, with creativity that a computer lacks and a proximity to the problem that a remote-control pilot can never achieve. A pilot also has unique situational awareness: I’ve been on more than one mission in which I was able to distinguish promising details that a drone would have missed.

It was worth it personally, too. I’ll never forget the adrenaline surge of landing what was basically a multimillion-dollar jet-powered glider on its 12-inch tail wheel from a full stall while wearing a space suit. And I’ll always remember the peace of sitting alone on the quiet edge of space, out of radio contact for hours.

The new generation of drones have their merits. But flying robots, no matter how advanced, can’t measure up to the courage and commitment of a pilot who is risking her life for the sake of the mission.

Reconnaissance will outlive the U-2, but there will always be a divot in the hearts of those who have seen the curvature of the earth, the stars seemingly close enough to touch, and known the satisfaction of having completed a mission with the Dragon Lady.
Read it all.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Modern Journalism: Diversity of Genes, But Not of Thought

Mike Walsh, over at Big Journalism:

But this is where the news media’s relentless search for “diversity” ultimately leads: to a glorious mosaic of male and female, white and black, straight and gay, all of whom think exactly alike. They have the same templates, the same frames of reference, the same knee-jerk reactions to a given set of stimuli. It used to be that reporters asked skeptical questions, kept an open mind, tried to fit the facts into a historical context and then did their best to present the information in an intelligible, even-handed way. That was called “reporting.”

But when you leap to conclusions, emote, identify,worry, fret, and empathize all based on a complete fantasy about a world that only exists inside your head… that’s called “journalism.”

Hat tip: Instapundit.

A note on the Arizona immigration bill - and the response to it

I haven't read the bill, so I can't make any in-depth comments on it, but two thoughts couldn't help but come to mind.

1. This bill is a reaction to a very real problem, not a bill thrown into law just for political gain. The bill's critics would do well to remember that. And other states are developing the same problems.

2. The more you call someone a racist, the less inclined he is going to be to listen to anything you have to say.

Just saying.