The Personal and Political Ramblings of one guy in Texas.

Monday, October 25, 2004

It's One Week till The Election 

And I got nothin'.

Well, maybe a little. It's nice to live in a non-swing state. Can't imagine what the poor folk of Ohio and Florida are having to put up with right now. I've only had one pre-recorded campaign message come over the phone, and have even manged to not hear many on the radio. Kind of amazing. Granted, Texas is pretty darn Republican these days, even close to Austin, but you'd think there would be a few tight races pulling in a lot of dollars. Perhaps the fact I've long since decided I don't have a dog in this fight (well, not one I'm all that enthused about, anyway) has made me ignore things.

At this point, I do hope (along with others) that the winner wins convincingly. Another Florida 2000 (or worse yet, multiple Floridas) would be pretty bad for the country. And both sides are busy trying to lay the groundwork for them.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

A Pox On all of You, Part MCXXXVII 

This is almost a week late, but I'm working on more book reviews.

Of course Kerry's gratuitous mention of Mary Cheney was a crass bit of political opportunism. It might be a coincidence that it came up in both the Veep debate and this most recent one, but it strikes me as unlikely. We can argue over just what kind of opportunism it was, but that it was opportunism and crass there should be no doubt. Put it this way, would the left-leaning folks have had to sacrifice this many pixels explaining why it was okay if it really was okay?

Of course, Republican outrage over gay-baiting is more than just a little ridiculous. It's pretty much laugh out loud ridiculous. And yes, their reaction generally runs in the direction of Kerry waving around a piece of Cheney dirty family laundry (being gay as akin to a disfiguring disease). Although this should surprise us...why, exactly? But the outrage is almost eye-rolling in its intensity. Oh yeah, thats an inclusive bunch.

This irritates Andrew Sullivan, though why exactly he seems shocked is beyond me, aside from the fact he has his own little coccoon on these matters.

While in a perfect world being gay would be like having red hair, it ain't a perfect world. I'm a big supporter of full equality for gayfolk, marriage rights, adoption, etc. etc. But...I have to confess that if my son were to tell me he was gay, I'd be dissappointed. I wouldn't love him less, or keep trying to get him dates with girls. I'd be happy to meet his boyfriend, have the boyfriend to family gatherings, and give my son away at the wedding. But I know I'd be happier if he were straight. I know I shouldn't feel that way, but I do.

And I think there are a lot of people that feel that way, even folks like me that are on the gay rights bandwagon and who dissapprove of the GOP fright of all things swishy. So I think Kerry's remark put a lot of those folks off as well. Will it effect the election? Probably not, but when things are this tight, anything can have an outsize effect.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Vodkapundit says it better than I Can... 

In this post. I'm more of a partisan and less of a libertarian than Steve Green, but its hard not to agree with what he says here.

Review of Gunpowder 

Gunpowder -- Alchemy Bombards & Pyrotechnics --
The History of the Explosive the changed the World
Jack Kelly

Gunpowder has one of the longer subtitles I've seen outside of a academic paper, but unlike most of those it's not the least bit dull. Coming from that branch of writing that has become quite popular in recent years, the "microhistory" (sparked by the success of Longitude), Kelly traces the path of the "devil's distillate" from its origins in China, to its eventual demise at the hands of nitroglycerine and other explosives that were both stronger and/or safer. Today, the ancient black powder is only used by muzzle-loading type enthusiasts and in the manufacture of fireworks.

One canard that Kelly dispenses with early on is the notion that the Chinese, universally acknowledged to have first discovered gunpowder, only used it for fireworks and never grasped its military potential (he also makes a good case that Europeans did not discover it independently, but that a formula for its creation came from China). Hardly. The Chinese first used the powder for bombs and stationary explosives, but then created "fire lances", essentially a large roman candle variation, in which the sparks and flame shot out continuously. They also developed their own guns and cannon, which were in general use by the mid-1300's.

But in addition to clearing up misconceptions, Kelly also provides us with a geeks-eye view of the many permutations the powder went through, as various makers tried different ways of making it better. For example, larger "grains" almost like pea gravel, work better in larger cannon, while the finer ground stuff is better suited for handguns and rifles. Another tidbit is that for all the adjustments and finagling that went on the make things better, for something like three to four hundred years, a rifleman from any era could have picked up the latest weapon and with about 5 minutes of familiarization, been just as effective with as as the one he had been using. How many technologies can we say that about?

Along the way we see the effects of powder in history. There is of course, the standard castle smashing stuff most war buffs know, but also much about the use of gunpowder in construction, something most Americans only know about if at all from vague memories about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad (and possibly even hazier memories of just why it was John Henry was a steel drivin' man).

Good stuff. Jammer-Bob sez check it out.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Just Checking In 

Not much to say of late. I'm working on two more book reviews, for The Map That Changed The World and Gunpowder. Also been busy writing on my other blog, Homo Domesticus. But nothing ready for publication, unless I get a brilliant idea this afternoon. So check back in a couple of days.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

JammerBlog Reviews -- The Collapse of The Third Republic 

The Collapse of the Third Republic
by William R. Shirer

This begins what I hope to be a new regular feature at JammerBlog, book reviews. There are tons of books published every year and you can never get too much info on what good and what's not.

Having said that, my first review is actually of a quite old book. Collapse is about the demolition of the French Third Republic in the early days of World War II (a more recent book Strange Victory, also explores this issue). The author is something of an old hand at the period. Shirer also wrote The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich, still perhaps the best single volume history of Hitlerian Germany. And he was in a unique position to comment on these events, being a news correspondent in Berlin at the time.

Collapse covers a lot more than the period from 1935-1940, however. Shirer's thesis is that the Third Republic was never all that stable to start with, never truly had the full support of all the people of France, and thus was not only ill-suited to deal with Hitler in the pre-war period, but ripe for collapse when war came. And he has plenty of good evidence to back his thesis up.

For example, a large majority of the delegates who met at a convention following the Franco-Prussian War wanted a return to the monarchy, not a republic. But they couldn't agree on which royal to anoint as king (there were two family lines available, the Bourbons and the Orleans. The Bourbon pretender might have made it had he not been a stubborn twit). Thus, the Third Republic was born by default. A significant chunk of the population and the movers and shakers were never reconciled to it. There were Royalist sympathizers still in the Army right up until the very end. Yes, 70 years later.

The Republic governments were also notoriously unstable, with the Senate or the Assembly knocking them off almost on a whim. At the same time (somewhat counterbalancing this, but only somewhat) the same politicians served over and over again, creating a sort of stability, but often at the expense of calcification. This combination served to make it hard for the government to enact any sort of needed structural reforms, creating a level of cynicism in the public at large.

On several occasions, France was paralyzed due to the fact that Hitler made some of his moves during a period of time when new Premiers were trying to form a cabinet. So at times of great importance, France basically had no government for crucial hours and days.

In the end, too many leaders, both political and military of the Third Republic were either defeatist, too hidebound or too cautious to deal with the challenges presented them by Hitler. The timidity displayed by the French military establishment in particular is breathtaking. Granted, we have the benefit of hindsight, but it is still truly amazing that French generals were wanting at least a partial mobilization before they would even consider moving into the Rhineland in response to Hitler's 1936 dispatching of troops into provinces demilitarized by the Versailles Treaty. The French army of the day dwarfed the German one, especially in the area of trained reserves. Even in 1940, the Allied army was slightly larger in terms of troops, and had more tanks -- and better ones.

After the defeat of France's armies, a few politicians (some of whom had been entranced by the idea of creating their own sort of French fascism) took it upon themselves to destroy the Republic, cajoling the the rest of the stunned government into following them into a pseudo-dictatorship under the aging hero of the first World War, Marshall Petain.

There is much much more, and little of it is pleasant, though all of it is eminently readable. Shirer knows his stuff, and the footnotes and endnotes are almost as interesting as the main text. If you want an insight into the disasters of the 30's and the early days of WW2, this is the place to go.

Fish Redux 

M1K3 once again fails to read my mind correctly. You'd think he would have given up by now, but I suppose he still figures he can do a better job of knowing what I'm saying than I can.

This has nothing to do with equating anyone's deeds.

The point of the fish shaking hands was that this conflict between religion and science need not be. The fish illustrated that here, in this vehicle at least, is one such person who finds no problem in believing in evolution and Big Bangs and what have you and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins.

That's all.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The Point 

In the comments to this post, M1K3 gets it wrong. As usual, when trying to read my mind, he does a poor job.

I get tired of this rigamarole.

The post had nothing to do with equating the good and/or evil of science and religion.

The point of that post, is that this conflict between science and religion need not be. The point of the fish shaking hands is to illustrate that, and show that here is a person that doesn't find these things to be mutually exclusive. That's it. That's all.

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