Friday, January 27, 2012

Best commanders of World War II



Here is Max Hastings' judgment of the Second World War's commanders from his book Inferno:
The Germans and Russians proved more successful than the Western Allies in fulfilling the requirement identified by Howard: to empower commanders who fought rather than managed. For American, British, Canadian, Polish and French troops at the sharp end, the 1944–45 northwest Europe campaign seldom seemed less than horrific. But the casualty figures, on both sides a fraction of those in the east, emphasise its relative moderation once the fighting in Normandy was over. With the exception of a few such enthusiasts as Patton, Allied commanders understood that they were mandated to win the war at the lowest possible human cost, and thus that caution was a virtue, even in victory. By pursuing such a policy, they fulfilled the will both of their societies and their citizen soldiers.

The rival claims to greatness of individual commanders are impervious to objective ranking. Circumstances decisively influenced outcomes: no general could perform better than the institutional strength or weakness of his forces allowed. Thus, it is possible that Patton – for instance – might have shown himself a great general, had he led forces with the Wehrmacht’s skills or the Red Army’s tolerance of casualties. As it was, especially in pursuit he displayed an inspiration and energy rare among Allied generals; but in hard fighting, his army fared no better than those of his peers. Eisenhower will never be celebrated as a strategist or tactician, but achieved greatness by his diplomatic management of the Anglo-American alliance in the field. Lucien Truscott, who finished the war commanding the US Fifth Army in Italy, was arguably the ablest American officer of his rank, though much less celebrated than some of his peers. MacArthur was distinguished by the splendour of his self-image as a warlord, which it suited his nation to indulge, rather than by gifts as a battlefield commander. While he directed the 1944 phase of the New Guinea campaign with some flair, he floundered in the Philippines; superior resources, especially air support, were the deciding factors in his victories. MacArthur was a narrowly affordable luxury rather than an asset to his country’s strategic purposes. The outstanding personality of the Japanese war was Nimitz, who directed the US Navy’s Pacific campaign with cool confidence and judgement, often displaying brilliance, especially in the exploitation of intelligence. Spruance showed himself the ablest fleet commander at sea.

On the British side Cunningham, Somerville and Horton were outstanding naval officers, Sir Arthur Tedder the best of the airmen. Slim, who led Fourteenth Army in Burma, was probably the most gifted British general of the war, and certainly the most attractive command personality; his 1945 crossing of the Irrawaddy and outflanking of the Japanese at Meiktila were notable achievements. But Slim would have struggled to extract any better results from Britain’s desert army in 1941–42 than did Wavell or Auchinleck, because of its collective shortcomings. Montgomery was a highly competent professional; it is unlikely that any other Allied commander could have surpassed his direction of the 1944 Normandy campaign, where attrition was inescapable, but he diminished his reputation by epic boorishness in conducting the vital relationship with the Americans. ‘Monty’ deserves a significant part of the credit for the success of the invasion of France, but never achieved a masterstroke which would place him among history’s great captains.

The Soviet Union’s best generals displayed a confidence in handling large forces unmatched elsewhere on the Allied side. In the first half of the war, they suffered interference by Stalin almost as damaging to Russia’s prospects of survival as was that of Hitler to Germany’s cause. But from late 1942 onwards, Stalin became much more receptive to his marshals’ judgements, and the Soviet war effort correspondingly more successful. Chuikov deserves full credit for the defence of Stalingrad; Zhukov, Konev, Vasilevsky and Rokossovsky were commanders of the highest gifts, though their achievements would have been impossible without their nation’s tolerance of sacrifice. Soviet victories were purchased at a human cost no democracy would have accepted, no Western general allowed to indulge. The raw aggression of Soviet commanders in 1943–45 contrasts with the caution of most American and British leaders, a reflection of their respective societies. The Red Army never showed itself superior man for man to its German opponents: until the end, the Wehrmacht inflicted disproportionate losses. Russian commanders produced their finest performances in the summer 1944 Operation Bagration, when 166 divisions attacked on a front of 620 miles. The storm of Berlin, by contrast, was conducted with a brutish clumsiness which diminished the reputation of Zhukov.

Among the Germans, von Rundstedt displayed the highest professionalism from 1939 to the end. In the desert, Rommel displayed similar gifts to those of Patton, but like the American paid insufficient attention to the critical influence of logistics. The Allies esteemed Rommel more highly than did many German officers, partly because British and American self-respect was massaged by attributing their setbacks to his supposed genius. Manstein, a superb professional, was the architect of great victories in Russia in 1941–42, and probably Germany’s best general of the war, but failure at Kursk emphasised his limitations: hubristically, he accepted responsibility for launching a vast offensive which could not hope to succeed against superior Russian strength, dispositions – and generalship. Kesselring’s 1943–45 defence of Italy places him in the front rank of commanders. Guderian was the personification of the Wehrmacht’s skill in exploiting armour. Several of Germany’s generals, Model among them, merit more admiration for the manner in which they sustained defensive campaigns in the years of retreat, with inferior forces and negligible air support, than for victories in the period when the Wehrmacht was stronger than its foes. Hitler’s strategic interventions prevented any German commander from claiming absolute credit for victories, or accepting absolute responsibility for defeats. The institutional achievement of the German army and its staff seems greater than that of any individual general. The overriding historical reality is that they lost the war.

Yamashita, who directed the 1942 seizure of Malaya and the 1944–45 defence of the Philippines, was Japan’s ablest ground-force commander. Otherwise, the energy and courage of Japanese soldiers and junior officers were more impressive than the strategic grasp of their leaders. These were hamstrung throughout by huge failures of intelligence, which transcended mere technical inadequacy, reflecting a deeper cultural incapacity to consider what might be happening on the other side of the hill. The defence of successive Pacific islands reflected professional competence among some garrison commanders who lacked scope and resources to exploit any higher gifts. Afloat, though luck played an important part in the Battle of the Coral Sea and at Midway, Japan’s admirals displayed astonishing timidity, and were repeatedly outguessed and outfought by their American opponents. Yamamoto merits some respect for his direction of Japan’s initial 1941–42 offensives, but must bear a heavy responsibility for much that went wrong afterwards. Only his death in April 1943 spared him from presiding over the national march to oblivion he had always recognised as inevitable.

William Dembski interview



An informative interview with William Dembski. It's mainly about the course of his life including his pioneering work in Intelligent Design.

HT: Steve Hays.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

It is not well with my soul

Atheist Joel Marks writes:
A helpful analogy, at least for the atheist, is sin. Even though words like ‘sinful’ and ‘evil’ come naturally to the tongue as a description of, say, child-molesting, they do not describe any actual properties of anything. There are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God and hence the whole religious superstructure that would include such categories as sin and evil. Just so, I now maintain, nothing is literally right or wrong because there is no Morality.

It is well with my soul


According to Wikipedia:
On September 5, 1861, in Chicago, Horatio Spafford married Anna Larsen of Stavanger, Norway. The Spaffords were well-known in 1860s Chicago. Horatio was a prominent lawyer. He and his wife were also prominent supporters and close friends of evangelist Dwight L. Moody.

Spafford had invested heavily in the city's real estate. The Great Chicago Fire which swept through the city in 1871 destroyed almost everything Spafford owned.

The Spaffords' only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four.

Two years later, in 1873, Spafford decided his family should take a holiday somewhere in Europe. He chose England knowing that his friend D. L. Moody would be preaching there in the fall. He was delayed because of business, so he sent his family ahead, his wife and their four daughters: eleven year old Anna "Annie"; nine year old Margaret Lee; five year old Elizabeth "Bessie"; and two year old Tanetta.

On November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Ville du Havre, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and 226 people lost their lives including all four of Spafford's daughters. Anna Spafford survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford beginning "Saved alone."

Spafford then sailed to England, going over the location of his daughters' deaths. According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote "It Is Well With My Soul" on this journey.
By the way, Philip Bliss, who wrote the melody for Horatio Spafford's "It is well with my soul," perished only a couple of years later:
On 29 December 1876 the Pacific Express train which Bliss and his wife were traveling in approached Ashtabula, Ohio. While the train was in the process of crossing a trestle bridge, which collapsed, all carriages fell into the ravine below. Bliss escaped the carriage but the carriages caught fire and Bliss returned to try and extricate his wife. No trace of either body was discovered. Ninety-two of the 160 passengers are believed to have died in what became known as the Ashtabula River Railroad Disaster. The Blisses were survived by their two sons, George and Philip Paul, then aged 4 and 1 respectively.
"Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cloud of war



Some people argue Iran should be able to have nuclear weapons. After all, we have nuclear weapons. Likewise other nations like Russia, China, the UK, France, and Israel. So it's only fair Iran is allowed nuclear weapons.

However, I think this is a bit simplistic:
  1. Iran has a different moral and ethical code than we do. They don't act like Western democratic nations act. Right now I'm not saying they have a superior or inferior moral or ethical code than we do, per se. I'm just pointing out the difference.

    When we say it's only fair to allow Iran to have nukes because we and others have nukes, we're granting Iran the right based on our morals or ethics. But since Iran doesn't share our moral or ethical sensibilities, it's not necessarily the case that they would do the same for us given their morals or ethics.

    So there's not necessarily the same moral or ethical parity we might expect there to be.

    In fact, common sense would seem to suggest it's highly unlikely if our roles were reversed - that is, if Iran were in our position as a superpower with nuclear weapons and we were a politically, socially, economically, and militarily weaker nation - that they would allow us to possess nuclear weapons. Why treat them in a way they almost certainly wouldn't treat us?

  2. Maybe we can compare the argument over allowing Iran to possess nuclear weapons to the argument that since some people have a gun everyone should be allowed to have a gun too.

    a. But we don't necessarily allow everyone to own a gun. Some people are known criminals with a long history of crime. Say thieves and murderers.

    Some people are mentally, emotionally, or psychologically unstable.

    Some people are morally irresponsible.

    And so forth.

    b. What's more, even among gun owners, we also make other distinctions and restrictions.

    For example, we require permits and licenses. We differentiate between different firearms such as guns and rifles. We don't allow everyone to own military grade guns. Concealed weapons.

    And on and on.

    c. The point is not that I'm against gun ownership. Rather the point is that it's necessary to draw distinctions even if we can agree upon a certain principle or principles. Let alone if we can't agree upon any principles.

  3. Generally speaking, a nation has the authority to restrain and/or punish its citizens if the citizen commits an immoral or at least illegal act (e.g. fines, imprisonment, death penalty). But who has the authority to restrain and/or punish a nation which commits an immoral act?

    Another nation? An alliance of nations? The United Nations?

    Sure, we can make alliances with other nations such as the Allies did against the Nazis and fascists in the Second World War.

    All things equal, it'd most likely be easier for other nations to restrain an immorally acting nation which doesn't have nuclear weapons than an immorally acting nation which does have nuclear weapons. A nation with nuclear weapons is much harder to restrain.

    A nuclear weapon is like a trump card. Nothing beats a nuclear weapon.

  4. Generally speaking it's easier to negotiate with nations which share significant and relevant enough commonalities such as the value for life. What do we do about nations which don't value life as Western democratic nations have historically valued life? Say suicidal nations that don't care about killing others even at the cost of their own extinction? At least the Russians subscribed to the notion of mutually assured destruction.

  5. Similarly, what about rogue groups like terrorist organizations which we can't directly retaliate against?

  6. Much depends on a nation's moral or ethical compass including its intentions. What's Iran's? Is it self-defense?

    And why trust duplicitous nations?

  7. In fact, Iran will use nuclear weapons to gain leverage on the international scene. They intend to use nuclear weapons to keep us from interfering as much with their other non-nuclear activities such as sponsoring terrorism against Western democratic nations.

Murdered by an assassin, killed by medicine



I shudder to consider what the best medical science had to offer in the late 1800s, although I wonder what medical scientists and physicians will think of us in a hundred or so years (if the Lord has not come by then):
President James A. Garfield lay in a rodent-infested sickroom in the White House, a bullet lodged in his body. Weeks had passed since the assassin had struck, but more than a dozen doctors were struggling to save him. Day after day, summer temperatures approached 100 degrees, and mosquitoes thrived in the swamps around Washington. Four White House staff members had contracted malaria recently, as had the first lady, Lucretia Garfield. The president’s internal infections raged and spread, fevers came and went, and his heart began to weaken. He felt it most in his lower extremities—the acute neurological sensations he called “tiger’s claws,” which seized him regularly. Aides at his bedside would squeeze his feet and calves with all their might to relieve the 49-year-old president’s pain.

“Yes, I suffer some,” he told one attendant. “I suppose the tigers are coming back, but they don’t usually stay long. Don’t be alarmed, old boy!”

His three oldest children, Harry, James and Mollie, all teenagers, were taken into his room for visits, advised to do most of the talking and not to bring up anything unpleasant out of fear of aggravating their father’s condition. Doctors desperately probed Garfield’s abdomen with unsterilized tools and unwashed hands in search of the bullet, which had lodged harmlessly in soft tissue near his vertebrae. Such a gunshot wound today would require no more than a few days in the hospital. But the 20th president of the United States was spiraling rapidly and inevitably to his death—bravely and for the most part in good cheer as his physicians made one mistake after another, from nutrition to medication. . . .

The president was taken to the White House. Over the next 24 hours, more than 15 doctors stuffed their unwashed fingers into his intestinal wound, trying to locate Guiteau’s bullet and ultimately causing sepsis. They repeatedly injected him with morphine, causing the president to vomit; they next tried champagne, which only made him sicker. Joseph Lister, a British surgeon and pioneer of antiseptic surgery, had been advocating since Lincoln’s death for more sterile procedures and environments, but American doctors ridiculed him. “In order to successfully practice Mr. Lister’s Antiseptic Method,” one doctor scoffed in 1878, “it is necessary that we should believe, or act as if we believed, the atmosphere to be loaded with germs.”

As the weeks passed, Garfield’s body became engorged with pus. His face began to swell and had to be drained. Initial meals of steak, eggs and brandy were soon replaced by eggs, bouillon, milk, whiskey and opium. He lost nearly 100 pounds as his doctor’s starved him. Doctors inserted drainage tubes and continued to probe for the bullet; at one point, they brought in Alexander Graham Bell, who had invented a metal detector and thought he might be able to locate the slug by passing it over the president’s abdomen. All was for naught.

Garfield asked to be moved to a peaceful oceanfront cottage in Long Branch, New Jersey where he’d been a regular visitor over the years. Local residents, informed that the ailing president was planning to arrive in Long Branch, laid down half a mile of railroad tracks in 24 hours, so that rather than ride by horse and carriage over rough roads, the president could be taken smoothly by train, right to the cottage door. Garfield found no relief from the staggering heat, and he died in his bed in the New Jersey cottage on September 18, 1881, less than two weeks after he arrived. On the following day, the emergency tracks were torn up and the wooden ties were used to build the Garfield Tea House, which stands today. That November, Charles Guiteau stood trial for murder, was convicted and hanged the following summer. Defending himself in court, he had declared, “The doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him.”
HT: Tim Challies.

Restart page



I'm (unfortunately) not patient enough to sit through a restart or reboot. So I don't think I'd enjoy the restart page all that much. Maybe others will find it more interesting than I do.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

During World War II, many Arabs supported the Nazis (against the Jews) and several prominent leaders escaped to Berlin to spend time with Hitler and the other Nazis (e.g. the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini).

Let's say Hitler had better supported Rommel's Afrika Korps such that Rommel was able to win the war in North Africa. Let's say the Nazis then invaded and conquered the Mideast.*

I take it the Nazis would have started to exterminate the Jews in the Mideast. I take it the Arabs would've supported the Nazis since they would've shared a common hatred for the Jews.

But after the Jews were dead, what would be next? Arabs are non-Aryans. As such, wouldn't Hitler and the Nazis have considered the Arabs inferior? If so, then, at best, the Arabs would've been treated as second class citizens if the Nazis had won in the Mideast. So why such support among Arabs for the Nazis then and (it frequently appears) now? The enemy of my enemy is my friend?

By the way, if the Nazis had treated the Arabs as second class citizens, it would've been ironic given most Arabs are Muslim and sharia law sanctions the treatment of non-Muslims as second class citizens.


* As I understand it, this was a viable option at the time. It's arguable Hitler could have won the entire war if he had invaded the Mideast in lieu of invading Russia or at least prior to invading Russia.

For one thing, the British received something like 80% of their total oil supply from their Mideast colonies. If the Germans took over these lands, then they would've cut off the vast majority of the British oil supply and effectively caused the British military to grind to a halt.

For another thing, it almost certainly wouldn't have taken the 4 million German soldiers it took Hitler to invade Russia. Hitler could have arguably conquered North Africa and the Mideast with a quarter of that amount if not less. Not only would he have committed far less troops which could've been used elsewhere and for other purposes, but he arguably would've sustained a lot less losses in a North Africa/Mideast campaign than what he lost on the Eastern Front against Russia. Four out every five German soldiers killed in the whole of the Second World War were killed by the Russians. The German military was bled dry by the Russians.

Hitler could've then invaded Russia from the Mideast. If successful, which he arguably would've have been, Hitler would've achieved two key objectives: cutting Russia off from oil for use by the Soviet military and given the Nazi Wehrmacht access to Stalin's vast and rich oil fields in the Caucasus. In fact, this was a large reason why Hitler pushed so much to win the Battle of Stalingrad, which he eventually lost.

By the way, it's staggering to think the Germans lost approximately 850,000 soldiers in a single battle, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the Russians over 1.1 million, whereas the US and the UK lost approximately 900,000 combined in the entire Second World War. Of course, this shouldn't be taken to imply the US and UK did far less "work" in winning WWII than the Russians did, like so many World War II historians appear to think these days. For instance, Russia never had to supply the US or UK like the US and UK supplied Russia throughout the war. Russia never fought a multiple front war like the UK and particularly the US did. In fact, the US did the bulk of the fighting which contributed to the Japanese loss. And it probably speaks well of the strategic and tactical savvy of the US and UK in contrast to Russia and/or poorly of the strategic and tactical savvy of the Russians in contrast to the US and UK.

(Although arguably the best Allied general of the entire war was not Patton or Monty or Eisenhower, but William Slim in Burma and India. It's arguable the fighting in Burma kept the Japanese from conquering China. However the Pacific War was more renowned for its naval engagements and Chester Nimitz probably takes the cake as the best admiral among all forces. It's arguable Nimitz's plan to bypass the Philippines and take Taiwan was better from a strategic perspective than MacArthur's plan to invade the Philippines. For better or for worse, we went with MacArthur's plan. Georgy Zhukov was arguably the best general out of all the generals in World War II. Ahead of Patton, Monty, Rommel, Guderian, von Manstein. But Zhukov was ruthless and brutal too.)

Of course, Hitler invaded Russia in 1941 because he placed Nazi ideology ahead of military strategy. He considered Germans a superior Aryan race (e.g. he made ridiculous comments like German soldiers were far more physically durable than Russians and therefore didn't need to wear heavy winter clothing for the Russian winter which in many places where the Germans fought would've lower than -100 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill factor). He hated the Jews most of all but only hated the Slavs and Bolsheviks slightly less. He wanted lebensraum or living space for his Aryan race. I should add, from what I've read, Hitler considered the British "Aryan cousins" and so felt war with them was unfortunate. He would've preferred the UK sit out of the war. Of course, this doesn't exonerate Hitler in the slightest. But if true I think it would explain at least in part Hitler's appallingly bad grasp of military strategy (e.g. the miracle of Dunkirk). His racist ideology helped bring him to power, but it also contributed to his downfall.

No place to call home



Just a few thoughts on Israel and the Palestinians:
  1. On the one hand, many liberals argue we should grant U.S. citizenship to thousands if not millions of illegal immigrants. They argue it's a moral or ethical issue.

    On the other hand, many of these same liberals apparently don't expect Arab countries to do the same for (Palestinian) refugees in their nations.

    Why the inconsistency? Do we have different moral or ethical standards between nations?

  2. It's true illegal immigrants aren't necessarily refugees. But in that case shouldn't a nation have more compassion for refugees than for illegal immigrants?

  3. At least as I understand it, many of these same liberals likewise demand Israel grant citizenship to Palestinians in Israel. But why should a nation, Israel, grant citizenship to refugees while other nations are exempted from doing so (e.g. Jordan, Lebanon, Syria)?

  4. In fact, again as I understand it, the Palestinian National Authority (PA) doesn't even recognize their own people as citizens (e.g. the refugees in Balata). I don't detect a strong moral outcry among these liberals for the PA to do so either. So why should Israel?

  5. If the PA started to recognize Palestinian refugees as citizens, then they would have to accept the fact that these Palestinians are no longer refugees. And the PA as well as many others including the rest of the Arab Muslim world can't have that. That would ruin everything.

White flight



Many whites subscribe to the right of return for the purported Palestinian "people" (PPP).

In the last century, many whites were indirectly or directly pressured to leave urban areas for suburbia as well as elsewhere. This phenomenon was known as "white flight." Just as the PPP had to flee their lands and properties due to war and other factors, these whites had to do the same in the face of "war" and other factors as well. Sure, this latter meaning of war isn't necessarily identical to the former meaning of war. But the Cold War wasn't identical to World War II. Nevertheless both were very real wars.

It's possible there are now thousands if not millions of descendants of whites who are unaware of their status as internally displaced persons. But as internally displaced persons, these whites should realize they have been historically dispossessed of their lands and properties. They should realize it was land which rightfully belonged to their parents, grandparents, and so on.

Hence, I think it'd be a good idea to form an organization to address this terrible and terribly overlooked travesty. It certainly doesn't receive enough attention in the public eye. I recommend we call it the White Liberation Organization (WLO).

We should support whites who wish to exercise their Right of Return to their ancestral lands, to these urban areas.

Furthermore, we should put pressure on the minorities and their descendants who dispossessed the whites of their lands to move out.

Sure, we might pretend to accept compromise for the time being, but our end game is to reclaim these urban areas in their totality for dispossessed whites. In the meantime we should advocate a two city solution or a multiple city solution in mixed minority areas. One city for whites, one city for African Americans, one city for Hispanic Americans, one city for Asian Americans, and so forth.

And we should lobby to receive greater recognition from the United Urbanites' General Assembly including those urbanites who were themselves unaffected by white flight.

But let's keep in mind we want nothing less than all urban lands and properties in the hands of dispossessed whites as well as the expulsion of those minorities and their descendants who pushed out whites. This must be the final solution.

A method of study

Bill Vallicella offers helpful advice on how to study.
A great deal could be said on this topic. Here are a few thoughts that may be helpful. Test them against your own experience.

1. Make good use of the morning, which is an excellent time for such activities as reading, writing, study and meditation. But to put the morning to good use, one must arise early. I get up at 2:30, but you needn't be so monkish. Try arising one or two hours earlier than you presently do. That will provide you with a block of quiet time. Fruitful mornings are of course impossible if one's evenings are spent dissipating.

2. Abstain from all mass media dreck in the morning. Read no newspapers. "Read not The Times, read the eternities." (Thoreau) No electronics. No computer use, telephony, TV, e-mail, etc. Just as you wouldn't pollute your body with whisky and cigarettes upon arising, so too you ought not pollute your pristine morning mind with the irritant dust of useless facts, the palaver of groundless opinions, and every manner of distraction. There is time for that stuff later in the day if you must have it. The mornings should be kept free and clear for study that promises long-term profit.

3. Although desultory reading is enjoyable, it is best to have a plan. Pick one or a small number of topics that strike you as interesting and important and focus on them. I distinguish between bed reading and desk reading. Such lighter reading as biography and history can be done in bed, but hard-core materials require a desk and such other accessories as pens of various colors for different sorts of annotations and underlinings, notebooks, a cup of coffee, a fine cigar . . . .

4. If you read books of lasting value, you ought to study what you read, and if you study, you ought to take notes. And if you take notes, you owe it to yourself to assemble them into some sort of coherent commentary. What is the point of studious reading if not to evaluate critically what you read, assimilating the good while rejecting the bad? The forming of the mind is the name of the game. This won't occur from passive reading, but only by an active engagement with the material. The best way to do this is by writing up your own take on it. Here is where blogging can be useful. Since blog posts are made public, your self-respect will give you an incentive to work at saying something intelligent.

5. An illustration. Right now I have about a half-dozen projects going. One is an article for publication in a professional journal on the philosophy of Milton K. Munitz. What I have been doing very early in the morning is studying and taking notes on four of his books that are relevant to my project. I write these notes and quotations and criticisms into a journal the old-fashioned way. Like I said, no electronics early in the morning. Computer is off and internet connection as well. This eliminates the temptation to check e-mail, follow hyperlinks, and waste time. Later in the day I incorporate these hand-written notes into a long blog post I am writing. When that post is finished and published and I receive some comments, I will then write up the post as a formal article and send it to a journal.

The beauty of this is that one has something to show for the hours spent studying. One has a finished product in which one's thoughts are organized and preserved and to which one can refer later.

6. How keep track of a vast amount of resources? A weblog can be useful as an on-line filing cabinet. I also keep a daily journal.
By the way, I note a lot of Christians could benefit from his advice by applying it to their study of the Bible.

Although obviously there are key differences - e.g. we believe we meet with God himself in his word, we study the Bible prayerfully, etc.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A poker tell

From Carl Trueman:
I see Mark Driscoll has had a go at my old country. Well, not really. Only foreigners really talk of 'Brits.' Those of us from the UK never think of ourselves in those terms: we are English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish, especially during the Six Nations. To have a go at the old country, you have to be a bit more specific, I am afraid.

I am surprised at the offence his comments have apparently caused. I cannot speak for the Celts, but the English take a certain pleasure in being hated and rubbished by everyone else. The nation -- like the man -- who has no enemies has, after all, no honour. Nevertheless, there is one quotation which is worth noting:

"Let's just say this: right now, name for me the one young, good Bible teacher that is known across Great Britain. You don't have one - that's the problem."

Notice the three important elements of this sentence: the definite article, 'young' and 'known across Britain.' The Great Man, youth and fame: not high on the list of Paul's priorities; and three basic elements of celebrity culture.

A bit of a poker tell, is it not?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Philosotoddler

Get 'em while they're young

Get them while they're young. This is the unspoken (and not so unspoken) mission of churches everywhere. They understand how critical it is to gain converts before they become adults...before they're exposed to science, history, other religions and other points of view. They aggressively target children and youth with marketing campaigns that rival many advertising companies. They sponsor events, activities, games and lots of free food for the opportunity to influence impressionable minds. - The Thinking Atheist
Now check out this video:



So how are atheists and agnostics in this video significantly different? Aren't there hundreds if not thousands of atheists and agnostic "freethinkers" gathered at the annual Texas Freethought Convention? Aren't they inviting star guests like a cancer-stricken Christopher Hitchens to do Q&As and perhaps give a speech? Doesn't he offer recommendations on "freethinking" literature for children to read? Aren't "freethinking" parents teaching their kids to subscribe to "freethinking" beliefs and values? And so on and so forth. (Of course, "freethought" is really just a euphemism for misotheistic beliefs and values.)

True Grit

Hawking at 70



"What Breathes Fire into the Equations? Professor Stephen Hawking at 70" by Albert Mohler.

Monday, January 9, 2012

30 favorite novels and movies

WORLD Magazine asks 30 evangelicals what their five favorite novels and five favorite movies of the past 20 years are - 1986-2006, give or take.

I laughed at William Dembski's response.

Yo-yo malpractice



According to the WSJ article: "An angiogram shows the ruined veins in pro yo-yoist Dave Schulte's index finger."

(By the way, as others have noted, looks more like arteries, no?)

Jonny Crossbones

Jonny Crossbones is a sort of modern homage to Tintin.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Serving God's Words



I think D.A. Carson's "The minister's 'devotional' reading of the Bible" in Peter Adam's Festschrift Serving God's Words is worth the price of the book.

Children of Men

"JRR Tolkien snubbed by 1961 Nobel jury, papers reveal"



The BBC claims JRR Tolkien was "snubbed" by the Nobel jury for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Well, I don't necessarily think Tolkien deserved to win. See Edmund Wilson's review (pdf), for instance. But be that as it may.

What's more interesting to me is that CS Lewis nominated Tolkien for the Nobel in the first place.

Bigger on the inside than on the outside

Multiverse mayhem

Jim S. at Quodlibeta points out several problems with the multiverse theory of the universe. I don't agree with everything, but he does make some fine points.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Partisan politics and vicious assaults

Peter Wehner writes:
First it was Alan Colmes; now it is Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, who went on MSNBC to mock Rick Santorum for how he and his wife Karen dealt with the death of their son Gabriel. (A severe prenatal development led to his very early delivery, and Gabriel died two hours after his birth.)
Read the rest here.

Mathematicians solve minimum Sudoku problem

Friday, January 6, 2012

Interview programming problems done right

William Shields explains.

Tintin-Doctor Who mashup

My favorite Tintin comic books



Here are my rankings of the Tintin books. This is nothing more than a "favorite Tintin books" list.

Just a few notes about my list:
  1. Each Tintin book is listed under a one to five star category with five stars being the best. And no in-between stars like 3.5 stars or 4.25 stars either. Just straight one, two, three, four, or five stars. No zero stars.

  2. And under each of the categories I listed the Tintin book in order of publication date. Not in order of preference. For example, all the Tintin books under three stars are roughly equivalent to one another. I don't really have a strong preference within each category, although I could list ones I personally liked for this or that reason more than others. But in the end I liked all the stories under each category of stars more or less the same, even if for different reasons.

  3. Obviously a favorites list is bound to be subjective to a large degree. One can't always objectively define why one person favors this particular story over another story any more than one can always objectively define why blue, not red, is a person's favorite color.

    It's mainly about how much I liked the story, which in turn is dependent upon a number of personal factors like how I grew up, my sense of humor, what kind of people, places, events, or other things in a story I find "fun" or "enjoyable" (which in turn again invite more subjective elements and judgments).

    True, there is a sense of objectivity in, say, what makes for a well-crafted story. But just because a story is technically well-crafted doesn't necessarily mean it's enjoyable for everyone. For example, I can respect how technically sophisticated and well-crafted a movie like Citizen Kane is, but it doesn't mean I'd like it nearly as much as something silly but fun like The Princess Bride or Star Wars or Batman. However sometimes there is the happy confluence of the objective as well as subjective such as in the movie Dark City.

    Similarly one needs to be well-versed in a particular subject in order to know how to break its rules and transcend the subject. For example, T.S. Eliot was a masterful poet. A very modern poet too. And an autobiographical poet in the sense that his art, if not imitates, mirrors his life, moving from the hopeless moral nihilism we read in The Waste Land to the God-soaked The Four Quartets when he became an Anglican churchman. Yet Eliot knew how past poets penned their poems, he knew about the different elements which have historically made for fine poetry (e.g. prosody, rhyming schemes, forms), he was learned in poetic history from the epic Homeric poems to the most recent avant-garde poems written in his day, etc., and so he knew how to break with tradition in order to create novel poetry.

    In the same way I can appreciate how learned Hergé was in European comics (very different from our American tradition of comics), how to draw comics, and so forth, and therefore I can appreciate some of his experimental attempts to do something new within the comic medium. But it doesn't mean I necessarily enjoy everything he's done. Some of it is amazing (e.g. ligne claire), while others not so much.

    Again my "favorite Tintin stories" list depends in large part on many subjective and personal elements. What's more, many of these elements are intangible. Many of these elements are, in fact, inexpressible and tacit. One can't always explain in a logical, rigorous, analytical way why one likes something and not something else. Even an astute and intelligent as well as knowledgeable person with a high verbal facility can't always communicate why he or she likes something. Let alone someone like me who is far, far less astute, intelligent, knowledgeable, fluent, and so forth. Sometimes we just like what we like and that's all we can say.

  4. I provide a very brief plot summary without spoilers after each title too. I'll probably come back to this bit whenever I can find more time. I'd like to share detailed thoughts on each story if I can.

  5. If you want more info about Tintin and his creator Hergé, check out this article from Fred Sanders and this interview with Michael Farr. Other articles which shed light on Tintin and Hergé are from The Economist as well as The Wall Street Journal.

  6. If you want other favorite Tintin lists, I noticed Thomas Wikman and Colin Ricketts have written their own.
Five Stars (★★★★★)
  • The Blue Lotus (1936). Tintin in 1930s China. Quite political, quite progressive for the period of time. Hergé was helped with the facts of the story as well as other matters such as drawing the Chinese characters by his real life Chinese friend whom Hergé wanted to give co-author credit but his friend turned it down. An early story which quite honestly I didn't think I'd enjoy since I don't personally find this period of Chinese history particularly interesting, but having read it I think it's the best Tintin story.
  • Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun (1948/1949). Tintin in South America among a sort of neo-Incan secret society. By turns amusing, thrilling, and spooky. Loads of fun. Right up there with Blue Lotus, but more of a fun and adventurous story than a political one like Blue Lotus.
Four Stars (★★★★)
  • Destination Moon/Explorers on the Moon (1953/1954). Tintin goes to the moon. The first story (Destination Moon) is very talky and not my cup of tea. Lots of dialogue. But the second story (Explorers on the Moon) really picks up. Lots of adventure. Some of Hergé's most beautiful art too, at least in my view. By the way, prior to reading this story, I thought it would be my favorite of all the Tintin stories because I love space and astronomy and the like. It's still up there, but not as high as I expected it to be.
  • Calculus Affair (1956). Tintin by way of an Alfred Hitchcock or classic spy or espionage thriller.
  • Tintin in Tibet (1960). Tintin searches for his best friend, Chang. No real enemies to combat. A simple, moving story.
  • Flight 714 (1968). Tintin meets Lost (TV) meets early Spielberg. Some people love this story, others hate it. I'm of course in the former camp. But I happen to like Lost in its first season and some of Spielberg's early work so that probably explains a lot of the reason why.
Three Stars (★★★)
  • The Broken Ear (1937). Tintin in Central America, trying to keep one banana republic in tact.
  • The Black Island (1938). Tintin in Scotland and facing a dangerous beast.
  • King Ottokar's Sceptre (1939). Tintin saves a monarch from the dictator Musstler by finding his sceptre.
  • The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941). Tintin tries to foil opium smugglers.
  • The Shooting Star (1942). Tintin on the high seas and in a race to get to a fallen star aka meteorite. The meteorite is a silly idea but I liked the race by boat to the Arctic.
  • Secret of the Unicorn/Red Rackham's Treasure (1943/1944). Tintin channeling Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne. Also the basis of the new Spielberg-Jackson Tintin movie (along with The Crab with the Golden Claws where we first meet Captain Haddock). These 1941-1944 Tintin stories are strictly Tintin adventures rather than dealing with politics given that Nazi Germany had taken over Belgium at this point and it was therefore dangerous for Hergé to write too much about politics as he did, for example, in The Blue Lotus.
  • Land of Black Gold (1950). Tintin in the Mideast over oil. Interesting how the Mideast, oil, Islam, and the like were viewed back then.
  • Red Sea Sharks (1958). Tintin spoils slave traders.
  • Castafiore Emerald (1963). Tintin channels P.G. Wodehouse. The plot is pretty thin, nothing much happens. The story takes place entirely on the grounds of Marlinspike, which is Captain Haddock's inherited mansion residence. The story contains a lot of attempted comedy and red herrings. A lot of people love this story. I thought it was a good experiment, but not Hergé's best work.
Two Stars (★★)
  • Cigars of the Pharaoh (1934). Tintin in Egypt. But reads more like a series of set-pieces where Tintin tries to escape from one small adventure to another. Some narrow escapes were more fun than others. There is an overall story but I didn't find it very interesting. The best part of this story is that it leads into The Blue Lotus.
One Star (★)
  • Tintin and the Picaros (1976). Tintin back in South America with the guerrillas as in The Broken Ear. But Hergé has lost his mojo. The magic is gone. Tintin isn't himself. He's not even wearing his trademark pants or trousers!
Unread
  • Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (1930)
  • Tintin in the Congo (1931)
  • Tintin in America (1932)
  • Tintin and Alph-Art (unfinished)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows



Just saw the latest Sherlock Holmes flick. Quite a fun movie!

Not canonical. Nor cerebral. But still clever and witty in its own way. And lots and lots of action. I enjoy Guy Ritchie's style though. Those who don't probably wouldn't appreciate the movie.

I loved how Ritchie did Reichenbach Falls. I won't say more.

(I haven't seen season 2 of the Beeb's Sherlock, but I definitely plan to do so at some point in the near future. Loved season 1.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Big Blog Theory



If you're a fan of the TV sit-com The Big Bang Theory (like I am), then you might be interested to know there's a blog called The Big Blog Theory authored by Prof. David Saltzberg who is a UCLA physicist and science consultant for the show.

What is good mathematics?

"What is good mathematics?" (pdf) by Terence Tao.

Ligne claire



"Clear Lines" by Jenny Hendrix.

By the way, her piece on Sherlock Holmes is somewhat interesting too.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The West and the rest

Why is the West is so much more successful than the rest of the world?

A significant (and probably fair) assumption is success is primarily measured in terms of economics, wealth, quality of life.

Economic historian Niall Ferguson offers an explanation which involves "six killer apps" in his TED talk: competition; the Scientific Revolution; the rule of law and representative government; modern medicine; the consumer society; and the Protestant work ethic. Further he argues other nations are adopting these "six killer apps" today, thereby making themselves successful, whereas these "apps" are degrading in Western nations. Although it remains an open question whether all six "apps" are necessary for success and whether the sequence matters (e.g. China does not have representative government but does have a strong work ethic).

This is in the vein of Victor Davis Hanson's earlier work Carnage and Culture, which in turn is a response to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. If it can be reduced to a single word, Diamond's book argues the West is so much more successful because of geography. Hanson responds and argues, again if we can reduce the argument to a word, that it is not geography but culture.

By the way, Ferguson points out the economic and many other significant discrepancies between East and West Germany (prior to the end of the Cold War) and the current discrepancies between North and South Korea rule out geography as an explanation because Germany and Korea would be in the same geographic area, with similar natural resources, societies and culture, etc. Their main difference is democracy vs. communism. (Although I wonder if East Germany and North Korea don't have less natural resources and more geographic obstacles than West Germany and South Korea?)

Rodney Stark's books argue the success is fundamentally due to religion i.e. Judeo-Christianity.

Speaking for myself, at the end of the day I'd side with Stark, although there are merits to everyone's points, to varying degrees.

Une couverture perdue de Tintin

Quel est votre album des aventures de Tintin préféré? Un très difficile choix! Mais pour moi je pense que je préfère:



(Source)

Sonic screwdriver



(Warning: contains some violence.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Best commanders of World War II



Here is Max Hastings' judgment of the Second World War's commanders from his book Inferno:
The Germans and Russians proved more successful than the Western Allies in fulfilling the requirement identified by Howard: to empower commanders who fought rather than managed. For American, British, Canadian, Polish and French troops at the sharp end, the 1944–45 northwest Europe campaign seldom seemed less than horrific. But the casualty figures, on both sides a fraction of those in the east, emphasise its relative moderation once the fighting in Normandy was over. With the exception of a few such enthusiasts as Patton, Allied commanders understood that they were mandated to win the war at the lowest possible human cost, and thus that caution was a virtue, even in victory. By pursuing such a policy, they fulfilled the will both of their societies and their citizen soldiers.

The rival claims to greatness of individual commanders are impervious to objective ranking. Circumstances decisively influenced outcomes: no general could perform better than the institutional strength or weakness of his forces allowed. Thus, it is possible that Patton – for instance – might have shown himself a great general, had he led forces with the Wehrmacht’s skills or the Red Army’s tolerance of casualties. As it was, especially in pursuit he displayed an inspiration and energy rare among Allied generals; but in hard fighting, his army fared no better than those of his peers. Eisenhower will never be celebrated as a strategist or tactician, but achieved greatness by his diplomatic management of the Anglo-American alliance in the field. Lucien Truscott, who finished the war commanding the US Fifth Army in Italy, was arguably the ablest American officer of his rank, though much less celebrated than some of his peers. MacArthur was distinguished by the splendour of his self-image as a warlord, which it suited his nation to indulge, rather than by gifts as a battlefield commander. While he directed the 1944 phase of the New Guinea campaign with some flair, he floundered in the Philippines; superior resources, especially air support, were the deciding factors in his victories. MacArthur was a narrowly affordable luxury rather than an asset to his country’s strategic purposes. The outstanding personality of the Japanese war was Nimitz, who directed the US Navy’s Pacific campaign with cool confidence and judgement, often displaying brilliance, especially in the exploitation of intelligence. Spruance showed himself the ablest fleet commander at sea.

On the British side Cunningham, Somerville and Horton were outstanding naval officers, Sir Arthur Tedder the best of the airmen. Slim, who led Fourteenth Army in Burma, was probably the most gifted British general of the war, and certainly the most attractive command personality; his 1945 crossing of the Irrawaddy and outflanking of the Japanese at Meiktila were notable achievements. But Slim would have struggled to extract any better results from Britain’s desert army in 1941–42 than did Wavell or Auchinleck, because of its collective shortcomings. Montgomery was a highly competent professional; it is unlikely that any other Allied commander could have surpassed his direction of the 1944 Normandy campaign, where attrition was inescapable, but he diminished his reputation by epic boorishness in conducting the vital relationship with the Americans. ‘Monty’ deserves a significant part of the credit for the success of the invasion of France, but never achieved a masterstroke which would place him among history’s great captains.

The Soviet Union’s best generals displayed a confidence in handling large forces unmatched elsewhere on the Allied side. In the first half of the war, they suffered interference by Stalin almost as damaging to Russia’s prospects of survival as was that of Hitler to Germany’s cause. But from late 1942 onwards, Stalin became much more receptive to his marshals’ judgements, and the Soviet war effort correspondingly more successful. Chuikov deserves full credit for the defence of Stalingrad; Zhukov, Konev, Vasilevsky and Rokossovsky were commanders of the highest gifts, though their achievements would have been impossible without their nation’s tolerance of sacrifice. Soviet victories were purchased at a human cost no democracy would have accepted, no Western general allowed to indulge. The raw aggression of Soviet commanders in 1943–45 contrasts with the caution of most American and British leaders, a reflection of their respective societies. The Red Army never showed itself superior man for man to its German opponents: until the end, the Wehrmacht inflicted disproportionate losses. Russian commanders produced their finest performances in the summer 1944 Operation Bagration, when 166 divisions attacked on a front of 620 miles. The storm of Berlin, by contrast, was conducted with a brutish clumsiness which diminished the reputation of Zhukov.

Among the Germans, von Rundstedt displayed the highest professionalism from 1939 to the end. In the desert, Rommel displayed similar gifts to those of Patton, but like the American paid insufficient attention to the critical influence of logistics. The Allies esteemed Rommel more highly than did many German officers, partly because British and American self-respect was massaged by attributing their setbacks to his supposed genius. Manstein, a superb professional, was the architect of great victories in Russia in 1941–42, and probably Germany’s best general of the war, but failure at Kursk emphasised his limitations: hubristically, he accepted responsibility for launching a vast offensive which could not hope to succeed against superior Russian strength, dispositions – and generalship. Kesselring’s 1943–45 defence of Italy places him in the front rank of commanders. Guderian was the personification of the Wehrmacht’s skill in exploiting armour. Several of Germany’s generals, Model among them, merit more admiration for the manner in which they sustained defensive campaigns in the years of retreat, with inferior forces and negligible air support, than for victories in the period when the Wehrmacht was stronger than its foes. Hitler’s strategic interventions prevented any German commander from claiming absolute credit for victories, or accepting absolute responsibility for defeats. The institutional achievement of the German army and its staff seems greater than that of any individual general. The overriding historical reality is that they lost the war.

Yamashita, who directed the 1942 seizure of Malaya and the 1944–45 defence of the Philippines, was Japan’s ablest ground-force commander. Otherwise, the energy and courage of Japanese soldiers and junior officers were more impressive than the strategic grasp of their leaders. These were hamstrung throughout by huge failures of intelligence, which transcended mere technical inadequacy, reflecting a deeper cultural incapacity to consider what might be happening on the other side of the hill. The defence of successive Pacific islands reflected professional competence among some garrison commanders who lacked scope and resources to exploit any higher gifts. Afloat, though luck played an important part in the Battle of the Coral Sea and at Midway, Japan’s admirals displayed astonishing timidity, and were repeatedly outguessed and outfought by their American opponents. Yamamoto merits some respect for his direction of Japan’s initial 1941–42 offensives, but must bear a heavy responsibility for much that went wrong afterwards. Only his death in April 1943 spared him from presiding over the national march to oblivion he had always recognised as inevitable.

William Dembski interview



An informative interview with William Dembski. It's mainly about the course of his life including his pioneering work in Intelligent Design.

HT: Steve Hays.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

It is not well with my soul

Atheist Joel Marks writes:
A helpful analogy, at least for the atheist, is sin. Even though words like ‘sinful’ and ‘evil’ come naturally to the tongue as a description of, say, child-molesting, they do not describe any actual properties of anything. There are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God and hence the whole religious superstructure that would include such categories as sin and evil. Just so, I now maintain, nothing is literally right or wrong because there is no Morality.

It is well with my soul


According to Wikipedia:
On September 5, 1861, in Chicago, Horatio Spafford married Anna Larsen of Stavanger, Norway. The Spaffords were well-known in 1860s Chicago. Horatio was a prominent lawyer. He and his wife were also prominent supporters and close friends of evangelist Dwight L. Moody.

Spafford had invested heavily in the city's real estate. The Great Chicago Fire which swept through the city in 1871 destroyed almost everything Spafford owned.

The Spaffords' only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four.

Two years later, in 1873, Spafford decided his family should take a holiday somewhere in Europe. He chose England knowing that his friend D. L. Moody would be preaching there in the fall. He was delayed because of business, so he sent his family ahead, his wife and their four daughters: eleven year old Anna "Annie"; nine year old Margaret Lee; five year old Elizabeth "Bessie"; and two year old Tanetta.

On November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Ville du Havre, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and 226 people lost their lives including all four of Spafford's daughters. Anna Spafford survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford beginning "Saved alone."

Spafford then sailed to England, going over the location of his daughters' deaths. According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote "It Is Well With My Soul" on this journey.
By the way, Philip Bliss, who wrote the melody for Horatio Spafford's "It is well with my soul," perished only a couple of years later:
On 29 December 1876 the Pacific Express train which Bliss and his wife were traveling in approached Ashtabula, Ohio. While the train was in the process of crossing a trestle bridge, which collapsed, all carriages fell into the ravine below. Bliss escaped the carriage but the carriages caught fire and Bliss returned to try and extricate his wife. No trace of either body was discovered. Ninety-two of the 160 passengers are believed to have died in what became known as the Ashtabula River Railroad Disaster. The Blisses were survived by their two sons, George and Philip Paul, then aged 4 and 1 respectively.
"Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cloud of war



Some people argue Iran should be able to have nuclear weapons. After all, we have nuclear weapons. Likewise other nations like Russia, China, the UK, France, and Israel. So it's only fair Iran is allowed nuclear weapons.

However, I think this is a bit simplistic:
  1. Iran has a different moral and ethical code than we do. They don't act like Western democratic nations act. Right now I'm not saying they have a superior or inferior moral or ethical code than we do, per se. I'm just pointing out the difference.

    When we say it's only fair to allow Iran to have nukes because we and others have nukes, we're granting Iran the right based on our morals or ethics. But since Iran doesn't share our moral or ethical sensibilities, it's not necessarily the case that they would do the same for us given their morals or ethics.

    So there's not necessarily the same moral or ethical parity we might expect there to be.

    In fact, common sense would seem to suggest it's highly unlikely if our roles were reversed - that is, if Iran were in our position as a superpower with nuclear weapons and we were a politically, socially, economically, and militarily weaker nation - that they would allow us to possess nuclear weapons. Why treat them in a way they almost certainly wouldn't treat us?

  2. Maybe we can compare the argument over allowing Iran to possess nuclear weapons to the argument that since some people have a gun everyone should be allowed to have a gun too.

    a. But we don't necessarily allow everyone to own a gun. Some people are known criminals with a long history of crime. Say thieves and murderers.

    Some people are mentally, emotionally, or psychologically unstable.

    Some people are morally irresponsible.

    And so forth.

    b. What's more, even among gun owners, we also make other distinctions and restrictions.

    For example, we require permits and licenses. We differentiate between different firearms such as guns and rifles. We don't allow everyone to own military grade guns. Concealed weapons.

    And on and on.

    c. The point is not that I'm against gun ownership. Rather the point is that it's necessary to draw distinctions even if we can agree upon a certain principle or principles. Let alone if we can't agree upon any principles.

  3. Generally speaking, a nation has the authority to restrain and/or punish its citizens if the citizen commits an immoral or at least illegal act (e.g. fines, imprisonment, death penalty). But who has the authority to restrain and/or punish a nation which commits an immoral act?

    Another nation? An alliance of nations? The United Nations?

    Sure, we can make alliances with other nations such as the Allies did against the Nazis and fascists in the Second World War.

    All things equal, it'd most likely be easier for other nations to restrain an immorally acting nation which doesn't have nuclear weapons than an immorally acting nation which does have nuclear weapons. A nation with nuclear weapons is much harder to restrain.

    A nuclear weapon is like a trump card. Nothing beats a nuclear weapon.

  4. Generally speaking it's easier to negotiate with nations which share significant and relevant enough commonalities such as the value for life. What do we do about nations which don't value life as Western democratic nations have historically valued life? Say suicidal nations that don't care about killing others even at the cost of their own extinction? At least the Russians subscribed to the notion of mutually assured destruction.

  5. Similarly, what about rogue groups like terrorist organizations which we can't directly retaliate against?

  6. Much depends on a nation's moral or ethical compass including its intentions. What's Iran's? Is it self-defense?

    And why trust duplicitous nations?

  7. In fact, Iran will use nuclear weapons to gain leverage on the international scene. They intend to use nuclear weapons to keep us from interfering as much with their other non-nuclear activities such as sponsoring terrorism against Western democratic nations.

Murdered by an assassin, killed by medicine



I shudder to consider what the best medical science had to offer in the late 1800s, although I wonder what medical scientists and physicians will think of us in a hundred or so years (if the Lord has not come by then):
President James A. Garfield lay in a rodent-infested sickroom in the White House, a bullet lodged in his body. Weeks had passed since the assassin had struck, but more than a dozen doctors were struggling to save him. Day after day, summer temperatures approached 100 degrees, and mosquitoes thrived in the swamps around Washington. Four White House staff members had contracted malaria recently, as had the first lady, Lucretia Garfield. The president’s internal infections raged and spread, fevers came and went, and his heart began to weaken. He felt it most in his lower extremities—the acute neurological sensations he called “tiger’s claws,” which seized him regularly. Aides at his bedside would squeeze his feet and calves with all their might to relieve the 49-year-old president’s pain.

“Yes, I suffer some,” he told one attendant. “I suppose the tigers are coming back, but they don’t usually stay long. Don’t be alarmed, old boy!”

His three oldest children, Harry, James and Mollie, all teenagers, were taken into his room for visits, advised to do most of the talking and not to bring up anything unpleasant out of fear of aggravating their father’s condition. Doctors desperately probed Garfield’s abdomen with unsterilized tools and unwashed hands in search of the bullet, which had lodged harmlessly in soft tissue near his vertebrae. Such a gunshot wound today would require no more than a few days in the hospital. But the 20th president of the United States was spiraling rapidly and inevitably to his death—bravely and for the most part in good cheer as his physicians made one mistake after another, from nutrition to medication. . . .

The president was taken to the White House. Over the next 24 hours, more than 15 doctors stuffed their unwashed fingers into his intestinal wound, trying to locate Guiteau’s bullet and ultimately causing sepsis. They repeatedly injected him with morphine, causing the president to vomit; they next tried champagne, which only made him sicker. Joseph Lister, a British surgeon and pioneer of antiseptic surgery, had been advocating since Lincoln’s death for more sterile procedures and environments, but American doctors ridiculed him. “In order to successfully practice Mr. Lister’s Antiseptic Method,” one doctor scoffed in 1878, “it is necessary that we should believe, or act as if we believed, the atmosphere to be loaded with germs.”

As the weeks passed, Garfield’s body became engorged with pus. His face began to swell and had to be drained. Initial meals of steak, eggs and brandy were soon replaced by eggs, bouillon, milk, whiskey and opium. He lost nearly 100 pounds as his doctor’s starved him. Doctors inserted drainage tubes and continued to probe for the bullet; at one point, they brought in Alexander Graham Bell, who had invented a metal detector and thought he might be able to locate the slug by passing it over the president’s abdomen. All was for naught.

Garfield asked to be moved to a peaceful oceanfront cottage in Long Branch, New Jersey where he’d been a regular visitor over the years. Local residents, informed that the ailing president was planning to arrive in Long Branch, laid down half a mile of railroad tracks in 24 hours, so that rather than ride by horse and carriage over rough roads, the president could be taken smoothly by train, right to the cottage door. Garfield found no relief from the staggering heat, and he died in his bed in the New Jersey cottage on September 18, 1881, less than two weeks after he arrived. On the following day, the emergency tracks were torn up and the wooden ties were used to build the Garfield Tea House, which stands today. That November, Charles Guiteau stood trial for murder, was convicted and hanged the following summer. Defending himself in court, he had declared, “The doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him.”
HT: Tim Challies.

Restart page



I'm (unfortunately) not patient enough to sit through a restart or reboot. So I don't think I'd enjoy the restart page all that much. Maybe others will find it more interesting than I do.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

During World War II, many Arabs supported the Nazis (against the Jews) and several prominent leaders escaped to Berlin to spend time with Hitler and the other Nazis (e.g. the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini).

Let's say Hitler had better supported Rommel's Afrika Korps such that Rommel was able to win the war in North Africa. Let's say the Nazis then invaded and conquered the Mideast.*

I take it the Nazis would have started to exterminate the Jews in the Mideast. I take it the Arabs would've supported the Nazis since they would've shared a common hatred for the Jews.

But after the Jews were dead, what would be next? Arabs are non-Aryans. As such, wouldn't Hitler and the Nazis have considered the Arabs inferior? If so, then, at best, the Arabs would've been treated as second class citizens if the Nazis had won in the Mideast. So why such support among Arabs for the Nazis then and (it frequently appears) now? The enemy of my enemy is my friend?

By the way, if the Nazis had treated the Arabs as second class citizens, it would've been ironic given most Arabs are Muslim and sharia law sanctions the treatment of non-Muslims as second class citizens.


* As I understand it, this was a viable option at the time. It's arguable Hitler could have won the entire war if he had invaded the Mideast in lieu of invading Russia or at least prior to invading Russia.

For one thing, the British received something like 80% of their total oil supply from their Mideast colonies. If the Germans took over these lands, then they would've cut off the vast majority of the British oil supply and effectively caused the British military to grind to a halt.

For another thing, it almost certainly wouldn't have taken the 4 million German soldiers it took Hitler to invade Russia. Hitler could have arguably conquered North Africa and the Mideast with a quarter of that amount if not less. Not only would he have committed far less troops which could've been used elsewhere and for other purposes, but he arguably would've sustained a lot less losses in a North Africa/Mideast campaign than what he lost on the Eastern Front against Russia. Four out every five German soldiers killed in the whole of the Second World War were killed by the Russians. The German military was bled dry by the Russians.

Hitler could've then invaded Russia from the Mideast. If successful, which he arguably would've have been, Hitler would've achieved two key objectives: cutting Russia off from oil for use by the Soviet military and given the Nazi Wehrmacht access to Stalin's vast and rich oil fields in the Caucasus. In fact, this was a large reason why Hitler pushed so much to win the Battle of Stalingrad, which he eventually lost.

By the way, it's staggering to think the Germans lost approximately 850,000 soldiers in a single battle, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the Russians over 1.1 million, whereas the US and the UK lost approximately 900,000 combined in the entire Second World War. Of course, this shouldn't be taken to imply the US and UK did far less "work" in winning WWII than the Russians did, like so many World War II historians appear to think these days. For instance, Russia never had to supply the US or UK like the US and UK supplied Russia throughout the war. Russia never fought a multiple front war like the UK and particularly the US did. In fact, the US did the bulk of the fighting which contributed to the Japanese loss. And it probably speaks well of the strategic and tactical savvy of the US and UK in contrast to Russia and/or poorly of the strategic and tactical savvy of the Russians in contrast to the US and UK.

(Although arguably the best Allied general of the entire war was not Patton or Monty or Eisenhower, but William Slim in Burma and India. It's arguable the fighting in Burma kept the Japanese from conquering China. However the Pacific War was more renowned for its naval engagements and Chester Nimitz probably takes the cake as the best admiral among all forces. It's arguable Nimitz's plan to bypass the Philippines and take Taiwan was better from a strategic perspective than MacArthur's plan to invade the Philippines. For better or for worse, we went with MacArthur's plan. Georgy Zhukov was arguably the best general out of all the generals in World War II. Ahead of Patton, Monty, Rommel, Guderian, von Manstein. But Zhukov was ruthless and brutal too.)

Of course, Hitler invaded Russia in 1941 because he placed Nazi ideology ahead of military strategy. He considered Germans a superior Aryan race (e.g. he made ridiculous comments like German soldiers were far more physically durable than Russians and therefore didn't need to wear heavy winter clothing for the Russian winter which in many places where the Germans fought would've lower than -100 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill factor). He hated the Jews most of all but only hated the Slavs and Bolsheviks slightly less. He wanted lebensraum or living space for his Aryan race. I should add, from what I've read, Hitler considered the British "Aryan cousins" and so felt war with them was unfortunate. He would've preferred the UK sit out of the war. Of course, this doesn't exonerate Hitler in the slightest. But if true I think it would explain at least in part Hitler's appallingly bad grasp of military strategy (e.g. the miracle of Dunkirk). His racist ideology helped bring him to power, but it also contributed to his downfall.

No place to call home



Just a few thoughts on Israel and the Palestinians:
  1. On the one hand, many liberals argue we should grant U.S. citizenship to thousands if not millions of illegal immigrants. They argue it's a moral or ethical issue.

    On the other hand, many of these same liberals apparently don't expect Arab countries to do the same for (Palestinian) refugees in their nations.

    Why the inconsistency? Do we have different moral or ethical standards between nations?

  2. It's true illegal immigrants aren't necessarily refugees. But in that case shouldn't a nation have more compassion for refugees than for illegal immigrants?

  3. At least as I understand it, many of these same liberals likewise demand Israel grant citizenship to Palestinians in Israel. But why should a nation, Israel, grant citizenship to refugees while other nations are exempted from doing so (e.g. Jordan, Lebanon, Syria)?

  4. In fact, again as I understand it, the Palestinian National Authority (PA) doesn't even recognize their own people as citizens (e.g. the refugees in Balata). I don't detect a strong moral outcry among these liberals for the PA to do so either. So why should Israel?

  5. If the PA started to recognize Palestinian refugees as citizens, then they would have to accept the fact that these Palestinians are no longer refugees. And the PA as well as many others including the rest of the Arab Muslim world can't have that. That would ruin everything.

White flight



Many whites subscribe to the right of return for the purported Palestinian "people" (PPP).

In the last century, many whites were indirectly or directly pressured to leave urban areas for suburbia as well as elsewhere. This phenomenon was known as "white flight." Just as the PPP had to flee their lands and properties due to war and other factors, these whites had to do the same in the face of "war" and other factors as well. Sure, this latter meaning of war isn't necessarily identical to the former meaning of war. But the Cold War wasn't identical to World War II. Nevertheless both were very real wars.

It's possible there are now thousands if not millions of descendants of whites who are unaware of their status as internally displaced persons. But as internally displaced persons, these whites should realize they have been historically dispossessed of their lands and properties. They should realize it was land which rightfully belonged to their parents, grandparents, and so on.

Hence, I think it'd be a good idea to form an organization to address this terrible and terribly overlooked travesty. It certainly doesn't receive enough attention in the public eye. I recommend we call it the White Liberation Organization (WLO).

We should support whites who wish to exercise their Right of Return to their ancestral lands, to these urban areas.

Furthermore, we should put pressure on the minorities and their descendants who dispossessed the whites of their lands to move out.

Sure, we might pretend to accept compromise for the time being, but our end game is to reclaim these urban areas in their totality for dispossessed whites. In the meantime we should advocate a two city solution or a multiple city solution in mixed minority areas. One city for whites, one city for African Americans, one city for Hispanic Americans, one city for Asian Americans, and so forth.

And we should lobby to receive greater recognition from the United Urbanites' General Assembly including those urbanites who were themselves unaffected by white flight.

But let's keep in mind we want nothing less than all urban lands and properties in the hands of dispossessed whites as well as the expulsion of those minorities and their descendants who pushed out whites. This must be the final solution.

A method of study

Bill Vallicella offers helpful advice on how to study.
A great deal could be said on this topic. Here are a few thoughts that may be helpful. Test them against your own experience.

1. Make good use of the morning, which is an excellent time for such activities as reading, writing, study and meditation. But to put the morning to good use, one must arise early. I get up at 2:30, but you needn't be so monkish. Try arising one or two hours earlier than you presently do. That will provide you with a block of quiet time. Fruitful mornings are of course impossible if one's evenings are spent dissipating.

2. Abstain from all mass media dreck in the morning. Read no newspapers. "Read not The Times, read the eternities." (Thoreau) No electronics. No computer use, telephony, TV, e-mail, etc. Just as you wouldn't pollute your body with whisky and cigarettes upon arising, so too you ought not pollute your pristine morning mind with the irritant dust of useless facts, the palaver of groundless opinions, and every manner of distraction. There is time for that stuff later in the day if you must have it. The mornings should be kept free and clear for study that promises long-term profit.

3. Although desultory reading is enjoyable, it is best to have a plan. Pick one or a small number of topics that strike you as interesting and important and focus on them. I distinguish between bed reading and desk reading. Such lighter reading as biography and history can be done in bed, but hard-core materials require a desk and such other accessories as pens of various colors for different sorts of annotations and underlinings, notebooks, a cup of coffee, a fine cigar . . . .

4. If you read books of lasting value, you ought to study what you read, and if you study, you ought to take notes. And if you take notes, you owe it to yourself to assemble them into some sort of coherent commentary. What is the point of studious reading if not to evaluate critically what you read, assimilating the good while rejecting the bad? The forming of the mind is the name of the game. This won't occur from passive reading, but only by an active engagement with the material. The best way to do this is by writing up your own take on it. Here is where blogging can be useful. Since blog posts are made public, your self-respect will give you an incentive to work at saying something intelligent.

5. An illustration. Right now I have about a half-dozen projects going. One is an article for publication in a professional journal on the philosophy of Milton K. Munitz. What I have been doing very early in the morning is studying and taking notes on four of his books that are relevant to my project. I write these notes and quotations and criticisms into a journal the old-fashioned way. Like I said, no electronics early in the morning. Computer is off and internet connection as well. This eliminates the temptation to check e-mail, follow hyperlinks, and waste time. Later in the day I incorporate these hand-written notes into a long blog post I am writing. When that post is finished and published and I receive some comments, I will then write up the post as a formal article and send it to a journal.

The beauty of this is that one has something to show for the hours spent studying. One has a finished product in which one's thoughts are organized and preserved and to which one can refer later.

6. How keep track of a vast amount of resources? A weblog can be useful as an on-line filing cabinet. I also keep a daily journal.
By the way, I note a lot of Christians could benefit from his advice by applying it to their study of the Bible.

Although obviously there are key differences - e.g. we believe we meet with God himself in his word, we study the Bible prayerfully, etc.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A poker tell

From Carl Trueman:
I see Mark Driscoll has had a go at my old country. Well, not really. Only foreigners really talk of 'Brits.' Those of us from the UK never think of ourselves in those terms: we are English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish, especially during the Six Nations. To have a go at the old country, you have to be a bit more specific, I am afraid.

I am surprised at the offence his comments have apparently caused. I cannot speak for the Celts, but the English take a certain pleasure in being hated and rubbished by everyone else. The nation -- like the man -- who has no enemies has, after all, no honour. Nevertheless, there is one quotation which is worth noting:

"Let's just say this: right now, name for me the one young, good Bible teacher that is known across Great Britain. You don't have one - that's the problem."

Notice the three important elements of this sentence: the definite article, 'young' and 'known across Britain.' The Great Man, youth and fame: not high on the list of Paul's priorities; and three basic elements of celebrity culture.

A bit of a poker tell, is it not?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Philosotoddler

Get 'em while they're young

Get them while they're young. This is the unspoken (and not so unspoken) mission of churches everywhere. They understand how critical it is to gain converts before they become adults...before they're exposed to science, history, other religions and other points of view. They aggressively target children and youth with marketing campaigns that rival many advertising companies. They sponsor events, activities, games and lots of free food for the opportunity to influence impressionable minds. - The Thinking Atheist
Now check out this video:



So how are atheists and agnostics in this video significantly different? Aren't there hundreds if not thousands of atheists and agnostic "freethinkers" gathered at the annual Texas Freethought Convention? Aren't they inviting star guests like a cancer-stricken Christopher Hitchens to do Q&As and perhaps give a speech? Doesn't he offer recommendations on "freethinking" literature for children to read? Aren't "freethinking" parents teaching their kids to subscribe to "freethinking" beliefs and values? And so on and so forth. (Of course, "freethought" is really just a euphemism for misotheistic beliefs and values.)

True Grit

Hawking at 70



"What Breathes Fire into the Equations? Professor Stephen Hawking at 70" by Albert Mohler.

Monday, January 9, 2012

30 favorite novels and movies

WORLD Magazine asks 30 evangelicals what their five favorite novels and five favorite movies of the past 20 years are - 1986-2006, give or take.

I laughed at William Dembski's response.

Yo-yo malpractice



According to the WSJ article: "An angiogram shows the ruined veins in pro yo-yoist Dave Schulte's index finger."

(By the way, as others have noted, looks more like arteries, no?)

Jonny Crossbones

Jonny Crossbones is a sort of modern homage to Tintin.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Serving God's Words



I think D.A. Carson's "The minister's 'devotional' reading of the Bible" in Peter Adam's Festschrift Serving God's Words is worth the price of the book.

Children of Men

"JRR Tolkien snubbed by 1961 Nobel jury, papers reveal"



The BBC claims JRR Tolkien was "snubbed" by the Nobel jury for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Well, I don't necessarily think Tolkien deserved to win. See Edmund Wilson's review (pdf), for instance. But be that as it may.

What's more interesting to me is that CS Lewis nominated Tolkien for the Nobel in the first place.

Bigger on the inside than on the outside

Multiverse mayhem

Jim S. at Quodlibeta points out several problems with the multiverse theory of the universe. I don't agree with everything, but he does make some fine points.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Partisan politics and vicious assaults

Peter Wehner writes:
First it was Alan Colmes; now it is Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, who went on MSNBC to mock Rick Santorum for how he and his wife Karen dealt with the death of their son Gabriel. (A severe prenatal development led to his very early delivery, and Gabriel died two hours after his birth.)
Read the rest here.

Mathematicians solve minimum Sudoku problem

Friday, January 6, 2012

Interview programming problems done right

William Shields explains.

Tintin-Doctor Who mashup

My favorite Tintin comic books



Here are my rankings of the Tintin books. This is nothing more than a "favorite Tintin books" list.

Just a few notes about my list:
  1. Each Tintin book is listed under a one to five star category with five stars being the best. And no in-between stars like 3.5 stars or 4.25 stars either. Just straight one, two, three, four, or five stars. No zero stars.

  2. And under each of the categories I listed the Tintin book in order of publication date. Not in order of preference. For example, all the Tintin books under three stars are roughly equivalent to one another. I don't really have a strong preference within each category, although I could list ones I personally liked for this or that reason more than others. But in the end I liked all the stories under each category of stars more or less the same, even if for different reasons.

  3. Obviously a favorites list is bound to be subjective to a large degree. One can't always objectively define why one person favors this particular story over another story any more than one can always objectively define why blue, not red, is a person's favorite color.

    It's mainly about how much I liked the story, which in turn is dependent upon a number of personal factors like how I grew up, my sense of humor, what kind of people, places, events, or other things in a story I find "fun" or "enjoyable" (which in turn again invite more subjective elements and judgments).

    True, there is a sense of objectivity in, say, what makes for a well-crafted story. But just because a story is technically well-crafted doesn't necessarily mean it's enjoyable for everyone. For example, I can respect how technically sophisticated and well-crafted a movie like Citizen Kane is, but it doesn't mean I'd like it nearly as much as something silly but fun like The Princess Bride or Star Wars or Batman. However sometimes there is the happy confluence of the objective as well as subjective such as in the movie Dark City.

    Similarly one needs to be well-versed in a particular subject in order to know how to break its rules and transcend the subject. For example, T.S. Eliot was a masterful poet. A very modern poet too. And an autobiographical poet in the sense that his art, if not imitates, mirrors his life, moving from the hopeless moral nihilism we read in The Waste Land to the God-soaked The Four Quartets when he became an Anglican churchman. Yet Eliot knew how past poets penned their poems, he knew about the different elements which have historically made for fine poetry (e.g. prosody, rhyming schemes, forms), he was learned in poetic history from the epic Homeric poems to the most recent avant-garde poems written in his day, etc., and so he knew how to break with tradition in order to create novel poetry.

    In the same way I can appreciate how learned Hergé was in European comics (very different from our American tradition of comics), how to draw comics, and so forth, and therefore I can appreciate some of his experimental attempts to do something new within the comic medium. But it doesn't mean I necessarily enjoy everything he's done. Some of it is amazing (e.g. ligne claire), while others not so much.

    Again my "favorite Tintin stories" list depends in large part on many subjective and personal elements. What's more, many of these elements are intangible. Many of these elements are, in fact, inexpressible and tacit. One can't always explain in a logical, rigorous, analytical way why one likes something and not something else. Even an astute and intelligent as well as knowledgeable person with a high verbal facility can't always communicate why he or she likes something. Let alone someone like me who is far, far less astute, intelligent, knowledgeable, fluent, and so forth. Sometimes we just like what we like and that's all we can say.

  4. I provide a very brief plot summary without spoilers after each title too. I'll probably come back to this bit whenever I can find more time. I'd like to share detailed thoughts on each story if I can.

  5. If you want more info about Tintin and his creator Hergé, check out this article from Fred Sanders and this interview with Michael Farr. Other articles which shed light on Tintin and Hergé are from The Economist as well as The Wall Street Journal.

  6. If you want other favorite Tintin lists, I noticed Thomas Wikman and Colin Ricketts have written their own.
Five Stars (★★★★★)
  • The Blue Lotus (1936). Tintin in 1930s China. Quite political, quite progressive for the period of time. Hergé was helped with the facts of the story as well as other matters such as drawing the Chinese characters by his real life Chinese friend whom Hergé wanted to give co-author credit but his friend turned it down. An early story which quite honestly I didn't think I'd enjoy since I don't personally find this period of Chinese history particularly interesting, but having read it I think it's the best Tintin story.
  • Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun (1948/1949). Tintin in South America among a sort of neo-Incan secret society. By turns amusing, thrilling, and spooky. Loads of fun. Right up there with Blue Lotus, but more of a fun and adventurous story than a political one like Blue Lotus.
Four Stars (★★★★)
  • Destination Moon/Explorers on the Moon (1953/1954). Tintin goes to the moon. The first story (Destination Moon) is very talky and not my cup of tea. Lots of dialogue. But the second story (Explorers on the Moon) really picks up. Lots of adventure. Some of Hergé's most beautiful art too, at least in my view. By the way, prior to reading this story, I thought it would be my favorite of all the Tintin stories because I love space and astronomy and the like. It's still up there, but not as high as I expected it to be.
  • Calculus Affair (1956). Tintin by way of an Alfred Hitchcock or classic spy or espionage thriller.
  • Tintin in Tibet (1960). Tintin searches for his best friend, Chang. No real enemies to combat. A simple, moving story.
  • Flight 714 (1968). Tintin meets Lost (TV) meets early Spielberg. Some people love this story, others hate it. I'm of course in the former camp. But I happen to like Lost in its first season and some of Spielberg's early work so that probably explains a lot of the reason why.
Three Stars (★★★)
  • The Broken Ear (1937). Tintin in Central America, trying to keep one banana republic in tact.
  • The Black Island (1938). Tintin in Scotland and facing a dangerous beast.
  • King Ottokar's Sceptre (1939). Tintin saves a monarch from the dictator Musstler by finding his sceptre.
  • The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941). Tintin tries to foil opium smugglers.
  • The Shooting Star (1942). Tintin on the high seas and in a race to get to a fallen star aka meteorite. The meteorite is a silly idea but I liked the race by boat to the Arctic.
  • Secret of the Unicorn/Red Rackham's Treasure (1943/1944). Tintin channeling Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne. Also the basis of the new Spielberg-Jackson Tintin movie (along with The Crab with the Golden Claws where we first meet Captain Haddock). These 1941-1944 Tintin stories are strictly Tintin adventures rather than dealing with politics given that Nazi Germany had taken over Belgium at this point and it was therefore dangerous for Hergé to write too much about politics as he did, for example, in The Blue Lotus.
  • Land of Black Gold (1950). Tintin in the Mideast over oil. Interesting how the Mideast, oil, Islam, and the like were viewed back then.
  • Red Sea Sharks (1958). Tintin spoils slave traders.
  • Castafiore Emerald (1963). Tintin channels P.G. Wodehouse. The plot is pretty thin, nothing much happens. The story takes place entirely on the grounds of Marlinspike, which is Captain Haddock's inherited mansion residence. The story contains a lot of attempted comedy and red herrings. A lot of people love this story. I thought it was a good experiment, but not Hergé's best work.
Two Stars (★★)
  • Cigars of the Pharaoh (1934). Tintin in Egypt. But reads more like a series of set-pieces where Tintin tries to escape from one small adventure to another. Some narrow escapes were more fun than others. There is an overall story but I didn't find it very interesting. The best part of this story is that it leads into The Blue Lotus.
One Star (★)
  • Tintin and the Picaros (1976). Tintin back in South America with the guerrillas as in The Broken Ear. But Hergé has lost his mojo. The magic is gone. Tintin isn't himself. He's not even wearing his trademark pants or trousers!
Unread
  • Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (1930)
  • Tintin in the Congo (1931)
  • Tintin in America (1932)
  • Tintin and Alph-Art (unfinished)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows



Just saw the latest Sherlock Holmes flick. Quite a fun movie!

Not canonical. Nor cerebral. But still clever and witty in its own way. And lots and lots of action. I enjoy Guy Ritchie's style though. Those who don't probably wouldn't appreciate the movie.

I loved how Ritchie did Reichenbach Falls. I won't say more.

(I haven't seen season 2 of the Beeb's Sherlock, but I definitely plan to do so at some point in the near future. Loved season 1.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Big Blog Theory



If you're a fan of the TV sit-com The Big Bang Theory (like I am), then you might be interested to know there's a blog called The Big Blog Theory authored by Prof. David Saltzberg who is a UCLA physicist and science consultant for the show.

What is good mathematics?

"What is good mathematics?" (pdf) by Terence Tao.

Ligne claire



"Clear Lines" by Jenny Hendrix.

By the way, her piece on Sherlock Holmes is somewhat interesting too.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The West and the rest

Why is the West is so much more successful than the rest of the world?

A significant (and probably fair) assumption is success is primarily measured in terms of economics, wealth, quality of life.

Economic historian Niall Ferguson offers an explanation which involves "six killer apps" in his TED talk: competition; the Scientific Revolution; the rule of law and representative government; modern medicine; the consumer society; and the Protestant work ethic. Further he argues other nations are adopting these "six killer apps" today, thereby making themselves successful, whereas these "apps" are degrading in Western nations. Although it remains an open question whether all six "apps" are necessary for success and whether the sequence matters (e.g. China does not have representative government but does have a strong work ethic).

This is in the vein of Victor Davis Hanson's earlier work Carnage and Culture, which in turn is a response to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. If it can be reduced to a single word, Diamond's book argues the West is so much more successful because of geography. Hanson responds and argues, again if we can reduce the argument to a word, that it is not geography but culture.

By the way, Ferguson points out the economic and many other significant discrepancies between East and West Germany (prior to the end of the Cold War) and the current discrepancies between North and South Korea rule out geography as an explanation because Germany and Korea would be in the same geographic area, with similar natural resources, societies and culture, etc. Their main difference is democracy vs. communism. (Although I wonder if East Germany and North Korea don't have less natural resources and more geographic obstacles than West Germany and South Korea?)

Rodney Stark's books argue the success is fundamentally due to religion i.e. Judeo-Christianity.

Speaking for myself, at the end of the day I'd side with Stark, although there are merits to everyone's points, to varying degrees.

Une couverture perdue de Tintin

Quel est votre album des aventures de Tintin préféré? Un très difficile choix! Mais pour moi je pense que je préfère:



(Source)

Sonic screwdriver



(Warning: contains some violence.)