Monday, April 18, 2005

Awesome

If this story is true, we could be seeing a revolution in our knowledge of classical literature and civilization within a couple of years.
Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.

In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.

The original papyrus documents, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump in central Egypt, are often meaningless to the naked eye - decayed, worm-eaten and blackened by the passage of time. But scientists using the new photographic technique, developed from satellite imaging, are bringing the original writing back into view. Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a "second Renaissance".
The new histories of the Trojan war sound especially fascinating. As a label, "second Renaissance" may be a bit overblown, although this does seem pretty analagous to the Renaissance Italians rediscovering Greek literature in abandoned Sicilian Arab libraries. The fact that it's being said at all testifies to the magnitude of this find, however.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Unbalance of Powers

The list of unbelievable quotes continues. With Tom DeLay being attacked from both sides, he has given us a number of amusing and appalling quotes, not least of which was his comment against the judiciary (Taken from The Washington Post):
DeLay created a furor last month by saying that "the time will come" for federal judges who refused to restore the brain-damaged Florida woman's feeding tube "to answer for their behavior," and by criticizing what he called an "arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary."
However, Tom DeLay's new quote takes the cake, in my eyes. Just a few weeks ago, during the Schiavo case, we witnessed a questionable overreach of power when congress tried to interfere with the decision of several Florida courts. The Washington Times, sheds more light on the issue through the transcript of an interview with DeLay:
Mr. Dinan: You've been talking about going after activist judges since at least 1997. The [Terri] Schiavo case gives you a chance to do that, but you've recently said you blame Congress for not being zealous in oversight.
Mr. DeLay: Not zealous. I blame Congress over the last 50 to 100 years for not standing up and taking its responsibility given to it by the Constitution. The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn't stop them.
Did he really say that? The idea of judicial review goes back to Marbury vs Madison. Does Tom DeLay want to tear it down? The checks and balances are, to some extent, contrary to what Locke intended; he thought the legislative body should be the supreme power. However, I believe that it is essential to have an independent judiciary body, with its own power (On this, I fully agree with Bush). The judicial branch of government acts as a stabilizing force in government, preventing radical change. If it were subjected to the whims of whichever party held the majority in congress, laws would swing back and forth. Actually, we have a runner-up when it comes to unbalance quotes. Bill Frist has had a few interesting quotes recently, not least of which was his attempt to turn his anti-filibuster push into an issue of religion:
A flier advertising the event refers to "the filibuster against people of faith" and says: "The filibuster was once abused to produce racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith." (Talking Points Memo)
The event it refers to is a national telecast with other Christian conservatives, including organizer Tony Perkins.

In his letter promoting the event, Perkins said, "For years activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups like the ACLU, have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms."

Ok. I really am speechless this time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

One Small Step Backward for Man

So despite Chris' public service announcement, I was hit by a corrupted registry file... and lost use of my laptop for a while. My files are all gone except for the few I was able to rescue. Fortunately, I was able to get it running again, and the worst news is that my post is a couple days late.

In an April 5th op-ed piece which is, alas, now in archive, Paul Krugman examined the liberal tendencies within Academia. He rejects the frequently-made claim that there is bias when hiring professors, saying instead that anyone planning to devote his life to intellectual study is more likely to have liberal views, in much the same way that the military is predominantly conservative. None of this is shocking, but one piece of information caught my eye. Krugman mentioned an interesting Florida bill being discussed.

Under Rep. Dennis Baxley's "Academic Freedom Bill of Rights", students would have the right to sue their professors for providing a biased assessment or in some way publicly deriding their views. The Independent Florida Alligator, the University of Florida's newspaper, had some key quotes from Baxley which made me roll my eyes.
"Some professors say, 'Evolution is a fact. I don't want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don't like it, there's the door,'" Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.

"During the committee hearing, Baxley cast opposition to his bill as 'leftists' struggling against 'mainstream society.'"
After quickly pointing out that the belief in Evolution IS the mainstream theory, I will acknowledge that there are some clear examples of professor bias, such as the Joseph Massad and the Columbia College fiasco. However, as Rep. Dan Gelber points out, this bill would give legal standing to students who don't believe that the Holocaust ever happened, or that spirituality is the only method of healing, or - Sorry, Neil Armstrong - that man ever landed on the moon.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but professors are men hired because they are experts in their field. Except for extreme situations, whenever a student disagrees with a professor the student should reassess his views. In those extreme cases, such as Joseph Massad, the current safeguards are working fine; overly opinionated and biased professors can be examined by their universities and dismissed or admonished if found guilty. Not only would the bill stifle academic progress, but it would also force universities to hire lawyers, driving tuition costs higher than they already are. Question of the day: How does this fit in with the "Abstinence-only" sexual education programs? If the conservative standpoint is that it only wants to teach about abstinence and not touch contraceptives, why now the belief that it is essential to teach all viewpoints?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Miles Per Gallon

As a supporter of a gasoline tax, I grimace but pay willingly every time I fill my tank. Unfortunately, what is good for the country (less dependence on middle-eastern theocracies) or the world (lower emissions) is not always good for politics. With looming environmental problems not getting any better and oil prices at a new high, what was President Bush's solution? Drill for oil in Alaska. In a 49-51 vote on March 16th, the GOP inserted the Alaskan drilling provision into the budget proposal, making a Democratic filibuster impossible. So the GOP wants to continue using lots of oil, environment be damned. No surprises there. But that strategy could have negative consequences on something the Republicans do care about -- the military.

In a May 2005 Atlantic Monthly article, Robert Bryce brings attention to the increasing demand for fuel in the military, using 1.7 million gallons of fuel a day in Iraq.
"A fully armored Humvee weighs more than five tons -- and requires a larger engine and heavier suspension than the non-armored model. The Army also recently allocated more than $500 million to add armor to its utility trucks. The added armor will help protect U.S. soldiers from IEDs and snipers -- but it also means higher fuel consumption for their vehicles. Which means, in turn, that more tanker trucks will have to be driven into Iraq -- and those trucks will provide more targets for the insurgents, who have become skilled at attacking them... It's a vicious cycle: attacks on convoys produce a need for more armor, which produces a need for more fuel, which produces larger convoys, which produce more targets for attack. "
A 2001 Defense Science Board study found fuel to comprise 70% of the tonnage moved onto the battlefield. But despite the tank commander who told Bryce, "the more fuel-efficient we are, the more tactically sound we are," the military continues using its Bradley fighting vehicles (less than two miles per gallon) and its M1 Abrams tank (less than one mile per gallon). Richard Truly, former head of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, who chaired the study, said that his report fell on deaf ears.
"The thing we were trying to get across was that this doesn't have anything to do with moral values. It has to do with running the goddamn military with as little fuel as possible and showing the advantages to the warfighter himself -- so that instead of having ten fuel trucks, you can have five." Unfortunately, Truly says, the prevailing wisdom at the Pentagon is that "fuel efficiency is for sissies."
Where a gasoline tax would lead to better fuel efficiency among consumers, it can't be a good idea to cripple our military by employing the same strategy. Instead, while we're slowly re-designing our military, let's try this: A consumer gas tax which helps fund the military's fuel and logistics costs. The benefits would be twofold -- not only would it help the environment by driving gas-guzzlers out of the picture, but it would be a politically acceptable way to introduce a new tax. Especially in this time of war with patriotism flowing, there is no better time to ask the American people to sacrifice a little. After all, it's for the troops.

Quote of the Day

From Bill O'Reilly, March 13, 2003:
"Summing up, Jacques Chirac is our enemy, and the pope, well, I don't know what to think."
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Chris will now hijack Nick's post and add some brief blogging to it (no time for a real post with two exams, a paper, a project, and of course, a story to promote on campus.) I've been so disconnected from the world in the aftermath of my computer crashing that I didn't realize there was an Opinion Duel going on! Policy wonks delight! (note, start reading from the bottom)

Money quote because it uses the word "solipsist":

In the column I refer to, you devoted 1,347 words — which would consume nearly a page and a half in TNR — to my piece, quoting from it at length and disputing my logic virtually point by point, under the headline "THE WORLD ACCORDING TO CHAIT." How is that not a response? Is there some word, other than "response," I should have used to describe its relationship to my piece that wouldn't lead you to imply that I'm some kind of deluded solipsist?