TSA Knocking on Doors to Seize Hardware

Wired has the story:

Two bloggers received home visits from Transportation Security Administration agents Tuesday after they published a new TSA directive that revises screening procedures and puts new restrictions on passengers in the wake of a recent bombing attempt by the so-called underwear bomber.

And the follow-up:

In the wake of public outcry against the Transportation Security Administration for serving civil subpoenas on two bloggers, the government agency has canceled the legal action and apologized for the strong-arm tactics agents used.

We have got to walk back the crazy. Because when the brownshirts TSA is banging on your door, confiscating your hardware, bullying, threatening, and then backing down under public outcry—what happens when the public gets bored and jaded, and stops raising the outcry?

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Paul Krugman on the Economics of the Last Ten Years: A Whole Lot of Nothin’

What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.

You can read the rest of Paul Krugman’s “The Big Zero” in the New York Times here.

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The Photographic Periodic Table of Elements

This is a gorgeous, fascinating, Fluorite from the William Wise mine in Westmoreland, N.H.and very fun site. It’s from the Element Collection, which includes Theodore Gray who is also the creator behind the lovely Wood Periodic Table. Sites like these remind us that science is fun, creative, and beautiful.

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The Ruins of Pompeii, via Google Street View

Destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, 79 C. E., this small town near Naples was covered by ash and lava until 1738.

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Season’s Greetings

We are capable of such beauty and grace. May we all learn to ever reach for our best inherent qualities.

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NORAD Santa-Tracking

The NORAD Santa-sighting updates have become a holiday tradition, quietly and with a remarkable lack of the late twentieth-century cynicism that too often mars our experience of things simple and sweet and innocent.

In his article Behind the Scenes: NORAD’s Santa Tracker, reporter Daniel Terdiman fills in the history of this particularly post-modern Christmas Eve sweetness.

All joking aside, NORAD has been taking its Santa tracking project seriously for decades. But it actually began in 1955 with a wrong number.

One morning that December, U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, the director of operations at CONAD, the Continental Air Defense Command–NORAD’s predecessor–got a phone call at his Colorado Springs, Colorado, office. This was no laughing matter. The call had come in on one of the top secret lines inside CONAD that only rang in the case of a crisis.

Grabbing the phone, Shoup must have expected the worst. Instead, a tiny voice asked, “Is this Santa Claus?”

You can check The Official NORAD Santa Website for regular updates, assisted by Google Earth, as Santa meets his worldwide delivery schedule for yet another year. You can also follow @NORADSanta on Twitter.com.

Joyeux Noel, everyone!

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Last Man Standing

Mental Floss posted this short film by Sean Dunne on Vimeo, excerpting an interview with 108-year-old Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Buckles from Sean Dunne on Vimeo.

What was it like for Frank Buckles, upon finally coming home from the war? “When I came back, the parades were all over. Nobody gave a damn. I tried to buy a pack of cigarettes; couldn’t buy it — I wasn’t old enough.”

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Kevin Carey “That Old College Lie”

Carey notes that Senator Claiborne Pell died at age 90 on January 1, 2009. Senator Pell was the driving force, and the inspiration for the federal Pell Grants for under funded college students. In the context of noting that Pell Grants are no longer anything like sufficient in terms of funding percentages of college costs for low income students, Carey points out that:

It’s that too many of the students who do enroll aren’t learning very much and aren’t earning degrees. For the average student, college isn’t nearly as good a deal as colleges would have us believe. . . . A 2006 study from the American Institutes for Research found that only 31 percent of adults with bachelor’s degrees are proficient in “prose literacy”–being able to compare and contrast two newspaper editorials, for example. More than a quarter have math skills so feeble that they can’t calculate the cost of ordering supplies from a catalogue. more . . .

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Winter Solstice, 2009

You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.

John Donne “A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day” more . . .

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Verlyn Flieger, Interrupted Music

Cover of Verlyn Flieger's Interrupted MusicVerlyn Flieger’s Interrupted Music: The Making of Tolkien’s Mythology is a brilliant study of Tolkien’s mythic creation, with particular emphasis on the role of the lesser known works behind Lord of the Rings. Flieger follows the creation of Tolkien’s mythology from inception to final flowering, relying heavily on the twelve volume History of Middle Earth. Flieger, very appropriately, compares the History to a musical score (Tolkein’s creation myth described the creator Eru singing creation into existance), and describes the present book as her attempt to examine the structures underlying Tolkien’s mythology.

In a 1951 letter to Milton Wadman, Tolkien refers to his discovery as a young man that while there was Norse, Celtic, Germanic and even Finnish mythology in plenty, England had no uniquely English mythology of her own. He explicitly refers to his own resulting desire to create “a body of more or less connected legend” (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. Letter 144). It is Tolkien’s desire to create a “mythology for England,” as Tolkien scholars call Tolkien’s vision, that gave birth first to the languages of what became Middle Earth, and then to the myths, and, eventually, in what is really a minor off-shoot of Tolkien’s greater mythic creation, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Flieger begins by examining the kinds of exposure Tolkien would have had as a young man to folklore and mythology, and his early responses to the stories and landscapes that produced them. She looks at the early history of folklore and myth studies as an academic discipline, and the scholarly shift from a reliance on philology (Tolkien’s bent) to a purely anthropological approach, the sort favored by Andrew Lang and others. Much of Tolkien’s personal views and his scholarly approach to myth and myth creation is embodied in his essay “On Fairy Stories,” and Flieger does an admirable job of discussing and illuminating the issues, and the points, Tolkien raises.

Flieger carefully looks at the mythic models Tolkien used in his own myth creation, making connections between that creation and Tolkien’s philological studies of Old English, Old Norse, Finnish, and medieval English and Celtic literatures, including a solid analysis of Tolkien’s sometimes hostile views of the Arthurian corpus. She places Tolkien’s views of the nature of myth and myth creation in a context that is both academic and traditional. In the second half of her book, Flieger engages in close analysis of specific myths from Tolkien’s corpus, looking at their evolution and the way they fit into his overall creation. She spends a fair amount of attention on an early and never finished story of Tolkien’s, “The Lost Road,” written in response to a challenge by C. S. Lewis to write a time-travel story, and its evolution in the unpublished The Notion Club Papers. The Notion Club papers include many familiar references, including names and sub-myths, that later became very much part of the greater Silmarillion, which for Tolkien meant not the posthumously published distillation The Silmarillion, but the entire corpus of his creation.

After looking at the creation process, and closely looking at the way Tolkien employs familiar themes and motifs, several of which emerge in later works, like his recurring use of the Atlantis/Ynis island myth, Flieger discusses the role of the otherworld in Tolkien’s mythos. She looks in particular at Tolkien’s use of the island of Númenor, an island which, like Celtic Ys or Lyonesse, or Atlantis, eventually drowns. She connects Tolkien’s creation and use of motifs about Númenor to the medieval Irish genre of the imramm, the otherworld voyage, and the use of time in both Tolkien’s works, and in Celtic tales (see Flieger’s earlier book A Question of Time: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Road to Faërie for a thorough and worthwhile discussion of time and the otherworld in Tolkien’s work). Flieger concludes her study by drawing connections between Tolkien’s early myth-making and stories, particularly The Notion Club Papers, and the Lord of the Rings.

Flieger is one of the best of the Tolkien scholars, one who loves and understands story, and appreciates Tolien as a teller of tales and a scholar. She has a keen understanding of myth and a fine scholarly understanding without the unfortunate tendency to be pedantic. Verlyn Flieger has a website at mythus.com.

(Kent State University Press, 2005)

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