Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Not just for kids anymore

You can't tell me this is NOT a cool present for anyone at any age:

I played a lot with LEGO bricks as a kid.  Mostly the space and town sets.  I had fun, but none of them were anywhere near this cool.

To me, it's incredible how much LEGO has changed, and improved, over the years.  It seems that LEGO has made a conscious effort to expand its market to well beyond children.  Look at the recommended age on the Imperial Shuttle pictured above.  That is well above the age at which I quit playing with LEGO toys.  And when I've gone to the LEGO store at Rockefeller Center or Castleton Square, I've seen very few children.  It's mostly been adults, ooing and aahing over some of the more complicated LEGO sets. Literally every time I've been in the LEGO store, the totally awesome LEGO Death Star has drawn a crowd. Many of the stuff that I've seen seem designed for both play and display.  The Imperial Shuttle comes with both figures and a display stand.  So does the LEGO Super Star Destroyer.  And I know more than a few adults who admit to collecting LEGO toys, especially Star Wars.  I've even seen blog posts written by adults discussing how much fun they've had with the stuff (a particular post involving the construction of the LEGO Imperial Star Destroyer, which cost in the four figures, comes to mind).

Based on what I see on store shelves, My guess is, right now, LEGO Star Wars is more popular than the Hasbro Star Wars action figures, ships and sets, which, considering how big Star Wars figures were when I was a kid, is amazing.

I myself have been looking for the LEGO Roman legionary figures for some time.  Thought they might have them in Rome, but the store I visited said the legioanry figures were a limited edition and they don't have them anymore.

Uh, why was this just a limited edition? This could have been a bonanza!  What a great way to teach history! You could have a LEGO Ancient Collection, featuring LEGO Romans, LEGO Greeks, LEGO Gauls, LEGO Carthaginians, LEGO Persians, LEGO Macedonians, LEGO Trojans.  You could have cool sets like the LEGO Roman Forum, the LEGO Greek Agora, LEGO Qinquireme, LEGO Trojan Horse, LEGO Colisum, LEGO Amphitheater, LEGO Legionary Camp.

Can we get someone on this please? STAT!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Article on the Battle of Adrianople almost done!!!

Yes, I know you've been waiting impatiently.  I've been pestered on the street as to when it will be ready.  I've had scantily-clad Roman history groupies who look like Stana Katic all over me trying to speed this thing up. People have taken hostages to force me to finish.

OK, maybe not.  But I can dream about that whole Stana Katic, thing can't I?

Anyway, you see the new link at the right.  The new article, titled "Cascading Failure: The Roman Disaster at Adrianople AD 378," is almost done.  The draft of the narrative is done.  I'm plugging in the cites.  It is massive, but I think it will be a worthwhile read.  Much of the length is due to some background for those not quite versed in Roman military history.  For those who are, the article will examine the Battle of Adrianople (Hadrianopolis)  and examine a somewhat new scenario, much like my article on the Battle of the Java Sea, for the conduct of the battle, how Roman failure just kept leading into another Roman failure, cascading into the eventual catastrophic defeat that ruined the Roman military and effectively ended the western Empire.

Anyway, afte the editing is done, it will be posted at Military History Online.  In the meantime, check out the other fine articles that site has to offer.

The ongoing sack of Rome

It may have been most spectacular in London last August, but as I commented at the time, it is going on here: barbarians sacking civilized society, stripping it of anything of value, while the government, ostensibly our protectors, either can't or in many cases won't protect us. 

Victor Davis Hanson has made the same comparison before.  Now, he does so again. A taste:

I am starting to feel as if I am living in a Vandal state, perhaps on the frontier near Carthage around a.d. 530, or in a beleaguered Rome in 455. Here are some updates from the rural area surrounding my farm, taken from about a 30-mile radius. In this take, I am not so much interested in chronicling the flotsam and jetsam as in fathoming whether there is some ideology that drives it.
Last week an ancestral rural school near the Kings River had its large bronze bell stolen. I think it dated from 1911. I have driven by it about 100 times in the 42 years since I got my first license. The bell had endured all those years. Where it is now I don’t know. Does someone just cut up a beautifully crafted bell in some chop yard in rural Fresno County, without a worry about who forged it or why — or why others for a century until now enjoyed its presence?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Keystone XL and eminent domain

As you know, I've been a big supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline, calling the apparent opposition to it by Obama and others "inexcusable."  And it is.  But that does not mean the pipeline is without issues. At Planet Gore, Greg Pollowitz discuses the pipeline's interaction with an area dear to my heart, eminent domain:
Keystone is being built without taxpayer money, making the hypocrisy of Team Obama and the Left’s new concern for exact job-growth estimates even more galling.
But jobs really aren’t the important issue. There’s an issue brewing that could derail the pipeline, and it’s an issue conservatives really should be taking a hard look at: eminent domain.
From the New York Times in October:
Randy Thompson, a cattle buyer in Nebraska, was informed that if he did not grant pipeline access to 80 of the 400 acres left to him by his mother along the Platte River, “Keystone will use eminent domain to acquire the easement.” Sue Kelso and her large extended family in Oklahoma were sued in the local district court by TransCanada, the pipeline company, after she and her siblings refused to allow the pipeline to cross their pasture.


Christopher Columbus discovered America, and brought back the gift that keeps on giving: syphilis:

Skeletons don’t lie. But sometimes they can mislead, as in the case of bones that reputedly showed evidence of syphilis in Europe and other parts of the Old World before Christopher Columbus made his historic voyage in 1492.
None of this skeletal evidence, including 54 previously published reports, holds up when subjected to standardised analyses for both diagnosis and dating, according to an new appraisal in the current Yearbook of Physical Anthropology. In fact, the skeletal data strengthens the case that syphilis did not exist in Europe before Columbus set sail.
“This is the first time that all 54 of these cases have been evaluated systematically,” says George Armelagos, an anthropologist at Emory University and co-author of the appraisal. “The evidence keeps accumulating that a progenitor of syphilis came from the New World with Columbus’ crew and rapidly evolved into the venereal disease that remains with us today.”

My latest appearance

on Civil Discourse Now with Mark Small and Paul Ogden discusses foreign policy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

There's no crying in baseball (but there is in North Korea)

The quote from Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own came to mind watching the creepy videos of North Koreans crying hysterically at news of the death of Kim Jong Il. 

What is the deal here?

Michael Totten:
A spectrum of opinion exists in North Korea just like anywhere else. On one end is some percentage of the population that is willing to drink the Kool Aid, so to speak, because they’re more susceptible to propaganda than others or because they benefit from the system personally. There are also those who are terrified of the consequences if they resist, so they force themselves to try to believe it. Then there are those who can lie on the outside, but not on the inside. They know perfectly well that the Kim family dynasty is a horror show. A rather large number of North Koreans have escaped with their lives or died trying. Some of those have dedicated themselves to smuggling their comrades out through an underground railroad of sorts into China.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NCAA delenda est

I must paraphrase the ancient Roman senator Cato to describe the travesty of an NCAA Report on Ohio State.

"Travesty" might be too nice a word to describe this piece of garbage that looks and sounds more like it came from the Iranian mullahs' Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) than any legitimate investigation.  If you want an example of arbitrary and capricious, this is it.

Let's get a few things straight about what happened:

New addic ... er, additions to the library

Rome at War AD 293-696, by Michael Whitby
Warfare in Roman Europe AD 350-425, by Hugh Elton.

Both are acquisitions intended to further my quest to figure out just what happened at the Battle of Adrianople.

Don't worry. I'm still working on the article dealing with that issue. It's a long 'un, but I'll get it done ... eventually ...

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Eminent domain" in China

What is going on in Wukan? The Guadian:
After continuous confrontation between villagers and local officials for almost four months, the land grab in the fishing village of Wukan, in Guandong province, China, has now led to the death of one of the elected village leaders in police custody, and further escalated into a violent "mass incident" with tens of thousands of farmers protesting against local officials.
The Wukan case is just one of many mass incidents China has experienced in recent years. In fact, the number keeps rising every year; journalists often cite a figure of 87,000 for 2005, estimates by the China Academy of Social Sciences give a figure of "over 90,000" mass incidents in 2006, and further unspecified increases in 2007 and 2008.
In China, a mass incident is defined as "any kind of planned or impromptu gathering that forms because of internal contradictions", including mass public speeches, physical conflicts, airing of grievances, or other forms of group behaviour that may disrupt social stability. Among China's mass incidents, more than 60% have been related to land disputes when local governments in China worked closely with manufacturers and real-estate developers to grab land from farmers at low prices.

Ding Dong!

The Kim is dead! Kim Jong Il, that is.

(Oops! Is it "uncivil" to celebrate the death of a murderous communist tyrant?)

While Kim's death is unquestionably a good thing, the immediate aftermath (which is right now) is a very dangerous period. Kim's successor, Kim Jong Un, just conducted a missile test to show what all new murderous tyrants need to show --  that you should not mess with him, whether you are a foreign power or a member of his own military.

The elder Kim had been preparing for this transition for a few years, trying to tie Kim Jong Un to the army and using the food shipments intended for North Korea's starving people to the army.  Evidently, crazy or not, the elder Kim knew the philosophy of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus: "Enrich the army.  Ignore everyone else."

So, what's going to happen? No one knows.  A roundup:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

New additions to the library

(Sorry for the light posting.  Was at a 2-day CLE on bankruptcy.)

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Dealy Obsession in the Amazon, by David Graham.
Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization, by Lars Brownworth.

The Lost City of Z is about British explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in 1925 somewhere in the Amazon jungle looking for -- wait for it -- The Lost City of Z. A recent episode of Secrets of the Dead concluded he and his small, underfunded expedition were, basically, mugged by greedy locals.  The finding was logical, if a little thin on the evidence, but there was more evidence for this finding than anything else. 

Lost to the West has quickly become one of the classics of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) history.  I was remiss in not getting it sooner.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Trying to stop the inexcusable

Finally -- FINALLY! -- House Republicans are actually making an attempt to stop the destructive policies of the Obama administration, this time by slipping in approval for the Keystone XL pipeline in a bill extending unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut.  Naturally, Obama is not happy:
President Obama on Tuesday threatened to veto the payroll-tax-cut package put forward by House Republicans.
The formal veto threat did not mention a provision in the legislation that would expedite a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, but it did state that Republicans should stop trying to score political points on the tax-cut bill.

“With only days left before taxes go up for 160 million hardworking Americans, H.R. 3630 plays politics at the expense of middle-class families,” the administration said in its statement of policy. “This debate should not be about scoring political points. This debate should be about cutting taxes for the middle class.

“If the president were presented with H.R. 3630, he would veto the bill.”

The House could vote as early as Tuesday afternoon on the tax bill, which also extends and reforms unemployment insurance benefits, averts cuts to physician payments under Medicare and delays implementation of environmental regulations on industrial boilers.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

But did he say "please?"

Obama has asked the Iranian mullahs to return our stealth drone.  Tina Korbe has the details:
According to a tweet from the Associated Press (and a spate of snarky follow-up tweets from conservative pundits), the president announced today that the United States has officially asked Iran to return a downed U.S. surveillance drone.

Iranian officials said just yesterday they have absolutely no intention to return the drone — but I’m sure it’s a different story now that the president has asked nicely for it. As S.E. Cupp tweeted, “Obama on the wayward drone: We’ve asked for it back. I for one feel good about its prompt return.” Yes, yes: No doubt the Iranians will get right on that. Meantime, they’ve already mined it for most of the data they wanted.

Not sure what the president’s line of thinking is on this.
You assume that he actually is thinking.  This is so mind-bogglingly stupid that the assumption must be questioned.
He obviously didn’t react to the news of the downed drone quickly enough to reassure anxious Americans. Making the request now just highlights his ineffectuality on this. It would appear that Rick Perry was right at the debate Saturday, when he said the president chose the worst possible response to the news that Iran had a U.S. drone in its possession. As Perry put it, “This president is the problem.”
It gets worse.  Obama had the chance to destroy the drone but refused to do so.

What. An. Idiot.

Think shar'ia law can't happen here?

It can if the State Department helps it along:
The State Department began a three-day, closed-door meeting Monday to talk about U.S. free speech rules with representatives from numerous Islamic governments that have lobbied for 12 years to end U.S. citizens’ ability to speak freely about Islam’s history and obligations.
Free speech advocates slammed the event as an effort to gradually curb public criticism of Islam, but it was defended by Hannah Rosenthal, who heads the agency’s office to curb anti-Semitism.
The meeting is a great success, she said, because governments in the multinational Organisation for Islamic Cooperation have dropped their demand that criticism of Islamic ideas be treated as illegal defamation. Member countries include Pakistan, Iran, Saudia Arabia and Qatar.
In exchange for dropping the demand, she said, they’re getting “technical assistance [to] build institutions to ensure there will be religious freedom” in their countries, she told The Daily Caller.
“That’s a joke,” said Andrea Lafferty, a conservative activist who was repeatedly denied information about the meeting.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New additions to the library

The Punic Wars, by Nigel Bagnall.
The First Punic War, by J.F. Lazenby.
Hannibal's War, by J.F. Lazenby.

(Quick now: guess the common thread of these new books.)

These are older, but well-respected missives on the wars between Rome and Carthage that have been somewhat difficult to find at a decent price.  I'm glad I was able to finally track them down.

Bagnall was a British Army officer.  Based on my quick glance at his work here, it's more of a military analysis of the Punic Wars, which is right up my alley.

Both of Lazenby's books are considered must-haves for any collection on the Punic Wars, but what has me excited of this bunch is The First Punic War.  While the First Punic War, the one that started it all, is given some discussion in Roman and military history books, it hasn't been given a dedicated history of its own.  That's somewhat understandable: The First Punic War isn't nearly as well-documented by contemporary sources as the Second. 

Usually it is given a general history that runs something like this: Rome and Carthage fight over Messana in particular and Sicily in general; Rome defeats the Carthaginian navy at sea using the corvus ("raven") boarding spike but loses an incredible number of its own ships to storms (probably because of the corvus); Roman legions under Marcus Attilius Regulus land in Africa but are defeated by a force of Liby-Phoenicians, (gasp!) actual Carthaginians and some panzer pachyderms under the mercenary Spartan genral Xanthippos; Hamilcar (nicknamed "Barca" or "thunderbolt") ties up Rome in Sicily but is forced to surrender when Rome cuts him off from Carthage, Hamilcar swears vengeance on Rome and forces his son Hannibal to do the same.  That's generally about it. They tend to leave out how Hamilcar fought the war in Sicily with mercenaries then tried to screw them out of their pay after the war, resulting in "The Truceless War," a particularly brutal affair between Carthage and is own mercenaries.

Lazenby purports to put some actual meat on these bones.  Judging by the quick look I've taken at The First Punic War so far, he succeeds.  Should be a fun read.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A political platform of national weakness

Michael Cohen has an insightful piece in Foreign Policy titled, "When Democrats Became Doves With the GOP candidates eager to call Obama weak-willed on foreign policy, it's worth looking at how Democrats got stuck with this tag." Simple answer: they stuck themselves with it.

Not surprisingly, Cohen traces the "peace at any price" philosophy to the 1968 presidential candidacy of Eugene McCarthy and his opposition to the Vietnam War:
McCarthy didn't end the war, but he ended Johnson's political career and in the process heralded the shift of the Democratic Party from Cold War hawks to anti-war doves. By creating a political opportunity for Democrats, opposed to the war in Vietnam, to directly engage in the electoral process McCarthy helped change the way that all political leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- talk about national security policy. No longer could national Democrats ignore liberals skeptical of American power; and Republicans were given a renewed opportunity to cast Democrats as a party beholden to their anti-war base. Quite simply, McCarthy's quixotic presidential bid is the gift that keeps on giving.
Eugene McCarthy was perhaps the single unlikeliest person to launch an insurgent presidential campaign, topple an incumbent president, and spark a year of cataclysmic political change. Aloof, haughty, and frankly a bit lazy, McCarthy was given little chance of having a political impact when he announced his candidacy. He would be, said his fellow Minnesotan and Agriculture Secretary Orville Freeman, a "small footnote" to history.
Two events would ensure that McCarthy's run would be far more than that. First the Tet Offensive on Jan. 30, 1968 -- ironically and prophetically the same day Robert F. Kennedy announced he would not challenge the president and would acquiesce to his re-nomination. After months of being told that the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel was visible in Vietnam, the surprise Tet attack, which struck at every provincial capital in the country as well as the U.S. embassy in Saigon, shattered the illusion of progress. In the process it exposed Johnson and the members of his administration as serial liars about the war.

"You don't see us bombing YOUR evil rocket base!"

For a while I saw the mullahs' response to the mysterious explosions at their military facilities, some of which handle nuclear and missile research, as akin to Varus and his legions trying to fight off Arminius' and his evil Germans at Teutoberger Wald: under persistent attacks by a foe you can't even see, let alone fight, when the foe has been under your nose all along. 

Now, for some reason, I am more reminded of the protests from the robots defending Dr. Nefarious' space station in Ratchet and Clank: "You don't see us infiltrating your evil fortress!"

Because the Iranian mullahs are now mad, though not necessarily in a bad way, it seems to me.  More like fire and brimstone flowing from the mouth of a ferret:
An order from Gen Mohammed Ali Jaafari, the commander of the guards, raised the operational readiness status of the country’s forces, initiating preparations for potential external strikes and covert attacks.
Western intelligence officials said the Islamic Republic had initiated plans to disperse long-range missiles, high explosives, artillery and guards units to key defensive positions.
The order was given in response to the mounting international pressure over Iran's nuclear programme. Preparation for a confrontation has gathered pace following last month’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna that produced evidence that Iran was actively working to produce nuclear weapons.
The Iranian leadership fears the country is being subjected to a carefully co-ordinated attack by Western intelligence and security agencies to destroy key elements of its nuclear infrastructure.
Recent explosions have added to the growing sense of paranoia within Iran, with the regime fearing it will be the target of a surprise military strike by Israel or the US.
Um, if you're preparing for a surprise attack, then it's not really a surprise attack, is it? 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Putin needs to talk to Pastrick

In spite of vote fraud on a massive scale, Vladimir Putin's party apparently managed to lose seats in the Russian election:
The consequences of Barack Obama’s miserably failed “reset” policy with Russia became horrifyingly clear last weekend. The Russian people did their part in fighting for American values, but America itself did not meet them halfway, and so an iron curtain came clanging down across Russia.
Last Sunday, Russians went to the polls in a parliamentary election that former parliament member Vladimir Ryzhkov predicted would be “the dirtiest in post-Soviet history.” As if to prove him right, in the days leading up to the vote Lilya Shibanova — leader of the country’s only independent polling place monitor, Golos — was arrested and her laptop confiscated. State-owned media also aired a vicious (and false) attack on her organization’s integrity. Also, one of Russia’s most independent and outspoken foreign correspondents, John Helmer, was summarily booted out of the country, and a full-scale crackdown was launched everywhere against Russian media.
Clearly, the Kremlin planned unprecedented ballot box stuffing and wanted to minimize the blowback.

Mullahs' missile program crippled?

You hate to see bad things keep happening to good people:
The huge explosion that destroyed a major missile-testing site near Tehran three weeks ago was a major setback for Iran’s most advanced long-range missile program, according to American and Israeli intelligence officials and missile technology experts.

In interviews, current and former officials said surveillance photos showed that the Iranian base was a central testing center for advanced solid-fuel missiles, an assessment backed by outside experts who have examined satellite photos showing that the base was almost completely leveled in the blast. Such missiles can be launched almost instantly, making them useful to Iran as a potential deterrent against pre-emptive attacks by Israel or the United States, and they are also better suited than older liquid-fuel designs for carrying warheads long distances.
It is still unclear what caused the explosion, with American officials saying they believe it was probably an accident, perhaps because of Iran’s inexperience with a volatile, dangerous technology. Iran declared it an accident, but subsequent discussions of the episode in the Iranian news media have referred to the chief of Iran’s missile program as one of the “martyrs” killed in the huge explosion. Some Iranian officials have talked of sabotage, but it is unclear whether that is based on evidence or surmise after several years in which Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated on Tehran’s streets, and a highly sophisticated computer worm has attacked its main uranium production facility.

New additions to the library

The Burma Campaign: Disaster Into Triumph, by Frank McLynn.
Fatal Crossroads: The Untold Story of the Malmedy Massacre at the Battle of the Bulge, by Danny S. Parker.

The war in Burma in World War II hasn't gotten much of a unified look in spite of some real characters such as generals Joseph Stillwell and William Slim.  I'm excited to read this account.

The Malmedy Massacre is a sad, murky incident in which members of Kampfgruppe Peiper, an "operational group" of Waffen SS panzers under Jochen (or Joachim) Peiper, the spearhead of the German 6th SS Panzer Army in the Ardennes offensive,  killed US army POW's it had captured during the course of the Ardennes Offensive.  Peiper (who looks suspiciously like Morden from Babylon 5) proved himself to be a very talented panzer commander, but was tried for war crimes in connection with this incident and spent time in prison.  After he got out he moved, strangely enough, to France where he was murdered.

Parker has researched the Malmedy Massacre for more than a decade.  Fatal Crossroads purports to get to the bottom of the incident and whether it was just battlefield emotion gotten too high, an inability of the supply-starved Kampfgruppe Peiper to properly care for POW's, or a planned massacre ordered from command level officers.  Should be a good detective piece.

Friday, December 2, 2011

New addition to the library

Sickles at Gettysburg: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Decided Himself the Hero of Gettysburg, by James A. Hessler.

Right now I'm freshening up my knowledge on the Battle of Gettysburg.  Based on everything I've read so far, U.S. Army Major General Daniel E. Sickles was not only a terrible commander but was one of the most contemptible personalities on either side of the Civil War (and that's saying something, considering the slave-trading background Nathan Bedford Forrest). 

Even by the low standards of the Union generalship that gave the military history such sterling figures as George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, John Pope, George Wagner, Oliver Otis Howard and Thomas Wood, Dan Sickles was extraordinarily bad, yet another example of a political general with no formal military training and very little battlefield experience.  As corps commander in the Union Army of the Potomac Sickles was specifically ordered to deploy his corps on Little Round Top by army commander General George Gordon Meade.  Yet Sickles decided instead to occupy a low hill between Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge well in front of his assigned position.  Meade angrily ordered him back, but it was too late; the Confederate assault had already begun.  Compounding his error, Sickles then tried to steal units from the neighboring Union corps to try to save his faltering line.  His corps was smashed.  His incompetence almost cost the Union the Battle of Gettysburg.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

More inexcusable

Remember what House Natural Resources Committee chairman Doc Hastings said: "The President’s plan is to simply say ‘no’ to new energy production."

After what will most likely be a disastrous decision to "delay" a ruling on the Keystone XL Pipeline -- Obama's will probably try to kill the pipeline outright -- now Obama's EPA is trying to block the domestic production of oil from oil shale:
The latest salvo in the administration's war on energy may be new rules and permits to regulate a process to get oil and gas from porous rock, sacrificing jobs and economic growth while under review.
There are a few areas of the U.S. that are booming. Two of these are in North Dakota and Pennsylvania, states that sit atop two massive shale rock formations, the Bakken and the Marcellus.
Extraction of oil and natural gas from these formations have created jobs and economic growth in the midst of a stagnant and parched economy.
The oil and gas is extracted from this porous rock by a process called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
The process involves the injection under high pressure of fluids, mainly water with a few chemical additives, to fracture the porous shale rock and allow the release and extraction of the oil and gas trapped inside the porous rock. Environmentalists contend these chemical additives contaminate groundwater supplies.