Archive for the ‘Coursework Examples’ Category

Primary Sources Can Be Fun

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the courses I’m taking this semester is a history course concerning the Revolutionary War as it was fought in and affected the province of Maine (which was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at the time, and after the Revolution was part of the state of Massachusetts until 1820).  One of the documents we’re using in the course is called the Baxter Manuscripts, and is a compiled transcription of various letters, notes, legal documents etc., mainly pertaining to the provincial assembly of Maine and its communications with the Massachusetts legislature in Watertown.

Now, as anyone who has read anything about the American Revolution probably knows, the state of the art in English written communication in the 18th century was, er, interesting as compared to today.  There was a great deal less standardization as regards orthography, in particular, and the rules of capitalization and punctuation were observed somewhat less conscientiously even by well-educated people like the Founders.  And there was that whole thing with the two versions of lowercase s, so that you ended up with sentences that looked like they were saying “at which point the foldiers were told to take themfelves outfide or face the confequences.”

Even by these liberal standards, though, there are some utter gems in the Baxter Manuscripts.  Take, for instance, this letter to the Massachusetts revolutionary council regarding militia units in Falmouth (now Portland), Maine:

To the Honorabel the Counsel of the Massachetts Bay

Gentlemen – you may Remembr that you gave ordors for Raising Two Companys To Be Stashond on Nashone the Captns have Borth Ben With me Sence & Returnd and Say they Cannot Inlist any men By Reson of the Wages Being So Loo  I have Ben Indavoring to forawd the mater But find that To Be the younavarcel Compaint – if your Honers Are pleasd To Give any farther ordors About the Mater I Shall Indaver To Conduct Agreabel thair to
I am yours To Sarve

Joseph Dimuck

Dated att Falmouth Desembr ye 23 1776

Now that, my friends, is a missive.  I particularly enjoy (as does our instructor) the word “younavarcel”.  The younavarcel Compaint would make an excellent band title for an American Revolution-themed punk rock band (there must certainly be at least one making the rounds of the historical re-enactment community).


Notes from Military History Class

December 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Here are a few notes from my European Military History notebook, which I’m going through in the process of studying for finals.

I love that they have to put nutritional information on bottled water. It’s water.  It hasn’t got any.

In those times [Ed. note the reign of Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden, 1611-1632], generals fought (insufficient comms tech for REMF approach).

England’s military spending went mostly on the navy during this time.  Not much call for land forces except during the Civil War.  They didn’t conscript army troops until 1916!  Incompatible with the English character.  Besides, if you raised a conscript army, you’d be arming commoners, for heaven’s sake.

Maintaining discipline: tricky.  Particularly with such crap officers.

("The Stuarts have chin problems." – Prof. M)

I like that warfare in this era [Ed. note ca. 1700] was traditionally so abstruse that a frontal assault was considered innovative and dramatic.

"The French cannot form… "  … the head?  Blazing sword?  What?  [Ed. note Bad time for Prof. M to have slide advance problems.]

French/Batavians break and run.  English win!  But 20% of them are casualties.  Still, you should see the other guys.

("There’s always a war in Canada." – Prof. M)

("Belgium itself is not that valuable." – QOTD out of context)

France’s worst enemy in the opening stages of the war [Ed. note the War of the First Coalition, 1793-1797]: France.

"… who had served in future wars"?  Wait, was Carnot a time traveler?

Sphinx thing: a myth.

1802: Peace of Amiens. British recognize N’s France, return seized French colonies, recognize the Republics, annexation of Belgium, etc.

1803: Britain realizes that wasn’t a good idea, resumes hostilities.

By 1812, N controls most of Europe.  Annexed or run by puppet states.  3 factors about to turn this around:

1) British blockade, strangling French trade.

2) The Russian thing.  Never get involved in a land war in Asia.

3) Nationalism.  Works for France when experienced by Frenchmen, not so much when experienced by Dutchmen, Germans, Italians, Swiss etc.

I think we’re into the counter-counter-revolution at this point.

Projector problems [Ed. note during film on Battle of Waterloo] result in the odd appearance of the British "beigecoat".

"This was widely believed to be the end of Nixon’s career."

[Ed. note Antoine-Henri Jomini] Becomes a colonel under Marshal Ney w/ no experience to speak of b/c it’s wartime and he wrote a book.  Those were the days.  Witnesses Austerlitz, the Prussian campaign, & the Iberian insurrection.  Is part of Grand Armee, marches on Russia… and stays there.  By joining the Russian army.  "A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience."

Guy here in a Hartford Whalers hat.  Vintage or ironic?

[Ed. note Carl von Clausewitz] Believed war’s essence was "total war", but that it never happens.  (Platonic ideal?  Regular wars are as Shadow, if you want to be all Zelaznian on it.)

CHINA: economically vast, militarily (esp. navally) insignificant.  BRITAIN: navally mighty, commercially rapacious.  I think you can see where this is heading.

Projector misaligned.  How does that even happen? It’s on the ceiling.

[Ed. note on the Crimean War] Nobody had any real clue what the hell they were trying to do.  Result: Fiasco, confusion, slaughter, and comedy.

Russians able to fortify Sebastopol while French & British argued about taking it.  War significantly prolonged.

Meanwhile, the British were gallantly screwing themselves by trapping themselves in Balaklava w/ no fresh water or easy access to interior.

Russians besieged, were repulsed, had about given up & were leaving when Raglan decided to counterattack for no particularly good reason.

(Raglan/Lucan/Cardigan – the classic clusterfuck lyricized by Tennyson in "The Charge of the Light Brigade")

Interestingly, the only battle I can think of in which two generals were named after kinds of sweater.

Cavalry charges: not so useful vs. barbed wire.

SA war [Ed. note the Second Boer War, 1899-1902] opened poorly for Britain.  This would become something of a pattern for them in subsequent wars.

Scotsmen unsuitable to battle in sun-baked hellholes.

Enter Col. Kitchener!  Owner of one of the era’s great moustaches.

When last we left WWI, Europe was tangled up in a ridiculous network of alliances and nobody really liked Russia.

Admiral Tirpitz, unsurprisingly, author of the Tirpitz Plan.

June 28, 1914: Austro-Hungarian Archduke assassinated in Bosnian capital by Serbian nationalist.  This eventually leads to UK-German war, because Europe in 1914 was just that stupid.

Russians and Germans try to find a way out, but b/c of the inefficiency of the Russian train system, the mobilization can’t be stopped.  Aug. 3, Germany declares war on Russia & France.

And Belgium, ’cause it was neutral and in the way.  And it’s THAT which brings the UK into the war.

No wonder US policy & public opinion were that this was an incredibly stupid war & we should stay the hell out of it.

4 Aug 1914 – Germans, as they are wont to do, invaded Belgium.

Meanwhile, astonishingly, the Russians mobilized much faster than anticipated.  Moltke sacked, Paris not taken, Germans’ momentum broken.  Stage set for 4 years of pointless stalemate.

And there we are, fighting pointless battles of attrition like Ypres, in which 150,000+ casualties accomplish precisely dick.

Meanwhile in the East, the Russians were doing what they do best: producing infantry tokens. [Ed. note Axis & Allies joke!] By the time they’re done they’ll have 12 million men in uniform . Admittedly that’s 12 million soldiers with Russian training & equipment, but still.

Meanwhile, Austria fails to accomplish anything vs. Serbia – the whole point of this ridiculous war in the first place.

And thanks to our old friend Fritz Haber, there was plenty of poison gas for everybody.

U-boat warfare vs. Britain economic.  Aim to force UK out of war by cutting off overseas trade.  That didn’t work, but since they kept blowing up US ships, they did eventually get us into the war.  So, well done, U-boats.

Germans thought taking Verdun would break the "exhausted" French.  French thought holding Verdun would break the "exhausted" Germans.  And there you are.

In the East, Russians fail to convert.

Polish-Soviet War, 1918-1921 – sort of a feature of the Russian Civil War, but not really.  It’s confusing.  Poles on offensive, Red Army crap but enormous.  And so it goes.

And so to Italy, perpetually trying to put on its big boy pants and mostly failing.  This paves way for Mussolini, who will… not really accomplish anything either, but looks like he might for a while there.  Comes to power in 1922, pseudo-legally.  Seeks to restore Italy’s pre-eminence in Europe.  You know, that it lost in 490.

British & French foreign policy in the 1930s responded about as effectively [Ed. note to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia] as you might expect  – condemning Italy but not doing anything effective to oppose them.  This way they can anger Mussolini and Haile Selassie while helping no one.  It’s 1935, after all.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Civil War.  Short version: Reds fight among selves, Fascists monolithic, Fascists win.

At the time no one had any real idea why this [Ed. note the Condor Legion bombing of the Basque town of Guernica, 1937] happened, since Guernica was not really involved in the conflict.  Only later did it emerge that the whole thing was basically a huge explody German science experiment.  Basically the Luftwaffe just wanted to see if they could really blow up a whole town.

Meanwhile, Italy blunders.  Going for easy glory, ends up walking into the screen door of history. [Ed. note The Italians come in for a pretty regular kicking in my notes on the ’30s and ’40s.]

British, American volunteers took part on Republican side (& the Americans were tagged as Commies for their trouble, though to be fair a lot of them were).

Causes of WWII.  Somewhat simpler than those of WWI.  Ready?

1. Hitler

That was easy.

The thing about early-WWII movies is that you know things are never going to end well.

The Poles: mystifyingly sanguine.  "Run headlong into certain death because you think you can win: 5." [Ed. note HOL reference!]

Man.  Look at that map.  The Italians didn’t even make it to Monte Carlo.  How sad is that?

Why does Hitler invade the USSR?  As Mallory probably didn’t really say, because it’s there.

Russians as ever unprepared.  Soviet leaders actually managed to be surprised by this.

Then, with the sort of timing Hitler could always count on from his allies, Japan attacked the US and brought us formally into the war.

Oh, what a surprise, the firebombing of Japanese civilians was Curtis LeMay’s idea.

Truman figured the A-bomb would win the war, save a ton of Allied casualties, and impress the Russians so much we would never have any trouble out of them ever again.

So THAT worked.

2nd bomb proved we had more than one, although ironically we DIDN’T have more than two.

Korean War: you know the lyrics.

INT 400: Wrap-Up Week, Phase I

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

In its original coursework form, this was entitled "Futurism Isn’t What It Used to Be".


In looking over the materials for this segment and reflecting on what has gone before, I’m struck – as I have been many times over the course of this semester – by what a pessimistic view of the future many of today’s thinkers have.  I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I find this annoying, and more than slightly disturbing.

When my grandfather was a boy, the general view in Western society was that progress was good, it had made the present better than it would otherwise have been, and it was going to make the future better still – and this was in an age of widespread economic depression, impending world war, polio and Jim Crow.  The 1930s were a decade that arguably didn’t have a lot to be optimistic about, and yet you had massively forward-looking things being done, like the Hoover Dam and the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  Contrast that with today, when a person can take a college class that is built around a dynamic conference of ideas and innovations like Pop!Tech and find himself bombarded for fifteen weeks by view of the present and future like The Story of Stuff and Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.  Message, as I perceive it: Progress is cruel and exploitative, the present isn’t that great and should feel guilty about most of what it has, and the future ranges from bleak to apocalyptic.

This is not acceptable.

Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us is a particularly good example of this delicate balance of daft ideas and general pessimism that seems to embody modern futuristic thought.  It starts out with an anecdote about Ray Kurzweil, whom we’d just seen in a video from a few years ago being boldly and far-reachingly wrong about what the distant year 2010 was going to be like.  From that shaky basis, the author then asserts that one of Kurzweil’s wackier (though, I admit, refreshingly optimistic) ideas – that we’re very soon to achieve a sort of cyberpunk apotheosis by becoming one with our Internets – is wrong not because the whole premise is absurd, but because it isn’t pessimistic enough.  Sure, Joy says, we will reach an age when our computers are as smart as we are, but then they’ll either enslave us or wipe us out.  "I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil," he writes.  Do us a favor?

I’m sorry that I always seem to be setting myself at odds with our sources here, but it can’t be helped.  A great deal of what we’ve been exposed to in the course of this odyssey has been richly, bountifully disappointing.  Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us isn’t about technology, it’s primitive eschatology dressed up in a lab coat.  One finds oneself surprised that the phrase "if God had meant Man to X, He’d have given him Y" isn’t in there somewhere.  At the very least, it’s shockingly timid.  Joy advocates abandoning research into several of the most promising areas of high technology because he doesn’t think they’re worth the risk.  That’s not the attitude that mastered flint knapping in Olorgesailie, Bill.

Bostrom’s musings on the transhuman/posthuman phenomenon are slightly better reading, if only because they’re a little more balanced – but the whole debate he describes between what he calls bioconservative vs. transhumanist elements on, e.g., the improvement of the human species through inheritable genetic engineering seems more than a little silly when viewed from the perspective of a living room in rural Maine on a chilly December evening.  I have a couple of friends who consider themselves "posthumanists", and they are without doubt the most tiresome people on the face of the Earth when they get to talking about how technology will transcend the meaning of humanity within the next arbitrarily chosen number of years.  What they really mean is "look how clever I am, and have you seen my brand-new Android tablet?"  Having experienced that sort of frivolity first-hand, I find myself extremely suspicious of the whole movement’s intellectual credentials.

What’s really interesting about this to me, though, is that there was almost none of this sort of nonsense in the actual Pop!Tech conference itself.  With very few exceptions, the Pop!Tech speakers didn’t preach, didn’t talk down to their audience, and didn’t espouse concepts so lofty and abstract that they served only as illuminated signs saying YOU UNDERSTAND, OF COURSE, THAT I AM VERY SMART.  They were people with concrete ideas for improving things, rather than tutting, fretting prescriptionists who only wanted to make it plain that We’re All Doing It Wrong and We’re All Going to Die.  The contrast between the tone of the conference itself and the bulk of the supporting material we’ve seen during the weeks when the conference wasn’t happening is startling now that I look back at it.

Allow Us to Conduct You to the World that You Desire

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment

They wanted to know my preferred future.  So I told them.  Let the chips fall where they may.



My preferred future, eh? This is a slightly daunting assignment, since, as we’ve already seen in this course, futurists have an extensive track record of being hilariously wrong. Even extremely clever ones, like Vannevar Bush and his building-sized, waterfall-cooled computers, or Count Zeppelin and his fleets of slow-moving, comically vulnerable airships plying the skies of a curiously German world. As I am neither extremely clever nor a proper futurist at all, this should be… interesting.

Here are a few developments in the next 50-100 years that I consider possible and desirable (although, contrary to the suggested framework, I don’t always consider the things I prefer to be terribly probable, human nature being what it is).

Maturation of Human Attitudes

This is the whole fulcrum of my vision of the future. Hutchins’s 22nd century is predicated on the probably-overly-optimistic idea that it’s about time the human species grew up and threw off its lifelong addiction to superstition. Crystal gazing, orgone energy, pyramid power, astrology, ghosts, alien abductors, astrology, dire predictions of the world-ending wrath of some unobservable god or gods, psychics, astrology, and I may have already mentioned astrology – none of it’s real, none of it helps us advance, and it all has to go into the dustbin of history, alongside werewolves, trial by ordeal, and eight-track tape cassettes. We in the Western world, particularly, have no call to shake our heads at the benighted savagery and quaint folkways of primitive desert tribesmen when we’re still printing horoscopes in our daily newspapers and stifling important biomedical research because we’d rather wring our hands about scientists Playing God.

I recognize that this may be a difficult thing to ask of humanity, but on the other hand, it’s probably an easier ask than global brotherhood; in fact, I suspect it’s a prerequisite of global brotherhood. Until we abandon our superstitions and approach the world from one universal, rational perspective, we’re never going to make useful progress toward the goal of worldwide common understanding.

Which brings us neatly to


The future of governance lies in the decline and fall of militant nationalism. Particularly fashionable since Napoleonic times, this popular human prejudice is responsible for war, obstruction of global progress, economic instability, enormous expenditure of resources on vast and useless "defense" systems, and the general persistence of needless divisions among the peoples of the world. It’s a dangerous waste of time and effort and it has to go. This is the century when humanity must finally pull itself together and recognize that – not so much in the eco-warrior or flower-generation sense but as a concrete, practical reality – there is one planet Earth and one human species living upon it, and there are too many of us going in too many different directions for this "competitive nation-states" business to be workable any longer. It was fine in ancient Mesopotamia, but one only has to look at the mess that is modern Mesopotamia to see how counterproductive the concept of the sovereign nation is in the 21st century.

Mind you, even with modern instantaneous telecommunications and the like, it’s an inconveniently big planet with a staggeringly impractical number of people upon it, so a single world government is a pipe dream on the same scale as universal love and brotherhood. In the short or even medium term, it’s likely that the best we can hope for is a slow erosion of the ideological differences that divide the existing nations so completely. This needs to start locally, with, e.g., the rendering unfashionable of such unhelpful, obstructionist philosophies as Not In My Back Yard and There Goes the Neighborhood. These things can happen within one generation. For precedent, we have only to look to earlier social advances, like the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century.


If the maturation of human attitude is the fulcrum of this future, then education is the hinge pin. Without a comprehensive system of education, we’re never going to find our way out of the swamp humanity has managed to arrive in in these opening years of the 21st century. Rather than attempt massive reform to the aforemention systems from the start – systems which, in all their broken glory, many people today have a vested interest in maintaining – it’s my belief that a future generation, properly educated, will come to the conclusion that these changes are necessary without having to be led to it.

This is not the Communist dream of the New Soviet Man I’m talking about here, programmed from childhood in the Correct Thinking. I’m talking about a generation of young people equipped with the tools for critical thinking and rational understanding of the world that everyone should have – what Carl Sagan called the "baloney detection kit". Our schools should already be outfitting everyone who passes through them with these vital tools, but instead we find ourselves in a situation where an alarming percentage of high-school graduates have trouble with words longer than "rotfl". This will not do.

Fortunately, it’s also the simplest thing on the list to fix. Great schools require, when you pare everything back to first principles, one thing: a lot more funding than they’re getting now. Funding pays for facilities, it pays for equipment, and, most importantly, it pays for teachers. Right now a person has to be almost pathologically dedicated to the enrichment of the young, or completely out of options, to choose public school instruction as a career. Group A are great, and will continue to be great if we pay them a wage that isn’t an embarrassment to our entire civilization. Group B are not, and we wouldn’t need to retain them if we paid teachers enough to attract Group C, the really bright but slightly less crazy people who presently opt for jobs that pay better than fast-food management.

If schools had funding enough to attract and retain the right people, the rest of the problem would take care of itself. Get enough bright, dynamic, motivated people together and the endless wrangling about the finest points of the curriculum, the hidebound traditionalism, the lowest-required-effort assessment methods, and all the rest of the rigmarole that’s strangling education today will just go away, because people like that don’t have time for it. Does Simon Hauger look like he has time for student self-actualization index metrics? No, because he’s too busy getting great education done.

That’s it. That’s really, truly the key to the future right there. Pay teachers enough. If you build it they will come, and if they come, the next wave of graduates will be outfitted with everything they need to clean up what we can’t get to of the almighty mess our parents’ generation is leaving us. If you don’t build it, on the other hand, we’ll go down in 24th-century history as the people whose fault the new Dark Ages (ca. 2025-2350) were.

Professor Teller’s Infernal Machine

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment
This week’s task in INT 400 was to identify a technological advancement made since 1945 that’s held to have "changed the world" and then discuss whether we thought it actually had.  So I did.


It’s relatively rare to run across a technological advancement that is genuinely without precedent – though it depends on how one interprets "precedent".  Jet aircraft shrank the world, but no more so in their time, culturally speaking, than did proper seagoing ships (as opposed to the Mediterranean coastal vessels of Roman times) in the 15th century.  Satellite telecommunications and the Internet have only continued the "annihilation of space" begun by the Morse electric telegraph in 1844 (and Morse’s telegraph had forerunners of its own).  Computers can do a lot of math fast, but before them were computers – people who did a lot of math slowly.  Television is basically just radio with illustrations.  Even space travel is, at its heart, the same activity as the great exploratory sea voyages of the 16th century, only with smaller crews and in a different direction.

All of these technologies have a common trait: They’re held to have revolutionized the world, but if one looks more closely, one sees that what they’ve really done is enabled people to do things they were already doing, but faster, with greater efficiency, and/or on a larger scale than before.

Except one: the thermonuclear bomb.

"Hold on," I hear you say.  "Nuclear weapons are just bigger, more powerful versions of, well, bombs.  People had been using those for centuries before they came along.  Nuclear bombs allow for warfare with explosive weapons on a bigger scale than before – you just disproved your own point."  That’s true, but there’s an unintended consequence of that bigger scale that, I believe, is genuinely without precedent and qualifies nuclear arms for the unique status I’m ascribing to them here.  Before nuclear weapons, there was no way for human agencies, acting of their own accord, to threaten the entirety of human civilization.  We’d never developed a technology before that, if mishandled, could potentially end the whole story at a stroke.  No one had ever conceived of such a thing except in apocalyptic myth.  Not even its precursor, the atomic bomb – awesome in its own right – held the potential for such astonishing destruction… and then, in 1952, there it was.  Suddenly, with the push of a button at a testing range in the Pacific, the H-bomb was born and the whole game of international relations changed.

Thermonuclear weapons gave the world the concept of mutually assured destruction, which had never before been a factor in politics, military strategy, or civil policy.  It forced a near-total reassessment of what warfare was or meant.  Not even gunpowder did that.  Nothing ever had, and it’s unlikely that anything will again.  How do you top "total obliteration" on the potential-consequences scale?

Wow. Just… wow.

March 1, 2011 2 comments

In Classics 102 (which I’ve just realized sounds like a radio station – "You’re listening to All Request Mozart, keep it here on Classics 102") right now, we’re reading the Aeneid.  If you’re not familiar with this work, it’s an epic poem by the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC – 19 BC), better known to history as Virgil, who wrote it at around the same time that Octavian was becoming Augustus and the Roman Republic was becoming the Empire.  It purports to tell the story of the founding of Rome by refugees from the sack of Troy, as described in Homer’s Iliad.

In class, we’re working from the Mandelbaum translation, which attempts to preserve something of the original verse form, and it’s pretty rough sledding – dense with mythological references and historical allegories that Virgil expected would be intuitively obvious to his audience, but which require a bit of digging for the modern reader (at least this modern reader) to come to grips with.  It comes across as a sort of Odyssey-by-the-makers-of-Gladiator: a story of mythic travel and high adventure in which a doughty hero and his band of loyal followers are constantly messed about by the gods in an effort to get home, although where Ulysses and his men were trying to get back to the home they had left, Aeneas and the survivors of Troy are en route to a new home promised to them by the gods (the ones who aren’t trying to kill them) – the region of the Tiber in Italy, where Rome would eventually be.

The whole thing is pretty transparent propaganda, if you keep in mind when it was written and for whom.  There’s a scene in which Aeneas is presented with a shield, made for him by Vulcan at the request of Venus (who happens to be Aeneas’s mother).  On the shield is engraved a pictorial history of Rome, from the time of its founding to the triumph of Augustus, none of which had actually happened yet from Aeneas’s point of view, but the tail end of which was not just recent history but pretty much current affairs reportage for Virgil’s original readers.  The basic thrust of the story is: "Rome.  How long has it been awesome?  It’s always been awesome, baby."

Where "just wow" comes into it is this: I was looking at my copy today, and realizing that it’s pretty old.  The Mandelbaum translation was first published in 1961 and revised in 1971, and the edition we’re using in class is the Bantam Classics paperback, ca. 1985.  On the spine, next to the utterly superfluous "USED" sticker the campus bookstore put on it – this is a paperback book whose pages have turned entirely yellow with age – is the original price, $2.95.  I was curious about what it costs new these days, if this edition is even still in print, so I looked it up on Amazon.

As you might expect, there are a lot of editions of the Aeneid out there.  While I was trawling down the list looking for the Bantam edition, I ran across one that made me just stop and stare for a moment: Alfred J. Church’s The Aeneid for Boys and Girls.

A children’s edition.  Of the Aeneid.

This would have been astounding enough – I mean, we’re talking about a translation of an epic Roman poem about the fall of Troy (from the Trojan side) and its really quite exceedingly violent aftermath, including the foundation of Rome by the survivors of Troy in an area that already had a population, thank you, and reacted about as you would expect.  And there’s a children’s edition.

But even that is not why we’re here to say "just wow" today.  No, that leads on from my discovery, made from that listing, that Mr. Church also did for Boys and Girls editions of the classic works of Homer which Virgil was, let’s be honest, cribbing pretty heavily.

Which means, that’s right: The Iliad for Boys and Girls.

The Amazon listing has a "look inside!" feature that allows the prospective buyer to examine the first few pages.  I encourage everyone to investigate this, but let’s look at a couple of the key points together, shall we?

As everyone who’s ever attempted to give himself a little classical culturin’ up knows – even if, like me, it’s about as far as he ever got – the Iliad begins with some translational variation on this classic line:

Sing, goddess, of the rage of Achilles son of Peleus, that ruinous wrath which brought such sorrow upon the Achaeans.

Mr. Church renders this:

Once upon a time there was a certain King of Sparta who had a most beautiful daughter, Helen by name.

Is it me, or does it, uh… rather lose something in this form?

My favorite part, though, is on the next page, where he’s listing some of the prominent Greek figures who are going to be involved in the upcoming war with Troy:

So they all came to a place called Aulis, with many ships and men.  Others also who had not taken the oath came with them.  The greatest of these chiefs were these:-

Diomed, son of Tydeus; Ajax the Greater and Ajax the Less, and Teucer the Archer, who was brother of Ajax the Greater.

Nestor, who was the oldest man in the world.

The wise Ulysses.

Achilles, who was the bravest and strongest of all the Greeks, and with him his dear friend Patroclus.

I’d just like to repeat that last part.

… and with him his dear friend Patroclus.

Oh, man.  Any kid who reads this is going to be in for a deep, reverberating shock later on in life.

I ordered a copy of The Aeneid for Boys and Girls.  I had to.  I may bust it out in class as my Optional Extra Review.  I resisted the siren call of The Iliad for Boys and Girls this time, but I may yet revisit the concept; it depends on how much fun The Aeneid for Boys and Girls turns out to be.  I have to say, based on the sample provided, it looks very, very promising.

CMJ 103 Speech #4 (Persuasive #2)

December 12, 2010 1 comment

The videography in this one is not of the best – you can’t see most of my slides because of a combination of camera angle and lighting, which rather damages the effect, and for a good bit of it you can only see me from the nose up, which is quite distracting.  This is the one I delivered to an almost empty room for course credit; the Communications Department did video the Oak Awards version, but did not make that edition available to me.

For this reason, I’ll present a transcript with the slides inlined, but since vocal delivery is important too, here as well is the video of my second persuasive speech, "Our Friend the Atom".

Here’s something we don’t consider normal in the Western world today: the lights going out for no good reason.

In 1965, a mechanical defect at a power station in Ontario blacked out most of the northeastern United States and Canada, including New York City, for up to 12 hours.  They called it the Great Blackout of 1965.  A LIFE Magazine photographer immortalized the eerie scene in this photo.


Forty years later, Californian authorities were doing it on purpose, in so-called rolling blackouts – not because of technical faults, but due to insufficient generating capacity.  Elsewhere in the world, that sort of thing is part of everyday life.  But as technology advances, and individual electrical demand trends downward, collective demand always goes up as more and more people get onto the grid.


This chart, from the 2010 U.S. Department of Energy International Energy Outlook, shows the projected growth in worldwide generating capacity through 2035.  Note particularly the red line, which shows projected growth in the parts of the world that don’t currently have the fully meshed electrical grids that we’re used to here in the First World.

Using information gathered from the U.S. Department of Energy and other authorities and historical documents, I’m going to tell you about one thing that I think we need to do in order to head off the potential energy crunch of the coming decades.  Obviously we need to increase our generating capacity – by 87 percent in the next 25 years, if you believe the Department of Energy.  So how can we do that?  Where will it come from?

Well, we can’t build more conventional power stations, because…


… that will either mean feeding the demon Foreign Oil, or worse, burning more coal, which is messy and harmful.

We apparently can’t build wind farms…

Provision 221007
Protesters from the Castletown and Newcestown Action Group pictured outside Cork county hall yesterday.The group of forty plus protesters are fighting plans to build 16 wind turbines and a bio-energy plant in the West Cork area.
Pic Daragh Mac Sweeney/Provision

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… because they mince birds and make an annoying noise.  [Ed. note: In the Oak Awards version I adjusted the delivery of this line to the more Clarksonian "because they make an annoying noise… and mince owls," which got a huge laugh…]

We can’t have more hydroelectric dams, because they inconvenience fish and other…


… wildlife. [Ed. note: … but not as huge as this one got.]

And solar power obviously isn’t going to be much help in places like Maine…

Avery peak from the West Peak

… where the weather is usually like that.

So what’s the answer?


Our friend, the atom.

Nuclear power was the promise of the future in the 1950s, but it’s gone into a steady decline in the public eye since about 1970.  This wasn’t helped by two high-profile accidents, one in the US, the other in the USSR, in the late ’70s and mid-’80s.

As described in the American Chemical Society’s Three Mile Island Accident: Diagnosis and Prognosis, Three Miles Island Reactor #2 in Pennsylvania suffered a partial core meltdown in 1979 thanks to a stuck coolant valve.  The reactor’s containment vessel and other emergency backup systems did their jobs perfectly.  There was no significant radiation release from Three Mile Island, and no one was harmed in the incident.  It should’ve been the case study in why nuclear technology works, not the national horror story it became.

The 1986 explosion of Reactor #4 at Chernobyl in the Soviet Ukraine… was a horror story.  It’s inspired films, video games, and at least one deeply creepy website.  This was a disaster perpetrated by Soviet design, Soviet construction, and Soviet operational standards, all of which were, well, Soviet.  As John Tabak explains in Nuclear Power, the Soviets designed a type of reactor that lacked an inherent safety factor, built it shoddily, and then decreed that a dangerous experiment should be carried out in the middle of the night by the second-string operators.  It’s almost as if they wanted it to blow up.  David R. Marples summed it up in Chernobyl and Nuclear Power in the USSR, one of the first books to analyze the accident, when he wrote: "Chernobyl was a badly built edifice, with a demoralized workforce."  That was the Soviet system in the 1980s.  Things have moved on a bit since then.

I believe that with the lessons learned from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and other, less famous incidents over the 60-odd years of nuclear history, a new generation of power stations – properly engineered, properly built, properly operated – can provide electricity in abundance, without damming rivers, causing acid rain, or annoying people who live near hills.

Of course, nuclear power does have inherent hazards, but there are hazards in any energy technology.  Any coal miner or oil rig worker can tell you that.  But since when have we, as a species, shied away from using things that are dangerous if mishandled?  If that were the case, we’d never have mastered fire or stone tools.  This new generation of reactors must be carefully researched, carefully designed, and built to be as safe as they can be, then operated vigilantly and never handled complacently – but they need not be feared.

My grandfather was once a member of the U.S. Army rifle team.  He taught me to shoot when I was a small boy.  One of the first things he taught me was that a firearm must be respected, but never feared.  I think it’s the same thing with nuclear power: We need to be vigilant; we can’t be afraid.

In my future, this new generation of reactors plays a large role in helping the electric power industry get ahead of the curve – cleanly, safely, and economically.  I’m not saying we need to stop research into alternative energy.  More choices are always better.  I am saying that the atom should play a big part in what we do going forward.

The atom is a tricky little so-and-so, but we – you and me, our society, right now – are the smartest, best-educated, most technologically capable human being who have ever lived.  We can do this.  Here in the defining days of the 21st century, we face a choice.  We’re either heading for a brightly lit golden age… or a sputtering slide into darkness.  Our friend the atom is a powerful but sadly neglected tool that can, in my view, if grasped with authority and wielded with care, help us achieve the better future that I think we’d all rather have.

So let it be known that you support the safe, responsible use of atomic power.  Spread the word that the atom is misunderstood, and should be respected, but never hated or feared.  Insist that nothing be done in haste, but that it must be done.  Throw off your outdated fears and learn to love the atom – for it will set us free.  Thank you.