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Niven’s Laws

I stumbled across a list of Larry Niven’s laws at Wikipedia.

The first law made me smile because one of my “life lessons” for my students is: “Never throw rocks at people with guns” in reference to the Boston Massacre, Kent State, or the Israeli Defense Force.

My favorite laws are:

1) Never throw shit at an armed man.

2) Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man.

3) Mother Nature doesn’t care if you’re having fun.

4) Giving up freedom for security is beginning to look naive. (Note: this originally read “F x S = k”, signifying that the product of Freedom and Security is a constant.)

14) When your life starts to look like a soap opera, it’s time to change the channel.

17) There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.

The whole list is here.

Living In The South

Our local paper devotes a portion of the editorial page to “Quotable Quotes.” In today’s paper, two of the selections were:

“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” - Abraham Lincoln

“We have already lost all but our honor by the last war, and I must say, that in order to be men we must protect our honor at all hazards and we must protect our wives, our homes, and our families.” - Nathan Bedford Forrest

Your humble Smallholder almost had an aneurism. What are the odds that they’ll print my letter to the editor?

Dear Sirs,

The “Quotable” section from March 29’s paring of quotes from Abraham Lincoln and Nathan Bedford Forrest was astounding. Both are actual quotes, but when combined together they cast doubt on the DNR editorial staff’s collective judgment.
The Lincoln quote in which he claims no desire to interfere with slavery where it exists should have been placed in the context of Lincoln’s wartime maneuvers to keep the border states in the Union. Politicians routinely tailor their comments to their audiences and a wise man looks at a politician’s actions rather than his words to determine the politician’s true intent. Lincoln did end slavery, so one ought to take quotes like the one you published with a grain of salt. However, since folks who want to deny that slavery was the cause of the Civil War have popularized Honest Abe’s quote in public discourse, it is possible that the selection of the uncontextualized quote was the product of ignorance and not malevolence.
Unfortunately, the DNR opens itself to the charge of racist malevolence when the Lincoln quote is then paired with Nathan Bedford Forrest’s statement about the mission of the Ku Klux Klan. When Forrest lamented that the South had lost “all but our honor,” he was talking about the collapse of slavery and the loss of white supremacy. When he promoted the protection of “our wives, our homes, and our families,” he believed that the protection required the maintenance of white superiority through terrorism and murder.
If the DNR staff is aware of Forrest’s role in the emergence of the Klan as an instrument of white superiority, choosing to quote this monster is indefensible.
If the DNR editorial staff was unaware of Forrest’s racial atrocities, their lamentable ignorance of basic elements of American history undermines the credibility of the DNR’s editorial analysis.

Sincerely,

Smallholder

Gospel Question

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was contemplating a recent gospel reading. The reading was from the Gospel of John. It is the story of the adulterous woman in John 8. In case you have forotten the passage, it reads:

3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court,

4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.

5 “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”

6 They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.

7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

8 Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.

10 Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either Go From now on sin no more.”

Now. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t mean to give the impression that he is not seriously considering the lesson; but…

What do you think Jesus was writing on the ground?

For some reason your Maximum Leader has been stuck wondering what Jesus would be writing on the ground. Your Maximum Leader’s speculation has ranged from the serious (perhaps he was actually writing out the Law in the sand) to the ridiculous (a la Dan Brown “Jesus + Mary Magdelene 4ever”). He will probably lie awake (again) thinking about this tonight.

Carry on.

Small gone… Replacements lining up.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader, last week, posted about the growing financial scandal surrounding Lawrence Small, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

Well. Mr Small has resigned his position, and the Board of Regents has accepted his resignation. A number of possible replacements are now being considered. The Acting Secretary, Cristian Samper (now former head of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History) is a possible sucessor.

Apparently, the appointment of Mr (Dr?) Samper has lead to the resignation of David Evans, the (now former) Undersecretary for Science at the Smithsonian. Mr. Evans was, it seems, the number 2 guy at the Smithsonian under Lawrence Small, and was Samper’s boss. It is unclear if Mr. Evans was upset by being passed over for the job; or if he just figured this was the best time to move along and do something else. Frankly, your Maximum Leader would suspect it is both, but probably the bruised ego of being passed over was the dominant feeling when it came time to take a decision.

While the financial issues now surrounding Small’s tenure as Smithsonian Secretary are troubling, Small’s tenure as Secretary has been remarkable. Small was a great fundraiser and the institution is no doubt better off today than when he came into office. Your Maximum Leader believe that the Smithsonian would be well served by having a person well connected to potential donors (as Small was with his financial background); it is likely that the Regents will wind up selecting someone more in the vein of all of Small’s predecessors. Which is to say, academics and scientists.

Your Maximum Leader has nothing against academics and scientists. Indeed, in a perfect world your Maximum Leader would likely have been a tweed-wearing college don. But an institution like the Smithsonian needs a great fundraiser and financial guru to lead it. Like many colleges and universities, the Smithsonian needs non-academics in top positions so that those people can wheel and deal (traits not often associated with academics and scientists) to get the money and support needed to advance the academic and scientific goals of the institution.

Your Maximum Leader has actually had lots of personal experience in this area. Academics who might appeal to the Smithsonian staff, don’t often have the knowledge or skills required to fundraise - and administer - a large institution. Your Maximum Leader is reminded of his alma mater. Many years ago, your Maximum Leader’s undergraduate school was busy picking a new president. The choices came down to two men. One was a well published and scholarly historian who had a successful post-lecturer career as a Vice-President for Academic Affairs at a well-known university. The second was a retired Army General who was a decorated war veteran (WWII, Korea, and Vietnam), former intelligence agency director, and a member of the US negotiation team during the SALT era. The first man was essentially an academic who could also do administration. The second man was a leader and visionary - who was also as well-connected politcially as you could imagine.

Your Maximum Leader’s alma mater selected the first man. A nearby college selected the second man. Both men served as President of their respective schools for roughly the same period of time. During that time your Maximum Leader’s alma mater grew at a satisfactory rate; but the nearby college saw their endowment increase dramatically - as did their regional/national reputation. The problem was the temperament of the first man. He just wasn’t a “gladhanding” type. He was stand-offish. He was formal. He was exactly the way you would expect a serious studious professor type to be. Indeed, your Maximum Leader remembers being at a party once with his college’s president in attendance. Also in attendance was the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee for the Virginia House of Delegates. Now, one would think that the President of a state supported college might spend some time getting to know the Chairman of a very powerful (budget writing) committee in his state legislature. But you would be wrong. In fact your Maximum Leader spend more time with the Chairman talking about hunting, fishing, and proper techniques for roasting a wild turkey on a spit than did his alma mater’s president. If your Maximum Leader’s memory is correct, the President and the Chairman were introduced over the black velvet punchbowl. Looked at each other awkwardly for a moment, then parted company.

Excursus: The awkwardness might have been caused by the fact that the academic was a teetotaler and wouldn’t accept a glassful of black velvet. This, of course, reinforced your Maximum Leader’s firm belief that you can’t develop a good relationship with someone who doesn’t drink.

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader firmly believes that the Smithsonian will find a safe academic to be their next Secretary. They really ought to look for a well-connected visionary. And on the off-chance they find the visionary with connections, write a really detailed employment contract that stipulates what expenses will and will not be reimbursed to the Secretary…

Carry on.

Carriers vunerable - still

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader started writing this post last week. Last week before he fell into his routine of watching “Scrubs” re-runs and going to be early. He decided to just slap it up here and see if it sticks…

Did you catch the headline off the Bloomberg News service? The one that reads: “Navy lacks plan to defend against “Carrier-destroying” missle.” The Russians have had the “Sizzler” missle for a number of years and have offered it for sale to the Chinese and possibly the Iranians. The missile, it is speculated, may foil the US Navy’s Aegis system. The Aegis system is the Navy’s current defense system against missile attack. According to the article:

Charts prepared by the Navy for a February 2005 briefing for defense contractors said the Sizzler, which is also called the SS-N-27B, starts out flying at subsonic speeds. Within 10 nautical miles of its target, a rocket-propelled warhead separates and accelerates to three times the speed of sound, flying no more than 10 meters (33 feet) above sea level.

On final approach, the missile “has the potential to perform very high defensive maneuvers,” including sharp-angled dodges, the Office of Naval Intelligence said in a manual on worldwide maritime threats.

The Sizzler is “unique,” the Defense Science Board, an independent agency within the Pentagon that provides assessments of major defense issues, said in an October 2005 report. Most anti-ship cruise missiles fly below the speed of sound and on a straight path, making them easier to track and target

Now, your Maximum Leader is not a rocket scientist (although he knows one or two); but even he can tell this is a very serious threat to US naval strength around the world. A supersonic missle that doesn’t fly straight is a potent (and reasonably inexpensive) deterrent to anyone who might want to thwart US foreign policy.

Of course, it is not comforting to know that the Navy has been aware of the threat for 6 years and doesn’t seem to have made a lot of progress is countering the threat posed by the Sizzler. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t doubt for a moment that the Navy (and the good people at Lockheed Martin - makers of the Aegis system) will figure out something they can do to try and neutralize this threat. But your Maximum Leader is not so naive to think that any system is foolproof. Certainly in the interim, the acquisition of a number of these missiles by Iran would have a chilling effect on US operations in the Persian Gulf.

By the way, did your Maximum Leader mention that the USS Stennis and USS Eisenhower battle groups are in the Persian Gulf now? No… Well they are.

Carry on.

Ithaca

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader must admit that he must have only read his Homer casually. You see, he always assumed that the island off of Greece known today as Ithaca (or Itaki) was, if not the same as - at least part of, the Homeric Kingdom of Ithaca ruled by the wise Odysseus. Apparently this is not the case and a group of scientists are now searching for the Homeric island of Ithaca.

According to the article on the AP news wire, the engineers and other researchers are examining the area of Paliki to see if it could have been the Ithaca of Odysseus. The theory that Paliki could be Ithaca has been advanced by Robert Bittlestone - an amateur archeologist and modern-day Heinrich Schlemann. Apparently your Maximum Leader must have missed the part where Homer describes Ithaca as not being particularly mountainous and was furthest into the sea. The place known now as Ithaca does not fit this description, but Paliki might - at least in Homer’s time.

…[E]ngineers and geologists will examine rock where Bittlestone believes a narrow sea channel once existed, possibly separating Kefallonia from a flat peninsula called Paliki. They hope to discover whether it is made of solid rock or debris, which would suggest Paliki was once an island.

Homer describes Ithaca as low-lying and “furthest to the sea” — but Ithaki is mountainous and is not the outermost Ionian island. Paliki, on the other hand, is generally flat and could theoretically have been the outermost island.

Your Maximum Leader will follow events as he can to see what the researchers come up with. This type of stuff does fascinate your Maximum Leader.

Carry on.

GOP Straw Poll

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader thought he might share this poll that he originally saw over on Rachel’s site.

If turn about is really fair play, he might find a similar poll for Dems and post it too.

Carry on.

Ponder Lucas’ vision…

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is in something of a funk. No particular reason, but he just can’t seem to motivate himself to actually type anything. He has seated himself in front of his computer and thought about a post… But he just can’t seem to will himself to type. (Frankly, he hasn’t been playing computer games of any sorts.) Indeed, he finds himself strangely drawn to “Scrubs” re-runs. If he times it right, he can watch 90 minutes of “Scrubs” every night. The zany antics of Zach Braff and his cohorts seem to make your Maximum Leader feel a little better.

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader has been reading blogs, although not contributing to his blog. And one of the most entertaining posts he’s read recently was Buckethead’s post on Lightsabre toting Jesuits… It is a great post. Buckethead begins:

Why, indeed, are stormtroopers not all the same height, given that they are clones? As I watched, with half an eye, the great saga that is Star Wars, some questions popped into my head that had never popped before.

Imagine that Adolf Hitler conquered the world. He is now known as Der Fuhrer, of course, and rules with an iron hand and generally goes around scaring the bejesus out of people. Imagine that in a desert region, far from the bright centers of the Nazi world – maybe in Indiana – there is a young boy with the last name Hitler. He becomes involved with the resistance, and learns to fly, and in a climactic confrontation with Der Fuhrer at a oil shale strip mine in Alberta learns that Der Fuhrer is in fact his father. Should he be surprised? Would no one have ever commented on the puzzling similarity of last names?

The post gets better from there; ending with lightsabre toting Jesuits…

And by the way… Some Stormtroopers are taller than others because, while clones, they over time develop their own personalities. And some of them want to “stand out.” So they put lifts in their boots.

Your Maximum Leader should also mention that if one starts to think at all critically about any of the Star Wars movies, they fall apart very quickly. Faster in fact than does Star Trek, in all its various forms… The deconstruction of Star Trek takes a bit more time, as male viewers are constantly distracted by the large shapely breasts of one of the female leads… Indeed, your Maximum Leader found himself watching nearly all of a rerun of “Enterprise” on SciFi last night for the sole purpose of seeing Sub-commander T’Pol do whatever Sub-commander T’Pol does…

Well, if he can summon up the blood to do so, your Maximum Leader may try to post again soon.

Carry on.

Passings.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is deep in prayer today for the souls of many departed. As readers probably already know, Robert’s (of the Llamabutchers) father passed last night after a long bout with cancer. Please keep Robert, his father and family in your thoughts.

Also, the father of one of Villainette #1’s friends died suddenly of a heart attack yesterday. I knew the man only casually, but can still say it is a tragic loss. He was 47. He leaves behind a loving wife and three children (one in high school, one in middle school, and one in 4th grade).

It is a very sad day.

Carry on.

Nanny Statism

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t often find himself in the company of Salon.com and the American Civil Liberties Union. But, if he had had the time or inclination to write an amicus brief, he would have been on their side in their successful efforts to strike down the Children’s Online Protection Act. A judge ruled that the 1998 law was unconstitutional on free speech grounds.

The above linked Washington Post article reads in part:

The law would have criminalized Web sites that allow children to access material deemed “harmful to minors” by “contemporary community standards.” The sites would have been expected to require a credit card number or other proof of age. Penalties include a $50,000 fine and up to six months in prison.

Sexual health sites, the online magazine Salon.com and other Web sites backed by the American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the law on grounds it would have a chilling effect on speech. Joan Walsh, Salon.com’s editor in chief, said the law could have allowed any of the 93 U.S. attorneys to prosecute the site over photos of naked prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

“The burden would have been on us to prove that they weren’t” harmful to minors, Walsh said Thursday.

In his ruling, [US District Court Judge Lowell] Reed warned that “perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection.”

Daniel Weiss of Focus on the Family Action, a lobbying arm of the conservative Christian group, said it would continue to press Congress for a workable law.

“The judge seems to indicate there’s really no way for Congress to pass a good law to protect kids online,” Weiss said. “I just think that’s not a good response.”

You know, your Maximum Leader has always adhered to the variation of Cicero’s maxim that “the welfare of women and children is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Attempts by the state to “protect” children almost always attract the ire of your Maximum Leader. In the case of this particular WaPo peice, the quotation from Daniel Weiss was the bit that most raised your Maxmium Leader’s ire.

Perhaps we would all be better served if Congress didn’t attempt to pass a “good law” to protect kids online. Perhaps we would all be served better if parents monitored their children’s access to the internet and did what good parents do. Which is to say, set boundaries for their children and properly educate them in civilized behavior.

It is the job of parents to educate their children concerning morals. It is not the job of the state.

Carry on.

Beer, Bourbon, BBQ & Bible.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is looking to have a busy day… No guarantees on any further postings…

He did want to share with you two quick items.

First, if you are in the greater Washington DC Metro area and like Beer, Bourbon, and pork BBQ, you might want to head over to the Timonium Fairgrounds on Saturday for the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival. If you miss the Maryland Festival, there is a second date in July in Charlotte NC.

Secondly… You need to go over and read from Cranky’s latest on Six Meat Buffet. Highlight:

“…as was the custom of the time, Pilate brought the bill before the people. “Which of these two bills would you like passed into law? Shall I pass the law that curtails the power of the Food and Drug administration to regulate the color of cheddar cheese or shall I pass the law which compels you to turn your headlights on when you operate your windshield wipers?”

Beauty…

Carry on.

Paying too much to (for) Small.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has been following the growing scandal concerning payments made to Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lawrence M. Small. If you’ve not heard of this issue, you might get caught up by reading the lengthy article in the Washington Post.

Here are some money quotes for your consumption from the Post:

Small spent nearly $160,000 on the redecoration of his offices in the institution’s main building on the Mall shortly after he took the helm of the world’s largest museum system in 2000. The expenses include $4,000 for two chairs from the English furniture-maker George Smith, $13,000 for a custom-built conference table and $31,000 for Berkeley stripe upholstery.

Small has also received $1.15 million in housing allowances over a six-year period in return for agreeing to use his 6,500-square-foot home in Woodley Park for Smithsonian functions. To justify those expenses, Small has submitted receipts for $152,000 in utility bills, $273,000 in housekeeping services and $203,000 in maintenance charges, including $2,535 to clean a chandelier. The home-repair invoices show $12,000 for upkeep and service on his backyard swimming pool, including $4,000 to replace the lap pool’s natural gas heater and pump.

The office expenses were permitted under Smithsonian policies and procedures, and the housing allowance was part of Small’s employment agreement. The $160,000 in office renovations are part of $846,000 in total office expenses Small filed between 2000 and 2005. About $90,000 was found by the institution’s inspector general to be unauthorized, including charter jet travel and transactions that “might be considered lavish or extravagant,” The Post reported last month.

In addition to the $90,000, about $28,000 in expenses had insufficient or no supporting documents. These were variously labeled as “reimbursement,” “one-time vendor” and “Smithsonian petty cash,” documents show.

Small, whose total compensation will top $915,000 this year, said in a statement that he is declining to comment while an ongoing Senate Finance Committee investigation looks at his expenses.

Wow! The article goes on to state that under Small’s leadership the Smithsonian has increased productivity, streamlined operations, opened new museums, and improved existing ones. Additionally, Small has been a tremendous fundraiser for the institution, with new donors giving over a billion dollars to the greatest museums in the world.

But all that aside, your Maximum Leader (a long-time Smithsonian Associate by the way) feels a bit unsettled by all of the money Small seems to be taking for himself from the taxpayer subsidized trough. The Smithsonian Board of Regents has given its seal of approval to all these payments to the Secretary. And that seal of approval continues even after their own inspector general has raised questions about the payments. First off a salary of over $900,000 a year. That seems a bit excessive. Actually, it seems a lot excessive to your Maximum Leader. (He will, however, admit that he doesn’t know what the going rate of compensation is for the heads of the worlds great museums. How much does the Director of the British Museum, or Louvre, or Hermitage get paid?)

There will be Senate hearings into all this, and according to today’s Washington Post the now former inspector general of the Smithsonian claims that Small tried to pressure her to change the focus of her financial investigation. It seems to your Maximum Leader that all this is gonna get real ugly.

Carry on.

Bargain House

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maixmum Leader is very aware of the “housing crisis” in America. First houses were too expensive for people to own. Now the mortgage market (at least the sub-prime portion thereof) appears to be doing poorly.

Well… If you need a nice house for cheap try Detroit. Houses are cheaper than cars in Detroit. Of course… It is Detroit…

But if you moved to Detroit you would be able to be neighbourly with Mr & Mrs P… So you’ve got that going for you.

Carry on.

Whiskey … an American tradition

Old news, but worth a mention, since the party is next weekend. They’re making Whiskey again at Mount Vernon. The opening celebration is March 31-April 1. And this is in the area that MaxLeader, SmallHolder and I grew up in. So if you’re in the DC area, try to make it.

Now, I love whiskey as much as the next guy. Scratch that. I probably love whiskey more than the next guy. But I love this sentence from the linked article.

The festive family fun event includes Colonial games, early-American music, cornhusk doll-making, open-hearth cooking, and spinning demonstrations.

Yes, the opening of a distillery is exactly what I think of when I ask myself what I want for family fun. What am I doing with my daughters this weekend? Why not take them to a distillery.

All Hail Polymath

My good friend Polymath has a blog. Go check it out.

His philosophy seems to be in step with most of our blogospheric buddies (i.e. to the right of your humble Smallholder).

Despite the fact that he’s wrong (see above), he is a good man. When the Zombies rise, the Maximum Leader and I will surely be recruiting him for our survivalist team. He is, as he says in his opening post, a jack-of-all-trades. Also importantly, he shoots voles. Voles. Little teeny-tiny voles. I’m happy if I can hit a groundhog four times out of five.

Polymath is probably also the reason why I’m on my state representative’s crackpot list. He inspired me to write a letter asking that the law banning the distillation of hard alcohol be repealed. I wrote this on the heels of a previous letter asking for my representatives to support a bill that would have allowed small farmers to sell milk directly to consumers. So I’m the alcohol/dairy libertarian nut.

If you have noticed your humble Smallholder trending toward small-l libertarianism over the last four years, Polymath is partially responsible. He makes good arguments.

UPDATE: Thanks to those of you who noticed that my cutting and pasting had garbled this post. I have now fixed it. I’m sorry that my poor English skills offended our readers’ eyes by creating a sentence lacking a verb. But what do you expect from an agrarian?

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