Sunday, December 05, 2010

Potpourri day

Today is a potpourri day, which means I couldn’t decide what to write about so instead I’m covering a few little items that I find interesting.

The General Says -

On May 18, 2009 I posted here a comparison of General Grant’s vaunted autobiography with that written by the much less important southern brigadier general Edward Porter Alexander. EPA's book was just much better. However, I did say that I did like General Grant’s effort and thought it was important - just overrated. Some say it was wonderful the way he wrote it because he was so plain spoken. I don’t get it. I see nothing special about his writing at all. Some of it was quite boring and I found myself skimming. Reminds me how some people fuss over some actresses just because they are not so beautiful or past their prime in looks. But, below is my favorite bit in General Grant’s whole autobiography, as it was a very human part:

"After we had secured the opening of a line over which to bring our supplies to the army, I made a personal inspection to see the situation of the pickets of the two armies. As I have stated, Chattanooga Creek
comes down the centre of the valley to within a mile or such a matter of the town of Chattanooga, then bears off westerly, then north-westerly, and enters the Tennessee River at the foot of Lookout Mountain. This creek, from its mouth up to where it bears off west, lay between the two lines of pickets, and the guards of both armies drew their water from the same stream. As I would be under short-range fire and in an open country, I took nobody with me, except, I believe, a bugler, who stayed some distance to the rear. I rode from our right around to our left. When I came to the camp of the picket guard of our side, I heard the call, "Turn out the guard for the commanding general." I replied, "Never mind the guard," and they were dismissed and went back to their tents. Just back of these, and about equally distant from the creek, were the guards of the Confederate pickets. The sentinel on their post called out in like manner, "Turn out the guard for the commanding general," and, I believe, added, "General Grant." Their line in a moment front-faced to the north, facing me, and gave a salute, which I returned.

The most friendly relations seemed to exist between the pickets of the two armies. At one place there was a tree which had fallen across the stream, and which was used by the soldiers of both armies in drawing
water for their camps. General Longstreet's corps was stationed there at the time, and wore blue of a little different shade from our uniform.

Seeing a soldier in blue on this log, I rode up to him, commenced conversing with him, and asked whose corps he belonged to. He was very polite, and, touching his hat to me, said he belonged to General
Longstreet's corps. I asked him a few questions--but not with a view of gaining any particular information--all of which he answered, and I rode off."

The meaning of the three paragraphs is evident, but it is just so hard to fathom how two years into the bloody war, the civility could be such.

Living undercover

I’ve been to Turkey, but not Cappadocia, an area known for its soft rock and many caves. One of these underground hollows is almost beyond belief and even calls for the conspiracy buffs to claim alien intervention.

It’s usually known as Derinkuyu or Derinkuyu Underground City. It is entirely underground and has 11 levels dropping approximately 280 feet deep. Thousands of people would be able to fit in it, perhaps up to 50,000 of them. It was connected to yet other underground cities by long underground passageages. There was also room for food and livestock. Typical of cave sites in the area, it had wine and oil presses, stables, storage rooms and wells among other specialized rooms. A vertical staircase starting at the third floor drops down 8 floors to the bottom where there is some type of temple or church. Rooms for worship were common in Cappadocian cave dwellings, but, on the second floor of Derinkuyu was a supposedly unique room, a large chamber with a vaulted ceiling. I sneer at the assumptions that this was a religious school as a pure guess.There was also a 180 foot long ventilation shaft which was also used to provide water, probably in both directions.

One of the fascinating features is that the whole environment and each separate floor could be closed off with huge round stone doors that were set on rollers. They look not unlike the entrances to Middle Earth’s hobbit cave dwellings. They doors were between 4 feet to 6 feet in height, 1 to 2 feet in width and weighed somewhere between 400 to 1000 pounds.

Who built them? I don’t know. The consensus is the Phrygians (those who don’t believe it was aliens), but others suggest the Hittites, between 600 and 800 b.c. That’s who lived around there at the time so they are good guesses. Just for perspective, this was probably contemporary with the composition of The Iliad and The Odyssey and the first written versions of the Old Testament, and hundreds of years before the golden age of Athens. It also appears that Christian societies lived there after the common era began, probably as hiding places from Roman persecution early on and later from Muslims. It is also possible that the Byzantines expanded what they found there.

Fun facts about foreign Muslims

I often find myself defending American Muslims here given the desire of some, particularly on the right wing  to paint them as radicals. But, the opinions of many millions of Muslims worldwide can be pretty scary from our viewpoint.

Here are some fun facts from Pew Research Group’s poll on foreign Muslims taken just this year. 34% of Muslims in Jordan have a favorable view of al Qaeda, 49% in Nigeria, 23% in Indonesia and 20% in Egypt.

So, using round numbers:

Jordan – 6,000,000 pop. – 2,000,000 support al Qaeda

Egypt – 83,000,000 pop. – 21,000,000 support al Qaeda

Nigeria - 155,000,000 pop. – 76,000,000 support al Qaeda

Indonesia - 238,000,000 pop. – 55,000,000 support al Qaeda

That’s over 150 million in just four countries, of course, representing less than over a quarter of the foreign Muslims in the world.  There are over a billion of them. Even in a country like Turkey, still very secular despite its religious revival, where only 4% of Muslim Turks favor al Qaeda (and have almost as unfavorable views of Hizbollah and Hamas), that’s still 3,000,000 people who support the terrorist organization. Of course, supporting a terrorist group is not the same as being a terrorist, but it makes for a really big pool.

Muslims favoring Palestinians to Israelis is not a surprise, particularly from middle eastern Muslims. Supporting Hizbollah and Hamas is not always the same as supporting Muslim militants in general. For example, in Lebanon, a completely divided country, 52% favor Hizbollah and 49% Hamas, but only 3% favor al Qaeda. That’s not always the case, of course, but it shows that it has to be analyzed differently.

How about this one? - Three quarters plus of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan are in favor of stoning adulterers, whipping or removing the hands of thieves and the death penalty for apostates, that is, Muslims who decide they prefer another religion. This is not likely to give Americans confidence in Muslim immigrants, although arguably, most who want to come here do not want that Shari’ah law in their life.

Still, scary.

Can I help you?

Don’t you love working with customer service departments and help desks? Here is a paraphrasing of my conversation with McAfee, the computer protection company yesterday.

M (them) Yes, Mr. Eisenberg, how may I help you?

D (me) Okay, I received a pop-up notice from you when I turned on my computer. It says New Internet Connection detected. I don’t know what this means as it has never come up before but there is a big exclamation point next to it in a yellow triangle. But obviously this is something you want me to be concerned about.

M Sir, is there a warning there about some virus infection?

D No, it’s just what I told you. New Internet Connection Detected. I don’t know why it would say that. All I did was turn the computer on. It’s the same internet connection.

M Okay, Sir, I’m going to transfer you to our service department. There is a $9.99 cents charge. How would you like to pay it?

D No, I’m not paying for it. You sent me a message alerting me to something. You didn’t say – don’t worry about this, it’s nothing. You put an exclamation mark next to it. So, no I’m not going to click on one of the choices it provides when I’m not sure what it means. I’m going to call you but I’m not going to pay for the privilege of responding to your message unless you tell me that there is some danger to my computer first.

M Sir, you purchased a two year plan which expires March, 2011. However, only the first thirty days is free service. After that you must pay.

D Look, this is nothing personal between you and me, but I am sick of these companies ripping everyone off. When they sold me the product and I paid for it and then tried to download it, it wouldn’t download. When I called up, they tried to stick me with a $9.99 cent charge then just so they could give me the product I already paid for. I wouldn’t pay it then and I’m not paying it now. I pay for your protection. Don’t alert me with an exclamation point for no reason unless you also tell me don’t worry about it. I’m not paying for this unless you tell me what it even is. For all I know, it’s nothing. Why should I pay?

M Yes, Sir, but you see that you no longer have free service.

D If you charge me I am telling you and you can write it down in your notes that as soon as my contract runs out, I’m going to change to someone else even though I otherwise like your product.

M Okay, Sir, since you don’t want to pay the service charge, we are happy to provide it for free on a one time basis. Is that okay?

D That will be fine.

I expect to have a similar conversation with them in the future, and no, I’m not paying then either. Here’s a chat exchange a college professor I know had with his own college’s help desk. I changed the some names to protect the innocent and shortened it a bit.

STAFF: Hi, my name is Ken. How may I help you?

TOM: Morning. Are you Big College help desk?

STAFF: Yes. I will be happy to help you.

TOM: Tried so many passwords on my that I got locked out. Automatic password reset not working

STAFF: May I know your email address that you have provided at the time of registering in the course?

TOM: Big College email is

STAFF: One moment while I look up your information based off of your name and email address.

TOM: But not about a course. It's about

STAFF: Okay.

{long pause}

TOM: Ken?

STAFF: Thank you for waiting, I have found information that I believe is yours, however I need to verify this with additional information. To the best of your ability, can you please provide the following?

1. A course you are enrolled in

2. A secondary email address

3. Your Student ID

TOM: I'm faculty. Faculty ID is D99011348

STAFF: Thank you for waiting. I have found your information. The ID you provided is your Login ID. However for security purposes I will need to email your password separately to the email address you provided

TOM: OK. Which one?

STAFF: You will receive the right password via email after this chat session gets over.

[Later that day]

STAFF: Hi, my name is Marshall. How may I help you?

TOM: Hi Marshall. This morning your colleague Ken reset my password for me after the account was locked with numerous wrong guesses. Just went to try but it's still locked: D# 636363666

STAFF: Ok, I will help you with that.

TOM: Great

STAFF: May I have your registered e-mail?


STAFF: One moment while I look up your information based off of your name and email address.

{long pause}

TOM: Marshall?

STAFF: Yes, I would make sure that your password is send to you e-mail address right away, I apologize for the inconvenience caused.

TOM: No, no. He sent me the password but the site is still locked: Username is my D#, right?

{long pause}

TOM: Marshall?

TOM: Marshall? U there?

TOM: OK. I give up. Will try again


TOM: Ah, do you see my problem?

STAFF: Ok, we suggest you to contact your educator, perhaps your course resources are yet to be activated by the instructor.


STAFF: Are you trying to access the course shell?


TOM: I'm trying to access

STAFF: Ok, Please make sure you login under the web site URL: http://Big with your login credentials.

TOM: Marshall. I'm writing because it is still locked after your colleague reset the password: That is not the website I'm talking about: I'm talking about my.Big

TOM: Never mind Marshall. I'm talking to someone who won't read my responses. I don't even think you're real
Is it any wonder so many people take blood pressure pills?

Various stuff I learned lately -

- There are six elements that are deemed to be necessary for life on earth (and possibly elsewhere) – carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorous and sulphur.

Phosphorous? Sulphur? Really?

- When our special forces went to Afghanistan in 2001, they often had to fly helicopters at 15,000 feet due to the terrain and fear of hand held missile attack, far higher than they had ever been flown before. Sometimes at that height they would still be below the peaks of the mountains. Often they would fly into a “mass of . . . sand, snow, and God knew what else” which “measured hundreds of miles across” and “materialized not from the ground up but in midair, at around 10,000 feet”. They called it the “Black Stratus”. When they flew that high, everyone except the pilots would pass out, as they weren’t equipped with oxygen.

- I have known for some decades that John Adams was a jealous and petulant man, personally honest, but so cynical of the merits of others that his envy has become a lasting shadow on his otherwise good character. However, despite his jabs at everyone in the pantheon, this one on Franklin, which I’ve only recently come across, seems to me more unkind and poorly timed than his other verbal broadsides and not even fair to Franklin, who rarely defended the many attacks against him. It is also so self-contradictory in its beginning and end, that it is almost laughable:

"Franklin is gone, Peace to his Shade – Personal Resentments and Hatreds are not to be found in my nature in public affairs. I feel no ill will to his Memory –but I owe more to Truth than to his Fame; and I owe the Truth to my Country and Posterity. The last Letter of abuse to Congress in which he mentioned me he said I “was always an honest Man.” – I wish my Conscience would allow me to say as much of him. – But from the first to the last of my acquaintance with him, I can reconcile Conduct in public affairs neither to the Character of an honest Man, nor to that of a Man of Sense."

- Archie Andrews, a comic book character I grew up reading, was created in 1941. He was partially based on Mickey Rooney’s movie characterization of Andy Hardy. His first name was Archibald and his middle name was “Chick.” Before Archie Comics became the company name, it was MLJ Magazine, which eventually featured Pep Comics, and their big star was a superhero, The Shield, who pre-dated the similar Captain America by over a year. As many Archie Comics as I read as a kid, and it was a lot, I never knew these things.

If I'm reading your mind right, you are thinking that's enough. Okay.

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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .