Never eat chemicals! Uh, wait…

If you listen to the Food Babe Thermonuclear Idiot, that’s what you might come away believing.

But I exhort you to pay no attention to this unqualified attention harlot. Instead, feast your eyes on these chemical breakdowns of “natural” and “organic” foods.

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I have to stretch to pronounce some of the chemical compounds found in these wonderful foods, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad for you. Chemicals are everywhere, they are what everything organic around us is made of.

Yes, we obviously want to avoid things that are known toxins and carcinogens; having a shaker full of hexavalent chromium on your table is probably not the best idea, but you get the picture.

Educate yourselves. Make sure your children educate themselves. Science is doing its collective best to provide accurate information to allow people to build a better world. Please pay no attention to those on the lunatic fringe who base their proclamations on innuendo and fear-mongering for the sake of attention, eyeballs, clicks, and ad revenue.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Which America Do You Want?

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The above buttons represent sentiments that were commonly seen as bumper stickers during the Vietnam War era. The former was by far the most prevalent, but the latter could be seen on the vehicles of anti-war activists. Then, as now, political polarization was the rule rather than the exception.

Ever the bellwether of social trends (if only to make fun of them,) Mad magazine featured a recurring segment by Al Jaffee entitled “Hawks and Doves:”

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Tragically, the politics of the America that I have known (from Kennedy, who was the earliest president about whom I was old enough to care, to the present day) has been defined by the black-and-white fallacy. I recall my mother having said, “If Goldwater wins, we’re moving to Switzerland.”

The typical “love-it-or-leave-it” stance is epitomized in this song by Joyce Shaffer:

Now that’s a really catchy song, and she makes some good points about government transparency, money and special interests taking precedence over the voice of the people, and similar things – but it still sends a strong message: If you don’t agree with our philosophy, you are less-than and not welcome in this country, and you had best get out.
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These are my grandparents. They immigrated to this country in around 1900, came through Ellis Island, settled in the great metropolis of New York, and raised a family. They worked their butts off, and although they never were terribly successful at learning English, their kids went to school and did, and became honorable and productive members of this society, all the while injecting some wonderful Italian flavor into the world around them.
Wanderbuch Cover Page
This is the cover page from the Wanderbuch (sort of a hiking journal) of my wife’s great-grandfather, who was born in Bavaria and who came to this country in around 1850. My wife’s father spoke no German, so it’s a good bet that the descendants assimilated well, all the while bringing some German feelings, attitudes and philosophies to the general mix.
The thing about the many waves of immigrants that washed upon our shores is that they came to enjoy and appreciate the freedoms and opportunities that our land has to offer, and were not intent on re-making this nation in the image of the lands of their birth.
Immigration has not been without challenges, and I’ve written about some of the specifics before. Strict interpretation of the “love it or leave it” philosophy can lead to such atrocities as Japanese internment camps, which must never again be allowed to happen.

“Many who say “Love it or leave it,” are sincere. But their tersely stated ultimatum smacks of death not life. For if all who love America uncritically were to stay, and all who criticize America were to leave this nation, described by one of its founding fathers as “the world’s best hope,” would fast disappear.” – Dr. Ernest T.C. Campbell

That said, no group who has come to our country must ever be allowed to re-cast our basic laws and/or constitution to suit their particular ideology – any such attempt must be doomed to failure.

On the other side of the coin, America has changed since its inception. The founders had enough foresight to place into the Constitution a way of changing it, but it had to be a difficult way that made sure any changes reflected the will of the people. It’s not easy to get an amendment passed, but it has happened – and mostly for the good.

The Bill of Rights. Emancipation. Voting rights. And 24 others. Over time, change must happen or a nation stagnates.

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I firmly believe it’s time for our nation to move forward into the 21st century in spirit and not just in calendar date. There are far too many things still wrong in our country; unequal opportunity, the persistence of racism, over-militarization of police departments, a deeply entrenched culture of misogyny, and a continuing belief by those in power over our lives that fighting for “truth, justice, and the American Way” involves running roughshod over other nations to plunder their resources and subvert their cultures to our benefit.

The above clip is part of a show… how I wish it had been a real speech. And it’s not perfect, because it ignores the economic terrorism that was going on under our noses during the great period of history that was being referred to. But it brings up some critical points, and casts the harsh light of reason on areas where our country needs improvement.

Unadulterated “Love it or Leave It” implies a nation that works for only a very restricted subset of our population, and not for everyone. Rigorous “Change it or Lose It” fails to focus on the things that have made and continue to make our nation a desirable destination for many of the world’s citizens.

As with anything, we need to strike a balance:

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Those of us who have been blessed with American citizenship by birth, and those who seek to become members under that head, need to have a deep and abiding love for the Constitution of our land and the principles upon which it was founded. But we also need to take a hard look at our country and make a concerted effort to change the things that only work for a few and exert downward pressure on the many, all the while maintaining and defending those parts of our heritage that (in a positve way) set us apart for so long from the rest of the nations of the world.

Education is key. We need to raise new generations of people who are wanter/needer/finders, people who can look around at problems and say, “I can do something about that” and who truly have the skills to do it. In the meantime, I’m doing what I can.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Joyeuse – the Sword of Karolus Magnus

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Pictured above is the hilt of Joyeuse (Joyous), reputedly the sword of Charlemagne. Whether or not this is true remains a subject of debate for historians, but there is no question this artifact which resides at the Louvre, is very old. Visit the Wikipedia article linked above for more provenance information.

The sword is mentioned in the Song of Roland (le Chanson de Roland), France’s epic 11th-century poem based on the based on the Battle of Roncevaux in 778:

In the mead the Emperor made his bed,
With his mighty spear beside his head,
Nor will he doff his arms to – night,
But lies in his broidered hauberk white.
Laced is his helm, with gold inlaid,
Girt on Joyeuse, the peerless blade,
Which changes thirty times a day
The brightness of its varying ray.
Nor may the lance unspoken be
Which pierced our Saviour on the tree;
Karl hath its point – so God him graced
Within his golden hilt enchased.
And for this honor and boon of heaven,
The name Joyeuse to the sword was given;
The Franks may hold it in memory.
Thence came “Montjoie,” their battle – cry,
And thence no race with them may vie.

(Translation by John O’Hagan)

Li emperere s’est culcet en un pret.
Sun grant espiet met a sun chef li ber.
Icele noit ne se volt il desarmer,
Si ad vestut sun blanc osberc sasfret,
Laciet sun elme, ki est a or gemmet,
Ceinte Joiuse, unches ne fut sa per,
Ki cascun jur muet .XXX. clartez.
Asez savum de la lance parler,
Dunt Nostre Sire fut en la cruiz nasfret :
Carles en ad la mure, mercit Deu ;
En l’oret punt l’ad faite manuvrer.
Pur ceste honur e pur ceste bontet,
Li nums Joiuse l’espee fut dunet.
Baruns franceis nel deivent ublier :
Enseigne en unt de Munjoie crier ;
Pur ço nes poet nule gent cuntrester.

I wrote earlier about my encounter with the Rosetta Stone; artifacts of this nature have a curious way of drawing one into their time period, even if only in imagination. I’ve been to the Louvre countless times, but never encountered Joyeuse there; it goes without saying that seeing everything in the Louvre is not an affair for even several visits.

But it’s nice to know that such things are lovingly preserved.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Beauty in Paper – The 1896 Educational Currency

I previously wrote about what I considered to be America’s most beautiful coinage:

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Today, paper money gets a turn.

From Wikipedia:

The Educational Series series of notes is the informal nickname given by numismatists to a series of United States silver certificates produced by the United States Treasury in 1896, after Bureau of Engraving and Printing chief Claude M. Johnson ordered a new currency design. The notes depict various allegorical motifs and are considered by some numismatists to be the most beautiful monetary designs ever produced by the United States.

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The One Dollar Bill

The Goddess History instructing a youth, pointing to a panoramic view of the Potomac River and Washington D.C. The Washington Monument and the US Capitol Building are visible in the background. The United States Constitution is displayed to the right. Circling the motif are the last names of famous Americans. Some of those listed are: (George) Washington, (Benjamin) Franklin, (Thomas) Jefferson, (Robert) Fulton, (Samuel F.B.) Morse, & (Ulysses S.) Grant. Full Resolution.

Reverse: Martha and George Washington.

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The Two Dollar Bill

Science (center) presents Steam and Electricity (the two children) to the more mature figures of Commerce (left) and Manufacture (right). Full Resolution

Reverse: Robert Fulton and Samuel F.B. Morse

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The Five Dollar Bill

Electricity surrounded by other allegorical figures, representing the dominant force in the world. The United States Capitol building can be seen behind the female figures. Full Resolution

Reverse: Ulysses S. Grant and Phillip Sheridan

These beautiful works of art, embodying both aesthetically and factually pleasing images combine with superb engraving skill1 to create works of incredible beauty.

Not surprisingly, some Boston society ladies got their knickers in a twist over the bare breasts visible on the $5.00 note, and some bankers refused to accept these bills. The Bureau of Engraving planned a “draped” version for the 1897 series, much as the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter was re-designed the following year for the same reason (see the above-linked article), but the design was never used.

For the longest time, American currency has been soul-searingly boring. We used to be able to get away with it because the world valued the dollar no matter how ugly it looked, but those times are coming to an end. I have long wished that we could redesign our currency along the lines of things done by Australia and other countries, but as long as government is dominated by people who are convinced that the almighty dollar is unassailable, this is unlikely to happen.

At least at one point in our history, people were willing to try something new and different.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


1 On a semi-related note, a wonderful and chilling tale which involves engraving skill can be found in “Don’t Look Behind You” by Frederick Brown. I recommend it, but not if you’re home alone on a dark night.

Customer Service – It even sucked in 1750 BC

I saw this image pop up on reddit somewhere, and thought it was amusing in light of today’s challenges with companies like Comcast:

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Well, of course I shared it round, and then people started asking me about the provenance. Stuff like this tends to go wild on places like Pinterest and Flickr, generally without attribution, so it took me a while to track down some relevant information about the piece.

According to the British Museum, this tablet is currently part of their collection; the description reads:

Clay tablet; letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir complaining that the wrong grade of copper ore has been delivered after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery; slightly damaged; 23 + 25 + 3 + 2 ll. Dated 1750 BC, Excavated/Findspot: Ur (Asia,Iraq,South Iraq,Ur (city – archaic))

A little more digging provided me with some intriguing information about the tablet itself, provided by redditor /u/labarna, who claims a PhD in Babylonian astronomy:

If you’re curious here’s the translation of the letter (emphasis mine). This is taken from Leo Oppenheim’s book “Letters from Mesopotamia“:

Tell Ea-nasir: Nanni sends the following message:

When you came, you said to me as follows : “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”

What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe(?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.

How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full.

Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.

This letter is quite interesting because it was actually excavated from Ur, so we have an approximate find spot, which is unfortunately somewhat rare for most cuneiform tablets.

It’s also interesting because of the mention of merchants who trade with Telmun. As far as we know Telmun (or Dilmun) was a polity in the Persian Gulf, probably near to if not located on the island of Bahrain. There was a certain type of merchant alik Tilmun (literally “one who goes to Dilmun”) who was associated with trade in the Persian Gulf. And not surprisingly (if you read the letter) copper was a major part of this trade network. Now it should also be said that there were many trade networks flowing into and out of Mesopotamia at this point and the trade through the Persian Gulf was just one facet of a larger network.

/u/labarna then also links to a pencil sketch of the tablet in question:

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We are challenged to compare said sketch to the image of the tablet, and told that this passes for fun among those who study cuneiform. Intriguing indeed, doing such a comparison would give me a headache, and I have nothing but huge respect for those who can decipher such things.

It would be interesting to know the outcome of this particular trade dispute. if Ea-nasir was anything like Comcast, he would have sent back a clay tablet with the Bablylonian equivalent of “It sucks to be you.”

The Old Wolf has spoken.

It pays to shop around

Had a little accident with my oven a while back. The front glass got broken, and I went hunting around for a replacement part.

GE’s offering:

GE PartSelect

Are you out of your Vulcan mind? That’s extortion! Well, that was disheartening. Let’s see if we can find a competitor or aftermarket alternative.

PartsDirect

Well, Sears PartsDirect did a little better, but a bit more searching came up with this:

BlackDrive Glass

Why a black sheet is so much less expensive than a white one is totally beyond me, but I ended up saving over $300.00 just by settling for a black front instead of a white one, and the contrast looks very good.

The Internet makes comparison shopping so much easier than it used to be. Back in the day, the Yellow Pages and a telephone was all we had, and one was limited to a very local search. I’m grateful for the miracle.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

But for Ireland I’d not Tell Her Name (Is ar Éirinn Ni n-Eósfhainn Cé Hi)

This beautiful ballad has long been one of my favorite songs of Ireland. I first fell in love with it as part of “Mary O’Hara’s ireland:”

Later, my wife introduced me to The High Kings, who performed an abridged but no less pleasing version:

There are numerous spellings of the lyrics out there, but I have chosen to use the one that appears on O’Hara’s recording.

Aréir is mé téarnamh um’ neoin
Ar an dtaobh thall den teóra ‘na mbím,
Do théarnaig an spéir-bhean im’ chómhair
D’fhág taomanach breóite lag sinn.
Do ghéilleas dá méin is dá cló,
Dá béal tanaí beó mhilis binn,
Do léimeas fé dhéin dul ‘na cómhair,
Is ar Éirinn ní n-eósfhainn cé hí.
Last night as I strolled abroad
On the far side of my farm
I was approached by a comely maiden
Who left me distraught and weak.
I was captivated by her demeanour and shapeliness
By her sensitive and delicate mouth,
I hastened to approach her
But for Ireland I’d not tell her name.
Dá ngéilleadh an spéir-bhean dom’ ghlór,
Siad ráidhte mo bheól a bheadh fíor;
Go deimhin duit go ndéanfainn a gnó
Do léirchur i gcóir is i gcrich.
Dó léighfinn go léir stair dom’ stór,
‘S ba mhéinn liom í thógaint dom chroí,
‘S do bhearfainn an chraobh dhi ina dóid,
Is ar Éirinn ní n-eósfhainn cé hí.
If only this maiden heeded my words,
What I’d tell her would be true.
Indeed I’d devote myself to her
And see to her welfare.
I would regale her with my story
And I longed to take her to my heart
Where I’d grant her pride of place
But for Ireland I’d not tell her name.
Tá spéir-bhruinneal mhaordha dheas óg
Ar an taobh thall de’n teóra ‘na mbím.
Tá féile ‘gus daonnacht is meóin
Is deise ró mhór ins an mhnaoi,
Tá folt lei a’ tuitim go feóir,
Go cocánach ómarach buí.
Tá lasadh ‘na leacain mar rós,
Is ar Éirinn ní n-eósfhainn cé hí.
There is a beautiful young maiden
On the far side of my farm
Generosity and kindness shine in her face
With the exceeding beauty of her countenance.
Her hair reaches to the ground
Sparkling like yellow gold;
Her cheeks blush like the rose
But for Ireland I’d not tell her name.

There are other versions out there, no less pretty; these two are my favorites.

Tá an Sean-Fhaolchú labhairthe.