Saturday, December 22, 2007

Holiday Hiatus!

Blogging is likely to be rare around here until about New Year's Day, at which point normal service will be resumed! In the meantime, Buon Natale to all!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The World's Smallest Violin Plays Just For Craig Chandler

Rejected Tory candidate declares Independent run
Last Updated: Monday, December 17, 2007 | 12:42 PM MT
CBC News

Rejected provincial Tory candidate Craig Chandler announced Monday he will run as an Independent in Calgary-Egmont.

Probably inevitable. Chandler, in fact, is bringing along a few of his fellow fundamentalist travellers to run in some other Calgary ridings. This will mean that, in some ridings, there will be essentially FOUR parties hunting for the hard-right vote: the PCs, the Alberta Alliance, the Wildrose Party, and the Chandlerite Front. Can you say "internecine," boys and girls?

Chandler promised to launch a human rights complaint against the Tories, alleging they were intolerant by rejecting his candidacy and religious beliefs.

"I think because I have those views I am being persecuted," he said.

Poor man! Barred from running for office in Calgary-Egmont, this victim of horrid religious persecution has been reduced to, um, running for office in, ah, that would be Calgary-Egmont...

Like all others of his ilk who don't get exactly what they want, Chandler is behaving, in the words of my Grandmother, as though somebody'd actually done something to him.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friday Archaeology Blogging
Arrrrrrrrrrrrrh, Matey Edition

Pirate of the Caribbean’s ship is discovered
James Bone in New York

The discovery of Captain Kidd's 300-year-old ship in the Caribbean could provide final proof that the Scottish privateer did not deserve to be hanged as a pirate and his rotting body left on public view.

The wreck of the fabled Quedagh Merchant has been located in 10ft waters off Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic, only miles from where Kidd left it when he sailed to Boston to try to clear his name in 1699.

The Quedagh Merchant (the larger of the two ships in the engraving above) was actually captured by Kidd in the Indian Ocean, and he converted it to his own use, as his previous vessel was borderline unseaworthy. Kidd then sailed the Quedagh Merchant to the Caribbean, where he left it when he turned himself in to fight charges of piracy. He was subsequently executed in England, and the vessel was later scuttled, as the article indicates, at Catalina Island.

Map of the Dominican Republic - Click to see larger version. Catalina Island is the tiny island right on the 69th meridian south of La Romana.

“It would confirm that he was telling the truth,” said Richard Zacks, author of The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd. “He has the reputation as a terrible fearsome pirate, when he considered himself an honourable privateer.”

I'm not so sure about this. Kidd was a legal privateer, having been given a letter of marque allowing him to harass French vessels. However, the problem seems to have been that he wasn't very good at it. In fact, his expedition to the Indian Ocean had been pretty much a failure until the Quedagh Merchant hove in view. Only in a very narrow, legalistic, view was the ship in fact French; it was, more realistically, Armenian, and was in fact captained by an Englishman. Furthermore, after taking the Quedagh Merchant, Kidd apparently traded with a known pirate, something prohibited strictly under the law. Kidd's attempts to explain away these matters in court were extremely unconvincing, and led to the fairly inevitable end for people convicted of piracy.

There are, of course, still some doubts about whether the discovered vessel is really the Quedagh Merchant, but its location and the fact that it shows signs of having been scuttled, make the identification likely. In and of itself, the discovery of the vessel is not terribly significant, but it must be admitted that finding an actual pirate ship, particularly one associated with as famous a name as Captain William Kidd, is pretty cool. The pictures below show divers from Indiana University at work on the wreck.

Click to see larger version

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sad News

Writer Pratchett has Alzheimer's

THE best-selling fantasy author Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

I have been a huge fan of Terry Pratchett's books ever since the first time I read one of them (it was Hogfather, for the record). Pratchett is, in my humble opinion, funnier than Douglas Adams (for one thing, he's not as cynical as Adams), and possesses the rare ability to mix comedy with truly serious situations.

Anyway, it appears that we're going to lose a genuinely funny man far too early (he's only 59).

In other news, Friday Archaeology Blogging will be along tomorrow.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Lame Moments in Sports Nos. 17-102

86 baseball players singled out as having taken performance-enhancing drugs (warning: link opens a PDF). 86!!!! Now, this is, of course, not as horrendous a thing, as, say, this horrendous thing, but it's still a bit of a shock, and baseball fans have got to be a pretty angry bunch today. Two current Blue Jays were mentioned: Troy Glaus (this suprised nobody - he'd been under investigation since late last season) and Gregg Zaun (whom I'd thought better of). Some of the other players named, with my comments:

Roger Clemens: Probably the biggest name mentioned.

Andy Pettite: This did surprise me, as Pettite's always had a fairly squeaky-clean image.

Miguel Tejada: Ooooh, the Houston Astros are pissed off today! Exactly one day after they traded for the guy, he's outed as having purchased (and presumably used) PEDs.

John Rocker: Bigot, homophobe, and now cheat. Rocker's a real quality guy...

Joe Carter: Was not mentioned in the report, thankfully! I'd hate to see the gloriousness of this tarnished (I'd point out that Carlos Delgado was not mentioned either - hooray!):

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Archaeology Blogging
No Romans This Time Edition

Archaeologists dig up 4300-year-old city
From correspondents in Beijing
December 04, 2007 05:56pm

CHINESE archaeologists have dug up what is believed to be a 4300-year-old city that could be the capital of China's oldest dynasty, state press said today.

The ancient city was believed to be part of the Liangzhu culture dated back to neolithic times between 4000 and 5300 years ago, the China Daily said.

Map of China showing location of Zhejiang Province, where the recently discovered ancient city is situated.

Detail map of Zhejiang Province, click to see larger version.

The Liangzhu is one a large number of neolithic cultures whose remains have been discovered in China. It seems to have begun in the mid-fourth millenium B.C., and lasted roughly 1500 years. Apparently, the Liangzhu people were extremely competent at agriculture (including animal husbandry and aquaculture), and seem to mark a transition from the earlier hunter-gatherer cultures to a less nomadic way of life. Liangzhu culture was extremely stratified, at least to judge from the archaeological remains, and was also very much into the whole human sacrifice thing. However, what the Liangzhu people are best known for is the extremely high quality jade artefacts that the culture produced.

Liangzhu jade "Cong", click to see larger version

Nobody can say with any great certainty was the Cong was used for; presumably it had some sort of ritual purpose, since it is very commonly found in Liangzhu tombs, along with numerous other jade artefacts.

Liangzhu tomb. Note the presence of Congs

Perceived similarity between the "monster faces" on some Liangzhu artefacts and Olmec art from what is now Mexico has caused speculation about the possibility of trans-Pacific trade. I must say that I can't see enough of a similarity myself to say "yes" to that notion with any certainty, but I would by no means rule it out.

Olmec were-jaguar head, 1200 B.C. to 400 B.C.

So, what is the overall significance of this putative city that has just been discovered? Well, if it does prove to have been a Liangzhu capital city, then it means that the Liangzhu people were in fact a "kingdom," rather than simply a group of culturally alike people living close together. Therefore, the Liangzhu would displace the Xia Dynasty as China's earliest known kingdom, and would in fact walk the origin of the Chinese dynasties back about 1500 years.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It Is To Weep

Q: What's worse than an ignoramus?

A: A stubborn ignoramus.

From the Huffington Post, via The Woodshed.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Provincial Tory Leader in Smart Political Move Shocker

Tories veto candidate's nomination
Calling himself a 'martyr' for the cause, social conservative weighs next move
December 3, 2007

EDMONTON -- An outspoken social conservative has been denied a chance to run for the Alberta Progressive Conservative party, as the country's oldest reigning political dynasty readies for a tough election expected to be called in the coming months.

Craig Chandler said in an interview yesterday that the rare decision by the Conservatives' executive committee on the weekend to not accept his constituency nomination is undemocratic and makes him a "martyr" for the province's social conservatives.

I have to say that Stelmach's made the right move here, although I was quite looking forward to watching the Tories get mauled by the opposition over the candidacy of Mr. Chandler, a man whose only reason for existence seems to be hatred of a) gays, and b) everybody else who isn't a viciously conservative Albertan (but mostly gays. And other people). Sigh. We will have to get our political theatre elsewhere, is seems, and we wonder who will perform the sacred duty of informing newcomers of their moral obligation to vote Tory?

I'm betting here that Chandler will run in the upcoming provincial election, possibly for the Alberta Alliance.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Worse and Worse...

Dziekanski still alive by the time medical help arrived: RCMP
Last Updated: Saturday, December 1, 2007 | 2:38 PM ET
CBC News

The RCMP and the Richmond B.C. fire department appear to be offering conflicting accounts as to whether Robert Dziekanski was already dead by the time medical help arrived.

Given everything that has happened so far, I'm going to believe the fire department on this one. The officers shown in the video sure didn't seem particularly interested in assessing their victim's condition. The only thing that could make this worse would be to discover that the RCMP had somehow impeded attempts to treat Mr. Dziekanski.

Immediately, a crew initiated a medical assessment and asked police to remove Dziekanski's handcuffs, but the officers refused.