Listen to the sound of Babylonia

A researcher at the University of Cambridge is posting audio recordings on the web of Babylonian poetry, myths, and other texts, so that everyone can hear what the ancient languages sounded like. Key quote:

“In many cases [the works] are the equivalent of Old English tales like Beowulf,” Dr. Worthington added. “Through them, we meet gods, giants, monsters and all sorts of other weird and wonderful creatures. As stories they are amazing fun.”

The day the Constitution was ratified

An evening pause: As today is the day in which our Founding Fathers ratified the Constitution, I thought it might be worthwhile to allow Andrew Klavan the opportunity to give us his “A Young Person’s Guide to the United States Constitution.” To quote: We are going to have a little civics lesson, to make up for what you’ve been learning in school.

Earliest Kodak color tests

An evening pause: Though this sequence of shots from a 1922 Kodak test of Kodachrome film (possibly the earliest in existence) is hardly the stuff of drama, it is fascinating nonetheless, as it gives as an honest glimpse into the culture of its time. As you watch the different women pose for the camera, ask yourself: Has anything changed?

The Space War, in a nutshell

Bumped, with update below

This Christian Science Monitor article gives a nice summary of the present state of war between the President, the House, and the Senate over NASA’s future.

All in all, things do not look good. With so much disagreement, whatever Congress and the President eventually agree to is going to be a mess, accomplishing little while spending gobs of money that the federal government simply no longer has. The result will almost certainly be a failed NASA program, an inability of the United States government to get astronauts into orbit, and an enormous waste of resources.

The one shining light in all this is that we still have a unrelenting need to get into space, not merely to supply the International Space Station but to also compete with other nations. It is my belief that this need — and the potential profits to be made from it — is going to compel private companies to build their own rockets and capsules for getting humans and cargo into space. And I think they will do it whether or not the federal government can get its act together.

Thus, though the U.S. might find itself a bystander in the space race for the next decade or so, in the end we will have a vibrant, competing aerospace industry, capable of dominating the exploration of the solar system for generations to come.

So buck up, space cadets. The near term future might be grim, but the long term possibilities remain endless.

Update: This announcement today from Boeing and Space Adventures illustrates my above point perfectly. For decades Boeing has been a lazy company, living off the government dole while doing little to capture market share in the competitive market. Now that the dole of government is possibly going away, however, the company at last appears to be coming alive. Instead of waiting for a deal with NASA, Boeing has been going ahead with its CST-100 manned capsule, figuring it can make money anyway by selling this product to both private and government customers.

A question for the baby boomers

If you are a baby boomer who grew up in the 1960s, such as myself, there are some very safe assumptions that anyone can make about your history and political views, both during the 1960s and the decades that followed.

For example, in the 1960s you were almost certainly against the Vietnam War. You were also likely to oppose President Lyndon Johnson and his Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. You cheered Eugene McCarthy’s anti-war campaign for President, and you probably also despised President Nixon and passionately wished that George McGovern had won the 1972 Presidential campaign.

Almost certainly you participated in some anti-war protests somewhere during the 1960s. Some of you were in Chicago for the protests during the Democratic National Convention in 1968, while others were likely to have participated in the numerous university sit-ins that were rampant throughout the country in the late 1960s.

Sadly, many of you at that time would have probably considered the police “pigs” and the military “evil” (even if those insults seem totally unfair, disgusting, and almost unforgivable to you now).

On a personal level, you probably experimented with drugs, had fun with rock ‘n roll, and even more fun with sex. Many of you also probably participated in the hippie culture at events like Woodstock and places like San Francisco and the Lower Eastside of Manhattan.

Above all, you abhorred authority. You were raised to be very independent-minded and » Read more

Lawrence of Arabia

An evening pause: Lawrence of Arabia (1962). One of the greatest epic films ever made. And though the story is heavily dramatized, it captures quite accurately the substance and reality of T.E. Lawrence’s time in the Middle East during World War I. Sadly, I wonder if anything has changed.

Historians identify early English scribes

Two University of York researchers have identified the scribes who first made copies of some of English literatures most important early works. Key quote:

The discoveries were the result of painstaking research in the London Metropolitan Archives, where the York scholars matched the handwriting of scribes copying important early English literary manuscripts with the hands of Guildhall clerks copying documents and custumals.

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