American Elephants

Special Sunday Stories Not to Be Missed. by The Elephant's Child


Lord Christopher Monckton tells the story of how Margaret Thatcher became the world’s first climate realist; and his own adventures with a very early computer — an 18-lb. Osborne 1, with a 5″ screen, floppy disks and a Z80 8-bit chip — the first computer they had ever seen at Number 10 Downing Street.


A curious archivist, an interested engineer, a stubborn engineering technology expert and a mystery canister containing  film strips that could be read on no known instrument.  The machine was an obscure 1922 invention that General Electric designed called a “pallophotophone”which means “shaking light sound” in Greek, long disappeared from the world.

Russ DeMuth is an engineer in the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna and a technology expert.  He accepted the challenge of trying to re-invent an unknown machine.  With digital equipment and hundreds of hours of tinkering spread out across two years of nights and weekends,  he created the only functional pallophotophone in the world.  They called it the Gizmotron.

And what was on the mystery film?  The voice of an ailing 82-year-old Thomas Edison, wheezy and high-pitched, growing husky and choked as he praised his good friend Henry Ford who stood alongside President Herbert Hoover on a stage on October 21, 1929.  The author of this piece describes it as “catching lightning in a bottle.” It is a fascinating story, and in the left-hand margin under “Multimedia” you will find a video where you can hear the audio that they discovered.  If you don’t have the Flash  player, you can download  it there.


Jay Nordlinger, at the Corner, said that the worst cliché in journalism is as a journalist, getting into a cab, having an interesting conversation with the driver and then reporting on it.  So having called himself gauche, he cheerfully does just that.  The location was Dallas, the driver was from Tunisia, and the commentary was on America.

It’s a conversation that we are lucky enough to hear, by virtue of Mr. Nordlinger’s ignoring a cliché.

The Importance of Being a Father, and The Magic! by The Elephant's Child
June 20, 2010, 7:17 pm
Filed under: Freedom, Heartwarming | Tags: , ,

My father made magic for me.  What do I mean by magic? We posted a wonderful example just a few days ago: a video of a little boy whose dad tied his loose tooth to a rocket. (If you missed it previously, don’t neglect to watch it).

When that little boy is an old man in a rocking chair in a retirement home, he will tell his friends about the time his dad tied his loose tooth to a rocket, and laughed and laughed and laughed.  That’s magic!

My father taught me how to catch the Easter bunny.  You take a bushel basket, turn it upside down, and prop one side up with a stick of kindling.  On the kindling prop, you tack a carrot (with green top), and you leave it out on the lawn on the night before Easter Sunday.  When the Easter bunny came hopping by in the hours of early dawn, he would eat the carrot (everyone knows how bunnies love carrots) and the bushel basket would fall down on top of him.  And it always worked.  When we carefully lifted the basket, there was an adorable white bunny with a ribbon around its neck.  Magic!

The winter when the snow was deep, my father built me an igloo.  I was quite small, and the door was just big enough for me, but the inside was perfectly round and my own private place.

There were the sled runs (we had a long hill) that banked at the bottom so you could curve around and, if you had enough speed, make it down another small hill.  One year he made a tunnel at the bottom of the hill, but the roof kept falling in, so he wet it down at night and the next day it was frozen solid.  My mother took one look and banned it as way too dangerous.

We lived in the mountains wedged between National Forest and BLM land on a long bend of a river.  One time my father found a tiny snake, whether it was a baby snake or a separate species I have no idea. I’m not a herpetologist. So after dinner he helped me fill a bucket with water, and then he asked me for a long hair.  I pulled one.  He took the hair and floated it gently in the bucket, and as it swirled around he performed an impressive waving of hands and abracadabring over the bucket and the hair.  Maybe by morning, he said, and in the morning, there in the bucket was a tiny snake swimming.

A couple named Mr. and Mrs Ironing came to visit, and with them they brought their pet turtle.  (Yes, even after all these years I remember their name).  Since turtles like beaches, they put their turtle in my sandbox, and the turtle laid eggs!  I don’t remember if I actually saw the eggs, for she surely buried her eggs, but only one managed to hatch, and it was a tiny turtle with a rosebud painted on its shell and my name beside the rosebud.  Now that’s magic!

Bruce Feller has a story in the Washington Post today titled “Science can’t prove fathers matter.  That doesn’t mean we don’t.” it concerns the current wave of proving that fathers aren’t really all that necessary.  Which, of course he debunks.

My father has been gone for many years now.  On my birthday or Christmas, there were  always nice presents, but I hardly remember any of them.  What I do remember is the magic.

ADDENDUM: At National Review, Jonah Goldberg has re-posted his memorial to his father, which is a lovely tribute entitled “The Hop Bird.”  Sid Goldberg was another magic maker.

Bookmark This Website, You’ll Be Glad You Did! by The Elephant's Child

It was in October of last year that I urged you to get acquainted with David Warren, Canadian journalist.  Consistently thoughtful, with clear thinking and graceful prose, his columns are always rewarding.

In “Ship of Fools,” he tackles the Jones Act:

So while, for instance, the U.S. Coast Guard can accept such help as three kilometres of containment boom from Canada, they can’t accept, and therefore don’t ask for, the assistance of high-tech European vessels specifically designed for the task in hand.

This is amusing, in a way: a memorable illustration of … the sort of stuff I keep going on about. Which is to say, the law of unintended consequences, which pertains with especial virulence to all acts of government regulation.

(…)A large part of the function of all regulatory bureaucracies is granting exemptions to the moronic rules. This, in turn, creates the conditions for massive corruption, and in the case at hand, the phenomenon of “regulatory capture” — regulators and regulatees working hand-in-glove.

In “We Are Inept” he gives us a sermon on incompetence:

It is a little-known fact, or else a well-known fact little acknowledged, that apart from earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, meteor showers, and other disturbing acts of nature, human malice is not at the root of all human suffering. Much of it is caused by human incompetence, or as the incompetent like to call it, “bad luck.” (…)

Politicians try to pass laws against it; to create rules and regulations so complex and cumbersome that (as we saw in the BP disaster) an easily-corrupted “judgement call” bureaucracy must grant exemptions from them, in order for anything to function at all. When disaster strikes, they add more rules and regulations.

But more profoundly, the rules and regulations — once they pass a point of irreducible complexity — create a mindset in which those who should be thinking about safety are instead focused on rules and regulations. To those who see danger, the glib answer comes, citing all the safety standards that have been diligently observed.

And in “Making Martyrs,” he examines the intent and cost of the Gaza flotilla:

From start to finish this was a violent political stunt, designed to inflict as much harm as possible on Israel’s existential interests. To defend it requires obtuse hypocrisy.

Consider: the embargo on Gaza is not Israel’s alone. Egypt also enforces strict controls on what enters and leaves Gaza, and for the same obvious reason. The territory is controlled by Hamas, and they are trying to import lethal weaponry, from Iran and other rogue sources. But Egypt is conveniently left out of the propaganda picture.

The people of Gaza already have access to food, medicine, and even building materials. The bureaucracies that slow the importation of such things, through Israel or Egypt, are indeed unpleasant and constraining — as they must be, for a very large portion of Gaza’s imports are “dual use,” and could therefore strengthen the hand of Hamas one way or another.

Each of these essays is well worth your time.  Browse not only his recent pieces, but explore the archives, there are treasures to be found.

The FCC Is Engaged in Subversive Mission Creep! by The Elephant's Child

Some monopoly services are classified as “public utilities” and are regulated on the federal, state or local level as a consequence of the concession that is granted by the government to supply the monopolized service or product.  Electricity, water and natural gas are examples.  Until recently, local telephone and cable services were usually classified as public utilities and regulated by government.

Now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to classify the Internet as a “public utility.”  FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is attempting to get around a Federal Appeals Court ruling blocking his “Net Neutrality” ambitions.  The FCC has voted to take the next step in asking formally for public comment.

The unanimous ruling by the three-judge panel questioned the agency’s authority to regulate broadband.  The case concerned Comcast’s actions in 2007 when it interfered with an online sharing service that allowed people to swap movies and other big files over the internet. The FCC, the next year, banned Comcast from blocking subscribers from using the service.  Broadband providers argued that after spending billions of dollars on their networks, they should be able to sell premium services and manage their systems to prevent certain applications from hogging capacity.  The Court said that the FCC lacks authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all internet traffic flowing over their networks.

The FCC argued that the policy is necessary to prevent broadband providers from favoring or discriminating against certain Web sites and online services.  They claim precedent since nondiscrimination rules have traditionally applied to so-called “common carrier” networks that serve the public, from roads and highways to electrical grids and telephone lines.

Allowing Julius Genachowski, or any other bureaucrat, power to regulate the Internet is a very bad idea, but then this is an administration seemingly deeply committed to controlling every aspect of our lives.  The pretense will be government efforts to extend broadband to every remote region in America. The “stop the spending” message seems pretty loud out there, but Obama is not interested.

Obama also plans to extend high-speed rail service to every region of America.  If he runs out of the billions of the remaining untaxed funds in our accounts, he can just print more money. The Obamas were reportedly deeply in debt until the money from the book came in, although they were making well over six figures.  Do you suppose he just doesn’t understand money and budgets?

Who Will Protect Union Members from Union Leadership? by The Elephant's Child
June 20, 2010, 2:08 am
Filed under: Capitalism, Democrat Corruption, Economy, Law | Tags: , ,

We have often complained here  about President Obama’s favoritism towards the unions who so vigorously supported his campaign. Politicians are inclined to overlook a great deal in their most generous supporters.

There was a time when working conditions left much to be desired, management was in some cases abusive, and newly formed unions came to help the working man.  On the other hand, unions have long been home to radicals. The history of the labor union movement is a violent one.

On the other hand, when I was newly married and my husband was in junior management at an industrial plant, labor-management relations seemed quite good until one day the union called a strike and men, who had the day before been cordial. were suddenly banging on cars, rocking them, threatening to turn them over and screaming. It made an impression on me.

The New York Post headlines their editorial “Union label: suckers!

Remember why unions were formed in the first place — to protect workers from being taken advantage of?  Nowadays, the rank-and-file mostly need protection from their own leadership.

Daniel Hughes, former head of the Field Supervisor Association representing Port Authority workers, pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court this week to looting $300,000. in members’ dues over five years.

The union heavyweight allegedly used the money for Queens hotel trysts with hookers, casino getaways and high-priced dinners.  A rare occurrence? Hardly.

The article goes on to enumerate a scandalous number of union officials making free with union members’ benefit funds and dues, and that’s just in the New York area.

Just last week there were stories in the news about Union leaders spending vast amounts of members’ dues to defeat candidates in primary elections to little avail.  If Obama is not around to bail out Union pension funds, will union members still have pension funds available?

Spreading Like a Cancer — Obamacare. by The Elephant's Child

While all of the news last week was focused on the oil spill and the Gulf Coast, Barack Obama quietly signed an executive order to establish the National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council (NPHPPHC, or maybe this one doesn’t get an acronym).

The council will be headed by Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin and includes 13 other luminaries like Janet Napolitano, Kathleen Sebelius, Hilda Solis, and Arne Duncan, who will oversee another 25 non-federal government officials to be appointed by Obama. They will be licensed health-care professionals with expertise in work site health promotion, community services, preventive medicine, health coaching, public health education, exercise, geriatric, and rehabilitation medicine.

Starting this year, the council will submit an annual report to the president and Congress that outlines the progress made with its efforts to advance health promotion and disease prevention. It is expected to address “lifestyle behavior modification” of the American people, including smoking cessation, proper nutrition, appropriate exercise, mental health, behavioral health, substance-use disorder, and domestic violence screenings, and whatever else catches their fancy.

All the news coming out about Obamacare has been resoundingly negative. It costs way more than it was supposed to, and it is unlikely to improve anyone’s health as care is sure to deteriorate  and shortages of doctors are likely.  So this is another little huge agency to add to the hundreds of additional agencies, corps, commissions, offices, departments, units, administrations, programs, panels, services, centers and bureaus, already created in the immense expansion of the proposed Obamacare bureaucracy.  (Do click to enlarge the graphic image).

Like a fatal cancer, the cells of Obamacare just keep multiplying and destroying the last vestiges of life in our society.

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