Monday, February 25, 2008

Born at the wrong time

Well, today is my 31st birthday. I know of no better way to celebrate it than to recollect the tyrannical fashion dictatorship into which I was born. In honour of the year of my birth, I present the horrors that passed for fashion back then: the 1977 JC Penny catalogue!

Also, judging by the sheer amount of matching his/hers outfits, in 1977 it was apparently considered pretty stylish for couples to dress alike. These couples look happy, don't they?

Aaaah!!! My eyes!!! Ze googles do nuh-sing!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Star Wars

The US military is planning to shoot down a spy satellite:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon plans to shoot down a disabled U.S. spy satellite before it enters the atmosphere to prevent a potentially deadly leak of toxic gas from the vehicle's fuel tank, officials said on Thursday.

President George W. Bush decided to have the Navy shoot the 5,000-pound (2,270 kg) minivan-sized satellite with a modified tactical missile, after security advisers suggested its reentry could lead to a loss of life.

The Bad Astronomer has made a video explaining the situation:

Monday, February 18, 2008

Eine Kleine Fenstermusik

This is interesting: music made only with Windows 98 and XP sounds:

Friday, February 15, 2008

For He So Loved the Stage, He Sent His Only Begotten Singer...

Just got back from seeing a production of Jesus Christ Superstar with Ted Neeley, who played Jesus in the Norman Jewison film and the original Broadway production--almost 35 years ago! I linked to some clips from the 1973 movie in a previous post.

This is Neeley today:

Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious!

-Psalm 66:2 (NIV)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Heartless War

Today is the 63rd anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden, Germany during World War II:

The bombing of Dresden by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and United States Army Air Force (USAAF) between February 13 and February 15, 1945, 12 weeks before the surrender of the German Wehrmacht, remains one of the most controversial Allied actions of the Second World War. The raids saw 1,300 heavy bombers drop over 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices in under 15 hours, destroying 13 square miles (34 km²) of the city, the baroque capital of the German state of Saxony, and causing a firestorm that consumed the city centre. Estimates of civilian casualties vary greatly, but recent publications place the figure between 24,000 and 40,000.

The Allies described the operation as the justified bombing of a military and industrial target, which was a major rail transportation and communication centre, housing 110 factories and 50,000 workers in support of the German war effort. Against this, several researchers have argued that Dresden was a cultural landmark of little or no military significance, a "Florence on the Elbe," as it was known, and the attacks were not proportional for the commensurate military gains.

In the first few decades after the war, some estimates of the number killed were as high as 300,000, in part because of misinformation spread just after the bombing by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda. As a result, many charged that it was a callous slaughter of civilians comparable to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with some historians arguing that it was a war crime. Later assessments lowered the casualty figures by a factor of ten or more, yet the raids continue to be included among the worst examples of civilian suffering caused by strategic bombing, and have become one of the moral causes célèbres of the Second World War.

I've discussed the aerial bombardment of civilian population centres before, and Dresden is a particularly noteworthy part of the controversy. It has been immortalized in Kurt Vonnegut's most famous novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, which drew upon his experiences as a POW in Dresden during the attack, and how he and his fellow prisoners were drafted by the Germans to assist in the mass burials. Infamously, the chief authority of the devastation of the attack (even quoted by Vonnegut in his novel), was David Irving's The Destruction of Dresden. Irving's casualty figures cleaved closely to Goebbel's and for decades were considered authoritative. With Irving now largely seen as a Nazi sympathizer, much of his work is considered discredited by most historians.

This has spurred me to finish reading Frederick Taylor's Dresden: Tuesday, Feb. 13, 1945, which presents evidence that counters much of the conventional understanding about the bombing, notably:

  • The casualty figures were probably between 25,000 and 40,000, not 130,000 and 500,000

  • Contrary to the conventional understanding, Dresden was home to several industries vital to the German war effort

  • Far from being an "innocent" city, Dresden enthusiastically supported National Socialism and anti-Semitism before Hitler even came to power. The handful of Jews left in Dresden were scheduled for a likely death march a few days after the bombing

  • Dresden was an important rail hub and supply trains to the Eastern Front went through it almost exclusively.

  • There is no doubt spreading terror among the civilian populace was among the goals of RAF Bomber Command. However, as my earlier post noted, this was hardly a discredited tactic among bombing strategists--London and Paris were still targets of German V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks, so even among the many pilots who took issue with the bombing of a civilian population centre, most would have found a good reason to get past it

Taylor doesn't deny that the question of whether it was worth stooping to such tactics remains a painful one. His quarrel is with the notion that Dresden was exceptional, or at least intentionally so. He points out that previous and subsequent raids on other cities aimed to be just as destructive, but didn't succeed because weather or human error or some other unforeseen factor interfered. Hamburg, a larger city than Dresden, took more casualties when it was bombed in 1943, and the towns of Pforzheim and Darmstadt lost a greater percentage of their population when their turn came. Conditions in Dresden combined to create the firebombing equivalent of a perfect storm. That the same thing did not happen elsewhere wasn't because the Allies didn't try.

I will post my own review of Taylor once I finish. Until then, let's all hope we are never the victims of such mass destruction like the citizens of Dresden, nor will we have to make a choice concerning a city full of the enemy's civilians.
My Saviour is so dreamy

I'm going to see a production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" tomorrow night with the original Jesus, Ted Neeley!

Jesus rocks!

And how do you prepare for such a divine occasion? With Looking Good for Jesus products, course:

Get tight with the Christ!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Say You Want an Evolution...

Happy Darwin Day! That's right, old Chuck turns 199 this year!

Darwin Day is an international celebration of science and humanity held on or around February 12, the day that Charles Darwin was born on in 1809. Specifically, it celebrates the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin -- the man who first described biological evolution via natural selection with scientific rigor. More generally, Darwin Day expresses gratitude for the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to the advancement of humanity.

PZ Myers, one of my favourite bloggers (and biology professor) outlines his activities today at Pharyngula:

Charles Darwin's Origin is 149 years old this year, and although it is a very good book and well worth reading for the historical context and as an outline of the beginnings of a science, it is, well, 149 years old. There's much more to evolutionary biology than Darwin. My talk is titled "Evo-Devo: the future of biology?", and I'm going to be discussing new perspectives on evolution, why I think development is an essential component of our understanding of how organisms evolve, and giving several specific examples.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Canon in Glee

I have never seen such a hilarious rant on classical music before:

More fun with film editing

So a while ago I posted the "Ten Things I Hate About Commandments" fake trailer, which claims to be from the creators of "Must Love Jaws":

They also did "Glen & Gary & Glen & Ross" (warning--language!):

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Getting from Here to There

Google Maps now tells you how to get from Here to There.
"Pierre Trudeau said there would be days like this!"

Toronto-Hamilton area sketch comedy troupe, The Imponderables, with a great parody of Roch Carrier's "The Sweater", or more specifically, the National Film Board's animated short film version.