Friedrich Franz Karl Hecker

Those crazy Germans. Today's random Wikipedia article discusses a German revolutionary who went by the name of Friedrich Franz Karl Hecker:

Friedrich Franz Karl Hecker (September 28, 1811 - March 24, 1881), German revolutionary, was born at Eichtersheim in the Palatinate, his father being a revenue official.

He studied law with the intention of becoming an advocate, but soon became absorbed in politics. On entering the Second Chamber of Baden in 1842, he at once began to take part in the opposition against the government, which assumed a more and more openly radical character, and in the course of which his talents as an agitator and his personal charm won him wide popularity and influence.

But did he use this influence for good or for evil?

After the death of his more moderate-minded friend Adolf Sander (March 9, 1845), Hecker's tone towards the government became more and more bitter. In spite of the shallowness and (sic?) his culture and his extremely weak character, he enjoyed an ever-increasing popularity. Even before the outbreak of the revolution he included socialist claims in his programme.

The revolution referenced is, of course, the failed Revolution of 1848 which swept into Germany (and much of Europe) from France after the abdication of King Louis Phillipe:

The 9th to the 11th of April was secretly spent in preliminaries. On April 12 Hecker and Struve sent a proclamation to the inhabitants of the Seekreis and of the Black Forest to summon the people who could bear arms to Donaueschingen at mid-day on the 14th, with arms, ammunition and provisions for six days. They expected 70,000 men, but only a few thousand appeared.

The grand-ducal government of the Seekreis was dissolved, and Hecker gradually gained reinforcements. But friendly advisers also joined him, pointing out the risks of his undertaking. Hecker, however, was not at all ready to listen to them. On the contrary, he added to violence an absurd defiance, and offered an amnesty to the German princes on condition of their retiring within fourteen days into private life. The troops of Baden and Hesse marched against him, under the command of General Friedrich von Gagern, and on April 20 they met near Kandern, where, although Gagern was killed, Hecker was completely defeated.

Like so many other disillusioned Germans who left Germany in 1848 (to the great benefit of the United States), Hecker found better luck across the Atlantic:

[H]e won some distinction during the Civil War as colonel of a regiment which he had himself raised on the Federal side in 1861 and 1864. It was with great joy that he heard of the union of Germany brought about by the victory over France in 1870/71. It was then that he gave his famous address at St Louis, in which he gave animated expression to the enthusiasm of the German Americans for their newly-united fatherland. He received a less favourable impression when he visited Germany in 1873. He died at St Louis on the 24th of March 1881.

The failed revolutions of 1848 were a pivotal turning point in 19th century history. While Wikipedia has several good articles devoted to the revolutions, there are also several books that might be of interest: Priscilla Robertson's Revolutions of 1848 and Jonathan Sperber's The European Revolutions, 1848-1851 both focus on the revolutions themselves, while the indefatigable historian A.J.P. Taylor's The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918 traces the aftermath through the end of World War I. All seem worthwhile.

Yale Women's Prison

What a crazy coincidence! Since the first visit time I visited the campus (a tragic 24-21 loss in Novemeber 1999), I have thought Yale seemed a lot like a small women's prison in West Virginia. It turns out I'm not the only one:

Martha Stewart's euphemism for prison was to call it "Yale."

"I always wanted to go to Yale," she chuckled during an appearance Monday on David Letterman's "Late Show" on CBS to promote her two new TV shows.

That was her coping mechanism during her five-month prison sentence for lying to authorities about a stock deal.

The lessons Stewart learned at 'Yale?' "The rehabilitation really is non-existent for the most part," and anyone can live for five months without good food and luxuries.

Funny, I think that's what most people learn at Yale.

Teach-In & Ding-a-Dong

teachinOf course everyone has heard of ABBA, makers of magical music and winners of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with their first big hit "Waterloo". But how many are familiar with the group that followed in the footsteps of greatness and won the song contest in 1975? If you can't seem to place them, don't worry. You are in luck. Today's random Wikipedia article has more than you need to know about Teach-In:

Teach-In were a group who won the Eurovision Song Contest 1975, representing the Netherlands. The victory was particularly notable because they were the first contestants to perform that year; it is generally considered an advantage to be last on stage.

Teach-In were Gettie Kaspers, Chris de Wolde, Ard Weenink, Koos Versteeg, John Gaasbeek and Ruud Nijhuis. The band was formed in 1967, with a different line up as in 1975. Singer Getty joined the band in 1971, when they got their first recording contract with producer and composer Eddy Ouwens. In 1974 the band had three top 15 hits, after which their Eurovision entry was recorded. "Ding-A-Dong" won of course, which resulted in a chart entry in nearly every European country. Teach-In toured Europe for the next two years, but the success took its toll when the band split up in 1978. Getty tried a solo career, but that wasn't successful. In 1979 Ruud Nijhuis and Koos Versteeg reformed the band, this time with two new female singers. After three more hits the group split up again. In 1997, news came that the original line up (with Gettie Kaspers) had re-recorded some of their old hits and had plans to tour again.

Teach-In's "Ding-a-Dong," who can forget it? Especially with lyrics like these:

When you feelin' alright, everything is up-tight
Try to sing a song that goes ding ding-a-dong
There will be no sorrow when you sing tomorrow
And you walk along with your ding-dang-dong

I can't even count the number of mornings I've woken up with that song in my head. Alright, so I've never heard of this band or this song. But it sounds catchy, right?

Tonatiuh

For those of you too frightened or lazy to check out the random Wikipedia article function yourself, I have good news. I am going to make the "Random Wikipedia Article" a semi-regular feature of this blog. Today's entry is Tonatiuh:

In Aztec mythology, Tonatiuh was the sun god. The Aztec people considered him the leader of Tollan, their heaven. He was also known as the fifth sun, because the Aztecs believed that he was the sun that took over when the fourth sun was expelled from the sky. According to their cosmology, each sun was a god with its own cosmic era. According to the Aztecs, they were still in Tonatiuh's era. According to the Aztec creation myth, the god demanded human sacrifice as tribute and without it would refuse to move through the sky. It is said that 20,000 people were sacrificed each year to Tonatiuh and other gods, though this number is thought to be inflated either by the Aztecs, who wanted to inspire fear in their enemies, or the Spaniards, who wanted to vilify the Aztecs. The Aztecs were fascinated by the sun and carefully observed it, and had a solar calendar second only in accuracy to the Mayans'. Many of today's remaining Aztec monuments have structures aligned with the sun.

A while back I started reading Chester Starr's A History of the Ancient World, and while that text (or at least the early chapters I've finished) is focused on Near Eastern civilization, it makes some effort to demonstrate interesting contrasts and similarities between separately evolving civilizations. That is to say, questions arise about whether certain social or technological advances (say banking or masony, to throw out a couple of Civilization references) were created independently within different civilizations, like Egypt and China, or whether knowledge of the advance was transmitted from a single inventing civilization to the others.

I am reminded of that text by this discussion of the Aztec sun god because the interconnectedness of religious belief is an area of great interest to me, though I've failed to follow up on that interest with any real study. Chester Starr's text provided some insights into how Judaism was influenced by the myths of older civilzations. And I have a high school level awareness of the symmetries between the Greek and Roman gods.

The text about Tonatiuh demonstrates, I think, that eerily similar creation myths and god systems have developed in rather disconnected parts of the world. It's not surprising that the Aztecs should worship a sun god, just as the Egyptians did, but it seems notable and worthy of some attention. I am going to go browse Amazon for a book or two that might be on point.

UPDATE: Alright, my browsing at Amazon has led me to a Joseph Cambell tetralogy called "The Mask of Gods." In particular, it seems that the first volume in the series, Primitive Mythology, is most relevant to the questions of origin that most interest me. It is also good to know that there are three sequels should my curiosity in the area continue.

My New Favorite Pastime

Well, I may have doomed myself to a permanent state of unproductiveness. I have a new favorite link. But I warn you that if you follow this link, or add it to your bookmarks, or make it your homepage.... let's just say it is a bottomless pit from which you may not emerge. Don't blame me.

Random Wikipedia Article

Prepare yourself for knowledge. Bring a flashlight. And some provisions.

Faith-Based Vitamins

As a regular consumer of Men's One-a-Day vitamins, I'm a little bit shamed to learn that there is no evidence that they do me any good:

Popping the daily multivitamin is as routine as the morning cup of coffee. Multivitamins are cheap and easy to access, giving people the quick gratification that they've taken a small step towards protecting their well-being.

Yet the goodness is an article of faith. A multivitamin is not an insurance policy against disease or a guarantee of longevity. It may, in fact, be little more than just another substance for the body to excrete, at least for a healthy adult.

Much of the current literature on vitamins focuses on testing whether a specific nutrient has any effect on a particular condition. Some evidence suggests a regular multivitamin may offer some benefit to subgroups of patients who have chronic conditions, and there's solid evidence that the folate in a multivitamin benefits women and their fetuses during pregnancy.

But for healthy adults, the jury is out. Whether a daily multivitamin provides any clinical benefit to the average healthy American depends on whom you ask.

The article goes into further details on different aspects of the vitamin question, but here are the key paragraphs for those of us who like a little scientific support behind our medical choices:

There are no randomized, double-blinded, controlled studies comparing a multivitamin with a placebo in healthy individuals to determine whether there's any tangible health benefit. Such a study would be costly and time-consuming. Experts on both sides of the issue agree on this point.

Where experts begin to disagree is whether the kind of evidence that currently exists on vitamins show any clinical benefit. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force doesn't seem to think so.

In the July 1, 2003 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, the task force said that "the best studies suggested no clear benefit of taking vitamins" and there was "insufficient scientific evidence to recommend vitamin supplements as a way to prevent cancer or heart disease." Their conclusions were based on a review of the literature.

The benefits of vitamin supplementation for the general population, said Janet Allen, Ph.D., R.N., vice chair of the task force, "remain uncertain."

But the task force noted that taking vitamins according to the recommended daily allowances "does not cause harm."

Well I'm glad to know that I'm not actively doing harm to myself by taking vitamins, but that's not really the result I have been going for. I am pretty uncomfortable with the idea of consciously taking part in what could be little more than the greatest placebo effect of all time.

Harry Potter: Audiobook Power

Even with all my pretensions of being on the cutting edge of technology, I had no idea that Harry Potter audiobooks were so much more popular than glue and paper books:

Rowling's fantasy series, most recently "Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince," has sold more than 200 copies worldwide in print editions and more than 5 million as audiobooks, narrated by Grammy winner Jim Dale.

A silly typo, but the absurdity of it made me laugh.

Crustacean Ice Cream

You wouldn't think I could write two snarky posts in a row, both referencing Baskin Robbins ice cream. But I can. While browsing for evidence that there are, in fact, more than 31 flavors at Baskin Robbins, I noticed another curiosity.

Baskin Robbins and Dunkin Donuts, owned by the same parent company, both provide very extensive nutritional information for each of the items they sell in their stores. For this, they should be applauded. They should also be applauded for including details about whether each product is safe for various allergies.

The list of allergies, however, includes a couple unusual categories for a company that sells ice cream and donuts:

Crustaceans
Eggs
Fish
Milk
Peanuts
Soy
Tree Nuts
Wheat

Now I can only presume that each of these categories is listed because it is an ingredient in something, somewhere on the menu of either Dunkin Donuts or Baskin Robbins. It took me a while to find Fish, but then I noticed that Dunkin Donuts sells a Salmon Cream Cheese. That just leaves crustaceans, which includes "crab, crayfish, lobster, and shrimponds (sic, I hope)."

So here's the project. Someone with more time to spare than me, look through all the nutritional information at both Baskin Robbins and Dunkin Donuts, and enlighten the meat-eaters of the world as to where they can get their crustacean fix in either ice cream or donut form.

UPDATE: Alas, I am not the first to post this inquiry. One of the commenters on that site actually emailed Dunkin Donuts and got a response. The key paragragh:

At this time, no Dunkin Donuts products contain any crustaceans. The on-line allergy form was developed for all brands and for any future developments and associated seafood allergies.

That has to be one of the most frightening qualifiers ever.

Best. College. Ever.

A colleague at work passed along this amusing tidbit. If you visit the Univeristy of Tennessee at Martin website right now you will find a headline touting some great news for the school:

UT Martin named ‘Best Southeastern College’

Wow, that is quite exciting! I'm sure the kids at Emory are steaming, and I don't even want to know what the main UT campus at Knoxville thinks about this.

But wait. Now I am actually reading the story:

“University of Tennessee at Martin is one of 140 schools . . . receiving our 'Best in the Southeast' designation," said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review publisher and editorial director. “We believe these schools uphold the standards of our “Best Southeastern College distinction and provide students with a wide breadth of excellent schools to consider.”

Oh I see. So UT-Martin is the ‘Best Southeastern College’ in the same way that chocolate is one of the best 31 flavors at Baskin-Robbins (itself a myth, since there are always more than 31). I also like that they point out they are "West Tennessee’s only public, four-year institution outside of Memphis." And I'm the best-looking person sitting in my office wearing gray socks.

Well, congratulations anyway.

Goodwill Book Sale

Maybe I am working to my own detriment by publishing this information to potential competing book lovers, but I thought I would note that the semi-annual Goodwill Book Sale is taking place this weekend here in Atlanta:

Goodwill's September Book Sale Event
September 9th-12th, 2005

Location: Goodwill Industries of North Georgia, Inc.
2201 Glenwood Ave. SE - Atlanta, GA 30316

9/09 - Preview Night 6pm - 9pm; $10.00 entry fee; kids 12 & under are admitted free.
9/10 - Super Saturday 8am - 6pm; Free entry for all.
9/11 - Sunday Noon - 6pm; Free entry for all.
9/12 - Monday 10am - 6pm; Free entry for all.

Mark your calendars and join us as we celebrate 25 years of conducting our one of a kind Book Sale events. We have more than 60 categories and all books are first come, first serve. You only have TWICE a year to get these awesome deals on our great books; people come from all parts of the USA as well as from other countries to take advantage of our great deals. Come and see for yourself!

Proceeds from our Book Sale events go to support Goodwill training, resource, and literacy programs. The mission of Goodwill Industries of North Georgia is to build stronger communities by connecting people experiencing employment barriers to work.

My wife and I will be attending Friday night. Sure, a $10 entry fee seems steep for a used book sale, but it's really a donation to a worthy cause. I'll see you there!

Keeping Your Opinion to Yourself

Remember the last time someone told you should keep your opinion to yourself? Or that you shouldn't vouch for potential mobsters who turn out to be FBI agents? It looks like Andrews Kurth LLP could have used similar advice:

Writing an opinion letter could cost Andrews Kurth more than $90 million.

Four stock purchasers allege that Andrews Kurth assured them that a stock sale by Motient Corp., a wireless service provider, did not violate the corporation's governing documents, when in fact the certificate of incorporation prohibited the sale.

Dallas-based investment manager Highland Capital Management and three entities it manages (the Highland entities) sued Houston-based Andrews Kurth on Aug. 22 in Dallas' 101st District Court. In their original petition in Highland Crusader Offshore Partners, et al. v. Andrews Kurth, the plaintiffs allege they relied on an April 15 opinion letter provided by Andrews Kurth when they bought about $90 million worth of stock from Motient in April.

According to the opinion letter, Andrews Kurth acted as special counsel to Motient, a Delaware corporation, in connection with the issuance and sale of 408,500 shares of the company's stock.

"That opinion letter indicated, among other things, that the company had the power to issue the stock and that the stock was properly issued. However, since that time plaintiffs discovered that the stock was void because it was issued in violation of Motient's certificate of incorporation," the plaintiffs allege in the petition.

Well, their motto is "Straight Talk is Good Business," since after all "Straight talk leads to smart choices, fast action and successful results." Except maybe this one time. A cautionary tale for law firms and general counsels everywhere, even if this suit, like so many others alleging professional liability, is without much merit.

Busy Times for the Military

Busy times continue for the United States military, with an increasing role for active duty forces in the wake of the natural disaster in the Gulf Coast. Though the role of the National Guard and the active duty forces are raising lots of questions about force structure and allocation, a more basic and uplifiting point should be made as well.

We have an amazing collection of adaptable talent at our disposal in the form of soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen. While the country debates whether the response was too slow, too little, too tepid and the like, there can be little doubt that we are lucky to have these folks on our side:

More active-duty troops are joining the Hurricane Katrina relief effort than originally planned, and a senior commander said Monday they likely will be needed for months, not weeks.

Although the Pentagon said Saturday that 2,500 soldiers from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division were being dispatched to the New Orleans area, a spokeswoman for the division said Monday that 4,700 would be there by Tuesday.

Also going are combat and support forces from the 1st Cavalry Division and 13th Corps Support Command at Fort Hood, Texas, plus about 2,000 Marines. The Pentagon originally said the 1st Cavalry was sending 2,700 soldiers, but division spokesman Capt. George Lewis said Monday that 1,700 were going, plus 100 support troops.

Thus the total for active-duty ground forces would be about 8,500, up from the 7,200 announced on Saturday.

Twenty-one Navy ships also are participating, including the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman off the coast of Mississippi.

The Air Force said Monday that its aircraft have flown more than 1,000 missions, including helicopter crews that have rescued more than 3,600 people and evacuation flights that have moved 2,600 medical patients.

Good luck and godspeed to them all.

Day of Mindfulness

I would like to renew a blog tradition that I have let fall by the wayside. For a while, I made it a point to treat Saturday as a Day of Mindfulness, and limited my blogging to a single post updating my section on Zen and Buddhism. I think I will take a more ecumenical approach from now on, as I continue to find new wisdom among many other faiths and practices as well.

In light of this week's events, several Buddhist websites have seen fit to reprint the Metta Sutta, often referred to as Buddha's Teaching of Loving-Kindness. I think it is wonderfully fitting in these difficult times.

This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness
And who knows the path of peace:

Let them be able and upright, straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited, contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skilful,
not proud and demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing that the wise would later reprove.
They should wish:

In gladness and in safety
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be,
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another, or despise any being in any state,
Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings,
Radiating kindness over the entire world,
Spreading upwards to the skies, and downwards to the depths,
Outwards and unbounded, freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down,
Free from drowsiness, one should sustain this recollection.

Watching a Tragedy Unfold

The news from New Orleans just seems to get worse. Acts of desperation, of malice, of fear. What started as an awful natural disaster has exposed fundamental questions about humanity and our country. Where to direct our outrage? At the looters and armed criminals who descend into lawlessness and wreak havoc at the most vulnerable? At a government that claims the destruction was unforeseeable? At a society that decided everyone in death's path should fend for themselves, leaving behind those without the means or health to flee? At the suspicion that things would have been handled quite differently if not for the race and class of most of those still in New Orleans?

No. Outrage is not the response. It may be justified. It may be necessary, at some later time. For now, compassion is the best thing any of us can offer. And crass though it may seem, perhaps the only currency in which compassion can be shared at this very moment is cash. So send it if you can. Send it even if you don't think you can. You'll make due better than those who need your compassion.

States To Push Internet Sales Tax

Are the days of tax-free toothpaste from Amazon coming to an end? Tax-free books? Tax-free computer equipment from NewEgg? It is almost too terrible to imagine, but it may be in the works:

Come this fall, 13 states will start encouraging — though not demanding — that online businesses collect sales taxes just as Main Street stores are required to do, and more states are considering joining the effort.

Right now, buyers are expected to pay sales taxes on Internet purchases themselves directly to the state when they pay their income taxes. But it's not widely enforced, and states say it costs them upwards of $15 billion a year in lost revenues, collectively.

"Taxes that it was difficult to collect before will now be collected. And consumers will pay that," said David Quam at the National Governors Association, helping lead the five-year effort that brought together state revenue officials, legislators and business leaders.

A 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling forbids states from forcing a business to collect their sales taxes unless the company has a physical presence in the affected state. The court noted the dizzying array of tax jurisdictions and widely varying definitions of taxable goods, such as fast food versus groceries.

Well I don't think "encouraging" is going to have much effect. Would you pay your income tax if you were encouraged but not required to do so? Unlikely.

I am sympathetic to the underlying problem of cross-border taxation. Having lived in Massachusetts and watched people haul kitchen appliances across the border from New Hampshire, it seems clear that this is not a new problem. The scale, however, is so much bigger. And I can not think of a good fundamental economic or moral argument for why purchasers ought to be able to avoid the sales tax of both their own state and the seller's state.

There are plenty of good practical economic and administrative arguments, however, for why this may be a doomed project without broader changes in the way we tax. Whether it be a shift to a federal sales tax, a VAT system, or some other scenario my ignorance of tax law is overlooking, I don't know. But I don't think this is going to cut it:

To be accepted as part of the project, a state must change its tax laws to match up with the others. So far, 13 states have come far enough to be part of the project. Five more are approved to join within the next few years, and others have made partial steps.

The process wasn't easy. Among the issues to be answered: If candy is taxed but food isn't, what is candy? And what is food? Is a Twix cookie bar candy or food?

The solution: anything with flour is food, not candy.

I can't wait to see Amazon re-defining its categories in response to this. Books, DVDs, Music, Food with Flour, Candy without Flour, etc. Perhaps they will come up with a "search by ingredient" along the lines of their "search this book" program.