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Friday, October 8, 2010, 5:01 PM

Poetry . . . is mathematics. It is close to a particular branch of the subject known as combinatorics, the study of permutations – of how one can arrange particular groups of objects, numbers or letters according to stated laws. As early as 200 BC, writers on Sanskrit poetry asked how many ways it is possible to arrange various sets of long and short syllables, the building blocks of Sanskrit verse. A syllable is short, with one beat, or long, with two. In how many ways can a metre of four syllables be constructed? Four shorts or four longs have just one pattern for each, while for three shorts and a long, or three longs and a short, there are four (SSSL, SSLS, SLSS, and LSSS, for example). For two of each kind of syllable, there are six possibilities. Do the sum for metres of one, two, three, four and more and a mathematical pattern emerges. It is Pascal’s Triangle, the pyramid of numbers in which the series in the next line is given by adding together adjacent pairs in the line above to generate 1, 1 1, 1 2 1, 1 3 3 1, 1 4 6 4 1, and so on.

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Americans know that in 1492 Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue,” but how many know that in the same year the heroic Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Moors in Grenada? Americans would also probably recognize 1588 as the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada by Francis Drake and the rest of Queen Elizabeth’s pirates. It was a tragedy for the Catholic kingdom of Spain and a triumph for the Protestant British Empire, and the defeat determined the kind of history that would one day be taught in American schools: Protestant British history.

As a result, 1571, the year of the battle of Lepanto, the most important naval contest in human history, is not well known to Americans. October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrates the victory at Lepanto, the battle that saved the Christian West from defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.

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Little girls may be sugar and spice and everything nice, but having a daughter might boost a couple’s risk of divorce, according to past census data.

Not only did researchers find that couples with sons are more likely to stick together, unmarried pregnant couples were more likely to have shotgun weddings if the baby was going to be a boy and divorced mothers of boys are more likely to remarry and stay remarried.

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6. Weird News of the Week: Ausrtalia’s serial drunk wheelchair driver

A serial drink-driver has avoided jail for crashing his motorised wheelchair into a police car while almost five times over the legal limit.
Jean-Paul Escudie, 65, faced Cairns Magistrate Court today after pleading guilty to his seventh drink-driving charge since 2005.
The court was told Escudie crashed his motorised wheelchair into an unmarked police car in the Cairns CBD on August 5 after a pub session followed by dinner and drinks with friends.

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7. Which country has won the most Nobels? America, of course.

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8. Quote of the Week: “I would have become a Hare Krishna, but I didn’t want to become a vegetarian. And that is honestly the reason why, because I’m Italian and I love meatballs.” – Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell on why she became a Christian.

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Before I first acquired a Kindle, exactly one year ago, I didn’t usually buy books while under the influence of alcohol. I won’t say I never did it, because that would be a lie. But it wasn’t a habit. After a couple of glasses of wine, I tend to fixate on the present. I have no use for five to seven days’ delivery time. The Kindle is wonderful for drunk people because you can climb into bed, press one button, and The Anatomy of Melancholy instantaneously materialises before you, plucked by the so-called Whispernet out of the surrounding ether.

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Our starting point is a 1954 essay by Heidegger, “The Questions Concerning Technology.” Let me say first that Heidegger is a problematic figure. He wasn’t the nicest guy. But we can’t dismiss everything that he wrote. He’s considered by many as a fundamental philosopher for the 21st century. So, in a nutshell, what Heidegger says in this essay is that technology is really a “mode of being,” a sort of attitude or culture we are immersed in. It’s not something we can consciously adopt. It’s all around us, we’re engulfed in it. He says we’re in a technological mode of being that is all about making the world available. The key concept here is availability. For example he mentions the Rhine River. Rather than approaching the river as primitives, who might ponder how the gods created the river, or artists and poets, who would focus on the beauty of the river, our approach is that the river is a resource to generate power. He argues that we approach the world around us, nature in particular, as something that we should use to make other things available. Where it gets really interesting is that the availability starts to take on momentum of its own. So we don’t necessarily want anything in itself; all we want is everything to be transformable into something that we’ll need in the future. The key thing that Heidegger hints at and he worries about is that this worldview, if it continues in the direction it’s going, will overwhelm us, and then we’ll do the same thing to ourselves: We’ll see ourselves as resources.

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12. Image of the Week: How J.K. Rowling Plotted Out Harry Potter Books

This spreadsheet organizing Harry Potter ideas displays two things: J.K. Rowling’s thought process, and that one doesn’t need fancy computer machines to become richer than the Queen of England.

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Greek had to be the language in which God inscripturated New Testament truth because of its complicated syntax. Truth be told, there’s only one reason why the New Testament was written in Greek and not in another language (say, Latin), and that is a man named Alexander the Great, whose vision was to conquer the inhabited world and then unite it through a process known as Hellenization. To a large degree he succeeded, and therefore the use of Greek as the common lingua franca throughout the Mediterranean world in the first century AD should come as no surprise to us today. I emphasize this point only because there are some today who would seek to resurrect the notion of “Holy Ghost” Greek. Their view is, in my view, a demonstrable cul-de-sac.

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14. Answered Question of the Week: Why does a yo-yo yo?

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Children can’t change their DNA, and now it seems they’re inheriting another permanent feature from their families — an online presence.

Thanks to the ubiquity of photo-sharing websites like Facebook, 82 percent of children in 10 Western countries have a digital footprint before the age of 2, according to a study by internet security firm AVG.

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16. Luckiest Golf Shot Ever

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17. Infographic of the Week: World’s Tallest Buildings, circa 1884

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The Social Security Administration sent about 89,000 stimulus payments of \$250 each to dead and incarcerated people—but almost half of them were returned, a new inspector-general’s report found.

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A new study has shed light on the sun’s impact on the Earth’s climate, confounding current thinking about solar cycles and how they influence temperatures on Earth.

Previously scientists had thought that radiation reaching the Earth rises and falls in line with the Sun’s activity, which during the 11-year solar cycle goes though periods of low and high activity.

But research by Imperial College, London and the University of Colorado in the U.S. examining solar radiation levels from 2004 to 2007 — a period of declining solar activity — revealed that levels of visible radiation reaching the Earth actually increased during the period.

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22. HistoricalLOL of the Week

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We laugh twice as much in our teens as we do in our fifties. And our findings suggest that it’s all downhill from 52.”
The study found that while an infant can laugh aloud as many as 300 times every day, life rapidly becomes far less fun.

(Via: The Corner)

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Two Russian scientists won the physics prize for their work in combining graphite molecules in a new structural arrangement to form the thinnest, strongest material on earth. Yes, this sounds a lot like the chemistry achievement. But in true MacGyver form, the Russians made their discovery using Scotch tape.

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26. Depressing Fact of the Week: The cast of Fox’s TV show Glee now has more Billboard 100 songs than The Beatles

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Extremely cheap people and post-apocalyptic crusaders against zombies have a common friend in Costco: On their website, the wholesaler is selling Thrive, which consists of a year’s supply of dehydrated and freeze-dried food, all served up in gallon-sized cans. The price tag: \$800. (If you buy it after October 10th, it jumps up to \$1000.) That’s 5,011 servings of food, most of which have a shelf life of up to 25 years.

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28. How-To of the Week: Buy a Round-the-World Plane Ticket

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29. Life-Altering Exoskeleton

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I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt, as they say, in small town Oklahoma, where most people were Southern Baptists. (Not us, we belonged to a liberal denomination.) But virtually everyone was liberal politically. There was no Republican Party in the county where I grew up. They were liberal when it came to economic policy. We thrived on government pork barrel projects, with our long-ensconced representatives building dams and lakes and waterways and all kinds of stuff. If there was a problem, we wanted the government to take care of it. And the reason was not resentment of Abraham Lincoln or anything racial. It was fidelity to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. He brought us out of the depression, put us to work, started rural electrification, and on and on. None of our political heroes, from FDR to LBJ, did anything to challenge our Christian faith. It never occurred to them to do so.

Then came the Vietnam war. We were good LBJ Democrats, supporting him in his civil rights bill, the Great Society, and his crusade to bring Democracy to Vietnam. But then came another kind of liberal: The cultural liberal. The hippies and the yippies and the yahoos. Our boys volunteered to fight in Vietnam, but now these people are vilifying them. Then the Democrats started being on their side! Then we were getting things from our government like outlawing school prayer. Some of us saw the wisdom of that, but then the Supreme Court legalized abortion. The tide turned. As I heard people say, I didn’t leave the Democratic party; the Democratic party left me. We became Reagan Democrats. And now my county is solidly Republican.

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If Solomon were alive today and we were to ask him how we are to relate to one another in this digital world, if we were to ask him how we can honor God in our use of all these social media available to us today, here is how he might respond.

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33. Bike Jump Montage

Additional Sources: The Presurfer

October 8th, 2010 | 5:37 pm

Sorry, but Lepanto hardly qualifies as the most important naval encounter in history. In fact, it provided only a momentary check to Ottoman expansion (which would continue unabated until 1685), did not even destroy Ottoman naval power (the lost fleet was quickly rebuilt), and did not open a new era of Christian solidarity against the infidel Turk (the coalition so painfully created by the Pope broke up acrimoniously soon after the battle).

If I had to pick one naval battle as the single most important in history, it would have to be Salamis. The destruction of Persian naval power by the Greeks prevented Xerxes from supporting his massive army in Greece. Most of the Persian force returned home, allowing the Spartan-led Greek army to defeat the remaining Persians at Plataea the following year, thereby ensuring the survival of an independent Greece–and with it, Western civilization.

A close second would be the Battle of the Capes, fought off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay in 1781. In the one French naval victory over the British since 1690, Admiral le Comte de Grasse prevented the Royal Navy under Real Admiral Graves from relieving Lord Cornwallis’ besieged forces at Yorktown, thereby ensuring American independence (and the survival of Western civilization).

October 8th, 2010 | 5:41 pm

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by First Things, Ruben D. Sanchez Jr. Ruben D. Sanchez Jr said: RT @ROFTERS: How Pascal's triangle explains poetry, world's worst beers, Superman's Facebook nightmare, and 30 other things http://bit.ly/bAbDyU [...]

October 8th, 2010 | 6:17 pm

Bizarre Weapons of WW II

X-class midget sub hardly qualifies. The Germans had far more bizarre midget submarines, such as the Biber and Niger, while the Japanese had the Kaiten manned torpedo. Of all of these, only the X-class submarines can be considered successful, perhaps because they were the only ones not designed as suicide weapons.

Sonderkommando Elbe hardly qualifies as a weapon–it’s actually a military unit employing ramming tactics with conventional aircraft. A much better candidate would have been the German “Mistel” (Mistletoe) piggy-back aircraft, which consisted of an FW-190 or Bf-109 fighter attached by struts to the top of an unmanned Ju-88 twin engine bomber packed with explosives. A pilot in the fighter would fly both aircraft together to a target, where he would separate from the bomber, which then became a huge, remote controlled cruise missile directed by the pilot in the fighter. In some instances, the entire nose and cockpit of the bomber was removed and replaced with a two ton shaped charge warhead for destroying very heavily armored targets. A number of these were actually used late in the war, notably against the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine.

Almost as bad was the U.S. “Project Aphrodite”, intended to destroy V-1 launch sites in France and Belgium. It consisted of a war-weary B-17 or B-24 bomber packed with explosives and rigged as a remote controlled aircraft. It would be flown by a controller in another bomber, and directed into the target using a television camera in the nose. Unfortunately, the plane had to take off under manual control, with two real pilots inside it. They were to bail out over England once the plane reached cruising altitude. However, short circuits in the control panel sometimes caused the plane to explode when the pilots turned on the remote control switch. This type of accident resulted in the death of LT Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., brother of the future president. Needless to say, his body was never found.

The anti-tank dog mine was not successful, because the Soviets made the mistake of feeding the dogs under Soviet tanks–and, apparently, the dogs could tell the difference. So, once released, they immediately sped for the closest Soviet tank, resulting in an “own goal”. Obviously, these were counter-revolutionary capitalist running dogs.

Right up with the Bat Bomb should be its Japanese counterpart, the balloon bomb. Late in 1944, the Japanese released thousands of paper hydrogen balloons which were carried up into the jet stream and carried to the Pacific Northwest. Each carried a small incendiary bomb, which was supposed to set the forests in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia ablaze. As it was, several hundred made the trip, and may have started a few small fires. The only casualties were a family that discovered one of the balloons sitting in a tree, and accidentally detonated the bomb getting it down.

Several interesting weapons were overlooked, such as the “Great Panjandrum”, a huge double wheel made of wood, with a dozen rockets mounted around the rim for propulsion. Released from landing barges off a beach, it was intended to detonate mines and destroy wire entanglements. It was quietly cancelled when it almost wiped out a contingent of Allied officers watching a test run–an even captured on film.

One highly successful but unusual weapon not shown is the famous Barnes Wallis “bouncing bomb”–actually a cylindrical mine carried laterally below a British Lancaster bomber. When spun up to several hundred RPM by an electric motor, and released at precisely the right (and very low) altitude, the mine would skip across the water like a flat stone. Impacting against the side of a dam or a ship, the mine would sink to a predetermined depth before being detonated by a hydrostatic fuze. The bomb was used successfully against the Rhur River dams in 1942, a mission popularized by the movie “The Dam Busters”.

October 9th, 2010 | 7:53 pm

If those bike divers aren’t careful, they’re going to be using the electronic exoskeleleton some day.

October 11th, 2010 | 11:25 am

“Ottoman expansion (which would continue unabated until 1685)”

1683.