Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve Bomb Blasts Rock Bangkok

The problem isn't the Muslim Arabs, the problem is Israel.
The problem isn't the Muslim Chechens, the problem is Russia.
The problem isn't Muslim Pakistan, the problem is India.
The problem isn't the Muslim Al-Qaeda, the problem is American imperialism.
The problem isn't British Muslim bombers, the problem is Britain.
The problem isn't the Muslim Moros, the problem is the Phillipines.
The problem isn't the Muslim faubourgs, the problem is France.
The problem isn't Muslim Holocaust Denial, the problem is the Jews.
The problem isn't Muslim Indonesia, the problem is East Timor.
The problem isn't the Muslim Sudanese government, the problem is the Darfuris.
The problem isn't Muslim Thais, the problem is Thailand.

The problem isn't a religion that teaches Jihad, the problem is everyone else.

Gerald Ford, Saddam Hussein, and Plato

Gerald Ford was reviled for pardoning Nixon. Saddam Hussein was reviled for killing and torturing tens of thousands, for oppressing millions. Ford was driven from office by the American voters; Hussein was driven from power by the American army. Ford died in his sleep; Hussein in a hangman's noose. In his last years Ford spoke well of everyone and everyone spoke well of him. Hussein died cursing "traitors, spies (i.e. the Jews), and the Persians". Ford's passing was honored with a dignified state funeral in Washington and a national day of observance. Hussein's execution was marked by his countrymen wildly shooting rifles into the air in celebration.

These results are not fortuitous, not luck. It has become customary to say, in spite of all evidence, that all people and all peoples are morally equal. Plato writes in 'The Republic' that only people with civilized souls are able to live under the rule of law. Barbarians must have kings to rule over them because they cannot rule over their own passions, and none can rule over the passions of barbarian kings.

Thus the public life of a nation is an expression of the inner lives of its people. The difference in the lives and deaths of Gerald Ford and Saddam Hussein is a measure of the differences in the inner lives of Americans and Iraqis.

The ER

I had the misfortune to have half sliced off the tip of my little finger last night. I found neighbors who were home who not only provided me with a big band-aid and sympathy but also drove me to Alta Bates' emergency room. I spent seven hours there and in the end they glued the finger tip back on. It is not so much a treatment as a repair.

Nevada City in 2006

Nevada City has gone from a somewhat Bohemian old-fashioned Gold Country town to a fully-restored tourist destination, full of violently cute shoppes. The quiet fern bars have long since been replaced with loud music places so packed with tattoos as to have a cover charge. The buildings and trees in downtown are lined with lights which is a very pretty effect, but the resemblance to the town of memory is no more than fortuitous. Yet another of the slights of age.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Dead Pool 2007

One point for every year the croaker is under 100 when the big one is bitten.

Scenic Route -

1. George Bush I
2. Barry Bonds
3. Paris Hilton
4. Donald Trump
5. President Musharraf
6. Woody Allen
7. Ted Kennedy
8. OJ Simpson
9. Betty Ford
10. George Steinbrenner

Scorpion -

2007 Croakers

1. Kevin Federline
2. Ed Asner
3. Jimmy Carter
4. Aretha Franklin
5. Dick Cheney
6. Lisa Marie Presley
7. Anna Nicole Smith
8. Barak Obama
9. Mahmoud Abbas
10. Hugh Hefner

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Technical Superiority

I figured it out. For months my telephone did not ring. I heard from people only via voice mail. I was, with some justice, suspected of being a recluse, a pensioned derelict. I searched the Samsung site and the T-Mobile site to no avail. It takes a password to reset everything and I didn't have one. I eventually found the factory preset password in the manual. Yet another example of computer security keeping the intended user out of a system no one is trying to break into. That was the manufacturer's portion of the stupidity.

For my part I was curious how to avoid this problem in the future. I finally found it in the T-Mobile site. One presses the mute button to toggle the ringer on and off and have it vibrate silently instead. Mute button? It has a mute button? Yes, one presses and holds the # key and the phone is muted. Worse, in addition to the # sign, the key actually has a tiny figure of an X-ed out speaker. That is the very icon that stubbornly refused to leave the tiny screen all these months. Like Poe's raven, it sat above my door and would leave, 'Nevermore'. What is so sad about this is that the icon on the button is recognizable if I hold it at just the right distance and am trying to focus on it. But this phone, and all phones, is designed for the youth market, people to whom that icon looks the size of a baked potato. Like they say in those movies about death row, "Ancient crock walking!"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Moral Superiority

I was in the checkout line at Rite-Aid yesterday. At the front of the line was a tall fat pimply young woman who was being held up while the clerk incompetently checked her ID to see if she was old enough to buy a bottle of flavored vodka. One could not doubt that her object was to get wasted and with any luck debauched. The Mexican ahead of me in line had a box of condoms, presumably to get debauched without even bothering to get wasted. I was shaking my head over the apparent moral decline of the citizenry of El Cerrito. Then it occurred to me that I was also in line and I was buying a CD mailer with which to send a friend a pirated copy of Adobe Photoshop.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Arab Problem

Pierre Heumann is a writer for the Swiss Weekly, Die Weltwoche. He interviewed the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Jazeera, Ahmed Sheik, a Palestinian. The following is the conclusion of the interview.

Die Weltwoche: You sound bitter.

Yes, I am.

Die Weltwoche: At whom are you angry?

It's not only the lack of democracy in the region that makes me worried. I don't understand why we don't develop as quickly and dynamically as the rest of the world. We have to face the challenge and say: enough is enough! When a President can stay in power for 25 years, like in Egypt, and he is not in a position to implement reforms, we have a problem. Either the man has to change or he has to be replaced. But the society is not dynamic enough to bring about such a change in a peaceful and constructive fashion.

Die Weltwoche: Why not?

In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. How can a teacher do his job in such circumstances? The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.

Die Weltwoche: Who is responsible for the situation?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.

Die Weltwoche: Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

I think so.

Die Weltwoche: Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?

The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.

Die Weltwoche: In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this.

Pierre Heumann is the Middle East correspondent of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche. His interview with Ahmed Sheikh originally appeared in German in Die Weltwoche on Nov. 23, issue 47/06. The English translation is by John Rosenthal.

A Recipe

Faux Oeufs au Jacques

1. Chop half a large onion to smithereens. Do it under the stove hood with the blower on to keep from blinding yourself. Wear glasses.

2. Saute the onion in one tablespoon of air. For richer flavor, lean over the non-stick pan and say in a low voice, "olive oil".

3. While the onion is "carmelizing", crumble in up to half a pound of ground turkey breast.

4. Stir aimlessly until the bits of turkey are not pink enough to endanger your life.

5. Pour in up to one and half cups of packaged egg whites. Do NOT use real egg whites or you will be appalled by the non-color and yucko texture. If you do use real eggs, feed the yolks to your dog or cat. It will make the pet's fur glossy and make her roll over clutching her chest.

6. While cooking on medium heat, sprinkle on large quantities of every spice you can find. Garlic powder, hot sauce, cumin, salt, and pepper are all winners. I like lots of celery seeds and carraway seeds, for crunchiness if nothing else. Get big containers of spices at Costco. Three pounds each should be about right.

7. Stir on medium heat until it looks done or you lose interest, whichever comes first.

8. Serve on disposable plastic plates so you don't have to wash anything afterwards. Safeway has some with crennelated edges so you can press on a second one to make a lid for the refrigerator and then the microwave. Plastic forks may be pushing the envelope but what the hell, who cares?

9. Season liberally with the most expensive balsamic vinegar you can find.

Other Diet Tips

When seized by the munchies, a glass of seltzer or skim milk is good. A glass of red wine is better. A glass of Trader Joe's scotch is better still.

Sound Advice

From a Nikon camera user manual :

"!! When using the Viewfinder -
When operating the viewfinder adjustment with your eye to the viewfinder, care should be taken not to put your finger in your eye accidentally."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Sodden Thought

It has seemed all along that a viable exit strategy in Iraq could not be found that would not leave the Shi'ites in full control of the country. Such an end result, I had assumed, would leave Iraq as an Iranian satellite. Given the endless fanatical hatred of the Islamic Republic for the Great Satan and the Little Satan (the US and Israel) this seemed like a bad idea.

But that may have been because I was not thinking broadly enough, outside the box as it were.

Consider the following scenario - The US announces a timetable for withdrawal (of the troops, not the airpower) - which makes the war effectively over politically as an issue in the US. The Shi'ite militias are incorporated into the government army and heavily armed with US money and assistance. The Shi'ites now outnumber and outgun the Sunnis. The Americans, as already appears, shift both political and military responsibility for the war to the Shi'ite government. As the Americans and British withdraw, the growing scale of the massacres cease to draw any more attention than even larger massacres in Africa do. The civil war grows in intensity even as Western press and public interest in it wane. After vast amounts of bloodshed, the Shi'ites win.

That outcome has been foreseen and dreaded for several years. American policy has pursued the will o' the wisp of a stable balanced Iraq ruled by a constitutional coalition.

It now appears possible that the US might be willing to foster rather than oppose that outcome if Iran could be neutralized. Would Iran be willing to make important concessions to the US and the UN in return for a recognized satellite status of a Shi'ite Iraq? Would Iran shelve its nuclear program and agree to stop funding terrorism in return for suzerainty over Iraq?

If that were true, Syrian control of Lebanon would likely be part of the package. The recent assassination of Pierre Gemayel, the leader of the Maronite Christians in Lebanon might be an early step in the resumption of Syrian control there.

A US-UK rapprochement with Iran and Syria might not be public. It would appear largely as an omission of inflammatory condemnations and threats from Teheran, a phased withdrawal of US-UK troops, the growth of Syrian influence in Lebanon and nothing serious being done about the murders of Pierre Gemayel and Rafik Hariri.

Would such a result benefit or harm Israel? To ask is to answer. Israel's interest is in stopping the Iranian nuclear program. Who governs Iraq is of scant interest so long as no more SCUD's are being launched from there.

The benefit to the US and UK would be that our soldiers would come home and out of harm's way. We might be safer from terrorist attacks. The benefit to the GOP and Labour governments would be that Iraq would not be an issue in 2008 and the next British elections.

Can Iran be trusted to honor its commitments under such a bargain? Presumably there would be ways to make trouble for them if they didn't. Ironically, one of our options might be covert assistance to the Iraqi Sunnis. That is what intelligence services are for. Also with the Army and Marines no longer tied down in Iraq, our military options against Iran, and even more so against Syria, would be greater.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Quiet Charm

of Senator Clinton
It is good to know who your friends are and the party just showed Leiberman that very thing. Their interest in welcoming him back to the fold comes more from the fact that he is the swing vote in the Senate than from any capacity for embarrassment. Without him they lose 50-50 and Cheney breaks the tie on every straight partisan issue. The party has a lot of fence mending and ass-kissing to do with Leiberman. The senator from New York was the very worst. She and Bill had Leiberman as a professor at Yale, became close friends, worked on his early campaigns together. After Lamont won the primary and Leiberman announced as an independent, Clinton showed her attractive personality by making campaign appearances for Lamont. She has the morals of a mafioso ordering a hit on a friend. As Meyer Lansky once said of the murder of an associate, "It was just business". We need better.

The Election, Again

One more, then I'll shut up
I keep hearing about how the Republicans lost or the Democrats won. But I think there is a limit to the effectiveness of campaigns and campaigning. Just as some drugs lose effectiveness with repeated use, so some campaign themes wear out with use. There are some changes in mood and perception that no amount of money and lies can fix. It may be that the parties are ships on changing currents. They set sails and change course as best they can, but when the current is strong it isn't up to them. It is not a completely empty phrase to say 'the people have spoken'.

Health Report

An Open Invitation to My 90th
Blood count, kidney and liver function, blood sugar, all normal. Cholesterol was 118, less than 200 recommended. Triglycerides (what the hell are they?) were 50, less than 200 recommended. HDL good cholesterol was 48, more than 45 recommended, and LDL bad cholesterol was 60, less than 130 recommended.

I highly recommend a life of diet and exercise. For everyone else there is Lipitor. It works splendidly for me. Truly better living through chemistry.

So I have started planning my 90th birthday celebration. I will probably be a drooling vegetable but my heart, liver, and kidneys will still be working.

Longevity, if I should be so lucky, would be a mixed blessing. I am an absurd old tory now. How much a dinosaur lingering into the cenezoic will I be in 2036?

The Prequel to Hamlet

is finished
if only in first draft. I have been struggling with this thing for more than twenty years and have been writing it on and off for thirteen months. I sequestered myself like a chipmonk in a deserted campground in the Sierra at Lassen National Park for a week and got 'er done. Promisingly, I got as much or more done in coffee shops in Shingletown, Susanville, and Chico as in the campground. I was in Starbucks when I wrote "FINIS" across the page at long, long, long last.

The Election

and the difficulty of being a maverick
It is so hard to be individual in a nation of 300 million individualists. Apparently lots of other people were not amused by Foley and Abramoff and wanted their Republican congressmen to look into other lines of work. It can easily be argued that the country did not move left so much as it rejected the GOP.

Indeed in Connecticut, in the one election where the boxes were labeled 'left' and 'not left', Joe Leiberman won handily.

I admit I did not grasp of the significance of the Abramoff scandal. I was not impressed with the revelations that they were crooks because it had never occurred to me that they weren't. That is a limitation caused by age. I remember my father explaining to me that in Chicago a crooked politician was one who would not stay bought.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Public Apology

to the GOP House Leadership
I have accused them, mistakenly it now appears, of covering up the Foley Affair since this spring. Subsequent statements released by their offices to avoid it coming out under subpoena, contain admissions that they have known about it since 2005 and in Hastert's case since "before 2004". Which means that Speaker of the House Hastert knew Foley was an active pedophile and let him run as a Republican candidate in the 2004 elections.

I hate the idea of the Foley Affair redounding to the benefit of the Democrats who are as cynical and soulless as their colleagues across the aisle. But since Hastert has already announced he will step down neither from the Speakership nor his seat in Congress, the only way to get him out is to get the Republicans out. These kiddie-f__kers have to go.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Smoking Gun

Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the majority leader, said in a radio interview on Tuesday that he discussed Mr. Foley’s communication with a page with Mr. Hastert last spring, joining Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York in insisting they had raised the matter directly with Mr. Hastert. Mr. Hastert has said he had no recollection of the Foley matter before it exploded last week.

Mr. Boehner, who said earlier that he was not sure he had discussed Mr. Foley with the speaker, said resolving the matter was Mr. Hastert’s responsibility.

“I believe I told the speaker and he told me it has been taken care of,” Mr. Boehner told a Cincinnati radio station. “In my position, it is in his corner, it is his responsibility.”

To coin a phrase, "What did the House Republican leadership know and when did they know it?" The answers are everything and last spring. Time to clean House.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Why We Love


from the Times --

PARIS, Sept. 29 — A French high school philosophy teacher and author who carried out a scathing attack against the Prophet Muhammad and Islam in a newspaper commentary says he has gone into hiding under police protection after receiving a series of death threats, including one disseminated on an online radical Islamist forum.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Friday called the threats “unacceptable,” adding: “We are in a democracy. Everyone has the right to express his views freely, while respecting others, of course.

from --
n : small carnivorous mammal with short legs and elongated
body and neck

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Scenic Route

La Scene a Croute
Walked 11,200 steps yesterday according to my Step-O-Meter, about seven miles. Got myself fairly tired. Traversed El Cerrito, Albany, and Berkeley. Reached Afikomen, our Jewish bookstore. Got an interlinear Art Scroll siddur. Said "Modeh ani" (I give thanks) this morning for the first time ever. Kinda nice.

This is me

being pithy
Politics is the modern religion. It is something for people to fight about when the outcome can make no difference.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

An Odd Joke

About Women
A man who wants to leap on a woman and do all manner of indecencies on her person is a cad and a masher, a lowlife, someone regularly stopped by the police. However if the same man wants to perpetrate the same indignities and outrages on the same woman over and over again, year after year, then she introduces him to her parents.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


is broadening
I used to despise the Democrats and the Republicans. Now that I have lived in France for a year I have contempt for the Gaullists too.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

On the Disappearance

of the American Left
There is a widespread fear that the Left in America has disappeared. For my part I have not met a left-identified person in decades who could use "wages", "labor", or "union" in a sentence. Oddly, once the left stopped representing the largest social group in American society, they "disappeared". Go figure.

I do not consider it a coincidence that the fraction of national income paid as wages and salaries has declined every one of the last twenty six years, and that no contemporary activist could conduct a fifteen minute conversation with a working person on any meaningful subject. Curiously, people working for crappy wages who can barely house their children and who have no medical insurance do not consider whether gays can marry to be the foremost issue before the nation.

Fewer than eight percent of American workers belong to a union, and half of those few are in sweetheart unions. Yet unionization appears exactly nowhere on the agenda of the left. How surprising is it that the majority of the American people are correspondingly indifferent to the claims and protestations of the left? I confess that I share the general disdain.

Overseas, the left's antipathy to Israel is an open repudiation of the principles and values of both the French and Russian Revolutions. It is also a betrayal of the Jews, victims of fascism then, and victims of fascism now.

The left's drift into support for religious fundamentalism abroad while despising it at home is staggeringly irrational. No rationale for this postion appears except an automatic sympathy for whatever a conservative government dislikes. They are in effect letting Bush do their thinking for them.

Standing for no one at home and nothing abroad, how can the left not disappear?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What I Learned on TV Today

Katrina Coming to Town Near You
90% of people killed by hurricanes die by drowning. Main cause of death is storm surge, immense sea waves driven against the coast. Hurricanes rotate counter-clockwise in Northern Hemisphere. A hurricane making landfall headed north onto Gulf Coast is worst on its eastern side where 150 mph winds drive the surge onto the coast. On the western side the winds are coming from land to sea, diminishing storm surge. Katrina was headed for landfall twenty miles west of New Orleans. Hours before hitting the coast it veered right and came ashore twenty miles east of the city instead. The storm surges on the east side of the storm, along the Mississippi coast, were more than twenty feet of water. Had the storm not veered, those storm surges would have been in New Orleans. 1,836 people died in the storm. Had there been twenty feet more water than there was, everyone remaining in New Orleans would have drowned, 120 thousand people. It was that close.

Bad News

Fight Club
Second viewing amid clouds of scotch tells us that living space furnished from Ikea symptomatic of anomie and psychosis. Quick survey of my living space not promising.

The Boeing Plant

In Washington
It occurred to me while driving by the Boeing plant in Washington how bizarre all that is. These people actually build a whole airliner out of parts and expect it to fly. That strikes me as just insane hubris.

A Long Ago Recollection of

Even Longer Ago

I once did a bit of inadvertent archaeology in the old country, in Galil Elyon (Upper Galilee) when I lived on a kibbutz in 1977. Two Druzes were sent to dig a grave and I was assigned to poke through the dirt they dug up. The graveyard was near where there had been an 18th century Turkish mill. Earthenware pots had been used to carry grain and meal to and from the mill. In the course of the years many of the pots broke, and were tossed aside. Shards of those pots were what I found when the two men dug the grave. It was nothing to bother the Israel Antiquities Department about, but it was fun.

I never found among those dozens of potsherds even two pieces that fit together. The ancient pots and vases one sees aplenty in museums is each the product of a huge amount of work to put it back together and then to restore whatever could not be found. Almost certainly more work is spent restoring these things than was involved in making them. And we just brush past them with glazed eyes because there is just too much for us to see and still leave in time to beat the traffic.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Joys of Racism

Racial Inferiority is the Key to a Good Life
Curiously mythmakers generally credit those they despise with the qualities they would most like to have. It would be nice to be so good with money one could get it as a matter of course. It would be nice to be especially large in the sack. I would like to be childishly simple and happy all the time. Rich, hung, and happy is definitely the way to be.

The Vagina Monologues

Eve Ensler is a cunt.
Or so she claims in her famous one woman show, which I recently saw on DVD. I wonder how likely it is that she will succeed in restoring the word, shorn of its pejorative tone, to common, even polite, English. Her theory is that by adopting it as their own, women can make it a warm fuzzy thing again.

However celebrated Lenny Bruce's attempts to defang "nigger" were, it remains the unspeakable "n-word" forty years later. I suppose that Ensler's similar efforts with "cunt" will be similarly fruitless.

Whatever the social consequences, the linguistic ones are worse for Ensler's likely failure than Bruce's actual one. "Nigger" was never more than a slangily slurred version of "negro", which is no more than Spanish for "black".

"Cunt" is an authentic Anglo-Saxon word which has no synonym in English. Every other word is either a borrowing of a Latin word, or a slang that has become so familiar that it has been forgotten that it is a slang.

Curiously there seems to be no Anglo-Saxon male equivalent. Penis, like vagina, is a borrowed Latin word. "Dick", "prick", "cock", "Johnson", and so on, are all slangs.

The notion that English has no word for man's most treasured possession is endlessly amusing.

Ensler only tangentially addresses the subject of sexual repression in the youths of women now no longer young. This is a promising and interesting subject. But Ensler isn't interested. She is focussed on vaginas, not on the women who have them. Absent the women, it is just a discourse on an organ. Without the women and their sex lives and sexual feelings, the subject is of no greater interest than the "Pancreas Monologues" or the "Liver Monologues" would be.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Is Sharapova an American?

who just won the US Open Women's Singles Tennis championship, came to the United States at the age of nine and grew up in Bradenton, Florida. She speaks unaccented English. She owns houses in Florida and California.

But she maintains Russian citizenship and plays for the Russian Davis Cup team against, among others, the US Davis Cup team. She says she is a Russian.

So is she an American because she has been here a lot, or is she not because she has a fundamental identification and commitment to Russia, not to America?

Does immigration status make one an American? Or is it a commitment to, and identification with, the United States that does it?

It is a slight question for purposes of tennis players. It is a larger question for purposes of a still-growing Muslim population. Are people who despise the United States really Americans? Are they entitled to any consideration beyond the bare letter of the law?

According to an article in the NY Times today, more are coming now than before 9-11. Why are we still admitting them as immigrants?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


I visited Seattle over the weekend and the only thing I could remember about the place was a line from "Frasier" in which Niles opines, "You would think that a city this size would have more than just two boites."

It was disturbing that the futuristic Space Needle now looks dated. That there should be an enormous megalopolis on the west coast of which we are but dimly aware is a sad reflection on our California self-absorption. We are somewhat exonerated by Seattle's unconsciousness of Vancouver.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


When is the last time the Party of the Self-Made Man actually nominated one?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Misspent Youth

Crime in the North
I had a deep experience - I thought - in Sheepshead Bay, an arm of Prince William Sound in Alaska. Right after college I was working for a guy named 'Shorty' doing long line halibut fishing. Three of us were in a 16 foot skiff drifting down the current, laying a half-mile long set, a rope with baited hooks every six feet. One of the other two guys said he saw orca dorsals across the inlet, a quarter mile away. Since the part of Sheepshead we were working was Orca Inlet and the guy saying it was nicknamed Juice Bruce, I assumed it was just his imagination romanticizing the moment and the place. He insisted, and after a while I saw them too. It was certainly fun to have seen orca in the wild and I was happy to know I would have the memory. Then one of them diverged from the pack to our side of the inlet. This was pretty exciting because his (her) dorsal became more than a black dot in the distance and took a definite shape. He got closer and closer and it became more exciting and more fun. Then he sounded directly behind us about thirty feet away. I saw the white of his underbelly. He was going directly under us. I had heard sourdough stories of orca knocking over small boats with their heads, but hadn't believed them. It suddenly became too exciting and no fun at all. I would have wet myself if I had thought of it. The only thing we had in the boat to defend ourselves with was a .22-short pistol. A long minute later he sounded about twelve feet in front of us, less than the length of the boat or the whale. Later, I assumed that he had just been curious and was checking us out. I realized then that in between Hashem and man there is another kind of being, whom I called a godling, who is beyond our morality and who decides on whim whether we live or die. Perhaps the whale was what Neitzsche meant by an ubermensch, a superman.

Twenty-five years later I was in a cafe in Chile and I met an Alaskan who was, among other things, an experienced fisherman who had also worked Prince William Sound. I told him that story and he explained that it happens all the time. It had not been a chance encounter - the whale was stealing the bait off our set. I was undone to suddenly have this new and obviously correct explanation of what had been an important experience in my life. What I had thought was an epiphany was just a mugging. Which is a lot of what youth is about, attributing deep meanings to ordinary events.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More Ranting

This time about world opinion
The most consistent theme on the moderate left has been the "ignoring world opinion" one. Historically, and thus with the aid of hindsight, we know that world opinion has consistently been wrong in its judgments and catastrophically wrong in its morals. From the Munich Agreement of 1938, the pro-Soviet anti-nuclear tone of the postwar era, the "Zionism is Racism" UN resolution of 1975, and on and on, world opinion has been consistently both wrong and immoral. More recently, in the ruckus about the Danish cartoons, world opinion was that the problem was the cartoons rather than the Muslim reaction to them.

Contained within the objection to ignoring world opinion is the implication that world opinion is reasonable and responsible in its judgments, and that it is fair-minded and disinterested. Historically it has been none of those. World opinion is generally neither thoughtful nor mature, and it is generally far more narrowly selfish than American policy. Aside from the Wilsonian tradition in our foreign policy, there is also the sheer breadth and variety of American interests. The US has an interest in peace and stability everywhere because it has interests everywhere. The United States has no hereditary enemies and no inferiority complexes. France and other such countries regularly vote for the vilest and most irrational UN resolutions because they know that the US will ignore world opinion and veto. Being the universal world power we are responsible for lots of what happens and must act responsibly. The French and everybody else in the world have no such obligation - and act accordingly.

Everywhere there is the assumption that we ought to listen at least to the Europeans. Consider what happened in the remnants of Yugoslavia in the 1990's. In Europe itself, on their own soil, the last Soviet-style dictatorship was waging a genocidal war in Bosnia. And again in Kossovo. In both cases, Europe was unable to intervene, not because they didn't have the military force - they had plenty compared to the forces deployed in Bosnia and Kossovo - but because they could not agree on a policy that would be politically acceptable at home. Tens of thousands died while the foreign ministries and public opinions of Europe dithered. Finally the United States, a country three thousand miles away across the ocean, with European acquiescence and relief, intervened diplomatically and militarily to end those conflicts because the Europeans could not form a policy.

The equivalent situation would be if Quebec separatism degenerated into a genocidal war and the US was too petty, selfish and incompetent to be able to decide what to do. If Europeans were forced to send troops to the US border because we could not make up our minds, how seriously should our opinions and policies be taken afterwards? That is what actually happened in the 1990's in Europe. Yet they (and American liberals) get indignant if we do not take them as seriously as Europeans believe they merit.

A foreign policy of institutionalized amnesia is no foreign policy at all. And that is what liberal deference to world opinion amounts to.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Middle East

Roots of the Conflict

Hussein Massawi, a former Hezbollah leader:
"We are not
fighting so that you will offer us something, We are fighting to eliminate you."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

How I Got This Way

Growing Up in Santa Rosa

I think part of the impulse for urban middle class young Jews to assimilate comes from the attractiveness of WASP's. They are nice-looking, dress well, speak unaccented English, go to good schools, have good taste, money, and most of all, they are generally somewhat reserved and have good manners. The schtetl manners, culture, and religion of the Jews seemed dowdy and foolish by comparison. We see that envy and longing even among the WASP's themselves. What else is F. Scott Fitzgerald all about in "Great Gatsby" and "Tender is the Night" if not the dazzle of the upper class?

But I grew up on a chicken farm outside Santa Rosa. The relevant author there was Steinbeck and "Grapes of Wrath". The Okies and Arkies of the Dust Bowl emigration didn't vanish when the novel and the Depression ended. They and their children were still living in, among other places, Santa Rosa in the 1950's. It was they I grew up among. The WASP's were ignorant bigoted peasants, unpleasant and generally not too bright. It was unexceptional for our neighbors to get in fights, do poorly in school, to speak with a barely-literate twang, enlist in the army after high school or get pregnant and drop out, aspire to become car mechanics.

The Jewish chicken farmers were communists or other kinds of socialists, well-read, mostly European intellectuals or at least with intellectual pretensions. Their children, my generation, were expected to go to good universities and generally did. As the chicken business collapsed at the end of the Korean War all were equally poor, so it was a true difference of social class, not of economic class.

I had never thought of it before but ut was then that I internalized the notion that what was Jewish was generally better than what was not. While no one was particularly religious, we were all definitely conscious of being Jewish.

When I grew up and become conscious of WASP's, I thought of them as the East Coast Elite, as exotic as Zulus, not as objects of emulation.

These were also the years in which Israel was founded. For a few capital C Communists, Zionism was just more nationalism. But for most in Santa Rosa the creation of Israel was a continuation of the fight against, and victory over, fascism. After the war, as socialism became less important, Zionism became more important.

And that explains the odd contradiction I have lived with and often noticed but never thought through until now. I am conscious of being a Jew, I am devoted to Israel, but am only perfunctorily observant. I had not until now understood why that was. I am a pure product of my upbringing.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Consequences of the Peace

It is very hard to know much because the news reports are mainly conjecture, rumor, and opinion. Facts are few. The one important fact that I think ended the war was the impending American delivery of M-26 cluster bomb barrage rockets and bunker-buster bombs to Israel (New York Times a few days ago). Had Israel had those at the beginning of the war, each Hezbollah Katyusha rocket crew would have died within minutes of launching their rockets and their launchers and rockets would have been destroyed as well. But Lebanese civilian casualties would have been in the thousands or even tens of thousands, which I suppose is why the US delayed delivering them.

I think the timing of events confirms that theory. Nasrallah was defiant and willing to fight forever. Then the impending transfer of M-26's and bunker-buster's was announced and Hezbollah immediately agreed to a ceasefire. I have not seen a followup to the story about the M-26's so one does not know whether they have actually been delivered or are being delivered or what. I think it is like one of those movie scenes where the heavy pulls back his jacket just enough for you see the pistol. The threat was enough.

The significance of the ceasefire cannot be known without knowing what the actual outcome of the battle was. There are no credible reports of the casualties and damages suffered by Hezbollah. The reports were always the same, "fierce fighting" but no indication of the outcome. The only indication of the degree of damage is that they were able to maintain a rocket barrage against northern Israel in spite of the bombing and artillery bombardment, and that Israel felt obliged to send in the infantry. Both facts suggest that the damage to Hezbollah was not fatal.

As to how the world is going to deal with Islamofascism in the future, I think we just saw. We are going to have to kill enough of them to get deterrence. We are going to have to choose between inflicting large civilian casualties and defeat. The war with Iran will be like the war with the Soviet Union - fought through proxies.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Why France?

Hidden in Plain View
The US and France reached agreement today on a proposal to put before the UN to end the war between Israel and Hezbollah. The United States represented Israel in the negotiation because the US supports Israel as a friend and ally. What does that say about France and Hezbollah?

News to Me

Antimissile weapon exists
"There is no military solution to the conflict." How often have we heard that and almost believed it? It sounds good but it isn't so. Many, perhaps most, major conflicts have had military solutions. Nazism was defeated, not negotiated out of existence. Slavery was abolished by Union battlefield victory. Islamofascist insurgencies in Morocco and Algeria have been destroyed by force and no longer threaten those countries. The Taliban was overthrown by force.

The destruction of Hezbollah's cache of rockets and their launch crews and their subsequent unwillingness to fire more rockets would be a military solution.

The weapon which will do that exists. It is the M-26 artillery rocket. Its warhead is a cluster bomb which divides into many bomblets over its target. The M-26 rockets are fired in barrages of dozens at once. It does not prevent the launching of rockets by the enemy. Instead it kills everybody within a substantial radius around the launch site and prevents them firing a second rocket ever again.

These M-26 rockets are scheduled to be shipped to Israel and should end the rocket bombardment of Israel and end the war.

To absolutely no one's surprise, the perennially pro-Arab State Department is doing everything it can to thwart the shipment. The reason they give for their opposition is that the Arabs won't like it. But they're not supposed to like it. Isn't that the point of the weapon? For them not to like it? Not like it so much that they end their bombardment of Israel, or are unable to continue?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Haifa and

It is deeply ironic that the city that has suffered the most from the Hezbollah rocket bombardment and suffered the most casualties should be Haifa. Haifa, historically known as "Red Haifa", has been the stronghold of left Labour and Meretz and the Communist Parties (Israel has two). Their position for decades has blamed Israel for Arab aggression on the undying "If we're nice to them they'll like us" theory. There is a saying that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. One can hope that even Haifa leftists are capable of a similar learning process, but I doubt it.

In what sounded like a bizarre echo of 1948, Sheik Nasrallah whose speech was on C-Span, called on the Arabs of Haifa to leave the city because Hezbollah was going to destroy it.

As much as it is commonplace to say that there is no military solution to this problem, there clearly is. When the US arms industry creates an effective defense against small short range missiles this will stop happening. The US Navy already has a system in place that protects our ships from missiles. The publicly acknowledged system is called Phalanx, which creates a curtain of shrapnel which destroys incoming missiles in flight. It is beyond question that there are additional systems the existence and nature of which are secret.

Without such systems large warships would be obsolete. The destruction of HMS Sheffield by a single French-made missile during the Falklands War illustrated this clearly. The existence of the US and British navies is proof that missiles can be defended against. The development and deployment of such systems will go a long way toward stabilizing the Israel-Arabs situation by imposing involuntary disarmament on Hezbollah.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The French

Soothing Hard Feelings
In the interests of Franco-American amity let me correct a widespread misunderstanding.

The French are not frogs. They EAT frogs. And snails.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Proposal

to Put European Troops in south Lebanon
For a generation the Europeans have been accusing Israel of using force and occupation instead of negotiating with the Arabs, who are after all reasonable people acting from a justified sense of grievance. Certainly once the European soldiers were nice to the Arabs, the Arabs would like them. I had hoped that the Europeans would believe their own lies enough to do it.

Alas, I underestimated the hypocrisy of the Europeans. They know, and have known all along, that the Arabs are xenophobic irrational primitives whom nothing will mollify. Their insistence that Israel treat the Arabs as reasonable people with a legitmate grievance was purely cynical. They knew better all along and supported the Arabs anyway.

In any case, Israel has embarrassed them by calling their bluff. It is of dubious value since recognizing their own hypocrisy is not something the Europeans are good at. It would have been great for their troops to have been getting killed one and two at a time and the left and the press in their own countries finding ways to blame the victims for the Arab violence. I would especially like to see Belgian, French, and Scandinavian troops there and some Slavs and Muslim troops to commit the occasional rape and treachery.

Best of all, it was a European proposal in the first place.

Monday, July 24, 2006

What is Over-Reacting?

Over-reacting is what
you say when your side is completely in the wrong. Over-reacting is what you say when you have nothing to say.

The Fighting with the Muslims

is Israel's fault
The fighting with the Muslims in Russia is Russia's fault.
The fighting with the Muslims in India is India's fault.
The fighting with the Muslims the Philippines is the Philippines' fault.
The fighting with the Muslims in Darfur is Darfur's fault.
The fighting with the Muslims in East Timor is East Timor's fault.
The fighting with the Muslims in Bali is Australia's fault.
The fighting with the Muslims in Ethiopia is Ethiopia's fault.
The fighting with the Muslims in Lebanon is the Maronite Lebanese' fault.
The fighting with the Muslims in New York and Washington is America's fault.
The fighting with the Muslims in England is the London subway riders' fault.
The fighting with the Muslims in Spain is the Madrid subway riders' fault.
The fighting with the Muslims outside Paris is the French car owners' fault.

Or not.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

What This Is All About

Why Hezbollah Attacked
In an interesting interview, the author of "The Shi'a Revival" mentioned in passing why Hezbollah were so foolhardy as to enter Israel and kill some Israeli soldiers and kidnap others. Background it seems, is everything.

Hezbollah had become heroes among the Arabs by raising the cost of Israeli occupation of the six mile wide south Lebanon buffer zone on their border to where the security gained by it was outweighed by the cost in lives of maintaining it. When Israel withdrew, Hezbollah's prestige in Lebanon soared.

Then came the assassination of the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, by Syrian intelligence forces. All Lebanon rose up and demanded the Syrian occupation of Lebanon end. The world community joined the Lebanese in pressuring Syria to withdraw, and they did.

But in the course of that political confrontation, Hezbollah publicly sided with Syria. Syria supplied their arms and money and channeled money and arms from Iran. Everyone in Lebanon rightfully saw Hezbollah as selling out the national interest in favor of their own.

The attack on Israel came as an attempt to regain the prestige they had lost by betraying their country. The destruction Hezbollah has brought upon Lebanon by their foolhardiness continues to unfold. One can hope that in addition to the physical destruction wrought upon Hezbollah by Israel will be their political destruction at the hands of the people of Lebanon.

The Gaza Evacuation

One year ago
7 August 2005
I think one should consider the purposes of the government in evacuating Gaza. This was done not by Shimon Peres but by Ariel Sharon. Peres and his ilk live in a fantasy world where, in spite of a hundred years of proof to the contrary, "If we're nice to them they'll like us". I don't think Ariel Sharon thinks that. Sharon is a general who became a politician, not the other way around.

I am hopeful that the reasons for Gaza evacuation are military and strategic. It was a constant drain on the IDF to have to fight in Gaza literally every day to defend a small number against literally millions of Arabs against whom reprisals were difficult and dangerous. Gaza was a vulnerable spot, a sore toe that could be stepped on at will by the Arabs. It created a situation in which locally the Arabs had the upper hand and were able to exploit it continuously. Without Gaza, when the system of security fences is finished the IDF should be able to defend the country in "peace" time with fewer soldiers and resources. Israel will have a smaller vulnerability to terrorist attack and, seen from the Arab side, fewer opportunities for their "operations".

I don't know if it will work, but I think that is the reasoning.

The Oslo fiasco was based on the premise that sufficient concessions would reconcile the Arabs to Israel's existence. That was pure Shimon Peres and "If we're nice to them they'll like us". It was a policy of engaging the Arabs in dialogue and negotiation. We all know how well that worked. I think Sharon knows it too.

That is why this policy is unilateral. I think Sharon's policy of "disengagement" is to create a strong defensive posture that can be defended with fewer soldiers and fewer casualties. It is not dependent on Arab acquiescence. (Which is what the Arabs are currently complaining about - that Israel did not arrange or negotiate the Gaza evacuation with them.) "Disengagement" contains the recognition that any policy that is in any way dependent on Arab cooperation, even if it primarily benefits the Arabs, as Oslo did, is a guaranteed failure.

I hope, though I have no way to know, that "disengagement" is an evolution of Yitzhaak Shamir's policy "For peace, you get peace." i.e. and nothing more. Shamir's premise was that the stronger party had no need to make concessions to the weaker party. The Arab response was and is, "You may be stronger but we will make you bleed." That was the significance of Arafat's remark, "The weakness of Israel is that Israelis love life but Palestinians love death." While the Arabs have access to Israelis, time and persistence are on their side because Israel has to spend
blood and resources and morale just to maintain the status quo.

Disengagement means that Arabs looking to harm Israel will no longer see the flesh and blood of young men and women of the IDF nor of Gaza settlements directly under their guns and rockets. Instead they will see miles of concrete walls and steel wire and electronic sensors, and almost no Israelis at all. The human and moral resources required to defend against them will become much less. The resources required of the Arabs to maintain the hatred and incitement will remain just as high. Indeed the political cost may go higher without the reinforcement of terrorist attacks and reprisals for them. As the society expending less resources to maintain the status quo, time will then favor Israel.

I do not know if this is Sharon's policy. I hope it is.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

My Grand-niece

The Funeral
A eulogy for Mary Rose Bernstein and her boyfriend Robert Conway was held in the auditorium of Evergreen High School. The auditorium seats about two hundred. Every seat was full and another fifty or so were standing in the aisles, and some in the lobby. There are not that many people in the world who would recognize my name, let alone take the time to attend my funeral. Even at her family's home there were seventy people crammed into a house that would comfortably accomodate twenty standing guests.

Usually eulogy is hyperbole for people who are, like almost everyone, ordinary. Mary Rose seems to have been magnetic and had lots and lots of friends, and gotten the attention of acquaintances in a way that few people do.

She was a junior majoring in molecular biology at UC Santa Cruz.

Mary Rose in her short life was a big success to have touched so many.

World Cup Head Butt

A Conspiracy of Silence
Amid all the amazement and "Why would he do that?" public questioning about the Zidane's attack on an Italian player which arguably cost France the World Cup, the press has ignored the 800 pound gorilla in the room with them. Zinedine Zidane is an Muslim Arab raised in Marseilles. But of course we know that could not be relevant because Arabs are not violent people and Islam is the Religion of Peace.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My Grand-niece

Twenty Years Old

Fiery Crash Kills Two, Injures Eight In San Jose

(CBS 5 / AP / BCN) SAN JOSE Two people were burned to death and eight more were injured in a fiery multi-vehicle wreck when a speeding pickup truck launched off a freeway exit embankment and slammed into a line of stopped cars, triggering a series of explosions, authorities said.

The Ford F-150 became airborne while exiting Interstate 280 about 8:30 p.m. on Monday night, plowing into a Nissan Frontier pickup, a Mazda minivan and a Volkswagen Bug waiting side-by-side at a stoplight at 11th Street in San Jose, said Officer Steve Perea of the California Highway Patrol.

The driver then reportedly lost control of the Ford, veered left up an embankment, and overturned onto its right side.

As the Ford pickup overturned, it hit a traffic signal, Perea said. The series of impacts with the other vehicles ruptured at least one of the vehicles' gas tanks.

The cars crunched together "like an accordion," and the Nissan burst into flames, killing both occupants, a 20-year-old female driver and a 20-year-old male passenger, Perea said. The pair, both San Jose residents, were trapped inside and "tragically...succumbed to the impact and the fire," he said.

The cornor's office had yet to release the victims identities as of Tuesday afternoon.

"The house and windows were shaking," said neighbor Allen Velton, who heard the collision inside his home and witnessed the explosion. "It sounded like a war, a bomb going off. We heard one, two, three explosions."

The Ford F-150 driver, John Mayfield, 51, of Paso Robles, remained hospitalized Tuesday with burns, lacerations and moderate head injuries, Perea said. He was not arrested but investigators were looking into the cause of the crash.

Perea said it was not yet clear why Mayfield lost control of his truck. It's possible he could face charges for two counts of vehicular homicide.

The passengers of the Mazda and the Volkswagon were hospitalized with minor to moderate injuries, Perea said. In all, he said the crash sent eight people to local hospitals.

According to San Jose Fire Department Capt. Jose Tuerrero, two San Jose police officers were among those injured as the fire was being extinguished.

The two officers were taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation and were expected to be released soon, he said.

Though investigators initially had believed that an infant had died in the crash, those reports were found to be inaccurate a short time later, Perea said.

The accident closed the 11th Street off-ramp on Monday night. Road crews on Tuesday were still working to clear away debris remnants from the crash.

(© 2006 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Scenic Route

I don't know about the "It was a splinter group we can't control" dodge. They used it for years under Arafat, until in 1993 they decided briefly to appear to deal, then suddenly they could control the splinter groups. It became clear after a while that the "splinter groups" were being created ad hoc for each terrorist operation to shield the PLO. It was a political ploy to provide a fig leaf for the PLO, now for the PA and Hamas, to continue to receive UN and EU money.

You are however quite right about the Palestinians being unable to even agree to tolerate the existence of Israel, let alone surrender to her. I fear the only solution, until they collectively have a change of heart, is for them to live behind walls away from other people and to be kept away from weapons and sharp objects. The walls are being built and the IDF is currently doing what it can to prevent the use of sharp objects. Gaza is a mental asylum for the pathologically xenophobic and assaultive.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Los Angeles

According to the chart here
the median house price in Los Angeles reached $200,000 at the end of 2003 and is now at $593,000. In two and a half years. Unlike the Zillow estimates for individual houses, the medians are real and exact because they are based on sales. Bubble?


Of Foul Play
The world contains drugs which can do very complicated things like make a good baseball player into the best player of all time, and still remain undetectable. What are the chances that there are drugs that could achieve the much simpler task of making Ken Lay dead and remain undetectable?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Danish Cartoons

And Harper's Monthly
I have just read the article you sent me by Art Spiegelman. Thank you for sending it. I think Spiegelman illustrates the contradictions and follies that liberals seem doomed to fall into in trying to deal with Muslims and the reactions to Muslims. The basic liberal stance always seems to be "Let's not be so patriotically insistent on the rightness of our side. Let's give a sympathetic hearing to the other side. They have a case and a point of view, and we should be making concessions to them. Let's be open-minded and try to see how this problem is also our fault."

In the past this point of view led the liberals into some really atrocious, indeed criminal, follies. Within our time horizon, it was the British left (Liberal still meant and means something else there) which felt that way about the understandable resentment the Germans felt about their defeat in World War One and the onerous terms the Allies had imposed on them at Versailles. So they were more than just sympathetic, they were openly supportive of Hitler and the Nazis. It was not until the beginning of the Spanish Civil War that a split developed within both British and French Lefts. The split came when the Communists in both countries took a clear anti-Fascist position, literally on orders from Moscow. Orwell writes about this in "Homage to Catalonia", which is a wonderful book on a number of levels. Even when the war and the blitz came, the British Left shut up out of prudence, but never recanted. The French Left, having subverted French rearmament, found themselves under German occupation.

Similarly when the Cold War came the American liberals were consistently conciliatory toward Communism and the Soviet Bloc, both at home and abroad. For example it has become a fixed truth that Joe McCarthy was an opportunist oppressor and a wackjob, which may well have been true. But it has never been answered whether he was nevertheless right that there was a coterie of Communists in the State Department. There is both some direct evidence and a lot of indirect evidence that there were.

Liberals sneered at the Truman Doctrine as "imperialism". It became a given that anti-Communism and democracy were opposites. As late as the presidency of Jimmy Carter, liberals were conciliating the Soviet Union in spite of it being a senescent police state. When popular anti-Communist movements sprang up in every Communist country, the Berlin Wall fell, and finally the Soviet Union itself dissolved, largely from public disgust with it and all its works, the liberals prudently shut up but did not recant.

The Muslims are an even harder sell for the left and liberals like Spiegelman. Spiegelman in the Harper's article you sent me is witty and affable and self-deprecating and concedes a bit in order to ingratiate himself and appear reasonable. But his case is clear. It is the Danish editors' fault that the Muslims rioted and boycotted and threatened and denounced and fatwa'ed and generally made fools of themselves in response to the Danish cartoons. After various goings and comings, the thrust of the article is the assignment of a given number of bombs to each of the cartoons. In the end he finds the problem to have been the cartoons, rather than the response to them. He refers sympathetically to the "double bind of the Danish Muslims in first being insulted by the cartoons and then told they didn't understand Western freedom of speech." Poor them.

He also misses no opportunity to characterize everyone less sympathetic to Islam than he is as "right wing" or "national front".

Spiegelman, like all liberal Muslim sympathizers, finds himself stuck with the thinnest of thin arguments. They have to find ways to defend undisguised intolerance and bigotry, oppression of women, gratuitous violence, terrorism, social narcissism, and rejection of secular values including democracy and personal freedom. But, like Spiegelman, they are undeterred. Evasion and smearing opponents may not be much of an argument but they are all Spiegelman's got, so that is what he uses.

Reflections on the Jews in France

The Jews have been both central and instrumental to the polarization of French society. The 20th Century started with the Dreyfus affair. Dreyfus was a Jewish army officer who was falsely accused of espionage for Germany. Even though it was realized that the charge was not only not supported by evidence but untrue, the army went ahead with the court martial rather than face the embarrassment of withdrawing the charge. Dreyfus was sent to Devil's Island in Guiana for life. Like Watergate the case began to unravel and in the end Dreyfus was exonerated. In the course of it the novelist Emile Zola wrote "J'Accuse" which implicated everyone in power up to and including the premier.

It was a crisis for France and a trauma for the Jews. It split France into two factions, the Dreyfusards and the anti-Dreyfusards. The issues between them were by no means limited to Dreyfus. The Dreyfusards stood for liberalism, tolerance, freedoms of speech and press, separation of church and state, and so on. The anti-Dreyfusards were the right, the peasants, the army, the church and the religious, the upper classes. The divisions either created or revealed by the Dreyfus affair persisted for generations. For example, Accion Francaise, the French fascist party, specifically arose from the anti-Dreyfusards.

In 1936 the Popular Front, a collection of leftist parties, won the elections and elected the head of the Socialist Party, Leon Blum, Premier. Under the Third Republic the Premier had far more power than now under the Fifth Republic and was much more like the British Prime Minister. Reactionary anti-Semitic anti-Dreyfusard military officers like Petain were aghast that a Jew should rule France. It is not polite to mention that DeGaulle sat on the same general staff as Petain and his opinions were almost certainly no different. One should not mention that fact to anyone of French nationality under any circumstances, no matter how friendly or well-disposed.

When the Vichy regime was established under Nazi oversight, anti-Dreyfusards like Petain saw it as an opportunity to get even for the slights and indignities they had suffered under Dreyfusard rule, and having had progressive Dreyfusard policies shoved down their throats for a generation. Because of the conglomerate origin of the anti-Dreyfusards, anti-Semitism was a unifying policy for the right. Vichy consistently cooperated with the Nazis in arresting and deporting Jews to German death camps.

The French Jews were the most assimilated in Europe in 1900. They believed that anti-Semitism was a waning relic of the middle ages like feudalism, superstition, religious fanaticism, serfdom, ignorance, and illiteracy. This was not mindless reactionary Tsarist Russia which had only just freed its serfs, but liberal enlightened republican France. If widespread anti-Semitism appeared here, a century after the Revolution of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, then the "waning medieval relic" theory was wrong. If Jews were not safe in France, where could they be safe?

Among the journalists sent to cover the Dreyfus affair was a young Viennese Jew named Theodore Herzl. In reaction to what he saw in France (and also in Vienna) he wrote a book called "Die Judenstaat". It is generally regarded as the founding document of the Zionist movement. Israel was founded not only because the Jews were not safe in Russia and Poland, but also because they were not safe in France.

The shock of Jews being arrested and turned over to the Nazis by French police acting on orders of the French government has never gone away. There is a plaque on every elementary school in Paris commemorating the arrest and deportation of Jewish children by French police acting on behalf of the French state. Those plaques started being put up in 2004, sixty years after the fact. That delay is significant in that it shows not only the resistance of the French to acknowledging what they did, but also to their delaying until no one could be held to account for it. The plaques give a Gallic shrug to accountability.

Under the Fourth Republic, which had a large Dreyfusard influence, relations between France and Israel were excellent. Both countries had suffered under the Nazis and after 1954 both were at war with the Arabs, the French in Algeria, the Jews on all fronts. The famous victory in the Six Day War of 1967 was won with French-built Mirage fighter planes.

Then came DeGaulle and the Fifth Republic. DeGaulle made anti-semitic remarks in public (the infamous "stiff-necked domineering people" remark) and began a rapprochement with both the Arabs and the Soviets. Israel turned to the United States for both support and arms. The Gaullists have continued that policy to this day.

I do not know enough about France to say whether the Dreyfusard - Anti-Dreyfusard dichotomy could be said to still exist as more than a metaphor. But there is certainly no moment of discontinuity when one could say it died. The legacy of DeGaulle in the ruling Gaullist parties certainly suggests that it is not gone.

My impression is that few French Jews live outside big cities, particularly Paris. French Jews are even less observant than American Jews but are somewhat less assimilated. Those who are observant are more observant than their American counterparts. There is substantially no French equivalent of the American Reform and Conservative movements. What little there is consists of American ex-pats and their French spouses. It is my impression that many or even most of the small pret-a-porter distributors on rue Saint Denis and around Place de la Republique and rue du Temple are owned by Jews. None of the big haute couture places in the Seventh seem to be.

I should add that when I was in Paris in 1977 I was told that the overt anti-semitism encountered by French Jews came not from the Arabs but from the French. Whether that is still true I do not know.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Immigrating to

Interesting angle on immigration in the 'Wenatchee World', the subhead of which describes Wenatchee as "the buckle on the Apple Belt". An editorial strongly supported keeping free access to immigrant labor as absolutely necessary to the survival of the apple and cherry industries. A supporting letter to the editor observed that before there was an adequate supply of immigrants the local orchardists had to rely on "hippies and transients" to bring in the crops. The editorial acknowledged that there are indeed machines that will perform much of the work, but thought they were not acceptable because they are more expensive than cheap labor. Would anyone like to speculate whether the slimeballs at the 'Wenatchee World' selling out the national interest in favor of their own parochial interests are Republicans or Republicans?

An interesting sidelight is the fact that the apple-growing Okanogan Valley in Washington is directly continuous with the apple-growing Okanagan (sic - the spelling changes at the border) Valley in British Columbia. Through some economic miracle Canadian apple growers are able to harvest their apples without immigrant labor. Maybe Canada has a larger supply of hippies and transients? Also miraculously, though we are assured daily that it is physically impossible to seal the US- Mexican border against illegal immigrants, Canada has successfully sealed its border against them. Being unwilling to mar their lovely landscape with walls and border patrols, they have used employer sanctions instead. Jobs are not offered to illegals, which keeps them out. Could it be that someone is lying to us about why there are eleven million illegal immigrants in the US and what can and should be done about it? The likely candidates for perpetrators of this big lie are the Republicans and the Republicans.

We don't have to deport anybody. If we have serious employer sanctions that are enforced, there won't be any jobs for illegals and they will go home voluntarily. But this won't happen under the Republicans because their business owner constituents are making money hand over fist off the illegals. It won't happen under the Democrats either because they need the Hispanic vote to carry California, Texas, and by now several other states.


Shouldn't we be spending less effort keeping out guys named Jesus and more keeping out guys named Mohammed?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Chicago Politics

and Cats
My father used to say that in Chicago a dishonest politician was one who wouldn't stay bought. Cats are like that. You can bribe them and pamper them and they still don't give a damn about you.

Stuck Inside Wenatchee

with the Memphis Blues Again
In Wenatchee I saw "Angels in America". Contrary to what I expected from the DVD box, Meryl Streep has only a few (brilliant) cameos, as does Emma Thompson. Al Pacino plays the endlessly loathsome Roy Cohn - or rather he plays the endlessly loathsome Al Pacino.

The rest of the acting is done by a bunch of justifiably unknown actors, with two exceptions. Jeffrey Wright and Mary-Louise Parker justifiably won Golden Globe Awards for best supporting actor and actress in a mini-series.

One thing I liked immediately is that Tony Kushner, who wrote both the screenplay and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play it is based on, calls the people involved "homosexuals". "Gay" is both slang and a euphemism. If, as claimed, there is nothing wrong with it, it doesn't need a euphemism. If there is, a euphemism won't help.

Similarly I have no use for being a "Member of the Tribe",
nor even "Jewish". I am a Jew.

So too, are all too many of Kushner's characters, as it is set in New York. Though the movie opens with an above-the-clouds shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, it pans across the country to a lovely shot of a bronze statue of an angel in Central Park. Which moves slightly.

This is disconcerting. One of the things one hopes for in a movie adapted from a play is reliance on dialogue, acting, and story, and a relative freedom from car chases and special effects. Such hopes are dashed repeatedly in this thing. Floors and ceilings erupt with imaginary visions, ghosts of ancient ancestors wearing whiteface makeup appear in smoke and disappear in flames, and Emma Thompson appears in winged radiance suspended from wires like a summer stock Peter Pan. This movie may not have as much computer graphics as "King Kong" or "Jurassic Park", but it is in the chase.

I suspect what has happened is that as electronics have made special effects cheap enough to produce on legitimate theater stages, playwrighting has come to depend on it, and playwriting has begun to decline correspondingly. One thinks of the special effects in "Amadeus" and "Phantom of the Opera". O tempore, o mores.

Clearly Kushner had such things available and used them when "Angels in America" was a stageplay, and director also Mike Nichols also showed no restraint in using them. And not without reason. I kept wondering when this thing would end, as it began to descend into soap opera. It ran 5 minutes short of 3 hours. When I put the disk back in the box, I discovered that what I had seen was Part One. Of Two. According to IMD, the Internet Movie Database, there is another 3 hours of snooze to go with what I already saw.

Maybe it would have been more engaging if I had seen it in several episodes conveniently punctuated by commercials during which to pee or snack. But now that it is no longer being broadcast, DVD presentation as a movie is all that is available.

IMD's blurb says the play and movie are a political tract about the AIDS epidemic, as seen from the 1980's. I didn't see that it was. Various characters get sick, they go to hospitals and get sensitive, competent medical treatment. Unless there is some objection to the medical care or the amount of pharmaceutical research, and there wasn't, I don't see the political content. That theme may have been developed in the second, iron-pants, Part Two that I mercifully did not see.

I wondered about the characterization of homosexuals as angels. If it was intended as an upgrade from fairies, who are also supernatural winged persons, then it is witty and appropriate. If it is intended as an idealization then it is merely the latest in a long series of reversals of group bigotries. African-Americans went from Stepin Fetchit and Amos 'n' Andy to sexless, pious Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. Women became nurturing overworked saintly victims. Any even vaguely brown-skinned person who could by any stretch be called a villager became incapable of self-interest, prejudice, or ignorance. All of these are the same bigotries as before, transformed from hostility to condescension.

Homosexuals, like heterosexuals, are people who act on their sexual impulses. So are adulterers and people who open their raincoats to old ladies. There is nothing special about it, and nobody's impulses are any nobler than anyone else's. One is not made an angel by one's choice of orifice.

Wimping Out - Again

Stuck in Wenathcee
I had been stuck in Ellensburg more or less flat on my back for a week with an excruciatingly painful disk or nerve pinch or whatever physically happens when my back "goes out". Then I had recovered enough to travel and left Ellensburg. Ellensburg is Chico, but in a different state.

Alas, the ride to the next town proved much more demanding than it looked like it would be on the map - straight roads through farm country are not necessarily level as I had assumed. Though not as dramatic as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, the gorge of the Columbia has a half-mile-wide steep sided picturesque inner canyon, but it also has an all-but-invisible-to-motorists outer canyon which is a fun, quick six miles down followed by six slow strenuous continuous miles back up to the plateau. And then one crosses the endless up and down of the Frenchman Hills. I arrived in George, Washington (much to no one's surprise, a major local crop is corn) at evening, barely hanging on.

There I learned I had been misinformed and there is no motel at George, not even a campground. Though beat, I was obliged to ride 10 miles to the next town, Quincy. When I got there it was after dark, almost 10, and I was exhausted, more so than I have been on this trip. Having been all but motionless the previous seven days was not an advantage.

I began to get painful cramps in my back, feet, and hands, but passed out on the bed before I got to savor them.

The next day was to have been a shorter easier one, but I began cramping even before I got to Wenatchee. In the motel room they spread all over my back and were accompanied by all but unendurable spasms in my legs. Not good.

With alte kocker-hood staring me in the face, I decided that I had over-taxed myself after the near atrophy of Ellensburg and that I would rest a few days and continue. Which is what I am doing.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Major Change

In Plain Sight
but seemingly invisible to all, has happened in our understanding of Iraq. It has been a staple of the opposition to the war to argue that there was no connection between the secular Ba'athist regime of Saddam Hussein and the religious jihadis of Al Qaeda who perpetrated 9-11. The death of Al-Zarqawi proves otherwise. He is described as "a prince of Al Qaeda" and a lieutenant of bin Laden. No one seems to dispute that he was the leader of those fighting against the US and the Iraqi government.

No responsible person questions the legitimacy of the American campaign to destroy Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda either directly or indirectly have been responsible for 9-11, for the bombings of the Madrid subway, of the London tube, of the Bali nightclub, of the USS Cole, and for many other atrocities, entailing literally thousands of murders. The overthrow of their Taliban hosts in Afghanistan has not been questioned.

The argument that there was no connection or complicity between Al Qaeda and the Ba'ath regimes was not based on intelligence, only on assumptions. It is as though one were to insist that secular republican Italy could not have common purposes with the religious monarchical Vatican. Now we see, among the few facts that can ever reach the light of day in a war of covert organizations, that Al Qaeda leads the coalition of the remnants of the Ba'ath and the Sunni sectarians.

There is a significant silence on this subject coming from the opponents of the war. Perhaps because, without it, their argument that the war is unjustified crumbles.

The question becomes, "What should a president - any president - do whose country has been attacked at home? Should he wait for a second and a third and a fourth blow? Or should he use the armed forces to destroy the attackers before they can strike again?"

The recent arrests in Canada make clear that these are not idle questions.

Here I Am Again

From Ellensburg
When I stopped at Chico on the bicycle ride up here, Harvey wondered aloud whether bicycling long distances was not "a young man's game". I sardonically thought to myself, "So when should I do it, if not now? Later maybe?" Those remarks come back to me now here in Ellensburg, Washington where I am laid up in a motel with a bad back. I have lain here a week now and I hope to leave tomorrow. But the discouragement of being transformed from a sturdy adventurer to an enfeebled little old man is palpable.

Stupidly the harm to my back has again come not from bicycling but from sitting in a straight backed chair obsessing on the keyboard and screen at a hotel lobby internet connection at Yakima. That is precisely how it has happpened three times before. I am a screen junkie. It sounds cute, but compulsive behavior carried to self-destructive extremes is not amusing. I have gotten a little notebook computer shipped to me, which will not cure me of surfing endlessly, but will enable me to do it lying safely on my back.

So now I will be able to attend to this blog again.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Our Time

Our Lives

Ross: Hatikvah means "the hope"

I know, but how could one have the strength to hope for anything after Bergen-Belsen? I don't think I could have maintained a frame of mind to care about life. There were those who threw themselves on the wire.

and those that survived to fight again.

Jack: I remember the line attributed to Admiral Halsey at Midway as his pilots were taking off to fight superior Japanese forces, "Where do they find such men?"

Maybe even ordinary pishers like us are capable of great things when confronted with immensities. As Boomers, we have never really been called on to protect anything more serious than our standard of living.

It is strange to have lived a life devoid of both hardship and heroism.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Stock Market

My Seven Figure Income
I did pretty well in the market last year. I had an income in seven figures. Of course four of them were the cents, the dollar sign, and the decimal point.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

And sure enough...

Eighteen years later
It has become a long time ago and it is not the least bit romantic that it has.

At Edible Complex

Here is a note I found in a notebook dated June 29, 1988, a year after Patty left
How did I get here? My life is like a singularity compressed out of time and space by my own collapse, utterly cut off from the universe by an impenetrable horizon of my own thoughtless making. I am so invisible that you could stare right at me, talk to me for an hour, and never see me. Still I am here. I glow so faintly that I can only be seen with one's eyes and reason turned aside.

I am a cliche of alienation. Literally a government clerk, a cinder of a failed marriage - burnt to a fine ash of solitude and indifference, an orphan, a former life, hoping for nothing, expecting nothing. So much has been lost and forgotten that even anger fails me. I may metamorphose at any moment.

My evenings have become so empty that I haunt coffee shops meant for student lesbians and lesbian students - the Rockridge in the summer of 1988. Just to write it so, in hopes of it sounding romantic and a long time ago, chills me with the near prospect of when it will be a long time ago.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Flash Fiction

The Divorce
I sat on my unmade bed, longing for something but not knowing quite what.
I began to cry. In the evenings there was a dull ache where she used to be. I have to get out of here, I said to myself, I have to go home. Then I remembered that I was home.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Sincere Translation?

The Starry Banner
Is there a reason the Spanish version of the national anthem is called "Nuestro Himno" rather than "La Bandera Estrellada"?

In Pendency

Still Here
As so often in my life I am on hold, waiting to resolve minor matters before I can get about the serious business of my life. For me that is bicycling. I mean to ride far and wide.

But first I have to go to the pharmacy and the post office and to REI and the optometrist and the bank. I have to put asphalt on the sidewalk so passing litigants don't fall over a tripping hazard my redwood tree, Gus, has created. And on and on. But my day will come.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Sins of the Father

In 1991, an earlier President Bush publicly promised the Shi'ite population of Iraq, that if they rebelled against Saddam Hussein, that we would support and protect them. They believed us, and their militias arose and fought the Sunni Ba'ath regime creating confusion and consternation behind Iraqi lines while they were confronting the American forces advancing into Kuwait. That rebellion was a considerable military advantage to our forces. Having liberated Kuwait, the elder Bush, allegedly at the prompting of Secretary of Defense Colin Powell, somehow forgot his promise and declined to support the Shi'ite militias with the promised airpower and heavy arms. Whereupon the Republican Guard marched almost unopposed into the momentarily Shi'ite controlled areas and massacred more than 20,000 people, substantially everyone who had relied on American promises and participated in the Shi'ite militias. With mind-boggling hypocrisy and effrontery the United States is now sponsoring the trial of Saddam Hussein for carrying out the very murders from which we had promised to protect the Shi'ites.

It is the proposition of those critical of American and British military efforts in Iraq, that we ought to withdraw our troops and abandon the Shi'ites to the mercies of the Sunnis yet again. And they propose this from a position of purportedly superior moral rectitude. Whether or not one thinks highly of George W. Bush, to the extent that he is conducting this war to rectify a monstrous wrong perpetrated by his father, he is a man struggling to do the right thing. He has more or less sacrificed his one chance at being anyone of consequence in the world, his having stumbled into the American presidency, to the task.

We owe it to the Iraqi people to make good on the promises Bush Senior made to them - safety from Sunni-Ba'ath violence and domination. If that means that Iraq will be transformed into a loose confederation like Switzerland or Canada, so be it - there are worse fates.