Sunday, December 30, 2007

A More Modest Proposal

In France, any husband who can afford it has a mistress. Any wife who can arrange it has a lover. Everyone knows about it. No one cares. These are often lifelong relationships. Culturally different than the US but not as alien as Muslim polygamy.

Why shouldn't a man have two mistresses and no wife? A woman have two lovers and no husband?

In the United States we have begun to recognize a limited form of marriage called a domestic partnership. Like marriage a domestic partnership is a collection of rights and obligations. It is illegal to have more than one wife or husband. Is it illegal to have more than one domestic partner? Maybe it shouldn't be?

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Modest Proposal

Well here we are. Facing what everyone fears, being alone, dying alone. Yet we can't make our relationships work.

Maybe we should learn from our enemies. Muslims may be a bunch of murderous bastards (they killed Benazir Bhutto yesterday for the crime of being a woman who intended to democratize her country) but I suppose they love their wives and their wives love them. The problem is that they treat their wives, and women generally, like s__t. But what if they didn't? How might polygamy and polyandry work in a free egalitarian society?

If a man could have four wives and love them and cherish them and be bound to them for life, would that be more stable than having only one, as we attempt to do? Could a woman have four husbands and love and cherish them and be bound to them for life?

In the old days it wouldn't have worked because men would have insisted on knowing which children were theirs. But now we have DNA testing that can establish that. And the hot blood of youth would be a problem for competitive young men. Women have their own careers and property so the relationship is no longer inherently unequal as in Muslim societies. For people past fifty it might work. As absurd as it sounds, it is worth trying because what we have now, serial monogamy, is clearly not working.

I have very little real likelihood of having one woman alongside my deathbed. But there is a real possibility I might have four. And I might have a happier life with four wives than with an intermittent series of ones. A woman might be happier with four husbands than with an intermittent series of ones.

If someone has a better idea I would be glad to hear it, but that is the best idea I have been able to come up with so far.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto brings to mind John Donne - "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." The collapse of Pakistan into Gaza-like chaos containing nuclear weapons would be a significant disaster for everyone in the world. It is not my custom to distinguish between good Muslims and bad Muslims but I am here obliged to pull in my horns and hope that the less crazy and less maladapted-for-reality Muslims prevail over those more crazy and maladapted.

Routers

Here are the basics. 802.11a was used only by big organizations with their own LAN's. The first consumer wireless routers were 802.11b models which transmitted and received up to 11 Mbps. Then came the current adopted standard 802.11g routers which send and receive at up to 54 Mbps (hence the commercial shorthand of them being '54G' routers). There has been issued RFC 802.11n as a draft standard. RFC stands for Request for Comments. N routers have up to four times the speed and three times the range of 54g routers,

Until a final international standard is adopted there is some risk that any hardware one buys could become obsolete if the adopted standard is so different than the draft standard that the old equipment won't work with the new equipment. The industry is betting that any changes adopted in the finalization of the standard will be minor and peripheral and that their equipment will continue to work. In practice it doesn't matter to you at all. If YOUR receiver will receive YOUR router, what do you care what standard is finally adopted by the industry?

Most computers come with 802.11a/b/g receiving capability built in to them. Recent ones come with 'n' receiving capability built in as well. If your machine does not have a receiver built in, or it receives a lower standard than you want, you will have to buy a separate receiver that will plug either into your USB port or your pc card slot. For reasons of tradition and basic reluctance to use comprehensible English, these plug-in receivers are called 'adapters'.

As to specific makes and models it is good to "ask the man who owns one". The best place to look for this kind of information is the user comments in Amazon.com . Look up the product and read twenty or thirty of the comments and a consensus will appear. I had assumed I would get a Linksys router and that checking the user information was something of a formality. Linksys is made by Cisco, a giant in the industry and thus basically the standard router, providing reliability and utility at a reasonable price compared to its competitors. At least on the 54g routers, On the N routers, the customers were screaming that they just didn't work no matter what they did to configure them. Customer support was inadequate, seemingly because the underlying problem is that the routers are no damn good. The anger and frustration was palpable. Nobody had anything to say one way or the other about the Belkin N routers. They plugged them in and they worked, which nobody found noteworthy.

As to your current router -- if it has one or two antennae on the back it is both wireless and ethernet. If it doesn't it is ethernet only, I know of no way to make an ethernet router into a wireless one, Ethernet (the wire connection using what looks like oversized phone jack connectors at the ends) runs at 100 Mbps, almost twice as fast as 802.11g wireless, but not as fast as 802.11n wireless,

Sadly one is not free to ignore the advance of router speed. Website writers are aware of the speed of most routers and they write websites correspondingly to include ever-bigger files. I suspect the optimum balance between cost and performance is to get the most standard and conventional. My notion is that buying bleeding-edge hardware is probably a waste of money. The N standard not having been adopted yet, it would qualify as bleeding edge. B is outdated and will become more so and is also a waste of money, My suggestion would be to get a Linksys 54G, It's relatively cheap and works with no struggle. If you are connecting a desktop, you can get a pci card receiver-adapter. If the desired receiver is not built in to one's laptop, one can get a receiver-adapter for the USB port or pc card slot as I mentioned above, but almost any current laptop will have at least b and g receivers built in.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Good News on a Small Subject

In a time of war and transformation it is good to know that this week is also the time when Fuyu persimmons are in grocery stores. They are wonderful and are known to cure hunger, scurvy, and lack of persimmons.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Difference

between Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden is that Clinton is nominatable but not electable. Biden is electable but not nominatable.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

More Harrassing Larry

Look who's responsible for taking out and dealing with the trash at the hotels. The poorest, least educated, least thoughtful. Go behind a hotel in Norway and you'll see the trash dealt with in some eco-sensitive and expensive way. Which has everything to do with Norwegians being rich, educated, and highly socialized compared to Fijians.

I didn't say anything about how to get from Fijian social and economic conditions (which are actually quite good by third world standards) to Norwegian conditions.

But I think no good argument can be made against the proposition that the incomes of the workers are more likely to rise when the gross national income is rising. It does not follow that our only option is to hope that the workers will get their fair share by trickle down and do nothing else. Measures short of revolution and redistribution by force have been applied by capitalist societies with mixed success for more than a century. And they have always been most successful when the overall economy was growing.

The economic principles of the imperialist societies of a century ago appear to remain valid, but today they are stood on their heads in the application. For example, in 1907 the US and the British Empire wanted influence in China because they hoped to make it a market for their industrial goods. The rivalries among the empires was for overseas markets. The terms of trade were such that the poorer countries always got screwed and their people impoverished by foreign trade.

In 2007 the capitalist countries seek to gain influence by providing (or withholding) access to their own economies as markets for the goods of the poorer countries. The terms of trade are such as to enrich the poorer countries. The obvious example is China and the Tiger economies - Japan, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan. Sometimes, as with OPEC, the relationship is involuntary.

What provokes so much controversy and resistance is that the resulting increase in wealth in the exporting countries is rarely distributed fairly. The resulting development is rarely attractive or socially desirable. In short, the developing countries are in the same situation as the developed ones. Rising wealth is a precondition of increasing incomes and improved living conditions for the workers, but by no means guarantees it.

Even so, opposing growth of national incomes and infrastructure development seems to me to be always and everywhere a mistake. Romanticizing poverty and backwardness is always and everywhere a mistake. What is wanted is fairer distribution and redistribution of wealth, not less wealth. What is wanted is more social controls on development, not less development. This is true both at home and abroad.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Letter to Larry

Such a pessimist. You won't like hearing this but the solution is right there in front of you. The hotels clean up the garbage because a) their guests have been educated or conditioned not to want crap on the beach, and b) because they can afford to pay to have it done. When everybody in Fiji is as rich and educated as the customers in the hotels, all the beaches will be as clean as the ones in the hotels.

The rest of the solution is in the evolution of our consumerism. My tenant is moving out because I have evicted her and has moved her internet access account to her new address. So I have been shopping for a new provider, either cable or dsl. It will cost something but with the latest and greatest it will be worth it. How much material will I be consuming with it every month? The electronic boxes are small light and an afterthought. The same is true of cellphones and all the ringtones and mpg bullshit that goes with it. The television I got last year has only a fraction of the materials my television had ten years ago. Most of what I paid for is HD which is fancy electronics, not material, and for loser football teams like the 49'ers, which is arguably a service and not a product.

With the decline in the size and material content of our goods the resources needed to transport them will decline as well. We still have to find more efficient ways to transport our ever-burgeoning asses from continent to continent because tourism is a big consumption item among wealthy societies. Education and medical care are also ever bigger items among rich aging populations and neither is natural resource intensive.

In the long run the pressure on the environment comes from low-tech more than from high-tech. We have to get the fuckers (other fuckers) out of their (our) carbon-belching mobiles and into something small light, yes, plastic, and non carbon-emitting. The possible future that does not involve the collapse of the world economy and large scale starvation, is not to go from our current mix of low and high tech to no tech, but to get the whole damned world on the highest of high tech. With luck we should be able to replace the main hardships in human life, want and disease, with bad technical support and failed fashion risks by the end of the century.

Only airheads find the meaning of life in rock song lyrics...

when everybody knows it is in cartoons.

Bangladesh is drowning; 3,000 have died

Millions are homeless. Yet no Israeli emergency relief aid or personnel have arrived. Bangladesh is a Muslim country and they do not permit Jews there. So they have refused aid from Israel.

Moral: Whom the gods would destroy they first make stupid and bigoted so they will deserve what they get.

86 to 9

In last evening's rioting by largely Muslim youth in the Paris suburb of Villiers le Bel, 86 policemen were injured, two severely by gunfire. One lost an eye, the other had his shoulder shattered by a bullet. There were 9 arrests. 9. It may be that it was something like a battle and the police lost. One rarely has time to make arrests while being beaten up. Notably the police responded to live gunfire with tear gas -- for fear of hurting anybody.

Unless France is willing to send representatives to Annapolis to cede Villiers le Bel to the Muslims alongside the Israeli delegation there preparing to cede eastern Jerusalem to them, the police and government will have to do more. One has to hope that when President Sarkozy returns from China tomorrow a more responsive policy will be forthcoming. I think France and the Muslim rioters both deserve one.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Jukebox

Here's a nifty site. It plays a bunch of top 40 tunes from 1950 to 1982, and will play in the background while one is in a different window. The 1950 collection includes the hora 'Tsana Tsana' sung in English.

http://www.tropicalglen.com/

Monday, November 19, 2007

Despicable



Just because his middle name is Hussein, his father was a Muslim, he was raised in a Muslim country, he went to a Muslim school, and his mother kept copies of the Koran around the house, why would anybody think he's a Muslim?

This is like thinking Senator Larry Craig is gay even after he's denied it.

What We've Always Suspected

From the New York Times, Monday 19 November 2007

[Goldman Sachs was the only major Wall Street firm to see the subprime mortgage disaster coming. They positioned themselves to make money on it.]

“There is no mystery, or secret handshake,” said Stephen Friedman, a former co-chairman and now a Goldman director. “We did a lot of work to build a culture here in the 1980s, and now people are playing on the balls of their feet. We just have a damn good talent pool.”

That pool has allowed Goldman to extend its reach across Wall Street and beyond.

Last week, John A. Thain, a former Goldman co-president, accepted the top position at Merrill Lynch, while a fellow Goldman alumnus, Duncan L. Niederauer, took Mr. Thain’s job running the New York Stock Exchange. Another fellow veteran trader, Daniel Och, took his $30 billion hedge fund public.

Meanwhile, two Goldman managing directors helped bring Alex Rodriguez back to the Yankees, a deal that could enhance the value of Goldman’s 40 percent stake in the YES cable network — which it is trying to sell — while also pleasing Yankee fans. The symmetry was perfect: like the Yankees, Goldman, more than any other bank on Wall Street, is both hated and revered.

Robert E. Rubin, a former Goldman head, [and former Secretary of the Treasury] is the new chairman of Citigroup. In Washington, another former chief, Henry M. Paulson Jr., is the Treasury secretary, having been recruited by Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff and yet another former Goldman executive.

The heads of the Canadian and Italian central banks are Goldman alumni. The World Bank president, Robert B. Zoellick, is another. Jon S. Corzine, once a co-chairman, is the governor of New Jersey. And in academia, Robert S. Kaplan, a former vice chairman, has just been picked as the interim head of Harvard University’s $35 billion endowment.


This ought to put an end to the myth that Wall Street bankers run the country...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The News from El Cerrito

I have discovered that the chronic backache I have had more or less constantly since I got back has a cause. And it is not just being old and fat. Last night I slept on the floor instead of on my supposedly excellent and firm mattress. This morning I feel, if not good, better, for the first time in weeks.

It is not exclusively age related either. I remember now that I used to sleep either on the floor or on a piece of carpeted plywood in the bed. That was when I lived on La Loma in the 1980's. I was in my late 30's, early 40's, then. I no longer remember what became of the futon I slept on for many years after La Loma. But it is time to either sleep on the floor again or to shop for another futon.

I am so pleased to learn that the rest of my life will not be spent hunched over in pain as this past month has been.

The News from Shanghai

I have been watching the the ATP Masters Tournament in Shanghai. I just saw Rafael Nadal play some of the best tennis I have ever seen anyone play. His serve was consistent, fast and live. His gets were swift, agile, and wide-ranging. His ground strokes were powerful deep, accurate, and varied with all kinds of spins and angles on them. His play at net was quick and impeccable.

Even with all that, to say that Roger Federer wiped the court with him would be to make the match sound closer than it actually was. Federer is universally recognized as by far the best player in tennis, and even so is still under-estimated.

We might still be living in the Space Age, the Computer Age, the American Century, or some such. But it is also the Age of Roger Federer. It is a real joy to watch anybody being that good at anything.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Text from an old GeoCities website - 2001

How I Spent My Summer Vacation
or
Is Zimbabwe the One on the Left?

The solar eclipse of 2001 crossed southern Africa on June 21, the Southern Hemisphere's winter solstice. The viewing site choices were Angola (bloody endless civil war), Madagascar (no roads near path of eclipse), Mozambique (failed Marxist regime clings to power, nothing works), Zambia and Zimbabwe. By impression, Zambia is like Guatemala - the government is stable, but for all the wrong reasons, and is poor, backward and corrupt.

Zimbabwe is to South Africa as Canada is to the US - smaller, socially similar, about equally prosperous and developed, nominally independent. It is a safe and reasonable place to go - or so I thought.

I took my bicycle and camping gear, expecting to tour the country by bicycle. It didn't happen. I assumed that the farm occupations that we had read about during the past year or so would be none of my concern since I don't own a farm. That turned out to be an over-simplification. The farm occupations have been one part of a rising wave of social unrest, manifesting itself not only as farm seizures, but also as demonstrations, occasional riots, assaults, and robberies. Ironically even the wave of violence shows how fundamentally civilized Zimbabwe is - only one person has been killed in a year of unrest.


Even so, there are soldiers, police, and security guards absolutely everywhere. There are frequent police roadblocks and car searches for weapons,which takes some getting used to. Our Fourth Amendment looks pretty good when you've had your car searched by the police without a warrant or probable cause. Anyway, I chickened out and decided to tour by rented car.

Bad Stuff about Zimbabwe
By standard definitions, unemployment has reached 50% (although of course there is marginal employment which mitigates the rate), a one party government which has won every parliamentary and presidential election since independence, vast disparities in wealth between the suburban middle class and the working class, at least as great disparities between town and country. Suburbanites drive SUV's, use cellphones, shop at malls, have three car garages and servants. Suburban Harare would look familiar to folks from Marin County, except for three quarters of the faces being black. The working class suburb of Chinowidze would make residents of East Oakland wish they were home. Zimbabwe now has the highest reported rate of HIV infection in the world. Life expectancy has fallen to 27 years. Population growth has fallen to zero in spite of a staggeringly high birth rate. Every woman in the country has a baby on her back. The currency is not convertible and all tourist prices are also quoted in US dollars. There is almost no foreign currency reserve left and everyone is blaming someone else for it. Almost no one seems interested in the most likely culprits: inflation and a fixed exchange rate. Rural areas lack electricity, running water, sewer lines, telephone, and the roads are unpaved and poor.

Good Stuff about Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is pleasant and still prosperous. The Shona and Matabele people are friendly, polite, and have missionary school manners. The police appear honest and the judicial system is apparently real and honest as well. There are schools, particularly vocational schools, everywhere. Medical care is widespread and free. I saw no one who appeared hungry nor anyone in rags. Rural housing is the traditional round one-room houses with thatched rooves, but everyone seems to have one, possibly because the government provides that they will. There is endless thievery but apparently little violence, at least now that the police, army, and guards are everywhere. The roads are excellent (albeit lacking shoulders for bicycling) and there is regular bus service everywhere. There seems to be high levels of literacy throughout the country, including in English which is the national language, as well as Shona and Ndebele. There is substantial light industry which produces most ordinary consumer goods. Most of what one buys in a supermarket is both grown in Zimbabwe and processed or canned there. Clothing and most small household objects are manufactured there. When they get past this period of instability, Zimbabwe will again be a fine place to go.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Debate

Interestingly the best Democratic debaters were Kucinich, Obama, and Biden. Biden looked good because he knew what he was talking about. Kucinich looked very good because he has the radical's advantage of being consistent and having been consistent, and having to make no fine distinctions. Obama sounded good because he looks good. More than the others he looks and sounds presidential.

The debate was skewed by the Clinton campaign having succeeded in packing the hall with Clinton partisans.

There was an electrifying moment during the exchange over the payroll tax which is currently paid against only the first $97K of income. Obama wants to remove the cap. Clinton opposed removing the cap. She said it would be a trillion dollar increase on the middle class. Clinton having sounded the clarion in the night by saying the word "class" - Obama said that only 6% of Americans make more than $97K. He said that those 6% are the upper class, not the middle class.

So we have a choice of a schwartze from Harvard, a Yenta from Wellesley, a Carolina Gomer , a rich greaseball banker, a Cleveland Bolshie, a Connecticut alte kocker, and Joe Biden.

The Good Life

So I get a couple of 24-ouncers, one for each half, and a roast beef sandwich. I discover that my fancy television can get the 49er game in HD, which is actually pretty good. I turn it on, am impressed with the picture, the beer, and the sandwich. But in spite of all the makings of a fine Monday Night at home, I discover two things are missing -- the offense and the defense. Steve Young shows up to save the day, but now he is an announcer. The Niners go on to tie a league low for fewest first downs. The only cheers from the stands are the fans yelling, "Feh!"

The Faithful are back to the time the local eleven received the kickoff in the first play of the first game of the season, fumbled, and had the visitors run it back for a touchdown. Whereupon Herb Caen reported the earliest ever cry of "Wait 'til next year!" Sigh.

More About Joe Hill, er, Biden

Senator Biden, the only candidate in either party who seems to know his tokhas from second base about foreign policy is polling a solid 3 to 5 percent of Democrats. Right now he would lose in Iowa to Osama bin Laden. But if I can root for the 49'ers, I can root for Biden. If Obama were arrested in a men's room, Hilary were to use the N' word, and Edwards were to defend OJ, Biden would have a shot.

It Isn't?

Contrary to my prior impression, I have just learned that Cunnilingus is NOT a village in Ireland.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Trouble with Outsourcing

I was depressed last night so I called Lifeline.

Got a call center in Pakistan.

I told them I was suicidal.

They got all excited and asked if I could fly a plane.

Sound of Penny Dropping

Reading the Washington Post in preference to the New York Times is starting to pay off. I read about the disaster with sub-prime mortgages and finally got it. I suppose what is happening was clearer to others but I finally have been let in on the news.

I had assumed that the problem was that there had been so many defaults and foreclosures. That is not the problem. The problem is that there are still so many mortgages, millions, out there in homeowner land with built-in interest rate resets scheduled to reset soon. The problem is that we have an absolute guarantee that there are going to be far more defaults and foreclosures in the near future.

Some are merely adjustables which transfer the risk of interest rate fluctuation from the lender to the borrower. These the Federal Reserve Board has tried to protect by lowering interest rates with two consecutive rate cuts so that the index rates on which they are based will stay low. They have made these cuts by risking inflation in the overall economy exactly when overall inflation pressures are mounting.

As the dollar sinks, the prices of imported goods, particularly oil, will rise. Domestic goods sellers, faced with reduced price competition from foreign goods will raise their prices too. So the Federal Reserve, faced with the risk of inflation by adding interest rate cuts to other inflationary pressures, and the risk of millions of additional defaults and foreclosures, has chosen to risk the inflation rather than the foreclosures.

[I know well how this works and how it feels. But I was lucky enough to have got an adjustable mortgage in the 1990's, an era of declining interest rates. I refinanced to a fixed at a low rate just as I had hoped I someday would. My strategy has always been to rely on dumb luck.]

Other mortgages reset to higher rates automatically just with the passage of time. These are not transferring risk, they are closer to outright fraud. People are able and encouraged to buy a house, i.e. a mortgage, with interest rates of 4% or 3%. How they will pay 7%, 8%, or 11% in two, three, or five years is left up to "somehow" and "we'll think about it then" or "maybe we will be able to refinance later".

The Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, has proposed to Congress that the government fund the hoped-for refinances in a variety of ways. With pressures from the banking industry pushing in ways that people with souls can't even imagine, and an election coming up, there is no knowing what Congress will do. But too little too late would be a good bet.

Monday, November 05, 2007

This you call Yiddish humor?

Morris returns from a long business trip and finds out that his wife
has been unfaithful during his time away.

"Who was it!!!???" he yells. "That alta kakker Goldstein?"

"No," replied his wife. "It wasn't Goldstein."

"Was it Feldman, that dirty old man?"

"No, not him."

"Aha! Then it must have been that idiot Rabinovich!"

"No, it wasn't Rabinovich either..."

Morris was now fuming. "What's the matter?" he cried. "None of my
friends are good enough for you?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Doctor was addressing a large audience in Tampa .

"The material we put into our stomachs is enough to have killed most
of us sitting here, years ago. Red meat is awful. Soft drinks corrode
your stomach lining. Chinese food is loaded with MSG. High fat diets
can be disastrous, and none of us realizes the long-term harm caused
by the germs in our drinking water.

"But there is one thing that is the most dangerous of all, and we all
have, or will, eat it. Would anyone care to guess what food causes the
most grief and suffering for years after eating it?"

After several seconds of quiet, a small 75-year-old Jewish man in the
front row, raised his hand and said, "Vedding Cake?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Miriam was dying and on her deathbed, she gave final instructions to
her husband Sidney.

"Sidney , you've been so good to me all these years. I know you never
even thought about another woman. But now that I'm going, I want you
to marry again as soon as is possible and I want you to give your new
wife all my expensive clothes."

"I can't do that, darling," Sidney said. "You're a size 16 and she's only a 10."

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Problem with Joe Biden

The problem with electing Joe Biden is the same as with selecting a doctor. I don't know squat about medicine so how am I to know which doctor is more competent? Here's a quote in which Senator Biden mocks Rudy Giuliani:

Rudy was saying that Clinton and Obama weren't qualified on foreign policy. And here's a man who several months ago said, in a public statement reported in the New York Times, 'I don't know who's further ahead on nuclear weapons, Iran or Korea.'


Senator Biden annihilated Giuliani as having no foreign policy credentials whatever while walking down a street eating a sandwich. Film here

I am retired and have plenty of time to waste reading newspapers so I happen to know why that is a devastating remark i.e. that Giuliani didn't know the United States, China, Japan and several other countries have been working hard for months to pressure North Korea not to sell nuclear technology to Iran. People engaged in more useful pursuits are unlikely to have any clue what Biden is talking about. So Giuliani leads in the polls and Biden is a lame fourth.

One of the major problems of a democracy is that the people are generally ill-informed. And even when we are informed, we are generally a bunch of numbnuts with poor judgment. So we wind up voting for a woman because she is woman, a black because he is a black, or somebody from our home state for no particular reason at all.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Debate

I caught the second half of the Democratic debate. Lest the discussion focus on the war, Iran, health care, taxes, illegal immigrants and other boring crap, the moderators asked Dennis Kucinich whether he had seen a UFO. Kucinich attempted to charm his way out of it but acknowledged having seen one and said it was a powerful emotional experience. So the idiot moderators asked the other candidates if they believed in UFOs too. The next guy was a deer in the headlights, knowing that according to some poll, 14% of the public/voters claim to have seen one, enough to turn a narrow win into a landslide defeat. Obama had the presence of mind to say that he believed in life on earth and that children and old people need health care and blah blah blah -- i.e. it was a stupid question.

Hillary made a fool of herself by contradicting herself on the subject of driver's licenses for illegal immigrants and Obama and Edwards both jumped on her for doubletalk. It appeared from the post-debate chatter that she had contradicted herself eariler as well. It appeared that Hillary lost and Edwards, Obama, and Biden won.

In a post-debate interview Biden said that he was the only Democrat with foreign policy qualifications and the only qualified Republican was John McCain. He also said that Giuliani constructed every sentence with a noun, a verb, and 9-11.

Further Language Rectification

A headline/link to an article in the New York Times today:
Memories of Obama in New York Differ
By JANNY SCOTT

Some say that Barack Obama has taken some literary license in portraying the time he spent in Manhattan.

Could it be that the difference between "memories differing" and "taking literary license" on one side, and "lying" on the other, is being a major Democratic Party candidate?

But let no one suspect the New York Times of twisting the news because of any liberal or Democratic Party partisanship. Their slanting partisanship is nowhere near so broad. The Flagship of the Dailies has reduced itself to a mouthpiece for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Monday, October 29, 2007

60 Minutes interview of President Sarkozy

Just great. Leslie Stahl deliberately pissed off the first pro-American President of France in more than 30 years by asking him stupid questions about his personal life. Sarkozy quite justifiably took off his microphone and walked off the stage.

Leslie Stahl was arrogant and offensive. We can only hope that Sarkozy will be thick-skinned enough to dismiss her as the trivial minded twit she has shown herself to be. One hopes that CBS will attempt to salvage some shred of its credibility by dismissing her as well. I think the very least that can be expected of CBS management, beside the dismissal of Stahl, is to publicly apologize to President Sarkozy for the uncouthness of their former employee.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Disorder Spreads in Pakistan

After frequent fighting in Waziristan, fighting has now broken out in the less known region of Swat. Apparently there is no agreed-on successor to Babe Ruth.

Prediction

The movie "Lions for Lambs" has Robert Redford in its credits, hence it will be defeatist propaganda. Like Mammy Yokum, "Ah has spoken!"

Beatings on TV

In the various unarmed gladiatorial contests on television there seems to be a fixed rule that the fighter with the lighter complexion is the one that gets knocked out. Thank G_d for firearms.

The Piano

In the movie 'The Piano' every single character is vulgar, self-demeaning, and varies between unlikeable and despicable. It is hard to see what anyone liked about it. Like its characters, its pompous symbolism, and its story, it is a wretched piece of crap. Other than that I liked it. Feh.

Politics in a Nutshell

Senator Joe Biden seems to be the only candidate running on the premise that the American public are not idiots, and that progressive domestic policies do not therefore have to be accompanied by a defeatist foreign policy. Unfortunately, judging by the polls, he appears to be wrong.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sensible of Sensuousness

Anybody with access to Comcast On Demand movies, Netflix, or to a really good video store, should consider the Emma Thompson-Kate Winslett-Hugh Grant version of 'Sense and Sensibility'. Hugh Grant is a good technical actor. When his Mr. Ferrars is supposed to be covered with embarrassment and confusion, Mr. Grant credibly appears covered with embarrassment and confusion. Kate Winslett, as Marianne, is also. But she is so luminously beautiful, especially in the opening sequences, that one doesn't care what she does so long as they leave the camera on her. Emma Thompson however is more than just technically good. She gives us an Eleanor Dashwood who is both credible and moving. She is superlative. Even her being seemingly a little too old (36 when the movie was made in 1995) is perfect because it emphasizes that she has, as her in-laws privately say of her, become a spinster. Losing Ferrars is losing not just her love, but her last chance for a decent life.

Everything about the cinematography is lush and beautiful, from Winslett's face to the grounds and interiors of the aristocratic estates. I don't know who is responsible for getting horses that are big, beautiful, and high-stepping, but even details like that were splendid.

There are so many fine performances by lesser-known and unknown actors that one has to attribute them to the director, Ang Lee. I confess that I supposed at the time that Ang Lee was a fad, ballyhooed because he was an exotic, Hollywood affirmative action. But this film proves otherwise. The movie moves along at just the right pace. Having read the book long ago, and only dimly remembered it, it was so much better to see the whole thing done in two hours on the screen.

It is paradoxical that Jane Austen's novels, arguably the best written in English, are also Chick-Lit up the wazoo. Which suggests that excellence matters more than form or audience. The notion that only literature about black people can be meaningful to African Americans, or about Hispanics meaningful to Hispanics, is belied by the persuasiveness and freshness of 'Sense and Sensibility' to non-19th century English gentry spinsters.

Afternote -- It turns out that this movie is not some hidden gem which I alone had the taste and luck to discover. It won a 1996 Oscar for best screenplay adapted from another medium, and was nominated for 6 others - best actress, best supporting actress, best cinematography, best costumes, best music, and best picture. The adaptation of Jane Austen was done by Emma Thompson.

This was as good a way to kill two hours as I have seen in a while.

Impossible

According to articles in both the 'New Yorker' and the 'Manchester Guardian', we ought not to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities because it wouldn't work. Both publications stated unequivocally that there was no way to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. The American article said that only negotiation would work. Nothing was mentioned about the fact that the present talk of bombing arises precisely from the failure of negotiations. The British article, writing with even less sense of the possible skepticism of readers, went on to say the United States should, "accept defeat".

The Israeli government, perhaps not having access to Hebrew translations of these august publications, apparently did not get the message.



Satellite imagery of a suspected nuclear facility in Syria collected on August 10, 2007, left, and October 24.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Amnesty International

has published a report condemning the arbitrary arrests and disappearances by Hamas and Fatah of hundreds of their opponents in Gaza and the West Bank. Apparently Amnesty International's concern stems from the fact that the victims of these Palestinian murders weren't Jews.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New Vocabulary Project - Restoration of Words

If everytime one heard the word "diversity", it registered as "fragmentation", would it still be a good thing?

New Vocabulary Project

We need a new vocabulary for our new era. In 1984 George Orwell gave us the word and concept of 'Newspeak', the language in which one could only speak in praise of Big Brother and in which there was no vocabulary in which to form thoughts of resistance or rebellion. Various dialects of 'Newspeak' are spreading continually through the media and the population in general.

My contribution is a word for the mental process corresponding to Newspeak. It is crapthink. I have the copyright to it but it is available as a free download.

I call on my thousands of readers to contribute their own new words for the new millennium to this blog.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Movie Stars

Well actually moving stars. NASA has a java software online that shows where and when to look for the International Space Station and a bunch of other stuff. http://spaceflight1.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/SSapplications/Post/JavaSSOP/JavaSSOP.html

Movie

Thursday, October 18, 2007

All the News That's Fit to Print

Today the big news is that Joe Torre has rejected the Yankees' offer of $5 million to manage the team in 2008. Google's profit was up 54%. Deborah Kerr died at 86. Judge Mukasey was questioned by a Senate committee during his confirmation hearings as Attorney-General. John McCain campaigned in South Carolina.

Did anything else happen? Oh yeah, 108 people were killed in Pakistan in bombings which were an attempt to assassinate Benazir Bhutto. As if that mattered.

A Global Marshall Plan?

One of the ideas that has been floating around lately, particularly on the left, is that of a Global Marshall Plan, a pouring out of money to redeem the poor countries from their crushing poverty.

The US has been running huge federal budget deficits. Our balance of payments is in even larger deficit. Which means vastly more dollars are going overseas than are coming back through trade. The dollar has declined from the Euro being 88 cents to it being $1.43 today. Sterling has risen from $1.38 a few years ago to $2.05. The Canadian dollar has risen from 68 cents to $1.03. It is generally acknowledged that the reason things are not much, much worse than they already are is that Japan and China are subsidizing us by buying huge amounts of dollar-denominated debt. If there comes a time when the Chinese and Japanese governments decide that it is just too costly to keep acquiring more and more rapidly-depreciating dollars, the plunge could become rapid and dramatic.

If the dollar collapsed to its true value against foreign currencies, the effects in the US would be disastrous. Inflation and interest rates would soar. Government spending would be slashed to minimize the inflationary effects of the deficit. State budgets, which do not have the option of running deficits, would be slashed even more.

I hardly need say on whose shoulders the resulting economic distress and dislocation would fall most heavily. The social effects from government spending cuts alone would be greatly reduced education budgets, health care spending would be cut, income transfer programs like AFDC would be gutted, government hiring would shrink to a trickle. The private economy effects would be even worse. Unemployment (which is already much higher than officially acknowledged) would soar. Mortgage lending, already reduced, would stop. Any remaining hope that working people could buy their own homes would vanish. With ever larger numbers of people unemployed, again I hardly need say which segments of the working people would suffer most severely.

With greatly increased unemployment would come all the social vices that beset the poorest among us. Drug dependency, prostitution, wife-beating, crime, dropping out of school, mental illness, preventable illnesses, infant mortality, homelessness, violence, would all increase sharply. At the same time government programs to address these problems would shrivel for lack of funding. White perceptions of the ghetto and barrio would lead to a hardening of racial attitudes. The gains of two generations of social amelioration could be reversed and wiped out within a few years. With rising unemployment and social distress, the pressure on Congress and the Administration for mass deportations would grow until it became irresistible.

Paradoxically there would be winners. Those of us with large fixed rate mortgages would make out handsomely. Another winner would be the Defense Department. For all the flag-waving about what heroes the soldiers are, one of the main reasons for enlisting is unemployment. Part of the reason the army cannot now realistically plan on invading Iran is that they can't get the manpower for it because the unemployment rate is relatively low. If the dollar were to collapse and interest rates and unemployment to rise relentlessly, the services would be able to enlist all the man- and womanpower they wanted. Even worse, faced with the alternative of deportation to a progressively impoverished Mexico, many illegals would seek citizenship by enlisting. Our armies would become in effect mercenaries. Once the public came to realize that a large fraction of our soldiers were foreign mercenaries, public sensitivity to the army taking casualties would diminish. With more boots on the ground and less concern about casualties, the military options open to Washington would multiply.

The post-World War II Marshall Plan was financed out of the vast balance of payments surpluses the United States, with the only large industrial economy not devastated by wartime bombing and invasion, enjoyed. As people our age may recall, the dollar was huge when we went to Europe until the early 1970's.

None of that is any longer the case. A global Marshall Plan is indeed a wonderful and even necessary idea. But it is US-centric thinking to suppose that we should lead it. We would be risking economic collapse to attempt it. The countries which should do it are those which are in the economic position the United States was in after World War II, those with strong currencies and large balance of payments surpluses. The countries in that situation are the European Union, Japan, China, Britain, and Canada. I was in Canada all this past summer and saw that the subject is already being discussed with some seriousness in influential magazines like McLean's.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What I want to be when I grow up

A moment's excitement here in this dullest of all suburbs. I smelled a kind of nasty electrical smell and thought about opening a window when I heard the sirens. When I went outside, the street was full of fire engines and firefighters and long canvas hoses. It was the next house but one to mine. Close enough to be exciting, not close enough to be dangerous. I saw a short muscular-looking man put an oxygen tank on his back, a huge axe on his waist, and a classic fireman's helmet on his head. He then walked determinedly into the building. I was stunned. It was one of those moments when you see something that you have always known about but never actually seen before, and in seeing it one understands it in a whole new way. Except for the oxygen tank the scene was a cliche seen in one form or another since pictures in first grade readers. The only thing missing was the Dalmatian dog.

But in seeing it, I realized the man was walking into a burning building when the only sane thing to do is to run out. Surely the man is well-paid but I am not sure that is all there was to it. I think that a lot of his purpose was to maintain his status among his comrades, but another large part was that he was doing his social duty. I suppose if I had stopped him and asked why he was walking into the building, he would have said something like, "It's my job." and, "We can't just let people's houses burn down, can we?" Which would translate as, "It's my duty." and, "It's my social duty." I may have been idealizing, but the combination of cojones and rectitude was impressive.



Bob White rejoins:

That fireman could walk into tht building with confidence that he would come out, not because he was brave, which he may have been, or idealistic, which he also may have been, but because he was well trained. He knew what to expect, he knew how to handle the situation. When I was in the Navy I worked at a firefighting school on treasure island. We would set fires in steel structures simulating a fire in a ship at sea. At first the students would freak out at the raging flames and me and another lowlife worker would have to go in and put out the fire. We became pretty good at it and eventually so did the students.

True, unexpected things happen and firemen do get killed, but for the most part they do a well-trained job with confidence in their training

Friday, October 12, 2007

How Noble is the Nobel Prize?

Wouldn't we all think better of Al Gore getting the Nobel Peace Prize if Yasser Arafat hadn't won it too? Which is not to take anything away from Gore, just from the Nobel Prize committee. They are no more able to see beyond journalism and political fashion than anyone else. I once made it a project to read all the works which had won Nobel Prizes for literature. I was forced to give it up because so many were worthless and unreadable.

This year's runaway best seller which critics agree is the greatest thing since movable type, a generation later is a waste of binding and paper. One cannot even fault the Nobel Prize committee for not being able to know which books will still be read a century later and which will be forgotten. Nobody else can do it either. F. Scott Fitzgerald, arguably the best American writer of the 20th Century, won nothing, possibly because he died so young. Neither did Aldous Huxley, or George Orwell. Possibly they were omitted because the committee was busy honoring Gao Xingjian, Jose Saramago, Elfriede Jelinek, Imre Kertesz, Dario Fo, Wislawa Szymborska, and a variety of other writers no one had heard of before and no one has heard of since.

Orwell is a more interesting omission. A writer who criticized Communism and Communists from the perspective of a veteran of the Spanish Civil War was not likely to be acceptable in then-socialist and still-politically correct Sweden.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Freaks in Underwear

When is the last time you saw someone 7 feet tall? Have you ever seen anyone 7 feet tall? They are vanishingly rare. Yet the the NBA rests on the premise that that minuscule minority just happen to be the best and most watchable athletes in the world. Curiously no 7 footers are able to get into professional baseball, professional football, professional tennis, professional soccer, nor any Olympic sport.

Simple statistics suggests that athletes recruited from a tiny group cannot be very good. If it were a requirement that every professional baseball player could only be recruited from the population of one small town, how good those teams be? Is there a reason why a team recruited only from Chico will never beat the Yankees? The only conclusion one can draw is that the NBA is a bush league.

An intrinsically mediocre winter sport is made even duller by interminable playoffs that stretch into June.

What can be done? One step that would change everything for the better would be to put the fences 700 feet from home plate. Whoops! Wrong rant. If the basket were two or three feet higher so that nobody could dunk, it would favor faster players who have the eye-hand coordination to throw the ball through the hoop while running. To avoid the game becoming even duller by reducing everybody's shooting percentage, the hoop, while higher, would also be larger. The angular width of the target would remain the same from most of the court.

There would still be advantages for big men. There is no getting away from the advantages of being tall and having long arms when guarding another player. But the advantages of height would be only on defense. Offense would require athletic ability.

The advantage of speed and eye-hand coordination, i.e. athletic ability, over height would be enhanced by changing the 3 point shot into a 5 point shot. The game would no longer be about shooting from as close to the basket as possible for a layup or tip-in. It would become about getting as close to the 5 point line as possible. One big advantage, aside from favoring normal-sized human beings, would be to expand the shooting area to a large circumference around the court. With a large shooting area, it might become a possible strategy to pass the ball other than just getting it to the Big Man under the basket. This would again favor fast coordinated players over freakishly tall ones.

Another change that would improve the game would be to penalize players who consistently miss free throws by taking them out and shooting them. This is equivalent to baseball players being able to successfully run to first base unopposed only 50 percent of the time.

These reforms would vastly improve basketball. It would however remain a boring stupid game with nothing to recommend it except requiring less real estate than other team sports. The solution to this problem would be to reverse the system of selecting extraordinarily large players in favor of breeding extraordinarily small players only a few inches tall who would be able to play tackle football on grassed-over basketball courts.

Stayed tuned for future issues in which Jack reforms miniature golf and pingpong....

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Modest Proposal

In the midst of the playoffs and upcoming World Series, is it too topical to suggest a reform of the National Pastime?

To come to the point - home runs are bush league. Home runs are boring. When the ball goes over the fence it goes out of play. Baseball is about throwing, catching, fielding, baserunning, and hitting. None of that happens after the ball goes over the fence. Even the hitting stops because there is no one on base afterwards.

They are also inflated in value. A run composed of beating out an infield hit, stealing second, getting to third on a sacrifice bunt, and coming home on a fly ball counts no more than one composed of some steroid junkie swinging once. A ball hit over the fence is even valued the same as an inside-the-park home run, the greatest feat in baseball. But which one is more like a competitive sport? After a home run, the moron who hits it actually trots rather than runs around the bases. Everybody else just stands around. What could be a more explicit demonstration of how dull a home run is? Home runs are not play, they are a stop in play. Home runs enable big strong guys to beat good baseball players at baseball.

I once thought that ballparks should be made so big that nobody could hit home runs. Push the fences out to 500 or 600 feet. But that would put the bleacher fans too far way to see the game. Worse, it would have required rebuilding or replacing all the ballparks. There would have been a transition while some of the parks had been converted and some had not. No possible way for that to happen.

A spiffier and more accessible way to do it would be to change the rules. The rule now is that if a ball lands fair and bounces over the fence it is what used to be called a 'ground rule double'. I heard an announcer recently refer to one as a 'rulebook double'. I don't know the reason for the change but it might be that nobody could think of what a ground rule is. The reason for the rule is clear enough. To hit the ball that far and have it fall in fair means that one got a substantial hit. That it went over the fence means that the fielder cannot reach it to throw it back to keep the runner from advancing any further. Since it would be unfair and disproportionate to let the runner advance unlimitedly all the way to home just because the ball is inaccessible, the runner is held to a double. It is hard to think of any part of that logic that does not apply to a ball hit over the fence as well as one that bounces over it.

A ball hit over the fence could be treated as an out or as a foul ball but that would be to go from over-valuing it to under-valuing it. Hitting the ball as hard and far as possible is an integral part of baseball, it just isn't all of baseball.

If a ball hit over the outfield fence were a rulebook double it would advance a runner on first base to third, and one on second or third would score. A triple would be a more valuable hit than a ball hit over the fence because it is harder to do. A slow runner cannot hit a triple. A beer barrel can hit a ball over the fence. A bases-loaded triple could drive in three runs, rulebook double a maximum of two.

This rule change would end the current scandal of some 240 pound putz with a beer belly batting fourth and commanding tens of millions of dollars while some medium-sized fast kid who can field, throw, and hit, bats eighth or never comes up from the minors at all.

Even with exactly the same players, if batters were not swinging for the fences there would be fewer strikeouts, more hits, and more men on base. There would be more playing of baseball. If pitchers were not constantly having to deal with the possibility of home runs they could throw more strikes so there would be fewer walks and more hits. With fewer bad pitches, at-bats would be shorter and games would move along more briskly. Instead of the three-and-a-half or four hour "is the paint dry yet?" marathons we get now, games would be over in two or two and half hours. Which would make possible the revival of the now old-fashioned doubleheader, two games the same day.

It would also end the over-valuing of a handful of players, the home run hitters, and level the playing field as it were. It would also get rid of the game played for the single grandiose gesture. Instead of one batter hitting a home run off one pitcher to decide the game, there would be more emphasis on playing cooperatively as a team. Getting rid of the home run would therefore make an end to prima donna stars. We would never have to endure a schmuck like Barry Bonds again.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Step Too Far

According to the news bite on Yahoo, the Olmert cabinet is considering conceding part of Jerusalem to the Arabs. It has long been my custom to never express opinions other than privately on questions of Israeli politics. As Americans we have a duty to support Israel as a friendly country. As citizens of a world power we also have a concomitant duty not to interfere in the internal politics of a smaller ally.

But my 'hands off' commitment is overwhelmed by the concession of any part of Jerusalem.

Has conceding Gaza worked? Is there not some part of the process where the world can consider not only what the Arabs want but what the Jews want? How many times do they have to be shown that mollifying Arab demands brings more demands, not peace? How many Arab declarations of intent to destroy Israel will it take for the Israelis to understand that they mean it? How many times does the galut mentality "If we're nice to them they'll like us" fantasy have to be proven wrong for Jews to stop trying it? If they keep winning, why do they keep surrendering? Will the package include dropping "v'Yerushalaim" from HaTikvah? Olmert has to go.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Torture and Family Values

One of the interrogation techniques that has come under scrutiny as a possible form of torture is head-slapping. If head-slapping is torture we will have to imprison pretty much every Italian, Black, Eastern European, and Hispanic father in the country.

A head-slap usually accompanied by,"Stupido!", is considered almost affectionate. It IS chauvinist though. I have never seen a girl get her head slapped. Mothers, when provoked, will face-slap just about anyone.

Friday, October 05, 2007

I'm Back

I don't know who if anyone reads these maunderings but they are about to resume after a three month hiatus. I returned home Sunday from my summer wanderings in the North. I will be again filling these pages with my carryings on. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

NOW they tell me....

A little tiny ENORMOUS fact about the war that seems to have gone unmentioned until now is that, while Iraq is lousy with oil, none of it is in the Sunni areas.

Which means that a postwar partitioned Iraq, or even a loosely federal Iraq, will leave the Shi'ites and Kurds with the prospect of becoming rich, and the Sunnis with an economy of which the main export will be poverty.

So the only acceptable scenario for the Sunnis is a strong centralized government. The Iraqi experience of strong centralized governments has been that they divide society into the Ins and the Outs, where being an Out is both impoverishing and dangerous. So the Sunni objective is for a strong centralized government - which they control.

The Sunnis are fighting for a future in which they have oil and power, as in the past. The alternative is that they will have neither. In practice, if the Sunnis have the power, they will have the oil revenues too.

If there were oil in every part of Iraq, there might still be fighting over allocation of more or less. Because there is no oil in the Sunni areas, the fight is all or nothing.

This is compounded by the fact that the Shi'ites have historically been a subject class to the Sunnis, so a democracy dominated by the majority Shi'ites has overtones of a servile revolt, of the unwashed servant class taking over.

Since there is no politically acceptable discourse except Islam which openly denies the desirability of democracy, that is what the Sunni claim to be fighting for.

After all this time, we find out that it really is all about oil, just as the naysayers said at the very beginning. But that was before the war degenerated from an invasion, which was not about Iraqi oil, into a civil war, which is. It may now be degenerating still further into a generalized melee without clear sides or issues. If it does, the next stage should be a form of warlordism as emerged in Afghanistan after the war against the Soviets degenerated into melee.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

As Gilda used to say -- "Never Mind"

I.I.T.S. or 'It Isn't That Simple' is the rule which dominates and informs one's attempts to understand the world.

The problem with human-induced global warming is that it is fast, all but instantaneous in geological, and more importantly in evolutionary timescales. If it came into effect over a period of several tens of millions of years during which new species could evolve to replace and more than replace old ones as they became extinct, then I would have been right. As the tropical forests expanded, the new species in them would outnumber the temperate and arctic species becoming extinct because of the same climatic change.

But extinction can be quick. Evolution cannot. The timescale of human-induced climate change is in decades, not eons.

Few things that happen on earth are of any lasting effect. Mountain ranges comes and go, seas cover the land and then recede, dams block rivers for a geological instant and are then swept away, glaciers cover the land then melt.

Extinctions are an exception. Once the last condor, red-legged tree frog, smokey leopard, or blue whale bites the big one, it stays that way permanently. Extinctions are the natural course of things and are not to be feared nor even complained of -- IF and only IF they are balanced by an equal or greater rate of speciation, of the creation of new species.

That is not happening with current human-caused extinctions and it surely won't happen with global warming induced extinctions. So global warming, by my reasoning and values, actually is the catastrophe everyone says it is.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Further thoughts on Global Warming

As much to be a pain in the ass as for any other reason, I am beginning to wonder, just wonder mind you - not conclude, whether global warming might not be a good thing.

During most of the time since the Cambrian (the past 545 million years) the earth has been both much warmer than it is now and has had much higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. For the past 60 million years the temperature has been declining and the climate getting drier. (According to a graph I saw at the Denver Museum of Science and a botany textbook I just finished.) The only time in the past half-billion years that has been colder was a brief episode in the Permian period, at the end of the Palaeozoic. Shortly (if a few million years can be called "shortly") after the Permian cold period, 70 percent of aquatic species and 95 to 97 percent of land species became extinct. The Permian Event dwarfed the K-T Event 66 million years ago that extinguished the dinosaurs but did away with far fewer species.

The actual operation, I posit, is that declining temperatures progressively shrank the tropical forests until they vanished. Most of the temperate areas shrank too. I think that is how the Permian Event came about.

Most of the species on the planet right now are in the tropical forests. Continuing cooling could easily lead to the continued shrinkage of the tropical climate areas and their eventual disappearance. With the disappearance of the tropical forests would come the extinction of all of the tropical species, just as in the Permian.

Anthropogenic global warming can reverse that. Global warming will reverse the shrinking of the tropics. It means the tropics may eventually become larger, the arctic smaller. I figured out in driving south the past couple of days that the main difference between the green productive fields of Alberta and the taiga wastelands of the Northwest Territories is only a few degrees. The reason the few degrees matter so much is that it is enough that Alberta has normal soil in which crops grow, and the NWT has permafrost in which only stunted trees grow.

Global warming would make the NWT, Yukon, Alaska, Greenland, Siberia, Lappland, and Iceland as habitable as the Midwest is today. It could give humanity a whole new continent to live on when the ice in Antarctica melts. The alternative might be to slide into another Permian Event mass extinction.

It could be the reason the human race is here, our purpose, to cause global warming. Also it is an excuse to continue to drive an RV that gets 10 miles to the gallon..... :o)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Global Warming

Global warming is an amazingly difficult subject to figure out on one's own. There is a long term warming as the Ice Age (ignorantly said to have ended 15,000 years ago) continues to end. There are also shorter term periods of warming and cooling, such as the Little Ice Age which was a period of unusually cool weather between 1500 and 1900. There are also shorter terms trends of a few years or decades. The trick is, among all that signal noise, to ascertain if there is a new effect caused by human activity. No small thing to figure out. But there seems to be a consensus among scientists that there is an effect.

My own opinion (which I would remind you is worthless because I do not actually know squat about it) is that the world was slowly warming anyway, and that all our exhaust pipes and smokestacks have greatly accelerated it.

What is less clear is the basis for the assumption that global warming is automatically a bad thing. The warning that it will cause coastal flooding because of higher sea levels does not persuade me as much as it does others. Most buildings are replaced by newer ones within a generation or two anyway. Rising sea levels means that they will just have to be built further inland. I do not think that is such a disaster. Other places can be protected with dikes as the Netherlands is. Many of California's Delta islands are surrounded by levees and are lower than the water that surrounds them.

Some areas now temperate will become desert, but some deserts will become arable. As with any big change there will be winners and losers. Cold countries like Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia, Russia, and Siberia will be winners. What are now vast subarctic barrenlands will become pleasant temperate countryside. Humanity might gain a whole new continent to live on as the Antarctic ice sheet melts.

My own reason for not wanting global warming has nothing to do with all these arguments which I lump under the heading of "bitching about change". The real downside of global warming is that too-rapid climatic change causes widespread extinctions of species which cannot adapt quickly enough. New species to replace them evolve slowly, far slower than human affairs can consider. So many species are already under so much pressure from other human activities which restrict their habitats, that the extinctions could be on a very wide scale. Being myself a plant and/or animal, I prefer that there be as many kinds of plants and animals in the world as possible. Maybe just because so many of them are beautiful.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Narrowing Ground

First there was no connection between terrorism and Islam because the terrorists were occupied by Israel. Then it became clearer that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, Spain, England, India, and the United States were also targets. So that wasn't it.

Then there was no connection between terrorism and Islam because the terrorists were grindingly poor and oppressed and had no hope in this world. Then it emerged that the 9-11 terrorists were mainly from wealthy families. So that wasn't it.

There was no connection between terrorism and Islam because the terrorists were from corrupt undemocratic countries where the Western countries had been demonized. Then it emerged that the London subway bombers were born and raised in Britain. So that wasn't it.

Then there was no connection between terrorism and Islam because the terrorists, even though they were fully exposed to Western society, were marginalized, did not feel included. Now it emerges that several of the conspirators in the Scottish airport bombings are doctors practicing in the UK and Australia. So that isn't it.

When does it become time to admit that there is no connection between terrorism and Islam only because it is an article of faith that there isn't?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Paradigm Shift in Evolutionary Theory?

In Paris Rue Lamarck is a considerable street while Darwin is a short dead end alley. It is conventional to consider Lamarck's theory outmoded and wrong, and Darwin's theory all-correct and the exclusive description of reality. However recent research done in France is just beginning to cast doubt on this proposition. A seminal new study has shown Lamarck was French and Darwin wasn't.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Fair's fair

times today
The explosion was the latest in a series of attacks on mosques that began last week when insurgents destroyed the two remaining minarets of a Shiite shrine in Samarra. Several Sunni mosques in southern Iraq were destroyed in retaliation.
I hope they get even with us by destroying our mosques too.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Class War

When a democracy elects only aristocrats and the wealthy to office, it isn't much of a democracy. Here is a list of the candidates and what their parents did for a living. (For Giuliani I have pasted a paragraph from Wikipedia lest you think I am making this up):

Aristocrats:
Gore - US Senator
Dodd - US Senator
Romney - Governor of Michigan, US Senator, Chairman of American Motors, Secretary of HUD
McCain - four star admiral

Rich kids:
Clinton - business owner
Obama - Muslim businessman
Richardson - Banker

Commoners:
Edwards - mill worker
Biden - car salesman
Kucinich - truck driver
Duncan Hunter - Hunter worked his way through college.
Ron Paul - father had an 8th grade education, mother owned a dairy farm.
Fred Thompson - used car salesman
Tommy Thompson - ran a gas station & country grocery store

Mafiosi:
Giuliani -
Wikipedia - Early life and education

Giuliani was born in Brooklyn, New York to working-class parents Harold Angel Giuliani and Helen C. D'Avanzo, both children of Italian immigrants. The family was Roman Catholic and its extended members included police officers, firefighters, and criminals.[12] Harold Giuliani had trouble holding a job and had been convicted of felony assault and robbery and served time in Sing Sing prison; [13] after his release he served as a mafia enforcer for his brother-in-law Leo D'Avanzo, who ran an organized criminal loan sharking and gambling operation out of a restaurant in Brooklyn. [14]

Saturday, June 16, 2007

from your mouth to His ears...

Times today
The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-controlled West Bank have effectively become separate political entities, endangering the Palestinian dream of forming an independent state in the two territories.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Limitations of Human Society, part 2

Times today,
“I will explain it to you,” said one looter, Mazen Qasas, 34, a vendor. “I am 34. I am married. I have six children. I am looking for a lamp, anything I can sell or use for my poor house. We are very poor.
And if he rubs the lamp....

Mazen Qasas is right. That IS the problem. Gaza has among the highest fertility rates in the world - 5.64 children per woman. Afghanistan is higher still - 6.64 children. If most of them survive, the population of each place will triple every generation. It might be coincidence that two of the places with the highest population growth rates are also the most chaotic. Or it might not.

One might also consider that in the context of the whole world. World population has been growing steadily for two hundred years and is not expected to peak until 2050. It may be that all the causes we assign to world problems are wrong, and all the shootings and oppressings that go on are really expressions of a larger problem.

One can certainly suspect a connection in China. China was appallingly poor and lost in the chaos of war, revolution, and the Cultural Revolution until strict population control was introduced. Since then China has prospered.

It might be, as Pogo once observed, that, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Limitations of Democracy, Part 6

Times today, about the now-disgraced prosecutor in the Duke Lacrosse case-
Mr. Nifong brought the rape charges while he was in an election contest against a better known former assistant district attorney. The bar accused him of pressing the rape case for political reasons.

Why There is a Security Fence, Part 14

Recently there were primary elections within the Labour Party. The incumbent, Amir Peretz, lost to Ehud Barak. Since the government is a coalition, under the compromise understanding with Kadima and the other coalition partners, the head of Labour would become defense minister. Prime Minister Olmert accordingly nominated Barak to the position. The nomination will be debated and voted on by the Knesset next Monday.

In other news President Mahmoud Abbas summarily dismissed Prime Minister Haniyah after Hamas forces overran the main Fatah stronghold and publicly executed the surviving defenders. Sources close to Haniyah denounced the dismissal as illegal and without substance.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Inconvenience of an Inconvenient Truth

As so often in life, it isn’t as simple as I thought. Seedlings are living creatures, not products that can be bought and shipped on demand. They can only survive transplantation when they are in their winter dormancy. CDF Reforestation begins taking orders in November and ships from mid-December until March. Saving the world will have to wait.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Welcome

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Hello

Lucy!

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Unclear on the Concept

Chanting “Stop the killing,” some 1,000 Palestinians marched through Gaza City today, only to draw gunfire that killed two of the demonstrators and wounded four, according to Reuters.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

When Fans Attack

New York Times 12 June 2007

Fatah forces also attacked the headquarters of Hamas’s television station, Al Aksa TV, and began to broadcast Fatah songs, but Hamas said later that it had repelled the attack.


Later the building was seized by forces of the Israel Philharmonic who began to broadcast Schubert lieder.

Falasha units of the Israeli Army took the building over the next morning and began broadcasting rhythm and blues.

Elements of the US 101st Airborne parachuted in and took the building that afternoon and began broadcasting hip hop.

French elements of the UN forces entered through an unguarded entrance and began playing Maurice Chevalier records.

A joint British-Polish force was landed by the Royal Navy and took over. They began broadcasting bagpipe and accordion polka music.

Whereupon all the other armies shelled the building simultaneously destroying it utterly.

The Arabs blamed Israel for the debacle.

'An Inconvenient Truth' and what to do about it

There are two things one can do when one finds oneself in a hole. One is to stop digging and the other is to start filling in the hole. Conservation really amounts only to digging more slowly. The solution to global warming is not just to put less CO2 into the air, but also to start taking some out. Trees do that.

The bigger and longer-lived the species the more CO2 it will take out of the atmosphere during its lifetime. Here is a link to the California Department of Forestry's seedling order form.

http://www.fire.ca.gov/rsrc-mgt_content/downloads/Orderformandpricelist06_07.pdf

Vacant lots, roadsides, fields, hiking trails, private property, public property, anywhere is good. When Jews do this it is called Tikkun Olam. When non-Jews do it, it is called repairing the world.

Monday, June 11, 2007

So what's the deal with...

Religion and beards? Very religious Muslims wear beards. Very religious Jews wear beards. Very religious Eastern Orthodox wear beards. Very religious Mormons, Mennonites, and Amish wear beards. Sikhs same thing. The most religious Wiccans generally have some chin whiskers. Same for sexual repression and fear of exposed skin. Do beards cause religiosity?

The Democrats

It is going to be a long hard road to 2008. New Yorker is a magazine by and for the rich East Coast liberal elite. Until recently they were 100% behind their own Senator Clinton. But in their current issue they ran an article purporting to review some of the various books about Clinton now in bookstores. In fact it was a serious hatchet job of character assassination. Very surprising to see that in the New Yorker. Which suggests to me that there are some bitter divisions within the liberal wing of the party, probably about the war, that go well beyond the usual personalities-and-money issues. Politics, for all the publicity, is nevertheless largely done in semi-secret. One knows that something is going on but not what. It is like seeing two little boys wrestling inside a bag.

I was in Barnes & Noble last night and I saw a "book" which was a puff piece biography by the Obama campaign. It was short and mainly pictures so I skimmed through the whole thing right there in the store. It seems Obama as a young man rejected Martin Luther King and even W.E.B. DuBois as not assertive enough. His hero was Malcolm X. He does NOT go on to say how he later saw the light and rejected Malcolm X.

That is trebly disturbing. If you listen to old videos of Malcolm X speaking, he sounds pretty reasonable about the problems Black people suffer, until you get to the core of his message about who and what he thinks the problem is. Malcolm was an explicit antisemite and a racist demagogue. He popularized the expression "blue-eyed devils". The usual crap response when this is brought up is that he mellowed at the end of his life and became more tolerant. I, for one, do not find that a satisfactory answer. (If he advocated rape and murder most of his life but stopped advocating them at the end, does that make it alright?) He was the leader of the Black Muslims. For Obama to have EVER been of the same mind as Malcolm X makes him completely unacceptable. This is not some hit piece. This is his own campaign literature.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Homes of the Free

There are two kinds of nickbnames for towns, those made up by their Chamber of Commerce, and what the locals call the place.

Oakland is Oak Town. Placerville is Hangtown. Compton is the 'hood. Berkeley is Bezerkeley and People's Republic of Berkeley. West Hollywood is Boys Town. The city is "the city".

Chico is the City of Roses, but so is Pasadena. It is also the City of Trees but so is Sacramento. Gotta do better. The Ellensburg of California? Flatland?

El Cerrito has no nickname at all. Dullsville? Not Richmond?

Baghdad by the Bay

Maybe it is time for a new nickname for Fogtown.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Boy Genius

Two different shops were unable to get the Pachyderm's battery compartment door to latch properly. The catch was either not high enough or not in the right position. Or something. The last place literally told me it could not be fixed because it was "broken".

I decided to get heavy-handed and jury-rig something myself. In fiddling with it I discovered that the latch was loose in its mounting and free to move around, i.e. away from the catch. I tightened the bolt that secures the latch, et voila! No longer "broken".

I really shouldn't be so pleased with myself for being smarter than somebody who became an RV mechanic because he got passed over for assistant manager at McDonalds, but I am. Also the battery compartment door latches now.

High Plains Drifters

New York Times Saturday June 9

The story is that the US released these guys from Guantanamo. No one but Albania would take them.
Most of the five Uighurs in Tirana said they had left their homes in China’s far-western Xinjiang Province, an area the Uighurs call East Turkestan, to earn more money for their families and escape government harassment. They said they drifted into Afghanistan after travels through other Central Asian countries, and heard that the Uighur hamlet was a place where they could get free food and shelter while trying to figure out where to go next.

Assuming it's true, how stupid does one have to be to "drift" into Afghanistan?

from the same article:

One prospect was the west African republic of Gabon, which has a small Muslim minority. Gabon’s long-ruling president, Omar Bongo, said he was open to accepting the Uighurs. But according to two officials, he wanted not only compensation for resettling the refugees, but support for international loans to his government and a meeting with President Bush at the White House. He had already had one such meeting just months earlier, on May 26, 2004.

A small corrupt African country led by President Bongo?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Nuclear Confrontation

New York Times Thursday 7 June 2007
“Dialogue is better than mutual silence,” a spokesman for Mr. Putin, Dmitri Peskov, told reporters.
Let us hope that diplomacy will succeed in reducing tensions.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Pea in the Sky

I figured out a strange thing about green. There are red stars, orange stars, yellow stars, white stars, and blue ones. A graph showing how much light is emitted at each frequency/color explains the variety. The temperature determines the peak frequency/color. Cooler stars have their brightness peak in the red, hotter ones in orange and yellow, and very hot ones in blue. Our sun is brightest in green. Our eyes and brains have evolved to see a mix of colors dominated by green as white. But it is actually mainly green light.

Plants use light to produce food and to grow. The more light they gather the better they can compete and flourish. Which is why they are green - because the sun is brightest in green. The true color of the sun is the color of the leaves outside your window.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Too Much Merlot and the Tube

'I, Robot' is silly, fun, terrific graphics, and Will Smith is endlessly likeable, and is given great one-liners. 'The Shield' is stupid and obnoxious but Catherine Dent makes me very happy.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

How Tough is Men's Tennis?

Thierry Ascione is a talented 25 year-old newcomer from Provence who is an up and coming new star. In the second round of the French Open he played the established old pro, the defending two-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal. Nadal is 20.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Iraq Again

Headline in New York Times, June 1
"Sunni Fighters Battle Al Qaeda in Baghdad Neighborhood"
What? I thought.... Could somebody explain this to me again? Hey, this scorecard is in Arabic....

Spring

Alfonse is back. He is as a sleek, fluffy-tailed, quick, and energetic as ever. If one can free oneself from a concern with individuals, it is clear, especially in springtime, that life is eternal and death an illusion. Of course, being oneself a dying individual makes that harder to hold on to than when considering the fate of squirrels.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ennobled by Poverty

The New York Times May 20

"SRE LEAV, Cambodia — Researchers are examining a long-unknown killing field in Cambodia with the graves of thousands of victims of the Khmer Rouge from the 1970s.

But local villagers found it first. By the time the researchers arrived in early May, some 200 graves had been dug up and the bones scattered through the woods by hundreds of people hunting for jewelry.

“Everyone was running up there to dig for gold, so I went too,” said Srey Net, 50, describing what seems to have been a communal frenzy that seized this poor and isolated village. “If they can dig for gold, why can’t I?”

The Religion of Peace

New York Times May 20

"What began as a raid on several homes in Tripoli early today in pursuit of suspected bank robbers tied to the militant group Fatah al-Islam quickly escalated into an open confrontation with members of the group, which has claimed loyalty to Al Qaeda’s principles, at their stronghold in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Tripoli.

Three soldiers and four militants were killed in that fight, officials said.

Hours later, militants tied to the group attacked an army patrol in the Koura region of northern Lebanon, Lebanese officials said, killing four other soldiers.

The Lebanese Army said this afternoon that Fatah al-Islam had also attacked army posts around the refugee camp as well as in northern Tripoli.

The fighting continued this afternoon as the Lebanese Army called in reinforcements, including tanks and heavy armor, and began shelling parts of the camp where the militants were believed to be hiding. Gunfire continued well into the afternoon, as Palestinians inside the camp called for a cease-fire in order to evacuate civilians from the area. It was not immediately clear whether any civilians inside the camp had been injured in the fighting.

Under an agreement with the Palestinian leadership, the Lebanese Army is not allowed to enter Palestinian refugee camps.

Last month Lebanese authorities arrested four members of Fatah al-Islam charging them with a bombing of two commuter buses carrying Lebanese Christians in February."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Laughing at the Mirror

I finally got the GMC Truck Center on the phone. As is usual for such places they promised three days and then took two weeks. As is usual they came in at just about three times the initial estimate. As is usual it sounds like they accomplished nothing at all except replacing things that did not need replacing.

I was working at being polite while the schmuck on the phone totalled up the made-up numbers to come out to the largest amount they thought they could get away with. Then I made the connection between the belated tax return I had just completed, and the other schmuck on the phone....

Sin at CERN

New York Times May 17, 2007

"The culprit is quantum weirdness, one principle of which is that anything that is not forbidden will happen. That means the Higgs calculation must include the effects of its interactions with all other known particles, including so-called virtual particles that can wink in and out of existence, which shift its mass off the scale."

Unlike Saturday night in San Francisco where anything that IS forbidden will happen.

Barely Worth Noting

New York Times Thursday May 17

"Fatah retaliated by attacking a position of Hamas’s Executive Force, a parallel police force, killing four men. Another Fatah attack on the Executive Force prompted the Hamas men to take shelter in an apartment building, where they gathered the residents into the basement as Fatah forces surrounded the structure and shouted for revenge. The Fatah forces fired rocket-propelled grenades into the building of the Anour Tower and set it on fire."

The folks who fired grenades into a building full of hostages and set it on fire are the moderates.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Better and Better

Nicholas Sarkozy, today the President of France, has named Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister and is expected to name Francois Fillon as prime minister.

Kouchner is a socialist elephant (important Socialist Party members are called "elephants") and the founder of Medecins sans Frontieres. He has the reputation of being an Atlanticist and has notably stood aside from the open hostility of the French Left to the United States. His father is a Jew and his mother a Protestant - he is from religious minorities on both sides.

French Protestants are generally less prone to antisemitism than French Catholics. During the Nazi occupation, French Jews who were in hiding, like Sarkozy's grandfather, usually hid among Protestants. For example Sarkozy's grandfather could only get her parents' permission to marry his grandmother by converting to Catholicism. Kouchner's father was not forced to the same extreme.

Kouchner's tenure as foreign minister at the very least means an end to the possibility of French support for Quebec independence, which Segolene Royal said she favored, and the endless turmoil that would have caused Canada.

Fillon is to be appointed because he is a supporter of Sarkozy's proposed economic reforms. But he fits in in another way as well. He is an Anglophile who served in the French diplomatic corps in England and married a Welsh bride, Penelope. His younger brother Pierre married Penelope's younger sister Jane.

With these three in power it is foreseeable that the dark days of Arafat coming to Paris fresh from some massacre of Israelis and being received as a hero at the Elysee Palace, are over. Similarly French foreign policy reflexively giving the back of the hand to the United States and Britain is over as well.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Reading the Koran

I have started reading the Koran. It is generally assumed that since it is the holy book of a major religion it must somehow resemble the holy books of other religions. It doesn't. For one thing it was written by only one person. The Hebrew bible was written by dozens of hands over a period of almost a thousand years. Its heterogeneity reflects its authorship. The New Testament is a compilation of writings spread over more than a century and also done by several hands. So are the Buddhist sutras. No word of Hebrew, Christian, or Buddhist scriptures is believed to have been written by Moses, Jesus, or Gautama. Every word of the Koran is attributed to Muhammad, the founder and prophet. All of these literatures reflect the character and personalities of the folk among whom they arose as they evolved over centuries. But the Koran reflects only the personality and mood of Muhammad.

Unfortunately Muhammad, when he was writing the Koran, was embittered and resentful. The first chapter, 'The Cow' (which has nothing to do with cows), is an angry man's private ventings of spleen, made into scripture. Unfortunately most of his angry ventings are against the Jews and the Christians. He is quite explicit that the reason for his anger is that both refused to accept him as their messiah. Both refused to change their religions to accomodate him.

I expected that the text of the Koran would be a mass of pious exhortations and an occasional unkind word about the Jews or Christians here and there. Quite the contrary. The great majority of the text is composed on the same verse form. Each verse begins with three or four sentences denouncing Jews (whom he calls 'evil-doers'), Christians (whom he calls 'those who anger G_d'), or unbelievers generally. Occasionally he denounces idol-worshipers by which presumably he means the illiterate pagan Arab tribesmen whom he recruits. The last sentence of each verse is generally an admonishing platitude about G_d.

He says explicitly and repeatedly that it is the duty of Muslims to fight against unbelievers. So much for the 'Religion of Peace'. In most Muslim countries, education consists in large part of memorizing large parts of the Koran. I hope the rest of the book will be less scolding and angry and contain less violent language.

So far my conclusion is that we have been kidding ourselves in believing there is such a thing as a moderate Muslim. Judging by this text, that is an oxymoron. So far as I have read, the bulk of Muslim teaching consists of exhortations to hostility toward Jews, Christians, and pagans.

Our problems with Islam will not go away soon. 'Live and Let Live' is NOT what they are taught. The only way we will ever find to deal with people who accept the teachings of the Koran will be by force and by isolating them. They will ALWAYS attack their non-Muslim neighbors.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Thoughts for Laurel

Laurel, a smart and charming 14 year old girl attending an arts middle school in the southern Appalachians, wrote in reply to my remarks about the Fort Dix Plot:

"You have a point, but remember that if we give up on human rights to fight terrorism, the terrorists win. They make us into what they are and what they want us to be. If that happens, we loose all moral high ground and become what we are trying to defeat. Human rights must always be protected, in war or in peace, if our democracy and the values writen into our constitution are to survive."

And I replied:

"Hi Laurel,
Two thoughts -

As to the terrorists winning, if the Muslims had succeeded in massacring 100 of our soldiers as they planned, would not that have been a big win for them?

Second is a hard truth. Just as five is early to learn that there is no Easter Bunny, fourteen is early to learn that our constitutional rights do not come from G_d. They come from the Supreme Court. The Court both articulates and shapes our laws, values, and customs. And over the past two hundred years of war and peace the Court has said repeatedly that we have fewer freedoms in wartime than in peacetime. Yet another reason to love peace and avoid war.

In simpler more human terms, in wartime we and our enemies are physically destroying one another with the unthinkable violence of high-powered rifles and high explosive bombs. Compared to those affronts to human beings, whether we wiretap them or profile them beforehand is trivial. And it is less important still when the results of the wiretapping and profiling may determine whether that annihilating violence will be done to fewer of our own people."

P.S. Have a great time in Paris.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

In Memoriam

Alfonse 2005-2007
To some only a squirrel, to others a mere tree rodent. But to those of us who knew him he was a cheerful if standoffish neighbor. Always energetic, he frequently had a bad word for passing dogs and cats whom he scolded from his tree. To others he was a beloved mate and a devoted dad (or mom - hard to tell with squirrels).

He is now at eternal rest under the apricot tree in the yard (unless a dog or raccoon digs him up - it's not that deep a hole.)

The Lessons of Fort Dix

One wonders whether the FBI investigation that bagged the six Muslims planning a massacre at Fort Dix involved wiretaps? Were the perps' spied on? Were they profiled? Did the FBI infiltrate as many agents into Methodist churches and Reform synagogues as into New Jersey mosques? Were the perps' rights as scrupulously protected as if it was peacetime? I hope not.

What comes after Gen X?

On Jeopardy! College Tournament the final question was "Who was the first president to conduct a televised news conference?" One of the kids, a fairly smart one, thought it was LBJ. I was stunned. How could he have thought that? Then I realized he was born twenty years after Johnson left office. To him Johnson and Eisenhower are equally figures from the Dark Ages. Another moment of feeling senior....

Monday, May 07, 2007

You Heard It Here First

Amid the shouting and brouhaha of the French election campaign, the name that has not been mentioned is that of Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher was to Britain what Lee Iacocca was to Chrysler. She was elected to reform a British economy running on welfare, deficits, unemployment, strikes, and inflation, and she did it. Britain had become the Sick Man of Europe. Today the British economy is the envy of Europe.

Sarkozy was elected with essentially the same mandate as Thatcher. The contrast with the defender of welfare and political correctness, the Socialist Segolene Royal, could not have been clearer. Whether he will be as successful as Thatcher will unfold over the next five or ten years.

The problem for Americans is whether France, without its snug status quo economy will be as much fun for tourists. Can a recently remodeled restaurant or hotel ever be as good a tourist experience as the old one, unchanged since 1912, was? Can big box malls be far off?