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

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.


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.


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


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.