Sunday, August 30, 2009

An Enjoyable Waste of 5 Minutes

By the way and just for the hell of it

Here is President Obama's birth certificate as published by the LA Times on June 8, 2008.

[click on document to enlarge]
There is something noteworthy about it that I have never heard mentioned by anyone. It is hard to imagine that with all the barrels of ink spilled over this thing that I could have something original to say about it. But I do.

Notice that he is "Barack Hussein Obama II". I have never heard that "II" mentioned before.

It explains something that has bothered me right along. If his mother wasn't a convert to Islam, why did she name her son "Hussein"? Doesn't that mean his mother raised him as a Muslim? If he isn't a Muslim why didn't he change it?

There in the birth certificate is the answer.

He is named after his father who was "Barack Hussein Obama". He didn't change it, however inconvenient it may occasionally have been, because it was his father's name.

One wonders why he never uses the "II". A moment's thought explains it. This guy is a Harvard lawyer without a drop of American black blood in him who has spent his entire political career trying to convince American blacks that he is one of them. He is Winston Dupont IV trying to pass himself off as one of the boyz in the 'hood. So the "II" got dropped right away.

I am relieved that it is just the usual bullshit.

More Political News

Afterbirthers Demand To See Obama's Placenta

and we demand that it be Notarized and Dated by Hawaiian officials or we won't believe it.

from the Onion

In Over My Head

In the course of fiddling away yet another day of my dwindling stash of them, I was potchkeying with my camera. I have had it for two years or so and it is already obsolete and superseded by a newer, better, and even more potchkey-worthy model. I am still learning how it works.

I discovered today that it has white balance bracketing.

White balance, for camera illiterates (that is to say, the Irish) is the color cast of a picture, whether it seems overly blue-ish or greenish or the colors are too warm or not warm enough. Calling this "color balance" would have been self-explanatory. Which is presumably why it is not called that.

White balance bracketing means that when I press the shutter button once, the camera takes several pictures, each with a different color balance. The number of pictures and the degree of difference in color balance between them (measured in lovely units called millireds - each one thousandth of a red) are both settable.

The camera also has a feature which brackets exposure, how dark or bright the picture is. With exposure bracketing set, for each time I press the shutter button, the camera takes a settable number of pictures at different exposures.

These are the two main things that go wrong with pictures, either they are under-exposed or over-exposed, or the color is wrong.

A bell went off in my head. It occurred to me that if one could bracket exposure and color balance simultaneously one would have a foolproof camera that would take a perfect picture every time (autofocus is long since a given). It would have to take lots of pictures for every shot, but one of them would be sure to have the right exposure and color.

Since memory chips are now immense - 4, 8, 16, even 32 gigabytes - and relatively cheap, the fact that taking so many pictures would be prodigal of storage memory does not matter.

To my non-surprise the camera won't do both simultaneously.

My camera, when it was new was the middle range of Nikon cameras, way too expensive but not one of their insanely expensive cameras. It seems that some tricks had to be kept in reserve for the insanely expensive cameras or there would be no reason for anyone to buy them. Which means that the ability to take perfect pictures every time was deliberately omitted by the manufacturer.

One is reminded of Intel's Celeron computer processing chips. The Celerons were Intel's bargain chips, almost the same as the standard chips but without the cache memory which speeds up processing. The scandal was that they were the same chips as the standard chip but Intel had deliberately disabled the cache memory. The Celeron was simply a mutilated Pentium.

Apparently my mid-range Nikon camera bears the same relationship to the insanely expensive models. What's Japanese for scumbags?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Gang of Nine

[Clinton campaigning]

There is hurtling toward the Supreme Court the case of Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission. It seems that last year Citizens United, which is a corporation, released a movie titled Hillary Clinton: Why She Is An Unspeakable Whore and How the World Will End If She Is Elected, or something close to that.

The FEC went to court against them on the ground that it was electioneering by a corporation, which is forbidden by the McCain-Feingold Act. The US District Court, a Republican appointee, disagreed. The court ruled that it was just objective reporting of what an unspeakable whore Hillary Clinton is and how the world would end if she were elected. (Only half kidding here. The actual language was, "“to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world and that viewers should vote against her.”) and therefore was not electioneering.

Even the delicate consciences of the Supreme Court were unable to stomach the odor of this pile and they granted certiorari (for the unwashed of the Emerald Isle, that means they agreed to hear the appeal). Presumably they intended to affirm but with less preposterous language. But now with Sotomayor on the Court, the outcome may no longer be as certain as it would have been last year. Those justices who granted certiorari may live to regret it.

Argument is scheduled for September 9.

For once I agree with my libertarian friends in Fresno. Clearly a corporation should be as free to make a movie, to write a book, to compose poetry, to perform music, to paint a picture, to fall in love, as anyone else. To prevent them would violate a corporation's G_d given rights to freedom of speech and violate their right to the pursuit of happiness.

Indeed, my conservative Fresnans do not go far enough in demanding freedom of speech for corporations. The Court should affirm corporations' freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom of conscience if any were ever found. Corporations could join gays in campaigning for the right to marry instead of settling for mere civil unions and mergers.

I think the Court, while eschewing legislating from the bench of course, should go further. The Court should establish the right of corporations to vote and to hold public office.

Once established, these rights would have far-ranging salutary effects on our political life. Since corporations can be established by filing papers in the state capital and paying fees of a few hundred dollars, they could be created in great numbers to offset excessive voting by union members, immigrants, people without medical insurance, and other such unqualified voters. This would rapidly bring an end to people voting their pocketbooks by people with little or nothing in them. I mean we could still vote, but why bother? Actually, not much would change would it?

Corporations holding public office would be a considerable improvement of the current situation. Instead of having to vote for middlemen such as all of the Republicans and most of the Democrats, and never being sure which corporations one was actually voting for, we could vote for the corporations directly.

Of course, as with human candidates, the corporations would have to be ones with broad public appeal. I could see a ticket of Coca-Cola and Apple being hard to beat. We could just drop the pretense that corporations are not running the country and at a stroke save ourselves billions in congressional salaries and offices, and make the expensive White House into a museum.

The cabinet would be corporations too. I can see International Harvester nominally Secretary of Agriculture though everyone would know the real power was the Undersecretary, ADM. Chase Manhattan would be Secretary of the Treasury, McDonnell-Douglas Secretary of Defense. Chevron would be both Secretary of Energy and Secretary of State. The NRA would make a dandy Attorney-General. It would be great.

There would also be legal issues to resolve. For instance, since corporations do not have children (except for child labor overseas of course) they should not have to pay taxes for schools. The same argument could be made for gays, but they at least once were children themselves and have a debt to pay back. Corporations do not.

The same argument applies to medical insurance. Corporations never get sick and never need health care. Why should they have to pay for the health care of others? Such as their employees. It wouldn't be fair.

But before we can get to that golden future, we have to have the Supreme Court decide that corporations have political rights to spend money on movies to influence elections.

How important is this case? Imagine our elections without billions upon billions of corporate dollars paying for massive media campaigns. Imagine campaigns paid for only by the contributions of people who had to take the money out of their own pockets, not the pockets of the corporations they manage. This might rapidly become a very different America.

Imagine instead McCain-Feingold gutted and all restraint on corporate campaign contribution-bribes being ripped away and corporate money gushing over the landscape.

Imagine that mid-term elections are 14 months away.

Stay tuned. Depending on the outcome, September 9 may be a bigger disaster for the nation than September 11.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why Kennedy Matters

[Kerry sharing views with constituents]
The death of Ted Kennedy is a problem for the nation. The Republicans have made it clear that they do not object to the health care reform bill. What they object to is health care reform . The bill, the central item on the administrations' legislative agenda, its New Deal for the 21st Century, depends on the Senate, indeed on just a few senators.

The Democrats have a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives and can pass the bill there. The President of course is certain to sign the bill if it were presented to him because it is his own bill. With Sotomayor giving the Democrats a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, it is likely to be found constitutional in the obstructing litigation that will follow if it is adopted.

The obstacle is the Senate. The Democrats have a nominal majority of 61. There are 2 independents - Sanders of Vermont, a socialist, and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, a lifelong Democrat. Making 63 votes. Versus 37 for the Republicans.

In the Senate legislation in fact requires 3/5 vote (60 senators) on partisan issues, not a majority. The reason is that, since the Civil Rights era, filibuster has changed from a rare and extreme tactic to a routine one. So much so that it was a significant constitutional change when the number of votes needed to end debate, called cloture, thus cutting off a filibuster, was reduced from 2/3 to 3/5.

So the actual vote on a bill is seldom on the bill itself but on the preliminary question of cloture. The ability of 41 senators to block legislation favored by 59 is often said to be undemocratic. Which is exactly true and intentionally so. The United States is a constitutional republic first and a democracy second.

Without Kennedy he Democrats now have only 60 senators. The problem is that the Democrats have within their ranks a number of traitors called Blue Dogs. These are senators posing as Democrats, elected with Democratic votes and Republican money, Democrats in name, Republicans in fact. I have read that there are five or six of them.

There are also three or four moderate Republicans (I suppose that Republicans would consider them traitors too.) who may be willing to break party discipline and vote with the Democrats and the administration.

62 less five or six plus three or four, when 60 are needed means the vote will be close. The greatest likelihood if the Democrats win, it will be by a vote of 60 to 40, the exact minimum. But without Kennedy, the best the coalition of Democrats, independents, and turncoat Republicans can muster is likely 59. Which means they will lose.

If they do lose, it will be a huge victory for the right. The conservatives will be energized (a euphemism for "be able to raise more campaign money") and legitimized. If the Democrats, with the White House, the Court, and big majorities in both houses of Congress, are unable to pass health care reform, a powerfully appealing issue, what reforms will they be able to pass? We will lose not only health care reform but likely the whole reform agenda with it.

Can Kenedy be replaced? The constitution explicitly gives the states the power to decide how senators are chosen. Massachusetts, like most states, used to have the governor appoint a replacement for a mid-term vacancy., followed by an election.

But five years ago when John Kerry, then their senator, resigned his senate seat to run for President, the Democratic legislature changed the law. The new law requires that in case of a vacancy the senate seat remains vacant until the following February and then is filled by an election, not by appointment. Which meant that the then-governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, would not be able to appoint a fellow Republican who could then run as an incumbent. It also meant that if Kerry did not win the presidency, he could run for the senate seat he had resigned. Which he did and is now again senator from Massachusetts.

As to the health care reform bill, February will be too late. Too many of the waverers will have waved back and the 59 votes will have vanished while waiting for the 60th. Absent any change in the votes in the Senate, the health care bill depends on the willingness of the Massachusetts legislature to make fools of themselves, change the law yet again, and put a Democrat in Kennedy's seat.

One possibility would be to appoint someone who would then be ineligible to run in Februrary. That would however be unconstitutional. No one may be made ineligible for office without due process of law and it would be an attainder even with due process. So the hope is that a deal can be worked out in which someone makes a public promise not to run and then the legislature has to hope they keep it. In other words, they have to find among them an honest man.

Anyway, that is what is being debated in Massachusetts right now.

My own suggestion is that they publicly admit what everyone knows, that no Massachusetts politician, once in a senate seat, can be trusted to keep a promise to resign it. It is like looking for a white cat among a group of black cats.

Instead Massachusetts should go with what works - death. They should appoint someone in the late stages of an incurable disease who will be dead by February. That would also necessarily be someone with an intimate knowledge of the health care system and doubtless hold a grudge against it as now constituted - just what one wants.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In Memoriam - Ted Kennedy

Just as the death of Michael Jackson made the nation amnesiac about his pederasty, so too the death of Ted Kennedy has made the nation amnesiac about Chappaquiddick. Mary Jo Kopechne is still dead.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

[Don't try this at home]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Election Results in Afghanistan

[Sightseeing in Afghanistan]
From today's NY Times -

Afghan poll workers made an unusual discovery among ballot papers from Thursday’s election — a hand-written plea from a woman asking the president to do something about her unfaithful husband.

The note to President Hamid Karzai, written in blue pen on a sheet of lined note-paper, was found tucked among voting slips in ballot boxes at a polling station in a small school in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. “With warm greetings to the president,” it began. “I am a woman whose husband disappears during the day every day and wanders around the town and through parks with different types of women, while my children and I sit at home hungry, waiting for him,” it read.

The unidentified woman accused her husband of ignoring his family and of taking all their money for himself. “I want to ask you, Mr. President, to notice how much adultery there is among men,” the letter read. “I don’t know the right language to tell you, I’m asking you to please get rid of this, for all the hatred and damage it brings upon families.”

An election worker told Reuters she was not sure what to do with the note, but pulled it out of the stack of ballots and put it in her pocket.

Sotomayor the First Hispanic Supreme Court Justice?

[Benjamin Cardozo 1870-1938]
Benjamin Cardozo was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1932 to succeed Oliver Wendell Holmes. He wrote most of the decisions on negligence and product liability which define those areas in American law and many of those which define our contract law. The most important part of his career was his years on the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court of that state. Unlike most justices, who are elevated to the Supreme Court, it was widely understood that the Supreme Court was elevated by having Cardozo, the foremost legal intellect of his era.

He decided among many other cases, 'Palsgraf vs. Long Island Railroad', a case which created the fundamental tort law we use today and will use for the foreseeable future. It gave rise to the phrase, "Sue the Bastards".

It seems shameful to give Hispanic gentiles credit for the accomplishments of someone whose connection to them is that they exiled his ancestors. But Sephardic Jews have for centuries made a point of pride of their Hispanic origins so there is no denying it. The analogy I suppose is German Jews being proud of being from Germany, even after the Holocaust.

There is little doubt that Benjamin Cardozo will be a pillar and icon of American law long after Sonia Sotomayor has become just one more picture on a wall, one more name on a list. The difference is between having gone to a prestigious school of law, and having a prestigious school of law named after you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Discussing Health Care Across the Table

Jon Stewart even went so far as to allow that the mixed race president and the gay Jew congressman might not be Nazis at all.

The Rabbi at the Racetrack

[Hebrew horses, runing from right to left]

A fellow goes to the races for the first time and decides to look over the race horses in the paddock before placing his first bet. While there he sees a rabbi standing beside a horse due to run in the first race. The Rabbi is rocking back and forth in prayer.

He notes the number on the horse and for the heck of it puts a two dollar bet to win on the horse. It comes in paying 9-1.

Collecting his money he goes down to the paddock and sees the Rabbi praying over another horse, this one due to run in the next
race. He puts all his winnings on that horse to win and again he wins.

By the end of the eight race his winnings total over five thousand. He decides the ninth will be his last race. He checks which
horse the Rabbi is praying over and places all his money on that horse.

This time things are different. The horse the Rabbi was praying over trailed the field, ending up dead last
and all the man's winnings are lost.

He spots the Rabbi, runs up to him, and says, " Rabbi, I do not understand. I watched you pray over horses and I bet and won on
every horse you prayed over. That is, except on the ninth race. I lost all my money on the horse you were praying over.

The Rabbi looks at the fellow and says, "Tell me, are you Jewish?"
The man answers, "Yes. I am Jewish. I am a member of a Reform synagogue." The rabbi replies , " That's the trouble with you Reform. You don't know the difference between a brocha and a kaddish."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tipsy Ramblings

[Georges Saint-Pierre, the Pride of Montreal]
I am in the enviable circumstance of people conflating their good times at wedding celebrations with the excellence of my product, my house. Somehow, their good times become intertwined with where they had them, the part of the event they paid for.

Even as we speak there is a roar of a twenty voices of Quebecois geniality and family pleasure from the other side of the pocket doors. They have asked for barbecue implements and got them. I had to clean the damned barbecue for the first time. Disgusting. Even so I like having a barbecue. I may even use it myself some day.

Well that didn't last long..,,

[Muhammad preaching. Notice the dagger. Used for inflicting peace on his opponents.]
From today's NY Times -

At least six Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Friday when Hamas police officers stormed a mosque that had been taken over by a group of Islamic militants.

The group’s leader had declared during Friday Prayer at the mosque that Hamas was too liberal and that from now on, Rafah, and soon all of Gaza, would be ruled by pure religious law. “We declare the birth of the Islamic emirate,” he said.

Hamas, an Islamist but Palestinian nationalist group that has ruled Gaza for the past two years, sent dozens of security officers to the mosque, where gun battles went on into the evening. Medics at Rafah Hospital said there were 6 dead and about 50 wounded, though some reports put the death toll as high as 16. At least one Hamas policeman was killed.

The rebel group calls itself the Warriors of God, and its leader is Abdel Latif Moussa, known to his followers as Abu Noor al-Maqdisi. He arrived Friday at the Rafah mosque with more than 100 followers, many with long beards and flowing hair and heavily armed, according to witnesses.

Hamas police and security forces followed quickly and set up checkpoints outside Rafah as the battle for the mosque continued.

Warriors of God is a Palestinian group based in Rafah, on Gaza’s southern edge, with an unclear number of followers. It apparently has its own smuggling tunnels from the Egyptian Sinai, allowing it to bring in goods and weapons.

Israel has alleged that some foreign veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been getting into Gaza, but Hamas authorities have dismissed those accusations, saying the issue was purely a Palestinian one.

Hamas has insisted that it would bring order to Gaza’s streets despite a split with its rival, the Palestinian Authority, which is based on the West Bank, and despite an Israeli-led embargo on the movement of goods and people.
It is just awful that Hamas has been attacked by Muslim fanatics. [snicker] One certainly hopes this conflict can be resolved without further bloodshed. [chuckle] It would be sad to see honorable people like Hamas hoist upon their own petard of Muslim zeal and violence. [guffaw] A few people seem to have momentarily lost sight of Islam being the religion of peace. [chortle] It is not as though the leader of the Warriors of God, Abdel Latif Moussa, is a megalomaniac who has declared himself emir of all the world, starting with the town of Rafah. [giggle] I am sure he has just been misquoted. [snort]

Friday, August 14, 2009

Law and Order

[George III, King of America]
From the NY Times today, describing 20 killings in Dagestan in the Russian Caucasus -
Most of the violence centers on fighting between the police and various radical Islamist or more secular separatist organizations, some of which are remnants of the militant groups that fought federal forces in Chechnya’s two wars. Also common is violence among organized crime groups and competing ethnic clans.
So much of our history has been devoted to curbing too-strong governments that we do not think of the consequences of too-weak governments. The people of Dagestan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and until recently the West Bank, think about them more often.

Dignity and Respect

Which is the core of radical ideology. Everybody and even everything is entitled to dignity and respect. Which is so much fun to say and sounds so right. But is it true?

Where does the entitlement come from? Is it a right? Where do rights come from? Are they G_d-given? Are radicals, who rarely believe in G_d other than some sort of New Age vagueness, in good faith in claiming the agency of a deity in Whom they do not believe? If they are not in good faith, i.e. lying, why are they entitled to be listened to at all?

Many, perhaps most, radicals profess at least an interest in Buddhism, though almost always painfully, embarrassingly, ignorant of it. And Buddhism is quite pointedly atheistic. Not agnostic - atheistic. In Buddhism the underlying reality behind the world of appearance is the Void - emptiness, nada, zippidee do dah, nothing, zip. Not Hashem, not any system or order, and certainly not rights or entitlements.

So Goat's assertion that there is an entitlement to dignity and respect seems at best groundless, at worst hypocritical. When examined, the fundamental proposition is simply a bare assertion unsupported by any rationale. It is a prejudice. A superstition.

Are mosquitoes entitled to respect? Or entitled to be swatted for their bloodsucking? Are pneumococcus bacteria that invade the lungs to be treated with honor? Or treated with antibiotics?

Of course this is academic when speaking of insects or germs. The real debate is whether all people are entitled to dignity and respect - without regard to their actions or merits.

The seminal image in this discussion is Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks, for the benefit of the young and ignorant, that is to say the Irish, according to legend was the African-American cleaning lady who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus in 1955. By so doing she sparked the Montgomery bus boycott of that year, led by a young preacher named Martin Luther King. Which rapidly blossomed into the Civil Rights movement. According to the legend, her reason for refusing was that she had worked hard all day as a cleaning lady and her feet hurt.

So the question has been proposed as "Is a humble cleaning lady entitled to dignity and respect?" In the dual context of a religion in which the meek inherit the earth (just not this earth) and a much spoken-of but rarely applied notion of the dignity of labor, the answer was yes.

Never mind that the legend is a lie. So far from a cleaning lady, Rosa Parks had been for 10 years the Secretary (i.e. head) of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP. Rosa Parks was neither meek nor was she labor. Her act was not that of a tired cleaning lady but a deliberate political provocation by the head of a political organization representing half the population of Montgomery. The Montgomery bus boycott was not a spontaneous uprising but a planned political campaign.

The fact that the legend is a lie does not change the equities and inequities of the struggle over integration. But it does show that politicians, even those representing downtrodden minorities, are lying scumbags. Hardly a revelation. And that any claim of vast moral superiority, such as that claimed by the Civil Rights Movement, is generally based on wanton and shameless lying. And, one might add, on the willingness 0f large numbers of the public to be duped. And it shows the power of a fun lie as opposed to a boring truth.

But that is an aside. The real question is not if Rosa Parks, whether cleaning lady or opposition politician, is entitled to dignity and respect. It is whether the guy who got on the bus in hopes of snatching a cleaning lady's purse is also.

Put differently, are dignity and respect things to be earned in some way? Do they flow from merit? Does one have to do or be something in order to deserve them? Or are they automatic?

And is everyone equally entitled to dignity and respect? Is a purse snatcher who preys on the poor entitled to the same dignity and respect as someone hard-working, underprivileged, harming no one, someone like the imaginary Rosa Parks, whose pitiful wages he steals?

Is the pathetic loser, given every opportunity but who nevertheless descends to exploiting and abusing everyone around him, entitled to the same respect and dignity as Mother Theresa? Whether the exploitation and abuse are local and personal like individual junkies or national like Idi Amin, are the undeserving to be accorded equal dignity and respect with the meritorious? If so, why?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Panic in Needle Park

[Julie Andrews explaining fellatio]
Last night I saw 'The Panic in Needle Park' on a Netflix DVD. It is a "classic" because it is from 1971, before many of the reviewers were born, and because it stars a very young Al Pacino. Nothing else recommends it. For those of us who were alive and semi-conscious in 1971 and not that impressed with the supposed gifts of Al Pacino (Is it possible that bellowing is not the same as dramatic acting? That being the beneficiary of great cinematography isn't either?), nothing recommends it.

'Needle Park' is Sherman Square in New York, a hangout for junkies. And that is what the movie is about - junkies. There is some phony pretense that the movie is gritty cinema-verite about what low-lifes and losers junkies are. But the real moral is that junkies are cool and live more interesting lives than non-junkies who have to do boring stuff like work and not being in jail or passed out on filthy mattresses.

Non-junkies also do boring stuff like have sex. There is an oblique reference to the fact that junkies lose their libido, but the sound track is so poor that one can't quite hear what Pacino is mumbling. He appears to be promising to have sex with his girlfriend "tomorrow", a promise as good as any other junkie promise. But Loathsome Al can't start his career as Dickless Al, and it is hard to make a life without sex glamorous*, so it is glossed over. And we aren't trying to glamorize junkies to sell tickets are we? Of course not. This is honest fearless cinema-verite, remember?

In spite of endless offensive lingering closeup shots of people injecting heroin into their veins, and the glamorization of drug addiction, theft, prostitution, and ratting out your friends, this piece de squat is rated PG. Which shows what's wrong with the whole motion picture rating system. It is all about repressed sexual dysfunctionals pressing their anti-sexual attitudes on everyone else.

If one is going to keep children from seeing things one doesn't want them to do, sex is the last thing one should keep from them. I would be pleased as orgasm if my grand-nephews and -nieces never encountered any form of violence all their lives long. It would be just great with me if they never saw anything but vaccine injected into themselves or anyone else. Conversely, it is my fervent wish that they each find someone they love and spend the rest of their lives screwing their brains out with that person.

If I ran the circus, movies with injected drugs would be X-rated, violence would be XX-rated, and consensual fucking would be G-rated.

Jack's overall rating of 'The Panic in Needle Park': Feh.

*Which is what 'The Sound of Music' is all about - sex. Julie Andrews goes from a convent full of nuns to the castle of a man with twelve children. There is one and only one way to have twelve children (anyone about to mention turkey basters or in vitro, kindly shut the hell up) . And she promptly marries him. Why would that be? There is some chatter about Nazis and singing but that is only to maintain the pretense that the world's most wholesome movie is not all about getting it on between the sheets.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Other Good Things

[Scotland's royal coat of arms with national motto
'My Country, Drunk or Sober']
Among the not-so-good things in life are the annoyances of age, things that hurt when there is no good reason for them to.

Fortunately, among the good things that come with age is scotch whiskey (when is it 'whisky' instead?). It works much like codeine. Having taken it, it either doesn't hurt anymore or one doesn't care.

The cretins at Trader Joe's apparently bought their supply when sterling was over $2. So their prices reflect what they paid for it, rather than the more modest price of pounds today - $1.62.

Since I use it for medicinal purposes, it seems only right that Medicare should pay for it, no? But they won't. Write your congressthing now to right this inequity. Free the El Cerrito One! Involuntary Sobriety is Tyranny! Or something.

In spite of its high price ($30) I recommend Trader Joe's house brand 12 year old single malt 'Imperial'. Their same price, same age, same brand, 'Aberlour' is not as good.

Doughnut Peaches

Not being among the downtrodden (relatively speaking) I enjoy the better things in life. Among them are ripe doughnut peaches. They are in season now and they are wonderful. Get a bagful and leave them on a kitchen sideboard in the sun for a few days. Eat warm, possibly with milk. The rumor that they are peches beignets in French is false.

Wal-Mart Again

The standard denunciation of Wal-Mart is class warfare against the poor. Wal-Mart is where people with crappy jobs can afford to buy shoes, shirts, and steam irons, without saving up for weeks. "But it's so un-hip" the braindead whinny. Being poor is un-hip too.

For tens of millions of people in the United States and Canada, the choices available for ordinary consumer goods are buy it at Wal-Mart or don't buy it at all.

On the other side it is an outlet for industrial goods made by poor people in China and India. People with crappy factory jobs that provide standards of living vastly better than their only alternative - staying on small over-crowded farms if they're lucky, being landless agricultural laborers if they're not. Wanting to work in a factory is way un-hip. Poverty to the verge of starvation for tens of millions of people is even more un-hip.

Those, rather than which coffee beans are more politically correct, are the actual issues faced by hundreds of millions of people in the US and abroad.

Friday, August 07, 2009

OK, one last kick at the Arabs then I'll stop - for now

[Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal]
From the Near East Report--
Arabs Spurn Obama

In recent weeks, U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell has been meeting with Israeli leaders in an effort to resolve policy differences between Washington and Jerusalem on the issue of settlements. Reports indicate that the United States and Israel “have significantly improved the atmosphere” between them and are discussing their differences closely and in private, as one would expect from two allies.

The same cannot be said of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and most Arab states, which have not shown any interest in bridging their differences with the United States and reaching out for peace with Israel.

In fact, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has raised his demands on Israel higher than ever before. He has refused to talk to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until Israel completely freezes all construction in areas east of the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice line between Israel and Jordan).

Abbas won’t even agree to ask the Arab states to take small confidence-building measures toward Israel. “We can’t talk to the Arabs until Israel agrees to freeze settlements and recognize the two-state solution,” Abbas said. “Until then we can’t talk to anyone.”

Abbas now says that he has no incentive to speak to his Israeli counterpart. “I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he said. “Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality...the people are living a normal life.”

Most Arab leaders are even more obstinate than Abbas. In a visit to Washington last week, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal bluntly said no to President Obama’s request for gestures to Israel. Instead, al-Faisal insisted that Israel’s acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative remains the only path to peace.

The initiative, first proposed in Beirut in 2002 and reaffirmed in the 2007 Arab League summit in Riyadh, calls on Israel—as a prerequisite for peace and “normal relations”—to completely withdraw from all territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and accept a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the Palestinian refugee problem on the basis of U.N. Resolution 194, which calls for the “return” of refugees to Israel.

“The question is not what the Arab world will offer,” al-Faisal said of Obama’s strategy. “The question really is: what will Israel give in exchange for this comprehensive offer?”

The Israeli government has welcomed the Arab initiative, but insists that the peace plan must be negotiated among the parties involved rather than presented as an all-or-nothing ultimatum. “If these proposals are not final, they can create an atmosphere in which a comprehensive peace can be reached,” Netanyahu said.

Most Arab leaders are publicly rallying behind the Saudi position. Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, and Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser Joudeh, both came to Washington and said Israel is responsible for the lack of peace in the region. (There is one notable Arab contrarian: The crown prince of Bahrain, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, has written that Arab leaders need to be willing to talk to the Israeli public about the Arab Peace Initiative in order to “highlight the benefits of a genuine peace.”)

President Obama would obviously like to see more Arab leaders act like al-Khalifa. In his Cairo speech on June 4, Obama said that “the Arab states must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems.”

What could Saudi Arabia do to show Obama that it is sincere about peace? Allow Israeli civilian aircraft to pass through their airspace. Terminate the Arab League boycott of Israel. Establish trade relations, cultural exchanges, postal routes and telecommunications lines with the Jewish state. Include Israeli diplomats in regional meetings. Invite Israelis to participate in educational programs and sporting events. Visit Jerusalem and speak directly to the Israeli people.

Many members of Congress are urging Saudi Arabia to take some of those steps. Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Edward Royce (R-CA) sent a letter to Saudi King Abdullah, signed by 226 House members, calling on him to follow the example set by Egypt and Jordan, both of which opened ties with Israel before the signing of a peace treaty. Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and James Risch (R-IN) are circulating a similar letter to President Obama—already signed by more than half the Senate—emphasizing the need for Arab states to take dramatic steps for peace.

Mitchell, a dedicated and persistent diplomat, understands the challenges of Mideast peacemaking and has sounded optimistic about his private conversations with Saudi leaders. But so far, there is no public indication by Saudi Arabia—a key player in the Arab world and a country with a longstanding alliance with the United States—that 61 years of rejecting Israel is long enough.
It is a rule that whenever Israel is in trouble, she can rely on the Arabs to bail her out by being idiots and assholes. This time is no exception. They are dealing with an American president whose middle name is 'Hussein' and they still can't grasp the idea that they can't get a settlement without negotiation, that the side that has lost six wars in a row doesn't get to unilaterally dictate peace terms.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

More Muslim Weirdness

It occurs to me that since Muslim men can marry four wives, does it mean that when they double-date that ten people go out together? How does it work if one gets lucky with dates 2 and 4 but shot down by 1 and 3?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Salam Fayyad

Tom Friedman's column in the New York Times today--
In 2002, the U.N. Development Program released its first ever Arab Human Development Report, which bluntly detailed the deficits of freedom, women’s empowerment and knowledge-creation holding back the Arab world. It was buttressed with sobering statistics: Greece alone translated five times more books every year from English to Greek than the entire Arab world translated from English to Arabic; the G.D.P. of Spain was greater than that of all 22 Arab states combined; 65 million Arab adults were illiterate. It was a disturbing picture, bravely produced by Arab academics.

Coming out so soon after 9/11, the report felt like a diagnosis of all the misgovernance bedeviling the Arab world, creating the pools of angry, unemployed youth, who become easy prey for extremists.

Well, the good news is that the U.N. Development Program and a new group of Arab scholars last week came out with a new Arab Human Development report. The bad news: Things have gotten worse — and many Arab governments don’t want to hear about it.

This new report was triggered by a desire to find out why the obstacles to human development in the Arab world have “proved so stubborn.” What the roughly 100 Arab authors of the 2009 study concluded was that too many Arab citizens today lack “human security — the kind of material and moral foundation that secures lives, livelihoods and an acceptable quality of life for the majority.” A sense of personal security — economic, political and social — “is a prerequisite for human development, and its widespread absence in Arab countries has held back their progress.”

The authors cite a variety of factors undermining human security in the Arab region today — beginning with environmental degradation — the toxic combination of rising desertification, water shortages and population explosion. In 1980, the Arab region had 150 million people. In 2007, it was home to 317 million people, and by 2015 its population is projected to be 395 million. Some 60 percent of this population is under the age of 25, and they will need 51 million new jobs by 2020.

Another persistent source of Arab human insecurity is high unemployment. “For nearly two and half decades after 1980, the region witnessed hardly any economic growth,” the report found. Despite the presence of oil money (or maybe because of it), there is a distinct lack of investment in scientific research, development, knowledge industries and innovation. Instead, government jobs and contracts dominate. Average unemployment in the Arab region in 2005 was 14.4 percent, compared with 6.3 percent for the rest of the world. A lot of this is because of a third source of human insecurity: autocratic and unrepresentative Arab governments, whose weaknesses “often combine to turn the state into a threat to human security, instead of its chief support.”

The whole report would have left me feeling hopeless had I not come to Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government in the West Bank, to find some good cheer. I’m serious.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to the wider Middle East what off-Broadway is to Broadway. It is where all good and bad ideas get tested out first. Well, the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, a former I.M.F. economist, is testing out the most exciting new idea in Arab governance ever. I call it “Fayyadism.”

Fayyadism is based on the simple but all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or rejectionism or personality cults or security services, but on delivering transparent, accountable administration and services.

Fayyad, a former finance minister who became prime minister after Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007, is unlike any Arab leader today. He is an ardent Palestinian nationalist, but his whole strategy is to say: the more we build our state with quality institutions — finance, police, social services — the sooner we will secure our right to independence. I see this as a challenge to “Arafatism,” which focused on Palestinian rights first, state institutions later, if ever, and produced neither.

Things are truly getting better in the West Bank, thanks to a combination of Fayyadism, improved Palestinian security and a lifting of checkpoints by Israel. In all of 2008, about 1,200 new companies registered for licenses here. In the first six months of this year, almost 900 have registered. According to the I.M.F., the West Bank economy should grow by 7 percent this year.

Fayyad, famous here for his incorruptibility, says his approach is “to tell people who you are, what you are about and what you intend to do and then actually do it.” At a time when all the big ideologies have failed to deliver for Arabs, Fayyad says he wants a government based on “legitimacy by achievement.”

Something quite new is happening here. And given the centrality of the Palestinian cause in Arab eyes, if Fayyadism works, maybe it could start a trend in this part of the world — one that would do the most to improve Arab human security — good, accountable government.
This is shockingly false. We have it from no less an authority than the Face on the Barroom Floor that the problems in the Palestinian territories are caused by Israeli occupation. Especially in Gaza which has no Israeli occupation.

One wonders if the origins of Fayyadism have anything to do with the proximity of a country in which honest efficient accountable government is the norm.

But that certainly could not be true. We have it on the authority of the Jonathan Swift of Our Day that the current investigation of a politician (Avigdor Lieberman) for financial improprieties proves that that country is corrupt. From which we can readily conclude that the lack of investigation and prosecution of officials throughout the Arab world is conclusive proof that there is no corruption at all anywhere there - an obvious triumph for Islam.

Think about it - the unexpected presence of ONE honest Palestinian official is taken by the New York Times as a sign of hope for the entire Arab world. And, absurdly, they're probably right.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

More Peaceful Palestinian Intentions

[Abbas in front of picture of famous truth-teller, Yasser Arafat]
from Haaretz today -
Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says his people must not "mar their legitimate struggle with terror" and that while his government seeks peace with Israel, it reserves the right to resort to "resistance."

Abbas spoke Tuesday to about 2,200 Fatah delegates gathered in the West Bank. The meeting is the first first convention held by the movement in two decades.
Presumably he said this with a straight face.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

People On Our Side

from Le Monde [roughly translated] -
A group of angry Muslims today killed six Christians, including a child, and wounded ten others whom they accused of having profaned the Koran. The agressors also burned forty houses and a church in a village in the west of Pakistan, according to an official source.
[The Minister of Minorities said] "I have been told that they were burned alive."
Pakistani television showed the police using tear gas to disperse the angry crowd.
Note that the police attempted to disperse the crowd, not to arrest anyone.

These are our allies, the people we hope will remain in power lest Al Qaeda and the Taliban take power.