Saturday, October 31, 2009

More Gaza

[Hamas members in Gaza set fire to a coffin with pictures of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas]
From today's New York Times -
A three-year-old embargo on Hamas imposed by Israel and Egypt keeps nearly all factories shut and supplies away. Eighty percent of the population gets some form of assistance.
Wait, Israel AND Egypt? Why Egypt?
Israel wants to isolate Hamas because the group rejects Israel’s existence. As Ayman Taha, a Hamas movement spokesman, said in an interview, “Our long-term strategy is the liberation of all of Palestine, but we would agree to a temporary solution involving a state in the 1967 borders with a truce of about 10 years, depending on the conditions of the truce.”
Well, yeah, that and years of bombarding Israeli civilians with thhousands of rockets.

[Notice that though Hamas got its head handed to them by the IDF in January, they nevertheless assume they can dictate transparently disingenuous terms. Revealingly, they forever refer to everyone but themselves as "arrogant".].
Egypt rejects Hamas because of its affiliation with the Cairo-based Muslim Brotherhood.
Which assassinated Anwar Sadat for making peace with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian branch, also fought a lengthy and bloody terrorist campaign against the Egyptian regime for its corruption and secularism. At times this came close to civil war. The Mubarak regime won.

As with their wars with Israel, Muslims never accept that they have lost. So nothing is ever settled until one side or the other is dead, all of them. And both sides know that. Which is why their politics are so violent. An awful lot of Muslim Brotherhood people wound up very dead in Egyptian jails as a result.

So the terrible suffering in Gaza caused by the embargo is as much a product of the Egyptian embargo as of the Israeli embargo? That is poignant in several ways.

One is that the Egyptians, unlike the Jews, are the Palestinians' Arab and Muslim brothers. Another is that Egypt has imposed its embargo without years of rocket bombardment of Egyptian civilians from Gaza.

A third poignancy is that the Arabs, the UN, the Euro-left, the various American Israel-bashers, the Norwegians, the Rachel Corries of the world, the J Street liars, have all forgotten to condemn Egypt for its half of the embargo. No UN resolutions, no marches, no university boycotts, no divestment campaigns, no thundering from protestant pulpits. Not a peep.

Which leads to the fourth poignancy - that the Israel-bashers don't care about the embargo or the people of Gaza the least little bit, whether they live or die. They care only about the Gazans as they are able to use them to attack Israel. If they cared about Gaza they would oppose the Egyptian embargo and they don't. What does that leave?

Which leads to the fifth and final poignancy, the ironic one. It is that the enemies of Israel are thus using the people of Gaza collectively as a political human shield, just as Hamas uses them individually as military human shields, as human sacrifices.

An aptly ghoulish thought for Halloween Eve.


Further Down the Page....

[the father of Moshe Nahari, with his daughters]
From today's Wall Street Journal -
Then, on Dec. 11, a lone gunman shot dead Moshe Nahari, a father of nine and well-known figure in Raida's Jewish community [in Yemen]. Abdul-Aziz al-Abdi, a retired Air Force pilot, pumped several bullets into Mr. Nahari after the Hebrew teacher dismissed his demands that he convert to Islam. In June, the shooter was sentenced to death.
What risk of actual punishment does al-Abdi face from his fellow Muslims for murdering a Jew? The British government released one of the Lockerbie bombers in spite of his having murdered hundreds of people, many of them British subjects. What can we expect to happen to Abdul Aziz al-Abdi in Yemen? Not much.

Is it just me...?

['Enola Gay' returning to Tinian. Her sister ship was the B-29 'Necessary Evil']
I got a flu shot a week ago.

Thursday evening during world series game 2 I got a bad sore throat which came on quickly. Friday it worsened and became a head cold. Saturday I was having difficulty breathing even with my mouth open. I dragged my broken body to a drugstore for patent medicines. One of which had no effect at all. (house brands not always a bargain?) and the other, an inhaler, worked but stung like a sonofabitch for half an hour. Between Friday afternoon and this Sunday morning I slept perhaps 30 hours.

The checker at the market where I got the inhaler said that she also got sick shortly after she got a flu shot.

Between me and the checker is just two incidents and may be coincidence. Has anyone else gotten sick after getting a flu shot? This was a regular flu shot, not swine flu.

Postnote Sunday AM -
A friend who works in a public health clinic agrees with Harvey that there is little likelihood the vector was the flu shot. Indeed it is most likely that I have the H1N1 virus, the swine flu.

Which is most disturbing. I thought there was a tacit understanding that it would only affect other people. It was supposed to be something that never really happens other than on television, like killer bees. And how unseemly is it for a Jew to have swine flu? They couldn't name it for some kosher animal? [schmucks]

Having H-anything N-anything is unnerving after seeing the 1918 graves in Sunset View Cemetery. Even in the dinky remote El Cerrito of 1918 large numbers of people died. Considering what happened in the less populous, less connected world of 1918, the effect of a similar outbreak now daunts the imagination.

It is no exaggeration to say that a recurrence of a disease like the Spanish Influenza of 1918 is a vastly greater danger to the human race than all our nuclear weapons combined. Nuclear weapons kill people where they are dropped. The Spanish Influenza killed a varying fraction of the population everywhere in the world.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Feminist Suspicions

[funeral in Baghdad for victim of yesterday's truck bombings]

Is it possible that crowds like this would be less prone to hysteria and violence if there were women among them?

(Wait Mahmoud. We can't go burn down the embassy. We have to be at my sister's by five and we have to shop for pita and a goat first.)


Paradoxes of Urban Life


The Scientific Method


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Plans for the Future

[two energy solutions]
This is in response to an article in the Seattle Times about the Puget Sound area having been chosen for the introduction of a network of electric car recharging stations. Ford has devised a hybrid car that will drive 40 miles on battery before resorting to its gas engine. Used carefully it might never use gasoline.

The author points out neatly why the Puget Sound area was chosen. After some local pride about how hip everybody in the Seattle area is, he mentions the real reasons, availability of hydroelectric power and mild climate (to minimize use of both power-draining air conditioning and battery-killing sub-zero temperatures). Of these the power issue is the more important one.

There are two important effects of electric cars - one is that they raise the efficiency of power generation by centralizing it from millions of small engines to one large power station. And the other is that they reduce emissions by doing so.

But ordinarily, though they change the locus and efficiency of power generation, in the great majority of cases, power is still generated by the combustion of fossil fuels. In the case of coal-fired plants burning high-sulfur coal (as is still done in China and such places), the net pollution may rival or even exceed that of the automobile gas engines replaced.

The problem is thus not only how much energy do cars use, but where do they get it.

For this reason I have long been an advocate of nuclear power plants. Though endlessly decried for their production of nuclear wastes as though that were an insoluble problem, they power the electric grids of France, Japan, and many other countries. The populations of which have somehow not become extinct.

Of late however, I am beginning to rethink the problem. Widespread use of nuclear reactors contemplates widespread use of Uranium-235, a rare substance and expensive to separate from Uranium-238, a reasonably common one. (This is what the whole fight about Iranian centrifuges is about) One solution is that, once one has reactors available, as we have had since the 1950's, one can use them to irradiate Uranium-238 with neutrons, transmuting it to Plutonium-239. These are the so-called breeder reactors which generate more nuclear fuel than they use. Breeder reactors provide a pathway to the future with effectively unlimited energy resources.

The problem is that it brings lots of plutonium into the world, which scarcely exists in nature. Pu-239 is the deadliest substance imaginable. It is far easier to make into a nuclear weapon and requires smaller quantities for a nuclear weapon than U-238 (it is said to be "more fissile").

A few pounds of plutonium were delivered to the people of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 killing 39,000 of them. We are used to thinking of it as a bomb, B-29's, the Manhattan Project, the wrath of the United States over Pearl Harbor. But in the end it was a few pounds of plutonium.

That is aside from the fact that it replaces calcium in the body and causes bone cancer upon ingestion of mere micrograms, making it one of the most toxic substances known. It is worth noting that the same amount of plutonium would likely have killed even more people in Nagasaki, albeit more slowly, had it been introduced into their water supply. It is fitting that it is named for the god of the underworld, the god of death.

An energy future based on reactors and Pu-239 would require that nowhere, in no country, for centuries to come, would any plutonium ever be diverted. Not even by governments wanting to achieve military nuclear power status quickly and cheaply.

Ours is a world with many contending sovereign governments, some of them dictatorships, some of them irrational. Others, including capitalist democracies, are merely venal and conscienceless. They are all too rational and too calculating, but only of short-term benefits. It is a world containing a billion or so Muslims whose religion teaches jihad. The prospect of this, our world, full of breeder reactors, is worse than the prospect of a world burning fossil fuels.

So I have changed my mind. My new theory is reduced production of CO2 by green everything, and reforestation for increased CO2 uptake. That will leave us dependent on fossil fuels for a long time but sustainably so until they run out (a sustainable oxymoron).

The problem with ethanol from crops like corn and switchgrass is that it produces more CO2 than it saves. But that objection puts on corn ethanol the burden of solving two separate problems simultaneously. If one asks that it simply replace fossil fuels and finds a separate solution to CO2 emissions, it will work handily. Again reforestation is the leading way to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.

I do not know enough about it to speak knowledgeably, but I am told that restoring the oceans to pre-industrial conditions would greatly enhance their ability to process CO2 to oxygen as well.

I have long intended to write either a long essay or a short book about reforestation baselines but I am forever stalled by my own inertia.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

If You Can't Beat 'Em....

Almost half the Anglicans in the world, some 40 million people, live in Nigeria. The primate of the Anglican church in both Nigeria and Africa generally is Archbishop Akinola of the See of Abuja.

The Anglican church is suffering splits and defections now. They are fighting over the widespread ordination of women as priests in the US and Canada. And fighting over the investiture, in New Hampshire, of an openly gay bishop. (Giving a whole new meaning to "bishopric"?)

In an open attempt to woo wavering conservative Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism, the Catholic church has issued what it calls "an apostolic constitution". Under this constitution, married Anglican priests could remain priests. It would permit whole parishes, sees, and regions, to join the Catholic church yet retain autonomy within it.

One major obstacle to merging large sections of the Anglican church into the Roman one is the coolness of Archbishop Akinola to the idea. Akinola is low church and bible oriented. Benedict is an elitist who pursues the most refined and intellectual of high church theologies.

With my usual impeccable moral standards, I propose to resolve the question with bribery.

I wonder if making Archbishop Akinola a cardinal with the expectation that he would succeed the now 82 year old Benedict XVI as pontiff would help. Having an African pope would greatly enhance Catholic evangelism in Africa where Christianity often comes in a lame second to Islam. An African pope oriented to the Bible, as Archbishop Akinola is, would also be a sharp turnaround from Benedict XVI's elitist (some would say) emphasis on the the most refined and intellectual of theologies.

An African pope might energize the church, make it more inclusive, and make it more attractive to young people. There have been many African saints, maybe it is time for an African pope as well.

As pope, Archbishop Akinola might do for the Catholic church what Barack Obama has done for the Democratic Party and for the United States.

Scumbag Alert

I found small round holes in my porch which I suspect to be powder post beetle borings. I have finally gotten off my toukes and called some pest inspection places. Orkin advertises heavily so I started with them. With my usual imprudence I made an appointment for an inspection before thinking to check customer reviews. They are from all over the country. They are universally negative.

There are no end of complaints against them. The gravamen of the complaints is generally the same. High pressure sales followed by poor service followed by refusal to accept cancellation requests. Frequent billing for services not performed.

There were frequent complaints that infestations worsened after Orkin began its visits. Which means they are at least completely ineffective. Judging by how sleazy their other business practices are, it is not impossible the friendly Orkin man is actually planting roach infestations to keep the contract running indefinitely.

The Scenic Route Blog hereby awards Orkin its highest ripoff business accolade - the One Finger Salute with Both Hands. A handsome certificate suitable for framing is available for a slight additional charge.


Goldstone Admits 'Goldstone Report' a Crock

Published in: The Jerusalem Post - Blog Central October 15, 2009

With so much (though not all) of the civilized world justly condemning (or ignoring) the Goldstone Report for its distortion of the facts and its one-sided condemnation of Israel, Richard Goldstone himself now seems to be backing away from the report's conclusions - at least when he speaks to his Jewish audiences.

In an interview with The Jewish DailyForward, Goldstone denied that his group had conducted "an investigation." Instead, it was what he called a "fact-finding mission" based largely on the limited "material we had." Since this "material" was cherry-picked by Hamas guides and spokesmen, Goldstone acknowledged that "if this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven." He emphasized to the Forward that the report was no more than "a road map" for real investigators and that it contained no actual "evidence," of wrongdoing by Israel.

"Nothing proven"! "No evidence"! Only a "road map"! You wouldn’t know any of that, of course, by reading the report itself or its accompanying media release. In the text of the report itself, Goldstone neither sought to clarify nor explain what he now claims is the limited scope and legal implications of the report. The report reads like a judicial decision, making findings of fact (nearly all wrong), stating conclusions of law (nearly all questionable) and making specific recommendations (nearly all one-sided). According to the Forward:

"the report itself is replete with bold and declarative legal conclusions seemingly at odds with the cautious and conditional explanations of its author. The report repeatedly refers, without qualification, to specific violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention committed by Israel and other breaches of international law. Citing particular cases, the report determines unequivocally that Israel 'violated the prohibition under customary international law' against targeting civilians. These violations, it declares, ‘constitute a grave breach’ of the convention."

It is as if there were two entirely different Goldstone Reports: the first submitted to the United Nations and the second to the Jewish community. In speaking so differently to different audiences, Goldstone is reminiscent of Yasser Arafat, who perfected the art of double-speak, using bellicose language when addressing Arab audiences and more accommodating language when addressing western audiences.

Goldstone apparently lacked the courage to stand up to the other members and staffers of his commission and insist that his clarifying language be included in the report itself. Nor did he have the courage to file a dissenting or concurring statement. Instead, he spoke out of both sides of his mouth, sending one message to those who read the actual report and a very different message to those who read his words in the Jewish Forward (and The New York Times, for which he wrote a more ameliorative op ed on the day after the release of the Report). In doing so, he is trying to have it both ways.

Goldstone went so far as to tell the Forward that he himself "wouldn't consider it in any way embarrassing if many of the allegations turn out to be disproved." This is total nonsense. Goldstone has put his imprimatur - and his reputation - behind the reports' conclusions. The only reason anyone is paying any attention to yet another of the serial condemnatory reports by the United Nations Human Rights Council is because Richard Goldstone - a "distinguished" Jew - allegedly wrote it and signed on to its conclusions. If he really doesn't stand by its conclusions - if he doesn't care one way or another whether they are true or false, proven or unproven - then no extra weight should be given to its findings or conclusions because of the "distinguished" reputation of its Jewish chairman.

But weight is being given by some to its "unproven" and uninvestigated allegations, which Goldstone himself admits may be wrong. There have been calls for boycotts, divestments, war crime prosecutions and other forms of condemnation based on the conclusions reached (or not reached, depending on which side of Goldstone's mouth one is listening to) by the Report.

If Goldstone stands behind what he told the Forward, then he must come forward and condemn those who are treating his report as if the allegations were "proven" based on "evidence." Don't hold your breath, because such a statement would be heard by both of Goldstone's audiences at the same time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Speaking of Fossils

From today's Wired Science --

A series of fossils unearthed in southwestern China has revealed the origins of complex life in unprecedented detail, and pushed its beginning back by at least 40 million years.

The specimens come from the Doushantuo formation, a layer of sediments deposited about 590 million years ago, just before the Ediacaran period’s primordial fauna gave way to the kaleidoscopically complex creatures of the Cambrian explosion.

During the Ediacaran, even the most structurally complicated animals had flat bodies with simple symmetry, like living quilts or mattresses. It was only during the Cambrian that animals developed what’s known as bilateral symmetry — a distinct front and back, top and bottom.

bilateria-11The Doushantuo fossils date to the cusp of this transition, and are so finely preserved that scientists can distinguish the structures of individual cells. The latest fossils, described Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, aren’t even fully formed animals, but embryos.

Using synchrotron radiation microtomography — a microscopy technique that combines thousands of of X-rays taken from different angles — researchers reconstructed the embryos in three-dimensional detail. They found that the embryos were bilaterally symmetrical, and were organized so differently that they belonged to two distinct taxonomic groups. For those groups to be so different, bilateral symmetry must have been around for a while. Some scientists have suspected as much, but without such solid evidence.

“These bilaterians had already diverged into distantly related groups at least 40 million years before the Cambrian radiation,” wrote the researchers. “The last common ancestor of the bilaterians lived much earlier than is usually thought.

Look in the mirror, cookie. Bilaterians 'R' Us.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My Sister Writes....

that she wants a "Manhattan Project" to develop nonfossil fuel cars.

You're too late on the Manhattan Project for non-fossil fuel cars. There was a fleet of fuel cell cars that drove from San Diego to Vancouver last summer using hydrogen as fuel. Their tail pipe emissions were water vapor.

Participants were fuel cell cars from Daimler, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

As far as I can tell the problem with adopting them is not with manufacturing the cars, nor with distributing the compressed hydrogen (It's flammable but far less so than gasoline.) The problem is getting the energy to produce the hydrogen fuel.

Hydrogen fuel stock is water. One needs energy to power the plants that will be dissociate water into hydrogen and oxygen. The energy that goes into the dissociation is the same energy that will come out when the fuel is oxidized back to water. Where will that energy come from? Getting it from oil, gas, or coal-powered generating plants doesn't solve anything - it just transfers the locus of the emissions. The only credible source (i.e. available on a big scale with current technology) of non-fossil fuel energy is nuclear power. But the green left is so dead set against it that no new nuclear power plants have been built in a generation because of the endless litigation and political resistance.

Many other countries run just fine on nuclear power. The power and light in France comes from nuclear power. The same is true for Japan and a number of other countries. Until we get over the principle that whoever yells the loudest on nuclear energy gets his way, wanting to be rid of fossil fuels is just something fun to say, not something one is serious about.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Freedom of Choice

click on cartoon to enlarge

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where Blue Dog Democrats Come From

click on cartoon to enlarge

Pompous Twits in the News

from an interview with

"Francis Ford Coppola, who aside from his California winery has also been active in the publishing and hotel business, does not elaborate on future projects or say whether he plans to experiment in other industries. ... “I don’t make a living anymore, I don’t have a job, I’m not trying to have a career, I’m not trying to be rich, I’m just trying to learn,” he says."


Monday, October 12, 2009

The Goldstone Report

[Ismail Haniyeh]
So Hamas bombarded southern Israel cities intermittently for years and constantly for months. With their usual indifference for the lives of children and contempt for truth, the rocket launchers were set up in hospitals and schools. The Israelis used the best high-accuracy small explosive rockets to kill the rocket launcher crews without harming the schools and hospitals.

This is now described in the UN's Goldstone Report as Israeli war crimes. In order to avoid looking ridiculous even to their UN friends, the Goldstone Report reported the Hamas bombardment of Israeli schools, homes, and hospitals, from which no one was shooting anything, as also war crimes.

The UN's Goldstone Report claimed there was a moral equivalence between Hamas bombarding civilian targets and Israel bombarding rocket launchers shooting at their civilians. Benjamin Netanyahu today spoke before the Knesset saying, no Israeli would stand trial for these "crimes".

None of that is news or surprising.

Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the PA and Fatah, initially pressed to have the Goldstone Report forwarded to the General Assembly and Security Council for action. That made sense - he is the enemy of both Israel and of Hamas and the report condemned both.

It is also not surprising that the US, the EU, and Israel, according to the claim of Hamas, all pressured Abbas not to proceed. He succumbed to their pressure (they pay his bills and he knows it) which is also not surprising.

What is surprising is Hamas' response.

From Haaretz -
Hamas leaders at the special legislative session held in Gaza City accused Abbas of committing "national treason."

Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar said that as such, Abbas could no longer be
considered a Palestinian and demanded that he be stripped of his citizenship.

Hundreds of protesters in the West Bank condemned the Palestinian Authority on Monday for Abbas' decision.

"Ignoring the Goldstone report is ignoring the blood of the martyrs" one banner held by participants said.

Syrian officials, meanwhile, have postponed a scheduled Abbas in apparent protest at his backing of a delay on the vote, local media reported Monday.

"The Syrian leadership decided to cancel the visit by the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) which was scheduled tonight in respect of the blood of the martyrs of Gaza which Israel raided for 23 days," the Al-Watan semi-official newspaper quoted an unnamed diplomatic source as saying.
It seems strange that Hamas would so fiercely denounce Abbas for consenting to shelve a report which condemned Hamas as war criminals. One explanation would be that since the report was shelved they were out of danger and could be as cynical as they liked, pretending the report denounced only Israel.

Another explanation, one I sadly find more believable, is that they are deaf to reason. That they simply were unable to visualize criticism of themselves and simply didn't hear it. This inability to fairly consider criticism would be reinforced by their quickness to violence and censorship against their critics. It is likely the section of the report condemning Hamas as war criminals did not circulate in Gaza at all. Which means that the majority of the denouncers of Abbas did not know what they were talking about.

Which is somewhat charming in a way. Abbas and the PA are for the moment on the receiving end of their own Big Lie tactic.

The Syrian government of course knows exactly what is in the Goldstone Report and their reaction is purely cynical.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Road to Hell is....

[from the Jerusalem Post -"They stole almost everything inside the house, including Arafat's Nobel Peace Prize medal," said Ramallah-based Fatah spokesman Ahmed Abdel Rahman. Hamas militiamen and gangsters blew up the main entrance to the house before storming it. They stole many of Arafat's documents and files, gifts he had received from world leaders and even his military outfits.]

Today the IOC (the International Olympics Committee) announced it has added new events to the Olympics - rugby and golf. In related news, the Swedish Academy announced that it has added a category to the Nobel Peace Prize for Good Intentions.

I have already applied to the Academy for the Nobel Healthy Living prize for dieting consistently, exercising regularly, and losing twenty pounds. I expect to hear from them any day now.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Where Girlfriends Come From


An Ugly New Age Struggling to be Born?

[Credit Anstalt Bank]
According to the Wall Street Journal yesterday the Latvian government held a treasury auction of government debt to finance its deficit. The bids had to be in euros, not lats, the national currency. There were no bids.

So what? Small country. Far away. Who cares? Here's why it matters.

Since it cannot borrow money, the government will have little choice but to devalue the lat. A devaluation makes imported goods more expensive and exports cheaper for foreigners. It improves the balance of trade while raising the cost of living. It makes the country poorer but solvent. Export industries thrive and hire more workers.

The problem is that the improvement comes at the expense of the country's trading partners. Cheaper imports from Latvia and fewer exports to them hurts the balance of trade of each country they do business with. Every euro of improvement in Latvia's balance of trade is a euro directly out of the balances of trade of its trading partners. For a fixed amount of trade it is a true zero-sum game.

For a small country like Latvia it might not matter much - unless the neighboring countries, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Slovakia - were each also heavily in debt and a step away from being unable to finance their own debts and currencies. The Latvian devaluation would hurt their already weak balances of payments and force them to devalue too, to defend their economies against the other countries' devaluations. Which becomes a domino effect.

The other response they can take is to put tariffs and other trade barriers on Latvian goods. Which reduces Latvia's ability to export to that neighbor and hurts Latvia's balance of trade with them. To get back to balance, Latvia has to put tariffs and other trade barriers against the country which but the tariffs on their goods. Latvia is not acting out of anger here, just defending their balance of trade. This too has a domino effect.

This is not theoretical. This is exactly what happened between 1929 and 1932 all over Europe. Country after country competitively devalued its currency and country after country competitively enacted trade restrictions to protect its balance of trade and its currency. The devaluations and the dramatic reduction of trade deepened and prolonged the Great Depression. The British expression for it was "beggar thy neighbor" economics. In the end it beggared everyone.

To avoid the same thing happening again the GATT was created, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It has worked pretty well. But GATT addresses only trade, not currency devaluations.

A series of defensive devaluations among the weaker economies of eastern Europe could lead to problems for the Eurozone countries. A large reduction in the cost of eastern European goods and services, notably including labor, would lead to large numbers of workers moving from Eastern to Western Europe, and a large transfer of wealth from West to East. One can imagine how happy Western European voters are going to be about that.

Their governments are bound by the obligations of membership in the European Union to not restrict the flow of money nor of goods nor of workers freely within the 27 countries comprising the EU.

To visualize this situation, imagine that not only unemployed Mexican campesinos were flooding into the US, but Mexican optometrists, school teachers, caterers, plumbers, consultants, and whatever-you-the-reader-do-for-a-living-ers. And that they were coming legally and that their credentials were guaranteed by treaty to be accepted here. Now imagine that the Mexican economy had just collapsed and that the US economy already had high unemployment. That is what Europe is facing.

It is a straw in the wind that the Latvian government could not sell its bonds. It might not mean anything. It might be the first puff of wind of a coming hurricane. Which is why gold rose on the Latvian announcement but only somewhat.

Just because all that could happen does not mean it will. It is just a hint that the pile of sludge that is market momentum may have budged. If it begins to slide, there is not much that can stop it a major pile of err... sludge when it begins to slide and the way down will be steep if it happens.

The Dollar
The United States and the market have been devaluing the dollar right along relative to the euro. When the euro was introduced in 1999 it was worth $0.89. Today it is worth $1.47. Whether the euro has gone up or the dollar down is only a matter of which side of the Atlantic one is on.

So long as China keeps the yuan pegged to the dollar, the two function as one currency. And the balance of payments of the US and China combined, the dollarzone, is nowhere near as poor as that of the US alone. Our trade issues are with Canada and China, not the rest of the world. Significantly altering the terms of trade among the three would lower the living standards of both American and Chinese workers. Which is why neither side dares alter a relationship that is bad for both countries.

Our trade deficit with the OPEC countries is also serious but at least it is clear what to do about it. The problem there is mounting the political will to do it.


Why Men Are Always One Down

click on cartoon to enlarge


Monday, October 05, 2009

From an article in today's Times about the increasing number of suicide bombings in Iraq -

"In early September, Anbar Province officials had deemed the security situation in the province so safe that the local provincial council voted to remove concrete blast walls from in front of its Ramadi headquarters building.

But as the violence has picked up, instead of having the walls removed officials have erected additional barriers in front of the building."
Wait, isn't building walls to keep out suicide bombers apartheid?


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Not-so-nice Jewish Boy

[soon to be on the SF Jewish Film Festival board?]

from Britain's evening newspaper, the Daily Telegraph -

"A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots.

A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian – a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver.

The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.

The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad's birthplace, and the name derives from "weaver of the Sabour", the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia. The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran's Ministry of the Interior.

Experts last night suggested Mr Ahmadinejad's track record for hate-filled attacks on Jews could be an overcompensation to hide his past.

Ali Nourizadeh, of the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, said: "This aspect of Mr Ahmadinejad's background explains a lot about him.

"Every family that converts into a different religion takes a new identity by condemning their old faith.

"By making anti-Israeli statements he is trying to shed any suspicions about his Jewish connections. He feels vulnerable in a radical Shia society."

A London-based expert on Iranian Jewry said that "jian" ending to the name specifically showed the family had been practising Jews.

"He has changed his name for religious reasons, or at least his parents had," said the Iranian-born Jew living in London. "Sabourjian is well known Jewish name in Iran."

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London said it would not be drawn on Mr Ahmadinejad's background. "It's not something we'd talk about," said Ron Gidor, a spokesman.

The Iranian leader has not denied his name was changed when his family moved to Tehran in the 1950s. But he has never revealed what it was change from or directly addressed the reason for the switch.

Relatives have previously said a mixture of religious reasons and economic pressures forced his blacksmith father Ahmad to change when Mr Ahmadinejad was aged four.

The Iranian president grew up to be a qualified engineer with a doctorate in traffic management. He served in the Revolutionary Guards militia before going on to make his name in hardline politics in the capital.

During this year's presidential debate on television he was goaded to admit that his name had changed but he ignored the jibe.

However Mehdi Khazali, an internet blogger, who called for an investigation of Mr Ahmadinejad's roots was arrested this summer.

Mr Ahmadinejad has regularly levelled bitter criticism at Israel, questioned its right to exist and denied the Holocaust. British diplomats walked out of a UN meeting last month after the Iranian president denounced Israel's 'genocide, barbarism and racism.'

Benjamin Netanyahu made an impassioned denunciation of the Iranian leader at the same UN summit. "Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium," he said. "A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies the murder of six million Jews while promising to wipe out the State of Israel, the State of the Jews. What a disgrace. What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations."

Mr Ahmadinejad has been consistently outspoken about the Nazi attempt to wipe out the Jewish race. "They have created a myth today that they call the massacre of Jews and they consider it a principle above God, religions and the prophets," he declared at a conference on the holocaust staged in Tehran in 2006."


Evening in El Cerrito

I was in the mall parking lot in El Cerrito, a mundane place in a mundane town. When I got out of my car there was a full cream-colored moon rising into a pale lavender sky. I was transfixed. I gazed at it until I was almost hit by a car.

When I came back from Trader Joe's with my cheap beer and turkey kielbasa the moon was a little higher and the sky around it had become deep maroon.

How can there be such surreal beauty and transcendance amid the drabness of an El Cerrito parking lot? How can life be so often so varied and inconsistent?


Why Economic Problems Seem So Hard to Predict

Click on cartoon to enlarge


It 's the Speculators, Stupid

I just read a long article about the misfortunes that have befallen the Golden State. Unemployment is approaching 12%. Houses are in foreclosure. Vast numbers of others are mortgaged for more than they are worth. People are leaving in such numbers that we may lose a congressman in the next census. Van Jones, the recently fired administration czar of green jobs and economics is seen as proposing what to do about it.

This article and every other article looks right at the problem and doesn't see it. Boom-and-bust cycles are exacerbated beyond bearing by speculators. When prices are going up, they artificially increase demand and force prices higher and higher, often out of reach of most real buyers. Speculation forces prices to unrealistic levels. When the real buyers, people who want to live in the homes they buy, are forced out of the market, demand wilts and prices fall.

When prices fall, speculators, who had been holding property solely for appreciation, begin to dump their property en masse. That floods the market and falling prices become plummeting prices. Real sellers of their own homes, the homes they live in, are ruined. Their houses become worth less than they owe on them and their life savings are wiped out.

The problem could easily be fixed by taking the profit out of speculation. Substantial tax penalties for single family houses owned by people who do not live in them would do it. Tax penalties on short term sales of rental property would have similar results.

The reason we never hear this suggested is that speculators include most of the rich people in the state. Banks and the real estate industry make a fortune on the repeated buying and selling of the speculation. House-owners, not home-owners, pay for both political parties.

So they are going to blame everybody and anybody and talk about green jobs and an endless amount of other irrelevant trash. No word but this one will ever be spoken about the speculation that caused both the bubble and the collapse and will doubtless cause future ones.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

About Last Night

I just saw "About Last Night" on Comcast OnDemand. It is based on David Mamet's play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago". It stands for the proposition that either even David Mamet can write a shit script, or more likely that even David Mamet doesn't necessarily get artistic control of movies made from his plays. For those who don't know, David Mamet is arguably the best living American playwright, better even than yours truly. But really, this movie sucks.

First the casting is ludicrous. Rob Lowe is cast as the male lead. No amount of scenes of him supposedly putting it to Demi Moore makes one even for a moment suspect him of being straight enough to put it to Demi Moore. Demi Moore looks like an ad for Revlon and at no time does one suspect her of being a real person. Even without Lowe's preposterous handicap she never gives any sign of being able to act or portray a character.

The storyline is entirely saccharine and predictable. I assume they must either have sedated Mamet to get him to write it or more likely they hired whoever did the casting to do the tearing to shreds of the script.

John Belushi, as Rob Lowe's friend, is the most interesting character in it even though he is directed to a cartoon caricature, but at least a full colored one. Plus he is more credible as a crude asshole than Rob Lowe is as someone in love with a woman, and than Demi Moore is as a woman.

This movie came out in 1986. You have made it quarter of a century without seeing this crapola. Keep up the good work.

Irish Ideals

[Dublin General Post Office]
Sixteen months ago the Irish electorate soundly defeated the proposed European constitution. As I understand it, the persuasive argument was that it could lead to equalization of tax rates throughout Europe, which could have meant higher taxes in Ireland.

With profound questions of constitution and polity before them, of the meaning of Europe and of Irish identity, of man and society, rather than think about it, the Irish sold themselves for a few quid. (Yes, I know they use euros now, but quid is more insulting.)

Now the constitution - which the business class wants and the public doesn't (judging by the string of plebiscites it has lost) - has recrudesced in the form of the Lisbon treaty. The premise is that since the business-controlled governments could not get the peoples to cede portions of their sovereignty to Brussels by plebiscite, they would do it themselves in the guise of a multilateral treaty.

A multilateral treaty was credible and reasonable when the subject of the treaty was regulation of economics, manufacturing standards, safety standards. Each government had plenty of right and power to regulate those subjects themselves. So regulating them in unison made perfect sense and was perfectly legitimate.

That is quite different from creating and agreeing to be governed by a new executive authority outside the country. It is quite different from agreeing to a nation's foreign policy swallowed up by a common foreign ministry. Those are not things well within each government's power. Those are self-conscious usurpations by governments knowingly flouting the will of the people about the most serious possible constitutional subjects.

There are competing sayings that "diplomacy is war conducted by other means" and that "war is diplomacy conducted by other means." Whichever one agrees with or both, from a common foreign policy to a European army is just a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop. To adopt one is to assure the eventual adoption of the other.

Divesting the nation of its sovereignty is not something business-controlled governments can legitimately do without the consent of the governed. The cheap trick of calling it a treaty when it is a profound and irreversible (as we demonstrated in our civil war, 1861-5) change to national constitutions. It is not something that can be done without the consent of the people, without a vote.

Yet 24 of the 27 EU governments decided to go ahead with the ruse and ratify the revamping of their constitutions without consulting the people. Only Ireland, Poland, and the Czech Republic are putting the Lisbon Treaty to a vote.

Poland is expected to vote overwhelmingly for the constitution masquerading as a treaty. Consider the context. The European army will mean the final end of national sovereignties because the monopoly on the use of force is what defines national sovereignty. Almost everyone fears it, but no one will talk about it. But Poland doesn't fear a European army - they hope for it. For more than two hundred years their country has been either annexed outright by Russia or closely controlled by it through the Communist party and Red Army occupation. So they are quite willing to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. A European army will mean their not facing the Russians alone ever again.

The Czechs are less sanguine about the "treaty". Most of their history they have been occupied by the Austrians and the Germans. Large portions of their country were taken over by Germans (the Sudetenland - the borderlands of Czechoslovakia and Germany) from which they were not expelled until 1945.) A European army would mean German soldiers in the streets of Prague again. The vote on the Lisbon Treaty is expected to be close in the Czech Republic.

Compare the long memories and deep concerns of the Poles and the Czechs with those of the Irish. Since the vote on the constitution, the Irish economy has imploded. Having ridden highest on the boom economy of the past few years, the bust there has been the worst in Europe. The Irish economy is kept from collapsing yet further by subsidies from the EU. One good argument for why the vote went the opposite way this time is that the Irish were afraid that voting "no" would endanger the continued flow of euros from Brussels.

Compare the consideration of the Poles and Czechs for the future freedom and even safety of their countries in the face of powerful neighbors, with the pandering of the Irish for EU gold. Once again the Irish have sold themselves for a few quid.

If they change their minds in a few years it will be too late. This time, if they try to seize the General Post Office on an Easter Monday, the European Army will mow them down and that will be an end on it.