Tuesday, June 30, 2009

But Does Anyone Call Me Jack the Plumber?

I have spent a large part of the last several days decisively demonstrating four or five things that were not the cause of low hot water pressure in the upstairs bathroom. And making myself quite frustrated and unhappy in the process. Inanimate objects are just hateful.

It isn't sand grains in the shower head because I checked. In any case the cold water comes out just fine. It isn't a defect at the valve because I took it out and changed the washer. It isn't even a clogged supply pipe. Turning on the water with the valve out did blast out half a handful of small gravel but since it blasted them out, they weren't enough to restrict the flow. It isn't a clog in the riser to the shower head because the cold water comes out enthusiastically. The obstruction seems like it must be between the hot water valve and the tub spout, in the mixer. Unfortunately there seems no way at all to get at it from the valve side.

New tenants arrived from Canada an hour ago so I will not be able to work on it any further until they leave a week hence. The only option I have left short of having a plumber open the ceramic-tiled wall to cut out the mixer, is to unscrew the tub spout with a strap wrench or a pipe wrench padded with paper or cloth so as not to damage the spout.

Possibly I can work something in through the spout nipple to attack the obstruction. Or even take the nipple out so as not to work around two corners, only one. Conceivably I could suck whatever it is out with a tube connected somehow to a vacuum cleaner.

In the meantime, the tenants will have no hot water pressure to speak of for taking showers upstairs.

The whole thing has become what lesbians in Oakland used to call an AFGO. Another Effing Growth Opportunity.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

More Amazing News from Wimbledon

[Dudi Sela and Jesse Levine, Wimbledon winners]

Dudi Sela, of Kiryat Shmona, has become the first Israeli ever to make it to the fourth round, the Round of 16. He is going to play the number 4 seed, Novak Djokovic, against whom his chances are slim and none. But until then he theoretically has as much chance to win as Federer does.

He is a local boy to me. The kibbutz where I lived in 1977, Hagoshrim, is in the rural area of Kiryat Shmona in Galil Elyon (Upper Galilee), near the Lebanon and the Golan.

If Jesse Levine wins his match, there would be two Jews in the Round of 16, one-eighth.

This is further proof that Jews are not only better-looking and better-mannered than the Irish, we are also better tennis players. Better tenants too.

Clearly a Relative

In an experiment of one, Dr. (former FDA chairman David) Kessler tested his willpower by buying two gooey chocolate chip cookies that he didn’t plan to eat. At home, he found himself staring at the cookies, and even distracted by memories of the chocolate chunks and doughy peaks as he left the room. He left the house, and the cookies remained uneaten. Feeling triumphant, he stopped for coffee, saw cookies on the counter and gobbled one down.

“Why does that chocolate chip cookie have such power over me?” Dr. Kessler asked in an interview. “Is it the cookie, the representation of the cookie in my brain? I spent seven years trying to figure out the answer.”

The result of Dr. Kessler’s quest is a fascinating new book, “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite” (Rodale).

During his time at the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Kessler maintained a high profile, streamlining the agency, pushing for faster approval of drugs and overseeing the creation of the standardized nutrition label on food packaging. But Dr. Kessler is perhaps best known for his efforts to investigate and regulate the tobacco industry, and his accusation that cigarette makers intentionally manipulated nicotine content to make their products more addictive.

In “The End of Overeating,” Dr. Kessler finds some similarities in the food industry, which has combined and created foods in a way that taps into our brain circuitry and stimulates our desire for more.

When it comes to stimulating our brains, Dr. Kessler noted, individual ingredients aren’t particularly potent. But by combining fats, sugar and salt in innumerable ways, food makers have essentially tapped into the brain’s reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more and more even when we’re full.

Dr. Kessler isn’t convinced that food makers fully understand the neuroscience of the forces they have unleashed, but food companies certainly understand human behavior, taste preferences and desire. In fact, he offers descriptions of how restaurants and food makers manipulate ingredients to reach the aptly named “bliss point.” Foods that contain too little or too much sugar, fat or salt are either bland or overwhelming. But food scientists work hard to reach the precise point at which we derive the greatest pleasure from fat, sugar and salt.

The result is that chain restaurants like Chili’s cook up “hyper-palatable food that requires little chewing and goes down easily,” he notes. And Dr. Kessler reports that the Snickers bar, for instance, is “extraordinarily well engineered.” As we chew it, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts so the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth at the same time.

Foods rich in sugar and fat are relatively recent arrivals on the food landscape, Dr. Kessler noted. But today, foods are more than just a combination of ingredients. They are highly complex creations, loaded up with layer upon layer of stimulating tastes that result in a multisensory experience for the brain. Food companies “design food for irresistibility,” Dr. Kessler noted. “It’s been part of their business plans.”

But this book is less an exposé about the food industry and more an exploration of us. “My real goal is, How do you explain to people what’s going on with them?” Dr. Kessler said. “Nobody has ever explained to people how their brains have been captured.”

The book, a New York Times best seller, includes Dr. Kessler’s own candid admission that he struggles with overeating.

“I wouldn’t have been as interested in the question of why we can’t resist food if I didn’t have it myself,” he said. “I gained and lost my body weight several times over. I have suits in every size.”

This is not a diet book, but Dr. Kessler devotes a sizable section to “food rehab,” offering practical advice for using the science of overeating to our advantage, so that we begin to think differently about food and take back control of our eating habits.

One of his main messages is that overeating is not due to an absence of willpower, but a biological challenge made more difficult by the overstimulating food environment that surrounds us. “Conditioned hypereating” is a chronic problem that is made worse by dieting and needs to be managed rather than cured, he said. And while lapses are inevitable, Dr. Kessler outlines several strategies that address the behavioral, cognitive and nutritional factors that fuel overeating.

Planned and structured eating and understanding your personal food triggers are essential. In addition, educating yourself about food can help alter your perceptions about what types of food are desirable. Just as many of us now find cigarettes repulsive, Dr. Kessler argues that we can also undergo similar “perceptual shifts” about large portion sizes and processed foods. For instance, he notes that when people who once loved to eat steak become vegetarians, they typically begin to view animal protein as disgusting.

The advice is certainly not a quick fix or a guarantee, but Dr. Kessler said that educating himself in the course of writing the book had helped him gain control over his eating.
“For the first time in my life, I can keep my weight relatively stable,” he said. “Now, if you stress me and fatigue me and put me in an airport and the plane is seven hours late — I’m still going to grab those chocolate-covered pretzels. The old circuitry will still show its head.”


"People love Michael Jackson," said Seth Casteel of California. "He touched so many people over the years."
I am not making this up.

"I moved out to California a year ago because I was inspired by him. It feels a lot more personal than it should, like a family member died. I'm more upset now than when my grandmother died."
Just wasn't that into grandma?

"Never has one soared so high and yet dived so low," said British foreign minister Miliband Tweeted.
Miliband Tweeted?

"He was my first love," said Alesia Crawford, 48, a dentist who lives in Wheaton. "I used to sleep with his album covers."
Too much information, Alesia.

"When I heard the news, " Dana Bullitt of Silver Spring says, "I cried and cried and cried."
Time to check your meds, Dana?

Sein Gesund

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wimbledon and the Jews

[Pete Sampras, whose record 14 Grand Slam championships is about to be eclipsed

For years British tennis fans have tortured themselves with hopes that the aptly named Tim Henman would win Wimbledon. Henman rarely got into the top ten in tennis, and never got beyond some frustrating come-from-ahead losses in the early rounds. He once got as high as losing in the semifinals.

But that is all behind them now. With Andy Murray ranked No. 3 in the world, and Rafael Nadal injured, their guy figures to have the honor of losing to Roger Federer in the final. It will be a big honor for England because it will be Federer's 15th Grand Slam championship, the most anyone has ever won.

On Gilda Radner's theory that It's Always Somet'ing, some of the English fans are not impressed with Murray because he is not one of them. He's from Scotland.

In any case, the British know nothing about suffering compared to the Jews. The Jewish strongboy from Boca Raton, Jesse Levine, is ranked 133rd in the world. He just beat an Uruguayan to get into the third round. There are 128 initial contenders, 64 reach the second round, so Levine is one of the remaining 32.

13 year old girl strip searched

The Supreme Court, in 'Safford Unified School District vs. Redding', has just held that a school district violated a 13-year-old girl's 4th Amendment rights when it had the school nurse have the girl shake out her bra and underpants for pills. The vote was 8 to 1.

How unsurprising is it that the one Justice who thought a public official checking out a 13-year-old girl's underpants was cool was - Justice Clarence "Pubic Hair" Thomas?

If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fell and broke her right arm yesterday. The same day she was telling Israel, yet again, how the US will accept nothing less than a complete cessation of construction in the settlements including eastern Jerusalem.

“If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I am twisted around the axle about the low water pressure upstairs.

I called a plumber who told me what to do to fix it myself. The first three things, clogged shower head, both sides slow, bad valve, were not problems. I was getting pooped from this and a dozen other errands, so I decided I would finish in the morning. I had turned off the hot water at the tank and there was only a trickle coming out. That evening I thought at first that there were fleas jumping out of the front room rug. Then I realized they were droplets spattering from water drops falling from the plaster ceiling. The trickle was trickling into the wall and thence into the ceiling below it and had been for hours. I raced, truly raced, upstairs and screwed the valve body back in place, (fortunately I had already replaced the gasket) and then re-assembled the rest of the valve. I turned the water back on but the hot water pressure is still minimal.

I would be ready to try the third thing he suggested, removing the valve body and turning the water on at full pressure in hope of flushing out whatever sediment or other crap is clogging the pipe. But I won't do that until I figure out a way to close the gap between the valve and the wall. I am thinking of stuffing it with vinyl valve packing material. But I am discouraged and have begun procrastinating doing it.

My task is complicated by my getting up at 4 am to watch the early rounds of Wimbledon until noon, then drowsing on the couch in the afternoon.

I watched the movie "Starship Troopers" on the tube last night. A special effects movie loosely based on the novel by Robert Heinlein, it preserved the author's constitutional scheme in which only military veterans can vote or hold office. How Heinlein's constitution would handle GI's-lite like G.W. Bush is not clear. Only combat vet's? Only Purple Heart winners/losers?

It also preserved his memorable line, "Most people wouldn't recognize civic virtue if they fell over it." Lots of good nightmare material for budding insectophobes.

I got around to getting the test results of my general blood tests in May. I am as healthy as a horse. A fat, elderly, out-of-shape horse, but a horse.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Proud Moment

I had dinner with my nephew Craig Pena last night. I was about to write that he is a delightful young man, but he is 45, has grey hair, and is paterfamilias of four kidlets. He is also a teacher-administrator at a private school in Temecula.

He recently proposed that the school admit and sponsor foreign students, and promptly got stuck with arranging it. Foreign students have to have clearances from Homeland Security. So does the person who sponsors them - Craig.

When the Homeland Security gray-suiters interviewed him for the clearance, they specifically asked him whether he knew Jack Kessler. He acknowledged that I am his uncle.

The conclusion is inescapable. They have a dossier.
I have a dossier.

I am a somebody at last.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


[During the Carboniferous Era swamps had little oxygen in the water. So the plants decayed to ooze but were not oxidized to CO2. The ooze, compressed by layer upon layer above it, became coal and oil.]

Harvey's friend and neighbor (whose name Harvey will no doubt soon supply) is a professor of geology at Chico State. I have long wanted to learn geology since it occurred to me that I have spent all my life crawling around on the surface of the earth and figure to spend the rest of it doing the same, but have no clue what it is, how it works, how it got this way, and yada yada yada. So I jumped on the man for the name of a decent geology textbook.

I had read one before but it was for community college students. It was 'Mr. Wizard Explains Rocks to Dick and Jane' with lots of pictures in color.

Harvey's friend recommended "New Views on an Old Planet" by Tjeerd H. van Andel. I got it on ABEbooks (Advanced Book Exchange http://www.abebooks.com) which is one of the best websites on the web. It consolidates the inventories of hundreds of used bookstores across the US, Canada, UK, and Australia, and provides a great search engine for finding things by title, author, subject, or keyword. One can find whatever one wants and for cheap.

Van Andel writes in a somewhat condensed form and though the book is short, it requires some paying attention to stay with him. Mostly it is on account of the things he is relating are so large, and in some cases literally earth-shattering, that it sometimes takes a second reading to get one's imagination around what he is saying. He also assumes you remember what he just told you so you will understand what he is telling you now. No Dick and Jane condescension.

As in, oh by the way, all earth's climate is primarily driven by the abyssal (sea bottom) cold water current flowing north from Antarctica. And oh by the way, that current has to squeeze through two narrow gateways, one off Samoa and the other east of the Falklands. If either or both of those gateways is either closed or widened by the effects of the seafloor spreading that drives plate tectonics, then the climate of the whole planet will change abruptly and permanently. Did I say "if"? I meant "when".

Van Andel bombards the hapless reader with bombshells like that one after another. Also, you know how plate tectonics has finally given us a comprehensive understanding of geology and it is all a nice tidy package? 'Tain't so. There are gaping holes in geology. For instance, even after allowing for discontinuities and this and that, most of the geological record that should be there, isn't. Also, given some well-understood and reliable processes, the ocean should be far saltier than it is. Where did the salt go? He gives a speculation about that based on seabed geothermal springs but in 1985 when he was writing it was still just a promising guess.

Most of all he makes a persuasive case that while we invariably focus on plate tectonics and continental drift, this is only because we are land animals. He makes the case, without specifically saying it, that the effects of plate tectonics on the currents and temperatures of the oceans is more important.

In the Mesozoic, loosely the Age of Dinosaurs, temperatures on earth were warm and much more uniform than today. Rainfall was high. There were no deserts. There were no ice caps. There were palm trees at the poles. 25 million years ago the landbridge between South America and Antarctica sank making the circum-Antarctic current possible. The Isthmus of Panama rose 6 million years ago and shut off the remainder of the warm equatorial current between the Atlantic and Pacific. The two together led to the current series of ice ages.

During much of the late Palaeozoic, loosely, very loosely, the Age of Fishes, there was a lot less land than today. Sea level was higher and much of what are now continents were archipelagoes in vast warm shallow seas full of reefs, plankton, and sargassum. We have scant examples of such seas in our world today. Which is why coal and oil formed then and are not forming now.

Van Andel is as always unwilling to sweep difficulties under the rug. Where did the additional water come from/where did it go? Today's polar ice caps, mountain glaciers, lakes, and rivers do not come even close to making up the difference.

My constant reaction when reading "New Views on an Old Planet" is, "This is huge! Why didn't I know this before?!" It is an important book.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Four More Years

[Still President]
I read that Ahmadinejad [corrected spelling per Damien] was re-elected President of Iran. I am bummed. Shi'ite!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Election in Iran

[Il Duce and his mistress, 1945]

is on June 12.

There is an interesting article in today's Los Angeles Times to the effect that both liberals and conservatives have turned against President Ahmadinejad. The politically powerful Council of Guardians, i.e. the ayatollahs, formerly Ahmadinejad supporters, is supposed to have gone neutral.

The article proposed an image of Ahmadinejad as a radical populist, a Shi'ite Huey Long, an Iranian Mussolini. One hopes not. Neither left on account of losing an election. Long left office by assassination and Mussolini by lynching. One might say Benito stepped down because he was unable at the last to step down.

The problem with the LA Times article is that, like all pre-election predicting, it is hard to distinguish between
analysis and wishful thinking.

The Iranian election matters hugely to Israel, the Middle East, the US and the world. Imagine how much nicer the world would be were there no threat of an Iranian nuclear holocaust.

I wonder if the nearness of the Iranian election was not some or all of the reason for the timing of Mr. Obama's 'New Beginning' speech in Cairo? Mr. Obama may be doing what he does best - campaigning. Having bested John McCain at it, he may now be running against Ahmadinejad as well.

How much better would it be for everybody, to deal with Iran not with sanctions and air strikes but with speeches and elections
? If that is what is going on, then Mr. Obama's strategy morphs from a bold and risky new foreign policy to f___in' brilliant. Especially if it works.

Would Israel trade a settlement freeze for Iran not developing a nuclear weapon? Instantly.

They did emphasize how many languages it was being translated into... And, believe me, they did NOT rely on simultaneous translation. For sure, the translations were prepared in advance and vetted in detail. One guesses that the translation into Farsi, the Persian language, was near the top in care and effort.

The President of the United States making a conciliatory speech just before the election could make Ahmadinejad's truculence seem puerile and counter-productive to Iranian voters. One can hope.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Cairo Speech

[Avigdor Leiberman, head of Yisrael Beteinu]
I had some deep apprehensions about the President's speech until I heard it.

There are only four words in the speech that count. Two are "settlements freeze" and the other two are "Road Map". I am content with that. He also gave US troop withdrawal dates for Iraqi cities and for Iraq generally. I did not see anything substantive beyond that.

Quoting "the Holy Quran", saying "Salaam aleikum", inventing some fake history, pitying the Palestinians, and praising Islam are good PR but don't change anything. Even sternly demanding that Israelis show more sympathy and generosity of spirit toward the Palestinians is a demand that can be met by the Israelis saying, "Okay, we promise."

The Road Map is Bush's policy. Most Zionists are comfortable with it. Among many others, Avigdor Leiberman, leader of Yisrael Beteinu and generally considered to the right of Likud, supports it. The freeze on construction in the settlements does no harm and can be reversed on any day of Israel's choosing except Shabat.

It looks to me that the policy change is the same as the change on negotiating with Iran. Before the policy was that we were going to hang tough and get some mollifying gesture from the other side before serious negotiation. The policy in both cases was "peace, but you make the first move." That having led to little diplomatic success, he has said, "Okay, we will go first."

The format for negotiations has changed. I don't see that there is any substantive change from the Bush policy.

On one hand it is a good speech. On the other it is 54 minutes long. But until you listen to it yourself, you will literally not know what you're talking about.

Here is a link to it -


Monday, June 01, 2009

How to Defeat the Sotomayor Nomination

[US Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jose Cabranes]

You heard it here first:
[Background - Part of Obama's strategy in nominating Sotomayor is that the GOP risks alienating Hispanic voters if they oppose her.]

My advice to the pack of lying scumbags calling themselves the Republican Party --

If you don't like the nomination make your own. Find a federal judge or even a state supreme court judge who meets the following criteria -
1. Hispanic surname
2. Appointed by a Democrat
3. Moderate or conservative
4. Ideally, a woman
5. Ideally, pro-life or ambivalent
6. Would accept the seat if it were offered

In every discussion of the Sotomayor nomination say that you wanted, say, Judge Gonzales, and were disappointed that the administration nominated a loser like Sotomayor instead. Talk up Gonzales constantly.

Every Republican should constantly mention the same Hispanic judge as the preferred candidate.

Use abortion rights as a wedge issue. Most Hispanics are Catholic and would feel more comfortable with an anti-abortion nominee than a pro-abortion one.

Make the nomination fight a debate between those who want Sotomayor and those who want Gonzales. Publicly claim that you have almost enough votes to confirm Gonzales and that the only thing holding up the confirmation is a handful of Yellow Dog Obama loyalists in the Senate.

Lose hearing in the ear on the side from which you are asked about the President's power to nominate.

Once the Sotomayor nomination is withdrawn you can forget you ever heard of Gonzales or continue to support him/her as suits one's purpose.

[What have I fallen to that I am hoping the Republicans will win something? Then again, what difference does it make which pack of lying scumbags one supports? There is no Change and no Hope.]

Blizzard of Lies

by Dave Frishberg

We must have lunch real soon. Your luggage is checked through.
We've got inflation licked. I'll get right back to you.
It's just a standard form. Tomorrow without fail.
Pleased to meet you. Thanks a lot. Your check is in the mail.
Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Your toes and knees aren't all you'll freeze
When you're in it up to your thighs.
It looks like snow, but you never know
When you're marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Y0u may have won a prize. Won't wrinkle, shrink, or peel.
Your secret's safe with me. This is a real good deal.
It's finger lickin' good. Strictly by the book.
What's fair is fair. I'll be right there. I am not a crook.
Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Better watch your step when your old dog Shep
Can't even look you in the eyes.
You're cold and lost and you're double crossed
When you're marooned in a blizzard of lies.
We'll send someone right out. Now this won't hurt a bit.
He's in a meeting now. The coat's a perfect fit.
It's strictly fresh today. Service with a smile.
I'll love you darling 'til I die. We'll keep your name on file.
Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Marooned, marooned, marooned in a blizzard of lies.
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart.
And you're in for a big surprise.
When you're marooned, marooned, marooned,
marooned, marooned, marooned,
marooned, marooned, marooned, in a blizzard of lies.
A blizzard of lies.