Monday, November 30, 2009

Further Thoughts on Major Hasan

[Flag of Saudi Arabia with national motto, "I got mine".]
Actually that argument, that Muslim terrorist mass murderers like Major Nidal Hasan are an unrepresentative few, was used up a long time ago, and proven false. Most of the mosques in the US are led by jihadis. They speak in one voice to the non-Muslims, in another to the faithful.

The proof is in the politics. American mosques are all infiltrated by the FBI. If they rarely found anything the political pressure on them to stop spying on the houses of worship of innocent people would soon become intolerable. Just as it would if they were spying on synagogues or Mormon tabernacles, not least because it would soon prove a ridiculous waste of time and money. But FBI spying on mosques generally finds plenty and there have been several prosecutions and far more sudden leavings of the country to avoid prosecution.

It is actually the reverse of what Christy supposes. Christianity teaches that people should be loving and unselfish. The vast majority, even in a religious society, let alone in a secular one, can't be bothered with any more than ritual observance. A few, a very few, take that literally and not just as a Sunday school piety. I have met such people. Most of them were Mennonites, a small obscure sect.

Similarly, while Islam teaches murder and aggression against non-Muslims, most Muslims, like most Christians, are too busy looking out for number one or trying to find a parking place, to act on their religion. I agree with Christy there.

One could reduce the question to sophomore logic and say that while not all Muslims are terrorists, almost all terrorists are Muslims. But what matters almost as much is the penumbra between being a practicing Mennonite or Muslim terrorist and doing nothing at all. Which is where almost everybody lives.

Most Christians, when they can spare a moment or a buck, will give a dollar to a beggar or write a check to a charity. They will also be sympathetic and supportive to those who act more fully on their much-ignored moral obligations. Mother Teresa was a folk hero to billions of people.

While Western countries give far too little in foreign aid, ask yourself why do they give anything? Politicians and voters have mixed motives, but some of those motives are sincerely eleemosynary. Western aid is all that stands between a substantial fraction of Africa's population and starvation. Nobody is forcing any Western country to do that. Christian charity is far smaller than it should be, but it is a significant factor in the world. Even among thoroughly secular people, Christianity does condition what they do both individually and collectively. It is also why Christian countries have instituted social welfare, and criminalized the most egregious forms of cruelty. They do it because their religion tells them to.

Other examples are the Geneva Conventions. Prisoners of war of secular Christian nations are supposed to be treated with a certain minimum of decent treatment. Which is why Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were scandals. Prisoners of war of Muslim nations are routinely beheaded, often with a saw. We have saws too, but we don’t do that. Yet Muslims have the temerity to complain of OUR treatment of THEM. Tell it to Daniel Pearl you vile bastards.

America is considered to have besmirched itself with rendition, delivering Muslim prisoners to Egyptian jailers who tortured them,. Yet no one thought of the Egyptians as besmirched. It is not Egyptian students who are excluded from Spanish solar car competitions but Israelis. No British university association proposes to boycott Egyptian academics, only Israeli academics. The world in general and the UN and the Norwegians and Irish in particular are outraged by the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Not a word from anyone about the Egyptian blockade without which the Israeli blockade would be meaningless. And that is without Gaza having bombarded Egypt with thousands of rockets.

But I digress.

Just as the great mass of the people of nominally Christian countries do not do much that is Christian, what they do do, and what they sympathize with, pay for, and abet does matter. Exactly the same thing can be said of Muslims. As Christy correctly implies, most of them are busy making a living, comparison shopping, and bickering over the television remote, nevertheless the teachings of their religion does matter.

Unlike the author of the Sermon on the Mount, the author of the Koran was a desert warrior chieftain who taught violence, trickery, and lying as both permissible and obligatory in spreading Islam to the infidels. He made it obligatory in the Koran. And it shows in the conduct of Muslims.

American Muslims do not routinely take up arms against the US and Israel. But, until the FBI busted them, they do contribute copiously to the Holy Land Foundation, a Hamas front group which used the money to buy munitions.

Just as only a few in Christian countries hear the calling to become priests, monks, ministers, or doers of pious works, so too only a few Muslims hear a religious calling and act on it. But religious Christians generally express their religion in good works. Religious Muslims, true to the teachings of Muhammad, express theirs in murdering as many infidels as they can.

So far from an isolated event, our history has been turned from its course more than once by Muslim violence. Robert F. Kennedy would likely have been elected president in 1968 and again in 1972 instead of Richard Nixon had he not been assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan.

Our press deliberately conspired to mislead the American people by claiming Sirhan was a Jordanian. It was never mentioned anywhere I saw that he was actually a Palestinian. I think neither the Arabs nor the Jews wanted that put about, so the press told not a half-truth but an outright lie. Sirhan was born and spent his childhood in Jerusalem, which is not in Jordan. From the age of 12 on he lived in.... Southern California. Which is also not in Jordan. I suppose the fig leaf used to justify the lie may have been that until sometime in the 1980's many Palestinians had Jordanian passports.

Sirhan said at trial that he had grievances with the United States and with Kennedy. Consider who else had grievances with the United States and the Kennedys - the entire African American population of the United States. All of whom had and have far too much access to firearms. And not one of whom has assassinated a white politician in spite of vast incentive and provocation.

Notably the only prominent American assassinated by African Americans was Malcolm X, assassinated by his fellow Black MUSLIMS. If grievance produced violence, the most violent people in the world would be India's 200 million harijans, the untouchables. It isn't grievance that produces violence. It is Islam.

It is easy to claim that Muslim violence has increased in modern times because of the encounter with the West and that that has led to the rise of what is preposterously called "militant Islam" which is supposedly a reaction against Western influence. This is a purely Eurocentric notion which starts from the premise that Muslim countries have no history until Europeans arrive. They do.

"Militant Islam' is Wahhabism, a Muslim sect founded in Iraq and Arabia by Mohammad Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab in the the 1740's. Al-Wahhab could not have found America on a map and could have cared even less. An early convert to Wahhabism was ibn Saud, ancestor the current Saudi royal family. The expansion of the domain of ibn Saud was also the conquest of the Arabian peninsula by Wahhabbism. (Because their opponents called them Wahhabis, they object to being called that and call themselves Salafists. Like Mormons calling themselves LDS.) The modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia is defined by Wahhabism.

Wahhabism is ultra-conservative, puritanical, authoritarian, rigid, woman-phobic, and xenophobic. It is the basis of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Saudi religious police.

Which brings us to why Wahhabis like Osama bin Laden are so devoted to destroying the Saudi kingdom. Imagine the most Calvinist anti-Catholic time and place possible, say Scotland in the time of John Knox. Now imagine that John Knox was on the payroll of His Most Catholic Majesty, Philip II of Spain, and had agreed to the stationing of Spanish troops and Spanish oil company employees throughout Scotland. And that the Knox family was waxing filthy rich on the arrangement while most of Scotland remained dirt poor. How popular would the Knoxes be?

Most imams in the US are graduates of Wahhabi/Saudi madrassas. Which is also why we cannot too explicitly suppress Wahhabism - it is the sect of our Saudi ally-clients.

Unfortunately most proselytizing is done by Wahhabis, and most madrassas, in which Muslim clergy are trained, are controlled by them because funded by Saudi Arabia. Our allies.

Ironically, we have it in common with al-Qaeda and the Taliban that, like them, we have good reason to despise the Saudi royal family.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Love Among the Scots

Grossly overweight Buckie turf-cutter, 42 years old and 23 stone, Gemini, seeks nimble sexpot, preferably South American, for tango sessions, candlelit dinners and humid nights of screaming passion. Must have own car and be willing to travel. Box 11/19

Aberdeen man, 50, in desperate need of a ride. Anything considered. Box 06/03

Heavy drinker, 35, Glasgow area, seeks gorgeous sex addict interested in pints, fags, Celtic football club and starting scraps on Sauchiehall Street at three in the morning. Box 73/82.

Bitter, disillusioned Dundonian lately rejected by longtime fiancée seeks decent, honest, reliable woman, if such a thing still exists in this cruel world of hatchet-faced bitches. Box 53/41

Ginger-haired Partick troublemaker, gets slit-eyed and shirty after a few scoops, seeks attractive, wealthy lady for bail purposes, maybe more. Box 84/42

Artistic Edinburgh woman, 53, petite, loves rainy walks on the beach, writing poetry, unusual sea-shells and interesting brown rice dishes, seeks mystic dreamer for companionship, back rubs and more as we bounce along like little tumbling clouds on life's beautiful crazy journey. Strong stomach essential. Box 12/32

Chartered accountant, 42, seeks female for marriage. Duties will include cooking, light cleaning and accompanying me to office social functions. References required. No timewasters. Box 23/45

Bad-tempered, foul-mouthed old bastard living in a damp cottage in the arse end of Orkney seeks attractive 21-year old blonde lady with big chest. Box 40/27

Devil-worshiper, Stirling area, seeks like-minded lady for wining and dining, good conversation, dancing, romantic walks and slaughtering dogs in cemeteries at midnight under the flinty light of a pale moon. Box 52/07

Attractive brunette, Maryhill area, winner of Miss Wrangler competition at Framptons Nightclub, Maryhill, in September 1978, seeks nostalgic man who's not afraid to cry, for long nights spent comfort-drinking and listening to old Abba records. Please, Please! Box 30/41

Govan man, 27, medium build, brown hair, blue eyes, seeks alibi for the night of February 27 between 8pm and 11.30pm. Box 98/12

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Golden State Hotties

I watched part of the Miss California pageant. I don't think of myself as a prude but I was embarrassed by it. Let's not kid ourselves - a woman in a really small bikini is naked. Which is great. Unless she is on a runway in front of hundreds of people who are all staring at her.

I sometimes have dreams about suddenly realizing I am naked in public. They are not my favorite dreams.

Maybe it's a matter of age. Instead of thinking of them as hot babes, I was sorry for the humiliation of their parents. Sigh.


Victory! Victory!

The Senate Democrats have mustered the votes to break the threatened filibuster of the health insurance reform bill by the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats. Since it takes 60 votes to break a flibuster but only 50 to pass a bill, the bill is sure to pass. There will be endless Republican attempts to add frivolous amendments but they will be just gestures. The bill will pass. The bill has already passed the House.

BUT the House bill and the Senate bill are not the same. The two bills will soon go to a reconciliation committee. Expect last ditch attempts to sabotage it there. Expect to hear even less about what is actually going on in that committee than we have heard of actual news about the struggle to pass it in the two houses.

In thirty years it will be unimaginable that the United States could see its legislative process so nearly hijacked by a single industry and that they could do it so publicly and brazenly.

But that will be after the press has stopped covering the question and left it to historians. Historians are only on the payrolls of universities and merely tell the truth as best they can. Sadly the same cannot be said of journalists and the media corporations they deny control them.

It is a great victory for the people of the United States. The Republican claims of impending catastrophe are belied by the fact that every developed country in the world except ours has some form of national health insurance. Much as one may dislike the Democrats, it is hard not to despise the Republicans far more.

I remember a friend who described people, typically conservatives, as subscribing to Evilism. Sadly even that would be more principled than the Republicans' actual calling - mere corporate venality.

But this is not a time for even justified recrimination, but for rejoicing. Hooray for the health insurance reform bill! Hooray for the United States of America! Hooray for the people!

Assuming we don't get screwed in the reconciliation committee.....

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Wealth of Nations

Below is the CIA's tabulation of gross domestic product per capita by country, ranked from highest to lowest.

There are some interesting conclusions and lessons to be drawn from it. First note that the very richest countries are tax dodges or oil sheikdoms. Leichtenstein produces nothing except for a false teeth factory as Harvey has noted. Luxembourg, Bermuda, Jersey, Luxembourg, Guernsey, the Cayman Islands, and Andorra are likewise tax dodges, not national economies. Their wealth is that of other countries concealed there.

Ireland and Switzerland are a middle case - small countries which flourish in part because they are tax dodges. The Swiss benefit from their honesty and orderliness, their good character. The Irish get along in spite of their lack of it.

Qatar, Norway, Kuwait, Brunei, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain all derive their wealth exclusively or primarily from oil and all are small.

All the tax dodge countries and the oil kingdoms are even smaller. The first country on the list that has more people than a large American city, the wealthiest large country, is.... the United States.

Next come the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Japan, France, and Italy.

So for all the economic doom and gloom in our press, it is well to remember that the United States is still the wealthiest large country in the world. And compared to the others of the ten biggest countries in the world - China, India, Indonesia, Brasil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Russia, and Japan - we are wealthy indeed.

Of course these are all 2008 figures. American spending last year was all put on a First Bank of China credit card which we are not in a position to pay. So last year's wealth may not mean much in 2009.

Anent which, how crazy is it that we are deeply and dangerously in debt to China? Our per capita GDP last year was $47,500 and theirs was $6,000. Yet we are in debt to them? Their per capita GDP is one-eighth of ours, and less than 2/3 of the world average of $10,500 (if the world were a country it would rank 101st). How could this happen? Who was in charge? Oh. Him.

We manage our money as well as the Iraqis manage their oil fields.

Here are some lessons to draw from the ranking below:

1. Stay the hell out of Africa.
2. Avoid socialist dictatorships - North Korea versus South, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Anything
3. Avoid former socialist dictatorships too - Moldova, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Serbia
4. Be Chinese, but not in China - Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan
5. Live near oil if possible - Kuwait, Brunei, UAE, Alberta, Norway - unless it conflicts with rule #1 - Nigeria
6. In general it is a poor idea to be brown, but a terrible idea to be black - Africa, Brasil, Haiti.
7. It is good to be Scandinavian - Sweden, Denmark, Iceland
8. If you live in a country with a high birth rate, leave - Gaza, West Bank, Afghanistan.
9. Move to the US if you can, to the EU if you can't. Canada is also good if you are able to persuade yourself that winter will never come.
10. If your country was rich last year, expect to be screwed this year - United States, Ireland, Iceland.

Tragically the poorest country on the list, Zimbabwe, was not long ago the richest, best run, safest country in Africa. The collapse of their economy and of the Zimbabwean shilling since the farm expropriations at the beginning of the century have made them the poorest people in the world. Unlike the people of Gaza who have largely brought their misfortunes on themselves and deserve them, the Shona have fallen into a crevasse in their history. The Palestinians are nasty , aggressive, and violent. The Shona are kind, polite, and pleasant and in no way deserve what has befallen them. It is hard to see how it could have been avoided and harder to see how it can be escaped.

1 Liechtenstein
2 Qatar
3 Luxembourg
4 Bermuda
5 Norway
6 Kuwait
7 Jersey
8 Singapore
9 Brunei
10 United States
11 Ireland
12 United Arab Emirates
13 Guernsey
14 Cayman Islands
15 Hong Kong
16 Andorra
17 Iceland
18 Switzerland
19 San Marino
20 Netherlands
21 Austria
22 Canada
23 British Virgin Islands
24 Australia
25 Sweden
26 Gibraltar
27 Belgium
28 Bahrain
29 Equatorial Guinea
30 Denmark
31 Finland
32 United Kingdom
33 Germany
34 Falkland Islands
35 Isle of Man
36 Spain
37 Japan
38 European Union
39 France
40 Greece
41 Italy
42 Taiwan
43 Faroe Islands
44 Bahamas,
45 Macau
46 Monaco
47 Slovenia
48 Israel
49 New Zealand
50 Korea, South
51 Czech Republic
52 Malta
53 Trinidad and Tobago
54 Portugal
55 Slovakia
56 Aruba
57 Estonia
58 Cyprus
59 Seychelles
60 Saudi Arabia
61 Oman
62 Greenland
63 Hungary
64 Antigua and Barbuda
65 Saint Kitts and Nevis
66 Barbados
67 Croatia
68 French Polynesia
69 Lithuania
70 Puerto Rico
71 Poland
72 Latvia
73 Russia
74 Netherlands Antilles
75 Malaysia
76 New Caledonia
77 Chile
78 Virgin Islands
79 Mexico
80 Argentina
81 Gabon
82 Libya
83 Botswana
84 Venezuela
85 Grenada
86 Bulgaria
87 Iran
88 Northern Mariana Islands $12,500
89 Uruguay
90 Romania
91 Mauritius
92 Turkey
93 Belarus
94 Panama
95 Costa Rica
96 Kazakhstan
97 Turks and Caicos Islands $11,500
98 Lebanon
99 Saint Lucia
100 Serbia
101 World
102 Brazil
103 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines $10,200
104 Montenegro
105 South Africa
106 Dominica
107 Azerbaijan
108 Cuba
109 Colombia
110 Cook Islands
111 Macedonia
112 Angola
113 Suriname
114 Anguilla
115 Jamaica
116 Peru
117 Belize
118 Thailand
119 Dominican Republic
120 Palau
121 American Samoa
122 Tunisia
123 Ecuador
124 Ukraine
125 Saint Pierre and Miquelon $7,000
126 Algeria
127 Bosnia-Herzegovina
128 Turkmenistan
129 Namibia
130 Armenia
131 El Salvador
132 Albania
133 China
134 Egypt
135 Niue
136 Guatemala
137 Kiribati
138 Bhutan
139 Jordan
140 Nauru
141 Mayotte
142 Georgia
143 Samoa
144 Vanuatu
145 Tonga
146 Syria
147 Bolivia
148 Morocco
149 Maldives
150 Sri Lanka
151 Swaziland
152 Honduras
153 Paraguay
154 Congo, Republic of the $3,900
155 Indonesia
156 Guyana
157 Cape Verde
158 Wallis and Futuna
159 Fiji
160 Montserrat
161 Philippines
162 Iraq
163 Mongolia
164 Gaza Strip
165 Nicaragua
166 West Bank
167 India
168 Vietnam
169 Solomon Islands
170 Djibouti
171 Uzbekistan
172 Moldova
173 Pakistan
174 Western Sahara
175 Yemen
176 Saint Helena
177 Marshall Islands
178 Cameroon
179 Kosovo
180 Timor-Leste
181 Papua-New Guinea
182 Nigeria
183 Micronesia, Federated States $2,200
184 Kyrgyzstan
185 Sudan
186 Laos
187 Mauritania
188 Cambodia
189 Korea, North
190 Tajikistan
191 Cote d'Ivoire
192 Chad
193 Kenya
194 Lesotho
195 Tuvalu
196 Senegal
197 Bangladesh
198 Ghana
199 Benin
200 Zambia
201 Tanzania
202 Gambia, The
203 Haiti
204 Uganda
205 Sao Tome and Principe $1,300
206 Burma
207 Burkina Faso
208 Guinea
209 Mali
210 Nepal
211 Comoros
212 Madagascar
213 Tokelau
214 Ethiopia
215 Mozambique
216 Togo
217 Sierra Leone
218 Rwanda
219 Afghanistan
220 Malawi
221 Central African Republic $700
222 Niger
223 Eritrea
224 Guinea-Bissau
225 Somalia
226 Liberia
227 Burundi
228 Congo, Democratic Republic of the $300
229 Zimbabwe

Laugh for Today

[Saddam Hussein gets The Hook. The Glorious Baathi future? It's up there in the sky. No wait, it's over there in Kuwait. Or maybe it's the oil down in the ground? Or it's hiding down there in a spider hole?]

Headline in today's New York Times (I am not making this up, I swear) -

U.S. Fears Iraq Development Projects May Go to Waste

"In its largest reconstruction effort since the Marshall Plan, the United States government has spent $53 billion for relief and reconstruction in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, building tens of thousands of hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools and bridges.

But there are growing concerns among American officials that Iraq will not be able to adequately maintain the facilities once the Americans have left, potentially wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and jeopardizing Iraq’s ability to provide basic services to its people."

First, some numbers. The United States has 305 million people. Which makes $53 billion come out to $174 for each American, $696 for a family of four. That is not the cost of the war, just of the aid. Iraq has 29 million people so the $53 billion comes to $1,827 per person, $10,965 per family of six. (Iraqis have on average four children, apparently on the theory that there aren't enough Iraqis already. A theory shared by no one else.)

This eleven grand contribution really isn't that astonishing an amount considering it has been spread out over the six years since the invasion in 2003. What is astonishing is that there should have been any contribution at all. Iraq has the fourth largest proven reserves of petroleum in the world, after Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Iran.

Even the notoriously clueless Saudis are able to translate vast amounts of oil selling at high prices into cash in their pockets. Canada, particularly Alberta where most of the oil is, is not a poor country.

The reason for the difference is not hard to see. Saudi oilfields are developed by Aramco, the Arab-American Oil Company. Or as it is known when no Arabs are listening, Chevron, formerly known as Standard Oil of California.

It has been an article of faith since the end of the Second World War that when foreigners do for you what you are unable to do for yourself, that you are a victim of imperialism. It is precisely their willing cooperation with imperialist oil companies and their imperialist geologists and imperialist drilling rigs, and imperialist pipelines and imperialist pipeline construction companies, and imperialist tanker ports and the imperialist technology of building them, and the imperialist tankers, and the imperialist marketing system to turn oil into money to pay to the Saudis, that is at the heart of bin Laden's and al-Qaeda's hatred of the Saudi regime.

Iraq was spared this imperialist lackey-hood victimization by the Baathist nationalist regime of Saddam Hussein.

Now note how we, and they, got into this mess in the first place. Iraq had the fourth largest proven reserve of oil in the world 115 billion barrels. Kuwait had the fifth largest proven reserve, 104 billion barrels. Yet Iraq was (and is) dirt poor and Kuwait was tastelessly rich with ice skating rinks in the desert, all work done by Korean men and Pilipina women. And like the Saudis, victims of imperialist oil companies which showered them with wealth by paying the market rate for oil. The oil companies may be without conscience but they are not without the ability to extract, refine, and market oil profitably.

Iraq's Baathi nationalist regime had by contrast through its ineptitude, mismanagement, and corruption, reduced Iraq to militarized poverty in spite of its oil wealth. Unable to distinguish Kuwaiti wealth from its sources, in 1991 the Iraqi Baath regime invaded Kuwait in what was as much a looting as a conquest.

One can assume that had the invasion and annexation of Kuwait been allowed to stand, that it would not have taken many years of Iraqi managment of the Kuwait oil fields to reduce them to the same condition as the Iraqi oil fields.

Now that Iraq is moving toward autonomy and having it oil resources run under Iraqi management again, what are the prospects that those resources will be competently and honestly managed? What are the prospects that they will not soon wind up in the producing-almost-nothing conditions they were under the Baath regime?

And if that is how they manage resources which visibly pump money out of the ground, how competently and honestly will they manage the "hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools and bridges" that American families have bought for them at the cost of $700 each?

Norway has oil and is wealthy on account of it. Alberta has oil and is wealthy on account of it. Russia has oil and is able to maintain a strong ruble and keep its economy afloat on account of it. Alaska has oil and is wealthy on account of it.

BUT Switzerland has no natural resources and is wealthier still. Ditto Japan, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Denmark. Israel also has no natural resources yet is the wealthiest non-oil-sheikdom in the Middle East. Israel has a significantly higher gross domestic product per capita than Saudi Arabia.

So going back to official fears that Iraqi aid project money may have gone to waste, one can only respond, which part of "Iraqi" did you not understand when you spent the money?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lighting a Yizkor Candle for Myself

I have just come from visiting a friend near death from lung cancer and viral pneumonia in a hospital in Fresno.

I am starting to hear time's winged chariot at my own back and it has made me impatient to get on with my own life and stop stalling around. I have remembered forcibly that four of the past five years have been good ones because they were scheduled, even scripted. When I returned from Alaska a year ago I had run off the end of the schedule I made up when I retired in 2004.

It has become clear to me that I have been drifting in the year since. And that I have been drifting because I have not drawn up a new schedule / calendar of what I want to do tomorrow, this week, month, year, and in the coming five years.

Watching a friend not much older than I am probably dying in a hospital bed has torn away the veil of complacency I have let grow over my sloth, inactivity, lethargy, procrastination, laziness, indecision. It is time to decide what to do, decide when to do it, and then get on with it. Right now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Wonder...

[Saturday Night, no longer Live]
Andre Agassi, the famous and now retired tennis player, has publicly admitted that he took crystal methedrine. He did not say whether he took it while playing. We are to believe that this is a confession of his having had a bad habit rather than his having cheated at tennis.

The sports drug scandals we forever hear about are always about the use of anabolic steroids. (What does "anabolic" add to "steroids"? We all sort of know what steroids are. Does anyone have any clue what "anabolic" means other than that the writer is trying to sound like he knows what he is talking about?) The function of steroids is to enable the athlete to grow bigger and stronger and thus out-compete his non-chemically-enhanced teammates and opponents.

The most familiar example is the monstrous Barry Bonds who swelled to twice the size of his father, Bobby Bonds, who had also been an outfielder for the Giants.

But there is little talk of stimulants like cocaine and methedrine. Many sports are competitive as to stamina. One thinks of the fourth quarter of football games and basketball games, of the later rounds of boxing or cage fighting matches, baseball pitchers in late innings, the last five miles of marathons, the later laps of car races, and in Agassi's case of the fifth set of tennis matches.

According to the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, "The widely accepted time period for benzoylecgonine [the marker which indicates cocaine use] to be cleared from the urine is three to five days." Which means that, absent constant testing after sports events, there is no way at all to know whether athletes are using cocaine before or during contests.

My own experience of cocaine was on a hiking trail above Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. This was in the 1970's when I still smoked cigarettes and before I started bicycling. Carrying a backpack uphill at 11,000 feet of elevation was at the limits of my powers and I had to stop and gasp every dozen steps. A friend proposed we do a line right there on the trail. I thought it was preposterous but he pressed the case and I agreed.

It rapidly turned out not to have been necessary because the backpack wasn't really that heavy, nor the trail that steep, nor the air that thin. In fact the cocaine wasn't necessary at all because the hike really wasn't as hard as I had thought before taking it. Such is the power of denial.

Our incentive for taking cocaine was to make a camping trip easier. Today there are 40 athletes with contracts paying them a hundred million or more to compete. Just for clarity's sake that is $100,000,000.00. Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees is paid $275 million.

Would these guys take cocaine for a quarter of a billion dollars? And for success, fame, and the adulation of the public (including the female public)? Would you? I would.

Yet we never hear about it. Is the silence because the testing is effective and it is a non-problem? Or because it is widespread and there is not much that can be done about it? Agassi doesn't say.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

We Are Not Alone

[The little birds are called oxpeckers. It's fun to say oxpecker. Call the next person who annoys you an oxpecker.]

My house has gone from empty to crowded in a day.

A houseful of paying tenants, the board of trustees of a nonprofit corporation will be here this afternoon, seven or eight of them.

Last night here in the little apartment on the side of the house, I heard some noises in the kitchen coming from inside one of the cabinets. I banged on the cabinet door ferociously with a toilet plunger which made an awful racket outside and probably even more so inside. Probably enough to make whoever was inside cower but not enough to make her leave.

I was all bark and no bite because I was not about to confront a large rat fighting for its life while holding only a plastic toilet plunger (Me, not the rat. Rats do not use toilet plungers.) Instead I left two large blocks of poisoned bait out on the floor. I doubted the rat could get them since it was inside the cabinet and the blocks were outside. But I was not about to open the cabinet.

Apparently Christmas came early this year. I did not see Amahl but there were definitely night visitors. This morning both blocks were gone. I had expected them to be nibbled on. These blocks were four inches long and two inches square. The rat, assuming it was a rat and not something else, carried them away. Both of them.

I have no door on the kitchen doorway. Which means that if the thing can walk around in the kitchen it can walk around in the rest of the house. Including my bedroom. Everyone has heard horror stories of rats biting babies in the slums. Which means they bite sleeping people, if the stories are true.

So poisoning the bastards - rats come in families not in ones - is a matter of getting them before they get me. This is starting to feel like a darker episode of Wild Kingdom, the one where the lion actually catches the wildebeest. Who knew suburban life would involve a life-and-death struggle with the local wildlife? Who gnu indeed.

Here are some scenes of life in El Cerrito:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hollywood Moments

Here are 100 memorable movie clips. It is remarkable how many of them I saw on the silver screen. I recognized almost all of them.

The line above this one is a live link to click on.

Zionist Goes Down the Toilet

[After the crash]
I am going to spend the day cleaning the house in preparation for tenants who will be here tomorrow afternoon. Usually I have Karina, an illiterate Mexican cleaning lady, come and clean the house for me for bubkes. I both didn't think to call her in time and also am loath to spend the money.

Which is a mark of how much I have come down in the world. In 2005 I had a nice apartment in Paris and a house near San Francisco. In 2009 I am competing with a Mexican cleaning lady for work.

As a good Zionist I should perform every role in society, not just traditional Jewish ones like being a small business owner. Israel-haters talk about the "dark side" of Zionism. Little do they know it means cleaning toilets oneself instead of paying someone else to do it.

Will I do it again next time? Hell NO! Screw Ben-Gurion.

My task is lightened by my having figured out how to record music onto an iPod from CD's. Then I set it to shuffle play and have got it to play through the stereo. Wynton Marsalis playing trumpet is a joy. He is soooo good!

I recorded in Apple Lossless format so the music on the iPod should be exactly as good as on the CD. But it still has to go through the iPod's earphone amplifier which has analog output. I have sent for an inexpensive iPod dock that will send the unaltered digital signal instead. And it comes with a little white remote control. How cool is that?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fort Hood Terrorist Turns Out to Be Muslim. Surprise! Surprise!

[Hajjis at the Great Mosque at Mecca with the Kaaba stone]

Let's see, a doctor finds G_d, becomes an enthusiastic believer and proselytizer for the faith. What is his next step? Does he do charity work in a hospital for the poor? Missionary work in Africa? Volunteer his time at Hadassah hospital handling specialty pediatric eye surgery cases from all over the world? If he is a Christian or a Jew, yes. If he is a Muslim, he buys a semi-automatic pistol and ....

Major Nidal Hasan was in touch with a "radical" imam Anwar al-Awlaki. According to the Wall Street Journal -
Mr. Awlaki was once the imam, or spiritual leader, at a Virginia mosque frequented by Maj. Hasan and his family.who, though born in New Mexico, was obliged to move to Yemen.
Mr. Awlaki has called Major Hasan "a hero".
"Nidal Hassan is a hero. He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people...How can there be any dispute about the virtue of what he has done?"
Mr. Awlaki went on to deride "moderate" Muslims in America for decrying the Fort Hood massacre. Did the "moderate" Muslims decry (in public) the murders because their Quran teaches them not to kill non-Muslims? Or because they feared the consequences of publicly calling Major Hasan a hero in the United States?

Mr. Awlaki is right to mock "moderate" Muslims as hypocrites. Judging by what one actually sees, a "moderate" Muslim is one who lives somewhere where violence against non-Muslims will be met with force.

Which raises some questions for the rest of us. We cannot and should not expel Muslims legally living in the United States. But we are under no obligation, legal or moral, to admit any more of them. Nor to turn a blind eye to those of them here illegally.

But that does not address the problem of people like Major Hasan and Mr. Awlaki who were born here. Can we discriminate against them?

The impulsive answer is, "No, of course not." But the real answer is, to quote a prominent American politician, "Yes, we can."

Discrimination is constitutional when it is rational. A basketball team can hire and fire on the basis of the ability to play basketball. That is a rational discrimination. We call it competition and encourage it. Race or religion would be irrational bases on which to select basketball players unless it somehow affected their ability to play basketball. (Such as Jews refusing to play on Shabat. Which is why there are so few Jewish players in the NBA.)

We have customarily assumed that race and religion are irrational and thus unconstitutional bases for discrimination for all public purposes - admission to colleges, hiring for jobs, and all walks of public life. But Major Hasan has given pause to the blanket and unexamined application of that assumption.

Just as Jews are not hired as bishops nor Lutherans as rabbis, religion must be considered where it is relevant.

Israel sets us an example. Almost a quarter of Israelis are Arabs. For all the scandalous and ridiculous smears against Israel, none have claimed that Israel discriminates against Israeli Arabs. Israel is radically egalitarian and addresses differences between the peoples with affirmative action programs like those we have in the US. All citizen are treated alike, with one exception - Arabs do not serve in the army.

The official reason given for this exclusion is so that Israeli Arabs will not have to shoot at their brother Arabs. The private reason is that in Israel, Arabs are not to be trusted even with sharp objects let alone with Galil assault rifles.

Major Hasan has called to our attention that a similar policy is wanted in the United States. It is foreseeable that all our wars for the next half-century at least will be against Muslims in one guise or another. Muslims like Major Hasan should not be asked to fight against their fellow Muslims. Nor should they be trusted to do so.

Suppose Major Hasan had been deployed to Afghanistan as he was scheduled to be. Imagine a tense firefight between American soldiers and Taliban fighters. And suddenly Major Hasan, or someone else like him, begins shooting as many of his fellow soldiers as he can as the battle begins. One can readily imagine positions over-run and whole units lost, killed to a man. So far from unrealistic, it nearly happened.

How would the exclusion of Muslims from the military work in practice? It would likely be something like the admittedly unpopular exclusion of homosexuals from the military. They are excluded because openly homosexual soldiers are considered bad for morale and bad for the army. Refusing induction to Muslims has a far stronger rationale than refusing it to homosexuals. As was just demonstrated at Fort Hood.

Nothing about homosexuality predisposes one to fight against the United States. The same cannot be said of Islam. Fighting against non-Muslims is a central tenet and the Quran exhorts the faithful over and over and over and over to fight against us.

From Sirhan Sirhan to the World Trade Center to Major Nidal Hasan is a straight line.