Friday, December 31, 2010

Women in Gaza

[Washing the mosque floor after a suicide attack in Darra Adam Khel, Pakistan]

These remarks are the testimony of Doctor Aryeh Eldad, an Israeli specialist in reconstructive surgery.

“I was instrumental in establishing the Israeli National Skin Bank, which is the largest in the world. The National Skin Bank stores skin for everyday needs as well as for wartime or mass casualty situations. This skin bank is hosted at the Hadassah Ein Kerem University hospital in Jerusalem where I was the chairman of plastic surgery.

This is why I was asked to supply skin for an Arab woman from Gaza, who was hospitalized in Soroka Hospital in Beersheba after her family burned her. Usually, such atrocities happen among Arab families when the women are suspected of having an affair.

We supplied all the needed homografts for her treatment. She was successfully treated by my friend and colleague Professor Lior Rosenberg, and discharged to return to Gaza. She was invited for regular follow up visits to the outpatient clinic in Beersheba.

One day she was caught at a border crossing wearing a suicide belt. She meant to explode herself in the outpatient clinic of the hospital where they saved her life. It seems that her family promised her that if she did that, they would forgive her.”


No Pants Day on BART

Full details will be published tomorrow January 1.

It will be a high point in pointless behavior.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

El Cerrito Again

random lines

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
Home is the hunter, home from the hill,
Home is the wanderer, home from the road.

And the end of all our wandering
is that we shall return
to where we began
and see it again for the first time.

Speaking Truth to Power

The man who answered the question, Colonel Allen West, was elected to Congress in November to represent Florida's 22nd congressional district. He will be the first African-American Republican congressman to represent Florida since 1870.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Why I Love and Respect the New Yorker

I have just now read Hendrik Hertzberg's Comment in the November 29 "New Yorker", titled "Puppetry".

Hertzberg's screed is an attack on Glenn Beck for trashing liberal billionaire and full-time enemy of Israel, George Soros. That Beck is a buffoon does not make Soros not a villain. Nor does it make Hertzberg not Beck's mirror image.

I found it interesting that Hertzberg suggests that George Soros is NOT an enemy of Israel. And calls Glenn Beck's implication that he is, "lies told by innuendo". Which curiously is precisely what Hertzberg himself did in implying the reverse.

For this we have not Hertzberg's or Beck's groundless assertions, but Soros's own admission in action. Soros was recently revealed to be the main funder of J Street, an organization which claims to be friendly to Israel but opposes it in everything and sides with the Arabs in every case.

Soros and J Street both concealed and both explicitly lied in public about J Street being primarily funded by Soros. The reason for the lying was that both recognized that if Soros were seen as behind J Street, that J Street's pretense of friendliness toward Israel would be seen as laughable by anyone familiar with Soros.

Now that J Street is seen as a screen for Soros, it has become toast in the Jewish community and its staff are now looking for other jobs.

The depth of Soros's animosity can be seen in how easily his reputation could be diffused by a gift of a few million dollars, a pittance to a billionaire, to an Israeli university or hospital or orphanage. But he can't do it for the same reasons the King of Saudi Arabia can't -- because he is really and truly bigoted against Israel, including its universities, hospitals, and orphanages.

Which Hertzberg knows full well. Which makes him, like Beck, a liar by innuendo.

It is a curious feature of mirrors that they reverse left and right. Which is why, when Henrik Hertzberg looks in the mirror, he sees Glenn Beck.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Two Lowest Forms of ....

The toilet in an RV works much the same way as the toilet in a house. Each is basically a large pipe into a disposal area. Even though they are so simple there is always a possibility they will clog or otherwise not work. The lack of certainty means that a toilet is always a crap chute.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

So what did you do over the weekend?

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jack Kessler Please Call Home

If anyone who reads Jack's Blog has heard from him in the last week, please relpy here or call Harvey at 530-xxx-xxxx or his sister Gayle at 415-xxx-xxxx. We are worried about him. Thanks

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fun Things to Do In Bed

[the Buddha before coffee]

I was lying in bed waiting for the dawn and the snowplow when I noticed that the little green light on the carbon monoxide detector was double. Distinctly. It is a round diode perhaps a quarter inch wide and there were two of them, well separated. And they wouldn't join together. I measured the distance, exactly an outstretched arm and finger. My arm is not as long as a yardstick but longer than two feet, say 30 inches.

Surprisingly, shutting my left eye removed the right green light, and closing my right eye removed the left green light. I was cross-eyed.

I thought about the optometrist I had gone to a few years ago who had told me I no longer needed glasses, except reading glasses. He said my original near-sightedness had been cured by the far-sightedness of age. I had believed him because his office was in upscale Kensington, and because he was recommended by my ex-, whose judgment I trust. But he had been an Italian. Everybody knows that an optometrist should be a Jew, or at the very least a Chinese. What does an Italian know about optometry?

Apparently he had focussed on focus and had turned his gaze from where my gaze was gazing. I cursed him for a fucking moron who didn't know the second thing about optometry.

I got up close, a few inches further than my little finger's tip when making the thumbing-your-nose gesture, and the two lights merged. I moved to the opposite side of the bed, about five feet away, and the two lights came closer together but the quality of the images went to hell. They became broken-edged and smeary. Back at arm's length, looking at the lights with my head turned to the side, they became further apart. The left one, seen by my right eye, was always a little higher.

I would need glasses.

While thinking about this, I got up and went to the bathroom. Upon coming out, I tried the same experiment with the similar red diode above the stove, the water-pump-is-on-indicator. Surprisingly, only one red light. Checked the distance was an arm's length and a finger. Still only one red light. Checked that the amber diode indicating the propane pilot light is lit on the refrigerator. Only one amber light.

I went back to bed and checked the green light again. Only one this time. Nothing is wrong with my eyes.

I remembered having read somewhere that seeing requires the use of several parts of the brain. I wonder now if what had happened was that the part of my brain that coordinates the eyes to point in the same direction had not yet woken up.

It is common for people to describe themselves as "only half-awake" or to say, "I am not really awake until I have had my first cup of coffee." We are aware of being less alert when we are tired and we have the words 'sleepy' and 'drowsy' to describe the condition.

I wonder if coming awake does not happen all at once and that various parts of the brain become awake later than others. I had been able to see, to reason, to extend my arm, to move across the bed, to remember, to make ethnic jokes, but not able to point my eyes together.

People who describe themselves as not awake until coffee have generally gotten up, showered, put on makeup, dressed, gone to work, and greeted other people before they get to the cup and the urn. Which are all complex behaviors but which are done by rote and don't require much concentration, almost none after a few years. It might take an hour from the alarm to the coffee, so it is not necessarily a speedy process.

It may also help explain the effectiveness of surprise attacks. The instant a soldier is awakened he knows the enemy is attacking so it isn't really a surprise. Aside from getting dressed and getting his rifle, he also has to gather his wits and get ready, that is, to fully wake up. Which might take long enough for him and his comrades to be overwhelmed by a fully-awake attacking force.

So it is possible that the reason I was cross-eyed this morning was that the part of my brain that points the eyes correctly wasn't awake yet. Which is perhaps why we have the expression that a just-awakened person is 'bleary-eyed'. I know of no other use for the word 'bleary'. Maybe it means 'not yet awake enough to see well'?

Maybe during the course of getting out of the bed, walking to the bathroom, pee-ing, and finding and putting on a new roll of paper (I must have been sleepy when I previously used the bathroom not to have put one on.), the parts of my brain that pointed my eyes woke up.

Which means that Mr. and Mrs. Rappaport and the Java Brava truck aren't just selling frapuccinos, they are selling consciousness.

Ah, there's the snowplow, a big yellow truck with a monster curved plastic blade on the front. Not that that does me any good since it is 24 degrees outside and the throttle on the bus is still frozen.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sandhill Cranes of Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Note on scale: These guys are about 4 feet tall when standing upright.

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Why is this man smiling?

[Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York]

Today's New York Times --
FRANKFURT — Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, argued Friday that currency undervaluation by China and other emerging markets was at the root of “persistent imbalances” in trade that “represent a growing financial and economic risk.”...

“Deficit countries have to do their part,” Mr. Bernanke conceded. He said that the United States needs to raise its savings rate further and cut government borrowing. He added that a cheaper dollar will not be enough.
Make no mistake about this - a low price for the yuan means low prices for Chinese consumer goods and higher material standards of living for American workers. Increasing the yuan-dollar exchange rate will mean higher prices for Chinese-made consumer goods. It is a direct tax on American consumers, mainly workers, to pay for the economic dislocations, failures, and outright thefts, of the business class. For this we needed to elect a liberal?

"Raising the savings rate" is a code phrase for two things: a) higher corporate profits, so the corporations and their stockholders can save more; and b) lower rates of consumption by the workers. Lower consumption is achieved by a combination of lower wages in inflation-adjusted dollars, higher prices for consumer goods, and increased unemployment.

Unemployment has several wonderful effects in capitalist economies. One is that it reduces consumer demand because people can't spend when they're fucking broke. Unemployment makes employers laugh in the faces of workers who want wage increases because they know there is a long line of unemployed workers who would take the job for the same money or less. And whenever a job does become available, the employers can pay the new hires even less than their current employees for the same work. This is the "two-tiered wage system" included in more and more unioo contracts and which is no longer temporary just until the recession is over. It is permanent.

It was in this context that the Republicans defeated the unemployment compensation extension bill this year. The reason given was that they were concerned it would dampen the workers' willingness to go back to work if any became available. What they really meant was that it might dampen the workers' desperation and willingness to work for greatly reduced wages.

Apparently the Republican theory is that recessions come about when millions of workers unaccountably all quit their jobs at the same time. Then they need to be coaxed back to work by the Republicans cutting off their unemployment compensation pay.

The political choices available to American voters between Democrats and Republicans is a choice between bastards and utter bastards. There is a rumor that the billionaire mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, might run as an independent in 2012. I am not fond of billionaires but I am so sick of the two parties I am willing to vote for almost anyone.

I don't know what chance a New York Jew has to be elected president, but if a schwarze can do it, maybe a yid can too.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How Zionism Works

One night outside a small town in upstate New York, a fire started inside the local chemical plant. Instantly, it exploded into an inferno of flames.

When the volunteer fire fighters appeared on the scene, the chemical company president rushed to the fire chief and said, "All our secret formulas are in the vault in the center of the plant. They must be saved. I'll give $50,000 to the fire department that brings them out intact."

But the roaring flames held the firefighters off. Soon, more fire departments had to be called in as the situation became desperate.

As the firemen arrived, the president shouted out that the offer was now $100,000 to the fire department who could save the company's secret files.

From the distance, a lone siren was heard as another fire truck came into sight. It was the nearby Chassidic Jewish rural township volunteer department composed entirely of old Jewish men.

To everyone's amazement, that little broken-down fire engine roared right past all the sleek, new fire trucks. Without even slowing down, it drove straight into the middle of the inferno.

Outside, the other firemen watched as the Chassidic old timers jumped off right in the middle of the fire and fought it back on all sides. It was a performance and effort never seen before.

Within a short time, the Chassidic old timers had extinguished the fire and saved the secret formulas.

The grateful chemical company president announced that for such a superhuman feat, he was upping the reward to $200,000, and walked over to thank each of the brave fire fighters personally.

The local TV news reporter rushed in to capture the event on film, asking their firechief, "What are you going to do with all that money?"

"Vell," said Moishe Mandelbaum, the 70-year-old fire chief, "I'll tell ya, da foist ting ve gonna do is fix da brakes on dat verkokte truck!!!"

Zionism is Jews saving their own lives.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Justice in Berkeley

["Shut up, you fuckers!"]

SAN FRANCISCO (j, the Jewish news weekly of Northern California) -- A dispute between pro-Israel and anti-Israel activists in Berkeley, Calif., resulted in a physical altercation involving pepper spray, police and paramedics.

On Sunday, activists from San Francisco Voice for Israel/StandWithUs disrupted a meeting of Jewish Voice for Peace at the South Berkeley Senior Center, heckling speakers. One StandWithUs activist, Robin Dubner of Oakland, used pepper spray against two Jewish Voice for Peace members. The Jewish Voice for Peace members said the spraying was unprovoked, but Dubner said she sprayed because she was physically attacked.

Berkeley Police and paramedics were called to the scene, but no arrests were made.

More than 50 people were in attendance at an evening meeting featuring as speakers Bay Area residents Rae Abileah and Matthew Taylor, two of the five Jewish Voice for Peace protesters who heckled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at last week’s General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans.

Michael Harris, a leader with San Francisco Voice for Israel/StandWithUs, said the disruption of a Jewish Voice for Peace meeting was something he and his colleagues had never done before, but chose to do so “because they were having this celebration of heckling Netanyahu. Since they decided this was acceptable political discourse, we decided to do the same thing."

Harris said that he and his nine fellow protesters acted as individuals and not as part of an organized StandWithUs action.

Jewish Voice for Peace is a Berkeley-based national organization that describes itself as a pro-peace group, but which critics say works to undermine the State of Israel. Last month, the Anti-Defamation League included Jewish Voice for Peace on its list of the 10 most influential and active anti-Israel groups in the United States.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Black Hole

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rocky Mountain High

[John Denver]

A week or so ago in Minnesota, the bus' engine started in the morning but the throttle froze at a high RPM. It had been cold, about 25 degrees. Later in the day, with temperatures in the 40's, the throttle operated normally.

This morning in Denver it was cold but the bus started and the throttle operated normally. Until Monument, 50 miles south. Suddenly the gas pedal went down but would not come back up. I thought initially something had gone wrong with the cruise control but turning it off didn't help.

Fortunately I had pulled off to get fuel and was able to stop the bastard by leaning all over the brake. I put on the emergency brake, threw off the seat belt and gloves, and yanked up on the gas pedal. It came up.

I discovered that I could drive by pushing down a little on the gas pedal and then when I wanted to slow down, hooking my toes underneath the side of it and pulling up. Enough to get to a safe place to park. Not enough to get to New Mexico.

The MileHigh City is as good as its name and is at 5280 feet. Monument is at 6961 feet and is correspondingly colder. Which I am reasonably sure is why the water in the fuel chose this place to freeze and lock up the throttle mechanism.

I bought some gunk which is supposed to remove water from the fuel and will be able to use it when the ice has melted. According to the Weather Channel the next time the temperature in Monument will be above freezing will be noon tomorrow.

In the meantime, deepest darkest Monument for 21 hours.

Then I can add the anti-water-and-crap-in-the-fuel gunk to the fuel tank and drain water from the fuel filter. And try it again.

Meanwhile, plenty of time for a nap.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Back Issues of the New Yorker

The background here is that I had two months of mail forwarded to me in Wisconsin. Much of it consisted of electioneering crap, mail order catalogs, and magazines, many of them what are now back issues of the 'New Yorker'.

Here is a letter I wrote to George Packer, author of a libel on Israel and the Israeli army in the shape of an article about the leftist Israeli author David Grossman.

Dear George,

I just read your article about David Grossman in the September 27, 2010 New Yorker. Thank you for writing it.

It was a very good article but I was dismayed by some of the omissions in it. I am sure that you simply did not know the facts or perhaps they slipped your mind.

For instance on page 55 you refer to the 2006 Lebanon war as "unwinnable". On page 59 you describe it as "a botched war". Yet the war was begun by Hezbollah rocket barrages against northern Israel and against Haifa in particular. The IDF objective was to make Hezbollah stop doing that. In the more than four years since the war, there have been no further rocket barrages. That seems to suggest that Hezbollah at least thought Israel won the war and that it was not botched.

The achievement of the IDF's war aims, the silence on the northern border is a persuasive fact. How do you see your statements as comparably believable?

Also on page 59 you wrote that Ehud Olmert had needlessly prolonged the war. But you give no supporting evidence to support the claim. Like you I have no way of actually knowing, but it seems to me that the Prime Minister's actions in wartime would have been taken on the advice of his defense minister and the high-ranking officers actually engaged in the fighting. As between the judgments of men engaged in the thing itself and your apparently unsupported accusation, I find it difficult to see any way to believe you. Can you offer some reason why you think the war was prolonged needlessly?

As for Grossman refusing to shake Ehud Olmert's hand, one wonders if he has lost sight of the fact that Uri Grossman was killed by Hezbollah, not by Ehud Olmert?

In a similar vein, you assert on page 55 that in Lebanon "the Israeli Army turned arrogant and brutal". I wonder what evidence you have for writing that? Or is it merely something you believe a priori? Surely you see, that if you cannot offer a great deal of evidence for such an assertion, you have done permanent and irreparable damage to your own credibility by writing that? I hope you will supply your readers with full documentation of such an inflammatory claim.

And you do realize that among those included in your claim of "arrogant and brutal" would be Uri Grossman himself? I am reminded of Jimmy Carter and his claim that the security fence that has been so successful in keeping suicide bombers out of Israeli cities was "apartheid". When it was discovered that the 90% of the Carter Center's budget was and is paid by the Saudi royal family, Carter was saved from being thought a senile bigot by the revelation that he is instead merely a whore for the House of Saud. I hope you will be able to supply lots of documentation so as to save yourself from the same fate.

I was curious about your endorsement of Grossman's claim that the occupation "was breeding permanent hatreds". Do you not know that Arabs starting killing Jews in the 1920's? And continued in the wave of riots in 1929, the bigger pogrom of 1936, and in the war of 1947-48? I think your claim that the hatred stems from the occupation sounds disingenuous without mentioning the history of it.

You also refer several times to Amos Oz as sharing David Grossman's views. Yet you omit to mention that Amos Oz has recanted that view. He realized he had been wrong all along after the Palestinians responded to an offer to meet 99% of their demands by launching the intifada? Amos Oz realized that the obstacle to peace is not Israel but the Palestinians. You and David Grossman seem not to have been able to see what Amoz Oz and most of the Israeli electorate has seen. Perhaps you could cure that omission by explaining why you think Oz is wrong and Grossman is right?

And is there even the slightest recognition on your part that when David Grossman says "We need some naivete to continue to believe in the option to change things", that perhaps he is admitting that his position is indefensible? An example is a demonstration carrying a banner "Stop Ethnic Cleansing" while at the very same time demanding that people of one ethnic group be driven out in favor of people of another ethnic group? That isn't just indefensible, that is ridiculous.

You wrote on page 59, "The failure of the peace process after 2000 has been a disaster for the Israeli left" yet omitted to mention why. It was then that it was realized that the Palestinians were not interested in peace and that the Oslo negotiations had been done in bad faith. In short it was realized that the fundamental left position that insufficient Israeli concessions were the reason there was no peace, was false. All but a handful of people too rigid to admit they had been wrong remain on the Israeli left. You omitted to explain why the Israeli electorate changed their minds and you and David Grossman did not.

One is reminded of the American leftists who were so wedded to the view of the US as an imperialist aggressor, and to isolationists, that they went into denial about Pearl Harbor. One still occasionally hears the claim that Roosevelt arranged it. Similarly, many are in denial that Muslims attacked the World Trade Center and murdered three thousand Americans. One hears on the left and among Muslims that the Jews did it.

The problem is the same. It is not easy to give up one's world-view when events prove it wrong. Most Meretz and Labor voters have been able to do it and quit voting for them. You and David Grossman seem not to. You omitted any argument why the reader should not believe that this is the case.

So I look forward to your learning more about the facts on which you claim the Israeli army turned "brutal and arrogant" in Lebanon, how that doesn't include Uri Grossman, how they didn't win the war, and the evidence that the Palestinians want peace and are willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Your friend and admirer,


Friday, November 05, 2010

The Way Home

I am now on my winding way home. Crossing the Mississippi, which separates Wisconsin from Minnesota, is awe-inducing. The Father of Waters is not one river but a winding series of channels, each of them vast.

I quit early the first day because the wind was buffeting the bus all over Interstate 90. I figured to wait it out and that it would be calmer the next day. It wasn't. So I had to hang onto the steering wheel and tough it out.

It soon became clear what the problem was. For a hundred miles before and after Albert Lea, Minnesota there are huge wind farms. The great towers with their immense blades stately rotating would daunt even the wildest of Quixotes.

The fact that they were there meant that I wasn't experiencing a storm. It is always windy around Albert Lea. It is also unrepentantly flat for literally hundreds of miles.The wind abates with the flatness in western Minnesota and South Dakota. The country becomes gently rolling and that is enough.

I had a fun errand of sorts yesterday. I finally figured out how to get into the constricted space in front of the driver's seat of the RV.

I took a needlenose pliers, a flashlight, and a box of fuses and went through the interior fuse box, fuse by fuse. Some were the wrong sizes for the slots they were in and one was burnt.I replaced the burnt one and put the correct capacity fuse in each slot (the rating is printed next to each fuse slot).

The burnt one I replaced was for the emergency flasher which had not been working. Now it works. It made me wonder whether the cruise control, which is on the steering column next to the emergency flasher switch, might be on the same fuse. If it were, fixing one would also be fixing the other. Today in driving on Interstate 90 in South Dakota I checked the cruise control and HOOHAA!! It works!

This is a bigger deal than it sounds. Since I left at the beginning of September I have driven this beast almost six thousand miles. And it is far less effort and stress to drive with cruise control than without it. My life for the next six weeks just got considerably better. And every time afterward that I drive it.

I am a happy camper.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


[A schlep yes, but OUR schlep]

I came to Wisconsin to volunteer on the re-election campaign of Senator Russ Feingold. When I left California in early September the election campaign was considered even, which is why I was interested. Only in a close contest can one hope to make a difference. Along the way, particularly in Canada, I had no news of Wisconsin.

I was under a double news blackout in the Northern Kingdom (You didn't know 'dominion' and 'kingdom' are synonyms?). Not only was I not interested in hearing the disingenuous ranting of demonstrable falsehoods that constitutes American political campaigns, but the Canadians were engaged in their own exchange of lies leading up their elections in October. Further, extending my 3G internet access to Canada even temporarily was outrageously expensive so I declined to pay to connect there.

When I emerged from the northern darkness into the glare of American election coverage, Feingold was trailing the Republican candidate Johnson by 52%-48% in the polls. Polls used to be problematic and unreliable. The classic image is of Harry Truman smiling and holding up a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times with the headline "Dewey defeats Truman" which the newspaper had prepared and printed on the strength of Dewey's lead in the polls. With the progress of voting by mail, people being polled are no longer talking about how they intend to vote but more and more about how they have already voted. So polls close to elections are becoming more believable.

In the end Johnson won by 5%, which means he got substantially more of the undecided vote than Feingold did.

I wanted Feingold to win and the Democrats to keep the Congress. But in the end I didn't really give a damn. I don't know why I bother to volunteer on these stupid campaigns when I don't fundamentally care about the outcome. Whichever candidate wins there will still be cakes and ale. Maybe no medical coverage, but cakes and ale there will be.

Lacrosse is as tedious a town as Grand Junction was two years ago. Quitting volunteering is like quitting smoking or giving up rich foods. One knows one should but just this once....

I think the issue is not politics at all but the sense that one needs to infuse meaning into a life no longer dominated by the wretchedness of forty hours of 8 to 5 every week. Like most things, it really isn't about what one says it is about.


from 'New Yorker' of September 13, 2010 -
In the fall of 1992, Basit [Abdul Basit Abdul Karim], accompanied by a man he had recruited, bought a first-class ticket from Karachi to New York City. His passport identified hm as an Iraqi named Ramzi Yousef. He had no entry visa; when questioned at immigration, he admitted that the I.D. was fake. He asked for political asylum and eventually was freed on his own recognizance to await a hearing.

Basit quickly made acquaintances through a mosque in Jersey City and recruited men to join him in a plan to bomb the World Trade Center. ... The bomb exploded on February 26, 1993, and although it was insufficient to the intended task, it caused millions of dollars in damage and killed six people.
Now imagine a Mexican arriving at a border crossing in Texas or California with no visa and I.D. he admitted was fake. What are the chances he would be admitted to the United States on his own recognizance?

Should Basit or the people from the Jersey City mosque have been admitted to the US? So is the problem that there is too much Islamophobia, or that there isn't enough?


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Bombs in the Mail

There have been a series of bombs in cargo airplanes and now in mail to various European embassies, particularly embassies in Athens. In most cases the results were routine evacuate-the-building-call-the-bomb-squad. But one was more interesting --

From today's New York Times --
The blasts in Athens on Tuesday began when personnel at the Swiss Embassy who were aware of the thwarted attacks the day before threw a suspicious package out of the building, according to media reports. It exploded.
One can easily imagine the dialogue. "This package does not look right, Pierre." "You are right, Rolf. What should we do about it?" "Maybe we call and wait for the highly prompt and efficient Greek police?" "Or maybe we put it outside where they can find it more quickly?" "Ja, I think so Pierre." "Should we carry it downstairs and out the front door and onto the lawn?" "Non, I think it would be faster and more efficient to open the window and....[toss]"


"Pierre, you know that Greek doorman we used to have....?"

Monday, November 01, 2010

More Times Humor?

From today's New York Times -
The three American hikers accused of espionage by Iran stepped off an unmarked dirt road — inadvertently crossing from Iraq into the Islamic republic — only because a border guard of unknown nationality gestured for them to approach, the lone hiker to be released said Sunday.
This just keeps getting better. First we were expected to believe that they were hikers in Iran, which however unlikely, is conceivable if they were naive and stupid enough. Iran is not at war.

Now we are to believe they were hikers in Iraq. Presumably they had signed up for an REI-led group and it got out of hand? And they have credentials as activists (whatever the hell that means) in the anti-US, anti-Israel left and were affiliated with the ISM (the International Solidarity Movement - a virulently anti-American, anti-Israel and often openly antisemitic organization.) And they just happened to stumble across the border into Iran.

Now in theory even James Bond goes on vacation. But when you catch 007 near your nuclear facility that is not the first thing that comes to mind. As much as I am not a fan of the Islamic Republic, I have to agree that the charges of espionage brought by Iran seem considerably more likely than their story that they are three little lambs who have lost their way.

The United States and Israel both ought to be, and one assumes are, conducting espionage in Iran. We ought to go to every possible effort to protect and rescue our people if they are caught. But these folks seem to be no friends of either country.

It seems to me that the mere fact of their American nationality puts the United States under scant obligation to get them out of Iran.

Yet the Times continues to describe them as "hikers". But then again the Times routinely refers to terrorists as "militants", so either their grasp on reality is not snug or their truthfulness is not ironclad.


Civilians Like Us

The Times reported recently, "Civilians have borne the brunt of modern warfare, with 10 civilians dying for every soldier in wars fought since the mid-20th century, compared with 9 soldiers killed for every civilian in World War I, according to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross."

Whereas in other modern wars, civilians account for 90 percent of casualties, by contrast in last year's Israel-Hamas war in Gaza less than half of Palestinian fatalities - 39 percent - were noncombatants - and that number would have been even lower had Hamas not stored weapons in civilian institutions and fired rockets from private Palestinian homes which it commandeered.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Ground Zero Mosque Again

from "Dodie" --

I am perplexed that so many of my American friends are against a mosque being built near Ground Zero. I think it should be the goal of every American to be tolerant. The mosque should be allowed, in an effort to promote tolerance.

That is why I also propose, that two gay nightclubs be opened next door to the mosque thereby promoting tolerance within the mosque. We could call the clubs "The Turban Cowboy" and "You Mecca Me So Hot".

Next door should be a butcher shop that specializes in pork and have an open barbeque with spare ribs as its daily special. Across the street a very daring lingerie store called "Victoria Keeps Nothing Secret” with sexy mannequins in the window modelling the goods.

Next door to the lingerie shop, there would be room for an Adult Toy Shop (Koranal Knowledge?), its name in flashing neon lights, and on the other side a liquor store, maybe call it "Morehammered"?


Friday, October 29, 2010

The Wild Life in El Cerrito

Wild turkeys on Lexington Avenue, around the corner from my house.... (sent by a neighbor)


When "Money talks and bullshit walks", where does it go? To Hollywood.



Thursday, October 28, 2010

During a Siege, Siege-Mentality May Not Be A Bad Thing to Have

Israel's Conflict as Game Theory
By Prof. Yisrael Aumann
Nobel Prize Laureate

Two men-let us call them Rick and Steve- are put in a small room containing a suitcase filled with bills totaling $100,000. The owner of the suitcase announces the following:"I will give you the money in the suitcase under one condition: you have to negotiate an agreement on how to divide it. That is the only way I will agree to give you the money."

Rick is a rational person and realizes the golden opportunity that has fallen his way. He turns to Steve with the obvious suggestion: "You take half and I'll take half, that way each of us will have $50,000."

To his surprise, Steve frowns at him and says, in a tone that leaves no room for doubt: "Look here, I don't know what your plans are for the money, but I don't intend to leave this room with less than $90,000. If you accept that, fine. If not, we can both go home without any of the money."

Rick can hardly believe his ears. "What has happened to Steve" he asks himself. "Why should he get 90% of the money and I just 10%?" He decides to try to convince Steve to accept his view. "Let's be logical," he urges him, "We are in the same situation, we both want the money. Let's divide the money equally and both of us will profit."

Steve, however, doesn't seem perturbed by his friend's logic. He listens attentively, but when Rick is finished he says, even more emphatically than before: "90-10 or nothing. That is my last offer."

Rick's face turns red with anger. He is about to punch Steve in the nose, but he steps back. He realizes that Steve is not going to relent, and that the only way he can leave the room with any money is to give in to him. He straightens his clothes, takes $10,000 from the suitcase, shakes Steve's hand and leaves the room humiliated.

This case is called 'The Blackmailer's Paradox" in game theory. The paradox is that Rick the rational is forced to behave irrationally by definition, in order to achieve maximum results in the face of the situation that has evolved. What brings about this bizarre outcome is the fact Steve is sure of himself and doesn't flinch when making his exorbitant demand. This convinces Rick that he must give in so as to make the best of the situation.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict
The relationship between Israel and the Arab countries is conducted along the lines of this paradox. At each stage of negotiation, the Arabs present impossible, unacceptable starting positions. They act sure of themselves and as if they totally believe in what they are asking for, and make it clear to Israel that there is no chance of their backing down.

Invariably, Israel agrees to their blackmailing demands because otherwise she will leave the room empty-handed. The most blatant example of this is the negotiations with Syria that have been taking place with different levels of negotiators for years. The Syrians made sure that it was clear from the beginning that they would not compromise on one millimeter of the Golan Heights.

The Israeli side, eager to have a peace agreement with Syria, internalized the Syrian position so well, that the Israeli public is sure that the starting point for future negotiations with Syria has to include complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights, this despite its critical strategic importance in ensuring secure borders for Israel.

The Losing Solution
According to game theory, Israel has to change certain basic perceptions in order to improve her chances in the negotiations game with the Arabs and win the long term political struggle:

a. Willingness to forego agreements Israel's political stand is based on the principle that agreements must be reached with the Arabs at any price, that the lack of agreements is untenable. In the Blackmailer's Paradox, Rick's behavior is the result of his feeling that he must leave the room with some money, no matter how little. Because Rick cannot imagine himself leaving the room with empty hands, he is easy prey for Steve, and ends up leaving with a certain amount of money, but in the role of the humiliated loser. This is similar to the way Israel handles negotiations, her mental state making her unable to reject suggestions that do not advance her interests.

b. Taking repetition into account Game theory relates to one-time situations differently than to situations that repeat themselves. A situation that repeats itself over any length of time, creates, paradoxically, strategic parity that leads to cooperation between the opposing sides. This cooperation occurs when both sides realize that the game is going to repeat itself, and that since they must weigh the influence present moves will have on future games, there is a balancing factor at play.

Rick saw his problem as a one-time event, and behaved accordingly. Had he told Steve instead that he would not forego the amount he deserves even if he sustains a total loss, he would have changed the game results for an indefinite period. It is probably true that he would still have left the game empty-handed, but at the next meeting with Steve, the latter would remember Rick's original suggestion and would try to reach a compromise. That is how Israel has to behave, looking at the long term in order to improve her position in future negotiations, even if it means continuing a state of war and foregoing an agreement.

c. Faith in your opinions
Another element that crates the "Blackmailer's Paradox" is the unwavering belief of one side in its opinion. Steve exemplifies that. This faith gives a contender inner confidence in his cause at the start and eventually convinces his rival as well. The result is that the opposing side wants to reach an agreement, even at the expense of irrational surrender that is considerably distanced from his opening position.

Several years ago, I spoke to a senior officer who claimed that Israel must withdraw from the Golan Heights in the framework of a peace treaty, because the Golan is holy land to the Syrians and they will never give it up. I explained to him that first the Syrians convinced themselves that the Golan is holy land to them, and then proceeded to convince you as well. The Syrians' unflinching belief that they are in the right convinces us to give in to their dictates. The only solution to that is for us to believe unwaveringly in the righteousness of our cause. Only complete faith in our demands can succeed in convincing our Syrian opponent to take our opinion into account.

As in all of science, game theory does not take sides in moral and value judgments. It analyzes strategically the behavior of opposing sides in a game they play against one another. The State of Israel is in the midst of one such game opposite its enemies. As in every game, the Arab-Israeli game involves interests that create the framework of the game and its rules.

Sadly, Israel ignores the basic principles of game theory. If Israel would be wise enough to behave according to those principles, her political status and de facto, her security status, would improve substantially.


We Tried It Already, And It Didn't Work

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Near Duluth

Massive Windstorm Howls Across Nation’s Midsection -

I am fine this morning. Last night the gusts were pushing the bus all over the road and it was just a matter of time until I went to visit the oncoming traffic. I was lucky in finding a place to get off the highway - a closed truck weighing station with a big empty parking lot.

I spent the night reassuring myself against the blows (in both senses), "It weighs ten tons, it's bottom heavy, it cannot turn over. Besides it would be a bizarre hoot if it did. It weighs ten tons, it's bottom heavy, it cannot turn over. Besides it would be a bizarre hoot if it did. It weighs ten tons, it's bottom heavy, it cannot turn over. It weighs ten...."

This morning is quiet and snow-covered but it is only a few inches deep and the snow plows are already out. Snow is apparently not a novelty in Minnesota. After a short hesitation the bus started and is idling dreamily even as we speak.


Voyageur National Park

I have been at Voyageur National Park in northernmost Minnesota overnight in the bus. During the night there was a windstorm and heavy rains. The nearest town is Hibbing, the boyhood home of Bob Dylan.

It was the wind roaring and rocking the bus (which weighs ten tons and is not easily rocked) which he sang about in the lyric,

If you’re goin’ to the north country far,

Remember me to the one who lives thar,

She once was a true love of mine,

She once was a true love of mine.

See that she has a coat so warm,

To keep her from the howling wind,

That hits heavy on the border line,

She once was a true love of mine,

She once was a true love of mine.

That is all I remember of it from forty years ago, but this place and this wind is the place and the wind in the song.

Not only are the north country, the wind, and the border line poignant but also the pain of modern times. It is all but lost on us that “once was” and “true love” are, or once were, an oxymoron.

In this we can learn about the way things used to be from the graffiti one used to see in and around Mexican neighborhoods in LA - “JR + MG [or some other pairs of initials] por vida”. Whether this meant that Juan Rodriguez actually intended to be with Maria Garcia for life, or just that they both knew that he had to say he did in order to get into her pants, is not for non-Mexicans of that era to know.

But it used to be a given that one fell in love, often quite easily and casually, then stayed together “por vida”. Or at least that was the expectation even if it wasn’t always what happened.

The contrary note was struck by Marilyn Monroe in “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”. “That’s when those louses go back to their spouses” she sang. Even then, though the louses had been with her, and she had been with them, in the end they went back to their spouses.

One doesn’t fault Dylan for being an ambitious musician and going off to Greenwich Village in New York to pursue his career, even though it meant leaving behind his girlfriend. Even though she was a true love of his. Even the grammar speaks the contradiction. How can she be “a” true love, rather than “the” true love?

But it would have been clingy and dependent of her to insist on going. She had other fish to fry anyway – the University of Minnesota perhaps, then maybe law school. And it would have been uxorious and sexless of him to take her.

I don’t fault Dylan for it and you don’t fault him either. Nor her. That is just how life is. There are lots of women to meet and get involved with and about the same number of men to meet and get involved with. One moves on, as the saying is.

Though the rewards for “moving on” are clear, the costs are also. One is always either alone or about to be.

I am not saying I object. I personally wouldn’t now have it any other way. I am just pausing during the wind and the rain here on the borderline to reflect on the cost.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Brief Book Review

I just heard a Book-on-CD of Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence". It is about a condescendingly superior English couple who buy the most ever-so-charming old farmhouse in Provence and spend a year wandering around and having various workmen fix up the house for them. Or rather not fix it up. Most of the book is devoted to how charming the indifference to punctuality and getting things done on time the Provencale workmen are. Aren't they quaint?

The workmen and indeed everyone else in Provence are presented as cartoons, charming for their absurdity, but vastly less than equals to the ever-so-lofty Mayles. The Mayles who have achieved their elevated station in life by making a lot of money in advertising. Can't get more dignified and important than advertising. Especially shitty, primitive, brainless British advertising.

The delays and difficulties pile up and the refurbishing of the house which was supposed to have taken a few weeks or a month or two at most, drags on from Spring until December. Much of the book is taken up with their travails in not getting their house fixed.

At no point does Peter Mayle or his wife ever take it into their heads to pick up a tool for any part of the work whatsoever. Never in the entire year does that seem to have crossed either of their minds. Apparently because people of their class simply don't do such things. The ever-so-cute protestations of helplessness are the thinnest veneer over class pretensions.

There is even an example of a neighboring farm family in which the mechanically-inclined wife does the maintenance and repairs on the tractors and trucks. The Mayles find this quaint too, but not for a moment an object example.

Nor does it ever occur to either of them, at least not in the text of this book, that contracts can contain "timely performance" clauses, which impose monetary penalties on contractors who fail to meet deadlines. And that such clauses are standard in construction contracts.

While the workmen may be Provencale, it is the Mayles who are provincial. The disappearing contractor is as familiar as the sunrise in construction work all over the world, and there is nothing quaint or cute about it, nothing particularly Provencale. Which is why there are timely performance clauses. But the condescending and superior Mayles seem not to know that.

So the whole story, which is intended as a whimsical look at the quaint and amusing Provencales by a tolerantly superior English couple, is actually a look at the incompetence, ignorance, and class-pretensions of a pair of condescending morons.

The part of the book that is of interest is the descriptions of the various restaurants and the various meals that the Mayles "et" in them. ("Et" is the pronunciation given when the word intended is one we would render as "ate" or "eaten".)

Only when they are talking about food and wine are the Mayles sincerely appreciative and not condescending. There is LOTS of description of various dishes, of mushrooms gathered in the woods, of terrines, of breads, of all sorts of wines. It is only when they are genuinely appreciative that they are attractive and sympathetic.


An Autobiographical Note

When I was a high school kid I had a tragic-Maoist vision of the world - which meant that the workers (my parents' friends mainly) were utterly screwed by the rich, but the tragedy was that they were too stupid to do anything about it and always would be.

My bad attitude and poor attendance in high school were carrying me on the long slow slide to Palookaville when the first of a long series of dumbluck happenstances came my way.

Just about the time I was being expelled from high school (as in "don't come back - ever") I took a battery of tests for an honors program at UCLA and was one of two kids in my school who got in. It meant that my going-down-the-toilet grades no longer mattered because I was admitted to the UC system and attended classes half time during 12th grade.

Further dumbluck was that UC was so bureaucratic that they only had one undergraduate status and could not distinguish high school admissions from regular admissions nor could they distinguish UCLA admissions from Berkeley admissions.

Further dumbluck was that the Russians had just launched Sputnik a few years earlier and Congress had freaked out and passed the National Defense Education Act which provided school loans for poor kids like me. So I went from expelled at the end of 11th grade to freshman at Berkeley a year later.

Between freshman and sophomore years I had a summer job scrubbing zoology lab floors that had not been cleaned in years. (The custodians insisted we do it on our knees with brushes so as not take away their jobs of cleaning with big electric floor scrubbers.) Having had plenty of experience of not spending money I saved what I made and spent it the following summer by taking the very first season of charter flights to Europe. More dumbluck.

In the course of hitch-hiking and wandering around my friend Fritz and I were in a youth hostel in West Berlin when we encountered a kid who had more money than brains - and a sports car. He had been touring the various red light districts because he didn't know what else there was to do in Europe. Fritz and I exchanged a look.

The conversation came around occasionally to Moscow, and then again to Moscow, and then I found an article in Time magazine which happened to be at hand and which just happened to be about the USSR. Before Junior knew what had befallen him, we were all three on our way to Moscow and Leningrad in his sports car.

And so it was that in the summer of 1966 at the age of nineteen I learned first hand about what had been an article of conversation and ideological certainty in Berkeley. And it wasn't good. It was a huge eye-opener to actually see what everyone claimed to know all about. It was the origin of all my subsequent political skepticism. Not only had the conservatives lied to us about the Soviet Union, so had the liberals, socialists, and communists. Everyone had lied, and for their own interests.

Including one of my professors, Reggie Zelnik, whose sworn duty it was to teach the truth. But who was a shallow, lying rat-bastard more devoted to his Marxist pretensions than to academic integrity, let alone his students.

From that day to this, I have assumed that anything anyone says about politics or social theory or any such thing is just not true. My view from that day to this is that political speech is born of ignorance, prejudice, self-interest, and even intentional deception. In brief it is my belief that people who speak about politics either literally do not know what they are talking about or are intentional liars. (It does not follow that I necessarily know better. Just that I never believe what I am told.) It was then that I formulated my political philosophy which is summarized in the motto, "Oh, that's bullshit!"

This skepticism has stood me in good stead all my life, although it has gotten me into a great deal of trouble over the years, particularly with authority figures who do not like to have their word doubted or dismissed.