Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's Here!

[Both sweetness and light]
The first buds of spring, pink and tender, have appeared on a Japanese cherry tree in my yard. The joy and beauty of rebirth and renewal are coming, are here already. In early spring it is easy to understand and appreciate the nature-cult elements of a Christianity which worships a god Who dies and lives anew in the spring. Early spring is happiness and elation and hope for the future.

Today is also the Jewish New Year of the Trees, Tu Bishvat. It is a day for planting trees, for giving money for the planting of trees in Israel. It is observed by eating tree fruits and nuts characteristic of the land of Israel, with appropriate brachot. Historically it was the day from which the fruit offerings, brought to the ancient temple in Jerusalem from all over eretz Yisrael, were dated.

The Kabbalists in Tsfat in the 1600's, led by Rabbi Isaac Luria, instituted a short seder for it, called Hemdat he-Yammim . I wonder what Haggadah they used? And whether it is still extant?

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Israel Defense Force teams in Haiti

According to the racists and hypocrites of the fake Left this was a publicity stunt. I doubt the poor bastard on the stretcher thinks it was.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Eclipses and the Future

I was looking at the NASA website for information about future total eclipses. There is a total solar eclipse in Gabon (equatorial Africa) in 2013, another in Svalbard (a Norwegian arctic island) in 2015, in Indonesia in 2016, in the United States in 2017. There is one in 2019 and then 9 during the 2020's. There is one in Australia on November 23, 2030, a week after my 84th birthday. There are six more during the 2030's. I copied down their dates and locations with progressively failing confidence. I ran out of lines in my daybook to write on with the eclipse in the Congo, Rwanda, and Kenya on April 30, 2041. The last few held less and less interest and little belief that I would see them. In 2041 I would be 94 years old. My people, particularly the men, die in our 70's.

As the dates mounted, the credibility of planning or even hoping to see them, waned. I found that I felt lonely and abandoned by the future. It would move ahead without me, cast me off without a thought. A perfunctory service, a stone, and then the business of the world, the business of the living, and more eclipses, ad infinitum. Without me.

In contemplating the world of the eclipses of the 2030's and after, I felt lonesome. I missed me.

Harvey's daughter, my niece Lucy, is two years old. She is a girl, healthy, and has good genes. She will live a long time.

Most of what kills us is no longer pathogens. We do not die of plague, smallpox, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, as people did a century ago. Instead we die of auto-immune diseases. Diabetes is caused by an autoimmune response which destroys the insulin-producing Isles of Langerhans. Alzheimer's is caused by an auto-immune response which destroys the brain. Much heart disease is either caused or exacerbated by inflammation of coronary artery linings which is typically an immune response. Most arthritis is also an inflammation that is not a response to an injury or a pathogen and could also be said to be an auto-immune response. Cancer, though not an immune response disease, is analogous because it too involves the body destroying itself rather than being attacked by an external pathogen. Most degenerative diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis and Lou Gehrig's disease are also immune response diseases.

With the continuing progress of molecular analysis of proteins and such, it seems likely that during Lucy's lifetime auto-immune diseases will become readily treatable. Without pathogens or auto-immune and analogous diseases, life expectancies for Lucy and her peers will be long. Without degenerative diseases, their quality of life will be good.

Hey Lucy! There is a helluva good eclipse passing over Maui and most of Big Island on March 10, 2100. Have a good time and tell 'em Uncle Jack sent you.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hard to Believe but....

[Catholic Relief Services helicopter bringing emergency supplies to Goncaives, Haiti. Catholics don't actually care about the Haitians, they are just sending aid to make themselves look good.]

There has been a lot of criticism of Israeli aid to Haiti coming from exactly those from whom one would expect it to come. The argument is made that Israeli aid is merely done to be seen to be doing good, not to aid the Haitians.

This is a good example of the intellectual dishonesty of Israel's enemies. I do not say "critics" because being a critic implies good faith.

Does one imagine that these soi-disant "critics" would have been kind to Israel if she had sent no aid? I don't think so. Yet they are silent about the glaring omission of the wealthy Arab states to send a dime or a box of bread. At the same time the Arabs are sending nothing at all, Israel is sending more, proportional to her population, than any other country.

The United States and Canada are sending aid. Every country in Europe is sending aid. Mexico and Turkey which both have experience of devastating earthquakes, are sending aid. Cuba and Venezuela are sending aid. China and Japan are sending aid. The UN is sending aid. Yet only Israel's motives are questioned.

A hundred countries send aid, yet the pseudo-Leftist enemies single out Israel's program, generally agreed to be among the fastest and most effective in delivering emergency aid, to deny the decency of their motives.

Nothing explains this enmity to the Jewish state except hostility to Jews. It is customary to close our eyes and pretend that "criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-semitism". But neither is it necessarily not anti-semitism.

This is an example of Israel's enemies on the pseudo-Left inadvertently showing their true racist faces by omitting to connect their hostility to Israel to even a putative issue.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Observations from Real Life

If you have persistent problems with your underwear, it is possible you have them on backwards.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ross claims this is true

Ross' mother-in-law is a lady of a certain age who regards Ross and Faith's home in the El Cerrito hills to be on the benighted frontier as compared to the more settled parts with which she is familiar. Such as Brooklyn. Consistent with her attitudes about El Cerrito and California generally are her attitudes about Ross whom she considers to be little better than a savage.

Ross spends his days rectifying torts the polyglot denizens of Fremont inflict on each other by recovering damages for them from their respective insurance companies. He also wears a large fedora which he never takes off unless he is in the shower or in bed. For the usual reason. He prays as fervently as the others in the schule and as sincerely partakes of the iced vodka shots at the oneg shabbat afterwards (one of the perks of Orthodoxy) and the occasional surreptitious toke.

Ross would be the first to admit that his mother-in-law may have a point that there more than a few places about him where the veneer of civilization runs thin. But withal he is an attentive family man unto uxorious.

Anyway, his kids have a pet bunny, an enormous Belgian Giant the size of a cocker spaniel. In the usual laissez faire manner of the Meltzer family, the bunny is not restricted to his cage but wanders the house freely, usually behind the furniture. In summer the doors are left open for the bunny to nibble the outdoor foliage at his leisure.

Ross' mother-in-law, unexpectedly seeing the bunny emerging from behind a sofa was heard to remark disapprovingly, "See, if you leave the doors open, eventually you get rabbits."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Connecticut Compromise in Action

[Strom Thurmond filibustering the 1957 Civil Rights bill]
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which at the time was only a constitutional convention, the small states feared a federal government dominated by the big states. The big states thought it only fair that representation be by population.

After much wrangling, now called Debate, they settled on the Connecticut Compromise. The House of Representatives was to be elected by the people and apportioned by population. The Senate was to be elected by the state legislatures, two by each state. This arrangement now appears in Article 1 of the Constitution.

In 1911, during the Progressive Era, the 17th Amendment changed this to election of senators by the people of each state, but affirmed that each state would continue to have two senators regardless of population.

The results of the Connecticut Compromise today are that the ten largest states have half the US population but only 20 senators out of 100. The twenty largest states have 70% of the population and 40 senators, not even enough to break a filibuster. 77% of the population have half the votes, 23% the other half. California, the largest state, has as many people as the 20 smallest states combined. They have 40 senators; we have 2.

Populations of small states tend to be more rural, more conservative, more religious, less educated, more Republican, and more white than big state urban populations.

The Senate has a rule that a supermajority of 60 votes are needed to end debate on a measure though only 51 are needed to pass it. "End debate" is a euphemism for breaking a filibuster(defeating a measure by preventing it from coming to a vote). Until 1975 a two thirds supermajority was required to end debate.

Thus the Senate, in which a majority of the senators are elected by a minority of the people, can be obstructed by a minority of the senators. Such a minority within a minority is what, a superminority?

I read this remarkable paragraph in Wikipedia,

Current U.S. practice

Budget bills are governed under special rules called "reconciliation" which do not allow filibusters. Reconciliation once only applied to bills that would reduce the budget deficit, but since 1996 it has been used for all matters related to budget issues.

A filibuster can be defeated by the majority party if they leave the debated issue on the agenda indefinitely, without adding anything else. Indeed, Strom Thurmond's own attempt to filibuster the Civil Rights Act was defeated when Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield refused to refer any further business to the Senate, which required the filibuster to be kept up indefinitely. Instead, the opponents were all given a chance to speak, and the matter eventually was forced to a vote. Thurmond's afore-mentioned stall holds the record for the longest filibuster in U.S. Senate history at 24 hours, 37 minutes.

Even if a filibuster attempt is unsuccessful, the process takes valuable floor time. In recent years the majority has preferred to avoid filibusters by moving to other business when a filibuster is threatened and attempts to achieve cloture have failed.

In the modern filibuster, the senators trying to block a vote do not have to hold the floor and continue to speak as long as there is a quorum. In the past, when one senator became exhausted, another would need to take over to continue the filibuster. Ultimately, the filibuster could be exhausted by a majority who would even sleep in cots outside the Senate Chamber to exhaust the filibusterers. Today, the minority just advises the majority leader that the filibuster is on. All debate on the bill is stopped until either cloture is voted by three-fifths (now 60 votes) of the Senate. Some modern Senate critics have called for a return to the old dramatic endurance contest but that would inconvenience all senators who would have to stay in session 24/7 until the filibuster is broken.[27]

It would inconvenience them? That is why we don't have a medical insurance reform bill? Because it would inconvenience the senators? Wikipedia articles,including this one, generally seem pretty level-headed and reasonable. But I cannot believe that that is all there is to it. But that is what the current practice seems to be. There is no C-Span footage of senators making fools of themselves reading endless nonsense into the Congressional Record so as to stay at the podium indefinitely, as there was during civil rights era filibusters. Just bloodless vote-counting without the filibusterers being forced to filibuster.

With this week's election in Massachusetts, the issue has come sharply into focus. With the election of a Republican to fill the late Ted Kennedy's senate seat, the Democrats now have 59 senators, one short of the number needed to vote cloture.

In the civil rights era when a two-thirds majority was required to break a filibuster, filibusters were eventually broken and the Civil Rights bills of 1964 and 1968, and the Voting Rights bill of 1969 were all passed over bitter Southern opposition.

The ability of the majority of the people of the United States to express their will and, one might say, to govern themselves, has come down to the nicety of whether filibusterers must literally filibuster or can do it by senatorial courtesy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

For once not a laughing matter

[High winds in northern California have blown down many trees]

If hazardous tree failure for once is not a laughing matter, then why are we laughing?

Hi-tech incomprehensibility edging closer; actually intruding

My house is rented for the week to a software company that does not have a brick-and-mortar office. They all work out of their houses and do everything they do online. On the rare occasion they get together for facetime they rent a house like mine. I looked at their website and it said they do cloud computing for medium size companies. WTF is cloud computing?

NASA thinks this is cool; I do too

Click on the arrow

Welcome home

As I rolled my suitcase up the BART path, having taken the last train from the airport, under the salmon lamplight I heard the sweet high-pitched chorus of the thousand little frogs who during wet weather live in a muddy weed patch between the path and a high concrete retaining wall. There was something so merry and joyful in the chorus that I was even more glad to be home. Given the unexplained worldwide die-off of frogs this was a happier chorus still.

Though it was after one am there was warm light from an upstairs bedroom where one of the software engineers/programmers who have rented the house for a week was keeping late hours. The welcome became problematic when I discovered that the windstorm had broken off a huge branch from Gus the Redwood Tree. It missed smashing the car but is blocking the driveway, giving me something to do first thing in the morning. Welcome home.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Dead Pool 2010 - Harvey's Picks

Here they are, read 'em and weep.

1. Stephen Hawking
2. Annette Funicello
3. Steve Jobs
4. Billy Graham
5. Kim Jung il
6. Ariel Sharon
7. Kirk Douglas
8. Elizabeth Edwards
9. Amy Winehouse
10. Rush Limbaugh (wishful thinking)


Jack's picks -

1. Pope Benedict XVI
2. Elizabeth II
3. George H. W. Bush
4. Nelson Mandela
5. Jacques Chirac
6. Robert Downey, Jr.
7. Hugh Hefner
8. Henry Kissinger
9. Tony Bennett
10. Mir Hussein Mousavi

Harvey and I have both been conservative and picked mainly dying hulks. Sharon and Hawking literaly. But his pick of Steven Jobs and mine of Robert Downey, Jr. are daring stabs at middle-aged people. I narrowly escaped making a fool of myself by picking Andy Warhol. Warhol died in 1987.