Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Silence of the Swine

Pakistani police commandos outside one of the mosques attacked by gunmen in Lahore on Friday
More than 80 Ahmadi Muslims have been killed and at least 110 wounded in machine gun attacks by orthodox Sunni Muslims in Lahore. The attack was universally understood as an act of Sunni Muslim bigotry and hatred against the minority Ahmadi Muslim community in Pakistan, which numbers some 2 million people.

American leftists, conscious that the United States supports the orthodox Sunni Muslim Pakistani regime with billions of dollars of military and economic aid, poured into the streets all over America. "Not in my name!" they shouted. Code Pink carried signs demanding an immediate end to US aid to Pakistan. Millions marched with raised fists and angrily denounced Pakistani war crimes. Campuses erupted with student leftist demands for divestment from Pakistan.

K-Mart and Wal-Mart stores carrying Pakistani-made garments saw lines of chanting pickets from ANSWER and ISM.

A spokesman for UC Students for Justice in Pakistan announced their intention to infiltrate Pakistani student organizations in order to Build A Movement. He went on to denounce Pakistani student criticism of SJP for singling out Pakistan as, "Paki propaganda". He added, criticism of Pakistan is not Pakistaniphobia", as he and his fellow SJP members burned a Pakistani flag.

No, wait. Except for the massacre, none of that happened.

In other news, the death toll in Mexico's drug wars rose to 1,000 for 2010 alone, and to an estimated 23,000 overall. American campuses, which consume a substantial fraction of the drugs shipped from Mexico and are thus themselves directly implicated in the murders, remained strangely quiescent.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cloak-and-Dagger Chief Stabbed in Alley

[Director of Intelligence Dennis Blair]

From today's New York Times --
[Forced-out Director of Intelligence Dennis] Blair's often blunt style was seen by some as a source of candour, but it irked others in a White House that prizes staying on message, officials said.
We are once again on left on our own in figuring out if "...a White House that prizes staying on message..." is the Times' editorializing in a news article? Or is it what the White House officials said?

Given that the overall remark is that the White House doesn't care for candour (though either it or the Times does favor pompous British spellings) it is not likely that the White House was candid enough to admit that it doesn't care for candor. Given the Times' well-founded reputation for mistaking its staff's opinions for facts and news, it is more likely that it was the "reporter" saying so.

Even so, the fact that the "reporter" is making up the "news" does not automatically make her wrong.

A White House that stays on message is a bunch of regimented team player liars who cannot be trusted. So much for the new broom sweeping the rascals out. Good thing we got rid of the lowlife Bush administration in favor of these "altruistic" scumbags.

It is no news that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. But shouldn't it take longer than 16 months? Or, not giving them the benefit of the doubt, isn't it more likely they were corrupt in the first place?

The June primaries are coming up in a few weeks. Be sure to vote for the corrupt cynical lying bastards of your choice.


How Good Is Modern Plastic Surgery?


[This ad appeared next to my Facebook page]

Or maybe it's the SPF986 sunscreen applied daily for 40 years?


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Election Season

It occurs to me that one major flaw of democracy is that intelligence is not additive. Two morons with IQ's of 80 each do not add up to one smart person with an IQ of 160. Decisions made by millions of voters are not better than those made by a few.

Nevertheless it is not the object of democracy to make the most intelligent decisions possible. It is to give people some semblance of control over decisions that affect their lives. The object is to achieve individual sovereignty, not to make the best possible decisions.

I am trying to figure out what to do with my absentee ballot which came in the mail yesterday.

California Ballot Measures to Consider:

Measure 13 - Limit on Property Tax Assessment of Seismic Retrofitting of Buildings

Private homes are almost never retrofitted to withstand earthquakes because most homes are wood frame construction which are generally fine during earthquakes. Which means that this measure benefits only big businesses. So this is yet another scam to transfer the tax burden from the rich to everybody else. Screw 'em.

Vote 'NO' on Measure 13.

Measure 14 - Permits Voters of Either Party to Vote in Primary of Other Party. Top Two Vote Getters to Run Off in November

This is a loathsome trick. Since the GOP is in a minority in California, this would enable them to elect Republican candidates by running them in the Democratic primary. Republicans could cross over and help the Republican pretending to be a Democrat get the Democratic nomination. Even if their fake Democrat lost, the faker would still come in at least second. Since there are so many more Democrats than Republicans, the Democrat and the Republican pretending to be a Democrat would come in first and second. In the runoff, some of the Democrats and all of the Republicans would vote for the Republican pretending to be a Democrat.

The whole measure is a trick to elect Republicans using Democratic votes.

Vote 'NO' on Measure 14.

Measure 15 - California Fair Elections Act

Restores public funding of state elections if the candidates agree to limit themselves to the public money. Put taxes on lobbyists. This is a terrific idea and more likely to pass than my proposal to stand lobbyists against a wall in front of a firing squad.

Vote 'YES' on Measure 15.

Measure 16 - Imposes Two Thirds Voter Approval to Take Over Local Power Companies

Utilities are natural monopolies. There is no way for two or more companies to provide electricity in the same area. Without competition there is no free market, no risk, and no justification for capitalist profits. Power companies owned by the cities they serve, work just fine in such hotbeds of socialism as LA, San Diego, and Sacramento.

Measure 16 is just the private power companies trying to put a rock in the road in the way of municipalizing more local power companies. Power from the People!

Vote 'NO' on measure 16.

Measure 17 - Allow Auto Insurance Companies to Base Their Prices in Part on Whether Driver Had Insurance Coverage in the Past

One does not have to get much beyond "Allow Auto Insurance Companies to...." to realize that this is an insurance-companies-paid-for piece of squat. Talk about entitlement! This is an attempt by insurance companies to charge premiums retroactively of people who did not carry insurance at some time in the past. Talk about greedy despicable swine! Feh!

Vote 'HELL NO!' on Measure 17

Measure D - Issues $380 Million in School Bonds for West Contra County Unified School District

Measure D is a difficult one to decide. Obviously local to west Contra Costa County voters.

According to County Counsel analysis it is a bond issue which will sell $380 million worth of bonds for the West Contra Costa Unified School District. The bonds are to be paid for by an increase in ad valorem real estate taxes. Over the life of the bonds, it will cost me personally an additional $3000 above what I am paying now.

Ordinarily there would be no question of what to do. One always votes money for schools, for parks, for hospitals. But the West Contra Costa Unified School District is consistently the most incompetent and corrupt school board in the state, possibly in the country.

They are still operating under the authority of a trustee imposed on them by the State of California when they went bankrupt a few years ago. There has never been an accounting of where the money went. It certainly did not go to the schools. The WCCUSD schools are all rundown and ill-maintained and the teachers poorly paid.

We seem to wind up with crappy under-funded schools whether we vote them more money or not. On one hand Measure D seems like a waste of $3000. But voting against school bonds seems inconceivable to me.

Maybe the best solution is to vote for Measure D myself and hope that my fellow voters will vote it down anyway. It isn't much of a solution but it's all I got.

Reluctantly vote 'yes' on Measure D but hope it fails anyway.

In summary, vote 'NO' on every measure except Measure 15. Vote 'maybe' on Measure D.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How 'Interest Group' Politics Works

[click on cartoon to enlarge; browser back arrow to return]


Monday, May 17, 2010

Old Time Zionist Song in Honor of Israel Independence Day

[The banjo player is Pete Seeger]



Affordable Housing

[click on cartoon to enlarge]


Review of "Seven Years in Tibet" - the movie

["he can smile and smile, and still be a villain..." -- Hamlet]

The book glosses over the fact that the author, Heinrich Harrer was a devoted Nazi [who escaped from a WWII British enemy alien internment camp] and taught the then-teenager who is now the Dalai Lama his world-view. The Dalai Lama learned his basic notions of the world outside Tibet almost exclusively from the Nazi Harrer. The movie omits to mention it at all.

The book deals at least somewhat with how parasitic and exploitive the wealthy Lhasa upper class was, all at the expense of the desperately poor Tibetan common people. Tibetan peasants were somewhere between feudal serfs and outright slaves of the monasteries which owned almost all of the arable land in Tibet. The movie mentions this not at all.

Both book and movie do show how profoundly religious and superstitious the Tibetan people were but each shows only slightly how the upper class shamelessly used that religiosity to mercilessly exploit the people.

Both book and movie depict the Chinese as evil invaders. Neither mentions that China had ruled Tibet for centuries before the collapse of Ch'ing authority in 1912 and that there were Chinese imperial troops stationed in Lhasa until 1913. In fact it was the authority of the Dalai Lama god-king that was a relative novelty, not Chinese rule.

Neither mentions that Chinese revolutionaries had good reason to kick out members of a particularly nasty and exploitive regional landlord elite, one that ruled and exploited the poor not just through money and property as elsewhere in China, but one that even more despicably ruled through religiosity and superstition.

The Chinese general is shown in the movie as being rude and disrespectful to the ever-so-charmingly-smiling god-king. It is never mentioned that he would have been well within his rights as a revolutionary general to have had everyone in the royal family stood against a wall and shot, as the Bolsheviks did with Tsar Nicholas II and his family at Ekaterinburg 1n 1918.

The Dalai Lama is portrayed as a nice man with a wonderful smile and a warm, enveloping presence. It is pretty much never mentioned that he is also a deposed absolute monarch seeking to reimpose his absolutist clerical-monarchical rule on his people and return to the shocking property and social relationships of the pre-revolutionary era. The Dalai Lama was a combination Tsar and Pope of a pious, obedient people, and his regime milked it for everything it was worth.

It is never mentioned in book or movie, or indeed almost anywhere at all, that the Chinese Communists took the land away from the monasteries and gave it to the peasants who actually worked it. The modern day Tibetans who so desperately want the Chinese out, never mention any desire to return the land the Chinese gave them back to the monasteries.

Nor is it ever mentioned in Western discussion that much of the agitation for Tibetan independence coming from within Tibet is motivated by ethnic hostility to Han (Chinese) immigrants to Tibet. This makes the independence movement look less like a liberation movement and more like an Arizona-style bigotry against immigrants.

Tibet, as a part of China, faces a future of growing literacy, public health, prosperity, improved living conditions, connection to the outside world with roads, rail, and airports.

Tibet as an independent kingdom under the Dalai Lama would face a future as tiny remote marginal impoverished and backward country. Its main sources of income would be tourism and drugs, much like Nepal today - or worse.

Which is why "Free Tibet" bumper stickers are fixed onto a layer of ignorance as much as onto a layer of plastic.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Times Square Bomber

[Faisal Shahzad]

From today's New York Times -
"Mr. Shahzad, a 30-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Pakistan."
Maybe people like him shouldn't be naturalized?

The Final Solution to Glenn Beck

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party


Was Saint Paul Wrong?

[Maybe it IS better to burn....]


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Role of Dinosaurs in English Literature


Why Isn't There Peace?

Article 3 photo 1
[PA President Mahmoud Abbas]

(From AIPAC)
The following is a brief timeline:

Fall 2008: Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offers Abbas a Palestinian state on almost the entire West Bank. Abbas later acknowledged that Olmert had offered him a state on 97 percent of the West Bank. He confirmed that Olmert “accepted the principle” of the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees—something no previous Israeli prime minister had done. Abbas turned down the offer. “The gaps were wide,” he said.

March 2009: Benjamin Netanyahu becomes prime minister of Israel. He says that he wants direct talks with Abbas.

May 2009: Abbas tells the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that until Israel meets his demands, he will refuse to begin negotiations. “I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he says. “Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality.”

June 2009: At a major speech at Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu says he endorses the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state and calls on the PA to resume direct negotiations. Abbas rebuffs Netanyahu’s speech, saying it “sabotaged all initiatives.”

September 2009: Just days after meeting Obama and Netanyahu in New York, Abbas reiterates his refusal to enter into direct talks with Netanyahu. “The Netanyahu government is a real problem and there is no common ground for negotiations with it… so what is there to talk about?” he asks.

November 2009: Netanyahu declares a 10-month moratorium on all Israeli housing construction in the West Bank. Abbas says the freeze is insufficient for him to return to peace talks. “The prime minister has to choose between peace and colonization, but unfortunately he chose colonization,” Abbas says.

December 2009: Abbas calls on Obama to impose an “end game” on Israel saying, “I want him to declare the framework for negotiations and to ask Israel to stop the settlements.” Obama administration officials have said that they would not impose a plan on Israel and that direct negotiations are the best path toward peace.

January 2010: After meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Abbas says he is “not setting any preconditions” for talks with Israel, but then says that “in order for us to return [to talks], there must be a halt to settlement building and recognition of the peace process principles.”

March 2010: Under pressure from the United States and Israel to agree to participate in proximity talks, Abbas delays and says that he must first seek permission from the Arab League and Arab foreign ministers.

March 2010: The Arab League gives Abbas support to participate in proximity talks. During a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden, the Israeli Interior Ministry announces that a municipal planning commission had approved new housing construction in a Jewish neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem. Abbas uses the announcement as a pretext to back out of proximity talks.

April 2010: Abbas calls on President Obama to impose a peace plan on Israel. “It is your duty to call for the steps in order to reach the solution and impose the solution,” he says.

April 2010: The Israeli government again calls on Abbas to return to the negotiating table, or at least participate in proximity talks. Again, Abbas says he will only enter into proximity talks if granted permission from the Arab League.

May 2010: The Arab League approves Abbas’ participation in proximity talks. “There is a historic opportunity before Israel, if it withdraws from all Palestinian and Arab lands,” Abbas said.

My suspicion is that this weasel just doesn't want to get assassinated.

If they could get to Anwar Sadat while he was President of Egypt, how hard would it be to get to Abbas? Abbas sees his security people all day every day. He knows better than anyone how effective and trustworthy they are. Sadat must have known the risk too. One admires him all the more for his having taken it.

What we are seeing is the assassination veto working in advance.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fun Maps

This map is set after the admission to the Union of California in 1850 and before the admission of Minnesota in 1858.

This map shows the irony that the Republican Party, once the party of the North, has become the party of the South. Equally, the Democratic Party, once the party of the South, has become the party of the North.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Nashville Under Water

The SF Chronicle ran this picture under the headline "Nashville Under Water". How much simpler can the news get?

They added that the Cumberland River, which runs through Nashville, is expected to rise 11 feet and peak Monday afternoon. Since it was the Chronicle there was no way to figure out whether the Cumberland would rise an additional 11 feet which would put every house in the picture in water up to the eaves, or to 11 feet above normal, which might mean six inches deeper than in the picture.

Between incompetent reporting and Herb Caen still being dead, the Chron' is more worthless than ever.


Friday, May 07, 2010

The Fate of Europe

[Winged Victory of Samothrace, after austerity measures]

The markets are agog over the fear that Greece will default on its debts, promptly followed by Portugal, Spain, and possibly Italy. There is tinkling in the back of everyone's memory the two words, "Credit Anstalt", the Vienna bank whose failure launched the Great Depression. Instead of a mere bank failure we have a whole country that has failed.

Even if Greece doesn't default, the austerity measures required to avoid default are expected to freeze credit markets in Europe almost indefinitely. Trillions of euros will have to be repaid and the borrowers will have severely distressed and deflated economies for years to come. Which will be a heavy drag on the economies of their partners in the European Union for years to come. And that is if they succeed in preventing the default.

I for one am optimistic. I think the European Union governments have shown themselves able to work together effectively in the past so they are sure to be able to deal with this crisis too.

Look at how well they have done in creating and adopting a constitution. Just because they still don't have one even after several tries, and the various versions keep getting voted down doesn't mean that the they won't eventually succeed.

Look how well they did in the Bosnian War in the 1990's. Scarcely 110,000 people were killed under their very noses because they were unable to agree on a policy. On the one hand 110,000 people seems a lot to have been killed when the Europeans had more than enough soldiers and arms to stop the massacres. But on the other hand look at how many Bosnians there still are. It's not like the Europeans messed up and got them
all killed.

The same pattern of success was repeated in Kossovo a few years later. In the end ships and planes from North America were required to stop further large-scale massacres taking place on European soil. And that while Europe again had more than enough military power to prevent them. But again in spite of the massacres of Kosovars, Serbs, and Albanians, it is not as though there weren't still plenty left after the war.

Continental Europe will be aided in its deliberations by the new coalition government Britain is likely to have in a week or two. That government will give large voice to the Tories' coalition partners, the third-party Liberal Democrats, whom even their friends describe as "opinionated fools".

So having handled those problems so well, how can we doubt that the Europeans will be equally successful in managing a prolonged economic crisis? I'm sure they'll do fine.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Demon Sheep II

[Click on the four outward-pointing arrows at lower right for full screen]
This is outrageous partisan propaganda but it is pretty good. The lesson I have gleaned from a lifetime of listening to partisan propaganda is that the bad things politicians say about other politicians are generally true. The good things they say about themselves are generally false.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Chariots of the Gods

[Chariot of the Gods - Warren Widener Edition]

It is a fun theory but the physics are formidable. There is moving a craft to near light speed which would require unimaginable amounts of energy, transporting it between stars, decelerating from near light speed which would require the same energy as the acceleration, arriving at the exact moment there is intelligent life on the destination planet (there has been life on earth for 3.5 billion years, but most of that time is was only blue-green algae), remaining undetected, returning to near light speed, going back to the origin world, decelerating again, then coping with the fact that the voyage would have taken at a minimum centuries in ship's time, but millions of years would have elapsed on the home world. Making the "Welcome Home" parade dubious since the astronauts' species would likely have become extinct in the meantime, as happens to most species in earth history and one presumes elsewhere as well .

My guess is that if there is any interstellar space travel or ever was or will be, it would be between planets around stars in binary or trinary orbit around one another, like Sirius which is two stars or Alpha Centauri.which is three. It is even possible that there might be interstellar travel between planets around stars in the closely packed cores of globular clusters where there are many stars within a fraction of a light year of one another. But out here in the wide open ranges of an outer arm of the Milky Way, it is hard to see how it could happen.


Monday, May 03, 2010

I Knew It All Along

Somali Pirates Say They Are Subsidiary of Goldman Sachs

Could Make Prosecution Difficult, Experts Say

NORFOLK, VIRGINIA (The Borowitz Report) – Eleven indicted Somali pirates dropped a bombshell in a U.S. court today, revealing that their entire piracy operation is a subsidiary of banking giant Goldman Sachs.

There was an audible gasp in the courtroom when the leader of the pirates announced, “We are doing God’s work. We work for Lloyd Blankfein.”

The pirate, who said he earned a bonus of $48 million in dubloons last year, elaborated on the nature of the Somalis’ work for Goldman, explaining that the pirates forcibly attacked ships that Goldman had already shorted.

“We were functioning as investment bankers, only every day was casual Friday,” the pirate said.

The pirate acknowledged that they merged their operations with Goldman in late 2008 to take advantage of the more relaxed regulations governing bankers as opposed to pirates, “plus to get our share of the bailout money.”

In the aftermath of the shocking revelations, government prosecutors were scrambling to see if they still had a case against the Somali pirates, who would now be treated as bankers in the eyes of the law.

“There are lots of laws that could bring these guys down if they were, in fact, pirates,” one government source said. “But if they’re bankers, our hands are tied.”

The Los Angeles Times says Andy Borowitz has “one of the funniest Twitter feeds around.” Follow Andy on Twitter.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

My New Folding Bicycle

[Dahon TR folding touring bicycle - don't bother]

I just bicycled across southern Wisconsin on a new Dahon TR folding bicycle.

Here are some equipment notes:

1. The box the bicycle comes in has a disclaimer on the outside that the buyer is responsible for having the bicycle checked and set up by a professional bicycle mechanic before using it. Which is to say, Dahon attempts to transfer its quality assurance responsibility to the user by printing a disclaimer on the box. That is both dishonest and lowlife and probably not legally effective. If you ship a dangerous product to a consumer, a disclaimer will not absolve the seller from liability.

2. The reason they attempt to do this, is that they ship the bicycle not completed. For instance I discovered after a few miles that the spokes on the front wheel, so far from adjusted, were finger loose. The nipples spun freely. They had been no more than put in place. I could have been killed if I had discovered this in worse circumstances. Thanks a lot Dahon.

3. The spokes on the front wheel are in a radial spoking pattern. Radial spoking is used only on the hottest track bicycles because one doesn't care about lateral strength on a smooth indoor track. But the Dahon TR is designed and sold as a touring bicycle, with pannier racks front and rear. Touring bicycles need laterally strong wheels because they are to be used in a maximum variety of circumstances including bad roads. Radial spoking gives the least lateral strength of any of the standard spoking patterns. This is just plain dangerous even if the spokes had been tightened.

Having a radial wheel fail on a downhill from hitting a pebble or even a minor irregularity in the pavement could have gotten me killed where a standard three cross lacing or even a la de dah two cross lacing pattern would have been strong enough to keep the wheel from failing laterally. Once again, thanks Dahon.

4. The only reason I can think of for using a homicidally-dangerous-on-a-touring-bike radial spoke pattern is that it takes about ten minutes less time per wheel to assemble. And it would have taken perhaps as much as five minutes longer to actually tighten the spokes. Which saves Dahon maybe a buck a wheel in labor cost. Great to see that customer safety comes first at Dahon.

5. Even the design is crap. There is a dynamo generator built into the front wheel hub and a light on the fork that it powers. The light is low to the ground so it is of little use when it is on. It is of no use at all when there are front panniers mounted because the panniers block almost all the light from it. But here is the class design move by Dahon: there is no way to disengage the dynamo. So one has to do the work of driving the dynamo at all times. The resistance is noticeable. Up hill and down, at the beginning of a long day, in the middle of the day, and especially when one is tired, there it is, sucking one's energy. Whatever number of miles you feel comfortable doing, figure on being able to do 5 to 8% fewer miles per day on the Dahon TR. The Dahon TR is a bicycle with a built-in headwind.

6. There is a large rear light on the rear rack. It is a steady light. Steady lights have long since been superseded by flashing ones and especially by powerful flashing strobe lights from Cateye. Fortunately it doesn't matter much because the Dahon light won't be visible anyway because it is too high and will be obscured by your tent bag or sleeping bag stuff sack overhanging it from the top, and concealed from the sides by your rear panniers. I was able to get a decent result by mounting a Cateye flashing strobe on the little reinforcing crossbar on the rear rack. It stuck out far enough to be visible from most directions. If I could improve the design with a standard Cateye product and a screwdriver, imagine what Dahon could have done with a whole factory full of tools and workers if they had given a damn about their products, let alone their customers.