Friday, May 27, 2011

How I Became....

[Wearing my streimel]

I was in Mongolia for the eclipse of 1997. It occurred to me that I was one of vanishingly few Judeans in the country. So I thought of declaring myself Chief Rabbi of Mongolia. But rabbis have to be trained and actually know something so I couldn’t claim to be a rabbi even of Mongolia.

However there are no such requirements to be a former rabbi. So I cut past the training part and the rabbi part, and started my rabbinical career as Former Chief Rabbi of Mongolia. Which I was and am fully qualified to be. It is a title I bear proudly to this day.

There are no actual perks to the office except being able to ask for the Clergyman’s Discount—a discount invented by my Uncle Sol while shopping in a drugstore in Minneapolis in 1968.

And it makes me as legitimately a rabbi as Mr. Lerner, the head of Tikkun, who is just as much qualified to be a rabbi as I am. Maybe it’s time for Michael to ‘fess up and become a Former Rabbi too. I’ll even cut him in on my Clergyman’s Discount.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Hidden Bomb in the Innocuous-Seeming Pumpkin

Now that I think of it, there was something strategically important in Obama's speech. He mentioned Palestine's borders with "Israel, Egypt, and Jordan". It seemed at the time an unnecessary and merely rhetorical amplification of "borders with Israel". But it isn't.

If Israel retains the line of fortified settlements along the Jordan River (right edge of the map) that the Prime Minister mentioned in his speech after the President's, Palestine would not have a border with Jordan. There is no territorial issue with Jordan. The Hashemites claim nothing west of the river.

The 'border with Jordan' question is a question of who will be on the other bank of the river from Jordan -- the Israelis or the Palestinians. For Obama to mention Palestine's border with Jordan is to say that he opposes Israel retaining the Jordan River line of fortified settlements. This line of fortifications goes directly to the question of defensible borders. It also clarifies what the Prime Minister meant by referring to the bad old days when Israel was only nine miles wide.

Even in the unlikely event the Palestinians were sincere in their willingness for Palestine to be demilitarized, what would prevent an Arab or Iranian army from crossing the river unopposed and planting itself on the Israeli border? Without the Jordan River Valley fortifications, the American and Palestinian promises that Palestine would be a demilitarized state would not be worth the paper they were written on.

Without the Jordan River Valley fortifications, Israel could be quickly cut in two by an armored column driving nine miles across the level Plain of Sharon (left edge of the map). Israeli defenders would have almost no room to maneuver tanks and artillery. Israel would face almost certain defeat.

The Arab surprise attack that began the Yom Kippur War in 1973 almost achieved this. Only the territorial depth of Judea and Samaria and the Sinai Peninsula kept Israel from being over-run in the first few hours of the war. So the question is far from academic for the Israelis. Indeed the majority of middle-aged Israelis alive today remember personally fighting for their and their country's survival in that war.

With those fortifications, an Arab or Iranian army approaching from the east would be faced by IDF tanks, artillery, infantry, and attack aircraft in serried tiers behind the Jordan. Major tank and troop barriers in depth have been constructed in the desert there which are impractical on the densely populated Plain of Sharon.

To defend against Palestinian attacks behind the lines from Jericho, the IDF stations nearby its elite Israel Army Drum and Bugle Corps which has traditionally been successful against Jericho's defenses.

Territorially Israel is still only nine miles wide. But militarily its frontier is at the Jordan River. The Prime Minister wants to keep it there. The President does not.

This is a good, indeed a complete, reason to support the Prime Minister and oppose the President. Including opposing his re-election if need be.

Note in the map above that there is a line of Jewish settlements (the black dots in the blue-green areas toward the right of the map) in the Jordan Valley and no Palestinian settlements except Jericho (the orange and red blotch near the Dead Sea) there. The Jordan Valley is largely desert.

The map also shows what else the President meant by Palestine being a "contiguous" territory. One can see that Jerusalem separates Palestinian settlements in Judea, centered on Hebron, from Palestinian settlements in Samaria. Contiguity presumably means connecting not just Gaza and the rest of Palestine with a highway, but also connecting Palestinian parts of Judea with Palestinian parts of Samaria with a second highway.

The obvious route of such a highway is into Israel, through the eastern part of Jerusalem, and then back into Palestine and on to Ramallah. Which raises a difficult question indeed. Putting the eastern part of Jerusalem on the highway between two of the three parts of Palestine would make the eastern part of Jerusalem effectively the center of Palestine and its natural capital.

But for three thousand years Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel. We have prayed either in or facing Jerusalem all three thousand of those years. Israelis are united and unwavering on the proposition that Jerusalem is our eternal and indivisible capital. So are Judeans abroad with any sense.

Which means that the highway connecting Palestinian parts of Judea with Palestinian parts of Samaria will necessarily have to go around Jerusalem, presumably through Jericho.

There is a certain fitness about this. Jericho was one of the capitals of the Ummayad Caliphate, the first great Arab conquest empire from the year 661 to 750. One can still see the ruins of the Ummayad Caliphs' palace there. Jerusalem on the other hand has never in its long history been the capital of anything but ancient and modern Israel.

So the central issue in the upcoming quarrels, uh, I mean negotiations, will be whether there will be a Hebron to Ramallah highway and, if there is, whether it will go through the eastern part of Jerusalem (i.e. into and out of Israel) or whether it will go only through Palestinian territory, via Jericho. When and if negotiations are resumed, that is some of what they will be arguing about.

There is an oft-repeated claim that Jerusalem is the third holiest place in Islam in spite of not being mentioned anywhere in the Koran. The implication is that this somehow obliges the world to make it Palestine's capital.

The two holier places than Jerusalem are Mecca and Medina. Yet the capital of Saudi Arabia is Riyadh, 500 miles away. So the holiness of places to Muslims apparently does not oblige them to make those places their capital. It didn't in the 7th Century for the Ummayad Caliphs of Jericho and Damascus, nor in the 8th Century for the Abbassid Caliphs of Baghdad. Unless of course they are trying to make up reasons to demand territory from Israel.

The Venus Project

These are some images from Jacque Fresco's Venus Project website. It is at It is about a Jacque Fresco's plans for rebuilding society along lines developed by him. It is becoming popular among New Age and Left people, particularly in Britain.

This is based on forgetting that it has already been proposed and tried -- with disastrous results. If one looks at Le Corbusier's designs they are so initially appealing that one forgets the monumental egotism of supposing that one person, or one person and the party chairman, whether Stalin or Tito, can and should decide how everyone else should live. In this case the pathological egotism is that of Jacque Fresco rather than of Le Corbusier but the result is the same.

I remember hitch-hiking through Novy Belgrade in Yugoslavia in 1978 when Tito was in power there. It was a Le Corbusier worker's paradise development of huge apartment blocks and looked-great-in-the-model landscaping. It was also a vast horrible dehumanizing slum which no one wanted to live in if they could help it. Soviet postwar architecture was largely based on Le Corbusier's imagery of vast futuristic buildings. Soviet architecture is the very byword of horrible oppressive inhuman concrete monumentalism. The architecture itself was a significant part of what the peoples who lived under those regimes rejected about Communism, as much as the corrupt party regimes. I guarantee you Jacque Fresco is the same cocksure egotistic asshole who knows what's good for everyone else as Le Corbusier was.

I will re-phrase the question about whether we are brave enough to rebuild our societies around Jacque Fresco's images and principles. Let us ask instead if we are brave enough to let go of our egocentric controllingness enough to let other people decide for themselves how they should live? Are we brave enough to risk that it will still work out all right in the end even without us and those who believe what we believe being in charge? Can we trust other people to decide things for themselves, even life and death important things, and, after taking a deep breath, give up control? Just let the chips fall where they may? Just step out in faith and hope that things will be okay even without our making sure they are not going awry, that order will, I say will, will emerge from uncontrol, from chaos?

Never mind Dylan's Chimes of Freedom Flashing. Have we got the Brass Balls of Freedom on us?

The capitalists are as much guilty of dehumanizing architecture and design as Le Corbusier-ist communists. One has only to drive through the taupe sameness of a vast California condominium development or housing tract to want to scream and run away. Whether the motive is ideology and party control or corporate profit, the result is the same. The capitalists have the slight advantage of having to answer to a market, albeit a market they can readily manipulate. The Communists answered to no one. To whom does the Venus Project answer?


Maybe I am being clueless but...

[Dominique Strauss-Kahn and some other rich, important banker asshole. He is the one on the right but does it matter?]

The rape allegations against Dominique Strauss-Kahn are puzzling. On the one hand, given a contest between a poor immigrant maid and a powerful wealthy banker, it is hard not to side with the maid. But there are problems with her story.

From the May 17th Telegraph --
The maid alleges that when she arrived to clean the IMF managing director's suite at noon on Saturday, he locked her inside, attempted to rape her and forced her to give him oral sex.
How is that possible? How would one lock a hotel room door from the inside such that one could not get out? Hotel doors lock from the inside to keep intruders out, but are designed for quick and easy exit in case of fire. If anyone reading this has ever seen a hotel door that worked any other way I will be glad to be corrected, but I haven't seen one nor do I expect to.

If she was able to repel his attempt to rape her, she was willing and able to resist by force. There is no allegation of coercion with a weapon or threat of one, only of force. If she could keep him out of her vagina, how could she not keep him out of her mouth?

If the maid did not want Dominique Strauss-Kahn's penis in her mouth and she was not so intimidated as to be afraid to resist, why would she not just have kept her jaw closed? Or once inside, not have bitten his penis and bitten it hard?

Her husband's description of the maid, though affectionate, makes her sound plain, obese, and unstable. As Strauss-Kahn showed by raising a million in cash for bail on short notice, he could lay his hands on plenty of money. New York has no end of hookers and it is a certainty that a rich, smart, connected guy like Strauss-Kahn could have had no end of women in his room with a phone call, every one of them more attractive than the African maid.

It is conventional to say that rape is a crime of violence rather than one of sexual desire. Which makes sense here. Nothing about the maid was more attractive than any one of the high-priced hookers Strauss-Kahn could easily have afforded. So it wasn't a sex crime. It was a crime of violence plain and simple. Which is to say that for the maid's accusation to be true, Strauss-Kahn would have to have a screw loose.

Conversely, for Strauss-Kahn's denial to be true, either the accusation is an attempt at blackmail, or the maid is the one with a screw loose.

This is beginning to have a something of the odor of the poor innocent woman who was raped by the Duke lacrosse team in 2006 . Except she wasn't. In the end the prosecutor in that case was disbarred for concealing exonerating evidence and the woman went to jail.

And the 1987 Tawana Brawley case in which a poor woman from the slums was raped and abused by New York police officers, smeared with dog shit, and kidnapped inside a large canvas sack. Except she wasn't. Forensic evidence demonstrated that every allegation she made was false. The Reverend Al Sharpton adopted her cause but never apologized or retracted when she was proven a liar. The prosecutor he smeared in the press sued for defamation and got a judgment of $345,000 against him.

The underlying problem is that treating a woman's word as sacrosanct gives crazy and malicious women too much power to destroy whomever they don't like by false allegations. But treating a woman's word as something to be ignored or dismissed gives men a carte blanche to rape women and get away with it. There seems to be no balanced way to do it. The world is full of liars and head cases and there is no reliable way to deal with them. The legal system tends to lynch the poor and hand out hereditary 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards to the rich.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is an international banker and a leader of the Socialist Party of France, and a candidate to run against the current President, Nicholas Sarkozy, in 2012. It is not too much to suppose that a socialist international banker would make some powerful enemies. Nor is it too much to suppose that a prospective candidate for President might be subject to dirty tricks by the regime. Or by friends of the regime.

It is not unreasonable to suppose that the Socialists would have won the Presidency in 2005 if their candidate had not been the inept but stunningly beautiful Segolene Royal. Nor unreasonable to suppose that the Socialists would have an excellent chance against the increasingly unpopular Nicholas Sarkozy if their candidate in 2012 were an experienced world banker like Strauss-Kahn. One does not have to be John LeCarre to suspect a plot here.

It is not clear what is going on in the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, except that it is not what we are being told.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Could It Be Any More Obviously Class War?

from today's Washington Post --

A Democratic measure that would have repealed tax subsidies for the five biggest oil companies failed to clear the Senate on Tuesday, falling short of the 60-vote threshold needed to advance in a near-party-line vote.

The Senate rejected S.940, or the “Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act,” in a 52-to-48 vote. Three Democrats – Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Begich (Alaska) – joined nearly all Republican in voting against the measure, while two Republicans – Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) – voted “yes.”

Democrats had contended that the bill, which would have repealed $21 billion in tax subsidies for the top five oil companies over the next decade, represented a step toward addressing the country’s soaring deficit and rising gas prices. The White House issued an official statement of administration policy earlier Tuesday saying that it strongly backed the bill.

But even as Democratic leaders had been strongly pushing the measure, it was expected that the bill would fall short. That’s the case, too, with a separate energy-related measure that will be on the Senate floor Wednesday – a Republican-sponsored bill aimed at increasing domestic energy production.

The end result: the congressional debate over addressing rising gas prices will have little changed by week’s end.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) maintained Tuesday that the subsidy issue will continue to play a role in the debate over raising the debt ceiling. Asked what he expected to come from the vote on the Democratic measure, Reid told reporters that he expected that a final deal on the debt ceiling would include a repeal of tax subsidies for the top five oil companies.

Mind you, this was the Democratic majority Senate, NOT the Republican House.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Another Amazing Coincidence

[John Profumo]

Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid. Which is a good thing for the rich and powerful. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the head of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and also a leader of the French Socialist Party. He was considered a strong candidate to run against Nicholas Sarkozy for the Presidency of the French Republic.

But he got caught in a sex scandal so the rich and powerful were saved.

Elliot Spitzer had been a crusading Attorney-General for the State of New York who investigated and prosecuted a number of Wall Street criminals whom both the US Attorney for New York and the Securities and Exchange Commission somehow forgot to investigate and prosecute. He was so popular that he was handily elected Governor of New York. He was discussed as a possible presidential candidate.

But he got caught in a sex scandal so the rich and powerful were saved.

Julian Assange published the Wikileaks documents. He didn't say anything. He didn't claim anything. He didn't prove anything. He just published what people in positions of power had themselves said. He clearly was going to publish more.

But he got caught got in a sex scandal so the rich and powerful were saved.

John Edwards was a smart successful trial attorney, a poor boy who made tons of money in his practice and was elected US Senator from North Carolina. He was a supporter of labor unions and working people's interests. He was a strong candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But he got caught in a sex scandal so the rich and powerful were saved.

The rich and powerful sure are lucky that everyone who opposes them just happens to get caught in sex scandals.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Other Side of Things

[The Southern Cross on the flag of Samoa. It also appears on the flags of Australia, Brazil, New Guinea, New Zealand, and the US Army's Americal Division.]

Pretty exciting Southern Hemisphere day yesterday. Saw the entirety of the constellation of Scorpio with the brilliant binary red giant Antares, the Heart of the Scorpion, in the midst of it. It is huge and obvious. And then as plain as night, high in the sky, was the Southern Cross. IMpressive. In Centaurus I saw the bright star Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to our own, 4.3 light years away. I waved and conveyed your regards.

I even got up at five and went out to see the close grouping of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter predicted for this morning near the dawn horizon. At five one can go out bare-ass-naked without concern for weather or being seen. I was not seen nor sadly were the planets because of the clouds.

Other interesting facts learned -- a small amount of Polynesian ukulele music goes a long way, even when accompanied by local dance troupes. Especially when accompanied by local dance troupes.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Bin Laden Situation

The latest bulletin: At this moment Osama Bin Laden remains dead. It is not known how long this situation can go on. More as it develops.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead! The Wicked Witch!

Two things were new about the assault on the Abbottabad compound. One is that when the Al Qaeda people used Osama's youngest wife as a human shield, the Special Operations Forces and Navy Seals unhesitatingly shot her and the men using her as a shield. Openly doing that is novel.

The second thing is that is there is no pretense of being sorry "that any human being has been killed". No one in the government nor in the public is going through even the slightest shedding of crocodile tears over the violent death of Bin Laden.

Both of these changes represent the diminution of an always perfunctory pretense of the sacredness of human life. Given the brutality of the wars of the past centuries, it has never been more than a gesture, an insincere politeness.

Now even that has been discarded.