Saturday, August 27, 2011


[click four outward pointing arrows for fullscreen]


Air Swimmers

[click on four outward-pointing arrows for fullscreen]


A Policy Statement on the Deficit

[click on four outward-pointing arrows for fullscreen]


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mission Accomplished

[Nafissatou Diallo]

From today's Wall Street Journal -
Until his arrest, Mr. Strauss-Kahn was viewed as the only politician who could defeat France's President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's election. Although Mr. Strauss-Kahn has yet to reveal his plans, few French Socialists believe the former chief of the International Monetary Fund can revive his presidential ambitions.
I think I owe Nafissatou Diallo an apology. In a previous blog entry I questioned her competence as a perjurer. But if the Wall Street Journal is correct, then she did exactly what she was sent to do. Success is the measure of a job well done.

Here I am speculating, but one could make the case that her story came unglued at exactly the right time. She was credible enough to convince the hotel management and security people that she was telling the truth. She was credible enough for the police investigators to believe her and the Manhattan prosecutor to file charges, ruining Mr. Strauss-Kahn and assuring the re-election of President Sarkozy.

This is the woman who was able to bring herself to tears in describing a gang-rape in her native Guinea that was later determined never to have happened.

But she was not credible enough to get the case brought to trial. Which prevented her from being investigated and cross-examined and subjected to deposition after deposition, during the course of which she might have revealed who put her up to it.

When one consider the Dreyfus Affair, if the French military establishment had merely disgraced Dreyfus, drummed him out of the army, and sent him to prison for a few years, nothing much else would have happened to him nor to the Army. Nobody would have investigated. They would have gotten away with it.

But instead they sent Dreyfus to Devil's Island for life. Which was dramatic enough that when exculpatory evidence came to light, it was worth Emile Zola's time to write 'J'Accuse' and worth
Georges Clemenceau's time to publish it in his newspaper L'Aurore.

The subsequent investigations and unraveling scandal between 1895 and 1906 permanently damaged the reputation of the French Army and of the class it was part of.

So Diallo had just the right amount of credibility - enough to knock Strauss-Kahn out of the race for the presidency of France - but not enough to convict him and make him a martyr, nor to risk too much investigation into who sent her.

Diallo, so far being an example of the difficulty of getting competent help in New York, is an example of to what high levels the arts of skulduggery, lying, and manipulation have been raised in our time.

What happened in New York was a seizure of the Elysee Palace for the next seven years, a clandestine coup d'etat. And it appears that they got away with it, in plain sight.

Monday, August 22, 2011

South African Liberation

[Nelson Mandela retired in 1998. He is now 93 years old.]

Remember when the end of apartheid in South Africa was going to mean the spread of democracy throughout Africa? Instead South Africa traded what it had, political clout, legitimacy, and mercenary soldiers, for what the Khadaffi regime had, which was, well, money. And oil.

Now that Khadaffi is discredited and all but overthrown, surely the South African government has seen the error of it ways and recognized its hypocrisy? Well, no.
JOHANNESBURG—The spreading rebel control of Libya on Monday appeared to deal a diplomatic setback to South Africa and other African nations that had argued a change in Libyan government should happen at the negotiating table and not on the battlefield.

South Africa, a continental power broker, has sought to bring rebels and Col. Moammar Gadhafi's forces together for talks to end the conflict. That stance hasn't changed.

Even as rebel trucks streamed into the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Monday, South Africa gave no indication it would recognize a rebel-led government. The U.S. and the U.K. are among more than 30 countries that recognize the rebel body, known as the National Transitional Council, as Libya's legitimate government.

Pretoria instead has supported an African Union plan for a transitional government once there is a "durable cease-fire." The transitional government should include elements from both the rebel forces and the current regime—but not Col. Gadhafi—and move toward drafting a new constitution and holding elections, according to the South African Minister of International Affairs, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

"If this government falls, there is no government," she told reporters at a briefing.

She said there were plans "afoot" to form such a broad transitional government in that case.

So we have the heirs of Nelson Mandela supporting a brutal primitive military dictatorship, even after it has been overthrown by the revolt of its own people. Cool, huh?

This is morally consistent with the heirs of the revolution against apartheid sponsoring the overtly racist Durban I and Durban II anti-racism conferences, with their open anti-semitism, both held in Durban, South Africa.

This got so primitive and extreme that one of the main organizers of the conference, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, was obliged to disavow the conference she had herself organized.

Let it not be said that this is just a failure of the ANC (African National Congress) party which has ruled the country essentially without opposition for more than twenty years now. The tenor of social life in South Africa can be estimated from the repeated lynchings of Zimbabwean immigrant workers by South African mobs.

They Wouldn't Do That. Would They?

From today's Wall Street Journal -
New York prosecutors are likely to seek dismissal of all criminal sexual assault charges against former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Tuesday, a person familiar with the matter said.

The request, to be made Tuesday when Mr. Strauss-Kahn is due in New York State Supreme Court, comes after more than two months in which prosecutors for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. have probed not only Mr. Strauss-Kahn, but also his accuser, Sofitel hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo.

Ultimately, prosecutors have come to believe that in light of what they saw as serious questions about Ms. Diallo's credibility, it would be unlikely they could convince a jury that Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 62, sexually assaulted the 32-year-old Guinean immigrant in his suite at the Sofitel on May 14, the person familiar with the matter said.
So this whole thing has come to nothing. Nothing, that is, except that it stayed in the news long enough to discredit Strauss-Kahn and take him out of contention for election as the next President of France.

No one but a crazy conspiracy theorist would suggest that anyone could have put Diallo up to removing by far the strongest Socialist candidate from contention. I think the greater scandal here is that it shows the difficulty of hiring a decent perjurer these days. If one can't get good help, how is capitalism to thrive?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Surgical Operations in the Middle East

From today's Wall Street Journal:
"In the first hour of the cease-fire, which Palestinian and Israeli media reported was starting Sunday evening, several rockets were fired into southern Israel. An Israeli government spokesman said Israel's responses to rocket fire would be "surgical" and measured. A spokesman for Hamas wasn't available to comment."
One can perhaps assume that the reason the spokesman wasn't available was.... Let's hope so.

Where is George Orwell when we need him?


According to today's Wall Street Journal, in commenting on the visit of Joe Biden to the People's Republic -

[Xinhua, the official organ of the Chinese government] urged Washington to "end its excessive reliance on overseas borrowing, make substantial reforms and cuts to its bloated entitlement programs, reduce budget deficits and restructure its economy."

"Bloated entitlement programs"? This is the Communist Party?

What can one expect from a politburo all of whom were born after the Long March and who were small children during the Cultural Revolution? More than ever we can join Karl Marx in saying, "The workers have no homeland."


In the August 2011 issue of Scientific American appears this squib reprinted from the August 1861 issue of the same magazine.
Civil War at Sea
The schooner S.J. Waring, which had been captured by the privateer Jeff Davis, arrived in this port on July 21st, having been retaken by the black steward, with the assistance of one of the seamen. When the S.J. Waring was taken, her captain and mate were taken off, but the colored steward, two of the seamen and a passenger were left on board. The steward having discovered by a conversation which he heard, that it was the intention of the prize master Captain Amiel to sell him into slavery as soon as the schooner arrived in Charleston, determined to make a desperate attempt to retake the vessel. The steward's name is William Tillman.
The steward was engaging in auto-emancipation. He did not wait for the authorities. He did not have faith in the system. He did not implore anyone's conscience. He did not organize a reform movement. He did not wait for better times. He did not shrug and say, "What're you gonna do?" He did not petition. He did not put it to a vote after free and fair debate.

He freed himself by force, with permission from no one. William Tillman engaged in auto-emancipation.

In 1882 a Russian Jew named Leo Pinsker published the founding document of the Zionist movement, titled "Auto-emancipation" which advocated that the Jews do for themselves what William Tillman had done for himself twenty one years earlier.

William Tillman was a Zionist. The IDF are William Tillmans.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Common Misunderstanding

When I was a teenager I rebelled against belief in a G_d whom I had been led to believe was a bearded white-haired old man on a throne amid clouds in heaven.

Only when I grew up did I come to understand that what I didn’t believe in was a stupid caricature, a cartoon.

So let us get one thing perfectly clear - G_d is not a bearded, white-haired, old man on a throne on a cloud. G_d is not an Angry Santa Claus. That is an image that has been provided over the centuries for children and those too ignorant to understand anything else.

The fact that you no longer believe the fable you were told about as a child does not mean there is no G_d. It means the bubbe meisse you were told is not true.

Literate people have never believed that. Greek philosophy shows that not even Roman and Greek pagans believed that Zeus and the other gods were literally over-sized human beings as shown in statues.

I would point out that in the Middle Ages the hardest thing to believe about religion was that G_d created the universe out of nothing, and that nothing preceded it.

Modern astronomy has established that the universe came into existence in the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. If that is not creation out of nothing, then what would be?

Further, the physics is that the Big Bang is when space-time came into existence. Before time existed there was no ‘before’. So the two major obstacles to belief in creation have been laid to rest by the ten or eleven observational bases for believing the Big Bang theory.

The Big Bang also implies that everything in the universe has a common origin, has a common cause, a common destiny, and everything that happens or can happen is the expression of the same common process.

Even Deism, the theory that G_d created the universe and then abandoned it, does not survive the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang does NOT posit that something happened at a moment a long time ago and then nothing happened since. What it does say is that universal expansion started then and continues now, not a moving outward into space, but an expansion of space itself. Which is to say that the act of creation, the expansion, is continuous and is going on now, this very instant, and will go on forever, to the best of our knowledge.

None of this should be confused with pantheism. All possible universes throughout eternity are, according to Spinoza, the Face of G_d - a surface or manifestation.

To deny the unity of the universe one would have to engage in the same denial of Big Bang observations as the fundamentalists use to deny the existence of dinosaurs. Nothing but closing one’s mind to evidence will support the atheist’s unexamined 19th Century mechanistic assumptions.

One can easily extend this argument to the results of Feynman’s two slit experiment in the 1940’s. He found that the quantum mechanical wave function collapses in the presence of an observer. Since the wave -particle duality is a demonstrated fact, there must be a physical significance to there being an observer. Human beings are recent, quantum particles are ancient. Yet their properties depend on an observer.

What kind of conclusion can an atheist draw from this? The usual shrug of the shoulders is merely denial - that again puts them in the company of hard-shell fundamentalists whose beliefs are not open to reason or observation.

The widespread atheism among Jews is not a proof that G_d is dead, it is a proof that the level of Jewish education is pathetic.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Michelle Bachmann

Michelle Bachmann in a radio interview--
But what people recognize is that there’s a fear that the United States is in an unstoppable decline. They see the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union and our loss militarily going forward. And especially with this very bad debt ceiling bill, what we have done is given a favor to President Obama and the first thing he’ll whack is five hundred billion out of the military defense at a time when we’re fighting three wars. People recognize that.
The Soviet Union?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

If everyone supports a two state solution, why isn't it happening?

If everyone supports a two state solution, why isn't it happening?

Nabil Sha'ath, the PA foreign minister, explains that the PA supports a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people, but will never agree to a Jewish state for the Jewish people.

Could that just possibly be the obstacle to peace, and not the settlements?


A Link to Some Pictures from this Bicycle Trip

To go to the next picture, click on the pale blue arrow at the right or press the right arrow on the keyboard.

Too Big To See?

[PG&E power generating plant at Moss Landing, near Monterey]

A lodge in the north is a combination gas station, cafe, store, and motel. The lodges along the Alaska Highway are too remote to have power lines running to them. There is instead a small building near the main buildings where the generator runs constantly. These small generator buildings are sometimes better sound-insulated, but usually worse.

I have been fussy about turning off lights I am not using because one knows that the generator is outside converting fossil fuel, usually diesel oil, to electricity. This seems like an incredibly wasteful way to get electricity, burning an ancient and irreplaceable resource to get temporary pleasures like watching television, leaving lights on, heating a whole building instead of wearing warm clothes inside it, and so on. It seems unsustainable.

But, I reasoned, it is part of the rigors and remoteness of the north. Everything is expensive here because everything has to be trucked a long way, that is, there is a higher overhead. It makes sense that electricity would also be produced in a fairly primitive, expensive, high-overhead way, by burning fossil fuel, because one is far from the grid.

But then it occurred to me that that is how the grid itself works. Our power plants all burn an ancient and irreplaceable resource to provide temporary pleasure like televisions, curling irons, and heating houses instead of wearing warm clothes inside them.

But we do it on such a vast scale that it seems like an abstraction. An Alaska Highway lodge brings it down to a scale where we can see how primitive and wasteful it is to burn fossil fuel to generate electricity.

We have to find a better way.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Do It Yourself

[Great on burgers too]
"The study, by the Mayo Clinic, found that seven known risk factors contribute to up to half of Alzheimer's cases worldwide. For Americans, the single biggest risk factor is physical inactivity, which the study linked to 21 percent of U.S. Alzheimer's cases.

Depression accounts for another 15 percent, and smoking for 11 percent. Globally, lack of education is the greatest risk factor, with a link to 19 percent of cases; scientists say minds that are not active and engaged in learning are more susceptible to the disease.

The findings contradict the widespread belief that Alzheimer's is a predetermined genetic fate."

Which means that Alzheimer's is caused by couches and spreads from the toukes to the brain.

Life and Death

It is fortunate that Jews don't believe in reincarnation. If we did, then being born would come shortly after having died in a previous life. Which would mean that a birthday would also be a yahrzeit which would just be tacky. I like it the way we have it. You get one shot at it, you do the best you can with it, then fertik.

I am always bemused by my and everyone else's fear of death and desire for medical care and long life, followed by days consciously wasted. I do it. You do it. Everybody does it.

If we are so afraid of death, why do we piss away our lives? I don't know what life is supposed to be about nor what exactly constitutes not pissing away days.

But I know very clearly what does constitute pissing away a day. And I still do it all the time. I have done it repeatedly on this trip. I do it constantly at home. Promising myself to live a more active life is much like promising myself to go on a diet - long on promising, short on delivery.

Aristotle says that the way to live a good life is to acquire virtuous habits through practice. By practicing virtuous habits, they eventually become second nature, habitual, done without effort. He may be right. Nothing else seems to work.

My sister Gail replies:
If you have no regrets, then it is not pissing away a day. If you regret not doing something else then maybe it is a day pissed away. The Jewish ethic is that you should first do no harm, if you do, then make amends, if you have a talent it is a sin to not nurture it, if you have much, it is good to share with those who have little. You do not have to do these things every day but enough to not have regrets. A life well lived includes sometimes just lying on the couch and reading something interesting.

The wisdom of 73 years and still learning.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

If It's Not Funny, Why Am I Laughing?

[66 years ago today]

The Yiddish word "shlemazel" or "shlemazzle" means a person who is chronically a victim. The teaching mnemonic is, "the schlemiel spills the soup on the schlemazel."

At Arches National Park in Utah in 2007 I was especially cautious around Balancing Rock because, though it had stood for perhaps thousands of years, if it chose to fall today, and fall on me, not only would I be dead, I would also be ridiculous. I would be a cosmic shlemazel.

It turns out this kind of luck has actually happened to people. In Japanese, the word hibakusha means 'explosion survivor'. Niju hibakusha means 'double explosion survivor'.

On August 6, 1945 - 66 years ago today - Tsumoto Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip. An American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb on the city that day, and Yamaguchi, like many tens of thousands of others, was injured in the immense explosion. So he cut short his trip and went home to Nagasaki.

According to Japanese statistics there were a total of 165 niju hibakusha to whom the same thing happened. I don't know if Mr. Yamaguchi was a believing Buddhist or not, but if he was, he must have been a real schmuck in a past life to have such mazel. Or maybe not. He died last year at the age of 93.


Why S&P Downgraded the US Government's Credit Rating

S&P's statement:
"More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges."
One's credit rating is based both on one's assets AND whether one is able to manage money reliably. Congress has just demonstrated that they as an institution are unable to do that.

The consequence of poor money management is lower credit rating and the consequence of that is higher risk to lenders and correspondingly higher interest rates. Which means that this folly in Congress redounds to the benefit of creditors of the United States, those who own treasury bonds, bills, and notes. They will collect, and we will pay, higher interest rates indefinitely as treasury auction after treasury auction is shadowed by the lowered credit rating.

A large fraction of the federal government's debt is owned by the Chinese and Japanese governments and by corporations in those countries. So the debacle in Congress and its result will result in still larger transfers of wealth from the United States to our creditors Back East than before.

Higher interest payments on the debt because of the lowered credit rating are an unfunded new obligation of the government. They will add to future deficits and thus increase future debt and the interest on it.

One would like to say, as most who write about this likely will, that everyone in Washington is to blame. That there is plenty of blame to go around. That Congress is to blame. Or Obama. That both parties are equally culpable.

But the facts are otherwise. Any recollection of what happened is that almost everyone offered to compromise. The Democrats offered to compromise. The Republican leadership offered to compromise. President Obama tried to arrange a compromise. The one group, and it turned out to be a decisive one, that repeatedly refused to compromise was the Tea Party faction of the Republican party.

Congress has been negotiating budget compromises since 1790, and it has always more or less worked. Clearly what changed, the new thing in Washington, was the election of a cohort of right-wing radicals to Congress in the 2010 elections.

When asked how it happened, it would be easy to shake one's head and mutter something about "gun-toting morons in the fly-over states", or "The country is turning right right now. But it will swing back."

The fact is that people in the middle of the country were no brighter ten or twenty years ago, and no less enamored of their guns then. And the notion of a pendulum swinging back and forth requires one to believe that things happen for no reason, that there is no such thing as cause-and-effect.

But there are reasons why things happen. I strongly suspect that the decision in Citizens United v. FEC in January 2010 and the rise of the Tea Party are not coincidental. In Citizens United the Supreme Court held that money is speech and that corporations have the same First Amendment rights to free speech as human beings. They made the saying, "Money talks" into a maxim of constitutional law.

Since then corporations have been legally able to contribute unlimitedly to political campaigns. And they have. Since Citizens United, large sums have been put into political campaigns that could not legally have been contributed before. Judging by the results in the 2010 elections, that new money has been going primarily to right-wing candidates and causes.

That created the Tea Party and the Tea Party created the budget impasse in Congress, and that is on its way to create higher interest on the national debt, larger deficits on account of the higher interest, increased debt overall, and increased transfers of trillions of dollars from the United States to China and Japan.

The moral here is that the situation we see today will not soon go away. The obvious riposte of the voters to the Tea Party for their intransigence in 2011 is to turn them out in 2012. It won't happen. The Supreme Court is right. Money does talk. And it will talk at least as loudly in 2012 as it did in 2010.

The right-wing intransigents in Congress are not going away. Their numbers and influence will not be diminished in the foreseeable future. If anything they may grow in power.

What do we get in return for these harms to the nation? We get free speech for corporations.


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Good Times

It was a major piece of work getting away from Muncho Lake today. The road followed Muncho Creek from its mouth at the lake to its headwaters at a mountain pass. It was up and up, and up, continuously for fourteen miles.

Even after making it to the pass and then down into the Toad River canyon my legs were unreliable for climbing.

The prize was that Toad River canyon is spectacular, with vista after vista. The weather was perfect. At one point I found myself spontaneously shouting, "Life is good!" And the echo off the canyon walls assured me I was right.


Monday, August 01, 2011

The Good Old Days

[click on photo to enlarge]