Monday, June 30, 2008

Democracy Wins

By Daniel Jackson

Since the Carter-Clinton peace process began, Israeli governments had no cushion against the onslaught of US pressure to return land or make incredible concessions to political groups that continue to seek the small nation's destruction. Israelis were powerless to voice how they felt about hair-brained schemes thought up by care-less individuals in Foggy Bottom or elsewhere. Israeli leaders could be brow beaten or arm twisted into making choices worthy of banana republics world wide without regard to due process or democratic vote.

Until today.

The Knesset approved on Monday the referendum law, which mandates a national referendum or a two thirds Knesset majority prior to a withdrawal from any territory under Israeli territory. The law was approved in its first reading by a majority of 65 MKs to 18.

The vote came as indirect peace talks were underway between Israel and Syria, revolving around the Syrian demand that Israel return the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War, in return for peace. A third round of talks was to begin this week.

Earlier Monday, the "Golan Lobby" convened at the Knesset ahead of the vote. The meeting was attended by Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), who said that the law is a positive and important measure, though his party generally opposes holding referendums.

"I think that talk about [pulling out of the Golan] Heights cause great damage to the residents," Yishai said. "Anything we can do to help is a blessing and is required and therefore we will support the law."

The actual loser in this process is the US Department of State. Now, Condi and her henchmen have to do something totally at odds with State Department process--they will have to sell their ideas to a democratic public with the power to just say no. US steamrollers can no longer treat an Israeli prime minister like the head of a Junta. Unlike its neighbors, Israel is a democracy and folks here like to vote on issues. The meta-message to today's vote in the Knesset to Condi and others is simple--"It's the People, Stupid!"

Ain't democracy wonderful!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Weather Report

By Daniel Jackson

Well, summer's here and the time is right--but, in this part of the world that means seriously hot times. Despite the relative calm in the last several weeks, by the end of last week, Israelis were taking a long hard view eastward to Iran. Over there, work continues unfettered on a nuclear weapon that most Israelis believe will be completed and will be used on Tel Aviv.

When Iranians say they intend to use their weapon to eradicate Israel, Israelis believe them. There is no room for error here--as in a "they would never do that" policy.

By the end of last week, Israelis were talking about the lastest lull in hostilities with Hamastan (time to increase arms for a possible chance to redeem captives), about the increased weapons practice in the Golan, and the incredibly open airshows all over the north--airborne refueling exercises and "heads-up" levels. There was even one exercise where large numbers of IAF jets scrambled to sea towards Cyprus.

At the end of this Shabbat, the conversation turned to Iran and the inevitability of war. Any chance of Iran's promise of using a Bomb, or a dirty bomb, is clearly unacceptable--the only question is when will action be taken and the size of the retaliation. There is some talk that Iran will respond with conventional weapons on Israel's nuclear facility in the Negev but no here takes that seriously--given the total lack of accuracy in the last war on land targets at any range, and that there are no large urban grey areas on the AAA road map, Iran's only hope is a large urban target. If they undershoot their target, they'll risk a Jordanian or Syrian hit.

More to the point, the real question now is how active a role the US will take in the action. Over Shabbat, DEBKA reports that the situation increased in complexity.

The visiting Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, carried out a guided tour of Israel’s borders with Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip over the weekend. It was led by the IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and OCs Northern and Southern Commands, Maj. Gens. Eisenkott and Galant.

He was briefed on IDF tactics in a war on all these potential flashpoints in the context of a comprehensive conflict with Iran and then held long conversations with defense minister Ehud Barak and Ashkenazi.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that it is very unusual for the top American commander to carry out a close, on-the-spot study of Israel’s potential war fronts. It was prompted on the one hand by skepticism in parts of the US high command of Israel’s ability to simultaneously strike Iran’s nuclear installations and fight off attacks from three borders while, at the same time, Adm. Mullen showed he was open to persuasion that the IDF’s prospective tactics and war plans were workable.

Military circles in Washington, commenting on the large-scale air maneuver Israel carried out with Greece earlier in June, have opined that 100 warplanes are not enough for the Israel Air Force to destroy all of Iran’s secret nuclear sites; more than 1,000 would be needed. Israel military tacticians in contact with US commanders have countered that, while Iran’s secret nuclear locations are scattered and buried deep, still, every chain has weak links and is therefore vulnerable.

The tough threats issued by Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Mohamed Ali Jafari on Saturday, June 28, were prompted by the Adm. Mullen’s Israeli border tour, word of which was flashed to Tehran by Syrian-Iranian observation posts inside Syrian and Lebanese borders.

(The Sunday Times added that Iran moved its ballistic Shihab-3 missiles into launch positions, with Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant among its possible targets.)
In the style of the best Stationary Bandits, the Iranian president and friends continue their threats knowing full well that the rest of the world will free ride on Israel's actions. Before Shabbat, Iranian military leaders claimed they would also block the sea lanes in and out of the Persian Gulf thereby driving up the cost of oil.

You gotta love these guys. They hit one Israeli destroyer off the coast of Tyre in 2006 and they're ready to take on the US Navy. Like they're really going to cut off their only source of revenue? On the other hand, this is a tactic that is worthy of the secret leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard--The Black Knight.

And why do Israelis think something is really in the works? Because the ONLY miracle Olmert has to survive and surf again (if only as community cat catcher) is to pull this off before the September 25 Kadima primary.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Heller and the right to bear arms

By Donald Sensing

I originally wrote this essay in 2002 in response to another blogger's dismay that the Bush administration was defending in federal court the Second Amendment as protecting the right of individual Americans to own firearms. My original title was, "Civilization, Violence, Sovereignty and the Second Amendment: Why the right to keep and bear arms is the fundamental right of a sovereign people." The other blogger held that keeping guns away from ordinary people was "the dividing line of civilization." I've herein removed references to the other blog and offer it now simply as a reflection on what's at stake regarding the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. This edit springs from Joe Katzman's essay at Winds of Change, "Zimbabwe Changed My Mind: Guns Are A Human Right." Links were good at the time of writing. I repost it in reaction to the Heller decision of the US Supreme Court, released this week, affirming that the Second Amendment protects the right of individual Americans to keep and near arms.

I think the fundamental dividing line of civilization is whether sovereignty resides in the people or in the government. Sovereignty means the source of authority in the state. Americans see the people as the only legitimate source of political legitimacy. In the United States, the state's authority lies in the voters. In America, the state apparatus grants no rights at all to the people because the government has no rights to grant. All rights reside in the people to begin with. The American founders understood that human rights are simply a fact of human existence.

Therefore, in America, the people grant powers to the government, but no rights. Yet, sadly, I still hear in conversation with my fellow Americans statements such as, "The First Amendment gives us free speech." In fact, the First Amendment, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution as a whole give or grant no rights at all: all rights automatically are always held by the people in the first place. The Bill of Rights was intended to restrict the power of the government -- to make darn sure that government apparatchiks didn't step on the rights of the people.

That is as clear a "dividing line" of civilization as is ever going to be found. If indeed the ultimate authority of the state is to be found in the people (as a condition of nature, as the Founders understood), then the people must also have the ultimate power to protect their sovereignty. That means, bluntly, the power of coercion. And coercion necessarily includes the use of violence.

In fact, civilization's very existence rests on coercion. Mahatma Gandhi explicitly recognized this fact. His struggle was not whether the state (that is, Britain) should use force, but whether it was justly using force. Christian philosopher-ethicist Jacques Ellul in writing about violence observed, "Violence is to be found everywhere and at all times, even where people pretend that it does not exist. . . every state is founded on violence and cannot maintain itself save by and through violence."
Ellul disagrees with the the classic distinction between violence and force: it's lawyers who have invented the idea that when the state uses coercion, even brutally, it is exercising "force" and that only individuals or nongovernmental groups use violence. All states are established by violence. A government stays in power by violence or its threat and the threat is meaningless unless it can be and is employed. "Everywhere we turn," writes Ellul, "we find society riddled with violence. Violence is its natural condition, as Thomas Hobbes saw clearly."

If you don't believe this, try not paying your taxes. The government will treat you with violence. We obey the law because fundamentally the state compels us to obey it with violence or the threat thereof.

When sovereignty resides in the people, there is a self-check on state power. Sometimes this self-check does not seem very strong, but in the end it always prevails unless the people surrender their sovereignty. (Remember, the Germans elected Hitler dictator, and it was the last decision they got to make for many long, bloody years.)

The Founders clearly understood something: a people armed are much less likely to surrender their sovereignty than otherwise. If necessary, an armed people can defend their rights by wielding the ultimate power of sovereignty, violence. It may be defense against a foreign invader (which in the Founders' day was a quite real threat) or it may be against a sovereignty-grabbing domestic government, which the Federalist Papers show was of even greater fear to the Founders than foreign invasion. In either case, the ability of the people themselves to exercise the ultimate state power was crucial. That was why the Second Amendment insists that the people are the militia: an armed people are the sovereign state.

Of course, we have come a long way since a yeoman farmer could grab old Betsy off the mantle and go redcoat hunting. The threat of foreign invasion is nil, although the threat of terrorism in the US by foreign powers is real. Even so, few kinds of potential terrorist acts here will likely be the kind that armed citizens will be able to stop. Many Israeli citizens go armed, but terrorism there continues. So the present crisis does not, in my view, buttress much the argument for the right of individual citizens to be armed, except perhaps obliquely.

A much greater and more insidious threat to popular sovereignty is the swallowing of sovereign authority and power by the federal, state or local governments. This danger remains real (heck, it's going on!) but it is a topic for another post.

It has been said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. There is a third way for the people to surrender their sovereignty. It is by failing to resist those who act destructively toward the common welfare of the people. In terms of the founding documents, there are people among us who deliberately damage the ability of the people to pursue happiness, live their lives in liberty, "form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility . . . promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty" for themselves and their posterity.

We call them criminals. Many are violent. If the sovereign people surrender their freedom to live in peace, pursuing happiness by peaceful, lawful means, they have surrendered their sovereignty. They are no longer free. Only if the people are armed can this surrender be avoided. This a lesson that Great Britain and Australia are bitterly learning now. Having disarmed their people about five years ago (because the people there are subjects, not sovereigns), they now discover that criminal violence against persons and property is way up. (See here and here. )

Twenty-six percent of English citizens -- roughly one-quarter of the population -- have been victimized by violent crime. Australia led the list with more than 30 percent of its population victimized. The United States didn't even make the "top 10" list of industrialized nations whose citizens were victimized by crime. (citation)
Do not count on the police to maintain domestic tranquility in the final analysis. Their role is certainly important in enforcement, but they are reactive. They do not generally stop criminals; they apprehend them. As the saying goes, "When seconds count, the police are only minutes away." But no criminal actually believes he will be caught, else he would not commit the crime.

Furthermore, there is no moral difference between the homeowner who protects his life or property with a gun and one who does not but summons a police officer. If the police arrive on time (problematic), they use violence or its threat to protect the law-abiding. The unarmed homeowner has merely "outsourced" his wielding of deadly force or the threat of it.

I have heard this point in rebuttal to Second Amendment rights: "I don't understand why anyone would want to own a gun. Guns are not fun; they are not macho . . . "

Well, I have just explained keeping arms is a fundamental right of sovereignty and the means of retention thereof, including for self defense. Self defense is a very powerful incentive to want a gun. As the old western saying went, "God made some men big and some little, but Colonel Colt made them all the same size." Hence the original six-shooter's nickname, The Equalizer. However, guns are also implements of sport. Rifle, pistol and shotgun shooting are Olympic events. And shooting sports are, well, sports.

"Guns are not fun, they are not macho. . ." No, toys are fun, and guns are not toys. That's why I never permitted my kids to play with toy guns. "Toy guns" is an oxymoron. But a basketball is not "fun," either; it is the basketball game that is fun. Similarly, a sporting firearm, by itself, is not fun, but shooting sports are fun - not the laugh-out-loud, clap-your-hands- kind of fun, but the fun that comes from honing a physical skill and performing it expertly. Some people don't enjoy shooting sports, but millions do. Shall the gun-control curmudgeons have the right to deny me my sport?

I have heard some of my friends tell me yes. Only they put it this way: "No one really needs a gun." Well, that's false; re-read what I wrote above. But more frightening is the notion that we should define our freedoms based on what we think someone else "needs" to do. One lady told me, "No one needs an AK-47 to hunt deer." Well, yes, that's true, and in fact an AK-47 would be a rather miserable hunting gun. But freedom is not about what we "need," is about being able to do what we want. And if someone wants to hunt with an AK-47, then as misguided as that is, gun-wise, he should be able to do so. After all, we have in our Constitution a Bill of Rights, not a "Bill of Needs."

Look at it this way: no one needs a BMW or a Cadillac. A Chevy will do just as well. People buy a luxury auto not because they need it over a Chevy but because they want it. No other reason.

As for the "macho" bit, this is a non-sequitur. Personally, I don't feel more manly on the firing range. If manliness was the issue, I would not be teaching my wife and daughter to shoot, lest their skills threaten my macho image (and my wife is a good shot).

But maybe there are some men who doubt themselves, who think that a gun compensates for their perception of lack of manliness. So what? The issue is not what they think of their firearm, or what it may do to their self-image, but only - only - whether they use it safely and lawfully. There is no other issue involved. "Machismo" as a criticism of gun ownership is a patriarchal argument anyway, since it inherently fails to account for ownership of guns by women.

Let me make this point again. It's important. The freedom of a sovereign people does not spring from having or doing only what they "need," but being able to do and have what they want.

The "need" of a gun for self defense is real and legitimate, more so for some people than others. But my "want" for a gun for recreation and sport is also legitimate and cannot be obviated without making me less free.

Another criticism: "guns are dangerous. They kill people." I am reminded of Robert Heinlein's observation, "There are no dangerous weapons, only dangerous men." (Yes, women, too.) Guns are not dangerous. Criminals are dangerous. Terrorists are dangerous. People handling firearms unsafely are dangerous. And guns commit no crimes nor accidents. I have, as a sheriff's department volunteer, been to many fatal scenes of auto accidents, but I do not say, "look what the cars did," because the car didn't do it. The drivers did.

It is a legitimate concern that others who own guns handle them safely. Yet this concern needs to be put into context with other risks we all run every day. According to the NHTSA,

-- 4,739 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2000, and another 78,000 were injured. On average, a pedestrian is killed every 111 minutes, and one is injured every seven minutes.

-- In 2000, there were 5, 915 occupational fatalities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

-- In 2000, there were 600 accidental gun deaths, according to the National Safety Council (cited in Sports Afield.) This number was "25% fewer than in 1999, reflects a 58% drop since 1990, and is the lowest number of fatalities reported since records were first kept in 1903."

My question is this: how are firearms themselves fearful? Guns are not fear-worthy, only shooters are. An average American is 10 times more likely to die on the job than from an accident involving his neighbor's guns - or anyone else's. In fact, according to the NSC tables, a person has one chance in 1.92 million of dying by a handgun this year (including by murder, not just accident) which is 2.5 times less than dying from taking a bath. From the accident and safety standpoint, firearms ownership is one of the safest things Americans do. The chances of dying by means of long guns are several multiples lower than by handgun.

If a person fears the possibility of gun accidents, then that person should consider why the fatality rate from firearms continues to decline:
"Much of the credit,” notes Bob Delfay, president and CEO of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), “goes to the thousands of volunteers in hunter safety education, the National Rifle Association, Boy Scouts and 4-H firearm safety instruction who are making a positive contribution to increased safe ownership of firearms and enjoyment of the shooting sports.”
Those who fear gun accidents should consider aiding this effort. They should become safety certified by the National Rifle Association and teach firearms safety. Or they can coordinate with their sheriff's department for a deputy to teach classes in various venues. I think that firearms safety should be taught in middle school - a mandatory class, with alternate-year refresher sessions through high school  (safety classes, not shooting).

In general terms, I think that most of the opposition to keeping and bearing arms by ordinary citizens springs from non-rational bases. I didn't say irrational, as in crazy, I said non-rational. The desire to eliminate firearms from American's hands is for many people a emotive reaction rather than a thoughtful one. Education and experience will overcome this, just as education and experience overcame the non-rational fear people used to have of AIDS and AIDS victims.

But I think that others, mostly the various gun-control groups, really just can't stand freedom exercised by others. They want to live their lives a certain way and make sure that everyone else does, too. They seek a highly ordered, regimented society made up of people just like them. This desire to control others is pernicious and dangerous. They are "invincibly ignorant" in their campaigns because the actual facts about guns in America mean nothing to them. They simply do not want you or me to own a gun, period, no matter for what reason. They do not want us to be free and sovereign.

As for licensing and basic government control -- I oppose licensing and basic government control because -- am I getting the message through here? -- I am sovereign in America, not the government, and I do not permit the government to regulate my sovereignty.

Experience in Britain and Australia proves that "licensing and basic government control" don't prevent firearms murders. All three nations have draconian firearms restrictions and controls, but in the first two nations, illegal gun violence has risen directly as legal gun ownership has been oppressed.

More from the beach

By Donald Sensing

Here is a shot of the view from our balcony last evening.

This view looks eastward over a bay to the Intracoastal Waterway that runs just in front of the low hills on the horizon. You can't see the waterway itself.

And here is a video of the beach I posted photos of yesterday, this section of the beach being about two blocks from the house:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Surfing in Haifa

By Daniel Jackson

Over the last several weeks, I have been travelling about Israel, mainly at night, taking pictures of different urbanscapes for a photography course I take in northern Israel. After one such shot, I found myself on the sea coast, south of Haifa, at dawn, watching the seals cavort in the surf as the sun rose over Mount Carmel behind me.

Except, there are no seals on the Israeli coast. They were young surfer dudes bobbing up and down in the water waiting for the waves. I set up my cameras and telescope to watch.

The beach is anything but deserted at six in the morning. IDF soldiers posted in the nearby Crusader castle jog to and from, retired couples come to exercise their dogs. The young surfers get out of the surf, change, and head to school while the older guys, in their thirties, show up to surf until they have to go to work.

One of the older surfers came up to watch me take shots through the telescope.

"You taking pictures of the young guys surfing? Wait here for a minute and I give you some lessons in Israeli surfing." He ran off, changed into his wetsuit, and dashed to the shore to warm up.

Now, around here, surfing is more than just a sport or a cult. It is tied mystically into all that is MALE in Israel. Like being bald or shaving ones head, surfing is everywhere and real guys (in Israel) all surf. They surf the net, they surf the clutch (in driving school, the instructor insists you have to "surf the clutch"--I just remember my old man threatening to make another Daniel Jackson "if you EVER ride that #$@^ clutch again!"), they surf the stations, and they surf the clubs.

So, I watched Boss Surfer warm up and then, manly, paddle out to the point where all surfer dudes and dudettes go to "catch a wave and sit on top of the world".

While I was waiting for Boss Surfer to catch his wave, one of the young guys came up to watch me watch the surfers--it gave him a chance to practice his English. He asked to look through the telescope.

"Hey, man," he exclaimed with awe. "That's Uri! He's the Ehud Olmert of the coast, man! He's one of the best in Israel."

He called to his buddies, who all looked up with adulation, and all of them grabbed their boards and ran back to the surf.

Forget school, dude; the Ehud Olmert of surfing is showing y'all how it's done.

So, I watched the Ehud Olmert of surfing show his stuff. Suddenly, the entire political process fell into place. The Olmert in Jerusalem MUST have taken his lessons in political science right here with Uri, Boss Surfer, the Ehud Olmert of Surfing.

Boss Surfer shows how it's done. However, it is clear that the other Olmert did not pay attention to the entire process. He has the first part down but not the end.

You get yourself abreast of the times. Move out ahead of the wave but always looking for your slot. Ride that sucker as long as you can.

And, ALWAYS end with a flourish.

It's far more elegant than the current "Come and Get Me, Copper" approach to Israeli civic leadership currently riding the wave.

Ehud the Bandit

By Daniel Jackson

Back in 1995, I attended a lecture in Washington, DC, given by the late Mancur Olson regarding his theory of banditry and the emergence of dictatorships and dysfunctional democracies in 20th century politics. Olson was not interested in petty bandits; no, he was interested in the kind of bandits who seize control of entire states and then utilizing the machinery of the state to line their pockets.

These bandits, he argued, come in two varieties--the roving bandit and the stationary bandit. The roving bandit takes control of the state and then proceeds to steal it blind--or drive it into the ground. Whatever is not bolted down becomes requisitioned, or appropriated, into the largesse of the Roving Bandit (since he or she has become the head of state, title case is called for) if only to cover the marginal transaction costs (gas, tolls, minyans, cohorts, and pillagers). Since Roving Bandit is always concerned that other roving bandits (since these bandits are not heads of state, they don't get capital letters) might create problems and present a serious challenge, Roving Bandit is always concerned with timing--get in, steal them blind, and get out.

Should Roving Bandit remove this competition, thereby creating a Bandit Monopoly, why then a promotion of sorts is in order--The Stationary Bandit. Since Stationary Bandit is now unchallenged, there is no need to rip everything off--no; the state now can be managed such that as the state's economy grows, it feeds Stationary Bandit as well!

At this conference I attended, Olson was somewhat weaker on a current events example of Roving Bandits but had lots to say about the quintessential Stationary Bandit--Yosef Stalin. Stalin liquidated his opposition and then turned the entire Soviet enterprise into feeding him. In many respects, Olson's theory is really an extention of his cult-status icon, The Free Rider problem. Everyone would be better off if the Bandit chief were removed (a definite public good), but even those with the tools necessary to carry out the removal detail want to pay the costs to do so--it would be better to let someone else do the deed. So, Stationary Bandit stays put.

It is important to remember that the primary difference between the roving and stationary bandit is that the former is only interested in staying in power to continue stealing. The latter, however, has an interest in getting the state and its citizenry to increase production and have a better life (to the extent that it marginally increases the over production rates)--more production, more bandit wealth.

Professor Lord Skidelsky, at the University of Warwick (who needs academic tenure with a title like that), applied this analysis to explain the current conditions in the new/old Russia.

My Moscow taxi driver had political opinions. ‘Everything was better in the old days’, he declared. ‘But surely it’s better now that you can choose your governments’, I offered. ‘Not at all’, he replied. ‘They just give you a choice between two sets of thieves, each one trying to steal as much as possible as quickly as possible’. He added: ‘It would be better if one person stayed in power a long time. Having stolen as much as he needed, he might concern himself with the good of the people’.

This might be true for the New Russia, but over in Israel, the story is different. Israel's contender, Olmerde has elevated the status of Roving Bandit to new levels. Here, a roving bandit stays a roving bandit. The trick is to steal the prime minister portfolio and never give it back. All that is missing is a cheap imitation of Edward G. Robinson as Rico in Little Caesar telling the cops, "If you want me, come and get me." This guy ain't leaving.

Over the last two weeks, Olmerde has done everything he can think of to forestall his demise. He threatened his cabinet, he denied there was any problem taking money or that he did so, and he even did his very best Judy Garland imitation claiming that a miracle will save him. In many ways, it did--that and a whole bunch of money including shekels transfered to Hamas to keep things quiet, for a while at least.

The populace, who have no elective control at all over the party system (the founding parents did not trust all those...those...people) are feed up. The Knesset Members are fed up. The rank and file military are feed up. My neighbor says she used to fill her car up once a day for 200 shekels to commute an hour and a half to work. Now it costs her 400 shekels. That's a jump from $59 to $118. Last week, there were rumors that cabbies and truckers blocked off roads in Tel Aviv in protest. Most people are uneasy with national security and most believe that Iran will build and use their bomb. One neighbor laughed that Olmert probably has purchased the real estate option on downtown Tel Aviv so when it is bombed next year, all of the land will be his.

So, here is Mancur Olson's free rider problem and the roving bandit. Everyone here knows that Israel will be better off without Olmert and the current regime. Everyone agrees that the economy sucks and the Socialist Workers' Paradise model is strangling the Israeli productive spirit. Taxes are sky high and the entitled few, labor unions and the retires, get their share at the expense of the IDF, to name examples (the postal union has been quietly on strike for weeks with no settlement in sight). Clearly, it is a public good.

But no one is willing to bear the costs to provide it. In fact, Olmert is blatantly challenging everyone on this very point. It's as if he read Mancur Olson's book, The Logic of Collective Action, and he is gambling that the fear of being what Israelis call a FREIR (loosely, a chump) is so great no one will effectively challenge him. Each Israeli prefers to let everyone else do the work; so, nothing gets done.

Certainly, there are no candidates among the leadership. The last thing ANYONE wants is to go to open elections. Netanyahu and Likud are the next government. Everyone knows this and will just have to wait--assuming that Olmert doesn't give away the entire country while he is sunbathing in Thailand. Moreover, most of the current regime in the Knesset will be out of a job. Retirees Party?! What a joke--complete Rovers all of them. They will not exist as a party in the next government. Labor loses. Kadima will be lucky if it survives. So, it is not likely that any of these bandits are likely to ask politely for elections soon.

So, Olmert has agreed to a primary on September 25. See, they are saying, this is what we have been able to do. Primaries. Isn't that great?

In the meantime, there is Shas. Up until now, they have been the Stationary Bandits of Israeli politics. They have provided most of the ruling coalitions's majority in the Knesset for the last ten years or more. Certainly, they are the keystone to Kadima's archway. But, they want buildings and settlements. They also need a place in the government to maintain the incredible subsidies and spoils they provide to their Hareidi constituency. But, they may have crossed the line with Likud. Netanyahu has already stated publicly that the time to make a stand is quickly approaching if they want a place in the next Knesset.

But, unlike Olmert, these guys are expert in keeping things going--like all stationary bandits, Shas wants the economy strong. How else can they continue to syphon off millions to support their supporters?

So, unless Messiah comes tomorrow, Olmert will continue to surf the seas of free riders. Since no one wants to supply the public good to bring his reign to a close, he will continue on until he is stopped. Unlike previous prime ministers, honor is not part of his vocabulary.

Red light idling to be made illegal

By Donald Sensing

The city of Madison, Wisconsin, will make it illegal for motorists to wait at a red traffic light with their engines running. A member of the influential Madison Plan Commission will introduce an ordinance next month that will,

... require all operators of all vehicles, except police, ambulances, hybrids and diesel-powered trucks of more than five tons gross capacity, "to place the engines of the vehicles in non-emission state while waiting at traffic-control devices when the anticipated wait until proceeding is more than 30 seconds." Also covered in the ordinance is waiting in traffic jams, such as freeway backups, which will also require drivers to shut off their vehicle's engines. The exemption for high-gross diesel trucks was added by a subcommittee when it was pointed out that the time it would take to restart those vehicles and get them moving would likely increase congestion, thus adding to idling emissions overall.
Commission member Ewen Whaddarmie said that this ordinance was a first step in requiring all vehicles operated inside city limits to be designed so that engines would automatically shut down after 10 seconds of idling, and auto-restart when the accelerator pedal was pressed. "EZ-GO has been using the auto-off/auto-on system for its golf carts for many years," Whaddarmie said. "It's time Detroit and Tokyo got with the program."

The measure comes on the heels of a city measure to ban drive-through service at coffee shop or restaurants.

Update: Desite the fact that "satire" is clearly indicated as a post category for this post, apparently some readers have taken it as hard news. Links to this post have shown up on automotive forums, such as Edmunds'. So please note: AFAIK no one in Madison has actually proposed outlawing idling at red lights. But the link in the last graf is to a real news story on how the city wants to outlaw drive-through fast food ;ines. That's true.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

$80/barrel oil coming?

By Donald Sensing

Dominick T. Armentano, professor emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford, says that the price of oil will drop to $80 per barrel. But he doesn't say when.

Taking a break

By Donald Sensing

This is the world famous reasonably well-known 'round these parts Johnny Mercer's pier at Wrightsville Beach, NC. Wrightsville Beach sits atop a miles-long dune just north of Wilmington. The beaches at the shore are simply fantastic.

Yes, there is a pier at Johnny Mercer's Pier. Today it is made of concrete but in years past it was made of wood, much like a house's deck. So many hurricanes tore the wooden pier to pieces over the years that after the last one the town passed stiff ordinances governing rebuilding of homes and businesses that were damaged or destroyed. Nothing was grandfathered. So now the pier is concrete. Not quite the same charm as before.

Another view of the pier. The tide is out in this view.

A look southward from near the pier. Being a Wednesday, the beach is not crowded. On weekends, it's pretty packed. My daughter and I went into the water early this morning (early being defined in vacation terms as about 8:30 a.m.) and there were very few people about, just a half-dozen surfers trying to catch tidal waves as the tide came in. Nothing much for surfing here, I'm afraid, as waves rarely get higher than five or six feet.

In years past, we'd take a motorboat to the landward side of Marlboro Masonboro Island, the next island south. Marlboro is state owned and entirely undeveloped; there is no bridge to drive there. We'd anchor in a small inlet on the eastern side and hike over the dune to the beach, which ran five miles north to south. On a crowded day there would be maybe a dozen other people within eyeshot. And the beach looks like something on a postcard.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I blame global warming

By Donald Sensing

KETV, Omaha:

OMAHA, Neb. -- Holt County snowplows were out Tuesday night clearing 8 inches of hail that fell during a storm.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Raise the speed limit to fight global warming!

By Donald Sensing

This is a repost from last August, invoked by learning how "High speed trains are killing airplanes" in Europe.

In Great Britain, reports the Telegraph, “Holidaymakers are facing such severe delays at airports they are being forced to spend more time stuck in queues than on their flights … .”

Not that things are much better in the US, according to Slate:

For frequent fliers, it is clearly the worst of times. In the first quarter of 2007, only 71.4 percent of flights arrived on time, and 19,260 passengers were involuntarily bumped—up 13 percent from the year before. In July, 16,988 flights were canceled, up 54 percent from July 2006, according to

Now consider this news report in USA Today when the science fiction (and I do mean fiction) movie, The Day After Tomorrow, was released. Reported Ben Mutzabaugh,

NASA scientists say condensation trails from jet exhausts create cirrus clouds, likely trapping heat rising from the Earth’s surface, according to a Reuters report. In fact, those scientists say that could account for nearly all the warming over the United States between 1975 and 1994. Not only that, but jet engines exhaust tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and at high altitudes.

The paper reported elsewhere,

… On a New York-to-Denver flight, a commercial jet would generate 840 to 1,660
pounds of carbon dioxide per passenger. That’s about what an SUV generates in a

So it’s less polluting to drive than fly, right? And it appears that is is rapidly becoming just as quick to drive as fly on not only short-range flights, but increasingly on medium-range flights as well.

So here’s my global-warming-fighting plan: significantly increase the speed limits on the nation’s interstate highways. That will make driving rather than flying even more appealing, more financially attractive and less time consuming.

By “significantly increase” the speed limits, I mean to triple-digit speeds. The present limit in Tennessee in 70 mph. So let’s reset it to 100, minimum.

Consider two comparisons:

Nashville to Memphis, 200 ground miles, flying Northwest Airlines flt. 457. Depart Nashville (BNA) at 0612, arrive Memphis (MEM) at 0715. Cool, just an hour, right? Of course not. You must arrive at the airport no fewer than 90 minutes earlier than flight departure (they say two hours, but let’s assume you check no baggage). And you have to drive to the airport, call that 30 minutes. So you leave home at 0412. Three hours later you arrive at the Memphis airport and have to spend another 30 minutes, minimum, getting to your place of business for the day. Use more time if you checked baggage.

So you spend 3 1/2 hours getting to your destination in Memphis from your Nashville home. If you drive, Google Maps says it would take 3 1/2 hours just to drive from BNA to MEM. Of course, you wouldn’t start from BNA or end at MEM, so shave a half-hour. Still, many business travelers would consider the extra half-hour spent flying to be worth it, especially if they can use the down time to work.

So let’s raise the speed limit to 100 mph. Using the same route, BNA - MEM, uses 205 interstate miles. Some of this is too congested to permit high-speed driving, probably about 20 miles. Heck, to make it easy let’s say 25 miles. So you cover 180 miles in 1 hour, 48 minutes and the other 25 miles in as many minutes. That leaves 16 miscellaneous miles left, which might take you another 25 minutes. Total time, 2 hours, 38 minutes. You save, basically, an hour.

I would guess that a lot of people would find saving an hour worth driving, especially if it puts them back home that much earlier, also (or a combined two hours earlier).

Second example: my home in Clarksville, Tenn., to my Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, where my son matriculates.

Clarksville to BNA, one hour. There are no passenger flights to Winston-Salem; you debark at Greensboro’s airport. There are no nonstop flights from BNA to GSO; you have to go through Atlanta, Cincinnati or another city. I’ll use the shortest travel I found on Orbitz. You depart BNA at 1024 and arrive at GSO at 1347, making air-travel time of 3 1/2 hours. Add the hour getting to the airport and another 90 minutes for security before flying, as above. Then add 37 minutes driving your rental from GSO to Wake. The add another 20 minutes at least for putz-around time at the GSO terminal itself, and your trip comes to 417 minutes, or 6 hours, 57 minutes.

Three minutes shy of seven hours - that’s only 47 minutes shorter than driving at present speed limits.

Driving straight from Clarksville to WFU at present speed limits, says Google Maps, takes 7 hours, 44 minutes. (Google says the distance is 491 miles, but it’s actually 480 miles. I’ve driven it many times, but I’ll let it pass.)

The vast majority of that 491 miles is high-speed worthy, call it 90 percent easily, or 442 miles. So that’s 265 minutes. The other 49 miles will take about an hour since it’s almost all either low-speed-worthy interstate or major thoroughfare. Add another 12 minutes for a refueling stop. Total trip time: 5 hours, 37 minutes. Time saved: one hour, 20 minutes.

So, since even SUVs are many times less polluting than jet liners, especially of carbon dioxide, then would it not make sense for the global warming alarmists to lobby for raising interstate speed limits to make driving more attractive than flying for many trips?

Oh, wait, I forgot.

Oh, don’t forget all the other, non-fuel pollution the airline industry produces - thousands of tons of food packaging per day, for example. Also, the average wait with engines running waiting to get to the head of the line to takeoff has been growing rapidly; in fact, some major airports have routine waits of an hour. And the enginines are running the whole time. How can airlines get away with this? They either build in the wait time to the schedule or simply ignore it. Here’s why - an on-time departure is neither when the liner pulls away from the ramp, nor when it actually takes off.

An on-time departure is accomplished when the captain releases the aircraft’s parking brakes within a small +/- window of the scheduled departure time, as signaled by the “Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (or ACARS).” Link:

This computer transmits the “out”, “off”, “on” and “in” times for the flight. The “out” time starts when the captain drops the parking brake with the main cabin door closed. The “in” time is recorded as the last time the parking brake was applied. The main cabin door opening sends a signal that transmits the “in” time. Unless the captain reset the brake while waiting for the door to be opened, that time is what is recorded

So, the door may open 20 minutes after scheduled arrival, however the time that is transmitted may very well be D.O.T “on time” if the last application of parking brake was within the time limits. Once the chocks are in, the brakes are then released (they can get hot otherwise), so if it takes 10 minutes to open the door after that, the time that is recorded will still be the last time the parking brake was set. That said, you can have an “on time” departure as well- even if you sit at the gate for half an hour, because as soon as the brake is dropped the flight is “out”.
But wait, there’s more!

As anyone who has flown recently can probably tell you, delays are getting worse this year. The on-time performance of airlines has reached an all-time low, but even the official numbers do not begin to capture the severity of the problem.

That is because these statistics track how late airplanes are, not how late passengers are. The longest delays — those resulting from missed connections and canceled flights — involve sitting around for hours or even days in airports and hotels and do not officially get counted. Researchers and consumer advocates have taken notice and urged more accurate reporting.

Realistically, I should factor in the high probability (about .25) in my examples that the plane trips will be late, delayed or canceled. Of course, that’s possible with auto trips, too, but 25 percent of the time? Nope.

A couple of commenters pointed out that the average airliner is more full, as a percentage of capacity, than the average passenger car. True, but it only worsens the problem for airliners because the highest occupancies are found on routes and times that are already so jammed with planes that adding capacity isn’t possible even though passenger loads still increase. The result? More delays and more time planes spend sitting on the ground spewing CO2 into the air while not moving anyone. Example:

Let’s use Los Angeles International as an example. At any given time, the most number of runways dedicated to take-offs is two. But if you look at airline schedules, there are currently more than 35 take-offs scheduled for 8 a.m. each morning. Assuming at least a two- to three-minute minimum time separation between each take-off, you don’t have to be a member of Mensa to figure out that a lot of folks will not be taking off at 8 a.m.

But if the captain releases the parking brake at 8 a.m., the plane is on time for departure, even it takes off at 9:30.

Folks, I never sit in my car idling for an hour waiting for the rest of my family to come out to the car or waiting for my driveway to be clear for driving away.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Can a car run on just water? Actually, yes.

By Donald Sensing

Glenn Reynolds links to AutoblogGreen's post about the Geneplex car, whose makers say it can be fueled only with water. Sam Abuelsamid writes that the claim is "highly unlikely."

Well, not so fast. Sam does point out that the car's electric drive is powered by a fuel cell, a well-proven technology that is the feature of the new Honda Clarity, which uses a fuel-cell stack to power the drivetrain. It uses no gasoline (see my post, "Buy a Honda, kill a polar bear.")

So the fuel call is no big deal for the Geneplex. Sam explains,

They have devised a system that consists of a fuel cell and a so called energy generator. The energy generator is claimed to consume water and breaks it down to hydrogen and oxygen which is fed to the fuel cell. While fuel cells are well understood and are known to work, the hydrogen generator is the issue.

Hydrogen can actually be separated from water quite easily with no energy input. Just put a piece of aluminum in into some water and hydrogen will be release as the surface of the aluminum oxidizes. The problem is that such processes are not sustainable. Once the surface of the aluminum is fully oxidized, the reaction stops. After this, the material needs to be reprocessed so it can be used again. This part requires significant energy input. Genepax has not revealed details of their process, however it is believed to be something along these lines.
But there is an efficient process to generate hydrogen gas on demand (H2) using aluminum. It was discovered by a Purdue University engineer. Basically, he produced hydrogen by adding water to an alloy of aluminum and gallium. The aluminum oxidizes, freeing the H2. "The gallium is critical to the process because it hinders the formation of a skin normally created on aluminum's surface after oxidation" and makes the solid aluminum of the alloy reactive with water, which plain solid aluminum is not. Gallium, however, is very expensive. Fortunately, the gallium is not consumed in the process and can be reused. The only other product of the process besides H2 is alumina (aluminum oxide), which can be recycled back into aluminum.

So is a purely water-powered car actually "highly unlikely"? Well, no. But it remains to be seen whether the Geneplex will be both efficient and economical to drive.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

You don't love me . . .

By Donald Sensing

... and I don't care.

Ehud Olmert, Monty Python and the Black Knight

By Daniel Jackson

Olmert is the quintessential Black Knight. The guy just does not know when to quit.

Condi keeps shlogging away

By Daniel Jackson

Rice is back in Israel again shlogging away on her dead horse that "settlement growth" (read that suburbs) with 11,000 plus middle class families and support establishments (read that malls) isn't helping.

Isn't helping what?

Like the constant rocket barrage from Hamastan is helping build trust among Israelis? Like the unfettered nuclear build up in Iran is allaying feelings among those stubborn Jews that another war of holocaust proportions is coming? Like the President of Syria's insistence that there are other ways to get back the Golan than talking?

Condi's frequent chorus replete with black suits and school marm looks seems straight out the political science courses offered by Monty Python. In the famous scene, "Bring Out Your Dead", some guy wants to get the body collector to take "the old man" who insists he's not dead. "I'm not dead. In fact, I feel like dancing," he says.

Condi keeps on shlogging

The difficulty here is whether the old man symbolizes the peace process (which has been dead forever) or whether it is really Israel. Perhaps it is only fitting that the Holy Land, on the eve of the 2,000th anniversy of another betrayal, will be sold out for chump change in black gold.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oil to rise $20/bbl in next 22 years

By Donald Sensing

Earlier this month, raw petroleum hit an all-time high of more than $139 per barrel. It seems kind of, well, quaint now to read that way back in November, cited a report by the International Energy Agency:

... the IEA, in the World Energy Outlook, says we could see it hit $159 a barrel
by 2030.

So relax! The good news is that oil will go up only $2o in the next 22 years. (The same month that Wired's column appeared, oil topped at $99.29.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Facts and legends in climate modeling

By Donald Sensing

In the motion picture, The Man Who SHot Liberty Valance, a newspaper editor learns the truth about a legendary figure of the day, Ransom Stoddard, a truth that would destroy Stoddard's entire reputation. But he burns the only written account of the truth.

"When the legend becomes fact," the editor says, "print the legend."

When it come to climate modeling, it's important to remember that models work both ways - future and past. That is, models of today predict climate conditions (we mean, of course, temperature trends) for the years to come. But models of years past made climate predictions for the future, too - a future that is now our past.

How well did those predictions hold up? Not too well, as it turns out. But no matter: climate models are sacred.

Reading between the lines of the new Thompson et al. Nature paper suggests that once they get the details worked out, the “updated” observed global temperature history is going to fit climate model hindcasts even better than it does now, and embolden confidence in their future projections.

The majority of the alarm raised over global warming stems from climate model projections. And thus it is largely inconceivable that there is going to be a major finding published in a journal such as Nature that is going to call into question one of the fundamental results from climate models—that is, climate models accurately simulate the “known” temperature history. The “known history” may change, but you can rest assured that it isn’t going to change in such as way as to make the climate models look like they aren’t doing so well after all. ...

Ah, yes, not only are they going to tweak the mid-century temperatures, but they are also going to make recent temperatures warmer than they are currently being reported. This will kill two birds with one stone.

It will serve to (more than?) compensate for any mid-century temperature corrections, and it will take some of the wind out of the sails of the good ship “Global Warming Stopped 10 Years Ago.” Again, the models will come out of this like shining stars.

Call us skeptics, but we have grave doubts that the corrections to the observed global temperature history will result in a lessening in the overall confidence that is proclaimed that climate change is manifesting itself even worse than we imagined. After all, there is an overwhelming, odds-busting tendency for publications in the journal Nature to report that things are tending worse (rather than better) than we ever imagined. In an unbiased world, the expectation should be 50-50 that publications in Nature would find things either better or worse than the expectations. In reality, the publication ratio is about 10 to 1 for the worse side. We have a bad feeling, that despite the initial optimism, that the outcome of the Thompson et al. findings will ultimately prove to increase the tally on the worse-than-expected side of things.
Yes, indeed, when the legend becomes fact, stick with the legend. It no longer matters what is empirical, that is, what is scientifically factual. It only matters what people believe. But, as I have explained, we are no longer dealing with science now, we are dealing with religion.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What I'm reading

By Donald Sensing

Prof. Amy-Jill Levine is a Jewish woman who attends an orthodox synagogue in Nashville and who occupies an endowed chair of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. If you make a habit of watching the various Jesus TV shows that appear around Christmastime and Easter, you've probably seen her on camera. A-J, as her students call her (I was her student, and still consider myself such) is an engaging lecturer with an appealing sense of humor and a simply awesome command of the various themes, facts and passages of the New Testament. And she treats the New Testament a lot better than many Christian professors, clergy and laity treat the Old Testament.

Which brings me to her latest book, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. It is precisely, I think, because of A-J's deep appreciation of Jesus as a specifically Jewish man, and the plainly Jewish character of the New Testament, that leads her to describe and rebut Christians' historic and ongoing habit of thinking of Jesus as some kind of "counter-Jew" who sought to radically change his own religious traditions and teachings or even overturn them. Even worse has been the use of the New Testament by Christians to justify anti-Judaism, which is a very short step from anti-Jew; neither position is simply tenable with the identity and life of Jesus.

This book is not another bewailing of how Christian Germany came to commit the Holocaust. In fact, the Shoah gets only a very brief mention in her book. A-J isn't writing to point the finger at Christians for our sins. She simply wishes to introduce the reader to the Jewish ordinariness of Jesus himself and of his place and time. Just as importantly, A-J explains simply and thoroughly the errors of both the Church and the Academy in drawing conclusions about presumed monolithic Judaism; both blocs have generally supposed that whatever Jesus seemed to oppose must have been normative in Judaism of his day. That is, clergy and scholars alike haven't studied Judaica to speak of, but nonetheless think that the New Testament describes Judaism both accurately and exhaustively. It just is not so.

As well, A-J exposes how modern theological fads (liberationism, feminism and many others), have so idealized Jesus away from his personal Jewishness that he becomes a heroic figure exemplifying whatever the faddists a priori wish him to be. Jesus' own people then become the paradigm for whomever the faddists wish to oppose in the present day, and the dysfunctions and injustices of today - whether patriarchy, colonialism, or various exploitations - are retrojected as the norm of first-century Judaism. Jews are then portrayed, sometimes explicitly, as domineering oppressors of class, gender, the outcast and the marginalized. Hence, in seeking to identify Jesus with the Palestinian cause today, one liberationist makes explicit an identity across two millennia between the Israeli "occupiers" of the West Bank and the Jews who (presumably) killed Jesus.

Finally, the book appeals to Jews not dismiss the Christian testament as wholly antithetical to Judaism's history and current practice. A-J explains, for example, how the Lord's Prayer (called, the "Our Father" in Catholicism) is a Jewish prayer through and through. (I remember this explanation from my first New Testament class with her, too.) Noting that after two thousand years of history it is too much to expect that Jews today will feel comfortable in praying it, she uses it to point out how Christian faith and practice is still pervaded by Jewish traditions and that there are many positive points of contact that adherents of either faith would be better off to appreciate.

I recommend the book without reservation. It's the best religious-topic book I have read in several years.

Related: Resurrection concept unclear, say scholars

Saturday, June 7, 2008

This worked before there were nukes

By Donald Sensing

Michael Ledeen:

Hitler's rants, whether in "Mein Kampf" or at Nazi Party rallies, were often downplayed as "politics," a way of maintaining popular support. They were rarely taken seriously as solemn promises he fully intended to fulfill. Mussolini's call for the creation of a new Italian Empire, and his later alliance with Hitler, were often downplayed as mere bluster ...

By now, there is very little we do not know about such regimes, and such movements. ...

Yet they are with us again, and we are acting as we did in the last century. ...

The rise of messianic mass movements is not new, and there is very little we do not know about them. Nor is there any excuse for us to be surprised at the success of evil leaders, even in countries with long histories and great cultural and political accomplishments. We know all about that. So we need to ask the old questions again. Why are we failing to see the mounting power of evil enemies? Why do we treat them as if they were normal political phenomena, as Western leaders do when they embrace negotiations as the best course of action?

No doubt there are many reasons. One is the deep-seated belief that all people are basically the same, and all are basically good. Most human history, above all the history of the last century, points in the opposite direction. But it is unpleasant to accept the fact that many people are evil, and entire cultures, even the finest, can fall prey to evil leaders and march in lockstep to their commands. Much of contemporary Western culture is deeply committed to a belief in the goodness of all mankind; we are reluctant to abandon that reassuring article of faith. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, we prefer to pursue the path of reasonableness, even with enemies whose thoroughly unreasonable fanaticism is manifest.
Freedom survived by a whisker just under 70 years ago. Neither Hitler, Hirohito nor Mussolini had atomic weapons. Iran almost does. But we are acting as if it is 1938, not 2008.

A blinding glimpse of the obvious

By Donald Sensing

John Stephenson:

Banning the free exchange of ideas just because they are insensitive, politically incorrect or unpopular is a leap down a path toward destroying the very spirit and ideals behind individual freedom and responsibility.
Which is, John, exactly the point of the people who push for and pass such laws.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The awful stakes of D-Day

By Donald Sensing

The alternate history of June 6, 1944 is too terrible to contemplate

There are few days in history that continue to capture the imagination and fascination of Americans the way June 6, 1944 does. Perhaps the day's only close rival is the day President Kennedy was shot.

There is an old preacher story, so old it is a cliche of bad sermons now, that goes like this: An angel awoke who had slept through the first two centuries after Jesus had gone down to earth and ascended back to heaven. The angel went to the Lord and asked, “Where did you go?”

Jesus replied, “I've been down on earth.”

The angel asked, "How did it go?"

Jesus said, "They crucified me."

The angel protested, "You must have had a wide influence."

Jesus said, "I had twelve followers, and one betrayed me to my death."

The angel asked, "What will become of your work?"

Jesus said, "I left it in the hands of my friends."

"And if they fail?" asked the angel.

Jesus said, "I have no other plans."

That punchline, I think, is why D-Day remains so compelling. The specter of defeat on June 6, 1944 was overwhelmingly dreadful. The Allies had no other plans. There was no Plan B in case the landings were repulsed.

There are many "pivot" days in human history, when the course of human events swung in a new direction because of discrete actions. It is hard to find another moment in all history when so much rested on an outcome of one day as rested on the success of the Allies' landings on Normandy. In military history, no other day in American history compares. The only single day that comes to mind for me right now is the day of the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, when an Athenian army repelled a Persian landing force. The entire future of Western civilization and the idea of democracy itself lay in the balance. And yet even that may day not stand alone as D-Day does because the Persians persisted and the later battles of Plataea and Salamis were probably even more important. So there was no "one day" of paramount importance in the Persian War, even though it was almost certainly the most important war of ancient times.

The Soviets, pushing toward Nazi Germany from the east in 1944, had clamored for years for America and Britain to open a second front against Germany from the west. A second front would compel Germany to draw soldiers and materiel away from the Russian front. Allied claims that operations in North Africa, southern Europe and indeed, the UK-US bombing campaign constituted a second front were scorned by Stalin.

Placating Stalin was one reason the Allies had to invade Germany through France. All the military and political leaders remembered early 1918, when the newly-in-power Soviet government under Lenin had made a separate peace with Imperial Germany. Even though all the Allies had agreed early in WW II that no separate peace agreements would be made, the nag was always there.

Moreover, neither Roosevelt nor Churchill had any desire at all to see all Germany overrun from the east and fall under the hammer and sickle. The only way to prevent that was to place American and British soldiers on the ground inside Germany. Invasion through northern Europe was the only way to do that (Churchill's claim that an invasion from the south, through Europe's "soft underbelly," proved fantastical in rolling up the Italian peninsula. Whatever Europe's underbelly was, it wasn't soft.)

The Allies could afford to succeed by a mere whisker on the Normandy beaches. Indeed, the planned American and British timetable for operations commencing June 7 proved wildly optimistic. But they did succeed, rather handily most places, as it turned out, and that was enough.

But any failure would have been only catastrophic. As in all major military operations, logistics was the central issue. The moon and tide conditions were acceptable on days in May, June and July; in fact, May 19 was seriously discussed as the invasion date for some time. But the Allies' supreme commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, postponed the invasion to June 5 because doing so would yield him an additional 100 landing craft, mostly LSTs, used to land tracked and wheeled vehicles directly onto the beach. (Bad weather caused the invasion to be postponed again until June 6.)

A little-known fact is that America was continually shuttling landing craft, both for vehicles and personnel, back and forth from Europe to the Pacific. The availability of landing craft was almost always the key point in setting landing dates for both areas.

A German victory at Normandy would probably have destroyed stocks of American landing craft by two or three years production, maybe more. Not only could there not possibly been another landing even attempted in Europe for a very long time, Pacific operations would have been dramatically slowed. America was set to take the Philippines back from the Japanese beginning in October 1944. The invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, both in the first half of 1945, were to follow. Significant loss of landing craft at Normandy would have thrown that timetable badly off.

Allied failure on the French coast would have meant enormous American and British casualties. Both the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions would have been entirely destroyed because they could not have been relieved, having dropped inland. All their soldiers would have been killed or captured. The loss of life that defeat on the beaches would have entailed would have degraded the Allies' capability to try again soon almost as much as the loss of landing craft.

The Soviets certainly would not have slacked their offensives had Normandy failed. If anything, they would have pressed all the harder, but would have pressed equally hard for a much larger share of American war production, insisting that they were making better use of it than we were. As they would have been the only dog in the fight, the demands would have been hard for Roosevelt to resist. Not only would all Germany have become communist, so would France, whose communist cells were very active and which would have benefitted greatly from having the Soviet army literally next door. Imagine the Iron Curtain falling at the English Channel. The Soviet bear would have easily swallowed countries like Denmark, The Netherlands and Belgium. Likewise, Greece's postwar communist insurgency would have succeeded. Italy might easily have turned communist also.

European Jews, of course, would have been wiped out. Israel would not exist today. The Soviet Union would have dominated the Middle East and there's no point in even trying to speculate on what the next decades would have held for the Arabs (or Persians, since the Russians had long cast a covetous eye on Iran's year-round warm-water ports).

Roosevelt, of course, would not have been reelected that fall. He certainly would have sacked Eisenhower and Eisenhower's boss, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. (Eisenhower actually would certainly have tendered his resignation. Marshall had survived the post-Pearl Harbor headrolling, but could not have survived failure at Normandy.) There's no point speculating what Republican President Thomas E. Dewey would have done with the office, but it is fair to say he would not have pushed for the creation of the United Nations, which was mainly Roosevelt's brainchild (for good or ill, take your pick), nor would there have been any reason for Stalin to cooperate with its formation, anyway.

Britain's people were incredibly war weary by mid-1944. Success in Normandy emboldened them to see the war to its bitter, bloody end. They remembered all too well the defeat of Dunkirk, when the British army had been evacuated from the French coast at the war's beginning, leaving behind its dead, almost all its vehicles and most of its weapons. Failure at Normandy would have caused Prime Minister Churchill's unemployment faster than Roosevelt's. I have little doubt that some form of British peace party would have gained the Parliamentary majority and the PM's office. Might the Brits have sued Hitler for a separate peace? Maybe. Already strongly tended toward socialism, it's not hard reasonably to imagine that the UK itself would have turned communist had the Soviets dominated all western Europe.

Without Britain (and I'm treading very speculative ground here, I admit), America could not have continued to oppose Hitler, nor have offered any resistance to Soviet dominion of practically all Europe after they had cleaned up the Nazis. We would have continued to make war against Japan, of course. But consider that with sea-land operations slowed greatly by loss of materiel at Normandy, Japan would probably have been bombed into true oblivion; the Pacific War's end would have been greatly postponed at terrible cost of human life - American, Japanese and persons under Japanese occupation, who were dying in 1945 at the rate of 500,000 per month. Whatever Japan's postwar history would have been, it would not have resembled what it actually was.

All these things lay in the hands of fewer than 200,000 American, Canadian and British soldiers stepping onto French soil on one day. It was a burden that we should pray will never rest on human shoulders again.

End note: What of the atom bomb? It was originally envisioned for using against Naxi Germany, but Germany surrendered before the bomb was ready. With a lengthened war in Europe, could the atom bomb have restored US-UK fortunes there? I would argue that an expanded use the A-bomb from the two that actually were used is no victory. However it might have reestablished US power on the continent, such cannot be considered positively by any stretch of the imagination.

Who can complain about high gas prices?

By Donald Sensing

George Will:

Also disqualified from complaining are all voters who sent to Washington senators and representatives who have voted to keep ANWR's oil in the ground, and who voted to put 85 percent of America's offshore territory off-limits to drilling. The U.S. Minerals Management Service says that restricted area contains perhaps 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas -- 10 times the oil and 20 times the natural gas Americans use in a year.
Meanwhile the Chinese are drilling for oil only 60 miles from America's coast, "closer to South Florida than U.S. companies are."

Sunni sheik says, pray less, work more

By Donald Sensing


For Egyptian-born Muslim cleric and television host, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, there is a simple answer to Egypt's productivity problem -- pray less, work more.

"Praying is a good thing ... 10 minutes should be enough," Al-Jazeera television personality Qaradawi says in a religious edict, or fatwa, published on his website. ...

"He's right. I cannot say the contrary. One must not waste time at work and use prayer as the pretext," Sheikh Fawzi al-Zifzaf, of the centre of Islamic studies at Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's main seat of learning, told AFP.

As for Mohammed al-Shahhat al-Gendi, secretary general of the Council of Supreme Islamic affairs, "10 minutes are absolutely suitable for one prayer."

"Improving productivity is not at all contrary to Islam," he told AFP.

So the Sunni authorities want Muslims to limit their prayers to 10 minutes each, at least for the two mandatory daily prayers that occur during the workday. Meanwhile, back in the USA, Christian ministers wish their people would pray for 10 minutes once per day.

Politics and redemption

By Donald Sensing

Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God, it becomes, not divine, but demonic. - Pope Benedict XVI, Truth and Tolerance; p. 116.

Hat tip: Kyle-Anne Shiver.

That didn't take long

By Daniel Jackson

Hillary met with Barack last night. There were no details about what was discussed although it is highly likely that some kind of support conditions were negotiated. Within hours, Obama's camp clarified what the Contender meant when he called for a unified Jerusalem.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama did not rule out Palestinian sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem when he called for Israel's capital to remain "undivided," his campaign told The Jerusalem Post Thursday.

"Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided," Obama declared Wednesday, to rousing applause from the 7,000-plus attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.

But a campaign adviser clarified Thursday that Obama believes "Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties" as part of "an agreement that they both can live with."

"Two principles should apply to any outcome," which the adviser gave as: "Jerusalem remains Israel's capital and it's not going to be divided by barbed wire and checkpoints as it was in 1948-1967."

He refused, however, to rule out other configurations, such as the city also serving as the capital of a Palestinian state or Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods.

"Beyond those principles, all other aspects are for the two parties to agree at final status negotiations," the Obama adviser said.

Wow! That didn't take long. For a brief moment, Obama sounded presidential. Now he sounds like another one of Hillary's men.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

SecDef decapitates Air Force

By Donald Sensing

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has just fired both Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley.

This practically-unheard-of double ditching of a service's top two officials comes "after nuclear missile warhead fuses were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan" and the Pentagon's official investigation, headed by a Navy admiral, found a " 'lack of a critical self-assessment culture' in the Air Force, making it unlikely that weaknesses in the way critical materials such as nuclear weapons are handled could be corrected."

It didn't help matters that last year a B-52 bomber was flown from Minot AFB, North Dakota, to Louisiana carrying six cruise missiles armed with actual atomic warheads, a fact not discovered until after the bomber had landed.

Wine, longevity and science

By Donald Sensing

Glenn Reynolds cites the very long lives of some California winemakers, such as,

Ernest Gallo (EJ Gallo Winery): March 18, 1909 to March 6, 2007
Tchelistcheff (Beaulieu Vineyards): Dec. 7, 1901 to April 5, 1994
Glenn ends by writing, "I don't think this supports any scientific conclusions. But why take chances?"

Actually, Glenn has it the wrong way round. These long lives alone cannot form the basis of a scientific conclusion, but they do support such a conclusion, once drawn.

However, the jury is still out on the question of whether resveratrol, a chemical in dark, red wines, makes you live longer. But it seems to be looking good so far.

Improving fuel efficiency now

By Donald Sensing

Or almost now.

Software Patch Makes Car More Fuel-efficient

Electricity From The Exhaust Pipe

I see into the future

By Donald Sensing

And so do you:

Humans can see into the future, says a cognitive scientist. It's nothing like the alleged predictive powers of Nostradamus, but we do get a glimpse of events one-tenth of a second before they occur. ...

Researcher Mark Changizi of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York says it starts with a neural lag that most everyone experiences while awake. When light hits your retina, about one-tenth of a second goes by before the brain translates the signal into a visual perception of the world. ...

Changizi now says it's our visual system that has evolved to compensate for neural delays, generating images of what will occur one-tenth of a second into the future.

And, they're off!

By Daniel Jackson

When I was a kid growing up in Miami, the local stations carried the horse races live from the local tracks. Every morning, when they were running, you could hear the bell ring as the horses left the gate. Well, over in the Galilee, we heard the bell as the horserace began.

First move out of the gate, Obama addresses AIPAC. There is Obama stating that Jerusalem is the undivided, and never to be divided, capital of Israel.

Now, just in case you had an Orwellian moment and forgot, dividing up Jerusalem has been the essential feature of the 1999 and 2000 US peace efforts during the Clinton administration, to say nothing of refusing to acknowledge that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. In fact, Clinton ate alive two PMs trying to seal a deal that would split, again, Jerusalem.

Obama, however, is trying to do an end run around McCain who the rank and file Israeli respects as I noted when McCain came acallin' earlier this year.

More to the point, this is really about Hillary and Bill. It was Hillary, afterall, that first stated openly the two state solution approach, to say nothing of her performance with Mrs. Arafat. The whole push to divide up current Israel and delegitimize the Jerusalem suburbs is entirely a Clinton administration agenda.

So has been the not so subtle move to delegitimize the entire state of Israel. In true 1984 Orwellian fashion, the entire history of the Middle East is being rewritten to say nothing of certain events in WWII. To this end, the Wall Street Journal's is to be praised for carrying one of the best summaries of the problem in print in recent memory:

Regardless of the elections in November, Israel will have its own elections in the fall. The fact is that the whole area is shifting to the right in the fall. Anything in November is going to strengthen Likud since the tide is already rising to the right. No matter who it is cooking the statistics, and how loud the media shouts to the contrary, the results are always the same +/- 2 seats--Netanyahu with 28 (plus or minus a seat or two) with Labor. Kadima is in the tubes.

The fact is that this Knesset has been about robbing the treasury. Special interests are every where and the reason the government has not falllen, something that would have been unthinkable five years ago, is because the factions in the ruling coalition don't want to give up the gravy train. 2006 fatal war was due to the 2005 elections when the Retiree's Party opened the bank (hotly seconded by the Law Students and University Faculty bloc). Only this month, has the government been building, Burma Road style, a four lane highway connecting the Northern Frontier with the rest of the world (in 2006, the only route north to Kiryat Shemona was a narrow two lane road aways jammed and washboard smooth). This is probably the reason Barak did not get the tanks rolling last month--there was no National Highway to move that amount of materiel northward.

The entire issue of supply and support for the IDF has not been confronted. Monies paid out to the Welfare State has meant that National Security and basic IDF supplies (like bedding and underwear) does not exist. It's pathetic and most Israelis are pissed. Add to this a very real anger at the ultra right rabbinic bloc (my sect ain't there) and the groundswell has yet to measured accurately.

Of course, we are approaching the Festival of Weeks, Pentacost. I am giving my first lecture/sermon/teaching (in English) on the message of Inclusiveness for this Holy Day. Among the traditional themes for this Festival is the joining together of the Learned with the Not-So-Learned as well as one of my favorite topics--idol worship. Maimonides states that anything that comes between God and man is a Graven Image. It is clear to see that the Learned can come to see their academic achievements as a kind of idol worship; it is not so easy to see that those who feign ignorance (as in "I don't believe you" or "I didn't know that" or "big deal") are also guilty of idol worship.

This is where the world is, the US and Israel, today with both extremes blinded by their patent righteousness unwilling to include the other in their calculations.

Something more to pray for.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Sense of Events reading list

By Donald Sensing

I've transferred my reading list over from my previous blog at It is brilliantly entitled, "Reading List." There are more than 60 entries as of now, all by other writers than me. Some of the links go back a ways, and I have not verified they are all still good.

But I recommend them all to you.

2008 hurricane prediction: so what?

By Donald Sensing


Colo. researchers predict 8 Atlantic hurricanes, 4 major

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) - A noted hurricane researcher is predicting eight
hurricanes will form in the Atlantic this year, and says four of them will be major.

Tuesday's forecast by William Gray and his team of researchers at Colorado
State University
calls for a very active season, with 15 named storms, including tropical storm Arthur, which formed on May 31.

Gray, a former Colorado State University climatologist, pioneered the seasonal predictions in 1984. His team's revised outlook called for the same number of hurricanes as their April forecast.

Then again, no one really seems to care what Gray & Co. predict: Hurricane season outlooks of little use.

It's a lot like Groundhog Day — and the results are worth just about as much.

"The hairs on the back of my neck don't stand up," ho-hums Craig Fugate, director of emergency management for Florida, the state that got raked by four hurricanes — three of them "major" — in 2004. When it comes to preparing, he says, these long-range forecasts "are not useful at all."

The AP contacted the emergency management agency in every coastal state from Texas to Maine and asked whether these seasonal forecasts play any role in their preparations for the hurricane season. Their response was unanimous: They're a great way to get people thinking about the upcoming season, but that's about it.

It's a meme, 2

By Donald Sensing

George Will:

Now that polar bears are wards of the government, and now that it is a legal doctrine that humans are responsible for global warming, the Endangered Species Act has acquired unlimited application. Anything that can be said to increase global warming can — must — be said to threaten bears already designated as threatened. ...

What Friedrich Hayek called the "fatal conceit" — the idea that government can know the future's possibilities and can and should control the future's unfolding — is the left's agenda. The left exists to enlarge the state's supervision of life, narrowing individual choices in the name of collective goods. Hence the left's hostility to markets. And to automobiles — people going wherever they want whenever they want.

Today's "green left" is the old "red left" revised. ...

The green left preaches pessimism: Ineluctable scarcities (of energy, food, animal habitat, humans' living space) will require a perpetual regime of comprehensive rationing. The green left understands that the direct route to government control of almost everything is to stigmatize, as a planetary menace, something involved in almost everything — carbon.

Environmentalism is, as Lawson writes, an unlimited "license to intrude."
You know, like I wrote here:
H.L. Mencken observed, "The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it." And that is the true foundation of environmentalism today: the desire of its gurus to regulate the way others live. Monbiot again:
We can deal with climate change only with the help of governments, restraining the exertions of our natural liberties.
Freeman Dyson wrote that, "Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion." I demur. Environmentalism has not replaced socialism at all. Instead, the old-line socialists, faced with decades of the failure of political socialism, have jumped on the environmentalist bandwagon to keep socialism alive. Environmentalism has become a much better vehicle to achieve a rigid regulation of people's lives than political socialism ever was. After all, the fate of the entire planet is at stake! Environmentalism has already led some British members of Parliament to propose that the government regulate almost every aspect of buying and selling by private individuals. If this is not socialism, it is a distinction without a difference.

So there you are. At bottom, modern environmentalism has discarded scientific rigor to embrace something not much different than Leninism, the desire to control the major components of the way individuals live. From there it is a short step for environmentalism to Leninism's successor: Stalinism, the desire to control every aspect of the way we live. That's our future, minus the gulags. We hope.
See also, Czech president: environmentalism is like Communism.