Friday, October 31, 2008

Photo and quote of the day

By Donald Sensing

An image taken by Hubble Space telescope and released on Thursday by European Space Agency showed a pair of gravitationally interacting galaxies called Arp 147, photographed on October 27-28, 2008. Arp 147 lies in the constellation of Cetus, more than 400 million light-years away from Earth. [link]
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. -- Psalms 19:1

Thursday, October 30, 2008

1st Oct. snow in London in 70 years

By Donald Sensing


It snowed yesterday in London for the first time in 70 years. Read all about it.

I blame global warming. (HT: American Digest)

Related, MIT scientists say that global warming theory contradicts empirical data.
Boston (MA) - Scientists at MIT have recorded a nearly simultaneous world-wide increase in methane levels. This is the first increase in ten years, and what baffles science is that this data contradicts theories stating man is the primary source of increase for this greenhouse gas. It takes about one full year for gases generated in the highly industrial northern hemisphere to cycle through and reach the southern hemisphere. However, since all worldwide levels rose simultaneously throughout the same year, it is now believed this may be part of a natural cycle in mother nature - and not the direct result of man's contributions.
Then there's the record cold in Florida this week. And the heaviest snows in Switzerland since record-keeping began.

Getting out the Vote

By Daniel Jackson

Both Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post are carrying stories on their websites on the effort by both US parties to get expats to register and file absentee ballots in Tuesday's election. What makes this story interesting is what is not being covered.

In a series of largely publicized events, a group called Vote From Israel organized a last minute registration and filing meetings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The events were organized so those whose ballots had not yet arrived, or had not already done so, could directly fill out a ballot and vote. Since we had not received our ballots in the mail, my wife and I attended the meeting in Jerusalem so we could be sure to vote.

Although both Haaretz and the Post note the "crowd" was mostly religious, we were struck by the range of affiliations present, especially by the large showing of young Americans studying in Israel--an interesting mix of political positions since one literally wears ones politics. Women in the crowd were mostly uncovered as were lots of the men. The point is that there was a good cross section of the American cultural mix.

The reported interest in the story is the exit poll. Participants at these events progressed through 4 stages: registration, voting, mailing, and exiting. Each stage required some pen and paper work: forms, ballots, envolopes, and surveys. The last was optional: my wife complied and I did not. The results of the survey, surprise surprise, was McCain. Haaretz describes the process:

American citizens who voted in the U.S. presidential elections via absentee ballots from Israel overwhelmingly favored Sen. John McCain, according to exit polls released Thursday. Seventy-six percent said they voted for the Republican candidate, while only 24 percent voted for the Democrat Barack Obama.

The poll was based on data from about 800 voters who attended U.S. election events, one in Tel Aviv and two in Jerusalem, and from among 1,700 citizens who were helped with registering online by VoteFromIsrael.org, the recently-founded non-partisan voter support group who commissioned the poll. More than two thirds of those polled attended events in Jerusalem; there, 76 voted for McCain and 24 for Obama. Just nine percent of those polled were in Tel Aviv, where votes were split almost evenly: 51 percent voted for the Republican while 49 favored the Democrat.

Seventy percent of those polled defined themselves as either Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox. Four percent said they were not Jewish. Only 52 percent also posses Israeli citizenship, while almost a third of are students.

Almost 60 percent said that "foreign policy including Israel" was the most important factor that influenced their decision; only nine percent said that the war in Iraq was the most important factor.

The polls, which were conducted by the Jerusalem-based research firm Keevon, starkly contrast polls among voters in the United States, which give the Illinois senator a comfortable lead. Experts estimate that of the more than 200,000 American citizens living in Israel, about 45,000 requested absentee ballots.

An estimated 40,000 Americans living in Israel are expected to vote, and pollster Mitchell Barak says he believes his survey is a good indicator on how they will choose.
Of course, papers filing the stories have to note the bias in the method used (as opposed to the abysmal exit polls used to predict the Livni landslide--not). They also noted that in secular Tel Aviv, the McCain/Obama point spread was closer than in religious Jerusalem. The Post's story, entitled Orthodox 'over-sampled'in US exit poll, describes the poll but leaves out the critical component.

A total of 817 absentee ballot voters answered the 22-question survey at three voting events, Barak said: At the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv on Sunday, at the YU Seminary in Jerusalem on Monday and in the capital's OU Center a day later. Sixty percent of the respondents described themselves as Orthodox.

The poll also conducted an online survey among 1700 voters assisted by the "Vote from Israel" organization.

An estimated 45,000 Americans in Israel requested absentee ballots. Fifty seven percent of the respondents cited "foreign policy, including Israel" as the basis for their presidential preference, while only 14 percent said the ailing economy determined their candidate of choice.
Now, 45,000 people voting is a chunk of change in anyone's book. Ehud Barak became the leader of the Labor Party in an election of about 35,000 voters and the recent Mofaz/Livni run off was about the same size. So, what's missing in the Post's story, and totally ignored in Haaretz, is what was the purpose of a three page exit survey if it was only interested in who you voted for and why.

The fact is that there are Israeli elections coming up and politicians are looking to expand their power base by enfranchising population segments that heretofore have not been part of the politics-as-usual mix. In the mayoral race in Jerusalem, candidates have been working with Russians and East Jerusalem Israeli Arabs. But the real sleeping lion in Israel is the Anglo Israeli segment.

Most of that three page survey, my wife reports in her exit poll to me, was about Israeli politics. One does not need to read Marx and Engels to know that in politics, a social class that becomes aware of its own political interests becomes a power in itself. Unlike traditional Israeli politics, Anglo culture prefers a bottom up, grass roots approach to consensus making.

The unspoken story here is not the McCain Obama race; it is the emerging political power of the Anglo Israeli voting bloc. It is this power that Netanyahu is courting openly. Netanyahu literally speaks this culture to say nothing of understanding the Anglo way of doing business. If this population is more religious and more conservative, these are important demographics to know for doing politics--in Israel. Under an Obama administration, the Amerikai might be willing to contribute more of that Anglo culture to local politics--a windfall profit for Netanyahu.

As for the problem of oversampling the religious and the conservative right, well, it really shows a lack of political savvy. This week it has been raining and the weather has just been plain awful. In the words of W.C. Fields, it's not been fit for man nor beast. Every American political activist knows that weather is one of the critical factors of getting out the vote--miserable days favor Republicans and the "consistant voter". The young set tend to not turn out if they think the election is over (convinced from popular opinion). So, if the weather's bad, and their vote doesn't matter (the party is over already), they'll go out and do something more fun than voting.

No wonder the get out the vote effort in Tel Aviv was held at a brewery.

Can atheism be justified?

By Donald Sensing

A repost from October 2006

Dinesh D'Souza writes,

A group of leading atheists is puzzled by the continued existence and vitality of religion.

What an interesting thing for atheists to ponder. In the modern day one either has to accept some kind of deistic understanding of the origin of the universe or an evolutionary understanding that excludes any sort of deity from contributing to the origin of the universe and all contained therein. I am not saying that one must either be religious or non-religious, for the dichotomy is true even for adherents of non-deistic or nature religions. Either deity (or deities) had a hand in existence itself, or it/they did not.

So why would a deity-denying atheist be puzzled that religion is thriving? If evolution as they describe it is true, then religion is itself a product thereof. Not only that, but Judaism is an evolutionary product, so is Christianity, so is Islam, so is Buddhism, so is Shamanisn, so is ... well, you get the idea.

And so is the theory of evolution itself. And astrology. And tarot-card reading. And medical science. And faith healing. And everything else. So why do materialists single out religion as a particularly puzzling thing to exist? Why religion and not, say, athletics or stamp collecting or consumption of alcohol?

Dinesh reports,

As biologist Richard Dawkins puts it in his new book "The God Delusion," faith is a form of irrationality, what he terms a "virus of the mind."
[The list of other things that could be so characterized is very long, is it not?]

Philosopher Daniel Dennett compares belief in God to belief in the Easter Bunny.
[Or even, perhaps, belief in Daniel Dennett. Has it occurred to Dennett that no one other than small children, and those only in Western culture, actually believes the Easter Bunny exists, while billions of mature adults in all kinds of cultures do believe in God or some kind of deity? So in what way are the two beliefs the same?]

Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith" and now "Letter to a Christian Nation," professes amazement that hundreds of millions of people worldwide profess religious beliefs when there is no rational evidence for any of those beliefs.
[I bet no one can define "rational evidence" for religiosity to Harris' satisfaction except Harris himself. I guarantee he has prima facie excluded from rationality anything that would support religious belief. And "The End of Faith" seems a bit of an arrogant title since, as Dinesh points out, religious faith of one kind or another is not waning.]

Biologist E.O. Wilson says there must be some evolutionary explanation for the universality and pervasiveness of religious belief.
[Bing bada-bing! And if so, would Wilson agree that "the universality and pervasiveness of religious belief" is a "virus of the mind"? How can that be when atheism and religion are both alike the product of evolution? On what basis can Wilson, Dawkins or any other atheist make such claims since they cannot, by definition, appeal to any kind of transcendent authority? Can evolution explain why religious people are more influential in their societies than atheists? And why has religiosity survived more strongly than atheism if there is really nothing out there?]

This last point is addressed by Dinesh, too:

My conclusion is that it is not religion but atheism that requires a Darwinian explanation. It seems perplexing why nature would breed a group of people who see no purpose to life or the universe, indeed whose only moral drive seems to be sneering at their fellow human beings who do have a sense of purpose. Here is where the biological expertise of Dawkins and his friends could prove illuminating. Maybe they can turn their Darwinian lens on themselves and help us understand how atheism, like the human tailbone and the panda's thumb, somehow survived as an evolutionary leftover of our primitive past.

Dawkins, Wilson et. al. are what I call evangelistic atheists, not content with enjoying their own religion as they see fit but dogmatically trying to convert others to their belief.

Well, fine. There is no stronger defender of the free marketplace of ideas than I. But I hope they understand that they have no right to do so.

Let me say that again so you know I am intentional: If atheists are to take their own beliefs to their logical end, they must agree that they have no right to promulgate their belief. They have no right to challenge me about my religion. They have no right to speak up in my community, no right to live in my community, indeed, no right even to life itself. They have no rights at all, in fact.

If atheists are true to their own creed, they must admit that the entire concept of human rights crumbles to dust according to that same creed. Dawkins, Wilson et. al. have no “right” to denounce religion, they just have the ability or power to do so. If persons are not “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” (in the words of a famous Enlightenment rationalist), then “rights” is nothing but a flatus vocis. The concept of rights then really means nothing but “who wins.” So by their lights, atheists are able to speak out (in America, anyway, not in Saudi Arabia) and attempt to persuade others only because the rest of us let them. But why should we let them? Why don't we religious people simply persecute atheists out of existence?

I think atheists would reply that to do so would be contrary to our own creed (well, not contrary to Islamism, but I'll not go there today). And they would be correct. But so what? An atheist also holds that there is nothing behind religious creeds, that there is no content to them. Since religious beliefs are simply the product of evolution, they may be changed or discarded as we might wish. So could not we religious people simply say, "Sorry, persecuting atheists is no longer against our religion?" If you think not, why not?

And don't throw the US Constitution at me: the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights is nothing more than an agreement among religious people to let atheists be. But, as I've just said, we can change our minds. And heck, the whole document is nothing but a product of evolution and therefore worth no more than any other political manifesto.

Can anyone refute this argument without an appeal to transcendence? I think not. The reason America's religious people don't denounce their creeds - and Lord knows (oops, a virus of the mind crept it), we have a hard enough time living up to them at all - is that we (Jews and Christians, anyway) really do believe there is a God who is not only a God of mercy and compassion but also of moral law and judgement.

So, regarding rationality for any system of beliefs, how does atheism have a superior claim, except in the minds of its adherents? Any "rational" system of law or morals that atheists may devise may be rebutted by an equally rational system that countermands it.

As for me, I affirm the rights of atheists to be the same rights as mine because, "The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. The hand of force may destroy but cannot disjoin them." So said this fellow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Timeless words for troubled times

By Donald Sensing

Right here.

Charles, there's a reason you're not king

By Donald Sensing

And the reason is that your mum isn't a batbelfry like you are.

Prince Charles urged the world Tuesday to fight climate change, saying that while the global credit crunch will be temporary, the effects of the "climate crunch" were irreversible. ...

"Given the current turbulence in the international financial system and the immediate and damaging effect it is having on the whole world, the credit crunch is rightly a preoccupation of vast significance and importance," Charles said.

"But we take our eye off the 'climate crunch' at our peril," he said in a speech at Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. ...

"The scale of the challenge is clear, nothing less than an urgent, full-scale transformation to a low-carbon society is needed," he said.
So don't get too exercised about the looming worldwide recession, folks, because Charles wants to plunge the worldwide economies into the abyss by urgent transformation into a "low-carbon" society.

Meanwhile:
A nor'easter into Wednesday will continue to slam the Northeast with snow, rain and wind, causing more headaches for Major League Baseball. ...

Expert Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson says, "This is a big storm by October standards." More a foot of snow will fall in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania and the Adirondacks in upstate New York.
And also meanwhile:
Near-record cold, and mountain snow

Snow is accumulating this afternoon in the North Carolina mountains, and the rest of the Carolinas is shivering in the first cold outbreak of the season.

Temperatures that are more than 15 degrees below normal for this time of year, combined with strong northwest winds, are making today uncomfortably chilly in the Charlotte metro region.
I blame global warming and the "Charles effect."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tit for Tat with Interest

By Daniel Jackson

IMRA reports that Sunni Islam's highest judge took an interesting approach to deal with domestic violence.

+++JORDAN TIMES 28 Oct.'o8:"Wife has right to beat husband -fatwa",Agence France Press

CAIRO (AFP) - Sunni Islam's highest authority has approved a woman's right to fight back if her husband uses violence against her, Egypt's Al Masry Al Youm newspaper reported on Monday. The declaration by Sheikh Abdul Hamid Al Atrash, who heads Al Azhar University's committee for fatwas or religious rulings, comes after similar rulings by religious leaders in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. "A wife has the legitimate right to hit her husband in order to defend herself," Atrash was quoted as saying. "Everyone has the right to defend themselves, whether they are a man or a woman... because all human beings are equal before God," he said. Over the last few days, Saudi Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al Abyakan stressed the fact that a wife should resort to "the same kind of violence" as her husband used against her, whether it be with a leather strap or a wire cable, the paper said. Turkish Sheikh Fathallah Julun went one step further and ruled that a woman should return the violence with interest. "She should give back two blows for each one received," the paper quoted him as saying.

Great. This is how to stop domestic violence? Permit a gun for a gun, razor for razor? So, will this cultural solution apply in larger situations? Consider the current fracas with Syria. Or, Iran's intentions with Israel, once they get their bomb. With that thought firmly in mind, consider President Obama going off to talk with his counterparts in Tehran. I imagine a variation of the Punch and Judy show.

It is with interest that Haaretz carries a story that Sarkozy views Obama's approach to Iran as naive. Just four years ago, Democrats were very worried what the French might think of US foreign policy. Will the Obama camp will respond with the appropriate cultural quid pro quo using the Turkish method?

Things will get worse before they get better

By Donald Sensing

If indeed they do get better. Dr. Doom is the most in-demand economics lecturer in the world.

Rather worryingly, in London last Thursday he predicted that hundreds of hedge funds will go bust and stock markets may soon have to shut – perhaps for as long as a week – in order to stem the panic selling now sweeping the world.

What happened? The next day trading was briefly stopped in New York and Moscow.

Dubbed Dr Doom for his gloomy views, this lugubrious disciple of the “dismal science” is now the world’s most in-demand economist. He reckons he is getting about four hours’ sleep a night. Last week he was in Budapest, London, Madrid and New York. Next week he will address Congress in Washington. Do not expect any good news.

Contacted in Madrid on Friday, Roubini said the world economy was “at a breaking point”. He believes the stock markets are now “essentially in free fall” and “we are reaching the point of sheer panic”.
Well, we'll see, of course. But the one bright spot (okay, it's a dim bright spot) is the the US housing market has actually picked up.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Israeli Jews prefer McCain

By Daniel Jackson

Ynet News is reporting the results of a survey of 500 Israelis, 18 to 65, on their views about the US elections and their effects on Israel.

The survey found that given the right to vote in the US, 46.4% of Israelis would vote for the Republican nominee, John McCain. Thirty-four percent would vote for Democratic nominee Barack Obama, and 18.6% remain undecided.

Almost half of those polled (48.6%) believe McCain would better impact Israel, while 31.5% thought the country would better benefit from Obama's leadership. Just over 5% believe the candidates would have the same effect on Israel, while 14.2% remain undecided.

The poll found McCain to be Israel's best bet concerning Iran as well. Over half (52.5%) believe he possesses the skills needed to deal with the security threat the country poses to Israel, more so than Obama, who has gained the confidence of just 27.6% of those polled.

However, the Democratic candidate did better on the issue of finance, with 40.9% saying they thought he was better equipped to handle the current global crisis than McCain, who received 34.2% of votes.

The two presidential nominees were equally ranked regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict, with 37.3% saying McCain would better handle the situation and 37% choosing Obama as the better candidate. Fifteen percent remain undecided, while 10.5%said the two were equally capable.
On the other hand, Iranians prefer Obama.

Iranian parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said Wednesday that Iran would prefer Democrat Barack Obama in the White House next year. Larijani also dismissed any idea that the US would attack Iran.
Of course, in Iran, public opinion tends to be decided by a sample of one.

Obama speaks at length on spreading the wealth

By Donald Sensing

In 2001, Barack Obama gave an interview to Chicago Public radio in which he bemoaned that the Warren Court "didn't break free of the essentail restraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution."

He also said that "one of the tragedies of the the civil rights movement ... was that there was a tendency to lose track" of the "coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change."



HT: Glenn Reynolds, who adds, "this is pretty standard stuff in large parts of legal academia."

What has NATO done for us?

By Donald Sensing

To the point: it's time for the US to disengage from NATO.

NATO was founded to form a bulwark against Soviet invasion of western Europe in 1949. As the charter's Article 5 states,

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them ... will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith ... such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
So just what does this mean today? Pretty much nothing. Strictly interpreted, Article 5's provisions are not tripped by an attack on United States' interests outside North America. One must wonder whether an attack by someone against Guam, a non-North American, American territory, would trigger Article 5, but the question is actually moot since there is no imaginable threat to mount such an attack.

So: Who is there to attack either North America or Europe? There are really only two threats reasonably imaginable - Russia and Islamist terrorists. Let's consider them seriatim:

1. Russia.

The original threat for which NATO was founded, there's no chance that Russia either would or could invade western Europe now or in the far foreseeable future.

Certainly Russia's invasion of Georgia shows that Russia's militarism is alive and well, but the prospect of Russia invading western Europe is simple nitwittery. Russia, oil flush though it is, is not rich enough, militarily powerful enough, nor populous enough to extend a campaign that far or that long. Western Europe in aggregate is still more powerful than Russia militarily (on its own soil, defending its home territories) and is rich enough to outlast Russia in such a war. But the real bottom line is that Russia needs Europe peaceful and prosperous rather than wrecked and impoverished.

But what of the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania? Certainly Russia could invade them, and they are NATO members. They are also defensible by NATO to some minimal level because their sea approaches are a short trip from Germany's and Poland's northern ports.

I am trying to remember the good reasons that the Baltics were admitted into NATO, but memory fails me except to remember that there were no good reasons. (Review NATO's own assessment and see whether it's held up.) At the time, even Russia was being talked about as a potential NATO member of some kind, political membership if not part of the military alliance. See here, for example. It was then presumed membership would have a tamping effect on Russian militarism which would help ensure peace in our time. Russia has in fact been a "partner country" with NATO since 1997. (Some “partner.” As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that worked out for us?”)

Ukraine? Not a NATO member, and Russia could easily march in. But Ukraine is hardly defensible by NATO. From the west, NATO forces would have a very long ground journey, across NATO-member Poland, then another 300 miles just to reach Ukraine's capital, Kiev. The logistics problem would be immense, especially for ammunition and spare parts.

Ukraine’s sea approach, from the Black Sea, has a natural choke point at the Bosporus straits. The sea approach to the Bosporus has its own choke points, the Dardanelles strait which empties into the Sea of Mamara, between the Aegean Sea and the Bosporus straits. Fortunately, Turkey is a NATO member whose forces have been focused for decades on keeping the sea lanes open. Of course, Russia has worked the opposite problems for decades, too. So there would almost certainly be a battle royal there between NATO and Russian air and naval forces.

Finally, Ukraine is a big country, almost 800 miles east to west, 233,000 square miles, and NATO's manpower commitment would have to be correspondingly large, probably too large for NATO's existing forces, even under mobilization, since substantial forces would need to be retained in Poland and points west to deter Russian moves in that direction.

As well, western Europe's standing forces are too few to offer substantial, long-lasting reinforcements to deployed units. Many of their regular brigades are permanently staffed by regulars at a fraction of full strength, with the rest (usually one-third or even more) of the troops being reservists whose readiness level is substantially lower. If you use your reserves to man up your regular battalions, who exactly is manning the reserves? In all, since the dissolution of the USSR, Europe's defense planning has been focused on economy rather than war readiness.

Don't count on NATO's new NATO Response Force (NRF), which consists of only 25,000 troops of all arms.

This includes a brigade-size land component with forced-entry capability; a naval task force including a carrier battle group, an amphibious task group and a surface action group; and an air component capable of 200 combat sorties a day.
A brigade-size ground force (5,000-6,000 soldiers) is barely speed bump size defending Ukraine or the Baltics. And 200 combat sorties per day would be exhausted before noon in mid-intensity operations.

Sarah Palin said in her Gibson interview that the US should push to admit both Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. I have two words: In. Sane. The idea that the United States should (or can) go to war to eject Russian forces therefrom is foolish in the extreme. A return of Russian occupation of Ukraine or the Baltic countries would be dreadful for the people of those countries. But it's hard to see what US national-security interest would make warring with Russia worth it. NATO's relations with Ukraine, very extensive since 1991, are almost exclusively political-commercial rather than military, or even political-military. Even the NATO Handbook admits tacitly that its goal is development of a market economy and human rights in Ukraine, rather than strengthening of NATO as a military alliance.

It may be argued that for the US to withdraw its NATO military membership would in fact invite Russian moves against Ukraine or the Baltics. I think Putin's government is a more calculating than that. Putin, et. al., surely realize that moving against Ukraine would not evoke military counter-moves from NATO, whether Ukraine is a NATO member or not. The reason is very simple: NATO nations simply do not have the military forces, nor strategic "throw," to make the counter. Simply getting tactically significant forces to the right places in Ukraine, then supplying them, would be an enormous challenge that could well be insurmountable. Only recently have Canada and the UK begun to fly strategic-range airlift, C-17s manufactured by the US. "Ironically," says commenter Adam, "Canada also leases Strategic Airlift capability from the Ukraine, which has a fairly extensive collection of late Soviet-era Antonov heavy lifters designed for strategic airlift." Even so, the great majority of such flying would fall to the US Air Force.

In summary: Russia is no military threat to western Europe. And though its threat to the Baltics and Ukraine is more realizable, there is not much NATO can do about it in the event, anyway.

2. Islamist terrorists.

Islamo-terrorists have already attacked both North America and Europe, it hardly bears pointing out. And what was NATO's response? Except for Canada and Britain, pretty much nothing. Even worse, near surrender: al Qaeda killed 191 Spanish train commuters in March 2004, demanded Spain's withdrawal of its forces from Iraq, and Spain rolled.

We'd also wish to ask just why Islamists would attack Europe in the first place (well, yes, they're terrorists) when if they just bide their time, most of western Europe will become substantially Muslim in just a few decades, and some nations majority Muslim.

What NATO has not done, even under Article 5, is actually fight al Qaeda or the Taliban (again, except for Britain and Canada). For example, Germany sent an entire special-forces detachment to Afghanistan. They literally never left their base camp for a whole year, then Germany brought them home. Except for Canada and Britain, this is typical of the NATO troops, paltry as they are, in Afghanistan. (NATO, qua NATO, had no involvement in Iraq.)

But let us imagine that al Qaeda mounts a truly devastating attack against a NATO capital city, killing thousands. Just how can NATO respond? It can't, certainly not for any response that would require self-lifting across strategic distances. The strategic transportation of NATO has always been oriented one way: US and Canadian forces flowing into Europe to defend it from the USSR, not forces flowing out of Europe to somewhere else in the world. NATO forces cannot go anywhere in the world in substantial force without the US Air Force or Navy carrying them.

Let us then ask the pointed question: Just how does continued NATO membership actually benefit that United States? I can think of only one way - forward stationing of US forces as a deployment point to locales farther east or toward the Middle East.

That's it. Is that worth the cost of national treasure and aggravation we have with the alliance, and which show no sign of abating?

There is another point that Mark Steyn touched on when discussing Sarah Palin's bright idea to bring Georgia into NATO. I can't find a link now, but Steyn pointed out is that Georgia's birth rate has tanked more than practically any other country in the world. In fact, by 2050 there will be only 100,000 Georgian women of childbearing age, if current trends continue. So, he said, if Georgians won't have children to grow up to defend Georgia, why should Americans have children to grow up to defend Georgia? I can't think of any good reason.

And the same question can be asked of every other European NATO member, except perhaps Britain and France. The birth rates of Germany, Spain, Italy and every other NATO country except Turkey are below the stable replacement rate of 2.1 average births per woman, most far below. Italy’s rate is 1.23 births per woman , for example, meaning that Italy’s population could shrink by one-third by mid-century. (Turkey’s birth rate is about twice as high as Italy's.)

Again the question for NATO’s countries: if you will not have enough children to preserve your country, why should the US make up your deficit?

I think the United States should reassess whether the NATO alliance really is serving American interests. I don't think it is, and I don't think it will do better in years to come. Though we must stay politically engaged, I think we'd be better off withdrawing from the military alliance, and work toward building an Anglosphere military alliance in its stead.

Update: Yes, I titled the post having in mind Monty Pythons sketch from Life of Brian, in which some ancient Judeans ask, "What has Rome done for us?" Unlike them, however, we have no important, affirmative answers to the question of my post.

Comments welcome, moderation is on. I would be eager to entertain well-reasoned arguments to the contrary.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Once More Unto The Breaches, Dear Friends

By Daniel Jackson

Sunday morning's Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz are reporting Livni's inability to produce a coalition. She will report to President Peres this afternoon that no government could be formed and that elections will be held in mid-February 2009. Livni is livid.

"I'm sick of this extortion," Livni was quoted as telling her advisers. "We'll see all these heroes in 90 days."
Atta girl! You tell 'em.

Tough words with little weight since the loyal opposition, led by Netanyahu, will undoubtedly sweep the field. Israelis are tired of the Kadima white flag policy, especially towards Jerusalem. In fact, in the mayoral elections that hotly pit religious candidates against secular ones solely on the basis of theology, ALL agree that a divided Jerusalem is out of the question.

Apparently the election has attracted large numbers of Israeli Arabs living in East Jerusalem--so much so that today's Post carries a related story that the PA chief Islamic judge issued a fatwa banning Israeli Arabs in East Jerusalem from voting in the mayoral elections.

The Palestinian Authority's chief Islamic judge, Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi, published a fatwa on Saturday banning Arab residents of Jerusalem from participating in the upcoming municipal election.

In a separate development, the chairman of the Supreme Islamic Council in Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, renewed the fatwa barring Palestinians from selling property to Jews. He also warned Arab Jerusalemites against resorting to Israeli courts to settle disputes over real estate, out of fear that their homes and lands might end up in Jewish hands.

Although the PA has previously urged Jerusalem Arabs to boycott the municipal election, this is the first time the chief Islamic judge issued such a fatwa.
Meddling in Israeli elections--shocking.

The last-minute appeal to boycott the elections came as three of the four mayoral candidates - Meir Porush, Nir Barkat and Arkadi Gaydamak - were recruiting supporters in the city's Arab neighborhoods.

The three have also been holding low-profile rallies in some Arab neighborhoods with the hope of persuading residents to vote.

Alarmed by these activities, the PA leadership in Ramallah decided to warn Arab voters against casting ballots.
Warn them about what? Voting their economic interest or getting their posterior kicked in some dark alley by loyalist thugs.

The fact is that the new government will have to return to the table; but, it will be with a very different mandate than the Kadima express. Moreover, with uncertainty over what shape US foreign policy will take, to say nothing of the possibility of renewed violence with Hamas when the rickety ceasefire period ends next month, Israelis are feeling more bunkered than before. This is not the time, most feel, to give away anything, much less Jerusalem.

Of course, this will not be the picture that the pollsters will sell. But Israelis are shopworn of biased samples with virtual landslide predictions that ultimately reveal a vastly different picture of reality. Israelis also expect that rate of US spin doctors stirring the election reality pot will vary in intensity by which candidate wins the US elections.

It is important to remember that the cultural icon of Israel is Masada--a lone "city" on the hill where a handful of Zealots stood against elite Roman Legionaires. Olive Branches? That crop is tilled by the enemy and they want everything and give nothing in return.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Shas Endgame: Check and Mate?

By Daniel Jackson

This week, Israelis marked the conclusion of the Festival of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, bidding farewell to the temporary shelter of the sukkah and the four species--the willow, the myrtle, the palm, and the citron that symbolize the human heart, backbone, eyes, and mouth used to assist Holy One, Blessed Be He, in the creation of the world. For the last several weeks, with the heady descent of markets in free fall, rabbis and rebbes reminded their followers that the significance of Sukkot is to remind us all of the temporary nature of plans and futures when measured against the vast expanse of time and creation.

Today, the rabbinic council that directs the Shas Party, concurred that there is one thing that is eternal and not subject real estate negotiation. Stating that division of Jerusalem was not subject to debate, Shas informed the Prime Minister Designate that the party would not join the coalition. Livni's office responded that if the potential partners did not change their mind in three days, they would have to face general elections.

Wow! Imagine that. Ya don't say.

For more than a year, Shas has been working their endgame exchanging housing allowances and low income subsidies for continued participation in the Kadima government. While they never waivered in their monetary demands, the cynical have joked that Shas would eventually sell out Jerusalem in exchange for more apartments or cash and prizes.

Yet, the Shas commitment to a unified Jerusalem is a mainstay for the party and for most of the world's Jews. Olmert, Livni, and Barak have been pressing to give away everything they can (to say nothing of Condi's misty-eyed insistance of a real solution before leaving the miasma) while Israelis have been getting more and more nervous. While most US Jews favor Obama, most Israeli Jews are highly uncertain about what an Obama Israel policy means, although most believe that it will more than likely involve something bad for Israel. Under the Sukkah, my neighbors were dreaming of cashing out their diminishing hedges buying gold but dreading how to move that stuff if necessary.

Nevertheless, as Israel goes into Shabbat, the real question is if Livni will fold and call elections or try to negotiate with Shas. The game board before her gives her a choice of standing firm on a unified Jewish Jerusalem or calling for elections. If she follows Olmert, she'll look to weasel a deal. If she has any moxie, she'll call for elections to distance herself from her former boss and protect her future as a politician.

Unfortunately, it's too close to call.




Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Voting fraud in Nashville

By Donald Sensing

Inoculated blog has details.

[S]omeone was bringing in vanloads of non-English-speaking Mexicans with no identification to one of the Nashville early voting locations. Along with the non-English speaking individuals came a bilingual woman to act as their interpreter. She informed the election personnel that she would accompany the voters into the booth, read the ballot for them, and insure that their vote was cast for the candidates of their choice.

The Davidson County Election Commission, including its Democrat members, decided that the individuals would not be allowed to vote on the grounds that since they were unable to speak, understand, or read English, they could not possibly be citizens, and therefore were not qualified to vote. In addition, Mr. Greer mentioned that these people were unable even to request the assistance of a translator themselves. Accordingly, Ray Barrett, Davidson County Administrator of Elections, instructed his employees to refuse to allow any of these individuals to vote.

However, someone prevailed upon Mr. Barrett to call the state in order to verify the Commission's decision. Brook Thompson, the Tennessee State Election Coordinator, then ordered Mr. Barrett and the Davidson County Election Commission to allow these non-English-speaking individuals to vote through their bilingual interpreter despite their lack of any sort of identification and total unfamiliarity with the English language.
There's more, so read the whole thing. Now consider this excerpt from the official Democrat party platform:
we oppose laws that require identification in order to vote or register to vote
That's on page number 56 of the plaform document, at the linked site it is p. 58 of the total document because the first two pages are not numbered.

I don't need a calculator to add two and two here.

NASA scientist: CO2 not related to climate change

By Donald Sensing

A funny thing happened on the way to the global-warming apocalypse: the earth started to get colder. Now the number of credentialed scientists debunking the notion of anthropogenic global warming is rising faster than the global temperature ever did. Lorne Gunter: Thirty years of warmer temperatures go poof in the National Post:

Don Easterbrook, a geologist at Western Washington University, says, "It's practically a slam dunk that we are in for about 30 years of global cooling," as the sun enters a particularly inactive phase. His examination of warming and cooling trends over the past four centuries shows an "almost exact correlation" between climate fluctuations and solar energy received on Earth, while showing almost "no correlation at all with CO2."

An analytical chemist who works in spectroscopy and atmospheric sensing, Michael J. Myers of Hilton Head, S. C., declared, "Man-made global warming is junk science," explaining that worldwide manmade CO2 emission each year "equals about 0.0168% of the atmosphere's CO2 concentration ... This results in a 0.00064% increase in the absorption of the sun's radiation. This is an insignificantly small number."

Other international scientists have called the manmade warming theory a "hoax," a "fraud" and simply "not credible."

While not stooping to such name-calling, weather-satellite scientists David Douglass of the University of Rochester and John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville nonetheless dealt the True Believers a devastating blow last month.

For nearly 30 years, Professor Christy has been in charge of NASA's eight weather satellites that take more than 300,000 temperature readings daily around the globe. In a paper co-written with Dr. Douglass, he concludes that while manmade emissions may be having a slight impact, "variations in global temperatures since 1978 ... cannot be attributed to carbon dioxide."

Moreover, while the chart below was not produced by Douglass and Christy, it was produced using their data and it clearly shows that in the past four years -- the period corresponding to reduced solar activity -- all of the rise in global temperatures since 1979 has disappeared.
And here is the chart, click to enlarge.


See also, "Good news about global warming!" at Fabius Maximus, which gets the hat tip.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How could they test him?

By Donald Sensing

Joe Biden:

It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. ... Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy. I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate. And he's gonna need help. ... Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right.
Only four or five scenarios? Ralph Peters counts 15 international powder kegs that could blow up in Obama's face, and not just one at a time, either. Of course, they could blow up in McCain's face, too, but ponder Peters' list and imagine first one, then the other candidate in office when (not if) one or several of them do explode. Then, as Harry Callahan would say, ask yourself one question: "Do you feel lucky?"

Heh: Sarah Palin while campaigning today: "The looming crisis that the Obama campaign is most worried about is Joe Biden's next speech."

Powell's endorsement of The One

By Donald Sensing

What do Colin Powell and I have in common? We worked at the Pentagon at the same time. He was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I was a major on the Army staff. I had the occasion to work a handful of times with a couple of officers on Powell's staff, but I never met Gen. Powell himself.

As everyone knows, Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president on Sunday morning. This despite Powell's membership in the Republican party and his service as secretary of state under G.W. Bush.

Why the Obama endorsement? I'll simply point the way to two pieces that explain it very well, IMO. First up, Gerard Van Der Leun's, "Powell Endorsement of Obama Means... Exactly Nothing." Summation: "The meaning of the Powell lie is that endorsing Obama is good, not only for Obama, but first and boremost it is very, very good for Powell. There's no real risk or downside. He's golden."

Second at bat: Mick Wright's, "Colin Powell's Rehabilitation." His bottom line is much the same, that Powell's endorsement of Obama was not much about Obama, it was about Powell, in order to "make an opening for himself in the Leftist super-majority everyone is expecting to seize Washington." I'm not persuaded that Powell is angling for a job in an Obama administration. Powell is 71 and extremely well off financially. I think it's Powell's own idea of his own reputation that is at stake here. Because, as Mick notes, "his stated reasons leave much to be desired."

Quote of the day

By Donald Sensing

"When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set" - Lin Yutang, in comment #18 to Is Obama a “transformational figure”? You don’t know the half of it!, by Roger Kimball, which is also today's must read.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gallup: McCain-Obama a dead heat

By Donald Sensing

Among likely voters, Gallup says that the polling shows Obama at 49 percent, McCain at 47. By any measure, this is a statistical dead heat, too close to call. Further, these numbers do not reflect a post-debate bounce for McCain (not that his performance could give much of a bounce, anyway). McCain's Gallup numbers started rising last weekend. Obama peaked at 51 percent at the same time, stayed level until Oct. 11-13, then dropped.

Gallup's details here.

However, tracking individual states by electoral votes leaves a much grimmer picture for McCain.

Top 10 Scariest Car Features

By Donald Sensing

Cars.com cites the 10 options that it says annoy the most. The only ones I disagree with are numbers 10 and 7, rain-sensing wipers and power-slidin g van side doors, respectively.

As for the automatic wipers,

They generally use infrared sensors to monitor a certain section of the windshield for moisture or dirt, then trigger the wipers to respond according to a threshold the driver sets. They usually work OK — until, invariably, they don't. When one editor's Volkswagen Jetta tester had its rain-sensing wipers suddenly spring to action one cloudless night, it was mildly frightening, to say the least.
My wife's 2005 Volvo V70 wagon has auto-wipers, but you have to turn on the automatic feature every time you start the car. Obviously, if it isn't raining, you don't turn the auto feature on. To activate it, you press a single button on the wiper stalk and the rain-sensing function begins. Then you don't need to touch the wiper control again. The system automatically determines the interval needed to keep the windshield clear, from a delay of several seconds to high-speed motion. I've never yet disagreed with its interval selection. When it stops raining, it stops wiping. You don't really appreciate it to the max until you drive down the interstate through rain of varying intensity, intermittently passing high-spray 18-wheelers. My wife drove in August almost 600 miles through the fading remnants of one of the hurricanes that soaked to Tennessee and North Carolina, and she praised this feature afterward.

In aviation, this kind of thing is called, "reducing pilot load," and once you've used automatic wipers, you'll be glad to pay extra money for them on your next car.

As for electric, remotely-operated van sliding doors, Cars.com says,
But we'll admit the prospect of power doors that can do their thing by remote 20 or 30 feet away can be a bit, um, dicey. They can also add hundreds of dollars to a car's out-the-door sticker. If you're feeling the pinch, go with manual sliders and open 'em yourself.
Obviously, this writer has never walked up to a van with a basketload of groceries, carrying one kid in hsi arms and trying to hold onto the hand of another little tyke. The wife and I are long past that stage, but we had in succession a VW Eurovan and a Chevy Venture, the former with a manual side door, the latter with a power one. Yep, if I was in the market for a van now, I'd pay extra for a power side door, you betcha.

The game ain't over . . .

By Donald Sensing

... until the last play is run.

Federal court orders Obama to prove US citizenship?

By Donald Sensing

See updates at end

Why hasn't this made the mainstream news? The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ordered Barack Obama to produce documented proof of US citizenship. This order was made on Sept. 29, giving Obama three days to comply. The DNC, acting on behalf of Obama, filed a motion to stay, which has halted the discovery process so far.



Link to above - click

I have not read the whole, long document or the whole case history. But the summary of the lawsuit against Obama is that he was actually born in Kenya, not Hawaii, and that when his mother took him to Honolulu later she registered his birth there and obtained for him an Hawaii birth certificate. Subsequently, when Barack was taken to Indonesia by his mother, she took Indonesian citizenship, which coupled with his adoption by his Indonesia stepfather, legally made Obama an Indonesian citizen because of his minor status. Obama, the suit claims, has never renounced Indonesia citizenship nor has he taken an oath of American citizenship. The complainant is one Philip J. Berg, whose original filing is here:



Link to above - click

The overall index of filings, motions and court actions is here.

My original question remains: why have the national media totally ignored this story? Nope, no bias here, nothing to see, move along.

Update: Apparently there is some question, at least to a non-lawyer such as I, whether the judge actually signed the order for discovery of the citizenship documents. Someone who is more cognizant of federal court proceedings than I would be welcome to weigh in and explain just what the present status of the suit is.

Update: Legally, there is probably less here than meets the eye. See the post's comments. Also, although Philip Berg is a former Deputy Attorney General for Pennsylvania and former Democratic candidate for governor, he also has some personal credibility issues. This site points out (at the 1:40 p.m. entry) that Berg "apparently adheres to the idea that the United States government was behind the attacks on September 11, 2001."

Although Berg is a lawyer, it's far from clear that, even if his allegations are true concerning Obama's Indonesian sojourn, Obama's American citizenship was obviated just because his mother took Indonesian citizenship (if in fact she did). Furthermore, Obama's web site admits freely that he held dual-national citizenship as a Kenyan-American, because that was the law governing his birth to a Kenyan father, no matter where the son was born. (At time time Kenya was a British possession.) But, says factcheck.org, his Kenyan citizenship automatically expired on Barack's 18th birthday (see here).

So there seems to be little of merit in Berg's lawsuit. Which would seem to answer why it has garndered little or no mainstream media coverage.

Ganeivah

By Daniel Jackson

In terms of drama, this has to one of the most important events of the season: Joe the Plumber and Obama the Senator. In what could be the high water mark of the campaign, we see an actual member of the Bourgeoisie in confrontation with a member of the Intelligensia carrying the flag for the Proletariat.

As if scripted by Hollywood, Senator Government comes to your neighborhood to tell you he is going to take your money and give it to your neighbors, who are in the street and cheer the news.

Today's the Wall Street Journal Opinion makes the case quite clearly.

Another Obama idea is to give a $3,000 tax credit to companies that create new jobs in the U.S. over the next two years. We don't know many employers who would hire people merely because of a tax credit that barely covers administrative costs, especially if that tax credit vanishes after two years. And especially if Mr. Obama is going to hit that same business with a whopping tax increase. As he told skeptical "Joe the Plumber" -- actually Joe Wurzelbacher of Toledo -- in his own Freudian slip this week, "When you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." But there won't be any wealth to spread if no one creates it.

Mr. Obama is also proposing more "stimulus," by which he means more federal spending. He wants $25 billion in federal aid to states, which would merely subsidize the most profligate state politicians. He wants $25 billion more for a "jobs and growth fund" for schools, roads and other union-driven public works. And he wants $25 billion more in loan guarantees for the Detroit automakers, on top of the $25 billion they've already received.

These ideas reveal that Mr. Obama thinks economic growth derives mainly from growing the government. They merely redistribute money taxed or borrowed from the private sector to favored political constituencies. At least Bill Clinton sold his tax cut in 1993 as a way to reduce the deficit; Mr. Obama is proposing to take federal spending to heights not seen since the early 1980s. If this is his agenda to spur recovery, no wonder the stock market is tanking.
Now, my father, of blessed memory, used to call this sort of thing ganeivah. What's ganeivah? Well, it's what a gonif does. What's a gonif? Why, he's a fella that you meet in the street and talks to you for several minutes. When you go your separate ways, you're standing in the street buck naked and you think the other guy did you a favor.

Don't know about you, but in my neck of the woods, it's getting cold; winter's coming and I'd like to have at least the shirt on my back. The rest of my clothes would be nice, too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Weather Report for the Feast of Tabernacles

By Daniel Jackson


It's Sukkot time in Israel and most of the country is preoccupied with setting up their Sukkah, taking time from work, and travel the country with their kids. While my son, Shmuel, was applying a bit of Brasso to brightwork for our family celebration, Kadima and Labor were thrashing out their unity coalition trying to prevent elections; but most people are not interested. The real focus in Ephrat is not with the political panic of Israel's second string. Rather my neighbors are watching the temptuous financial weather fronts blowing in from the west. Markets, by definition go up and down; but how this will affect diplomacy is the critical question.

Herb Keinon's analysis of the market-diplomacy connection in the printed version of the Jerusalem Post (Monday, October 13, 2008) predicts a cold front in the making. He argues that the financial crisis both in the US and Israel appears to make it easier for the liberal camp in both countries to make political gains. Although he expects an Obama administration to be more activist in stirring the Israeli-Palestinian pot, he does not foresee any significant change. In fact, he suggests the opposite is true. Both contenders, regardless of who is elected, will have to focus on shoring up the domestic financial markets with little time or resources to buy a political solution as promised.

The disappearance of trillions of dollars worldwide will also make it difficult for the international community to pay for an Israeli-Palestinian, or Israeli-Syrian, agreement, even if they miraculously appear. Who would pay for the tens of billions of dollars worth of early warning systems Israel would have to set up following deep withdrawals -- as the Syrians are demanding -- from the Golan Heights?

Who would pay compensation to Palestinian refugees if an agreement were reached that would deny them a "right of return" to pre-1967 Israel, but would recognize their right to compensation? Who would pay for the Palestinian security services or fund the infrastructure if a Palestinian state were agreed upon?

The US? After this month, forget about it.

Europe, the oft-looked-to Middle East payer? Hard to believe that, considering their devastated economies, Europe will be anywhere nearly as generous to the Palestinians in the future as they have been in the past.

The Persian Gulf states? Even in the best of times, it was difficult to get those countries to do more than pledge money to the Palestinian Authority. But now, with oil revenue at nearly a half what it was a few months ago and the stock markets in the Arab countries slipping badly along with the rest of the world's markets, don't expect them to step up and fill in the gaps for the Palestinians.
So where does that leave the Paleostonians? Keinon makes some interesting predictions.

[W]ith the governments of the world now preoccupied with their own economies and the resulting domestinc fallout, the importance of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict right now will likely fade. That fading interest could have negative consequences of its own, because the Palestinians will struggle to make sure their issue does not recede, that it stays front-and-center on the agenda. And if history is any indication, the way the Palestinians keep their cause on the international radar screen is not through letters to the editor or civil disobedience, but through terrorism and other violence.
It is an empirical question for sure. Some support for his analysis comes from Washington, DC, as reported by Arutz Sheva.

Hanna Siniora, co-president of the Israel-Palestinian Center for Research and Information told the Washington Times on Monday that the Middle East has been put on the back burner for now. "We are being shelved for the moment," said the analyst. "And if the crisis deepens, it's bad news for all of the Middle East. There won't be any interest in the government of the U.S. to do anything."
However, Israelis came out of the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles seven day observance to find Rice vowing to work tirelessly (shamelessly?) for a Palestinian peace deal before leaving office. Once again, Condi seems a bit out of sync with reality.

So what help is there? Thank God for Jesse Jackson. Reverend Jackson ALWAYS has a solution.

The New York Post reported Tuesday that the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the United States will rid itself of years of "Zionist" control under an administration headed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

The daily quoted the veteran civil rights leader on Tuesday as having said that although "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades" remain strong, they will lose a much of their clout when Obama enters the White House.
Now, get this. This is my favorite part. Where was the good Reverend speaking? In Evian, the place where the Allied powers turned their back on Europe's Jews trusting them to the hands of the Nazis.

Speaking at the first World Policy Forum event in Evian, France, Jackson promised "fundamental changes" in U.S. foreign policy. He said the most important change would occur in the Middle East, where "decades of putting Israel's interests first" would end. Jackson said that Obama "wants an aggressive and dynamic diplomacy." He went on to criticize the Bush administration's handling of Middle East diplomacy, telling the Post, "Bush was so afraid of a snafu and of upsetting Israel that he gave the whole thing a miss. Barack will change that," because, as long as the Palestinians haven't seen justice, the Middle East will "remain a source of danger to us all." [emphasis added]
Oh great! Just what Israelis need to hear. With Obama, the School Marm departs but is she to be replaced by The Reverend Jesse "Castration" "Hymie Town" Jackson who has the brass to move his bullpucky pulpit to the site of Hitler's Green Light to libel Jews under the guise of "zionism"? The only SNAFU here is Jesse's mouth. Does this guy ever think?

So, as the dreamers look to the recent paltry gains in the NYSE, the oldtimers are taking Keinon's weather report to heart. Maybe Shmueli Jackson should take some of that Brasso and help Jesse Jackson work on his image.

I am shocked, shocked . . .

By Donald Sensing

... to find gambling at Rick's!"

"Surveying the abyss"

By Donald Sensing

Writes Dr. Bob:

The extraordinary instability in the world cannot long endure — and I fear we are ill-prepared in the extreme for the abyss which will follow. We have raised generations to believe they are entitled to ease, wealth, and prosperity; we have taught them through our easy divorces and casual shack-ups that commitment only lasts as long as it feels good, and that love is all about sex; we have failed to provide any framework of character, morality, integrity, and perseverance upon which to rest when all we have taken for granted — the wealth, the comfort, the false security, the easy irresponsibility — crumbles to the ground.

It is long past time to get back to basics — to faith, to church, to principles, to relationships, to integrity. We are, I believe, about to be tested in a most difficult and frightening way — a darkness the likes of which we have not seen before, and may never see again. The provocation may be known, or unknown, be it nuclear terrorism, or some yet-unseen financial collapse; a cataclysmic natural disaster; or a butterfly in some unknown location flapping its wings and setting off a chain reaction which ignites the world in conflagration.

Of course, such prognostications may well be wrong; perhaps naive optimism would be the better course and certainly more pleasant to entertain. But as for me, it is time to focus: to look hard at my spiritual, financial, and relational assumptions, to tune out far more of a chaotic and decaying culture, to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best, while asking God to shine his light of conviction on my life to purify and strengthen it, and hopefully grow in some measure of wisdom. It is time to simplify, to prepare, to fast, to pray, to repent. It is time to stop spending on the frivolous and start giving more generously.

If you are a person of faith, it is time to dig in, hard, and quit playing games — your life may depend on it. If you are skeptical of such matters, consider: upon what will you lean when your world collapses? Will your considered indifference and intellectual smugness about us fools of faith save you? What will you do when all that matters to you is taken, and you are left, finally, profoundly alone with naught but that frightened face in the mirror?

I have slept for too long, as have all of us. It is time to fill the lamps with oil lest they be found empty when the bridegroom arrives.
Read the whole thing. HT: American Digest.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Candidates rush to rescue oil companies

By Donald Sensing

With the price of petroleum having fallen from almost $150 per barrel last summer to about $81, the campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain rushed to outline their respective plans to rescue beleaguered oil companies from nose-diving profits and earnings.

"The Congress has not borrowed anywhere close to the trillions we think it should borrow in order to rescue the economy," said a McCain spokesman. "With that much money left to go, we believe that along with the tens of billions we're giving to car companies, we ought to give a couple hundred billion to ExxonMobil and Texaco, to mention just two examples."
Responding to the McCain proposal, Obama campaign spokesman I. Wright Bikchechs said,
"The McCain plan shows exactly why he cannot be trusted with the global economy. McCain wants to give hundreds of billions away only to American oil companies. But we understand that in a global economy the United States has to bail out foreign companies as well, no matter how many trillions it costs."
Asked about the Bush administration's plan to bail out the OPEC countries because of falling oil prices, the Obama campaign responded, "President-in-waiting Obama has said all along that even George W. Bush has accidentally made correct decisions once in awhile. After all, 'even a blind hog can root up an acorn.' (That's small-letter 'acorn,' to be clear.)"

Asked whether this meant that Sen. Obama was abandoning his plan to raise "windfall" taxes on oil companies, Bikchechs said,
"You have to have a windfall to have a windfall tax. It's clear that the Bush administration's mismanagement of the economy has resulted in cheap oil and falling prices at the gas pump. The American people know that paying less for fuel is bad for them. We're going to give the oil companies billions of dollars until they raise prices enough to return profits to the point where we can raise their taxes."
ExxonMobil CEO and chairman Rex Tillerson bewailed the fact that his company's profits have fallen from $1,400 per second only two months ago to only $900 per second this month.
"Forget the DOW," he told Charles Gibson. "We've lost five hundred dollars per second in profits. That's almost sixteen billion bucks per year. Our shareholders will be able to take only two ski trips to Gstaad this year. Don't tell me that we don't need a bailout."
Asked to respond to Mr. Tillerson's remarks, both Senators McCain and Obama said, "Quite."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ritual Warfare

By Daniel Jackson

On Friday afternoon, our Galil village's internet link was down so we went out to our storage container. There, we ran into Ellie, the son of a good friend, home on Succot leave from the IDF. His unit alternates between Mount Harmon and the Gaza Border. For the last several months, he's been in Gaza.

"Rabbi, the situation is deteriorating rapidly," he told me. "Hamas operatives routinely sneak the fence, unarmed, jump up, and take digital pictures with the flash on to see if we will fire on them. They do the same thing at the gates. It is clear they are testing our reaction time. Our spotters see 'em coming and give us a heads up. But, the time is coming when they won't be using digital cameras. The Big Fight is coming. We can feel it."

As he continued his narrative of challenges, feints, and taunts from over the border fence, I could not help but recall the classic 1965 film, Dead Birds, written by Peter Matthiessen with cinematography by Eliot Elisofon. The film, about the Dani Tribe in the New Guinea Highlands, shows how the entire social structure of the region centers on Ritual Warfare. There are incredible scenes of the Frontier where two tribes meet with their spears to test each side's mettle; scenes where one group of warriors will charge into the no-man's land to draw an enemy into the zone.

In a series of books, the American anthopologist, Marvin Harris, challenged the notion of "ritual warfare" arguing that there was nothing ritual about it. What the film Dead Birds had captured was the beginning of tribal war that later swept the Highlands. Harris argued that the early stages of the intertribal war appeared as a series of border incidents and skirmishes; but, these acts were a signal that the cycle of warfare in the region was beginning anew.

When we got back to our caravan, the internet was back up. The big story on all Israeli MSM websites was the riots gripping Akko. It seems that the border skirmishes have been heating up. On the night of Yom Kippur, the Jewish and Arab quarters of the city erupted in violence. As Debka.com explains:

The ancient town of some 60,000 souls (of which one-third are Arabs) on Israel’s Mediterranean coast north of Haifa had settled down Wednesday night to pray and fast on the Jewish Day of Atonement, on which vehicular traffic customarily stops all over Israel, when a car driven by an Arab resident hurtled at high speed down a mostly-Jewish street on the eastern side of the town.

Witnesses reported that pedestrians fled in panic from its path. The driver refused requests to turn down his blaring radio, whereupon a group of Jewish youths smashed his car windows. He parked, ran into one of the houses and pelted the crowd outside with household objects and curses.

Fifteen minutes later, four more cars drove up packed with Arab youths. They careened around the predominantly Jewish neighborhood shouting “Allah is Great” and “Death to the Jews.” Meanwhile hundreds of young Arabs swarmed through Acre’s main thoroughfare, Ben-Ami Street, smashing and looting hundreds of Jewish shops. They overturned parked cars and knocked over traffic lights, Hebrew signboards and fences.

The police failed to intervene. In fact only half a dozen cops were on duty, none officers and none Jewish. Reinforcements were on hand Thursday night with tear gas and water cannon to break up fights between Jewish and Arab youths. Two Arab-owned apartments were torched Friday night. The occupants were safely evacuated in time.

After Yom Kippur was over, Thursday night, the police commissioner Dudi Cohen, ordered roadblocks set up to divide the mostly Jewish eastern side from the Arab western districts of the town (a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site for its rare antiquities)in the same way as he dismissed the earlier bulldozer attacks in Jerusalem as the work of lone individuals.

At the same time, the forces of law and order tensely awaited the Friday sermons at the mosques and went on alert nationwide, both actions implicitly belying his message that the incident was “local” and Jews were equally at fault for causing it.

But the message was quickly interpreted by Arab lawbreakers as meaning they had a good chance of going scot free, which is a sure guarantee that the outbreaks will spread and “Itbakh al Yahud” – heard in the Hebron pogroms of 1929 and again in 1947 – will again ring out in the Israeli streets of 2008.
However, as of this evening, the riots have resumed despite a large force of mobilized police trying to separate the two factions. As YnetNews.com reports,

The series of violent riots that erupted on Yom Kippur evening in Akko resumed on Saturday evening for the fourth consecutive day. As night fell the clashes between the city's Jewish and Arab residents erupted once more, with both sides hurling rocks towards the others' homes and businesses. Three people were lightly wounded. Police have thus far arrested 10 rioters.
Officially, this is an isolated incident; however, the feint and challenge behaviors that Ellie described were elsewhere.

The IDF arrested two Palestinians on Saturday night who tried infiltrating the West Bank settlement of Mount Bracha.

During the afternoon, a group of Palestinians arrived in order to pick olives in the orchard adjacent to the settlement. Three Palestinians left the group and approached the settlement fence and allegedly tried infiltrating the place. IDF forces identified, chased and arrested them. Two of the suspects were taken in for interrogation. (Efrat Weiss)
The fact is that tensions are increasing along the Arab Israeli seam. An increasing number of "unrelated incidents" of a "ritual warfare" nature have become commonplace as the internal political situation inside Israel continues and the US election campaigns turn domestic with little apparent attention on the Middle East.

How the US election will affect the simmering ritual warfare situation is hard to say but many of my Ephrat and Galil neighbors, when they are not grousing about the financial crisis, which the Islamists say is a sign from God of America's arrogance, are not very hopeful.

Right now, through out the Jewish world, the period between Yom Kippur and Succot is a special time used to prepare for the upcoming Holy Days of the Feast of Tabernacles. This year, there will be special observances in Jerusalem. It is a time of "in-gathering" indeed. It is hard to see if these skirmishes will go beyond the usual unrelated incidents or not. We shall have to keep a weather eye.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Earliest snowfall ever in Boise

By Donald Sensing

The Idaho Statesman reports,

Big snow flakes fell early Friday evening, turning Downtown Boise into a giant snow globe for people on their way home from work. The snow caught many people off guard, including this bicyclist heading down Idaho Street between 8th and 9th around 5:45 p.m. Across the Treasure Valley, tree branches heavy with wet, snow-covered leaves fell on power lines, causing scattered power outages. This is the earliest measurable snowfall in Boise since recordkeeping began in 1898, according to the National Weather Service.
I blame global warming.

Friday, October 10, 2008

In the mail

By Donald Sensing

Just received in the mail - started reading it this morning. Review to be posted when I finish.

Blogrolling.com hacked

By Donald Sensing

Bloggers who use the number one link-indexing service, Blogrolling.com, have noticed in the past couple of days that their blogrolls don't appear on their blogs. It appears that the service has been hacked, probably a denial-of-service attack. At any rate, if you surf to www.blogrolling.com you will get the infamous "cannot display" page. And if you enter that address into Google, here is what turns up:



Will the service recover? Beats me. I sure wish I had kept a record of the dozens of sites I included in my blogroll, though.

Update: The blogroll listing is back, but I still can't access blogrolling.com. One step at a time, I guess.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Auto market to collapse? That ain't all...

By Donald Sensing

J.D. Power and Associates forecasts that as bad as the auto market is this year, next year will be much worse, amounting to an "outright collapse" of the global market. Any kind of recovery is at least 18 months away.

Autoblog reports that 16.5 million units were sold in 2006, but only 13.4 million are predicted for 2009, and that "it could take until 2013 for sales to recover to levels seen just a few years ago."

This despite the fact that petroleum prices have been plummeting, falling today below $88 per barrel.

"Traders are expecting the world to move toward recession, with the U.S. and Europe especially a concern," said Gerard Rigby, an energy analyst with Fuel First Consulting in Sydney. "Based on the short-term trend, you could see prices approaching $80 in next week."

Weighing on prices was evidence of falling demand in the U.S, where crude inventories jumped by 8.1 million barrels last week while gasoline stocks surged 7.2 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration said Wednesday in its weekly inventory report.
Another factor pushing the price of oil lower is that the international market is traded in dollars. When oil spiked to almost $150/barrel earlier this year, it was in part because the dollar was so weak against other major currencies. Because of the worsening international financial situation, currency investors are moving to buy dollars. Why? Because as bad as the case is here in the States (the Dow plunged below 9,000 today for the first time since 2003 and is at 8,600 as I type this, now having lost 38 percent of its value in the last year), it's worse in Europe and Asia, whose national economies are smaller and less robust. This strengthens the dollar against the price of oil.

As well, the international markets decline is decreasing the demand for oil. So how low could oil go? Donald Trump said Sept. 29 that it will drop to $25/barrel. But while that will make driving a lot cheaper, unless the rest of the markets recover, especially the credit markets, the auto industry will still crash.

How bad are things now? Well, consider the fact that Toyota USA, of all companies, is offering zero-percent financing across its model line.

Update: One year ago today, the Dow set its all-time high of 14,164. With today's close of 8,579, the Dow has lost 40 percent of its value in one year.

"Top dozen YouTube gaffes of US election"

By Donald Sensing

Toby Harnden has 'em all.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The dawn of the end of freedom

By Donald Sensing

Updates added at bottom

Kevin Baker of Smallest Minority blog emailed today to point out this observation:

A coup d’état took place in this country during the past two weeks. If you didn’t notice, perhaps you were distracted by the Dolphins whipping the Chargers, or Tina Fey’s grotesque parodies of Sarah Palin, or perhaps you were immersed in blogs trying to prove that Barak Obama is a domestic terrorist. Regardless of the distraction, while our attention was diverted, a revolution took place. No shots were fired, but plenty of blood was shed. The United States ceased to be a capitalist economy and became a managed socialist state. - Syd from Front Sight, Press, The Suicide of Capitalism.

Kevin also referred to my December 2003 post, Bush Republicanism = Roosevelt Democratism? In it, I concluded thus:
I predict that the Bush administration will be seen by freedom-wishing Americans a generation or two hence as the hinge on the cell door locking up our freedom. When my children are my age, they will not be free in any recognizably traditional American meaning of the word. I’d tell them to emigrate, but there’s nowhere left to go. I am left with nauseating near-conviction that I am a member of the last generation in the history of the world that is minimally truly free.
Here we are, five years after that post, and Kevin inquires whether my outlook has changed. Yes, most definitely it has. The demise of freedom in this country has accelerated even faster than I imagined back in 2003. With the unconstitutional power grab embodied in the "bailout" bill that passed last week, the federal government now controls the core of the American economy, the credit and investment markets. This is not one step short of a controlled economy, it is a controlled economy. The secretary kommissar of the treasury now has the permanent mandate to intervene and indeed take control of the markets in any way he sees fit, anytime he desires.

Surely no one is so naive as to think this power will be used only rarely and delicately as time goes on. Rather, the socio-economic engineering urges of future kommissars will be ever less restrained. Remember Steven den Beste's dictum: "The job of bureaucrats is to regulate, and left to their own devices, they will try to regulate everything they can." No one seeks or accepts high, powerful, federal office in order to do little.

I wrote in my 2003 post, ands it is still true today, only worse:
Because the present-day Republicans and Democrats are both big-government activists, they have a foundational philosophy that is the same:
America is a problem to be fixed, and Americans are a people to be managed.
Mark it well: next month we will go to the polls only to elect which politician gets the chance to be the first American proto-despot. The only difference between the outcomes of McCain's or Obama's presidency is how quickly they will accelerate the robbery of the people's rights, not whether they will.

So how slowly does the American electorate wish to commit hari-kiri? We'll know Nov. 5.

Update, Oct. 9: Michhelle Malkin points out the socialist Bush Treasury Department.
Read today’s headline, people: U.S. May Take Ownership Stake in Banks:
Having tried without success to unlock frozen credit markets, the Treasury Department is considering taking ownership stakes in many United States banks to try to restore confidence in the financial system, according to government officials.
And there's this confirming view from Britain:
My view is that Washington has done what is needed to prevent the collapse of the US economy. It has taken over the entire credit system, after all, surpassing Roosevelt's New Deal. ...
... The US government has become a bank. Yes, this is US socialism. What is the alternative?
Update 2: Eric Posner adds,
As the financial system collapses, the banks are increasingly becoming ventriloquist’s dummies for the government. They remain as shells but the government calls the shots. In the case of the commercial paper market, the fiction is not even being maintained: firms borrow directly from the government. People call this process “restoring confidence” in the financial system; but it really just replaces one financial system (a more-or-less private one) with another (a government-run system). It’s as if a hurricane hit a city and the national guard took over food distribution. We don’t say that the government is restoring confidence in the private food distribution system; we say that it is operating the food distribution system, and will do so until the private system recovers on its own.
Except with the government running the financial sectors, the private system will never recover on its own. The government won't let it recover. George Washington warned us: "Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."

Monday, October 6, 2008

We ARE Meshuga

By Daniel Jackson

Daniel Henninger has an excellent article over at OpinionJournal.com on the current Wall Street mess that has invaded the streets of Ephrat and the Middle East in a big way. Henninger's take on the issue: Moral Hazard.


"Moral hazard" is an odd phrase. Its meaning isn't obvious though it does sound like something one ought to avoid. "Moral hazard" dates back hundreds of years in obscurity, but its use eventually settled inside the insurance business in the 19th century. The French call it risque moral.

Back then, it really was taken to mean that reducing risk too much exposed people to the hazard of poor moral judgments. If an insurer charged too little for a policy to replace farms in the English countryside, Farmer Brown might be less careful about cows knocking over oil lamps in the barn.

In time, the economists got their hands on "moral hazard," and the first thing they did was strip out the heavy moral freight to make the concept value-neutral. Now moral hazard became less about judgment and more about the economic "inefficiencies" that occur in riskless environments.
Interesting that Henninger suggests that this term is largely academic. Last night, at a faculty meeting in Jerusalem, this was the very term that surfaced to descibe the same events. However, in that discussion, the term had none of the esoteric connotation Henninger suggests. The term is quite explicit to anyone with a bit of basic economics and a bit of golf--a "hazard" is a sand trap and the "moral", or choice, is which club to use to get to the green, or goal (as oppposed to gaol). In the maritime insurance world, a moral hazard, like a hazard to navigation, is where an underwriter insures a water logged hull for more money than the ship is worth. Dah! Far from being an academic problem, Moral Hazards are the stuff of insurance and regulatory compliance.

But the best part of his piece actually describes the problem in both its economic and moral in the modern sense at the same time.


For all the wailing about the high price being paid now of ignoring manifest risk beneath the mortgage crisis, are we angry at bad decisions that must never be repeated, or just upset that it all blew up? Because if it's the latter, politicians will try to game the system again to get more risk-free benefits.

Even as it passes through the greatest moral-hazard demonstration in history, Congress this week approved, and President Bush signed into law, a $25 billion "loan" to the auto industry. Without a peep of objection from anyone.

Because no creditor will run the real risk of lending Detroit money, Washington will not only make another $25 billion liar loan but do it so the industry can somehow conjure up Congress's mandated alternative-fuel cars. Are we nuts? Absent the discipline of normal risk, why won't this blow up too?
Are We Nuts? You have to lean forward in your chair, spread your arms out to your sides, widen your eyes until they hurt, and shout this phrase at the top of you lungs. ARE WE NUTS?

Think Primal Scream. Indeed, this is the question, dare I say it, of Biblical proportions. Loosely translated into Hebrew, Are We Nuts is MESHUGA, which translated back loosely into something like CRAZY as in "you traded the National Fortune on some magic beans; are you CRAZY?"

This word, MESHUGA, long a staple of Yiddish, is found once in the Torah (Deut. 28:34). In this section, Moses is admonishing the Nation about what the consequences to acknowledge the source of their bounty is not in their cleverness. Their collective arrogance will result in the undoing of their prosperity, which will flow overseas, that they will "go crazy" at total undoing in front of their eyes.

This situation is filled with abounding cleverness. In an effort to promote all aspects of the real estate market, housing stock was created that no one can now afford to buy. Are all those infomercials I used to watch on late night tv about how to become a gazillionaire picking up bank repos now worthless? This sounds like Bob Dylan being Biblical: "You shall sell yourselves to your enemies as bondspeople; but, there will be no buyers (Deut. 28:68)".

From this side of the big pond, the US appears to be suffering from gout and totally self absorbed ignoring Iranian-Syrian-North Korean nuclear deals and Russian fleet deployments--as if they do not exist. The US election has become reduced to a variation of a "You ain't prejudiced, baby?" pick up ploy while Congress is frantic over reelections and Bush is reading retirement flyers.

From over here, the country appears asleep at the wheel.

Talk about hazards--moral and navigation. Are we meshuga? You betcha.