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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

If I was someone who normally went to work each day at some location removed from my home - yesterday would have been a "call in sick" day. I haven’t worked for someone else since the sixties - my last salaried job being with WCIU, Channel 26 in Chicago - so all I did was take it easy at home.

But apart from the physical ailments that kept me away from my computer yesterday, the thing that overwhelmed all other thoughts that I might have wanted to record here was of course the tragic onslaught that nature unleashed against our nation.

I can’t begin to imagine what it is like for survivors in New Orleans and other cities that have been devastated by Katrina. I’ve never been close to anything like it. I was in London for much of the blitz during World War II and it became common to emerge from shelters in the morning to scenes of terrible devastation. But there was always somewhere for the displaced to go. There was always transportation available to take you to safe places. There was always food and drinkable water available. There was no widespread looting. There was never the fear of widespread disease. If gas and electricity were lost, they were soon restored - and there was never a time when the whole city was brought to its knees.

Katrina is our tsunami. It won’t carry the same staggering death toll, but it will take years to recover.

I’m critical of President Bush much of the time in this blog, but today I have at least one complimentary thing to say about him. Some people have been criticizing him for not acting like a "leader" in the midst of this tragedy - saying that he should have stopped vacationing immediately and gone - where? To the center of the devastation to say how much he feels everyone’s pain? Today he made the right decision for the right reason - that the last thing the people who are suffering need is to deal with a Presidential motorcade and all of the hoopla that accompanies any Presidential visit anywhere in the world.

But I’m not so crazy about the decision to release oil from our strategic reserves in order to "ease" prices, which I presume has his stamp of approval. This whole oil business gets nuttier and nuttier every day - and the more we talk about it - the less it makes sense, no matter who is doing the talking.

For example:

Ed Schultz hosts a radio program on about 100 stations that he calls "progressive talk." Loosely translated, that means left leaning - a non-rabid opposite of the RWRAR . The guy’s not bad. He does a professional job and tackles some interesting subjects. I may come back to talk about some of things I hear on his show one of these days, but today I want to zero in on a call to his program the other day from someone who identified himself as being in the financial world. I didn’t catch exactly what it was that he did, but he seemed familiar with the world of commodities because he wanted to make the point that I’ve made here several times - that it is speculators determining the price of crude oil - and subsequently of gasoline. Not people pumping oil out of the ground or owning the tanker fleets or refining the oil or selling the gasoline - but people in trading pits yelling and screaming at each other. And keeping track of whether they are buying or selling and at what price.

Here was someone - the caller - willing and able to cut across all of the oil talk gobbledygook and zero in on how and where the price is determined. Not that there was anything that he had to suggest about how to stem or reverse the flow - just who it was that was telling us what the price should be - and how they went about it. .

Schultz strikes me as a pretty bright guy and you would have thought that he’d welcome someone like this with open arms. Someone who was knowledgeable about the trading of oil futures and was willing to educate the radio audience on how it’s done. Instead, Schultz revealed himself as someone who had been swayed by the conventional wisdom about supply, demand and pricing. This was at the height of Hurricane Katrina and what it was doing to oil facilities along the Gulf Coast. He expressed surprise and doubt at the callers assertions about futures trading. After all, he said, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port handles about 1 million barrels of crude oil a day, or 11 percent of U.S. imports - and it’s been shut down!! Surely that is going to have a major effect on supply. With which no one would disagree. Not the caller to Ed Schultz’s show. Not me. Not anyone with all his digits intact or with access to an abacus .

But the caller emphasized that he was talking about price and how prices were arrived at - - not supply and demand. Those were two separate things. If the price per barrel of crude oil stayed at the same level all week, it would have no effect on the amount of available oil nor on the level of demand - which seems to be steadily increasing.

On another radio program which has neither a left or right leaning bias, I listened to a so called energy expert try to explain the ins and outs of oil and gasoline prices and to his credit, the host of that particular radio program asked the logical question about the relationship between supply, demand and price. "If you can pull into any gas station in the country and fill up with gas" he said - "if there’s plenty of gas for everyone who wants to buy, why would the price be going up every day?" I waited breathlessly for the expert’s reply. At last, I thought, the right question has been asked and we’ll learn the secret of gas pricing. And what a secret. "Aha," said the expert, "It’s because prices are high that there’s no shortage of oil. If prices were to fall, then we might see shortages." I kid you not. That’s what he said.

The rest of what he said was lost in a haze. It was like listening to a broadcast of Alice Goes Through the Looking Glass and Bumps Into the Wizard Of Oz!!

This is madness. One day, we will have renewable sources of fuel for our energy needs and there will be stability in the cost of such energy. But for now, the world runs on oil. This is no time for the oil companies to be robbing us blind. If the cost of that oil is allowed to spiral upwards unchecked, businesses could go down the tubes and some basic necessities could become priced beyond the reach of the average man. It has to stop.

Hawaii has taken a small stand against the nonsense and put a cap on the wholesale price of gasoline. "Experts" were quick to predict that this sort of thing could lead to oil shortages. Really? How about if we put a Federal cap on the wholesale price of gasoline? If such a move were to lead to "shortages," then we could legitimately ask why and let it be understood that gobbledygook would not be acceptable as an answer.

Here’s a quote from an August 25 newspaper story about oil and Katrina - before it had wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast and before it was certain where the brunt of the storm would hit. It was from Phil Flynn , an analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. of Chicago. I don’t know who Phil Flynn is, but he doesn’t sound like a man who minces words when asked for his expert opinion.

"The market really went bonkers about this storm, even more than usual" he said. `That tells me this market is looking for excuses to drive higher.''

That’s the oil "market." Where they decide how much the price of oil is going to be in the months ahead. And the price we’ll be paying for gas.

The emphasis on "excuses" was added by me. It wasn’t in the newspaper story. But really, did it need to be??

Monday, August 29, 2005

I must apologize for my haste in criticizing the letter from Miriam Reik published in the Chicago Tribune. In my comments on August 17, 2005, I called her an anti-Semite - and in doing so I did an injustice to the anti-Semites of the world. The ordinary anti-Semites that is, because she’s not one of them. She’s a special kind of anti-Semite. The Jewish kind!!

I had never heard of Miriam Reik. I don’t move in the far left, anti any kind of war, justice for all, rarefied air world of impractical philosophical intellectuals. I don’t read the journals where they publish their pontifications, And I don’t keep up on the rantings and ravings of anti-Semitic Jews. I barely have the time to keep abreast of a fraction of the rantings and ravings of right wing ranters and ravers - RWRAR to regular readers.

They’re out there of course. I ran a quick google check when I discovered Reik’s background and got 622,000 hits for "anti-Semitic Jews." Here’s a list of just a few of them.

Miriam Reik it seems, is a particularly virulent member of this group of sickos. Had she lived in Germany in the late thirties into the forties, she very likely would have found her natural place in life as a kapo - an overseer in a concentration camp. It couldn’t have happened because Ms. Reik was almost certainly born after World War II - and that’s particularly ironic because , as you can see if you click here and scroll down to the letter she addressed to Colin Powell, she describes herself as the child of Jews who escaped the Holocaust . Actually, I was surprised to find that she wasn’t also a Holocaust Denier.

I did all of this research after I read a letter refuting much of Ms. Reik's nonsensical assertions that that the Tribune published a few days ago. I had been getting ready to again criticize the Tribune for allowing another anti-Semitic/anti-Israel untruthful letter - call it what you will - to go unanswered. It has happened before. But then I opened up the paper and read the letter from Allan Kirson - and was happy to change my mind. For about an hour or two.

As I’ve indicated, I wasn’t familiar with Miriam Reik - and I’m still not all that familiar with her background - except that she is obviously a "cause" person - and she writes letters to newspapers. All kinds of newspapers. All over the place. I found one example of a reader of the Detroit Metro Times, complaining about a pro- Palestinian/anti-Israel letter from a New Yorker being printed in her local paper. Scroll down to "Googler not a reader."

Now I’m about to make a couple of assumptions. I’m assuming that editors who are in charge of selecting letters from "readers" to be published in their letters to the editor sections of their newspapers - specially if they are editors working for the world’s leading newspapers, would be familiar with people like this. I’m assuming she’s on a list and that knowledgeable editors have such a list. I would assume that they would know that people like Miriam Reik aren’t readers of their newspapers per se. They are writers of letters to those newspapers - but not the same kind of writers who live in the local area where the newspaper is published and read. I’m assuming that their interest in the paper is getting their letter published in it - not reading it.

If my assumptions are all correct - and I have reason to believe that they are - I have to ask the question that I’ve raised in this blog before about the "Voice Of The People" section of the Chicago Tribune. Why and how are the letters to this section selected? Who has the final word? Who decides that someone like Miriam Reik of New York is representative of "The Voice Of The People?" Just because she refers to a Tribune editorial, is that a reason to publish a letter that is more like spam than a legitimate disagreement with the Tribune’s point of view? This is someone who probably sends out letters en masse to major newspapers all across the country. Probably round the world too.

She should be known to whoever is responsible for selecting letters to be published in the Tribune. If she is not - why not? And if she is, why was this letter published?

The Chicago Tribune has a "public editor" by the name of Don Wycliff. I’ve written to him about this kind of thing before when there was a brouhaha at the Tribune about an obviously anti-Semitic cartoon. You can find that story in my blog postings of June 3, 4 and 11, 2003 He is the appropriate person to whom these questions that I have about the publication of letters to the editor should be adressed.

Are there any basic or standard criteria for selecting letters for publication?

How many people are involved in the selection process and what are their responsibilities?

Who has the ultimate say about which letters get published?

Are letters vetted for the accuracy of assertions presented as being true?

Does the Tribune maintain a data base of known regular letter writers to newspapers in support of particular causes?

Does the Tribune have any particular policy with regard to such letter writers?

If the Tribune does not maintain any such data base, does it ever run a check - cursory or otherwise, on out of town letter writers? For example, would it or did it, as I did, "google" Miriam Reik before a decision was made to publish her letter?

Other than poor writing or scatological content, are there any other factors that would automatically preclude consideration of a letter for publication in the Tribune and if so, what are they?

And perhaps most important: Does the Tribune consider it fair balance and appropriate observation of the protections of the first amendment to publish a letter containing obvious untruths if it subsequently publishes a letter refuting those untruths?

Mr. Wycliff didn’t respond when I asked him back in June of 2003. Maybe he will this time.

Friday, August 26, 2005

It’s been a long time since I recorded any thoughts on the business of blogging - and I guess that almost isn’t a wrong word to use about the blog phenomenon. Business. It’s that for a lot of people nowadays. For sure it’s less a "phenomenon" than it was a year or two ago. I was listening to the radio this morning and the morning man who hosts the show I listen to was introducing his newest intern to the audience - a 22 year old kid. Sometimes they’re younger. Anyway, her age, which happened to be the same as one of his kids, prompted him to go into a routine that has become popular in recent years - that of listing some of the things that have always existed for someone of a certain age - and some things that they will never have experienced.

For example, for kids entering high school this year, there has always been the Internet - and pretty soon, for kids reaching that scholastic milestone, there will always have been the "BLOGOSPHERE."

"What’s that Grandpa? There wasn’t an Internet when you were a kid? No e-mail? No blogosphere? How did you stay in touch? How could you publish your thoughts?"

I’ve been blogging now for almost two and a half years - and while I enjoy it and frequently have fun doing it - I don’t feel that I’ve ever become a true "member" of the blogosphere. I don’t have any "cause" to which I’m dedicated. I’m not a college professor. My blogging has nothing to do with any particular industry or science or any of the arts. It isn’t devoted to any particular political philosophy. I’m simply recording commentary on whatever grabs my attention or interest at a given moment. It’s more or less a hobby - and a way of putting together a body of work that can be preserved and read by others years from now. There might even be enough good stuff for a vanity book.

The more "professional" blogs that are somewhat like mine - that is, they record commentary, either of a single author or multiple contributors - seem to be more connected to the blogosphere by virtue of links that appear on their home pages. I have to say that sometimes I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of links that I run across when I click on some blog sites. As you can see, this blog is almost link-less. I link to columnist Eric Zorn because I read him in the Chicago Tribune, because he was an early blogger among newspapermen and because when he started blogging, I critiqued his blog and he critiqued me. And because he links to me. And I link to Israpundit because of my interest in Israel. Clicking on Israpundit exposes me to a variety of Israeli thought. Most of what I find there is of a conservative nature - but I can balance that out by reading Haaretz or other Israeli sites that lean more to the left. At one time, I had two other Israel links on my home page, but those blogs, even though they included commentary, were more like personal diaries - and I have no particular interest in looking in on anyone’s personal diary.

A rare exception would be something like riverbend - personal observations of the unfolding scene in Iraq by a 26 year old Iraqi woman who said in her opening post in August 2003 -
A little bit about myself: I'm female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway.
I don’t link to her as you can see. I just drop in on her blog once in a while to get her take on what’s happening in Iraq. And from her blog, I’m able to visit the blogs of other Iraqis.

But I digress.

Israpundit is one of those sites with links that overwhelm. If you look at it, you’ll see links to more than 120 blog sites - and hundreds of links to other sites in nineteen different categories from "Shop Israel" to "Arab/Muslim Media." It’s virtually an Israel information link center. I’m not sure if it’s a better way to find information you may be looking for than typing something specific into a search engine - Google or Yahoo or Dog Pile - but it gives the site a "busy" look, which may be what the hosts and designers want.

Being a busy link site devoted to serious matters, Israpundit has what seems to be the obligatory link to Instapundit - the blog of Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor who has more than two hundred links on his home page. I wrote about my impressions of this blog back on September 15, 2003 and having just looked at it again, my opinion about it hasn’t changed.

I once asked a blogger who I will not name here, why his blog had a link to Instapundit. He wasn’t able to give me an answer that made any sense. His blog was concerned with one small corner of the world. Instapundit is eclectic in subject selection, so I suppose there would be an occasion when single topic bloggers might find some Instapundit comment that related to their area of interest, but what I really gleaned from our e-mail exchange was that it was a coffee table kind of thing. If you want to be a big time blogger, you have to link to the Glenn-meister. It’s said that Instapundit is the most visited of all blog sites. I’ve looked at it. It’s prolific. Reynolds is obviously an intelligent man and enamored with blogging. Beyond that, I don’t know any more today about why it’s the most visited of all blog sites than I did when I visited and wrote about it in September of 2003. Maybe that’s why I’m not a full fledged, card carrying member of the blogosphere. I don’t get it.

In that same blog posting of September 15, 2003, I also criticized the arrival of a blog by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn. If the Tribune was going to have a blog, I said, it could put it to better use than being little more than an extension of the paper for "stuff that it had no room for or wouldn’t bother to publish anyway." Notice, I said if the Tribune was going to have a blog. Back in 2003, that’s what I thought was happening. Blogging was growing in leaps and bounds, so the paper had decided it would get in on the phenomenon and create its own blog and Eric Zorn was going to run it. That’s what I thought. Boy how times have changed. Pull up the Chicago Tribune today and click on "Opinion" and you’ll get a list of the Tribune’s columnists. Scroll down and below that list you’ll find a list of the Tribune’s bloggers. That’s bloggers, plural. The Tribune no longer has "A" blog run by Eric Zorn. Zorn has his own blog and so do several other Tribune columnists who the Tribune is proud to identify for you. "Read ‘em in the paper. Read ‘em on line!" The print medium has embraced the blog medium - if there is such a thing.

I suppose one could conclude that the force driving the marriage between newspapers and blogging today is that a number of big time news stories have been broken by bloggers - the Dan Rather goof with phony documents about the President’s military service being one that immediately leaps to mind - and Newspaper Editors have concluded that blogging has become a legitimate news source and that they need to get close to it.

Since the Rather goof, there’s been a lot of talk about the power of all those individual bloggers out there in cyberspace. They could uncover a story that escaped the major media, post it on their blog sites - and voila - the blogosphere scoops the world and people are forced out of their jobs or made to apologize or just made to look silly. Except that’s not quite how it happens. At least I don’t see it happening quite that way. Bloggers are not quite that powerful. Not even Instapundit.

Think about where you first learned of the Dan Rather faux pas. On your local or national television news program. On the radio. In your daily newspaper. Sure the discovery of the phony documents may have been attributed to bloggers who caught the fraud and wrote about it on their web sites, but how many people actually first came upon the story while reading someone’s weblog??

Without major media picking up and running with the story, it may never have been a story outside of the blogosphere. So while blogs may be tools of influence in news reporting and critical thinking, I don’t see them being able to be so without the aid of major media instruments to call attention to their existence.

With millions of blogs already in existence and more being created every day, the chances of a casual or even not so casual news seeking web surfer coming upon anyone’s particular blog is small indeed. Of course if the surfer is a regular visitor to and perhaps a member of the blogosphere, he knows the addresses of the Instapundit types and how to get to them. But that’s only a minuscule fraction of the blogosphere. Someone like me could discover that the founders of Google are really a couple of escaped Martian convicts and post it here - and the scoop might never see the light of day.

And to prove my point, I’m going to say unequivocally that I’m not kidding. Larry Page and Sergey Brin really are Martian criminals, sentenced to 9,000 cesraps on the moons of Gilligan in our year of 1826. If you want to know the details of when and how they escaped and got to earth, you’ll have to come back to this blog.

Unless of course this revelation finds its way to the front pages of the New York and London Times and is the lead story on all television newscasts tonight and the sole topic of the Sunday talking heads this week-end. In which case I will speedily admit that my knowledge of the blogosphere is even less than I thought it was and I will fall to my knees, genuflect and confess my fealty to the all knowing, all powerful, almighty blog.

This one!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I’d been wondering lately about what had happened to "Doctor" Greg Cynaumon and the product he hawked endlessly on radio and television - "Cortislim." Remember it? It was one of those campaigns that could drive a person nuts. It certainly drove me nuts with a "spokesperson" who came across as phony as a three dollar bill - and when I checked on his background when I wrote about him on December 1, 2004, my gut feelings were confirmed. The guy was a huckster with some suspect Ph.D. from a school that couldn’t be found, but allowing him to use the title and con you into believing that he was a doctor of medicine.

The commercials and the good "doctor" disappeared a few months ago, but when I started to hear radio commercials for a book called "Natural Cures They Don't Want You To Know About," I thought maybe he’d surfaced again. It wasn’t anyone claiming to be a doctor verbalizing the commercial - just a hushed voice telling anyone who wanted to listen that the nation’s pharmaceutical companies were united in their wish for Americans to be sick. According to this whispering revealer of conspiratorial desire, they - the evil consortium of drug manufacturers and distributors, wanted us all to be sick so that we would continue to need and to buy their vastly overpriced medical nostrums.

Now anyone who is a regular or even occasional reader of this blog, knows that I do not have a high opinion of pharmaceutical companies and their predatory practices. In fact, just two days ago, on my blog post that precedes this one, I linked the unconscionable increases in the price of gasoline to the kind of thing that goes on in the pharmaceutical industry. Oil companies can charge pretty much what they like for a gallon of gas and there’s not much we can do about it. And pharmaceutical companies can gouge us five bucks a pill for a medication that we need to stay alive and there’s not much we can do about that either. Pay up or die. The pharmaceutical companies don’t need to want us to be sick. Their prices are enough to make us sick. Very sick if you throw in the price of gasoline!!

But what is this "Natural Cures" book that the drug companies don’t want us to know about - and who is its author Kevin Trudeau? I haven’t seen the book and I doubt that I will get a chance to leaf through it’s contents. It won’t be in any libraries and for sure I’m not going to fork over any of my hard earned cash to support Mr. Trudeau’s con game, so I won’t be able to pen even a mini review. But I have been able to learn something about Mr. Trudeau. His is not a reincarnated Greg Cynaumon, but he’s cut from the same cloth as the good "doctor." He’s a con man. And a convicted felon. And like Greg Cynaumon, he’s been under the watchful eye of the Federal Trade Commission which has been trying to stop him again and again from fleecing a gullible public with his con games.

Despite all of this and despite the accusation by the New York State Consumer Protection Board that the "book" is a fraud , "Natural Cures" is at the top of the New York Times self help best seller list. So I asked myself, what reputable publisher would stoop so low as to become involved in a massive con game? The answer of course is that none would nor did. Not even a disreputable publisher. The guy published it himself. He didn’t need all of the trappings that a legitimate publishing house brings to the table - just the money to finance a series of commercials and "infomercials" that promise something that anyone above the intelligence level of moron should know can’t be delivered. Natural cures for the diseases that ravage mankind that the giant pharmaceutical industry knows all about but doesn’t want you to know about. Presumably in cahoots with your doctor. Heck - if all you need do is to pick up a couple of roots from your back yard to repair your ailing heart or get rid of that cancerous growth that’s squeezing the life out of you - why would you need to spend money to see a doctor? So for sure they don’t want you to know about all these natural cures either!!

There are "natural cures" for a number of ailments that work as well or better than prescription medications - and there are legitimate books that are written from time to time about them. A friend of mine wrote one some years ago that was also on the New York Times best seller list. For two years!! It was called "The Eight Week Cholesterol Cure, " written by one Bob Kowalski. Bob was a medical writer with a great deal of knowledge about medicine, who had had two by-pass surgeries before he wrote his book. Because of those surgeries, he became determined to find a way to control the cholesterol that was trying to kill him. Available remedies weren’t working, so Bob dedicated himself to research and found a remedy - a "natural" remedy that did work. It was only then that he sat down and wrote his book, published by a legitimate book publisher. There was no advertising campaign claiming that pharmaceutical companies didn’t want you to know about what Bob had discovered. Simply that a particular kind of diet and life style regimen yielded dramatic results. It made him healthy as a horse. My cholesterol should be as good as his is!!

Over four million copies of "Natural Cures" have been sold according to Mr. Trudeau. What does that tell us? That there are four million morons with money to burn running loose in the countryside? Or the core stockholder group of Brooklyn Bridge preferred? Maybe not quite something that bizarre. But it certainly says something about the gullibility of people who are looking for miraculous solutions to their problems or their hopes and desires or their fears.

Maybe it tells us something about the way elections turn out. Maybe there’s a partial answer there to the question posed in the front page headline of Britain’s leading tabloid, The Daily Mirror on November 4, 2004, wondering about our election results. HOW CAN 59,054,087 PEOPLE BE SO DUMB? The link to the story may not be active any more but you can read about it in my blog post of that date. That same questioning headline could just as easily be applied to the four million buyers of Mr. Trudeau’s con game. How could they be so dumb?

I don’t know the answer, but maybe it tells us why millions of people will continue to tune in the 700 Club to listen to the utter nonsense spouted by Pat Robertson - and will continue to believe that he is bringing them the "word of God" no matter how many world leaders he proclaims worthy of assassination by the U.S. How could they be so dumb?

What amazes me is that a legitimate "natural cure" book and a con job like "Natural Cures They Don’t Want You To Know About" could both find their way to the top of the New York Times best seller list. Kevin Trudeau’s book is an obvious con job. Just the stupid advertising campaign should have been enough to tell anyone with average intelligence that it was a con job. A big come on. Bob Kowalski’s book got there because he worked hard at getting it noticed, because he could be on panel discussions with doctors who didn’t challenge his research - but also because very soon after it was in circulation, genuine word of mouth called attention to the fact that Bob’s "cure" worked!!

You can see from the news reports what the word of mouth is about Kevin Trudeau’s snow job. One can only hope that it will work as appropriately for "Natural Cures" as it did for Bob’s Cholesterol Cure - and get it off the best seller list and into the dumpster where it belongs.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I’m not sure why I didn’t post any comments here last Friday. Maybe because I was tired. Or maybe because my mind was wandering - thinking about the good old days when you didn’t have to check your bank balance before you filled the tank of your car.

Ah the good old days.

January 18, 1966 was a red letter day in the stock market. It was the day when the Dow first hit 1,000. It didn’t close at or above 1,000. That took almost seven more years, until November 14, 1972. But it was 1966 when the magic four figure value of the Dow first made an appearance.

In those days - in the middle to late sixties and early seventies, gas ranged from the high teens to 25 cents a gallon. I bought a 1973 Pontiac Catalina for $4800 that got all of eight miles to the gallon and it didn’t bother me one bit.

Whatever you paid for a house in those days would cost ten times as much today.

Those golden olden days are gone forever. They’re never coming back. Prices move in only one direction and it isn’t sideways or down.

For most of those increases, there is a logical explanation and it’s primarily the wage price spiral. Or the chicken and egg syndrome. You ask the boss for more money - or your union does - and in order to give you the raise he needs to ask more for his product or service, which then costs you more, so you or your union come cap in hand back to the boss because your expenses have gone up and on and on ad infinitum. Or it starts with price increases which leads to the need to earn more money etc.

But what’s happening to crude oil and gasoline prices doesn’t fit neatly into that pattern at all. My house didn’t jump 50% in value between last year and this. Nor did my income. And I can’t think of anything that costs 13, 14 or 15 times today than it did 30 to 35 years ago other than gasoline. The only thing that comes close to what’s been happening to crude oil prices is what the pharmaceutical companies are doing. Screwing us. While our benevolent government looks on!

What we get when we try to understand why some of us are having to take out loans in order to be able to drive our cars to work or to the store, is the expertise of gobbledygook. It happens every time there’s a spike in gasoline prices. We hear talk of "increased demand" and "refinery capacity" and "adjusted for inflation" and this and that fear of something that may or may not happen. And we try to make sense of it all even if we don’t really understand it.

What the experts don’t say too much about is something that most of us simple folk do understand. PROFITS Our net worth may be going down as we fill up our tanks, but huge amounts of money are being made off the prices that we are paying. The oil producing nations and companies. And the speculators. No one ever talks about them, but when you hear about the price of crude oil dropping a buck or so because of profit taking - that’s who they’re talking about. And it could be you or me if we trade commodities and if our broker has us trading crude oil futures. It isn’t the oil producing countries or the oil companies that "took profits" when the futures price dropped a fraction. They’re raking it in all the time.

So what is going on? The oil companies have always made profits. Big profits. They made money when gas was less than 20 cents a gallon. And they’re making unconscionable amounts of money now. And now as then, the gasoline flows without a break. Despite everything we hear about increased demand and reduced or static refining capacity, there’s no shortage of gasoline. There are no stations with signs saying "sorry - our gas allotment all used up - come back next week or month."

There are no cataclysmic events taking place from day to day that affect the production or cost of crude oil so why are the prices going up in leaps and bounds and who are the people moving the prices up? Remember, they are all futures prices. I don’t know about you, but I’m not in the least bit satisfied with the gobbledygook that we are getting from the "experts." There are people or cadres of people moving these prices up - and someone needs to ask who they are - or tell us who they are. We shouldn’t accept the stories we are being told. We need to ask who is pushing these prices up day by day. It’s not the sheiks standing at the well heads asking for more money each day. Names. We should ask for names.

I have a feeling that if we were able to publish the names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails of the individual people who are deciding what the price of crude oil should be from day to day, it would start to be a hell of a lot less - for reasons that the experts would hasten to tell us with a whole revised line of gobbledygook.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

One would think that through sharing mutual tragedies, people would become united. It certainly was the case during the London blitz of World War II. It didn’t matter who you were or what your religion or your politics were, everyone was united in their determination to overcome the aerial onslaught and the tragedies it brought. No one questioned the conflict in which England was involved along with us - and no one blamed their leaders for the death of civilians during the blitz, or military personnel in battle.

But apparently, in this day and age in the United States of America, there are forces far stronger then the unity of shared tragedy - forces that can overcome the feeling of comradeship among people who have suffered similar losses and set those people against each other as mortal enemies. There’s the combined force of political, philosophical and religious belief. Throw in a dash of anti-Semitism and you now have a force that is not only setting grieving parents of children lost in the Iraq war against each other, but moving other philosophical and political allies into opposing camps.

How sad, that the odyssey of Cindy Sheehan has devolved into something nasty, with attacks being launched at her by other parents who have suffered the same loss as she, with an incredible barrage from right wing ranters and ravers and from both pro and anti-Israel and anti-Semitic groups.

Now there is as much argument over whether or not she is being "used" by a variety of groups on the left or whether or not she is anti-Semitic - as there is about her challenge to the President to explain the "noble cause" for which her son died.

What bugs me about all of this bitterness is that George Bush, who came to power claiming to be "a uniter, not a divider," could have stopped it in its tracks by doing what I suggested he should have done in my comments of August 15. There is no way he would have set a precedent by inviting Cindy Sheehan to breakfast or lunch. There aren’t hundreds of Cindy Sheehans out there who would try to do the same thing - and even if they did, the President could have legitimately made the point that while he sympathized with their feelings, he just couldn’t meet with each and every one of them. Sheehan was the symbol. Had he dealt with the symbol before it became the focal point of what is degenerating into a maelstrom of bitter recrimination , he would have lived up to his promise of being a uniter . He could have poured cold water on the war of words that has erupted on radio, on television, in newspapers and magazines and on the Internet. He could have shown wisdom.

Cindy Sheehan is a grieving mother who is doing what she is doing because she lost her son in a war that she doesn’t believe we should have started. She may have some twisted ideas about why we went to war. She may have some twisted ideas about who has the ear of George Bush and can influence his thinking. She may be an anti-Semite. She may even be the "nut" that some people believe her to be.

But I can’t blame her for the divisive storm that now surrounds her and moves the rest of us even further apart over our involvement in Iraq. I blame the President for his inability or lack of desire, to act in a way that at least stands a chance - if not of uniting us - at least not exacerbating the division that’s already there.

For my money, he blew it - and now he and the rest of us will have to deal with the consequences - which I think will get a lot uglier before they go away.

Killer At Large?

On August 2, I wrote about what seemed to me to be a lack of rhyme or reason when it came to allowing or not allowing bond to people accused of committing serious crimes. Like murder.

As an example, I cited the case of two people accused of beating a young student to death for no apparent reason. A high bond was set for the accused, but one of them, Muaz Haffar, was able to make it and he hasn’t been seen since. He’s a fugitive from justice.

The murdered man’s name was Tombol Malik and a web site has been created, presumably by his family, to help in the task of tracking him down and bringing him to justice. I’ve been asked to post a link to the site which I’m happy to do, though I doubt that this blog is read by anyone in places where Haffar might be hiding. Still, you never know, so here it is.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Following up on my comments about the withdrawal from the Gaza strip, it’s inevitable that I need to comment on another inevitability - the outpouring of anti-Israel invective that has become a routine response to any action that Israel takes to defend itself or strengthen its security.

There were three reader comments about Israel published in the Chicago Tribune today , two of which caught my eye, partly because of what they said and party because of who they were from. One was from a local reader with a decidedly Jewish signature who was against the whole concept of Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. He called them illegal - a perfectly legitimate position held by many Jews, in and out of Israel. But one has to get suspicious when the writer refers to any expansion beyond Israel’s 1948 borders following the 1967 war as being due to "extremist messianic movement."

The "1948 border" reference was a red flag to me, but apparently not to the editors of the Chicago Tribune’s "Voice Of The People" section, with whom I’ve had strong disagreement on many an occasion.

Anyone who thinks that after four major wars and 57 years of non stop armed conflict, Israel’s borders should be the same as they were in 1948, sounds like someone who doesn’t believe that there should even be an Israel. But I guess the Tribune editors who selected this letter for publication thought it was some kind of democratic triumph - a Jewish reader who could double as spokesman for Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. A Jew who sympathized and agreed with Israel’s enemies.

The second letter I have reproduced below because it may not always be available on the Tribune web site. It was published under the heading DEFINING ISRAEL and was in response to a recent Tribune editorial
When your editorial claimed that disengagement from Gaza is necessary to "preserve the Jewish and democratic nature of Israel," I knew that the Zionist narrative had won the hearts and minds of the Tribune.

Disengagement from Gaza is necessary for all kinds of reasons. But it will never preserve the Jewish and democratic nature of Israel, which is one of modern history's great fraudulent phrases.

It is a contradiction in terms for a state to be both Jewish and democratic since, by its nature, those not Jewish become lesser citizens.

Israeli discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens is well-documented, and ranges from prohibitions against their ability to purchase land to grossly reduced municipal and state services compared to Jews.

For the Tribune to repeat the phrase without a thought to its inherent illogic shows the extent to which the Zionist narrative has already triumphed in your offices.
This one caught my eye, first because it was from a "reader" in New York. I put "reader" in quotes because in the age of the computer, anyone, anywhere in the world can be a reader of major newspapers. I doubt if this New Yorker is a subscriber to the Chicago Tribune. What I don’t doubt - not for a New York minute - is that she - it was a female signature - is a raging anti-Semite, something that Tribune editors find hard to identify. Sometimes I wonder if a letter writer who cited "The Protocols of The Elders of Zion" as authority would send up a red flag for the editors responsible for the "Voice of the People" page.

Some comments that I made on June 3, 4 and 11, 2003 are descriptive of the insensitivity of the Tribune editors on the matter of anti-Semitism. They don’t seemed to have learned anything over the past two years.

What part of this idiot’s letter cries out its true message? Inability of Arab Israeli citizens to purchase land in Israel? Can anyone describing themselves as an Israeli Jew purchase one inch of Arab soil in any part of the better than five million square miles of land in 22 Arab nations?? I won’t bother with that one. Yes there are problems, but compared to the reverse which I have illustrated with my rhetorical question, the real estate market in Israel for its Arab citizens, is heaven on earth.

The use of the phrase "Zionist Narrative" could be right out of the PLO code book under the sub-heading "talking points." But I won’t bother with that one either. It speaks for itself.

But I will bother with the despicable canard that it is fraudulent to call Israel a democracy because it proclaims itself to be a Jewish state. If ever a country was too democratic with its cockamamie system of multiple parties - including Arab parties - able to have representation in the Knesset, it is Israel.

It’s because of that cockamamie democratic system that there is the constant need for compromise in making governmental decisions.

Israel can’t be a Jewish state and democratic at the same time? That’s fraudulent? Then I guess as long as Queen Elizabeth is "Defender of the Faith" and the Church of England is the official faith of the United Kingdom, there can’t be any British democracy. I guess that means that any Brit who worships in a Synagogue or Mosque is a second class citizen who can’t buy a house or vote or get elected to parliament. Maybe that’s why the Conservatives can’t oust Tony Blair and his Labour Party. They’ve got that damned second class Jew citizen Michael Howard heading up their party!!

It wouldn’t do any good to try to explain the complexities of "Judaism" or what it means for Israel to be a "Jewish" state to our New York anti-Semite, but if she should ever come across this blog, I’ll make an observation or two here for her to absorb. Judaism is a religion, that’s true. It was the religion of the individual who is worshipped by millions today as "The Son of God." But it is also a tribe - a "peoplehood" if you will. One does not have to practice a religious faith to be a Jew. One can be an atheist. But if one’s ancestry is Jewish, then one is a Jew. Just as Arabs are Arabs by their ancestry, whether or not they practice Islam. If an Arab is an American, his hyphenated description would be Arab-American, not Islamic or Muslim- American. Do you think the Nazis gave a tinker’s damn about the religion of the Jews they rounded up and sent to be slaughtered? They could have been practicing Catholics but it was their heritage that classified them as being Jews.

If anyone is still confused , I’ll finish the thought that was not spelled out but that was clearly expressed in this analytical letter that the Chicago Tribune thought worthy of exposure to its readers. It's what this letter writer would prefer. Not any particular kind of democratic state. Just a state that isn't Jewish. But the likelihood of a non-Jewish state of Israel remaining a democracy would be shaky indeed. If Israel was to abandon its unique status as a haven for a people that has been persecuted and slaughtered for two thousand years and opened its borders to all who wished to live there - how long do you think it would be before the one democracy of the Middle East disappeared? Without a Jewish majority, does anyone really think that Israel would still be a democracy?

No, New York letter writer. You know it as well as I know it. Israel is a democracy in the midst of the non-democratic Arab world because it is a Jewish state. And if that bugs you - great. Choke on it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The forced evacuation of 9,000 Israelis from the Gaza strip has begun - and as I watch the story and the pictures unfold, I am filled with a sense of sadness - even despair. Supposedly knowledgeable people from both sides of the conflict - and from knowledgeable observers around the world - are saying that this is a good thing. That it is a beginning - a move toward a Palestinian state that will live side by side and in peace with Israel. But I have to wonder. There were some 9,000 Israelis living among 1.3 or 1.4 million Arabs in the Gaza strip. By themselves, they represented no danger to the huge Arab population. Yet militant Palestinians waged unrelenting war against them, requiring the presence and fire power of Israeli troops to protect them. Now there’s a hope that by uprooting this handful of people - including the remains of their dead - and by destroying their homes and places of worship - an important step will have been taken toward achieving an eventual peace agreement between Israel and a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.

I hope the pundits are right, because a huge sacrifice is being made by the settlers - and it will be an even bigger sacrifice if, after they’ve gone and the Israeli military presence is gone - nothing changes.

I’ve always felt that the approach to peace between the warring parties has been from the wrong direction. Instead of starting from the proposition that the two peoples have to live together on disputed land, as I suggested only partly tongue-in-cheek on October 13, 2003, the Gaza move is saying that the two peoples can’t live together in peace. That peace can only come when they are separated.

In Gaza, that means when the Israeli military leaves . But if the Palestinian residents of Gaza had concluded that maybe 9,000 Israeli settlers didn’t represent any kind of threat - and could live peacefully and to their mutual advantage among them - as 1.2 million Arabs live peacefully inside Israel proper, there would not have been the need for the hated Israeli military presence. There would have been no need for military contingents to guard the sprinkling of settlements. There would have been no need for checkpoints and for other restrictions on the lives of Gaza’s Palestinian Arabs.

Of course I hope that the pull out will turn out to be a positive step on the road to eventual peaceful relations between two democratic states. I desperately want it to be. All sane people do. But I’m not holding my breath. So far, the move has been greeted by Palestinians with the slogan "Today Gaza - Tomorrow Jerusalem." Whether that will be the reaction of a majority of Palestinians remains to be seen. I recommend reading Daniel Pipes’ analysis of the situation - with which , for the moment, sadly, I am inclined to agree.

2.45 p.m.

More On Cindy Sheehan

The right wing response to Cindy Sheehan was of course predictable and expected by her. Attack the messenger. Smear. And it probably also should have been expected that the attacks would go over the top, since there seems to be no limit to how low they will stoop to smear those with whom they disagree. Like accusing Democratic Congressional candidate Paul Hacket of serving in Iraq to "pad his resume." Still, each time they stoop a little lower, it surprises. You want to believe that these people are still fellow Americans and that even if they play hardball when it comes to political battles, they understand that our system calls upon us to respect certain limits of behavior. You want to believe it, but the effort seems to be an exercise in futility.

We now have had guns being fired in the area. Not at someone as far as we know, but certainly not unconnected to Mrs. Sheehan being in the neighborhood. And the shooter? Larry Mattiage, a neighbor of the President, whose explanation was that "this is Texas" and as to a motive - "figure it out for yourself." And some Bush supporters thought it was an appropriate counter protest to run over some of the memorial crosses that have been erected along the road.

And of course they have picked out words and phrases from comments made by Mrs. Sheehan after her previous meeting with Mr. Bush, to make it look as though she once supported him and had since "changed her mind." Those who blindly support the President of course repeat this garbage as though it were gospel. Why bother to check if it agrees with your pre-conceived beliefs? Besides, it takes effort to look for facts, even when you can find them all over the place on line. Like here.

It’s astonishing really. You have to wonder if some of these right wing nuts who are attacking Cindy Sheehan and calling her a "tool" of left wing activists have ever had children. Can they possibly understand the agony of a mother whose young son has had his life cut short in a war that she doesn’t understand and that more than half the nation now think was a mistake and that we were sold a pack of lies about why it was necessary? Can they understand what such a death can do to a family where the parents are divided on the need for the war in which their son died? Can they not imagine that the loss was so great to Casey Sheehan’s mother, that after recovering from the state of shock that she was in when she first met with the President, she felt compelled to do something about it - something like asking Mr. Bush to explain the "noble cause" for which her son died and to lobby to bring the troops home? Before more die in a war that she and more than 50% of the nation no longer support. Why do they insist that she must be a "tool" of anyone? I think the war was a mistake and based on lies and deceit. I’m not an activist nor a member of any activist group - left or right - but does my belief, which I write about here - I guess that’s a form of activism - make me a "tool" of any such organization?

I am the father of two children and the grandfather of four grandchildren. If any of them were to die in a war that I thought was fraudulent, I imagine I would go bananas and want someone’s head on a platter. And if any extremist nut from anywhere on the political spectrum criticized my feelings and anything I did to express them that was within the law, it would be their ignorant heads that I would be after.

Monday, August 15, 2005

If you look on google or any other search engine, you’ll find a variety of versions of philosopher George Santayana’s warning about those who cannot remember the past being condemned to repeat it. But whichever way you say it, the meaning is clear. If you don’t learn anything from mistakes that have been made in the past, chances are you’re going to make the same mistakes in the future. And whichever way you say it, you can apply it to the way that American Presidents keep deciding how to handle potentially embarrassing problems.

We had the Nixon stonewall - the decision to cover up Watergate instead of coming clean, which would have stopped the impeachment express in its tracks. We had Clinton looking into the camera and lying about having sex with Monica Lewinsky. If he’d admitted it or at least said none of your business - if he just hadn’t lied, his impeachment express would have been derailed as soon as it left the station.

And now we have the troubles of Dubya down at the ranch. No, he’s not about to be impeached for lying to the American public about Iraq. Even if the Democrats take over the House and Senate at the next election, he won’t be impeached . I’m talking about the troubles he has dealing with Cindy Sheehan. Or maybe I should say the troubles he has not dealing with Cindy Sheehan.

This was a non story when it started out - or at least no more than a paragraph on an inside page of the paper and a tag line at the end of the news. And it would have remained a non story if - as soon as she showed up - the President had sent an aide to bring her up to the ranch for coffee - or for breakfast or lunch or for any other kind of get together. All he needed to do was to be as friendly and charming with her as he is capable of being without conceding that the invasion of Iraq was wrong in any way, which of course he wasn’t going to do and which no one would expect him to do. After all, this is the man who never admits that he is wrong about anything.

He wouldn’t have satisfied Mrs. Sheehan, but the news value of the story would have gone away. Having given her the personal one on one meeting that she had asked for, there would have been little sympathy for her to have continued to stand by the roadside with anti war signs. Even the most ardent opponents of the Iraq policy would have recognized the negative value of continuing that kind of protest after the President had been gracious toward her.

So you have to wonder why he has adopted the stance of hanging tough. Of refusing to take the obvious steps of disarming her by being disarming. After all, he has the brain of political genius Karl Rove working for him. How could a Karl Rove allow this affair to degenerate into the public relations disaster that it has become? That’s the question that political pundits from both ends of the political spectrum are asking, including people who operate inside the beltway and should know what the hell is going on.

Well, I don’t operate inside the beltway. Heck, I don’t think they’d let me in. Even if I came with the proceeds of a dozen fund raisers. But I think I know the answer to the question. And it’s not that there’s a Federally funded PR firm, chartered in 1796, that advises ALL Presidents on embarrassing or potentially embarrassing matters. It is simply that while Mr. Rove may be a political genius, it is a highly specialized genius. He is an attack genius. He is a maestro of political dirty tricks. He is the master of the character smear. His expertise is in destruction, not in construction. He simply wouldn’t understand the genius of doing the right thing - of disarming an opponent by being charming to that opponent.

In fact he probably thinks that its a great idea for the right wing talking heads to be attacking Mrs. Sheehan and her "motives" as they have been doing almost from the start of this story. Who knows, they may be working from talking points put out by the assault master himself.

I hope I’m right because it’s working. The protest in Texas - and sympathy for Cindy Sheehan - is growing and the President’s response is making him look more idiotic every day. Maybe it’ll carry over to the mid term elections and help our chances to take a detour from the road to political extremism that we’ve been on for the past half dozen years.

Friday, August 12, 2005

I’ve been looking at some of the right wing blog postings and making note of some of the right wing callers to left leaning radio talk shows - of which there are painfully few - and much of what I read and hear is laughable - but at the same time irritating - and to some degree scary because many of these people seem to believe what they write and what they say.

A common theme coming from the right is that those with opposing political views are "Un-American." It is Un-American in their view to be critical of the administration, its policies and particularly its military actions. If you are critical of what we are doing in Iraq you are Un-American. If you are critical of the lack of sufficient equipment for our troops in Iraq, you are giving aid and comfort to the enemy and you are harming the morale of our service personnel and that is Un-American. . If you are supportive of the ACLU you are Un-American. If you are the ACLU you are not just Un-American but subversively so. The fact that the ACLU would support your right to say that - in court if necessary - somehow doesn’t register with these folks.

I do not find that kind of invective coming from the left. Not that there’s any lack of invective of other kinds. Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and the rest are attacked viciously and regularly. They are called every name in the book. Their policies are ridiculed. They are called liars. But I can’t find any left leaning commentators or bloggers or talk show hosts who accuse them of being "Un-American." What I do find is that they laugh at this whole business of classifying people as being "Un-American" if they don’t see things the way you see them. They laugh at anyone who doesn’t seem to grasp that that is the very essence of what being "American" is all about.

I’m not saying that those on the left have never used the "Un-American" gimmick as a political ploy. After all, the Democrats had control of the House when the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee was created in the 30’s. They just haven’t used it in recent times. It’s a "weapon" that "belongs" to the right and its use makes its users look and sound stupid. But it’s one thing to sound stupid and entirely another to be so stupid as to believe that because someone doesn’t buy into your political views, they are "Un-American." Not "uninformed" or "uneducated" or "unsophisticated" but Un-American!! That’s a scary thing. That’s Germany of the 30’s.

Some of the things that I’ve heard right wingers say when calling left leaning radio talk shows have sounded just as stupid. A couple of such calls from the other day stuck in my mind, both relating to the invasion of Iraq. Somehow, a whole bunch of people have not just bought into the fiction that Iraq had something to do with the 9/11 attack, but have come up with their own ideas about why invading that country was the right thing to do and how we have benefited from it.

Caller number one had little time to waste on the various justifications that have been offered by the President. To him, weapons of mass destruction, missiles ready to launch in 45 minutes and bringing freedom to an oppressed nation weren’t needed as reasons to invade Iraq. No sir. Iraq had fired at our planes patrolling the "no fly zones" - and that was a "violation" of an "agreement" and more than sufficient justification to retaliate by invading the country. This guy would qualify for honorary membership in the Holocaust Denial Society. The trouble with his reasoning is that the two "no fly zones" - allegedly created to make sure that there were no aerial attacks on the Kurds in the north and the Shi’as in the south, were never authorized by the United Nations and for sure were never "agreed" to by Saddam Hussein. And we and the Brits were bombing Iraqi targets at will during a time when there was no official war - except for the softening up of Iraqi defenses in advance of the planned invasion to get rid of all those menacing weapons of mass destruction. But this caller had created his own version of an "agreement" that had been "violated" - and of course we were entitled to respond by invading Iraq. And he couldn’t understand how we were so uninformed as to not understand that!!!

Caller number two had his own version of Dubya’s assertion that "we’re fighting the terrorists there so that we won’t have to fight them here. " With smug self assurance, he first said we were doing exactly the right thing in the right place at the right moment in history and to "prove" it, he asked rhetorically how many 9/11 type attacks had occurred since we invaded Iraq - and of course answered his own question with a triumphant flourish. We invaded Iraq. No subsequent 9/11 attacks. QED in the world of idiot syllogism.

The program host could have pointed out that there hadn’t been any more 9/11 type of attacks since Jaylo and Ben Affleck broke up either. Or asked how many 9/11 type attacks had been successfully carried out before 9/11/2001. Or how many suicide bombings a day had occurred in Iraq before we invaded. But he didn’t. He tried to engage the smug one in an exercise in logic to see how one arrived at his particular brand of quod erat demonstrandum. It was of course an exercise in futility. He, the caller, knew!! He, the liberal program host, just didn’t understand.

Left leaning people say a lot of stupid things too, but they’d have to go some to match the idiocy of these examples.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I’m as happy as can be at the successful conclusion of the recent space shuttle flight. I was almost ready to applaud when I heard that Discovery had touched down in California without incident.

For a while there, shuttle flights had become so routine that there was little if any live coverage of launches or touch downs. Then came January 28, 1986. To this day, when a shuttle flight takes off, I close my eyes, cross my fingers and hold my breath when the command "go with throttle up" is heard.

And in the wake of February1, 2003 , when Columbia disintegrated above Texas as it was coming in for a landing, I was holding my breath yesterday as Discovery came in for its delayed and re-directed landing.

Now there’s talk of closing down the whole shuttle program and moving on to the next step in space flight - whatever that might be. And while I don’t know what that "next step" might be, I’m pretty damn sure that one day in the future, what we’ve been doing up to now will be looked back upon as the stone age of space flight!!

People a thousand or five thousand or ten thousand years from now, will likely look back on these times and wonder how on earth these primitive machines of ours ever got off the earth at all!! And what kind of crazy people risked their lives manning them.

But we don’t have to project that far into the future to shake our heads in disbelief over how primitive the shuttle program really is. Just think about it. In order for the vehicle to take off at all, it has to be attached to a great big rocket whose only function is to carry the shuttle into space before it detaches and falls back to earth - hoping that pieces of it won’t break off and hit the shuttle and virtually doom it - as happened to Columbia two years ago.

But as risky as that whole launch sequence is, it can’t be done at the convenience of everyone involved - the flight crew, the ground personnel, the television cameras and the talking news heads. There is a very narrow window of time during which the launch can take place - a period of ten minutes or less. Miss it and you have to wait till the next day - weather permitting. Imagine applying that restriction to our common modes of transportation. A "window of time" during which a plane or a train or a bus can leave for its destination. And if that "window" is missed - sorry folks. Come back tomorrow and we’ll try again. Beginning to sound primitive?

And then, assuming that you can finally have everything fall into place so that you can get that lumbering thing into orbit, there is the same kind of risk and restriction bringing it back to earth. At the speed at which the shuttle enters the atmosphere, enormous heat is generated on the vehicle’s outer surface - and the only thing preventing it from disintegrating into a blazing mass of metal - and killing everyone inside - is a coating of glued on silica fiber compound tiles. But those are tiles that can break off - as they did with the 2003 Columbia mission - and the same worry overshadowed the entire two weeks of the Discovery mission.

But even if the tiles remain intact and there are no "filler" pieces sticking out between the tiles that could screw up the shuttle’s descent - there’s the problem of weather. This isn’t a jumbo jet that can land under very controlled circumstances in virtually any kind of weather - or that can divert to a nearby airport if the weather is just too bad to land. If the weather isn’t good enough to land at the planned site, the shuttle has to make a few more orbits and land at one of a couple of alternate sites. And if the weather is bad everywhere - I guess it has to pick a site and take its chances.

But surely the most primitive thing about the return flight has to be that as it comes into earth’s atmosphere and prepares to land, it is without power. It lands like a glider - albeit a glider weighing many tons. It has to be done right or it can’t be done at all. There are no powered engines to do a "go around" if the descent isn’t perfect. So when it finally does touch down and a chute is deployed to slow down its path along the runway, it’s highly appropriate for sighs of relief to be released and for voices to be raised in triumph and gratitude, because a successful return under the primitive conditions under which each flight is undertaken, can truly be regarded as miraculous.

When our descendants look back at this era many thousands of years from now, they won’t be holding their breath as their space vehicles take off and return to earth. Their shuttles or deep space vehicles, won’t require rockets to be attached to them to lift them out of the atmosphere, to be discarded when their propulsion fuel is spent. If they leave from the earth at all and not from a space dock in orbit around the earth, they will rise slowly and magnificently, powered by a combination of an anti gravity device and a fuel that provides propulsion at a slow and steady pace without expending even a fraction of the propulsion material. I don’t know what that material will be, but it will be something small and compact that will be capable of providing almost limitless power. Maybe something self generating.

Arriving on earth will be just as tranquil and uneventful. There will be no generating of life threatening heat because the spaceships of the future will have the ability to control their speeds in the vacuum of space or within the atmosphere of earth or any other planet. Indeed, like the "Enterprise" and other space ships of fiction, they will be able to come to complete stops in any surroundings.

And don’t laugh. Science fiction is the best predictor of things to come. If it can be imagined, it can happen. A little bit like the "Field of Dreams" movie. "If You Build It, They Will Come."

So I’m glad if Discovery is the last of the shuttle program and the primitive vehicles, along with missing tiles, protruding filler material and flapping window blankets are put out to pasture. They belong in a museum, not risking the lives of brave astronauts. It’s time to close out the stone age of space exploration and start building the space vehicles of the future.

Monday, August 08, 2005

How low can the RWRAR go??? Apparently there are no depth limits to the raving lunatics of the right. No one expected the special election to replace newly appointed US Trade Representative Rob Portman in Ohio’s second district to be any kind of a contest. It’s a Republican stronghold. For it to elect a Democrat to Congress would be akin to Chicago’s 11th Ward, home to the Daley mayoral dynasty, electing a Republican Alderman to the City Council. Nonetheless, the race attracted attention because the Democratic challenger, a 43 year old lawyer from Cincinnati, was someone who had served in Iraq - and thus was the first Iraq veteran to run for Congress.

The race attracted attention from the left and from the right. Naturally, Democrats were supportive. It was an intriguing thought. That someone who had actually served in Iraq and who minced no words about his disdain for President Bush, might actually get elected to Congress. And naturally, Republicans wanted their party to hold onto the seat that they have pretty much owned for more than 50 straight years with the exception of three time Democratic winner Tom Luken in the seventies. But there hasn’t been a hint of a Democratic winner since 1980 and all the money and local support was in Republican Jean Schmidt’s corner. There wasn’t any need to smear the Democrat. There was no need to give him the Max Cleland treatment - calling a veteran who had lost both legs in combat unpatriotic. There was no need to give him the John McCain treatment, calling the veteran who had languished in a Viet Cong prison camp for five years a liar and a cheat and a traitor. But they couldn’t resist.

I don’t know if talking points went out from the head office to all the radio and TV right wing ranters and ravers. I don’t listen to them except when punching from station to station on my car radio. I don’t watch them, except when skimming through stations with the remote control. But I couldn’t help hearing about the Rush mouth’s attack - and I assume followed by other nuts - that Paul Hacket went to Iraq to pad his resume!!! And that he was running for office by "hiding behind his uniform."

At first I thought that maybe Rush and his ilk had misread the talking points - or at least some of them. We know that the all volunteer services have been having trouble meeting their quotas and that recruiters have thrown out the trawling nets, looking for any kind of warm body to clothe in battle gear and ship off to save the world for democracy. We also know that they have turned a blind eye to physical and mental flaws that would result in automatic rejection of those warm bodies in more peaceful days. And we know that recruiters have been searching for all kinds of inducements to persuade these warm bodies to succumb to their siren song. So I thought maybe they’d come up with a new slogan. Something a little more understandable than "Be All That You Can Be" or "Today’s Army Wants To Join You" or "An Army Of One." Something that spoke of a pay off. So it was entirely possible that Rush got it all wrong. That he got a memo about the army’s newest slogan. "Join The Army. Go To Iraq and Pad Your Resume!!!"

Of course I’m kidding . I dreamed up that little fantasy to illustrate the ridiculousness of the attacks launched against Paul Hacket by the RWRAR, particularly chicken hawks like Limbaugh, O’Reilly and Hannity who’ve never served a day in the military. Also to illustrate that there is absolutely no depth of disgust to which the extreme right will not stoop to gain some political advantage. In all of the years I have observed local and national politics, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. It makes me wonder about average citizens who are registered Republicans or who customarily support Republican candidates. Do they identify with such political strategy? Are they ashamed of people who call themselves Republicans and launch such attacks or do they just turn a blind eye?

Though some might think otherwise, I classify myself as an independent, even though I am obviously very much against the people and policies of the current administration. I am an independent because I vote for Republicans and Democrats. It depends on the office and the individual. But I couldn’t support anyone from any party who used the kind of tactics that were used against Paul Hacket.. I don’t know that Jean Schmidt herself talked about her opponent going to Iraq to "pad his resume" or that he was "hiding behind his military uniform," but the fact that she didn’t condemn the nuts who were using such a tactic on her behalf, should have been enough for any fair minded person to have rejected her candidacy.

I can only conclude that blind devotion to party ranks higher than fair mindedness to a majority of the Republicans in Ohio’s second district. Something similar happened in Illinois last November when 1,371,882 votes were cast for crazy man Alan Keyes and I wrote about it under the title Illinois To Secede From The Union.

One would have to hope that it’s no more than blind devotion to party, but you have to wonder how many such voters are represented by the cretin that posted the following on freerepublic.com:

The Democrats CANNOT be honest. It’s important to remember who comprises the Democrat "base" - - atheists, Marxists, condom throwers, Hollywood drunks, abortion enthusiasts, welfare breeders, gold-chained union thugs, professional race victims, screeching feminists, and every other variety of loser, parasite, malcontent, and weirdo.
If that’s anywhere close to a majority view from the right - and matched by similar invective from a majority on the left, we are really in trouble as a nation.

3.50 p.m. Central Daylight Time: I haven’t heard anything of Limbaugh today because I’m home and not punching in stations on my car radio, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t accusing Cindy Sheehan of hiding behind her dead son just to embarrass the President.


Friday, August 05, 2005

Here’s a fancy list of people. What do you think they all have in common apart from being obvious muckety mucks?

Prince Charles, George Bush Sr., Dick Cheney, Hosni Mubarak, Mahmoud Abbas, Bashar Al-Assad, President of Syria, Michael Jeffery, Governor-General of Australia , Jacques Chirac , Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, President of Algeria, Amr Moussa, Secretary-General of The Arab League, Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan , Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, King of Bahrain, Iajuddin Ahmed, President of Bangladesh, Adnan Terzic, Prime Minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina , Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan ofBrunei, Hui Liangyu, Vice Premier of China, Vaclav Klaus, President and Jan Winkler, First Deputy Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, Jusuf Kalla, Vice President of Indonesia, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, King Abdullah And Queen Rania of Jordan, President Emile Lahoud And Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon, President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya of Mauritania , Prince Rachid of Morocco, Atiku Abubakar, Vice-President of Nigeria , Sultan Qaboos of Oman , Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan,. Noli De Castro, Vice President of the Philippines, Abdoulaye Wade, President of Senegal, Lee Hae-Chan, Prime Minister of South Korea , Mahinda Rajapaksa, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Kantathi Suphamongkhon, Foreign Minister of Thailand, Abdullah Gul, Foreign Minister of Turkey, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahayan, President of the United Arab Emirates and Ali Abdullah Saleh, President of Yemen.

Yep. That was the crowd that attended the funeral of 84 year old King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, and was there to pay homage to His Highness Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, the 82 year old (we think) youngster who has been running the country since Fahd had a stroke in 1995, and who now becomes King.It gives you an idea of the power that this oil rich monarchy wields over so much of the world.

President Bush promised that there would be a "close partnership" with Saudi Arabia under Abdullah’s leadership - although how this would differ from the relationship that has existed for the past ten years isn’t clear Maybe more hand holding.

One thing that does seem to be clear is that nothing is about to change in the Arab kingdom. This could have been an opportunity to signal a significant move toward a different kind of society - one where elections would become something more meaningful than the mock elections that took place earlier this year that excluded woman and had no effect on the ruling royal family. It could have been signaled by moving someone up through the royal ranks from a generation other than that of Fahd and Abdullah. Someone more attuned to the idea of having Saudi Arabia’s culture catch up with its modern infrastructure. Instead, the world was introduced to the new Crown Prince - next in line to 81 year old King Abdullah. Eighty something Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz.

Which, if you’ll pardon the pun, leaves the oil producing desert kingdom more or less Aziz!!! (As it were).

Bravo Blair

In a way, it’s a sad thing to have to say, but I am pleased that Tony Blair has made the decision to break from Britain’s traditional tolerance of freedom of expression and crack down on Islamic hatemongers and rabble rousers. And I’m much more comfortable with the approach that the British government is taking than I am with the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo . What Blair is proposing is concrete and logical. To react firmly to blatant incitement to violence. It’s something long overdue - and not just as a response to the terrorist attack of 7/7/- but as a measured response to hate filled madmen who hide behind freedom of speech laws to spread the doctrine of violence.

This whole concept of free speech - in our case the First Amendment to the Constitution - has to have limitations if it is to be prevented from doing more harm than good. No one argues that there is a First Amendment right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater, but for years the most hateful kind of speech has not just been allowed but vigorously defended - even by people against whom the hate speech is being directed!!!

The argument has been that all ideas, no matter how hateful, have a right to be heard - indeed need to be heard so that they can be measured against opposing ideas - thus allowing the public to make judgments about the merits of those ideas.

That would be wonderful if life was a board game, but as we have seen in the past few years, hate speech can be as powerful a weapon of destruction as any roadside bomb. In England , the purveyors of hate filled ideas have been allowed to grow unchecked - and the British people have paid a terrible price for their tolerance. They simply can no longer afford to protect madmen preaching death to the infidels from their mosques. Or any other such calls for violence from any group and for any reason. And neither can we.

Britain’s new rules speak of deportation of foreign nationals and denial of entry to those preaching hatred. I’m not sure how that would affect British subjects who engage in terrorist activities, but I would imagine that they would simply be charged, tried and if found guilty - jailed. It would certainly be preferable to what we’re doing here - holding people in limbo, including American citizens - without trial and without resolution.

Maybe when the Brits start putting their new approach to work, we’ll follow suit and do what we should have done a long time ago - decide what kind of speech is not protected by the First Amendment and treat it accordingly.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The leader of the free world is off on one of his frequent vacations. He’s on track to become the all time presidential vacation champ. But you can’t really blame him. He’s leading the war on terror. And the war in Iraq. And it’s hard work. He made that clear during his debates with John Kerry. The work is hard - hard. The man’s entitled to be worn out and to want to rest his aching bones.

And it’s not just the hard work of leading wars. There’s been the hard work of appointing people to fill important government positions. And he must be positively exhausted after sifting through millions of potential candidates before he settled on John Bolton to lead the United Nations to new heights of glory and Karen Hughes to improve our image abroad - particularly in the Muslim world.

One saving grace for our pooped out president is his determination not to negotiate with himself. That certainly saves a lot of energy. The downside however is that he extends the "no negotiating" stance to anyone and everyone who would like to make some suggestions about who is best suited to fill these jobs - and the outcome is that he selects the worst possible persons. It’s as though he actually did sift through millions of potential candidates, looking for just the people whose selection would provoke a universal "Huh???" He sure did it with Bolton - and from where I sit, he did it with Karen Hughes.

It’s truly hard to understand this man. You would hope that someone who gets elected to the exalted position of President of the United States would be blessed with above average intelligence. You would also hope that he had a pretty strong grasp of how the world works and of the relationships between nations and the importance of those relationships. But again and again he acts as though his intelligence is less than the average citizen and his knowledge of how the world works derived from reading comic books.

It became clear from the moment he put forward the name of John Bolton, that this was as divisive an individual as could be found for the job of UN Ambassador. His shortcomings and the strong negative opinions of those who worked with him were beamed over the airways for the whole world to see. Yet our "stay the course" President who never "negotiates with himself," wasted no time in appointing him to that position, almost at the moment that Congress - where he wasn’t able to get him confirmed - adjourned for the summer.

The President’s rationale for sending Bolton to the UN was that it needed someone determined, forceful and plain spoken to press for much needed reforms of that organization.

I can agree with the needed reform part, but by what convoluted exercise of cockeyed reasoning can one conclude that Bolton is the man to do this? Reform can’t be dictated. The members of the organization need to be persuaded to enact reforms. But in the world of George W. Bush, someone who is best known for announcing to the world that the UN is doing little more than taking up valuable real estate along the East River - and that it wouldn’t hurt to rip off the top ten floors of the 38 floor building - is precisely the guy to go there and sweet talk the rest of the members into agreeing with his point of view. Of course one or two members might want to move the Secretary General’s offices out of the 38th floor before the wrecking ball arrives, but I’m sure Bolton would go along with that small concession. After all, he is a diplomat, isn’t he??

Then there’s Karen Hughes, one of two women to whom Mr. Bush has been joined at the hip since his pre-presidential Texas days , the other being Condoleezza Rice. It’s almost as hard to find the rationalization for her appointment as it is for John Bolton’s. Let’s look at how this one will play out. The United States is hated throughout much of the Muslim world, and much of that hatred is focused on the person of George W. Bush. We want to improve our image with the Muslim world, so what would be the rational thing to do? Appoint someone to work on achieving this improved image who is:

(a) joined at the hip to George W. Bush?
(b) known to have put many of George W. Bush’s words in his mouth?
(c) known to agree with all of George W. Bush’s policies and actions ?
(d) a woman?
(e) a woman who is not of the Muslim faith?
(f) a woman who does not speak Arabic?
(g) a woman with no known expertise on the ins and outs of Islam?

Obviously, in the world of our illustrious President, someone with those qualifications is the perfect candidate for the job. For any job in his administration for that matter. The key dear reader - to this President - is the key of C. Be loyal. If your boss isn’t negotiating with himself, don’t you try to negotiate with him. And be ready to fall on your sword if and when asked.

879 days till January 20, 2008. Does anyone have access to a time machine?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I have no particular legal expertise, but I think I understand the concept of bail or bond when someone has been accused of committing a criminal act. It’s to guarantee the future court appearance of the accused . If he or she doesn’t show up, the bond - which could be cash or property, is forfeited - and presumably a warrant is then issued for the person’s arrest.

If the alleged crime is serious enough - say murder - a judge may set some astronomical sum that most defendants wouldn’t be able to post - and in that sense it becomes a technical bond and the accused is held in custody pending trial. But while that applies to most defendants, it obviously doesn’t apply to all. Michael Jackson was free on a three million dollar bond while he was on trial for child molestation. In his case he could have been free on his own recognizance. There was zero risk that Jackson would flee. Where could one of the most recognizable people in the world go to hide? But the judge set bond and Jackson came up with it because he could!! But if he had been Joe Jackson, a mechanic at a local garage, facing the same kind of child molestation charges, his ass would have been sitting in jail up to the moment the jury brought in its verdict - and likely for a whole mess of years after that!!

On the other hand, O.J. Simpson undoubtedly could have made bond in the millions if it had been available to him, but he, like the mythical Joe Jackson, did have his ass glued to a jail cell seat until the jury’s cockeyed verdict set him free to hunt for the real killers of his wife on the golf courses of the world.

It seems to me, as one who just reads about these kinds of cases from time to time, that there’s little in the way of rhyme or reason to the decision to allow or disallow bond. Obviously, when bond is allowed, it becomes "advantage rich person." There is no equality when it comes to setting a bond amount. There’s no adjustment for the poor. There’s no recognition that a million bucks to the rich guy is like a few thousand to a working stiff.

But there’s also no equality or recognizable standard when it comes to the whole question of whether or not to set bond at all - and how much. OJ was forced to sit in jail until his trial was over, but in plenty of murder cases, the accused puts up some bucks and is free to run around as long as he shows up for scheduled court dates. Or not show up, which, as Shakespeare put it, is the rub.

In Chicago recently, two punks attacked a University student and his friend who had just left a party on Chicago’s near south side, leaving the young student dead. The accused attackers claimed it was they who were attacked, but it was the student who was beaten with his own bicycle lock and who sustained six skull fractures, 30 external injuries and 11 internal injuries!!

The punks were hauled into court and the prosecutors asked that they be held without bail. A reasonable request. Someone was dead. He had been beaten to death - brutally. This was very likely a case of murder. The people who had inflicted these injuries were very likely dangerous people. You don’t get into a street fight and inflict those kinds of injuries unless you’re some kind of murderous punk. But the judge, one Maura Slattery-Boyle, didn’t see it that way. She set bail for each punk at $900,000, perhaps thinking that it was a big enough amount to hold them. And indeed, one couldn’t make bail. But the other did. Muaz Haffar was able to come up with the required 10%. Ninety grand. If the judge had expected that a high bond would have been enough to keep the punks in custody, it backfired. But she still could have taken a further step to keep Mr. Haffar on a short leash. She could have ordered him to surrender his passport. She didn’t and no one has seen him since. There’s an arrest warrant out now, but for all we and the judge know, the killer could be on the other side of the world.

I’m all for the idea of innocent until proved guilty. I’m all for the idea of reasonable bail as an incentive to urge a defendant to appear in court for trial rather than hold him in a jail cell for some indeterminate time until his case can be adjudicated. I’m not crazy about the idea of bail in the millions that only a rich person can post and stay free. That doesn’t strike me as a fair and equal application of the law.

What I’m definitely not for and what I can’t understand, are judges who think it’s perfectly O.K. not to err on the side of caution in cases where someone has been killed!! Whether it’s the result of a street brawl or drunk driving or an obvious premeditated murder, if someone is scheduled to be tried for being responsible for that killing, there’s always the possibility that if they’re not held in custody, they won’t show up for trial - which is exactly what seems to have happened in this case. Mr. Haffar is perfectly willing to forfeit the ninety grand that he or his family posted, if he can run fast and far enough to avoid having to face any kind of prosecution.

Judges of course make judgments. That’s what they’re supposed to do. But when you realize that in Cook County Illinois - and in many other jurisdictions around the country - judges are elected - which means you’re as likely to finish up with a political hack who gets to the bench because your precinct captain tells you to vote for him and because his name sounds right, than because of legal skills and judicial temperament - no judgment they make should be surprising.

Judge Boyle said that she was required to set bond because the prosecutors failed to show that the allegations against the two defendants constituted "wanton cruelty." A guy was beaten to death but this judge said she had to give the killers bail because there wasn’t enough proof for her that he was killed with "wanton cruelty." That may be the law, but somehow I doubt it.

Here’s a couple of links. Click on them and use the "edit" and "find" on your browser and type in Boyle. And I’m sure if you look further on the Internet, you can get a clearer picture of Judge Boyle and perhaps how she got to be a judge.