April 30, 2006

Making Friends With 63

A couple of weeks ago I bought a book of Mind Performance Hacks which includes chapters on mnemonic devices, memory palaces, and mental arithmetic.

The last of these includes a discussion of making friends with numbers. For example, most of us are friendlier with powers of ten (10, 20, 30, 40, etc.) than with multiples of 13. Making friends with a number involves getting to know its factors, whether it is a power of some other number, and so on. All of this makes it easier to handle the number if we are called either to memorize it or to calculate with it mentally.

For example, I knew the late Berkeley agitator and math major Mario Savio, and although Mario is long gone from this earth and I from Venice/Santa Monica, I still remember his telephone number, 396-4824, because when he told it to me he observed that it was a progression (48 is half of 96 and twice 24).

To make a long story short, yesterday was my birthday, on which I turned 63. 63 is an easy number to make friends with. It's on the 9's table, and is triple 21, so in a manner of speaking I am thrice a legal adult. 63 is also one less than 2 to the sixth, 64, so that it is written "111111" in binary numbers. My college class was that of 1963. Und so weiter.

My aunt, who is in her 80s, tells me that she is comfortable with the 3 part, but doesn't really believe the 6. I agree. Although I am a little hard of hearing and my hard disk is full, so that my search times for things like names is longer, most of the time I don't really feel as old as I am chronologically.

The reality of course, is that every day each of us is closer to death. My family doesn't like me to mention this fact. But part of the work of old age is preparing for this reality, as it inevitably approaches.

Skeptic that I am, therefore, I nevertheless say, "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner."

April 29, 2006

Mickey Mouse and the Cretan Crone

The Good Inger is one of my favorite bloggers. This lady, late of Annapolis MD, can write. She understands children and has a unique take on life.

Today she posted a story of a frolic and detour on a trip to Crete, where she met this crone.

Read, as they say, the whole thing.

101st Keyboardists

Making a virtue of invective, Captain Ed and others have organized what they call the "101st Keyboardists" (logo to the left).

Cap'n Ed also points out that the "chickenhawk," a species invoked in left-wing invective against those who support the war effort, is noble as raptors go:

And why the chicken hawk? When we looked into it, it turns out that the chicken hawk is a pretty impressive predator. It's the largest of its family. This species vigorously defends its territory, getting even more aggressive when the conditions get harshest. It adapts to all climates. Most impressively, it feeds on chickens, mice, and rats.

Make of that what you will.
If you scroll down on the left, you'll find a blogroll of 101st keyboarders.

For your life list, here is a portrait of the stately chickenhawk.

Convert invective into a badge of honor. How about a "chickenhawk studies" department at some college?

April 23, 2006

Stupid Headline of the Year

"Colleagues Say C.I.A. Analyst Played by the Rules."

That's the New York Times headline about the fired CIA staffer who leaked classified information to reporters.

She broke the rules. No dobut the Times and the WaPo think she was right to break them, but "played by the rules"? Gimme a break.

Iran: My Two Cents

The current Iranian régime is, no doubt, corrupt and repressive, in the grip of religious obscurantism. (If that alone were justification, would we have to invade Utah?) Nor is Iran friendly to the United States.

The current of madness, apparently epitomized by the current President Ahmadinejad, is particularly dangerous because of their imminent belief in the return of the Mahdi or Messiah, which might be provoked by chaos on earth.

Probably they are working on a nuclear bomb, and some of them would like to drop it on Tel Aviv or New York, no matter how many Muslims they kill. They were certainly willing to use their children as human minesweepers in their war with Iraq.

No reason to love or trust these folks, and every reason to be wary of them.

That said, I'm not joining the current drumbeat for a military adventure in Iran in the immediate future. I'm for a Kissingerian overture to them for a pragmatic reconciliation, and only if that clearly fails, would I consider the military option. I say this not because I love Iran, but because I believe that we need to think in terms of national interest.

Geopolitically, there is no reason for Iran and the U.S. to be enemies. Unlike a Russia become resurgent, Iran cannot dominate Eurasia, or even more than a part of the Muslim world. At the most, it could extend some influence to Shiite areas of Iraq and Arabia, and to South Lebanon and Syria. The numerically dominant Sunnis are probably immune to anything more than a flirtation with a Shi'a dominated country such as Iran.

Moreover, except in case of apocalyptic events, Iran's economic viability depends on oil exports. Oil being a fungible product, it doesn't matter whether they sell it to us or other buyers--the market effect is the same.

Moreover, although playing a double game, Iran has to some extent been helpful to our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, although no doubt soon they'd like our troops further from their borders.

Having experienced Islamism in all its medieval glory, the ancient, civilized nation of Persia has become sympathetic to the U.S. and things Western, notwithstanding the mullahs' strictures.

As a consequence, notwithsanding our residual outrage over the embassy seizure, which Jimmy Carter botched, and our dismay at the sacrifice of youth and clerical repression, we have no foreign policy differences with Iran than can't be compromised. Conclusion--we should be engaged in secret or semi-secret diplomacy to seek a rapprochement with Iran.

The outlines of a settlement are clear--Iranian renunciation of nuclear arms ambitions, American renunciation of military action against Iran. Restoration of diplomatic relations and trade, including oil sales on reasonable terms. Resolution of the dispute over seized Iranian property in the U.S. The usual sorts of international exchanges--delegations, students, wrestlers. Private guarantees against Israeli action against Iran and Iranian attacks on Israel through surrogates such as Hezbollah. Iranian noninterference in the establishment of régimes in Iraq and Afghanistan that would not threaten Iran but would be independent, after which the U.S. military presence should be minimized.

None of this is any more onerous for us than Nixon's deal with China, which has proven to be a major success (although whether China's ascent to great power status will continue smoothly without major difficulty remains to be seen). None of it threatens the U.S.

A process like this would not be easy, and it would not go down well with various sorts of ideologues. But it is in the best interest of this country, and probably of Iran.

The alternative would be miliary conflict, probably requiring a draft in this country, in support of which we would have difficulty achieving national unity. I do not think that a nice "surgical" bombing campaign would be sufficient, and it would solidify support for the mullahs, at least for a time. An invasion is not in the cards, and would not be easy. Without partial mobilization, including a draft, it might fail, or lead to a prolonged, unpopular war. Although in some warped neo-Wilsonian sense, a case can be made out for such an adventure, it would not be in our national interest at all. Less so than the Iraq War, where Saddam was an archvillain even compared to most Middle Eastern tyrants.

If we must go down the military road, let it be after a sustained private or semi-private diplomatic effort.

What about Israel, and Ahmadinejad's bluster about obliterating it? The answer is twofold.

First, notwithstanding Bush's ill-considered statement he would defend Israel against Iraq, Israel has its own deterrent, including nuclear submarines, and has not asked the US for more than diplomatic support and money, as opposed to troops. Israel has always aimed at a degree of military self-sufficientcy. If we negotiate for a resumption of an inspection régime, and reconciliation slowly begins, that process will afford some protection against apocalyptic rashness in Iran, perhaps more than a few airstrikes would do.

Second, there is a serious question as to whether our close bond with Israel is important to our national interest, other than a general interest in avoiding the military extinction of nominal democracies and our client states. Nixon thought protecting Israel was important when the Soviet Union had allied itself with Israel's enemies, but absent a Cold War situation, our mutuality of interest with Israel has sharp limits. Israel often ignores U.S. interests in favor of its own.

Given that a rapprochement between the US and Iran would not critically affect israel, unless Iran managed to cheat on nukes and then ignored the very substantial risks of retaliation, the Israel factor should not impede such an overture.

Polynesian Political Games

I've been following the political maneuvering in Tahiti Nui, unfortunately known as "French" Polynesia.

There are two coalitions, one "autonomist," for which read "pro-Chiraqistani," and the other "independentist" which means maybe some day, if we can wean ourselves from French subsidies. Each coalition is made up of several parties. They are almost evenly matched, leaving the field open for betrayal and back-stabbing.

Apparently the autonomists, led by the Ferndando Marcos of Tahiti Nui, Gaston Flosse, thought they were about to secure sufficient defections to get their Dysonized snouts back into the public trough. The autonomists did manage to elect a turncoat as President of the Assembly.

However, independentist President Oscar Temaru outwitted the autonomists, and now appears to be secure for awhile. Oscar has been running around openly promoting independence (in 10 years or so), and referring to the country as "Tahiti Nui" (Greater Tahiti) instead of F.P. Whether any of this yet makes any difference to the ordinary Tahitian remains to be seen, although no one can best M. Flosse's snout at vacuuming fodder from the aforesaid public trough.

Sunday Photo: Show Me Your Ears

This is a picture of Zoë and me when she was 2 1/2. I think we are engaged in some kind of "show me your ears" game.

She still has the curly hair and the high forehead. I don't have the brown hair.

I still have the suit, but the pockets need to be mended.

April 14, 2006

"Minor compared to how I felt when I saw it"

A graduate professor of English is under investigation for inciting her students to tear up and throw away a display of crosses put up by pro-life students.

This is not a post to discuss the abortion issue. What struck me is her rationale for the act:
"Any violence perpetrated against that silly display was minor compared to how I felt when I saw it. Some of my students felt the same way, just outraged."
In short, any action is ok if it emerges from strong feelings of being offended.

This is a striking position for a soi-disant feminist, who presumably rejects the lyric from "My Fair Lady" and its associated stereotype:
Women are irrational,
That's all there is to that.
Their heads are full of cotton, hay and rags."
Jacobsen is not alone. The inimitable scientist, Nancy Hopkins, is said to have walked out of the famous talk by Harvard President Larry Summers because if she didn't, she was going to "throw up."

If I said the signs of the old communist types who hold a weekly anti-American "peace vigil" on Main Beach at Laguna Beach gave me hives or agita, and therefore I could grab them and stomp on them, I could no doubt contemplate the wisdom of my emotional justification for political vandalism from the local pokey, at least until bail was posted.

The Derangement Syndrome is not confined to Bush.

HT: Michelle Malkin.

April 13, 2006

Google Them Yourself

My prep school class (Andover, after Bush 41 and before Bush 43) started a website, and I emailed the class secretary, who asked me for a capsule bio, which I gave him. In just an hour or so, my new pic, compared to the yearbook picture to the left, appeared there. Someone is working hard, and from the looks of the pictures, I'm not Dorian Gray. Something to be thankful for.

I wrote down, but didn't send him, a list of favorites (of the moment), so I thought I'd post them here:
  • Movie: "The 400 Blows"

  • Comic movie: "Coneheads"

  • Song: "Try to Remember"

  • Comedy: "You Can't Take It With You"

  • Novel: "All the King's Men"

  • Poet: Kenneth Rexroth

  • Cuisine: Italian

  • President: Calvin Coolidge

  • World leader: Margaret Thatcher

  • Sport: Cycling

  • Spectator sport: Tennis

  • Expostulation: "Sod the Frogs!"

  • Biblical Quotation: "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, but harmless as doves."

  • Secular Quotation: "No one in this world, so far as I know ... has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."Mencken, Notes on journalism, Chicago Tribune, [19 September 1926]

  • TV Quotation: "“Can’t you be a good Catholic for 15 f***ing minutes?!” (from The Sopranos).

  • Comedy series: Monty Python

  • Graphic artist: R. Crumb

  • Painter: Richard Diebenkorn

  • Sculptor: Barbara Hepworth
I don't know how this gibes with my Blogger profile. Another favorite quotation, from Emerson: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

No links tonight. Google them yourself.

UPDATE: The Andover electronic elves have also published by capsule bio. Assiduous elves, I'd say.

April 12, 2006

"The Sky Is Falling" Science

John Stossel is a libertarian type who somehow got on television. A pleasant anomaly, like Brit Hume.

He's been taking on teachers' unions and public school ineptitude. In this piece, he points to the dire scientific warnings of yesteryear, such as the "crack baby" scare.

More important, he provides an explanation. Alarm generates cash. "This is not a big deal" generates yawns. Hence a bias for alarm. We need to correct for the bias in reading reports of global warning, bird-flu pandemics, and second-hand smoke. But we also need to remember that there really are emergencies and impending disasters.


April 11, 2006

Hello Mullah, Hello Fatwa

Mark Steyn is one of the pithier columnists on the planet, publishing all over the Anglosphere. Mark has a way with a phrase, but his stuff is serious.

In this month's City Journal, he has the lead piece, a rather alarmist view of Iran and its prospective nukes:
Perhaps it’s unduly pessimistic to write the civilized world automatically into what Osama bin Laden called the “weak horse” role (Islam being the “strong horse”). But, if you were an Iranian “moderate” and you’d watched the West’s reaction to the embassy seizure and the Rushdie murders and Hezbollah terrorism, wouldn’t you be thinking along those lines? I don’t suppose Buenos Aires Jews expect to have their institutions nuked any more than 12 years ago they expected to be blown up in their own city by Iranian-backed suicide bombers. Nukes have gone freelance, and there’s nothing much we can do about that, and sooner or later we’ll see the consequences—in Vancouver or Rotterdam, Glasgow or Atlanta. But, that being so, we owe it to ourselves to take the minimal precautionary step of ending the one regime whose political establishment is explicitly pledged to the nuclear annihilation of neighboring states.

Once again, we face a choice between bad and worse options. There can be no “surgical” strike in any meaningful sense: Iran’s clients on the ground will retaliate in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and Europe. Nor should we put much stock in the country’s allegedly “pro-American” youth. This shouldn’t be a touchy-feely nation-building exercise: rehabilitation may be a bonus, but the primary objective should be punishment—and incarceration. It’s up to the Iranian people how nutty a government they want to live with, but extraterritorial nuttiness has to be shown not to pay. That means swift, massive, devastating force that decapitates the regime—but no occupation.

The cost of de-nuking Iran will be high now but significantly higher with every year it’s postponed. The lesson of the Danish cartoons is the clearest reminder that what is at stake here is the credibility of our civilization. Whether or not we end the nuclearization of the Islamic Republic will be an act that defines our time.
Not a pretty picture.

Iran should be our ally, geopolitically speaking. We have Jimmy Carter to thank for the fact that she's not. And no easy answers.

April 9, 2006

Photo Sunday: Doctor Dentons

Here's Sissy as a young girl in her 'Doctor Dentons,' which is what we called foot pajamas back in the day.

As you can see, she was very cute. Although I was often mean to her, we sometimes had fun. She used to grab the belt in the back of my "Ivy League" pants and hold on to me as I ran up and down the stairs.

Now we're good friends, even though she's a liberal Democrat.

Hate Crimes

There are many more by blacks against whites than by whites against blacks.

Michelle Malkin presents the latest example.

UPDATE: On the other hand, here's another apparently faked-up white crime against a black woman. Got the muckety-mucks at Duke all in a guilty tizz, too.

Shades of Tawana Brawley.

April 7, 2006

Eagle Cams

In Spring, every young raptor's fancies turn to . . . well, you know.

Catalina Eagle Cam here.

I don't know whether eagles have privacy rights under Griswold, though.

April 4, 2006

Oh Oscar Dear, and Did Ya Hear . . .

The latest French outrage is to forbid the use of Tahitian in the Polynesian national assembly. French, it seems, is the official language.

Oscar Temaru, the Prime Minister, is becoming more and more outspoken about eventual independence. But unlike the denizens of the banlieues, he believes in non-violence.

Oscar, at least burn some cars.

There's a Website For Everything

Including carnivorous plants.

April 3, 2006

The Israel Lobby Paper and the Duke Meme

I am often intrigued by the work of Steve Sailer, who writes on the taboo subjects of race, immigration, and the non-taboo subject of movies. Sailer's views are generally "paleo"--anti-immigration, anti-Iraq War, anti-deficit spending. Not, as Seinfeld says, that there's anything wrong with that.

In this post, Sailer comments on the interesting fact that 30% of the Google hits on the Mearsheimer-Walt paper on the "Israel lobby" also refer to David Duke, the antisemitic writer and sometime Congressional candidate:
The Lobby in action: When you Google on Mearsheimer Walt lobby, you find 177,000 references on the Web. When you Google on Mearsheimer Walt lobby "David Duke" you get 55,700 references. So, 30% of all articles mentioning the Israel Lobby study by the two prestigious foreign policy scholars drag in the NY Sun's utterly irrelevant David Duke red herring smear.

That, in a sick way, reflects an impressive degree of coordination and ruthlessness. At the intellectual level where you've even heard of Mearsheimer and Walt, you have to be aware, deep down, that you are humiliating yourself by repeating the David Duke smear. But, apparently, tens of thousands of people are so dedicated to preserving the Israel Lobby's continued stranglehold on public discourse that they willingly publicly abase themselves morally and intellectually.
The Mearsheimer-Walt paper is noteworthy principally because of the association of its authors with Harvard and the University of Chicago, and because it contends that the "Israel lobby" is (a) powerful, (b) mistaken, and (c) harmful to U.S. interests.

Although the Mearshimer article is flawed and overstated in many ways that perhaps I will discuss one day, there can be no doubt that nearly unconditional support for Israel is the norm in Washington, due in part to effective, organized lobbying by pro-Israel groups. The level of support offered to Israel, regardless of its conduct, is also surprising--over $500 per capita per year to a country that is clearly now part of the developed world and would be even more prosperous if it could overcome its lingering attraction to socialism and subsidies. Although I don't believe that Israel is any more to blame for Bin Ladenism than Ferdinand and Isabella, who expelled both the Muslims and the Jews from Spain, as long as we avoid a civilizational war between the West and the Islamic world, Israel is more albatross than eagle.

The fact that David Duke took up the paper for an "I told you so" dance is, however, logically no more evidence of the paper's worth than the Communists' adoption of Abraham Lincoln's name for their volunteer corps in the Spanish Civil war is to an evaluation of Lincoln's career, or the use of the term "Patriot Act" is justification for the enactment of a prosecutor's wish list in the aftermath of 9/11.

And yet . . . there are plenty of antisemites, including those in Soviet Russia, who disguise their venom as "anti-Zionism" when it turns out that a "Zionist" is just another name for any Jew. Jews, who are entitled by history to be wary, have sensitive, even oversensitive antennae for antisemitism. A fact of life and probably a sensible adaptation in most parts of the world.

And if the thesis is that there is a tightly organized and diabolically clever Israel lobby, the sudden emergence of thousands of posts alluding to David Duke's adoption of the Mearshimer paper is neither, as Sailer suggests, clear evidence of centralization nor of ruthlessness.

It shows that a lot of people have a "anti-Zionism=antisemitism" meme close to the surface, one that is sometimes accurate. And it shows that the argumentum ad hominem is also banally common. Sailer's buddies at VDare use the phrase "treason lobby" to refer to pro-immigration forces all the time. It's a silly and over-the-top phrase, to be sure, designed to inflame more than to persuade, but it doesn't say much about the anti-immigration movement other than that some of its members are inclined to rhetorical excess, and find it comforting to attack their opponents' bona fides rather than their reasoning and evidence.

Likewise, the Duke references have little logical bearing on the Mearshimer paper's merits, but it's certainly not clear they're calculated or centrally planned.

The fact is that it's extraordinarily hard to discuss rationally anything related to Israel, because of the emotional connections on all sides. The Duke references are a small point at best, and their existence doesn't have much to say, one way or the other, about the nature or power of the Israel Lobby.

April 2, 2006

Photo Sunday: Amphi-Porn

My baby sister has become quite a nature photographer in the last few months. She started with birds, but has branched out to our amphibian friends.

Frogs in the Northeast apparently rut like crazy after the first thaw. They seem to be of the "many young, short growth cycle" type of reproductive pattern (r-strategists), and boy, when they go at it, they go at it.

Sissy has more pictures posted here, as well as on flickr.

Reminds me of the old joke about the daddy alligator being the greatest hero of all, because he goes around stomping on the eggs he's just fertilizecd. He's a hero, because if he didn't, so they say, we'd be "ass deep in alligators."

Nausea and the Flower

The Good Inger celebrates the revival of a memorable rose of Sharon she had thought was completely bulldozed.

This put me in mind of a modernist poem by Carlos Drumond de Andrade. So I reproduce it here, with an English translation for those unfortunate enough not to know Portuguese:


Preso à minha classe e a algumas roupas,
vou de branco pela rua cinzenta.
Melancolias, mercadorias espreitam-me.
Devo seguir até o enjôo?
Posso, sem armas, revoltar-me?

Olhos sujos no relógio da torre:
Não, o tempo não chegou de completa justiça.
O tempo é ainda de fezes, maus poemas, alucinações e espera.

O tempo pobre, o poeta pobre
fundem-se no mesmo impasse.

Em vão me tento explicar, os muros são surdos.
Sob a pele das palavras há cifras e códigos.
O sol consola os doentes e não os renova.
As coisas. Que tristes são as coisas, consideradas sem ênfase.
Uma flor nasceu na rua!

Vomitar esse tédio sobre a cidade.
Quarenta anos e nenhum problema
resolvido, sequer colocado.
Nenhuma carta escrita nem recebida.
Todos os homens voltam para casa.
Estão menos livres mas levam jornais
E soletram o mundo, sabendo que o perdem.

Crimes da terra, como perdoá-los?
Tomei parte em muitos, outros escondi.
Alguns achei belos, foram publicados.
Crimes suaves, que ajudam a viver.
Ração diária de erro, distribuída em casa.
Os ferozes padeiros do mal.
Os ferozes leiteiros do mal.

Pôr fogo em tudo, inclusive em mim.
Ao menino de 1918 chamavam anarquista.
Porém meu ódio é o melhor de mim.
Com ele me salvo
e dou a poucos uma esperança mínima.

Passem de longe, bondes, ônibus, rio de aço do tráfego.
Uma flor ainda desbotada
ilude a polícia, rompe o asfalto.
Façam completo silêncio, paralisem os negócios,
garanto que uma flor nasceu.

Sua cor não se percebe.
Suas pétalas não se abrem.
Seu nome não está nos livros.
É feia. Mas é realmente uma flor.

Sento-me no chão da capital do país às cinco horas da tarde
e lentamente passo a mão nessa forma insegura.
Do lado das montanhas, nuvens maciças avolumam-se.
Pequenos pontos brancos movem-se no mar, galinhas em pânico.
É feia. Mas é uma flor. Furou o asfalto, o tédio, o nojo e o ódio.


A prisoner of my class and some clothing, I walk, dressed in white along the gray street.
Melancholy and merchandise harass me.
Must I keep going until I collapse?
Can I rebel without arms?

Filthy eyes in the tower clock
No, the time of complete justice hasn’t come.
It’s still the time for dung, bad poetry, phantasms and hope.

A poor time and a poor poet
Melt together in the same impasse.

In vain I try to explain myself, but the walls are deaf.
Beneath the skin of the words there are ciphers and codes.
The sun consoles the sick but does not renew them.
Things. How sad things are, considered without emphasis. A flower bloomed in the street!

To vomit this ennui on the city.
Forty years and no problem solved, not even stated.
No letter written or received.
The men all return home.
They are less free but carry newspapers and spell out the world, knowing they are losing it.

Crimes of the earth, how to pardon them?
I took part in many, others I hid.
Some I thought clever, they were published.
Smooth crimes, that help one to live.
The daily ration of error, home-delivered.
The fierce bakers of wrong.
The fierce milkmen of wrong.

To set fire to everything, me included.
They called the boy of 1918 an anarchist.
But my hate is the best part of me.
With it I save myself
and give to a few a small hope.

Let the trolleys, busses, the steel river of traffic, keep their distance.
A flower still in bud
Eludes the police, pierces the asphalt.
Observe complete silence, stop all business,
I swear a flower grew.

You can’t see its color.
Its petals aren’t open
Its name isn’t in the books.
It’s ugly, but really--it’s a flower.

I sit on the ground of the capital of the country at five in the afternoon
and slowly pass my hand on this insecure form.
Beside the mountains, massive clouds pile up.
Little white dots move on the sea, chickens in panic.
It's ugly. But it's a flower. It breached the asphalt, the ennui, the nausea and the hate.

UPDATE: Photo by the redoubtable Rick Lee.