Saturday, December 25, 2004

Getting Ready To Build Our Dream Home

My wife has been irritated with living in what she calls "the fishbowl"--which is to say, we live on a 1/4 acre parcel near my job. She was hoping to get into a more rural setting when we came here, but at the time we moved to Boise, houses weren't selling in Sonoma County, so we had to buy relatively cheap. (I don't dare tell you what I mean by "cheap": the Californians will say, "Was that a down payment?" and most of the rest of the country will say, "That's not cheap!")

Anyway, we are in the process of buying a multiacre parcel with spectacular views. I've learned a lot about site-built vs. manufactured vs. modular housing the last few days--and I think we are going to be having a modular home built in a bit over a year, once our son is close to graduating. (We certainly aren't going to change his school this close to graduation.)

Here's one of the views.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Branching Out

If you know someone with a Losmandy GM-8 telescope mount, you might want to tell them about this little gadget that I have started manufacturing in my garage. The GM-8 mount is an excellent equatorial mount for telescopes up to about 30 pounds--nicely machined, and amazingly enough, still made in the United States (at least, until California decides to seceed from Jesusland).

The only "problem" (in quotes because it isn't really a deficiency, but a missing feature) with the GM-8 mount is that it doesn't come with wheels, so if you want to set up your telescope, you either need to be strong enough to pick up the mount, the tripod, and the telescope (typically about 70 pounds total), or you need to take the telescope off the mount, disconnect the cables, take out the three screws holding the mount to the tripod, then carry each of these parts out to where you are planning to set up. This is typically a 5-10 minute process--perhaps more at the end of your observing session, when it is now dark, cold, and you can't find one of the three screws that holds the mount to the tripod.

So my solution was to put wheels under it--which is a bit harder than it looks--at least, to do it elegantly. Unlike the competing product, which is general purpose, large, heavy, and costs $179.95, what I am making is specific to the GM-8, weighs less than two pounds, and has an introductory price of $40 plus shipping. There are many thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of Losmandy GM-8 mounts in use, so I am hoping that this can turn into a small money maker. As my son-in-law observed over Thanksgiving, "Why, this could make tens of dollars!" Well, let's hope it's bit more than that.

Thursday, December 9, 2004


It's concerning the announced merger of two major institutions:
Continuing the current trend of large-scale mergers and acquisitions, it was announced today at a press conference that Christmas and Hanukkah will merge. An industry source said that the deal had been in the works for about 1300 years. While details were not available at press time, it is believed that the overhead cost of having twelve days of Christmas and eight days of Hanukkah was becoming prohibitive for both sides. By combining forces, we're told, the world will be able to enjoy consistently high-quality service during the Fifteen Days of Chrismukah, as the new holiday is being called.

Massive layoffs are expected, with lords a-leaping and maids a-milking being the hardest hit. As part of the conditions of the agreement, the letters on the dreydl, currently in Hebrew, will be replaced by Latin, thus becoming unintelligible to a wider audience.

Also, instead of translating to "A great miracle happened there," the message on the dreydl will be the more generic "Miraculous stuff happens." In exchange, it is believed that Jews will be allowed to use Santa Claus and his vast merchandising resources for buying and delivering their gifts.
There's more.

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Got To Do This Some Day

Mount Wilson Observatory's 60 inch reflector is available to rent: $450 for half night, and $900 for the full night. The focal length is 24380 mm--so even with a 25mm eyepiece, that's 975x. I would be amused to find out if the viewing conditions will tolerate that. I've read an account by someone who used the 60 inch reflector at 600x power on Saturn and the Moon back in the 1950s. Hmmm. Max group size is 25.

Let's see, if about 10 of us could pick a night, that would be $45 a piece for a half-evening. Of course, coordinating a time might be a struggle.

Thursday, November 25, 2004


A reader told me about a joke out of Playboy:
Why are the Ten Commandments banned in public buildings? Because signs saying THOU SHALT NOT STEAL, THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, and THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS create a hostile work environment in buildings full of lawyers, judges, and politicians.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Star Party Last Night

The Boise Astronomical Society (like many similar organizations around the United States), puts on educational efforts called "star parties," sometimes associated with schools, sometimes anywhere that we can find a decent place to set up our scopes. These are opportunities to get the general public to look through telescopes, and see the wonders of the night sky. I have done a few of these over the years, and it is always a good opportunity to get people to think about astronomy, and appreciate the beauty of the night sky. I have never done a star party in such frigid weather. It was 28 degrees when I packed up at 10:00 PM.

The event was at the Idaho Botanical Gardens, and we had a nice turnout--about seven telescopes set up, several big sets of binoculars on tripods (including some 30x100mm monsters), and perhaps 75 or more visitors who braved the weather. I took my Photon Instruments 5" refractor with the Aries Chromacor corrector--and it mightily impressed quite a few people. The guy set up next to me had a Televue Genesis, an older apochromatic refractor which is the predecessor to Televue 101. He agreed that the Photon/Chromacor combo was just about color-free--and I could hear a little envy at how little it cost, compared to a Genesis. (The Genesis still has some advantages with respect to weight, length, and astrophotography potential.)

One surprise to me is how many members of the general public are startled by what they can see through a small telescope. The gasp reaction from looking at the Moon at 286x power was quite predictable. I guess most people expect that you need an observatory scale of telescope to get this level of image; perhaps most people are used to looking through the crummy little refractors that places like Wal-Mart and Sears have traditionally sold.

One couple showed up with a Meade 4.5" reflector that they had bought several years ago. They have made little use of it, largely because they didn't have anyone to help them along, and have now joined the BAS. Everyone gathered around to help the newbies. My impression of this Meade telescope was that it isn't a leap up from the crummy little refractors that Wal-Mart sells. The mirror might be just fine, but it uses the Japanese eyepiece standard of 0.965", and the eyepieces that came with it were all Huygens--which is a fine eyepiece design--for the nineteenth century. Huygens eyepieces combine poor eye relief with narrow field of view, as you might expect, since the design is named for the seventeenth century astronomer who came up with it. Oddly enough, the focuser looked like it could be pretty easily converted to accept 1.25" or perhaps even 2" diameter eyepieces, if you had the right parts.

The equatorial mount was also an example of overly aggressive cost-reduction engineering. At first it appeared that the mount had so much slop in it that there was no way to make it work correctly, until I discovered that putting the counterweight shaft and weight on the mount corrected the problem. It's a weird design--but doubtless very cheap.

I get frustrated when companies with good to very good reputations for their serious telescopes, like Meade, sell stuff like this. Telescopes like this are only marginally more than toys, and probably turn 90% of budding amateur astronomers off the hobby.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Over at IMAO (whose motto is "Unfair. Unbalanced. Unmedicated.") there are some real gems. This single line just drops me into hopeless laughter:
The opposition party doesn't have enough gravitas to be circus clowns.
Then there is a riotously funny demolition of a Walter Schneider who wrote an email to IMAO attacking him for his ignorance--but the letter is full of spelling and grammar errors:
> I assume your joking, nothing here improves your standing or your party's

> standing? (that's a rectorial question)
There's nothing quite as funny as a leftist getting snotty about his intellectual superiority, while demonstrating that he can't spell, he can't punctuate, and he can't figure out how to construct a rhetorical question. (Your, you're, yore, they're all the same to the generation that grew up on television. Or perhaps Mr. Schneider doesn't know the difference between homophones and homophobes, and decided that he better not learn about homophones for fear of being a homophobe.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Liberal Humor

At least, I am going to assume that it is humor:
“I am a Democrat—it’s no secret. I am a museum-quality Democrat,” [National Public Radio (NPR) superstar Garrison Keillor] said. “Last night I spent my time crouched in a fetal position, rolling around and moaning in the dark.”

Not one to shy away from speaking his mind, Keillor proposed a solution to what he deemed a fundamental problem with U.S. elections. “I’m trying to organize support for a constitutional amendment to deny voting rights to born-again Christians,” Keillor smirked. “I feel if your citizenship is in Heaven—like a born again Christian’s is—you should give up your citizenship. Sorry, but this is my new cause. If born again Christians are allowed to vote in this country, then why not Canadians?”
Professor Volokh points to how "humorous" it would be if you substituted "Jew" "Catholic" or "Muslim" for "born-again Christian." It is just amazing how religious bigotry is acceptable from a leftist, when it would never be acceptable from anyone else.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Color Me Green With Envy

Combining two telescopes to make binoculars has become all the rage among amateur telescope makers the last few years. The most outrageous example I have seen involved two 25" reflectors. This ad, however, may take the cake for most money spent, and best taste in equipment:
The 130 f/6 is renowned as the best all around 5" scope made. Unparelleled for performance, quality and workmanship, the Astro-physics 130 f/6 has been the standard that all other brands strive to match. The f/6 is the perfect combination of fast focal length for photography and wide field views and yet still perform to unmatched high power visual observation. As most of you know, these are now out of production. I have two scopes from the same run, with the same batch of glass, same coatings, only ten serial numbers apart and are virtually identical. ... I was considering making these a phenomenal pair of binoculars, but have decided my viewing conditions just don't warrant equipment like this.
And you can have the pair for $10,800!

Sunday, November 7, 2004

Intelligent Design

I am impressed how many of my readers worked all the way through my recent very long blog entry in order to politely and intelligently dispute my remarks about intelligent design theory. (Of course, since these are my readers, they are polite and intelligent.) Let me make a couple of points about this:

1. I have read some of the criticisms of Behe's intelligent design argument concerning organelles, and I have found them unpersuasive (although they are at least headed down a road that could become persuasive, with enough evidence).

2. As I pointed out some months back:
I have had a very interesting exchange with a reader about this subject. If the advocates of the intelligent design argument are correct (that certain basic components of life do not appear to be the result of random processes, but show "intelligent design"), is this science? My answer is a qualified no.


Evolution, whether right or wrong, is a predictive tool. It lets us make some informed guesses about what will happen--although it seems unlikely that any major changes that it can predict will happen within the lifetime of our civilization. Intelligent design, even if it turned out to be true, is not a predictive tool. If living organisms are actually indicative of intelligent design, we can't predict what that intelligence is going to do, can we? In that sense, intelligent design isn't really science in the same sense that chemistry is.

However: intelligent design arguments, to the extent that they raise serious questions about the blind and random process claims of evolution, are a legitimate restraining force on the dogmatism that characterizes biology teaching in primary and secondary education (and to some extent, even at the college level). If there are biological structures that do not seem to fit the blind and random development model of evolution, this is important, and worth discussing.
Intelligent design theory advocates have something of an unfair advantage; all they have to do is demonstrate that one aspect of life suggests a designer. We would still teach evolution in biology classes as a way to make predictions (because the vast majority of biological change would still be unintelligent), but it would impose some humility on how we teach biology.

One of my readers tells me:
Well, I am from the era when they were "certain". The newer speculation(s)about the mechanism (punctuated equilibrium for instance) had not been proposed yet. I went to school in the Houston Independent School District in the '60's and our proximity to NASA made our classes very thorough in all math and science subjects.

Today, on the other hand, the subject is completely avoided because of the controversy surrounding it. My own children reported they got no instruction about this at all. Of course, we live in rural East Texas now.
It's a troubling problem, because the reaction to Revealed Truth evolution has been either Young Earth Creationism, or nothing at all. My wife taught at a fundamentalist Christian middle school in California--where, if the textbook had been the entire basis for teaching biology, she wouldn't have bothered. It was full of insulting and often inaccurate portrayals of Darwinian evolution. What she and I did to handle this was to get students started on a discussion of the purpose of science. Our goal was for the students to understand evolutionary theory (because they were certainly going to need to understand it when they went to college), and also to understand that a theory may be a useful predictive model, without necessarily being 100% correct.

As a chemistry professor of mine at USC suddenly and inexplicably pointed out during a lecture about electron clouds: "We really have no idea what's going on at the subatomic level. There could be angels dancing on the heads of pins, for all we know. But it's a model that works for predicting what's going to happen, and that's all that science really is: a method of predicting things." Unfortunately, there are people out there for whom science is Truth with a capital T--and they are as troubled by teaching evolution as a predictive model, as Young Earth Creationists are by the prospect that our planet is more than 10,000 years old.
Be Careful The Analogies You Draw

Professor Lindgren points out that the liberals who are imagining that they are getting ready to refight the Scopes trial of 1925--in the words of David Brooks:
It's ridiculous to say, as some liberals have this week, that we are perpetually refighting the Scopes trial, with the metro forces of enlightenment and reason arrayed against the retro forces of dogma and reaction.
have it wrong. Lindgren quotes from the textbook that Scopes was teaching from--and some of it is so offensive that no liberal would even allow it in a classroom today, much less allow a teacher to use it as a textbook:
The Races of Man. — At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; The American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.


Improvement of Man. — If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of the future generations of men and women on the earth might not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which we as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment.
Now, Lindgren makes the observation that
Here 1920s science was right about the basics of evolution, but was wrong about social Darwinism and white genetic supremacy and was immoral to advocate eugenics.
I am always amazed at the strange and often racist role that evolutionary theory has played in Western civilization. From my book Black Demographic Data, 1790-1860: A Sourcebook p. 36:
Reginald Horsman’s Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism describes how Enlightenment notions of the essential equality of mankind declined between 1800 and 1850. Where the Enlightenment had seen national differences as historical accidents of relatively minor importance, Romanticism glorified nationalism and localism; Enlightenment rationalism gave way to Romantic glorification of emotion. [Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981), 158.] These changes in European belief merged with the American need for an ideology to justify slavery, the removal of the Indians, and the Mexican War. The emerging “science” of phrenology (i.e., determining personality and intellectual capacity by measuring the shape of the skull) also encouraged this belief in racial difference.

Devout Christians, as well as many proponents of white racial superiority, perceived this theory of white superiority as being at odds with the predominant Creationist viewpoint. For the most part, Creationists denied the possibility of separate races because the Old Testament book of Genesis had no description of separate Creation, and not enough time had elapsed since Adam and Eve for the development of differing races. Proponents of white racial superiority either dodged the Creationist issue or actively used the “facts” of racial difference to attack Creationist perspectives. [Horsman, passim. William Stanton, The Leopard’s Spots: Scientific Attitudes Toward Race in America 1815-59 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), provides an even more detailed study of this subject—and with a wit that is sorely lacking in most scholarly works.]
Creationists often attack Darwinian evolution for promoting Social Darwinism, and its activist offspring, eugenics and the Holocaust. If evolution is true, it does not matter if it gives birth to ugly and evil theories. But it is a bit amusing to consider the same crowd that argues that truth is a social construct reflecting the dominant class's race, economic interest, and ethnicity defending evolutionary thought, with the really dark results that it has sometimes produced.

The experience of my wife and I going through California primary and secondary schools was that teachers often taught evolution in a dogmatic manner, as a Revealed Truth. Even today, there are some serious questions from serious scientists, such as Biochemistry Professor Michael Behe, that simply do not get taken seriously in how evolution is taught. Confronting some of these questions would not only get away from this Revealed Truth approach to teaching biology, it would also bring a little humility into this subject--a recognition that there remain some significant and important questions about the mechanisms of evolution.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

More On Market Manipulation for Political Purposes

Dan Gifford, a reader with significant experience in the news business, tells me that he saw these interesting items, as accurately quoted as could manage while watching TV. One was Alan Murray MSNBC reporter on October 29, 2004 at about 8:05 AM Pacific Time, on CNBC's "Morning Call":
The George Bush futures contracts have fallen tremendously today meaning that people believe Bush is losing ground in the election against John Kerry.
The next is from Donald Luskin, Trend Macro's Chief Investment Officer, October 29, 2004 at about 8:50 AM Pacific Time, also on on CNBC's "Morning Call":
The George Bush futures contracts are being manipulated. On several different occasions I have seen massive selling of the Bush futures come in that could not possibly have been for the purpose of making money. I think the person doing it or behind it is George Soros who has spent around 20 million that we know of so far to defeat Bush. [Soros' office told CNBC it is not responsible, according to CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera] .... Fair enough. Then if it is not Soros, then it is surrogate or at least someone who has read his book. Soros calls attacks of this sort the theory of reflexivity, which means that if you influence the perceptions of people by manipulating the theoretical reality within the financial markets, you influence the reality of real world events. In this case, the purpose would be to negatively affect the public perception that George Bush will win the presidency which may, in turn, adversely influence those planning to vote for Bush. This is exactly the tactic Soros has used in past to attack the Bank of England and other institutions and national currencies in order to change government policy.
Another reader points me to this article about Soros in FrontPage magazine:
Democrats looking to George Soros as a moral compass may want to check to see which direction the needle is pointing. The billionaire might actually be able to help them out on that count: In the mid-1990s he posited that there was “something both phony and pompous about a financial speculator inveighing against the moral crisis of our age.”


On September 16, 1992, Soros made his fund a cool billion dollars in a single day betting against the British sterling, helping to usher in what the Brits refer to as Black Wednesday. On that day, British citizens saw their currency lose 20 percent of its value. Trying to stave off the challenge to its currency, the British government had borrowed heavily before finally accepting defeat and allowing the devaluation of the pound. Soros was dubbed the Man Who Broke the Bank of England, a designation in which he seemed to take perverse pride.

Perhaps what is most interesting about the episode, considering Soros’ recent professions of moral outrage at the Bush economic plan, is his blasé attitude toward social mores in business. “If I abstain from certain actions because of moral scruples then I cease to be an effective speculator,” Soros told the London Guardian shortly after the incident. “I have not even a shadow of remorse for making a profit out of the devaluation of the pound.” Pushed further, Soros gave an example. “Let’s suppose speculation went on to push the franc,” he said. “That would be wrong and bad. But it wouldn’t stop me.”

Later on 60 Minutes, when asked whether he felt any complicity in the financial collapses in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan or Russia, Soros was similarly blunt. “I think I have been blamed for everything,” he said. “I am basically there to make money. I cannot and do not look at the social consequences of what I do.” A few minutes later, he reiterated the point in even stronger language. “I don’t feel guilty because I am engaged in an amoral activity which is not meant to have anything to do with guilt,” he said. Worse was Soros’ contention that, despite the fact that a single letter from him to the Financial Times recommending a 25 percent devaluation of the country’s currency sent Russia into an economic tailspin, “I am actually trying to do the right thing.”


Soros weeks later remained unrepentant about the havoc he’d wreaked, going so far as to explain how the “instability” he’d caused worked to his advantage:

“The net effect is a breakdown of the system, instability, and a negative effect on the economy, the size of which we don’t know, but it could be very, very serious. I mean, Europe is going to go into a very serve recession. Business is practically collapsing in Germany, also very bad in France. … Instability is always bad. It may be bad – it may be good for a few people like me who are instability analysts, but it’s really bad for the economy.” And when the economy suffers, society suffers too. How, then, does this sit with his claim of working to better the situation of each individual and the greater, “open” society.

More recently Soros has been very publicly betting against the dollar. In an interview with CNBC last May, Soros explained, “I now have a short position against the dollar … we continue to sell the U.S. dollar against the euro, the Canadian dollar, the New Zealand dollar and gold.” A real patriot, hell-bent on making cash off yet another market crash – ours. Could this be a part of the Democrats’ 2004 strategy? Journalist Richard Poe believes it could be:

“In view of the catastrophes Mr. Soros has inflicted on so many foreign lands, his sudden rise to prominence in U.S. politics deserves closer inspection,” Poe writes. “Bellicose charges of vote-rigging and calls for UN intervention such as we have heard lately from high-ranking Democrats fall strangely on American ears. Yet, for George Soros, such overheated rhetoric constitutes business as usual. The Democrat strategy taking shape in America this year strongly resembles a ‘velvet revolution’ in the making. Every piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. Only the exact time and nature of the final provocation – the signal for action – remains unknown.”

From a purely cold-hearted perspective, this all might be kosher. But now that Soros is a billionaire, his sudden pangs of conscience over the role of capitalism in the U.S. seem a bit too convenient and contrived to help foster the hero image he is so obviously attempting to create for himself. “I am not so optimistic about capitalism,“ he told Charlie Rose. “It is built on false foundations.” Then where, one wonders, did all of Soros’ cash come from? He claims he is no “neo-Marxist,” but his writings throughout the 1990s have certainly had that flavor. He has declared himself, for example, “at odds with the latter-day apostles of laissez faire” and, further, doubts the markets’ ability to allocate goods properly.


At one point in The Bubble of American Supremacy, Soros laments that “international income distribution is practically nonexistent.” Haughty words from a man with a bank account larger than the GNP of some Third World countries. If the rich getting richer pains Soros so, why not go ahead and stop accumulating massive amounts of money by raiding the treasuries of entire nations and making them poor?

“It is exactly because I have been successful in the marketplace that I can afford to advocate these values,” Soros said candidly in Soros on Soros. “I am the classic limousine liberal.”

Nevertheless, Soros blames capitalism for the coarsening of American culture. He apparently is the only one able to handle wealth properly. The rest of us savages couldn’t be trusted with his fortune:

“Unsure of what they stand for, people increasingly rely on money as the criterion of value,” Soros writes in The Capitalist Threat. “What is more expensive is considered better. The value of a work of art can be judged by the price it fetches. People deserve respect and admiration because they are rich. [Why does Soros think people respect him???] What used to be a medium of exchange has usurped the place of fundamental values, reversing the relationship postulated by economic theory. What used to be professions have turned into businesses. The cult of success has replaced a belief in principles. Society has lost its anchor.”

Tough talk for the man who also has boasted, “I cannot and do not look at the social consequences of what I do.” The word hypocrite doesn’t even begin to describe what Soros is involved in here. Schizophrenia may come closer.
Does anyone find it at all worrisome that this guy has the billions and the financial connections to manipulate commodity markets, and has expressed a willingness to spend it all to defeat George Bush--and now oil prices are at incomprehensible prices, having damaged the economy just before the election?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Is It Humor? Or Just Plain Weird?

It's from Swift Geese Veterans For Truth. It's a parody of John Kerry's testimony before Congress, and I suppose if animal rights activists were a significant chunk of the population, it wouldn't be parody, but a devastating argument for not voting for John Kerry. Instead, it's just disturbingly weird.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Why Are Oil Prices So High?

I've heard some of the explanations, and they make some sense: the hurricanes shut down production in the Gulf of Mexico for a while. There has been unrest in Angola. But the Iraq situation shouldn't matter much; they haven't shipped that much oil since Gulf War I. Dan Gifford, a long-time journalist, tells me about the following interesting items that he has heard recently. From financial journalist Jim Cramer (no relation) on CNBC's "Kudlow and Cramer" show:
I don't want to sound too conspiratorial here, but there's something about this oil market that just doesn't smell right. Do you think certain big hedge funds could be buying oil contracts to drive the market up in order to make our current leader [George W. Bush] look bad?
From Jon Burnham, Burnham Financial Group, October 12, 2004, CNBC-TV, "Closing Bell" 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM ET:
The price of oil is high because it's being pushed up by speculators and money from the big hedge funds. The important thing that gets lost in all that is that there is no shortage of crude oil in relation to current demand.
And from Adel al-Jubeir, Advisor to the Saudi Crown Prince September 28, 2004 at about 1:40 PM Pacific time, CNBC interview with Maria Bartaromo:
We believe the price of oil should be between $22 and $28 per barrel. $25 is a good reasonable price. There is no extra demand accompanying today's very high price for oil. We are seeing no extra customers lined up and there is no shortage of supply. The high prices we are seeing are due to speculation in the oil markets.
Then we have this interesting item from the New Yorker (of all places):
On August 6th, a week after the Democratic Convention, a clandestine summit meeting took place at the Aspen Institute, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The participants, all Democrats, were sworn to secrecy, and few of them will discuss the event. One thing that is certain, however, is that the guests formed a tableau that not many people would associate with the Democratic Party of the past. Five billionaires joined half a dozen liberal leaders in a lengthy conversation about the future of progressive politics in America. The billionaires were not especially close socially, nor were they in complete agreement about politics or strategy. Yet they shared a common goal: to use their fortunes to engineer the defeat of President George W. Bush in the 2004 election.

“No one was supposed to know about this,” an assistant to one participant told me, declining to be named. “We don’t want people thinking it’s a cabal, or some sort of Masonic plot!” His concern was understandable: the prospect of rich men concentrating their wealth in order to sway an American election was an inflammatory one, particularly given the Democratic Party’s populist rhetoric....

The meeting’s organizer was Peter B. Lewis, the seventy-year-old reclusive chairman of the Progressive Corporation, an insurance company based in Cleveland, Ohio. He has spent much of 2004 discreetly directing millions of dollars to liberal groups allied with the Democratic Party, such as America Coming Together and, while cruising the Mediterranean Sea on his two-hundred-and-fifty-foot yacht, Lone Ranger. The yacht has communications equipment that allows Lewis to monitor political developments in America while sunbathing off the coast of Italy.


Flying in from Arizona was John Sperling, an octogenarian businessman who in 1976 created the for-profit University of Phoenix....

Herb and Marion Sandler, a California couple in their seventies, came to Aspen looking for ways to give back to a country that had allowed them to prosper. The founders of Golden West Financial Corporation, a savings-and-loan company worth seventeen billion dollars, the Sandlers are devoted to the idea of preserving progressive income taxes and inheritance taxes.

The wealthiest participant at this meeting of hard-core partisans—and the one whose presence was the most surprising—was George Soros, the seventy-four-year-old Wall Street speculator turned philanthropist.


Sperling proposed a potential new project for the group: unionizing Wal-Mart workers. Soros, however, had no interest in union drives. He wanted to stay focussed on the main objective—ousting Bush. Yet he also warned the group against the idea of combatting right-wing propaganda with leftist demagoguery. “I do not have an interest in replacing one extremist movement with another,” he said.

Andrew Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union, a holdover from the traditional working-class base of the Democratic Party, was also at the summit. In an interview not long ago, he conceded that consorting with billionaires had become a strange but increasingly common part of his job. “I have to admit, I used to think I was doing well when I met millionaires,” he said. “I’m glad we’ve got the billionaires with us. But it did feel a bit odd.”


The Quantum fund, a pool for hugely wealthy investors that profited by anticipating and exploiting price swings in foreign currencies, is famously iconoclastic. Soros recently passed much of the fund’s management to his two grown sons, Robert and Jonathan, but under his direction it rejected the prevailing orthodoxy about the rationality of the market in favor of the notion that markets were prone to chaos and distortions stemming from human error.
Now, the Quantum Fund is no stranger to oil trading. But what is interesting is another remark in the New Yorker article. After explaining that Soros has contributed $18.5 million to defeat George Bush:
Critics of Soros see his donations as brazenly hypocritical, considering that, until recently, he was a leading crusader for campaign-finance reform in America. Starting in the late nineteen-nineties, he donated eighteen million dollars to groups that supported the cause, and he is credited with having contributed significantly to the passage of the McCain-Feingold law. When Soros was asked about this reversal, he said, “This is the most important election of my lifetime. These aren’t normal times. The ends justify every legal means possible.”
Now, Soros has said in the past that he would give away all his billions if he could be guaranteed of defeating Bush--and you wonder, since Soros has been a big player in currency markets in the past, if he could be manipulating oil prices right now.

Remember this: until oil prices started skyrocketing in early summer, the economy seemed to be flying upwards. What would it cost for Soros, Lewis, and some of the other billionaires to manipulate oil markets? It doesn't have to last for long--just long enough to derail the economy into October. You don't need to actually buy hundreds of billions of dollars worth of oil. You can buy and sell oil future delivery contracts for a fraction of the final delivery price. (This highly leveraged nature of futures contracts is why you can make--or lose--an enormous amount of money in commodities trading.) Once you start playing with the price of a commodity, and causing panic buying, you can jerk the price up--or down--quite impressively.

I don't know for sure, but I would guess that people at Soros's level can probably spend two or three billion dollars to adjust future prices of 50 or 100 times that much oil--at least for a few months. The Quantum Fund was, back in the 1990s, what is called a "global macro fund", described this way:
By borrowing money to buy and sell futures contracts—themselves a powerful form of leverage—macro funds possessed the capability to move indexes like Japan's Nikkei or to influence significantly the value of important international currencies.
Now, supposedly the Quantum Fund isn't that powerful anymore. But is it powerful enough? Soros also returned to an active role in the Quantum Fund in 2002--after 9/11, when it became apparent that Soros was going to have to do something to bring down George Bush.

Large scale commodities market manipulation can't continue indefinitely, and you can lose your shirt on this sort of thing--but Soros has already said that he was willing to lose it all to defeat Bush. On the other hand, with a little care, he might actually make money. This article reports:
Soros, the founder of Quantum Endowment Fund, one of the world's largest hedge funds, was dubbed "The Man who broke the Bank of England" for his role in betting heavily that the pound would fall in 1992. As a result, Britain suffered a humiliating exit from Europe's exchange rate mechanism -- the precursor to Europe's 12-nation currency. It was rumored that Soros earned $1 billion in a day with his bet against the British pound.
Of course, I doubt that an oil play like this could be kept secret indefinitely--but certainly, President Kerry's Justice Department isn't going to prosecute George Soros for winning him the election. If we suddenly see oil prices drop down again after the election, I certainly hope the Bush Administration will take a serious look at possible market manipulation. But if Bush loses, there won't be investigation at all.
Imagine If This Guy Were A Christian...

And his guidelines for writing a paper included:
Subjects to Avoid

Topics on which there is, in my opinion, no other side apart from left-wing delusions and pseudo-science (for example, God's Creation, homosexuality and other perversions, so-called "separation of church and state").
Do you suppose that California State University Long Beach wouldn't fire him, immediately?

So explain why Dr. Clifton Snider gets away with this? He explains that there are certain topics that are not acceptable:
4. Topics on which there is, in my opinion, no other side apart from chauvinistic, religious, or bigoted opinions and pseudo-science (for example, female circumcision, prayer in public schools, same-sex marriage, the so-called faith-based initiative, abortion, hate crime laws, the existence of the Holocaust, and so-called creationism). For example, see Terrence McNally's "Just a Love Story," Los Angeles Times, 13 February 2004: B15. McNally correctly concludes that those who oppose same-sex marriage do so for one reason: homophobia. "Homophobia," as Robert Goss points out, "is the socialized state of fear, threat, aversion, prejudice, and irrational hatred of the feelings of same-sex attraction" (Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto, New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993: 1). In other words, homophobia is to gays and lesbians what racism is to people of color. Neither homophobia nor racism can be tolerated in civilized, rational debate; therefore, I will not accept either as arguments, however disguised, in your papers.
His guidelines for a research paper just take my breath away, because in each and every case, when there is a political nature to a suggested topic, he presents one and only one possible perspective as the basis for a paper:
2. "Recreational" Drugs (legalization of, medicinal use of; you must know the current legal status of these issues at both the state and federal levels). For marijuana, probably the best approach is to narrow your topic to medicinal use. See Eric Bailey's "Key Court Victories Boost Medical Marijuana Movement," Los Angeles Times, 23 December 2003: B1+. Even the usually conservative Press-Telegram is calling for a "carefully regulated system of legalization and high taxation" of drugs (editorial, "Gangs and Prohibitions," 3 October 2004: A20).

3. Energy (nuclear, solar, fossil, synthetic fuels, etc.). A related topic is Dick Cheney's secret conference on energy policy. Why hasn't the administration revealed who participated and should it reveal this information? Also important is the fact that, as Kevin Phillips writes, "four generations of the [Bush] dynasty have chased [oil] profits through cozy ties with Mideast leaders, spinning webs of conflicts of interest" (Los Angeles Times, 11 January 2004: M1+).


8. The Economy (tax cuts, the military budget, education, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, etc.). Under President Clinton, the Federal Government had a handle on the national debt. Now the Bush administration is passing that debt on to the post-baby-boom generation. See Ronald Brownstein's column, "Our Children Will Pay the Bill for Bush's Budget," Los Angeles Times, 10 February 2003: A10.


12. Capital Punishment (pro or con; one way to limit the topic would be to argue whether or not there should be a moratorium on executions until they can be proved to be fair to all concerned, if that's possible). See the bipartisan web site: The Constitution Project on this issue. See also Henry Weinstein's article, "Death Penalty Study Suggests Errors," in the Los Angeles Times (11 February 2002: A13, and Eric Slater's "Illinois Governor Commutes All Death Row Cases," in the Los Angeles Times (12 January 2003: A1+; in the same edition of the Times, see Henry Weinstein's "Move Will Intensify Debate on Executions": A1+ and Eric Slater's "Unlikely Candidate for Death Penalty Reformer": A28). According to Amnesty International, in 2002 the United States had the third highest rate of executions after China and Iran ("China Tops World List of Executions," Los Angeles Times, 13 April 2003: A33).


17. The Environment (insecticides, off-shore drilling, protecting the forests, clean-air laws, protecting pristine land in Alaska from oil drilling). See Elizabeth Shogren's, "States, White House at Odds on Environment," Los Angeles Times, 29 December 2002, A23. And see Kenneth R. Weiss's "Seas Being Stripped of Big Fish, Study Finds," Los Angeles Times, 15 May 2003: A1+. This would be a good research paper topic as well.


21. Affirmative Action. Be sure to define the term and be aware of its current status in California. See the cover stories for Newsweek, 27 January 2003, the Los Angeles Times, "State Finds Itself Hemmed In," 24 June 2003 (A1+), by Stuart Silverstein, Peter Hong, and Rebecca Trounson, and "Court Affirms Use of Race in University Admissions," by David G. Savage, in the same issue of the Times.


27. Gun control (should a license, including a card with a picture similar to a driver's license, be required of gun owners? should handguns be banned? These are only two narrowed gun control topics; "gun control" itself is far too broad as a topic). See Aparna Kumar's "More Guns in Citizens' Hands Can Worsen Crime, Study Says" (Los Angeles Times, 23 January 2003: A15). Also, for an especially good opinion column (backed by facts), read Jennifer Price's "Gun Lobby's Perfect Aim," Los Angeles Times (9 February 2003: M1+). A third topic is ballistic fingerprinting: see Jonathan Alter's "Pull the Trigger On Fingerprints," Newsweek (28 October 2002: 41).


34. Birth Control: Should the so-called "morning-after" contraceptive pills (pills that prevent fertilized eggs from implantation) be more readily available to all, whether they can afford them or not and regardless of age? Of course, in your paper you would need to state your position and support it while acknowledging the opposing position. (You cannot argue that such pills amount to an abortion; I do not accept abortion as a topic. See below.)


52. What evidence do we have that Mr. Bush and his cronies lied to the American people and the world in promoting the war with Iraq? Do you agree that America has lost its "moral authority" in the world because of this immoral war? See "Another Casualty of War: American Moral Authority," by Rami G. Khouri, in the Los Angeles Times, 9 October 2003: B17. See also, "Iraq War Questions Gain Momentum," by Janet Hook, Los Angeles Times, 30 January 2004: A1+, and John Barry and Mark Hosenball's "What Went Wrong," the cover story for Newsweek, 9 February 2004: 24-31. Another article from the Los Angeles Times, Bob Drogin and Greg Miller's "CIA Chief Saw No Imminent Threat in Iraq" (6 February 2004: A6+), might be useful. Other articles worth reading are Peter Singer's "Bush's Meandering Moral Compass," Los Angeles Times, 26 March 2004: B13 and Bob Drogin and Greg Miller's "Iraq's Illicit Weapons Gone Since Early '90s, CIA Says," Los Angeles Times, 7 October 2004: A1+.
In a very few cases, Dr. Snider presents politically charged questions in a form that is neutral (often because it is so brief):
23. Hiroshima: Was Dropping the Bomb Immoral?

24. Term Limits for Public Office (do they work?)
But it is just astonishing that so many of his topics are so obviously biased to the left, both in how the question is asked, and how the sources he suggests are biased in that direction. As an example, the gun control topic could have suggested a couple of articles by Dr. John Lott as well--but that would involve admitting that there is more than one side.

Just to add to the fascist tendencies of Dr. Snider, when Mike Adams took Dr. Snider to task for this narrow-mindededness, Dr. Snider insisted that Adams was violating his copyright by reproducing parts of it. You can see the nasty letter from Dr. Snider here, and Mike Adams' response:
Being exposed as an ideological bigot isn’t much fun, is it? It is especially disheartening when you have been bullying helpless college students and finally encounter an opponent that you cannot control. That would be me.
What's really funny is how Dr. Snider has updated his guidelines:
Notice to my students: someone has published illegally in what purports to be an "article" material from my web site, that is, portions of my assignments. The article, among many misrepresentations, implies I require that you write about certain topics.
Gee, Dr. Snider tells his students that certain topics are unacceptable, because if you disagree with Dr. Snider, you are expressing "chauvinistic, religious, or bigoted opinions and pseudo-science...." Dr. Snider certainly has the right to assign topics for a class. The question is: should tax dollars be used to pay for political indoctrination?

UPDATE: I see that one of Dr. Snider's students has filed a complaint:
A Long Beach student has filed a complaint against Snider for using an hour and a half of his English class instructional time to talk about his disapproval of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.
I can't claim to be surprised, really. My wife and I both had professors who believed that the primary purpose of a university classroom was to engage in political indoctrination, often without even a pretense of relevance to the subject in question. Examples: a "Music of the World" class in which the professor ranted about how whites trashed the environment, unlike the Indians, who lived in harmony with nature. (If you don't recognize that as factually challenged polemic, you have some reading to do.) A "Critical Thinking" class where the professor used most of the lecture time to attack President Bush Sr. for the Gulf War. A "Womens Studies" class where the professor became incensed because my wife actually did what she was supposed to do: critically evaluate a paper about White Privilege and Male Privilege. Thereafter, for the remainder of the semester, when my wife would raise her hand, the professor would say, "No questions? Okay."

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Humor About Philadelphia

I've had some less than positive things to say about Philadelphia, but overall, it was just ugly and a little scary. (If I hadn't been armed just about the whole time I was there, it might have been a lot scarier.) A reader contributes this:
My wife, who had the misfortune of working in Philadelphia for her first few jobs out of law school always thought that Philly should change its tourism slogan to

"Philadelphia, The City That Hates You Back"

Her tales of aggressive pan handlers, shocking poverty, rudeness from pretty much everyone, rampant public urination & defacation (including on the commuter trains) was best summed up when she told me that "Philadelphia just assaults you with its urbanness."

Like David Brenner jokes, "In New York, you ask somebody for the time, they'll ignore you. In Philly, they answer you with, 'What's the matter? You can buy a *&$&^% watch!' "

Monday, October 11, 2004


Click here for a funny bumper sticker about Kerry and Edwards.

Notice the clever beanie crown at the top of this blogger's page--don't know where it came from, but it's funny!

Thursday, October 7, 2004

More Humor

I don't know the original source of this, but Dan Gifford sent it:
How CBS, ABC, and NBC would have reported the events of D-Day, the 6th

of June, 1944, if they happened today:

June 6, 1944. -NORMANDY-

Three hundred French civilians were killed and thousands more wounded today in the first hours of America's invasion of continental Europe. Casualties were heaviest among women and children.

Most of the French casualties were the result of artillery fire from American ships attempting to knock out German fortifications prior to the landing of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops. Reports from a makeshift hospital in the French town of St. Mere Eglise said the carnage was far worse than the French had anticipated and reaction against the American invasion was running high.

"We are dying for no reason," said a Frenchman speaking on condition of anonymity. "Americans can't even shoot straight. I never thought I'd say this, but life was better under Adolph Hitler."

The invasion also caused severe environmental damage. American troops, tanks, trucks and machinery destroyed miles of pristine shoreline and thousands of acres of ecologically sensitive wetlands. It was believed that the habitat of the spineless French crab was completely wiped out, threatening the species with extinction.

A representative of Greenpeace said his organization, which had tried to stall the invasion for over a year, was appalled at the destruction, but not surprised.

"This is just another example of how the military destroys the environment without a second thought, " said Christine Moanmore. "And it's all about corporate greed."

Contacted at his Manhattan condo, a member of the French government-in-exile who abandoned Paris when Hitler invaded said the invasion was based solely on American financial interests. "Everyone knows the President Roosevelt has ties to big beer," said Pierre LeWimp. "Once the German beer industry is conquered, Roosevelt's beer cronies will control the world market and make a fortune."

Administration supporters said America's aggressive actions were based in part on the assertions of controversial scientist Albert Einstein, who sent a letter to Roosevelt speculating that the Germans were developing a secret weapon, a so-called "atomic bomb." Such a weapon could produce casualties on a scale never seen before and cause environmental damage that could last for thousands of years.

Hitler has denied having such a weapon and international inspectors were unable to locate such weapons even after spending two long weekends in Germany.

Shortly after the invasion began, reports surfaced that German prisoners had been abused by Americans. Mistreatment of Jews by Germans at so-called "concentration camps" has been rumored but so far, remains unproven.

Several thousand Americans died during the first hours of the invasion and French officials are concerned that uncollected corpses pose a public health risk. "The Americans should have planned for this in advance," they said. "It's their mess and we don't intend to clean it up."
Bad Editing, Or An Attempt At Humor?

JPL's recent press release mentions the evidence that the area the Rovers are exploring was not only wet once, but wet twice--which might explain why the press release is a bit repetitive:
About six months ago, Opportunity established that its exploration area was wet a long time ago. The area was wet before it dried and eroded into a wide plain. The team's new findings suggest some rocks there may have gotten wet a second time, after an impact excavated a stadium sized crater.

By six months ago, Opportunity had established that the area it is exploring was soaking wet long ago, before it dried and eroded into a wide plain. New findings raise the possibility that some rocks there may also have gotten wet a second time, after an impact excavated a stadium-sized crater in the plain.
Or are they worried that many people need to be told the news twice, to make sure it sinks in?

Sunday, September 26, 2004

File Under "Humor"

I would not encourage anyone to do this. It probably wouldn't really work, and besides, it could be used the other direction, also. But it's still pretty funny!
Working people frequently ask retired people what they do to make their

days interesting. I went to the store the other day. I was only in there for about 5 minutes. When I came out there was a cop writing out a parking ticket. I went up to him and said, "Come on buddy, don't be a jerk. How about giving a senior a break?" He ignored me and continued writing the ticket.

I called him a bad name. He glared at me and started writing another ticket for having worn tires. So I called him a way worse name. He finished the second ticket and put it on the windshield with the first. Then he started writing a third ticket.

This went on for about 20 minutes. The more I abused him, the more tickets he wrote. I didn't care. My car was parked around the corner and this one had a Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker on it.

I try to have a little fun each day, now that I'm retired.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Various Odds & Ends Of My Recent Trip to Philadelphia

Impala vs. Deer

I never pay for Collision Damage Waiver when renting a car. In theory, your car insurance should cover everything except the deductible, and I usually use a Gold MasterCard, because that covers everything up to $25,000 valuation, which certainly includes the deductible. (I first found out about this when I was renting a car in Britain, where my domestic car insurance wouldn't apply.)

Well, this time around, the rental car guy at Enterprise was pushing a little, not unreasonably hard, so I took the CDW. It was only $18 a day, and I will be getting reimbursed for the travel expenses anyway. (If you've contributed money to the NRA Civil Rights Legal Defense Fund--that's where some of your funding goes.)

In spite of my worst fears of Philadelphia drivers deciding to play bumper cars with me, I had absolutely no problems--until the last day, about 100 miles north of Philly. I was coming out of the Jacobsburg State Historic Park, where the Henry Gun Factory was. A deer came running across the road at high speed, in a place where the trees are just about up to the road. I was going 50 mph, and there was no way to stop in time.

It made a terrible noise, broke headlights on the left, dented the hood in the middle, and removed the right sideview mirror. I felt really bad about this--deer are among the more beautiful wildlife, and this was a perfect doe. There are advantages to driving a full-sized car, however. In the battle between 4000 pounds of car and 120 pounds of deer, that momentum meant that I didn't lose control of the car, nor was the care undriveable. Having paid for the CDW, I didn't even have a deductible to pay.

Philadelphia Cheese Steak

I grew up in Santa Monica. In Venice, on Lincoln Blvd., there was a ratty little stand called Great Western Steak & Hoagie. They served their notion of a Philly Cheese Steak with a sign that said, "3000 miles to Philly. Eat here."

Having now sampled Philadelphia's versions of the cheese steak sandwich, including those produced by Pat's King of Steaks (who claim to have originated the concept in 1930), I can't say that the Venice version is any worse.

Friday, September 10, 2004

My Review of the Aries Chromacor

Is now up at, here.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Great Artists and Intellectuals Think Alike, Apparently

A really bizarre interview with Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis. If he sounds like some of the lunatic left of the United States, this is no surprise, since he was both a communist and a fascist at different times of his life:
Question: Mr. Theodorakis, on November 4, 2003 you said in this house the words that shocked Jews and non-Jews across the world. You said that the Jewish people are at the root of evil. What did you mean?

Answer: "For me the root of evil today is the policy of President Bush. It is a fascist policy. I cannot understand how is it that the Jewish people, who have been the victims of Nazism, can support such a fascist policy. No other people in the world support those policies but Israel! This situation saddens me. I am a friend of Israel. I am a friend of the Jewish people. But the policy of Sharon and the support for the policy of Bush darkens the image of Israel. I am afraid that Sharon is going to lead the Jews - just as Hitler led the Germans - to the root of evil."


Let me explain to you the context for this reaction. Many Jews have a renewed fear of Europe. We are afraid that there is a new kind of anti-Semitism in Europe. So when you said what you said there was a feeling of thou too, Brutus. There was a feeling that even our old friend Theodorakis turned against us.

"I don't believe there is anti-Semitism in Europe. There is a reaction against the policy of Sharon and Bush. I think it's artificial to think there is a new anti-Semitism. It's an excuse. It's a way to avoid self-criticism. Rather than ask themselves what is wrong with the policy of Israel, Jews say the Europeans are against us because of the new anti-Semitism. Because they don't love us. And even Theodorakis says we are at the root of evil. This is a sick reaction."

Why? In what way is it a sick reaction?

"Because this kind of reaction is relevant to the psychopathology of the Jewish people. They want to feel victims. They want to have this comforting feeling. We are in the right, we are again victims. Let's create another ghetto. It's a masochistic reaction." The Jews are masochists?

"There is psychological masochism in the Jewish tradition."

Is there sadism as well?

"I'm certain that when Diaspora Jews talk among themselves, they feel satisfied. They feel that now, when we are so close to the greatest power in the world, no one can do anything to us. We can do whatever we like. This is why the claim of new anti-Semitism is not only a sick reaction, it's a sly reaction as well."

In what way is it sly?

"Because it really allows the Jews to do whatever they want. Not only psychologically, but also politically, it gives the Jews an excuse. The sense of victimhood. It gives them a license to hide the truth. There is no Jewish problem in Europe today. There is no anti-Semitism."


"In 1932 I was in Ioannina. There was a very big Jewish community there. I played with the Jewish boys all the time. My grandmother was very religious. She had a room full of icons. She sang psalms. Much of my music was influenced by her religious singing. And I remember that in springtime she said to me: Now that it's Easter, don't go to the Jewish quarter. Because during Easter the Jews put Christian boys in a barrel with knives inside. Afterward they drink their blood."

Was this story imprinted in your young mind?

"It was a very powerful image. Years later, before I became a communist, I was a member of a fascist youth movement. It was a state-sponsored movement during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas. We walked up and down the streets in uniform and heiled all the time. It was a bit like the Hitler Youth but comical. One day they gave me an assignment: to talk the next day about communism. I went home and asked my mother what is communism. She said she didn't know but she thinks it's something evil. What kind of evil, I asked. Evil like the Jews, she said. So I asked her if the communists also put little boys in barrels with knives and drink their blood.

"What do I want to say by telling you all this? These things exist. I wasn't aware of it before, but now, through your questions, I realize it is there."


Do you think the Jews are fanatic?

"Something that is very negative can also be positive. If the Jews didn't have fanaticism, they wouldn't have existed. There is no evil without good. The Jews need this fanaticism. What one might call Jewish fanaticism has more to do with self-defense. It was through their religion that Jews were interconnected and kept together."

You seem to be fascinated by the Jews. Why?

"To be a community that disregards all dangers and remains true to its origins - that's a mystery. Look at France, for example. There is a huge community of Jews in France where there is a great civilization. But do the Jews become French? No. They speak the French language perfectly. They succeed in their work. But they are not French. They always think of going back to Jerusalem."


The Jews have international finance in their hands?

"They control a great deal of the world's finances."

So today's globalized capitalism is controlled very much by the Jews?

"Since we speak frankly, I will tell you something else. The Jewish people control most of the big symphonic orchestras in the world. When I wrote the Palestinian national anthem, the Boston Symphony was planning a production of my work. It is controlled by Jewish people. They didn't allow the concert to go on. Since then I cannot work with any great orchestra. They refuse me."

You ran into this problem with other orchestras too?

"Wherever there are Jews. Wherever there are orchestras controlled by Jewish people, they boycott my work."

You really feel Jews control much of the music world?


And the same applies to world finance?

"In America the Jewish community is very strong. It controls much of the economy. Certainly the mass media.

"Let me make myself clear: When the State of Israel was established, we were on the side of Israel. There was great sympathy toward Zionism because of what they suffered in the war. This is one side of the Jews. But the international Jewish community is also a negative phenomena. The Jewish people now appear to control the big banks. And often the governments. So whatever bad or evil comes from the governments, it's natural for ordinary people to associate that with the Jewish people."

You yourself think that the Jews, the international Jewish community, have control of the banks, Wall Street, the mass media?


And you say that now, through its influence on Bush, it has control of world affairs?

My mind just boggles.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Will She Ever Overcome The Shame?

The actress Anne Hathaway muses on her shocking past:
Hathaway, who shot to stardom with the original "Princess Diaries," embraces the girl-power films that made her a star, but as she moves into adulthood she said she's ready to distance herself from the saccharine roles she's known for.

"I'm a 21-year-old in a G-rated movie. This isn't exactly the kind of artistic choices that I want to be making right now, but at the same time, I'm grateful to be able to make them," she said.
It rather reminds of the joke about the little kid who, when the teacher asks the students what their fathers do for a living says, "He plays piano in a whorehouse." The teacher is so shocked that she abruptly sends everyone to recess, and questions the kid in private. "I'm sorry, but I was afraid of what people would think if I told them he was a lawyer."

Look, The Princess Diaries wasn't a great film, but it was entertaining. I laughed, I enjoyed Ms. Hathaway's performance in it--she definitely has a nice comic twist for physical humor, and she did the ugly duckling changes into a swan very convincingly. (It helps that she really is a swan in a wholesome, girl next door sort of way.) Is it really necessary for her to look down on a film that everyone can enjoy?

Sunday, August 8, 2004


This is strictly rude humor--it doesn't even rise to the level of waggish political commentary. A neighbor tells me that he recently saw a bumper sticker that said:
The Democratic Party is so full of [excremental expletive deleted] it has to have two Johns.

Sunday, August 1, 2004

Political Humor

A friend forwarded this to me, supposedly written by:
John E. Stoos

Chief Consultant for Senator Tom McClintock

Subject: Freedom of the press

Two boys in Boston were playing basketball when one of them was attacked by a rabid Rottweiler. Thinking quickly, the other boy ripped a board off a nearby fence, whacked the dog over the head and saved his friend.

A newspaper reporter from the Boston Herald witnessed the incident and

rushed over to interview the boy. The reporter began entering data into his

laptop, beginning with the headline: "Brave Young Celtics Fan Saves Friend From Jaws Of Vicious Animal."

"But I'm not a Celtics fan," the little hero interjected. "Sorry," replied

the reporter. "But since we're in Boston, Mass, I just assumed you were."

Hitting the delete key, the reporter began "John Kerry Fan rescues Friend

From Horrific Dog Attack."

"But I'm not a Kerry fan either," the boy responds. The reporter says, "I assumed everybody in this state was either for the Celtics or Kerry or Kennedy." "What team or person do you like?"

"I'm a Houston Rockets fan and I really like George W. Bush," the boy says. Hitting the delete key, the reporter begins again, "Arrogant Conservative Brat Kills Beloved Family Pet."
Hospital Humor

Some of these sound like legitimate typos when transcribing from hospital charts, some sound like a word was left out. Still pretty funny:
Hospital chart snippets

1. The patient refused autopsy.

2. The patient has no previous history of suicides.

3. Patient has left white blood cells at another hospital.

4. Patient's medical history has been remarkably insignificant with only a

40-pound weight gain in the past three days.

5. She has no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states she was very hot in bed last night.

6. Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a year.

7. On the second day, the knee was better, and on the third day it disappeared.

8. The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be depressed.

9. The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993.

10. Discharge status: Alive, but without my permission.

11. Healthy appearing, decrepit 69-year old male, mentally alert but forgetful.

12. Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch.

13. She is numb from her toes down.

14. While in ER, she was examined, x-rated and sent home.

15. The skin was moist and dry.

16. Occasional, constant infrequent headaches.

17. Patient was alert and unresponsive.

18. Rectal examination revealed a normal size thyroid.

19. She stated that she had been constipated for most of her life, until she got a divorce.

20. I saw your patient today, who is still under our car for physical therapy.

21. Both breasts are equal and reactive to light and accommodation.

22. Examination of genitalia reveals that he is circus sized.

23. The lab test indicated abnormal lover function.

24. Skin: somewhat pale but present.

25. The pelvic exam will be done later on the floor.

26. Large brown stool ambulating in the hall.

27. Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

My Father's Birthday

My father, Edwin Frederick Cramer (usually just "Fred") was born today in 1910, in Port Townsend, Washington. A friend's father died recently. It's a day for taking stock, I suppose, and considering one's losses.

My father was one of those people who, had he been born in 1940, would have gone to college, and become a mechanical engineer. Had he been born in 1950, perhaps an aerospace engineer. He wasn't brilliant, but he was clever, funny, occasionally witty, with an excellent, near photographic memory, very determined--and very gentle. Perhaps had his parents not separated when he was young, he would have gone to college.

Unfortunately, his father was a cad--clever, in a shark-like way, but unfaithful to my grandmother--and I suspect that his mother discovered his infidelity the way that many women of that generation did, because my father's father was a frequenter of brothels. My father's fraternal twin Glenn finished eighth grade, and went off to sea; my father finished high school, and became a bookkeeper. At the start of World War II, welding was paying about three times as much as accounting, and he went to work building the ships that helped win the war. After the war, my father sold encyclopedias door-to-door, worked as welder, sometimes in remote places like Alaska.

As I was growing up, it seemed that he could build almost anything out of scrap parts. We didn't have a lot of money growing up, but when I wanted a telescope, he did some pretty amazing things to make do. C&H Sales in Pasadena, a surplus optics dealer, had a Coulter 8" f/7 parabolic mirror, new, but marked down to $50. Over the next few weeks, we went all over the Los Angeles basin, buying concrete forms for the tube, cutting old pots and pans into dust covers, and building a crude but useful telescope mount out of pipe fittings and a wheeled tripod we found in a scrap store in Venice. And when we were done, it looked like hippie artillery (due to the psychedlic paint job on the tube), but it showed the rings of Saturn, the satellites and cloud bands of Jupiter--and I learned what a craftsman my father was, and how far he was prepared to go for his kids.

I have lots of painful memories of car repair projects. He wasn't a hot rodder. We generally had older cars, because that's what we could afford. I think the 1964 Chevrolet Malibu station wagon was the first new car my parents had ever owned--the 1960s were a prosperous time, at least for my family. But there were always repairs that needed to be done, and he had the tools, the knowledge, and the time to do them. That meant that I had to help.

I wasn't happy about it, partly because I would rather have been reading, and I did the minimum I needed to keep him happy. In retrospect, I wish that I had recognized the opportunity to absorb decades of knowledge about the use of tools. At one point we rebuilt the transmission of my sister Marilyn's beat up Triumph. It was one of those reminders of why there used to be a bumper sticker that said, "The parts falling off of this car are of the finest British manufacture."

My father was a tinkerer, and mechanic, but also a really well-read man. He didn't go to college, but he read a variety of serious books about history, world affairs, philosophy, and animal behavior. He was an early opponent of U.S. involvement in Vietnam--although like many of his generation, he was very, very taken aback by the countercultural behavior that accreted onto the antiwar movement.

Education was important to both of my parents, and when we moved to the Los Angeles basin in the early 1960s, they picked Santa Monica because of the quality of its schools. This was, for me, the single best decision that they ever made. I am still astonished at the quality of education that I received there.

I was never entirely sure what his politics were. Like much of his generation who had grown up during the Depression, he seemed skeptical of highly ideological views of economics. I can remember a lot of conversations with him as I was growing up in which he would ask me questions that left me short of an comfortable answer.

When I was about 13 or 14, I think, I expressed the opinion that welfare recipients shouldn't have the vote, since they weren't paying taxes. I wasn't sufficiently knowledgeable at the time to understand exactly what welfare was, or why people ended up on it, or that even poor people pay all sorts of taxes other than income taxes, but I knew that my parents worked very, very hard, and had little to show for it. It didn't seem fair that others received money for doing nothing. My father's response was a simple question, "Does that mean that rich people should get more votes, because they pay more taxes?" He had a fairly strong respect for Ayn Rand and her ideas, although his general skepticism of strong ideologies tended to keep him back at a safe distance from them, I think.

I think in the entire time that I was growing up, I saw my father lose his temper once. He would swear under his breath while working in the garage on building stuff, but I never saw him throw a tool, pound his fist on a table, or yell at anyone (including me, when I often deserved), except once in a Sears store where a series of miscommunications had reached epidemic proportions on a car repair. He was a very even-tempered guy, confronting some terribly difficult times in which to to raise kids. I don't think I ever gave him any great struggles, but I know that some of my siblings more than made up for it!

My parents had moved to Barstow after my first year of college at USC, and bought a condemned house for $5000, and then brought it back up to code. It wasn't their first choice, and I regret that my reluctance to move off to college immediately after high school may have prevented them from going where they first planned, on the Oregon coast.

My father died in 1976 in Barstow, probably as a result of incompetence by the staff. He was diabetic, and had already had three heart attacks in previous years. They withheld some of his medication, and this may have contributed to his death. There wasn't really enough to pursue any sort of wrongful death claim--but I recall the hospital was shut down eventually (at least for a while) for failure to meet state standards.

A neat guy, held by a stack of problems not of his making.

I think this was taken when we lived on Berkeley Street in Santa Monica.

With my mother when we lived on Berkeley Street in Santa Monica.

UPDATE: Writing something like this stirs up memories. In my father's case, good memories. We needed a finderscope for the "hippie cannon." In a surplus store, my father found a right angle telescope that had originally come off of a tank. (As you might expect, it was also "built like a tank.") The reticle in the eyepiece had a series of horizontal lines, so my father disassembled the eyepiece, and used a diamond tipped tool to scratch another very precisely perpendicular to the horizontal lines. Now we had a crosshair eyepiece! Then he drilled a hole into the edge of the eyepiece housing. By putting a small red flashlight to the edge, we had an illuminated reticle as well.

My father introduced me to all sorts of amazing places in Los Angeles, a town that he had grown up in the 1920s. One example is the Angels Flight funicular railroad near downtown, disassembled in the 1960s, and now restored. Another was Acres of Books, which is still there in Long Beach, and claims to be "California's largest second-hand bookstore." I doubt that there is room for a larger one! When I needed a particular Russian grammar book, my father figured that they would have it--and they did!

There's a saying among historians that, "Every time a old man dies, a library burns down." It's true. My father was full of events that he had seen--a small town in Montana where the winter was so bitterly cold that a boy had leaned against a metal tank--and frozen his ear to the metal. They had go get coffee to free him.

Coffee grounds reused so many times during the Depression that the grounds were white. (You can imagine the quality of coffee it made.)

He worked on builing the Wheeler Ridge pumping station as part of the California aqueduct. One weekend we walked through these enormous, twelve foot pipes that run many miles up the north side of the Tehachapis.

One night we tried to take the "hippie cannon" up to our favorite dark sky site in Pacific Palisades--and a California Highway Patrolman told us we couldn't go up there. "The governor's home tonight." (Yes, we picked the hillside by Ronald Reagan's house.)

Like the character in Blade Runner says: "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams ... glitter in the dark near Tanhauser Gate. All those ... moments will be lost ... in time, like tears ... in rain. Time ... to die."

Monday, June 28, 2004

It Pains Me That There Is A Blog Devoted Just To This...


A digest of links to media coverage of clergy abuse.

I generally stay away from this issue, but the blog includes a number of reviews of a new documentary that looks at the question of clerical celibacy, and I think it is something about which Catholics need to think long and hard. If you want to defend it as a matter of tradition, remember that for roughly half the life of the Catholic Church, there was no requirement for clerical celibacy. Priests were allowed to marry--and many did. As one of my textbooks from High Middle Ages class (Christopher Brooke, Europe in the Central Middle Ages, 962-1154 2nd ed., pp. 123-4) pointed out:
It is very likely that a high proportion of the clergy in the tenth and eleventh centuries were hereditary clergymen. Once again, our ignorance is very great; but wherever we go in Europe, we find traces of what seems to have been a widespread and quite accepted practice before the papal reform and the insistence on celibacy. Iceland, with its hereditary bishopric, was exceptional. But in no part of Europe was it wholly exceptional for an eleventh-century bishop to have children. Most of these were born, no doubt, before the fathers obtained high office. But there are plenty of instances of priests living openly with their wives.... List survive from a group of churches on the Welsh border in the mid and late eleventh century; most passed by hereditary succession. List survive of the canons of St Paul's from the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries onwards. At least a quarter of the first generation were married, and several passed on their canonries to their children. The founder of Tiron, preaching celibacy in Normandy about 1100, was nearly lynched by the clergy's wives, as had been the archbishop of Rouen, no less, when promulgating a decree against them in 1072. Sir Richard Southern has made famous the extraordinary story of how the twelve great-great-grandchildren of a tenth-century priest divided a substantial part of the income of Arezzo cathedral among themselves in the late eleventh century.
Now, there was some arguments for celibacy at the time. As I understand it, the substantial power that clergymen at all levels exerted on economic affairs might cause him to unfairly benefit his children. This is pretty clearly no longer the case.

There are some men (and women) for whom celibacy really is a gift. Throughout the first millenium of Christianity, there were large numbers of clergymen who were celibate, even without a rule requiring it. I know a Southern Baptist missionary, currently in Russia, but previously in South Africa and Thailand, who has no need or desire for a husband. However: this is unusual. Sex and romantic love are pretty much the norm for human beings, and you can get some pretty weird results if you refuse to deal with those desires.

I don't think the clergy sex abuse scandal is just about celibacy, however. There have been a lot of homosexuals who have pretended that these priests are abusing boys because that's what is most available to them. I don't believe it. There are cases like this coming out:
MANKATO, Minn. (AP) -- A woman who was abused by a Catholic nun 50 years ago at a boarding school will receive about $120,000 in a settlement, as well as an apology from the nun.

Sister Ramona Schweich, now 81, admitted she had sexual relations with Betty Davis when Davis was a 16-year-old student at a boarding school in the early 1950s. The Colton, Wash., school was operated by Schweich's order, Mankato-based School Sisters of Notre Dame.


Schweich admitted in sworn depositions that she had sexual contact with Davis on a couple of occasions but asserted that it wasn't abuse because Davis didn't resist her advances.


Last year, School Sisters of Notre Dame reached a settlement with another former student who had accused Schweich of sexual misconduct.

Katherine Beebe received $30,000 after reporting that she and Schweich had a sexual relationship during her senior year, one year before Davis was involved with Schweich. Schweich denied any improper conduct with Beebe.
I've argued for some time that there is some pretty good reason to at least suspect a connection between child sexual abuse and adult homosexuality. (This does not preclude the possibility of other causes of adult homosexuality.)

UPDATE: A reader writes that if he were a celibate Catholic priest, he wouldn't be chasing after altar boys, but wearing a disguise and looking for commercial sex elsewhere. Doubtless true. I am pretty sure that the celibacy alone isn't the issue. From what I have read, fixated pedophiles were usually victims themselves. I suspect that some went into the clergy because it provided a method for getting at more kids; others may have gone in because they knew that they were homosexual, and hoped that this might be a way of directing their energies into something productive.

There's a funny thing that happens when you crush down desires and pretend that they aren't there--they pop up in really odd ways. Look at what happens to the person who tries to stop smoking--and starts eating instead. Pretending the desires aren't there isn't healthy. Giving into them may not be healthy either. Confronting the problems is healthy.

I know someone who is a family counselor out in California. He tells me that growing up, his mother broke just about every bone in his body. He has confronted what happened, and tried to work past it. Now he tries to help others confront their pain.

I know someone else out in Califonia. He was molested by a Scoutmaster. His father was an alcoholic. His mother would bring complete strangers home for sex on the couch while the father was home, in the bedroom--I guess trying to get some sort of confrontation going. This guy has not confronted what happened to him, and the damage that he spread around because of it is unbelievable.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Is This The New Lie About 9/11?

My sister, who is a devoted Michael Moore fan, sent me an email with this amazing claim:
"Where was our Air Force on Sept 11, 2001?"

Normally deployed whenever any private or commercial plane goes off course or is not responding, there will typically be a half dozen US Air Force fighter jets escorting an errant plane in less than 5 minutes. Yet none even left the ground in the 40 minutes between the two airliners flew into the twin towers, and still none in the many long minutes before the 3rd plane hit the pentagon and the 4th went down in PA.

Make you wonder?
Typically the government sends airplanes out for suspected drug smugglers, unidentified planes, or planes that are off course. Unfortunately, none of these planes were unidentified, and there was nothing about the behavior of the planes until they turned off their transponders to make them suspicious. Where do you get this claim that there will be fighters escorting an errant plane in less than five minutes? Remember that unlike the Cold War, we didn't keep a big chunk of the fleet airborne. It takes five minutes for a pilot to get his helmet on, into his plane, engines started, and off the runway. Even with afterburners on, a fighter plane covers about 30 miles a minute. Even if a plane was already in the air when it was ordered to intercept, a five minute intercept means that you have to be within 150 miles of the target to get there.

The first collision into the WTC was at first believed to be an accident (there have been similar accidents in New York City in the past--a bomber flew into the Empire State Building during World War II). It was not until the second plane collided that it became apparent that this was no accident. Between 9:03 AM (when the second plane collision confirmed that this was no accident), and 10:10 AM (when the last plane crashed), is one hour and seven minutes. During this time, it was unclear how widespread the problem was.

If you are suggesting that the Bush Administration intentionally allowed this to take place, I am just flabbergasted. This would have been CLEARLY not in his interests. The economic destruction 9/11 caused ($27.2 billion dollars in direct costs, and tens of billions in medium-term indirect costs), and the loss of 2.5 million jobs that came from it, meant that until quite recently, it was still up in the air whether Bush would be able to get re-elected or not. The cost of the war has been a major drag on economic growth, and caused enormous problems for the Bush Administration's foreign policy--which before 9/11, was to disengage as much as possible from foreign military intervention. At the beginning of 2001, Bush had managed to upset a lot of Europeans because he had expressed considerable skepticism that the U.S. needed to be involved in the problems of Africa, and the Balkans. (The Balkans and Somalia interventions had been expensive in lives and money.) The events following upon 9/11 forced a complete reversal of his foreign policy. Even on Iraq, Bush and Blair had been discussing replacing the broad economic sanctions against Iraq with "targeted" sanctions, partly because it was clearly not working.

There are some questions as to whether Bush and his team had adequately prepared for al-Qaeda attacks. It appears that like the Clinton Administration, they perceived al-Qaeda as primarily a hazard to U.S. interests overseas. This is not as silly as it sounds. I can remember reading serious work about 15 years ago about terrorists that made the point that the U.S. had been safe from most of the Middle Eastern problems because of something called the 12 hour rule. Apparently, psychologists studying the behavior of terrorists had noticed that nearly all terrorist acts took place within 12 hours travel time from home to target. Apparently, the more the terrorist's familiar environment changed, the more likely he was to chicken out of an attack that might get him killed. (There is some reason to suspect that Iraqi involvement in the WTC bombings of 1993 may have been ignored because it made it simpler to prove a criminal conspiracy against the participants:
What incentive would the US government have had to overlook these changes, stipulate that Abdul Basit and Yousef were the same person, and turn away from any suggestion that Saddam was behind the first WTC attack? One can only speculate.

But by arguing that the 1993 WTC bombing and a separate, FBI-thwarted plot to bomb New York tunnels and buildings were connected as parts of a common conspiracy, prosecutors made convicting the participants, under the very broad seditious conspiracy law, far simpler. As for the Clinton administration itself, there would be less need to confront Saddam and perhaps less need to make hard choices, if it didn't finger him as being behind the WTC bombing.
A number of other factors certainly played a part in this tragedy. There was an existing FAA rule that prohibited airlines from searching more than two Arab passengers per flight. It might not have done any good, because Logan Airport security was so lax, but there were may failures that compounded on this.

I can tell you that security at many airports before 9/11 was really, really bad. I walked through Salt Lake City security in 2000 with a lockback knife in my pocket--I completely forgot it. The guard looked at it, and let me get on the plane with it! I have at least one friend in California who told me that he had passed through security a few years back with a .22 pistol in his carry-on bag--he completely forgot about it, and it wasn't caught. An additional issue may be that there is an Iraqi immigrant--a former member of the Iraqi Republican Guard--who has been of interest for his links to the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995 (he resembles John Doe #2 that the FBI searched for briefly)--and he was working for security at Logan Airport at some point in the late 1990s. I really don't know meaningful any of this, but Senator Spector of Pennsylvania was QUITE concerned about these connections earlier this year.

The rule prohibiting the counterterrorism division of the FBI from sharing information with the criminal investigation division was also a problem. One of the members of the 9/11 Commission, Jamie Gorelick, actually wrote that rule, and was explicit that it was above and beyond what the law actually required. Certainly that rule made sense, from a civil liberties standpoint, but the consequence was that an FBI agent in Minnesota who tried to alert the Washington HQ about Zacharias Moussaoui's peculiar flight training was unable to get the information to people that might have been able to use it. An FBI agent in Phoenix who was noticing some odd patterns of Arabs taking flight training was also stymied by his efforts to raise concerns. The CIA and FBI were not communicating, a combination of a long tradition of CIA contempt for the FBI, as well as an intentionally created separation of their spheres of action based on understandable, but it turns out, destructive efforts to keep foreign intrigue "out there."

The FBI was also prohibited for a very long time from attending any political or religious group meeting--or even searching the Internet--to gather intelligence until such time as they had evidence that criminal acts were involved, or likely to be involved. This meant that for many years, there were Americans warning of fierce anti-American rhetoric being preached in some mosques in the U.S.--but they could not even go in and listen. This rule made a certain amount of sense, considering the abuses during the Vietnam War era by various state and federal law enforcement agencies, but it also meant that the FBI was pretty well blind to a lot of these threats.

One problem now with trying to understand what happened is that significant parts of the bureaucracy have an interest in protecting themselves from accusations of incompetence. This is no surprise, and it may not even been intentionally deceptive. People have a wonderful capacity for persuading themselves that the decisions that they made five years ago were right then, and right now. For example, the Czech Republic's intelligence service the day after 9/11 realized that they had seen Mohammed Atta before--in April, meeting in Prague with the Iraqi intelligence service officer assigned to the Czech capital. Additional information has come up in the last few days that seems to confirm that this was probably Mohammed Atta who had the meeting. But the FBI steadfastly denies that this could be true, because they have no record of Atta leaving the U.S. during this period. Like Atta couldn't have traveled on a passport using another name?

There are times when war is the ONLY solution to a problem. We are engaged in a deathmatch with al-Qaeda. They will not compromise or bend. The only way to them to stop is either:

1. Withdraw support from Israel; exterminate all Jews; and become Islamic--and that would be the Taliban form of Islam, with burkhas for the women; no education for women; and no divorce (except at the man's whim). They have stated that a fully Islamic world is the only alternative they consider acceptable.

2. Utterly destroy al-Qaeda.

We could, I suppose, take a third course: establish a "national security state" that would allow them to keep trying to hurt us, but making it impossible. But that would mean surveillance cameras everywhere; racial profiling; extraordinary measures at the borders to keep out WMDs and terrorists. The sarin-filled shell that exploded on Saturday, for example, is 155mm in diameter, or about 6 inches. It contained about three liters of unmixed sarin, which would weigh about three kilograms (maybe a bit more--I don't know the exact density of sarin). (It is a good thing that the terrorists didn't realize what they had--it makes you wonder how many more like it are still sitting out there, or like the mustard shell that was also found about two weeks ago in Iraq.) The 100% lethal dose of sarin is about 40 milligrams per minute per cubic meter of air. Released over a minute (say, at the intake to a public auditorium), three kilograms of sarin provides enough to make lethal 75,000 liters of air. This quantity of sarin is something that can fit in a briefcase. (However, it turns out that 75,000 liters of air isn't that big of a room.)

UPDATE: I'm told by pilots that being way off course--or even having our transponder not working--would not even get you any air traffic control attention, much less fighter intercepts.

A numer of people have pointed out to me that even governments with extraordinarily strong traditions of surveillance and control have trouble stopping terrorists. Look at Russia with the Chechens.

It turns out that the Air Force did scramble jets pretty quickly--but this ABC News coverage indicates why it didn't do any good:
"I picked up the line and identified myself to the Boston Center controller," said Air National Guard Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins, the mission crew chief for the exercise. "He said, 'Uh, we have a hijacked aircraft and I need you to get some sort of fighters out here to help us out."

Air Force Col. Robert Marr, who along with Deskins was at the National Guard's Northeast Air Defense Sector in Rome, N.Y. — also known as NEADS — got permission from Air Force Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold to scramble jets from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, and they would be in the air headed toward New York by 8:52 a.m. ET.

But as American Airlines Flight 11 was crossing from Massachusetts to New York, it turned off its satellite transponder. That meant the 767 jet plane no longer was signaling its identity, altitude or speed, and therefore was lost amid more than 2,500 planes in the air over the Northeast.


At 9:03 a.m. ET, with television stations on the air live, a plane hit the World Trade Center's south tower.


The F-16 fighter jets that had been scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base, whose pilots were code-named "Duff" and "Nasty," called in for an update.

"At that point, they said the second aircraft just hit the World Trade Center," Air National Guard Lt. Col. "Duff" said. "That was news to me. I thought we were still chasing American [Airlines Flight] 11.

"We're 60 miles out, and I could see the smoke from the towers," he said. "At that point, obviously, everything changed."

"When the second aircraft flew into the second tower, it was at that point that we realized that the seemingly unrelated hijackings that the FAA was dealing with were in fact a part of a coordinated terrorist attack on the United States," said Army Brig. Gen. W. Montague Winfield, who was at the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon, and alerted the top brass there.
The plane to the Pentagon was also too close by the time fighters were in the air:
"Someone came in and said, 'Mr. Vice President, there's a plane out 50 miles,'" Mineta said.

Mineta conferred with Federal Aviation Administration Deputy Chief Monte Belger.

"I said … 'Monte, what do you have?'" Mineta said. "He said, 'Well, we're watching this target on the radar, but the transponder's been turned off, so we have no identification.'"

As the plane got closer, air officials had picked up enough information to believe the unidentified plane was headed toward Washington, perhaps toward Ronald Reagan National Airport, near the Pentagon.

At 9:30 a.m. ET, at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, F-16 fighter pilots scrambled into the air 105 miles — or 12 minutes — south of Washington.

"Our supervisor picked up our line to the White House," said Danielle O'Brien, an air traffic controller at an FAA facility near Washington's Dulles Airport, "and started relaying to them the information: 'We have an unidentified, very fast-moving aircraft inbound toward your vicinity, eight miles west, seven miles west.' And it went, '6, 5, 4.'"

"Pretty soon, he said, 'Uh oh, we just lost the bogey,' meaning the target went off the screen," Mineta said. "So I said, 'Well, where is it?' And he said, 'Well, we're not really sure.'"


High overhead, the jet fighters arrived just moments too late.

One of the pilots, Air National Guard Maj. Brad Derrig, recalled "looking down and actually seeing the Pentagon burning — you know, big black smoke billowing out of it," he said. "And I'm thinking, 'We're at war.'"


Up above, the Secret Service ordered the White House staff to evacuate.

"As soon as we were outside, Secret Service agents told us to run," said Jennifer Millerwise, press secretary to the vice president. "One of them yelled, you know, 'Women, take off your heels and run. Take off your heels and run.' And so I did."

At that point, dozens of fighters were buzzing in the sky, as more F-16s scrambled at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

"We were told to get airborne and protect the capital," Air Force Capt. Brandon Rasmussen said. "It never in my wildest dreams occurred to me that one day I'd be orbiting over the Pentagon that had just been hit, looking for possible incoming aircraft."

‘You’re Going to Have to Shoot It Down’

In the Pentagon command center, there was a report of another hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93, which apparently had switched off its transponder and turned toward Washington.

"We rapidly developed some rules of engagement for what our military aircraft might do in the event another aircraft appeared to be heading into some large civilian structure or population," Rumsfeld said.

"They said if we get … another one of these, you're going to have to shoot it down," recalled a fighter pilot code-named "Nasty," who was still airborne after responding to the first report of a hijacked plane.
Concerning United Airlines Flight 93, there were fighters that were close--but they weren't armed:
The closest fighters were two F-16 jets flown by pilots on a training mission from Selfridge Air National Guard Base near Detroit.

But there was a problem.

"The real scary part is that those guys are up there on a training mission [so] they don't have any weapons on board they can use," Marr said. "The first question that came from my mission crew commander — the individual that is in charge of the operations force — [was] 'Well, sir, what are they going to do?' I said, 'We're going to put them as close to that airplane as we could in view of the cockpit and convince that guy in the airplane that he needs to land.'"

If that didn't work, Marr suggested, the pilots might have to take the commercial plane down by crashing into it.

"As a military man, there are times that you have to make sacrifices that you have to make," Marr said.