Thursday, July 31, 2008

Monster of Montauk - the tizzy gets dizzy

By Donald Sensing

This is a photo of a creature that washed up on the shore near Montauk, N.Y.

The animal looks like a bloated, hairless dog, except that it's got an eagle-like beak, a prominent brow ridge and a curiously elongated front paw.

Speculation immediately arose that it might be a hitherto unknown marine mammal, a sea turtle without its shell, an artful Photoshop creation or — cue the " X-Files" theme — an escaped experiment from the government animal-disease research facility on Plum Island, just offshore from Montauk.
So far, the photographer has not come forward or been otherwise identified. But,
Plum TV, a sort of upscale public-access network carried on Hamptons cable TV as well as in other tony summer resorts, promises an interview Friday with the original photographer as well as two other women who say they saw the animal.
And the carcass of the presumed beast has disappeared as well.

Obama post racial no more

By Donald Sensing

Obama said in Missouri,

"Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me," Obama said. "You know, he's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name, you know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."
All those other presidents?

Obama has now taken pains to point out on several occasions over the months that he is black. He is the only person in the country who is saying so. No one else associated with either his or McCain's campaign is talking about Obama's race. Only Obama is. And every time he does - every time - it is to accuse his opponents of racism. "I'm black, therefore McCain and Republicans are racists. And they're going to make sure you know that's I'm black." That's pretty much the summary of a big part of Obama's stump speech nowadays.

But the only person who has ever mentioned Obama's race is .... Obama. ABC news' Jake Tapper observes,

There's a lot of racist xenophobic crap out there. But not only has McCain not
peddled any of it, he's condemned it. ...

I've seen racism in campaigns before -- I've seen it against Obama in this campaign (more from Democrats than Republicans, at this point, I might add) ...

What I have not seen is it come from McCain or his campaign in such a way to merit the language Obama used today. Pretty inflammatory.

Obama was once acclaimed as the first real post-racial candidate, but now it's starting to look more and more as if Obama is a only a smooth-talking race baiter. He's proving himself to be a divider, not a uniter.

Or maybe his rhetoric is driven by fear. Even though the media were so focused on him when he went overseas that McCain was greeted by one (one!) reporter when he landed in New Hampshire, Obama has actually lost ground in the polls since his return, says Gallup:

The percentage of voters favoring Obama for president swelled from 45% in July 21-23 tracking, conducted at the outset of Obama's weeklong visit to Europe and the Middle East, to 49% in July 24-26 interviewing conducted at the height of publicity surrounding the tour. At the same time, McCain's support ebbed from 43% to 40%, and the percentage of undecided voters fell from 7% to 4%.

With Obama now back on U.S. soil and filling less of the nightly news, voter preferences have reverted to their pre-trip levels.
This despite a somewhat less than competent McCain campaign (the WSJ's Daniel Henninger actually asks today, "Is John McCain Stupid?"), which did, however, arise in response to this latest.
John McCain's campaign accused Barack Obama on Thursday of playing racial politics a day after the Democratic candidate predicted Republicans would try to scare voters by pointing out "he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

Obama "played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said in a statement. He called Obama's remarks "divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."
So if nothing else is working for Obama, maybe the race card will play. Problem is, he's used it long enough that he should have discerned it isn't working.

And that is troubling, too. For any man or woman truly astute enough to serve the presidency well should also be smart enough to drop campaign tactics or rhtetoric that harm the campaign. Obama hasn't done so. Draw your own conclusions.

Update: The WSJ's James Taranto also says that Obama is squandering his "post racial" mythos.

Update: ABC News: "Sen. Barack Obama's chief strategist conceded that the Democratic presidential candidate was referring to his race when he said Republicans were trying to scare voters by suggesting Obama "doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills." "

Why autos' fuel efficiency doesn't matter

By Donald Sensing

The fuel efficiency of automobiles of course matters to their owner, but fuel efficiency does not matter significantly when it comes to reducing worldwide petroleum use. I speak of conventionally engined vehicles, not hybrid, cars. (They don't matter, either, but that's another story.) Here's why:

The stylish little car phenomenon is largely confined to the rich suburbs of rich polities and to urban singles/students with rich parents. By itself it cannot make much difference to global gasoline/diesel fuel use. Worldwide, the vehicular fleet, on the net, is expanding by 35 million units, annually. The rate of fleet efficiency growth is swamped by the rate of fleet population growth and by the even faster rate of passenger or freight miles driven growth.

Auto use is impelled by a hierarchy of needs: convenience, safety, status and fashion. In poor countries the convenience and safety value added from a car or car like mobile unit is so great compared with the fuel costs that they overwhelm the rise in fuel costs. Add to that the fact that autos are becoming much more affordable in the third world (e.g., the new Nano in India will cost less than $3,000 delivered to the customer …taxes, tags, retailer mark up included…..) making such a car affordable to hundreds of millions of families and small commercial operations in the Third World, thus greatly expanding the world auto market, as families and small/micro businesses graduate from bicycles, tricycles and motorized 2 or 3 wheelers. In rich countries, already sated w/convenience and safety, status and fashion impel auto use. People will often pay a lot for status and fashion. Hence worldwide gasoline/diesel use may see a modest decrease in the rate of growth: it will not see an absolute reduction in use.
Read the whole thing, it's short and to the point. HT: American Digest.

Can you say, "Lamborghini Murcielago LP640?"

By Donald Sensing

I knew you could. That's the same model Lambo that Bruce Wayne drove in "The Dark Knight." And the greenie world is eyes-a-poppin' mad because some bozo in Qatar decided his Batman car needed a service, so he flew it to London.

Reports have suggested the 6,500-mile round trip for the two-door, Murcielago LP640 model would have cost its owner more than £20,000.

Friends of the Earth said the flight was "taking climate-wrecking behaviour to new heights". ...

Friends of the Earth Transport campaigner Tony Bosworth said: "With rising fuel costs and concern about climate change, most people are likely to find this type of wasteful and damaging activity outrageous.

"The pollution from driving a Lamborghini is bad enough, but flying one thousands of miles for a service is taking climate-wrecking behaviour to new heights."
A Lamborghini spokesman said that the company's network of authorized dealership is extensive enough so that no need fly a car anywhere to have it serviced. But he allowed that sometime a Lambo owner, distressed at the prospect of being apart from his automotive passion, might fly it somewhere along with him. "Should that happen, we will provide service support."

Well, of course, you proletariat nincompoops.

We haven't had so much fun with cars and planes since Paul McCartney's Lexus LS600 Hybrid was flown from Japan to England for him.

USS George Washington captain fired

By Donald Sensing

The commanding officer of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS George Washington, has been relieved of command as a result on the investigation to a fire aboard the warship that injured dozens of personnel and set alarms bells ringing in Japan's government. Washington was recently assigned to be home ported in Japan, replacing diesel-powered USS Kitty Hawk, which is being retired from service.

The US Navy, releasing details of an investigation, said that a fire in May in waters off South America was caused when crew smoked near improperly stored flammable liquids.

A Navy statement on Wednesday said it was relieving Captain David C. Dykhof as commanding officer due to "a loss of confidence in his ability to command and his failure to meet mission requirements and readiness standards."

One sailor suffered first- and second-degree burns, while another 37 were treated for minor injuries, the Navy said.

Ken Griffey Jr. to be traded?

By Donald Sensing

The sports world is all abuzz with the news that batting maestro Ken Griffey, Jr., may be traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the White Sox. Both teams' managers seems ready for the deal. Only problem?

According to sources, the Sox have a tentative deal in place for Griffey, but are waiting this morning for the veteran who has no-trade protection to approve the deal before the 3 p.m. deadline.
But Griffey is expected to okay the deal before 3 p.m. today.
Griffey, 38, is hitting .245 with 15 home runs and 53 RBI in 359 at-bats. Just as important to the White Sox, he has a .355 on-base percentage and will be a much bigger presence in the lineup than [first baseman Paul] Konerko.
Konerko, so the theory goes, will be less playing time as center fielder Nick Swisher is moved to play first, while Griffey takes over center. Swisher has been playing first base for most of the last month, anyway.

Watch Friday's total solar eclipse at home

By Donald Sensing

There will be a total eclipse of the sun tomorrow, says Scientific American.

Sadly, this eerie, awe-inspiring event—known as totality—will be visible only from remote parts of the Northern Hemisphere: Starting in northern Canada, the moon's shadow, or umbra, will glide across the Arctic into central Asia. (View the path of totality at NASA's eclipse Web site.) "It is best to see the eclipse live," says Paul Doherty, a senior staff scientist at the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco. "If you don't want to travel," he says, "you will wait an average of 300 years for a total solar eclipse to come to you.

But that doesn't mean you can't share in the experience remotely. Doherty will be part of an eclipse expedition broadcasting the eclipse live via the Web from Xinjiang Province in northwestern China, near the Mongolian border, beginning at 3:30 A.M. Eastern time through totality at 4:09 A.M.
Three-thirty a.m.? Ya'll have fun.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


By Daniel Jackson

I just walked in the door and booted up the machine. Perhaps I need to go to the Negev more often.

After two years of stalling and stonewalling, Olmert finally resigned. True to the end, Olmert displayed a fundamental lack of any connection to Israeli culture or mindset. As one of the Ashkenazi elite, neither he nor his children have spent any time in the most important part of mainstream society--national service.

Olmert's tenure is marked by a general disdainful version of noblesse oblige characteristic of all Bandits, Roving or Stationary. As I have mentioned before, Israeli culture is dominated by military culture and the cross lines of affliation between service and civilian roles and personna. In the service, every (good) officer learns that loyal men will follow orders but will grumble in proportion to degree of outrageousness associated with bad ones.

Israelis have become "a nation of grumblers" who complain about almost everything, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday, during round-table discussions in the Knesset between representatives of the government and the social and business sectors.

"It's possible to identify the fraction lines - when we changed from a positive people to a nation of grumblers who complain in almost every situation," he said.

Maybe if Olmert had stopped pilfering the PX and listened to his "troops" more (as in, "Sarge, how are the men taking it?"), the country would not be in its current situation. US citizens might want to look more carefully at the way privileged characters, without basic service experience, look at how leaders respond to democratic citizenry "grumbles".

Obama's prayer affair - a view from Israel

By Donald Sensing

The controversy thus far: Whilst visiting Israel on his overseas trip, Barack Obama went to the Western all of the ancient Temple Mount in Jerusalem to pray. A Jewish seminary student filched Obama's prayer note that he had inserted into the joints of the Wall and gave it to Ma'ariv newspaper, which published it.

The publication of the prayer became a scandal - not centered around Obama, but around the paper and the breaching of a very solid tradition and theology of prayers at the Wall should not be made public, at least not by third parties.

A Jerusalem attorney filed a complaint asking that a criminal investigation be launched. In response, Haaretz newspaper said that Ma'ariv newspaper announced that,

"Obama's note was published in Ma'ariv and other international publications following Obama's authorization to make the content of the note public. Obama
submitted a copy of the note to media outlets when he left his hotel in Jerusalem. Moreover, since Obama is not Jewish, there is no violation of privacy as there would be for a Jewish person who places a note in the Western Wall."

My blogging colleague, Rabbi Daniel Jackson of Israel, is moving and out of blogging access for the nonce. I sent him an email yesterday asking whether I was "speaking out of school" in my post discussing this development, where I wrote in the same post,
I would also say that Ma'ariv's rather outrageous claim that prayer of non-Jews don't enjoy privacy protection at the Wall simply will not hold up before rabbinic responses. One, there is a very deeply-rooted and truly genuine piety attached to prayers at the Wall, where (I dare say) almost all Jews understand that the prayers of Gentiles are honored by God as perhaps no other place on earth.
Daniel emailed me a response and I am posting it for him here:
Frankly, I find the whole seminary student (which seminary and which denomination) thing spurious and would not be surprised that Obama and company DID front the leak. An Orthodox person would never tamper with the prayer/petition of anyone. In fact, if anything has the status of a KORBAN (sacrifice) in our day it's that little piece of paper put in the Wall. When the prayers are cleaned out each year, they are treated as all sacred texts (torn prayer books, photocopies of Talmud, anything printed or written of sacred value) and buried in a Jewish cemetery. Moreover, the sanctity of a folded note (e.g., a letter in an envelope, sealed or not) is protected by Jewish Law--as in Thou Shalt Not Peek. In fact, that's the inside joke in Hamlet that the two Jews are too stupid enough to look inside the letter they are carrying to know that Hamlet as switched notes and 'sealed' their fate. Observant Jews don't peek. It's against the Law.

As for Ma'ariv, they were scooped by the British tabloids and Ha'aretz: see here. Ma'ariv also has a reputation for salaciousness that is unrivaled in The Land. Obama & Co had campaign posters stationed outside the inner area along the barrier as part of their photo-op. The whole thing smells of stunt. Never before has a personal prayer at the Wall, since the time of Hannah, been made public. It truly is a violation of Jewish Ethics. Unless this person knew exactly WHICH piece of paper was Obama's (did they search through ALL of the notes where he put them?), the only way to know is if it was leaked before hand. Like a magician's slight of hand, the Obama Crew knew before he put the note in the Wall what was in the note since they already had the text.

Naw; the whole affair smells and looks like the Duke's Tank Helmet. McCain acted like a mensch--he was visiting a friend's place of worship. In fact, the YouTube video with Lieberman is very symbolic--here's a Republican going to worship with a Democrat/Independent. From a Talmudic script, the appearance of two members of opposite political parties setting aside differences to pray together, and the non-Jew seriously watching 'how it's done' the Jew, is quite impressive.

There is a story in the Talmud about the proper intention of prayer (Jewish sources say the first to pray in a modern sense is Hannah). An OLD rabbi was praying when a Roman Official passed by and hailed the rabbi. The rabbi continued to pray and not respond to the Roman. The Roman became outraged and demanded that the old Jew answer him. He summoned his guard. When the rabbi finished his prayers, the official demanded an explanation. 'If you were standing before the Emperor while giving a report and someone hailed you, how would you respond?' 'Why, I'd finish my report and wait for Imperial dismissal.' 'So it is with me standing before the King of Kings, The Holy One, Blessed Be He.'

Timing is key here. From my limited time sequence, the note was released AFTER the photo-op turned sour. Sort of an attempt to say: look what he said. What is truly deplorable in Ma'ariv's response to this is that because Obama is Jewish, it doesn't matter if he did release the contents. In fact, because he DID release the contents shows complete contempt to both Jewish culture but to the entire essence of prayer itself. If Obama wishes to offer a public prayer--fine. But first to appear making a personal prayer and then publicizing it (it's okay, I'm not Jewish so I do not have to respect THEIR customs) is deplorable.

The fact that this issue is getting so many hits shows that to anyone looking at this situation, regardless of belief or creed, there is concern about the ethical nature of the man. In Israel, it is a done deal. Since 1967, dignitaries have come to the Wall, reached into the box for a "had-to kippa", and were photo-oped. But no one has had the chutzpah to broadcast what was in the note. But, on the other hand, no one is really that concerned--unlike some Democrats, Israelis are still waiting for the Messiah.
The whole thing is gummed up even more. yesterday, Eugene Volokh reported that Ma'ariv says it never claimed what Haaretz says it did. Follow? One does wonder why Ma'ariv, being a newspaper, would make a statement through a competing newspaper, rather than just print it.

Stand Up to Cancer telethon set for Sept. 5

By Donald Sensing

It's unusual for the three major broadcast networks to agree to show the same program, but a fundraising telethon for cancer research will be so simulcast on Sept. 5.

"Stand Up To Cancer is an unprecedented collaboration uniting the major television networks, entertainment industry executives and celebrities, and prominent leaders in cancer research and patient advocacy in a major new initiative to move groundbreaking cancer research out of the lab and into the clinic," wrote the AACR in a statement on its website.

Cyclist and cancer survivor, Lance Amstrong will join along with Charlize Theron, America Ferrera and Jennifer Aniston among others, the Associated Press reported.

The event will air on ABC, CBS and NBC. It will also include musical presentations, as well as actors, athletes and journalists.
The LA Times reports,
Fox was invited to participate in the cancer telethon but declined. Fox called the telethon worthy but said it was focusing on "the global outreach of 'Idol Gives Back,'" its charity effort tied to its hit singing contest "American Idol."
I recall that a similar fundraiser was done for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Cheescake Factory has cheap cheesecake

By Donald Sensing

In celebration of National Cheesecake Day, the chain is selling slices for a buck-fifty.

The Cheesecake Factory celebrates 30 years of service on July 30, marking National Cheesecake Day. The restaurant known for their more-than-generous portions will sell cheesecake slices for $1.50, a well-discounted price; many of their cheesecakes cost about $6 per slice.

The discounted dessert will only be available at The Cheesecake Factory on July 30 for dine-in guests. There is a limit of one cheesecake slice per guest.

Nick & Nickjr plan Olympic themed shows

By Donald Sensing

let it not be said that the 2008 Olympic Gamnes offer nothing for the toddler group.

This coming August all eyes will be on China as the Olympic Games again lift up some of the world's most talented athletes and students of physical fitness. However, as the world turns their attention to countless displays of remarkable human achievement in just a couple of weeks, Nickelodeon will be dedicating some airtime a series of Games of their own, "The Fairly Oddlympics," to be exact. Although Timmy Turner and his many fairy friends will be holding their own variety of medal-honoring events, Nickelodeon will be airing a series of sports-themed episodes in the first full week of August 2008, commemorating the kicking off of the Olympic Games.
More at Animation Insider.

Soccer star Chase Hilgenbrinck to become priest

By Donald Sensing

Major League Soccer star Chase Hilgenbrinck has announced that he is retiring from pro soccer to devote his time to the process of becoming a priest in the Roman Catholic Church.

MLS fans might have been startled to read the New England Revolution's announcement this week that the defender was ending his career in midseason to enter a seminary at Mount St. Mary's in Maryland, but the decision wasn't abrupt.

BLOG: Hilgenbrinck explains his calling

"It was something very personal to me. I didn't discuss it with anybody for a long time," says Hilgenbrinck, adding that it took a couple years to reflect. "I just discerned it through personal prayer for a long time, trying to come to a conclusion if this was really what the Lord was calling me to or not."

He started the application process a year ago, telling his family when he returned from Chile. Yet he also wanted his family to see him play in MLS. He was waived by the Colorado Rapids in preseason but landed in New England, where he appeared in four league games and Open Cup and reserve play.
Good on you, Chase!

Ryan Seacrest bit by shark

By Donald Sensing

FoxNews reports,

Ryan Seacrest was taking a swim in the Pacific Ocean in Mexico on Sunday when he was bitten by a shark, he said on his KIIS-FM radio show Monday.

The "American Idol" host said he was "about eight feet out" when he felt something swim by him.

"I thought it was a stick," he said. "I wasn't sure what had happened."

Then, he said, "I saw it swim! He took a bite, and he left."

Seacrest, 33, said the shark's tooth "wasn't a great thing to find. It was like finding a splinter!"

Although he said he was "in pain," the "American Idol" host wasn't hurt too badly, but said he "needed to take an Advil."
Sharks have been known to attack swimmers in as little as three feet of water depth.

Judge Judy works through earthquake

By Donald Sensing

Judge Judy, taping her show yesterday when the earthquake hit SoCal. briefly left her bench but not for long.

A popular television judge and her audience were a bit shaken by Tuesday's earthquake in California.

Judge Judy was in the middle of taping an episode of her show when the courtroom started to shake.

The clattering in the courtroom caused everyone to look for an exit.

Even Judge Judy left her bench.

After a few tense seconds, the quake tapered off and calm was restored.
Well, the show must go on! Here's the video.

Mel Karmazin and Sirius XM radio

By Donald Sensing

The merger (actually, buyout) of XM Radio with Sirius Radio is now complete.

Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. completed its purchase of XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. in an all-stock takeover valued at $2.76 billion. The shares dropped on investor concern over new stock and debt offerings.The company will change its name to Sirius XM Radio Inc. and continue to be led by Sirius Chief Executive Mel Karmazin.

Existing radios will continue to work and subscribers may keep their current service package, Sirius said Tuesday. The combined company also will sell new programming packages that offer selections from both services and that give consumers the choice of which channels they receive.

I don't have satellite radio, having held off because precisely because of the fact that there were two competing networks. Guess I don't have an excuse any longer, but for me it would be entirely a "luxury" purchase, since I don't travel enough to justify the cost, really.

The WSJ offers some background info on how the buyout got approved.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

California earthquake map

By Donald Sensing

Click image for larger view.

This is a map published by the US Geological Survey showing the location of earthquakes in California and Nevada.

Maps are updated within 1-5 minutes of an earthquake or once an hour.

(Smaller earthquakes in southern California are added after human processing, which may take several hours.)

As you can see, earthquakes are quite normal in the region, but the vast majority are so light that they are not detected except by instruments. Not the case today, obviously.

Here is the shake map of today's quake in southern California, Los Angeles area.

The USGS's report of the main quake today is,
A moderate earthquake occurred at 11:42:15 AM (PDT) on Tuesday, July 29, 2008. The magnitude 5.4 event occurred 4 km (3 miles) WSW of Chino Hills, CA.The hypocentral depth is 14 km ( 8 miles).
No doubt more shakes will continue for the next day or two.

Oh no! Not Steak and Ale!

By Donald Sensing

Along with today's closure of Bennigans restaurants across the land, Steak and Ale, owned by the same Metromedia Restaurant Group, is closing many of its stores and seeking bankruptcy protection, Bloomberg reports.

The closely held chains listed assets totaling as much as $778.9 million and debt of as much as $324.2 million in 38 separate Chapter 7 petitions filed today in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Sherman, Texas.

Metromedia Restaurant is part of billionaire John Kluge's Metromedia Co. group. In June, the Plano, Texas-based chain operator said it would ask lenders to restructure its debt as the slowing economy hurts earnings. Two of its other chains, Bonanza Steakhouse and Ponderosa Steakhouse, haven't sought bankruptcy.

"Not all stores using these trade names have filed bankruptcy," Metromedia spokeswoman Leah Templeton said in a statement. "Stores operated by franchisees are not named as debtors in these filings."

US Senator Ted Stevens indicted

By Donald Sensing

Republicdqn Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska has been indicted on seven criminal charges.

Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator and a figure in Alaska politics since before statehood, was indicted on seven counts of falsely reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in services he received from a company that helped renovate his home, The Associated Press reports.

The indictment (courtesy of the Anchorage Daily News) accuses Stevens, 84, of concealing payments of more than $250,000 in goods and services from an oil company,The Post's Carrie Johnson reports. The items include home improvements, autos and household items.
Another argument for term limits? Well, maybe, but the real argument is for the Senate to reform itself. But there is no one to compel it, so it won't get done.

Earthquake rocks California, Los Angeles

By Donald Sensing

A temblor rated at 5.8 on the Richter scale struck southern California about a quarter past 11 a.m. The quake was centered near Pomona. CNN reports,

The quake's epicenter was about 2 miles southwest of Chino Hills and about 5 miles southeast of Diamond Bar, the USGS said. Chino Hills is about 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

The center was about 7.6 miles deep. In general, earthquakes centered closer to the Earth's surface produce stronger shaking and can cause more damage than those further underground.

A 5.8 magnitude quake is considered by the USGS to be "moderate," which can cause slight damage to buildings and others structures. About 500 can happen globally each year, the survey says.
Television news shows people milling about outside buildings but little damage. Developing . . .

Update: The US Geological Survey now (12:30 p.m. PDT) says that the quake was of 5.4 rating. There have been numerous aftershocks, none nearly as strong as the first quake.

Jim Crow apology from US House?

By Donald Sensing


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives was poised Tuesday to pass a resolution apologizing to African-Americans for slavery and the era of Jim Crow.

The House is poised to pass a resolution that would apologize for slavery and Jim Crow.

The nonbinding resolution, which is expected to pass, was introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen, a white lawmaker who represents a majority black district in Memphis, Tennessee.

While many states have apologized for slavery, it will be first time a branch of the federal government will apologize for slavery if the resolution passes, an aide to Cohen said.
IIRC, Jim Crow laws were all local or state laws, not federal. I'm not sure why the US House would be apologizing for them - except perhaps for the fact that House Democrats turned back Republican-backed civil rights legislation for years and years before LBJ took office.

Bennigans restaurants bid bye-bye

By Donald Sensing

Bennigans restaurants in all 32 states the chain operates will close today. Squoze News blog reports,

Bennigans was founded in 1976. The restaurant has locations in 32 states. There was day when Bennigans was the place to go, the place to be. In fact there was day when Bennigans was one of my own best customers in my family owned hospitality equipment service agency. The truth is I probably wouldn’t have given this news a second thought if it wasn’t for that fact.

Living in the sunshine state of Florida I recently visited a Bennigans for dinner and my how the times have changed. The food, the service and the ambiance were horrible. Large restaurant chains are very trendy and change with the culture, that is the ones that want to be successful. Bennigans fell off the map years ago and never really jumped back on,
As goes Bennigans, so may go Ruby Tuesday. The food and service at those restaurants has fallen off considerably, too, as have revenues and profits. I liked Bennigans but haven't been to one for as long as I can remember. I Like Ruby's too, with one quite close, but for the life of me I can hardly find a reason to go there.

BTW, speaking of restaurants, the Pizza Hut Bistro ads are not hype. A Bistro is only about four miles from my home. Its cuisine, while not as wide in selection as a full-scale Italian restaurant, is item for item just as good as anything I've had at, say, Macaroni Grill. And for less money.

NASA established 50 years ago

By Donald Sensing

Today is the 50th anniversary of the establishment of NASA.

The driving force, of course, was the launch of Sputnik on Oct. 4, 1957, followed by its even weightier successors. In the midst of the Cold War, a country that aspired to global preeminence could not let that challenge pass. Although the United States already had its own satellite plans in place as part of the International Geophysical Year, the Russian events spurred the Space Age, and in particular gave urgency to the founding of an American national space agency.
Born in the Cold War, some have argued that today NASA is an agency without a mission. Maybe that's because the United States today has no idea of what it wants to do in space, or really whether it wants to be there any more at all.

Bush approves military execution

By Donald Sensing

President Bush has approved the execution of a former Army private "convicted of a spree of rapes and murders in North Carolina in the 1980s."

The soldier, Ronald A. Gray, committed the crimes in the Fayetteville area while stationed at Fort Bragg. Gray has been on the military's death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for 20 years. ...

In the military justice system, a member of the Armed Forces cannot be executed until the President “approves” the death sentence. Thus, unlike the civilian context, where the President may be asked to exercise his clemency authority to stop an execution, in the military system, the President effectively orders the execution. This is an important distinction.
Yes, but the president can also grant clemency, ranging from pardon to commutation.

I was present at Gray's court-martial. I was serving at the time as chief of media relations for Fort Bragg and XVIII Airborne Corps. Gray brutally murdered four women and raped eight, including the four he killed. One of the women, I recall, was a taxi driver from neighboring Fayetteville, whose body was found on the Ft. Bragg reservation. That gave the Army jurisdiction even though she was a civilian.

There was, as you may imagine, intense media interest in the proceedings. The courtroom where Gray was tried on the base was limited in spectator capacity, so we formed a media pool to cover the trial.

The panel (jury in civilian speak) was comprised of four officers and four noncommissioned officers. When an enlisted soldier is tried, s/he has the right to request that up to half the panel consist of other enlisted members.

The president of the panel, or jury foreman, was a colonel. The panel's deliberations, while not lengthy, were not brief, either. In the end it convicted Gray of all counts. For the sentencing phase, the trial counsel (prosecutor) gave a point-by-point summary of the crimes and why they deserved the death sentence. The defense counsel, unable to argue Gray's innocence any longer, gave an impassioned plea to spare Gray's life. But death Gray got.

Unlike civil courts, in the miltary-justice system unanimous votes of the panel are required to convict when the offense is a capital offense and the court-martial is convened with the authority to adjudge the death penalty. Furthermore, the sentence of death must be a unanimous vote of the panel. (Crimes for which the death sentence is authorized by law do not have to be tried in a death-enabled court. The general officer convening the court may withhold authority to sentence the death penalty.)

And importantly, a military panel may not take a straw vote. There is only one vote, and it is for record. There is no limit on deliberations, but there may be only one vote. Had Gray received only one "not guilty" vote on the panel, he would have been acquitted (each charge is voted individually, though). And had only seven of the panel agreed to the death sentence on the panel's single vote to sentence, Gray could not have received it.

No record of how individual panelists voted is retained. No one on the panel may be in the chain of command of anyone else on the panel. It is forbidden by Army regulations even to mention court-martial duty in an officer's or NCO's fitness reports. Promotion boards never know whether a candidate for promotion has served on a court (and frankly, wouldn't care anyway).

I was in the courtroom for the trial and sentencing. When the panel announced the death sentence, Gray blinked a couple of times and that was all. The military judge confirmed the sentence. Along with it Gray was dishonorably discharged from the Army and sentenced to total forfeiture of all pay and allowances from that day forward.

What I don't understand is why it has taken 20 years for the case just to land on the president's desk.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Obama campaign denies approving prayer for publication

By Donald Sensing

The contentions over the publication of Barack Obama's prayer note he left at Jerusalem's Western Wall continue. Politico reports,

Obama spokesman Bill Burton flatly denied the contention that Obama's prayer, in the form of a note slipped into the Wailing Wall, was "approved for publication."

"That didn't happen," he said in an email. "We have neither confirmed nor denied the prayer to anyone."
This in apparent response to the claim of the publishing newspaper, Ma'ariv, that "Barack Obama's note was approved for publication in the international media" before Obama even arrived at the Wall.

Well, I already said that Ma'ariv was conducting a CYA exercise.

Princeton Review ranks green colleges

By Donald Sensing

Princeton Review is now ranking colleges and universities by how "green" they are.

More than ever, prospective students are judging colleges on their environmental stewardship along with the the traditional rankings of academics, dorm food, and the party scene, said Rob Franek, vice president of Princeton Review and the annual book's author. In the Review’s latest survey, 63 percent of college applicants and their parents said they wanted more information about a college’s commitment to the environment; a quarter of them said it would strong impact their decision to apply or attend a school.

'The Europeans Are Chasing Illusions'

By Donald Sensing

Der Spiegel interviews Dutch author Leon de Winter.

Short breaks

By Donald Sensing

1. Monica Goodling's testimony to Congress in May 2007 may not have been altogether true, say investigators.

Today the Justice Department's Inspector General released a new report concluding that political considerations -- namely how Republican were their credentials -- influenced the hiring of career prosecutors and immigration judges. And the report says that Goodling, who testified before Congress with immunity, was among the chief partisan cheerleaders.
2. Office Depot has signed a deal to be a NASCAR sponsor. Office Depot and Old Spice are "the new co-primary sponsors of Tony Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet Impala SS NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entry beginning in 2009."

3. Robert Novak has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Novak, a leading journalist and commentator for decades, was the key reporter in the Valerine Plame (non)scandal and investigation.

Beatrix Potter's birthday

By Donald Sensing

The AP:

Today is the birthday of iconic writer Beatrix Potter, InEntertainment reports. The author of the famous book, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," was born on July 28, 1866, and died December 22, 1943.
She had an "uncanny business sense" and proved it by producing "the first patented soft toy of Peter Rabbit in 1903."

And yes, it's Beatrix, not Beatrice Potter.

Obama's Western Wall prayer plot thickens

By Donald Sensing

Publisher of Obama's Western Wall prayer says his campaign gave them the note.

As I wrote about here, the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv obtained a copy of the Barack Obama's prayer note that he left at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and published it - a grave breach of propriety, according to the rabbi who oversees the prayer plaza of the Western Wall.

A seminary student, identified in Israeli media only by the initial of his first name, has publicly confessed to taking the note from the Wall and giving it to Ma'ariv.

Now a Jerusalem lawyer wants police to conduct a criminal probe into the whole affair.

[Attorney Shahar Alon] petitioned the attorney general Sunday asking him to order a police investigation into the removal and subsequent publication of a personal note left in a crack of the Western Wall by U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama during his visit to Israel last week. ...

"By making the note public," Alon wrote to Mazuz, "the newspaper violated the law protecting holy sites, several clauses in the penal code and also infringed upon the basic rights of a person's honor and freedom."
But not so fast. The same Haaretz story has this intriguing info.
Ma'ariv issued a response Sunday, saying that "Obama's note was published in Ma'ariv and other international publications following Obama's authorization to make the content of the note public. Obama submitted a copy of the note to media outlets when he left his hotel in Jerusalem. Moreover, since Obama is not Jewish, there is no violation of privacy as there would be for a Jewish person who places a note in the Western Wall."
As for the Obama campaign, it's keeping its hands off the whole affair, neither confirming nor denying that the published prayer was Obama's.

I would also say that Ma'ariv's rather outrageous claim that prayer of non-Jews don't enjoy privacy protection at the Wall simply will not hold up before rabbinic responses. One, there is a very deeply-rooted and truly genuine piety attached to prayers at the Wall, where (I dare say) almost all Jews understand that the prayers of Gentiles are honored by God as perhaps no other place on earth. Two, there is the practical matter that Gentile tourists flock to the Wall to pray there, and the economic impact of removing privacy protection of their prayers can't be dismissed.

Anyway, Ma'ariv's statement that it published what was essentially a press release from Obama's staff does change the entire tenor of the affair, and makes the seminary student's confession and repentance somewhat curious.

More: What Suddenly blog (and a hat tip!) and Big Lizards blog.

Update: The Anchoress has some penetrating thoughts on L'Affaire Prayer.

Update: The more I think about it, the more I am skeptical of Ma'ariv's claim that Obama's staff was handing out the text of his prayer as he left the hotel to go to the Wall. Note that it is not Obama & Co. who say this, but a paper that might be subject to criminal investigation. I find it hard to believe, that if Obama really wanted his prayer to issued like a press release, that it would be so devoid of content relating to his host country, Israel. Surely, even in a campaign as gaffe-prone as Obama's, someone would have pointed out that a prayer for public consumption in Jerusalem would do well to mention one or both of Israel and the United States. At least i think so.

It's still a good question

By Donald Sensing

In February 2007 I asked the iconoclastic question, "What if global warming is a good thing?" on my previous site (reposted on this site here.)

Now Popular Science asks much the same question: "Global Warming: Not So Bad?"

Can we do it?

By Donald Sensing

Yes we can!

Question is, why aren't we?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Obama's prayer thief confesses

By Donald Sensing

The man who swiped barack Obama's prayer note from Jerusalem's Western Wall has confessed to the deed, repented and asked forgiveness. FNC reports,

A student at a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem apologized Sunday after admitting he and his friends stole a prayer note written by Barack Obama and inserted into the cracks of the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.

The student, in an appearance on Israeli TV2, said he got in touch with the television network seeking help in returning the note to its rightful place. He added that he hopes Obama wins the U.S. presidential election.

“I am asking for Obama’s forgiveness. If he was offended by it… of course he was, this is not a nice thing to do. Nobody meant to … it was sort of a prank. I hope he will forgive us, and we hope that he will win the presidency,” said the student, whose identity was obscured by the television station.

The boy claimed he was not the one who took the note out of the Wall, but he was the one in possession of it afterward. He said a bunch of friends were at the Wall, and he is not sure who took the note out. One of his friends said he found it on the floor. Another said he took it from the wall. Later on, they tried to sell it to an Israeli newspaper.
The young man's face was in shadow on Israeli TV and he was identified only by the intial of his first name, the Hebrew letter Alef. JTA news agency repirted,
Channel 2's religious affairs correspondent said she had passed the note from the yeshiva student to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which reinserted it -- deeply -- between the ancient slabs of stone.
I wrote my thoughts about the scandal here. Rabbi Jackson wote of Obama's visit to the Wall here.

The awfully busy God

By Donald Sensing

Gerard Van Der Leun has a long and thoughtful post about why prayers are answered - or aren’t, as the case may be. Wisely admitting up front that, "We don't know much about God," Gerard basically says that God has free will as do we humans, and that,

Prayer is, in a sense, God's suggestion box; which is why many think that not all prayers are answered and why some, like the Tibetans, think that if you repeat a prayer often enough it gets noticed and answered. This irritating approach to prayer probably cost them their nation even though it hasn't shut them up. In general, it is probably not a good idea, but who am I to criticize? I'll leave that to the Dalai Lama who seems to be carrying on just fine.

But the main thrust of Gerard's piece about unanswered prayer" concerns God's work load.

He's one God who is running a very big universe. Perhaps He's got the whole thing franchised and He's running thousands of universes in a host of different dimensions, all with local variations to the main menu. We don't know. We can't know. But if you grant even one universe to this one God, you've got to admit this would be a very busy Supreme Being. Even being omnipotent and omnipresent and omniscient, You'd still have an In-Box beyond the human mind's capacity for bogglement. ...

The final upshot is that, even if God just steps away from his desk for a quick trip to heaven's free beverage machine, when He gets back he's confronted with at least 4,675,839 prayers presented as pink "While You Were Out Slips."

I submit that even the most omnipotent God cannot deal with incoming requests at this rate. ...

To me this is the most obvious reason that some prayers are answered while most are not. It's simply a question of time and resources, even for God.

Does it really happen this way? God knows.

Now, I like Gerard's writing a lot. He's a better writer than I am and an accomplished poet. I like Gerard personally, too, having corresponded with him for years, though we've never met.

All of which is an obvious preface to saying that I think he's missed the boat here. I will readily grant that prayers come to God at a rate that we can but poorly imagine - Gerard mentions the scene in Bruce Almighty where Bruce, a temporary deity, is so overwhelmed monitoring the prayer board that he freaks and hits the "yes to all" button. It causes no end of turmoil and even tragedy in the world, of course.

And I will not hide behind the old cliche that "God does answer every prayer, it's just that often the answer is no." This is true, but that's not what Gerard is getting at. He is addressing why so many prayers apparently get no answer at all. They are, as far as mere humans can tell, simply ignored.

But, "too fast, too many" is a reason I cannot accept. Here's why. The English philosopher-theologian Anselm of Canterbury, father of medieval scholasticism, postulated that God is “that than which no greater can be conceived." In philosophical inquiries that definition has withstood the test of time pretty well. (It was fiercely attacked at the time, but that's another posting.) After all, if there is a Supreme Being, then that being has to be, well, Supreme. There can be no greater.

So if God, the Creator of the universe, in unable to keep up with the workload of managing it, then I would not say that God is doing the best he can. I would say that the deity so described is not God.

Some polytheistic religions of the West did separate the Creator from the Manager and postulated that they are two distinct deities. Marcion in the second century was one of the chief intellectual figures of Gnosticism; he identified the God of Abraham as the Creator deity and the God of Jesus as a different deity. That is, the transcendent deity and the immanent deity were two deities. Gnosticism was finally overcome by the concerted efforts of early Church Fathers through strong counter-arguments.

But let us affirm here that the millennia-old traditions of the Jews and Christians is correct, that there is one deity who both created and manages the universe, and that this deity hear human prayers. For this post I'll ignore the issue that seems so important to some, whether God hears the prayers of non-Christians or non-Jews (depending on who is wondering, of course). Let me simply postulate that prayers are received by God.

Why are so many apparently unanswered? "Apparently" is a sort of dodge, of course, even though I do believe that some prayers do get answered in ways we may not recognize. But no more dodging. A couple my wife knew well a few years ago took the baby to the hospital because they found her in her crib not breathing. Life support, prayer vigils, the works. The infant died. Unanswered prayer? Definitely, and no dodging allowed that "the answer was no and God had a reason we can't comprehend." That answer lets both God and us off the hook too easily.

Besides, not all unanswered prayers are matters of life and death. I knew a Navy officer who earnestly prayed to pass her upcoming physical-training tests (maybe if she'd worked out more she wouldn't have needed to pray so much). Student pray before tests. And there is the phenomenon I've heard other pastors call the "weekly organ recital" - the Sunday listing of Aunt Erma's bad kidneys, Uncle Fred's glaucoma, and so forth.

God is not a cosmic vending machine for which prayers are the currency. The longer I spend in the praying business, the less I pray, or see the point in praying, for God to do something, darn it and the more I pray for him to lead me (us) to do something. I pray not that God will conform to my desires or needs of the moment, no matter how pressing they may be, but that I and others concerned in the prayer-situation be conformed more to God in the likeness of Christ.

Yet there is more necessary, I think. Prayer is only one part of engaging God. Remember Lieut. Dan in the movie Forest Gump? He lost both legs in Vietnam, would have preferred to have died, and finally tracks his old subordinate, Gump, to the Louisiana coast after the war. Dan joins Gump in running a shrimp boat. One day they are caught at sea by a sudden storm and Dan remains in the mast with the whipping rain and lightning all around, raising his fist to the storm and railing against God. Like Job, Lt. Dan is unable to dismiss such a God as delusion, even though it would be so much easier to do so. Finally, Dan finds his peace with God.

So many of us decline to encounter God except in storms of life or in pro-forma occasions such as a minute of silence now and then. Yet prayer is not simply some words uttered, no matter how heartfelt or sincere. Prayer is mainly a life lived out in godly ways for godly purposes. It surely can be no wonder that God refuses to acknowledge prayers seeking his miracles when we so consistently fail to acknowledge his call to us seeking our daily service. The conundrum of life-as-prayer is that we come less and less to ask God for an "answer" as for his presence come what may. Finally we realize that God with us and us with God is all the answer we really need.

Reposted from July 2005.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Let them enforce it

By Donald Sensing

In 1832, the US Supreme Court ruled that the state of Georgia could not impose its state laws upon Cherokee tribal lands.

The decision, rendered by Justice John Marshall, declared the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to be illegal, unconstitutional and against treaties made. President Andrew Jackson, who had the executive responsibility of enforcement of the laws, stated, "John Marshall has made his decision; let him enforce it now if he can."

The federal law affected by the decision was the Indian Removal Act, which formed the genesis of the "trail of tears," the eviction of most Cherokees from eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and northern Georgia to Oklahoma.

It looks like Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas has an updated version of Old Hickory's remark. Gohmert is sponsoring a bill that would transfer Guantanamo detainees to the grounds of the Supreme Court in Washington.
The bill is HR 6615. Its title is “A bill to provide for the transport of the enemy combatants detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Washington, D.C., where the United States Supreme Court will be able to more effectively micromanage the detainees by holding them on the Supreme Court grounds, and for other purposes.”

Andy Jackson would be proud.

Wind power generates more CO2

By Donald Sensing

A study by James Oswald, an engineering consultant and former head of research and development at Rolls Royce Turbines, revealed that generating electricity from wind power does not do much to lower CO2 emissions.

Have you seen Obama's guns?

By Donald Sensing

Man, Barack Obama must have an impressive set of guns. A German Bild reporter, Judith Bonesky, describes the scene:

He goes and picks up a pair of 16 kilo weights and starts curling them with his left and right arms, 30 repetitions on each side.
Sixteen kilos = 35.2 pounds. Understand that curling dumbbells is harder than curling barbells. That is, curling 16 kilos separately per hand is more diffucult than curling a single bar, with both hands, weighing 32 kilos.

If you think curling 16 kilos 30 times per arm is no big deal, then go to the gym and try it.

But wait! There's more!
Then, amazingly, he picks up the 32 kilo weights! Very slowly he lifts them, first 10 curls with his right, then 10 with his left.
Now we're up to 70.4 pounds per arm! I've been working out with dumbbells for two years, and I can hardly even hold a 32-kilo weight in one hand - it takes serious gripping power - much less curl it 10 times (700 pounds!)

I'm not saying no one can do this, or even that Obama did not. I know it can be done, but it takes a serious training regimen to get there. Maybe Obama has been lifting for the last 20 years and curling 70-plus pounds is just a light warmup for him. But really, people, are these the arms of a man who can curl 1,760 pounds per arm without a break?

I do not question that Obama is fit. He's in better shape than I am. But could it be that Judith Bonesky was in a wee bit in thrall to being in The Presence of The One? Here's a clue. The headline of the story is,
I worked out with Obama!
He curled 32 kilo dumbbells next to me +++ Barack is top fit +++ He didn’t sweat at all

Here's the final clue.

I ask: “Mr. Obama, could I take a photo?”. “Of course!” he answers, before asking my name and coming over to stand next to me.

“My name’s Judith” I reply.

"I’m Barack Obama, nice to meet you!” he says, and puts his arm across my shoulder. I put my arm around his hip – wow, he didn’t even sweat! WHAT A MAN!

"Arm around his hip"??? Is she serious? Uh, yes.

Update: Matthew Yglesias is skeptical, too. And a few of his commenters says that 10 curls of 70 pounds is "NFL lineman" stuff. Then there's this "beach babe" photo of Obama. Obviously, the man is good condition. But again - those are not the arms of a man who can curl almost 1,800 pounds without a break. But let me be clear. It is not Obama saying he did, it is a star-struck (love struck?), girly-girl German posing as a reporter.

Hard to argue with this list

By Donald Sensing

It's the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 movies of all time, arranged in 10 genres.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Obama's Western Wall prayer

By Donald Sensing

When I first heard that Barack Obama's prayer at the Western Wall had been retrieved and published, I was somewhat upset at the classlessness of the Jerusalem newspaper, Ma'ariv, that did so. Then I learned that someone had retrieved that prayer note and had, apparently, given it to Ma;ariv. Then I learned that another paper had also been given the note (presumably a Xerox) but had refused to publish it.

Then, frankly, I got suspicious. No one retrieved McCain's prayer note when he visited there in March. In fact, I can't remember any public figure's prayer being published.

So the circumstances of the prayer's retrieval and disclosure simply do not pass the smell test for me. Some people met Obama at the Wall with Obama campaign posters - for a supposedly unannounced visit - and then, quite by accident, apparently, someone grabbed his prayer note and passed it off to at least two newspapers.

All accidental? Coincidental? Really? [Update, 7/28 - I am now highly skeptical that the Obama campaign was complicit in the publication of the prayer. See Obama's Western Wall prayer plot thickens and Obama campaign denies approving prayer for publication.]

Some background: The Western Wall is the only extant remnant of the Temple Mount of ancient Jerusalem, where King David located the first Temple to be built, although David himself did not build it. In 70 c.e., the Temple was destroyed by two Roman legions fighting Jewish Zealots in The Jewish War, as the Romans called it. The Temple was looted, burned, and its walls thrown down.

Remains of the Temple Walls - stones thrown down by Roman soldiers 1,938 years ago. These stones lie today next to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, a few hundred meters from the "Wailing" Wall, part of the Western Wall.

This is the part of the Western Wall that includes the prayer wall. Note that there is a public plaza in the foreground that is always full of people. The dark band just above the heads of the people in the shot is the top of a barrier (more like a screen, it's not a security barrier) beyond which is the prayer plaza.

The prayer plaza is segregated, men only on the left and women only on the right. To pass beyond the barrier men must wear a kippa, or Orthodox-style head covering (see Rabbi Jackson's post), women must cover their head, usually with a shawl or scarf. For those arriving without a kippa, as I lacked when I took these pictures last October, the administrators conveniently provide stacks of kippas made of cardboard at the entrance through the barrier.

The "tourist" kippa is functional and that's all. It absolutely marks you as just passing through. When I return to Jerusalem next June, my co-author and close friend, Rabbi Jackson, has promised to provide me with a decent kippa, probably to avoid being associated with a rube Gentile who would simply pluck one from the stack. (Which is what Obama did, unlike McCain last March, who brought a real kippa of his own.)

Just under my shirtsleeve, above, you will notice white fillings in the cracks between the stones. Those are prayer notes left by that's day's visitors. I was standing to the far left of the prayer wall for the picture. Moving to the right the wall was crowded and the cracks were stuffed solid with prayer notes.

At the end of each day, a team removes all the notes left that day, after which they are ceremoniously burned, "so that the prayers may rise to God" symbolically, through the smoke. According to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz, "the rabbi of the Wall who accompanied Obama on his visit there,:
"the notes placed between the stones of the Western Wall are between a person and his maker. It is forbidden to read them or make any use of them." Ma'ariv's decision to publish the note "damages the Western Wall and damages the personal, deep part of every one of us that we keep to ourselves," he said.
I honestly cannot believe that one of the Jews keeping the Wall, who are among the most devout in the country, would have violated this very basic theology of the prayers at the Wall. So someone else removed Obama's prayer note. Who and why? Ah, that's the question.

Now, on to Obama's prayer itself. Here is the photo of the prayer published in Ma'ariv.

One correspondent emailed me to ask what did I think about writing the prayer on hotel notepad. Actually, I don't think I used paper that good, so I can't throw stones at Obama. You can bet that thousands of prayers written on hotel stationery or not that fancy get crammed into the wall every day. Besides, I would say that true prayer is written upon the heart, anyway: "A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise," wrote King David. So I can't make big deal out of the paper itself.

As for the prayer itself: Caroline Glick, deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, offered this observation:
This was supposed to be a private benediction, and it was extraordinarily improper for someone to take this prayer and sell it to the media. On the other hand, in the world of paparazzi, the exposure of the prayer was predictable, and Obama apparently constructed the prayer for public consumption. Like everything else about his visit, this was a carefully crafted statement, designed not to ruffle very many feathers. And like this prayer, there was nothing extraordinary about Obama’s visit. As you would expect from a politician, he tried to be all things to all people. And he probably succeeded.
Can't disagree with that.

Is the prayer too self centered, "all about me," as some have commented? Again, my prayer, which was much shorter, was almost exclusively about me. To go to the Wall, especially for the first time, is a very "focusing" event. It was, for me, a place of deep confession and contrition before God. I was made aware of my own helpless inadequacy before my Creator. I knew I was (and still remain) nought but a beggar for grace, with no standing before God on that day to bring grand petitions. "First, take the log from your own eye, then worry about the splinter in your neighbor's eye," a certain famous, ancient rabbi said. So I prayed for myself, and apart from myself only for the people of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

I would also note that there is not much room to cram a big piece of paper. I prayed with my lips much more than I wrote on the paper. Did Obama also? I cannot know, but must presume that if he approached the Wall with a modicum of faith, he did.

But the written record, (of which the circumstances of disclosure stinketh, I repeat) strikes me as a fully appropriate prayer, one that I would be more than willing to pray myself. There is not a single problematic sentiment. And it ends, "Make me an instrument of your will." How can anyone possibly pray or wish otherwise?

Update: Whited Sepulchre, who has "a deep spiritual kinship with the Senator," tries to "reconstruct the more honest prayer he may have slipped into the wall before this one."

No "bounce" for Obama

By Donald Sensing reports that "The significant news coverage Barack Obama is receiving on his foreign trip has not translated into a bounce in his [poll] numbers."

Why? Nicholas Wapshott, writing at City Journal, says that the entire overseas tour has really just been "Obama's ego trip."

But Obama is treading a dangerous path. It would be rash to take a November victory for granted; if he has learned nothing else from his slim victory over Hillary Clinton, he should have learned that nothing is inevitable. He would not be the first front-runner to fall victim to hubris. Rather than revel in the adulation of adoring crowds, he would do better to confirm to skeptical American voters that he will not value the well-being of foreigners ahead of the interests of Americans. Only by stressing that as president he would, like his predecessors, put America first—thereby disillusioning the Europeans—will he be able to convince voters at home that he has his priorities right.
I don't think that Obama's speech at Berlin's Victory Column will do much convincing. It's not that I think it was a bad speech - in fact, in many places it was quite good. It's that Obama failed to speak to American voters rather than a German throng.

(OTOH, Don Surber counts the errors in Obama's Berlin speech.)

Alaska's shivering summer

By Donald Sensing

Alaska is on track for the coldest summer on record.

I blame global warming. (HT: Don Surber)

A chill wind blows

By Donald Sensing

I'm not sure which of these campaign posters chills the air colder.

I guess I'll have to go with the Obama poster because, as Jim Geraghty said, "Nothing says 'character reference' like a teeming crowd of thousands of adoring Germans chanting your name."

Sea levels are falling

By Donald Sensing

Sea levels have been falling for the last two years. Tigerhawk has the charts.

I blame global warming.

Caption contest, Barack edition

By Donald Sensing

"Yeah, Angela did ask me me out for a date, but the really funny thing is, so did Olmert!"

Leave your own caption as comment. Winner, if any, to be announced Tuesday.

Yea, verily, yea!

By Donald Sensing

This is one of the best pieces of political satire ever.

The top 25 political speeches of all time

By Donald Sensing

That's the rather ambitious title of a two-part Telegraph series (25-13, 12-1).

Somehow, "all time" in the paper's opinion doesn't include any years before World War 2. So, for example, there is no mention of Lincoln's speeches or, for that matter, Pericles' funeral oration for fallen Athenian soldiers.

Even so, the list and linked-to texts are well worth the reading. As might be expected, the list is pretty Brit-centric, but that akes me quibble over the rank ordering rather than the selections themselves. And I cannot argue with the top three:

3. Ronald Reagan, June 12, 1987, at the Berlin Wall:

... “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalisation: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
Full speech: Tear down this wall

2. John F Kennedy, June 26, 1963, at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.
Two years after the Berlin Wall went up, and a year after the Cuban missile crisis, his spine-tingling message of solidarity with encircled West Berliners – “Ich bin ein Berliner” - became an instant classic. “Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in.”
1. Winston Churchill, August 20, 1940:
At the height of the Battle of Britain, Churchill gave his landmark speech in the House of Commons, paying tribute to the Royal Air Force pilots whose struggle was eventually to win the battle. ... "The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." Full speech: The Few

Sorry, but I think that the Telegraph chose the wrong Churchill speech to occupy the number one spot. The "never so few" speech was electrifying, no doubt - it addresses much more than the beleagured RAF - but I would nominate Churchill's "We Shall Fight on the Beaches" speech. Not only was it broader in scope, it is much better known outside Britain than the "few" speech.

The memory hole gets bigger

By Donald Sensing

I know that you think you remember what I said when I was asked what you think I was asked when I was asked what I was actually asked. But what I say I said and what you think that I said are not the same as what I said when I was asked what I was really asked, as opposed by what you mis-remember that I was asked. In fact, I never said at all what you think that I said, for in fact I already said then what I am about to say now, and unlike your memory or even transcript or video of what you think I said then, what I am saying now is in fact what I said then.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's the deceit. . .

By Donald Sensing

As I wrote here, it's the deceit that makes hypocrisy, hypocrisy.

Against the Wall

By Daniel Jackson

We've been busy this week setting up an office/studio in Efrat, a wonderful suburb of Jerusalem. It's been difficult to pay attention to the internet websites, which is usual for us; however, we've spent a lot of time on the road between Efrat, Jerusalem, Netanyah (home of IKEA), and the Galil. Lots of time to chat with people in lines and traffic jams as well as overhear what a lot of different people are saying and are not saying.

Regardless of what the MSM is saying, Israelis are not talking about Obama. Although the Jerusalem Post online website (okay, we logged in whenever we could) regularly changed its frontpiece photo of Obama and some talking head. One gag moi shot of Obama with Peres walking together along a white colonade with Obama's hand on Peres's back? Another, ten minutes later, with Netanyahu; thirty minutes later with Livni or Barak or Shlomo the Pickleman (only kidding).

But, Israelis couldn't care. They know in their kishkahs that Obama isn't here for Israelis. Obama is here for the American Jewish vote. The rank and file Israeli knows that Obama is an outsider here as well as there. There is no connection. There is only coldness and calculation. The AP picture of Obama with Olmert in the Jerusalem Post was a joke--the Two Yo-Yo's, a good buddy called it. Obama isn't even attempting to look at Olmert.

Is Adam Sandler writing the script for these things? "Hi, boys and girls; see, I'm wearing a flag pin! In Israel; with a real Jew."

There is an acid test Israelis give to visiting dignitaries--a way to watch and measure. Everyone goes to the Yad Hashem to bear witness to the Shoah. Everyone goes to the Western Wall to bear witness to the vortex of Western Culture and Spirituality. The former is a private confrontation with enormity. The latter is a public experience of personal faith. It is the person at the Wall that Israelis watch--How does the stranger come to the perimeter of the sacred space?

For Israelis, the measure of a person is how they handle themselves in strange and awkward situations. At the Wall, there is a culture of response and a way of behaving that is both personal (a manifestation of what is within) and reverential (respecting the externalities). Every individual approaches the Wall from public space, through a barrier into an enclosed section in front of the wall. People in the public open piazza can see into the enclosed space in front of the Wall and monitor the dignitary's response.

The critical moment, the transition if you will, occurs at the barrier, not at the Wall. Everyone who enters the enclosed sacred space before the Wall must cover their heads: men wear a kippa or a hat, married women wear scarves or hats or wigs. If you are religious, you wear a kippa or a hat at all times--so you wear your own through the barrier to the Wall. If you don't have one, men reach into a box at the barrier and put on a rayon "skullcap", white or black. The meta-message is clear. The latter group of guys are wearing the kippa because they have to--sort of like a flag pin--returning it to the box when they leave.

Back in March, I wrote about McCain's tour of Israel before Easter. He went out of the way to learn about Israeli culture and customs and to understand what Israelis were experiencing. He convinced Israelis he was interested in Israelis. It was not how he talked with officials and notaries. It was how he went to the Wall. He didn't need a "have-to" beanie. He came prepared. He wore the Kippa Sruga of the Modern Orthodox, or central observant Jewish parties. Symbols are serious stuff. He knew he was an outsider, an not a Jew, but at the Wall, he tried and he watched how people responded to the sacred space.


He reached into the box and took a white kippa. No matter how serious he appeared, lost in reverent prayer, he wore the "have to do it or you can't get in" hat. [AP photo; Jerusalem Post]

In the Global Village, the Medium is the Message, and there is no clearer medium in Israel than the cut of a man's kippa. From Efrat to Galil, Obama appears as another Carter--an outsider with no interest in Israelis.

When you've lost Howard Stern . . .

By Donald Sensing

... you're in deep trouble, yes?

"Happy face fascism"

By Donald Sensing

Universal National Service - that is, a no-deferment draft - is being seriously and financially supported by a new consortium of would-be dictators calling themselves Service Nation, which is set to spend a ton of money lobbying the government to create a program to force every young person into servitude by 2020.

Coyote Blog has the details and the links.

I wrote earlier this month that Barack Obama has already spoken in favor of renewing the draft.

Click this and ask yourself whether you're nervous enough.

Pallys not all gaga over Obama

By Donald Sensing

The Arab world is not unified in supporting Barack Obama. Here is a cartoon from Ar-Risala in Palestinian areas last month, captioned, "The Wagon [that gets you] to the White House."

This is a cartoon by a West Bank cartoonist in Al-Ghad, headlined, "The American candidate."

This one is from Saudi Arabia.

Next, (An Arab media website serving as a platform for both cartoonists and columnists from all over the Arab world as well as providing a large index of Arab newspapers):

Finally, a non-partisan blast at both parties - Al-Hayat al-Jadida, June 5, Headline: "The way to the White House."

Many more examples at the Anti-defamation league's site, whence came these.

Want to see something really scary?

By Donald Sensing

The Telegraph calls this, "The scariest ever YouTube video?".

The camera pans up the length of a 20ft snake, starting at the tail and edging slowly towards the head.

You know from the first shot how it's going to end, but that doesn't stop your heart from skipping a beat.

Prizes for those who manage to resist the urge to duck. Anyone seen anything scarier on YouTube?
I personally have had a much scarier moment than that with wild creatures, up close and personal. About 20 years ago, my wife and I visited the North Carolina Zoological Gardens near Asheboro. There was a lot of habitat construction going on since the zoo was still pretty new.

The day was pleasant so I bought us each an ice cream cone. We walked along the temporary asphalt path, viewing animals and exhibits along the way. After awhile we came to the Bengal tiger's cage. It was maybe 25 feet wide and 15 deep, obviously temporary while the permanent, bigger habitat was being built.

This Bengal was a magnificent beast with a glossy orange coat and vivid black stripes. Cathy and I stood at one end of the cage (open to view on three sides) and admired the animal. It was pacing at the far end. Cathy and stood a foot or so outsidethe wire caging, 25 feet away from the tiger.

Then the tiger charged us. Faster than an eyeblink, it whirled and plunged directly toward us with a full-throated roar. My only enduring memory of the charge is an image of the tiger in full leap, paws raised above our heads, claws in full extension, its fearsome face mere inches away:

The tiger crashed into the steel meshing and dropped to the ground. With a contemptuous flick of its tail it turned and padded away.

Neither Cathy nor I had had the slightest opportunity to move before it was all over. I looked at her and she at me. My eyes were surely as wide as hers. I felt something cold trickling down my hand. Glancing down, I saw that I had squeezed the ice cream cone into a pulpy, gelatinous mush.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Airlines running the slots

By Donald Sensing

The TimesOnline reports on the big environmental controversy across the pond: airlines flying mostly-empty planes on certain routes in/out of Heathrow in order to keep proprietorship of those routes. These routes are nicknamed "slots," and airlines are being accused of environmentalists of flying the slots even with few passengers aboard the planes.

Britain’s third-largest airline, bmi, will fly near-empty aircraft from this autumn to preserve multimillion-pound take-off and landing slots, The Times has learnt.

The rise in fuel prices and an expected slump in passenger numbers after the summer mean that many airlines will have to cancel flights, but bmi does not want to lose its coveted slots at Heathrow, which are valued at £770 million.

Airline executives are bracing themselves for their toughest winter yet as the credit crunch forces passengers to cut back on air travel and fuel prices continue to drive up costs.

The decision by bmi to fly “ghost flights” - short-haul trips with only a handful of passengers - is one of a series of plans being drawn up by airlines. Senior industry figures admit that other carriers will cancel domestic flights at short notice and gave warning of chaos ahead for business travellers. Rather than withdrawing from uneconomic routes, the tactic of cancelling individual flights is another way of retaining landing slots.

But as the paper explains elsewhere,

Under the "use-it-or-lose it" rules that govern the allocation of slots at Heathrow, airlines must use their slots 80 per cent of the time or forfeit them - at £25 to 30 million apiece, according to financial services firm Deloitte. As the credit crunch bites and passenger demand drops, using these slots efficiently may often be impossible.

Facing such maths, what is an airline to do? As David Robertson, Times travel commentator, says today: "It is better for a carrier such as Bmi to lose £20,000 per flight than to give up a £30 million slot."

Well, yeah. But until the system is reformed to enable airlines to keep slots even if they cancel a route (temporarily), then slot flying will continue to be practiced. Does anyone know whether the US air system has a similar issue?