Voodoo Histories - A Very Short Review

Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History by David Aaronovitch is a work which is both interesting and useful. I listened to it as an audio book for a book discussion group. I had not heard of the work until it was selected by the book group but I am glad I was exposed to it. The wording of the book title is not one I would have chosen but that is a minor quibble. In essence the book gives detailed examples of historical events which got twisted by conspiracy theories.

Aaronovitch does a masterful job of documenting the fraud surrounding “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. The book discusses in detail how the fiction started and how several incredibly unscrupulous people propagated and expanded the falsehoods. Just that section alone justifies getting the work.

The work touches on wide range of events ranging from a discussion of the Holy Grail to the death of Marilyn Monroe. These are topics with which I was familiar however I was not familiar with the case of Hilda Murrell who was murdered in the UK. This part of the book is the portion which I found had the biggest impact because it was a case that was new to me. It was amazing as Aaronovitch describing how conspiracy theories about the poor woman's death grew. It had the "obvious" villains such as the nuclear industry and sleazy politicians. Get the book to find out what really happened.

I recommend the book. I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in Pearl Harbor, Princess Diana, the assassination of JFK or any similar topics. And if you know someone going around claiming that attacks of Septemeber 11, 2001 (aka 9/11) were masterminded by Dick Cheney as a favor for his Galatic Overlords please make them aware of this book. They can listen to it or read it either way I expect a net benefit for humanity.


The Rational Optimist by Mathew Ridley - A Short Review

I recently read The Rational Optimist by Mathew Ridley for a book dicussion group meeting. The book is wide ranging and covered much of human history. Of course the bulk of the book covers recent centuries and particularly current and near future. A main theme of the book is the role that trade plays in human cultural and intellectual development. Ridley discusses human trade, invention and why there is reason for a optimist view. Ridley tries to be careful not be be pollyannish.

Overall I enjoyed the book and give it a mostly positive recommendation. Why mostly positive? There are a couple of points where he gets some details wrong in the section discussing computers. These are minor points. A bigger problem is that I would have preferred if he had a better grasp and presentation of some of the positions he criticized. However given the scope of the work I can suggest that people read it and while noticing the small glitches look past them to his larger argument. Ridley has some points well worth considering.


Getting Caught Up

A couple of months have passed since my last entry. The primary reason was that I was preparing for and then on a trip to Australia which covered the last few days of August and most of September. Part of the tour of Australia was in some remote areas and internet access was not easy to find in some cases. Plus I broke my right arm so the last couple of weeks of the tour I was doing everything left handed. I have been back home for a bit over a week and getting over the jet lag and the arm is healing very well. There was no dislocation of the break so no pins, surgery, or cast; just using a sling which should end by end of October. Pain and discomfort are decreasing. So over the next few weeks I will try to get caught up on making my comments on the world at large.

I will start with a pointer to a
YouTube video called "It Get's Better"
which is a message of hope for LGBT youth. As a straight person I never had homophobic bigotry directed at me in school however I can still feel sympathy for those who have. And that is why I am mentioning this YouTube video; if you know an LGBT youth particularly in a small town or a social situation filled with bigotry pass along the URL:

Some people have complained that the video is too San Francisco centric. Well perhaps. But if someone is in a bad situation having the hope of San Francisco might be what they need. And if at some point they make it to San Francisco and decide San Francisco is just not right for them then they can move to another reasonable place to live such as Marin County or Silicon Valley.


Agora - A movie review

Over the weekend I saw the movie Agora. The movie covers the destruction of the library of Alexandria and the murder of Hypatia. Thus there is no suspense about the outcome but the movie is in many ways more gripping than the typical Hollywood thriller. This movie covers actual historical events and although the details are not known completely it certainly seems to generally agree with what is known of the events.

There are a couple of themes in the movie; first theme is that violence and threats are not useful for deciding issue of religion or philosophy; and the second is the theme of faith versus reason. Is the movie is anti-fundamentalist? Yes but it is more than that. It is ultimately anti-faith. Fundamentalism derives from faith not the other way around. In reflecting on the movie a couple of days later I wonder if the people who made it realize how much of an attack on faith is implicit in much of the movie. This movie is painful and depressing but hopefully it will serve as to advance the cause of reason and rationality.

This movie is only being released in a few theaters and I strongly urge seeing it if possible.


Three Cups of Tea - A Book Review

I read the book The Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Olver Relin for a reading group. It was an interesting read. The book is the story of Greg Mortenson who gets separated from his guide coming down off of K2 and stumbles tired, hungry and weak into the small Pakistan village of Korphe. He is taken in by the village and recovered. He saw that the local children would try to learn from a teacher who came by a few times a week and the children were sitting in a open flat area on the ground trying to learn. The lucky students had a piece of slate that they wrote on with a stick dipped in mud. Mortenson promised to build a school.

Mortenson was basically broke. Mortenson worked as a nurse to finance his mountain climbing hobby and was only able to go on the K2 attempt by signing on as the expedition medic. Eventually Mortenson gets the money for the school. The details of the fund raising are actually an interesting part of the book. A donor leaves funds to start an institute as a framework for Mortenson to carry on his work.

One talent that Mortenson has is with languages and he is able to quickly pick up enough of the various local languages that he is able to function well. He is also sensitive to the cultural differences. I had heard much of the Mortenson story from various media outlets however one part that I had not heard much about was the impact of his work on his personal life. After the breakup of one relationship he eventually met Tara and they were married six days later. His work has put some stress early on in the marriage however now they have two children and the family seems to be dong well.

This is a book well worth reading.

Some good news about a court ruling

Federal Judge Richard J. Leon has just dropped all charges in the trial of John A. Stagliano and two of his companies. The prosecution had completed their case and based on the evidence presented the judge dropped all charges saying there was not enough evidence to even bother with hearing from the defense and sending it to the jury. The judge dismissed all charges and set Stagliano free.

Now you may ask why am I taking the time to write about this. Well it has gotten some press but in my opinion not enough. Reason magazine and blog have covered it very well. For example it was from a the Reason blog article about the beginning of the trial that read the report that FBI Agent Daniel Bradley was working on national security issues before being assigned to the Stagliano case. What was the Stagliano case about? Well I have not seen the movies however according to the news reports the movies involved sexual scenes milk, enemas and various other activities. It is not exactly mainstream but so what? That does not matter. What matters is the liberty of Mr. Stagliano and his associates to make the movies. Any adult with a credit card or a few dollars in their pocket can go buy them. If you do not want to watch them then don't. Info about the trial conclusion at the article including a short video.

This ridiculous case was started under the Bush administration which just adds one more item to the long list of vile, stupid and despicable things done by the Bush administration. Of course the reasonable thing for the Obama administration to do was drop the whole thing when the got into office but they did not stop it. The Obama administration has been disappointing in being either inept or reluctant to curtail many of the crap left over from Bush.

My concluding comment is that the next time you are standing in line at airport with your shoes in hand or hearing the next proposal for further monitoring every financial or other transaction that you do in the course of your daily activities just remember that it was the Bush administration who pulled an FBI agent from national security work to investigate some guy making kinky movies.


Concerning Rand Paul and related topics

As I write there is controversy surrounding Rand Paul and comments he made concerning the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This act has many provisions but the provision that is the focus is the provision making racial discrimination in public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, etc) illegal.

First there needs to be a bit of clarification. Rand Paul is not a libertarian. Neither is his father Ron Paul. And I do not find anything libertarian about the Tea Party. There are a lot of people who try to pass themselves off as libertarian when really they are just conservatives; often confused and uniformed and perhaps on occasion because they are too embarrassed to call themselves conservatives.

I think it is instructive to make a short and admittedly incomplete examination of Rand Paul's positions (and changes) on public accommodations and related topics because it demonstrates some of the problems with his position and some of this harshest critics. From what I see in the news reports Rand Paul originally had a position that the Federal government should not pass a law that prohibited racial discrimination in public accommodations since he felt that it was unconstitutional. One thing which is important here and which Rand Paul either forgot or failed to articulate is that context matters. In the context of the current USA the current interpretation per the SCOTUS of the constitution does allow the Federal government jurisdiction. Now Rand Paul may disagree with the SCOTUS and if that is the case then he needs to say that very clearly. Just coming out saying what he did just made him look silly. Then later he reversed himself opening himself up to charges of being an opportunistic flip-flopper.

From what I gather Rand Paul is much like his father is thinking that certain topics like separation of church and state as related to school prayer should be outside the jurisdiction of the Federal courts. For example from this article which quotes Rand Paul as saying "I think some religious communities might have prayer in the schools. I don’t think that’s any business of the federal government. The first amendment says that Congress shall establish no religion, it doesn’t say that Congress shall tell the local school district whether it can have any kind of religious activity in their schools." If a person is running for the US Senate I would think they realize that it is a long settled legal point that 14th amendment extended the 1st amendment protections to everyone in the USA. Now Rand Paul may not like the 14th amendment or may not like the interpretation of the SCOTUS and other Federal courts but to make his statement as he did in a political campaign makes him look silly and uniformed.

And to use a colloquialism; it seems to me that Rand Paul just does not have a clue. Rand Paul does not appear to realize what can happen to a student who does not join in a prayer at a school event. Bigotry and intimidation are not supposed to be part of school; Rand Paul should remember that and should realize that mixing religion into the public schools is both illegal and unwise. Rand Paul needs to understand that the level of government does not negate the issue of freedom from government mandated or sponsored religious activity or messages.

And another thing that Rand Paul should remember is that Blacks in the south for years had their private property taken as taxes to pave the roads and streets, to fund the fire departments, to fund police (usually racist) and other state and local services. The very services that segregated hotels and restaurants enjoyed. Based on what I have read of his views Rand Paul would approve the taking of private property from one group (the Blacks) and using it to provide services that enhance the private property of another group (the Segregationists)? But I suspect that he and his fellow conservatives would say "But it is just taxes and everyone pays taxes so it is all OK". Well no it is not OK. If Rand Paul wants to make a property rights argument then he needs to really understand what that means and where it leads. A logically consistent theory of property rights would not lead into his murky conservative swamp of hypocrisy and confusion.

Sometimes a historical document is useful and thus I recommend that Rand Paul read Dr. Martin Luther King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail and reflect upon it and see why Dr. King wrote those words and the point that Dr. King was trying to make. Rand Paul does not need to agree in total with King but it would be very useful for Rand Paul if he understood the context of the Civil Rights Movement. Understanding context is a good first step to getting a clue.


The Unicorporated Man - Book Review

Title: The Unincorporated Man
Authors: Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin
Publisher: Tor

This novel is about a man with a terminal illness who is revived about 300 years after having himself cryonically suspended. The technology of the time is able to cure his illness and restore him to vigorous health. However this man Justin Cord is different in one remarkable way from everyone else. Every other person is incorporated at birth with at 100,000 with the government getting 5% of the shares; the parents getting 20%. Other shares are sold to pay for raising and educating the child. When the individual becomes an adult the control of what stock remains is in control of that individual with the proviso that no person can own less than 25% of themselves. But not Justin Cord since he in unincorporated because he was cryonically suspended prior to the incorporation. And this seems to cause a lot of consternation. Particularly in one of the higher level employees of the largest corporation who early in the novel is attempting to trick Cord into voluntarily incorporating.

Cord has several sources of assistance in his adjustment to his new world and explaining the disasters that wiped out huge portions of the humans while Cord was suspended. One is a DijAssist which might be considered a cross between a smartphone, networked PDA and personal computer in a small portable form factor that has all data and personal information stored on the network so that if the unit is lost you just forget it and obtain a new one. Other assistance comes from a cast of characters; Omad who finds the cryonic chamber in an abandoned mine, Neela the "revive specialist" and others. At times the novel suffers because these characters are just a bit too stock and a littel too predictable.

Which brings me to one of problems I had with the book. The book makes the point that a romantic connection between a revival specialist and a revivee is considered a serious problem in the new society. Yet here we have the revival specialist and the revivee falling for each other and it is obvious that it is going to be an issue right from the beginning. It was so obvious that it detracted from the flow of the story. Why have the stereotype of woman as nurturer? At times it was almost painful to read. Why not have Neela be the person out exploring in the mine and have Omad as the revival specialist. That would have been a fresher approach.

Another problem with the book is that it needed another pass by an editor. There are several places where I think the authors were too close to their text and thus did not spot some lines that detract from the flow of the novel. As a reader I find it annoying when authors drop in a line which kicks the reader out of the reading experience with a "What???" reaction. Unfortunately the authors have a dozy in this novel where in discussing the issues related to destroying one system without considering what would replace it there is this: "It's almost always something or someone worse. Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, and Ahmadinejad, to name but a few." Ahmadinejad??? Give me a break. First let us be clear that I think Ahmadinejad is a very dispicable person. And it is possible that in the future Ahmadinejad might do actions which justify placing him on a list with Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler and Stalin. But Ahmadinejad has not done those actions yet and is not likely to do so. First remember that Ahmadinejad is not changing a society he maintaining the status quo. Secondly consider that Ahmadinejad is more of a threat to start a war with neighboring countries than do internal purges in Iran on the level of a Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler or Stalin.

In addition to the above example about where another pass by editor would be helpful there is the section about the DijAssit and their association. Was the DijAssit section included as a hook for the next novel? Supposedly the authors have a three book contract with Tor so there are still two more novels and it makes sense that one or both might be sequals to this one. But that section is not well integrated into the book and is rather distracting.

The novel seems to have generated interest partially because it deals with the concept of incorporation. As a general concept selling shares in future income is not a new concept and the novel does pay homage by quoting Milton Friedman discussing financing education by shares in future earnings. But note the difference; Friedman is discussing shares in future earnings not shares in the individual. And this makes a big difference since in the system described in the novel where a person lived or worked could be determined by the shareholders with a majority of that persons shares. Which is why owning a majority of your own stock is a goal for many in the novel however unrealistic that goal may be. Of course Justin Cord does not want to be incorporated.

The issues of liberty, social organization and other topics from political philosophy are a backdrop for the novel and are sometimes discussed explicitly by the characters. One of the difficulties with writing this type of novel is providing information to the reader without a series of obvious "As you know Bob" sections. The authors did fewer of these than I expected and the opening pages of the book which introduce the characters of Omad and Neela show a lot of work went into introducing the characters along with a basic outline of incorporation.

The initial concept behind this novel might be interesting but for me the novel just does not meet my expectations. For people like me who are already familiar with the idea of shares in future wages the idea of shares in a individual is not that much of a leap. It takes more than interesting ideas to carry a novel and in this case some of the novel seemed at times formulaic and the characters too stereotypical.

I will close this review with a little thought experiment. Recall the end of the novel where the crowd is chanting "ONE FREE MAN" and then Cord gets them to chant "ALL FREE MEN". Consider for a moment that instead of the protagonist being a man named Justin Cord that the protagonist had been a woman named Justine Cord. The initial chant would have been "ONE FREE WOMAN"; how would the chant have been changed by a Justine Cord? Perhaps to "ALL FREE WOMEN"? This would have made for a very interesting twist.


2081 - A Movie Review

Title: 2081
Length: 25 minutes
Website: http://www.finallyequal.com/

This film is an excellent adaptation of the short story "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut.

I suspect that most people are like me in having read the short story years ago and thus the general structure and end of the story are known to most viewers. Yet the movie is riveting due to the extra dimension that the visual impact of the handicapping devices and the uniforms of the police.

This is a movie where all of the pieces work; the director does a great job, the actors are excellent, the costuming and sets hit the mark. The movie is visually excellent; it enhances not detracts from the story. The movie follows the original work by Vonnegut where appropriate but differs and introduces new elements that give it a more urgent flavor.

I highly recommend this movie. Very seldom do I find that a movie adaptation surpasses the original written work; however in this case I think this movie really builds on and enhances Vonnegut's work.


A Great Weekend

This was a fine weekend. It began with Friday evening with Nancy. We had a wonderful meal at Yulong Cafe in Mountain View. We had some delicious wonton soup followed by very tasty Hunan Lamb and rice.

Saturday I slept a bit late and then got up to take care of a few errands. One of which was to pick up a camera extension at REI in Fremont. One of the email list I am on had mentioned that there would be model railroads operating at Niles. I am not a big rail fan like some people but I do find it occasionally interesting so I headed to Niles. Niles is one of the smaller areas which was incorporated into the larger city of Fremont. Niles was where Charlie Chaplin and others did much of the early film work. The Niles Celebration was being held over the weekend. I paid a reasonable $3 for entry to the old train depot which is now a museum of railroad items such as tools, equipment and uniforms. Also there were a couple of model railroads setups. While I was in the Depot an Amtrak train passed by on the tracks. Outside they served free cake and cookies. I opted for some cake. Adjacent to the depot was a "garden scale" model railroad which actually used steam rather that electricity. Unfortunately it was not operating because of a damage to the rod connecting to the piston which seems to have occurred during a collision earlier. The model locomotives were about 18 inches long and looked interesting. A replacement was being setup but I did not stick around because I was getting hungry for some substantial food.

I have been trying to eat somewhat healthy but I treated myself to a tasty Angus burger with cheese, sweet potato fries and a coke at the Essanay Cafe across the street from the depot. I walked around Niles for a bit and then headed home. That evening I went down to the Hedley Lounge and had some Guinness and listened to live music. The Hedley has live music on the weekends usually jazz or some jazz influenced variant.

Sunday I slept late and then got up and finished the book I was reading. I have written a review of the book. The book is titled Why American History is not What They Say. It was a really beautiful day. I went out for bicycle right and really enjoyed the fine weather. I also did a few small chores. The evening was spent working. Yeah, working. There were some work related items that need to be finished by tomorrow and I had indicated that I would start on them Sunday evening. And things went faster than planned so I completed them.


Book Review - Why American History Is Not What They Say

Title: Why American History Is Not What They Say: An Introduction To Revisionism
Author: Jeff Riggenbach
Published: 2009
Publisher: Ludwig von Mises Institute
The book may be ordered directly from the publisher.
It is also available as a complete download:
PDF Version
EPub Version
Also available are:
various podcasts by Riggenbach.

First let me begin with the obligatory disclaimer that I am reviewing a book written by a friend. I have known Jeff for many years.

With the disclaimer out of the way let us turn to the work. This work covers a lot of ground touching on the nature of history as a scholarly pursuit, how novels and novelists have addressed historical issues in their fiction and an interesting discussion of the shifting meaning of political labels in the USA.

The book opens with a discussion of history and how it has changed over time from being a "literary" activity to becoming increasing rigorous as it began to conform to the standards of modern scholarship. Some of the events, issues and persons mentioned in the first chapter were familiar to many and some were not. For example I was not aware of Peter Novick and his work on history and now I hopefully recognize the name and the nature of his contribution when I encounter it again. This is one of valuable features of the first chapter that while it covers and attempts to relate many different views it provides enough specific information to assist those who want to follow a specific figure.

The second chapter deals with the historical fiction of Gore Vidal and his "American Chronicle" novels. I must admit that I have not read these novels although they have been on my "to read" list. Unfortunately the list gets new additions at a faster rate that I can read. Fortunately Riggenbach has done a wonderful job of describing Vidal as a novelist and the nature of the novels in the series. If I ever do begin to read the Vidal novels I am sure that having read this chapter.

The third chapter covers the development of American Revisionism in essentially three different waves. I was aware of some of the historians mentioned here such as James J. Martin whose book Men against the State was a fascinating read for me back in the 1970s. Others such as Charles Beard and Harry Elmer Barnes I was more vaguely aware of as scholars but I did not know how they related to each other and historical revisionism. The development and intellectual connections from the "New Historians" such as Barns and Beard to the New Left Historians such as
Gabriel Kolko and William Appleman Williams useful for quick overview for the non-specialist wanted to quickly orient themselves to the figures. The discussion of the career of James J. Martin is a very engaging look a unique individual. I was vaguely familiar with some the aspects of Martin's career and the Riggenbach's discussion of James J. Martin fills in some very interesting details. The chapter ends with a discussion of the "Libertarian" historians such as Martin and "New Left" historians on several issues and set the stage for the following chapter about the wars of the USA.

The fourth chapter covers revisionist viewpoints of the wars of the USA; the Civil War, both World Wars and also the Cold War. This is the chapter with the fewest pages in the book but it is not short on substance. For those raised on the regular high school history class version of the history of the USA this chapter will be an awakening. It is not common for people to be aware of issues related to Lincoln and violations of civil liberties or the issues related to Wilson and the entry of the USA into WWI. This short chapter should quickly alert everyone that the simple narrative stories of one's youth may not be complete or accurate.

The fifth chapter covers politics and the revisions and a general discussion of issues related to the shifting meaning of terms such "Liberal". Understanding these issues helps put Hoover and Roosevelt in a more understandable framework. Others besides Riggenbach have discussed this shift in the meaning of "Liberal" but I find his one of the most concise. Riggenbach provides a very clear and cogent explanation of why the Libertarian movement is not a movement of the Right. All of the misguided people who think that Libertarianism is "Right-wing" should read the clear and well framed discussion.

The final chapter in the book discussed the current state of history and textbooks. Textbooks have long been an area of contention and not just in the area of history. Textbooks in biology and geology have had conflicts over their content. There conflict about history textbooks will likely continue for a while. The recent events in Texas concerning high school history, humanities and social science curriculum will likely not be the last.

This is thought provoking work and I recommend it to anyone interested in history, politics, social sciences and humanities or even historical fiction.


Two things I like and one thing I don't

There are many things that I like (what I will for now call good) and many things that I do not like (what I will for now call bad). And occasionally I decide to comment on one or the other here. I originally planned comment on an item which I found distressing; but before I started writing a couple of other items came to my attention so I am going to sandwich things so that there is what I consider a good-bad-good sandwich. This way I can ease the gentle reader in with something good then deal with the bad and then let them exist with a reflection on something good.

My friend Brad Templeton has a great wit and I find it amusing when he encounters some person or organization which has gotten a bit big for its britches. As you probably know for months various people have been taking a short clip of the scene where Hitler is ranting from the movie Downfall and adding humorous English subtitles. Brad has a long time interest in issues related to free expression and has done great work in that area including serving for many years as Chair of the Board of Directors of the EFF. A while back Brad put together his version with a focus on the issue of take down notices. And then Constantin, the studio which made the movie Downfall issued a take down notice to YouTube concerning the Brad's work. Brad's web page about this is great reading and has links to the work. Take a look and support the EFF.

Now to some thing bad and sad. Iran has experienced earthquakes some leading to great loss of life in the past few years and likely there will be more due to the tectonic faults in Iran. What I would consider a reasonable response to this situation would be to work on improving understanding of earthquakes, to be careful where buildings are built, use best practices for building design and construction and to educate people about how to survive an earthquake and to be prepared. Instead of working to educate people about why earthquakes happen the BBC reports that the acting Friday prayer leader in Tehran Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediqi said "Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes." This represents a confusion at a deep and fundamental level; earthquakes are a natural geological phenomenon. And just so that no one thinks I am picking just on Islam let me remind everyone that when the great Lisbon earthquake hit in 1755 it is reported that many Christians running around claiming that it was due to divine anger. We as human need to realize that geology and the rest of the sciences are the province of science and should not be used to spread some non-scientific message. It is long past time to get rid of superstitions.

And now back to something good. Or at least bittersweet since the person I am going to refer to next was treated very badly in his later years but who even though remembered by few still stands a person who worked for human liberty. That person is Moses Harman. My friend Wendy MacElroy has written a fine summary of the life and work of Moses Harman. Moses Harman is one of those people who deserve to be better known and should be taught it every high school history class. Harman was a champion of the rights of women and an early advocate of an open discussion of birth control, sex and the role of women of society. In the periodical that Harman found one could find discussion of these and other important matters. That he was sentenced to hard labor in prison at the age of 75 for openly publishing these discussion is shocking. I highly recommend the biographical summary that Wendy has written.


Sickening video of attack

Sickening. Incredibly sickening.

WikiLeaks has set up a site with video which appears to show the attack in 2007 in Iraq by USA military helicopters which killed several people including two employees of the Reuters news agency. From the reports I have seen the USA military is not disputing the authenticity of the video. In addition to the many dead adults two children were seriously injured. As is too often happens in cases such as this there was obfuscation and coverup by the government.

There is a lot of discussion on the blogs about if and to what extend some of the individuals may have been armed when the attack began. But consider what happened later. There is one individual still alive but wounded. A van pulls up and two individuals jump out to load this person into the van. They are clearly not a threat to the USA forces. They are loading the wounded individual into the van when the helicopter attacks the van. The van contained two children. The price of stopping to aid a wounded person in this case was the two persons giving aid as well as the wounded person were all killed. The two children were seriously wounded.

Many people have already commented on the videos; some blogs have been more widely read that others; a couple of blogs with interesting things to say:
Jacob Hornberger at FFF
Glenn Greenwald at Salon

I suggest everyone consider this episode seriously from as many different points of view as they can find that are well researched and reasoned. The Iraq fiasco started with lies and deception from Bush, Cheney and their cronies. It continued with torture and abuse in Abu Ghraib. Now we have this. And the common thread has been deception and obfuscation. Certainly not everything has been as bad as Abu Ghraib or the attack on the van. But there is also likely similar events that have not yet been reported. And it is quite possible that they never will be reported since deception and obfuscation appear to be the current method of operation.


NASA Moon Landing Faked

Now there is is photographic evidence:


Now we have evidence of the devious NASA false information team generating misleading stories about the "so called" moon landing. How can anyone look at the evidence above and not be shocked. Shocked that the gullible public has been mislead about this matter.

And now you know.

And remember if you line your bedroom completely with tin foil you will not need to wear your tinfoil hat when you sleep.


Maria Goeppert-Mayer

Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1906 - 1972) received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963.

Maria Goeppert came from a family with a long history of university professors and a family expectation that she would attend university. Although university preparatory classes were not as readily available for young women she was availed herself of opportunities and passed the entrance examinations to enter the University at Göttingen in the Spring 1924. Intending to study mathematics, she became interested in physics and changed to that field; earning a doctorate in theoretical physics in 1930.

In 1930 she came to the USA with her new husband Joseph Edward Mayer. During most the depression years she was not able to find a teaching position at a university however continued her research and learning in various fields of physics. In 1946 they went to Chicago and she became Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago and was a researcher at the Argonne National Laboratory. It was during this time that Dr. Goeppert-Mayer did the work on nuclear shell structure for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1963 with J. Hans D. Jensen and Eugene Paul Wigner.

In 1960 she received an appointment as Professor of Physics at University of California San Diego.

Much of this information is from the Nobel Prize site:


I am indebted to Sharon Presley for sparking my interest in Dr. Goeppert-Mayer by her post in Facebook about her as a series of women in science:


March 24 is Ada Lovelace Day in the blogosphere.

A Sad Situation

Recently we have had news reports that are a sad commentary on the state of knowledge and discourse in some segments of the USA.

A few weeks back there was a poll of a couple of thousand Republicans taken by Daily Kos and Research 2000. I just became aware of the poll and one question jumped out at me because it was not a question about policy but about a simple matter of where Obama was born. According to the poll when asked if they believed that Obama was born in the United States 36% said No. Think about this a moment; 36% said No; based on what? There is a birth certificate and newspaper notice and reports of relatives that support Obama being born in Hawaii. Is there any evidence for any other birth place for Obama or which calls into question the evidence for Hawaii? Although many seem to have investigated this matter none has been provided. So why do 36% of the people in the poll say No? Are these 36% saying No based on wishful thinking or what? The poll was sponsored by Daily Kos which has a known political bias and while I do not think the poll was deliberately distorted; for the sake of discussion let us cut 36% in half and call it 18%. Still 18% is approximately 1 in 6 people. For 1 in 6 people to answer a poll that Obama was not born in the USA is mind boggling.

The news reports I have seen indicate that racial slurs were shouted at Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) as he and other Congresspersons walked into vote Saturday on the health bill. The report is that the person or persons shouting the racial slurs were part of a rally against the bill; the organizer of the rally has denounced the racial slurs. Also it is reported that Rep. Barney Frank was called a homophobic slur. This sort of behavior is boorish and vile.

Over the weekend several windows in offices of Democratic party members were broken by bricks and rocks. At least one person named Mike Vanderboegh actually has a blog where he appears to be advocating this sort of misbehavior and general stupidity. It is difficult to make much sense of his ramblings but if he thinks that throwing bricks through windows is going to improve the situation then he is mistaken. It is difficult to tell if he is a misguided idiot or a delusional fool or a hypocritical opportunist out for personal gain. Unfortunately Vanderboegh is the type of person who has no clue about libertarian philosphy yet will think it is a neat sounding term so will call themselves libertarian. Glenn Beck is another one who seems to want to falsely call himself a libertarian. Beck and Vanderboegh are not libertarians.

I would like to suggest that there are a lot of people who need to slow down, take a deep breath and get a grip; then maybe rational discourse will be possible.


Ash - A Book Review

Warning this review contains spoilers.

The novel Ash is not the type of book I normally read. It is a book with fairies and spells and magic. It is written for and marketed towards teens. So how did I happen to read the book? I had seen it mentioned in a couple of blogs so I was aware of the title. What got me really interested was listening to the author Melinda Lo participate on a panel at the 2009 World Fantasy Convention held in San Jose. I found Lo's remarks about the book and writing in general interesting enough that after the panel was over I went to the dealer's room and found a copy to buy. Just as I getting ready to make the purchase the author came by and so I now have an autographed copy.

A quick summary of the book is that it is Cinderella retold. The story has the usual elements of a cruel stepmother and her two daughters who have access to the court. Ash is the step daughter who is made to do the manual labor of the household. Melinda Lo does a fine job of maintaining the overall structure of the Cinderella story while adding new twists and character changes that it keeps the readers interest. For example the two daughters Ana and Clara have character differences which keep them from simply being stereotypes; this is particularly true of Clara who is a more pleasant and less self-absorbed character; and who at the end of the novel shows signs of becoming a better person. The book is further populated with a range of characters from both the fairy world and the non-fairy world.

The story picks up intensity as Ash meets and becomes friends with Kaisa the women who leads the King's hunt. Since this is a Cinderella story we are given a grand ball where Ash dances with the prince and dazzles him. But to be able to attend the ball Ash has to make a pact with Sidhean of the fairy world and paying that debt provides tension and we see Ash grow as she struggles to deal with her commitments as well as understand the relationship between Sidhean and her mother whose death is described early in the book.

The book concludes Ash returning to the royal court where the prince is going to announce his choice from all of the eligible young ladies of the country. But Ash leaves her cruel stepmother not for the prince but for the Kaisa the King's Huntress. This conclusion is well written and flows easily from the rest of the book without seeming hurried or overly dramatic.

For persons like me who do not normally read stories with fairies the book might start a bit slow however after the first few pages I got into the flow of the book and it was well paced through out. It is also the appropriate length at about 260 pages of easy to read type. Too many authors might have been tempted to pad the length out and I think increasing the length would have diminished the pace of the book. I recommend this book.

Potlatch and Restaurant Review

Potlatch is a small literary oriented SF convention that is held annually in each the Seattle or San Francisco Bay Area or occasionally in Portland. This year it was held March 5-7 in Seattle. I attended and had a wonderful time. The attendance is about 150 people and it has a single track of programming on generally literary topics as well as a small dealers room where one can find many interesting books. In addition to the scheduled program items there are nanoprogram items which are small gatherings which any person at the con arranges by putting up a notice of the topic, location and time. Anyone interested can show up. In 2011 the next Potlatch is scheduled to be in the San Francisco Bay Area most likely in Sunnyvale. More information can be found at the Potlatch website.

Potlatch was held in the Hotel Deca; an atypical hotel with character located in the University district of Seattle. There many choices for eating in that area. On Saturday a group of five from Potlatch walked the few blocks to eat at Chaco Canyon Cafe. This quirky vegetarian, organic restaurant prepares tasty food and serves it in relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Two people in our group of five SF fans run a farm which sells produce to the restaurant and were the ones who recommended it. Everyone in our group enjoyed the food.


Rock'n'Roll - A few comments about the play

The San Jose Stage Company has a great production of the play Rock'n'Roll by Tom Stoppard. This play covers the period from the Prague Spring through the Velvet Revolution. Set in Prague and Cambridge the examines the the tension between an authoritarian regime and culture, in this case Rock and Roll. The play flips many times between Cambridge and Prague and covers over two decades with being disorienting. The minimal set allows for quick changes and the display of location and year on the back drop following a change is probably helpful for those who might not be aware the period and the background.

Max and Eleanor as the intellectual couple in Cambridge are well crafted showing enough of the tension from their marriage and their struggles with old age and cancer while still developing the story of their relationship with daughter Esma and the visiting student Jan. The dynamic between Jan as a visiting student and the older committed Communist Max the university professor is a point which is established early in the play and then reappears near the end.

Rock music is a general background and in the particular references to the rock musician Syd Barrett and the Prague rock group Plastic People of the Universe occur throughout the play. Stoddard examines the question of how an authoritarian regime is threaten by a non-political musical group. And how a regime in power will try to co-opt those that it perceives as a threat by offering benefits and recognition only at the cost of a few "small" changes or adjustments. Perhaps changing a song or some other "small" thing.

The tanks which rolled into Prague to crush the reform movement of the Prague Spring are not shown rolling around on stage and thus are more powerfully sinister in the play as the "helpful assistance" from the other socialist countries. By not overplaying the violence and threat of violence it keeps the play from becoming a cliche.

There is much more to this play than I am covering here. Even a couple of days after seeing the play I am still thinking of some of the scenes and their meaning. One interpretation that I would project on the old Communist professor Max is that a great flaw of his was that he was a committed believer and not a doubter. It is difficult to be an authoritarian or an apologist for authoritarians if one is able to consistently question and critically examine all points of an ideology.

I highly recommend this play.


Liberal Fascism - A Book Review

I occasionally write book reviews. However I usually only review books which I have read in their entirety. I will make an exception in the case of the book Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. I waded through the first 70 pages and the last chapter and looked at bits and pieces of the remainder.

I value my time and energy. Even eye fatigue can be a constraining factor in how much one reads. Thus I will occasionally stop reading a book when I find the enterprise of reading it is no longer profitable. I started reading the "Liberal Fascism" and soon found myself increasingly annoyed by the problems I was finding. I took out a notepad and started to jot a couple of notes about inaccurate and/or misleading statements. As the notes increased I soon realized that I was rapidly losing confidence in the accuracy of the book.

One example from the first chapter (p. 6):
"The Black Panthers - a militaristic cadre of young men dedicated to violence, separatism, and racial superiority - are as quintessentially fascist as Hitler's Brownshirts or Mussolini's action squads." This sentence comes in the middle of a rambling paragraph about racism. The sentence gives an extremely misleading picture of The Black Panthers and neglects to mention the formation of the group in part as a response to the tactics of the Oakland Police department which Black Panthers considered as racist and brutal. The Black Panther Party (originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) certainly contained some violent young men but it is also important to remember that the Black Panther Party and its members were the target of violence instigated by or done in cooperation with the FBI. And let us not forget that the Black Panther Party contained women and was for a while headed by a women who unsuccessfully ran Oakland City Council. The Black Panther Party organized and worked with other community groups for activities such as breakfast for poor school children and a school. And I suspect we have all seen the photo of the Black Panthers openly carrying shotguns. But to only describe the Black Panthers as supporting gun rights, creating private non-government schools and setting up private non-government charities would be as misleading as the description that Goldberg gives.

I began to wonder if I was reading a work of serious scholarship or work of propaganda; there were other misleading statements and unfounded leaps of inference. I suspect that most readers find an occasional point of disagreement with any book they read however this book had many more than I had expected.

On page 12 Goldberg writes:
"What I am mainly trying to do is to dismantle the granite like assumption in our political culture that American conservatism is an offshoot or cousin of fascism. Rather, as I will try to show, many of the ideas and impulses that inform what we call liberalism came to us through an intellectual tradition that led to fascism." Notice that shift that Goldberg makes in rejecting that conservatism in an offshoot or cousin or fascism by attempting to hang the label on the liberals. This is particularly odd given that Goldberg discusses the lack of a consensus definition of "fascism" amongst the scholarly community and the wide range of popular uses often as an term of derision. Goldberg even quotes Orwell as saying that term word fascism as merely signifying "something not desirable". Goldberg gives his personal working definition of fascism on page 23:
"Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common god. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore defined as the enemy. I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism."

Given that he later says that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of the elements in his definition of fascism one wonders just what Goldberg really means. If as Goldberg says in his definition fascism really has this totalitarian view and if contemporary American liberalism embodies all of the aspects of fascism then how can an individual be a liberal and not also be a fascist? Consider that earlier Goldberg writes "Now, I am not saying that all liberals are fascists" on page 8. Is Goldberg contradicting himself? Goldberg's usage of words and phrases such as "everything" and "embodies all of these aspects" does not leave much room for alternative interpretations. Perhaps there are alternative interpretations but I have not yet found them.

Goldberg emphasizes the historical antecedents and the common intellectual traditions of modern American liberalism yet I do not find him paying sufficient consideration to what changes occured over time. To give an example there is a tradition from chemistry all the way back to alchemy; yet that does not mean that chemistry is a pseudo-science. Merely cataloging ancestry does not substitute for serious analysis.

There is some serious analysis that can be done in analyzing the transgression of individual liberties not just during the Progressive era but from the landing of the first European colonists to the present. And there is no reason to restrict that investigation to one political faction. It is a topic well worth study and can provide cautionary reminders not to infringe on individual liberty. And a study of this sort is best done in a spirit of intellectual honesty.

But I am concerned that Goldberg has (perhaps unwittingly) made the discussion of these topics more difficult. Having any discussion of Progressive era infringements on individual liberties either derailed or discounted due to the problems associated with the Goldberg book will be unfortunate. It seems to me that working toward keeping the intellectual atmosphere clear is a valuable endeavor. And I think that a good first step is to not present works of propaganda as if they were serious scholarship. Even if a person wins an argument with weak arguments and rhetorical tricks how long can the victory last? To be taken seriously it helps to be serious.

At a more basic level is the question of political philosophy. For a serious consideration of liberalism I think it would be more profitable to consult a serious scholarly work. For example I had the good fortune to read the classic work "A Theory of Justice" by John Rawls along with "Anarchy, State and Utopia" by Robert Nozick for a college philosophy course just after the Nozick book was published. Nozick had written his work partially in response to Rawls. If one is interested in considering liberalism then I suggest that reading Rawls is much more profitable than reading Goldberg. I do not fully agree with either Rawls or Nozick but I am glad I read them years ago.

I do not recommend Liberal Fascism.



The movie Creation is out in limited release. If you get a chance and are interested in Charles Darwin and his family life and personal struggles during the years just before he published his book On The Origin of The Species then I strongly recommend this movie.

I have minor quibbles with the editing of the movie. But are just that minor quibbles; very minor quibbles. I left this movie feeling like I seen what a really good movie was like.

The movie website:http://www.creationthemovie.com/ lists limited number of theaters in which it is being released.



I expect everyone has seen and heard the extensive coverage about Haiti. I have just a few comments.

Please consider donating now and again in four to six months. After the emergency there will be a need for rebuilding and Haiti will be fading from the news. I have already donated now and I have set an alarm to remind me to make a donation in a few months. Most of us have a Blackberry, Treo, iPhone, Android or a similar smartphone or PDA. I suggest putting in a calendar reminder for some date four to six months from now; that is what I have done.

The impact of the earthquake on Haiti was compounded by Haiti being a poor country. The discussion of developing countries and what policies should be followed is often a topic that triggers ideological bickering. I will keep my comments brief. Based on what I have read Haiti has the misfortune of an overly bureaucratic and rigid system making it difficult for entrepreneurs to start new businesses. To the extent this is correct then now is a good time to change. Basically I think they need to read the book The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto. It is not a perfect book but it has a number of important points that might help in developing a functioning economy in Haiti.

Another thing which I have read but not had time to verify is that the French sucked a lot of money out of Haiti following Haiti winning its independence. I have read a couple of articles; one is a reprint from Wall Street Journal January 2004 and the other is a recent blog entry.. If this is correct then now might be a good time for France to repay the money; not by mindlessly dumping in the Haitian government to be sucked up corrupt politicians or squandered on silly projects.

Already behind

Well I am already behind on my this blog and many other things I had meant to get done in 2010.

The NYE party that Mike and Karen hosted was great. And in the morning of January 1 I made it home to get some sleep.

When I woke up I had one more party to attend. I have some friends up in rural Marin county who throw a New Years Day party starting about 5:00PM. Getting from my home to their place is between two and three hours drive each way depending on traffic. I got started a bit later than I had intended but traffic was light and I arrived at their place at about 5:00PM. It had been rainy and misty. Their house is at the top of a rather steep and curvy driveway. In years past I had parked up at the house but this year I decided to park at a flat area set aside for parking at the base of their drive near the road. The grass was so slick with moisture that I had to try several times before I could get my car parked. Then the hike up the drive. But is was worth it. Lots of interesting conversation and good food. But eventually I had to leave and head back home.

The next day I got up and the weather was great. I rode my bicycle to the local Sunday Farmers Market and got some fruits and vegetables. Then that evening there yet another party hosted by my friends Dave and Spring. It was great. Lots of people, conversation, food, drink. It was fun.

One party to end 2009 and two parties to start 2010; a good start.