Friday, October 31, 2008


If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.
Jack Handey


The race may not be to the swift, nor the contest to the strong, but that's the way you bet.
Damon Runyon

My Pix

    Statue of Liberty, New York City - 1990
    Kodachrome 200 - Contax RTS2 Zeiss 300mm F4 - a stunningly sharp lens

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Pix

This scanner is great. I'm scanning negatives now. It is way easier to print infrared with Photoshop than it is in the darkroom. I absolutely hated the darkroom.

Anyway, this is Niagara Falls, probably in 1990. Its taken with a Contax RTS2 the fantastic Zeiss 25mm f2.8 lens and my favorite film, Kodak High Speed Infrared Black and White. This was an amazing film, not only because of the cool infrared effect, but because it yielded a gorgeous tonal range. Very grainy, I had to use special development techniques to control it. Unfortunately, they didn't make it it 120 or I could have used the Hasselblad.

Niagara Falls is much more interesting to visit in the winter. There's nobody around and everything is covered in ice.

Faves: Katamari Damacy

I've been playing video games since the late 1970's.  This is my favourite.  You play the role of a very small royal prince with a very uncaring father who is king of the Universe.  You roll things up in a ball to make things he has mislaid, like Jupiter.  You start with paper clips and by the last level, you are rolling up continents. That's the entire game.  Rolling up objects into a ball.  Its a totally Japanese game.  Except for the little bit of English sub-titles, its all Japanese and captures a very odd Japanese sensibility.  But that's not why its fun.  Its just really calming and satisfying to roll things up into a ball.  I can't really explain it, its just great.


Fortune favours the bold.

WW2: Hitler

    Angry Young Man - Adolf Hitler, 1920

There is a simmering controversy over how to think about Hitler.  When I was growing up, Hitler was a caricature, a bogyman to scare kids.  He was considered a unique phenomenon, an evil genius.  A freak of nature like a rogue wave.  Fundamentally unexplainable.  This notion has changed.  In the English speaking world, the change was due primarily to Ian Kershaw's brilliant biography.  Kershaw's breakthrough was to strip the myths that had built up around Hitler and go to the extensive record of what he said and did.  Obvious, one might think, but the accretions of propaganda that grew up before during and after the war had made this impossible before.  During the Cold War, he remained a powerful political totem.  Kershaw turned Hitler into a comprehensible human being.  For me at least, it was the first time I was able to see Hitler in the company of other ambitious men who exploited troubled times.  People like Caesar and Napoleon.  This humanization is crucial to understanding what happened.  The "Hitler was a freak of nature" hypothesis presents no defense against another Hitler.  Understanding exactly what happened and why is the only way to keep it from happening again.

So here is a photograph of Hitler in 1919 or 1920 at the age of 30.  As one can see, he is fully formed.  There is a transformation from the pre-war artist would-be intellectual, and the wartime easy-going army comrade.  That transformation, from the summer of 1918 to the fall of 1919 formed the Hitler of history.  Although the photo is often dated as 1919, I think it is probably from the spring of 1920 when he left the Army and became a full-time political agitator.  His ideas didn't set in stone until his release from prison in 1925 after the failed beer-hall putsch.  But the essential outlines were already there by the time of this photo.  They evolved until 1925, but didn't change.  After 1925, he hardly changed his mind about anything.

The man in this photo is palpably hungry and vulnerable.  He wants much, but hasn't got any of it yet.  This was a time of great uncertainty for Hitler.  He was lucky to keep an Army job after the war, especially as he was a foreigner.  This new political career was risky.  But he had discovered his gift.  He could move a crowd.  That, and his hunger for success, were enough to start.

Despite the obvious posing as a man of gravitas, the anger is genuine.  "I am not," he seems to say, "a man to be trifled with."  But he isn't quite there yet.  I see a man who wants to be taken seriously, and has the idea about how to do it, but doesn't yet have the skill to pull it off.  That skill would come in the very rough and tumble political world of Munich in the early '20s.  It took until 1930 before he had the skills for national politics, and by that time, his chance had come.

I think a lot about Hitler and the Nazis.  Where they came from, how they grew, their tactics, stratagems and of course, their war.  Their ideas were complete nonsense, of course.  You can't learn anything from them.  That makes it easier to study what happened.  There's no distracting ideology.  The Nazis were all about getting, keeping and using power.  Communism, by comparison, actually had a coherent philosophy and ideas you could discuss.  Things didn't work out very well, but the ideas were real.  National Socialism had no discussion.  There were no branches, offshoots, or forks.  There was no Trotsky.  There was only Hitler, and his word was law.  In this photo, you can see that man emerge for the first time.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


It is never too late to give up our prejudices.
Henry David Thoreau

My Pix

I just got a slide scanner, so here is the first of many old photos.  This is the famous flatiron building in New York, taken around 1990.  I think its Kodachrome 200 and a 300mm Zeiss lens on a Contax RTS2.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


How far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without?
Dwight D. Eisenhower


Calamities are of two kinds: misfortunes to ourselves, and good fortune to others.
Ambrose Bierce


Wealth, in even the most improbable cases, manages to convey the aspect of intelligence.
John Kenneth Galbraith

WW2: V1

The V1s were unmanned jet aircraft analogous to cruise missiles.  They were launched towards England from Northern France and the Low Countries starting in 1944.  The V1s were extremely simple devices that carried 850kg of explosive a distance of up to 250km.  The missiles were launched in the general direction of London with a timer set for the expected length of time to reach the target.  When the timer ran out, the engine stopped and the missile crashed, setting off the explosive.  I remember people telling me about living in London that summer.  Everyone listened.  The V1 pulse jet engine had a very loud and distinctive put-put sound. As long as you could hear the engine, you were safe.  If the engine stopped, however, you had better find cover quick.

Various methods of dealing with the V1s were developed, but none were completely satisfactory.  The V1s flew above the range of light aircraft guns and below the range of heavy guns.  Normal fighters couldn't catch them, and except risking death by blowing up the warhead, had trouble doing significant damage to the simple mechanisms.  Eventually, groups of tuned up fighters were deployed with tactics that allowed shooting from far away.  New anti-aircraft batteries with radar guidance and proximity fused projectiles were created.  By late 1944, most V1s were destroyed before they could hit anything important.  Allied advances on the Continent also pushed back the launch sites out of range of London.  The Germans switched to targeting the port of Antwerp and started air-launching over the North Sea to get at London.  Between June 1944 and March 1945, the Germans launched approximately 10,000 against Britain and a similar number against Belgium.

One of the most effective counter-measures depended on the previously referenced intelligence war .  Because the Germans couldn't get any aerial reconnaissance over England in 1944, they depended on their agents to tell them where the bombs were landing.  Of course the English had turned all the German agents, who dutifully reported that the V1s were landing north of London.  Based on this information, the missiles' timers were reduced, causing most of them to drop South of the city.

During the early days, in June 1944, only a few British and American fighters could catch the 390mph V1s.  As noted, to get close enough to do damage was also close enough to get killed if the warhead exploded.  Pilots developed the remarkable technique of flying up beside the V1 and putting their wingtip under that of the V1 and tipping the missile.  This would cause it to lose control and crash.  An extremely dangerous maneuver done only a few times and amazingly caught on film.  The photo below shows a Spitfire XIV tipping a V1 over southern England in June or July 1944.

Free Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr in early 2002.

The Khadr family is notorious in Canada.  They lived here on  and off through the 1980's and 1990's.  Several of the children, including Omar, were born here.  Though Arabs, the family moved to Afghanistan permanently in 1999.  Ahmed Said Khadr, the father, was a key offshore fund raiser for Osama bin Laden.  Bin Laden even attended the wedding of one of the Khadr daughters in Kabul.  To the extent that al Quaida actually existed, the Khadrs were core members.

Things fell apart after the US invasion.  Ahmed went on the run and was killed in a shootout with Pakistani soldiers in 2003.  His son Abdulkareem, 14 at the time, was paralyzed in the firefight.  He, his mother and two sisters came back to Canada in 2004.  There was a lot of opposition to their return, but fortunately both the Federal and Provincial governments refused to bow to pressure and the Khadrs were dealt with by the same rules as everyone else.  Abdulkareem, now 19 will be wheelchair bound for life.

Another son, Abdurahman (now 26) was the only one not interested in the family business.  He was a teenager when they moved to Afghanistan and found life in Kabul stunningly primitive after growing up in Toronto.  Nevertheless, Abdurahman got swept up in the net after the invasion.  It took the Americans quite a while to figure out he was unimportant, if not innocent.  Abdurahman was hauled through several facilities, including Guantanamo, between his arrest in 2001 and his release in 2003.  He is currently in Canada, estranged from his family and twice denied a passport for fuzzy reasons.  The obvious guess is that keeping him in Canada and probably under surveillance was the price demanded by the Americans for his release.

Another son, Abdullah (now 27), escaped the dragnet and moved around the Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border until his arrest in Pakistan in 2004.  This came after an American "intelligence agency" offered a bounty of $500,000 for his capture.  He was accused of illegal weapons trading in the border areas and specifically purchasing Soviet Stinger missiles for the Taliban.  After a great deal of squabbling, he was transferred by the Pakistanis to Canada in 2005.  For political reasons, the Pakistanis refused to hand him over to the Americans, although they were given full access for questioning.  Anticipating his transfer to Canada, the US started extradition proceedings.  He was re-arrested on the extradition warrant in early 2006 and remains in custody in Toronto.

I have no doubt the allegations of arms dealings are true.  Unless you are a farmer or a doctor or a schoolteacher, there aren't a lot of legal ways to make a living in Wasiristan.  But most of the arms he his alleged to have handled went to his father and were captured by the Pakistanis in 2003.  If neither Pakistan nor Canada wants to try him, its unclear to me how the Americans have jurisdiction.

The last son was Omar.  He was 14 when the US invaded Afghanistan and took to the hills.  He was captured after being seriously wounded in a firefight in July 2002 at the age of 15.  After being held some months at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, he was transferred to Guantanamo where he remains.  He is accused of, among other crimes, throwing a grenade that killed a US medic.  The trial has stuttered for some months, but not actually started.  Last week, it was postponed until January 27, 2009.  The judge may be hoping Obama solves the Omar Khadr problem without a trial.  So far, the only heroes of Guantanamo have been the conscientious military lawyers and judges who have fought enormous efforts to turn the proceedings into show trials.

Despite the general unpopularity of the Khadr family in Canada, there is strong support for bringing Omar home.  This rests on four points.  First, he was the legal resident of a country that was invaded.  He resisted.  That's not by definition criminal and he should not be considered an illegal combatant.  Second, he was 15 at the time.  A UN treaty that the US signed designates child soldiers as ineligible for punishment, viewing them as victims of war rather than perpetrators.  Third, taking a 15 year old seriously wounded boy, torturing him for years and failing to provide an opportunity for him to challenge his confinement is outrageous.  It shouldn't be able to happen to a Canadian citizen, especially at the hands of our closest ally.  Fourth, now that the trial has started to move forward, it turns out the evidence Khadr killed the medic is not exactly watertight.  It may have been friendly fire.  However, the Guantanamo trial process is so wrecked that at this point no objective observer believes he can get a fair trial.

In any case, Khadr has been locked up for six years.  Heroic labors by his military and civilian lawyers have kept the case bubbling and on the public radar.  Now that his trial has been delayed again, due to procedural malfeasance by the prosecution, the time has come to end this farce.  Canada should demand Omar Khadr be freed and sent home.  As long as he obeys the laws of this country, he should remain a free man.

Monday, October 27, 2008

WW2: Moscow

Troops march through Red Square to mark the Revolution, November 7, 1941.  These soldiers marched straight out to the front line against the Germans.  It was a grim anniversary.  No crowds, no celebrations, just Stalin and a few cronies to watch.  The future of the Soviet Union came down to the performance of these soldiers in the city's outer suburbs over the next few weeks.

One Week of Crazy

      Obama pulls a crowd of 100,000 in Denver yesterday (REUTERS/Jason Reed)

With one week to go, the most fascinating election I've ever seen is throwing more curves.  Not in the sense of the outcome, that's pretty much nailed down, but in terms of the crazies emerging from the woodwork.  Hysteria is high on both sides.  Democratic crazies are already threatening street action if the election is lost, and one intrepid blogger is spreading the rumour that McCain is incontenent.  That's a new one.  The Republicans are even frothier.  They have siezed on an interview Obama gave NPR in 2001 to prove he's a closet socialist.  From what I hear, the tape proves two things: first, Obama is a Democrat and second, he's a freakishly disciplined politician.  In ten years, they've found only one thing that maybe might be damaging.  John McCain has said five things in the last week more damaging.  But its the tape seems to be the best thing the Republicans have and they are pushing it desperately.

The difference between the left wing crazies and the right wing crazies is their influence.  The McCain campaign is running on hysteria the last few days.  The Obama campaign is controlled by, Obama as ususal.  The McCain campaign is springing leaks and what has been newly termed precriminations.  The Obama campaign is calm.  No leaks, no speculation, just the daily talking points and nothing else.

No matter the outcome, the GOP is in disarray and a civil war looks likely.  It should be a delight to watch.  Palin is already positioning herself for 2012.  I remember when Alexander Haig ran for President.  There were packs of journalists waiting for him and his career ended in disgrace.  We can only hope such a fate is in store for the barracuda.

Yen Madness

      Good as gold?  Better at the moment.

I'm on the verge of giving up trying to follow the global financial meltdown.  The numbers have stopped making any sense whatsoever.  The latest problem is a surging Yen.  The Japanese government will have to intervene or see its big exporters clobbered.  See charts below for US$ vs. Yen and Euro:

WTF?  I've already spewed plenty about how the US $ is too high, but what's with the Yen all of a sudden?  The explanation offered in the business press is that the carry trade is unwinding.  What this means is that for the last 10 years investors have been borrowing where interest rates are low (Japan and USA) and investing where rates are high (Russia, Brazil, etc.).  Now these investors have to unwind the trades, selling assets in Brazil, etc. and buying Yen to pay back the loans.  On the surface, this makes sense.  But why?  Why are they unwinding those loans?  Interest rates are not rising in the US or Japan.  Sure the assets they bought in Russia, Hungary and other places have lost a ton of value, but those are reasons to stand pat, not sell. More fundamentally, the carry trade should by definition be a transient opportunity.  If anyone can get rich throwing Yen at Rubles, then everyone will.  Eventually, the opportunity disappears as the traffic depresses the Yen and raises the Ruble.  Eventually is a very short time in currency markets.   Usually hours or days, not years.

The only way this all makes sense to me is if Russians were borrowing Yen to buy Ruble denominated assets.  As long as oil prices go up, this is a winner because Russia sells oil and Japan buys it.  The Japanese don't have to specifically buy Russian oil for the math to work.  If the Japanese economy is slumping (low interest rates) and Russia is booming (a rising stock market),  then its even better.  But as soon as oil starts declining in Yen, you're fucked.  You have to sell assets into a declining market to repay the loans.  And you had better move fast because if you are slow the Yen will shoot through the roof and your pain will be multiplied.  Its even worse if you have been financing long-term asset purchases with short-term debt.  This is exactly what happened in Iceland.  People financed their home and car loans in Euros, but get paid in Kroner.  When the interest rate on Euros was 10% lower than on Kroner, it made sense.  But taking the loans (selling Euros to buy Kroner) inflated the value of the Kroner.   As soon as something went wrong, the Iclanders were collectively selling lots of Kroner to buy Euros and pay back the loans.  The bottom fell out of the Kroner and Iceland has effectively run out of money that will be taken by anyone outside the country.  This winter, they will be eating the fish they catch and the vegetables they grow, and little else.  That's why the strategy of borrowing in foriegn currency to finance local investment is fundamentally stupid.

Iceland is making a humiliating trip to the IMF and Europe is holding its breath.  All the Euros and British Pounds tied up in the Icelandic Banks and consumer loan market are potentially lost.  The resulting panic is part of the reason the US$ has gone up so spectacularly.  People are selling everything in a suspect currency for the safe haven of US Treasury Bills.  The IMF has now lent money to Ukraine and Hungary.  Pakistan and Belarus have lined up IMF meetings.  Turkey is currently in denial, but will join the queue soon.  Russia should be next for the high-jump, but even at $60 they are making money on oil exports so a Ruble crash looks unlikely.  Most of the other old Communist East European and Central Asian states are all looking shaky.  Poland particularly, but they will get some cushion from the EU.

At this point, the rising Yen will expose new fault lines in Southeast Asia.  Big exporters with narrow asset bases and overseas financing like Vietnam will begin to feel the pain.  Even the IMF doesn't have the money to save everyone.  What will happen then?  Nobody knows, but its not good.  As usual, the developed world will probably do ok, especially if their economy is based on digging stuff up and selling it, like Canada.  Those hurt the worst will be the poor and the exporters, especially developing exporters.  If credit continues to be tight inside the industrial economies (and it remains tight), then the money available to exporters will dry up.  Think of a factory owner in Indonesia making stuff under contract for Nike or Pentax.  Where will they get the money to built the stuff when they don't get paid for months after delivery?  US$ or Yen denominated debt has shot out of reach and nobody feels like taking a chance by lending in Rupiah.  Even Nike and Pentax aren't in a position to lend.  Nike is facing a nearly frozen credit market in the US and Pentax just got torpedoed by the rising Yen.
     Gold US$/oz
This crisis is far from over and things keep getting worse.  Asset prices (like stocks and commodities) keep declining in value across the board.  Only the Yen and US$ are going up.  Even gold is dropping against the US$.  This is insanity, by every measure or historical scenario, gold should be going up, not down.  There is a fundamental re-alignment happening.  Its like an earthquake, you can't predict what will fall down or when.  One thing is certain, October 2008 will go down in history as the worst month in economic history.  And its not over yet.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fruit Flies: Updated 3x

    Does this look like pork to you? Journal of Endocrinology 

Sarah Palin made a policy speech on Friday.  It was a doozy.  To quote:
“You’ve heard about some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.”
Evidently, Ms. Palin has no understanding whatsoever of modern science.  Anyone with a decent memory would remember learning about fruit flies in high school.  Even if they weren't much interested, they would have learned that:
Drosophila melanogaster is a popular experimental animal because it is easily cultured in mass out of the wild, has a short generation time, and mutant animals are readily obtainable.
Drosophila  is also popular because it has only 135,000 genes compared to 4 billion in humans.  These 135,000 cover most of the basic construction shared by all multi-cellular organisms.  Perhaps another example of reality showing a liberal bias.

The value of fruit flies is so pervasively obvious that it cannot be unknown to Ms. Palin or one of her advisers.  Her father is a biology teacher. Yet she made the statement.  One has to conclude a willful ignorance is at work.  A studied anti-intellectualism as corrosive as it is misguided.  This is to my mind the most appallingly ignorant thing I've ever heard from a supposedly mainstream politician.  The flies have, and will continue, to deliver far more value to society than Ms. Palin and her enthusiasts.  I kid you not.
---------------------- Update
     Pestus Alsakus?
It gets better.  Or worse, depending on your point of view.  The specific research she mentioned being done in Paris is not general medical or genetic work and is not done with Drosophila.  Its studying a species of fruit fly that targets olive trees and is considered a major pest. The research was funded at the urgent request of California which is worried about its growing olive industry.  Naturally enough, the key research is being done by European scientists, particularly the Spanish, but the research institute is located in Paris.  Value of US funding: $748,000. $211,000 Estimated value of California's olive crop at retail: $80 million.

So you can ignore all the criticism above about Palin's ignorance of basic science.  But  all the criticism about willful ignorance and anti-intellectualism stands.
-------------- Update 2
Christopher Hitchens (who I usually disagree with) weighs in :
This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just "people of faith" but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.


My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference.
Harry S. Truman

Saturday, October 25, 2008


In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite.
Paul Dirac
via Gabriel Robins


      Great White Shark - From BBC Planet Earth

That's a ton of shark jumping entirely out of the water after a seal.

Iran War: October Update

USS Teddy Roosevelt - F18 catapult launch - U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Cole
With all the extrordinary economic, political and military news in October, its easy to forget about the war that wasn't.  We are within a few days of a new moon and thus one of the last windows of opportunity for George Bush to attack Iran.  The  Roosevelt has finally appeared in the area (after months of dawdling), joining the Regan in the North Arabian Sea.  Faithful readers will recall that two carriers are necessary for an attack on Iran.  However, Somali pirates and expanded military activity in Afghanistan also justify a second carrier in the area.  There's been a quiet drum-beat of Iranian criticism from both Washington and Jerusalem, but both are pre-occupied with domestic issues.  Absent a direct Iranian attack, no political justification exists for US action.  With the economic meltdown and two unpopular wars already, a new war would not go over well with the US electorate.  I'm pegging the chance of a war this month at zero. 

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Financial Crisis: Big Picture

San Francisco - 1906 
What is the big picture on the financial crisis?  There are plenty of theories rolling around the net.  Most are wrong because 1) they possess no fundamental understanding of economics, 2) they do not fit with the facts (usually due to ideological bias), or 3) they are excessively moral (see point # 1, economics is not morality).  Most importantly, none of the theories that I have seen are capable of predicting what is going to come next.  Nobody seems to have any idea how this will play out.  Today's market drama is case in point.  We all know there is going to be a recession, its already started.  So why a huge drop in asset prices?  This should have been known and factored into prices already.  The panic should be over.  The banking crisis has been contained, so a total freeze of the credit markets is averted.  The nightmare scenario is not going to happen.  Yet the stock markets are acting as though it were.  The other mystery is the US dollar.  I keep coming back to this because it makes no sense and the dollar keeps getting farther out of whack.  Money shouldn't be fleeing  assets like oil and gold for US Treasuries.  But it is, in vast streams.

I'm sensing the meta-narrative is the stock markets worry that most of the growth and prosperity enjoyed by the industrialized world in the last 25 years was built on a bubble of debt.  We have had people warning since the early 1980's that the American debt party couldn't last.  But it has lasted, with a few hiccups.  In particular, we've had one bubble after another since the mid-1990's.  The run-up of the US dollar counts as another in my view.  But what if the whole system was fundmentally flawed?  Could it all come apart?  If so, what would that look like?  I think that the answer to that question (if there was anyone smart and visionary enough to answer it) may hold the explanation for what is going to happen as this crisis evolves.

Here is a picture that tells the story about US debt.
Chart by Philip Brewer 
Brewer notes that the debt drop in 2007 reflects the reduction in new mortgages as the housing bubble burst. But the key point is that US consumers have been paying for their HDTVs, SUVs, and vacations not out of wealth, but with borrowed money.  At some point, the debt load becomes so large that, as a group, US consumers cannot continue to service it.   As long as interest rates stay low, the crisis can be managed by lowering debt levels.  But when rates rise, like during a run on the currency, fewer and fewer people can service their debt.  Apart from the banking and credit crisis, apart from the derivatives time-bomb, this looks like another, much larger problem.  Not only have Americans gotten rich from debt, but China, Japan, Korea, etc. have got rich making and selling things paid for with debt.  Thus not only is US wealth all of a sudden suspect, so is that of its manufacturing suppliers.  The economies of the Asian tigers may be built on sand. 

This theory has the virtue of explaining the ongoing asset market turbulence and the attraction of US Treasury Bills.  But if correct, there are two very troubling implications.  First, that US Consumer spending will likely shrink not for quarters but for years, taking the rest of the global economy down as wells.  Second, that the prosperity of newly emerging economies, especially in East Asia, is in threat.  A significant fall-back in countries like China, Vietnam or the Philippines raises the specter of political turmoil.  Rising populations need economic growth to keep individuals at the same level of wealth.  They need to keep moving just to stay in place.  A decline in an economy where there population bulges with youth gets amplified.  For example, here is the age structure in the Philippines:
  • 0-14 years: 34.5% (male 16,043,257; female 15,340,065)
  • 15-64 years: 61.3% (male 27,849,584; female 28,008,293) 
  • 65 years and over: 4.1% (male 1,631,866; female 2,128,953) (2007 est.)
Almost half the population is going to be looking for new employment in the next 10 years.  Without continuing economic expansion, where will those jobs come from?
The bottom line is that this crisis is far from over.  Besides the multi-year process of unwinding all the bad assets, there is a clear potential for many years of slow or negative growth in the global economy.  So-far, most of the discussion has focussed on the US and Europe. But the real crisis may unfold across Asia.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Why, an attentive reader might wonder, are most of the pictures you post either old or from space?  Copyright is the answer.  This blog is hosted on a Google server in the USA, so anyone who wants to take it down can do so via a DMCA complaint to Google.  I don't want to violate the law unnecessarily, and I do want to give proper credit to photographers.  In practice, that means a reliance on images 1) created by the US Government or its agencies, 2) from Wikipedia where the copyright status is clear, 3) images old enough to be out of copyright, or 4) photos published online in places like Flickr where I can link back directly to their post.  Some of these can still be dodgy, but you have to take some chances or don't post at all.  For political stories, I'd love to use images from AP or Getty, and would happily pay to get high quality and legal photos.  But their licensing schemes are aimed at commercial use.  A single photo of the size I like to use would cost hundreds of dollars.  This is too bad as I'd probably spend $100 a month with Getty if each picture cost $10.  But that's not how they want to run their business, so I don't use commercial photos if I can avoid it.  The only exceptions are photos so widely reproduced that my usage is unlikely to attract attention, or where I alter the image sufficiently to make a fair use claim.  So readers can get a preview of upcoming photo posts by trawling NASA , Wikimedia or Flickr.


What's that in the window?

An iPod in space.  Advertising you can't buy.


One German foot soldier: Where are the horses?
Another German foot soldier: We're the horses!
From the movie Stalingrad (1993)


A remarkable photograph.  On January 30, 1943, Hitler promoted Fredrick von Paulus of the surrounded Sixth Army in Stalingrad to Field Marshall.  He reminded von Paulus that no German Field Marshall had ever surrendered.   The next day, von Paulus became the first.  This photo was taken as von Paulus was ushered into the Russian command post to deliver his surrender.

The picture captures not only the historic moment, but a psychological dimension as well.  There is a tension between victor and vanquished.  The expression of the Russians is priceless.  They are not happy, but serious and determined.  Two men regarding another they have beaten.

The real story of Stalingrad is that the Germans thought they were breaking the Red Army.  It became a test of wills between the German high command and the common Russian soldiers.  The German's mistake was to fatally lose respect for their opponents willpower and capabilities.  There are a lot of parallels to the battle of Gettysburg, which I'll explore in future posts.  The photograph above almost magically captures this dimension.

The Rover

NASA's wildly successful pair of rovers on Mars are now almost four years old.  They were designed to last 90 days and cover 100 meters.  Opportunity, the healthier of the two, has now clocked almost 13 kilometers.  For several years, I followed their daily progress via the web.  It was amazing to me that I could see detailed photos today of what the rovers did yesterday, on Mars.  They haven't been moving around as much lately, so I've only been checking once or twice a month.  Spirit, the first rover, is stuck due to low power and a bad wheel.  It should get back in buisiness when the Martian winter ends, but its not going far.  Opportunity has been studying the huge Victoria crater for the last two years.  But it is now about to set out on a new journey.  It will try for a 12 km drive to an ancient and enormous crater 22km in diameter.  The trip, if successful, will take at least one year, probably two.  There should be many interesting new sights along the way, so I expect to be checking progress daily again soon.

Opportunity's road to Victoria crater.  A sol is a Martian day, 25.5 Earth hours.  Opportunity is currently at around 1680 sols and hanging around the south end of Victoria for a while before setting off for crater Endevour.

Here is a remarkable false color photo of Victoria from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in early 2007.  Click on the image for a large version where you can see the rover.  The crater is 800m across.

This is a ground view of the crater in natural color.  The rover is looking north towards its position in the shot above.


    Tamil Nadu, India - By David Lazar - found here .

Monday, October 20, 2008


We all agree that your theory is crazy, but is it crazy enough?
Niels Bohr
via Gabriel Robins


To succeed in the world, it is much more necessary to possess the penetration to discern who is a fool, than to discover who is a clever man.
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand
One of the most piercing bits of advise you'll ever hear.  Hold it close and think of it often.  Young people have no idea the incompetence of most leaders and organizations.


One of the actual Enigma machines smuggled out of Poland in 1939

From an intelligence point of view, the war started badly for the Germans by having their codes broken.  It went downhill from there.  Every agent they sent to Britain was caught and turned, feeding bad information back to their masters.  The German military intelligence service was full of anti-Nazis occasionally in touch with the Allies.  SS and police intelligence services under Himmler were totally ineffective.  Stalin had a cabinet level spy in the German government and occasionally knew about Hitler's decisions before the Whermacht high command.  The British were wildly successful with numerous operations designed to deceive or confuse the Germans.

But it all started with Enigma.  The Enigma was a portable cipher machine used by all branches of the Third Reich military and diplomatic corps.  It was widely thought to be unbreakable and so coded messages were routinely sent via radio.  However, the Poles started breaking Enigma messages in 1933.  Thereafter, they steadily improved their ability to decode military messages and topped their efforts by stealing several machines.  The machines were smuggled to England in September 1939, and one of these is pictured above.  There were numerous variants of the machine and each had to be broken separately.  The models used by the German Navy were particularly difficult to crack.

The Allies mounted a massive effort to break en-masse the thousands of Enigma coded messages sent by the Germans daily.  To facilitate this industrial-level decryption, they built the first computer, Colossus.  The intelligence derived from this code-breaking was called ULTRA and its existence kept secret until the 1970's. Colossus was not fully de-classified until 2000.  Other secrets remain.  The identity of Stalin's spy, for example, has never been disclosed.

There's a loving article at Wikipeida including links to online Enigma simulators.


London, Fall 1940
During the fall of 1940, the Luftwaffe bombed London with the intention of making the British population buckle.  It didn't work.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Construction of the Euro symbol.  More complicated than one would expect.  By Erina  via Wikipedia


Archaeopteryx Lithographica - the fossil that made the link between dinosaurs and birds
From National Geographic - they have a wallpaper size if you like - click on the image

Mr. President

    Photo: Time
I listened to last night's debate rather than watching it.  Despite the good reviews for his first half-hour, I thought McCain was a goner after 10 minutes.  He flailed at talking points with an unmistakable desperation.  Obama talked past him.  I think he's known since the nomination that he was going to win.  He's already started to condition the parameters of his administration.  I believe he's been playing with McCain in the debates.  Deliberately bickering both to force errors and to lower expectations among the American people.  He hasn't been telling people he's a regular guy, he has been telling them he's a regular politician.  I like that because it suggests depth, courage and a certain audacity.  Unlike most, Obama's need to succeed is perfectly clear and explicable without neurosis.  One of the great things about America is that troubled times have produced its best rather than its worst leaders.  We all need for the US to have a good leader now.

Dismal Math

They call economics the dismal science.  I think that's partly because it turns everything that people feel and think and create into math.  Economics is effective,  if inconclusive, because the math works.  Eventually.  This is important because right now, the math isn't working.  The result of the current economic crisis should be a run on the US dollar.  I've predicted it before and been 100% wrong.  Instead of dropping, the US dollar has gone up like a rocket over the last few weeks.  The law of economic panic (since WW2) still applies: when in panic buy US Treasuries.  And demand for Treasuries has been so strong in recent weeks that they are trading at yields close to zero.  But it can't last.  The stock market panic is beginning to fade.  The banking crisis looks to be if not under control, then at least contained.  Investors are now assessing the damage to the US economy.  Confidence in the Euro was tested by the lack of a co-ordinated response to the banking crisis.  It became painfully clear that the EU cannot stand behind the Euro as the US can stand behind the dollar.  The Euro cannot replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency at this time.  That precludes a dollar crash.

Nevertheless, the math says at some point the US dollar will get hurt, and badly.  The real hangover from the credit binge of the last 10 years has yet to begin.  No matter how you look at it, the US is printing money to buy itself out of the crisis.  In addition, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are generating US government deficits of a half a trillion dollars per year.  At some point after the current panic fades, foreign investors are going to start demanding a real return.  This is not a matter of intention, but of math.  If the US keeps selling Treasuries to finance its deficit, then to the extent it sells them to foreigners, it is selling dollars.  More supply equals a lower price.  Like tectonic plates straining, the sudden release will be like an earthquake.  The math will work and the dollar will fall far and fast.  Interest rates go up, economic activity goes down.

I don't think we are going to have anything like the Great Depression.  Governments have learned too much in the interim.  But we will all have to look towards a future with less acquisition of material possessions.  This crisis is far from over, and nobody knows what will be in play before it ends.


The Earth is degenerating today. Bribery and corruption abound. Children no longer obey their parents, every man wants to write a book, and it is evident that the end of the world is fast approaching.
Widely attributed to an anonymous Assyrian writer, c. 2800 BC


Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
William Pitt

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Faves: Burn On

There's an oil barge winding
Down the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

Cleveland city of light city of magic
Cleveland city of light you're calling me
Cleveland, even now I can remember
'Cause the Cuyahoga River
Goes smokin' through my dreams

Burn on, big river, burn on
Burn on, big river, burn on
Now the Lord can make you tumble
And the Lord can make you turn
And the Lord can make you overflow
But the Lord can't make you burn

From Randy Newman's Burn On, an ode to Cleveland and the Cuyahoga River, so polluted that it famously caught fire in 1969. It was not the first time. The photo is from a similar eruption in 1952. One of many. The 1969 fire, however, did make a difference. Time magazine said the river: "oozes rather than flows". The publicity led to a realization about the extent of industrial pollution in North America.


Leadenhall Market - London, England - By Diliff via Wikipedia
Very nice image, worth clicking on to see it full size.


Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
Albert Einstein
via Gabriel Robins

Three Strikes?

    Happy, happy, happy
The Canadian election is over.  The circling begins.  The leadership of three parties may be in play.  Stephan Dion is obviouly vulnerable, the sharks have smelled blood since he gained the leadership.  His potential replacements are well known and barely conceal their ambitions.  I like Dion, but he is not strong.  I doubt he has the skill to fend off the rivals and keep his job.  Jack Layton of the NDP is less vulnerable, but has not delivered the expected electoral breakthrough.  At some point, he's got to start thinking about getting a real job.  Although the Greens gained no traction, they pulled in almost 1 million votes the NDP should have had sewn up.  The NDP has to ask themselves where they want to go now.

Gilles Duceppe, who's skill I admire more than any other Canadian politician, is safe for the moment.  But the Bloc likewise has an existential problem.  What, besides stopping the Conservatives, are they good for?

    Shadow of a doubt? 
Most interesting, however, will be the fate of Stephen Harper.  He has now failed to deliver a decisive win for the 3rd time.  But, he remains Prime Minister, has extended his seat count, and the opposition cannot force another election anytime soon.  It may be as good as a majority as far as his career is concerned.  His Stalinist approach to the caucus has assured there are no obvious successors.  Nevertheless, the former Harris acolytes in his cabinet are not civilized people and will not sit on their hands forever.  Can they conjure an opening for a leadership review?  That's going to be the most interesting question in Canadian politics for the next two or three years.
Note: despite an extensive search, the above photo was the only one I could find of Stephen Harper un-posed.  He controls his coverage more effectively than any other politician I've ever seen.


If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?
Will Rogers
via Gabriel Robins


Nothing goes by luck in composition. It allows of no tricks. The best you can write will be the best you are.
Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tricky Dick

Its all politics all the time around here.  As I'm watching the Canadian election returns, my mind goes to Richard Nixon.  He was a rare political animal, someone with enough raw political talent to overcome a patently unsuitable personality.  Not only did he achieve his ultimate aim, he managed the even rarer feat of a come-back.  I can't think of a similar example in US politics and only three in Canada.  McKenzie King (similarly unsuitable for political office, but for different reasons, he was a complete lunatic), Pierre Trudeau and Robert Bourassa.  All naturally brilliant politicians.

I remember Nixon well.  I followed his downfall obsessively.  A classical tragedy unfolding live on TV for two years.  His achievements as president, for better and worse, were huge.  But the man himself was profoundly bland.  Like Hitler, his ambition was the only interesting thing about him.  Nevertheless, Nixon had an outsized impact on his country and the world.  He remains fascinating on a purely political level.  Politics is a trade, and a messy trade.  Most who gain success gain a level of competence at that trade.  Rarely, you get someone who achieves mastery of the process.  The only one I know working these days is Gilles Duceppe, the Bloc Quebec leader. Obama may also command this mastery, but only time will tell.

Henry Kissinger famously wondered what Nixon would have been had he been loved as a child.  A happy nobody is the answer.  His obvious insecurity, resentment and need  for power created him and then destroyed him.


    Orchids in my living room - click image for large size

Friday, October 10, 2008

Faves: Cape Light

    Joel Meyerowitz - 1979
When I got started, all serious photography was done in black and white.  Colour was for snapshots and commercial work.  There were a few colour photographers who's work was considered art, but they were idiocyncratic.  People like Ernst Haas and Eliot Erwhit.  Then, in 1979, Joel Meyerowitz published the book Cape Light.  He used an 8x10 camera to take colour photos.  This was unheard of and exploded the cult of black and white dominant since Edward Weston and Paul Strand.  Now people can use whatever they like and be taken seriously as artists.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


      Henry VIII 1536 by Holbein - click image for large size

Henry VIII 1494 - 1547.  A great king of the kind nations cannot afford to have too often.  He had the great luck to sit for Holbein, one of the best portrait painters in European history.

The War: Soviet Union

       Panzers lost in the immensity of Russia - Summer 1941 - From Signal Magazine

History is usually written by the winners.  However, due to the Cold War, the history of humanity's biggest and most dramatic conflict was written by the losers.  Until the fall of Communism in the early 1990's, almost all the history written about World War 2 on the Eastern Front came from the Germans, or was based on German sources.  Critical battles like Operation Bagration were hardly known in the West.  There is still no decent map of this operation in English on the Web.

The truth is that the European part of WW2 was decided through four titanic battles fought within the borders of the Soviet Union: Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, and Bagration.  The Soviets did not win soley through overwhelming numbers, brute force, and Hitler's errors as the German generals would have it  They did not win soley because of Allied help as the Americans and British would have it.  They won because of their overwhelming superiority in resources and because they gradually created a military that trumped the Germans in every category of quality and quantity.  By the end of 1944, the Soviets had better weapons, better tactics, better leadership, better logistics, better intelligence, and more of everything.

This assertion is controversial to the degree it implies Allied sacrifices in the West were irrelevant to the outcome.  They were.  I do not mean to suggest that Allied soldiers lives were wasted.  Their efforts had a huge impact on the course of the war and its aftermath.  But, except for North Africa, they had no role in determining who won and who lost.

Probably, the Germans could never have beaten the Soviets.  Certainly never in a protracted conflict.  The German's only chance was a quick knock-out.  Had they arrived in Moscow in September 1941, a political collapse was theoretically possible.  However, Stalin had just spent 10 years and 10 million lives to ensure nobody was in a position to challenge his power.  So after Stalin recovered himself in August, a collapse was very unlikely under any circumstances.  The Soviet Union was simply too big to be defeated by Germany.  While still panicked in July, Molotov and Stalin summoned the Bulgarian Ambassador to the Kremlin.  They asked him to be a go-between in seeking terms from the Germans.  To their astonishment, he refused.  "If they push you back to the Urals, you'll still win", he said.

The other factor that ensured a German defeat was their intent.  This was explicitly a war of annihilation.  They planned to clear the Slavs of Eastern Europe all the way to the Urals to make way for German settlers.  I think the common people understood that if the Germans won, their entire world would be destroyed.  This understanding was shown time and again in fierce resistance that could never have been compelled.

I'm putting all this in dramatic terms to make a point.  I believe we in the West cannot understand WW2 without a realistic perspective.  The outcome of WW2 in Europe was decided within the borders of the Soviet Union.
Now that the Shoah and the importance of the Soviet Union are dealt with, I can move on to other WW2 related topics.

Get It Right

Media talking heads and politicians, especially but not only in the US, keep referring to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement that "Israel must be wiped from the map". If he really said this, it could be accurately characterized as a threat. But he didn't say that. He said: "Emam goft een rezhim-e eshghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzegar mahv shavad."  Persian speakers are generally agreed*** on the following translation: "Imam said this occupying regime in Jerusalem must vanish from the page of times." The Imam was Khomeini, who is slightly mis-quoted by Ahmadinejad. Khomeini said "stage of times", not "page of times". But both are still pretty abstract and neither could be construed to mean "map". Its an important distinction because "map" implied a literalness that "page of times" does not. The Persian word translated as "regime" does not mean state or nation, but government or ruling group. Anyone who believes peace is not possible until Israel returns to the 1967 borders is in basic agreement with his premise, even if they disagree with the sentiment. Lastly, the statement is a generality, it does not propose Iran as the sweeping agent. There has been no threat uttered.

This is important enough to make a post because there have been objections to the "wiped off the map" translation since day one. Despite being frequently debunked, the quote lives on. Sarah Palin said it last week. It has become propaganda. Policy should be based on facts. There are plenty of reasons to criticize Ahmadinejad and the Iranian theocratic regime. We don't need to make things up.
*** I want to note that there is no controversy I'm aware of in this translation.  There are not Persian speakers who argue that he said or meant "wiped off the map".  The initial "wiped off the map" translation came from Aljazeera.  Since they are nobody's propaganda outlet, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt and call it an error.  In any case, the "wiped off the map" statement was so incendiary that it made news all over the world.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The War: Shoah

German policemen aiming at Jews from Ivangorod who have just finished digging their own graves. 1942. Ivangorod, Ukraine. Photographer unknown. © USHMM, courtesy of Jerzy Tomaszewski. Copyright: agency agreement. All rights reserved. This photograph was found by members of the Polish army (Polish Home Army) inside a letter written by a German soldier. The Polish army kept an eye on post being sent from the East which went through Warsaw's central Post office. Letters and photographs which seemed interesting were copied and sent to the exiled Polish government. The German inscription on the back of the original photograph reads:  Ukraine, 1942, Aktion against the Jews, Ivangorod. 

The photograph and caption are from a French website Memorial De Shoah.  They are part of an online exhibition detailing the activities of the Einsatzgruppen , mobile squads that roamed the occupied Soviet Union killing Jews and other "undesirables" in 1941 and 1942.  The squads were SS assisted by Ukrainian "militias" who were useful in the identification and rounding up of victims.

Before I can write anything about the War, there are two points that need emphasis: the Holocaust and Russia.  I prefer the Hebrew word Shoah rather than holocaust because the first, meaning catastrophe, is a more haunting and descriptive term.  Before the war, there were vibrant Jewish communities all over Eastern Europe (Poland, BeylorussiaEstonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine ).  After, they had been swept away as if by a tsunami, gone forever.  From the victim's point of view, this was truly a catastrophe that engulfed not just individuals and communities, but an entire way of life.

This was not, however, a single crime, or a series of crimes.  It was a monstrous industrial enterprise that consumed 12 million people.  Besides the death factories, there was an SS empire of slave labor camps. This universe of despair was populated by Soviet POWs, civilians from occupied territories, but especially Jews.  Labor camps were operated all over the Reich and occupied territories, but especially in Poland.  Auschwitz was the biggest and only later added a death camp.  No death camps ever operated inside the Reich proper.  Famous camps like Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau and Gusen were not primarily killing factories, although a great deal of death occurred.

The Final Solution had never been planned, and was certainly never inevitable.  The fateful decision to eradicate the entire Jewish population of Europe was not taken until the end of 1941.  Before the Wansee Conference in January 1942, Jews in Germany and other parts of Western Europe had not been killed in any systematic manner.  After the conference, a series of specialized killing factories were created in Poland.  Treblinka, Belzec and Chelmno are the most famous.  Their purpose was to liquidate the 2 million Jews in Poland.  By the end of 1942, this object had been achieved.  The camps were dismantled and evidence of their existence eradicated.

I believe that the Nazi leaders learned something dramatic from this effort.  That people transported to their deaths carried with them their most liquid assets of last resort.  The camps produced a river of money, diamonds, and gold.  This river became so valuable that the Nazis extended the program and built more camps.   The Jews of Western and Southern Europe were killed through 1943 and 1944 in order to get their money.  Rudolf Hoess, commander of Auschwitz, believed that money was the entire motivation for the genocide.  He recalled one day sending a suitcase containing 10 million Reich Marks (currently worth US$40 million) directly to the Reich Chancellery.  The money probably went right into Martin Bormann's pocket.

In the last analysis, this worst crime in human history was not the act of madmen driven by fanaticism.  It was the act of thieves driven by greed.

The crimes have been meticulously cataloged, as they should be.  Yad Vashem, USHMM, Nitzkor, Wikipedia.  When Eisenhower toured Gusen in April 1945, he wanted to be shown everything.  He predicted that sometime in the future people would deny that what he was seeing had ever happened.  The only thing we can do for these dead is to remember them and ensure this crime is never minimized, never denied, never forgotten.


The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
Henry David Thoreau

Conspiracy Theories

People love conspiracy theories.  They make up and passionately defend theories about events that have patently obvious explanations.  Like the moon landings.  The obvious explanation being that they happened exactly as they appeared.  Like 9/11.  What more explanation does one need than the evidence provided on live TV at the time?  Was there a cover-up?  I'm sure there was.  But like the cover-ups surrounding JFK's assassination, they were designed to hide incompetence beforehand, panic at the time, and rash actions afterwards.  The granddaddy of all conspiracy theories is creationism.  How can something  so important as me come about by chance?

Conspiracy theories are the modern, socially acceptable form of superstition.  Studies have shown that the less control people have over their environment, the more prone they are to superstition.  This should not be a surprise because superstition is a positive (though undesirable) behavior.  The human mind making sense of the world and seeking patterns creates artifacts.  Superstitions are the artifacts.  Their presence has nothing to do with intelligence.  They are due to lack of information, societal conformity and economy of effort.  Most people don't spend time learning about or understanding things they don't need to.  Most of the exceptions only learn or understand extra stuff that they are interested in.

Scratch the surface of anyone's understanding of the world and you will find lots of magical thinking.  How does your TV work?  How about the Internet you are using to access this post?  They just work, and we don't need to understand the details if we don't want to.  But importantly, we have a kind of story at the back of our minds about how these things work.  That's the societal narrative.  A shared set of short-hand explanations.  When these explanations are grounded in evidence we call it science.  When grounded in belief, we call it faith.  When grounded in prejudice or ignorance, or nothing at all, we call it superstition.  What all these share is a desire to discern cause and effect.  A need to describe the structure of the world and the individual's place in it.

When the explanation for extraordinary events is inconsistent with people's life experience, they look for a new pattern that is more consistent.  Not a bad thing on the face of it.  But a lot of events are random or chaotic.  Despite their importance, they were unanticipated because nobody thought they could ever happen.  For example, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.  There are people who look at the evidence available before the event and conclude that the powers that be must have known.  The evidence of impending attack went from suggestive a few weeks beforehand to persuasive a few days before to conclusive within an hour of the attack.  Yet it was a total surprise.   The idea that the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbour on that sunny Sunday morning never entered the heads of those in Hawaii until the funny looking planes dropped bombs that really went off.  Since a Japanese attack was an idea that never formed, all the evidence that is so obvious in retrospect was dismissed or misinterpreted.

Unfortunately, if you want to believe that governments are on top of things, that things should work as they are supposed to, such failures are problematic.  The Japanese shouldn't be able to sneak a fleet within striking distance of Hawaii undetected.  A loser like Lee Oswald shouldn't be able to kill JFK with a cheap mail-order rifle.  An avowed enemy of America like Osama bin Laden shouldn't be able to use the US air travel system to stage devastating attacks.  But these events happened.  Conspiracy theory bridges the gap.  Roosevelt knew, but wanted the US in the war.  JFK was killed by Castro, or the Mob, or Lyndon Johnson.  The World Trade Center was blown up, not destroyed by an airplane.  Because little things and little men shouldn't be able to cause big events.  Big events need big causes.  This proportionality is ingrained.  It comes from early life experience and is an essential understanding of how the world works.  So when the world doesn't work the way its supposed to, we fill in the blanks necessary to make it appear as if it does.  But ascribing events to the evil eye, or curses, or black cats is declasse.  The need remains, but the traditional methods are unavailable.  We make up new ones.

Nobody is immune to magical thinking.  We routinely blame cancer on luck or lifestyle.  In fact, virtually every human over the age of 70 either has or will get cancer.  Its almost universal.  No matter how enlightened we imagine ourselves, people in 200 years will wonder at our astounding ignorance.  Its no wonder then, that conspiracy theories proliferate.  They are part of human nature.  They will be around as long as we are.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Apropos of nothing, here is a map of Slovenia.  The country became independent in 1991 and has a population of 2 million.