Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Nuclear Iran?

Iran's nuclear development program is proceding apace. The Iranians claim that their program is directed solely toward developing nuclear power capabilities. There may be some truth to that claim; the country imports gasoline even though it is a major exporter of petroleum. The rest of the world thinks that Iran is slowly but surely developing the capability of producing nuclear bombs. The only disagreement in the rest of the world is over the question, is Iran with nuclear weapons an existential threat or merely a nuisance? Perhaps the truth lies between those extremes.

Israel certainly views a nuclear Iran as a threat to its very existence. The political leaders of Iran all give at least lip service to the notion that Israel ought not exist, certainly not as a Jewish state in the midst of the Muslim world. To the extent that American foreign policy is directed toward unconditional support and defense of whatever government Israel chooses, Iran with nukes is regarded as a serious threat to the United States.

Iran with nukes is also evidence of the mistake of the American claim of special or exceptional virtues. We are better than other countries; we would never use nuclear weapons to attack another country; we can be trusted not to start wars or to do other dishonest and destructive things. In short, America is exceptional and should not be bound by the limits placed on all other nations. It's all right for America to have a huge nuclear arsenal. It's wrong for Iran to have even one nuclear weapon. This notion of American exceptionalism is so obviously self-serving and hypocritical that countries like Iran, North Korea, and others justify their own progress toward creating nuclear arsenals on what America does, not on what America says. For example, only one nation has ever used a nuclear weapon during a war. Do you remember what nation that was? The Japanese do.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009


Head-scarves and Yarmulkes

The world is again becoming more dangerous. The hot spot now is the antagonism between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Jewish Republic of Israel. Iran has asserted that Israel has no right to exist. Israel responds by threatening grave harm on Iran. Israel has the ability to produce nuclear weapons. Iran covets that ability and is proceding to acquire it.

Both nations have holy books that justify their actions. Israel's holy book states that the Lord God Yahweh or Jehovah or whatever his name is gave the land of Israel in perpetuity to the Jewish people. Jewish people who take this story seriously insist on moving to Israel and in establishing settlements anywhere in the land that God gave them. The fact that people are already living in the area of a settlement and have lived there for centuries makes no difference. They will simply have to go away so that Jews can get their land back.

The holy book of Muslims tells them that it is their duty to convert people to Islam. When people are converted, the land on which they live becomes part of Islam as well. It is not to be allowed for either the people or the land thus converted to revert or leave Islam. Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and other religious folk can come to live in this converted land but they can not dominate it. It must remain part of Islam and the people who have embraced Islam must not abandon Islam. Apostates can be punished by death.

There you have it. The existence of Israel on land that was converted centuries ago to Islam is an abomination and must not be allowed to continue. The land is part of Islam. Jews may live there if they behave themselves and don't do things or say things that insult Islam or Muslims. Establishing a Jewish state on Islamic land is wrong, wrong, wrong. On the other hand, before Islam existed, God gave Israel to the Jews. They have a God-given right to live there, practice their religion, and reestablish King Solomon's Kingdom. It's a conflict of religions and a conflict of laws. Both republics use their holy books as the highest or ultimate law of the land.

In case you, the reader, is a bit slow, I must inform you that neither holy book has any weight with me. I do not condemn apostates against Islam and I think the notion of land necessarily being of any religion is silly. That is, the claim of the Jewish settlers is both silly and dangerous. The claim of traditional Muslims to the land is also silly and dangerous. I have no sympathy for the claims of the President of the Islamic Republic that the Holocaust didn't really happen and therefore Israel has no right of existence. (Of course, no one bases the right to existence of Israel on the holocaust. Rather, that right is based on a reputed conversation between God and Moses.)

I think that religious beliefs that include the literal interpretation of certain holy books are dangerous. As a Christian, I can attend church and participate in the rituals there even though I know that many of the things that Christians "believe" never really happened, or at least they didn't happen the way certain people wrote them down. God did not literally create the whole universe in six days. Astrophysicists have some fairly good ideas about how the present universe came into existence about 15 billion (15,000,000,000) years ago. I share their opininons. No one knows what existed, if anything, before the coming into being of the present universe. It should be possible for Orthodox Jews and conservative Muslims to practice their faiths while at the same time accepting the notion that events described in their holy books probably didn't happen just in the way theat the writers described.

The problem of Israel and the Palestinians can not be solved if people cling to the notion that holy books are literally true. That applies equally to the Torah and to the Quran.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009


Some Poetry

I claim to be a poet. Not a good poet, mind you; just a poet. A friend who is a poet told me that a poem is a poem if the person who composed it says it is a poem. It isn't necessarily a good poem. I will present here, from time to time, samples of my poetry. You may decide for yourselves whether they are good or bad poems.

In memory of my wife

My wife was like a part of me;
I hear her voice in memory.
I sometimes think she calls me now
with voice so sweet and gentle.
She calls to tell me it’s time to sleep.
She calls to tell me it’s time to eat.
She calls for help when she can’t get up
Or when the slot machines have given her luck.

My mind’s divided between two worlds.
In one she lives, in one she doesn’t.
One is past and can’t be entered.
The other is the one in which I am
Condemned to spend the rest of my lonely life.
I cry as I write this.
Rabieb, does your spirit know my loneliness?
Does your spirit know my love?
Does your spirit know or even care
About the world in which you no longer live?
About the husband left behind, alone, lost, sad?

We can not know the future
But we must enter it anyway.
We know the past
But we can not get it back.
I wish you were here in person, alive,
And lively, ready to go on walks with me;
Ready to work in the garden;
Ready to pull weeds, squash ants, kill snails;
Ready to join me at a favorite restaurant;
Ready to join me in watching a movie;
Ready to travel with me.
This is my wish, my impossible wish.

[May 12, 2008]

When I leave my house and home, I leave behind my treasures:
Photos of my children, my parents, their parents, other relatives and friends;
Records of my savings, stocks, funds, bank accounts;
My history: my diary, my memoirs, that are both still unfinished;
Other possessions: clothes, keepsakes, memorabilia, gifts from dear friends
That are at the same time priceless and worthless.
These are some of the things I leave behind
When I leave my house and home.

When I return, the house is just as it was when I left.
All the treasures still intact and in place, just where I remember them to be.
Records are in the file cabinets and in notebooks.
The diary and memoirs are on computer disks and in part in notebooks.
The clothes are still hanging in the closets or lying in dresser drawers.
The keepsakes are on their shelves, patiently waiting my return and my appreciation.
The priceless and worthless gifts are still in their places.
I would not sell them for any price, and no one would pay me a penny for the lot.
These are the things that wait for my return to house and home.

My soul lives comfortably in my body and mind.
It isn’t a perfect body or mind, but it suits the soul.
The soul inhabits my mind just as I inhabit my home and house.
It’s not a perfect house, but it suits me. I am used to it.
When I leave home, I leave behind my treasures, but I take their memory with me.
My poor soul, though, doesn’t have that luxury.
When the soul finally leaves the body, it’s because the mind is dead.
The mind is the repository of the treasures of the soul
The memories, happy and sad, peaceful and frightening.
When the mind dies, these treasures also die.
The soul can not take any of them with it when it leaves
And it can not return. Instead, it must wander, perhaps,
not knowing who it was or whose body it inhabited.
It is a lost soul.
August, 2004


Missile Defense Facilities in Poland, Czech Republic

President Obama has decided, wisely in my opinion, to stop the process of installing these defensive structures. Several arguments for and against this decision have been advanced in the news media. My friend Wally expressed an argument the other day during our morning walk. He pointed out that these facilities when completed would be provided with the missiles and radar sets and lots of secret stuff that we have developed to try to track ICBM's after launch in order to aim other missiles at them to shoot them down. The Poles and the Czechs (and the Slovaks and the Hungarians, etc.) fear the Russians. The Russians have occupied eastern Poland in past centuries and have sent armies into Prague and Budapest to restore order and to depose anti-Russian leaders within the memory of living persons.

They may decide to occupy Poland and the Czech Republic again. If they do, the United States will not be able to stop them. Only a major war would do that, and the American people have no stomach for another war after Iraq and Afghanistan. If they do, these defensive installations with their secrets will be prime targets for the Russian invaders. In fact, the Russians may decide to occupy Poland and Czech Republic just to acquire the secrets.

Obama has simply removed an incentive for the Russians to reoccupy Poland and the Czech Republic.


Sunday, September 13, 2009


Rift between U.S. and Israel

According to a newsletter that arrives by e-mail every day, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel stated that there is a disagreement between Israel and the United States about how to restart the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Obama Administration wants Israel to stop all activity related to building settlements in "Palestinian" land. Many other countries agree with this American position. New settlements are very important to Netanyahu and he refuses to stop settlement construction without very important concessions from the surrounding Arab governments.

In my humble opinion, Netanyahu and his supporters have no interest whatever in freezing the building of new settlements. His position is that there should not be a Palestinian state and that Jews from any part of the world have a God-given right to live anywhere they choose in Biblical Israel. His policy and that of the Likud Party is to continue construction of new settlements and the acquisition of new land for them and to make life for the Palestinians so unpleasant and inconvenient that they will simply leave Biblical Israel and settle in some other Arab country, such as Jordan or Syria.

Netanyahu negotiates from a strong hand. Israel occupies or controls the entire area of Biblical Israel. There is only one way that the U.S. can force Israel to discontinue, even temporarily, the continuing acquisition of land and the building of new settlements. That way is to reduce or cut off the American foreign aid that goes to Israel. Israel is the largest beneficiary of American foreign aid. If we cut off the flow of money, Israel would rather quickly have to come to heel. It can not survive without the subsidy, in my opinion.

Cutting off or reducing the subsidy to Israel would raise hell politically here in the United States. The "jewish vote" is an important constituency of the Democratic Party and Representatives from districts with large Jewish populations would be up in arms about reducing the subsity. This constituency is predominantly liberal and progressive on other issues, and the Administration can not afford to alienate it lest, for example, the health care reform loses important support in this constituency.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009


A Simpleton’s View of the Healthcare Debate

Social Security and Medicare are two very popular federal programs. I don’t recall the vote on Social Security, but I believe Medicare was enacted with only Democratic votes in Congress. Probably Social Security was too. Republicans have railed against both programs, especially Social Security, ever since they went into effect.

I’ve been trying to make some sense of the partisan divide about reforming our healthcare system. Thinking Republicans and Democrats agree that the system needs fixing. They agree that more Americans should be covered, that the cost of medical care is increasing too rapidly, and that some insurance companies do some things that ought to be forbidden. I think that they agree that everyone (except illegal aliens) should be covered in some way.

Republicans also believe that one of the main problems in the present system is that it is too easy to sue a doctor or medical provider on the basis of unfulfilled expectations. They want “tort reform.” Tort reform would make it very difficult to sue a doctor for malpractice. Republicans believe, with some justification, that most malpractice suits have no basis in fact but go to court anyway because everyone knows doctors are rich and can afford to pay for their “mistakes.” Republicans assert, again with justification, that doctors are forced to protect themselves by purchasing malpractice insurance and by practicing defensive medicine, thereby greatly increasing the total cost of health care. Some Republicans believe that simply getting rid of frivolous malpractice lawsuits would to a great deal to rein in the rapid increase in the cost of medical care.

Democrats believe, in addition to those beliefs that they share with Republicans, that the biggest problem in American healthcare is the strong influence of insurance companies that provide health insurance. These firms, in order to stay in business and make a profit, have to be careful not to insure persons that are going to have very expensive health problems, just as firms selling auto insurance try not to sell policies to reckless drivers. Some of the practices of health insurance companies include dropping policy holders who develop expensive illnesses or other medical problems after having been insured for a number of years. Insurance firms are not motivated to reduce the actual costs of medical care; they simply pass along the increasing cost of care to policy holders in the form of increased premiums.

Hence, Democrats want to set up an insurance system that will cover the individuals who lose or can’t get health insurance. They’re rather vague as to who will be able to participate in this non-profit “public option” insurance plan. It will have to be subsidized with public money to enable persons who can’t afford any other insurance to buy “public option” insurance policies. Of course, these same individuals would be offered subsidies to buy private insurance if they wished.

Republicans hate the “public option” plan. They have both a philosophical and an economic objection. The philosophic objection is that it goes against the Republican principle of small government. The economic objection is that the plan would grow into a national single-payer plan and put the insurance companies out of business.

Democrats are cool to the idea that tort reform would have a big impact on the cost of health care. They know that tort reform would not provide health insurance coverage to a single additional person. They also believe that the present methods of penalizing and eliminating bad or incompetent doctors are inadequate. Bad doctors continue to practice for years and nothing is done to stop them.

So, from what I’ve read and heard, there seems to be a set of concepts on which there is agreement and some concepts on which there is disagreement. Reasonable people among our representatives and Senators ought to be able to find compromises that everyone can live with. Why is there such great opposition to trying to find compromises? Is it that Republicans are simply trying to make a Democratic president look incompetent, to improve their chances at coming elections? Are Democrats simply trying to get even with Republicans for the years of Republican domination under Speakers Gingrich and Hastert and Representative Tom Delay?

Will someone please set me straight? Post your comments below this article, please.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009


Health Care for Illegal Aliens

The man from South Carolina was half right, half wrong. He was wrong because Obama's health care reform plan and the other plans under consideration in Congress specifically state that any health benefits under the plan would not apply to persons not in the country legally. He was right because there was no special provision and no specific appropriation to check on the status of persons seeking health care under any of the plans. His fear was that, without any special effort to check the status of patients, some illegal residents would receive care under the plan.

My own first reaction, as a bleeding heart liberal, was, so what? In fact, the plan should include everyone, including illegal aliens in order to protect the rest of us from diseases that illegal aliens might otherwise spread.

My second reaction was that the man from South Carolina has not done a cost-benefit analysis. It will cost money to screen health care recipients to make sure that illegal aliens are excluded. Does the cost of the screening exceed the cost of simply treating the illegals? Would it not be cheaper not to spend much effort in checking?

Many years ago the English found that people from France and other countries in mainland Europe were coming to England to get free eye exams and free eyeglasses under the British National Health Service. The English decided that it was cheaper just to let the foreigners get the glasses than to spend the money to screen them.

This discussion of epidemics spread by unhealthy undocumented aliens and the cost of screening compared with the cost of treating misses another important point. Many people, including the man from South Carolina, feel very strongly that we should do nothing for people who have entered the country illegally. They don't deserve any benefits and we should make sure they don't get any. Cost be damned! It's a moral issue.


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