15 November 2015


Major changes have occurred in photography in recent years, and what follows will primarily interest those who are enthusiasts in the field. Everyone knows that the greatest change has been from film to digital photography, and the impact is even deeper on the equipment we use. Until shortly after the turn of the century you could count on higher-end photo equipment  to last indefinitely. For example, I have a Canon F1n, one of the best cameras ever made, that still works fine after more than four decades. 

When digital finally provided acceptable resolution, though still nowhere near that of film, it was time to buy. We had long been treating  photos digitally anyway via Photoshop, so that more and more the output was digitized. In addition we had virtually unlimited shots without film and didn’t have to pack thirty rolls of film on a trip or project while begging airport security not to x-ray them. There is also the almost too easy access of photos on computers and electronic devices which can evaporate into nothingness if they are not meticulously backed up. Then there is the trend towards lower, rather than higher resolution through .jpg compressed files and online storage that does not support anywhere near the capabilities of most cameras today. While not as sharp as film, the best cameras are getting close enough, at least in terms of what the eye can discern unaided. 

But these days  good digital SLRs sell for nosebleed prices, and worse, have a pretty limited lifespan and appeal since every year new cameras are introduced with ever higher resolution, making last  year’s model seem suddenly obsolete as well as steeply depreciated. Thus your 10-15 mp camera is blown away by a newer 20 mp version and there is unfortunately no upgrade path. Value really resides in the better lenses now because they at least are transferable. 

Once photographic work is digital we then face the problem of digitizing everything we did before, by scanning slides and negatives. I’m pretty much up to date on this, but unless it was for a project I’ve left a lot of casual, family photos, etc. untreated, the result being there are boxes of slides that no one has seen in decades. Scanning thousands of slides is tedious, and I’ve tried just about every method conceivable. There are plenty of scanners selling for around $100 but they all suck if you’re serious about photography. The other low-cost method is to buy an attachment for the front of your SLR which enables you to copy each slide quite well but is totally impractical if you have a large quantity to digitize. The next alternative is to spend several hundred dollars on a Plustek converter, which does a good job, but also has an unfortunate tendency to stop working after around a thousand pictures. Since there is not a large or ongoing market for such devices there isn’t much competition, so the best are very costly and can run well over a thousand dollars. Even used Nikon scanners are in that range since the company no longer makes them. There is a company that still makes scanners for this market- Pacific Image, one of which I’m currently using to convert batches of slides automatically, although I have to use it with a PC because the Mac version doesn’t work. It’s also clunky, noisy and made of too much plastic considering its hefty cost, but the results are good so far. It’s not worth it if you only want to do a few slides, in which case another alternative is to use a service, but you need this kind of thing for large volume. 

I’m processing some slides now that are more than forty years old, and the results vary with the film type and processing. Those from cheaper labs are faded with a red cast. Many can be restored, but require considerable time and effort. On the other hand the results from Kodachrome slides are stunning. They look as though they were shot yesterday. It is sad that this film is no longer made due to market conditions, for its superb results prove it to be the best film of all, this side of Technicolor. Serious photographers in the past gravitated towards Ektachrome or comparable films from other manufacturers which could be developed by anyone, whereas Kodachrome was considered more of a “consumer” film, processed only by Kodak. With digital the “processing” is, of course, within photo editing programs, with limitless possibilities. Unfortunately there is a tendency towards dumbing down here too. Apple recently introduced a simple program called "Photos," while incomprehensibly ending support for their pro-level program called "Aperture," which I will continue using as long as possible. Apple clearly wants total integration with the IPhone and IPad which now dominate the company. The Mac is almost an afterthought, forced into emulating these devices. It is shortsighted considering that most creative professionals use the Mac, and few are gravitating to the new MacPro “garbage can” cylindrical design. The previous MacPro was one of the best computers ever made, which is why there is such a strong aftermarket for five+ year old machines whose capabilities have yet to be exceeded. 

20 August 2015


Anyone who has known Donald Trump in New York will recall that a draft Trump movement would regularly appear  floated entirely by Trump himself. In the previous four attempts  it was as an Independent of some sort, which quickly fizzled. But this time, in his current incarnation as a Republican, he has managed to gain a good amount of traction, due in no small measure to overreaction by spineless corporations to remarks he made that were not all that egregious. 

He has now firmly established himself as someone who “says what he thinks” in the minds of many people, and has garnered the mantle of the anti-politician at a time when the public has little faith in the political class. The real problem is whether he truly believes what he says, or whether he is simply saying what he thinks people want to hear and parodying conservative concerns. Since he has been all over the map politically not much of this can be taken seriously, so he ironically is attracting the most ideologically inclined supporters while in truth remaining the least ideologically committed of all the candidates. As President he might even perform as a bold decision-maker, but without much underlying rationale, and if he did get the nomination it is very likely that there would be a loud clatter  of skeletons popping out of closets everywhere. 

It is truly unfortunate that he has been able to dominate the selection process for the moment, because the current Republican candidates represent by far, the finest field I have ever seen in my life. They are a talented, diverse, youthful group, and look even better alongside of the geriatric retro-left Democratic candidates, who, unlike the Republicans, lack even a rudimentary bench of potential candidates. The Republican field can produce any number of appealing tickets, i.e. Rubio-Walker, or Walker-Rubio, or any of the others, most of whom would fill out an excellent cabinet. I believe the next President will likely be a Republican, unless they get trumped, by among other possibilities, an independent third-party run by a man whose “Republican” credentials are tenuous enough to permit that. 

But as I have written many times before, it is just ridiculous to be focused on an election more than two years before it actually will occur. This is a truly awful situation that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The result is the we have all politics all the time, there is little room for anything else that might actually constitute real “news,” and an obliviousness to anything happening elsewhere in the world. It has resulted in sharper ideological divisions as candidates must appeal to the “base” of their party, who usually are its most extreme elements.  It gives us candidates who are good at running for office, but not necessarily at governing. Huge financial resources must be raised, and a whole industry of campaign consultants, media people, advertisers, news people, political junkies, etc. etc. are invested in the system. 

But for everyone else it is simply one long headache. Ideally we could fix this to a considerable extent by the logical step of allowing elected officials to nominate the candidates of their party, and/or limiting the length of time over which a campaign can take place, as they do in Britain.  That would limit the noise level to some extent, and I don’t know who is better suited to nominate candidates than public officials themselves. The primary system is a very recent phenomenon, taking root only around 1960 and this whole system attracts people who are so full of themselves that they believe they should be president, with or without the good judgement and respect of others. There is no greater group of presidents than the first five, none of whom ran for office and would have considered it to be undignified. They were called upon by respect and admiration of their peers, based upon their accomplishments and character. If we can’t go all the way back to that at least let us reform the electoral system to produce better candidates, shorter campaigns, a less politically charged atmosphere, and an end to the long, tortuous, never-ending political cacaphony.  

29 June 2015


While people in the US have been preoccupied with domestic concerns there are ominous clouds gathering in the rest of the world. There is the fiscal crisis in Greece which will be addressed separately, three terrorist attacks in different places on the same day, ongoing slaughter by ISIS that has now apparently become too routine to report on it, mischief making by Vladimir Putin, and worst of all, the turn things have taken with the Iranian nuclear talks. Normally there might be good reasons for the US to take some action on all these fronts, but with the possible exception of Greece, at this point in time we are better off doing nothing than acting due to the fecklessness and incompetence of this administration. 

It increasingly appears as though they are caving in to the Iranian ayatollahs in the nuclear talks. It is just unbelievable that a French Socialist government is taking a harder, more realistic line with regard to Iranian nukes than the US because they are concerned that this administration is going to give away the store. What does it tell us, when the Europeans, for the first time in memory, are taking a harder line than the US? Meanwhile Israel is in the doghouse due to contempt for Netanyahu, who increasingly is being proven to have been right all along. No deal is better than this deal. All other missteps are containable and remediable, but not when it comes to increasing the chance of blowing up the world. 

Also ominous is the the massacre of 38 European tourists in a Tunisian resort, because of the terrible impact one evil actor can have on a country’s economy. Tourists are leaving, canceling trips as a result of this seriously damaging the country’s economy, and harming all those poor people who work in that field. The Tunisians I have interacted with have all been good and gracious individuals, identify with the modern world, and simply want the opportunity freely live in it like everyone else. They don’t deserve this. 

With regard to terrorism, we should remain vigilant, but hold off any significant action until this administration leaves office. It makes a lot more sense to hold your fire than to mobilize action under an incompetent command. This is clearly no longer our problem, but the entire world’s. From Europe to Russia to Arabia to India to China to Africa and beyond, we are all in the same position, and fortunately on the same side, something we unfortunately have failed to make any use of to any significant degree, but if properly approached would go a long way towards putting an end to this. This is something the President could and should have pulled off, given the expectations and good will he had coming into office, but instead of utilizing that credit to pull everyone together on this, he went around the world disparaging his own country, apologizing to Muslims who did not ask for it, criticizing Christians, sowing more division and chaos, and achieving even lower US standing the world than his demonized predecessor. He has also improbably managed to enable Vladimir Putin to represent himself as a more plausible beacon of western tradition. 

Americans, at least those who are politically concerned, waste an undue amount of time and energy contesting domestic issues that the President actually does not have much power over. It is in foreign affairs that the President wields more power and can determine the direction of things, sometimes for better, be just as often for worse. Policy is no doubt important, but not as much as competence, which has been in pretty short supply, not just in this one but over the past few administrations.

27 June 2015


The US Supreme Court dropped a number of bombshells in its current session that have caused elation among some and provoked outrage among others, but how this all will play out depends on how the political class conducts itself, and there the record is mixed. The two decisions that involve sharp political differences got all the attention, but the worst was actually the one that basically said that the government can declare discrimination even where there is no discrimination. That means the government can redefine reality as it wishes, which is rather totalitarian notion that could destroy individual autonomy. 

With regard pretty much ratifying Obamacare, there is little Republicans can do about it now, at least as far its overall purpose of enabling health care for everyone. If it is repealed it has to be replaced by something else that accomplishes the same thing. The way it was passed was stupid, its detail awful, and its implementation inept. That said the only options now remaining are to come up with something else or to improve its many flaws. It has cost me a few thousand personally by putting a really stupid limit on Medical Savings Accounts, but that is the sort of thing that can be tweaked and is what Republicans should focus on. A wholesale reboot is unrealistic now unless all the bases are covered, and what they should address are areas where some people have been screwed and fix them, along with improved management,  and also lightening the government’s heavy hand. 

With regard to same-sex marriage, let it be. I say this not because of the tenuous basis of the court’s ruling, nor without regard to historical tradition, nor using rights as a basis for it, but rather on what really matters- human connection and compassion. The reason this must now prevail has nothing to do with ideology, spiritual beliefs, or politics. It is reflected in how things make sense today, as opposed to how they once were, due to an increased awareness of the circumstances of others and our personal feelings towards them.  For almost everyone is either related to, or friends with someone who is gay, who they care for and who IS in some way part of their lives. As this has risen in consciousness it has thus become personalized, and in this life what matters most is personal. 

This is in fact a conservative position, because we believe fervently in the personal, we recognize there is a distinction between the private and the public, and we reject the left’s ongoing attempts to politicize all aspects of life. That is also why I have no sympathy for gay activists, (or various other kinds of activists) because of monomania. People are not defined by one characteristic, but have many attributes that are equally if not more important to them. Being gay is not a political condition, it is a human condition.

As far as tradition goes, for many things in human affairs that is where we first look, primarily because it represents the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of prior generations. But it is not immutable and is always subject to change over time as more things become part of our collective consciousness. We learn, adjust and change, but it is gradual not radical change. That is also the conservative position. To oppose any change based on tradition is not conservative, it is reactionary. Finally, there is no way that you can take away a right that has been granted. This is in no way as calamitous as some people think. It will simply become part of the fabric of things, and in rather traditional ways at that. 

Politically Marco Rubio deserves credit for simply stating it is  now the law and let’s move on. On the other hand, while the President was conciliatory in his speech in South Carolina, subsequently instead of trying to bring people together he then took the odd step of covering the White House in rainbow lights, effectively rubbing it in on people upset by the decision, rather trying to unify everyone. It was a fleeting, gratuitous gesture, and was simply counterproductive. He should have used the moment more wisely. I don’t care about the lights as such, or what they represent, but it would be one thing if it were, say lit green on St Patrick’s Day, and various other occasions, but it isn’t and it shouldn’t be. It’s not the Empire State Building and this not the kind of leadership we need now. 

24 June 2015


Civil societies in our time face the problem of the rare but dangerous deviant who commits violent acts. At any time, in almost any place there are a few who are so maladjusted they have no qualms about slaughtering strangers. Often they will adhere to an ideology of some sort, be it Islamic jihad, revolutionary leftism, or racism, but however unpalatable that belief system may be, it is seldom, in and of itself, the “cause,” no matter how much people may wish to discredit a beliefs they don’t like, for the behavior is virtually identical to that of deranged mass murderers with no particular agenda. Thus, eliminating this perceived cause would have little effect on someone unhinged. The paranoia would persist and become attached to something else. 

The murders in the South Carolina church by a man with clearly white racist views and an affinity for the confederate flag has provided a fundraising bonanza for the (selectively) anti-racism and hate industry, as well as renewed demands for the removal of the confederate flag, which we will examine further below. But to make any sense of this let us look at the last comparable incident of this sort, which occurred some years back when a black man boarded the Long Island Railroad and proceeded to kill as many white people as he could. The man was clearly deranged, and also motivated by racism, but little attention was given to that aspect of it, in contrast to the ideologically motivated focus on the circumstances of the South Carolina case. The problem in any incident of this kind has far less to do with racism and much more to do with mental illness, which is something far harder to perceive and ameliorate. 

It is frequently the same in the case of people in western societies flipping out and becoming Jihadists, i.e. that which is most antithetical to their own society, much in the same way some radical revolutionary cause might have attracted them in another time. Granted some are quite sane, fanatical believers, but others have a psychotic thrill in killing. For as much as the terror threat appears to have diminished, at least in terms of attacks sponsored by some organization, the “lone wolf” remains a problem that is extremely difficult to detect, as is the alienated loner, or anyone capable of going on a spontaneous murder spree. We do not yet possess knowledge sufficient enough to enable us to stop this completely, especially given its random nature. 

That is why any attempt to try and maintain that the American south is rampantly racist and no different than it was fifty years ago is completely ridiculous, if not slanderous. In South Carolina, where the murders occurred, the Governor is an Indian American woman, and one Senator, Tim Scott, is black. Furthermore he was previously elected to congress from the Charleston area, defeating the son of the original Dixiecrat, Strom Thurmond in a primary election. However, the confederate flag, does, to some extent, obscure this reality. To many in the south it is a matter of heritage and whenever there has been a referendum on it, keeping the flag has prevailed by 2:1 margins. However, it is also perceived as a symbol of oppression by others, and it is simply untenable to maintain a symbol on public property that is opposed by a very significant segment of the population. In addition, while the confederate battle flag is historic, its current use is tenuous, since it was only raised in the 1960s as an expression of defiance to the federal government. Public officials in South Carolina and elsewhere have already suggested that it be moved from public property, and it probably will be. 

With far less justification a number of large corporations have banned the sale of the flag, even on Internet auctions. They are unprincipled scoundrels who at the same time have no problem allowing communist paraphernalia associated with enemies of the US, i.e. Che Guevara t-shirts, etc. responsible for the slaughter of millions upon millions of people, which sickens far more people than the confederate flag.  They should not be in the censorship business, and especially not in such an arbitrary way. They have now opened the door to disposing of anything anyone loud enough finds offensive. They deserve the consequences. 

Something of this sort has already started with a group of nutty professors in California now demanding the removal of the American flag for supposedly symbolizing some form of evil. This has much in common with the phenomenon of self-hatred that oddly seems to be increasing, which we’ll look at next time. 

23 May 2015


This morning the news programs in the US were all excitedly reporting on the opening of the new observation deck atop the 1 World Trade Center tower, and some of the visual technologies on the way up appear to be quite impressive. But the claim some made about new and unique vistas is simply untrue. Perhaps they weren’t around when the first World Trade Center stood there, because the view is essentially the same as that of the original. I still can’t relate to this one because I recall too much of what is missing. 

From a pier in Brooklyn I watched the twin towers rising downtown and when they were completed, spent a lot of time there over the years either in offices, the concourse, or the Windows on the World restaurant and the bar at the opposite side. All are now gone, along with the church next to the towers where I was married, and unforgettably, the thousands of innocent souls who perished in that terrible attack. 

Yet the city rebounded  with renewed enthusiasm and real estate continues to rise, but nothing goes up indefinitely, and can easily head in the other direction. For it was not that long ago that a majority of the people living here said they would move somewhere else if they could, at a time when the path towards decay and decline then seemed inevitable. But these days people again think that New York is the greatest city in the world, and to the west and south there are only provincial places, but that in itself is also a kind of parochial  viewpoint. It is also seen as the center of the world, especially for those who have come here from somewhere else. 

What is true is that if you came back to NYC after a decade or so, you would find things different due to the constant building and rebuilding going on, and it is in large measure sustained by that constant reinvention and renewal. But there are other places, such as Detroit or Baltimore, that no longer seem to have a purpose, and could be headed towards the same fate as some of the ancient city ruins I recently visited. But neither applies to Venice, which was finished long ago, and remains intact even after many years of decline. It is a place you could revisit after decades and find nothing changed, not to mention settings that appear as they would have centuries in the past. It was once a republic that lasted over a thousand years, but today it is basically a dead city, a museum, that exists almost entirely for tourists. Nothing else happens there anymore. The population is only 60,000 and falling as well as aging, so that it is projected that no Venetians will be left by 2030, when in any case it may be flooded by rising seas. 

Other cities, like Athens and Rome, have existed for thousands of years, undergoing periods of sharp decline, but then rebounding, because although they contain ancient ruins, they are still living cities with people engaged in a wide range of activities. From ancient times onwards cities have been sacked, populations slaughtered, and temples destroyed, but often they would rebound and build a new temple, and sometimes the ruins we see today are the second or even third incarnation of what was there originally.  

Other times cities would be totally and deliberately obliterated, like Carthage, with little left to suggest they ever existed.  Some simply fade away for other reasons. I recently visited the ancient Greek cities of Ephesus and Miletus on the coast of what is now Turkey. It was there that philosophy began and rational thought was applied to explain natural phenomena previously attributed to divinities and spirits, thus providing the foundation for science. They were once important cities, with commercial harbors, but as rivers silted up over time they were left in an inland location, resulting in the loss of economic vitality and depopulation. The same thing happened in other places, such as Pisa in Italy. 

We can never know what the long term fate of our cities will be. Will they decline beyond recovery, will they transform into something else, or will they still remain vibrant? In any event we cannot assume that the world we live in now will be the same a few hundred years from now, any more than we resemble the world of a few hundred years past. But whatever record we do leave will likely only be found in cities or what remains of them. 

04 May 2015


Every time I return from a trip abroad I dread the miserable process of passing through JFK airport in New York, which continues to a be a national embarrassment, especially when you think that this is the first thing people from other countries experience when they come here. It is says a lot when it is an even worse experience than traveling to Venice, where I just returned from.  

Venice is notoriously difficult to come and go from as you either have to travel via a water taxi, or haul your luggage to your destination from the furthest point a train or bus from the airport can take you. From there you have to cross canals, and since this will involve dragging suitcases up and down the steps of a series of bridges to get to your hotel, it is well worth paying a porter to take care of that for you. But with canals instead of streets everywhere, these difficulties are at least the result of unavoidable physical conditions.

The same cannot be said for the dismal conditions at JFK which are man-made and entirely avoidable. It is a disgrace, compared to modern and efficient airports in other cities around the world. First you have to walk through an endless dingy corridor to a huge room with a vast series of lines below a huge, truly dreadful mural. Initially there is a line for US citizens, foreign legal residents, and first time visitors, but then the first two pointlessly get merged. Then you have to get on a very long line that snakes back and forth several times, until you finally get to stop number one. Then you go to a kiosk, insert your passport and it prints out a paper with your picture verifying your information, with such new technology apparently designed to speed things up and smooth your passage. But it doesn’t, because you then go to another line anyway, and at this point the confusion is such that I can’t even tell you what department each stop is for, but after that there is yet another line. Then you pick up your luggage and wind up on yet another line, before finally exiting the airport to one mercifully quick last line to get a taxi, by which time nearly two hours have transpired since landing. If you weren’t exhausted after spending eight hours on an airplane you will be after this. 

This can’t be blamed on enhanced security, because oddly, leaving from the same airport took less than half an hour, despite full security checks. Problems returning are instead based upon bureaucratic ineptitude, needless duplication and terrible organization. Clearly no one is looking at things from the customer standpoint. What is clearly needed is an effort to bring this airport into the twenty-first century in terms of physical plant, as well as new and better management. 

I did come across one thing even dumber, in Croatia, one of the countries we visited. For some odd reason the government insists that merchants display prices only in the local currency, which is so obscure you can’t even find it on most conversion tables. In most other countries prices are usually posted in dollar or euro equivalents for the convenience of tourist customers. That is obviously good for business; pricing things in kunas  is definitely not, and local businesses suffer as a result. Clearly government ineptitude knows no borders. 

17 February 2015


A goofy State Department spokeswoman said that we need to address the “underlying causes” that have created ISIS. It seems these causes consist poverty and lack of jobs. But poverty and a need for work characterizes not ISIS, but those poor Egyptian Coptic Christians they beheaded. It is really troubling when the administration is so clueless about not just Islamic radicalism, but extremism in general, which is of course the way it insists on seeing the problem. The problem with the analysis put forward is that it is completely wrong. 

Radical extremists virtually never come from the poor. The poor are too concerned with day to day survival and have little connection with causes of any kind. There are plenty of radicals claiming to represent the poor throughout history, such as the communists. But neither Lenin nor Stalin came from an impoverished background. Bin Laden was very wealthy, and his successor is an Egyptian medical doctor. There is virtually no example of a poor radical extremist throughout history. It may be too much to have expect them to have done any actual research on the problem, based even on their own understanding of it. 

If they really believe the nonsense they have expressed then it would presumably require some sort of antipoverty program to address the problem. But even the Islamic extremists themselves don’t say anything about poverty. It is all about faith, rectitude, religious order, killing infidels, displacing the Crusaders, etc. ISIS wants a caliphate, not a Marshal Plan. 

What about those western converts flocking to ISIS? They are concerned with piety, not poverty. They become alienated from the society they live in, and seek some alternative that will provide purpose, and in a strange way, fulfillment. They are the kind of people who, in a previous generation would have gravitated towards the revolutionary left. They are attracted to the Other; that which constitutes the principal opposition to existing society. From France they are seeking the nonFrance, from America the nonAmerica, etc. This also applies the existing order in many Muslim countries, which fail to conform to their idea of how society ought to be organized, but again with no mention of poverty. 

Thus it is foolish and dangerous to try and base policies upon these misconceptions. Given that these are people who have crucified children, buried them alive, beheaded many others or burned them to death, talking about a jobs program is preposterous. If this is the kind of thinking going on these days we are in real trouble. For ISIS is already has a poverty program. It consists of beheading the poor. Unless we act many more innocent people will die, and die horribly. They cannot be persuaded, they cannot be reasoned with, they cannot even be scared. There is only one solution: ISIS must be destroyed. 

08 February 2015


There has been an explosion of outrage since Barack Obama made an ill-advised and historically inaccurate statement that appeared to equate ISIS with Christianity. This has resuscitated the notion that he is a closet Muslim. He isn’t. He is a secular-rationalist man of the Left, and views the world through that prism. There is no doubt that he sympathizes with Islam, but not in a way that most Muslims would be comfortable with. He simply expresses the incongruous attitude of many on the radical left who believe that since we are bad, our enemies must either be good or have legitimate grievances due to our misconduct. In this view, we have history of racism and discrimination, and our view of Islam is thus informed by prejudice which must be resisted lest we do bad things to this oppressed minority. Whenever we are attacked they worry not about what we have suffered, but rather that we might react and persecute, which  only confirms what deep contempt they have for the American people. What is truly astonishing is that we have a president of the United States who never misses an opportunity to belittle his own country wherever he is in the world. 

But it is not just the US, but now christendom that must be admonished. We must get off of our “high horse” regarding radical Islam because after all Christianity has been guilty of many sins as well. The audacity expressing this equivalency is breathtaking, and not just flat out wrong but preposterous. Unless your hatred for western civilization is implacable, it ought to be obvious that there are no Christians anywhere in today’s world committing atrocities in any way comparable to ISIS. Then they will tell you that Christians did much the same to Muslims in the past, notably during the Crusades. Even if that were true how many centuries back are we going to reach? 

But it’s not even true. Historically most of the atrocities committed by Christians were perpetrated on other Christians, as in the 17th century when Europe was torn apart by religious warfare. Heretics were considered to be in league with the devil and were treated accordingly and in a most unChristian way. The nonchristians who were persecuted for centuries were not Muslims but Jews. As for those fabled Crusades, for the most part they were attempting to recover territory that previously was part of the Eastern Roman (now called Byzantine) empire which was conquered by Islamic forces. But again the people who got the worst of it were the Christians, as in the 4th crusade. Instead of making war on the Muslims, the Crusaders were transported to Constantinople by the Venetians, who were nominally still under the Byzantine emperor, purportedly to install a pretender to the throne who promised them a great deal of money. When that failed to materialize the barbarians ravaged the city, destroying everything. The Venetians at least had some appreciation for art, and grabbed whatever they could, and took it back to Venice, where it still resides. But the crusaders simply broke or melted down ancient statues and set a fire that destroyed 100,000 homes as well as a library that was the last repository of Greek civilization. The greatest city in the world, which once held a million people was reduced to only 50,000 by the time the Turks finally conquered it two centuries later. The Pope excommunicated these crusaders for their crimes, at least for a time. This was a catastrophe for the west. With the Greek Christians of Byzantium so weakened, they no longer provided a buffer protecting the west from Turkish incursions and Muslim forces poured into Europe, usually massacring or enslaving whoever was in their path. Fear and terror gripped Europe for centuries.

So where is the Christian suppression of Muslims? What history actually shows is centuries of aggression and conquest by… the Muslims. There is no moral equivalency here; none at all. But it is in the past now and no one in the west in walking around holding a grievance about this. But that will probably be news to the conceited ignoramus in the White House. 

07 February 2015


German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Hollande went to Moscow like supplicants to plead with Vladimir Putin regarding Ukraine. They appear to have gone wobbly about his actions there, leaving the US in a growing confrontation with Russia in a conflict the European Union  largely instigated in the first place. It was the EU, which notably lacks any military force, that initiated this problem by seeking to expand to Ukraine, giving Putin the excuse he needed to respond militarily.  This is not the first time European allies have done something like this. When Slovenia broke away from Yugoslavia, Germany, in what was lauded as its first independent foreign policy move, unilaterally recognized them. The rest of Yugoslavia then blew apart in bitter ethnic conflict and it fell to the US to intervene militarily and sort it out. This must not happen again.

The US congress has passed an ill-advised bill to provide Ukraine with military aid, while stiffening sanctions against Russia. Following through with this could have catastrophic, and yet avoidable results. This has not been thought through carefully in terms of consequences that may arise. If we start providing military aid,  just how far are we prepared to go? This puts the US in the position of actively supporting military action against the Russians, on their border no less. What are we going to do if this situation escalates?  It only plays into Russian paranoia and puts the US in the position of actively seeking to pry Ukraine from the Russian orbit, which was never our intent, notwithstanding suspicions in the Kremlin. Meanwhile our erstwhile allies are abandoning the field and revealing, much to the delight of Vladimir Putin, a split in the alliance. Thus he has managed to outmaneuver the west, at least for the moment. 

This situation has to be diffused. While Putin may be pining for the lost provinces of the Soviet Union, it is not clear how far he is prepared to go. Hitler sought to bring all the Germans in other countries to the east under his reich. Does Putin feel that way about all the countries on his borders that have a Russian minority population? That is unlikely but he will do whatever he feels he can get away with as opportunities, such as Ukraine, arise, especially when there is a less than resolute west. 

But this whole scenario is wrong. The notion of Russia vs. the West went out with communism, despite what Putin would like to think.  For in the long run there is no place for Russia to go but to the west, given a country with a declining population under 150 million, a weak economy, and internal revolts brewing, i.e. in the Caucasus. Russia needs to be brought into Europe, not be cut off from it. This will take patience and foresight, and we need to see all this from a long term perspective. This means that no other former Soviet republic should become part of the EU, and certainly not NATO, unless and until an accommodation is reached first with Russia. At the present time, for Ukraine to be free, we must assuage Russian concerns by making it clear that we have no intention of ever expanding NATO to Russia’s borders. That’s the kind of “reset” we really need. 

05 February 2015


In the normal course of events we should usually line up with our government when it comes to international affairs. But the fecklessness of this administration makes that impossible, given a president who, among other things, does not hesitate to badmouth his own country when he is abroad. Can we and the rest of the western world trust him to negotiate effectively on our vital interests when he has shown no capacity to negotiate even with the congress? This comes to mind as the administration moves forward on negotiations with Iran regarding its continuing nuclear development. 

A competent leader would make some effort to assuage the concerns of the congress as well as other allies in the region. But in keeping with the demonstrated incapacity to compromise or seriously consider the reasons for objections from other parties we cannot discount reports that they are making reckless concessions in order to get whatever deal they can. Given that Iran has made no secret about not only their desire, but their intention of wiping Israel off the map, Israel is right to be concerned about this. Any agreement must include a renunciation of that position, as well as an ironclad means of making any such threat impossible. In other words it must include an understanding that Israel is on the map. 

Benjamin Netanyahu has written perceptively about the ongoing threats not just to Israel but the whole western world. His ideas on these matters ought to be taken seriously.  But we have a president who cannot even convince the Republicans, let alone Israel, that he is pursuing the right course. Now it is no secret he loathes Netanyahu and believes Israel is being intransigent, never mind that Iran has been implacably intransigent all along. Even if it were true that Israel was an impediment, the smart thing to do would be to consider why that is the case.  A wise leader would make some effort to bring interested parties into the process, and try to get them on board by incorporating their concerns before moving forward. But that isn’t what has happened, and it is a foolish course that is being pursued because it only makes it more likely that the deal will be scuttled by the Republican congress.  

Opposition comes not just from Israel but many of the Arab states as well. What could be more telling that not one friend in the region is on board with this? This does not mean that the west should never try to reach an understanding with the Iranians, but it has to be reflective of the concerns of all interested parties. Failing to take these into account in our own position will never produce a satisfactory solution. On this matter Benjamin Netanyahu is far more trustworthy than Barack Obama. 

03 February 2015


We are tired of war, and justifiably reticent to become entangled in foreign conflicts. But the actions of ISIS are of a different order altogether. The continuing beheadings and now the horrible burning death of a Jordanian pilot represent an unspeakable evil that the world can no longer tolerate. We must act,  and when I say we I mean the entire international community. It is not because they threaten us at the moment. They probably don’t even have the capability for that, yet, but no doubt if they could exact these same punishments on every one of us, they would. We must act because the human race cannot allow such terrible evil to exist and to continue massacring innocent people with impunity. 

There are no subtleties here, no shades of nuance, and no considerations that need to be weighed. This is not like a conflict where there may be some reasonable basis for what the enemy is doing, nor is there any room for “empathizing” with them. They are devoid of any decency or compassion. There is no possibility of redemption, and no chance that their brutality will lessen. There is nothing there but pure, unadulterated evil. We must annihilate them, completely. Every last one of them must be wiped out, lest this reign of terror resurface and continue unabated. Unless, and until we act they will continue to use the most odious means of slaughter on unfortunate people who simply happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. 

They are at war with the better part of the human race, and yet they do not rise above the status of vicious bandits; despicably evil, but still basically bandits. They seize hostages and then execute them by the most vile means. Such savagery cannot be permitted to exist in our world. There is not a state or people anywhere that has any sympathy for them. They lack even the most minute sliver of legitimacy. They must be totally eliminated not because they threaten our interests, but because they offend our fundamental sensibilities as human beings. This has already gone on too long. This despicable cruelty must be stopped. It is nothing less than a moral obligation of the civilized world to respond. If human dignity is to have any meaning in our time the world must do whatever it takes to obliterate them. 

25 January 2015


The Greek election results represent a country throwing a national tantrum. In handing power over to the radical left Syirza party, which cannot possibly deliver on anything it has promised, they are sending a message to the European Union and IMF, which have insisted on an austerity program to mitigate the results of continuous government mismanagement and excessive debt. Unfortunately this has thus far resulted in a sharp drop in living standards, 25% unemployment, and extreme hardship over the past several years. But ironically the worst is over and the country finally was heading towards an economic recovery, at least prior to this election. 

The EU, and Germany especially, as the strongest economy in the region, required structural reforms to continue lending, including privatizing government assets, cutting pensions, salaries, and personnel, pressuring the Greeks to rationalize their dysfunctional state and its bloated public sector. This has caused great pain, and while actually producing results, at this point the people have had enough. The vote for Syriza is less an ideological shift than an emotional reaction and an expression of frustration. It is also completely irrational. This party is led by an ex-communist named Alex Tsirpas, who apparently left that party because it was not radical enough, and who is totally clueless as to how a government functions. 

This party has pledged to undo the austerity regimen and cancel a large part of their debt, while also double the minimum wage, increasing pensions, stopping privatization, while at the same time staying in the eurozone. This is simply impossible. If they move forward with this platform it will likely mean an exit from the euro and economic chaos within the country. The effect on Europe may be significant if it spreads to other European countries, such as Spain and Italy that have similar problems, and may roil markets around the world. However, unless markets panic the effect will not be all that significant insofar as Greece represents only 5% of the European economy.  

More troubling is the likelihood that Greece is but a harbinger for many other countries in Europe, given their low birth rate and slow economic growth,  which will be unable to sustain the generous benefits that have been promised, or possibly even service the debts they have assumed. There are comparable radical parties elsewhere with similar appeals, that are gaining traction, but  promising the sky cannot provide any solution and will likely make things worse, because radicals are incapable of governing. There will be capital flight, higher taxes, no access to financial markets, and a bleak future for those who follow this path. 

That radicals can so easily take control of a country and steer it towards disaster proves the wisdom of checks and balances in government, as well as the separation of powers. While Greeks can be proud of a great many achievements, including democracy, functioning self-government is not one of them. From the most ancient times right up to the present, political stability and effective government have been vanishingly rare. As one who has many ancestors from that country, it is at the moment an embarrassment.


Houthi militiamen have taken control of Sana’a, the capitol of Yemen, and the US-supported president of that country has stepped down. The Houthi are Shia Muslims backed by their co-religionists in Iran. The country however, is predominantly Sunni Muslim, which is the prevailing branch of Islam through much of the world, and for historical reasons the two main branches of Islam loathe each other as heretics. Up until now the government of Yemen has been dominated by moderate Sunni Muslims, who have cooperated with the US in battling Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, which is an additional force to be reckoned with. It was they who claimed credit for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, and who have aggressively plotted attacks against the west. 

Meanwhile the king of neighboring Saudi Arabia has died, causing more uncertainty in the region, although his successor is likely to follow the same policies. The traditional Sunni kingdom owes its legitimacy to being the guardian of Islam’s most holy sites at Mecca and Medina. Long a US ally, the country is certain to feel threatened by the expansion of Iranian-Shia influence through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and now Yemen, which it shares a border with, as well as its own Shia population. All the ingredients are here for a long, drawn-out battle that the US  and its western allies ought to try and stay clear of. We would do well to remember that the main rationale, such as it was, for Al Qaeda’s attacks on the US, was the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, which in their view meant infidels at the gates of the holy places. This occurred primarily in order to protect the Saudis and the oil-rich gulf states from Sadaam Hussein, whose threat, following his defeat in the Gulf War, was not all that clear. US forces subsequently left Saudi Arabia, but the struggle with Al Qaeda continues. 

Our meddling in this region has proven to be disastrous and short-sighted. However, there may be some opportunity to gradually extricate ourselves as this situation unfolds. While both Sunni and Shia extremists hate us, they hate each other even more. If this conflict expands, it is increasingly possible that Al Qaeda and other such groups will shift their attention away from the west, and towards the more immediate conflict. This does not mean abandoning the region, but moving towards less active participation, especially with our own troops. The west may even quietly support or supply one side, and we cannot allow the world’s oil supply to be jammed up in the Straits of Hormuz, but we need to avoid becoming a primary antagonist here. 

But all of this changes if the Iranians succeed in obtaining a nuclear weapon, insofar as it would enable it to dominate the region as never before. The Israelis, as well as most Arab leaders, are rightly skeptical about the ongoing negotiations with Iran, and any deal that does not largely assuage their concerns should be resisted. Thanks to our ineptitude we have managed to clear the field for Iran by disposing of enemies on its borders, namely Sadaam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now Iran’s influence reaches as far as Yemen, and we must not forget that it is the one state that is actually controlled by radical Islamists. At this point by comparison the horrendously brutal “Islamic State” we are bombing in Syria and Iraq has more in common with bandits taking hostages. No doubt alarm bells are ringing in Saudi Arabia, and it is good that President Obama is stopping there at this time. Let us hope that the right decisions are made in this tricky situation, in which there are no easy solutions.