Saturday, June 30, 2007

Reaching Out and Understanding?

There were two interesting, related articles in different sections of this morning's Washington Post. The first, on page B3 of the Metro section, was titled "Proposal for an Islamic Envoy Brings Cautious Hope" (read it here: It discussed President Bush's plan to appoint a representative to the Organization of the Islamic Conference to improve America's battered image in the Muslim world and encourage more dialog between the two sides. While the general tone of the article was that Muslims were "cautiously optimistic" about the initiative, one quote in particular struck me: a Muslim parking lot attendant from Maryland said, "I don't think the U.S. is doing enough to have good relations with Muslims. They always blame Muslims for anything that happens, for everything that happens in the world."

Let's think about that statement for a moment.

If there is anyplace in the world where America is blamed for everything negative that happens, it's the Islamic world. Islamic television (al Jazeera, al Arabiya, etc) delivers a constant bombardment of anti-American denunciation, some of it earned, but most of it the most outrageous drivel lapped up by populations with no ability to filter (or interest in filtering) the informational wheat from the chaff of bigoted propaganda. Islamic newspapers and websites are the same - if it's bad, it's by definition American.

Now, let's consider why Americans might have a negative opinion of Muslims. Take a look at the number of terroristic acts committed in the course of a single week, then take a look at the perpetrators. Chances are that the vast majority were committed by Muslim extremists citing religious justifications for their acts.

Any questions?

The second article in this morning's Post was a small piece at the bottom of page C7 of the Style section, titled, "Mickey Mouse 'Twin' Killed on Hamas TV" (read it here: This article chronicled the death of the character "Farfour," a Mickey Mouse look-alike featured on the show "Tomorrow's Pioneers" - in a skit on the show, Farfour was beaten to death by an actor playing an Israeli official who wanted to buy his land. Sara, the teenage host of the program, told the audience that "Farfour was martyred while defending his land," and that he had been killed "by the killers of children."

The brutal and uncompromising actions of Hamas have been clearly in evidence over the last few weeks, and the despicable use of a childen's television character to incite hatred and violence in the young is beyond contempt. Does the parking lot attendant in Maryland who thinks Americans blame Muslims for "everything" know the effect that things like this have on American observers? Does he support filling the heads of young children with thoughts of murder and "martyrdom?" If so, he shouldn't need to ask why Americans have a negative view of Muslims; of not, he needs to open his eyes and educate himself a little better about the awful things being done in the name of his religion.

I for one don't wonder that Americans are fed up and disgusted with the lunatics of the Middle East. What I don't understand is why we are expected to make every effort to improve relations with and better understand people whose concept of civilization has stagnated since the seventh century.

No, wait - I understand why: because, peace be upon us, we stand to be beheaded if we do not unquestioningly accept and submit to a religion that brooks no question, no compromise, and no independent thought...and sees nothing wrong with killing us if we don't agree.

Who needs to do the reaching out and understanding, here?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Cultural Literacy and Valley Girls

This week's issue of Newsweek magazine looks back 20 years to the publication of E.D. Hirsch's book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, and the furor that surrounded it. Hirsch contended in his book that there is a certain essential body of knowledge that every American needs in order to understand what is going on in the world around him (or her). At the time, Hirsch was roundly criticized by many who viewed his list of basic elements of cultural literacy as being insufficiently inclusive of diverse, multicultural information.

I, of course, loved it.

Newsweek has used the 20th anniversary of the publication of Cultural Literacy to again raise the issue of what we need to know to function as aware, involved citizens in the 21st understand the historical and cultural meaning of events. An example used in the article is the comparison of Iraq to Vietnam - if you don't know about the war in Vietnam (and many young people today don't), the meaning of the comparison will be lost.

I've believed for many years that cultural and historical literacy are very important. Back in the mid-80's when I was taking the Air Force's Air Command and Staff College correspondence course, one of the required readings was a fascinating article by Benjamin Stein titled Valley Girls View the World. In that article, Mr Stein described the lack of knowledge of history, geography, and general culture evidenced by the friends of his teenaged daughter. He noted that, among other things, many of these young ladies didn't know who won the Civil War, or even when the Civil War was fought.

By the way, if you didn't understand the meaning of the term valley girl, you too are lacking an element of cultural literacy...the little piece that helps you understand that a valley girl is a young, unsophisticated woman, stereotypically from California, happily living in a sheltered world of friends, entertainment, and shopping without an understanding of events in the larger world around her.

In one of my earliest posts to this blog, I wrote about a friendly young waitress in a hotel restaurant in Colorado Springs who asked a customer where he was visiting from. When he answered, "Qatar," she asked, "Where's that?" At the time (and still today), I was a little shocked that she didn't recognize the name of a Gulf emirate where many American troops are stationed as part of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's part of cultural literacy.

No one will ever be able to agree on a single list of things every American needs to know. The country is too big, too diverse, and changes too rapidly to make such a list worthwhile to compile. But the need is clear: there are things we all need to know to make sense of events. There is essential information we need to make informed economic, political, and social decisions if we are to be active, involved, aware citizens.

Unfortunately, many Americans not only don't have such cultural literacy...they aren't even aware they're lacking it.

And that bodes ill for the future.

Read the July 9th issue of Newsweek and think about whether you are culturally literate. You need to be.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Victor Davis Hanson on Hypocrisy-vs-Civilization

One of my favorite commentators, historian Victor Davis Hanson, has once again hit the nail on the proverbial head.

In an article titled "Hypocrisy That Undermines Civilization" (read it at, Hanson skewers the hypocritical attitudes that are undercutting the rule of law and subverting the values Western civilization has painfully developed over many centuries. In particular, he decries the double standard that accuses the developed West for every ill of the world while giving a free pass to the racism, bigotry, and intolerant savagery so pervasive in the Middle East.

This is an article very much worth reading from a writer whose clear-eyed and analytical summary is impossible to refute without utterly ignoring the evidence. Read it and think about it.

Hanson's summary paragraph is worth quoting in full:

"Finally, remember that there is a reason why millions flood into Europe from the Middle East and to America from Mexico - and not vice versa. There is a reason why Democrats and Republicans don't shoot each other in the streets of Washington, or why blue-state America does not mine red-state highways. And there is a reason why a Shiite mosque in Detroit is safer in the land of the Great Satan than it would be in Muslim Saudi Arabia. It's called civilization - a precious and fragile commodity that is missed even by its destroyers the minute they've done away with it."

Think about it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Eric Hoffer on Stupidity

While reading Eric Hoffer's book The Passionate State of Mind, I found the following wonderful, pithy observation:

"The hardest thing in the world to cope with is not selfishness or vanity or deceitfulness, but sheer stupidity. One needs the talents of an animal trainer to deal with the stupid."

One of the things I've found as I get older is that my level of tolerance for stupidity has greatly decreased, and the overload light on my BS detector spends more time glowing steadily than occasionally flashing. We're all stupid at one time or another (yes, believe it or not, even I have done some stupid things in my time), but it seems lately as if we've managed to raise stupidity to an art form. Consider the following:

* A useless twit like Paris Hilton gets front-page treatment in major newspapers.

* Our senators and representatives stubbornly refuse to make the compromises necessary to pass desperately-needed immigration reform legislation.

* Islamic militants singlehandedly devastate Gaza, Lebanon, and Iraq while glorifying murder and death...and somehow it's our fault.

I could go on, but there's no point in getting overly depressed this early in the morning. If you'll excuse me, I think I'll just pick up my whip and chair and go forth to practice my talents as an animal trainer.

Unfortunately, I'll have plenty of opportunities to practice.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The 65 Million Dollar Pants - Part 2

Finally, a sudden blast of common sense has blown through Washington, DC. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have affected the Executive or Legislative branches of the government yet, but it's very welcome in its own way. DC Superior Court judge Judith Bartnoff has decisively dismissed the stupidest lawsuit of the century: a claim by another judge (!) for $54 million (down from an original $65 million) against a local dry cleaner for losing his favorite pair of pants.

In her 23-page finding of fact, Judge Bartnoff wrote: "A reasonable consumer would not interpret 'Satisfaction Guaranteed' to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer's unreasonable demands or accede to demands that the merchant has reasonable grounds to dispute." She also concluded that the plaintiff had "not met his burden of proving that the pants the defendants attempted to return to him were not the pants he brought in for alteration." The attorney for the defendants said, "Judge Bartnoff has chosen common sense and reasonableness over irrationality and unbridled venom."

This ridiculous lawsuit has provided fun for late-night talk show comics and has been a staple of local discussion for months. But beyond being utterly stupid, it has had the unfortunate collateral effect of making a laughingstock of the law.

If you've been reading this blog for long, you know that I strongly believe in justice and the rule of law. The guarantee of fair and impartial justice is one of the bedrock principles that makes America the great country that it is. When the system is abused (as in ludicrous lawsuits like this one) or ignored (as by those who argue for limitless rights for illegal immigrants), it demeans the dignity and power of the law and encourages people to ignore laws they don't think they should obey. And when we decide not to obey the law, it doesn't take long for the veneer of civilization to peel away.

It's a shame that it took so long for a sensible judge to throw out this ridiculous case and order the plaintiff to pay the court costs. She should have ordered a bailiff to throw the moron out of court on his backside as well, and I hope she also orders him to pay the defendants' legal fees. It's too bad tar and feathers are no longer part of the sentencing guidelines, because I think these would be appropriate, too.

Respect for the law is what separates us from the animals. A strong, fair, and impartial legal system is what separates America from paradises on earth like Saudi Arabia and Iran. To the extent that he has undermined respect for the law and caused financial loss and anguish to the defendants, administrative law judge Roy L. Pearson deserves the ridicule and condemnation he has so richly earned.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Alan Johnston, Gaza, and the Death of Sympathy

Alan Johnston, the BBC's Gaza-based reporter who was kidnapped back in March by a radical Islamist group, has reappeared in a video - wearing an explosive suicide vest and asking not to be rescued.

Once again, radical Islamists have taken the step which most undermines any residual sympathy they might have had among Western audiences. Alan Johnston was the only Western reporter actually living in Gaza and trying to present a balanced depiction of the desperate situation there. By kidnapping and threatening him, the radicals have convincingly shown that they have no respect for human life and no sense of how to go about redressing their grievances. Of course, those grievances are held against everyone but themselves. As I have often pointed out, events have shown, and most of the world overlooks, the Palestinians have no interest in looking inward and helping to solve the many problems that beset them - it's much easier to sit in misery and squalor, squandering each chance for peace and security while thundering that the situation is the responsibility of (choose one or more):

(1) Israel;
(2) The United States;
(3) Anyone else.

My heart goes out to Alan Johnston, a prisoner of bigoted morons without either conscience or any sense of how to go about achieving their end goals...whatever those are. My heart used to go out to the Palestinians, but they've long since forfeited any sympathy I had for their plight.

My father was always fond of saying that "God helps those who help themselves." It's not a wonder that He seems to have abandoned those in the sorry Middle East who most frequently invoke His name.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Five Generations

Agnes and I just returned this morning from a visit to my oldest son and his family in Ohio, where he hosted a mini-family reunion. My younger son flew in from Los Angeles, and my sister and her family drove over from Pennsylvania and brought my father so that he could see his newest great-grandchild.

Naturally, a few photos were taken...enough that we all had to wear sunblock to protect from the flashes. One of the photos Agnes shot was a Four Generations picture of my father, myself, my two sons, and the two male grandchildren:

From left to right in the back row: my son Jason; Jason's son Noah, held by my son Matt; myself, and my father. In the front row is Jason's son Joe.

I think this is a great picture. But my sister also brought along a huge bag of loose photos she'd collected from drawers at home, and found this one:

This picture, shot in August of 1974, shows a very, very young-looking (some might say, 'geeky') Bilbo, my paternal grandmother, and my very young-looking father holding my son Jason - age three months...yes, the same Jason on the left of the other photo with two of his three children.

Thirty-two years separate those two photographs, which document five generations of the family. Time flies. And it's important to remember what has gone before so that we have the history and the stories to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Someday these photos will be pulled out of drawers or called up on computer screens to show to new generations of the family...people to whom we in those photos may be only dimly-remembered memories. But it's important to keep those memories, so that we always know where we came from, and can keep a connection to those who have gone before.

I have always regretted that I didn't take more of an interest in family history sooner, but I'm frantically trying to make up for lost time now. Someday Marcy and Joe and Noah will grin for photographs holding their children, and great-grandpa Bilbo may not be around to pose with them. But I want them to know who I was, and who their ancestors were, as we continue through the generations yet to come.

History is made by people who lived, laughed, cried, tried, failed, and pressed on to make the best world they knew how for their children. We owe it to those children to protect and preserve the story so they can ground themselves in time.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ideas for Google Maps

I hadn't planned to post again until Sunday, when I come back from visiting my grandchildren, but I have a few minutes before heading to the airport, and wanted to share this with you...

The blog "Listoff" ( offers - as the name implies - lists of all sorts. A tongue-in-cheek list of suggestions for maps that Google Maps ought to offer includes this one: "Sites where peace agreements were signed and conflict broke out less than five years afterwards."

Isn't it a shame that there are enough such places that someone even thought about the need for such a map?

Off to the airport! I'll be back on Sunday and will post again after downloading the 9 billion photos I plan to shoot of the world's most adorable grandchildren. Life is good.

Have a great weekend. More thoughts coming.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Drive Like a Moron

I've often complained in this space about the drivers who try to kill me every day as I cross the street on my way to work. A bad driver is like the weather - everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything. Until now.

The Vatican has issued "Ten Commandments for Drivers," the first of which is "Thou shalt not kill." If I remember correctly, that commandment has already been published, but that's neither here nor there. You can read the entire list at: I also did a quick search on the Vatican website (, but wasn't able to find them.

The Ten Commandments for drivers aren't a bad thing. Every one is sensible and worthwhile. Of course, they may not apply if you are a Buddhist or a Hindu, and certainly not if you are a Muslim (as you don't recognize the validity of any other religion and are promised paradise for killing us infidels, anyhow). If they help reduce the toll of death and injury on the roads of the world, though, I suppose that's great.

I can't help thinking, however, that the Vatican, with all its spiritual and temporal power and prestige, could take on some more important issues. Feeding the hungry, nursing the sick, and clothing the naked are all mentioned in the Bible, but don't generally have anything to do with safe driving. Condemnation of evils done in the name of religion would be a good start.

But I guess that's driving too fast for political conditions.

Have a good day. Drive safely.

I probably won't post again until Sunday, as I'll be on the road to visit my grandchildren. More thoughts when I return.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Of Graphs and Chicken Entrails

As part of the research for a paper I'm trying to write, I have re-read several books by Eric Hoffer, the "Longshoreman Philosopher." Hoffer was a self-educated man who, after recovering from eight years of blindness brought on by a childhood injury, read everything he could get his hands on, then began to write his own works. I've often cited his book The True Believer, a brilliant study of the psychology and motivation of individuals who become fanatics and join mass movements; at the moment, I'm reading another of his works, Reflections on the Human Condition.

Hoffer's books are easy to read, being mainly collections of aphorisms generally a page or less in length, but packed with insight and wisdom that keep you thinking long after you've closed the cover. Reading Reflections on the Human Condition yesterday, I came across this interesting observation:

"It is a paradox that in our time of rapid, drastic change, when the future is in our midst, devouring the present before our eyes, we have never been less certain what is ahead of us. Our need for predicatability is far more urgent than in times past, and we are addicted to forecasters and pollsters. Even when the forecasts are wrong we go on asking for them. We watch our experts read their graphs the way the ancients watched their soothsayers read the entrails of a chicken."

Hoffer wrote this in 1973, but it applies today more than ever. Political candidates slavishly depend on their pollsters to see which way the winds of public opinion are blowing. Government and academic "experts" frantically try to predict the future of the Iraqi disaster to see what can be salvaged from the wreckage of the well-intentioned, but abysmally considered adventure. Duelling scientists and economists try to out-shout each other about the dangers (or not) of global warming. We're choking in data, but starved for knowledge.

Yogi Berra (another underappreciated philosopher) once said, "The future ain't what it used to be," and he was right. We are less able to predict the future than ever before. We look to the future less with traditionally American hope and optimism than with dread and resignation.

The future appears to be written less in graphs and charts than in entrails - not of chickens, but of the victims of intolerance, terrorism, and war.

It would be nice if we could just go back to the graphs.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, June 18, 2007

A Story About Common Courtesy

Yesterday morning I did my husbandly duty and went to the local bakery (Panera, an excellent place if you like baked goods) to pick up some fresh rolls for our breakfast. I arrived at about 7:25, as the store opens on Sundays at 7:30; it was a very pleasant morning and there were already about a half-dozen people waiting at the door.

At 7:28 - I know what time it was because one of the other waiting customers had just made a laughing comment that they obviously wouldn't unlock the doors until exactly 7:30 - a big SUV roared up to the curb and stopped. The flashers came on and a large, heavy-set woman jumped out and strode up to the bakery door. She pulled on the handle and, discovering the door was locked, began to rattle the door and pound on the glass to attract the attention of those inside...she kept this up for the next two minutes, until one of the employees came out and unlocked the door.

At this point, the woman launched on the poor fellow: "Why aren't you open? You're supposed to be open at 7:00!!"

"No, ma'am," the fellow replied, "We open at 7:30 on Sundays." He pointed to the sign listing the operating hours, prominently posted on the door.

"You people told me yesterday you open at 7:00!!" the woman thundered, then proceeded to push directly to the ordering station, in front of the group of us who'd been waiting. She barked her fairly large order at the clerk, paid for the items, then stormed out of the store like a tank upholstered in bright colors. She did not apologize to any of us for her behavior in cutting into the line...clearly, her time was more important than ours.

As you know if you've read this blog over time, I am a strong believer in courtesy and good manners. I learned these from my parents, who would have dragged me outside and smacked me silly had I acted like this obnoxious woman, and I have tried by example to pass these values on to my children and grandchildren.

What was this woman thinking about? Clearly, she had no concept of courtesy. Not only did she park illegally at the curb (flashers or no flashers), she then went on to berate the hapless bakery employee at the door, cut shamelessly into the line in front of those of us who'd been waiting, treat the counter person rudely, then roar out without apology. The behavior itself was bad enough, but what was truly unfortunate was that the woman was a member of a minority group...and you know that some people observing the scene would attribute this rude and obnoxious behavior to all members of that group rather than just to one silly, self-centered idiot.

I went on to have a very nice Father's Day, but this incident put an unfortunate blot on an otherwise pleasant morning.

It doesn't take any longer to be courteous than to be rude, and it makes everyone feel better. In the words of the bright neon sign at a local restaurant: "Be nice or get out."

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Fathers' Day!

As a father and a grandfather, let me wish all the rest of the fathers, fathers-to-be, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and great-great grandfathers out there a happy Fathers' Day!

This is a good day to reflect on what it means to be a father, and how well we meet the standards and expectations of that demanding job. For me, the gold standard of fatherhood is my own Dad - always there when we needed him, hard-working, wise when we needed wisdom and tough when we needed discipline. Of course, being children, we always knew that Mark Twain was right when he said, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

As a father, I have my good and bad points. Being divorced fairly early, I wasn't there for my two sons as they were growing up, and yet I am always glad to see how well they turned out, even without my presence - fine, successful men of whom I am enormously proud. My daughter, from my second marriage, is a fine young lady with a successful career who is ready, in August, to make me a grandfather for the fourth time. Proud of her, too? You bet!

How much credit can I claim for their successes? Maybe less than I wish, but more than I suspect. As fathers go, I have my faults, but pride in my children and grandchildren is not one of them. I hope I have given them something of the things I value: courtesy, a love of learning, an understanding of the importance of good writing and speaking skills, a love of nature, and an appreciation of art and music.

None of them are ballroom dancers, but I guess you can't have everything.

So to all you other fathers out there, enjoy your day. And reflect on the the fact that you have one of the most important jobs in the world - preparing the generation that will take your place. It's a job that's always difficult, sometimes thankless, but endlessly rewarding when you watch your children pass the milestones of their lives.

Happy Fathers' Day! More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Questioning Faith

As regular readers know, I am a staunch critic of blind faith. I understand that, as human beings, we have a need for faith: the child has faith that the parent will be loving and caring; the employee has faith that the employer will fulfill his obligation to deliver an honest paycheck; the accused has faith that he will receive a fair trial; and so on.

But the dangers of blind and obsessive faith are both real and terrifying, and we can see them every day in the ghastly quagmire of hatred that's the Middle East, and in the profoundly disturbing beliefs of hard core racists, white and black.

I ran across a very interesting short article in this morning's newspaper while eating breakfast. In a feature called "On Faith," the paper ran an excerpt from an internet discussion on the topic, "What is the place of questioning in faith? Does questioning tenets or traditions make your faith less valid?" The following excerpt from the respose of the Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, is one of the finest discussions of this issue I have ever run across, and I reproduce it here (or you can read it yourself on page B9 of the June 16th issue of The Washington Post):

"If questioning exposes truth, let us question. A faith that is threatened by doctrinal inquiries and evaluation of certain tenets is no faith at all. A faith that blindly demands belief [and] obedience, and subjugates the very inquisitive sould that God gave us, disqualifies itself from being faith and more accurately falls under the category of a cult. True faith welcomes questions; false faiths discourage and prohibit them.
"Yet at the end of the day, let us not forget that if all the questions are answered and proof silences and satisfies all the inquiries, then no longer do we have faith. For faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen, Hebrews 11:1."

Some good words to think about as you approach your religious and political beliefs. If you think you have to kill someone because his faith is different from your own, it's time to question your own faith.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, June 15, 2007

The Ultimate Dinner Party - Part 2

In my earlier post titled "The Ultimate Dinner Party, Part 1," I asked you to think about who you'd invite to a dinner party if you could have any guest, living or dead, at your table. My initial guest list consisted of Leonardo da Vinci, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Dorothy Parker, and Will Rogers. In a comment posted yesterday, one of my readers (using the clever screen name "Anonymous") has proposed his own list, intellectually aiming a bit higher than I did. Sitting at his table are:

Martin Luther, and
Pope John Paul II.

In his comment, Anonymous writes "I'm going for the big answers! If I get the answers from these guys, I'll know everything I want to know about the universe."

There's a lot to be said for this guest list. Each of these individuals has been critical to the establishment and evolution of religion and ethical behavior in almost every corner of the world (although we must note that no figures representing African, native American, or other minor - meaning, not observed worldwide - indiginous religions are represented). These guests would indeed be able to discuss and debate the "big answers;" I'd be especially interested to hear Mohammed explain how he reconciles his concept of "God, the Merciful, the Compassionate" with a religion which honors violence and intolerance.

It would be a marvelous evening.

So, who would you invite, and why? If you like my guest list, or the list proposed by "Anonymous," what questions would you like to ask?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Giving "Credit" Where "Credit" Is Due

The ghastly bloodshed in Gaza brings into focus the misery and torment of the Palestinians. It is politically correct and emotionally satisfying to blame this situation on the Israelis for their occupation policies and actions, the United States for not forcing everyone to act like responsible adults, or the United Nations for not being quick enough to provide aid to relieve the suffering. You seldom hear any blame attached to the Palestinians themselves, and to the larger Arab-Muslim population of the Middle East, for perpetuating the situation and making it worse over time.

Three interesting articles available online look at this phenomenon, and I recommend you read all three. The first is titled, "The Forty-Year Palestinian Tragedy," by Shlomo Ben-Ami, available at the Project Syndicate website (use the link in my link list); the second is "Palestine: The Prison," by James Lewis (; and the third is a translation of an article by Egyptian author Kamal Gabriel titled, "We Are Sowing Thorns," available at the MEMRI website (use the MEMRI link in my link list and select article number 1618). The theme running through all these articles is that it is the Palestinians and the Arabs in general who are primarily responsible for their terrible situation.

Readers of this blog know that I am hardly an apologist for Israel, which often follows policies which are at best unhelpful and at worst, inhumane. But not a day goes by in which I don't shake my head in utter amazement at the reckless ability of the Palestinians to select the course of action guaranteed to bring them the most misery and death. Consider the following:

When the Israelis withdrew from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians inherited some very desirable beachfront real estate and a well-developed infrastructure. They had the opportunity to move people out of miserable refugee camps into modern houses, and to receive extensive economic development aid. So what did they do? Lobbed rockets into Israel, with predictable results, and engaged in the terrible fratricidal warfare that has killed hundreds and wrecked what could have been developed into a thriving, modern community.

The constant drumbeat of Palestinian and Arab commentary is that all the problems of the Middle East arise from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and (until recently), the Gaza Strip. The civil and religious leaders of the Arab nations are more interested in preaching hatred and murder than in working to improve the daily lives of the Palestinians. In the twisted politics of the Middle East, the Arabs care nothing for the Palestinians beyond the usefulness of their misery as a cudgel with which to beat Israel. In his article, Mr Lewis notes that the mufti of the Palestinian Authority has issued a fatwa (religious ruling) forbidding anyone from emigrating from Palestine. It reads in part, "We hereby declare that emigration from the blessed lands is not permitted according to religious law."

In other words, it is more important to keep people in misery and squalor than to provide them with the hope of a better future. Future revenge trumps present compassion.

Mr Gabriel's article, translated by MEMRI, condemns the culture of relentless hatred and violence, but claims that the problem is less the hatred and violence per se than its direction against Arabs and not against "the Zionist enemy."

And in his article, Mr Ben-Ami quotes a Gazan who, overcome with the unending violence and misery brought on by the internecine Palestinian violence, wishes "Let the Jews come already and save us!" He goes on to claim that "only a dramatic move by external powers can still save Gaza from becoming a second Mogadishu..."

It's too late.

Given shovels, the Palestinian leadership would rather dig graves for its people than the foundations of a better future. Given hammers, they would rather beat their perceived enemies to death than build homes, schools, and hospitals.

And, as ever, they'll blame their useless rage and hate on everyone but themselves.

One wonders why the rest of the world can't recognize it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

300 Posts and One Gripe

According to the helpful counter on my dashboard page, this will be my 300th post since I started keeping this blog in March of 2006. Since I installed the ClusterMaps counter in January, some 1112 people have visited the site, and many have left comments (only one of which has been offensive).

I hope that visitors enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy posting to it. I'm a pretty opinionated person with strong opinions on almost everything, but I like to think I also have an open mind. Except on some things...

Yesterday, I took a half-day of leave from work to wait at home for a repair crew to come and troubleshoot a problem with our water system. As usual, I was given a "window" of 1 to 6 PM for them to arrive, which is irritating, but pretty much normal around here. By 5:00 I was starting to wonder when they would arrive, as I had other errands I needed to run...not to mention a Mount Everest of laundry I didn't want to start doing in case they would need to turn off the water. I called the company and spoke with a young lady, who called the crew, then called me back to tell me they were running very late because of a job that turned out to be bigger than expected. The lady told me she was very sorry, and the crew would still make it to my house...but it would be about another two hours.

By 8:15 PM, no one had shown up and no one had called to update me on the situation. I called the company again but, of course, it was closed, so I was reduced to leaving a message of irritation.

At 9:00 PM I gave up.

Now, those of you who own businesses in which you require your customers to wait for you to arrive during time windows, take note. This fiasco cost me a half-day of work I couldn't really afford. At 1:00, I was grudgingly accepting of the need to wait on the repair crew. At 5:00, I was irritated, but prepared to be understanding. At 8:15, I was pissed off.

And it didn't need to be this way. It would have been polite and customer-oriented to have someone call me as soon as it was obvious that the crew would be excessively delayed...this would have allowed me to do other things instead of sit around the house on my ever-broadening backside waiting for a crew that, in the end, never showed up and never called to apologize and reschedule. If you're a business owner who thinks about maintaining good customer relations (as you should), consider this a cautionary tale. It wouldn't have taken more than two minutes to call me with an update, and I would have appreciated the gesture and been more understanding.

Today, I'm just a very angry customer waiting to hear what they have to say about the situation. If they call me back.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Thoughts About the Death Penalty

Yesterday's post on the blog "It Is a Numeric Life" (click the link in my Recommended Links list) provided an interesting statistic on the number of lives theoretically saved because of the death penalty. The post notes that "Some recent studies have shown that as many as 18 lives would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer."

I offered a comment to that post that I'd like to expand on here. First of all, I am in favor of the death penalty, partly because I believe that it provides a deterrent to serious crime and partly because I believe there are some crimes so terrible that death is the only appropriate punishment.

I believe there are two crimes so heinous they should be punished by death: multiple or serial murder, and the murder or sexual abuse of children. One who kills more than once can't be said to be affected by the heat of passion...this person kills because he or she likes it. And those who would kill or terribly abuse defenseless children pose a grave threat to the most helpless members of society.

Obviously, the knowledge that one will pay with his (or her) life will not deter a person who kills in a moment of savage passion. A person who, in a fit of rage or jealousy, kills another person isn't thinking about the consequences, and so isn't likely to be put off by the death penalty. But a person who kills with malice and planning just might.

Insanity is often offered as a defense in murder cases, using the argument that the person was, at least temporarily, out of his or her mind when the murder was committed. Well, that's obvious, isn't it...normal, thinking people don't commit murder. Likewise, mental impairment is frequently used as a defense - that the killer didn't understand what he or she was doing, or didn't realize the implications of the act. Both arguments are, in my opinion, red herrings which simply distract attention from the fact that one person took the life of another.

The death penalty, being the ultimate and irrevocable punishment, should be reserved only for the most terrible crimes, and administered only after guilt has been proved not "beyond a reasonable doubt," but "beyond all doubt." It should not be administered in the heat of passion, but only after the most thorough of investigations has concluded that no lesser punishment is appropriate to the crime.

Many people believe that the death penalty falls under the category of "cruel and unusual punishments" forbidden by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, but this is also a red herring - the death penalty was known and applied during the Revolutionary War era. This amendment was clearly intended to forbid the use of torture and of excessively cruel methods of execution (burning at the stake, drawing and quartering, and other punishments popular in earlier times).

Many also argue that life imprisonment is the appropriate maximum punishment. In some cases, that may be true. However, for the most heinous crimes, I believe death is appropriate. I see no reason why we should pay to house and feed terrible criminals for the rest of their lives (or until they manage to get released on parole, whichever is longer).

The death penalty is one of the most emotionally charged of all issues, and rightly so. Depriving a person of his or her life is a punishment that can't be undone, and so needs to be done only under the most rigidly controlled circumstances and for the most definitively proven reasons. There must be no rush to judgement with the death penalty.

As the wizard Gandalf so eloquently put it in The Lord of the Rings, "Deserves death? I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the very wise cannot see all ends."

Your thoughts?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Morning People, Evening People

You may have noticed over time that the great majority of my posts to this blog are written between 4:30 and 5:30 AM. That's because I'm a morning person.

I can almost hear the collective gasp of horror out there, as my experience has been that there are very few true morning people. My father is one, and I suppose I got it from him. In Dad's case it was born of necessity, as he worked for many years as an advertising photographer, and needed to get to his studio very early each day so as to get in uninterrupted work time before the various ad agencies and other places with demands on his time started working. I came to enjoy getting up early and enjoying the quiet time while the rest of the world was still sound asleep.

This was particularly useful on Sundays, when Dad would wake us up for church by blowing tunelessly on an old Civil War bugle he'd found at an antique store years before.

So each work day I usually am awake by about 4:00 AM, and out of the shower enjoying my morning coffee by 4:30, doing small tasks until time to leave for work shortly after 6:00. This quiet hour and a half is ideal for things like paying bills, checking e-mail, posting my blog, and reading the other blogs I enjoy following. On weekends I usually sleep late, not waking up until about 6:00.

And then, there are the Evening People.

Agnes is absolutely horrified at how early I get up, being convinced that there is no hour of the day worth living much before 9:00 AM. But in compensation, she's often still going strong around the time I'm thinking that bed looks pretty good (nights when we go dancing are, of course, an exception...there's nothing like dancing with a beautiful lady to keep you awake and interested). Most of the people I know are like Agnes in this regard, and also think I'm nuts for getting up as early as I do.

Listening to the birds singing happily outside the window while I sip that cup of coffee is just about the best way I can think of to ease into each day.

And no one else is around to bother me while I enjoy it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Immigration Debate Stalls

As I expected, the proposed Immigration Reform bill percolating in Congress isn't going anywhere anytime soon. I also anticipated the reasons, which are:

1. Hysteria over the idea of "amnesty" (however defined) for those who are in the country illegally.

2. Political cowardice on both sides of the aisle, as no one wants to offend the Hispanic vote.

3. Belief that principled compromise in the interest of solving the problem is the same as craven sellout.

All of these are utterly and equally stupid.

I, too, oppose amnesty. If you read my proposed immigration reform measures (go back a month or so in the archives), you'll find that they are very similar to the ones stalled in Congress, with one major exception: I proposed a much smaller fine for the registration of those in the country illegally, my rationale being that while a fine is needed to reinforce the idea of guilt, it can't be so large that no one could pay it and thus serves only as an excuse to ignore the law.

The political cowardice issue is beyond contempt. Elected officials more interested in courting bloc votes than in protecting the nation should be voted out of office and condemned in no uncertain terms.

Finally, what's wrong with compromise? In the current poisonous political culture, the idea of principled give-and-take to reach a solution satisfactory to all has disappeared, replaced by a winner-take-all, screw-you-and-the-horse-you-rode-in-on approach that is guaranteed only to prolong problems and make them worse. In the immortal words of Officer Ripley from the great science fiction film Aliens (appropriate coincidence, eh?): "Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?"

I hope that our elected leaders will suddenly find the wisdom to work together to solve this problem, unfettered by the pressure exerted by the supporters of illegal immigration. But somehow, I think this is about as likely as my finding new hair growing on my bald spot.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, June 08, 2007

The "Punishment" of Paris Hilton

Just when you thought we were rid of Paris Hilton for a while, she's back.

In an amazing display of the power of money and celebrity, Ms Hilton was released from jail yesterday to complete her sentence under house arrest in the bleak and forbidding fortress of her home in the Hollywood Hills. Granted, her sentence was increased from 23 to 40 days, but consider some of the math involved here: she was credited with five days in jail (apparently getting credit for a full day for the 15 minutes she was at the jail on the day she turned herself in, and for the few minutes she was there the day she was released to house arrest). How many other non-celebrities would get a deal like that?

And consider the rationale for her release: medical reasons! Apparently she refused to eat the jail food that's good enough for lesser inmates, and was in danger of starving to death. Give me a break.

I'm a person, as you regular readers know, who honors and respects the rule of law. And it makes me sick when the law is flouted and abused by those with the money or social standing to get away with it. O.J. Simpson got away with murder; Paris Hilton is getting away with being a spoiled scofflaw. What message about the fairness and impartiality of the law does this send to the average citizen?

I have nothing in particular against Paris Hilton, other than she's a spoiled and talentless person taking up space and breathing air that might be better used by the next Mother Teresa or Margaret Thatcher. In a statement released through her lawyers (of course), Ms Hilton sobs that she has learned her brutal lesson. I doubt it. The judge who originally sentenced her to jail, and was not consulted in the decision to release her, has ordered her to appear in court later today to determine if she should be returned to jail.

I think you know how I vote.

Have a good day. Obey the's what separates us from the animals.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Presidential Candidates Debate

Both the Democratic and now the Republican presidential wannabes have had their first major debate, if you can call it that. I think it was more like a mass sound bite collection which didn't really shed much light on any of the candidates.

I have to say, though, that the most stunning comments came during discussion of - of all things - whether or not the candidates believed in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution (which, I remind you, is widely accepted by scientists and supported by bountiful evidence). Not missing an opportunity to pander to the fundamentalist Christian base, most of the candidates fell over themselves to put light between themselves and Darwin by endorsing the pseudoscientific "theory" of creationism. The most amazing comment can be credited to Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who said, "I'm not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book. I'm asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States."

Indeed. If the purpose of these alleged debates is to help the voters form a picture of what the candidates are like and what policies they would follow as president, this is a revealing snapshot.

Religious beliefs of themselves are not bad things. They provide a framework for understanding our place in the universe, a comfort in hard times, and a moral compass for guiding our relationships with others. But when they stray into areas which are, frankly, unsupportable by science and dependent totally on faith, there's a problem. People who support creationism believe that God created the world exactly as described in the Bible: in six days, roughly six thousand years ago. They ignore vast evidence that evolution played a role in the development of life. Muslims believe that Mohammed flew to heaven on a white horse. Of course, winged white horses are in as short supply today as they were in the year 632, when Mohammed died, but faith is a wonderful thing that helps avoid such annoying facts.

Yes, the issue is that Mr Huckabee wants to be president, not write school textbooks. To the extent that his religious beliefs make him an honest and moral person, they are important and worthy of note. But to the extent that they reveal him to be a man who takes myth on faith as absolute truth, we must question the analytical skills he would bring to solving the many problems facing the nation.

And at this difficult and dangerous time in our history, I don't think we can afford to elect anyone who is not a clear and unbiased thinker and sifter of evidence to be our president.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

As you know if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, one of my recurring themes is respect for the law - usually in terms of the illegal immigration debate, but across the topical board. One of the things that sets the United States apart from most other nations is our focus on the rule of law...the fact that each of us can have our day in court and expect our voices to be heard and our guilt or innocence determined by a jury of our peers based on evidence and not our station in life.

This is why I was apalled on Sunday afternoon by what I heard on C-Span radio.

The broadcast in question was a news conference at which a long parade of Justice Department officials announced and discussed the indictment, in a criminal public corruption case, of Representative William Jefferson (Democrat, from Louisiana). What bothered me was the incongruity and essential unfairness of the event: speaker after speaker stressed that an indictment is not the same as a conviction, and that Mr Jefferson is considered innocent until proven guilty...and then each speaker went on to piously thunder about the details of the indictment and the dreadful nature of the allegations as betrayals of the public trust.

In essence, Representative Jefferson was being tried and convicted on the radio. A large posse of Justice Department officials ranging from U.S. Attorneys to FBI agents took turns trumpeting the details of the indictment in a press conference that appeared designed to convince the nation of Mr Jefferson's guilt.

One of the cornerstones of our legal system is the guarantee that an accused person is considered innocent until proven guilty. The job of proving guilt is laid upon the prosecution, and the question is decided by a sworn jury in front of a judge in a court of law. The Constitution doesn't provide for trial by press conference.

Now, I've been following this case for some time, and my personal opinion is that Mr Jefferson is guilty (I have yet to hear him offer a convincing explanation for the $90,000 wrapped in aluminum foil and hidden in his freezer), but that's not the point. It's not my decision to make. Mr Jefferson is entitled to a trial at which he can defend himself against the charges, and it's the job of a jury to decide if he is, in fact, guilty.

I believe the Justice Department has, by its actions in this press conference, denied Mr Jefferson his Constitutional right to a fair trial.

You can read the Justice Department's press release at The last sentence of the press release reads: "Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty."

I hope that Mr Jefferson will receive a fair and impartial trial. Unfortunately, thanks to the grandstanding of the Justice Deparment, I'm afraid he may not get it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Monsters Real and Imagined

The fabled Loch Ness Monster has been sighted again! A recent, relatively clear video appears to show a very large, snakelike creature swimming beneath the surface of the Scottish loch, and a British bookmaker has offered a reward of a million pounds (about $1 million) to anyone who can prove that "Nessie" actually exists.

I hope she does, because she's my kind of monster.

I'm a big fan of schlocky, 1950's vintage horror movies, which often featured huge and ungainly monsters that appeared (usually out of the ocean), stomped a large city (usually Tokyo) flat, and then were vanquished by the stalwart team of earnest scientists and no-nonsense military forces. Such films were usually cautionary tales about the dangers of nuclear testing, as most monsters turned out to be harmless creatures turned into hideous monsters (Godzilla, Gorgo, Mothra, The Giant Mantis, The Giant Behemoth, The Amazing Colossal Man, etc, etc) by nuclear radiation.

Those were the good old days.

Today, the hideous monsters that threaten us aren't vulnerable to scientists and armies - they're rigidly bigoted religious fanatics who firmly believe God wants them to kill us if we don't accept the peaceful nature of their perfect religion. They're like the Terminator: they can't be bargained with. They can't be reasoned with. They don't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever, until we are dead or subject to their religious domination.

I'll take Godzilla any day...there's more of a chance that he'll see reason.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, June 04, 2007

The Ultimate Dinner Party - Part 1

While I was browsing blogs over the weekend, I found one (Captain Picard's Journal, which offered a very thought-provoking post in the form of a question: if you could host a dinner party and invite anyone in the world you wanted - past or present, living or dead - who would you invite, and why?

I thought about this off and on all weekend, and finally decided that I'd need either a very large dining room or a long series of dinner parties, because there are so many interesting people I wish I had the opportunity to meet. I'll fill all the seats at the table over time...for now, here are the first five people I would invite:

Leonardo da Vinci - the ultimate inventor, artist, and thinker; a man hundreds of years ahead of his time. Wouldn't it be marvelous to talk with him and pick his brain for an evening?

Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt - one of our greatest presidents and his wife. He led the country out of the Great Depression and through World War II; she was his partner and advisor, and although they didn't love each other, they made a formidable political team. I think it would be fascinating to watch the interplay between them and learn something of their place in history directly from them.

Dorothy Parker - a marvelously witty journalist, writer, and poet, famous for her biting and satirical wit. She was a founding member of the famous literary society known as the Algonquin Round Table (also known as "The Vicious Circle"), and responsible for such marvelous critical reviews as, "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." I'd love to be able to try my hand at witty repartee with a lady of her stature and skill.

And finally,

Will Rogers - the man whose gentle, folksy humor and honest, intelligent observations about America and its government entertained and earned the respect of the nation. He was famous for such gentle, satirical observations as, "If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?", and, "Everyone is ignorant, only in different subjects." Tragically, he was killed in an airplane crash in 1935. I think it would be marvelous to spend an evening with him and hear his observations on the America of today.

Okay, those are my first five dinner party guests, and my rationale. Who would you invite, and why? Post your comment or e-mail me at and let me know. We'll come back to this topic in the future and see who we can entice to our table for an evening of conversation and sharing of knowledge.

I know it'll be fascinating.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

How to Waste a Million Dollars

I don't usually update my blog more than once a day, but I just couldn't wait to get this on line...

After I had posted my earlier entry this morning, my Sunday newspaper (The Washington Post) arrived, and I found this full-page advertisement on page A17 (this is a direct quote):

"Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine announce a cash offer of up to $1 Million.

"Have you had a sexual encounter with a current member of the United States Congress or a high-ranking government official? Can you provide documented evidence of illicit sexual or intimate relations with a Congressperson, Senator, or other prominent officeholder? Larry Flynt and HUSTLER Magazine will pay you up to $1 million if we choose to publish your verified story and use your material."

The advertisement goes on to provide a toll-free number and an e-mail address, and includes a promise of confidentiality.

How low have we sunk?

How shameless and amoral are those who will offer huge amounts of money to expose the private lives of our officeholders in such a lewd and tawdry fashion?

I have often written in this blog about the incompetence and stupidity of some of our elected officials, but there is in my mind a very wide dividing line between a person's competence to do the job for which he or she was elected, and his or her private sexual affiairs. I by no means condone extramarital sexual liaisons - in fact, I think they are the worst sort of betrayal. But unless they have a demonstrated negative effect on the individual's fitness to hold office, I think they should be off limits to exposure and public scrutiny. The reward for such actions will come in its own time.

Is it any wonder why our very best people don't choose to run for office, when they must spend their lives looking over their shoulders for exposure of real or imagined sexual affairs?

Ask yourself that question the next time you bemoan the incompetence and mendacity of our elected representatives, and then hope that Mr Flynt and his ilk choke on their misspent millions.

More thoughts tomorrow.


The Riots in Rostock

A major news story yesterday came from the German city of Rostock, where a huge riot by persons opposing the G8 summit taking place there resulted in injuries to nearly 150 police officers (25 of them serious) and the arrest of 52 demonstrators. In case you are counting, that's about a 3-to-1 ratio of police injured to rioters arrested.

What are people thinking?

Certainly, not everyone supports the goals and methods of the G8 nations (Britain, France, Japan, Italy, Russia, Canada and the United States) as they try to address issues of mutual or global concern such as health, law enforcement, labor, economic and social development, energy, environment, foreign affairs, justice and interior, terrorism and trade. But it seems to me that wanton violence and destruction of property is a very poor way of convincing the G8 representatives - or anyone with a functioning brain - that one's views have merit and deserve to be heard more than those of the people who actually are in a position to address the issues.

The demonstrators, of course, blamed all the violence on the police. One demonstrator was quoted on CNN as saying, "As long as the police were in the background it was OK, but as soon as one took a step closer, it went out of control." As I read the news reporting, however, it appears that the police actually moved against the protestors only after cars were burned and paving stones pulled from the streets and hurled at the police.

I have written in this blog many times about problems of effective communication and mutual respect. Many of the protesters are surely motivated by concern for the world's poor and the effects of the policies of the nations economically and militarily strong enough to impose those policies (and it's good to remember that it's not just the much-maligned United States that is in this category). Other demonstrators, however, appear to be simply spoiling for a fight. And neither side - the peaceful protestors or the violent demonstrators - seems to have any credible alternative to offer.

And there's the real issue as I see it: demonstrations are fine, and people in free societies have a right (and, indeed, an obligation) to make their voices heard. But as the old New England adage says, if you're going to break the silence, make sure you can improve on it. Don't just loudly protest that you don't like what's going on - make a better suggestion. And that better suggestion needs to be more than just a pie-in-the-sky wish if it is to be taken seriously by those in a position to make it happen.

That's today's thought: demonstrate all you want, but offer a better alternative.

And leave your mindless violence at home.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Powers of Ten

I recently re-discovered on the web a fascinating video clip that I first saw many years ago. If you have a few minutes, it's worth your time to check it out. There are a number of different versions available on YouTube, with and without narration, but this one is the one I believe to be the original:

It begins with a look at our Milky Way galaxy from a distance of 10 million light years. The image then moves through space towards the Earth in successive orders of magnitude until you find yourself in an oak tree on the campus of a laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida. The image continues to zoom in by powers of ten from a leaf of actual size downward into an increasingly tiny world that reveals the cell walls of the leaf, the nucleus of the cell, chromatin, DNA and finally, the subatomic universe of electrons and protons.

I am a very spiritual, if not conventionally religious person. I find it humbling to stand outside at night and gaze up at the immensity of the universe, and to look down and imagine the ever-smaller worlds going about their business at sizes too small for me to comprehend. I don't think there's ever been a short film clip as fascinating as "The Powers of Ten." Take a look, and see if it doesn't give you a feeling of awe and wonder.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, June 01, 2007

If Icarus Had Only Known...

Forget Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Fermat's Last Theorem, the price of gasoline, and Middle Eastern thought processes. If you're looking for something really impossible to understand, try airline ticket pricing.

Yes, I know it's been the subject of endless commentary and many comedy routines (the best is the one that wondered how it would be if hardware stores priced house paint the way the airlines price tickets), but yesterday provided a practical example of how utterly insane the pricing and availability of airline tickets has become.

Agnes and I need to fly to Ohio for a family reunion. I visited the trusty website to look for the best deal, and the best I could find was roughly $350 per person for a round trip. I called Agnes and told her, and she grumbled about stupid husbands and logged into the same website, less than five minutes after we spoke. She found tickets for the same route, same conditions, for about half that amount. She called me, I logged back in, and found a completely different set of airlines, connections, and prices, none of which were the ones I'd originally found or the ones Agnes got.

Bear in mind that all this took place in the space of about five minutes, using the same planning information, with a destination that isn't a major world airport. The prices we found ranged from Agnes's low figure to a high of over $500 for a round trip between the same two airports. It just provides anecdotal evidence to prove the apocryphal adage that no two people on any flight paid the same price for their tickets.

Is there anyone out there who has any idea how airlines generate their prices? I have a mental image of a bunch of chimps in a room, throwing darts at a board covered with random prices, which may well be as good an explanation as any other.

If you find the Rosetta Stone of airline pricing, please let me know. In the meantime, I'll be sitting here doing something easily understandable, like squaring a circle.

Have a good day and a good weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.