Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What can we do about Iran?

Not much.

Almost anything anybody does, whether it be politician, newscaster, or even blogger, is seen as foreign meddling. Of course, any regime that has officially-sanctioned human rights abuses considers any comment as interfering with internal affairs. In the case of Iran, they do have a bit more justification for paranoia given the long history of other nations directly interfering.

I had a scheme to cause a minor disruption in Iran. It was not something that would put the country in a snarl, but something that, if enough people participated, would be noticed by the government. But I thought better of it. It would be "foreign meddling" and could provoke a similar disruption in other countries.

Many people are holding solidarity demonstrations, both peaceful and violent. If people in Iran know about them, they may feel others are supporting them. However, isn't that kind of news being suppressed? Besides, how much have anti-US demonstrations changed American foreign policy, even when a large portion of Americans sympathize with the demonstrators?

There are three things that Americans can do.

First, write to the President, your Congressional representative, and your state's Senators supporting the measured response that the President has given.

Second, donate to human rights organizations that are following the situation.

Third, keep yourself informed of developments.

Fourth, drive less! I almost forgot this. Iran is one of the authoritarian petro states. Oil is propping them up. If oil use declines radically, these states will have less funding and become weaker. Because oil prices have dropped dramatically from their eyes, they already have some severe economic and political difficulties. Less oil consumption around the world makes these states even shakier.

Sources for news about Iran

My original source for current news about Iran was "The Lede" of the New York Times. It was a good aggregator of news, pictures, and videos from various sources, but the flow seems to have slowed considerably have things have "quieted down". It sometimes is hard to find the latest page. The link in an article may be to the previous day or there may not even be a lead article on Iran. Also, the Times doesn't have the same reporters aggregating for The Lede everyday.

I have now added The Huffington Post to my list of periodic checks. Nico Pitney's "Iran Uprising Live-Blogging" has had many interesting items, including one of the British hosts of Iran's PressTV quitting. For a few more details see, the 5:16ET item in the 2009-06-30 blog.

Revolution or restoration?

The actions of the Iranian opposition have been called a "Green Revolution", but is it really a revolution? Is it more a call to restore the ideals of the 1979 revolution that have been corrupted by the power grab of certain parts of the Iranian elite?

For one view, see "After the Crackdown: Iran's Opposition Down but Hardly Out", Scott Macleod, Time Magazine, 2009-06-30

Monday, June 29, 2009

Falcons in Duluth

I was walking on Superior St. in Duluth and saw a man leaning against a corner of a building. I was ignoring him until I caught site of his binoculars. I stopped, turned around, and asked him if he was watching for falcons.

He said yes and pointed to one atop the Norshor Theatre. He said it was one of the recent fledglings and was already a full size male. After a few minutes I continued down the street. When I got to the next intersection, I looked back and he was still there. He must not have seen any acceptable prey, most likely pigeons. On the other hand were pigeons staying away because they saw him on his perch?

When I got home, I checked for recent stories in the Duluth News Tribune. The one on this family said that they had been raised in a box on the top of Greysolon Plaza.

I also did a search on falcons and found "How do peregrine falcons fly so fast?" It has two interesting videos. One comparing the flight of falcons and eagles and the other showing how pigeons can escape from falcons.

If the falcons can't find enough pigeons, will they move on to the gulls in Canal Park?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Is Iraq interfering in Iran's internal affairs?

Authoritarian regimes tend to blame the problems of their own creation on outsiders meddling in internal affairs. Even would-be authoritarians like Sen. Joe McCarthy see meddlers in every cubicle. So it is no surprise that many in the Iranian government are spending so much energy blaming everybody but themselves for the dissatisfaction in Iran.

What surprised me was that one "outside" "meddler" is either unnoticed or seen as a mediator in the conflict in Iran. Who is this "outside meddler"? The Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani of Najaf, Iraq.

Apparently he has more respect among Shi'a muslims than either Rafsanjani or Khameni. Iranian politicians have gone to Najaf to consult with him. Interestingly, he refused to see Ahmadejani. See "Iran's Rafsanjani and Iraq's Al-Sistani", Patterico's Pontifications, 2009-06-22.

I was led to this site from a transcript of "Fareed Zakaria GPS" program on CNN, 2006-09-28.

He had an interview with Robert Baer, a former CIA agent, who thinks there has been a military coup by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard with the connivance of Ahmadinejad, a former officer of the Guard. However, Zakaria followed the interview with his own musings on the influence of Al-Sistani in Iran.

I then looked up Al-Sistani and found Patterico's Pontifications. He in turn referenced "Regime Change Iran: Movement Seeks to Eliminate 'Supreme Leader' Position", Threats Watch, Steve Schippert, 2009-06-21. Schippert quotes Al-Sistani,

"I am a servant of all Iraqis, there is no difference between a Sunni, a Shiite or a Kurd or a Christian," and that Islam can exist within a democracy without theological conflict. You will never hear such words slip past the lips of Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei. Ever.

Sorry, the quotes are exact from the site.

I recommend reading the full text to get a better idea of all the complexities of this situation. As Patterico implies, we may be seeing a "slow-motion regime change".

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Did the Iranian government win the battle only to lose the war?

We lived in Stockholm, Sweden from 1970 to 1974. In our last year I remember seeing a demonstration of a couple hundred or more Iranians demonstrating against the Shah. The Shah did not abdicate until 1979. Iranians in Iran demonstrated this month in the thousands against the Iranian government. The government turned out in force and stopped the massive demonstrations. Did the government succeed or fail? Indications are that they may have failed; will it be weeks or years before the current government falls?

The streets of Tehran are calm and commutes take 15 minutes where they used to take 45. But business is way down, some shopkeepers report by more than half. People are afraid to go out. But they remember what they saw and will not forget.

“'People are depressed, and they feel they have been lied to, robbed of their right and now are being insulted,' said Nassim, a 56-year-old hairdresser. 'It is not just a lie; it’s a huge one. And it doesn’t end; they keep on insulting people’s intelligence with more lies on TV.'”
- "In Tehran, a Mood of Melancholy Descends", Nazila Fathi, New York Times,

"Instead, hard-liners around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opted for schism, a historic error. The Iran of yesterday is gone, the Iran of tomorrow not yet born."
- "Iran's Second Sex", Roger Cohen, New York Times, 2009-06-27.

If you haven't done so already, read Roger Cohen's reports from Tehran for the last several days.

Don't gloat too much over Republican hypocrisy

Several Republican politicians have been embroiled in sex scandals recently. Some who don't like the current narrow-mindedness of the Republican party may wish that these hypocritical actions may bring the party down. After all, this is the party of family values.

Don't be too hasty in your wish. The jaundiced would say they all do it. The current Democrats who have strayed include John Edwards and Bill Clinton. And liberal Republicans took quite a blow over the years.

The first I remember is Sen. Edward Brooke, Massachussets, who ran into financial and ethical difficulties and lost re-election in 1978. See http://www.answers.com/topic/edward-brooke. Sen. David Durenberger, Minnesota, was accused of unethical conduct regarding outside income and misuse of public funds. He did not run for re-election in 1994. See http://www.answers.com/topic/david-durenberger. Sen Bob Packwood, Oregon, was accused of repeated sexual harassment of female staff and lobbyists. He resigned from the Senate in 1995. See http://www.answers.com/topic/Bob-Packwood.

If your feet are made of clay, don't put your head in the clouds.

See also "The Prurient Trap", Charles M. Blow, New York Times, 2009-06-26.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The quiet before the storm?

The mass protests in Iran have petered out in Iran because of overwhelming action by the security forces. Even protests made without crowds seem to have been feeble.

Yesterday was supposed to be a day of releasing green balloons. I wondered where the protesters would get enough balloons to fill the sky. Even if there had been enough green balloons in the stores, wouldn't the authorities rush to buy all the balloons?

Supposedly because protesters ran out of green balloons, they used trash bags instead. I knew they would never have enough helium; who stores a helium tank in their apartment? A quick Google search led me to the clue - hair dryers, and I didn't even have to read any full article.

Maybe the time it would take to fill a trash bag with sufficient hot air explains why the only pictures I saw of green balloons were of single groups of four or five bags tied together. Not a very massive demonstration. I was surprised that a trigger-happy Basij didn't shoot them down.

However, a couple of Iranians have been quoted as there is plenty of heat beneath the ashes. We haven't heard for several days about Rafsanjani's work behind the scenes with the Council of Experts, the group that can hire and fire the Supreme Leader. We have read that the mayor of Tehran thinks that people should be able to protest peacefully. We know that several clerics, including some very senior clerics, have spoken out against the clampdown. We know that many members of Parliament did not attend the congratulatory party for Ahmadinejad. What many of us didn't know is how much the security forces control so many aspects of Iranian society. But even in the security forces, not all agree with the necessity of the crackdown.

If there is indeed heat beneath the ashes, what, if any, fuel will start a new conflagration. The 1979 revolution took a year; the 2009 revolution could also.

Who's Michael Jackson?

Today's newspapers, online and in print, have had a large portion of their front pages devoted to the death of Michael Jackson. Who is he?

Oh, yeah, now I remember. There was a Pepsi commercial years ago of a cool young man and a couple of friends encountering a boy half their size. The boy looks up at them in awe and exclaims, "Michael Jackson!" Michael Jackson sang popular songs and had a clever way of moving called moon walking.

That cool young man became glitzier and glitzier and gathered a huge following. I suppose because of that huge following, newspapers have to put his death above news of the turmoil in Iran, the dying in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and other calamities depriving the world of possible teachers, scientists, and doctors.

I suppose those of us concerned about all these other deaths needed some sort of catharsis by reading of a death that was not caused by people being mean to each other.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Do you see patterns or atoms?

Your thinking and learning is determined by your ability to see patterns. The more data you can put into a pattern, the quicker you can absorb new data, the more data you can put in memory, and the better you will be able to manipulate data.

Seeing patterns or "chunking" is one of the things that people who have superior performance in any field do according to Geoff Colvin in "Talent is Overrated". One of his examples is master chess players. Most of us look at the pieces on a board and try to sort everything out. A good chess player sees positions and calls on his or her memory of how similar positions have been played in the past.

Think of chunking in a more mundane field: your own reading. Do you look at each letter and tell yourself that it is a b because it has a vertical line and a curve to right and you know it's not a d, p, or q. Maybe you did that when you learned to read. But as you became more skilled you saw whole words and even started seeing whole phrases. Why do you think so many typos get missed? Editors look at big chunks and miss some detail that they glossed over.

Warning! Seeing bigger and bigger chunks takes lots of work. All your need is motivation and time. But you may be surprised at your gains beyond the material at hand.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Personal responsibility is a two-edged sword

"Personal responsibility" is a mantra coming from the Republican and Independence parties.

Personal responsibility is something most of you reading this generally live by. You pay your bills on time, you keep your yard tidy, you eat healthy foods, you avoid doing things that annoy other people, etc., etc.

But political calls for personal responsibility often have another message than just being a good citizen.

One is that we should take personal responsibility for our own health care and not rely on some government program. Never mind that many who have good health insurance have it through an employer program; doesn't sound very personal to me. Never mind that for those who don't have access to employer insurance generally don't have enough money to buy equivalent health insurance and generally don't have enough money to even pay for one night's stay in a hospital. How many people earning $20,000 per year or less have $2,000 in savings? (It could be even more than $2,000 given how various hospital charges add up.)

A second is that we should take personal responsibility for our own education, especially advanced education. I doubt if all but a few have done that. If we don't have rich parents, we often cobble together part-time work, scholarships, grants, and loans.

Depending on personal responsibility for health care, education, and much else reduces the common good. If we have people getting and keeping "old economy" jobs just for health insurance, we won't have as many people working on creating a "new economy". See "Forget jobs, create opportunities". If we limit advanced education to only those with great economic resources or willing to go deep into debt, we will have fewer people getting an advanced education. One of the justifications for high doctor's fees is that they need the money to pay off their medical school debts.

Hm! Higher medical costs make it harder for many people to pay for health care. Sick and poor people can't get advanced educations. Fewer people getting advanced educations means few doctors. Fewer doctors mean higher health care costs. Higher health care costs mean...

"No man is an island, entire of itself." John Donne, http://www.poetry-online.org/donne_for_whom_the_bell_tolls.htm

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Guns and poses

U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio of Florida has been quoted as saying that the Iranian people should have more guns. I forgot where I saw that framing, but what he actually wrote on Twitter was "I have a feeling the situation in Iran would be a little different if they had a 2nd amendment like ours." The National Journal has a more detailed explanation from a Rubio spokesman.

This comment is all over the web and the comments on it are multiplying even faster. On one side are people who say our freedoms are being protected by guns in the hands of the people. Others point out gun in the hands of the people have begot even more violence, like ethnic cleansing. One commentator said that Saddam Hussein required every family to have a gun and many had AK-47s. Well, the AK-47s didn't protect the people against Saddam but they certainly were used against the invasion by Americans.

Guns in the hands of the people have not worked against the U.S. Government: Shay's Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, and Waco. Let's not forget the Civil War and all the Indian tribes defending their homes and lands with rifles. The government will always have more and bigger guns.

Suppose the Iranian people had more guns. The government is now fighting the people mostly with batons, water cannons, and tear gas. If the people counteracted with guns, more than the Basaji will be shooting. If the people kept fighting with guns, don't you think the Iranian Army might be coming back with tanks? How many people keep a tank in their garage? Think Tiananmen Square.

Hope among the uncertainty in Iran

BBC posted a telephone interview with a resident near one of the mosques where people wanted to mourn the death of Neda Agha-Soltan and others killed by government forces. The resident doesn't know how things will turn out but he does say that the Allah o Akbars from the rooftops are getting louder each night. He thinks that is keeping up hope among Iranis.

It is this uncertainty on how things may turn out can be the hope of the people because they know how to conduct themselves. The Iranian government is unsure of how to conduct itself. Consider all the changing positions despite many affirmations that things were done properly.

I thought of this when I read the following passage from "Talent is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin:

"Average performers go into a situation with no clear idea of how they intend to act or how their actions would contribute to reaching their goal. So when things don't turn out perfectly, they attribute the problems to vague forces outside their control." Like foreign press, U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Israel, ...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Forget jobs, create opportunities

I've wanted to write an entry like this for many weeks. Today an article in Yahoo Finance gave me an added impetus. It was on Kodak stopping production of Kodachrome, one of its signature films for over seventy years. See "Sorry, Paul Simon, Kodak's Taking Kodachrome Away".

Quite some time ago I read about somebody complaining about the job situation in Rochester, New York. He said that one used to be able to go to the Kodak factory and get a job right out of high school. I believe he also blamed the lack of jobs on foreign competition.

It was not foreign competition that reduced the jobs for making film; it was technical competition. The rise of digital photography led to less and less use of film cameras and thus fewer and fewer sales of film. Film cameras that cost over two hundred dollars new now sell on eBay for prices that don't justify the shipping costs. I have two working Minolta SRTs with an extra 70-185 zoom lens and an extra 35 mm lens. I hope I shoot the last roll before the sole processor of Kodachrome stops doing so. But it is so much easier to use the little digital camera that I have on my belt that I doubt I'll finish the roll in time.

I fault Obama's stimulus package for focusing on creating jobs for existing skills, thus prolonging the need for those skills. For example, the stimulus package "creates" thousands of construction jobs. We will always need construction workers, but will we need so many? What happens when all these "shovel-ready" projects are completed?

Wouldn't it be better to plan an infra-structure that helps states and communities develop a flexible work force that creates its own opportunities. In other words, we need more entrepreneurs and fewer employees.

It will be a long, slow process to shift our focus. Too many people want the supposed security of benefits rather than the security of adaptability. As long as health insurance is tied to jobs, we will have too many people who want jobs instead of becoming, even on a small scale, an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

It all depends on your point of view

Last week my wife and I had dinner at the Nokomis on the Scenic Drive between Duluth and Two Harbors. She sat so she looked out the front windows at Lake Superior. I sat so that I looked out the side windows up the highway.

I remarked that the weather was improving. The cloud cover seemed to be thinning.

She replied that it was getting worse. I turned and looked at the thickening fog on the lake.

Fortunately for us, my view prevailed. When we left the fog had thinned and we didn't have to drive through it on the way home.

Iran, Berlin Wall, and Snapping Fingers

An old bromide raised its head on the comments in today's Lede of the New York Times; see comment at 8:06 a.m. by nymarty. Ronald Reagan said "Tear down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev!" and the Berlin Wall came down! Except the wall came down ten months after Ronald Reagan left office. It's like the hippy snapping his fingers on the park bench to keep the tigers away. Since there are no tigers nearby he assumes snapping his fingers is working.

The Reaganites ignore that the Soviet Union was changing under Gorbachev's leadership and it was probably not because of Western Armaments. It was probably because of Western ideas that Gorbachev saw how bankrupt the Soviet system was. The East German government was already being marginalized within the Warsaw Pact. The xenophobia of the East German government only prolonged the agony.

nymarty wrote that Obama said too little too late. Obama can only say so much without increasing the xenophobia of the Iranian government. It has already lashed out at the English, French, and German governments for their statements. And words are just that, words! What can any U.S. President do about Iran? Stop oil shipments? What a ruckus the increase in gas prices will cause in the U.S. Invade Iran? Remember, the people with the guns are mostly supporters of the Iranian government. But even those in the Iranian army and police who don't support the current government are going to be very hostile against any foreign invader.

What is interesting about nymarty's comments is that he goes on to say that JFK spoke out against Castro's Cuba and that Churchill and Roosevelt spoke out against Hitler. Castro's Cuba is still there and it took nearly seven years of war to defeat Hitler.

What is most ironic about nymarty's comment is that he ends with "The Mullahs want the bomb and nothing our president can say will stop them from getting it." In other words, Obama is wrong for not saying enough, but no matter what he says it won't mean anything.

My view is that Obama is choosing his words carefully to support the people of Iran while not giving the Iranian government an excuse for claiming "foreign interference" in "Iran's internal affairs", a well-known cop-out for corrupt governments everywhere.

Standing still at Grandma's Marathon

For the second time in ten years we stayed in town for Grandma's Marathon instead of going to our cabin in Brimson. For the first time we not only went near it, we volunteered; I as an entertainer, my wife at whatever was needed.

My wife dropped me off after 7 close to my assigned place, which was the corner of Superior St. and Fifth Avenue West, by the Ordean Bldg. I went to the nearby Starbucks, which, as far as I knew, was the only coffee shop open at that time. It was convenient also, being only a block from my assigned place. I had my mug filled and bought a scone and a muffin.

I set up our chairs on one of the few level places on Fifth Avenue, pulled out my water bottles and music notebook, and stuck my jacket in the pack. I also wired myself with my iPod for any accompaniment I would want. I had only had a few bites of my scone before the leaders of the Half-Marathon were in view. They were some distant apart and so I only sang song snatches as they came around the corner. "He'll be runnin' down Superior when he comes" or if I thought the runner was Kenyan, "Amani Utupe Na Ustawi". This is the name of a song written by an American for Kenyan friends. It is Swahili for "Grant us peace, give us courage".

Only when the runners came in packs did I go to songs. Some I could do unaccompanied from memory; others I needed sheet music and iPod accompaniment. Several times I couldn't get to the selection on the iPod very quickly. It seemed my fingers just slid across the screen without doing anything. Of course, I was doing this as I held my notebook in my other hand.

I did a fair job of singing during the Half-Marathon, but my voice became strained. Still, several runners smiled as they went by and some bystanders gave me a bit of encouragement. I stopped singing probably 15-30 minutes before the Marathon leaders were due.

The first runner was well ahead of others, and people were saying he was a Minnesotan. Probably 6 of the next 8 were Africans. One of these did a double take when I sang "Amani Utupe Na Ustawi".

When the first woman came by, I was struck by her intensity. I don't think she even noticed me. I recognized her as Mary Akor who was featured in the Duluth News Tribune on Friday. As she went by I sang "Amani Utupe Na Ustawi". I don't think she even noticed me. But I thought, "Whoops, I don't think she's from Kenya". I read about her later; she's from Nigeria but now lives in California as an American citizen.

As the runners came more in packs, I started singing complete songs again. But my voice wasn't as good anymore. I missed syllables, I missed higher notes, and I sounded strained. Still, I got smiles from some runners and encouragement from some bystanders.

A dark-skinned woman made some friendly comment about my singing. I was too slow to sing the phrase "Amani Utupe Na Ustawi." However, from the snatches of her words, I would say she was American, not African.

I was on the lookout for green head bands or wrist bands, but the only green I saw was on shirts or shorts. I finally saw two guys running together, dressed almost identically. I think they had yellow shirts with some green, but they both had bright green head bands. I shouted "Ey Iran" after them, but they were out of earshot.

"Ey Iran" is a popular patriotic song often used by the opposition. You can find the lyrics at http://en.wikipedai.org/wiki/Ey_Iran and a good choral version at http://www.saeedgilani.com/EyIran.mp3. Note that the capitalization is important in the second URL and probably in the first.

I kept watching for two friends who would be coming sometime after three hours. But I had to go to the toilet, but I didn't want to miss them. Finally the first appeared, walking. He had told me that he hoped someone would sing in French, and so I sang bits of "Allouette". He gave a big grin. Quite a few minutes later the second friend appeared, running. He is Japanese, and I shouted, "Say What? Seigo! Say What? Seigo! Seigo! Seigo! Go! Go! Go!" I immediately headed for the portable toilets a half block away, and at least one was not occupied!

After I came back, I made a few attempts to sing, but it was with less and less energy. Finally, I sat in one of our chairs, pulled out my iPod, got a signal from the Radisson hotel, and caught up on the news from Iran, none of it any good.

Somewhere around noon my wife came from her post and we packed up. Runners kept coming, but most were walking. We headed toward the entertainment tent at the course end to use our beverage tickets. As we crossed the slip bridge, the volume from the tent was deafening and we were still over two hundred feet away. I suggested that we eat at Amazing Grace instead.

It was cool and relatively quiet inside, and there were still many empty tables. We plopped down by a window with our sandwiches and beverages, grateful just to sit. We could still hear the music from outside, but at least it didn't drown out conversation.

We stopped next at Northern Lights Books to pickup a book I had ordered. Another cool and quiet stop. Later I learned the temperature had gotten to 80; the last online prediction I had seen had said 70. When we came out, runners were still coming down the home stretch.

We headed up Lake Avenue to Superior Street. As we walked down Superior Street, we still saw runners; they had well over a mile and a half to go. We saw flashing lights up the course all across the road and figured that was the official closing of the race. Sure enough two patrol cars drove slowly past us, and all remaining runners were now on the sidewalk, almost all walking.

Although I had only stood in place, I dreaded even going uphill to where my wife had parked. We took a zig zag route to minimize the incline at any one point.

When we got home, it was all I could do to check up on the news from Iran and type a few notes about the day. Even today, after over nine hours of fairly good sleep, I have to overcome inertia to type this.

Will I do it again? Not next year because we have a family gathering at race time. I'm not even sure I'll do any more outdoor singing, especially busking for an hour or more. Frankly, I need to build more stamina for lots of singing. Secondly, I kept a long sleeve shirt on to avoid sunburn. I have no sunburn, but I have heat rash on one arm. Burned if you do, burned if you don't.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An interesting non-violent counter-attack in Iran

If you have seen many of the pictures coming out of Iran, you may have seen a middle-aged man on the back of a motor-bike pulling a gun out of his belt. According to the Christian Science Monitor, he is a provocateur trying to increase the level of violence. See "Who's behind Iran violence? Website posts video in name-and-shame campaign".

An Iranian website has posted a few pictures of these provocateurs and some have been identified. People are surprised to learn that they are their neighbors. Supposedly one of the identified provocateurs has left town.

Many critics complain we have become beholden to our gadgets and our technology. But these gadgets and technologies are really giving power to the people. Power is held by the few when information is held only by the few.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In defense of teachers

"Greedy teacher unions!" "Underperforming schools!" and many other simplistic slogans pollute the discussion about improving education. But more thoughtful people wonder how to counter all the other problems that make learning difficult: disinterested parents, bullies, too much testing, too little class time, and on it goes with things that are outside the control of teachers.

For a good summary of these problems, see "Teachers aren't the problem" by Micheal Kennedy, Star Tribune, 2007-06-17. Kennedy teaches at Southwest High School in Minneapolis.

Al-Jazeera more liberal than many think

Because Al-Jazeera broadcasts videos and other press releases from the likes of Al Qaeda, many Americans think of Al-Jazeera as nothing more than a mouthpiece for terrorists.

However, if you actually visit Al-Jazeera's web site you will find a much broader reportage. For example, see "Iranian writer on poll result", an interview with Azar Nafisi, author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran". Afisi doesn't pull any punches on what she thinks of the regime in Iran and of reactions to it. For example, "The US government is sometimes silly in its response to Iran."

Because I don't know Arabic, I can't say if this interview was also posted in Arabic. I can say if you click "Arabic" in the sidebar on the left, you will find many of the popular photos from Iran, including a demonstrator holding up a sign, "Where is my vote?"

I probably will not live to see it, but the 22nd century may see no dictatorships. Optimistic? Consider that in the 1950's Western Europe had Franco in power in Spain and Salazar in Portugal.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Many views on how to support the Iranian people

The comments on the Lede of the New York Times are all over the map: unquestioning support of the Iranian demonstrators, unquestioning support of the Iranian government, ignore the Iranians, stop the Iranian government, and more.

Those calling for no support believe that the Iranians are the enemy, government and people alike. This is the terrorist mindset: all of the X are the enemy, and so they all deserve to die.

The hard-nose cold warriors: they don't understand how foreign interference rallies people to support their government and backfires. Sen. John McCain faults President Obama for not doing enough. See "President Obama Reiterates Concerns about Iranian Election", New York Times, 2009-06-16. “He should speak out that this is a corrupt, flawed sham of an election,” Mr. McCain said in an interview on NBC’s “Today.” “The Iranian people have been deprived of their rights. We support them in their struggle against a repressive, oppressive regime.”

Boy, am I glad I voted for Obama! This is not the kind of talk we need coming from a President.

“We make sure that the world knows that America leads,” Mr. McCain said.

Wait a minute! If the Iranian election was corrupt and flawed, in what election was American chosen as a leader of the world?

There are the overly sympathetic meddlers: they call upon people to join a denial of service campaign against Iranian government sites. But denial of service on a few sites also reduces the available bandwidth in the local network and hinders outgoing messages. It is also stooping to the level of your opponent. In fact, one should avoid any Iranian site; the foreign traffic decreases the available bandwidth. Internet access in Iran has become very slow. Depend on non-Iranian sites to aggregate.

There is the reasoned approach: President Obama gave restrained support for people without undue criticism of the government. See the above article quoting John McCain. Also, note that Richard Lugar, Ind.-R, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, agrees with Obama. “For the moment, our position is to allow the Iranians to work out their situation,” Mr. Lugar said in an interview Tuesday morning on CBS’ “Early Show.” “For us to become heavily involved in the election at this point is to give the clergy an opportunity to have an enemy and to use us, really, to retain their power.”

Whither Iran?

"Yet [Ayatollah Khameni] must have been troubled by a sense of déjà vu having lived to hear the calls of “God is Great” from Tehran rooftops denouncing his handpicked president. The same calls 30 years ago brought the shah’s regime to its knees."

- "A Middle Class Uprising", Abbas Amanat, New York Times, 2009-06-16, appended to an editorial "Where Will the Power Lie in Iran?"

Amanat also points out that 80% of Iran's population is urban or semi-urban. So much for the rural people were dominant in the election.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The size of the crowds in Tehran is unbelievable

See http://www.flickr.com/photos/mousavi1388/sets/72157619701000269/ for photos posted by Moussavi1388. 1388 is the current year in the Iranian calendar.

Also a counterattack on Iranian government websites is underway. Two can play the game of web-blocking. Simply by requesting a web site, thousands of people can block that web site. Try Ahmadinejad's web site. Since there are more Iranian citizens upset with the election results than there are government employees who can block opposition web sites, the only government defense is to shut the web entirely. And that would upset lots of business people who have not been demonstrating. I think the strong-armers in the Iranian government have put themselves in a no-win situation.

I think we're going to see the Web as the biggest promoter of democracy that we've ever seen.

Will Iranians bring democracy to the Middle East?

Many Americans think of Al-Jazeera as an anti-American, anti-Israeli broadcaster. However, you might want to take a look at one Al-Jazeera story on the crisis in Iran, "Iran protesters defy rally ban", Aljazeera.net, 2009-06-15. It is a rather even-handed reporting of the events and the conflicts in Iran.

When people in the other countries see footage and stories like this, will they starting asking why they shouldn't be doing likewise?

And it could spread out even wider. China Daily reportage seems on the surface to be pro-government, but those who read between the lines might see more. See "Iran's supreme leader warns against provocative behavior", China Daily, 2006-09-15

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Is Tehran Bureau too popular or is it too accurate?

I tried to access Tehran Bureau's website and was diverted to its provider's error page:
Site Temporarily Unavailable

This website is currently experiencing technical difficulties. If you are the owner of this site, please contact us for more information. In most cases, this is only temporary.
Is the page too popular and has exceeded its bandwidth limit? Or is it too accurate and has been hacked again?

If the Iranian election was fair, why is the government afraid of criticism?

The Lede and other sources are reporting cell phone service being turned on and off, text messaging being blocked, access to certain Iranian web sites being blocked, and even sites outside Iran being sabotaged.

One of these latter sites is Tehran Bureau. It was hacked but supposedly is back up. If it is up, it must be extremely popular. I can't access it. On one try it stood at "15 of 18 pages loaded" for several minutes. I retried it and after a long wait told that "Safari could not access the server."

The Iranian authorities are even closing news bureaus that one would assume would be "more friendly". The correspondent for Al-Arabiya in Tehran was told to close the bureau and not report any news.

Many in the U.S. felt that George W. Bush stole both the 2000 and 2004 elections. However, there was no wide-scale censorship of the voices expressing this opinion.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The fallacy of "both sides" continues

This morning's Star Tribune has a front page article titled "Both sides claim victory in Iran". The article is not available on the Star Tribune web site because it is a Washington Post story. In the Post it was titled "Iran Election in Dispute as 2 Candidates Claim Victory", Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post Foreign Service, Tehran, 2009-06-13.

The Post headline is more accurate as there are definitely more than two sides in the Iran election conflict. The Star Tribune headline ignores that there were four candidates on the ballot and that many more candidates were rejected by Iran's Council of Guardians.

Although the Interior Ministry is under the President, do we really know that the President was responsible for how the vote was counted or miscounted? What if a faction of the Council of Guardians, the Assembly of Experts, or the Supreme Leader wanted Ahmadinejad to win, not so much that they agreed with him, but wanted to control him? Discounting the candidates who got few votes or those who rejected, the possibility that unelected powers have an interest gives us at least three sides.

If this third side was responsible for giving the vote to Ahmadinejad, would he not be somehow beholden to them? If so, would they reign in some of the behavior that embarrasses Iran's interest and get him to work more in the direction they want?

If my conjecture is right, the power brokers should be careful playing with tame bears. Sometimes they attack their handlers.

Trying to keep up with Iranian events

I've found that even if you thought you had read an article, it may have changed since you last read it. I found this to be true with "Ahmadinejad Re-Elected: Protests Flare", New York Times, 2009-06-13 or is it 2009-06-14? The New York Times already has the URL datelined for the Sunday edition.

One of the new to me things I found in edition I read shortly after 1600 was that many moderate clerics supported Moussavi. Many of these apparently think Ahmadinejad is a disgrace to Iran.

Also as you read more, you get certain information refined. Andrew Sullivan gives a more refined chart of the "straight-line" "results" of the Iranian election. See "The Results as They Came In", The Daily Dish. The web page I mentioned in "A winning election formula - Iranian style" used only four data points. The one that Sullivan used has six data points. Still the correlation of the reported data to the formula is still way to close to one for a person to believe the results weren't manufactured. Think how vote totals swing during U.S. elections.

A winning election formula - Iranian style

Remember how we used to be glued to our radios or TVs when some major awe-inspiring event occurred. We just had to get the latest development as soon as it was broadcast. Now here I sit glued to my computer picking up minute-by-minute developments in Iran. One advantage the web has over other media is the greater variety of sources.

One of the very interesting item is that one person has determined the formula for the Iranian vote results

Mousavi = 0.5238xAhmadinejad - 742642

It's bad enough that the vote tallies matched this formula at least four different points, but Mousavi started out with a negative vote of nearly 3/4 million before Ahmadinejad had any votes!

For more details, see "Faulty Election Data", Tehran Bureau, by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 13 June 2009

Iran: Another "When will they ever learn?" state?

The results are in. Ahmadinejad was declared the winner. Moussavi supporter claim fraud and have taken to the streets. For ongoing reports, see "Landside or Fraud? The Debate Online Over Iran's Election Results".

Who is not learning?

Is it the Iranian people who claim fraud? Are they not learning that the people who support their candidate is not supported by the majority? Are they not learning that there is no point in voting because the elections are rigged?

Is it the Iranian government that has not been adept at showing transparency? Is it not learning that people won't more than a show of democracy? Has it forgotten the current government exists because thirty years ago the people got fed up with the Shah and contributed greatly to his downfall? Is it ignoring that the too many people may consider the current government as no better or even worse than the Shah?

Stay tuned to your news sources. Things may change rapidly. Even as I wrote this, two new entries were added to the above blog.

Friday, June 12, 2009

More false reasoning on Instant Runoff Voting

Recently opponents to IRV lost a Minnesota Supreme Court case because the Court did not agree with them that IRV took away one person-one vote.

Today's Star Tribune had a letter-writer who argued that IRV would have prevented Jesse Ventura, George W. Bush, and Tim Pawlenty from winning. He argued that since none of these won a majority of votes they would not have won with IRV. I guess he is assuming that all those who voted for the candidate with the least votes would have made their second choice the person who came in second.

Let's suppose in the Coleman-Humphrey-Ventura race that half the voters who voted for Humphrey gave their second choice as Coleman and half as Ventura. Ventura would have still won. My guess is that more than half of the Humphrey voters would have given their second choice as Ventura, disliking a Republican more than Ventura, giving Ventura an even bigger win. On the other hand, what if no Humphrey voter gave a second choice. We still have a non-majority winner.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My posts to Irregular Blog may be just that for awhile

Thanks to my eight regular subscribers for checking in regularly. I would like to reward you with some new insight or new oddball idea everyday, but I've become preoccupied with another project.

I've volunteered to sing on the sidelines of Grandma's Marathon. However, most of my repertoire is too slow or otherwise inappropriate to cheer runners on. So, I've been busy writing lyrics to upbeat folksongs just for Grandma's: I've been running in the Marathon, all the livelong day and She'll be running around Superior when she comes.

I was so involved writing lyrics last night that I never got around to writing a blog. And I still have to practice and practice and practice these songs by the 20th!

Going to the cabin today didn't help my time allotment. BTW, something interesting had happened, but the next Adventure of Superwoodsman will have to wait to another time.

BTW2, I've been assigned to entertain the runners and bystanders at the Ordean Bldg. at the corner of Superior St. and Fifth Ave. W. If you can elbow your way over there, I'd appreciate it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Coincidences continue

You may have read about the recent bizarre death of the actor David Carradine.

Saturday we stopped at a book sale and picked up some famous author books at a dollar apiece. One I chose was a murder mystery by Michael Crichton, "Rising Sun", published in 1992. I was surprised to read a description of a similar death in this book (p. 117).

The doctor doing the autopsy said, "it's too easy to make a mistake and go too far. They do, all the time."

Were the stars aligned just so that I would read this book this week? Did some deity choose this book for me to read to teach me some lesson or to use me as a prophet to warn others? I don't think so.

Millions of people read about David Carradine's death. A couple dozen people probably read Crichton's novel this week. One of these readers happens to be a blogger who writes weird stuff. Wait a day or two and somebody else will probably right something similar.

BTW, "Rising Sun" is a good read. The story takes many surprising turns, some you might guess, some you won't.

BTW2, "Rising Sun" is prophetic. "We don't make things anymore. When you manufacture products, you add value to raw materials, and you literally create wealth. But America has stopped doing that. Americans make money by creating paper manipulation, which the Japanese say is bound to catch up to us because paper profits don't reflect real wealth. They think our fascination with Wall Street and junk bonds is crazy." (p. 193)

Hm! Published in 1992. When will they ever learn?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Tired of pumping gas?

How about changing your electric car battery in less time? You have to see the interview at "Better Place's Breakthrough: Changing a Car Battery in One Minute". Better Place with its charging stations may be changing the paradigm of how we operate our cars.

Health care - really a question of winners and losers

One of the objections that conservatives (Republicans and Democrats) have against government health care insurance is "it could force many private insurers out of business." - "GOP senators warn Obama on health care", Yahoo Finance, 2009-06-08

But, the current health care system is already forcing some companies out of business. Was it Waggoner of GM who said he started out making automobiles but wound up running a health care insurance business?

Not only are many companies at a competitive disadvantage to companies in countries with extensive government sponsored health care, many companies aren't started because of health care. First, many people don't go off on their own because they don't want to "lose benefits". Second, if are willing to go off on their own, they are wary of the need to provide benefits, a drain on their cash flow and on their time.

Another complaint against government health care has been the cost. Most critics talk as that is an additional cost to Americans that they didn't have before. The real question is how much will the costs be offset by other savings - existing insurance premiums, the cost in goods and services due to health care costs for employees, and the cost of uninsured going to emergency rooms. Does anybody even know if the savings could be even greater than the cost?

Quote of the day: the fallacy of the two-party system

party [U.K.] may deserve to be punished, their political opponents don’t deserve to be rewarded.
Well, Paul Krugman didn't actually call it a fallacy, but he did write that either-or is not always a good solution. He wrote about the financial crises:
But here’s the thing. While Mr. Brown and his party [U.K.] may deserve to be punished, their political opponents don’t deserve to be rewarded.
- "Gordon the unlucky", New York Times, 2009-06-07
Next time you vote, remember that there could be a third, or fourth, or ... way.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Minnesota's erratic weather

Reflections on Duluth temperatures being in the 40s today

A long-standing joke about Minnesota weather is: "What do Minnesotans do in the summer? If it comes on the Fourth of July, they go on a picnic."

In the Twin Cities, I remember it being in the high nineties on Memorial Day and being cold and rainy for picnics in August. Almost three years ago to the day, I remember going out on our back porch in Duluth when it was 99 degrees. My arms immediately turned red and started oozing.

A week ago many people were outside in T-shirts. Today some people are wearing medium weight jackets.

It's so disappointingly cold that I have come up with a new greeting: "What did you do this summer?"

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Tests won't improve education

I've long felt that academic achievement is more a function of culture than of genetics. Nicholas Kristof wrote an interesting op-ed on this, "Rising Above I.Q.", New York Times, 2009-06-07. He points out that Asians, Jews, and West Indian Blacks often have success more than other groups. Each has a culture of valuing learning. He writes that "success depends less on intellectual endowment than on perseverance and drive."

Mark Dayton put his finger on the problem with testing as a means to improve schools, "Who benefits from our test obsession?" Star Tribune, 2009-06-04. Teachers and students don't receive results until months after standardized tests are given. How does the really give feedback on what students have learned? He says, as I've long thought, "Mostly the point is to criticize schools."

The Adventures of Superwoodsman, Episode 12

Last Monday we went to our cabin to check on our newly planted basswood and to clean up some of the uncut wood and piles of branches.

It looked like only three of the 25 seedlings had been bitten, but they might not have had the longest branch intact when we planted them.

Our first order of business was to unjam our chipper. We had left it jammed from our visit two weeks ago. I don't like to bend over to work on things, and so we wanted to have it elevated. I had a loading dock that was at a good height for such work, but it had too many rotted boards two years ago. The picnic table that I built seventeen years ago is still usable although we use another table for al fresco dining. It has become a de facto work bench for many tasks.

I hauled our aluminum ramps to the one end of the table and the two of us were able to push, lift, and wriggle the chipper into place for further work. Now it seemed a piece of cake to take off the screen and the input chute and reach next to the flywheel for the jammed piece. Well, the first two were a piece of cake, but even seeing the jammed piece was not.

I pushed in a cheap, long keyhole saw I had bought for this purpose, but its teeth were too fine to really grab the wood. I could saw at the wood, but that was a long, laborious process.

If I pushed the flywheel in the opposite direction that it normally went, I hoped it would push the piece within reach. Unfortunately, pushing it backward jams the handle of the starter rope against the housing very quickly. I had figured out that if one of us pulled out the starter rope first and the other pushed the flywheel in the opposite direction, we could push the flywheel for several rotations.

This worked only once. A very little piece showed itself at the chute opening. I grabbed that piece with pliers and pulled steadily. The whole piece came out shortly and the flywheel turned easily.

The next time we were not so lucky. I had to use the better back saw to get at it and cut or grab. Eventually the piece broke up into smaller piece and the flywheel turned freely. However, there is still some still in there that could cause some other wood to jam.

The problem is one of design. The gap between the blades and the housing is quite large, and so a piece can be pulled in and jam, especially in an area away from the blades. The problem is further compounded by the nuts and bolts in the cutting area that hold the housing to the engine. These are just one more obstruction to cause a jam.

Why, oh why, didn't I buy that Troy-bilt drum chipper when they were still marketed? Supposedly, if it jammed, one inserted a crank into the axle and turned it backward. These are available from time to time on eBay, but they always seem to be in Texas or Pennsylvania or some other locale two or more days driver away.

When I wasn't busy unjamming the chipper, I was cutting up the tree bolts. I had moved my sawhorse close to the pile of the biggest bolts. I only had three problems with this.

The first was getting the biggest bolts onto the sawhorse. There were six to ten inches in diameter. I had to use what I call the "little brother carry". I would stand one on end, squat a bit, put my arms around it about 3/4 the way up, stand up, and stagger over to the sawhorse. I could leverage one end onto the sawhorse, and then walk my hands down and lift up the other.

The second was despite the bolts being on a sawhorse, the saw would still jam. Not seriously, but enough to have to back off. I did manage to make most of the cuts perpendicular and clean. It was amazing how much easier it was to control the saw at waist height than it was bending over a trunk on the ground.

The third problem was probably a result of the second problem. The chain broke! Fortunately for me, it didn't fly off and hit me or anything or anybody else. It just dangled from the saw. I got out another chain, put it on and I was back in business.

I also took a few minutes to split a few rounds. This late in spring, they still split easily when I hit them correctly. Correctly doesn't include being dead on center.

So, we got rid of one pile of bolts and several piles of branches. There is more waiting for our next visit.

Unless something really interesting happens, this will be the last episode of "Adventures of Superwoodsman" for a while. Our next few visits will be more chipping and sawing, then we will widen some paths and do more chipping. I do hope we start spending more time walking around or just sitting around enjoying the outdoors.

If you would like to see some pictures of our place in Brimson and the surrounding area, see my Brimson set on Flickr.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Senate should defer to the President's choice unless...

a Senator is a member of the opposite party. I couldn't find any direct quote, but I remember when Republicans held the Presidency, Republican Senators, whether they held the majority or not, said that the Senate should defer to the President's choice for the Supreme Court.

Now that they hold neither the Presidency nor the majority in the Senate, many are casting aspersions on President Obama's choice of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.

We should note that the "many" who are raising issues with Sotomayor are not in the Senate. Many of the quotes I've seen from Republican Senators are of caution; they plan to ask questions that should be asked of any nominee for appointed office.

Maybe this confirmation will widen the split between my-way conservatives and moderate Republicans who believe in pragmatic governance.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Multi-lingual redundancies or repetitive redundancies

You may have laughed at the redundancies of chai tea, prosciutto ham, shrimp scampi, where the English word means the same thing as the foreign word it is paired with.

A couple days ago I saw one new to me: cheese quesadilla. Quesadilla literally means "little cheesy thing". See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quesadilla.

See also William Safire's "ON LANGUAGE; 'Nyah, Nyah -- Gotcha!'"

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Markets are like the weather, never in balance

Many tout markets as the most efficient allocators of resources. This often true, but like the weather, there is no such thing as a steady state; some development will bring wrenching and even destructive change.

I thought of this reflecting on Charles Wheelan's most recent Naked Economist column, "The Human Capital Bubble". http://finance.yahoo.com/expert/article/economist/167581
He says that Wall Street sucked up a lot of talent that could have been used more productively elsewhere. Now the Wall Street bubble has burst and many people must rethink what they will be doing.

If we build as if a sunny summer will be perpetual, we will be in big trouble when the imbalance in weather conditions is corrected. Our flimsy summer structures will be blown away when the hurricane or tornado strikes.

Similarly, if we act as if a particular segment of the economy will continually grow, we will be caught short when the market has enough of whatever we have to offer.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Adventures of Superwoodsman, Episode 11

I'm falling behind on keeping up with these little adventures in Brimson, or is it misadventures.

We went to Brimson on midmorning Sunday, May 24, with our 25 basswood seedlings and hopes of planting them all.

We just moved stuff out of the way with numerous breaks to rest, to drink water, or nibble something. I moved bolts and rounds and my wife moved branches. I piled the bolts in sort of neat piles for later cutting, and I threw the rounds on the to-be-split pile. The latter pile is getting so big that I'll have to move it again as I split rounds closer to the stump. My wife trimmed some branches into more manageable pieces and put them in piles along one of our trails for later chipping.

This was a lot more work than we had anticipated. I think we finished around five, or maybe later. We wouldn't be planting that day.

Before or after supper we took our first walk on our main loop in many weeks, probably only the second since the snow melted. It was enjoyable to see all the green, to see the birch volunteers getting more numerous and bigger, and to see that some of the spruce we had planted along the back line had grown faster than in some previous years. It was depressing to see how much work we had to do to keep the trail open.

Before we went to bed I told my wife that the next day we would only plant the seedlings and then return to Duluth. My skin was red and irritated from being anywhere near balsam fir. It took me quite awhile to go to sleep.

After a leisurely breakfast with the unread part of the previous day's Star Tribune we started on a tree planting venture. Poke planting bar in ground. Clunk! A rock! Move a few inches away. Poke! Schlump! Into soft ground it goes! Leverage back and forth to make an hourglass-shaped hole. Oops! There are rocks on either side of the bar! A little more back and forth and I guess the hole will do.

My wife trims the roots of a seedling and sticks into the hole. I poke another hole next to the first hole and make into an "hourglass". If I'm lucky there is no rock. She scrapes some of the loosened dirt into the first hole and then I tramp on the second hole to close up the first and to make a water pocket of the second.

I try to make a random arrangement of holes rather than a grid; my only criterion is to keep the trees two big steps from each other.

Poke, stick, stomp! Twenty-four more times and exactly twenty-four. We didn't get any extras this time which is just fine by us. Our backs were stiff, we were tired, it was time to go back to Duluth.

We packed up and put everything going back in the truck. Now comes the sad part. No matter how tired we are, no matter how sweaty or bug-bitten or otherwise physically irritated, we are reluctant to leave. The drive to the road through the balsam stand, yes, a balsam stand, is a sign we won't be back to our little paradise for a week or more.