Monday, December 11, 2017

Allenby Enters Jerusalem

On December 11, 1917, General Edmund Allenby, commander of British forces in the Middle East entered Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate.  As a sign of respect he dismounted from his horse and walked into the city, as shown below.  It was the emotional and symbolic culmination of a campaign launched from the Suez Canal against the Turks a year earlier.


Jerusalem, part of the Ottoman Empire since 1517, consisted only of the Old City and a few buildings outside the walls.  Since the latter part of the 19th century its population had been majority Jewish for perhaps the first time in over a thousand years.

A few days ago President Trump rightfully extended United States recognition to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, recognizing the reality of the past seventy years.  Contrary to many predictions, the American announcement has not triggered widespread outrage in the Muslim world.

The context of the President's announcement is better understood in the context of one of the final actions of President Obama's administration.  In a small and spiteful act, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry maneuvered the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which effectively denied Jewish rights to East Jerusalem, including the walled city, the Jewish Quarter and to Judaism's holiest sites, and allowing the Palestinians in adding yet another set of unreasonable demands to any future peace negotiations. 

In contrast, President Trump formally fulfilled the provisions of a 1995 law, passed by Congress by a 93-5 vote and signed by President Clinton, declaring  “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”   Since then presidents have signed waivers every six months deferring action on the law.

The United States Senate reaffirmed the law just six months ago by a unanimous vote.  The co-sponsor was New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer who, two months ago, attacked President Trump for not keeping his campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem:
 “This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, yet with 2018 fast approaching, the U.S. still hasn't moved the embassy or made clear its commitment to Israel's capital…President Trump's recent comments suggest his indecisiveness on the embassy's relocation. As someone who strongly believes that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, I am calling for the U.S. Embassy in Israel to be relocated to Jerusalem. Moving the embassy as soon as possible would appropriately commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Jerusalem's reunification and show the world that the U.S. definitively acknowledges Jerusalem as Israel's capital.”
In taking this bipartisan action the President was more circumspect and diplomatic than Senator Schumer.  The Senator supports an undivided Jerusalem, while the President was careful to say that his action involved no predetermination of the ultimate boundary of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Breaking The Barrier

On October 14, 1947, Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager became the first human to break the sound barrier, flying the X-1.  Yeager was an Army Air Corps pilot in WWII.  After shooting down a German fighter plane, Yeager was shot down over France in March 1944.  Helped by the French Resistance he escaped over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain and was back in England by May.

At the time, pilots who had been shot down, worked with the Resistance, and made it back to England were forbidden to fly further combat missions.  Yeager was able to obtain an audience with General Eisenhower to plead his case and was allowed to return to combat.  In October 1944 he shot down five German fighters in one day.

In 2012, on the 65th anniversary of his 1947 flight, 89 year old General Chuck Yeager flew in a two-seater F-15 fighter, breaking the sound barrier once again.  Best comment on the video: "he barely can get into the cockpit, his steel balls block the way".


In 2017 the 94 year old Yeager remains active on Twitter.

You can watch a theatric version of his 1947 flight in this clip from The Right Stuff.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Things I Had Not Known Part 781

The United Postal Union (UPU) was founded in 1874, currently has 192 member countries, and is now run under the auspices of the United Nations.  The UPU meets every four years to set terminal fees for postage between its members with each country getting one vote.  Under the UPU scheme countries that are considered poorer or less developed pay less for shipping to countries considered richer or more developed.

The result, as reported in a recent eye-opening article in Forbes, has created an astonishing situation in which freight rates from China to the United States are less than shipping within the United States created a huge competitive advantage for Chinese manufacturers and shippers because, under current UPU rules, China, the second largest country in the world, is in the same category as poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa!

According to Forbes: “The cost to ship a one-pound package from South Carolina to New York City would run nearly $6; from Beijing to NYC: $3.66.”  At the same time, the shipping rates from the U.S. to China are outrageous, and often preclude American customers from returning defective products.  That same one-pound package would cost about $50 to send via USPS International Mail from New York City to Beijing.

American merchants, already facing higher production costs, are further penalized even in dealing with their American customers.  Here's one example:
Becca Peter from Lopez Island in Washington state is in a similar situation. She sells something called Washi tape via a website called PrettyPackagesTape.com “at some of the lowest prices of any U.S.-based small business.” But these low prices are nothing compared to what Chinese competitors can sell at. While Peter must charge a flat $3.50 for shipping, Chinese merchants are selling versions of the product with all fees and and shipping charges included for a total price of $2.
And shipping internationally?  Fugeddaboudit!
It costs less than $4 to mail a 9-ounce parcel from China to Toronto or London. If I want to mail a 9-ounce parcel to Toronto it would cost me $14.73. If I wanted to send that same package to London it would cost me $21.38. 
As the author points out: 
As you browse through the listings on sites like Amazon and eBay it is almost impossible not to be amazed at how cheaply China-based merchants are selling products for: xlr cables for $.99, a necklace for $.78, 10 watch batteries for $.78 -- all with postage included.
My default position on international commerce is to favor free trade.  And I don't begrudge China becoming more prosperous and more people moving out of poverty, and am happy for my friends there.  But it is very clear that the existing trade rules, whether involving the UPU or the WTO are simply not "free" trade and have been successfully manipulated by China to the detriment of American citizens.  When China gained admission, with U.S. approval (in an enormous miscalculation by the administration of President Bush), to the WTO in 2001 it was supposed to herald a new day of trade benefiting both nations.  Instead, China has been skillfully able to use the WTO rules and its tribunals to pry open U.S. markets while keeping theirs relatively closed.

As several studies have pointed out it is the sheer scale of China's production boom that makes it unlike any other country which entered the WTO.  Some estimates are that up to 2 million U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost to China's onslaught in the first decade of the 21st century.  The suddenness and scale of China made it impossible for the U.S. to adjust gradually to change.  That's why a free trade agreement with countries with much small economies and manufacturing sectors are much easier to deal with.

And that doesn't even get to the intellectual property (IP) issues American companies face with China.  Those seeking to do business in that country are forced to turn over IP to the government in order to obtain access, and the outright theft of IP by Chinese companies is rarely punished by that country's legal system.

I saw some of this first hand during my many trips to China.  It's a fascinating place and I'd like to visit again.  But something has gone terribly wrong in our trade relations.






Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Case Of You

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Joni Mitchell live.  From the album Blue (1971).  I can't find words.

Monday, November 20, 2017

County Fair

It's riffmaster Joe Walsh's 70th birthday today!  We've written before of his approach to metaphysics which is reprised here:
You know, there’s a philosopher who says, “As you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos, and random events, non-related events, smashing into each other and causing this situation or that situation, and then, this happens, and it’s overwhelming, and it just looks like what in the world is going on. And later, when you look back at it, it looks like a finely crafted novel. But at the time, it don’t.”
Building upon that insight we present County Fair, a further Walshian inquiry into the fate of humanity and the meaning of life.  Plus it's got some nifty riffs. 
Found an old puzzle that somebody quit
Try to fit pieces and hope that they fit
But they're going together so slowly
It may take me forever to know
And it's only a puzzle 

Parts of the puzzle will never be found
And even though pieces are gone
It's a county fair picture
Part of me's there
Some of the pieces are still at the fair
And it may be forever



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Talk Of The Town

One of the finest songs from the Pretenders, featuring the incomparable vocals of Chrissie Hynde.   This 1980 video is of the original band lineup.  In 1982 lead guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died from cocaine abuse. The same year bassist Pete Farndon was fired by the other band members for his out of control drug habits and he died shortly thereafter of an overdose.  Chrissie, along with drummer Martin Chambers, goes on.