Sunday, July 5, 2015

The big tax

A long time ago -- it was 2008 -- in the early days of RtO, I remarked that time is the biggest tax we place on the poor. That remains true despite efforts by the rich to make the financial tax the biggest (by imposing VAT, for example).

If you are poor, for example, you have to wait for a bus rather than getting in your car when you want to move.

That is why I find the Solar Impulse plane such a weird idea. According to a press release
Solar Impulse’s vision of reaching unlimited endurance without fuel, using solely the power of the sun, was not only a dream: perpetual flight is a reality.
Well, not exactly.  Not mentioned in the statement was the month-long wait for the weather to clear so the plane could take off for Hawaii. Just like in the old days, when sailors had to wait anywhere from weeks to half a year "for a wind."

(Half a year in the case of the Arab and Indian traders who traveled between Africa and India, going one way when the monsoon was favorable from one direction and returning when the monsoons reversed, which happens once a year.)

Travelers by land often had to wait for weather, too.

Fossil-fuel engines changed that. Even before true ocean-going steam vessels were developed, the tyranny of wind was partially defeated by using steam tugs to pull big vessels out of wind-bound anchorages to the open roads.

In Hawaii, we didn't wait for steam. Crews of kanakas hauled sailing ships out of Honolulu harbor, a remarkable feat not tried elsewhere in the world except rarely in cases of military emergency. Many a paddle must have been snapped.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Sugar and smoke

On Sunday, I blogged about the cane smoke meeting ("Maui Snow job," June 28). One thing that was said there that I didn't mention was a claim that Stop Cane Burning had no intention of shutting down HC&S. But on Wenesday the same group filed suit in 2nd Circuit Environmental Court to shut down the air quality permit system that allows the plantation to burn under restricted conditions.

Which would shut down the plantation.

Lance Collins, the plaintiffs' attorney, told Lee Imada of The Maui News that the suit had been in preparation for a month.

So somebody was lying. Not necessarily Collins, who was not the representative of Stop Cane Burning who made the statement about not intending to shut down HC&S, although he did speak at the meeting without mentioning that he was within less than a week of filing a suit to do just that.

Also not speaking that night was Karen Chun, founder of Stop Cane Burning. She is a named individual plaintiff in the suit, so we can guess she knew on that Thursday that the suit was in the mill.

Let me tell you something about Chun. A few weeks ago, she was running a campaign in favor of shutting down payday lenders on Facebook (and perhaps elsewhere, but that is where I was shown her campaign). Among her claims there was that I had written Rep. Justin Woodson's letter explaining his actions at the Legislature concerning that legislation, a letter published in The Maui News.

She did not ask me whether I wrote it. I don't suppose she asked Woodson, either, since he would have told her I didn't write it. 

A few days later, a mutual friend of mine and Chun's was quizzing me about how payday lending works, and I mentioned that Chun was spreading a lie about me on that topic. She asked if I had contacted Chun.

No, I said, she cannot hurt me and I am used to her trying to harm me. That I considered Chun beneath the consideration of decent people and cared nothing about her, although it angered me that she was also speading tales about other people who might possibly be harmed by her.

My friend asked if I would answer a question from Chun about the letter. Yes, I said. If she wants to know the fact rather than make crap up, I am in the phone book.

 She asked if I would mind if she told Chun I didn't write the letter and would tell her so if she asked me.

I said I didn't care one way or the other. A few days later, she told me she had told Chun I hadn't written the letter and would tell her so if she asked me..

Chun has not called yet. I suspect she is the anonymous author of a new allegation, now in regard to smoke, that I am working in PR for A&B and other developers. It sure sounds like her, and I have learned to recognize her style over the years. (I am not working for any developers and never have.)

If she wants to know whether I am working for A&B, she could ask A&B, or call me. I'm in the book.

Do I care? No, not for myself. But I think people inclined to answer Stop Cane Burning's calls for money or to support its campaign should know about the character of its leader.   

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book review 349: The Jews in the Time of Jesus

THE JEWS IN THE TIME OF JESUS: an Introduction, by Stephen M. Wylen. 215 pages. Paulist paperback, $18.95

Rabbi Wylen’s survey (written for an undergraduate course) is balanced, humane and backwards.

In “Jews in the Time of Jesus,” one of his two main themes is that we don’t know much about the subject. Almost anything you might wish to think about the topic has to be hedged about with warnings about missing or obscure sources, accreted misunderstandings and prejudice.

Just so, but we do know one thing for certain sure: There never was a Jesus, if by that we mean a man who wandered around Judea (as it was called by the Romans) raising people from the dead. In 200 pages, Wylen never mentions it, though he does allude, briefly, to stories of other Jewish masters who were reported to raise the dead.

I’d have thought that was important, but Wylen says it is outside the scope of historical inquiry. I can imagine believers saying, well, so much for historical inquiry. Non-believers will say, so, what’s your point?

Wylen’s other points — if you can get beyond that big one — are good: that it is impossible to understand Christian scriptures without knowing Jewish practices (though these are more than a little unclear for the relevant period); that Christianity was not a development of and definitely not a replacement for Judaism but a parallel growth from earlier practices along with rabbinic Judaism — both enjoyed their great creative period about the same time.

The crux is, what was what Wylen calls “Second Temple Judaism”? How different was it from the pre-Exilic religion, and whence did it come? (Wylen would object to “religion” here; in our sense, it did not exist in ancient times. Each group followed its own “way,” but there was no sense of a separate religion, although Jews did believe in a separate covenant with one God.)

Summarizing recent (late 20th c.) scholarship, Wylen is scathing about the misunderstandings caused by ignorance of Jewish texts. He is on firm ground here. The funniest example was a Christian, Jeremias, who proclaimed that Jews addressed god as Father but never as Abba (Daddy) the way Jesus did, so opening a huge gap in the moral quality of the two religions, Judaism and Christianity.

Jeremias did not know Hebrew, so his cocksureness was ridiculous (but, in my experience, 100 proof Christian); but it was worse even than that. Jeremias sent his grad students (who did know Hebrew) searching for a Jewish Abba. They did not find one.

They would have had they looked in the Talmud, Wylen says in his most acid statement.

(It is hard to believe they would not have looked in the Talmud unless they were determined not to find what they claimed to look for.)

Wylen is not generally acid, preferring instead to hope for a mutually cordial interaction between Christians and Jews once they get to understand each other. For a Christian reader who is not conversant with Jewish thought, one of the benefits of reading “The Jews in the Times of Jesus” could be learning why Jews have been and still are insulted by common Christian conceptions, including some maintained by Christians who think of themselves as friends of Jews.

For someone who is not an evangelical Christian but was surrounded by them (as I was), the main lesson to be drawn from Wylen’s little book is that they really are the ignoramuses I always thought they were.

It is a main point for Wylen that the Pharisees were not the dry, cold, legalistic prigs that the early Christians said they were. Somewhat ironically, then, we know more about Jewish legal practices of the time because the Pharisees may not have been dry legists but they were intensely concerned with the law.

As a result, one of the few areas of Jewish life in the time of Jesus that Rabbi Wylen is quite confident about is court procedure. And it turns out that the story of the central drama of Christianity — the arrest, trial, conviction and execution of Jesus — cannot have occurred as described in the gospels, because, unlike non-capital trials, in Jewish procedure a trial and the sentence of death could not occur on the same day. Thus no capital trial could have been held on the day before Passover.

And so much for the inerrancy of the sacred texts.

Maui Snow job

I went to the cane smoke rally in Kihei Thursday. The first hour was pretty much fact-free, but that does not mean I did not learn something.

There were between 300 and 400 anti-smokers there, and I did not see a single AJA face among them. Not one. I did see more tie-dye than I have since the 2nd Atlanta International Pop Festival. That was in 1970.

If your political movement does not engage the AJAs, it isn’t going anywhere, no matter how much noise you make.

The second hour was the teach-in. I was deeply unimpressed.

There was, however, one relevant factoid, presented by Senator (and physician) Josh Green: one in four Hawaii keiki have “reactive airway disease.”

Far fewer — less than 5% — have ever experienced cane smoke, so it follows that if the middle-aged haoles of Kihei are looking for trouble, they are looking in the wrong place. It ain’t cane smoke.

Another factoid, new to me, came from Lorrin Pang, a public health physician I used to respect. It is difficult, he said, to design an epidemiological study to take out the effects of cane burning, because of the vog. And the effects of fog linger in an area for six days after the fog event has “ended.”

That would explain why my eyes were burning all last week — to the extent I was unable to sleep — although the tradewinds had returned. And why I can ignore the emotional testimony of the teacher from Kihei school who said her pupils come in with eyes watering and red. That’s how I go about, too, and I experience cane smoke not more that 3 or 4 times a year.

Pang lost me when he said he and his students had devised a control for a study of cane smoke.

It was not exact (of course), he said, because it involved daily indoor smoke and not occasional outdoor smoke. It was a World Health Organization study of health problems linked to people who cook over open wood or coal fires. Pang listed the diseases (by proportion affected), such as pneumonia (30%). Not listed: eye diseases.

We know (I do anyway) that the prevalence of blindness and eye troubles in premodern Europe were highly correlated with indoor smoke, and very common compared with today. So I was unimpressed.o

But I was disgusted by Joe Ritter, who presented himself as a researcher (for NASA) of particulates in the atmosphere. “Are the autoimmune diseases caused  by glyphosate? I don’t know,” he said. But,  in the meme so favored by snarkists: It would be irresponsible not to speculate.

You know what would impress me? A study showing that since the shut down of sugar plantations (which started nearly 40 years ago), the incidence of diseases that Kihei haoles want to blame on smoke has dropped significantly on Oahu, Hawaii and Kauai. Or West Maui.
Hint to Pang: There’s a study you can do without those pesky controls. It’s one of those natural experiments.

Here’s a factoid I can guarantee none of the people in that room want to know: Back when there were lots of cane workers and lots of cane smoke, the industrial subgroup with the longest life expectancy was — wait for it! — Hawaii cane workers.

You used to see the retirees, smoking like chimneys, playing hanafuda at Kahului Shopping Center, many of them still collecting pensions into their 90s. While I don’t suspect that smoke is good for us, you couldn’t contradict that from a global survey. We go out of our way to inhale smoke.

One of the questions that continues to disturb anthropologists — and has since at least the time of Aristotle — is how to define “human.” A way that excludes other animals we’d like to exclude, like chimpanzees. Here’s a way:

Humans are the only animals that make smoke so they can breathe it. And we have done so since we became humans. In a sense, smoke made us.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Firearms and the Founders

The Articles of Confederation don't get no respect. In general histories, they get only a line or two, explaining that they were cumbersome, or perhaps that they failed because they allowed the federal government no taxing power.

Perhaps, though, we should treat the Articles more respectfully. They were not the first voluntary compact intended to create a republic. The seven northern provinces of the Netherlands did that. But there is a lot of interesting stuff in there.

In the context of gun nuttery, there is this, Article VI:

. . . every state shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutred, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipment.
Nothing there about individuals maintaining personal arsenals.

The men who wrote that clause -- perhaps we could call them Founding Uncles -- were immediately aware of, and some involved in, actual fighting. The articles were voted on in November 1777, just weeks after the Battle of Saratoga, which was the first significant victory of the rebels.

Clearly the Uncles thought of force and violence as something that was the province of the government, not of an undisciplined rabble, of which they had recently observed the useless expenditure of blood often enough. They had no love for a standing army but equally no illusions about the effectiveness of "embattled farmers."

War and bloodshed were serious business to them. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Restatement of the cool

Since I don't have a teevee, I seldom see President Obama, either in clips or extended appearances. From news reports and occasional audio clips, I have the sense that he's the most down-home politician in the country.

This video clip from The Washington Post confirms that. He really is a likeable guy.