Saturday, December 27, 2008

Travel Blogging V

Dateline: Aswan, Egypt. Today we visited Abu Simbel. For me, Abu Simbel represents what I came to Egypt to see. The pyramids were fun to see but were, after all, big piles of cut stone. The work at Abu Simbel reflects the ancient Egyptian culture. These carvings and bas reliefs are spectacular, the size is truly grand, and the efforts that were made to save this treasure from the waters of Lake Nasser were herculean. The original work is around 3500 years old, and the talent displayed by the workers is nothing short of magic.

The ancient Egyptian esthetic is quite different from ours, or from that of the Renaissance, or anything in between. Having said that, they did a marvelous job of executing their esthetic, and didn't sign their work, not that authorship matters millennia later. I'm the original monolingual American and Abu Simbel made me wish I could read hieroglyphs. What stories those wall must tell, straight out like posters, if one could read the picture writing.

We are afloat on the Nile, aboard the M/S River Anuket, basically a hotel on a shallow draft motorized barge. We have been told that there are like 300 such ships cruising the Nile, and we've seen maybe 60 of them ourselves here in Aswan, which is the southern terminus of their cruise pattern. I gather there may be more on the upper Nile cruising Lake Nasser which is backed up by the Aswan High Dam. This lake extends southward into the Sudan.

I love river cruising, that is one of the main reasons we're here. We cast off and head north tomorrow, yesterday we went for a felucca ride in the Aswan area, very quiet and serene. I understand the attraction of sailboating, it is peaceful without the motor drone, almost magical to be literally airborne or borne along by the breeze. I remind any readers who would see pictures of our travels to go to which is the other DrC's blog.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Zimbabwe in Extremis

The always readable Ralph Peters, who writes for the New York Post, has a truly discouraging article about the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe, how it got to where it is now, and who is to blame. If you have an interest in that part of the world, you owe it to yourself to read Peters' piece, even though it is a downer.

Christmas Greetings

Dateline Cairo: Merry Christmas to all of our regular (and new) readers. What follows are some random thoughts.

You'd expect political news to be somewhat quiet at this time of year. However the president-elect and his close advisors seem to have stepped in some metaphorical doggy poo with the totally charming Illinois governor. Obama, Emmanuel and Blagojevich, isn't the melting pot wonderful?

Ya gotta love Obama; he is so attuned to our needs that he 'manufactured' a scandal just to stay front and center in our attention. Then to top that he took a cue from Putin and appeared topless in Hawaii. What a guy! Perhaps the next four years will be fun after all, at least for the chattering class and its auxiliary in the blogosphere (us).

Can the first sex scandal of this administration, always a Democratic speciality, be far away? Remember when Bill C. starred as the Lecher in Chief? Who can forget the "presidue" on the blue dress? The intern follies? Questions about the meaning of "is?"

Enough nostalgia, I'm sure the next four years will have their own happy moments and on that cheerful note, let me wish you all Happy New Year.

Travel Blogging IV

Cairo. We saw the pyramids yesterday morning, amid a growing sandstorm. "Sahara" is Arabic for "desert," and the sand is very fine so the wind can pick it up and blow it around. By the end of the morning we were at the Sphinx which is a few hundred yards from the nearest pyramid and there was so much blowing sand and dust you couldn't see the nearest pyramid at all.

Subjective reaction to the pyramids and sphinx: they were huge structures for the time they were constructed but not by today's standards. By today's standards they are merely very large - no longer huge. I had the same reaction to the leaning tower of Pisa. On the other hand, St. Peter's in Rome is still huge by today's standards.

We also visited the so-called Solar Boat exhibit, which was found alongside the largest pyramid in a stonecut tomb of its own. It was part of Cheops' burial goods, his Nile cruiser, and an impressive piece of naval architecture several thousand years old. The joinery was of a high standard.

The other DrC took a camel ride and pronounced herself very satisfied with the experience. I think she liked it better than horseback, which she tried 2-3 years ago. Your humble scribe decided to forego a camel ride, I didn't need the experience and neither did some poor camel.

Most of the group is going to Alexandria today, we opted not to go. We were in Alex less than 3 months ago and didn't feel the need to "do it again" so soon. Alex is worth one visit, probably not two.

Political Humor Alert

Conservative economist Thomas Sowell reports a reader has suggested to him that members of Congress should wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers so we could know who their sponsors are. Not exactly a joke, but certainly a funny image. I think maybe it should apply to the President, too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Travel Blogging III

Dateline: Cairo. Today we had a lecture on the old and new kingdoms and what to expect of each. I didn't learn much except pyramids are associated exclusively with the old kingdom. Royal burials in the new kingdom were all done in the Valley of the Kings. I think I slept through the rest of the lecture, the lady wasn't terribly dynamic.

This afternoon we did the Egyptian Museum, of story and legend. Wow, they really have some serious antiquities to display. Many of them are interpreted in English as well as Arabic, too. I particularly liked the Akenaton/Nefertiti room, the statues of old AK were amazing - not so much idealized as was otherwise typical for pharoahs. He had Asian eyes, African lips, a long thin face, and big hips and thighs, an odd looking dude, but he had presence, whatever that is.

My other favorite thing was the King Tutankaman, aka King Tut, collection. I took the opportunity to get reacquainted with the statue of Selket, a goddess with a scorpion on her head. I remember her from when the King Tut exhibit came to the U.S. in 1976 or 1977. We saw the exhibit at the Smithsonian on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon, the only time the lines weren't prohibitive. The Selket statue was undoubtedly modeled on a living beautiful woman 3500 years ago. The model is unremembered dust, but her image still shines with intelligence and grace. That, dear reader, was an exceptionally talented sculptor whose identity, like that of the model, is lost.

It is fashionable to be down on this museum, but I think it is a decent space with some very amazing things on display. The rooms are huge, with very high ceilings, and there is no shortage of beautiful, ancient stuff to look at. You could spend a month there, but the time we spent was good, after awhile the feet gave out and eventually we found ourselves sitting on the steps resting. We understand they are building a new museum at Giza to house half or more of the collection near the pyramids.

It is windy today, and the wind blows dust and stuff around. It is also just short of cold - one of those days when you keep putting on and taking off your wrap. Tomorrow we visit Giza to see the pyramids and the sphinx. The other DrC says she wants to ride a camel there. Some day in the right spot I may ride an elephant but a camel? No thanks. She can ride and I'll take pix thereof.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Travel Blogging II

Dateline: Cairo. Flying out of snowy New York City was no fun, we were maybe 3 hours late getting off the runway at JFK. Egypt Air may have a bad reputation but allowing for a not-updated business class cabin and my wife's reading light not working, it was okay. Clearly the cabin attendants did their best to make it nice, and the food was acceptable. No champagne offered as Egypt is a Muslim country but the orange juice was good, the movies relatively recent, and I got several hour of comfortable sleep.

Anyway, we left blowing snow and landed in shirtsleeves weather in Cairo. The locals think it is very cold here, they are wearing parkas. I'm comfortable outdoors at night with a light jacket, these are very different perceptions of the exact same thing. If they came to NYC now they would believe they were at the north pole. I guess they can tolerate heat that would leave me hospitalized. It is all about that to which one is accustomed. [I love the odd phrasing one must use to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition.]

Cairo is an enormous third world city, which means large swaths of it are little more than garbage heaps. Other portions are nicer, of course, not everyone is poor. The terrain is flat, and snuggled up to the Nile River. Where it isn't built it looks very tan and sandy, no surprise. As with our experience in Alexandria, there is armed security everywhere. Again, no surprise. Tourism is the goose that lays golden eggs for Egypt and also an obvious target for those who wish the government ill.

A lot of man-years go into protecting the tourists, although how effective the protection is could be questioned. I suspect it is more in the nature of reassuring the tourists of their safety - it works, anyway. The tourists are here in droves. How can you not come? Egypt is the epitome of tourist attractions, Julius Caesar was interested 2000 years ago.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Travel Blogging I

Heigh-ho, we are off to ancient Egypt. I write this sitting in the Swiss Air Gold lounge viewing JFK airport through giant floor to ceiling windows. The view is of snow-covered ground, plowed runways, large planes from everywhere in the world, and all of the odd vehicles which call airports home.

The temperature out there is in the mid to low twenties (negative temps in Celsius) and headed down into the teens. Those are cold temperatures for a pair of native Californians. In about two hours we board a flight that will last 12 hours and on the other end the temperatures will be in the 70s. Call this trip "Great-great-grandson of Run for the Sun." We've been snowbirding most of our married life.

The DrsC are merely passengers and tourists on this trip; we plan to deliver no lectures but may listen to several. We've met some of our fellow travelers, a family named Lee from CA, three generations. The Internet doesn't say nice things about Egypt Air, I hope for our sake those pans represent the occasional sorehead, instead of the normal view of EA. Traveling as we are under the auspices of a tour firm, Grand Circle, we don't get a choice of airline - alas. I am reminded of the wisecrack an astronaut was supposed to have made just before blastoff, "A vehicle built by the lowest bidder doesn't engender confidence." I'm sure they book us on the airline with the lowest fares.

Super Political Humor Alert

The master of political drollery, Mark Steyn, has outdone himself in this Orange County Register article. It is as bitterly funny as anything I've seen this year. Some samples:
GM has a market capitalization of about $2.4 billion. For purposes of comparison, Toyota's market cap is $100 billion and change (the change being bigger than the whole of GM). General Motors, like the other two geezers of the Old Three, is a vast retirement home with a small money-losing auto subsidiary. The UAW is AARP in an Edsel: It has three times as many retirees and widows as "workers" (I use the term loosely). GM has 96,000 employees but provides health benefits to a million people.
So much for the auto industry, how about newspapers?
I loved the American newsrooms you saw in movies like "The Front Page," full of hard-boiled, hard-livin' newspapermen. By the time I got there myself, there were no hard-boiled newspapermen, just bland, anemic newspaperpersons turning out politically correct snooze sheets of torpid portentousness.

Okay, that'll do for newspapers, how about iconic California?
When Gov. Girlyman has run out of state taxpayers to fleece for his ever-more-bloated bureaucracy, he'll go to Washington to plead for a federal bailout of Cantaffordya.
So California is a mess, New York must be okay, right? Nah....
Gov. Paterson is said to be considering appointing Princess Caroline of Kennedy to Hillary Clinton's vacant Senate seat. After two and a third centuries of republican experiment, America has finally worked its way back to the House of Lords.

Lets just say that Mark Steyn isn't really upbeat at this moment in our nation's history. Ya gotta read this column, it is priceless.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Trouble in Ecuador

Ecuador President Rafael Correa has defaulted on international debt payments, causing a crisis in the financial affairs of this Andean nation. See this Bloomberg article for details. This default is likely to cause Ecuador to stop using the U.S. dollar as its national currency, according to Bloomberg.

See this Reuters article for a slightly different "take" on the same subject, but one that reaches essentially the same negative conclusion. This article puts more emphasis on Correa's friendship with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Anthropocentrism Debunked

Check out this Business & Media Institute article reporting the views of a CNN meteorologist, Chad Myers, who is certified by the American Meteorologists Society. He opines:
To think that we could affect weather all that much is pretty arrogant.

Another climate expert, a Dr. Jay Lehr, elaborates:
If we go back really, in recorded human history, in the 13th Century, we were probably 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than we are now and it was a very prosperous time for mankind. If go back to the Revolutionary War 300 years ago, it was very, very cold. We’ve been warming out of that cold spell from the Revolutionary War period and now we’re back into a cooling cycle.
And why does Lehr think this happens? Does he blame humans?
The last 10 years have been quite cool. And right now, I think we’re going into cooling rather than warming and that should be a much greater concern for humankind. But, all we can do is adapt. It is the sun that does it, not man (emphasis added).

As this Bloomberg article reports, our new President has selected a rabid climate anthropocentrist as his primary science advisor. That suggests we will see our government taking vigorous action against a dubious-at-best problem, over which we likely have no actual control.


Social Class in America

Class distinctions are out in the open in nations like the United Kingdom and India. We in the U.S. falsely claim to be a classless society. Nonsense, of course social class matters in these United States, it is our dirty not-so-little secret.

For those of you who like to think social class doesn't matter in these United States, go read the article by Jonah Goldberg at
[please forgive the awkward-looking link, the automatic hyperlink function isn't working].

Goldberg compares the media treatment Sarah Palin recently got versus the media treatment Caroline Kennedy is now getting. Night and day. The most glaring difference between these two women in public life is social class: Kennedy has attended the 'right' schools, has the 'right' vocations and avocations, and speaks with the 'right' accent. Coming from piles of old money doesn't hurt, either.

The media jumped on Governor Palin because she has working class roots, hobbies, and values. How awful. Google "Sarah Palin" and "trailer trash" and you get 55,000 hits. Ugly treatment for a self-made woman who is her state's CEO and has high approval ratings. Ah, you say, but she lacks class, we can't have that, can we? She might pick up the wrong fork.

Are we in the process of developing the equivalent of noble families in the U.S.? The Bushes of Kennebunkport, the Kennedys of Hyannisport, the Daleys of Chicago, the Udalls of the Rockies, I'm sure you have your own favorite examples of dynastic behavior. Actually, Palin comes out of the Andrew Jackson and Harry Truman tradition, a pretty decent lineage in its own right.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Adios, California

Among other things, this blog follows the state of the California economy; a topic of particular interest to a CA native and former resident. See this Los Angeles Times article about net out-migration from California. The key graf for me is this one:

For the fourth year in a row, more residents left the Golden State than moved here from other states, according to a report released Wednesday by the California Department of Finance.
And the reason for this net out-migration?

Such declines usually occur when working Californians decide better opportunities lie elsewhere.
In particular, expensive housing was a problem:

People started leaving California because of housing prices -- particularly younger couples that (sic) just couldn't afford to buy a house.
I attribute many of California's problems to high state taxes, and the negative impact those have on job creation and employer plant-location decisions. These taxes make CA a high labor cost state in which to do business. As one of the experts cited in the article said:
I think [last year's out-migration] was because of the very high unemployment.

Eventually California may be populated mostly by the rich in gated communities and the poor who clean their pools and mow their lawns. Today's Palm Springs area is a prototype of this bifurcated demographic.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Travel Blogging Soon

By Sunday the 21st the DrsC will be in Egypt, for a cruise on the Nile, followed by a visit to Petra in Jordan. Impressions will flow here as time and Internet connections permit. This trip we are purely passengers, no lecturing duties scheduled.

To all our regular readers, and particularly to our new readers, we wish you the best of year-end holidays: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and of course Happy New Year too.


Everywhere you look you see speculations concerning Caroline Kennedy's interest in running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton. Less visible have been a couple of articles reporting trial balloons by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush concerning his running for a Senate seat. There is a name for this kind of thing: dynastic politics.

Dynastic politics isn't new in the United States. Second President John Adams' son John Quincy Adams was elected our sixth President. And Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt. Maybe the most extreme example is the Udall family which, while containing no presidents, has spawned several senators and representatives in the mountain West. The Kennedys of Hyannisport are another current example.

However, just because we've done this before doesn't make it a good idea. I believe we are better off avoiding dynastic politics, the most extreme form of which is the inheritance of kingships in countries with royal families (the U.K., Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands, etc.). Now that most kingships are essentially figureheads, inherited royal leadership isn't a big problem. It certainly was a problem when kings were true CEOs and some real dopes inherited thrones.

Dynastic political families are more typical of third world countries than of first world true democracies, or should be. When the U.S. elects people to national office the roles are anything but symbolic.

The bottom line: Having a famous name is not a qualification for office.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Travel Blogging: Coda

So the big trip is over, but our colds are not. Doing the long plane flight on the front end of the trip, when one is fresh and enthused, works out great. Coming home can be a downer anyway, so keeping that flight short is desirable. Today's flight was decorated with a crying baby in the next row, one of life's little joys. It caused me to remember how slowly time passed when I was small, entirely too many years ago.

If you would like to see photos from our trip, go to the other DrC's blog which is found at

Now it is time to stop travel blogging for a few days, and do some political blogging. Can you say Blagojevich? Blah-GOY-a-vich comes close.

Are you finding it hard to believe that a U.S. Senator and a Governor, both from the same political party and representing the same state, have hardly said more than "Hi" to each other? That seems highly improbable to me; given the level of improbablility, I'd say the burden of proof is on the individuals in question.

The presumption would be that they would consult, schmooze and strategize with some frequency. If Obama wants us to believe something that is very unlikely, it is up to him to prove that he truly has had little contact with the same-party Governor of his state, Illinois.

At this point, I remain unconvinced.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Travel Blogging VI: Dominica

Dateline: Dominica. Since last post we have cruised north from Fortaleza to a stop at Devil's Island, and beyond to this stop in Dominica. This is our last stop before Ft. Lauderdale and the end of the cruise. It is always weird to hear Christmas music in the tropics, under the palm trees, and intermixed with reggae. Still, it is the Christmas season so it is to be expected. The environmental cues one associates with carols just are not present.

Most of the people on board our ship have a cold, coughing is rampant. I fear the memsahib and I have it too, mine is mostly gone but hers is just beginning. Small, contained communities like a cruise ship are great for sharing respiratory disease.

Devil's Island isn't devilish, rather pretty in fact. The ugly part of being a prisoner here was the tropical disease and heat/humidity. My guess is most prisoners contracted malaria and/or yellow fever and died in the absence of effective treatment.

Dominica is rather charming, not over-developed, and seemingly safe. Tourism is clearly the income source of choice, and luckily for the locals the cruise ships literally tie up downtown. I bet our passengers spend a bunch of money here, I will spend a few $$ for internet time. So typically, the day is semi-cloudy but very dark clouds hover over the island as volcanic islands like this create their own climate, forming rain clouds as they push warm, wet air up into the cooler regions where it forms clouds and rains. More later....

Friday, December 5, 2008

Travel Blogging VI: At Sea

Dateline: Equatorial Mid-Atlantic. “Sea days” are days when the ship is not in port. I once thought they were a drag; now they are my favorites. That is when I can get some reading done, and when I “work” - give one of my lectures.

Port visits are often a letdown. Ships are rarely in port long enough for one to get beyond the city limits and see the countryside. And port cities are often sort of tawdry. Cities are seldom my favorite part of a country so a port visit starts with a strike against it. The exception in my experience is the little towns and cities along the Rhine – many are very pleasant.

Travel Blogging V: Senegal

Dateline: Dakar, Senegal. Seen from the ship Dakar looks modern and upscale for a third world capital. When you get closer, it isn’t so impressive. When there are potholes in the sidewalks by the President’s Palace, as there are here in Dakar, you know you are deep in the third world.

What is really a downer is the number of people on the street with not much to do, just hanging out. The unemployment rate is said to be nearly 50% and the GDP per capita is lower than that of Haiti. I think most of the unemployed were on the street this afternoon.

The populace is mostly Moslem but the prevailing ethos isn’t Arab, it is definitely African. In other words, it is colorful instead of drab. We saw the national folkloric ballet this evening and the costumes were too revealing for a classical Islamic society, although relatively modest by Western standards. That is, women’s bare shoulders, midriffs and legs were on display.

We were taken to see “the world’s largest French-speaking university” which is in Dakar. It has roughly 50,000 students. No one there has heard of landscaping; weeds are a meter tall in places while goats and sheep graze in others, and there are smoking fire pits too. You would think in a country with 50% unemployment they’d hire a few souls to keep the grounds tidy, you’d be wrong of course. We concluded we wouldn’t visit on the faculty there.

Now we are off across the Atlantic to Brazil, a three day crossing to Fortaleza.

Travel Blogging IV: Casablanca

Dateline: Casablanca. The run here from Gibraltar isn’t a long one, basically overnight. One thing to know for sure, this isn’t the sleepy colonial outpost of the Bogart/Bergman movie. It is the third busiest port in Africa, after Durban and Alexandria.

We moored at a pier just across from the Royal Maroc Navy yard; as a nation with a long coastline they spend some money on navy. There was nothing in port as large as a modern destroyer, but there were coastal patrol vessels, and a couple of frigates or corvettes, including one quite modern one with a chopper pad on the aft deck and a hangar for the bird built into the ship’s superstructure. There were maybe 8 vessels in port, all in quite modern navy gray livery.

Casablanca is the home of the world’s third largest mosque, built to honor an earlier king. It is quite beautiful, modern, and sited in a picturesque seaside location. On the other hand, the fountains had no water in them and although it was Friday, the holy day, there was essentially nobody around. Adjacent to the mosque are buildings which are supposed eventually to become a “university of religion” or seminary. The buildings look complete but the seminary doesn’t yet exist. Go figure….

Women in Morocco are free to “go Western” or “go Moslem” in dress and maybe 70% do the latter. We seemed to notice that as women get older and fatter, they are more likely to cover up. A smaller number of men here “dress Eastern” and wear what amounts to a nightshirt as their outer garment. Casablanca has synagogues and churches as well as many mosques, the official policy is religious tolerance. The reality is probably not quite so harmonious.

Our guide claims that the nation has a truly democratic elected government, in addition to its hereditary monarch who is the head of state. He also makes the point that whereas the language is Arabic, the people are not Arabs but Berbers and the local dialect of spoken Arabic is incomprehensible to Saudis and Egyptians.

The point in visiting Casablanca is to be able to say you’ve visited Casablanca, there really isn’t much here to see. It is a relatively prosperous-looking third world city, with some squatter slums, some tenements, and some nice looking residences. The nation apparently cannot generate enough jobs for all the young people who need them, so many infiltrate Spain illegally looking for work. Sounds like Mexico, eh?

Our next stop is Dakar, Senegal – the western terminus of the Trans-African Highway that crosses the Sahel and ends in the Sudan. Dakar was also the northernmost port of the eighteenth century slave trade.