Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quote of the Day II

Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, concerning why socialism doesn't work:
The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money [to spend].
Sourced from Wikiquote here. You and I, dear reader, are those "other people," it is our money Barry O. is spending.

Quote of the Day I

Political pundit Dick Morris writes for The Hill as follows:
GM, now renamed Government Motors, has a new CEO: President Barack Obama. By replacing the head of the company and demanding a restructuring of its board in return for further TARP aid, Obama has taken upon himself the responsibility for the future of the company...now it is Obama’s company.
Morris concludes about Government Motors:
The president’s protestations that the government does not want to own a car company are quite beside the point. It’s his now, and he better figure out what to do with it.

Barone Is Blunt

You seldom see a columnist state something as bluntly as Michael Barone does in this recent U.S.News & World Report blog post:
The Republican Party is the party of people who are considered, by themselves and by others, as normal Americans...while the Democratic Party is the party of the out groups who are in some sense seen, by themselves and by others, as not normal.
I suppose we'll hear screams of outrage at this bald statement of political reality; but the polls of who votes for what party certainly support this non-PC view.

Bad News Is Good News

This Reuters article reports the ruling Islamist party in Turkey did poorly in local elections.
The AK Party won 39 per cent of the municipal vote, but the results were below its 47 per cent target and the worst since it first came to power in parliamentary elections in 2002.
The article concludes:
Local elections have traditionally been important in Turkey, with governments severely handicapped if they failed to score well. The results are not expected to halt reforms but may force (Prime Minister) Erdogan to seek compromises with the opposition to achieve his goals, which may in turn strengthen democratic institutions.
That is bad news for the AK Party but good news for Turkey's friends in the United States.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mystery Missiles

This Jerusalem Post article reports a strike by unmanned Israeli aircraft on a convoy of trucks carrying Iranian missiles across the Sudan headed for Gaza. A quick look at a map suggests (a) Sudan does not share a border with Gaza and (b) none of the countries with which Sudan shares a border would be logical sources for Iranian missiles.

Oddly, the press is not questioning this report. Sudan is west of Gaza, Iran is east of Gaza. The two do not share borders, not even close. Between the two is the entire Arabian peninsula, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf.

What nobody is reporting is what in blazes Iranian missiles are doing in Sudan, how did they happen to be there? Somebody needs to do investigative reporting on the history of these missiles.

See How It Is Done

Check out this YouTube video of Daniel Hannnan, Member of the European Parliament for southern Britain, as he verbally kicks bloody the backside of Prime Minister Gordon Brown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94lW6Y4tBXs

That laddie can really lay down an indictment. Where is the U.S. equivalent when our President so richly deserves the same treatment? Hat tip to Cheri L. for the link.

Ice Age Warning

See this article on an earlier solar quiet period called the Maunder Minimum and this article which talks about the current lack of sunspot activity. Put the two together and you have a recipe for cold weather.

Last time we had a lack of sunspot activity - the Maunder Minimum - we had the Little Ice Age. Now we have another lack of sunspot activity - what do we get this time? If you were a betting person, you'd bet on cold weather.

So what does our clueless President do? He appoints science advisors who are committed to AGW, anthropogenic global warming, that is, human-caused global warming.

If you believe human activity is more powerful than the sun, sign on with Barry O. and Algore. If you understand the sun totally dwarfs anything people can do, bet the other way.

I bet on science every time.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Political Humor Alert

Historically, income taxes have been due each year on April 15. The Obama Administration's has a new policy on when income taxes are due. Instead of April 15, they are only due after you are nominated for a cabinet position.

Quote of the Day III

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ambassador, senator and scholar, quoted in an article by Rich Lowry in National Review Online:

The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.

The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.

This is the lesson that Argentina cannot seem to learn. Their politics keeps their culture in a losing pattern.

Quote of the Day II

Judith Miller, writing for Fox News, says for the record what we all sort of knew:
Sixty days into his presidency, it’s official: President Barack Hussein Obama now owns the war in Afghanistan and has expanded it to Pakistan.
The key word there is "owns." Bush eventually pulled his war in Iraq out of the losing category; it remains to be seen whether Barry can do the same with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Quote of the Day I

P. J. O'Rourke, writing in the Weekly Standard, has the quote of the day:

The good news is that, according to the Obama administration, the rich will pay for everything.

The bad news is that, according to the Obama administration, you're rich.

How do you know if you're rich? According to O'Rourke, anybody with a job is considered "rich."
Take this simple test: See if you pay double for everything. The financial bailout, for example. Pay for it once with your IRA and 401(k) plan investments. Now pay for it again with your tax dollars.
He gives plenty more examples that will evoke grudging groans, go read it for yourself.

Travel Blogging

Dateline: Santa Ynez, CA. This place is too pretty to be lawful, and far enough from L.A. to be somewhat serene. The valley contains 3-4 little towns with various degrees of charm: Buellton, Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, and of course Solvang. If you've seen the film "Sideways" you have some notion of the place, albeit a Hollywood version. This is where Michael Jackson's infamous Neverland Ranch is located.

The high school and Indian casino are in Santa Ynez; the car dealerships, movie theater, first run supermarket and drug stores are in Buellton. The mission is in Solvang, a faux Danish town with more bakeries and tourist traps than you'd believe possible. In between are a ton of vineyards, wineries, and horse farms.

If I had my way we'd spend a couple of months per year here, but in fact sometimes spend as little as a week, this year for instance. If you substitute grapevines for orange trees, it reminds me of the way the Ojai Valley used to look 50 years ago when I was a kid there, but less developed.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Travel Blogging

Dateline: Santa Nella, CA. This little burg is a completely artificial 'town' created by the intersection of Interstate 5 and a relatively busy state highway. There are multiple truck stops, motels, fast food outlets, motels, etc. There used to be a full-sized copy of the Michelangelo's Pieta, the original of which lives in St. Peters Basilica at the Vatican. What this copy was doing decorating a truckstop motel is anybodies guess.

We've stopped at an RV park at which we've stopped many times before, only this time it is nearly full, and it has never been full before. True, we are here at a different time of year, we normally pass through in December and again in February, this time it is almost April. There were fewer RVs on the highways today, but more in the park. I have to wonder if the economic downturn is causing people to live in their RVs, having let their homes go? If they already own an RV it would be a cheap way to live.

We had blue skies and highs in the 70s, with a bit of wind. I saw some people flying kites, a classic springtime amusement. Considering the cold weather elsewhere in the country, CA is having a marvelous spring.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Travel Blogging Alert

This site will carry occasional travel blogging over the next couple of months. The other DrC and I will be doing RV travel across much of the United States.

The intent is to continue world affairs and political blogging interspersed with travel blogging. We'll see how the mixture works out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What's Next?

This AFP article reports that clerics in Saudi Arabia are arguing that images of women should not appear on Saudi television and in their press. Saudi society is really unbelievable. I suppose their next thing will be to ban any mention of women, maybe even deny their existence altogether.

Why do you suppose the world puts up with this behavior? The civilized world is supposed to be worried about human rights. Apparently a nation can do any ugly thing to its people so long as it is done in the name of religion.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quote of the Day

In a David Warren column at the RealClearPolitics.com website we find this political insight:
To a man like Obama, as he has let slip on too many occasions when away from his teleprompter, "Middle America" is not something to be compromised with, but rather, something that must be manipulated, because it is stupid. And the proof that it can be manipulated, is that he is the president today.
I am reminded of Groucho Marx's quip to the effect that he wouldn't choose to belong to any club with standards so low that it was willing to admit him. Similarly, Obama has to be saying to himself that he cannot identify with Middle America because it was dumb enough to elect him.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Brit Hume Wins Award

As this News Busters post reports, longtime Fox News Network anchor Brit Hume has won the William F. Buckley, Jr. Award for Media Excellence. The honor is awarded by the Media Research Center whose president, Brent Bozell, remembered:
Recently, a top ABC correspondent told me that letting Brit Hume leave that network was the biggest mistake it ever made.
Brit Hume was a class act. His retirement has left the television news business noticeably short of gravitas.

Mr. Gaffe II

Surprise, surprise, President Obama is as prone to gaffes as President Bush. Check out this Chicago Tribune article which identifies some of his more egregious screw-ups.

Obama seems most at risk when ad libbing. No wonder he clasps his teleprompter like a drowning man. Unlike his predecessor, he normally is smooth in delivering a speech writer's carefully honed words.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Argument for Doing Nothing

Right after last November's election there was a lot of talk about how the Republican Party needed to do this or that to reinvent itself. Who knows, maybe some change is needed? On the other hand, if the last two months are any indicator, maybe nothing needs doing.

Nothing? Maybe not. This Democrat-controlled administration and Congress are doing a fantastic job of destroying their brand. And all without much help from the GOP. Could be all we have to do is wait for them to self-destruct, without doing anything to associate ourselves with their debacle.

Obama Approval Still Sinking

Scott Rasmussen's Presidential Approval Index, of which we wrote on Tuesday, March 10, then stood at +6. Today, eleven days later, it stands at +4. Go here to see Rasmussen's chart of the two subcomponents of the Approval Index: the percentage Strongly Approving of Obama's performance (35%) and the percentage Strongly Disapproving (31%).

Particularly interesting is the very clear rising trend line in the "Strongly Disapprove" ratings over the past two months. The trend is less uniformly falling for "Strongly Approve" but it is falling.

So far Obama seems less like Clinton Revisited and more like Carter Redux...that is to say, hapless.

Droll Coincidence

My home page at My Yahoo displays, among other things, today's headlines from the New York Times. Today's NYT headlines include the following two items, adjacent to one another:
Obamas to Plant Vegetable Garden at White House
Dispensers of Marijuana Find Relief in Policy Shift

Marijuana could be classed as a vegetable or herb. Do you think somebody at the NYT has a sense of humor?

I have this image of the Obamas growing some 'purely medicinal' weed at the White House, carefully tended by a GS-5 on loan from USDA-Beltsville. That would be the kind of change a lot of my boomer friends who voted for The One could hope for.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

GOP Good News

Writing in U.S. News & World Report, the always-interesting Michael Barone analyzes the results of two polls - Rasmussen and NPR - which show the Republicans even with or leading in the generic ballot. The generic ballot is where you ask voters a question like "If the Congressional election were tomorrow, would you prefer to vote for a Republican or a Democrat to represent your district?"

I wish the pollsters could have asked the next obvious question: "Is your vote motivated primarily by a desire to move Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi off the national stage?"

White House Tin Ear

This McClatchy Newsservice article reports that the White House has backed down from a proposal to require veterans who have private health insurance to use it to pay for combat-related injuries. I have no argument with the decision to back away from this proposal, it was an ugly business that never should have seen the light of day.

What upsets me is that the people in the White House are so out of touch with the American people that they believed this policy could ever be acceptable. The military is the single institution in American society in which citizens have the most confidence, see this recent Gallup poll for details.

How could the President's people believe we would sit still for the government weaseling out of financial responsibility for combat-related injuries, injuries suffered by brave volunteers on our behalf? In what alternate universe do the President's policy people exist?

The most obvious explanation is that they exist in the alternate universe populated by the military-haters of Daily Kos, Huffington Post, and Hollywood. Which is to say, they have no clue how most of us think, what most of us believe. It will be a long four years....

Monday, March 16, 2009

Quote of the Day

Shelby Steele, writing in The Wall Street Journal about the GOP's problems connecting with minorities:
American minorities of color -- especially blacks -- are often born into grievance-focused identities. Today the feeling of being aggrieved by American bigotry is far more a matter of identity than of actual aggrievement.
This article is very interesting and worth your time as you try to understand identity group politics in the U.S.

Climate Study

A mathematical study of climate variability was done at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee and reported on the website of WISN.com. The researchers find that much if not all of the climate variability in the last 100 years can be explained by natural phenomena. They conclude:
If we don't understand what is natural, I don't think we can say much about what the humans are doing. We were very excited when we realized a lot of changes in the past century from warmer to cooler and then back to warmer were all natural.
Explain to me again why the President has appointed science advisers who are global warming true believers?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Record Cold

Canada knows something about cold weather. This article in the Edmonton Journal reports that during this month:
At least 14 major weather stations in Alberta have recorded their lowest-ever March temperatures. They've recorded the lowest temperatures they've ever seen in the entire month of March since temperatures began being recorded in Alberta in the 1880s.


You might think it is more fun to be in power in Washington, than not. I believe for the actual politicians who serve in the White House, Congress, and the departmental appointive jobs this is probably true. For the pundit class however, including political bloggers, it just may be more fun to be out of power.

When your guys (and gals) are in power, opinion generators end up having to defend what their majority does, and it is often nearly indefensible. When our folks are in the minority, or out of power, we are free to criticize the other side without having to generate reasonable alternatives. Criticism is easier and, lets face it, much more fun.

So...yes, on election day the commentariat would like our candidates to win, but we may in fact have more fun if they don't. It is simply counterintuitive.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Steyn on GM

Mark Steyn, writing in the Orange County Register, on the mess that is General Motors (scroll down) where a firm with 96,000 employees pays for the health insurance of a million people:

In fact, selling cars doesn't help, as they lose money on each model. GM is a welfare project masquerading as economic activity.

The blame for this wonderful state of affairs rests equally with the United Auto Workers and GM's gutless management.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Political Humor Alert

Lucianne.com (March 13, 2009) shares this charming piece of wordplay:
Q. What’s the difference between Obama and Jesus?
A. Jesus was a carpenter; Obama can’t assemble a cabinet.

Maybe he should check out the DIY channel on cable or hire Norm Abrams as an advisor.

Quotes of the Day

Doug Schoen and Scott Rasmussen, writing in The Wall Street Journal about what the polls say about President Obama:

Polling data show that Mr. Obama's approval rating is dropping and is below where George W. Bush was in an analogous period in 2001.
They conclude:
Mr. Obama has lost virtually all of his Republican support and a good part of his Independent support, and the trend is decidedly negative.
We are only half way through the first 100 days and there are already Democratic Senators who aren't voting with the Administration on key bills. This situation is going downhill fast. I don't know whether to be happy for my party or sad for my country. Both, I guess....

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Snark Award Given

The Maureen Dowd Memorial Snark Award for today is awarded to ... wait for it ... ta-da ... Ann Coulter for the following sociological observation:
As long as the nation is obsessed with historic milestones, is no one going to remark on what a great country it is where a mentally retarded woman can become speaker of the house?
Not just any house, I suspect Ann means "Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives." That makes it a double milestone.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Modest Proposal

An article in the Los Angeles Times reports the findings of a panel studying what to do to protect California in the event of the sea level rising as much as 55" by the end of the century. Taking global warming as a given, though I do not, they expect the ocean's water to expand as it warms and thus rise. If the globe warms, less water will be trapped in ice caps, glaciers and ice fields, also contributing to rising sea levels.

Many places in CA would be threatened by rising seas, but none more so than the river delta region of the state inland from the San Francisco Bay. Large parts of the Bay Area, the San Joaquin-Sacramento delta, and the agricultural lands of the great Central Valley would be at risk.

I propose building an earth-fill dam across the Golden Gate, containing large locks to pass ships into and out of the San Francisco Bay. As the water level rises, pumping stations would be required to move the river flow out of the Bay and into the ocean. The Bay would become first brackish and later a mostly fresh water feature. The Golden Gate flood control construction would be modeled on those in the Netherlands which serve the same purpose.

In this way, large parts of central California could exist as a below-sea-level ecosystem, as the Netherlands does. Care would be required to harden the construction against sabotage, tsunami and earthquake. Fortunately, we do not experience hurricanes in this region.

Just imagine how upset such plans would make the ecology lobby. There are probably any number of beetles, snails, and plankton that would be endangered by a switch from salt to fresh water.

Misleading Headline

The Independent newspaper in London ran an article with the following headline:
How the French finally acquired a taste for soap
I eagerly read it hoping to learn that the French had finally developed a habit of bathing with some frequency. Alas, that is not what the headline meant, it instead reported on a couple of soap operas becoming successful on French TV. So...we'll have to continue to smell unwashed Gauls.

Happy Wyoming

This Associated Press article found on the Breitbart.com website reports a Gallup poll on happiness, and my adopted home state of Wyoming ranks third after Utah and Hawaii. Several possible reasons are given for high scores. I believe Wyoming's high score is largely a result of low population density and low unemployment.

Way to go, Wyoming!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Political Humor Alert

Mark Steyn in a National Review column on Barack Obama's lack of executive experience:
Barack ain't run nuthin' but his mouth.
That pretty well sums it up.

Honeymoon Winds Down

Rasmussen Reports does a daily presidential tracking poll. Rasmussen also computes a daily Presidential Approval Index by subtracting the percentage of respondents who Strongly Disapprove of the President's performance from the percentage of respondents who Strongly Approve. Currently 38% Strongly Approve and 32% Strongly Disapprove of Obama's performance. Obama's Approval Index is down to +6, his lowest since being elected.

Rasmussen reports an interesting factoid: 23% of voters now believe that government represents the will of the people. In other words, more than three quarters of the electorate either believes it does not, or are unsure.

I keep telling myself that since we survived four years of Jimmah Carter, we can survive four years of Barack Obama. What is unclear is how many of these disastrous presidential choices the ship of state can survive.

Travel Blogging XI

We are home! Flying business class is the only thing that makes modern flying civilized, albeit at substantial cost. We had great leg room and seats that recline nearly flat. The food was decent and the heated mixed nuts are wonderful. I've eaten a lot of salted mixed nuts in a long and mostly misspent life but never tried heating them, it is a great improvement.

Movies on demand are great too, if only Hollywood would produce something worth watching. Most of what was offered was what is known as "chickflicks," that is, films that appeal mostly to women. I think this is as much as function of the time of year as anything else. Action flicks and other "guy movies" tend to come out during summer and at Christmas. I ended up watching the Bond movie Quantum of Solace twice, once to see it again and once more to fall asleep (it worked).

From leaving the hotel in Munich to arriving at our place in CA took 24 hours of elapsed time, and yet because of the time difference we arrived home the same day we left Munich and only 15 hours later. BTW, it was snowing gently in Munich Monday morning, very pretty but not warm.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Travel Blogging X

Dateline: Munich, Germany. We just finished a two-flight trip on Iberia Airlines – Barcelona to Madrid to Munich. The experience was no treat. The coach seats on Iberia are so close together that any mention of “leg room” is a very painful bad joke. These flights were as uncomfortable as a long flight we did on Austrian Air several years ago.

The flights on Iberia were shorter in duration, which was an advantage except that on the second some doofus checked luggage and then didn’t show up for the flight. When that happens, they have to go through all the luggage they’ve already loaded in the plane to find and off-load the checked luggage for which they have no passengers. So, we sat on the tarmac for an hour or more while they combed the luggage.

Of course I support the practice of requiring a boarded passenger for every piece of checked luggage. It tends to keep down the practice of checking a bomb on a flight you’re on that the bomber doesn’t choose to join. I just wish I didn’t have my knees jammed into the back of the seat ahead of me for the hour it takes.

BTW, I didn’t get any Ritter Sport Candy – bummer.

Travel Blogging IX

Dateline: Barcelona, Spain. The two back-to-back cruises have ended and we await our plane to Munich via Madrid. Tomorrow we fly Munich-to-San Francisco with a stop in Chicago. Some concluding thoughts about Barcelona, and this part of the world in general, follow.

Thought one: They have lots of pine trees in this part of the world that don’t look like grown up Christmas trees. Instead the have the same profile as a normal deciduous tree. They are common in Rome, and I’ve also seen them in Barcelona. I wonder why we never see them in the U.S.?

Thought two: In Malaga we rode all over town in a Citroen taxi that was small outside but had lots of room inside for five non-anorexic adults. Such a vehicle seems like it would be practical in the U.S. Why isn’t someone building and selling it?

Thought three: There is graffiti on freight trains in Europe just as there is in the U.S. This is sad because many European train cars have a quaint, old-fashioned look about them that is not improved by extravagant spray paint self-expression.

Thought four: Barcelona is home to a number of examples of exuberant architecture, not just those by Gaudi. I suppose he set the tone and others followed along; in any case it is fun to view.

Thought five: This part of the world – the Mediterranean and nearby Atlantic coasts – hosts a very large and active ferry boat fleet. In any major port you see several of these quite large sea-going vessels all featuring the current, approved-as-safe design with “roro” (roll on, roll off) ramps in the stern. I imagine it isn’t uncommon to drive your car aboard and cruise to a port near your destination, before rolling off and finishing your journey. I would also guess that over 50% of their paying fares are commercial, moving trucks full of goods from one island to another, from one continent to another (Africa is nearby). I wonder if this is as common on the Great Lakes as it is in the Med? It would make economic sense, I believe.

Thought six: There is great variation in the disembarkation procedures at different ports and with different cruise lines. The one we just went through with Norwegian in the port of Barcelona was a model of efficiency. The luggage was on an airport-type traveling belt, we could stay in our cabins until luggage was out and ready for us to pick up, and customs was so perfunctory as to be almost invisible. The airport shuttle bus left promptly without needing to be full and the trip to the airport was smooth and relatively brief. Other unnamed cruise lines and cruise ports (hint: east-central Florida) should emulate what we just experienced.

Thought seven: In Munich (local name Munchen) tonight I hope to find some Ritter Sport Rum Raisin candy bars – my very favorite and they are made in Germany.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bad News

Okay, it is time to stop saying “wait and see.” We have about two months of data before us and it appears that our pre-election estimate was correct: Barack Obama really does not have the experience to adequately perform the job of President of the United States of America.

What a disaster we have volunteered for by electing him, when the economy is headed not just in the toilet but all the way to the septic tank. I’m not certain John McCain would have done better, our flawed political system gave us two far-from-perfect candidates. At least McCain has seen similar things happen and understands something of how Washington works. The remainder of Obama’s four years will be ugly, and the aftereffects will probably be with us for decades.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Travel Blogging VIII

Dateline: Malaga, Spain. We spent the morning ashore in this pretty Spanish coastal city. It reminds me very much of Barcelona. Think Barcelona minus the Gaudi architecture, plus the Picasso birthplace shtick. There is a Moorish castle on the hill overlooking the town, sort of an Alhambra in miniature. The area spent most of its history as a military post, defending the southern bulwarks of Spain. Today it is a container and cruise port, plus one terminus for ferries that run back and forth to North Africa – Morocco to be precise. Several are in port today.

The Spanish cities we’ve visited so far are clean, historical, busy, and pleasant places as far as cities go. With me, however, cities don’t go very far; I prefer the countryside every time. I noticed that our cab driver ran several octagonal red stop signs and parked on the sidewalk twice. I suppose that is cab drivers pretty much everywhere. There is a life-size statue of Hans Christian Andersen wearing a top hat sitting on a park bench in downtown Malaga. Our cabdriver had no idea why other than that he was a writer. Lots of writers’ statues weren’t there….

Travel Blogging VII

Dateline: Funchal, Madeira. Madeira is yet another attractive island about which the average American knows little or nothing. My only association with the name was the Limelighters’ libidinous song “Have Some Madeira My Dear” which made it clear Madeira was a wine with potential for seduction.

Unlike the Canaries, this island doesn’t have a Hawaiian feel about it – it is pure Mediterranean in feel while located off the coast of Africa. The difference is that the Canaries are loaded with palm trees and Madeira is not.

Madeira is a quasi-independent part of Portugal. Unlike the Canaries, there were no native inhabitants here when the first Europeans arrived, sent by Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator. That made settling the islands simpler early in the 1400s.

Madeira means “wood” in Portuguese because the island’s original discoverers saw it was totally forested. Most of those trees were harvested for lumber which was shipped to Portugal for shipbuilding in the years when Portugal was building caravels and exploring the world.

Today tourism from Europe is Madeira’s major industry. There is also significant agriculture, conducted on terraces up the steep slopes of the mountains (there is no level land). In addition to the famous vineyards, there are many bananas grown here and exported to Portugal. The farmed hillsides are so steep a farmer could literally fall off his farm and not stop for maybe 100 ft. I saw vineyards you’d almost have to rappel down to trim the vines.

Like the Canaries, Madeira had snow in the higher mountains over the last three days and the natives are excited about it. Mountaintop snow doesn’t happen often here. The locals think it is cold in town while our passengers are going about in shirtsleeves. I think that means the climate here is normally very mild.

Travel Blogging VI

Dateline: Las Palmas, the Canary Islands. We have discovered another nice place that most Americans know little about. Yesterday we landed on Grand Canary Island in this Spanish territory. It is off the coast of Africa, but looks like a little piece of Europe.

A chain of 8 volcanic islands, the two largest are Grand Canary and Tenerife. Each of these two has about 40% of the islands’ 2 million population, with the remaining 20% scattered over the remaining six smaller islands. The climate is a cross between North Africa and Hawaii and so is the vegetation. The population appears to be mostly Spanish, except for the tourists, who are mostly European.

The roads are very narrow, winding and mountainous. The architecture feels Mediterranean, as would be expected from a Spanish dependency. The highest mountain runs to nearly 7000 ft. and gets a dusting of snow every few years, including this one. The islands are off the Sahara coast and are thus relatively dry. Grand Canary has no rivers and drinking water is an issue; we were told they import it from Europe. They produce water for other uses by partially desalinating sea water.

Another way in which the Canary Islands resemble Hawaii is that there is a substantial military presence in the islands, in this case the Spanish military of course. That and tourism are probably the major sources of outside revenue.

Travel Blogging V

Dateline: Valletta, Malta. This island is a very nice place. It has a great natural harbor, is located centrally between Alexandria and Barcelona, is close to Sicily, spent nearly 200 years as a British dependency, and is now independent and a member of the EU.

The Britishness of it helps, and it has a strong Italian flavor as well. The native language evolved from Arabic with considerable Italian thrown in, but just about everybody speaks English. The Maltese language may be Arabic but the religion is Roman Catholic. The tiny island has enough churches that you could attend mass in a different church every day of the year! It also has two cathedrals, but calls one a co-cathedral since they only have one bishop to share between them. There is one mosque.

The island was the property of the Knights of St. John for several hundred years before the Brits took over. The Knights are a Roman Catholic organization with some members who take vows of chastity, etc., and others who are married. They started in Palestine during the Crusades and began as a hospital order which cared for the sick; they continue to fulfill that function to this day. During various periods they also developed a strong military arm with both army and navy. The point of this military function was to keep the forces of Islam from expanding, a purpose at which they were only partially successful. They fortified Malta to keep Islam from overrunning Sicily and Italy, this was a success.

I think what the other DrC and I liked about Malta is that it is clean, tidy, and yet has a 15th-16th century feel about it. Although it suffered many severe bombing raids during World War II, it has been rebuilt in the old style and is very picturesque. The Knights of St. John were an elite group and they brought to Malta the flower of European style and civilization in their heyday. Malta is still their headquarters although they no longer control the island nation. It would be a great place to wander around for about a week with camera in hand.