Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Our 1997 Egyptian Adventure

Our Egyptian Adventure

When we visited the Queen Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor, we felt quite safe. We were shocked when, only two weeks after our visit, in November 1997, several dozen tourists were killed there!

Our hotel in Cairo was conveniently located on El Gezirah Island in the Nile River, within a walk of Tahrir Square, where, a month before our visit, nine tourists were killed.
 I'm no expert on Egypt, but Vi and I spent a couple weeks there back in 1997.
Here is a "blow-by-blow" description of our tour.

NOTE: Freedom Pointe Independent Living is celebrating Egypt this month and I have volunteered to give a short "travelogue" presentation to the residents about the trip Vi and I took back in 1997. I found the posting I did back then on my old Prodigy blog on the "Wayback Machine" and have updated it here (mostly replacing the tiny photos we had to use back then due to slow internet speeds with larger versions, and adding more photos).

From New York to London to Cairo

(Fri 10/24/97, Leave JFK 10:20pm, Sat 10/25/97, Arrive London Heathrow, 10am, 6 hour layover)
We flew from New York-JFK to London, where we visited Hyde Park and had lunch in Piccadily Circus during our layover.

(Sat 10/25/97, Leave London Heathrow 4pm to Cairo)
We then flew to Cairo where we were met by our tour company director, Tariq, and our mini-bus driver, Zacharia, who took us to our hotel, the Sheraton, on El Gezireh Island in the middle of the Nile, with a terrific view of the Nile and Cairo. (Arrive at El Gezireh Sheraton, 11:30pm)

(Sun 10/26/97, Visit the majestic pyramids of Giza, the timeless Sphinx, and the Valley Temple. Lunch at Mena House, visit Sakkara Pyramid.)
The following morning, we met our tour guide, Mona, and the other three members of our tour, a newly-wed couple (in their 60's) and his son (in his 30's). This was a nearly-personal tour!

Cairo Traffic is an Adventure

We learned about Cairo traffic as we wended our way to the Pyramids at Giza, not far from Cairo. The terrible and wonderful Cairo traffic makes getting there half the fun.

In Egypt, lane markers and traffic lights are strictly for decoration. Drivers squeeze around and between each other, honking their horns not out of anger, but just to let each other know they are there and coming through! Meanwhile, donkey carts, people on bicycles, people on foot, and even the occasional herd of sheep, cross the streets between the cars and trucks and buses, and no one seems to get hurt!

Camel Ride Adventure

At the pyramids, Vi was taking pictures and I saw an opportunity to use my camera to get her in a picture with a camel. The camel driver saw me and began posing, which I knew would cost me "baksheesh" (tips). I told him I hadn't photographed him, just my wife "who is taking pictures over there", and I pointed at her. At that instant, neither Vi nor I had any idea she and I were about to ride a camel!

The camel driver rushed over to Vi and pulled her next to the camel, which was kneeling down. She  (and I :^) figured I was just going to take a photo of her standing next to the camel, but, next thing we knew, the camel driver maneuvered her leg over the camel and she was sitting. I asked the driver, "What is this going to cost me?" He said, "Whatever you want to pay." Then, UP went the camel!

UP Went the Camel!
As you can see by the expression on the camel's face (and Vi's) this was a big surprise!!! I took a couple pictures of Vi on the camel and then we convinced the camel driver to let her down.

Then it was my turn. I willingly got on the camel and the driver exchanged my hat for his head scarf. Then UP went the camel!!! Camels get up and down one end at a time, which makes you feel like you will slide over the the front or rear. Once fully up, they are level, but VERY high!

As Vi prepared to take photos of me, the camel driver grabbed the lead and ran with the camel to a place where she could get the pyramids in the background of the photo. I held on for dear life as the camel trotted along!

Vi took a picture of me on the camel, with the pyramids in the background. Then the driver told Vi to hold the camel's lead and he would take a picture of the two of us. As he fiddled with the camera, the camel developed an interest in Vi's backpack, as you can see.

The Camel Was Sniffing Vi's Backpack!

The camel driver wanted to run me around some more, but I had had enough camel riding for that day (and probably for my life). I finally convinced him to let me down, and now it was time to pay. I gave him US $10, and he acted VERY offended. "This is not for me, also for the camel!" So, I reached into my wallet to get another $10, but two tens stuck together and he grabbed them, for a total of $30, and he was still not satisfied! However, I was happy to have obtained a photo of Vi on a camel and riden one myself, and Vi was relieved to have survived the whole thing, and $30 wasn't that much considering, ...

When we got back to the mini-bus, we told Mona, our guide, all the details. She left the bus and returned with the camel driver a moment later. He handed me my three $10 bills and said he was sorry. Mona told me to pay him 20 Egyptian pounds (about $6). I tried to give him $10 but Mona was insistent, and the Camel Adventure cost us only $6 (if you don't count the extra big tip I gave Mona that evening.)

Police-Escorted Convoy to Alexandria

(Mon 10/27/97, Travel to Alexandria. Visit Catacombs, GrecoRoman Museum. Lunch at San Giovanni.)
The next day we were driven to Alexandria, about three hours northwest of Cairo. We were stopped by police along the highway and put into a convoy of tour buses and mini-buses for part of the drive there. We thought nothing of it and did not feel the least bit uneasy, but, considering the tourist shoot-up that occurred a couple weeks later, perhaps we should have.

Flight to Our Nile Cruise Boat at Aswan, Flight to Abu Simbel, Nile Cruise

(Tues 10/28/97, Fly to Aswan and transfer to cruise ship, Ramses Queen Nabila II. Morning tour of Aswan Dam, Granite Quarry. Visit Philae Temple near sunset. Felucca ride at sunset.)
Early the next morning, two couples joined our original group, and we were all hustled to the airport for an Egypt Air flight to Aswan, a few hundred miles south of Cairo. We and our luggage were hustled through airport security, which didn't seem too effective (but it was fast!) We were supposed to check our luggage, but, due to poor instructions, we just left it all on a cart, and hustled to board the packed flight. When we reached Aswan we were concerned about our luggage, but, it showed up!

In Egypt, we learned, things are not always planned fully, but somehow, thank God, they seem to work out!

There were a couple dozen English-speaking people in the Nile Cruise portion of our tour, and our guide was Vivian. Most of the other tourists on the boat were Italian or French-speaking.

(Wed. 10/29/97, Fly to Abu Simbel to visit temple of Ramses II with its four colossal statues and the smaller temple of Queen Nefertari. Return to Aswan where ship leaves for sail down Nile to Kom Ombo. Visit Ptolemaic temple at Kom Ombo after sunset.)
After the guided tour and lunch, I walked about two miles in Aswan, including some back streets and local market areas. Although I was clearly a lone tourist, I did not feel at all in danger.

(Thu. 10/30/97, Leave Kom Ombo at 4am and sail down Nile to Edfu. Tour Edfu Temple. Sail to Esna and tour Temple of the Ram-Headed God Khnum at Esna. Continue sailing to Luxor and attend Galabia Party at dinner.)

Galabia Party

A galabia is the traditional gown worn by Egyptian men and women. It is a long-sleeved garment that reaches down to your ankles and is usually white, gray, or light blue.

I bought a white one and a tight, brightly-colored knit cap. Vi bought an Egyptian shirt. At the Galabia Party, one of the other guests told me I looked like a Rabbi! (Indeed, the trim on my galabia looked something like the trim on a tallis and my cap could have been a large yamulka!)

Galabia Party on Nile Cruise - Do I Look Like a Rabbi?

(Fri 10/31/97, Cross Nile by local ferry to visit Colossi of Memnon, Valley of the Kings, Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, and Valley of the Queens.)
In Luxor, after our morning escorted tour that included the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut where several dozen tourists were to be mowed down two weeks later, I rented a bike. For an hour I rode around the Luxor, all by myself.

At one point, to get off the heavily traveled main street, I strayed into a lower-class residential area with dirt streets. I was wearing a hat that had "NY" on it and children called out to me, in English, and said "hello" and "welcome". One boy grabbed hold of the rear of the bike and I shouted "La-a" which is "no" in Arabic, but he held on until I shouted "don't touch!" in English. The dirt streets were winding in and out like a rabbit warren with many dead ends. I had trouble finding my way out and back to the main street, but, eventually I did, with no harm done. I felt quite comfortable during that ride.

(Sat 11/1/97, Tour Temple of Karnak and then Luxor. Fly back to Cairo. Arrive at hotel at 11:30pm.)

(Sun 11/2/97, Visit Cairo Egyptian Museum, Royal Manial Palace, Saladin’s Citadel, Alabaster Mosque and the Sultan Hassan Mosque.)

We Get the "Mummy's Curse" Also Known as "Pharoh's Revenge"

First I, then Vi, succumbed to what is called the "Mummy's Curse" or "Pharoh's Revenge". Despite being careful, drinking only bottled water, and avoiding unpeeled food, such as tomatoes, we both got stomach pains and the runs! (When we returned home, we went to our physician and were given "his and hers" prescriptions.)

(Mon 11/3/97, Tour Bab Al Tutuh and Bab an Nasr, two great citadel gates in the old city walls. Lunch at El Khan Restaurant, shop in bazaars and open air markets of Khan El Khalili Suq.)

Bumper Car Adventure

During our visit to the Suq, Mona found out that our lunch would be delayed by two hours. I didn't want to hang around the Suq for that long and I asked her if there was a place we could sit down, perhaps at the Islamic University only a block away. Mona took us several blocks away to an old amusement park that had seen better days. There, we sat on rug-covered cement seats and were served tea.

I noticed that there were bumper cars and asked if they were working. Well, they were, and I talked Mona and Vi into riding. Mona said it was her very first bumper car ride!

Cairo Subway to "Old Cairo" Adventure - We Got Stoned!

After our morning organized tour, I talked a couple of other guys into walking a mile with me to the subway station. There, we boarded a subway train and rode to the "Old Cairo" area, where we walked around.

Due to a poor map and a dumb guide (me), we missed the tourist area (Coptic Church, Mosque, and a Synagogue) and ended up in an area of lower-class housing, a cement processing area, and a dump. A small boy called out in English "Good Morning" and I answered back "Good Morning" (although it was afternoon!)

On the way we passed a tourist (from Sweden) who told us he had turned around because the area didn't look good. But I pigheadedly led our little group on.

As we walked along, a boy came up to us and, in English, said "welcome" and asked us where we were from. A moment later, he winced and backed away and I saw a stone (about 2" in diameter) rolling near us, then another stone and one of my companions said he was nearly hit in the leg. I looked across the street and saw a boy throwing a rock and I waved to him and that was all. We didn't run, just continued walking and headed back to the subway station.

I don't think the boy throwing rocks was trying to hit us, perhaps he was angry with the boy who was talking to us. I don't know. However, recent events show that my feeling of comfort may have been misplaced.

(Tue 11/4/97, Tour of Christian and Jewish Old Cairo with Coptic Churches of Abu Serghius and Al Molaka, the Coptic Museum, and Ben Ezra Synagogue. Visit Modinet Nasr to see the tomb of Egypt’s late president Anwar Sadat.)

"Shalom! You're Jewish?"

After seeing the Coptic Churches, Mona led our small tour group into the Ben Ezra Synagogue. A middle-aged man in a galabia welcomed our group and then made a beeline for me. "Shalom!" he said, "You're Jewish?" "Yes" I replied. "I'm Egyptian Jewish and there are only 42 families left in Cairo, out of a population that used to be in the thousands." He gave me a booklet detailing how this historic synagogue had recently been restored to its original splendor.

The synagogue site may date back to the founding of Fostat (Old Cairo) in the seventh century. The building itself, though rebuilt several times, dates from the tenth century. Between 1177 and 1204 the congregation was led by our greatest Rabbi and scholar, Moses Maimonides, who was also physician to the Sultan. In the late 19th century, the scholar Solomon Schecter studied paper fragments from the synagoge genizah (storeroom for discarded holy books), and found some in Maimonides own hand.
It was a pleasure to tour this wonderful example of the tenacity of the Jewish people, and contribute a bit to its preservation. I hope the congregation will grow and prosper! The recent appointment of an Orthodox Jewish American as US Ambasador to Egypt could add another family to the congregation. he Jewish population of Cairo may grow.

(Wed 11/5/97, Visit Islamic Museum, Gayer Anderson House (a pair of traditional Arab houses joined together dating from 1540 and 1630 AD) and Ibn Toulon Mosque. Evening visit to the Sound and Light Show near the Pyramids at Giza.)

(Thu 11/6/97, Morning visit to Pharaonic village, lunch at Felfela restaurant. Visit to Mona's apartment.)

Visit With Mona's Family

After the scheduled touring, we took a cab to meet Mona at the Mena Hotel, near the Pyramids. The traffic was terrible and it took over an hour to get there. Our cab then followed her to her new apartment which has a view of a pyramid and is just across the street from the site of a new museum.
The cab driver offered to wait for us and we negotiated a total price of 70 LE (about $20) for the round-trip plus waiting for an hour and a half.

A special treat was meeting Mona's six-year-old daughter Sara, her four-year-old son Khalid, and her baby daughter. We also met the girl who takes care of her children and Mona's sister, who speaks French. Her husband, also a tour guide, was up in Luxor with some Spanish-speaking tourists.
She and her husband have owned this apartment for five years, but they are not yet living there. It seems loans are not available and they are fixing it up incrementally, as they can afford it. It is a very nice two-bedroom apartment with a large living room. All floors have been tiled and the walls are nicely painted. However, bare light bulbs hang from the ceiling and the wall outlets are not completed yet. A neighbor had to put a jumper around a fuse-box to get the lights to go on.

The only furniture consisted of a nice area carpet, a couch and some easy chairs, all brand new. In the kitchen, a stove and refrigerator were still bundled in plastic and the sink had not been installed yet. They hope to move in in two years or so. They purchased the apartment for about 30,000 LE from a military officer who obtained it for only 10,000 LE. It is now worth over 60,000 LE.

"Big-Mac" Attack!

That evening, after returning by cab,Vi ordered room service dinner but I needed my McDonald's "fix". No one would go with me so I walked a mile in the dark by myself to get a "Big Mac", fries and a Coke - just like in New York!

In Egypt, Even a Sheraton Hotel Checkout Requires Negotiation!

Relaxing at the Sheraton
I spent over a half-hour checking out of the Sheraton hotel. I expected to pay only for the bottled water which is an "extra" in Egypt (like alcohol would be in the US). However, they tried to charge me for all the meals (over 800 LE, about $250) and I had to point out to them that we had a voucher for them. Then, they tried to charge me for the extra on one meal where we went over the 144 LE limit plus the room service meal Vi had on our last day, which, with the water, would have been about 130 LE. We probably owed them for Vi’s meal since it wasn’t covered, but our charges for other meals had been way below the limit, mainly because we were sick. Therefore, I told the clerk to add up the cost of all meals and compare it to our total allowance. He did so and said they owed us money :^) In the end, I paid 18 LE (just for the water), but it took me over a half hour to settle the bill.
(Fri 11/7/97, Tranfer to airport for 8:45am flight to London Heathrow, and on to New York-JFK.)

Postscript: About Living with Danger

Several years ago, I read a supposedly true story about a guy who was sitting in his living room, watching TV and drinking coffee when he heard a loud noise in his garage. It seems it was close to Halloween and a couple of skydivers had taken a pumpkin along and were tossing it back and forth as they fell towards earth. One of them missed his catch and the pumpkin crashed through this guy's garage, and made a big hole in the roof of his car! Now, had the skydivers dropped the pumpkin a moment sooner or later, the pumpkin could have crashed into his living room and this guy could have been killed while sitting peacefully watching TV and drinking coffee!

Since reading that story, I've decided that my time will come when it comes and I'll enjoy life, within reason, until then. If there is a bullet (or a pumpkin) with my name on it, so be it!

Vi and I discussed what we would have done had the terrorist event at Luxor occurred while we were in Egypt. As you may have heard, British Airways sent seven empty planes to the Luxor airport to evacuate tourists who wanted to leave. We both agreed that we would NOT have left, but would have continued our vacation. I asked Vi what she would have done had the shoot-up occurred a week or two before our vacation, rather than two weeks after. She said, and I concur, that we would have taken the vacation!

Ira Glickstein

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Do Republicans Hate Immigrants, Women, Blacks ... and Democrats?

Republicans are supposed to be anti-Immigrant, anti-Woman, anti-Black, and unwilling to cross the aisle to work with Democrats.

Yet, according to today's Real Clear Politics average of all GOP polls as of Oct 4, 2015, the four leading contenders are:

4) Marco Rubio, the Latino Son of Immigrants,

3) Carly Fiorina, a Female Business Executive,

2) Ben Carson, a Black Brain Surgeon, and

1) Donald Trump, a Crony Capitalist Democrat pretending to be a Republican. As recently as 2004, he told CNN's Wolf Blitizer "In many cases, I probably identify more as Democrat" and in 2007, also with Blitzer, he praised Hillary Clinton's ability to negotiate with Iran. Trump gave more to Democrats than Republicans between 1989 and 2009 according to NPR. At the first GOP debate this year, he bragged: “I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said, ‘Be at my wedding,’ and she came to my [third] wedding. ... You know why? She had no choice, because I gave.” Until recently, his views on military action in the mid-east, abortion, drug legalization, and health care have been more in line with leftist Democrats than with independents and Republicans.

The above facts are, IMHO, pretty good proof that Republicans are quite willing to choose the very best candidate of any ethnicity, woman or man, black or white. Also, that some Republicans can be bamboozled by a blowhard showman into thinking he is one of our own. He is not.

Ira Glickstein

In case you are wondering who I am and where I'm coming from:

I'm an old Goldwater Republican and a techie engineer. In 1964 when my wife and I were married, there was a sign with the chemical formula for "Gold Water" (AuH2O) in the rear window of my car! Despite political differences, I'm still married to my super-smart and highly accomplished first wife. We have three highly-intelligent daughters (also still married to their very smart first husbands) and five wonderful grandchildren. We were both born in Brooklyn, lived most our working lives in Tioga County in upstate New York, and now reside in The Villages, FL, "America's Happiest and Healthiest Home Town".

I earned a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering, and a Masters and PhD in System Science and am proud of my long, successful career as a System Engineer at IBM and Lockheed-Martin, with my name on five US Patents. As an adjunct professor, I taught undergrad and graduate courses in System Engineering at Binghamton University and the University of Maryland University College.

As a Guest Contributor to the world's most popular Climate website, my postings on the reality of the "Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect" and how human activities that have boosted CO2 levels and reduced the Earth's albedo are therefore responsible for some fraction of recent warming, have attracted hundreds of thousands of page views and thousands of comments. Although I favor moderate worldwide action to save energy, encourage alternatives to the unprecedented burning of fossil-fuels (including a flat carbon-tax -- but not cap and trade), I am convinced that politically-motivated hysteria over possible human-caused catastrophic climate change is overblown. My wife and I have tried to do our part by recycling, super-insulating our house, and, for the past 11 years, we have shared an energy-efficient Prius hybrid.


Monday, September 21, 2015

"Smoke-Filled" Rooms - If Political Bosses Picked Presidential Candidates

[From Bill Lifka, graphics by Ira]

It’s 14 months before the 2016 election and a majority of citizens are weary of the campaign or are just ignoring it. I wonder if it would be all bad if we went back to the days of yore when more than a few party slates were chosen by party bosses in “smoke filled rooms” behind popular saloons. Imagine what might emerge from that process in 2016.

The Republican bosses would consider the voting trends, current attitudes in the swing states and likely opponents to be chosen by their Democratic opposites.

Choices for top of the ticket would be John Kasich and Carly Fiorina. Kasich would appeal to voters in his swing state of Ohio and he no longer sounds like he comes from Washington DC having served two terms in State government and a stint in the private sector. Fiorina’s never held political office and, despite Trump’s dumb comment on appearance, is clearly a woman. That she’s very smart isn’t necessary but it’s good she’s not stupid.

In a break from tradition, the bosses would have Kasich announce his choices for cabinet positions early in the campaign to pacify their backers and secure their support for the chosen ticket. Any who’d refuse the honor of a cabinet seat needn’t consider a future run for elective office. Most of the cabinet picks are obvious, at least to me.
  • Secretary of State would be Marco Rubio who looks good, thinks good and talks good, the latter in Spanish as well as English. It’s about time we paid more attention to the Latin Americans as long as European and Middle Eastern countries are going down the drain. Let Russia have them and their mounting debt and turmoil.
  • Secretary of Treasury would be Jeb Bush. He was a businessman before moving into his family’s business (politics) and has worked on Wall Street after his stint as Florida’s governor. FL is another background element he shares with Rubio along with fluent Spanish. Let’s ice that swing state.
  • Secretary of Defense would be James Webb in a bid to lure male Democrats. (Carly would take care of the females.) When it comes to the military, Webb is no typical Democrat having spent an exciting period of his life dodging bullets, a few of which managed to elude his dodge. As soon as ISIS and Iran hear of Webb’s choice it’s likely they’ll seek negotiating talks. 
  • Obviously, the Attorney General slot would go to Chris Christie. A big man is required in that position and few are bigger than Chris in mind, body and mouth. That he was a successful States Attorney is another qualification. 
  • In a flight of fancy, Scott Walker would get the Secretary of Labor slot. Few have his experience in dealing with unions and he needs a job not requiring a college degree.
  • Ben Carson is a nobrainer for Health and Human Services. His limited experience managing large bureaucracies is no problem since he deals regularly with folks having only half a brain. 
  • Coming from a State in the southwest, Susana Martinez is a good choice for Interior and being the granddaughter of illegal aliens will help with the Latin vote. 
  • Bobby Jindal would add to the ethnic variety as Secretary of Education. He’s well educated and can sell his viewpoints well. 
  • Lindsay Graham will do as Secretary of Veteran Affairs
  • Ron Paul would be a surprise pick for Housing and Urban Development. As a medical doctor he should know how far we can cut back on subsidized housing without killing anyone.
  • Ted Cruz will be a popular choice for Ambassador to the United Nations. He’ll insult all fellow delegates, hog the microphone and avoid doing any useful UN work. In other words, he can just keep doing what he does in the Senate, except it’s appropriate in the UN. 
  • Rick Perry will become Administrator of the EPA. He looks very intelligent in his new glasses and most Republicans feel that Texas has the right idea of how to protect the environment: conceal and carry. 
  • In one more outreach to Democrats, Joe Manchin would be Energy Secretary. Upon the announcement, Joe would say, “Rick at EPA and me at Energy will make a great team. We’re past governors, him from an oil state and me from a coal state.” 
  • Reaching into academia, Mitch Daniels would return to one of his former posts: Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Adding some senior talent, 
  • Thomas Sowell would become Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. At 85, Sowell is a bit old for the job but senior citizens are known for their high voter turnout. Besides, 85 is the prime of life, according to me. 
  • Mitt Romney will accept the call to return to government service as the Secretary of Commerce folding in the Small Business Administration which, after all, is where all the action is. 
  • Rudy Giuliani, another returnee, is in an obvious role as Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Another surprise would be Adam Putnam as Secretary of Agriculture coming from a similar position for the State of Florida. He’s a young man but young adults also vote and Adam is popular in FL: let’s be sure of that Florida vote. 

The Republican Bosses had some difficulty in placing Donald Trump.

He was an obvious choice for Trade Representative: the U.S. would have China, Mexico, et al eating out of it’s hands.

However, a final choice was to have The Donald do one deal: convince a capable developer to turn the District of Columbia into a Theme Park on Government. The carrot for Mr. Trump was his fee of 10% of all revenue from park operations, tax free. 

[See Bill Lifka's Trump Golf and Tower - Washington, DC ...

... and his original 2010 idea American Government Theme Park on this Blog] 
As Trump said, “This was the job I was angling for all along. Obviously, I won again.”
The Democratic bosses weren’t idle. Their smoke filled room was an upscale boutique in San Francisco and the smoke didn’t come from tobacco. Nonetheless, their choices were equally hard-headed and chosen to please the voters of the Progressive persuasion.

The Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren team is about as Progressive as it gets.

Forced out of the top two slots, Hillary Clinton would return to her old job as Secretary of State. While reluctant, it was about the only way she could continue the flow of foreign donations into the Clinton slush fund, excuse me, the Clinton Foundation.

John Kerry would be happy to switch to Secretary of Defense to use all his experience skippering a swift boat.

Treasury would go to Al Franken on the basis that counting money is about the same as counting votes.

Nancy Pelosi would step up from her minority leader position to take on Health and Human Services. Having now read the entire Affordable Care Act she knows what’s in it.

Richard Trumpka would be Secretary of Labor having assured the bosses he could be fair and even-handed.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Attorney General. As for her capability, the bosses thought she’d be about as fair as Trumpka.

The remainder of the ticket will be left to your imagination. It would only be more of the same.

Clearly, I was in a whimsical mood when writing this opinion piece. However, a goodly portion of it would be the same if I were dead serious. You might conclude the smoke filled room process yields better results than the long drawn out primary process. If so, you should write to the respective Party Chairs, Reince Priebus and Debbie Wasserman Shultz. Don’t mention I sent you.

Bill Lifka

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dilbert Bridges the Liberal/Conservative Divide.

I've often said that Dilbert is "the story of my life."

Well, this recent strip is, IMHO, the funniest (and most true) ever.

This strip has triggered quite an active cross-discussion on the Dilbert website. Unfortunately, some of the comments are "flaming" (hostile and insulting interaction), so be forewarned.

However, one comment that caught my eye included a pithy P. J. O'Rourke quote:
"The second item in the liberal creed, after self-righteousness, is unaccountability. Liberals have invented whole college majors — psychology, sociology, women's studies — to prove that nothing is anybody's fault. No one is fond of taking responsibility for his actions, but consider how much you'd have to hate free will to come up with a political platform that advocates killing unborn babies but not convicted murderers. A callous pragmatist might favor abortion and capital punishment. A devout Christian would sanction neither. But it takes years of therapy to arrive at the liberal view."

-- P.J. O'Rourke

This strip also plays into the Liberal/Conservative (L/C) theme of quite a few postings on this blog, with links to some below.

Just click on the blue titles to read them. Some include serious, extended, courteous cross-discussion
between me and my friends and colleagues, including the Chairman of my PhD committee, Howard Pattee. Some of those may even qualify to be published alongside the dialogs and writings about Socrates by Plato and Aristotle. Enjoy!


Ira Glickstein

Monday, August 17, 2015

Trump Golf & Tower - Washington DC

[from Bill Lifka, Graphics by Ira]
Upon reflection, I may have been too hard on Donald Trump. Without question, he’s brought attention to the irritation of many conservatives with the excesses of the Obama regime and the inability of republican legislators to counter their impact. 

Thinking positively, I imagined how The Donald could win my support for the U.S. presidency. If Mr. Trump promised, as his first initiative, to remodel Washington D.C. as a theme park and resort, I’d switch my allegiance to him in a heartbeat and forget that, originally, it was my idea. 

[Read Bill Lifka's original 2010 idea American Government Theme Park on this Blog] 
Graphic by Ira - click it for larger version.


I’d even support his intent to rename the Washington monument Trump Tower II and turning the mall into a golf course. His expertise in real estate development and doing deals is ideal for pulling off this long-needed conversion of what once was swamp land into a solid money maker. 

I’m confident he could complete the transition in his first term. No doubt, he’d want a personal piece of the deal but aligning national interests with Trump’s business interests would ensure the success of the endeavor. This plan could be announced as the centerpiece of his platform late in the campaign when he feels pressure to add some substance to his message. 


Stephen F. Hayes wrote about NJ Governor Chris Christie’s encounter with an 83 year old female Trump backer at a NH town hall meeting. She took on the NJ Governor for thinking he could do better than Trump who has been successful and understands what capitalism is about and has done extremely well. 

“And,” she said, “don’t tell me it’s because you have political experience; I don’t really want to hear that.” 

Christie responded: “I love the fact that you asked the question and tell me what I have to answer.” 

“I’m like that,” she responded, “That’s the way I am.” 

He answered: “Now I understand exactly why you like Donald but it’s not possible to shout, ‘You’re fired!’ at a congressional leader who tells you he doesn’t have the votes. You can do that on a TV show but you cannot fire the Speaker of the House or the Senate Majority Leader because you don’t get what you want.” 

That seems like a perfect summary of objective objections to Trump’s objective if his real goal is to attain the presidency. Is being a successful business person a qualification or an obstacle? Does one need to have demonstrated political skills? The answer to the first question depends on the kind of business and how the business person went about becoming successful. The answer to the second question is that political skills are necessary to win a party’s primary, to win the general election and, like it or not, to succeed in the presidency. 

Donald Trump has spent his life buying and selling real estate and resorts, various entertainment businesses and, mostly, in promoting himself and his name to iconic status. The last of these endeavors may well be his most valuable asset, which he’s now risking. Great risk is routine in big time real estate dealing but not so good for rational national governance. 

Big time real estate dealing invariably
 requires paying off public officials. 

The same thing might be required to make 
political deals but is more likely to backfire. 

More to the point, The Donald runs a one man company which hardly requires him to negotiate with employees or a board. 

Governor Christie has a point. To qualify as a viable candidate, Mr. Trump must explain his governing principles (like Carly Fiorina suggested) and his plan to achieve goals like erecting a border fence paid for by Mexico.


Every day my Email delivers several dozens of requests for campaign contributions. If one was to promote a debate between Hillary and Carly, I’d contribute hugely even though I know such a monumental confrontation could never occur unless both were either presidential candidates for their respective Parties or both were vice presidential candidates. 

The first possibility is out of the question because I don’t think Carly has a shot at the top slot. The second possibility is not beyond belief because Clinton’s popularity is sagging from the weight of all her baggage; would she accept second seat to placate women? If she did, Carly would be a fine choice for Republican VP candidate and she would rip Hillary to shreds; in a feminine way, of course. 


Carly isn’t a politician; she’s spent her entire career in business, ending as CEO of a corporation ranked # 20 on the Fortune 500 listing. A long list of knocks about her performance in that last job were assembled by Democrats in her run for the U.S. Senate seat against long time Senator, Barbara Boxer. Another thing is the belief she was soundly beaten by Boxer based on the 10 percentage point margin of victory. Since CA is overwhelmingly Democratic (mostly of the far left variety) and Boxer had 28 years of granting U.S. government favors for California voters, losing by 10 points is almost a victory for a Conservative. In the prior defense of her Senate seat, Boxer won by 20 points. 

The attacks on Carly’s HP experience include: she was fired, managers hated her, she fired thousands of employees, HP lost tons of money under her leadership and the list goes on. She has good answers in one liner responses and longer, reasoned arguments but a constant drumbeat takes a toll. Here are my short answers. Many good executives have been fired including Steve Jobs and me, Bill Lifka.

Carly argued with her board constantly: a group of prima donnas which demonstrated its incompetence before and after Carly as well as during her CEO stint. Carly had to orchestrate spinning off the original HP businesses and it’s acquisitions into Agilent, a newly formed company and merging HP computer businesses with Compaq and its many acquisitions. At one point, the directors wanted to organize in 34 distinct businesses despite their focus on similar technology, similar products and similar markets; Carly argued for 4. The so-called HP way went with the spin-off. Carly wanted a management culture that matched the realities of the new computer market; old managers resisted. 

Carly’s term of office coincided with a collapse of the entire computer market; HP’s firings were in line with other companies in the industry. In the end, HP emerged bigger, stronger, more profitable and more competent technologically; at least that’s Carly’s argument. She may be right. 

If one wished to check Carly’s credentials, her history at AT&T might be of greater value. There she rose from management trainee to SVP and was, seemingly, the principal executive who orchestrated the spin-off of Bell Labs and Western Electric into Lucent. 

The question is whether she had any successful line experience in hands-on operations. Her record with Lucent and HP suggests relevant experience in moving strategic chess pieces on a huge game board but that’s not the same as experience in the trenches. 

Nevertheless, managing high tech manufacturing companies in truly public corporations is more relevant to governing a democratic nation than managing a real estate business in a dictatorial organizational structure.

Bill Lifka

Friday, August 7, 2015

Grandchildren: The Grandest of the Grands!

Last week, I had the distinct privilege of hosting Michaela and Samantha, two of our triplet grandchildren, for a week of Florida fun and sun adventures (and a bit of rain). They stayed with me at Freedom Pointe Independent Living, The Villages, FL, where my wife and I live.

(The third triplet was with our daughter in California. My wife,Vi, was in Georgia due to medical issues with our daughter there, so I had the honor of hosting them alone.)


Here they are at the pond near Spanish Springs Town Center. Samantha (right) is a junior ornithologist who unfailingly identifies the birds and records them in her journal. She plans to study biology when she goes off to college in 2016.

Michaela (left in the photo above and middle in the second photo) is a junior chef who plans to study hospitality when she goes off to college in 2016. She had an opportunity to talk to Catherine (left), a Cornell hospitality student who served as an intern in the Dining Room at Freedom Pointe. Michaela demonstrated her culinary talents in the cramped kitchen of our condo. (Yum, yum Delicious.)
Samantha, Michaela, and I exercised our bodies as well as our minds as we cycled around The Villages.

 (When we stopped for water at a postal facility, Susan, a complete stranger who was walking her dog Lulu, volunteered to take this photo. Proof that The Villages is "the friendliest home town".)

We even cycled to one of the family pools, where Michaela (bottom) and Samantha (top) "horsed around". Michaela is a competitive swimmer, so she also swam in our Freedom Pointe indoor pool and even joined us in a water aerobics class (getting a peek at what she will look like 50-60 years from now :^)

Of course they had to try out Grandma and Grandpa's golf cart.

They are accomplished auto drivers with their MA drivers licenses, but I insisted on "checking them out" for golf cart driving and etiquette by having them drive from Freedom Pointe to Spanish Springs Town Center and through the complex Morse roundabout with concentric car and cart paths, as well as the cramped tunnel below El Camino Real near Buena Vista so they could get to the Publix supermarket.

They learned to always park their cart to one side of a space to leave room for another cart. (The photo above was taken from our fourth floor window at Freedom Pointe, facing El Camino Real.)

More bird watching by Samantha. (The photo was taken from the fourth floor balcony, facing the golf course pond behind Freedom Pointe.)

(For bird watching fans, here is one of my You Tube videos of the "Congress of Birds" in the Amberwood golf course pond behind the Village of Chatham home where we lived a few years back.)


We kayaked the Rainbow River (with good friends Phyllis and Chuck).  Michaela and Samantha  (shown here at the State Park swimming area by Rainbow Springs, the source of the River) found the trip enjoyable, while, for me, it was challenging.

At few years ago, at this same State Park swimming area, my friend Warren narrated the mis-adventures of our friend Dee (whom I lovingly call the "Ditsy Brit") visiting from England. I posted it to You Tube. You may notice black bars, top and bottom, intruding into the image and wonder why. Well, after I uploaded the original video to You Tube, their computer noticed that the image was unsteady (because Warren was taking it with a hand-held camera in a tipsy kayak). They suggested that I make use of their free service to steady the image, and I did so, with the result seen. Pretty good, I think!


We couldn't miss the Glass-Bottom Boats at Silver Springs. Here Samantha and Michaela view some fish near a deep blue spring under our boat.

This is the first time I've been back since the State of Florida took control from the former commercial operators who were having financial problems. The rides and animal park adventures are gone, but the original Glass-Bottom Boats are as good as ever.


Another great central Florida spring is Homosassa Springs State park, home of the Manatees and much more, including an impressive array of birds. Like Silver Springs, this was once a commercial tourist attraction that ran into financial difficulties and was taken over by the State of Florida. In keeping with the slogan "The Real Florida", they decreed that only native Florida animals could remain, and, over time, the non-natives were relocated. However, "Lou the Hippo" an African native, was too big and getting too old to relocate. So, the Florida Governor gave Lou special dispensation, and declared him a legal Florida resident.

The photo shows Lou, now about 55 years old, with a life expectancy of about 60. When we arrived for the Hippo feeding show, Lou was almost completely underwater, with only his ears showing. However, when he heard the keeper unlock the gate, Lou immediately rose up to participate.

The photo shows me and Michaela with three rescued American Eagles who, unfortunately have suffered injuries that will prevent them from ever being released into the wild.

Many birds call Homosassa State Park their home. Some, like the Eagles, are rescued and will never be returned to the wild, others will be released after rehabilitation, and some are permanent residents, confined by netting. In addition, we saw quite a few voluntary visitors who were attracted by the free food and shelter.

 Here we are with a Roseate Spoonbill, who let us get remarkably close.

More photos and text on my FaceBook page


Perhaps the highlight of the week (at least for me) was sharing "intellectual" matters with Michaela and Samantha. By a stroke of careful planning, I was scheduled to speak to our local Philosophy Club the very week they visited, and they consented to attend.

My talk was about "Visualizing Einstein's Relativity". See the topic on my new Blog "Visualizing Science and Technology with Ira", and download my animated Powerpoint slides here.



During the week, we also had wide-ranging discussions about several topics, including politics and religious belief. Although we don't exactly see eye-to-eye in some of these areas, I respect their high intelligence and opinions, encourage diversity of opinion, and sometimes engage as "Devil's Advocate" to spur intellectual growth (mine, as well as theirs :^)

Although I do not happen to believe in God in the "traditional" sense, I am far from being an Atheist. To appreciate my views, please have a look at these Blog postings:

god is NOT Great by Christoper Hitchens (a GREAT Writer)

The GOD Delusion by Biologist Richard Dawkins (a GREAT Biologist).

Other Blog Topics Related to God by me (a GREAT Grandpa).

Each of these Topics is followed by what I consider a very high-level intellectual cross-discussion with with my PhD Advisor, Howard Pattee (a GREAT Teacher and Physicist), and other intellectually distinguished friends with diverse  backgrounds and opinions. (Perhaps, years from now, these may take their place among Plato and Aristotle's dialogs and writings that enshrine Socrates :^)

I should mention that, despite my (and my wife's) lack of "traditional" belief, our three daughters, and our triplet grandchildren, attended Hebrew classes and were Bat Mitzvah (Jewish Confirmation). We did so out of a kind of "ethnic solidarity" rather than "traditional" belief.

Here are some selections you might find interesting:

god is NOT Great

god is not Great - How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens is an easy read - that man can really write! I found it interesting but full of irrelevant information and cheap argumentative tricks.

I know the scriptures are the writings of humans without the benefit of modern scientific educations. I know they have been translated and edited by humans for thousands of years. I am not a literal believer. Therefore, the rather obvious lack of scientifically verifiable content in holy books does not surprise me at all.

Hitchens claims (page 8) that religion has retarded development of civilization. On what evidence? None that I could find.

The very fact that all societies and great civilizations of the past have been infused with what many of us judge to be irrational spiritual belief seems to argue for the benefit of religion for their survival and spread. If religion retards civilization, one would expect non-believing societies, free from religious retardation, to have been most successful. Can anyone cite an example? History proves the opposite!

Hitchens relates how he was asked by Dennis Prager if, approached by a bunch of men on a dark evening in a strange neighborhood, he would be less worried about his safety if he knew they were coming out of a prayer meeting. He spouts (page 18) a litany of cities (Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, ... "and that is only the B's") where, during certain times in recent and ancient history he would be less confortable if confronted by men exiting a religious meeting. Hitchens lives in Washington, DC and spends most of his time away from home in New York, London, Los Angeles, and so on. What would any honest person's answer be to that question?

He goes out of his way to trash both Mother Teresa (page 145+) and Ghandi (page 182+).

Hitchens was a Marxist before he lost his faith in that hopeless cause. He supported Trotsky who was exiled and later murdered by Stalin. One wonders if Hitchens would still be a Marxist had Trotsky turned the tables and eliminated Stalin.

Based on experience of loss of faith in Marxism, he laments (page 153) the pain he knows his book is inflicting on the religious faithful. I wonder if he is simply jealous of their faith? Like a kid whose balloon has popped, he savors the experience of popping everyone else's balloon.

He misquotes Rabbi Hillel, one of our most influential Jewish scholars, claiming Hillel stated the Golden Rule in the postitive version (page 213): "Treat others as you wish to be treated." In fact, even the slightest research would have shown that Hillel used the negative version favored by most Jewish scholars. Hillel wrote: "That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

He has an entire chapter entitled "Is Religion Child Abuse?" and concludes it is much worse (page 217) "'Child abuse' is really a silly and pathetic euphemism for what has been going on; the systematic rape and torture of children ..." He cites cases where children have indeeed been abused by priests of various religions, but that is an argumentative trick. If some Englishmen rape and torture children would it be right to say English civilization is all about rape and torture of children?

On the positive side (at least for me as a Pantheist) he notes Leslie Orgel's comment (page 84): "... evolution is smarter than you are." (Orgel was an associate of Francis Crick, DNA pioneer.)

He also writes (page 165) "... people can be better off believing in something than in nothing, however untrue that something may be."

The GOD Delusion

Unlike Christopher Hitchens's "god is NOT Great", written from an historical/literary point of view "The GOD Delusion", by a respected biologist, contains actual science-based arguments.

Evolution of Memes

Richard Dawkins previously wrote "The Selfish Gene" (1976) where he introduced the word "meme" (from "mimeme" derived from the Greek "mimeisthai" which means "to imitate"). The word "mneme" was used by others in a similar way as early as 1927 (from the Greek mimneskesthai" which means "to remember").

A meme is the cultural equivalent of a gene. Dawkins wrote: "DNA is a self-replicating piece of hardware. Each piece has a particular structure, which is different from rival pieces of DNA. If memes in brains are analogous to genes they must be self-replicating brain structures, actual patterns of neuronal wiring-up that reconstitute themselves in one brain after another."

The etymology of the word "meme" itself is an excellent example of the evolution of the cultural equivalent of genes. “Meme” is one letter shorter than “mneme” and far easier to pronounce. A challenge arose in 1980 when E.O. Wilson introduced a new word, "culturgen" for the same concept. That word has all but died out as “meme” survived and replicated in the natural human selection process. Clearly, the word “meme” is the “fittest” (best fits into the human cultural environment and brain structure).

A Personal God IS a Delusion – But is it a Useful Myth?

Although I agree with Dawkins that the "traditional" concept of a personal God, external to the Universe, is, strictly speaking, a delusion, I am surprised at the vehemence with which he attacks it.

He minimizes the significance of the fact that the various religions which survived and reproduced over millennia and encompassing the belief systems of billions of people are the “fittest” beliefs (best fits into the human cultural environment and brain structure, regardless of whether or not they are literally true). As such, they must have provided some real benefit to believers and the societies that promoted and still cling to religious beliefs.

About half-way through the book, he finally acknowledges, however grudgingly, the facts. He writes [pg 163 …166]:
[W]e should ask what pressure or pressures exerted by natural selection originally favoured the impulse toward religion. … Religion is so wasteful, so extravagant; and Darwinian selection habitually targets and eliminates waste. …no known culture lacks some version of the time-consuming, wealth-consuming,hostility provoking rituals, the anti-factual, counter-productive fantasies of religion. [Emphasis added]
David Wilson and Group Selection

Dawkins searches, in vain, for rational explanations for the survival of the God delusion. He mentions David Sloan Wilson [pg 170] a colleague of Howard’s and one of my favorite professors at Binghamton University who Dawkins rightly calls “the American group-selection apostle”.

Group selection makes the claim that groups, including religious associations, which promote cooperative, altruistic behaviors, survive at the expense of less religious groups. While I accept multi-level selection (gene level and meme level), I am not sure that true, pure altruism exists and have gone round and round discussing this with Wilson.

Dawkins Belief there is “A generalized process for optimizing”

He goes on his apparently subconscious defense of pantheism [pg 139]:
It is clear that here on Earth we are dealing with a generalized process for optimizing biological species, a process that works all over the planet, on all continents and islands, and at all times. … if we wait another ten million years, a whole new set of species will be as well adapted to their ways of life as today’s species are to theirs. This is a recurrent, predictable, multiple phenomenon, not a piece of statistical luck recognized with hindsight. [Emphasis added]
Dawkin’s “generalized process for optimizing” is Omnipresent (“all continents and islands … all times”), Omnipotent (“whole new set of species”) and Omniscient (“as well adapted to their ways of life as today’s species”). Change it to “Generalized Optimizing Device” and we have our familiar Pantheistic “GOD”. QED :^)


Grandchildren are GRAND. I may be biased, but I think ours are the GRANDEST!

The photo below shows the Nathan's Coney Island t-shirt they presented to me as a thank-you for our week together. Note how it fits into the theme of the "office" part of our Freedom Points Independent Living bedroom.

Do you see the Coney Island Parachute Jump print with Cyclone and Nathan's Hot Dogs, and the Coney Island carry bag?

At left are my US Patents, top is my IBM and Lockheed retirement memento, top right my NJ and CT vanity plates. Middle right is my 1976 US bicentennial needlework based on 13 cent stamp of the time, but with a subtle change. 

(At far right notice legs reflected in mirror. They belong to Samantha who stood on the bed to take this memorable photo.)
Ira Glickstein

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Faith Restoring Event (a father, his son and his wife)

[From Bill Lifka (who I believe is a Cubs fan :^)] America is about to celebrate its 239th birthday. Sometimes I doubt it will reach 250 without collapsing for financial/economic reasons or the American Civil War II. When I get to thinking that way, something happens that restores my faith in Americans. It’s American people who will determine America’s future, so the faith restoring event always involves people. It doesn’t take a lot of good people to boost my morale since, as the song goes, “Give me ten stout-hearted men and I’ll soon give you ten thousand more.” 

This time it took three: a father, his son and his wife. Strangely enough, the event occurred in Illinois, the only State most likely to precede California into bankruptcy because a majority of its citizens have refused to admit what’s wrong. Adding to the unlikely setting, the event occurred in Chicago where the murder rate of young Black men exceeds that experienced in the Gulf Wars for the American military because a majority of citizens have refused to admit what’s wrong. 

It happened in Wrigley Field: the site of so many failures by the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Two days after Father’s Day, Keith Hartley took his son to a night game between the Cubs and the Dodgers. That isn’t unusual except the son Isaac is seven months old and wife, Kari, tagged along for boy’s night out. 

So there they are sitting a few rows back in the first base box seats and Isaac (I’m betting his nickname will be Zack.) is eating like the rest of the fans, except his is a bottle of milk capped with a nipple. The Cub’s batter fouls one off in their direction. The fans in the first two rows lean away and try to ward off the incoming ball. 

Not Keith and Zack. 

Keith moves to the wall and neatly snags the ball in his bare right hand as the Dodger first baseman lunges futilely over the rolled infield tarp. Meanwhile, Zack is neatly tucked into his Dad’s left arm, his eyes on the ball, his bottle firmly clutched in his hands and mouth. 

Others may complain about risks but I applaud Keith’s instincts. He’d be one of my choices for the first ten stout-hearted men. Twenty years from now, Zack would make the first ten, properly taught by his father how to act like an American. The first lesson was in taking him to Wrigley Field before he was old enough to know the Cub’s historic record. Sure, they fall short of the mark most of the time, but they hang in there swinging and running and occasionally hitting the ball and often catching it. 

It’s the perseverance that’s deserving of emulation by all Americans, not to mention keeping one’s eyes on the ball, which Zack seems to have mastered at an early age. 

Then there’s Kari. She remarked, “I was a little bit nervous………. he held on tight to both the ball and Isaac, so we were OK.” There’s no reason why Kari couldn’t have been the one to catch the ball but I doubt she harbors any resentments it was Keith who did the job. Kari is one of those All-American wives and mothers who accept and encourage maleness in their men. 

How does this apply to all the nonsense in Executive Branch, Congress, Supreme Court and our international policies? America is going wrong because its leaders are like the guys in the first rows at Wrigley Field. They shy away from the ball for fear they might miss it and people would blame them. It might hit them on the head and knock them out of the game. They might catch it and not know what to do with it. With all the Republican candidates is there one who is a Keith Hartley act-alike? Forget the Democratic Party. Forget those Republicans who are demagogues. 

Bill Lifka