Monday, September 30, 2013

Confessions of a Sourdough Slave: Slogging through the Muck

Well... it's been a whole lot longer than I'd intended, since last I wrote.  And I've read so many people's articles and blog-entries, that I don't think I can possibly reconstruct it all now.  But the important thing, I think, is this: I haven't given up.  My Sourdough Pet is still alive... and it DOES seem to have gotten stronger, over time.

That's just one of the (many) things I wasn't aware of, when I started all this... that it really does take TIME for a sourdough culture to develop strength enough to actually lift bread up in the air.  It's not just a matter of taste... the culture actually needs time (like a month or two) to get strong and vigorous.

Further, it appears to me that the culture will NOT develop that strength while sitting in the fridge. When you put a sourdough starter in the fridge, it severely slows its' growth. In fact, some of my sources say that it declines, and actually starts to die back, while it's in there.  So even when your starter is strong enough to make bread with, it still needs to be removed from the fridge for two or three feedings (figuring you're feeding it twice a day at room temperature) till it's likely to be back to its' old self and ready for action.

So naturally, since I figured that out, I've been keeping the starter on the counter, in a jar, and feeding it twice a day.  More or less.  Some days I forget, and it goes longer than it should... but at this point, it seems to be fairly forgiving.

I'm doing some things differently now.  One thing I've changed, is the hydration-- meaning, the amount of water in the dough, which in turn determines whether the starter is like mud, or like a ball of... well, dough.  My starter was originally at 100% hydration, or one part water, by weight, to one part flour.  It is now at 60% hydration.  That means that for every 100 grams of flour, my starter contains 60 grams of water.

It's actually a very important point, which I've been frustrated to find many people blithely overlooking when they write about this subject, that measuring things by weight is NOT the same as measuring things by volume.  If you put 100 grams of flour with 100 grams of water, you will make a 100% hydration dough.  But if you put a cup of flour with a cup of water... it's not the same thing at all.  Water weighs a lot more than flour... and flour is HUGELY variable as to how much air it has in it.  So while it's entirely possible to grow a sourdough starter without measuring by weight, it's NOT possible to be precise about it.

Don't get me wrong... I know that precision isn't everything.  But it is very helpful when you want to write down how to do something, or you want to be able to do it the same way next time.  So I confess to being a convert to the "measuring-by-weight" brigade.  I figure I'll be careful about things at first, while I'm figuring them out... and then get more relaxed later, when I can pretty much feed Desi in my sleep.

Oh, yeah, that's its' name--Desi.  Short for "Desem", which means (I think) "dry dough".  I thought at first that Desem referred only to a particular kind of bread, the Belgian kind made popular by Laurel Robertson in her "Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book".  Desem is supposed to be really terrific bread... Laurel gets all worshipful when she talks about it.  But it's pretty finicky stuff... needs absolutely pure, fresh, chlorine-free water and organic, fresh flour, and a very cool, consistent temperature (as in, no higher than 65 degrees F, if i remember right).  Oh, and it goes through TONS of flour, especially at first.  I looked at all those requirements, and at my 700 sq. ft. apartment, and realized immediately that traditional Belgian Desem was NOT in my future.  (But hey... if you have a basement, or you live in someplace chilly... it might be perfect for you).

Anyway.  "Desem" refers not only to the Belgian bread, but also more generally to the technique of keeping a sourdough in a more "lumpish" state, where it contains more flour and less water.  When a starter has less water in it, it doesn't expand as quickly after feeding... probably (I'm guessing) because the simple thickness of the dough slows things down.  It's easier to push a spoon through pancake batter than through a stiff cookie dough... same deal.  The little yeast-and-bacteria beasties can reach their food more quickly in a more liquid medium.

So a desem-style starter doesn't expand as dramatically after feeding... but (from what I've been reading) it's stronger.  It's also more forgiving if you miss a feeding.  In fact, supposedly you can keep a desem-style starter alive for weeks in a bag of flour, without refrigeration.  That's how the old miners did it, apparently... carried the starter in a bag around their necks.  Try THAT with a goopy, 100%-hydration starter!

Anyway... hydration affects all sorts of things, but the starter will still grow. I just picked 60% because it makes feeding simpler.  Also I wanted to throw away less flour!  My starter is a lot smaller now, too, only about 60 grams after feeding, thanks to Daniel Dimuzio, who is an admirably clear writer and noted bread-guru.  His writing helped me to begin to understand baker's math (still working on that) and hydration... and how much starter I should be adding to how much fresh dough, at a feeding... and how to plan the size of the starter I maintain, so that I can easily increase it to the right size to have enough to make bread and also continue the starter.

It's a little complicated.  It appears to be true that you need less of a strong, healthy desem-style starter, than you do of a more liquid-y one.  There's a site called Sourdough Home, where the author has done a translation of Laurel Robertson's basic whole-wheat bread recipe from regular yeast into sourdough, using a 100%-hydration starter.  I knew I would need less starter than was listed in that recipe, because mine is lower hydration. I knew I could figure out how much total flour was in the recipe, and I knew 210 grams of 100%-hydration starter is made up of half flour, or 105 grams of flour.  So I figured out that recipe contained about 25% of its total flour, as flour-in-starter.  Since the amount of flour contained in a recipe, or in a starter, is what everything is figured from (that's "baker's math" again), I was able to figure out how much of my 60% starter I would need, by weight, for the flour in it to be 25% of the total flour in the recipe.

See what I mean, that it's complicated?  I HATE math!!  I suspect a lot of other people do, too.  But it IS possible to figure it out... and I've started writing all that stuff down, and making lots of notes... so I can remember what I did, and what worked... and what didn't.

And... Desi is thriving!  Even in the cold weather we've had lately, and my need to keep the house cool at night so I can sleep, he swells up very respectably in his jar, like a small, tan snowball.  When I rip him open, to take out the twenty grams I need to keep him going in perpetuity, he is all nicely spongy inside... really, he looks very much like a bath sponge in the middle!  I weigh the flour and water for his feeding, in a small bowl, put him in, work it all together... and they all become ONE.  Back in the jar he goes... renewed, and ready to eat up all that lovely flour and strengthen and multiply himself.

It seems to me that, when I make bread,  my starter doesn't rise as fast as those of people I've been reading about... I'm hoping that's just a matter of maturity, on Desi's part.  Time will tell!

Okay, that's it for now.  May your pets thrive, and your bread be wonderful!

Heartland Institute: Slick and Sleazy

While much of the world was waiting for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC) to release its fifth report on global warming, the Heartland Institute released its fake report, issued under a fake name, with plenty of deception inside as well.

The Heartland Institute has been around for a long time. It has always remained true to its original mission. Heartland takes money from corporations and writes misleading articles on their behalf. Heartland also works with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to write laws that favor their donors. Heartland considers its primary audience to be lawmakers, just as ALEC does. They do not trouble themselves to convince scientists or the public. They merely want to confuse legislators and make sure they don't pass any regulations on CO2.

The fun begins with the intentionally confusing name of the group issuing the report. It's the Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Control (NIPCC). The fake report has a slick color cover. Just like the real report, the fake report has articles written by scientists, only instead of actual climate scientists who are contributing to the advancement of knowledge, they are scientists in name only, who draw paychecks from Heartland so long as they spew meaningless articles with scientific jargon.

Fred S. Singer is the head scientist at Heritage. He helped them in their campaign against regulations on second-hand smoke. Singer took money from front groups for the Tobacco Companies, but claims he never took money from the tobacco companies themselves. Nowadays Singer is the scientific front man for the oil companies that contribute to Heritage, including the Koch Brothers.

In addition to fake experts, the fake report has a number of testimonials. It does not include what Nature, the preeminent British scientific journal said about Heritage, In a 2011 editorial, Nature said

Many climate sceptics seem to review scientific data and studies not as scientists but as attorneys, magnifying doubts and treating incomplete explanations as falsehoods rather than signs of progress towards the truth. ... The Heartland Institute and its ilk are not trying to build a theory of anything. They have set the bar much lower, and are happy muddying the waters.1

That description by Nature fits the current fake report as well.

The general tenor of goofiness continues on the Heartland home page. There you will see a picture of David Suzuki, world-famous environmentalist, with the headline, “David Suzuki Attacks Climate Science”. If you click on the article you will find that Suzuki does not attack climate science. Instead he attacks “Climate Change Reconsidered II”--the fake report just issued by Heartland.

Accept no substitutes. The real IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change is here.

1Heart of the Matter, Nature 475, 432-424 (28 July 2011), The complete editorial is also informative.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

IPCC Report: Global Warming Demystified

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth report on Friday. Nothing much has changed since the last report. The biggest difference that I can see is the amount of certainty around some of the conclusions. Since this is science and happens in the real world, unanimity on everything is not possible. But there is unanimity, among the 800 scientists who helped prepare the report, on the following:

1. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal...The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”1

There is unanimous agreement, therefore, that the world has warmed. This has nothing to do with the past, before we had ways to measure such things, or the future, which must rely on predictions that may be disputed.

Another way of expressing this statement is that global warming is real and it is happening right now.

2. “Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth's surface [in the atmosphere] than any preceding decade since 1850.”2

This statement indicates that we are on the forefront of this problem and it shows no signs of reversing. There is unanimity among climate scientists on this point.

Many climate skeptics point to isolated incidents of cooling, such as an increase in Arctic Sea Ice or a particularly cool year, to challenge global warming. Note, however, that scientists do not claim that every year will be the warmest ever, or that sea ice will decrease every year. These kinds of data are best collected over a period of decades, not years. It would also help if observers take into account cyclic phenomena, such as the el Nino current, or volcanic eruptions. A simple glance at a falling thermometer will not make any difference to the overall trends.

As a result of this increased warmth generally, there are also specific results. Not everyone agrees on these events, but the IPCC considers them likely or very likely. The number of cold days and cold nights have decreased and the number of warm days and warm nights has increased on the global scale. The frequency of heat waves has increased in Europe, Asia, and Australia. There are more land regions where the number of heavy precipitation events has increased than where it has decreased. This includes North America and Europe.

3. “Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010.”

Humans live on land and are thus confronted daily with atmospheric weather. We do not often consider that the oceans contain much more substance than the atmosphere above us, and that therefore the oceans have absorbed far more energy from excess CO2 than the air. This is a lucky thing, since without the ocean's ability to absorb CO2, we would be in far worse shape than we are.
    4. “Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in some climate extremes.”3

Evidence for human influence has increased in the last 5 years.

    5. “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”4

Up to this point in the summary, IPCC has only considered what has happened in the past and what is happening now. Predictions for the future are much less definite. Some of the computer models are better than others. IPCC predicts weather for land masses better than for local areas. Predictions of melting icecaps are particularly elusive, resulting in huge variations of outcome. For instance, the melting of the Greenland Icecap would contribute 15 to 30 feet to ocean levels, but we cannot as yet predict when that will occur.

What we know is that longer rainy seasons and shorter growing seasons will not bring us more crops. Longer droughts will require better planning and inventions to save energy and maintain our standard of living.

One of the new features of this version of the IPCC report is the addition of scenarios that could alleviate the worst effects of global warming. These scenarios will be of vital importance in the years ahead.

We can hope that we do not follow the lead of Australia, which has just abandoned all its governmental planning for global warming. There seems to be a strong Luddite wind blowing in the world right now. People fear the future and don't trust Science to help them find a way forward. The question to ask ourselves is this, if we don't trust Science, who can we trust? The Bible and the Qur’an will no doubt give us solace as quality of life erodes on our planet. Only Science can offer us a way to fight that erosion.

We need leaders who will tell the truth and make plans for the future. Let us hope we will find them.
1Working Group I Contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis
Summary for Policymakers 2, IPCC, 2013,
3Ibid, 12.

4Ibid, 14.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Koch Brothers: Liberals are conspiring against us!

Note: In keeping with the Koch brothers' love of anonymity, consists of a number of anonymous posts. For convenience, this post assumes that all the articles are written by someone named Koch.

The Koch brothers are whining again. They claim to be misunderstood. Nice guys, really. Their libertarian views (which are a lot like Mitt Romney's views about the 47%) are good for everyone. Since Koch never did anything wrong, he assumes there much be a great liberal conspiracy to attack him and blacken his reputation. states that a conspiracy began in May 2010. The proofs he offers for this claim are few and those few are debatable.

  1. Charles Lewis began a study with his students at American University that, says Koch, “repackages nearly every false and misleading attack leveled against Koch over the past couple of decades.”
  2. Barack Obama began “calling out” conservative groups in his speeches.
  3. The IRS began targeting tea party groups for special scrutiny, as well as groups that sought to educate the public about the Bill of Rights or desired to make the country a better place.
  4. Austan Goolsbee publicly accused Koch of not paying taxes.
  5. An internal Media Matters for America memo laid out that organization's and its allies' three-year plan “to initiate actions that promote progressive thinking and policies in the media.”
  6. Democrats and other activist groups began fundraising efforts on the backs of Koch.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. None of these items suggests any secret plan or conspiracy to attack Koch.

  1. The study by Charles Lewis and his students is thorough academic study of Koch Industries and its influence on Conservative organizations. The study uses public IRS forms to trace where Koch donations had been made. This is frequently difficult because Koch has set up an elaborate thicket of groups that conceal where contributions came from and where they went. The clear takeaway from this study is that Koch does not want the public to know what it is doing with its money. Koch attacks this study because it was funded by liberal organizations. The authors gave Koch notice of its publication, but Koch refused any comment.

  1. Barack Obama began calling out conservative groups that opposed Democratic candidates and ideas in an election year. There has never been any evidence that Obama orchestrated any sort of conspiracy. Many of these groups had been making personal attacks on Obama for years, forcing him to distance himself from longtime associates, calling him a socialist, claiming he was unwilling to accept conservative ideas, questioning his birth certificate. It would have been remarkable if Obama had not called out conservatives for baseless and irrelevant attacks. Koch was one of the primary funders of such attacks through its numerous charities/front groups. Social Welfare Groups (501(c)(4)s), which are supposedly non-political, gave $254 million in political contributions in 2012. Much of the money was funneled through Koch's Americans for Prosperity Group.1

  1. One IRS officer targeted political groups for audits, but these were not just conservative groups. The IRS also targeted progressive groups. While none of the conservative groups failed to achieve tax-exempt status, two progressive groups did. The right-wing noise machine has morphed this problem into a bigger deal by claiming that all investigations of 501(c)(4) groups are politically motivated, but the IRS has an obligation under the law to determine whether a group is primarily political in nature or not. The right-wing has an issue with the IRS about how it should apply its regulations, but the problem is a bureaucratic one, not a political one. No evidence has ever connected the White House with these investigations.

  1. Austan Goolsbee did not, apparently, have access to information about Koch's taxes. His comments indicated that Koch paid no corporate taxes because it is organized as a pass-through entity, such as a limited liability corporation (LLC) or a partnership. He was only guessing about this,however, and Koch subsequently revealed that it was organized as a regular corporation. Koch here implies that Obama was using confidential tax information to attack his political enemies. The only proof of this is an off=hand remark by an employee.2

  1. The great power at the heart of this conspiracy is a relatively small non-profit called Koch states that MediaMatters engages in politically motivated attacks against groups that the left and its allies disagree with. He publishes an internal memo from MediaMatters that describes its mission to “initiate actions that promote progressive thinking and policies in the media.” But the MediaMatters memo describes no illegal methods. Their primary method is to take video clips from right-wing spokespersons and post them on a web site. They do not use ad campaigns against them, although they do ask advertisers to stop sponsoring these persons or programs. MediaMatters takes their own words, which may be inflammatory, or bigoted, or merely false, and publishes them. This method has made MediaMatters the object of Koch's anger, but it is not contrary to the First Amendment. These spokespersons have access to microphones and tv cameras. Their problem is that their words themselves are toxic. Furthermore, Koch appears to believe that MediaMatters plan “to initiate actions that promote progressive thinking and policies in the media.” is somehow insidious. I don't get it. Koch has been saying how much he loves free speech, yet here he attacks his rivals for speaking in defense of their own values.

  1. Koch is whining again. Democratic groups are raising funds on “Koch's back”. He makes it sound like he suffers personal pain whenever someone raises a dollar by invoking his name. He doesn't understand that his opinions and actions are actually hateful to progressives. His environmental views are considered by many a major threat to the survival of the planet. He blithely comments that he doesn't feel one way or the other about global warming. But failure to take actions to limit global warming is not an option. Not believing that global warming is happening and that his companies are having a big effect on it is not an option.

Koch has proven nothing about any liberal conspiracy to attack him in his article. He attempts to do so by associating the times of the events in the story with each other. Things that happen at the same time are not causes of each other. Furthermore, several of the events—IRS investigations, Charles Lewis study, Media Matters—have little or no relationship with the President or the Democratic Party. One of these “conspiracy” events consisted of an off-hand remark by a Cabinet member.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Koch wants us to believe there is a vast anti-Koch conspiracy. He has to provide some evidence for that if he wants us to believe it.

An alternative explanation is that Obama recognized the nature of his opponents and began attacking them. People hate and fear the Kochs both because of their words and actions and because their secrecy is troubling. For the most part, the Kochs actually did the things they are accused of. People have easily seen through their attempts to deny responsibility by claiming that some other “unrelated” group was responsible.

Make no mistake about it, the Kochs are the one percent. They fear and loathe the 99 percent and will attack them whenever they can. Many of the problems that beset America right now can be traced to the no-compromise, no-prisoners attitude of the Kochs.


Friday, September 20, 2013

NRA: 5 points of gun violence denialism

It's hard to tell how many people on the web are writing comments arguing against any kind of gun control. There may be hundreds, or maybe only one. Many of these posts use the same arguments. It's suspicious that so many of them have good grammar and spelling, because many commenters have neither. They appear to be copying talking points, just as climate change deniers parrot the same points, then move on when the latest on is debunked. How many fraudulent claims need to be debunked before people stop believing the next one?

In the same way, gun violence deniers hit the same points over and over again:

Stage 1. Gun violence is not a problem. This point works much of the time, but the deniers have a hard time defending it when 23 children are killed in a school, or 12 office workers and police are killed on a US navy base. Then, the deniers move on to stage 2 of their denialism.

Stage 2. OK, Gun violence is a problem, but there's a very simple solution: Everyone should carry a gun wherever they go, to church, to work, to school. This excuse works because many people are looking for revenge after the latest binge of senseless murders. But this excuse fails when a man armed with a shotgun breaks into a naval base and kills 12 people before he himself is killed by police. Surely the answer is not so simple.

Stage 3. Gun violence is a problem, but there is no solution so we'll just have to live with it. This opinion is currently being heavily defended by the NRA. One of their favorite tactics is to flood the internet with pro-gun violence posts. This approach, a form of trolling, reminds me of a denial of service attack, where hackers send thousands of fake messages to a website, forcing the website to shut down. Only people who have no real confidence in their message and are at the same time utterly unscrupulous, would use this tactic, but that's the NRA in a nutshell. But the argument that there is no solution is easily disproved because there are numerous countries where gun control measures have been adopted and the murder rate has declined. For example, the murder rate in the US is 27 times higher than that of Australia.

Stage 4. Gun violence is a problem. Solutions that have worked in other countries will not work in the US, either because the US is unique (exceptional) in the world. Australia, for example is said to have suffered urban violence in recent years. Statistics do not show any increase in the murder rate due to urban violence in Australia. Stories told of other countries with low murder rates turn out to be exaggerated or made up entirely.

Stage 5. Gun violence is a problem, but we can do nothing to stop it because the US constitution guarantees Americans the right to keep and bear arms. The Constitution, however, does not guarantee the right of Americans to kill each other with guns. In District of Columbia v. Heller, (554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, but that

nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.1

Since Heller, the NRA has persisted in passing ever more lenient gun violence laws. Each new law increases the likelihood for sudden death at the hands of enraged gunmen. The NRA has taken its anti-democratic tactics to new levels with contributions from obscenely rich men. Our only hope of sane gun violence policy in this country is that the Supreme Court decided Heller by only one vote. A future, less ideologically hidebound court, will certainly reverse that course.

NB: As I have indicated, the NRA has tried to stifle opposition to its views. If you agree with the opinions expressed in this post, please circulate it to your friends and, by so doing, help end the NRA's reign of terror over the corrupt and cowardly politicians who currently inhabit the Capitol and our statehouses.

1. DC v. Heller, Opinion of the Court, p. 54.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A mass killer in Washington

The NRA preaches that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun. This is patent nonsense, but is repeated so often and with such conviction that millions of Americans wind up nodding their heads.

These honey-coated words hide a great lie. There is no way to stop a bad guy with a gun, except to keep him from getting it. Today, in the nation's capital, Washington DC, a guy with an assault rifle used it to kill 12 people. If that guy couldn't get an assault rifle, all those people would still be alive.

The site of the killing was the Washington Naval yard. This is an area that requires security clearance to enter. If this secure site could not stop a man with a gun from entering and killing people, then no place can. Schools, churches, movie theaters--all are vulnerable so long as violent men are able to obtain high-powered weapons and the ammunition they use.

There is no way to measure the amount of damage this fact does to our society. People are scared, and justly so. Frightened people can be convinced to do stupid things, like failing to control the number of guns in our society, but even worse, voting to elect people to office who are incompetent and corrupt because those candidates promise to protect us and our loved ones from harm.

No more. No more cowards elected to public office. No more guns. No more excuses. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Message for President Obama: War is Obsolete

Warfare as practiced by European nations has been obsolete since World War I. Sometimes the news travels slowly. There are always sociopaths like Bashar Al-Assad and Saddam Hussein who don't understand the dark side of power and are willing to use war to hold on to their positions.

War was already obsolete when an anarchist's bomb took the life of Austrian Arch-Duke Ferdinand in 1914. The great powers of the day—England, France, Germany, Russia, Austria—didn't realize the futility of war then, but they were about to find out.

The great powers developed a system whereby one power would threaten another with war unless some condition were met. The weaker side would give in quickly to avoid being obliterated. But the Great Powers kept on using the threat of war to get their own way, just as the playground bully shakes his fist and menaces the other children.

World War I changed all that. The Great Powers were throwing their military weight around as usual but no one backed down. Nearly all the countries in Europe became involved in a deadly conflict which was marked by wide-spread use of poison gas and the newly invented machine gun. Thirty-seven million people died. Governments toppled in Germany, Russia, and France. Countries fell apart—The Ottoman Empire split into numerous small states that are still causing trouble today: Iraq and Syria were created from remnants of the Ottoman Empire.

The Great Powers of Europe were humbled by their losses. They promised never to fight each other again. And so they didn't, for 20 years, until another huge war broke out between them that truly engulfed the entire world. More than 60 million people died in that war.

As a result of these 2 disastrous wars, the European powers gave up trying to bully other nations. They created the United Nations and signed treaties promising not to attack other nations without just cause. Today, only one country, the United States, still believes in Great Power politics. It still threatens other, weaker countries, and goes to war if its demands aren't met.

Under Presidents Reagan, the two Bushes, and Clinton, the U.S. continued to attack countries with an enormous military machine. In 2008, the citizens of the U.S. elected Barack Obama instead of John McCain as their president, at least partly because they though Obama would end wars rather than start them. Obama has ended wars, though not as quickly as we had hoped. McCain, from his seat in the Senate, kept on urging Obama to start new wars. But Obama resisted the temptation.

Now, Obama seems to have fallen under the influence of bad advisors. These advisors, including some in the military and many in the press, have urged him to attack Syria because of the atrocities committed by the Syrian government against its own people. Eventually, Obama decided to attack Syria to “punish” the regime for using chemical weapons.

Obama forgot that war itself is an atrocity. If we attack another country to punish it for going to war, we become the war mongers, the killers of civilians, the agents of death and destruction. If we attack Syria, the world press will be filled for years with pictures of victims of American aggression and our hospitals will be filled with our own wounded soldiers.

Nothing can be achieved by war that cannot be achieved more cheaply and with less destruction by other means. Syria's government should be made to pay for its atrocities, but the people should be spared further suffering at our hands. The proper forum for punishment is the International Criminal Court, where Bashar Assad and his cronies will be prosecuted alongside the perpetrators of violence in Kenya, Uganda, Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Mali.

The way to deal with Assad and his ilk is through diplomacy and economic pressure. All of these perpetrators have bank accounts outside Syria. We should freeze their assets. We know (or can discover) the companies who are selling them arms. We should put pressure on those companies to change their ways if they want to stay in business.

Putin has taken center stage in Syria. He wants to be considered an important player on the world scene. He wants Russia to return to her time of greatness. In other words, he wants to start up the Great Powers game again.

America cannot counter the Putins of the world if our hands are not clean. We can't credibly attack Syria for using poison gas if we supplied Saddam Hussein with poison gas to use against Iran. The Iranians are going to remember that. We can't credibly attack Assad for murdering his own citizens in a civil war when we started a war in Iraq that resulted in more than 115,000 civilians killed by violence. It may be that our actions in Iraq were less intentional than Assad's in Syria. But our intervention in Iraq was a violation of the UN Charter and an unintentional death is still a death that would not have happened without U.S. intervention.

Barack Obama came to the Presidency with little or no foreign policy experience. He had served in the Senate for only two years. He had drawn attention to himself by opposing the Iraq War, but had little knowledge of the machinery of war, armies, weapons, spies. The American war machine was complex, since the American people were not militaristic but presidents wanted to carry on war continuously nevertheless.

Obama promised to end the Iraq War and expand the Afghan War to find Osama Bin Laden. He fell into the traps set for him by the generals. They told him they would win the Afghan war with just a few more troops. The Surge, they called it. Obama believed them and gave his approval to the tactic.

The Surge in Afghanistan was expensive and gained nothing, no territory, no strategic advantage, no improvement. After the Surge, Obama stopped approving new initiatives in Afghanistan and began an inevitable drawdown that would lead to withdrawal.

Obama was suspicious of his generals, but he accepted their philosophy of American power. They told him that America must prove she is a SuperPower. She must impose her will around the world. If necessary, she must use force, to prove her strength to her enemies. Then they waited for an opportunity to become involved in another war.

American militarists believe the America has a right to attack any country in the world if that country is harming its citizens or neighbors. Obama certainly knew international law, which states that any intervention in the affairs of a sovereign country is a violation. The militarists chose their issue well. Obama has two daughters and loves them. He was blinded by his love for the children who lost their lives in Syria. The militarists were gleeful. They foresaw another decade of war.

But Obama disappointed them. Not only was the plan illegal, the American people opposed it. He gave up his plan of revenge. The militarists were stunned. They called him vacillating and weak. Nicolas Kristof, no militarist, claimed the American president must keep his word, once given. This is nonsense. Everyone has the right to change his mind.

So the Great Power theory of foreign policy is moribund. If America will not play the game, no one will. The other countries of the world must take up the challenge. Acting together, they must uphold international law.

War is henceforward obsolete and now everyone knows it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Libertarian fantasies: Life without the Constitution

You can have your own theories but you can't have your own facts.

Charles Koch doesn't seem to agree with this maxim. He wants to have his own theories and back them up with his own facts as well. In 2012, Koch stated that only countries with economic freedom can create widespread prosperity. He says the poorest people in the most-free societies are 10 times better off than the poorest in the least free.

This is probably true, but there's no way to prove that the poor are better off because of economic freedom. The most-free economic societies, as determined by a subjective formula, are also among the richest, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. The poorest countries are countries truly devoid of economic assets of any kind: North Korea, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Cuba. The poor in the most wealthy countries are undoubtedly better off than those in the poorest. For one thing, the richest countries have a social safety net that cares for the poor.

Koch also fails to note that the Heritage Foundation, which makes up this list of most-free countries annually, has received support from Koch of up to $500,000 a year. So Koch is able to buy a think tank to support his controversial views. He hasn't received a good return on his investment, however, since the theory of most-free economies proved nothing at a cost of over a million dollars.

Koch claims that the U. S. government, by its subsidies, has forced the cost of energy up. Energy from wind energy, he says (without attribution), has been pushed up 5 times. The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA), on the other hand, estimates the cost of wind-generated energy from new plants at approximately the same as energy from new coal plants. EIA's estimate includes subsidies for wind and the cost of building the power plants.

Koch is just flat wrong about what he calls “cronyism”, which is where the government picks winners in the economic marketplace. He's wrong because many of the most important U.S. industries were started by “cronyism”. The railroads were started by government subsidies in the decades after the Civil War. The demand the railroads created for steel and coal boosted those industries as well. WWI gave great impetus to the airline industry, which went from the fragile biplanes built by the Wright Brothers to planes that could fly higher, faster, and with greater maneuverability. These planes were financed by the government.

The jet engine, rocket-propelled flight, and advanced telemetry came out of WWII, along with the electronic computer, which was developed by the government to help target powerful, longer ranged cannon shells. During the Cold War, the U.S. developed guided missiles and miniaturized guidance systems that put a man on the moon. These miniaturized systems were refined into silicon chips that made America the world leader in computers and electronic technology for decades. The internet was designed by government projects to keep communications open during a nuclear attack. In fact, one could easily argue that the problem with American technology after the development of the world-wide web was that the government was not spending enough money on research and development of the kind that Koch calls crony capitalism.

Koch ignores the pollution caused by coal, here as elsewhere. He apparently believes that air pollution, not to mention greenhouse gas production, should not be considered as a factor in choosing between wind or fossil fuels. The fact that Koch Industries buys petroleum coke, a particularly dirty fuel, and sells it to China, proves that China's air pollution problems are less important to Koch than company profits. Koch insists in the same post that trouble begins when “companies take their eyes off the needs and wants of consumers”. Koch Industries hasn't considered the “needs and wants” of Chinese consumers when it sells dirty fuel to them, or the health of residents of Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, when Koch Industries dumps a heap of petroleum coke 40 feet high on a city block beside the Detroit River.

Koch's agenda is astonishing. He wants to abolish the federal government.

Subsidies and mandates are just two of the privileges that government can bestow on politically connected friends. Others include grants, loans, tax credits, favorable regulations, bailouts, loan guarantees, targeted tax breaks and no-bid contracts. Government can also grant monopoly status, barriers to entry and protection from foreign competition.1

Two of the powers Koch mentions (tax credits, targeted tax breaks) rely directly on the government's ability to tax, granted by Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution. One of the main reason the Constitution was ratified in the first place was that the central government under the Articles of Confederation had no power to tax. Without the power to tax, the federal government will be powerless to do anything. Even a standing army would be out of the question. All the powers would devolve to the states.

The sovereign states would have much more power, of course, if they chose to use it. Those states which choose to follow the libertarian principles of Koch will likely have very weak governments. Government services would be minimal. Social safety nets would be nonexistent. These states would most likely be the southern and mountain states that currently vote reliably Republican.

The other states would continue to have strong governments with social services. They would be wealthier, because they would not have their federal taxes redistributed to the poorer states, as they do now.

Koch would also repeal the commerce clause of the Constitution, which permits the government regulation of business. This clause was used to prevent private businesses from discriminating against minorities. Repeal of the commerce clause would end civil rights in this country, or rather, in the new countries that would be organized from the former red states.

Koch would not oppose such a move, even though it would mean the return of segregation and Jim Crow laws. Koch gives tens of millions of dollars to his various charities, he has seldom, if ever, given a dime to a charity that benefits minorities or supports civil rights. His views on this subject are clear.

Koch ends his post on “corporate cronyism” by announcing that

If America re-establishes the proper role of business in society, all kinds of benefits will accrue. Our economy will rebound. Our liberties will be restored. And when President Obama tells an entrepreneur “You didn’t build that,” everyone will know better.

If Koch's plan to suppress the taxation and commerce clauses of the Constitution were successful, only giant corporations could afford to conduct business in America because they are the only ones that could afford to build the roads, pipelines, and electrical lines that would be necessary to build anything. We are indeed fortunate that Koch's array of fake grassroots organizations with their phony statistics and well-paid shills has not yet succeeded. Do not believe this man. He wishes us all ill.

1Charles Koch, Corporate Cronyism Harms America, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 9, 2012,

Kochfacts debunked: Exposing a Koch whopper

In 2012, attacked Jacqueline Palank for a line in an article she wrote for the Wall Street Journal.1 In this line, Palank wrote that Koch was “funding an ad campaign criticizing the Obama administration's support for the bankrupt solar company, Solyndra LLC.” wrote that Koch was among the tens of thousands of contributors to Americans for Prosperity, but that Koch had no control over the campaign and had not directed funding toward it.

Koch provided 84 percent of the funding ($13 million) for the predecessor to Americans for Prosperity (AFP), Citizens for a Sound Economy, before 2003. Koch also provided $1 million to AFP through the Claude R. Lamb Charitable Foundation, a Koch front group, which represented about a tenth of AFP's total income for that time period 2006-2008. In 2010, AFP received $2 million in contributions from a Koch-funded organization, Protect Patients Rights, that spent $55 million attacking Democratic candidates in 2010.

Someone who donates $16 million to an organization is not just one among thousands of contributors. Furthermore, Koch has a history of attacking projects he opposes. Koch has been chairman of the board of AFP. They will spend his donations as he recommends.

A strong inference can be made from these facts:
  1. Koch donated at least $15 million to AFP.
  2. Koch has elsewhere written against Solyndra.
  3. AFP ran an ad campaign against Solyndra.
  4. Therefore, Koch funded the ad campaign against Solyndra.

This inference might not be convincing in a court of law, but it is strong enough to support Palank's assertion.

Koch could settle this argument by releasing his income tax records (including all the front groups he has set up to conceal his political activities) for the years 2004-2012, when he is believed to have donated millions to AFP. But Koch has not done that. Until he does, his attacks on Palank cannot be believed.

1 Exposing a Factual Error by the Wall Street Journal's Jacqueline Palank,, Feb. 13, 2012,

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Confessions of a Sourdough Slave: A Hopeful Beginning

A sourdough desem loaf (not mine!)
I've been educating myself, recently, about whole-wheat sourdough bread-making.  I thought that it would be a fairly straightforward thing, because people were making bread without commercial yeast for-- what?  Thousands of years, I expect, before that stuff in cakes and jars and little foil packets was invented.  So it can't be all THAT hard to do, surely.  Yeast and bacteria (which is what sourdough is, basically) are all around us... and IN us, too... heck, you can't avoid them, no matter how hard you try.  And bread is made of VERY simple stuff.

So I was surprised, I must admit, when the quest turned out to be somewhat difficult.  Oh, parts were easy... getting a starter culture going, watching it develop bubbles, and start to swell... it was kind of exciting, really. Carefully, I followed the instructions in Ed Espe Brown's classic, The Tassajara Bread Book. I fed the starter, nurtured it.  It looked pretty good to me (well... what did I know?)

So then I made his Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread.  The dough came together easily, silky and elastic. And kneading was a LOT more fun than I thought it would be... I actually found myself GIGGLING!  I found myself filled with a strange excitement, an anticipation... almost as if I was on the edge of something... something profound...

The dough didn't rise much.  It spread out quite a bit, though, especially when I baked it. When it came out of the oven, looking like a very promising door-stop, I felt somewhat deflated.  The thing was bread, technically... and one slice would pretty much hold you for the whole day, if your jaw survived the exercise. But my husband (who loves bread, and me, but not in that order) was very kind about it, and we gnawed it down.  After all, it was my first attempt!

Next I made Espe Brown's Whole Wheat Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough Rolls. The book said to let them rise for "fifteen hours or more".  After my last experience, I was prepared to believe that sourdough just really needed an incredibly long time to rise.  Another, more concerted, effort would undoubtedly produce better results.  More diligence! Try HARDER!!

I made the fermented raisins in raisin-water that the recipe called for.  It's a simple process; you put organic raisins in water and let it sit, covered, on your counter for three or four days, stirring once a day. The raisins puffed up, and the water got a little fizzy, which I was prepared for.  It all smelled very interesting... a sort of tangy, spicy, sweet-sour scent.  When the raisins were ready, I got some starter, and mixed up the dough.  I was feeling quite affectionate toward Mr. Ed Espe Brown.  He's really very charming and supportive; you can almost see him, a kind, jolly, relaxed, Zen-Buddhist friend standing at your elbow, cheering you on.

I put the raisin rolls on a pizza pan and set them on top of the fridge.  Ed Brown said to cover them with a damp towel.  So I did that, and went to bed.

In the morning, I got up, and wandered out to see how the rolls were getting on.  Horrors!!  The dishtowel (of course, what was I thinking?) had completely dried out, and combined itself, fiber by fiber, with the substance of the rolls.  They Were One.  Indivisible.

When I peeled off the dishtowel shroud, the poor, sad rolls were as flat as dead balloons.  I sprayed them with water.  I breathed on them.  I talked to them, and begged them to buck up.  They lay there.  So... I baked them.  What else was there to do?

They were a little like tough, thin English muffins... the kind with raisins, of course.  The outside was very dry, thick and hard; and of course, since they were flat, there was hardly any inside to speak of.  And yet... there was something about the tiny bit of inside that there was... a warm fragrance, a hint of succulent sweetness... I put honey and butter on them... and midway through my first one, I discovered I wanted a second.  And a third.  In fact, there was something about them that I just seemed to crave.  Could I be... was there such a thing as... sourdough-deficient?

I think it was the memory of that taste that kept me from giving up.  That, and the fact that I'm probably a tiny bit OCD.  Anyway, I didn't give up.  I redoubled my efforts.  And made a second doorstop.

I had also bought another, later cookbook from the Tassajara dynasty, Fields of Greens.  It had a short section on sourdough that contradicted Espe Brown's instructions in more ways than it agreed with them; it was complicated, detailed, and (to me) thoroughly confusing..  At first, I just gibbered and looked away... but eventually I decided that perhaps since it was a much later book, the information in it would be more reliable, in that it had withstood the test of time.  And Annie Somerville's recipes certainly had a precision about them, a thoroughness that Ed Espe Brown's (that ol' sweetie!) sometimes lacked.  I mean, she even sometimes measured things by weight, in GRAMS!

I've not had much experience with grams... not spelled THAT way, anyhow.  We had gotten a digital scale some time back, for the purpose of weighing our pet conure, and I always measured her in grams, because the vet said to keep her weight between 160 and 180... GRAMS.  That's ALL they meant to me.  180 grams... is a fat conure.

(I'm going to have to continue this another day.  My latest experiment has just come out of the oven, and so I can go to bed now, and it's past two o'clock in the morning so it's definitely past time.  Gotta work on that time thing...;)

Friday, September 6, 2013

What Rape Culture Looks Like: Steubenville, Billings, and the U.S. Naval Academy

Billings, Montana

Many people have heard about rape culture, but few know what it is. They are like fish, swimming in water but ignoring its existence.

Rape culture describes a society where violence, especially violence against women, is tolerated or even celebrated. To see what rape culture looks like, look around you.

Look at Billings, Montana, where District Judge G. Todd Baugh recently sentenced a teacher who raped a 14-year-old student to 30 days in jail. During the trial, the defense attorney argued that his client had "suffered enough" by losing his job, his marriage, and his self-esteem. Judge Baugh declared that the teenage victim (who subsequently committed suicide) was "probably as much in control of the situation" as her attacker and that she seemed older than her age.

Baugh knows that the law distinguishes between juveniles and adults. Juveniles, like this victim, are not considered responsible for their actions because they have not yet developed mature judgment. There is a separate judicial system for juveniles, where young people receive reduced sentences in less forbidding environments.

Baugh knows about the way the law treats juveniles. He also knows that the penalty for rape is severe, because he sentenced the rapist in this case to fifteen years in prison, before reducing the term to 30 days. This could only happen in a rape culture environment. Baugh's decision proves that he thinks it is acceptable, even harmless, for teachers to rape their students.  He is convinced that the victims somehow have more "control" that the rapists. Baugh's attitude rephrases an old and ridiculous cliche': the victim was "asking for it".

There are other elements to the Billings story. Baugh is a male caucasian; the defendant was also a male caucasian. The defendant was, like the judge, middle class, and college-educated. The victim, on the other hand, was a Latina girl. The judge found it easy to sympathize with the defendant and easy to accuse the dead child-victim of low morals. Easier, perhaps, because she wasn't alive anymore to defend herself. 

Baugh apparently forgot that the victim was not on trial. This inversion of roles is a strong element of rape culture. Society regards the victim as sullied by the act that was committed against her. Society believes that everything should turn out for the best for the "good" people, those with more wealth, more power, the educated, the men.

Steubenville, Ohio

Steubenville, Ohio, which celebrates its high school football team and worships its football heroes, also has a rape culture. Its student athletes experience adulation from an early age. Their character flaws are overlooked because they can catch a football.

A teenaged girl was recently gang-raped in Steubenville. She became too drunk to stand at a party, so she was carried to another location, where she was raped and sexually abused by at least 3 athletes while others looked on. No one reported the incident to the police. The girl did not tell her parents about the incident when she went home the next morning. Apparently the rape culture is so strong in Steubenville that no one bothers to report a rape.

The facts in Steubenville came to light because someone took a video of the rape victim being carried by two men and posted it on the web. The girl appears to be unconscious in the video, as she hangs limply between the two young men who are carrying her by her hands and feet. A naked picture of her also turned up. Both pictures were posted in social media sites and received thousands of hits.

Police in Steubenville seized the cell phones of the primary suspects and found that there were messages warning people to destroy any pictures they might have taken of the incident. Police eventually arrested three young men and charged them with rape. Two were convicted of rape and sentenced to terms of one and two years in juvenile detention.

Members of the community and the media were more concerned for the rapists than their victim. The young men were such fine athletes, good students, and had a great future ahead of them which would now be tragically ruined. I didn't notice any skepticism about the athletes being good students, although the fact was mentioned many times. Athletes frequently get undeserved grades. Some get tutors to do their assignments or take their tests.

The rape victim, on the other hand, was publicly humiliated. Her name became public knowledge. Two girls in Steubenville were convicted for threatening the victim with violence on social media. A video mocking her, posted on the web, got 2 million hits.

A number of people came to the victim's defense. Several of them identified themselves as Steubenville residents who had been raped as teens. None of them had come forward to accuse their attackers.

U.S. Naval Academy

When you put together football with military cohesion, you have a force that will stop at nothing to achieve its objectives. In the case of 3 midshipmen on the football team, the objective was the rape of a female midshipman, their classmate.

The military services have a horrendous record on rape. While the services are teaching recruits to win at any cost, they are also teaching them rape culture. The male is even more than usually dominant in this culture, the female merely the object of his lust. A survey released this year found that of an estimated 26,000 victims of sexual assault within the military services, only 3,374 reported the incident. About half who decided not to report the incident did so because they feared reprisal. And of those who did report sexual assault, over half experienced some form of reprisal.

The military commander has a difficult task. He has to lead his command, and he has to punish wrongdoers. Often, the command takes precedence over the punishment. In the case of the 3 football players, the trial was very hard on the rape victim. As is typical of rape culture, the victim was singled out for abuse. The victim was forced to testify for 14 hours about her wardrobe on the day of the rape, about how many lies she tells every day, and her sexual history, over and over again, in detail. This treatment was repeated for a second day, after the victim was given a day off to recover.

In the event that the football players are adjudged guilty, their punishment will be decided by the Superintendent of the Naval Academy. The victim's lawyers have filed suit to have the Superintendent removed from the case on the grounds that he has already shown his bias by permitting the victim to be abused by the court. Here again, the judge is a male, the accused are male, and the victim is a woman. Her treatment on the stand is appalling, and appallingly typical. It is rape culture at work.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

War and Peace: Obama's other options

President Obama has proposed taking military action to punish Bashar Al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people. Obama argues that permitting this use to pass unpunished would make it easier for other nations or terrorist groups to use chemical weapons against us and our allies.

I applaud Obama for his demonstration of humanity and compassion. Clinton and G.W. Bush used to speak about compassion, but they did so to justify inhumane acts, such as persecuting welfare recipients or starting wars in distant countries. Obama evidently believes in the rule of law. He believes that those who break the law must be punished in order for justice to be done.

Obama's heart is in the right place. But he is wrong about how to punish the Assad regime. Dropping bombs on Syria will only harm the Syrian people, not the dictator who is killing them. It will also continue the cycle of vengeance that laws were invented to prevent.

The cycle of vengeance is familiar to every student of history. If you attack me, or my friend, I will attack you, harder if possible. Then you will have to attack me to retain your self-respect. There is no end to this cycle.

The cycle of vengeance drives politics in the Middle East. Some Americans urge action against Assad because our enemies will not respect (or fear) us if we do nothing. People who say this believe that the cycle of vengeance can be ended by one more violent action, ours. They are obviously wrong. Our enemies take actions against us every day. Far from being deterred by our posturing, they are emboldened by it. Our acts of war convince people that we are a violent, lawless nation. The people of the world are more—not less—likely to oppose us because of violent actions we have taken and those we may make in the future.

Obama finds himself president of the strongest military power in the world. He also has a strong empathy for the people suffering in Syria. He believes he is the only one in the world who can aid the Syrians. We should applaud his motives, but not his intentions.

Obama can take many actions to further world peace without dropping bombs on anyone.

The United States should rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The US helped to set up these courts to handle international cases, but in recent years the US has become more isolated in the world, refusing to participate in world justice organizations because rulings have gone against us or our allies. When Assad finishes his reign of terror in Syria, the ICC will try him for crimes against humanity. Most likely he will be found guilty and punished for his crimes. That trial and punishment will be an example to other rulers that their crimes will not go unnoticed by the rest of the world.

The United States should call on all nations to stop providing aid and weapons to the Assad regime or to the opposition forces. The US should use its other great power, its wealth, to enforce this boycott. The US should call for all nations and corporations to divest themselves of economic instruments that support corporations engaged in warfare around the world.

Weapons do not magically come into existence. Corporations produce them and profit from their sales. The US should call on all corporations to stop providing such weapons to countries that abuse them. Corporations that fail to cooperate should be taxed to ensure that they do not profit from exporting misery.

Just as the US should convert to a green economy, it should also convert to a peace economy. In a peace economy, every economic decision that promotes peace is rewarded. Every economic action that promotes war is punished, not by bombs, but by economic disincentives.

The so-called war on terror has proven that the vast strength of our military is useless against a tiny, ragged band of committed soldiers. Our only safety comes from convincing people that they have nothing to gain from violence and everything to lose.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Genocide in Syria: The world must put an end to it

The Syrian civil war is a particularly horrendous one. It is comparable to the Rwandan civil war of 1990-1994 in which over 500,000 people were killed by the government and another two million forced to flee the country. Both wars were started by rogue governments who used propaganda to incite violence against minority populations. There have been over 100,000 deaths in the Syrian civil war, and perhaps a million refugees, who have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

The war in Rwanda was called a genocide. The war in Syria is now approaching the same level of violence. The UN failed to stop the former. Right now, the UN is standing by and watching the slaughter of Syrians by the thousands.

The civil war is between the Government of Syria and its opposition, which calls itself the Free Syrian Army. The primary supporters of Assad are the Allawites, a Shi'ite sect that comprises only 10 percent of the population. Assad receives weapons and money from Russia and Iran, whose rulers are also Shi'a, and military assistance from Hezbollah. Hezbollah, founded by Iran, are a state within a state in Lebanon, with perhaps 200,000 supporters and a battle-hardened militia.

The Free Syrian Army and its allies forces are primarily Sunni. They receive weapons primarily from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Syrian Government forces, supporters of Bashar Al-Assad, have used all the weapons of a modern military state in their campaign to remain in power. The US has condemned them for their use of chemical weapons, including the nerve-gas rison, but most of the deaths have been caused by conventional means, especially artillery shells and cluster bombs. Government forces are targeting civilians in hope of convincing them to stop sheltering the rebels.

The grotesque spectacle of a government killing its own people to stay in power has aroused the anger of much of the world. Russia and Iran are unmoved, however. The United Nations is powerless to provide military aid because Russia holds a permanent seat on the Security Council. At news that Assad may have used sarin gas against his people, Vladimir Putin said it didn't make any sense that Assad should use sarin against the rebels in a war that he was winning. Therefore, Putin theorized, the attacks, though real, were actually provocations intended to draw other nations into the war on the side of the rebels.

Putin's logic is faulty. Chemical weapons will not help Assad win the war, but that is not Assad's problem. He must win the peace. Since Assad's power base is the Allawite minority, just 10 percent of Syria's population, he needs to find some way to exercise authority over the Syrians after the war is over. Assad has chosen terror, as his father and Saddam Hussein did before him. Saddam used chemical weapons successfully to win his war with Iran and terrorize his own countrymen.

President Obama announced that the use of chemical weapons is a red line that Assad must not be allowed to cross with impunity. The US president says that chemical weapons pose a threat to the entire world, and that other countries will use them unless the US takes military action to “punish” Assad. Obama cannot seriously believe that the US can make a surgical strike and withdraw from the engagement. His military commanders must have told him that would be impossible. Assad has been telling his countrymen that Obama delayed his plans because he feared the reprisals that Assad would make.

Obama asked friday, "What's the purpose of the international system that we've built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world's people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?" In this sentence, as in others, Obama has spoken not just for himself and the American people, but for peace-loving people everywhere.

Obama never actually intended to do anything without Congressional approval. Right on cue, over 100 house members signed a letter to the president stating that engaging the military without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers delineated in the Constitution. Twenty-one Democrats joined Republicans in signing the letter. But Obama knew that House Republicans would oppose any action he might take. Many of them were waiting to see what would happen before making any statement. By delaying any action, Obama forces his political opponents to take a position on the record. He also emphasizes the fact that they are all on vacation and unwilling to return, while he is on the job in Washington.

Obama has given the English parliament what it asked for when it defeated Prime Minister Cameron's motion to support a strike against Syria. The English opposition insisted that Cameron should wait for the UN inspectors to file their report on the evidence of chemical weapons. Now they have their wish.

Finally, Obama has put pressure on the United Nations. It is the UN that proposed and ratified the international system that is supposed to safeguard human rights. But the UN system for enforcing its treaties depends on unanimous consent and is therefore seldom invoked. Outside observers have declared that the US cannot interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. The UN has declared that chemical weapons must not be used in warfare. Now would be a good time for the UN to prove that it, not the US, enforces international law. Genocide, not just chemical weapons use, is a crime against humanity.