Saturday, 31 December 2016

The King's Son, The Gulf War and Obama

Along with millions of my countrymen, I have been appalled at Obama and Kerry's 11th hour abandonment of Israel, the US's loyal and stalwart democratic ally in the Middle East.

Seeking spiritual meaning in these macro-events, I recall the experience of living in Israel during the first Gulf War (1990-91).

Thirty-nine Scud Missiles were fired from Iraq into Israel during that war. With each rocket, the warning sirens blared and we Israelis ran for our 'sealed-rooms', put on our gas masks, and prayed.

According to reports, either 39 or 38 Scud Missiles hit Israel, with a total casualty toll of two deaths (one reportedly a heart attack), one severely wounded, ten seriously wounded and around 230 people lightly wounded.

According to reports, there was an additional Scud Alarm sounded in Israel at the end of the Gulf War, but that missile never hit Israel. Instead, that single Scud missile was fired at Saudi Arabia and hit a US barraks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 U.S. soldiers.

In a research paper published in Nature in 1993, examining the impact of the Scuds fired at Israel, and comparing the casualties with other conflicts involving ballistic missiles attacks on urban targets (London in the 2nd World War, and Tehran in the Iran/Iraq War), the authors conclude that the expected causalties from Scud Missiles would have been around 5 deaths per missile, with a total of between 150-200 fatalities.

The researches concluded, among other factors:

Coincidence. Substantial statistical fluctuations are expected in attacks involving only a small number of inaccurate ballistic missiles with small damage radii. Since only about ten warheads detonated in Israeli cities, luck must have played a crucial role in determining the overall casualty rate. Indeed, there is considerable anecdotal evidence that good fortune played an important role in reducing casualties in Israel. Of the warheads that detonated in Israeli cities, one hit the only empty lot in a densely populated neighborhood; two others hit a factory and a partially constructed shopping mall during the night. Several other Scuds landed near unoccupied buildings: an underground bomb shelter, a municipal center, and a school. Even when Scuds severely damaged occupied buildings, casualties were remarkably low: a missile that landed in an alleyway between several apartment buildings and caused one building to collapse killed only one person, and an attack that destroyed a two-storey house and severely damaged several others also killed only one person; two people reportedly survived only because they disobeyed government instructions and went to their basement bomb shelter.

At the time, a rabbi in Israel (I forget who) told a fascinating 'moshal' (illustrative story).

There was a king who wanted his son, the prince and future monarch, to understand the severity of sentencing subjects to be lashed.

The king therefore ordered his Chief Executioner to flog the prince with 39 lashes (the highest permissible number). This was in order to give the prince a sharp painful personal lesson about administering this punishment.

The Chief Executioner had a dilemma.

He was required to fulfil the King's instructions, of course, but he was also mindul that the prince would one day be the monarch, and his boss.

The executioner therefore took up his whip and lightly touched the prince's back 39 times. No blood, and no pain.

The king stood up angrily, and told the executioner to pass him the whip. The king then hit his son, the prince, with one mighty blow with the whip. The prince screamed, the whip spilled blood.

The King's message was delivered.

The rabbi who told the moshal said that the nimshal (meaning) of the story is that the thirty nine lashes which were light taps, were the thirty-nine scuds which hit Israel. The king's 'real' last lash, was the Scud which hit the US Barraks. The King, as is common in such stories, is God.

In other words, we Israelis needed  to appreciate that we were protected (perhaps underservedly) by God from all the 39 Scud attacks by Iraq, each one of which could have been as devestating as the one attack in Saudi Arabia.

Our prayers had been answered, and God had been merciful.

And so we come to Obama and Kerry.

For eight years, Obama and Kerry have held power in the USA, and their anti-Israeli activities were limited and caused little damage. Indeed, US Aid continued to be awarded to Israel, and Israel was consistently protected by the US Veto, from the wolves pack, which is the UN. Although the administration attempted to broker "peace" between the Israelis and Palestinians, this was quietly abandonned as it became clear that there was no deal to be done.

Israel came out of the eight years, reasonably unscathed.

Now that Obama is a "lame duck", in his last days in office, in the process of handing the Government over to Donald Trump... Oabam's administration is launching the equivalent of the 40th Scud of the Gulf War, the 40th lash from the King.

Obama's power to turn the world against Israel, has been done with a flick of his wrist, an Abstain vote, instead of a Veto. Delivering a bloody thrashing, instead of a light tap.

We fear that Obama has more vicious diplomatic attacks planned against Israel, in Paris and perhaps again at the UN.

Regardless, the overall spiritual message is that we can now better appreciate God's blessing over Israel, who has protected us from exactly the same awesome powers which are in Obama's hands, and causing us so much damage in the past days, for the past eight years.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Reviews of Photo Aps

If you, like me, are from the era of Kodak Instamatic, Polaroid, and (for the more sophisticated), Single Lens Reflex, then you probably share my awe for the power of 'simple' phone cameras, and the wizardry now offered by photo processing aps.

Over the past year I have been discovering the amazing power of my (then new) Samsung Galaxy S5 phone camera.

The quality of simple 'snaps', can be astounding, and the behind the camera operations, functions and options are also (with a little practice) impressive.

But the ultimate photographic experience is combining the sophisticated little camera on the phone, with a range of (usually free) photo processing aps.

Perhaps the most popular photo ap is Instagram, used by over 500 million people, which offers photo editing, a range of beautifying filters and a social media combo - allowing you to publicise your great photos to people/friends who may be appreciative of you and your work.

You are warmly invited to "follow" my Instagram page:

I also use PicsArt. If Instagram makes a good picture more beautiful, then PicsArt turns a good photo into art. Easy photo editing, prepares your photo for transformation with an array of creative filters and effects.

As I understand the theory of 'filters', as used by artistic photo aps, consider a famous artist, say Picasso. During his cubist period, Picasso didn't simply draw out random shapes and colours. He saw an object and changed it in a consistent and creative fashion to produce his end result, a cubist painting of that object. Picasso applied a process, even rigorously.

This artistic process can be recreated in software algorithms, to give a computer generated Picasso-like effect to your 'regular' photos. Or any other real or imaginary artist's creative processes.

The photo processing ap Prisma excels in their artistic filters, or processing algorithms. As a user, you can flip through the various filters and chose which effect you find most satisfactory for your specific photo. The range of output images from any given photo is astounding.  

The down side, is you have little control over the filter output - basically you can strengthen or weaken the effect, but not much else.

Here are some examples of my photos using Prisma:

If you are looking for more control over the facets of your photo processing, then I recommend Snapseed. Snapseed's tools set and filters can create dramatic and beautiful images, while you remain in control.

Snapseed examples:

For lighter fun, I recommend PIP Camera, which offers (regular) tools and some fun and impress-your-friends effects and filters. (I understand if you pay, you can remove the PIP watermark).

I must also mention Google's "Photos", which is part of the google suite and is integrated with Google My Drive.

As well as storing all your photos (free up to a point, after which you may have to buy Google Drive memory space), you can also edit them and use filters.

But for me the most astounding feature is the image recognition. For example, it will recognise specific people and animals, or objects, and group them for you.

So it recognises that I am in certain photos. I can label me as "David". I then select a picture of my wife Julie, and label a photo of her "Julie". Not only will it recognise (to a reasonable accuracy) all the photos with "David" or "Julie" in them, but also "David + Julie" to find any photos where we both feature.

"Photos" will also group your photos by date or theme, and even create collages and short video sequences using related photos.

Here's a "Photos" automatically created collage of my daughter and her family which caught my eye:

There are many more aps and tools for processing your photos, and publicising & distributing them.

Other well known products, which I haven't explored yet, include Pixler, Camera360, Flickr and the iconic Photoshop.

I advise you to use your cellphone camera regularly, select the better snaps, and experiment with any of the photo procesing and editing aps.

When all said and done, a good photo is indeed worth a thousand words!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Quantum Effect of Polls

If you ask 10,000 people who they are going to vote for, and 6000 say Blue, and 4000 say Red, then within a very small margin of error, you can predict that out of a million voters, around 600,000 will vote Blue, and 400,000 will vote Red.

Donald Trump's unexpected victory is the fourth time we have recently seen the pollsters and political commentators get it absolutely wrong.

The Brexit shock, the British National Elections Tory trouncing of Labour, and  Netanyahu's victory in the last Israeli election, were similarly against every poll prediction and the pontifications of every credible political commentator.

What is apparently at stake is not just the credibility of polls, or of political commentators, but the very basis of statistics. If political polls are worthless, then perhaps their mathematical basis is also bunk?

Or, as Churchill would have it - "there's lies, damned lies, and statistics".

However, these same statistical theories used by the pollsters are also the basis of medical testing, economics, quality control and life insurance. Our 21st Century life is, without exaggeration, based on the scientific truth of statistics.

In this context, I propose that the pollsters should consider the Quantum Zeno effect. Also known as the Turing paradox.

At the quantum level, there is a phenomena  in which an unstable particle, if observed continuously, will never decay One can "freeze" the evolution of the system by measuring it frequently enough in its known initial state." (Wikipedia).

In other words, the mere observation of the unstable particle changes its behaviour.

I suggest that there is a similar effect, the Quantum Zeno effect of polls and commentators.

In the example I gave above, of 60% say they will vote Blue, and 40% say they will vote Red, there needs to be research done into the effect of that prediction on people's behaviour.

How would you vote, if I were to tell you 60% have said they will vote Blue, and 40% said they will vote Red?

I am willing to bet that people will NOT respond in exactly the same ratio of 60:40.

Rather, human nature will come into play and some people will go with the majority (if so many people say their voting Red, then I'm going with them too) while others will favour the underdog (I naturally cheer on David, not Goliath).

This, I suggest, is what has been going on in these three important national votes.

Beyond the regular statistics which apply to quality control of Coke bottles, and life insurance premiums,  when you're measuring human behaviour and there is a feedback-loop (you tell them loudly about how other people have responded), additional factors come into play.

In other words, what the polls & pundits publicly predict actually influences the election outcome itself.

That's the unchartered fourth dimension of these polling statistics and predictions.

I vote for the Quantum Zeno effect of polls.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Response to UNESCO: Jews on Temple Mount

Image result for Jews on Temple Mount

UNESCO's outrageous revisionist proclamations, denying the historical link between Jews and Temple Mount, cries out for an appropriate response.

Israeli Governments since 1967 have claimed Israel's rights to sovereignty on the Mount, but have then consistently refused to implement these same rights. Indeed, the current regulations forbidding Jewish prayer or ceremony on the Temple Mount, and the hostile & suspicious reception dealt out to Jewish visitors by the Israeli security forces, play directly into the hands of UNESCO and other re-writers of history.

If we the Jews do not exhibit and implement our deepest bonds to Temple Mount, why should the gentiles care any more for this connection than we do?

Instead of actively discouraging Jews from going up to Temple Mount, the Israeli Government should be encouraging, educating, promoting, and protecting a massive Jewish presence there.

Today, only a few thousand highly committed Jews venture onto the Mount each year.

However, if the top of the Mount were to be visited by Jews the same way the (less sacred) Western Wall is, with a million or more Jewish visitors each year, UNESCO's absurd declaration becomes entirely irrelevant.  

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Barry Chamish (OBM) & Me

There is a saying that a man holding a hammer is looking for a nail.

I was saddened to hear that Barry Chamish died this week, at 64.

I had a brief encounter with Barry probably around 1999, shortly after the publication of Who Murdered Yitzhak Rabin? (1998).

I admired Barry's courage in publicising his detailed theories about the Rabin murder, at a time when the left wing purge and harassment of the right wing was in its hey-day.

I invited Barry to my home in the still-young Ramat Beit Shemesh, and held a parlour meeting for the public to hear his presentation.

We (literally) had a packed house with (I guess) nearly 100 people crammed into my salon.

Barry arrived extremely late.

This was in the days before cellphone were ubiquitous, and so we only heard the reason for his mysterious delay after Barry arrived, flustered and upset, at our house.

Barry had arrived by taxi, which he ordered after dumping his car at a gas station somewhere on the Route 38.

The reason he had dumped his (rather old) car, was that his axle had split in two. This was potentially extremely dangerous and Barry considered himself lucky to have escaped from the incident alive.  

Barry joined the dots of this massive mechanical failure of his car, and told us his axle had clearly been tampered with that 'someone' had attempted to kill him.

After this dramatic introduction, and a stiff drink to calm him, Barry proceeded with his fascinating presentation of Who Murdered Rabin, with video of the assassination and his own frame-by-frame commentary.

I have no idea if there had been an assassination attempt on Barry Chamish's life that night, or if his car had simply suffered an unfortunate mechanical failure.

However, it says a lot about the man, and about his work, that there was credible ambiguity.

Barry sought out such ambiguities, and read them as conspiracies and devious plots. Not just about
Rabin, but about UFO's and broader Israeli and Middle East politics.

He was a man holding a hammer, looking for nails.

In the case of Rabin, I think Barry was close to the mark, if not spot on.

I am not the only one who suspects that the official narrative of that tragic night of Rabin's murder, is false.

Over 40% of Israeli apparently believe likewise.

And this includes Rabin's family, such as Dalia who I heard in an Army Radio interview this past November (the time of the Rabin memorial) state how she has unanswered fundamental questions about the official version of events, which she knows to be untrue.

Note; Dalia Rabin was Deputy Defense Minister under Arik Sharon - and had access to information way beyond a regular person's security clearance. She also was a personal witness, together with her mother, in the immediate aftermath of the assassination...

After Barry left our home, we remained in contact for a few years, and I even gave him some assistance with aspects of his Rabin investigation - I introduced Barry to the alleged 'real assassin' of Yitzhak Rabin, who was then residing in Netanya.

In the years which followed, Barry became emotionally broken, feeling his work was unappreciated, and he left Israel to return to the USA. He remarried there, I believe to a non-Jewish woman.

Although it would be natural to speculate "Who Murdered Barry Chamish?" - I frankly do not think he presented a serious enough risk to the establishment he despised so much, that "they" would launch a mission to kill him.

But, who knows?

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Under the Radar in China

Chabad regularly astound me with their remarkable mission to provide Jewish services absolutely wherever Jews may be present on the globe.

I had the privilege and pleasure of visiting Chabad in China recently, during a business trip.

The rabbi there explained how they operate - in a grey area, under the radar.

On the one hand, China's constitution upholds freedom of religion.

On the other hand, there are just five religious organizations which are officially recognised; these are (see Wikipedia)  the Buddhist Association of China, Chinese Taoist Association, Islamic Association of China, Three-Self Patriotic Movement (ie Protestantism) and Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

Judaism, with a tiny minority following in this vast country, understandably, is off the list of five.

Therefore, by the letter of the law, any Jewish organized religious activity is officially banned.

This is why the Chabad locations are outwardly discrete - no signage, banners, outsized Chanukiot, nothing...Just another villa on the row.

The unofficial deal with the authorities is that Chabad solely provide services to foreigners. There is no missionising to Chinese nationals.

As long as Chabad keep to this rule, the authorities do not interfere.

On occasion, they receive interested approaches by Chinese nationals, and they politely turn them away.

In still-communist China, you can't be too careful.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

End of Cheap Made In China?

Me in Shanghai, with a backdrop of some of the world's tallest buildings
I spent the past week in China, traveling for business in Shanghai and Chongqing.

It is my second visit, the previous being about a year ago.

Both times I was struck by the counter-intuitional lack of bargains available in the shops in China.

The first visit, I came with a wish-list of gadgets requested by members of my family.

I returned with some not-cheap phones, tablets, bluetooth speakers etc.

The bill was not dissimilar to what one might pay after some bargain-hunting in Israel and on the internet.  Furthermore, there were problems using this equipment in Hebrew and in Israel.

This time, I didn't take a shopping list.

Indeed a Chabad Rabbi in Shanghai told me that he doesn't buy anything anymore in China - but rather stocks-up on everything he needs on his occasional visits to the USA. He told me that, even if the goods are made in China, their quality and price will be better in the USA.

Further investigation and observation showed that the cost of Chinese labour is increasing, as the salaries and standard of living increases. New fancy cars clog the city streets, apartments in sought-after locations are among the most expensive in the world, and therefore goods produced in China are no longer particularly cheap.

Apparently the main sources of textiles and low-cost clothes are no longer China, but developing countries like Indonesia. Other manufacturing will also flow out of China also.

The trend is similar to the in and then out-flow of manufacturing to Jaspan, and to Hong Kong several decades ago.

The exceptions are likely to be electronics manufacturing, where the capital invested in China will anchor much of the production to this country also in the medium term.

As the economy further develops, China will need to carve itself out a reputation and capability for quality, not necessarily the cheap quantity, of development and productions.

"Made in China" will then read rather like "Made in Germany" does today.