Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ennobled by Poverty

The New York Times May 20

"SRE LEAV, Cambodia — Researchers are examining a long-unknown killing field in Cambodia with the graves of thousands of victims of the Khmer Rouge from the 1970s.

But local villagers found it first. By the time the researchers arrived in early May, some 200 graves had been dug up and the bones scattered through the woods by hundreds of people hunting for jewelry.

“Everyone was running up there to dig for gold, so I went too,” said Srey Net, 50, describing what seems to have been a communal frenzy that seized this poor and isolated village. “If they can dig for gold, why can’t I?”

The Religion of Peace

New York Times May 20

"What began as a raid on several homes in Tripoli early today in pursuit of suspected bank robbers tied to the militant group Fatah al-Islam quickly escalated into an open confrontation with members of the group, which has claimed loyalty to Al Qaeda’s principles, at their stronghold in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Tripoli.

Three soldiers and four militants were killed in that fight, officials said.

Hours later, militants tied to the group attacked an army patrol in the Koura region of northern Lebanon, Lebanese officials said, killing four other soldiers.

The Lebanese Army said this afternoon that Fatah al-Islam had also attacked army posts around the refugee camp as well as in northern Tripoli.

The fighting continued this afternoon as the Lebanese Army called in reinforcements, including tanks and heavy armor, and began shelling parts of the camp where the militants were believed to be hiding. Gunfire continued well into the afternoon, as Palestinians inside the camp called for a cease-fire in order to evacuate civilians from the area. It was not immediately clear whether any civilians inside the camp had been injured in the fighting.

Under an agreement with the Palestinian leadership, the Lebanese Army is not allowed to enter Palestinian refugee camps.

Last month Lebanese authorities arrested four members of Fatah al-Islam charging them with a bombing of two commuter buses carrying Lebanese Christians in February."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Laughing at the Mirror

I finally got the GMC Truck Center on the phone. As is usual for such places they promised three days and then took two weeks. As is usual they came in at just about three times the initial estimate. As is usual it sounds like they accomplished nothing at all except replacing things that did not need replacing.

I was working at being polite while the schmuck on the phone totalled up the made-up numbers to come out to the largest amount they thought they could get away with. Then I made the connection between the belated tax return I had just completed, and the other schmuck on the phone....

Sin at CERN

New York Times May 17, 2007

"The culprit is quantum weirdness, one principle of which is that anything that is not forbidden will happen. That means the Higgs calculation must include the effects of its interactions with all other known particles, including so-called virtual particles that can wink in and out of existence, which shift its mass off the scale."

Unlike Saturday night in San Francisco where anything that IS forbidden will happen.

Barely Worth Noting

New York Times Thursday May 17

"Fatah retaliated by attacking a position of Hamas’s Executive Force, a parallel police force, killing four men. Another Fatah attack on the Executive Force prompted the Hamas men to take shelter in an apartment building, where they gathered the residents into the basement as Fatah forces surrounded the structure and shouted for revenge. The Fatah forces fired rocket-propelled grenades into the building of the Anour Tower and set it on fire."

The folks who fired grenades into a building full of hostages and set it on fire are the moderates.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Better and Better

Nicholas Sarkozy, today the President of France, has named Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister and is expected to name Francois Fillon as prime minister.

Kouchner is a socialist elephant (important Socialist Party members are called "elephants") and the founder of Medecins sans Frontieres. He has the reputation of being an Atlanticist and has notably stood aside from the open hostility of the French Left to the United States. His father is a Jew and his mother a Protestant - he is from religious minorities on both sides.

French Protestants are generally less prone to antisemitism than French Catholics. During the Nazi occupation, French Jews who were in hiding, like Sarkozy's grandfather, usually hid among Protestants. For example Sarkozy's grandfather could only get her parents' permission to marry his grandmother by converting to Catholicism. Kouchner's father was not forced to the same extreme.

Kouchner's tenure as foreign minister at the very least means an end to the possibility of French support for Quebec independence, which Segolene Royal said she favored, and the endless turmoil that would have caused Canada.

Fillon is to be appointed because he is a supporter of Sarkozy's proposed economic reforms. But he fits in in another way as well. He is an Anglophile who served in the French diplomatic corps in England and married a Welsh bride, Penelope. His younger brother Pierre married Penelope's younger sister Jane.

With these three in power it is foreseeable that the dark days of Arafat coming to Paris fresh from some massacre of Israelis and being received as a hero at the Elysee Palace, are over. Similarly French foreign policy reflexively giving the back of the hand to the United States and Britain is over as well.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Reading the Koran

I have started reading the Koran. It is generally assumed that since it is the holy book of a major religion it must somehow resemble the holy books of other religions. It doesn't. For one thing it was written by only one person. The Hebrew bible was written by dozens of hands over a period of almost a thousand years. Its heterogeneity reflects its authorship. The New Testament is a compilation of writings spread over more than a century and also done by several hands. So are the Buddhist sutras. No word of Hebrew, Christian, or Buddhist scriptures is believed to have been written by Moses, Jesus, or Gautama. Every word of the Koran is attributed to Muhammad, the founder and prophet. All of these literatures reflect the character and personalities of the folk among whom they arose as they evolved over centuries. But the Koran reflects only the personality and mood of Muhammad.

Unfortunately Muhammad, when he was writing the Koran, was embittered and resentful. The first chapter, 'The Cow' (which has nothing to do with cows), is an angry man's private ventings of spleen, made into scripture. Unfortunately most of his angry ventings are against the Jews and the Christians. He is quite explicit that the reason for his anger is that both refused to accept him as their messiah. Both refused to change their religions to accomodate him.

I expected that the text of the Koran would be a mass of pious exhortations and an occasional unkind word about the Jews or Christians here and there. Quite the contrary. The great majority of the text is composed on the same verse form. Each verse begins with three or four sentences denouncing Jews (whom he calls 'evil-doers'), Christians (whom he calls 'those who anger G_d'), or unbelievers generally. Occasionally he denounces idol-worshipers by which presumably he means the illiterate pagan Arab tribesmen whom he recruits. The last sentence of each verse is generally an admonishing platitude about G_d.

He says explicitly and repeatedly that it is the duty of Muslims to fight against unbelievers. So much for the 'Religion of Peace'. In most Muslim countries, education consists in large part of memorizing large parts of the Koran. I hope the rest of the book will be less scolding and angry and contain less violent language.

So far my conclusion is that we have been kidding ourselves in believing there is such a thing as a moderate Muslim. Judging by this text, that is an oxymoron. So far as I have read, the bulk of Muslim teaching consists of exhortations to hostility toward Jews, Christians, and pagans.

Our problems with Islam will not go away soon. 'Live and Let Live' is NOT what they are taught. The only way we will ever find to deal with people who accept the teachings of the Koran will be by force and by isolating them. They will ALWAYS attack their non-Muslim neighbors.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Thoughts for Laurel

Laurel, a smart and charming 14 year old girl attending an arts middle school in the southern Appalachians, wrote in reply to my remarks about the Fort Dix Plot:

"You have a point, but remember that if we give up on human rights to fight terrorism, the terrorists win. They make us into what they are and what they want us to be. If that happens, we loose all moral high ground and become what we are trying to defeat. Human rights must always be protected, in war or in peace, if our democracy and the values writen into our constitution are to survive."

And I replied:

"Hi Laurel,
Two thoughts -

As to the terrorists winning, if the Muslims had succeeded in massacring 100 of our soldiers as they planned, would not that have been a big win for them?

Second is a hard truth. Just as five is early to learn that there is no Easter Bunny, fourteen is early to learn that our constitutional rights do not come from G_d. They come from the Supreme Court. The Court both articulates and shapes our laws, values, and customs. And over the past two hundred years of war and peace the Court has said repeatedly that we have fewer freedoms in wartime than in peacetime. Yet another reason to love peace and avoid war.

In simpler more human terms, in wartime we and our enemies are physically destroying one another with the unthinkable violence of high-powered rifles and high explosive bombs. Compared to those affronts to human beings, whether we wiretap them or profile them beforehand is trivial. And it is less important still when the results of the wiretapping and profiling may determine whether that annihilating violence will be done to fewer of our own people."

P.S. Have a great time in Paris.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

In Memoriam

Alfonse 2005-2007
To some only a squirrel, to others a mere tree rodent. But to those of us who knew him he was a cheerful if standoffish neighbor. Always energetic, he frequently had a bad word for passing dogs and cats whom he scolded from his tree. To others he was a beloved mate and a devoted dad (or mom - hard to tell with squirrels).

He is now at eternal rest under the apricot tree in the yard (unless a dog or raccoon digs him up - it's not that deep a hole.)

The Lessons of Fort Dix

One wonders whether the FBI investigation that bagged the six Muslims planning a massacre at Fort Dix involved wiretaps? Were the perps' spied on? Were they profiled? Did the FBI infiltrate as many agents into Methodist churches and Reform synagogues as into New Jersey mosques? Were the perps' rights as scrupulously protected as if it was peacetime? I hope not.

What comes after Gen X?

On Jeopardy! College Tournament the final question was "Who was the first president to conduct a televised news conference?" One of the kids, a fairly smart one, thought it was LBJ. I was stunned. How could he have thought that? Then I realized he was born twenty years after Johnson left office. To him Johnson and Eisenhower are equally figures from the Dark Ages. Another moment of feeling senior....

Monday, May 07, 2007

You Heard It Here First

Amid the shouting and brouhaha of the French election campaign, the name that has not been mentioned is that of Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher was to Britain what Lee Iacocca was to Chrysler. She was elected to reform a British economy running on welfare, deficits, unemployment, strikes, and inflation, and she did it. Britain had become the Sick Man of Europe. Today the British economy is the envy of Europe.

Sarkozy was elected with essentially the same mandate as Thatcher. The contrast with the defender of welfare and political correctness, the Socialist Segolene Royal, could not have been clearer. Whether he will be as successful as Thatcher will unfold over the next five or ten years.

The problem for Americans is whether France, without its snug status quo economy will be as much fun for tourists. Can a recently remodeled restaurant or hotel ever be as good a tourist experience as the old one, unchanged since 1912, was? Can big box malls be far off?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Little Ones and the Big One

Life is a big defeat. We look both ways before crossing the street, we get vaccinations, we stay out of dark alleys, we dodge the draft, we drive defensively. But in the end we die anyway.

That is why small victories are so important. A few weeks ago my kitchen drain stopped draining. But the clog was porous enough that the water would go down eventually. A few days ago the water stopped going down at all. Standing water, dirty dishes. A fetid slum. Guaranteed Miraculous liquid drain cleaner had no effect whatever. Finally I was home and I had a snake in hand.

Fifteen years ago I spent several weekends straining and swearing, to unscrew a rusted-tight galvanized steel drain plug. Each weekend I upped the torque ante and the risk of breaking the pipe. After it ever so reluctantly came out, I replaced the galvanized rust blob with a black plastic screw-in plug. Today I reaped the benefit of my long ago prudence. Out the plug came with no screaming or gnashing of teeth whatever. To quote the sage, "Calloo callay!"

I snaked out a disgusting blob and ran the water and behold! Nothing. It still backed up. Open the plug a second time and run the snake the opposite direction. More disgusting blobs. Free running drain.

It ain't V-E Day but it made my day. Washed the dishes, washed the sinks. I am a simple man and simple things make me happy.