Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

On becoming an educated person in this day and age

I think I've made it plain that I, like a lot of people, think higher education is in a sad state in this country, and overpriced to boot.

This applies mostly to the arts and humanities. The U.S. is still has two of the best scientific/technical schools in the world (CalTech and MIT) and a host of world class departments in other universities.

Trouble is, most of the high schools aren't teaching science and math well enough to prepare American kids for them.

And, even for kids who aren't going to become scientists and engineers, the laymen's courses in science don't impart enough knowledge of how science and math work to enable them to make rational decisions on public policy issues concerning science and statistics.

The arts and humanities have abandoned a historical/great books curriculum and are almost entirely devoted to indoctrination.

Even at the high school, and God help us, increasingly at the grade school level, a great many teaching positions are essentially make-work welfare.

Vo-tech at the secondary level shows encouraging progress, and for post-secondary ed there seems to be a move towards schools that teach stuff that might actually get you a job. This results in the decline of males enrolled in college that is such a matter of concern to the colleges.

It hasn't struck them that nobody's buying what they have to sell, because it's worthless.*

Now I'd like to direct your attention to Victor Davis Hanson's article, "Humanities Move Off Campus" here: http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson121008.html

Dr. Hanson is writing about how the free market reacted to decline of learning on campus. A number of companies have used audio/video tech to record lessons and lecture series for sale or rental.

He mentions some others, but I'd like to recommend the two I use.

Here: http://www.thegreatcourses.com/teach12.aspx?ai=34198

please find, The Great Courses.

The first one I got was "Argumentation: the Study of Effective Reasoning," with Professor David Zarefsky - glorious! Twenty-four half-hour lectures on how logic and rhetoric are applied to analyzing and constructing arguments. With lots of historical references.

Next I sweated through, "Zero to Infinity: A History of Numbers," with Professor Edward Burger.

That was tough for me, I'm not a math person, but well worth it.

It's about the history of the concept of number, number theory for non-mathematics people.

You probably know about cardinal and ordinal numbers. Did you know there are at least five kinds of numbers? (What the hell are p-adic numbers?) Did you know that infinity comes in an infinite number of sizes?

Now I'm going through, "Machiavelli in Context," with Professor William Cook. On the stack I've got a 12-lecture course in Game Theory, and "Jewish Intellectual History: 16th through 20th Centuries."

You can find: anatomy, art history, world history, chaos theory, string theory, anthropology, biology, literature...

The cost per course is proabaly less than the cost of the damn books for an equivalent college course. And, they have periodic sales where they slash prices to the bone, in what I believe is basically a loss leader strategy.

Now go here: http://smartflix.com/

I've commented that our intellectuals have become alienated from the skills that make a civilization work - here's the cure.

Want to know how to repair guns? Shoot them?

Music lessons, drawing lessons, woodworking, kayaking, welding... It's all there, for a reasonble rental.

Right now I'm going through the companion DVDs to the book "Attack Proof." I didn't have to buy an expensive DVD to check out whether it was useful or not (it is - definitely) nor do I have to own a DVD whose material I can absorb in one or two go-throughs. (I prefer to own The Great Courses.)

So this is by way of an unsolicited product endorsement. I don't have any professional connection with either of these - and you can bet that if I did I'd be too proud to keep it secret.

Dr. Hanson mentions other companies such as Knowledge Products, and Rosetta Stone (languages), but I haven't bought any of their stuff - yet.

Not to gush too much, but this may ensure that our civilization doesn't have to decay just because our educational institutions are failing us.

What's missing from the great courses, is interaction with a teacher and other students.

But with any initiative at all, one could form a book club/discussion group to view and discuss them, and perhaps real teachers could make themselves available online?

After all, "God will not do everything for us, in order not to deprive us of free will or that share of glory which is ours by right."**

*I'd like to point out that I live a few blocks away from one of the nations small but highly-regarded universities that seems to buck the trend. It's 1) a teaching university, if you sign up with a teacher, teaching is what he or she is supposed to do. And 2) they've got a set of good practical courses (including a really fine music department!) that actually relate to what you might actually need to know for a job.

**Machiavelli, "The Prince," last line.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Israel and anti-Semitism, decision time

In a discussion group I sit in on, the following was contributed by an elderly English gentleman, who is sort of the "odd man out" in the group. He was invited in under circumstances I'm not up on, to contribute another point of view.

A fair number of his contributions amount to, in the words of the moderator, "your country, form of government and people are despicable. I know it's true because I say so. There is no discussion about it."

For the record, though I've had pleasant enough discussions with the gentleman, I think that's a fair assessment. We got much the same from his Canadian daughter, who contributed also that Canadians are "more kind" than Americans.

How sad. There was a time when Canadians might boast they were tougher than Americans.

I am quoting without attribution, because I don't have permission. Some of you know that doesn't always stop me.* But in fact I rather like the gentleman, and he's old and alone.

He said:

"Earlier history is irrelevant. One need go no further than the Ottoman Empire becoming our enemy on aligning itself with the German Confederation in WW1. Then, as in WW2, the Germans sought, with Turkish help, to take the Suez Canal - towards which their railroad project was already within 400 miles.
We British ejected the Turks in 1917 from what became Palestine, mediating and keeping the peace between Arab and Jew for 31 years.

The Holocaust was of course a prime motivator towards the establishment of a Jewish state. The UN had neither mandate nor authority to recognise the state of Israel - but it had the votes of the western world, led by America, for an ultra vires resolution.. (A recent count showed GW Bush Administration contained at least 43 Jews in senior appointments (on merit?), including 8 ambassadors - Muslims NIL - perhaps little proportionate change since 1948). One needs also to consider the massive Jewish influence, then as now, from Wall Street to LA, particularly in finance and media - despite comprising only about 1.4% of US population. US Administrations cannot ignore that influence to which it is 'in hock', let alone bring it to heel.

Against such pressure there was no chance of the UN insisting upon a secular state of Israel. So non-adherents to Judaism effectively became non-citizens - Palestinians not only dispossessed but made pariahs in their own land. Israelis now claim 'God given authority'. What of Allah?

So what if Israelis boast about "settling in a barren land neglected by its shiftless inhabitants, making it a vital country and making the desert bloom".
That 'get up and go' appeals to Americans but is no justification for stealing the land. None of you would take kindly to foreigners 'invading and 'improving' your back-yard !' You may despise Palestinians for their grubby track suits, night-shirt style garments, and apparent indolence but that is their prerogative, making them no less human beings with equal rights. - and accords no entitlement to colonize and partition their land. Would you not fire rockets in defiance, lacking the means of proper defence against modern weaponry, much provided by benevolent Uncle Sam.

One must presume the UN did not consider the impact on resident Palestinians already in situ - trusting the Jews to treat them fairly !. It has been argued that Palestinians refused to negotiate. I would not negotiate with invaders over my real estate, particularly in the face of force majeure.. Of course inevitably 9/11 enters the equation. Palestinians are mostly Moslem as were the 9/11 perpetrators - there must be a connection?.

One senses an intention to draw a parallel -- Redskin has accepted Paleface, so why does not Palestinian yield to Jew? Why the hell should he? He is the ultimate loser, and doubtless recognises that. In other places we would applaud the heroism of fighting to the end against insurmountable odds. And we have seen the ruthlessness of Israeli forces, including use of white phosphorus weapons against civilians, obliteration of UN HQ and stores, point blank shooting of children. Israeli /Nazi. What's the difference? Bush openly declared for the Israeli government (having no option) - and I had thought Americans fair minded. They now just want the case 'wrapped up' - regardless of humanity. The US should first put its own house in order. Obviously the US considers its sheer might adequate cover for their blind ignorance of other nations and races - vitally necessary before assuming a mantle of world leadership - as claimed yesterday.

At least the Koran forbids usury - which has brought western civilisation(?) to the brink.
Well intentioned Yanks have caused more harm than good in many parts of the world. Get your act together."

In a follow-up discussion he claimed:

"Yanks now seem to have a fixation that all Muslims are wicked. Are all Christians, Hindus and Jews saints? There is no trace of anti-semitism; only fierce criticism of wicked deeds. Of course I could have taken a pragmatic view 'Palestinians were always destined to be losers'. Perhaps you think they should now quit. But my view is supported by the Law Faculty at Cambridge University walking out - so I have some brains on my side - should you doubt mine!"

I'm sorry, I know the claim that "anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism," and I've made it myself. But if you look at the above, it just doesn't wash.

To wit, conspiracy thinking and:

"(A recent count showed GW Bush Administration contained at least 43 Jews in senior appointments (on merit?), including 8 ambassadors - Muslims NIL - perhaps little proportionate change since 1948)."

A count of Nobel Prize winners would show a hundred-plus Jews, and Muslims amounting to a number I could count to without taking my shoes off.

Bias? Favoritism?

Not from the freaking Nobel Prize Committee, I assure you.

And, I've been encountering this kind of attitude from English and other Europeans for a while now.

One English correspondent claimed the Israeli's were "as bad as" Islamists, (actually, I believe he said "Jews" - he didn't make the distinction between Jews and Zionists.) To this end he forwarded articles on 1) a bunch of idiot frat boys who turned out to be Jewish, who'd gotten caught burning down a church somewhere down south, and, 2) some Hasids in Israel who'd beaten up some tourists on a bus.

For 1) he had to search the KKK/neo-fascist sites to find particular mention that, gasp!, some criminals are Jewish.

I could have pointed him here: http://www.amazon.com/Tough-Jews-Fathers-Gangster-Dreams/dp/0375705473/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1232901968&sr=8-1

to the book "Tough Jews," a history which shows that the so-called Mafia in America is also largely a creation of Jewish gangsters.

By a Jewish author, by the way.

Lo and behold, the Jewish minority has a criminal class. Show me a group without one please.

For 2) he found that Jews also have nutty cults that behave obnoxiously. In fact, I have it on good authority that Chasids are widely disliked - in Israel, by Israelis. Who nonetheless tolerate them, because that's what free people do.

I could point out that Chasids are a small minority, compared to say, the number of Wahabbis within Islam. And Wahabbis, to the best of my knowledge, have never produced any literature as inspiring and uplifting as the tales of the Baal Shem Tov.

Bottom line: If Israel decisively wins yet another war, what's going to happen?

If Israel decisively loses for the first time, what's going to happen?

Does anyone have any doubt there won't be any Israelis left, beyond those that might be saved by emergency evacuation to America?

So, because it's time to take a stand, my view:

There's actually a fair amount I agree with in the gentleman's post - I just reach different conclusions.

The justifications offered for the right of European Jews to colonize the area of ancient Israel strike me as very thin indeed. An absence of 2,000 years is not like stepping out for a beer and returning to find squatters in your home.** And who did give the UN the right to dispose of other people's territory?

A startlingly sensible suggestion was made to FDR by the late King Saud of Saudi Arabia, "Give them the lands and possessions of the Germans who oppressed them."

(Is it too late for that one?)

I supported these points back when it was dangerously unpopular to do so. I haven't changed my mind, now that anti-Semitism is again popular on the Left.

It's just that now I don't give a damn.

When it comes down to the crunch, you've got to choose between people who: practice chattel slavery, treat women like chattel, have no concept of the rights of man whatsoever (and it's rather odd that the gentleman is claiming "rights" for a people who recognize none), and demand that when a woman is raped (or just seen in a compromising position with an unrelated man) her husband, father, mother, brother or son must murder - her.

Versus: a people whose law released John Demjanjuk (accused of being a concentration camp guard "Ivan the Terrible") because the evidence didn't rise to the bar of proof demanded by their law.

That choice was not forced on us by the Israelis, but by the Islamists, so screw 'em.

And you can't blame their behavior solely on the Israelis. It doesn't explain the barbarous behavior of the Islamists in Algeria to their fellow-Algerians.

Remember that forgotten conflict?

That's where the Islamists invaded school rooms and cut the throats of little girls who weren't wearing head scarves.

That's where the Islamists cut off the heads of vile people who for example, read books, and arrange them artisticly on staircases.

Nor for that matter, does it explain the easy-going Tunisians. They've got a police state, but a rather nice one, with a wine and spirits industry and an attitude of, "Have fun and make money. Just don't forget who's in charge."

Their contributions to the ranks of terrorists are minimal. Evidently, they could care less about Israel. And I've had it on good authority many of them don't like to make the Hajj, "because of those damn fanatics."

To put it bluntly, 5 million obnoxious Jews are worth more to me than 500 million obsequious Arabs who'll kiss a Brits backside the way they love so well.

And I want them to know that.

* I recently excised the name and contact data of a lady who asked me nicely. Among other reasons, it was pointed out to me that true Bulgarians and other victims of communism, rather forcefully resent apologists for communism coming from their kind and tend to consider them traitors and collaborators, with all that implies.


** See here: http://www.ilanamercer.com/phprunner/public_article_list_view.php?editid1=316

a piece I give as an example of possibly the worst piece of reasoning that reaches a conclusion I support.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Education and experience, part 1

Back here: http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2008/10/ivy-league-elitism-some-observations.html

I mentioned my personal conviction that, "Beyond a certain minimum you have to have to establish credibility, more experience is almost always better than more formal education."

Yesterday I was reading a columnist I don't like much (doesn't matter who) making an assertion I thought was just flat-out wrong about economic policy, with no corroboration.

So OK, a newspaper column is by necessity short, there really isn't a lot of space to provide all the supporting pillars to the edifice of your argument.

What I really objected to, with him and a lot of the intelligentsia who run this country was, he makes his living at a business pretty far removed from the production and distribution of what I'll call primary goods. By which I mean, stuff people eat, wear, and use to live on a day-to-day basis.

Of course, so do I these days, I'm a reporter and an opinion columnist too. I'm in the business of providing secondary essential service. Meaning, if production stopped, life would be poorer and maybe without it civilization would run down in the long run - but people wouldn't start dying en masse within days.

So how the hell does he get off pontificating on how the economy should be run? And how did he reach the calm assumption that the complex economy of a nation should be "run," and by whom?

A story: During my last stint as a student, I had one class with a hard-core Leftie PC-type professor. To give you an idea of how PC, he mentioned once that he told one of his little girls, "When you grow up and have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend..."

I'm not discounting the possibility that one of his daughters might grow up to be gay, and need the loving acceptance of her family. I was just wondering why the hell he'd start the process when she's five? Isn't that one of the bridges you cross when, and if, you come to it?

And he was, by the way, openly contemptuous of the Christian mythos ("If you believe a 33-year-old carpenter died and came back to life...") oblivious to the sensibilities of a young woman who quietly let him know that she was a Christian on more than one occasion.

Oddly, there was a Muslim woman in class, and though I kept waiting, never once did I hear him say, "If you believe a semi-literate camel driver, who got rich by marrying his boss, had a book of all truth dictated to him by an angel..."

But I digress.

At any rate, this prof once made a scornful reference to the conservative opinions of "Bubbas."

Well, what I thought (later unfortunately, I wish I could tell you it rolled off my tongue, but hindsight is 20/20) was, "Prof, you've got a PhD, but Bubba has something you don't. A garage full of tools he can use - that you don't even know the names of."

And that's not a Platonic ideal example, I was thinking specifically of my oldest friend in Oklahoma.

This is what is bothering me. More than ever before in our history, at the highest levels our government and academia is run more and more by people who have never, or only briefly: worked with their hands, run a business of any size, grown or raised food, served in the military, been in a serious fight... you get the picture.

Damn it, how many of them could lift the hood of their car and tell you what the parts of the engine are, and what they do?

And I'm not singling out either side. President Obama worked in the private sector for a year, which he described as "being in the enemy camp."

Since that's where most of us work, are we the "enemy"?

George Bush's experience in the private sector was brief, heavily dependent on family connections, entwined with government largesse to the point that "private sector" becomes meaningless, and a financial failure.

He was a fighter jet pilot, for which he never got any significant credit. It's not a trivial accomplishment.

So until next time, ask yourself how many of our elected officials, and tenured professors fall into this category?

And ask yourself, what is wrong with this picture?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Education assininity, and some odd questions

When I came back to the States, I'd been working as a teacher (among other things) for 13 years in four countries - not counting stints as a guest lecturer in a couple others.

I taught English at all levels: high school (fun but exhausting), college (better), adult education (best of all!) and a few times at the primary school level (my second favorite thing - right after rolling naked in broken glass.)

From time to time I'd heard about various lunacies in American primary and secondary schools, and more sinister stuff like totally unfounded accusations of sexual abuse, prosecuted by authorities with the help of "experts," who had to subject children to real abuse to get "evidence" of phony abuse.

Anyone remember that before Janet Reno incinerated 50-odd children in Waco, Texas, she warmed-up by sending a number of almost certainly innocent people to prison for terms up to and including life, on the most bogus charges you could imagine?

See here: http://www.opinionjournal.com/medialog/?id=105001974

and here, for example: http://blog.neo-libertarian.com/posts/1130795746.shtml

I wondered of course, if these cases were typical, even common, or just statistically rare extremes. But I nonetheless decided that I'd never under any circumstances get involved in primary or secondary education in America.

Now look here: http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MTIwMWJmMjEzYzk5ZDYxNzEwNDViMmI0MjgzOWM1ZDQ=

at John Derbyshire's article, 'Short-changing the Gifted,' about the cancellation of more of the College Board's Advanced Placement exams.

Da Derb knows something about secondary education, if you follow another link provided, here: http://www.johnderbyshire.com/Opinions/Straggler/073.html

you'll see that some years back he taught at a special school for "Educationally Sub-Normal" boys in a Liverpool slum.

These were teen boys who, "Without their having any known physical, mental, or emotional abnormality, they had finished their primary schooling still unable to read or do basic arithmetic."

It's an interesting, and depressing article.

"It was depressing work, with little to show for months of effort. Perhaps the most depressing thing of all was that none of the boys was very capable at anything. To play soccer, for example, needs a modicum of thought as well as some minimal physical fitness. Our boys could not rise to it. The masters-boys soccer match was a rout of them, strapping 15- and 16-year-olds, by us, wheezy desk-wallahs with a median age around 40. Up to that point I had assumed that even seriously un-intellectual people must have some ability at something. That this is not necessarily the case, is one of the saddest true things I ever learned."

But to my mind what's really depressing is the quote from supposedly "normal," or even brighter-than average New York Times reporter Deborah Solomon, when interviewing Charles Murray, author of 'The Bell Curve' and 'Real Education.'

DS: "Europeans have historically defined themselves through inherited traits and titles, but isn't America a country where we are supposed to define ourselves through acts of will?"

CM: "I wonder if there is a single, solitary, real-live public-school teacher who agrees with the proposition that it's all a matter of will. To me, the fact that ability varies — and varies in ways that are impossible to change — is a fact that we learn in first grade."

DS: "I believe that given the opportunity, most people could do most anything."

CM: "You're out of touch with reality in that regard."

Note that comment in bold.

John Derbyshire's poor boys, for whatever reason, nature or nurture, could not help being what they were.

What's this woman's excuse? It takes a willful disregard of the evidence of everyday reality to come up with an assinine statement like that.

There's a word for people who do that habitually. The word is, "stupid." Dumb is forgivable, stupidity is not.

First of all, an observation. At a journalism seminar I attended a while back, the lecturer pointed out one of the principles of good journalism vis-a-vis interviews.

He said, "There is one star in the interview - and it isn't you."

An interview is a time to ask tough questions, not for a debate. There's a difference. Your own opinions might inform the questions, but it's the interview subject's opinions you're reporting on. Yours belong on the op-ed page.

Now for something totally different. A question that has bugged me for years, stemming from my background in anthropology.

Homo Erectus, thought to be our direct ancestor, appears from the skeletal remains to have been a small man from the neck down, and about half a man from the neck up.

Meaning, he had a cranial capacity about half the modern norm.

(Of course, Neanderthal man evidently had a cranial capacity about 300 CCs more than the modern norm, and everybody in the field really wonders what that means.)

Yet, he survived and thrived in environments as diverse as the African veldt to Java. And, he was less "strapping" than the Derb's students at that Liverpool school.

What is the difference, if any, between a modern retarded person and an archaic Homo Erectus, in terms of basic capability and ability to cope with life?

Next: I'm going to take on the other end of the spectrum, and reflect on the stupidity of the educated inteligentsia.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mumbai analyzed

Following a lead from Mark Steyn here: http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ZjkwNjVlNmE5MWUyOTVhMWIyODkzNWNlZGM1YjU2Zjc=

"The Oldest Hatred," I found in the online site of the Indian daily newspaper The Hindu here: http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2009/01/new-year-new-administration.html

the scanned 69 pages of the dossier of evidence from the ongoing investigation by the Indian authorities of the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

There's a lot here, the names, ages and nationalities of the victims, the names of the terrorists from the interrogation of the lone survivor, pictures of the equipment (cell phones, GPS, guns, etc), excerpts from translated transcripts of the terrorists communications, and a fair amount of technical data.

The documents all together constitute a blueprint for such attacks, including mistakes to be avoided in the future. (The group failed to sink the hijacked ship after arriving at the point from which they launced their rubber assault craft and murdering the captain.)

There are some interesting things I wouldn't have thought of: the group split up after landing ashore, and took taxis to the area of their targets. They left bombs in two of the taxis that exploded later, killing the drivers.

There are puzzlers too. The lone survivor seems to be a font of information. What gives?

They did some fairly extensive training beforehand, that evidently didn't include interrogation resistance.

Did they count on all the group getting killed? Or didn't they care what the world knew after the fact?

The investigation also reveals what is becomming a serious problem in this kind of warfare. The handlers monitored on-the-spot news coverage and tipped the terrorists off to special forces rappeling onto the building roofs from helicopters.

And, the transcripts give a picture of their motivation:

From The Hindu: http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/thscrip/print.pl?file=2009010760571200.htm&date=2009/01/07/&prd=th&

The transcripts in the dossier make it apparent that the six handlers were closely monitoring events in Mumbai through the live TV coverage which went on non-stop for 60 hours. “There are three ministers and one secretary of the cabinet in your hotel. We don’t know in which room,” a Pakistan-based caller tells a terrorist at the Taj at 0310 hrs on November 27. “Oh! That is good news” It is the icing on the cake!,” he replies. “Find those 3-4 persons and then get whatever you want from India,” he is instructed. “Pray that we find them,” he answers.

At the Oberoi at 0353 hrs on November 27, a handler phones and says:

“Brother Abdul. The media is comparing your action to 9/11. One senior police official has been killed.”

Abdul Rehman: “We are on the 10th/11th floor. We have five hostages.”

Caller 2 (Kafa): Everything is being recorded by the media. Inflict the maximum damage. Keep fighting. Don’t be taken alive.

Caller: Kill all hostages, except the two Muslims. Keep your phone switched on so that we can hear the gunfire.

Fahadullah: We have three foreigners, including women. From Singapore and China.

Caller: Kill them. The dossier then notes that the telephone intercept records the “voices of Fahadullah and Abdul Rehman directing hostages to stand in a line, and telling two Muslims to stand aside. Sound of gunfire. Cheering voices in background. Kafa hands telephone to Zarar,” who says, “Fahad, find the way to go downstairs.”

In another call, to the Taj this time, a handler says, “The ATS chief has been killed. Your work is very important. Allah is helping you. The Vazir (minister) should not escape. Try and set the place on fire.”

At Nariman House at 1945 hrs on November 27, the handler ‘Wassi’ tells a terrorist: “Keep in mind that hostages are of use only as long as you do not come under fire because of their safety. If you are still threatened, then don’t saddle yourself with the burden of the hostages. Immediately kill them.” He then adds, “The Army claims to have done the work without any hostage being harmed. Another thing: Israel has made a request through diplomatic channels to save the hostages. If the hostages are killed, it will spoil relations between India and Israel.”

“So be it, God willing,” the terrorist replies.

I'm going to download these documents to my computer for more detailed study.

Friday, January 09, 2009

New year, new administration

The year 2008 ended in North Dakota with record-breaking snowfall for December, and the promise of more to come.

Our splendid city and county public works employees are out there in the bitter cold doing a tremendous job getting roads cleared, cars unstuck, and snow piled up for the spring thaw. Spring will bring it's own problems as all this white stuff melts and runs into the river.

I'm sure our people will cope with that too, but nature is yet again reminding us of how little of what's in store for us we can actually control, or even foresee.

January 20, 2009 begins a new administration, welcomed with ecstatic, almost religious joy by hopeful multitudes expecting the promised “change”.

So I'll risk a prediction, somebody is going to be disappointed.

Much of that “change” isn't going to happen, and much of what does won't please anyone. Not because our president won't try, not because he didn't mean it, and not even because he won't have the necessary support.

It isn't going to happen because it is not within our power to make it happen. Or because the price of making it happen is unacceptable.

What? With all the might and wealth of the United States, we can't accomplish anything we set our minds to?

While living abroad as a teacher for many years, I often struggled to define for myself, and my students, what was different about America and Americans. To define the essence of the American national character.

What I eventually came up with was, Americans think anything can be fixed.

Well can't it?

In a word, no. Some problems have no solution and must be lived with until they fix themselves, or perhaps forever.

Yet we believe, on a level so deep that we seldom think to question it, that all problems have solutions and all situations can be improved.

Our new president ran as an anti-war candidate. His supporters are looking forward to a new era of peace.

Nobody but a Nietzchean lunatic is “for” war. What too many forget is, it takes the whole-hearted cooperation of two or more parties to make peace. Wars can be started by just one.

Greens are expecting the new administration to move us a significant degree towards carbon-neutral renewable energy by the end of his first term, or second at the latest.

Not going to happen, not even by a double-digit percentage, unless that carbon-neutral renewable is nuclear. And that'll take ten years to get on-line anyway.

Nor is there going to be significant progress towards getting anybody in compliance with the pie-in-the-sky Kyoto accords for carbon emissions.

China? An ancient and proud culture has had their nose rubbed in the fact that the outer barbarians are richer and more powerful than they are. “Ruthless” seems wholly inadequate to describe their intention of catching up with and surpassing us.

Russia? Explain to me again how this hypothetical global warming would be a bad thing for a huge nation with seven months of winter?

The EU? Now that we've achieved 7 percent unemployment, we're almost at the level the Europeans think of as normal for good times. Their economies can't take the sacrifices they urge on everyone else, and they can't cut military spending to compensate, because they essentially don't have any.

As for our own economy, the present mess is the culmination of years of really bad decisions, all made for the most high-minded and altruistic reasons. Which itself ought to tell us something about our power to create heaven on earth.

Those bad decisions, or “investments,” can't be liquidated without a fair amount of pain. And they can't be fixed by the government moving cash around, anymore than a string can be lengthened by cutting a piece off one end and tying it to the other.

As the new administration takes office, let us pray that President Obama, his cabinet, staff, and supporters, have the humility to realize that while our capacity to improve the world is limited, our ability to screw things up is not.

As the burden of office descends upon him, there are signs that realization is dawning on him. Rumor has it that Obama is smoking more these days. Which is yet another sign of the difficulty of realizing one's good intentions.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

This animal is very malicious...

"Cet animal est tres mechant; Quand on l'attaque il se defend."

("This animal is very malicious; when attacked it defends itself.")
-La Menagerie (Traditional French song.)

If you go over here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Io4_vjiyM

you'll find something you don't want to miss, a video with voiceover by the incomparable Oriana Fallaci. (Found at Atlas Shrugs: http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/ )

If you go here: http://www.hsje.org/oriana_fallaci_on_antisemitism.htm
you'll find an English transcript of the article "Sull'antisemitismo," published in April, 2002.

But watch and listen to the video by all means, you don't want to miss that passionate woman speaking in the language of passion.

My God, I wish I'd known her! When I hear Fallaci, I think, "the last Roman."

The term "Ultimus Romanorum" was historically given to any man whose life embodied the values and virtues of an idealized vision of a Roman citizen. Which virtues became extinct on his death.

People who've been honored as "the last Roman" include Julius Caesar, the first so called. And ironically, to the leader of his assassins Marcus Junius Brutus, "the noblest Roman of them all."*

Others who have earned the accolade include: the 5th century Romano-British Dux bellorum Ambrosius Aurelianus, the Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius, the philosopher Boethius, and the last de facto Roman Emperor of the West, the otherwise undistinguished Romulus Augustus.

Now we can say Orianna Fallaci was "the last Roman," there may be no other. Future generations may date the death of Europe - from hers, the last, most courageous defender of European civilization.

The occasion of the post is of course, the Israeli attack on the Hamas strongholds in Gaza. After enduring daily rocket attacks for months, the Israelis are striking back.

In part it's a cynical political ploy by an Israeli government about to lose power, because of a widespread realization that a policy of appeasement is just flat not working.

The Israelis are responding to deliberate, albeit clumsy, attempts to maximize civilian casualties, with surgical strikes designed to minimize civilian casualties.

Which is made difficult by the Hamas practice of basing their attacks among civilians, precisely because any retaliation inevitably results in the maiming and death of non-combatants. Which plays well in the western and Islamic media.

One wonders why the Israelis bother anymore? No matter what they do, no matter how much they try to limit their response to actual combatants, they are going to get blamed for any deaths.

Those who care about the survival of Israel, America and the West, point indignantly to the double standard in judging Israel and the terrorists.

They miss the point entirely. It's perfectly logical if you consider the ultimate goal, the extermination of the Jews. Not the end of Israel as a nation - but the death of all Jews. Everywhere.

We don't need to guess in the case of the jihadists, because they tell us that's what they want. It's we who aren't listening.

The west Europeans and appeasing Americans are not quite as candid, at least not in public. But the fact is, more and more it is becoming apparent that a lot of people in Europe and America would breath a sigh of relief to see the last Jew buried, or burned as the case may be.

And if you'll look at the pictures of anti-Israel demonstrators in America and Europe, these are not redneck Southerners, or Slavic peasants, but the products of university educations in New York, Paris, London, Brussels, etc.

So as the old joke goes**, why the Jews?

What I'm guessing is, it's the classic trinity of greed, shame and cowardice.

Greed: The Islamic states have the oil Europe can't do without. Israel does not.

I'm often reminded these days of meeting a middle-aged Dutch couple about 20-odd years back. It was during another oil crisis, when U.S. Navy ships were escorting oil tankers through the Straits of Hormuz, past the warring Iraqis and Iranians.

We were talking about the then-current mess in the Middle East, and I expressed my sentiments, which at the time were pretty isolationist.

The woman interrupted passionately, "You've got to protect those ships, that's OUR oil!"

Shame: Eric Hoffer observed, we hate most strongly those we are most conscious of having wronged.

The Holocaust happened in Europe. Though perpetrated by the German/Austrian Reich, France voluntarily passed "racial purity" laws that were actually stricter than the Nazi occupation authorities demanded.

Now they are trying to promote a cosmopolitan pan-European identity, centered around a Franco-German alliance. But the existence of living Jews is a constant reminder of how fragile that pan-European civilization is.

When the Jews are gone, they can forget their history.

Cowardice in several forms:

1) Islamists will kill you for offending them. Americans and Isrealis do not. So who is it safer to offend?

And while cowards through and through, they can posture as brave, "Look at me, I'm shaking my fist at the mightiest power on earth!"

2) Victim-blaming; the desire to believe the victim "had it coming," to distance yourself from the idea that it could happen to you.

3) Appeasement, what Winston Churchill called, "feeding the crocodile in the hopes it will eat you last."

In this case, "Give them the Jews, and they'll leave us alone."

And, shame + cowardice: After the war, the west Europeans cowered behind a ring of American steel while "communism wrung the necks"*** of their fellow-Europeans in the east, and they pretended not to notice.

Rather like a man who locks himself in the bathroom and runs the shower so he doesn't have to notice the burglar is raping his wife.

The European Jews who became Israelis, learned to fight back.

There is something that every person who has ever successfully defended themselves against an aggressor learns. A certain kind of people are going to think you are a bad person for doing so.

The very existence of someone who dares to defend himself, is a reproach to everyone who dares not.

Update: See here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3Xl68kP4wo&eurl=http://yidwithlid.blogspot.com/2009/01/gaza-war-brings-out-moral-bankruptcy-of.html

for a video of a Dec. 30 demonstration in Ft. Lauderdale, during which the Palestinian demonstrators made their sentiments known.

This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world 'This was a man!'

-William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act V Scene V

** An SS officer in Europe stops an old Jew in a concentration camp and demands, "Who is responsible for all of Germany's problems today?"

"The Jews and the bicycle riders," the old man responds.

"Why the bicycle riders?"

"Why the Jews?"

*** "Communism wrung our neck while the honorable democracies issued communiqués." Romanian newspaper retort to Jacque Chirac's remark that the Eastern Europeans "...missed a good opportunity to shut up," during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

An pleasant afternoon's slanging match

Note: The lady who communicated here just got in touch and asked me to take the post down.


I am however, deleting the personal contact data.

Given my extensive contacts in Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria, my guess is she got an earful ;)

Last Tuesday, I received this in my personal email from Toronto, regarding an old article of mine which can be found here: http://www.fee.org/Publications/the-Freeman/article.asp?aid=4300

Subject: Fond Memories of Communism
Date: Tue, 23 Dec 2008 12:43:13 -0500
From: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
To: Stephen Browne

I accidentally stumbled onto the article above, link is http://www.fee.org/Publications/the-Freeman/article.asp?aid=4300 , and I beg to differ. I was born in 1981 in Bulgaria, and moved to Canada in 1997. My sister, my family and I have good memories of communism. Not to say it was a perfect system, no system is, but it was life like any other, with human emotions, hardships and happiness. There were good things about communism that I miss; most Bulgarians I talk to will agree. I am not sure where you got your information, but I for one, feel like you have no idea what you're talking about.

xxxxx xxxxxxx
Reconciliation Administrator > Capital Control
I replied:

From: Stephen Browne
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 2:32 PM
To: xxxxx xxxxxxx
Subject: RE: Fond Memories of Communism

Thirteen years in Poland starting 1991, extended stays in Belarus, where friends are active in the opposition, Lithuania etc. As you may have missed, the list was supplied by my wife, who grew up in Poland. Other details supplied by friends in Ukraine, Russia, etc.

And yes, I'm aware that Bulgaria had it better than many communist bloc countries, vis a vis apartment availability etc than other communist countries, due to, among other things, a patent-pirate semiconductor industry. However, I lived in Bulgaria in 1996-97 (you'd have been what, sixteen?) when the inflation rate was at least 10% per day, bread almost nonexistent in stores, and food prices were soaring through the roof. I marched with the people of Sofia when, cheered on by President Stoyanov, they brought down the last coalition government and kicked the communists out entirely.

And you left this paradise.... why?

Steve Browne

Date: Tue, 23 Dec 2008 14:47:17 -0500
From: xxxxx xxxxxxx
To: Stephen Browne

First of all, nobody said it was paradise, there is no paradise, all I was saying that people DO have fond memories from that time, and it wasn't the evil empire you make it out to be. Second of all, below, you are talking about life AFTER communism, not during. Third of all, I don't appreciate your tone.


From: Stephen Browne
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 3:08 PM
To: xxxxx xxxxxxx
Subject: RE: Fond Memories of Communism

"I am not sure where you got your information, but I for one, feel like you have no idea what you're talking about."

Sorry, your model courtesy leaves me chagrined.

Where did I say evil empire?

And of course people have fond memories, because 1) even during the worst of times, people do find mirth, companionship and love, and 2) as Alexander Dolgun observed in Russia, after his release from eight years in the Gulag, society was full of ex-prisoners who spent their free time together reminiscing about all the great times they had in the camps. The brain tends to remember good feelings and forget the bad. It's a survival mechanism, we need to remember most what we did to feel good so we'll know to do it again.

I know Poles who can smile and tell you how they laughed and joked together - waiting three hours in a line to buy a few ounces of cheese.

Did you read about my Bulgarian friend Kyril? Seven years in labor camps during the '70s, where they beat him daily and knocked quite a few teeth out - for... having foreign guests. It may not be an empire, but that sounds pretty evil to me.

Yes, after the communist government passed, but the economic crisis was made by the former regime, and the utterly corrupt way they managed the transition. One way was by dissolving the collective farms without creating any way to privatize the land - and by the way, selling off all the equipment to each other in sweetheart deals for princely sums like a dollar a tractor.

And lastly, read it again, everything you find objectionable in that article is reported from the testimony of native eyewitnesses who were not ten years old when the regime fell, and were still living with the aftermath.

And you still haven't answered the question.


Date: Tue, 23 Dec 2008 15:20:04 -0500
From: xxxxx xxxxxxx
To: Stephen Browne

I left because I was in the custody of my parents and had no choice. I am sure your next question is why I never went back: because, I have since built a life here, formed relationships, and feel no need to leave yet another home.

Your stories of people suffering during communism are true, I never said it was perfect, but don't you tell me that, there weren't good things about it. I can point out just as many injustices done to just as many people by wonderful capitalism. Do not say that nobody who lived in communism has nothing good to say about it, it is not true.

You said: "In Sofia one night at a party with a group of participants in the cognitive science summer seminar at the New Bulgarian University, one English psychologist remarked, "You know, there were a lot of good things about communism." I noticed that all of the people around the table who were thoughtfully nodding were Brits and Scandinavians. The rest maintained a polite silence except for one Slovenian girl who said that while communism had failed, socialism was still a good idea. She had (surprise, surprise) been educated in Canada."

And excuse my model courtesy, but when faced with sentences like the one below, I feel like throwing up.

"I thought to myself with glee, "Hey, dude! We won and you lost. Feels pretty good to me."

Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 3:46 PM
To: xxxxx xxxxxxx
Subject: RE: Fond Memories of Communism

I have just looked over that old article, and was reminded that the very first thing in it was an account of a fellow telling me how wonderful it was under communism. Which in turn reminded me of another reason there are people who remember communism fondly - their former privileged elite status. The reason my girlfriend's mother in Bulgaria thought things used to be better.

"I can point out just as many injustices done to just as many people by wonderful capitalism."

No, you can not.

The total number of murdered under communism is reliably, and conservatively, estimated at around 100 million. That's 100,000,000 people murdered by the various communist states in the 20th century - not counting war casualties, but only unarmed and helpless people. A small number of that total were family of people who are dear to me.

That's one-third the population of my country, and five times the present population of your new home. Murders committed by the USSR alone equal ten times the number committed by National Socialist Germany.

There is no evil or injustice in the history of capitalism that even remotely approaches this monstrosity.

Moral equivalence is the doctrine of moral imbeciles.

Throw up all you like, it means you have something to eat. Which is more than could be said for about 10 million Ukrainian peasants deliberately starved to death under orders from Stalin. That's what, 1.25 times the present population of Bulgaria?

Or on a somewhat lesser scale, my wife as a child in Poland. She too-clearly remembers food shortages.

Date: Tue, 23 Dec 2008 15:47:59 -0500
From: xxxxx xxxxxxx

Are you insane? Hold on, don't answer. I know the anwer.

To: xxxxx xxxxxxx
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 2:57 PM
Subject: RE: Fond Memories of Communism

Typical. When confronted by facts - resort to insult.

Right now you're working yourself into a rage because you couldn't answer a single point I raised. (And that's answer by the way. Your rage is making you incoherent.)

At this point the young lady couldn't contain herself and brought in a colleague:

From: Igor
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 4:09 PM
To: 'Stephen Browne'
Cc: xxxxx xxxxxxx
Subject: RE: Fond Memories of Communism

Hello Mr. Browne,

A colleague of mine just forwarded me a link to your article and I could not swallow that…let’s call it misrepresentation…

First of all: most of info in that article is not from communist era, but rather after-destruction era, second even more important fact for most westerners like yourself- the system in USSR was NEVER called communism, but socialism instead.

And that was exactly what it was: free good education, dedicated summer vacations (for my parents at sea shore of Black sea, and my parents were not elite: my father is a simple plumber at a regular factory), free kids leisure activities and sports conducted by professionals in their respective fields – therefore USSR had most medals in Olympics in those years, do you want me to continue about science, space achievements, culture, literature….I can continue and continue, and do not believe those opposite facts were never brought to your attention…and if they were, then what???....where are they???...your article is just another piece of western propaganda- isn’t it???


Administrator/ Capital Control- Reconciliation

From: Stephen Browne
To: igor
Sent: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 3:35 PM
Subject: RE: Fond Memories of Communism


Look again. The testimony you find objectionable is from Poles, Bulgarians, Lithuanians etc, who lived through that era their whole lives. I got to Eastern Europe just barely post-collapse (and by the way, why did this wonderful system collapse?) when the echoes of that mighty shout of freedom were still ringing - and the realization of "Oh my God what a mess we have to clean up!" was just setting in.

And to answer your question, no it's not.


Well, it went on for another couple of exchanges, ending when the young lady signed off with: "Merry Christmas, you ignorant American!"

I was not, of course, arguing for the sake of trying to convince this person. A glance at the correspondence will show that's futile.

The fact is, it was a slow afternoon and I was enjoying getting under her skin and watching her lapse into incoherent rage. Fact is, hey dude, we won and you lost - feels pretty damn good to me!

I hate to kick a man when he's down, but... oh the hell with that noise. I love to kick these commie pukes when they're down!

So lie down and take your kick like a man. Just remember, you'd have offed me!

As we say in Oklahoma, "I know it's wrong - but I'm weak."

So anyway, the first thing I did was to forward this correspondence to all of my friends and colleagues from the former communist countries, including Bulgaria, and urged them to contact these people. And please CC me.

When I did, I posed two questions:

1) Are these people claiming an equivalence between the communist holocaust of the 20th century and the admitted injustices and wrongs of western powers, or is it possible that they don't know?

In other words, is it possible that the educational system of Canada entirely omits this history, or actively denies it? God knows ours doesn't seem to bring it up much.

Any Canucks out there want to weigh in on this?

2) Is there an element of "survivors guilt" in the young lady's reaction?

In a subsequent email she launched into an impassioned screed about how she's "Bulgarian, in her heart and soul."

Sorry, though I say it who am not Bulgarian, though I love the country and its people greatly, she is not. She is Canadian, and she has sold out her people and betrayed the suffereings of her former nation for acceptance in Canada.

From Kalinn, in Bulgaria, I received this:

I said: I wonder about a couple of things, 1) is it possible in Canada they don't know about the communist holocaust? They've got a very socialist-friendly education system up there.

Yes, it is possible - not only in Canada but in West at all. Reasons of it are perfectly described in Black book of communism by Stephane Courtois : USSR was an Western ally in WWII; there were a strong communist parties in Western countries; Jewish holocaust took up the whole territory for modern barbarianism in XX century .

2) Psychologically, do you think it might be something like "survivors guilt"? They fled their native land, leaving it at a time when heroic men and women were finally changing it, and now they want to say it wasn't so bad so they don't feel so cowardly?

Yes, survivors gulit exists. I think that also exists a kind of "traumatic identity" but I couldn't explain it in English very well. That's why I am sending another my article form 2005 in Bulgarian. Your "friends" will understand it quite well.


From Elena, who grew up in the Soviet Union:

I would answer "yes". I think you are correct on both issues. Canada is very socialistic and the guilt issue is very
possible. She didn't say anything about her parents although it could make things much clearer. Why they moved to Canada?
Did they feel guilty about moving and so on? She was obviously a child when she left her homeland, so she knows about it
only trough somebody's stories. And as you said people tend to forget bad things, so after a while her parents must have
been reminiscing on the good parts of their life back home. Childhood impressions are extremely important, children grasp
information without analyzing so it usually goes straight to subconsciousness. When people grow up they carry a luggage of
unsubstantiated subconscious ideas that define what they are unless they decide to reevaluate everything they learned in
their childhood through their new grown-up perspective.
> >
> > When I start thinking about my childhood back in the Soviet Union I have nothing bad to say either. Mine was an average
family with their problems and happy moments and as it was my childhood my memories are usually more positive than my later
memories of something else. It was a carefree time for me even though it was not for my parents. If I stopped there I would
also be telling you now that you don't know anything about communism and all your words are just western propaganda. In fact
in the poverty stricken '90s, when my parents kept working but their salaries were delayed for over 6 months and if it had
not been for our grandparents who were growing their own food, we would have been starving, I would have told you that
communism (socialism) was much better than that horrible capitalism we lived in. Yet through all those years my major values
were justice and truth and eventually they helped me to reevaluate my past and everything I learned (that was 15 years of
continuous education)...

However it makes me feel really sad. I know many people like this woman, both in Russia and here. It's hard to believe but many people would rather live under communism than under capitalism. And you know why? It's the responsibility. You don't have to take responsibility for your life under communism or socialism.