" /> I write: April 2007
Curmudgeonalia
I see I taste I write Links What?
April 25, 2007

Infidel

Ayaan Hirsi Ali – ISBN - 9780743289689

By any standard this is a marvelous book: a well written autobiography of one of the leading Islamic writers of the present; a Somali Muslim who escaped an arranged marriage by immigrating to Holland, lived and studied there for a decade and became a member of parliament before being forced to leave the country. She is now in New York at The American Enterprise Institute where she lives under constant death threats. She will not be dissuaded from exposing Islam to the world for what it is. This is a riveting read and ought to be studied by everyone . . . without exception.

Lots you ought to know about Islam—and a lot that some of you would rather not know—is here. She reviews its persecution of women, its bizarre fixation on sex, its pre-medieval philosophy, its vicious history and its current irrelevance to modernity . . . except as a threat to civilization. Not culture! Civilization!

She explores her gradually unfolding understanding of, and her incremental distancing from, the prescriptions of the Koran, indicating that those who consider Islam to be a “Religion of Peace” are ignoring what their holy book says in plain Arabic which is little understood by the masses—even the literate amongst them.

In studying the Koran “we didn’t understand more than the bare gist of it. Apparently, understanding wasn’t the point.” Those who practice Islam as a compassionate, rational religion have altered it to suit their needs or their personal philosophy. They are not following the specific dictates of the Koran. Frighteningly, the masses are being gradually infused with and frightened into what is referred to as “Radical Islam,” which is funded largely by Saudi Arabian money.

“The Koran lists Hell’s torments in vivid detail . . . [which] details overpower you, ensuring that you will obey . . . [even as a child] I could never comprehend the downright unfairness of the rules, especially for women. How could a just God—a God so just that almost every page of the Koran praises His fairness—desire that women be treated so unfairly? . . . Why, if God was merciful, did he demand that His creatures be hanged in public? If He was compassionate, why did unbelievers have to go to hell? If Allah was almighty and powerful, why didn’t He just make believers out of the unbelievers and have them all go to Paradise?”

Included, as well, are her initial—and ultimately more judgmental—impressions of the West. In Holland she initially lived with a number of other Somali immigrants. There she observed that the infidels somehow managed to have a country better led, better run, and, overall, provided a far superior place to live. Their system was more consistent and honest, gave more people more happiness than that in which the Somalis had been raised. A Somali friend commented that the “whole country is filthy.” In point of fact none of them had ever lived in a place so clean. It was just that the Dutch philosophy was incongruent with Islam . . . and therefore was rejected by those who had come to Holland to escape. Go figure !? (And ya better understand what’s behind this! Listen up!)

Unlike adherents to Islam, “People in Holland agree that violence is bad . . . and . . . teach their children to channel aggression and resolve disputes verbally.” Western culture is simply superior to Islamic culture! She offers the caveat, however, that Holland’s respect for Islam isn’t working. Being tolerant for the sake of consensus is empty because there is no cooperation on the part of Muslims.

She did comment upon the peculiar attitudes of her Dutch friends. When Ayaan was finally granted citizenship she had a party to celebrate. “I told everyone I’m Dutch!” No one reacted except to study her “strangely”--not because she was black, but because “being Dutch meant absolutely nothing to these people.” Nobody was proud of being Dutch.”

On her arrival in California she was shocked by her ludicrous preconceptions of America. “I was expecting rednecks and fat people, with lots of guns, very aggressive police, and overt racism—a caricature of a caricature. In reality, of course, I saw people living perfectly well-ordered lives, jogging and drinking coffee.”

Liberation of Muslims, and especially the women, must be preceded by liberation of the mind from this rigid, dogmatic obedience to Allah’s dictates. While Allah is constantly referred to as “the most compassionate, the most merciful,” He also says that he has given us a will of our own. If so, how could He mind a little debate? To accept subordination and abuse because Allah willed it is self-hatred. Compassion, tolerance and freedom are not the characteristics of Islam, whatever the (mis)representation. “I look at . . . real cultures and see that it simply isn’t so.” She also explains that people in the West do not examine the religions or cultures of minorities for fear of being called racist. Values matter! Amongst the premier ones is honesty.

As for Muslim’s adaptivity . . . “People who never sat on chairs before can learn to drive cars . . . they master skills quickly. Muslims don’t have to take six hundred years to go through a reformation in the way they think about equality and individual rights.

The film Submission (over which Van Gogh was murdered) was said to be too aggressive. “Tell me, how much more painful is it to be [this culture and] these women, trapped in that cage?”

About the only negative comment I have on this book is that the author seems to view everything with very prismatic vision. As a child she was rigidly Islamic. Now having reached enlightenment she is rigidly atheistic. She still has some need to grow, but she has come a long way in less than two decades, and exhibits a survivor’s flexibility. She is impacting the discussion on Islam, and will continue to do so. It is impossible not to hear. Just pray that we also listen carefully and do something about it.

Posted by respeto at 4:39 PM

April 23, 2007

The China Fantasy

How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression
James Mann – 9780670038251

This interesting book, like so many others of this genre, is required reading for people who want to be informed, and search for well explored, tightly reasoned contrarian attitudes. Recognized facts and attitudes are interpreted at considerable variance from received wisdom.

His premise is that our China policy uses entirely the wrong paradigm. “He,” by the way, was a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times for years, living and working in China.

The exposition begins with Nixon/Kissinger “opening up” China, and reviews our policies thru the current administration . . . all of which have been exhibited cavalier and misinformed attitudes:

• That China will change with the introduction of world trade and responsibilities.
• That China wants to pursue a democratic pathway, eventually, at least
• That the West (and specifically the U.S.) must treat China cautiously so as not to offend
• That with a growing middle class there will be an increasing demand for freedom and equality

Mann chronicles the varying policies of serial administrations, demonstrating that while the names and descriptions were altered by the various authors, the policy has remained the same. A policy he refers to as “the Soothing Scenario.”

It all began with our need to cultivate China to offset the Soviet Union during the cold war. It evolved into a need to help them become modern by encouraging trade, albeit with carrots and sticks to ensure liberalization and improved treatment of their populace-- specifically to stop incarcerating, sometimes executing dissidents, which policy ended when Clinton separated trade from improved policies, promising that opening up the Chinese market would end our trade deficit with them. (In fact, our deficit at the time was 15 billion per year. It is now over 200 billion and climbing.) It has ended with Bush’s confidence that there can only be improvement within an unspecified time frame if we continue to buy their stuff and encourage a middle class which will demand democracy.

All the while we have refused to face the fact that China hasn’t changed a whit. Even as the Berlin wall came tumbling down the Chinese murdered (probably) thousands in Tiananmen Square. We complained a little, but over time debauched the process, ending with the captured plane incident early in the Bush II administration, since which time we continue to “avoid offending” the Chinese dictators . . . all in the interest improving trade and improving “investment opportunities, which has done little but make jobs disappear and permit trade deficits increase. Of course we are flooded with cheaper products.

This we do with the conviction that things will improve over time. Mann suggests that they will not, and may indeed get worse. Probably will. We confuse their embracing Big Macs and Starbucks, Levi’s and tank tops with “Westernization” and the adoption of Capitalism and Democracy. Integration is the current catchword, having replaced engagement. But the fundamental problem is our resistance to recognition of “who’s integrating whom?” Are the Chinese being integrated into a new international economic and democratic order, or is China integrating the U.S. into a new international political order where democracy is no longer favored and where a government’s continuing eradication of all organized political opposition is accepted or ignored?

China supports, invests in, encourages and trades with the worst dictatorships on the planet and will not only continue to do so, but increase these activities. Over time we may see, instead of a democratic China, a profusion of China supported dictators, juntas and other undemocratic governments throughout the world. Dictatorships from Burma to Zimbabwe are currently being supported, and China frequently flummoxes the West at the level of the Security Council of the U.N.

U.S. businesses, ostensibly encouraging openness, are subjected to restraints in order to operate in China (Think Google and Microsoft.) Whenever some major visitation takes place, suddenly there is a burst of positive press and the release of dissidents. When “the Summit” (or whatever) is over and the good guys have gone home there is a quiet Reconquista. The dissidents are imprisoned again and the press reverts to form. And we ignore it! After all, they’re making progress!

The Communist leaders don’t acknowledge their intention to maintain their monopoly, and the strategy is good for the elites in both China and the U.S. Further, and as importantly, it is equally good for the emergent middle class of cosmopolitan China. While the emerging middle class is larger than the population of any European country, insitu it represents only a tiny fraction of the 1.3 billion Chinese population; 80-90 million “comfortable” Chinese vs. 1,210 million peasants. Why would the fortunate support democracy when they have so much to lose (?) Mann asks.

America’s failure of imagination on China is comparable in some ways to its inability to come to grips with terrorism. In both instances, the main obstacle has been conceptual in nature. Rather than simply assume that “change is coming,” might we think about what it might mean for the U.S. and the world to have a repressive, one party state in China which supports and encourages similar, illiberal governments around the globe.

“It is a prospect that our paradigm of an inevitably changing China cannot seem to envision.” The belief that China will become like Taiwan or South Korea is a far remove from reality. It will not . . . and we can’t force it, as did we with these two; an “Asian Tiger,” to be sure, but do we really want to continue to encourage this beast?

Posted by respeto at 12:02 PM

April 15, 2007

The Gate of Hell

Campaign for Charleston Harbor, 1863
Stephen R. Wise – ISBN – 9780872499850

For you Civil War buffs, this is a sleeper. Shortly after watching the movie Glory, for the umpteenth time, I was motivated to read more about that particular battle. Several reviews indicate that this is the best book on the subject. While little more than a minor skirmish during the war, it was important because of the participation of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment (though regiments from CT, NY and NH were also involved!).

The book is intensive and extensive, dealing with fortifications, the use of artillery, the construction of berms and battlements, the iron-clad battleships (the first of their kind) and of the strategy and uses of coastal warfare during the “War for Independence” of the South. This was a battle of engineering and tactics. Not incidentally, and despite heavy losses by the North, Wagner was never taken and Charleston Harbor was never subdued. The 54th alone lost more than forty percent of its men and fourteen of its twenty-two officers.

Well written, and impeccably researched and reported, it is worth the time to read if this falls within your interest genre. Specifically, it deals with the battle for “Fort” Wagner (actually only a battery). While hardly the first time that black soldiers were used in an initial assault, it is historically accepted as the time they proved themselves mightily. Not altogether unlike the Tuskegee Airmen—nearly 80 years later in another war.

The training, treatment, ultimate acceptance of the black soldier is chronicled well. Amongst the things I found most interesting, though of no historic significance, is the fact that most of the sandy island upon which Battery Wagner was situated has now been claimed by the sea, along with—one supposes—the graves of the combatants who were simply piled into mass graves.

The 54th Massachusetts, its commanding officers, and the line infantry acquitted themselves grandly, heroically, and a black soldier named Carney became the first African-American to receive the Medal of Honor.

Posted by respeto at 11:59 AM

April 3, 2007

The Revenge of Gaia

Earth’s Climate Crisis & the Fate of Humanity
James Lovelock – ISBN 9780465041688

Gaia is a concept enveloping the entire earth: atmosphere, oceans, biosphere, crust of rock, etc . . . all of which function like a self-regulating, living super-organism. He intricately explains how Cartesian logic and science fail to explain simple, self-regulatory mechanisms, noting that analysis has failed as logic has become “circular” and inexplicable . . . one just intuits it, it seems. No one, including him, can fully understand or explain, but since he’s the professor we “just have to take his word for it.” (I do not disagree, but feel compelled to note how many things the cognoscenti are willing to “presume” as they deny the presumption of God.)

A not altogether unrelated quote, just for the hell of it:
“It’s amazing how evidence falls into place when you begin with the conclusion—and a hammer.” R. Joseph Hoffmann

Lovelock is an octogenarian scientist who helped introduce this concept, and while rational--unlike Al Gore--he is now insistent that all of the data indicate that we are approaching crisis mode. As with Gore, it seems to bother him little that a considerable number of serious climatologists—not T.V. weathermen, actors and politicians—disagree. He remains cantankerous and insistent that only he is correct.

I totally disagree with him--in principle and in fact. Still, he offers some wise counsel. His solutions are directed toward limiting greenhouse gasses, while mine are directed toward freeing ourselves from our dependence upon the damnable Middle-East with its corrupt dictatorships and maniacal religion, with an aside of minimizing whatever nominal effect humanity might have on the “biosphere of Gaia.”

Like him, I’m concerned about the decline of civilization, but Islam is a far greater risk than Mother Nature in my estimation.

His discussion includes a formidable amount of interesting and informative data, and in fairness he launches several serious attacks upon his “green friends,” such as our impassioned fears of radiation and the belief that somehow we can, with logic, arrive at “sustainable development” with “renewable energy supplies.” He emphasizes:

• To grow sufficient renewables to power (only) our planes, trains, ships and automobiles would require all of Earth’s arable land, and a couple more Earth sized planets!

• A continuous, uninterrupted supply of electrical energy is vital. A 21st century city denied electricity would, in but a few weeks, decline to a state comparable with a camp housing millions of starving and painfully uncomfortable refugees.

• Wind enthusiasts overlook the fact that to supply the UK’s present electricity needs would require 276,000 generators—about 3 per square mile--and even with this the fossil fuel generators would be required nearly 75% of the time, and have to be kept idling continuously, when not on line.

• Hydro-electric power, while safe and convenient, and classically renewable, is limited by both the number of rivers and our unwillingness to dam them all just for power. Hence it is only a marginal source of power.

• Solar energy, likewise, is impractical and very expensive. It would require paving the deserts at considerable expense . . . and even then it would not come close to providing sufficient energy to account for much.

“IF Kyoto had been influenced more by the pragmatism of scientists and engineers and less by romantic idealism, we might soon have harvested fusion energy.”

• Nuclear fission must be implemented, and fusion energy can probably be achieved within several decades . . . but only if we seriously pursue it. “An outstanding advantage of nuclear over fossil fuel energy is how easy it is to deal with the waste it produces.”

• The carbon dioxide generated by our current burning of fossil fuels produces two million times as much waste as would be produced by nuclear fission. The carbon dioxide waste is invisible, but infinitely more deadly.

• The problem with nuclear power is political! The technology exists and is much safer than commonly believed, and infinitely less damaging.

“You would not subject yourself to surgery by a novice [who had read some books] . . . so why should we trust urban environmentalists to advise our elected governments on how to make laws intended for the welfare of our planet?” Less, still, John Travolta?

Further, he discusses that since Silent Spring (Rachel Carlson’s diatribe on pesticides from the evil chemical industry) we have become unduly frightened of chemicals, and insist at our peril that the environment and our food be kept free of all chemicals. Similarly he attacks the mythical portions of “acid rain.” And he’s death on organic foods, pointing out all of the drawbacks and inefficiencies (not to mention the insufficiencies.)

His discussion of our trivial, “even imaginary” concerns about the risks of cancer from mobile telephones, pesticide residues in food, sunlight is enlightening, as “we are indeed straining at a gnat but swallowing a camel with ease.”

Overall an illuminating read, and a well written book with an appropriate edge of humor as he “pimps” us over our dangerous and unrealistic attitudes and fears. Highly recommended !!

Keep in mind that nuclear energy is emission free and independent of imports.

“There is no alternative but nuclear fission energy until fusion energy and sensible forms of renewable energy [are explored and delineated.]”

Posted by respeto at 4:20 PM