Friday, July 31, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
“In addition to being America's best-loved folksinger and an untiring environmentalist, Pete Seeger is a national treasure. He has been at the forefront of the labor movement, the struggle for Civil Rights, the peace and anti-war movements, and the fight for a clean world. He has been a beacon for hope for millions of people all over the world. Once blacklisted from national television for being unafraid to voice his opinions, he was given the nation's highest artistic honors at the Kennedy Center in December 1994. In January 1996 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Although he left Harvard during his second year, in the spring of 1996 he was awarded the Harvard Arts Medal, presented annually to a Harvard graduate who has made an important contribution to the arts. He won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album of 1996 in February 1997 for his Living Music recording "Pete." At the end of April 1999, he traveled to Cuba to accept the Felix Varela Medal, that nation's highest honor for "his humanistic and artistic work in defense of the environment and against racism." In April 2000, he was named one of America's Living Legends by the Library of Congress.”
But let me try one more time to blog about Pete. Seeing as how I've already come this far by saying I can't.
People like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie have always stuck in the self-satisfied craw of the American Establishment, especially politicians. Proponents of the status quo were never comfortable around the Folk Singers. Peter, Paul and Mary. Joan Baez and Bobby Dylan. Richie Havens. Roger McGuinn. They never seemed to be able to look at injustice and turn away; always had to be in it's face and shining bright lights in America's dirty dark corners.
Civil Rights. Farm workers. The Vietnam War.
Where have all the flowers gone? If I had a hammer. We shall overcome.
And always ending with Woody's song, This Land is Your Land. In your face. Take it back.
Pete wrote Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Pete wrote If I Had a Hammer. Pete wrote the Byrd's "Turn, Turn, Turn" (with a little help from King Solomon.)
Always dragging that old 5-string banjo around. Always singing about injustice. Always in the establishment's face. The ultimate protest singer.
AMY GOODMAN (Democracy Now): And for someone who isn’t so hopeful, who is listening to this right now, trying to find their way, what would you say?
PETE SEEGER: Realize that little things lead to bigger things. That’s what Seeds is all about. And this wonderful parable in the New Testament: the sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousand fold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of?
In 1936, at age 17, Pete joined the YCL (Young Communist League) and in 1942 he became a member of the Communist Party. Although he drifted away from the Party in the 1950s, mostly due to the embarrassment of Stalin's atrocities, he remained always in the fight for the worker, for the common man. The ultimate liberal. A liberal's liberal.
"I like to say I'm more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other."
In 1955 he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Unlike many others before him, he didn't take the Fifth. He claimed protection, instead, under the FIRST Amendment - freedom of association. Freedom to associate with whomever he felt like associating with.
"I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this."
Pete Seeger turned 90 this past May. There was a big party in Madison Square Garden. And a PBS special on his life this summer. He performed of course, leading the crowd in song, as usual. This time it was Amazing Grace he made them sing. Bruce Springsteen was there. And Roger McGuinn and Joan Baez and Tom Paxton and Arlo Guthrie. True to form, he insisted that the proceeds be donated to the non-profit group working to save and restore the Hudson River. He hasn't slowed down much. The fire still burns inside.
In January, he sang with some friends and the crowd at President Obama's innauguration. You didn't think old Pete was going to miss that, did you?
They sang - of course - Woody's old song, This Land is Your Land.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Here's how it works:
1. If I know someone personally, I am "one degree" or "one step" from that person.
2. That person knows other people besides myself, people that I don't know. I would be "two steps" or "two degrees" from those people.
And so forth. The theory being that by 6 steps, you are webbed with everyone on earth, somehow, someway. I don't know who came up with this absurdity in the first place, and I don't know how they would propose to prove it.
But it is sort of fun, especially if you allow "proxies." In fact, UNLESS you allow proxies, it isn't much fun at all. Proxies mean you get to count people you simply "have heard of" rather than having to actually know them in person.
For example, let's say I go to a movie, say the musical "South Pacific". I don't know. Let's just say it is an old theater that runs old movies. Don't ask hard questions. :)
Anyway, let's say that in that movie, one of the actors is a guy named Ray Walston.
Well, I don't really know Ray Walston (and can't because he is dead now, but bear with me) but I get to count him as a step one (or one degree of separation) because "I have heard of him."
Next step, second degree: Let's say Ray Walston acted in a TV series called "My Favorite Martian." He did. And that show also starred an actor named Bill Bixby. "By Proxie" I am two degrees, or two steps back, from Bill Bixby. See?
And, let's say Bill Bixby starred in another tv show called "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" and in that show was another actress named Miyoshi Umeki. That would be 3 degrees away from me.
Then, let's say that actress once starred in a movie called "Flower Drum Song". In that movie were other actors. Pick one. Jack Soo. (This was mostly an Asian movie, so it had mostly Asian actors.) So Jack Soo is 4 degrees separated from me.
Jack Soo starred as a police detective in a TV sitcom called "Barney Miller". Other actors were in that show, too: Pick one. I choose the venerable Abe Vigoda. Fish. 5 degrees from me.
Abe Vigoda acted in a movie called "The Godfather". Fish went to live with the fishes in that one. Also in that movie were lot of other actors. I choose Marlin Brando. So Brando is 6 degrees from me.
We can go on and on even more, but you would stop reading this if we did.
Anyway, the theory of six degrees of separation is that by the time you get to the sixth step, all of those people would have interacted with a huge number of people, and they in turn more and more people, that you could actually (theoretically) have a list of all the people on the planet if you followed each link through to its completion.
Or you could have said that Ray Walston acted in a movie called "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and was the teacher of Spicoli, played by a young unknown actor named Sean Penn. Then you could say Sean Penn was Married to Madonna and Madonna knew every man on earth. Or something like that. See?
This post is only for people who like to analyze things, btw. Not much fun for the rest of you. But the post will only be up for one day.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
A lot of you probably think Frank was Irish. He was raised in Ireland. He was famous because of his book which was mostly about Ireland.
But Frank was born in Brooklyn. Truly, though, if anyone was Irish, it was Frank. If you have read the story of his childhood in his most famous work, "Angela's Ashes," then you may agree with that statement. Still, when Frank came back to the land of his birth years later, he wasn't immigrating and he didn't need a passport; Frank was coming home.
Now he has gone home again.
Malachy, his brother, is a good author in his own right. I have, and have read, his "History of Ireland." He is interesting. But - and no offense to Malachy McCourt - he can't hold a candle to Frank in the writing department.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Juliet muses over the unfairness and stupidity of this and muses "What's in a name?" and decides that names mean nothing - "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
You'll get your thousand if you can tell us the last names of the young star-crossed lovers.
Google and die.
Many Jews stayed living through the centuries in the area which later became called Palestine, as did many Arabs. As I mentioned before, they were both simply called Palestinians. They were also called by their religions, Jews and Muslims. And, of course, there were other peoples and other religions.
But a large number of the descendants of the original Hebrews did NOT stay in that area and were dispersed throughout the world. Some became wealthy and influential in Europe. Some ended up in Hollywood. But MANY lived in large segregated Jewish communities in Germany, Poland, and Russia - and many other places as well.
These last all had a couple things in common: One, they were all segregated and persecuted by the majority in each country, for the most part. Nobody liked the Jews, it seemed. Two, they all dreamed of someday again having their own homeland.
This post is not going to be a pity party for the Jews. Anyone who has read history knows how each country treated them. The word "ghetto", which we today use to mean any slum, comes from the place Jews were made to live in each city; the Jewish quarter. The Jews in Russia in the 19th century suffered "pogroms" (organized massacres; sanctioned ethnic cleansing) at the hands of the Tsars. If you have seen the play or movie "Fiddler on the Roof", then you have an idea of how the Jews lived in Russia.
If all these dispersed Jews had one thing in common, it was that they were outsiders, strangers in strange lands, living for generations in those countries, but never being truly able to call it their own.
Zion was the name of the hill in Jerusalem upon which King David built his city. It means other things to other people and other religions, too.
To the Jews "in exile" living in other lands, though, Zion was more than that: Zion was a concept, a deeply-rooted dream about one day, some day, again having their own homeland, a place where they belonged and nobody could throw them out. This dream was solidified into a common vision called "Zionism".
The dreamed-of future homeland was known as Zion. Zion was not (and is not) a real place in the sense we are talking about - not a bricks and mortar place. Instead, Zion describes a shared dream, a condition of ownership and belonging.
There is an old joke that the definition of "home" is a place that, when you go there, they have to let you in. Such a place, in the dreams of the Jews over the centuries of not belonging, was Zion. True, Zion was a hill in ancient Jerusalem where King David built his city, and it also means other things, but in this instance we are talking about the dreamed-of Jewish Homeland.
Dreamers of such a homeland, and those who would, when it was finally realized, defend that homeland against all comers are "Zionists."
For centuries, wherever they were in the world, all Jews repeated the same phrase when they sat down to their meal at Passover: "Next year in Jerusalem." But none of them ever lived to see it.
Zionism, as a concept, is important. If you understand Zion to epitomize a dream come true from centuries of dreaming, of Jews long-dead dreaming, of persecution and oppression survived, of being strangers in strange lands and countless humiliations endured, then you may have some small inkling of why the people living in Israel today are not going anywhere.
Not because the Palestinians want them to disappear; not because the U.S. or the U.N. want them to do this or that; not until every Jewish man, woman, and child are dead. Even then they wouldn't leave; their bones would be buried there.
If the Palestinians entertain such a hope, or a hope of garnering enough world opinion to force Israel out, they might want to consider rethinking that hope. The only hope for peace is for the Palestinians to learn to live with Israel, and yet they prefer to dream of Israel's magical disappearance.
The ultimate persecution of the Jews: The Holocaust
Then, as you all know, came World War II and Hitler's attempt to purge the world of the Jews once and for all.
At the end of WWII, the Jews that were left were, in large part, homeless. Even their ghettos had been destroyed. Many, many families were not intact anymore. They were let out of the prison camps, but with no real place to go.
They began coming to the ancient homeland of their fathers. They came any way they could. They came by the thousands. Many of them had nothing but tattered clothes and a very old dream.
Of course, they also immigrated to many other countries far and wide after the war, but enough started showing up in the land of their ancestors that there was cause for alarm among the Arabs and their British administrators.
Even before WWII, the Jewish immigration to Palestine was immense. The British were still the administrators of Palestine (and other areas of the Middle East), and their Peel Commission recommended a tiny area be partitioned from the rest of Palestine for the Jews to live in, leaving the vast majority of Palestine for the Arabs.
The Arabs opposed even this, called the Jews a race cursed by God, and put pressure on the British, who caved. Palestine was closed to further Jewish immigration. Ships overloaded with hopeful Jews were turned away. Famously, one such ship, with no place to go, capsized and all aboard perished. But still the Jews tried to come.
The Arab league was formed to further Arab interests in the area and fight against any more Jewish immigration. The world was on the side of the Arabs.
President Roosevelt assured Kind Saud that the U.S. would not support further Jewish immigration as long as he was president. When he died, though, the Jews gained a powerful friend in Harry Truman.
In 1947, the United Nations began to debate. The situation was becoming intolerable. It was decided that the British Mandate would end, on May 15, 1948, and that Palestine would be partitioned. After the anouncement, violence began breaking out around the country. A U.N. "trustee" arrangement was floated in an attempt to head off Israeli statehood, which would certainly mean war. Everyone knew the Jews were not going to be satisfied this time with simply living in another ghetto in Palestine, U.N. or no U.N.
Truman was against the idea of a "trusteeship" and the idea was never implemented. Violence escalated.
On May 14, 1948, as the British were still leaving Palestine, and knowing full well what was going to happen to them, the Israelis declared independence.
The Israelis didn't have long to wait. Immediately, every Arab League member declared war on Israel, with the stated intent to "totally eliminate" the new state of Israel. Only one country in the world came forward and recognized Israel's independence as a sovereign state.
The Arabs have never really cared for the United States since.
But soon Iran, the Soviet Union and many other countries recognized Israel.
The 1948 Arab-Israeli war is known by Israelis as their war of independence.
The five Arab states who actually attacked the new country of Israel were Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. King Abdullah I of Jordan was the commander of the Arab Legion and there were other Arab armies made up from the other countries.
Israel had known, of course, that it would be called upon to defend its declaration of independence, and had, for a long time before, been training and equipping a paramilitary underground fighting force. In addition, armed settlers answered the call, directly defending their land. Counting both men and women fighters (Israeli women have always fought and died alongside their men) Israel had a sizable force, if somewhat rag tag.
One of Israel's greatest assets was the streaming in of Jews from all over the world to fight with them, perhaps as much as 10,000 per MONTH. It is estimated Israel started with about 29,000 fighters, but by December they had over 100,000. Still, they were facing the armies of multiple nations.
Progress was slow, but the Israelis began taking territory. Armistices were signed in 1949 and a U.N. Commission was set up to monitor the "peace". Israel ended up with about 50% more land than it had had under the original U.N. partition, had the Arabs just left Israel alone in the first place. Needless to say, even more Jewish immigration occurred after the war and is still going on.
I'm going to leave out the parts of the killings and massacres that occured during the war.
The Arab world attacked Israel again in 1967. This time the war lasted 6 days and Israel ended up with pretty much all the land they cared to keep. They took the Sinai and Gaza from Egypt but gave the Sinai back after Egypt recognized their right to exist. They still haven't given back Syria's Golan Heights and probably never will, since Syria likes to bombard Israel from those hills. Syria periodically complains to anyone who will listen and in return, Israel bombs them whenever it gets the urge. If you start a war with Israel, you had better not lose it.
Except for periodically lobbing a handful of Scuds into Israel under Saddam, Iraq is pretty much out of it. Lebanon is still a threat. Or at least half of it is. Israel goes into Lebanon every 5 or 6 years until the world cries in protest at Israel's barbarity, and then they leave Lebanon, the unfinished business still unfinished.
Some of the Palestinians seem to want peace and are just tired of the genertions of fighting. Others, under Hamas, still fight the good fight and continue to lob homemade rockets into Southern Israel, which Israel is expected to just smile and endure. There is really not much left for them to destroy in Gaza anyway.
I'm sure not all of you see the solution as clearly as I do.
Remember the movie "Cool Hand Luke" where George Kennedy and Paul Newman are boxing in the yard? And the much stronger Kennedy keeps popping Newman and knocking him on his rear? And then, a few seconds later, Newman rolls over, gets to his knees, and staggers to his feet, over and over and over again, only to be walloped again by a frustrated Kennedy?
Finally Newman hears the advice of Kennedy and the onlookers.
"Stop. Getting. Up."
Would that the Palestinians would heed the same advice and decide to start today living in peace and starting down the road to prosperity. The choice is and always has been up to the Palestinians, not the Israelis.
The Israelis simply aren't going to leave. Get over it.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Are you an original version Star Trek fan? Often you can explain deeper things by recalling the early episodes of Star Trek:
In this episode, there was an alien “cop” chasing an alien “fugitive” across time and space and had been doing so for eons. As luck would have it, the fugitive beamed himself aboard the Enterprise and claimed sanctuary. I know, I know. But when the cop alien came aboard and demanded Kirk give up the fugitive to him, Kirk asked him why he was trying to bring him back to segregation on the home planet.
Here, you must remember the terrible make-up jobs in the early episodes. The two aliens had half black skin and half white skin. There was a line right down the middle of their faces starting at the top of their foreheads, running down between their eyes, down the middle of their noses, down across the middle of their lips and chins, down the middle of their necks. They were black black on one side and white white on the other side. Terrible makeup: like a mime or clown white on one side of their face and greasy black blackface on the other side of their face. Ridiculous. But it was to prove a point.When Kirk asked the “cop” alien why they were fighting, that they looked exactly the same to him, the “cop” alien was shocked at what Kirk had said: “Are you BLIND??? He’s white on the LEFT side!!!”
The Middle East is kinda like that, Ettarose. Only, substitute “Jewish and Islamic” for “black and white.” Gimme that old-time religion.
What is “prejudice?”
Prejudice is many things, but, in the end, prejudice is hate. Prejudice is a special kind of hate that happens when someone is perceived to be somehow different than another.
Often that difference is very small, almost laughably small - like the aliens who looked exactly the same to Captain Kirk. One thing you can count on, though, and that is that the stronger of the two entities will somehow try to bully the weaker.
Maybe someone speaks English with a thick Spanish accent.
Maybe someone wears foreign-looking clothing to school.
Maybe someone wants to love someone of the same sex.
Maybe - and this is almost unbelievable - maybe someone has a different color of skin.
But, for sure, religion is right up there at the top of the list.
In Darfur, in the Sudan, as I write this, thousands of people are being persecuted: starved, raped, enslaved, murdered. Why? Because they are not Muslim, not part of the chosen ruling elite. Allah and His Prophet taught that this must be so, that the infidel may not live amongst the Chosen People. Or so they say. It is the thing Good Muslims should do. And if that is NOT what Allah and His Prophet taught, no matter.
In Kosovo, thousands of Muslims were “cleansed” by the Christian Serbs: raped, tortured, murdered, buried in shallow graves. It was the Christian thing to do. And if that is NOT what Christianity really teaches, no matter.
Prejudice and hatred for things that are different than you is as old as Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel; and as young as five minutes ago. How many wars have been fought over these small differences? How many wars have been fought in the name of religion? In the name of God or Allah?
Even more importantly, how many MORE children will be killed because someone blows himself up in a marketplace to avenge some unremembered original act? How many MORE people will have metaphorical fire hoses and dogs loosed on them because they don’t want to sit in the back of the bus or because they happened to be born with a different skin pigmentation?
I don’t have the answers. I only have questions. I only have my own set of prejudices I am carrying around.
I almost just said, “God help us.”
It seems to be the fashion lately for bloggers to challenge their readers to caption odd photos, for the fun of it. I am terrible at this. So I have invented a new game that is akin to captioning photos. Maybe I will be better at this and maybe you will help me play the game. Instead of captioning a photo, I will take a situation and ask you to pen a moral to it. What do you think the moral (deeper meaning) of the above story might be?
Of course, I will need to think of a name for this game. I was thinking of "Moral, moral, who's got the moral?"
Picture John Belushi as Bluto Blutarski in Animal House handing out fraternity pens to the new pledges.
"Your new delta tau name is... Pinto"
"Pinto? Why Pinto?"
((Above: King David as a boy slays the Philistine champion Goliath))
The patriarch Abraham's other son Isaac had sons too, and one of them was named Jacob. Later his name was changed to Israel. Jacob/Israel had 12 sons. All Jews can trace their lineage back to one of these sons, the 12 "tribes" of Israel.
You probably already know the story of how they got there, but after about 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the descendants of these 12 tribes were set free from Egypt and led by a man called Moses out of Egypt.
Then what? You may well ask. Well, they tried to return to the land in the general area of their ancestors. They believed God had promised that land to their ancestor Abraham and his descendants forever.
As you probably guessed, there were already people living on that land now. Their land to be was now called the land of Canaan, so you can bet there were Canaanites on it already. But the Children of Israel prevailed, and after many hardships, carved out a piece of the pie to live on. Years later, maybe another 200-300 years later, in 1000 BC, they had a king called David. Here we stop drifting in and out between myth and "recorded" history and become historically factual.
In 1000 BC, the Hebrews were living in two kingdoms under 2 historical kings. The one tribe called Judah (after the son named Judah) was one kingdom, and all the other 11 were the other kingdom, called, simply, Israel (instead of naming all the other tribes. Makes sense.)
During the last 7 years of his reign, King David was the ruler of both kingdoms. The United Kingdoms, as it were, the first king having been killed. Then David's son Solomon (another long story) became king and kept the kingdoms united. Solomon was Israel's greatest king. From this you can see that the Israelis controlled the land for 47 years about 3000 years ago. Not so much. But they still lived on the land, as did the current-day Palestinians, continuously, at least some of them, until this day.
Early on, the two kingdoms, before their unification, were going at each other and in between were still fighting with the other inhabitants of the area, the Philistines, who are today called Palestinians. That too, is another story. Anyway, they are still fighting. Fighting over the same land. Some might say both sides are really pig-headed. Not me.
Next: The U.N. Draws a map.
(And Zion. Don't let me forget Zion.)
Man Come Into Egypt (PPM)
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Malachy McCourt said that his 78-year-old brother, best known for the million-selling "Angela's Ashes," is in a New York hospice, "his faculties shutting down."
"He is not expected to live," said McCourt, himself an author and performer.
Frank McCourt was recently treated for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, but his brother says he had been doing well until about two weeks ago, when he contracted meningitis.
"He was out and about, being active, doing talks and so forth," Malachy McCourt said.
Today? Not so much. Today we don't want to offend anyone, least of all our enemies.
I'm not really sure we ever really lived up to that "affirmative action" ideal, but I think we tried. There must have been several embarrassing lapses on our part. Another one of those "lapses" took place during the recent Iran election protests, in my opinion. We watched. We waited. We kept our mouths shut.
The following quotes by two different U.S. Presidents, almost 50 years apart, show clearly we are now traveling on a very different road. There is no need to judge, and each man should be allowed to live in his own time, but do compare:
"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
—John F. Kennedy (1-20-61)
"Look, it's up to the Iranian people to make a decision. We are not meddling."
—Barack Obama (6-16-09)
I'm sure most of the world agrees with our current president's decision. But something - some ingredient from the American recipe - has been lost along the way. Just my opinion.
In the previous post on the Middle East, I tried to make 2 points. First, that both the Israelis and Palestinians (and others) had a long history of living in this area and thus both had at least SOME hereditary claim to the territory, and second, that this part of the world, throughout history, was often controlled by outside empires and not really the inhabitants themselves.
Although I admittedly don't have an emotional stake in the land myself, being neither Jew nor Arab, it seems to me, as a reader of history and a seeker of truth, that no one group of people had a claim to the land that was really superior to the claims of others, no matter what the flaming rhetoric says. So, it seemed to me, upon reading the history, that the only fair way to do it would be to do what King Solomon decided to do with the baby: cut the land up into pieces and give a piece to each claimant.
That is exactly what the new United Nations, the successor to the old League of Nations, did following WWII.
Between the two World Wars, the land that had been taken from the Ottoman Empire was placed (by the League of Nations) under the administration of the United Kingdom and France. The part of the Middle East in question in these posts was under the administration of the UK: the so-called "British Mandate."
Back then, everything was not rosy in the Middle East. It never had been and it wasn't hunky dory after WWII, either. Before we get to the part of how the land was broken up and parceled out, and who got what, we need to pause for just a bit and talk about the more specific histories of the Arabs and the Jews and how they got there.
There were other peoples living in that land as well, but dealing only with Israel and the people who now call themselves Palestinians, let's take a look at their histories. Or some of their histories.
Even before we go into those histories, let me clear up one more thing. I have been referring to the Arabs as "the people who call themselves Palestinians today." That needs a little explanation. You see, during the time Palestine was a "real" country (1920-1948), both the Arabs and the Jews lived in that country. They owned land. They had houses and farms. They didn't fight as much, at least not compared to today. They were BOTH called Palestinians, because they BOTH lived in the country of Palestine.
Later, once the Jews were given a certain part of the old Palestine, and told to move into that area from where they were living before, they called that new land Israel and they became Israelis. The people who continued to live in the rest of Palestine, including those who had to move out of the new area called Israel, were still called Palestinians, of course. The Jews were no longer called Palestinians like they were before.
I will make the necessary history speech as short as possible.
The Palestinians (the Arabs) have, as we have said, long roots of living in the area, even though they might not have actually been the masters of that land. They lived there for thousands of years. In Biblical times, they were called Philistines. According to the Bible, they came from Crete and settled the southern coastal plain of Canaan in the 12th century BC. Even then they were fighting with the neighboring Jews, who had come into that area also in the 12th century BC (coming from Egypt, led by Moses.)
But the Jews have a claim older than that, at least to the general Middle East. They were the descendants, according to history books (and the Bible - another book of history when collaborated by other historical records), since they were a nomadic people living in the area before they were enslaved in Egypt. At that time these nomadic people were called Hebrews.
Indeed, myth (a myth is an unverified explanation of the origin of something) tells us that the Hebrews, along with the Arab peoples, were on the land at almost the same time, both springing from a patriarch named Abraham. (The Hebrews were the descendants of one of Abraham's two sons; the Arabs were descended from the other of Abraham's sons.) This myth is passed down through both Hebrew and Arab historical writings, but, to my knowledge, is still a myth and not otherwise substantiated other than by religious writings of "history." But both the Jews and the Arabs agree on their origins from this patriarch named Abraham.
The name of Abraham's son who supposedly started the race of the present Palestinians, and other Arabs, was Ishmael. Ishmael was the son of Abraham and his wife's servant. Abraham was unable to have a child with his wife, and she told him to have a child with her servant, but later became jealous. Later on, she also finally had a son, though. His name was Isaac and he was the one who began the line of the Hebrews, the Israelis of today. Again, this is technically myth (pre-history), but both sides give the same oral and religious history of their origins.
You would think, since they supposedly sprang from half-brothers, they might get along a little better than they do.
The story continues that the servant girl, with her young son Ishmael was driven out into the desert by the jealous wife of Abraham, or Abraham himself sent them away under pressure from his jealous wife. Whichever, the servant girl and her son were about to perish in the desert when God (Allah to the Arabs) appeared and miraculously saved them. Ishmael went on to become the great Arab nations.
One might note that Ishmael was a bit older than Isaac, obviously. For what that is worth. It's worth a lot to the Arabs.
That's how the Arabs came to be on the land of the Middle East, so their claim is very old.
Tomorrow, the Israelis: Isaac and his son. (Hint: Isaac's son Jacob had his name changed to Israel and he had 12 sons - the "children of Israel".)
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
What do the words "Mark Twain" mean? As usual, you must pretend Google doesn't exist. Anybody can look it up. But that's no fun.
Hint: Samuel Clemens was born in a town on the Mississippi River. He grew up with the river, swam in the river, played pirates on its islands, watched the steam-powered riverboats as they unloaded their cargo from faraway places, himself became a riverboat pilot for a time.
He was to become one of the world's most beloved authors, and when Sam chose his pen name when he began to write seriously, it was a riverboat term.
Update: Answer: Riverboat pilots had to know how deep the river was. Some of the river could be memorized, but it was constantly changing due to currents and storms and such. The shallow-draft riverboats didn't need much depth, but they needed enough. When the pilot wasn't sure of the depth, he would place a crew member on the bow of the boat and sound the depth of the water by dropping a plumb line into the water and letting it go to the bottom, then he could tell how deep the water was by the marks on the line itself. This crewmember would literally sing the changing depths loudly to the pilot as the depth changed. Sometimes the marks were only knots tied in the line at measured intervals. One mark was one fathom, six feet. The marks were in fractions of a fathom as well. Mark two, or mark twain, was 2 fathoms (12 feet) or "safe water". If you would like to look at a drawing of all the marks on a line, you can see it here. Thank you for guessing.
Another bit of Mississippi River trivia: If you have spent any length of time near the river, you will have noticed that it is frequently (if not constantly) being dredged or pumped. That is, you will see a large silt pump sending the bottom material to the shore through a long pump tube. This is being done by the Army Corps of Engineers who have guaranteed a draft of 9 feet in mid-channel to river traffic. Now you know what all that pumping is. :)
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
One South African website gave people the opportunity to ask President Obama general questions. He promised to try and answer as many as he could this week. I need to go try and find his answers, since I assume he did answer some of these. But in the meantime, since he and I are following each other on Twitter, I'm sure he won't mind if I take some of the load off him and try to answer a few for him today.
I probably shouldn't have to say this, but these are not the official Obama answers to the questions.
Most of these came from South Africa, but people from other countries also found the website and asked questions. I tried to choose a fair sampling. There were a couple hundred altogether, so these are just the tip of the... ummmm... iceberg, I guess.
Thank you very much to Frostygirl for providing the link to these questions on her blog. I hope she knows I am only having a little fun and am not choosing the most serious questions. (Right, Frostygirl?)
Well done for occupying the highest office in land, tell me about your view of Iraq and the killing of Saddam, do you think Bush was finishing were his father left off, or he was drunk by power when he killed thousands of people in Iraq and afganistan under the false pretandance of weapons of mass distruction ? Tshifhiwa Magadani
I think Bush was just drunk with power. Thank you for your question.
From: Chloe Hardy
Dear President Obama, I know that you are concerned about the HIV epidemic in Southern Africa. One of the main drivers of the HIV epidemic is violence against women and gender inequality. Are you planning any major programmes or funding initiatives to address issues of violence against women in Southern Africa?
I will do my best to continue whatever I can do. Thank you for your question.
From: The messenger
Monday, July 13, 2009
I won’t attempt to go into great detail, but will do more in subsequent posts. This post is only an overview of the history of the area - a first step for readers who would like to know what is going on there and why.
First of all, both the Israelis and the Palestinians (and a lot of other historical inhabitants) have a “claim” to that land, but, in point of fact, it has seldom actually been “controlled” by any of the claimants for any length of time in history. By that I mean there has almost always been some outside “landlord” or “occupier” to whom the actual inhabitants were more or less subjugated.
Going far back in time, the Egyptians enjoyed great influence over a pretty vast area in that part of the world, but coming forward in time more recently, lest we spend too much time on the real early stuff, one might logically start with the Babylonians. They took over in 586 BC, although the Assyrians already held sway over parts.
50 years later, the Persian Empire was the owner of the moment, under Cyrus the Great, followed by Greek rule after being conquered by Alexander the Great. They were all “great” back then. Then the Egyptians again and then ancient Syria. In 63 BC came the Roman Empire, which eventually morphed into the Byzantine Empire in that area. In 638 AD began the long 1300-year rule of the Arab Conquest. In 1517, the Ottoman Turks conquered, and held the territory until the Ottoman Empire was defeated and broken up in World War One.
I don’t present the above to confuse you, only to illustrate that the long-term residents of the area (and there were more than just the present day Israelis and Palestinians) were, with few exceptions, seldom actual masters of their own domain. Even after World War I, the area was controlled by the French and the British.
I point all this out to remind you that the concept of sovereignty by the actual inhabitants is a fairly recent event, and simply because they and their ancestors lived there for a very long time does not mean they were the rightful controllers of the land over everyone else. To the contrary, all of the inhabitants of the area were almost always tenets of some occupier or another. That gives the lie to whether Israeli or Palestinian (or others) REALLY have a pure ancestral claim to the land any more than any other long-term inhabitant. There were indeed some short-term exceptions, but to put it bluntly, they were almost always the conquered people of this or that Empire.
Next: The British Mandate land area (which had been issued by the League of Nations following WWI) is broken up and apportioned by the United Nations.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
NATO is an acronym for "North Atlantic Treaty Organization."
It is a formal military alliance treaty which was signed by several countries on April 4, 1949, and has enlarged, little by little, since then.
NATO has its roots in the "Treaty of Brussels," signed a year earlier by France and the United Kingdom, together with the fierce warrior nations of Belgium and The Netherlands. The Treaty of Brussels, in turn, was in response to the Soviet Union's scary aggressions, including the "Berlin Blockade."
This was only a few years after the end of World War II, and France was greatly in shambles and the United Kingdom still largely so as well. These countries took a look at themselves and then took a look at the military might of the Soviet Union, and decided that, even with the mighty Belgians and Dutch at their sides, perhaps they needed a big brother to accompany them, just in case the Soviet Union laughed at them when they told it to stop.
Who would fit the bill? Gosh.
It was thus decided to invite the USA to join their European alliance. They changed the name to "North Atlantic" (since the USA wasn't yet part of Europe) and started a whole new gang. Why the US decided to join this rather impotent little band is still not clear. The US probably thought it could more or less defend the UK and France, and even, perhaps, mighty Belgium and the Netherlands, but certainly there must have been a tiny cloud of doubt as to whether these folks could defend the US if it were ever attacked. Be that as it may, the USA joined this new thing called NATO. God bless Harry Truman.
Over the years, many other countries in Europe were invited to the party - and some of them were a pretty dang long ways from the Atlantic. The whole idea of the military alliance was to "act as one" - if any of the member countries were attacked, then the other countries must act as if they had been attacked, too. Except France. We all know how France acts when attacked.
Admittedly, this deal looked pretty good to the Europeans over the years - especially to folks like Estonia and Latvia - but the more guys there were in the club, the more chance one of them was going to be attacked. This may not have meant much to Belgium, but it kept the USA up at night.
Over the years, by gosh, some WERE attacked. And some (not France, usually) stood by their word and went and helped out. And all was well in the land of Europe.
But - horrors! - one day the unthinkable happened! The Europeans woke up one morning to the news on TV that the USA had been attacked. Well. Jumping Jiminy. THAT wasn't supposed to happen!
Not only that, but it was learned that the attackers were trained by and abetted by the hardcore religious government of a place called Afghanistan. The name of this government was "Taliban". Or at least the name of the people who made up the government were called Taliban.
The US was therefore effectively at war with Afghanistan. They were also at war with the people the Taliban trained - a group of free lance religious fanatics who subscribed to the same concept of love as the Taliban did - called, loosely, al-Qaeda. It was actually these al-Qaeda lovlies - who came from all over the middle east, but the head honchos and chief martyrs came from Saudia Arabia - who had attacked the US. God, talk about complications. Nobody wanted to irritate Saudi Arabia. Nobody is quite sure why, but that was a fact.
Anyway, al-Qaeda holed out mainly in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, so Pakistan also became the enemy. And in there somewhere amidst the other oil countries was Iran. When Pakistan had it explained to them that the US was about to bomb them until they all died, they changed their name from "enemy" to "ally." And Iran, suddenly peaceful as well, for a time, resolved to also cooperate by not shooting down any airplanes that drifted over their territory. By god.
But all this began to make the Europeans fidgety to the point they were thinking maybe they had made a bad bargain with this NATO thing. It was one thing to have the USA come to their aid over many years but quite another thing indeed to become the actual fightee, as it were.
Several countries DID ante up, though. I don't recall how many troupes the Czech Republic sent, but I think France came up with over a hundred (although they were not to be put in harms way or anything like that.) So that left the usual group to do the actual fighting. Mostly the British and the Canadians and the Australians (who were there because they remember WWII and were generally angry that the US had been attacked.) Oh, and the US, of course. But everybody had one thing in common: they felt this was not "their" war, and they didn't much like "being dragged" into "America's War".
The feeling along those lines is much more pronounced today. For example, below are a few British responses on a forum I ran across the other day, right after 8 British soldiers had been killed in action in Afghanistan. To be fair, these opinions are a lot like the liberals in the US as well - so I am not particularly picking on the British, by any means. (I would pick on the French, but, hey, no French are dying, right?)
Read these comments and see how many you agree with. But DO put them in context with this NATO thing they all signed onto.
News story headline: Eight British troops killed in Afghanistan
(Reuters) – "Britain said on Friday it had lost eight soldiers in Afghanistan in the space of 24 hours, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown said troops faced a "very hard summer," suggesting it should brace itself for more losses.
The deaths, announced by the Ministry of Defense, included five who were killed in two blasts while on foot patrol, the highest death toll in a single attack."
[End news story, start comments to news story.]
What are these laddies/lassies doing in sic a godforsaken sh!tehole,in the ersehole of nowhere?What are their deaths actually achieving?
Its a terrible loss for their families and fellow soldiers.
Although in the scope of war casualties these losses are small we have to realise that this is yet another war in which we should not be involved.
The added tragedy of these deaths and injuries is that they are pointless, in the long term they will achieve nothing.
Gorgon Brown's callous remark inferring that our troops will face even greater losses over the next few months, shows just how unfailing and self-centred this egotistic man is!
If as chancellor and now as Prime Minister Brown and his Ministers of Defence, had made the MOD furnish our troops with the right equipment these losses would almost certainly be much lower.
The military guru's are asking for more troops in Afghanistan, IMHO we should realise the real facts and be pulling our troops out.
Its time we followed the European stance and stopped being a puppet nation to the USA!
Sending even more troops into Afghanistan will not stop more atrocities like 7/7.
Terrorism is a war that has be be fought here at home, not 1000s of miles away in a foreign country.
This is a sad day,I have a son in 1st riffles,the government ie Gordon Brown needs to get them home as they will loose more and more,this is not our war.
Rosieinlondon, your comment about fighting the terrorists at home rather than in of Afghanistan make as much sense as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest...would the Brits have rather fought the Nazis in England instead of Africa, Italy, and mainland Europe? You're no puppet of my country...feel free to wuss-out like the Spanish....as far as i'm concerned, I'd rather fight them overseas than in my backyard. America will do it alone if need be....
THIS IS NOT OUR WAR !!!!!!! we should not be there in the first place this is second mistake after iraq , 99% of both wars are being fought by uk & us troops the rest of the world either don't care or a very small minority just have a token support in afghan only not in iraq and are placed in very low risk areas hence 99.999% of the dead are uk & us troops FOR GOD'S SAKE BRING BACK THE BOYS NOW and stop having more grieving families. were are the WMD'S I KNOW IRAN AND NORTH KOREA HAS THEM.
Our troops should not even be in that country nor should they have been in iraq , and as our so called eu allies will not send their troops to helmand province why the hell should Britains troops be there and this is the sole reason we are suffering casualties . Rosie is right we should be fighting terrorism at home and there is no comparison re fighting them there or here , at least here the terorists are small in number and we know our own country.
David Milliband says the troops are fighting for the future of Britain , what a load of bull , we are fighting because the yanks want us there yet complain about us .
We have had to many deaths for no reason , its time to pull the troops out and let the moslems kill each other and live their backward lifestyle.
Our soldiers die every day, because they do not get the protection that they deserve. Not enough weapons, ammunition, body armour, radios, air support or vehicles that will protect them.
For that, you can blame the labour party in general and brown in particular because he, as chancellor, spent 10 years running down our defence budget so that he could spend it on asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. Spend it on the very terrorists that he sent our soldiers over to fight.
This is a socialist war, a war planned by left wing zealots who wish to force democracy upon people who do not want it.
The fenian traitor reid famously predicted that our soldiers would be in and out of afghanistan without firing a shot. He has gone to celtic to sing anti-British songs of hate. Typical bloody socialist, the enemy of Great Britain. Hang them all.
One soldier killed in Afghanistan is too many...each one that comes home in a flag drapped coffin is too many...
These are our sons, our daughters, our husbands, our brothers and sisters and our fathers...our young people.
They could be my relatives or friends...they could be yours...
But they should not be out there...
What George Bush did was a knee jerk reaction to 9/11...which was the worst peace time atrocity known to man in my lifetime I agree...
But Tony Blair should not have commited British troops to this war, history tells us, that wars in Afghanistan are unwinable...just ask the Russians...
How many more flag drapped coffins will come home carrying our soldiers before we pull our troops out...
God Bless them all...
It wouldn't be so bad if we at least gave our troops the best protection we possibly could. Get the poncers of the benefit system and the money saved (which would be massive) could be split between the NHS and the military. If you want our brave soldiers to put their life on the line at least do the decent thing and give them all the equipment they could possibly need and look after them properly. Decent housing, their own hospitals, adapted housing should they need it surely that is just basic common sense?
Guys, I am writing this from Afghanistan. I have been here for 15 months now - here are some observations that I have learned from my time here:
- Anyone who says this is about oil is sorely mistaken. I haven't seen one oil pipeline or refinery, like I did in Iraq.
- Iraq and Afghanistan are COMPLETELY different. They are not similar, as the countries are setup differently, etc. And, can I just point out, while there is the occasional bit of unease in Iraq, it seems much better now.
- We are in Afghanistan to bring freedom and stability. You may laugh at this, as the UK media does a poor job reporting the successes - all we ever hear in the UK news is about the deaths of either our guys, or the Taliban. They never report on new hospitals, schools, etc. being built by NATO for the Afghans. This Operation Panther's Claw that so many of our guys have died for - how many of you know what is is about? We are clearing the area of Taliban so the local people can vote - something that we in the UK can take for granted. The Taliban is a brutal, oppressive regime that must be stopped.
- The majority of Taliban fighters (that I have come against, certainly), are idealistic young men (most of them aren't even Afghan!) from Pakistan, who wish to carry out 'Jihad' on the Western infidels. Ask yourselves this - if we weren't here to provide a target for them, where do you think they would go to?? We would see a much larger influx of extremists into the UK.
The brave men and women out here are doing a great and important job. And while it is terrifying, sad, and brutal - we have to be here.
Just my two cents.
eliaz85, we get stories in England about lack of government spending on things like weapons, ammunition, body armour, radios, air support or vehicles that will protect you from roadside bombs. Can you tell us what the situation REALLY is? Is there anything that you think that you need to make your job safer?
Its awhful - so what they knew what they was getting into