Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Copyright Infringement

Normally, I wouldn’t comment much on copyright infringement, not because I feel it isn’t important, but rather because it happens so often that you would need a network of ten bloggers out searching for it just to do the topic justice. I’m making an exception here and will be posting this on both Dark and Stormy Nights and Off the Wall.

Blogger, author, and photographer Michael Yon has spent many months in Iraq and Afghanistan documenting the war on terror. Whether you are for or against the war, whether you believe it is run well or being mishandled, whether you are Republican or Democrat or conservative or liberal, most of you believe in your hearts that our soldiers are deserving of our respect and honor. I, too, believe that.

On my MySpace profile, I list Michael Yon as one of my heroes, in the same line as Ernie Pyle and Joe Galloway. Mr. Yon does not know me, nor I him, but he would probably feel uneasy being placed in the same category as those two great photographers. He’ll just have to get over it. History will judge, but I believe Mr. Yon is kin to Mr. Pyle and Mr. Galloway.

Why am I telling you this?

Because of this photograph.

Michael Yon has been negotiating with French conglomerate HFM (publisher of American Photo, Boating, Car and Driver, Cycle World, ELLE, ELLE Decor, ELLEgirl, Flying, For Me, Home, Metropolitan Home, Popular Photography & Imaging, Premiere, Road & Track, Road & Track Road Gear, Road & Track Speed, Sound & Vision, Woman’s Day and Woman’s Day Special Interest Publications) and Polaris (a stock image supplier) over the unauthorized use of his image on the cover of the premiere issue of SHOCK, a new magazine billed as “the Life Magazine for the new millennium.”

I won’t rehash Mr. Yon’s case here. You can find his argument on his site if you are so inclined. What I do want to bring to your attention is this: do you remember the photograph of the Vietnamese girl running naked down a road with her burned skin hanging from her body? Everybody associates that photograph with the fact that the Americans were in Vietnam. Nobody remembers that it wasn’t the Americans who dropped the Napalm that burned that child.

The story behind Michael Yon’s photograph is this: a group of children had gathered around an American unit as they were handing out toys and candy when terrorists blew up a car bomb killing several and severely wounding the little girl seen in the arms of that soldier. SHOCK magazine ran the photograph on the cover of their magazine, and they slapped this headline on top of it: “WAR IS STILL HELL! Jarring Proof that Iraq is the new Vietnam.”

Then, to add insult to injury, in the table of contents they placed a photograph of Mr. Yon holding a framed copy of the print telling it’s readership “Picture This: Amateur photographer Michael Yon captured history when he snagged our cover shot while reporting on the war for his blog. Could you be our next cover photographer? Send pics!” as if he had sent it in. While, to my knowledge, Mr. Yon has not mentioned it, it irks me to no end that they referred to him as an amateur. How long do you have to spend as an imbed before you “turn pro”. He’s been doing it for well over a year that I know of and probably longer than that.

For those of you who don’t know, in Sea of Dreams my character Ian McCain is a war zone photographer who is loosely based on an amalgamation of Mr. Pyle, Mr. Galloway, and Mr. Yon. It is a dangerous way to be a photographer, much more so than any wedding I’ve ever done. Not only do our soldiers deserve respect, but so do those reporting on the war. It’s hard enough to get news from the front line when the major media has abdicated their responsibility. We don’t need major media stealing images from those who’ve done the work and implying that they support the opinion attached to them.

It is very likely that this will result in a lawsuit as it appears HFM has not been negotiating in good faith.

I won’t tell you to send letters or boycott magazines or anything like that. I just want you to be aware that what you see and read is not always the truth.

Please visit Michael Yon’s site at least once and take a look at what he has written. It’s not all pro-war, but it is always pro-soldier. Michael Yon is one of my heroes whether he likes it or not.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Second Blog

For those of you who might be interested, I've started a second blog which will focus more on my writing and photography. It will have nearly daily entries as I am using it as a journal of sorts, but it will probably be less interesting to most of you who come here as there will be little in the way of politics, history, economics, or controversy.

Most of my time is going into trying to meet an August 15th deadline, so I really don't have time to research much in the way of current events. If you want to know the hullspeed of a Hunter 450 Passage, or the formula for calculating the hull speed of any sailboat, that may be a future post on the other blog.

For now, my blog reading is limited to Dr. Sanity and perhaps one or two others if I have time, and my blog posting here will probably be around once a month when current events are too interesting and writer's block too intense.

If you are interested in taking a look, the other blog can be found here.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Economics 201

Well, as everybody's probably noticed by now, gas prices are through the roof again and the oil companies are posting record profits again. There oughta be a law, right? Don't the people that run those companies realize how badly they are hurting the American public? It makes you want to buy your gas in Canada, doesn't it? Well wait a minute... Canada's price per gallon is higher than ours. What about Europe? Yep, while we were paying $2.88 a gallon the week of 4/10/06, the UK was paying $6.13 a gallon.

What's going on here?

I don't want to get into a number crunching argument for several reasons. First, it is meaningless to discuss the percentage cost of taxes, the price of crude, transportation costs, and profits because the percentages are constantly changing. Second, each of these costs depend upon where you live. For example, the Federal tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents per gallon. The State of Indiana adds another 18 cents per gallon plus 6% sales tax while the State of Alaska adds only 8 cents per gallon with no sales tax and Wisconsin adds 31.1 cents per gallon. The transportation costs are different by region as well. Suffice it to say that for every expert who can form an opinion, there is another expert who can prove him wrong.

Between 1981 and 1989, the number of U.S. refineries fell from 324 to 204, representing a loss of 3 million bbl/d in operable capacity (from 18.6 million bbl/d to 15.7 million bbl/d), while refining capacity utilization increased from 69 percent to 87 percent. Most of the refineries that shut down weren't profitable to begin with and the increase in refining capacity utilization represents the "loss" of unproductive or underproductive refineries. Refinery closures have continued since 1989, bringing the total number of operable U.S. refineries to 148 as of January 1, 2005.

While no new refineries have been built in 30 years, existing refineries have expanded their capacities. As a result, capacity per operating refinery increased by 28 percent over the 1990 to 1998 period. Overall, since the mid-1990s, U.S. refinery capacity has increased from 15.0 million bbl/d in 1994 to 17.1 million bbl/d in September 2004. Note that we have still not achieved the capacity that we had 25 years ago. As of November 4, 2005, utilization of operating capacity at U.S. refineries was averaging around 84 percent, down from 91 percent prior to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

So, key element #1 -- limited refining capability equals limited supply.

Beginning on May 6th of this year, liability protection for suppliers of gasoline containing oxygenates such as the petroleum-based MTBE will be removed due to an act of Congress. For years MTBE was added to gasoline to reduce air pollution, but it wound up polluting groundwater, which led to lawsuits and state restrictions. When Congress refused to shield the oil industry from MTBE lawsuits, the oil industry en masse decided to switch to ethanol, whether the ethanol was available or not. The result of this is that refiners will no longer make MTBE oxygenated fuels. Congress knew this would happen and in fact were counting on it.

So, key element #2 -- retooling refineries to add ethanol costs money.

When oxygenates began to be added to gasoline, refiners had two primary choices: petroleum-based MTBE and biomass-based ethanol. MTBE became the primary choice in spite of the fact that ethanol contains twice as much oxygen per gallon. The reason: transportation. MTBE is more easily transported via pipelines. Ethanol absorbs moisture. That’s a benefit when ethanol is present in your car’s fuel system, but it causes problems during pipeline transport. Pipelines contain moisture and deposits that are absorbed by ethanol, thus changing its state during transport. To this point, the volume of ethanol has not been large enough to justify change in the pipeline infrastructure that would eliminate those deposits. However, as MTBE is phased out and more ethanol is used, such improvements will become necessary.

So, key element #3 -- infrastructure upgrades cost money.

Ethanol has been touted as a solution to America's energy problems, but this summer, it could be a source of trouble. The reason: There may not be enough to go around. Federal officials warned again of tight ethanol supplies and possible spot shortages this summer, particularly on the East Coast and in Texas.

If this occurs, it could mean price spikes at the gas pump, and challenges that the corn-based ethanol industry has never faced before. A price shock would put Minnesota in an odd spot. It's a leading ethanol producer. But state law also requires that all gasoline sold there contain at least 10 percent ethanol. If the price of ethanol skyrockets, Minnesota motorists will be hit harder than anywhere else.

Already, refiners in some regions have begun paying premium prices for ethanol, and that's pulling supply out of the Midwest, and into areas like Texas.

The oil industry used 155,000 barrels of MTBE each day, but only 25,000 barrels a day of replacement ethanol is coming online in the first half of the year. That has unleashed a scramble. As a result, gasoline suppliers today are repositioning ethanol from areas like the Midwest to the East Coast and Texas.

So, key element #4 -- ethenol shortages raise the price of ethanol.

This week, ExxonMobil’s earnings are in the news. But is there more to the story than the headlines? Their earnings are indeed at a record high, driven largely by the price of the commodities they sell. But if you compare profits per dollar of revenue across a wide range of U.S. companies — a true "apples to apples" evaluation — you see that oil earnings are not out of step with other major industries. The oil and gas industry earnings averaged 7.7 cents per dollar of revenue during the second quarter compared with the overall U.S. industry average of 7.9 cents. ExxonMobil earned 8.6 cents for every dollar of revenue. ExxonMobil owns $106 billion in property, plant and equipment alone. With that sort of investment, you'd expect a return.

So, key element #5 -- 8.6 cents per dollar in profit... excessive?

What is all the hubbub about?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

For the Critics

This post started as a response to a particular critic of the war on Dr. Sanity's site here. As my response became more and more drawn out, and less and less on-topic, I decided to move it to my own blog... especially since it has been a long while since I've posted anything.

So here goes...

You said: "Don't invade."

Here is the problem with what you suggest: you don't offer an alternative. I understand that you're not a politician nor a general. Neither am I. But you have an opinion. We tried the non-invasion plan for eleven years, and not only was the situation not improving, it was getting markedly worse. The resolutions were a farce. The oil-for-food deal hurt no one except the civilians, and in fact was making a few people rich on the side. The weapons inspectors were unable to do their job without making an appointment first. France, Russia, and Germany were doing deals on the side and assuring Saddam that things would soon be back to normal. Meanwhile, we no longer have a clear picture as to Saddam's capabilities, he continues to persecute his own people, and he is still in violation of nearly every resolution as well as the cease-fire agreement from 1991.

Everybody knows about the 16 resolutions referred to in UN Security Council Resolution 687. But do you know about the others that were in place at the time of the invasion?

There were a further 50 resolutions (among them oil-for-food, etc., but also some like 688 that demanded Iraq quit killing its own people, or declares Iraq in material breach of some prior resolution, or demands that Iraq comply with some prior demand).

Obviously, you have an opinion. What should we have done?

You said: "And Ho Chi Mihn, America tried to do something about him, didn't work out so good."

Vietnam's backstory is a tangled mess, but I'll try to be brief. After the fall of the French in 1954, President Eisenhower said at a news conference "You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is a certainty that it will go over very quickly. Asia has already lost some 450 millions of its peoples to communist dictatorship. We simply cannot afford greater losses." He sent military advisers on 12 Feb 55 and began work on a plan for military support of South Vietnam.

After Kennedy's debacle in Vienna, he was convinced that Khrushchev was committed to conflict and concluded that Southeast Asia would be the test. The Bay of Pigs, the Berlin Wall, and Laos had already been very visible communist victories in the eyes of the world. He told James Reston, "Now we have a problem in making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place." Kennedy introduced Special Forces into Vietnam in an effort to tip the balance. Unfortunately, the United States faced the situation, as it often does, in choosing the lesser of two evils in Diem. Diem was overthrown and killed three weeks before Kennedy's assassination.

The Vietnam War actually started to escalate into a full-bore war under Johnson. The key lesson learned, at least by the United States military, was that limited warfare does not work. The reason for this, as Johnson discovered, is that once your enemy figures out what you're doing, he simply ups the ante and continues to do so until he finds your breaking point.

By the time Nixon took office, public opinion was so against the war that he began a policy of disengagement, though he did promise continued support to help build up the Vietnam army (ARVN) in a doctrine known as "Vietnamization". Interesting when considering our current situation in Iraq, eh? Anyway, in 1970, the Prince in Cambodia fell to a coup and the new fledgling government soon came under attack by the Khmer Rouge with North Veitnamese backing (insurgency perhaps?) which prompted the "Cambodian incursion" by Nixon in order to attempt to protect the fledgling government. Unfortunately, the effect was to push the communists even deeper into Cambodia (and of course we didn't pursue them) which destabalized the country and resulted in the rise of the Khmer Rouge (who may very well have taken over anyway barring US intervention).

Even after the Paris Peace Accords ended US involvement, South Vietnam was able to hold its own until the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 cut off aid at the same time the USSR and China increased their aid to the North.

I say all this because there is a parallel to today.

Given that we are involved in Iraq, and given that most of the insurgent support is coming from outside Iraq, what sense does it make to abandon them? The right has learned some lessons from Vietnam. We understand that if you go to war, go to war to win. Has the left learned its lessons? Is the failure of the United States worth the sacrifice?

You said: "And guess who actually did take out Pol Pot and restore a semblance of sane order in Cambodia?"

Pol Pot officially resigned in 1985, but managed to hold out until 1996 when his men began to desert. Who gets credit for "taking him out" after twenty years in power? I guess the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) eventually gets the credit after fighting him for close to ten years. Unless you intend Clinton to have the credit since the fall of Pol Pot occurred during his term. But let's play a game of alternate history. Had we been in the region in 1975, could we have saved 1.7 million lives when the time came?

You said: "Wasn't it Clinton that took out Slobo?"

Actually, no. Slobodan Milosevic lost an election in 2000 and refused to recognize the result, which led to mass demonstrations and the collapse of his regime's authority. I will concede that NATO air strikes prompted the withdrawal from Kosovo, but how many people were killed? 10,000? 100,000? And how many of those deaths occurred even after the NATO peacekeepers moved in? And how soon will Kosovo have an election? And when will the UN be leaving?

You said: "What's the solution to Iran? Saudi Arabia? Israel? Egypt? China? Russia?"

Iran: Surgical strikes at the nuclear facilities and a hard line "we will brook no incursion across the border".

Saudi Arabia: Diplomacy and Influence.

Israel: Support.

Egypt: Diplomacy and Influence.

China: Diplomacy.

Russia: Diplomacy.

I'm no more an expert than you. But it is difficult to discuss alternative plans if you don't offer alternative plans.

You said: "But I am a fan of history and history has show time and time again that often the best way to deal with scumbags like Saddam is for the people who live under them to either rise up then line the bastards up against a wall... or to slowly grind away at them politically (see... Soviet Union for an example)"

That's your plan? Wait until enough people are murdered so the populace will rise up? How many people did the Soviets kill before it collapsed (without anybody rising up)? 120,000 Jews under Lenin. 20-30 million wrong-thinkers under Stalin. And between 25,000 and 50,000 people who tried to rise up in Hungary were put down permanently by Krushchev.

1.7 million died under Pol Pot before he was overthrown.

Then there is Mao with 40 million dead and that "regime" is still in power.

There is a point in history where you must decide what to do, because waiting makes action impossible. What would have happened if we had been more serious in our support of Chiang Kai-shek after World War II. We can't very well stop Mao now, can we? The dead are already dead.

You said: "Look at Vietnam, Iran, South America for examples of how not to change things."

Please see my discussion here. Read especially my views on Myth #4 for a deeper understanding of my views on this point.

You said: "Force is appropriate in self-defense, force is appropriate when the ends can be justified by the means, in short force is appropriate when it's appropriate."

I will agree with you on both of these points. But here's the rub. I think Iraq was justified. You don't. Where does that leave us?

You said: "Now I have a question for you, does it ever make you wonder why folks like me, and the majority of the planet were in favor of the invasion of Afghanistan but not Iraq?"

66% of Americans were in favor of invading Iraq when we invaded.

CBS/New York Times poll

8. Do you approve or disapprove of the United States taking military action against Iraq to try and remove Saddam Hussein from power?

Date : March 7-9, 2003
Approve : 66%
Disapprove: 30%
Don't Know: 4%

The fact that only 35% like the way things are going today doesn't help much because time cannot be undone. Unless those opposed have a plan that won't lead to tragedy, being against the war now doesn't help much, does it?

Look, I'm all for a debate. But I need you to actually have substantive ideas to discuss. Calling Bush and all of his supporters idiots, or war-mongers, or chicken-hawks, does little to advance the debate. Rather it shuts it down and people quit listening to your ideas. If for no other reason than you're rude. I hope you've actually come to read this, and I hope to hear from you in the comment area.


For informational purposes, the post I refer to above reads in full (with quotations of prior comments in italics):

The smart people didn't want to do anything about Ho Chi Minh or Pol Pot either. But, hey. What's a couple million people dead one way or the other.

I didn’t’ say “do nothing” I said “Don’t invade”. Are you a computer? Are only capable of binary thinking? One or zero there is no two three or two point five! Invade or do nothing betrays rather shallow thinking. And Ho Chi Mihn, America tried to do something about him, didn’t work out so good. And guess who actually did take out Pol Pot and restore a semblance of sane order in Cambodia?

Why does the left "stand up" for mass murderers? You have a history of it that continues today with defenders of Slobodan Milošević (Michael Parenti, Jared Israel, Professor Francisco Gil-White, Diana Johnstone and others) and Saddaam Hussein.

Ohhh that’s a straw man question! I see now. Can you please show me where I defend Slobo and the like? Wasn’t it Clinton that took out Slobo? Wasn’t it the GOP that were very much against it? It’s funny reading what Cheney and Rummy said about that war. Say how many American soldiers died in that one? Say how did it turn out?

You said: "...everyone agrees that Saddam was a problem..."

1) Not everyone does.

Who doesn’t?

2) Agreeing that he is a "problem" does nothing to solve the problem.

Agreed! What’s your point?

What was your solution? Another resolution? Or we could just wait it out. After all, he probably wouldn't live forever and I'm sure his sons would have been much nicer dictators.

I don’t know, I’m a graphic designer not a politician or general; such things are well beyond my scope. What’s the solution to Iran? Saudi Arabia? Israel? Egypt? China? Russia? And the squillion other dictatorships more or less vile than Saddam’s?

But I am a fan of history and history has show time and time again that often the best way to deal with scumbags like Saddam is for the people who live under them to either rise up then line the bastards up against a wall (see Ceauşescu for an example) or to slowly grind away at them politically (see Spain & Soviet Union for an example). Invasions? Well in the case of WWII it worked but the U.S. was justified in that case, it was self defense, the final results were immaterial. Look at Vietnam, Iran, South America for examples of how not to change things.

I do have a serious question for you: when is it appropriate to use force?

The previous ones were facetious? Thanks goodness!

Force is appropriate in self-defense, force is appropriate when the ends can be justified by the means, in short force is appropriate when it’s appropriate. See above questions about Slobo for further elucidation and exemplar.

Now I have a question for you, does it ever make you wonder why folks like me, and the majority of the planet were in favor of the invasion of Afghanistan but not Iraq? Does that dichotomy every give you pause, that maybe, just maybe we’re not against the Iraq war because we love Saddam, hate Bush, America, Freedom and the Baby Jesus but because it simply was a bad idea executed with breath-taking incompetence by very stupid and short-sighted twits?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Understanding Islam - pt. 2, The Point of a Sword

Okay, first things first: this post is about history. History, unfortunately, is not a science and is open to interpretation and distortion. Occasionally, history can be conjecture or even a bald-faced lie, but if all the participants of the events are dead, who's to argue with the historian? What you're about to read is what I've been able to absorb from various sources and water down enough to fit in the context of a blog entry.

One last point: this is history from my point of view. It is subjective.

To begin, let us understand that the militaristic expansion of Islam began almost immediately under the Prophet Muhammad. In the last ten years of his life, Muhammad initiated at least six major battles and at least five expeditions, or caravan raids. Additionally, in every town he controlled, the Jews were expelled.

After Muhammad

After the death of the Muhammad, Abu Bakr took control and became the first caliph. Abu Bakr ruled for only two years. In those two years, he undertook at least two raids against towns and caravans, twelve battles, and six major campaigns.

He was succeeded by 'Umar who was caliph for a decade and during whose rule Islam spread extensively east and west conquering the Persian empire, Syria and Egypt. 'Umar set up the first public treasury and a financial administration and established many of the basic practices of Islamic government.

By the end of 'Umar's reign in 644, Islam had spread by force until it comprised the entire Arabian peninsula, Persia, Armenia, the Nile River valley and North Africa as far west as Tripoli. Notably, 'Umar did order the protection of Christian sites in Jerusalem when it was taken by the Muslim armies in 637.

'Umar was succeeded by 'Uthman who ruled for some twelve years during which time the Islamic expansion continued, though not without internal discontent. One must bear in mind that the entire "empire" is still fairly new and many are not willingly subjugated. 'Uthman was in turn succeeded by 'Ali. With the death of 'Ali in 661 the rule of the "rightly guided" caliphs came to an end.

The next seventy years see the conquest of all of North Africa, many of the islands in the Mediterranean, advances in Asia Minor and into the Indian subcontinent, as well as dozens of major revolts, rebellions and battles amongst themselves for control of the caliphate. Spain falls and the Muslims attack into France where they are stopped at the battle of Tours in 732.

Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, already beset by marauders and bandits now had to deal with the Muslims as well. Christians settled in the east were also subjected to deplorable conditions following the conquest of those lands by the Muslims. In 762, Pepin the Short entered into negotiations with the Caliph of Baghdad. For the next 350 years or so, Christian-Muslim relations gradually improved. Meanwhile, during the 8th and 9th centuries, the Muslim sphere of influence expanded further into Persia, Afghanistan, and much of India.

By the tenth century, Christian pilgrims to the Holy Lands were accustomed to visiting Jerusalem and praying at the Holy Sepulchre without fear of the Muslims. All that changed in 1009, when the Caliph of Egypt, Hakem, ordered the Holy Sepulchre destroyed along with all the Christian and Jewish establishments in Jerusalem. Christians were brutally persecuted throughout the east. In 1070, Jerusalem was occupied by the Muslims, followed by Antioch in 1084. By 1092, none of the great cities of Asia remained in Christian hands.

The First Crusade, begun by Pope Urban II, was an attempt to retake Christian lands:

"On beholding the enormous injury that all, clergy or people, brought upon the Christian faith... at the news that the Rumanian provinces had been taken from the Christians by the Turks, moved with compassion and impelled by the love of God, he crossed the mountains and descended into Gaul."

-- Foucher de Chartres, "Histoire des Crois"

On November 27, 1095, at Clermont-Ferrand, in Auvergne, Urban II addressed an assembly of bishops, abbots, and knights, ordering them to rescue the Holy Sepulchre. While the armies were being assembled, a ragtag mob led by Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless headed east, slaughtering Jews and plundering what they could. In August of 1096, they crossed into Asia Minor where they pillaged continuously until they were killed almost to a man by the Turks.

UPDATE: Please note that Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless were not sanctioned by the Pope. Their "expedition" was essentially a bunch of undisciplined thugs who got fed up waiting for the armies to form, train, and march/sail to battle.

The four armies of the Crusade reached Constantinople between December 1096 and May 1097. The first city retaken was Nicaea, which Alexius Comnenus (of Constantinople) actually "negotiated" away from the Turks before it could be taken by the armies of the Crusade. Antioch was retaken in June 1098, and was successfully defended against an immediate counterattack.

Jerusalem was retaken in July 1099, but the Christian position was very unstable. Before his death, Urban II called for a second Crusade which was crushed in Asia Minor. With support still coming in from Europe and in particular the Norwegians, Genoese, Pisans, and Venetians, the remnants of the First Crusade were able to complete their conquest by 1124.

Four Christian principalities were established at Jerusalem, Antioch, Tripoli, and Edessa. By the middle of the 12th century, the Christian states of the East were well organized and more wealthy and prosperous than most of the states of Europe.

These states were not to last long. By 1187, Jerusalem was lost.

So what does all this mean. Nothing, except that this is what happened.

The religion of peace has never been peaceful.

In a future post, I will discuss what I think it means for us.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

How Watergate Ruined Journalism

With Bob Woodward in the news again, I've had an epiphany. I've been trying to figure out for months now what has happened to the MSM? Why does it appear that they are no longer able to do the job that is one of the few careers with explicit Constitutional protections?

I think you can blame Woodward and Bernstein for the sorry mess that the world of journalism has become.

They didn't do it on purpose. In fact, the reporting team was just doing what they were supposed to. Everybody forgets that Wood-Stein (as their editor was apt to call them) didn't start out to bring down a President. In fact, Woodward was a court reporter who happened to be in court when the Watergate burgalers were being arraigned. He found it curious that the men's court appointed attorney had been relieved in favor of a private attorney when none of the men had even made a phone call. So he started digging.

(Another piece of information that people tend to forget is that Woodward was a fairly inexperienced reporter at the time, though he had good instincts. This is why he was paired up with Bernstein when the story started to grow.)

When you look at the story about the story, it really is classic investigative journalism. And the thing of it is, it was never about trying to bring down the President. But now, because it's been done once, we have everybody and their brother trying to blow up a tank with a B-B gun. Everybody wants to be the next Wood-Stein and they forget that Wood-Stein never set out to create a result. They simply followed the story. They were in the right place at the right time, put two and two together and asked questions. They did their job.

Many of today's journalists aren't doing their job. They're too busy trying to make their name. They want to be the next Bob Woodward. But how many of these Woodward wannabes do you see covering the arraignments of hookers, muggers, and burgalers?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Personal Update

I just wanted to leave a few words to explain my absence from the blogosphere.

Over the last couple months, I've been working with an editor in an attempt to get my manuscript ready to submit to a publisher. This has been extremely time intensive as it was only about half done when I started meeting with her. Things are approaching the point where I will be sending her the next draft and then I will have a few weeks downtime to relax and try to get back into my old routine. Hopefully, this will be no later than mid-October.

Between the writing and trying to squeeze in photoshoots when I can, life has become a cycle of work, different work, other different work, eat and sleep and start over again. I am not reading or commenting on other blogs, though I do read those that have RSS feeds (Powerline, Captain's Quarters, etc) or e-mail summaries (Dr. Sanity) when I am winding down at the end of the night.

One thing I did make some time for today was to play with a new satellite imaging system that I found at this site. It was sad to see that both my childhood homes on Mare Island in California have apparently been bulldozed, though I think the house we lived in when my family first moved to Vallejo appears to be the same one (it's hard to tell from satellite images and thirty years of separation). Our house in Hawaii is still there as is our house in Memphis.

It's a fun tool to play with. Check it out if you have a new-ish computer.

There is so much going on right now that I wish I had time to comment on but I will have to just drop a few lines and then get back to work.

1. The load of responsibility for the Katrina debacle has to work it's way up from the bottom. Mayor Ray Nagin is first and foremost on the list, with local police and fire departments following closely. It was their job to ensure that the people of New Orleans were safe. Governor Kathleen Blanco (and all the state level politicians over the last 35 years) deserve their lumps as well for not only lack of action prior to the hurricane but for rampant corruption which plagued the levee redesign projects. Michael Brown deserves some share of the blame if for no other reason than the fact that since the buck stops with President Bush, he's got to reach in the bucket and grab his share of shit. That being said, if you consider that the day after the hurricane New Orleans looked fairly well off, you can't really blame the feds for not rushing resources in when they were better used in Mississippi and Alabama.

2. IF global warming caused the hurricane, you still can't blame Bush because anything we could have done in the last five years wouldn't have mattered a hill of beans to the temperature in the Atlantic and the Gulf.

3. IF global warming exists, I feel confident in assigning blame to Central America. Not the people, industries, or governments of Central America, but the mere existence of Central America. Look forward to my essay on global changes caused by the rise of this isthmus.

4. John Roberts kicked ass in his confirmation hearings. It makes you wonder if some Democrats have even read the Constitution.

5. Hamas learned (maybe) a valuable lesson. When you are no longer occupied, it doesn't pay to launch missiles at your neighbor. Their pleas to the US to "make them stop hitting us" reminds me of the story of the little girl who cries "Bobby hit me back!"

6. If you want good Iraq news that is more than just body counts collected from the comfort of a hotel in Baghdad, read Michael Yon's blog.

7. Dan Rather still doesn't get it. If you have an hour, listen to his appearance on The Kalb Report on 9/26/05 here. If somebody else doesn't beat me to it, I'll dissect it sometime in October.

Until then, take care. I'll be back soon I hope.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Comfort of Thunder

Last night a fairly violent storm rolled through central Indiana. It wasn't the most serious storm I've seen since I moved here but it was the biggest one that happened while I was home in my apartment. The first twenty minutes or so were the most ferocious, and before long I was sitting in the dark with no power.

For the next two hours, I sat by the the open window to get some light, fresh air, and to just watch and listen to nature's fireworks show.

My thoughts drifted...

I remember the worst storm I was ever caught in, a few years ago. My friend LM and I were camping about two miles from Graveyard Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The storm caught us by surprise and it was too late to try to hike two miles in the dark to get back to the saftey of the car. We considered it, briefly, but in the end we decided that we had chosen a good safe spot far enough uphill from the stream that we didn't need to worry about flash floods.

I have to admit that as the storm brewed around us while we huddled in the tent, I was nervous. LM was nervous too, and she let it show a little. I think that helped me actually. I remember the comfort I felt as I kept my arm around her... perhaps drawing as much strength from her as I was offering to her. Those hours, especially after the worst had passed, sitting in the dark listening to the thunder and watching the flashes of light as they shone through the tent, were two of the most peaceful hours of my life.

I missed LM last night.

It's not the first time I've missed her. But it was the happiest time I've missed her. I love thunder.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Demise of Fashion

As some of you may know, one of my many "on the side" careers is that of a photographer. I shoot portraits, weddings, landscapes, and the occasional model portfolio. Over the last two years or so, I have seen an alarming trend among young women... style is trumping fashion.

It started when I was doing a portfolio shoot with a 19 year old interested in modeling. In our pre-shoot interview, I had stressed the importance of remembering to bring shoes that matched her outfits. When "Alice" arrived for the shoot, I was initially pleased that she had brought an entire box of shoes with her. I say "initially", because upon closer examination I discovered that she brought two pairs of tennis shoes, 19 pairs of flip-flops (in various colors and styles), and one pair of heels.

Let's just describe the heels for a moment... they were actually quite nice, black with a silvery metal imbedded in the straps that go across the top of the foot, and a delicate 3" heel. They would have been beautiful with a black cocktail dress... you know the perfect "little black dress" that every woman is supposed to have in her closet. Except "Alice" didn't bring a cocktail dress. She brought a summer dress and more dressy (though still casual) red, white, and black dress.

So now my choices of footwear are limited to sneakers or flip-flops... nineteen different colors of flip-flops.

Don't get me wrong. We still got some good photographs, she left happy, and I was left shaking my head. But I told myself, "She's young. She doesn't know any better." But my concern was that if she really wanted to model, she would need more than just one pair of heels. Not every client is going to provide shoes and sometimes things don't work out exactly as planned anyway and she might need to have something that might work in an emergency.

So why am I bringing this up now after more than a year has passed? Because it is a trend that is growing.

Witness this story in The Chicago Tribune: 'YOU WORE FLIP-FLOPS TO THE WHITE HOUSE?!'

If you know a young woman, please, please, please, show her some pictures of Audrey Hepburn or Princess Grace. We have to do something now before it is too late.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Tagged: Important Books

This is long overdue. Some time ago Lisa at R Cubed tagged me with several questions regarding important books. Real Life has interferred somewhat with Blog Life so I am just now getting around to it. So, with no ado whatsoever, let's get on with it.

What is the total number of books you have ever owned?

This is hard to answer as most of my books are still in boxes. After my move last year I wound up with more books than shelves and I haven't gotten around to buying new bookcases yet (can you see that I am comfortable with procrastination?). If I had to guess, I would say somewhere in the range of 2,000.

What is the last book you have purchased?

I'm in the process of trying to get all twenty of the Patrick O'Brien books (I've got eight so far), but I also just recently bought the three Bourne books by Robert Ludlum (used, as they are out of print).

What is the last book you have read?

Master and Commander, the first of the Patrick O'Brien books. My reading is way behind as I am spending more time writing. So in actuallity, the last book I've read is the Unfinished Great American Novel by Me.

What are 5 books that mean a lot to you?

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein - It was hard to pick one book by Heinlein as I grew up reading his books after being introduced to him by my father. Two others that were in the running were Glory Road and Stranger in a Strange Land.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott - I've read this book at least five times and will likely do so again at least five more times before I die. Today's critics sometimes complain that Wilfred of Ivanhoe should have hooked up with the Jewess Rebecca but that would have been very unrealistic for the middle ages. The book deals honestly with many timeless issues including love, honor, and race.

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy - As Robert Heinlein can be considered one of the founding fathers of the science fiction genre, so Clancy is to the reletively new genre of techno-thriller. This book, his first, was so engrossing that I literally read the entire book in a day and a half. It was the first book that for me was a page turner.

The Democracy Reader: Classic and Modern Speeches, Essays, Poems, Declarations and Documents on Freedom and Human Rights Worldwide edited by Diane Ravitch and Abigail Thernstrom - If you ever need a refresher on how important the United States of America is in the scope of World History, of how we came to be and why we're here, read this book. It covers everything from Thucydides to Nyein Chan, as well as our own founding fathers, the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Stride Toward Freedom.

The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne - The Pooh stories are so full of philosophy to live by that they've spawned other books like The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff. One of my favorite passages is from the chapter In Which Piglet Does a Very Grand Thing, the story which eventually became The Blustery Day. I think of this passage whenever chance introduces me to an interesting and meaningful person. As Pooh and Piglet are leaving Eeyore's house on their way to see Owl. Eeyore says these words:

"Good-bye," said Eeyore. "Mind you don't get blown away, little Piglet. You'd be missed. People would say 'Where's little Piglet been blown to?' - really wanting to know. Well, good-bye. And thank you for happening to pass me."

I'll have to think a bit before I tag the next group of victims. I will update this post hopefully no later than the weekend and send out e-mails to the lucky candidates. Lisa, I'm sorry for the delay. I hope the wait was worth it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Winning Formula?

First of all, let me say that I do not "follow" any racing league (or any sport for that matter) to the degree that I know day by day who is where in the standings. Within my heirarchy of leagues, I will watch IRL/CART (I still wish the leagues had never split), NASCAR, then Formula One.

I turned off Sunday's F1 race after 5 laps.

If you don't know what happened, here is the brief story. There are two competing tire manufacturers in F1 racing; Michelin and Bridgestone. Yesterday, Michelin screwed up and the teams that use Michelin tires may have just killed any prospects of the league having any success in the United States for the next twenty years.

Essentially, the sidewall on the Michelin tires were unable to withstand the forces created when taking the final turn at high speed. The tire could suddenly deflate with the car and driver being put into the wall. This happened twice in the final practice session on Friday.

Michelin was unable to solve the problem over the weekend. You can't redesign a tire, manufacture it, and ship it from France in 48 hours, and Michelin North America (my former employer) does not manufacture racing tires. Michelin issued a letter to their teams that the tire was unsafe in turn 13 (turn 1 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but going the opposite direction after finishing the road course).

On race day, all twenty drivers took the parade lap and just before the green flag, 14 drivers pulled off the track and into the garage leaving only six cars in the race, four of which are among the worst in the league. The third place finisher was a lap down at the end.

The seven teams that withdrew blamed just about everybody but themselves.

The venue: Indianapolis is the only track on the circuit with a high banked corner. Of course this is not the first year that the US Grand Prix has been held in Indianapolis and it has had the same layout every time.

Ferrari: They objected to placing a chicane in the course to slow speeds through turn 13. Of course this ignores two points. First, none of the drivers has ever even turned a lap with the extra chicane and putting it in at the last minute could in itself be dangerous. And second, Ferrari didn't have any trouble in the corner so why would they want it changed?

FIA: The league's governing body offered three solutions. First, run slower through the corner so you don't blow out your tires. Second, pit more often to change tires. Third, run different tires than you have cleared for your team and accept the appropriate penalty.

And this is the key. Essentially, these seven teams were at a disadvantage because of choices they made. They chose Michelin over Bridgestone. Michelin chose not to test at Indy early this year. Why, when you make poor choices, is it everyone else's responsibility to level the playing field.

And the best attendance at a Formula One race in the United States paid the price for the poor choices of seven teams and one tire manufacturer. Formula One was considering expanding to 2 US events in the near future. They'll be lucky if they have one next year.

So, why am I writing about a sport in which I have very little interest?

Does this sound familiar?

"I can't take turn 13 at 200 mph. Can we make it so everyone has to slow down?"

"I can't win a race. Can we give fewer points to the first place finisher?"

"I can't earn a million dollars a year. Can we tax rich people more?"

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Terrorism, The Cold War, and Everything

Rambling Post Warning!

This post was born of a conversation here. The board is decidedly liberal and there were a couple posts I couldn’t resist commenting on. I was fortunate enough to run across someone who could at least carry on a conversation. But the thoughts developed in such a way that I figured it might make a good post. I may start cannibalizing my comments more often just so I have something interesting to post on my own blog. That said, let’s get on with it.

Myth #1: Terrorism is born of poverty.

This argument neglects the fact that most of the terrorists on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries on the planet. Should we send more aid to Saudi Arabia? Jordan? Syria? Egypt? What responsibility do we have as a nation to care for the poor in other nations? Why does it fall to the United States to care for everybody else? Especially when the poor we are talking about live in wealthy countries.

Secondly, in the case of most of the leadership, they are not even poor but rather the sons of privilege. Of course you don't see many of the leaders blowing themselves up for 76 virgins in paradise either.

Isn't it reasonable to assume that at least some of the problem stems from the fact that Islam is a religion based in violent conquest of anyone not willing to convert?

Their prophet, Muhammad ibn Abdallah, got the ball rolling in the year 630. With the notable exception of a peace agreement between Pepin the Short and the Caliph of Baghdad which survived from 762 until the Caliph of Egypt ordered the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher in 1009, there have been very few periods of peace between Muslims and non-Muslims. But even during that "peace" the Muslims continued to attack in other directions including Persia, Afghanistan, and much of India.

And the crazy thing about it is... they were rich nations at the time. The Arab portion of the world was one of the most civilized and advanced anywhere on the planet at the time. How is it that today we view poverty in some of the richest countries of the world as an excuse to blow up civilians at a hotel or a market, or to fly a plane into a skyscraper.

Myth #2: President Bush purposely allowed the 9/11 attack to occur in order to give The United States an excuse to interfere and take over.

Believing that ANY President, Democrat or Republican, would knowingly and willingly allow thousands of Americans to die in an attack in order to "justify" a war is patently ridiculous. Should we believe that Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor too? Should we believe aliens crashed in Roswell? And the CIA, Cuba, and the Mafia all conspired to kill JFK, right? But to address the argument seriously since I'm sure you would prefer that I take it seriously, if that is the case, why did we allow free elections in Afghanistan and Iraq? And why were we encouraging Syria to get out of Lebanon? Wouldn't it make more sense to keep Afghanistan and Iraq (especially the oil in Iraq), and use Syria's presence in Lebanon as an excuse to "liberate" them too? I don't think Bush "allowed" the attack any more than Clinton "allowed" the USS Cole attack or the first WTC bombing or Oklahoma City or the embassy bombings by AQ.

Myth #3: Western society is just as violent as Islam, and those who beat the war drums the loudest here are most like the mullahs.

The purpose of Islam is to spread the faith of the prophet Muhammad ibn Abdallah, peacefully if possible or by force if met with resistance. The United States of America actually prefers to be left alone. For over 100 years, the only wars we have ever fought have been the result being attacked or called for help. And in that time we have returned any captured territory. Name any other nation on the planet that can say the same thing.

The only war in our history (setting aside the American Civil War) which was initiated by us was the one we waged against the native Americans. Although I find that action regrettable, I also realize that it was probably inevitable. If it had not been the United States that removed them from their lands, it would have been the Spanish, Mexicans, British, French, or Russians. The native American tribes had the misfortune of being surrounded by more technically advanced societies at a time when everybody was in an imperialistic mode. Other than that, I have no regrets about any of the violent periods of American history.

The United States military’s sole purpose is to ensure that I can say whatever I like on this blog. The duty of the American military is to protect America. I do sometimes question whether we should even bother protecting anybody else in the world but I look at it this way: I was pretty big for my age when I was growing up. The bullies tended to leave me alone because they weren't sure they could take me. But they tormented my buddy mercilessly. Until one day I had had enough of it and stepped in to help him out. It's a difficult call... do you step in to a fight that has nothing to do with you or do you help out someone who is being kicked when they're down. I decided it was time to quit being afraid and stepped in.

Myth #4: The United States has a long history of unprovoked interference in the internal affairs of other nations, often at the expense of democracy, to wit: Iran, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, Brazil, Chile, Zaire, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Venezuala, & Panama.

First Iran: Since 1501, Iran has had five dynasties. The Qajar dynasty lasted from 1796 to 1925. Between 1918 and 1920, Britain was using Persia as a route to interfere in the Russian Revolution, but really had little to do with the deposing of Ahmad Shah, the last of the Qajar dynasty. In 1924, a movement in favor of forming a republic began. It was inspired primarily by Reza Khan Sardar Sepah, the Prime Minister and former Minister of War. But the mullahs were still leaders of public opinion and associated a republic with the anti-Musli policies of the republic installed in Turkey by Mustafa Kemal. Reza Khan decided instead to replace the monarch instead of the monarchy. In 1925 Ahmad Shah was on a trip to Europe, but in November, the Shah's announcement that he intended to return hastened the deposition of his dynasty. Only four members of the Majils spoke in favor of Ahmad Shah. On 12 December 1925 Reza Khan became Reza Shah, and on 25 April 1926 he crowned himself in the Golestan Palace.

By 1941, Iran's position as a route into Russia played another significant role in international affairs. Reza Shah had entered into negotiations with Germany to supply it with oil. Iran was a lifeline for Russia, and Britain and Russia were not about to let Reza do a deal with with the Nazis. Reza was forced to step down by the British and Russians. His son, Mohammed became Shah.

In 1953, Mohammed's Prime Minister initiated a Nationalist coup and successfully ousted him. With support from the British SIS and the United States CIA, he managed to regain power, but almost immediately he faced another problem. The Soviet Union was supporting the Communist Party in Iran and causing serious problems internally. Mohammed abolished the multi-party system.

Now here's my point in all this. The contention was that the US helped the Shah overthrow a democracy. In a simplistic sense I suppose one could make that argument. But the story is much more complicated than that. We didn't just move a rook on the chessboard and then democracy was dead. Take a look at the timeline.

If anything, this shows that there are always unintended consequences... but the US didn't go out to get rid of a democracy. Mohammed was actually one of the best leaders Iran has had in recent history. He did a lot of positive things for his people. He wasn't perfect, but he was pretty good.

With regard to Vietnam, Cambodia and Korea, these actions were taken in direct response to attacks by Chinese Communist backed agression.

Panama was a situation were a strategic asset that we built needed to be secured.

Most of the other incidents can be attributed to the Cold War.

There is a line from Hunt For Red October that described the Cold War as a "war with no battles, no monuments, only casualties." For the most part, that is dead on correct. However, in a sense, the entire "third world" was the battlefield. Just about every place we were involved in the Cold War, so was the Soviet Union. The Cold War was a struggle not only for supremacy, but in the view of the participants, for survival itself. Right or wrong, that's what it was about and both sides believed it to be the case. There are several legitimate arguments to be made for not involving ourselves in that struggle, to wit:

1. It is immoral to use third world countries as pawns in a game between superpowers.

2. It is wrong to meddle in the internal affairs of another country.

3. It is wrong to assassinate, finance rebels, supply weapons, etc. to one side of an internal conflict in another country.

But all of these arguments ignore the fact that if we hadn't done these things, our opponent wasn't going to stop doing them. The result would have been that the Soviets were the only one interfering in internal politics in the third world.

Marxism/Leninism/Socialism/Communism has never been kind to the losing side. If 30% of a population aligns itself with the Soviets, kills the 15% that opposes them, and terrorizes the remaining population into going along... is that democracy since it was "chosen by the people"?

It's a dirty situation and no matter what you do there are aspects of it to despise. Would it have been better to leave Vietnam to the Chinese Communists? Should we have interfered with the Khmer Rouge? I don't know. But after the Vietnam debacle, there was no way we could have done anything in Cambodia. It would have destroyed what civility we had left here domestically.

In the grand scale of all the things we did, did we do some things clumsily? Absolutely. Did we choose the wrong side to support in some cases? You bet. Would we have been better off not getting involved in a few of them? Probably. Did anyone, anywhere have a crystal ball to tell us how it was all going to turn out? No.

What Now?

So, here we are in 2005.

There is no Soviet Union. China's sphere of influence is smaller than it used to be. Really, the only meddling in internal politics anywhere that is any threat to the United States at all is by Islamic extremists. I don't know what your thoughts are, but I see the extreme versions of Islam as a threat not only to the United States but to every nation on the planet. Should that "extremism" be permitted to interfere unchallenged, especially if it has been exported to a country that is not "extremist"?

This is where we stand today. What do we do? Do we interfere or let things progress however they will... even if it is not by the "choice" of the native population? Islamic extremism learned well from Lenin. It is dangerous to oppose them.

What is the right thing to do?

Is Bush doing the right thing or the wrong thing?

We probably won't know the answer for another thirty years. But he's doing something, which is better than we've done with regard to terrorism over the last 40 years.


Question: What gives us the right to interfere in other nations affairs as if it is all just one big game?

Most Americans could care less what kind of government somebody else has. Despotism can be good if the despot actually cares about his people. A legitimate argument can be made that some of the worst despots in the world were created by this game between the United States, Russia, and China. But given the circumstances of the Cold War, what choices did we have? Should we have allowed the Soviets free rein to steer third world governments toward Marxist/Leninism or should we have tried to balance their influence in an attempt to promote a democracy.

Maybe there should have been more strings attached.

"You want our help you gotsta play by our rules."

But how is dictating democracy any better than dictating socialism?

I freely admit that we interfered with the internal politics of foreign nations. The Soviets were intent on spreading Marxist/Leninism in the Western Hemispere because that is where "we" were. Is it right to allow a minority force to dictate to an entire population what form their government should take? To not interfere is to say "you are on your own".

Was that the right choice in Cambodia? Should that have been our choice in Yugoslavia? I mean there was no reason for us to be there other than the fact that people were getting killed. As it was, the whole "intervention" was mismanaged by the UN anyway. What's the point in helping anybody but ourselves?

I DO believe that a democratic republic is the best form of government.

I DO believe that capitalism is the most humane economy.

Marx taught that socialism was the logical endpoint and that capitalism was a stepping stone to that "perfect" society. Yet the people who have lived under socialism, as a whole, are worse off than those who live under capitalism. But with Republicanism/Democracy & Capitalism comes freedom. And it is difficult to DICTATE to people when YOU are free.

I don't pretend that geopolitics is easy. If I was king of the world I would give everybody the same freedoms we have here and then retire. But that will never happen. We won our freedom through war. It cost us dearly and not everybody in the colonies wanted it. But I believe it was worth the cost. You can't "give" somebody freedom that is not yours to give. But you can help them take it. Iraq has begun to close their hand around the torch of freedom. What they do with it can't be dictated, else they won't truly be free.

I'm NOT saying we have the RIGHT to play chess with all the other peoples in the world. I AM ASKING if the game is being played anyway, do we not have the obligation to at least make a few moves here and there? It's that, or tip over the King because all the white pieces are captured anyway. (Did you like how I made "us" the "white" pieces and hence the "good" pieces? I thought you might)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Palestinian Question

This post was originally going to be part of a much larger post on "Middle East Peace", however, due to some comments on Dr. Sanity's blog here and some encouraging comments that followed, I decided to pull my thoughts out and address more directly the Palestinian Question.

The first, and possibly the most important thing to know is that Palestine has NEVER existed as a nation.

The Palestinian ethnic group has ALWAYS been an occupied people. They have never "governed" their own land at any time in their entire history. Someone else has ALWAYS been in charge. The brief history of the control of Palestine with the years of conquest is as follows:

Canaanites - ca. 3000 BC
Israelites - ca. 1250 BC
Assyrians - 721 BC
Babylonians - 586 BC
Persians - 539 BC
Greeks - 333 BC
Ptolemies (Egypt) & Seleucids (Syria) - 323 BC
Ptolemies (Egypt) & Maccabees - 165 BC
Rome - 63 BC
Byzantines - 330 AD
Omar ibn al-Khattaab - 638 AD
Umayyad chaliphs (Damascus) - 661 AD
'Abbasid caliphs (Baghdad) - 750 AD
Fatimids (Egypt) - 969 AD
Saljuqs (Isfahan) - 1071 AD
Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Crusaders) - 1099 AD
Salah al-Diin al-Ayyoubi (Kurdistan/Cairo) - 1187 AD
Mamluks (Cairo) - 1260 AD
Ottomans (Istanbul) - 1516 AD
Moh'd Ali Pasha (Egypt) - 1832 AD
Ottomans (Istanbul) - 1840 AD
British - 1918 AD

Recent history contains these important events:

In 1919 the League of Nations transferred control of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire to the United Kingdom as a mandate. A declaration passed by the League of Nations in 1922 effectively divided the mandated territory into two parts. The eastern portion, called Transjordan, became the Arab state of Jordan in 1946. The other portion, comprising the territory west of the Jordan River, was administered as "Palestine" under provisions that called for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

In 1937, following the Great Arab Revolt, the partition plan proposed by the Peel Commission was rejected by the Palestinian Arab leadership, but accepted tentatively by Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion. This was notable, as Ben-Gurion showed a willingness to essentially accept about 1/3 of the land that would ultimately be won by Israel in the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli War.

In 1947, following increasing levels of violence by militant groups, alongside unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the Jewish and Arab populations, the British government decided to withdraw from the Palestine Mandate. Fulfillment of the 1947 UN Partition Plan would have divided the mandated territory into two states, Jewish and Arab, giving about half the land area to each state. Under this plan, Jerusalem was intended to be an international region under UN administration to avoid conflict over its status. Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the plan to create the as-yet-unnamed Jewish state and launched a guerilla war.

On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed.

Promising to annihilate the new Jewish state (though their actual motivation was more complex as we will discuss later), the armies of six Arab nations attacked the fledgling state. Over the next 15 months Israel captured an additional 26% of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan river and annexed it to the new state. Jordan captured about 21% of the Mandate territory (which became known as the West Bank). The Gaza Strip was captured by Egypt and came under its control.

Additionally, the war created about 750,000 refugees. In 1949, Israel offered to allow families that had been separated during the war to return, to release refugee accounts frozen in Israeli banks (these were eventually released in 1953), to pay compensation for abandoned lands, and to repatriate 100,000 refugees (about 15% of those who had fled). This number would have included some 35,000 refugees whose return had already been negotiated and was underway. The Arabs rejected this compromise, at least in part because they were unwilling to take any action that might be construed as recognition of Israel. They made repatriation a precondition for negotiations, which Israel rejected.

In the face of this impasse, Israel didn't allow any of the Arabs who fled to return and, with the exception of Transjordan, the host countries where they ended up did not grant them or their descendants citizenship. About 900,000 Jews either were expelled from or voluntarily left their Arab homelands in the Middle East and North Africa. Roughly two thirds of these went to Israel.

During the Six Day War (1967 AD) Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Sinai has since been returned to Egypt in a phased withdrawal but the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are still occupied. The war created a new wave of 200,000 to 300,000 refugees. These refugees have also not been allowed to return nor granted citizenship in their host countries.

And this brings us to one of the interesting things about the Palestinian question. None of the Arab countries wants Palestinians in their country. Why? Because they cause trouble no matter where they live. To wit:

Jordanian policy since 1949 had been to avoid border incidents and terrorism that would generate Israeli reprisals. Al Fatah and the PLO, however, carried out raids and sabotage against Israel without clearance from either the United Arab Command or Jordan. These attacks, although planned in Syria, most often were launched into Israel by infiltration through Lebanon or Jordan. Israeli reprisals against selected West Bank targets became harsher and more frequent from May 1965 onward. Meanwhile, Syrian propaganda against Hussein became increasingly strident. In July 1966, when Hussein severed official endorsement and support for the PLO, both that organization and the Syrian government turned against him. In reprisal for the terrorist attacks by the fedayeen (Palestinian guerrillas), in November Israel assaulted the West Bank village of As Samu. Israel was censured by the UN, but public rioting against the Jordanian government broke out among the inhabitants of the West Bank. The levels of rioting exceeded any previous experience. King Hussein had little choice but the use of the army to restore public order.

What I want to know is this:

1. Who should "own" Israel?
2. If you say the Palestinians, why?
3. Who bears more of the responsiblity for the current plight of the Palestinians, Israel or the Arabs?

Less than half of the Palestinian population even lives in Palestine. 46% of the Palestinian population is registered as "refugees" going all the way back to 1948 and their decendants. Most of the refugees are refugees following acts of agression by Arab countries.

But what does it mean to be Palestinian?

Until the 19th century, most modern Arab national groups, including Palestine, had no distinct national identities per se. There were well-known regions including Palestine, but there was no sense that a person should owe a particular loyalty to his region rather than to his religion or ethnic group, or in the case of a Bedouin his tribe. However, starting in the 19th century, the European concept of nationalism crept in.

The idea of a specifically Palestinian state, however, was at first rejected by most Palestinians; the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations (Jerusalem, 1919), which met for the purpose of selecting a Palestinian Arab representative for the Paris Peace Conference, adopted the following resolution: "We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds."

Of course, with the French conquest of Syria in 1920, the Palestinians no longer viewed things in the same light. By 1937, only one of the many Arab political parties in Palestine (the Istiqlal party) promoted political absorption into a greater Arab nation as its main agenda.

Zuhair Mohsen, head of the Military Department of the PLO, said in an interview with the Dutch daily Trouw in March 1977: "There is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. It is for political reasons only that we carefully emphasize our Palestinian identity, because it is in the national interest of the Arabs to encourage the existence of Palestinians against Zionism, the establishment of a Palestinian state is a new expedient to continue the fight against Zionism and for Arab unity... For tactical reasons, Jordan, which has defined borders, cannot claim Haifa or Jaffa; but a Palestinian can claim Haifa, Jaffa, Beersheba and Jerusalem."

Sounds pretty clear to me.

As to the contention that Palestine is "occupied"... it's been "occupied" for over 3000 years. You'd think they were used to it by now.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Top Four Reasons I'm Disgusted with the MSM

1. Annonymous sources! - It seems obvious that anyone coming to you who says "Don't use my name, but ..." is hiding for a reason. Maybe he's ratting out a member of the mafia and is in fear of losing his life. Maybe he's being a good citizen and is simply giving you a heads up on something that might be worth investigating. Or maybe he's using you to grind his axe? Regardless of the motivation, it would be a good idea to get confirmation from independant sources before you run with it and risk your reputation.

2. Overuse of the word "allegedly" - Some things are alleged. Some things just are. Hillary Clinton allegedly had Vince Foster killed. That is an allegation. Nobody saw it happen, there is no proof that it happened, but some people insist that it has happened. On the other hand, take a look at this from the Washington Post: "Nichols, who was on trial for rape and on the run from allegedly killing a judge, two law enforcement officers and a court reporter, shoved Smith into her own apartment in suburban Atlanta at 2 a.m., tied her up and held her at gunpoint." Now, the rape might have been "allegedly" committed by Nichols. That's kinda what the trial was about. It could be said that Nichols "allegedly" shoved Smith into her own apartment, tied her up, and held her at gunpoint. There isn't any incontrovertable proof that he did any of these things. However, there is NO doubt that Nichols killed a judge, two law enforcement officers, and a court reporter. These people ARE dead. Nichols killed them. The initial assault on his security escort was even caught on camera. There is NO doubt that the people who are dead are dead because Nichols took their lives.

3. Repeated denials of bias - This would actually be funny if it weren't so frustrating. Let's take a fictional story in the New York Times Sports Section (fictional, as in it is made up by me, not The Times). In a single week there are five stories about how steroids are running rampant through the locker rooms of the Mets players. Then there is one story about the manager of the Yankees, and how he plans to win another title. In the final paragraph of the Yankees article, there is doubt expressed that they will actually be able to succeed in their quest. Now a question. Is the Times being fair and balanced?

This is true however; The New York Times posted a story on their website following the death of Pope John Paul II which read in part:

Even as his own voice faded away, his views on the sanctity of all human life echoed unambiguously among Catholics and Christian evangelicals in the United States on issues from abortion to the end of life.

need some quote from supporter

John Paul II's admirers were as passionate as his detractors, for whom his long illness served as a symbol for what they said was a decrepit, tradition-bound papacy in need of rejuvenation and a bolder connection with modern life.

Is it that hard to find someone to say something nice about the Pope?

4. Inability to learn - How many scandals does it take before the MSM actually realizes that it is important to do their job, and that part of their job entails ensuring the acuracy of what they report. Here is a list of major faux pas (and it is far from complete):

Dan Rather (1963); CBS

Rather interviewed a local minister and reported that children at Dallas's University Park Elementary School had cheered when told of the president's death. The children were never told of the president’s death. They cheered when they were told they were going home early.

Janet Cooke (1980-1981); Washington Post, “Jimmy’s World”

Story about an 8 year old heroin addict, sparked a frenzied 17-day scouring of Washington, DC. Cooke confessed that "Jimmy" was a fabrication, claiming that he was a composite of several child addicts.

NBC (1992); "Waiting to Explode"

Story on Dateline showed a General Motors truck exploding after a low-speed side collision with another car. The explosion was actually generated by hidden remote-controlled incendiary devices.

Stephen Glass (1998); The New Republic; "Hack Heaven"

Story about a 15-year-old computer hacker who breaks into a large company's computer system and is then offered a job by the company. After an internal investigation determined that 27 of 41 articles he had written for the magazine contained fabricated material, Glass was fired.

Patricia Smith (1998); The Boston Globe

Smith, who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist that year, admitted to fabricating quotations and resigned.

CNN (1998); “Operation Tailwind”

On the June 7 edition of NewsStand, CNN reported that the US used nerve gas in Laos to kill American defectors during the Vietnam War. It retracted this statement on July 2.

Mike Barnicle (1998); The Boston Globe

Barnicle was accused of violating several rules of reporting, but was removed from the Globe when it was discovered he fabricated quotes from parents of a sick child.

Rigoberta Menchú (1999); “I, Rigoberta Menchú”

Her 1983 book was largely responsible for her Nobel Peace Prize. Several years later anthropologist David Stoll, while working on a follow-up book, discovered that her account was largely fabricated. Specifically, Menchú was not self-taught (she received a middle-school education) and the land dispute in which her father was killed was with family members, not the government. No steps have been taken by the Nobel Committee to revoke Menchú's award, though.

Houston Chronicle (2002)

Accidentally posted an internal executive memorandum to its website outlining a plan for intentionally slanted reporting that promoted a pending bond referendum in Houston.

James Forlong (2003); Sky News

Report included scenes of submarine crew members giving instructions related to the launch of the missile and included a sequence in which a crew member pressed a large red button marked with the word "FIRE" and accompanied by a sequence of a missile breaking the surface of the water and launching into the air. The report was a fabrication, with the crew acting along for the benefit of the cameras. The Sky News team did not accompany the submarine when it left port and the scenes were actually recorded whilst the vessel was docked. The shot of the missile breaking the surface has been obtained from stock footage.

Jayson Blair (2003); The New York Times

Blair resigned after being confronted with evidence of fabricating quotes and details in at least 36 articles.

Jack Kelley (2004); USA Today

Kelley had been fabricating stories or parts of stories since at least 1991.

The Boston Globe (2004)

The Globe published photographs it alleged were of United States soldiers abusing and raping women in Iraq. These photographs were commercially-produced pornography that were originally published on a web site named "Sex in War”.

Dan Rather (2004); CBS

Rather used forged documents during a report on George W. Bush’s Vietnam era service record.

Barry Schweid (2005); Associated Press

Reported that John Bolton, nominee for ambassador of the United States to the United Nations had said "that the world body had 'gone off track' at times but that he was committed to its mission". This article was filed more than an hour before the beginning of the hearing session at which Mr. Bolton allegedly made these remarks.

Barbara Stewart (2005); The Boston Globe

Story describing the events of a seal hunt near Halifax, Nova Scotia that took place on April 12, 2005. The article described the specific number of boats involved in the hunt and graphically described the killing of seals and the protests that accompanied it. The reality is that weather had delayed the hunt, which had not even begun by the day the story had been filed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Choosing Sides

There's been a lot of talk lately about the MSM and whether they are biased one way or the other. Until recently, I assumed the press had an agenda which was left-leaning and that was it. Over the course of the last few months however, I have come to believe that journalism has lost its soul. This uneasy "feeling" began to take concrete shape when I read this fable by Jay Rosen (and note that he does go off on a slightly different tangent after the first third of the essay). My thoughts were triggered in particular by these words:

There is a story I heard once about the press in Bosnia. I tried to verify it numerous times with people who might know, but I never succeeded. (Possibly I will with this post.) My informants always told me they knew of things like it that had happened in the former Yugoslavia.

Let's say then that it is not a true story, but a fiction about a journalist set in Sarajevo sometime between April 2, 1992, when the Siege of Sarajevo began, and February 29, 1996, when it was declared over.

During the siege a correspondent from a Western news agency is contacted by an intermediary, someone he knows, who has an offer: to go out one night with Bosnian Serb snipers and see for yourself what they do.

A deal is struck, and he accompanies the men to one of their perches in the hills above the city, where they train their rifles on civilians, who might be trying to cross the street. This is where the siege "happens," in a sense. This is the action itself.

"Come here," says one of the men, after he has located a target. The sniper motions to take a look. The reporter, who in his own mind had come to see, leans over and peers for a second or two through the lens of the rifle.

He sees two people who think they are out of range standing in an alley, completely vulnerable. That is when the sniper, retaking the lens, says: which one, left or right?

This alarms the reporter. "I have no answer to that," he says. "I didn't come to be involved in what you do." The sniper throws back his head to laugh, and returns to his rifle. There is a pause. In two quick bursts he kills both people just seen through the lens.

"You should have answered," the sniper says to the Western correspondent. "You could have saved one."

These words struck a cord with me, partly because in my unfinished "Great American Novel" I have written about a photographer who witnessed (and is torn by) similar events.

So now toss into that mix the Pulitzer Prize being awarded to Associated Press Staff who photographed an execution on Haifa Street in Baghdad and the questions being raised about how this particular photographer came to be at the right place at the right time. The AP assertion that the photographer was 300 meters away with a 400mm lens just does not wash. The geometry of the image doesn't support that (at most he was 50 meters but probably more like 30 meters) and there is no way that shot was made with a 400mm lens.

Additionally, we have a CBS photographer arrested after he was wounded while embedded with a terrorist (or insurgent if you prefer) unit.

I can see the argument: a journalist has a responsibility to report both sides of the issues. But here is the moral dilemma: should a photographer film a murder as it happens without trying to prevent the murder? And having filmed a murder, what does it say about him when he sells the film? At what point does being impartial cost you your soul?

In the battle of Good vs. Evil, you can't be neutral.

The only way that the murder of election workers can be seen as not Evil is if the insurgent cause is so important, that the freedom to vote is so Evil that it justifies killing a non-combatant. And the only way to look at a murder without condemning it is to agree with it.

Sometimes things have to be black and white. Sometimes a spade has to be a spade. I can forgive you for calling it a shovel perhaps, but a spade is not a rake. Sometimes, somebody has to say out loud "It's a spade!" Sometimes, you just have to choose a side.

Or lose your soul.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Economics 101

Many people have incorrect assumptions about money. First among these is that money is anything other than a method of scorekeeping for wealth. This in turn leads to the misconception that one person's gain is another's loss.

An example of this world economy shakes out like this:

assume that there are four people on the planet, each with $5.00

Name: Lumberjack
Bank: $5.00
Needs: Food, Shelter, Bling-bling, Fertilizer
Produces: Firewood, Lumber

Name: Builder
Bank: $5.00
Needs: Food, Shelter, Bling-bling, Lumber
Produces: Houses, Picture Frames

Name: Herder
Bank: $5.00
Needs: Food, Shelter, Bling-bling
Produces: Food, Fertilizer

Name: Painter
Bank: $5.00
Needs: Food, Shelter, Bling-bling, Picture Frames
Produces: Bling-bling

Prices for Goods (cost to make)

Fertilizer: $0.25 (free)
Food: $5.00 (free + labor)
Lumber: $5.00 (0.25 Fertilizer + labor)
Firewood: $2.50 (0.25 Fertilizer + labor)
House: $10.00 ($5.00 Lumber + labor)
Picture Frame: $2.50 ($1.25 Lumber + labor)
Bling-bling: $5.00 ($2.50 Picture Frame + labor)

Minimum requirements for life are $5.00 Food and $2.50 Firewood per year. Everything else is just quality of life improvements.

Obviously, if this is our economic universe, then all of the goods and services have to be provided between the parties keeping in mind that only $20 exist on the whole planet. If one of the parties has something that everyone wants or needs, he could jack up the price and stick it to everyone else on the planet. Conceivably, he could wind up with 75% or more of the entire wealth on the planet, and that wouldn't be fair would it? In fact, if one were to get outrageous with a price there could be civil unrest or simply a lack of customers ("I'm not paying that much for that!")

But here is the missing piece: Money is just a way of counting wealth, it's not actually the wealth itself. If money was the wealth, then even after each of our four residents marry and have children (perhaps after we import some women from Venus) there would still only be $20, but they would have to split that between 16 people (each has a family of four).

The way it really works is this:

Lumberjack has 20 trees in inventory. Over the life of each tree, he spends $.25 to maintain it. He chops down one of the trees, cuts it up into lumber, and sells the lumber to Builder for $5. Builder then builds a house worth $10. Lumberjack would like to buy the house, but he doesn't have the money. So he cuts down another tree and cuts it up for firewood. This he sells to a painter for $2.50. It's not as much as the lumber, but then it didn't require as much skill to make either. Lumberjack buys his house, and keeps providing lumber and firewood for the others. The builder builds stuff for whoever needs it. The Herder provides food for everyone and fertilizer for the lumberjack. And the artist, warm and well-fed paints a series of masterpieces that everyone wants to buy.

So far, it's your zero sum game. There can't be more than $20 in the whole world right? Except for one thing: the paintings are worth something.

And rather than their worth going down, since everybody wants one, the value of the paintings goes up, especially for the oldest ones. If one of the population gets a little cash strapped, let's say the herder wants to buy a house but doesn't have $10, he could offer two paintings (he's been feeding everyone for a while and loves the paintings so much that when he has the extra cash he buys one).

You see, it's not the money that has value, it's the stuff. And if you make stuff that people want, and you sell it for more than it cost you, you have created wealth. Money is just a convenient way to keep score.

As the population grows, and new products are introduced, and the economy grows, we need to print more money to keep track of stuff. But printing more money isn't what makes things worth more or less... it's the stuff.

Lesson 2

Governments must act responsibly when printing money. There are two worries:

1) The government could print too much money. Let's take our group of four from the previous example. If they decide to print and distribute an additional $100, while the value of the durable goods produced is only $60, they will have created an inflationary situation. The value of the stuff is still the same (think of it as "desirability" or "how much do you want it") but now you have more money so you are willing to pay more for it. The price of everything goes up to keep the relative worth the same.

The bad news here is that whatever effort you put forth to create the cash you have now is devalued.

Here is an example: Each tree as it stands in inventory has a cost associated with it of $.25 and each new tree when planted will have an associated cost of $.50 after the economy stabilizes again. Before the inflationary period, Lumberjack dude chopped up one tree for firewood and he still has it sitting in inventory. This is actually a good deal for him because he put $2.25 worth of "work" into it (for a total value of $2.50) and it is now worth $5. Cool. That's like free money. But here's the problem: just before the inflationary period, he sold two stacks of firewood for a total of $5.00 and he was planning on buying a new painting. But now the painting costs $10. His cash lost value.

2) A government can also print too little money. This creates deflation which might sound alright on the surface, but which is just as destructive as inflation. If some of the currency gets taken out of circulation by the world bank, say it goes from $20 to $10, the transition is extremely painful. What happens is this: the first thing that gets cut is salaries for the people that help you because there's not enough money coming in to pay for people. "Stuff" is still going to be the original price for a while because, as in our Lumberjack example, the effort and material have already been put into the product, and to reduce the price now means that at best you might break even or possibly even lose money. This doesn't help you pay your bills which also have not come down yet. Eventually, the sellers will have to lower prices even on their current stock just because nobody else has the cash to buy anything. If your business is strapped for cash in a deflationary period, you may well go under.

An additional drawback to deflation is that the growth of the economy will be reduced even after it stabilizes again. This is because there is not enough money to spend on durable goods like houses and paintings. It takes longer to save up enough to get them.

The key points to remember about a free economy:

1) Wealth is a measure of the value or worth of goods and services. That value is a "desirability" factor. If nobody wants it, it's not worth much even if it costs a lot to make. If everybody wants it, it's worth more, even if it didn't cost much at all.

2) Money is just scorekeeping. If tagging home plate in baseball is suddenly scored as three points, it doesn't make tagging home plate worth any more, it just inflates the score.

3) We could create a new country called Utopia and put every resident on the payroll giving everybody 1,000,000 Utopian dollars a year and we would all be living in squalor because we don't produce anything. We'd be rich in Utopian dollars, but we wouldn't be able to buy anything from anybody else because nobody else wants Utopian dollars. They have no value because nothing has been produced.

4) A free economy is not a zero sum game. If my Oakland A's score 9 runs in a game, it doesn't mean that there are nine fewer runs available to be scored by the other team. The other team might score fewer, the same, or more runs than my team. But there's no maximum score. You just need more numbers to track it.

5) Wealth is created by work. That's how an artist turns a piece of canvas and a glob of paint into a work of art; and that's how a tree becomes lumber, and lumber becomes a house, and that's also why a house is worth more than the sum of its parts; that's how an author can be paid for words.

6) Wealth can be destroyed by artificial price structures. If the government determines that the maximum price for a particular product is x, and the cost to produce that product is 2x, the only way to make that product available at x is with a subsidy, which may sound good except that the subsidy is paid with taxes and... this gives the government control of the profit margin, and through that employee salaries, capabilities for expansion of the business, research and development, etc. Likewise, if the government establishes the minimum wage at $20/hr, we'll all be paying about $10 for a Big Mac, but worse than that, unskilled workers won't be able to get a job because employers will want skills for that kind of money, employers won't offer insurance or retirement benefits because they can't afford them anymore, and taxes will increase to pay for all the new unemployment and welfare cases.

For some interesting reading with a more professional explanation of these ideas, see this essay on Ludwig von Mises.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Understanding Islam - pt. 1, Origins

Obviously, based upon the title I've chosen to give this post, I'm going to be talking about this for quite some time. This first chapter regards the origins of Islam, and is written from a non-scholarly Christian perspective.

But before beginning, perhaps I should touch on the "origins" of this post. The idea for this post came about with my response to a comment made on another blog. The comment was that "Islam and democracy are mutually exclusive." My response essentially said that they are NOT mutually exclusive.

From that thought is born this series of posts in which I plan to explore the question. I will purposely lay out the case that Islam is, by nature, anti-democratic (the opposite of what I feel to be true, by the way). And having established that it will be an uphill road, I hope to also establish that freedom and democracy are the only hope for the Arab people.

I must reiterate I am not a scholar or even an expert in anything. In fact, even the things I used to be an expert in have left me far behind. These words are my opinion only, and no more learned than your own. They are probably worth far less than you paid for them.

Before I begin exploring, let me say that official Church teaching (of the Roman Catholic persuasion) is very limited in respect to the Muslim faith:

The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."

Please note that this paragraph comes after a paragraph which describes the special relationship between the Church and the Jews.

In the beginning....

Islam traces it's origin to Abraham, who is believed by biblical historians to have lived sometime between 2100 BC and 1500 BC. In a tale which could have inspired many modern day soap operas, Abraham, the father of monotheism, and his wife Sarah are unable to conceive. Sarah suggests that Abraham have relations with Hagar, her handmaid, and Abraham's illegitimate son, Ishmael, is born. Then, wouldn't you know it, Sarah conceives Isaac.

Even if you have only the most basic understanding of soap operas, you can see a problem developing here. Your first-born son is illegitimate. Your real son is not the eldest. Not a good situation in a time where the entire inheritance goes to the first-born. Abraham decides to banish Hagar and Ishmael to the desert (which in reality should have been a death sentence but for one fact; God had promised to watch over Abraham's children).

So perhaps that story would have remained a footnote in the Judeo-Christian history except that two thousand years later (give or take a couple centuries), in 570AD, Muhammad ibn Abdallah was born in Mecca. A minor merchant who married well, there is little noteworthy until about the year 612AD when Muhammad is said to have had a (possibly epileptic) vision in which an angel had him memorize (he was illiterate) what was to become the Koran.

Ten years later, Muhammad was driven out of Mecca for his blasphemous teachings only to return at the head of an army to conquer the city in 630AD. He died of fever three years later.

These events are essentially uncontested regardless of the faith perspective.

So now for my perspective: I see two things here which could be insights into today's events. First, Muhammad himself set a poor precedent when he allowed his personal feelings of being slighted by his hometown to inspire his return to Mecca with intensions of conquest. Second, the "illegitimate son" syndrome seems to permeate the Arab psyche to this day (while I'm not a huge fan of Kevin Costner films, Christian Slater's portrayal of Will Scarlett in "Robin Hood: Prince of Theives" is a sample of the attitude I am thinking of here).

Again, I must say that I am not an expert in history, religion, or psychology. Make of this what you will.

Next time, we'll lay out the brief version of history through the middle ages.