Archive for March, 2011

Unions, Hamburgers, and America

I was directed to an op-ed piece today that was critical of the American worker, suggesting that they got what they deserved over the past thirty years. The author suggested that the American worker was both stupid and lazy, at least as far as economics and employment goes. Aside from being the standard left-wing cant, that people are stupid and need the left to look out for them, the author went on to conflate union membership with national prominence. To wit:

“Second, you bought into the myth that unions are the cause of America’s demise. You didn’t bother to learn America became a world power when union membership was at its peak. You didn’t bother to learn America became the envy of the world while 1 of every 3 Americans was a union member.”

There are at least two things wrong with his position. First, he commits the logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Roughly translated, that means that after x, therefore because of x. Scientists might say that correlation does not prove causation. The point being, the author makes the assumption that because unions were well populated, that was the cause of America’s success on the world stage.
His second mistake is the failure to identify the real timing and cause of America’s rise to pre-eminence on the world stage. America first entered world events as a major force as a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898. The war was a conflict between Spain and the United States and ended with the Americans winning. The cause is often debated, but popularly has been held to be the sinking of the Maine in Havana harbor. After the sinking, political pressures from the Democratic Party pushed the government of President William McKinley, a Republican, into a war McKinley had wished to avoid.

The ten-week war was fought in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. The war marked American entry into world affairs. Since then, the U.S. has played a part in many conflicts around the world. The U.S. entered a lengthy and prosperous period of economic and population growth, and gained several island possessions spanning the globe and new debates over the wisdom of imperialism.

At the same time, America was undergoing a gastronomic revolution, of sorts. Around the same time as the Spanish-American War, a guy named Fletcher Davis is believed to have sold hamburgers at his café at Athens, Texas in the late 1880s, then brought them to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. There is some dispute about the origins, with some people claiming a different guy, but still around the same time.

Roughly simultaneously, someone introduced the hot dog to America. The idea of a hot dog on a bun is ascribed by some to Anton Ludwig Feuchtwanger, a Bavarian sausage seller, who is said to have served sausages in rolls at the World’s Fair–either the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago or the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis– allegedly because the white gloves he gave to customers so that they could eat his hot sausages in comfort began to disappear as souvenirs.

I believe that far from being the result of union influence, America’s rise to greatness can be attributed to the hamburger and the hot dog. Both started around the same time, and grew in parallel. As a matter of fact, it was in the sixties, with an increase in vegetarianism that America’s fortunes began to decline. That, and the claims that red meat and processed meats were bad for one’s health. At the same time, Americans began eating more esoteric fare, like sushi and quiche. One from Japan, defeated in WWII, and one from France, which surrendered in WWII. On a side note, our current threat, the Islamic jihadists, refuse to eat hot-dogs, at least the ones made with pork. Perhaps that points towards our eventual triumph!

Only when Americans man up, or more properly, cowboy up, and eat more hamburgers and hot dogs will we regain our pre-eminent position in the world.

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Odyssey Dawn and Obama

Today’s trivia quiz should be relatively simple. Who said “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” No fair skipping ahead to the answer, which is at the bottom of the page. I will give you one clue, it wasn’t Bush.

The question is relevant today (March 20) because of Operation “Odyssey Dawn,” the military’s code name for the bombing of Libya in support of anti-Qaddafi rebels in besieged Benghazi. On the 18th, Obama said “We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone.” Asked about the “unique capabilities” the president talked about contributing, they would not involve combat fighters or bombers, a senior U.S. official familiar with the military planning discussions said Friday.

Today, less than 48 hours after the official said no bombers would be involved, the U.S. hammered Libya with cruise missiles and airstrikes targeting Moammar Qaddafi’s forces yesterday, launching the broadest international military effort since the Iraq war. The U.S. military said 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from American ships.

“The people of Libya must be protected, and in the absence of an immediate end to the violence against civilians our coalition is prepared to act, and to act with urgency,” Obama said.

Libyan regime official Mohammed al-Zwei, however, claimed a large number of civilians were injured when several civilian and military sites in the capital, Tripoli, and the nearby city of Misrata were hit. “This barbaric aggression against the Libyan people comes after we had announced a cease-fire against the armed militias which are part of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb,” he said.

The important part of that statement was not about the civilians that were injured, but that the anti-government rebels were al-Qaida from the Islamic Maghreb. Once again, faced with a choice between two unappealing combatants, Obama has come down on the side of the greater evil. As he did in Egypt and Iran, Obama has aligned himself, and, in Libya’s case, American force, with one of the groups that continues to threaten America with terrorism. Libya, to be sure, is no great bargain, either. But in the scheme of things, their last real offense against the West was the Lockerbie bombing, which is old news, especially in today’s ADHD culture. As of May 2006, the U.S. has removed Libya from its list of states that sponsor terrorism. Since it appears that there is no clear “good guy” to back, perhaps we should sit this one out.

At least we can be sure that Obama’s use of force is not motivated by oil, Libya being only a very minor exporter to the US. Right around 2 percent of our import oil comes from Libya. The cost of our Tomahawk missiles is almost greater than the cost cost of the oil we import.

But why are we on the side of the rebels, and why are we involving ourselves in Libya anyway, if not for oil? Human rights? Hardly. The Obama administration has been largely silent on any real human rights issues, as were the Bush, Clinton, and Bush administrations. Obama has largely ignored sub-Saharan Africa; witness the three-month campaign of organized violence by security forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire. Pakistan continues to reap American largesse, even though their government continues to persecute Christians as policy. Mexico, Azerbaijan, Cuba, the list goes on. Obama’s desire to protect the “innocent civilians” would be laudable, if, in fact, that was his desire. As it stands now, his words ring hollow when viewed in the light of his record.

It’s not oil; there’s more oil in the Athabascan Tar Sands than in Libya, and we’re not at war with Canada. It’s not human rights, unless Libyans are somehow “more human” than everyone else. So what could it be? Personally, I can only conclude that Obama is just plain old incompetent in matters of foreign affairs. Rumors are already circulating that the folks at Foggy Bottom are increasingly despondent about the lack of focus in our foreign policy. Even Clinton is rumored to be eying an early departure, attributed to frustration over Obama’s ineptitude. It’s gotten so bad that even Michael Moore is criticizing Obama.

I pray that it is merely incompetence. Otherwise, we’d be left with the specter of a president actively choosing to side with those who are more anti-American than the alternative.

The answer to the trivia quiz? Barack Obama, to the Boston Globe, 2007. I guess he doesn’t care that much about the constitution, after all.

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The Ugly Side of Egyptian Democracy

It’s been a few weeks now, and all the people who were supporters of the Egyptian revolution must be delirious with the results. What else could explain their silence on the actual fallout of the rush to democracy? We were told that there was no way it would turn into a Islamic theocracy, Egypt was too civilized. The protesters were all young, implying that they couldn’t be Islamic fundamentalists. Some of us were led to believe that this was the dawning of a new enlightenment in the Arab world; a veritable renaissance of gentility. What really happened? Let’s see.

According to Father Abram Fahmy, pastor of St. Simon the Tanner Monastery in Mokatam Hills, on the outskirts of Cairo, Copts were killed and injured yesterday in a fresh attack by Muslims. It was reported the Egyptian army fired live ammunition on Copts. The attack has claimed until now the lives of 9 Copts and injured 150, 45 seriously. Muslims threw fire balls at the Monastery from the top of the hills. Eight homes and 20 garbage recycling factories owned by Copts have been torched, as well as 30 garbage collection vehicles. CNN reports all of the known fatalities are Christians, though it masks this incident under the term “sectarian clashes” and describes the cause as “a feud between a Muslim and a Coptic family.”

What caused the “feud?” Assyrian International News Agency reports that “The father of the Muslim woman was killed by his cousin because he did not kill his daughter to preserve the family’s honor, which led the woman’s brother to avenge the death of his father by killing the cousin. The village Muslims blamed the Christians.”

The Muslim response? “9 Christians Killed, 150 Injured in Attack By 15,000 Muslims and Egyptian Army,” from the AINA, March 9. Nearly 15,000 Muslims from the nearby area of Sayeda Aisha and Mokattam, who were armed with weapons including automatic weapons, confronted the Copts, who were protesting to show their solidarity with the Copts of the village of Soul in Atfif, who were forcibly displaced from their village and their church torched (AINA 3-5-2011). The clashes first started with hurling of stones at the Coptic demonstrators, then molotov cocktails. According to eyewitnesses the Copts called the army which arrived at the scene at 15:00 with 10 tanks . At first the military stood by watching, then shot in the air, then at the Coptic side with live ammunition. “We were at one side and the Muslim on the other, we have hundreds of injured at the Coptic side,” said an eyewitness. “The Muslims were also shooting from behind the army tanks.”

This is the same army that was hailed for its forbearance during the revolution. Attorney Wagih Anwar Abou Saad, an eyewitness, told Free Coptic Voice the army has been firing live ammunition on the Copts since 3 PM. “The army is protecting the Muslims, who sought shelter behind the army tanks,” he said. There are no reports of any Muslim casualties. Quel surprise!

What else has been happening? Well, in the same week as International Day of the Woman, what started as a peaceful protest ended in violence. “Egyptian million woman march ends with a gunshot,” reports Ahram Online, March 8.

The Million Woman March started with activists sharing flyers and their ideas with other people in Tahrir. The ideas of the movement were not acceptable to the majority of the people. “I feel people are disgraceful, they don’t want equal rights for women,” Yasmine Perni, an Italian photographer participating in the march told Ahram Online. Perni had a long conversation with a koshary seller who told her that she is well off and does not need money and for that reason she should not voice her opinion. He also argued that women should stay at home and not engage in political life. The conversation became aggressive and the man started ripping up the flyers of the movement and throwing them on the ground. “Egyptian women are too emotional. They are different from western ladies,” Mahmoud Ahmed told Ahram Online. Others rejected the ideas of the march because of religious backgrounds. “We rule by the Quran and the Quran does not allow a woman to rule men,” said Mustafa Tarek to Ahram Online. Meanwhile, as a group of activists stood side-by-side holding banners of the movement calling for equality, another group of male protesters came from the other side to disrupt the march. As males and females activists chanted “Men and women, one hand,” “Muslims and Christian, one hand,” the other group described as “thugs” chanted “No, no, the people want women to step down,” and “The Quran is our ruler.”

This is the same Quran that attaches a woman’s value to obedience (“good women are obedient”), and gives men the right — from Allah’s own command — to beat women from whom they “fear disobedience.” The spirit of that verse is alive and well in those who turned out to grope, shove, belittle, and shout at the relatively few women who dared participate in the “Million Woman March” in Cairo. Which, of course, would never happen in the new Egypt.

How can we explain all this? Let’s ask Imam Rauf, the so-called “9/11 mosque” leader and spokesman. He was on television the other day, criticizing the King hearings on radical Muslims. What did Rauf have to say about violent Muslims?

“It’s a cycle. The radicals fuel each other and feed on each other. So when something happens like this, it arouses hostility among the other, the non-Muslim community. You have a Christ[ian]- evangelical leader, for example who says Islam is an evil religion. That becomes the banner headline in the Muslim world, both domestically, and more important, overseas. It arouses hostility there. The Danish cartoon — the Danish paper commissions cartoons. It creates hostility in the Muslim world. People in the West begin to say, oh, look, there’s no freedom of speech, and you create this cycle, this spiral. It is this spiral that we have to stop.”

So, according to Rauf, the problem is free speech. If nobody ever criticized Islam, then the Muslims wouldn’t kill anyone. Note that this is logically equivalent to saying that if you criticize Islam, violence will result. The funny thing is, events in Egypt prove him right. The Copts protest being killed by Muslims, the Muslims kill more of them. Women speak up for equality, Muslims turn violent to break up a rally. A Dane draws a cartoon, Muslims riot worldwide.

The problem is, that if we allow ourselves to be silenced by the threat of violence then evil wins. We cannot allow more of the middle-east to be hijacked by the Islamo-fascists that are bent on the destruction of Western civilization and values. Remember Lord Acton’s dictum: “All that is necessary for the success of evil is that good men do nothing.”

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How I Spent My Spring Break!

I am finally back from a 2 and ½ week trip to Yap and Chuuk. The scuba gear is soaking in the basement, the photos have been transferred to the computer, the larder has been replenished, and the white russians have been poured. I love traveling, and I love the exotic locations I get to travel to, but there is always something nice about coming home again. I’ll get a chance to visit my mother, see some friends (yes, I do have some), and enjoy high water pressure.

That having been said, I was very lucky to be able to go to Micronesia. The people in Yap are very friendly and polite, and they actually enjoy sharing their culture with tourists. The stone money that they are famous for was absolutely intriguing. I had a wonderful visit with one village where we watched some traditional crafts, a traditional dance, and ate some of their fare. We were hosted by the wife of the village chief, who had a very cute daughter. That’s them in the photo below.

The people of Chuuk were equally friendly and polite. The only time I didn’t get greeted when passing someone was when that someone was another American. She looked right through me as we passed one morning, and completely ignored my cheery “good morning!” The local people were also some of the hardest working and knowledgeable dive-masters and boat captains I’ve met.

The diving was excellent for some things, less so for others. In Yap, the Mantas were spectacular. The young ones, some 4-5 feet across, were like youngsters of all species. Full of energy, reckless, and curious. Every so often a group of three or four would strafe us, almost close enough to knock our masks off. That would usually be followed by an adult, some up to 15 feet across, cruising over us, giving us the gimlet eye. Other than the Mantas, I found the reefs in Yap to be less than thrilling. They were uniformly devoid of any significant fish life; the local boat captain joked that it was because the locals had eaten them all. The coral was almost all brown, and there was a large number of crown-of-thorns starfish. These starfish are a plague upon the reefs, eating everything without distinction, and they have no known predators. The locals will occasionally go out and collect as many as they can, bring them to shore, and burn them. I fear it’s a losing fight, like ours against the lion fish.

The wrecks in Chuuk, formerly known as Truk, are still there, although every year they seem to deteriorate further. While I was there, the bow section fell off one of the ships. The amount of life, though, continues to increase. As I said to one diver, “If you didn’t know this was a wreck, you wouldn’t know it was a wreck.” It seems that the number of artifacts is declining as well.

On almost every wreck, divers have set up a display on top of the wreck, in an area easily accessible to all divers. These displays contain items that the divers have found inside the wrecks. A diver might find a teapot, for example. Left alone in the interior of the ship, it would be covered by silt, and disappear. So, it gets brought out of the ship, and put on display. These displays include munitions, weapons, books, clothing, and china, among other things. This trip, it seems that a lot of stuff has disappeared. There was on one ship, a beautiful teapot with lid.(pictured below) That’s gone. On another, there was a newspaper, still in readable condition, although if you were to touch it, it would disintegrate before your eyes. Gone as well. I believe it’s time for a massive recovery effort to bring up all the salvageable things, and put them in a museum. If not, they may disappear forever.

The thing that continues to puzzle me is this. How could a culture that produces such beauty, as evinced by the teapot, also have produced some of the worst brutality in history, like the Rape of Nanking or the Bataan Death March? While we are all aware of people with crippled personalities. Is it possible that an entire nation could have cripple personalities? I don’t know, but it continues to puzzle me.

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