Thursday, December 21, 2006

2006 First Annual Holiday Spectacular

The current controversies over religion leads to the question of whether this is really a Holiday Spectacular or secretly a Christmas Spectacular? At risk of offending my Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Pokemon readers, you might want to know why this blog is so Christmas heavy.

The truth is I just love Christmas. It wins the popularity contest. I like the trees with their pine smell, the lights, the movies, the bells, the big guy in the red suit, the reindeer, the food, and most of all, the songs. I even sense, on occasion, that there is a little Christmas spirit out there (just people trying to be a little nicer, however briefly). It’s not a religious thing at all. Frankly, I happily take the Christ right out of Christmas. No Christian group has a copyright on good tunes, pretty lights, trees or eggnog.

I have good memories of Chanukah from my youth: the smell of the candles, the dreidel game, gold foil covered chocolate money, and, of course, the presents. But I admit that I am not even sure I say Chanukah right. I know the first version of this post spelled dreidel wrong. There are only three Chanukah songs I know of: Dreidel, Dreidel, Adam Sandler’s Chanukah Song and one in Hebrew which name I don’t know. Let’s face it, Dreidel, Dreidel is right up there with Barney’s I Love You, You Love Me, and no one is going to get the celebrity references to Sandler’s song 30 years from now (I guess they could update them). There are dozens of great Christmas songs, movies and whatnot.

But, what the hell. It’s officially a Holiday Spectacular and I hope there is something for everybody. Why not. Everybody’s welcome.

Before we start, I’d like to thank everyone who reads this on at least a semi-regular basis, and I enjoy your occasional comments. To share with you the success of this blog, I will reveal that Ad-Sense, which puts up those advertisements you see, has entered into a contract with me (didn’t that sound impressive – actually, any blog can have one with them; it takes a few minutes on-line) where I let them put ads on my blog and they pay me, I think per hit. I’m not exactly sure how it works, but I am about to receive a check for 12 cents. Your eyes do not deceive you. I may have to get a job.

Here are the Holiday Spectacular lists you’ve been waiting for since September.

Best holiday movies

10. Scrooge (the musical with Albert Finney)
9. White Christmas (I liked it better than the original -- Holiday Inn)
8. A Christmas Story
7. It’s a Wonderful Life
6. Serendipity
5. Love, Actually
4. When Harry Met Sally
3. Elf
2. March of the Wooden Soldiers
1. Miracle on 34th Street (The original, and only, the original version)

Many people would put It’s a Wonderful Life first, and it’s easy to see its charms. But Jimmy Stewart can get on your nerves sometimes with all that stammering. There were times I wished Clarence got delayed at the transfer station in Limbo for a few minutes before coming to the rescue. Arguments can also be made that When Harry Met Sally is properly a romantic comedy, but much of the movie has to do with the holiday season, and the story ends on New Years’ Eve. Elf is the only recent movie on the list, but already one of my favorite movies, period. Miracle on 34th Street and March of the Wooden Soldiers probably have a lock on one and two for the rest of history (or my life, which ever ends first).

Best Holiday Songs:

10. Joy to the World (Whitney Houston)
9. Feliz Navidad
8. Messiah/Hallelujah Chorus
7. Frosty the Snow Man (Jimmy Durante)
6. Carol of the Bells
5. Zat you, Santa Claus (Louis Armstrong)
4. Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! (Dean Martin)
3. Snoopy’s Christmas
2. All I Want for Christmas is You
1. Baby, its cold outside (Doris Day and Bing Crosby)

This was a really difficult category. Most likely, if I waited a few days, the order would be different and some other songs would replace some of those in the list. Smoke comes out of my ears when I hear anyone else make covers of these songs. Let me make this clear for all recording artists. Not one of you should ever, ever, ever make another recording of Baby, Its Cold Outside, Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!, Frosty the Snow Man or Joy to the World. Ever! If you have never heard the rarely played Louis Armstrong piece, you should look for it.

Best Holiday Books

5. Maccabees (Some Old Testaments)
4. The Gospels
3. A Christmas Story (Jean Shepherd)
2. The Gift of the Magi (the O’Henry short story)
1. A Christmas Carol

Best posts of 2006

5. Did I Tell You I Hate Cell Phones (11/20)
4. An Electrifying Genius (12/13)
3. A Day of Thunder and Lightning (11/02)
2. A Holiday Tale of Murder and Rape in Old New York (11/29)
1. Read This on the Night Before Christmas (9/13)

If you are wondering why this is a holiday category, the top three all have winter holiday references.

Five Best Holiday Images

5. Tom Nash’s Santa Claus
4. Yule Log show on WPIX
3. Breugel's Hunters in the Snow

2. Skating rink at Rockefeller Center, NY
1. Skating rink at Somerset House, London

I feel guilty leaving off Coca Cola's wonderful collection of Santa Claus images, but there are so many of them, I did not know which to choose. Honorable mention.

Ten Best Christmas Day Historical Events

10. 12/25/1741 – Celsius introduced Celsius temperature scale.
9. 12/25/1868 – President Andrew Johnson pardoned all the Southern rebels.
8. 12/25/1758 – First sighting of Halley’s comet.
7. 12/25/1651 – Massachusetts Court announced fine for Christmas celebration.
6. 12/25/1908 – Jack Johnson became first black heavyweight champion.
5. 12/25/1950 – Scotland’s coronation Stone of Scone stolen from Westminster Abbey.
4. 12/25/1066 – William the Conqueror crowned King of England.
3. 12/25/800 – Charlemagne crowned Emperor of Holy Roman Empire.
2. 12/25/1914 – Unofficial WWI Christmas truce between British and German troops.
1. 12/25/1776 – Washington crossed the Delaware and surprises Hessians.

Five Best New Years Birthday

5. 1/1/1735 – Paul Revere
4. 1/1/1895 – J. Edgar Hoover
3. 1/1/1942 – Country Joe McDonald
2. 1/1/1909 – Barry Goldwater
1. 1/1/1908 – Tess Berger (my aunt)

Five Best Holiday Ironies

5. St. Nicholas was Turkish (way before the Muslims).
4. Chanukah celebrates the Jewish victory over the Hellenistic Greeks who had taken over the Persian Empire. Ignored is the fact that the new independent Hasmodean Kingdom that came out of it made an alliance with Rome, which led to its long loss of independence.
3. White Christmas was written by a Jewish guy (Irving Berlin).
2. The Poinsettia plant is from Mexico, not the first country that pops into your mind when you think Christmas. It was brought to America by the a 19th century Mexican ambassador, Joseph Poinsett.
1. Chanukah is “the festival of lights,” but Christians, not Jews, decorate their houses with hundreds or thousands of lights. Go figure.

Thanks again for your support and have a happy holiday.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Is it 2008 already?

I love that the campaigning has started already. Apparently, it started earlier this year with multiple pandering by hopefuls in New Hampshire, where likely the first primary will be held (at least they insist they be first), and Iowa, where a caucus of party activists will be held even earlier. A commercial begging Obama to jump in will shortly hit the airwaves in D.C. and New Hampshire.

I wanted to jump into the fray with my predictions for the 2008 election, way ahead of anyone else. Here’s a list of the early hopefuls and their respective chances at to be nominated and win the brass ring, in no particular order.

Tom Vilsack. Two term governor of Iowa until January, 2007. Since nobody, and I mean nobody, outside of Iowa, or who is not a political junky has ever heard of him, he is apparently counting on his popularity in Iowa to help him win there, jump starting him to the nomination. He was the first Democratic governor in the State in 30 years, which is impressive, as it is still a very Republican State. He was the first candidate to officially announce. Don’t give too much hope to Tom. I give him NO CHANCE UNLESS EVERYONE ELSE DIES. In a poll earlier this year he came in fourth behind Clinton, Edwards and, GREAT SCOTT, even John Kerry. When you lose to Kerry in your own state, you should be thinking twice about running. Of course, when this poll was taken nobody was going nuts about Barack Obama yet, and he obviously would have beat Vilsack. Then, again, after Kerry's flub before the 2006 elections made him radioactive, he couldn't beat Dukakis in a run off, so maybe Vilsack would still be fourth. No matter. Good luck on your next career, Tom, and stop wasting your supporters’ money.

Evan Bayh. A senator from Indiana, another Democrat in a red state, and son of a former presidential candidate, Senator Birch Bayh, he was sort of thought of as the anti-Hillary for a while. He’s got that presidential look about him, but doesn’t have a real national following. His name recognition is really his father's name recognition. He does not have any committee chairmanships in the Senate, and even the committees he’s on don’t get a lot of recognition. However, he is seen as a moderate in his party. He called for Rumsfeld’s resignation very early, now a popular move even among Republicans, and has called for tough measures against Iran. He may get some votes in the Iowa caucus from his state’s proximity, but don’t count on it. If he enters, he will wind up fifth or worse there, and will fold. I give him NO CHANCE UNLESS EVERYONE ELSE DIES. If I were him I would go back to my real name, which is really Birch Evan Bayh, III. His father still has better name recognition than he does.

Joe Biden. United States Senator from Delaware. Sometimes I like this intelligent Senator, or at least some of his ideas. But his self-aggrandizement and whining during the Senatorial hearings for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was just embarrassing. I wish I had had a rock to crawl under when he cried to the Chairman, “But, he’s not answering the questions. Wah, wah, waaaah”. One of his questions was so long it ate up most of his time to inquire, before Roberts even got a chance to answer. He actually makes a better chairman than he does an opposition member. I agree with Biden that we should let Iraq split up into 3 separate sectors (I’ve been for that since we invaded) and often find he has intriguing ideas, but the great majority of Americans will find him pompous and BOOOOORIIIINNGGG. The last time he ran for president was in 1988. He was humiliated by being caught plagiarizing a British politician’s speech. The really weird part was that Biden told part of the British pol's life story as if it were his own. Now, that’s just strange. To be fair, on past occasions he had given credit to Neil Kinnock, the Brit, for the story, but for some reason didn't in Iowa. Somehow I think that is coming up again, and again, if he ends up running. Should by some miracle he win, then we are going to have to impeach him immediately, or we may all have to shoot ourselves in the head, to get his endless talking out of our minds. But, he also gets a NO CHANCE UNLESS EVERYONE ELSE DIES. Did I mention his middle name is Robinette? That’s worse than Milhouse, for crying out loud.

Hillary Clinton. United States Senator from New York and former First Lady. Is she even the front runner anymore, now that Obama has publicly stated he may throw his hat in? Some have suggested a Clinton/Obama ticket, but that is just asking for trouble. A woman president and a black vice president all at the same time. If they were the right ones, I’d say the country was ready. But they are not, and we are not. Hillary’s big problem is that she is the most polarizing force in the country. Personally, I always liked her husband and never understood the impulsive dislike of him and her by conservatives. On the other hand, I have never voted for her in either election. She has fought hard to remodel herself as a tough moderate. Since a Senator, she has gained a lot of fans, some even from the Republican side of the aisle. Nevertheless, she will energize the conservative base in this country like not even Christ could do if he came down out of the cloud’s with Vote for Jesus buttons and Judgment Day t-shirts. She will not make Gore’s mistake and run away from the still popular Bill Clinton (how could she). Bill, who will revel in his potential first husband status, will be a huge plus for her. The Republicans never understood, or could stand, that most Americans liked him. Hillary, is no Bill, and makes an awful speech, like fingers on a blackboard. My advice to her is don’t ever even try and get the crowd going. You sound like an angry duck. But, then again, have you ever heard the present President speak? Not so good. I give her A BETTER CHANCE THAN ANYONE ELSE RIGHT NOW to win the nomination. But I give her only a slight chance to win a general election for president.

Barack ObamaThe first term U.S. Senator from Illinois with a bullet. Who the hell knows. Right now he is being lauded as savior, sex symbol and rock star. What does he stand for? I guess we will all learn when his oppthe other Democratic candidates paint him as too inexperienced and too far left (Rush Limbaugh has already described his voting in the Illinois State Senate as Marxist). If he wins, the Republicans will pick up on that and defend the name calling by reminding everyone that other Democrats did it first. Obama seems to understand the whole religious angle, which is something he has over Hillary (Bill was good at that part, but she has not shown herself to have that ability). The atheist writer, Sam Harris wrote in his book The End of Faith:
“[W] live in a country in which a person cannot get elected president if he openly doubts the existence of heaven and hell. . . In our next presidential election, an actor who reads his Bible would almost certainly defeat a rocket scientist who does not”.
Barack can fill this role better than any potential candidate in either party. Although I give him only THE BEST CHANCE TO BEAT HILLARY I believe his social skills, religious base, and yes, his dark skin and Caucasian features, will give a better chance than her to win the general election, no matter what his political beliefs are, unless there is some scandal waiting out there to do him in. Put a gun to my head, I say he won’t beat Hillary in the primaries. One of those unknowns will do him in.

Sam Brownback. The Senator from Kansas who replaced Bob Dole when he ran for President. Sam, sit down. Don’t even go there, really. You are just too conservative. That’s all there is to it. No matter what you run on, what issues you raise, what speeches you make, you cannot get past the fact that you are more religious than all but a minority of Americans wants in a leader. Being in favor of teaching intelligent design and calling abortions the holocaust will not go over well with any but the really, really, really, conservative. Despite the fact that primaries are often won by catering to the activists in your party, I can’t believe the Republicans would be so foolish as to throw the general election because of it. It would be like running Goldwater again. I give him NO CHANCE UNLESS EVERYONE ELSE DIES.

Newt Gingrich. Former U.S. House Speaker from Georgia. If only he wasn’t so partisan when he was Speaker of the House, laying the groundwork for his own demise, and ratcheting up the “poisonous” atmosphere in Washington, I might vote for this fascinating, far thinking and articulate candidate. I can think of no other candidate who is as knowledgeable, and far seeing. He is well aware of his weaknesses and kids himself about his many visits to Iowa. But, he is who he is and remains unapologetic about his tactics while in power. I would not vote for him for any office unless he becomes born again in terms of his political attitudes. No matter. This country isn’t looking for interesting or even brilliant leaders. Newt does not have a personality which would succeed on a national level. Most people don't really want some on that smart running things. He also has to generate his own news, as he does not hold an elected office now. Although a frequent guest on cable and Sunday morning news shows, its not enough. I give him NO CHANCE UNLESS THE ENTIRE WORLD CHANGES AND WONKS BECOMES SEXY.

Rudy Giuliani. The former New York City Mayor and hero (what passes for in our day and age) of 9/11. Let me start by saying he’s not for me. No doubt, many feel he did a lot for New York City, was strong in the 9/11 aftermath, and he claims he has softened his rough edges since his bout with cancer. I don’t care. Like with Newt, he would have to convince me that he has really changed. While a prosecutor, he was often ruthless. While Mayor, he beat his opponents into submission. He was especially dictatorial in free speech issues. I just don’t think he believes very strongly in the first amendment. When his term was up, he tried to bully the new mayoral candidates into illegally extending his term, using the trauma of 9/11 as an excuse. I suggest that those who are curious about Guliani read Mayor Koch’s Nasty Man, a book on Giuliani written before Koch became a fan after 9/11. Is the country ready to elect a Giuliani as opposed to a Bush or a Clinton? Maybe. He regularly beats everyone in the polls. Is the Republican party ready to choose Rudy with all his socially unacceptable positions (pro-gay, pro-choice). Probably not. However, he has developed a relaxed and natural speaking style that people seem to like, despite his lisp. I give him THE BEST CHANCE OUT OF ANY REPUBLICAN EXCEPT MCCAIN.

Mike Huckabee. Soon to be former governor from Arkansas. Didn’t a former Arkansas governor win once before? Oh, that’s right. I like Huckabee, which would be a great button. I have seen him speak in New Hampshire (thank you C-Span). He is very folksy and seems to have common sense. It does not seem like he has a lot of weight right now, but he has been working it. He seems a very compassionate guy, particularly during the Hurricane Katrina crisis. He is very conservative, probably as much as Brownback, but seems to keep it more out of sight. Nevertheless, it would be a big issue in any general election. He may also have a Clintonian knack for scandal, although not in the woman department. I know that Clinton and Carter were unknown Southern governors who made it, but there was not the same set of strong contenders at that time like there is here. I don’t know why for sure, but I give him a LONG SHOT BUT ONLY IF MCCAIN AND GIULIANI SELF DESTRUCT.

George Pataki. New York Governor until January, 2007. Listen George, you became governor of New York because New Yorkers were tired of Cuomo and Howard Stern threw you his support. You are the fifth best known New York politician, after Guliani, Clinton, Schumer and Spitzer. I think it has forever galled Pataki that Giuliani kicked his ass in the post 9/11 popularity contest. Although, Guliani is twice the politician that Pataki is. I give him NO CHANCE EVEN IF EVERYONE ELSE DIES. Socially, he is not conservative enough to win a Republican nomination and has none of Giuliani’s positives to counter it. Retire, become a lobbyist. Don’t do this, George. It will hurt.

John McCain. Long time Arizona Senator. I am a little biased here. He has been my personal favorite since the last 90s. McCain is a genuine war hero. In the modern world, you often just need to sign up or show up for hero status, but McCain survived years of POW torture, and refused to go home ahead of others who were there before him, which he could have due to his privileged position as an admiral’s son. Sounds pretty heroic to me. I like McCain for his moderation, his willingness to buck his own party, his willingness to admit mistakes. He is a formidable speaker, strong on defense, and appears to me, at least, to put country Many conservatives dislike him for the same reasons I like him. Naturally, I don’t like everything he does either. Some of his supposedly benevolent positions like the campaign reform law he sponsored and his attempts to censor certain commercial activities in order to protect children, cross over first amendment boundaries in my opinion. I watched a hearing where he grilled now convicted Enron executive, Jeffrey Skilling, and showed a lack of understanding of basic economics. However, most of his comrades seemed equally clueless. He has already disappointed me by wisely asking the forgiveness of the same religious groups he castigated in 2000 by going to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and speaking there. Still, he knows what he needs to do to win. I give him THE BEST CHANCE TO WIN THE REPUBLICAN NOMINATION DESPITE GIULIANI'S GENERAL POPULARITY.

Mitt Romney. Soon to be ex-governor of Massachusetts. A Republican governor in one of the strongest Democratic bastions. He comes off as a very serious man, and has been making himself more and more a conservative. Frankly, he comes off a bit pompous and phony to me (how unusual for a politician). He impresses Democrats and Republicans alike, and might just have a dark horse's chance of winning. A Harvard Business School alumni, he was CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games. The games were an economic success. He has shown himself to be a very strong governor. Massachusetts comprehensive health care initiative is an intriguing experiment. If it appears to be succeeding, he will gain great credit for it. He has also sponsored scholarships for many top Massachusetts’ students. He has been given strong economic powers which he has used to balance Massachusetts’ budget problems. I did mention he is a conservative, and while initially seeming at times a friend to the gay community and pro-choice, he is pro-life and anti-gay marriage. Some commentators think he is a stronger candidate than McCain. I think lack of name recognition overwhelms whatever favortism social conservatives might give him. Overall, I DON’T RULE HIM OUT.

I have left out a few potential candidates like Republican Congressman from Colorado, Tom Tancredo, who is a one trick immigration pony, and Democratic Senator from Connecticut, Christopher Dodd, who I just can’t see figuring in this at all. Don’t worry about them. They are not going anywhere. Will there be any surprises? You never know. Both parties are capable of being collective dunderheads, of course. There has not been a president this unpopular since Herbert Hoover, but Congress is even less popular. What happens in the next two years will determine many things yet unforeseen (I am not sure if I am channeling Yoda or Gandalf here).

I am going out on a limb here and will suggest that, health providing (he will be 72 if elected) John McCain will be our next president, beating out anyone that the Democrats throw at him. Have you noticed that nobody calls him by his first name like we all do with Hillary and Rudy. I think that means something. Had he run as an independent, I believe he would have been President six years ago. Don't mistake my picking him as being a result of liking him best. I rarely think who I like will win. Usually, no one I like is even running.

If Rudy gets the nomination, I believe he will win also, and I am not a fan of his. Its not that I believe Hillary Clinton is a light weight. She will be a much better campaigner than Gore or Kerry and there would be more people whou would vote for her just because she is a woman, who will not for the same reason. I just think she is so polarizing that a society tired of bickering and personal attacks will not want to dangle so much red meat in front of the adverse party. If Barack wins, his inexperience will do him in at the end of the day. Other young Presidents like Teddy Roosevelt and John Kennedy were war heroes, and Teddy was president before he had to win it in an election due to McKinley's assassination. Clinton, also very young, was a governor.

If the Democrats want to win the big one they will need a Scoop Jackson type with name recognition. Lieberman isn't it. No one they have seems like he fits the bill. A number of Republican candidates seem like more reasonable, more intelligent versions of Bush, who after all, won two elections before Iraq did him in.

Picking McCain is not a way out prediction as he has been in the public eye and one of the favorites for many years. So, I will go a little further. His Vice Presidential nominee will be Michael Steele, who lost out on Maryland's Senate seat this election. I think I am going to write McCain and suggest it. Steele, a very likeable man, would be the first black vice president of the United States.

Feel free to completely disagree.

Postnote (11/16/2006) The power of this blog is astonishing. Within a couple of days of posting, Evan Bayh has indicated that he will not be running because there is too much to overcome. Is there any doubt that reading my analysis, he has given up? Since t.v. pundits to love to take credit for everything that happens, why can't I? Thanks for listening, Senator. Let's see if Tom Vilsack takes the hint too, or if he thinks that leaves him the only viable mid-western Democratic candidate. I'm betting he hangs in there until after Iowa.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

An electrifying genius

Something strange happened to me on December 2, 2006. I was going to a dinner party and stopped to buy a bottle of wine for my hosts. There were two people working in the store, a man and a woman. The man was speaking to the counterwoman while I was, in great ignorance, looking for a bottle of Burgundy. I heard a familiar word from the man’s mouth. “Tesla”. I turned around and listened.

“So, everybody thinks that Marconi invented radio, but actually, it was Tesla”. I walked across the store and up to the man. I put out my hand and he shook it.

“I have been waiting for over twenty years,” I said, “to meet someone other than myself who has any interest in Tesla and I just wanted to shake hands with you”. We spoke a little bit about our joint interest and moved on. I know that sounds a little strange, but I promise you, it happened just like that.

That night, at the dinner party, I was looking at my host’s bookshelves, when I saw a Tesla biography. It turns out that Charlie is a Tesla fan. Two in one day. After twenty years or so seemingly alone in this interest, it seemed highly coincidental, but it was nice.

If you asked random people who was the scientist or engineer most responsible for our electrified world, they would probably say Edison. He should get a lot of credit. Tesla’s biographers often deride Edison for his behavior concerning Tesla, and rightfully so. But, sometimes these authors disparage Edison unfairly because he was a businessman, not just a scientist, and because of his bad treatment of Tesla. There is more than enough credit to go around, and Edison should get his due. But everybody knows about him -- we learn about him in high school -- almost no one talks or has heard about Tesla.

Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia, a country better known these days for its ethnic struggles, in 1856. His family, though, was Serbian, not Croatian. The Southern Slavic countries were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in any event. Tesla was educated there and showed signs of brilliance. He was also a sickly lad and somewhat unusual.

He came over to the United States in 1884 and began working for Edison, who used him extensively. Tesla claims Edison cheated him out of a promised $50,000 bonus, which, in those days, was a huge sum. Soon enough, Tesla branched out on his own, and made a series of inventions and discoveries that changed the world. Here are some of the more interesting ones.

Radio. The man in the wine shop was absolutely correct, at least according to the United States Supreme Court. We all learned that Marconi invented the radio in high school. My guess is, if there is a trivial pursuit card asking who invented it, the answer on the back would be Marconi, and your fellow game players would say you were wrong if you answered Tesla. Tesla clearly patented his inventions first, in fact years before Marconi. What Tesla did not have, and Marconi did, was powerful connections. A few years later the United States patent office reversed itself and gave Marconi priority. Tesla’s subsequent lawsuit went nowhere.

In trying to build a demonstration for wireless transmission of electric waves, Tesla undertook to build a giant tower to transmit wireless electricity in Suffolk County. There is still a tiny street known as Tesla Way in Shoreham, near the spot the tower stood upon. He was not successful and lost his funding. In the meantime, Marconi demonstrated his inventions, derived in part from Tesla’s and other scientists work, and became famous worldwide. Eventually, Tesla’s tower was scrapped and the property foreclosed upon. The laboratory, designed by architect, Stanford White, still stands, although completely gated off.

During World War II, litigation over who invented wireless transmission was heard before the United States Supreme Court. They came out in favor of Tesla. Although Marconi certainly was a pioneer, and had his own merits, Tesla was first.

Why do we know Marconi, and not Tesla? Possibly it is because Tesla was also a very strange man, germ-phobic, a recluse and obsessive-compulsive to boot. He was interested in inventing things, not marketing them. Not surprisingly, he died in poverty, although he lived until his late 80s. If not for the inventor and businessman, George Westinghouse, who promoted and commercialized some of Tesla’s inventions, we might never have heard of Tesla at all.

Alternating current polyphase distribution system. That may sound a little technical and not very important, but it is. You can supply electricity using direct (DC) or alternate current (AC). Edison championed DC, and Westinghouse, favoring Tesla’s inventions, alternate current. AC won out, with its efficient manner of long distance transmission. With the help of Tesla’s specialized motor, it could be delivered long distance. Edison went to war over this, even publicly electrocuting animals and one inmate on death row, to show how dangerous AC power could be. The battle was over in 1893 when Westinghouse won the job for and then successfully lit the Chicago World’s Fair.

X-rays. History credits Wilhelm Rontgen with this discovery. He did. But once this was announced, he received copies of X-rays taken by Tesla, who had beaten him to it, and simply moved on, with no fanfare.

Hydroelectric power. Tesla designed the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls, for the first time, harnessing water power and transforming it into electric power. Don’t look in the falls for any signs of a power plant. The plant actually uses current from the river before it reaches the falls, and then turns it into mechanical and finally electric energy.

Tesla coil. Tesla invented a type of coil which could be used to generate high frequency electricity and producing interesting electric effects. Think Baron von Frankenstein animating the monster for a visual aid.

Radio and the AC distribution system are sufficient to make Tesla one of the elite scientists of all time. But, the list of inventions goes on and on. Sometimes it is difficult to tell legend from reality because Tesla thought outside the box like no one else except maybe Einstein. He is credited from time to time with “Death rays” and vibrating machines that could knock down a city. These do not appear to be true stories, although he probably conceived them. He also claimed to know how to build a flying machine which ran on electo-magnetic energy. When he died in 1943, the FBI took possession of his papers for security reasons. They didn’t really want the Nazis to get hold of a death ray.

More certainly, Tesla also demonstrated wireless boats, established principles upon which RADAR was built, began the fields of robotics and electrotherapy, designed bladeless turbine engines, patented the spark plug and many other more esoteric inventions. He was an amazing, if truly bizarre man, who died alone in a hotel.

However, he also had some rather spectacular failures including massive operations on Long Island and in Colorado Springs. It was at Colorado Springs that he claimed to have received the first extraterrestial communications. It seems unlikely, but they were probably the first collection of cosmic radio rays.

The public doesn’t seem to have much enthusiasm for Tesla anymore, although at one time he was quite famous and even put on
a live show in which he sat calmly and unharmed in the middle of thrashing bolts of electricity.

However, Tesla has a unit of measurement in physics named for him, as well as a crater on the moon and a minor planet. He sometimes appears as a character in novels or other works of fiction, including the recent Thomas Pynchon novel. Some biographies and books about his inventions have been written.He is celebrated in Serbia, where he is depicted on their currency. They have a Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, which I visited in the late 1980s (just before all that unpleasant stuff started happening).

Nikola Tesla was one of the greatest scientists of the 19th and 20th centuries, His life began before our Civil War and only ended during World War II, during most of which time he was extremely prolific. He did not believe the atom could be split, and was too old and eccentric to work on the project anyway. When he died in 1943, it was only months before the Supreme Court would give him credit for priority in radio.

It is truly a wonder that we do not know Tesla as we do Einstein, Edison and Marconi. Perhaps that is due to his strange behavior. Perhaps it is just an accident of history. More likely, bad marketing.

In any event, 2006 was Tesla’s 150th birthday. Very little has been written about this uncommon man. Before the year is up, we should celebrate him.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Holiday Tale of Murder and Rape in Old New York

Many of you are aware that I have spent the last week writing a paper, in part, on a 19th century murder trial, in my pathetic attempt to rejoin the academic world. This week’s blog was going to be on the Peloponnesian War, but since I have murder on my mind, I thought we’d talk about what I was researching instead. I think you will find this interesting. For your reading pleasure, I have left out all the footnotes!

Christmastime, 1800, in old New York City was cold and bleak. This was at the end of what is sometimes called the little ice age, so the streets were filled with snow. Nights were quite dark, as no one bothers to light the street lamps.

In a boarding house on Greenwich Street, lived a young lady, age 21, named Gulielma Sands. Or Julielma, or Elmore, or Elma. They weren’t quite so priggish about spelling their names as we are now. Let’s call her Elma. The boarding house was run by her relative, Catherine Ring, a Quaker married to Elias Ring, who owned it. A number of other boarders lived there, including Catherine’s sister, a villainous wretch named Croucher -- Richard D. Croucher, to be precise, and a seemingly noble, friendly and sympathetic young man named Levi Weeks, who might also have been a vicious murderer underneath his amiable face.

Levi had made himself quite popular at the house, being very attentive to anyone who was ill, and solicitous to the Ring’s children. Catherine Ring told a neighbor he was more like family than a boarder. Levi, when he arrived, first paid some attention to another boarder, Margaret Clark, but when she was away for a while, began paying attention to Elma.

Although some in the household would later testify that they noticed no special attention paid by Levi to Elma, it became obvious to some of them that there was something going on, and it was presumed Levi was courting her, that they were intimate, and that they would probably get married. Hope Sands, Catherine Ring’s sister, would later testify that she made an effort to catch them in the act one day but failed.

Elma was routinely described as being a cheerful and pleasant person, but she was often sick, and both Levi and another boarder believed she was suicidal, as she at least twice made comments about doing away with herself with the laudanum she would take when ill. Although Catherine was only 27, she treated Elma like a daughter.

Croucher was about 40 years old and apparently quite ugly. His own attorney would later describe him as having an “unfortunate physiognomy”. One day, according to Croucher himself, he was hastily coming up the stairs and surprised Elma, who said “Oh” and passed out. Levi came running out and accosted Croucher, accusing him of insulting her, and not for the first time. Croucher said that he later received an apology from Levi.

On December 14, 1799, George Washington died, and the country was in mourning. Even the recent funeral and carrying on about the Princess of Wales paled in comparison to that outburst of feeling. Day after day the papers were filled with one tribute or another to him, and it seemed everyone with any name wanted to give a memorial address.

While this still going on, on December 22, 1799, Hope Sands confided to Catherine Ring that Elma had told her that she and Levi were to be married that day. Catherine confronted Elma with the news and said she wanted to be there, but Elma said Levi insisted it be kept a secret.

Levi left for the day, and went to his brother’s house. Ezra was a very well known builder, and Levi worked for him as a carpenter. A number of witnesses said that Levi was there all day except for a short, but critical, time.

When 8 o’clock at night approached, Catherine became worried that Levi would disappoint Elma, but Elma was certain he would show, and he did, coming from his brother’s house. Elma went upstairs and Catherine helped her get ready. When Catherine came down, Elma was just ready to leave. She had a muff with her she had borrowed from a neighbor. Catherine came down to the sitting room and stayed with Levi and her husband. Levi got up and left the room, closing the door to it behind him. Catherine heard whom she thought was Elma, coming down the stairs, and then whispering by the front door, which she presumed was the two of them. She heard the very noisy front door open. She went to it with a candle, but because of the darkness and the press of people about, could not see them.

About 10:00 that night, Levi came back and asked for Hope, and then for Elma. Catherine thought this strange, as she believed Elma was with him. She was never to see her relative alive again. When Elma did not reappear Catherine and the others became alarmed. Levi seemed alarmed too. His apprentice, who slept with him, heard him call out her name in his sleep.

A few days after she disappeared, a young boy found the muff in front a drain near a well known as the Manhattan Well. It was created, allegedly as a means to bring fresh water to New York, but the Manhattan Corporation, which built the well, was also a device which allowed its owners to set up a bank, which was not quite so easy as doing so today, and quite important politically. It was the brainchild of Aaron Burr, who is today most famous for having killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel four years later. He was a genuine Revolutionary War hero, and probably saw more action than most of the forefathers we read about today.

Burr was also one of the best lawyers in the country, practicing in the New York bar, which many scholars consider the single best group of lawyers ever to be found in the country. His competition for the top spot was Hamilton. In fact they often tried cases together although they were political opponents. Burr would be elected Vice President of the United States later in 1800, and then destroy his career by killing Hamilton, and later being tried for treason when he and some followers were caught trying to take over Mexico, and possibly taking some of the United States with him. He has been considered a villainous fellow ever since, although I personally think it is odd that we revere a number of forefathers who were slave holders, but revile Burr for shooting someone who he at least thought was trying to shoot him, and for trying to take over part of Mexico, which was exactly what the United States did several year later on its own (stretching from Florida to California.

When the muff was found, everyone suspected the worst, and finally Catherine Ring confronted Levi, and told him that Elma had said they were going to get married. Levi went to pieces, saying he was ruined. Others in the family had angry words with him. Despite the obvious clue of the muff, it wasn’t until January 2d, 1800 that Elias Ring and a few other men found, and managed to pull Elma’s body out of the well.

The murder created a public outburst and rumors swirled. Levi was immediately arrested although eventually released until a little before trial. One paper called for calm, noting some evidence in Levi’s defense. The body of Elma was displayed at the Ring’s home and even on the street for days.

Fortunately for Levi, his brother, Ezra, was at the time working on a home for Alexander Hamilton (it still exists). He also probably knew Burr and another leading lawyer, Brockholst Livingston, who would later become a Supreme Court Justice, from their connection to the Manhattan Well, for which he had supplied wooden pipes. The three would agree to defend Levi.

It would be impossible to cover Hamilton’s life with any justice in a few paragraphs, and I will not try. Suffice today, he was, a “bastard” child (then, a big deal) from the West Indies, who came to America just before the Revolution and attended what later became Columbia University. He became an artilleryman and then a key figure on Washington’s staff. He led the great charge at Yorktown, which was where this country essentially defeated the British. He went on to become the first Secretary of State, and almost by himself, created the economic path for this country for the next two hundred years, modeling it after Great Britain’s economy to a large degree. He would do great harm to his own career by an affair, which he publicly admitted. He was also considered, with Burr, New York’s top lawyer, and was actually, at the same time, the chief general of the army.

The trial started on March 31st. 75 witnesses were sworn in. Today, it would take 6 months to try the case. They did it in two and a half days, working late into the night, and with the jury sleeping in a room together. 75 witnesses in two days is like playing the whole World Series in an afternoon or washing the windows on the Empire State building in a day.

The courtroom was so crowded, it had to be partially cleared. Chants of “crucify him” could be heard from the street. The court was comprised of Supreme Court Judge, John Lansing, who nearly thirty years later would go out on an errand and disappear forever, likely murdered; the Mayor, Richard Varick, after whom New York’s Varick Street is named, and Richard Harrison, the City Recorder, and one other lesser light.

The prosecution was conducted by Cadwallader Colden, the grandson of a famous New York lieutenant governor, botanist, scientist and historian. He was 31, and would do battle alone against possibly the greatest team of lawyers’ ever assembled. Unlike the “dream team” of O.J. Simpson’s trial, they were the real deal. There is some evidence that another four lawyers assisted them.

Years later, Colden became an officer in the War of 1812, a New York City Mayor, a United States Congressman, and author of a biography on Robert Fulton, among other achievements. For now, he had his hands full

Colden admitted to the jury that he had a circumstantial case, but that if the jury believed Elma left with Levi, he did not see how they could acquit. He would also show that when Levi left his brother’s house about 8 p.m., he took his brother’s sleigh and with that escorted Elma to her death at the well. He would also produce other witnesses who were passed by a sleigh with a woman and either one or two men in it that night. Witnesses would also testify to screams for help in the night near the well.

He actually did put on witnesses who said all that, some more credible than others. But he also suffered numerous set backs such as having three boys not allowed to testify because they did not read or write and didn’t know what an oath was; another witness just said he did not know anything; and, another, who tried to testify that he saw Levi near the well before the murder testing its depth, was so demolished by the defense that Colden had to say to the court that he gave up the point. One of his key witnesses, who testified she heard Ezra’s sleigh leaving without its bells on the night of the murder, then testified on cross-examination that it was in January, not December.

But worst of all for the prosecution was its choice to put Richard David Croucher on the stand. He immediately made himself odious by testifying in a very pretentious manner. He also admitted to being a snoop, and claimed he caught Levi and Elma in the act together. The cross-examination was devastating. They first pointed out that he was an Englishman, not a very popular thing to be at that time, although this was probably obvious from his accent. They then, after Croucher lied about having no malice towards Levi, proved that they had an altercation and he despised him. He also admitted he had never spoken to Elma since then either.

After an eloquent opening by Burr, the defense relentlessly tore apart the prosecutions case with its own witnesses, and particularly destroyed the prosecution evidence that Elma had been beaten to death. They even offered credible evidence that the one Elma was having an affair with was not Levi, but Elias Ring. Most of all, they succeeded in making the trial about Croucher. It was demonstrated that he not only went about spreading rumors about Levi, but that he had actually passed by the well that night, although he earlier claimed he had only said he wished he had. By the end of the case, the prosecution, on rebuttal, had to put on no less than five witnesses for Croucher to prove his alibi, and he wasn’t even on trial.

The prosecutor begged for a continuance when the last witness was done, claiming he was sinking under fatigue. No wonder. He hadn’t slept in forty-four hours, and was fighting a superb group of lawyers single handedly. There was no adjournment granted, but the case went to the jury without argument. The judge who instructed the jury told them that the court thought that the case was not proved and that an acquittal was in order. Apparently, the jury agreed, as within a few minutes they announced the not guilty verdict.

Levi’s otherwise admirable reputation, demonstrated throughout the trial, led the public from wanting to crucify him to being ecstatic at his acquittal. But, did he do it? Maybe. His own witnesses established that he spent the day at his brother’s house, but left for a little while around 8 p.m. and came back somewhere between 25 minutes and an hour later. There was no doubt that he went to the Ring’s at that time, just when Elma said he was going to show. If he did not go to meet her and then left with her when she came down stairs, why would he walk home, sit for a few minutes doing nothing, and then walk back to his brother’s only to return home again at 10 o’clock? It makes no sense.

Of course, we will never know what really happened, but we do know this – shortly before the trial Croucher had asked the woman he would soon marry if he could take her 13 year old daughter, really an orphan the woman had taken in, home to the Ring house so she could scrub his room in the morning. When they got there he locked her in his room, and then raped her three times during the night, threatening her that if she would not keep quiet, she would end up like the girl in the well. At least this was the testimony of young, Margaret Miller.

Croucher almost immediately thereafter married the mother and began arguing with her to kick the girl out because she was bad. Finally, he told the mother that he knew she was a whore because he had slept with her himself in order to prove it, and that she had consented. Two neighbors confirmed Croucher’s admission, although he claimed it was consensual.

The case was tried in July, 1800. Colden was again the prosecutor, but this time was ferocious on behalf of the young victim. Brockholst Livingston represented the defendant, who he had possibly even cross-examined in the Weeks case (we don’t really know who did what for the defense for the most part).

Livingston, although not so famous as Burr or Hamilton, came from a very famous family. His cousin Robert was the Chancellor of New York who had sworn in Washington when he became President, was crucial in our purchase of the Louisiana territory from the French a few years after the trial, and worked with Robert Fulton on the steam boat. His other cousin, Henry, probably wrote what we call “The Night Before Christmas (see my September 26, 2006 post).

Brockholst himself was an officer in the Revolutionary War, served in an ambassadorial capacity in Spain, was captured during his return, paroled by the British, survived an assassination attempt in 1785, and killed a political opponent, who had caned him and tweaked his nose (I kid you not) in a duel. His legal career would take off after the trial, as he became a New York State Supreme Court judge and then a United States Supreme Court Justice appointed by Thomas Jefferson.

Young Margaret was a great witness, crying her eyes out on the stand. There were only a few witnesses, but the trial report is worth reading because of the powerful summations by Livingston and Colden. It seemed that Colden had grown immensely as a lawyer since the Weeks trial. He did not buckle this time, but was passionate in his own summation. The only question for the jury was – did she consent? The jury thought not, and convicted Croucher.

After being sentenced to life at hard labor a few days later, Croucher made a strange speech to the court, in which he said that he deserved severe punishment, but that he had not had sex with Margaret Miller. The court was not impressed and said not only was it too late for such a claim, but that he had admitted it already to others.

But what did he mean by saying that he deserved to be severely punished. It would be satisfying to believe that he was acknowledging killing Elma Sands, but that is base speculation. What else had he done that was so bad?

According to Hamilton’s son, in an 1865 book about his father, which completely distorted what happened at the trial, Croucher was pardoned, committed a fraud in Virginia, fled to England where it was related he was executed for a heinous crime.

He definitely was pardoned. I was able to get a copy of the pardon document from New York State. The archivist who obtained it for me was probably the first person two lay eyes on it in over two hundred years. Whether he fled to England or not is unknown, but the pardon actually required him to go there. As for his execution, he is not listed in a reference book for which lists notable executions in England or on a website claiming to have all the executions in the 19th century. His end will likely remain a mystery.

Levi Weeks had a better fate. He soon left for Massachusetts but then went down to Mississippi, where he became a very notable architect. Whether he lived with the death of Elma on his head, or whether he tried to forget a horrible event of which he was falsely accused of, we will never know. As much as anyone reading the trial transcripts would like to believe the young and noble Levi was innocent, and the awkward and evil Croucher guilty, I suspect the opposite is true.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Did I tell you I hate cell phones?

I shouldn’t publish this. But I have to get if off my chest. Hate cell phones. HATE cell phones!

Why, you defensively asked (let’s face it, some of you are probably angry at me already)? They are incredibly convenient, saves lives, help catch criminals, rescue lost souls and those whose tires have gone flat, and have even allowed otherwise impossible last minute phone calls from an infamous doomed airplane. They are merely one more technological stepping stone, just like rubbing sticks to make fire, forks, land line telephones, cars, trains, personal computers, and the airplane were in their time. Numerous technological improvements have occurred with phones before the cell -- touch tone dialing, wireless (we called them space phones), answering machines, digital transmission, to name a few.

Why should cell phones be any different? Won’t we get used to them?

No doubt we will. There is not even the tiniest denial here that cell phones will continue to proliferate much faster than nukes until the next technological improvement makes them obsolete. But in the meantime, cell phones have greatly increased our communal blood pressure, loneliness, rudeness and have played havoc with cultural norms.

You love your cell. Some of you would not want to admit it but you are even angry at any suggestion that something is amiss with them. You believe that having a cell phone soothes you, keeps you company, and will save your children from being kidnapped.


Here are ten reasons we should all hate cell phones:

10. They stop people who are actually with each other from having conversations. This essay was inspired by hearing about a police officer who was retiring because cell phones and instant messaging had so diminished the conversation and comradery which he most enjoyed about being a cop.

How many times have you passed a car, or been in one, where everyone was using a cell phone instead of talking. Ever passed the mall entrance where kids are standing around not talking to each other, but into their phones. Ever go out with a friend or even on a date where your companion spent an hour or so taking calls. Ever have your conversation interrupted ten times in an hour. Don’t tell me the answer to any of these is no, unless you were so busy on your own cell phone you don’t notice.

9. A culture of rudeness with cell phones was immediate and ubiquitous. Cell phones have institutionalised rude behavior under the cover of new technology. The most spectacular and quite common cell move is the swoop, which can be described like this: You are speaking with someone face to face. A strange, way too loud, unnatural tune begins playing and in one motion your companion twists like a yogi, sweeps down her (yes, usually her – see below) hand, and scoops up the phone faster than a speeding electronic transmission. People who would be mortified to be impolite in any other way, immediately found this behavior acceptable, and do it over and over.

8. It gives people no peace. Even when they make no calls themselves, they can’t drive a car, walk down the street, or meditate without the cell going off. Some of these people are working and these are important calls. It doesn’t mean it isn’t annoying to them and those around them. I have been in this position myself. Likely, when they are in an office, the land line is constantly ringing, but that’s different. They are supposed to be working and it has an end when they leave. Now, there is no longer any down time. Surrender, Dorothy, and answer your damn phone.

7. It makes people lonelier. Whenever someone tells me that their heart is broken and they are desperate for their loved one to call, I recommend they turn off their answering machine when they leave the house. When they come home they will not have the intense expectation and then the repeated disappointment that the light will be blinking. I have gotten some pretty good feedback on that advice. But, now, no one can do that, can they, because they can’t turn their cell phone off, can they?

I always feel sorry when I pass someone who is sitting on a bench or ledge or even walking down the street, staring hopefully at their phone. They can reach out across the country, but often there is no one to call and no one calling them. Poor souls. I wish they would try reading a book, but I don’t think they would want to. Its not digital. The loneliness shows plain on their face, reflected in the pale light from the screen.

6. It increases our blood pressure. The cell phone is not solely responsible for this phenomena. Three relatively new devices contribute, and the cell is probably third. First is phone mail. Your question is never on the menu, and if you hit zero to get someone, many systems will thank you and hang up. They are deliberately meant to be labyrinths that frustrate and make us give up without speaking to anyone. When I am made emperor, the second thing I do is make it law that every phone mail system must have an opt out to get a human by pressing 0.

Second is the famous computer bar creeping across the bottom of your screen at the speed of ice melting in Anchorage in mid-winter (that‘s a pre-global warming, metaphor of course). I personally blame bar creep for my blood pressure problems.

Their seems to be some illusion that someone will answer the phone when you call them. But too often they can’t. It can be very difficult to reach people on their cells. They may have to keep their phones off, or they may have it on vibrate. Sometimes the damn things don’t work at all, partially work, or drops the calls like a New York Jet receiver drops passes on fourth and one. No doubt you have more than once sat at a table for lunch with a group of people who could not relax because someone was supposed to meet them and, heavens, couldn’t be reached on their cell.

So why is this different from a land line? It’s the expectation. Cells have created the expectation that whoever you call will be there or see that you called, and immediately return it. Doesn’t work that way in real life and makes people crazy.
Sadly I have read about “no cell phone days” in Europe where many people were greatly relieved to have the day free, but admitted they could not stop themselves from cheating. Sounds like an addiction, doesn’t it?

5. Normal meet and greet manners are shot to hell. You are in a mall or some other public place and you see someone you know. As you walk by you smile and say hello. In return, you are lucky if you get so much as a blank stare. Maybe, he or she will make a small gesture to show you that they are on the phone, which, of course, you already knew. Or maybe you get in a car, picked up by a friend on the way to work. You say hello and start gabbing. She’s gabbing back. Suddenly you realize that she’s not talking to you. This can go on for minutes, maybe even a half hour. When that call is over, how soon until the next one?

Earlier today I saw someone I knew and said hello. Foolishly, I reached out to shake hands. With his cell pressed to his ear, he almost dropped his books and tripped over himself. Good Lord, what have we done to ourselves?

4. Cell phones make people angry. We see this all the time. Those of us not on cell phones hate it when people talk on them on trains or on a line or in a restaurant. Since we can’t hear the other side of the conversation, we here only the unnatural staccato of the person we are near. And always, THEY ARE TOO LOUD.
They weave all over the road and give us the finger when they cross over into our lane. They hold up the bagel line while . . . “And then she said to me . . . wait, one second . . . how much is that. Hold on. Not you. Thanks. What? Oh, sorry. Three fifty or two fifty?” C’MON!!!!

Recently, I was at the library and could not find a quiet spot because of all the people answering cell phones (I will ignore the crying babies for the moment, but it almost made me insane). I tried Borders thinking the constant drone of noise would make it less difficult to concentrate. Wrong. Cell phone talkers speak louder than everyone else and there is no natural rhythm when you are hearing only one side of a conversation.

3. They create yet another rift between men and women. You notice most of these examples use “she”. That’s because the majority of these violations are by women. Go ahead, call me a misogynist. Everyone knows this. I once picked a jury in a wrongful death case where my client had been driving an SUV. Quite a few people on the jury could not get out of their head the image of a women in an SUV gabbing on a cell as she drove at top speed. Truth be told, I had the same image, because I’ve seen it so many times. Yes, of course, these complaints apply to lots of men and I know some women who hate cell phones too. But I also know a lot more men who think of the cell as a necessary evil, rarely use it and don’t give out their number. Women seem to think it’s the greatest invention since . . . the telephone.

2. They make us irrational. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures 2003 statistics show that cell phone use was responsible for just 1% of accidents. Despite that fact, the public perception is that they cause many accidents (rubbernecking is apparently the biggest cause and a pet peeve of mine). State legislatures seem determined to outlaw driving without hands free units while leaving us free to eat, drink and dance while driving, or when we are barely awake. People seem to get angrier if an accident is caused by cell phone use. Why should someone be angrier because someone kills a kid while on a cell phone than they would if it was the result of speeding or falling asleep.

One of the biggest irrational fantasies many people have (yes, women) is that the phone is actually an electric leash which somehow protects their children at long distance. Note to parents. Your children may be lying to you and you can’t get to them fast enough if something bad happens.

The ongoing frenzy and desperate fear in the eyes of New York City parents who are told their kids can’t bring cell phones to school is insane. INSANE. It’s a safety issue, they say. How do they think parents managed for the last few million years. Were kids dropping dead in droves just 15 years ago before everyone had a cell phone? Did I miss that?

1. People walking down the street apparently talking to themselves is just strange. I think this one speaks for itself.

So, despite all of these reasons, why do I own a cell phone? The fact is I got one after being trapped in a severe weather disturbance far from help. I ended up trying to cancel it before the contract ended. After that I stopped using one until a job forced me to get one. The italics around forced is because the phone wasn’t required, but there were fewer and fewer phone booths around, and I got tired of climbing stairs or looking all over for one in order to call the office or a client. My daughter wanted one, and it wasn’t much more to get two, so I did. But everything is fine because of my rules, which work. Fortunately, there aren’t ten.

1. The phone is for me. If I tell you I’ll have it on, I will try to remember to do so. But otherwise, don’t expect it to be. Sometimes I lose the phone for a month or more at a time. Know what? I really don’t care. I can make calls when I want. Otherwise, its usually off.

2. I am not a slave to my phone. Don’t leave a message. I only check on them once or twice a year.

3. If we are going to meet, we can use cell phones, but let’s have a time and place set and try to live up to it just like we would have before they invented the damn things.

4. I try not to talk in restaurants or too loudly in a store and then I stop while I’m being helped. I actually violated the first during a bad work week recently, and, here’s a concept, I apologized to people around me. One more. If I have my phone on and it rings, I say excuse me to the person I am talking to before picking it up.

5. When it came to my kid, there was no electronic leash. There were no excuses permitted because of cell phone failure. There were still land lines in the world.

6. When it is on, the ringer is on low or I have it on vibrate.

That’s about it. Its not that hard really. Now you try it.

p.s. That was very cathartic.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Lessons of the Hizbollah-Israeli War II

The last posting on this subject discussed the evolution of techniques by Hizbollah which are indicative of what I call the Western Alliances have to look forward to from that and other groups opposed to America and its allies. Some of those techniques are

- using missile technology to attack their enemies

- using civilian shields to arouse international anger against the West and
taking advantage of our own aversion to killing civilians as a method to
prevent us from fighting their hardest

- using non-governmental organizations like Hizbollah to prevent military
action against allied States.

- using the internet to portray alleged Western war crimes or atrocities,
and to declare real or imagined victories.

Some recent articles in the media have shown the increased use of these tactics in the middle east, including in the Palestinian territories and Iraq.

Although we might continue to try to prevent the dispersal of military technology, good luck to us, as explained in the last posting. But we can do something about the rest of these techniques because the solution is attitudinal on our part.

The most important of these problems is the one which may be the hardest to conquer and may even seem cruel and unlawful at first blush -- that is, the anathema attached to the killing of civilians.

To be absolutely clear, I am not advocating abating our efforts to avoid killing civilians, and we can slap ourselves on the back for trying. It is not only required by any Nation that has subscribed to the Geneva Conventions in many cases (although the Bush administration was right; common article three's proscriptions against harming civilians expressly does not apply when fighting groups like Al Quaeda or Hizbollah), but it is also, in my book moral and wise.

Instead what I am suggesting -- not to our governments, but TO THE PUBLIC AND THE MEDIA is that we stop beating our breasts when our military forces cannot avoid killing innocent civilians or it happens accidentally. It saps the morale of the public and the military, which are mutually dependant on each other for support.

Let's use the most recent example. On November 8, 2006 Israeli missiles seeking to kill Palestinians militants who fired rockets into Israel, slammed into buildings killing 18 Palestinians, mostly women and children. Similar events occurred in the Hizbollah-Israel War. The reaction from the territories and the Arab world was outrage, and the same came from much of the world. But it also came from many Israelis, including the prime minister, who seemed to buckle at the knees. He apologized and practically begged the Palestinian president to meet with him and added that if he did, he would be very surprised at what Israel was wlling to do for him. The meeting did not occur, at least publicly.

On November 11 Israeli peace activists joined by three Nobel Prize winners called for the Israeli Supreme Court to ban Israel from targeting missile attacks. I am not sure what they expect Israel to do -- fire indiscriminately on civilians like Hizbollah? Probably not. Stop fighting? Probably more like it.

They were probably addressing the right entity. A few years ago the Israeli Supreme Court banned the use of Palestinian human shields to the military. Not surprisingly, using Muslims as human shields has increased among Muslim militias, because they see the great effect it has upon the Western Alliances.

President Bush expressed his sorrow of the loss of life, but stated clearly that Israel had done nothing wrong. This attitude seeks to place blame on the entity at fault for the reaction and the possibility of mistake. Although with less at stake, his reaction was superior to the Israel prime minister's reaction.

Much of the rest of the world seemed to disagree. On November 11, 2006
a resolution came before the U.N. security council condemning Israel, although restatements called upon the Palestinian Authority to find a way to make a sustained effort to end the rocket attacks on Israel. If only. It was vetoed by the U.S.

Among other changes, France proposed other language calling for "an international mechanism for the protection of civilians". Leaving aside the "mechanics" of doing so, or why it is needed in addition to common article three, who would obey these new restrictions? Not Al Quaeda, not Hamas or Hizbollah. Not the Tamil Tigers, or FARC or the Taliban or Chechyan Black Widows, that's for sure.

Israel did much better when it opened fire on women sent to protect terrorists that were surrounded in a mosque. If Israel buckled under the use of women to defend men they are trying to kill, then it would have been repeated again and again. I doubt unprotected women in Palestine will try that real soon again, and I believe that ultimately it saves women's lives if they are discouraged from participating in this fashion.

Another tactic the West Alliances should adopt is to identify countries supporting hostile groups and make them pay a price for it. The prime example of this was our attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan as a result of 9/11. But in the Hizbollah-Israeli War it was seen as wrong to identify Hizbollah with Lebanon, although the government and people overwhelmingly supported the militant group. Because of this manner of thinking, additional pressure was put on Israel to stop its bombing before the job was done. Lebanon itself is now paying the price for this. They are faced with a still powerful organization, the only one armed in the country, which is now seeking by threats to take control of the government. This would almost certainly doom Lebanon to a far more punishing war with Israel in the future.

Had Israel's bombing, which despite the number of dead, was designed not to kill civilians, been allowed to continue even another week, it is difficult to believe that the Lebanese people would have continued to support Hizbollah, and undermined the group's popular support. Even as it was, Hizbollah's leader acknowledged after the war that he would not have captured the Israeli soldiers had he known the severity of the reaction. Exactly. EXACTLY. The world media reacted with surprise and interest, but no one was interested in the lesson.

The premature end to fighting as a result of modern Western values and natural sympathy for the Lebanese non-combatants (which ironically includes the Lebanese military) allowed Hizbollah to make a senseless claim of victory, weakened Israel's morale and kept it from trying to win, another peculiar affect of the enlightenment beliefs the Western Alliances so highly value. Yet this reluctance to let any powerful country win a conflict (I am not talking about genocide)simply prolongs conflicts. It has prolonged the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (despite world wide condemnation, Israel's self restraint is unusual in the history of conflicts -- the number of Palestinians who have actually died from military attack by Israel is actually quite low). The same failute to win more forcefully has left the United States in a difficult, if not impossible position in Iraq.

In fact, one only need to consider the effect on the world if the Allies in WWII had been forced to fight under 21st century notions that total victory is not permitted if civilians are suffering or dying. No rebirth in Germany, no rebirth in Japan, both which became essential to the world economy and world peace.

Without going on forever in this vein, consider all the ways that terrorist groups are able to fight, as opposed to the ways we are permitted to fight them.

They can (and we cannot) deliberately

kill enemy civilians

kill their own civilians

torture their captives and enemies

summarily execute captives and enemies

use propaganda without self doubt and criticism

openly use our schools, businesses, technology,and
media to train and propagandize

indiscriminately use nuclear, biological and
chemical weapons when they acquire

fight to win no matter the

It is one thing to try and maintain your values in time of war. We must always make that effort. It is another thing to so hamstring yourself with values that you will lose everything. This is something the generation that won WWII understood and we do not. It is not that we should adopt all of the tactics that our enemies do, which are squarely against our values. Far from it. But we should not cripple our ability to fight in trying to remain moral such that we cannot win or win efficiently.

To those who believe that this is hyperbole and an exaggeration of our risks, they should return to part one where it is explained that peoples we may foolishly condescend to because they do not yet possess our technology, will some day, sooner than later, possess our most dangerous weapons. They can already shoot down our planes with our shoulder held heat seeking missiles, and shoot more powerful missiles into neighboring countries. But the Western Alliances must consider a near future when non-governmental entities hiding among civilians over a broad geographical area swimming with innocent human life can target and fire thousands of missiles at once into our countries.

It might happen to Israel first, but then it will be Europe and then the United States. The thought is almost to frightening to contemplate. It is more frightening to consider that some or all of those missiles might contain nuclear explosives, or chemical/biological weapons. It is one reason we need political solutions, which are only possible with a showing of superior strength.

A fair analogy to this situation is found in the often quoted warning of Justice Robert Jackson, an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court:

"This Court has gone far toward accepting the doctrine that civil liberty means the removal of all restraints from these crowds and that all local attempts to maintain order are impairments of the liberty of the citizen. The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact". Terminiello v. Chicago (1949)

Frankly, at least with 20/20 hindsight, Jackson was dead wrong in Terminiello, where he stood against the right of a truly despicable person to speak freely in public, as he was in a number of his opinions where he suggested the court was going too far in protecting individuals from the state. History has proved anarchy does not increase with greater expression of antagonistic beliefs. But that doesn't mean the general principal is wrong in civil rights or warfare when rightly applied. It is better suited to the doomsday situation described above for which I will restate it here:

"This country and our allies has gone far toward accepting the doctrine that protecting civilians from casualties in war means the end of fighting to win. The choice is not between protecting civilians and winning. It is between protecting human life as much as possible while winning as quickly as possible. There is a danger that, if this country does not temper its most decent values with a little practical wisdom, it will convert its military rules of engagement into a suicide pact".

Have a good sleep.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

For Personal Reasons

For personal reasons I will not be posting this week, but I will be back next Woden's Day or Thor's Day to offend some of you, and bore the rest of you with my completion of the article on the Hizbollah-Israeli War. After that I may get around to posting my article on cell phones, but it just makes me so angry I think I have to tone it done a bit. Have a nice week.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Day of Thunder and Lightning

Why is Wednesday spelled so funny?

Most people seem surprised to learn that it is named after a once popular Norse (Northern Germanic-Scandinavian) god named Odin, sometimes Óðinn, Woden, Wotan, etc. His Old English or Anglo-Saxon name, Woden, was most ungracefully brought into the English version of the days of the week as Wednesday, which we happily pronounce as if it was spelled Wensday.

Odin is a marvelous if not always charming mythological character who plucked out one of his eyes and also hung himself in exchange for secret knowledge, had two ravens, memory and thought, sitting on his shoulders, was creator and master of runes and a great wanderer of midgard – or “middle earth”. Sounds a little like a certain fictional wizard of whom many of us are more than a little fond. Not surprising, as Norse mythology was a major, if not the major, source for Tolkien in writing the Lord of the Rings, right down to the names of Gandalf, the dwarves, Mirkwood and many others.

Given the precedence our culture seems to give to things Greek and Roman, you would think we would name the days of the week after their gods, as we have the planets (most of the traditional planets are named for the Roman or Greek gods and titans). But with day names our Teutonic heritage won out, and this honor is given to Odin and some of his children. This includes the Norse god of war, Tiu or Tyr, from who we derive Tuesday, and Frigg, Odin’s wife, a goddess of marriage, from whose name comes Friday. Odin and Frigg were the parents of many of the other gods.

And, of course, today is Thor’s Day or Thursday (from the Norman Thur). Let’s give Thor special attention, as he has bulled his way into our culture in several other ways besides being a day name.

Thor, god of thunder, would probably not be amused by Marvel Comic’s original vision of him as a tall body builder looking fellow with long silky golden locks, more resembling a modern professional wrestler than a deity. The Thor of olden days was much stockier and had a big red beard. In other words, he looked like the Vikings who worshipped him. Actually, Marvel has in a way conceded its mistake in more recent days by relegating the blonde Thor to a “clone” of the god, and making the real Thor much more Vikingly. Supposedly, a movie is being produced, and it’s a good bet they go with the more attractive blond look.

Although comic books are most often for children and collectors, we should not laugh at their place in our society. The soft cover paper versions of these characters may have played themselves out to some degree, after decades of success, but millions still sell, sometimes in more permanent book form collections, and may more likely be purchased by adult collectors than kids. But the movies, television shows and video games have made many millions, maybe billions out of Marvel’s host of super heroes, and are popular throughout the world. And what are super heroes, if not modern versions of the classic gods and heroes?

Wouldn’t you bet that ten times as many kids, anywhere on earth, know who Spider-Man is and don't know who, say, Donald Rumsfeld is, and many more have even read about Thor, who is not so popular as Spidey, than have read The Three Musketeers, Shakespeare or even the Bible.

Thor has also come down to us in a softer, more magical and familiar form who we call Santa Claus (and no, I’m not trying to make this an All-Santa, all the time blog – it was just one other posting). Although the Santa we are used to is a composite character, this isn’t stretching at all. Consider these overwhelming facts.

Let’s start generally and get more specific. Santa and Thor are both are both big bellied, bearded Northerners who wear hats; Thor preferring a helmet and Santa a cap. Santa wears a belt, Thor a magic girdle. It gets better.

Some of Thor’s other names are Donar, Thunor or Donder. That last one probably sounds familiar and it should. We’ve all grown up hearing about Santa’s reindeer Donder. Could it be just a coincidence? Its not at all, because hooked up next to Donder is Blitzen, their names meaning thunder and lightning, one Thor’s name and the other a related attribute. So not only is a day of the week named for him, but so are two of Santa’s reindeer as related in A Visit From Saint Nick a/k/a The Night Before Christmas. The author of the poem didn’t call the reindeer Thor, because he used the familiar Dutch versions Dunder and Blitzem in the original version of the poem before publisher’s made their own revisions.

Ah, but Santa flies through the air in a sleigh pulled by Donder and Blitzen and the other magical four legged horned reindeer. Can we say that about Thor? Pretty much yes, except they weren't reindeer, they were goats. That’s plenty close enough. But it's not all. The modern version of Santa Claus probably starts with Washington Irving's Knickerbocker Tales. He correctly put Santa in a wagon, which was soon after changed to a sleigh by others.

What about Santa’s toys made by magical elves. Piece of cake. Thor carries around a magic hammer, Mjolnir, made by magical dwarves. Dwarves? Elves? Who cares? Magical little folk who peopled Norse mythology.

Now maybe it would be more convincing if Thor ever had an experience with, say, a magic sack like Santa carries his toys in, or something like that. In fact, he did that too, though never pictured with it now in modern renditions. In the relatively few stories we have of this mighty god, he is involved with a sack in one story and a box of provisions he carries on his back in another.

You might point out that Santa Claus is a jolly fellow and that Thor was a pretty serious guy, if not in serious need of anger management. That is true, but St. Nick’s jolliness is a 19th century American creation, and the older Santa or Sinter Klaas, as the Dutch called him, was quite dour.

Thor was a god beloved by the common people, and Scandinavians still name their children after him. He was possessed of immense strength, and was virtually unstoppable, just like the Greek Hercules. And also like Hercules, Thor found himself on many a risky adventure. He could not easily be defeated, although he was twice of note. Once he wrestled an old servant woman named Elli, and despite his divine gifts, was unable to defeat her. In fact, she brought him to one knee, a humiliating loss to the great killer of giants. Unbeknownst to Thor, Elli was old age personified, and even the most powerful of the great gods could not defeat her.

His other defeat, really a fatal draw, was far more consequential. It was at Ragnorak, the Norse Judgment Day, where he met in furious battle with his greatest nemesis, the Midgard serpent, a titanic and devilish creature which encircled the earth. It was their third contest and third draw, the god and the enormous worm both perishing in the end.

Thor’s other consistent nemesis and occasional companion was Loki, a figure part trickster, part devil. Although sometimes the other gods punished Loki horribly for his misdeeds, they often showed great restraint with him, particularly Thor. Bad idea. Loki, his demon children and their allies the fire beings, eventually destroyed these mortal gods and middle earth in the last great battle.

Poor dead god of thunder. At least his two boys, Magni and Modi (strength and anger) survived to carry on in the new world -- the one you and I exist in. We can imagine that it was these children who made sure that we probably all say their father’s name at least once a week if not more, just as we would this morning if someone asks us what day it is. Just tell them it’s Thor’s Day, and we are all the richer for it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lessons of the Israeli-Hizbollah War


Now that the smoke is cleared, the blockade ended by Israel and the peace keepers are supposedly taking their places, it seems foolish to waste much time arguing about who was right or wrong in this brief war, or who started it. No one is going to convince supporters of either side that they are wrong, and it will not help stop another one. For one thing, it is unlikely anyone with a strong opinion will be swayed by any contrary one.

What matters most is what the war tells us about what is in store for the Western Alliances in upcoming wars. What I mean by Western Alliances are those countries who have treaties or understanding among one another in which the United States is a central figure, and which, however imperfectly executed, have a determined preference certain enlightenment values such as free expression, democratic government, religious tolerance, etc. This includes, in varying degrees, not only countries actually in the Western Hemisphere, such as the USA, some of the EU and British Commonwealth, but also Eastern Hemisphere countries which seem to have adopted these same set of values, like Japan and Israel. The plural “alliances” is used because not all of the countries are allied with each other, although the United States seems a center for most, if not all of them. Were there ever a third World War in the near future, these countries will be allies.

Some important tactics developed during this war that have been somewhat overlooked in importance. The significance of this war is obvious for Israel, but also for these other loosely allied countries countries. This post considers the impact of the war upon the Western Alliances.

Who won the war?

It is not so foolish to argue about who won, although that might appear petty or competitive to some. If one side wins, it has an impact on whether the other side would want to fight again, or how soon, and effects how other countries treat the combatants.

Both sides in this war claimed victory. The victory” claimed by Hizbollah now seems diminished in the aftermath of the burials and awesome reconstruction tasks, not to mention Nasrallah’s admission that given the consequences he would not have taken the prisoners.

The “victory” claimed by Israel also seems somewhat hollow in considering the perceived loss of martial prowess and the even loss of good will in the world community, deserved or not.

However, it would seem by conventional standards of what “winning” means, that Israel won a decision, to use the boxing term, and by an undeniably substantial margin. It caused far more missile damage, killed and injured far more people, caused far greater economic and social havoc, plus invaded, blockaded and occupied Lebanon, not visa versa. It left on its own terms, when it was ready. In fact, although it stayed months later than many believed it should have, Hizbollah has not dared to continue to fight the occupiers.

If Hizbollah won, as even many in the Western media claim, then it was a quintessential pyrrhic victory, as “one other such would utterly undo" them to paraphrase Plutarch. That this is true is evident from Nasrallah’s belated admission that he incorrectly predicted Israel's response.

Many American pundits were of the opinion that Israel lost, because it did not accomplish its stated goal of freeing their two captive soldiers. This clearly was a mistake on their part, and not just in retrospect. At any time Hizbollah could have easily killed the captives and claimed it was from Israeli fire. The soldiers were more valuable as hostages, and survived. However, they were possibly spirited out of the country beyond Israel’s reach. Had they been killed, Israel would have to come up with another rationale other than deterrence.

Why was this war different?

The message that the Western Alliances should be hearing is that conventional warfare may not be dead, but is so fundamentally altered that the advantages they have had in power is already greatly diminished, and will permanently be so unless we alter some of our strategies, tactics, and more importantly, our approach to maintaining our values while actually winning something. One of the main reasons for this is purely in the hands of the Western Alliances.

The main reason for needing this change in tactics is that there will be no more battlefields in the manner there used to be. Even when the “coalition of the willing” invaded Iraq, the blistering pace set by the troops in racing through the country and taking Baghdad was due to the lack of real resistance on a battlefield. The West's enemies understand the balance of power and all of the tactics must change when we stop moving.

After Gulf Wars I and II, the Serbian War in the 90s and even the almost forgotten Britain/Argentinia War, less technologically able countries are simply not going to wage face to face battle with one of the powers unless they have no other choice. Guerilla warfare has gone from being an occasional resistance tactic to now a couple along with aggressive terrorism (attack on civilians) as a main strategy in warfare. This has first appeared in great force in this short and limited war. It has great growth potential.

This is because guerilla or irregular warfare has fundamentally changed. There are two main reasons.

The loser can now more easily kill the winner.

This war is a landmark in that never before has guerrilla warfare been combined with weaponry that can reach the much more powerful invading country and wreak havoc. This was not true of the Revolutionary War, Somalia, Algeria, Vietnam, Afghanistan or even the first Israel-Lebanon War, all engagements where irregular tactics were used. The battle was on the invaded country's turf and it stayed there, even if the attack failed, as with Vietnam. This latest war demonstrated the change in that important factor as the use of only a fraction of Hizbollah’s reported missile arsenal so ably demonstrated.

This does not mean that countries or groups haven’t committed sabotage in other countries before. The IRA for example, did so in Britain. That’s not news. The difference now is that man and machine can fly and are virtually unstoppable. And its not just for the big boy countries anymore. Now smaller countries and irregular armies like Hizbollah or Hamas (whether or not they control the Palestinian Authority legislature) have more and more access to missiles with greater range and more powerful explosives.

Although the effect of this transference in dangerous weaponry to less advanced countries or groups is dramatic, it was to be expected and should be factored into our understanding as a given in the future. In every generation the more advanced civilization or country attacked a less sophisticated people with more powerful weapons. Eventually, those same weapons would inevitably end up in the hands of the less advanced people, sometimes when the more powerful group had moved on in in technologically, or sometimes even because the weapons were given to the weaker group by the more powerful one through trade or a brief alliance.

One older example of this is the American Indians obtaining guns from the European-Americans who they were fighting. Other more ancient examples are the dispersal of iron weaponry at the end of the Bronze Age, the use of chariots as weapons, and even the stirrup and the saddle.

This transference of technology is already being accomplished in our own times not just with missiles, but with high powered nitramine explosives, unmanned aerial vehicles and nuclear weapons, sometimes wielded by nations that would have been thought to have been incapable of creating or obtaining them only a few years ago, like Pakistan and North Korea.

Like everything else in this last half century, the pace of weaponry transference has quickened. Thanks to the internet, modern digital and satellite communications, and the acceptance of foreign students in Western schools, these technologies, no matter how secret, will be shared or discovered faster than ever.

Anyone who disagrees with this should be put to the proof of demonstrating any valuable technology that that did not eventually proliferate throughout the world. Nor does it matter one lick if is achieved by hook or crook. When they got it, they got it.

You might think then that it is simply a matter of staying one step or more ahead in weapon development. Not so. At some point the destructive power of these weapons becomes so great that it matters little whether one side is more advanced or not than the other. The weaker group, using the last generation of weapons, can kill enough of the stronger group to make any thought of war too painful to bear. We know that this is true since the advent of nuclear weaponry, but it is now becoming true with conventional weapons, and exponentially so. The Korean border is a perfect example of this development. No longer will mutually assured destruction be applicable only to nuclear weapons.

None of this is to suggest that every effort at non-proliferation should not be taken. In fact, it should be heightened.

Winning and liking it?

The second advantage modern guerilla warriors now utilize is to couple traditional hit and run tactics with a great weakness of the Western Alliances. This weakness has grown by leaps and bounds in a few generations, and is now a major weapon in the hands of guerilla fighters. Perhaps first seen in the Vietnam War as self restraint by the West and not particularly understood at the time, it is now fully comprehended as a weapon by the West’s enemies. I am talking about the value we put on human life and our seeming reluctance to actually win.

As we saw Hizbollah do, and we will likely see more of in Iraq, irregular fighters mesh with the civilian population, giving Western forces the choice of killing civilians or not fighting that hard.

The tactic works even when actually admitted by the enemy. When Israel attacked Hizbollah it inevitably killed civilians. The Lebanese, even those who did not favor Hizbollah, and much of the rest of the world, roared in anger at Israel. Only the United States did not condemn it. It did not matter at all that Hizbollah deliberately used this tactic by hiding among the Lebanese, intentionally tried to kill Israeli citizens, or that Israel tried not to kill Lebanese civilians, even using its own small resources to warn them, even at the risk of giving up the element of surprise. The West's aversion to killing civilians was greater than their revulsion of Hizbollah's tactics.

Hizbollah’s actions, though condemned, were not as vociferously criticized -- at least not after Israel struck back hard. Hizbollah wasn't a country and does not appear at the U.N. to take their diplomatic lumps. Using non-governmental organizations to fight wars, much like the Hessians of old, is coming back.

It is hard to see why, in an objective world, that Israel should have been criticized at all. Consider the Lebanese government and people in this war. It is not a surprise that any people, including the Lebanese, will take the deepest offence as being attacked, regarless of fault, and side with anyone who will defend them. The difference here is that the people of Lebanon and the government decidedly supported Hizbollah even though Hizbollah openly used civilians as shields and a propaganda tool.

There is little doubt that many Lebanese would prefer if Hizbollah disarm and nothing resembling this war occurs again. But they made a choice, by not taking the terrible sacrifice to disarm Hizbollah themselves (which they would have likely failed at) of letting Israel face the consequences, and then supporting the terrorist group. It can be argued that the U.N. made this same choice.

Many Israel’s citizens and even its government and military forces, with enlightenment values, obviously felt for the Lebanese who were being killed by Israeli missiles and airplanes despite Hizbollah’s tactics and the Lebanese people's support of them. According to a former Israeli Prime Minister, Israel even allowed overflights of its territory for humanitarian purposes for Lebanon during the heat of the conflict. Israel's own self doubt as to how hard to fight and hesitation in execution, worked greatly to Hizbollah’s advantage in delaying Israel’s victory and allowing the U.N. to stop the war before a more decisive victory.

The opposite of the approach taken by Israel, the United States and other powers in the Western Alliances, is that taken by groups like Al Quaeda, in adopting religious and legal theories legitimizing the killing of non-Muslim civilians and even the killing of Muslim civilians as long as it is in support of Jihad.

These theories should not be analyzed on their jurisprudential merits and it does not matter whether they represent a “legitimate” or “illegitimate” form of Islam. The fact is that it scares the hell out of people. Enemies of Western culture are well versed in our feelings, frailties and fears. Announcing a culture of “death,” however untrue it might be, frightens a lot of people. Western civilization does not now feature a lot of people who even want to have an “enemy” or kill people. We want to go shopping or watch football and bad t.v.

Make no mistake about it, the culture of death is a tactic the same as is hiding soldiers among civilians. You notice that these groups actually get very angry when they are killed, and swear revenge. They know they can not fight us with the traditional tactics we insist on because it is to our advantage, so they fight us with what they have. Terrorism is an essentially psychological tactic, and we need to learn to deal with it better. This psychological warfare may explain some of the seemingly senseless violence over things we see as trivial, like cartoons and speeches.

But, again, these tactics work, especially in Europe, where some countries like France have a fast growing Muslim minority in the millions, many of them angry. The Europeans seem terrified of them and at the same time believe they can appease the most violent of them. You would have thought Europe, of all places, would understand the fault in this. But if there is another successful attack in this country, these tactics will work just as well here.

To summarize, the acquisition of modern technology and a tactic that utilizes Western values is paralyzing us and our allies. We need to take cognizance of these tactics to do something about it.

We need to change our attitudes and fast. That takes introspection, courage and honesty. In a couple of weeks we will talk about how to counter these effective tactics.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .