Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

May 31, 2005

Tragedy and Perspective

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:03 am

This is a tragic story that pulls all our heartstrings. But, it should also give us some perspective.

PLAINWELL, Mich. — Petty Officer 3rd Class Shane Schmidt and her father share a unique, yet tragic bond — both survived their war experiences in the Navy only to be killed in car accidents back home. The 32-year-old soldier also was buried on the 32nd anniversary of her father’s death.

Her father, Dan Vote, missed the birth of his daughter while serving a yearlong tour of duty in the Vietnam War. He returned to the United States when she was about 6 months old but died a few weeks later.

Vote was killed in a car accident on April 12, 1973, near Kalamazoo[.]

Schmidt joined the Navy as a [medical] corpsman because she felt it was the best way for her to become a nurse, Alderman said. … .

Assigned to the Marines’ 2nd Transportation Support Battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Schmidt served with distinction for seven months in Iraq. She received several commendations and awards, including the Navy Achievement Medal.

Like her father, Schmidt walked away from the war unscathed, returning in mid-March. She died within weeks of being home.

On April 1, Schmidt was struck by a driver alongside a Florida highway as she talked to her husband on her cell phone. She had pulled off the road during a downpour, perhaps to wait until the rain eased up, said Lt. Bill Leeper, a spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol.

It is always a tragedy when someone is killed, especially from something so senseless as a car accident (they are awaiting test results to determine whether the driver was drunk). It somehow seems more tragic when someone survives a dangerous situation only to be killed in a mundane way — though it is difficult to explain logically why this should be so.

Yet, this event should also give us some perspective, in two ways.

First, while service in Iraq or Afganistan is dangerous, it is not nearly as dangerous as most of us outside the military think. Hundreds of thousands served, but only a relatively few — I believe less than 1 of every 3,000 — have been killed. While every death is a tragedy, it is surely better that we have fewer tragedies than most of us would think based on the news coverage.

Second, staying at home is not nearly as safe as we think. Thousands of people die every year as victims of violent crime. Almost 40,000 people a year are killed in car accidents in the United States, with an estimated worldwide death toll of over a milllion a year.

Life is precious and fragile, whether you are on duty in Baghdad or driving a car in Florida.

(There are also a bunch of weird soap-opera-style facts in the story. Read it if you are interested.)

May 30, 2005

One Reason I Miss California

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:22 pm

I grew up in California, which is one of the most geographically diverse and beautiful places in the world. Here’s another reason why I miss it:

A snowy winter and a spring thaw has caused waterfalls to spring up around California. (ABCNEWS)

California Thaw Yields Spectacular Waterfalls

Long, Snowy Winter Fuels Nearly Unprecedented Spring Cascades Down Mountainsides

By Brian Rooney

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif., May 28, 2005 — After a long and snowy winter, the spring thaw has brought a bloom of waterfalls to the mountains of California unlike anything seen for many years.

Waterfalls cascade for hundreds of feet, zig-zag down mountain faces, and explode at the bottom in clouds of mist.

Chris Shaffer, a nature writer, has spent years seeking out hidden waterfalls, compiled into his book, “A Definitive Guide to Waterfalls of Southern and Central California.” He said there are as many as 100 waterfalls running hard right now that typically are dry in a normal rain year.

“They talk about the 100-year bloom of the flowers,” Shaffer said. “Well, this could be the 100-year power of these waterfalls. They’re flowing at a force right now that we may not see again for several decades.”

Of course, if my schedule were as chaotic in my hypothetical life there as it is in my actual life here, I wouldn’t have time to see that stuff anyway. And, unfortunately, I’ve never actually been to Yosemite. :-(

In Memoriam (2)

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:00 pm

Seen before, but worth repeating, especially today, as did Babalú Blog.


By Charles M. Province

It is the soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the soldier
Who salutes the flag,
Who serves under the flag,
Whose coffin is draped in the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

(© Charles M. Province)

In Memoriam

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:00 pm

I wanted to write something about Memorial Day, but as much as I appreciate — or perhaps because I appreciate so much — the sacrifices of those who gave (or “merely” risked) their lives to protect our freedom, I get tounge-tied when trying to talk about it. Fortunately, another blogger has (unknowingly) come to my rescue — Doctor Bean
has said exactly what I want to say. I’m reproducing it with [minor changes] and deletions to adjust things apply to him and not me.

I have dozens of work and family obligations to fulfill before this weekend, but it would be wrong to let Memorial Day come without some reflection on its meaning.

I own my home and [potentially could] my own business because of property rights we usually take for granted that do not exist in many countries. I worship as I please, which can not be said in Saudi Arabia or Yemen [or China, except for foreigners]. My family is safe, which would not be true in much of Africa. I can criticize my government publicly, and frequently do right here in the Coffeehouse, which would be a criminal act in China [or Saudi Arabia, and until recently a capital offense in Iraq].

These freedoms are the bedrock of our lives upon which everything else is built. Our families, our individual traditions, our professions and our leisure would all be swept aside in an instant if tyranny replaced liberty.

All these abundant blessings were bought with the lives of American soldiers. On Memorial Day, we stop to realize this; we honor their sacrifice; we offer our heartfelt thanks to the families who grieve for the loss which helped sustain our nation. May we all strive to live in a way that is worthy of such sacrifice.

Here’s a concrete way we can show our appreciation. I’m going to ask ball-and-chain to break out a credit card and donate to one of these. Please do the same.

I’m going to add:

  • Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund, which “honors the bravery and dedication exhibited by Americans in our armed forces who have sacrificed life or limb by providing educational scholarships to their children.”
  • Enduring Freedom KIA Fund, which provides emergency cash assistance to those killed in action in the present conflict.
  • Lest They Be Forgotten, which has taken on a mission “to create, establish, and help maintain hometown memorials in honor of the brave men and women who have lost their lives defending the United States of America in the war against terrorism.”

May 29, 2005

French Vote Non

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:46 pm

Earlier today, French voters rejected ratification of a proposed European Constitution, by a vote of 55.5% to 44.5%. Part of the problem, perhaps, was that the proposed constitution is 448 articles and more than 460 pages long, which means almost none of the voters could possibly have had time to read it. Which is probably responsible for one of the other problems, which is that people can’t agree on what the proposed constitution says or would do. As Gerald Baker notes in the Weekly Standard,

Part of the confusion about what on earth happens if the treaty is rejected is due to the fact that nobody can agree on what this constitution actually does. In France, the opposition is led by socialists and trade unionists who argue the new system will usher in a capitalist nightmare of longer working hours, low taxation, and free trade. … In Britain, the opposition is well entrenched but diametrically the opposite of its counterparts in France, arguing that the constitution will produce a socialist nightmare that will saddle business with all kinds of regulations.

I think a more important factor may be that, simply, the French would like France to remain an independent country, rather than merely a component of a European super-state.

[I]t formally establishes a single European foreign minister and diplomatic service to implement a single foreign policy, a goal first laid out in European negotiations a decade ago. … The constitution also confers rights on “European citizens,” most notably through the introduction of a Charter of Fundamental Rights, which covers, among others, the “right to work.”

The principal effect of the constitution, however, is to confirm and accelerate the central tendency of the E.U. over the last 50 years to send power to the center, to the European level, while eroding national sovereignty in everything from economic policy to foreign and defense policy. The constitution is, the German minister for European affairs said earlier this year, “the birth certificate of the United States of Europe.”

Not too long ago, the ratification of the European Constitution was regarded — by the euro-elites anyway — as inevitable. Now, with one of the three largest countries rejecting it, the elites are declaring Europe to be “in chaos,” in the words of London’s Financial Times. The politicians — and the intellectuals, bureaucrats, and journalists — literally do not understand how the common people could have disobeyed them. As William Kristol notes,

It’s hard for Americans to appreciate just how out-of-touch the establishment (and it really is a single establishment) of Paris, Berlin, the Hague, and Brussels is. Its arrogance almost beyond belief. Former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the father of the 448-article constitution, early on in the campaign dismissed complaints about the document’s opacity by assuring his countrymen, “The text is easily read and quite well phrased, which I can say all the more easily since I wrote it myself.” As Ivan Rioufol of Le Figaro, writing in the Wall Street Journal, commented, “The French didn’t know whether he was simply cynical or unaware of the absurdity of his statement. And so he became a caricature of the self-obsessed, aloof politician.”

Gerald Baker also reminds us that Nikita Khrushchev once said that only trouble with free elections is that you never know who’s going to win. That’s the “trouble” in dictoratorships — in democracies, that’s precisely the point, and the benefit, of elections. Democracies have one way of dealing with elections: they abide by the results, whatever they are. Dictatorships have at least three: They can not have elections, can rig elections, or can have elections and ignore the results. Europe seems to be in danger of taking that last option, which is tantamount to abandoning the mantle of democracy. Last week, as opinion polls began to show the likelihood of a French “No” vote, it was reported in the [London] Times that,

Turmoil as Chirac plots to disregard ‘non’ vote

President Chirac of France is preparing to throw Europe into confusion and put Britain on the spot by backing moves to keep the European constitution alive if it is rejected in Sunday’s referendum.

French diplomats say that M Chirac is expected to urge other countries to proceed with ratification because France does not want to be seen to be blocking the European project.

Joe’s Dartblog:

This Ireland Online report quotes Chirac as saying, “It is your decision, it is your sovereign decision and I take note of it.”

‘Take note?’

Pejman Yousefzadeh, repsonding to the same quote:

I wonder if this comment was made with a “The people have spoken; the bastards” tone in Chirac’s voice.

And further:

If the French rejected the EU constitution simply because they didn’t understand what was so pressing about integration, then that is one issue. But if anti-capitalists and fascists are the main forces behind this rejection, then the ramifications of this vote will be quite worrisome. And those ramifications will cause us to rightfully worry anew about the state of Old Europe.

Ed Morrissey at Captain’s Quarters:

The far left and far right in France are celebrating tonight on the streets of Paris, delighted in their rejection of the sensible market-based reforms that the rest of Europe wants. They may have won the battle, but that victory will only be temporary, and will consign them to second-tier status in Europe from this point forward.

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, as part of a large round-up of blog-posts:

It’s possible that this is a mere bump in the road, although it’s a big one. On the other hand, it’s possible that this is the beginning of a significant political shift in Europe, which I suspect will be a good thing if it happens.

The EU Referendum Blog, via Samizdata:

Pending announcement of the French result, this Blog has received an intriguing document produced by the Instituto Affari Internazionali, entitled “The European Constitution: How to proceed if France or the Netherlands votes ‘no’“.

In short, the authors conclude that, in the event of one or both countries voting “no”, the ratification process should be neither suspended nor abandoned. They assert that all member states have expressed a commitment to proceed with ratification by virtue of Declaration 30, appended to the Constitutional Treaty. Member states cannot unilaterally or collectively decide to change the ratification process.

Thus, member states which have not already ratified should continue with the process whence, once 20 members have done so, the matter should be referred to the European Council.

In the meantime, the authors caution that “the European Union must not remain paralysed”. Rather, they say, “it must continue and intensify its efforts to relaunch its policies, even by implementing in advance, where possible, the provisions of the Treaty that do not meet with open opposition”.

Thus, the considered response in the event of a rejection of the constitution should be “full steam ahead”. Member states should implement it even faster than they are doing already.

So what, precisely, do we have to do to stop this thing?

There was a time when “No means yes” was used to “justify” imposing something other than a constitution on someone without that person’s consent. Perhaps that’s what’s being done to European non-elites now.

In Memoriam, Col. David Hackworth

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:29 pm

Col. David Hackworth passed away this past Wednesday. I’d heard him on the radio frequently, but didn’t know most of this. Fascinating.

(Hat tip: VariFrank.)

Is George W. Bush Jewish?

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:08 pm

No, but apparently some Muslim protesters in Indonesia think he is. (I’ve also heard statements to that effect from the Egyptian press, but I can’t find any links right now.)

(Hat tip: Joe’s Dartblog.)

Correcting Misconceptions on “Grey’s Anatomy”

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:05 am

If you watch “Grey’s Anatomy” (the TV show, not the classic medical book, which is spelled Gray’s Anatomy), you need to read this article by Avi Shafran and this blog-post by Yaakov Menken. And you could also read this comment.

Thank you.

Alternative Fuel

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:16 am

Now here’s and alternative fuel source.

Unfortunately, it’s not emission-free at all.

Wayne Keith of Springville, Alabama has converted a standard pickup truck to run on wood. Or more precisely, on hydrogen, which is produced by burning wood in the back of the truck.

Last Christmas, he took a 1984 diesel truck and replaced its motor with a 1968 hot-rod engine with more horsepower. He then devised a wood-burning system with cooling and filtering units attached at the hood and in the pickup bed.

Keith estimates he has driven 4,000 miles since he converted the truck. The engine, which runs on hydrogen generated by burning the wood, is clean enough that Keith proudly shows off its clean spark plugs to the curious.

He keeps a 30-gallon trash can in the bed, filled with wood pieces that have already been burned to remove water. Keith fills a 6-foot reactor in the truck bed with wood, then starts up the engine. It still takes some gas to get the truck going, but within two minutes, the only fuel is wood. He also uses gas for a little extra power when he pulls his trailer.

The pickup has three pedals – brake, gas and wood. The farthest he has driven the truck is 100 miles in a day.

it’s far from emission-free — the wood has to burn, and that produces a lot of smoke and CO2. But Keith says,

“It takes about 20 pounds of wood to do what one gallon of gas will do,” he said. “But when I burn off the wood, you get the same emission you’d get if the wood just deteriorated on its own. You can’t say that about fossil fuels.”

Now, this is sort-of true, but I don’t think it’s true from the point of view relevant to air pollution. It’s true that if wood decays completely, it releases CO2 and water (vapor), and there are other things that seep into the ground. And if wood burns completely, it releases the same amount of CO2 and water vapor, and leaves ash which can be dumped on the ground. But I think it’s a rather big assumption that the word burns completely. Nothing burns completely except under very controlled conditions, and if you burn wood you will see huge amounts of smoke rising, and that smoke is certainly more than just CO2 and water vapor. (You can tell by the color — CO2 is clear and water vapor is white or clear.) It’s also ash and other particulate matter that pollutes the air — which is why you need a smokestack for a fireplace if you don’t want to choke from the fire. This is all pollution going into the air that otherwise would have stayed on the ground if the wood had merely decomposed naturally — and far more pollution than you’d get by burning an equivalent gallon of gasoline.

Which is part of the reason why, from the nineteenth century to the twentieth, we mostly switched over from burning wood for most things, to burning oil-based fuels. The trains that roared across the plains in the 1800s burned wood or coal, and produced a lot more pollution (per mile per unit of cargo/passengers) than the diesel trains or the gasoline cars of today.

In short, oil-based fuels like gasoline are far more environmentally-friendly than wood.

I’m very impressed by Mr. Keith’s engineering ability — and I’d absolutely love to see his truck in action — but sadly, I don’t think it would pass emissions inspection. But it certainly insulates him from increases in gasoline costs.

(Hat tip: This is True.)

May 27, 2005

Surgery for Bad Bearth

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:45 pm

No, that’s not a spelling mistake!

Yukon the Polar Bear Has ‘Breath Surgery’

The Associated Press
Friday, May 27, 2005; 8:55 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Yukon the polar bear underwent surgery that zookeepers hope will clear the air.

The 16-year-old polar bear got an infected tooth pulled Thursday at Seneca Park Zoo. A team of veterinarians used a small hammer and chisel to remove it.

The 805-pound bear was the perfect patient. He remained still on a large examination table, sighing occasionally during the hour-long procedure, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported Friday. Of course, he was sedated.

The doctors linked the tooth to Yukon’s bad breath.

“You can just enter his den and you can smell it,” said Dr. Jeff Wyatt, the zoo’s director of Animal Health and Conservation. “It’s kinda funky.”

Wyatt, who performed the surgery, said Yukon’s tooth problem is actually quite common in older bears.

Zoo officials said the bear — and his breath — are expected to make a full recovery in a few weeks.

Quickest Broken Promise

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:43 pm

Everyone knows some politicians sometimes break promises, but usually they at least have the decency to wait a little while between making the promise and breaking it, so it’s not so obvious. Usually they even let an election intervene. And usually, we’re talking about individuals breaking promises, not whole parties.

But this time, the Senate Democrats broke their promise not to filibuster the nomination of John Bolton after only two days.

Reuters, Tuesday, May 24, 7:55pm:

Democrats clear way for Senate vote on Bolton

By Vicki Allen

Tue May 24, 7:55 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats agreed on Tuesday to clear the way for the Senate to vote on the controversial nomination of John Bolton as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, which was expected to pass mainly on party lines.

Two days and 55 minutes later, Associated Press:

Democrats Force Delay of Bolton Final Vote

May 26, 8:50 PM (ET)

By Anne Gearan

WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrats forced a delay Thursday in a confirmation vote for John R. Bolton, yet another setback for President Bush’s tough-talking choice as U.N. ambassador and a renewal of intense partisanship in the Senate after a brief respite.

The vote to advance Bolton’s nomination to an immediate confirmation vote was 56-42 – four short of the 60 votes that Bolton’s Republican backers needed.

This time, they didn’t even vote for it before they voted against it! ;-)

(Hat tip: Sean Hannity.)

Are Buckeyballs Toxic?

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:48 pm

In 1985, three chemists — Robert F. Curl, Jr. and Richard E. Smalley of Rice University and Harry W. Kroto of the University of Sussex — discovered a new form of pure carbon (in addition to graphite and diamond), which consists of 60 carbon atoms arranged in a sphere-like “cage.” The cage has the shape of a geodesic dome (although the dome is only a half-sphere), so they named the molecule after Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome. So the C60 molecule is called “buckminsterfullerene.” But that’s a mouthful, and C60 also looks like a soccer ball, so they molecules are sometimes affectionately called “buckyballs.” They eventually discovered other ball-like configurations, such as C70 and C20; the general class of cage-like carbon molecules is now called “fullerenes.” (Click here for more information on C60 and other fullerenes.) For their discover, Curl, Smalley, and Kroto got the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996

For good theoretical reasons, it has long been assumed that fullerenes are insoluble in water, and this inert in a wide variety of environments. Some have suggested using fullerenes to “carry” smaller molecules inside the “cage” for medical purposes — that is, to deliever drugs to specific parts of the body. However, according to this article, it turns out that C60 can form “clusters” in water, and can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria. So, it could turn out to be toxic — or to be a useful antibiotic.

Stay tuned!

This will at least not bore you

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:14 pm

I’m sure everyone will have a reaction to this — some will be elated, others will be scared, and other will have reasons for believing it’s not accurate. But here it is, from USA Today:

Poll majority say they’d be likely to vote for Clinton

By Susan Page, USA TODAY

For the first time, a majority of Americans say they are likely to vote for
Hillary Rodham Clinton if she runs for president in 2008, according to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday.

Clinton commands as much strong support – but more strong opposition – as George W. Bush did in a Newsweek poll in November 1998, two years before the 2000 election. She is in slightly stronger position than then-vice president
Al Gore, the eventual 2000 Democratic nominee, was in 1998.

“Over time, Clinton fatigue has dissipated … and people are looking back on the Clinton years more favorably,” says Andrew Kohut, director of the non-partisan Pew Research Center. In a Pew poll released this month, Kohut called former president
Bill Clinton and the senator “comeback kids” because of their rising ratings.

In the poll, 29% were “very likely” to vote for Clinton for president if she runs in 2008; 24% were “somewhat likely.” Seven percent were “not very likely” and 39% were “not at all likely” to vote for her.

Her strong support has risen by 8 percentage points, and her strong opposition has dropped by 5 points since the same question was asked in June 2003.

One reason to doubt the results:

An overwhelming 80% of liberals were likely to support her, compared with 58% of moderates and 33% of conservatives.

33% of conservatives??? 33% of conservatives would vote for one of the most liberal politicians on the scene today? Either that’s wrong, or people are identifying themselves as “conservatives” based on a different definition of conservative than anything I’ve heard.

Always Blame the Inanimate Objects

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:39 am

In 1997, Britain banned essentially all private ownership of handguns. The intent, of course, was to reduce crime. The effect, of course, was the opposite:

Crime was not supposed to rise after handguns were banned in 1997. Yet, since 1996 the serious violent crime rate has soared by 69%: robbery is up by 45% and murders up by 54%. Before the law, armed robberies had fallen by 50% from 1993 to 1997, but as soon as handguns were banned the robbery rate shot back up, almost back to their 1993 levels.

The 2000 International Crime Victimization Survey, the last survey done, shows the violent-crime rate in England and Wales was twice the rate in the U.S. When the new survey for 2004 comes out, that gap will undoubtedly have widened even further as crimes reported to British police have since soared by 35%, while declining 6% in the U.S.

In addition, over the last few decades, Britain has gradually reduced the right to self-defense, to the point that is doesn’t exist anymore in any meaningful sense:

Rather than permitting people to protect themselves, the authorities’ response to the recent series of brutal attacks on home-owners has been to advise people to get more locks and, in case of a break-in, retreat to a secure room – presumably the bathroom – to call the police. They are not to keep any weapon for protection or approach the intruder. Someone might get hurt. If that someone is the intruder the resident will be sued by the burglar and vigorously prosecuted by the state.

For almost 500 years, until 1954, England and Wales enjoyed a declining rate of violent crime. In the last years of the 19th century, when there were no restrictions on guns, there was just one handgun homicide a year in a population of 30 million people. In 1904 there were only four armed robberies in London, then the largest city in the world.

The practical removal of the right to self defence began with Britain’s 1920 Firearms Act, the first serious limitation on privately-owned firearms. It was motivated by fear of a Bolshevik-type revolution rather than concerns about householders defending themselves against robbers. Anyone wanting to keep a firearm had to get a certificate from his local police chief certifying that he was a suitable person to own a weapon and had a good reason to have it. The definition of “good reason”, left to the police, was gradually narrowed until, in 1969, the Home Office decided “it should never be necessary for anyone to possess a firearm for the protection of his house or person”. Since these guidelines were classified until 1989, there was no opportunity for public debate.

Self defence within the home was also progressively legislated against. … The public were told that society would protect them and their neighbours. If they saw someone being attacked they were to walk on by, and leave it to the professionals.

Finally, in 1967, tucked into an omnibus revision of criminal law, approved without discussion, was a section that altered the traditional standards for self-defence. Everything was to depend on what seemed “reasonable” force after the fact. It was never deemed reasonable to defend property with force.

So what to do after you ban guns and self-defense, and crime increases? According to three British doctors, the answer is: ban pointed kitchen knives.

I mentioned this to my wife, and her first reaction was, “Is this a joke?” No, it’s not a joke, it’s not a parody, and the only “joke” is that they are actually being entirely serious. This was published in the British Medical Journal, and I think we should take it precisely as seriously as we would take an article on cancer treatment appearing in a criminology journal. But alas, the BBC at least seems to be taking it seriously. As is the British government, which had this response:

Home Office spokesperson said there were already extensive restrictions in place to control the sale and possession of knives.

“The law already prohibits the possession of offensive weapons in a public place, and the possession of knives in public without good reason or lawful authority, with the exception of a folding pocket knife with a blade not exceeding three inches.”

Oh, so it’s already illegal to carry knives in public. So no one can buy one and take it home from the store through a public place. So nobody has one anyway.

So that is why the rate of stabbing has increased so much in recent years … waitaminute….

May 26, 2005

Bill of Rights Stolen

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:04 pm

No, I’m not making this up. It’s totally for real. See here and here.

No Freedom of Press in Italy

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:37 pm

Oriana Fallaci is one of the most intriguing writers and journalists of the century (this one or last). She was born in Florence, Italy (or if you prefer, Firenze), and joined the Italian anti-fascist resistance with her father at the age of 10. After Italy was captured by the Allies and switched sides, her father was tortured by the Nazis but released alive; Oriana was honorably discharged from the Italian Army at the age of 14. She started writing at age 15, and became a reporter in Florence at age 16. She is famous for interviewing people that no one else can or wants to interview, and for interviewing in a penetrating style that gets her subjects to let down their guard and reveal things they normally would not reveal to a reporter. In other words, she gets around the spin, instead of getting caught up in it like a “typical” journalist. She has interviewed Henry Kissinger, Walter Cronkite, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Yassir Arafat, the Shah of Iran, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Willy Brandt, the Aytollah Khomeini, Moammar al-Qaddafi, and many others. (Online biographies are here and here.)

More recently, I have been influenced by her penetrating commentaries on the September 11 attacks and on the Iraq War, and her transcription/interview of an Iraqi soldier wounded in Kuwait in the 1991 war.

And now, at the age of 74, Oriana Fallaci has been indicted for writing a book which allegedly defames Islam. And she has been indicted in Italy, which she fought to make a free country:

Judge Orders Italian Author to Stand Trial

By Marta Falconi
The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 25, 2005; 7:19 PM

ROME — A judge has ordered best-selling author Oriana Fallaci to face trial on charges of defaming Islam in her recent book “The Strength of Reason,” the writer and an attorney in the case said Wednesday.

The case arose after Muslim activist Adel Smith charged that “some of the things she said are offensive to Islam,” said Smith’s attorney, Matteo Nicoli. He cited a phrase from the book that refers to Islam as “a pool … that never purifies.”

Fallaci, who is in her 70s, said she is accused of violating an Italian law that prohibits “outrage to religion.”

The case is proceeding even though a prosecutor who handled it previously sought dismissal of the charges on the grounds that Fallaci had a right to state her own political beliefs, Nicoli said.

“I have expressed my opinion through the written word through my books, that is all,” Fallaci told The Associated Press.

No date has been set for the trial to begin in the northern town of Bergamo, he said.

Fallaci, a former resistance fighter and war correspondent who lives in New York, has often stirred controversy for her blunt publications and provocative stances. During her journalistic career, Fallaci became known for uncompromising interviews with such world leaders as former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In the ruling obtained by the AP, the judge said that “Fallaci is addressing her hostile expressions against every manifestation of the Islamic religion and world and not only against certain extremist sectors.”

So according to this judge, if you criticize “extremist sectors” of a religion, that’s within your right to freedom of speech. But if you criticize “every manifestation” of a religion, that’s illegal in Italy, even if you no longer live there.

I eagerly await this judge’s indictment of those Muslims who criticize “every manifestation” of Christianity and Judaism. But I am not holding my breath.

UPDATE (5/26/05 2:05pm):

The blogosphere does not seem to have picked up this story yet, at least not in a big way. But Eugene Volokh has noticed and has some questions and The Cranky Professor has some details on the accuser in the case.

Jeff Goldstein points out:

Another victory for the leftist gold standard of “tolerance,” the great enemy of free expression and the rhetorical mechanism by which totalitarianism is practiced by academic elites and leftist ideologues (on the right, this same impulse manifests itself in appeals to decorum or properly “moral” speech—impulses regular readers of this site will recognize as frequent targets of my scorn).

Make no mistake, people: what you are witnessing here is a carefully crafted velvet insurgency, a diminution of freedoms on the part of leftist governments and judiciaries by way of gaining control of the parameters for acceptable speech and discussion.

And Glenn Reynolds is even more biting:

Basically, where people warn about theocracy in the United States, we’re seeing what amounts to a trial for blasphemy in Italy.

Tom Wolfe once said that Fascism is forever descending on the United States, but that somehow it always lands on Europe. Perhaps the same is true with theocracy?

Sometimes, You Can’t Please Anybody

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:03 pm

Patriarch Irineos, head of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, has been in more flavors of hot water than you can imagine. First, when the office of Patriarch was vacant in 2001, the government of Israel was asked to approve his appointment, and decided to oppose it:

Under a law dating back to the sixth century [Eastern Roman] emperor Justinian, the government of the Holy Land has the right to approve or disqualify candidates for the office of the patriarch.

The list of candidates was submitted to the governments of Israel and Jordan, as well as to the Palestinian Authority. While Jordan and the Palestinian Authority approved all nominees, Israel rejected five. Their objection was overturned by the Supreme Court of Israel.

In an official statement, the Greek Orthodox Church said it would ask Jordan and the Palestinian Authority for the approval of their new patriarch but did not mention Israel.

So he starts out has the head of a Church in Israel’s capital, with the approval not of Israel, but of Jordan, which does not claim soveriegnty over Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Authority, which claims such soveriegnty except when it is demanding it.

And if Irineos does not seem favorably disposed towards Israel anyway, and hatred of Jews may have motivated some of his supporters, Israel’s opposition would seem to make him even less so.

Yet, now the Jew-haters in the Greek Orthodox Church who once supported Irineos because (they thought) he hated Jews, are now trying to remove him from office on the grounds that he either sold
or leased some Church property in Jerusalem held for investment purposes to … Jewish investors!

As Rachel Raskin-Zrihen puts it,

There’s a huge controversy brewing over what is described as “explosive” allegations that the Greek Orthodox Church’s patriarch in Jerusalem sold property in that city to Jews.

Clearly a tragedy and an outrage. I mean, property in the Jews’ holy city being bought by Jews. Imagine that.

If some group in the United States threw a hissy fit over property being sold to or bought by members of racial or religious group, my guess is that the outcry would be over the hissy fit. But the Arab world is definitely not the United States.

The Arab world, particularly the Palestinians, are reportedly up in arms over what they term “the Judaizing” of Jerusalem.

Specifically, the Church’s patriarch, Irineos I, is being pressured to resign because one of his top aids may have made 198-year leases with Jews for some church property, according to the Associated Press. AP also reports that World [Greek] Orthodox leaders voted Tuesday in Turkey to stop recognizing Irineos I, asserting a rare unified position during a rare “pan-Orthodox” gathering. Irineos refuses to resign.

Let’s examine this.

It is apparently grossly unacceptable for the Christian owners of property in Israel, in Jerusalem, the city of David, built by the Jews in antiquity, to sell or lease any of it to Jews.

Or to put it another way: Irineos is in trouble because he failed to live up to his supporters’ expectations of the extent of his antisemitism.

Zorkmidden points out that they Church doesn’t actually have the authority to get rid of Irineos, and points to this news article:

ATHENS, Greece – Leaders of Orthodox churches from Russia to the ancient Christian centers in the Middle East prepared Monday for a rare gathering forced by a crisis in their ranks: The refusal of the Holy Land patriarch to step down even as his authority is shattered by rebel clerics, angry followers and the hair-trigger issue of land rights in Jerusalem.

But the meeting beginning Tuesday in Istanbul, Turkey — the ancient spiritual heart of Orthodoxy — has ripples beyond the fate of Patriarch Irineos I and the explosive allegations that his church leased property to Jewish investors in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians consider their capital. [And which Israel uses as its actual capital. --DR]

“The church cannot ignore the Arabization of the patriarchate,” said the Rev. Peter Herrs, a theologian based in Greece. …

The Istanbul proceedings are the first major pan-Orthodox summit in more than a decade. [This is what finally made it important enough for them to meet? --DR] The gathering has no authority to formally dismiss Irineos or pick his successor. That duty rests solely with the synod, or governing council, of the Jerusalem church. And Irineos refuses to convene the synod.

But leading clerics from across the Orthodox world may use the Istanbul meeting to further isolate Irineos and voice opinions about how to regain the church’s credibility after months of upheaval in Jerusalem.

A former financial adviser to Irineos is accused of giving Jewish investors 198-year leases for two church-owned hostels and several shops in the Old City. Palestinians were outraged, claiming the deals were part of Jewish encroachment into Arab quarters.

In other words, he is accused of not refusing to do business with people because of their religion.

Palestinians were outraged, claiming the deals were part of Jewish encroachment into Arab quarters.

In March, Palestinians spat and shouted at Irineos on Good Friday. This month, a group of Orthodox prelates staged a mutiny against Irineos and broke all contact.

How nicely they handle their disagreements!

Irineos had stood firm, denying any knowledge of the alleged leases. He traveled to Istanbul to defend himself.

What’s he going to say? “No, really! I do hate the Jews! Honest! The idea that I would treat them as human beings is a vicious lie!”

He’ll face the most powerful assembly of Orthodox patriarchs and envoys since 1992, when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I called a similar meeting to examine critical internal church relations following the Cold War.

Gosh, selling a few storefronts seems at least as important as that.

The patriarchate is one of the biggest landlords in the Holy Land — holding leases that include the sites of Israeli government buildings and large tracts in some of Jerusalem’s most coveted neighborhoods. Israel worries about Palestinian Christians exerting greater influence over church policies.

And from here:

The Greek Orthodox Church is the oldest, richest and most powerful church in Jerusalem. As head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Irineos is responsible for its extensive land holdings, including the land on which the Knesset was built, the Prime Minister’s and the President’s official residences, parts of Jerusalem’s wealthiest neighborhoods and many locations in the Old City.

(On a parenthetical note – isn’t it funny how Jews manage to control the world but don’t seem to have a very good handle on their own real estate?)

OK, now this really doesn’t make sense. (1) How can leasing a few storefronts to Jews be so bad, when they leased them their three most important government buildings?!?!?! (2) If they hate the Israel so much, why don’t they just repossess those properties and evict the Israeli Parliament, Prime Minister, and President?

Seriously, what — if anything — are these people thinking?

May 24, 2005

In Memoriam, George Dantzig

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:54 pm

Professor George B. Dantzig, one of the founders of linear programming, and the inventor of the simplex method, the most practical method for solving linear programs and one of the most successful mathematical algorithms of all time, has passed away at age 90.

For those of you who are not mathematically inclined (linear programming is a field of math, not computers): You should appreciate this as much as your mathematical friends, since the simplex method has found very widespread use. If you’ve ever used Mapquest or any other software to find directions, you’ve used (a modified version of) the simplex method. If you’ve every flown on an airplane, the crew was scheduled for the flight using (another modified version of) the simplex method. Those are just two of thousands of examples.

For those of you who are a bit more mathematically inclined: If you’ve taken more than two college-level math classes, you’ve probably heard the story of the student who arrived late to class, saw some math problems on the chalkboard, and copied them down assuming they were homework. He found them more difficult than most homework, but solved them anyway. It turned out they were not homework, but two famous unsolved problems the professor had shared with the class. Well, this really happened (even Snopes admits it), and George Dantzig was that student. (The professor was Jerzy Neyman.)

George Dantzig was one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century. His work was pioneering, creative, revolutionary, important theoretically, and extremely useful for solving real-world problems. The simplex method is revolutionary in part because it can’t be proved theoretically that it works as well as it does in practice. (“It works in practice, but it doesn’t work in theory.”) There have many mathematicians were more interested in problems that were theoretically elegant, but had no practical usefulness, like art for art’s sake. George Dantzig was not like that. His method was shown to be emminently useful, and for him that counted, even if it was not that “elegant.” (The simplex method can be proved to produce the right answer, but it can’t be proved that it will do so in a reasonable amount of time. However, in the overwhelming majority of real cases, it does.) He himself said in the opening sentence of his 1963 book Linear Programming and Extensions, “The final test of any theory is its capacity to solve the problems which originated it.”

He is also special to me personally the first “great mathematician” who was still alive when I was taking the course based on his work. Most of them passed on centuries, or at least decades, ago.

A biography, written on the occasion on Prof. Dantzig’s 80th birthday, is here. More information on linear programming is here.

(Hat tip: Slashdot.)

How the Left Betrayed My Country – Iraq

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:59 pm

This article is from a few months back, but I just found it now, and it’s never too late for the truth. Especially a truth that is still relevant and that a lot of people don’t believe or understand (yet).

This is a lesson in:

  • Be careful what you believe.
  • Even if it comes from well-intentioned people.
  • Even if it comes from respected media organizations
  • Even if it comes from nearly all respected media organizations

Naseer Flayih Hasan lives in Iraq, and wrote an article on the Iraqi reaction to the war, and the opposition to it by those in on the left in the United States and European countries. Here it is, with my comments. (Bold emphasis is mine, italic emphasis is in the original.)

Before the last war, we Iraqis spent decades cut off from the outside world. Not only did the Baathist regime prevent us from traveling during the Iran-Iraq conflict and the period of the sanctions, but they punished anyone possessing satellite television. And of course, internet access was strictly limited. Because of our isolation, most of us had little idea or sense about life beyond our borders.

(Now the phones are untapped, satellite TV is legal, and not only is internet legal but there are many Iraqi bloggers giving the world an uncensored view of what’s going on there.)

We did believe, however, that democracy and human rights were important factors in Western civilization. So it came as a shock to us when millions of people began demonstrating across the world against America’s build-up to the invasion of our country. We supposed the protests were by people who had no idea about the terrible atrocities that the regime had inflicted upon us for decades. We assumed that once they learned what had happened in Iraq, they would change their minds, or modify their opposition to the war.

My first clue that this would not happen was a few weeks after Baghdad fell. I had befriended a French reporter who had begun to realize that the situation in Iraq was not how the international media or the so-called “peace camp” described it. I noticed, however, that whenever he tried to voice his doubts to colleagues, they argued that he was wrong.

So, a French reporter starts to believe his own eyes instead of his preconceived notions, and all the other reporters try to talk him out of believing his own eyes, and back into his (and their) preconceived notions. How’s that for being open-minded? How’s that for “unbiased” journalism?

Soon afterwards, I met a Dutch woman on Mutinabi Street, where booksellers lay out their wares on Friday morning. I asked her how long she’d been in Iraq and, through a translator, she answered, “Three months.”

“So you were here during the war?”

“Yes!” she said. “To see the crimes of the Americans!”

I was stunned. After a moment, I replied, “What about the crimes of the regime? It killed millions of Iraqis. Do you know that if the regime was still in power, the conversation we’re having now would result in our torture or death?”

Her face turned red and she angrily responded, “Soon will come the day that the Americans will do worse.” She then went on to accuse me of not knowing what the true facts were in Iraq—and that she could see the situation better than me!

She’s been in Iraq for three months, she doesn’t speak the language, and she claims to know the situation of the people in the country better than someone who’s lives his whole live there!

And, she knows that the crimes of the previous regime — no matter what they are — are nothing compared to the “crimes of the Americans.” Even if the regime killed millions of Iraqis, that’s nothing compared to the “crimes of the Americans,” who have done no such thing.

This is such a common view on the left it doesn’t even surprise me any more — in fact, it’s more like a basic principle of leftism than an observation of fact. The principle is, no matter how many millions of people are killed by a third-world dictator, that third-world dictator is morally superior to the Americans who oppose or try to get rid of him, either by war or peaceful means. Furthermore, any attempt by the Americans to get rid of a dictator who is murdering “his own” people (he owns them?) is actually an attack on those people he is oppressing.

Thus, if Saddam is murdering Iraqis and the Iraqis want to be rid of him, and the Americans try to get rid of him, this is termed “an attack on the Iraqi people.” Likewise, in the Cold War, opposition to Communist oppression of Russians and ethnic minorities in Russia was termed “being against the Russian people,” opposition to the Mengitsu regime in Ethiopia was “against the Ethiopian people,” opposition to Castro is “against the Cuban people,” etc. The only exception to this that comes to mind is the apartheid government of South Africa — but on second thought this is not entirely an exception, because though the left deemed it acceptable, even obligatory, to oppose the South African government’s oppression of non-whites, it was unacceptable to oppose the (black) African National Congress, even though they regularly murdered their political opponents, often by burning them alive by throwing gasoline-laden tires around their necks and lighting them. This was euphemistically called “necklacing,” and anyone who opposed it — or even mentioned it, was accused of supporting apartheid.

She was not the only “humanitarian” who expressed such outrageous opinions. One afternoon, I was speaking to some members of the American anti-war group “Voices in the Wilderness.” One of the group’s members declared that the Iraqi Governing Council (then in power at the time) were “traitors.” I was shocked. Most of the Council were people whom we Iraqis knew had suffered and sacrificed in a long struggle against the regime. Some represented opposition parties who had lost ten of thousand of members in that struggle. Others came from families who had lost up to 30 loved ones to the Baathists.

After those, and many other, experiences, we finally comprehended how little we had in common with these “peace activists” who constantly decried American crimes, and hated to listen to us talk about the terrible long nightmare that ended with the collapse of the regime. We came to understand how these “humanitarians” experienced a sort of pleasure when terrorists or former remnants of the regime created destruction in Iraq—just so they could feel that they were right, and the Americans wrong!

Worse, we realized it was hopeless to make them grasp our feelings. We believed—and still believe–that America’s removal of the regime opened a new way for democracy. At the same time, we have no illusions that the U.S. came to Iraq on a white horse to save our people. We understand this war is all about national interests, and that America’s interests are mainly about defeating terrorism. At this moment, though, U.S. interests are doing more to bring about democracy and freedom in Iraq than, say, the policies of France and Russia—countries which also care little for the Iraqi people and, worse, did their best to save Saddam from destruction until the last moment.

Well, there you go. America is trying to protect itself from terrorism, so its (our) actions in Iraq are not entirely altrusitic. But at least these policies benefit the people at the expense of the dictators — both in Iraq and in Afghanistan — rather than the other way around.

It’s worth noting, as well, that the general attitude of peace activists I met was tension and anger. They were impossible to reason with. This was because, on one hand, the sometimes considerable risks they took to oppose the war made them unable to accept the fact that their cause was not as noble as they believed. Then, too, their dogmatic anti-American attitudes naturally drew them to guides, translators, drivers and Iraqi acquaintances who were themselves supporters of the regime. These Iraqis, in turn, affected the peace activists until they came to share almost the same judgments and opinions as the terrorists and defenders of Saddam.

This was very disappointing for someone like me, who thought for decades that the Left was generally the progressive power in the world. You can imagine how aghast I was when my French reporter friend told me that the Communist Party in his country actually considers the “insurgents” to be the equivalent of the French Gaullists! Or how troubling it is to hear Jacques Chirac take satisfaction from the violence wreaked by the terrorists—those bloody monsters that we Iraqis know so well—because they justify France’s original opposition to the war.

And so I have become disillusioned, at least with the Leftists I met in Iraq. So noble in their rhetoric, they looked to the stars, yet ignored what was happening around them, caring only about what was inside their minds. So glorious in their ideals, their thoughts were inflexible and their deeds unnecessary, even harmful. In the end, they proved to me how dogma and fanaticism had transform peace activists into—lifeless peace “statues.”

Yet another example of how useless it is to judge people motivations, rather than their actions.

Other bloggers comment on the article here, here, and here. And this blogger thinks it’s all Republican propaganda. After all, it contradicts his preconceived notions, so what else could it be?

May 23, 2005

Filibuster Deal — Sort of

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:13 pm

AP is reporting that:

WASHINGTON (AP) – Centrists from both parties reached a compromise Monday night to avoid a showdown on President Bush’s stalled judicial nominees and the Senate’s own filibuster rules, officials from both parties said.

These officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the agreement would clear the way for yes-or-no votes on some of Bush’s nominees, but make no guarantee.

Under the agreement, Democrats would pledge not to filibuster any of Bush’s future appeals court or Supreme Court nominees except in “extraordinary circumstances.”

My guess in that “extraordinary circumstances” will turn out to mean “Bush nominates a non-liberal to the Supreme Court,” which would be “extraordinarily” bad from a partisan Democrat’s point of view. Especially if that nominee is not a white male, as was the case with the last non-liberal, who was nominated an extraordinary 14 years ago. (Gosh I am getting old!)

The compromise drew the support of six Republicans and six Democrats at a minimum, although the names were not immediately available.

So, this isn’t really much of a deal. It soulds like an attempt by the Democrats to feint a surrender — in other words, give up now but preserve the option to fight later. In the meantime, if the 12 ever agree to reveal themselves, it seems that at least Priscilla Owen will be confirmed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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