Monday, May 28, 2007

Mark Steyn's America Alone, I

I've been reading Mark Steyn's America Alone. I thought I should comment on what I read, what strikes me, what I'm thinking as a result. . . .

So, let me begin.
  1. I found him amazingly engaging right from the start. However,
  2. It bugged me, in Part I, that he seemed to lack a decent editor. He repeated certain statistics in a way that made me think, either, a) he didn't realize he'd already mentioned them; b) he thinks we, his readers, are stupid; or, c) he thinks that only by repetition will we get his message. Personally, I hope it was (a) [though, then, I hold Regnery Publishing at fault for failing to provide better editorial oversight]. My opinion: He didn't need the repetition of the same statistics because he provided so many that all trended in the same direction. [NOTE: I did not find the same faults after Part I.]
  3. I think the dust cover quotes [John O'Sullivan: "Mark Steyn is the funniest writer now living." Hugh Hewitt: "America Alone is . . . funny." Jed Babbin: ". . . Steyn's acerbic wit . . . "] are misleading. At least for Part I. Somewhere later, I know, he begins to become . . . I believe the correct word is . . . sarcastic. So Babbin's reference to acerbic wit would fit. . . . But I missed any humor anywhere in Part I. Instead, I found his presentation alarming and frightening in its clear-eyed and relentless presentation of statistics I had never heard before. . . .

I think I'll stop there for now! Those are (and were) my first impressions as I began reading the book a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"About 1 in 4 young adult American Muslims says suicide bombings against civilian targets 'to defend Islam' can be justified"

Such a comforting thought, isn't it? "About 1 in 4 young adult American Muslims says suicide bombings against civilian targets 'to defend Islam' can be justified rarely, sometimes or often, according to a new Pew Research Center poll," says an article in today's San Francisco Chronicle.
Several American Muslim leaders said survey respondents, particularly those 18 to 29, were probably thinking about foreign policy and Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation -- and do not support attacks such as the Sept. 11 hijackings or the train bombings in London and Madrid.

"To believe that Palestinians are justified in retaliating and fighting back is a different animal than attacking America," said Ihsan Bagby, an Islamic studies professor at the University of Kentucky and an adviser to the Pew Research Center poll. "One does not have any security implications for America, and the other is a localized struggle to fight an occupier."
How reassuring, isn't it? (Not!)
Farid Senzai, a Fremont resident and director of research for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, which helped shape the questions on the survey . . . cautioned that the figures should be kept in context: Only 1 percent of Muslims overall said suicide bombings are "often" justifiable and an additional 7 percent said they are "sometimes" justifiable.
No need for worry! "Only" one in a hundred American Muslims think a lot of suicide bombs are justified; one in fourteen think it's okay at least sometimes. Oh. And a "mere" 26 percent of American Muslims under 30 think suicide bombings are ever justifiable.

Commenting on the positive spin placed upon these numbers by Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C., Ace of Spades HQ says,
I ask of Mr. Hooper: Would he feel relieved if I told him right now 69% of young non-Muslim[s] opposed, but 26% supported, killing you and fellow Muslims? . . .

I don't think so. I think he'd call that "hatred" and "backlash."

So I'm not getting why he thinks that we should be happy that only one in four young Muslim[s] are open to murdering the rest of us.
Ace of Spades HQ continues:
The Voice of America is a government outfit. So of course they must give us the straight dope, right?

Poll: US Muslims Feel Post-9/11 Backlash Despite Moderate Outlook

Psst: Some of that "backlash" you feel may be due to the 26% of young American Muslim[s] who [have few compunctions about random mass murder]. Just a thought. Sometimes people take a little thing like murder personally.

Also, I don't know if support for murder is technically "moderate."

D*mn bigoted Americans. Giving us dirty looks and harassing us just because an alarmingly high number of us support random mass murders. . . . The very nerve.

The New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune must get it right, right? Paper of record and all.

Muslims assimilate better in U.S. than Europe, poll finds

Better? Yes. US Muslims wish to murder their fellow citizens at [a] rate lower by at least ten percent. Isn't that terrific?
You can find more details about the survey in the full, PDF-based Pew Research Center report, "Muslim-Americans."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

"They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free . . . "

I'm undergoing a conversion of sorts right now.

I just finished Mark Steyn's America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It.

Until I read that book, I was firmly in Ron Paul's libertarian/Republican camp. As he said during the Republican candidates' debate in South Carolina,
Ron Paul: They [Muslims] attack us [the United States] because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for ten years. We've been in the Middle East.

I think Reagan was right. We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics.

Right now we're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting.

We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us.

Moderator: Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attacks, sir?

Paul: I'm suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it. And they are delighted that we are over there because Osama Bin Laden has said, "I am glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier." . . .

The CIA is correct when they teach and they talk about "blowback."

When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. The reaction to that was the taking of our hostages. . . . If we think we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred then we have a problem.

They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free. They come and attack us because we're over there.
He sounds so reasonable. And so "Christian." So "godly." "We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us." --Isn't that how Jesus taught us? "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"?

But Steyn--and now others, as I have begun to read up on this issue--has opened my eyes to see that "fairness" and "reasonableness" and feelings of being "oppressed," etc., etc., have very little, if anything, to do with the kinds of behaviors we are seeing from the Muslim ummah, the Muslim community or "world."

As Brigitte Gabriel states in the long version of the title of her book, "Even after 9/11, there are those that say we must 'engage' our terrorist enemies, that we must 'address their grievances.' Their grievance is our freedom of religion. Their grievance is our democratic process. Islamic religious authorities and terrorist leaders repeatedly state that they will destroy the United States and Western civilization. Unless we take them at their word, and defend ourselves, they will succeed . . . Because They Hate."

Steyn's book has convinced me that Gabriel has a far better grasp of the truth than does Ron Paul. I hope to discuss some of these things in the days ahead.

My problem: I still believe in the Golden Rule. I still believe in non-intervention. But, apparently, I also believe that we ought to "listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it" much more closely than Ron Paul seems to have been listening.

As Steyn says, "There's a lot to be said for taking these chaps at their word and then seeing whether their behavior comports."

So what are they saying?
Five days before the slaughter in Bali in 2005, nine Islamists were arrested in Paris for reportedly plotting to attack the Metro. . . . So much for the sterling efforts of President Chirac and his prime minister, the two chief obstructionists to Bush-Blair-neocon-Zionist warmongering since 2001.

In the months after the Afghan campaign, France's foreign minister, Hubert Védrine, was deploring American "simplisme" on a daily basis, and Saddam understood from the get-go that the French veto was his best shot at torpedoing any meaningful UN action on Iraq. Yet the jihadists still blew up a French oil tanker.

If you were to pick only one Western nation not to blow up the oil tankers of, the French would surely be it.

But they got blown up anyway. And afterwards a spokesman for the Islamic Army of Aden said, "We would have preferred to hit a U.S. frigate, but no problem, because they are all infidels."

No problem. They are all infidels.

When people make certain statements and their acts conform to those statements, I tend to take them at their word. As Hussain Massawi, former leader of Hezbollah, neatly put it, "We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you." --America Alone, 151; emphasis added

"We're the ones who will change you," Norwegian imam Mullah Krekar told the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet in 2006. "Just look at the development within Europe, where the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes. Every Western woman in the EU is producing an average of 1.4 children. Every Muslim woman in the same countries is producing 3.5 children." As he summed it up: "our way of thinking will prove more powerful than yours." --ibid., 39-40; emphasis added

Back in February 2002, Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East correspondent, . . . wrote a column headlined "Please Release My Friend Daniel Pearl." It followed a familiar line: please release Daniel, then you'll be able to tell your story, get your message out. Taking him hostage is "an own goal of the worst kind," as it ensures he won't be able to get your message out, the message being--Fisk presumed--"the suffering of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees," "the plight of Pakistan's millions of poor," etc.

Somehow, the apologists keep missing the point: the story did get out. Pearl's severed head is the message. That's why they filmed the decapitation, released it on video, circulated it through the bazaars and madrassas and distributed it worldwide via the Internet. It was a huge hit. The message got out very effectively. --ibid., 151

[T]he Islamists' most oft-stated goal is not infidel withdrawal from Iraq but the re-establishment of a Muslim caliphate, living under sharia, that extends to Europe. --ibid., 38
So if I were to summarize this post: At this time I am far more convinced of Ron Paul's viewpoint with respect to foreign entanglements and non-intervention than I am the majority of Republican politicians' viewpoints. But I am deeply dismayed at Paul's apparent lack of understanding concerning the real issues that confront us. . . .

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Stuff Americans Are Made Of . . .

There are a few highly competent (and highly paid) direct marketing copywriters in America today. Clayton Makepeace is one of them. Recently, he opened his free online newsletter to editorial input from others.

One of the new editorial contributors, John Newtson, gave me much to think about last Saturday with his The Stuff Americans Are Made Of: The Seven Cultural Forces Defining American Behavior.

I've shared Newtson's first story with several people, and their responses, I think, have been instructive.
The Story of the American Lego Kid
and what it says about the nature of your prospect

The Danish toy company Lego realized American kids buy far fewer sets of their toys than their German counterparts.

And that means the lifetime customer value of their American customers was drastically lower than the lifetime value of their German customers.

So Lego decided to chase down this mystery and figure out what the fundamental difference was between these customer groups. To do that they hired a big hoo-yah market researcher firm to figure out what the heck is going on over here in the Land of the Free.

And to their surprise they found there is a fundamental difference in the way American and German kids play with Lego’s – and that difference was at the heart of their marketing problem.

First they put the kids in interrogation rooms. . . .

OK, maybe not interrogation rooms but behind one-way glass so they could watch them play with Legos undisturbed. And here’s what happened:

The German kid opens the box of Legos and the first thing he does is look at the instructions. Then he very methodically, with constant reference to the drawings, builds the first project in the instructions.

Then he takes it apart and builds the second project. And so on until he’s finished building each design in the instructions. Then he does something an American kid would never do – he puts it away because he’s done with it.

Now the American kid tears into his box of Legos and the first thing he does is toss the instructions over his shoulder. And jumps immediately into building something of his own creation. And almost NEVER actually builds a single design from the instructions.

And the toy-maker realizes German children buy more because once they’ve built each of the designs in the instructions – they are done with the toy and ready for a new set.

While the American child constantly reinvents the toy – so the toy is only limited by his creativity – instead of the designs given in the instructions.
I told this story to Sarita and she said, "Makes perfect sense!

"Remember when cousin _____ visited from Germany and we were making [a certain craft]? I was shocked as I watched her put it together. She kept looking at the design in the box. And she copied it perfectly. And then she showed it to me for approval. . . . I was very unimpressed. I thought, 'Why don't you apply a little imagination?'"

Someone else, when I told the story, made a mock reference to the attempted defense that several Nazis used at the Nuremberg Trials following World War II. "We were just following orders!"

More fascinating insights at The Stuff Americans Are Made Of: The Seven Cultural Forces Defining American Behavior.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ron Paul for President????

This will be a very strange post, I expect.

I was doing some research this morning about blogging and, in my research, was urged to consider using Technorati links of some type. (Confession: I know it exists, and there are some kind of links one can utilize in one's blog. But beyond that, I am wholly uninformed at this moment.)

Anyway, I thought I should visit to discover what the advice might be about.

I got to their home page and was astonished to find "ron paul" as the--the--top search today . . . above "youtube," "myspace," "jerry falwell," "paris hilton." . . .

[Technorati home page at 12:15 p.m. MST, Tuesday, May 15, 2007]

[Technorati home page at 4:45 p.m. MST, Tuesday, May 15, 2007]

"How did that happen?" I wondered to myself. I mean, I know who Ron Paul is. His campaign people have been sending me financial appeals for years. (Probably because I got on a Libertarian mailing list at one time.)

But the guy, though highly principled, is so . . . so . . . out of the limelight, isn't he?

So how and/or why is he at the top of the blogosphere?

I still haven't figured it out. But I found an amazing compilation video of his answers to the questions put to him at the last Republican candidates' presidential debate. And I'm impressed.

Can Paul pull off an upset, somehow? Or is he more valuable as a (lone) member of a (truly) "faithful opposition" to whichever party is in power?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Brands and Intellectual Property Rights in Iraq

I had barely gotten off my plane in Istanbul when I saw a sight that cracked me up.

I was on my way between the international and domestic terminals when I saw this motor scooter outside the window:


"Domino's, huh?" I thought. I had never seen Domino's in a non-western context before.

Later that evening, when the group had gathered, we took a break at the first and, as far as I recall, only, indoor mall in Turkey.

The Galleria, about 15 years old, I was told, features an indoor ice skating rink. And around the rink, a cluster of eateries. Including . . .


Yes. Pizza Hut. (Relatively rare in my experience overseas.)


Kentuckey Fried Chicken. (Relatively common.)

And, of course . . .




Now this was another first for me. I don't recall having ever seen Burger King overseas. Anywhere. But there they were, right opposite McDonald's. (Of course!)

Now, this is a slightly different angle on the same subject.

I've been plenty of places around the world where one sees familiar brands. Northern Iraq was the first place I've been where I see direct, public rip-offs of North American brands. . . .


"Golden Arches," anyone? --The restaurant's name is Maiorca. And that familiar yellow-on-red "M" sure looks nice when you have a name like Maiorca!


"MaDonal"? Hey! What's the big deal? We couldn't get a legitimate McDonald's license, so we decided to cozy on in. . . .

Here's one:


Anything strike you as a little odd about this sign?

Can't quite figure it out?

How about if we move in a little closer?


Oh! The Colonel! Colonel Sanders! How nice of you to grace the sign of the Golden Fingers!

Now, I first saw this one on a billboard. And I didn't have my camera with me. So I had to go back to find this place . . .


Subway Computer Services! Why, of course!

The proprietor of this shop saw me shooting pictures and he came out to talk to me. I was a little concerned he might object to my taking pictures.

"You like it?" he asked, implying that maybe I was shooting pictures because I was enamored of his cleverness, perhaps (???).

"I think it is funny," I said. I didn't clarify whether I thought it was funny "haw-haw," or funny "strange/odd/inappropriate.

"Do you see anything different about it?" he asked.

I have to confess, though I do enjoy Subway sandwiches on occasion, I don't frequent the place often enough or pay close enough attention to their logo to be totally sure.

"Did you alter the arrows on the ends of the word?" I asked.

"No!" he said with obvious pride. "I took it straight off the internet!"

"Oh!" I exclaimed, again not clarifying my meaning.

He was a young man, so I asked him if he was a student. (There was a large, modern, and, apparently, well-equipped university nearby.)

"Oh yes," he said. "I am a student at Baghdad University."

"So why are you up here?" I asked. "Aren't classes in session?"

"Yes," he replied. "But it is safer up here."

As we spoke further, he explained that he spent all but one week of every semester "up north," to avoid the fighting.

"So why are you a student at Baghdad University rather than _______ [I mentioned the name of the local institution.]

"The diploma from Baghdad University is worth much more than a diploma from [the local u]niversity," he said.

. . . Too bad he can't see how his use of someone else's brand tends to degrade that brand's value. . . .

As I discussed some of these sights with Bob, he suggested that the Kurds are due for a rude awakening as they attempt to expand their economic capabilities. "They still need to learn the meaning and value of intellectual property," Bob said.

I think he's right.

Oh, yes!

I saw a few of these trucks around . . .


"Are they . . . ?"

Yes, they are. From China.

No one knew if and how much of a rip-off they might be, or whether they might be based on legitimate original designs by Chinese engineers. But there they were: proudly proclaiming their brand name for all to see, yet looking for all the world like Toyota or Nissan products.

Breadmaking in Northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey

You're walking down the street and suddenly realize there's the loud and throaty "whoosh" of gas flame amplified and modulated by the bell of a tandoor or khubz oven. The oven top glows orange. And two or three young men are hard at work making bread.



The entire process seemed so mysterious to me. This pair invited me in to see how they made their bread. I didn't want to ruin their work or get in their way. They couldn't speak English, but they made it clear to me that I was welcome to take as many pictures as I wanted. . . .




So the guy in gray is forming lumps of dough.


When he has finished forming a complete batch . . .


. . . he brings the lumps over to the other side of the shop, one at a time . . .


. . . where he then shapes them onto a large, inverted-bowl shaped utensil.


He then slaps the flattened dough onto the inside of the oven itself.



The dough sticks to the inside of the oven as it bakes.



When the bread is finished, the baker then reaches in with tongs . . . pulls out each disk . . .


. . . and tosses it on top of the oven to cool.

. . . When done, you get to enjoy a delicious, crispy, chewy, pizza-crust-like substance.


Take a close look at the working conditions--the clothes these guys are wearing, where they place their hands: You realize we're not talking a highly hygienic work environment. But, y'know, . . . I pretty well survived on this stuff for most of the time I was in Iraq.

After I suffered some kind of major digestive attack, I was thrilled for this kind of bread.

Bread, pure bottled water (if you could get it), and/or . . . Coca-Cola! --What more could a guy ask for?


Ahh! The pause that refreshes . . . and that you know (or, at least, strongly suspect) will keep you from suffering further gastro-intestinal distress!

Educational Choices: How Far Diversity?

I made an oblique reference, yesterday, to the Academia Semillas del Pueblo Charter School in Los Angeles. "Chartered by the [Los Angeles Unified School D]istrict in 2001, the institution is backed by MEChA [Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán], a radical student group with the stated goal of returning the American Southwest to Mexico," WorldNet Daily reported last year.

The principal of the school, Marcos Aguilar, is quoted as saying that the "white way, the American way, the neo liberal, capitalist way of life will eventually lead to our own destruction. And so [the school] isn't about an argument of joining neo liberalism, it's about us being able, as human beings, to surpass the barrier."
We consider this a resistance, a starting point, like a fire in a continuous struggle for our cultural life, for our community and we hope it can influence future struggle. . . . We hope that it can organize present struggle and that as we organize ourselves and our educational and cultural autonomy, we have the time to establish a foundation with which to continue working and impact the larger system.
Cause for concern?

"Not at all!" claims Gustavo Arellano in "Raza isn't racist," an Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times.
I can testify that, without a doubt, MEChA, is harmless.

Sure, the organization's founding documents, the Plan de Santa Barbara and the Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, call for a Chicano homeland. But few members take these hilariously dated relics of the 1960s seriously, if they even bother to read them. Little of the modern-day MEChA remains separatist, other than the occasional Che-spouting junior and a few cute mestizas with Aztec names like Citlali who sport Frida ponytails, black-frame glasses and Chuck Taylor high-tops.

MEChA's primary objectives are not secessionist but educational (get as many Latino high schoolers into the universities as possible and help them stay there) and cultural. For many Mexican American students, MEChA is their family by proxy, a support network for those of us who were the first in our families to graduate from high school, let alone college.

The open-borders philosophy expressed by many Mechistas isn't born from an irredentist ideology but from their experience of having relatives divided by borders. All that raza clatter isn't racism, it's the traditional way immigrants climb the success ladder — through solidarity and education.
Please read the rest of his article to understand the full range of evidence he brings for his claims.

Perhaps Arellano is speaking the truth. Perhaps, as he says, "a few indige-nazis are stains sullying a noble organization."

Maybe. Indeed, I'm rather inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Interesting to me, however, that, in his article, he begins that last sentence I quoted with a reference to Islam: "It doesn't help MEChA's case that Semillas del Pueblo Principal Marcos Aguilar, a former UCLA Mechista, once dismissed the importance of Brown vs. the Board of Education during an interview, adding that 'the white way, the American way, the neoliberal, capitalist way of life will eventually lead to our own destruction,'" he says. "Or that members of Pasadena City College's MEChA chapter recently destroyed an entire run of the campus newspaper because they considered the paper's coverage of one MEChA event inadequate.

"But, as in Islam, a few indige-nazis are stains sullying a noble organization." [Emphasis added. --JAH]

And that brings me to my true reason for posting.

I've been reading Mark Steyn's America Alone.

At one point (pp. 71-73) he writes,
In 2005, a twenty-three-year-old American citizen named Ahmed Omar Abu Ali was charged with plotting to assassinate the president. . . . [A]ccording to the Associated Press report in the New York Times, he "was born in Houston and moved to Falls Church, Va., where he was valedictorian of his high school class." . . .

Neither the Times nor the AP had space to mention that the . . . high school Mr. Abu Ali attended was the Islamic Saudi Academy, funded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It's on American soil but it describes itself as "subject to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" and its classes are based on "the curriculum, syllabus, and materials established by the Saudi Ministry of Education." So what does it teach? No room for American history, but that's not so unusual in Virginia high schools these days. Instead, the school concentrates on Wahhabi history and "Islamic values and the Arabic language and culture," plus "the superiority of jihad." By the eleventh grade, students are taught that on the Day of Judgment Muslims will fight and kill the Jews, who will find that the very trees they're hiding behind will betray them by saying, "Oh Muslim, oh servant of God, here is a Jew hiding behind me. Come here and kill him." Beats climate change and gay outreach, or whatever they do in the regular Falls Church high school.

Here is a standard Saudi Ministry of Education exercise, as taught in the first grade at that Virginia academy and at other Saudi-funded schools in the Western world:
Fill in the blanks with the appropriate words:
Every religion other than __________ is false.
Whoever dies outside of Islam enters _________.
Correct answers: Islam, hellfire.
And what do America's president and the secretary of state and the deputy secretary of this and the undersecretary of that say in return?
The Saudis are our ________.
. . . The Saudis are our friends. No matter how many of us they kill.

The Germans and Japanese had to make do with Lord Haw-Haw and Tokyo Rose. If only they could have had Third Reich Academies in every English city and Hirohito Highs from Alaska to Florida and St. Adolf's Parish Church in every medium-sized town around the world.
Fifty pages later, Steyn notes that people in Europe who raise concerns about the threat of unassimilated Muslims--even Muslims (or former Muslims) themselves who raise such concerns,
are either murdered, forced to live under armed guard, driven into exile overseas, or sued under specious hate-crimes laws. Dismissed by the European establishment, they're banished to the fringe.
He illustrates his point with the story of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian who "spoke out against the ill-treatment of Muslim women, a subject she knows about firsthand." She
found herself under threat of death. Her neighbors, the justice system, and the Dutch government reacted to this by taking her to court, getting her evicted from her home, and announcing plans to revoke her citizenship. Boundlessly tolerant Europe, which finds it so hard to expel openly treasonous jihad-inciting imams, finally found one Muslim it's willing to kick out.
And I am reminded of the case of Melissa Busekros, a German girl who, after falling behind in her public school, was brought home by her parents to be taught there. The police, in what some observers called a SWAT-style raid, entered the Busekros' home on February 1st this year and took Melissa to a mental institution for treatment of what authorities called "school phobia."

Since then, having turned 16, Melissa has been permitted to return home. Her case, however, is not yet closed. See also "German Homeschool Girl Free for Now."

The question for run-of-the-mill, patriotic (i.e., non-revolutionary) homeschoolers of any nationality: how far can the state go in permitting unrestricted, unsupervised, unexamined diversity of education before there are real, serious consequences?

Another question for all of us who are non-Muslim: How far will our states (and by "states," I am referring not merely to the kinds of entities that seem to be subsumed under larger bodies like the federal government of the United States of America, but to those larger bodies themselves: the federal government of the USA, and the EU, etc.) . . . --How far can and will our states go in permitting radical Islamists to push their agendas within their schools before they decide "enough is enough"?

(Putting the question directly: Why is it that those who teach Christian doctrines in their (home)schools seem to come under crushing state scrutiny, yet those who teach doctrines that are wildly at odds with the kind of freedom that the West has enjoyed, now, for many years . . . these others seem to get off scot-free? --Actually, I have few doubts about the answer to that question. But we'll leave that discussion for another time.)

Kurdistan II

And just as I finally write about "Kurdistan," Bob sends an article, The Fragile Crescent by Martin Kramer. . . .

"The rather expansive map of "greater" Kurdistan is a logo map--that is, a mental map inculcated via its representation on everything from keychains to commemorative plates," he says.

That first, hyperlinked map is a much clearer representation of exactly what caught my eye in my preceding post.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Before our group left the United States, Bob warned us never to use the word "Kurdistan" while in Turkey.

"Okay. Fine. What do I care about 'Kurdistan'?" I thought. "I'm going to northern Iraq." That's all I knew.

But, as I indicated way back where, we were headed into an area that is called the Kurdish Area of Northern Iraq or, in fact, the "Kurdistan Area."


I didn't think much about it either going in or for the first couple of days. Until I was in an office and saw a map on the wall.


"What's this?" I asked.

"A map of Kurdistan," someone said.

I looked at it.

Actually, if you enlarge the print, you'll see, on the left, it's "actually" a map of the Dahuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah provinces of northern Iraq.

I wandered over to another map.

I wasn't paying close attention. It was kind of the same shape. I didn't notice the difference(s).

But then there was this really colorful map (or, should I say, richly colored map):


I have always loved bright colors. I spent some time looking at it. And then, suddenly, I exclaimed: "Hey! Wait a minute! This isn't the same as those other maps!"

(Take a look. There's no "finger" sticking out the east side. And there are these large bodies of water . . . including the Mediterranean Sea (!!??!!).)

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Look closely!" someone suggested.

I looked more closely.

"Hey!" I exclaimed. "There's Diyarbakir! That's in Turkey! . . . And this map includes a part of Syria! . . . And a portion of Iran! . . . Yipes!"

I went back to the second map. I looked closely at the lower left corner: "Map of Kurdistan Region Iraq," it says in the lower left corner.

Suddenly I understood why "Kurdistan" has significant political overtones in Turkey.

Not only do the Kurdish Democratic Party insurgents cause disruptions in Turkey, but there seem to be those who are willing to declare their aspirations to take control of a large part of eastern Turkey. . . .

That last map is a political time-bomb. It would be as if some Mexican nationalists published a map of "Greater Mexico" that included Texas, New Mexico, a large part of Arizona and most of California and indicated this territory is appropriately part of "Greater Aztlan." [Oh! Sorry! That is actually being done. Or has been done. "No reason to fear," we are told. . . . --But I need to blog about that separately.]

Someone said, "I once saw a map of Hungary that was about three times larger than the actual political boundaries of Hungary. Y'know, everyone needs their lebensraum ('living space'--a reference to Nazi Germany)."


I did some searching on the web today in order to find out how much territory this last map of "Kurdistan" covers.

You get a good sense of the territory--and why they want to claim the territory--by looking at this map from


Well. That's almost enough on Kurdistan. Except for their flag, in all its beauty:

I had the opportunity to purchase a map and a flag before we left the country. And I took the opportunity.

Bob found out.

"John," he said. "We had an agreement. We are not going to say anything or carry anything across the border that says anything about Kurdistan on it."

"But I thought that was coming into the country."

"No. Either direction," he said. "I need to have your word that you will get rid of that stuff."

"I've buried it deep. . . ."

I gave my map and flag away to people who were staying in Kurdistan. Uh, northern Iraq.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Eternal Vigilance . . . and Liberty

Thomas Jefferson once famously quipped, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

His may have been the shortest expression of the subject. But he was by no means alone. I am given to understand that John Philpot Curran wrote, in 1790: "The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; and which condition if he break; servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

However you want to put it, I saw that "eternal vigilance" in practice in Turkey and Iraq.

Everywhere we went, there were checkpoints every so-many kilometers:





Our drivers always got nervous as we approached the checkpoints. One never knew what might happen.

Most of the time, the Kurdish guards merely guessed that we were Americans, asked whether that was the case, then waved us through. But a couple of times they asked for our passports and made us get out of the car.

I first became aware of the security situation while driving through southern Turkey. Our driver was insistent that I take no pictures of any of the police ("Jandarme"--not spelled as the French do!) installations we saw along the way.

Fully enclosed, with machine gun emplacements at each corner, at least (plus, occasionally, additional machine gun booths in the centers of the walls), the Jandarmes' installations were protected with sandbags and guards. Occasionally they would stop you and check your ID.

No one was interested in helping me take photos . . . of those or many other sights. So, I never got pictures of some of the more "interesting" things I saw on my trip. But I surreptitiously took the risk of a few shots.

The photos I took, however, are only of installations in northern Iraq. People were still nervous about me taking pictures, but with my lens at 200mm, I think they felt I was far enough away I might get away with my activities.

You can tell these pictures are from within Kurdistan by the bright colors of the Kurdish flag with which they painted their installations:



In Kurdistan itself, you'd see emplacements not only on the road, but in small outposts off to the side--up in the hills or mountains surrounding you:



I'm particularly astonished, now, that I got this shot:


Where were we? Near the border with Turkey?

The colors on the pole tell me this was a Kurdish checkpoint, but I don't recall many (any?) Kurdish soldiers (peshmerga--"those who face death") wearing berets, and we saw relatively few heavy trucks during our forays in the country. . . .


At one point we thought we were lost, way out in the countryside. I mean, it felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere. But we knew we were near Mosul--an infamously unfriendly place to be. Had we taken a wrong turn? What was the right road?

We saw these peshmerga at a tiny outpost off to the side of the road. We stopped and asked for directions.

I wanted to take their picture, my driver went white: "No! No! Put the camera away!"

The peshmerga looked at me and smiled and waved a greeting, very much to say: "Please feel free!"

So I took their picture.



Here's the guy who stood guard in front of our hotel at one of the cities we visited:



I was struck by how unaware he was of my presence and my photographic activities. . . .


People ask if I felt "safe" while in Iraq.


Personally, I never felt threatened. As the three men who have lived and worked in the region commented--with surprise and pleasure--at the end of our trip: "We never heard a gun shot! . . . That's a change!"

However, two days after we got into Iraq, I remember hearing on the news that the Turkish foreign minister or someone strongly suggested Turkey should invade northern Iraq and take out the Kurds, sooner rather than later. I thought, perhaps, we would be stuck in Iraq a bit longer than we originally anticipated!

And while we were driving through Turkey on our way to Iraq, I asked about all the heavily-fortified police emplacements.

"That," Bob said, "is so the Turkish government can maintain control of this road. They want to keep the road open. Just east of here, the PDK [Kurdish Democratic Party] is causing all kinds of havoc and has shut down the highway. . . ."

As I repeated Bob's statement to M, M refused to comment.

Our taxi driver, a Kurd (though from within Turkey), heard and understood my comment, and protested: "Kurdie! Democratie!" Loosely translated: "Kurds! [We are] democrats!" Or, "Kurds! We are in favor of democracy!"

He indicated that the Kurds never cause problems.

M rolled his eyes. "It depends on who you talk to," he said quietly.

It always depends on who you talk to.

Is it the Kurds who are causing problems for the Turks, or the other way around?


One last series of shots. These are from the Turkish-Syrian border. From the Turkish side, of course. Looking across a barbed wire fence and "no man's land" (filled with landmines, I was told) to Turkish watchtowers . . . and beyond . . . right on into Syria.




Monday, May 07, 2007

Building Construction and Safety

Many people in the United States chafe under some of what they perceive as the more extreme rules and regulations of the federal government's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and so forth. Our local building inspectors, who enforce building codes, also drive a lot of people nuts.

Go to a place like Kurdistan, however, and you begin to appreciate what I would characterize as expressions of the practical extension of the reasoning we find in Deuteronomy 22:8: "When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof."

Should passers-by and users of one's facilities pay attention and take personal responsibility for their actions?

I think no doubt.

But after a while, I began to appreciate the attention to safety regulations in the U.S.

Here, for example, was a building site in the downtown district of one of the cities we visited:

You know how, when walking down the sidewalk in major cities, they build fences around such things? . . .

Several times, I was walking down the sidewalk and realized there was a hole in front of me, big enough to cause myself some real damage.

No warnings, however:

Watch your step! . . .

In daylight, it's relatively easy to see this hazard:

But what about at night?

And this one, when the sidewalk is crowded and/or you're preoccupied for some reason?

No warning signs. No space to walk on the sidewalk. You'd better have good balance and sure footing as you navigate this area immediately adjacent to the sidewalk on a busy street. . . .


In one of the cities, a couple of us visited the site where the ambassadors for Jesus are hoping to open a new outreach center. They have signed a rental agreement on space that is, at this very moment, being constructed.

I am no expert on building construction or building codes, but, having learned a bit about construction with our own building construction projects over the years, I have a strong sense that the following items would not have been permitted to pass inspection.


Here, for example, is a section of ceiling (or floor, actually, for the level above the proposed outreach center):

The exposed pebbles are not an intentional "design element."

The more I saw, the more concerned I became that if--or I should say, when--there is an earthquake (since northern Iraq/Kurdistan is subject to earthquakes), such construction problems pose a serious safety risk.

The building engineers I know call these pockets of relatively uncemented concrete "voids."

I saw a lot of voids in the buildings I observed being built. (And there was a lot of construction everywhere we went in Kurdistan.) . . .

My construction engineering friends tell me you don't want rebar (steel rods placed in concrete for the purpose of reinforcement) exposed, either. The moisture and air tends to cause rust, expansion of the steel, and, therefore, early failure of the concrete:


Let's see.

Ah, yes!

Running a bit short on concrete?

Maybe some trash paper can fill the void? . . .

Oh, yes!

And if the void is really bad, a little patching cement might help . . .


Okay. Here's another interesting problem.

Anything concern you about the floors in this building? (Are they straight? Parallel?)



There's a good reason for them to look as they do: all concrete forms are supported by thickets of free-hand cut-and-placed poplar poles:

Even on tall buildings! . . .

Oh, yes!

And one final picture:

You're permitted to build right next to your neighbor's building.

It appears the excavation contractor dug just a little too close for comfort on this project. . . . So maybe a few poles can shore up the existing building while the new neighbor gets his money together to finish the initial foundation-laying in his own building.

[We stayed in the hotel across the street from this site for a few days. We never saw any work being done. . . . Glad I'm not the neighbor to the person who seems to have begun building!]


So one last story.

M told me about problems with building construction in Turkey. I forget when the earthquake occurred. For some reason 1986 or '96 sticks in my mind.

Anyway. A bunch of buildings collapsed.


Because the building contractor used smooth rebar (so the concrete was unable to "grip") and, perhaps far worse, he used sea sand . . . which means the granules were rounded--unable to interlock the way good building sand does--and it contained salt . . . which is absolute anathema to concrete.

My son-in-law, a building construction engineer, noted that building contractors often complain that engineers often "over-engineer" safety factors in the buildings they design. "The reason they do that is for the very things you saw in Iraq," he said. "The standards in the U.S. are much stricter than they are over there, obviously, but builders still make mistakes . . . and sometimes cut corners."