Tag: google

The more things change: Scotland

The more they stay the same:  Palestine

Our intrepid Gang of Seven tourists is now down in Bath, England.  But I’m still catching up on our trip through the narrow byways of Scotland.

There, forbidding, windswept peaks rise out of gorse covered moors that plunge into a restless North Sea.  On the Isle of Sky, more sheep than humans.  And, of course, we sample the wares at the island’s only distillery, the Talisker.

Bonnie Prince Charlie versus the “Butcher” Cumberland

But if it’s Tuesday, this must be when we visited the site of the 1746 Battle of Culloden.  Although not much to see now, this lonely Highlands plain is the site of a brutal battle that also marks the beginning of the nearly as ruthless suppression of Scottish national aspirations that followed.

Like most European conflicts of this era, it’s complicated and, in the end, is a squabble between the French and English monarchs.  For our purposes however, it’s enough to know that Bonnie Prince Charles was a surrogate for the French crown.  He managed to persuade some Scottish clan leaders to support his claim to the British throne.  Naturally, the British king, George II, objected.  And it was game on.

With his Scottish clansmen allies of 7,000, Prince Charles enjoyed some initial success, at one point even threatening London.  But faced with unrest among his own troops, Charles retreated north toward the Scottish highlands.  Pursued by English forces under the Duke of Cumberland, the opposing armies clashed at Culloden.  The clansmens’ primitive ardor and arms proved no match for English discipline and superior weapons; in the space of an hour the Scots suffered a crushing and bloody defeat.

After the battle, Cumberland ordered that no quarter be given to survivors.  The killing of wounded continued for two days after the battle, for which action Cumberland earned the sobriquet “The Butcher”.

Ethnic cleansing

But the war on Scot nationalism didn’t end there.  Fearful that rebellion would again rear its head, the English initiated the policies of clearances and transportation to, as Scrooge notoriously put it, “decrease the surplus population.”

Clearances resulted in the eviction of many Highland farmer tenants to make way for landlords to more profitably graze sheep and cattle.  While it’s true that the marginal soil and harsh climate of the Highlands made farming a chancy proposition, pushing people off the land caused widespread misery, famine, and the forced emigration of Highlanders over the entire globe.

Penal transportation to British colonies, such as Australia, was also widespread as a way of subduing the Scots.  It was liberally used against any who had the remotest connection with “the ‘Forty Five,” as the uprising of Prince Charles became known. While more humane than the former practice of capital punishment for even petty criminal offenses and unpaid debts, it nonetheless had the same net effect: breaking the Highlanders’ spirit.

Palestine: Repetition with variation

As I walked over the battlefield, it was difficult for me to figure out exactly what happened where in what is largely a featureless sea of thatch and gorse.  And the recently constructed visitors center, with its “360-degree battle immersion theater” didn’t help much; true, there was plenty of sound and fury, but the flickering images signified little for me.

But taken together, the day reminded me that history, like art, often repeats itself-but with variation.

And so it was that I thought of Palestine on the field of Culloden.  Again, it’s complicated.  And the details remain controversial.  But for our purposes, from 1947 to 1949 Palestinians and Jews fought a bloody war that led to the “clearance,” or, more conventionally, “The Exodus” of more than 700,000 Arabs from their towns and homes.  Four hundred Arab towns and villages were “depopulated” and the homes of many displaced Arabs were taken by Jews.  About 10,000 Jews also fled their homes as a result of the war.

While they agree on little else, historians on both sides reckon that more than 20,000 died, Arab and Jewish, military and civilian.

Known by Arabs as the “Cataclysm,” Jews refer to the conflict as the “War of Independence.”

As at Culloden, there were no shortage of atrocities in Palestine.  Again, while the facts are disputed, the weight of historical evidence indicates that the majority of massacres were perpetuated by Jews.  Arabs contend that the atrocities were part of a Jewish plan to force them to leave their homeland.   The Israeli government, of course, denies this.

The victors write the history books

Again, I’m no expert. But here’s what I find persuasive.  In the 1980’s both Israel and Great Britain (who had unsuccessfully tried to maintain peace in Palestine after WWII under a United Nations mandate), opened their archives to historians on the whole vexed topic.  A group of Jewish researchers, who became know as the “New Historians“, examined these materials and then recast the traditional, heroic vision of Israel’s founding and the Palestinian Exodus in a light significantly less favorable to Israel.

Which, still, can be dismissed as a case of “he said, she said.”

But not this.  While the New Historians were initially dismissed in Israel as cranks, their views were widely considered legitimate by the 1990’s.  At which point the government reclassified as Top Secret” accounts of Israeli “expulsion[s] of Palestinians, massacres or rapes perpetrated by Israeli soldiers, along with other events considered embarrassing by the establishment.”

What could be more convincing proof of putting inconvenient facts down the Orwellian Memory Hole?  And then trying to keep them there.

The similarities only go so far

While I was on my Scotch odyssey, I re-read Arthur Herman’s informative history, How the Scots Invented Modern World.  For a small, impoverished land, the Scots punched far above their weight intellectually and in trade.  Their contributions in science, medicine and business began in the Scotch cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, but were rapidly spread world wide by the Scottish diaspora that grew out of the clearances and penal transportation.

Which raises the question:  what have Palestinian Arabs done since the 1948 exodus, their Cataclysm?  Unfortunately, and in comparison with the Scots, not much.

Much of their energy has been devoted to largely futile efforts to undo the Cataclysm.  Despite repeated wars with Israel and diplomatic initiatives in the United Nations and other forums, there are over 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in squalid Middle East camps.  There, they ceaselessly lobby for the Right of Return to the homes and property that they lost in their various conflicts with Israel.  While it’s true that Palestinians also have a significant world wide diaspora-and notable figures have emerged from it-one wonders what Palestinians could achieved had they been less focused on “what could have been.”

Is demography destiny?

By population and land mass, Israel is a tiny nation.  Swimming in a vast ocean of Arab Muslims.

Of Israel’s 9 million inhabitants, about 75%, or 6.7 million, are Jews.  Most of the rest are Arabs.

But that, perhaps, is not the real issue.  The greater Arab world extends all the way across North Africa and through the Middle East.  It has a combined population of over 422 million inhabitants, most of whom are under 25 years of age.

It’s true that Muslim nations in the Middle East are notoriously fractious.  Conflicts between them are rife.

But what are the odds that, eventually, they will effectively unite with their co-religionists and successfully take on Israel?  Maybe not this year.  Maybe not in the next ten years.  But in the next 100 years?  That’s a long time.  And Israel has sewn the wind in the Arab world.  How long can the whirlwind be delayed?

Maybe Israel is counting on it’s obedient lap dog, the United States, to continue to meddle in the Mideast and provide it with the latest and greatest weapon systems.  And most of the money to buy them.

But how long is that going to continue?  Judging by my admittedly unscientific polling, not forever.  The great majority of Americans that I’ve talked to have had a bellyful-and more-of bloody, endless, costly and futile war in the Mideast.

And now our Washington war mongers are beating the drums for taking on Iran?  In my humble opinion that’s the perfect illustration of insanity: doing the same thing over and over.  And expecting a different result.

Do they really think that Americans are going to get on board for yet another Mideast war?  I’m betting no.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just because we can . . . does it mean we should?

The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau

Ever heard of vivisection?  It comes from Latin words meaning “alive” and “cutting.”  It’s the practice, in other words, of cutting living creatures.  Sounds pretty creepy.  And for that reason, the term’s largely fallen out of use.

But the word can also refer to what many of us have experienced as the beneficial effects of surgery.  What, after all, is surgery except “cutting” on “living” creatures?

But when H.G. Wells uses the term in his unsettling, 1896 science fiction novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, vivisection takes on a much more sinister meaning.   At it’s most basic level, the story describes Moreau using vivisection in a series of cruel experiments to “uplift” animals to something approaching a “human” state.  In other words, changing a creature into something it wasn’t meant to be, something unnatural.

Now, Before Our Very Eyes . . .

Vivisection is back in the news.  And, for our purposes, high school sports.  Articles and reports abound (here and here) about males “deciding” they’re females.  And then going out and cleaning up in sporting competitions against real females.

It’s true, for a number of reasons, most of these male to female “reassignments” don’t involve surgery.  First, surgery’s expensive (up to $50,000 and not typically covered by insurance).  It also looks pretty gruesome-but, to be fair, to an untrained eye like mine, most surgeries probably look about the same.  Nonetheless, in 2016 there were about 1,500 male to female surgeries.

Chemical reassignment via hormones is probably more common-but the changes are less comprehensive, limited to things like muscle mass and facial hair.

The Sports Problem.

750x450 girls soccer silhouette

My problem with all this “gender reassignment,” at least in regards to high school sports, is that I don’t want my granddaughters to be forced to compete against what are really someone’s grandsons.  Like this state champion track star who if, with “her” square jaw and mustache, is a “girl,” then I’m a monkey’s uncle.

If my granddaughters take after their parents, they are likely to enjoy sports.  But to throw them in against boys, who are naturally bigger and stronger, in sports like soccer, lacrosse, and track isn’t just unfair.  It’s dangerous.

And it becomes outrageous when kids, whose birth certificate identifies them as a “male” can simply, on their own say so, declare themselves “females.”  To what end?  So they  can compete on a playing field that’s not just tilted?  But pitching wildly.  And then perpetuate the fraud by scooping up college scholarships which, under Title IX, are intended to be awarded to women?  (Don’t get me wrong-I’m not a big fan of Title IX. It’s resulted in the elimination of some 400 college sports programs that mainly attracted men.  That is, real men.)

Which makes me wonder:  how’s the #metoo movement going to handle this ploy to make women go to the back of the bus?

The Conceit Of The Far Left.  And Right.

The 20th century was the bloodiest in history.  Millions died at the hands of governments in the grip of savage ideologies which were determined to remake human nature in their own, brutal image.  The Nazi’s Übermensch.  The Soviet’s New Man.  The penalty for failing to fit the mold?  Death.  On a mass scale.  Thankfully, though the cost in blood and treasure was high, those cruel idols were overthrown.

However, now, well on into the 21st century, it seems the lesson of the impossibility and undesirability of fundamentally reshaping human nature has yet to be learned.  Except, this time, rather than concentration camps, gas chambers, and the Two Minutes’ Hate, individuals are remaking themselves. With vivisection.  Or chemicals.  Or the bare assertion that they are what they aren’t.

But It Doesn’t Stop There.

Did you see this story?  If you accept it, North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-Un, has spent billions attempting to clone an army of “super soldiers who will obey his every command.”  The article goes on to say that the hermit nation has a long history of human cloning experimentation.  Kim is also trying to insure his own immortality by cloning himself.

And Kim isn’t alone in the pursuit of super soldiers.  It’s an arms race that many, much more “advanced” nations, including ours, are engaged in.

And you thought Dr. Moreau was crazy.

So, just because we can, does it mean we should?  And even if “we” decide we shouldn’t, how do we keep this genie in the bottle if the “we” doesn’t include us all?  Will my grandchildren be forced to compete against “super” kids not just for athletic prizes?  But also for places in college?  And the work force?

Or, God forbid, on the battlefield?

Quo Vadis Greece? Part II.

spencer swalm and friends in Greece

With some fellow Road Scholars at the amphitheater of Epidaurus, the center of the Greek healing arts.

Still Jet Lagged After All These Days.

Finally.  This morning was better.  I didn’t wake up until 4 a.m.  Rather than-boing!-bolt upright, bright eyed, bushy tailed, and ready to be “up and at ’em” at 2:30.  Yuck.

So, rather than lying futilely in bed, I got up at 4:30, watched some of Sense and Sensibility while I made the elliptical go ’round, showered, and had a bite of breakfast.  And then crawled back in bed for an 8:30 nap.  This, needless to say, this is no way to run a railroad.

I don’t, for the life of me, see how my sister and her husband do it.  World travelers par excellence. I almost never know, literally, where in the world they’re at.  Home an extended layover; jet lag as a life style.

And, when we talked about my Greece trip the other day, she told me it’s only gotten worse for her with the passing years.  Since I don’t believe I’m getting any younger, it makes me sorta wonder if my travelin’ days are over.  Is the pain worth the gain?  Brilliant suggestions welcome.

Anyhoo.  Enough of my aberrant sleep cycles.

Looking Back.

One of the ancient sites we “Road Scholars” visited as we bussed around mainland Greece was The Oracle of Delphi.  For those of you who’ve driven I-70 west of Denver, picture Glenwood Canyon-except with the ruins of a medium size town clinging to its rocky heights.  A good good size “church” (the unusual circular temple and where the priestess received ambiguous text messages from the gods), open air amphitheater (á la Red Rocks), a full service-including pool-gymnasium, a stadium/chariot racing track.  And so on and so forth.  A marvel of engineering and testament to the genius of the ancient Greeks.  Not to mention their dogged determination-it’s built entirely of stones, countless of which weigh tons.  Which had to be, somehow, quarried, bullied, and dragged to the site from miles around.

Serpent column delphi in Greece

The Serpent Column at Delphi

For my money, one of the more significant monuments at the site was the bronze Serpent Column.  Made by twisting together a large tripod that was used by the Greeks in their sacrificial rites to the gods, the column commemorates the united front the 31 fractious Greek city states presented to the invading Persian hordes in 479-480 BC to finally put an end to their predations.  First, at the land battles of Plataea and Mycale.  And then the decisive Greek naval victory in the Straits of Salamis.   Thus were the Persians prevented from strangling the nascent idea of democracy in it’s Greek cradle.

Looking Ahead.

But why is this ancient, bronze column, even in it’s less than perfectly preserved state, still significant? Because Greece, and the priceless heritage of Western Civilization that it represents, is under assault again.

Consider Lesbos, a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea, just off the coast of Turkey-the same land where the ancient Persian hordes came from.  Although the demographics of the latest wave of invaders may be in dispute, (Are they predominantly young males?  Or more diverse?), there’s no question that Greece is being invaded again.  And Lesbos is bearing the brunt of the invasion.

But the swarms of immigrants inevitably spill over into mainland Greece.  My friend, Dean, who arrived in Athens a week before me, spoke to a resentful young bus driver as he explored the city.  “I can’t,” he confided to Dean, “afford to get married or have children because the European Union forces us to take better care of foreigners than it does of our own citizens.”

Just the calumny of a bitter loser?  I doubt it.  Eleni, our very knowledgeable guide,  described the youthful brain drain from her county.  Greece has a dismal 24% unemployment rate; of those, 60% are young.  The country is only slowly healing from the 2007-2008 financial crisis; abandoned, graffiti scarred buildings pockmark the face of Athens.

The Real Crisis?

But, perhaps, money isn’t everything.   Nor are invasions.  Greece, and its culture, didn’t just endure 400 years of occupation by the Ottoman Turks.  It thrived.  It stubbornly retained it’s distinctive identity, which was rooted in the Greek Orthodox Church and, even further back, the Classical Hellenic legacy that it had bequeathed to Western Civilization.

Calling on these moral reserves and against long odds, Greeks repelled Italian aggression at the outset of World War II.  It was a point of honor to Eleni, our guide, that Greece fended off the Facist thugs of Germany and Italy longer than France did.  Thus delaying the Nazi’s invasion of Russia.  And which Hitler himself blamed for the German army being turned back, catastrophically, at the gates of Moscow in December of 1941 by the Russian winter.

Greece, in other words, is no stranger to invasion and tough times.  I discussed this with Dean.  “Perhaps things aren’t as bad as they appear in Greece. And even Europe.  They’ve done it before.  Perhaps they can turn back the invading hordes from the Muslim world again this time.”

“But,” he replied, “things might be different this time.”

The Serpent Column Today.

To put a contemporary “twist” on the Serpent Column, let’s imagine that the column represents not unified Greek city states, but a tripod of faith, the economy, and the government.  So, how are the legs holding up some 2500 years later?

I’m no expert on the Orthodox church.  But I do know that early on, as a result of Paul’s missionary journeys, the Hellenic world of the eastern Mediterranean was where Christianity first took root-and spread like wild fire.  Greek was also the language of the New Testament.

interior of greek orthodox church

The ornate, beautiful interior of one of the many small Greek Orthodox chapels scattered throughout the country.

But when I asked our guide, Eleni, about the current spiritual health of her national church, her answer was telling.  “It played an important role in helping our nation survive the 400 year occupation by the Ottomans.  But now,” she continued, “not so much.  Most homes, like ours, have a shrine to a favorite saint that we light candles to on festival days.  But the churches are largely empty.”

The second leg of the economy?  I’ve talked about that.  And, as you have no doubt heard, the picture isn’t pretty.

But the economic picture is probably made even uglier since Greece joined the European Union in 2001.   By becoming a member, Greece surrendered its ability to control its own currency, the drachma.  Thus, when the financial crisis of 2007 clobbered the economy, Greece was incapable of devaluing its currency-a commonly used response to an economic depression that attempts to jump start the economy by making exports less expensive for customers in other countries.  But with EU bureaucrats in Brussels calling the shots in Athens, no such luck.

And the government?  Well, let’s leave it at this:  even if the government is rock solid, when you kick out two legs of a three legged stool, you’re not left with much.  And that’s not even counting the scars left by the savage civil war of 1946-1949 and the military coup of 1967-1974.

 A Resilience We Don’t Understand?

One of the books on our “required reading” list for us Roads Scholars was Modern Greece:    What Everyone Needs To Know by Yale historian and professor Stathis Kalyvas.  A Greek himself, Kalyvas admits to being, on occasion, puzzled by the resilience his nation has displayed time and again in the face of invasion, economic collapse, and civil strife.

So, what can you say?  Perhaps the Greeks are just too hard headed to know when they’re licked.  Can the same be said, more broadly, of Western Civilization?  One can only hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“No, I got a D in calculus.”

image2 (2)Our son, Byron, is a smart guy.  But, growing up, he was not big on school.  He much preferred to spend his time reading books.  I don’t know how many times he read the Civil War epic, Rifles for Watie.  And he almost certainly doesn’t either.

It drove us, and particularly his mother, nuts to be aware of his wasted potential.  We tried a private, alternative high school for a while.  It was a goofy waste of money.  I suggested that we send him to a military academy in Kansas-my wife vetoed that idea.

When he got older and could learn to drive, we thought that preventing him from getting his license might motivate him.  Wrong.  He sat in his room and read.  And brought home, at best, uneven report cards.  Some A’s and B’s, a sprinkling of D’s and F’s.  We gave up on the license thing when it dawned on my wife that if he didn’t learn to drive before he went to college-if any of them would accept him-he would be learning to drive from other college kids.  Probably not the best teachers.  We surrendered, he won.  But he never seemed to really be all that interested in driving anyway.

He ended up going to Miami of Ohio-talk about a university with a geographic identity crisis.  Why a school of its caliber would accept him I don’t know.  Well, actually, I do: they wanted our money.

As he did at Cherry Creek High School, he played in the marching band.  We went back for parents’ weekend and were there for the homecoming football game.  Those were the glory days of RedHawk football-Ben Roethlisberger was the quarterback.  So we got to see our son march at half-time.  And Big Ben win the game.

But it was all pretty much down hill from there.  Toward the end of the spring semester, we got a letter from Byron’s room mate informing us that he almost never went to class and did very little besides stay in the dorm room playing computer games.  The room mate also reported that he had to work to pay his way through school.  The kid was justifiably angry that Byron was not even warming a chair in class while he was working his fanny off.

When I picked up Byron at DIA that spring I showed him the letter.  “What do you have to say about this?  Is this what’s going on?”  My voice quavered with anger as we drove along Pena Boulevard.  He didn’t deny the contents of the letter.  I told him, “We’re done with this.  If you want to keep going to school, you’re picking up the tab yourself.”

A few minutes of stoney silence passed before he said, “I went to see the Navy recruiter recently.  I think I’m going to join the Navy.”

“Right,” I replied, still upset, “I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“I actually took the the military IQ test, the ASVAB, and got the highest available score.  They’re recruiting me into the Navy’s nuclear program.”

“Well,” I replied, “that sounds like it could be a good plan.  But you’re going to have to prove to us that you’re serious.”

But, skeptic though I was, a few weeks later a couple of impressive, ram rod straight Naval recruiting officers were sitting around our kitchen table.  I was a pretty easy sale.  My wife was tougher; she was afraid that they would pull the old bait-and-switch on him and he would wind up chipping paint on old hulks.  Nonetheless, a few months later, and after an emotional going away dinner, the recruiters showed up late one evening to take Byron downtown to be sworn in.

The next we heard from him was a frantic call from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center:  “I’m here.  I’m ok.  And I have to go.”  Click.

It was demanding, but he did well in basic training.  The fact that I was only seconds from missing my flight to Chicago to see him graduate from basic still haunts me, but I made it and the ceremony was suitably impressive.  We enjoyed a great weekend in Chi Town together.

He continued to excel through the various training schools.  The nuclear power training school curriculum is enough to make my head explode-you look at it and decide if you think you can pass.  I couldn’t have.

From there, he opted for submarines and helped run the reactor for several years on the USS Nebraska, a ballistic missile sub.  I joined the Big Red Sub Club and, in that capacity, was able to go on a one day ride along as the submarine returned from one of its 77 day patrols to its base in Bangor, Washington.

After eight years of outstanding Navy service, Byron finished as a Petty Officer, First Class.  The letter his mother and I received from his commanding officer announcing the promotion is impressive and, framed, hangs in my office.  He has a shadow box laden with commendations, medals, ribbons and pins.

On the strength of his naval record, and the recommendation of a fellow bubble head, Byron got a job with Google at their data center near Omaha after he mustered out of the Navy.  Again, regular promotions.  They’ve sent him around the country and from Finland to Ireland on various assignments.

I used to like to tell folks that “The only class that our son passed in college was marching band.”  And then go on to tell them how well he had done in the Navy-and now at Google.

However, one time Byron heard me say that and corrected me:  “No, dad, I got a D in calculus.”

I stand corrected.