Day By Day

Monday, May 31, 2010

A More Dangerous World

Hot on the heels of the Korean crisis comes another one in Gaza. The IDF intercepted and confiscated an "aid convoy" attempting to penetrate the Israeli blockade.

WaPo reports:

GAZA - At least 10 pro-Palestinian activists were killed and dozens were wounded aboard an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip when Israeli naval commandos seized control of the boats early Monday, the Israeli army said.

Some Israeli, Turkish and Arab media outlets put the death toll as high as 20 activists. The wounded were evacuated to Israeli hospitals and the ships were being led into Israel's Ashdod port, where the passengers and aid supplies are to be unloaded and screened. More than four naval personnel were also injured.

Read the whole thing here.

Richard Fernandez places this confrontation in the context of a number of recent anti-Israel developments and suggests that the combination of Iranian aggressiveness, a perception of Israeli weakness, and softening of US and European support for Israel are creating a dangerous situation throughout the region.

It will be interesting to see how the Obama administration reacts to these twin crises. Regarding Korea the response has been extraordinarily weak, deferring to China in all things. A similarly weak reaction to the Gaza provocation will reinforce the growing impression that the United States cannot be counted on to defend its allies anywhere in the world. And that perception of American disengagement, more than any other recent development, is making the world a much more dangerous place.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Remembering

Hymn To the Fallen

Tunisia Trip -- Part Thirty Six

Our next stop was at the Port of Djerba.


Here the emphasis was on fishing. There were numerous small craft around.


And a few of these large fishing vessels.


These are octopus pots -- they are thrown over the side of the boats and left on the sea bottom where they attract octopi that see them as a refuge. They are then hauled to the surface and the octopi extracted. It seems to be a major local industry.


Yes, there were lots and lots of octopus pots.


And here are boats the octopus fishermen use.


After a bit we settled down for a leisurely lunch. The service was terrible..., really terrible, but the food wasn't all that bad, and then the waiter tried to cheat us. Not a place we would recommend.

Then it was back on the bus for a ride along the beach to our hotel. Once again the kites were in the air.


That evening my wife and I took a leisurely stroll along the beach under the full moonlight.


I took this photo as we returned to the hotel. As you can see Djerba, a major resort site for French, German, and British tourists, was quite a relief from the desert.

Sarah On His Mind

The latest from Iowahawk, the funniest man on the web.

Hi Neighbor!

Special Guest Commentary
by the Sarah Palin Homunculus that Lives Inside Liberals' Heads

Knockity knock!

Oh hi there! I was out shooting caribou on the Arctic Cat and saw your synapse lights on, and so I said to myself, "now, gosh darn it, Sarah, you've been living inside this nice person's cerebral cortex for, what is it, almost two years now? By golly, it's about time you dropped in at their frontal lobe with a plate of your famous homemade Alaska welcome wagon cookies and introduced yourself." So anyhoo, I sure hope you like 'em. Don't want to give out a family recipe, but the secret ingredient is baby seal. I clubbed 'em fresh this morning!

Oh my goodness... you look kind of confused. I get that a lot! You were probably thinking, "hey, I only wanted to move next door to Sarah Palin -- now what in the goshdarned heck is she doing inside my brain?" Well ya see, the deal is I'm not Sarah, but boy I gotta tell ya, we sure do get mistaken all the time! No, I'm just a plain ol' homunculus Sarah Palin that your own id created to sublimate your deep-seated psychosexual neuroses. Or so those egghead books say, anyway. But if you ask me that sure sounds like a lot of elite Anti-America liberal professor gobbledegook! By the way, your id says hi.

Read the whole thing here.

French Lessons? I Think Not!

Gilles Kepel has written a spectacularly stupid piece for the National Interest titled "French Lessons in Londonistan" in which he, with typical Gallic arrogance, asserts that French colonial policy was far superior to that of the Anglo-Saxon powers and as a result post-colonial regimes throughout the former French sphere and France itself have been relatively free from ethnic violence. This is absurd.

His argument is that England tried to govern its empire on the cheap by exploiting ethnic differences within the colonial populations, dividing them one against another and thus being able to control them with relatively few occupying troops. By contrast France was willing and able to make the massive investment of assuming the responsibilities of assuming the duties of keeping and administering the peace and of promoting cultural unity throughout their realms while treating all minorities fairly and with equal respect. The result was a damping of ethnic tensions and a relative lack of resentment against the ruling French elites. He points to the fact that England and America have frequently been the target of radical Islamist attacks, while France has been relatively untroubled. He writes:
THE IMPERIAL experience serves as a backdrop to the markedly contrasting ways that London and Paris have approached the immigration dilemma. France has created an intermingled culture, which is being forged on a daily basis between the native Gaul and the immigrant Arab and Berber. It revolves around two French obsessions: the bed and the dinner table. Your average young Muslim girl is interested in living and having children with a French gouer, a North-African colloquial term meaning “infidel”—i.e., non-Muslim.

....

These women would loathe the very idea of an arranged marriage to a fellah (peasant) cousin from the far away bled (North Africa) with his unrefined manners and pedestrian French.

By contrast:
IN THE UK, things were happening quite differently. From the beginning of mass migration in the 1950s, British Muslims organized as such and started to establish mosques on British soil. The segregated experience of the Muslim community under the Raj was duplicated in Britain, except this time the majority population was not Hindu, but the white English working class with its beer-on-tap-and-bacon culture. Meanwhile, intra-Muslim sectarian and denominational strife led different groups to create their own enclaves.

....

This secluded British-Muslim religious identity led to a far more introverted social life than was the case for North Africans in France.
Anglo-Saxon intolerance, therefore, gave rise to a hostile, unified Muslim reaction that contrasts decidedly to the French experience in which immigrants display a "wide array of available identities—Islamic, Algerian, working class, unionized, leftist, la├»que and what have you—that made the concept of Muslim categorization secondary at best."

He concludes that since the departure from office of the twin Anglo-Saxon demons, Tony Blair and George Bush, Britain and America finally have an opportunity to remake both their domestic and foreign policy along the lines of the more successful French experience and to begin at last to welcome and successfully integrate their Muslim minorities and make peace with their Muslim neighbors.

In response I would note that, while there certainly were horrific episodes in the period of British decolonization -- he makes specific reference to the partition of India and Pakistan -- that the French experience was not as salubrious he suggests. He points to North and West Africa [specifically Algeria and Senegal] as models of successful transitions in which colonial policy had muted Muslim resentment of the dominant French culture and which were presumably free from post-colonial ethnic conflict. But one need only remember the prolonged mid-century struggle in Algeria to give the lie to this claim of a superior transition to independence and, having recently returned from North Africa, I can assert that the area is hardly free from ethnic tensions. Only a couple of months ago I stood in a Jewish synagogue in Djerba that had, as recently as eight years ago, had been the target of Islamist attack. And as for the absence of ethnic conflict -- it is certainly muted in those former French colonies where ethnic minorities are so small and weak that resistance is, as they say, futile. But what about Lebanon which is in a near constant state of ethnic turmoil? The relative peace of North and West Africa, I would argue, was due not to superior colonial policies but to the local hegemonic dominance of one Islamic sect or another. And as for the supposed greater success of postwar French domestic policy, what about the months of rioting, looting and burning by Muslim "youths" that occurred in French cities just a few years ago? All in all it is hard to see through the smoke and flames of the Paris streets just what it was about French policy that was so superior.

Tunisia Trip -- Part Thirty Five

Then it was off to Houmt Souk, the market neighborhood and main town of the island for a shopping opportunity.

I particularly enjoyed watching the fish vendors auctioning off the day's catches. They each had an amusing and distinctive personality.



Souk scenes:






This elderly woman is wearing the traditional garb of the island, complete with straw hat.

Shattering the Myth of the Meritocracy -- The Gulf Oil Crisis

Elizabeth Scalia (The Anchoress) notes the sense of heartbreak among liberal commentators discussing the administration's handling of the Gulf oil crisis.

She, following Allahpundit, zeroes in on Chris Matthews' denunciation of the "idiotic cerebral meritocracy" and suggests that more than simply true believers' faith in "The One" is being tested. It is faith in the entire meritocratic process that has displaced people with real, practical knowledge and elevated academically credentialed theorists to positions of power.

Read her comments here.

I hope she's right -- that the myth of "meritocracy" legitimated by academic credentialing institutions is finally being exposed for the farce it has always been. Underlying it is the absurd faith that credentialing and monitoring mechanisms -- academic institutions and professional associations -- comprise a "community of competence" that is capable of producing and guaranteeing excellence. If your sole claim to authority is the presumption of competence, then a blatant and massive display of incompetence such as we are now witnessing is a deadly blow to your status. The institutional failures of the Bush administration were blamed on Bush himself who, Democrats assured us, was not really a product of the meritocracy [despite degrees from both Yale and Harvard]. But now that the Obamination are in charge, they cannot shift blame to anyone else. It is not just Obama or the Democratic Party that are threatened by the ongoing failure -- it is the meritocracy itself.

I say it is about time!

Scalia also makes the pertinent point that people who actually hold practical and useful knowledge and skills are not likely to take direction for academically-trained idiots who presume to tell them how to do their jobs. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Expect a lot of inane articles to appear in future months decrying the rise of "anti-intellectualism" in America.

Watching BP

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tunisia Trip -- Part Thirty Four

Our next stop was at the El Ghriba synagogue,

This is the residence where pilgrims who travel to the synagogue on the holiday of Lag BaOber can stay.


The synagogue itself is one of the oldest in the world (and claims to be the oldest, dating from the seventh century BC, although the date is disputed). It also supposedly contains the world's oldest Sefer Torah (again the claim is disputed). The current building dates from the 1920s.

In recent decades the synagogue has come under attack from radical Muslims. In 1985 on Simchat Torah one of the policemen guarding the site opened fire on the worshipers, killing three of them. Then in 2002 Al Qaeda claimed credit for a suicide car bombing there that killed twenty-one people. Understandably security at the site today is extremely tight.





Emerging from the dark interior back into the Tunisian sunlight we were reminded that we were surrounded on all sides by an Islamic state, the symbols of which were everywhere to be seen.

The Latest Doomsday Theory

AS if we didn't have enough to worry about.
Is the Sun going to enter a million-degree galactic cloud of interstellar gas?

A group of scientists are suggesting that the Ribbon of enhanced emissions of Energetic Neutral Atoms(ENA) discovered last year by the NASA Small Explorer satellite IBEX could be explained by a geometric effect coming up because of approach of the Sun to the boundary between the Local Cloud of interstellar gas and another cloud of a very hot gas called the Local Bubble.

If their hypothesis is correct, IBEX is catching matter from a hot neighboring interstellar cloud, which the Sun might enter in a hundred years.
Read about it here.

The Past and Future of Genomics Research

Here's a terrific discussion featuring John Hawks, who talks about the genetic history of humans, and Christinia Agapakis, a medical researcher who talks about the future of synthetic genetics. Between them they bring a lot of sense to the somewhat confusing journalistic treatments of recent developments in both fields.


Check it out. Definitely worth your time.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Amazing

The wonders of digital photography! Check out this all-round view of the Sistine Chapel.

Tunisia Trip -- Part Thirty Three

The next day we explored the island of Djerba, known in Greek tradition as the "land of the lotus eaters" [the intoxicating drink that unmanned Odysseus' crew was probably date wine, still produced there]. Our first destination on the island was Guellala, a village famed since antiquity for the manufacture of pottery.

First a short demonstration of a potter's technique.


Some of his wares:


The streets and byways were lined with pottery.






Inside a potter's workshop:


A kiln:


Making a sale:


Incidental shots:


Peggy Noonan on the Oil Spill

From the Wall Street Journal:

I wonder if the president knows what a disaster this is not only for him but for his political assumptions. His philosophy is that it is appropriate for the federal government to occupy a more burly, significant and powerful place in America—confronting its problems of need, injustice, inequality. But in a way, and inevitably, this is always boiled down to a promise: "Trust us here in Washington, we will prove worthy of your trust." Then the oil spill came and government could not do the job, could not meet need, in fact seemed faraway and incapable: "We pay so much for the government and it can't cap an undersea oil well!"
She then goes on to make two very important points.

The massive perception of federal incompetence fostered by the media in the case of Katrina was specific to the Bush administration. This was in large part because the Democrats had not been tested in a similar way and could claim that they would have done better. They could charge that President Bush was uniquely unable or unwilling to mobilize the vast resources of the federal government effectively and efficiently. But now the Democrats have had their shot at governing and have proven to be no more effective than the much maligned Republicans. This makes plausible the essential conservative argument that it matters not which party is in pulling the levers of power, the federal government, even at the time that it is assuming more and more control over more and more things, is inherently incompetent to do most things.

And, building on this she warns Republicans not to get too excited about their own future prospects. If they win control of the federal government they will inevitably face their own catastrophes and, if (as seems likely) their is correct, they will "blow it".

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Murmuration

Check out the size of this flock of starlings. Impressive!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tunisia Trip -- Part Thirty Two

The next morning we headed out to the town of Medenine in southern Tunisia. This would be the farthest south we would go on our tour. Beyond was Libya.

Medenine was a major trading center in pre-colonial times and is still extensively used by nomadic Berber tribes that spend part of the year there. Medenine was also the site of General Rommel's last battle in Africa. Interesting, but we were there to see the ghorfas.

A ghorfa is a Berber structure used for grain storage [although some of them were occupied by families] and they are quite striking. Each block consisted of multi-story storage rooms built around a central courtyard. Like so many other parts of Tunisia, they were used as sets for the Star War films.




In this last picture you can see a woman sitting by herself. Here she is close-up.


She was baking for sale to tourists like me. Naturally, I bought one. It was delicious.


Most of the structures we visited were abandoned, but not all.


That's the city in the background.




Then it was back in the bus for a trip to the coast.


Ah, expanses of water. Quite a relief after days of sand and rock and scrub brush.


Taking advantage of the high winds.



Nothing much, I just like the pictures.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Sarah Stalker

Sleazebag author Joe McGinniss has moved in next door to Sarah Palin in order to spy on her and her family while he prepares a book on her.

Sarah writes on her facebook wall:

Maybe we’ll welcome him with a homemade blueberry pie tomorrow so he’ll know how friendly Alaskans are.

...

Joe announced to Todd that he’s moved in right next door to us. He’s rented the place for the next five months or so. He moved up all the way from Massachusetts to live right next to us – while he writes a book about me.

....

Wonder what kind of material he’ll gather while overlooking Piper’s bedroom, my little garden, and the family’s swimming hole?

Welcome, Joe! It’ll be a great summer – come borrow a cup of sugar if ever you need some sweetener. And you know what they say about “fences make for good neighbors”? Well, we’ll get started on that tall fence tomorrow....


Read about it here.

Really, guys! This is way over the line..., and it's creepy too.

Tunisia Trip -- Part Thirty One

Then it was on to Gabes, where we would spend the night. Gabes is reputed to be the world's only seaside oasis and was a major manufacturing and trading center in the ancient world. Today it is overshadowed by other cities in the region.

Our first stop was at the spice market.


My wife informs me that the green material in the foreground is henna, one of the city's local products.


In the following two photos you can see shops selling baskets, another local product for which the city is known.



The oasis contains approximately half a million trees and produces dates, apricots, figs, olives and pomegranates. None of these are of particularly high quality, though, so the town earns much of its living from the sea.


Mmmmmm. Dried anchovies.

The central mosque.



We wandered around shopping for a while, then got on the bus and went to the hotel where we checked in, rested up, and then ate dinner.