Monday, July 2, 2007

Next Time Just Saw My Head Off

Here’s the highlight of my day (which shows you just how pathetic my life has become). While driving home I listened to an NPR program called Fair Game. Host Faith Salie must be almost as desperate as me because her post-drivetime oeuvre for today featured an interview with musical saw virtuoso Dale Stuckenbruck. I learned a few thing about saw playing that would otherwise have passed me by, such as the blade must be flexed into a symmetrical waveform curve with the amplitude of the wave corresponding to the pitch. The sound is produced by bowing at the point where the curvature crosses the x-axis. Mathematically this would be given by

A • sin(ωt + θ) = 0

The interview was interesting and Stuckenbruck is evidently dedicated to his instrument, he even has a CD out that’s available from Amazon. But to me saw music always invokes images of Joan Crawford experiencing psychotic hallucinations.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Mister Wizard Retrospective

Dutch of the Diseased Mind has some thoughts on the passing of Don Herbert, classic TV’s Mister Wizard. I’m indebted to Dutch (i.e., in dutch to Dutch) for information on some Golden Age children’s programming I’ve never seen or knew existed.

It occurs to me, whenever Hitler received a report regarding the progress of the u-boat campaign against Allied commerce in the Atlantic did the Fuhrer’s expression go all narcotic with a trail of drool leaking out of his mouth as he droned “mmm… Dönitz”?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ines Webber - Guest Blogger at Kesher Talk

Thanks you, Ines Weber, for the comments on Karl Plagge on Kesher Talk Israel can only enhance her reputation for justice by honoring gentiles who took a dangerous stand for humanity in a time of ascendant evil, an evil which sadly seems about to overshadow the 21st century. It’s as if the world at large can’t learn even a simple lesson or take inspiration from the sacrifice of millions of lives.

Today’s intellectual climate seems to admit of only two extremes, either nearly every adult German was guilty, which is basically the Goldhagen premise, or nobody was guilty, the position taken by Ahmadinejad and the jihadists, who say that the Holocaust is a fraud, and even if something like it happened it was of little moral significance since the slain were Jews and thus had it coming.

What many fail to take into account when they read about someone with a Nazi past is that while anti-Semitism was the irreducible kernel of National Socialism in its ultimate form, this wasn’t at all apparent to many observers at the time. The average German in 1930-33 was anticipating a very bleak future. Democracy was failing on every front, and the only likely outcome seemed to be utter chaos or some form of dictatorship, either communist or nationalist. Most Germans were nationalistic by inclination and Christian by confession, so the prospect of an atheist despotism controlled by a foreign power (Stalin) was doubly anathema. This left the NSDAP as the better choice for an increasing share of the electorate. If one studies the early propaganda, speeches and position papers of Hitler, Göring, Goebbels and particularly Ernst Röhm one will notice that Nazism originally had an authentic socialist character, especially before the fall of the SA and the promulgation of the Nuremberg laws, a character that fell by the wayside in favor of militant racism. Certainly anti-Semitism was the subtext of much of the propaganda, but many thoughtful people dismissed it as mere bluster, even many German Jews were doubtful of Hilter’s sincerity. Thus we have figures such as Ludwig Beck, Wilhelm Canaris, Claus von Stauffenberg, and many others who at one time or another were attracted to the Nazi movement, but became active dissidents who sought to thwart Hitler’s plans or overturn his regime. That they failed can be attributed to many factors -- the suspicions of the Allies, Nazism's cadre of dedicated maniacs who were ready to execute to the letter the Führer's whims, dithering incompetence and the devil's own luck -- but they did try and occasionally succeeded in small ways, here and there. But, whoever saves one life saves the world entire.

Hezbollah War Redux - CNN Interviews a Terrorist

We’re coming up on the anniversary of events in northern Israel and South Lebanon which led to Ehud Olmert’s punitive expedition against Hezbollah, the only war Israel can be said to have lost. In recognition I have linked to this YouTube posting, an interview of formal Palestinian terrorist Walid Shoebat conducted by CNN anchorette Fionnuala Sweeney. The interview was conducted last August as part of CNN coverage of the war, and was posted on YouTube on 8/8/2006. Since the video is due to age out soon I thought now is a good a time as any to comment on it.

Shoebat, as readers may know, is a former PLO operative who radically changed his views of Israel and of Jews generally, and has since been campaigning against the culture of jihad, which is increasingly the loudest voice in Islam. Shoebat by his own testimony was born and raised a devout Muslim, though whether he remains one I haven’t been able to discover. Shoebat’s website states that he lives under an assumed name (for safety?) somewhere in the USA. What’s not clear is whether Walid Shoebat is his given name or his nom de guerre.

I find this video interesting particularly in the manner it was conducted. Sweeney tries to characterize Shoebat’s background by claiming he was jailed by the Israelis for his “beliefs,” obviously meant to imply that Shoebat, and by extension other Palestinians held in Israeli captivity, had been an admirable prisoner of conscience unjustly imprisoned for political reasons. Shoebat corrects the record, in a most gentlemanly manner, stating he was sentenced for “terrorist activities.” Undeterred by the literal truth Sweeney, who comes off as a blatant jihadist shill, again mischaracterizes Shoebats detention.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

If You Stick Your Head in the Lion's Mouth...

While perusing the Daily Mail I saw this piece about kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston. A new videotape has surfaced showing the reporter wearing what appears to be an explosives-filled vest of the kind made infamous by suicide bombers. Observers have speculated that Johnston’s kidnappers, the self-styled Army of Islam, intend to murder Johnston by detonating the vest if there is an attempt to rescue him. Hamas, the terror group which claims to govern Gaza, can’t seem to locate Johnston, which seems odd given the thousands of Hamas gunmen on the streets and the very small size of Gaza. I happened to come across this piece after having read and commented on another Daily Mail item about a silly man who likes to cuddle with wild lions (see Wild Kingdom below). It occurs to me these two seemingly unrelated stories have an underlying commonality.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, the premise of the lion whisperer’s act is a romantic view of nature that has more to do with our childish expectations than reality. Many people seem to believe that love is naturally requited – all we have to do is give love and love will be ours in reward. Thus Kevin Richardson heaps affection on the lions, and they seem to reciprocate. The operative word is seem, however. Lions are predators of man-sized prey, and they are highly competitive within their social group. Sooner or later the lion whisperer will run afoul of one or another leonine behavioral imperative – one day he’ll trigger a predation response or get involved in some kind of status conflict -- either way he’s dead.

Alan Johnston is also a kind of lion whisperer. For several years Johnston has been among the most avidly pro-Palestinian journalist reporting in English. In fact his submissions to the BBC were so favorable to Hamas that he was only Western journalist allowed to be permanently based in Gaza. A typical leftist, Johnston took a romantic view of Hamas, Fatah and other terrorist groups, seeing them as underdogs struggling against injustice, and ignoring the decades of savage anti-semitic behavior that got the Palestinians into their sorry state. Well, he chose to lie down amidst the beasts, rubbing their bellies and cooing soft words, and now they are about to devour him in recompense.

Wild Kingdom

Kevin Richardson of Johannesburg, South Africa has been named the "lion whisperer" by the Daily Mail. It appears that his shtick schmoozing with the big cats and other predators.

It’s been more than two centuries since Jean Jacques Rousseau made romantics of us Westerners, and judging from the reader responses to the article his influence hasn’t waned, at least in some quarters. Some used the adjective fantastic in a predictably breathless manner. One commenter observed that big cats are just like little cats, needing only love and chin chucks.

Every few years something like this story crops up, a human interest piece intended to nurture a sentimental and thoroughly unrealistic view of the natural world. Several decades back we got Joy Adamson, a hit song and a movie, followed by a spate of popular nature programs which specialized in anthropomorphic narration of wildlife films. Magicians Siegfried and Roy did their bit. Then came the Crocodile Hunter and the Grizzly Man. Adamson got eaten. So did the Grizzly Man. Roy’s not pretty anymore, and the odds caught up with Corwin.

My apologies to all animal lovers, but big cats are different from house cats, in the case of lions much more so. Thousands of years of co-evolution with humans and small size make Tabby more manageable than Leo. If your moggies weighed 300 lbs you’d have more respect and they would have less. Richardson is doing neither himself nor the lions any favors. Sooner or later he’s going to get grievously injured, probably killed, and incurable animal romantics won’t get the lesson.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tom Cruise v. the German Army

According to Reuters the German Army has banned Tom Cruise from its military sites on the grounds that he is a Scientologist. Cruise is working on a new movie about Claus von Stauffenberg, a WWII Wehrmacht officer who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler by exploding a bomb during a military briefing, the famous July Plot which failed to remove the Nazis and ultimately resulted in the deaths of hundreds of German dissidents and resistance figures, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wilhelm Canaris and Erwin Rommel. For a few key scenes the producers want to use some historical locations which are under German military control. Specifically the Defense Ministry wants to ban the actor Cruise from being filmed on these locations.

Evidently, the Bundeswehr's complaint is that Scientology isn't so much a religion as a confidence scam, and Tom Cruise, one of the most visible members of L. Ron Hubbard's "church", is a proselytizing figure who will damage the reputation of the German Army and the memory of Count von Stauffenberg.

I can't say I think very highly of Tom Cruise as a man. From what I've seen of him in his own persona, he seems rather jejune -- an arrested adolescent. But he is a rather effective actor, and judging from photographs of Stauffenberg, a good physical type for the role. As for his membership in the Church of Scientology, it doesn't speak well of his critical thinking skills. But it is only fair to grant Tom Cruise the right to freedom of conscience. If he wants to squander his wealth on his beliefs, then we must assume he's made that decision as a consenting adult. If he chooses to loudly proclaim the doctrine of Dianetics, he's entitled to that conceit as well. Even if he buttonholes some feckless German squaddie and tries to persuade him to take a free e-meter exam, there should be no prior restraint. An enlightened society must grant this as a basic human right. If not, then what was Stauffenberg trying to accomplish in that map room 63 years ago?