Sunday, April 29, 2007

He's gone

Mstislav Rostropovich, absolutely my favorite cellist ever. I don't know enough to claim: "He represented the true greatness of Russia." What I do know is that he played the cello marvelously well and infected his audience with his enthusiasm. Rotropovich playing his best was Rostropovich breaking the horsehair strands of his bow as he banged out a piece full of energy, chanting dah dah in time with the music and spitting out upon the audience as he did so.

I switched from the front to the second row after that. But I didn't love his music any less for it.

He belongs to the ages now. And to the angels in heaven I offer this advice: Not so close!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The True Meaning of Resistance

Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor and Professor of Aeronautical Engineering, died Monday - Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) - when he employed his own body to prevent a crazed killer from shooting into his classrooom at Virginia Tech. The professor's sacrifice bought his students enough time to jump out the windows. All of Librescu's students survived.

Librescu's fate recalls that of Danny Lewin, the Israeli-American entrepreneur and IDF commando who died on 9-11. The FBI suspects Lewin was the passenger killed by the hijackers as they seized control of American Airlines Flight 11, the first aircraft to crash into the World Trade Center. Thus, Lewin was the first casualty of that terrible day.

May they rest in peace, and may we all learn from their example: this is the true meaning of "Resistance".

Update: Sigmund, Carl, & Alfred have a better and more detailed post on Librescu's sacrifice here.

Update 4/22/07: Solomon2 has a confession to make. It didn't ring a bell at first, but I remember that over twenty years ago, while I was attending engineering school, I met a man who said he was an aeronautical engineer from Romania. We were riding a bus in St. Louis. He said he was looking for a job in the States, and asked me pointed questions about my University and the local aerospace firms. I looked at him suspiciously and said very little. He smiled and fell silent.

I honestly thought the man was a nut, and maybe a spy. It was during the Cold War, after all. But it is quite possible that that man was Liviu Librescu.

I apologize for wronging you in my thoughts, Professor. You were the best.

New Egyptian Blog Aggregator

I've created a new Egyptian blog aggregator: Blogs about Egypt. What is different about this aggregator? Thanks to the magic of Google, when you click on a link it provides translations of Arabic-language blogs! Crude, but useful.

Please add your suggestions in the comments, thank you!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Never Again?

Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the day Lebanese consider the beginning of their fifteen-year civil war. The destruction, disorder, and moral agony sufferred by the country has led to a deep determination that the nation should never again have to experience a civil war ever again.

Yet that very reluctance to engage in domestic armed conflict is used by the only remaining openly armed militia, Hezbollah, to exercise power over the country at the direction of Syria and Iran, who employ Lebanon as proxy battleground in their battle against the West.

What price domestic peace? Hezbollah is increasingly asserting its right to dominate its countrymen and use the territory it occupies to suit the agenda of its foreign supporters and its own jihadist ideology - that is, it plans to make war and then let the country suffer:
Jeha: The problem is; how do you deal with someone who's main goal is your eradication? How do you convince them that they need to address the secular needs in this life, while their minds are focused on the next? Even if we did not want to go to war, their intransigence will surely lead us to it.

Blacksmith Jade: [E]ven though these people can correctly identify and cognitively address national issues, they choose to reject the logical end [that it is imperative to support the government at this moment in time], simply because of personal reasons, and at the expense of what is (what even they deep down recognize as being) beneficial for the country.

Solomon2: A very important insight of yours, bj, and a very distressing one. By now most Lebanese have figured out the most important lesson of the Israeli response in the face of Lebanese acquiescence to Hezbollah's war of last summer:

Nothing good.

But the Hezb followers have not. Which means that if Hezbollah does indeed start up war again, a morally appropriate Israeli response would be to bomb the civilian targets of Hezbollah supporters directly - far more destruction than Israel inflicted in the 2006 war.

The alternative? For Lebanese to stop fantasizing about how the behavior of non-Lebanese actors on the world stage should change and concentrate on changing themselves and their countrymen instead.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Playing with Fire

The goal of political Islam is to stress its own claim to authenticity and power by harking back to the Eighth Century, and to insist that Muslims today must look to this historical age for guidance in the Twenty-First Century.

Those Arab intellectuals who are trying to reconcile liberal democracy with political Islam are playing with fire.

That's too bad because modern Western democracy - American democratic values, anyway - seems to have its roots in the democratic nature of religious Calvinism, a creed as stern in its time as Wahhabi Islam is today. Playing with fire? Such "fire" was Western Democracy's ally!

How did this come about? Three reasons:

1) The Calvinists and their offshoots (including the Puritans of the Mayflower) elected their own religious leaders and police, so it was only a small jump from there to electing their own government.

2) The Calvinist belief in divine predestination meant that you couldn't blame the evil plottings of others for your lot in life; it was up to you to make the best of it.

3) The Calvinist ethics of hard work, discipline, and education served to create a society that created its own wealth and slowly relaxed its intrusions into personal life as the community realized such strictures were no longer necessary but more of a hindrance to the smooth functioning of the community.

Eventually, religious freedom was seen as a value in its own right, and to exercise religious freedom - especially the freedom to CHANGE religions - personal freedom is required.

The implication is clear: as long as the Arab World restricts religious freedom, it cannot become democratic in the Western sense any time soon. Nevertheless, why can't Muslims demand that democratic accountability in their local communities and places of worship begin immediately?

Update 4/12/07: I'm not sure this "Calvinist evolution" is a complete enough answer and invite comments from my readers.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bongo Smell Wind!

"Get up the Mast and tell me exactly what and where it is. Take Bodine up with you, with a watch and compass,- and if it proves to be a sail, do try to obtain a few nicely spac'd magnetickal Bearings, there's a good Lieutenant. You'll note how very scientific we are here, yet ancient Beliefs will persist. Here, then, Bongo! Yes! Yes, Captain wishes Excellent Bongo smell Wind!"

The Lascar so address'd, crying, "Aye, aye, Cap'n!!" spings to windward, up a rail, and grasping some Armful of Fore-Shrouds, presses himself far into the wind, head-rag a-fluttering,- almost immediately turning his Head, with a look of Savage Glee,- "Frenchies!"

"I have chosen to be a very wicked woman."
"Who it seems will commit any sin."
Giggling awkward as a Girl, her face a-glow,- the first time he's observ'd her thus. She has been trying to unbutton her Bodice...the trembling in her hands and the failing light resist last with a small growl she grabs both sides of the Garment and rips it in two...The light in the room is darkening with unnatural speed, turning her nipples and mouth black as ashes, her fair hair nearly invisible.

"Here then,- Gershom! Where be you at, my man!"
An African servant with an ambiguous expression appears. "Yes, Massuh [George] Washington Suh!"
"Gershom fetch us if you will some Pipes and a Bowl of the new-cur'd Hemp..."
"...Don't bother about that Israelite talk, anyhow", [Gershom says]..."he does it all the time...As I do happen to be of the Hebrew faith, it would seem a waste of precious time...Is [your partner] always like this?"
"You see what I have to put up with," groans Colonel Washington, "It's makin' me just mee-shugginah..."

The idea was to start from the exact middle of the Delaware Peninsula,- defin'd, quite early in the Dispute, as the "Middle Point,"- and run a line north till it just touch'd the arc of a circle of twelve miles' radius, centered upon the Spire of the Court House in New Castle, swung from the shore of Delaware, around counter-clockwise, westward, till it met its Tangent Line. That's presuming there was a Tangent Line there to meet it, and so far there wasn' couldn't do that and run true North, too,- 'twas more Royal Geometry, fanciful as ever.

"The Indians I have consulted, know ev'rything that's going on, and if it's any comfort, at least Zepho's not alone, there's been an Ulster Scot with a Taste for Swamp Maples, paddling about all supper, up Juniata,- a Son of Dublin, down by Cheat [River], - in fact, enough Kastormorphism among White folks out here, since we first started settling, to populate a good lake of our own."

"When ye wake," whispers a youthful, South English voice, "I'll have long been out upon the Darlington Doad. I am a British Dog, and belong to no one, if not to the two of you. The next time you are together, so shall I be, with you."

- Excerpts from Thomas Pynchon's fictional historiography Mason & Dixon. Every Pesach I stretch my mind a bit with some reading outside my usual fold. Very intriguing, even if you love the French and don't have a fancy for Golems, Artificial chef-hunting Ducks, Were-wolves, or Fang, the Learnèd English Dog.