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PHOTON COURIER
 
Wednesday, September 30, 2015  
ST-EXUPERY:  MEN OF THE DESERT


Antoine de St-Exupery, writer and pioneering airmail pilot, was based for a time in the then-French-colonial territory of North Africa.  He recorded his observations about the people and their culture in his essay Men of the Desert,  which is one of the chapters in his book Wind, Sand and Stars.  I previously excerpted part of this essay in my post the French aviators and the slave.  Several recent events in which American soldiers were murdered by Afghan and Iraqi men who they thought were their comrades have again called it to mind.

Getting acquainted:
But we were not always in the air, and our idle hours were spent taming the Moors. They would come out of their forbidden regions (those regions we crossed in our flights and where they would shoot at us the whole length of our crossing), would venture to the stockade in the hope of buying loaves of sugar, cotton cloth, tea, and then would sink back again into their mystery. Whenever they turned up we would try to tame a few of them in order to establish little nuclei of friendship in the desert; thus if we were forced clown among them there would be at any rate a few who might be persuaded to sell us into slavery rather than massacre us.Now and then an influential chief came up, and him, with the approval of the Line, we would load into the plane and carry off to see something of the world. The aim was to soften their pride, for, repositories of the truth, defenders of Allah, the only God, it was more in contempt than in hatred that he and his kind murdered their prisoners.
When they met us in the region of Juby or Cisneros, they never troubled to shout abuse at us. They would merely turn away and spit; and this not by way of personal insult but out of sincere disgust at having crossed the path of a Christian. Their pride was born of the illusion of their power. Allah renders a believer invincible. Many a time a chief has said to me, pointing to his army of three hundred rifles, “Lucky it is for France that she lies more than a hundred days’ march from here.”
And so we would take them up for a little spin. Three of them even visited France in our planes. I happened to be present when they returned. I met them when they landed, went with them to their tents, and waited in infinite curiosity to hear their first words. They were of the same race as those who, having once been flown by me to the Senegal, had burst into tears at the sight of trees. What a revelation Europe must have been for them! And yet their first replies astonished me by their coolness.
 “Paris? Very big.” Everything was “very big” – Paris, the Trocadero, the automobiles.  What with everyone in Paris asking if the Louvre was not “very big” they had gradually learned that this was the answer that flattered us. And with a sort of, vague contempt, as if pacifying a lot of children, they would grant that the Louvre was “very big.”
 These Moors took very little trouble to dissemble the freezing indifference they felt for the Eiffel Tower, the steamships, and the locomotives. They were ready to agree once and for always that we knew how to build things out of iron. We also knew how to fling a bridge from one continent to another. The plain fact was that they did not know enough to admire our technical progress. The wireless astonished them less than the telephone, since the mystery of the telephone resided in the very fact of the wire.
It took a little time for me to understand that my questions were on the wrong track. For what they thought admirable was not the locomotive, but the tree. When you think of it, a tree does possess a perfection that a locomotive cannot know. And then I remembered the Moors who had wept at the sight of trees.
 Yes, France was in some sense admirable, but it was not because of those stupid things made of iron. They had seen pastures in France in which all the camels of Er-Reguibat could have grazed! There were forests in France! The French had cows, cows filled with milk! And of course my three Moors were amazed by the incredible customs of the people. “In Paris,” they said, “you walk through a crowd of a thousand people. You stare at them. And nobody carries a rifle!”   But there were better things in France than this inconceivable friendliness between men. There was the circus, for example.
 “Frenchwomen,” they said, “can jump standing from one galloping horse to another.”
 Thereupon they would stop and reflect. “You take one Moor from each tribe,” they went on. “You take him to the circus. And nevermore will the tribes of Er-Reguibat make war on the French.” I remember my chiefs sitting among the crowding tribesmen in the opening of their tents, savoring the pleasure of reciting this new series of Arabian Nights, extolling the music halls in which naked women dance on carpets of flowers.
 Here were men who had never seen a tree, a river, a rose ; who knew only through the Koran of the existence of gardens where streams run, which is their name for Paradise. In their desert, Paradise -and its beautiful captives could be won only by bitter death from an infidel’s rifle-shot, after thirty years of a miserable existence. But God had tricked them, since from the Frenchmen to whom he grants these treasures he exacts payment neither by thirst nor by death. And it was upon this that the chiefs now mused. This was why, gazing out at the Sahara surrounding their tents, at that desert with its barren promise of such thin pleasures, they let themselves go in murmured confidences.
 “You know . . . the God of the French . . . He is more generous to the French than the God of the Moors is to the Moors.”

continued at Chicago Boyz


8:01 AM

Monday, September 21, 2015  
CHRISTIANITY IN EUROPE


It’s well-known that Christianity in Europe is on the decline; links confirming this trend are easy to find.  (For example)
Why, then, does this writer assert that: “Today in Europe, we have become if anything over-Christianized”?  Read the article to understand his thinking.
I am reminded of a passage from G K Chesterton, written circa 1908:
The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive. Mr. Blatchford is not only an early Christian, he is the only early Christian who ought really to have been eaten by lions. For in his case the pagan accusation is really true: his mercy would mean mere anarchy. He really is the enemy of the human race– because he is so human.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

12:00 PM

Sunday, September 20, 2015  

RERUN--BOOK REVIEW:  MENACE IN EUROPE
by Claire Berlinski


(Originally posted in August 2014.  I think the current situation in Europe makes it appropriate for a rerun)
I read this book shortly after it came out in 1996, and just re-read it in the light of the  anti-Semitic ranting and violence which is now ranging across Europe.  It is an important book, deserving of a wide readership.
The author’s preferred title was “Blackmailed by History,” but the publisher insisted on “Menace.”  Whatever the title, the book is informative, thought-provoking, and disturbing.  Berlinski is good at melding philosophical thinking with direct observation.  She holds a doctorate in international relations from Oxford, and has lived and worked in Britain, France, and Turkey, among other countries.  (Dr Berlinski, may I call you Claire?)
The book’s dark tour of Europe begins in the Netherlands, where the murder of film director Theo van Gogh by a radical Muslim upset at the content of a film was quickly followed by the cancellation of that movie’s planned appearance at a film festival–and where an artist’s street mural with the legend “Thou Shalt Not Kill” was destroyed by order of the mayor of Rotterdam, eager to avoid giving offense to Muslims. (“Self-Extinguishing Tolerance” is the title of the chapter on Holland.)  Claire moves on to Britain and analyzes the reasons why Muslim immigrants there have much higher unemployment and lower levels of assimilation than do Muslim immigrants to the US, and also discusses the unhinged levels of anti-Americanism that she finds among British elites.  (Novelist Margaret Drabble: “My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable.  It has possessed me, like a disease.  It rises up in my throat like acid reflux…”)  While there has always been a certain amount of anti-Americanism in Britain, the author  notes that “traditionally, Britain’s anti-American elites have been vocal, but they have generally been marginalized as chattering donkeys” but that now, with 1.6 million Muslim immigrants in Britain (more worshippers at mosques than at the Church of England), the impact of these anti-Americans can be greatly amplified.  (Today, there are apparently more British Muslims fighting for ISIS than serving in the British armed forces.)
One of the book’s most interesting chapters is centered around the French farmer and anti-globalization leader Jose Bove, whose philosophy Berlinski summarizes as “crop worship”….”European men and women still confront the same existential questions, the same suffering as everyone who has ever been born. They are suspicious now of the Church and of grand political ideologies, but they nonetheless yearn for the transcendent.  And so they worship other things–crops, for example, which certain Europeans, like certain tribal animists, have come to regard with superstitious awe.”
The title of this chapter is “Black-Market Religion: The Nine Lives of Jose Bove,”  and Berlinski sees the current Jose Bove as merely one in a long line of historical figures who hawked similar ideologies.  They range from a man of unknown name born in Bourges circa AD 560, to Talchem of Antwerp in 1112, through Hans the Piper of Niklashausen in the late 1400s, and on to the “dreamy, gentle, and lunatic Cathars” of Languedoc and finally to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Berlinski sees all these people as being basically Christian heretics, with multiple factors in common.  They tend appeal to those whose status or economic position is threatened, and to link the economic anxieties of their followers with spiritual ones.  Quite a few of them have been hermits at some stage in their lives.  Most of them have been strongly anti-Semitic. And many of the “Boves”  have been concerned deeply with purity…Bove coined the neologism malbouffe, which according to Google Translate means “junk food,” but Berlinski says that translation “does not capture the full horror of bad bouffe, with its intimation of contamination, pollution, poison.”  She observes that “the passionate terror of malbouffe–well founded or not–is also no accident; it recalls the fanatic religious and ritualistic search for purity of the Middle Ages, ethnic purity included.  The fear of poisoning was widespread among the millenarians…”  (See also this interesting piece on environmentalist ritualism as a means of coping with anxiety and perceived disorder.)

continued at  Chicago Boyz

7:19 AM

Wednesday, September 16, 2015  
MUCH TALK THESE DAYS ABOUT  "THE INTERNET OF THINGS"


…but few seem to have noticed that the Internet of Very Big Things, aka Positive Train Control, is having some difficulties—and  the consequences could be pretty serious.
via Cold Spring Shops, which has comments here and here.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:40 AM

Saturday, September 12, 2015  
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING

...special love and sex edition



Stuart also writes about love, marriage, and bickering
Kevin Williamson agrees: Yes, chicks dig jerks
A different view on jerk-chasing from Staffan’s personality blog
There are no more Calvins.  (“Calvin” here referring to the partner of Hobbes, not the religious leader)
Do the toys given to little girls encourage too much focus on love and magic?
Terry Teachout in Commentary:  Love Songs, RIP, and a response from an experienced songwriter:
Having labored in the fields of country-music songwriting for three decades, I must agree with Terry Teachout[“Love Songs, RIP,” May] that the classic romantic love song is getting harder and harder to sell. The dominant themes in today’s songs seem to be male statements along the lines of “let’s party and have sex / you look so hot” and female statements along the lines of “I am way too strong now to put up with your nonsense, but let’s party and have sex—on my terms.” Most gals aren’t about to sing about undying love, since that would undermine their stance of strength and independence, and most guys—dealing with this stronger female—compensate by upping their macho stance, pushing them into avoiding “true love” songs as well.
The obvious catalyst for this change is the post-’60s birth-control-enabled overt female sexuality, and both sexes, at least for now, seem delighted with this unprecedented new normal. Alongside many of my fellow writers, I believe that “romance” is incapable of competing on the charts with the idea of casual, readily available sex. Those of us who are still trying to write old-fashioned kinds of love songs, even if we have made it to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, are like milliners still trying to sell boater hats.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

7:57 AM

Friday, September 11, 2015  
9/11 PLUS FOURTEEN YEARS

See my post at Chicago Boyz

6:23 AM

Monday, September 07, 2015  
TWO VIEWS OF IMMIGRATION


Mary Antin was a Russian Jewish immigrant who came to the US with her family in 1894, at the age of thirteen.  I briefly reviewed her 1912 book, The Promised Land, here.
Browsing through a used bookstore the other day, I saw a slightly later book by Antin:  They who knock at our gates–a complete gospel of immigration.  (available here)   It was published in 1914, at a time when immigration had become a very hot social and political issue, and is a highly polemical but pretty well-reasoned document.  Antin’s key points and arguments are:
**The fundamental American statement of belief is the Declaration of Independence.  “What the Mosaic Law is to the Jews, the Declaration is to the American people…Without it, we should not differ greatly from other nations who have achieved a constitutional form of government and various democratic institutions.”  And  “it was by sinking our particular quarrel with George of England in the universal quarrel of humanity with injustice that we emerged a distinct nation with a unique mission in the world.”  Our loyalty to these principles is tested by our attitude toward immigration, “For the alien, whatever ethnic or geographic label he carries, in a primary classification of the creatures of the earth, falls in the human family.”  This universalist view leads Antin to conclude that we are morally obligated to accept as many immigrants as we feasibly can–and we have room for many, many more.  “Let the children be brought up to know that we are a people with a mission.”
**Contrary to the assertions being made in some quarters (in 1914), today’s immigrants are not of inferior quality to those of earlier eras.  Jewish immigrants from Russia, for example, are pursuing religious liberty in a way directly analogous to the Pilgrims…indeed,  “It takes a hundred times as much steadfastness and endurance for a Russian Jew of today to remain a Jew as it took for an English Protestant in the seventeenth century to defy the established Church”…and Russian Jews have shown great courage in the revolutionary movements against the Czar.  Also, “We experienced a shock of surprise, a little while ago, when troops of our Greek immigrants deserted the bootblacking parlors and the fruit-stands and tumbled aboard anything that happened to sail for the Mediterranean, in their eagerness..to strike a blow for their country in her need….From these unexpected exploits of the craven Jew and the degenerate Greek, it would seem as if the different elements of the despised “new” immigration only await a spectacular opportunity to prove themselves equal to the “old” in civic valor.”  Recent immigrants have also distinguished themselves in their avid pursuit of educational opportunities.  “Bread isn’t easy to get in America,” Antin quotes a widow on Division Street, “but the children can go to school, and that’s more than bread.”
**Many of the problems associated with immigrant communities are actually the fault of bad municipal administration.  “You might dump the whole of the East Side into the German capital and there would be no slums there, because the municipal authorities of Berlin know how to enforce building regulations, how to plant trees, and how to clean the streets….If the slums were due to the influx of foreigners, why should London have slums, and more hideous slums than New York?”
**Those who choose to become immigrants, from whatever, country, represent that best of that population.  “Some of the best blood of New England answered the call of “Westward ho!” when the empty lands beyond the Alleghanies gaped for population…Of the aristocracy of New England that portion stayed at home which was fortified by wealth, and so did not feel the economic pressure of increased population; of the proletariat remained, on the whole, the less robust, the less venturesome, the men and women of conservative imagination. It was bound to be so, because wherever the population is set in motion by internal pressure, the emigrant train is composed of the stoutest, the most resourceful of those who are not held back by the roots of wealth or sentiment. Voluntary emigration always calls for the highest combination of the physical and moral virtues.”
Hence, the United States has practical as well as moral reasons to maximize immigration.  Antin does not demand an absolutely uncontrolled immigration policy–“I do not ask that we remove all restrictions and let the flood of immigration sweep in unchecked”–she seems to be OK with health checks, and she calls for deportation of immigrants who have committed crimes–but does assert that the gate should be opened as wide as possible.
A quite different view of mass immigration can be found (oddly enough) in one of George MacDonald Fraser’s picaresque Flashman novels. (link)  In this passage, the anti-hero Flashman speaks very much out of character, soberly and thoughtfully in what is probably the author’s own voice, about the American Indian experience of European movement to their lands.
continued at Chicago Boyz

8:43 AM

Friday, September 04, 2015  
THE MAP IS NOT THE TERRITORY


I was reminded of this old saying, from  Alfred Korzybski, by an article about an LNG plant in Qatar and the ships that serve it…in particular, the following passage:
Miroslav Ahmetovic, the chief officer, spends much of his workday in a room below the bridge monitoring the L.N.G. cargo on screens that display indicators like pressure and volume. Every few hours he dons hard hat, gloves, goggles and protective clothing and goes out on the sweltering deck to see that nothing is amiss.

“I want to make sure my video game conforms to reality,” Mr. Ahmetovic said…
Very well put, Mr Ahmetovic.  And in an era of obsession with “big data” and “analytics” systems, the users of these systems in organizations of all types would do well to remember that the output of such systems…whether presented in the form of a “dashboard” or a spreadsheet or some form of elegant 3-D graphics…is not the reality, but merely a necessarily partial representation thereof.  The output of the information system is not a substitute for going to the Gemba, to use the Lean management phraseology.
Related post: management mentalities
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open

6:21 AM

 
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