Archive for December, 2011

The Refugee Problem in the Muslim World

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

There is an obsession in the media about the Palestinian refugee problem at the expense of several other refugee problems in that part of the world that are only given casual cursory interest.  Let’s briefly cite some of these other ones.

  • Saddam’s Al-Anfal Campaign in the 1980s led to a million Kurdish refugees. A clear case of ethnic cleansing.
  • Human Rights Watch says that “By the mid-1990s, more than 3,000 villages had been virtually wiped from the map, and, according to official figures, 378,335 Kurdish villagers had been displaced and left homeless.
  • Assyrian Christians have constantly been leaving Iraq over the last few 100 years (unlike Muslims who have grown in number). Now their number is only a small fraction.
  • The Lebanese civil war caused around 900,000 Lebanese to be displaced.
  • The 1974 Cyprus Crisis led to around 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees and 65,000 Turkish Cypriot refugees (UN figures). These are near half the populations of both groups.
  • Nearly 800,000 Jews have been made refugees by Muslim states that they lived in for generations, thru persecution and intimidation. Most of them were sheltered and given a home in Israel; others fled to Western nations.
  • There are also many refugees from among the minorities living in Muslim states, such as the Bahais in Iran, who sought refuge in Western nations, in Israel, Turkey and others.
  • 100,000s Algerians have fled and taken refuge in Europe during the Algerian War of Independence.
  • The current Syrian civil war has led to the creation of 19,000 Syrian refugees near Turkey’s border; some 8,000 refugees fled to Lebanon, 1500 to Jordan, and 6,000 to Libya.
  • The Armenian refugees under the Turks, as well as the genocide against the Armenians.
Categories: History, Israel, News, Politics, Religion

Can the West affect change in the Middle East?

December 30, 2011 6 comments is a piece in the Guardian on Tony Blair’s proposal that the Western World should do more to:

help “liberal and democratic” elements in the Middle East and north Africa following the Arab spring – or risk the formation of new Islamist governments that are not “genuine” democracies.

Blair makes these points:

Britain and the US had previously been “too reluctant to push dictatorships on a path to democracy because the trouble really in the region is the more religious and extreme elements are very well organised and the liberal and democratic types basically aren’t”

– there was a battle between competing elements in the Middle East as to what is democracy?

– “Then you have got this Islamist movement, in the Muslim Brotherhood, which is very well organised, and where frankly, it is not clear that they want the same things as us and it is not clear that the type of democracy they would create would be a genuine democracy.”

I think it’s too late and anything we do will be construed by them as “colonial interference,” a charge which the Islamists have previously exploited and can reiterate.

In Egypt, for example, back in February 2011 the demonstrators all seemed to call for freedom and democracy, without any Islamist banners. And yet, now, look who they voted for: the Muslim Brotherhood, and to make matters worse, they gave an unexpected boost to the more extreme Salafist group. There we have it: that is their definition of “freedom and democracy.”  … Are the Syrian protesters the same, I wonder.

Are the only two possible practical/political alternatives in the Muslim/Arab world a secular tyranny or an Islamist tyranny? So far that is what we have been seeing — as well as a cycle of violent competition between the two. (Sometimes between an Islamist tyranny against another Islamist tyranny, such as the case in Saudi Arabia since the Royal House of Saud is Islamist.)

Positive impact of religiously active Americans

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Interesting statistics from PEW Internet comparing religious and non-religious Americans in various activities. There is a PDF file available of other related stats as well. Here is a sample:

Some 40% of Americans say they are active in a church, religious, or spiritual organization. Compared with those who are not involved with such organizations, religiously active Americans are more trusting of others, are more optimistic about their impact on their community, think more highly of their community, are more involved in more organizations of all kinds, and devote more time to the groups to which they are active.

– 53% of religiously active Americans believe that other people are generally trustworthy, compared with 43% of those not involved with religious groups

– 45% of religiously active view their community as an excellent place to live, compared with 34% of those not active with religious groups

– 38% of religiously active Americans believe that they can have a major impact on their communities, compared with 27% of those not active with religious groups

– 35% are active in sports or recreation leagues for themselves or for their children (versus 17% for the non-religious).

– 34% are active in charitable or volunteer organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or the Humane Society (versus 15% for the non-religious).

– 30% are active in community groups or neighborhood associations (versus 11% for the non-religious).

– 68% of Americans who are active in religious groups (internet users and non-users alike) said the internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to communicate with members.

– 58% of Americans who are active in religious groups said the internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to impact society at large.

Tidbits on Christmas

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

In WWI, Allied and German troops took a break Christmas eve, sang carols and called out “Merry Christmas” to one another. The Christmas Truce of 1914.

In the second half of the 1600s, Christmas was illegal (where the Puritans settled in America). After the American Revolutionary war, the US Congress didn’t take the day off. It was only in the late 1800s that Congress called Christmas a federal holiday.

Every Christmas I read articles on who Christians ‘stole’ it from, and every year I read a different story. Here’s a very short Britannica article that cites three ways it may have come about (I think there are more such speculations by other authors.) In the end it’s a matter of opinion and faith. I think that Christmas was instituted to mark the birth of Jesus Christ.

Christian Art – Piero della Francesca

December 24, 2011 Leave a comment


If the spirit is the 6th sense, then my 7th sense would have to be one that can ‘see’ Christian Art.  I have a love for it.  Here are a few by the 15th century painter Piero della Francesca that illustrate the inspiration that I glean from them.

The first one “Resurrection” has been on the news today — about a British Officer who saved this painting during wartime Italy. (Right clicking the image will produce an enlarged image.)

Have a Happy Hannukah and a Merry Christmas.


Baptism of Christ

Will Obama be re-elected?

December 22, 2011 2 comments

As a Republican, I hope not. But I’m one who is a realist who sees indications that the Republican party looks in disarray, fragmented, and does not have a ‘winning’ hand. Further, a recent CNN poll shows Obama’s approval rising from 43% back in September to 49% in December (2011). The same polls show more Americans disapproving of the way Republican leaders handling of the Nation’s problems.  Another recent Gallup poll shows that 76% of Americans want to re-elect their Republican-dominated representatives on the US Congress. These cannot be good news for people like me, but … I accept the inevitable.

PS–By contrast, the Conservative party in Canada is doing much better. In their second recent election they won by a landslide and increased their reps on Parliament. Maybe we can see what they’re doing right?

Categories: News, Politics, United States

France’s Armenian genocide law

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The French National Assembly passed a bill criminalizing public denial of the Armenian genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks in WWI (~1915) — to which Turkey is set to retaliate. I take the view that it was a genocide since the Armenians were singled out for destruction.

I support this bill just as I do the analogous German law criminalizing Holocaust denial. My reason is that by making them into law people are not to forget those atrocities that man has committed against man. Secondly, the vast majority of people who deny genocides tend to be the ones who support — albeit quite obliquely — doing them and want to repeat them (witness Nazis, radical/Islamists, Ahmadinejad and the like).  These laws are then saying that we’re not going to repeat them nor the likes of WWII and other genocides.

Iraq & Tunisia seek Israel’s help on desertification

December 18, 2011 Leave a comment

From Israel Today Magazine:

” at the recent Conference on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa, representatives from Iraq and Tunisia approached staffers from the Jewish National Fund at the latter’s booth. Their goal: to seek Israel’s help in fighting “desertification” in their countries, reports Yediot Ahronot.”

There’s also some suggestion that Afghanistan too may be interested.

Categories: Israel, Life, News, Politics, Science

Hamas considering pre-1967 borders

December 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Hamas considering a deal based on pre-1967 borders? Well, it’s too little too late for that, now that the geodemographics have changed quite dramatically since 1967.  Further, given the growing hostility toward Israel from a rise in Islamist states from the ongoing Arab revolt — Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, etc — there is no way Israel is going to go out of its way to place itself in greater danger.

Some people seem not to understand that the Palestinian issue has changed considerably in light of the Arab revolt and Islamist surge. That problem changed because its context has changed.

Categories: History, Israel, News, Politics

Synapses, neurotransmitters, axons, neurons, …

December 16, 2011 1 comment liked this very illustrative diagram of how signals are transmitted between neurons in the brain. It’s incredibly amazing.

We start with electrochemical signals (or chemical potential) from one neuron (top right of figure).

The signal moves along an axon. (A tube-like structure.)

The axon branches out into several parts that attach to the next neuron or to its dendrites (which are like little trees emanating from neurons).

When the signal arrives near the end terminal junction it creates or releases ionized calcium Ca+.

These ions trigger neurotransmitters from little blobs called vesicles (which are like bubbles containing the neurotransmitters).

These neurotransmitters move out of the end of the axon, thru a region called the synaptic cleft, and into the channel receptors which are on the other neuron.

This leads to the transmission of the electrochemical signals into the next neuron.

That’s it.

I find this kind of stuff amazing. One piece of knowledge to excite our synapses!
My sources are the Encyclopedia Britannica article on “Synapses” and a wiki entry.
One book I thought of getting is the shortest book on the brain I could find, and its reviews look pretty good. It is:
The Brain, a very short introduction, by Michael O’Shea, Oxford University Press, 2005.

I downloaded a Kindle sample and found the first chapter a delightful read. So I’m thinking of getting it. A more advanced book is that by Nobel Prizer Dr Eric Kandel, In Search of Memory (he was invited to a Charlie Rose special on the brain).

Categories: Health, Life, Science

Violence against women

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Most shocking and sad report from the Centers for Disease Control about the high crime rates against American women: 20% raped or experience attempted rape, 25% experience violence. This is unacceptable in our society for our women to be treated such.

Categories: Health, Life, News, Uncategorized

Higgs boson announcement by LHC team

December 13, 2011 Leave a comment

The two most intriguing results from two independent experiments — ATLAS & CMS — at the Large Hadron Collider seem to be the decays of the Higgs into 2 photons, and the Higgs into W’s and Z’s & leptons. Their results are quite close enough to make it very interesting. But they are not conclusive proofs — 5 sigmas — to assure us of the Higgs’ existence. There may be other Higgs at work, beside only one (some predict 5 Higgs particles) — or the results could be attributable to some kind of new physics. We will need to wait into 2012 for the LHC to accumulate enough data to say for sure.  Today’s LHC announcement is not much different from what has been rumored: good & intriguing evidence but not conclusive.  I think we should prepare our minds for possible disappointments along the way, if that happens.

For authoritative blogs managed by particle physicists see: viXra Not Even WrongRésonaancesReference Frame.

Categories: News, Physics, Science

Abraham Lincoln on slavery

December 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Interesting book review of historian Eric Foner’s quite recent book

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.

The gist of the book (or its review) is that Lincoln always believed that slavery is wrong. The problem was: he didn’t know what to do about it nor how to go about it.

At one point he entertained the idea of freeing blacks and sending them back to Africa (specifically, Liberia).  However, the dynamics of the Civil War changed things. Many slaves in the Confederacy escaped from their masters to enlist in the Union Army. This meant that they could be used as a formidable asset in the War against the South, which it was.

Since this meant that blacks have become such a force in the outcome of the War, Lincoln launch his Emancipation Proclamation in which he abolished slavery and blacks became a free people — and, further, they are not sent back to Africa but remained here to be part of American society, seeing that their many sacrifices in America’s biggest War have lead to saving the Union.

By the end of the war there were some 200,000 blacks in the Union Army — no small number.

Categories: Faith, History, Politics

Pearl Harbor – 70 years ago

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment In honor and memory of the Americans who died during the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.  We shall never forget.

Categories: Faith, History, News, Politics

Attenborough’s caterpillar

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Sir David Attenborough spoke of the caterpillar that lives 14 years in frozen solid form, during which it gradually accumulates enough food that by the end of 14 years it finally turns into a moth. Amazing indeed.

It is called the woolly bear caterpillar, or Pyrrharctia isabella.

Categories: Life, Miscellaneous, Science

US drones working on Iran?

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

It appears that the US has been quietly using drones to target Iranian military and nuclear installations.  Iran reported that it shot down a US drone. This approach makes sense since the US has used drones before over Pakistan and Yemen quite regularly. (So why not Iran.) But I do not believe the US is alone in this, as I think other states, including Israel & Arab states, have an interest in seeing Iran’s nuclear sites attacked — in view of the ominous report from the IAEA. This may be the next best thing to an all out war.

Update: CS Monitor reports “Is the West waging a covert war against Iran?”

Categories: Israel, News, Politics

GOP race: Gingrich up ahead

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Des Moines Register: 25% of likely Republican Iowa voters back Newt Gingrich, 18% for Ron Paul, 16% for Mitt Romney.

Only 4% of Republicans think Ron Paul can beat Obama in the general election.

So the best route for the Republicans to beat Obama is to not vote for Ron Paul.

Categories: News, Politics

Egypt is the loser in this election, not Israel

December 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Mr Hamed Bitawi has got it backwards when he said that Israel is the loser in the apparent Islamist win.

It is in fact Egypt that stands to be the biggest loser, and for several reasons.

First, if they meddle with the Peace Treaty they could lose the Sinai. Israel could decide to take it back if the Treaty is abrogated. Indeed, it would be expedient to do so in order to isolate Hamas regionally from an Islamist Egypt – esp. if Egypt becomes yet another state sponsor of terrorism.

Second, a war with Israel will devastate Egypt.  Would Tantawi allow that given that he knows what a war with Israel would mean to his troops? So if the Islamists want war or confrontation, they’ll be decimated — along with their Hamas brothers in Gaza.

Third, Egypt’s economy and tourism industry are already losing big time and will continue to under an Islamist regime (just like Hamas in Gaza and Shias in Iran). Tourists are afraid to visit Egypt after Mubarak’s fall.

Fourth, women — half of Egypt’s population — are the biggest losers when they will be subjected to the oppressive Sharia laws that the Islamists have in store for them.

In sum, with an Islamist win, Egypt is set on the losing course toward regression.

Categories: Israel, News, Politics, Religion

Panetta says Iran sanctions working & Israel isolated

December 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Mr Panetta is convinced sanctions on Iran are working. I’m not convinced. The proof?  After 4 rounds of sanctions we get an ominous report from the IAEA showing Iran is still on course, unabated, to developing nuclear weapons.

As for his comment on Israel’s “isolation” – how many other countries in the region can be so regarded?  Panetta is expecting Israel to reach out to Egypt, even with the rise of Islamists who are known to be virulently antisemitic.  In Egypt the secularists are worried about the rise of Islamists, and secondly tourists are afraid to go to Egypt (tourism has taken a huge hit). What is worse: status of women! Egyptian women must be quite worried (worse than isolated!) about how they will be treated under Islamist sharia law.

Panetta says the same about Turkey, which has isolated itself from the US and the EU. So who is really becoming isolated?

In sum, Panetta is singing off key.

Categories: Israel, News, Politics

Physics literature inconsistent on dark energy

December 1, 2011 Leave a comment

In reading several articles on dark energy, I’ve encountered some that seem to suggest its ‘confirmation’ and others that suggest otherwise or uncertainty.  It’s status, as far as I’m concerned, is at the theoretical level.

There seems more agreement on dark matter, but there are physicists who do not subscribe to it. If supersymmetric (SUSY) particles do not show up at the Large Hadron Collider, then dark matter may be in trouble since many of its particles (called WIMPS) are conjectured to be of the SUSY kind. From what I’ve been reading, there’s growing doubt regarding supersymmetry today.

Categories: News, Physics, Science