Archive for the ‘Heroism’ Category

The First World War

February 12, 2015

The First World War was the single most important event of the twentieth century. Every event that followed that war, all the other wars, the great movements and revolutions, and even the scientific discoveries and inventions, began in some way, direct or indirect, from the great and terrible happenings of the years 1914-1918. A world in which that war had not occurred would be a very different and perhaps better world.

Despite the importance of World War One, I have never known very much about it. I had some knowledge of the general outlines, which countries fought on which side, and which side won. I knew the names of some of the battles, the Somme, Verdun, but nothing in detail. I had some familiarity of the conditions of the Western Front but knew almost nothing at all about the Eastern Front, save that Russia ended up losing. I do not think that I am alone in knowing so little about World War One. The First World War tends to be overshadowed, in contemporary minds, by the still greater and more catastrophic Second World War. Yet, had the first war not been fought, it is very unlikely the second war would have broken out. At first the nature of the combatants would have been different, no Nazis in Germany and no Communist Soviet Union. In the United States, World War One tends to get little attention because we only entered the war in its last year. While the US contribution was crucial to the Allied victory, the war did not hurt us as badly as it did the European powers that fought it. Unlike France, Germany or Britain, America did not lose much of a generation in the fighting.

keegan_first_l

To learn more about this war, I turned to The First World War by the eminent military historian John Keegan. I am happy to report that Mr. Keegan does a truly marvelous job in relating the course of the war, from its beginnings, in the plans by the military staffs of the various combatants to fight the next war, to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand that sparked the war, through the years of trench warfare when massive armies butted heads to no avail, all the way to the last desperate attempt by the Germans to knock Britain and France out of the war before fresh American soldiers arrived to reinforce them. He seems to pay equal attention to both the Western and Eastern fronts. I learned quite a lot about the fighting between Russian and the German-Austrian alliance, not to mention the fighting in the Balkans where the war started.
Keegan mostly dwells on the military aspects of the war and has relatively little to say about the domestic politics of the European nations. He does go into some detail about the diplomatic maneuverings the nations of Europe engaged in during the Balkan crisis that led up to the war. It is somewhat poignant to learn that neither side really wanted a general war in Europe, but no one seemed strong enough to end the crisis. Keegan speculates that if Austria-Hungary had launched an immediate invasion of Serbia in retaliation of their support for terrorist activities, the crisis would have ended before it had grown out of control. As it happened, Austria-Hungary waited for support from Germany, and the wait proved fatal for Europe.

Keegan challenges some myths and ideas that have grown up about the war. He argues that the various generals were not as incompetent or unconcerned about casualties as is often supposed. As he points out, they tried to fight the war as best they could, but technological development was at an awkward phase for fighting a war. Barbed wired and the machine gun made defended positions nearly impregnable, while the technologies that would have aided the offensive, tanks and airplanes were only beginning to be developed. Improvements in transportation, especially trains, made it possible to send many thousands of men into battle, but the generals had no way to keep in contact with their armies once battle had begun. It was no longer possible for generals to lead their men in person; the battles were too large for that. Telephone and telegraph wires were easily cut. Radio was still in its infancy. The generals were removed from the battlefields because they had no choice. They sent their men to be slaughtered because wars cannot be won without attacking the enemy and attacking the enemy’s positions killed thousands.

I enjoyed learning about World War One from John Keegan’s book and I think it serves as an excellent introduction to the war. It covers all the major battles and aspects of the war without getting bogged down in details. Best of all, it can be understood easily even by the reader not familiar with military affairs. I can highly recommend The First World War.

 

Whose Side are They On?

January 18, 2015

There have been some encouraging developments in Egypt recently, particularly in the speeches and actions of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, which somehow have been underreported in the mainstream media. Raymond Ibrahim has written a little about this at PJMedia. Although born in the US, Ibrahim’s parents are Coptic Christians from Egypt, so perhaps he has a better understanding of Middle Eastern affairs and Islam than many who comment on such topics.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi continues to be the antithesis of longstanding mainstream media portrayals of him.

First there was his historic speech where he, leader of the largest Arab nation, and a Muslim, accused Islamic thinking of being the scourge of humanity — in words that no Western leader would dare utter.  This remarkable speech — which some say should earn him the Nobel Peace Prize — might have fallen by the wayside had it not been posted on my websiteand further disseminated by PJ Media’s Roger L. Simon, Michael Ledeen, Roger Kimball, and many others, includingBruce Thornton and Robert Spencer.

 

Next, Sisi went to the St. Mark Coptic Cathedral during Christmas Eve Mass to offer Egypt’s Christian minority his congratulations and well wishing.  Here again he made history as the first Egyptian president to enter a church during Christmas mass — a thing vehemently criticized by the nation’s Islamists, including the Salafi party (Islamic law bans well wishing to non-Muslims on their religious celebrations, which is why earlier presidents — Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, and of course Morsi — never attended Christmas mass).

Accordingly, the greetings Sisi received from the hundreds of Christians present were jubilant.  His address was often interrupted by applause, clapping, and cheers of “We love you!” and “hand in hand” — phrases he reciprocated.

Sisi stood side-by-side with Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II — perhaps in remembrance of the fact that, when General Sisi first overthrew President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Pope Tawadros stood side-by-side with him — and paid a heavy price: the Brotherhood and its sympathizers unleashed a Kristallnacht of “reprisals” that saw 82 Christian churches in Egypt attacked, many destroyed.

It is also significant to recall where Sisi came to offer his well-wishing to the Christians: the St. Mark Cathedral — Coptic Christianity’s most sacred church which, under Muhammad Morsi, was, for the first time in its history, savagely attacked by both Islamists and the nation’s security

Yet, he reports, the mainstream media’s coverage of al-Sisi has been generally very negative.

Instead, MSM headlines on the day of and days after Sisi’s speech included “Egypt President Sisi urged to free al-Jazeera reporter” (BBC, Jan 1), “Egyptian gays living in fear under Sisi regime” (USA Today, Jan. 2), and “George Clooney’s wife Amal risks arrest in Egypt” (Fox News, Jan. 3).

Of course, the MSM finally did report on Sisi’s speech — everyone else seemed to know about it — but, again, to portray Sisi in a negative light.  Thus, after briefly quoting the Egyptian president’s call for a “religious revolution,” the New York Times immediately adds:

Others, though, insist that the sources of the violence are alienation and resentment, not theology. They argue that the authoritarian rulers of Arab states — who have tried for decades to control Muslim teaching and the application of Islamic law — have set off a violent backlash expressed in religious ideas and language.

In other words, jihadi terror is a product of Sisi, whom the NYT habitually portrays as an oppressive autocrat — especially for his attempts to try to de-radicalize Muslim sermons and teachings.

Why is this? Whose side is the mainstream media really on? Do they really want to see Egypt turned into another Iran or Afghanistan? They are, of course, on the same side Barack Obama is on, whichever side that might happen to be.

There is, of course, a reason the MSM, which apparently follows the Obama administration’s lead, has been unkind to Sisi.   One will recall that, although Sisi led the largest revolution in world history — a revolution that saw tens of millions take to the streets and ubiquitous signs and banners calling on U.S. President Obama and U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson to stop supporting terrorism (i.e., the Brotherhood) — U.S. leadership, followed by media, spoke only of a “military coup” against a “democratically elected president,” without pointing out that this president was pushing a draconian, Islamist agenda on millions who rejected it.

That Sisi remains popular in Egypt also suggests that a large percentage of Egyptians approve of his behavior.  Recently, for instance, after the Paris attacks, Amr Adib, host of Cairo Today, made some extremely critical comments concerning fellow Muslims/Egyptians, including by asking them, “Are you, as Muslims, content with the fact that today we are all seen as terrorists by the world?… We [Egyptians] used to bring civilization to the world, today what?  We are barbarians!  Barbarians I tell you!” (More of Adib’s assertions here.)

I must here give a very short synopsis of recent Egyptian history before proposing a thought experiment. In January of 2011 the long reigning autocratic president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown by a popular revolution. In the election that followed in November of that year, Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected president in what was apparently the first free and fair democratic election in Egypt’s history. Once in power, Morsi began to place fellow members of the Muslim Brother in positions of power and to rule as a dictator. The Egyptians did not seem to want to replace one dictator with another nor to live under a theocracy and protests broke out all over the country. The army overthrew Morsi in a coup in June 2013 and Field Marshal al-Sisi became the new president. As Ibrahim writes, al-Sisi seems to be genuinely popular among the Egyptians and perhaps his religious views better reflect those of the relatively liberal views of the Egyptian Muslims.

Consider this thought experiment. Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January of 1933. He hardly won the post in a landslide, despite the claims of later Nazi propaganda. Although the Nazis had become the largest single party in Germany, they never managed to obtain more than about a third of the vote. Although Hitler was probably the most popular politician in Germany, there were many Germans, especially in the army and civil service who didn’t approve of him. What if the Wehrmacht had overthrown Hitler in a coup when it became apparent that he intended to seize total power and become dictator? Would Barack Obama have called for the reinstatement of the democratically elected Hitler as Chancellor and Fuehrer? Would the New York Times have denounced the generals’ autocratic behavior?

Whose side are these people really on?

Je Suis Charlie

January 11, 2015

That’s what everyone is saying in support of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Right now everyone is standing up for the editors and cartoonists’ right to satirize and ridicule whatever they choose even in the face of violence. I am afraid, however, that once the dust settles and the shock and memory of the recent attack fades, there is going to be an almost irresistible temptation for some people to blame the victim and propose craven counsels. The cartoonists and editors brought their trouble upon themselves, the argument will run. They should have known better than to mock the prophet of such an easily offended and potentially violent following. Certainly, they have a right to print whatever they want, but surely they should exercise some degree of  prudence and only mock safe targets, like the Pope.

Consider this partial transcript of a White House press briefing, provided by Breitbart.com,  from a earlier time when Charlie Hebdo published offensive cartoons way back in September 19, 2012.

REPORTER: The French government has decided to temporarily close their embassies and schools in several Muslim countries after a satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, that published cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Is the White House concerned that those cartoons might further fan the flames in the region?

CARNEY: Well, we are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad, and obviously, we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this. We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. But we’ve spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution.

In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.

Now, it has to be said, and I’ll say it again, that no matter how offensive something like this is, it is not in any way justification for violence — not in any way justification for violence. Now, we have been staying in close touch with the French government as well as other governments around the world, and we appreciate the statements of support by French government officials over the past week, denouncing the violence against Americans and our diplomatic missions overseas.

Sure, they have a right to publish what they want, but they shouldn’t if what they publish leads to violent objections. As a call for freedom of speech and the press, this is somehow not quite as bold as Voltaire’s apocryphal, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, or even Patrick Henry’s, “Give me liberty, or give me death”. It seems more like, “Give me liberty, unless someone is offended enough to shoot or bomb me.” Ian Tuttle has some more recent examples of this rush to blame the victims, National Review Online.

The reason that Muslim terrorists attack publications like Charlie Hebdo is because they have good reason to believe that such attacks will be successful in achieving the goal of silencing criticism of Islam. This strategy wouldn’t work if the political elites in Europe and America really believed in freedom of speech or at least had any real courage in confronting the threat that Islam poses  to Western civilization. As it is, they are all too ready to condemn any criticism of Islam as racism, bigotry, and Islamophobia. The Terrorists hardly needed to bother with shooting anybody. Given time, I am sure the French government or the EU would have been happy to shut down Charlie Hebdo for its hate speech.

220px-Charliehebdo

The problem with this sort of censorship against commenting on an increasingly obvious threat is that it cannot work in the long run. The average French, German, or British citizen is aware that there is a problem, no matter how much his betters try to reassure him. If the mainstream parties and politicians of Europe will not address the problem with reasonable solutions, European voters might well turn to the people who will talk about it, the real racists and fascists. Their solution is not likely to be reasonable or pretty, though perhaps more desirable than a Islamized Europe.

Kurdistan

December 29, 2014

Lately,the news from Iraq has seemed very bleak, with the fanatics from the Islamic State (which has nothing to do with Islam, the Religion of Peace) poised to take over the country almost unopposed, but there is at least on group of people who have successfully managed to fight off the IS and is now getting help from the United States, the Kurds. There is even some chance that the Kurds will managed to finally get a state of their own, even though this is opposed by all the actors in the region.

The Kurds deserve their own state far more than the Palestinians. Unlike the Palestinians, they are a real nation with a language and culture of their own. They have lived in their homeland since at least the time of Alexander the Great and probably for centuries before. The Kurds have contributed their share of great people, including the Muslim warlord Saladin. What more do they need to get their own state?

Here is a story I read about their fight from the Bloomberg View.

With Cuba and North Korea dominating the headlines, Americans may have missed the good news from a corner of the world that has provided very little: Iraq. Kurdish peshmerga fighters have inflicted a series of defeats on Islamic State forces, freeing a broad swath of northern Iraq from the jihadists’ control.

These battlefield victories underline an equally striking change in U.S. policy: Starting in 2015, the U.S. military will be training three brigades of peshmerga and spending more than $350 million equipping them for battle with the fanatics tearing Iraq apart. While the Kurds have been semi-independent since 1991, with their own government, militias and foreign policy, this is the biggest step yet toward Washington allowing them to have a state of their own.

To understand the significance, recall that for the almost the entire Barack Obama presidency, the Kurds and the U.S. have been at odds. In Obama’s first term, the White House asked the highest-ranking Kurd in Iraq’s government, President Jalal Talabani, to resign his post in favor of Iyad Allawi, the secular Arab whose party won the most parliamentary seats in the 2010 election. (Talabani declined.) Obama’s diplomats consistently acceded to the sensitivities of Iraq’s Shiite-led government and refused to send promised equipment and weapons directly to Kurdish fighters. When the Kurds tried to fend for themselves by selling oil on the international market, U.S. diplomats warned oil companies not to purchase it.

The Kurds happen to be the most pro-American faction in Iraq, so of course Obama didn’t care for them. Smart diplomacy is helping your enemies while slamming your friends.

But then came the Islamic State. After Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, fell in June to jihadists using vehicles and weapons the U.S. had provided to Iraq’s army, Obama realized that the Kurds are America’s only competent friends left in Iraq. Indeed, last week Kurdish forces finally broke the Islamic State’s siege of Sinjar near the Syrian border.

This dependence on the Kurds to stop the jihadists complicates U.S. foreign policy tremendously. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have supported a “one Iraq” policy that commits the U.S. to discouraging Iraq’s Kurds from declaring themselves an independent country. Militarily, this meant the U.S. was committed to standing up a national Iraqi Army, not a regional militia that could challenge Baghdad’s monopoly of power.

“The unity of Iraq is absolutely essential both for longstanding U.S. policy and for regional stability; for American credibility and predictability with other partners; and for defeating IS,” James Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq between 2010 and 2012 told me last week. Current U.S. officials working on the Iraq file echo this view. In short, Washington cannot be perceived by Iraq’s neighbors to be encouraging the dissolution of the country. For one thing, it could very well spur Turkey and the Persian Gulf States to defect from the international campaign against IS.

To understand why an independent Kurdistan is a problem, you have to look at a map of the region where the Kurds live.

Kurdistan

As you can see, the Kurdish population not only lives in the northern part of Iraq and western Iran, but they also make up a considerable part of the population of eastern Turkey. After the Ottoman Empire was overthrown in 1922, the secular Republic of Turkey was formed by Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk wanted to bring Turkey into the modern age so his government deemphasized the role of Islam and promoted Turkish nationalism and every Turkish leader since Ataturk has insisted that Turkey be ethnically homogenous. The Greek population of Asia Minor which has been living there since before the time of Christ was expelled in the 1920s. The Kurds have been harshly persecuted by various Turkish administrations. There language and culture has been outlawed and there identity taken away. According to the Turkish government there are no Kurds in Turkey. Those people are Eastern Turks or Mountain Turks. Naturally, the Kurds in Turkey have not taken kindly to this treatment and there have been several revolts each brutally suppressed. The Turks have eased up on human rights violations against the Kurds in recent years, in order to be considered for acceptance into the EU, but the Kurds are still treated poorly. The Turks fear that an independent Kurdistan in neighboring Iraq will encourage the Mountain Turks to rebel once again, or at least demand to be part of the new state.

A new state may happen, whatever the Turks, and others might wish.

Yet the question of a Kurdish state is getting harder to avoid. In July, Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region, came out in support of a referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq. The month before, Kurdish fighters had taken up posts abandoned by the Iraqi army in Kirkuk, a strategic city at the heart of disputes between Baghdad and the Kurdish region.

Even though Kurdistan is landlocked, it’s no longer such a stretch to imagine it being independent. Kurdish customs officials already stamp your passport at its airports. The Kurds have their diplomats and lobbyists in foreign capitals. And now, thanks to an oil deal reached early this month with Baghdad, they have staved off financial collapse and gotten Baghdad to agree to pay the salaries of their Peshmerga fighters. Over the summer Israel’s prime minister,Benjamin Netanyahu,  came out for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan.

The one thing the Kurds do not have, however, is a modern army. The peshmerga own some tanks, some rifles and have in the past worked very closely with American special-operations forces in Iraq. But they are still organized like a militia, with various commanders more loyal to local Kurdish political leaders than to the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG. Between 1994 and 1997, forces loyal to the two major Kurdish parties fought one another in a civil war.

On a visit to Washington last month, Fuad Hussein, Barzani’s chief of staff, told reporters that his government was now beginning the process of creating a centralized Kurdish army. And this is where U.S. training of three Kurdish brigades could make a major difference. If the peshmerga transforms from a localized guerilla militia into a modern army, then one of the remaining pieces necessary for Kurdish independence will fall into place.

 

For now, the Kurds are partners in helping to destroy the makeshift caliphate that has effectively erased the border between Syria and Iraq. For this the world owes them a debt of gratitude. But by training and equipping a modern Kurdish army to achieve this task, Obama may find that he is helping destroy Iraq in order to save it.

Perhaps “Iraq” is not worth saving. Like many other states formed in the aftermath of decolonization, Iraq doesn’t really correspond to any real nation. The region of Mesopotamia is composed of many ethnic groups and religions and it may be that only a dictator like Saddam Hussein could possibly hold it together. It might be wise to partition Iraq or to create some loose confederation on the model of a country like Switzerland. I think that the Kurds, at least, should be independent. They are already their own nation and the Kurdish region of Iraq has already adopted many of the attributes of a sovereign state. If the Turks don’t like it, well they haven’t exactly acted as our allies lately. I think a free Kurdistan should be American policy.

English: Flag of Kurdistan

English: Flag of Kurdistan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Thanksgiving

November 27, 2014

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. It is most unfortunate that this day has become little more than an excuse to gorge on turkey. Even worse, the obscenity known as Black Friday has begun to creep back into the holiday making what ought to be a day of giving thanks to the deity a day of frenzied shopping. We in America have perhaps more to be thankful for than any other nation in history and we are probably the biggest ingrates.

Well, anyway, the whole mythology surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday,with the turkey meal, etc is based on the Thanksgiving celebration held by the settlers of Plymouth colony in 1621. They had a lot to be thankful for. These Pilgrims had decided to immigrate to the New World so that they could practice their religion freely. They had intended to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River but their departure from England on the Mayflower had been delayed and the trip across the Atlantic had been rough. They reached America farther north then they had intended,at Provincetown Harbor in November 1620. While they did not really have a legal right to create a colony in what is now Massachusetts, no one really wanted to spend the winter at sea so on December 21, 1620 the Pilgrims began to build the settlement at Plymouth.

Model of a 17th century English merchantman sh...

Would you spend any more time in a leaky ship like this than you had to? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first winter at the new colony was very hard. About half of the colonists had died by spring. By what must have seemed incredible luck or divine providence, the colonists were able to make contact with two Natives who could speak English. One of these was named Samoset and he had learned some English from English trappers and fishermen. He introduced the Pilgrims to the other man, Squanto, who had a truly remarkable life. Captured by Englishmen, he was taken to England and instructed in the English language in the hope that he could serve as an interpreter. When he was brought back to New England, he was captured again, this time by members of John Smith’s expedition who planned to sell captured Indians as slaves in Spain. In Spain, some friars learned of this plan and had the Indians freed and instructed in the Catholic religion. Squanto was able to make his way back to England and then across the Atlantic. There, he discovered that his whole tribe had been destroyed by the diseases, probably smallpox, that the Europeans had already unwittingly brought to the New World.

Squanto was willing to help the Pilgrims and taught what they needed to know to survive in New England.The harvest in the summer of 1621 was good enough that the Pilgrims did not need to fear starvation that winter. They had a feast that Autumn to celebrate their good fortune and to give thanks to God. This celebration was not considered to be anything very remarkable. Thanksgiving celebrations were fairly common at the time, especially among people who had successfully made the difficult and dangerous voyage across the ocean. It was not really the first Thanksgiving.

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930). The First Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth in 1621. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were proclamations of thanksgiving at various times in American history, especially during the Revolutionary War, but the holiday we know of as Thanksgiving really began in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that a national day of Thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November. It might not seem that there was all that much to be thankful for in the middle of the Civil War but the tide was turning in the North’s favor after the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg that July and the country was continuing to grow in strength and prosperity despite the horrors of the war. Lincoln’s proclamation set the date for the national holiday that has been celebrated ever since. Franklin Roosevelt set the date a week earlier in 1939 in the hope that an earlier date would mean a longer shopping season for Christmas, thus helping the economy still mired in the Great Depression. This was not without controversy and in October 1941 Congress officially set the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth, and almost always the last, Thursday in November.

So,enjoy your turkey but please spare a moment or two to give thanks to the deity you worship. If you happen to be an American you really are one of the luckiest people on Earth.

The Bubble Boy Cured

November 20, 2014

One of the funniest episodes of the sitcom Seinfeld was The Bubble Boy, which naturally featured a boy with a severe immune disorder who lived in a “bubble”. The main characters of the show; Jerry, Elaine, George and George’s girlfriend Susan are all going  on a trip to Susan’s family’s cabin with a stop along the way for Jerry to meet a young fan of his who happened to be a bubble boy. Driving in two separate cars, the group becomes separated and George and Susan arrive at the bubble boy’s house not knowing where Jerry and Elaine are or how late they might be.

 

This episode aired back in 1992 and advancing technology has rendered the premise of a party being lost and separated obsolete. In our age of ubiquitous cell phones, Jerry Seinfeld and his friends could have easily kept in touch with one another. Even better, recent advances in medical research may soon make the whole concept of keeping children with severe immune disorders in sterile environments, or bubbles, as obsolete as the iron lung or bleeding with leeches. Here is the article from Time with the good news.

Alysia Padilla-Vaccaro and Christian Vaccaro owe their daughter’s life to stem cells. Evangelina, now two, is alive today because she saved herself with her own bone marrow cells.

 

Evangelina, a twin, was born with a severe immune disorder caused by a genetic aberration that makes her vulnerable to any and all bacteria and viruses; even a simple cold could be fatal. But doctors at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Broad Stem Cell Research Center gave her a new treatment, using her own stem cells, that has essentially cured her disease. She’s one of 18 children who have been treated with the cutting-edge therapy, and the study’s leader, Dr. Donald Kohn, says that the strategy could also be used to treat other gene-based disorders such as sickle cell anemia.

Known to doctors as adenosine deaminase (ADA)-deficient severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), it’s better known as “bubble boy” disease, since children born with the genetic disorder have immune systems so weak that they need to stay in relatively clean and germ-free environments. Until Evangelina and her sister Annabella were 11 months old, “We were gowned and masked and did not go outside,” says their mother Alysia Padilla-Vaccaro. “Our children did not physically see our mouths until then because we were masked all the time. We couldn’t take them outside to take a breath of fresh air, because there is fungus in the air, and that could kill her.”

 

The only treatments for SCID are bone marrow transplants from healthy people, ideally a matched sibling; the unaffected cells can then repopulate the immune system of the baby with SCID. But despite being her twin, Annabella wasn’t a blood match for her sister, nor were her parents. Padilla-Vaccaro and her husband, Christian, were considering unrelated donors but were concerned about the risk of rejection. “We would be trying to fix one problem and getting another,” she says.

That’s when the doctors at the Children’s Hospital at Orange County, where Evangelina was diagnosed, told her parents about a stem cell trial for SCID babies at UCLA, led by Dr. Donald Kohn. “As soon as they said trial, I thought, ‘my kid is dead,” says Padilla-Vaccaro of the last resort option. But a dozen children born with other forms of SCID—in which different mutations caused the same weak immune systems—who were successfully treated by Kohn convinced the couple that the therapy was worth trying. Kohn had one spot left in the trial and was willing to hold it for Evangelina until she matured more. Born premature, she was diagnosed at six weeks old and needed more time for what was left of her immune system to catch up to weather the procedure.

When she was two months old, Evangelina was admitted to UCLA and had bone marrow drawn from her tiny hip. It contained the stem cells that go on to develop into all of the cells in the blood and immune systems. Kohn treated them with gene therapy, co-opting a modified virus to carry the healthy ADA gene so it could infect the stem cells from Evangelina’s bone marrow. The idea was that by transplanting these healthy ADA-containing cells back into Evangelina, she would soon be making her own healthy immune cells. And because they were made from her own cells, her body wouldn’t reject them.

“After the transplant of this miraculous tube of stem cells, which literally took five minutes, we had to just wait and see for a good six weeks,” says Padilla-Vaccaro. “The week after Christmas [in 2012], Dr. Kohn came in and told me, ‘It worked.’ It worked. Those words…besides the birth of my children, that day will always be the best day in my life.”

There is more about how Dr. Kohn developed his procedure.

This is truly wonderful news and I hope that the techniques used in cases like this can be used to treat or cure other genetic diseases. As Glenn Reynolds might say, faster please.

 

Veterans Day

November 11, 2014

Today is Veterans Day. This day began as Armistice Day, November 11 1918 being the day that Germany signed the armistice that ended World War I. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day in 1919 to celebrate the courage of the men who fought and died in that war. The day was changed in 1954 in order to honor the veterans of all the wars of America.

I don’t have anything else to say except Thank You to all of the veterans who have served your country. You are better men and women than I am.

 

The Election of 1828

November 10, 2014

The election of 1828 was a rematch between the two major candidates of 1824, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Jackson believed, with good reason, that he had been cheated out of the presidency in the last election and he was eager for revenge. For his part, Adams had not had a particularly successful presidency in part because of the irregularities of his election and the continuing hostility of Jackson’s supporters. Adams couldn’t imagine that a man like Jackson could possibly be competent to be president.

But you mustn’t think that this contest was nothing more than a personal quarrel between the two candidates. This election was nothing less than an epic struggle to determine who would rule the new republic, a small moneyed elite based in the East or the sovereign people, as least according to Jackson’s supporters. Adams’s people viewed it as a battled for control between rule the respectable stakeholders in the country and rule by an ignorant mob. The United States was becoming more democratic. In the election of 1828 only two states, Delaware and South Carolina still had their state legislatures choose their electors. Everywhere else, the Electors were chosen by popular vote.

The second party system was still developing and both candidates were theoretically of the same party. There were no caucuses this time. King Caucus was finished. The two candidates were nominated by state legislatures and special conventions. Vice President John C. Calhoun opted to run with Andrew Jackson so John Quincy Adams selected his Secretary of the Treasury, Richard Rush as his running mate.

As President, Adams had favored a more centralized government with protective tariffs to promote industry, a national bank, and federal support for internal improvements such as building roads and canals. Adams also believed that the federal government should promote education and science. In this, he was, perhaps, ahead of his time. Many of his countrymen did not see any use for such frivolities. Adams did come across as rather too intellectual for many Americans at the time, who valued the practical wisdom of a man like Jackson.

It was a little harder to determine what policies Jackson favored since he didn’t have much to say, at first. In general, he seemed to prefer a more decentralised Union with a smaller government closer to the people. Jackson tended to oppose using the federal government to sponsor internal improvements, believing this to be mostly a duty of the states, though he did agree to using surplus federal revenue to help the states fund such improvements. He believed the government should live within its means and not borrow. He passionately opposed the idea of a national bank.

If Jackson was a little vague on the policies he preferred, he was not at all uncertain about the means to win elections and obtain office. He understood that the key to success in politics was organization. Jackson did not share his opponent’s, and the founding fathers’, disdain for political parties. He believed that parties were essential to preserving democratic rule and liberty. Immediately after the election of 1824, Jackson and his supporters began to build up a party organization to oppose Adams in Congress and prepare the way for Jackson’s campaign in 1828. This party organization was first called simply the “Friends of Jackson”but before long they began referring to themselves as the Democratic Party. Thus was formed one of the two great parties that have dominated American politics.

This new Democratic party began promoting Jackson’s cause with partisan newspapers, parades, rallies and all the paraphernalia of what came to be American presidential campaigns. They referred to Jackson, the war hero, as Old Hickory and carried around hickory sticks. They made much of the corrupt bargain that had placed Adams in the White House against the will of the people.  Jackson was a man of the people against those East Coast Elites championed by Adams, another emerging theme in American politics. Jackson was not as educated as Adams, who knew his Greek and Latin, but he had the practical common sense of the common man. It might be fair to say that Jackson was the first truly American politician.

John Quincy Adams and his supporters tried to fight back. They overcame their dislike of parties and organized themselves into the “National Republicans“. They had their own newspapers, parades, rallies, etc, but somehow they couldn’t match the enthusiasm of Jackson’s supporters. They relentlessly attacked Jackson’s character and supposed wartime heroics. Six men who Jackson had had hanged for desertion were transformed into martyrs who had served their time and only wanted to go home. Jackson was said to have indulged in gambling, cock fighting, slave trading, drunkenness, theft, lying and even murder. Jackson’s mother was a prostitute brought over to America by British soldiers. Once again the  irregularities of Andrew Jackson’s marriage to his wife, Rachel, were brought up, and Anti-Jackson newspapers referred to them as a “convicted adulteress and her paramour husband”. Rachel Jackson died soon after the election and Andrew Jackson was convinced that these slurs had killed her. He never forgave his enemies for that.

The election was not a close one. Jackson received 642,553 popular votes (55.9%) and 178 electoral votes. Adams got 500,897 popular votes (43.7%) and 83 electoral votes. Jackson swept the nation except for New England, Maryland, Delaware,and New Jersey which went to Adams. New York’s Electors were split 20 to 16 in favor of Jackson.

The Election of 1828

The Election of 1828

 

Andrew Jackson got to be president, but there is no need to feel sorry for John Quincy Adams. He went on to have a distinguished career in the House of Representatives where, among other things, he fought the good fight against slavery.

General Tso’s Chicken

September 21, 2014

The other day, I was eating at a Chinese restaurant and I noticed that one of the items at the buffet was called “General Tso’s chicken“. I started to wonder who General Tso could be and why he has a chicken dish named after him. Was he, perhaps, the Chinese equivalent of Colonel Sanders? Naturally, I consulted that infallible fount of knowledge and wisdom that is Wikipedia.

Well, as it turns out, General Tso was a nineteenth century Chinese military leader who helped to suppress some of the rebellions that were endemic in the last century of the Qing  Dynasty. His name was actually Tso Tsung-T’ang, or Zuo Zongtang using the Pinyin system of romanization. Zuo Zongtang was born in Xiangyin County in the province of Hunan in the year 1812. His family was poor but he was ambitious so he took the Imperial civil service exam seven times, failing each time. This was no cause for shame, the vast majority of candidates did not pass, but it did limit his options for advancement. Discouraged, Zuo Zongtang retired to his family farm to raise silkworms and study. The world was changing and new ways of rising in China were opening up. It was becoming increasingly obvious that China had fallen behind the European nations in science, technology and military power.  Zuo became aware of China’s increasing backwardness and he was one of the first Chinese to study Western science and culture. Zuo became known and respected as an expert in the new, foreign learning.

Zuo Zongtang

The Man(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the Taiping Rebellion broke out in 1850, Zuo became an advisor to Zeng Guofan, the governor of Hunan, who was tasked with raising an army to defeat the Taiping rebels after they had fought and destroyed the regular Qing armies in the region. By 1860 Zuo was given command of an army and he managed to clear the rebels out of Hunan and Guangxi provinces. He and Zeng captured Nanjing in 1864, ending the Taiping Rebellion at last. In 1865 Zuo was appointed Viceroy over the provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang. He was also made Commissioner of Naval Industries and opened China’s first modern shipyard and naval academy in the city of Fuzhou.

province-english

In 1867, Zuo became Viceroy of Shaanxi and Gansu provinces and was ordered to put down the Nian Rebellion which had plagued northern China the same way the Taipings had been in the south.  He accomplished this task by the following year and was then sent out to the west to deal with the Muslim rebels in the autonomous region of Xinjiang.  By 1878, Zuo Zongtang had crushed the rebels, converted Xinjiang into a province of China, with himself as the first governor and had persuaded the Russians to withdraw from the border regions they had occupied in the chaos of the rebellion. Zuo Zongtang has seen to it that his troops were armed with modern weapons and so was able to credibly threaten war against the under manned Russian outposts. This was one of the few times in the nineteenth century in which the Chinese were able to resist a foreign power.

Zuo Zongtang was promoted to the Grand Council in 1880. Zuo was not really a politician or bureaucrat and didn’t much like the post so in 1881 he was made governor of Liangjiang. His last military commission was as Commander in Chief of the Army and Inspector General of coastal defenses in Fujian when the Sino-French War broke out over the status of  Vietnam in 1884. Again, the Chinese army under Zuo performed somewhat better than they had against European armies previously and they managed to give the French a hard time in Vietnam and southern China. The French won the war, however, largely because the French Navy could bombard the coastal cities of China at will. Zuo Zongtang died in 1885, just after the war ended, a national hero.

That explains who General Tso was, but how did he get a the chicken named after him? Did he work as a chef when he wasn’t leading armies? Was sweet, spicy deep-fried chicken a particular favorite of his?

PS GeneralTsosChicken1

His chicken(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The truth is that nobody seems to know how General Tso’s chicken came to be named after General Tso. He couldn’t have possibly eaten it. The dish was actually invented in America, by Chinese immigrants who had fled China after the Communist takeover in 1949. The Shun Lee Palace in New York City claims to be the first restaurant to serve General Tso’s chicken in 1972, but that claim has been contested. Peng Jia was Chiang Kai-Shek‘s chef when Chiang fled to Taiwan and in 1973 he opened a restaurant in New York. Peng claims to have invented the dish while experimenting with ways to make Hunanese cuisine more palatable to non-Hunanese, mostly by adding sugar and sweetening it. Whatever the case, General Tso’s chicken was unknown in China before the Chinese government opened China to foreign trade and contacts. Since then, Chinese chefs have successfully introduced the dish to China although it is not a favorite in General Tso’s native Hunan. Most Hunanese consider General Tso’s chicken to be too sweet.

 

 

Thirteen Years

September 11, 2014

It has been thirteen years since 9/11. We said that we would never forget, but I am afraid we are already forgetting. A person turning eighteen this year, old enough to vote, was only five on that fateful day. I don’t imagine that they would have any clear personal memories of that day, unless they or someone close was personally affected. I am afraid that we are trying to forget the most important lesson of 9/11, that the world is a dangerous place, and there are people out there who would like to destroy us, even if Barack Obama, the lightworker, is the president. Judging from the headlines, we are already relearning the fact that withdrawing from the world will not make the bad guys decide to leave us alone. ISIS has already murdered at least two of our people and has threatened to attack our cities. I have no doubt they would have already, if they had the means. So, we are going to war in Iraq once again.

Well, I will never forget that dreadful day thirteen years ago, no matter how long I live. We will just have to keep telling the story to the younger generations so they will not have to experience any such attacks for themselves. With that in mind, I am going to copy what I wrote two years ago.

On that Tuesday morning, I was at work, driving from Madison to North Vernon when I got a call from my wife. She asked me if I were listening to the radio. I was not. She told me to turn it on because something terrible was happening. I turned my car radio on and listened to the coverage of the attack.

I went about my duties at the stores in North Vernon in a sort of state of shock.  The North Vernon WalMart and Jay C played continuing news coverage of the day’s events instead of the usual soothing Musak. Not too many people were working or shopping in the stores. They were mostly just listening.

I had to go to Seymour for a meeting that afternoon. On the way I noticed that some gas stations had raised the price of gasoline to a then unheard of price of $5 per gallon. At the meeting, no one wanted to discus the business at hand. Instead we talked about the terrorist attack. It seemed certain to us all that more attacks were on the way and that this time we couldn’t just launch a few missiles, blow up some tents, and then move on. We were in for a long fight.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I went home but I don’t remember much about it.

I was once in the World Trade Center. I was in New York with some friends as a sort of tourist and we took the elevator to the top floor of one of the twin towers. There was a gallery up there where you could look out over the city of New York. The day was foggy so I didn’t see anything. They had a gift shop in the center section of the floor. It sickens me to think that the people who worked there went to work one morning, and then had to choose between burning to death or jumping, Not to mention the tourists, who only wanted to look at the city.

It still sickens me to think about the people who were only doing their jobs having to lose their lives.

twin

 


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