Just an update to yesterday’s message. I’m now hearing that the Arctic wind headed our way is even colder than the weathermen expected. Now they’re saying it could reach zero on Thursday night (not counting the wind-chill factor), and this is Kentucky’s coldest winter in five years. I went and put some more antifreeze in my car; hopefully I won’t have any problem starting it on Thursday and Friday. The good news is that not much snow or ice is expected in the forecast; that’s what the locals are really scared of.
Ever hear a bartender say to a customer, “Name your poison?” Well, today the weatherman could have said, “Name your preciptation,” because we had all kinds of things dropped on us. To start with, we had one of those unusual days where the highest temperature (35 degrees F.) came before dawn. Like I said before, that never happened when I lived in Florida! Then a cold front came through, so we experienced first rain, then snow, then sleet, and finally a bit of snow again. N0r is that all; temperatures are expected to reach single-digit figures on Thursday and Friday nights, and the front is continuing south, at least as far as Georgia, so Lindy and Adam will be almost as cold as us!
It’s definitely time to break out the heavy winter gear. Don’t expect me to go outside much over the next few days, and Leive will be outside even less often. If we get enough snow to be worth taking pictures, I’ll post the best of them here.
More than once I have written about how the Palestinian media has poisoned one, maybe two generations of minds with hateful propaganda. Here in this blog I followed the examples from a Gaza kiddie show, Pioneers of Tomorrow, and how their characters are terrible role models. Not only do they preach hatred (there’s none of Barney the Dinosaur’s love here), but they’re a bunch of losers, too. If you haven’t read them already, you may want to check out my messages from June 19, 2007, July 3, 2007, and February 26, 2008.
First we had Farfur, Mickey Mouse’s evil cousin. When word got out about him over here, Farfur died in an Israeli prison, before the Disney corporation could sue the Palestinians. Take it from a former resident of Orlando, you don’t want to mess with THAT mouse! Farfur was replaced by Nahoul, a bumblebee who talked like a wasp. Nahoul in turn got sick and died, when he couldn’t break through the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Hmmm, I thought bees could fly, even though they’re not aerodynamically designed for it. The next member of this strange family/zoo was Assud, the Jew-eating rabbit. Now in the program broadcast on January 2, Assud is dying in a hospital, after getting hit by one of the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza (see the picture above), and he’s probably a goner by now.
Again, I ask the question: Can you see that happening to any kiddie show character in America? Not Bugs Bunny, not Michey Mouse or Donald Duck, not Popeye, and definitely not our superheroes. If any one of these protagonists couldn’t beat an opponent like the Israelis, he’d at least outwit them, like when Brer Rabbit did the briar patch routine. “Pioneers of Tomorrow” needs to change its name, if nobody on it will live to see tomorrow.
Meanwhile, I will admit that the current round of violence in Gaza caught me by surprise; “Operation Cast Lead” started while I was out of down, visiting my father in my own version of “the old country” (central Florida). Therefore I couldn’t read much of the news about it until I got back. The usual folks are having demonstrations elsewhere, which quickly go from being anti-Israel to anti-Semitic. In Ft. Lauderdale, FL, for example, one demonstrator shouted, “Go back to the oven! You need a big oven, that’s what you need!” Gosh, for a group of folks who deny the Holocaust, they sure talk about it a lot. And I heard about Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal describing the Israeli attack on Gaza as a “holocaust,” too, as he gave a fiery speech from Hamas headquarters in Damascus. Note that his main sponsor, Iran, is run by another Holocaust-denier, and that he’s nowhere near the fighting. A great role model for people who want to become martyrs, wouldn’t you say?
Hmmm, this guy isn’t talking about O. J. Simpson, is he?
I also find it encouraging that while there’s noise in the streets, there’s surprisingly little criticism from Arab governments of Israel’s response to all the rockets hurled on cities near the Gaza Strip. The fact that Egypt has sealed its part of the border with the Gaza Strip shows that it doesn’t want the Palestinians any more than the Israelis do right now. Nor do any Arab countries want to get involved. Not the Egyptians, not the Jordanians, not the Syrians, not the Saudis. Those who do want to get involved are either terrorists (Hezbollah) or non-Arabs (Iran).
Finally, there is hope even for the hopeless, if they stop looking to Allah. Recently Fox news aired a special interview, where Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a Hamas leader who converted to Christianity, tells his story. In case you missed it, here’s a link to the online version.
The history of China’s Zhou dynasty (1122-255 B.C.) would not be complete without a discussion of all the great philosophers who lived late in that period, like Confucius and Laozi. However, when I wrote about them for my Chinese history papers, I neglected to mention Sun Tzu, and here in the West, his name is almost as well known as Confucius, thanks to the popularity of his book, The Art of War. Well, now I’ve finally filled in that gap, and added a new section called “The Age of Warring States Begins,” to make room for Sun Tzu. Here it is:
The Age of Warring States Begins
Every year different alliances arose, usually led by one of the stronger states, only to be dissolved by the breaking of a treaty, a change in the balance of power, or the death of one of the lords involved. Whenever one state became too strong, the others would join together and cut it down to size; often this meant Qin & the little states vs. Chu, or Chu & the little states vs. Qin. At first warfare was carried on in the same manner as it had been under the Shang; a few chariots on each side for the officers, with peasant infantry to back them up; it was rare for a battle to last longer than a day. As time went on, however, the sizes of the armies increased to several thousand per battle, swords and crossbows were invented, and cavalry replaced chariots when the northern states learned from the Huns how to ride horses.
The new armies needed a different kind of management, and one of the first to realize this was Sun Tzu (also spelled Sun Wu or Sun Zi), author of The Art of War, the oldest existing military manual. All we know for sure about Sun Tzu is that he was born in the state of Qi during the Eastern Zhou dynasty. Sima Qian, a famous Chinese historian that we’ll be hearing from in the next chapter, tells us that Sun Tzu was not a soldier by trade, but a farmer and self-taught philosopher; his knowledge about military matters came from his grandfather, a general who had some rare military books. Keep in mind that before the invention of printing, all books had to be copied by hand, so they were always uncommon, expensive, and treated like treasures. Sima Qian goes on to tell us that Sun Tzu lived in the late sixth century B.C., while more recent historians have argued that the tactics described in his manual are compatible with Daoism (see below) and what we know about China after the Spring & Autumn Era, so a later date for the book is more likely. Still others have questioned whether Sun Tzu existed at all; they suggest that a different person wrote each of the book’s thirteen chapters. The book became popular in the West after Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, a Jesuit missionary, translated it into French in 1782. Leaders since then who have claimed inspiration from Sun Tzu’s work include Napoleon Bonaparte, Admiral Togo Heihachiro, Mao Zedong, and General Norman Schwartzkopf.
One interesting story about Sun Tzu has come down to us. According to Sima Qian, when Sun Tzu was a teenager, his father, a warrior for the state of Qi, rebelled against his duke, and Sun Tzu fled south to Wu, the state at the mouth of the Yangtze River. There as a young man, he wrote The Art of War, in the hope that the king of Wu would see it and make the author his military commander. Twenty years later, He Lu, the king of Wu, read the book and was excited about its potential, so he put it to the test by asking Sun Tzu if the ideas in the book could be used to train an army of women. Sun Tzu replied yes, and the king agreed to let Sun Tzu prove it, by turning the king’s harem of 180 concubines into soldiers. First Sun Tzu divided the concubines into two units, and appointed one of the king’s favorites as commander of each; then he made sure they understood all his marching orders, before issuing polearms and battleaxes to them. But when he gave them the first order, the girls just started giggling and laughing. In response, Sun Tzu told the king that when the soldiers do not understand an order, it is the general’s fault. Then he carefully told the girls how to do the maneuver he had in mind for them, but when he gave the orders, they just giggled again. This time Sun Tzu said that if the soldiers understand an order and do not obey it, the general is not at fault, but the officers under him are; then he ordered the beheading of the two concubines leading the units. The king protested, of course, but he had no answer to Sun Tzu’s argument that when a general receives his orders, it is his duty to carry them out perfectly. After the execution Sun Tzu put new “officers” in charge of the units, and as you might expect, he had no trouble getting the concubines to complete the rest of the “drill.” Since he had made his point, the king hired him for the job he wanted.
As conflicts heated up and the stakes grew higher, the customs established in the past began to decay. Treachery replaced courtesy, and large states began to swallow up smaller ones. A warning of what was next came from Jin, the state whose duke we already noted did not keep his promises. In 655 B.C. the duke of Jin asked the duke of Yu for permission to pass through his territory so he could attack the state of Guo. The rulers of all three states were descended from the royal house of Zhou, and were thus related. For that reason, an advisor to the duke of Yu urged his master not to allow the Jin army to pass through, arguing that anyone willing to attack a kinsman in Guo would see nothing wrong with attacking Yu as well. The Yu ruler decided instead to let the duke of Jin pass, and paid the consequences. The Jin army went through Guo unopposed, conquered Guo easily, and sacked Yu on the way back, taking its hapless ruler prisoner.
Again, because of their willingness to try new things, the states farthest from the Zhou royal domain were the first to break tradition, and were regarded as uncouth for this. One such example was a famous ambush in Henan province, now called the battle of Maling (342 B.C.). The two opponents here were Sun Bin, general for the state of Qi, and his archenemy, Pang Juan, general for the state of Wei. When their armies met, Sun Bin saw that his force was smaller, and immediately ordered a retreat. As they headed toward Qi, Sun Bin had the troops leave behind first stoves, then siege equipment, fooling the pursuers into thinking that organization had broken down, and the army was coming apart; this trick came to be known as the “Tactic of the Missing Stoves.” When they got to a wooded ravine, Sun Bin hid ten thousand archers on both sides, and on a tree in the middle of the ravine, they scraped off the bark and carved the words “Pang Juan dies under this tree.” The enemy soldiers arrived at night, and when Pang Juan noticed writing on the tree, he called for a light. The lighting of a torch under the tree was the signal for the archers to let their arrows fly!
Incidentally, Chinese historians claim that Sun Bin was a descendant of the great Sun Tzu, and that he wrote another military manual, also called The Art of War. Originally it had eighty-nine chapters and four volumes of illustrations, but these were lost around the end of the Han dynasty (see Chapter 3). Then in 1972 A.D., archaeologists opened a Han dynasty tomb in Shandong province that contained a bamboo copy of Sun Tzu’s manual, and sixteen chapters of Sun Bin’s work, so both versions of The Art of War are now available.
A really bizarre tactic came from Yue, a state in modern Anhui and Zhejiang with an ethnic Vietnamese population; in a 496 B.C. battle their army was led by three ranks of desperadoes who frightened the enemy by beheading themselves. Though it worked, this tactic was not often used for obvious reasons!
In this no-holds-barred setting, the state of Chu acquired a reputation for ruthlessness, by confiscating the lands of the states they conquered and exterminating their ruling families. On one occasion, two lords defeated by Chu expected the worst and brought coffins with them when they came to surrender. They were spared, but others were not so lucky. Soon the other states followed suit. By the end of the Spring & Autumn Era the number of Chinese states had been reduced to twelve. Legitimacy no longer commanded the respect that had formerly protected the weaker lords, and the code of chivalry broke down completely. For that reason we call the period between 481 and 221 B.C. the “Age of Warring States.”
Last November 11, I wrote about a pyramid discovered in Egypt, at Saqqara, the country’s most important ancient cemetery. Now a report has come out stating that a sarcophagus containing a mummy was found in it. No surprise there; where else would you expect to find that, when digging in the Egyptian desert? The mummy, like the pyramid, is tentatively identified as belonging to Queen Seshestet, the mother of Teti, first pharaoh of the VI dynasty. I say “tentatively” because this is an educated guess; Teti’s pyramid is nearby, but no inscription mentioning the queen’s name has been found yet.
So far, there isn’t much to look at; we don’t have a mostly intact treasure trove, like what King Tut was buried with. All that was left of the mummy were some bones and some linen. The sarcophagus also contained food pots, and there was a bit of gold on the bandages, which was probably on the queen’s fingers originally. This hints that whoever the pyramid’s occcupant was, he/she had to be important. As for the state of preservation, that doesn’t suprise me, either. Egyptian embalming techniques weren’t all that good in the VI dynasty — just about all the royal mummies we have are from dynasties XVII through XXI, a timeframe that began nearly a thousand years after this pyramid was built. Furthermore, when you go back before 2000 B.C., mummies in any condition are hard to find, thanks to the ravages of time and grave robbers.
Here are two links to articles on the find. The first one shows a picture of the archaeologists digging (Zahi Hawass, the publicity-seeking chairman of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, got himself in the picture, or course), and a picture of the bones. The other article shows the pyramid. Both articles are short, so it won’t take long to check them out.
Here’s a video I saw today of two rednecks who built their own houseboat and float around on the Kentucky River with it, fishing and playing bluegrass music as they go. The boat looks like it would capsize if hit by a wave more than a foot tall, but for now these guys are having a good time. I wonder if this is a stretch of the Kentucky River near our home, like Boonesborough?
This has been a good week for sports fans. Sunday had the college basketball game between the two local rivals, University of Kentucky vs. Louisville, and yesterday saw the Florida Gators become this year’s college football champs again (they last won the big prize in 2007). However, the main local news story wasn’t sports, for a change. Radio, TV and the newspaper were talking about a scandal at our own Bluegrass Airport. The airport’s executive director, Mike Gobb, was forced to resign last week because over the past two years he ran up a bill of more than $200,000 on business trips to other cities, even other countries — and charged the expenses on credit cards that belonged to the airport, not to himself. The most outrageous of those expenses was a $4,500 bill to entertain three airport employees at a Texas strip club. If you ask me, there’s no time or place that justifies using other peoples’ money for THAT.
Regular readers will know I was in Florida two weeks ago, flying into Orlando-Sanford International Airport. Leive and I found it interesting that Sanford is much smaller than Lexington (less than one fifth the size in terms of population), but its airport is larger. I thought that was all because of tourism, because Sanford is conveniently located between Orlando and Daytona Beach, but now I’m wondering: if the Sanford airport entertained its employees at strip clubs, would Seminole County’s infamous Club Juana still be in business today?
At least that’s how it was the last two years; November and December had some snow, but were mild compared with January and February. Now the last two months have been as cold as what I’ve come to expect from January and February, so I’m wondering what to expect between now and March. Earlier this week I got my gas bill for December — it’s a whopper, the biggest one I’ve received since moving to Kentucky. Environmentalists, where’s global warming when you need it?
Today I had a challenge getting to work because the doors of my car were frozen shut; I ended up pouring some lukewarm water on the passenger side door, and once I was in, crawled over to the driver’s side. Luckily there was no ice on the roads. This evening I gave the engine some more antifreeze, just in case. Nothing in my Florida years prepared me for winter driving like this. In Orlando, the worst problem I was likely to deal with was ice on the windshield, which can form down there when the temperature’s as warm as 40 degrees; you don’t even have to know what antifreeze is. Maybe I can persuade Leive to let me put my car in the garage, until we can get Kentucky registration for hers.
We had a blood drive at work on Tuesday. Since I had no trouble giving blood when the bloodmobile came by last July, I participated again, but almost got disqualified because they asked more questions than ever. The one that caught me was: “Have you ever been to Africa?” Well, yes, but I had to tell them it was back in 1979, before AIDS was even discovered. Altogether I don’t think there were as many donors this time; in fact, I may have been the only one from my department. All who showed up will be entered in a drawing for vacations to Memphis or Las Vegas, since today is Elvis Presley’s birthday. If I win it should be interesting, though I’ve seen one Memphis already (the original one in Egypt, not the one in Tennessee).
At last Sunday’s birthday party, I was asked to share what I have learned over the past fifty years. I didn’t have much to say then, but here’s what I’ll say when I’m with that group again. This comes from a list of my own proverbs entitled “This Is An Old Saying — That I Just Made Up!”
- If it’s popular all of a sudden, watch out! Fads can go out of style as fast as they come into style. Does anybody remember streaking?
- A rising tide lifts all ships, but when the tide goes out, you can see who’s been swimming naked.
- Choose your enemies with care, for if you fight them long enough, you will come to resemble them.
- The Chinese guy who said “A picture is worth a thousand words” should have worked with computer graphics!
- Government assistance is like a blood transfusion performed by a clumsy doctor. He takes blood out of one arm, spills some of it, puts the rest in the other arm–and charges for it!
- If men are from Mars, and women are from Venus, then children are from Mercury. (“Hey! Which way did that kid go?”)
- The pre-convention phase of a US presidential election is like the little car that drives around in the middle of the circus. You wonder how they got so many clowns in there!
- The loudness of a TV/radio commercial is inversely proportional to how intelligent the advertiser thinks you are. Ever notice how they scream on used car commercials, while nobody raises his/her voice on ads for investment firms or technical schools? Never buy anything from a company that uses explosions to get your attention.
- If I were the devil and plotting world domination, my primary human agents would not be a group of old men who meet privately in a well-marked building, wear funny hats and act goofy. (Compare this with what Dave Barry said about God in Chapter 4.)
- If you leave home, and find yourself ready to go sooner than you expected, you probably forgot something.
Yes, I reached the half-a-century mark today (see the January 5 message for my birthday party). To Lindy, Chris, Helena, and Joan Bell, thanks for the cards, both the paper and the electronic kind. And Chris, I didn’t say anything about it this time, but I did tell Leive it was a bad idea to let Brin-Brin watch, the last time she cooked a turkey!
Neither Leive or I felt inclined to watch any TV last New Year’s Eve, so I didn’t see this video until Neal Boortz posted it on his website yesterday. Among the videos I have downloaded are a few in a folder marked “Amazing,” because they show various stunts I wouldn’t believe were possible if somebody just told me about them. This one is in that category. A year ago, an Australian named Robbie Maddison set a record for the longest motorcycle jump (322 feet), so this time he went back to Las Vegas and broke another record, for the highest motorcycle jump. To do it he jumps up 96 feet and lands smoothly on top of a replica of the Arc de Triomphe, and then comes the scary part — he jumps back down to the ground. I get nervous just watching it here!
And now here’s something that’s only related in that it’s a sporting event and it also took place in Las Vegas. This morning I heard about something called the “Beer Pong Championship.” I don’t know who invented the game, but to me it sounds like a Russian idea (in college I learned that a Russian with nothing better to do will get drunk). Anyway, the rules are simple. In beer pong you put two sets of ten plastic cups on each end of a long table, fill them with beer, and lob ping-pong balls at them. Every time the ball lands in a cup, the player’s opponent has to remove the cup and drink the beer in it. Which makes me wonder what the point is, besides getting drunk; when one player wins, the other will be too smashed to even care!