Saving Daylight

As I type this, it’s not even 9 p.m., and I feel the need to go around the house and change all the clocks already.

Partly this stems from many years ago, when we showed up at church an hour late because we forgot the time change. Partly it stems from my own creeping forgetfulness.

What makes this annoying is that the change isn’t happening when it used to, but we have a nifty alarm clock that knows when it’s supposed to change and make the switch automatically. So, since Congress decided that it’s better to change the clocks earlier in the calendar, we’ll change that clock tonight only to have to change it again whenever the clock thinks the time has come.

Oh, the wonders of technology.

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On Having Eclectic Interests: Specialization is for Insects

One of my favorite quotes, among all the quotes I keep handy, is a Robert A. Heinlein passage from his “Notebooks of Lazarus Long,”

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

I often think of that quote with respect to my somewhat schizophrenic approach to life; that is, my tendency to move from topic to topic, the way a bee moves from flower to flower, stopping only long enough to collect what I want and then moving on. I might examine something in depth for a little while, but eventually I will leave it for another interest or another project. And if I have a mental honeycomb to which I return, in which I try to produce something of worth out of the bits I’ve collected, I must admit that its output has been poor and its product too often unpalatable.

At times I think it might be better to have specialized, to have developed some level of expertise, to know a lot about a little instead of a little about a lot. Then I think that perhaps the world has enough experts, enough specialists, and being a generalist is not so bad.

Or maybe I’m just rationalizing my lack of focus and resolve.

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Al-Qaeda: You love life and we love death

What a telling quotation: “You love life and we love death.” If so, what recourse do we have except to give them what they love?

That quotation, from “Al-Qaeda’s chief military spokesman in Europe,” was pulled from Blood & Rage: a Cultural History of Terrorism by Michael Burleigh; i.e., specifically from this review of the book: “The theatre of cruelty,” in the London Telegraph on-line.

(Alan Dershowitz, in “Worshippers of Death” in today’s Wall Street Journal, notes a similar statement from Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah: “We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.”)

We haven’t read Burleigh’s book yet, but from the review the ideas in it sound familiar. Burleigh examines “the moral squalor, intellectual poverty and psychotic nature of terrorist organisations, from the Fenians of the mid-19th century to today’s jihadists – the latter group, especially, being composed of unstable males of conspicuously limited abilities and imagination.” Burleigh’s terrorist operatives are, in the words of the reviewer, “sour, lazy nobodies, ugly, of febrile imagination and indifferent talent, who can only become somebody by blowing others, inevitably persons more talented and intelligent, up.” Added to which, as Dershowitz notes in his article, radical Muslim women have recently been encouraging their sons to become martyrs — if not becoming martyrs themselves.

This all sounds familiar because it runs close to something we wrote back in 2002. In our Ornery American essay, “Yogi Berra, Polybius, and the Recurring Jihad,” we took a page from Polybius and noted that, with respect to the attacks on 9/11/01,

the nineteen assassins were young, “full of unrelenting passion,” not suffering from want or deprivation but well-educated and well-financed, and exasperated against us on the basis of their own imaginings. They and their successors differ from the Gauls [the group Polybius wrote about], however, in having an ideology that screams for conflict. Islam does not mean “peace,” but “submission.” If we forget that, we may cry out “peace, peace” when there is no peace.

There is something noble about being willing to sacrifice one’s self for a just cause. Even as we recognize that, however, the question becomes whether we believe their cause — the cause of death — is more just than ours. And the answer must be no. It cannot be.

They love death. So be it — may it come to them sooner than it comes for us.

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Who’s Afraid of Wiretaps?

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — the HPSCI, usually pronounced “HIP-see” — will take a classified briefing today on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). We presume the HPSCI members are well-versed in the FISA law itself, so this briefing will cover the current intelligence-gathering situation after the Protect America Act — which amended the FISA — expired on February 17th. In particular, it may include the matter of telecommunications companies’ immunity from lawsuits that arise from their cooperation with national security investigations.

We may hope that, after this briefing, the HPSCI members rise in support of the bill that recently passed the Senate, and pressure the House leadership to bring the matter to a vote. We remain skeptical, but optimistic. How else are we to live?

We wonder, however, at the subtle irony that on the HPSCI’s web page, http://intelligence.house.gov/, we are treated to the graphic of the Homeland Security Advisory System showing an “Elevated” threat level: “Significant risk of terrorist attacks.” How much different might that level be, were it not for our operatives’ ability to eavesdrop on potential terrorist communications? Should our elected leaders not give those operatives every possible tool to protect us?

Yes, they should; the question is whether they will.

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If you heed the Gray Man’s warning, …

… you make it safely through the storm.

At least, that’s how the legend of the “Gray Man,” the ghost of Pawleys Island, SC, has it. Even though we’re not warning about approaching storms — or at least not real, physical storms — this blog marks a new attempt at getting our warnings out to the world.

Hopefully, some folks will come and join us from time to time ….

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