Monday, February 28, 2011

Having Fun Working on My T@#%s

My little corner of the world.

I was going to complain about all the paperwork that is presently spread out in my living room, where I spent all weekend working on my t@*%s. But what with those National Security Guys eavesdropping on all of us because it is illegal to profile, I'm afraid any complaints I have might be copied to the I#$ and the next thing I know my blabbing would have triggered an a#@&t. This is assuming, of course, that those guys at the C!@ and the N$( and the I#$ are organized and efficient.

Which, since nothing Bernie Madoff did for half a century triggered anything, may be a leap of logic that assumes a level skill unknown at the agencies to which I referred above. But who wants to be the one to test that hypothesis?

Paper is everywhere, and really I have my mother to blame for this. This is exactly the way she "organized" paperwork. Why didn't I get that math gene from my Dad????

I have no moral, ethical, or personal issues with paying my fair share of t@*%s. I know I'm lucky to live in the best country in the world--mind you, not always the best run--but still wonderful and free. We have good roads and schools; the water and power are plentiful and safe; our military seems to have a general idea what it is up to; and the bridges work pretty well; so I have nothing to complain about.

Except for the fact that the t@# c&%e is indecipherable and necessitates the hiring of a C&* each year to translate it for me, and except for the fact that no matter how organized I think I am I always have to spend a weekend (or more) each year sorting through all this wretched paper in order to get ready to meet with the C&*, I would be happy as can be.

I often wonder why I don't work on this a little bit each month, and then I wouldn't have to go through all this. That would make sense. Which may be why I can't seem to do it.

That's the way my father worked: he logged things every day, every week, every month. He LOVED working on his t@#%s, and so did his sister, my Aunt Helen. In fact, she was so good at it that into her eighties she donated her time to one of those Senior Centers where she helped old doofuses like me fill out their t@# f*&%s.

This year is even more complex than usual because my father had the nerve to up and die in 2010, which no one should ever do because there is really no provision for it in the t@# c&%e and thus it causes no end of complications which the person involved, who is the cause of everything, cannot help you with because he is finally beyond the reach of the I#$. Lucky man.

Paper, paper, everywhere and none of it interesting.

I used to believe in (so-called) t@# reform. But having covered the Kemp-Roth (so-called) "Flat T@#" bill long ago in Congress, and seeing what came of that--literally nothing--I am no longer foolish enough to be sanguine on the prospects for any positive change in this area.

So, unless I find a nice C&* to marry who will promise to love, honor, and do my t@#%s for me, you'll know where to find me. And Dad--you lucky devil--it must really be heaven.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

S'no Go for SF Snow

That's my front yard, all right, but it is a photo taken by my father in 1976.

Everybody was all excited about the possibility of snow in San Francisco--and the Bay Area--this weekend. Though we live up against the Coast Range, it only snows down here at sea level about once every twenty or thirty years.

We knew, whatever happened, we wouldn't have to worry about shoveling it. Unlike the residents of, say, Minneapolis, where a friend of mine told me she had endured eighty inches of snow this winter and the roof and sides of her home are so covered with the stuff she feels as if she lives in a snow cave.

For us--the cities circling San Francisco Bay--it was just the novelty of the thing. Alas, alack and Alaska: It appears that big storm from up Fairbanks way didn't quite materialize as predicted.

Back in the twentieth century, when I was but a youth, we had one Sunday when the snow really did fall here in Los Altos, California and stuck to the ground.

That is me in the scarf and my sister in the ski sweater, throwing snowballs at our father the photographer. © Robin Chapman

I remember the day so clearly. We had a neighbor from St. Paul, Minnesota who had moved in across the street and she and my mother sat chatting in the living room as the snow flakes drifted down.

"It's snowing!" I kept pointing out the big picture windows. "It's snowing out there!"

My mother and the neighbor were not impressed. Finally the lady said to me:

"It is just snow, for heaven's sake. Don't be so excited."

I left the room in disgust. Maybe they saw a lot of snow in St. Paul, where she grew up, and in Spokane, where my mother grew up--but where I grew up, this was front page stuff. (I guess I was a born reporter).

My father, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, was able to get excited about it, and he joined my sister and me outside for some fun. He, being a boy, wanted to throw snowballs at everyone. We, being girls, just wanted to get pictures.

Here is the side yard of our house--the house where I live today--on that one snow day, way back when. © Robin Chapman

Later, when I moved to Washington D.C., I still found snow an interesting novelty. It doesn't snow much there either, and it always meant some producer would send me out to stand in the stuff with a television crew and say: "I'm here at the Silver Springs Metro station, and it is snowing heavily ..." Once I said to my news director, "But they know it is snowing. What do I have to go out and stand in the stuff?" And he gave me a very good answer: "Robin," he said. "This is television."

Bethesda, Maryland and the little house I owned back then, when I worked as a reporter in Washington, D.C.

I was looking forward to a little flurry of it out here in Northern California. Not enough to shovel. No requirement that I go broadcast in it. But, for now, we will have to be content to enjoy the snow only in our memories and our imaginations. And, I have come to believe this is probably the very best way to enjoy a heavy snowfall.

That's Bessie and me in Bethesda, Maryland.

If you have snow photos from the higher elevations around the San Francisco Bay area this weekend, or from anyplace else you'd like to share with my readers, send your photos and stories to me at rchapsblog@gmail.com and I will put them up on the blog.



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Friday, February 25, 2011

Remembering the Strangeness of Bahrain

The Holiday Inn, Manama, Bahrain. The gentlemen on either side of me are carrying automatic weapons and were at the entrance to the Holiday Inn, 24/7. And everyplace else, too.

I have been to at least one of the nations of the Middle East lately in turmoil. I was in Bahrain on assignment at the end of the first Gulf War, as we went into and out of Kuwait.

Bahrain is an island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia, mostly paved over and full of modern buildings. But it was the first nation I had been to--outside of a nation at war, which Bahrain was not--that had military guys carrying sub machine guns everywhere, including in front of the Holiday Inn where we stayed. It was a surreal place.

En route to Bahrain and Kuwait, I spoke with my friend, the former Ambassador to the U.S. from Kuwait, Saud al Sabah, photo left.

The first strange thing was how long it took us to get our luggage. Turns out it took so long because they opened it and spent hours going through everything. I know this because I brought along two unopened plastic bottles of water--in case I needed them in Kuwait--and when I finally got my suitcase about five hours after we landed, it was nearly midnight and the water bottles had been opened and were leaking on my clothes.

Because we didn't have our suitcases after the thirteen-hour flight to Manama, another reporter and I went down to the Holiday Inn bar to wait. It was like the Bar At the End of the Universe in Star Wars. There were buff looking guys with military haircuts--Americans, Brits, and our other allies--none in uniform, as that was verboten, sitting at little tables and arguing about who was the toughest.

There were Saudis strolling around in their exotic robes looking for Western girls and alcohol--the supply of which is constrained just up the causeway in their homeland.

And there was an all-girl Philippine band playing "Welcome to the Hotel California." I noticed as we sat there, that the girls came and went at the direction of an Asian man on the edge of the stage. I think those ladies had other jobs on the side--besides singing.

Robin in Kuwait, at the end of a long day.

We spent the next day in Kuwait, but since it had been trashed by Saddam Hussein's soldiers, there was no place we could stay there, so we were back in Bahrain by nightfall. That night and the next day, my photographer and I noticed that everywhere we went, there were two or three guys following us.

We didn't know who they were and we finally stopped and turned around and asked them what they were doing. With great difficulty we were led to understand they were keeping their eyes on us "for our own protection." Right. We finally took a picture with the whole lot of them, and they seemed delighted to pose.

With my minders in Bahrain. Don't leave home without them.

We knew there was an American base on the island kingdom, so the morning after our visit to Kuwait, we stopped a taxi and asked the driver if he knew where it was.

"Oh, the secret American base?" he said. "Yes, Yes, I know. But you cannot go there." Instead he took us to the only thing in Bahrain that looked Middle Eastern: the old market, or Souq, (pronounced sook). There, for the first time, I saw women who were completely covered by black burkas, with just their eyes showing through a narrow opening. It was as if we had been transformed into the Arabian Nights.

And those guys followed us the whole time.

Yes? This way to the Secret American Air Base!

Now that I've read more about that part of the world and am not the naive girl reporter I once was, I realize the gun toting military presence and the secret police just over your shoulder, are all of a piece in Middle Eastern dictatorships, whether friends of the U.S. or foes. There is only one democracy in the Middle East, and that is Israel--a country much detested by all those dictators.

The military and the secret police are how they maintain control. Bahrain is an absolute monarchy.

Anyway, I was very glad to say goodbye to that Holiday Inn. It wasn't the least bit like the Hotel California.

Among my souvenirs. (BTW: after you make up my room, could you send those guys away who have been following me?)

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thinking About New Zealand And California's Own Quarrels With Quakes

This molding in my kitchen isn't loose: the wall shifted in the last earthquake. Or maybe it was the roof.

In December we had big ca-chunk! kind of an earthquake that sounded as if it were right under the house. Turns out it was.

It was 2.1 miles beneath the earth's surface on the Monte Vista fault line, directly beneath the intersection of Fremont and El Monte Avenues--or about one long city block from my house. And, although it was just a 3.1 on the Richter scale, it was big enough, and rattled the kitchen window enough, that at first I thought it was a sonic boom.

This all came to mind as I watched the news of the devastation in New Zealand from their 6.3 magnitude quake. That size earthquake is a not-unexpected event in California, and though there is nothing you can do about them and no way one can predict them, the damage in Christchurch, New Zealand does give one pause.

Since our last little temblor I've noticed there is some small damage on the northwest side of this house: the side closest to the epicenter. The kitchen wall above the window shifted enough to put the molding out of plumb:



Just a few feet away, a set of louvred doors are no longer true:



A sliding door in the bedroom is out of whack and closes neatly at the top, but not at the bottom.





And a piece of molding in the entryway is also out of plumb. It isn't loose and it won't just fit back with the other mitred piece: the wall is what is really out of plumb.

The entry is paneled in old, pickled redwood, though I think my father added the molding twenty years ago. That gap--obviously--doesn't belong there.

All this is actually good news. Wood frame houses are supposed to be the safest buildings you can be in (safe as houses?) in an earthquake, since the wood moves and gives, but doesn't break and collapse as do bricks and mortar.

This house has withstood a lot of quakes since its construction in 1952--most notably the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, which was a 6.9. Quite a few things fell off shelves, but the house had no damage at all. My Dad said he actually saw the house move in a sort of a wave (seismologists said the surface wave was a 7.1), but when it was over he took out his level and found that all the corners were plumb again.

He always told me it was much more dangerous to drive a car, than to live in earthquake country. Remembering that now gives me some comfort, as I watch the people of New Zealand recover from their own terrible exception to that rule.

If you want to see what the earth is doing in your town or city, just Google the name of your hometown and the word "earthquake," and Google will list all the recent quakes in your vicinity.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

The Origins of Presidents' Day

Honest Abe couldn't catch a break, at least when it came to holidays. This is another vintage postcard from the Russell Hughes collection.

Lincoln's Birthday was never a national holiday. Surprised? If you went to school before 1968, and had the day off, you probably didn't live south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

That is because, during the first century after the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln remained a controversial figure in some states. And that is just one of the interesting factoids about this Presidents' Day Weekend.

George Washington had much better luck. As the commander of the troops that defeated the British, president of the convention that drew up our Constitution, and first President of the United States, his birthday was widely celebrated as a holiday during his own lifetime. In New York, in 1790, the Society of St. Tammany passed this resolution:

"Resolved, unanimously, That the 22d day of February (corresponding with the 11th Feb old Stile) be this day, and ever hereafter, commemorated by this Society as the BIRTH DAY of the illustrious George Washington."

The celebrations didn't stop when Washington finally retired to Mount Vernon--though neither did the confusion about which of his birthdays (Julian or Gregorian) to celebrate.

On February 12, 1708, he notes in his diary: "Went with the family to a Ball in Alexa. given by the Citizen[s] of it & its vicinity in Commemoration of the Anniversary of my birth day."

His step-granddaughter, Nelly Custis, accompanied him and wrote that she found: "... the room crouded [sic], there were twenty five or thirty couples in the first two setts ... we danced until two o'clock." The birthday ball was held on February 12 that year as February 11 fell on a Sunday. It appears Virginia was still eleven days behind New York.

Washington died in 1799 and people across America wore black armbands for a month to mourn his passing. They continued, in the coming years, to celebrate both the 11th (in some places) and the 22nd (in others) as a holiday marking his birth. In 1879 Congress settled the whole thing by setting aside February 22nd as a federal holiday in his honor.

There is no question that Illinois is happy to mark the birthday of this son of Springfield.

Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was unequivocally February 12, faced more obstacles.

It wasn't until 1874 that a movement began to make Lincoln's birthday a legal holiday. There were many attempts over the years to persuade Congress to take action on it, but they were never successful.

In 1909, as the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth approached, Teddy Roosevelt sought to issue a proclamation making February 12, 1909 a legal holiday. But Congress stalled until February 11, so, by the time Roosevelt was able to issue his proclamation, it was too late to have much impact.

After that, many states began to mark February 12 as Lincoln's Birthday Holiday, and ultimately about thirty states did so.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act--effective 1971--that moved the Washington's Birthday celebration to the third Monday in February. President Nixon signed a proclamation naming the holiday "Presidents' Day." But that didn't end the controversy.

Many states still call the third Monday in February "Washington's Birthday." Some states call it "Washington-Lincoln Day." Others call it Presidents' Day, along with the federal government.

Since this is America, we're allowed to disagree.

In many cases, it is practically expected of us.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

George Washington's Bridge


Happy Presidents Day Weekend!

George Washington was raised in old Virginia on the Potomac River--when there were virgin forests and rich land all around him. He was tall and intelligent and seemed to have been a natural leader of men. His life was filled with blessings.

Great teeth, however, were not among them.

He began to lose his teeth early in life, something in his diaries he attributes to his youthful habit of cracking walnuts with his teeth. Modern dentists speculate that he was much more likely to have lost his teeth due to periodontal disease than walnut-cracking.

But, back in the eighteenth century, nobody knew enough about preventive dentistry to remind America's first president that he needed to floss.

In truth, by the time George Washington was elected to office in 1789, though he was not yet sixty years old, it was far too late for flossing. By then he had no teeth left at all (some researchers think he had one tooth left, but that's pretty much the same thing). So, he wore a complete set of dentures.

Many American's have gotten the idea that his teeth were made of wood, but that isn't so. According to Mt. Vernon historians, they were actually made of a combination of cow's teeth, human teeth, and elephant ivory, set in a lead base. And if that doesn't sound unpleasant enough, they also didn't fit well, and the two plates were connected with springs that allowed him to open and close his mouth. Bo-ing!

It is no wonder he isn't smiling in his portraits.

The Smithsonian Institution has Washington's battle sword and his uniform at the National Museum of American History. But the museum collection of Washington's estate, Mount Vernon, can claim the only complete set of his dentures.

The teeth are periodically on display there, and though it may sound like a peculiar thing to look for at a museum, they're worth seeing if you are in the nation's capitol nearby. They are certainly a means one might use to frighten children into remembering to brush.

And, they are a sort of sweet commentary on George Washington. If it is true, as legend has it, that he could not tell a lie, then these may have been the only thing false about the Father of Our Country.



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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Disappearing Pacific Island


I wanted to alert you to look for a documentary I learned about at an event last night. The film is called, There Once Was an Island, and tells the story of a tiny atoll in the South Pacific that faces an uncertain future. I haven't yet seen it, but it looks fascinating.

The island's future is uncertain because it appears to be sinking into the sea--a problem of some urgency for its isolated population of five hundred people.

The young woman who produced the film--thirty-year-old Briar March--is a New Zealander working on her MFA at Stanford University. She read about the atoll in 2006 and, with great difficulty, worked to tell its story.

The difficulty came because the island--near-but-not-so-near to Bouganville, in the Solomon Islands--can be reached by ship only once every two or three months and has no electricity. She and her crew had to use solar panels to charge their equipment, remaining on the island for months at a time and living, along with the natives, in thatched huts without indoor plumbing.

March is from an arty family of Kiwis--(she described her parents as hippies!)--and she's already won a Fulbright Fellowship in addition to her scholarships to Stanford University, so she is clearly a talented young woman.

Briar March, center, with her parents in New Zealand.

I found her point of view interesting because she did not immediately attribute the island's problems to global warming. Instead, she did real research on what is happening there: ("It's complicated," she said). She also worked to make a difference: bringing a scientist with her on one visit, so GPS mapping could be used to help the population make informed decisions about evacuating.

While she was there, there was a flood. I hate to call that a filmmaker's dream--because it clearly wasn't a good thing for the locals--but it is the kind of thing that clearly helped her tell the story.


As a television news reporter, it took me several years to realize that my job was like the job of a documentarian (though slightly more low brow): I was making little non-fiction movies every day. A good story was almost never difficult to tell. If a story was difficult to tell, it generally wasn't a good story.

Not a problem with this tale. Keep your eye out for this award-winning film.

There Once Was An Island: Te Henua e Nnoho, produced by Briar March and Lyn Collie. For more information click on:
THERE ONCE WAS AN ISLAND WEB SITE

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How the Pope Changed Washington's B'day

A vintage Washington's Birthday postcard from the collection of Russell Hughes of Orlando, Florida.

In 2003, I drafted a book about American holidays and their history. Though it wasn't published, the following is from the February chapter:

Most of our founding fathers, George Washington included, were born under the Julian calendar, but died under the Gregorian: so the days of their birth shifted in the middle of their lives.

George Washington's original birth year was 1731.

The Julian calendar was established by Julius Caesar, 46 years before the birth of Christ, and for more than fifteen centuries it was the standard calendar used in the West: and by some countries in the East as well. Caesar established a year that was 364 1/4 days long, designed to synchronized with a complete cycle of the Earth's seasons.

But his year was eleven minutes, fourteen seconds too slow, which didn't mean much at first. But by the sixteenth century, the date that marked the New Year--which was then the first day of spring--was ten days behind the vernal equinox.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII consulted with scientists and devised a calendar so accurate that it is still in use today. Called the Gregorian calendar in his honor, it creates leap years, which add one day to the calendar every four years, except on centennial years--unless the year is divisible by four.

He then decreed that the New Year would henceforth begin January 1, instead of March 21; and to get the calendar caught up with the seasons, he told everybody they were going to have to lose ten days in the process.

October 4, 1582, would be followed by October 15, 1582. Since he was the Pope he could order this sort of thing and have it happen. Well, almost.

By the sixteenth century, the West was no longer entirely Roman Catholic. The Reformation had swept Europe, the Orthodox churches in the East followed their own calendar, and it consequently took several centuries for the new calendar to be widely adopted.

George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers were all caught up in the change. Britain and her colonies finally adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, and by that time they had to add eleven days to make it come out right.

September 2, 1752 was followed by September 14, 1752. George Washington, who was 21 at the time, got a new birth date. The original date of his birth, February 11, 1731 (now called O.S. for Old Style) was changed to February 22, 1732 (now called N.S. for New Style). The change of the year, came because Washington was born between January--when the New Year now began--and March--when the New Yard had begun (O.S.)

George Washington kept a diary his entire life and imagine how confusing it was for him! A full five years before the switch, a teenage GW made a diary entry dated Fryday, March 11th 1747/8. It suggests the upcoming change was already on his mind.

What happened, do you suppose, to the eleven days everyone in America lost in 1752? And here's another question: Washington died in 1799. Was he 68 when he died? Or 67?

People in the U.S. began honoring our first president's birthday during his lifetime and the celebrations varied even then. Some were held on the 11th of February and some on the 22nd. This is another vintage card from the Russell Hughes collection.

The U.S. Archives has transcribed all of George Washington's diaries and has them available now On Line. One of the most fascinating things you can do is to read through them and learn more about the life of this remarkable man.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Interesting Experiences With Color ...

New curtains are up in one more room.

I had a houseful of company in the last few days and one of the guest rooms still didn't have the drapes up: but that was remedied in the middle of their visit, when Mr. Pink arrived with the new window treatments.

One of the challenges of working with fabrics is that you usually start with a little sample slightly larger than a postage stamp and you just have to imagine what it will look like when you put 20 yards of it up on a window. (Note to fabric companies: you could remedy this if you made "memo samples" almost a yard and charged a fee for them.)

In this case, I was trying to bring some lavender/purple hues into the room, so I chose a wisteria-and-cream check in silk and linen from Robert Allen. It was fairly neutral and that fits in with my philosophy that if you have to live with something for a long time--this may or may not apply to people--it is often best to avoid the flamboyant.

The check looks very buttoned down, doesn't it?

In any case the one thing I didn't think about was how the eye perceives a very small check: the eye doesn't see a small check well and the two colors--wisteria and cream--blend together to make a sort of gray. It is a wisteria-colored gray. But the optical illusion surprised me. I still like the drapes, though.

The rug is the one from Kazakhstan I bought from the Bukhara Rug company on the Internet. The yurt door (against the wall) is from Kyrgyzstan. Doesn't everyone have a yurt door?

I could have chosen a more dramatic, and much larger, wisteria and white check, and I think that would have looked good too. Robert Allen has a pretty one in the same collection--Beacon Hill/Casa Loma--but it was all silk and I wasn't sure how that would wear, over time, in such a sunny window. Sunlight is tough on natural fabrics.

Small check, large check. Both have their good points.

I think either of the checks would have been fine in the room. But the more neutral one will probably last longer. And will be easier to decorate around as I make changes in the years ahead.

But I continue to be amazed and how color and fabric can morph and change before your eyes. Perhaps that is why it is so interesting.

I had a gathered valance made in the small check for the bow window. It has cellular shades on its windows.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Google's Wael Gonim in Egypt: "This Revolution Started On Line"

We awakened this morning, to revolution in Egypt.

"Revolution 2.0 has happened!" That's what Wael Gonim, the young Google executive, said on CNN this morning when it was announced that Egypt's Hosni Mubarak has "stepped down."

I suspect, after Mubarak refused to quit last night, the U.S. trained military took him to one of those undisclosed locations where he is now going to remain for some time. Egypt's Vice President looked somewhat ashen when he made the announcement of the "change" in government.

He's probably being held in the same place.

Gonim, meanwhile, was both humble and exuberant. He is the young man who helped get the demonstrations for democracy in Egypt going, through Facebook and Twitter, before he was arrested by Mubark's thugs and kept blindfolded for twelve days as the movement grew white hot.

Today, on CNN, he said he'd like to meet Facebook's Mark Zukerberg personally and thank him. (He'll be getting that call very soon--don't you think?)

He also thanked the international media saying the cameras in the square had helped save lives during the time when Mubarak sent out his bullies to beat up demonstrators and reporters--thinking that would help bring an end to the furor.

Does Gonim see himself in politics? "I want to go back to my job," he said. He's young, idealistic, has an American wife and works for Google in the Middle East. "I am not an expert on international relations," he said. "But this is a revolution of the people."

What does that mean?

The quote I heard from former CIA director James Woolsey today--"The revolution devours his own children"--has been attributed to more than one person, but, it is an apt quote that interjects a note of caution amidst the celebrations.

The challenge with revolutions, as history shows us, is that into the vacuum and chaos that follows, new tyrants and demagogues often rush in, where angels fear to tread.

In this case, it appears the Egyptian military, with its strong ties to the U.S., secured the country before "helping" Mubarak make his decision to "turn over power"--right after he announced on television Thursday night he wasn't going to do that.

Egypt has been a great ally of the United States, since Anwar Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel more than thirty years ago.

Now, America has a real opportunity to make an even greater friend, by helping the Egyptian military lead that ancient nation to a true democracy. We can do it if we use great skill. And this will be a test for the Obama administration's skill.

The Reagan administration was able to help lead a nation like Portugal out of that darkness of its socialist/communist government--years before the fall of the Soviet Union--with economic encouragement. Portugal is now a member of the European Union.

Let's hope "revolution 2.0" in Egypt is aided by us to remain as democratic, optimistic, and peaceful as it began. American ingenuity, via the Internet, helped get it going. Let's hope America, with its own history of a positive, democratic revolution, befriends these wonderful people and helps them as they aspire to be free.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Guest Post: How Israel Views the Demonstrations for Democracy in Egypt

Demonstrators gather in Cairo on Tuesday.

Robin writes: Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and Egypt, under Anwar Sadat, was the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Sadat gave his life for his efforts, but the treaty held. Now, with demonstrators protesting the autocratic rule of Sadat's successor, Hosni Mubarak, Israelis wonder what the future will bring. A Florida mental health professional who is teaching in Israel, gives us an American perspective on how Israelis view the turmoil in Egypt. Having seen what happened in Iran in 1979, they know that a "democratic revolution" does not always bring about positive change. For his own safety, we identify our guest writer as Dr. K.

Guest Post from Israel
by
Dr. K

“Military, pro-Mubarak groups driven off overpass; Egyptian army uses tanks to separate rival camps; at least 6 demonstrators shot dead, over 600 injured since riots broke out.” These were the headlines on the front page of the Jerusalem Post a couple of days ago.

Keeping abreast of the news in the United States, I listen closely on my laptop to the words of President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and even Senator John McCain expressing a need for the birth of democracy in Egypt, and an immediate need for open, transparent elections. These are the ideals that the United States of America, a country that I dearly love, was founded on. Here in Israel, the people that I ask have different opinions about the whole ordeal; the general concern here in Israel is to keep the State of Israel safe and secure.

Americans abroad can keep abreast of the news in English, by streaming CNN on their laptop computers.

Today’s front page reads: “Israel says no to more Egyptian troops in Sinai,” and a senior military source is quoted as saying: "We don’t want it to seem as if the peace treaty is meaningless, particularly when there could be a regime change in Cairo.” At this moment, there are approximately 800 Egyptian troops on the Sinai Peninsula. In 1979, Israel agreed to give this territory back to Egypt on the condition that it would remain demilitarized.

Now there is great concern that the Muslim Brotherhood will become the ruling party in Egypt. Democracy and fair elections are well and good; however, the Muslim Brotherhood has openly called for the destruction of Israel. This is the Muslim Brotherhood that believes that women who commit adultery should be stoned to death, and people who are caught stealing should have their hands cut off.

It really doesn’t matter who in Israel I ask about this: ultra orthodox and secular, taxi driver and physician, soldier and yeshiva student; all have the same concern, a concern that is not necessarily based on any understanding of how these events in Egypt came about. In fact I’m not sure myself why this great revolt over the autocratic government of Hosni Mubarak did not happen long ago.

Israelis know only that for the past 30 years, there has been a tangible peace treaty. For 30 years, the two governments have shared information and intelligence, and a mutual understanding. And yes, Egypt has always been a great deterrent to any of Israel’s enemies. And frankly, with real missiles fired by Palestinian groups hitting the southern part of Israel from Gaza on almost a daily basis, continual threats from Iran and Lebanon, and now, Egyptian tanks on the Sinai for the first time in 30 years, Israelis don’t seem to give a hoot about Egyptian “democracy"--seen here, cynically, as the right to choose the next Egyptian dictatorship.

Israelis don’t care about President Mubarak’s personal attributes. Nor do they care how he runs his country. They just want the present security relationship with Egypt to stay the same. And the status quo appears to be as fragile as the chance for a real democracy in Egypt.

Dr. K. is an American citizen who is currently living in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tuesday Wonderings...

Stylish (and extinct) Motor City vehicle.

I wonder why Detroit doesn't make pretty cars anymore--like the one (above) I saw being worked on in the sun yesterday. I saw the "Motor City" ads during the Super Bowl, but really cool-looking cars might be an even better "marketing vehicle" ...

I wonder if anyone else thought, as I did, that the best part of the Super Bowl was hearing the voices of so many Americans reading the words of our Declaration of Independence ... Thomas Jefferson was a man of many contradictions, but the document he composed, with the help of our other founding fathers, is beautiful in both language and ideals. I wonder how they could come up with things like that before the invention of the "creative meeting," "branding" and (the always deadly) "mission statement" ...

I wonder if I should even make fun of that chubby, blonde tart who fouled up the Star Spangled Banner ... Perhaps instead I should wonder how much they paid her ... and why she didn't practice ... and who it was who thought she could sing ...

I wonder what that telephone conversation was like, late last week, between the 82-year-old military dictator of Egypt and our 49-year-old president. And our threats are what? And Mubarak should worry about what we might do ... how much? I wouldn't want to play poker with HM, ever ...

I wonder what this whole tattoo thing is all about? Those highly paid Super Bowl football players were covered with body art. I wonder what it will look like when they are all really old and their skin starts to drift turfward ...

..speaking of turf ...

I wonder what happened to the critter who re-attacked my lawn last week and then, whoosh, disappeared again ... I wonder if some skunk is just toying with me. Like Hosni Mubarak is with President Obama ...

I wonder why it isn't spring, all the time ...

Quince, blooming in my California garden, along with the beginnings of the other early flowers ...

... Ladyfingers ....

... and magnolia solangeana.

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