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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Michael Palin Calls Retreat

Scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.


Yes, in his misspent youth, Uncle Cephas used to watch Monty Python's Flying Circus.  Yes, and I'm aware how a lot of it could get downright blasphemous.  However, as a lover of documentaries, I couldn't help myself with the minor theme in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with the "Noted Historian" commenting in best documentary manner on the Arthurian legends, only to be cut down in mid-sentence by one of the subjects of his talk, and then having snippets of police questioning his widow, hunting clues, and, in the end, in the midst of a great battle scene, swooping onto the battel field to arrest several of King Arthur's stalwarts. 
Now, Michael Palin, one of the Pythons, has come out to state that his old crew would never mock Islam.  Why?  There are a lot of humorless people out there and they're well-armed.  Apparently, Sir Michael is a good disciple of Bertrand Russell who'd rather live on his knees than die on his knees, and is now living on his knees.  Brave,brave, brave Sir Michael!

So, how do you address a bold iconoclast of yesteryear?
Stick your thumbs in your armpits, flap your arms, and say, "Buck-buck-cluck-AAAAH! Buck-buck-cluck-AAAAH!"


Happy New Year

Happy New Year to one and all!

Mi khwam sukh bi him!

Frohlich Weinacht!


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Although a Christian, I don't make a big to-do about Christmas.  I have long shared a tradition which was suspicious of all holidays save the weekly Lord's Day; and have the greatest sympathy for the position of the Second Helvetic Confession, which sees those traditional holidays--such as Christmas--that are based on the life of Christ as adiaphoric.

However, having a little time on my hands, I feel I ought to share a few thoughts about Jesus Christ and his work.

The Gospel of John tells us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  Al things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  The same came for a witness, to bear witness to the Light, that all men through him might believe.  He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many received him, to them he gave power to become sons of God, even to those that believe on his name: Which were born not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.  John barewitness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spoke, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he ws before me.  And of his fulness have we all received grace for grace.  For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.  No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:1-18).

This I firmly believe, and pray that all may come to believe it this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Surrealism in Guangzhou, 1994

During the 1970's, when I was in college, Nixon was almost universally hated.  Radicals, extolling the simple virtues of "Third World" revolutionary states from Albania and Bangladesh to Zimbabwe, with thunderous applause for Mao's China and Ho's Viet Nam on the way, saw Nixon as the epitome of The Man, and the Watergate affair as proof that the capitalist system was starting to devour itself, paving the way for the glorious revolutionary dawn. Authors who had lived and worked for Mao's revolution prior to 1949 were much in demand, and greatly admired.

And then, in 1994, Nixon the statesman and radical idols of the 1970's became closely intertwined in Uncle Cephas' small world.

I actually got to meet Richard Nixon in the flesh a few months before his death in 1994.  He was traveling through the country, doubtlessly reminiscing about the breakthroughs he made in establishing formal diplomatic relations between the PRC and USA.  He came by the US Consulate General in Guangzhou, where the entire staff got to shake his hand.  I came away from my meeting with the distinct impression that Nixon was a fundamentally shy person who never really liked the flesh-pressing required of American politicians, or the petty banter that passes for discussion among political junkies. And, at the same time, it was hard to remember at the time that I was shaking hands with the one President of the United States to resign office in disgrace.

Most of the work of a US vice consul in Guangzhou, China back in the early 1990's involved processing visa applications.  Refusals of most non-immigrant applications were fairly easy, because most Chinese were really too poor to be casual travellers and too eager to leave the socialist paradise their fathers had fought for (or against) for greener pastures. Immigrant visas posed their own problems.  Most were issuable, but there was still considerable fraud about relationships and the problem of meaningful membership in a totalitarian party, namely, the Communist Party of China.

Such a cause for visa refusal and referral back to the legal section in the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the immigration service happened at Uncle Cephas's visa window.  The petitioner was Ms. H., a hefty young Eurasian and the daughter of an American author who witnessed and aided Mao's work of revolution in the waning years off the Chinese Civil War on the Mainland.  The author wrote several books known to almost all students of China of my generation, whether we agreed with his adulation of Mao Zedong or not.  The beneficiary of the petition was a young man from Jiangxi who belonged to China's ruling party.  So sorry, US immigration law does not permit immigration of aliens who belong to a totalitarian party without special considerations and dispensations by Washington.

And then Nixon died.

Every American officer stationed at AmConsul Guangzhou was expected to put in a certain amount of time babysitting the official condolence book in the lobby.  When my time came, the hefty Ms. H. was sitting across the room, looking daggers at me, having closely noted me as I refused her fiance's application.  Doubtlessly she hoped to complain about me to my superior--even if the most he could do for her would be to note that his lowly subordinate had done no more than apply the immigration law.  Of course Ms. H. did not sign the condolence book, although the page to which it was turned had those of numerous other Americans who had been passing through Guangzhou at the time.

I wondered what would happen if the story got out in the media.  A mere consular scut dared to deny a visa to the prospective son-in-law of a major radical icon! Imagine!  A mere bureaucrat poking his finger in the eyes of a family whose patriarch had been one of the prescient minds extolling the wonders of the People's Republic!  Perhaps I would get to be a villain in some Hollywood production--or, at least the picture of the gray-faced banality of evil that can happen only on the central or right portions of the political spectrum.

In time, Ms. H. entered the recesses of the citizens services section while I sat resplendant in white shirt and striped tie beside the condolence book.

Then entered an ordinary-looking Chinese man in early middle age.  In halting English, he asked who would see the condolence book.

"The US Government, Mr. Nixon's family, and probably a library holding his presidential papers," I replied.

The Chinese man looked around furtively, then bent over the book, picked up the pen, and wrote.

After he left, I looked down on the page:

"Thank you, Mr. President.  Without your visit, we Chinese would have been left with nothing but that stupid Little Red Book."

I noticed that the man had signed himself as a professor at a local university.  I have wondered if in the time after the signing my Chinese counterpart in either SF or LA has stopped by the Nixon Presidential library, noted the names in the condolence book, dutifully reported them back to his masters, and gotten the professor sent to ten years of Laogai for daring to criticize the founder of what Ms H.'s father and his admirers touted as the finest example of participatory democracy and social justice ever.

It's my understanding that the radical author whose son-in-law was denied a visa at my hands went to his grave extolling Mao Zedong and the politics that Chinese leader practiced.  Clearly, he had not grown up even after 1989 and the early 2000's.  Yet I learned shortly after Nixon's death that nations, if not radical authors, grow and change.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela, RIP

Nelson Mandela, who led the first post-Apartheid South African government, is gone.  Editorials and broadcasts will laud his achievements and shore up his legacy as a statesmen and liberator.  Certainly he sought to lead all South Africans, regardless of race, worked to reign in the justice-as-vengeance element in his African National Congress, and, remarkably for a sub-Saharan African leader, stepped down when his term of office was done.

Yet Uncle Cephas wishes to register a dissent. South Africa is today a country on the decline, suffers from the flight of not only its white population but its capital as well, and is infamous for corruption. Criminality, including murder, has gone way up. Its troops serving in eastern Congo under the UN banner as "peacekeepers" were notorious for rape and looting. It remains an open question whether or not it will follow the path of decline and racial vengeance blazed by Mugabe's Zimbabwe--nay, by Lumumba's Congo. True, post-Apartheid South Africa could have been a much worse place than it turned out to be.  The history of African independence was never an encouraging one; and that of Marxist revolution even less so.  But these are reasons why Mandela's legacy remains an open issue.

My own short and unremarkable diplommatic career occurred during those heady days when the Cold War had just ended.  It was followed by a time sporadic employment, a Ph.D. degree in political science, and another round of teaching English in Taiwan--plus a lot of other reading, including the Prophets of Israel, George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant", and Liu E's Lao Can You Ji (老残游记)This leads me to believe that a South Africa for which there is still hope may owe more to a kindly providence (and, as a Calvinist Christian, I don't use this word lightly) than to Mandela's leadership. Perhaps someone very near to the heart of the Almighty was praying for God's blessing on his or her country.

Mandela's ANC was a strongly pro-Soviet, pro-Communist, anti-capitalist, anti-Western organization.  At least it was during the decades prior to its triumph. Many of its members were Libyan- or PLO-trained terrorists, and its ties to Qaddafy's regime and the intelligence/security organs of the Eastern Bloc were close. Observers who saw it closer up than I have noticed it was permeated by an idea of justice as vengeance and poor in ideas about how it would create, rather than redistribute, wealth in a post-Apartheid South Africa.  Mandela's own admiration for Castro's Cuban dictatorship never wavered. Mandela's former wife Winnie was notorious for a violent streak, and it was a reasonable expectation that a post-Apartheid South Africa could well turn into one more subsaharan combination of greatleadership with kleptocracy liberally seasoned with ethnic violence. Such was the case with many other Soviet clients in subsaharan Africa.

Yet as Mandela emerged from prison and moved towards power, his Soviet sponsors were collapsing.  Even the stability of the Chinese Communist regime remained precarious in the 1990's, with the scars of Tiananmen still fresh and the economic takeoff still limited. Any outside help that a post-Apartheid South Africa might get would have to come from a Western world that was both loathed by Mandela's power base and in a position to leave a new non-Western dictatorship-cum-kleptocracy (the story of much of Mandela's continent) high and dry.  It was an era in which a Communist Laos that once boasted of its triumph over American imperialism begged for aid from its old adversary,and had to be satisfied with being bought bit by bit by Thai businessmen, later to be joined by their Chinese counterparts, instead.

Mandela thus found himself caught between the justice-as-vengeance, African socialist expectations of his followers and a course of events that did not favor such a development.  In the end, he recognized that he could not be a president-for-life and master redistributor of extant wealth in the world into which he emerged from prison.  He was perhaps also wise in countenancing his followers' slide into widespread petty corruption following their political victory.

And such corruption, as noticed by Liu E more than a century ago, is a small mercy to peoples living under countries with either no constitutional tradition (as late-Qing China) or very weak ones (as much of Africa and the post-totalitarian world). The ANC's own tradition has always been far more Stalinist than Jeffersonian, and hence a very real potential danger to its citizens of all colors.  The corrupt official is someone into whom ordinary people might sink a handle; the incorrupt one unconstrained by a strong limited government tradition is someone who feels free to bully and oppress.

In the Taiwan of the early 2000's where I taught English, there were many South African migrants working either as small businessmen or as--surprise--my competition.  They were not only white, but also Asian, Colored, and even Bantu.  Generally, they were of the mind that their country was in decline, was far less safe, and far more likely to threaten its citizens.  True, they were by-and-large people formed by Apartheid.  Yet although many were not supporters of the old regime, they did not feel secure with the new.

We do not know which direction South Africa will take.  Hopefully, it will be spared the great leaders who have plagued much of the continent between the Limpopo and Mediterranean.  Hoepfully, it will recognize that the model in which Mandela, its pioneering leader, once hoped is a dangerous temptation and certain to fail, and follow the better lights of the Western tradition to which South Africa is at least partly tied.

Yes, Mandela was brave, and exhibited real wisdom at a crucial time in his country's history.  But it is also true that a slightly different timing to recent history may well have led him in a different direction. As Orwell noted in his Burmese memoir, rulers and leaders often are carried along by the expectations of the governed, and make their decisions accordingly.  In Mandela's case, the timing and flow of events may also have given him a legacy far better than the one he might have left had he been completely free to follow the ideological models in which he initially believed.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

More Thanksgiving Thoughts

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

May this be the time when we begin to "rebunk" all those views of the European settlement of the Americas. 


It's the opposite of "debunk".  My lessons in debunking began when I was taught that the Puritans came here and

Fell on their knees,
Then on the Indigenes.

Alright, there was a conquest.  However, it was of a devastated land depopulated by the smallpox that struck the American Mainland in 1520, when an African slave in the entourage of Hernan Cortes fell ill during the siege of Tenochtitlan, and within months, a third of the population in the Valley of Mexico perished.  From there it spread in both directions, until by the time of the Pilgrim Fathers, it had already devastated the land that would become New England. So, do we blame those who speak Spanish and those of African descent for the tragedy that happened to the American Indigenes?

Let's get real.  We are all the descendants of migrants--even if we aren't white Americans (or black, for that matter).  My father's Jewish ancestors carried that memory of migration with a thousand toasts to "next year in Jerusalem".  My wife's Hakka Chinese people, despite settlement in southern China (Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan) for over a millennium, continue to call themselves Zhong Yuan Ngin (中原人), or People of the Central Plain (that of northern China, that is). Even the Bantu-speaking African in places like Katanga or Malawi descends from migrants who came out the lands which are now the border regions of Nigeria and Cameroon.  Perhaps the only peoples inhabiting and carrying on cultures founded by ancestors living on the same lands at the time of the Neolithic revolution are the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert, the Bambuti of the Congo forests, perhaps the Tamil, perhaps the Khmer. The rest of us have moved around in our histories, and even the Navajo and Apache down in Arizona refer to those they call the Anasazi--those who were there before them.

When I taught government, and covered founding documents, I had to teach the Mayflower Compact, in which the founders of the Massachusetts Bay began the American heritage of self-government.  They were only transmitting a feature of congregational life in the Calvinist portions of Europe; not learning from the Iroquois (whom they hadn't yet encountered while cooped up on board their ship).

And, who knit the world together, so that persons of different colors and traditions are no longer thought to be ghosts or some strange species?  It was European exploration and settlement.  It may have brought slavery, but it also early brought out the misgivings about that institution expressed by Samuel Sewall, one of the judges at the Salem witch trials.  American High Schoolers are taught to view Jonathan Edwards and his Puritan culture as fire-and-brimstone fanatics, yet not taught that the same divine, despite his slave-holding, believed that the eventual destiny of "Negroes and Indians" was to be the peers of the Christian whites in an American Christian millennium (maybe this and his slave-holding weren't so contradictory: a lot of Christian white people lived under indenture in those days, too).

Back in the Clinton years, Donna Shala complained she couldn't identify with the Pilgrim fathers.  Well, good for her Lebanese and Syrian Christian ancestors that they got along all hunky-dory with their Ottoman Turkish Muslim overlords and found Dhimmi status and the extra taxes imposed by Islamic law as granting them dignity (to say nothing of giving up sons to become Muslim janissaries and accept the abduction of an occasional daughter).  The implication is that those of us who aren't WASP shouldn't care much for the holiday, either. I say that such a sentiment is hokum-bunkum.  We're all migrants, so let's celebrate it.  We all benefit from ideals of limited government and fair play of a Christian European provenance.  Let's celebrate it.  We're all part of an interconnected world, so lat's celebrate it.

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.  Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.  (PSalm 100:1-2)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Chanukah Thoughts

In case I'm too busy tomorrow--

Why should  Christian write about Chanukah?  Simple.  I have Jewish relatives, friends, and lurkers, and wish them a happy celebration.

But there are other reasons as well. 

How many of you out there know that if you pick up the standard, hotel room Gideon Bible, the only mention of Chanukah is in the New Testament--namely John 10, in which Jesus appears at the Jerusalem Temple for the festival?

Of course, in a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Bible, the Books of the Maccabees are present in the Old Testament.  In some editions of the King James Version,Geneva Bible,and other Protestant translations, the Books of the Maccabees, along with other apocryphal works, appear as a separate section between the Old and New Testaments.  So, why should a Protestant take an interest in the Chanukah story?

Chanukah shows the Jews beleaguered by an oppressive ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, who sought to end Jewish distinctiveness. Circumcision was banned, pigs sacrificed at Jerusalem, and offerings to pagan deities made.  However, Judas Maccabaeus led a revolt which ended in Jewish independence and the re-dedication of the Temple.  A threat to the continuing existence of the Jewish people--including the Messiah to come--had been met and overcome.  The Great Serpent had sought to swallow up the woman clothed with the sun (Israel) and her man-child the Messiah, and had failed (Rev. 12:1-6).

This was part and parcel of Jesus' upbringing, and so he observes the holiday and reveals his own mission as the ultimate savior of Israel (and the world) on this holiday (John 10).

I have no plan to repeat Jewish prayers or buy a dreydl, but I remain grateful that God protected the Jewish people in those dark days of the 2d century B.C.  In these days where even in the USA there are judges and others who would force our conformity to the world, perhaps we may dare to hope that the Lord would send a new Judas Maccabaeus in his church's time of need.

First Maccabees records how the Seleucid Graeco-Syrian forces sent war elephants against the Jews.  Perhaps Tolkien, and those who made his Lord of the Rings into a movie, had this episode in mind when they crafted the mammukil!

Thanksgiving Thoughts

In 1604, King James VI and I of Scotland and England heard from representatives of both the Puritans and the Elizabethan Settlement re possible further reform in the Church of England. The Puritans, hopeful that a Scottish king raised in the Kirk and educated by Dr. George Buchanan, like themselves an advocate of the church's independence in its own sphere and constitutional limits on power, were shocked and disappointed to hear their dread sovereign declare that "a Scots presbytery as well agreeth with monarchy as God with the devil," and "I will harry you out of the land".  Hence, this meeting was a precursor to the migration that would bring about the settlement of New England (the Northern Partes of Virginia) some sixteen years later.

Monday, November 18, 2013

When JFK Died

At the risk of putting forth a hackneyed cliche, I remember clearly where I was when JFK died.

It was an unseasonably warm November day in the comfortable Washington suburbs.  I was in Mr. Blankenship's 5th grade class when the PA crackled, and Mrs. Jones, the principal, called all teachers to the office.  Mr. Blankenship gave us some busy work, told us to behave, and without further ado, left 20-odd ten- and eleven-year-olds on their own.  A few minutes later, he returned.  Ashen-faced, he announced that the president had been shot.  We all put our pencils on our desks, stupefied by the news.  A few of the girls murmured, wondering how it could happen; most of us sat in stunned silence.  A few minutes passed, and Mrs. Jones came back on the PA to announce that the president had died, and we were going to be sent home early.

Never before had such silence reigned when school was dismissed early.  The only voices on the school bus home were hushed.  I said nothing to my friends who got off the bus with me, and they said nothing to me.  Perhaps the other kids were introspective.  I, however, was simply stunned, for a world I had pretty much taken for granted had somehow been pierced. All that afternoon, the only quick human motion I noticed was the much younger brother of a friend racing down a driveway with an armload of toys he had collected to put away. In my own household, a somber mood prevailed.  My mother and older brothers sat glued to the television.  It did not hold my attention, but I remained bothered and unhappy, feeling that the world had changed forever.

Indeed, it had.  As I look over the high school classes I teach, I am aware that if I leave them unattended, either I or they are likely to get in trouble.  Yet back in those primitive, simpler times, Mr. Blankenship did not have to think twice about leaving a roomful of pre-teens alone to confer with his principal for a few minutes. My second brother, who had just finished high school, had been a member of a marksmen's club.  Every so often, he carried a .22 rifle (action open, of course) and a box of cartridges to school, parked them in his locker, took them out at the end of the school day, and joined a group of his peers to practice shooting paper targets set up before a large bank behind his school under the supervision of a willing teacher.  The number of students and school staff dead from gun-related violence or accidents in those days: zero.  Yet today, my students may not bring a coat or bookbag to class, lest they smuggle in drugs or a weapon to be used on a human being rather than an inanimate target. My parents could leave my third brother and me to our own devices for a few hours and expect the house to be in reasonable order when they returned.  Today, they'd be charged with child neglect.

In retrospect, it was not the Kennedy assassination that unleashed the devils.  That event was only a symptom of welling social and intellectual magma churning just below the facade of of our then-civilized society.  In rapid order, the civil rights movement, the Viet Nam quagmire, the counter culture,the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King all burst forth on our society.  People of my brothers' generation, raised to see their country as a shining city on a hill saw America's problems exposed before the world's gaze, and concluded that far from being an especially good and noble society, theirs was an especially evil and tainted one. 

But perhaps it was not so much Kennedy's death as the political movement in which he positioned himself that changed everything.  Crisis became something to be exploited as a catalyst for larger government intervention to "solve" the problems; personal responsibility retreated. As the omniprovident state grew in our own society, the omnipresent "Big Brother" state of our totalitarian adversaries could be viewed in a more benevolent light. As American legal structures came to be exposed as instruments of oppression, the lawlessness of the oppressed came to be legitimated. Out with the Mayflower Compact and the Founding Fathers, in with Marx, Mao, and Fanon!

Kennedy's death saved his legacy as a liberal martyr. Had Lee Harvey Oswald been a worse shot, Kennedy, not Johnson, would be remembered as the president of the blighted legacy.  His erstwhile acolytes on the Left would have savaged him for his anti-Communism and tax-cutting.  The frustrations of unmet rising expectations on the part of minorities and the poor whose problems Kennedy's social agenda was supposed to have met would have found their target in Kennedy, rather than in the Johnson who would be left holding Kennedy's bag.  A Kennedy who had lived could well have gone off into an embittered, isolated ex-presidency, his tarnished stewardship of his office barring his extended clan from the quasi-royal status they later enjoyed. Possibly, a conservative revolution might have begun earlier. Perhaps a failed Kennedy presidency would have forced a tempering of heady expectation, and a greater appreciation for normalcy.

Of course, we can only conjecture; we cannot know for sure.

But, this I know:  America changed forever when I was in the 5th grade.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Random Thoughts on History

Uncle Cephas cannot hold back his love of low doggerel.  Here are a few shared with my history students.  Enjoy.

The Neanderthal lived in a cave,
And used cold glacial melt for a lave.
He wore both hide and hair
Of the Ice Age cave bear,
And never did bother to shave.

Julius Caesar said, "Gaul,
Inhabited by warriors tall,
Can be broke into three
By a fellow like me,
If my legions and chariots I call!"

Niccolo said it is right
For princes to lie, scheme, and fight.
But this sneaky slob
Couldn't hold down his job,
Which is why he was forced to go write.

Said old Thomas Hobbes with a snort,
"All human lives of the sort
Quite unfettered by kings
Are miserable things,
Being nasty, brutish, and short."

In France, Baron de Montesquieu
Had a wonderful politic view.
In the space of two days,
He split power three ways.
I think it's amazing, don't you?

Rousseau, the great libertarian,
Celebrated the noble barbarian.
Based on science abysmal,
He thought society dismal,
And made politics contractarian.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Democrats--time for YOU to Negotiate and back down

Uncle Cephas was raised not in a blue-state, but in deep indigo ones.

However, Democratic playing of politics has gone way to far.

The World War II memorial, in ordinary times, does not even have an attendant.  A reasonably healthy pedestrian may readily access it.  Yet, during the shutdown, a group of veterans in their 80's and '90's was barry-caded from it.  I salute them that they stormed it.

However, the Washington Mall is wide open to a demonstration in favor of regularizing the status of illegal immigrants.

In both cases, the administration agrees to pay for things during a shutdown.

Yes, the Democrats are playing cynical politics, too. 

Please, Senators Mikulski and Cardin, if the Affordable Care Act is so wonderful, why do you and your colleagues in the House and Senate exempt yourselves?  Why is Mr. Obama allowed to change it about five times by presidential fiat, but it becomes sacred when a Republican House wants to amend it--especially when the House is the constitutionally-mandated place to begin all bills for appropriations?

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Bloody Borders of Islam--Again

The late Samuel Huntington noted that conflict arises easily along the borderlands of major cultural areas, especially noting the bloody borders of Islam.  When first exposed to this thesis, I wanted to call to mind the Thai-Malaysian border as it was back in the 1990's.  It was an area of trade and international cooperation, promising that maybe ASEAN could work. Since then, however, the Muslim separatism groups of southern Thailand have roared back with a vengeance, wrecking one of the few counterfactuals to the Huntington thesis that I knew.

The attack in Nairobi also seems to be part of a similar Huntingtonian dynamic, suggesting that the whole belt of Africa from Senegal and Guinea on the west, across northern Nigeria,and into the East African Horn is at risk.  These are all states where large numbers of non-Muslims share political space with large numbers of non-Muslims,the Muslim population is becoming more doctrinally aware, and there are few common bonds between communities.  Southern Sudan has already separated from the Islamic north of the country, Nigeria is plagued by the militancy of Boko Haram and other groups, Somali Muslim irredentism has not disappeared despite the failure of Somalia as a state, and Ethiopia continues to live with its religiously bifurcated population.  We can no longer warn about a tinderbox in these areas, for the tinder was lit long ago, and, as the Nairobi attacks warn us, the fire has begun. 

The continent of Africa continues to need our prayers and sympathy.  It is in for a rough ride.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Robert L. Reymond, R.I.P, and alov hasholom

Ligonier ministries has recently announced that Dr. Robert L. Reymond, a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian and Presbyterian Church in America denominations, has gone to be with the Lord. 

Uncle Cephas cannot claim to be either a close friend or a family member of the deceased, but nonetheless feels blessed to have been a student of Dr. Reymond's at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis during the years 1975-79.  Dr. Reymond passed on a deep appreciation for the study of systematic theology, while his exegetical skills profoundly impressed me that systematic theology is both an exercise in the logical ordering of Christian belief and profoundly rooted in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.  He was very truly a theologian of the Word.

Dr. Reymond also had a large, warm pastoral and evangelistic heart, seeking that men everywhere and in all stations of life might know the surpassing greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the praise of God's glorious grace.  While he encouraged deep and thorough study, and probably helped shape not a few academic theologians, he never lost sight of the task of educating pastors and others whose work would be to communicate the Gospel to a dying world. Further, he cared deeply about the younger men whom he taught.  To this day, I will always think of his rich, warm baritone voice, so impressive in either pulpit or lecture hall, addressing us as "brothers".  We all chuckled at the tone in which it was delivered, but I think few doubted that he was sincere in seeing us as his brethren in the Saviour.

Uncle Cephas was glad and remains glad to have learned the outline of Reformed theology from such a brother. True, I lean more towards the classic Reformed position that the man of Romans 7 covers even the best of Christians (such as Paul, as he penned those lines "Wretched man that I am") rather than the man under conviction (a position Dr. Reymond shared with Martin Lloyd-Jones), and perhaps am sometimes more postmil than amil.  Noting Dr. Reymond's liberal use of the NIV for the scriptural quotes in his Systematic Theology, he perhaps had a broader view of what Scripture translation should and could be (Uncle Cephas prefers a Bible that does not leave out such words as "propitiation").  I will always remember Dr. Reymond as a teacher who was incisive, thorough, and sympathetic.

May God comfort his family, friends, associates, and former students in this time of mourning.  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord (Rev. 14:13).

Had to add that.  Dr. Reymond seldom conversed without the words of Scripture somewhere near at hand.  At the risk of the flippancy of which Dr. Reymond disapproved--see you when the dead in Christ arise (I Thes. 4:16), Brother Bob.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Random Thoughts on Babel

Welcome to another rambling meditation.  Image: Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Our adult Sunday School class has been going through the Old Testament book of First Samuel.  During discussion of the Israelites' desire for a king (I Sam. 8), the Tower of Babel came up.

It's really an interesting story:

And the whole earth was of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.  And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.  And they had brick for stone and slime had they for mortar.  And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth.  And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men had builded.  And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.  Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language that they may not understand one another's speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of the earth; and they left off to build the city.  Therefor is the name of it Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of the earth.

These are the generations of Shem...(Gen.11:1-10, AV)

Having recently had my elder son and his family move back in (he is pursuing a Master's) and entertaining my younger while he is home from college, I feel a sneaking pride in playing the patriarch of a three-generation family. To have those over whom one has once exercised authority gathered around is a satisfying feeling.  Write it large, and you have the perennial centralizing temptations of power.

The Land of Shinar is lower Mesopotamia, and Babel is the Hebrew name for the city of Babylon. "Babel" means "Gate of God", and the city was the center of the region's first centralized absolutist state. The book of Genesis reads this back into the immediate post-deluvian era, and gives us a warning about the dangers of such totalitarian centralization.

It is the divine plan for humans to spread; to subdue the whole earth.  It is the divine plan for a man to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife (Gen.2:24--and Hebrew, being hopelessly gendered, makes it clear that it's man and _female_ wife).  This is how the human race is to live, grow, propagate itself, and survive.

Hence, Moses, as editor of Genesis, warns us of the temptation of centralized power.  It both keeps the family of man from fulfilling its mission of spreading out and provokes divine jealousy.  It begins with a proud challenge to Heaven, and ends with confusion, when Babel, the Gate of God, descends to become Balal, or confusion.

Has this not been the story of the rise and fall of kingdoms throughout history?  Is it not the case that the Thousand-year Reich lasted for exactly twelve, while the Soviet state that was to usher in the final stage of history collapsed after seventy years, leaving some who had seen the birth of the Soviet Union alive to see its demise?

And what of those who were free while under the rule of God, who suddenly decide to be "like the nations round about." (I Sam. 8:5.20).  To be a free people with the knowledge of God is not to be in anarchy, but to have God for a ruler--the ultimate blessing a society may enjoy.  But to trade it for the proud tower of an all-powerful earthly ruler is to invite the very confusion and dispersion such a powerful state is established to avoid.  This, perhaps, is the ultimate lesson of both the Tower of Babel and the narrative of Samuel-Kings.  The hoped-for "Babel" invariably becomes"Balal"--a confusion of tongues.

Moral Conundrum in Syria

I've just watched Peggy Noonan on ABC's _This Week_.  She was stressing the moral dimension of President Obama's proposed intervention in Syria, saying that it was necessary to underscore the immorality of using poison gas.

But, by the same token, do we wish to support the rebels, who are trying to cleanse their areas of Syria of the ancient Christian communities resident in them?  Syrian Christianity predates even the conversion of Paul the Apostle, who, after all, received baptism from a Damascene named Ananias (Hananiah) while sheltering in the home of another named Judas. This would place the beginnings of the Syrian churches in the years immediately following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Support for the Syrian rebels thus is support for genocide, an issue against which we supposedly came down firmly in Bosnia and Kosova during the Clinton administration.

Granted, the Assad regime is an odious one modeled on interwar European fascism and kept in power largely by the lingering effects of Cold War-era Soviet Communist strategic interests which post-Communist Russia apparently wishes to continue.  However, support for the Syrian is also fraught with moral conundrums.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On the Coming Syrian Intervention

My views on Syria: oh, please, NO! We shouldn't go!

I've been listening to the news and now understand that the Obama administration wishes to commit us and allies to the support of the Syrian rebels. I am going public to declare myself a dissenter and critic of this policy.

First of all, I am not a man of the Left who instinctively sees in the exercise of US power a force for evil. I view myself as a God, country, property rights, gun ownership (by the law abiding), anti-sexual revolution, limited government conservative. I also believe that historically, America has been in the right. I believe that our confrontation with the Communist states throughout the Cold War was right--and a position forced on us by the machinations of Stalin and his minions (including China's Mao Zedong and Viet Nam's Ho Chi Minh, both of whom I view as fundamentally vicious).

But where is the pressing national interest in Syria? Are we defending allies' oil supplies? No. Are we stopping an aggressive ideology that has pledged itself to our destruction? No. Will the Middle Eastern balance of power be radically altered? Possibly, but in ways that are problems for Turkey, Israel, and Iran rather than us. Will this bring us closer to a comprehensive Middle Eastern peace settlement? Absolutely not, and may even make such a quest the modern equivalent of the search for the Holy Grail.

I agree that the Assad regime is odious. The Ba'ath Party was founded in imitation of the Fascist and National Socialist parties of interwar Europe. The Ba'athis have presided over the liquidation of millennia-old Jewish communities in the lands between upper Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. They are cruel and relentless towards dissent. They were also faithful partners of the Communist Bloc throughout the Cold War. I would not want a wooden nickel of my taxes to go to helping the Ba'athis in any way.

But what of the rebels?

It has been clear to anyone who cares to look and think that the Syrian rebellion is not the benign "democratic" movement our administration (and its media shills) has been telling us it is. Its leadership is made up of Qaida sympathizers and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. As for the latter, I refer all to the writings of its chief ideologue, Seiyyid Qotb, to see how the MB hates us not simply for anything we've done, but for who we are and what we value--not least of which are political liberty, the right of dissent, and equal treatment under law for women and minorities. Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood, in case anyone has forgotten, are the wonderful fighters for equality and justice who brought us the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001. It is a complete and utter disgrace that Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were killed probably during an attempt to carry out secret talks with Turkish representatives about arming the Libyan rebels. Now that we seem to want to put together a whole coalition to hand Syria over to the Qaida and MB fighters, it has gone beyond disgraceful.

Further, the Syrian rebels are busy attacking, killing, driving out, and raping Christians in the areas they control. Like the Ba'athi liquidation of Syria's Jewish communities, this is also the liquidation of communities that go back to the very beginning of Christianity. Paul the Apostle was himself baptized by the church in Damascus, and sheltered by first-generation Christians there by the names of Judas and Hananiah (Ananias--see Acts 9:10-19). I would urge all to peruse the web pages of the Barnabas Fund to keep up to date on the plight of these communities now.

The treatment meted out to non-Sunnite Muslims by the Syrian rebels is also disturbing. 'Alawites and Shi'ites are also targets.

Yes, our allies in Sa'udi Arabia and Turkey are backing the rebels. But whatever for? Sa'udi Arabia has a long-running feud with the Ba'athis, and now that the Cold War is over, this is no longer a community of interest between the House of Sa'ud and the USA. Turkey's regime has become Islamicist of the Sunnite variety, and it may be wiser for US policy to take close looks at how Turkey is now treating its own minorities, apostates from Islam, and other such vulnerable categories. We would do well to consult with such other allies as Greece and Bulgaria over how they may feel about a resurgent Islamicism in their former colonial master.

The Obama administration is committing us to the support of an implacable enemy force. It has never addressed the odious ideology animating the Syrian rebels, nor their links to other movements that continue to demonize and vilify the US. But it is all the more disconcerting to see the Republican Party failing in its role as opposition, and the major media's shocking complicity when it should be a watchdog against an unnecessary waste of American treasure and lives.

I would love to know if anyone else out there feels as I do.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

My Views on "New" Gospels and their Purveyors

Recently, on Huffington Post, I read an interview with Elaine Pagels discussing her new book on Revelation.  After I read that she thinks John was a Jew who believed in Jesus and didn't like the Roman state, I nodded in agreement, and said a hearty "Ho-humm" to myself.

Franky, Elaine Pagels is one of the most over-rated scholars writing about New Testament-related themes.  I've been profoundly unimpressed with her work ever since people near and dear to me gave me her _Gnostic Gospels_ (1979) to "set me straight" about my confessional Protestant orthodoxy.

In _Gnostic Gospels_, Pagels resoundingly flunks Ecclesiastical History 101.  She posits that the Nag Hammadi texts were hidden by Coptic monks facing persecution from Athanasius, the 4th century orthodox bishop of Alexandria.  However, Gnosticism was a phenomenon of the 2d and early 3d centuries, not the 4th.  Athanasius and his colleagues at Nicaea in 325 whose opinions he defended were fighting Arians and Semi-Arians, not Gnostics.  Moreover, Athanasius was more often than not on the receiving end of persecution, being exiled three times to the Rhine frontier by Constantine's Semi-Arian successors.  As for the Coptic monks, their dean, the redoubtable hermit Anthony, came out of the desert to show support for the beleaguered Athanasius.

Further, Pagels seems to think that the Coptic "Gospel of Thomas" (probably written a couple of generations after Judas Didymus Thomas was martyred) is more pro-woman than the canonical Scriptures.  The work ends with these words:

Simon Peter said to them: Let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life.  Jesus said: Lo, I shall make her a male, that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males.  For every woman who makes herself a male will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Logion 114).
It seems that the pseudo-Peter and the pseudo-Jesus of the pseudo-Thomas are in agreement that women as women aren't subjects of salvation.  Yet for all its supposed "misogyny", the canonical, 66-book Bible never seems to suggest that Sarah, Rebecca, the Hebrew midwives, Zipporah, Miriam, Mary, Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Priscilla, and all those other wonderful sisters will not be walking around the new heavens and new earth after the resurrection of the saved with two X chromosones, or will somehow sprout external genitalia.

Pagels apparently likes the Jewishness of John of Patmos.  Yet this is quite an inconsistency with her long championship of 2d century Gnosticism, which demonized the Old Testament and relegated its God to something far inferior to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Had Pagels' beloved Gnostics "won", Christianity would never have developed a bad conscience over anti-Semitism.

Pagels is the purveyor of a myth that mitred, monarchical 4th century bishops determined the New Testament canon on the basis of whether or not a text would support their claims to power. Yet somehow, she never explains why these same purveyors of monepiscopacy allowed Luke-Acts and Philippians into the canon, when the former uses presbyter and bishop interchangeably in Acts 20, and the latter begins with a salutation to plural bishops in the single city of Philippi. She isn't alone in purveying this myth (Bart Ehrman also comes to mind). Perhaps her unsubstantiated reconstructions of Christian history are necessary to get around Irenaeus in Lyons, Clement in Alexandria, Origen in 'Eretz Yisroel, and Tertullian in North Africa all seeing four and only four Gospels during the 2d century.  Or, perhaps, Pagels is someone without the slightest feel for the flow of history.  Or, perhaps, as a latter-day Gnostic, she is more comfortable with myth; and thus joins a crowd of people who, claiming to find the true "historical" grounding of Christianity, are themselves lousy historians.

Pagels, the Jesus Seminar, and their ilk are lionized and feted by the media because liberal religion is finally waking up to the fact that it gets no aid or comfort from the canonical Scriptures.  It must therefore clutch at straws like the mystical but misogynistic Pseudo-Thomas. No wonder the academic study of the Bible and religion are in such a sorry state.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Psalm 121--A Guard and Guide for the Journey

Psalm 121  \: A Song of Ascents

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence cometh my help?
My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore. (NKJV)

            From the alienation of Psalm 120, the Psalmist moves on to hope—his eyes rise to the hils, from whence his help comes.
            The Bible is full of mountains and high places.  Jerusalem, the site of the Temple itself, is built on the crest of a ridge, as can be seen from looking at a relief map of ‘Eretz Yisroel. Before the building of the Temple under Solomon, or even the moving of the Ark of the Covenant to that city by David, the tabernacle—the Temple’s prototype, stood on a mountain at Shiloh. Mount Zion is the symbolic heart of the city of Jerusalem. The Covenant of God was ratified by the tribes of Israel on the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim.  The Torah was given at Mount Sinai, or Horeb.  Abraham was forbidden to sacrifice his son Isaac and received God’s provision of a sacrifice on Mount Moriah, the future site of the Temple.  With the coming of Jesus the Messiah, mountains play an important role as well.  Jesus delivers his ethical instructions in the Sermon on the Mount, he is transfigured and communes with Moses and Elijah on a mountain, and he was crucified to make atonement for our sins on the hill Golgotha.
            Hence, when the Psalmist raises his eyes to the “…hills, from whence cometh my help”, he is looking to a place from whence God speaks or acts for the salvation of his people.  This is why the collection of Psalms 120-133 are Psalms of Degrees, or, as more recent translations put it better, ascents.  The journey to Jerusalem is one that climbs upwards.
           To the Psalmist, God is Shomer Yisroel, the keeper of Israel, his church.  This word shomer, or its verbal form, appears in verses 4-8. It may refer to either an armed guard protecting a party of travelers or one who is concerned with the day-to-day tending to the necessities of the journey—indeed, it refers to one preserving the travelers.Some scholars have suggested that in ancient times, a party of pilgrims might sing the first two verses, to be answered by a priestly guide with the remainder.  The Psalm thus speaks of God's care for his pilgrims.
            In an age of good roads, air travel, well-paid police forces, and air-conditioned, fast-moving vehicles, we tend to be a little heedless of the possible dangers of a long journey.  But the ancient Israelite moved from his home—perhaps in the Galilee, the Hill Country of Ephraim, the Golan, or the Negev on foot.  His roads were stony pathways where he could easily stumble and fall.  The Middle Eastern sun might easily give him sunstroke.  Nighttime, when he camped in the open, could provide cover for wild animals, bandits, or military scouts from hostile surrounding nations. Hence, it was necessary for the pilgrim to have some assurances of safety, and these the LORD gives.
            As New Testament Christians, we know that this Keeper of Israel has taken on our nature and walked with us.  We know he has suffered the pains of our lives, even to criminal execution when innocent.  But we know as well that he has also conquered death on our behalf, and now hold all power in heaven and earth (Mt. 28:18), including the keys of hell and death (Rev. 1:18).
            Such is the one higher than we are under whose eye our “goings out” and “comings in” occur as we make our pilgrimage through this life to the heavenly city.  Yes, the road is rough and dangerous, but we have a strong guard as we travel it, one who wants us to reach our heavenly destination.

Friday, July 5, 2013

A thumbs up to another blogger.

Follow this link:

As a former consular officer who worked in countries with human trafficking problems, I felt a lot of sympathy for what I read here.

I further believe that our hell-for-leather rush to "normalize" homosexuality will result in some serious problems in the trafficking of children under the guise of "adoption".

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy independence Day!

As an American, I wish a happy Independence Day to all.

I say this even though I have a President who orders my brethren in the Christian faith to go against God and conscience and provide abortion and contraceptive coverage to employees.

I say this even though Mr. Justice Kennedy and four of his colleagues on the SCOTUS have declared that I am an immoral bigot because I believe, along with 99.9% of the human race, that marriage is between a man and a woman, not two men or two women.  And, I am an immoral bigot even though I have never advocated denying a homosexual freedom of speech, or, if accused of a crime, due process of law.

I say this even though powerful interests, including some in government, declare my belief that Christ is Lord to be "hate speech".

I say this even though my president believes that the future must not belong to people like me--those who "slander" Muhammad of Mecca because we do not believe that he is a prophet of God (which all Muslims would see as slander).

But I believe this country can get back on track.  I continue to hope and pray that our people would awaken and see the swindle that has been foisted on them.  If God could be merciful to a repentant Assyria (the real point of the book of Jonah), maybe he can be merciful to my country, too (even when it looks as if our continued existence means that God must apologize to Sodom and Gomorrha).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Memories of the Cambodian Border -- Part II

I cannot say I saw the Cambodian tragedy happening "on the ground", as they like to say in  the State Department.  However, I saw its close after effects, and they were bad enough. The DP camps just inside Thailand were full of the maimed, stunted, dazed, and fearful; perhaps lacking in the starving because the international community, for once at its best, saw to it that starvation did not happen, and at least some of the ravages of disease were checked. Its effects on the people of Cambodia could not but elicit sympathy.  But it provided quite an education.

Much of my work involved interviewing Cambodian DP's for humanitarian parole into the USA.  This was a provision to reunite families divided when, in 1975, some Cambodians were allowed into the USA as refugees following the Communist Victory. Of course, there was little documentation to substantiate relationships, but after a certain date, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (since replaced by Immigration and Customs Enforcement) started asking resettled Cambodian refugees for detailed family trees.  These we used to determine whether the person in front of the interviewing officer was indeed related to the anchor person in the USA.

The process was pretty straightforward.  Groups of DP's were brought from the camps to a house rented in Aranyaprathet, Thailand, and allowed to wait under a large, circus tent-like structure until interviewed, and then at the end of the day return to the camps to either start packing for the trip to the USA or mope if denied.  Not knowing the Khmer language, I depended heavily on an able young Cambodian-born woman most lately from Virginia.  However, I quickly learned the words "Bat", "Otde", and "Salap", meaning "Yes", "No", and "dead" respectively.

The last was a sobering word to learn.  Of course I had known about the killing fields of Cambodia for some time.  Yet the people I interviewed had lived through them.  Often, when we asked for their precise relationships to persons listened in their US anchors' A-files, they would misunderstand and think we were seeking the status of the person named.  Hence, I often heard the word "Salap".  In numerous cases, this led to the realization that the large, extended clans given by the anchors had often been decimated during the years of the Democratic Kampuchea regime and civil war that followed the 1978 Vietnamese invasion.

In addition to Thai, which I had been taught for my service in Bangkok, I was a fairly competent Chinese linguist at the time, and anyone who seemed to be Sino-Cambodian tended to be sent my way.  Sure, I'm old enough to remember when Americans thought that all Far Eastern peoples looked alike; but persons of Chinese descent tended to be easy to pick out from a crowd of other DP's.  Whereas the indigenous Khmer tended to be brown, with large, sometimes deep-set eyes, broader noses, and sometimes wavy or curly hair, the Chinese descent of many Cambodian town-dwellers sometimes left fair skins and smaller eyes.  When such people were spotted, someone might send them to my interviewing table.

One such young Sino-Thai male came to my table, and we soon established that he was indeed the younger brother of a waiter living in Portland, Oregon, who had made it to the USA in 1975. He had learned Mandarin from a Taiwanese organization working among former Cambodian Overseas Chinese; although like so many others of his demographic, he was more comfortable with either Khmer or Teochiu.  Of the large, complex extended family described by the brother in Portland, the only survivors were the anchor and the young man in front of me. The case seemed rather straightforward, and had the young man not belonged to a group eligible for resettlement in the USA, any official connected with the immigration system would've immediately pegged him as someone likely to seek whatever possible employment might come his way should he enter the US.  Hence, I waived any affadavit of support (a document that is signed often and seldom honored in most cases), and signed off on the case. 

The near-total extermination of the two brothers' family was chillingly common among Sino-Cambodians and Muslims.  Despite many of the Khmer Rouge leadership belonging to the former and sponsorship of the Cambodian Communists by Mao's China, the Sino-Cambodians were targeted for extermination because they tended to be townspeople, disproportionately educated past the elementary grades, and disproportionately likely to wear glasses. I suspect that perhaps to many sent their youngsters to Taiwan for education following Lon Nol's coup, which might have made them all the more odious.  As for the Muslims, they tended to belong to either the Cham or Malay ethnic groups, perhaps a little less pliable than Buddhists about hiding their religion, and hence another target.  However, I saw few of them.

A few cases after I sent off the lone Sino-Cambodian youth to rejoin his long-lost brother in the States, a family group consisting of an elderly grandmother, parents, and several small children approached. Their lighter skins, build, and small eyes made me suspect more Sino-Cambodians, so I wrote out on a piece of paper and said in Mandarin, "你们会不会讲中文?" ("nimen huibuhui jiang Zhongwen?--Can you speak Chinese?).  In unison, the whole family looked shocked and horrified and stepped back in terror with the "Uh-oh, he's found us out!" attitude. They loudly protested that they were 100% northwest Cambodian ethnic Khmer peasants, and knew no language other than Khmer. I therefore told my interpreter that she couldn't take her coffee break, for I'd need her.

Well, I was satisfied that the father was connected to two brothers in the USA, and that he and his wife would probably be ensconced in restaurant or retail sales following entry into the USA, and thus signed off on this case as well.

At the end of the day, I exited our interviewing site with my group of American officials, and walked past the shaded "bull pen" where the interviewees were waiting for the buses that would return them to Site B, Site 2, and other camps.  The young man with the brother in Portland saw me, walked over to the rope, and thanked me profusely in Mandarin.  I shook his hand, explained that I was only doing my job, and wished him good luck in the US.

A few yards away stood the grandmother from family group, tending one of her grandchildren.  As she witnessed my conversation with the other Sino-Cambodian, her jaw dropped in utter stupefaction.

I could not blame her.  My father's family were Jews from Central Europe, many of whom perished in the Shoah; and I'm sure any that survived were very careful to hide their ethnicity.  Perhaps the old grandmother hadn't quite fathomed that, whatever might have been the attitude of the Cambodian Communists, there were parts of the world where having been born an ethnic Chinese shopkeeper's daughter was not a crime.

In any event, I have never before or since, seen anyone who looked so sheepish.

Memories off the Cambodian Border -- Part One

The Land Rover with US Diplomatic plates bumped over the dirt road through the xerophytic forest along the Thai-Cambodian border, progressing eastwards from the border city of Aranyaprathet through the Thai Changwat of Surin, Buriram, and Sisaket.  Two officers of AmEmbassy Bangkok--Uncle Cephas and his senior colleague--sat in luxurious, air-conditioned comfort sipping cool, bottled beverages as they discussed their assignment of reporting on conditions in border camps for Cambodian displaced persons.  A plump, cheerful Thai Foreign Service National employee whom I will dub Khun Somchai for the sake of the narrative negotiated the potholes and clouds of laterite dust.  Occasionally, we would pass an irrigation ditch in which laughing, healthy, olive-brown children merrily splashed away the shimmering dry season heat, a few boasting briefs, others (generally male) completely naked.

The forest broke to reveal a clearing in which stood a simple baan, or house, built of wood, bamboo, and thatch standing on sturdy wooden piles.  A long clothesline extended from the house to a nearby tree, sporting a colorful array of drying laundry suiting every member of the household.  A telephone antenna perched on a bamboo pole swayed lazily over the roof, while electrical wire ran from a utility pole to power the house's utensils.  Underneath, where yesteryear's water buffalo would have sheltered, a small, red pickup truck was parked.

At that point, my senior colleague grew uneasy, noted the absence of road signs, and asked a question of the driver.

"Khun Somchai, how can we be sure we haven't driven across the border?"

After all, it was 1991, and civil war was still raging inside Cambodia, where the mines lay thick on the ground, and a carload of US diplomatic personnel that was supposed to be in Thailand blowing up inside Cambodia would be a messy international incident.

Further, language would not have distinguished the people on the two sides of the border.  Most of the inhabitants were either ethnic Khmer or Soay and spoke those languages at home and in their villages, with those on the Thai side having learned the Thai of Bangkok in school and from media, and those on the Cambodian side having acquired that same language out of the necessity of getting access to the only functioning economy in the area.

Khun Somchai, blessed with the good-natured smile that seems the birthright of every Thai, was quick with his reply.  "You saw that house back there.  If we run across one that has only a quarter of the laundry, no TV, and no truck, we'll know we're in Cambodia and will have to turn around."

Perhaps a mile after the next fork in the road, a brown-clad, heavily armed man with all the badges and insignia that marked a member of the Aw Saw, or Thai Border Police, stepped out of the underbrush and hastened to flag us down.  He gave the typical polite wai of greeting, then pointed to a tree scarcely a hundred yards away:

"Bai mai dai, khrap!  Mai nan yu Khameen!"--"You can't procede!  That tree is in Cambodia!"

A little more give-and-take between the Aw Saw and Khun Somchai revealed that a week earlier, guerrillas--whether Democratic Kampuchea, Sihanoukhist, or the Sonn Sann faction is immaterial--had laid out mines in the road.  Hence, I felt very thankful to a merciful Providence that the Aw Saw had just happened to reach that point on his rounds at that time.  Otherwise, I could have been blown to smithereens; and if not killed instantly, probably left lying in agony in the twisted wreckage of the Land Rover with nobody knowing or caring until it would have been way too late.

Back on the right road, we ultimately reached a town to meet up with a member of UNBRO--the United Nations Border Relief Organization--a group separate from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and set up to allay the Royal Thai Government's unease with declaring the Cambodians "refugees" rather than "displaced persons".  Compared to the larger organization, it was an efficient, well-run outfit with its ear to the ground and ready to report any problem to both the Thai and international authorities.  It was also necessary for us to deal with them, for while we were free to deal face to face with internal administrations of DP Camps that were of the Sihanouk and Sonn San factions, we could deal with the Democratic Kampuchea people (Pol Pot's people) only under UN escort--and this was necessitated from time to time due to the US government's donations of vegetable oil and its humanitarian concerns over whether the camp populations were being abused in any way.

Well, normalcy genrally prevailed in the camp, which was called OTrao, even though it had been the seen in the past of DP's being moved back over the border to serve as porters for the Democratic Kampuchea faction and sometimes summarily executed.  DPs managed an in-camp economy, which, thankfully, did not include too egregious siphoning off of US-donated food aid.

However, there were Democratic Kampuchea troops on R&R in the camp--the very faction that had killed between one quarter and one third of the Cambodian population during the time it had held power (1975-1978). I was face to face with the very people who had given the world the killing fields, alhtough, thankfully, these soldiers were not armed at the time. The DK men were physically small and quiet, impeccably uniformed in Chinese-style olive drab. None spoke as camp officials spoke with the UNBRO people through an interpreter, but they watched us nonetheless.

And it was then that I suddenly developed a belief in zombies.  Yes, the camps were full of people fatigued beyond endurance from the horrors of war, famine, disease, the loss of loved ones, and displacement.  Yet these physically small, quiet men were more blank-faced and emotionless as slaughtered cattle, despite their being able to move and breathe. There eyes were, perhaps, the most perfect blanks of any I had ever seen.  Perhaps it was the strain of recent fighting, perhaps there actually was something soul-killing about participation in gruesome atrocities, perhaps a combination of the two.  Either way, these men seemed to be more of the netherworld than of that of the living.

Mao Zedong had told Pol Pot (aka Saloth Sar), their leader, that he was accomplishing things of which Mao himself had only dreamed.  Quite an admission from a ruler whose political victims numbered several tens of millions, and whose visionary programs trained a generation of Chinese to accept state-imposed suffering while beguiling and dazzling gullible Western intellectuals. Pol Pot himself, as well as his henchman Khieu Samphan, were themselves products of the best education the French Left could provide its erstwhile colonials, and were themselves working out a variant of the Marxist vision adapted to a Third World agrarian country.  And they had brought little save a vicious cycle of want, misery, violence, and death.