Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Czar Alexander: An almost great legacy 

Note: This book was first published on Amazon.
Reviewed in the United States on January 21, 2009

I think this is the second book I have read by this author. Not positive, but I'm quite sure that one of the books on tape I went through back when I was a truck driver was written by this author.

He's good. The author makes the book. That may seem to be an obvious statement, but there are books that survive in spite of who wrote them. To be sure, the subject of this book is interesting, too. But the usefulness of this book in understanding Russian history is definitely enhanced by the thorough research of the author, combined with the readability of his writing.

Who is Alexander, and why is he important? Would he not have some great significance by mere virtue of being a Czar of Russia? Perhaps, but there is one specific thing that, I believe, sets him apart: He freed the serfs. For this reason, he has sometimes been referred to as the "Abraham Lincoln" of Russia, but let the comparison stop there. He was no Lincoln. He simply did not posses the greatness of character that Lincoln had. But the fact that he freed the serfs combined with the way he did it does make his story important, and perhaps helped to bring about his ultimate demise.

The serfs were given freedom and a little land, but not really enough of it. Their lives were still quite difficult. So there remained a fair amount of unrest among the peasant community. Alexander's reforms did not really bring in democracy, and even though he himself did want to give people more latitude, he allowed for repressive measures in order to control an increasingly restive population. So what can we say about 19th Century Russia? Was it just a crazy place that was destined to cause trouble for any leader, or were there certain elements of his reign that generated needless animosity? Read the book and see what you think. And when you do, let me know if you can figure out why he refused to leave the scene of his assassination after the first bomb (which did not hurt him) went off. If he had been a U.S. president guarded by Secret Service agents, he would have been immediately hustled away from the scene, and would have survived.

It's a fascinating story. But it leaves unanswered one question that always puzzles me when I read Russian history or literature: Do the Russian people survive in spite of autocratic leaders, or do they tend to adopt autocratic leadership because that's the only way they can survive?

If you're new to Russian history, this book will do as a starting point, although I wouldn't wait too long before you read Robert K. Massie's Peter the Great . Alexander was a contemporary of the great 19th Century Russian writers, so this book will also help you to understand the background for the works of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A Doctor in China 

This is the true story of a doctor who came to China in the early twenties, and worked in Changhsa (Hunan Province) for almost thirty years during the first part of the 20th century. It is a story fraught with mystery and many unanswered questions.

When I write an account like this I strongly prefer to wait until I have all the facts before I start, and to keep conjecture to a minimum. But as I said, there are many as yet unanswered questions: Did he actually murder her, or did she try to make it look that way? His case was helped by the fact that she was the one who brought the knife to the encounter. Was he actually Jewish, and why did he suddenly decide to make that known? His mother was an illegitimate child, so it’s hard to prove anything. Maybe that’s a story she told him to deflect from her own uncertain past. But who knows? Maybe it was true. But if so, then why did he return from Palestine? Why didn’t he stay there?

Anyway, although questions remain, it is time for this story to be told.

His name was Karl Fink. Or at least it started out that way. He was to assume a couple other identities before he came to China. His medical practice began the city of Hamburg, after a brief stint as a military doctor in World War I (I think), but most of his medical career was spent in China, and much of it, I believe, was affiliated with an orphanage in Changsha.

He had been married very briefly after World War I, but divorced a year or two later. He did have a son from that marriage, but I don’t know what became of him. Later he had some sort of relationship with a patient that led to the drama that overshadowed so much of his life. She was trying to blackmail him, I guess, and came to his place with a dagger. There was a scuffle of some kind, and she ended up dead. Did she attack him? Did he grab the knife and stab her? Or did she try to manipulate him by threatening suicide? The most likely is that she attacked him and ended up getting the wrong end of the knife herself. We will probably never know just what happened, but she was dead and the doctor fled.

He ran. Changed his name and ran. He was eventually arrested and jailed, but he escaped. I don’t know how. He fled to Czechoslovakia, but eventually came back and presented himself to a charity organization saying that he wanted to go to China as a doctor. How well did they vet him? Did they ask any questions? They no doubt did, but apparently not the right ones. Like “why would such a promising young physician want to go to China?

He was sent to Hunan province. He first worked in a hospital in the city of Hongjiang, where he met and married one of the single woman missionaries.

I don’t know all the details, but there was a terrible fire in the town and his hospital was destroyed. The hospital was rebuilt, but he was eventually assigned to open a new hospital in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan. He actually lived in the house where Hudson Taylor had died, which building was eventually used as part of a new hospital.

The Sino-Japanese War began in 1937. The Chinese had a practice of burning the area they thought the Japanese were going to invade so there would be nothing left for them when they came. There was a false rumor that the Japanese were coming, so the Chinese started burning the area, but they did it in secret, so the local population was not warned and many people died. Lots of wooden houses—maybe 30 or 40 thousand people died. It is also reported that many local people who sought to put out the fires were shot by Chinese soldiers who wanted to “burn the ground” in front of the Japanese.

Chiang Kai-shek came to Changsha and held a court martial. The officers responsible were executed. As it turned out, the Japanese never came, so the whole burning campaign had been unnecessary.

In 1939 he returned to Germany for a furlough. He was arrested and imprisoned in Hamburg. Did he turn himself in? I don’t think so, because he and his wife had gone to Germany for a furlough back in 1934. They had been in Germany for about a year that time, and nothing had happened. Whatever the case, this time he was apprehended and brought to trial.

From the police report:

Dr. Fink is about 1.75 to 1.78 m tall, slender, close-cropped, dark hair, slightly thinned at the front of the forehead, elongated narrow face with sunken cheeks of yellowish brown color, dark eyes, piercing gaze, clean-shaven, early hint of dark blond moustache, somewhat curved nose (hooked nose).
In 1939, He was given a two year sentence for manslaughter.

Here’s where I have a question: Why manslaughter? I’m not a lawyer, but I do have a reasonable familiarity with the three basic categories. Manslaughter is when you did not intend to kill someone—weren’t even angry with them, but you do something unlawful that results in somebody dying.

Second degree murder is when you did not originally intend to kill someone, but you kill them in the heat of the moment.

First degree murder is intentional homicide.

It seems to me that if she killed herself in front of him to try to frame him, he was innocent, because he didn’t kill her. But if he grabbed the knife from her and then killed her, that would be second degree murder.

I do have sympathy for someone confronted with a crazed person and having to deal with this person alone. Many years ago I worked at Oregon State Hospital. Every once in awhile, one of the patients would flip out and become really crazy. The staff would then call every ward to see if there was an extra man on duty who could come and help. We would all take our glasses off and then come at this person calmly with seven or eight guys, lead them to an isolation room, and restrain them on a bed with belts. I can’t imagine what it would be like to confront someone like that alone, especially someone who had a knife and was threatening me with it. Still, I don’t see why he would have to stab her. Was he angry with her for trying to blackmail him? If so, that’s not manslaughter.

I don’t know. Reportedly, the court was influenced by many reports from China about his humanitarian work there. I don’t doubt that, because the doctor and his missionary wife were very well liked here in China—no question about that. But I still think that from a legal standpoint, the key factor was that she brought the knife, not him.

Whatever the case may be, he was given a suspended sentence and allowed to return to China in 1940.

World War II pretty much disabled the relationship between China and Germany and the Germans in Changsha were expelled from China. The doctor and his wife got around this by going to the city of Qingdao, which was in that part of China occupied by the Japanese. So they actually lived out World War II in China (1942-1947). This is the irony of war. While the whole world was falling apart, the doctor and his wife were living a life of peace, hanging out with other foreigners in Qingdao by the sea. If you’ve never been to Qingdao, it’s a really nice place, situated right on the coast, with a moderate climate. The doctor was quite a musician, I guess, so they would get together and have concerts and stuff, relatively untouched by the chaos everywhere else. Sorta like me hanging out in a COVID-free zone in the mountains of western China for the three years of COVID, while people were getting sick and dying in places to which foreigners who had been in China fled for “safety.” They should have stayed here.

The doctor and his wife returned to Changsha in 1947, but as you may know, if you’ve read your history, in 1949 the Communists took over, and the missionaries were kicked out of China. This was viewed as a disaster by mission organizations, but it was a blessing in disguise, because the “caretaker” missionaries were gone, so leadership had to emerge from within the Chinese church, and the result was exponential growth of Christianity.

They went to Germany from where the doctor, who had announced that he was actually a Jew, went to Palestine where he worked in Arab refugee camps. What’s up with that? Was this just some new identity that he pasted on himself? That was my first reaction, but upon reflection, I think he was probably just looking for something to do. He did not stay long. Having lived in China for 20 years, now, I can imagine that going from China to Palestine would have been quite an adjustment. After a year or so, he returned to Germany.

When the missionaries were kicked out of China, many of those who were nearing retirement just decided to remain in their home countries. But the younger ones weren’t ready to relinquish the calling they had given their lives to. The doctor was sixty years old by now, so I guess he could have retired, but he was not ready to quit yet. He seemed to be living as if he had one more life to save. So he presented himself to his old mission board and asked to be placed. One could bemoan the fact that he could not return to China, I guess, but in fact, China was a pretty chaotic place at this point in time, so for the doctor, his new assignment at the International Catholic Hospital in Shinjuku (the Manhattan of Tokyo) was really made to order, and it was to this hospital that a young missionary brought his wife in the spring of 1954.

She had hepatitis. As soon as he saw her, he told her she needed to go right to bed. His reaction was very different from that of the countryside doctor she had gone to up on the field, who thought her yellow skin looked perfectly normal.

The doctor told them to wait right there, and he went to arrange a bed for her. As soon as he left the room, the woman turned to her husband and said, “Let’s get out of here.” She wanted to go home.

Her husband said, “Nothing doing.”

They had their daughter with them, I guess, so the husband returned to the field with the little girl, leaving his wife in the care of the doctor. It wasn’t that night, but maybe the next night that the unthinkable happened: She went into labor. That wasn’t supposed to happen. She wasn’t due for another two months. But then things went from bad to worse. She started hemorrhaging, and they could not stop the bleeding. Nothing seemed to work.

As she lay dying in her hospital bed in Shinjuku, her one consuming thought was that she did not want to die alone. She was a nurse. She had seen it. They drag the dying person on a gurney down to the end of a darkened hallway with the other hopeless cases. Then they check the bodies once in a while to see which ones are already dead and ready to be sent to the morgue. That was before hospice.

Such were the thoughts that plagued her soul as the life was ebbing out of her body. Did she share her fears with the doctor? I am inclined to think so, because the doctor left to call her husband. I wasn’t privy to his conversation with the staff, but it was something on the order of, “Keep her comfortable; I need to get her husband on the phone. She’s not going to make it.”

He called her husband and told him that he had better get down there right away. That call was a “hail Mary” if there ever was one. Thre was no way he could get right down there. He had his daughter with him—not sure where the other child was—and he was several hundred miles away. It was completely unrealistic. I think the doctor just did it because she had wanted to have her husband with her when she died. Anyway, the doctor and her husband talked and decided to wait until the morning and reconnect. The husband went to bed, waiting to see what the morning would bring. The doctor went to work. He was not one to give up when there was a life to save.

I don't know what he did, but somehow he was able to get the bleeding stopped. Or maybe it stopped by itself. I don’t know. Nosebleeds stop by themselves, so maybe that’s what happened. Anyway, I don’t know what he did, but it finally worked. The baby was born at 4:30 in the morning, and at 5:30, her husband got a call, “You have a new baby boy, and the mother and baby are doing fine.”

Doing fine?? That was a stretch. She was still very sick. In her case, “doing fine” meant that she was going to live. As for the baby, he was very weak and heavily jaundiced, but alive. I guess “doing fine” meant that the doctor was betting that he would eventually pull through, and I am here alive to tell you, seventy years later, that he did.

Mom said, “You were so weak you couldn’t even cry. You just squeaked.”

Dad said, “You looked like a little Indian.”

In today’s woke America, some people might call that a racist statement. But Dad was a farm kid from North Dakota. He was just making an observation. A heavily jaundiced Norwegian-American baby would look like a little Indian, right? You gotta believe me, you guys—I really wasn’t trying to look like a little Indian. It was the furthest thing from my mind. Fortunately, there were no woke morons yelling, “CULTURAL APPROPRIATION!!” So I was allowed to heal in peace.

I never told my mother the doctor’s story. I wonder if she would have seen him differently. But differently from what? In all my conversations with my mother about my childbirth, she never said a word about her impressions of the doctor. Nothing good, nothing bad. I have no idea what she thought of him. Did she know his story? Perhaps. But I don’t know how she could have known. If she did, she never let on.

What kind of person was he, really? Well, you have to give him credit for persistence. Twice his hospital was destroyed by fire, but he kept going. On his seventy-fifth birthday, he was awarded Federal Cross of Merit by the German government. And of course he was well recommended by everyone who knew him. I met one of those people years ago. In 2006, on a visit to Tokyo, I went back to the hospital where I was born and met a nurse who had worked with him. From everything we can tell, he was well liked and respected wherever he worked. And yet something very terrible took place that he was somehow involved in.

So what do we conclude from this? Did he get away with murder? Or was he confronted with a situation that was too much for hm to handle? Maybe both. These are questions that must be asked, because this wasn’t just a “he said, she said.” This was not a made up crime. There was a dead body. This calls for accountability. But how do do that? It’s not easy.

The court decided that he was in some way responsible for her death. But again, she brought the knife. So I just don’t know. So many questions remain unanswered. But one thing I do know: He saved my life, and he saved my mother’s life, and the rest, as they say, is history.


Sunday, March 31, 2024

Political History of the Twentieth Century 

Note: This book was originally published on Amazon:
Reviewed in the United States on July 18, 2009

Robert Novak is known as the melancholic counter-balance to the more phlegmatic Rowland Evans. More recently, he has become known for his work on television. He helped to start the McLaughlin Group on public television, and started a program on CNN called, "The Capital Gang." But in future generations, he will be known for this book.

As a history buff, I often have to read books that are really not about history, but contain items of interest that you cannot find elsewhere. This book, in sharp contrast, is a treasure trove of historical information. I was born in Japan, but my parents were Americans, and I made my first trip to the United States in the spring of 1957, when I was three years old. In that same year, Robert Novak moved to Washington D.C. to work in the AP Washington bureau. So this book is a political history of the United States over the span of my lifetime. You can understand my interest.

I don't remember the election of 1956 ("Don't change the team in the middle of the stream."), because I was only two years old. But I remember 1960 well. I was in first grade. We had an election in class, and I voted for Nixon. I followed every election after that. I registered to vote when I was a senior in high school, and voted for the first time (officially) for Nixon the autumn after my graduation. Do I regret that vote? Not really, because I don't think McGovern was a serious alternative. But this book told me some things about Nixon that were not apparent to most people, and I'm not just talking about Watergate.

Ever wonder where all those government leaks come from? This book will tell you. Who was it that said, "The people don't know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot. Once Middle America--Catholic Middle America in particular--find this out, he's dead?" You wouldn't believe it if I told you. But Novak will tell you, because the individual in question is no longer living, so the need for confidentiality has expired. This book contains many of these fascinating tidbits, insights, and perspectives. Novak made a career (with Evans) of reporting exclusives, and this book is full of them.

The greatest strength of this book, though, is the refreshing contrast it offers to the ocean of Internet "journalists" who litter the Internet with their compulsive outpourings, which are either ill-informed rants, or shameless paraphrases of other people's work. Many of these folks are bloggers, of course, but you would be surprised how many of them actually make their living writing purely from what they read in the papers. I read an article recently by a guy who was bemoaning the decline of print newspapers. He said, "People think that newspapers can be replaced by the Internet, but if conventional newspapers disappear, where will we get the information we need to write Internet articles?" ??? Where does he think the people who write newspapers get their information? Somebody has to do the actual reporting.

Novak epitomizes Edison's well-worn statement that "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." He got his own information. He talked to people. He went there and found out what was really going on. This is old-fashioned journalism at its best. Novak seems to take it for granted, but he is a hard worker. Doing things this way he did was work. Lots of work. It was fun, but it was work. It was fascinating, and exciting and stimulating, but it was work. Lazy people cannot produce the kind of quality that Novak was known for.

So why should you read this book? This book would appeal to two kinds of people. I have already mentioned history. This book is a political history of the last half of the Twentieth Century. You will read the stories that were not told, and the reason they were not told. Case in point: Joe Kennedy bought Virginia for his son in the 1960 election by bribing the sheriffs who controlled the voting process. Why was the story kept under wraps for thirty years? Because the story would have come out just before the Democratic convention, and the top brass at the Wall Street Journal did not feel it was their place to influence the choice of the Democratic candidate. In fairness to the Journal, they said they could not break the story because their sources refused to sign affidavits. You decide for yourself why this corruption was hidden from the American people for a generation.

The other type of person who could really benefit from this book is a budding journalist. This book could also be subtitled, "Career Path for a Political Journalist." Novak describes every step of his career path, gives information about how he got the job in each case, his salary, and the equivalent value in 2007 dollars.

Novak made mistakes. His departure from the McLaughlin Group was a real loss. They needed him more than he needed them. Not sure what he could have done, but perhaps he should have apologized to McLaughlin. Novak is a man with strong convictions. Not hard to see how he would have trouble getting along with someone like McLaughlin, who is the furthest thing from an ideologue. But ideologues do not typically make good moderators, and McLaughlin is, hands down, the best moderator in the business. But while I think Novak left the McLaughlin Group too early, I also think he stayed with CNN too long. For those of you who don't remember what CNN was like before it became so trashy, I remember when CNN started. I watched the interview Ted Koppel did with Ted Turner on Nightline. Turner was talking about how modern (1980) commercial television had degraded, and he wanted to provide something wholesome for the American people. I was struck by this, and a bit sceptical, but you know, whatever you think of Turner, his network really did start out that way. In my opinion, Novak stayed until long after CNN had become a lost cause. Part of this was contractual, but I sometimes think I would have been inclined to leave television altogether, rather than stay with an outfit that had become so completely given to trivia. CNN has become the "soap opera" of network news.

Perhaps my negativity comes from the fact that I believe America is clearly a civilization in decline. To the extent that men like Evans and Novak did their part to live and work as men of principle and honor, and slow the insidious demoralization of society, we should thank them. And we should also express our thanks to their families, who had to bear with a work schedule that was very intense and demanding. We are all in their debt.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Opportunity Lost : Seizing Defeat From the Jaws of Victory 

Note: This book was originally published on Amazon:
Reviewed in the United States on October 19, 2002

This was, in many ways, a painful book to read. I was in elementary school at a school for missionary children in northern Japan when I read in my Weekly Reader that Nguyen Cao Ky had become the new prime minister of South Vietnam. I remember the news gave me a sense of hopefulness about the war, which we were kept informed of by the Far East Network (armed forces radio) and the Voice of America. I can also remember my feeling of confusion when I read that Theiu had replaced Ky as Vietnam's leader.

Without belaboring the point, I have long been frustrated by the American handling of the war, which, I believe developed out of our abdication in Korea. I don't want to spend time talking about that, because it is a tired and painful subject. Suffice it to say that this book confirmed my feelings, but added some new insight.

For example, this book adds some insight into the resentment that many Vietnamese nationals felt toward the French, whose colonialism was largely exploitive, and financed by the Americans in amounts that Everett Dirksen would call "Real Money." In addition to that, I did not know, until I read this book, that Westmoreland was fully informed of the North Vietnamese intention to stage a major invasion during Tet, but decided to keep this from the South Vietnamese army! This appalling mismanagement of the crisis produced a disastrous and completely unnecessary problem for Cao Ky, but it was a challenge that the South Vietnamese met and overcame. While Tet had a demoralizing effect on the American public, it was actually a victory for South Vietnam, and a major defeat for the North Vietnamese.

The book also addresses some more familiar themes, such as the legendary ineptitude of McNamara, but the most poignant event in this book is Nguyen Cao Ky's impulsive decision to abdicate leadership in favor of Thieu. Nobody (including Nguyen Cao Ky himself) knows why he did this. Perhaps it really was a selfless act of a patriot who had no interest in promoting himself, and was just trying to do what was best for his country. Or, perhaps, he had become bored with the monotony of leadership, and decided to abandon his responsibility, just as he discarded his wives, one after another, when he got tired of them. To his credit, Nguyen Cao Ky takes full responsibility for his fateful decision. And it would not be fair to say that he abandoned his country completely, because he was always ready to serve, and to lead when the chips were down. In that sense, we must give credit where credit is due, and call him a patriot. But this is small comfort for the painful realization that the war effort was doomed by his decision, although I am still not sure if I believe that it was more significant than the moral exhaustion of the American culture, which rendered the Americans all but impotent to save Vietnam.

Read this book. Nguyen Cao Ky is a very good storyteller, and a man of adventure who liked to live on the edge. You will almost certainly come away better informed about the first war the Americans lost. It is a sad story, but one which can have a certain measure of redeeming value if we are able to learn from our mistakes, and adapt to the very different place that east Asia has become.


Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Twenty Years in China 

January 10th. Twenty years ago today I flew into Beijing from Los Angeles. The previous summer I had contacted the Oracle office in Singapore and asked them which universities in China they had an affiliation with. They said that they had an affiliation with all the software colleges. Up until they said that, I had not known that China even had software colleges.

China had seen the big IT sectors in Hyderabad and Bangalore where American software companies like Oracle and Microsoft had set up offices to do software engineering at a fraction of what it would cost them in Silicon Valley. China wanted to get in on some of that business, so they set up 35 software colleges to train sofware engineers who could compete in that market.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Up until that time, all I had seen by surfing the Internet was traditional university computer science departments. I don’t know anything about computer science, so I felt like a fish out of water just looking at those university web sites. But I had been teaching at a software college in Arizona for four years, and training online with Scholars.com for a year before that. So I had the kind of experience they were looking for in an environment where few people had experience as software trainers.

Beihang University was a top tier university in China. They did not accept any students who scored below the 98th percentile on the National Entrance Exam. So I was working with very bright people. All my anti-cheating measures I implemented were designed by my Chinese TAs, who didn't like cheating any more than I did. In addition, when I started at Beihang, I was using an online testing system from the University of Hawaii. One of my TAs proposed taking my material and building an in house testing system. At first I sort of brushed the idea aside. But later the University of Hawaii shut down that site, and all the tests I had created were destroyed. Fortunately Titan, my graduate TA, had taken the initiative to copy my tests. Most of them, anyway. I think I maybe had to redo a couple quizzes or something. It would have been much more horrible if he had not taken that initiative in spite of my dismissal. He was right and I was wrong.

1n 2009 I found out that Beihang University an upper age limit of 55 for foreign professors. Since I had come in January of 2004, my contract always ended in the middle of the year, which makes it hard to go directly to another job. But since I was already taking a class at a language school, I was able to get a six month visa from them, which took me to the summer. I then flew to San Francisco and got a one year tourist visa, so that I would not be forced to take the first job that came along. I left the foreign teacher’s dormitory and moved to a village in the western hills of Beijing.

Throughout that following year, I had ample opportunity to climb the liills and seek the face of God.

Friday, January 05, 2024

The Right Place and the Right Time 

Note: This book review was first published on Amazon: Reviewed in the United States on September 3, 2003

This is a book of fascinating contrasts and contradictions. Percy Chen was the son of the Chinese foreign minister during the period prior to the rise of Chiang Kai-shek. But Percy himself grew up in Trinidad, the son of overseas Chinese who left Guangdong Province during the time of the Taiping Rebellion. But not quite. His father married a Creole of basically French descent. According to Percy, Eugene Chen adored his wife, but then left her during what appears to have been a midlife crisis, and went to China to participate in the revolution. To be fair, Eugene Chen did not cease the support of his family, but he was almost never home, and his lifestyle had an obvious influence on Percy, who did much the same thing to his own family years later.

I mentioned contrasts and contradictions. Percy Chen is adamant in his contempt for Chiang Kai-shek, and his support for the Communists. But his personal lifestyle really reflected a highly westernized appetite for the "good life." He says at one point, "I had become a socialist when I was in Soviet Russia. That meant that I had lost my 'property-owning sense.'"

Baloney. True, Mr. Chen did cede his agricultural holdings in Trinidad over to his ex-wife (the one he had abandoned). But he tired of this "socialist" lifestyle very quickly, and went to Hong Kong to take up the life of a middle class (dare I say bourgeois) barrister just before the Communist takeover. So he never actually lived in the society whose system he claimed to admire. Several times throughout the book he refers to his "50 years in China." Yet in all this time he never learned to speak Chinese, and in fact, the time he actually spent in Mainland China amounted to a fraction of that 50. Linguistically handicapped? That doesn't work either. He lived in the Soviet Union for a few short years, and learned to speak Russian, in his words, "almost as well as I speak English."

Despite the many contradictions, I recommend this book for a couple of reasons. First, it is loaded with history. As mentioned, Percy Chen was the son of the Chinese foreign minister (who also spoke no Chinese), so he was personally acquainted with the inner workings of the revolutionary government. I know, it's a bit of a stretch to call it "government," because the civil instability existed in some form from three months after Sun Yat Sen became the first president of China, when he was forced to yield his position to Yuan Shikai, to the day that Mao Zedong stood on the steps of the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square and declared the new People's Republic. Yet, Percy Chen's relationship, in some way, to all sides of this transition, gave him a very unique perspective.

Combined with the historical value, are the travelogues filled with personal anecdotes. His description of the road trip to Moscow in 1927, when he was commissioned by his father to take Borodin home, is classic. At one point, the caravan actually abandoned Anna Louise Strong, giving her up for lost in the middle of the Gobi desert. Fortunately, she had headed in the direction they would be traveling, and they just happened to spot her after they had despaired of finding her and headed down the road five or six miles.

This book was published in 1979, and the last chapter of the book describes a trip that the author and his Russian wife took through China in 1977. Yet Chen makes no mention whatsoever of the Cultural Revolution, This seems to me to be an appalling omission, which strains the credibility of the book, and, if nothing else, gives one good reason to question Percy Chen's objectivity. But if I graded the book on its objectivity, I would probably not be recommending it. Perhaps its greatest value comes from the fact that it is essentially a personal story, and thus far more subjective than the author ever realizes.

But if I let myself get philosophical, I'm going to start sounding negative. Chen's philosophy is full of inconsistencies. Nevertheless, it is a book worth reading for its many observations, however one sided. If you promise me that your reading of this book will be balanced by exposure to other accounts of the period, then I have no problem recommending it, because it does contain a wealth of history about a time that was, in many ways, one of the most critical periods in the history of this great and changing country.

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Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Story of Christmas 

Years ago I was teaching at CYU (Chinese Youth University for Political Sciences) in Beijing, a small college run by the Communist Youth League. One of the units in the syllabus for the English Majors was about holidays. I wanted to give students an understanding of Christmas and what it was all about, because students in China have very little exposure to this. Most of my students had never been to a church. They did not grow up in homes with Christmas trees. So much of what Christians in countries with a history of Christmas tradition take for granted was completely absent from their upbringing.

So I went through the gospels and compiled a list of 20 facts about Christmas in chronological order (below). I gave this list to the students and then spent some time going through it and basically just telling the story. Then I divided them into groups and assigned them to make skits to present to the class. They were quite creative. One group actually showed the birth of the baby Jesus. One member of the group looks at the audience, and he says, “I’m just a horse doctor, but today I’m going to deliver a human.”

Basic Outline of Christmas
  1. Mary and Joseph are betrothed.
  2. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her that she has been chosen to bear the special child.
  3. Mary stays with her cousin for three months.
  4. Mary is discovered to be pregnant.
  5. Joseph decides to put her away quietly.
  6. Joseph has a dream, where is told that Mary has not been unfaithful.
  7. Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
  8. Everybody was required to go to their home town, so Joseph took Mary and went to Bethlehem.
  9. Bethlehem is very crowded, because so many people have come to their home town to register, so there is no room for them in the inn. They find a barn to have their baby.
  10. The angel appears to the shepherds.
  11. The shepherds go to visit the baby.
  12. Mary and Joseph take the baby to the temple in Jerusalem.
  13. Simeon saw the baby and recognized him. He says that this baby will bring light to many nations. He also tells Mary that a sword will pierce her heart.
  14. Wise men from Persia come to Jerusalem looking for the new King.
  15. Herod is very upset and asks them exactly when they first saw the star.
  16. He asks the Jewish scholars where this child is supposed to be born.
  17. Herod orders all the children in Bethlehem killed.
  18. Joseph is warned in a dream to go to Egypt.
  19. After Herod dies, Joseph returns to Israel and goes home to Nazareth.
  20. The child grew to be a healthy child and apparently took over his father’s business when Joseph died.

After you have finished reading this list, listen to the podcast (below). I have prepared a special slide presentation for this podcast that discusses some things that I did not have time to go over with my students. If you go through the slides while you are listening, it might be easier for you to follow the events.

Below the podcast widget I have listed some points to consider from the slides. This is for those of you who are interested in the main issue, which is what I feel is a major mistranslation of Luke 2:14. I did not discuss this part with my students, because it is perhaps quite a bit more technical than their interests would allow, but I think it might be will for those of you who are interested in the Bible as means of revealing God’s purpose and not just a cultural relic from the past.

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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Vacuum Tubes 

Why do we study tubes? Well, before the development of transisters, and then semiconductor chips (which have the equivalent of thousands and millions of vacuum tubes), tubes were the work horses of electronic devices such as radios. So radios were much bigger than they are now, and also ran much hotter. So to begin to understand the way things are done now, we need to take a step back in time and see how the great grandfather of modern semiconductors worked.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Why Israel Keeps Having Trouble 

So many thoughts. So many feelings. So many ideas. So many conflicts. How can we make sense of it all?

If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?David Ben-Gurion
From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free! Do people really know what they’re saying when they utter that phrase? One wonders.

Is this proclamation a call for genocide? No. It could be, of course—surely there are those who would be willing to see all Jews exterminated. But you don’t have to exterminate Jews to remove them from power. So is it then a call for ethnic cleansing? Maybe. Generally, yes, people who scream this mantra want the Jews to go somewhere else. But the main thing is that they want the Jews removed from power. It’s much more an issue of control than an issue of presence. Now, I don’t want to get sidetracked by the issue of genocide—Perhaps I will address this in a separate podcast episode later. But while I do not believe that this protest slogan is necessarily a call for genocide, or even ethnic cleansing, you can’t say that it doesn’t mean anything, or that it means whatever you want it to. Clearly it at least means, as I have said, that Israel as a Jewish state should be wiped out. I do not agree with this slogan. I think it is unhistorical and largely emotional, but I also don’t waste a minute of time worrying that it might happen. My main point is that it is not effective to complain about the way Israel behaves (especially toward Palestinians) if you don’t even allow Israel to exist as a country. So it seems that the first thing to do is to declare our support for Israel’s right to exist as a country, and then we can move on to constructive criticism of Israel’s approach to minority people living within her borders. Give the podcast a listen, and then consider the points I have made that follow. I welcome your thoughts on this very troubling issue.

First of all, I made a mistake when I referred to the Palestinian American journalist as Helen Douglas. And she wasn’t Palestinian. Her parents were from Tripoli, but she was born in the United States. Her name was not Helen Douglas, it was Helen Thomas. I think I probably got her mixed up with Helen Gahagan Douglas, the woman who lost to Richard Nixon in the 1950 California US Senate race. By the way Nixon said that during that campaign, JFK came to him with an envelope:

My father wanted you to have this.
It was a one thousand dollar contribution to his campaign. It was a very sensitive time in America, and politicians who were seen as socialist or sympathetic to communism were viewed with suspicion. More about that some other time. Anyway, back to my story. Helen Thomas was asked about the conflict in the Middle East, and particularly about Israel. In an unguarded moment, she let loose with her real feelings on the issue:

She was fired immediately. Oh, well. She was already 90 years old at the time, but it was a foolish thing to do. Nevertheless, it revealed the strong feeling about this issue that existed then and still exists now: Do the Jews belong in Palestine?

Special guest Donald Grey Barnhouse in his remarks mentioned Jezreel, Loruhamah, Loammi. This is a reference to the Book of Hosea. The way Hosea works is that the prophecy is given in the first chapter, and then the book goes on to tell the story. But the important verse to pay attention to is Hosea 1:11.

And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.
To appreciate the significance of this verse, it is important to understand some very critical events in the history of Israel. The key word is “Diaspora.” When I am talking about this in my Bible studies, I tell people that there were three of them. The first was the capture of the northern kingdom in 722 BC. The second was the Babylonian captivity, which only involved the southern kingdom, since the northern kingdom had already disappeared, and the third began with the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD. But since the last stand at Masada was not taken until three years later, if you want to say that the third diaspora began in 73 AD, I won’t argue.

Anyway, Israel was divided under Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. He had asked for advice from the old men, and they advised kindness. He then asked advice from his buddies, the young guys. They advised toughness. He ignored the wisdom of the old men and followed the brash stupidity of the young men, and the northern kingdom rebelled. The nation was never united after that.

Then the northern kingdom was taken away by Sennacherib and never heard from again. This was the first Diaspora. Who knows where the ten tribes are? The Mormons believe that the American Indians are the ten lost tribes. Many believe that the Pashtun people of Afghanistan are the 10 lost tribes. Nobody knows. The Assyrians also threatened the southern kingdom (Judah), but Hezekiah’s prayer saved the nation.

But later, the southern kindom (which was the only kingdom now) was taken away in the Babylonian captivity, and the first temple was destroyed. But they didn’t disappear. They came back after 70 years. The temple was rebuilt and eventually added to by Herod.

List of Israel's wars with her neighbors (from Wikipedia):
Conflict Combatant 1 Combatant 2 Results Israeli commanders Israeli losses
Israeli Prime Minister Defense Minister of Israel Chief of Staff of the IDF IDF
War of Independence
 Israel Egypt Egypt
Jordan Transjordan
Syria Syria
Saudi Arabia
All-Palestine Protectorate Holy War Army
Arab League ALA
Victory David Ben-Gurion Yaakov Dori 4,074[4] ~2,000[4]
Sinai War
United Kingdom United Kingdom
France France
Egypt Egypt Victory
  • Sinai demilitarized, UNEF deployed.
Moshe Dayan 231 None
Six-Day War
 Israel  Egypt
Iraq Iraq
Victory Levi Eshkol Moshe Dayan Yitzhak Rabin 776 20
War of Attrition
 Israel  Egypt
Soviet UnionSoviet Union
Both sides claimed victory Golda Meir Haim Bar-Lev 1,424[5] 227[6]
Yom Kippur War
 Israel  Egypt
Iraq Iraq
Morocco Morocco
 Saudi Arabia
Victory[7] David Elazar 2,688 None[9]
Operation Litani
Lebanon FLA
PLO Victory
  • PLO retreat from South Lebanon.
Menachem Begin Ezer Weizman Mordechai Gur 18 None
First Lebanon War
Lebanon SLA
Lebanon Lebanese Front
Syria Syria
Lebanon Jammoul
"Tactical victories, strategic failure"[10]
  • PLO expulsion from Lebanon.[11]
Ariel Sharon Rafael Eitan 657 2–3
Security Zone Campaign
Lebanon SLA
  • Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.[13]
Shimon Peres Yitzhak Rabin Moshe Levi 559 7
First Intifada
 Israel UNLU
Oslo I Accord Yitzhak Shamir Dan Shomron 60 100
Second Intifada
 Israel PA
  • Palestinian uprising suppressed.[14]
Ariel Sharon Shaul Mofaz Moshe Ya'alon 301 773
Second Lebanon War
 Israel Hezbollah Stalemate Ehud Olmert Amir Peretz Dan Halutz 121 44
Operation Cast Lead
 Israel Hamas Victory Ehud Barak Gabi Ashkenazi 10 3
Operation Pillar of Defense
 Israel Hamas Victory
  • Cessation of rocket fire into Israel.
Benjamin Netanyahu Benny Gantz 2 4
Operation Protective Edge
 Israel Hamas Both sides claim victory Moshe Ya'alon 67 6
Israel–Palestine crisis


 Israel Hamas Both sides claim victory
  • Truce declared
Benny Gantz Aviv Kochavi 1 14
Operation Iron Swords (2023) Israel Israel Hamas Hamas Ongoing Yoav Gallant Herzi Halevi 464+ 859+

So after the second diaspora (Babylonian captivity) was ended when Cyrus of Persia declared that the Jews would be allowed to return, they existed as a people in their homeland (except for the 10 northern tribes) until the time of Christ, when they were basically a colony of the Roman empire, as depicted in the gospels.

Now to the third diaspora. When did it begin? Some time ago, John posted a video of Netanyahu addressing this issue. It is interesting, and worth listening to, but I totally disagree with his discussion of how it started. He says it began in the seventh century. He does not mention Islam, but we all know what the seventh century means.

He’s dead wrong. Jesus of Nazareth, in three of the four gospels, predicted the destruction of the second temple, which took place under Titus in 70 AD:

Matthew 24:2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Mark 13:2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Luke 21:6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Jesus goes on to predict the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, but especially that Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the gentiles. Read this. It’s important:
Luke 21:20 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.
Luke 21:21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it,
Luke 21:22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.
Luke 21:23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people.
Luke 21:24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
The destruction of Jerusalem was devastating for the Jews. Christians were largely unaffected, because they had read this before it happened, so when they saw the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem, they took the warning of Jesus seriously, and fled.

But the main point is the statement Jesus of Nazareth makes at the end of this prophecy, which is that “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Clearly Jerusalem being “trampled underfoot by the Gentiles” began after the destruction of the second temple, not in the seventh century. So that’s 70 AD, not six or seven hundred AD. Read Josephus if you want the details.

So when will Jerusalem being “trampled underfoot” be over? I think you could say that this process began in 1948, but clearly Jerusalem is not yet free of Gentile control of Israel.

So when will that happen? Or should it happen? People tend to think that Christians and Jews believe that the land belongs to Israel, while the Muslims believe it does not. But both the Bible and the Quran state very clearly that the land was given to Israel by God. Genesis 15 gives the Biblical account of the Abrahamic covenant. And here is the Quran:

O my people! Enter the Holy Land which Allah has destined for you ˹to enter˺. And do not turn back or else you will become losers.
The statements in the Old Testament (which Jews call the “Tenach”) and in the Quran are not vague, interpretive statements. Both the Bible and the Quran state very specifically in clear, unambiguous language that the land was given to the Jews by God.

Interactivce map showing actual control of various areas in the West Bank and Gaza (from The Conversation).

So this is not really a matter of religion. In the most practical sense, it is a matter of the fact that two different peoples have an inherent right to occupy the same piece of real estate. The Jews have a right to be there. But the Palestinians do too. How could they not have a right to be there?

If you got on a sleeper train and discovered that some crook had sold your ticket twice, and there was little old lady already occupying your berth, what would you do? What gives you the right to muscle her out of there just because you also have a ticket for that berth. After all,she has just as much right to occupy that space as you do, and she was there first.

So what to do? In the podcast, I share my belief that Israel needs to occupy the Gaza strip and lead the people.

“But if we do that, people will call us occupiers.”

They already do. Haven’t you heard? So you might as well actually do what they are accusing you of.

You see this is the root of my bitterness. I have a hard time forgiving Israel for leaving Hamas in power all these years. There is just no excuse for allowing those monsters to hold the people of Gaza captive for so long. The leaders of Hamas are corrupt. They don’t even live in Gaza. They live in abject wealth in Doha. How obvious does it have to be? Now, some in Israel say that the common people of Gaza are to blame, because they support what Hamas is doing. Nobody really knows the answer to that question. I suppose we can imagine it would be true to a certain extent. As I said previously, when I talk to people from the Middle East, they often express their opposition to the existence of Israel as a country. But that is largely because they have never seen anything about the way Israel leads that actually benefits them. I am strongly convinced that the thinking of the people would be radically altered if they were allowed to benefit from compassionate leadership.

After the Japanese surrendered to the Americans, there were signs all over Japan urging women ot volunteer themselves as comfort women for the benefit of the country. You see, they were convinced that the American soldiers were going to come in and rape their women. But when that didn’t happen, their thinking began to change. Japan became a strong ally of the Americans.

What about a two-state solution? Well, I have never believed that this woud be a long term solution, but I was open to it as a “for the time being” approach. But it will never happen. This is the plight of the Palestinians. The Israelis don't care about them (as long as they stay in their rabbit cage), and their own leaders are corrupt. I heard the leadership in Gaza say that the people of Gaza are refugees, so it is the United Nations’ responsibility to take care of them. I felt like saying, “Really? Then what, pray tell, is your responsibility?”

We all know the answer: build tunnels and fire rockets at Israel. And it’s not any better in the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas has been in power basically since the death of Arafat and remains in power by refusing to hold elections. He is also reported to be worth $100 million. Elliot Abrams has revealed what Arab leaders told him personally when he urged them to help Palestine: “Why should we give them money when they just steal it?” And Abbas himself has admitted that he turned down an offer from Israel to form a Palestinian state on 95% of the West Bank. He is a far cry from the kind of benevolent leader the Palestinians need. You see, nobody really cares about them.

But what about the many demonstrations in support of Palestine? They don’t impress me. I don’t see genuine love for the Palestinian people. I just see hatred for Israel. The proof of this is that, as I mentioned in the podcast, when these demonstrators are asked specific questions about the issue, they are completely clueless. They know nothing about the situation. They just know that they hate Israel.

And Evangelical Christians are no better. Several times on the 700 Club they have shown some of the families in Israel that they have helped. That’s good, of course, but Israel is a developed country that has the wherewithal to help her own people. How many times have you turned on the 700 Club and seen them helping a Palestinian family? Don’t expect it any time soon. Nobody cares about them. I know, I know. It’s on Hamas.

I have to say this one more time: Nothing excuses what those Hamas “freedom fighters” did on October 7th. If you cannot bring yourself to condemn that, you are sick. But that does not mean that we should not be cognizant of the factors that have encouraged deep resentment toward Israel on the part of the common people of Palestine.

Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves … politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves… The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country. … Behind the terrorism [by the Arabs] is a movement, which though primitive is not devoid of idealism and self sacrifice.David Ben-Gurion
I want you to watch the video below. This is an evangelical Christian pastor who happens to be ethnic Palestinian. Hear him out. He absolutely does not believe that the Ashkenazim are actually Jews. Most evangelicals are completely unaware how widespread this belief is. The cynical side of me tends to think that the reason people who oppose Israel convince themselves that the Ashkenazi Jews are not actually Jews, is because then they can call for them to go back to Germany and Poland without being considered anti-Semitic. But try to keep your cynicism at bay and listen to what this guy has to say. After all, we don’t have Abraham’s DNA. So it’s hard to prove either way.

Anyway, you’re probably not going to agree with everything he says, but he is a decent man, and he deserves to be heard. As you listen, try to think how you would respond to him. You can disagree, but if you disagree, do so as a brother, and do so with objective reference to information, either historical or Biblical.

If we support the right of the Jews to be a people, and to have their land as a people and as a country, we must also support the right of the Palestians to be a people and to have their land as a people and as a country.

"But it's the same land!"

I know. I know. That's the problem. What's your solution?

Book Review : A Concise History of the Middle East
Very fortuitous that I wrote this book review back in March, because this current blog post would have had to be a lot longer if I did not have this book review to refer to. The book is also good. But at least read the review, because it address exactly the issues we have all been talking about since October 7th.

Jewish vs. Non-Jewish Population of Palestine
This is for those who say that the Jews have "always had a presence" in Palestine. In fact, Jewish population in Palestine was miniscule until the end of the 19th century.

Who are the Ashkenazi Jews?
Most Americans have no idea how widely believed is the idea that the Ashkenazis are not really Jewish. The reason I am skeptical of this is because the numbers seem unlikely. You don’t hear that much about people converting to Judaism. Once in awhile, when someone marries a Jew or something, but not that often. In contrast, American Evangelicals hold large crusades where they fill huge stadiums with thousands of people and you can see hundreds of people streaming forward to become Christians. So they’re asking me to believe that at some point in the past, Jews had huge crusades to convert mass numbers of Europeans to Judaism and these became the Ashkenazi Jews? Just doesn’t seem likely. Now some say that the Ashkenazi Jews actually start from a very small population. Call me cynical, but I tend to think such conclusions are motivated by the desire to discount the Ashkenazim as Jews. One can easily believe that there was a significant European admixture, as Wikipedia says, but the idea that there is no genetic connection whatsoever between modern Ashkenazi Jews and ancient Israelites seems a bit far fetched.

But fact that I do not subscribe to this idea does not mean that I am not interested in the subject, or that I am not willing to hear arguments on either side. This should be a matter of keen interest to everyone, because if the Ashkenazi Jews are not really Jews, but interlopers from Europe who have no business being in Palestine, there is no Israel.

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