Reflections on a Wandering Life.....
Tuesday, February 13, 2024
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.
Labels: Vietnam War
Wednesday, January 10, 2024
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
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.
Thursday, December 21, 2023
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.”
Mary and Joseph are betrothed.
The angel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her that she has been chosen to bear the special child.
Mary stays with her cousin for three months.
Mary is discovered to be pregnant.
Joseph decides to put her away quietly.
Joseph has a dream, where is told that Mary has not been unfaithful.
Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
Everybody was required to go to their home town, so Joseph took Mary and went to Bethlehem.
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.
The angel appears to the shepherds.
The shepherds go to visit the baby.
Mary and Joseph take the baby to the temple in Jerusalem.
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.
Wise men from Persia come to Jerusalem looking for the new King.
Herod is very upset and asks them exactly when they first saw the star.
He asks the Jewish scholars where this child is supposed to be born.
Herod orders all the children in Bethlehem killed.
Joseph is warned in a dream to go to Egypt.
After Herod dies, Joseph returns to Israel and goes home to Nazareth.
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.
As I mentioned in the podcast, my approach to presenting Christmas to students who did not grow up with Christmas culture, was to just tell the story, not to focus on various doctrinal issues. But it turns out that you can’t really avoid those doctrinal issues, because the doctrine of the virgin birth is in inherent in the story.
Concerning arranged marriage, I’m not sure what to say about that, because the Bible simply doesn’t tell us. But there seems to be an indication from Luke 3, that Joseph became part of Mary’s family.
Regarding Luke 2:14, the way I have it in slide 13 is exactly copied from the interlinear at Bible hib. I changed two things: the last word, and the comma. I don’t even menion the comma in the podcast, because it’s irrelevant. There were no commas in Koine Greek. But the word is really quite important. See what you think, but it sure seems clear that they took a definition from one verse and put it in for another.
I also mentioned the preposition, which they have as “toward.” I mentioned that this word appears more than 100 times in the new testament. In fact, it’s more than 2000 times. The vast majority of the time, it is translated as “in.” So “among” is a more accurate rendering than “to," as the King James has it. That's one place where I take issue with the King James. But for the rest of it, the King James has it right.
Thursday, November 30, 2023
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
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-GurionFrom 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):
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.”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:
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.”
Luke 21:20 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.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.
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.
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-GurionI 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?
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.