Thursday, May 31, 2012

About Birds

Byron links us to a piece at the Huffington Post on a book about birds for children. The article is titled Eleven Things You Didn't Know about Birds and has a slide show illustrating the eleven facts with a picture of the relevant bird.

The book and article are written by Bill Thompson who starts with this: Sociologists and cultural trend watchers have been decrying the broken connection between today's youth and nature. With so many stimulating digital options dominating the attention spans of young people, the worry is that we'll raise several generations who have no connection to or understanding of nature.

Birds provide an easy doorway to re-establishing this connection between kids and nature. Why? Because birds are almost everywhere, they are active, easy-to-see creatures, they often have bright, beautiful colors, and many birds sing melodious, enchanting songs. Most importantly, they capture our imagination with their ability to do something that we humans only figured out about 100 years ago: they can fly!
Go to the link for the slides. There are some beautiful birds to see there.

Escape from Camp 14

Some time ago I read a review of the book by Blaine Harden titled Escape From Camp 14, the story of a young North Korean named Shin Dong-hyuk who was born in a prison camp and managed at age twenty three to escape it - the only person who, born in a camp, has been known to have escaped.

The review prompted me to buy the book, and I encourage anyone looking for summer reading to do the same. The details of Shin's story are gripping, from the reason for his birth in the prison, to his childhood betrayal of his mother and brother, to his amazing escape, Harden's account makes you not want to stop reading.

Equally gripping is his ancillary description of the hell that is North Korea. The entire country is a prison that has deadened the souls of its people, of course, but the prison camps are places of especial savagery, cruelty, and amorality, a place where people have no hope, where all that matters is avoiding a beating and getting a scrap of food to stave off starvation.

Shin was so scarred by his experience, so emotionally stunted by what he did and what was done to him, that adjusting to life after his escape has been almost as difficult as living in Camp 14.

The book also offers a fascinating illustration of the depth of depravity to which people sink once they've conflated a deep hatred of Christianity with power. North Korea is spiritually barren and consequently the only morality is a might makes right ethic according to which whatever those who have power do is ipso facto right. It's a repetition of the trajectory of virtually every state of the twentieth century whose leaders were both atheists and politically all-powerful - from the Soviet Union to Germany to China to Cambodia to Cuba and dozens of lesser states. The stories of the miseries inflicted by these governments on their people are everywhere. North Korea is perhaps worse than most but only because its people suffer worse deprivations than have the people of other totalitarian states.

Anyway, I recommend the book. You won't be sorry you read it.

Polish Death Camps

It was doubtless an innocent mistake. The President didn't mean to offend Poles, nor did he mean to imply that WWII era extermination camps were operated by Poles. The only reason I even mention it is to show the hypocrisy of the Democrats and their media supporters who would be absolutely skewering George Bush had he made such a gaffe. We would never hear the end of it just as we still hear about Gerald Ford's "liberation of Eastern Europe", Dan Quayle's "potatoe", etc.

We also have been hearing, and will be hearing, about every error and faux pas committed by Mitt Romney from now until November. Each one will be held up as proof that Mr. Romney is intellectually unqualified to lead the nation's international affairs, but those who'll be promoting this meme will doubtless ignore Mr. Obama's howlers.

It seems that it could go without saying that no one who voted for a community organizer who assured us that he had campaigned in "all 57 states" (with one to go and two that he won't be visiting for a total of 60 states), and who offends an entire nation by referring to the "Polish death camps" should criticize anyone else's suitability and qualification to lead the nation.

Here's part of ABC's report on the story:
Poles and Polish-Americans expressed outrage today at President Obama’s reference earlier to “a Polish death camp” — as opposed to a Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland.

“The White House will apologize for this outrageous error,” Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski tweeted. Sikorski said that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk “will make a statement in the morning. It’s a pity that this important ceremony was upstaged by ignorance and incompetence.”

The president had been trying to honor a famous Pole, awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a resistance fighter who sneaked behind enemy lines to bear witness to the atrocities being committed against Jews. President Obama referred to him being smuggled “into the Warsaw ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself.”

Sikorski also tonight tweeted a link to an Economist story noting that “few things annoy Poles more than being blamed for the crimes committed by the Nazi occupiers of their homeland. For many years, Polish media, diplomats and politicians have tried to persuade outsiders to stop using the phrase ‘Polish death camps’ as a shorthand description of Auschwitz and other exemplars of Nazi brutality and mass murder. Unfortunately this seems to have escaped Barack Obama’s staff [who] seem not to have noticed this.”
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There's more on the Polish reaction to Mr. Obama's unfortunate blunder at the link.