ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER FREEZE

wintry-weather-michigan

It was a week before we got our power back.

The house was so cold we decided to check into a nearby hotel on the Sunday, about twelve hours after the power cut that was brought on by a severe ice storm.

When we arrived at the hotel at 1.30 in the afternoon, we were told that they had also lost power just ten minutes earlier.

At about this time, we got a phone call from friends who were away for a few days.  They offered us their home.  We gladly accepted.

We came home each morning to see if the power was back on but it was to be a whole week before it was back to normal.

When our friends returned, we moved into a hotel; the next day, we had to move to another hotel.

This was happening to tens of thousands of people, moving from place to place like refugees.  Most hotels were without power; those that had it often had very few vacancies, so it was one night here and two nights there, driving around with a car full of supplies.  Complicating things was that Christmas Day was in the middle of the week and almost everywhere was closed.  We found a Chinese restaurant offering lunch and we decided to eat there, if only for warmth!

We were in Hawaii in 2006 during an earthquake.  Power was restored within hours.   The mid-Michigan disaster of December 22nd was far greater.  People are still very angry that their power was off for a week and the head of the local electricity company is under pressure to resign for leaving the state over the holiday to be with family.

The great lesson I came away with from the experience is how fragile our society is today, dependent as it is on so many modern conveniences that require electricity.  It’s also clear how quickly law and order can unravel – people were breaking into empty homes and even stealing generators from homes that were still inhabited.

Above all, a constant worry, was the cold.  Surviving the extreme cold weather became the sole priority.  We had two grandchildren with us, both under two; six of us in total seeking shelter.

What a nightmare!

And now, two weeks later, we are going through the worst freeze in decades!

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Just a few days ago, Fallujah fell to al-Qaeda, undermining coalition efforts to eradicate al-Qaeda from Iraq during years of intense conflict.

At least, that’s what they are saying.

The truth is that al-Qaeda was not in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was president.  This isn’t to say Saddam was a good man.  He wasn’t.  But he wasn’t a religious nut and kept the extremists at bay.

Following the US-led invasion, elections changed the balance of power in Iraq.  Under Saddam, Sunnis dominated the country.   After US sponsored elections, the majority Shia were in charge, heavily influenced by Shi’ite Iran.  To the west, the Alawites remain the dominant force in Syria, a sect of Shia Islam.   Further west, Shia Hezbollah is a major force in Lebanon.  This arc of Shia Islam is increasingly in conflict with Sunni Islam.

An expert on the region told the BBC a couple of nights ago that tension between Shia and Sunni is greater in Iraq than anywhere else.

Why is the West involved in this conflict?  It’s so incomprehensible to the average western mind that few attempts are made in the media to explain it.

Martha Raddatz tried to answer that question on ABC on Sunday morning, pointing out that women have made great strides in Afghanistan and other countries since Western intervention.  But, is it our role to advance the cause of women in Islamic countries?   At the expense, one might add, of western lives, mostly men.

The answer surely is no.

Islam has been mistreating women for centuries.  It’s deeply ingrained in their culture.  Can we change it?  I doubt it very much.

I’m reminded of a story a friend of mine told me.  At the time, he worked to help refugees to settle in mid-Michigan.  Whenever one of the refugees caused a problem, the police would call him to come and help resolve the problem.

On one occasion, at about 2 in the morning, he was asked to come to an apartment bloc where a man had been hitting his wife, causing her to scream and disturb the neighbors.

He explained to the man, a Somali Moslem, that in America you cannot beat your wife.

The man was totally bewildered and asked the question:  “If you cannot beat your wife, why would you get married?”

Some things will never change.

Islam is one of them.

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Talking of the Middle East, the Pope is to visit the Holy Land in May.

He may be going to return the book Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented to him last month on a visit to the Vatican.

It was written by his late father. Benzion Netanyahu, and is the definitive study of “The Origins of the Inquisition in 15th century Spain.”   In 1492 the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, decreed that all their subjects must be Catholic.  They also invited the Inquisition to come to Spain to enforce the decree.  Many Jews left the country, many converted to Catholicism, and many more were killed.  This was a time when the church persecuted anybody who thought or believed differently.  It was a time of great intolerance.

The book does not show the church in a good light.  So why did the Israeli prime minister present a copy to the pope?

He clearly does not want this history forgotten.  At a time when the Catholic Church is once again rising to greater prominence, it is good for people to be reminded that its history has often not been glorious.

It’s also a good lesson for the pope, especially one from the New World who may have little awareness of European history.

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Europe’s religious divide is a factor in the Ukraine right now.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been demonstrating against their president who has refused to sign a treaty with the European Union and has turned instead to Russia, strengthening ties with the country that ruled over them for more than two centuries.

The country is divided between those, mostly in the East, who favor closer ties with Moscow and those in the west who favor a stronger European connection.  The pro-Moscow people are more likely to be Russian Orthodox while the pro-western are more likely to be Catholic.

Germany and Russia fought over Ukraine in both world wars.  No fighting is taking place now but, in a sense, the same struggle continues.  This time it’s economic – between the German-led European Union and Moscow.

Senator John McCain joined in one demonstration on a recent Sunday and told American television viewers that the Ukrainians want to be a part of the West.  This is not totally accurate.  They want to be a part of the European Union, partly to secure parliamentary government and basic freedoms; Moscow doesn’t have a reputation for either.

Only time will tell who will triumph in this struggle.

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The struggle in Ukraine illustrates the continuing ideal of the European idea.  If the EU is falling apart, then why would anybody want to join it?

Latvia last week became the 18th member of the eurozone, the countries of the EU that use the common currency.   This is another example of an ongoing commitment to Europe.

The EU may not survive as is, but too many Europeans have felt the benefits of European unity to reject the concept completely.

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The temperature is now -3 degrees Fahrenheit.

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