New 50 pence coin to circulate in Britain

The lighting for my camera rendered the reverse of the coin with a yellow tone. It should be the color of nickle.

The Royal Mint of Britain is mandated by law to issue coins with the reigning monarch on the front (obverse) of every coin. Now that King Charles III was elevated to the throne, all coins will bear the likeness (effigy) that he authorized. Eventually, all coins of the UK will bear Charles III’s likeness.

In December 2022, the mint rolled out its new 50 pence coin. I bought one of these coins that is as good as they come — Brilliant Uncirculated (BU). In the U.S., a coin like this is called a “proof.”

The entire packaging of this 50 pence coin is a tribute to the late Queen, Elizabeth II. No mention is made of her son, Charles III.

I consider this 50 pence coin a collectors item even though 4.9 million were in circulation during December 2022. Orders for BU coins were taken until December 31, 2022. I received mine on February 6th. After a production “delay.” Still, I doubt that its BU issue will be rare, so it will likely never be valuable. Still, it’s a memento to a changing time.

With time, coins with the likeness Elizabeth II will be withdrawn from circulation, but they remain and will remain legal tender.

The 50 pence coin is in the center. The denominations are on the reverse.

These are the Brilliant Uncirculated definitive British coins that were in circulation during 2022. These will never be minted again. I wanted a memento of the historic passing of a reigning monarch with the fame and appeal of Queen Elizabeth II.

Again, this set is unlikely to be valuable. I’m certain that many like-minded individuals — both British and non-British like me — wanted a special commemoration of the Queen’s life at an affordable price.

My four menorahs

Besides the menorah that I showed in the previous post, I have three others. I inherited this one from my parents. It dates back to the late 1950s. It takes candles as you see:

The camera’s close-up focus makes it seem lopsided.

It’s ready to be lit on the fifth night of Hanukkah which is December 22nd this year. The five Hebrew letters for the name Israel are crafted into the arms of the menorah. See if you can spot the angled, descending yud, sin, reish, alef, and lamed from right to left.

I bought this next menorah in Buenos Aires when I visited over Hanukkah 2000-1. This was Argentina’s summer, so it was short-sleeve weather.

This menorah is modeled after the one in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem of old. The Temple’s menorah had only seven lamps — on three arms jutting up from the stem on both sides and the seventh lamp on top of the stem. This seventh lamp was only as high as the other six. It was not a shamesh servant. The lamps were lit by a priest on the ground much like gas streetlights were lit many years ago.

The taller cup of this menorah is for the shamash — the servant light from which the other lights are lit. A fixed oil cup doesn’t work for a shamash, though. Only a candle holder that releases the candle.

The silver needs polishing, which I’m not motivated to do.

My third menorah (in no particular order) is electric:

This is not a substitute for candles or oil. The Rabbis of old enacted the rules, and the electric age changes nothing. It has to resemble the Temple’s menorah as much as possible.

I lit this menorah in a window that faces passersby — neighbors in the complex that I live in and their visitors and guests. Let them be reminded that a little bit of light banishes much darkness.

The menorah that I use every year is below. I posted a picture of it in yesterday’s post.

All eight lights are burning on the eighth night of Hanukkah three years ago.

There’s nothing better than sipping a cup of hot tea with sugar while studying the Hanukkah lights. What are they telling me?

Happy Hanukkah

I’m posting this during the Jewish holiday Hanukkah, eight days of festivities centered on the candles that we light. On the first night we light one single candle for the holiday. On the second night we light two candles, and so on, until all the eight candles are lit.

Some of us light small olive oil lamps with cotton wicks in place of candles. This reminds us of the candelabra — Menorah — in the Holy Temple that stood in Jerusalem at the time of two miracles.

The miracle that took back the Temple from the hand of the Syrian Greeks was a military victory, about 2,160 years ago. An uprising of a small Jewish army defeated a world power that had taken the Holy Land as a colony. The interloper’s occupation was too costly, so they left. We can see that this is a miracle.

The other miracle was private, in the sanctuary of the Temple, known only to the priests, descendants of the Bible’s Aaron, of the holy compound — an area where no one but priests entered.

In order to light the Menorah, seven arms holding lamps connected to one stem and its base, the priests used pure olive oil of the highest sanctity. They found only one cruse that would last one night and the following day. G-d made a miracle, and the oil didn’t burn down but lasted for eight nights and days until new oil could be procured.

We see that the military victory which spilled blood has been downplayed, and the miracle of the oil has been designated by the Rabbis as the miracle to celebrate.

In our homes, we also call our candelabras menorahs, but all have receptacles for eight lights rather than the seven of the Holy Temple. Menorahs come in all sizes and designs.

My menorah — as you will see — is simple and utilitarian. I’ve had it since my early or mid-twenties when I was first out on my own. (I’m now 71.)

This picture was taken on the eighth night of Hanukkah on December 29, 2019, my first Hanukkah in Arizona.

The prominent mezuzah is fixed to the right doorpost of this room as you enter. The Hanukkah lights are placed to the left opposite the mezuzah.

The beeswax candle is call a shamash — a servant with which to light the lamps or candles.

Many Jews place their menorahs in a window seen from the street. This publicizes the miracle to passersby beside to members of the family.

Many organizations place kerosene or electric menorahs to be seen in public places in cities and towns across the world. Think of a menorah that is about 20 feet or 7 meters tall.

The White House has such a menorah on its lawn. There’s been a menorah lighting ceremony inside the White House every year since the term of President Ronald Reagan, if I’m not mistaken.

The victory in the Holy Land of a small number of determined men and women against a world power should have been a lesson to the Soviet Empire and today’s Russia. You can’t occupy a foreign country and prevail. The Soviets should have known this before they tried to occupy Afghanistan during the 1980s. The people of Afghanistan made it too costly for the Soviets to remain.

It may be unreasonable for the Soviets to learn from the ancient Jews, but they should have learned from weak Afghanistan the lesson that today’s war and occupation of Ukraine would be costly and futile.

Let’s hope and pray that no more Ukrainians die and that they prevail against aggressive Russia. Victory may not seem like a miracle, but it is certain. History has told the Russians so.

May the light of Hanukkah spread and penetrate even the darkest corners of the world. Let all celebrate freedom from tyranny, ignorance, and hunger — for spirituality as well as for relief from poverty.

Islam in Afghanistan

The Taliban rulers in Afghanistan have introduced regulations that conform to Afghan custom of hundreds of years. Little is new in their rules.

Anthropologist Thomas Barfield describes the circular reasoning about Islam in the Afghan mind:

“[S]ince all true Afghans were devout Muslims then all their customs must be Islamic as well, otherwise they could not be good Muslims (which they were by definition). Anyone proposing to change tradition could therefore be accused of attacking Islam itself.”

He continues:

“In other Muslim countries there was debate over responding to the Western colonial challenge by changing old traditions and reforming Islam, but not in Afghanistan.”

Barfield was referring to Afghanistan in the late 1800s, but little has changed in the era of the Taliban.

Source: Thomas Barfield, Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010)

Afghanistan is being terrorized by the Islamic State

October 15, 2021

As I posted previously (“Taliban finds new enemy“), the Taliban have a new enemy — the Islamic State.

The Islamic State is an international terrorist organization that plans attacks against the West and encourages local men around the world to also perpetrate attacks in the West. It also terrorizes local populations such as people in Afghanistan where it settled in to form a local branch.

The Islamic State in Afghanistan is known as the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP *; also Daesh after the Arabic acronym) where Khorasan is an archaic name for the region between today’s Iran and India. Their denomination of Islam is Salafist (Salafi) — a non-orthodox vision of returning to what adherents believe to be “true Islam.” This true Islam is that which was practiced by the desert Arabs of Mohammed’s time as Salafists imagine it. One feature of Mohammed’s Islam was jihad — a holy war to go out to conquer the world at the edge of a sword for Islam. People who they came across had the choice of becoming Muslims or being executed.

Today’s Islamic State Salafists regard the Taliban * as heretics since they won’t engage in a holy war against the Western world. The Taliban are only satisfied with ridding Afghanistan itself of Western armed forces and Western cultural influences. And suicide bombing is not the Taliban’s way of terrorizing Afghans into submitting to Islamic law — Sharia.

IS-KP took credit for recently bombing a packed mosque in the northern province of Kunduz. The ostensible reason for bombing the mosque was that the suicide bomber was a Uygher Muslim, saying that the attack targeted both Shias (Shiites) and the Taliban for their purported willingness to expel Uyghers to meet demands from China.* In addition, the worshipers in the mosque subscribed to the Shia belief system which differs from the belief system of the IS-KP, and IS-KP considers them heretics for their beliefs. The Muslims of Iran are Shias, as are many Iraqis. The other large belief system is Sunni. Both the Taliban and IS-KP are Sunnis. However, we see that subscribing to the Sunni belief system does not make IS-KP brethren with the Taliban.

The Taliban maintain that the Shias in Afghanistan are also loyal Afghans so they should be treated fairly. The idea that the Taliban have committed atrocities against Shias is probably an urban legend according to James Fergusson. See his Taliban: The Unknown Enemy (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2010). As a journalist, he covered the Taliban’s Afghanistan during the late 90s, and then he covered the allied war in Afghanistan during its first decade.

Journalist Samya Kullab from AP explains what the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) has against the Taliban in Afghanistan. See “Can the Taliban suppress the potent IS threat?” from October 12, 2021. However, he also subscribes to the probable myth of Taliban massacres of Shias.

Kullab also surmises that IS-KP’s “immediate aim is to destabilize the Taliban and shatter the group’s image as a guardian of security.” However, “… the Taliban have shown themselves capable of rooting out some IS [Islamic State] cells, using their vast local intelligence-gathering networks…. IS — unlike the Taliban during their insurgency — don’t have access to safe havens in Pakistan and Iran.” Furthermore, some or many of the IS-KP are foreign fighters who are not any more welcome in Afghanistan than the Western coalition forces were.

Whatever we say about the Taliban, I wish them well in defeating IS-KP.

● IS-KP — Some journalists and academics refer to them as “IS-K.” I’ve also seen journalistic reports that call these terrorists ISIS. I do not understand this since ISIS is an abbreviation for ‘Islamic State Iraq Syria’. IS-KP has reportedly received financial support from ISIS, though.

● IS-KP — For more online background about IS-KP see “Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K)” from the Center for Strategic & International Studies. This report is from 2018.

● Taliban – At times they refer to themselves as “mujahideen” — “those who are fighting for G-dly rule” of Afghanistan. The early mujahideen, some of whom were Taliban, fought against the Soviets when they occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s. Today’s Taliban fought the Western coalition who were also seen as occupying Afghanistan. I gleaned that they call themselves mujahideen from a Frontline documentary “Taliban Takeover.”

● willingness to expel Uyghers … China – The mosque had no security so it was a soft target. Beyond this, IS-KP considers the Shia sect to be apostates rather than good Muslims. So perhaps this was why a Shia congregation was chosen for the attack. See “IS bomber kills 46 inside Afghan mosque, challenges Taliban” from AP.

● As I write this, another packed Shia mosque was attacked in Kandahar city killing and wounding a number of people. See “Suicide attack on Shiite mosque in Afghanistan kills 37.” AP is likely to update this article as more information comes in.

Taliban finds new enemy

October 7, 2021

Just as the Taliban got their wish that all troops of the United States and its allies would leave Afghanistan, they found themselves with a new enemy. The Islamic State has reared its head.

The Islamic State in Afghanistan is known as Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP *; also Daesh after the Arabic acronym) where Khorasan is an archaic name for the region between today’s Iran and India. They have found sanctuary in the Afghan province that is just north of the province centered on the city of Jalalabad. So, IS-KP’s refuge is not far north of a major city but in daunting, rugged mountains. Al-Qaeda has long had a base there although it does not get along with IS-KP. Actually, IS-KP and the Taliban regard each other as enemies too.

IS-KP has now turned loose suicide bombers against Afghan civilians. In contrast, the Taliban used suicide bombers sparingly and only against military targets, never civilians (except for one extremist network). In addition, the Taliban has no aspirations to engage in terrorist attacks abroad. Neither do they use social media to inspire foreign attacks initiated by locals as does IS-KP.

The most recent IS-KP bombing of civilians was only several days ago in Kabul. Their bomber set up road-side explosives outside a packed mosque. Several Afghans were killed and a number wounded when the bomb went off outside the mosque’s gate.
(Details vary in the reports that I’ve seen. See “Bomb at Kabul mosque kills 5 civilians, Taliban say” and “Taliban raid suspected IS hideout after bombing in capital” from AP; “Deadly explosion targets memorial service near Kabul mosque” from Al Jazeera.)

IS-KP’s previous attack in Kabul was on August 26th when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the gates of Kabul International Airport where civilians who wanted to leave Afghanistan to escape Taliban rule had massed. Several American service members were killed as were 169 Afghans. The American service members don’t seem to have been the target. If they were, the bomber was indifferent to civilian lives.

While American forces were still in Afghanistan, they conducted drone strikes against IS-KP with intelligence from Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS). Without American support — drones and helicopters — the Taliban are left to slug it out with IS-KP on the ground. This reminds us of the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”

If things weren’t bad enough, IS-KP is allegedly getting support from elements in Pakistan’s military, the Pakistani army’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). According to Wikipedia as far as the Taliban is concerned, “The ISI and other parts of the Pakistan military … provided financial, logistical, military and direct combat support to the Taliban.… the ISI in conjunction with the military leadership has also provided some amount of support and refuge to al-Qaeda.” And now it looks like a replay with IS-KP.

(For more about Pakistani support for the Taliban, especially an extreme element, see “Inter-Services Intelligence activities in Afghanistan” from Wikipedia.

● IS-KP — I’ve also seen journalistic reports that call these terrorists ISIS. I do not understand this since ISIS is an abbreviation for ‘Islamic State Iraq Syria’. IS-KP has reportedly received financial support from ISIS, though.

● Books I’ve read on the subject:
Morgan, Wesley. 2021. The Hardest Place: The American Military Adrift in Afghanistan’s Pech Valley. New York: Random House. The Pech Valley has been where IS-KP has settled displacing al-Qaeda.
Lamb, Christina. 2015. Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World. London: William Collins. Lamb documents how the ISI has collaborated with the Taliban from early times.

Summer solstice sunrise

June 21, 2021 | Phoenix, Arizona

Summer begins officially today, but here in Phoenix we’re well into summer. We just had a record stretch of eight days of high temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit — the hundred teens. For me, summer began just after Memorial Day — May 31st this year.

Sunrise today was at 5:17 AM Mountain Standard Time. The first picture was taken at about 5:10. The last picture was taken around 5:38.

Time for a glass of iced tea with sugar.

Biden says the right thing and the wrong thing

On May 21, 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to reporters about Israel’s battle with Hamas and its armed Jihadist faction Al Quds Brigade in Gaza. He spoke about his idea of peace between Israel and Palestinians:

“Until the region says, unequivocally, they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace.”

whitehouse.govSpeeches and Remarks (about half-way down the page, in answer to a reporter’s question)

Note that he was specific about Israel being a Jewish state by right. This is not in keeping with the Far Left’s hostile regard toward Israel for what they call “apartheid” — Palestinians kept separate from Jews. These Leftists compare Israel to South Africa and its racist past. The Jews of Israel are racists. Zionism equals racism. If this comparison needs refuting, I’ll write about it at another time.

But, Biden’s administration is saying to Israel, “Stay the course. Continue to be a homeland for Jews.”

At the same time, Biden has voiced a widely held belief that a “two-state solution” will bring peace. Let the the Palestinians set up a Palestinian state next to Israel. Isn’t that what Palestinians say that they want?

Palestinians say that they’ll be at peace with Israel when Israel withdraws troops from the West Bank, allowing for a Palestinian State on the West Bank and in Gaza with its capital in Eastern Jerusalem. It’s also necessary for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to Israel.

This is an opium dream. This is a mantra, like a confession of faith. This two-state solution will never come about.

Where do I begin?

Israelis won’t divide Jerusalem into two parts as it was between the 1949 cease-fire and the 1967 war when Israel’s military captured the eastern sector from Jordan. There’s nothing to discuss. The U.N. can pass resolutions, but there won’t be a divided Jerusalem again. The U.S. can apply pressure, but Israel will not bend. It’s not negotiable.

In the negotiations around 2000, Israel was willing to see a Palestinian state with its capital in the suburb Abu Dis just outside Jerusalem to the east. This wasn’t acceptable to Palestinians. They want a capital in Eastern Jerusalem. So there’s an impasse. A dead-end. There’s absolutely no way forward. So this is why negotiations ended around the year 2000.

Besides this, part of the Palestinian so-called solution to bring peace is that refugees from 1948 should have the right to return to their former homes and businesses. It’s absolutely unacceptable to Israeli Jews for refugees to return. It’s not nearly practical anyway. Why do bleeding hearts think that it’s possible? During the last 70 years homes have been remodeled, amenities upgraded. The 1940s era home doesn’t exist to go back to. Israel insists that when there is real peace, refugees will be compensated. Palestinians won’t talk about compensation. Why not?

The time for talking about a Palestinian state ended years ago. Not just because Israel is recalcitrant to the idea. Palestinians have had autonomy in the large cities of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip, and what is there to show for it? The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is barely functioning. It’s corrupt. The rival Hamas-led Palestinian Authority in Gaza is at war with Israel. Together they could have the makings of a functional state without the name. What they would lack is international acceptance as equals. But it wouldn’t satisfy the Palestinian ego.

One of the Palestinian problems is the lack of a functional government. The electorate was divided fairly equally between the Hamas and Fatah parties with a Hamas majority. In 2007, Hamas decamped to Gaza where is governs until today. Fatah is the party of Yasser Arafat which made concessions to Israel, if only by recognizing Israel’s right to exist. Hamas is a jihadist Islamist party that advocates implacable armed conflict with Israel. It has a military wing, the Al Quds Brigade, but remains at a public distance from the terrorist Palestinian Islamic Jihad which is headquartered outside the Palestinian territories but well represented in Gaza. This party is also at war with Israel.

The Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Fatah parties are not working together. Who is Israel supposed to negotiate with when the Palestinians make up a divided polity?

22 members of an extended family killed in Gaza in an Israeli air strike

NPR reports this story about the recent Gaza-Israeli war:

… about 22 members of the extended Qalaq family are gone. No other family in Gaza lost as many relatives in this war.

As it is, this is a remarkable story. Very sad.

But it’s not the whole story.

NPR continues to report that survivor Azam, a mechanical electrician

struggles to comprehend. Israel did not call them to warn them of the strike like the military did with many other civilians, allowing them to escape before their homes were bombed.

Reporter Daniel Estrin doesn’t follow up by noting this extraordinary fact, that Israel calls Gazan non-combatants to warn them of an air strike.

Now what army warns non-combatants to expect a bomb strike? This itself should be a featured story.

I don’t know why a respectable journalist would miss a crucial angle to his story. I don’t want to speculate. I just don’t know.

Hamas in Gaza gets what it wants

Hamas, the political arm of the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, governs Gaza. They’ve engaged in a massive attack on Israel with rockets that reached population centers. They launched roughly 4,000 rockets, without guidance, for 11 days at Israel’s civilian population. Most were intercepted and destroyed in the air.

Hamas says that it wants Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, an end to the blockade of Gaza, a Palestinian state with its capital in Eastern Jerusalem, as well as a return of 1948’s refugees to Israel. But, this is only their rallying cry.

What Hamas and Islamic Jihad really want is fourfold: to terrorize Jews in Israel, to create martyrs, to get international attention and sympathy, and to cause international pressure to bear down on Israel. Each Gazan killed in Israeli air strikes is accorded a martyr’s funeral, and by their reckoning there are 248 dead — 248 fresh martyrs. (Let’s see if there are really 248 funerals.)

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have also succeeded in terrorizing Jews in the south and in central Israel, the largest part of Israel’s population. Rockets even reached near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Foreign carriers ceased to fly into and out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, seriously interfering with the tourism industry.

Hamas has gotten international attention. The situation in Gaza has aroused the concern of the United Nations. Egypt and Qatar brokered a ceasefire. U.S. President Joe Biden mildly chastised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

By my reckoning, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have succeeded. They’ve achieved their goals. Israel can’t win. All Israel can do is bide time until the next attack and put up with sporadic rocket attacks that anywhere else would be considered acts of war.

Can Gazans be so irrational? They’re no closer to a Palestinian state than before — even farther away. Is terrorism really an effective tool to get Israel to withdraw from the West Bank? (Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and look at what they got in return.)

But, is it actually irrational to get what you really want?