Blue By You

About 20 years ago, I read a fascinating book by astronomer Clifford Stoll. In “The Cuckoo’s Egg,” he explained how he — an unabashed Berkeley hippie grad student working towards his Ph.D. in astronomy — linked up with the FBI, the CIA, and was instrumental in capturing one of the Soviets’ best computer spies.

One part of that book — utterly unrelated to computers or espionage, but indicative of Stoll’s truest passion — was his description of his verbal boards for his doctorate. There was one member of the board who he knew would be his toughest inquisitor, and Stoll lived in dread of his questions.

When the day came, Stoll’s questioner hit him with a single question:

“Why is the sky blue?”

Stoll couldn’t believe it. Such a simple, fundamental question. He quickly answered, tossing off the rote answer — sunlight refracting off the earth’s atmosphere.

But that wasn’t enough. The professor pressed for more details. Stoll went to greater lengths, wanting to move on to areas he had boned up for.

They never moved on. The professor kept pressing for more and more details, more and more explanations, into “why is the sky blue?” Stoll found himself invoking nearly every single thing he knew about astronomy, stellar dynamics, astrophysics, spectrography, fluid dynamics, chemistry, geometry — the whole gamut. He spent (I believe) an hour going into the finest details, demonstrating his grasp of all aspects of his field, to satisfy this professor and his one deceptively-simple game:

“Why is the sky blue?”

That’s a hell of a roundabout way to get to my point, but I was reminded of that story when I saw the way some of the comments were headed in my recent discussion of the laughably-misnamed “Islamic Thinkers’ Society.” One persistent fellow accused me of painting with too broad a brush. Here’s a bit of the exchange from the comments:

You spend an inordinate amount of time arguing what shade of blue the sky is and trying to avoid admitting the fact that it is indeed, basically, blue.

That’s because, to go with your analogy, the sky isn’t basically blue. SOMETIMES it is, but many times it’s not. In fact, for about half of the day (or more), the sky is most definitely not blue. Sometimes it’s kind of orange, or red. Sometimes it’s gray. Other times it’s purple. And it also depends at times on which parts you look at…it can be purple on the edges and bluish in the center. As I look out my window right now, it appears to be black.

Much of this, from our perceptions of the color of the sky to our political ideas, is greatly dependent upon our own perspectives. All I am doing is giving mine.

(The italicized words are from oyster; the rest is ryan a’s response. And it is ryan a that I am talking about.)

ryan, it pains me to admit, has a point. A very, very slight one, but one nonetheless. I do tend to paint with a fairly broad brush when I discuss the more vile aspects of Islam, and I am willing to admit that the ones I am denouncing are not the majority.

But they certainly are the loudest, and they certainly aren’t contradicted too strenuously when they claim to speak for all Muslims.

Yes, there are “moderate Muslims,” Muslims who don’t howl to “behead those who insult Islam,” Muslims who are repulsed by the crazy Islamist psychos out there who get all the press. But those who feel that way — and are willing to take a stand — are a very, very small minority. The rest are content to let the nuts have their way, have their say, and grab all the headlines. I suspect this is partly out of fear — far, far more Muslims have died at the hands of other Muslims than at the hands of any other demographic. Indeed, if I were a Muslim, I’d be more frightened of my co-religionists than I would be of the infidels.

These crazies, these militant Islamists, these people who set off bombs and call for death when people draw cartoons, when the mere rumor (no matter how impossible) of a “Koran in a toilet” can trigger riots among the nuts, can not and must not be ignored, minimized, or dismissed. They need to be recognized, called out, and confronted at every opportunity.

The left has a saying: “Silence equals consent.” In this case, they’re all too right.

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