Monday, February 28, 2005


It's snowing like a summbitch out there. So I'm consoling myself in fantasies of the vacation we're going to take in two weeks. Exactly two weeks from today I'll be among palm trees and balmy breezes, perhaps eating ribs or seafood after a day snorkeling on a reef. We're going to spend time in two places I love: Georgia and the Florida Keys.

We'll drive down the Appalachians, spend a night in Knoxville, then see Rock City and Chickamauga, and stay the next night high atop Atlanta in the Westin Peachtree (last time, our room was on the 89th floor). Then poke around Macon and Milledgeville (I want to see Flannery O'Conner's home), and head on down to Florida.

In the Keys, we'll kick back. When I say "the Keys," I don't mean Key West. Don't get me wrong, I love Key West, and we'll probably spend a day there, especially at Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum. But if you've only been to Key West, and you think you've seen the Keys, well, that's like going to Las Vegas and thinking you've seen "the West," or going only to Boston and believing you've been in "New England."

I like the Middle Keys, the redneck Keys. Still loose and edgy, for an American district, but grounded, local, full of character and characters. Jimmy Buffett's bar may be in Key West, but I doubt that's where he hangs it. I hate to publicize the places I like best, because they thrive on being basically undiscovered by the kind of people who kill local culture by enjoying it to death. (That's a sucky attitude, I know, but I live among the Amish, so forgive me.) But I will show you one of them, the Hungry Tarpon.

That's Luke posing outside the place when we went down in the summer of 2002. This is one of the cheap, good, totally local places, and it was my favorite spot to eat in the Keys, though we never made it to their famed "grits 'n' grunts" seafood breakfast for early-rising fishermen. The Hungry Tarpon (official address "somewhere on A1A;" the only hint I'll give you is that it's basically under a bridge abutment) is an old-time diner shack, with a few tables but mostly counter seating. It has year-round Christmas lights, and the grill is right across the counter, so you watch your food cooking. The bulk of the space above it is taken up by aluminum ventilation shafts. They're plastered over with bumper stickers. "Women: Can't Live Without 'em, Can't Shoot 'em," "Husbands Are Proof That Women Can Take a Joke," "Don't Steal, the Government Hates Competition," You Gotta Be Tough if You're Gonna Be Stupid." People who work as waitresses or cooks in other places in town come in to eat. That's a good sign.

You can't get a bad seafood meal in the Keys. Go into a clapboard crab shack and order a plastic basket full of fish fingers, and you find they're made from sushi-grade yellowtail.

We'll come home via Savannah and spend a day there. It's been half ruined by that friggin' book, but I hope the tourist excesses will have died down since we were last there, two years ago.

I had to fill out a school form to take Luke out of eighth grade for a couple of weeks, and I had to show how this trip was for educational purposes. Really, that's not difficult if you've got a flair for creativity. For instance, if we were going to Disney World, which none of us has had any desire to do, I could write, "visiting central Florida to study rodent habitats."

But even when it's legitimately educational (as this will be, in places), the nature of learning is slippery. Last time we went south, we climbed Kennesaw Mountain to learn about the Civil War battle. And we did learn about it, but on the paths up, Luke saw and captured kinds of skinks and lizards we'd never seen before and his most vivid memories of the battlefield are zoological, not historical.

Deprogramming Terrorists

Hamoud Abdulhamid al-Hitar has gotten some media coverage in the U.S. from time to time, but not in any large way, as far as I can tell. When you Google his last name, the search page asks you if you meant to type "Hitler." I definitely did not.

Al-Hitar is a supreme court judge and human rights proponent in Yemen. He's taken the lead in a fascinating project to eliminate terrorists -- by talking them out of it.

He heads up the government-sponsored Theological Dialogue Committee, which takes imprisoned jihadis who have been to Afghanistan to fight the Great Satan and talks them back down to earth using the same Quranic language that got them into Osama's clutches in the first place.

"Most of them had learnt the Quran by heart and were quite knowledgeable in Islamic rules, but they misuse them,” Hitar said. So he as assembled a committee of clerics, who know the Quran as well as the Islamists, and better.

They take their subject out of prison settings, to a more neutral place. And they understand that many of them are poor boys, deeply religious but illiterate, who have been fed half-baked theology out of vicious minds.

It becomes an old-fashioned theological slam, a contest of learning and wisdom and skill that Thomas Aquinas would relish. "If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle," al-Hitar tells the militants. "But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence."

And the debate is on. Al-Hitar claims a 90 percent success rate. His clerics have talked to more than 300 suspects who subsequently were freed after convincing the committee they had given up violent ways. Al-Hitar describes it like this: "It's similar to the work of a doctor. We diagnose and we treat it.”

The committee members find themselves talking to militants about the true concept of Jihad, the need to respect the rights of non-Muslims in a Muslim country and renouncing violent ways. Hitar says their arguments are based on the Quran.

It's difficult to tell, from my distance, whether this is a rubber-stamp parole board, or whether these converts stay clear of al-Qaida in the long run. But the process is intriguing enough that, apparently, some branches of the U.S. military, as well as sources in France, have sought to learn more about it.

"Yemen's strategy has been unconventional certainly, but it has achieved results that we could never have hoped for," says one European diplomat, who did not want to be named. "Yemen has gone from being a potential enemy to becoming an indispensable ally in the war on terror."

Recently the Christian Science Monitor gave him a look, and a positive review. I have seen his work, via this article, noted approvingly on some Western Muslim and anti-Bush sites. But there's no reason that supporters of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan and Iraq shouldn't applaud this, too, if it's working. We want to end the menace of religious fundamentalist terrorist killers. Very well. Killing them is one way. Sowing democracy is another. Theological debates may be yet another.

Hasta la Vista, Europa

I was looking for this online when it first appeared in print.

The adage goes that the European Union counts on a more sophisticated and nuanced "soft power." In reality, that translates to using transnational organizations and its own economic clout to soothe or buy off potential adversaries, while a formidable cultural engine dresses it all up in high sounding platitudes of internationalism and multilateralism. Everything from idly watching Milosevic and the Hutus butcher unchecked to unilateral intervention in the Ivory Coast or no action in Darfur usually finds either the proper humanitarian exegesis or the culpable American bogeyman. Yet contrary to the mythologies of Michael Moore and the high talk of Kyoto, most of the international sins of the recent age--selling a reactor to Saddam, setting up a new arms market in China, whitewashing Hezbollah, or subsidizing Hamas--were the work of European avatars of peace.

Victor Davis Hanson on "Soft Power, Hard Truths: America cannot long be partners with a weak and self-righteous Europe."

Another "Left Behind" Case

Cinnamon Stillwell (yes, it's a hippie name; she addresses that) explains how she found herself rejecting her own leftish upbringing.

So, what happened to change all that? In a nutshell, 9/11. The terrorist attacks on this country were not only an act of war but also a crime against humanity. It seemed glaringly obvious to me at the time, and it still does today. But the reaction of my former comrades on the left bespoke a different perspective. The day after the attacks, I dragged myself into work, still in a state of shock, and the first thing I heard was one of my co-workers bellowing triumphantly, "Bush got his war!" There was little sympathy for the victims of this horrific attack, only an irrational hatred for their own country.

As I spent months grieving the losses, others around me wrapped themselves in the comfortable shell of cynicism and acted as if nothing had changed. I soon began to recognize in them an inability to view America or its people as victims, born of years of indoctrination in which we were always presented as the bad guys.

[Hat tip Solomonia]

I've got it hard enough -- I'm in the media. But she's in the media in San Francisco. Get that woman a flak jacket.

Someone should collect these stories. I've seen them published on the Web from time to time. I've grappled with my own attempts to explain this "9/11 Republican" phenomenon. The current status of it is here. Basically, I don't think I've shifted ground at all. 9/11 galvanized my political awareness. But I have the same values. The left changed, not me.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Quote of the Day

The quote of the Day -- literally -- comes from Stockwell Day, foreign affairs critic of the Canadian Conservative Party, in this AP story about Prime Minister Paul Martin's insistence that Canada has the right to control the U.S. missile defense program, even though it won't participate in it.

Stockwell Day "laughed off" Martin's demand that Washington alert Ottawa before taking out an incoming missile.

"These missiles are coming in at 4 kilometers ( 2.5 miles) a second, and if the president calls the 1-800 line and gets: `Press 1 if you want English, press 2 if you want French, press 0 if nobody's there ...' I mean, it's crazy."

While I'm sympathetic to Canada's plight -- if anything comes at us over the top, and we knock it down, it's going to land in Canada -- a little less anti-American posturing for the sake of the home crowd might have left Martin in a better position than this.

Condi in '08

First the boots, and now this.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has put off plans to visit Egypt, where the jailing of an opposition politician has raised deep U.S. concerns, U.S. officials said on Friday.

Excellent! This sort of disapproval used to be expressed quietly, diplomatically. Now it's time to do it out in the open. Let the world see, let the people see, let the dictators see and take note. The old days are gone.

Another one!

Look at this. Look at the right hand. It's huge! Now, what could account for a man's hand being so overdeveloped like that? Unless it ... oh. Never mind.

Wikipedia Weirdness

In doing some research on Google, I came across the Wikipedia entry for Cantor Fitzgerald, which ... well, I'll just give you the thing in its entirety:

Cantor Fitzgerald Securities is an investment bank specializing in bond trading. It owns the eSpeed network.

Its New York office, on the 101st-105th floors of One World Trade Center, lost 685 employees in the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack, considerably more than any other employer, including the FDNY. This was about 2/3 of its employees.

eSpeed had sponsored the U.S. Naval War College "NewRuleSets" research program, which used the two towers of the World Trade Center with a lightning bolt through them as its logo. It had been known since an earlier attack on the WTC in 1993 (the World Trade Center bombing) that it was a major target of asymmetric warfare and terrorism.

Sez who? But that's always the question with Wikipedia.

Here's what Cantor's own Web site says about eSpeed:

In 1999, Cantor announced its intentions to migrate the company's robust inter-dealer and voice brokering global fixed income business to the eSpeed electronic trading platform. In December of 1999, eSpeed became a publicly traded, and separately run, business in its own right.

Seems like a straight-up business venture. A faster way to make trades. I found a bit about NewRuleSets here:

The NewRuleSets.Project was a multi-year research effort designed to explore how globalization and the rise of the New Economy are altering the basic “rules of the road” in the international security environment, with special reference to how these changes may redefine the U.S. Navy’s historic role as security enabler of America’s commercial network ties with the world. The project was hosted by the online securities broker-dealer firm, eSpeed (an affiliate of Cantor Fitzgerald LP), and involved personnel from the Decision Strategies Department of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies. Adm. William Flanagan, USN (Ret.), and Philip Ginsberg of Cantor Fitzgerald (then-senior managing director and executive vice president, respectively) served as informal advisers to the project, actively participating in all planning and design. The joint Wall Street-Naval War College workshops in the series involved energy, environmental issues and foreign direct investment in Asia.

And here. It was a once-and-done attempt to learn something to refine the U.S. Navy's role (inherited from the British Navy of old) of policing the high seas and passively protecting international commerce. It was an instance of the military asking a business to help it do a better job of protecting the global economy.

It certainly doesn't seem to rate its dominant position in the Wikipedia entry on this company. Read this, and all you know is 1. they did something in conjunction with the U.S. military; 2. they got hit hard on 9-11.

Yet by clumsy innuendo, the writer of the Wikipedia entry (which is reproduced almost verbatim at some radical sites) suggests the reader connect the dots and make CF part of some shadowy U.S. military cabal, that knew it was a target of terrorists (and, perhaps, deserved to be?).

It all looks like a lot of conspiracy theory hoo-ha. Perhaps someone will step out from the Wikipedia shadows and be brave enough to go the next step and say Osama knew all about this, or that the death pilots were aiming for certain floors of the building because they knew who worked there. Anyone, anyone? Ward?

UPDATE: Conspiracy theories have a place, and they may even have a place in a Wikipedia. But this seems a curiously incomplete full entry for a major company that has been around since 1945.

Big Eichmann

I want to show you how little Ward Churchill knows about Adolph Eichmann.

His ignorance is revealed in the now-notorious essay (see quote in previous post), and in an AP interview he gave after the storm broke. There, Churchill said he did not mean to say the World Trade Center "technocrats" were Nazis but were, like Eichmann, bureaucrats who participated in an immoral system: "He did not necessarily agree with the goals of the Nazis with regard to the Jews, but he performed his functions brilliantly."

Eichmann was not a civilian, "of a sort." He served as an SS corporal at Dachau concentration camp. He wanted something more exciting, so he took a job in Heydrich's SD, the powerful SS security service. Eventually he held the rank of lieutenant colonel (Obersturmbannführer).

Eichmann was not "ignorant." He was assigned to the Jewish section, which collected information on prominent Jews. He immersed himself in the job, studied Jewish culture, attended Jewish events, visited ghettos, and even learned to read some Hebrew and speak Yiddish.

Eichmann was not some passive participant in someone else's system. He designed the systems and ran them. After the Nazis annexed Austria, Eichmann was sent to Vienna where he set up the Central Office for Jewish Emigration. Its sole purpose was to allow wealthy Jews to leave the country, in exchange for all their wealth. It became the model for such offices in the Reich before the war.

In 1939, he was called back to Berlin and put in charge of a special Gestapo section with the mission of implementing Nazi policies toward Jews. This was his job for the remainder of the war.

As the Germans rolled up victories over Poland and in the USSR, they became rulers of millions of Jews. Eichmann was told, so he testified, that they were to be exterminated. He went to work with a will.

The desultory massacres by firing squad and mass burning had killed tens of thousands. By experiment, he evolved an efficient system of genocide -- a word invented to describe what Eichmann created -- that killed millions.

In January 1942 Eichmann helped Heydrich organize the Wannsee Conference in Berlin during which Heydrich and Eichmann along with 15 Nazi bureaucrats planned the extermination of the entire Jewish population of Europe and the Soviet Union, estimated at 11 million persons.

He wasn't a cog in the machine. He was the engine.

Auschwitz was not something he was "ignorant" of, either. It was his pet project. He visited there many times, and helped select the site for the gas chambers. He approved the use of Zyklon-B, and he witnessed it at work.

In March 1944, when the Hungarian Jewish population (725,000) fell under German control, Eichmann rolled up his sleeves and went to work harder than ever. By mid May, he was moving them to Auschwitz. Again, Eichmann personally oversaw and the extermination process at Auschwitz.

If Churchill has any evidence that Eichmann "did not necessarily agree with" the goals of the Nazis, I'd like to know what it is. By the end of 1944, the Allies were closing in, and some of the top Nazis began to have second thoughts about how all this was going to look after the fall of the Reich. Himmler ordered Eichmann to stop deportations. Eichmann ignored this and had another 50,000 Hungarian Jews rounded up and forced on an eight-day death march to Austria.

Let that soak in. Himmler -- Himmler! -- told him to stop killing Jews. Ordered him to stop. And he kept right on, pushing dying women and children at gunpoint into the snows and mountains, to wear them to death.

You could say a lot of things about someone who does that. "Did not necessarily agree with" is not one that comes readily to mind.

Eichmann did not work in a steel and glass tower, "out of sight, mind and smelling distance" from the stench of death. Eichmann visited the east to see this at work. He watched a mass killing in Minsk, and saw the results of one in Lvov. During his trial after the war, Eichmann described the scene. The execution ditch had been covered over with dirt, but blood was gushing out of the ground "like a geyser" due to pressure from the bodily gasses of the dead.

Eichmann knew exactly what he was doing, knew the results of his actions and policies. He thought he was doing good for the world. There was no ideology gap between his view of things and Hitler's. He woke up every day from 1941 to 1945 and thought about how to be more effective at creating piles of corpses.

So how are those dead WTC employees like him?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Another Idiot, and a Question for Ward

Here's another letter to our editor. This one I got into print.

I rise to the defense of Dr. Ward Churchill both in content and for his First Amendment rights. First of all those comments were made more than three years ago. Secondly, it is sad that we can not have a civil debate in this society. President Bush and his people of his ilk name call to a degree that would really impress even my middle school students. If you don't agree with them and their fascist agenda (directed toward their policies not them) you are called a name. Liberal, un-American, traitor, or whacko.

Delicious. First, is the fact that Churchill wrote this execrable nonsense three years ago part of your defense, or not? If so, how? If not, why bring it up?

Second, I just love the fact that you think we can't have civil debate because people who don't agree with you call you names -- and that you respond by calling them promoters of fascism, liars, anti-intellectuals, and comparing them directly to Hitler (that's coming later).

But of course, when you do it, it's not name-calling. It's "speaking truth to power" or some such noble claptrap. If you'll permit me a name-sling, you, sir are a hypocrite.

Third, I am praying to the gods that "your" middle school students are your children, and you're not actually a school teacher. But I have a bad feeling my prayer is in vain.

It sounds like the old adage, Me thinks thou doth protest to much.

Does his comments
[sic] hit too close to the truth? Many businesses located in the World Trade Center were engaged in the suppression of humanity with their fiscal and monetary policies. This is not a great revelation, why do you think it was targeted? The real tragedy is that it was the average, ordinary, common man who was simply trying to earn a living that had paid the ultimate price for America's obsession with money and power, not the architects of this New World Order.

Ah, an actual defense of Churchill, or an attempt. Let's revisit the offending essay, and see what it says about that.

There is simply no argument to be made that the Pentagon personnel killed on September 11 fill that bill. The building and those inside comprised military targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World Trade Center ...

Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it.

Churchill has since tried to weasel out of his characterization by saying the Nazi reference, "was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by killed in the 911 attack." But he makes no such distinction in his essay. His prose wrath homes in on the ones with the educations and the cell phones. But he makes no explicit exceptions. He's talking about the whole building. They got what they deserved.

But now that he wants to make distinctions, let's see him do it. Here's a list of Sept. 11 victims. Please tell us which ones you think were "Little Eichmanns." For instance, is this one? Or was this one? Really, Ward, how do you tell who is a "Little Eichmann" and who isn't? Especially when Churchill's essay explicitly rules out "ignorance" as an excuse.

The letter-writer suggests guilt is based on whether you worked for a business that was "engaged in the suppression of humanity" with its "fiscal and monetary policies." He seems to think these persons woke up in the morning and hit the alarm clock and said, "Now how can I best suppress humanity today?"

Churchill isn't that stupid. He knows they went to the office to make money, like everybody else, and probably believed they were doing essentially good work. But they lacked his Chomskyite view of the world, where all capitalism is mere death-dealing for profit. That was their crime, in his eyes. Refusal to buy into his kook-world is culpability.

But the janitors and firemen didn't buy into it, either. So why distinguish, as Churchill now attempts to do, the bond traders from, say, the immigrant telephone repair worker who allows him to make the bond deals? Or the cleaning crew that keeps his office functional?

Nobody is innocent, if he's right. We're all "Little Eichmanns." Churchill at times seems to inhabit some sort of fuzzy-headed hippie worldview, where high finance is the realm of a handful of yuppie plutocrats. Welcome to the present, Ward. In the barbershop in the corner of my block, the old men talk about their stock market shares. The Port Authority cop who plays the stock market on his home computer. Was he a Little Eichmann? The little old lady on Flight 93 with her pension money in an investment fund handled from within the WTC. Is she a Little Eichmann?

Hmmmm, what about the kids who attend your classes, whose parents pay for them with investment dividends. They pay your salary, Ward. Guess who else is a Little Eichmann? [To his credit, Churchill admited his complicity along these lines after the old essay blew up in his face. What kind of "penalty" he thinks he deserves, he does not say, however.]

Too bad he's not as firm in his convictions now as he was when he was obscure.

* * *

The letter rants on and on, none of it about Churchill anymore, but I'll spare you the rest.

Spot the Idiot 3

They let me do letters to the editor page today. They shouldn't do that.

If it isn’t a bad dream (I’ve pinched myself long, long since black and blue) and it isn’t a bad joke (potted plant picked prom king...), why, why does America wish for President one clearly to my and many more eyes and years - including I should think those of no few if not most of his supporters - inferior to the role? [re Toles cartoon, 2-11]

Step back, please. Step back! Do not cross the police line! Do not attempt to approach this sentence. Wounded prose is very dangerous.

Remain calm. A team of academics from Tufts is due to arrive any minute by helicopter, and it will attempt to extract the subject and the predicate. Sadly, the chance of survival of either is less than 50 percent.

A most mystifying not to say disillusioning and depressing phenomenon: I can’t change channels fast enough at his face or voice, avoiding as I do reminder this is America’s idea of a leader - freely chosen by the planet’s preeminent democracy the sort of thing once upon a time people were stuck with under a hereditary monarchy. An abysmal business one must, shudderingly, sighfully, abide four more years.

Translation: Every time George W. Bush appears, I literally tune him out. Nonetheless, I know everything about what he thinks, says, and does, and I'm going to waste your time telling you about it, in my lugubrious way.

I’ve yet to encounter in periodical anything save snidely, glancingly addressing this question; one I can’t believe journalists deem insignificant. I’ve never heard surmised, of investigation, much less actually why, with all of the capable men and women available (including certainly within the Republican Party), seemingly intelligent, educated people line up for this boy, virtual boy - uncouth, inarticulate, know-nothing - in preference. The shoulder-shaking chuckle, is that irresistibly it, why? (I must say I also wonder why this sort of questioning of mine is, I daresay, suppressed: I’ve several times the past four years written periodicals, as here, in this vein, all vainly, not word one run.)

TRANSL: Why isn't the rest of America as smart as me? Why doesn't the press ask America why it isn't as smart as me? I write to newspapers all the time and they never publish me. Maybe it's because I write like Barbara Cartland on crack? No, no, it must be the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy crushing my dissent.

As I currently lack the heart to follow politics (it no longer seems adult fare; will not sit for the taking, treating seriously (save symptomatically) such a (hem) President), the sole thing I look for from the present occupant of the Oval Office is a reinvigoration of education in this country, that his like shant happen again.

Unfortunately, I didn't have room in my layout to get that one in.


Today's must-read is this Sebastian Faulks review of "Shakespeare Goes to Paris: How the Bard Conquered France," by John Pemble.

It turns out, "The French were so appalled by the vulgarity of Shakespeare’s plays that it took them 300 years to come near to an accurate translation." On reflection, that's hardly surprising. Not only was the language coarse and direct, Shakespeare didn't follow the classical "rules" of drama that guided everything that set foot on a French stage.

The French tried to snub him into oblivion, but eventually they had to face the rough music:

Then came this Englishman — a Caliban from the island of fog and bad food, whose pious and practical people enjoyed violent entertainments and bouts of introspection punctuated by sea voyages to plunder other countries. It was not until the mid-18th century that the intellectual rise of Anglo-Saxon power, following Newton and Locke, obliged France to formulate a proper response to the menace Shakespeare posed. Voltaire, who did so much to bring England to the French, is the key figure in this story, and he went to his grave believing Shakespeare had offered “a few pearls in an enormous dungheap”. He hated the pantomime that accompanied performance, the blank verse with emotion surging through the enjambement, the common characters, and the language where metaphor and association seem to breed without control.

French verse was the domain of the cultured -- no groundlings allowed. When they finally rendered Shakespeare into French, the results would have made Bowdler howl in objection. Ninteenth-century translators made wholesale plot changes. "The ghost of Hamlet’s father returned in the final scene and told him to survive; Malcolm took republican vows; Romeo and Juliet lived happily ever after."

The language suffered no less:

Lear’s sky became a “firmament”; a horse was a “coursier” and Hamlet’s “How now, a rat?” behind the arras, became “Comment, un voleur?” As late as 1904, when King Lear was staged for the first time in Paris, Kent’s lines at the height of the storm, “The tyranny of the open night’s too rough / For nature to endure” became “Il n’est pas possible de rester plus longtemps dehors.”

As usual, Faulks is half the fun:

This reminded me of the hours I spent in Left-bank cinemas as a student learning French by reading the subtitles of English films. My brother claims to have seen a western in which the trail-weary cowboy’s first line on entering the saloon — “Gimme a shot of red eye” — was translated as “Un Dubonnet, s’il vous plaît.”


This "Foreign Affairs" article says "overstretched" is overrated.

Would-be Cassandras have been predicting the imminent downfall of the American imperium ever since its inception. First came Sputnik and "the missile gap," followed by Vietnam, Soviet nuclear parity, and the Japanese economic challenge -- a cascade of decline encapsulated by Yale historian Paul Kennedy's 1987 "overstretch" thesis.

But as it turns out, even our debt isn't likely to sink us.


Barcepundit links to this hilarious account of Zapatero's attempt to be -- I don't know what: Important? Conciliatory? Relevant? Make It Look Like the Warmonger Fascist Americans Came Crawling To Spain For Forgiveness?

Zapatero said he was anti-Bush, the complete opposite of former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. But ever since his election, Zapatero has spent much of his time shadowing Bush and attempting to shake his hand. On Wednesday, he was waiting in the shadows, and made his move when Bush was talking to Tony Blair. Bush, who I suspect didn't really know who Zapatero was said “hola amigo” and continued talking to Blair. Meanwhile, Zapatero walked off smiling away like a child with a new pair of shoes. The exchange was so brief Spanish newspapers had a nightmare trying to find a photograph of the “great meeting.” To make matters worse a Spanish government spokesperson said that Bush and Zapatero had a “cordial exchange.” (They forget to mention it lasted about two seconds.) Even more laughable was the “meeting” Spanish Foreign Secretary Moratinos had with U.S. Secretary of State Rice. He literally rushed over to her in a passageway and then later claimed he had a summit meeting.

[...] If Zapatero got an invitation to the White House, he would probably frame the invitation card!

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Laws and Walls

E-mail debate with a German friend:

(Let me first mention that "Freiheit und Demokratie" and "freedom and democracy" are used at equivalent translations everywhere -- while they are not.)

No, of course not. They are words on the edge of being so loaded with different meanings for different people that they lose all meaning. But not yet. They still mean something. And you can throw in a third bloated word -- liberty -- which means yet a third important thing.

A people's governance is essentially in its own hands. People have the power to change governments, not the other way around. I call that "democracy." If you want to find out if a word has any meaning or not, try to find its opposite. If you can't find it, the meaning is gone. The opposite of "democracy" is "autocracy."

It doesn't much matter whether the economic system is capitalist or socialist, or whether it is a federal system or a town meeting or a parliamentary democracy. There's an essential quality we're talking about.

Ask the Afghans. Ask the Iraqis. Ask the Ukrainians.

Let me pass on a very interesting comment I heard yesterday on tv. It went along the lines of: Bush spricht immer von Demokratie und Freiheit. Aber er meidet den Begriff Rechtsstaatlichkeit wie der Teufel das Weihwasser.

Rechtsstaatlichkeit - A mediocre translation of that would be "rule of law", like "Rechtsstaat" can be translated as "constitutional state".

Very well. Iraq under Saddam had a constitution. Iraq under Saddam had a rule of law. Saddam followed the laws he wrote. He won the elections he set up. All was done according to law. I remember a story from an Iraqi blogger I read: Saddam used to take triumphal tours of the cities he ruled, to receive his adoring (and terrified) public. One day, he seemed in a particularly jovial mood, and a citizen dared to approach him with some personal grievance -- a property dispute or something like that.

It was a bold move; the man literally took his life in his hands. But he had read the tyrant's mood correctly, and Saddam was disposed to grant his request. Saddam turned to one of his lackeys, pointed to his supplicant, and said, "Sabaa, write a law for him!"

But the German word is more comprehensive. "Recht" means "right" and "justice" too. (so, e.g., in a way Rechtsstaatlichket means "just rule" too).

Who determines what rule is just? The Saddams of the world? Or the people?

Your typical European will turn away from the hard question, but answer with, "not American bombs!" As though that's all we have been doing these three years. You see the weeds and thistles cleared away, and think, "how violent." You don't stick around to see the soil tilled and planted, and the flowers and fruits begin to grow.

A lot of what is carried in the term "freedom and democracy" for you Americans is carried in the term "rule of law" for us Germans.

That's because you already have it. It was an outgrowth of your national past. It was not the only possible outcome for Germany. You got there by a hard road, in which many German people sacrificed everything.

(you Americans, as always, focus on opportunities, on the opportunity to participate -- we Germans focus on the result, on getting a share)

One of the peculiarities of this American administration is that it wraps up free market economics into democracy and freedom. I don't think that's always a mistake, but I do think it's taken to excess in the White House's thinking. Perhaps a Swedish economic model wouild work better for Iraq than an American one. Hell, it probably would work better for Iraq than it does in Sweden, since Iraq has a vast, and youthful work force.

"Freiheit und Demokratie" on the other hand has more and more become an US slogan, used seemingly arbitrarily.

More and more? I'd say less and less. In the '80s, we talked the same way, and had a sad tendency to support dictators in the Phillipines, South Korea, Latin America. Arbitrary? Ask the Afghans. Ask the Iraqis. I'd say we're finally living up to our rhetoric. Don't you recognize what's starting to happen in the Middle East? Look at Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Saudi Arabia.

News quiz: Who said this this week?

"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

But the Germans, who ought to know better than anyone, can't.

The answer to "Who Said That" is Walid Jumblatt, the patriarch of the Druze Muslim community and, until recently, a man who accommodated Syria's occupation.

P.S.: Nice to know we still have about 100 friends over there.

P.P.S.: Even "Der Spiegel" is willing to think the unthinkable:

"President Ronald Reagan's visit to Berlin in 1987 was, in many respects, very similar to President George W. Bush's visit to Mainz on Wednesday. Like Bush's visit, Reagan's trip was likewise accompanied by unprecedented security precautions. A handpicked crowd cheered Reagan in front of the Brandenburg Gate while large parts of the Berlin subway system were shut down. And the Germany Reagan was traveling in, much like today's Germany, was very skeptical of the American president and his foreign policy. When Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate -- and the Berlin Wall -- and demanded that Gorbachev "tear down this Wall," he was lampooned the next day on the editorial pages. He is a dreamer, wrote commentators. Realpolitik looks different.

But history has shown that it wasn't Reagan who was the dreamer as he voiced his demand. Rather, it was German politicians who were lacking in imagination -- a group who in 1987 couldn't imagine that there might be an alternative to a divided Germany. Those who spoke of reunification were labelled as nationalists and the entire German left was completely uninterested in a unified Germany. ...

When the voter turnout in Iraq recently exceeded that of many Western nations, the chorus of critique from Iraq alarmists was, at least for a couple of days, quieted. Just as quiet as the chorus of Germany experts on the night of Nov. 9, 1989 when the Wall fell."

Carnival of the Etymologies

[A regular Thursday feature of "Done With Mirrors"]

Today's list of words to be dissected was dragged, writhing and begging for mercy, from phrases that appeared in the Google "Zeitgeist" and the top 50 searches on Lycos for the week ending Feb. 19.

Hunter S. Thompson is dead. His obituaries describe him as the "Father of gonzo journalism," and labor to explain what exactly that is. Some writers correctly connect his professional lineage with Truman Capote and Mark Twain. His style is not as original as the word itself -- gonzo -- which seems to have entered printed English in 1971 in his writings. The most likely origin is Italian gonzo "simpleton, blockhead." But Thompson apparently didn't draw it directly from that source. Thompson in 1972 said he got the word from editor Bill Cardosa, and he explained it as "some Boston word for 'weird, bizarre.'"

* * *

President Bush broke bread with Europe this week. He spent yesterday in Germany. Ever wonder why it's called Germany in English, Allemagne in French, and Deutschland in German? If you guessed I'm about to tell you why, pat yourself on the back.

To keep it short, the Germans got different names back when they were a set of tribes, not a nation. The peoples who had the bad fortune to have turf that backed up to the wild woods where the warlike Germans lived typically took the name of the tribe nearest them and cast it generally over the whole bunch. For instance, the Finns and Estonians seem to take their words for "Germany" (Saksa and Saksamaa respectively) from the tribe-name Saxon, which was the designation of the tribe at the eastern end of the German land.

The English word German comes from Latin Germanus. Julius Caesar was the first Roman we know of to call them that. Probably it had been the name of an individual tribe, and linguists think Caesar got it from the Gauls, though they disagree over what Gaulish word is at the root of it. The two candidates mean, respectively "noisy" (perhaps in reference to battle cries; compare Old Irish garim "to shout") or "neighbor" (Old Irish gair "neighbor").

Or you could split the difference and say the Germans were the noisy neighbors.

German as a people-name is farily recent in English; it only was used from the 16th century. The earlier English word for them was Almain or Dutch.

The first obviously is a cousin of French Allemagne. It comes from Alemanni, the name of a Suebic tribe or confederation that settled in Alsace and part of Switzerland. Since they lived in the region abutting France, the Franks naturally took this tribe's name as the generic Germanic-speaking people name (and passed it along to early English).

Alemanni could mean "all-man," in which case it would denote a wide alliance of tribes. But perhaps it means "alien men" instead; Allobroges was the (Latin) name of a Celtic tribe in what is now Savoy, literally "the aliens," in reference to their having driven out the original inhabitants.

The French word spawned Spanish Alemania and Portuguese Alemanha, also Turkish Almanya, Arabic Almānīya, which is not surprising considering French influence in the Ottoman court, but also, curiously, Welsh yr Almaen, perhaps an early borrowing from the older English word.

Dutch, though now restructed in English to inhabitants of the Netherlands (and certain Pennsylvania ethnic groups) is closest to the modern word the Germans use to describe themselves.

Dutch was used in English from the 14th century in reference to Germans generally (before the Netherlands and Germany were separate nations). From about 1600, it began to be restricted to Hollanders, after the Netherlands became a united, independent state and the focus of English attention and rivalry. In Holland, however, duitsch is used of the people of Germany.

The English probably got the word from the Dutch themselves, though once upon a time, there was an Anglo-Saxon equivalent of it, þeodisc (pronounced "theodish") But this was not a nation-name. Rather it was (like Old High German duit-isc, the ancestor of modern German Deutsch) an adjective that meant "belonging to the people."

It was used especially of the common language of Germanic people. In the lands that became Germany and Holland, the sense was extended from the language to the people who spoke it. In Germany, Diutisklant, ancestor of Deutschland, was in use by the 13th century.

And yes, Tolkien, who was a professor of Anglo-Saxon, used it to form the name of Theoden, king of Rohan, in Lord of the Rings.

To take it back further, the root of it is þeod "people, race, nation," from the ancient Indo-European root word *teuta- "people." This prehistoric form, going back thousands of years, also survived in Celtic, as Irish tuath.

It has another relic as well. Roman writers also used Teutoni as a German tribal name, originally as the name of a tribe that inhabited coastal Germany and devastated Gaul 113-101 B.C.E. Latin writers after about the 8th century commonly refer to the entire German language as teutonicus. Evidently this was a Latinization of duit-isc.

Actually, the first recorded Latin use of theodice is from 786 C.E., in correspondence between Charlemagne's court and the Pope, in reference to a synodical conference in Mercia; thus it refers to Old English. Before the Norman conquest, English, too, was "Dutch."

The broader, Middle English sense of Dutch survives in Pennsylvania Dutch, the local name for the communities (including the Amish and Mennonite sects) who immigrated to America from the Rhineland and Switzerland.

The Roman form Teutonic had a revival in modern English as an anthropology term to avoid the modern political association of German. To call a modern German a Teuton is not an ancient idiom, but a modern, faintly jocluar one, dating only from the 1830s.

Confusingly, French uses germanique and German uses germanisch in this anthropoligical sense, since neither uses its form of German for the narrower national meaning.

If the Germans defined themselves by their languages so, negatively, did at least one of their neighbors.

The Slavic word for Germany is represented by Czech Německo, Polish Niemcy, Slovak Nemecko (also borrowed into non-Slavic Hungarian as Németország). It is the opposite of the Slavs' ancient word for themselves -- Sloveninu, which probably meant literally "one who speaks the language" (related to slovo "word, speech"). Defining themselves as members of a speech community, the Slavs defined their neighbors who could not understand them, or be understood by them, as "the non-speakers." The Slavic word for "German" is thus related to Slavic nemu "dumb."

* * *

"Bush to Press Putin on Democracy in Russia," the headline reads.

What is this democracy of which he speaks? The case is a curious one: the American pitching an idea, and a word, to the very nations that taught it to us. Democracy first appears in English in 1574, from French, from Medieval Latin, and ultimately from Greek demokratia, which is a compound of demos "common people" (originally "district") and kratos "power, rule, strength" (which is from the same root as English hard).

* * *

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was a big event last week. Dog, however, (like cat) has murky origins. It turns up late in the Old English period, as docga, and by the 16th century it had driven into a narrow corner the original English word hund (modern English hound, now used mostly by foxhunters, though it is the general Germanic and Indo-European word, related to Greek kyon, Latin canis, etc.).

Docga seems originally to have referred to a powerful breed of canine. Once it became popular in English it was picked up in continental languages (French dogue, Danish dogge, etc.), but where the word came from, and what relatives, if any, it has in other languages, remain a mystery.

The common Spanish word for "dog," perro, also is a mystery word of unknown origin. Some linguists think it came from the ancient, and unrecorded, Celtic language of pre-Roman Iberia.

Bush spoke in Europe about his American mission to bring democracy to the Mideast. The protesters in the streets of Germany yesterday seem to regard the American president as fit only for a kennel. A great many people in positions of power seem to hope he's only bluffing when he talks. But as another ruler once said:

"Notwithstanding, as a dog hath a day, so may I perchance have time to declare it in deeds." [Queen Elizabeth, 1550]


"Perennial Philadelphians"

I made a dreadful mistake yesterday. I had to look something up, and I reached down Nathaniel Burt's "The Perennial Philadelphians" to find it. As soon as I cracked the cover the prose pulled me in again.

Here's a footnote in page 16:

"Dr. Kinsey, examining Philadelphia, said it was the last American stronghold of the established mistress, professional or amateur. Elsewhere either puritanism still held, divorce had caught up, or vice was casual. The apropos story is that of two old codgers in the window of the Union League, good friends but only as clubmates. Said one, "I'm so relieved to see my wife hasn't found me out yet; there she goes down Broad Street with my mistress." "Isn't that a coincidence," said the friend. "I was just going to say exactly the same thing."

There's nothing quite like it. Every paragraph of it has some distinct defect, but they're all the more charming for that, and the overall effect is utterly delightful, a prose both high and human at the same time, self-assured and self-depreciating -- which makes it an exact image of its topic. I open it at random and find this:

One of the best authenticated, most flagrant and recent examples of Philadelphia aplomb was the case of Mrs. Isaac Clothier and the burglar. For several years the Main Line has been enlivened by the raids of a man known as the 'Bandana Bandit.' Presumably once a butler, he robbed only the best people, seeming to know not only who they were, but where they cached the stuff. It was, in fact, a sort of painful honor to be robbed by him. The Clothiers' turn came when Mrs. Clothier was alone in the house and in bed. The bandit walked into her bedroom. She turned on the light, sat up and said, "Now, my dear man, you know I never keep any money in the house. There's nothing but those little things on my bureau my children gave me, they really wouldn't be worth your while. Why don't you just go downstairs and have a glass of milk?" He did, and left.

It's a book about somewhere. It could be read with pleasure by anyone who appreciates the remaining somewheres of the world, but I happen to know this particular somewhere. I was a young man amid the faded embers of Philadelphia society, which had dispersed in pockets of the Main Line and Germantown since the heyday (roughly 1890 to 1930) Burt chronicled in his book. I moved their furniture for them and ran errands for them and watched the horses at Devon and Radnor and had many a lunch in Merion Cricket Club. If I did not know Mrs. Isaac Clothier, I knew little old ladies, delicate and unbreakable in the same moment, who would have done exactly that.

The final Philadelphia touch is supplied to the [Philosophical] Society by something called the Wistar Parties, which involve food. They were instituted in 1787 by Dr. Caspar Wistar, he of wistaria. As president of the Society he used to ask members to his house ... every Sunday. There they regularly indulged in menus of deliberately rather restricted and simple nature. As Philosophers, they were supposed to be above anything beyond oysters and still wines. After Dr. Wistar's death the parties were continued in his memory by his Philadelphia friends. After 1842 the parties were conventionally restricted to members of the Society and their guests, and somewhere along the line sumptuary laws about food, almost Bostonian in their rigor, were codified to nip luxurious tendencies in the bud. The menus were to be limited to croquettes and oysters in one style, or oysters in two styles without croquettes, supported by one kind of salad, ices and fruits; only two kinds of wine permitted, sparkling wines strictly forbidden. The rules were occasionally breached by legally trained hosts, such as the man who served raw oysters, escalloped oysters and croquettes, arguing that raw oysters were in "no style."

The prose is so perilously close to precious, with its in-jokes and droll capitalizations, artfully side-stepping the dirty word "lawyer" in the last sentence, for instance, but he walks the wire with a smile, and like any good trick it makes you itch to give it a try. It is unsafe to touch a keyboard for two hours after reading this.


Check out this picture of Michael Jackson. Look at that hand! It's twice as long as his head. My co-worker Chris and I noticed this a couple of months ago in other pictures. Has anyone called attention to the fact that Michael Jackson, among other transmongrifications, now has Herman Munster's mitts?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Radio Killed the Video Star

Frank J. isn't waiting around for the media to start a conversation with bloggers. He's written his own questions. Here's my answers.


1. Who the hell do you think you are?

Don Quixote

2. So, other than blogging, what's your job? Do you work at some fast food joint, dumbass?

Actually, I'm a desk editor at a daily newspaper.

3. Do you have like any experience in journalism, idiot?

Only about 21 years worth, and a few awards in the closet somewhere. I hope that counts. There might be a White House press pass in there, too, but don't get any ideas.

4. Do you even read newspapers?

Too often. The reporting and writing in them generally makes me ill. That's why I blog. To right by night the wrongs my profession compounds by day.

5. Do you watch any other news than FOX News propaganda, you ignorant fool?

I don't have a TV hook-up. I think I saw Fox News once at a friend's house. It wasn't bad. But it's TV news. "TV news" is an oxymoron.

6. I bet you're some moron talk radio listener too, huh?

I heard Rush Limbaugh once, in the '80s, when he first came out. I listed for about 20 minutes. I haven't been back.

7. So, do you get a fax from the GOP each day for what to say, you @#$% Republican parrot?

No. But I have noticed that my co-workers at the newspaper have absorbed Michael Moore's innuendos so completely that they now regard them as proven facts, and often write headlines and editorials that proceed from that assumption. I try to correct that, without getting fired.

8. Why do you and your blogger friends want to silence and fire everyone who disagrees with you, fascist?

Actually, I'm too busy trying to avoid being fired from my media job for being a media type who blogs, and for breaking away from the herd mentality, and for criticizing "Fahrenheit 9/11." I don't have time to get other people fired.

9. Are you completely ignorant of other countries, or do you actually own a passport?

Oh, yes. Paris, Garmisch, and Venice are among of my favorite places. I've also been to more exotic foreign locales, like Key West.

10. Have you even been to another country, you dumb hick?

I was in Liechtenstein. I was even in East Germany. I was in countries that don't exist anymore. Top that.

11. If you're so keen on the war, why haven't you signed up, chickenhawk?

I looked into my local National Guard. At 44 and with a bad back, there wasn't much interest. They also serve who only stand and wait.

12. Do you have any idea of the horrors of war? Have you ever reached into a pile of goo that was your best friend's face?

Yes, but that Lebanese hash was reeeeealy intense, let me tell you.

13. Have you ever reached into any pile of goo?

Like I said, I read newspapers. I know from goo.

14. Once again, who the hell do you think you are?!

Don Corleone.

Read Their Eyes

I'm watching Bush's Europe trip, and I realize Mark Steyn's right. This isn't a new beginning. It's a farewell tour.

You won't see visits like this as often in the future. American presidents might make them once per term, that's it. Except for fly-ins to Davos or such places for special events.

The connection is broken. There's time for a little wistful nostalgia. Everyone's saying the nice words, but it's like the "I'm OK, you're OK talk" you have with someone after you've already broken up with them and you've divided up the books and the CDs and the car engine is running and you're saying good-bye for the last time.

Nothing's really changed since 2003. Europe still hates what we're doing in Iraq, and they are going to make sure the U.N. does nothing in Darfur just to prove they can. They're going to do nothing, just to prove, through some perverse logic, the importance of the U.N.

Europe knows it's on borrowed time. Swamped with immigrants, with an abyssmal birthrate and a declining workforce that can't sustain its expensive entitlement network, it will be gone in a century. It's a lame-duck continent working on legacy. And look what it has chosen.

Europe has aligned itself with the nations everyone knows are the future rivals on the United States -- China and Iran. Aligned itself with them to the point of arming them with sophisticated weapons systems that will be used to kill us.

Europe isn't trying to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Europe wants a nuclear-armed Iran. Europe is playing the pitiful role of a distraction, to keep the U.S. from doing anything substantive for as long as it takes the Mullahs to build their big bombs.

Europe wants China to threaten Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore. I can think of no good reason for that, other than to eventually get a lot of young Americans killed. [And a lot of Asians, but, of course, it's only the dead Americans that Europe likes to see on its TV screens. Schadenfreude.]

No amount of kissy-kissy feel-good talk can mask that.

Europe has chosen sides. It chose the other side. This isn't about Bush. I'm glad my son got to see a little of the old place before it becomes too uncomfortably hostile for an American to set foot there.

80 percent of Germans think it's a mistake to try to spread democracy and freedom in the world. Bush is wrong. We no longer believe in the same things. Bush probably knows that by now.

Slaves in the Attic

In Black History Month, I want to tell you a family story.

The ancestors who gave me my name hacked farmsteads from the Virginia pinelands when John Smith and Pocahontas still lived. They settled on the fingertip of Delmarva, and over the generations they worked their way up that sandy, flat neck of land, into what is now Dorchester County, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore. There, by the time of the Revolution, they owned large plantations of nearly 1,000 acres.

They acquired other things as well. Beauchampe Harper (his name was pronounced “Beecham” and occasionally spelled that way in old records) was my great-great-great-great-grandfather. He was born the same year as George Washington. If you open up the 1790 census, you'll see his name, and under "no. of slaves," the figure 7.

Beauchampe married twice and had eight children. Among them was William Smith "Col. Bill" Harper, a justice of the peace and a captain in the 11th Maryland Regiment in the War of 1812.

Beauchampe died in September 1795. He had valuable property, including land and slaves, and he had two families to distribute it among — his older children by his first wife, and his second wife, Ann, and some young children that probably were hers.

To Ann, Beauchampe left “my bed and furniture, one gray mare called Liberty, one mare colt called Spring, one cow and calf,” and “her choice of all that I have,” presumably from among the personal property that was not otherwise distributed in the will.

Col. Bill got “all my wearing apparel excepting one fine hat,” though who got the hat he never stipulated. Other children got various sums. The two youngest sons, Beauchampe and Edward, were the main beneficiaries. The family lands were to be rented out by his executors until Edward came of age (21), then the land was to be divided equally between the two boys.

The will also distributed the human property. “One negro boy called Jacob” was given to Beauchampe’s youngest daughter, Sarah, for life, although Jacob was to be set free if Sarah died. If Jacob died, Edward and Beauchampe Jr. were to give Sarah £10 a year for the rest of her life.

Beauchampe's other slaves were set free, though not at once. “One negro woman called Liddy, one negro man called David and one negro woman called Tagmar” were to be freed as of Jan. 1, 1799. A boy named Thomas was to be freed on Jan. 1, 1815; a boy named Stephen was set free as of Jan. 1, 1817; and a boy named Jonathan was to be set free on Jan. 1, 1820.

Probably this progression of emancipations followed the ages of the slaves; the older slaves would have been set free first, the younger ones as they reached a certain age, possibly 28, which was a common age for a slave to be set free.

Slavery everywhere in America was in decline. The cotton industry had not yet risen in the Deep South, and while the economics in favor of slavery were weak, the moral considerations against it weighed heavily. Manumissions rose sharply across the Upper South, though this fact seems to escape modern histories. The free black population of Maryland was 1,817 in 1755 and 8,000 in 1790. By 1800, it stood at nearly 20,000, and a decade later nearly a quarter of the state's black population was free.

Beauchampe's wife made some trouble about the will, but I have no evidence that the manumissions were not carried out according to Beauchampe's plan.

But when Col. Bill Harper tried something similar 40 years later, the results were tragically different. Bill and his wife, Nancy, lived in the old Harper Mansion, known up and down the Marshyhope Creek as “Red House.” The building stood in a bend of the river, and it was a well-known navigation landmark. When I went down there to do genealogical research in 1988, I found their gravestones, badly deteriorated but still readable, on the grounds of a state police barracks a mile south of Eldorado on the eastern bank of the river.

Having no children of his own, Col. Bill took the extraordinary step of leaving all his property to his slaves.

Bill owned no slaves in 1800 and 1810, according to the censuses of those years. He may have used hired hands or tenants to work his property. By 1820, however, he owned five slaves: a boy and two girls under age 14, and one man and one woman between 26 and 45. It is possible this group of slaves was a family. By 1830, Col. Bill owned nine slaves. In 1840, the year before his death, Col. Bill owned 10 slaves who took care of his house and worked his plantation. He had a boy and two girls under 10, two males and three females between 10 and 24, one man over 55 and one woman between 24 and 36.

When Col. Bill died, he directed that his slaves be freed and given certain grants of land. [One slave was not freed, however, and Col. Bill’s will reads, “I hereby give my colored boy, William, if he can be apprehended, to my good friend William Rea, and I hereby set aside $100.00 to be spent in apprehending him.”]

Among Col. Bill's slaves, Harper’s Henry was given a farm to live on. He married after receiving his freedom, and he bought his wife a sewing machine as a present. It was one of the first such devices on the entire Eastern Shore, but apparently Henry pledged his farm as surety for the machine, and somehow in the transaction he lost his land.

Harper's Pauline must have been a favorite, since she was given Red House in Col. Bill’s will. Pauline married Samuel, a slave owned by Benjamin Rhodes. Rhodes immediately claimed Pauline's land on the premise that what she owned belonged to her husband, and her husband belonged to Benjamin Rhodes. Shortly after this coup, Rhodes encountered Samuel in a store and taunted him over this maneuver. A fight broke out, and Samuel killed his master. He was hanged for the crime.

Richard Rhodes, Benjamin's brother, then claimed the Harper property. He immediately cropped the land (moved the crops off to his own farm, which stood nearby), then returned and took everything off the land, including Red House. His claim to the land was sketchy, so he acted on the assumption that the best way to get clear title to the improvements on the farm was to move them to his own property.

The land that Col. Bill willed to his other slaves likewise passed quickly into other hands.

Among Col. Bill's siblings, the younger Beauchampe seems to have abandoned, renounced, or sold his interest in the inheritance and gone to Ohio. His sister Sarah followed him, settling in Ross County, where the family became noted for anti-slavery activity. Edward sold his inheritance as soon as he hit 21, never saw the money, married poorly, took to drink, and lived in poverty.

One of his sons, William, went to live with his Ohio relatives, and apparently imbued their abolitionism. He settled in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where he married into the Quaker gentry and took part in Underground Railroad activities. But his connection with the Eastern Shore was broken clean. We have no pictures of them, no letters, not so much as a crested tarnished teaspoon.

My ancestors built up wealth, in part with their sweat, in part with the bought labor of African slaves. In a bid to free their human chattels and set things right, they lost everything. The next generation of Harpers started over, and we've been modest and middle-class, at best, ever since. Whose side were we on, in the saga of that old America, the one that blew apart in 1861 and never returned? When I stood on the land my ancestors -- and their slaves -- once owned, breathing the tang of pine pitch beside a shattered gravestone, beside a tidal river too slow to sound, no breath of an answer came up.

Did they do right, or do wrong? When I hear people ask why Washington, Jefferson, and Madison didn't live up to their principles and free their slaves, I think of Henry and Pauline. And when I read proposals for reparations, I wonder if I'm in line to pay, to receive, or whether I get a by on the whole thing.

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"It wants to know if we want a bigger P_nis"

This was on the AP photo wire tonight. The caption reads, "In this photograph released by Christie's auction house Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2005 in New York, computer operators work with the ENIAC computer in the 1940s. The photograph is part of the J. Presper Eckert archive to be auctioned Wednesday, Feb. 23. Eckert was the chief engineer on the team that built the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), the world's first large-scale general purpose electronic digital computer."

In sixty years, that to this.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Der Untergang des Abendlandes

Hard words from Mark Steyn.

[I]f Nato is useless to America, it looks like being a goldmine for the Chinese, to whom the Europeans are bent on selling their military technology. Jacques Chirac is pitching this outreach to the politburo in lofty terms, modifying Harold Macmillan and casting Europe as Athens to China's Rome. I can't see it working, but the very attempt presumes that the transatlantic relationship is now bereft of meaning.

Nato will not be around circa 2015 - which is why the Americans are talking it up right now. An organisation that represents the fading residual military will of mostly post-military nations is marginally less harmful than the EU, which is the embodiment of their pacifist delusions. But, either way, there's not a lot to talk about. Try to imagine significant numbers of French, German or Belgian troops fighting alongside American forces anywhere the Yanks are likely to find themselves in the next decade or so: it's not going to happen.

America and Europe both face security threats. But the difference is America's are external, and require hard choices in tough neighbourhoods around the world, while the EU's are internal and, as they see it, unlikely to be lessened by the sight of European soldiers joining the Great Satan in liberating, say, Syria. That's not exactly going to help keep the lid on the noisier Continental mosques.

So what would you do in Bush's shoes? Slap 'em around a bit? What for? Where would it get you? Or would you do exactly what he's doing? Climb into the old soup-and-fish, make small talk with Mme Chirac and raise a glass of champagne to the enduring friendship of our peoples: what else is left? This week we're toasting the end of an idea: the death of "the West."

The Secret Bush Tapes!

As Derrick Coleman would say, "Whoop-de-damn-do."

Rate Debate

Blackfive has a link to an online petition to get "Gunner Palace" a PG-13 rating instead of an R rating. From what I've seen, an "R" here is unwarranted. Check out the site, see if you agree, and if you do, take a minute to sign the petition.

Where Credit is Due

Not long ago, I criticized the US government for its silent response to an anti-democratic coup d'etat in Togo. Thus, I am indebted to JT for pointing out that the US has now cut off all military assistance to Togo and endorsed the tough sanctions imposed by the regional organization known as ECOWAS.

After my initial criticism of the administration, one liberal realist chided me for assuming that this President literally intended to promote democracy across the globe. Other readers suggested that the US was holding back in order to avoid offending France, the great power historically most influential in West Africa.

Yet it seemed that the White House has surprised all of us. It is working hand in glove with a multilateral organization towards the objective of restoring democracy in Togo. Impressive, no?

[Oxblog on Whether He Really Means all that about "Democracy" or Whether He's Just Blowing Smoke]

Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005)

I was going to root around in my head for two cents on the death of Hunter S. Thompson, but Classical Values went ahead and said everything I could say, better than I could. Bravo.

When I got into newspapers, Thompson was my hero. I was young, free-wheeling, contrarian, not married to any political faction. The generation of reporters and editors above me had Woodward and Bernstein as their heroes. My peers and I had him, even though it's arguable whether what he was doing bore any resemblance to what we were doing.

Washington's Birthday

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

From Washington's Farewell Address. Go and read the whole thing on the man's birthday.

And remember, like I said recently, when the Founders start to talk about "virtue" and "morality," don't turn away with visions of James Dobson in your head. They meant something closer to self-sacrifice, compassion, public service, and high-minded patriotism -- good, sound human virtues that ought to resonate with any gender, sexuality, party, class, race, or creed.

Washington is beginning to recover his reputation; he deserves it. He was the steady hand on the tiller when we set sail as a nation. Steadiness, not reckless innovation, was the thing America needed at the time. It's to his credit that we forget the serpents of tyranny and mob rule that slithered about the American cradle. To remember, read the history of the French Revolution.

Today is Free Mojtaba and Arash Day in honor of two Iranian bloggers jailed by the Iranian government for doing what I, and thousands of people around the world, do every day -- think, criticize, encourage, express.

You can read about Arash and Mojtaba here, as well as find out what you can do that might help.

Good Question

MADISON, Virginia -- A woman who is no fan of President George W. Bush in this rural red-state community recently wrote the local paper boasting she had switched off the president's State of the Union address after only five minutes. She then proceeded to castigate his policies on Iraq and the Middle East for the best part of 600 words.

Of course, having missed most of what he said, she got it completely wrong, all the less surprisingly as she also proudly admitted her views were heavily influenced by Hollywood movies. Her irrational if entertaining letter would be trivial were it not representative of a much wider conundrum surrounding the Bush presidency: Why is that so many people think they know what Bush thinks, while so few appear to listen to what he says?

[Reginald Dale, writing in the "International Herald Tribune"]

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Watch on the Whine

Bush is in Europe and Europe is howling like scalded cats. Hey, Hans, make up your mind: do you want him to talk to you, or do you want him to ignore you?

Just today, in my e-mail, I'm lectured that European diplomacy is "a much more refined way of doing things than those boring kitschy monologues Americans prefer, about knights in shiny armor in their glorious fight against evil. We are civilized people after all, not cowboys."

Again with the cowboys.

Let's admit they're right. The Hundredth Meridian got into our blood. American individualism is the one quality that unites us -- across regions, generations, ethnicities. You hone your smarts and you trust your instincts. You stay self-sufficient, even in a crowd, and you keep your powder dry. We were the frontier's before there were cowboys, before the frontier broke out of the Ohio woods.

John Jay was among the Founders who feared the frontier was turning Americans into "white savages" who slaughtered the natives to get their land. Dispersed in isolated clearings, cut off from civilizing influences, "Shall we not fill the wilderness with white savages," he wondered, "and will they not become more formidable to us than the tawny ones who now inhabit it?"

There's a whole lot more to us than that. But there is that. We like it, frankly. And like any strong thing, it needs a firm tempering force. Not to stifle it, but to keep it flowing in the right channels. The essential counterbalance to this frontier quality in our national character is another feature of America that makes liberal, secular Europe cringe: religion.

Not our religion at its worst, which can be banal, bullying, and benighted (much like European secularism can be). But our religious nature at its best, when it embraces the social virtues of compassion. Make the world a better place, starting with your community. Honest self-sacrifice, compassion, public service, high-minded patriotism: When the Founders talked about virtues -- and they often did -- they meant this, not sex.

That quality doesn't spring from the intellectual Christianity, but from the enthusiastic, evangelical sort. It's rooted in John Wesley's new trinity: Gain all you can (without losing your soul), save all you can, give all you can. Early Methodism, a wildfire, frontier faith in America in the generation before the Revolution, placed religious emphasis squarely on personal charity and good works.

Christian, yes; conservative, no. Wesley railed against the "devilishly false" belief, then current, that the poor "are poor only because they are idle." Early evangelicals worked for prison reform and humane treatment of the insane, and they led the anti-slavery crusade in England. American atheists of my time seem to be able to organize only long enough to chase Christian symbolism out of the public square, but not long enough to, say, put up tents for tsunami victims. I have long lamented, in my personally heathen and publicly secular life, that all the good causes were dominated by devout and public Christians. Not because I resent them, but because I envy them.

Tigerhawk, reviewing Hugh Hewitt's book on blogs, makes a similar observation, with regard to the left and the right in America:

However, Hewitt is right that there is a substantial difference in tone and emphasis between left and right, quite distinct from substantive political orientation. Volunteerism, for example, runs through most righty blogs (see, for example, the Spirit of America, which has been essentially uncovered on the left), whereas the lefty blogs promote activism (they are always "meeting up," and covering demonstrations in the sincerest of tones). This is probably an echo of underlying political assumptions. Conservatives genuinely believe that much can be accomplished through volunteerism, particularly through churches. Professional activism, though, has been almost entirely the province of the left (with the obvious but virtually singular exception of the anti-abortion activists).

[Though this is written in political terms, yet I think the essential division here is between religious -- in this case Christian -- outlook and a secular worldview.]

That's one reason the Founders, the most powerful pack of secularists and deists in this nation's history, didn't fear Christianity, though they execrated its worst excesses. Christianity, in any form, is not an ideal civic religion. No existing religion is. But you go to self-government with the religion you have.

The moral qualities, the virtues -- to the extent that we really live up to them -- are the magic that turns our rugged individualism (especially as subverted now into free-market economics) into powerful forces for good. Europeans don't see the better half. To the extent that our religious life is based on personal salvation through good works, it is an ennobling force in America.

This marriage of morality and individualism terrifies Europeans, who see in us only a reckless monster, arrogant and ignorant. And yet when it strides it can leave their mechanical good-works-as-government socialism in the dust. The reaction to the tsunami crisis shows that much of the world can't even see America any more. While Americans as individuals were donating tens of millions of dollars, and Americans, as organized in our military, actually saved thousands of lives, much of the rest of the world only looked at our official government pronouncements and concluded we were "stingy." As if the government was the nation.

Over there, seemingly, it is. Europe, including Britain, has been essentially socialist for most of the past century. That makes it easy for us to forget how many of our essential national qualities came from them -- our religions of the social gospel, our sense of a natural moral sense in human beings. On a deep level, the Europeans do not seem to forget this; they recognize in us a people on a path they once trod and turned away from. In their loathing I see both a recognition of old embarrassments, and a secret dread that they forsook something wonderful.

What is now exceptionally "American" once was English. The French observers of the 18th and early 19th century saw it there: Voltaire, who admired England, saw it. Montesquieu wrote that the English "know better than any other people upon earth how to value, at the same time, these three great advantages -- religion, commerce, and liberty." De Tocqueville wrote that he "enjoyed, too, in England what I have long been deprived of -- a union between the religious and the political world, between public and private virtue, between Christianity and liberty."

"If America is now exceptional," Gertrude Himmelfarb ["Roads to Modernity"] wrote, "it is because it has inherited and preserved aspects of the British Enlightenment that the British themselves have discarded and that other countries (France, most notably) have never adopted."

Thus the historical stage set for the modern misunderstanding across the Atlantic, which is played out in the media. As John Rosenthal writes about Arte, the jointly financed French-German public television channel:

"Those Americans inclined to react to every apparent expression of French rage at America by posing the proverbial and doleful question 'Why do they hate us?' might consider Arte and then realize that perhaps 'they' don’t know us. The problem with Arte in this connection is not that there is a lack of material on American society and politics in its programming, but rather that there is a wildly excessive offering of such material, almost all of it, however, being selected and spun in such a way as to caste the US in the most negative imaginable light and some of it consisting of outright disinformation."

Everywhere Bush goes this week, the protesters will be out in their hundreds and thousands. We'd be fools to treat them as honest and informed people who wish America well, but object to specific U.S. policies or attitudes. For all Europe's certainty of its own superiority and its arrogant mockery of our populist rube politics, the continent is deeply, willfully ignorant about us.

To read Euro-rage as simply America's "squandering the good-will of the world in the wake of 9/11" and to say it's all Bush's fault is just silly. What the average European knows, or thinks, about the United States is little better than a cartoon caricature. We know very little about them. They know a great deal about us -- much of it flat wrong, most of it severely twisted.

It's all in de Tocqueville. If Europe won't listen to Bush, or Condi Rice, maybe they'd listen to one of their own.

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We're All Bloggers on this Bus

Lawpundit points out an interesting (to bloggers, at any rate) obiter dictum in U.S. Court of Appeals Judge David B. Sentelle's majority opinion in the Plame CIA leak case:

"Are we then to create a privilege that protects only those reporters employed by Time Magazine, the New York Times, and other media giants, or do we extend that protection as well to the owner of a desktop printer producing a weekly newsletter to inform his neighbors, lodge brothers, co-religionists, or co-conspirators? Perhaps more to the point today, does the privilege also protect the proprietor of a web log: the stereotypical 'blogger' sitting in his pajamas at his personal computer posting on the World Wide Web his best product to inform whoever happens to browse his way? If not, why not? How could one draw a distinction consistent with the court’s vision of a broadly granted personal right? If so, then would it not be possible for a government official wishing to engage in the sort of unlawful leaking under investigation in the present controversy to call a trusted friend or a political ally, advise him to set up a web log (which I understand takes about three minutes) and then leak to him under a promise of confidentiality the information which the law forbids the official to disclose?"


Hindrocket has a good wrap of the Jim Guckert/Jeff Gannon flap.

In it, he quotes from this Howard Kurtz Washington Post piece, which manages to interview the man at the center of the storm:

Gannon chastised his critics, breaking a silence that began last week when liberal bloggers disclosed his real name, James Dale Guckert, and a Web page, which he paid for, featuring X-rated photos of himself. “Why would they be looking into a person’s sexual history? Is that what we’re going to do to reporters now? Is there some kind of litmus test for reporters? Is it right to hold someone’s sexuality against them?”

Dismissing speculation that he had a permanent White House press pass, which requires a full-blown FBI background check that usually takes months, Gannon said he could not get one because he was required to first get a pass from the Senate press gallery, which did not consider him to be working for a legitimate news organization. Instead, he said he was admitted on a day-to-day basis after supplying his real name, date of birth and Social Security number. He said he did not use a pseudonym to hide his past but because his real last name is hard to spell and pronounce.

So it was a day pass? Big f-ing deal. I once got a day pass to the White House press corps. Must have been 1985. I had constables on my ass for unpaid traffic tickets, subscribed to the "Catholic Worker," traveled in Eastern Europe, and had done my share of sexual shenanigans and illicit drugs -- probably had participated in both within 48 hours of catching the Amtrak from Philly to D.C.

Reagan was president, and his administration had begun the policy of having periodic visits from people in the "smaller" media. At the Main Line Chronicle, with a circulation of about 12,000, we were about as small as it gets. I get the feeling these invites went out to papers in safely Republican districts, and the people who showed up with me sure asked a lot of softball questions. We were sprinkled among the regular White House press corps, which tolerated us.

If anyone's interested, I can dig out the article I wrote based on that trip, and fill in the details. But I do remember it was the press conference where Reagan, about to depart for Europe with a controversial itinerary, said the young S.S. officers buried in Bitburg Cemetery were "as much victims of Naziism" as the Jews killed in the Holocaust. I remember, though an ardent anarchist/libertarian at the time, thinking that was a bit overstated, but essentially historically correct in many cases. And I remember being surprised at the way the mainstream media jumped all over it the next day.

Monkey See

The BBC reports that Two women sacked from their jobs caring for a gorilla in the US have sued their ex-employer for allegedly ordering them to show the animal their breasts.

Here's the gist of it:

"Through sign language, as interpreted by Patterson, Koko 'demanded' plaintiffs remove their clothing and show Koko their breasts."

Even should this lawsuit succeed and the plaintiffs be given a big pile of money at the expense of the researchers, the experiment has had incalculable scientific benefits. How else would we have confirmed the evolutionary connection between large primates and Phi Kaps?

[Hat- --or something-- tip, Ann Althouse, who points out that it's risky to teach something to ask questions, and commit yourself to answering them, until you're sure what sort of questions that something intends to ask]

Saturday, February 19, 2005


... again. You deserve it for enduring my prose and coming back for more. Besides, she's too classy-sexy-beautiful to keep hidden.

Sometimes I wonder what's wrong with me, that I would spend even five minutes of a day trying to sort out what, say, John Jay would have thought about President Bush's inaugural address, when I have this passionate, wise woman in my house. But if I didn't do this for a few hours a night, she'd get no sleep at all.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Missing the Point

Several people, including Instapundit, have linked approvingly to this highly critical review of Thomas E. Woods Jr.'s "Politically Incorrect Guide to American History."

Frankly, I'm not impressed. I haven't read Woods' book, but I recognize his historical perspective, which the Weekly Standard reviewer rightly pegs as paleo-con (not neo-con, which is the label the book's publisher's seem to covet).

First, not every argument or observation is wrong, just because someone like Woods brings it up. Second, if you're going to counter-argue with this kind of writing, you need more than a superficial acquaintance with U.S. history.

Soon enough, however, the guide starts to slip from conventional history into a Bizarro world where every state has the right to disregard any piece of federal legislation it doesn't like or even to secede. "There is, obviously, no provision in the Constitution that explicitly authorizes nullification," the author concedes, but Woods nevertheless is convinced that this right exists. His source? Mainly the writings of the Southern pro-slavery politician John C. Calhoun.

I can think of few sadder testimonies to our neglect of history than this: the long and honorable career of John C. Calhoun has been distilled to a single adjective: "pro-slavery." But that's exactly what's wrong with this review.

Woods is only getting warmed up. Next he comes to the origins of the "Civil War" which, it seems, was pretty much the fault of Northern abolitionists whose writings "seethed with loathing for the entire South" and "only served to discredit anti-slavery activity in the South."

This is invoked in the review article, but it is never addressed or contered. Whether it was the cause of the war is probably beyond the range of proof or disproof. The rest of the allegations, it seems to me, are true beyond argument.

According to Woods, the war wasn't really about slavery (no mention of the Emancipation Proclamation). It was really about the desire of Northern plutocrats to protect themselves from the threat of commerce being diverted to "the South's low-tariff or free trade regime."

Now, this happens to be one of the places where I seem to agree with Woods (at least based on what I read about his book). In fact, I've made a similar argument myself, and defended it for years in online debates. There are good angles of attack against this position. Believe me, I know. Invoking the Emancipation Proclamation isn't one of them.

To attempt to use it, as here, as a single-phrase smackdown is just plain silly. The war had been underway for a year and a half before Lincoln set pen to paper to write the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln had said explicitly, if he could preserve the union without liberating a single slave, he gladly would do so.

The place to make the argument that slavery was the cause of the war is in the South, not the North. The Southern states' declarations of causes for leaving the union are the ammunition you use. There are counter-arguments to that, but it's an uphill slog, compared to fighting against the Emancipation Proclamation. That's a cardboard sword. A juvenile snakehead could refute it. An AOL Civil War message board poster could refute it.

He approvingly quotes H.L. Mencken's comment that Union soldiers "actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves." Well, not quite all their people. But the plight of African-Americans does not concern Woods any more than it did Mencken.

Once again, rather than trying to make an argument, he retreats into "you're taking the side of the people who had slaves, therefore you're wrong." Slavery was legal in the North throughout the entire duration of the Civil War. Slaveowners fought in the Northern army and even led it in some cases. As John B. Henderson, the Unionist senator from Missouri, reminded his colleagues, "there are numbers of loyal slaveholders in that state [Missouri], men who have been carrying the flag of their country from the earliest beginning of this rebellion, who have left their homes for the battle-field, leaving their slaves behind them, many of whom are in the service of the country today, and will continue there until the rebellion is over."

When the Civil War ended, 19 of 24 Northern states did not allow blacks to vote. Nowhere did they serve on juries before 1860. They could not give testimony in 10 states, and were prevented from assembling in two. Several western states had prohibited free blacks from entering the state. Blacks who entered Illinois and stayed more than 10 days were guilty of "high misdemeanor." Even those that didn't exclude blacks debated doing so and had discriminatory ordinances on the local level.

But first Woods gives a Gone With the Wind version of Reconstruction, with evil Republican carpetbaggers trying to rape the virtuous South. He is particularly upset about the 14th Amendment (he claims it was never lawfully ratified) because it barred former Confederates from holding political office. "Thus," Woods laments, "the natural leadership class of the South would be disqualified from office and disgraced forever by having been dishonored in a constitutional amendment." It never occurs to Woods that "the natural leadership class" may have disgraced itself already by holding fellow human beings in bondage.

See above. The disqualifying factor, if you want to argue it, was treason, not slave-owning, which was legal.

The word "racism" in all its variants is a 20th century invention. Lincoln never heard it. What we would now call "racism" was so pervasive and universal in 19th century America -- North and South and West -- that no one felt a need to coin a word for it. It was a white man's country, north and south, in the mid-19th century. If you can't accept that fact, you can't argue reasonably about it.

To argue against some position about early 19th century America by slapping it with the "racist" tarbrush is a false attempt to apply modern moral standards to a time and place where they have no meaning. Don't mistake me: I like where we are much better than where we were. But I want to genuinely understand the past -- our past.

To grapple with slavery as a dynamic force between North and South in America, you have to think of it in terms of its meaning to two groups of white people. To do that does not ignore the humanity of the slaves, or the fact that slavery was the central aspect of a slave's life. But it does set it aside for the duration of the argument.

That "setting aside," after the 20th century, is something we feel as horrible. It is a mental process akin to the one that allows genocides. I suspect it is a natural muscle in the human mind, but it is one we're desperately trying not to exercise.

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