Friday, September 30, 2005

Another Journalism Lesson

The opening of the Gettysburg Address after an imaginary trip through the Boston Globe copy desk:

Fourscore and seven years ago (can't we just make it 87 years ago?) our fathers (WHO ARE THEY?? Any mothers???) brought forth on this continent (North America?? Northern Hemisphere??) a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men (people, men and women, what???) are created equal. (Why don't we just say they founded the United States and leave it at that? Pacing's better.)

From a celebration of print media's ancient and beloved culture of in-house in-jokes in The Atlantic.

Journalism Lesson

How to write a headline

But the dead deer with an IV made it weird

And the drop-head:

At first, it was just a guy, dressed like a doctor, driving an ambulance reported stolen

And followed by a "graphic picture" warning. I defy any mentally alert human being not to start reading the story.

Rhma's Fate

Michael Yon's latest from the Middle East is up.

Much world travel has convinced me that the “average American” is a good person. But even a good person needs information in order to act effectively on their best impulses. Oftentimes, good things do not happen simply because information does not make it to the right people.

I believe this was the case for a sick little Iraqi girl named Rhma. American “Deuce Four” soldiers found Rhma one night in Mosul. She needed serious medical attention. Doctors, nurses and others back in America, along with the soldiers in Mosul, worked diligently on behalf of this child, and eventually they generated the support required to get Rhma the treatment she desperately needed. But it wasn’t just Americans: I also saw offers come in from the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, among others.

This time, I'm not going to reveal the ending. If you're like me, you'll discover when you read the last line you've been holding your breath since the first.

Bludgeoned by the Blogosphere

Mary Mapes, the CBS ex-producer who went down in the infamous Rathergate incident, still doesn't seem to grasp what went wrong. Indignant, self-righteous, muttering about right-wing conspiracies, she blunders out into the highway of public discourse again, and Rand Simberg doesn't even have to veer out of his lane to mow her down.

It's hard (perhaps impossible) to prove that a document is authentic, but it only takes one solid strike against its validity to show it to be inauthentic. And the fact that you still don't understand that, or understand basic logic at all, is why you are now out of a job, and should never have had that job to begin with.

[Hat tip Neo-Neocon, who asks the relevant question, "Is Mapes stupid, or is she ignorant--or is she banking on the fact that we are stupid and ignorant?"]

The Rogue Less Trampled

R.I.P., M. Scott Peck, author of "The Road Less Travelled," as memorialized by the London "Telegraph."

Its opening sentence, "Life is difficult", introduced a tome which argued, uncontentiously and sensibly, that human experience was trying and imperfectible, and that only self-discipline, delaying gratification, acceptance that one's actions have consequences, and a determined attempt at spiritual growth could make sense of it. By contrast, Peck himself was, by his own admission, a self-deluding, gin-sodden, chain-smoking neurotic whose life was characterised by incessant infidelity and an inability to relate to his parents or children. "I'm a prophet, not a saint," he explained in an interview earlier this year.

In 1983 he began a bid for the presidency in order to be "a healer to the nation", but was forced by health fears to abandon his ambitions. Recently he had written in Glimpses of the Devil (2005) about his experiences of conducting exorcisms and had embarked on a new career as a songwriter. The voice of God asked him to be objective about the merits of a song he had written on the subject of faithfulness. "I went into a sort of guided meditation and I imagined there were a million people around the globe, Japan, Ethiopia, Brazil, America, what not, all with headphones on listening to this thing and that their consensus would somehow be objective… I played it for the 62nd time and I said: 'Holy s***! It's not good. It's great.' "

What a character! The obit unfolds in a style that only a British newspaper can accomplish. Along the way, we pass such gems as, "By his own account, he was a tiresomely brilliant child. Like all the others, his ambition was to write the Great American Novel."

Through all the permutations and evolutions of his long life, the "Telegraph" reassures us, "he remained unfaithful to his wife."

I hate to give away endings, but this one is too good to sit on:

Latterly he suffered from impotence and Parkinson's Disease and devoted himself to Christian songwriting, at which he was not very good.

He married Lily Ho in 1959; they had three children, two of whom would not talk to their father. She left him in 2003. He is survived by his second wife, Kathy, an educationalist he picked up, while still married, after a lecture at Sacramento, and by his children.

The line that begins "Latterly" might be the best I've ever seen in an obituary.

[The best deliberate line, I mean. The newspaper where I work now once ran an obituary for a guy who was, according to the text, "the longest confirmed male member of his church." Of course his name was Dick something.]

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Killing Mind

Apparently Israel has allowed some jailhouse interviews Rafat Moqadi, a Palestinian suicide bomber who changed his mind at the moment he was supposed to detonate himself in a Tel Aviv restaurant. Both AP and CBS have stories on him. (I can't find the AP one on the Net yet.)

As the pace of attacks increases in the Middle East and beyond, a surprising profile is emerging [Surprising to the AP, I guess -- ed.] of those willing to take their own lives: many are young, middle class and educated.

Nearly four-fifths of all suicide attacks over the past 35 years have occurred since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist strikes in the U.S., according to the RAND Center for Terrorism Risk Management. And 80 percent of those have been carried out by radical Islamic groups, said the center's director, Bruce Hoffman.

Both the AP and CBS stories steer the "motivation" angle away from religion. "But religion is only part of the picture," AP writes. "Moqadi said that wasn't his motivation."

"The main reason was to resist the (Israeli) occupation, to create a balance of power with the Israeli army," he said.

"At the moment they put the (explosives) belt on me there were a few seconds of doubt," he said. "But after that I felt strength. I felt stronger than the whole state of Israel. It was a good feeling."

Emphasis added. Moqadi said he joined Hamas "in response to massive gunbattles between Israeli forces and Palestinians in Jenin."

Yet the attempt to steer it away from religions inevitably spirals back toward it. AP writes of the role of group commitment, and then specifically of the heroic image of the suicide bomber in modern Palestinian culture.

Often what makes the person carry out the mission is commitment to a group, making it difficult to back out without losing face, experts say. Many of today's suicide bombers, especially in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, come from societies where many people condone the action, making it easier to execute.

CBS tracks down Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a Muslim who heads Gaza's only psychiatric clinic.

The families of suicide bombers often come to him for help after the deed is done. That's how he has built up his profile. But are the people who want to become suicide bombers especially violent?

“No. On the contrary. If you look at their personal histories, they usually were very timid people, introvert, their problem was always communication in public or communicating their feelings, so they were not violent at all,” says Sarraj.

“There is a pool of suicide bombers everywhere in the world among the community of Islam and Arabs everywhere. They are ready to act when the time comes. Anybody who is living in this area, including yourself, would have seen the rise of temperature, the rise of hatred, the rise of anger every year after year because of the continuous suffering of these people.”

And in Gaza, if you want to tap into this pool of hatred and suicide bombers, you don't need to go further than the neighborhood mosque.

“If they know I am the one who is going to recruit, they will come for me. I just give the message in the mosque that this is what we should do,” says Sarraj. “And then people who are ready will contact me.”

The AP notes the work of Western terrorism expert Jessica Stern on this topic. Stern is more or less non-partisan (she's an opponent of many Bush policies, but who isn't?), and she has focused on Christian, Jewish and Islamic terrorists. In this interview, her frothing Bush-hating questioner wants her to assent to the idea that, "Because of 9/11, many Americans have demonized that this is something that’s Islamic. ... It’s getting back to this point that it’s not exclusive to any one religion, and, therefore, the battle against it isn’t a crusade -- quote, unquote -- because there are many more common factors between terrorists of different religions than terrorism as defined within a religion."

Stern, politely, won't have it.

But there’s something about what’s going on in the Islamic world. Islamist terrorist leaders are able to raise large armies. As you know, we don’t see Jewish terrorists able to raise large armies, and we don’t see Christian terrorists able to raise large armies.

More recently, Stern and researcher Scott Atran have noted that today's Islamic radicals operating in the West (the 9/11, London, and Madrid bombers) have a different profile than the Palestinian and Iraqi bombers. They "have no clear political goals but instead act 'to oppose a perceived global evil.' ... [M]any potential suicide bombers in the West feel marginalized from society and 'bond as they surf jihadi websites to find direction and purpose.' " [AP, quoting a letter from Stern and Atran]

Abdel Haleem Izzedin, an Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank town of Jenin, said Palestinian candidates for suicide bombings are "normal people" who "believe that Israel is occupying and confiscating their land and want to fight back."

Bombers in places like Madrid and London, he said, were "unusual" and "extreme."

Which suggests two different problems, rooted in one religious/cultural tradition. Perhaps two solutions are in order. The rigorous "law enforcement" approach might work best in the West. In the Middle East? Most suicide bombers were men in their late teens or early 20s. Almost all were single and childless. Many suicide bombers have come from middle class families and have attended a university. But most were "relatively unimportant people, not leader types but follower types," one psychologist said.

How about giving those restless young men something to live for besides death. Give them some sense of a stake in their own futures, a country to participate in governing, a job not dependent on bribery, a chance to raise children who can do even better than their parents did. The American Dream? Something like that. Why not? You got a better idea? As Samuel Johnson knew, "There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money."

Moqadi, serving time in an Israeli jail, is not getting the American Dream. He'll be out on the Gaza streets again by the time he's the age Mohammed Atta was when he plowed a jet into the World Trade Center. AP reports Moqadi "spends most of his time in jail learning to speak, read and write Hebrew, the language of the Jewish state. Islam, he said, teaches that it's important to 'know your enemy.' "

Labels: ,

Where Have All the Achesons Gone?

In discussing the Electoral College and voting reform, we've been seeing various plans in the light of mass, direct, participatory democracy as an inherently good thing. The people and the president in direct power hook-up. The more the better. But where's the proof we're better governed today than we were in 1800?

Michael Lind offers one shaft of illumination on the topic. He writes a sober defense of the crucial role of the "mandarin" class in a modern liberal democracy, claiming, "one of the main reasons that the experiment with large-scale democracy has worked is because it was accompanied by the creation of a modern mandarinate." He defines this as "a meritocratic elite, based in the middle class but not limited to it, provided the natural leadership for a modern society."

He notes the American Founders' fears "that universal suffrage would produce 'mobocracy.' But the nightmare of mass democracy never fully materialised, in large part because of the political and cultural role of the mandarinate ...."

In constitutional politics, the meritocratic mandarinate would moderate tendencies toward demagogy, plutocracy and special-interest corruption by supplying the leaders of the career services within government and the informal establishment outside of it.

It worked. Mobocracy was averted in universal-suffrage democracies by a version of the Polybian "mixed constitution." For Polybius, Cicero and many later political thinkers, the ideal constitution was a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. The mixed constitution is not to be confused with the separation of powers advocated by Montesquieu and found in the US federal and state constitutions. The purpose of the mixed constitution was to balance social forces, not to separate government functions.

The modern mixed constitution is a blend of democracy and meritocracy. In it, the mandarinate—in government and out of it—plays the role of the aristocracy in the Polybian system, checking the elective "monarchy" of democratic executives and the majority "tyranny" of democratic legislatures.

As Lind notes, this is an "unofficial system." The American Founders saw the states, and the Seante chosen by the state legislatures, as the equivalent of the aristocracy. But the Civil War broke that balance entirely. Into the gap, temporarily, flowed the mandarin class.

[The system] has been breaking down for some time, as the elected executive has overpowered the mandarinate as well as the legislature. In parliamentary democracies like Britain, the separation of the roles of head of government and head of state helped to restrain plebiscitary populism for several generations after universal suffrage was adopted, as did the strict rules and conventions on government behaviour guarded by senior civil servants. However, by the late 20th century, as many have observed, prime ministers like Thatcher and Blair were behaving like presidents, while US presidents were behaving like kings. The increasingly powerful mass media, instead of acting as constraints on plebiscitary populism, have tended to act as cheerleaders for it, even while savaging particular governments and political leaders.

... Four sources of authority are invoked to fill the vacuum left by the decline of the modern humanism that legitimated the mandarinate: pro-fessionalism, positivism, populism and religion.

Professionalism is the opposite of mandarinism, in the sense in which I am using the latter term. It was not always so. In the Anglo-American countries, more than in continental Europe, the professions have in the past served as the basis of democratic mandarinism. In the US, for example, the great law firms and investment banks that would allow their members to serve in the government for years on end sometimes compensated for the absence of a high civil service. Nevertheless, over time professionalism and mandarinism have diverged.

While the mandarin is a generalist, the professional is a specialist. The mandarin's claim to social authority rests on a liberal education, which is assumed to be the best preparation for public and private service. The professional's claim to authority rests on mastery of a complex body of technical or scientific knowledge. The needs of professional accreditation have tended to make professional education increasingly technocratic. Legal education in the English-speaking world, for example, once consisted chiefly of a gentleman's liberal education plus Blackstone's Commentaries. Now a liberal education is at best an optional preliminary to a legal education.

He has some intriguing observations of the contemporary American scene:

To the extent that the mandarin ideal of duty to the public survives in the US, it is found among America's career public servants in the national security executive: the military, the foreign service and the intelligence agencies (America's domestic bureaucracy being weak and patronage-ridden). The most damaging opposition to George W Bush and the neoconservative clique has come from soldiers like Anthony Zinni, career civilian experts like Richard Clarke, the former "terrorism tsar" and diplomats like Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame was "outed" as a CIA operative by Bush's chief adviser, Karl Rove, as part of a campaign to punish Wilson for rejecting the president's claim that Saddam was importing nuclear material from Niger. These and other career public servants have been models of Ciceronian rectitude—a fact that is more than a little troubling, because Cicero was one of the few leaders of Republican Rome who was a civilian. It is not a good sign that in the American republic the officer corps has become the mandarinate by default.

America's unofficial mandarinate, the northeastern establishment, crumbled in the last quarter of the 20th century. The result is a social experiment in today's US as audacious, in its own way, as that of Soviet collectivism: an attempt to have a government without a governing elite. The US ship of state veers now in one direction, now the other. From a distance, one might conclude that the captain is a maniac. But a spyglass reveals that there is no captain or crew at all, only rival gangs of technocrats, ideologues, populists and zealots devoted to Jesus Christ or Adam Smith, each boarding the derelict vessel and capturing the wheel briefly before being tossed overboard.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Hello, Irene

What's in a name? A whole lot of statistics.

The Social Security Administration has put all its baby-name data up online, and it's a trasure-trove for a history geek like me.

Let's start with the most popular boys' and girls' names for babies born in the U.S. in 2004:

1 Jacob Emily
2 Michael Emma
3 Joshua Madison
4 Matthew Olivia
5 Ethan Hannah
6 Andrew Abigail
7 Daniel Isabella
8 William Ashley
9 Joseph Samantha
10 Christopher Elizabeth

Jacob is the Old Testament patriarch's name, a Latinized form of Hebrew Ya'aqobh, which means literally "one that takes by the heel" (Gen. xxviii.12), a derivative of 'aqebh "heel." Emily, on the other hand, is Roman, via French from the feminine form of Latin Aemilius, name of a Roman gens, from aemulus "imitating, rivaling" (related to emulation and ultimately to imitate and image.)

One of the cool things about the site is you can look for the most popular birth-names from any year, back to about 1880.

For instance, here are the top 20 American birth-names of 1904:

1 John Mary
2 William Helen
3 James Anna
4 George Margaret
5 Robert Ruth
6 Charles Elizabeth
7 Joseph Marie
8 Frank Florence
9 Edward Mildred
10 Henry Dorothy
11 Thomas Ethel
12 Walter Lillian
13 Harry Alice
14 Willie Gladys
15 Arthur Edna
16 Albert Frances
17 Clarence Annie
18 Fred Rose
19 Paul Grace
20 Harold Bertha

Names come and go over time, and girls' names come and go more often and more rapidly than boys'.

Just looking at the most popular names from my birth year (1960) is like opening the high school yearbook. When I was in school, it seemed I was surrounded by Susans and Sues and Susies (it was the number two girls' name in 1960). In the generation just being born, though, Susan will be the new Mildred. It ranks a mere 565.

My sister was the only Megan we had ever heard of when she was born in 1969. My mother was chagrined when Megan got to school and found herself among a sea of others. It's an example of how a girl's name can burst on the scene: Megan didn't even register in the Social Security list until 1952; its popularity exploded in the 1970s and got as high as the number 10 girl's name, but now it is fading.

Another Celtic name that boomed in the late 20th century was Jennifer -- not even on the chart until 1938 -- which held the number one spot from 1970 right through to 1984. It's since fallen to number 38. Jennifer is from Welsh Gwenhwyvar, from gwen "fair, white" and (g)wyf "smooth, yielding."

That's one of the other cool things you can do with the Social Security site: track the popularity of any given name over time.

My name, Douglas, is more unpopular than it's ever been in the past 100 years. It's been declining steadily since 1962. The year I was named it was the 30th most popular boy's name. Its peak of popularity was 1942, when it was 23rd. I think a fellow named MacArthur had something to do with that.

My son's name, Luke, has been climbing out of the cellar since the mid-50s. The popular "General Hospital" character gave the name more of a blip than a boost, and it actually seems to have set the name back a few points, since, after a spike in 1980, Luke was less popular in the late '80s than it had been in 1979. It was on the decline when I chose it for my son in 1990, but since then it's been moving up with a bullet ever since, from the 118 position in 1990 to number 42 last year.

My wife's name, Amy, was fairly popular in the mid-19th century, but it almost fell from use in 20th century, then roared into the top 10 from 1969 to 1982. It's not unusual for girls' names to fade and be resurrected like this. The current number 5 Hannah shows a similar trajectory to Amy, but with a later come-back.

Abigail, now at number six, only cracked the top 1,000 three times between 1904 and 1948. I'm not sure how to account for the come-back, except that a popular biography of Abigail Adams, by Janet Whitney, was published in 1947.

Abigail is an Old Testament name; Abigail the Carmelitess was a wife of David. It comes from Hebrew Abhigayil, literally "my father is rejoicing," from abh "father" and gil "to rejoice." It used to be the generic name for a lady's maid, from the character of that name in Beaumont & Fletcher's popular play "The Scornful Lady." The waiting maid association perhaps begins with I Sam. xxv, where David's wife often calls herself a "handmaid."

Samantha, too, was essentially dead from 1903 to 1963. Now it stands at number nine. There's no mystery to that rebirth, though. The TV series "Bewitched" debuted in 1964 starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens. The show's producers reached back to echoes of the Salem Witch Trial era for many of their witch character names -- Samantha, Esmeralda, Clara, Tabitha, and yes, even Abigail.

But girls' names, much moreso than boys, often appear out of thin air. Of the current reigning top 10, Madison did not register on the Social Security chart not before 1985, and Ashley not before 1964.

After spending some time plugging in dates and watching names go up and down in popularity, I realized stock market players and dog track addicts ought to be able to figure out a formula to predict the next hot names. I've even got a prediction of my own: Irene.

It was my grandmother's name, and my aunt's name. I've always liked the sound of it anyhow, and though it's a strong name that resounds with "iron" it really represents Greek eirene "peace."

It's a name redolent of the early 20th century; the original "Gibson girl" was Irene Langhorne, wife of Charles Dana Gibson. Irene was the 28th most popular name for girls when my grandmother got the name in 1903. It was in the top 20 from 1915 to 1925, and has been doing a slow fade ever since and now stands at 541.

[There was one blip of revival in 1950, when it jumped up 19 places on the list, only to give them all back and more in 2 years. Why? Maybe because Irene Dunne got a Best Actress Oscar nomination for "The Mudlark" that year, or because of Ernest Tubb and Red Foley's "Goodnight Irene" which was number one on the jukebox in September and October.]

But that's some upward movement from 2003, when it stood at 583. I think we're due for an Irene revival.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Check the name of the new typhoon brewing in the western Pacific.

Now how am I supposed to write a headline about that that won't bring in irate phone calls?

"Longwang douses fertile delta region."

"Longwang whacks off-shore oil rigs."

"Taiwan reels from Longwang's blow."

Or imagine if it turned up in Dear Leader's missile site:

"Longwang flattens No Dong factory."

The Squids are Alright


This photo (online here) is labeled as an "undated handout combination image released September 27, 2005 by the Royal Society," and is said to show "the first photographs of a live giant squid in its natural environment, taken by Japanese scientists in the Pacific Ocean."

Cool! Except the last frame in the panel seems to have been taken in a sushi kitchen.

More Trouble for Bush


[Satire alert]

Christians in the News

Andrew Sullivan salutes the Christian faith, strict morality, patriotism, national idealism, and sense of soldier's honor in one American military man.

Tell the truth: Who out there is rolling eyes right now? Well, guess what? It's the soldier who persisted in protesting the torture and abuse of prisoners in the war on terror.

It doesn't surprise me that the newest hero in the American armed services, Capt Ian Fishback, is a devout Christian. Fishback tried for 17 months to get his superiors to address systematic, condoned torture and abuse of military prisoners. His superiors knew they had the green light from the very top and did nothing but intimidate Fishback. He persisted. Why? He has a conscience. As he put it: "We are America. Our actions should be held to a higher standard. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is 'America.'" Part of his courage, however, came from faith:

[F]or Fishback, who friends describe as a deeply religious Christian and patriot who prays before each meal and can quote from the Constitution, his ordeal may be just beginning. Army officials have temporarily furloughed him from Special Operations training school at Fort Bragg, N.C., to make him available to the Criminal Investigation Command as it sorts through his allegations.

The Bush administration policy of allowing cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners is about as deep a moral crime as one can imagine. It violates every central tenet of Christianity, and the hard-won honor of the U.S. military, which is why some evangelical Christians, to their credit, have spoken up about it. These last few days, however, I have waited for others to take note of what Fishback has testified to, at great personal risk. I have waited for his courage to be hailed, especially on conservative Christian blogs. There are few moral evils worse than torture. So why the silence? Why?

Aye, Andrew, why indeed?

UPDATE: More thoughts on that in the comments section here.

Discovering Japan

My favorite blog about Asian languages is Amritas. He's a real big-deal linguist, though, so his discussions, while always fascinating, can get technical.

For a layman's approach, I read Peter Payne, an American living and doing business (and raising a family) in Japan. I found him via his business site, J-list, where I order all sorts of funky toys that delight my son and me. (Warning, of course, this being Japan, the sexuality is more frank and somewhat shifted from American standards, so the site isn't entirely work-safe).

Besides obvious words like kamikaze, mikado, bonsai, karaoke, karate,, and soy, some words in English that are Japanese include:

  • kudzu, the vine that ate the South. Native to Japan and China, it was introduced in U.S. southeast as forage (1920s) and to stop soil erosion (1930s) and quickly got out of hand.

  • honcho, a word picked up by U.S. servicemen in Japan and Korea, 1947-1953, from Japanese hancho "group leader," from han "corps, squad" and cho "head, chief."

  • tycoon, originally the title given by foreigners to the shogun of Japan (said to have been used by his supporters when addressing foreigners, as an attempt to convey that the shogun was more important than the emperor), from Japanese taikun "great lord or prince," from Chinese tai "great" and kiun "lord." The word has been used in English since at least 1857. The transferred meaning "important person" is attested from 1861, in reference to Abraham Lincoln (in his secretary Hay's diary). The specific application to "businessman" is post-World War I.

But a great many more words have flowed the other direction, from English into Japanese, though many of these are considered "slang" in Japan.

One of the evidences that English is a living world language is that it evolves, and in each pocket where it takes root, it grows a little more apart from the English of England. English in India (especially in some of the smaller newspapers) is almost its own tongue. Same with Jamaica and Sierra Leone. In Singapore, they speak Singlish. Here's a blog entry from Emily, 24, about a visit to Long John Silver's in Singapore, demonstrating both formal and conversational Singlish:

Had dinner with Kim at Long John Silver earlier. LJS is such a Cheaterbug!

Ordered a combo one which consists of two pieces of chicken, fries and a drink. The chicken pieces were strunken, much smaller than a goreng pisang. (!!) They probably held just as much(little?) meat as two chicken mcnuggets cojoined.

I looked at the cashier and went, "How come like that? Bird flu then all the chicken pieces become so small ah?! How can???" She laughed and chimed, "Er...all the chicken now become smaller lah" which actually wasnt any explanation at all.

It's appalling how dishonest businesses can get. It's atrocious. Blatantly downsizing and compromising quality while keeping the price the same...or even worse, raising the price altogether.

Check out Ronald's Mcnuggets. They've never tasted worse in the entirety of a millenium. Ronald should be ashamed of himself. Shame on you, you yellow dirty fellow with your dirty little business tricks!

I love it!

So back to Japan. Even there, where English is in no sense an "official" language or a primary language, it evolves. It starts with little things; as a brand name becomes the name for the whole class of things it represents (Kleenex, e.g., to the eternal frustration of the manufacturer), in Japan the word for "stapler" is hotchikisu. This is the good old American Hotchkiss from E. H. Hotchkiss Company of Norwalk, Connecticut, an early and prominent manufacturer of staplers (incorporated 1895, name from 1897).

So here's an English word, with a definable meaning in Japan, that exists nowhere in the English-speaking nations with that meaning.

I knew about that one, but Peter Payne recently wrote about a couple more:

Sometimes the Japanese use words they're sure are English -- but they're completely unintelligible to you and me. One such word is biking, as in, "I had breakfast at the hotel, and it was biking style." It turns out the word comes from the word "viking" and means "all you can eat" (aka smorgasbord). Then there's the term freeter, which sounds like something to eat, but means a person who works part-time jobs, never bothering to find full-time employment or start a career.

Good words!

Of course, there's always this.

Cracking Up

Smash notes some dissent within the peace movement.

JAMAL KANJ, a fiery Palestinian from a group called Al-Awda, takes the podium. “We Palestinians,” he begins, “have been subjected to GENOCIDE at the hands of the Israelis for generations." He rants on. "In 1948, they forced us out of our homes, and today we must DRIVE THE JEWS FROM PALESTINE!”

Suddenly, a middle-aged man wearing a black “F the President” T-shirt rushes the stage, screaming at Kanj, “I’m TIRED of this CRAP! You people keep bringing this up! This is supposed to be an ANTI-WAR rally, not an ANTI-ISRAEL rally!”

Kanj yells back, into the microphone. Others in the crowd stand up and join in the shouting match.

The Arab-Israeli conflict has arrived in San Diego.

Hitchens, meanwhile, is among those amazed that ANSWER is allowed to hijack the anti-war movement again and again.

To be against war and militarism, in the tradition of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, is one thing. But to have a record of consistent support for war and militarism, from the Red Army in Eastern Europe to the Serbian ethnic cleansers and the Taliban, is quite another. It is really a disgrace that the liberal press refers to such enemies of liberalism as "antiwar" when in reality they are straight-out pro-war, but on the other side.

Truth Be Told

The Pat Tillman story deserves to be told in full. It seems part of the problem was incompetence among commanding officers -- hardly a new thing in a war.

Spc. Russell Baer, a soldier pinned down by gunfire on the hillside near Tillman, told the Chronicle that commanding officers were to blame for the friendly fire because they split the platoon and ordered it to leave a secure location in favor of a region known as a Taliban stronghold.

"It was dumb to send us out during daylight," said Baer, who was honorably discharged from the Rangers earlier this year.

The story is getting a very different spin, however, on the left:

It turns out that Tillman was very anti Bush and the Iraq war and that may be why he was killed (fragged) by US troops in Afghanistan.

Fascinating. And of course if there's never a scintilla of evidence produced to the effect that that was so, it will just be more proof to numnskulls like the one who wrote that, that it's because Shrubbie McChimpler with his incompetence/omnipotence, managed to cover it up again.

When you lie to the people, you only strengthen the paranoid.

What's wrong with this picture


The AP caption says it's an undated photo showing a glaciologist and a botanist "examining deposits of ancient alpaca moss recently exposed by the retreat of the Quelccaya ice cap in the Peruvian Andes."

"Rapidly melting glaciers in the Andes in Peru have uncovered moss and grasses that have been covered by ice since they first grew about 6,500 years ago, said the Ohio State researcher who has predicted global warming will erase mountain ice caps that are a valued water source for many communities around the world."

That would be a catastrophe. And no doubt that prediction will twist the cranks of climate-change cassandras.

But think about it (like the AP didn't). That hunk of moss was growing there 6,500 years ago. That's about 6,490 years before the first SUV. Climate then in that place was warmer than it is now (no moss grows there today).

That doesn't mean we can stop thinking about the role of man-made factors in the Earth's shifting climate.

It means we can start thinking about them. Without the passion and the politics. Yes, the world seems to be getting warmer in recent decades. What does that mean? Is human activity the only reason? What if it turns out that CO2 pollution from cars is heating up the planet, but that, say, farming is heating it up ten times more? What if deep ocean currents are shifting for no man-made reason, and actually turning the northern hemisphere back to another ice age, but human pollution is counterbalancing that?

What we need is some serious scientific work, not a lot of pseudo-religion. It's a common complaint of the secular left that their opponents put dogma above science. But the underlying fallacy of much of the climate-change alarmist rhetoric is that it is the left's equivalent of creationism. It presumes a steady, stable world ecology humming along for millenia in perfect balance like a Swiss watch, until evil Anglo-American corporations come along and destroy it.

Go thumb through a paleoclimatology textbook (or find something like one online). Look at the charts and graphs. Not a straight line among them. They go up and down like a toilet seat in a rock concert Port-a-John.

Climate 2000

Here's one that a climate-change alarmist will love. This is the average global temperature of the last 2,000 years, as plotted from a range of indicators across the globe. Look at 2004! Runaway global warming for sure.

Or not. You have to read the fine print to know that the lines across the graph are "best-fit" projections, up to 2004, which is the only year that stands alone and isn't "smoothed down" into the graph. The range of hot years in the Middle Ages, for instance, is much more dramatic than the graph indicates.


Now take 100 steps back. In this graph, the time flows the other way: the far right is the oldest part of the graph. In fact, over on that end you can see the temperature rising up out of the depths of the last Ice Age, about 12,000 years ago. The "climate optimum" of about 4,000 to 8,000 years ago corresponds to the moss under the Quelccaya ice caps. The whole of the previous graphic (reversed) is contained in the thumbnail of space between 0 and 2.


Here's a still longer view. (Time flows the other way again, as in the first graph). The whole of the second graphic is squeezed into the far right end of this one. Here you can see the whole range of the Ice Ages, and even a little bit of the much warmer earth that existed on the far side of them, about 125,000 years ago.

So it looks like we live in one of the warmest ages in global history, right? Now step all the way back.


This very rough graph plots the likely temperature through geological time (the present is on the left again) since about the time life first was recorded on earth. Looks like we're in one of the chilliest epochs of world history.

Why were there Ice Ages after millions of years without them? Why were there dramatic warm spikes in the middle of them? Nobody knows. No good scientific model of world climate change yet has been constructed.

That's a scary thought, frankly. No wonder it's so much easier to approach the topic as pure politics.

BBC, for instance, recently took a spin through some of the conclusion-jumping done in the liberal European press in the wake of the recent hurricanes, including The Independent's screaming front-page headline "This is global warming" above an "alarmingly portentous graphic of Hurricane Rita's projected path."

Ross Gelbspan's book "Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists and Activists Are Fueling the Climate Crisis—And What We Can Do to Avert the Disaster" gets a critical notice in Reason. The book seems to be no worse than many others I've seen (my eco-minded brother has a habit of giving me such books as holiday gifts).

Gelbspan ... fails to explain that the “greenhouse skeptics” he cites — those “criminals against humanity” — accept that the industrial emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases has contributed to a warming trend during the last century. What remains at issue is the extent of this contribution and the magnitude of warming that can be expected during the next century. Computer simulations of uncertain reliability indicate that by 2100 the globally averaged surface temperature will rise approximately 2.5 degrees Celsius, which would seem to require a wholesale switch to nuclear power in the next few decades to avoid the devastation of energy poverty. But other lines of evidence suggest a change of 1 degree or less, which would be comparable to past natural change, making the transition to 21st-century energy technologies much more affordable. Boiling Point obscures this ongoing debate by repeatedly appealing to a nonexistent scientific consensus.

And, predictably from the subtitle, the book's premise is that this destructive evil is allowed to continue because there's so much money to be made at it. Interesting notion: sell a lot of books by promoting a political positions about how much money there is to be made promoting the opposing position.

Gelbspan portrays dissent from his view of climate change as evidence of the fossil fuel industry’s corrupting influence, which apparently extends to scientists, journalists, the current administration, even labor union leaders and environmental activists. Yet Boiling Point does not consider the financial, ideological, and personal interests that favor alarmism, such as the desire by scientists for more research funding; by activists for more donations, media attention, and political relevance; by journalists for better play and bigger book advances.

Sallie Baliunas, the reviewer, makes what ought to be an obvious point here: "The existence of nonscientific motives does not tell us which side is right; only careful consideration of the evidence can do that."

And she goes on to note that, while hot air is being wasted on insults and conspiracies that presume the scientific question is fully settled, the science is just beginning to grapple with the very complex problem of climate change.

While Boiling Point alludes to scientific uncertainties concerning the “role of clouds, future rates of warming, and specific impact in particular geographic areas, to name a few [issues],” Gelbspan immediately redirects focus by declaring that “the overwhelming predominance of climate research today focuses on the [ecosystem] impacts of warming.” If so, climate research has misplaced priorities. In fact, however, many researchers refuse to skip the hard work of achieving a scientifically sound understanding of climate change, a requisite for accurately estimating its impact.

Climate is a complex, dynamic system that involves the oceans, the atmosphere, biota, ice, and land, which interact with each other in multifaceted ways. An accurate computer simulation of climate does not yet exist. Quantitative impacts of natural and anthropogenic influences, of which the enhanced greenhouse effect is one, are works in progress.

I want to know the real answers, rather than leaping to the conclusion, precisely because I love some places -- Venice and the Florida Keys, for instance -- that are seriously at risk under climate change models.


Three Numbers, One Problem

WaPo op-edder E.J. Dionne in a new column celebrates the fact that "President Bush has finally faced his moment of accountability. The travails of Hurricane Katrina followed a bad summer for the president and have called into question his leadership style, competence and intense partisanship."

He veers from that into the inability of the Democrats to capitalize on this, and their collective indecision over whether to be "liberal ideologues" or "centrist." I think his analysis of the party's woes as a matter of three numbers is a good one:

According to the network exit polls, 21 percent of the voters who cast ballots in 2004 called themselves liberal, 34 percent said they were conservative and 45 percent called themselves moderate. Those numbers mean that liberal-leaning Democrats are far more dependent than conservatively inclined Republicans on alliances with the political center.

[In my Internet interactions (admittedly a small and unscientific sampling), committed Democrats' reaction to centerists have ranged from mildly condescension to outright flamethrowing. Marc Cooper is the only one I've corresponded with who's been genuinely engaging. The frustration that underlies the hostility is understandable. But it makes better psychotherapy than political sense. But then that -- misplaced priorities between personal and political -- has been one of the center-right's grievances with much of what's left on the liberal side.]

Dionne also points out how these numbers present a problem for the Democratic dream of capturing the House in 2006.

It takes 218 seats to form a majority in the House of Representatives. Kerry carried only 180 congressional districts, according to the Almanac of American Politics. Put another way, Democrats, according to the Almanac, now hold and have to defend 41 House districts that Bush carried. Republicans are defending only 18 districts that Kerry carried.

After more ruminations on the Democrats' dilemmas, Dionne turns to the bright side:

The truth is that opposition parties normally get a chance only when the governing party disappoints. For the time being, that means that Democrats will have no problem staying united behind the imperative of keeping Bush on the ropes. The flow of negative news about the administration will do much of the Democrats' work for them.

Oh, but he makes no mention of what a tight-rope walk to the promised land that will be.

Dionne is careful to write "flow of negative news about the administration" (emphasis added), but too often his target audience blows right through that clause without regard for the qualifying element. They look like the ghoul party. "When America hurts, Democrats benefit."

And while highlighting the administration's problems is potentially a winning strategy, events like hurricanes and war deaths and even high oil prices mean suffering for all of America. The voters may be able, intellectually, to parse out the political angle from those tragedies and problems, but in their guts they will feel that anyone who actually celebrates such events is essentially on the other side.

It's up to the party that attempts such a strategy to do it without a smirk, without a twinkle in the eye. It's exactly because the voters will pay more attention to the opposition at such moments that the opposition has to be on its best behavior. If the voters sense the grim reaper smile on the opposition's face at the sight of American suffering, the door slams shut. Essentially conservative (in the non-political sense) American voters will stick with the devil they know.

When bad news for America hits the front pages, too often my Democratic peers celebrate it. They only see it as bad news for Bush. They don't seem to sense that an indictment of a Bush official is one kind of bad news, and a terrorist attack is another. There's a dissembling art in politics, and they haven't learned it.

Might I suggest that too often they are hamstrung by an essential and relentless pessimism about America's history and its virtues, its potential and its promise, among the chief spokesmen and women of the movement? Might I suggest a reacquaintance with the rhetoric of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., as a lesson in how to say, "We are a great nation, but we can do better than this; in fact, we must do better than this, because we are a great nation."

Look, the Federalists were right about the War of 1812 and the Madison administration's shenanigans. And look where it got them: They branded themselves as a party of national traitors, who preferred the British to their fellow citizens and held aloof in the nation's time of dire need. They never won office at the national level again. Opposition is not in itself fatal, but it's all in how you do the thing.

As someone with a strong suspicion of many people on the right, I don't relish the sight of the party of the political left charging down the path to permanent minoritarianism. But I'll keep waiting for political leaders from that side who convince me America can be moved forward by appeals to what is great in our national heritage and dreams, rather than driven shame-faced into "progress" by the lash of Michael Moore's tongue.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Peace Rally

Baldilocks swears she overheard this at the ANSWER, etc. anti-war/anti-Bush protest Saturday in Los Angeles:

“I’m an atheist, but if there is God, we deserved the hurricanes.”*

Jeff Jarvis, meanwhile, notes that all the sense and power seems to have been drained out of "We Shall Overcome" by overuse in inappropriate circumstances, such as a rally to pull American troops out of Iraq and thereby return the people of that country to hell.

Solomonia (among others) notes the way mainstream Democratic politicians avoided the scene in D.C. like it was infested. Which of course it was.

"The movement" is a cesspool of hate and bizarro pathologies all the King's horses and all the King's psychologists couldn't sort out. It soils anyone uncautious enough to get near it. You want politicians to be stronger and more outspoken against the War? Articulate a message that fills your numbers with regular, respectable people and doesn't attract flies, allowing you to push aside the weirdos, not use them and imagine you can air-brush them out and hope no one will notice. The fact that this has not been done, and I believe cannot be done, is a very important indicator to those of us who believe we need to keep up the fight -- that we are right.

* Courtesy of the Paladin, you can steer to this delightful Democratic Underground thread. Whenever I read that site I really pay attention to the posters because they sound exactly like about half my co-workers in their most worked-up moments.

Yes, it looks like the secular left finally has discovered religion. Well, if not religion, then "evil" -- a concept that forces them into religious frames of reference.

41. yesterday I was pondering this question with a Unitarian minister

We were pondering the sense of evil that seems instilled in the actions to control New Orleans, and then moved to talk about the battle between good and evil that is taking place as Bushco fronts for forces that seek dominion and oppression.

I showed her information about the founding of Skull and Bones, and then we really were struck by the enormity of the struggle. She said that she was having to re-assess her beliefs on the nature of evil in human form. She hadn't believed in Satan. Now she's not sure.

All day long, I wrestled with the understanding that the forces W. fronts for are old and are powerful beyond our capacity to imagine. The minutiae we fight daily on DU are insignificant in this battle -- even the battle over the FEMA response.


Resistance will take EVERY one of us. Resistance will require that we set aside many of our daily concerns and activities. Each of us has a use. Some must give more than others, but all must give to the effort.

This minister said that people ask what they are to do. (She's considered to be a bit of a prophet.) This is the list we devised, for what to do.

1. Name the evil. This is a struggle between good and evil.

2. Identify your particular role and task.

3. If your task is not to be a leader with the dangers of exposure, then support those who are on the front. (Provide for their children. Help them with subsistence. Be at their back.)

Good lord, can you say "Left Behind"?


Make of this what you will. You could use it to compare yesterday's entrepreneurs to today's. Or as a glimpse of an early understanding of macro-economics. It fascinates me as an insight into a time and a mind.

When you think of the great age of European exploration, what images come to mind of the men who led it? Greed? hubris? Lust for power?

How about "concern for the poor people of one's homeland"?

Probably wasn't on the list. But history is more complicated than it looks.

Richard Hakluyt was an Elizabethan scholar and clergyman fascinated by voyages and discoveries, who set out to be an expert in the geography of the world which had suddenly doubled in size and complexity following the discoveries of Columbus.

Hakluyt sought practical knowledge, not merely book-learning. In part this was because, in his era, the ship's captains and common sailors had outrun the learning of the old geographers, still stuck on Ptolemy.

His work came to the attention of the English authorities, who sent him to France as a chaplain to the British ambassador, the better to study the French and Spanish explorations that were leaving England in the dust.

Hakluyt was a tireless proponent of English settlement in America and was involved in the planning of James Town. But English exploration in those days reached east, as well as west, and the document I've cited was written in 1582, to an unnamed English "factor" in Constantinople. It gives him instructions and suggestions as to what he ought to do, and look out for, in the national interest.

That in seeking private gain, the Englishman also would seek the common good of England, Hakluyt presents as an obvious matter.

Since all men confesse (that be not barbarously bred) that men are borne as well to seeke the common commoditie of their Countrey, as their owne priuate benefite, it may seeme follie to perswade that point, for each man meaneth so to doe.

Hakluyt's letter is written for the sake of offering his correspondent details on how best to do this. For England's sake, he writes, the merchant should pay attention to clothing, and dying.

And therefore I am so bold to put you in minde, and to tell you wherein with some indeuour you may chaunce to doe your Countrey much good, and giue an infinite sorte of the poore people occasion to pray for you here throughout the Realme this that I meane is in matter of Cloth, &c.

The superior quality of English wool was well-known. The trade employed many poor people, enriched the middle class, and puts money in the royal coffers. Hakluyt told his man to look for markets for it abroad, or as he writes it, "ample and full Vent of this noble and rich commoditie." He directs his man to investigate, for instance, whether there is a market for red Scottish caps in Egypt

To compete with local products, the high-quality English wool must be enhanced by superior dying. He urges the Constantinople factor to pay particular attention to this business.

But if Forren nations turne their Wools, inferiour to ours, into truer and more excellent made cloth, and shall die the same in truer, surer, and more excellent and more delectable colours, then shall they sell and make ample vent of their Clothes, when the English cloth of better wooll shall rest vnsold, to the spoyle of the Merchant, of the Clothier, and of the breeder of the wooll, and to the turning to bag and wallet of the infinite number of the poore people imploied in clothing in seuerall degrees of labour here in England.

He urges him to send home samples of the best Turkish cloth, to show to the English master weavers, "partly to remooue out of their heads, the tootoo great opinion they haue concerned of their owne cunning, and partly to mooue them for shame to endeuour to learne more knowledge to the honour of their countrey of England, and to the vniuersall benefit of the realme."

But he also urges him to take to Turkey certain plant derivatives from England that produce a glorious blue, but which English dyers had been unable to fix, to see if Turkish dyers knew or could discover a way to do it.

He urges the factor to hire, and send to England, a young man who had been trained in native dying methods. He urges him to learn all the methods Turks used in dying cloth, "be they plants, Barkes, Wood, Berries, Seedes, Graines, or Minerall matter, or what els soeuer. But before all other, such things as yeeld those famous colours that carrie such speciall report of excellencie, that our Merchaunts may bring them to this realme by ordinarie trade, as a light meane for the better vent of our clothes."

If the dye-stuff comes from plants, he wants to know how and where the plants grow best. He wants to know about sesame seed oil, a product useful in the dying process. He is especially interested in anil, a blue dye which we know as "indigo."

There's an element of espionage in this. Nations were aware of their special products and resources, and smuggling them into a rival power's hands was an act of high treason.

It is reported at Saffronwalden that a Pilgrim purposing to do good to his countrey, stole an head of Saffron, and hid the same in his Palmers staffe, which he had made hollow before of purpose, and so he brought this root into this realme, with venture of his life: for if he had bene taken, by the law of the countrey from whence it came, he had died for the fact. If the like loue in this our age were in our people that now become great trauellers, many knowledges, and many trades, and many herbes and plants might be brought into this realme that might doe the realme good.

As a result, English saffron had "sent many poore on worke, and brought great wealth into this realme." So much so that Hakluyt was looking for a "vent" for it in Tripoli.

Thus may Sumack, the plant wherewith the most excellent blacks be died in Spaine, be brought out of Spaine, and out of the Ilands of the same, if it will grow in this more colde climat. For thus was Woad brought into this realme, and came to good perfection, to the great losse of the French our olde enemies.

Conversely, Hakluyt tells his "factor" to look for a "vent" in Turkey for yellow- and green-dyed English woolens, "because yellowes and greenes are colours of small prices in this realme, by reason that Olde and Greenweed wherewith they be died be naturall here, and in great plenty, therefore to bring our clothes so died to common sale in Turkie were to the great benefit of the merchant, and other poore subiects of this realme, for in sale of such our owne naturall colours we consume not our treasure in forren colours, and yet we sell our owne trifles dearely perhaps."

At the end, he lists the number of things brought into England in historic times, and more recently, and the great good they've done.

And the Romans hauing that care, brought from all coasts of the world into Italie all arts and sciences, and all kinds of beasts and fowile, and all herbs, trees, busks and plants that might yeeld profit or pleasure to their countrey of Italie. And if this care had not bene heretofore in our ancestors, then, had our life bene sauage now, for then we had not had Wheat nor Rie, Peaze nor Beanes, Barley nor Oats, Peare nor Apple, Vine nor many other profitable and pleasant plants, Bull nor Cow, Sheepe nor Swine, Horse nor Mare, Cocke nor Hen, nor a number of other things that we inioy, without which our life were to be sayd barbarous: for these things and a thousand that we vse more the first inhabitors of this Iland found not here.

And in time of memory things haue bene brought in that were not here before, as the Damaske rose by Doctour Linaker king Henry the seuenth and king Henry the eights Physician, the Turky cocks and hennes about fifty yeres past, the Artichowe in time of king Henry the eight, and of later time was procured out of Italy the Muske rose plant, the plumme called the Perdigwena, and two kindes more by the Lord Cromwell after his trauell, and the Abricot by a French Priest one Wolfe Gardiner to king Henry the eight: and now within these foure yeeres there haue bene brought into England from Vienna in Austria diuers kinds of flowers called Tulipas, and those and other procured thither a little before from Constantinople by an excellent man called M. Carolus Clusius. And it is sayd that since we traded to Zante that the plant that beareth the Coren is also brought into this realme from thence; and although it bring not fruit to perfection, yet it may serue for pleasure and for some vse, like as our vines doe, which we cannot well spare, although the climat so colde will not permit vs to haue good wines of them.

And many other things haue bene brought in, that haue degenerated by reason of the colde climat, some other things brought in haue by negligence bene lost. The Archbishop of Canterburie Edmund Grindall, after he returned out of Germany, brought into this realme the plant of Tamariske from thence, and this plant he hath so increased that there be here thousands of them; and many people haue receiued great health by this plant: and if of things brought in such care were had, then could not the first labour be lost. The seed of Tobacco hath bene brought hither out of the West Indies, it groweth heere, and with the herbe many haue bene eased of the reumes, &c. Each one of a great number of things were woorthy of a iourney to be made into Spaine, Italy, Barbarie, Egypt, Zante, Constantinople, the West Indies, and to diuers other places neerer and further off then any of these, yet forasmuch as the poore are not able, and for that the rich setled at home in quiet will not, therefore we are to make sute to such as repaire to forren kingdomes, for other businesses, to haue some care heerein, and to set before their eyes the examples of these good men, and to endeuour to do for their parts the like, as their speciall businesses may permit the same.

Thus giuing you occasion by way of a little remembrance, to haue a desire to doe your countrey good you shall, if you haue any inclination to such good, do more good to the poore ready to starue for reliefe, then euer any subiect did in this realme by building of Almes-houses, and by giuing of lands and goods to the reliefe of the poore. Thus may you helpe to driue idlenesse the mother of most mischiefs out of the realme, and winne you perpetuall fame, and the prayer of the poore, which is more woorth then all the golde of Peru, and of all the West Indies.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Fast Forward

Every now and then, a media outlet puts something up online that was written before an event -- such as a State of the Union address -- but written in such a way as to indicate it is a reaction to the event.

When the media outlet is caught at this, the alert Internet users often jump all over it. And the discovery strengthens the suspicion that this sort of thing happens all the time.

It does. As an insider, I can tell you. Only a few publications are dim enough to get caught on the Internet with their chronological pants down. But many more play the game.

Right now, it's Friday evening and I'm sitting at the wire desk reading a Boston Globe editorial about Iraq that is written as though looking back on the anti-war protest slated for tomorrow. Not only is it looking back on them, it is bolstering its argument based on the number of people who (turned out) haven't yet turned out for them.


BY NOW it should be clear to Bush administration policymakers that their blunders in Iraq have led to the current situation in which US forces are unable to stamp out a quicksilver insurgency, parts of the country are slipping into a sectarian war between Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites, and the specter of a many-sided civil war looms over the future.

Most of Washington's mistakes originate in a failure to grasp - or accept - Iraqi realities that do not correspond to administration hopes or delusions. One consequence is that many Americans see no reason to continue sacrificing American lives in Iraq, as evidenced by this weekend's large antiwar protests.

Emphasis added. At the bottom of the piece is a timestamp that reads "NYT-09-23-05 1831EDT," meaning this story was moved on the New York Times wire at 6:31 p.m. Friday.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

BDS, a Clinical Definition

David Brooks gives a case-book description of "Bush Derangement Syndrome," based on Kerry's post-Katrina speech. I didn't see the speech, and I don't follow Kerry anymore, so I don't know if it's a legitimate diagnosis of the man. But I do recognize the syndrome herein described. It walks around me every evening, like a political zombie movie:

Kerry began his speech by making the point that Bush and his crew are rotten. He then went on to make the point that Bush and his crew are loathsome. In the third section of the speech, Kerry left the impression that Bush and his crew are evil.

Now we all know people so consumed by hatred for George Bush that they haven't had an unpredictable thought in five years, but in Kerry's speech one sees this anger in almost clinical form.

In the first place, not even Karl Rove's worldview is so obsessively Bush-centric as John Kerry's. There are many interesting issues raised by Katrina, but for Senator Ahab it all goes back to the great white monster, Bush. Bush and his crew should have known the levees were weak. Bush and his crew should have known thousands in New Orleans would be trapped. (Did I miss Kerry's own warnings on these subjects?)

All reality flows back to Bush. All begins with Bush, ends with Bush, is explained by Bush and is polluted by Bush, cursed be thy name.

And as the speech stretches on, a second thought occurs: Doesn't this guy ever get bored? If Kerry ever makes an anti-Bush jab, he makes it again. The old DeLay jibes, he makes them again. The Wolfowitz attacks, he makes them again. Porn movies have less repetition than this, and yet the "Mission Accomplished" carrier deck scene gets hauled out again, for one feels this is not a normal speech designed to persuade or inform, but a primitive rite designed to channel group outrage.

I wish I could quote the whole thing without violating "fair use." He goes on to compare comments by John Edwards which are much more reality-based and helpful. And then he ponders which way the Democrats will blow in years to come.

On one side are those who believe that the party's essential problem is with its political style. The Republicans win because they are simply rougher, so the Democrats must be just as tough in response. They must match Karl Rove blow for blow. Democrats in this camp are voting against John Roberts just to show the world, and their donors above all, that they are willing to give no quarter.

On the other side are those who believe that the Democratic defeats flow from policy problems, not from campaign style or message framing. They don't believe that Democrats can win wrapped in their own rage, or kowtowing endlessly to their psychologically aggrieved donor base. For them, the crucial challenge is to come up with policies more in tune with voters.

Salam Pax

Did you know Salam Pax is back? Or am I like the only one that didn't get the memo?

In the run-up to the Iraq War, he was essential reading. Inspiring, pugnacious, opinionated, free-wheeling. Simply awesome. If there was any one blogger who gave me a sense of the potential importance of this medium, it was him.

He gave it up for a while, but now he's back at it. His commentary on the Iraq draft constitution is among the best I've seen. The most recent post there is a fine, sad tribute to a recent victim of the violence in Iraq.

I know you have smarty-smart journalists who tell you the most amazing stories from foreign lands and explain everything for you, but there are many cases where a journalist has just been parachuted into a country he knows nothing about and where he, as the Arabic saying goes, can’t tell the difference between a stick and a corncob. That’s when the journalist is only as good as his/her fixer. Before all you journos out there get indignant I know what I’m talking about because I was a fixer myself.

And for all those freshly parachuted journalists there can’t be a better gift from the skies than a passionate and knowledgeable fixer. This would be Fakher’s cue to make his entrance. Fakher al-Tamimi, Fixer extraordinaire, with a ready smile and a million stories to tell.

Today I heard of his assassination on the radio. The report said that he was kidnapped last night from his home and was found shot dead today. I met Fakher while I was a fixer for the New York Times, his English wasn’t yet up to speed then and I was sent down to Basra to translate for a new NY Times reporter who was working with Fakher. For me at the time he was like the Rolls Royce of fixers. He had endless reserves of enthusiasm and he made you feel he knew everyone in Basra’s phone directory personally and more importantly he cared about the stories being researched, he genuinely wanted these stories to be told and read by the outside world.


You may know that I also post regularly over at a site called Donklephant (not my name choice), which strives to strengthen the center in modern American political life. It's not a wimpy conflict-avoiding center, or else I wouldn't bother. It can get cantankerous and robust, which is as it should be.

The main man over there is Justin Gardner. I don't know him except on line, but he's a very decent fellow with a good heart and even though his background and sympathies are all to the left (from where I stand), I am certain he sits down to the Internet and tries to write to the tune of higher virtues than partisan positions. He tries to keep the long view of things, and look out for the ultimate good of the people and the country.

I know how difficult it is to look at a particular case and not take note of certain personalities you despise and mark and which side of it pleases them most. I have to swallow hard sometimes before speaking up for something I believe is right, even if demagogue X and blogger Y, who has savaged me in the past, also applaud it.

I suspect Justin's a good bit younger than me, but he already has the quality of a statesman, something so rare in the blog world: like Peel, when he suspended the Corn Laws in 1826 amid public unrest to keep the English poor from starving. The agricultural faction among the MPs accused him of bowing to the mob, he shot back, "Sir, there are two sorts of courage which may be displayed in respect to them. There is the courage to refuse to accede to such demands at all. And there is another kind of courage -- the courage to do that which in our conscience we may believe to be just and right, disregarding all the clamour with which these demands may be accompanied."

If Peel had chosen a stronger verb than "may believe to be just and right" to hinge that on, it would be one of the great things ever said in politics. As it is, it's good enough to hang above the computer screen of any online writer with a bent for polemics.

So I'm pretty much the only "conservative" posting daily over there, and I'm a damned poor example of that genre, but it's the hat that everyone keeps putting back on my head every time I try to take it off, so I accept it. Funny thing is, most of the commenters seem to break to the center-right, and they're an informed, thoughtful bunch. If It ever falls apart, I want the commenters.

But Justin is himself an active commenter on some of the leftward blogs he's used to reading, and he usually seems to link his comments back to Donklephant. At least from the small sample of blog reactions to Donklephant, the idea of a centrist dialogue is much more acceptable on the right than on the left. To the degree the right has noticed the site, it's been politely applauded. But it's been savaged from the left.

Again, that makes sense in the overall political scene. When you're behind in the score (as thge left seems to be every election day), you don't want more compromise, more bridge-building.

So I don't follow Justin's career as a poster on left blogs, but sometimes it develops into a row that spills back into the site I share with him. Here's an example. And when that happens I feel awkward, like when you go to a friend's house and he and his wife start a plate-hurling argument right in front of you.

But I can't help noticing how brutal are the intermural battles of the left. Like medieval Venetian gang wars, all stiletto and jugular. In the fight cited above, one character keeps coming back to post and tell his rival why the rival isn't worth the trouble of answering. I once shared a house with a very kind jazz musician whose girlfriend broke up with him and called him about 5 times a night for a week to harangue him for hours about why he wasn't worth one minute of her time. Sort of like that.

And how revealing, perhaps. In the thread above, the smug commenter sums up the gist of a disagreement thus:


You still don’t seem to grasp the Simpson’s reference. I suppose that this is representative of the entire conversation; we make points that you don’t seem to understand, so you ignore them.


Wow, indeed. That's everything wrong with the modern left in America. That's why, while George W. Bush's approval slouches toward single digits, the same polls reveal that, if you reran the 2004 election today, Kerry still would lose.

The "progressives" are a high school clique. "You didn't get the Simpsons joke. You're not one of the cool kids." The Red States don't get the Simpsons jokes, either.

Carnival of Etymologies

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

The habit of President Bush (and, to be fair, Congress) of spending mountains of cash and cutting taxes at the same time has many heads spinning. It's all about the money.

Indo-European language history is older than the use of coin as money, and the most ancient words for "money" are based on the chief standard of value in very ancient times: cattle. This survives in English in a few words -- fee, pecuniary, etc. -- which were discussed in an earlier carnival.

Some other pre-coin standards of value that have become words for "money" in various languages include horses and jewels, and pelts. Russian kunec "merchant" comes from an Old Russian kuna "money, a small coin," which literally means "martin skin."

A more recent group of words for "money" or "coin" derives from precious metals, notably silver (Greek argyros, Irish airgead, Latin argentum, French argent). Other "money" words originally were names of specific coins, such as Spanish dinero, Italian denaro, both from Vulgar Latin dinarius (classical denarius) the name of a Roman silver coin originally worth ten aes, and derived from deni, the distributive adjective form of decem "ten."

The original Old English word for "money" was geld, a word which also could be used for "payment, tribute, offering." This is the native noun form of the general Germanic word for "to pay" (cf. German geld, Old High German gelt, Old Norse gjald). The reconstructed root is *gheldh-, but this does not seem to exist anywhere outside Germanic. It is not related to gold, however it survives in guild and yield.

The final step in the progression from cattle to precious metals to actual coins is represented by Greek nomisma "coin" (the study of coins is called numismatics, a word coined in French in 1579 from the Latin form of nomisma); but originally nomisma meant more broadly, "anything sanctioned by custom." In fact, the root of it is nomos "custom, law." This important Greek word also forms the back half of anomie, autonomy, astronomy, economy (literally "household management"), and Deuteronomy.

According to this site, the first appearance of what we recognize as coins took place in the 7th century B.C.E., probably in Lydia in Asia Minor.

But what of money itself? It made its way into English from Latin, and originally it was the nickname of a goddess.

Money entered Middle English from Old French moneie, which comes from Latin moneta "mint, coinage." This is the same word as Moneta, a title of the Roman goddess Juno.

The temple to Iuno Moneta on the Capitoline Hill was vowed by M. Furius Camillus during the war with the Aurunci in 345 B.C.E. and dedicated on June 1 of the following year. It stood on the arx, on the site formerly occupied by the house of M. Manlius Capitolinus, and where the church of S. Maria Aracoeli and the Vittoriano now stands.

In late republican times a mint was established next to, or in, the Temple of Juno Moneta, conveniently close to the city treasury in the Temple of Saturn. The mint perhaps was established in 269 B.C.E. when the Romans introduced silver coinage.

Apparently the name of the temple got transfered to the name of what was made there -- money.

But that still leaves the question of what moneta originally meant in Latin. Linguists and historians aren't exactly sure. But they have a good guess.

Probably Camillus' temple replaced an earlier cult centre of Iuno Moneta. In fact, it's likely this was the site of the cult temple to which Plutarch refers when telling the tale of the geese who saved Rome in 390 B.C.

The story is set at the peak of the tumultuous years of the early 4th century B.C.E., when Celtic Gauls crossed the Alps and invaded Italy. A Celtic tribe, the Senones, under command of Brennus, pushed down through Etruscan lands and advanced on Rome. Eleven miles north of the city, the outnumbered Romans made a stand under A. Quintus Sulpicius (July 16, 390 B.C.E.) and were routed on the banks of the River Allia. Roman defenders fled to the Capitoline Hill to set up a last stand, while civilians streamed out the city gates to seek refuge in the countryside or cities further south. The Gauls flooded in, killing those who remained and looting and burning the city.

Attacks up the hill were repulsed, however, and the Gauls sat down to a siege. For seven months they remained. Open assaults on the Capitol all failed, but at least once the Gauls tried to scale the heights at night, by stealth. They might have succeeded, and history might be rewritten, but for the sacred geese kept on the grounds of the Temple of Juno. They detected the intruders and set up a clamor which awoke the defenders.

The Romans at last were able to bring Brennus to negotiation, and they bought peace and the departure of the Gauls for the stiff price of 1,000 pounds of gold. The final deal, as recorded by Livy, records one of the famous quotes of antiquity:

Quintus Sulpicius conferred with the Gallic chieftain Brennus and together they agreed upon the price, one thousand pounds' weight of gold. Insult was added to what was already sufficiently disgraceful, for the weights which the Gauls brought for weighing the metal were heavier than standard, and when the Roman commander objected, the insolent barbarian flung his sword into the scale, saying 'Vae Victis-- 'Woe to the vanquished!' "

One result of the Romans' harrowing near-disaster was that they reorganized their legions on practical lines and began the rise to military ascendancy.

So, Moneta seems to be from monere "advise, warn." The specific aspect of Juno worshipped at that temple became "Juno of the Warning."

That at least is the most likely story. But other explanations also sometimes were given by Roman antiquarians for the epithet Moneta. Cicero says it was derived from the warning voice of the goddess heard in the temple on the occasion of an earthquake, "ut sue plena procuratio fieret." Suidas states that during the war with Tarentum the Romans, needing money, obtained it by following the advice of Juno; and that in gratitude they gave her the epithet Moneta and established the mint in her temple. That story would reverse the explanation, deriving the epithet from the "money" word.

Even the usual derivation of the word is open to question. Moneta also could be derived from mons "hill." Tucker suggests "there may be some connection with the moon." Both these are less satisfactory than the explanation from monere, however.

This old stonework, perhaps the only surviving depiction of the temple, certainly suggests the importance of the geese.

At some time between the reign of Vespasian and the early second century the Romans moved the mint to a new site on the Caelian Hill near the modern church of S. Clemente, and nothing further is heard of the Juno temple in Roman records. Excavations for modern structures at the site (such as the monument to Victor Emmanuel) have revealed no trace of it, and some archaeologists think it may lie under the transepts of S. Maria Aracoeli.

The Latin verb monere "to admonish, warn, advise" is related to memini "I remember, I am mindful of," and to mens "mind." They all come from the Proto-Indo-European base *men- "to think," which has yielded a prodigious number of modern words in Modern English, both via Latin and via the Germanic form of the root, expressed by Old English gemynd "memory, thinking, intention."

If monere is the root of money, that makes money a cousin of monument (literally "something that reminds"), premonition ("a forewarning"), admonish (ad- "to" + monere), summon (sub- "under" + monere), monitor (" one who reminds, admonishes, or checks"), and monster, from Latin monstrum "monster, monstrosity, omen, portent, sign." Abnormal or prodigious animals were regarded as signs or omens of impending evil.

Outside Latin, monere has relatives in Sanskrit matih "thought," munih "sage, seer;" Greek memona "I yearn," mania "madness," mantis "one who divines, prophet, seer;" and Russian pamjat "memory."

Americans, of course, measure their money in dollars, which is a German word. To get more specific, it's a variant of the Low German form (daler) of High German taler.

Any way you spell it, it's an abbreviation of Joachimstaler, which literally means "(gulden) of Joachimstal." This was the name of a coin minted in Germany first in 1519 from silver brought up from a mine opened in 1516 near Joachimstal, a pretty town in the Erzgebirge Mountains in northwest Bohemia (modern Jáchymov in the Czech Republic) named for Saint Joachim. German Tal is cognate with English dale.

The German thaler (as it was spelled in the 16th century) was a large silver coin of varying value in the German states; it also was the name of a currency unit in Denmark and Sweden. English colonists in America used the word generically in reference to Spanish pieces of eight. On suggestion of Gouverneur Morris and Thomas Jefferson, Continental Congress adopted dollar as a coin name when it set up the U.S. currency, because the term was widely known but not British.

The legislation establishing the dollar became law on July 6, 1785, but no dollars were in circulation until 1794. The dollar sign ($) is said to derive from the image of the Pillars of Hercules, stamped with a scroll, on the Spanish piece of eight (below).

All this spending on war and relief has unbalanced the federal budget.

A budget is literally a "little leather pouch," which is what the word first meant when it appeared in English in the early 15th century. It comes from Old French bougette, a diminutive form of bouge "leather bag, wallet," which comes in turn from Latin bulga "leather bag," a word believed to be of Gaulish origin (cf. Old Irish bolg "bag," Breton bolc'h "flax pod"). The Romans picked up more than a few words from the Gauls, but probably fewer of them in the period of the Gaulish invasion of Italy, and more later, when Caesar's conquest of what is now France brought a large Gaulish population under Roman rule.

The modern financial meaning of budget is recorded from 1733, and it preserves the notion of a treasury minister keeping his fiscal plans in a wallet.

Deficit is only attested in English from 1782, fwhich seems a surprisingly (to me) late date. Even in French, it only goes back to 1690. It is a pure Latin word, deficit, literally meaning "it is wanting." This was an introductory word in clauses of inventory, from which it was extended to the modern sense.

The Latin is the third person singular present indicative of deficere "to be deficient, to desert, fail," a compound of de- "down, away" and facere "to do, perform."

Debt on the other hand has been around since the 13th century, from Old French dete, from Latin debitam "thing owed," the neuter past participle of debere "to owe," originally, "keep something away from someone." This is a compound of de- and habere "to have." The -b- was restored in the English word after c.1400 (The King James Version has detter three times, debter three times, debtor twice and debtour once).

Spend was one of the first words the Germanic peoples borrowed from Latin; it was in use as far back as the Old English period. (in forspendan "use up"). Its source is Latin expendere "to pay out, to weigh out money, pay down." This is a compound of ex- "out" and pendere "to pay, weigh," literally "to hang."

The image is of things (in this case, metals used as currency) measured for payment by weight (like the Roman tribute to the Gauls), and weighed by hanging from cords, perhaps in a scale pan.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Patriotism and Peace

"Peace is Patriotic" is one of the anti-war mantras. So is "Support the Troops; Bring Them Home Now." I'm still trying to puzzle this out.

Assume, dear reader, that your overpowering urge in the world is "get America out of Iraq." This is what you really wish to see. Why? Well, that's your business, but the usual reason professed is "peace."

The notion that the only reason Iraq is a violent place is because Americans are there is the kind of wish-thinking that I associate with the kind of "anti-war activist" who only thinks about world affairs after a few long tugs on the ol' bong and a spin through the first two "Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young)" albums. But some thinking anti-Bush types do seem to take it seriously. Gregory Djerejian takes the time to patiently answer this argument.

The gist of it includes the points that Iraq, a fractious but resource-rich society surrounded by predatory enemies, needs time to build itself up and stand on its own. And only the U.S. occupation can give it that breathing room, as the Allied occupation did for West Germany in the late 1940s and early '50s.

Pull out U.S. forces in a hasty phased withdrawal and kiss a national Iraqi Army good-bye, and with it likely too the prospects, however dim they may be (of which more below), of an ultimately successful Iraq project.

The other flaw in the argument is that it presumes the insurgents have the same goal as the peace activists -- to get the Americans out of Iraq and then live in peace and harmony with the world. An insurgent victory -- the necessary flip-side of a quick American departure -- would galvanize jihadism the way the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan did. Casting the future is a difficult business but I'd bet a couple of paychecks that Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi riding triumphantly out of the desert into Baghdad will not usher in a new era of world peace and stability.

As someone once said, "America 'occupies' Iraq like a cast 'occupies' a broken leg." The proponents of the "bring the troops home and peace will reign" idea are perhaps deliberately not thinking about this because it doesn't suit them to do so. It confronts them with the maddening possibility that, though the war may still have been unjustified and unnecessary (as they deem it), and the occupation bungled, the best thing to do now, after all that, is to keep doing what's being done, more or less. That's not a very satisfactory answer for those folks, I imagine.

But let that pass. "Bring the troops home now" is your cry, and you really mean it as the best next step.

You want to see this happen right away. But since you are not the commander in chief, you cannot make this happen right away. So you have two alternatives. You can stamp your feet and cry, or you can settle for the next-best option of getting America out of Iraq as soon as possible.

How do you do that? You either believe America wishes to remain an occupying force in Iraq forever, or you understand that it has certain goals there that, once met, will meet the conditions for America's withdrawal from the country.

The path forks before this, actually. If you believe Bush & Co. are a pack of criminal liars who will stop at nothing and waste no amount of other people's lives and treasure to pursue their agenda of world domination and corporate enrichment, then the only way to fight them is full-on, taking any ally who shares your enmity with them. It doesn't matter if Bush sets conditions or not; whenever he talks, he lies.

Frankly, a lot of the people I listen to and read on the anti-war left at least claim to be assured of all that. They just haven't somehow followed their conviction to any sort of logical conclusion. But the conclusion it leads to, I'm afraid, is not consistent with "peace" or with "supporting the troops," at least insofar as they are loyal to the military of which Bush is commander in chief.

If you believe America intends to occupy Iraq forever, and you are bound and determined to see that not happen, is there any alternative but to work toward American defeat in Iraq? The alternative is to accept failure of your purpose. Outright defeat for the American military, if the American people are behind it, is a highly unlikely outcome right now. But a war opponent could lend his or her effort to making the cost of continuing the present U.S. course so steep and bloody that it breaks the national will and forces social unrest and political turmoil a la 1968.

But what if you believe the U.S. will leave Iraq under certain conditions not involving utter military catastrophe befalling U.S. forces?

Bush and Co. don't make this easy. They are a singularly inarticulate and off-key administration. They do well to avoid withdrawal timetables, but they could help themselves by having, and repeating, and sticking to, a coherent brief set of points for success in Iraq. Yet even through the rhetorical haze it is possible to read the administration and discover its rough conditions for success in Iraq, which would be followed by U.S. withdrawal.

A stable, democratic government. A permanent end to the insurgency, preferably by defeat, but perhaps by negotiation. An Iraq strong and capable enough to defend itself from outside interference, and capable of policing its own territory to prevent terrorists from using it as a training and staging ground.

This is a good deal less than many of us who supported this venture had hoped for from it, by the way. And there are signs that the administration is eager to end this venture sooner, rather than later, and would be willing to cut a few corners and fudge some of the fine print on its conditions of acceptable withdrawal.

So what do you do? You bend your time and energy to seeing that Iraq reaches as soon as possible the state where the Americans will leave willingly. You support the reconstruction of Iraq and the empowerment of the Iraqis. You willingly contribute to the effort of rebuilding, either through private donations or personal effort.

How many people who shout "bring the troops home now" are doing that?

Ah, but this simplistic logical walk through the problem ignores so much that is important to the "peace" activist. The Bushies must not feel they have succeeded! They must be punished, and must be held up to the world as a failure, to prevent future administrations from following the siren song of the neo-cons! Americans who support the military overthrow of a nation that has not attacked us in war must be taught by example the error of their ways and made to repent it!

But now we're not talking about peace anymore, are we? We're not talking about supporting troops. Peace and the troops are peripheral to the purpose. Now the language becomes rather similar to the way Eisenhower talked about the Germans in 1946.