Thursday, December 29, 2005

Dirty Harry War

The Chicago Tribune fearlessly investigates Shrubbie McHitlerburton the Impeachment Chimp, holds his feet to the fire, speaks truth to power, despite the certainty of being “rendered” to an “American gulag”:

On Nov. 20, the Tribune began an inquest: We set out to assess the Bush administration’s arguments for war in Iraq. We have weighed each of those nine arguments against the findings of subsequent official investigations by the 9/11 Commission, the Senate Intelligence Committee and others. We predicted that this exercise would distress the smug and self-assured–those who have unquestioningly supported, or opposed, this war.

The matrix below summarizes findings from the resulting nine editorials. We have tried to bring order to a national debate that has flared for almost three years. Our intent was to help Tribune readers judge the case for war–based not on who shouts loudest, but on what actually was said and what happened.

Read it, and see what they concluded. It’s no surprise, actually. They simply read the speeches of the administration and the reports of the investigating bodies. It’s all public. Any sane person who did the same would likely come to nearly the same conclusion. It’s a shame so few have done the same.

The Trib is moderately Republican in its editorial policies — it endorsed Bush in 2004, but in doing so said more kind things about Kerry than did many newspapers that endorsed Kerry. But if in your mind that disqualifies or taints its findings in this case, then do you feel the same about every investigative series by the New York Times, the LA Times and the WaPo?

It wonders me that we still have to hash and rehash this business about the American people being "duped" by the administration -- whether willfully or by incompetence of spy agencies. It wasn't all that long ago, and I remember it well enough to retrace my own steps along the path that ended in my supporting an attack on Saddam. And I can go check the record of what I wrote over those months, which is another advantage of being a writer.

In October 2002 I was leaning against the idea. It didn't seem the right next move in the War on Islamist Terrorism. In November 2002, I was asking myself, "what if Bush is right," about Saddam's threats, and leaning toward supporting the overthrow of the butcher of Baghdad. But I was still insisting it ought to be done through the U.N., and with a broad coalition.

By February 2003, I was supporting the invasion and defending it against the zombie armies of Moore and Chomsky. So was I duped by Bush? No, because what informed that decision was my consideration of the humanitarian/anti-totalitarian justification, as laid out by Johann Hari, André Glucksmann, David Aaronovitch, Michael Ignatieff, Christopher Hitchens, and some others. Curiously, the voices that convinced me tended to be Europeans -- Europe was the boiling cauldron of "nothing is worse than an American war" opposition to the whole project.

Bush didn't convince me, but Tony Blair did. On March 31, 2003, that relentless anti-American, anti-Iraq War newspaper, the "Guardian," summed up Blair's vision in its leader:

Mr Blair has invaded Iraq for different reasons from Mr Rumsfeld. In Mr Blair's world, Saddam is a moral outrage, both for the way that he treats his own people and for the threat that he poses to others, especially if he were to use weapons of mass destruction or to put them into the hands of terrorists. Putting Iraq to rights, in Mr Blair's view, should be the whole world's business. The more that all the nations make common cause to do this, the better. The less this happens, the more vital it is to balance any absence of common cause with a series of equitable and humanitarian initiatives - on the Middle East and on reconstruction in particular - which can help to establish what Disraeli, seeking to justify the British invasion of Abyssinia in 1867, called "the purity of our purpose".

That was the war for me. No, we didn't quite get it, but then history doesn't work that way.

As for WMD, they were not a minor point. But they were not my single-issue selling point, either.

Yes, we were deceived. The deception was Saddam's, not Bush's. He denied he had WMD, but behaved as though he did. The question in my mind was, did the inspections and the sanctions keep massive killing devices out of his hands, or not? And the only way to know for sure was to get him out of power and open the whole country to inspection.

Barring that, it was a matter of probabilities. He clearly coveted the bomb, and certainly would have used it on America or Israel if he could get one. It also was true that Saddam would never reveal that he didn't have such power, even if he didn't. His dictatorial mojo was wrapped up in standing up to the Americans, in representing real Arab military power in the world. He was a lion to the Arab street, everywhere but in Iraq. He lied because it was his nature, and he lied because he had no other choice.

We knew all that. I remember discussing this all with the people I was interacting with online in those days, a diverse but highly thoughtful, passionate, and nonpartisan group that centered on an American Civil War discussion board.

Suppose, for a minute, that an individual decision to support the overthrow of Saddam was made in early 2003 solely on the basis of WMD. It would have been made in the fog of doubt. It would have been thought out in the gap between "what if he doesn't" and "what if he does."

If you knew, with certainty, that Saddam had nuclear bombs that could fit in suitcases and was in active negotiations with Osama bin Laden -- if you had it all on video, say -- then I think it was a 100 percent case for war. Except among my colleagues in the newsroom, perhaps. If you knew the inspections and sanctions were working and Saddam had nothing but rusting artillery shells and a Keystone Cops army, then you had a weak case for war (but the other justifications would remain).

But you didn't know. You couldn't have known. It's possible even Saddam didn't know what he had. It was a Clint Eastwood moment. So you had to consider, What were the chances he had one up his sleeve? One percent? Could you live with that after 9/11? 10 percent? 20 percent?

We kept waiting for the U.S. administration to give solid evidence to make it clear once and for all. The model we had in mind was Adlai Stevenson at the U.N. in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

[U.S. intelligence was wrong there, too: we grossly overestimated Soviet troop numbers in Cuba and completely missed the most dangerous weapons on the island, 12 Luna tactical nuclear weapons. But the Soviet dispute was not over the presence of missiles but over whether they were aggression or deterrence.]

But each "proof" the White House came up with quickly melted. Clearly the administration was trying to make a case for war. But they never did sell it, in an ironclad way. They may have opened the gap of reasonable doubt about Saddam, but they also involved themselves. In the end, the Colin Powell shows were a distraction. Each time the expectation of proof collapsed, we fell back into the vale of uncertainty between Saddam and Bush.

And now that the war's been fought, we accept the outcome. We know -- leaving aside the possibility that there was an Iraqi WMD stockpile that either is so well hidden we still haven't seen it, or that managed to make its way into Syria -- that there was no vast stockpile of WMD. And that the WMD Saddam did have were the least potent type, while the one we feared the most, the nuclear bomb, was the one he was furthest from getting.

And now there are those who cry that the people were deceived. These people remind me of a homeowner who demands the rebate of all his insurance premiums for the past 20 years, because his house didn't burn down after all. Or a blackjack player who wants to rescind his bet because now that he sees that 10 card in front of him, he knows he shouldn't have asked the dealer for a hit.

War is always a bad choice, and unless you love killing for its own sake, you only choose it when there's not a better option. It would be nice if such decisions could be made with god-like certainty. If you find such a planet, let me know; I might want to move there. But when you choose to go to war, you do it with the best-informed guess you can make, and you do it with every intention to finish it.

Maybe Bush "deceived" you. He didn't deceive me. Cry about it if that's your thing, but leave me out of it.

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Carnival of the Etymologies

A regular Thursday feature of "Done With Mirrors."

[Special self-referential edition, spun off from thinking about this post.]

The language-roots of community have forking derivations. The source of the word is Latin communitatem (nominative communitas), which is from communis, an adjective meaning "in common, public, general, shared by all or many." Classical Latin Communitatem was merely a noun of quality meaning "fellowship, community of relations or feelings." But in Medieval Latin, probably under the influence of Christianity, it acquired a concrete meaning "a body of fellows or fellow-townsmen."

Latin communis is a compound, but it is an ancient one, and probably is older than Latin itself. In Proto-Indo-European, it would have been *ko-moin-i- "held in common," a compound adjective formed from *ko- "together" and *moi-n-, a suffixed form of the base *mei-.

In fact, the same Proto-Indo-European *ko-moin-i- that produced Latin communis got into Old English as gemæe "common, public, general, universal." The Anglo-Saxon word for what we would call community was gemænscipe "community, fellowship, union, common ownership."

The modern descendant of Old English gemæne is the adjective mean, which has deteriorated in sense (as has common, in some usages). The meaning "inferior, poor" emerged c.1300; that of "stingy, nasty" was first recorded in 1665; the weaker sense of "disobliging, pettily offensive" is recorded from 1839, originally in American slang.

[The other two means in English are not related. The verb meaning "to have the sense of" is Old English mænan "to mean, tell, say, complain," and is probably from the base *men- "to think." The noun meaning "that which is halfway between extremes" is from Latin medius, from the base *me- "between."]

The word common itself came into English before 1300, from Old French comun, from Latin communis. Almost from the beginning, it had a disparaging sense in English, in reference to women and criminals. Commons "the third estate of the English people as represented in Parliament" is recorded from 1377.

Common sense is a 14th century term, originally referring to the power of uniting mentally the impressions conveyed by the five physical senses, thus "ordinary understanding, without which one is foolish or insane" (it probably translates Latin sensus communis, and Greek koine aisthesis); the meaning "good sense" is from 1726.

Common pleas is a 13th century term, from Anglo-French communs plets referring to civil actions by one subject against another, as opposed to pleas of the crown. Common prayer is contrasted with private prayer.

There are several *mei- roots in Proto-Indo-European. Most linguists trace the root of community to the *mei- that means "to change, go, move." Add the "together" prefix to that, and you get "exchanged together," hence "shared by all," which is the sense of common and mean.

It is the root as well of Latin meare "to go, pass" (source of the second element in permeable); Sanskrit methati "changes, alternates, joins, meets;" Old Church Slavonic mite "alternately," Czech mijim "to go by, pass by," Polish mijam "avoid;" Gothic maidjan "to change," misso "mutually;" and Hittite mutai- "to be changed into."

Among the modern English words that derive from this base are amoeba, a 19th century scientific name coined from Greek amoibe "change." The creature is so called for its constantly changing shape.

The Latin verb mutare "to change" also belongs here. It is the source of mutate and related words, but also, less obviously, molt, which evolved out of Old English (be)mutian "to exchange," an early borrowing from Latin mutare. The notion is of "exchanging" one set of feathers for another. The word evolved into Middle English mouten, and a parasitic -l- crept in in the late 16th century, on the model of fault, etc.

The same Latin word, coming up through French, became mew, the obsolete word meaning "cage" -- originally a cage for hawks when molting" -- from Old French muer "to molt," from Latin mutare.

Another Latin descendant of *mei- is mutuus "done in exchange," source of mutual and many other English words.

"Change" can go in many directions, and so this root seems to have branched widely. One notion was "changed for the worse," which is one meaning with which the root entered Germanic, as *ga-maid-az "changed (for the worse), abnormal," the source of Old English gemædde "out of one's mind," source of mad, as well as Old Saxon gimed "foolish," Old High German gimeit "foolish, vain, boastful," Gothic gamaiþs "crippled, wounded," and Old Norse meiða "to hurt, maim."

Mad emerged in Middle English to replace the more usual Old English word, wod. The sense of "beside oneself with excitement or enthusiasm" is attested from c.1330. The meaning "beside oneself with anger" is attested from c.1300, but it was deplored by Rev. John Witherspoon (1781) as an Americanism, and now competes in American English with angry for this sense.

The ancient Germans seem to have been pessimists about change generally, since another form of this root became Proto-Germanic *missjan "to go wrong," source of the prefix mis- and the verb miss "fail to hit" (Old English missan "fail to hit, fail in what was aimed at," Old Norse missa "to miss, to lack").

It's considered likely, too, that this ancient Germanic negative sense also underlays the words maim, mayhem and mangle, which came up into English via French. A similar negative sense of "change" in the same root evolved in ancient Persia, as Avestan mitho "perverted, false." Perhaps an aggressive sense of "exchange" is what turned this root into Proto-Slavic *misti "revenge," *mistiti "to take revenge," which is preserved in the proper name Mstislav, which literally means "vengeful fame."

Another branch off the root would be from "change" to "exchange," to "exchange of goods," and also "exchange of services within a society as regulated by custom or law."

This, many linguists presume, is what led to the group of seemingly related words in Latin the refer to public life, such as munia "public duties, duties, functions." Out of this, English got municipality and such words. A Roman municipum was a city whose citizens had the privileges of Roman citizens but was governed by its own laws.

It's also at the root of immunity, which originally meant "exempt from service or obligation." The medical sense "protection from disease" did not emerge until 1879.

If this connection is right, then community and municipality started in the same root, diverged, and arrived at the same place after 3,000 years or so of evolution.

But that's not quite certain. Latin munus, in addition to "service, duty, office," also had a sense of "gift." From the "gift" sense of munus come remuneration and munificence. It's quite possible that a word for "exchange" could come to mean "gift." But it's also possible, and some linguists say this is so, that these represent two separate roots.

Because there is another Proto-Indo-European base *mei-, which means "to bind."

It produced Greek mitra "headband, turban," source of the miter that means "a bishop's tall hat;" also mitos "warp thread" (preserved in modern English in mitosis and samite).

In Slavic, the root became Russian mir, which in addition to being the name of the Soviet space station means "peace, world," and also "village, community." The "peace" sense seems to be the oldest. The "community" or "village" was a source of peace and joy in ancient Slavic society, and linguists explain that the Old Slavic word miru "peace" later was "used in Christian terminology as a collective 'community of peace' " [Buck], translating Greek kosmos. Hence, its extension to "the known world, mankind."

From the same root comes Mithras, the name of the Persian god of light, from Indo-Iranian *mitram "contract," whence *mitras "contractual partner, friend," conceptualized as a god, or, according to Kent, first the epithet of a divinity and eventually his name.

This is related to Sanskrit Mitrah, a Vedic deity associated with Varuna. "His name is one of the earliest Indic words we possess, being found in clay tablets from Anatolia dating to about 1500 B.C." [Calvert Watkins].

How do all these sort out? Which Latin words connect to which roots? Is the "gift" the thing you "exchange," or is it the thing that "binds" the recipient to the giver? Is the "public office" the "gift" one gave to one's community, or perhaps it was that the honor of public office was a "gift" bestowed by the community on the individual? (One of the specific sense of Latin munus was "(gladiatorial) entertainment," which was generally sponsored by some rich or powerful citizen as a gift to the people). Is the "community" what is "exchanged back and forth" or what "binds" people together?

Munus, from Old Latin moenus "service, duty, burden," generally is taken to be from the *mei- that means "change, exchange, interchange." But the Latin etymologist Tucker says it is "more probably" from the other Proto-Indo-European root *mei- meaning "bind," so that munia = "obligations" and communis = "bound together."

In the end, we can't say whether community is a gift or a binding, or both. As Rousseau wrote, it is both. The individual gives up certain natural freedoms in exchange for certain advantages and protections.

What we do know is that a word from one of these two identical roots is the earliest written Indo-European word we have yet found: "contracts" for business and trade were very important to the Hittites, so much so that one of their words, based on the root for "to bind" was borrowed by their neighbors, the Assyrians, and it turns up in Assyrian inscriptions from 1900 B.C.E.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

World Community

"Dr. Demarche" has been posting regularly at American Future, which gives us a great two-fer of insightful readers of the contemporary scene.

He's been wondering about the phrase "international community."

Is there such a thing as "the" international community? If so who are its members? In what arenas does this community act?

I tend to say "yes," because I tend to think of community on the most basic level of "a group of people who happen to live together in the same space." There is an international community, and all nations are part of it, and its arena is the world itself.

It wasn't always so. The world has been getting smaller since the European Dark Ages. That's almost literally true. Just two centuries ago, Japan was a closed kingdom and news took a month to travel from Britain to America. It's as though you drew spots with a felt-tip pen on a balloon, and then slowly let the air out of it. They get closer and closer. So with the nations of the world. They start out like farmstead clearings in a wide wilderness, and then at some point they have come close enough to one another to be called a village.

Which happened, to my thinking, some time circa 1950. It would be difficult to imagine any mid-19th century institution taking a name like World Bank (1930), World Cup (1930), or World Health Organization (1948). Carlyle, in 1831, looked forward to the day when there would be a world literature embracing the best of all lands, but that was just an abstraction in his mind; the Germans were the first to treat it as a reality; Longfellow brought the idea back to America.

Sure, as far back as the 1340s a disease mutation in central Asia eventually could spread as far as Iceland, and in the 1830s a cholera epidemic that began in India could kill thousands in America. But it seems to me the world passed a critical mass threshhold shortly after 1945, when a single conflict between two nations attained the power to wipe out all human life and perhaps all life on earth, in a half a day. At that point, we all became, of necessity, a community.

The mental construction of a world community began to spark in the collective Western mind a generation or two before that, not long before the tellingly named World War of 1914-18. And just as the Great War was 90 percent a European conflict, so the idea of a world community strikes me as a peculiarly Western notion. I am not sure it would naturally have gotten off the ground in China or Japan. I am pretty certain it was a non-starter in the Muslim world, unless it came about after the last infidel had been converted or beheaded.

World politics (German weltpolitik) is the precursor to world community, and that idea that goes back to the mid-19th century, but again it began to be treated as a reality only in the decade before World War I -- when the European colonial powers, whose reach literally did span the globe, began to think in global terms. Ironically, it was colonialism that paved the mental path to world community.

A community, in the way I am speaking of it, has no inherent organization. It may, or it may not, be a place of rule and justice. It can be a global totalitarian order, or it can be an anarchic hell. The identifying quality is that actions in one place inevitably are known in others, and affect actions in others.

A neighborhood, a city block, is a community whether it wants to be or not. The bum on the streets is as much a part of it as the mayor, as the baby up all night crying, as the old deaf woman who feeds the birds every day, as the proud car-owner who has to park it under the trees where the birds roost, as the strong young man who shovels snow off everyone's sidewalk in the middle of the night when no one can see him. A loud family argument is everyone's problem; a diseased tree dropping its branches is everyone's threat.

For better or worse, America is the rich family on the block, the one with a house decked in big-assed Christmas decorations every year. And, for better or worse, we're the one house on the block that keeps a gun case and a box of ammunition, and knows how to shoot effectively. In a well-policed community, a houseful of gun nuts can make people uneasy. But who are the world's police? And is the current world community more akin to a comfortable European retirement village or an Old West frontier town? And is the family that shoots not an asset on the frontier?

At the moment -- by which I mean "for most of my lifetime" -- the role of the United Nations in this community seems to be as a broken bureaucratic machinery useful only to people who want to punch a button and spit out a resolution condemning the United States or Israel. Maybe John Bolton can shake some vim into it and some use out of it.

If you want to see how a community behaves, consider the world reaction to the tsunami. A year ago, the ocean floor cracked and billions of cubic tons of water shuddered like the wave of a shaken blanket till they crashed the shores of South Asia in walls as high as a three-story house. When the seas drew back, they sucked with them more than 225,000 lives.

The wounded needed medical care quickly, and the 1.8 million homeless needed clean water, food and medicine. Without supplies, the wave of starvation and disease would be worse than what the water had wrought.

Your neighbor's house suddenly collapses into a heap of bricks. You can hear muffled cries for help from under the rubble pile. There also might be live wires sparking and sputtering in there, too. What do you do? Stand around and wait for someone to show up with a bulldozer and a bullhorn? Or roll up your sleeves and dive into the pile? Both are possible answers in a "community."

After the tsunami, many looked to the United Nations. Kofi Annan was on a skiing vacation at the Jackson Hole holiday ranch of James Wolfensohn, the World Bank president and a critic of the Bush administration. Annan did not surface in New York until three days after the disaster.

As Bush often has shown, in the modern world a leader can command from many places, even a vacation home. But in the case of the United Nations, it didn't seem to matter. Tidal waves had erased roads and docks in a region already remote. No amount of bureaucrats could solve that problem, and that was all the U.N. had to offer.

While Annan was still changing out of his ski gear, the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier group was steaming to Sumatra. In a few days, its Seahawk choppers clattered into Sumatran villages, the first sign to the survivors that the world had not forgotten them. U.S. Marine C-130s flew airlift support. The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group headed for the scene with five ships that could churn out 90,000 gallons of fresh water a day.

This was not a unilateral American effort — not by any stretch. When the Americans arrived, they found the Australians already hard at work. Overlooked allies like New Zealand and Singapore did herculean heavy lifting. Tens of thousands of people owe their lives to this military effort, which was not coordinated by the U.N. In fact, until well into the third week of the calamity, the U.N. presence in Indonesia was limited to the five-star hotels of Jakarta.

When Bush announced the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia would coordinate the world’s response, British politician Clare Short said the American effort "sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up."

Tell that to the Indonesians.

As for the money nations donated to the United Nations, the Financial Times reported last week that almost a third of the $590 million U.N. fund spent for the Indian Ocean tsunami relief may have gone to pay for administration, staff and related costs. Many charities consider a figure of 10 percent of project funds appropriate for administration costs.

In the wake of the tsunamis, Jan Egeland, U.N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs accused America of "stinginess." The U.S. government ultimately pledged $857 million in relief, more than any other nation, but its initial pledge was much lower.

Egeland, bred into the modern European system, where militaries are shunned and governments manage lives, did not see and perhaps could not see the Lincoln's choppers in the jungle saving lives while his agency was hard at work writing press releases.

Not did he notice, perhaps, the flood of U.S. private and corporate donations that ultimately dwarfed the official contribution — an unprecedented $1.48 billion, given to the kind of aid groups and charities that actually will rebuild communities, and with less than 32 percent administrative costs.

We're stuck with each other in this world community, whether we want to be or not. America, in particular, is stuck with a crappy dilemma: Act alone and be hated, whether we abate the problem or not; or go to the village meeting and watch them jaw each other to sleep while the fire burns.

My sense of "world community," obviously, echoes Marshall McLuhan's "Global Village" concept. To him, circa 1960, it was an interrelatedness based on media.

Postliterate man's electronic media contract the world to a village or tribe where everything happens to everyone at the same time: everyone knows about, and therefore participates in, everything that is happening the minute it happens. Television gives this quality of simultaneity to events in the global village. [Carpenter & McLuhan, "Explorations in Communication," 1960]

To me, it's literal and real. A hostage taken in Baghdad has consequences in Berlin. An earthquake in Pakistan changes lives in Canada. When the American economy sneezes, South Korea catches the flu.

"Village" is a word that tends to find favor in liberal hearts, as an alternative to the mean, technological city. But McLuhan loaded his observations with warnings. He saw mankind moving from individualism and autonomy to collective identity with a "tribal base." And this was potentially a place where totalitarianism and terror would rule. In fact, a great collective effort would be required to prevent that.

UPDATE: Also rising to the challenge are: Dave at The Glittering Eye, and Marc at American Future, and Dave at tdaxp, and Mark at Zenpundit. Needless to say, in that company, I'm the simple-minded one of the bunch, just like in high school, lol.

Who You Calling Conservative?

I live not far from Dover, the little bedroom borough in York County, Pennsylvania, where the "intelligent design" controversy played out. When the ruling came down against the school district, one of the local newspapers sub-headed its reaction story "Scientists, teachers pleased; conservatives furious."

That's how far "conservative" has fallen. Somehow, the name of the philosophy of Burke has come to be the nameplate the press nails under its lurid pictures of "gang of snake-handling yahoos." The left-wing bloggers use the term "wingnuts." The media uses "conservatives." Both seem to have the same image in mind, whatever word they use.

This Wall Street Journal piece, however, is a good reminder that there is such a thing as a genuine philosophical conservative approach to American life. And that it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the Republican Party. And it can be internally consistent and dynamic. And that, while I am not quite in line with it (I'm somewhere on the line between there and Jeffrey Hart's "soft utopianism"), it is something I can respect and admire.

Among the great banes of modern conservatism is utopianism. Among its ideal virtues are "a healthy practical skepticism and the requirement of historical knowledge as a guide to prudent policy." Hart applies that combination to the current political scene, and he discovers case after case where the conservative position diverges from the Bush Administration or its allies.

On free markets, for instance:

But the utopian temptation can turn such free-market thought into a utopianism of its own--that is, free markets to be effected even while excluding every other value and purpose.

Which is a classic Russell Kirk position. Through some writings I had done I got to know a local college professor, W. Wesley McDonald, one of the last defenders of the old conservative ideology he had learned from his mentor, Kirk. I got to read an early copy of McDonald's book, "Russell Kirk and the Age of Ideology," which uncovered the philosophical foundations of Kirk's work.

It was an eye-opener, to me. Kirk, who died in 1994, is best known as the author of "The Conservative Mind" (1953), a book which galvanized young thinkers -- McDonald was one of them -- disaffected with the prevailing political culture of America. "The Conservative Mind" appeared at a time when received wisdom about conservatives in politics hadn't evolved since 1861, when John Stuart Mill pegged them as "the stupid party." American political scholars seriously argued in print that political conservatism was not a philosophical position but a mental maladjustment.

Kirk was a "traditionalist." He believed that an objective universal moral order exists, and that it ought to be defended from ideologues of the left and right. He disliked unbridled free-market capitalism (which fuels "the dream of avarice"), and he believed the state has a constructive role to play. He believed that traditional patterns and institutions -- "the permanent things" -- preserve order, and they are the best foundation of a political system that can offer real freedom rather than mere anarchy.

Hart also echoes Kirk in his high regard for a quality most modern Americans hardly think of when the read the word "conservative" -- beauty.

Kirk looked to literature and held that "ethical and normative truths are often best conveyed through a symbolic veil, as found, for example, in the medium of great poetry, rather than by the means of discursive explication."

Kirk could call T.S. Eliot friend. His belief in the power of myth and literary tradition makes one think not of Republican politicians but rather of Harold Bloom or Joseph Campbell. Literature "is the breath of society," Kirk wrote, "transmitting to successive rising generations, century upon century, a body of ethical principles and critical standards and imaginative creations that constitutes a kind of collective intellect of humanity, the formalized wisdom of our ancestors."

Hart sees the same quality in natural beauty.

The tradition of regard for woodland and wildlife was present from the beginnings of the nation and continued through conservative exemplars such as the Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who established the National Parks. Embarrassingly for conservatives (at least one hopes it is embarrassing), stewardship of the environment is now left mostly to liberal Democrats.

Other modern Republican shibboleths turn out to be equally adrift from classical conservatism. Evangelical religion, for instance:

Religion is an integral part of the distinctive identity of Western civilization. But this recognition is only manifest in traditional forms of religion--repeat, traditional, or intellectually and institutionally developed, not dependent upon spasms of emotion. This meant religion in its magisterial forms.

Or blanket opposition to abortion:

Nevertheless, most conservatives defend the "right to life," even of a single-cell embryo, and call for a total ban on abortion. To put it flatly, this is not going to happen. Too many powerful social forces are aligned against it, and it is therefore a utopian notion.

"Conservatives assume that the Republican Party is by and large conservative," Hart writes. "But this party has stood for many and various things in its history. The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt, now the solid base of 'Republicanism.' The consequences of that profound shift are evident, especially with respect to prudence, education, intellect and high culture. It is an example of Machiavelli's observation that institutions can retain the same outward name and aspect while transforming their substance entirely."

It was Kirk who sounded the warning that conservatives and libertarians were not natural allies. In fact, as he knew, liberals and libertarians have more in common than the Latin root of their names, and more in common with one another than with conservatives. He also knew the difference between a conservative and a reactionary, as his disciple, McDonald, makes clear.

"Life is always presenting us with new possibilities, and hence our applications of the good must be constantly adjusted to emerging circumstances," McDonald writes. "The ethically ordered society is realized by the creative acts of successive generations of virtuous people striving to apply universal standards of the good to concrete situations. In this process, as traditions are preserved and renewed, society maintains a healthy balance between the twin necessities of change and preservation."

That's a kind of conservative I could stand to see a lot more of in the headlines.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"Munich," No Thanks

My mother's family always was the one we knew least about. My grandfather was a big, gruff self-made man, born in the waning days of the 19th century, who had lifted himself out of the slums of Philadelphia by sheer will and work. Arbeit macht frei, and for him, in America, it was true. He survived the tuberculosis that cut a swath through his family and he survived the Great Depression and he raised a family in comfort.

We loved him, because he was Pop-Pop. But when I stand back and think about him, as I approach the age he was when I first knew him, I realize he was not especially a nice man. Nor do I think he'd ever have wanted to be known as one. They were a tough brood, his clan, and they nursed grudges and even though he had ten siblings, seven of whom survived to adulthood, he was estranged from the families of all but one of them by the time I knew him.

And he rarely talked about his family or his past. We knew little beyond his odd family name, "Goodfriend," that he had and bequeathed to my mother as her middle name. Nobody else we knew, growing up in the Pennsylvania countryside, had that name. It had a firm, warm, familial quality that seemed to ill-suit the clan that bore it. My grandfather had been raised in a Catholic home, we knew, but my grandparents on that side never attended any sort of religious service, except for weddings and funerals. Their children married in the local Schwenkfelder church, because it was local.

Bill Goodfriend had thick, wiry dark hair and a dark complexion, which he also bequeathed to my mother. She often was mistaken for Italian.

Later, when I was in college, my mother had a career in social work in Philadelphia. There, lo and behold, she met another Goodfriend, from an extended family. They got to talking about the name, trying to determine a connection, and the woman asked my mother something that implied she was Jewish.

"I'm not Jewish," my mother answered.

"We're all Jewish; all the Goodfriends are," was the reply.

So that night my mom called her parents, who still were living then, and they confirmed it. Yes, in fact, my grandfather was Jewish on his father's side. He never talked about it. He was not fond of his father, and he also knew that his ancestry, if it were known, might hold him back in his relentless march up the ladder of the American Dream. He was a suspicious man, but I wonder if his suspicions weren't valid in this case. Would a known Jew have been promoted to foreman tool maker at Hunter Pressed Steel Co. in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, in 1930?

They never told my mother, because they didn't think it mattered. By the time I found out I was part Jewish, I was 22, and it didn't matter much to me, either. The irony was, the public high school I had attended was largely Jewish, and at the time I couldn't date the pretty Jewish girls I knew because it would have offended their grandparents if they brought home a goy.

But knowing my grandfather's secret shed some light on some incidents in my mother's history: the way she sometimes felt herself singled out or rejected without reason in some institutions, and her father's fierceness in response when that happened.

Later we pieced together the family. The Goodfriends were a thriving and learned New York Hungarian-Jewish family, and my grandfather's father, David, was the "black sheep" of the family, a designation he earned permanently by marrying an Irish Catholic girl and moving to Philadelphia.

The family name, which we had assumed was a pure Ellis Island creation, appears in Europe as Gutfraind or Gutfreund. There are not many of them, and it's a fair bet that most of us are related on some level.

If learning I had some Jewish in me didn't make any difference in my daily life, it did slowly change the way I knew, and felt, the history of the Jews. After all, that drop of blood I inherited from my Pop-Pop would have been sufficient to send me to Sobibor in another time and place.

Since then, I've read of other Goodfriends, including some who survived the Holocaust, and some who didn't.

And I read of Yossef Gutfreund, a tall, burly man like my grandfather. Yossef was a wrestling referee, 40 years old, when he accompanied the small Israeli team to Munich in 1972.

... Gutfreund apparently heard the rattling of the door at the threshold of that ground-floor duplex, the apartment the other Israelis called the Big Wheels' Inn because it housed senior members of the delegation. When the door cracked open in the darkness, he could make out the barrels of several weapons. He threw his 290 pounds against the door and shouted a warning: "Danger, guys! Terrorists!" For critical seconds Gutfreund succeeded in staying their entrance, allowing his roommate, weightlifting coach Tuvia Sokolovsky, to shatter a rear window and flee to safety through a backyard garden. But the terrorists, using their rifle barrels to crowbar their way inside, soon had Gutfreund subdued on the floor.

In the iconic images of that tragedy, Gutfreund is the body you see in the shattered helicopter cockpit, torn and bleeding and dead and still strapped upright in the seat.

In honor of him, cousin on some level to my grandfather and my mother and my son and me, I will be remembering what one almost forgotten root of my family tree endured in Europe, and I won't be seeing Munich the movie.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Saint Lincoln

A Boston Globe op-ed by Robert Kuttner, titled What Bush could learn from Lincoln, generates a lot of heat from defenders of the Bush administration. As is natural, since Kuttner's piece mostly is another attack along the well-trodden "Bush is a moron who doesn't ever admit he's wrong" path. Expect return fire.

But Kuttner chooses an odd set of armor for this latest run at Shrubbie the Impeachment Chimp. He contrasts the supposed politico-moral failings of Bush to the supposed politico-moral virtues of Old Abe. It's an ill-advised tactic at best, because when you comb through the histories, you find Lincoln went much farther than Bush in just about every realm where Bush-haters currently cry "foul."

Kenneth Anderson draws the anti-model to Kuttner as well as anyone, so I'll let him do it:

Kuttner and his antiwar confreres, for example, might seem like shining examples of Copperhead Democrats, eager for peace no matter what, having concluded that Lincoln was a simpleton whose only character trait was a stubborness and resistance to reason that had already cost the lives of hundreds of thousands in a lost war. As for democracy in the Middle East, Kuttner et al. might be thought to resemble those in Lincoln's day who thought that blacks were simply incapable of participating in self-government. As for religion, Kuttner et al. might be thought to resemble most closely the anti-war Democratic newspapers of the day - along with many of the sophisticated newspapers of Europe - who were appalled by the religiousity of the Second Inaugural Address and accused its author of offering "puritanical" theology in place of public policy, and who believed that Lincoln was invoking the mantle of the Almighty in order to shield his own policies from criticism - Lincoln was guilty, in their eyes, of being at once a believer and a hypocrite, which is not that different, so far as I can tell, from how Kuttner sees Bush. As for the belief that Lincoln acquainted himself with a wide range of opinion through his wide reading, whereas Bush lives apart from newspapers and criticism - well, ironically, both elite Radical New England opinion and elite New York Democratic anti-war opinion believed that the ill-educated Lincoln lived in a world shaped by Western frontier prejudices and that he was simply outside the mainstream of what American and European elites "knew" to be the real world, not so different from what Kuttner et al. in the "reality-based community" like to think of themselves and President Bush.

But Kuttner can sidestep all that obviousness, because he's really basing his column very narrowly, on a single new book: Doris Kearns Goodwin's examination of the internal politcs of Lincoln's administration and especially his cabinet. I haven't read that book yet (my beloved wife just got it for me for Christmas), but the rough outline of the story of Lincoln's cabinet is one I know pretty well.

Kuttner uses this story to paint Lincoln as a uniter, not a divider; a centrist who was patient with men who plotted against him; a hands-on and involved leader.

Well, again, the context matters. And the first point to bear in mind is that Lincoln's real, serious opposition was out of the picture -- the Southern Democrats. The Republican political gamble that put Lincoln in the White House made them decide their interests were safer outside the union than within it. Lincoln wanted to reel them back at any cost, so he rebuffed every effort they made to negotiate a peace with him.

So much for the peace-minded uniter.

Even in dealing with his political rivals, Lincoln made compromises and chose the path of inclusion because he had to. American political parties usually are big tents, but few have been more loosely stitched together than the early GOP. It was such a patchwork creature that its opponents expected it to fly to pieces after every election. Old-school high tariff Whigs and erratic, violent abolitionists and anti-Catholic Know-Nothings, who had beaten the hell out of one another rhetorically through the early 1850s, held hands and pretended they were friends because they saw no other way to capture power except in an alliance.

Lincoln simply couldn't afford to irritate any one wing of his inchoate party, which had more wings than a tailgate party. And each of the men in his cabinet represented a faction. Lincoln himself was an obscure man-without-a-faction -- that was a principal reason he had been chosen in 1860, as a compromise.

Not only the party was divided: The immediate danger Lincoln faced in 1861 was not only the South's armies, it involved the further destruction of the Union. The Northern cities, especially Philadelphia and New York, were commercially tied to the south and there was talk of breaking away. The border states, from Missouri to Delaware, still had not made their choices. The upper Mississippi ("the West," in Civil War terms) resented the dominance of the old North almost as much as the South did, and for many of the same reasons. With the lower Mississippi now in foreign hands, their farmers had good reason to treat with the owners of their main supply route. The Pacific coast was but loosely connected to the rest of the nation, and the Mormon colony in Utah dwelt uneasily under U.S. government control.

Each choice Lincoln made, each man he courted into his administration or promoted, even his Supreme Court picks, was carefully weighed for sectional influence. Lincoln's position of power was simply too weak to allow him the luxury of offending important men, of which there were a great many in Washington in 1861.

By invoking Lincoln and comparing him to Bush, Kuttner does us all a favor by inviting us to get to know our history better. He especially does a good deed on behalf of those of us who want to innoculate the nation against the Bush Derangement Syndrome that's spreading in the Democratic Party and the media (but now I'm being redundant). America was a different nation then, and the presidency was different in scale. That's neither Bush's fault nor Lincoln's. But it made for different styles. English journalist William Howard Russell, living in Washington in 1861, recounts scenes of the president trudging up to the White House from the post office, alone in the rain, with a parcel under his arm. Or visiting a general's headquarters, unannounced and, again, alone, and waiting till the officer had finished his nap before interrupting him. They were remarkable to Russell, accustomed to British pomp, as they are to us, accustomed to American pomp. They were commonplace then.

All of which makes me puzzle over the other half of Anderson's reaction. He claims Lincoln is "above the fray. ... Lincoln cannot, should not, be invoked ever in a partisan way in the moral discourse of the United States, because the whole point is that he belongs to all of us."

It is a mistake to look to the Redeemer President for vindication or repudication of particular policies in the present day, however tempting that exercise is for pundits. Fools rush in, etc. The reason is not that Lincoln and the Civil War are outside of history and outside of our ability to learn from them for the present. The difficulty is that we have placed Lincoln, through his martydom, outside of history, in the ordinary, day to day sense, and above all, in the partisan sense.

Well, that "he belongs to all of us" will come as a surprise to a great many people in the South, who remember what his armies did to their land and homes. But more importantly, I am eager to put Lincoln and the Civil War exactly back into the mainstream of history, and make them available for modern comparisons. In fact, I've done just that on several occasions. How else can we learn how far you can bend the rules in America and still join the national pantheon? How else can we learn the way a nation under the rule of law makes compromises in the name of a crusade, then recovers them?

Lincoln was a powerfully partisan man; he was a politician through and through. To forget that, or to willfully ignore it, is a disservice to us. It makes early America seem a golden age of pure philosopher-kings, and makes the present scene look hopeless and shabby. America has no saints. It has human beings whose memories we revere, not because they were perfect, but because their will to do good for us made them better men than they were by nature. Your human heart can't love a saint until you can leaven his life with the usual human frailties.

The Duchess of Orleans relates that the irreverent old calumniator, Marshal Villeroi, who in his youth had known St. Francis de Sales, said, on hearing him called saint: 'I am delighted to hear that Monsieur de Sales is a saint. He was fond of saying indelicate things, and used to cheat at cards. In other respects he was a perfect gentleman, though a fool.' " [Ambrose Bierce]

Jerry's Kids

Watch out for those college boys. Gerard Alexander, an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia, delivered the smackdown line of the season in the fall 2005 issue of the Claremont Review of Books, of all places.

The spirit of Jimmy Carter exited the American political stage decades ago, but, like Jerry Lewis, it remains a matinee favorite on the other side of the Atlantic.

You need a Three Stooges sound effect with that one. Perhaps the eye-poke or the knock-on-the-head.

It's a good, insightful treatise on the relative orbits of Ero-Venus and Ameri-Mars. It starts out with the point of view of American conservatives, and actually tackles the difficult target of defining them:

In sum, American conservatives of nearly every stripe agree that the world is a complex and competitive place in which human nature and its limitations play pervasive roles. In such a world, good people are wise to cultivate individual skills and character traits, to limit centralizing power (especially government), to confront rather than duck serious challenges, and to get incentives right, especially for predators, with an eye toward encouraging virtue, and at least restraint.

Some of the points made about our neighbors across the ditch are obvious ones to those of us who pay attention to European elites:

The perception that Europe is uniformly center-to-center-left is further reinforced by the fact that public expression is monopolized by a collusive journalistic, intellectual, and Eurocratic elite whose "arrogance [is] almost beyond belief," in the words of William Kristol. Its ideologically lopsided political and intellectual elite is so potent that it may shape Europe's political identity as much as secularism and economic dependence do. Mainstream European press coverage of America, free markets, and robust conservatism is so routinely paranoid and hyperbolic that it makes Howard Dean look temperate.

Others were surprising, at least to me:

The result is that average U.S. per capita income is now about 55% higher than the average of the European Union's core 15 countries (it expanded to 25 in 2004). In fact, the biggest E.U. countries have per capita incomes comparable to America's poorest states. A recent study by two Swedish economists found that if the United Kingdom, France, or Italy suddenly were admitted to the American union, any one of them would rank as the 5th poorest of the 50 states, ahead only of West Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Montana. Ireland, the second richest E.U. country, would be the 13th poorest state; Sweden the 6th poorest. The study found that 40% of all Swedish households would classify as low-income by American standards.

Which, of course, overlooks the fact that the average Swedish household doesn't have to pay for a great many expenses the average American one does.

But the overall conclusion rings true to some other studies I've seen: the American left has more in common with the American right than it does with the European left.

As John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge note in "The Right Nation" ... , "the more you look at [America's] prominent Democrats from an international perspective, the less left-wing they seem." "For the foreseeable future," they write, "the Democrats will be a relatively conservative party by European standards." It may be that our liberals and conservatives have more in common than they realize, and thus much to gain by seeing their common principles prosper around the world.

Which offers yet another chance to urge you to read "The Right Nation," no matter what your politics may be. I'd especially urge it on those European elites, but I doubt they're interested.


Thursday, December 22, 2005


The wife and I were discussing someone I have to buy a Christmas gift for, a woman we'd both describe as "earthy." It occured to Amy that this was an odd thing, that the word "earthy," with its association with primitive cultures and anti-modern attitudes, has come to suggest a woman dress in muted colors, cultivating a plain, anti-glamor look, who deliberately stands aside from anything that serves to accentuate eroticism.

Odd, because real "earthy" peoples, whether ancient or modern, celebrate the majik of eros and desire, and they get themselves tricked out with every manner of ornament and garish visual expression when they can.

Fords and Chewing Gum

The right and the left in the U.S. agree the French are anti-American. We disagree, however, on the cause. To many on the left the French are just at the apex -- perhaps due to their highly developed sensibilities -- of the world's revulsion at American unilateralism and hegemony in the wake of Sept. 11. They're the poster children of the "squandered the good will of the world" school of recent history.

And to them it's all the fault of the boorish Americans, with our insulting "Freedom Fries" and Fox News' obsession with the fact that John Kerry looks French.

Never mind that, to insult and defeat a politician in France, all you have to do is peg him with the term “l'Américain.” "Michel Rocard, a Socialist prime minister in the 1980s, was undermined by the label. Today, Mr Sarkozy's rivals on the right pin it on him."

This thoughtful, unsigned piece in the "Economist" brings some perspective to the French-American relationship. Among the insights are, it just might have as much to do with them as with us.

Anti-Americanism intensifies at times of French uncertainty. It has often flared after French military humiliation—1917, 1940, 1962—or instability at home. Striking positions of independence from America is a way for France to project power when it feels emasculated, something de Gaulle well understood after the American liberation of France.

"Today's concern about decline," the author argues, "is another such moment." Focus outward on the ugly Americans also is a way to avoid the mirror.

Indeed, Jean-François Revel, author of “L'Obsession anti-Américaine”, argues that French anti-Americanism, particularly in the media, often flourishes at the expense of self-examination. The French delight in exposing American poverty, racism and ghetto life, he pointed out well before the country's recent riots proved his point, when at home a tenth of the workforce is out of work and young French Muslims are isolated in suburban tower blocks. America, he argues, “serves to console us about our own failures by sustaining the myth that things are even worse there—and that what is going wrong for us comes from them.”

But, as someone who's always had a good time in France and thinks Paris is truly one of the world's paradises, I also assent to this maxim:

In many ways, France and America clash so often not because they are so irreconcilably different, but because they are so alike.

The modern French and American polities may have evolved quite differently, notably where the role of the state is concerned, but both emerged as highly codified, anti-clerical, secular republics. Both—unlike the dissembling English—can articulate unapologetically what their country stands for. Born of revolutions, America and France each established republics inspired by Enlightenment thinking, and based on freedom and individual rights. Within the same year, 1789, both the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Bill of Rights were drafted.

Above all, each nation believed in the universalism of its model—the Americans stressing liberty, the French civilisation—and shared an ambition to spread it abroad. The conviction among the French elite that France represents an alternative to the American way runs deep. It forms part of the national mythology that has helped to shore up French pride. And it explains why the French so readily pick on America at times of self-doubt.

Just listen to Dominique de Villepin, the prime minister, who came to embody anti-American defiance. “What an honour to be French,” he wrote in a recent book, “loyal to a ... responsibility to bestow a conscience, a soul upon our Earth. Our democracy was built upon the affirmation of universal values,” he adds, and France's destiny is to enact “our universal and humanist dream.”

Fulsome romantic patriotism, messianic zeal to spread freedom, a nation with a god-given mission and destiny. "Why, he sound 'zackly like dat ol' debbil Bush!" as one of Walt Kelley's characters might have said. And it's true. And, like the Americans, the politicians who talk that way echo the sincere beliefs of the people in the countryside and small towns beyond Paris.

So, let France be France.

To be pro-American for long would emasculate. After all, what is France for if not to represent an elegant, pleasurable alternative to the American way, even if it does so as most of the country munches its burgers and goggles at its trashy television?



Taken last month for Amy's modeling portfolio.

Carnival of the Etymologies

A regular Thursday feature of "Done With Mirrors."

The vice presidency always has been an odd bird in the American system. The result of an obscure compromise in 1787, to head off fears that never materialized, it once upon a time went to the runner-up in the presidential election (Kerry would have been in there now) until the two-party system arose and the politicians figured out how to game it. It lacks even the practical function of the Spartan double kingship.

But perhaps it could be made useful. Dick Cheney, the current incumbent, seems to have hit on it, inadvertently.


America needs a Devil's Advocate in these times. Someone to make the best, most shameless case for the most odious and objectionable policies we might consider. Not because they deserve to prevail, but because our situation is sufficiently serious that we ought to seriously consider their benefits and uses before we decide to reject them.

Devil's advocate, the linguists tell us, translates Latin advocatus diaboli, a description or title for one whose job it is to urge against the canonization of a candidate for sainthood. I know too little to say if this is so; perhaps the Church members among the readers can inform me if there ever truly was such a post or whether this is a Prot fantasy.

The word devil was in Old English as deofol "evil spirit," but it was a Christian import, from Late Latin diabolus, which itself is from Greek diabolos "accuser, slanderer." The verb behind it is diaballein "to slander, attack," literally "to throw across," a compound of dia- "across, through" and ballein "to throw."

The Greek word took on a religious sense when it was used as a Scriptural loan-translation of Hebrew Satan, the proper name of the supreme evil spirit in Christianity. The Hebrew word satan literally means "the adversary, one who plots against another." The Semitic root is s-t-n "one who opposes, obstructs, or acts as an adversary."

"In biblical sources the Hebrew term the satan describes an adversarial role. It is not the name of a particular character. Although Hebrew storytellers as early as the sixth century B.C.E. occasionally introduced a supernatural character whom they called the satan, what they meant was any one of the angels sent by God for the specific purpose of blocking or obstructing human activity." [Elaine Pagels, "The Origin of Satan," 1995]

In the Septuagint, this usually was translated into Greek as diabolos, though epiboulos "plotter" is used once.

St. Jerome re-introduced Satan into Latin translations of the Bible, and English translators have used both in different measures. In the Vulgate, as in Greek, diabolus and dæmon (source of demon) were distinct words and ideas, but they have merged in English and the other Germanic languages.

Other names, nicknames, or words for "the devil" over the years have included Old English puca, a word of unknown origin and the source of the Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Apollyon, a name sometimes given to the Devil, is actually the name of the destroying angel of the bottomless pit. It is a Greek translation of Hebrew Abaddon and is literally the present participle of apollyein "to destroy utterly," a compound of apo- "from, away from" and olluein "to destroy."

Tantarabobs, is recorded as a Devonshire name for the devil, which some trace as the utimate origin of bogus, via tantrabobus, a late 18th century colloquial Vermont word for any odd-looking object. The old medieval Devil was goat-like and shaggy, and raggamuffin, which contains Middle English raggi "ragged" originally was among his names.

Old Scratch "the Devil" is attested from 1740, but the earlier word was Scrat, which comes from Old Norse skratte "goblin, monster," a word which was used in late Old English for "hermaphrodite." Old Nick "the devil" is attested from 1643, evidently from the proper name Nicholas, but for no certain reason. The same name acquired the same meaning in German: Nickel, a pet form of Nikolaus, was used for "demon, goblin, rascal." German miners called a certain kind of ore, which looked like copper but deceptively was not, Kupfernickel, literally "copper demon." A shortened form of this passed into English as the metal name nickel. Tom Walker, U.S. Southern colloquial for "the devil" is recorded from 1833, but again the exact signification is unclear.

Advocate "one whose profession is to plead cases in a court of justice," a technical term from Roman law, is from Latin advocatus, originally the past participle of advocare "to call" (as witness or advisor), a compound of ad- "to" and vocare "to call."

Americans this week are trying to sort out exactly how much power they've managed to give their presidents to spy on them.

The word spy has been in English since about 1250, but it's not an English word. It's French. Old French espier, the source of the modern English verb, probably was a Germanic word, either borrowed by the French from their German neighbors or inherited from the (Germanic) language of the Franks. It is from the productive Proto-Indo-European root *spek- "to look." Other children of this parent include Latin specere "to look at," and Greek skopos "aim, target, watcher," and skeptesthai "to look at."

New York's ill-advised transit strike appears to be over.

Strike in the noun sense of "concentrated cessation of work by a body of employees" is recorded from 1810; as a verb in this sense ("refuse to work to force an employer to meet demands"), it is recorded from 1768. The obvious source is the other verb strike "to hit, to deal a blow, to collide," but the exact notion in the labor sense is not certain.

Perhaps it is from the archaic notion of striking or "downing" one's tools, or from the sailors' practice of striking ("lowering") a ship's sails as a symbol of refusal to go to sea, which, coincidentally, also is first recorded in 1768.

It can't be from the baseball sense of strike, which is first recorded 1841, or the bowling sense, which is attested from 1859. The meaning "sudden military attack" is attested only from 1942.

The verb strike is an old one, represented by Old English strican (past tense strac, past participle stricen). This originally meant "to pass over lightly, stroke, smooth, rub." The nautical strike, in reference to sails, is the only surviving one that preserves the verb's original sense of "make level, smooth." Sailors' slang is among the most fiercely conservative subcultures of English. Many ancient words survive only there (belay, lubber), and others are used there in their original senses that have elsewhere passed from use.

I can only guess why this is so, but sailing, especially on an old rigged ship, was a dangerous business and communication had to be quick and exact. Sailors also are notoriously superstitious. English ship's crews at all eras were made up of men from many lands, who might not understand one another if they introduced words from their local vernacular. All of these might tend to make a speech highly conservative.

Old English strican also had a secondary sense of "go, proceed," but this survives only in the phrase strike for meaning "go toward."

Other Germanic relatives of strike have stayed closer to their roots. German streichen "to stroke, rub," for example. The words are related to the roots of streak and stroke. The sense of "to deal a blow" developed in English by 1325.

It looks like Kate Moss's dip into the cocaine is about to get her deeper into trouble.

Cocaine entered English in 1874, from French cocaine (1856). The word was coined in German, by Albert Niemann of Gottingen University, from coca (which is from the Inca word cuca) and -ine, an arbitrary use of the Latin noun ending -inus, -ina. The drug was used 1870s as a local anaesthetic for eye surgery, etc.

The artificial -caine ending, which rips elements from both parts of the compound, has since become widely used in medical coinages, e.g. novocain, coined in 1905 as a trademark name (by Lucius & Brüning, Hoechst am Main, Germany), from Latin novus "new." Novicain was created as a local anaesthetic substitute for cocaine.

And finally, I pass along, without comment, this site, which takes a tongue-in-cheek look at "catymology."


Bias Happens

The other day, I wrote about "media bias," which, I say, is real and continuous, but not usually the deliberate and nefarious act it's often assumed to be. It's rather a function of the journalistic need to keep to the self-defined "center" of a reality when writing about it -- the place where the bulk of the readers or viewers will be.

This is not so much a conscious function as an acquired unconscious activity in the minds of people who "do" news on a daily basis. That leaves them vulnerable to the trips and falls of anyone working out of the unconscious: assuming that your center is everyone else's, you'll often find that it isn't (especially when you're much more liberal than the mass of the nation); and certain stories and issues will be sharply polarized and have no bulky center to hold you up.

Here's an example of a news story -- a single incident -- shaped in different ways by three different media outlets. They didn't report it individually; it was passed down the line, and each new media that touched it altered it, downplaying some angles, pumping up others. What came out the other end of the media tube was much different than what went into it. And to a certain point of view -- mine, for example -- the final product looks awfully biased. But it is possible to interpret it as merely an innocent reflection of the editors' sense of what mattered to their audience.

On August 7, 2004, the Associated Press moved on its domestic (U.S.) wire a story titled Soldiers' Rescue Attempt in Iraq Rebuffed.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon National Guard soldiers attempted to stop Iraqi jailers from abusing dozens of prisoners, but were ordered to return the prisoners to their abusers and leave, according to a published report.

A soldier spotted a man beating a prisoner June 29 in a courtyard near the Iraqi Interior Ministry, The Oregonian, which had a reporter with the Oregon guardsmen of the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, reported in Sunday's editions. Members of the unit later saw other prisoners who appeared to have been beaten, and items that could have been used to torture them.

And so forth. There are two kinds of AP stories: the ones generated by AP staffers and the ones sent in by affiliates. This was the second kind. The sole source of information was "The Oregonian." There's no AP byline on it, which means the AP didn't do any additional reporting on it. They just re-shaped the information from "The Oregonian."

This is how the AP gets a good many of its stories, sent in from member papers. We send them one or two on a typical night. The AP tightens them a bit, takes out some of the purely local references that will mean little to readers beyond our county line, and ships them out on the regional or national wire.

The ONG story also moved the stories in oversease versions. Here's how it came out in German:

Neue Vorwürfe zum Umgang mit Gefangenen im Irak

Portland/USA (AP) Bezüglich der Behandlung irakischer Gefangener haben US-Soldaten neue Vorwürfe gegen ihre eigenen Vorgesetzten erhoben. Ein am Sonntag veröffentlichter Bericht der amerikanischen Tageszeitung «The Oregon» legt nahe, dass die Misshandlung zahlreicher Häftlinge durch irakische Polizisten von US-Kommandeuren geduldet wurde. Die Zeitung beruft sich auf Soldaten der Nationalgarde von Oregon, die versucht hätten, den misshandelten Irakern zu helfen. Sie hätten jedoch Befehl erhalten, die Häftlinge mit ihren Peinigern allein zu lassen.

My translation of that is this:

New allegations on handling of prisoners in Iraq

Portland/USA (AP) Concerning the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, U.S. soldiers have made new allegations against their own supervisors. On Sunday a published report in the American daily paper "The Oregon" [sic] indicates that the abuse of numerous prisoners by Iraqi policemen was tolerated by U.S. commanders.

The newspaper's sources are soldiers of the Oregon National Guard, who had tried to help the abused Iraqis. They were instructed, however, to leave the prisoners alone with their tormentors.

The way the facts are stacked puts the emphasis on U.S. misconduct. The juxtaposition of "U.S. soldiers" and "treatment of Iraqi prisoners" conjures up echoes of Abu Ghraib, even though the circumstances here are utterly different: no abuse by U.S. troops, the Americans -- so far from being involved in torturing prisoners -- went out of their way to protect and aid prisoners being abused.

It seemed to me when I first read it that the lede on the U.S. story was a straight news lede, an accurate presentation of the relevant information in the story. The lede to the German version was highly spun; it seemed to want to tell a different story than what actually follows.

Soldiers on look-out saw a man beating a prisoner in the Justice Ministry courtyard. The battalion commander [Lt. Col. Daniel Hendrickson, who deserves credit] led a group of soldiers into the compound and separated the Iraqi guards from the prisoners, many of whom had obvious marks of abuse. "The Oregon soldiers freed the prisoners, gave them water and administered first aid." U.S. military police arrived and disarmed the Iraqi policemen.

After Hendrickson radioed for instructions, he was told to return the prisoners to the Iraqi authorities and leave the detention yard.

Neither Hendrickson, a Corvallis police officer, nor others interviewed by 'The Oregonian' would say who gave the order.

The story adds that "The U.S. Embassy in Iraq told The Oregonian that the United States raised questions about the June 29 'brutality' with Iraq's interior minister."

The incident occurred after sovereignty was transfered to the Iraqi government. The ability of the U.S. troops to intervene in a situation like that was much diminished. Their marching into the Iraqi prison becomes not a matter of military policing, but of sovereignty. But this date isn't mentioned until far down in either story, and the context is never explained.

Note, too, that the vague "were ordered to return the prisoners" of the back half of the U.S. lede becomes prison abuse that "was tolerated by U.S. commanders" in the German story.

When I first wrote about this, a Chomskyite troll who was lurking on my site announced that the German version of the story was the "correct" one, and the U.S. version was the one that was full of bias, because it didn't play up the American criminality. Pulling a proverb from the Book of Chomsky, he pronounced the German AP story "the truth," and the domestic AP reporting "another example of American press slanting thing to serve state power." Yet as in all cases of "whisper down the line," the further the story travels from its source, the less it resembles it.

If you trace the story back to the "Oregonian" version, you see that the soldiers interviewed were very explicit about what happened, but silent about who gave them the orders. They give the impression that this is being investigated, and that they are wise enough not to say too much. It stretches the facts beyond their honest limits to say, as the German version does, that the soldiers "made new allegations against their own supervisors."

The Associated Press has bureaus in more than 120 countries that not only funnel news back to America, they "tailor" the AP's news and photo reports "to reflect the specific regional interests" of different nations, according to the AP's Web site. The AP itself translates its news into French, Spanish, German and Dutch (translation into other languages generally is done at the agency level). This story, generated in the United States and then exported to Germany (where the AP supplies approximately 85 per cent of the daily newspaper copy), took on a whole new color.

But is this deliberate bias? Without getting into the heads of copy editors, I can't say. But I can picture a path that would arrive at the same result without there being axes to grind.

To recap: "The Oregonian" writes an account of Oregon National Guard soldiers who march into an Iraqi prison to stop Iraqi prison guards from abusing Iraqi prisoners. Then are told by their superiors that they should not be intervening in the situation because doing so violates Iraq's sovereignty. The story also tells that U.S. diplomatic authorities are handling the matter, and it reports that the U.S. soldiers said they saw no further examples of abuse thereafter, despite watching the prison closely.

The Associated Press wire service picks up "The Oregonian's" story and compresses it somewhat for its national wire. Then AP translates it into German and compresses it further for release by the German AP (a dominant source of international news in Germany).

The "Oregonian" story has 56 paragraphs. The U.S. AP version has 20 paragraphs. The German AP version, 5 paragraphs.

This is not, in itself, an act of bias. AP does this because it presumes local people are less interesting the further you get from local media. I suspect the AP deemed here that what the Oregon soldiers felt about what they saw, and what they did about it, were more relevant to their friends and neighbors than they were to the rest of America or the English-speaking world. To the AP, the focus was on the incident (though it had been reported before), not the soldiers.

In many cases this would be a valid journalistic judgement. But here, it allows the real Americans to drop from sight. All that's left are the abused Iraqis, the abstract, shadowy "American authorities" who sanctioned torture, and you practically have to read between the lines to learn that there were dozens or hundreds of Americans who intervened to stop the abuse of Iraqi prisoners before protocol, and the chain of command made them stop, and the chain of command had an arguably valid reson for doing so.

The story of the abuse itself was not new. Here is how the "Oregonian" describes it:

The June 29 confrontation between U.S. troops and Iraqi officials at the Interior Ministry has been mentioned in news accounts in the United States and Britain. But details about the prisoners' injuries, the actions of the Oregon Guard and the high-level American decision to leave the injured detainees in the hands of Iraqis has not been previously reported.

And by the time you get to read the German AP version of the story (source of 85 percent of German newspaper wire stories), "the actions of the Oregon Guard" all but have vanished, and you're left with abused Iraqis and callous U.S. authorities. It looks like another Abu Ghraib story, which is manifestly not what "The Oregonian" wrote.

Here's a sampling of what you wouldn't read in the German AP story about the Oregon National Guardsmen in the prison:

Guardsmen interviewed for this story said they've watched the detention facility closely since then, and that many of the prisoners were released soon after the raid on the detention facility. ... The soldiers said they have not seen any further prisoner abuse occur there. ... The country now has a minister of human rights. Government ministries have also assigned inspectors general to examine allegations of wrongdoing. ... The new Iraqi constitution bans "torture in all its forms, physical or mental," as well as "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment." ... The U.S. Embassy in Iraq disclosed that the United States raised questions about the "brutality" with Iraq's interior minister. ... In handing over power, U.S. officials gave Iraqis authority to run their own institutions -- even if they made mistakes. But officials understand that the United States will be held responsible when the new Iraqi authorities stumble.

As for the notion of media "serving state power," it's absurd in this case. The two wire service stories, one in German and one in English, are written by the same U.S.-based media conglomerate, the Associated Press. They're not the product of two different entities. How can the same entity, on the same day, be his example of a fearless truth-bearing Prometheus, and his example of craven media groveling under Bush's boot-heel?

Wouldn't it be more consistent to say that "big media" in Europe, such as the German AP bureau, behaves just like "big media" in America, and that in Germany the AP serves the prevailing state power in Berlin? State power in places like France and Germany is dedicated to the proposition that the U.S. effort in Iraq is dead wrong and a total failure. Political careers of the top men stand atop that platform. Chomskyites never seem willing to explain to me how one "speaks the truth" to the power of Chirac and Schroeder.

But it seems more likely to me the German AP story was simply a condensed translation of the U.S. AP story. It includes nothing from the original "Oregonian" story that was not in the AP story. And it adds phrases, shades of meaning, and outright errors ("The Oregon" as the name of the newspaper) that never were in the original. It has all the hallmarks of a secondary derivative, written with no reference to the source.

And in deciding what to include and what to omit, the nameless copy editors made decisions based on their perception of the reality that their readers lived in. That is, what mattered to those readers, and what those readers believed was going on in the world -- Chomsky's consensus.

In Oregon, the good deeds and noble motives of the local men, along with their names, matter. On a national level, they matter a bit less, and they are balanced with the overall worries about the Iraq project, and whether it will end in freedom and democracy there, as promised, or something not much better than Saddam and possibly worse.

In Germany, good guys from Oregon have no resonance at all; the overwhelming expectation of any story with an Iraq dateline is that it will satisfy the accepted wisdom: "Iraq is all about American behaving badly, and validating our own government's certainty that overthrowing Saddam was a mistake."

The ONG story in each of its three expressions is written with en eye to the consensus of the likely audience. Yet what goes begging in all this is the question of how much the media, in seeking to satisfy the consensus, actually shapes it.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Seven Things

Zenpuindit tagged me with the "7X7 Meme." I'm honored and horrified at the same time. Only seven books? I'll do the best I can. The meme goes like this:

1. Seven things to do before I die
2. Seven things I cannot do
3. Seven things that attract me to (...)
4. Seven things I say most often
5. Seven books (or series) that I love
6. Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would if I had time)
7. Seven people I want to join in, too.

1. Before I die

  • Watch my son grow up into a fine man and tell him how proud of him I am for it

  • Down a Singapore sling in the bar of the Raffles Hotel

  • Make my wife feel every day like the most beautiful, desired woman on earth.

  • Drive around in a 1960 Chevy Impala ragtop. The one with the chrome jet on the side. Or some similar car. My first cars were big old gunboats from the early '60s. They weren't classics then. That was the mid-'70s, and they were just old beaters. But boy, do I miss them, and now they're pricey collector's items, out of my range. I hate bucket seats. Give me one of those big long vinyl bench seats you can reach across and pull your girl to your side on a cold night. Give me a window with a wing to flick open to dangle your cigarette out. Give me a steering wheel as big as the tire.

  • Grow spiritually.

  • Be stunt director on a "babes behind bars" film.

  • See the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere.

2. Can't Do It

  • Eat a forkful of lima beans without gagging
  • resist temptation
  • get the lyrics to "Who Can It Be Now?" out of my head
  • hit for power
  • watch sports on TV
  • whistle
  • tell a lie convincingly

3. What attracts me to ...

I chose to fill in the blank with "... my wife."

  • Because when I walk down the street and some young thing slathered in gauds sashays past me without a glance at the big ugly mug who temporarily intrudes on her space, I think, "Not only is my girl much hotter at 35 than you'll be; she's hotter than you are now."

  • Because she does not tolerate the cheap, the phony, the slipshod; bad beer, fast food, dull places -- we can live life more intensely.

  • Because she's a stone freak who will dance a wild, writhing half-naked sexual dance on top of a slick bar in an edgy roadhouse. And then the next day put on her business clothes and drive her Volvo to work and stitch the lining of a coat and cook a casserole.

  • Because she's been a better mother figure to my son than his own mother was.

  • Because she has brought a sweet insanity into my male world. All the clocks in my house used to read the same time -- the correct time. Now no two are on the same moment and none is correct. She has a byzantine system in which all clocks run fast, and they run faster the farther they are from her ultimate destination -- the bedroom alarm is about 25 minutes fast, the kitchen wall clock about 10 minutes, and the dashboard clock in the Prius is 5 minutes fast. It's charming.

  • Because she has made such bad choices in boyfriends in her life that, by comparison, I look like something heaven-sent.

  • Because she knows how to program my furshlugginer cell phone.

4. I'm likely to say

  • "Where was the last place you remember seeing it?" (every parent of a teenager knows this one)
  • "Not since I left the bar."
  • "Dis house sho' goin' crazy."
  • "If it's '$1.50 for a scoop of your favorite ice cream,' how much is it for a flavor I don't like so much?"
  • "Someday."
  • "And when I plugged her in, she just blew up."
  • "If I keep driving I'm bound to see something I recognize."

5. Books I love.

Aieee, this is the painful one. At least it's not phrased in the usual "desert island" scenario, but on the other hand, in that one I can cheat by saying things like "Complete Shakespeare anthology!"

Love ... love. How do you define "love" in this sense? There are books I only read once that never have left me. There are books I go back to over and over and over, books I own that are in tatters from being opened so often. That's "love" in the "Velveteen Rabbit" sense, but can you love a dictionary?

I'm using the word "love" as the lever to pry seven titles out of the library, which is going to be an arbitrary work in any case. Books I love are to me like people I love. They have personalities, voices, and you know them so well but you never tire of them. They're the ones you reach for in idle moments for the sheer pleasure of them. They're the ones whose flaws only make them more endearing.

They're books that are, in some sense, truly yours, not everyone's. Yes, I love "Lord of the Rings," or Bruce Catton's Civil War books or "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," but who doesn't? It's like saying, "I want to do Jennifer Anniston." Well, yeah, right, who doesn't?

So here's what I came up with:

  • "The Perennial Philadelphians : The Anatomy of an American Aristocracy", by Nathaniel Burt. A sociological study of some of the strangest and most normal people on earth. It's honestly the funniest book I've ever read; funnier even than "Catch-22." But I'm from there, so maybe it won't work on you. An excerpt:

    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.

  • "The Pound Era," by Hugh Kenner. Noble, eccentric, brilliant, beautiful.

    "The Pound Era" is his masterpiece. "The Poetry of Ezra Pound" was written in two months (on a picnic table outside a cabin in the Canadian woods); "The Pound Era" took ten years. While it was in the making, he published two wittily perceptive diversions, "The Stoic Comedians" and "The Counterfeiters." If "The Pound Era" is a symphony, these are string quartets. There are enough insights in them to fuel a dozen associate professors for a year. Hugh wrote them while driving his children to school. In those heroic days he typed, making carbons. He’d lucked onto a ton of typing paper at a warehouse clearance.

  • "Centaur," by John Updike.

    This portrait of small-town life in Pennsylvania is seen through the eyes of Chiron, the centaur of Greek mythology. On the surface, this is a novel about teenager Peter Caldwell and his father George Caldwell, a schoolteacher at Olinger High. Gradually, however, it becomes clear that Peter and George are really Prometheus and Chiron, and that all the other characters and events find correspondences in Greek mythology. John Updike has said that this early novel is loosely based on his own relationship with his father, who was a schoolteacher.

  • "Description of Greece," Pausanius.

    The Hellenistic traveller trekked across Greece after its glory was gone to seed but not yet destroyed. There's something recognizably modern about Pausanius. He is the urbane, modern man of manners, a decent sort who doesn't get the jokes, and he rambles over the dusty hills and wild glens of Greece encountering at every turn relics and rituals of the old brute gods, and it both shocks and fascinates him.

    It's the mundane-ness of his book that intrigues me. This isn't the clashing climaxes of history that you find in Herodotus or Thucydides. But this is classical Greece as it would have looked and felt if you'd actually gone back in time and walked through it on a spring day. You can hear the breeze in the pines on the coast of Elis and the cawing of the crows.

    Pausanius pokes his head in the old shrines and shows you how they still looked when they were painted and decorated and had their images and idols intact. Now all that's left of them are shattered marble blocks scattered over the landscape.

  • "De l'amour," by Stendhal.

    At the beginning of the 19th century, the magnificent Stendhal turned his genius to dissecting the emotion that had played so much havoc with his own life. In De l'amour (On Love), the novelist eccentrically tabulates the psychological impulses behind every aspect of eros (not excluding unexpected "failure" or impotence). The most celebrated chapters analyze what happens when we fall in love. A bare branch, Stendhal tells us, may be left in the depths of a salt mine, and after a few months it will be covered with "shimmering, glittering diamonds, so that the original bough is no longer recognizable." A similar "crystallization," he says, forms around an adored mistress, to whom our minds attribute every beauty and perfection. Mathilde may appear quite ordinary to the world's eyes, but to the man in her thrall even her little tics and crotchets are suddenly bathed in a celestial light.

  • "Just Around the Corner: A Highly Selective History of the Thirties", by Robert Bendiner. When I was starting out in journalism, we used to get occasional visits in our weekly newspaper office from an old fellow named Bill Springfield, who dressed stylishly and regaled us with tales of his days as a reporter in the 1930s and World War II (complete with photo album). This book reminds me of him. Turbulent times, bad times, but for those who were young men then, like Bendiner, it was the time of their lives. He gives it to you so that you feel it was a part of your youth, too; written with the eyes of an inhabitant, not a historian.

  • "Birth of the Modern," by Paul Johnson. The tour-de-force historian covers the world from 1815 to 1830 in 1,000 pages that read like 100. The anecdotal style of history can degenerate into a series of threaded cliches, but in Johnson's hands the anecdotes perform properly; they illuminate the truths rather than distracting from them.

  • "The White Goddess," by Robert Graves. One of the great, glorious, mad, brilliant wrong guesses of history.

  • "The Cyberiad," by Stanisław Lem. Polish science fiction fables from a very prickly character.

OK, that's nine, not seven. So sue me.

6. Movies. Definitely "would if I had time," since I hardly ever have time to watch movies, but here they are:

  • Animal House
  • Outlaw Josey Wales
  • Monty Python & the Holy Grail
  • The Producers (1968 version)
  • Ed Wood
  • The Thirteenth Warrior
  • Hard Day's Night

What can I say? I'm a guy.

7. Who's next?

Ah, the usual suspects: