Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Genocide? What Genocide?

Here's a fascinating site on how the Nazis bamboozled the gulls at the ICRC.

Just a reminder that the same International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that is so aghast over America's "war crimes" knew about the Nazi atrocities during World War II and essentially did nothing, allowing itself to be fooled by transparent ruses and official denials.

It knew about the concentration camps as early as 1942. In February 1945, the President of the Red Cross wrote to a U.S. official: "Concerning the Jewish problem in Germany we are in close and continual contact with the German authorities." How chilling that the ICRC pretended to care about the Holocaust while in the same sentences adopting Nazi phraseology ("the Jewish problem") to euphemize it.

The Red Cross also knew about crimes against POWs. The ICRC visited Stalag VII-A on Jan. 27, 1945, for example, and reported that 110 American Jewish POWs had been "segregated" but not otherwise mistreated. The Nazis told them they were just following Article 9 of the Geneva Convention, which provided that belligerents shall not house prisoners of different races or nationalities together. That was good enough for the ICRC.

A ICRC report on Stalag IX-B noted the same segregation, but the report said "no other discrimination was made against them." No, indeed, unless you count the Jewish-Americans -- along with about 330 non-Jews -- being sent to a slave labor camp associated with Buchenwald, where American POWs died at a higher rate than they would anywhere else during the war.

But Gitmo, now that's a war crime!

Roger Du Pasquier, head of the ICRC Information Department, explained away the body's titanic failure during World War II:

No relief action of any sort by the Red Cross in Germany or the occupied territories could have been undertaken without the approval of the authorities .... Conforming to the letter, if not to the spirit of the Geneva Conventions, ... the Nazi government permitted the ICRC and its delegates to act on behalf of the several millions of prisoners held in the Stalags and Oflags. It refused, however, to allow any intervention on the part of the Red Cross in the concentration camps .... In the face of such an obstinate refusal which covered up the horrifying reality, about which one was then ill-informed, the ICRC certainly could have made itself heard; it could have protested publicly and called on the conscience of the world. By doing so it would, however, have deprived itself of any possibility of acting in Hitler's Empire; it would have deliberately given up what chances there still remained to it to help, even in a restricted manner, the victims of the concentration camp regime. But, above all, it would have made it impossible for it to continue its activity on behalf of millions of military captives. For the Nazi leaders viewed this activity with suspicion which they would have ruthlessly suppressed on the slightest pretext.

Don't stand up and oppose the murdering dictator, because then, you see, he won't co-operate with you, and you won't be able to persuade him to behave.

Gah, it sounds depressingly like modern attitudes still prevalent in many European capitals. "Don't scare the mullahs of Iran, or else we won't be able to sweet-talk them into giving up their nukes."

But how interesting that the ICRC has no such fear in dealing with the United States. One more example of how an open and democratic system with a belief in its own decency and a free media can be easily bullied by such organizations, which wouldn't dare raise their voices in the presence of the Führer's sadists. Gandhi's tactics work against the essentially decent British government in India. A Gandhi in Warsaw in 1943 never would have been heard from again.

Until the body of "international law" (as represented by the ICRC) counteracts this human tendency, rather than exacerbating it, it's not worth our attention.


Who's Funny

Political cartoonist Daryl Cagle exlains why conservatives have a different sense of humor than liberals -- and why comedians and cartoonists tend to be liberal.

Liberals see conservatives as preachy, sanctimonious and humorless. Conservatives see nothing funny about shrill, angry, liberal losers. Who is funny? It depends on your point of view, but humor writers and cartoonists will always be liberal-leaning; it is a bias that is built into the system. It boils down to core values.

Conservatives believe that people should be trusted; they believe that we should all take responsibility for ourselves, that we should enjoy the rewards of our personal successes and suffer the consequences of our personal failures. Liberals believe that people are basically stupid, that we should be protected from hurting ourselves by making the poor decisions that we would certainly make, if we were free to exercise our stupidity. As a cartoonist, I know that I can't make a living drawing cartoons about people who take responsibility for themselves, but I can make a career out of drawing stupid people.

... Jay Leno is a liberal humorist. Jay walks down the street and gives everyday folks the opportunity to demonstrate how stupid they are, while Jay laughs at them. David Letterman is a conservative humorist. Dave treats everyday folks with respect, giving them the opportunity to laugh at how silly Dave is, as he has fruit dropped from a rooftop, or when he visits his stoic neighbor, Rupert Jee, at "Hello Deli," with another goofy contest. Both Leno and Letterman are funny. Liberals and conservatives can both be funny, but it is easier to be funny by laughing at others, rather than laughing with others. Most humorists take the easy road.

Along the way, he also flashes an insight into why, as the American print media shrinks, it seems to many people to be growing more liberal. Though he's talking about cartoonists in particular, the insight holds for the entire profession. The most visible parts of what remains in the big media are rooted in the big cities that can afford them, and which, by and large, are leftward of the bulk of America.

Most editorial cartoonists rely on a full time newspaper job because it is tough to make a living only through syndication or freelancing. There are fewer and fewer newspaper jobs for cartoonists as papers cut back on their editorial staffs and cartoonists are seen as expendable. The few jobs (about 85) that remain are at the biggest newspapers, which are usually in the biggest cities which tend to be more liberal areas. There are about 1,500 daily newspapers in America, and the vast majority are small, suburban or rural papers that are conservative, and are either too small or too cheap to hire their own local cartoonist. Unless those conservative newspapers get off the dime and decide to hire local cartoonists, we're always going to see a majority of urban, liberal cartoonists.

While I find the "right"-leaning Cox and Forkum political cartoons and the Day by Day strip pithy and often tranchant, I wouldn't really call them "humorous" in most cases. Finally, he offers conservatives a list of what they need to compete in the humor market.

Conservatives should learn to laugh at themselves, like David Letterman; instead they choose to complain about liberal control of the media. Rather than complaining, what conservatives need are better jokes, a more liberal attitude about their checkbooks and most of all, a liberal in the White House.

Political Cartoons

A great pack of Memorial Day newspapers cartoons here.


I surfed some of the nastier anti-Bush/anti-War/anti-whatever blogs and saw a lot of derogatory commentary about people like me, who switched our self-identification from Democrat/liberal to ... something else after 9/11. I call us the "Left Behinds" (yes, totally aware of the pun and fond of it; we're also "South Park Republicans," after all). Over where I was, they call us "yoostabees," as in "used to be a Democrat." They mock and scorn and wonder what it was about 9/11 that made us realize, all of a sudden, that one party was slightly more "liberal" than the other.

They can see only partisan dichotomies. Most of the "Left Behinds" I know, while they may have been diligent voters, were not terribly activist in the political party sense. Michael J. Totten, whom I count as one of us, remains a Democrat. A number of others I know have crossed from Democratic registration to Republican, but others have gone "independent" and now find a home in no party.

Me, I was a Republican even before 9/11, but that's a twisted story; I've lived the last 20 years in places so utterly "red" as to count as the last one-party states on Earth, since the fall of Enver Hoxa's communist Albania. Even if space aliens kidnapped two out of three Republican voters on the eve of the election, the Republican candidates still would win.

The real elections were the primaries, and the real battles between progressives and conservatives took place in May. So I joined the GOP, because that was the place to make a real stand against the people I considered most dangerous. "I joined the Republican Party because everyone I hate is in there, and this way I get to vote against them twice a year," I'd tell people. But I usually crossed party lines in national elections. I voted for Clinton in '92 and Dole in '96 (I knew he'd lose, but I wanted to show some respect for him).

I think many of the "Left Behinds" were mostly in the process of a slow maturing out of their eariler hardened notions, and 9/11 telescoped a decade of gradual change into about a week.

But still, there was something about that day, and people's reactions to it, that threw a stark light on the landscape. Those of us in or near the center saw the world we thought we knew come down. Stunned, groping for a new construction to fit the new world we found ourselves in, we found little to say except anguish and sorrow, anger and rage.

But off on the fringes, right and left, the voices of the people who never lose their certainty still rang out. The fringe shouted into the void, and commentators usually dismissed as loopy were the only ones talking in clear sentences.

On the right, there was Ann Coulter:

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."

In other words, treat them exactly as they were treating us. Do to them exactly as they promised to do to us. I could feel, viscerally, the same way in those hours. I wouldn't have written that; something in me -- decency or pride in being better than our enemy -- would have got between my brain and my pen. But I could feel that. It was, to me, a natural human reaction: both to think that, then to think better of it.

And what of the Ann Coulters of the left? Well, take your pick among them. There was Michael Moore:

"If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, D.C., and the planes' destination of California -- these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!"

Or the San Francisco city supervisor who said this at the municipal memorial service a few days after the attacks:

"America, what did you do, in Africa, where bombs are still blasting? America, what did you do in the global warming conference when you did not embrace the smaller nations? America, what did you do two weeks ago when I stood at the world conference on racism, when you wouldn't show up?"

Or my '60s survivor anti-war protester co-worker:

Don't you think we're over-reacting to this whole thing?

Wow. I confess, I didn't recognize those reactions at all. They corresponded to nothing inside me. But it wasn't just me. My peers, like my liberal co-workers, felt a recognition, too -- for the Moores and the San Francisco officials. In their case, it confirmed their identity. In my case, it revolutionized it.


Lost Dignity

Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote an odd, ranting Memorial Day column; or rather, an odd rant disguised as a Memorial Day column but in fact having nothing to do with Memorial Day after the first sentence: "This Memorial Day is not a good one for the country that was once the world's most brilliant beacon of freedom and justice."

State Department officials know better than anyone that the image of the United States has deteriorated around the world. The United States is now widely viewed as a brutal, bullying nation that countenances torture and ...

and so on, through all the grand catalogue of mishandled holy books and wounded enemies finished off before they got up and shot back, and treating foreign irregular POWs the way foreign irregular POWs are allowed to be treated by Geneva, and the fact that Amnesty International has a bee in its bonnet about us. This seems to be the point of the column; some writers will expound America's crimes at the drop of a hat, even if it's a VFW cap on Memorial Day.

He writes that the "Bush crowd" (It's not an "administration" any more on the NYT editorial pages) is attempting to solve the problem of "America's image."

This is much more than an image problem. The very idea of what it means to be American is at stake.

What's odd is that this whole column is based on the premise that America enjoyed a lost golden age of purity at home and respect and adoration in the world community, until the "Bush crowd" seized power in 2001. If the U.S. does what Herbert demands, "The U.S. would regain some of its own lost dignity." He mentions the outpouring of sympathy after 9/11 as though this was the typical situation from, say 1776 to Sept. 12, 2001.

In much of the world, the image of the U.S. under Bush has morphed from an idealized champion of liberty to a heavily armed thug in camouflage fatigues. America is increasingly being seen as a dangerously arrogant military power that is due for a comeuppance.

Odd, because Herbet himself is right at the center of one of the two institutions -- the New York Times, lynchpin of the big media -- that has been relentlessly reminding us since about 1965 or so that America is a terrible, corrupt place, founded on genocide and racism and a nation that long ago sold its soul to religious stupidity and militarism. [The other institution is the academic world.]

"World opinion" about the United States has been in the toilet since Vietnam; it was even worse in the 1970s than in the 1960s in most places. America managed to get blamed -- and to blame itself, in many cases -- for everything from the failed economic polices of the so-called "Third World" to the greed of Arab oil sheiks.

And why shouldn't the rest of the world feel affirmed in this contempt, when it appears daily in the domestic press? It's been a long and complicated evolution for American media, but after the Tonkin incident, they turned sharply against the Johnson administration and essentially broke it. That power seems to have got into the blood of the press, so that every administration since 1968 has had to deal with an actively hostile media doing its best to break the president, as though that were its job. A weak pre-1968 administration like Jack Kennedy's survived and is lionized, while a much stronger one, like Clinton's, barely got out in one piece.

So let's see what Bob Herbert had to say about this once-brilliant "beacon of freedom and justice." Let's see what he did to project that essential "image" into the world, the loss of which he so loudly now laments.

Here's a "New York Times" abstract of some of his columns from early 2000 and late 1999 -- before the evil "Bush crowd" rose to power and sullied our beacon. It's a typical sampling; to give the whole list from any given month would be repetitive, because he comes back to these same topics over and over:

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column criticizes National Rifle Association for opposing gun control; assails NRA exec vice pres Wayne LaPierre for asserting that Pres Clinton is willing to accept certain amount of violence and killing to further interests of gun control

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column on problems with criminal justice system nationwide; says 'gruesome' problems that have been overlooked for many years are starting to burst into public view, and system is beginning to break down in some parts of country

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column examines'ancient attitudes' that govern why Americans are so unwilling to elect women to high public office

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column scores Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for inflicting 'further torment' on city's homeless by ordering police raids on New York City's homeless shelters during recent cold wave to arrest those with outstanding warrants

  • Bob Herbert column on Southern Poverity Law Center report on inroads hate groups are making among white youths whose families have missed out on nation's economic boom

  • Op-ed column by Bob Herbert on Legal Aid Society's class action suit against New York State's mental health system, charging that children known to be severely mentally ill are being denied treatment because state refuses to provide mental health facilities they require, leaving many of them to languish in hospitals, foster care or jail; describes plight of several such tormented children; notes that suit asks court to compel state to place children in residential treatment facilities within 30 days of determination that they are eligible for such services

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column on poll for Council for Excellence in Government that found large majority of Americans feel disconnected from government; expresses concern at finding that gulf between citizens and government grows larger with each successive generation

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column describes visit with Andrew Cuomo, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to poverty-racked town of Guadalupe, Ariz, where people live in rickety shacks, plumbing is outdoors, and residents, mostly Yaqui Indians and Mexican-Americans, go to bed hungry; says there are many such pockets of extreme poverty across country, even as Dow reaches 10,000 and millionaires are being created every day; says Cuomo is trying to spread word that country as whole has obligation to do what it can to assist those in danger of being left behind economically

Ah, what a wonderful world it used to be, eh, Bob Herbert?

The belief in the media, which I can testify to first-hand, that the sole purpose of a printing press or a television camera is to shine a light on every fault and failure of American authority, has its uses. It may at times be what saves democracy. But too steady application of it can be a water torture that can drive a nation to suicidal madness.

And many Americans feel, with Rabindranath Tagore, that "He alone may chastise who loves."

And Bob Herbert fails that test.

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Historical Question

Isn't blaming President Bush for the deaths of Iraqis slaughtered by the "insurgents" a bit like blaming Abe Lincoln for the deaths of blacks lynched by the Klan?


There's a nasty row going on over the "Doonesbury" cartoon this weekend that listed the names of U.S. servicemen and women killed in this Iraq war. Some, like Don Suber, find it unseemly attention-getting, and an attempt to turn a respectful memorial to the dead into Just Another Anti-War Statement.

He responds with a list of the service members killed in the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. And that, of course, draws ugly responses from our friends on the left. And so it goes.

Clearly the creator of "Doonesbury" is anti-Iraq War. But that does not make him anti-military, or automatically disqualify him from an honest feeling for the memories of the fallen. Some of his recent strips show a genuine sympathy for the soldiers and an effort to understand what they're going through. Suber, too, seems honestly respectful of them.

Certainly, among the dead who have come home from Iraq under American flags there have been many who would agree with "Doonesbury" and many who would agree with Suber. That says something about America and that's part of what we ought to remember.

But one of the critical comment on Don Surber's page is a transparent example of Memorial Day sentiment hijacked in the service of a modern political mania.

If you get a chance, I strongly encourage you to read the Doonesbury comic strip. Spend an hour or so reading the names of the Americans who have given their lives in the Iraq War. Honor those Americans for their commitment to protecting our security. They went to Iraq because their leaders told them they must go to defend their country.

And less than two paragraphs later, his fingers are still typing about soldiers as victims, but he's forgotten them and all he's really seeing -- as he no doubt sees wherever he turns his wild eyes, is Shrubbie McChimplerburton! in all his evil guises:

So, stop by the memorial, and let the cost of human lives sink in. Think about the huge number of Iraqi citizens, including children, that have died as a result of this war. Consider the chaos that envelops Iraq today. Think about how we were misled by the mainstream media and the government in the lead up to the invasion. How the WMD never materialized. How it was known that Iraq was not a threat to its neighbors, much less the United States. Then ask yourself the tough question. Has the looss of life been worth it? Every time you go to the polls to vote, imagine the lives of the 1800 families without their loved ones. And ask yourself. Can I continue to support a government that believes in preemptive war?

Two Sergeants

My family's history is not where I now live. The family has deep roots in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which used to be a beautiful country place; its dales and hollows grew foxes, then sheep, then milk cows, then, finally, housing developments.

When Memorial Day arrives, my natural place to commemorate it would be the grave of "Cousin" Joe Acker -- he would have been my great-great-grandmother's cousin, but that family seemed to collapse time to an eternal present tense. Joe was a sergeant in the 97th Pennsylvania, which enlisted in the summer of 1861.

One May day in 1864 the 97th was trying to hold the Bermuda Hundred line together in the face of strong probing attacks from Pickett's rebels. A staff officer -- that detested species -- wandered up to the front, and, looking to prove himself worthy of his stripes, told Acker to take a detachment out and see whether there were any rebels in that woods out in front of them.

"I can tell you from here," Cousin Joe said. "It's full of them."

But the staff officer, now having got his authority and ego tangled up in the case, insisted. And with no higher officer in sight to appeal to, Acker took a platoon out and crept toward the woods. When they got to the edge of it, the Confederates shot him dead.

His men dragged the body back, cursing and looking for that staff officer, who had quickly vanished. They never got his name.

That story is known in some detail because the regimental history of the 97th was written by the man who had recruited Acker and a handful of other farm boys from up in the Great Valley near Paoli.

I live now in Lancaster County, only one municipal unit removed from Chester County, but a different world altogether, historically. Chester is Quaker, Lancaster is German; Federalist vs. Democratic; spiritual and otherworldly vs. grubbily commercial. I still tend to see these places in their 19th century garb. That's the effect of doing too much research.

Joe Acker's grave is back in Great Valley Presbyterian cemetery, an hour's drive from here. But some stray branches of the family tree crossed into Lancaster County before me. One is the Passmores. Unlike the Ackers, the Passmores were no sort of gentry, even on the local level. One was a tavern-keeper along the road where the lime wagons dragged their loads to the kilns and the Lancaster farmers took their wheat to Wilmington. His sons sought livings on the Lancaster side of the line in the 1850s, working in stone quarries one year, teaching school the next. A public school teacher could have workman's knuckles back then.

The younger son was Josiah. He was older than the average soldier when the Civil War began, a family man, and he did not go in with the first wave of Northern enlistments. But he seems to have been one of the many men the threat of a draft shook out in 1862. He joined a 9-months regiment from Lancaster County that fought at Antietam and Chancellorsville. When he came home, he enlisted again. He joined the 2nd Pa. Heavy Artillery, which was a cushy "safe" regiment at the time, full of married men with children. Its duty was guarding Fortress Monroe down on the Virginia coast, a place almost immune to rebel attacks.

But when Grant took over the army in the East, he called in all the available manpower, including the "Heavies." Their days of safe duty ended, and they got thrown into the meat grinder of the Petersburg trenches. I have one of his letters home, to his little sister, my great-great-grandmother. He fretted a good deal about how his wife was getting by. Josiah died in the Battle of the Crater, the hideous debacle that was re-enacted at the beginning of the movie "Cold Mountain."

They brought his body back to Lancaster County, and buried it in a hilltop German churchyard outside the little village of New Providence. When I moved out here in 1990, I found the spot. Every year now, we visit his grave on Memorial Day. Sometimes the Boy Scouts have got the flag on it, sometimes they miss it. This year they found it alright. We brought a blossom from our garden.

What can you say about that? You could remind your anti-war friends That he was a not entirely willing participant in a not entirely legal war, in which a lot of basic American rights were overturned by a president elected by a minority of the voters. No, that's wrong. That's turning a dead man into a rhetorical trope. It takes him out of his context and his time, uses him to advance a present-day argument that has nothing to do with him. That's not what Memorial Day means. That's not what honor looks like.

This holiday began as a private affair, among the veterans themselves. In my part of the world, at first, they marched out to the cemeteries together, black and white, a truly remarkable thing in the old segregated North. Then the civilians and the politicians got hold of it and it became about speeches and contemporary matters and the blacks and whites stopped mingling.

Every attempt to use Memorial Day for any purpose but honoring the dead is unseemly. The day belongs to the individual man or boy who went to do a duty, with whatever mix of willingness and fear, and died doing it, as he knew he might. Any thought that goes much beyond that risks desecration.


Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

I will be updating this, after we perform our little family ritual. Meanwhile, if you're feeling the stirring of the spirit and want to do something about it, Winds of Change has an excellent and well-researched standing post of ways to help the current troops, including those of our allies (and yes, though you might not realize it to see the news broadcasts, we do have allies).

And this:

But news of a baby girl with a circulatory condition who needed hand surgery getting medical help from U.S. soldiers and a concerned nurse did not become a SIGACT, nor will it be included in a media release. So, unless a reporter was embedded with that unit at that time--and decides to tell the story--no one will ever know this one small, but powerfully important detail. There are a thousand such details falling like trees in a forest, but no one is listening for those kinds of sounds.

I write about them when I can, but there's an irony to all of this that is hard to escape. Most of the acts of kindness I witness are done from an instinctive altruism that almost always seeks anonymity. And there is that other problem with catching people doing good--the cynical media is quick to ascribe cheap motivations to soldiers who reveal their humanity through their decency. And does anyone really care about the soldiers who, after having arrested a suspected insurgent, then spent the next twenty minutes trying to find a home for the two little puppies he was keeping?


Don't Miss

The great wrap of media reactions and attempted explanations to the French EU constitution rejection, at American Future.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Political Journal has the results from that OTHER important election held recently, and explains why it's wrong to compare the turnout in Lebanon to the much higher one recently in Iraq (for one, Lebanese have been voting since 1992).

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Real Gulags

My etymology buddy Andrej begins his bike ride across Siberia today. Godspeed, and I hope he packed a lunch. Even his own Web master's description of the itinerary makes it sound dreadful.

His grueling course will begin at Magadan, known as the Portal to Hell, the notorious first stop on the way to the gulag slave camps of the Stalinist era. He will bike 1,000 miles over nearly impassable roads to Yakutsk and on to a remote village called Suntar, where roads vanish and maps are of little assistance. From there Andrej heads south to the Lena River and will follow a path along its northern bank for 1,000 miles. The road picks up again in Ust-Kut, and Andrej will continue along to his final destination in St. Petersburg.

So why would a sane Home Depot employee do this? To raise $10,000 to fight slavery worldwide.

"When I once worked in Greece and Cyprus, I would see escaped agricultural slaves from the Peloponnese wandering the streets and picking food out of the garbage. I knew people who made their Filipino and Pakistani household servants sleep on the floor in the garage. Almost every corner pub had at least three Russian sex slaves. I was shocked.

"Then one day, years later, I was walking through Harvard Square and saw students tabling for the American Anti-Slavery Group. I took a newsletter and read about Alexander Dynan’s bike-a-thon. I’m a serious amateur cyclist, and I was inspired to do something similar.

"I chose Siberia for a few reasons: (1) the legacy of the gulags, (2) the English word for slave comes from the word Slav, and (3) many Russians today are trafficked as slaves. I want to raise awareness in the US about this issue and also in Russia. I’d like the Russians to know that their suffering is being noticed by people very far away."

Check him out, and drop a dime or two while you're there.

Carthago delenda est

The Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating piece Thursday on a bit of attempted archaeological revisionism centered on Carthage, the ancient Semitic city-state in modern-day Tunesia that was a deadly rival of the Roman Republic. There's a version of the story online, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Carthage was a daughter of Phoenicia. The crux of the conflict is the alleged Carthaginian (and Phoenician) custom of sacrificing children by immolation in religious ceremonies. The Romans charged the Carthaginians with this, and the Bible charges the Phoenicians with it. Furthermore, grave artifacts in Carthage allude to sacrifice and have inscriptions expressing vows to Phoenician deities. And urns buried on these sites contain remains of children (and sometimes of animals) who were cremated.

Tunisian scholars, led by M'hamed Hassine Fantar, have begun to vigorously dispute this story. I have some sympathy for this. After all, if all we knew of Christians was what the Romans wrote about them, we'd believe they were cannibals.

Personally, I'd be delighted if what's alleged in the case of Carthage were not true. There is much to admire in the ancient Carthaginians, and their parent-state, Phoenicia. They were brilliant navigators -- the first to sail around Africa -- and crafty strategists; the Phoenicians taught the Greeks the alphabet, and taught the world commerce. Further, these states could stand as a pre-Islamic model for a great Middle Eastern/North African civilization. In the Islamic view, all was darkness and evil before the Prophet.

But I am not so eager for it that I'd twist the truth, and corrupt the humanities disciplines that teach me about the past. Ironicaly, it was a reaction against Islamism, in highly secular Tunesia, that brought this current situation about.

Following an upsurge in Islamic activism in the late 1980s, leaders worried that the country's education system was falling under the sway of Islamists, who mostly ignored pre-Islamic history. They stressed ancient Carthage's gory side as proof of the ignorance and immorality that supposedly prevailed before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century.

"We taught students that everything that was not Islamic had no real value," says Omrane Boukhari, a former teacher who now heads the education ministry's curriculum department. "It was amusing at first, but then we realized it was dangerous."

In the early 1990s, authorities began to purge teachers suspected of Islamist militancy. Textbooks were then revised to highlight the glories of Tunisia's pre-Islamic past. Students, says Mr. Boukhari, need to learn about "the most positive and most enlightened aspects" of Tunisia's history. "You find the identity of a people in the way it teaches history to its children."

And, by the way, that last quote is a chiller if you've seen the way American history is taught in American colleges and universities these days.

To be fair, the originator of the iconoclastic attack was an Italian scholar, Sabatino Moscati. But then Sicily had its own "tophet" site, so it was a question of national honor there, too.

The curator of a Cincinnati museum that ran into a diplomatic headache when it exhibited Carthaginian artifacts along with a film about Phoenician infanticide called it "a political thing. They don't like to think of such unsavory things going on in their territory."

And there does seem to be a high degree of political wishful thinking in Fantar's quotes, as recorded by the WSJ. And a large dollop of that familiar quality of Arabic touchiness about their place in history and their failure to become a great power in modern times, and to emerge from the shadow of Europe and the West. Call it the Bernard Lewis thing.

"History always gets written by the victors" ... the Romans twisted history to "show us as barbarians" and to "justify their own barbarity." ... "We must stop looking at our past through the eyes of foreigners" ... "When Arabs read and understand our own history, we will be at the dawn of a real revolution. This is what we are trying to do in Tunisia."

It may be an open topic among archaeologists, but in Tunisia, it's case-closed.

A new high-school history text published late last year celebrates Carthage as "the pole of Mediterranean civilization" and makes only a vague reference to sacrifices. The tourism ministry meanwhile has revised a training course for tour guides. As part of the new program, they get a handout instructing them what to tell visitors. It ... accuses Roman and Greek authors of fabricating mass infanticide "as a propaganda theme."

Aicha Ben Abed, director of research at Tunisia's National Heritage Institute, tries to draw up moral equivalence with Carthage's enemies. "Let's talk about pedophilia among the Romans and Greeks."

OK, "bad," but not really the same thing as burning them alive.

Fantar said the burial urns are a children's cemetery, full of remains of babies who died of natural causes. Researchers are going back to the bones and putting them to the test. "Preliminary results," according to the WSJ article, "seem to support the infanticide camp."

The analysis is being done at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Why do I get the feeling this story is going to get uglier?

A debate between Fantar and an opposing archaeologist is printed here. [Hat tip to the excellent Rogue Classicism]

I would be more pleased with my history if it were more pure. If the Athenians had not worked their slaves to death in the silver mines and the Carthaginians had not sacrificed children and the Americans had never lynched innocent men. But to become fully adult, a man must accept the darkness in one's culture and one's self.

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Let's say there's a book that's very important to you and your family. You love it, you cherish it. But some people in another house have a copy of the same book, and they don't adore it as much as you do. They leave it lying around, they accidently kick it, they use it as a doorstop. And some of them don't care if you know it.

At the same time, one of your children murders another in cold blood.

Which thing upsets you more; which event sparks your outrage and drives you raging into the streets in furor and anguish?

Well, if your family is modern-day Pakistan, that's a no-brainer.

Family Slides

I've been working my way through another box of old family slides, scanning them in and saving them on disk, to preserve them and so all of us who want them can have a copy. In this box I came across this classic sequence.

Easter, 1967, West Goshen Township, Pa. I've cropped these down a bit. My father taking pictures of the family in front of the house, Easter baskets in hand.

Picture one. I'm smiling for the camera, 7 years old. David, my brother, is not yet 3, too young to object to being dressed in shorts and black socks, and too young to look at dad and say "cheese" on command.

Picture two. Suddenly, David finds something worth paying attention to. An older brother's unguarded Easter basket. Toddler Valhalla.

Picture three. Munch, chomp, munch. Sheesh. And they always thought I was the bad seed and he was the ideal son. But there I am, still obliviously and dutifully posing for the camera. When did I wise up? Did I ever wise up?

Jill's Journal

Jill Sobule, one of the deftest word-jugglers in the songwriting business, has a journal on her Web site. It's fascinating reading. Here's a recent entry:

I am in the car with Tony (road manager, web master, rock therapist) on our way to Cincinnati. Last night, I played a Christian college. I was all, "how far do I go?" Do I cuss, play Soldiers of Christ, or Jesus Was a Dreidel Spinner? Do I put out and sell the Kissed a Girl T-shirts (the one with the two “love is” silhouette girls kissing on the front with the sad crying boy in the back)? I wanted to be respectful, yet be myself. I was going to wear my peace sign dress but at the last moment remembered, "don’t some Christians think that represents a broken cross and is a sign of ... Satan?" Are these kids the spawn of Jerry Falwell and Cotton Mather, or are they just nice students whose parents made them go to this school? Or maybe they are true believers, but also really cool. Maybe I had to look at my own prejudices.

As I walked in, it seemed like any other small campus. The students' look was from hippy jam band, to alt rock, to smart bookish. I saw a few pretty great haircuts (in Grand Rapids!). What was I expecting, Salem, 1692?

So, from the first song, the crowd was with me. They got all the nuances, dark humor, and layers in the lyrics. They were very enthusiastic. Then came the time to do ... a "homo" song. I introduced Under The Disco Ball as a song about the "evils" of the gay agenda. They laughed and seemed, at least at that moment, to be on the right side (my side) of the cultural divide. Damn, on one hand, I wish I could have been a minor Buster the Bunny.

Rays of Hope

As reported by Iraqis

Sulaimaniyah security officials credit vigilant residents for ensuring this northern city stays free of the violence that plagues the rest of Iraq.

Up to 70 people call the authorities each day to report suspicious incidents. Though some tips don’t check out – such as the car with blood on its tires that turned out to be from the chicken slaughtered in honour of the new vehicle – others have saved lives.

Multiply that by ten thousand towns, and you've got a measure of progress. But progress is dark matter to the media. You won't see this story on the nightly news.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Oy, Canada

Canada has been a target of criticism on the American right recently, for, among other things tending to roll over at the command of Islamist immigrant leaders, including an ill-advised experiment at implementing Sharia law in Ontario, and for refusing to participate in its own defense, or, to put it more kindly, refusing to offer a little cooperation to the American military shield that also happens to protect Canada.

All of which probably accounts for my progressive co-workers' fondness for the place. At least one of them announces almost weekly that if it wasn't for his children (living here with their divorced mother) he would have gone there long ago.

But it turns out there's a liberal critique of Canada, too.

While Canada signed and ratified the Kyoto accord, making a commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions 6 percent below 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012, emissions have risen to 24 percent above 1990 levels. The powerful domestic oil industry has lobbied effectively to guarantee that the development of oil sands - a noxious source of carbon dioxide - will go on expanding.

In fact, Canada, where logging, mining and oil interests are extremely powerful, has a less than sterling environmental record. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Canada produces more nuclear waste per capita than any other member country and ranks as the fourth per capita emitter of carbon dioxide, following the United States, Australia and Luxembourg. Environmental activists say that only Finland and Sweden log more forest land per capita among industrialized countries.

When European governments sought to ban the import of Canadian asbestos for its toxicity in recent years, Ottawa complained to the World Trade Organization that such an action would violate free trade.


Canadian officials constantly lecture Europe and the United States on the need to level the playing field in agriculture for third world producers. But at the same time Canada runs monopolistic dairy product marketing boards that raise tariffs of 200 percent and more to protect its own producers of milk, eggs and butter.

On social policy, Canada has been slow to make amends to indigenous Canadians for a century-long policy of forced assimilation under which parents were forced to send their children to residential schools where they were routinely punished for speaking their native languages and routinely abused sexually.

Practical Wisdom

I'm becoming a fan of Mudville's series of letters from Vietnam veteran and author John Harriman, addressed openly to the U.S. soldiers now serving in Iraq. Here's an insightful excerpt from the latest:

The RPG was the tank killer in Vietnam and lives on today in terrorist armies in Iraq because of its lethality and portability. One terrorist can knock out a Humvee--or even a tank--with one well-placed shot, which is a very high payoff in the cost/benefit formula of terrorist warfare where the enemy is even willing to strap explosives to his own body.

In Vietnam against the RPG we evolved, too. We countered our lack of armor by hanging water cans, C-ration boxes, sections of track and clothing containers on the outside of our turrets. The extra few inches of standoff made the explosive much less lethal to tanks. Every armored personnel carrier in our unit used strips of scrap metal runway material or chain link fencing to do the same thing. The troops took to lining the floors of the carriers with layers of sandbags to reduce the effect of landmines. You talk about an excuse for outrage in the press. If it was there, I never heard it.

In any event, when he could, the enemy escalated to arming dud American bombs and using them as landmines, which defeated the sanbags. He also began shooting tanks in the engine compartment, where the fuel tanks were. In the M-48A2C, the fuel was gasoline, not diesel, and if ever there was a reason for outrage that was it. So we got the M-48A3, a diesel tank much less prone to burning.

And so on. And so on. And so on. (And aren't we a deadly and devious species?)

Look I don't want to debate here whether we should be fighting in Iraq at all. And I don't know the details of the cited incident about the Marine officer. But I do know this: If we ever decided in 1941 that we could not commit to a war until we had absolute certainty of victory against every kind of threat, including evolving enemy tactics without suffering casualties--and a five-year plan for postwar reconstruction besides, everybody in North America would be speaking Japanese today. Or German. The men who died in World War II for lack of preparation or equipment would populate several western U.S. states.

I wish that every American vehicle in Iraq was armored to the nines. And at times, I wish that Mark Shields was secretary of Defense. If both those things happened, all our men and women would be safe. Right?

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Air of Fat

Interesting to read a number of Democratic commentators on the recent progress in Israeli-Palestinian relationships. They are at pains to deny that the forward movement has anything to do with the Bush Administration, or with its promotion of real, empowered democratic governments in Arab lands, because such governments are more inclined to peace than war.

Nope, nope, nope. Can't be that. Must be something else. When it comes to the recent thaw in Judaea, they say, the thing that really cleared the path was the death of Arafat.

Darn tootin' it did. However much credit you want to give or withhold from Bush for his overthrow of Saddam, you can't deny that getting that ugly old PLO terrorist out of the picture removed the single biggest obstacle to peaceful coexistence in Israel and Palestine. I'll grant them that.

But what I can't seem to find is any such statement to that effect, from the Democratic commentators, while Arafat was still alive. Instead, I see a lot of people insisting that the Americans and the Israelis treat Arafat as a legitimate representative of his people, and that the only prospect for peace ran through his office.


Virginia Heffernan has a piece in the New York Times reflecting on the "American Idol" finale as a tableau of the "new new South versus the new old South."

Carrie Underwood, the winner, is an Oklahoman. "Underwood's hymns to this upbeat, pious utopia defy regionalism; they're triumphalist pop-country hits in which falling in love is mysteriously connected to finding God and being free and becoming famous. Her "new old South" is exemplified by states like Alabama and contestants like "Idol" runner-up Bo Bice.

In Bice's long-gone version of the South, people are still Democrats, or at least hippies and outlaws, and they're kind of mad and trapped and defeatist. They're happy only when they're home.

Come on, didn't you know Bice would lose when he sang Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama"? "In Birmingham they love the governor." Of the 75 or so viewers who actually paid attention to the lyric, it can't have landed easily: A white Southern man singing nostalgically about segregation. "We all did what we could do." And then there's the part where Bice (attended, at the live show on Wednesday, by Lynyrd Skynyrd itself) deplored Washington hypocrisy, invoking the crimes of Watergate: "Does your conscience bother you?"

Except I don't think anyone familiar with the Skynyrd song thinks it's nostalgia for segregation. It's written as a direct response to Neil Young's "Southern Man," a vicious, angry screed chock full of Southern stereotypes. Skynyrd says: back off; you don't know us. We're just as complex as your community, and we are working through some messes down here. We love this place, which doesn't mean we think it's perfect; it means we take responsibility for it. We also have to live here every day. And you don't help things at all, for anyone, by barging in from somewhere else with all that ugliness and anger, especially when you've got messes of your own that cry out for attention.


Or something like that.

Seems like the New York Times didn't really listen to the lyrics after all.

We're Europe; We're Smarter than You

Belgravia Dispatch pulls some good quotes from a pair of "New Yorker" articles about a conference in Munich attended by, among others, Wolfgang Ischinger, German Ambassador to the United States, and Sen. John McCain. Americans still smarting over George Galloway's smackdown of the U.S. Senate may be pleased to know McCain (according to the New Yorker writer) opened up a can of whoop-ass on the Europeans.

He crushed them. But it was a battle of people who were not equals--a U.S. senator and Presidential candidate, full of self-confidence, and a bureaucrat, extremely restricted, with instructions about what he can say. It was not a fair match.

McCain came off like a pit bull in a Hummel factory. But I can hardly blame him, after he had to sit through a steady drizzle of Euro-snobbery like this from Ischinger:

As older societies, we tend to think of ourselves as more experienced in the way societies evolve, and we tend to be skeptical of Americans who seem to think that if you believe hard enough, and you muster enough resources, you can change the world .... So don't preach to us. And don't think transformative change will work according to mechanistic rules. This is very complicated. Changing the way people think often has to do with religious and cultural issues--we tend to think of them as long-term, and Americans think, Let's solve the problem in the next four years!

Bleagh. Just in time, though not related, Neo-Neocon recounts a story to remind me that Europeans didn't always mask moral cowardice with phony claims of cultural maturity.

When General George Napier was governor of Sind province in India in the 1840s, he vigorously enforced the ban on suttee, the practice of throwing a Hindu widow on to the funeral pyre of her husband. A delegation of Brahmins came to him to explain that he must not prohibit the practice at the funeral of a particular maharaja, as it was an important cultural custom.

“If it is your custom to burn a widow alive, please go on,” Napier responded.

“We have a custom in our country that whoever burns a person alive shall be hanged. While you prepare the funeral pyre, my carpenters will be making the gallows to hang all of you. Let us all act according to our customs” The Brahmins thought better of it, and the widow lived.

I'm going to have to take the long-verdue step of adding NNC to the blogroll.

Carnival of the Etymologies

[A regular Thursday feature of "Done with Mirrors"] This week: Ripped from the headlines.

Laura Bush Heckled at Islamic Holy Shrine

Heckle was journalists' verb of choice to describe this incident. But this seems an unwonted extension of its usual meaning, which is to annoy or harass, by constant interruptions, someone who is speaking. The news reports don't indicate that Laura Bush was trying to speak at the time. In fact, they emphasize her silence during the visit to the wall and the mosque.

This sense of heckle is a figurative one that originated in Scottish English in the late 18th century. According to the "Oxford English Dictionary," the word was "long applied in Scotland to the public questioning of parliamentary candidates." Originally, the verb meant "to comb with a heckle," which was a kind of comb used for flax or hemp.

It's a Germanic word related to hackle, which also originally meant a kind of comb before it was transfered to bird plumage in the 15th century, on supposed resemblance of comb to ruffled feathers.

A big, sharp-tined comb dragged over your skin is probably a good metaphor for the experience of being taunted in public while trying to speak. The same metaphor exists in tease, which in Old English (tæsan) meant "to pluck or pull apart" fibers of wool, flax, etc. The figurative sense of "vex, worry, annoy" emerged by 1619.

But the comb also has the purpose of untangling the knots in the material, just as the original heckling had the purpose of exposing cant and smoke in a politician's speech.

One of the interesting sidebar stories to Laura Bush's Middle East visit was her taping an appearance on Egyptian "Sesame Street".

The show's name is a reference to sesame as the magic password to opens the door of the thieves' den in "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves." In English, this first appears in the 1785 translation of Antoine Galland's "Mille et une nuits." Galland published his translation in the first decade of the 18th century from a manuscript he had purchased in Istanbul while serving there as an assistant to the French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Apparently the phrase "Open Sesame" is a literal translation of the Arabic phrase used in the story.

The collection itself goes back, in parts, perhaps to 1000 C.E., but the Forty Thieves story, and that of Aladdin's Lamp, though authentic Arab stories, were not in the older collections, and scholars say Galland got them from a Syrian Christian storyteller from Aleppo and inserted them in his collection. But why "Open, Sesame," I cannot say. Perhaps it was just nonsense. Nowadays, it might be a reference to a brand of remote-control door-opening system.

Sesame itself ultimately is a Semitic word, which entered English circa 1440, probably from Middle French sisame, which is from Latin sesamum, which is from Greek sesamon, which the Greeks got via Phoenician from Late Babylonian *shawash-shammu, which literally means "oil seed."

This BBC story indicates they've essentially kept the name of the American show in exporting it into the Middle East. It's called "Hikayat Simsim" in Jordan and the Palestinian territories and "Sippuray Sumsum" in Israel. The Kuwaiti version is called "Iftah Ya Simsim", which literally means "Open Sesame."

The phrase thus has made a 300-year round-trip from Arabia to America and back again.

While Americans debate the public funding of PBS, Britons debate whether the BBC should continue to be funded by a licence fee.

OK, so it's not big news, but it happens to dovetail with some of my recent readings in archaeology about the important moment when humans domesticated cattle. Some perceptive archaeologists have pointed out that owning cattle, or the ability to own them, forced great shifts in human behavior, and not just the obvious ones relating to grazing land and settlement. Cattle were more than just lunch on the hoof. During their lives, they represented money, perhaps the original form of non-human material wealth.

Livestock was the measure of wealth in the ancient world. This is reflected in the Modern English word fee, as well as the word pecuniary, both of which derive from a root that originally meant "cattle."

Fee is the equivalent of Old English feoh, which meant "money," and "property," as well as "cattle." In fact, the German cognate, Vieh, still means "cattle." But in Gothic, the equivalent word (faihu) seems to have made the full transition to "money, fortune."

They're all from the Germanic form of the Proto-Indo-European root *peku- "cattle." [Proto-Indo-European *p- regularly becomes f- in Germanic languages; compare fish/pisces, father/pater, fire/pyr.]

The same root, in Latin, yielded pecu "cattle, flock," and its cousin pecunia "money, property."

A similar development, from an unrelated word, is in Welsh tlws "jewel," which is cognate with Irish tlus "cattle," the connection being the notion of "valuable thing."

Peculiar is from Latin peculiaris "of one's own," originally "of one's own property," from peculium "private property," literally "property in cattle." Cowboys indeed are peculiar folk.

More details have emerged about the grenade that someone threw at George W. Bush during his visit to the nation of Georgia.

Grenade meaning "small explosive shell" first turns up in 16th century French, where it literally meant "pomegranate." The little bombs were so called because they were filled with grains of powder (like the many-seeded fruit), or perhaps because their shape was the same. Grenadiers (1676) originally were soldiers "who were dexterous in flinging hand-granados" (in the words of John Evelyn, whose family was in the gunpowder trade).

Pomegranate is from Medieval Latin pomum granatum, which literally means "apple with many seeds." The classical Latin name for it was a slight variant of this, malum granatum. "Apple" was a generic name the Romans used for any sort of fruit they did not immediately recognize.

The Georgia in the American South, by the way, was named for King George II of Great Britain, while the Caucasian nation is so-called for St. George, who is its patron saint (his cult there may continue that of a pre-Christian deity with whom he was later identified). But the name also is said to derive from the Arabic or Persian name for the region, Kurj.

George is a Greek personal name meaning "husbandman, farmer," from ge "earth" and ergon "work"

Drug trafficking out of Afghanistan is worrying authorities again, as indicated by the headline 10,000 pounds of opium seized in Afghanistan.

Opium, the word, has been in English since at least 1392, and it comes via Latin from Greek opion "poppy juice, poppy," a diminutive of opos "vegetable juice." Poppy, meanwhile, was in Old English (popæg), and the Anglo-Saxons probably got it from Latin papaver "poppy," which is perhaps a reduplicated form of the imitative base *pap- "to swell," which would connect it with a common word in many languages for "breast."

Heroin is a modern word, from German Heroin, which was coined in 1898 as trademark (registered by Friedrich Bayer & Co.) for their morphine substitute. Traditionally it is said to have been coined from Greek heros "hero" because of the euphoric feeling the drug provides to its users.

Senators reach filibuster compromise was Tuesday's top story.

Well, filibuster is the fun word here, but I already did that one (here). So I'll give you compromise.

The first record of it in English is from 1426, but originally it meant "a joint promise to abide by an arbiter's decision." That brings it closer to the literal meaning of its Latin roots, com- "together" and promittere "to promise." The main modern sense was turning up by the end of the 15th century, however. It's an extension of meaning from the arbitration agreement to the settlement itself.

Promise (from Latin promittere) itself is a compound word. The meaning of the Latin verb promittere ranged from "send forth," to "foretell," to "promise." The first was closest to the literal sense: from pro- "before" and mittere "to put, send" (the root of mission and Mass). The ground sense of promise is "a declaration made about the future, about some act to be done or not done." It's literally a "throwing ahead" of one's words.

Senate, of course, was the name of the legal and administrative body of ancient Rome, literally a "council of elders." The Romans would have recognized its root in senex "old man, old." Thus it's related to senile. In post-Roman use, senate is attested from the 14th century in reference to governing bodies of free cities in Europe and from 1560 in reference to national governing bodies. The specific sense of "upper house of the U.S. legislature" is recorded from 1775.

Published photos show captive Saddam wearing his ....

Most media filled in the blank with underwear, which is an acceptable modern term, but it only dates to 1872 (the short form undies is attested from 1906).

The older term for these is drawers (so called because you draw them on, with draw used in the old sense of "to pull"). This word goes back to 1567.

But like all "underwear" words, it tended to get a naughty connotation, and polite speakers kept inventing euphemisms to allow them to avoid it. Underwear was one such. Also among these was unmentionables (1910).

BVDs (1893) is from the trademark name (dating to 1876) of manufacturer Bradley, Vorhees, and Day. Skivvies (1932) originally was nautical slang, but the exact origin is unknown. An earlier skivvy/skivey was London slang for "female domestic servant" (1902).

Boxers or briefs? Briefs comes first, at least in language history. It is attested from 1934, while boxer shorts have been so called only from 1944 (in reference to their resemblance to the attire worn in the prizefighting ring).

Knickers, though the word often has a British association today, seems to have an American origin. It began to be used for "short, loose-fitting undergarment" (not originally restricted to women) in 1881, and it's a shortening of knickerbockers (1859), which were said to be so called for their resemblance to the of pants worn by colonial Dutchmen in George Cruikshank's illustrations for Washington Irving's "History of New York," which Irving published in 1809 under the nom de plume "Diedrich Knickerbocker." The pen-name was borrowed from Irving's friend Herman Knickerbocker, and it literally means "toy marble-baker."

An illustration by George Cruikshank, "The Radical Reformer" (September, 1819), warning Englishmen of the dangers of a French-style revolution.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Putting a Polite Face on It

Der Speigel predicts a thaw in German-American relations when the Schröder era ends.

His replacement is almost sure to be Angela Merkel -- the likely candidate from the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU). And, when it comes to Bush, she has done everything she can to distance herself from Schroeder's antagonistic stance and present herself as a great friend of the United States. A new, and more amicable trans-Atlantic era between Germany and the US may be on the horizon.

"Trans-Atlantic relations would be very much more relaxed" under Merkel, says Peter Fischer-Bollin, a trans-Atlantic expert with the pro-CDU Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Berlin. "On the one hand because of specific positions ... and on the other hand, the tone of discussions that are currently taking place would be much milder. The relationship of trust would improve .... I think perhaps that the people in the CDU are much more pro-trans-Atlantic than those in the current government."

That's eminently predictable. But check it out, and check out the photo they picked to illustrate it, in the upper left corner of the story. Is that not the most understated, and euphemistic, caption you've ever seen?


Ugly Scenes in Cairo

The big vote in Egypt took place, and it looked ugly.

CAIRO, Egypt - Plainclothes government agents beat protesters Wednesday, then watched as President Hosni Mubarak's supporters punched other demonstrators in scattered violence that marred a referendum the 24-year ruler has called a crucial step toward democracy.

Female protesters in particular seemed to be targeted for beatings by both plainclothes state security agents and pro-Mubarak supporters, according to several witnesses and Associated Press reporters who saw the attacks.

"This is the first time this sort of beating and humiliation has taken place here in Cairo," said Abdel Halim Qandil of the opposition group Kifaya. He said it had been a problem before in provincial areas.

The government had no official reaction to the violence. Security officials said the clashes were between Mubarak supporters and Kifaya members, and that security officials were not involved. But AP reporters saw plainclothes agents taking instructions from both uniformed and non-uniformed government security officers.

The Guardian has more. So does Abu Aardvark who links to a number of Egyptian bloggers who were on the scene. Bush-hating snark alert on him, of course, but he asks a valid question: what do those of us who celebrated the "protest babes" and the spread of democracy have to say now?

[W]e're going to find out whether the world really is watching, and cares, the next few days. The world, and Bush.

UPDATE: Here's one, to which others have linked approvingly.

Thurl Ravenscroft

Jimmie of The Sundries Shack reminds me that among the many achievements of the great Thurl Ravenscroft was singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" in the Chuck Jones “How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

He doesn’t get much credit for that since the speaking voice of the Grinch was done by Boris Karloff and most folks thinks that Karloff sang the song also.

But that was Ravenscroft - one of the best and most distinctive voices of my childhood.

That and one of the all-time best show-biz names. And of course Karloff can't sing. Just ask Lugosi.

My son, now 14, will remember Thurl as the voice of Kirby, the grumpy vacuum cleaner in the splendid and surreal kids cartoon film The Brave Little Toaster. The first time we watched it, I didn't even have to wait to see the credits to identify that voice.

Carrying Coles

Juan Cole the anti-war set's favorite professor, has a characteristically dour assessment of the situation in Iraq. His conclusion:

Therefore, I conclude that the United States is stuck in Iraq for the medium term, and perhaps for the long term. The guerrilla war is likely to go on a decade to 15 years. Given the basic facts, of capable, trained and numerous guerrillas, public support for them from Sunnis, access to funding and munitions, increasing civil turmoil, and a relatively small and culturally poorly equipped US military force opposing them, led by a poorly informed and strategically clueless commander-in-chief who has made himself internationally unpopular, there is no near-term solution.

In the long run, say 15 years, the Iraqi Sunnis will probably do as the Lebanese Maronites did, and finally admit that they just cannot remain in control of the country and will have to compromise. That is, if there is still an Iraq at that point.

The thing is, you don't have to agree with his ghoulish vision of Iraq (all dark cloud, no silver lining) or America (all greedy idiots at the top). You can argue whether de-Baathification was right or wrong, or whether Sunni disenfranchisement in the first election was a wake-up call or a delegitimatization. You can argue whether there ever was an alternative to Shi'ite religious parties. On the essential military picture, Juan Cole and I agree.

In fact, there's broad agreement, left and right, at least in the places I visit, over the formidable problems the U.S. and its Iraqi allies face in Iraq. Even if Zarqawi shuffles off his mortal coil sometime soon, this won't change.

And it's a challenge we -- we the entire modern Western world -- has to learn how to fight. We had a chance in Algeria in the 1950s and failed. We had a chance in Vietnam in the 1960s and failed. Different situations, different lessons, different mistakes, different failures. But a big, modern military machine has a losing record against a fluid insurgency with its roots in a local culture other than that of the big modern military.

You can literally pave the country, or you can settle for "gated communities" of control in a vast jungle of insurgency, or you can play sitting duck and accept bleeding loses that sap your citizens' resolve at home and turn the in-country citizens against you.

Or you can try something else. But we don't have a choice. It's a problem we had better learn to solve.

I think "Iraqification" is the right approach, and I think it will take time and patience. The retort to that is, "Vietnamization" was a failure. But it needn't have been. If the U.S. had taken more time to set it up, had had a more effective military model of its own to present, and had been willing to step back in to the country militarily when the enemy started to overwhelm our ally, it would have worked, I believe.

I said when this episode began, it will be 20 years before we know if this was a good idea or not.

Intelligent Decline

Richard Dawkins blisters the ID crowd.

Admissions of ignorance and mystification are vital to good science. It is therefore galling, to say the least, when enemies of science turn those constructive admissions around and abuse them for political advantage. Worse, it threatens the enterprise of science itself. This is exactly the effect that creationism or “intelligent design theory” (ID) is having, especially because its propagandists are slick, superficially plausible and, above all, well financed. ID, by the way, is not a new form of creationism. It simply is creationism disguised, for political reasons, under a new name.

It isn’t even safe for a scientist to express temporary doubt as a rhetorical device before going on to dispel it.

“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” You will find this sentence of Charles Darwin quoted again and again by creationists. They never quote what follows. Darwin immediately went on to confound his initial incredulity. Others have built on his foundation, and the eye is today a showpiece of the gradual, cumulative evolution of an almost perfect illusion of design. The relevant chapter of my Climbing Mount Improbable is called “The fortyfold Path to Enlightenment” in honour of the fact that, far from being difficult to evolve, the eye has evolved at least 40 times independently around the animal kingdom.

And so forth. Good thing modern biology is more like British Parliament than an American Congress. The big stars are trained in the kind of George Galloway tactics that they need to wrestle their enemies in the public forum. Both Dawkins and his nemesis, the late Stephen Jay Gould, were capable debaters, thanks in part, certainly, to their constant gnawing on one another.

Hillary in Stride

As reported by The Nation, Hillary Clinton makes a formidable run down the center-left at a re-election fundraiser in upstate New York, in front of a crowd of "rural, moderate Democrats--small-town schoolteachers, librarians, general-store owners."

"What I see happening in Washington," Clinton continued, "is a concerted effort by the Administration and the leadership in Congress to really create absolute power. They want to control the judiciary so they can have all three branches of government. I really don't care what party you are--that's not in the American tradition.... Right now young men and women are putting their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting for the America we revere. And that is a country where nobody has all the answers--and nobody should have all the power.... We all need to stand up for what made America great--what created a wonderful set of values that we revere, that we exported and tried to really inculcate in people around the world!"

That's impressive; that looks like a winning message to me. The audience apparently loved it, and even The Nation was seduced.

Wild applause rolled over Clinton now, although it was unclear whether the crowd had appreciated the political subtleties of what they'd witnessed. She had offered a critique of the GOP sharp enough for any progressive--even as she'd given an approving nod to American exceptionalism and a paean to US troops defending our "values" abroad. She'd stoked the partisan passions of her audience--even as she'd sounded an above-partisanship note of concern about the state of the Republic. Indeed, she'd managed to pull off what many Democrats struggle to do these days: She'd weaved her criticisms into a larger narrative about America's past and future, criticizing the GOP leadership without sounding as if she wanted America to fail--when she said she was "worried" about America, you believed her.

It's a good piece, even if you have to hold your nose to read The Nation. The bit about dealing with the Democrats' "military problem" is worth your time, whether you're open to a President Hillary or dead-set against it.

Kingfish Reconsidered

Huey Long famously said, "If fascism comes to America it would be on a program of Americanism."

In my youth, when I understood more and knew less, this always seemed to me to be a direct hit on patriotism. Yes, fascism wrapped in an American flag, carrying liberty's torch.

But now I'm older and know a little more and realize how little I understand. I recently encountered that quote again, and it looked like more than a flat slap at U.S.A. patriotism.

Kingfish lived at a time when Americans hotly debated very different images of their essential national ideals -- freedom and liberty. Huey Long himself had a dog in that fight. A similar version was the Townsend Plan. Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal was another; and the people who bitterly opposed Roosevelt had their own vision, though a negative one. It was a generation in which both the Ku Klux Klan and the Socialist Party reached heights of influence they never attained before or since.

And each of those models of America damned the other as antithetical to freedom and liberty. Each claimed that mantle for itself. Even the American Nazi PArty rallied in New York under a giant image of George Washington. Yet each was willing to bend and warp the fabric of America's laws and customs to attain its end. Each presented itself as the heir to the vision of the Founders. As both North and South did in 1861.

That, I think now, is what the clever politician from Louisiana saw.


"Der Spiegel" interviews Somali-born Dutch legislator Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and kindly translates the work into English.

She broke with Islam over its treatment of women, which alone would have earned her a death sentence in strict Islamist circles. She also said of Muhammad, "Measured by our western standards, he is a pervert. A tyrant" (he married a 9-year-old girl). Strike two for her. Islamic organisations and individuals filed charges against her for "discrimination" (Ah, Europe). The prosecutor in the case did not pursue charges, because her criticism "does not contain any conclusions with regard to Muslims, and the worthiness of them as a group is not denied."

Strike three came in 2004, when with Theo van Gogh, she made the film "Submission" about the oppression of women in Islamic cultures. Dutch Muslims found the film disgraceful and blasphemous. Van Gogh was murdered by a radical Islamist on Nov. 2, 2004; the letter pinned to his body mostly was addressed to Hirsi Ali.

The Spiegel interviewers (identified as Conny Neumann and Michaela Schiessl) ask her some odd questions. At one point they actually equate her with the Sept. 11 terrorists:

SPIEGEL: Now you are beginning to sound like a martyr yourself. The September 11 terrorists also died for an idea.

Her answer is remarkably restrained. But I guess, being in Europe and all that, she hears this all the time:

Hirsi Ali: I would like to draw a distinction there. If we all keep still and remain silent, there will be more than just one or two deaths. I prefer to follow the philosopher Karl Popper. He says that freedom is not to be taken for granted. It is vulnerable. One must fight for it and be willing to die for it. The Islamic scene is very aggressive. Those Muslims who wish to kill someone receive a great deal of support from their home countries. There is plenty of wealth, there are plenty of sponsors and there are plenty of desperate people who choose this path. We must defend ourselves if we wish to preserve our Western values. The price we pay is to be threatened.

More weasely appeasement talk follows. This part, at least, will be familiar to Americans. The gist of it is, "by attacking those who attack you, you cause more trouble for yourself and make more enemies":

SPIEGEL: You seem to be resistant against the hostility. In your book, you are unrestrained in your denunciation of Islam as backward, and you call for policies that force immigrants to become integrated. You are also in the process of preparing a second part of the film "Submission." Aren't you concerned about generating even more rage against you?

Her answer is a classic:

Hirsi Ali: What else can they do but issue a death threat? Now that I've already been given the maximum sentence, at least I can act freely.

She also ridicules the Dutch authorities' response to 9-11, which seems to be typical of many European nations, I'm afraid.

They called together the Muslim leaders, gave them money and asked them to keep their young people under control. It was laughable. Then they tried to force the many different groups under one roof. That effort produced two groups, one for liberal and one for orthodox Muslims. Their spokesmen were then expected to enforce all agreements internally. This is simply a naive expectation.

SPIEGEL: Why? After all, Islam is a highly authoritarian religion with strong leaders.

Hirsi Ali: Do you know what young Muslims who are drawn to radical Islam call these "leaders" who negotiate with the government? Charity whores. They consider them to be collaborators, traitors, idiots.

And her observations about the "closed communities" where much of Europe's Muslim minority lives, are chilling:

For her book entitled "Invisible Parents," the journalist Margalith Kleijwegt did some research in the Moroccan section of Amsterdam, where Van Gogh's murderer, Bouyeri, lived. She knocked unsuccessfully on doors six times. The seventh door was opened, and then she learned a great deal about this community. For example, she learned that no parents in that neighborhood knew about the murder, that no parents even knew who Van Gogh was or had heard about the film. They only watch Arab television where they are fed with conspiracy theories about the West. They spend every vacation at home in Morocco. They can't speak or write Dutch, and they don't read newspapers. The lesson of Margalith Kleijwegt's book is that the parents are not equipped to give their children the upbringing necessary in a modern western society. They also have many children and these parallel worlds are growing. We look on without even knowing what happens in them.

When the "spiegel" interviewers protest that her suggestion for insuring better integration of immigrants into Dutch society "sounds like a lot of trouble," she puts them in their place:

Hirsi Ali: So what? What is at issue is defending our values, and that can certainly lead to arguments.

SPIEGEL: Aren't you concerned that tensions would arise in these forced communities?

Hirsi Ali: The other alternative creates even greater tensions. If you allow the ghettos to grow, you'll have clashes between skinheads and Muslim extremists, for example.

Taken aback, or so it seems, the interviewers start pitching her phrases that, I suspect, they find abhorrent, just to see if she will embrace them. Sure enough, she does.

SPIEGEL: Ignore the cultures of the immigrants?

Hirsi Ali: Blindly respecting their cultures is the wrong approach. Here's an example: Many children in Holland's Arab ghettos are taught the teachings of Ibn Abu-Taymiya, one of the founders of pure Islam who preaches the holy war as a way of life. Instead of studying European philosophers, the children are taught to abide by 11th century teachings!

SPIEGEL: Integration and European culture can't be imposed on people.

Hirsi Ali: But we can do something about it. This is where society comes in. Artists, kindergartens, churches, they should all penetrate into the ghettos. It's really grotesque: We have all kinds of NGOs that send people all the way to Africa to convince people to use condoms. But they don't dare touch the problems we have at home. Charity begins at home.

SPIEGEL: Perhaps this is partly because part of democracy means allowing people to think as they wish.

Hirsi Ali: Democracy also includes legitimate intolerance. The intolerable cannot be tolerated. We must declare war on Islamist propaganda. Why should we ignore that women in our midst are being suppressed, beaten, enslaved? Why should we ignore that people preach hatred and vow to destroy us?

And with that, the interview ends. And the interviewers probably hustled away, muttering and shaking their heads, "She speaks just like ... just like ... one of those awful Americans!"


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Missing in Inaction

When we look back on this Great War on Terrorism/Extremism, will we be as puzzled, as I sometimes am now, about how the American administration committed so much of the nations military resources -- and lives -- to a cause, and so little of its heart? After 9/11, the people were all but begging their leaders to ask them to make sacrifices, to contribute to do something. But we were told to go about our business as though nothing had changed.

The people who still care are still doing their part for the troops, and for the nations embroiled by the war, often via non-government efforts like Soldiers' Angels and Spirit of America. But only the government can do certain things on its own behalf, and so often it fails to do them -- so often it seems to fail to appreciate that there is a need to do them.

Perhaps this is the Bush Administration genuinely running government like a business, compartmentalizing the war, trying to not let a criris in one department spill over into the whole organizational chart. I don't know. But there's a faintly hollow feeling to it sometimes.

This rumination was inspired by a Belgravia Dispatch post that ended like this:

This is why B.D. is so sensitive to tales of torture, of denigration of Islamic tenets in detainee treatment, and so on. This is not born of squeamishness; but of realism. An important element in securing a long term victory in this struggle against extremist terror is denying the enemy propaganda tools. Where are our fluent Arabic speakers on al-Arabiya explaining what legal reasons compelled us after 9/11 to have a detention center in Guantanamo for fanatical al-Qaeda detainees? Where are our spokesmen apologizing for the death of detainees in Bagram and Abu Ghraib who perished under U.S. custody? Loudly, repeatedly, in Arabic? Where are our spokesmen in spelling out the disciplinary measures that have been taken, the corrective measures that are being instituted, the red-lines that have been communicated to grunts in the field as to what is and isn't acceptable when it comes to treatment of POWs? Where are our spokesmen in explaining that it was the United States that led efforts in tsunami relief (inclusive of in kind contributions) that struck and killed so many thousands of Muslims (whilst showcasing the embarassingly paltry Saudi contributions)? That it was the United States that pressed intervention (if belatedly) to save ravaged Muslim Sarajevans and, later, Muslim Kosovars? Where are our spokesmen in explaining that we understand the hopes of those who aspire to Palestinian freedom as much as we understand the hopes of those who hope for a secure Israel? Is it just me, or are we behind in getting these messages out? If so, why?

The Right Reaction

This was the picture to run, of all the coverage generated by the "Saddam in his skivvies" flap. I was on wire desk Friday, and every time the editor asked me for a piece of art to put on Page 1, I sent this across the desk at him. He refused to use it. But he ran every inch of the the long, long New York Times story about how when Muslims think of "America" nowadays they only think of Guantanamo.

Of course, it's a Shi'ite family (look at the poster in the upper left). But it seems to sum up a lot of what I hear from Iraq. "Another nail in the coffin of human rights" indeed.

Tim Blair picked this one out, too. The comments on his post are well worth reading.

Saddam looks good. He looks better than he did in his last years in power. I wonder if we're making the mistake of working a dissipated tyrant into mental and physical shape just in time for his performance on the witness stand, like with did with Göring at Nuremberg.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Please welcome Keith Thompson of Petaluma, Calif., to the Left Behind Club.

Leftists who no longer speak of the duties of citizens, but only of the rights of clients, cannot be expected to grasp the importance (not least to our survival) of fostering in the Middle East the crucial developmental advances that gave rise to our own capacity for pluralism, self-reflection, and equality. A left averse to making common cause with competent, self- determining individuals -- people who guide their lives on the basis of received values, everyday moral understandings, traditional wisdom, and plain common sense -- is a faction that deserves the marginalization it has pursued with such tenacity for so many years.

All of which is why I have come to believe, and gladly join with others who have discovered for themselves, that the single most important thing a genuinely liberal person can do now is walk away from the house the left has built. The renewal of any tradition that deserves the name "progressive" becomes more likely with each step in a better direction.

Hat tip to Michael Totten, who also, in the same post, calls attention to Marcus Cicero (hey, what's with the appropriation of classical writers?), who, after leaving the left finds himself unable to really step into the right.

There are things that make we wretch when I go to the polls: having to vote either Republican or Democrat. I punch the chads with one eye shut. If I vote Republican, a little voice in my head mentally slaps me around for promoting a party that has a weak spot for Pat Robertson and people like Creationists. And when I vote Democrat, the little voice's doppelganger punches my cranium for supporting the relativist, cave-in, self-defeating politics of the Left.

Amen, brother.

Some other Left Behind cases here, and here.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Heckle and Jeckle

"Laura Bush heckled in Jerusalem." The headlines mostly say the same thing, but the stories are curiously divergent on exactly what the heckling was.

The version at the Guardian was:

"You are not welcome here," one Palestinian shouted as she entered the mosque. "Why are you hassling our Muslims? How dare you come in here?"

The New York Times not only reports it, it explains it:

"You are not welcome here!" shouted a protester near the Dome of the Rock. "Why are you hassling our Muslims?" She apparently was referring to the mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan.

Evidently, Steven Erlanger of the "Times" is a mind-reader. Reuters had essentially the same quote, adding another line:

A Palestinian worshipper cried out at her: "You are not welcome here. Why are you hassling our Muslims? How dare you come in here?"

Here's how AP heard it:

As she left the mosque, one heckler yelled, "How dare you come in here?" and "Why do you hassle our Muslims?"

But the Guardian said that was shouted when Laura Bush was entering the mosque. They both hardly can be right.

Presumably these quotes all were translated by people other than the writers of the stories. The staff covering Laura Bush's visit seems to be drawn largely from the U.S.-based press corps (AP's Nedra Pickler, for instance; one of my favorite names in modern journalism).

The BBC, however, picked up a quote that was in none of the above articles:

"How dare you come here! Why is your husband killing Muslims?", one shouted.

The Washington Post has the same quote, and puts it in the context of Laura Bush's visit into the Mosque -- so other reporters presumably would have heard it, too -- A Palestinian worshiper shouted at the first lady: "How dare you come in here! Why your husband kill Muslim?" The Chicago Tribune version of the story makes clear that this, in contrast to the BBC's version, was shouted in fractured English: "Near the Dome of the Rock shrine in Jerusalem's walled Old City, about two dozen Palestinians gathered around Laura Bush's entourage, and one shouted in English: 'How dare you come in here! Why your husband kill Muslims?' "

Odd stuff. But perhaps none so odd as the version from AFP, the French-based agency, which finds a group of protesters shouting "Death to America" as the first lady enters the mosque (a detail that interests me).

The most amazing thing about the AFP story, however, is the way the editors stacked it up. Most of the stories mentioned that Laura Bush was greeted by both Israeli and Palestinian hecklers. The European press seemed to go to some length to emphasize the Israeli critics, the Americans the Palestinian ones. But AFP -- and remember, this is the only source reporting "death to America," calls this only "slightly more hostile" than the Israelis holding up pictures of Jonathan Pollard and demanding that he be freed.

Among the bystanders, dozens of young women waved photographs of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish American who was jailed for life in 1987 in the United States on charges of spying for Israel.

A slightly larger group of men, some of them symbolically handcuffed, also shouted slogans calling for Pollard's release.

At the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam which overlooks the Wailing Wall, the response to her visit was slightly more hostile, with a handful of protestors shouting "Death to America" as she entered the golden-topped Dome of the Rock.

I wonder what AFP would have considered a "much more hostile" reaction.