Friday, March 31, 2006

On the Other Hand

Heh. Just when you thought something was crystal-clear, along comes Gerard Van der Leun with the Mother of All Alternate Takes on the Borders-Books-won't-show-the-Motoons story. Writing in the imagined voice of the Borders CEO:

You want this shit to stop and people able to draw and publish what they want anywhere in the world at any time without being afraid of getting a bread knife in gut from some hyperventilating Islamic idiotarian with a religiously implanted mental disorder? Start getting governments that can grow a pair at home as well as overseas, and start kicking some Muslim ass whenever and wherever this crap gets started. Don't come bitching to me that Borders has to step up and take the hit.

Is it really the case that your guys expect me, after months of watching this global governmental cowardice in the face of Islamic intimidation go down, to pin a big "Kick Me" sign on the backs of every one of my employees? Dudes, I worked in the grocery business for most of my career and if I am the last line of defense here, log off and head for the mountain redoubt with a box lunch because the terrorists have won.

I can't believe that your guys expect me to step up and make my company the front line of defense against the Muslim hordes which, as far as I can see, get a free pass to do whatever they want whenever they show up in groups of like two?

It does sort of spike your adrenaline. His writing has that quality. Van der Leun's, that is; not the Borders CEO's.

Taking The Chilling Low Road

Borders and Waldenbooks have decided they won't sell a magazine issue containing Prophet Muhammad cartoons.

Barnes & Noble apparently hasn't decided whether to carry the April-May issue of Free Inquiry.

A Borders spokeswoman said the company declined to sell the Amherst-based publication this month out of concern for the safety of employees and customers.

So, is this how it's going be now? Even though we didn't have rioting in this country, are we going to keep giving into our fears, roll over and voluntarily, by increments, surrender one of the most precious values in this country's arsenal: the free exchange of ideas and information?


I know that companies have the right to decide what they will and will not sell. But this strikes me as cowardly to the core and incredibly ironic on the part of a business that generates its profits specifically by selling the fruits of creativity, thought, and free expression.

From a Washington Times editorial:

Borders has carried this highbrow Albany, N.Y.-based title since the mid-1980s. Published by the Council for Secular Humanism, Free Inquiry runs the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Peter Singer; it reads like its title suggests. It's only sensible that a magazine which publishes "C.S. Lewis's Hideous Weakness" or "Morality without Religion" would also want to comment, with illustration, on the Danish cartoon affair.

When Borders announced its decision this week, the chain cited security. "For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority," Borders Group spokeswoman Beth Bingham told the Associated Press. "We absolutely respect our customers' right to choose what they wish to read and buy and we support the First Amendment, and we absolutely support the rights of Free Inquiry to publish the cartoons. We've just chosen not to carry this particular issue in our stores."

If this type of deference to radical Islam becomes a pattern, it will have a profound chilling effect on the publishing industry. It will be harder and harder to publish material which discomfits radical Islamists. ...

I'm not a regular reader or fan of the Washington Times, but I think it's absolutely right about this. We need to hold the line, not move it.

Just a few years ago Americans were asking what sacrifices they could make to help defeat radical Islam. Here's an instance where a corporation could sacrifice a little of its sense of comfort for that goal.


We don't own Borders stock anymore, but if we did, I'd be sorely tempted to sell it--and those types of gestures are rare for me.

What's not unusual for me is to buy exactly that which people don't think I should read or at least make it harder for me to get my hands on.

So after I publish this post, I'm going to go to Free Inquiry's website and see if it's possible to order that particular issue.

Heck, I might even buy a year's subscription--you know, on principle. Is that too radical for you?

Council Winners

This week's Council winners have been chosen.

A well-deserved first-place went to Rick of Rightwing Nuthouse for his piece on the immigration reform debate. It sounds a warning that many have written. And at the same time it wraps the modern story into an earlier one -- coincidentally this debate is happening on the 50th anniversary of the abortive anti-Soviet uprising in Hungary. When the boot came down, some Hungarians escaped.

[T]heir ultimate destination was America – a place as far removed from their experience as the surface of the moon. They had been told that America was an evil place full of grasping capitalists and slavemasters who used workers to enrich themselves while keeping them in abject poverty. But they had also heard whispers that America was a wonderful place where it didn’t matter where you came from or who your father was. And that there was opportunity for those willing to grasp it.

From Austria, the family took a train to Berlin where the father got very nervous when he glimpsed Soviet troops patrolling in the Russian sector. But now under the protection of the Americans, the little family could finally begin to relax. In Berlin, they took another train to Bonn where they were issued a visa and residency documents. After a wait of several weeks, they were able to board a plane for the New World. They arrived in Newark on the 17th of December, 1956, officially welcomed into the United States as legal residents.

Today as I write this 10,000 people, mostly from Mexico, are walking across the border as if it didn’t exist which, of course, it doesn’t. The fact that they are Mexican is irrelevant. The fact that American businesses in their desire to keep wages low will welcome them is irrelevant. What matters is the double standard.

But not only is this a historical tale, it's personal.

The above story is about the family of Zsusanna, the love of my life, who has been in this country now for almost 50 years. For one reason or another – raising her family, being busy with work or one of her many hobbies and causes – she never went through the process to become a citizen. She has now started that process because of what happened yesterday.

Well-crafted piece of writing! For another good look at the issue, from another interesting perspective, check out the second-place finisher in this weeks balloting, by The Education Wonks. As teachers, they were particularly interested in the student protesters, and the prominence of their Mexican flags. And as former residents of Mexico (the wife was born there), they know life on both sides of the border.

We are saddened that the student protestors in California would embrace the Mexican flag. This banner represents a government that cares so little for its own citizens' well-being that it does little or nothing to alleviate the awful living conditions that a large segment of it's own people are condemned to endure.

This despite the fact that Mexico has bountiful fertile land and natural resources (including some of the worlds largest petroleum and natural gas reserves) within its borders.

The scale of corruption found at all levels of the government would simply be mind-boggling to most Americans but is just another fact of life for all of those who live just south of our southern border.

As for Mexico's public school system, class sizes of 50-1 in the elementary grades are relatively common, transportation (such is school busses) is not provided, and children with special needs receive few (if any) services.

Outside the council, the laurels went to the moderate Muslim blogger who goes by eteraz, and who, I gather, has some Philadelphia connection. Yo! If you don't believe there are moderate Muslims, here's one. Would that there were millions more. The post that caught our eye was Open Letter to Reformist Muslims. The blog is called "Unwilling Self-Negation."

It's a beautifully turned bit of prose. It is not directed at me, and probably not at you. It is written to the blogger's co-religionists.

There are men and women in the West who wish to be of assistance to us. So what if they sometimes say things that you find offensive or incorrect. To correct them by way of friendship is much better than to sneer at them. We must judge them, not by their ancestors’ history, but by their love of the oppressed. We are clear, are we not, that there has been one too many Mukhtaran Mai? We are clear, are we not, that there has been one too many tyranny? We are clear, are we not, that there has been one too many Bin Laden? One too many 9/11, 3/11, 7/7, and Aksari Shrine and Shia massacre and Baha’i jailing and Jew-baiting. One too many Bamiyan Buddhas. One too many novelists accused. One too many suicides. The task ahead will be difficult enough. If, then, there are those who will link their arms with us, we must not hesitate. When the moment of reckoning comes — and there is no reason to believe that time is not now — we will be in need of every able mind, profligate pen, and nervous smile. Do it out of pragmatism, or do it out of love, but do it you must.

All those then, theists, secularists, atheists, deists, refuseniks, peaceniks, Jews, Gentiles, Unitarians, Episcopalians, Baptists, Methodists, Philosophers, who wish to walk for humanity: speak up and do not stop speaking. Walk with the believers. There are believers who will walk with you.

The next-highest vote-getter in that category was an excellent piece of work by Joe Katzman, the head honcho at Winds of Change, who shows, in detail and yet lucidly, why the U.S. military's up-armored Hummers are still death traps. He also shows how it could be done better than it has been.

As the bumper sticker says (meaning something quite different), if you're not angry, you're not paying attention. Now you don't have an excuse.

Let's Get This Over With

... because I’ve decided that First Posts are right up there on my hate-to-write scale with resumes, cover letters and those dopey “getting-to-know-you” ice-breakers that kick off corporate training sessions.

Callimachus has very much honored me by inviting me to blog at his place, and under such open-ended terms: I get to write what I want, as often or infrequently as I want, and on whatever topic that strikes my fancy. Given that C knows how I "do go on" (we worked at the same newspaper for years, ending more than a decade ago, which is when I last saw him), this is no small thing.

That said, my intention is to be more selective and mindful than that about posting here. My own blog Either End of the Curve is on hiatus for a while in large part because I became too sucked up into prolifically blogging on a daily basis as an end in and of itself, during a period when I don’t have that time to spare.

(Doesn’t that make it seem as if C’s blog is functioning for me as a metaphorical methadone clinic, where I can get a controlled fix as a way of managing an addiction? Hmmm.)

The single most important thing to know about me is that I love to read: I mean physically and viscerally, as well as mentally and emotionally. I was born to read (I taught myself how at 3-1/2 or so). I read prolifically and as quickly as anyone I’ve ever met on a personal basis. And I will read anything, if necessary; if I'm not already interested, I'll get myself interested. Once, when I was still traveling on corporate training consulting jobs, my rental car broke down in East Gybyp. Because I didn’t have a book, magazine or laptop with me--how rare!--I was deeply relieved to discover that, for whatever inexplicable reason, the glove box contained not one, but three different car-manual sets. Which I proceeded to devour, every word, even the small-type specs, and more than once, while I waited for the tow truck.

And I couldn’t possibly care less about the truly technical aspects of cars, or anything else, really. But in life, for the most part, you can only work with what you have, what is, given the realities of an immediate situation. That's pretty much how I approach everything.

I’m not much for utopian visions, in things great or small; can you tell? They tend to lack essential qualities of skepticism and humor.

I’m also not much for settling down to just one thing. This explains why, in addition to my background in journalism and consulting, I have at various times worked as a full-time employee for a financial services company, a private non-profit social services agency, and a foreign-language television station. These are just the professional “career-type” jobs; listing part-time and temp employment would take another whole post. Amazing how many things you can try if your idea of a hobby, for a significant chunk of young adulthood, is adding second or third jobs to your schedule.

For more than a decade, I’ve been self-employed through a small incorporated entity that belongs to my husband and me. In that capacity, I've written and edited all kinds of material, planned special (or, depending on your vantage point, mundane) events, and helped develop training materials of various types. The work that I most enjoy is editing foreign-policy articles. I'd probably love being a full-time blogger even more--but that's no way to earn a living.

The biggest--though not only--reason that I blog "anonymously" is that, quite literally, I never know who my next client might be. Professionally speaking, I live in perpetual uncertainty with absolutely no guarantees. And I've got a kindergartner's future to consider. (Especially since I've mostly worked part-time since his birth, a situation that it's time to change.)

So you can just call me reader_iam--or RIA, for short.

Thanks for having me.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

News Tip

As things get seriously wobbly in Iraq, keep your eye on the writing of Bill Roggio. He says the political process, so far from being the dead fish it's taken for in much of the media here, is where the crucial action is taking place.

Abdul Mahdi is positioning himself as the law-and-order candidate, and has the backing of the U.S. government as well as the approval of the Sunni, Kurdish and secular Shiite parties. He has the ability to create the unity government. Listen to Sistani's statements. Watch SCIRI's actions. Sadr is being equated as the kingmaker, but in reality SCIRI holds the power to make or break the next prime minister.

Fox News apparently (I don't watch TV) has been running some script or something pondering whether a civil war is a desirable outcome at this point. I can't see any way it would be but one: If it comes on fast and results in Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and secular and conservative Shi'ites more or less ganging up on al-Sadr and his thug army and putting them out of the picture once and for all.


And Now for Something Completely Different

Hi, y'all. I've been thinking this blog needs some diversity. As devilishly fascinating as I am, nobody can eat the same meal every day and not get restless. Well, my wife's cat apparently can, but that's another story.

Some of my favorite blogs, like "American Future," have evolved from one-person shows to small group efforts. I really think that's the way to do this. It gives you more angles on things, and at the same time takes the pressure off one blogger to keep rolling that boulder up the hill every day.

I had no firm plan for this, but then I noticed one of the bloggers I used to read regularly was going on hiatus. Now, this is someone I've known IRL -- we used to work together in a newsroom during the Bush père administration -- and I knew she'd be feeling a withdrawal. So I offered her the chance to post things here, as the mood strikes her. I'm pleased to say she accepted the offer.

She'll introduce herself better than I could do, probably in a day or two, but I think you'll get a kick out of her.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to tempt my wife to post some of her fantastic recipes here. Stay tuned!

Cap Recalled

Oliver Kamm remembers an encounter with Caspar Weinberger. He quotes from Weinberger's political memoir, "Fighting for Peace," in reference to a memorable public debate in Britain in 1984:

I had long been committed to a debate at the Oxford Union Society of Oxford University. The subject was 'Resolved, there is no moral difference between the foreign policies of the US and the USSR', and my opponent was to be Professor E.P. Thompson, a prominent Marxist (his own designation) and Oxford Professor. [Weinberger was mistaken on the second point. Thompson was not a Professor, and was careful to correct opponents who addressed him that way, nor was he at Oxford.]

Our Embassy in London and several others warned me that this was a foolish risk, that such a debate could not be won and that the loss would be a big story, at least in Europe. I felt fully committed, however, by my agreement with the students and went ahead with it, although I had only been on my feet in the Union five minutes when I knew the Embassy was absolutely right.

To which Oliver adds:

In his later memoir In the Arena (2003), Weinberger reproduced a long extract from his speech on that occasion (and also mischievously recalled a Union officer of radical left-wing views, who appeared later to undergo a change of heart, one Andrew Sullivan). He argued for a fundamental difference between an open society and a totalitarian one, and concluded: '[Y]ou can't have a moral foreign policy if the people cannot control it.'

I was in the audience that evening, and well recall the speech. Weinberger was outstanding; he clearly won the argument, and to everyone's astonishment, won the vote as well. It took place in the term I was Chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club, when Labour, with disastrous electoral consequences and indifference to its traditions, was formally committed to expelling US nuclear bases from the UK. Thompson, it is worth recalling, was supposedly one of the more reasonable nuclear disarmers, in that he was not actually among the pro-Soviet elements within that movement. Instead, he expounded a view, which he called 'exterminism', that both sides in the Cold War were committed to a supposed ideology of nuclear weaponry as a means of intimidating popular dissent. It was as comprehensively refuted a notion as any in recent history when it became clear, with the collapse of Communism, that nuclear weapons were not a cause of international discord, but symbols of irreconciliable ideological differences. Removing the cause of that discord meant defeating Communism with the idea of liberty. When that happened, the underlying shift in relations between states robbed the nuclear issue of its salience that it was accorded in the Cold War. Weinberger argued the case with skill and eloquence; I'm relieved to recall that, while a man of the Left (as I still am), I voted on his side in that debate.

The struggle against totalitarianism was a clash of ideas more than of states. Weinberger was an unusual statesman in being willing to argue publicly with his critics. He deserves credit for his contribution to the most successful liberation movement in history, the Atlantic alliance of liberal democratic states.

The Name Game

Tom Strong, who deserves more attention than he gets (and who lives in one of my favorite strange places to visit, Atlanta) laid down an important distinction in this thread:

Moderate: Gentle in tone, open to compromises (particularly “third way” compromises), tempered.

Centrist: Possessing views that represent “the middle majority."

They’re related, but they’re not the same.

Right. To which I appended two other "related but not the same" positions:

Balanced: holding with conviction individual positions that are held by both left and right in current politics, in more or less equal number.

Might be “liberal” on abortion, “conservative” on gun control, “liberal” on environment, “conservative” on defense, etc. No need to be moderate. I suspect this is closer to Lieberman and McCain and possibly Dean.

Independent: considering each political question without reference to what anyone else thinks, but merely consulting one’s own inner moral or ethical compass.

This probably will end up looking like balanced, but it is not necessarily the same thing. Balanced can be a deliberately calculated political tactic.

Might be some redundancy there, but it's a place to start. You can't debate till you can agree on terminology.

Carnival of the Etymologies

A regular Thursday feature of "Done With Mirrors"

*Today's "Carnival of the Etymologies" is dedicated to the person who landed here after doing a MSN search for "Things to do around North Vernon Indiana" and the person who landed here after doing a search on French Google for "ADAMS ABIGAIL GLAMOUR GIRL."

It all began with vikings. Doesn't it always?

In the newsroom where I work, we were proof-reading a story in which someone referred to the funeral customs of vikings. The reporter had written it with a capital V-, and I said it ought to be lower-case. We looked it up, and the dictionary we use as a standard -- Webster's New World 4th ed. -- has it down, though gives the upper case V- as a secondary spelling.

To me, probably because I know them in a historical context, viking is a job, not an ethnicity. It means roughly "Scandinavian pirate of the 8th to the 11th centuries." There were Danish vikings and Norse vikings. They were young men who chose or were driven to take to the sea in an army and raid and maraud for a living.

When they came to England or France, they were different from the local population. But not all Norse voyagers to France were vikings. And when the vikings came home again to Scandinavia, they were no different than the population that had stayed home.

Viking with a capital V-, to me, is the U.S. football team. They may have their own funeral customs, but that wasn't what we were writing about.

The word itself, as we use it, is a modern revival, first attested in English in 1807 (as vikingr; the modern spelling is attested from 1840). The word was not used in Middle English, and in fact it is not an English word.

The historical writers revived it from the Old Norse word for the sea-raiders, vikingr, which usually is explained as properly meaning "one who came from the fjords," from vik "creek, inlet" (which is the second element in Reykjavik, the name of the Icelandic capital).

But Old English had wicing and Old Frisian had wizing, both used in the same sense as the Old Norse word but attested almost 300 years earlier.

The connection between the Old Norse word and the other two is much debated. They look like variations of the same word, but many linguists think the English and Frisian words derive from the common Germanic noun wic meaning "village, camp."

Temporary camps were a feature of the Viking raids. That would have been one of the obvious qualities of a "viking" when he was abroad. When he was at home, where Old Norse was spoken, it wouldn't have been so. He might have been seen as one who "takes to the fjords."

Old English wicing was not a common word. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Scandinavian raiding armies generally were referred to as þa Deniscan "the Danes," or simply þone sciphere "the ship-army."

Germanic wic is related to Latin vicus "village, habitation, group of houses" (which is related to the source of Italian villa), via a common ancestor in Proto-Indo-European *weik-, which probably meant "clan." Also in the family are Sanskrit vesah "house," vit "dwelling, house, settlement;" Avestan vis "house, village, clan;" Old Persian vitham "house, royal house;" Greek oikos "house;" Old Church Slavonic visi "village;" Gothic weihs "village;" and Lithuanian viešpats "master of the house."

Greek oikos "house" is at the root of economics (Greek oikonomia "household management"). So there's a linguistic direct connection between Alan Greenspan and Harald Bluetooth. Who knew?

Pirate came into English in the 13th century, via French and Latin, from Greek peirates "brigand, pirate," a word that literally meant "one who attacks." It was derived from the verb peiran "to attack, make a hostile attempt on, try," which has been traced to a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European base *per- "to try" (also in Latin peritus "experienced," periculum "trial, experiment, risk, danger" -- the source of peril and the middle part of experience).

The Germanic branch of the family seems to be represented by, among other words, Old English fær "danger, fear," the source of fear.

A pirate is named for what he does, but a buccaneer is named for how he eats. The word is first recorded in English in 1661, from French boucanier, which literally means "user of a boucan," a type of native grill used in the Caribbean islands. It was a raised wooden structure that the Indians used to either sleep on or to cure or roast meat or fish.

Bucaneer originally was used of French settlers working as hunters and woodsmen in the Spanish West Indies, who became a lawless and piratical set after they were driven from their trade by Spanish authorities in the 1690s. Boucan comes from a mangled Europeanization of a native Caribbean word, which also took another path -- via Arawakan (a native language of Haiti) and Spanish and came out barbecue.

A corsair is literally "one who goes on an expedition." It comes to English from French corsaire, a word that traveled up into France via Provence from Medieval Latin cursarius "pirate," which is from classical Latin cursus "course, a running." The meaning evolved in Medieval Latin from "course" to "journey" to "expedition" to "an expedition specifically for plunder."

The Proto-Indo-European root of the Latin word is *kers- "to run," also preserved in Greek -khouros "running," Lithuanian karsiu "go quickly," Old Norse horskr "swift," Old Irish and Middle Welsh carr "cart, wagon," Breton karr "chariot," and Welsh carrog "torrent").

From the Gaulish form of these Celtic words (karros) the Romans formed their word carrus for the two-wheeled Celtic war chariot. This word survived into French with a general sense of "wheeled vehicle," and became Modern English car.

The Italian form of corsair was corsaro. Via the pirate-infested Adriatic Sea, this word passed into Old Serbian as kursar, later altered to husar, and from thence into Hungarian as huszar. In landlocked Hungary the word lost its seagoing nature and came to mean "mounted freebooter" and later merely "light horseman," which is how the Germans picked it up as Husar and passed it on to English as hussar.

A rover looks straightforward, right? One who "roves" the seas robbing other ships.

Not quite. It came to Middle English from Middle Dutch rover "robber, predator, plunderer" (short for zeerovere "pirate"), from the verb roven "to rob." This is the Dutch form of the word represented in English by Anglo-Saxon reaf "spoil, plunder" and reofan "to tear, break."

The native form of the word hasn't left many traces in Modern English, except in bereft and a few other antiquated words. The ground sense seems to be that of "breaking," and the root is connected to the source of Latin ruptura, source of rupture.

The verb rove meaning "to wander with no fixed destination" doesn't turn up in English until about 150 years after the first record of rover. It probably was influenced by rover, but in fact it is possibly a Midlands dialectal variant of northern English and Scottish rave "to wander, stray," which is probably from a word the vikings brought from Scandinavia.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006


History will judge the American expedition to Iraq as either a failure or a success, depending on outcomes that still can't be foreseen, and which nobody predicted at the opening. That has been true all along. Where we are now is not the end.

What is true now is that the hopes and predictions of the more idealistic supporters of the war have mostly turned to ash -- with the important and always overlooked exception of the Kurdish north, which is thriving and working its way toward a bright future. As for the Cassandras, well, I still say a general proclamation of "it's going to suck" doesn't count as a prediction, and that specific predictions of failure or calamity that were made included important elements (massive refugee problems, chemical weapons, house-to-house fighting to take Baghdad) that fell flat.

History will judge, but as the historian Paul Johnson would note at this point, "there is no such person as history." Right. It is we who will shape the first version of that history, and it will be passed down the line, reinterpreted by each generation.

For now, looking only at the short-term outcome of the invasion, the Cassandras have the upper hand. But the war between the Cassandras and the Agamemnons hardly is finished. The battle now shifts to a new ground: Was the whole thing doomed from the start, no matter who led it or how it was done, or was it a good idea botched in execution?

Counting the number of things that might have been done better can consume hours. Some of the ones usually cited, however, don't seem to me to be open-and-shut cases. Simply saying, "we did X and the whole thing has gone contrary to our plans, so doing X obviously was wrong" is a fallacy. Was disbanding Saddam's army wrong? Was disenfranchising all the Ba'ath a mistake? Would simply having more boots on the ground have solved all problems? I'm not convinced.

Here are a few hindsight observations I'm more sure of, however.

1. Muqtada al-Sadr should have been put under arrest at the first sign of trouble he stirred up, the murder of Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei outside the Imam Ali mosque by a mob of al-Sadr's supporters in April 2003. He should have been made an example of quickly. It would have won over many Sunnis and moderate Shi'ites and his absence from the rebuilding of Iraq would have been no loss.

2. The first 300 looters ought to have been shot summarily.

3. More consistent presence of U.S. personnel in key areas of the country. A U.S. Army brigade establishes its presence in city X. The generals sit down with the local sheiks and politicians. The platoon leaders get to know the maze of the streets. The privates get to know the local kids by sight.

Then a few months later, the entire unit rotates out and goes home, and, say, a brigade of Marines moves in. Everything begins again. If a local man or woman has decided to confide in the U.S. Army unit about insurgent activity, suddenly his or her protection has vanished. His or her confidence has been proven to be misplaced.

If the Army unit has come to understand the web of relationships between tribes and local political leaders in one way, the new U.S. military men may choose to favor other figures, and may not maintain the same deals and arrangements that were worked out before they showed up.

Or they may take an entirely different approach to their work -- intensive patroling as opposed to casual contacts, or ignoring the local social structures altogether. The protocols for house searches will have to be worked out all over again.

What incentive is there for the locals to put their trust in that situation?

Yet the American troops can't stay in the same place forever. This is a military with many family men, and in such a situation as they find themselves, frequent relief from the daily grind of occupation is their right and need.

Would it be possible to keep the U.S. military units in place in Iraq over a course of months or years, and rotate the individual soldiers and Marines out in blocks -- say one quarter of each unit for three months at a time, just to use random figures?

It would seem continuity would benefit both sides and ultimately make our work there shorter.

Canon Fire

V.S. Naipaul turns his cannon on the canon. And he's using grapeshot. Hardly anyone escapes without a scratch.

Henry James is "the worst writer in the world." Hear, hear! Thomas Hardy "an unbearable writer" who "doesn't know how to compose a paragraph." Yup. His poetry is underrated, though. Ernest Hemingway "was so busy being an American" he "didn't know where he was." Sounds about right to me.

Dickens is criticized for his "repetitiveness," a fault but one which is excusable, to me, and he can't get through "Northanger Abbey."

"I thought halfway through the book, 'Here am I, a grown man reading about this terrible vapid woman and her so-called love life.'

"I said to myself, 'What am I doing with this material? This is for somebody else, really."

Yes, most likely having two X chromosomes is a great advantage in appreciating Jane Austen.

He likes H.G. Wells -- hardly the PC choice nowadays -- and Mark Twain and "his friend Harold Pinter."

BBC also notes that Naipaul has "accused EM Forster of being a sexual predator and described Irish author James Joyce as incomprehensible."

Imagine that. Joyce, incomprehensible! The nerve of the man.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Note to Yahoo

I will never, ever, ever buy "King Kong" now out on DVD!, no matter how many times you force me to close that viciously intrusive roll-over ad at the top of your page. And I will personally go into video stores and go up and down the checkout lines and rip copies of the DVD out of people's hands and set them on fire. That's howmuch I hate your roll-over ads that go entirely across the top of a page.

From '68er to Neo-Con

Few have been more articulate in tracing the connection between old-school liberalism and modern neon-cons than Paul Berman.

Here, Geoffrey Kurtz reviews Berman's latest book, "Power and the Idealists." According to the review, Berman connects the political journey of the revolutionary generation of '68 -- students then, leaders of Europe today -- to the lingering trauma of World War II totalitarianism.

The essential question, to one who grew up amid the European ruins of that time, was, "what would I have been? A resister or a collaborator?"

The tactics for resolving this tension have changed dramatically in the years since 1968, and led the '68ers down a politically tortuous path.

This shift toward political responsibility began slowly in the 1970s but really flowered in the 1990s, especially in response to ethnic violence in the Balkans. If the NATO air strikes on Serbia were “the '68ers’ war,” then a deep change would seem to have taken place: the New Left, after all, held opposition to the US war in Vietnam as one of its central articles. However, if the heart of the New Left was the desire to be a résistant rather than a collabo, this evolution makes sense: the New Left, Berman argues, had matured into a “liberal anti-totalitarianism.” For Berman, who notes his own roots in the anarchisant wing of the New Left, this evolution is a vindication: the best of the '68er Maoists and Frankfurt School neo-Marxists, he tells us, have since come around to a politics that takes liberty as its definitive norm, as they should have done all along.

Kurtz's verdict on Berman, however, is that the argument in this book collapses under scrutiny. He finds Berman too committed to his defense of the war to overthrow Saddam, and willing to sacrifice such good points as he can make for the sake of ones he wishes to make, but can't logically support from the facts.

That may or may not be (I haven't read Berman's book), but Kurtz cites Berman's earlier book (which is also on my wish list) as an example of the vision that once was before us.

Just before the Iraq War began, Berman argued in Terror and Liberalism for a response to Islamist neo-fascism that would draw inspiration from the left-wing anti-communism of the late 1940s. Berman cited Léon Blum’s call for a democratic socialist “Third Force,” a “free-lance, left-wing internationalism, without government support” that would “out-compete Communism on the left” in Western Europe. Today’s anti-terrorist Third Force, Berman wrote, should be “neither realist nor pacifist—a Third Force devoted to a politics of human rights and especially women’s rights…a politics of ethnic and religious tolerance …a politics of secular education, of pluralism and law…a politics to fight against poverty and oppression; a politics of authentic solidarity for the Muslim world.” A “war on terror,” thus, would need to be “partly military but ultimately intellectual, a war of ideas.”


What's Right with This Story

People are fascinated by the story of a Texas Baptist pastor running for office as a Democrat. Whoever heard of such a thing? Well, the Progressives have. Not the people who call themselves that today, but the original Progressives. You have to pull down your American history book to talk to them today.

The original Progressive movement was alive and thriving in America a century ago, entwined firmly around another public crusade that shared its goals: the Social Gospel movement.

In fact the phrase "What Would Jesus Do," so vividly mocked by the modern left, is from "In His Steps," an 1897 novel by Charles Sheldon that was one of the most popular books of that generation. The old Progressives weren't mocking. They were nodding in agreement. This article tells the story of the book:

In simple style, In His Steps tells the story of self-satisfied congregants of a midwestern church who are challenged by a tramp during a Sunday service to live up to their declaration of faith. The tramp then dies in their midst. So moved are the minister and his parishioners that they pledge to live their lives for one year asking themselves, "What would Jesus do?" Their example [of] how they suffered, faced ridicule and emerged victorious inspires other churches throughout the country to do the same.

The article is fascinating reading for modern folks who associate a mix of firm Christian conviction and politics with smug Republican conservatism.

[As an aside, I had heard the story of "when Jesus edited a newspaper," but I didn't realize it was Sheldon who was at the center of it:

When the owner of the Topeka Daily Capital offered him full rein editing the paper for one week "as Jesus would do it," he labored 13 to 16 hours a day. The Capital's average daily circulation was just over 11,000, but during Sheldon's week it shot up to more than 362,000.

A lot of which, no doubt, had to do with mere curiosity.]

The modern political faction that claims the title of "progressive" has stolen the laurels from the graves of men like Sheldon without earning them. The old -- and to me, true -- Progressives were, like modern progressives, based in urban areas, and they often were wealthier than the average American. They included some of the most popular literary figures of the day, and they were deeply concerned with social justice issues.

Unlike their modern namesakes, though, they were rooted in religion. In fact, the were, in part, a reaction against secular excesses of Social Darwinism. Like many political labels, "Progressive" was more an umbrella than a uniform. But the Progressive movement was tightly entwined with the Social Gospel movement. Their causes were the same ones, and they were consistent with the Sermon on the Mount. They sought to reform American society in the same ways, and they saw the same looming threats to democracy and American virtues in the old "sins" like greed and pride.

Progressives in and out of Congress brought America child labor laws, minimum wages, insurance on bank deposits, and votes for women. They also had notable failures, such as Prohibition.

Yes, it wasn't a pack of prudes that gave us Prohibition. It was the same people who gave us votes for women. The Women's Christian Temperance Union was among the leading Progressive/Social Gospel organizations of its day, with a range of causes that also included women's suffrage and prison reform. Like the child labor laws, Prohibition was meant to be a specific solution to specific problems, including the corrupt machine politics of the cities, which were rooted in the saloons.

They were optimists, these Progressives, and they believed in America. They railed against corporate greed and the suffering it caused, but they knew that corporate industry was here to stay and that its products were advancing the quality of life overall. Their goal was to correct big business, not to smash it to bits. With the cross-pollination from the Social Gospel movement, they sought to hold powerful men to standards of moral behavior rooted, explicitly or not, in the New Testament.

Contrast that to the blunt nihilism of so many of the modern progressives. Contrast it to their virulent mocking of white Protestant Christianity, their furious anti-globalization mentality, their enthusiastic adherence to the idea that everything about America is corrupt, racist, militaristic, evil, and unfixable.

For all their pride in "speaking truth to power," few in today's movement can match the old Progressives in their critique of America's problems -- and in their effectiveness in promoting specific solutions to them. Upton Sinclair's scathing "The Jungle" led directly to the passage of the Pure Food & Drug Act. What good has Michael Moore wrought for all his cleverness?

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Thinking Alike

I've been looking at the immigration bill protest photographs on the news wire. While I have much sympathy for the cause, something about the tactics has been disturbing to me. I see Dr. Demarche has had the same reaction:

As I have watched the television coverage of the immigration reform protests over the past few days I have been struck by two things—the number of Mexican flags and the signs stating "We are not terrorists." It would seem to me that if you are trying to make the point that you want to stay in America and celebrate all that America is and means that you would pick up the Stars and Stripes, and maybe chant the pledge of allegiance as you march in your thousands. But that is just me.

Not, that's not just you. That's just smart. It would be good politics, because it would be good theater. It would stamp indelible impressions in the minds of everyone who saw those pictures. It would outflank your bitterest opponents.

Historically, it is how the immigrant minority taught the majority it has a right to be treated as equal to any other Americans. You're an American not by birth or by inheritance or by being handed an engraved invitation. You're an American because you want to be. You claim it; you insist on it; you won't let anyone take that away from you. When you wrap yourself in the flag of where you've come from, not where you want to stand, you send a mixed message that undercuts the purpose of your protest.

[Clicking stopwatch to see how long it takes for someone to decry this as racist xenophobia]

Stanislaw Lem

Stanislaw Lem has died. I'm not much of a science fiction fan, but I got a great kick out of "The Cyberiad" when I read it in high school, and recently I had the pleasure of introducing it to my son, who also enjoyed it. There's a lot of serious philosophy and a clever lesson in logical conundrums amid the whimsy.

Christian Convert Released

Christian Convert Released from Prison

Justice Minister Mohammed Sarwar Danish told The Associated Press that the 41-year-old was released from the high-security Policharki prison on the outskirts of Kabul late Monday.

Officials faced him to the west and told him, "you have until dawn to make the border. Get running."

No, just kidding about that part.

Sort of.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Competence at Last

After months of bungling, over-reaching, and tripping over its own feet, the U.S. government has finally found someone who can nail down that Moussaoui death penalty case.

Trouble is, they won't be able to use his services next time, since he's the defendant.

Just Because


Wife glamour. I'd rather be at home than at work tonight.

Speaking of Plagiarism

Is that Ward Churchill investigation ever going to be done? Or are they just hoping we forget the whole thing?

By the way, my favorite Ben Domenech reaction so far has been one on the comments thread at this John Cole post:

[T]his is another one of those issues that shows what a giant, self-important circle-jerk the blogosphere is. I’m sure the average working stiff out there who is paying a mortgage and raising a family and doing this crazy thing called living life really give a flying fuck about Ben fucking Domenech.


Race Rats

Here's a rather savage review of a book by a Northern writer who takes the trouble to discover the ugly racist heritage of her northern hometown. While I applaud her effort, I also understand the reviewer's fury:

There is by now a great deal of scholarly material about the Klan in the Midwest, the brunt of it being not merely that white racism was every bit as virulent and widespread there as in the South but also that, for some who joined it, the Klan was an unbenevolent fraternal order. Carr's grandfather may well have been racist to the bone, but more likely he was just another man of his time and place: deeply prejudiced, but also searching for companionship and bonhomie. As Carr says of the remnants of the Klan still to be found in Indiana in the early 2000s, "These were failed, damaged people, and joining the Klan was how they made themselves feel better, and it was deeply sad."

"Deeply sad"? Perhaps so, but one does quickly tire of Carr's insistence on inserting her own opinions -- most of them banal and gratuitous -- at every turn. When she blurts out, at one point, "This is the unbearable part -- facing the fact that my grandparents went along with it," it's all the reader (OK: this reader) can do not to throw the book across the room and shout, "Get off it!" Self-righteousness is everywhere, and invariably it's self-serving. As was true previously of Ball and McWhorter, Cynthia Carr has written a book not about the subject ostensibly at hand but about herself.

Everything is me, me, me. Carr fusses over "what it would mean for me to truly witness, to truly own the history of my family and my Marion, and to take in the impact racism had had," and then, after splitting those infinitives, she bleats: "If I encountered something uncomfortable, I would have to stay with the discomfort. No guilt-tripping. No distancing." Like too many other journalists writing books these days, Carr is under the impression that how she got her story and how she feels about it are more interesting (and, implicitly, more important) than the story itself. She could not be more wrong.

I've spent some time encouraging the people in the North to get over their fixation with "Southern racism" and look homeward. You can't get history right unless you do, and you can't steer toward a chosen future without getting the history right.

And I'm afraid this is how it's going to look at first. Yes, with people such as we are (sensitive Northern liberals) it's got to pass through this pseudo-Kubler-Ross state on the way to getting a cold grip on reality.

Two From the Photo Wire

Best Supported Actress. And throw away your dictionary. If you want to define schadenfreude, it's the feeling you get when you look at this picture.

Immigration Rallies

Wow, now that was a protest march. Marc Cooper has a good overview of the issue that makes sense to me, though I'm far from an authority on the topic. From my perspective, it was interesting to watch how the media seemed to get blindsided by this turnout of hundreds of thousands in the streets, compared to how meticulously it had pumped and puffed the anti-war rallies that drew a few hundred. Media out of touch with minorities and their issues? Media hand-feeding its pet causes? Little bit of both?

Further Adventures of the Che Trippers

I have a new favorite leftist. "Oso Raro" can lecture me all day about the evils of capitalism and the criminality of Bush, if she wishes, because she leavens her thinking with enough of common sense to also be able to write like this:

I am reminded of a colleague in graduate school, a Puerto Rican activist, who would constantly chirp, “The problem is we need to teach the working class about transnational capitalism.” While this indeed may be a laudable goal, the working class, at least in the West, would want to figure out just how to get its share of that transnational pie, not to overturn the system. Isn’t that the history of the American working class, after all?

That aside comes from her column lamenting the Western Left's hero-worship of Hugo Chavez, which she connects to its eternal torch-carrying for Che Guevara. In her book, the "Che Complex" is the new "Orientalism."

The Che Complex refers to the dismaying habit of the Western Left to aggrandize symbols of Latin American resistance with little or no understanding (or care) for the histories or tangible effects of these politics on the people living under these revolutionary regimes. Some good political examples of the Che Complex would be, aside from Che (natch): Fidel Castro, Salvador Allende, (at one time) The Sandinistas, (at election time) Lula, and most recently Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Some good cultural examples would be Frida Kahlo, Gabriel García Marquez and the literary genre of magical realism, and the Buena Vista Social Club. I include the cultural along with the political because the Che Complex is a holistic approach to Latin American authenticity: radical, fecund, disordered, natural, native, real, as opposed to our synthetic, processed, unnatural lives in the developed West. What differentiates the Che Complex from old-fashioned exoticism is its explicitly leftist political orientation, its romanticisation of Latin American socio-political upheavals, and an interest in revolutionary transformation that for many in the West seems impossible in their own national milieu. The Che Complex is at heart transference, a displacement of one’s own desires for political transformation onto others, and as such, also reveals the psychosocial dimensions of this transference for the Western mind.

This gesture is also one that is incredibly problematic, for it reproduces the historic and unequal colonial dynamic of centre and margin, just with a progressive political face. As the West has used the developing world “other” for centuries to define itself, as what it is not, so again this system exists in the Che Complex: while we, for whatever reasons, cannot effectively battle the forces of capitalism and corruption in the metropole, our brown brothers and sisters in the outré-mer can.

[Hat tip: Marc Cooper]


"The Mighty Middle"

Sounds like what I'm in danger of getting from too much time plopped on the couch and drinking McEwans Ale, but it's actually a fine blog that stands heads above the crowd by virtue of being independent-thinking and fearlessly written.

Michael Reynolds, the man behind the curtain over there, recently marked a ... is "blogiversary" a word yet? In doing so he told something of himself.

I've been a waiter, a janitor, a law library clerk and a law librarian, an editorial cartoonist, a bowling alley pin-jammer, a stock clerk, a restaurant manager, an antiques dealer, a property manager, a restaurant reviewer, a house painter, a political media consultant, a writer.

If you put a gun to my head I couldn't tell you when I did any of those jobs, with the exception of writing. 1989 we sold our first book. That I remember.

There are hundreds of disconnected bits in my memory, scenes cut from a movie, and I have no idea where they fit. Me and two girls in a van, driving through France? When? That girl on a Greyhound bus in, maybe Saint Louis, the one who got all weepy? Where was I going? And how did Katherine and I end up in Annapolis? I'm sure there must have been a reason. That restaurant where it was a buffet and I just served drinks? No idea. That red tablecloth place I worked for like, a week. Why?

There's a Tom Waits song in there somewhere.

Those two girls? I knew them, too. But it wasn't a van in France; it was a tent in the woods in the hills over Ljubljana, when there still was a Yugoslavia. Of course they were something more than mortal. It was 1979. June. Still cold in the morning. I tend to remember dates.

He says he never remembers dates. A blessing and a curse, probably. Until recently I would have said I have the opposite problem, but recently my memory has gotten so that (as Dylan Thomas once put it) I can't remember if it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was 6, or six days and six nights when I was 12. The memories are still in there, but the glue on the date stickers has dried out and the tags are starting to fall off the files and collect on the floor. Or maybe I'm just drinking myself into Dylan Thomas.

It got me thinking about what my life would look like if I inventoried it. Bus boy, meter reader for the electric company, assembly-line worker, ran an observatory, taught high school, wrote ice hockey, wrote porn, ate lunch with Reagan in the White House, ... yeah, I'll have to sit down and make a list sometime.

UPDATE: Yikes, I see Alan Stewart Carl also is celebrating a blogiversary.

Blogging has been a bizarre, thrilling, frustrating, emboldening, enraging, enlightening experience. I would have never guessed that so much could come from the little act of hacking out short, often half-formed essays and placing them on the Internet. In the last year I’ve had my words quoted many times by mainstream media sources. I’ve met through correspondence a large number of intelligent, worthwhile people whose words have often enlightened me. And I’ve become actively involved in a netroots Centrist movement that is actually gaining some steam.

That's a lot more than I can boast. All I've managed to do is piss people off, since April 2004. Might have to trademark that slogan. So, good on you, Alan. Of course, he's a Dallas Cowboys fan, so he's got a world of pain coming when T.O. suits up. You'll get one spectacular year out of him. Enjoy it. Because then he destroys your team. Welcome to Philadelphia-with-oil-rigs.



The latest Carnival of German-American Relations is up at Atlantic Review, featuring posts from online writers in Germany and the U.S. dealing with one another's nations and their perceptions. I'm in there, but I recommend it anyway. It's a gathering of some great thoughts, along with some questionable observations. And it's what we still desperately need more of: dialogue across a cultural and political divide. I can tell you unashamedly that of all the places I go in Europe, I love Germany the most and feel most at home there. I've written before about how badly their media twists the image of America, and I hope this ongoing effort can push that back a bit.

Different Takes

The Glittering Eye has a different take on the case of Abdur Rahman, the Afghan Christian. I love different takes! Especially smart ones. And if this story interests you, don't miss Neo's take on it.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Civil War Redux

Yes, I, too, think it's a big waste of time. But my "legions" of detractors seem to like this topic (see here) so much I thought I'd give them another skeet disk.

The first thing to be said -- again -- is that by whatever name you choose to call it -- civil war or walk in the park -- Iraq today is a sad and deadly place, beset in its central provinces by tragic levels of violence, and threatened in many other places by religious thugs who threaten to undo all the freedoms bought so dearly with American, British, and Iraqi lives and the blood and treasure of ourselves and our allies.

That is 99 percent of the question. This business of naming it is a mere tadpole by comparison. What matters is what to do about it, and if the people in charge, in Baghdad and Washington, devoted as much time and brainpower to thinking about that as we do to arguing about terminology, perhaps Iraq would get somewhere.

[For my part, I said once or twice the worst mistake we made in the after-war was letting al-Sadr live, and I can't help but see this present mess as in some sense a fulfillment of that. But others said so, too, and there's no way to tell if having him thrown in jail, or killed outright, wouldn't have led to some worse consequence later.]

Now about this business of civil wars. I come to the topic via study of the American Civil War, where the discussion of the term and its meanings has a particular focus and twist. It's prefered in some quarters and rejected in others, and the arguments made and used tend to reflect the facts of that one case. But my exposure to it is not exclusively in ACW discussion, and I do know a bit about other so-called civil wars.

Something I’ve learned in the past few weeks is that people are using “civil war” with a wide range of meanings. Some clearly are crafting it to fit the situation, either to include or exclude Iraq, but there’s no reason to believe everyone is playing a semantic shell game with it.

I was even more surprised to learn that someone had reduced the term to a mathematically precise definition, and this was being used to bludgeon those who didn't feel Iraq, however violent, had yet risen to the level of "civil war."

Various mathematical formulae were put forth, but the one that came with a precise citation was the one I found Juan Cole pushing on his site:

"Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter's ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain."

It seems I ought to have known that. But then, I figured, I haven't taken a political science course since I was in college in 1982. And it turns out the definition Cole insists on as "widely adopted" has only been around since 2000. And it was published in something called the "Journal of Peace Research." And it was published by a colleague of Cole's, a professor at Cole's own school, named J. David Singer.

Well, type in "J. David Singer" and "civil war" on Google and tonight you get 386 hits, which includes Singer's own work and Cole's article and people quoting Cole. When I hit the "publish" button in a few minutes, the number will rise to 387. So I don't know exactly what "widely adopted" means any more than I know exactly what "civil war" means, but this doesn't seem to meet it.

Even as it stands Singer's definition has wiggle room aplenty. What's "sustained?" What's "primarily?" He gives numbers, but they mostly provide a definition of "effective resistance," and his definition says nothing about the purpose of the struggle. When I tried to make a rough definition of it, the purpose was the central thing:

To really be a civil war, you have to have sections or factions of a country competing to be the government of that country, and putting forth claims to legitimacy.

That may be an effect of the American Civil War schoalrship, where the discussion is how to separate a "civil war" from a "rebellion" or a "war of secession." I had taken it as the proper term to describe a specific kind of internal warfare, between two factions each claiming to be the legitimate government of a region or nation. That situation, common in history, needs a proscribed word or phrase. I thought “civil war” was it.

What’s going on in Iraq today is something I might call religious war. It seems to me closer to Germany in the 1620s than to England in the 1640s: Even though both were rooted in religious conflicts, only one is commonly called a civil war.

No matter whose definition you use, how do you fit into "civil war" the bulk of the violence in Iraq recently -- such as shelling markets or blowing up mosques, which has for its purpose simply destabilizing and radicalizing the population, not siezing territory or political power? Or the multiplicity of factions that fight among, alongside, or against one another as one week turns to the next? It might even be called something worse than a civil war.

A workable definition of "civil war" also has been cited (here, among other places) and referred to, though I can't find it on their site:

A war between factions of the same country; there are five criteria for international recognition of this status: the contestants must control territory, have a functioning government, enjoy some foreign recognition, have identifiable regular armed forces, and engage in major military operations.

As a purely military definition, that's closer to what I would accept.

The root of the confusion goes all the way back to the Latin words civitas, "citizenship, community of citizens," and its relative civis "townsman." Thus you could etymologically define a civil war as a war for control of a civitas, as I do, or, in the broadest possible sense, “battles among fellow citizens,” which certainly includes modern Iraq but also the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Even if political scientists do come up with a precise mathematical definition and arrange 100 percent agreement among themselves on it, that does not encumber the rest of us with the necessity to stop using "civil war" any other way but theirs. Astronomers have set definitions for words like magnitude and brightness which are highly technical, but which don't impinge on the way you or I will use those words. Civil war, like terrorism itself, is not going to be defined one way by all people. The ambiguity is nicely captured in the Wikipedia definition:

A civil war is a war in which parties within the same country or empire struggle for national control of state power. As in any war, the conflict may be over other matters such as religion, ethnicity, or distribution of wealth. Some civil wars are also categorized as revolutions when major societal restructuring is a possible outcome of the conflict. An insurgency, whether successful or not, is likely to be classified as a civil war by some historians if, and only if, organized armies fight conventional battles. Other historians state the criteria for a civil war is that there must be prolonged violence between organized factions or defined regions of a country (conventionally fought or not). In simple terms, a Civil War is a war in which a country fights another part of itself.

Ultimately the distinction between a "civil war" and a "revolution" or other name is arbitrary, and determined by usage. The successful insurgency of the 1640s in England which led to the (temporary) overthrow of the monarchy became known as the English Civil War. The successful insurgency of the 1770s in British colonies in America, with organized armies fighting battles, came to be known as the American Revolution. In the United States, and in American-dominated sources, the term 'the civil war' almost always means the American Civil War, with other civil wars noted or inferred from context.

Probilgio, hammering away in the comments, claims what I'm engaged in is "semantics" and "pedantry." Of course it's semantics; this whole debate, no matter whose part you take, is the very definition of semantics: the science of the meaning of language. As for pedantry, it's pedantry on all sides, no matter which position you prefer.

Cole, in his "Salon" article, says Iraq is "incontestibly" in a civil war. Then if you scroll up on Cole's site, you'll see "Saturday, March 25, 2006/Year Four of Iraq Civil War: 51 Killed"

If Juan Cole thought for four years there had been an Iraqi civil war, why hadn't he written it that way all along? Certainly the "1,000 battle deaths per year" of his friend's definition has been there all along. Why wasn't he carping about it continuously since March 2003 (seems an odd date, but it's his, not mine)?

In fact as recently as August he was writing things like:

Personally, I think "US out now" as a simple mantra neglects to consider the full range of possible disasters that could ensue. For one thing, there would be an Iraq civil war. Iraq wasn't having a civil war in 2002. And although you could argue that what is going on now is a subterranean, unconventional civil war, it is not characterized by set piece battles and hundreds of people killed in a single battle, as was true in Lebanon in 1975-76, e.g. People often allege that the US military isn't doing any good in Iraq and there is already a civil war. These people have never actually seen a civil war and do not appreciate the lid the US military is keeping on what could be a volcano.

Which raises the interesting (to me) question of "why now?" And leads me back to the answer that the sudden fixation with "civil war in Iraq" in March 2006 comes back to the media's needs and the anti-Bush movement having latched on to it as their new rallying cry, like "quagmire" once was.

The media for practical purposes needs a new set of nouns and verbs for its headlines after three years of having worn out "violence," "carnage," "chaos," etc. Something to convey the Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence and at the same time to ratchet up the perception of failure among the readers. That's just the nature of the media. If you've been saying "here it comes" for three years now, you better believe you'll be chomping at the bit to switch to "here it is," unless you like to look like a smacked ass.

And the antis, having discovered a resistance to this term among the White House inner circle, recognized it as a button to keep pushing. The reasoning behind their sudden fetish for "civil wars" is in comments like the ones on this site:

It would change everything. The Republicans, now squirming, would flee and Democrats now hiding would make like sharks on chum. Civil War - the Death Frame for BushWar

Once again, fine, it's a political tactic. But then don't try to hit me with the rubbish that Cole used in his freshly minted discovery that Iraq is in a civil war and has been all along:

That there should be a political controversy over whether there is a civil war in Iraq is a tribute to the Bush administration's Orwellian attention to political rhetoric.

Speaking of semantics, funny how Cole uses "Orwellian" to describe, ironically, the exact thing Orwell hated and exposed. As Clive James once put it, "It is as if George Orwell had conceived the nightmare instead of analyzed it, helped to create it instead of helping to dispel its euphemistic thrall."

But here's another bit of semantic pedantry for you: If people who have not cared to take much notice of the idea of civil war suddenly discover a definition of civil war and push it as the only acceptable one, and that definition happens to be the one that suits their political passions of the moment, I call them trimmers. It's a good 19th century term. It's not a compliment.

I don’t think any of us broadly disagrees with what is happening in Iraq. The people I respect are more concerned with how to handle it than with what to call it.


Fresh Eyes

Andrew Apostolou of Apostablog has been doing a regular gig at Michael J. Totten's place while Michael is out digging up timely human interest stories in the Middle East. Andrew is a supple writer and I get a great grin out of him. Your experience of that may diminish in proportion to how much your world-view dissents from his, and mine. Sample:

I find it a little hard to believe Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's "The Israel Lobby" was written while sober. In their first sentence, the authors assert that, "For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel."

Pretty much any American who has ever been in a motorized vehicle knows that the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy is Washington's relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and has been so since the mid-30s. It is a vital national interest -- not just because cheap fuel permits Americans to drive SUVs, but because protecting the largest known oil-reserves in the world ensures a stable world economy. Moreover, the US military counts on access to that oil in the event it has to wage war -- an activity that demands a lot of oil.

... So, how much credit should these guys get for staking out a "realist" position on US Middle Eastern policy that does not account for the existence of cars, or something even bigger than a Hummer -- the Arabian Peninsula? Unless they were drunk, they shouldn't get any at all. If they were drunk, kudos to them for no spelling mistakes! -- none that I could find anyway.

[UPDATE: See attribution correction in comments thread.]

But the eye-opener on the site is at the top: the reports from the London “March For Free Expression,” in which every jot and tittle of British law was invoked to keep the free expression part of the event to a minimum:

The stewards were advised that a bylaw prohibits the display in Trafalgar Square of any foreign flags, so they had to cooperate with the wardens and the police in asking people to lower Danish and American flags. That's a shame, but thank you to the people concerned for complying with good grace (and sometimes managing to "wear" the flags in a way that was allowed to pass).

Yes, the same London police who allowed the anti-cartoon protests of a few months ago, with signs like "Behead those who insult Islam" and chants to nuke America. Oh, and Andrew's got plenty of pictures of London rallies which were allowed to display foreign flags (no prize for guessing which black, red, white, and green one figures prominently among them).

Times Have Changed (part 446)

While researching some unrelated topic last night, I came across this:

[W]hen the great Mississippi River flood of 1927 killed hundreds and left nearly a million homeless, President Coolidge not only refused government help but publicly displayed a resolute indifference. Coolidge declined repeated pleas to visit the flood disaster, including a formal request made jointly by four governors and eight senators. The president likewise refused NBC's request to broadcast a nationwide appeal on the radio, and even rejected Will Rogers's request for a telegram of sympathy to be read at a benefit for flood victims. [Benjamin M. Friedman, "Moral Consequences of Economic Growth," citing John M. Barry's 1997 "Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America."]

One of the things I thought afterward was, "part of our problem is we're trying to fight World War II with a 1920s Republican administration instead of an FDR."

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Afghan Christian

Of all the sad, stupid things that have been said in the controversy over the Afghan Christian convert, the most unintentionally revealing quote, I think, was this one:

But at Hossainia Mosque, one of the largest Shiite places of worship in Kabul, Said Mirhossain Nasri said Rahman must be barred from leaving the country.

"If he is allowed to live in the West, then others will claim to be Christian so they can, too," he said. "He must be hanged."

Yep. That sort of says it all about the current state of the Islamic world.

Immigration Facts

Newhouse News Service has moved a little piece on the wire tonight, "10 things you may not have known about immigration." I have to admit, if this had been a quiz, I would have thoroughly flunked.

  • That during 2001-2004, the number of entering legal immigrants — 3.8 million — eclipsed the 3.7 million who arrived in the decade of the 1890s during the mass migration from Europe? That's according to the U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics.

  • That after Mexico, the primary sources of legal U.S. immigrants are India, China and the Philippines? Mexico accounts for about 20 percent; the next three around 6 percent each. They are followed, at 3 percent or less, by Vietnam, El Salvador, Cuba, Haiti, Bosnia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Ukraine, Korea, Russia and Nicaragua. These top 15 account for 60 percent of legal immigrants.

  • That there are at least 11.5 million unauthorized U.S. immigrants from all countries? The estimate, by the Pew Hispanic Center, is a figure larger than the populations of Cuba (11.3 million), Portugal (10.6 million) and Michigan (10.1 million).

  • That more than 7 million unauthorized immigrants were employed in March 2005? The number accounts for nearly 5 percent of the civilian labor force, the Pew Center estimates. These immigrants make up 36 percent of insulation workers, 29 percent of roofers, 27 percent of butchers and food processing workers, 22 percent of maids and housekeepers and 19 percent of parking lot attendants.

  • That the percentage of immigrants — legal and illegal — in some of the nation's biggest cities remains below the era of a century ago, never mind the recent high numbers? In the early 1900s, the level of immigrants in cities such as New York and Chicago was in the 12 percent to 14 percent range, American University history professor Alan Kraut said. Today, Kraut said, the figure is around 11 percent.

  • That the "green card" is actually dark blue? It has come in a variety of colors at various times in its history, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. The changes were made to prevent counterfeiting and, later, to make it easier for machines to read. The first cards enabling unnaturalized immigrants to live and work indefinitely in the United States — a product of the Alien Registration Act of 1940 — were printed on white paper. By 1951, the form was green, but in 1964 it was pale blue and a year later changed to its current color. It also has been issued in pink and pink-and-blue.

  • That the cost of making one arrest along the U.S.-Mexico border jumped from $300 in 1992 to $1,700 in 2002? So finds a Cato Institute study by Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey, whose measurement is in constant, year 2000 dollars.

  • That Border Patrol officials rely on more than 250 remote video camera sites and 10,500 ground sensors? The system uses radar, heat-sensitive, seismic and magnetic technologies. But as of August 2005, it covered just 4 percent of the combined northern and southern borders, according to Congress' Government Accountability Office.

  • That the number of foreigners other than Mexicans entering illegally has soared? The Border Patrol apprehended 25,000 in 1997 and more than 100,000 in 2005, according to the Congressional Research Service. A Senate bill would authorize the secretaries of state and homeland security to develop ways to help Mexico tighten its southern border to combat human smuggling from Guatemala and Belize.

  • That the Homeland Security Department releases non-Mexican illegal immigrants caught in the United States if they do not have felony convictions and do not pose a threat to national security? The reason is a lack of bed space in detention facilities. They are given a notice to appear in court for deportation proceedings, but most never show up.

Council Winners

Dagnabit. I'm two weeks behind on council winners. Maybe I'll backdate this.

Here are the winners from March 17.

First place within the council went to King Solomon and the Roe-Men, by Gates of Vienna, which is a worthy winner. I've seen a number of attempts by bloggers to wrap their minds around this boggling, but I suppose inevitable, development in the abortion lunacy. I think Dymphna's is about the most cogent:

March 9, 2006. The opening volley was fired across the bow of NOW by the National Center for Men. That was the day they filed a suit in a U. S. District Court in Michigan —

on behalf of a man’s right to make reproductive choice, to decline fatherhood in the event of an unintended pregnancy The Center for Men has trademarked this suit as “Roe vs. Wade for Men” and they are filing on behalf of Michael Dubay, of Saginaw, Michigan.

Mr. Dubay is being ordered to pay child support for a small human being he never intended to bring into the world, and whose existence — he was assured by his former girlfriend — could never materialize since his partner was unable to bear children. Mr. Dubay also claims that his girlfriend knew full well that he did not choose to have children.

First place outside the council went to this entry in Crippen Diaries, a site I am unfamiliar with which bills itself as "a candid look at health care," in Britain, and which features, I must warn you, a gorge-raising picture or two. It is splendidly written, though.

Here are this week's winners.

My vote was one of the ones that picked the winner in the council. The post was Autum Ashante: Child Prodigy Or Something Else? by The Education Wonks, based on this news report:

A 7-year-old prodigy unleashed a firestorm when she recited a poem she wrote comparing Christopher Columbus and Charles Darwin to "pirates" and "vampires" who robbed blacks of their identities and human rights.

Hundreds of parents of Peekskill middle- and high-school students received a recorded phone message last week apologizing for little Autum Ashante's poem, titled "White Nationalism Put U in Bondage."

"Black lands taken from your hands, by vampires with no remorse," the aspiring actress and poet wrote. "They took the gold, the wisdom and all the storytellers. They took the black women, with the black man weak. Made to watch as they changed the paradigm of our village.

"Yeah white nationalism is what put you in bondage. Pirates and vampires like Columbus, Morgan and Darwin."

The EWs found more than one way to look at this story, and more than one thought to take away from it. That, if nothing else, sets them apart from the usual blog post.

Come to think of it, I voted for both winners this week. First place outside the council went to What Did You Do in the Great Gulf War II, Grandpa?
Florida Cracker. She finds, and preserves one of the thousands of stories that might make it into one hometown paper, but never onto a national news wire.

Gonzales was an aircraft mechanic on a Marine base in Hawaii on Sept 11, 2001. When all the Marines left for war, Gonzales was left behind with a bunch of engines, he recalled.

“I realized I didn’t join the Navy to do this. [I thought] ‘I’ve got to get over there.’”

He switched rates, became a dog handler and eventually arrived in Atsugi [Japan]. When the kennel master asked for volunteers to augment Army dog handlers in the Middle East, he was the first to raise his hand.

“I thought, ‘If I can go out there and find one IED (improvised explosive device) that’s maybe 20 lives to save.’ ”

Read it all. And wonder whether it's quite fair, even if it is standard journalism, that one hate-filled "insurgent" can do something that will make every headline in every home around the world, but Swabbie Anthony Gonzales was unknown to you before you read this.

(Florida Cracker and I once cooperated, briefly, on the story of doctored Condi Rice photos in the media).

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Framing the Media Question

Here are some very general points I'd put forth as basic and acceptable to left, right, and center. These seem to me to be germane to a discussion of the media and Iraq.

1. The default mode of the American media is skeptical, cynical, focused on violence and mayhem, on what is extraordinary. It trusts no one entirely and obeys the newsroom dogma that "if it bleeds, it leads."

2. The media always works from an unacknowledged view of the world with which some people will disagree. For instance: science is right, creationism is bogus. It is, however, in the interest of the media to keep this view fairly attuned to the majority view of its market. It's more true that the market shapes the media, over the long run, than the reverse. But there are times when this situation can temporarily flip-flop.

3. The media is human and as such is vulnerable to enthusiasms. Reporters can lose their objectivity in moments of excitement. Reporters often have glamorous perceptions of the fields they cover. Many cop reporters secretly want to be cops; many baseball reporters secretly want to be hometown sluggers. The very apex of the profession is to be a war correspondent. There are few things as exhilarating as a military campaign that is going fantastically well.

4. The media hates being lied to. Every president in my lifetime has learned this to his cost. Nobody likes president who lie habitually, but sometimes we want them to (Kennedy's popularity rose after his Bay of Pigs lies were revealed: the voters apparently liked the idea that he was willing to be aggressive and ... uh, ... creative). The media thinks "lying to the media" is almost an impeachable offense. Not everyone outside the media feels that way.

5. When the media awakens and finds it has lost its head in an excess of enthusiasm, it suffers a nasty case of embarrassment. When the media awakens and discovers it has made itself look doubly foolish by enthusiastically supporting something that turned out to have been based on false assumptions, it gets mean, nasty double-dog vengeful.

6. You can read 100 absolutely true news stories about, say "a majority black inner-city neighborhood," and retain them all in your mind and yet have a picture of daily family life there that is no more accurate than that of someone who has read none. See point 1. for "why."

Bush Avoids 'War'

You have to think the fix is in for Bush when he makes a major speech on the crucial issue in world affairs and the news media not only notes, but hangs its entire story on one word he didn't use. The headline is "Bush Marks Anniversary, Never Says 'War.' "

And of course the dutiful inside-the-box thinkers follow the bait.

Did they think that no one would notice? Just what do they think Americans think is going on over there? Even if it was a mere oversight (which would be a sign of truly sloppy staffing), it comes across as the administration not wanting to alarm people by using the word "war"

So, in the interest of expanding your awareness of the world, here are some more shockers for you, AP style:


We ask no favours of the enemy. We seek from them no compunction. On the contrary, if tonight our people were asked to cast their vote whether a convention should be entered into to stop the bombing of cities, the overwhelming majority would cry, "No, we will mete out to them the measure, and more than the measure, that they have meted out to us." The people with one voice would say: "You have committed every crime under the sun. Where you have been the least resisted there you have been the most brutal. It was you who began the indiscriminate bombing. We will have no truce or parley with you, or the grisly gang who work your wicked will. You do your worst - and we will do our best." Perhaps it may be our turn soon; perhaps it may be our turn now.


I wish it might be more generally and universally understood what the country is now engaged in. We have, as all will agree, a free Government, where every man has a right to be equal with every other man. In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed. There is more involved in this contest than is realized by every one. There is involved in this struggle the question whether your children and my children shall enjoy the privileges we have enjoyed. I say this in order to impress upon you, if you are not already so impressed, that no small matter should divert us from our great purpose.


The “Date Which Will Live in Infamy” speech, only contains one use of "war" and that is in an abstract sense not refering directly to the conflict which had opened the day before: "... it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack."

Old Friends the Most

Ah, for shame, for shame, America. How could we think of turning over some ports operations to some company run by Arabs in Dubai? And at the same time that ol' debbil Chimplerburton has just been so low-down mean and neglectful to our loyal allies. Like dear old Deutschland.

Speaking to German public broadcaster ARD on Monday, security experts confirmed that as many as up to 100 dummy firms in Germany are involved in illegally exporting components for missiles and aircraft to Iran.

Johannes Schmalzl, president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the state of Baden-Württemberg, told the program "Report Mainz" that the situation wasn't entirely new.

"We've been devoting time to the topic since 2002," he said. "And we've concluded that an estimated 100 dummy firms in Germany are involved in it."

Schmalzl added that the authorities could hardly keep up with the scale of illegal exports to Iran.

"When I say, 100 dummy firms, you can imagine that when we discover one and the federal prosecutor opens a case against them, we're happy and pat ourselves on the back. But 99 others are still in business," Schmalzl said.


However, German firms' involvement in illegal arms exports is not confined to Iran alone. Since the 1980s, German firms and middlemen, along with counterparts in other European countries, have been suspected of smuggling nuclear technology to regimes in Pakistan and North Korea.

Last Friday, a court in Mannheim began hearing the case of a German engineer accused of aiding Libya's nuclear program and being involved with the global nuclear mafia run by discredited Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.


Carnival of the Etymologies

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

Politicks is the science of good sense, applied to public affairs, and, as those are forever changing, what is wisdom to-day would be folly and perhaps, ruin to-morrow. Politicks is not a science so properly as a business. It cannot have fixed principles, from which a wise man would never swerve, unless the inconstancy of men's view of interest and the capriciousness of the tempers could be fixed. [Fisher Ames (1758–1808)]

Politics may not have fixed principles, but as it is impossible to discuss it without fixed terms, it has a vocabulary. The words used to define positions and factions in politics are as slippery as any words in any language.

Back in 1911, Ambrose Bierce famously defined a "conservative" as "A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others" ["Devil's Dictionary"]. That still brings a smile to me, and still rang true as recently as 1970. But in the era of dynamic Reagan conservatism and in the international policies of the modern neo-cons, haven't those definitions reversed?

With conservatives trying to rewrite government and now the world, the party that traditionally calls itself liberal has been backed into a reactionary pose. Was it the conservatives or the liberals who said, before the Iraq invasion, "if you try to make it better, you'll only somehow make it worse!"

Conservatism as a modern political tradition traces to Edmund Burke's opposition to the French Revolution (1790), but the word conservative is not found in his writing. It was coined by his French disciples, (e.g. Chateaubriand, who titled his journal defending clerical and political restoration "Le Conservateur"). Conservative as the name of a British political faction it first appeared in an 1830 issue of the "Quarterly Review," in an unsigned article sometimes attributed to John Wilson Croker. It replaced Tory by 1843, reflecting both a change from the pejorative name (in use for 150 years) and repudiation of some reactionary policies. The word was extended to similar spirits in other parties from 1845.

Latin conservare "to keep, preserve" is a compound of com-, used here as an intensitive marker, and servare "keep watch, maintain," the same word at the root of observe (literally "to watch over") and other words. The Proto-Indo-European base is *ser- "to protect."

Conservation in the environmentalism sense is much later, attested from only 1922.

The sub-culture of the neo-conservative movement was being called that in print by 1979. Irving Kristol, the movement's godfather, explained the source of the term in his retirement essay "Forty Good Years," published in "The Public Interest," Spring 2005:

My Republican vote [in the 1972 presidential election] produced little shock waves in the New York intellectual community. It didn't take long - a year or two - for the socialist writer Michael Harrington to come up with the term "neoconservative" to describe a renegade liberal like myself. To the chagrin of some of my friends, I decided to accept that term; there was no point calling myself a liberal when no one else did.

Whatever it once meant, it has been used to mean a great many things since then, either in its full form or in the abbreviation neocon, attested by 1987. The term is attested from 1960, but its earlier uses had little to do with the modern sense; in fact the phrase often was applied to Russell Kirk and his followers, who would be philosophically opposed to the modern neocons.

Strictly speaking, conservatism is not a political system, but rather a way of looking at the civil order. The conservative of Peru ... will differ greatly from those of Australia, for though they may share a preference for things established, the institutions and customs which they desire to preserve are not identical. [Russell Kirk (1918-1994)]

The name itself masks the essential nature of the movement, which is rooted in old liberal values, as Kristol indicated in "The Neoconservative Persuasion," in "The Weekly Standard," Aug. 25, 2003:

Neoconservatism is the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the 'American grain.' It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic. Its 20th-century heroes tend to be TR, FDR, and Ronald Reagan. Such Republican and conservative worthies as Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Barry Goldwater are politely overlooked.

The use of liberal purely in reference to political opinion dates from c.1801, and its original political sense, "tending in favor of freedom and democracy" connects it to its origin as a translation of French libéral. In English it was not originally a compliment; the word often was applied by opponents (and often in French form, with suggestions of foreign lawlessness) to the party favorable to individual political freedoms.

But the word also (and especially in U.S. politics) tended to mean "favorable to government action to effect social change," and in other related senses, familiar to modern political observers, which seem at times to draw more from the old adjective liberal in its religious sense of "free from prejudice in favor of traditional opinions and established institutions" (and thus open to new ideas and plans of reform), which dates from 1823.

The adjective liberal has been in English since the 1300s, borrowed from Old French liberal, which meant "befitting free men, noble, generous." It is a descendant of Latin liberalis "noble, generous," literally "pertaining to a free man," from liber "free."

The reconstructed Proto-Indo-European base of this is *leudheros (which makes liberalis a relative of Greek eleutheros "free"), probably originally "belonging to the people," though the precise semantic development is obscure. That would be the original meaning if the root is connected to *leudho- "people" (source of German Leute "nation, people," among other words).

The earliest reference of liberal in English is to the liberal arts (Latin artes liberales), the seven attainments directed to intellectual enlargement, not immediate practical purpose, and thus deemed worthy of a "free man" (the word in this sense was opposed not to conservative but to servile or mechanical).

The word has an ambivalent history. It often was used in ways people felt as praise, and as often used in reproach. Liberal's sense of "free in bestowing" (a praise-worthy quality) is attested from 1387. But with a meaning "free from restraint in speech or action" (1490) liberal was used in the 16th and 17th centuries as a scolding term. It revived in a positive sense in the Enlightenment, with a meaning "free from prejudice, tolerant," which emerged 1776-88.

Liberal and conservative seem to have lost their political moorings in the modern American scene. The alternate division into right and left seems to me more applicable to the modern political scene, where positions are taken relative to "the other side" and with little regard for ideological consistency.

Those political words are legacies of the French Revolution. French la gauche (1791) and Droit (1789) are said to have originated during the seating of the French National Assembly in 1789, at which the nobility took the seats on the President's right and left the Third Estate to sit on the left. The words made their way into English at different speeds: left in a political sense was first attested in English in 1837 (by Carlyle, in reference to the French Revolution). It became general in U.S. and British political speech c.1900 (e.g. leftist, 1924; left wing, 1898).

Right in the political sense of "conservative" is first recorded 1794 (adj.), 1825 (n.). Right wing in a political sense is first recorded 1905.

The words themselves are both perhaps euphemisms. Right meaning "opposite of left" is attested in English from 1125, but its immediate ancestor, Old English riht, did not have this sense. Rather, it meant "good, proper, fitting, straight" (a sense that still survives, e.g. do the right thing).

The linguist Carl Darling Buck has written that, "The history of words for 'right' and 'left' shows that they were used primarily with reference to the hands." That is true in English right, where the notion is of the right hand as the "correct" hand. The Old English adjective for the right hand was swiþra, which literally means "stronger."

A similar sense evolution is in Dutch recht and in German recht "right (not left)," from Old High German reht, which meant only "straight, just." Other modern words for "right (not left)" which were derived on a similar pattern to English right are French droit (from Latin directus "straight"), Lithuanian labas (literally "good"), and Slavic words (Bohemian pravy, Polish prawy, Russian pravyj) derived from Old Church Slavonic pravu, literally "straight."

The usual Proto-Indo-European root for "not left," *deks(i)-, is represented by Sanskrit daksina-, Greek dexios, Latin dexter (cf. Old French destre, Spanish diestro, etc.), Irish dess, Welsh deheu, Gothic taihswa, Lithuanian desinas, Old Church Slavonic desnu, and Russian desnoj.

Left, again, is not the original word for "not the right-hand side." It turns up in English c.1205, from the Kentish form of Old English lyft- "weak, foolish." Compare it to Lithuanian kairys "left" and Lettish kreilis "left hand," which derive from a root that yields words for "twisted, crooked."

The same Germanic root that produced English left, with a transferred sense of "opposite of right" also is found in related words along the North Sea coast (Middle Dutch and Low German luchter, luft). But Modern German link "left" is from Old High German slinc, related to Old English slincan "to crawl," Swedish linka "limp."

Left in this sense replaced Old English winestra, which literally means "friendlier," a euphemism used superstitiously to avoid invoking the unlucky forces connected with the left side (cf. sinister, which literally is Latin for "left, on the left side"). The Greeks also uses a euphemism for "left," aristeros "the better one," as did the Persians (Avestan vairyastara- "to the left," from vairya- "desirable").

In addition to directional words, color words have been used throughout the ages to designate political factions. Red, white, and black have been the most common (though recently green has joined the list). The blacks in European history often represented the faction that took the side of the Church or the religious orders in national politics in Catholic lands (e.g. in early 20th century Rome, "supporter of the Vatican," as opposed to Whites, supporters of the Italian monarchy). But by far the most common color word in politics has been red.

Red has had an association in Europe with revolutionary politics (on notion of blood and violence) since at least 1297, but that got a huge boost in 1793 with adoption of the red Phrygian cap (French bonnet rouge), the old Roman simbol of a slave's liberation, as an emblem of the French Revolution. The first specific political reference in English was in 1848 in news reports of the Second French Republic (a.k.a. Red Republic). In 1917, the Bolsheviks in Russia took red as their color and the word, in the political sense, advanced into a new bloody century.

This led to pinko (1936), a derogatory slang form of pink, in reference to people whose social or political views "have a tendency toward 'red,' " a metaphor that had existed since at least 1837.

Bolsheviks themselves have nothing to do with red or left. The term comes from Russian bol'shiy "greater," the comparative of the adjective bol'shoy "big, great" (as in Bolshoi Ballet). It was the faction of Russian Social Democratic Worker's Party after a split in 1903 that was either larger or more extreme (or both) than the Mensheviks (from Russian men'shij "less"). Only after the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917 was the term applied generally to Russian communists.

Radical entered English shortly before 1400 as a word in medieval philosophy, from Late Latin radicalis "of or having roots," from the Latin word that is the same as English radish (which, of course, is a root bulb). The meaning "going to the origin, essential" is recorded from 1651, which led to the political sense of "reformist" (via notion of "change from the roots"), which first is recorded in 1802, again in the tumultuous wake of the French Revolution.

The extremists of the French Revolution were Jacobins, so called for the Dominican convent near the church of Saint-Jacques in Paris, where the Revolutionary extremists took up quarters in 1789.

In the late 1830s in America, briefly, flared the delightfully named loco focos, a term usually applied to a radical faction of the Democratic Party (but by the Whigs applied to all Democrats). The word originally was a name for a type of self-igniting cigar or match, and it's anyone's guess where it came from. One theory says perhaps it's from a misapprehension of the meaning of the first element of locomotive as "self-" and Spanish fuego "fire." The political use came about during one heated political meeting in New York, when the lights went out and the delegates used such matches to relight them.

Progressive, a word that has been in and out of use in American politics, is in again, with an apparently total unawareness that it has been here before and still is used by historians with a specific sense lacking in the current meaning of "uncompromising left-wing Democrat." It's the original meaning "characterized by advancement" that leads political factions yearning for change to take up the word as their title.

An extreme conservative used to be called a reactionary (1840, on model of French réactionnaire), a term from Marxism, where it was opposed to revolutionary and used opprobriously in reference to opponents of communism. It often had little serious connection to the positions tagged with it, except in the minds of Marxists.

Moderates or centrists have had the hardest time of it in terms of labels, execrated from both sides and given a long list of insulting nicknames.

Independent meaning "person not acting as part of a political party" is from 1808. Centrist is recorded from 1872, originally a borrowing from French politics. In the French Revolution, source of so much of modern English political language, a moderate might be a Girondist, from Gironde, the deputy in southwestern France that produced many of the faction's leaders.

In America, the preferred terms have been less flattering. In the late 19th century, such a man might be called a mugwump, a name given to Republicans who refused to support corruption-tainted James G. Blaine for president in the acrimonious 1884 election, thus insuring Grover Cleveland's victory. Hence the name came to mean "one who holds himself aloof from party politics."

Mugwump was an older word for "great man, boss," taken into American English from Algonquian (Natick) mugquomp "important person."

Before that were the doughfaces, the contemptuous nickname in U.S. politics for Northern Democrats who were seen as working in the interest of the South before the Civil War. It was taken to mean "man who allows himself to be moulded." But the source, in an 1820 speech by John Randolph of Roanoke, perhaps meant rather doe as an animal afraid of its own reflection ["They were scared at their own dough faces"].

Later came goo-goo, an 1890s shortening of Good Government as a movement to clean up municipal corruption in Boston, New York, etc., that soon was extended to mean "naive political reformer."

Republicrat in U.S. political jargon, usually meaning "moderate," is attested from 1940.

A long time ago, at the beginning of the republic, men who did not align with either party might be called quids, short for tertium quid, a Latin phrase meaning "third something," and an alchemist's term for "unidentified element present in a combination of two known ones."