Saturday, April 29, 2006

Meanwhile, In Sweden

Officials slap down a call for separate laws for Muslims.

Sweden's largest Muslim organisation has demanded that Sweden introduce separate laws for Muslims, according to Swedish television. Sweden's equality minister Jens Orback called the proposals "completely unacceptable".

The Swedish Muslim Association, which represents around 70,000 Muslims in Sweden, has sent a letter to all Sweden's main political parties suggesting a number of reforms, SVT's Rapport programme reported.

The proposals include allowing imams into state (public) schools to give Muslim children separate lessons in Islam and their parents' native languages. The letter also said that boys and girls should have separate swimming lessons and that divorces between Muslims should be approved by an imam.


Asked whether the proposal plays into the hands of racists, Orback said that it did.

"I think it is very problematic and unfortunate that people who have been in Sweden for so long make proposals such as this that are so opposed to our intentions, when we are fighting for women's rights and the right to divorce," Orback replied.

Problematic and unfortunate, yes. Surprising, no. It's heartening, at least, that another group, the Swedish Muslim Council, does not agree with the proposals.


In an unrelated (or is it?) story, a Swedish city is working to foster democratic values among the youngest of its citizens.

"Children in Gothenburg are to become the first in the world to be given the vote in a referendum."

And yes, their votes will count and result in real outcomes.

Interesting idea, isn't it?

Evicting Moral Courage

"First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."--Martin Niemoeller

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s neighbors have successfully sued to force her removal from their apartment complex.

The EU court that heard the appeal based its decision on Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees respect for a person's private and family life. The Dutch government may appeal the ruling because of the challenges that such a precedent will pose to its efforts to provide protection to various people under threat. If the ruling stands, Hirsi Ali will have just a few months to relocate.

Somali-born Hirsi Ali is known as a critic of aspects of Islam and she went into hiding in November 2004 when filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered. They had finished work shortly before his murder on Submission, a short film about the ill-treatment of women under Islam.

Hirsi Ali and fellow MP Geert Wilders spent several months in hiding in secret locations due to death threats made against them because of their stance on Islam. "I think this is dreadful, horrible to have to move. I am happy living here and I feel safe," Hirsi Ali said in response to the judgement.

So it comes down to this: Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s history of moral courage in defending and demanding the rights of women, free speech and more is rewarded by the cowardice of her neighbors, validated and encouraged by an EU court. I can understand that not everyone—-indeed most of us—-are not and cannot be a Hirsi Ali. Greatness is reserved for the few, after all. But at a bare minimum, each and every one of us has some sort of ethical responsibility to support the Hirsi Ali’s of the world, and fear—-while understandable—-is no justification for falling down on that job.

When we do, evil and oppression win, if not sooner, then later. And yes: I do think it’s that simple. Some few things in the world are.

Pieter Dorsman of Peaktalk has this to say, among other things:

A few things. Firstly, it should be noted that Hirsi Ali is now booted out of her own house by virtue of the European Treaty for Human Rights which does indeed supersede Dutch law. Many cases are adjudicated by referring to this treaty, but given the subject matter here I would say: Euroskeptics, go knock yourselves out.

Secondly, and this is the one that really bothers me, is that somehow Hirsi Ali’s neighbors self-interest runs so deep that they are prepared to use the court system to throw someone whose life is in danger out of her own house. It goes like this: we’re tolerant, we support free speech and a critical attitude, but if it comes too close to our front porch, sorry, we are no longer interested. On the contrary, self-interest is the deciding motivator. True, Hirsi Ali’s flatmates do have a reasonable point in arguing that the Dutch State has an obligation to ensure that their security measures benefit the entire complex. If the State has dropped the ball in that respect, they should be compelled by the courts to correct this, but to put the burden on Hirsi Ali is a very disturbing precedent. …

The rest of his post is equally powerful, so I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Hat tip.

The neighbors say that their suit was really against the state, whose actions “exposed them to danger,” according to the Expatica article. But they’ve clearly lost sight of the bigger picture, in terms of what the real dangers are and from whence they come.

It doesn’t come from Hirsi Ali’s presence among them. It comes from forces of extremism and oppression. It comes from those who disavow any other belief system other than their own and are prepared to back that narrowness with violence. It comes from philosophies that appear more tolerant of people like that than those who would disavow such attitudes. It comes from appeasement on the part of governments. It comes from a thousand little acts of submission by ordinary people.

It comes from us. From you. From me.

Not long ago, I made the mistake of bringing up the concept of moral courage in a comments section elsewhere. Almost immediately, that idea was dismissed, even pooh-poohed, and I assume it was because the word “moral” is immediately associated with religion and petty "moralism." But moral courage isn’t about that (although, at its best, religion can, and I think should, promote it). Moral courage is an ethical construct, a way of approaching the world and our core responsibilities in it that transcend any particular religion or time or place. It defines us as thinking human beings who can face not just our physical fears (which are predicated on failure) but our ethical ones (which are predicated on success).

In this paper (scroll down), John McCain is quoted as writing in Why Courage Matters: The Way To A Braver Life:

“Physical courage is often needed to overcome our fear of the consequences of failure, [while] moral
courage, more often than not, confronts the fear of the consequences of our success.”

Think about that one for a moment.

(There are many essays and some books on the topic of moral courage, by the way; but for the purposes of this post, I thought it better and more accessible to find 'net essays/papers.)

I've traveled far afield from where I started when I first sat down to write this post, which I'll admit is not my most coherent. But that's what happens sometimes when a piece of news hits you so hard in the gut with a sense of human failure and lack of moral imagination that it's hard to breathe properly. For that reason, I won't apologize for the rambling nature of this bit of writing. Its purpose is not to settle anything, but rather to help me understand that which I'm finding increasingly unfathomable. It's part of an ongoing start, not a conclusion--though I've certainly drawn some of those along the way.

Meanwhile, there is Hirsi Ali, who's definitively further along the path to enlightened moral courage than most of us, a subset of whom reject her very physical presence among them, out of fear and because of their narrow imaginations about the bigger picture. On May 4, she is slated to receive the AJC Moral Courage Award, which I was interested to discover is on the 'net largely in press release form. I'm not seeing where this was covered in major media outlets, but perhaps I'm missing something. Nor does it appear to have been picked up widely in the blogosphere, though I see that Booker Rising caught it.

This coming Tuesday, Hirsi Ali will launch her new book, "A Caged Virgin," in New York. (Remember that it was her first one, "The Son Factory," which first earned her death threats. She was forced into hiding following the murder of Theo Van Gogh, with whom she'd made the film "Submission.") The impending release of the book has garnered some attention, and I hope it will rally more people to her support, if not for the ideas she espouses, then at least her right to express them.

After that? Well, I guess she goes--home.

Wherever that's supposed to be.


Friday, April 28, 2006

Wanna Bedtime Story, Sweet Leaf?*

I recommend reading this to your kid by either black light or lava lamp. (Click the images. Let your imagination run wild. Note the un-PCness, even for the PC.)

Oh, yeah: This'll keep 'em chaste 'til marriage. Or more likely, provoke an instant "act" of rebellion. (And why did this immediately make me think of a scene or two from one of the Brady Bunch spoof movies?)

A hearty thank you and hat tip to Chris Clarke, posting at Bitch PhD, for providing the best you've-got-to-be-kidding laughs I've had in a long time.

*Identify the reference and rock group. For extra credit, name the famous Big Band that brewed up a well-known tune on the same topic. (Of course, there are many examples from that era, but I gave you the relevant clue in the previous sentence to pin it down to the one I'm seeking.)

Happy weekend!

Update: Absolutely NO ONE is biting on the quiz? I'm disappointed. OK, a couple or few more hours and I'll state that to which I was referring.

Am I the only one who gets music across eras, without regard to the subject matter?

Oh, man.

Sunday: Black Sabbath; Benny Goodman.

Adventures in Journalism

Words are tricky things. You can't take your eyes off them for a minute.

In English, we have this habit of trimming the French and Latin endings off words we borrowed back in the Middle Ages. Those endings would have indicated whether a word was serving as a verb or a noun.

In speech, this doesn't matter, because we pronounce the words differently. PRO-duce is a noun, pro-DUCE is a verb. But you can't see that in writing. And since English (American English especially) has a habit of dragooning nouns into service as adjectives without even so much as a change of spelling, well, let's cut to the highlight film:

This headline was actually on the page in my newspaper the other night before an alert copy editor pointed out it could legitimately be read in an unintended way:


Council Winners

The latest Watchers Council winners are up.

First place within the council went to Rick Moran for "Defend Dissent: Punish the Leakers," which looks at the CIA leak problem through the lens of John Kerry's recent rhetoric, and finds -- surprise, surprise -- there's politics afoot here.

And this brings us back to John Kerry and his idea of “dissent.” If the group of leakers at the CIA were so hell bent on “dissenting” from the President’s policies in Iraq, they, like the group of retired generals who recently came out calling for Secretary Rumsfeld to resign, had other options open to them. Since it is difficult to believe that Mary McCarthy is unaware of the existence of others at the CIA whose views reflect her own, they could have and should have done the honorable thing and resign their positions. I daresay a bevy of resignations at the CIA coupled with a very public, very loud denunciation of the President’s policies would have had a far greater impact on the public than sneaking around in dark corners and furtively handing envelopes containing state secrets to liberal reporters.

Along the way he points out the obvious (or at least it ought to be obvious) situation of those whose ciriticism of Bush is that "he never admits mistakes": "it is not 'admitting mistakes' that the Massachusetts Senator is after but rather evidence for an impeachment trial that he and his fellow partisans will seek to bring about if they achieve majority status in November."

Also getting high scores this time around was Tired by The Glittering Eye, an excellent post that expresses Dave's frustration with the amount of short-sighted, selfish, unthinking, lazy hack work that goes into the modern world.

He notes the number of bloggers who have just walked away from it after a while. Who can blame them. You pour your heart and brains and hours into it, and it doesn't make a damn bit of difference. The same stupid shit keeps happening every time the sun comes up. Better to sit in a pine tree and play jazz saxophone.

Other vote-getters included Defining Terms: The Left by ShrinkWrapped, which takes on the perennial confusion over what people not-on-the-left mean when they say "the Left."

The short answer is: "Any position espoused by the New York Times is liberal; any position espoused by Michael Moore (or Noam Chomsky, Ward Churchill, Cindy Sheehan, et al) is left." The longer answer is an interesting exploration of postmodernism, political correctness, cognitive egocentrism, and moral perfectionism, and an attempt to pin down just how "the left" is objectively anti-American. I think it works.

My review of Bruce Bawer's book also got some votes, as did Joshuapundit's Time To Do the Mullah Dance (check out the illustration), and Back to Sleep. Nighty Night by The Sundries Shack which is agog over "the left's" pride in being "over" Sept. 11.

You know, the first thought I had when I read Ace’s post was, “They’re not over the 2000 election. They’re not over the 2002 election. They’re not over the 2004 election. They’re not over crap that happened during the Vietnam era for goodness sake.

But they’re over 3000 dead Americans. ”

I can’t help but agree with Ace. If 9/11 had been caused by white American male Republicans, they’re still be on this like Michael Moore on a ginormous bowl of pudding.

All of which reminds me of my co-worker who asked me on Sept 13, 2001, or so, "Aren't we overreacting to this whole thing?" He was over it then.

There, I've just done two things I'm scolded for over at another place I post: referenced DKos and talked about my co-workers.

First place outside the Council went to The McCarthy File by In From the Cold. Of the many observations on the McCarthy story during the past week, this was one of the most worthwhile, if for no other reason than that the author is a retired employee of the U.S. intelligence community. He's speculating like everyone else, but his speculations are particularly informed.

Also getting votes were The Tragedy of George W. Bush by The Belgravia Dispatch. I may have voted for this and even nominated it (my memory is not so good), but I don't consider it a perfect post.

It is however, the kind of damning indictment of the Bush Administration's performance that is starting to be heard, and ought to be heard, from people who essentially believe in the idea of the humanitarian justification for overthrowing Saddam and the principle of spreading democracy.

The comments in the thread are particularly good, if you skip over the usual trolling.

Also getting votes were What Went Wrong? by Augean Stables, a blog new to mee but well worth reading. This post takes on the Walt-Mearsheimer study.

To put it slightly differently, the power of the Israel Lobby lies not in its money (Arabs have much more) or its numbers (there are already many more Muslims in the USA than Jews, and Jews don’t vote in a block for pro-Israel candidates), but on the compelling logic of the case, on the deep similarities in values and commitments between Israelis and Americans. Not only is Israel the only reliable ally in the Middle East (something W-M seem to have no clue about), but it is America’s only ally not subject to the politics of resentment.

Other votes went to Passing the Baton by Democracy Frontline, an Australian blogger. The post is a moving tribute on the occasion of ANZAC Day to the writer's grandfather's service a Galipoli, which progresses to a call for renewed dedication to the struggles at hand:

Our troops are deployed from the Pacific to the Middle East – in East Timor, the Solomons, Israel, the Sinai, the Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

They are trying to restore order and keep peace in areas where the civilities we take for granted have disappeared.

Though it was hoped after World War I and World War II that nations would agree to mechanisms which would see the threat of war disappear, it was not to be.

There will always be optimists who believe their own better angels are abundantly evident elsewhere, but it is not so.

For various reasons, ranging from the criminal to the ideological, there are those who are determined to bring about chaos to impose their will.

Sometimes I hesitate to use the noun "writer" in reference to a blogger. This isn't one of them.

Other votes went to Trivia Tidbit of the Day: Part 318 -- Black Gold, Texas Tea by WILLisms and The Peanutbutter Conspiracy by Protein Wisdom, always a good read. Like Rick Moran (see above), he goes at the Mary McCarthy story armed with John Kerry's worldview and finds some interesting angles:

Ah, but there’s the rub, isn’t it: confidentiality. Evidently, an emerging trial balloon being floated by some on the left (and some civil libertarians who, like their throwback hippie brethren, have gone off their nut) is that confidentiality itself is the problem: in short, a government that has something to “hide” is a government that must necessarily be engaging in illegal and immoral activities. Therefore, it is the duty of national security officers and employees to leak secrets in order to undermine the war in Iraq—at least, according to the Truth Telling Coalition, a group formed by famed “whistleblower” Daniel Ellsberg.

A more egregious example of self-righteous lawbreaking justified by blinkered question begging ("the Iraq war is wrong, therefore anything leaked that helps put an end to American involvement in Iraq is patriotic and good") you’re unlikely to find anywhere (except perhaps in a textbook on fallacies of argument). But what should also be apparent is that such actions are inherently anti-democratic, as they attempt to effect a soft foreign policy coup against the elected leadership by way of promoting lawbreaking based upon their beliefs about how US foreign policy
should be run.

Attack In Cyberspace

Denial of service brings down several Hosting Matters sites.

To be honest, while I'm familiar with all of the sites on this list, there are only a few that I visit with regularity and true frequency. I also wouldn't choose some of the language that Michelle Malkin uses to describe the situation (which is partly why I don't visit some of these sites more often).

HOWEVER, I absolutely agree that attacks such as these are outrageous; they threaten both the health of free expression and the 'net; and in general I have an absolute burr up my you-know-what about hackers, their 'tudes, and what I perceive as less than rigorous efforts to nab and punish them. (Give me some credit: Yes, I KNOW there are some categories of "good"hackers, but that list is very limited, in my book.)

So I post this in solidarity and in the spirit of "... defend your right to the death ... ," as I would for any group of bloggers under similar attack, if I know about it.

Hat tip

Two Great Tastes In One

You knew it had to come to this.

Oh, the liveblogging possibilities! (Though not for me.)

"Watch Out For That One, Mom ... "

"She's got a phone!"

My son, on observing the driver of one of the cars approaching a four-way stop.

Sure enough, she almost didn't stop, and then proceeded to make her turn out of order, threatening to take out two pedestrians in the process.

"Aren't you glad I warned you?" he asked.

Well, yes, actually.

If it's that clear to a not quite 6-year-old that cell phones and competent driving don't mix, what's wrong with all of these Pavlovian adults for whom sticking a key in an ignition sets off an apparently irresistible urge to glue a phone to an ear?

This was not isolated incident on the part of my son, that budding backseat driver and, no doubt, school crossing guard. (Not to mention born gearhead, like his dad; once, just before turning three, he insisted that my husband go outside and show him the mechanical difference between front-wheel, rear-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles; in the same time span, he dragged me part way down a parking-lot aisle to point out to a fellow shopper that he had a low tire. But I digress, obnoxiously proud-mama style.) On more than one occasion, he's asked if I shouldn't beep at someone too engrossed in chatting to note that the green arrow has been activated. The answer, of course, is no: I'm not sure it's a good idea to introduce any more aural stimulation into the situation when dealing with people like this. Plus, it's rude.

I imagine my son's precocious wariness has been honed by his daily observations in the small parking lot of his private school, where those with the biggest, most aggressive and aggressively expensive vehicles seem to be both the most addicted to chatting-while-driving and the least competent drivers. (And parkers, for that matter: I'd have to work to encroach on three parking spaces in one fell swoop, but for at least one woman there, it's apparently second nature.)

He even knows which vehicles next to which it's best not to park, primarily because addictive cell-phone use appears also to interfere with the ability to open doors without threatening to ding other vehicles, or, worse, cut off hapless pedestrians who are already occupying the relevant physical space.

Lest you think I'm raising an insufferable snot, which I assure you I'm not, my son does all this in matter-of-fact good humor. Apparently, he views phone-addicted drivers as just one of those daily hazards in life for which he must watch out, like unfamiliar stray dogs or broken glass on the pavement or strangers bearing gifts.

All of this is by waying of saying: What he said.

Random Sweet Thoughts at Midnight

I invite you to muse upon the following words/concepts, among others, obvious and not (no specific conclusions, not on my part nor expected from you):

New Orleans
(Not corn)
Energy independence
Subsidies positive and negative


Thursday, April 27, 2006

What Fool Whipped This One Up?

I'm glad this business got slapped with a lawsuit and I hope it gets beaten in court.

It's true that I'm skeptical about many, many lawsuits that get filed. The $1.2 million sought certainly seems excessive. And sure, in the relative scheme of things, this story is trivial, but it caught my eye because I've attended quite a few team-building events in my time and have even been involved in developing a number of them. Who with a functioning brain could think that the activities outlined in this article are a good idea? Based on my experience as to how sponsored events tend to reflect general corporate values, it's hard not to speculate that this company might have tendencies toward tolerating the inappropriate more generally.

Sometimes stupidity should be, if not illegal, than actionable.

Let's hope the jury administers these jokers a good whack.

War or No War

The op-ed by Todd Beamer's father, based on the Flight 93 movie, is behind the subscription firewall at the WSJ. Cardinalpark, however, has a key excerpt up over at Tigerhawk:

This film further reminds us of the nature of the enemy we face. An enemy who will stop at nothing to achieve world domination and force a life devoid of freedom upon all. Their methods are inhumane and their targets are the innocent and unsuspecting. We call this conflict the "War on Terror." This film is a wake-up call. And although we abhor terrorism as a tactic, we are at war with a real enemy and it is personal.

There are those who would hope to escape the pain of war. Can't we just live and let live and pretend every thing is OK? Let's discuss, negotiate, reason together. The film accurately shows an enemy who will stop at nothing in a quest for control. This enemy does not seek our resources, our land or our materials, but rather to alter our very way of life.

I encourage my fellow Americans and free people everywhere to see "United 93."

Be reminded of our very real enemy. Be inspired by a true story of heroic actions taken by ordinary people with victorious consequences. Be thankful for each precious day of life with a loved one and make the most of it. Resolve to take the right action in the situations of life, whatever they may be. Resolve to give thanks and support to those men, women, leaders and commanders who to this day (1,687 days since Sept. 11, 2001) continue the counterattacks on our enemy and in so doing keep us safe and our freedoms intact.

May the taste of freedom for people of the Middle East hasten victory. The enemy we face does not have the word "surrender" in their dictionary. We must not have the word "retreat" in ours. We surely want our troops home as soon as possible. That said, they cannot come home in retreat. They must come home victoriously. Pray for them.

Right. The definition of "those who would hope to escape the pain of war" includes much of the American left (Sheehan/Moore, etc.) and much of the European elite. But there is a subtler division among the remainder.

We all do see the enemy for who he is and we read his own words and take them at their face value. Some of us recognize this as a Long War for Civilization, and think the obvious disparity in firepower and national economies masks a vulnerability in the West. The people we are fighting say certain things very clearly: we are infidels who have offended their religion, they are at war with us, and they want us to die. They may not have an air force, but they have other weapons, more intangible, perhaps more powerful. And we have weak spots. We could be brought down hard by a combination of lack of will and a few hard, well-timed terrorist strikes with the right volume.

To some of us, on the other hand, the Islamists are simply not a long-term threat worth the name of "enemy" or worth a serious reordering of American rights and priorities. They talk nasty and hurt when they can, but they should be taken no more seriously than a 5-year-old in a temper tantrum. 9/11 was something of a one-off, a combination of a few extraordinary individuals and good luck based on our lack of vigilance. A little more vigilance on our part will be sufficient to prevent a repeat performance. To involve American resources and lives in a major Middle Eastern "war" against this, with the inevitable bungles and unforeseen consequences, is doing more harm than good.

I am not trying to parody that view, but I perhaps don't capture it very well. I'm leaving out the figure of Bush, on both sides, because ultimately he doesn't matter. People who put him at the center of everything lose sight of the long-term picture.

The main difference among Americans today is that some of us believe the United States is at war, a dangerous war against a desperate enemy. And other people don't believe that's true at all. To the non-believers, the people who are waging war look insanely violent, paranoid, and unstable, and to the people at war it takes great mental effort to look at those who don't believe it and not see appeasers and useful idiots, if not outright traitors.

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The Dean's English

In 1863 the Very Rev. Henry Alford, DD, dean of Canterbury, wrote a "Plea for the Queen's English" which decried the "deterioration" of English in American mouths. It warned Englishmen to hold aloof from the American way with the language and compared the state of English in America to "the character and history of the nation":

--its blunted sense of moral obligations and duties to man; its open disregard of conventional right when aggrandizement is to be obtained; and I may now say, its reckless and fruitless maintenance of the most cruel and unprincipled war in the history of the world.

It was the familiar list of crimes and vices and hypocrisies. Every learned Englishman could rehearse it and many of the finest writers, such as Coleridge and Sidney Smith, bent their considerable talents to spelling it out at length. Except that, coming in the middle of the American Civil War, Alford's screed had gone out of its way to replace a now-doubtful entry in the catalogue of American vice with a freshly minted one. Never mind that the substitution was blatant hypocrisy. As H.L. Mencken noted,

Smith had denounced slavery, whereas Alford, by a tremendous feat of moral virtuosity, was now denouncing the war to put it down.

It was the universal sneer of the Educated European -- one of the things that marked Lord Byron as a dangerous radical was that he actually liked America and Americans, and said so -- but the British took particular pains to say it loud and often, to make it clear that the claim that the United States was an outpost of Anglo-Saxon civilization and a child of Britain was not acknowledged as legitimate in the Mother Country.

Long before 9/11. long before Israel existed, long before the world wars, before America was any kind of player on the world stage, this was the regard European intellectuals had for it. Has the left stopped talking about "squandering the good will of the world" yet? Or is it necessary to remind it still that the three weeks or so in September 2001 were the doomed aberation in two centuries of European attitudes.

Americans gave it back, in the long war over the English language. An American named G. Washington Moon responded to Dean Alford's snobby plea for the Queen's English with "The Dean's English," in which he pointed out Alford himself was guilty, in his writings, of many of the faults he ascribed to American authors.

The language war raged and still rages. The British rarely give ground. Even when they admit an American expression is better than its British counterpart -- sidewalk over pavement was an oft-cited example -- they see no reason to admit the "foreign" word. For the core of their argument was racist and ethnic, not linguistic. Articles in Britain on American speech invariably make reference to "their huge hybrid population of which only a small minority are even racially Anglo-Saxons" [New Statesman, 1927] and the sad fate of American English, "imposed upon and influenced by a host of immigrants from all the nations of Europe" [Times].

So the Times wrote, but the times have changed. And here is Europe today, led by the descendants of these academic aristocracies, still tangled up in the contradiction of its prejudices. It now has admitted, under force of economics and post-imperialist guilt, a large alien population into its nations, but not into its souls. It claims to be taking the opposite path of American assimilation -- if the Americans do it it must be bad -- and claims to be on the more enlightened path of respecting the immigrant culture.

But this "respect" is accomplished by subsidizing the immigrant culture in its alien ways and ghettoizing it. The European intelligensia often maintains that the other culture is equal to or superior to the native one -- Do they practice honor killings? well, until recently Europeans were so barbaric as to execute criminals! Who are we to condemn them? -- while it quietly draws an invisible wall around the European societies to prevent the assimilation of the darker skins, and the pollution that might bring.

The result is, there are vast no-go areas for the local police in some European cities, where Shari'a rule is effectively enforced by imams, and third-generation immigrant children who have lived in European capitals all their lives can barely speak a sentence of the native language.

But that can't possibly be racist. Only Americans are racists.

Carnival of the Etymologies

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

Recently four male friends and I were talking about our dads. We didn't know one another growing up. But we all grew up in the same part of the world, in a roughly 50 mile radius of Philadelphia -- within range of Channel 17 if you had a good UHF aerial. We all remember the slightly traumatic first moment we watched our dads lose their cool, and dissolve in our sight from god-like father figures into spluttering, cussing clowns.

In each case, it happened while watching a Phillies game.

So, in honor today of the birth of Rogers Hornsby (1896-1963), let's play ball.

Baseball in reference to the American game is attested from 1845. Earlier references (e.g. in Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey") refer to the game of "rounders," of which baseball is a more elaborate variety. The American game legendarily was invented in 1839 by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, N.Y. But all of this -- rounders, Doubleday, 1839 -- are open to a sort of endless, unwinnable arcane debate that seems to embody the spirit of the game itself.

Much of the basic language of baseball is as old as the game and dates from the Civil War or before: strike as a noun (1841), pitch (1845), the noun run (1856), plate (1857), single (1858), and out (1860). Many are terms also found in cricket, but whether they were directly borrowed from the older game, or independently coined, is open to question.

But much of the baseball jargon is unique and odd. balk, for instance (attested in baseball from 1845) is an old word, from Old English balca "ridge, ridge of land," especially one between two plowed furrows. It comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root (*bhelg-) that means "beam, plank" and is at the root of Greek phalanx "line of battle," literally "trunk, log," and Latin fulcrum "bedpost."

Modern senses of the English word are figurative, representing either the balk as a hindrance or obstruction (e.g., of horses, "to stop short before an obstacle"), or from the verb sense of "to miss or omit intentionally" (attested by 1484) as a lazy or incompetent plowman would in making balks.

The real flowering of baseball jargon comes in the generation after the Civil War, when baseball writing became an art. From this era date wild pitch (1867), pop in the sense of "to hit a ball high in the air" (1867), infield (1867), outfield (1868), liner (1874), retire in the transitive sense of "to put out" (1874), diamond (1875), assist as a noun (1877), curve as a type of pitch (1879), triple as a verb (1880), shut out as a verb (1881), and bunt (1889). The baseball line-up (1889) is older than the police version (1907).

Baseball writing in those days delighted in florid hyperbole and arcane jargon, and only some of it has survived. One common term no longer in use was battery, which was the word for "pitcher and catcher" considered as a unit (1867).

A number of words and phrases coined by baseball players or writers have passed into the American English language, and in some cases they have advanced so far their connection with the game no longer is felt.

Among them is the verb root meaning "cheer, support" (1889), which originally was a baseball writer's term, perhaps borrowed from the older verb root via an intermediate sense of "study, work hard" (recorded from 1856).

Also on the list is fan "enthusiast" (1889), which originally was used of baseball enthusiasts. It is perhaps a shortening of fanatic, but it may be influenced by the Fancy (1807), a collective term for followers of a certain hobby or sport (especially boxing).

Southpaw for "lefthander" (1885) also originally was baseball slang, in reference to pitchers, and it often is said to have been coined by Finley Peter Dunne ("Mr. Dooley"), Chicago sports journalist and humorist, in the days when baseball diamonds were regularly oriented with home plate to the west.

To second-guess (1941) is a back-formation from second-guesser (1937), baseball slang for a fan who loudly questions decisions by players, managers, etc.; it is perhaps from guesser in the obsolete baseball slang sense of "umpire."

Boner meaning "blunder" is baseball slang from 1912, probably from bonehead "stupid person." (The word in its erectile sense is not attested until the 1940s.)

The widespread use of the adjective designated in modern American English (designated driver, etc.) seems to flow from the baseball designated hitter (introduced in American League baseball in 1973).

Flaky, meaning "eccentric, crazy" is said to be baseball slang, but probably ultimately comes from the 1920s slang term for cocaine. It was, however, popular among ball players before it reached the general public, which may say something about the supposed innocense of the old game.

"The term 'flake' needs explanation. It's an insider's word, used throughout baseball, usually as an adjective; someone is considered 'flaky.' It does not mean anything so crude as 'crazy,' but it's well beyond 'screwball' and far off to the side of 'eccentric.' " ["New York Times," April 26, 1964]

Likewise screwball "eccentric person" probably has a connection to the baseball slang term for a type of erratic pitch (1928); the term was used even earlier in cricket for a type of bowl (1866).

The verb grandstand meaning "to show off" is based on grandstand player, which is first attested in baseball slang from 1888:

"It's little things of this sort which makes the 'grand stand player.' They make impossible catches, and when they get the ball they roll all over the field." [M.J. Kelly, "Play Ball," 1888]

Some other words baseball has bequeathed to the Mother Tongue include:

  • To wait (something) out "endure a period of waiting" (1909), originally in reference to batters trying to draw a base on balls.

  • Bean "head" (c.1905, in bean-ball "a pitch thrown at the head").

  • Flat-footed "unprepared" (1912), on notion of "not on one's toes.

  • Phenom (1890), short for phenomenon.

  • Goose egg for "zero" (1866).

  • Platoon as a verb (1967).

  • Raincheck is first recorded in 1884, in reference to tickets to make-up dates for rained-out baseball games.

  • Charley horse (1888), originally in baseball players' slang, probably from somebody's long-forgotten lame racehorse.

Other baseball terms and expressions have come into common use in a metaphoric or figurative sense. For instance, off base meaning "unawares" is a figure of speech embodying the notion of a baserunner being picked off while taking a lead. To get to first base "make a start" is likewise obviously from baseball. Both, in their figurative senses, date from the 1930s.

The phrase right off the bat (1914, earlier hot from the bat, 1888) is probably a baseball metaphor. To be out in left field "unorthodox, unexpected" is attested from 1959 and seems to suggest baseball, but the association of left and queerness is much older than the game.

The softball, a baseball of larger-than-usual size, used in a scaled-down version of the game meant for urban playgrounds, was so-called since at least 1914. This led to the journalistic softball question (1970s), one that is easy to answer.

Baseball stadiums have been called ballparks since at least 1899, but it wasn't until the rise of aerospace technology in the Cold War that ballpark acquired a figurative sense of "acceptable range of approximation." The original notion is of the area within which a spacecraft was expected to return to earth; the reference is to broad but reasonably predictable dimensions.

In the baseball sense, minor league is from 1884; the figurative extension is first recorded 1926.

Switch-hitter has been a baseball term for a player who bats either left- or right-handed since the 1930s. In 1956 it emerged with a new sense of "bisexual person."

Some expressions that seem quintessential to baseball actually originated elsewhere. The original murderer's row was in New York City's Tombs prison. Bullpen in the baseball sense is first recorded 1915, but it is perhaps from an earlier slang meaning "temporary holding cell for prisoners" (1809). A double-header originally was a kind of fireworks, and also a railway train pulled by two engines. The baseball dugout (1914) earlier meant "rough shelter" (c.1855).

K As an indication of "strikeout" in baseball scorekeeping is first recorded c.1880 and said to be from last letter of struck, since first letter already was being used as abbreviation for sacrifice. The invention of the scorecard symbols is attributed to newspaperman Henry Chadwick.

One of the oddest of baseball slang words is fungo, which goes back to 1867 but which somehow escaped the attention of the scrupulous editors of the Oxford English Dictionary right through their second edition (1989). Nobody knows where it comes from. It has a striking resemblance, in sound and sense, to the Old English word fon "to seize," which is related to fang but otherwise has been quite extinct in the active language for many centuries. Its reappearance on the baseball field would make it a veritable coelacanth.

Rhubarb, as a baseball slang word meaning "loud squabble on the field," is from 1938 and is said to have been first used by broadcaster Garry Schumacher. Perhaps the connected is with the use of "rhubarb" as a word repeated by stage actors to give the impression of hubbub or conversation in crowd scenes, which is attested from 1934.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Provocative Quote Of The Day

"What Fox News did for gun owners and evangelicals who felt culturally alienated and politically marginalized by CNN, AJI [Al Jazeera International] hopes to do for English professors and software developers disgusted by both networks.

From this TNR article.

(Sorry, most of it is behind the firewall, including this quote. I'd blog TNR fairly regularly and intensively if its internet model were different. But, you know what? There's this little invention called a newsstand, for those of you who don't subscribe but want to read the whole thing.)

Catching Up

Yikes. Looks like I've fallen down on my duties in the Watchers Council. Those of you who think this blogging stuff is all strawberries and ice cream and ego-stroking, get that out of your heads. It's work!

Here, in order of finish, are some belated announcements of winners from two weeks in April:

April 7


Outside the Council, the top finishers for that week were:

For April 14, I don't know where my head was, but here are the top finishers:


Outside the Council, the top finishers for that week were:

Don't let my negligence deter you from checking out these fine pieces.

The Smith Code

Ya gotta love a judge who courts fun in a ruling.

The judge who cleared Dan Brown of plagiarising the plot of his bestseller The Da Vinci Code has left his own secret message in the ruling.

Justice Peter Smith, who ruled earlier this month that Brown did not steal his plot ideas from an earlier non-fiction work, published his 71-page judgment with a seemingly random series of italicisations throughout.


Justice Smith, who could not be reached for comment this evening, told Bloomberg in an interview today that the code was genuine, calling it "a bit of fun."

Well, Smith certainly seduced me: I downloaded that .pdf in a New York minute. Alas, I think it'll take more time than that to read the ruling.

Any good codebreakers out there?

Update: The Times' law-blogger says he's broken the code and wants you to share you what you discover here.

I love this line from the blog: "This will undoubtedly attract unfair criticism from some of the more stuffy and staid members of the legal profession."

It sort of reminds me of something that a certain well-known, stateside blogger would write.

Lawyer-type readers, can you think of a U.S. judge who might do something like this?

An Exercise In Backseat Journalism

For fun and edification, I invite you to compare, contrast and discuss these two stories about the Senate's shifting money into increased border control.

C'mon, you would-be citizen journalists ... .

Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Many universities struggle with Online Privacy 101.

Among the findings in a survey of 236 institutions appearing on the 2004 U.S. News and World Report ranking of America's best colleges:

• Practically 100 percent of doctoral universities and liberal arts colleges had at least one data collection form on a Web page without a link to a privacy notice.

• Almost 100 percent of doctoral universities and liberal arts colleges had at least one data collection form that used the GET method to submit data, which poses identity theft risks because sensitive information is stored in Web server log files that can be accessed under certain circumstances by hackers. (The GET method refers to a form submission where the form input consists of a query string which is appended to the URL of the requested page.)

• A full 100 percent of doctoral universities and liberal arts colleges had a least one non-secure page with a data collection form.

There's no excuse for any of these things, and the fact that such issues appear to be so widespread suggests a rather, let's say, cavalier attitude.

I'm shocked, shocked (not!).

Hat tip.


Two lilacs out of the dead land have followed me all this month.

She was old enough to be mother to many of them -- her own daughter turned 20 in 1944 -- but she was sexuality personified, with that low, sultry, German-heavy voice, yet she was sure and at ease in that masculine world of the U.S. Army. She crooned "Lili Marleen" to the boys (and, believe it or not, also performed on the musical saw) as the snow drifted down in Luxemburg. None of them ever forgot it. She was fearless; she wore a GI's uniform and stayed so close to the front lines she almost got caught up in the German push when the Battle of the Bulge began. “Eine Mutter Teresa," Billy Wilder would say later, "aber mit schöneren Beinen.”

Maria Magdalena "Marlene" Dietrich had found herself on the other side of things more than once. Born in Berlin's Schöneberg neighborhood, she acted in German movies and cut records while dancing as a chorus girl in cabarets and in stage plays. She got her break in 1930 with the first European talkie, "Der Blaue Engel." Josef von Sternberg plucked her from a play, where she had only one line, to be his Lola Lola.

The studio heads at UFA weren't impressed. One director's assistant quipped, "The ass isn't bad, but don't we also need a face." But Sternberg insisted. And Marlene found herself in the part.

"Der Blaue Engel" premiered April 1, 1930, in Gloria-Palast, Berlin, and it was an instant hit. The next day, Dietrich departed for America, and Hollywood, aboard the SS Bremen. The German studio had thought her a mere tramp and not offered her a contract.

She was a good German girl who hadn't wanted to go to Hollywood in the first place, and if it weren't for the ambitions of the men in her life, perhaps she would not have gone. She came home again and spent the winter of 1930 in Berlin. When her contract with Paramount was running out two years later, she made plans to return to Germany for good. Her mother even rented an apartment for her in Berlin. But that was in 1933.

Hitler swept to power that year, and Marlene changed her plans. On her trip to Europe that year, she never set foot in Germany, and she renewed her Paramount contract. In 1937 she applied for American citizenship.

Her loyalty to a country came second to her loyalty to a place. That place was Berlin -- and Berlin, unlike Rome, is not an eternal city. It always was a robust, artificial place, the closest thing to an American city in old Europe. The Berlin Marlene knew was the decadent Weimar Republic capital, a heady mix of high and low. Its people had that rarest of German qualities, a sense of humor -- albeit "gallows humor." The Nazis despised Berlin. They didn't like humor, or trade unions, or homosexuals, or outspoken people with opinions, or Jews -- and Berlin was full of all of them.

They didn't like "Der Blaue Engel," either. They called it "mediocre and corrupting kitsch." But they liked Marlene. She was a blonde goddess, an Aryan queen. Hitler wanted her “heim ins Reich zu holen.” In 1936, Goebbels offered her 200,000 Reichsmark per film to come home and be a star in Germany. She replied cynically she would return only when one of her many Jewish friends could accompany her.

When artists and intellectuals began to flee Germany after 1933, they found Marlene already here to greet them. Many of the people involved in the making of "Der Blaue Engel" ended up exiles. Others who remained ended up dead.

The other shade is, in some ways, as unlike Marlene as a human could be. Yet his image in his time, like a movie star's, was made up in part of unforgettable visuals: the perfect white-bearded soldierly figure, mounted on his gray stallion, Traveller. Devout, humble, reserved, aggressive on the battlefield, unfailingly courteous off it. Robert E. Lee was the model of a Southern gentleman.

Lee and Deitrich. Both in their times forced to choose between two loyalties. They chose differently; he chose home, she foresook it. Both traitors, but both heroes.


In April 1861, Lincoln quietly approached a cavalry colonel on leave, Robert E. Lee, the former head of the U.S. Military Academy, about heading up the North's army in the war that had just erupted at Fort Sumter. Lincoln must have had a feeling for Lee's divided loyalties, because he chose Francis P. Blair, from the Baltimore gentry family that will give Lincoln the token "Southerner" in his Cabinet, to take the message to Lee. Blair's coach clattered across the Potomac bridge to Arlington House, where Lee had taken a leave of absence from the military to put his wife's inherited estate in order.

He had spent most of his 54 years toiling in the obscurity that was the professional U.S. Army in the 19th century. But his father and uncles had helped forge the American union with their own blood. I've seen the house where "Lighthorse Harry" Lee plotted his escapades as he played cat-and-mouse with the British in the snowbound Pennsylvania countryside in the Valley Forge Winter.

Robert E. Lee in 1861 thought the secession of the Deep South states was a tragic mistake, and unjustified by the constitution. He thought the same when Virginia, in the wake of the Fort Sumter attack, followed them out of the union. He had no special fondness for slavery (he would be among those who argued the South should surrender the institution for the sake of winning the war). But when Blair made his offer, Lee turned him down. Instead, he resigned his U.S. Army commission and offered his services to his home state, Virginia.

"With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen," he wrote to his sister on April 20, 1861, "I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword."

Another Virginia horseman who served the South looked back years later on the decision faced by men such as Lee. As he wrote, he had open before him "The University Memorial, which recorded the names and lives of the alumni of the University of Virginia who fell in the Confederate war," some 200 of them:

“[A]nd some of the noblest men who figure in its pages were Union men; and the Memorial of the Virginia Military Institute tells the same story with the same eloquence. The State was imperiled, and parties disappeared; and of the combatants in the field, some of the bravest and the most conspicuous belonged to those whose love of the old Union was warm and strong, to whom the severance of the tie that bound the States together was a personal grief. But even those who prophesied the worst, who predicted a long and bloody struggle and a doubtful result, had no question about the duty of the citizen. ... The most intimate friend I ever had, who fell after heroic services, was known by all our circle to be utterly at variance with the prevalent Southern view of the quarrel, and died upholding a right which was not a right to him except so far as the mandate of his State made it a right; and while he would have preferred to see “the old flag” floating over a united people, he restored the new banner to its place time after time when it had been cut down by shot and shell."

Lee must have known he was risking everything, including his neck. Arlington was sacked and looted, and turned into headquarters for officers superintending the defenses of Washington. The government took the home, under pretext of Mrs. Lee not paying her taxes, and turned it into a cemetery.

The government may have pardoned Lee, but the people of the North never did. An Ohio newspaper, trying to parse out the proper punishment, suggested "he be hung first and then banished." When Lee was made president of Washington College in Lexington, Va., a Northern minister wrote:

We would as soon send our son to a pest-house for health or to a gambler's den for education, as to send him to this villainous college -- Altogether he stands out the most inexcusable, vilest traitor of the whole crowd of criminals whom he headed -- Every student who receives a diploma at his hands should be hissed through life--A more flagrant, indecent, unspeakable outrrage than his election has never been perpetrated in the name of education."

Why did he do it? Principle, yes. But in his heart, he knew where was "home." And that's where he went to take his gun and stand duty when war came. I think millions of men did that, on both sides, in April 1861. Those who happened to find themselves on the other side of the line, when the line took shape, made their way to where they felt they belonged. That is how people are.


When World War II broke out, Marlene Dietrich's career had passed its prime and she had reached that point in the Hollywood trajectory where her best roles were deliberate parodies of herself. She had never stopped thinking in German, and never bothered to Hollywood-ize herself.

Yet when America went to war against Germany, she threw herself into war work with a will. She was one of the first celebrities to raise war bonds, and she followed the troops through North Africa and into Europe in a USO revue. She rolled into liberated Paris with De Gaulle. She recorded anti-Nazi records in German for the OSS -- the precursor of the CIA.

Why do all this? She famously replied, "aus Anstand" – a German phrase that rolls up both "decency" and "the right thing to do."

And some of those boys she sang to near the front then climbed into B-24s and rained down incendiary bombs on Berlin, where her twice-widowed mother, Frau Von Loesch, still lived.

When she met American generals, she would quietly plead with them to get to Berlin, after it fell, and find her mother.

Lt Gen James M. Gavin, US Army retired, then the 82nd Airborne Division's commander and I were two who heard Miss Dietrich's request. Another, Lt Col Albert McCleery, has since died.

Col McCleery and I were in the first American column to enter Berlin on 1 July 1945. Once inside city limits Col McCleery made a beeline for the Von Loesch address, found Miss Dietrich's mother alive and well, but meagerly fed and caring for a 95-year old aunt. Word was sent to Paris to her daughter, who immediately caught a flight to Berlin on the military shuttle, as she was in the USO then. When her estimated time of arrival was known at Berlin's Tempelhof airport, I gathered up Frau von Loesch and two photographers, and took them to meet her.

Frau Von Loesch was instructed to stand alone on the runway's great cement apron and I asked the tower to have a shuttle taxi up for her. When her daughter burst from the plane, it made for one of the most touching reunions of the war.

Later, when Gen Gavin and I were in London, two terrible messages were forwarded to us - the Army had selected the 101st Airborne Division to be the regular Army's postwar airborne unit so the 82nd would be dismantled and Frau von Loesch had died. As our plane flew us back to Berlin, Gen Gavin, softspoken as always and with his own grief about seeing the division which was so much a part of him consigned to oblivion, turned to me and said: "Do everything you can about her". He did not say her name, but it was obvious that he meant Frau von Loesch. After all, the nonfraternization regulation was in existence and no legal interrelationships were possible between Americans and Germans, even concerning burial of dead.

Once on the ground in Berlin, we learned that Miss Dietrich was flying in. There was not much time. I got four 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers to go to a nearby cemetery and dig a grave. A German undertaker was contacted to perform his role, which included the hiring of three professional mourners, who were part of such ceremonies.

Under the cover of darkness, the four paratroopers went to the second-floor flat once occupied by Frau von Loesch, where her body lay in a plan coffin. They took the coffin down the steep stairs, placed it reverently in a truck and transported it to the cemetery, where it was placed in a grave. The sun was about to come up on the dreary scene, so they went into hiding.

Marlene Dietrich arrived, escorted by Time magazine war correspondent William Walton. He had jumped with the 82nd in Normandy and since he was a member of the press, attending a German funeral would not be held against him. The graveside finalities were short. Miss Dietrich cried constantly. At the end of the service, she and William Walton cast handfulls of dirt on the coffin, turned their backs and walked away. That night, the four paratroopers filled in the resting place. It was a macabre scene, as the cemetery had been heavily bombed by artillery. Only the grave of Frau van Loesch was intact.

The cause of death was heart failure. “Ich fühlte," Marlene said, "dass ich nicht nur meine Mutter zur Grabe getragen hatte, sondern dass es das Deutschland, das ich liebte, nicht mehr gibt.”

Berliners never made peace with her while she lived. The press told ugly stories about her, but bad publicity wasn't needed. She felt she was a Berliner, but Berliners felt she was always somewhere else during their long half-century of suffering. When she visited the city in 1960, she was pelted with tomatoes and eggs and told “Marlene, hau ab,"and “Bleib wo du bist.”

She resolved not to go back, and she didn't. She died in Paris in 1992. Some 3,500 turned out for a memorial service in La Madeleine, but there was no official acknowledgement in Berlin. Yet she wanted to be buried beside her mother, in Friedenau Cemetery, in Berlin-Schöneberg. And so she was, in a coffin draped with an American flag.

Political leaders in Berlin-Schöneberg in 1996 tried to name a street for her -- an unglamorous small industrial strip -- but even that ran into insurmountable opposition. A year later, developers named a complex for her in a project they were erecting in what had been a windswept wasteland in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. "She finally found a place in the anonymous glitz of the new Potsdamer Platz," historian David Clay Large wrote, "primarily because there was no living constituency there to keep her away."

One of her online biographies explains, "That her taking the side of the 'enemy' was itself a form of love and loyalty to her homeland, represents an understanding ever elusive in Germany." As it certainly would be anywhere.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Shuffling The Deck ≠ Playing The Hand

My, this POV sounds familiar.**

In my cynicism, however, I think this is what we're going to get as long as sharp partisanship rules, of whatever flavor.

Is it time to consider one consecutive six-year term for presidents (if they want another bite at the apple, fine--but they can wait it out for one term before trying again) and 4-year, rather than 2-year, terms for House members? (I'm not claiming originality here, by the way.)

Sometimes I fantasize if/how things would be different under such a scenario, though of course I don't really know if anything would change and haven't sat down to think through all of the implications.

One thing I do know for sure: I am sick to death of presidential second terms (name ONE in my lifetime that hasn't been wracked by big problems and/or failures and that hasn't contributed to the insidious pessimism of the body politic) and, on the House front, the necessarily incessant politicking and fundraising.

Maybe a radical change IS in order: just not the kind we keep talking about.

(**Though I was focusing on just one particular area, in this case.)

Life In The Internet Age


Does this history help or hurt? Good choice or bad choice?

Update: The fact of the choice is confirmed.

Still, feel free to continue to answer the questions, as they're not rendered irrelevant by this news, and /or to talk about the appointment generally.

(I enjoyed the WaPo article, by the way, for a number of reasons, but it's too late [too early?--we're pushing dawn here, right now] for me to write about it. Read and react away for yourself.)

A "Reader" By Any Other Name ...

Glenn Reynolds weighs in on why bloggers really "smell" to some newspaper writers.

And makes the excellent point--one that should be obvious, to anyone with a sense of cultural history--that the excesses of discourse and loss of respect for time-and-place-based behavior far precede the advent of the internet, much less blogging, both of which are a mere corner of a much larger media and cultural universe.

When I first read Daniel Henninger's column the other day, I was baffled. (I'm a long-time regular reader of his work, by the way, and am generally an admirer, whether or not I agree with any particular premise or position he's espousing.) Did he live through a different '60s, '70s and so forth than I did?

I learned my potty-mouthed ways (I've long-since reformed, for the most part, as I've noted elsewhere) way back in the '70s, when I was in high school, from hearing such speech ... well, almost everywhere. I sharpened the ability to be gratuitously vituperative in the '80s, by listening to so many of the people with whom I was hanging at the time go ballistic over Reagan. And in the '90s--well, let's just say that if I hadn't started my personal reformation in the early part of that decade, I could have upgraded my entire rhetorical arsenel.

Then there's pop culture, as Reynolds notes.

I utterly agree that things are getting worse, and that there are parts of the blogosphere that are execrable. (No, I'm not going to bother to link to posts or comments where I've said that, but they're there.) I also agree that the climate of discourse is very destructive on many levels. But our entire culture has been on a degraded and degrading track for quite a while--something which Henninger, of all columnists, should know.

So why is he calling out bloggers in particular?

Henninger seems -- like a lot of newspaper people these days -- to be focusing on problems with the Internet not so much because the Internet is a problem, generally, as because it's a problem for, well, newspaper people. The newspaper industry is sinking financially, and the Internet is getting blamed not only for that, but for anything else that's handy. ...

As "they" say, read the whole thing.


Update: I should clarify that from 1971 until the later '90s, I was living on the East Coast, not in Iowa.

Two Wrongs Won't Make It Right

News from the bad-idea front: suspending federal gas taxes and environmental requirements related to gasoline.

This isn't a bad idea, though it won't do a darn thing in terms of helping the general public face up to some uncomfortable truths about what we're potentially facing over the long haul.

I'll say it bluntly: Anything that permits and even encourages "we, the people" to remain in comfortable ignorance and self-coddling denial is a step in the wrong direction. We've put off making hard choices personally and policy-wise for at least a quarter-century or more.

What is it going to take for those on all sides, energetically grinding away on your political axes, to see that your actions are fueling false expectations about what we actually need to do address the bigger picture, one that is complex and involves more than the debate over the morality of vehicle choice?

[End of three-minute rant.]

Take the First Left

Foreign Affairs looks at Latin America's Left Turn:

With all the talk of Latin America's turn to the left, few have noticed that there are really two lefts in the region. One has radical roots but is now open-minded and modern; the other is close-minded and stridently populist. Rather than fretting over the left's rise in general, the rest of the world should focus on fostering the former rather than the latter -- because it is exactly what Latin America needs.

Monday, April 24, 2006


"United 93"

It opens next week. Will you go see it?

According to advance reviews, it doesn't suck.

In the city where it will premiere next Tuesday, United 93 is being greeted—or repelled?—almost as if it were itself some kind of terror attack. Is the movie pornography? Exploitation? Too much too soon?

Having seen it once (apparently with what the studio calls "unfinished" effects), I can attest that the film nobody wants to see
is worth seeing. At the very least, United 93—as the most literal representation yet of that unimaginable morning—will hopefully ignite a meaningful debate about the ethics and politics of 9-11 commemoration.

The "Voice" reviewer says it is "at once scrupulous and ghoulish, visceral and sober." Maya Lin is evoked.

At the end of the review is this interesting addendum:

As noted above, this review of United 93 was based on an unfinished print. Since then, Universal has excised the concluding title card, which read, "America's war on terror had begun." The final caption now reads: "Dedicated to the memory of all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001."


Toy of the Day

For Writers, It's A Spin Cycle Out There

An aspiring writer forces rejecting agents and publishers to come clean about their reading habits.

He had tried repeatedly to excite them with his children’s novel. But each time it came back with a standard rejection letter, saying that they had read and enjoyed it but did not feel that it was for them.

He didn’t believe they had even turned the title page, so he scanned extracts from the instructions for his washing machine, called it The Tin Drum and sent it off.

He merely divided the instructions into chapters and added chapter headings such as Jumbo Drum. He said: “It was a pure washing machine user guide. I tidied it up, but you can’t fail to notice what it is. The first line was ‘LG’s jumbo drum can wash about 40 per cent more load than conventional washing machines’.”

The usual few months elapsed before he received the standard rejection letter. ...

This isn't surprising, surely: It's part of frustrated-writer lore, however true or not, that unsolicited manuscripts, whether sent to publishers or agents, don't really get read. Still, how lovely to see those lyin' rejection letters hung out to dry.

Even more gratifying is that the underdog writer triumphed when he finally went the self-publishing route:

After visiting 40 schools with his book, he found himself inundated with thousands of orders before discovering that it had also caught the eye of buyers at Waterstone’s and W H Smith, both of which decided to stock it.

Three film companies, including the Hollywood heavyweight Miramax, have shown interest, seven international publishers have approached him about the foreign rights and British companies are asking about the second and third editions. ...

Patriot or Traitor?

Ethics question of the day: Is it right to do something you know is wrong, perhaps even illegal, for the sake of a greater good?

Mary McCarthy at the CIA leaks highly classified information on a sensitive topic that compromises both the United States and some key allies. She clearly broke the law. It will make future espionage deals with foreign capitals more difficult. It has serious consequences. She certainly had political motives. All that has been well-observed and roundly condemned on the right.

But what if her object is, in part, to expose, and thus end, U.S.-sanctioned torture? What if she wanted to restore dignity to the American flag?

The United States ignores the wishes of the United Nations and overthrows a Middle Eastern tyrant that the United States is, in part, responsible for in the first place. We clearly went against the expressed wishes of our allies and the protocol of international institutions. This will make future international efforts more difficult and alienates much of the world from us. It has serious consequences. The White House certainly had its own agenda in this. All that has been well-observed and roundly condemned on the left.

But what if our object is, in part, to give a chance for freedom and democracy to a tormented nation? To end Saddam's cruel reign? What if we wanted to restore dignity to the Iraqi people?

It's OK: Ignore Your Boss, Surf the 'Net

Things sure have changed since the years when I was a full-time W-2 employee.

Saying surfing the web is equivalent to reading a newspaper or talking on the phone, an administrative law judge has suggested that only a reprimand is appropriate as punishment for a city worker accused of failing to heed warnings to stay off the Internet.

I'm not saying the guy should have been fired (how do I know what his overall work record is or whether his activities interfered with either his productivity or quality of output?). But, wow! When did it become OK to read a newspaper or just chat away on the telephone on company time? And not OK for a boss to tell you to knock it off with the expectation that you'd have to comply?

Call me old-fashioned, but something sounds cock-eyed about that.

I grant you, the last full-time employee job I had (as opposed to the many times since when I've worked full-time on a consultant basis at a client site), reading newspapers for a purpose and spending lots of time on the phone was part of the job, so maybe that's easy for me to say. You could call that an upside of being a journalist, but then again, you could also call it a downside.

That's sure not how it worked in any of the other jobs I've held, though. (Even in consulting and free-lance work, you still have to watch it, believe me: yeah, there's more freedom, but then there's a lot more insecurity and risk on a constant basis in working on an "at-their-pleasure" basis. A lack of guarantees and no sense of entitlement tends to clarify one's thinking powerfully.)

In his decision, Spooner wrote: "It should be observed that the Internet has become the modern equivalent of a telephone or a daily newspaper, providing a combination of communication and information that most employees use as frequently in their personal lives as for their work."

He added: "For this reason, city agencies permit workers to use a telephone for personal calls, so long as this does not interfere with their overall work performance. Many agencies apply the same standard to the use of the Internet for personal purposes."

I'm missing something in this reasoning. What does the fact that someone does or uses something in his or her personal life, frequently or not, have to do with whether he or she can do it at work regardless of a supervisor's wishes?

I do get the bit about whether the activity interferes with general work performance. But isn't that subjective? Do employees get to decide that now? Or is the key here that we're talking about a government employee? (A union employee? The article doesn't say.)

Now that I think about it, maybe things really have changed that much. It's not unusual at all, these days, to stand at a retail counter while a clerk yaks it up on a personal call or to a friend who's stopped by in person. Or to wait for the attention of a gas-attendant or office worker while he or she finishes reading the newspaper, typing something into a Blackberry or surfing the web on a cell-phone.

Maybe that judge is just reflecting a general attitude. Maybe he's exactly right.

In which case, something's definitely gone wrong.

Preaching and Practice

This runs as a deep, unconscious current in the modern American psyche. In Europe, it flows the other direction, and very much on the surface.

Timothy Garton Ash, writing in "Commentary" in 2005 (article since vanished behind subscription wall) noted that American wars -- especially the Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War -- ultimately have been seen in their outcomes as "morally redemptive."

America's wars are exceptional in that they've generally turned out victorious and generally been fought elsewhere. Without doing irrecoverable damage to the homeland, they have made American society stronger, better, more true to its virtues.

[Yet the South, which did suffer horribly in a war it lost, also found a sense of moral cleansing, as well as a strengthening mythology, in the long struggle and inevitable defeat.]

Especially in the realm of social equality, the Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War shamed or forced Americans into doing what we know ought to have been done long before, but which we were too lazy or distracted to accomplish.

George Kennan foresaw such consequences at the start of the Cold War:

Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. World communism is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue. This is point at which domestic and foreign policies meet. Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow worth a thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiqués.

He knew, to win it, we'd have to start practicing more of what we preached. And so concern over how America would be perceived abroad maneuvered a reluctant Eisenhower into backing Supreme Court desegregation with presidential authority.

Great advances in civil rights also were made in the immediate wake of the Revolution and World War I. It was the years of peace that allowed reaction's tide to rise and roll them back.

The contrast with Europe, as Ash pointed out, couldn't be more stark:

[M]uch of present-day European consciousness is still shaped by the senseless slaughter of World War I and, in Germany, by the Nazi debacle. Thus, in the decades after 1945, the Germans sought to reclaim their moral standing by, as it were, unloading their sovereignty onto a host of international institutions and by turning their children into pacifists. Since this was a transformation we applauded, it should not surprise us that Germans now denounce the American strategy of preemptive war.

Principled wars are one of the major engines of progress in America. It doesn't mean wars ought to be sought. But when they are forced on us, they have undone decades of social sloth in a few quick, hard years.

Which is one reason it depressed me to see the progressives so utterly reject the bid to overthrow Middle Eastern tyranny and bring democracy to Iraq, and even in some cases to deny that there was such a thing as a "War on Islamist Terroism." And which is one reason it depressed me that, after Sept. 11, Bush simply told Americans to go about life as usual, and still hasn't spoken in any large way of sacrifices or collective efforts.

That fight necessarily involves the Bush Administration with allies such as European homosexuals hounded by Islamists, feminist Muslims, persecuted black Africans in Darfur, and non-Christian religious minorities in Iran and elsewhere. It involves the White House in a core conflict against the very idea of theocracy and religious fundamentalism.

And holding the moral high ground in such a war will force us to straighten up and fly right at home. It offers progressives the leverage they need to effect changes that have waited years for their chance.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Joe Van Holsbeeck

Brussels Journal, an excellent wide-awake European blog, notes something missing from the coverage of the mass marches in response to the death of a Belgian teen in a senseless crime:

Today, some 80,000 people participated in a silent march in Brussels to commemorate 17 year old Joe Van Holsbeeck, who was knifed on 12 April because he refused to hand over his MP3 player to two North African youths. The murder happened during the evening rush hour in a crowded Brussels central station. The murderers were filmed by security cameras, but it took a full week before the authorities released the footage. The assassins are still at large.

But the writer notes that the initial BBC report "does not mention the ethnicity of the assassins." The BBC, in a later write-thru seems to have worked the ethnic angle in, far down in the story, in a highly deflecting and politically correct way:

Fears of racial tension have been high as the killers appear from the CCTV footage to be of North African origin but his mother appealed for calm.

"Don't ask me to hate all Arabs," she said in an interview with Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure.

"The youths that killed my son are thugs but don't generalise."

Some Muslim religious leaders in Brussels called for people to turn in the suspects if they knew them.

I went looking for this story on the Associated Press wire tonight. I found pictures, and a story, but no mention at all of the ethnicity of the killers in any of this.

This is exactly the kind of denial Bruce Bawer is talking about.

Before you misidentify me as some race-baiter who wants to go back to the old days in America when headlines said things like "Negro rapes white girl," realize that ethnicity -- the unassimilated and angry Muslim immigrant population of Belgium -- is the reason there is a mass march in Brussels today, and ethnicity is the reason that boy is dead. How much more newsworthy all this would be if the BBC and the AP had confronted that unpleasant fact? Brussels Journal shows them the way:

In fact, the initiative for the march came from Fouad Ahidar, a Moroccan-born Flemish member of the Brussels regional parliament, who said last week that many immigrants are equally worried about violent Moroccan youth gangs.

Ahidar, a father of five, already called for a protest march on 15 April, saying that if the victims had been immigrants and not Belgians, “or even if an immigrant just gets a few kicks from police officers, half of Brussels would be on the streets in solidarity with the victim.” According to the Moroccan-born MP, anti-Belgian racism is rife among Muslim street gangs. “This murder stinks of racism,” he said. “There is a growing group of criminal Moroccan and Turkish youths who go after victims who look like infidels. We have to fight racism in all its varieties, whether by the immigrants or the native community.” What Ahidar says is common knowledge but only he may say so. If a native Belgian makes such comments he or she risks being taken to court for racism by the authorities’ racism watchdog CEOOR, an instrument used by the government parties to silence political opponents.

UPDATE: As it turns out, the Belgian police now have arrested a Polish youth, and suspect that the other suspects are Polish, too. See here and especially here:

Jos Colpin, the spokesman of the office of the public prosecutor in Brussels, apologized because his office did officially accuse “two North Africans” on 13 April, whereupon the terminology was adopted in the Belgian press (and also by The Brussels Journal on 19 April). “We did this on the basis of witnesses’ accounts,” Colpin explained, “because almosts all statements [by witnesses] mentioned North Africans or culprits with North African features.”

So it turns out the statement above, "ethnicity is the reason that boy is dead," is wrong, based on wrong information from the Belgian authorities. But the bulk of this post, any my main concern in writing it, was the media coverage of the story in the period when the suspects had officially been identified as North Africans. That coverage was based on what was known at the time (i.e., none of the media cited made or makes any claim to have information not known to the authorities to suggest the suspect ID was wrong). It's still a worthwhile topic for comment, whatever the facts of the tragedy itself.

Council Winners

The latest Watchers Council winners are up.

First place in the in-council category went to a post on Rhymes With Right that picked up on an astonishing story of racial prejudice in a public school.

Imagine this situation. Two black children, a brother and a sister, enrol at a school which is predominatly white. they are subject to racial slurs and other harrassment. They are threatened and assaulted. In one instance, after the girl is threatened, her white nemesis is forced to apologize -- only to return to school three days later with a weapon, threatening to kill the girl.

What do you think would happen?

We know the answer. There would be marches, protests, outaged community members appearing at emergency meetings to demand that action be taken. State and federal officials would intervene. There would certainly be changes inthe school and district administration, designed to change the "festering culture of racism" that had been permitted to arise in the school.

Well, that isn't what happened at one school in Peoria, Illinois. But then again, the victims were white, and the perpetrators were. . . well, the columnist is too PC to actually tell us what race the perpetrators are. Doing so might be construed as racist, I suppose.

It was such a good story, I did my own version of it.

Second place went to Sundries Shack for "Hate Central," one of many, many takedowns of Maryscott O’Connor, the BDS-fueled leftist blogger profiled in the "Washington Post."

I thought it was both stronger and at the same time more compassionate than much of what was written in reaction to her:

I do feel pity, though. I feel sad that she’s chosen this course for her life and that her family must endure her anger for what appears to be a pretty big part of the day. I wonder what sort of sadness must set into a man’s heart to know that when his wife wakes up, she doesn’t think of the love she has for him but of vulgar rage toward a man she’s never met.

But I think the post, like a great many that gleefully piled on her, missed the bigger picture of this story: the big Legacy Media once more managed to paint bloggers as a pack of wild-eyed fanatics, and managed to get us to second the motion.

Two other strong contenders from the list were the dot-connecting on the Mary McCarthy CIA leak story done by Strata-sphere and Dr. Sanity's conclusion to her awesome "Denial" series.

[Which reminds me, some co-workers, after hearing "awesome" used in reference to, say, choosing the espresso over the decaf, have decided that "awesome" is drained of all force and meaning now. We need a new "awesome" -- something you'd say when you catually did, say, see the face of God. After some back-and-forth, "sizeable" was nominated as the new "awesome." Pass it on.]

Outside the Council, the winner was Wolfgang Bruno's opening dive of a deep plunge into the topic of religion, sparked by a reading of former Muslims at While Bruno finds their very existance, and continued survival, cause for hope, he cannot join them on the secular path.

This is where Sina and I part ways. As this is probably one of the most important issues of our age, it could make for an interesting discussion. Can you have morality without religion? I’m not so sure, which is why I will recommend a strengthening of the traditional Judeo-Christian religion of the West. When I first thought of writing my book, I imagined myself concluding it with some short recommendations for how Westerners should deal with Islam and Muslim immigration. The more I have looked into the matter, the more I have discovered that the really interesting issue is not what's wrong with Islam, but what's wrong with the West, which is why I will devote up to one third of the book to answering this question.

I can find much to argue with there (for instance, I grapple with the question "Can you have morality with religion?), but it's a fine, humane piece of writing nonetheless, and one worth arguing with.

Second place in this category went to Chester's useful arrangement of different ways to approach the Iran nukes crisis.

Please Tell Me We're Kidding

Here's a result from last week's Opinion Dynamic poll that I didn't see reported (note: link is to a pdf).

"Question #8: Who do you think should have the final say on U.S. military matters--civilian leaders or military personnel?"

Just 20% of those polled said civilian leaders, while 54% said military personnel. "Depends," "both," "neither" and "don't know" garnered 5%, 14%, 3% and 4%, respectively.

OK, maybe I just blissfully missed the coverage of this little gem, but it certainly wasn't pointed out in this Fox News story, posted by the cable network that commissioned the survey.

By the way, the results aren't prettier if you break them out by Democrats, Republicans or Independents. In a bit of true irony when taken in a broader context than the current disaffection with Rumsfeld et al, the Democrats polled actually went slightly more strongly for military personnel being in control than did the Republicans polled (60% versus 58%). Only 17% of the former went with civilian leaders, as opposed to 22% of the latter.

Sigh. What are we thinking? Do we not understand the wider implications here?

Civilian control of the military is a bedrock of ...

Oh, never mind. Go back to sleep.

(Good catch.)

Added: And to think, there I was last week, suggesting that perhaps we should be discussing different theories of civilian control of the military. Boy, am I disconnected.