Saturday, January 31, 2009

grainOsand post

sometimes blogger prose, ranting and raving, is just beautiful. i let out a belly laugh in front of the computer. below is one example, from the huffington post. think about it: all these people blogging, commenting, spewing their rage and uncertainty. writing! we are becoming a nation of writers!

Woeful and willful ignorance, damming destructive delusion, paltry puritan partisanship, these are the triangulations of the GOP. This is what happens when the prize outstrips the process, the prize is gutted of its substance. Look how Bush hollowed out the integrity of the presidency. He was president but what of it? Schwarzenegger said during the past campaign that Obama needs to put some meat on his scrawny bones. No Arnold, he needs to bring some meat (where"s the beef) to the feeble state of the presidency as he inherited it. He must fill a huge void of confidence, competence, and credibility. The economy, the social order, the foreign policy direction, the energy effort, jurisprudence, ecological concerns, the healthcare initiative, education, these and more are not on the table, they have filled the room necessitating removing the table to make room for a constant flow of arriving issues and challenges of state.

The GOP cannot turn the corner on who they are until they realize the damage of what being who they are has done. How can you heal from a disease you do not admit to having? In all such cases you entertain no cures for what ails you. Thus their answer remains tax cuts, small government, and hypocritically dysfunctional (wide-stance) family values. Mr. Obama said a president needs to be able to do more than one thing at a time, such as participate in political debate and address the economic crisis simultaneously. So it is for political Parties.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Iraqi Maqams

taken from a blog's comment section, attached to the new york times: the blogger had described the love of big SUVs and Brno rifles among Iraq's tribal leaders, and told of a popular song called "the Brno" reflecting longing for Iraqi unity.

Thank you for taking my comment on the Brno rifle. It occurred to me to mention that the song in your article is considered as one in the Iraqi “pop music” genre. Iraq has its own classical music known as the “Iraqi Maqams” which go back to the tenth century and is still meticulously performed till today. It started with al-Ma’moon, 10th century Caliph of Baghdad, who had a Persian mother (or wife) who brought in Persian tunes to the Caliph’s court which were sung with choice Arabic poetry. For a thousand years Iraqis have been singing “Maqams” each of which has its original 10th century Persian name viz ” Panjigah Segah, Restt, etc… There is a “House of Iraqi Maqams” in Baghdad where Maqams are taught by masters to young singers.
What made the Maqams last for so long is not only their evocative tunes, but their unforgettable lyrics: Here are two examples:

“Know you why the Cock crows at dawn?
Repeating his plaintive refrain at break of day?
He cries”You fool!”
You’ve slept yet another night of your life away”.

And another extract:

She said :”There are seas between us”
I said: “I’m a powerful swimmer”
She said: ‘I have seven brothers to protect me”
I said: “I’m ever a victorious slayer”
She said: You’ve wearied me with argument. Wont you desist?
I said: “Never”

— ibrahim al-Mumayiz

Thursday, January 29, 2009


the below is taken from Glenn Greenwald of, writing about Israel and Palestine.

LibertarianLeft makes an important point that can't be emphasized enough:

Enabling Israel's self-destruction

The irony, of course, is that by making a two-state solution impossible, Israel is hurtling down a path likely to lead to its destruction as a Jewish state due to demographics.

American diplomatic and financial pressure on Israel to halt the construction of West Bank settlements and ultimately dismantle them -- and to come to an agreement based roughly on the Arab League’s two-state proposal -- is the only hope that country has for long-term survival.

Instead, the U.S. has been behaving like the enabling spouse of an alcoholic, making endless excuses and paying the bills while indulging in a shared denial of reality. The self-styled friends of Israel in the Lobby and in Congress are may love the Jewish state, but they're helping the object of their affection to destroy herself.

Indeed. The very restrained efforts back in 1991 by Bush 41 and his then-Secretary of State Jim Baker to pressure Israel to cease settlement expansion in the West Bank (by conditioning further U.S. aid on its cessation) provoked the intense scorn of what Bush called "the power of the pro-Israel lobby," and to this day, Baker is despised and demonized as "anti-Israel" and even "anti-Semitic" by the allegedly "pro-Israel" Right in the U.S. because of that very mild attempt to use the massive amounts of American aid to influence Israeli actions. Yet imagine how much better off Israel would be (to say nothing of the U.S.) had Bush and Baker succeeded (rather than been thwarted) in those efforts.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"lynch" origin

lynch (v.)
1835, from earlier Lynch law (1811), likely named after William Lynch (1742-1820) of Pittsylvania, Va., who c.1780 led a vigilance committee to keep order there during the Revolution. Other sources trace the name to Charles Lynch (1736-96) a Virginia magistrate who fined and imprisoned Tories in his district c.1782, but the connection to him is less likely. Originally any sort of summary justice, especially by flogging; narrowing of focus to "extralegal execution by hanging" is 20c. Lynch mob is attested from 1838. The surname is either from O.E. hlinc "hill" or Ir. Loingseach "sailor."

i wonder how this word connoting group vigilantism morphed into a word meaning ritual killings of black men.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

the house of cards. . .

. .is collapsing! below is the end of a NYT article on the third trial of a group of chigago men alleged to be planning to blow up the Sears Tower. another example of the fake War on Terror -- or maybe more accurately, the (real) War on (fake) Terror, a real war fought with real money against linguistic violence. in short, in this case at least, a war on free speech.

Assistant United States Attorney Richard Gregorie, at a hearing where the decision was announced, said another trial was necessary to “safeguard the community.” Mr. Gregorie cited some of the violent comments allegedly made by Mr. Batiste, including a threat to “kill all the devils.”

Mr. Winick said that no new evidence was expected, and that this would probably be the last trial for a case that he, some former jurors and other legal scholars have seen as politically driven. The timing in particular has attracted scrutiny because the arrests came just a few months before the 2006 elections, and they were widely publicized by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who outlined the most sensational evidence at a news conference.

Mr. Winick said that by that point, “The plot, to the extent there was a plot at that point, was falling apart,” suggesting that it would have made more sense to continue observing the group, rather than making arrests.

Winning a conviction at this point, he and others said, will be difficult.

“I don’t see it ending any differently than before,” said Mr. Agron, the former juror.

Mr. Winick agreed. “It’s a case where a government informant got a bunch of guys together to swear a loyalty oath to Al Qaeda,” he said. “It’s a B movie really, more than a criminal case.”

Monday, January 26, 2009

no time for poetry

PRESIDENT Obama did not offer his patented poetry in his Inaugural Address. He did not add to his cache of quotations in Bartlett’s. He did not recreate J.F.K.’s inaugural, or Lincoln’s second, or F.D.R.’s first. The great orator was mainly at his best when taking shots at Bush and Cheney, who, in black hat and wheelchair, looked like the misbegotten spawn of the evil Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Such was the judgment of many Washington drama critics. But there’s a reason that this speech was austere, not pretty. Form followed content. Obama wasn’t just rebuking the outgoing administration. He was delicately but unmistakably calling out the rest of us who went along for the ride as America swerved into the dangerous place we find ourselves now.

Feckless as it was for Bush to ask Americans to go shopping after 9/11, we all too enthusiastically followed his lead, whether we were wealthy, working-class or in between. We spent a decade feasting on easy money, don’t-pay-as-you-go consumerism and a metastasizing celebrity culture. We did so while a supposedly cost-free, off-the-books war, usually out of sight and out of mind, helped break the bank along with our nation’s spirit and reputation.

We can’t keep blaming 43 for everything, especially now that we don’t have him to kick around anymore. On Tuesday the new president pointedly widened his indictment beyond the sins of his predecessor. He spoke of those at the economic pinnacle who embraced greed and irresponsibility as well as the rest of us who collaborated in our “collective failure to make hard choices.” He branded as sub-American those who “prefer leisure over work or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.” And he wasn’t just asking Paris Hilton “to set aside childish things.” As Linda Hirshman astutely pointed out on The New Republic’s Web site, even Obama’s opening salutation — “My fellow citizens,” not “fellow Americans” — invoked the civic responsibilities we’ve misplaced en masse.

These themes are not new for Obama. They were there back on Feb. 10, 2007, when, on another frigid day, he announced his presidential candidacy in Springfield, Ill. Citing “our mounting debts” and “hard choices,” he talked of how “each of us, in our own lives, will have to accept responsibility” and “some measure of sacrifice.” His campaign, he said then, “has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship.” But the press, convinced that Obama was a sideshow to the inevitable Clinton-Giuliani presidential standoff, didn’t parse his words all that carefully, and neither did a public still maxing out on its gluttonous holiday from economic history. However inadvertently, Time magazine had captured the self-indulgent tenor of the times when, weeks earlier, it slapped some reflective Mylar on its cover and declared that the 2006 Person of the Year was “You.”
It was in keeping with the unhinged spirit of the boom that three days after Obama’s Springfield declaration, a Wall Street baron, Steven Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group, a private equity and hedge fund, celebrated his 60th birthday with some 350 guests in the vast Seventh Regiment Armory on Manhattan’s East Side. To appreciate the degree of ostentation and taste, you need only know that Rod Stewart was the headliner, at an estimated cost of $1 million.

That same week the National Association of Realtors told less well-heeled Americans not to fret about its report that median home prices had fallen in 73 metro areas during the final quarter of 2006. “The bottom appears to have already occurred,” said one of the N.A.R. economists. Another predicted: “When we get the figures for this spring, I expect to see a discernible improvement in both sales and prices.”
We have discerned what happened to those sales and prices ever since. As for the Blackstone Group, it went public four months after its leader’s 60th birthday revels. Its shares have since lost 85 percent of their value, and Schwarzman’s bash has become a well-worn symbol of our deflated Gilded Age.

Yet the values of the bubble remain entrenched even as Obama takes office. In the upper echelons, we can find fresh examples of greed and irresponsibility daily even without dipping into the growing pool of those money “managers” who spirited victims to Bernie Madoff.

Last week’s object lesson was John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch. He was lionized as a rare Wall Street savior as recently as September, when he helped seal the deal that sped his teetering firm into the safe embrace of Bank of America on the same weekend Lehman Brothers died. Since then we’ve learned that even as he was laying off Merrill employees by the thousands, he was lobbying (unsuccessfully) for a personal bonus as high as $30 million and spending $1.22 million of company cash on refurbishing his office, an instantly notorious $1,405 trashcan included.
Thain resigned on Thursday. Only then did we learn that he doled out billions in secret, last-minute bonuses to his staff last month, just before Bank of America took over and just before the government ponied up a second bailout to cover Merrill’s unexpected $15 billion fourth-quarter loss. So far American taxpayers have spent $45 billion on this mess, and that’s only our down payment.

In less lofty precincts of the American economic spectrum, the numbers may be different but the ethos has often been similar. As Wall Street titans grabbed bonuses based on illusory, short-term paper profits, so regular Americans took on all kinds of debt wildly disproportionate to their assets and income. The nearly $1 trillion in unpaid credit-card balances is now on deck to be the next big crash.
This debt-ridden national binge of greed and irresponsibility washed over our culture not just through the Marie Antoinette antics of a Schwarzman and a Thain but in mass forms of conspicuous consumption and entertainment. Cable networks like Bravo, A&E, TLC and HGTV produced an avalanche of creepy programming catering to the decade’s housing bubble alone — an orgiastic genre that might be called Subprime Pornography. Some of the series — “Flip This House,” “Flip That House,” “Sell This House,” “My House Is Worth What?” — still play on even as more and more house owners are being flipped into destitute homelessness.

The austerity of Obama’s Inaugural Address seemed a tonal corrective to the glitz and the glut. The speech was, as my friend Jack Viertel, a theater producer, put it, “stoic, stern, crafted in slabs of granite, a slimmed-down sinewy thing entirely evolved away from the kind of Pre-Raphaelite style of his earlier oration.” Some of the same critics who once accused Obama of sounding too much like a wimpy purveyor of Kumbaya now faulted him for not rebooting those golden oldies of the campaign trail as he took his oath. But he is no longer campaigning, and the moment for stadium cheers has passed.

If we’ve learned anything since the election, it is this: We have not remotely seen the bottom of this economy, and no one has a silver bullet to arrest the plunge, the hyped brains in the new White House included. Most economists failed to anticipate the disaster, after all, and our tax-challenged incoming Treasury Secretary may prove as evanescent as past saviors du jour. As we applauded Thain in September, we were also desperately trying to convince ourselves that Warren Buffett’s $5 billion investment in Goldman Sachs would turn the tide, and that Hank Paulson, as Newsweek wrote in a cover story titled “King Henry,” would be the “right man at the right time.”

Obama couldn’t give us F.D.R.’s first inaugural address because we are not yet where America was in 1933 — in its fourth year of downturn after the crash of ’29, with an unemployment rate of 25 percent. But no one knows for sure that we cannot end up there.

On Tuesday, our new president did offer one subtle whiff of the Great Depression. His injunction that “we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off” was a paraphrase of the great songwriter Dorothy Fields, who wrote that lyric for “Swing Time” (1936), arguably the best of the escapist musicals Hollywood churned out to lift the nation’s spirits in hard times. But Obama yoked that light-hearted evocation of Astaire and Rogers to a call for sacrifice that was deliberately somber, not radiantly Kennedyesque.

That call included the obligatory salutes to those who serve by parenting, firefighting or helping strangers when natural disaster strikes. But he also cited one less generic example: “workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job.” There will be — there must be — far larger sacrifices in that vein yet to come. No one truly listening to the Inaugural Address could doubt that this former community organizer intends to demand plenty from us as we face down what he calls “raging storms.”

Last weekend, Bob Woodward wrote an article for The Washington Post listing all the lessons the new president can learn from his predecessor’s many blunders. But what have we learned from our huge mistakes during the Bush years? While it’s become a Beltway cliché that America’s new young president has yet to be tested, it is past time for us to realize that our own test is also about to begin.

off with his head

  詩人龔自珍《詠史》詩中嘆息說:「避席畏聞文字獄,著書只為稻粱謀。」 反映文人做文章只為謀生,提及文字獄,就談虎色變。

a famous example of "word hell:" during the reign of emperor Yongzheng (18th c), a province-level examination official, in charge of administering civil service exams, put in a question using a quote from the ancient Shijing (Poetry Classic). 維民所止. the emperor's name is雍正. notice, the first and last characters of the four character quotation, resemble the name of the emperor -- but they are without the top section, the little "hat" or "roof" to the characters. the story goes that this official's enemies used this test question as evidence to the court that he wanted Yongzheng's head chopped off!

i think the real history is more complex than that. but this example of "word hell" has become a part of the folklore around the political risks of writing characters. . .

"word hell"


"word hell" (wenzi diyu), or more accurately, "(chinese) character hell," is an interesting term describing getting into political or legal trouble for writing words that can be misconstrued as an attack on a leader. in the Qing dynasty, there was a charming old saying, "the clean wind cannot read; why, then, are you (the wind) turning the pages of my book?" the character "qing," or "clean," was also the name of the Qing dynasty: hence, the saying could be misconstrued as a veiled attack on the non-Han Chinese Qing authority. the blogger i quote above goes on to give a more modern example (cut off by my bad pasting skills). during the Cultural Revolution of the 60s and 70s, in some places traffic lights switched the red and green lights. "red," with its positive revolutionary meaning, was to indicate "go," and "green" was to mean "stop." i had never heard of this, but some pretty absurd things happened during those times.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Theories about the source of the word are:-

Abracadabra - I create as I speak
A possible source is Aramaic: אברא כדברא avra kehdabra which means "I will create as I speak".

Abracadabra - The curse and the pestilence
There is the view that Abracadabra derives from the Hebrew, ha-brachah, meaning "the blessing" (used in this sense as a euphemism for "the curse") and dabra, an Aramaic form of the Hebrew word dever, meaning "pestilence." They point to a similar kabbalistic cure for blindness, in which the name of Shabriri, the demon of blindness, is similarly diminished. Other scholars are skeptical of this origin and claim that the idea of diminishing the power of demons was common throughout the ancient world, and that Abracadabra was simply the name of one such demon.

Abracadabra - Father Son Holy Spirit
Some point to the Hebrew words av ("father"), ben ("son"), and ruakh hakodesh ("the holy spirit").

Abracadabra - Disappear like this word
Some have argued that the term may come from the Aramaic abhadda kedhabhra, meaning 'disappear like this word'. Rather than being used as a curse, the Aramaic phrase is believed to have been used as a means of treating illness.

Abracadabra - Abraxas
It has also been claimed that the word comes from Abraxas, a Gnostic word for God (the source of 365 emanations, apparently the Greek letters for Abraxas add up to 365 when deciphered according to numerological methods). It has also been claimed to come from Abracalan (or Aracalan), said to have been both a Syrian god and a Jewish magical symbol.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

ali abunimah

the writer wrote a book recently on the "one state solution"; this is the second half of an essay he put on the "electronic intifada" website.

Israel was founded as a "Jewish state" through the ethnic cleansing of Palestine's non-Jewish majority Arab population. It has been maintained in existence only through Western support and constant use of violence to prevent the surviving indigenous population from exercising political rights within the country, or returning from forced exile.

Despite this, today, 50 percent of the people living under Israeli rule in historic Palestine (Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip) are Palestinians, not Jews. And their numbers are growing rapidly. Like Nationalists in Northern Ireland or non-whites in South Africa, Palestinians will never recognize the "right" of a settler-colonial society to maintain an ethnocractic state at their expense through violence, repression and racism.

For years, the goal of the so-called peace process was to normalize Israel as a "Jewish state" and gain Palestinians' blessing for their own dispossession and subjugation. When this failed, Israel tried "disengagement" in Gaza -- essentially a ruse to convince the rest of the world that the 1.5 million Palestinians caged in there should no longer be counted as part of the population. They were in Israel's definition a "hostile entity."

In his notorious May 2004 interview with The Jerusalem Post, Arnon Soffer, an architect of the 2005 disengagement explained that the approach "doesn't guarantee 'peace,' it guarantees a Jewish- Zionist state with an overwhelming majority of Jews." Soffer predicted that in the future "when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful."

He was unambiguous about what Israel would have to do to maintain this status quo: "If we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day." Soffer hoped that eventually, Palestinians would give up and leave Gaza altogether.

Through their resistance, steadfastness and sacrifice, Palestinians in Gaza have defeated this policy and reasserted that they are an inseparable part of Palestine, its people, its history and its future.

Israel is not the first settler-colonial entity to find itself in this position. When F.W. de Klerk, South Africa's last apartheid president, came to office in 1989, his generals calculated that solely with the overwhelming military force at their disposal, they could keep the regime in power for at least a decade. The casualties, however, would have run into hundreds of thousands, and South Africa would face ever greater isolation. Confronted with this reality, de Klerk took the decision to begin an orderly dismantling of apartheid.

What choice will Israel make? In the absence of any political and moral legitimacy the only arguments it has left are bullets and bombs. Left to its own devices Israel will certainly keep trying -- as it has for sixty years -- to massacre Palestinians into submission. Israel's achievement has been to make South Africa's apartheid leaders look wise, restrained and humane by comparison.

But what prevented South Africa's white supremacist government from escalating their own violence to Israeli levels of cruelty and audacity was not that they had greater scruples than the Zionist regime. It was recognition that they alone could not stand against a global anti-apartheid movement that was in solidarity with the internal resistance.

Israel's "military deterrent" has now been repeatedly discredited as a means to force Palestinians and other Arabs to accept Zionist supremacy as inevitable and permanent. Now, the other pillar of Israeli power -- Western support and complicity -- is starting to crack. We must do all we can to push it over.

Israel began its massacres with full support from its Western "friends." Then something amazing happened. Despite the official statements of support, despite the media censorship, despite the slick Israeli hasbara (propaganda) campaign, there was a massive, unprecedented public mobilization in Europe and even in North America expressing outrage and disgust.

Gaza will likely be seen as the turning point when Israeli propaganda lost its power to mystify, silence and intimidate as it has for so long. Even the Nazi Holocaust, long deployed by Zionists to silence Israel's critics, is becoming a liability; once unimaginable comparisons are now routinely heard. Jewish and Palestinian academics likened Israel's actions in Gaza to the Nazi massacre in the Warsaw Ghetto. A Vatican cardinal referred to Gaza as a "giant concentration camp." UK Member of Parliament Gerald Kaufman, once a staunch Zionist, told the House of Commons, "My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town of Staszow, [Poland]. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed." Kaufman continued, "my grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza." He denounced the Israeli military spokesperson's justifications as the words "of a Nazi."

It wasn't only such statements, but the enormous demonstrations, the nonviolent direct actions, and the unprecedented expressions of support for boycott, divestment and sanctions from major trade unions in Italy, Canada and New Zealand. An all-party group of city councillors in Birmingham, Europe's second largest municipal government, urged the UK government to follow suit. Salma Yaqoub of the RESPECT Party explained that "One of the factors that helped bring an end to the brutal apartheid regime in South Africa was international pressure for economic, sporting and cultural boycotts. It is time that Israel started to feel similar pressure from world opinion."

Israel, its true nature as failed, brutal colonial project laid bare in Gaza, is extremely vulnerable to such a campaign. Little noticed amidst the carnage in Gaza, Israel took another momentous step towards formal apartheid when the Knesset elections committee voted to ban Arab parties from participating in upcoming elections. Zionism, an ideology of racial supremacy, extremism and hate, is a dying project, in retreat and failing to find new recruits. With enough pressure, and relatively quickly, Israelis too would likely produce their own de Klerk ready to negotiate a way out. Every new massacre makes it harder, but a de-zionized, decolonized, reintegrated Palestine affording equal rights to all who live in it, regardless of religion or ethnicity, and return for refugees is not a utopian dream.

It is within reach, in our lifetimes. But it is far from inevitable. We can be sure that Western and Arab governments will continue to support Israeli apartheid and Palestinian collaboration under the guise of the "peace process" unless decisively challenged. Israeli massacres will continue and escalate until the nightmare of an Israeli- style "peace" -- apartheid and further ethnic cleansing -- is fulfilled.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

franklin's hat

i loved aretha franklin's hat. who will forget it? it was flamboyant and stylish. and as for her singing, well, i saw some nasty (and racist) comments on youtube about her "lousy" voice and how she is eating too much fried chicken. these commenters just want to be mean. they probably do not yet realize that when they are old, their voices (and bodies) will be not at all like they are now as they type nasty comments onto websites.

i was well aware her voice was straining, struggling, cracking: but i was not listening only physically, but with the heart. the rapturous emotion breaking through the refrains of "let freedom ring, let it ring," and the sight of her, head back toward the sun, arms out -- man, it gave me goosebumps. it was unalloyed joy, maybe the only expression of it coming off that ceremonial platform.

volumetric eating??

or is that just a fancy name for something very simple? a week or so ago i caught sanjay gupta on CNN telling an anchor about a new healthy eating concept called "volumetric eating." no doubt a writer somewhere had come up with the term to make some money out of what was once a mother's advice: don't stuff yourself!!

to back up this "theory," and to add a dash of the exotic to this scientific brew, gupta described the japanese concept of "sohara hachibu," which he translated as "80% full."

i had to laugh. my taiwanese mother in law lives by this very maxim, in chinese, "bafen bao." who would have thought that this prosaic but sensible guide to eating would become "volumetric eating"?

i would call this whole process of re-packaging and exoticizing "volumetric verbiage." and it is all driven by the profit motive. after all, if gupta just gets on TV and says something as sensible as "don't eat too much," well, who is gonna watch? people are going to be either annoyed or bored, or both. but with the mysterious "sohara hachibu," a nagging reminder is magically transformed into an ethereal eastern philosophy.

volumetric my arse!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

ghost and mrs. muir

i heard two words in this movie, words my parents used and still use: fiddlesticks (mom) and blasted (dad).

one dictionary has fiddlesticks used as an interjection, or to refer to something trivial, beginning in 1621.

both can be replacements for stronger curse words. although in the movie the ghost's use of "blast" and "blasted" (blast your eyes!) scandalizes mrs. muir and her servant. eventually, of course, the lady herself uses the word.

another note: caterpillar comes from an old French word meaning "hairy cat." the Latin is "catta" "pilosus" (cat - hair), the old French is "chatepelose."

a hairy cat?

alien words

what do the words in the little story below have in common (regarding their origin)?

a giraffe's lackey lay on a crimson sofa, eating sherbet with syrup and artichokes and cumin candy. he sipped an elixir, which he found just average, flipped through a magazine, and watched a great fanfare on the street outside. then he called his broker.

they all come from arabic, most by way of spanish. yesterday in the bookstore i came across an amusing book of arab and arabic roots in american culture entitled "al' america." the front cover is a doll, a shriner in his little car, with a fez on his head.

the reference he uses in the language section is "The Arabic Contributions to the English Language."

some of the etymologies are torturous and uncertain. "broker," for example, is traced from the arabic "al-buruq," meaning gift or gratuity, into spanish "alboroque," French "albrocador," "broucour," northern French "broquier," which apparently meant "to tap a keg," and then across the channel into english. what does tapping a keg have to do with performing a service for money?

inauguration day

watching the ritual proceedings on CNN at the Guilford Library, with a hundred other people, mostly older women, was a powerful experience. but seeing the sea of tiny flags fluttering in the shimmering distance of the Mall made me wish i were there. i had toyed with the idea the night before: to leave at 3 am and drive to an outlying metro station, or somewhere i could park and ride a bike in. but sara has been unwell. and when i researched the traffic situation online it looked so daunting -- what if i could not find anywhere to park? what if i could not find the commuter bus stops in maryland? so i gave up.

cheney in a wheelchair was somehow so fitting -- sinister and pathetic at the same time.

malia holding up her camera, filming intently, made us all smile. frankly, it is probably a good way for her to deal with the madness she is engulfed in.

CNN showed shots of crowds watching the event in other cities. we saw a middle aged woman in pasadena contemplating the screen, when suddenly her face jumped with surprise. we realized she had seen her own face, and everyone laughed.

elizabeth alexander's poem was weak, unfortunately. it was soft, prosaic. i had looked forward to having a poem read.

i did not like obama's hard, "we will defeat you" refrain. why do a couple of thousand terrorists merit such attention in our national moment? china has 1.4 billion people, and they did not get the privilege of such an exclusive address. unfortunately, obama is putting on the "war on terror" rhetoric, not uncritically, but putting it on nonetheless. it is an armor in a fake war that will drag him down.

the reverend Lowery's benediction was great, especially the final, rhymed refrain about the various races: about black not having to "get back," about yellow being "mellow," brown "sticking around," and about white "doing what's right." it was good to laugh after ritual so weighty the chief justice fumbled the oath of office.

warren's prayer was well-spoken and soaring, though i too objected to his choice to give the prayer. i thought his enunciation of jesus' name in different languages (hebrew, arabic, spanish) was good.

most of the time i dwelled on the Obama's beautiful faces, glowing in the sun. most of all i enjoyed obama's postures of reflection: eyes closed or almost so, hearing the music wash over him, a subtle smile spreading, but mouth still set, stern, focused. thank god (and gods) that we have a serious person in the white house, one not afraid to think and challenge -- even himself. one who knows that words matter, or should matter.

bush was not a megalomaniac, which some conservative bloggers on red claim leftists are saying. far from it. he was a small, insecure person with no ideas and no courage, clinging to existing structures and puffing himself up by standing atop them. remember his puffed-up walk on the deck of the carrier he landed on early in the iraq war? his arrogance was a function of his weakness and ignorance.

". . and unbelievers."

this one word, "unbelievers," included in obama's inaugural address, was important for the many americans like myself who do not participate in organized religion, or even believe in god. this country cannot persist in equating full citizenship with engaging in religion. an atheist or agnostic could never be elected president, which is sad. so i was glad to hear this one small word today, a tiny acknowledgement that being american is about something other than being religious. it may include being religious to many people, but it cannot be only that.

of course, the "un-" prefix makes this word a negative definition: unbelievers are identified as people who do not believe.

unbeliever can be a synonym for "infidel." in this speech's context, it simply meant "non-religious," however.

but i do believe. i believe in democracy and the courage to confront hard realities. i believe in beauty and in people. my gods are many and diverse.

Monday, January 19, 2009

inauguration poem

At a certain height language cuts out
jet engines go dead
only a niggling plastic squeak
tells us we are still moving,
too high even for wind --
the crew listens nonetheless, wondering;

conversation among The Great,
The Deciders, Honchos in pilot get-up,
strapped atop machines of state
(with their own trajectories)
is mundanities, mundanities all:

when the engines die and things shudder
poetry still serves, useless
bloody wings spill
from luggage compartments,
their tendrils piercing shoulders,
squirming inside,
entwining with your bones for the
break-up of the craft, the jerk, the
screams, roar, cold air,
fighting free, bits, scraps, syllables, socks
whipping and lashing.

When words grip your shoulder blades
and force you up, flapping,
dignity gone, desperate --
poetry has struck.

1-19-2009 Madison, Connecticut

Sunday, January 18, 2009

bimbo etymology

1919, "fellow, chap," from It. variant of bambino "baby," first in Italian-accented theater dialogue. Originally especially "stupid, inconsequential man, contemptible person;" by 1920 the sense of "floozie" had developed (popularized by "Variety" staffer Jack Conway, d.1928). Resurrection during 1980s U.S. sex scandals led to derivatives including dim. bimbette (1990) and male form himbo (1988).


and where did this word go between the 20s and the 80s? how does a word get "resurrected" all of a sudden? by comedians? newspaper writers? even following a word's origins, we are left with even more questions.

Friday, January 16, 2009

chopstick etymology

1699, sailors' partial translation of Chinese k'wai tse "fast ones" or "nimble boys," first element from pidgin Eng. chop, from Cantonese kap "urgent." Chopsticks, the two-fingered piano exercise, is first attested 1893, probably from the resemblance of the fingers to chopsticks.

to explain more clearly: english sailors heard the cantonese word "kap" (fast), and spoke it as "chop," a chinese-english pidgin word. i don't know if they learned this word on its own and then applied it to "chopsticks," or they learned it through "chopsticks" first.

even now, one occasionally hears someone say "chop chop!" to mean "hurry up." well, ok, i am not sure when i have heard that said -- but somewhere. . .hm, was it "flower drum song," the musical from the 50s? Anyway, it entered my brain somewhere, somehow.

Monday, January 12, 2009


last night we watched casablanca. the city of the "blue parrot" and "rick's" cafe is such a charming place, humming with the voices of european refugees and colonial officials. we even saw a couple at the gambling table speaking cantonese -- though i could not figure out how they might have gotten there, unless they were doing business in europe. how charming, to be on the run but still fashionable, melancholy, and privileged.

moroccans only appear as background; taxi driver is a fairly generous part for them. the biggest speaking part for a local person is the shyster selling lace shawls to ingrid bergman outside the cafe.

i had to laugh at the police commander's last line of the film, as he and Rick are walking down the runway: i hear there is a free french garrison in brazzaville. the unfree colony is still loyally working to free the oppressor!

i wonder if any moroccan filmmaker had tried re-doing casablanca from another angle -- like gosford's park, showing the people behind the scenes of the ruling class' crises.

charming nonetheless.

Friday, January 9, 2009

dissertation blues

i distribute the thing to my committee members next week -- one month short of 3 years after i arrived back in this country from fieldwork in china. 3 years is far too long for a thing this pitiful, this destined for obscurity.

a few days ago my only breath of outside air occurred after lunch, when i stepped outdoors for about five seconds to toss the seeds from the cantelope we had had for lunch out onto the frozen grass, for squirrels to eat.

i am going mad.

rashid khalidi

What You Don’t Know About Gaza

NEARLY everything you’ve been led to believe about Gaza is wrong. Below are a few essential points that seem to be missing from the conversation, much of which has taken place in the press, about Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip.

THE GAZANS Most of the people living in Gaza are not there by choice. The majority of the 1.5 million people crammed into the roughly 140 square miles of the Gaza Strip belong to families that came from towns and villages outside Gaza like Ashkelon and Beersheba. They were driven to Gaza by the Israeli Army in 1948.

THE OCCUPATION The Gazans have lived under Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel is still widely considered to be an occupying power, even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005. Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out. Israel has control over Gaza’s air space and sea coast, and its forces enter the area at will. As the occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

THE BLOCKADE Israel’s blockade of the strip, with the support of the United States and the European Union, has grown increasingly stringent since Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006. Fuel, electricity, imports, exports and the movement of people in and out of the Strip have been slowly choked off, leading to life-threatening problems of sanitation, health, water supply and transportation.

The blockade has subjected many to unemployment, penury and malnutrition. This amounts to the collective punishment — with the tacit support of the United States — of a civilian population for exercising its democratic rights.

THE CEASE-FIRE Lifting the blockade, along with a cessation of rocket fire, was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. This accord led to a reduction in rockets fired from Gaza from hundreds in May and June to a total of less than 20 in the subsequent four months (according to Israeli government figures). The cease-fire broke down when Israeli forces launched major air and ground attacks in early November; six Hamas operatives were reported killed.

WAR CRIMES The targeting of civilians, whether by Hamas or by Israel, is potentially a war crime. Every human life is precious. But the numbers speak for themselves: Nearly 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since the conflict broke out at the end of last year. In contrast, there have been around a dozen Israelis killed, many of them soldiers. Negotiation is a much more effective way to deal with rockets and other forms of violence. This might have been able to happen had Israel fulfilled the terms of the June cease-fire and lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about “restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”

Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia, is the author of the forthcoming “Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

they call this "fighting"?

today's new york times headline: "gaza children found beside dead mothers."
representatives from the International Red Cross found four children next to their dead mothers in a house in gaza. the children were too weak to stand.

why does the news media persist in reporting that "the fighting continued today for a ---th day in Gaza"?

its a massacre. not an operation. not fighting. not an incursion.

Monday, January 5, 2009

chrysler's end: style

by brother-in-law, wayne, who consults for car manufacturers, gave me some interesting insights into the car companies' troubles. the basic answer is that detroit gave up long ago on plowing money into research and development.

he said all three companies in recent years had begun reaching out for stylistic answers to essentially structural problems. this attempt is only a rather late conversion to the stupid "brand image is everything" mantra that began in the 1990s, and which is obviously a product of the capital bubble(s) that have been distorting not just markets but brains for several decades.

he said chrysler was the most obvious to fall for this approach. it had some success with cars like this -- they were boldly designed, they grabbed attention. i remember last year thinking these cars looked good. but apparently, according to wayne, people pay attention to the car but not many buy it. it has become a niche seller, the niche being black urban men -- a toxic demographic to most companies, unless the company is trying to appropriate urban black cool.

icy harlem

a new year's morning

in jimmies, baltimore

christmas eve, mom and scott.

msnbc, zionist cheerleader?

the US government's (failed) strategy is to hurt the people of Gaza (mainly through Israeli state terror) so much that they turn on Hamas and accept a "moderate" leadership. "moderate" means, in US news-speak, that these leaders are ready and willing to betray the interests of their own people to make the US government happy. the palestinian authority leadership fits this bill. therefore, the US has sought to use collective punishment against gazans to get them to fall into the arms of the corrupt group it once railed against (when arafat led it).

frankly, issues of morality aside, this strategy is really really stupid. does anyone really believe that gazans don't know that it is israel and the US blockading and bombing gaza? and don't they know that the "palestinian authority" is simply a puppet of these two enemies? why, therefore, would any gazan with a brain in his or her body decide that salvation lies with the enemy? or even the friend of the enemy?

in line with US government strategy, all the mainstream media reports accordingly. even if the story is ostensibly on gaza's hospitals filling up with wounded or on israeli invasion ("incursion"), the aim is always to justify, or attempt to justify, american and israeli strategy. or at the very least take the edge of a story about palestinian suffering by "balancing" it with a story on nerve-wracked israelis and their sirens and shelters. below i discussed CNN anchor eric harris' macho effort to tack on a pro-israel ending to what was a horrible story of gaza's plight. here i discuss another attempt, taken totally at random (after all, any time one listens to either msnbc or cnn anchors or reporters on this issue, the same cons show up). the anchor is Alex Witt of MSNBC. i saw her at about 9:30 am, Sunday January 5th.

she asked the al-jazeera reporter, "obviously nobody wants to be engulfed in chaos, but. .is there any kind of split in how people feel about this?"

the al-jazeera reporter answered that of course gazans had a diversity of opinions, but after all, the force of reality (and bombs) was pushing them to line up behind hamas -- a reaction which a fool could predict.

witt then asked more explicitly: "ideologically, are people one hundred percent behind hamas?"

in short, what was happening in gaza (ie, the news, it used to be called) was secondary to this US fantasy narrative about gazans opening their eyes to their tormentors (israel, the US) and seeing the error of their naughty wish for national independence and sovereignty in the pre-1967 borders.

to think that her opening statement should be "nobody wants to be engulfed in chaos" but not "nobody wants to be invaded" is amazing. in fact, this statement of hers was simply a dismissal of this (israeli-made) chaos in favor of her real point: were gazans ready to desert hamas already and let the US and israel show them how to be civilized?

her wording in that first exchange was opaque and vague to the point of meaninglessness, but the al-jazeera fellow was sharp enough to know what she (and all US anchors) are after, and answered accordingly. i mean, on the surface of her question, it seems as if she is asking if there is a "split" in how people are feeling about the "chaos" -- ie, are some of them enjoying it and some not? are there some that like it with ranch and some with italian?

one does not have to look like an extremist to be a proponent and justifier of invasion. one need only look like affable, intellectually lightweight, george bush -- or msnbc anchor alex witt, who probably thinks of herself as a good person because she is nice to her kids and husband and tips well at restaurants.

but without critical thinking skills, one gets so easily duped by the state's orwellian language. we have to kill palestinians to save them. where have we heard this logic before?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Obama and audacity. . .

Below is a good post by Jonathan Schwartz, from Tom Tomorrow's blog.

From a New Yorker profile of Obama in 2007:

A potential crisis in the Social Security system is a long way off. Why, then, would a new President spend political capital on yet another tax hike when he will almost certainly seek to undo the Bush tax cuts for more immediate demands, like universal health care? When I asked Obama about this, he smiled and leaned forward, as if eager to explain that my premise was precisely the politically calibrated approach that he wanted to challenge. “What I think you’re asserting is that it makes sense for us to continue hiding the ball,” Obama said, “and not tell the American people the truth—”

I interrupted: “Politically it makes sense—”

He finished the sentence: “—to not tell people what we really think?”

And this is Ali Abunimah, also writing in 2007:

Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker….

The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.” He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, “Keep up the good work!”

How completely predictable that Obama is eager to say what he “really thinks” when (1) what he “really thinks” is inaccurate and (2) it serves political power, but is not eager to do so when (3) what he “really thinks” is accurate and (4) it requires confronting political power. (Of course, god only knows what Obama truly believes about Israel/Palestine at this point.)

Tony Harris, CNN anchor

Harris is not any more biased than the other CNN anchors, but his tone and language is clearly pro-Israel -- which, in this case, means he attempts to justify their military attacks and killings. below is part of the transcript from his Jan. 1 interview of NYT correspondent El-Khodary. the first detail is his casual use of the word "take out" to describe an israeli assassination that also killed numerous civilians. this is a less-conscious sort of justification. the second point, more explicit, is further down where, after El-Khodary gives what he considers too much information regarding the massacre of civilians, he uses a prosecutorial, patronizing tone, cross-examining her, pushing her to give a "yes or no answer." it is as if she is an enemy sympathizer who is unwilling to present the "facts" justifying israeli acts, and he is the tough-minded, american man who must make her 'fess up. i marked the two parts in bold. even though el-khodary gets excoriated by arab media for her fawning, pro-israel tone (see "angry arab news service" where she is described as the "token arab"), clearly the facts she related that morning reflected a little too negatively on israel for harris' tastes.

But right now let's get you to Gaza right now.

"New York Times" correspondent Taghreed El-Khodary is back with us. She was with us, as you'll recall, yesterday.

And it's good to see you again.

Thanks for your time again.

As we recap this story, obviously, an Israeli missile struck the home of a top Hamas military commander. If you can tell us who he was and how important he was to Hamas and the significance of him being taken out by the IDF.

TAGHREED EL-KHODARY, "NEW YORK TIMES": Nizar Rayyan, 48, was very important in Hamas, especially in the military wing of Hamas. For him, he wanted to stay home. He knew he is a target -- a big target, a big number in Israel to -- and Israel will be delighted now that they killed him. But he decided to die. And when I asked many Kassam guys today, what do you think -- that he risked his life, he knew he was wanted.

Why did he stay with his family -- with his wife and kids?

Why did he do that?

And they said that he always wanted to die as a martyr. Last time I interviewed him, he showed me his dissertation. He did his Ph.D. In Sudan and it was about martyrdom. And he collected all the Prophet Muhammad's sayings in regards to this topic.

The thing is, he is very important for the Kassam, especially in the north area. And it will be a loss.

But the question is, Israel killed a leader -- a Kassam leader -- during the second intifada. But it was not the end of Hamas after the second intifada, Hamas won the election.

And for many Kassam guys, this guy decided to die as a martyr. He didn't want to evacuate his house out of fear.

You can hear the bombing right now. Israel is striking again. We don't know when, but just now I heard an explosion. And that's why I have...

HARRIS: No, no. I understand. And, again, if you feel unsafe, just -- just leave. You're encouraged to do that. There have been several other Israeli...

EL-KHODARY: In regard...

HARRIS: No, go ahead.

EL-KHODARY: No in regard, also, to the Kassam guy who was killed today, Nizar Rayyan, he was again evacuating his house. And many times, Israel is certain to bomb many other houses.

And what did he do?

He employed all the Kassam members and he went and he stationed on the roof. For him, someone -- a friend of his says, for him, it could be a surrender -- a failure.


EL-KHODARY: It's a matter of principle to die in your house and to die as a martyr. This is the culture among the Kassam guys here.

HARRIS: I see.

EL-KHODARY: So for them, it may be strengthening them. And for Israel, he is someone that they killed and it's a target, but it's not the end of the military wing of Kassam.

HARRIS: All right. I have one more quick question that I want to put to you. There have been several other Israeli air strikes on this particular refugee camp, as we're seeing the pictures now. If you would, describe that camp and why the Israelis consider this a legitimate target, despite the fact that women and children are obviously living there.

EL-KHODARY: Israel -- last night, what did they hit?

They strike the parliament -- people's place. They also strike -- they bombed the ministry of justice, which is adjacent to the minister of education. The minister of education is completely now destroyed, too. And many institutions -- the specific infrastructure is completely destroyed.

These are not Hamas targets. And the mood today when I spoke to many people, what do you think?

They say, after six days, it's now becoming clear that this is war against the people against the people -- against the citizens of Gaza. It's not war against Hamas, because Israel is targeting civic infrastructure...

HARRIS: I understand...

EL-KHODARY: When it comes to the refugee camp, Jabalya, it's in the north. They fire rockets from the north toward Israel. And the Kassam succeeded in firing rockets toward Israel. But many kids are killed when Israel retaliates, when Israel decides to bomb a house of a military guy...

HARRIS: I understand...

EL-KHODARY: the Kassam...

HARRIS: Let me ask

EL-KHODARY: ...the...

HARRIS: Let me ask a very...

EL-KHODARY: ...and his house is adjacent to many civilians.


But let me ask a very simple question that requires, in this case, a simple answer.

Are Hamas rockets being fired from within the walls of this refugee camp, yes or no?

EL-KHODARY: Yes, they do. Yes.


EL-KHODARY: And I asked one of the senior leaders, why do you fire the rockets from residential neighborhood?

Why do you fire rockets from women?

And this is the answer -- no other choice. Gaza is the size of Detroit. And 1.5 million live here where there are no places for them to fire from them but from among the population. So...


EL-KHODARY: ...this is the frustration. And it's a challenge and they are taking it.

HARRIS: "New York Times" correspondent Taghreed el-Khodary with us again.

And we appreciate your time.

Thank you so much for your reporting.

And, again, as always, stay safe.

Friday, January 2, 2009

GOP's 40-year strategy

This is Paul Krugman's latest column on the GOP's strategy of "racial backlash," and where it has led the country.

As the new Democratic majority prepares to take power, Republicans have become, as Phil Gramm might put it, a party of whiners.

Some of the whining almost defies belief. Did Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general, really say, “I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror”? Did Rush Limbaugh really suggest that the financial crisis was the result of a conspiracy, masterminded by that evil genius Chuck Schumer?

But most of the whining takes the form of claims that the Bush administration’s failure was simply a matter of bad luck — either the bad luck of President Bush himself, who just happened to have disasters happen on his watch, or the bad luck of the G.O.P., which just happened to send the wrong man to the White House.

The fault, however, lies not in Republicans’ stars but in themselves. Forty years ago the G.O.P. decided, in effect, to make itself the party of racial backlash. And everything that has happened in recent years, from the choice of Mr. Bush as the party’s champion, to the Bush administration’s pervasive incompetence, to the party’s shrinking base, is a consequence of that decision.

If the Bush administration became a byword for policy bungles, for government by the unqualified, well, it was just following the advice of leading conservative think tanks: after the 2000 election the Heritage Foundation specifically urged the new team to “make appointments based on loyalty first and expertise second.”

Contempt for expertise, in turn, rested on contempt for government in general. “Government is not the solution to our problem,” declared Ronald Reagan. “Government is the problem.” So why worry about governing well?

Where did this hostility to government come from? In 1981 Lee Atwater, the famed Republican political consultant, explained the evolution of the G.O.P.’s “Southern strategy,” which originally focused on opposition to the Voting Rights Act but eventually took a more coded form: “You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites.” In other words, government is the problem because it takes your money and gives it to Those People.

Oh, and the racial element isn’t all that abstract, even now: Chip Saltsman, currently a candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, sent committee members a CD including a song titled “Barack the Magic Negro” — and according to some reports, the controversy over his action has actually helped his chances.

So the reign of George W. Bush, the first true Southern Republican president since Reconstruction, was the culmination of a long process. And despite the claims of some on the right that Mr. Bush betrayed conservatism, the truth is that he faithfully carried out both his party’s divisive tactics — long before Sarah Palin, Mr. Bush declared that he visited his ranch to “stay in touch with real Americans” — and its governing philosophy.

That’s why the soon-to-be-gone administration’s failure is bigger than Mr. Bush himself: it represents the end of the line for a political strategy that dominated the scene for more than a generation.

The reality of this strategy’s collapse has not, I believe, fully sunk in with some observers. Thus, some commentators warning President-elect Barack Obama against bold action have held up Bill Clinton’s political failures in his first two years as a cautionary tale.

But America in 1993 was a very different country — not just a country that had yet to see what happens when conservatives control all three branches of government, but also a country in which Democratic control of Congress depended on the votes of Southern conservatives. Today, Republicans have taken away almost all those Southern votes — and lost the rest of the country. It was a grand ride for a while, but in the end the Southern strategy led the G.O.P. into a cul-de-sac.

Mr. Obama therefore has room to be bold. If Republicans try a 1993-style strategy of attacking him for promoting big government, they’ll learn two things: not only has the financial crisis discredited their economic theories, the racial subtext of anti-government rhetoric doesn’t play the way it used to.

Will the Republicans eventually stage a comeback? Yes, of course. But barring some huge missteps by Mr. Obama, that will not happen until they stop whining and look at what really went wrong. And when they do, they will discover that they need to get in touch with the real “real America,” a country that is more diverse, more tolerant, and more demanding of effective government than is dreamt of in their political philosophy.


here is how Palin described the job of the vice president in 2008:

...a Vice President has a really great job, because no only are they there to support the President agenda, they're like a team member, the team mate to that President. But also, they're in charge of the United States Senate, so if they want to they can really get in there with the Senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom. And it's a great job and I look forward to having that job.

And during the vice presidential debate -- she was asked to describe the role of the vice president, and this was one of her two answers:

Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we'll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation.

Q: One of the things you talked about last night was the flexibility the vice president has-- PALIN: Yeah.
Q: --Uh. What did you mean by that?

PALIN: Uh. That thankfully our founders were wise enough to say we have this position and it's constitutional -- vice president will be able to be not only the position flexible, but it's gonna be those other duties as assigned by the president. A simple thing.

on gaza (2)

i excerpt the following from Richard Falk, writing on the Huffington Post.

As always in relation to the underlying conflict, some facts bearing on this latest crisis are murky and contested, although the American public in particular gets 99% of its information filtered through an exceedingly pro-Israeli media lens. Hamas is blamed for the breakdown of the truce by its supposed unwillingness to renew it, and by the alleged increased incidence of rocket attacks. But the reality is more clouded. There was no substantial rocket fire from Gaza during the ceasefire until Israel launched an attack last November 4th directed at what it claimed were Palestinian militants in Gaza, killing several Palestinians. It was at this point that rocket fire from Gaza intensified. Also, it was Hamas that on numerous public occasions called for extending the truce, with its calls never acknowledged, much less acted upon, by Israeli officialdom. Beyond this, attributing all the rockets to Hamas is not convincing either. A variety of independent militia groups operate in Gaza, some such as the Fatah-backed al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade are anti-Hamas, and may even be sending rockets to provoke or justify Israeli retaliation. It is well confirmed that when US-supported Fatah controlled Gaza's governing structure it was unable to stop rocket attacks despite a concerted effort to do so.

What this background suggests strongly is that Israel launched its devastating attacks, starting on December 27, not simply to stop the rockets or in retaliation, but also for a series of unacknowledged reasons. It was evident for several weeks prior to the Israeli attacks that the Israeli military and political leaders were preparing the public for large-scale military operations against the Hamas. The timing of the attacks seemed prompted by a series of considerations: most of all, the interest of political contenders, the Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in demonstrating their toughness prior to national elections scheduled for February, but now possibly postponed until military operations cease. Such Israeli shows of force have been a feature of past Israeli election campaigns, and on this occasion especially, the current government was being successfully challenged by Israel's notoriously militarist politician, Benjamin Netanyahu, for its supposed failures to uphold security. Reinforcing these electoral motivations was the little concealed pressure from the Israeli military commanders to seize the opportunity in Gaza to erase the memories of their failure to destroy Hezbollah in the devastating Lebanon War of 2006 that both tarnished Israel's reputation as a military power and led to widespread international condemnation of Israel for the heavy bombardment of undefended Lebanese villages, disproportionate force, and extensive use of cluster bombs against heavily populated areas.

Respected and conservative Israeli commentators go further. For instance, the prominent historian, Benny Morris writing in the New York Times a few days ago, relates the campaign in Gaza to a deeper set of forebodings in Israel that he compares to the dark mood of the public that preceded the 1967 War when Israelis felt deeply threatened by Arab mobilizations on their borders. Morris insists that despite Israeli prosperity of recent years, and relative security, several factors have led Israel to act boldly in Gaza: the perceived continuing refusal of the Arab world to accept the existence of Israel as an established reality; the inflammatory threats voiced by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad together with Iran's supposed push to acquire nuclear weapons, the fading memory of the Holocaust combined with growing sympathy in the West with the Palestinian plight, and the radicalization of political movements on Israel's borders in the form of Hezbollah and Hamas. In effect, Morris argues that Israel is trying via the crushing of Hamas in Gaza to send a wider message to the region that it will stop at nothing to uphold its claims of sovereignty and security.

There are two conclusions that emerge: the people of Gaza are being severely victimized for reasons remote from the rockets and border security concerns, but seemingly to improve election prospects of current leaders now facing defeat, and to warn others in the region that Israel will use overwhelming force whenever its interests are at stake.

taking [arabs] out 1

taking [arabs] out 2

taking [arabs] out 3

taking [arabs] out 4

update: ten of his children were killed, in cold blood -- a killing "justified" by the US and Israel for the frayed nerves of israelis.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

"take [someone] out"

the mainstream media is now aping Bush's use of the phrase "to take out" meaning "to kill or assassinate." it is a blunt-sounding verb, maybe because its words are unimaginative (ie, like "do it" for "having sex"). using such bland words sounds macho, because they understate, muting the real horror behind the word. those who use it probably enjoy feeling like jocks, like experienced men who understand how the world works and who are not afraid to celebrate a bit of violence. what makes this word especially odious to me, beyond the unimaginative understatement/euphemism, is its casualness. i can understand casual language like this being used by soldiers. but its use by leaders and news anchors is unacceptable. what next? will a president decide to say, "today we offed a taliban leader"? even if you believe that person should be killed, how is it that we must also smirk and show how much we enjoy it? this is nothing but barbarity. what makes this coarse word acceptable, clearly, is that it originated in the military. therefore it has an air of authority around it that "off" does not.

this morning a CNN anchor used the word when asking questions of the NYT's correspondent. he was referring to israel dropping a 2,000 pound bomb on a hamas leader's house, killing him and more than a dozen family members and neighbors. the correspondent, an arab, did not object to this disgusting word choice. by using the word, the CNN anchor was approving and legitimating the israeli act. can you imagine if he had said, "today a hamas rocket took out an israeli soldier"?

of course not. because even though this david and goliath conflict is described as a "war," as if between equal parties, only one side is justified by our media. hence israelis "take out" palestinians, their schools, houses, etc. they engage in "operations" against palestinians. palestinians, on the other hand, "kill" or "massacre" israelis, "destroy" houses and schools.

what a callous term. it ought not to be used by persons in authority, no matter who is being described. it reduces certain people, disapproved of by the state, to the status of acceptable targets, and no more: no more humanity. being used by leaders, it is imitated by ordinary people, and the coarsening, the brutalizing, spreads among us. will this top-down trend of vicariously enjoying violence through brutal language continue, even with a new government in washington? i hope not.

today i got a letter from the ACLU asking me to renew my membership. the letter described an example of american military illegality: a boy of 13 taken prisoner in afghanistan and kept at bagram air base and tortured. the letter emphasized the "women and children and old people" unjustly imprisoned and killed.

of course this opposition is correct. but it is not correct enough. the implication of the letter is that only those sympathetic to us are worthy of justice. but i demand justice not only for the 13 year old boy, but for the thug who really was helping the taliban. people deserve rights not because they seem nice to us, but because they are people. and no matter how bad a person is, they deserve, in our political philosophy (though not that of bush or cheney or the many americans who care nothing for legal principles), legal procedures to determine guilt.

torture is not one of these legal procedures, even if the one being strapped down is a horrible, ugly, bearded person who committed crimes.

this soft-pedalling of hard truths by the ACLU reminds me of the criticisms made of the Jena Six in Louisiana -- the black youths convicted for assaulting white students. some conservatives pointed out that these six men were not squeaky clean. some had shop lifted. they really did beat those white students. etc etc.

but i had to ask then, as i ask now: so what? are we to be accorded rights conditionally? are we to be condemned on a sliding scale of acceptability to the grandmothers of the world?

no. we have our rights absolutely. the protesters in Jena that year were not claiming those six were angels. they were demanding an equal application of the law -- so that blacks not be imprisoned while white students guilty of the same thing are merely suspended, or given community service.

a human is a human is a human: this is my radical position, and i will oppose any and all attempts to fudge, snowball, or otherwise muddy that fact. bad people are still people, and their rights are no less than those of good people (good itself being subjective and hard to pin down).

on gaza

This is an excellent piece copied from the Huffington Post -- the writer teaches at Yale University.

In the days before Israel's overwhelming retaliation, Hamas -- the anti-Israel terrorist sect and democratically elected majority party in Gaza -- harassed the towns bordering Gaza with missile attacks that made ordinary life impossible. It was a matter of chance that not one Israeli was killed by the missiles. Six days ago Israel launched its response: the first stage of a collective punishment which was six months in the making. Round-the-clock attacks by American-built F-16s and Apache helicopters targeted Hamas militants, and also hit the civic institutions of Gaza: a police school, an interior ministry, a president's guest house, a university. AFG Global Edition reported on December 30 that the first three days of the Israeli attacks saw 373 Palestinians killed (including 39 children) and 1720 wounded. Hamas fired into Israel more than 250 rockets and mortar shells. Four persons in Israel were killed and about two dozen wounded.

As American politicians have been careful to say, Hamas provoked the attack. But go back to the blockade of Gaza by air, land, and sea -- trace all the oppressions of the siege that after January 2006 turned this arid strip of land into a prison where fuel and electricity are non-existent and most ambulances do not run -- and cause and consequence become more complex. "Disproportion" hardly suggests the dimensions of the slaughter apparent in the unevenness of the two sets of figures above.

There is a word for the straightforward killing of enemies by a superior force where the victims are sparsely equipped and the odds one-sided. Much of the world is calling Israel's actions in Gaza a massacre. By contrast the American press has been cleansed and euphemized. "3rd Day of Bombings," said the New York Times headline on December 30, "Takes Out Interior Ministry." Takes out. The Times paid an involuntary homage to George W. Bush: "I think it's a good thing for the world that we took out Saddam Hussein." Under that phrase are half a million Iraqis killed and a country destroyed. And for Israel in Gaza?

The U.S. and Israel share many things. A form of government, it is sometimes said; a set of ideals. But much more in the past ten years the U.S. and Israel have shared a fantasy. The fantasy says that the Arabs understand only force. It says we can end terrorism by killing all the terrorists. The neighbors of the terrorists will be overawed. No new terrorists will be created. Finally, when every face on the president's fifty-two card deck is crossed out and the known composition of Hamas is dead, we can "address the social conditions" that foster terrorism. But perhaps there are no such conditions. Do the terrorists not hate for hate's sake?

You can see the shape of the fantasy most distinctly in the writings of those journalistic enablers who move into position as soon as either country starts a war that needs interpreting. "It was Israel at its best," writes Yossi Klein Halevy, a typical war broker, in a New Republic column posted on December 29. "In response to random attacks aimed at civilians, Israel launched precise attacks aimed at terrorists." Halevy does not add that the precise attacks killed almost 400 persons and that one death in every four was civilian.

Another war broker on Gaza has been David Brooks. In a column of January 29, 2006 entitled "The Long Transition," Brooks pointed out that democracy often leads to "bad choices." The people of Gaza, said Brooks, in electing the Hamas government had made a bad choice. This error he attributed to the "traumatic phase" in the gradual maturing of "a romantic, revolutionary people." It was the duty of America and Europe to teach the Palestinians to choose again until they choose right. The task was "to isolate Hamas" and devote our energies to "finding and fostering" an opposition to Hamas. The siege of Gaza, the rejection by Europe and America of the Palestine Unity Government, and the attempted insurrection in Gaza by Fatah thugs bankrolled by the same powers, might all be said to be pardoned in advance by such a salutary intent.

But a fantasy is no wilder than methods it answers for; and Israel and the U.S. now hold as common property a whole school of counterinsurgency tactics. The citizen of Baghdad who said of the walls General Petraeus built to separate the good from the bad, "This reminds me of another wall," was only saying what many Arabs must have thought when they reflected on the "surge" in Iraq and its precursor in the West Bank. Israel has most often, these past few years, been the teacher and the United States the pupil. An article by Dexter Filkins in the New York Times on December 7, 2003 reported that the rules of engagement used by the U.S. in Iraq were modeled on the Israeli rules for Gaza and the West Bank. On the other hand, what is happening now in Gaza is plainly modeled on the American "shock and awe" in Iraq; it derives indirect permission from the fact that Americans never regretted that first stage of what we did to Iraq. Also, somewhere in back of the Israeli methods are usually American equipment and an American brand name. Apache helicopters and F-16s for the missiles and the bombs, and a Caterpillar bulldozer to reduce the house to rubble.

There is one art of peace that Israel might have learned from the United States: equal rights and citizenship for all the people of the country. But this, Israel has not learned, and in the nature of its constitution it cannot learn without a radical change of self-definition. The difference ought to be a fact of some interest to the first non-white president-elect of the United States; but the response of Barack Obama to the slaughter in Gaza has been a nerveless silence. "If somebody," he said last summer, "was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing." He has left it at that, for now, and made no comment on Israel's showing this week of the scale of obliteration that lies in its power.

Obama would not in fact do everything, he would not destroy a city of innocent people. But one may note the resonance of "everything," a word that crept into his usage once before and revealingly, in his AIPAC speech. There, Obama said three times that he would do everything to assist Israel against a threat from a nuclear Iran. When Israel is on the minds and the Israel Lobby script is in the mouths of American politicians, every statement takes on a quality at once categorical and unreal.

We have stopped thinking for long enough. We might start again with a definition. A terrorist is not a function X, the compacted essence of evil. A terrorist is someone who kills and approves the killing of undefended civilians to achieve political ends. Thus the Israeli commander who ordered the attack on the university in Gaza was an agent of state terror. The Hamas soldier who fired the missile that killed an Israeli woman yesterday was an agent of guerrilla terror. But terrorists, too, act from motives. To suppose their only instinct is a fevered hatred of everything we are is to yield to madness. Kill them all becomes the only imaginable policy then. Kill them, or else install a dependency so sweeping and abject that not a man in Gaza mounts a bicycle, not a woman crosses a street, not a child eats a morsel of food but by permission of the Israel Defense Forces. It is hard to see what else the current actions of Israel are looking toward.

The Democratic party grandee Ann Lewis said recently (as quoted in an excellent Salon column by Glenn Greenwald): "The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel." The statement is absurd. No country ever gave another country so blind a endorsement. Such a pure identification of interests would amount to the signing away of the conscience of the nation that granted it. We cannot make our fidelity a pawn for another's injustice; and more than conscience forbids it. Prudence also does. Even in the depths of the Second World War the U.S. never said it would support every decision made by the people of Britain, nor did it say in the Cold War that it would do whatever the people of Formosa wanted, or what the people of West Germany wanted. Such a surrender of judgment, even if it were practicable, would be a curse that harms the receiver as much as the giver. To support without question the decisions of any person or any people, is to accept a standard of friendship or fealty above the standard of right and wrong. Do that, and you resign yourself to a world of injustice.

The eighteenth-century moral thinker Joseph Butler once gave us one of those sentences that are so true they earn a separate life for themselves. "Every thing," said Butler, "is what it is, and not another thing." Gaza is not Iraq then. Mumbai is not New York, and the contests against terrorists are not the War on Terror. Butler also asked once in passing: "Why might not whole communities and public bodies be seized with fits of insanity, as well as individuals?" We have seen it happen in our time. This surmise received vivid confirmation from the head of an IDF rocket unit in Lebanon who told the Haaretz reporter Meron Rappaport in a story published on December 9, 2006: "What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs."

Israel and the United States have evolved, almost behind our backs, from the countries we read about in histories to militaristic societies widely seen as oppressors by those on the wrong end of our adventures abroad. Israel has the better excuse, driven half mad by threats and wars and the suicide bombings of the Second Intifada; but a series of queasy concessions to the fanatical colonists who are sometimes miscalled "settlers" have deformed its politics from within. The U.S. may now be the country with the stronger hope, and therefore the stronger partner. Anyway one thing is sure. When an allied nation goes out of itself, in the same sense in which a person may be out of himself, the work of a friend is to say no and no again and refuse to give the self-destruction our blessing.