Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rummy Says War Critics are Appeasers

As the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. Critics of Administration defense budgets during the Cold War as well as more recently, our aiding and/or abetting the assassination of elected officials (see this CIA document), our supporting military coups after the fact (The Greek Colonels), and now our waging war in Iraq have been verbally beat around the heads and shoulders by politicians with the sensibilities of playground bullies who call them "soft on Communism," "UnAmerican," and "Appeasers of Communists (or other) Bad Guys," etc. Its what those who are doing the wrong thing do to deflect the public's eyes from genuine defense needs or what foreign policies and wars are and are not actually in the nation's best interests.

Now, Rumsfeld, who knows better, is saying, according to the Seattle Times,
"Can we truly afford to believe that, somehow or some way, vicious extremists could be appeased?"
And also"
The struggle we are in is too important — the consequences too severe — to have the luxury of returning to the 'blame America first' mentality," Rumsfeld told the American Legion. "Can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America — not the enemy — is the real source of the world's troubles?"
Rumsfeld must be standing on his head while facing a wall during news conferences because he seems to be seeing everything upside down and backwards.

Let's get one thing straight. Democrats have proved over the years that they are ready and willing to fight real and imagined enemies of the US or its friends. Wilson took us into World War I. FDR took us into World War II. Truman led us, more precisely, the UN, into Korea. JFK did not cave in to the USSR when it made its effort to put missiles in Cuba and he escalated the war in Vietnam, a very, very bad idea. Johnson escalated it further thereby compounding our problems there. Both Democrats were clearly not "soft on Communism." Ineffective though it may have been, Carter okayed a mission to rescue our hostages in Iran. Clinton got us involved in Kosovo and Somalia, for good or ill. So, the idea that Democrats are somehow less interested in protecting the US and its friends than Republicans, a thesis, which, sadly, the Republican spinmeisters have managed to instill in the minds of many Americans, is, put in the simplest of terms, total bullshit. It might be more truthful to say that Democrats are warmongerers.

It should have been clear to the Administration that there was neither a need to invade Iraq (it was a secular Muslim country that was not bothering anyone thanks to the no-fly zones we, the Brits, and the French established and the constant pressure from the UN to get rid of its WMD), nor was an invasion of Iraq likely to prove beneficial in the end. It was clear to me and others I communicated with that imposing a working democracy on this highly ethnically divided country would never be successful. It was clear to me and others that Muslims generally and Arabs in particular don't much like Americans meddling in their affairs. I personalize these remarks to drive home the point that one didn't have to be a Middle-East expert to know these things.

The verb "appease," being transitive, requires an object. The object that Rumsfeld provides is "vicious extremists." Who the hell are these vicious extremists and why is it that they exist? Well, one class of vicious extremists consists of the insurgents, which seems to consist of domestic Sunnis desperate to keep the Shiites from coming to power as well as, possibly, Arabs from other countries who want to fight Americans. I have a news flash for Rumsfeld:
These vicious extremists were either not in Iraq when we invaded (the Arabs who came to Iraq to fight Americans) or were in one way or another aligned with Saddam's government. The latter became vicious extremists as a result of the fact that we overthrew Saddam (and did not prepare a response to this contingency before invading).
So, the fact is that America was the source of the trouble it faces in Iraq. I have another news flash for Rumsfeld:
Before the war, there was no Sadr militia. The Shiites were very quiet and were well-protected by the no fly zone. But now they have a formidable militia which probably consists of "vicious extremists and we are fighting them."
So, again, America was the source of the trouble it faces in Iraq.

In short, the Bush Administration made this mess. It is time for them to be real patriots and start telling the truth to the American people. That is what genuine patriots do. The truth is that Rumsfeld doesn't have a clue as to how he can extricate the US from Iraq without leaving behind either a nightmarish Shite controlled Fundamentalist Islamic state or a civil war or both.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

There is an interesting story in the Washington Post by Susan D. Moeller noting the power photographs can have in moving public opinion. She sites specifically the Iwo Jima photograph which may be the most important war photograph ever. Ms Moeller notes that the image communicated that the US was winning the Pacific War at a time when the outcome was still, I believe, in doubt. The photographer, Joe Rosenthal, notes that 'World War II was the "good war.' And Americans were the liberators." A feel good picture for a feel good war, a war we had to win.

During the Vietnam War, there was a powerful photograph of a child who had torn off her burning clothes in the aftermath of a napalm attack in Saigon that may have had more influence than any 1,000 words I heard or read on the war. I talked to a veteran of that war who spent something like nine months at the border between North and South Vietnam, living in muddy trenches, about napalm being routinely used to drive back North Vietnamese trying to break through their lines. I asked if dieing from napalm burns was as horrible way to die as I imagined it was and he said, "Yes." He, of course, actually saw it happen. We worry about the effects of chemical weapons but no one worries about the use of napalm which is probably as bad as any chemical weapon. Napalm was the weapon of choice, along with grenades, in clearing out bunkers on South Pacific islands inhabited by Japanese soldiers. Bit I digress. The Pulitzer Prize winning Vietnam photo mentioned above was a feel bad picture of a feel bad war.

It is interesting to look at how it is that photographs have meaning. If you go back to my Blog on The Meaning of "Meaning," you will see that I make a crucial distinction between conventional meaning (literal meaning, more or less) and utterance significance, which is fundamentally dependant on context. We can say, for instance, that the utterance "Can you pass the salt?" has a conventional meaning in which it is an interrogative sentence for which, if taken literally, a "Yes" or "No" answer would be appropriate but would normally be used at a dinner table to request the salt. As such it has the significance of communicating a speaker desire that the addressee hand the salt to the speaker. In certain respects conventional meaning requires some reference to context -- who the referent of "you" is in that question/request would depend on context. Utterance significance depends on context in a much more fundamental way. This is also true of pictures. If you saw the Vietnam War photograph without knowing when or where or why it was taken, you would see horrified people running but would have no idea why the child has no clothes on and what sort of impact it might have had on viewers when it was published. For that you need context.

Photographs have something akin to conventional sentence meanings though there is no theory about how one should go about assigning a conventional meaning to a photograph. Any photograph can be thought of as a representation of some state of affairs (think "re-presentation of what was visible to the eye"). Had a reporter seen that state of affairs he or she might have described it verbally and this would be a verbal re-presentation of the visible state of affairs. It would take a very gifted writer to create a description that would match either of the photographs mentioned here in its impact.

The impact of a photograph is analogous to the significance of an utterance. The difference lies in the fact that there is no accepted theory of photograph interpretation analogous to the theories that have been proposed for how we interpret utterances. This is normally not an important consideration. Members of a family might sit around a bunch of family photos and talk about them in some informal way. No one ever says things like "Hey, you aren't supposed to interpret a photograph that way." There is no accepted way of interpreting photographs. Indeed, there is a very interesting description of the Thematic Apperception Test I suggest you may want to read in which psychiatrists or psychologists and others show photographs to people and ask them to describe what they are seeing. There wouldn't be such a test if people didn't differ a great deal in how they interpret photographs depending on their mental states or in the case of "normal" people on such factors as gender or race or culture.

There is one domain in which "objective" photographic interpretation becomes important and that is the law. Forensic photography is a critical aspect of crime detection because officers normally don't keep a crime scene open for repeat visits for very long and in some cases photographs can reveal things that the eye can't see, as when infrared photographs are used to document gunshot residue. Ultimately, what the detectives end up with is a bunch of photographs to study, the crime scene having long since been cleaned up. In this domain, methods of photographic interpretation become important. Naturally, of course, when a case goes to trial, the defense expert will tend to interpret the photographic evidence in the light most favorable to the defendant (without necessarily lying or obfuscating the facts) and the prosecution expert will offer the most incriminating interpretation of what the photograph shows.

Photographs are different from other sorts of graphic objects such as paintings, logos, and jewelry of various sorts. We think we know what a cross hanging from someone's neck "means" or what a swastika pin or tattoo "means" though the fact is that the "meanings" of such things can vary culturally. This is particularly true of the swastika. In some cases, when we see a piece of jewelry that is abstract in the way a swastika pin is, we suspect it has some significance. On CNN, the afternoon anchor said she ran across a guy wearing a pendant that she assumed had some significance but when she asked the guy what it meant he brushed her off. That afternoon she had a journalist on the show who had done research on "boy love" and "girl love" paedophiles and showed images of the "boy love" and "girl love" pendants paedophiles sometimes wear to communicate to others of their kind that they would welcome meeting them. The guy was wearing the "boy love" pendant.

So, I conclude this rambling post by saying that "No," a picture is not worth a thousand words both because but we can't really say what exact words would be equivalent to a picture and because in many cases no amount of words could have the impact of a picture. Indeed, I think poetry exists in part because ordinary language is inadequate to communicate feelings, emotions, and other important things. Indeed, we have coined the word "ineffable" for just such things.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

Over and over, we are told, despite such terrorist attacks committed by Muslims as the one on the Marine barracks by Hezbollah in Beirut when Reagan was President (the Marines being part of a peace-keeping force, not an invading army), and in the case of the first bomb attack on the World Trade Center, and as the near simultaneous bombings of American embassies in two countries in Africa, and as the second, especially murderous attack on 9/11/2001 on the WTC and the Pentagon, and as the bombings of mass transit systems in London and Madrid, etc., that Islam is nevertheless a religion of peace. How is it possible that this religion of peace can have such murderous acts done in the name of the God of this religion, the same God, ostensibly, of the religions of those that they are killing?

I have turned to the web to try to answer this question and have been reading Muslim Herald for enlightenment. There are probably better sites and perhaps readers will direct me to them in comments. At this site it claims that Islam denounces terrorism and goes on to say
In recent times, 'violence' & 'terrorism' has [sic] unfortunately come to be associated with Islam and Muslims. For a religion called "Islam", which derives its meaning from the arabic root word "salama" (meaning: peace/submission), and whose followers do not get tired of greeting each other with "assalamu'alaikum" (meaning: peace be on you), association with the term of 'violence' is quite ironic.
I suppose this would be ironic if it were true, but the linguistic claim being made is misleading.

Arabic words are formed from (normally) three letter roots with no vowels and a large number of words can be formed off that root. At a Handbook for Students of Arabic it is noted that
The root word s-l-m is a common example. From the basic verb salima, “to be safe,” we can derive other verbs such as sallama, “to hand over or deliver;” aslama, “to submit;” and istaslama, “to surrender.” The nouns salaam, “peace;” salaama, “health or safety;” and muslim, “a Muslim,” derive from the same roots. Most Arabic-English dictionaries, such as the Hans Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary, will list their entries in root order.
I have used italics to highlight cited words to clarify the text here and elsewhere.

Still another linguistic analysis claims:
Many words can be derived from the same root, but they don't necessarily have to have any similarity in their meaning. The word Islam, which means `submission', is derived from the infinitive Salama. So is the word Salam, which means `peace' and so, is the verb Salima. Salama means `the stinging of a snake' or `the tanning of the leather'. Hence, if the word Islam has something to do with the word Salam i.e. `Peace', does that also mean that it must be related to the `stinging of the snake' or `the tanning of the leather'?
As this site should make clear, trying to make the case that Islam is somehow the religion of peace because the word Islam is related to a word meaning "peace" just doesn't fly. The origin of the name of the religion and of its followers is irreleveant to the teachings of the religion.

In fact, Islam was spread in some cases due to he use of violence and of threats to use violence by Muhammad. At this last mentioned site it goes on to say
Muhammad used to send letters to the kings and leaders of the surrounding countries and tribes, inviting them to surrender to his authority and to believe in him as the messenger of Allah. He always ended his letters with the following two words: "Aslem, Taslam!" [snip] The sentence means `surrender and you will be safe', or in other words, `surrender or face death'.
Islam is not unique in the use of violence to spread a religion. Catholic missionaries accompanied Spanish Conquistadors though the New World and their joint efforts spread Catholicism throughout much of Spanish speaking America. There is a difference. Jesus didn't use violence to spread Christianity, nor did his early followers to my knowledge.

At heart of terrorism by Muslims is the concept of "jihad." At the Muslim Herald web site cited earlier it is said
Jihad in Islam is waging peace and justice. Jihad is a war against unjust, oppression, exploitation, tyranny, fear, corruption and denying the masses basic human rights (4:75-76) and to establish justice, peace, freedom, especially freedom of religion, security, equity and social justice (2:193)
I think we must conclude that any claim to the effect that Islam is a religion of peace must be balanced by a recognition that it also supports the use of violence. The linguistic claims made by the Muslim Hearald mean nothing as compared to the actions of Muslims and this includes not just acts of terrorism around the world, but the brutal killings of Muslims by Muslims in Iraq.

Muslims are not alone in engaging in violence. But let us not be fooled by linguistic analyses that suggest that Islam is a religion of peace. When I was a kid, the lesson that sunk home with me most about Christ was that his was a message of love. But, of course, that message was as irrelevant to the actions of Christians around the world as is the meaning of "Islam" is to the actions of Muslims.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ethnic Profiling, The Police, and Us

I neglected the linguistic reason I wanted to blog on this topic so I add it post-publication.

I have been intrigued by the fact that the term "profiling" has positive connotations in one context, but negative in another. FBI serial killer profilers are lionized in the press and numerous fictionalized films and TV shows treat the subject quite positively. "The Silence of the Lambs" is the best movie about profilers. And there is a nice little TV show "Criminal Minds" that features such profilers. However, when applied to the rest of law enforcement, it has a bad reputation.

The issue of profiling continues to come up as members of subgroups that see themselves as victims of profiling complain about it. The earliest example of profiling I ever experienced was examples of vehicles being stopped in Houston, Tx because the driver had committed the offense of DWB, i. e., driving while Black. My Rice psych prof often mentioned on these pages told me of a Black friend teaching at the University of Houston back at the time (in the 50's and 60's) who was very frequently stopped by cops for no reason whatever than that he was Black. This practice will be offensive to any decent American.

In fact, cases of stops for DWB do not constitute instances of actual profiling for legitimate police reasons. They waste police resources and aggravate the Blacks who are stopped. I don't know to what degree cops stop cars for the offense of DWB these days, but I suspect it continues if only at a reduced rate.

These days, Muslims, specifically young, cleanly shaven Muslim men (henceforth YMM) are on the hot seat. Its understandable that citizens of certain countries, as well as the police, are suspicious of YMM. These days, virtually all terrorists, whether they are operating in NYC, London, Madrid, Bali, or India are Muslims. Passions have risen to the point that there have been recent threats of a massacre of Muslims by Hindus in India.Mumbai
(AsiaNews/Agencies) – Leaders of the world’s largest Hindu organisation have threatened to "repeat Gujarat" against Muslims in India unless the government ensures that the perpetrators of the Mumbai bombings are swiftly brought to justice.
The World Hindu Council demanded that “Hindus be protected from terrorists” who, they believe, are “always Muslims”. However distressing to law-abiding Muslims that police profiling may be, threats like these must be very much more distressing.

The fact is that when you are looking for terrorists, little old White, Black, and Hispanic ladies will be low on your list of suspects. High on the list will be YMM. If you are a YMM, the burden of proof that you are not a terrorist has, for all practical purposes, been shifted to you. This is a very distressing fact for civil libertarians of all sorts, but especially those who are Muslim. But they can't legitimately ask is "Why are you targeting us?" Since Timothy McVeigh took out the Murray building in Oklahoma City, virtually all of the known active terrorists in the world have been Muslim. The IRA terrorists have been quiet. The Red Brigades are no longer active in Europe. ETA pops up in Spain from time to time blowing up something or assassinating someone but they are not a problem in France or the UK. I am sure there are others but like McVeigh and the IRA and ETA, they are restricted in their scope of operations. Muslims, on the other hand, are striking all over the world.

Given the number of YMM, it would be stupid for police to investigate every one of them. There just aren't enough cops for that. The profile is going to have to be very much more precise to do any good. But it is unlikely that a profile ever be developed that is precise enough to pinpoint all legitimate targets. However, Israel has a program that has kept every El Al jet safe from skyjacking. They use behavioral programing. They question prospective fliers intensively, including asking very personal questions. That is probably not possible in Europe or the US.

But if it would be stupid for police to target all YMM it would be no less stupid for citizens to be suspicious of every YMM or anyone who looks like their idea of a YMM. Indeed, it would be paranoid to do so. This doesn't mean that if one sees a YMM engaging in suspicious behavior (I have no idea what that would be) one should be quiet about it. Report the behavior to the police or airline personnel or whomever seems to be in authority and let them take care of the situation. And then return to your seat, car, or whatever. Lets leave the profiling to the police, FBI, MI5, etc. On the other hand, YMM are simply going to have to accept odd looks from others as a part of daily life for awhile because almost all terrorists are YMM. If they don't like it they should take their complaint to Pakistani terrorists operating in India, to Hamas and Hezbollah, and to the local YMM creating problems in other countries in the world.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Language of Winning and Losing

Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah have declared that Hezbollah won a great victory over Israel. The fact is that they got moved away from the border between Israel and Lebanon and most people would see that as a setback. Additionally, Lebanese and UNIFIL forces will occupy the void left by Israel as it pulls back to its previous border. But there is another fact and that is that Arabs never win wars against non-Arabs as we normally use the term "win." The best they ever do is survive. The Afghans on the other hand actually win wars against invaders. Ask the former Soviet Union if you can find it.

In general, the best Arabs have been able to do is survive wars against others. And, in that context since these societies need to see themselves as winning at least some of the time, surviving constitutes winning. Saddam Hussein won the first Gulf War because he survived it (more or less). His Republican Guards were badly damaged as the second Gulf War showed And, he got run out of Kuwait. But Iraq survived and he survived as Iraq's leader so he won. In fact, of course, the two "no fly" zones were created and UN investigators harried him so he ended up in pretty bad shape. Too bad Bush didn't take note of that and keep our troops in Afghanistan.

Now, Hezbollah, though pushed back from the border, still maintains it won a great victory and with respect to three criteria for "winning" of relevance to the Arab context, they did. First, they survived. Second, according to my morning paper, the Lebanese government has decided that if Israel couldn't disarm Hezbollah, they sure couldn't so they will be able to keep their arms. And, finally, they did something that Syria, Jordan, and Egypt couldn't do -- they fought as fiercely and as effectively as did Israel and stymied the IDF long enough to have survived with their arms intact. This last bit is of no small importance. Israel will think two or three or four times before it reacts with the kind of fury it did this time to the sort of military insult Hezbollah delivered that triggered the invasion. Hezbollah also has shown Hamas the way to deal with Israel. Dig in deep and get from Iran all manner of anti-tank weapons, missiles, and whatever else can be moved quickly that can also be used with deadly force.

I have a bad habit of reacting in a bipolar way to events that involve winning and losing including not just wars but also football games. Right now, I am on the depressed side of the scale in regard to the future of Israel. Now that they have been exposed militarily, they must either finish their Maginot line and find a way to make it defendable, something the French didn't figure out, or start negotiating with their Arab neighbors as equals. Israel is still relatively safe from invasion since Hezbollah did not win its "victory" by fighting in an offensive manner but by playing a purely defensive game. And, of course, Israel has its doomsday weapons, which, I suspect are all targeted on Iran.

George Bush has a "winning" problem of his own. How does he get us out of Iraq while seeming to win. Senator Aiken, a Republican from Vermont, suggested well before the end of the Vietnam war that we should simply declare that we won and leave. The New Republic has a nice bit on Bush taking just this position now. Of course, we didn't take the good Senator's advice when it was given and our departure from Vietnam was something of an embarrassing spectacle as helicopters lifted people off the top of the embassy in a desperate attempt to get people out alive.

Its too bad that the terminally stupid Saddam did not report to the UN that he had no WMD of any kind. His ego couldn't take such an admission because that would mean his great victory in the first Gulf War was an empty one. What good is a victory if you are left unable to kick some butt? I fear George has the same ego problem. The administration claims we can't leave because chaos will ensue. One might ask, of course, how that chaos would differ from the present chaos. Right now, the average Iraqi is less safe walking the streets than he was under Saddam. That is a very sad fact and it is the clearest possible signal that George has lost the Iraq war. The fact is that only the partitioning of Iraq -- actually the ratification of what partitioning has already occurred (by Shiites in Basra laying claim to the south and its oil revenue and the Kurds continuing a solidification of its control of Kurdistan, a process initiated by establishment of the Northern "no fly" rule. There will be continuing conflict because there will not be a meeting of the minds as to what this partitioned Iraq will look like. The Shiites themselves will not be of one mind since there will be oil rich Shiites and not so oil rich Shiites. The Sunnis will be odd man out since they will be left with part of Baghdad and the western desert. They will not be happy about that. So, the only real question is how many more Americans, Brits, and whatever other allies we still have there will die?

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Domestic Terrorists

Shortly after the bombing of the tube in London, I predicted that the terrorists would turn out to be residents of the UK in my blog Al Qaeda, The International Communist Conspiracy, and the Bogeyman. And now we have another domestic UK conspiracy, it seems, to blow airliners out of the sky. There are apparent connections between the British citizens involved back to Pakistan. That's no big surprise. I have an Indian doctor who travels to India to see his family on a quite regular basis. This is what immigrants do.

In 1970, my wife and I spent several months in Edinburgh and had rented a TV to sample the British fare. One night there was a news story on a White Brit who suffered from some disease that had turned his skin dark and he was suffering the slings and arrows of ethnic prejudice when out in public since his skin tone suggested to people that he was a "Paki" (a derogatory term for persons of Pakistani descent, possibly also used for those of Indian descent as well). He was even catching barbs from the people he had worked with even though they knew he was "white." The reporter said that his family had taken to driving about at night so he would not be visible. This passed on British TV as a "human interest" story on ethnic prejudice. I was stunned. The reporter could have randomly picked out a British citizen of Pakistani descent for a story on ethnic/racial prejudice. I think she/he didn't because no one would have cared about the plight of a genuine victim of ethnic/racial prejudice but they might care about a white person who was enduring the same thing. Back in the USA, human interest stories on racism against Blacks featured Blacks.

I don't mean this as an indictment of the Brits but to give you an idea why I was not surprised that the UK had a domestic terrorist problem. Years of ethnic/racial prejudice can lead to that. We are lucky in the US to have African-Americans who have not chosen to go that way. But, thanks to things I am now seeing and reading, I think we may not count on our domestic Muslims, especially the Shiite ones, being so patient with the dominant culture.

Last night, for the first time in some years, I was forced to channel surf on my cable TV system since my satellite reception was on the blink due to heavy rains and I saw a CNN Headline News channel show conducted by some sort of wild man who was determined, it seemed, to scare hell out of me and everyone else who is not Muslim and American by suggesting that we have an enemy in our midst. I believe his name is Glenn Beck. He was very exercised by recent demonstrations supporting Hezbollah (the signs in the crowd said "Hizbollah" I believe). His basic position was that at some point these Muslim Americans, who were mostly in Dearborn, Michigan, are going to have to choose sides and he said ominously that it seems that they already had. He got some female talking head who concurred. Of course, we were meant to draw the inference that they had decided to be anti-American and pro-Hezbollah.

I focused on the signs demonstrators were carrying as Mr. Beck showed us video of a recent demonstration. What I saw was anti-Israeli, pro-Hezbollah signs and signs urging the US to stop the warfare. I saw no anti-American signs but I understand that one sign in some demonstration said that there needed to be a Hezbollah in American. Now that is ominous but I suspect is more the work of a hothead than a serious person. Signs like these are a far cry from expressing an anti-American position. It was also ominously pointed out by the female talking head that the Dearborn Muslims are mostly Shiite. Actually, that suggested to me that these Americans were likely refugees from Lebanon, specifically from Southern Lebanon. This, rather than being an ominous fact, helps clear things up a bit.

One cannot expect American Muslims, especially expatriate Lebanese Shiite Muslims, to be pro-Israel. That would be like asking American Jews to be anti-Israel. And, though I tended to defend Israel somewhat given that their attack on Hezbollah was in response to a covert mission on Israeli soil by Hezbollah, I also agreed that it was an over-reaction in the sense that it went way beyond "an eye for an eye." In fact, as time passed, we saw the near total destruction of Southern Lebanon and I began to wonder about the future of Israel. Israel is in trouble militarily since it lacks the capacity to fight an anti-symmetrical war effectively. In fact, no one has figured out how to do that. Certainly, the Johnson and Nixon Administrations in Vietnam and the Bush Administration in Afghanistan and Iraq have proved that the US is incompetent to fight such a war.

In my opinion, it is perfectly reasonable for Dearborn Muslims to be outraged at what they were seeing on TV. In addition to this, American Muslims continue to experience much higher levels of discrimination in America since 9/11 than before it. I understand why. But I invite you to read the reaction by Americans in response to these demonstrations. One commenter said of the strong anti-Muslim statements, "This kind of stuff will end badly for all." He is right, of course.

In a NPR report, I found the following:
Osama Siblani runs the Arab-American News, America's largest such newspaper. He says the fighting is fueling anger in his community -- not at Hezbollah, but at the Bush administration.

"The anger that you see in the Arab community, you do not see in the eyes of the American community," says Siblani. "They're not viewing the same thing. And the perspective you get out of Jazeera or Arabiya, you do not get it out of Fox News or CNN."

Siblani says many in the community who opposed Hezbollah before the fighting have now changed their minds. The U.S. State Department has designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Siblani disagrees.

"The terrorist here is the Bush administration," he says.
I must say that I am pretty angry with the Bush administration myself. He is responsible for escalating anti-American feelings around the world including especially in the Muslim world by conducting this war in Iraq. And the devastation wreaked by Israel in Southern Lebanon has increased this sentiment. The scary thing is its effect on American Muslims.

One of the worst things about the Bush war in Iraq is that it has distracted us from the war on terrorism to the degree that we aren't funding Homeland Security priorities properly and are letting politics determine where the available money goes. Of course, it is not going to New York, Chicago, and LA, the most likely terrorist targets, in proportion to the threat. Its going all over the country to places where Senators and members of the House are demanding that it goes for purely political reasons. A shocking thing to me is that the Bush administration did not force airports and airlines to implement the ban on liquids on airplanes years ago, for it seems to have been known for some time that mixing otherwise harmless and easily hidden liquids together on an airplane to create a bomb is a live option for terrorists. Fortunately, the Brits aren't asleep at the wheel they way Bush and his administration is and so we didn't have to learn about this problem the 9/11 way. Actually, the plan was that the planes would blow up over the ocean with the debris falling into the ocean making it impossible for us to determine that liquid explosives were involved. The Bush Administration is too occupied with trying to figure out how to get out of Iraq while seeming to have achieved his goals.

One reason the Brits weren't asleep is that they know they have disaffected Muslim communities that are actively involved in terrorist plots. They have earned this Muslim hostility the old fashioned way -- they have discriminated against people of Pakistani descent for decades. What concerns me is that we here in America are creating the same sort of disaffected communities as a result of fighting against Muslims in Iraq (I am happy to take the fall out for our fighting in Afghanistan where OBL was training terrorists) and providing one-sided support to Israel. If we really care about Israel we will focus as much on the needs of Israel's enemies as on Israel itself. If we really care about ourselves, we will get our butts out of Iraq and put more troops in Afghanistan, and go to work on fighting against anti-Muslim sentiment in America and fighting terrorism in the only really effective way possible -- with good police work.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

It's Republican Lyng Time

As the election cycle returns, it is time for the spinmeisters of the Republic Party to dust of their Big Lies to use against Democrats (along with their use of "Democrat Party" which they think doesn't sound as good as "Democratic Party." I am going to refer to their party as the "Republic Party" to return the favor. The first Big Lie I recall was that "Democrats are soft on Communism." That, of course, is impossible to attach any specific meaning to and so is hard to refute effectively. Its power lay in the fact that its vagueness encouraged people to substitute what they most fear to flesh it out.

Of course "soft on communism" no longer works, but that hasn't deterred the Republic Party. As E. J. Dionne notes in my morning paper, Republicans have turned to the notion that Democrats are "defeatist" and "give aid and comfort to the enemy." We heard the same crap during the Vietnam war, first from Johnson's administration and then from Nixon's. It is an effective way to suppress dissent for awhile but that doesn't trouble members of the Republic party because they don't believe in the Bill of Rights anyway -- except for the gun amendment. This tactic will not be effective now since it is easily parried. All Democrats have to do is point out that we have already been defeated in the respect that we cannot achieve our goals. We are going to get either a civil war or a partitioning of Iraq (the latter being the same as the inevitable result of the former but with less bloodshed). We have not been driven off the battlefield but we are going to "cut and run" before the next Presidential election.

Another Big Lie Repubs use against Demos is to call them "Tax and Spend Liberals." That's also been effective partly because there is an element of truth to it. But, it is vastly more responsible to tax and spend what your taxes bring in than for "Free Spending Republicans" to run the country into ever greater deficits. That's the best slogan I can come up with on the spot. Perhaps others of you can do better.

I am hoping that organizations like MoveOn.org can come up with some Big Lies to throw at the Repubs. It is just plain stupid to try to run an honest campaign against a party that has elevated lying to an art form.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Defenders of American English are at it again

Do you know how to recognize subjunctive sentences? If "Yes" is your answer, read no further and in the comment area, give a definition. It will be fun for all.

I posted this prematurely. I am still editing it.

James J. Kilpatrick, The English Language Curmudgeon, appears to have a loyal network of informers who love to squeal on those who make linguistic "mistakes." The subject of yesterday morning's offering in my daily paper was the death throes of the subjunctive. He starts off by quoting one Patsy Roberts' tattle tailing on S. Epatha Merkerson for saying (at her acceptance of an Emmy award)
"If I wasn’t in the middle of a hot flash, "I’d believe I’m 16."
Patsy "The Rat" Roberts asks,
"What’s become of the subjunctive? Shouldn’t she have said, ‘If I weren’t’? "
Kilpatrick joins in the fun but in the process displays his typically appalling ignorance of how one should go about describing the English language and evaluating what its speakers say. He sees a multiplicity of subjunctive modes, including, as in this case, "the subjunctive for conditions that are contrary to fact," (sic) or what philosophers and linguists refer to as a counterfactual conditional. This latter way of characterizing both utterances is straight to the point -- it is a conditional sentence in form and it has a false antecedent. Kilpatrick's description is nigh on uninterpretable. It is no wonder that most people don't have a clue what the subjunctive is and even less want to know. But it is time for us to have some fun at Kilpatrick's expense.

Now, why would Ms. Merkerson and the legion of other speakers of English who follow the pattern she exhibited do so? First, let us note that in her if-clause, Ms. Merkerson used the singular past tense form "wasn't," whereas The Rat suggests that it would have been better had she used the plural past tense form "weren't." Why would she want to do that? She is singular in number, not plural the last time I saw her (on TV). There is reason to suppose that the use of were and weren't occurred later than the use of was and wasn't. Check out Baugh's opinion, for instance. As Otto Jespersen, the great grammarian, says
Most of its forms have become indistinguishable from those of the indicative, but the loss is not a serious one...
The reason it isnt serious is that the meaning is conveyed by, in this case, if combined with the use of a past tense verb form. Future counterfactuals also exist, as in
If I go to Boston tomorrow, I will get you a Red Sox cap.
Notice here that
I go to Boston tomorrow
is a way of saying that I will go to Boston tomorrow but the previous example cannot be true at the time of utterance since it refers to a future possibility. I have no idea whether the numskull Kilpatrick would call this future conditional subjunctive or not, nor do I care since the term "subjunctive" plays no role in a description of English by competent linguists.

Kilpatrick cites as another kind of subjunctive the "subjectivie of wish" (sic) and provides as an example an alleged utterance by the almost certainly mythical King Arthur, who if he existed, didn't speak a form of English we could easily understand.
The King wishes he were in Scotland.
Here too we have a counterfactual, but not a conditional sentence. Again we have a plural form "were" being used in the counterfactual, but the verb wish not the verb form were serves to signal that the utterance is counterfactual. The lowbrow form is
The King wished he was in Scotland.
Here, as in Ms. Merkerson's sentence we find a singular past tense form of "be" being used in our counterfactual, as is appropriate since King Arthur, if he existed, was singular in number.

Kilpatrick goes on to provide other past tense forms being used counterfactually.
In the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, columnist John Kelso writes about a book based upon hurricanes; its publication coincided so closely with Katrina, "It was as if the storm was trying to kill it." In the Daily Times of Farmington, N.M., a Navajo woman’s chances of finding a blood donor "would be better if she wasn’t a minority."
And he cites the columnist William Rusher being both low brow and high brow
After the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Rusher speculated on a probable successor: "If someone as controversial as Scalia was promoted . . . " Then he thought of an alternative possibility: "If Gonzales were confirmed . . . "
Again, rational Americans are using the singular verb, not the plural when the subject is singular. Sadly, it seems that people like Kilpatrick (e. g., many English teachers) clearly have confused Mr. Rusher as to what he should and should not say..

Note further that if the subject were plural (note my deft use of the subjunctive), the verb form would be were, as in
If Kilpatrick and his ilk were to learn a little linguistics, they would not make such silly statements about English speakers.
The problem with Kilpatrick's position is that the concept that is critical here is that the utterances express or presuppose a contrary to fact proposition. We do not need the concept of "subjunctive" to account either for what he thinks we ought to say or for what we do say. We find that the singular past tense form was has largely replaced the form were when the subject is singular, as is rational, and the plural form is used when the subject is plural.

Why is the past tense form combined with if and wish in subjunctives? What do we know about the past? It is no longer the present and thus the past tense is in position for use to express or presuppose a proposition that is false at the time of utterance. For counterfactual conditionals that refer to past states of affairs that did not occur, our low brow would say,
"If he would have kissed her, she would have fainted."
Here "would have" replaces high brow "had". A quick googling of the form being discussed resulted in
Things I can say that I "Wish" my parents would have done.

I leave it to you to figure out why "would have" might be used instead of "had."

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Mens and Women's Brains are Different?

My morning paper tells me that one Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist, has declared that men's and women's brains are different and so we should cut each other some slack if we exhibit differences in our behaviors. Dr. Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown U linguist, has taken the position that men and women communicate differently. Like Dr. Tannen (a Ph.D.) before her, Dr. Brizendine (an M.D.) is getting a lot of press.

Dr. Brizendine's research interest is "women's hormonal balance and effects on mood, sex and anxiety" according to the UC San Francisco web site. She has an impeccable education -- undergraduate work at UC Berkeley, Yale Medical School, and a residency in psychiatry at Harvard. It is clear from her list of interests and activities, at the UCSF web site (click on her name) she has focused entirely on women so one wonders where her expertise about men comes from. I critiqued a prepress version of Deborah's most famous book and it was my sense then that it had been based primarily on anecdotes provided by women, rather than men (though I did supply a male perspective in my comments).

One of the real disgraces of medical as well as other kinds of research is that the focus used almost exclusively to be on males and, more than that, white males. As a result the medical needs of women and Blacks were largely ignored in medical research and drugs trials. Interestingly, after writing the previous sentence I picked up this quote from a short on-line review of her book, The Female Brain.
While doing research as a medical student at Yale and then as a resident and faculty member at Harvard, Louann Brizendine discovered that almost all of the clinical data in existence on neurology, psychology, and neurobiology focused exclusively on males. In response to the overwhelming need for information on the female mind, Brizendine established the first clinic in the country to study and treat women's brain function. At the same time, The National Institutes of Health began including female subjects in almost all of its studies for the first time. The result has been an explosion of new data on the female brain in recent years.
So, I shall presume that her inferences of differences between male and female brain differences is predicated on her comparing her research on women with the research of others on men. I might add that I believe children have also not been much studied in medical research and wonder about how the doses of medicines for children are determined.

In trying to get up to speed on this sort of research, I happened across a British study showing that sexual orientation seemed to be critical to performing certain mental tasks, with lesbians performing in much the same way as heterosexual males and gay men performing in much the same way as heterosexual women. This British study suggests that "varying levels of exposure to the male hormone testosterone before birth plays a role in "hard-wiring" the brain." I am of the opinion that testosterone is the work of the devil and is what what makes males behave so badly.

When I critiqued Tannen's book I urged her to consider the possibility that men and women form a continuum of tendencies in verbal behaviors with males tending to cluster more at one end and females at the other. As I read the interview of Dr. Brizendine, I was struck by the fact that my personal experiences with some woman most close to me in my life were inconsistent with the properties that she said women, but not men exhibit. I had the same experience while reading Tannen's book. It is this personal, purely anecdotal experience, of no real scientific merit other than providing a hint that there could be counter-examples to their theories, that leads me to think that there is a continuum between males and females in regard to brain differences. Of course the British study does confirm this but not in the way I am suggesting which is that there will be a continuum between heterosexual males and females.

Dr. Tannen early on took the "fair and balanced" view that boys and girls learn verbal styles primarily while engaged in same sex activities. Indeed, when I was a kid, I played exclusively with other males -- until I found out about the special delights female companionship provides. So, if males tend to dominate women verbally in different sex interactions then that merely reflected the fact that when boys are interacting with boys, skills in competition and efforts at domination are learned. Meanwhile girls are learning to be cooperative. Deborah took some heat from feminists who believed she was letting men off the hook for their competitive non cooperative verbal styles. I think they were right. I am still competitive and tend to try to dominate interactions I am in though not necessarily consciously but I also know better than to think that this is a right way to act.

Dr. Brizendine is likely to take some heat from feminists for letting men off the hook for their bad behavior as well, for she provides a biological basis for differences in male and female behavior rather than the explantorially weaker sociological basis Dr. Tannen provided. It would be nice to see confirmation of Dr. Brizendine's generalizations about male and female brain differences by those who have studied both, such as in the case of the British study referred to above. My money is on the existence of a continuum. Once our library gets in a copy I shall attempt to read it.

In a short review of her book, a troubling question ostensibly taken from her book is raised, namely "why are women more verbal than men? " I am not sure what facts are being presupposed by this question. Is it that women talk more than men or that women do better at certain verbal skills tests than men or what? In fact, men tend to dominate different sex interactions and though one keeps hearing abiout the greater verbal skills exhibited by females this is certainly not true on SAT and ACT tests. Indeed there have been calls for less biased pre-college testing. Obviously if a verbal skills tests involves, say, anologies using terms drawn from comman male experiences males are going to do better. In any event, I look forward to her book.

This is a bit of a rambling blog but I am desperately trying to get off the current wars as a topic.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mel Gibson's Anti-Semitic Dunken Rant

In my morning newspaper, I learned that Jewish suspicions about Mel Gibson's intentions in the making "The Passion of Christ" were well-founded as he engaged in an out-of-control rant upon being stopped for drunk driving. Being a Chosen One, i.e., an American Celebrity, he must have felt he had the right to object to beeing treated as if he were a regular citizen. Gibson did not elaborate on his misdeeds but the web site TMZ.com did that on his behalf. Gibson was right to be insensensed at being treated as a common citizen (of what? The USA or Australia? -- I vote for "Australia") for he was not even driving double the speed limit, going only 87 mph in a 45 mph zone. I'm sure we are all feeling his pain. You can go to this LA County Sheriff's page and enter "Gibson" for the last name and "Mel" for the first and up will pop his arrest record. A click on this will give you a page you can print and frame and put it up next to your favorite head shot of Mel.

There were plenty of expletives as well as anti-Semitic remarks in his rant and he is quoted as saying "I am in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from.." at the TMZ.com site. We can divide his linguistic excesses into two sorts -- the use of taboo expressions like "fuck" and the utterance of sentences with propositional content. It is not uncommon for persons suffering from senility, Tourette's syndrome, drugs (hospital administered after surgery, for instance), and drunkenness, etc to utter such things spontaneiously. I have tried to Google up some information about taboo words and senility to find sources for my long held belief -- I heard this first in college -- that socially proper old women who never once uttered a profanity in anyone's hearing before going senile would start coming up with taboo expressions. They will, of course, have heard them even though they had not voluntarily used them.

The title URL of this blog has Mel saying
According to TMZ.com, Gibson called the arresting deputy a "motherf---ker," whom he was going to "f--k" on account of "he [Gibson] 'owns Malibu' and will spend all of his money to 'get even' with me [the deputy]."
Here we have propositional content. Gibson made a threat against the deputy. There ought to be consequences for that but their probably won't.

Gibson went on to say, according to TMZ.com
Later, the Website reported, Gibson ranted about the "f--king Jews," who "are responsible for all the wars in the world," and asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?" (Gibson, who helped build a Catholic church in Malibu, is not.)
Here again we have propositional content, not the spontaneous utterance of a "fuck" or "motherfucking." He has asserted that the fucking Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. I wonder if that includes the Japanese invasion of Korea and China?

I have an answer for his plaintive quest to understand "where those vicious words came from." You are a fucking anti-Semite with no respect for the law or those who enforce it and see the latter as so socially beneath you that you feel you can crush them like a bug. I hope that helps you out, Mel. Please understand that anti-Semitic propositional content like this does not pop up spontaneously in normal people's drunken rants unless it was already there in their heads.

Senile people and people suffering Tourette's syndrome, but not drunks and persons under the influence of powerful pain relievers get a free pass for any and all expletives. Utterances with anti-Black, anti-Arab, anti-Jewish, etc. propositional content don't pop up spontaneously and when they do the people who do them do not get a free pass. I seem to have said a bad word while under the influence of post-surgical pain relievers when a nurse woke me up to take my "vitals" and I did not give myself a free pass and it shames me even today, some 12 years later. I'm not going to tell you about it even though how I learned about it is very funny.

(I used a feature of the Google toolbar that lets me blog about a page I am viewing. It seemed not to be working but it outdid itself by posting this twice.

Mel Gibson "Out of Control" - Yahoo! News

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