An ideofact is an artifact imbued with meanings other than its technical function.
Saturday, April 13, 2002
I think this story from The Daily Star in Lebanon speaks for itself:
The chief Beirut public prosecutor, Joseph Maamari, pressed charges Thursday against the International Herald Tribune after the newspaper ran a pro-Israeli advertisement last week.
I haven't seen the ad, so I can't really add anything, except that nothing convinces me so much of the brilliance of the First Amendment than countries (which is pretty much all of them, when it comes down to it) that don't have one.
Friday, April 12, 2002
The more things change...
It took me awhile to remember where I read it, but I finally did -- in a reappraisal of the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant by Frank J. Scaturro called, aptly enough, President Grant Reconsidered. Scaturro's thesis, by the way, is that Grant's presidency has been misjudged by historians; he notes that when Grant left office, he was considered by most Americans to rank among the pantheon of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. Scaturro argues that one of the reasons for the change in Grant's reputation was that historians relied on the writings of his political enemies as source material. This footnote, about Grant's Treasury Secretary George S. Boutwell, who won the ire of some prominent Republicans, including Henry Adams, by instituting the first competitive civil service exam in 1870, is on point:
"[H]istorians relying mainly on such partisan sources as the Nation have overlooked Boutwell's reform activities. What was actually--from the standpoint of personnel administration--an enightened regime has been renowned as a blatant example of the spoils system."
I read the Nation when I get a chance, and even enjoy it once in a while, but I don't think I'd want it to be the primary source material for histories of any of the presidencies of my lifetime.
Well, I'll find out as soon as I post this. Don't mind me, and there should be a post coming on William Tyndale and another on Ulysses S. Grant and footnotes in a bit...
I seem to be having some trouble with my archives. Links for the first week I posted are there, the rest have disappeared. I'm working on either fixing the problem, or destroying the template completely -- I'm not entirely sure which.
Thursday, April 11, 2002
A reader notes that the New York Times didn't win a Pulitzer Prize in 2000, which isn't so long ago. The Times didn't win one in 1985 either, but did win every year in between. I gave up looking beyond that. In any case, I stand corrected.
Perspective and time
I've never much cared for those posters that show the skyline of Manhattan or Washington, D.C. in the foreground, with the detailed layout of streets and certain landmarks labelled. The foreground dominates the poster; in the background, the rest of the United States occupies perhaps a few inches before fading into the blue of the Pacific Ocean. I suppose that they sell them in Los Angeles too, but there it's the Atlantic Ocean that provides the top of the picture.
We have much the same perspective on time. We speak of the '50s, the '60s, the '70s and so on as discreet periods, whereas we date the Middle Ages from c. 475 to c. 1350, or, if you exclude the Dark Ages, from c. 800 to c. 1350. Our decades, like the landmarks of Washington, are loaded with meaning, whereas the distant past is conveniently lumped into 550 year periods.
Augustine said of time, "I know what it is, as long as you don't ask me," and not much has changed since then. We can measure it; indeed, among my proudest possessions are a few old mechanical clocks and watches that are a century old and still measure out the seconds with a fair amount of accuracy. (With others I own, that are equally prized, the correct time is little more than a rumor.) But while the letter "T" recurs throughout formulas in physics and the like, I'm not sure how far physics has advanced in understanding what time actually is. Particle? Wave? Or something else?
Numerically, the date of my birth is closer to the passage of Smoot-Hawley than to my wedding day, closer to the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt than to the birth of my son, closer to the great crash of 1929 than to this moment when I type on my blog, yet temporally, such games with numbers mean nothing.
I noted with ever-increasing dismay that the story lines of Star Trek, The Next Generation and Star Trek Voyager involved travel through time rather than travel through space, although I tend to think that the second Austin Powers movie handled such theoretical concepts with far more sophistication than the folks at Paramount.
As Dr. Werner said to Pechorin, "All this rigamarole of yours has some purpose," and it does, as it did with Pechorin, who went on to explain in a page and a half of dialogue that Werner, being an intelligent man, would rather talk than listen, and that Pechorin, being a cunning man, would rather listen than talk. Ah, the joys of Russian literature. In any case, my purpose is merely to note that I finished reading In the Beginning by Alister McGrath, which traces the history of the translation of the King James Bible.
I enjoyed the book (I read enough technical and uninteresting stuff at work that I don't feel like I have to do the same at home -- hell, I read U.S. Tax Court records for close to two years, and nothing will put you to sleep as quickly as disputes over accounting issues), and while I won't offer a review, I will note one thing that struck me.
William Tyndale was an Englishman sympathetic to Martin Luther's cause. In the 1520s, he translated the New Testament from Greek to English, then learned Hebrew and translated the five books of the Pentatuch. Tyndale's work as a translator wasn't inevitable; he coined phrases that include "the powers that be," "my brothers keeper," "the salt of the earth" and "a law unto themselves." Much of the King James Bible owes its style to Tyndale, the first English translator. Shakespeare's Biblical quotes come from a later production, the Geneva Bible, which, like the King James, borrowed heavily from Tyndale.
At the time he did his translations, English law forbade vernacular Bibles. The Catholic Church feared the effect that reading the New Testament would have upon its position, and the English monarchs and bishops decided that this was a good policy. In 1535 -- less than 500 years ago -- Tyndale was arrested; in 1536, in Brussels (he did his work in Antwerp; his printed English Bibles were smuggled into the country in bales of cloth), Tyndale was strangled, then his corpse was burnt at the stake.
The distance between us and Tyndale doesn't seem all that great to me. The gulags of the Soviet Union held their share of Tyndales; Chinese prisons still hold theirs.
Wednesday, April 10, 2002
Saudization and vegetables
I came across this story in Arab News, the online Saudi English language Internet site. The article, entitled I challenge you, suggests Saudis stop complaining about the plight of the Palestinians and do something about it. Among the author's suggestions: special prayers, boycotts of American goods and services (like McDonalds, although my hunch is that like most McDonalds franchises, they're owned by local businessmen), and for Saudi youth to stop wearing their hair in Western styles (although how exactly that act of protest will hamper the Israeli Defense Forces isn't conveyed in its particulars). What caught my eye, though, was this graph:
I also call upon our government to exempt all Palestinians from the Saudization law. At this moment of such great difficulty, it would be grossly unjust to keep them from work or to deny their children an education.
I'd run across the term before; Saudi Arabia has embarked on a program to replace, so far as possible, its foreign workforce with Saudis. Generally speaking, I'm pro-immigration. My wife is an immigrant, my mother is first generation, I have co-workers and friends who are immigrants, and I can honestly say that my life would be much poorer (even non-existent, in the case of my mother's parents) without them. On the flip side, I don't necessarily think that every call to reform immigration laws is a return to the days of the nativists and Know Nothings.
As for the Saudis, I found the accounts of their attempt to Saudize the work force demonstrate--negatively, as it turns out--one of the benefits of immigration. Take this story on the government's attempt to drive foreigners from the retail vegetable trade. The Saudi government banned the something like 15,000 foreign workers who sold vegetables (it might be more accurate to call them small businessmen) around the country.
The ministry has also recently noted the increasing practice of expat laborers selling groceries in pick-up vans in several residential districts and on streets or delivering goods to baqalas and to private homes. Such operations, which amount to a violation of the regulations to Saudize the grocery sector, are undertaken by the laborers expelled from the vegetable markets.
The old trope about immigration is that immigrants take jobs that natives won't do. Apparently, the Saudi vegetable sellers, who lack experience and salesmanship, nevertheless earn higher profits (which most likely come from the lack of foreign competition and the higher prices they're able to charge for lousier service). No wonder Saudis turn to the illegal expats who sell from vans.
The same thing was done to workers and business owners who worked in the gold trade:
While directives have been issued to Saudize jobs in other sectors including cleaning and maintenance, real estate, telephone and postal services, the government has set a target of 5 percent annual increase in each business establishment. Interior Minister Prince Naif has announced that starting from July 22 only Saudi citizens will be allowed to work in shops that produce and sell gold. Letters to this effect have been sent to provincial governors, ministers of commerce, industry, labor and the governor of the General Organization for Technical Education and Vocational Training. Chambers of commerce in various Saudi cities have been busy training Saudi youths to take up jobs acting on recommendations of the Manpower Council.
The same article notes what a stunning success the ban on expat vegetable sellers was:
In several parts of Jeddah, shelves of vegetable and fruit shops remained empty. A majority of workers in these shops were from Bangladesh and other Asian countries. The move to replace foreign workers in retail shops follows a decision to enforce Saudization at the wholesale vegetable and fruit markets.
Prior to the order to clear out the expats in the vegetable business, Saudi owners of some of the shops protested to crown prince Abdullah:
...as many as 25 traders presented a joint complaint to the crown prince seeking his intervention to solve problems caused to them by officials of the Passports Department and the municipality.
The traders, of course, were quite aware of what the problem was:
Apparently, the problem was solved by banning expats altogether (I have presented the articles here from most to least recent).
Forget economics for a moment, and consider religion. Among the tenets of Islam that even a somewhat lapsed person of the book such as I can appreciate is its universality. The Prophet, praise be unto him, (forgive me for lapsing into the idiom of the websites I've been looking at), saidi in his farewell that non-Arabs are to enjoy equality with Arabs (in the case of the Palestinians, who are Arab, this should be a moot point). The saying is from a Hadith, which doesn't have the same force as a Qur'anic injunction, but nonetheless is to be consulted in formulating Shar'ia. Are the Saudis following the dictates of their religion?
I couldn't help noticing...
After an hour or so of reading various Middle and Near Eastern Internet sites, I start to get the same lousy feeling in my jaw I get when I've drunk too much coffee. The relentlessness of the rhetoric deadens one to it. You read a piece like this one
A little more than 50 years ago, Israel emerged: a state born of terror, expelling hundreds of thousands from their homes and land by barking orders through megaphones. It, too, has remained true to its nature — inveterately violent and barbaric, however superficially it tries to embrace the trappings of Western civilization and democracy....
...or this one:
If it is right for the US to kill Afghan civilians in its battle against terrorism and if Sharon can kill children and stop ambulances from collecting the wounded and the dead on the West Bank, then it is certainly just as right for a Palestinian suicide bomber to kill as many civilians as he can. After all, the suicide bomber is fighting in his way what he would define as terrorism! ...
...or this one...
Just how much pressure is the US putting on Sharon to withdraw his storm troopers?...or this one...
But what Sharon is doing currently in the West Bank as Prime Minister pales all his previous “achievements” against the Palestinians into insignificance. He is putting Hitler to shame by his cold-blooded savagery.
...(and in case that one's too subtle, the homepage has a graphic showing Hitler's face fading into Sharon's), and it's easy to miss another thread running through the same sites. I mean stories like this one
The scale of the fighting gives all sides grave worries that if it escalates much further, it could become a second front in the war against Israel in addition to the West Bank. There would then be a very real danger that the fighting would spread to include the Lebanese and the Syrian forces, all of which are inextricably linked.
and this one
Politicians spoke out Monday against operations in the South against the Jewish state, warning in particular against giving Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon an excuse to launch wide-scale attacks on Lebanon.
...and this one
The Majlis majority faction issued a statement asking for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Qods as its capital.
...and finally, this one
“From the beginning, Gulf countries have clearly said that an oil embargo is not on the cards. There is no reason to believe that they will go down that road now,” Abdul Jabbar said yesterday.
There's a vast distance between Arab rhetoric, no doubt intended to whip up the Palestinians as much as possible, and their own reluctance to go to war against Israel, or even to upset the West with an oil embargo (which, certainly, would hurt the Gulf States far more than the West). If you think you're fighting Hitler, do you go to NGOs, or do you go to war? And don't lecture me about Israeli superiority; the Brits had little going for them in 1940, the Poles even less in 1939, but they stood and fought. Do you try to negotiate peaceful solutions to disputes over farmland, or do you fight toe-to-toe? If suicide bombers are justified in Israel, aren't groups in southern Lebanon also justified in firing rockets at Israeli civilians? And if not, why not? Could it be that the Israelis are slightly less Hitlerian than the hot rhetoric you're offering? And might it not be wise to advise the Palestinians that, in your own way, you're making your own bargain with the Israelis rather than face their military, and that maybe, just maybe, they should do the same?
Monday, April 08, 2002
Thoughts on anti-Semitism
These are somewhat provisional thoughts, not to be confused with the product of long, serious reflection. Via the indispensibleInstapundit and the wonderful Meryl Yourish, I came across this piece by Greg Kinen last week on the role of Arab anti-Semitism in the political situation of the Middle East. Kinen makes several points, among them that anti-Semitism was largely a Nazi export to the Middle East, and that anti-Semitism is inflamed by state actors. But he goes on, rather eloquently, to write:
It is not Israel's actions that inflame Arab anti-Semitism. It is its existence. It wasn't Jewish moneylending that inflamed the Nazis; it was the very fact of the Jews themselves. If you doubt this, then ask yourself why the awful crimes Muslims inflict on Muslims raise barely a titter in the Arab world--crimes like Saddam's genocide of the Kurds, or Assad's massacre of 50,000--while a speech given by the dove Shimon Peres invites Arab fury.
There is a great deal of truth in this argument (although, for what it's worth, in the history of Islam there was a great deal of sectarian strife, and the more recent massacres strike me as an extension of that strife). I'm doing his argument a disservice by presenting it out of order, but Kinen notes something that in my mind is crucial. Whereas an Assad or Saddam Hussein is merely dealing with internal politics, the character of Israeli "transgressions" takes on a wholy different aspect:
The long historical causes almost no longer matter; what might have once been merely symptomatic of something else has become an essential fixture of a diseased culture.
It seems to me that there's a question of internal logic here. If you were told that your next door neighbor was monstrous, that he was dismembering bodies in his basement, that he committed all kinds of perversions with school children, that you were his next target -- and you believed this -- you most likely would go to any lengths to protect yourself. In a society in which the state monopolizes the media, and permits or even encourages the dissemination of such hatred, and the individual is perpetually bombarded with such "truths," it's little wonder that anti-Semitism finds such fertile ground in the minds of Arabs.
What amazes me is the ease with which states through history have been able to arouse such hatreds in their people. I think the Soviet Union under Stalin is instructive. Robert Conquest, in The Harvest of Sorrow, which chronicles the state-engineered famine that killed as many as 7 million Ukrainians in the 1930s, wrote of how Stalin managed to turn average peasants against slightly better-off peasants, Ukrainian against Ukrainian -- neighbor against neighbor -- in an orgy of hatred:
The necessary hatreds were inflamed; the activists who helped the GPU [the forerunner of the KGB] in the arrests and the deportationswere all people who knew one another well, and knew their victims, but in carrying out this task they became dazed, stupefied...
The point Conquest makes here, and elsewhere in the book as well, is that the 'activists' were little different than the 'kulaks' they believed to be vermin. It wasn't ethnic Russians carrying out Stalin's program of dekulakization (although some took part); it was, by and large, Ukrainians who acted on behalf of the party in the persecuting the "kulaks." I have thought, for some time, that the parallels between National Socialism, on the one hand, and Communism, on the other, are instructive: one developed an eliminationist strategy on the basis of ethnicity and crackpot biology, the other developed an eliminationist strategy on the basis of class and crackpot economics. But I'm wandering far afield here.
It took Stalin only a few years to produce the hatreds that led to horrors of the engineered famine, and the persecution of some Ukrainians by others. This, it seems to me, says a great deal about the power of modern mass communication, particularly when it is concentrated in the hands of the state. Elsewhere, Conquest recounts the means by which the state -- through newspaper articles, films, radio broadcasts, et al -- inflamed the hatreds described above. Incidentally, all this began in 1929, and ended in 1933 -- so there's no question of Stalin borrowing tactics from Hitler (indeed, it appears that Stalin's tactics were far more effective, given that there was no appreciable difference between the kulaks and their neighbors who helped eliminate them).
By contrast, Arab anti-Semitism has been around since the 1930s. While there have been different levels of intensity over that time, it has been a constant feature. The animus is directed against a different group, which may or may not have the added effect of making the hatred more intense. I think a legitimate question is, what will be the end result of stoking such hatreds.
It seems to me that once the groundwork has been laid, once a society associates a word like "Jew" or "kulak" with vermin, there are two possibilities: what happened to the Kulaks from 1929 to 1933 and the Jews from 1933 to 1945, or what happened to the Germans in 1945. I don't see a third possibility. According to this story in the Christian Science Monitor (again, via Instapundit), the anti-Semitism Egypt has fostered is destabilizing that regime:
Some of the protesters praise Mr. Mubarak for speaking out loudly against what many of them are calling Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "bloodthirsty revenge." But others say their president needs to do far more to heed the growing anger – even if it means putting young Egyptians into action against the Israeli army.
Above, I mentioned internal logic. If you're a young Egyptian, and you believe that Israel's intention, with its population of 6 million, is to carve out a state that stretches from the Maghrib to the borders of China and India; that among the favorite pastimes of Jews is the practice of draining the blood from young Muslim children; and you see daily in the media images of the Jews beginning to execute their plan to commit genocide against Muslims everywhere (today Ramallah, tomorrow the World), of course you would demand that your leaders give you the opportunity to die fighting to preserve all that is decent, just as an inflamed anti-kulak activist would insist on starving those bloodsucking kulak children.
Again, from the Christain Science Monitor:
Take Mustafa Abdu, in his late teens, who is studying for an examination in a quiet, peaceful corner of the 1,400-year-old Al Ahzar Mosque. "We, the Arabs, are all one people," he says. "We all agree now that we must go to war. Even if we are prevented by our governments from doing so, we'll go to war anyway."But look at what Abdu's government is telling him:
These days, Arab television screens are bombarded with images of all-out war. Rather than risk being blamed for not helping their Arab brethren, the Egyptian government has authorized state television stations to use new terms like "self-sacrificers" to describe suicide bombing attacks. One commentator on state television, speaking in front of a graphic of a Star of David and a Nazi Swastika, said that Israel has opted for Hitler's "final solution" to exterminate the Palestinians.
Is there any wonder that Abdu wants to fight?
A New York affair
The New York Times won seven New York Times Prizes -- sorry, Pulitzer Prizes. That's seven out of the 14 journalism categories. In other words, that's 50 percent.
If you look at New York papers generally, the Wall St. Journal and Newsday (I know -- technically it's a Long Island paper) each won one apiece, making New York's take 9 of 14, or 64 percent.
And if you add in the second largest city, Los Angeles, that's 11 of 14, or 79 percent.
I don't think you can find a year when the New York Times didn't win at least one Pulitzer, whether the paper deserved one or not. Similarly, the Washington Post has to win at least one each year (they took two this year, for National Reporting and Investigative Reporting). Still, I can't think of a recent year when a single paper won so many, or when not a single prize went to a smaller paper.
Sunday, April 07, 2002
Ideofact of the day
My wife wasn't impressed, but today I found out something that I didn't know before. We use the terms upper and lower case for letters because Aldus Manutius (1449/50 - 1515), the Venetian printer whose other inovations included italic type and the octavo format (roughly the size of a modern paperback), stored the type to make capital letters in one case and small letters in the one below it.
Among the many quirky volumes of the Ideofact library is a 1991 book, Aldus and His Dream Book, by Helen Barolini. It's quite an attractive volume, and if you're interested in the history of the printed book, I highly recommend it. Here's Barolini on the Aldus' invention of italic type:
Aldus also gave great care to providing type that was aesthetically pleasing by seeking out the best goldsmiths or metal-workers to incise punches and matrixes for type-casting. He had them imitate the hand in manuscripts as the best models. His partiality to cursive style led him to "think out" a new typeface, to be called "italic," which he previewed with five words that appeared on the pages of an open book held by St. Catherine of Siena in a woodcut illustration of her letters, Epistole devotissime, published in 1500.
The first book published using italic throughout was an edition of Virgil's Georgics, which was significant in other ways:
...Aldus brought out his edtion of Virgil's Georgics in the elegant, octavo format that was to become the staple of the Aldine press and Aldus' trademark. His preface to the 1514 edition of Virgil is dedicated to Pietro Bembo and recalls that his smalll book format is derived from seeing manuscript copies of certain classics in small size as with books of hours or other works of private devotion in the library of Bembo's father. Aldus intended a "handy" book, in the shape of a manual or handbook, and in his June 22, 1503 catolog he described his octavo editions as libri portatiles...
I do most of my book reading on the metro (Washington's subway sytem), or propped up in bed. I frequently stuff whatever I'm reading into the pocket of my jacket, so that I can read in elevators, while waiting in line for lunch, and occasionally while walking down the street. I wasn't always so odd, but my three-year-old, who likes to refer to my books as "boring books," and upon whom I like to lavish the bulk of my liesure time, has forced some compromises. The Saturday afternoon spent on the couch reading a book is largely a thing of both the past -- and, of course, the future. I owe Aldus a great deal; without the libri portatiles format, I'd be lost.
Aldus named his new typeface Aldino; the name, obviously, didn't stick. Others called it chancery or chancellery, which was the name of a cursive style developed for Vatican letters, and on which Aldus based his designs. Interestingly, he didn't have an upper case of italic letters. Again, Barolini:
Oddly, however, Aldus had not provided italic capitals for his new typeface and used roman capitals with his lower case italic. In his last will and testament, after provisions for his burial and masses for his soul, there is a moving last statement pertaining to unfinished business: "In addition, since there is still to be refined that cursive character that we call chancery, I appeal to my father-in-law Andrea that he have it re-worked and perfected by Giulio Campagnola who should execute the capitals that have to accompany the chancellery letters."Aldus died before his upper case was filled with ITALIC CAPITALS.
A strange column from Edward Said
In his latest piece in Al-Ahram, Edward Said, after the obligatory condemnations of the Israelis, suggests four things for Palestinians to include in their plans for the future. Number three on his list was rather shocking, considering the source:
There is simply no use operating politically and responsibly in a world dominated by one superpower without a profound familiarity and knowledge of that superpower -- America, its history, its institutions, its currents and counter- currents, its politics and culture; and, above all, a perfect working knowledge of its language. To hear our spokesmen, as well as the other Arabs, saying the most ridiculous things about America, throwing themselves on its mercy, cursing it in one breath, asking for its help in another, all in miserably inadequate fractured English, shows a state of such primitive incompetence as to make one cry. America is not monolithic. We have friends and we have possible friends. We can cultivate, mobilise, and use our communities and their affiliated communities here as an integral part of our politics of liberation, just as the South Africans did, or as the Algerians did in France during their struggle for liberation. Planning, discipline, coordination. We have not at all understood the politics of non- violence. Moreover, neither have we understood the power of trying to address Israelis directly, the way the ANC addressed the white South Africans, as part of a politics of inclusion and mutual respect. Coexistence is our answer to Israeli exclusivism and belligerence. This is not conceding: it is creating solidarity, and therefore isolating the exclusivists, the racists, the fundamentalists. (emphasis added)It's hard to gauge, from reading Said, what he means in this third point. He doesn't elaborate or offer concrete suggestions, and earlier in the piece he insists that suicide bombers can only be understood in the context of 35 years of occupation, which is not exactly an unequivocal call to non-violent resistance. And I suppose that when he talks about isolating "the exclusivists, the racists, the fundamentalists," he's referring to Israeli exclusivists, racists and fundamentalists. Nevertheless, the path he proposes here would do the same to the Palestinian extremists -- a "politics of inclusion and mutual respect" would also isolate the terrorists among the Palestinians. The problem is that the current Palestinian leadership stands in the way of that politics, indeed has decided to forgo politics in favor of terror.
Said also writes:
What has enabled Israel to deal with us with impunity, therefore, has been that we are unprotected by any body of opinion that would deter Sharon from practicing his war crimes and saying that what he has done is to fight terrorism. Given the immense diffusionary, insistent, and repetitive power of the images broadcast by CNN, for example, in which the phrase "suicide bomb" is numbingly repeated a hundred times an hour for the American consumer and tax-payer, it is the grossest negligence not to have had a team of people like Hanan Ashrawi, Leila Shahid, Ghassan Khatib, Afif Safie -- to mention just a few -- sitting in Washington ready to go on CNN or any of the other channels just to tell the Palestinian story, provide context and understanding, give us a moral and narrative presence with positive, rather than merely negative, value.And this is the problem, and gives some indication Said isn't on the road to Damascus. The images broadcast by CNN -- of the aftermath of a homicide bombing -- can't be countered by any clever wordsmithing, no matter how adroit. They can't be spun, there is no moral or positive value that can be given to them. Which only goes to show that Said himself still does not understand the politics of non-violence, or violence, for that matter.