As the “mad prophet of the blog-ways,” allow me a Howard Beale moment, which I believe many of us at this moment are ready for-and rightly deserve.
I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!
Or, perhaps I should assume a calmer, more reasonable tone, and simply paraphrase the pseudo-Einstein that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is insanity.
The latest media-driven, socio-political maelstrom over “gun control,” featuring a star-crossed cast of clowns and idiots, including the NRA, Republicans vs. Democrats, Conservatives vs. Liberals, gun-toting red-necks and the urban elite is ending as usual “not with a bang, but a whimper.”
In other words, Congress has done nothing except produce dozens of indignant and inane sound bites for the media.
As we wait for the next heart-breaking, media-driven tragedy involving quick-loading, high-capacity magazines, secret caches of handguns and assault weapons in a home, a crowded public place, a gun-toting sociopath who should have been institutionalized had anyone paid attention to the now obvious signs but shot himself in the head before the police could get to him, dozens of slaughtered innocents, weeping and angry relatives on talk shows and before congressional sub-committees, flocks of trauma counselors descending on the survivors and talking heads jabbering endlessly and inanely on network and cable news, let’s take a deep breath and as calmly as is possible in this issue look at some facts.
Look… I know I’m not sounding very compassionate here. Believe me, I have an inexhaustible supply of empathy for the victims of these senseless crimes.
But, I am sick to death of the media carnival that turns tragedy into a ratings grab, the attempts at celebrity by the “experts” and “specialists” on news talk shows, and the same recurring and useless rhetoric, which does nothing, solves nothing and demonstrates the idiocy and lack of courage of those who have the power and influence to actually effect the “change” that the president and members of congress yammer about when it’s time to convince the gullible, the indifferent and the dupes to re-elect them.
If reasonable people cannot get beyond the rhetoric of the “machine”- the media, the NRA, Congress, Special-Interest Lobbyists, the White House, the gun industry, gun-control extremists-we doom ourselves to witness these events repeat themselves ad infinitum.
So, as reasonable people, who are willing to calmly, completely and with an open mind examine these issues and the facts informing this situation.
Confessio pro bona animae.
At the risk of alienating part of my audience, I acknowledge that I’m a gun owner, but I don’t hunt and I’m not an NRA member.
Since the 1990’s, I’ve owned a Colt M1911A1 Cal. 45 Automatic, which was my personal sidearm as an Army officer. Recently, I purchased a Sig Sauer P928 9mm pistol. I also have a concealed carry permit.
Up until recently, I owned the forty-five simply because… well… I simply owned it. I carried it professionally in the Army as part of my TA-50 field uniform, and I qualified annually with it as part of my deployment readiness and training. Since retiring, it remained locked away, but recently I have looked at it as a potential means of home defense.
The P928 and the carry permit are a bit of a sea change for me. At the risk of being Juan-Williamsed, I think things seem to be getting… well… scary out there. I don’t know if it’s a matter of fact or a matter of fact blown out of proportion by a sensationalist media, but public safety seems to be less safe publically these days with senseless and random shootings in movie theaters, malls, offices, schools and anywhere people gather.
I don’t think for a second that anyone’s “out to get me”! My shrinks assure me that paranoia is not one of my issues. But, the fact is that I am getting… well… old. (My Medicare card arrived in the mail this week!) As I learned in Street Smarts 101-growing up in New York City-my age makes me appear vulnerable to criminals intent on street violence and looking for an easy mark. A target.
So, as I told my good friend, the Major, the other day, I don’t my last conscious thought in this life to be, “If I had the ability to defend myself, this wouldn’t be happening.”
I’ve been handling weapons professionally since I was eighteen. They were the necessary tools of my trade as a ranger and infantryman. The army “qualified” me in a number of weapons-rifles and pistols-and weapons systems required in my profession. When the Army “qualifies” someone in a weapon it means not only its correct usage-how to shoot straight-but also in its safe and appropriate usage.
In the 1980’s, when I was part of an Army team assisting civilian law enforcement agencies in New York and Ohio, I attended federal and state law-enforcement training, in which I was drilled in the legalities and morality of the application of deadly force. I qualified multiple times on law-enforcement combat ranges.
In short, although I am quite capable of the effective application of deadly force, I am unlikely ever to do it outside the law and beyond a reasonable application of morality.
I’m certainly not “impulsive”-in fact, my dear wife suspects that my mean-time-to-respond to anything is about three days. This is especially true in anything relating to the use of deadly force.
And, let there be no doubt, any use of a weapon is deadly force.
The Nature of the “Beast.”
Despite rhetoric from the NRA, firearms were not invented for sport or hunting. They may be useful in these things, but they are by design anti-personnel devices. They were designed to kill people. They always have the potential of being deadly to others when used.
Despite the rhetoric from the liberal-left, firearms are not inherently evil. They’re just machines, tools. Any “evil” done by a gun is a result of the intention or carelessness of the user, or the inability of users to understand-or care-about the consequences of their actions.
As much as I hate to sound like I’m agreeing with the NRA mantra, people kill people… guns just make them better at it.
As we have seen, unfortunately too often, firearms can exacerbate the potential harm intended by individuals and greatly increase their lethal capability. The usage of firearms against another is always potentially deadly. They can extend the range of any intended harm from arm’s-length to hundreds of meters. They are efficient, effective and fast killers.
Also, firearms have the potential to facilitate impulsive and imprudent acts.
And, once used, their effect cannot be annulled, cannot be recalled.
Despite what we thing the 2nd Amendment of the constitution guarantees, firearms should never be permitted to be in the hands of the unqualified, the irresponsible, the criminal, the sociopath, the psychopath, the insane.
My inference is that any reasonable effort to reduce gun-violence must include not only the guns themselves-availability and type of weapon-but the individuals who have access to them.
Please note-Like Tom & Ray’s Puzzler, the blog is taking next week off. The lunatic who writes them is immersed in evaluating high school research papers for the sake of his check and his immortal soul.
Two weeks from now, the Blog will present Part 2- “Terms of the Debate and that Pesky 2nd Amendment.”
Now for something completely different!
When I’m not teaching high school, writing novels and blogs, this is what I do… Medieval Lit!
This is from an article that I’m writing on Marie. Welcome to my “inner-Nerd”!
“Marie de France” is the title given to a late twelfth-century writer of whom practically nothing is known. To her, scholars attribute a collection of twelve Breton lais; a translation of Aesop’s fables, Ysopet; a translation of Patrick’s Purgatory, Espurgatoire seint Partiz; and a life of St. Audrey, La Vie seinte Audree. Our knowledge of her name and origins are derived from these writings. In the closing passages of Ysopet she declares, “Marie is my name; I’m from France (Marie ai num, si sui de Fraunce.” (Ysopet, Conclusion, v 4). Again, in her conclusion of the Espurgatoire we read, “I, Marie, have memorialized the book of Purgatory (Jo, Marie, ai mis en memoire / le livre de l’ Espurgatoire:” (vv. 2297-8). Finally, in the opening passage of the lai, “Guigemar,” she writes, “Listen, my Lords, to what Marie says, who in her time is not forgotten (Oëz, seignurs, ke dit Marie, / Ki en sun tens pas ne s’oblie” (vv. 3-4). Marie’s French origin is also indicated by her writing in a form of Francien.
It is generally believed that Marie lived in England and was associated in some manner with the royal court, perhaps even by blood. Her lais are dedicated to an unnamed king, whose identity is commonly conjectured as being either Henry II of England, or his son, Henry, the Young King, with whom he briefly co-reined.
En l’onur de vus, nobles reis,
ki tant estes pruz e curteis,
a qui tute joie s’encline,
e en qui quer tuz biens racine,
m’entremis des lais assembler
par rime faire e reconter.
(In your honor, noble king, who are so worthy and courteous, before whom all pleasure bows, and in whose heart all good takes root, I undertook to assemble these lais and to retell them in verse (Prologue vv. 43-8).
Marie’s Ysopet is dedicated to a Count William, the theories of whose identity include William of Mandeville, a counselor of both Henry II and Richard I; William the Marshall, reputed to have been the foremost knight of England, serving Henry II, Richard I, John, and Henry III; or William Longespée, an illegitimate son of Henry II.
Pur amur le cunte Willalme
le plus vaillant de cest reialm,
m’entremis de cest livre faire
e de l’Engleis en Romanz traire.
(For the love of Count William, the bravest of this kingdom, I endeavored to write this book and translate it from English into Franch (Ysopet, vv. 9-12).
Marie seems to have been well versed in the languages of twelfth-century northwestern Europe, certainly those languages which would have swirled around the Anglo-Norman royal court that ruled England and much of western France. In her lai, “Bisclavret,” a tale of a werewolf written some seven hundred years before the vampire vs. werewolf craze that seems to possess young people today, she demonstrates some knowledge of Breton and Norman-French.
quant de lais faire m’entremet,
ne voil ublïer Bisclavret:
Bisclavret ad nun en bretan,
garwaf l’apelent li Norman.
(As I attempt to compose some lais, I don’t want to forget Bisclavret. Bisclavret is the name in Breton; the Normans call it Garwulf (vv. 1-4).
In her introduction to the lai, “Laüstic,” she demonstrates some linguistic virtuosity.
Une aventure vus dirai,
Dunt li bretun firent un lai;
Laüstic ad nun, ceo m’est vis,
Si l’apelent en lur païs;
Ceo est russignol en franceis
E nihtegale en dreit engleis.
(I will tell you a tale, of which the Britons composed a lai. Laüstic is the name, it appears to me, they gave it in their land. This is “rossignol” in French and “nightingale” in proper English
Marie’s knowledge of English is further evidenced in the conclusion of her Ysopet as noted above, and later in that passage, she states,
Li rois Alvrez qui moult l’ama
le translata puis en Engleiz
e joo l’ai rime en Françeiz
si cum gel’ truvai premierement.”
(King Alfred who loved [the book]greatly then translated it into English, and I rhymed it in French as I originally found it (Ysopet, Conclusion, vv. 16-9).
Finally, Marie was probably well versed in Latin. In her prologue to Espurgatoire seint Partiz, she alludes to the writings of both Augustine and Gregory, long before those Latin texts were available in convenient Penguin translations. Furthermore, scholars believe that Marie’s source for Espurgatoire was a Latin text. Finally, Marie tells us in her prologue to her lais,
Pur ceo començai à penser
D’aukune bone estoire faire,
E de Latin en Romaunz traire;”
(For this [reason] I began to think of composing some good stories and translating from Latin into French (vv. 28-30).
Marie’s collection of lais are a sequence of twelve “Breton lais” written in a Francien dialect in octosyllabic couplets. Although individual lais are found in five different manuscripts, only Harley 978, a thirteenth-century manuscript housed in the British Library, preserves all twelve. The sequence of the collection, as presented in Harley 978, which scholars assume reflects Marie’s intention, are a short prologue, “Guigemar,” “Equitan,” “Le Fresne (The Ash Tree),” “Bisclavret (Werewolf),” “Lanval,” Les Deus Amanz (The Two Lovers),” “Yonec,” “Laüstic (Nightingale),” “Milun,” “Chaitivel (Unhappy One),” “Chevrefoil (Honeysuckle),” and “Eliduc.” The length of the lais range from “Chevrefoil,” 118 lines, to “Eliduc,” 1184 lines. All the lais are “narrative,” in other words they tell a story, except possibly “Chevrefoil” which, although it alludes to an episode from the tales of Tristan and Iseult, may represent a “lyrical lai.”
Marie’s texts are commonly referred to as “Breton lais,” a type of text that is more difficult to define than it is to recognize. The most unmistakable characteristic of this genre, if indeed the form has the rigor to be characterized as such, is self-reference; the text declares itself a story told, or sung, by the ancient Bretons or a narrative that occurred in ancient Brittany. Other than that, they closely resemble the chivalric narrative, “medieval romances,” in that they relate the deeds and interests of the chivalric class; they focus more on the individual than on national groups; and thematically, they relate stories reflecting the problems of love, marriage and morality in chivalric society. They are typically written in verse, rather than prose. They are “short,” rather than “long.” Thematically “simple,” rather than “complex.” They seem more comfortable with Celtic myth and the land of faery than with Christian doctrine and heaven. They are typically “narrative,” but they often allude to a descent from ancient Breton song, so there might have been a tradition of lyrical lais, now lost, of which Marie’s “Chevrefoil” is a possible remnant.
 In the twelfth century, the term Fraunce would most likely signify the area of modern France surrounding Paris.
 Marie’s characterization of the French language as “Romaunz” has always fascinated me. I believe that this is one of the earliest evidences of this usage. Certainly, this is how the chivalric narratives acquired the name Romance, but Marie here is referring to a language not to a genre. She characterizes the tales themselves as lais. Originally the term “romance” referred to texts written in French, eventually to tales written in languages other than Latin. However, if the Old French term refers to the language of the Romans, lingua Romanorum, in contrast to the Germanic languages of the tribes that invaded the Roman province of Gaul, using this term to describe languages other than Latin is a bit ironic.
 A “lyrical lai” would be a text whose purpose is to evoke an emotion rather than to tell a story for some thematic purpose. Think of it in a manner similar to a sonnet or, for the lais “sung” by the ancient Bretons, modern song lyrics. Unfortunately all the sheet music from the twelfth century has been lost.
Black April, Tháng Tư Đen, is the term used by many exiled Vietnamese to refer to the Fall of Saigon which occurred on 30 April, 1975.
This event, when North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gate of the South Vietnam Presidential Palace, marked the end of the Republic of Viet Nam. President Duong Van Minh, the last president of South Vietnam, went onto Saigon Radio and announced the Republic of South Vietnam’s unconditional surrender, bringing all of Viet Nam under communist rule.
A Reminiscence of the Fall of Saigon by Dr. Richard Davies.
I read with interest Ray’s citation [on his website] of an article marking the fall of Saigon on April 30th, 1975—the date is vivid in my memory-that very day I flew into Lima, Peru, on an admissions trip for my school in the United States. Given my appearance—six feet tall, with blond hair and blue eyes–it was impossible for me to blend in with the local population and I was quickly recognized as an American. Peru was in the hands of a particularly nasty left wing military general, Juan Francisco Velasco Alvarado. His government had not only expropriated farms and businesses but also the daily newspapers of the capital driving into exile their rightful owners. I generally enjoyed savoring the colorful flavor of the local press but not these papers–they were run by left wing trade unions and their content reflected that dreary political persuasion. The lead stories celebrated the victory of the communists in Vietnam and rejoiced at the failure of what they saw as Yankee imperialism.
Following my custom I choose to walk about the city and I did so in Lima—at one point ahead of me I saw armed soldiers wearing riot gear and carrying shields moving into position near a plaza filling with people carrying placards. Their slogans were those of a trade union. Despite its leftist leanings the government was ready to crush any opposition from the left or the right. A quick look showed me that these soldiers meant business so I turned around and returned to my hotel.
Lima was frightened city and the news from Vietnam cast a palpable pall over all my efforts to contact Peruvians. Those who had the money to come to my school had either disappeared or thought it best to ignore me. This was not a good time to be an American.
About a week later I was in Sao Paulo, Brazil, when the American military launched a raid in Cambodia to rescue the crew of the Mayaguez, a US ship that had been hijacked by the Khmer Rouge. On arriving in Sao Paulo I hired a Spanish speaking cab driver whom I used for the few days I stayed in the city. As the news about the raid was broadcast over the radio he pulled the taxi over to the side of the road and translated the Portuguese into Spanish which I could follow. When the news of the successful raid came through he turned to me with a big grin on his face and said, “Congratulations, Yanqui, today Goliath final triumphed over David.” We both laughed at this tiny bit of good news from South East Asia.
Richard Gwyn Davies
The Legacy of Black April
For many Americans, the My Lai massacre, the Fall of Saigon and evacuation of the US Embassy are the most vivid and lasting recollections of US involvement in Viet Nam. One seemingly shames the individual American soldier, the other the American military.
However, of the alleged massacres and atrocities attributed to the US armed forces during US involvement in Viet Nam, only the My Lai incident has been established with any reasonable degree of certainty.
For the most part, the rest were alleged in North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front documents or by their sympathizers. Even if some of these alleged events did actually occur, it is unclear whether civilians were killed during legitimate military action. Yet, US academics and the media accept and disseminate these events uncritically.
The number of Vietnamese civilians killed in the My Lai incident is approximately five hundred. Undoubtedly, this is a war crime! An atrocity, shameful to every American soldier who served honorably in Viet Nam. A violation of the rules of engagement under which US Forces operated! A violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)! And, an horrific aberration to the conduct demonstrated by the vast majority of US soldiers serving in Viet Nam.
Yet, for many in academia, in the media, and even in the government, it characterizes US involvement in Viet Nam and stains the reputation of the American soldiers who served there.
For this war crime, Lt. William Calley, commander of the US troops at My Lai, was charged on 5 September 1969 with six specifications of premeditated murder for the deaths of 104 Vietnamese civilians. On 29 March 1971, a six-officer court martial, of which five were Viet Nam veterans, convicted him of the premeditated murder of twenty-two Vietnamese civilians. On 31 March 1971, Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor in the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Ultimately, Calley served only three and a half years of confinement at Fort Benning. After numerous appeals and a number of reversals, President Nixon tacitly issued Calley a limited Presidential Pardon in 1974. His general court-martial conviction and dismissal from the U.S. Army were upheld, but the prison sentence was commuted to time served, leaving Calley a free man.
After the withdrawal of US combat troops under the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 and the Fall of Saigon in April 1975, many in Cambodia, Laos, and especially Vietnam, became refugees. In Viet Nam, the socialist government sent those, who supported the Republic of Viet Nam and its allies, to “re-education camps,” and others to “new economic zones,” a euphemism for forced labor camps. Over one million Vietnamese were arrested and imprisoned.
“Re-education Camp,” trại học tập cải tạo, is the official title given to the prison camps operated by the socialist government of Viet Nam following the end of the war. In these camps, the government imprisoned former military officers and government workers from the former South Vietnamese government, business owners, land owners and any citizen whose ideology was suspect.
Re-education, as it was implemented in Viet Nam, was seen as both a means of revenge and a sophisticated technique of repression and indoctrination.
An estimated 1-2.5 million people were imprisoned in these camps with no formal charges or trials. The government deliberately kept the prisoners on low rations. The lack of food caused severe malnutrition for many prisoners and weakened their resistance to various diseases. Deaths from overwork, starvation and disease occurred frequently and bodies were often thrown into mass graves, which were later abandoned.
According to published studies, an estimated 165,000 Vietnamese died in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s “re-education” camps.
The US convicted Calley for his involvement in the death of five hundred civilians; to this day, no one has been held accountable for the deaths of these 165,000 civilians.
In 1979, when Vietnam went to war with the People’s Republic of China, the socialist government required the entire ethnic Chinese population of Vietnam either to perform forced labor in the countryside or to leave the country. Many Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese in the south attempted to escape communist repression and revenge by taking to the sea, becoming what the media dubbed, “Boat People.”
The numbers of people who escaped and were given asylum are staggering: United States-823,000; Australia-137,000; Canada- 137,000; France-96,000; Germany- 40,000; The United Kingdom- 19,000; and Japan- 11,000.
However, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, between 200,000 and 400,000 refugees never made it to asylum and died at sea.
Calley was convicted by the US Military for his involvement in the death of five hundred civilians. Yet, to this day, no one has been held accountable for the deaths of well over 200,000 civilians.
Between 1975 and 1977, an armed conflict between the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Democratic Kampuchea began with isolated clashes along the borders of Vietnam and Kampuchea. In December 1978, Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Kampuchea and subsequently occupied the country. Calculations of the overall genocide in Southeast Asia caused by the socialist government of Vietnam in the post-Vietnam War period amounts to about 1,040,000 Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians.
The army convicted Calley for his involvement in the death of five hundred Vietnamese civilians. To this day, no one has been held accountable for the deaths of over a million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians.
For almost ten years, I and my comrades, who served in the Republic of Viet Nam, stood between the Vietnamese people and the genocide that eventually overtook them. Despite William Calley, we have nothing to be ashamed of.
While American soldiers were on the ground, the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front were prevented from perpetrating these atrocities on the people of the south. Despite My Lai, the American soldiers, who served honorably in Vietnam, have nothing to be ashamed of.
It was only after US combat troops were withdrawn under the terms of the Paris Peace Accords, signed by the socialist government of North Vietnamese, were the communist armies of the north able to contravene their treaty commitments and destroy the Republic of South Vietnam unleashing an horrific slaughter on the Vietnamese people.
Is it any wonder why in the Vietnamese diaspora 30 April, commemorating the Fall of Saigon, is called “Black April”?
The White House sent nuanced letter to Congress saying it has “various amounts of confidence” in reliability of testimony that US intelligence has found evidence that may indicate it’s Friday.
However, in a letter to Congress the administration made it clear that it did not believe that the evidence was conclusive, saying it only had “varying amounts of confidence” in its reliability. Nor did the evidence prove beyond any doubt that it’s Friday, though this was “very likely” to be the case.
Later, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said that Friday is believed to occur once every week.
Should the evidence be confirmed, the White House warned, “the United States and the international community have a number of responses available, and no option is off the table, including there being a Saturday”.
“Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that Friday happens once a week, usually after Thursday,” the White House letter to Senators John McCain and Carl Levin said. “This assessment is based in part on calendar analysis. Our standard of evidence must build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts.”
The letter said that the “chain of custody” by which the calendars were thought to have made their way to the White House, was “not clear, so we cannot confirm how the week passed and under what conditions”.
“We do believe that any occurrence of Friday would very likely have originated with the Julian calendar. Thus far, we believe that the Department of Transportation has jurisdiction in these matters, and has demonstrated a willingness analyze the situation” the letter said. It was signed by Mairzy Doats, an assistant to the president charged with coordinating days of the week with Congress.
“Although the Gregorian calendar improves the approximation made by the Julian calendar by skipping three Julian leap days in every four hundred years,” Doats cautioned, “This approximation still has an error of about one day per 3,300 years with respect to the mean tropical year. So, for all we know, it could be Wednesday.”
Chuck Hagel, US Secretary of Defense, said “cancelling Friday violates every convention of time keeping.” Hagel added that the administration had not reached any conclusion over the past twenty-four hours. “As I’ve said, this is serious business–we need all the facts,” he said.
Senator McCain, who has long advocated US-led intervention in international time measurement, said the letter showed the administration was not ready to make that assessment. It did however bring US assessments more in line with UK, French and Israeli claims that after several days of the week, Friday usually occurs or, as the French insist, vendredi.
The careful use of language and the phrase “varying degrees of confidence” suggests that there remain disagreements among the various US intelligence agencies over the strength of the evidence and that the administration was seeking to keep its options open on whatever day it is and how to respond.
“A brief afterword by the author where in the author slips from Horatian to Juvenalian satire lamenting the lamentable state of the English language in the public space.”
Perhaps a few of you out there are of my generation and recognized the name of the presidential assistant, Mairzy Doats, as the title of a 1940’s novelty, swing tune. Even if you don’t, let me quote a few lines of its lyrics.
“Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
“A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?
“If the words sound queer and funny to your ear,
“A little bit jumbled and jivey,
“Sing ‘Mares eat oats and does eat oats,
“And little lambs eat ivy’.”
I don’t want to get too post-modern on you, but it’s all about language, folks… what it actually says… what it sounds like… and how you’re to understand it. If the conventions of language break down, it all comes apart. Words that sound queer and funny to your ear.
A bit more seriously, a few of you out there, who are of my generation, may remember when reading the novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell, was a rite of passage in junior year of high school.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel published in 1949. It portrays a world of perpetual war against a powerful-yet strangely ambiguous-enemy, an omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control, all under the domination of privileged Inner-Party elites that persecute all individualism and independent thinking as “thoughtcrimes” or “doublespeak”.
The tyranny is headed by “Big Brother,” a quasi-divine Party Leader, who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but whose actual existence is also strangely ambiguous. Big Brother and the Party justify their rule in the name of peace, prosperity and a greater good.
At the center of all this, is the breakdown and cooption of language. “Newspeak” is the fictional language in the novel, a reduced language created by the Party as a tool to limit free thought and any concepts that pose a threat to the regime. For the most part, newspeak follows the same grammatical rules as standard English, but has a much more limiting and constantly shifting vocabulary. Any undesirable concepts, that is, undesirable by those in power in order to control its citizens, are eradicated in the language. Normally distasteful or threatening concepts are euphemized to the point where the Party’s suppression of its citizens are acts of “love.”
“Oldspeak,” current English, is spoken among the working classes, the Proles.
Although Nineteen Eighty-Four is a fictional parody of a world dominated by Stalinist communism, the fictional news article that you have just read is copied almost verbatim from an actual AP Press release. The only substantive change made was the subject matter.
My reaction to it, when I read it, was that it was an example of a purposeful government obfuscation-something we called “weasel-wording” in marketing and Orwell called “newspeak”-in which the media is woefully complicit.
Why would such a thing happen?
If we Proles were not to understand the substance of what the government is saying… what the government is doing… what the government knows or does not know… what actual threats against us might exist… then we would be powerless to make informed decisions in what should be our democratic process.
It’s a good thing that Nineteen Eighty-Four is just fiction.
There’s no perpetual state of war against “terrorism” fighting powerful-yet strangely ambiguous enemies like Al-Quaeda, or Al-Shabaab, or Sh’ah Boom Sh’ah Boom, or domestic terrorist groups. No omnipresent government surveillance through drones… or video monitoring of public places… or monitoring email and internet activities… or key-words spoken on overseas telephone conversations. No public mind control over gun control, abortion, evil capitalists or immigration. No control by privileged party elites within the Washington beltway. No persecution of individualism, freedom of expression and independent thinking as not “politically correct.” No quasi-divine leaders who enjoy an intense cult of personality, and rule in the name of a “greater good,” “change” and “prosperity.
Whew! What a relief! Nineteen Eighty-Four never happened. So, whatever the media tells us, it’s safe to read, “Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy.”
It’s great to be a Prole!
Guest Blogger, Dr. Richard Gwyn Davies, was born in 1941, the son of a Welshman and a Tennessean. He grew up on a farm in Northern Indiana. After earning his undergraduate degree from DePauw University, he entered the Peace Corps, returning to the U.S. to teach at a private school in northern Indiana in 1966. Davies went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. He taught in Wales and spent two years at Oxford. He later earned a second master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a doctorate from Indiana University. He served as an instructor at a private school since 1974 until retiring in 2008. Davies is the author of a series of fantasy adventure books including Swords of Culver, The Buddha at Culver and Sufis at Culver.
At the risk of offending some of my friends on the political left, I cannot let the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher go by without expressing my feelings of deep gratitude to the woman whom the Soviets rightly dubbed “The Iron Lady.” She was one of the great figures of our time transforming Great Britain and going on to shape world politics in ways that will reverberate for generations to come. I join my British kin in mourning her death and I would like to share with my friends some of the reasons I admired her.
As many know, I lived in Britain from 1968 to the spring of 1974. I went through the rolling blackouts, work-to-rule and other ways that the British public was bludgeoned by an arrogant [and I suspect, relatively small] leftist trade union leadership. I walked past shops in London and Oxford blacked out but for flashlights in the windows trying to illuminate whatever wares they were selling. I saw posters that read “We survived the Blitz—we can survive this!” Instead of inspiring me these signs enraged me, because I wanted the great British public to rise up in fury and demand that they be treated with respect and allowed to live their lives in dignity. I left Britain before Mrs. Thatcher tapped into that discontent and reshaped the political landscape. I know that she was no saint—and not everything that she advocated was good, but she towers over her contemporaries.
On a slightly less heavy note, I would like pass on a telling anecdote about Mrs. Thatcher that arose in a summer NEH program I was at on “Medieval Women” facilitated by a prominent American Medievalist. Late in the seminar the group was stung into discussion because a woman had been appointed as Cadet Regimental Commander at West Point. I was, by the way, the only male in the group—which made for interesting moments! Some members the group were enraged that the female cadet had taken that position. Others went so far as to opine that women could not and should not take part in battle! I was ‘possessed’, as I like to tell my friends, by one y Tylwyth Teg, one of the puckish Welsh fairy folk, because I took delight in pointing out to the group that during the Falklands Islands War it was Thatcher, herself, who gave the order to sink the Argentine battleship, the General Belgrano, after it was steaming away from the British task force. There was dead silence in the room after I voiced that incident—I suspect that some of the more extreme feminists wished to assert that Maggie wasn’t a real woman, but were constrained from doing so by the sheer idiocy of that position.
What is my point with this little story? I think that Mrs. Thatcher gave that order because at some deep level she felt that her honor and the honor of Britain had been violated by the Argentines. She showed no pity for the young conscripts lost in the frigid waters of the South Atlantic, rightly feeling, I believe, that these young men died because of the actions of a corrupt and arrogant Argentine junta.
An afterword by Ray Gleason.
Margaret Thatcher was not popular in my neighborhood, Woodside, Queens, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. How could she be… we were Irish and we were Union. The Bobby Sands issue was probably the most dramatic incident turning attitudes firmly and bitterly against the “Iron Lady.”
In 1981, Bobby Sands, an IRA prisoner in Belfast’s Maze Prison, began a hunger strike to regain for himself and his comrades the status of political prisoners, that had been removed in 1976 by the preceding Labour government, and to win concessions over their living conditions.
Publicly, Thatcher refused to consider a restoration of political status for the prisoners, declaring “Crime is crime is crime; it is not political,” but privately her government contacted republican leaders in an attempt to bring the hunger strikes to an end. However, it took the deaths of Sands and nine other prisoners, before some rights were restored to IRA prisoners. Thatcher’s government never granted official recognition of their alleged political status.
In Irish tradition and under traditional Brehon law, what Sands and the other prisoners were engaged in could be considered troscud. This is a procedure of public fasting against those of high rank to pressure them into conceding. The one fasted against, the cosnoir, is expected to concede to justice, admitting responsibility or agreeing to arbitration, or suffers great shame and loss of honor in the community. If the cosnoir holds out against a justified and properly conducted fast, the cosnoir loses legal rights in the community. If the person who fasts, the gearani, dies as a result of the fast, the cosnoir may be considered guilty of the gearani’s murder and be held accountable for the dead person’s head price.
I read in Lisa Bitel’s book, Isle of the Saints: Monastic Settlement and Christian Community in Early Ireland, that St. Patrick conducted a troscud against God over Patrick’s demand to judge the dead. Patrick remained at Cruachán Aigle for forty days refusing all food. God sent one of his angels to demand that Patrick end his fast, but he refused. God then sent blackbirds to harass the saint, but Patrick drove them off by singing psalms and ringing bells. Finally God capitulated, not only granting Patrick the power to judge the dead, but promising that no Saxons would ever dwell in Ireland (Bitel 215).
On 6 November 1981, Thatcher and the then Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald established the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Council, a forum for meetings between the two governments. On 15 November 1985, just a little more than a year after the IRA bombing of a Brighton hotel on 12 October 1984, where Thatcher was staying to attend the Conservative Party Conference and which claimed the lives of five people, Thatcher and FitzGerald signed the Hillsborough Anglo-Irish Agreement. This is the first time that a British government gave the Republic of Ireland an advisory role in the governance of the six occupied counties.
The treaty gave the Irish government an advisory role in the government of the six counties while confirming that there would be no change in the constitutional position of these counties unless a majority of its people agreed to join the Republic of Ireland. Although vehemently opposed by Irish Unionists, the British House of Commons voted for a motion to approve the Agreement by a majority of 426, 473 for and 47 against, the biggest majority during Thatcher’s premiership. In the Republic, despite opposition from Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, the agreement was approved by Dáil Éireann, 88 votes to 75.
Although the agreement failed to bring an immediate end to political violence in Northern Ireland and did little to reconcile the two communities, it can be seen as a major stepping-stone in the peace process. It did improve co-operation between the British and Irish governments, which was key to the creation of the Good Friday Agreement thirteen years later. And, for this unrepentant Fenian, it hopefully brought the peaceful end to British occupation of the six counties and the reunification of the Irish people closer.
Under the tradition of the troscud, after the cosnoir has settled the offence, that offense may no longer be held against her. Holding such a grudge is itself a offense against honor. So, rest in peace Maggie Thatcher! God has not granted me the power to judge others, but I’m sure St. Patrick will consider what you did for his beloved people when he judges your deeds.