What’s in a presidential name?

We all go through life constructing ourselves and how we wish to be known to others. Even presidential candidates.

Quick: which 3 current presidential don’t use the first names that they were born with? And who is Cara Sneed? Keep reading.

future Presidential candidate Cara Sneed, from PhotoBucket
Cara Sneed

Some of the presidential candidates still prefer to use their given first and last birth names, as in John Kasich, Martin O’Malley, Donald Trump.

There is, though, a trend for candidates and politicians to use nicknames, no doubt in order to project more closeness to ordinary voters, going back at least to the successful 1948 and 1952 campaign slogans “Give ’em hell, Harry” and “I like Ike.” James Earl Carter went so far as to change his legal name to Jimmy Carter, the name under which he was inaugurated. The young William Jefferson Blythe took his stepfather’s last name and emerged as the Bill Clinton we have seen in the daily news for almost 25 years (though using William Jefferson Clinton for formal effect). Clinton is not Billy, though opponents have tried unsuccessfully to make Willy stick to him; and his affectionate name for Hillary, Hill, is not in public use. For other politically famed nickname holders, think of Teddy and Bobby Kennedy (though not Johnny).

Thus Benjamin Solomon Carson, Sr., is known to us as Ben (definitely not Benny), Christopher James Christie as Chris, Michael Dale Huckabee as Mike, Richard John Santorum as Rick, and Bernard Sanders as Bernie. Just like our friends and neighbors, they use familiar nicknames—a reflection of our times; we don’t think of our founding presidents #1-3 as Georgie, Johnnie, and Tommy, for sure.

I wondered whether Rand Paul had any association (other than ideological) to the writer Ayn Rand, but it seems not: he was born Randal Howard Paul, grew up as Randy (good to have left that one behind), and changed to Rand at his wife’s choice.

In another trend, FDR, JFK, and LBJ are well known by their initials, but none of the current crop seems to have tried that (particularly not Bernie Sanders, and not Barack Obama either). HRC does appear sometimes for Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose name is a story in itself.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is a well-accepted and now traditional name pattern for married women. She actually retained the name Hillary Rodham when married in 1975, but soon preferred Hillary Clinton in her and her husband’s campaigns to make voters more comfortable, and two months ago the New York Tiimes decided to take out the Rodham and use the two-part name, which is also that of her campaign website.

How about the other woman in the campaign? Carly Fiorina, who has spun stories about rising from the secretary’s desk to the boardroom, started life as Cara Carleton Sneed, daughter of Joseph Tyree Sneed, III, a distinguished law professor, judge, and US Deputy Attorney General under president Richard Nixon (whose nickname became derogatory, when preceded by Tricky). Fiorina comes from her (second) husband, Frank Fiorina. Not, it seems, Cara, not Carleton, not Carly Sneed Fiorina. That shows good judgment: Cara Sneed for president just doesn’t have the same musical ring as Carly Fiorina.

But the most interesting current first names are those of two male candidates.

Jeb Bush bears the real name John Ellis Bush; his 3 initials gave rise to his long-standing nickname Jeb (perhaps a gesture to the Confederate general and hero Jeb Stuart, whose given name was James Ewell Brown?). The current Jeb has been Jeb in personal and political life and as governor of Florida. The exclamation mark motif, Jeb!, was used already in his first gubernatorial campaign in 1994. The official Florida list of governors gives John Ellis Bush in the title but refers to him in the text as Jeb Bush. If he were to become president, would he, like Jimmy Carter, choose to legally change his name so as to be inaugurated as Jeb (preferably not Jeb!)?

And then there’s Rafael Edward Cruz (not Jr., because his father is Rafael Bienvenido Cruz). First nicknamed Felito (from Rafaelito), in high school he found it subject to mockery and chose the more mainstream-sounding name Ted. Again, a good political decision! However, Marco Antonio Rubio is definitely not Mark, probably another good decision, especially in Florida.

Ultimately, candidates and presidents are just like the rest of us: they once were children, they sleep and wake, catch the flu, have formed their personalities over the years, and have chosen the way others refer to them, past and present… possibly with the help of some focus groups of ordinary voters.

I started this train of thought with the family name Trump: Friedrich Drumpf, after immigrating in 1885, made the name change that now benefits his political grandson Donald (Donny Drumpf for President, I don’t think so!).

Will “the Donald” start a trend of using a definite article with first names? It turns out that his definite article, added by the faulty English of his first wife Ivana (who also called him The Don, which hasn’t yet caught on), entered public consciousness with a Spy magazine article in 1989.

The definite article is not recommended for Governor Kasich, but the Martin or the Carly, anyone?
feelthebern-mug_grandeThe Sanders campaign is using the definite article cleverly and punningly in its phrase “Feel the Bern” (popularized by Jane Fonda’s workout videos, and roughly equivalent to “No pain, no gain”), which you can find on his paraphernalia including this “Feel the Bern” mug.

Perhaps the future belongs to those who are ahead of the language curve.

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“Trump-l’oeil” and the US political scene

The American still life exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (through Jan. 10) gives a fine view of how not only the art of painting but also the search for national self-definition has evolved.

Two centuries ago, when several members of the artistically illustrious Peale family were painting in Philadelphia, the new nation admired nature, science, and their interface with art. How much more noble than today’s national priorities, which seem to be drones, selfies, and screens of all sizes.

Judging by 19th century art, Americans once followed James Thurber’s dictum “Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around us in awareness.” Today, anger and fear seem to have risen to the top of the national consciousness, and awareness seems to have been largely exiled from public life to the advice columns.

A primary theme in the show is the enduring fascination with trompe-l’oeil painting (there are also good specimens in the Brandywine River Museum of Art). Trompe-l’oeil paintings are designed to “fool the eye” into believing it is really seeing dead ducks hanging on a hook in the kitchen, notes and tickets affixed to a bulletin board, and my favorite, a rectangular wooden box that, on one side, reveals a cat behind bars waiting to be shipped. One of the most famed paintings in the show is one with a real postage stamp and a painted replica, totally indistinguishable to the naked eye.

The audio commentary at one point pronounces the French trompe-l’oeil as Trump-l’oeil–too perfect not to comment on. Of course, many current politicians would approve, since knowing a foreign language (à la Romney or Kerry, both fluent in French) is frowned on in some circles in the era of “Freedom Fries.”

“Trump-l’oeil” seems an ideal metaphor for some of today’s leading presidential candidates. Their careers and candidacies are all about show and superficiality, and even when their subterfuges are found out, they just keep on pointing to the illusion, videos that they “have seen” but that do not exist, and that they hope will come to loom larger than the underlying reality.

Can we even distinguish an underlying reality any more? Perhaps the postage stamp painting is an elaborate hoax and neither stamp is real. It will be interesting to see, in the course of the next eleven months, whether Americans, in examining political candidates, can practice the lost art of distinguishing reality from deception, truth from illusion.

“The staircase group” by Charles Willson Peale, 1795, from Wikimedia Commons. This painting, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s permanent collection, is also in the still life show. The young painters on the staircase are two of the artist’s sons; it is said that when entering Peale’s studio to sit for a portrait, George Washington once doffed his hat to them (to the painting, that is).

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Shipwrecks, climate disruption, mass shootings

This excerpt from Kathryn Schulz, “Writers in the Storm” (The New Yorker, Nov. 23, 2015), seems to me a good analogy for the human slowness in solving problems:

It is difficult … to appreciate how catastrophic the weather could be before we had any ability to forecast it…. in 1869, there were 1,914 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes alone. Not coincidentally, the ship-salvage industry was instrumental in lobbying against early weather forecasting. Partly owing to its influence, the British government effectively eliminated FitzRoy’s position at the Meteorological Department shortly after his death, and suspended his two major innovations—weather forecasts and storm warnings—until scientific and public outcry sufficed to get them reinstated….

FitzRoy was not only among the founders of modern meteorology but also the captain who fatefully enrolled Charles Darwin as his ship’s naturalist in 1831.

Ship salvage was a big source of income, not only for a whole industry but also for residents of rocky coasts, as you know if you have seen the BBC series “Poldark,” set in Cornwall a couple of centuries ago. (Photo from PhotoBucket.)

Ship sinking

The misfortune of some is the profit of others.

So we should not be surprised that the fossil fuel industry, which as recently revealed has long known how its operations contribute to warming our climate and increasing the violence of our weather, has been doing everything in its very substantial power to prevent reductions in carbon and methane being added to the atmosphere and oceans.

Similarly, we should not be surprised if the gun and ammunition industry does everything in its power to prevent limits on sales of its products, even to the mentally disturbed, those who have actively threatened others, and individuals on the terrorist watch list.

The fossil fuel and gun industries are the ship salvagers of our time: they profit from others’ misfortunes and will go to the wall to avert change.

The question is: when will “scientific and public outcry” be strong enough to impose the needed changes? It’s no longer a question of a few thousand ships going down needlessly every year, but of severe disruption of the environment and human habitat and widespread deaths, injuries, starvation, forced migration, and fear among the general population.

If we wait for change to come from elected officials, it may take a long time. I don’t doubt that some really pursue the public interest, but as big money consolidates its rule, every day’s news bears out Upton Sinclair’s famous dictum:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

As some now think, is the only avenue to change for investors to sue fossil fuel companies for not warning potential investors that climate change and public demand for regulation may threaten the bottom line? And to sue gun manufacturers on the grounds that repealing their legal immunity is figuring in this year’s presidential debates?

See for example “Trinity Church Campaigns Against Some Gun Sales at Cabela’s,” New York Times, 12/21/15:

…Activists are raising reputational risk as an issue to push retailers and gun manufacturers to change.

Last week, New York City’s public advocate asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Smith & Wesson misrepresented or omitted information in its public disclosures about how often its products are involved in crimes….

Successful suits would be poetic justice, since when faced with any public-interest or moral issue, corporations like to say their only duty is to their shareholders.

Merry Christmas, shareholders, and may you have a shipwreck-free New Year.

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Long guns and House Bill 1010

A bill pending before the PA House of Representatives (HB 1010) and Senate (SB 1049) would require that purchasers of “long guns” from a seller who is not a dealer or manufacturer pass a background check before a registered dealer, importer, manufacturer or county sheriff’s office. (Transfers between certain family members are exempt.)

But we already have background checks, don’t we?

We do, but federal law does not cover private sales, and PA law has a big loophole.

State code (Title 18, sect. 6111.f2) says that background checks in private sales (thus, from non-dealers at a gun show, over the internet, or on the street) are required only for

pistols or revolvers with a barrel length of less than 15 inches, any shotgun with a barrel length of less than 18 inches, any rifle with a barrel length of less than 16 inches or any firearm with an overall length of less than 26 inches.

So a long gun purchase needs a background check if made from a licensed dealer (in a store, at a gun show, wherever), but not if from an unlicensed seller.

It’s hard to why this loophole exists if the General Assembly’s goal were to protect public safety. Someone planning a terrorist attack or wanting to kill an estranged spouse can go the “private” route and buy an armload of long guns in PA. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “An estimated 40% of all firearms transferred in the U.S. are transferred by unlicensed individuals.”

HB 1010 would end the exemption on background checks for private long gun sales. In return, as a convenience to people who feel they need to buy more than one gun at a go, it allows a single background check to count for the duration of a gun show, up to 48 hours.

But, some might say, a rifle or shotgun is just used for hunting; what’s the big deal?

First, rifles have been used in terroristic shootings. An in-state example is the 2014 shooting of two state troopers in Pike County PA. The nearly 7-week manhunt disrupted local life and occupied up to 1,000 police officers–obviously an expensive affair for the public, and even worse for the killed trooper and his wounded colleague.

Many other killers, as in the Colorado Planned Parenthood killing of three a couple of weeks ago, have also used rifles.

But what’s even more serious is that rapid-fire high-capacity long guns count in the same category as rifles and shotguns.

At Sandy Hook Elementary School 3 years ago today, on December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza killed 20 children and 6 adults with a Bushmaster .223 caliber model XM15-E2S rifle with a high capacity 30-round magazine (he also carried two handguns, one of which he used to kill himself) and also had a shotgun in his car.

The “Beltway Sniper” in 2002 killed 10 and injured 3 critically
with a “stolen Bushmaster XM-15 (AR-15 style) semiautomatic .223 caliber rifle equipped with an EOTech holographic weapon sight.”

The Colorado movie theater shooter in 2012 killed 12 with a semi-automatic rifle, the AR-15, used with a magazine of 100 rounds.

And earlier this month, assault rifles killed 14 and wounded 21 in San Bernadino (image of the weapons used from New York Times, 12/4/15).

Weapons in San Bernadino attack

Such scary merchandise can currently be bought privately in PA, with no background check.

HB 1010 / SB 1049 could be finally getting some traction in Harrisburg. From Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, here are the positions of Chesco members of the PA House on the bill:

13 John Lawrence
26 Tim Hennessey
74 Harry Lewis cosponsor
155 Becky Corbin
156 Dan Truitt supports
157 Warren Kampf cosponsor
158 Chris Ross cosponsor
160 Stephen Barrar
167 Duane Milne

and in the State Senate:

9 Dominic Pileggi cosponsor
19 Andy Dinniman cosponsor
26 Thomas McGarrigle cosponsor
44 John Rafferty

So, that’s a total of 7 out of 13 favorable. As the heat on the others rises, it will be interesting to see if they are drawn to the light. (Please post a comment if you know of other Chesco legislators’ positions on the bills.)

According to a Pew Research Center poll in July

85% of Americans – including large majorities of Democrats (88%) and Republicans (79%) – favor expanded background checks.

Expanded, that is, to include gun shows and private sales. Interestingly (per the full downloadable report), 82% of those respondents “who say it is more important to protect gun rights favor expanded background checks on private gun sales.” Even 74% of NRA members approve of universal background checks (which is what PA would have if HB 1010 / SB 1049 becomes law).

After all, most of us are eager to minimize the danger of death and injury to our friends, relatives, and selves, really to anyone, and according to the Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence,

Researchers confirm that universal background check laws effectively improve public safety and save lives. Research has found that states with universal background check laws experience 48 percent less gun trafficking, 38 percent fewer deaths of women shot by intimate partners, and 17 percent fewer firearms involved in aggravated assaults. States with universal background check requirements also have a 53 percent lower gun suicide rate, and 31 percent fewer suicides per capita than states without these laws.

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PA Republicans Trumped; can they get out of it?

I really didn’t want to write about Donald Trump (except that I recently did about his name, which two generations ago was Drumpf)… or about the Pennsylvania Republican party either.

But the current conjuncture is irresistible, now that neo-Nazi leader William Daniel Johnson has called the Republican front-runner “the real deal” (TeleSUR, 12/9/15).

Johnson has run for various offices and 30 years ago notably proposed, under a pseudonym, an amendment to the US Constitution that:

“No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race, in whom there is no ascertainable trace of Negro blood, nor more than one-eighth Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood, provided that Hispanic whites, defined as anyone with an Hispanic ancestor, may be citizens if, in addition to meeting the aforesaid ascertainable trace and percentage tests, they are in appearance indistinguishable from Americans whose ancestral home is in the British Isles or Northwestern Europe. Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States.”

You’d think that anyone running for president would say he doesn’t want the endorsement of someone like Johnson, wouldn’t you? (Photo of Trump from pennlive.com)

TrumpAnd now that Trump has gathered white supremacist support, antagonized Latinos and Muslims and many others, and shown such ignorance of the US constitution that he, among others, proposes a religious test for receiving visas to enter the US, wouldn’t you also think that the Pennsylvania Republican party would disinvite him from serving as featured speaker at their annual luncheon in New York City?

Good luck on that one too!

Every second weekend in December, The Pennsylvania Society holds a fundraising and networking “retreat” for Pennsylvania notables, especially from the areas of politics and business, in Manhattan. Though the event has been criticized as reflecting an objectionable power structure mentality, that isn’t the problem right now in itself.

According to Wikipedia, “much of the ‘real action’ takes place in the invitation-only dinners and receptions hosted by businesses, candidates, and lobbying firms throughout the weekend. And one of those is a luncheon put on by The Commonwealth Club. Their web site tells us that:

The Commonwealth Club represents an impressive cross section of Pennsylvanians—community leaders, business executives, entrepreneurs, physicians and retirees

Members attend lunches and reception across our Commonwealth with Republican officials and leaders, sharing information on today’s important issues and keeping members informed on the Republican campaign every step of the way.

Joining the Commonwealth Club is the best way to put Republican ideas in to action!

If you’re so inclined, you can join for $1,000 a year, which is a pretty good deal if you also want to attend the luncheon with Donald Trump on Friday, because then you will pay only $250 for your lunch instead of the normal $1,000.

Republican candidates in Pennsylvania get some of the proceeds, of course.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/30/15: “He’s high in the polls. We think our donor base would like to hear from him,” said state Republican chairman Rob Gleason. Mr. Trump’s appearance is not an endorsement from the state party but should capture the curiosity of the GOP faithful, more than 300 of whom may turn out, he said.

That’s a delicate line to tread: capitalize on his notoriety, ring up the income, but keep quiet about his ideas.

The whole Trump / Commonwealth Club brouhaha is a tough one for Republican leaders and office-holders. If Trump is not the ultimate Republican candidate, denouncing him now would allow them to gain some moderate credentials, though hard-line Trump supporters would never forgive them. But if Trump turns out to be their party’s candidate, then they are in trouble, probably on his hit list, and in disgrace with Trumpistas (and also with Sarah Palin, who likes Trump’s idea.

Senator Pat Toomey will not be attending the luncheon on Friday, first citing a “scheduling conflict” but then he tweeted yesterday that “Trump is wrong. We should not have a religious test for admission to U.S. We should have a security test, and it should be bullet proof.” Admiral Joe Sestak, ever alert in his primary race to oppose Toomey in November, got in the first reply: “Then why 2 weeks ago did you say we don’t need that bullet proof test ‘if we know with certainty that the person is a Christian’?”

Here’s what Toomey said: ““If we know with certainty that the person is a Christian, then I think we can be pretty clear that they’re not a jihadist. I’m not aware of any Christians that are joining ISIS,” he said. “But that by itself is not adequate. We would want to know whether they have a criminal background or whether they would have other problems in their background.”

That really doesn’t sound too good, does it (barring obvious counterindications, Christians yes, Muslims no)? And given that the vast majority of mass shootings in the US are carried out by Christian males, the Senator’s point could use some clarification, it seems to me.

At Lancaster Online, 12/9/15, we learn that:

Lancaster County’s representatives in the House and Senate condemned Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the country, calling it “contrary to our values as a nation.”

“I have worked for decades on behalf of religious minorities, and that includes Muslims,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, who represents most of Lancaster County in the 16th Congressional District.

Pitts noted the first line of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protects religious liberty.

“The threat of Muslim terrorism is grave, but we don’t defend our core principles by sacrificing them during times of trial,” he said.

How about Chester County?

According to PoliticsPA, Representatives Costello (PA-6) will not be attending the lunch because of his busy schedule, and Rep. Meehan (PA-7) will not be attending either and “said in a statement: ‘It’s wrong, and it’s contrary to our values as a nation'” (Lancaster Online).

In the days ahead, and particularly in the Commonwealth Club context, it will be interesting to see what other office-holders have to say about Trump’s outrages. And let’s note that retiring from office (like Joe Pitts) can be liberating, whereas those on the ballot this year are more likely consumed with Fear of Trump. Here are the choices I see from easy to hard (for Republicans, that is):

1) Say nothing or be busy on something else (Costello, above);

2) Denounce what Trump said about Muslims (Pitts, above);

3) Take issue directly with the hatred, racism, and xenophobia that seem to be the Trump campaign’s life blood and denounce his whole modus operandi.

Examples of level 3: Jeb Bush on Twitter, 12/7/15, “Donald Trump is unhinged. His ‘policy’ proposals are not serious.” Lindsey Graham: “If you want to make America great again, tell Donald Trump to go to hell.” It’s a lot easier attack Trump head-on for his primary rivals, who are after all running against him, than for candidates for lower offices, who may have to run with him at the top of their ticket. What a dilemma! Of course, candidates could just say what they believe… or maybe they already are by their skittishness.

I’ve tried to track down any further statements by Chesco office-holders on their web sites, Facebook, Twitter, or in the media. For now, I have the impression that choice 1), above, is the favorite. Any reader who finds substantive statements, please so indicate in Comments.

PS 12/10/15: If you feel strongly about this, you can sign a petition at US Action, whose text is: “This Friday, December 11, Donald Trump will be the keynote speaker for the Pennsylvania Republican Party. Tickets to the event cost from $1,000 to $10,000. In light of Trump’s recent unconstitutional call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, we are demanding that the PA GOP rescind their invitation to Trump. If they do not, it means that they support Trump and his outrageous positions.”

PS I also wrote about Trump in “Trump, DiGiorgio, and the Big Tent” on August 5, 2015. I think what I said then still stands: “I hope voters will watch carefully for any GOP progress in renouncing Trump and all he stands for or in getting serious about the well-worn Big Tent principle.”

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Anarchism / barbarism / terrorism: ISIS and Europe

To me, it is impossible not to look at the horrors of the past few weeks as history. As soon as they happen, they join a long train of horrors stretching back to the beginning of recorded history.

It is said that there are two types of racist: those who recognize their racism and those who don’t. I think it is the same with barbarism: there are peoples who recognize the barbarities in their history and those who don’t. It’s hard; the very word, derived from the ancient Greek term for the Other, implies that we ourselves are not capable of it.

It is tempting to see Western Europe as a traditional champion of civilization and humanitarianism. Because I’ve been reading Colleen McCullough’s massive series on the last century of Republican Rome, let me mention that the Romans–founders of the Western world– were inordinately fond of crucifixion to execute individuals of lower rank, particularly slaves, including thousands of followers of Spartacus after the slave revolt was finally put down in 71 BC.

Like the Romans, our former colonial masters, the British, traditionally had what was regarded as a more dignified punishment for the nobility: beheading, as opposed to hanging. If you’ve seen the Wolf Hall series, you’ve seen Anne Boleyn waiting bravely for her noble end. Today, judicial decapitation, even by the supposedly humane guillotine, seems inhumane to the West and is regularly practiced only in Saudi Arabia, though beheading is regularly practiced by non-state actors in the Middle East. Capital punishment itself has been abandoned everywhere in the Western world except the United States.

Let’s skip the gory details, but the historically minded can think back to the Spanish inquisition (which originated in 13th-century France), the devastating Hundred Years War (which lasted 116 years), the forced conversion or expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain in the memorable year of 1492, Spanish exploitation and enslavement of Native Americans, many colonial powers importation of slaves, Belgian King Leopold II’s enslavement of the Congolese, the infamous atrocities of Hitler (invoked daily in our press and politics) and Stalin (read The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn), the final collapse of French colonialism in Algeria (see The Battle of Algiers), Serbian atrocities in Kosovo, and for almost a century a campaign of civil war in the partitioning of Ireland, including bombing campaigns in England in 1939-40 and again in the 1990’s. (Please remember, I am not exonerating anyone else, just dwelling on the European countries, since they seem to be on the receiving end right now.)

The French, to their honor, have always had a critical eye for abuse. In a famous passage of Voltaire (1759), the traveler Candide comes upon a black slave stretched out on the ground in the Dutch colony of Surinam.

“Good God,” said Candide in Dutch, “what dost thou here, friend, in this deplorable condition?”

“I am waiting for my master, Mynheer Vanderdendur, the famous trader,” answered the Negro.

“Was it Mynheer Vanderdendur that used you in this cruel manner?”

“Yes, sir,” said the Negro; “it is the custom here. They give a linen garment twice a year, and that is all our covering. When we labor in the sugar works, and the mill happens to snatch hold of a finger, they instantly chop off our hand; and when we attempt to run away, they cut off a leg. Both these cases have happened to me, and it is at this expense that you eat sugar in Europe….”

When the West points at atrocities in the Middle East, we cannot escape our own histories, but must recognize and try to at last rise above them. The Germans have been doing their best, and for all its issues, the European Union has succeeded in preventing the savage wars that regularly laid waste to Europe from antiquity through 1945.

Jordan Olmstead, “Five Keys to Understanding ISIS,” Pacific Standard, originally 12/29/14, points out that terrorists are not (much as they may seem so to us) crazy, but aim to subjugate populations by apparently unstoppable brutality.

The Islamic State is renowned for its ruthlessness…. But that doesn’t mean the group is driven purely by nihilistic sadism. Committing reprehensible acts of violence can be instrumentally rational for terrorist groups, meaning it can sometimes represent the best means for achieving a group’s ends.

ISIS PSMag 12-29-14

ISIS proclaims that it is building an “Islamic caliphate” in the war-devastated areas of Iraq and Syria, while it rather contradictorily practices anarchistic attacks on other countries, including the Russian airliner bombing in Egypt and the horrendous attacks in Paris.

Anarchism or non-government, the age-old idea attributed to various 18th-century thinkers that “That state governs best that governs least,” moved into a violent phase in Europe in the decades before and after 1900 when, like terrorists, due to their lack of political and military strength many anarchists began to see violence as an effective means of asserting their influence and precipitating world-changing convulsions. Their victims included Tsar Alexander II, president Sadi-Carot of France, and rulers of Italy, Portugal, and Greece.

The most infamous example of anarchist influence was the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian imperial throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in 1914 by the Serbian terrorist group The Black Hand, whose goal of a united South Slavic country was achieved after the unimaginable sufferings unleashed in World War I.

In Spain, the Basque separatist group ETA, which beginning in 1959 killed over 800 people in an underground war against dictator Francisco Franco, struck a decisive blow when it assassinated Franco’s heir apparent, Luis Carrero Blanco in 1973. Although, farther south, Barcelona had been the locale of anarchist and related agitation, culminating in the burning of 90 churches and monasteries in 1909, today’s Catalan separatist movement has been, so far, peaceful.

Osama Bin Laden, who as a Wahhabi Sunni practitioner of jihadist violence inspired AQI, the original basis of ISIS, laid out his views in his 2002 “Letter to the American People.” It is a doleful and humbling experience to read the long train of abuses, decadence, and aggression that he imputes to our own country, followed by his ominous conclusion:

If the Americans refuse to listen to our advice and the goodness, guidance and righteousness that we call them to, then be aware that you will lose this Crusade Bush began, just like the other previous Crusades in which you were humiliated by the hands of the Mujahideen, fleeing to your home in great silence and disgrace. If the Americans do not respond, then their fate will be that of the Soviets who fled from Afghanistan to deal with their military defeat, political breakup, ideological downfall, and economic bankruptcy.

This is our message to the Americans, as an answer to theirs. Do they now know why we fight them and over which form of ignorance, by the permission of Allah, we shall be victorious?

Crusaders Nevsky 15.36

As Jordan Olmstead (above) says, it is a mistake to believe that terrorists are crazy. Rather, in order to combat them effectively, Western governments and societies need to understand terrorists’ goals; but trying to do so outside of a comparative historical analysis that include the West’s own brutalities and how they are slowly been overcome, has not proven successful.

And since history also shows a period of beneficial coexistence of religions under Islamic rule in Spain until 1492 and in much of the Middle East until 2001, perhaps history also offers grounds for some hope for the future.

Images above: 1) ISIS fighters, in Pacific Standard, 2014. 2) Teutonic crusaders approaching the Battle on the Ice as show in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1938 film, celebrating Russian triumph over the Germanic invader, still from a rendition of Prokofief’s music to the film

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Now what do I do with yesterday’s political signs?

Winners exult, losers lament, and all of us wonder what to do with our growing collection of political signs and their metal support rods (AKA wickets).

Yesterday they were so important to sway voters’ minds… maybe… and now??

If your candidate might ever run again for the same office, 6 months or 2 or 4 years from now, save the sign in garage or basement. A little rust won’t hurt; in fact, it makes them more secure in the ground and less easy for evil-doers to pull out.

256px-2008-08-03_White_German_Shepherd_supporting_Barack_ObamaPhoto by Ildar Sagdejev from Wikimedia Commons

You might wish  to keep one sign as a memento of each campaign of historic importance… for a future collage on your garage wall, maybe?


• The sign, perched on its wicket and slanted at a judicious angle, is great for shading delicate plants and transplants.

• It can also temporarily block holes in picket fences where rabbits and rodents might otherwise enter your back yard (e.g., while you’ve removed pickets for repainting).

• The paper or plastic part of signs makes a good paint drop cloth. Add more signs to cover more area. Or cut the plastic signs at the sides and fold them out to twice as large.

• Lay plastic signs on the ground under your eaves to prevent water infiltration, and cover them with dirt or stones.

• In messy weather, use signs to protect carpet underfoot in your car (just be sure not to give a ride to the candidate in question during that time).

• The wicket is excellent for propping up floppy bushes and flowers.

For lower plants, cut or bend the wicket supports. For really tall ones, straighten the metal out.

The collapsible type of wickets, whose two legs are separate, with no link across the top, are a terrible pain in political use (because the legs keep falling off), but the components serve well as individual plant supports (with ties or string).

The type of wicket that looks like a ladder with two prongs extending up into a corrugated sign are great for supporting plants, which are held in place by the arms.

• Here’s a remedy for those clothes hangers that dry cleaners send back pants hanging on, and whose sticky cardboard crosspiece tends to sag on reuse: cut a piece of wicket to the right length and insert it inside the cardboard. That one won’t ever sag again!

• Use a wicket segment to stick between a window sash and the frame above (e.g., above an air conditioner) to prevent it from being raised from the outside.

• Insert wicket lengths between studs to hold up wall insulation and prevent sagging.

• I’ve used a wicket folded triple ply to insert inside a bamboo pole and then into a flag holder whose opening was too small for the bamboo. The metal made a strong and (I hope) permanent link where wood and thinner bamboo had collapsed under the strain. (Still experimenting on this one.)

• To stitch together segments of chicken wire or garden netting to keep off birds and rodents, whether vertically or horizontally: straighten out a wicket (they are surprisingly long in a straight line) and thread the resulting steel rod through the two adjoining segments.

• In art works. No kidding, I’ve seen in museums what looked to me like vertical clumps of campaign wickets with pieces of wood or corks jammed onto them. Adaptive reuse at its most esthetic. I keep meaning to try this one.

How to cut regular metal wickets by repeated bending? Be careful; use gloves and eye protection. It can be done by brute hand strength, or by pliers, to bend repeatedly until the metal fatigues and breaks. Hack saws take too long; this is tough metal! I guess a bolt cutter would work.

If all adaptive reuse fails, of course wickets can be recycled as metal or sold to the scrap yard for a few pennies a pound.

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