Saturday, November 22, 2008

English rules, words, and phrases that every supposedly educated person should understand

It bothers me when people with multiple university degrees misuse English, or whatever the lingua franca happens to be. This is especially grating when it happens to be the miscreant's first language. Correcting this will be a hard, thankless task, but I believe that this blog and I are up to the task. I would like to warn readers that much of this will sound awfully self-righteous on its own; for that, forgive me, I need the catharsis.

Where to start . . . ?

Let's start with a rule that I just correctly applied, but that is too often confused - the difference between saying "Jack and me" and saying "Jack and I."

"Jack and me" is not always incorrect. Consequently, people who always use "Jack and I" become transparently pretentious. "Me" is the 1st-person pronoun to be used as a direct or indirect object. In plain language, this means that you can use "me" whenever something is being done to you.

Example: "The teacher reprimanded Jack and me for being slovenly heathens." (correct)
vs. "The teacher reprimanded Jack and I for being slovenly heathens, and I just proved her right." (incorrect, pretentious).

That will be our grammar lesson for the day.

Let's get on to diction and pronunciation.

"Homage" is pronounced the way it is spelled. It is an English word, and has been for a long time. Say the bloody H. You do not sound more intelligent by saying it like a French word, as in "Omaaaajh." On the contrary, you sound like an unlettered savage, trying to feign intelligence.

The noun that corresponds to the verb "to prevent" is "Prevention." You decrease your esteem amongst literate people when you say "Preventation."

The verb that corresponds to "Orientation" is "to orient." You sound like a self-important buffoon when you say "Orientate." Is that consistent with the above lesson on "Prevention?" No, of course not. Merely because a "zealous" person is a "zealot" who is full of "zeal" does not mean that a "jealous" person is a "jealot" who is full of "jeal." Languages are never perfectly consistent, so quit boo-hoo-ing, and live with it.

There is no such word as "irregardless." Nobody ever uses "irregardless" without really meaning an actual English word, "regardless." People who say the former likely do so because they have heard literate people using real words like "irrespective" or "irresponsible." In these cases, the "ir-" prefix actually means something.

A verbal trick you use to remember something is a "mnemonic" device. It is NOT a "pneumonic" device. It will not cause you to be short of breath.

To "forage" means to find and gather something desirable from a relative wilderness. To "forge" means to create or build something from materials that are difficult to work with.

There is no such verb as "to impact." You cannot "impact something." You may "have an impact" on something, or you could "affect something." You have a perfectly good verb and a perfectly good noun to explain what you mean - there is no justifiable reason to "verb a noun."

That's enough of that for today; let's move on to misused phrases.

The phrase "to beg the question" is so abused that instances of its correct use are dwarfed by instances of its abuse. "To beg the question" does NOT mean that it "raises the question." In using it this way, you fortunately do not sound like a pompous fool. Instead, you simply sound like an otherwise normal individual whose experience in intelligent conversation and debate is highly limited. "To beg the question" means to provide an answer to a question or challenge that provides no information that was not already assumed in the question.

Correct usage example: "Why should we cut taxes?"
"Because then people will give a smaller percentage of their income to the government."
"You are begging the question."

Incorrect usage example: "Why should we cut taxes?"
"Because this will allow people to spend their money, resulting in a expansion in private enterprise, which will, in turn, create more employment and prosperity for all."
"But that begs the question: how much to we need to cut taxes in order to see an effect?"

In the first example, the person responding to the question did not provide his interlocutor with any information that was not assumed in the question. The questioner obviously knows that cutting taxes results in people giving less money to the government, he is asking why this is a desirable thing. The responder was truly "begging the question." In the second example, the responder has provided a reasonable answer to the original question, which raises the issue to which the second question is addressed. The response in no way "begged the question."

The opposite of "de facto" is "de jure." You can pronounce the "j" if you like, although to be faithful to the Latin, one should not. "de facto" implies that whatever is being discussed is not the result of an official ruling, legitimized by the accepted authority, but that it has come to be by convention. If it had been legitimized by the accepted authority, it becomes, by definition, "de jure."

At this point, I suspect that the collective attention span of my target audience is on the wane (there is probably an underlying reason why they haven't already learned these simple things). The rest of you could probably go for longer, but since you are already educated, enlightened individuals, I don't want to carry coals to Newcastle. This, therefore, will be the end of this lesson. If you are very fortunate, we will reconvene some other day.

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"House Negro" is not a racist term

At least, not in the way that everyone seems to think.

I walked into a local diner on Wednesday and saw something on the TV that immediately ruffled my feathers. CNN was on, the volume was down, and the caption on the screen read something to the effect of "AL-QAEDA HATE. BIN LADEN NO.2 USES RACIAL SLUR."

Within the Muslim world, it is fairly well known that there is a culture of racism and xenophobia in some Arab countries, and so this was not particularly surprising by itself. It isn't universal, but discrimination against non-Arabs is not difficult to find amongst Arabs privately, or in the policies of Arab governments. I wondered immediately what Al-Zawahiri, whose most familiar file footage was playing across the screen, had said.

"House Negro" is what he had said, and he had said it about Obama.

How insensitive! How primitive! How blindly hateful! Clearly, Ayman Al-Zawahiri is a racist. Only a racist would say "Negro." Our guardians of racial harmony and diversity, from CNN to Rush Limbaugh, stuffed their bellies with the thick honey of moral indignation.

Since I know where the phrase comes from, (and so did CNN viewers, if they watched for long enough and paid attention) I was neither shocked nor disappointed. In fact, a part of me very definitely sympathized, if not agreed. Let's see what Al-Zawahiri actually said:

Filtering out some of the de rigeur bigotry against Jews (which is condemnable), Al-Zawahiri's point is hardly racist in nature; on the contrary, he is explicitly borrowing arguments and concepts from an Afro-American human rights* icon. The validity of his usage of the term may be disputable, but its faithfulness to the original meaning is not.

Obama has indeed been touted as a symbol of change - the black prince who will finally put colonialism, racism, and discrimination to rest. He is widely seen as a man without connections to the neoconservative establishment, who will be garner the admiration and sympathy of the developing world and, because of his heritage, be more willing to deal justly with it.

None of that is true, and while domestically he will likely be better for Americans than McCain would have been, anyone who is expecting a fundamental shift in American foreign policy should have long ago been disappointed. As the Democratic primaries were well under way, Obama had made a remarkable transformation into yet another imperialist hawk, pledging to perpetuate the war in Afghanistan and legitimize Israel's grip on the Palestinians. By criticizing the decision to invade Iraq and suggesting further diplomacy with Iran, Obama may have changed some of the methods of US policy, but not its objectives.

Zawahiri's comments are only racist if you consider it wrong to assume that a black man would not be involved in this. They are only racist if you don't consider such policies to be the doing of "the white man." If it is not race that drives foreign policy, but something else, then black or white should make no difference.

It is clear though, that Zawahiri is not the only person who is claiming that a black president ought to be a different kind of leader.


*Malcolm X himself rejected the term "civil rights." Black people to him were human beings first and citizens second, and so to him it seemed absurd to appeal for civil rights from authorities who had spent so long robbing Afro-Americans (again, his preferred term) of human dignity.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shorter CanWest Global x 3

Today, The Proud Islamist is reading Canada's 3rd-rate journalism so you don't have to.

I give you the latest from Canada's print and television empire, noted purveyors of the American magazine that has become the traditional bastion of Republican wingnuttery.

Shorter David Warren:

Article: Rebuilding

The Judeo-Christian tradition is the only one in the world that believes that people are responsible for their choices. Hopefully, Barack Obama will realize this, and stop trying to help poor people escape what they deserve.

Shorter George Jonas:

Article: The war before the war
George Bush Sr.'s participation in the 1990 war with Iraq was an act of noble self-sacrifice. George Bush Jr's war in 2003 was a reasonable act of self-defense; Saddam shouldn't have spent so much time convincing everyone that he was a threat.

Shorter Baron Conrad Black of Crossharbour:

Article: Obama's victory marked by a wealth of opportunity
Having a lot of time on my hands these days, I've been thinking: even though Obama is a dangerous Marxist, he could institute some important reforms in the US financial sector and labour market. He could also get Iraqis to pay us for all the good we are about to do for them.
His Lordship looks best in stripes

O God, grant me the ability to distinguish stupidity from malice.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

A great farewell

If you knew that your time in this world was coming to a close, what would you say?

Over 14 centuries ago, on the 9th of the month of Zul-Hijjah, 10AH, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), delivered the following sermon in the valley under Mount Arafat. Accounts differ on certain important theological points, but this is a common rendition of what he said.

O people, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether, after this year, I will ever be among you again. Therefore, listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present today.

O people, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds. God has forbidden you to take usury; therefore, all usury obligations shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer inequity. God has judged that there shall be no usury and that all usury due to al-`Abbas ibn `Abdul-Muttalib shall henceforth be waived.

Every right arising out of homicide in pre-Islamic days is henceforth waived, and the first such right I waive is that arising from the murder of Rabi`ah ibn Al-Harith [a relative of the Prophet].

O mankind, the unbelievers indulge in tampering with the calendar in order to make permissible that which God forbade, and to forbid that which God has made permissible. With God the months are twelve; four of them are holy; three of these (holy months) are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumadah and Sha`ban.

O people, beware of Satan, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.

O people, it is true that you have certain rights
with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve, as well as never commit adultery.

O people, listen to me in earnest. Worship God, say your five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and give the share of Zakah [tax for those in poverty] in your wealth. Perform Hajj if you can afford to.

All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is the brother of another Muslim and that Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim that belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.

Remember, one day you will appear before God and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.

O people, no prophet or messenger will come after me, and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O people, and understand my words that I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Qur'an and my example, the Sunnah, and if you follow these you will never go astray.

All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others, and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness, O God, that I have conveyed Your message to Your people.

In his account, literary scholar Martin Lings wrote:
He ended his brief sermon with an earnest question. "O people, have I faithfully delivered unto you my message?" A powerful murmur of assent, "O God, yea!", arose from thousands of throats and the vibrant words "Allahumma n'am" rolled like thunder through the valley. The Prophet raised his forefinger and said "O God, bear witness!"

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Everything old continues to be new again

Another post in my who-knows-how-many-part series on bad ideas that keep getting recycled.

This time, a quote from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment ca. 1866 (trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky).

"But it is my personal view, if you like, that something has been done: useful new ideas have been spread, and some useful new books, instead of the former dreamy and romantic ones; literature is acquiring a shade of greater maturity; many harmful prejudices have been eradicated and derided . . . In short, we have cut ourselves off irrevocably from the past. . .

"If up to now, for example, I have been told to 'love my neighbour,' and I did love him, what came of it?" Pyotr Petrovich continued, perhaps with unnecessary haste. "What came of it was that I tore my caftan in two, shared it with my neighbour, and we were both left half naked. . . But science says: Love yourself before all, because everything in the world is based on self-interest. If you love only yourself, you will set up your affairs properly, and your caftan will also remain in one piece. And economic truth adds that the more properly arranged personal and, so to speak, whole caftans there are in society, the firmer its foundations are and the better arranged its common cause. It follows that by acquiring solely and exclusively for myself, I am thereby precisely acquiring for everyone. . . A simple thought, which unfortunately has been too long in coming, overshadowed by rapturousness and dreaminess. . ."

"Get to the consequences of what you've just been preaching, and it will turn out that one can go around putting a knife in people." . . . Raskolnikov was lying pale on the sofa, his upper lip trembling; he was breathing heavily.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Oh, how it fills my heart with glee

Beware the Stealth Jihad!
(Ok, I'm kidding. But only a bit.)

This won't make much sense to those of you who don't follow the Fearosphere(TM) , but it had me giggling with glee:

Robert "End Muslim Immigration" Spencer and Charlie "Murdering Peace Activists is Hilarious" Johnson are having a little tiff. The bone of contention? Which one of them is really the fascist.

I can think of an answer to their conundrum!

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Monday, November 3, 2008

George Bush's long lost twin

An embattled president, drawing closer to a presidential election.

A man whose bellicose foreign policy has been perennially controversial, polarizing both his own country and the world

A man of faith, who is suspected of desiring the return of a saviour, and an apocalyptic future for the world.

A leader who is thought by many to be an intellectual lightweight, a frontman for someone with depth and cunning who pulls the strings from the shadows.

His supporters denounce his critics, saying that they are weakening the country at a time when unity is a priority.

"Stay the course!" is his battle-cry, even if the economy is heading into the toilet. The lower classes still rally to him, because "he understands people." "He is one of us."

Meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

We don't understand Darfur. . .

And until we do, how can we intervene?

I recently had a couple of conversations with a Canadian advocate for the United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS). Well-informed and well-connected on all things related to "the responsibility to protect," one of his goals for the project, which is essentially a UN standby intervention force, was to create a mechanism whereby the UN would have both the mandate and the resources to intervene within a state where human security was being trampled.

Conventional wisdom has it that in Bosnia and Rwanda, the failure of the UN stemmed from the combination of opposing political interests in the UNSC and the unavailability of military resources to forcefully intervene. The failure of the international system in Darfur (not to mention the DRC) is often cited as the latest example of the UN's impotence in the face of brutality on the ground. The joint AU-UN force currently on the ground may have done some good, but it arrived late, was too small for the territory, and was criticised for its inability to guarantee human security (for a variety of reasons).

And so Darfur is invoked as a reason for why we need the UNEPS. I don't disagree with the idea. Once we have such a force, however, what exactly would its mandate within Darfur going to be?

"Stop genocide," obviously. The situation in Darfur, however, is not so straightforward. Omar El-Bashir, vile though he is, is not Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin. I have no problem laying the blame for at least some of Sudan's 1-3 (depending on the year) concurrent civil wars on his shoulders, and I hope that he is made to answer for at least some of what has happened in Darfur, in Southern Sudan, and in Eastern Sudan in front of the ICC. That said, however, he is not creating lists of people to be liquidated and marching them in front of firing squads or into gas chambers. His army is prosecuting wars, and either using violence against civilians as a tactic, or assisting other parties to do the same.

I began seriously following the conflict in Darfur in 2005. News wires from all the various agencies always spoke of some point in February 2003, or thereabouts, when Darfurian rebels took up arms against the government, because of "Khartoum's neglect" of their region. Beyond this, it was hard to figure out exactly what the rebels wanted, and what their politicial and military disposition was. As they fractured, and as their internal political differences were brought out by peace talks with the government, the way forward became even more difficult to see.

Fast-forward to the start of 2008, when the actors have all shifted to the point that the initial narrative no longer makes any sense. It isn't true anymore to say that "Arab Janjaweed militias are being helped by Khartoum to wipe out the Black Darfurians," if that even ever was true. This article, from the Lebanon Daily Star and Al-Arabiya, gives an account of just how fluid the lines are, and some idea of each party's interests.

Dealing with the Abdel Wahid "problem" by neglecting him is no longer an option. Nor can the Arabs of Darfur continue to be excluded from peace efforts, on the grounds that the government speaks for them. It neither speaks for nor cares for them. If groups like Hemeti's are engaged, Abdel Wahid is re-engaged and North-South war is averted, there is a chance that Darfur may eventually find peace and stability. If not, the players will take new partners - and the dance of war will continue.
Got it?

That's just the tip of the iceberg.

Given an understanding of the political situation, the sloganeering around Darfur suddenly seems trite, like a hero-fantasy entertained by university students in rich countries. Yet, we know that there is great suffering, and to stand by and do nothing seems inhuman.

So before we do "something," we should have a clear idea of what we are getting into.

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