Thursday, July 27, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (7/27/2006)


The valor of ignorance. Most Americans were awakened to the presence of new players on the international stage by the diabolical events of September 11, 2001. But Osama bin Laden and al-Quaida did not spring fully formed out of thin air. For a knowledgeable few, in and out of our government, bin Laden and September 11th represented the culmination of a chain of events that began 116 years before.

In 1885, a 47-year-old itinerant mystic named Jamal Eddine al-Afghani approached the British government with a revolutionary idea. He proposed the establishment of a pan-Islamic coalition to link Egypt, which the British had recently taken over, with Turkey, Persia and Afghanistan in an alliance against Tsarist Russia. The so-called Great Game between Britain and Russia was still being played. Britain, a small country with a vast and far-flung empire, had mastered the art of pitting disparate tribal, ethnic and religious groups against one another, and recognized the advantages of such a plan. Al-Afghani's first assignment for British intelligence was to head to India, which had a large and restive Muslim population, and then to Egypt, which Britain had taken under its wing only four years before.

Born in Persia, Jamal Eddine added "al-Afghani" to his name to imply that he had been born in Afghanistan and to conceal the fact that he was both a Persian and a Shiite, which would hamper his ability to operate in the mostly Sunni Muslim world. Al-Afghani was the first in a long line of Islamic activists who would preach Islamic fundamentalism--also called Islamism, political Islam and, most recently, Islamofascism. This persistent creed, which flies in the face of the spiritual vision of Islam as contained in the Pillars of Islam (five for Sunnis, 12 for Shiites), is for educated Muslims an abject pervasion of their faith. Its appeal for the uneducated, underprivileged and unemployed masses in Muslim countries, however, is powerful.

In the words of Wilfred Cantwell Smith, historian of Islam, al-Afghani was "the first Muslim revivalist to use the concepts 'Islam' and 'the West' as connoting antagonistic historical phenomena." Thus he was by definition the originator of the concept of the "clash of civilizations" made popular by Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington. The long line of religious zealots and extremists operating under British patronage and dreaming of uniting all Arabic peoples, culminated in Hassan al-Banna, founder in 1932 of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. Soon branches of the Muslim Brotherhood were flourishing in every Muslim country, in Europe and in the United States. These Muslim religious extremists were the political and religious forbears of Osama bin Laden and Al Quaida. Radical Muslim extremism has continued to grow and to spread fervently throughout the Muslim world as a consequence of America's protracted occupation of Iraq.

Active American participation in Middle Eastern affairs began in 1938 with the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia by the Arabian-American Oil Company (ARAMCO), a joint venture of Standard Oil of California and Texaco. The 60-year contract made with King ibn Saud was an outright steal. It called for a down payment of $250,000 and an annual "rent" of $25,000 in gold. America's role was broadened in 1947 when Great Britain announced that it could no longer guarantee the security of Greece and Turkey. This was followed by Britain's retreat from India and Palestine.

To its discredit, the United States has made frequent use of militant Islam--for example, to counter the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War that began in 1946 with the descent of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. To nullify the growth of left-wing nationalism and Arab socialism in Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Iraq and Palestine, the United States made deals with Saudi Arabia's oil-rich kings, Saud and Feisal, but overlooked their funding of Wahhabist fundamentalist schools throughout the Muslim world.

The United States was not above using the Muslim Brotherhood to overthrow Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. We supported Gen. Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan, who seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1977 and founded an Islamist state. We used Islamic fundamentalism as a weapon against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in a jihad led by groups allied to the Muslim Brotherhood. like Dr. Victor Frankenstein's monster, the groups we financed and trained turned on their creator following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

With 9/11, the United States embraced the neocons’ thesis that a clash of civilizations was under way and declared war on terrorism. But instead of going after bin Laden and al-Quaida, we attacked Iraq, a secular state that had opposed Islamic fundamentalism. Then, as if to confuse our friends as well as our enemies, after conquering and occupying Iraq, the United States proceeded to back that country's Islamic extremist right--from Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to radical Islamist political parties like the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Islamic Call (al-Dawa), both of which were supported by Iran's mullahs.

Militarily and politically, Afghanistan was badly mishandled. We failed to capture Osama bin Laden and only succeeded in scattering the Taliban, which has now regrouped and continues to threaten the weak central government of President Hamid Karzai. Iraq, too, is now a disaster on the brink of sectarian civil war. From the start it has been a succession of military and political errors compounded by unknowing civilians in the Pentagon. The first mistake was the failure to observe the basic dictum of military strategy: use overwhelming force. Instead, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks gambled on achieving victory on the cheap by substituting speed for mass. They won their gamble, but a proud army paid a heavy price for it afterwards.

An adequate military force would have been able to seal borders, seize ammunition dumps, protect the infrastructure from looting, restore basic services and preserve public order. Instead, Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground of choice for a new generation of jihadists. And the U.S. Army in Iraq finds itself in a position not unlike the beleaguered Russian Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Despite the toll in casualties and loss of support at home, the Bush administration, like that of Leonid Brezhnev, continues to issue rosy communiqués claiming everything was going according to plan and predicting victory just around the corner.

Is there a way out of the Middle Eastern muddle into which we have gotten ourselves? First and foremost, as Israel's ally, we should encourage that country to settle its differences with the Palestinians through peace talks. One giant step toward a genuine solution would be to facilitate the formation of an independent Palestinian state.

Second, although it may smack of isolationism, we should reduce our military presence in the Middle East. Large numbers of troops occupying foreign bases only feed nationalistic resentment and provoke retaliatory acts. Although our need for Middle Eastern oil has diminished, the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf are not the Great Lakes and subject to our control. Nor did the Bush management team inspire confidence among our potential allies: a president and vice president with strong ties to the oil industry and an airhead clotheshorse as secretary of state for whom an oil company named a giant oil tanker, the S.S. Condoleeza Rice.

Next, we should abandon our unrealistic goal of reforming the Middle East through the forced introduction of American-style democracy, seen in the Arab world and in Iran as merely a pretext for greater American intrusion into the region. We should learn to accept the reality that nations like Iran and the Sudan have chosen to be governed by Islamist regimes.

Finally, the United States should overcome its habit of issuing bellicose threats to sovereign nations in the Middle East and elsewhere. In short, stop proclaiming the valor of ignorance. A big dollop of humility can go a long way.


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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Disinheriting the Wind: How Broadway and Hollywood Distorted History


No trial in American history has aroused as much controversy as the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee. And no trial has been the subject of so many misconceptions, distortions and lies. For example:

All four of the above "facts" are false.

What Really Happened
In 1925, the governor and legislators of Tennessee had no intention of enforcing the anti-evolution Butler Act, a symbolic statement. Its passage had been a concession to its sponsor, a rural legislator who had not succeeded in getting any legislation passed. The trial would not have occurred had the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) not advertised in Tennessee newspapers for a teacher willing to participate in a test case. And it would not have taken place in Dayton if local boosters hadn't seen such a trial as a way to help the town's faltering economy.

Technically, the only point at issue in the trial was whether or not John Scopes actually taught the evolution of man from lower animals. The defense wanted a speedy conviction to be able to move the case to a higher court. The trial itself was boring, with only two moments of high drama. The first moment came with the jury not in the courtroom during a procedural argument about the admissibility of expert testimony. Bryan, who had uncharacteristically said nothing during the first days of the trial, chose this moment to verbally flay the theory of evolution. Addressing the spectators and not the judge, Bryan practically denied that humans were mammals and argued that the Leopold and Loeb murder case recently concluded successfully by Darrow showed that too much learning could be dangerous.

Bryan's first humiliation came from the defense's spirited rebuttal by New York attorney Dudley Field Malone, who had served briefly under Bryan when he was secretary of state in the Wilson administration. Four decades later, Scopes would write in The Center of the Storm, his 1967 memoir, that "Malone's reply to Bryan was the most dramatic event I have attended in my life." Despite Malone's moving speech, at the end of the trial's first week Judge Raulston ruled the defense's expert witnesses could not testify. Convinced the trial was over for all practical purposes, reporters fled from Dayton's insufferable heat. As a result, they missed the dramatic duel between Darrow and Bryan the next Monday.

When the defense surprised Bryan and called him to the stand as an expert witness on the Bible, he foolishly insisted on submitting to Darrow's questioning over the objections of his fellow prosecutors. Because the immense crowd in the courtroom was creating structural problems in the building, the judge moved the proceedings outside. On the courthouse lawn before a thousand spectators, Darrow gave Bryan a verbal drubbing, making him look both pompous and foolish. In some exchanges, however, Bryan gave as good as he got.

The climax of the clash came when Bryan volunteered that the first days of creation described in the Book of Genesis each could have lasted longer than 24 hours--thus abandoning strict fundamentalist dogma and riling fundamentalists everywhere.
Bryan's testimony turned out to be moot. Having refused to hear the defense's expert witnesses, the judge ruled Bryan's testimony inadmissible.

Scopes' swift conviction was overturnwd eighteen months later by the Tennessee Supreme Court on a legal technicality: the judge had erred in not allowing the jury to set the fine, and so the ACLU had nothing to appeal. Yet the law that prompted the Scopes trial was to remain on Tennessee's books for 42 years. The anti-evolution movement could hardly be said to have run out of steam--other states passed similar legislation. In fact, the battle between evolution and creationism continues to this day.

The Lawrence and Lee Play
Fast forward now to 1950, 25 years after the trial. Two young playwrights, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, concerned about McCarthy-era blacklisting of writers and actors, decided to write a drama based on the Scopes trial. Until then their one Broadway success had been the 1948 comedy Look Ma, I'm Dancin'.

Copyrighted as an unpublished work in 1951, their script was rejected by a succession of producers. Finally, Inherit the Wind opened on Broadway on April 21, 1955. Veteran Hollywood actor Paul Muni came out of retirement to take the Darrow role. After a brief hiatus for an eye operation, he returned in December to resume the role and won a Tony in 1956 as best actor in a drama. Character actor Ed Begley played Bryan, and Tony Randall played Mencken. The show ran for twenty-six months, racking up more than 806 performances to make it the longest-running drama on Broadway up until that time. The play's authors never intended it to be an account of the conflict between evolution and creationism. Instead, as Lawrence later admitted, "We used the teaching of evolution as a parable for any kind of thought control. It's not about science versus religion. It's about the right to think."

"Inherit the Wind does not pretend to be journalism," the writers pointed out in their introduction to the published play. "It is theatre. It is not 1925. The stage directions set the time as 'Not too long ago.' It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow." Despite this disclaimer, the playwrights clearly identified the time frame by inserting references to Milton Sills and Douglas Fairbanks, two silent film stars of the twenties, in the stage directions.

"Only a handful of phrases have been taken from the transcript of the famous Scopes trial," they insisted. Some characters in the play are related to the colorful figures of that battle of giants; but they have a life and language of their own--and, therefore, names of their own." Nevertheless, their identities were only thinly disguised. The rhythm of each name and the number of syllables matched those of the real persons they represent. William Jennings Bryan became Matthew Harrison Brady; Clarence Darrow was renamed Henry Drummond; John Scopes, the defendant, has become is Bert Cates; journalist H.L. Mencken is now E.K. Hornbeck.

How Reliable is Inherit the Wind as History?
Unfortunately for the Muse of History, in their zeal to support the First Amendment, Lawrence and Lee did violence to crucial facts. Major participants in the trial--notably Dudley Field Malone as well as his powerful courtroom statements--disappeared from both play and movie versions of Inherit the Wind. Moreover, the drama paints a distorted picture of Bryan, the "Great Commoner," a principled politician who had represented the agrarian wing of the progressive movement. The Democratic candidate for the presidency three times, he advocated a surprising number of reforms controversial at the time that are now included in today's laws. Bryan opposed U.S. entry into the First World War, high protective tariffs,concentrations of wealth in the hands of the few, and trusts and monopolies. He supported women's suffrage, direct election of senators by the people (senators were then elected by the House of Representatives), independence for the Philippines, the income tax, the election of federal judges and the rights of minorities. He opposed evolution not only because it was at odds with his religious beliefs; Bryan feared that it would lead to social Darwinism and Nietzschean "survival of the fittest" programs. These fears were realized in Nazi Germany's programs in the 1930's for the extermination of so-called "undesirables"--Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and the mentally and physically disabled.

Despite its inconsistencies, few modern American plays have proved as durable as this work by Lawrence and Lee. As a staple for school and community theatrical groups, the play continues to spread its fictions about the Scopes trial. With their wider audiences, a 1960 movie and TV versions in 1965, 1988 and 1999, have proved even more influential in spreading misinformation about the trial. A revival of the drama in New York City in 1996 received rave reviews. Dubious history it may be, but to this day, Inherit the Wind remains brilliant theater.

Fact vs. Fiction in Inherit the Wind
A comparison of the widely available 1960 film version of Inherit the Wind, starring Spencer Tracy as Darrow and Fredric March as Bryan, with the actual events of the Scopes trial is revealing. To avoid confusion here with two sets of names, the proper names of the principals are used consistently since there can be no doubt about whom the characters in the play or films were intended to represent.

Film: The movie begins with a deputation of citizens, a minister and a photographer descending on the high school, where Scopes, the young biology teacher, is "caught in the act" of teaching evolution and placed under arrest. An accompanying newspaper photographer captures the arrest on film.
Fact: Scopes was not a biology teacher and no one intruded on his class. He had briefly substituted for the regular biology teacher who was ill. Although Scopes volunteered to serve as the defendant, he could not remember whether he had covered the subject of evolution in class. A prelaw graduate of the University of Kentucky, he had been hired to teach math and to coach the football team.

Film: H.L. Mencken has his Baltimore newspaper arrange for Scopes to be defended by Clarence Darrow, the nation's most famous criminal lawyer.
Fact: Darrow offered his services to the Scopes defense at the urging of Dudley Field Malone. The ACLU in New York paid his expenses.

Film: William Jennings Bryan is depicted as narrow-minded, mean, foolish, hypocritical, self-important and gluttonous. He is played as a buffoon and comic strip caricature.
Fact: L. Sprague De Camp, who wrote The Great Monkey Trial, an account of the trial friendly to the defense, described Bryan this way: "As a speaker, Bryan radiated good-humored sincerity. Few who heard him could help liking him. In personality he was forceful, energetic and opinionated but genial, kindly, generous, likable and charming. He showed a praiseworthy tolerance towards those who disagreed with him."

Film: Upon his arrival in Dayton, Bryan is honored with a huge parade in which people march and sing "Give Me That Old Time Religion." Paraders carry signs reading "Down with Darrow," "Don't Pin a Tail on Me" and "Deliver Us from Evil." A similar celebration is held at the courthouse as Bryan arrives for the first day of the trial. By contrast, Darrow arrives on a bus virtually unnoticed and is greeted by hostile citizens. He is booed when he arrives at the courthouse.
Fact: Bryant and Darrow were both greeted warmly by Dayton residents, but no parades were held. Each was given a welcoming dinner at Dayton's Progressive Club.

Film: The people of Dayton are portrayed as fanatical, bigoted, ignorant, uncouth and threatening. Darrow speaks disparagingly of local citizens.
Fact: Local residents were friendly to both the prosecution and the defense. Darrow later praised them: "I came here as a perfect stranger, and I can say what I have said before, that I have not found upon anybody's part--any citizen here in this town or outside, the slightest discourtesy. I have been better treated, kindlier and more hospitably than I fancied I would have been in the North."

Film: The Scopes defense team consists of Darrow, aided by the reporter H.L. Mencken. The prosecution consists of Bryan and a local prosecutor.
Fact: Mencken was at the trial as a reporter and played no part in Scopes' defense. Both sides were represented by teams of attorneys. Darrow was aided by five attorneys, including Dudley Field Malone and Arthur Garfield Hays, his partner, from New York, and by a Bible expert. In addition to Bryan, the prosecution team included Bryan's lawyer son, William Jennings Bryan, Jr., and five Tennessee attorneys.

Film: John Scopes' fiancee, Rachel Brown, daughter of the fire-and-brimstone preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Brown, wants him to recant. Scopes refuses.
Fact: No one resembling the Rev. Jeremiah Brown or Rachel Brown existed. He was a creation of the playwrights as a threat to Scopes; she was included to add love interest.

Film: Scopes is a central figure in the trial.
Fact: Scopes actually played a minor role in his trial.

Film: Local citizens burn Scopes and Darrow in effigy, denounce Scopes, throw rocks at the jail and threaten a lynching. Bryan's followers march through the streets chanting, "We'll hang Clarence Darrow from a sour apple tree."
Fact: None of these events happened. Local citizens liked Scopes and treated Darrow respectfully. This misrepresentation is especially ironic. In February of 1917, as Bryan tried to stop the country's slide into war with Germany, a mob in Baltimore marched through the streets chanting, "We'll hang Bill Bryan from a sour apple tree."

Film: Bryan is made an honorary colonel in the Tennessee militia upon his arrival in town. In the courtroom, Bryan is called "Colonel" by the judge. Darrow protests the use of this title, saying that he is not familiar with Bryan's military rank. Darrow is made a "temporary honorary Colonel" by the mayor of Dayton to accommodate him.
Fact: Following local custom, the title of "Colonel" was used by the judge to address or refer to legal counsel on both sides. Bryan would have been entitled to the title anyway; he held the rank of Colonel in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War, although he did not see combat.

Film: At the end of the trial's first day, Darrow objects to an announcement by the judge of a prayer meeting that evening.
Fact: No such announcement was made by Judge Raulston. However, Darrow did object to each session of the trial being opened with a prayer. [To this day, a prayer opens each session of the Congress and the Supreme Court.]

Film: At the ensuing prayer meeting, the Rev. Jeremiah Brown calls upon God to strike down Scopes and his sympathizers (including his own daughter), urging eternal damnation for Scopes.
Fact: No such prayer meeting was held; the townspeople liked Scopes.

Film: Bryan betrays Scopes' fiancee by forcing her to testify against Scopes and to repeat conversations and confidences she had shared with Bryan. His unfriendly questioning leaves her in tears.
Fact: Scopes had no fiancee. No women testified at the trial.

Film: Darrow asks the judge to be permitted to withdraw from the case.
Fact: Darrow never made such a request.

Film: Bryan objects to each of the expert witnesses Darrow tries to put on the stand to testify.
Fact: The defense's dozen scientists and theologians were not permitted to testify by Judge Raulston, who ruled such testimony was not pertinent to the guilt or innocence of Scopes. When the defense asked that the experts be permitted to testify to create a record for appellate review, the judge agreed but warned that the prosecution would be allowed to cross-examine them. To avoid such grilling, Darrow decided to have eight of the expert witnesses submit written statements for the record.

Film: Darrow gets Bryan to admit that he has never read Darwin's book "The Origin of Species" and does not intend to read it.
Fact: Bryan had read Darwin's book as early as twenty years before. It was Bryan--not Darrow--who introduced Darwin's books into evidence in the trial and quoted from them. But no Darwin book was used in teaching biology in Dayton's high school. The state-approved textbook was Civic Biology, written by George W. Hunter, a teacher in New York City's DeWitt Clinton High School.

Film: Darrow gets Bryan to admit that he takes every word in the Bible literally.
Fact: From the transcript of the trial:
Darrow: "Do you claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?"
Bryan: "I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there; some of the Bible is given illustratively. For instance: 'Ye are the salt of the earth.' I would not insist that Man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God's people."

Film: Darrow asks Bryan about sex in the Bible:
"You're up here as an expert on the Bible. What's the Biblical evaluation of sex?"
Bryan: "It is considered 'Original Sin.'"
Fact: No mention of sex was made by Darrow in his questioning of Bryan.

Film: Bryan claims to know the exact age of the earth. As calculated by Archbishop Ussher of Armagh, it was created at 9 a.m. on October 23, 4004 B.C.
Fact: From the transcript of the trial:
Darrow: "Mr. Bryan, could you tell me how old the earth is?"
Bryan: "No, sir. I couldn't."
Darrow: "Could you come anywhere near it."
Bryan: "I wouldn't attempt to."
Actually, it was Darrow who introduced the Ussher date in his questioning.

Film: As the trial winds down, Darrow fights hard to establish his client's innocence.
Fact: After grilling Bryan about his belief in the Bible, to avert having to take the stand himself and be questioned by Bryan, Darrow abruptly brought the trial to an end by asking the judge to instruct the jury to find his client guilty.

Film: A radio station microphone is brought into the courtroom at the end of the trial to broadcast the verdict.
Fact: Technicians from radio station WGN in Chicago had broadcast the proceedings of the week before, but dismantled their equipment before the verdict was returned.

Film: After an agonizing wait, the jury returns, having found Scopes guilty. The judge states that the sentence can be a fine of $100 to $500, or imprisonment. He fines Scopes $100. Darrow is visibly disappointed with the verdict. Bryan is vindictive and becomes angry at the small size of the $100 fine levied against the defendant. "Where the issues are so titanic," Bryan argues, "the court must mete out more drastic punishment."
Fact: The jury deliberated for only eight minutes. Violation of the law was only a misdemeanor and did not call for incarceration. Darrow got what he wanted--a verdict that could be appealed. Bryan, in campaigning for anti-evolution legislation such as the Tennessee law, had argued against monetary fines levied against educators. Instead of being unhappy over the sentence, Bryan even offered to pay Scopes's fine.

Film: After the verdict is read, Darrow reminds the judge that defendants have a right to make a statement before sentencing. Scopes then apologizes for his lack of public speaking skills, saying, "I am just a schoolteacher." A woman spectator hoots, "Not any more you ain't!"
Fact: Scopes did not lose his teaching job. He could have remained a teacher in the local high school. He chose to attend graduate school at the University of Chicago, where he studied geology.

Film: After the judge adjourns the trial, Bryan seeks to present the lengthy closing statement he had prepared. The jury and spectators drift away from the courtroom, and he becomes visibly agitated. He abandons the reading of his statement and begins to chant the names of the books of the Bible in a loud voice. A distraught William Jennings Bryan collapses on the floor of the courtroom and dies.
Fact: Neither side presented closing arguments to the jury. In Dayton five days after the trial ended, Bryan ate a large noonday meal and died quietly in his sleep during an afternoon nap.

Inherit the Wind Today
Despite its glaring discrepancies, the play, available in a paperback edition, is popular with high school drama clubs and is widely used in community dramatic productions. The National Center for History in Schools, headquartered at the Department of History at UCLA, publishes instructional standards. As a way of educating high school students about changing values during that distant decade, its 86-page standard Cultural Clashes of the Twenties, available for $13.00, recommends that teachers "use sections from the Scopes trial or excerpts from Inherit the Wind to explain how the views of William Jennings Bryan differed from those of Clarence Darrow."

CliffsNotes, a series of widely used supplements for high school and college students, has added "Inherit the Wind" to its list of available titles--an indication that the printed version of the play is still being used as a responsible teaching tool. The only other modern plays in the CliffsNotes series are Death of a Salesman, Raisin in the Sun, The Crucible and Waiting for Godot.

The Internet web site Teach with Movies, located in Santa Monica, Cal., is aimed specifically at parents who teach their children at home. Its "learning guide" to the film "Inherit theWind", the longest and most detailed analysis of any of the movies it reviews, describes the 1960 film as "a drama loosely based on the 'Scopes Monkey Trial'." A linked site, the Social Studies School Service in Culver City, Cal., sells video cassettes of the film for $14.95, incorrectly describing it as "a lightly fictionalized re-creation of the Scopes 'Monkey Trial' of 1925."

Ask anyone whether they are familiar with the Scopes trial, and they may answer, "Oh, yes, I read the play." Or, even more likely, "Of course, I saw the film." Shouldn't we be concerned that factual errors in this gripping drama have generated widely held misconceptions about the issues and the trial? In social science and history classrooms across the nation, the film version of Inherit the Wind has become a popular instructional tool for teaching students about America in the twenties. Unfortunately, young people today glean much of their information about history from films. One shudders to think that children and adults today are being encouraged to see the Broadway and Hollywood distortions of the Scopes trial as portrayals of actual events.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (7/20/06)


Let's talk about Lebanon. By all means let's talk about Lebanon. Like Iran and North Korea, it's very much in the headlines. And it's also another country about which we Americans are abysmally ignorant.

This tiny country occupies an area only two-thirds the size of the state of Connecticut and has a population of 3.8 million. It has a coastline of 140 miles along the Mediterranean, a 48-mile border with Israel on the south and a 233-mile border with Syria to the north and east. Israel, with a population of 6.4 million occupies an area slightly smaller than New Jersey; Syria, with a population of 18.4 million, is slightly larger than North Dakota. Joined by history, these three ancient countries are bereft of any deposits of oil.

Lebanon has always occupied a strategic position at the crossroads of commerce, linking the hinterlands of Central Asia with the Mediterranean Basin as the destination of the fabled silk and spice caravans with their rich cargoes. Called Phoenicia by the ancient Greeks, its fertile coastal plain has been home to a Semitic people related to the Jews and Arabs. Their maritime culture thrived in a chain of coastal trading cities that are very much in the news today--Beirut, Tyre, Sidon--yet were thousands of years old at the time of Christ. Its bold sailors roamed the Mediterranean to found trading colonies and may have ventured far beyond the Gates of Hercules at Gibraltar to explore the broad Atlantic.

Throughout its long history, Lebanon's fate has been to be controlled by a succession of nations: Assyrians, Babylonians, Armenians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Turks and French. During the Middle Ages, the Lebanese coastal plain was the principle highway of Crusaders on their way to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. It was occupied by Frankish nobles as part of the feudal Crusader States established along the shores of the eastern Mediterranean only to be dispossessed by the Mameluke rulers of Egypt and then by the Ottoman sultans of Turkey.

Following the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations made the five provinces of Lebanon a mandate of France, which added the Bekaa Valley, creating an even larger Lebanon. This doubled the territory controlled by Beirut and included lands and peoples that formerly had been part of what would eventually become the Syrian state. It also altered the demography of Lebanon by increasing the number of Maronite Christians so that they constituted more than 50 percent of the population.

Lebanon gained independence in 1943. Beirut became a center of wealth and commerce, the headquarters of large businesses and banks, and thanks to its wide boulevards, French-style architecture and culture was known as "the Paris of the Middle East." Because it enjoyed a conflict-free status, Lebanon itself was often compared to Switzerland. The country's history since achieving independence has been characterized by alternating periods of political stability and bloody turmoil. After the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973, thousands of Palestinian refugees flooded into Lebanon until by 1975 more than 300,000 Palestinians were there.

Yassir Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) directed the political and military activities of the Palestinian refugees, who began fighting with native Lebanese. Soon the divisions became more distinct; on one side was the Christian resistance and on the other a coalition of Palestinian refugees, Sunni Muslims and Islamic Druze forces, all united in their dissatisfaction with the 1943 pact that gave Lebanon its independence.

With roots in Christian and Muslim strife, civil war was almost inevitable. In 1975, 40,000 Syrian troops poured into Lebanon to prevent the Christian Maronite militias from being overrun by Palestinian forces, pushing them out of Beirut into southern Lebanon. Cross-border attacks on civilians in Israeli territory led to an invasion of southern Lebanon by Israeli forces in March of 1978. After the U.N. passed a resolution demanding the removal of Israeli forces, they were withdrawn three months later. But PLO. forces continued to attack Israel with rockets and artillery, and in June of 1982 Israeli forces again invaded Lebanon. They would remain for 18 years and would not be withdrawn until the spring of 2000.

The 1989 Taif Agreement brokered by the Arab League and signed in Taif, Saudi Arabia, restructured the Lebanese political system and transferred power away from the Maronite Christian minority. We can glean some idea of the jockeying for power rampant in Lebanon. It is a republic with the three highest offices specifically reserved for members of individual religious groups. The President must be a Maronite Catholic Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Majlis, Lebanon's Parliament, must be a Shia Muslim.

After some ten years of relative political stability, in February of 2005 former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, responsible for much of Lebanon's recovery after the devastating civil war, was assassinated by the explosion of a car bomb in Beirut, an act widely attributed to Syria. After thirty years, the last occupying Syrian troops departed from Lebanon in April of 2005.

A prime mover in Lebanon's recent history has been Hezbollah, a name that means "party of God." A Lebanese Islamist group formed in 1982 with the aid of Iran to combat the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, it is the main political party of the Shia community, Lebanon's largest religious group. It follows the ideology of Ayatollah Ruhollah, father of the Iranian Revolution in Iran. With the stated aim of establishing an Islamic state in Lebanon, Hezbollah has both military and civil wings. The latter operates hospitals, news services and participates as a legitimate political party in the Parliament.

Hezbollah is recognized by Arabs and Muslims as a legitimate resistance movement. The U.S. State Department, however, has designated it as a terrorist organization. It is the principal suspect in the suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in April of 1983, in which 63 persons lost their lives, including 17 Americans, and in the truck bombing six months later of the U.S. Marines Barracks at the Beirut Airport, in which 241 American servicemen lost their lives.

Hezbollah has taken to bedeviling Israel again, this time by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers. Israel retaliated by bombing targets in Lebanon, including parts of the country's infrastructure, such as bridges, roads and the runways at Beirut's airport, with the intention of cutting the country off from the outside world. The world is now on tenterhooks, wondering where this latest strife will lead.

What is playing out now in Lebanon is part of the long-running drama that began in 1946 with the Cold War. Because the nations lying along the southern flank of the Soviet Union were Muslim, the United States conceived the idea of building a barrier there by using Islam to counter an expansionist Soviet Union.

Unfortunately, the U.S. chose as its ally not Islam, a traditional organized religion with 14 centuries of history behind it but Islamism, a radical political creed born in the 19th century that perverts the spiritual interpretation of Islam. In Afghanistan alone, the U.S. spent billions, channeling funds through Pakistan, to support the Islamist jihad. Hezbollah is one of the spawns of that adventure.

Lebanon, an ancient land but also a nation of relatively recent creation, is again descending into anarchy, with a too-weak central authority and no cohesive civil society to hold it together or to control or disarm Hezbollah. We sowed the wind with our support in Afghanistan of what Stephen P. Cohen, a top State Department diplomat in the 1980s, described as "the nastier, more fanatic types of mujahedeen." No wonder we are now reaping the whirlwind.


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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (7/13/06)


Let's talk about North Korea. By all means let's talk about North Korea. Like Iran, it's a country with which we have had a troubled relationship for more than a half-century. It's also a country with which we have been without diplomatic representation for the same period of time. Technically, North Korea is still in a state of war with South Korea and the United States, yet we in America are abysmally ignorant of a country that still regards us as an enemy.

North Korea stirred up a peck of trouble recently by announcing that it would test an intercontinental ballistic missile dubbed the Taepodong. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice immediately warned that firing even one rocket would be seen as "a provocation." She added, "I can assure everyone that it would be taken with the utmost seriousness."

Japan cautioned that a missile falling on its territory would be regarded as an attack, but later softened that position. South Korea begged its northern neighbor "not to put a friend in danger" by firing a missile. The People's Republic of China called for everyone to remain calm, urging North Korea to back down from the launch and to return to the six-nation talks it has boycotted for a month.

On the Fourth of July, while America was shooting off fireworks and skyrockets in celebration of Independence Day, North Korea thumbed its nose at the concerned nations of the world by launching not one but seven missiles into the Sea of Japan. The United States response was to send a guided missile destroyer, the USS Mustin, to Japan. As it turned out, doing nothing was the best course, but what purpose did the bluff and bluster serve? Despite his chubby little body, Mao suits and bouffant hair, unpredictable President Kim Jong-il rules North Korea with an iron fist and is the most unfathomable ruler on the planet. And he now has the makings of one or more atomic bombs.

The Taepodong, the largest of the seven missiles, failed (or was purposely destroyed) after a flight of 40 seconds and fell into the Sea of Japan off the coast of South Korea. Administration spokespersons chortled at this failure, forgetting that during the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union would test a missile 20 times before considering it "operational." Duds were not uncommon.

In the past, whenever any country talked threateningly about its policies or actions, North Korea, which boasts a million-man army, did not hesitate to play its trump card by threatening to turn the Korean peninsula into a "sea of fire. Tens of thousands of artillery pieces and rockets are permanently aimed at Seoul and its population of 11 million, almost a quarter of the country's population. The teeming city is located about 25 miles below the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas--that's the distance between Wall Street in New York City and this part of Westchester. Also at risk would be the 35,000 American troops of the 8th U.S. Army under Lt. Gen. Charles C. Campbell, headquartered in Seoul at the Yongsan Army Garrison. Intercontinental ballistic missile or no intercontinental missile, the North Korean rockets and artillery pointing at Seoul are still in place.

Korea was occupied by Japan in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War that ended so disastrously for the Tsar. After World War II, Korea was split in two. The northern half fell under Soviet-sponsored Communist domination as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Following its failure to conquer the U.S.-backed Republic of Korea in the southern portion of the peninsula, North Korea drew within itself and adopted a policy of diplomatic and economic "self-reliance" to counter Soviet and Chinese influence. Today, it is the most withdrawn nation on the planet with a barely functioning, centrally planned and virtually isolated economy.

Its neighbor to the south, on the other hand, is an Asiatic success story. After the end of the Korean War, South Korea achieved economic growth 14 times the level of North Korea. In 2004, it joined the exclusive trillion dollar club of world economies. Forty years before, its GDP was comparable to the poorest countries of Africa and Asia. Today, boasting an incredible record of growth and integration into the modern high tech world, South Korea's GDP is the equal of the lesser economies of Europe.

A geographic comparison of the two countries is revealing: With a population of 23.1 million, North Korea is slightly smaller than the state of Mississippi; South Korea, with a population of 48.9 million is slightly larger than Indiana.

North Korea has been anything but a good Far Eastern neighbor, being guilty of terrorist acts, such as brazenly abducting citizens of South Korea and Japan for intelligence purposes. In addition, North Korea engages in money laundering. It also counterfeits and circulates large quantities of high quality U.S. currency. According to The Economist, North Korea annually prints $100 million in fake high denomination bills.

In 1987, Korean Air Lines Flight 858 destined for Seoul exploded in flight between Abu Dhabi and Bangkok. All 11 crew members and 104 passengers were killed. A pair of North Korean agents, posing as father and daughter, boarded the KAL Boeing 707 at Baghdad and left a concealed bomb in an overhead bin when they disembarked at Abu Dhabi. When arrested later, the male agent killed himself with a cyanide pill; the female confessed and fingered Kim Jong-il--son of Korea's revolutionary founder and first president, Kim Il Sung--as the mastermind behind the bombing.

What makes Kim Jong-il tick? Foreign governments would love to know. After the death of his father, revered by North Koreans as a living god, Kim was named general secretary of the ruling Korean Workers' Party in 1987, a stepping stone to the presidency for which he had been groomed. His official biography--it's really a hagiography--claims he was born near Mt. Paetku in North Korea. At the moment he entered the world, a double rainbow formed over the mountain and a new star appeared in the night sky. The reality is that in 1942 Korea was in the hands of the Japanese. He was actually born in the small Siberian village of Vyatskoye, not far from Khabarovsk--but that hardly fits the legend. According to his biography, he is a superb horseman; he has a photographic memory; he made 11 holes in one the first time he played golf.

His lifestyle resembles that of a medieval prince. At a time when the average annual wage in North Korea is the equivalent of $900 and many North Koreans subsist on a diet of grass, he has a gargantuan appetite for fine food and drink. He reputedly spends $650,000 annually for French brandy. He shares with Adolf Hitler a love of movies; his library contains 20,000 films. He also keeps a stable of young women, some from other countries, called the Pleasure Brigade. In the meantime, uncounted millions of North Koreans have died of starvation resulting from a combination of a failed economy and failed crops.

What to do about this rogue and his rogue nation? Economic sanctions imposed by the West can have little impact on an economy as isolated as North Korea's. China and South Korea, both of which have kept North Korea afloat, look with disfavor on any attempt to put the squeeze on North Korea economically. The fear is that should Kim Jong-il's house-of-cards regime topple, it would spread chaos throughout the entire Korean Peninsula. Millions of hungry North Koreans would stream into China. Pressure from Beijing may yet make the mad dictator see the error of his ways. In the meantime, talk is not only cheap, but for all parties it is still the best option.


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Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (7/13/06)


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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Your Slip Is Showing: Making Your Writing Look Professional


Few freelance writers ever meet the editors who buy what they write. Your query letters or manuscript submissions thus become silent ambassadors that can speak volumes about you as a writer. Many editors scan the piles of incoming unsolicited manuscripts each morning looking for material worth a closer look. They also are looking for obvious errors in grammar, spelling or punctuation that can disqualify a manuscript or a writer. Even a few of these will cause your manuscript to be returned to you with dizzying swiftness, accompanied by an uninformative printed rejection slip.

An arbitrary way of screening submissions? Yes--but today's editorial offices are deluged with eminently publishable manuscripts. Writers who expect editors to clean up their errors never become published writers. Editors are looking for polished writers with professional skills. Other less obvious telltale clues in what you send also can subtly identify you as an inexperienced writer, inviting pitiless summary rejection. Your aim should be to make editors see you as a seasoned professional on the basis of what you submit. Here are some do's and don'ts to make this happen:

Manuscript Preparation
Don't use paper of an odd size or color. Use 8-1\2 by 11-inch white paper. And don't try to attract attention to your manuscript by using an exotic typeface. Editors who must read manuscripts all day don't relish having to decipher unusual fonts.

You can't go wrong if you print your manuscript in Courier, which resembles a typewriter face. A 12- or 10-point size is adequate; these are the approximate equivalents of the former typewriter designations of Pica and Elite type.Times Roman is a popular and easy-to-read newspaper typeface. Sans-serif faces--Helvetica or Arial--may be used for technical or engineering manuscripts. Avoid small-sized type (called by editors "mouse type").

Show paragraph indents. You should type or print your manuscript in flushed-left blocked paragraphs only if the targeted publication uses this style. Similarly, don't insert subheads in your copy unless the publication uses subheads. Use of improper paragraphing or subheads tells an editor that you haven't studied the magazine you're targeting.

Use double-line spacing between lines. Editors need space in which to write changes or corrections. Do not justify the lines in your manuscript on the right. This can introduce disconcerting unequal spaces between words and sentences.

Beware of overlong manuscript paragraphs of 15 or 20 lines. A paragraph that might be appropriate for a book page becomes annoyingly long and unattractive when set in the narrower measure of a magazine or newspaper. To make sure your paragraphs are of proper length, copy a few selected paragraphs from the targeted publication to the same width as your manuscript. The paragraphs in your copy should average the same number of lines as those you copied.

Don't ignore traditional formatting for your manuscript. Every page after the first page should show in an upper corner what editors call a "slug." (The word comes from the piece of lead cast by "hot-metal" typesetting machines.) The slug should include your last name, the title of the work or article, or a shortened tag line to identify it, and the manuscript page number.

Manuscripts are often passed from editor to editor for comment. On a desk crowded with manuscripts, pages from one manuscript can easily get mixed with others. A slug on every page makes it easy to identify the piece and to reassemble the pages in correct order.

Proofread your manuscript carefully--and always in hard copy rather than on a computer screen. The latter practice tends to cause subtle errors to be overlooked. Never submit a manuscript with uncorrected typographical errors. Editors cannot be blamed for thinking that writers who are careless about errors also may be careless with details or facts. Minor corrections in ink on manuscript copy are not only permissible but are desirable--they show that you read the manuscript before mailing it.

As a writer, you may be called upon to make corrections in proofs returned to you for checking--but don't create your own marks. Instead, study standard proofreaders' marks, a logical and easy-to-learn shorthand universally understood by editors and typesetters.

Finally, make sure your manuscript is neat and inviting to read, with adequate margins. An old-time vaudevillian once offered me some theatrical wisdom. "In show business," he said, "performers are often 'at liberty' and looking for a booking. Appearance was important. In fact, we used to say, 'When you're down to your last quarter, don't eat--get a shine.'" Inflation may have played hob with the value of a quarter, but it's still good advice for a writer. Give your manuscripts a shine.

Query Letters and Cover Letters
There's a difference between the two types of letters. The purpose of a query letter is to save writers the labor of writing an article or short story for which there is no market. But never write a query letter unless your research for the piece you are proposing to write is virtually complete. The purpose of a cover letter is merely to accompany a manuscript submitted in response to an editor's request or one submitted "on spec" (on speculation)--in the hope that it will find favor with an editor.

A supply of tastefully printed letterheads and envelopes is a good investment for a writer. But don't describe yourself in your letterhead as a "Writer," "Freelance Writer" or "Author," even if you have already been published. This is the mark of an amateur and elicits smiles in editorial offices. Good writing will earn you recognition as a writer, not a self-applied label.

Don't write a three-page query letter with lengthy synopses of your proposed piece and wordy biographical information. Show your ability to organize and convey information by being concise. A good query letter shouldn't exceed one page. After all, you're only seeking to encourage an answer.

Remember to give the word count of your proposed article in round numbers--but strictly adhere to any word limit an editor may set. No editor can squeeze a 2500-word article into space set aside for a 1200-word piece. Be sure to mention whether photos, illustrations, diagrams, graphs, tables or sidebars will be included.

Add a stamped and self-addressed envelope with every query to encourage response, but don't fold a standard No. 10 envelope for this purpose. An unfolded No. 9 envelope fits neatly inside a No. 10 envelope. A harried editor may scribble the words "Send it" on your query letter and return it in your envelope. With manuscript submissions, it's O.K. to include a self-addressed postcard reading, "Your manuscript submission has been received" and lines for a date and a signature.

Propose seasonal pieces well before pub dates. Suggesting a skiing article in October tells an editor that you are unaware of magazine lead times. Turn the seasons around--an article about swimming pool safety should be proposed with the first frost for use early next summer.

In a cover letter, don't waste an editor's time with long paragraphs extolling the merits of your submission. A publishable manuscript slanted to the targeted publication will sell itself every time. The cover letter's basic purpose is really only to identify and accompany the submitted manuscript.

Above all, don't phone the editor to ask whether your query or submission was received or to chat about it. Most editors work on tight deadlines and don't have time to chat with aspiring writers.

Submission as Hard Copy or E-mail?
The first question a writer must decide is whether to submit manuscripts as hard copy or via e-mail. My vote goes to hard-copy submission.Some publications invite manuscript submissions via e-mail. Submissions via e-mail should only be made to publications that refuse to accept manuscript submissions. Unfortunately, e-mail gives the writer little control of the submission's appearance at the receiving end, and most publications refuse to accept manuscripts sent as attachments. In my experience, hard copy is always more desirable, since it commands more attention, if only by its physical presence. With a manuscript at hand, an editor can only read it, jettison it or return it; e-mail can too easily be overlooked or even accidentally deleted.

Mail manuscripts flat. Don't fold a bulky manuscript and try to cram it in a No. 10 envelope. Send all manuscripts loose, although a paper clip on article manuscript pages is permissible. Never submit a manuscript in a three-ring binder, presentation binder, or with pages stapled together. Send bulky book manuscripts in nesting manuscript boxes. The inner box with your return address and proper postage applied will bring your book manuscript back to you.

It never hurts to make unsolicited submissions appear important by including a postage-paid return envelope. Some writers have the notion that inclusion of a traditional return envelope is tantamount to an invitation for an editor to return the unread manuscript to the writer.

Omission of a return envelope, however, also may say to an editor that you have no desire to see your manuscript again, that it has little value in your eyes. Thus, failure to include a return envelope may invite disposal in the nearest wastebasket, often without a reading. My vote is for a postage-paid return envelope.

A self-inking rubber stamp with your name and address in large capital letters for your return address also will add to the look of professionalism on your return envelopes. Alternatively, you can print return labels on your computer printer. select a readable typeface and follow USPS preferences: Capitalize all words, omit periods and commas, and use your two-letter state abbreviation. Add your 9-digit Zip Code.

On large return envelopes, avoid using those tiny gummed return-address labels distributed by charitable organizations; postal workers dislike them. Such labels are not intended for primary addresses--only for the return of undeliverable letters. Large-size envelopes, called "flats" by the USPS, are not machine-read but are hand-sorted.

Whether you are sending a query letter, a cover letter or a manuscript, always remember that you'll never get a second chance to make a first impression with an editor.

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