Cândido Rondon

Cândido Rondon is not well known enough even in Brazil, even though there is a state – Rondônia – named after him, and certainly not as well as he deserves outside the country. I had not heard of him before I went to Brazil, at least not that I recall. I was vaguely aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s expedition to Brazil. He explored what was then called the River of Doubt, because nobody knew where it went. It is now called the Rio Roosevelt. But I assumed that it was Roosevelt’s expedition, much like his safari in Africa. In other words, I didn’t know much and much of what I did know was wrong.  

Our Ambassador in Brazil, Tom Shannon, took a special interest in Rondon and that stimulated my initial interest. If the boss likes it, it is a good idea to at least look into it but I soon started to see why he was important. I ended up visiting Rondônia twice, talked to enough people, read enough to become a passable lay authority & developed enough of a passion for the subject that I still attend presentations five years after leaving Brazil.   Larry Rohter discussed his book at a Wilson Center program “The Life and Legacy of Cândido Rondon: Amazon Explorer, Environmentalist, Scientist, and Advocate for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” This is the most complete biography of Rondon available. It is available only in Portuguese. I thought of reading it as language exercise and may yet, but it costs $92 on Amazon. Not sure I want to pay that.  

Rondon had a long and eventful life. He was born in the year Abe Lincoln was shot and lived long enough to hear that Sputnik had been launched into space. He was an explorer, scientist, anthropologist and soldier, but remarkable was his philosophy of non-violence. When dealing with indigenous people, his orders were to die if necessary but never to kill. His expedition with Roosevelt was not unique for him. He was the greatest of tropical explorers. Roosevelt always gave Rondon credit as his co-leader, but back in the USA they kind of thought of him as a “native guide” to the great Roosevelt. Rondon saved Roosevelt’s life a few times in the Amazon, but the expedition nearly killed Roosevelt anyway. (A great book re is “River of Doubt” by Candice Millard). His health never recovered and this may have influenced U.S. politics, since he did not have that unbounded energy to throw into elections in 1914 & 1916.  

Besides his exploration and science writing, Rondon was a respected statesman. He was instrumental in keeping Brazil from falling under the influence of the Nazis and in getting Brazil on the USA side when the war came. Rondon was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times, first time by Albert Einstein.   It was an interesting presentation. Glad I went. I rode my bike down to Washington and enjoyed a great spring day. I forget the simple joy of spring and then rediscover it with greater joy each year.   First four pictures are from springtime Washington. Pond cypress with spring catkins, magnolia and spruce, longleaf pine flowers at the National Botanical Gardens, followed by spring flowers in general. Last picture is from the presentation.

Background and video of the  presentation

Lexington Virginia

When I saw the statue I thought it might be Robert E Lee and I would have to feign outrage. This was Washington and Lee University after all. Closer inspection revealed it was Cyrus McCormick. All those old guys with beards look alike.

McCormick was a local boy and he gave money to Washington and Lee, but he moved to Chicago at an early age. He developed the McCormick Reaper that allowed for much more efficient harvests and revolutionized life for grain farmers, especially on the great plains, which were just on the verge of settlement when the reaper was developed.

Buckminster Fuller coined the phrase “energy slaves” to denote how much of our work is done by energy. This is what makes us so rich today. Add machines to that. McCormick reapers were still pulled by horses. There is the saying that BTUs do the work so you don’t have to. Of course that same goes for most tech. In the end, productivity is the only things that makes us better off materially.

I was driving up I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley. It was and is a major agricultural region. Relatively less important, as other regions have come online, than it was when McCormick lived there but still productive. In McCormick’s time, the Shenandoah Valley was a big grain producer. Today, it is more pasture.

During the Civil War, Union troops sought to destroy the productive capacity of the valley to starve the Confederacy. General Phil Sheridan was put in charge. His troops burned barns, killed livestock and made a desert of this once verdant and productive region, such that “A carrion crow in his flight across must either carry his rations or starve.”
It is a lesson in how war becomes more and more terrible as it progresses to its conclusion. It becomes a war against people when people feed armies.

My first picture is Cyrus McCormick at Washington and Lee. Next is the less PC but more memorably monikered Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson at VMI, where he was an instructor. VMI and Washington and Lee are right next to each other, but with very different architecture, as you can see in the buildings behind the statues. Picture # 3 is Main Street in Lexington and the penultimate picture is a little restaurant where I had breakfast. People in Lexington were extraordinarily friendly and cheerful. At least a half dozen people greeted me on the street, and unlike the case sometimes around DC, they did not want anything from me. As semi-introvert sometimes lost in my thoughts, such amity is not always welcome, but I know it comes from good intentions. Last picture is from McCormick’s family farm. It is right of I-81 about 16 miles north of Lexington. Worth seeing, but maybe not worth going to see, but since it is so close …

I -81 is an unpleasant highway. Lots of truck moving at speeds that seem a little too fast, so you cannot enjoy the beauty of the Shenandoah as much as you otherwise might. There are lots of long vistas. It is very different from 95 and especially 85 that are surrounded by thick forests for large stretches.

George C Marshall

George C Marshall did not write memoirs. He was dedicated to his country & his duty. He gave credit to others, even for things he mostly did. He did not promote himself, never acted for political motives did not even vote. He went where his duty took him and did his best work when he got there. He was as close to the ideal of an American public man as ever lived. We never had many like him and I am afraid that we produce even fewer these days. Never complain, never explain and never apologize type guys, the ones that control their emotions and keep their private lives private, are out of style.

He might even have had trouble getting started. George C Marshall was an indifferent student in high school and showed no genius in college at VMI. He showed leadership skills early on, including superb organizational skills and extraordinary ability to judge people, put them in the right jobs and then let them do their jobs.

Marshall used to say that it was important to ask what a man COULD do, not what he could not. This was absolutely the right way to think and it certainly contributed to the Allied victory in the World War, and to American success in the very uncertain post-war world, where the most talented players had serious flaws, i.e. were human. (This would not fly today, in our days of zero tolerance and looking harder for flaws than achievement. I hope that we get past this and become adults again.)

I was in Lexington to give a talk on Aldo Leopold at Washington & Lee. I arrived when it was already getting dark, so I wanted to stay a little longer the next day so I could see a little. Lexington is not a big city. It took me 19 minutes to get from the hotel to VMI Marshall Museum, not counting a stop for breakfast. I was still too early. The museum did not open until 11am. So, I walked back to the hotel to get my car. I had left it, since I feared it would be too hard to park. There is ample parking around VMI. I got a place right in front of the Marshall Museum, reserved for visitors and giving two hours to visit.

It is worth seeing. I talked to a couple of the people there. They were dedicated to the job and to keeping the memory of George C Marshall alive. This is made more difficult by Marshall’s virtue of not promoting himself.

Americans are generally forgetting their history, more precisely not learning it. Marshall’s job as the organizer of victory just makes a less compelling narrative than being on the front lines. His avoidance of politics made his voice very powerful in getting things done, but it made him less famous. He was not a physically imposing man, not a gifted speaker. More’s the pity. He is the kind of man we should revere as a leader – a quiet man who does his duty, does it well, does not brag or complain and leaves when his work is done, knowing in his bones that service to his country was reward enough.

The first picture is Marshall’s statue at VMI. He is the University’s most illustrious graduate. Next is the library, classy. Picture #3 is Marshall’s desk, followed by a special book that has all the Marshall documents. Finally is a map at the center that shows the progress of the war. They say it lasts more than a 1/2 hour. I got as far as you can see, about the middle of 1940. Spoiler warning – I knew how it ended.


Almost nobody really knows very much about Columbus, but almost everybody knows that they admire or hate him – until a few years ago it was mostly admiration; today it is mostly hate. Until a few decades ago, Columbus was venerated. We sang songs about him in grade school – “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue …” and lots of things, cities and whole countries were named for him.

These days, Columbus is seen as a racist, imperialist and … well you know the litany. He didn’t deserve all the admiration and most of it was based on myth. He also doesn’t deserve all the opprobrium, also mostly based on myth, or rather base on how people feel today about lots of other issues.

The story we learned about the heroic & iconoclastic Columbus was wrong. In school (and maybe more from popular cartoons) we learned that people back then thought the world was flat; this is flat wrong. Educated people in Europe knew the world was round. The Greeks had estimated the size of the globe in the 3rd Century BC and they were very close. The way that Columbus differed from this consensus was that he thought the world was smaller and that he could cross the western sea and get to the east.

Had Columbus not discovered America in 1492, somebody else would have soon done it. The time was ripe. A word about discovery. Vikings had been to America hundreds of years earlier and there is speculation that Basque fishermen made more of less regular visits to the coasts, searching for cod. Of course, people were living in America for 12,000 years. They knew they were somewhere.

What Columbus did was put America on a world map. Well, he didn’t, but it soon was, and his voyages connected the old and the new worlds permanently. This is why he was admired and now is hated. Columbus’ voyage marked the birth of the modern world and the first globalization.

There is no evidence that space aliens have ever visited earth and I think there is a good chance that none every will. Even assuming alien life exists, distances are too great and the laws of physics too strict to allow the travel. And I am glad of this. If aliens ever get to earth, we humans are finished. If they get here, it implies a superior technology, and likely superior military capacity. Whenever people with higher technology have encountered those with lower levels, it has not gone well for the ones behind. This is not merely the lesson of humanity. It is also the basis of natural evolution. We can hope that aliens would be different but that would be the triumph of hope over experience.

This was the lesson from America, but it was a lesson for human encounters since the invention of … anything. Farmers displaced hunters; they could breed faster. People with bronze weapons displaced those with stone and were subsequently replaced by those who mastered iron working. People who could use horses and invented chariots conquered those who ran on human legs.

Pre-Columbian American had been fighting and displacing each other for millennia. Incas had conquered nearby people and formed an effective empire and the Aztecs were running what was essentially a predatory terror state, but Europeans with their guns, germs, steel, horses and more complicated organizations were a quantum leap. In the course of only a few generations, everything changed, and I mean everything – people, plants, animals, even microbes, insects and earthworms.

Blame Columbus
The Spanish still revere Columbus and in Seville is a monument to him and the cathedral features Columbus’s putative burial place. I add the adjective because there is some dispute about Columbus’ final resting place. The most plausible contender beyond Seville is the Dominican Republic. They had remains that they say are Columbus. The Seville remains have been checked for DNA. These remains are related to Columbus’s father and son, so I think we can give good odds that at least part of Columbus is contained in that coffin you see in the picture. The Dominican Columbus has not been tested for DNA. It is possible that part of Columbus might be there too.

They had the macabre habit in those days of revering parts of famous or saintly people. It was the old idea of relics. I think it bad manners to revere parts of somebody. Many churches had pieces of the “true cross” or milk from Mary. How they would have obtained the original is a question nobody answered or even usually asked. One skeptical historian quipped that if you assembled all the wood from the true cross held in all the churches in Christendom, you could build the Royal Navy and if you pooled all the milk of Mary, you could float it.

My opinion of Columbus? He was a visionary man of his times, i.e. the late middle ages. He acted much like people of his times were expected to act. I am glad that he “discovered” America, because I am glad I live here. The world is a lot better now than it was during his time. I don’t praise or blame him for that.

First picture is the Columbus memorial in Madrid. Picture #4 is his tomb. His mortal remains are in that stone sarcophagus.

Picture # 3 is an upside down map of the Mediterranean. It has south on the top because it is meant to show where the Spanish fleet set out to defeat fight the Turks. The Spanish and allies from Venice and Naples defeated the Turks at the battle of Lepanto in the biggest navel engagement since classical times. It was one of history’s key battles, but I bet most Americans never heard of it.

The last picture is a Seville street scene. I don’t know what the #2 picture is. I just thought it a cool picture.

What have the Romans ever done for us?

What have the Romans ever done for us?
Carthaginians were the first empire builders to show up. The Romans pushed them out and held onto Spain for more around 700 years. Spain was among the most Roman of the provinces. Emperors Trajan & Hadrian were born in Spain, as was the philosopher Seneca.
The Romans had the first dominant influence on Spain. They gave it the name & language. The Empire collapsed in the 5th Century, but the culture and people hung on. And there were constant reminders of the old Empire. Nobody ran the lands of the old empire better than the Romans had for at least 1000 years. It must have been humbling to see the “rhetoric in stone” of that great empire.

You see the Roman bridge in my picture. It has been repaired many times, but the general structure has endured. Romans built to last. They showed their power in stone.
We easily see how Roman affected our own Western culture and institutions but we sometimes forget that Rome was the major influence on every subsequent civilization in its former Empire and through those outside it. Orthodox and Islamic Civilizations are heirs to Rome and anybody who speaks Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French or Romanian is speaking a language evolved from Latin.

I am very much a fan of Rome. I know of their many faults and their brutality, but I also know that for their time there were none better, and there were none better for a long time after. The Roman genius was in governing and assimilation of the ideas of others. They absorbed, assimilated and passed along the great cultures of the ancient world. Our civilization is heir to all that and we are heirs of the Romans.

I thought about these things as I admired the Roman bridge in the pictures. You can see me with the bridge and river in the background. On close inspection of the bridge, notice how they built the upstream supports at sharp angles to deflect the water and rounded the downstream ones to support the structure and slow the flow. They built for the centuries.


The anniversary of the introduction of slavery to the English colonies in North America inspired me to think a little more about how and why it was abolished. This is a more interesting question. Slavery in some form was universal until it suddenly (in terms long history) it was largely abolished in the course of a few generations.

You cannot get far talking about abolition w/o considering William Wilberforce. The Wikipedia entry featured a paragraph I found especially interesting.

“In the 1940s, the role of Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect in abolition was downplayed by historian Eric Williams, who argued that abolition was motivated not by humanitarianism but by economics, as the West Indian sugar industry was in decline.Williams’ approach strongly influenced historians for much of the latter part of the 20th century. “

I see no contradiction here. Economics, the great enrichment and the market revolution, enabled the implementation of the moral revolution pushed by leaders like Wilberforce.
Moral leaders in many past societies inveighed against forced labor, but never succeeded over large areas of for long periods of time. Maybe they failed not only because they could not convince enough people of the righteousness of their cause, but also for the practical reason that the world – all the world – was too poor and poorly coordinated to allow it.
We take for granted the wealth and capacity for progress we now enjoy. We often are unaware of the quantum change humanity experienced from around the middle of the 17th Century. The leap is ongoing and accelerating, but a lot of the basic ingredients came into being in the roughly two centuries from abound 1650-1850.

Reasonable people might disagree about the precise time period, but this encompasses the establishment of the scientific, democratic & market revolutions. We can point to individuals like Issac Newton, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Adam Smith, David Hume, John Locke, and many more, but the remarkable things was the combination. Ideas passed from science to society to morality to philosophy to politics.

These sorts of ideas created the United States and it was in the USA that many of them best developed in a practical sense.

In 1550, abolishing forced labor was just beyond that capacity of any society because of their lack of wealth in all senses. They had not developed the technologies of production (engines, mills, precision techniques) to make stuff. They had not developed the technologies of the mind (differential calculus, scientific theory) to allow what we call progress, had not yet developed the technologies of administration (statistics, limited liability corporations, communications) to allow modern economies or the technologies of governance that allowed countries to put it all together.

All these things enabled a higher morality. Our ancestors, the people of the past could produce wonderful structures, great literature and impressive philosophy, but their physical and intellectual technologies did not permit them to take the steps we can and that our more recent ancestors could and did.

A note on Wilberforce. He should be better remembered.

en.wikipedia.org   William Wilberforce – Wikipedia William Wilberforce (24 August 1759 – 29 July 1833)[1] was a British…       3

Man's inhumanity

I was in Poland in the early-middle 1990s, which meant that I was there for the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, of the liberation of Auschwitz (near where I lived), of various lesser known tragedies and of the Warsaw uprising.
I attended lots of commemorations, both in my official duties and as an individual interested in history. It was a very interesting time, although one that raised lots of questions about humanity.

Human capacity to do harm is usually matched by our capacity to endure. I came to wonder about the virtue of perseverance and even bravery, never resolved the issue. Existential struggles bring out the best and the worse in people, often in the same person.

In my discussions with young people (and I almost fit in that group back then), I would often hear harsh judgements of people of the past. “Had I been there, I would have …” was a common refrain.

What would I have done? I like to think I would have been always heroic and selfless, which probably would have meant I would not have survived the war. In fact, I think the best we can hope for is that we would be heroic and selfless in situations where it made a practical difference.

I was competitive swimmer, but nothing compared to a guy like Michael Phelps, winner of 28 Olympic gold metals, but there is a way that he is no better than me – neither of us can swim from California to Hawaii. This is not a trivial thing. There are things beyond human possibilities, but that does not let us off the hook for being better.

I learned a lot about tragedies and pondered human nature. I read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”, and I met dozens of people who had endured things I could not imagine. I felt very privileged to talk to many of them at length, including Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, maybe the most impressive soul I have ever encountered.

The thing that impressed me most also surprised me profoundly. These people who had suffered so horribly were very often joyful and had transcended hatred and vengefulness. They did not minimize the suffering and evil; they had just (sorry to use the word again but I can think of none better) transcended it. This made them no less committed to fighting evil and in many ways made them much more effective.

People who fought in the Warsaw uprising were mostly civilians, some children. The Nazis were especially brutal in their suppression of the uprising. Of the combatants that survived, many did so my wading through filth in the sewer system.

There is a coda, a tragic one. For many Poles who fought the Nazis the war did not end in 1945. The communist government did not treat them as heroes. On the contrary, many were persecuted and some executed. The new communist order did not easily tolerate vestiges of the old and personal heroism was especially suspect in their world view.

What were you doing when you were 40?

My story worth for this week. What were you doing when you were 40?

I thought it was the best of times, and it was the best of times up to then. The worst of times was just around the corner, but I didn’t know it at that time and that is another story.
It was the middle of my time as public affairs officer in Krakow. It was the best possible job I could have had at my rank and I knew it. Poland was emerging from the darkness of communism and it was an amazing privilege and joy to be there to watch it, have a small part in helping it along. You could see the improvements week-by-week. The air was getting cleaner. Shops were opening and electricity was becoming more reliable. It was like springtime after a long, dark and dreary winter. And my work was rewarding. Opportunities were so thick that my only problem was deciding among them. I got rock-star reception everywhere I went. I liked to think it was me, but I knew that they really loved the America I represented and that was okay too.

My Polish was not great, but it got me what I needed. Polish is hard for English speakers & Poles were glad to hear Americans speaking their language. They seemed to have no problem understanding, but I think my accent was amusing. My nearest guess is that I sound like Pepe Le Pew. I often talked on radio or TV, so it was not an impediment. My best teacher was my driver – Bogdan. My district included the whole south of Poland. Visiting all the places I needed to go kept me on the road. Bogdan and I spent many hours driving together, so much so that my more educated staff members joked that I should not talk so much to Bogdan. I was starting to sound like a peasant, they said. I think it was a joke.

Representing the USA in those days opened lots of doors and gave me lots of work. In retrospect, I think that I worked too much, more precisely that I did not adequately understand the nature of diplomatic work. I should have focused on fewer priorities and applied more leverage to everything else. Good diplomats work through others. I did too much myself and did not let others do as much as they could. I don’t beat myself up too much on this. This is common behavior of mid-level officers. Later when I was the big boss, mentoring younger officers, I tried to explain, but they more often did what I did, not what I said. Maybe it is a stage we need to go through on the way to better understanding. There is a time for energy, after all. It was my job to tell them and their job to do something else. And even looking back with my greater experience, I still judge my time in Krakow was a great success, despite my youth and inexperience.

A few anecdotes from those times.

Espen was a little boy and he learned Polish, at least at the little boy level, but he would never speak Polish with me. He claimed he could not. I heard him speaking to the cleaning woman in fluent Polish, so I asked him about it. “I thought you could not speak Polish,” I told him. He answered, “I don’t speak Polish. Those are just the words I have to use with her.” What an insight! That is one reason why kids can learn language so well. What is language, after all? You make a series of sounds and something happens.

My funniest Polish radio interview had to do with Christmas traditions. The interview was going well. I thought we were talking about Christmas trees. I talked about the tradition of decorating them and how each family had their own traditions. The interviewer nodded. I went on to explain that some people go to the forest to cut their own trees. Suddenly, the interviewer looked very confused. We talked a bit more. Turns out that I was using the wrong word. The Polish work for tree is “drzewo.” I was using “drzwi,” which means door. Funny, that it made sense. You could – and some do – decorate doors. Had I not talked about the cutting; nobody would have been any the wiser. This is a caution when you are speaking a foreign language and everybody seems to understand.

One of my scariest times was when Richard Holbrook came to visit us. Holbrook was one of the smartest men I have ever men and seemed to me one of the scariest. I met him at the train station and introduced myself. He dropped his luggage and walked off. We always joke that diplomats need to be ready to carry luggage, so I carried his. I must have done a good job, because I was placed at his table for a reception are Ariel Café in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow. It was a big table with lots of people well above my station. I laid low, not wanting to call attention to myself. Holbrook held forth on a variety of subjects. Seemed to know everything. I stayed quiet, speaking perfunctorily to the people near me, so as not to interfere with Holbrook, clearly the main event. The guy sitting next to me was the director of the Holocaust Museum. He was nice. We talked a little about the restaurant, which served traditional Jewish food and featured klezmer music. When we got up to leave, and made the usual goodbyes, the museum director was profuse in praise for the restaurant. I came to understand that he thought I was the owner of the café. I saw Holbrook at the other end of the table and I did not want to be explaining this when he might hear, so I just told the director that we try to please the customers.

On the dark side, Poland was a bloodland. Both world wars were fought over its territory and the Nazi occupation was very brutal. A casual walk in the woods will come across monuments to dozens of hundred of Polish civilians killed by Nazis. There were also remains of American pilots and aircraft. During the Warsaw uprising in 1944, the USA wanted to resupply the rebels. Stalin cynically wanted to let the Nazis wipe out the free Polish army.

Stalin would not resupply the Poles, nor cooperate with the USA to do it. American pilots and crews volunteered to drop supplies to the Polish Home Army. Since Stalin would not let them land in Soviet held territory, they had to try to make the round trip. Many did not make it. 1994 was the 50th anniversary of many of these events. I attended a quite a few memorials.

I was often assigned as site officer for Auschwitz. This is for official visits. The site officer makes sure everything is okay for an important visitor. I did some variation of these five times, including visits by Hilary Clinton and George W Bush. Each time I visited; it was worse. You notice more and more terrible details. My last visit was the worst. It was when George W Bush came to Poland. (This was a little outside the period in question. By then I was working in Warsaw, but they sent me south to help.) I went to the camp in the pre-dawn darkness and walked around the camp alone. Few people get to do this, and I do not recommend it. I will never, ever go back. The cruelty and inhumanity came stronger than ever, so powerfully that even as I write I am feeling physically sick. When people deny or minimize the Holocaust, well I wish I could infect them with this feeling. Well enough.

Protocols of the Elders of Zion

It was the deadliest and one of the most persistent hoaxes in history. You probably have not heard of it & if you did you probably did not believe it, but millions did know about it, did believe it AND acted on their beliefs. Millions more were affected.

Alex and I went to a lecture on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Considering this document is instructive from so many angles. It is obviously a study in hate, but it is perhaps more pragmatically a study in how hoaxes, credulity and the desire to believe in conspiracy shapes events.

Sure, it is all wrong, but it is still all true
The Protocols were debunked almost immediately after they were promulgated in 1902/3. It just made no sense. Supposedly, the protocols recorded a meeting of Jewish leaders sometime around 1897, where they laid out a plan for world domination. From the beginning, the facts just did not make sense. For example, the event is said to take place AROUND 1897. There was no precise date. Where the meeting took place was also left unclear, as well as who attended or how they got there. Presumably, a large meeting of international leaders would be a logistical feat attracting some attention. Nobody ever came forward to claim to have been at the meeting or seen the meeting.

None of this seemed to matter. Some believers just assumed that Jews were so crafty that they could cover their trail so that nobody could find it. More surprisingly, many other believers admitted that the facts were all wrong, but that they somehow represented a greater truth. Sure, it is all wrong, but it is still all true.

Weaponizing lies for an international audience
The Protocols had a long lasting and malicious legacy. It was created to be weaponized as a tool of hate and it worked. Ralph Nurnberger said that this was the single most damaging antisemitic document in history, worse even than “Mein Kampf.” The Protocols built on a long tradition, but they made antisemitism international and gave it the rationale we recognize today. They had a big impact in the Islamic world, where Jews had lived in relative harmony since the Islamic conquests, and in places that did not have any, or many, Jews at all, such as in Japan. It persists in these places. Nurnberger mentioned a recent Cairo bookfair the featured multiple edition of the “Protocols.” When Israeli diplomats complained, they were told that they did not have to attend.

The more facts you bring to debunk, the more we think it is true
As I mentioned above, the “Protocols” were debunked right away and continued to be debunked as different editions showed up in different places. When the “Protocols” came to the USA, the “New York Times” wrote a full-page article pointing out the various problems with the “Protocols.” The “Times of London” has done this earlier. This, ironically, this debunking confirmed the belief for true believers, since the “Protocols” warned that Jews controlled the media and for the believers that fact of the debunking just proved the truth.

This is one reason why conspiracy theories are so persistent. They include within them the antibodies against truth. In fact, the more facts come out against them, the more it confirms the belief.

The “Protocols” are now in their second century. Unfortunately, they are not just history.
This event was sold out and every chair was taken. Good to know that enough people have the intellectual curiosity to be attracted to such events.

Story of English

Chrissy & I went down to Smithsonian to unlock the wordhoard in a day-long program by Professor Anne Curzan, a linguist from University of Michigan. The real title was English Words: Etymologies and Curiosities. I just liked “wordhoard”. It is the old English for vocabulary. “He dipped into his wordhoard and said …” Another interesting phrase was “ban hus” or bone house. That means body. Professor Curzon read from old English. It is clearly a foreign language, but if you listen very hard you can perceive it is your language down deep.
There never was a pure English (or any other language) but English has a birth year – AD 449. That is the tradition date when the Anglo-Saxons crossed over to what would become England. Of course, they brought with them their Germanic language and it did change immediately when they crossed the water, but the separation began.

The Romans abandoned the province of Britannia. They just could not hang on, as barbarians streamed across the imperial borders and when in 410 the Visigoths sacked Rome, the emperor decided to cut Britannia loose. The Britons were not very warlike after nearly 400 years of Roman protection. W/o the Roman legions they could not defend their borders against barbarians and pirates who raided the coasts. So, they made the unwise choice of inviting German mercenaries to do their fighting for them, these were the Angles, Saxons and Jutes from what is now northern Germany and Denmark. They did a decent job dispatching the local threats, but they decided that they liked Britannia so much they would keep it. They send word back to their cousins that the land was good and the inhabitants weak. So began England (land of the Angles) and the English language.
This was the start of a long process that is not finished. English is truly a promiscuous language. The first English mixed liberally with Norse, brought by the Vikings. The Vikings raided and burned, but then they settled in large numbers. At that time Norse and English were still somewhat mutually intelligible. Much of England became bilingual and a kind of blended language. Norse contributed lots of words to English and caused the grammar to become simpler

as the non-native speakers dispensed with some of the more arcane forms.

England after around 800 was more a part of Scandinavia, culturally and linguistically, than it was western Europe. This changed in 1066 with the Norman Conquest. The Normans (as the name implies) were themselves of Viking stock, but they were by that time French speaking. French became the prestige language in England for the next four centuries. There were never very many Normans in England, but the ran the place and their language ruled too.

The interesting illustration shows the subordination of English. In the field, where they peasants work, the big grazing animal is a cow (English). When it comes into the castle it becomes beef (French). In the pen, it is a pig. When it comes into the castle it becomes pork. Same goes for sheep and mutton. In fact, you can see it in lots of words. An English peasant might live in a house. The Norman rich guy lived in a mansion. When it got really classy, it became a domicile. Domicile shows the other influence – Latin.

Latin came into the language all through its history, as it was the language of the Church and of educated elites, but there was a big jump following the 15th Century. Writers and others wanted to “improve” English, so they coined new words. You can see this happening in Chaucer and Shakespeare later.

I have gone on a little too much with the history. She also talked about how we develop slang and how the language changes and continues to change. Word meanings change, sometimes even turning around. We all have our peeves about particular words, but it can be a losing fight.

I personally dislike it when people use the word utilize. There is almost no case where simple use is not a better choice, but people think the longer word is more sophisticated. Professor Curzan mentioned the differences between among and between and said that the difference between imply and infer is lost for the masses. Young people are starting to use because as a preposition. Language changes.

Great living in Washington because there are so many programs like this.

My pictures are from Smithsonian. The last one is just me on the Mall. I know it looks like an old west stance. It is the hat that does it. Since I became “hair denied” I began to wear hats. Now I feel naked w/o one. The brimmed hat is great, keeps the sun out of your eyes and the rain off your face and neck. You can see why they invented them. But the risk is looking like an old west guy. I can stand that, but I will avoid standing like that in pictures.