28 November 2015


Following the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris, the French and U.S. presidents, as well as the U.S. secretary of state, attributed the attack to "Daesh" instead of Islamic State.

The terror group hasn't changed its name, but Western politicians are finally using the term our Middle Eastern allies have always used and prefer we do as well.

We should stop using "Islamic State," "ISIS," and "ISIL" and call them Daesh. For several reasons.

Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the terror group's self-declared banner — "al-Dowla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham." That translates in English to "the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant." The Levant refers to countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean. Those under their occupation in places like Mosul and Ramadi are severely punished and permanently maimed if they don't use the full title. The terrorists consider it an affront and insult to be referred to as Daesh. That's reason enough to use the term.

This summer I was sternly corrected during a conversation about the situation in Iraq. I was speaking Arabic but thinking like an American, and used the term "al-Dowla al-Islamiya." My friend Emad, a former Iraqi army major who fought side-by-side with U.S. forces and who is now a U.S. citizen, said, "Mitch, you must never, ever use the terms 'Islamic' or 'state' to describe them. You just gave them legitimacy by saying those words. They are assassins and mercenaries. They are neither Islamic nor are they a state. They are far worse than anything you or I fought against when we were there."
From here.

Language Log has audio clips of the pronunciation of Daesh and the term is discussed in the comments here.  More in depth analysis and commentary here.

The thing that makes "Daesh" a particularly odd bird linguistically is that unlike Indo-European languages where acronyms are commonplace, Arabic apparently rarely uses the device of forming acronyms which are then used as words.

I'm also ambivalent about the virtues of using an English acronym as opposed to an Arabic acronym that refer to the same words in the respective languages.  And, while their opponents may not wish to grant ISIS legitimacy to a group they see as assassin's and mercenaries, I'm not sure that using an Arabic acronym that contains the words "Islamic State" really conveys that more clearly than an English acronym that contains the same words.

Also, the reality on the ground is that ISIS is an organized group of people who control a large swath of contiguous territory and rule over people in that territory to the exclusion of any other sovereign, which pretty much satisfies the definition of "state" no matter what you choose to call it.  I'm generally against propaganda that crosses over the line of being counterfactual.

And, while ISIS may be beyond manners, deliberately choosing an identifier for someone or something because the person or thing identified really dislikes that choice of language is juvenile and can complicate future diplomacy which will probably be necessary in some form or another.

Domestic Terrorist Strikes Planned Parenthood In Colorado Springs

A police officer and at least two more civilians were killed by a domestic terrorist at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Nine others, including some members of law enforcement, were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. He surrendered after a five hour standoff late Friday afternoon.  More coverage here.

News reports state that the shooter was Robert Lewis Dear, 57, of South Carolina, although other reports state that he was from North Carolina.
[He] lived part of the time in a cabin with no electricity or running water in the North Carolina mountains.

His neighbors in Black Mountain said Robert Lewis Dear kept mostly to himself. But James Russell said when Dear did talk, it was a rambling combination of a number of topics that didn't make sense together and he tended to avoid eye contact.

Two topics Russell said he never heard Dear talk about were religion or abortion.

Dear's cabin was a half-mile up a curvy dirt road about 15 miles west of Asheville. A cross made of twigs was nailed to the wall of the pale yellow shack on Saturday.

Dear also spent time in a house in the nearby town of Swannanoa.
He carried a rifle and brought bombs as well, which were successfully removed without incident.

26 November 2015


The Denver Broncos have an 8-2 win-loss record this year, tied with some other teams for third, but probably the best of that lot according to other statistics.  My brother's team, the New England Patriots, which has defeated the Broncos in two recent Superbowls, is 10-0.  So is the Carolinas team. (I have never gotten around to learning the names of all of the league expansion teams).

So, it looks like history has a decent chance of repeating itself in a Patriots-Broncos Superbowl number 50 (the convention of using Roman Numerals has collapsed since lots of people wouldn't know what Superbowl L meant), in which the Patriots prevail.


Evolution Acceptance Rising In U.S., Especially Among The Young

John Hawks examines some surveys in the last few years that show acceptance of evolution finally attaining majority support among younger Americans (age 18-29). Here is the money chart from the a Pew study he discusses:

The United States has been slow to emerge from it demon haunted world, mostly due to the strength of Evangelical Christianity in parts of the United States.  But, there does seem to be reason to hope that there will eventually be some progress.

UPDATE: A fair amount of the anti-atheist sentiment in the United States is traceable Cold War anti-communist sentiment, as the communist movement was officially atheistic, much of it propagated during the Eisenhower administration during which "under God" entered the Pledge of Allegiance, "In God We Trust" showed up on U.S. currency, and Ten Commandments statutes appeared in public places across small town America.  This encouraged fundamentalist Christians with adherence to its tenants viewed as an anti-communist political act.

In the era of today's young people, in contrast, the national specter has largely been religious terrorists.  Perhaps, some of the resurgence in pro-science litmus test statements reflects a political identity formed in opposition to religious terrorism.  This could also help explain the rise in the number of people identifying as "not religious".