Pedantry - Moved to

Saturday, May 10, 2003
Link policy

I have just added a link to Quite Contrary on the sidebar, and I'm a little frustrated at only finding out that she links to me by browsing through old posts on The Head Heeb's website and discovering a comment where Miranda quotes me.

Folks, I have a simple link policy: I try to link to everybody who puts up a permanent link to me, unless I think they're complete dickheads. So far no phallocephalics have linked to me that I know of. Otherwise, I add the blogs that I read on a regular basis or have some other reason to support.

I use Technorati and The Truth Laid Bear to keep track of links, but since they missed Quite Contrary, obviously they don't catch everyone.

So, if you link to me, and want me to link to you, drop me a line. The e-mail link is on the sidebar.

Update: Well, suddenly a bunch of people have linked to me - or else suddenly Truth laid Bear just discovered a bunch of blogs it didn't used to hit. Having read your blogs and finding them all worth reading, you've been added to the sidebar.

In Nederlands, a.u.b.

I really need to study for my Dutch exam this weekend. Dat is helemaal jammer. There's a load of stuff I'd like to blog. The Head Heeb is discussing Israel and the issue of whether ethnic nationalism is compatible with liberalism, which offers the perfect opening for me to say something almost as radical and unacceptable as my thinking on education. Nationalism: I'm against it. I don't just mean being against my nation right or wrong nationalism. I mean I think nations should have no more call on someone's loyalty than their supermarket does and should have even less to do with identity politics. This leads to lots of really awful stuff about integrating immigrants and why I don't think state pressure for integration is usually a good thing.

Also, Gallowglass and Cosma Shalizi link to an article in Nature this month (also available here.) on evolutionary programming and the conclusions one can draw about evolution from it. I was making that case back before there were even blogs, when I got in a fight with my mother over evolution after taking a genetic progamming class at Stanford. Anyway, I have a few things to say about that too - namely that it tends to undermine excessively reductive notions of evolutionary biology.

I also have a piece half prepared on voting systems and why I'm against representative democracy, inspired by Daniel Davies on "Tactless Voting." I have an analysis that draws on Bruno Latour, Stafford Beer, the early cyberneticians, and I even had a Margaret Thatcher quote to work with.

Furthermore, there is Grandma Dick's story to finish up, and a much longer piece from Grandpa Dick. But, I've resolved that I need a scanner to do this right - I've been retyping their texts manually - and I haven't had to time to run out and get one.

Maar, het spijt me. Dat zou ik al deze dit weekend niet doen. Na de het examen, misschien wel. Maar nu heb ik geen vrije tijd om te bloggen. Ik moet werkwoorden leren en ik heb nog niet de het imperfectum genoeg gestudeerd. Kommen Komen: ik kwam, we kwamen; geven: ik gaf, we gaven; lopen: ik liep, we liepen...

I may, however, post over the weekend translations from the mass of Belgian election literature I keep receiving in my mailbox. That, at least, would be practice for my Dutch. Our local Vlaams Blok candidate in particular has this Nazi geek look that makes me laugh everytime I look out my window at the election posters. Their free monthly "newspaper" is just begging to be fisked.

Dus, ik wens jullie al een goede goed weekend.

Thursday, May 08, 2003
United Soviet States of America

Matt Taibbi, formerly of Moscow's infamous Exile, hits the spot in yesterday's NY Press, producing a piece that reminds me of why I read him in the Exile. Found via The Daily Dystopian.

It has become fashionable on the left and in Western Europe to compare the Bush administration to the Nazis. The comparison is not without some superficial merit. In both cases the government is run by a small gang of snickering, stupid thugs whose vision of paradise is full of explosions and beautifully designed prisons. Toss in the desert fatigues motif and the "self-defense" invasion tactic, and there does seem to be a good case.

But it’s way off. It’s wishful thinking. The Reich only lasted 12 years. The Soviets reigned for 75. They were better at it than the Nazis, and we’re better at it than the Russians. Ask anyone who’s lived in a communist country, and he’ll tell you: Modern America is deja vu all over again. And if ever there was a Soviet spectacle, it was Bush’s speech last week.

Think about it. Huge weapons on display, in foreground and background. The leader who has never fought dressed in full military regalia. Crowds of adoring soldiers and "shock worker" types dressed in colorful costumes, carefully arranged for the cameras. A terrible, excruciatingly dull speech, 20 minutes of incoherent, redundant patriotism (Bush used the words "free" or "freedom" 19 times in an 1800-word speech) and chimpanzoid chest-pounding.

On May Day.

That was Red Square every year for about 70 straight years. And now it is a most natural fit in our society.

The European Union - future home of the Antichrist

This has to be read to be believed.

A number of articles in the vast body of material within this website examines, in great detail, the biblically prophetic reasons Europe will one day almost certainly be the heart of the Antichrist beast-system of governmental, economic and religious control prophesied to engulf the world. It will also be at the heart of a false peace process that will initiate the tribulation, which will culminate at Armageddon. We, therefore, refer you to those background works by listing their titles at the end of this article. Here, we will take a look at the European Union’s development and growth in the twentieth century until the present. We will only make brief references to the prophecies, so far as where they are found in the Bible is concerned. This will be an examination of what is happening now in the development of that prophesied evil world government that Jesus Christ will destroy with His second coming to the earth.

I blame Reagan. He was the one who shut down the mental health hospitals.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
Salam Pax is back

(Thanks to Silt for the heads-up.)

Our Man in Baghdad is back. I'm still reading the last entry. The first really quotable bit:

War sucks big time. Don’t let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in the name of your freedom. Somehow when the bombs start dropping or you hear the sound of machine guns at the end of your street you don’t think about your “imminent liberation” anymore.

Monday, May 05, 2003
Pork Knishes and other threats from genetic engineering

I remember a science fiction story I read as a teenager about genetic engineering, one that comes to mind whenever someone talks about the future of biotech. It's called The R-strain and Harry Turtledove wrote it in 1985. (Currently in the anthology Departures.) It's about a company that markets a new species of pig that chews its feed in order to get more nutritional value out of it, enabling it to grow faster and produce more meat out of a quantity of feed. Someone asks a responsible manager at the company if that means that the pig is kosher, and the company starts to take the question seriously, seeking out a rabbi to render an opinion. He ultimately decides that these new pigs are, in fact, acceptable under rabbinical law.

That was what came to mind when Brad at Silentio e-mailed me an article by Bill McKibben on genetic engineering that appeared in the Guardian this weekend. The tone of the article is set in the subtitle:

Almost without our noticing, scientists have reached a point where they can not only clone human beings, they can fine-tune genes in embryos to produce a super race. If we let it happen, argues Bill McKibben, the consequences will be terrifying: the end of meaning, the end of what makes us human. Time to say enough.

There are lots of technological dystopias and disasters to worry about. Climate change may very well become a source of misery on an immense scale. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the possibility of new viral epidemics brought on by faster international travel scare the bejesus out of me. And nuclear war... well, nuclear war seems even more likely now than it did in the relative stability of the Cold War, and it would still suck.

But I have never really been able to believe in the apocalyptic predictions that accompany discussions of genetic engineering. Yes, I think there are legitimate and difficult questions raised by the anti-GMO movement, although I think a lot of those questions have more to do with who makes public policy than about the actual safety of food. But the idea that people will be genetically engineered to be stronger, faster, smarter, whatever, still seems quite farfetched to me.

Let me stipulate that the technology to manipulate DNA has improved dramatically. Yes, I can foresee a future where it is not terribly difficult to insert, remove, and modify genes in all sorts of organisms. It's just that that ability has proven to be a whole lot less useful than one might expect. Genes aren't blueprints, they are a bit more like recipes - exceptionally complicated recipes whose results are dependent in unknown ways on external factors, and that are hard to modify in predictable ways. The kind of direct genetic control McKibben fears requires more than just the ability to modify genes, it requires the ability to foresee the outcomes of interventions.

McKibben actually makes that point himself:

Plenty of practical complications make this work harder than editing text on a word processor, too. One researcher told of 300 attempts to clone monkeys without success. Even if you could perfect the process, simple physics would place limits on how much you could modify humans. "If you had a nine-foot-tall person," says Stuart Newman, a researcher at New York Medical College, "the bone density would have to increase to such a degree that it might outstrain the body's capability to handle calcium."

However, these qualifications mask the larger truth: genes do matter. Endless studies of twins raised separately make very clear that virtually any trait you can think of is, to some degree, linked to our genes. Stuart Newman, a few moments after explaining why a nine-foot-tall person simply wouldn't work, leaned across his lab bench and added, "But could you engineer higher intelligence? Increased athletic ability? I have no doubt you could make such changes." This new world can't be wished away.

Well, I have my doubts. We're nowhere near being able to make the kind of engineered changes McKibben fears. The outside world intervenes constantly in the development of organisms, and because the biological roots of cognitive abilities are a near complete mystery, it's hard to be so sure that human intelligence isn't just as restricted by external limits as human height is. I suspect that it is, and I think I have a good case for my suspicion, but that will have to wait for another post.

I am not "wishing this new world away", it's just that we're nowhere near that world. We're at the point where biologists can make fairly small changes, usually involving well understood parts of an organism's biochemistry, with the understanding that it takes multiple tries and different lines of attack to get even a single, uncertain success. The whole argument against GMO's - and it's not a bad one - is that even those small changes that we can make may have unpredictable consequences when practised on a large scale in already biologically fragile monoculture industrial farming processes.

I am hard pressed to imagine anyone tolerating some kind of Dr. Frankenstein doing to people by large scale trial and error what little genetic engineering we can do. But, barring some truly unforeseen and revolutionary change in the way we understand how organisms develop, that's how genetic engineering is going to work for the foreseeable future.

McKibben talks about how we've been manipulating animal genes since the late 70's and only our ethics keep us from doing it to people. This is true, but the things we do to genetically engineered animals are quite restricted. People engineer lab mice to have diseases so that they can try to cure them. Why? In large part it's because it's useful to have non-human subjects to experiment on, ones we can dissect whenever we want to without risking prison. But also, it's because it's easy to genetically engineer a defective mouse and extremely difficult to engineer a superior one.

Even when we can easily change single genes, what would we get out of it? Yes, it would enable us to eradicate Tay-Sachs, Sickle-Cell, Lou Gehrig's disease and a number of other hereditary diseases whose link to a single gene is well established. I think that would be great. But other things? Eye colour, I guess. Colour-Blindness. Albinism. I guess there must be some other things that can be easily linked to a single gene but I suspect they are probably all things that few people are likely to be interested in changing. None of those things represent a threat to our humanity.

The kosher pig is not on the horizon, and our fortean dreams and dystopian nightmares of posthumanity are at least as far off. There are far more pressing things to worry about.

Sunday, May 04, 2003
Les enfants de la Fleur-de-Lys en ont ras-le-bol

Today's Doonesbury goes to the heart of the matter:


Beastly Murder

In response to my public, Pedantry is returning to pre-revolutionary Russia for a few more instalments in my series of posts taken from my recently deceased grandfather's papers. For previous instalments, click here.

My great-grandmother - Grandpa's mother - was born Katharina Abram [Ekaterina Abramovna] Neustädter in 1895, 108 years ago this August, on a rural estate in Gubernaya Ekaterinoslav, now part of the Republic of Ukraine. She died in early 1988 in Winnipeg, Manitoba when I was 16. She never fully mastered English and used standard German, not Mennonite Plautdietsch, as her most regularly spoken language. I never really mastered standard German and I am still nowhere near as comfortable in it as I am in French, so I had few conversations with her and I have little to recount about her in the first person. My memories of Grandma Dick are all of a very old woman. She was a few days from her 76th birthday when I was born. I always knew that her parents were murdered, but I don't know if anyone ever told me the details.

Grandpa includes among his papers a translation of the news coverage in the Odessaer Zeitung, apparently a major newspaper among the Ukrainian Germans. The first mention is on Sunday, 27 May, 1907:

Bewaffnete Räuber raubten die Ökonomie des Gusbesitzers Neusteiger unweit Kitschkas aus, wobei sie N. und dessen Frau schwer verwundeten.

Armed robbers plundered the estate of the landowner Neusteiger [clearly the reporter misheard the name] not far from Kichkas during which they seriously wounded N. and his wife.

Thursday two weeks later, a more extensive article was published, from which I have taken the first few sentences:

Donderstag, 7 Juni, 1907

Bestialischer Mord

Über die Ermordung des Ehepaars Neustätter im Gouv. Jekaterinoslaw, worüber wir vor einigen Tagen ein kurzes Telegramm brachten, finden wir nun in der "Russkaja Prawda" eine eingehende Schilderung, die einem das Blut in den Adern erstarren macht, so entsetzlich, so scheuslich sind die Einzelheiten...

Thursday, 7 June 1907

Beastly Murder

About the murder of the married couple, Mr and Mrs Neustätter [once again misspelled] in the district of Ekaterinoslav, about which we published an account in the short telegram a few days ago, we now read a detailed account in the Russkaya Pravda which makes the blood congeal in your veins - so dreadful, so atrocious are the details...

Grandma Dick's account is certainly disturbing enough. Violence was a part of life in old Russia, but the Germans had largely been segregated from the horrors of Russian life, at least until the beginning of the century. As Russia began to break down, so too did the protection of Russia's Germans and other internationals. In Grandma Dick's case, the deterioration of the Czarist state was most abrupt and started well before the revolution. Given her story, it is hardly a surprise that Russia stood for nothing but pain and misery to her.

In March 1967, Grandpa was able to convince her to write her story down for her then still quite young grandchildren. What follows is Grandpa's translation.

My parents were Katharina Neustädter, born October 18, 1868, the daughter of Kornelius Heinrichs; and Abram Neustädter, born May 1, 1866, the son of Abram Neustädter.

We lived on a large farm, but we had two other farms. All three farms together were almost 4000 desyatin land. [1 desyatin = approx. 2.7 acres or a little more than a hectare. 4000 desyatin comes to just under 11,000 acres of land or roughly 16 square miles. This was a huge landholding by the standards of the time.] We were five children in the year 1907: Helena, born August 15, 1893; I, Katharina, born August 17, 1895; Susanna, born April 30, 1899; Abram, born April 22, 1901; and Maria, called Mika, born June 15, 1905. [Grandma Dick calls these dates "Old Style calendar", technically this means the Julian calendar.] Three children, Maria, Kornelius and Abram, died in infancy. In the year 1904 Helena had to have her left leg amputated halfway above the knee because she had cancer in the knee. In the fall of 1905 Father took Lena [Helena] to Freiburg, Germany and had an artificial leg made for her. As a companion he took his brother-in-law Kornelius Wieler and for Lena he took her cousin, Suse Martens. Uncle Kornelius Martens then sent his oldest daughter, Maria, along at his own expense. In March of 1907 we children all got the measles. Sister Lena was unable to recover because the cancer had spread through her body and she died on the sixth of May, 1907. Almost three weeks later, Father and Mother were murdered.

It was dusk on the 23rd of May, 1907, that I was sitting on the swing and Father was standing beside me. Through the fruit garden we saw people in the forest. He called a worker (the Schliesser - the man with the keys to all the buildings and stores) [I imagine something like a foreman] and said "Send someone into the forest and find out who those people are." The messenger returned without having found anyone. We children went to bed as usual when it was time and fell asleep, not realising that that it would be our last night in our parents home. While Mother was in the kitchen with the servant girls, she must have noticed that something was wrong in the yard. She ran through our room and wanted to lock the door that opened out out of our room toward the yard. When she reached around to grab the door, they shot her in the wrist. Then she ran back through our room and the men ran after her. At 9:30, when I was half awake as a result of the shooting, I saw Mother running past through the room and several men in pursuit.

When I got up and ran after her, she already lay in the next room with eleven gunshot wounds. Two shots had gone through her wrist, the others through her chest and body. With my help Mother dragged herself to the other door that led into the long hallway where the robbers had ordered our seamstress, Maria Janzen, to stand at the door. She had been sewing late in the room that was toward the garden. The room had an outside door. She had the window open so one of the robbers jumped in, unlocked the door and let the others in. (Several robbers were at the barn.) They shot left and right past Miss Janzen's head. Since she screamed and because of the shooting, Mother thought a rabid dog had entered. A rabid dog had been on the yard during the day. Hearing the shooting, Father ran for the front door, probably to get help from the barn.

During the day, Father had sent the coachman (a faithful, trusted man) to the capital city to get money from the bank. [They lived near Ekaterinoslav - now Dnepropetrovsk - which was the capital of the gubernaya where they lived.] He returned the same day. Father probably used the money immediately to pay his workers because there was very little in the safe. Sister Susan also woke up. Since she was screaming so loudly, they wanted to shoot her, but she ran and hid behind a door. There were clothes hanging behind the door that kept her covered. The door remained open, so she stayed there until the robbers were gone.

Abram and Mika slept through the night. The maids had run away as soon as they heard the shooting. How often they held the revolver in front of my face and threatened to shoot when I grabbed his [the robber's] hand and pushed it aside! They led me through the house to look for the key to the safe. I told them, "Father has it in his pocket."

I stayed with Mother, and she asked for the song Keiner wird zu schanden, welcher Gottes harrt. ["No one becomes nothing, when God awaits" - a hymn about how God never forsakes the faithful.] I knew the complete song from memory because Father and I often sang together in the evenings. Frequently he would accompany me on the accordion. That was why I knew so many songs from the Reichsleiderfrom memory. ["Kingdom Songs" - a German hymnal current in Russia at the time.] Father's favourite song was Mächtig tobt des Sturmes Brausen, um ein kleines Schiff. ["Fierce and wild the storm is raging around a helpless bark"]

They shot Father in front of the barn. Later, they found the keys on the ground where they had fallen. He had been shot eight times. Many shots were into his body, but a few penetrated the forehead and they bled profusely. When the robbers were gone, he came alone towards the house by holding onto the picket fence that surrounded the circular garden in the yard. Maria Janzen saw him, holding himself on the fence and went to help him. He leaned on her and managed to get him up the few steps into the front room where he remained lying. He was unconscious and did not utter another word. He probably handed the keys to the robbers after he was shot, but because of the darkness they did not notice it. After the robbers had gone, the keys were found on the ground. They loaded the safe onto our wagon, hitched our horses in front of it and drove away. Weeks later, the police found the safe in a ravine near Ekaterinoslav about 50 verst away. [roughly 50 kilometres] Naturally, it was still locked.

When the bandits were gone, Maria and I went across the yard to the workman's house and begged the workers for help putting Mother and Father into their beds. They were afraid too, because they had been threatened no to leave the house before daybreak. But some of them did come. I took what I could find and washed the blood from Father's face and hands. But the blood continued to come out of his head - not only blood but also his brains.

Upon hearing the shouting and shooting, a Russian girl that had stayed in the cow fence with her boyfriend after the milking was finished ran to the nearest Russian village 5 verst away and reported it to Peter Heinrichs who lived on an estate near the village. Mrs Heinrichs was Mother's sister Lena. Early in the morning, Uncle Peter Heinrichs came, accompanied by Uncle Abram Hamm, a teacher who lived on the estate. ["Uncle" and "Aunt" were frequently used as titles of respect, so "Uncle" Abram was most likely not a relative.] They sent for a doctor in Khortitsa, a distance of some 40 or more verst. There was a man with some medical knowledge closer by, but nothing could be done. Father died the next day, the 24th of May at eight in the morning. In all her pain, Mother gave birth to a child she had carried for four or five months. It also had gunshot wounds. Mother died on the 25th of May at one in the afternoon. Father was born again, Mother was not. How gracious God was to give her this time of grace permitting her to accept Christ as her Saviour.

It was a very large funeral. I was as in a dream. I could not cry. [Grandma Dick was no doubt in shock.]

We three girls wore black dresses. I was eleven years old, Susa seven, Abram four and Mika two. Then all the cattle and inventory were sold. The land was rented to many German people who then lived on the three farms.

We four children were taken in by Aunt Lena and Uncle Peter Heinrichs. They had no children. Frequently, we went out for fruit from the garden. It was rented out to a gardener, but we were allowed to get fruit for ourselves.

On a Monday morning, three weeks after that terrible night, Abram, Mika and I were outside. Susa was in the laundry room with the wash girls. With us was the maid that looked after us children. Uncle Peter sat on a platform in front of the house and many Russian workers stood below while he was paying them their wages. Then a wagon with eleven armed men drove up and immediately a gun was discharged. Was it intentional or an accident? We children saw and heard it and, together with the maid, ran to the river and followed it to a place where we knew it was not so deep. The maid carried Mika across, then Abram, while I followed holding their feet so their shoes would stay dry. Then we ran into the Russian village where the maid's home was. When everything was over, they came to get us with a team and wagon. Susa had also run to the Russian village with the other maids.

The robbers did not find any money this time either. Uncle Peter unlocked his safe and they saw there was no money in it. But my parents' golden jewellery was there. He told them that it belonged to the children and they didn't take it.

They told him the road had been muddy. Their plan had been to come the night before. Would there have been deaths if they had arrived as planned? The Lord did not permit it to happen. All the people in front of the house [during the day] were unexpected as well.

Maria Janzen was also at our Aunt's house. They said, "You are here too?" It was the same gang that had murdered our parents. All this had influenced my nerves so much that I became depressed. [Grandpa's note: Gemütskrank. She became emotionally ill and couldn't laugh for four years.] I had to have medical attention for a long time. My cousin Abram Neustädter was so affected that he died soon after.

How difficult it was for me to call my uncle and aunt Mother and Father! How often the four of us cried together when the longing for the love of our parents overcame us! Our parents had a faithful German maid, Annie, who we took with us to our Aunt's. She slept with us and looked after us completely until she married several years later. After that, I assumed the responsibility under Aunt Helen's supervision. She was very strict. [Grandma Dick did not, if I am recalling correctly, ever speak highly of her foster mother. Those years were not pleasant ones for her, and it seems her new parents contributed to the misery.]

The robbers were not simple Russians but well-dressed, educated students. Frequently I had to go with Maria Janzen to the prison in the capital, where prisoners were lined up in front of us and we were asked if we could recognise them. It was intensely disturbing when they would look at us with hate-filled eyes and ask, "Well, do you know us?" There was no one that we could definitely identify.

About 1911, our foster-father Peter Heinrichs died of dropsy. [Dropsy means an accumulation of fluid in any major body cavity.] We then moved from foster-mother's house to Einlage where she had a large house built. In 1913 she married the builder, Peter Solomon Peters.

Foster-mother was born on April 29, 1873 and died April 25, 1932. My brother Abram went along with the White Army in 1919, because he had fought the Reds in the Molochna colony where he had attended the School of Commerce in Halbstadt. [Halbstadt is now Molochansk, Ukraine.] He went because he was afraid to stay at home. Since then, he has disappeared without a trace.

I also have the inscriptions on the tombstones of Grandma Dick's parents along with Grandpa's translation.

Abram Neustädter:

Zogst ein Du Treuer in den Ruhehafen
Und schlummerst sanft bis Gott dich wieder weckt
Nun stört kein Schmerz dich mehr im Schlafen
Es ist kein Feind der dich nun noch erschreckt
Die Kugeln die aus Mörderhand dich trafen
Sie schmerzen nicht wo Gottes Schild dich deckt
Und jedes Weh, von dem du warst durchdrungen
In Gottes Schoß, da ist es ausgerungen

You entered, dear one, into the haven of rest
And are slumbering softly until God will waken you again
No pain will disturb you now in your sleep
There is no foe that can frighten you
The bullets from the murderer's hand that struck you
They hurt not where God's shield covers you
And every woe by which you were overwhelmed
In God's bosom every struggle is over

Katharina Neustädter:

Du Liebe alle deine schwere Leidenstunden
Vorüber sind sie, bist nun in Kanaan
Die Schmerzen die am Fleische du empfunden
Die Lebensnot, die hoch sich türmte an
Und alles was hineinen noch gebunden
Von unserem Erbteil Irrtum, Sünd und Wahn
Sie alles ist für dich dahingeschwunden
Du kamst zum Licht und ruhst in Gottes Frieden

Dear one, all your difficult hours of suffering
Are past now, you are in Canaan
The pains that you experienced in your flesh
The anguish that piled up high
And everything that was tied up with it
Of our heritage of error, sin and folly
These all for you have disappeared
You came to Light and are resting in God's place

Next instalment: More from Grandma Dick.