Apr. 21st, 2003

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"GYPSY CABBY." I used this phrase to describe a driver who cheated a Boston woman out of $120 on the snowy night of Feb. 18.

His "cab" had no information painted on the outside. Inside, he displayed no license or list of fares. When he picked up the Boston woman (at Union Station), his cab was parked several blocks away. And he never told her how much he'd charge to take her to the Bethesda Marriott.1

I thought the phrase "gypsy cabby" fit like a glove. I used it without a second thought.

More than 100 readers took exception. They pointed out that the phrase was born of racial prejudice. They pointed out that gypsies were exterminated in large numbers by Hitler's Germany. I'd never use a phrase with another ethnic slur embedded within it, they said. So why use this one?

Because this one no longer implies anything specifically ethnic.2

The phrase is in the language and in the dictionary.2a

It refers to any cabdriver who flies by night and flouts the rules.3

A "gypsy cabby" can indeed be a gypsy. But he can also be Hispanic, black, or as white as Wonder Bread. He can be anyone.4 The driver in the story I published was African -- hardly a gypsy at all.5

So the phrase has no sting. If it still had any, I would never have used it.

Let's compare "gypsy cabby" to similar phrases that began life as defamatory and are now universal.6

For example, "getting your Irish up."

Once upon a time, that might have suggested that Irish people are more excitable than others, or that they're the only ethnic group that flips its lid. Today, "getting your Irish up" can apply to anyone of any ethnic group.7

For another example, "whistlin' Dixie."

At birth, this was clearly a putdown of southerners. But today, "whistlin' Dixie" can be (and is) used to describe New Yorkers and Canadians, too.8

To all who chastised me on this one: Thanks for your passion and caring. You keep us both honest. But we all have to recognize when there's an active pellet of hate inside a phrase and when there isn't.9

Many times, I've written about how I despise (and refuse to repeat) "Polish jokes." Reason: They still do contain a specific racial message. You can't tell a Polish joke about a Hungarian.10

In New York City, "gypsy cabs" have that phrase written on their doors, in many cases.11 The expression is so common that it wouldn't make a Geiger counter twitch.12

1I'm having trouble absorbing the fact that someone would walk away from a crowded station with a strange man to get into an unmarked car a block away without asking for the fare. That's just me, I guess.

2 Um.

Of course it does. It's based on the idea that someone doing something illicit is behaving like a gypsy, which is not the term that the romany prefer to use for themselves, insofar as it suggests an egyptian origin for them which there is no reason to believe exists.

2a Sorry, no, it isn't. Gypsy cab is. A person who drives a gypsy cab is known as a gypsy cab driver.

Trust me, I'm a New Yorker, I know this.

3 Nope.

One entry found for gypsy cab.
Main Entry: gypsy cab
Function: noun
Date: 1964
: a taxicab licensed only to answer calls; especially : such a cab that cruises in search of passengers illegally

Actually, it's almost always used for an illegal and unmarked cab.

4 he?

5 hardly? You mean like not at all except for the dishonesty part?

6 emphasis mine

7 someone clearly needs to explain to this fool the basis of the whole simile/metaphor thing.

See, the thing is, if you describe lack of emotional continence by africans or anglo-saxons or naked molerats as "getting your irish up" you're suggesting that lack of emotional continence is a particularly irish trait.

While you may find this endearing, it's considered a slur in wider circles, or at least in differenct circles than you travel in.

8 Say what?

This is too weird for me even to address. I've never heard New Yorkers referred to as "whistling Dixie" and my husband, who's from that bulwark of anti-Canadian slurs Detroit has never heard them referred to that way.

I have no idea where it came from.

9 Condescension and insensitivity might be a little easier to recognize for the untrained eye.

(that's con·de·scen·sion
Pronunciation: "kän-di-'sen(t)-sh&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Late Latin condescension-, condescensio, from condescendere
Date: 1647
1 : voluntary descent from one's rank or dignity in relations with an inferior
2 : patronizing attitude or behavior

10 Guessing Mr. Levy's antecedents are neither irish or romany. Just a wild guess.

11 Why yes! Many drivers of non-licensed taxis in New York have taken the helpful step of stencilling "I am doing something illegal and cannot be trusted! If I do manage to get a passenger, please stop and arrest!" on the door of their cabs to make things easier for passengers and police officers alike.

Damn, bud, you're hip. I didn't think they knew about that shit outside of the city.

12 Dunno. Anyone's alarm go off?

Wonder what Lloyd Grove thinks of all this.


Apr. 21st, 2003 04:08 am
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Sorry, Iraqis, talk to Bechtel. Karl Rove has other plans.

Confronting cost estimates of at least $20 billion a year and fears that Iraq could become permanently dependent on a U.S. military presence, senior officials in the White House and Pentagon are questioning the Bush administration's most ambitious, long-term plans for Iraq's reconstruction.

These officials are leaning toward a quick exit from a country that U.S.-led forces conquered in less than a month. The administration remains committed to repairing and rebuilding war-damaged infrastructure, in many cases to standards considerably higher than before the war started, a senior defense official said. Indeed, San Francisco-based Bechtel Group was just awarded an initial $34.6 million contract to rebuild airports, water and electricity systems, roads and railroads.

But the far larger task of ensuring that Iraq emerges as a representative democracy friendly to U.S. interests and operating with a free-market economy would be left to an Iraqi interim authority, which could control key aspects of Iraqi governance within months.

"I don't think it has to be expensive, and I don't think it has to be lengthy," a senior administration official said of the postwar plan. "Americans do everything fairly quickly."

Concerns about the costs and duration of rebuilding Iraq are being raised by senior civilian planners at the Pentagon, as well as senior aides to President Bush.
sisyphusshrugged: (Claude Rains Memorial Gambling Awareness)
This week's Claude Rains Memorial Gambling Awareness Award goes to the editorial page of the Washington Post.

DOES MARYLAND Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) think he is dealing with complete fools in the General Assembly?...

No, just at the Washington Post, and it hasn't failed him yet.

The Moderate bombthrower the Post played softball with during the election is a reactionary jackass who plays punitive political games.

Who'd a thunk it.


in other breaking news...

Senators Wary of Theocracy in Iraq

The United States would have a hard time accepting an Islamic theocracy in Iraq, even if its leaders are popularly elected, two senators said yesterday.

Appearing on separate Sunday news shows, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) said that whether such a government arises depends, in part, on U.S. officials' commitment to working with Iraqi leaders who view tolerance and freedom as essential to a democracy.

no word yet how they feel about theocracy in America (via tbogg, whose links are bloggered).


President Bush ended his administration's three-week escalation of warnings to Syria today and praised Iraq's neighbor for new cooperation in the hunt for senior aides to Saddam Hussein.

"It seems like they're beginning to get the message," Bush said as he left an Easter service with two Army helicopter pilots taken prisoner in Iraq. "I'm confident the Syrian government has heard us, and I believe it when they say they want to cooperate with us."


Bush, answering questions outside a chapel at the nation's most populous military base, also expressed optimism about talks with North Korea on its nuclear programs. An official said Bush authorized U.S. representatives to leave Monday for talks in Beijing. The talks had been jeopardized last week by new assertions from Pyongyang about its progress reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods.

The talks, scheduled for Wednesday through Friday, are to include the United States, North Korea and China. Bush said he believes the United States and China, working with Japan and South Korea, have "a good chance of convincing North Korea to abandon her ambitions to develop nuclear arsenals." Bush said China was "assuming a very important responsibility" as host, and repeated his goal of a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

A senior administration official said Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who stayed with the president and his family over the Easter weekend, decided at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., that Pyongyang's statement about reprocessing was "unhelpful but not as alarming as it first appeared."

My, Karl's been busy.


At the precise moment Mayor Michael Bloomberg was begging publicly for state funds to relieve New York City's worst economic plight in 70 years, the state's most powerful official - Gov. George Pataki - was in Albany having his own media moment. A grinning Mr. Pataki was handing out "Go Cuse" license plates to the winning basketball team from Syracuse University. Asked for his reaction to the "doomsday" budget being outlined a few hundred miles away, the governor frowned and refused to answer questions unrelated to basketball.

It's time for Mr. Pataki to stop acting like a politician running for office. He won already. Now he needs to buckle down and start helping a very troubled state and a very needy city. Hard times have landed on his watch, and he will be remembered by how he copes with them.

In the last few weeks, New York City and local communities around the state have begun to recognize the devastating impact of the governor's proposed cuts of almost $4 billion. Some are talking about raising local taxes 20 percent or more to fill the Pataki gaps. Mr. Bloomberg's worst-case budget - a budget without enough state help - could turn New York City into a very bleak place. Loss of services, more homeless, dirtier streets and fewer police officers would translate into loss of tourism, spurring a downward economic cycle that would suck the entire state's finances further into the red.

Gosh, thought the liberal New York Times, I wish I had remembered that the Governor has been a fiscally irresponsible and and dishonest official who has spent the last two terms gutting the engine of New York State's economy to pile largesse on the folks upstate who don't produce much more than porkbarrel prisons to jail the children of the cities once they don't get educated and spent some time covering that situation before we ENDORSED HIM FOR GOVERNOR OVER HIS OPPONENT, THE MAN WHO MADE NEW YORK'S BUDGET BALANCE OVER PATAKI'S STRENUOUS OBJECTIONS FOR EIGHT YEARS.

Well, they do have a point. That would have been nice.


America's Mayor's True Legacy

...Another clashing perception that has made it hard for City Hall and the unions to agree on anything is the strong belief within labor that municipal workers made more than their share of concessions in the past. In the early 1990's, they endured an 18-month wage freeze under Mayor David N. Dinkins, and in the mid-1990's, a two-year freeze under Mr. Giuliani.

"We've given enough concessions," said Michelle Clarke Griffith, an administrative worker in the Administration for Children's Services, who has been a city employee for two decades. "We gave concessions in the 70's and the 90's. We lost a lot...

The sisyphean husband works for the city. Giuliani cut a deal with corrupt leadership in his union to stuff the ballot boxes to make it look as if the rank and file agreed to a really bad deal. People went to jail over this. My husband's union was the union whose contract set the standard for all the rest of the city's contract negotiations.

Please believe me when I tell you that this is in no way being allowed for by the city's position.

Hell, Pataki even stiffed the cops (the state sets certain municipal salaries in NYC, notably those of the police, who also don't have to live here).


Well, shit, maybe it's not about oil after all.

As he ordered the invasion of Iraq last month, President Bush put his economic team on wartime footing, asking them to monitor the financial markets and business activity almost hour by hour.

Each morning in the war's first weeks, a group of cabinet secretaries and senior White House officials crowded around the conference table in the West Wing office of Stephen Friedman, the chairman of the National Economic Council. Often, they were joined by Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman. They pored over what they called the "dashboard," a collection of economic and financial indicators, from oil prices to airline bookings, that would give them a sense of the economy's speed and direction. The numbers were updated and sent by e-mail to the officials throughout the day.

The red lights they were watching for never really started flashing. While employers continued to cut jobs, there was no sustained spike in oil prices, no panic on Wall Street, no serious disruption of global trade.

Instead, a crisis of a different sort seemed to blindside, and frustrate, the president's economic advisers as the war progressed: Mr. Bush's proposed $726 billion tax cut, his prescription for the economy's stubborn weakness, was shrinking before their eyes, a victim mainly of a rebellion by a few Republicans in the Senate who declined to go along with his supply-side agenda.

As Mr. Bush vacationed at his ranch here this weekend, basking in his success in Iraq, he could look back on what had happened to his tax-cut plan as a lesson in the limits of his political power, even at a time when the nation was rallying behind him as commander in chief.

But Mr. Bush has made it clear that he does not intend to give up on his tax cut without a fight. There is considerable confidence within the administration that the president can use his postwar popularity to force the tax cut back up toward $500 billion or $550 billion.

this is, a few grafs later, followed by this staggering below-the-fold observation:

Even if he does not succeed, administration officials said, Mr. Bush will benefit politically if he is perceived as fighting hard on behalf of a plan that he says will create jobs.


You may have heard tell of some vases.

Carved across smooth alabaster, a row of leafy plants wave above a stylized river. Above that, rams and ewes march two by two, male and female, followed by men in procession. A goddess rules over the scene, accepting tribute with a gracefully raised hand.

These are some images on the Warka Vase, sculpted in ancient Sumer more than 5,000 years ago, excavated in the 1930's and missing last week after the looting of the National Museum of Iraq.

"It is one of the great treasures of world art," said Irene J. Winter, an art history professor at Harvard. "It sings its period of history as a Gothic cathedral sings the history of France in the Middle Ages."

Last week, as archaeologists and art historians struggled to interpret conflicting reports from Baghdad about the fate of Iraq's national treasures, many spoke of particular pieces with regret, anger and even tears. Collectively, they said, the hundreds of thousands of artifacts and texts add up to a repository of world culture that can never be replaced. But it is by considering the objects individually, they noted, that the loss can best be understood.

The Warka Vase, for example, is not only the earliest known depiction of religious worship, it also portrays how the fertility of Mesopotamia gave rise to the first sophisticated cultures...


Go spend time at PLA. There's a lot of good stuff up there right now.
sisyphusshrugged: (Default)
about this, via Slate, I really want a tshirt that says "One seriously pissed-off ursoid"

Of course, I'm still waiting for my "Do not startle the buffistas" swag... (y! ictp!)

sisyphusshrugged: (Default)
Even in triumphal mode, conservatives cannot entirely escape their crackups and crackpots. Today, American Conservative executive editor Scott McConnell replies to David Frum's lengthy excommunication of non-neo conservatives (which appeared in the April 7 National Review). Formerly a contributor to Commentary and an editorialist for the New York Post, McConnell brings insider perspective and a personal tone to the intracon hostilities.

Frum's essay, according to McConnell, is only the latest episode in a split that began more than a decade ago, and "predictable in its wielding of the standard neocon rhetorical weapons: those who disagree with his faction are racist, nativist, anti-Semitic, and of course 'unpatriotic' ...

"The neocons have always been the dominant side in the contest; they are more internally cohesive and far wealthier. Nonetheless they often, and rightly, feel unappreciated by those they believe should admire them, and they are constantly on the lookout for ideological deviancy ...

"The neocons would prefer to ignore their challengers. On paper, they should be able to: they hold key jobs in the Bush administration; control virtually all the major 'conservative' media outlets -- from the magazines, to the major television and radio shows, to the significant editorial pages -- and play the dominant role in the better-funded think tanks and foundations. And yet they don't breathe easily."

Concerning Frum's charge of paleo-con anti-Semitism, "the nuclear weapon accusation in American public life," McConnell writes:

"The simple point to be made is that neoconservatism is not synonymous with Jewish opinion. (And indeed, several of the movement's prominent figures are Gentiles.) In their effort to marry American policies to the goals of the Israeli far Right, the neocons have embraced Norman Podhoretz's definition of anti-Semitism: if you are supportive of Israel, everything is fine. The neocons have no problem with those parts of the Christian Right that view the gathering of Jews in the Holy Land as a prelude to the final Armageddon, in which all Jews will convert to Christianity or perish...


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