This evening I heard the phrase “concentration camp” on NPR and starting thinking about what that phrase means. In common use, “concentrate” is both a noun and a verb. Juice comes in a concentrate, it's pushed together in a small space. Or students are told to concentrate, to focus on what they should be doing. Either of these are an incredible euphemism for Nazi death camps, but which euphemism have we adopted? Do concentration camps concentrate people? Do they force people to concentrate? Do they concentrate death? And why is there an English-language euphemism for an atrocity carried out by Germans anyway?

The answer to the latter question, from Wikipedia: the term “concentration camp” was first used to describe British internment camps in the Second Boer War. After gold was discovered Transvaal, British citizens flocked to the country, where they found the native population less than hospitable. To secure the rights of their own resource-exploiting citizens, the British entered a war against a Boer insurgency.

The conditions in the camps were very unhealthy and the food rations were meager. The wives and children of men who were still fighting were given smaller rations than others. The poor diet and inadequate hygiene led to endemic contagious diseases such as measles, typhoid and dysentery. Coupled with a shortage of medical facilities, this led to large numbers of deaths — a report after the war concluded that 27,927 Boers (of whom 22,074 were children under 16) and 14,154 black Africans had died of starvation, disease and exposure in the concentration camps

So when the Germans later rounded up a group of people they didn’t like and started killing them, the phrase “concentration camp” was used because it had already been used as a euphemism for similar British atrocities. On top of the story of a superpower invading another country to control its natural resources, the word “insurgency” particular caught my attention here, with thoughts of the insurgency in Iraq. Were concentration camps a standard means of fighting insurgencies?

Indeed they were. The list of concentration camps throughout history is full of attempts to contain insurgent populations during armed invasions. Most recently, in 2001 the Russian military gathered up twenty thousand men and boys in Chechnia. Over 80% died. More immediately, the US military continues to entertain the idea of registering and rationing food to Iraqi residents, in the interest of controlling the insurgent population.

Lieutenant Colonel James S. Corum of the US Army recently wrote about various strategies for dealing with insurgencies, in the context of possible application to America’s military activities in Iraq, in FIGHTING INSURGENTS--NO SHORTCUTS TO SUCCESS [PDF, 3kb]:

International law and the traditional rules of war allow for some very firm tactics employed to coerce and control populations. For example, to cut off support for rebels in pro-insurgent districts, Kitson advocated that government forces commandeer and carefully control all food stocks. Food was rationed by the police and army only to registered village residents, and whole villages would be cordoned off to prevent extra food from being brought in. If the villagers wanted to give food to the rebels, they could do so only if they starved themselves. The British also figured that, if the insurgents came in the night and took the peoples’ carefully rationed food, people would eventually inform on the insurgents rather than face hunger. Such tactics were not only effective, but also legal.

The good thing about Kitson’s approach to waging a counterinsurgency campaign strictly within the rule of law is that it generally works. The downside is that such an approach to counterinsurgency and intelligence takes a long time, and success is measured not in any dramatic terms but in small, local, and incremental victories. It should be no surprise that some of our intelligence personnel and leaders might instinctively opt for the Trinquier approach with its promise of quick and decisive results, when our military doctrine is filled with adjectives such as “rapid” and “decisive” to describe the American mode of warfare. Yet the traditionally successful counterinsurgency doctrines are peppered with adjectives such as “methodical,” “systematic,” and “long-term.”

Emphasis added. The downside of internment under threat of starvation, according to the US Army’s assessment, is not that it’s morally reprehensible; it just takes a long time to starve people to death. Our national unwillingness to concentrate on the “victory” some would imagine in Iraq has prevented us from establishing concentration camps. May our impatience save our souls.

 

I’m going to start reviewing books, mostly because doing so will require me to start reading books again. Before this week, I hadn’t read a book in at least a year. I read a lot, but not books. I spend much of my time reading articles online from a wide variety of sources. And I periodically listen to audio books. But there’s some small niche of media that only really works in a book. Articles can’t possibly develop ideas in the same depth, and audio books always leave less room for imagination with the reader’s tone heavily influencing interpretation.

So I’m going to start reading books again, and the first book was Kino No Tabi. This book was lent to me by my librarian friend Libby, who read it before me. It was a good transition from my previous all-article reading diet to a new book-inclusive meal plan because it’s both relatively short and broken up into small chapters that could easily be read as independent stories.

Kino No Tabi was originally Japanese, but I read the English translation. I took Japanese back in university, so I can tell you that the title means "Kino of Tabi." Kino is the name of the main character, and I’m not sure what "Tabi" means. It might be some conjugation of the word "eat." I’m not sure.

Anyway, the story is basically that Kino rides a motorcycle from city to city and has different adventures in each city. Also, the motorcycle talks. That’s the kind of thing that would be incredibly distracting in a movie or audio book, but doesn’t seem very strange in the book. Without going into too much detail the adventures in each city are the kind of simple stories that reflect some larger idea about life in general.

Basically, Kino No Tabi is The Little Prince, only not as long, nor as good. I was interested enough to read to the end, but I don’t expect to read the next in the series. Oh yeah, there’s a series, called The Beautiful World. I don’t know if the second book has been translated to English yet or not.

Since I last read a book over a year ago, I learned that I don’t need to finish everything I start reading. That’s common sense, of course, but I never really learned it until I had too many articles in my aggregator and too many other things I wanted to do. I finally started reading things until I was no longer interested and then closing them, without the feeling I once had that I was missing out on something important by not finishing what I’d started.

So now I’m ready to apply that lesson to books. And while I won’t given an especially positive review of Kino No Tabi, it should say something that I finished it. It was good enough to finish but not good enough to continue the series. Let’s call that five out of ten stars, as a reference point for my future book reviews. Next up: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I won in the first annual Weaver family Christmas-in-November book exchange bingo tournament. Everyone won a book — more peer pressure to read books.

 

I was just reading about Miranda warnings, looking for evidence that we don’t lose our rights if we’re arrested for murder, much less when we join a homeowners association. I’ve seen a surprising number of Americans suggesting otherwise today. But much more interesting than a “Satanic” peace wreath (I totally saw that coming) was this:

Ten years after the ruling in the case that bears his name, Miranda was killed in a knife fight at a Phoenix bar; his suspected killer was read the “Miranda warning” and declined to give a statement. He was released and promptly fled to Mexico. The Miranda murder case became a “closed file.”

That’s the problem with rights: everyone has them.

 

Yesterday I was listening to Dave Zobl’s “Thanksgiving Day” and thinking it would be nice to share it on the holiday. But then I thought it was probably not licensed for that kind of distribution (I couldn’t find anything to say for sure). Then I thought “well, all those kids over at YouTube seem to get away with that by putting song in video, so it would be more pain to extract it than it would be worth.

So I made a video of the song with images from Flickr licensed under Creative Commons attribution. But when I went to upload it to YouTube, it never finished. While I was waiting for it to finish, I decided I don't really want to start uploading videos to YouTube anyway. I have plenty of space on my own hosting accounts, so why give someone else control over my content? Sure the social aspect of YouTube is appealing, but I wasn’t really sure how to go about that, and it didn’t upload anyway.

So I was finally able to upload it here this morning, and here’s the video I made. I hope you enjoy it and get some more Dave Zobl music as a result:

This video requires Flash Player, which you can download free.

Note: Oops. Turns out his name is Zobl, not Zobi as I included in the video and this description. I’ve corrected the description, but I’m not going to re-render and re-convert the video right today. I found his website, and he has two songs for free download, so I’m assuming he’d be okay with this kind of re-use of his music.

 

My sister-in-law, the one who was recently re-married in the Catholic church, is pregnant. Does it count as a shotgun wedding if you’re already married with children? Anyway, after her re-wedding ceremony, at the party where Ward pondered deep questions of names and knowing, people were talking about names for the upcoming child. Several names were suggested, and most discarded. But all of the suggestions were first names. They hadn’t moved on to middle names yet.

Patrick, the soon-to-be older brother, is pretty sure the child is going to be a boy. His logic is that he already has two sisters, so a boy is required to even out the gender imbalance. This boy has a future in statistics. He doesn’t quite understand middle names though. His middle name is “Julius,” and when he’s in trouble, he’s “Patrick Julius,” so he’s familiar with his own middle name.

But as the first names were suggested at the party, Patrick tried them out by testing what he assumed would be the full name of this boy. “John” became “John Julius Namoff.” “Robert” became “Robert Julius Namoff.” It soon became clear that Patrick thought all boys in his family will have the same middle name.

When he was younger, Patrick’s cousin Alex apparently had a different confusion about middle names. He once thought he had two middle names, “Ander” and “Michael.” Because when he was in trouble, his mother would say what he heard as “Alex Ander Michael,” actually “Alexander Michael.” Silly kids.

But middle names are clearly counter-intuitive. Why do we have them? Wikipedia offers a few reasons, but none of them seem worth the trouble. I think if I have a child to name, I’ll lobby hard for no middle name. If they grow up and find they don’t have enough names, they can always add more later. But I don’t really need to establish a line of royal ancestry or anything, so I don’t see any reason to give a child a third name before they have a personality to attach it to.

My friend JJ recently gave me an additional name. A while back, I made the mistake of talking about my self-diagnosis of Asperger’s. Shortly after that, JJ introduced me to another friend of his, also named Scott. To differentiate between us, he has since referred to me and introduced me as his “autistic friend Scott.” So to JJ’s friends, my middle name is effectively “autistic.” Lucky for me, anyone who knows JJ just passes right over this as we meet.

I have a similar additional name for JJ, but mine is non-verbal. Whenever I talk about JJ with people who have met him, I make sure to clarify exactly who I’m discussing by moving my hands around where my hair would be if it were as large as JJ’s. So his middle name is effectively a hand motion about four inches from the head.

My "autistic" name has a small problem: I’m not actually autistic. And JJ’s hand-wavey name has a problem whenever he gets a haircut. But I think these ad hoc additions to our family and given names are far superior to middle names. I think that’s enough about names for now. On to faces?

 

In case you were wondering what I tend to write about here, I just made what the web geeks call a “tag cloud” for these articles. It’s weighted to recent writing because I only started adding tags to my articles recently.

I was actually a bit surprised that politics is the most common tag, but I suspect that’s more a reflection of my tagging style than my writing topics. I think I actually write more about technology than politics (though I no longer write about technology at all here since I started a separate site for that), but I tend to tag the technology articles with something more specific than “technology,” whereas the various political topics all just go under “politics.”

 

About a year after I met her, my friend Becca decided to change her name. I don’t think she ever had it legally changed or anything, but she started asking people to call her “Dora,” and we did. And suddenly she was “Dora,” and people would mention “Becca,” and I wouldn’t know who they were talking about, and then they’d say, “You know, Becca-Dora.”

I never heard an explanation of what brought about this desire to change her name. I think I asked her and she said something like “just because.” At the time, we were both studying existentialism, I as a casual student, and Becca-Dora as a philosophy major in the middle of writing a senior thesis on “Freedom and Facticity.” I couldn’t tell you what “Freedom and Facticity” means exactly, but at the time I suspected that had something to do with the name change. It seemed a sort of philosophy-in-action demonstration of how much we define our selves. If you want to be Dora, it turns out you can just start being Dora.

But at some point after we graduated, Dora decided she wanted to be Becca again, and so everyone called her Becca again. And now Dora is just a vague idea of … something. Whatever the reason was for Dora, I can only assume from the later reversal that it wasn’t a very good reason to change names.

My uncle, on the other hand, had what I think is a very good reason to change his name, but he never did. I didn’t hear this story until I was old enough to think it was odd that no one had told me earlier. But here it is: my grandparents’ first child was named “Kenneth Eugene.” This child died three days after birth. Then they had another child, and they named him … “Kenneth Eugene.” This second Kenneth Eugene is my uncle Ken.

So that’s weird, right? I’m pretty sure I would change my name if I found out I was named after my dead older brother. But I almost changed my name because it’s hard to spell, so I’m probably not the best person to judge what would be a good reason to change one’s name. Most people never change their names, but are there any social norms for those who do? I don’t see any. It’s name-changing anarchy out there. Anyone can do it, and no one does. Maybe that’s what “Freedom and Facticity” means.

 

A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law was re-married in the Catholic church. After the ceremony, we went to a party at the house of a friend of the re-couple. The friend had a child, named “Ward,” and my mother-in-law (I think it was her — my memory is poor) knew the family, so she said “Hi Ward” as we were entering the house. And Ward immediately asked “How do you know my name?” From his point of view, I suppose this was a complete stranger addressing him by name, so that was a reasonable question to ask.

My AIM login is “imnotscott”. Back in the day, I went to sign up for an AOL account to use instant messenger, and when asked to choose a login, I chose “scott”. There were maybe twenty million AOL accounts at the time, and apparently one of them claimed “scott” before me. Go figure. So defeated in my attempt to be “scott” on AIM, I went with “imnotscott” instead. If I can’t be myself, I’ll be not myself. Take that AOL!

So now I have my AIM login posted in various public locations around the web, and occassionally I’ll get a message from a complete stranger. They’ll often start the conversation with something like “Hi Scott.” And my first thought is generally “How do you know my name?” But I say “Hi” instead and then seek out a little context for the conversation.

I guess names mean more when we’re younger. Our names are more a representation of our selves when there’s less of us to represent. We know our parents really know us when they call us out with our middle names, because they know all three parts of us. But over time we become something that the names don’t fully describe. When someone says “Scott Michael Reynen,” are they talking about me or the guy I was ten years ago or the kid I was twenty years ago? My name is no longer equivalent to myself.

Some day Ward’s response when someone walks into his house and says ’Hi Ward” will be more like “Hi. What are you doing in my house?” But for now he just wants to know how we know his name.

 

My last name is “Reynen.” Chances are good that you just pronounced that incorrectly in your head as you read it. Chances are also good that if I spoke it aloud to you, you’d spell it wrong. And then you’d probably pronounce it wrong still. It’s a horrible name for someone like me who is interested in efficient communication. So I’ve thought a lot about changing it.

When I was younger (is 26 old enough to say that?), I thought about changing the whole thing: first, middle, and last name. My ideas for new names were awful. “Justin Case” is one I remember. I’m sure glad I didn’t follow through on that idea. I would have had to pull a Prince and try to undo the damage.

Later, I thought about just replacing my last namewith my middle name. “Scott Michael” sounds okay. But for a long time, I didn’t know how to spell “Michael,” so I worried that wouldn’t actually solve the spelling problem. (Turns out most people could spell my middle name better than I could.) Plus, it makes me think of George Michael, and I’m not really a fan.

After that, I didn’t seriously consider changing my name until I got married. Unfortunately, my wife’s last name is “Montgomerie,” which is not exactly a step up on the ease-of-spelling scale. So I kept my last name, and she kept hers, which leads to the question of what last name we might give to potential children. All I know is, it certainly will not be “Montgomerie-Reynen.” I wouldn’t inflict that kind of pain on my worst enemy, much less a child. So maybe a completely new last name would be good. Any proposals?

 

A while back I was thinking about my grandfathers. I believe I was listening to some radio program in which a man was sharing a memory of his grandfather. Both of my grandfathers are dead, and I remember very little about them. I know a lot more about them than I actually remember, from stories others have told me or pictures I’ve seen. But I think what I remember is more interesting. I remember two things about both of my grandfathers.

My mother’s father was Charles Weaver. The first thing I remember about him is puzzles. We did puzzles together. Big puzzles with small pieces. They took a long time, and being a kid, I did very little of the work. Usually the puzzles were completed by my grandfather late one night as I slept. But he’d always leave out one piece, so when I woke in the morning, I had that satisfaction of completing the puzzle, even though I didn’t do the work. So my grandfather Weaver taught me to be lazy.

The second thing I remember is that he wouldn’t repeat himself. He would say something when I wasn’t listening, and I would say “what?” and he just wouldn’t respond. I think he explained this once as an attempt to encourage listening. Or maybe that was just how I thought of it — I’m not sure. Either way, this taught me not to let my principles turn me into a jerk, a lesson I apply less consistantly than laziness.

My father’s father was Cornelius Reynen. He was a minister, but I don’t remember him ministering in any professional capacity. I think maybe he had retired by the time I was born. I do remember two things about him that revolved around his ministry. The first was the post-dinner Bible readings at his house. My brothers and I were expected to sit around the table after the meal while he read to us from the Bible.

I don’t think it was even the interesting stories either — just whatever happened to come next. Sometimes he would ask us questions at the end to make sure we were paying attention. It was a horrible experience for a child. But from it, I learned how to never be bored, by thinking.

My second memory of this grandfather was Rummikub, which my family would play with him in the evening. If you’re not familiar with Rummikub, it’s almost exactly like Rummy, only with tiles instead of cards. You might ask: why would anyone bother with tiles instead of cards? Well, because playing cards are evil, naturally.

Granted, there are some slight differences between Rummy and Rummikub that make playing with tiles a little easier. But Cornelius, my grandfather, wasn’t interested in those differences, as far as I could tell. He was interested in avoiding cards because he was raised with and maintained the idea that playing cards are evil. So from playing Rummikub I learned to keep faith bounded by reason.

That’s it. That’s all I remember. I wish there were more, but given the small amount of time I spent with my grandfathers, I think these are pretty good lessons to take away. They’ve served me well so far. When I die some day, I hope the lessons I unintentionally pass down will be so useful.

 

Most likely you arrived here thinking you were heading to weblog.randomchaos.com. I’m sorry to inform you that weblog.randomchaos.com no longer exists. On the bright side, typewriting.org, this site, is here as a replacement. And it comes with a shiny new design and shiny new functionality.

I’ve spent a lot of time moving everything over, redirecting all the old to the new, and trying to get it all looking pretty in the major browsers. Some things still look ugly in IE, but that’s the norm for IE users, so I’m going to stop fighting with it for now. Otherwise, I think it’s all pretty close to what I had in mind back when I said Surely muted earth tones will improve my writing.

So if you notice anything broken or confusing, please let me know with the fancy new comment form. Otherwise, it’s time for me to get back to writing.

 

On the off chance that someone stumbled upon this unaware that Nov. 7, 2006 is an election day, it is. And you should vote. Unless you’re not registered, in which case you should register. Unless you’re not old enough to register, in which case you should look forward to growing older. Unless you’re not American, in which case you should vote in your own country. Unless you don’t have elections in your own country, in which case you should watch in bitter resentment as Americans take our democracy for granted.