Daily Archives: July 9, 2007

What’s in a name?

Merie sungen the Muneches binnen Ely
Tha Cnut ching rew ther by.

Rowe ye cnites noer the lant,

And here we thes Muneches sæng.

Got that, didn’t you? Malcolm remembers it from a very old guidebook to East Anglia: Merrily sang the monks of Ely, when Cnut, king, rowed thereby. Row, you knights, near the land, and hear we these monks’ song.

JRR Tolkien‘s more forgettable bits (and, in his sourer moments, Malcolm thinks much of the oeuvre, leaving aside The Hobbit, definitely is) include The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son (catchy title that! It’s an attempt to continue the story of the Battle of Maldon). Tolkien nicked the original for his ending:

Sadly they sing, the monks of Ely isle!
Row men, row! Let
us listen here a while!

One of Malcolm’s minor mystifications (sorry: the alliterative thing gets to one) is how Cnut (up there in a contemporary drawing) got to become “Canute”. He suggests it was in the hope of putting scabrous and dirty-minded schoolboys off the scent. And all alternative versions of “Canute the Great” read almost as suggestively: in Norse “Knútr inn ríki”, in Swedish “Knut den mektige”, or in Danish “Knud den Store”.

Then English pronunciation is, indeed, a dangerous thing. It took Malcolm a while to work out that the BBC radio newscaster’s “Bew-garr-uv” was the Bugarov in the newspaper. And Private Eye had some fun with the Japanese worthy, Takeshita. Nor should we forget …. no, no, enough.

So, let’s be positive. Since, in our modern world, we have used up all of the really unpleasant insult words, with what may we replace them? Gore Vidal, conforming to the US Supreme Court’s “mad way with the First Amendment”, published Myron in 1974 using the names of the Justices substituted for possible obscenities: I pushed my enormous Rehnquist into her Whizzer White. Robert Anton Wilson uses the same device in his Schrödinger’s Cat trilogy.

Malcolm now wishes to add a new term, even more offensive than “Belgium” . That word is “pilger”. It can be used as a noun or a verb.

The current issue of the New Statesman has an article by John Pilger: These are Brown’s bombs, too. In essence, this piece comes down to one disputed factoid, and a gross illogicality.

The factoid derives from an academic paper, on line here. Four statisticians of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the Al Mustansirya University of Baghdad, suggested

We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 (392 979–942 636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426 369–793 663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.

This has been frequently challenged, by other academics (see Science magazine), by Michael O’Hanlon and the Brookings Institute, by iraqbodycount.org (who, as of today, suggest the figure is between 66,939 and 73,253 violent deaths, based upon verifiable deaths reported through hospitals and the like: for comparison, Pilger wildly throws out “over a million”) et alii.

Even the original research for the Lancet article admitted a possible error of 300,000: hardly convincing when giving a result to a single digit. The methodology used 47 cluster points for just 1,849 interviews, prompting one statistician, in the Wall Street Journal (which may know a thing or two about numbers), to comment: “I wouldn’t survey a junior high school, no less an entire country, using only 47 cluster points.”

Pilger’s consistent and gross illogicality seems to be that the evil Washington-London axis is culpable for those human tragedies in which they don’t engage, but damnable for those in which they do. This reaches its bathos in the assertion:

They were only Muslims. And Muslims are the world’s most numerous victims of a terrorism …

(Sadly, true: but mainly at the hands of their co-religionists across some denominational divide.)

.. whose main sources are Washington, Tel Aviv and London.

O, come on! Why not give us the full deal, and throw in the Illuminati and the giant reptiles behind the “New World Order”?

Malcolm has emailed the editor of the NS inviting a bit of honesty: if this piece had arrived, handwritten in green ink on lined paper, it would have been spiked, unread. Its only saving grace, in the eyes of the NS and, presumably, its supposed readership was the by-line. In short, Pilger epitomises Daniel Boorstin’s notion of “celebrity”, and this piece is a classic “pseudo-event”:

It is planted primarily, not always exclusively, for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced.

It justifies itself by provoking responses like this very blog. It is, in net-speak, a form of trolling.

Still with Boorstin, Pilger earns a place in the NS columns simply because of his “well-knownness”. That’s the difference between celebrity and greatness: at least Cnut achieved something to be a great one.

Or, to look at it from a different point of view, when and why did the New Statesman sign up for the Stalinism of a cult of personality?

pilger noun: a media tart, a whore, a journalistic batty-boy. Also verb, intransitive to write rubbish in a suggestive and seductive manner, with intent to inflame others to violence and vomiting.

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