What kind of a Finn name is “Sibelius”?

What kind of a Finn name is “Sibelius”?

I finally started to read a book on Sibelius. So at last I learned the answer to today’s title question: What kind of a Finn name is Sibelius?

None!

His great-grandfather, Johan Martinpoikka (son of Martin) settled on a farm named Sibbe. As was the custom in that place and those times, the family took on the name of the farm. But they almost immediately Latinized it, which may have a fashion at that time, too (most Finns before and after added an ala or an inen and let it go at that, for their last names). Sibelius sounds more ancient Latin than any modern tongue. The Sibelius family was Swede-speaking, though living in Finland. The composer was christened Johan Julius Christian, but was called Janne by relatives and friends, and adopted the French form of the name, Jean, after his uncle Johan who used the moniker when travelling. So Sibelius was born a Swedish-speaking Finn with a Latin last name; though he grew up to learn Finnish and fully immerse himself in Finnish myth, he would adopt as his public Christian name a French form of that oh-so-common name, John.

Well, I certainly have no cause to object. Sibelius was certainly no ordinary John. He was the greatest composer to emerge from north of Europe. His symphonies, especially, rank him with Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and . . . arguably, no one else. Even Brahms and Schubert play second to Sibelius’s muse.

Finland’s traditional naming practices seem weird to us today. My great-grandfather, Abraham, was a Hautakoski (which means grave rapids, or cemetery brook). He married a woman named Anna and moved onto the family farm in Kaustinen. So, naturally, he became a Wirkkala! (Pronounce that, or, if you are in Finland, or me, spell that, with a V: Virkkala.) And it appears from Sibelius’ great-grandfather’s original name, Martinpoikka, that a Scandinavian-style naming system also played a part in the chaos of Finnish names. (My last name would be Ernipoikka, in that system.)

None of this strikes me as nearly as interesting as the Latvian system of naming. I have a friend who, when you address him, you call him simply Oscar. But when you talk about him behind his back, you call him Oscars. With an added s! Latvia has a grammar of names.

In America, of course, this is all very alien. As Butch the boxer said, This is America, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.

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11 2014

They’re dead; are they winning?

They’re dead; are they winning?

The basic feature of Islamic terrorism is so painfully obvious, I often marvel at the number of people who keep forgetting it, who miss the point: our enemies kill themselves in order to kill others, and this deed is its own propaganda. Fighting them requires a fair deal of sophistication, for one must fight their propaganda above all else. Indeed, one must undermine their propaganda at every step. In doing actual fighting — you know, the killing that our military is trained to do, and that Republicans so much like ordering — we must not prop up their propaganda.

My critique of George W. Bush and his evil side-kick/mastermind Dick Cheney is that they do not understand this. They think killing, conquering, and rebuilding is all that it takes. They are fools. Consider this latest from Cheney:

The fanatics may have thought they could attack us with impunity — because terrorists had done so previously. . . . They did not know America, and they did not know George W. Bush.

The fanatics did attack with impunity. They are dead. And they got precisely what they wanted: they exchanged their lives for many more thousands of Americans dead. There is absolutely nothing we can do about them.

What about those who supported them? Funded them? Trained them? Many of them are now dead, too. And they got what they wanted.

What did they want? The fulfillment of their own prophecies. They want America to behave like a conquering, anti-Islamic empire. America, in the way it over-reacted and under-reacted to the tragedy, did just that. America solidified its military bases in the mid-East. It lashed out, seeking to conquer. In the course of its war first with the Afghan government and then with the Iraqi government, it has killed thousands upon thousands of innocent Islamic people. All proving how evil an empire it is. All feeding the frenzy to turn yet more poor Islamic trash (and not-so-trash) into terrorists willing to exchange their lives for others.

America can win against people who risk their lives to kill American soldiers on the battlefield. And the world’s sole Super Power can certainly win against people who are not its enemies, who are collateral to any fight; just bomb then into non-existence. But what about armies of those who sneak around, killing themselves so others may be killed?

They are nearly unstoppable, because in a free society there are so many ways to bring oneself into contact with many others, and press DETONATE or otherwise kill by explosion . . . or infection.

The key in any war on terrorism is to present decreasing incentives for those who hate you to switch from normal hatred to terrorist suicidal mass-murderer.

In their conduct of the war since 9/11/01, the people in America’s Bush administration have done just the opposite. They’ve increased the incentives for Islamic men to become terrorists. Democratic Senator John Kerry would no doubt have botched the response, too — he seems to be a hopelessly misguided fellow when it comes to defense — but even his worst would not have been as bad as what America got, with the best that the Bush administration delivered.

No nation under attack should rationally encourage a suicidal mindset in its enemies. Especially in the nuclear age . . . or in an age when biochemistry is giving anyone with technical savvy the power to kill millions.

Americans should not be asking if this foreign government or that is sorry for 9/11/01. There should be no sense of triumph for any conquest of any government. Because the enemy is not a government. The enemies who attacked nearly three years ago are all dead. And yet they may be winning.

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11 2014

Plotting the Great Canadian Novel

Plotting the Great Canadian Novel

A story in Canada’s National Post struck me as so bizarre that I felt as though I were reading satire, not reportage. And yet, there it was, dated June 1, not April 1; there was not one overt sign of japery. It seems that a study indicates that more than half of Canadians would like a two-tiered health-care system, allowing some choice. You see, Canada’s socialized system is often so slow that people die waiting for treatment. Many go to the much-maligned Evil Uncaring America for timely, life-saving service. So enter (for Canadian purposes of balance) a health care economist at the University of Alberta:

Prof. Smythe said there may be some argument to be made in favour of private medicine from a libertarian point of view, but he said there is no economic case to be made for it.

No economic case for it! How droll. Such a weird, counterfactual statement seems to come not from a professional but from a fictional character — say, from a character in a Tom Sharpe novel titled, perhaps, Bend Over the River:

Dr. James Smythe’s name gets switched, in a database glitch, with Mr. James Smythe, garbageman. When he goes for a check-up and is diagnosed with cancer, he is made to wait for treatment to begin. After many months’ delay, he starts to complain, and then someone notices that they have the wrong info in the computer on him, and a contract-worker tech guy finds the snafu. Within minutes a doctor cheerily speeds Smythe on to chemo, apologizing: if we had known you were a major health care economist, of course, we would have given you treatment right away. But take heart: ‘There are no inefficiencies in government-provided health care.’
Not long after, Smythe dies of congestive heart failure, a complication of chemotherapy.
Meanwhile, Jim Smythe, the garbageman, quickly got an X-Ray for a sore wrist by paying a veterinarian some cash under the table. The X-Ray was clear, but while leaving the vet’s, the Mounties arrest everyone involved, and impound the animals in cages, too. One escapes, bites a Mountie in the ass, and — because the embittered vet said the dog was under observation for rabies — the Mountie must endure a painful series of rabies shots. Alas, the final series of injections was noticeably painless, and the Mountie mysteriously develops breasts. At trial, Smythe falls in love with the Mountie, and they all live happily ever after.

Well, that’s somewhat like a Sharpe plot. Get the point?

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11 2014