"There was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks," said US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, in her metaphoric riposte to former US official Richard Clarke's charge that there had been no hair on fire in the Bush National Security Council. \nFour years before, campaigning for the Republican nomination for president, Sen. John McCain admitted that when it came to health insurance, "I don't claim to have some silver bullet." \nAnd in 2001, just after the Sept. 11 attacks, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld used it just as Rice did later: "In this battle against terrorism, there is no silver bullet." \nAs Condi's figure of speech raced around the world, an editor of La Repubblica in Italy queried Tom Brady of the Times News Service about the phrase's origin. Brady asked around; one colleague mentioned The Lone Ranger; another recalled the superstition that silver bullets were said to kill werewolves. Then he got serious and contacted me. \nListening to Rice's use of the phrase in testimony before the Sept. 11 commission, I, too, could hear the strains of the William Tell Overture at the beginning of every episode of the radio series, and also the scene at the end with the sound of galloping hoofs: "Who was that masked man?" "I don't know, but he left this silver bullet," and then the sound of the Lone Ranger's voice fading into the distance: "Hi-yo Silver, a-waaay!" (Silver was the name of the horse as well as the material of the souvenir bullet the hero liked to leave behind. The night that my favorite program was pre-empted by one of president Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats was the night I became a Republican.) \nThe notion that a silver bullet has magical qualities is rooted deeply in the folklore of many cultures. "There was even a story told with great mystery, and under the rose," wrote Washington Irving in his 1809 History of New York, of Peter Stuyvesant's "having shot the devil with a silver bullet one dark stormy night, as he was sailing in a canoe through Hell-gate." (As the millions of readers of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code know, "under the rose" refers to the rose that "Romans hung ... over meetings to indicate the meeting was confidential. Attendees understood that whatever was said under the rose -- or sub rosa -- had to remain a secret.") \nIn Sir Walter Scott's 1816 Old Mortality, frightened soldiers thought a horseman appeared to be an evil spirit because lead shot could not bring him down: "Many a whig that day loaded his musket with a dollar cut into slugs, in order that a silver bullet (such was their belief) might bring down the persecutor of the holy kirk, on whom lead had no power." \nSo what do you do if you have nightmares about werewolves, humans supposedly turned into savage beasts? Bring one down with a bullet made of silver and rest easy. (Doesn't work on vampires; you need mirrors, crosses, stakes and crossroads for them.) The supernatural essence of the legends led to the current pejorative meaning of silver bullet: "a surefire, simple, instant solution to a seemingly intractable problem." \nA closely related phrase, magic bullet, was coined early in the last century by the Polish-German Nobel laureate Paul Ehrlich, who developed a drug long used to treat syphilis and was quoted as saying, "We must learn to shoot microbes with magic bullets." Ehrlich's 606th experiment worked; however, the phrase, with its reliance on magic that defies good sense, now means "a quick fix to a longstanding difficulty." \nSilver has more senses than magic. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George used it to mean economic power in 1914: "We have won with the silver bullet before." \nAnd when president Richard Nixon said, "How about a silver bullet?" he was offering you a very cold, dry martini. \nA transatlantic man \nIn bidding an affectionate farewell to BBC broadcaster Alistair Cooke, who died last month at 95, I noted that my friend and linguistic mentor dubbed himself founder of Sanpickle, the "Safire Nit-pickers League." \nOver the years, he caught me in quite a few solecisms. \nHe liked to work himself up into a mock-serious passion about pomposity in language. When a secretary of state said, "We have made multiple protests," and a policeman was quoted saying, "I called the station house multiple times," Alistair demanded I set them straight: "What's next -- `In my father's house are multiple mansions'? The word `many' is vanishing from American." \nOn a (whatever) basis -- word-padding pomposity at its most rampant -- really got to him. He told me that when his doctor asked, "Do you have a bowel movement on a daily basis?" Cooke pointedly replied, "I move my bowels every day." \nIn the "appreciation" -- a relatively new journalistic term for a written eulogy, without the need for the completeness of an obituary -- I noted once asking Cooke how he was able to keep his brain's synapses snapping, broadcasting his weekly "Letter From America" well into his 90s. I wrote: "`I try to stay on top of the news,' he told me as he entered his ninth decade." \nSanpickle lives. Thirty fans of Cooke e-mailed email@example.com to set me straight. Typical was Walt Gray of Millwood, N.Y.: "I'm guessing that Alistair Cooke told you that he tried `to stay on top of the news' not `as he entered his ninth decade,' which occurred in November of 1988, but rather 10 years later, in 1998, when he entered his 10th decade and when such staying atop would have been more worthy of note." \nFinal word, guaranteed accurate: Cooke had a genius for writing exactly as he spoke, and he spoke succinctly and colloquially. His note, so characteristic of Alistair, to the great usagist Jacques Barzun, a fellow nonagenarian, just a few weeks ago: "I have two or three months to go. Shush. G'bye."
On a peaceful day in the open Pacific Ocean to the east of Taiwan, a US carrier and five accompanying warships were slowly sailing to guard the western Pacific. Another carrier battle group had just returned to its home port in San Diego. Suddenly, alarms went off as many intercontinental ballistic missiles were launched from the interior of China, flying toward Taiwan. Numerous Chinese warships, carriers, fighter jets, bombers and submarines were fast converging on the US ships. Not too long after, missiles, bombs and torpedoes were fired at the US carrier. The surprise to Americans was the number of
I was a bit startled last week when Legislative Yuan Speaker You Si-kun (游錫堃) suggested that the United States could extend official recognition to an independent Taiwan if China were to launch an invasion. While I think Speaker You is correct, I am not sure it is a helpful point of view. Naturally, there are contingency plans in Washington on diplomatic actions that could deter Chinese military action, but they contemplate the continuity of a democratic Taiwanese government that could survive offshore in exile if part or all of Taiwan is occupied by communist Chinese forces. China’s threat that “Taiwan
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The Tokyo Olympics will perhaps be remembered as one of the oddest Games in the event’s long and checkered history. Held amid a global pandemic, spectators are banned from most venues, leaving athletes to play out their feats of sporting brilliance in eerie silence. Meanwhile, furious Tokyo residents wave placards outside some venues, calling for the Games’ cancelation. Adding to the incongruity of it all, the entire Russian team is absent, banned due to a doping scandal. That the Tokyo Olympics went ahead at all has been extremely contentious in Japan. Critics fear a mass outbreak of the highly contagious Delta