"The committee concluded that the intelligence community was suffering from what we call a collective groupthink," said Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee. "This groupthink also extended to our allies and to the United Nations." \nIn London a few days later, Lord Butler of Brockwell and his Committee of Privy Counsellors issued a report that investigated "whether there developed within the intelligence community over a decade of analysis and assessment `group think' or a `prevailing wisdom.'" \nThe word is obviously in vogue in the English-speaking world of oversight. Although Roberts was being redundant when he used collective to modify groupthink, the committee staff was scrupulous in providing an etymology of the headline-provoking word in its 511-page report: "a term coined by psychologist Irving Janis in the 1970s to describe a process in which a group can make bad or irrational decisions as each member of the group attempts to conform their opinions to what they believe to be the consensus of the group." \nIf the committee's other conclusions are as outdated as its etymology, we're all in trouble. "Groupthink" (one word, no hyphen) was the title of an article in Fortune magazine in March 1952 by William Whyte. \n"Groupthink is becoming a national philosophy," he wrote. "Groupthink being a coinage -- and, admittedly, a loaded one -- a working definition is in order. We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity -- it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity -- an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well." \nWhyte derided the practice, which he argued was embodied by a trained elite of Washington's "social engineers." \nThe word now means "the result of successful pressure to conform." It is more pejorative than "conventional wisdom," a 1958 coinage of the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, which itself is bottomed on "received wisdom," in turn rooted in "received custom," a 1382 church term for the teaching of tradition. \nWhy do so many of us assume groupthink to be Orwellian? The answer is in its analogy to doublethink, coined by George Orwell in his 1949 novel, 1984. He defined "the labyrinthine world of doublethink" as holding "simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them." \nI queried Erin McKean, editor of Verbatim, for other think-formations besides the odious sickthink. (Verbatim, the valuable word-study publication that the lexicographer Larry Urdang founded in 1974, will celebrate its 30th volume next year.) She passes along James Kilpatrick's newthink, his criticism of "academic dragoons." She also cites oldthink (so five minutes ago) and Timesthink, the definition of which I have no need to determine. \nCollaborative \nJuly was intelligence month. Following the lengthy reports on intelligence shortcomings by the US Senate and by Lord Butler in Britain featuring groupthink, along came the 9/11 commission's report. Its most controversial word was collaborative. \nWhat word best describes the sort of relationship, if any, that former president Saddam Hussein's Iraq had with Osama bin Laden's Qaeda? Bush administration officials, relying on CIA reports, have pointed to a series of contacts over the years that amounted to "mutual support" and, in Vice President Dick Cheney's choice of adjectives, "a longstanding" and "established relationship." The Sept. 11 commission staff at first concluded that these contacts "do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship." \nHawkish commentators (like me) objected strenuously to this staff formulation; when the final report was issued, signed by all members of the bipartisan commission, a modifier had been added to the controversial phrase, which became "we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship." \nWhat does collaborative mean, and what does the addition of operational do to the relationship? \nThe word labor is right in the middle of collaborate. The co- in front means "together," and the -ate at the end makes it a verb: "to work together." Add an -ive, and you have the adjective collaborative. Synonyms are "collective, cooperative" and the most tightly connected, "joint." \nEvidently the appearance of "no collaborative relationship" was too sweeping for some commissioners. Needed was another adjective to narrow the scope. The modifier chosen was operational. The specific sense of "able to function" is not what is meant here. A more general sense is defined by the OED as "engaged in or connected with active (military) operations, as distinct from being under training, in reserve, etc." \nThat modifier satisfied the commissioners who believed that contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq were evidence of sinister cooperation. It also satisfied others who believed that the contacts did not amount to actually working together to conduct terrorist operations. This demonstrates how all it takes to tone down a controversial adjective and make peace in the family is another, unfamiliar adjective. \nDownhold \nI recently ordered the Bush administration to "downhold nondefense spending." Readers who could not find this verb in their dictionaries were outraged. \nIt is newspaper telegraphese. The old United Press, which wanted to hold down its costs, used to wire its overseas correspondents, "Downhold expenses," thereby saving the cost of a word. UP reporters called their favorite bar "the Downhold club." \nTo those on usage's ramparts: You uphold tradition. I'll downhold expenses.
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian. What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia? The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as
There are worrying signs that China is on the brink of a major food shortage, which might trigger a strategic contest over food security and push Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), already under intense pressure, toward drastic measures, potentially spelling trouble for Taiwan and the rest of the world. China has encountered a perfect storm of disasters this year. On top of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, torrential rains have caused catastrophic flooding in the Yangtze River basin, China’s largest agricultural region. Floodwaters are estimated to have already destroyed the crops on 6 million hectares of farmland. The situation has been
In 1955, US general Benjamin Davis Jr, then-commander of the US’ 13th Air Force, drew a maritime demarcation line in the middle of the Taiwan Strait, known as the median line. Under pressure from the US, Taiwan and China entered into a tacit agreement not to cross the line. On July 9, 1999, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) described cross-strait relations as a “special state-to-state” relationship. In response, Beijing dispatched People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft into the Taiwan Strait, crossing the median line for the first time since 1955. The PLA has begun to regularly traverse the line. On Sept. 18 and 19, it
Midday in Manhattan on Wednesday, September 16, was sunny and mild. Even with the pandemic’s “social distancing” it was a perfect day for “al fresco” dining with linen tablecloths and sidewalk potted palms outside one of New York City’s elegant restaurants. Two members of the press, outfitted with digital SLR cameras and voice recorders, were dispatched by The Associated Press to cover a rare outdoor diplomatic meeting on one of these New York streets. American diplomat Kelly Craft, Chief of the United States Mission to the United Nations, lunched in the open air with Taiwan’s ambassador-ranked representative in New York, James