Monday, December 15, 2008

The Unready.

It's still colloquially acceptable to call Elizabeth II the Queen of England, but to be accurate, since about 1600 the people who have held her job have been either King (or Queen) of Great Britain or the United Kingdom. While 400 years seems like a lot of history to Americans, to use the title King (or Queen) of England reminds us that Liz Windsor's job has been around for well over 1,000 years.

While the job has existed for over a millenium, management has changed hands several times, usually under unpleasant circumstances. Ever since William the Conqueror (a.k.a William the Bastard), the Monarchs in Britain have had official titles of the form Name the Number, like William I or Henry VIII. Some names only show up one time so far, so there's no need to call the 19th Century ruler Victoria the First, but that is her name, technically. The English didn't take immediately to the numbering scheme, a French idea, so we know a lot of the early Norman kings by names like Richard the Lion Heart or John Lackland. Before the Norman Conquest, and the English kings have a name and a nickname, but no number.

If you were going to make a list of the worst Kings of England, and you can bet people have made that list many times, one king has a name that shows both the people of his time and the generations that followed were not impressed with his kingly skills, and that would be Aethelred the Unready. The "red" in Aethelred and the "read" in Unready were the same word back in Old English, and his name and nickname are a mocking play on words. His given name means "wise counsel" or "noble counsel", while his nickname means "no counsel". Aethelred is on the throne when the Danes attack and defeat the English, and for about 25 years after the reign of Aethelred, The King of England is also the King of Denmark and speaks Danish much more fluently than English, because that's where the guy is from. Aethelred's family, the House of Wessex, makes a comeback and takes the throne back, but that only lasts about 25 years until the Normans under William the Bastard come in and we get a few hundred years of English kings having more French blood than English.

And now we have our own Unready ruler. There is no pun that has his original name meaning "wise counsel". George means "farmer". Historically, our first ruler named George actually was a farmer, but the next two Georges who have lead us, George the Impressive Resume and George the Unready, have never been farmers and haven't grown anything on their own more useful than an ingrown toenail. Now, just as Aethelred's picture is nicely framed, we have a picture of George the Unready that we can pass on to future generations, framed by a guy in the act of throwing a shoe at him.

The news media have informed us that throwing shoes in Iraq is a sign of disrespect, like we couldn't guess that already. When shoes get thrown, clearly someone has crossed a line of decent behavior. But who committed the first foul, the thrower of the shoe or the target?

Bush was at the podium, yammering on about victory in Iraq, when this Iraqi journalist stands up, shouts "This is a goodbye kiss, you dog!" He then throws his shoe and has time to take off the other shoe and throw it before security steps in.

Last year, this journalist was kidnapped by Shia militiamen. It's too much to expect George the Unready to understand, but it's those militiamen who will be able to claim this so-called "victory in Iraq" when it happens, and this journalist, who survived somehow under the tyrant Saddam Hussein, has found his life in great peril under the new regime brought to him courtesy of our own George the Unready and his ill-advised advisors.

Throwing shoes is certainly a foul. But committing mass murder without any idea why, that's the bigger foul, and that will be the lion's share of the legacy of George the Unready for generations to come.

UPDATE: The thrower's name is Muntadhar al-Zeidi. The last name is pronounced Al-Zay-Dee. Iraqis are protesting in the streets to have him released. A guy with this much guts deserves to be known by name, not just "some Iraqi journalist".


dguzman said...

I so want to learn how to say "This is a goodbye kiss, you dog!" in Arabic.

CDP said...

So many reporters have been calling his reaction "good natured" and "self deprecating humor", but I think the glibness was just further evidence of how clueless and callous he really is.

Matty Boy said...

There's an old joke about a self-obsessed rich girl who drops and destroys a priceless Ming vase, and when a concerned crowd rush to see what has happened, she says "It's okay! I'm not hurt!"

In general, Americans are clueless about what we have done around the world, and the cluelessness of the reporters is nearly equal to the cluelessness of the perpetrator of the most recent and most obvious of the tragedies we have induced, this time purposefully and stupidly.

DCup said...

You are so right, Matty. And the comments about cluelessness are right on target. I don't think Bush has the mental capacity to comprehend what he's really done. Otherwise, how could he sleep at night?

namastenancy said...

I wanted to cheer that man on (Muntadhar al_Zeidi). We've destroyed one monster (Sadaam) and replaced him with hundreds of others, trashed Iraq, killed millions and upset the whole balance in the Middle East. Does Bush have a clue? Does he care? Having a shoe thrown at him was little enough considering the damage he's caused.