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Linguist Geoff Nunberg

Nunberg talks about idiomatic expressions like "on the up and up." What does it mean when people interpret these sayings differently?


Other segments from the episode on October 12, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 12, 2003: Interview with Gary Milhollin; Interview with Lutz Kleveman; Commentary on language.


DATE November 12, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms director Gary
Milhollin discusses the global nuclear inventory and the politics
enveloping it

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

This week, two new intelligence reports found that Iran and North Korea have
made significant advances in nuclear weapons technology. The International
Atomic Energy Agency has found that Iran's program has been in place for at
least 18 years and involves sophisticated technology specifically intended to
produce fuel for nuclear weapons. And the CIA reports that North Korea is
currently speeding up its weapons production. While the Bush administration
in recent weeks has announced progress in its efforts to disarm both
countries, the new information raises serious concerns about the nuclear
capability of these two nations and the effectiveness of current
nonproliferation measures.

We've invited Gary Milhollin to help us sort out the recent news on the spread
of nuclear weapons. Milhollin is the director of the Wisconsin Project on
Nuclear Arms Control. It's a nonprofit foundation which has been researching
nuclear and missile technology for nearly 20 years. We started with Iran. In
addition to their secret nuclear weapons program, Iran operates nuclear power
plants to generate electricity for civilian use. But these power plants can
also be used to secretly make fuel for nuclear weapons. I asked Milhollin to
describe a regulatory plan that would manage the nonmilitary use of nuclear

Mr. GARY MILHOLLIN (Director, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control):
When you look at Iran's program, what you see is a big reactor that is devoted
to making nuclear power, and which will produce plutonium in its spent fuel,
but that spent fuel is under contract to be taken back to Russia. So if that
contract is performed, the Iranians won't get any closer to the bomb as a
result of running that reactor. But then, in addition to the reactor, the
Iranians have all these other facilities, uranium enrichment, plutonium
production, that really have no connection to making electricity, and are just
useful for bomb making. And so I think what the world should push for is to
get rid of all these other facilities, these other dangerous facilities that
don't have any civilian application, and get Iran to take them down, dismantle
them, get rid of them, and then let the world verify that they've done so. It
seems to me, that's the kind of a compromise that could give Iran electricity
if it really wants electricity from uranium, and at the same time remove its
bomb-making potential. And I think that's what the world ought to demand now
from Iran since Iran has been caught, in effect, cheating.

BOGAEV: Now I think many analysts would say that the backdrop to this whole
situation in Iran is Israel's nuclear weapons program, that that's why many of
these nations are beefing up their arsenal. And this is a program that Israel
will neither confirm nor deny. Do you agree, first of all, with that

Mr. MILHOLLIN: Well, the Israelis do have a very successful robust
long-standing nuclear weapon program, and I guess I and many other people would
estimate that their warhead inventory now is probably reaching 200, which is
enough to destroy any conceivable target in the Middle East many times over.
The Israelis have also built a large powerful rocket that can deliver these
warheads. And also, it has F-16s and F-15s given to it by the United States.
So it's true that the Israelis really do have a very potent nuclear potential.
Whether that is the real spur to nuclear weapon efforts by the Muslim world is
a question. I think that if it were a spur to nuclear weapon activities by,
say, Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Iran, that those countries would have moved much
faster, much sooner, because the Israeli program goes back to the 1960s.

So even though rhetorically, you can say that, `Well, since Israel has the
bomb, the Arab countries ought to get the bomb, too.' I mean, you can make
that argument. In fact, I don't think that the Israeli bomb program really is
a spur to, for example, the Iranian program. I think the Iranian program
began when the Iranians were afraid of Saddam. So I think the inter-Islamic
rivalries in the Middle East are just as important, and perhaps more
important, than the rivalry between Israel and the Muslim world.

BOGAEV: How can progress be made, though, in reducing nuclear arms when
there's such an imbalance among nations in the Middle East?

Mr. MILHOLLIN: Well, if you look at Israel's nuclear program, I think you
have to ask, `What good is it?' It certainly isn't useful in the present
struggle with the Palestinians. Now the Palestinians have come up with a
threat to Israel which is very serious and which is demoralizing Israel and
driving people to leave and the Israeli nuclear arsenal is absolutely of no
use against that.

So if you're thinking about imbalances, I think that probably the Israeli
nuclear arsenal was invented at a time when the Soviets were backing some of
Israel's rivals, and Israel really feared that there might be a nuclear
standoff with the Soviet Union. And so I think you have to look at the
history of it. Today, I question whether the nuclear arsenal in Israel is
even worth its upkeep.

BOGAEV: What evidence is the Wisconsin Project dug up on Iran being a
potential trader in nuclear arms or nuclear materials to be used to create

Mr. MILHOLLIN: Well, it's well-known that Iran has long-standing and close
connections to terrorist groups. Ironically, it has much better connections
than Iraq did under Saddam Hussein. If Iran does get the bomb, we really have
to worry about whether Iran at some point would decide it wants to use one of
those connections, but it's maybe unfair to single out Iran in this regard.
The North Koreans have pretty much announced, and it's probably a bluff but
you never know--they've announced that they may actually sell nuclear weapon
material in the world market.

And the Pakistani program, we have thought in the past what was fairly safe
but we've just learned that the Pakistanis did supply North Korea with
centrifuge technology. And so we're looking at more and more places that
could be sources for nuclear weapons material getting into the hands of
terrorists. And that worries me greatly.

BOGAEV: What is known of Pakistan's nuclear cache and capability?

Mr. MILHOLLIN: Pakistan has a successful nuclear design. It's small. It's
efficient. It uses high-enriched uranium which the Pakistanis are making now
on their own, having imported the means to do so from various countries. The
big concern about Pakistan is whether the Pakistanis are now going to export
what they know, and it looks as if the answer to that is yes. The Pakistanis
have helped the North Koreans set up a separate means of making nuclear
weapons material; that is, they can now enrich uranium and make uranium-fueled
bombs, whereas before, they were only making plutonium-fueled bombs. And I
think there's also at least I think the suspicion that the Pakistanis may have
helped the North Koreans with warhead design. The Pakistanis are certainly in
the position to do that.

There are also rumors to the effect that the Pakistanis have helped the
Iranians. So what you're looking at is a case where we have a country,
Pakistan, which is not very stable, which is exporting its nuclear know-how
and which is telling us with some justice that we can't come down too hard on
them because we need them in the war on terrorism. So this is tough. It's
just difficult. I frankly didn't expect the Pakistanis to become an export
problem. I always expected that the Pakistanis would simply be content to
build a nuclear deterrent to India and stop there. But, unfortunately, I was
wrong about that.

BOGAEV: Well, this is so complex. What is the model for containment?

Mr. MILHOLLIN: Somehow it's necessary to convince countries that it's in
their interest not to do this. We so far--we, meaning the United States and
countries that are worried about proliferation--haven't been entirely
successful in convincing countries of this. There have been some success
stories. When the Soviet Union broke up, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine,
they all inherited nuclear weapon potential from the Soviet Union. And the
question was whether they were going to keep that or whether they were going
to send it back to Moscow. And in every case, they decided to send it back to
Moscow. And they made the calculation that it was in their interest to do
that, they all needed better relations with the West. They all wanted to come
in the direction of the United States. When our diplomats went to talk to
them about something, the last thing they wanted was for the first item on the
agenda to be the nuclear weapon program.

So they go rid of the bomb. What we have to do is convince more countries in
the world that that is the way they should go, but so far, it's been hard to
do. That doesn't mean it can't be done, but it just means that we have to
increase both the incentive to get rid of the program and also increase the
threat, that if they don't, they're going to suffer. We have to make it a
high foreign policy priority. It has to be more important than just about
anything else, and we just haven't been willing to do that.

BOGAEV: I'm talking with Gary Milhollin. He's director of the Wisconsin
Project, a non-profit foundation which carries out research and public
education designed to combat the spread of nuclear weapons.

We're going to take a break now and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back with Gary Milhollin. He directs the Wisconsin Project on
Nuclear Arms Control which has been tracking nuclear and missile-related
technology since 1986.

There's a recent report that the CIA presented to the Congress that it
believes North Korea has mastered the technology of turning nuclear fuel into
weapons and that they don't have to prove the effectiveness of their program
by a nuclear test. What's your opinion of this new report, and does it
dispel all doubt that North Korea is a bonafide nuclear power?

Mr. MILHOLLIN: I think one of the most frightening things about North Korea
is how little we know about what it actually has. The CIA has been saying for
a decade that they assess that North Korea has enough nuclear material--in
this case, plutonium, to make one or two nuclear warheads. The CIA's been
saying that for a decade. And we know that based on public reports and
observations that the North Koreans for years have been conducting explosive
tests to determine whether their nuclear weapon design would work. What you
do is you take the components of the design and you test them without having
nuclear fuel in the middle. You test it with a dummy core and you see
whether, in this case, an implosion reaction would be sufficient to detonate a
bomb. You can do that. We did that. We did that. Everybody does that. And
the North Koreans have been doing it.

So what we have now is the CIA, it's scratching its head and saying, `Well, we
think the North Koreans have enough plutonium for a couple of bombs and we
think that because we've seen them doing all of these explosive tests for
probably a decade that by now they probably have figured it out. And if they
put the plutonium they have into a bomb and set it off, it would probably
work.' That's what the CIA is telling us.

From where I sit, that's very alarming because this country is probably one of
the most dangerous in the world right now and the CIA, in effect, doesn't know
how much plutonium it has and doesn't know whether it actually has a workable
nuclear weapon. I think we can't really conduct foreign policy this way. We
can't be flying blind in such an important area. Somehow our intelligence has
to be better.

We also went to war in Iraq apparently on the strength of reports that Iraq
presently was at that time a mass destruction weapon threat. It turns out
that that was probably wrong. I just don't see how we're going to succeed in
stopping the spread of nuclear weapons or other kinds of weapons of mass
destruction unless our intelligence gets better. So I think this recent CIA
report should be seen as something that reflects more on the CIA than it does
on North Korea.

BOGAEV: Well, your organization has been tracking the North Korea nuclear
arms program. Do you have conflicting intelligence?

Mr. MILHOLLIN: Well, here's what we've done. The United States has watched
North Korea operate this little reactor, and we've also watched them shut it
down. We've watched them take the spent fuel rods from that reactor and run
them through a plant that extras plutonium, but if you want to know how much
plutonium came out of the plant, you have to know how long the reactor ran,
you have to know at what power it ran, you have to know how many fuel rods
were taken out, and you have to know what the efficiency was of the process
for extracting the plutonium from them. All of this is just an estimate.

The estimate that North Korea may have enough plutonium for one or two bombs
could be off by, I would guess, quite a bit. It could be off by as much as a
hundred perfect. North Korea could have perhaps twice as many bombs, and that
was before this summer when the North Koreans announced that they had taken
other fuel rods that they've taken out of the reactor since and that they've
also run those through the plutonium plant and extracted the plutonium from
those fuel rods which would give them five additional bombs.

So right now, we're looking at a situation where North Korea may have enough
plutonium for seven bombs or 10 bombs or three bombs. We don't know, but if
it's seven to 10 bombs, then that means that North Korea has enough to sell.

BOGAEV: Now in recent months, the Bush administration has changed its
position somewhat on dealing with the North Korean arsenal or the perception
of their nuclear arsenal. And instead of refusing to sign a non-aggression
pact, the administration has offered something called a security assurance.
What does this mean, and where does the US stand with its diplomatic efforts
to curve North Korea's nuclear production?

Mr. MILHOLLIN: It's hard to understand US policy toward North Korea right
now. The only, it seems to me, successful policy is going to be one in which
the United States, in effect, buys the North Korean nuclear program. That's
the cheapest, cleanest, certainly the least hazardous way of doing this. We
just have to go in and make a deal with them which results in their
dismantling their program, letting us get it out of the country and letting us
verify that it's gone and it's not being rebuilt. If we can do that, and if
we can, in effect, rescue their country in exchange, I think that's going to
be a good deal for us, and it doesn't make much sense just to sort of piously
declare that we don't deal with blackmailers. I mean, so that has to be the

What I'm seeing, though, is that because of the obsession with Iraq by the
officials who were in charge of our national security policy, there has not
been a coherent US plan for getting to that situation in North Korea. We have
done, I think, a decent job of rallying support among other countries in the
region, particularly the Chinese, for doing something, but we're very slow.
It's not clear what our real policy is. We seem to only be reacting to what
the North Koreans do. This is such an important question that I think we
should have a clear, coherent policy that is supported by Congress and the
American people in dealing with this. And, frankly, right now, I don't see
it. I don't see what our policy is.

BOGAEV: Well, one more question: Do you see progress happening in the
international community on non-proliferation or are we in a standoff now?

Mr. MILHOLLIN: We're basically in a standoff. I think that Iran is a
do-or-die situation. If the Iranians can belong to the non-proliferation
treaty, accept IAEA inspections and still make the bomb, and it shows that the
international system for stopping the spread of nuclear weapons is not making
it and that US diplomacy is not adequate and that the Bush doctrine of
prevention is just pretty much rhetoric because if the Iranians do get the
bomb, that means that other countries in the Middle East are going to have to
think about it seriously: Egypt, Saudi Arabia. And any effort we make--we
may have to spread democracy through the Middle East--is going to be much
harder if countries to which we're spreading this democracy have nuclear
weapons. So I think if we can't hold the line with respect to Iran, then
we're looking at a nuclear weaponized world in which we're all going to be
much more at risk.

BOGAEV: What's an alternative doctrine to prevention?

Mr. MILHOLLIN: Well, I think the prevention doctrine might be a good one if
it were seriously held. The problem with prevention doctrine is that it's
only been applied in the case where we really didn't need it; that is, in
Iraq. And it's not being applied in cases where we do need it, and that is
Iran and North Korea. So if you have this doctrine of nuclear prevention and
you only use it where it's not really important, than what kind of a doctrine
is it really? I don't think we really do have this kind of a doctrine that
we're willing to enforce unless the United States is willing and able to cut
off the Iranian program, and I think that's really the test. And we're going
to know the answer to that within the year.

BOGAEV: Gary Milhollin, thank you for talking with me on FRESH AIR.

Mr. MILHOLLIN: You're welcome.

BOGAEV: Gary Milhollin directs the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.

I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Lutz Kleveman discusses his book "The New Great Game"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.

The Caspian region in Central Asia is the source of the world's largest
remaining untapped oil reserve. It's estimated to range from 50 billion to
200 billion barrels of oil; that's almost as much as can be found in Saudi
Arabia. It's worth, at current prices, approximately $4 trillion. And that's
not all. Other parts of the region are rich in natural gas. Ever since the
19th century developed nations have battled to gain access and control over
the Caspian riches. Now Russia, Britain, China, Turkey, Pakistan and the US
are vying for these resources.

In his new book "The New Great Game," journalist Lutz Kleveman lays out the
impact that this oil rush has had on the former Soviet republics, which ring
the Caspian Sea, and the implications it holds for foreign policy.

I want to talk about some of the countries you traveled through, and you write
very convincingly about how the presence of oil pervades daily life in some of
these lands. I'd like to start with Azerbaijan's capital, Baku. You describe
it as part museum and part boomtown. What's it like?

Mr. LUTZ KLEVEMAN (Author, "The New Great Game"): Azerbaijan is really a
banana republic. It's a country, again, that's been independent for the past
10 years run by a former KGB general, former Communist, former member of the
Politburo, Heydar Aliyev, who's just passed on the crown, as it were, to his
son, Ilham Aliyev. And then you have Baku, which is really the oil town par
excellence. They had an oil boom there about a hundred years ago; that's,
really, where most of the oil at the time came from in the world markets. And
now you have this new oil boom. You have a very glitzy, sort of new town, and
then you have, sadly, quite a bit of poverty. And that's what you will find
in all these countries; that the oil wealth for the common people is more of a
curse than a blessing because very little of the profits trickle down to the
people in the street. And you will find this in all the countries in the
region and outside of the region, except perhaps in Norway and in the UK.

Oil wealth leads essentially to corruption, at least to economic decline,
because the countries rely on nothing but oil. It leads to political
instability. It leads to political crisis, to coup d'etats, to putsches. And
then, ultimately, it leads to bloody civil wars.

BOGAEV: Turkmenistan is another player in this oil rush, and what you're
describing in the region is a kind of an oil grab or a Wild West that's
growing up on the basis of this industry. In the case of Turkmenistan, you
refer to it as the new Kuwait. It has the top 10 natural gas reserves in the
world, and it's ruled by a man who one diplomat you talked to compared to Kim
Il Sung of North Korea, only a lot weirder. What is the story there?

Mr. KLEVEMAN: Turkmenistan, believe you me, is the weirdest and the most
surreal place in all of Central Asia. And there's no poverty of such surreal
places, let me tell you. It's the one place where a taxi ride to the airport
is more expensive than the flight itself, and this is a flight on a brand-new
Boeing 757, and that's because such flights are heavily subsidized. Now the
government can only do that because it gets so much money from all these oil
reserves, and it's run by an eccentric dictator who calls himself
Turkmenbashi, the leader of all Turkmens. And he has these golden statues of
himself erected all over the capital, Ashgabat. You get to the capital--and I
will never forget the first time I drove in--what you see is a golden statue
on top of a column about 220 feet tall, arms stretched out, the coat sort of
billowing in the wind, and he rotates, so his face will always face the sun.
This is how weird it gets down there.

BOGAEV: What's the status of the oil industry in the Caspian region right
now? What phase is it in?

Mr. KLEVEMAN: Western oil companies have invested about $30, $40 billion into
new production facilities, mainly in Azerbaijan and in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan
particularly is very interesting because that's where they discovered just two
or three years ago this huge Kashagan oil field, which may contain as much as
30 billion barrels of oil and, thereby, would rank among the five largest oil
fields in the world. So you've got ExxonMobil, you've got ChevronTexaco
playing in Kazakhstan, and it's at a sort of middle stage right. It's not
early days anymore. The oil fields have all been discovered, most of them.
Concessions have been given away, and drilling has started, especially off the
coast of Azerbaijan.

BOGAEV: And what pipelines are in the process of being constructed now?

Mr. KLEVEMAN: The major pipeline under construction at the moment is the
pipeline that runs from Baku through Georgia all the way down to the
Mediterranean port of Jahan(ph) in Turkey. That's a massive pipeline: about
1,100 miles of steel; construction costs of $4 billion and all kinds of
environmental, social and political problems involved in it. The main
operator of that pipeline is British Petroleum, and they can count on the firm
political support from the Bush administration. And, in fact, the World Bank
and the European Bank of Reconstruction have just green-lighted loans given to
British Petroleum causing protests from environmental groups and human rights
groups in the region.

BOGAEV: How crucial is the Caspian to US energy policy, and what has
Washington indicated about how it sees the Caspian reserves fitting into
long-term energy policies?

Mr. KLEVEMAN: The Caspian oil has become, practically overnight, very, very
important to America because it could be an alternative to Saudi oil, to oil
from that very unstable Middle East, because the Middle East is still the
biggest gas station in the world and it always will be. It sits on two-thirds
of the oil reserves. But it is a gas station where the gas are leaking, and
people are running around throwing matches. I mean, look at the terrorist
attacks in Saudi Arabia the other day. This is a very serious problem. Just
imagine these Islamic fundamentalists would overthrow the corrupt House of
Saud and would then stop the flow of oil to what they consider to be Western
infidels. Just imagine eight million barrels of oil vanishing from the world
market practically overnight. It would be disastrous.

BOGAEV: What evidence is there of US interests in Caspian oil, and does it
extend before the present administration?

Mr. KLEVEMAN: Oh, even under the Clinton administration, America discovered
the Caspian as a strategically important region. And many of these pipeline
projects, including the one going through Afghanistan, were invented, as it
were, and supported under the Clinton administration. Now what is new,
though, with the Bush administration, quite apart from the well-known ties
that this administration has with Texan big oil, is the Cheney report. That
was published in May of 2001, before 9/11, and it analyzes the situation that
the United States is in, which is quite dire in the sense that this country
has to import two-thirds of all the gas it burns. I mean, think about it:
One out of every seven barrels of oil produced in the world is consumed on
American highways. This country is very much addicted to oil. It's very much
dependent on oil.

So departing from that analysis, Cheney and the other authors of the so-called
Cheney report suggested that the president make energy policy an essential
part of foreign policy. And the Cheney report singles out the Caspian as a
particularly important region in order to diversify America's oil supply, in
order to reduce America's dependence on Saudi oil, on OPEC essentially.

BOGAEV: I'm talking with journalist Lutz Kleveman. He's reported from war
zones in the Balkans, West Africa, Central Asia and Iraq for Newsweek, the
Daily Telegraph, also CNN. His new book about oil in Central Asia is "The New
Great Game."

Let's take a break now, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: We're back with journalist Lutz Kleveman. His new book about the
rush to corner Central Asia's oil reserves is called "The New Great Game."

Well, you describe in the book how Washington is wooing these Caspian rulers,
and one you write about is Karimov, and he's an ex-Communist ruler of
Uzbekistan. What is his human rights record, and what are Washington's
dealings with Karimov's regime?

Mr. KLEVEMAN: Oh, the human rights record is atrocious. It's one of these
very unholy alliances. Islam Karimov, again, a former top Communist in the
Soviet Union, is one of the worst dictators, probably every bit as bad as
Saddam Hussein. I mean, we're looking at a regime where opponents get boiled
to death. Now the State Department quite publicly admits that torture is used
on a regular basis in Uzbekistan. And I spent a couple of weeks in that
country. It was a horrifying experience. There are tens of thousands of
people languishing in these torture prisons in Uzbekistan, and the State
Department openly admits that. And at the same time this government last year
paid $500 million to the regime of Uzbekistan, partly because it allows
American troops to be stationed on Uzbek soil. And much of that money goes to
the Uzbek security forces.

And I met this one chap, Ahmet, who'd just been released from prison after
three years, and he said, `The guards beat me every day.' And I asked, `Well,
aren't you happy about American troops now being stationed in your country?'
And he said, `Why would I be? They're not doing anything for me. They're
supporting the very government that suppresses me.' So if the United States
government is seen, as it is, sadly, as supporting these authoritarian
regimes, then the anger is directed against the United States. So here we
have the lack of democracy, as in the Middle East, being the root cause of

BOGAEV: It's difficult to unravel anti-terror policy from oil policy. How do
you begin to go about that?

Mr. KLEVEMAN: I think what I've discovered, in the course of my research and
my travels and my interviews, is that you will not understand the war on
terror, you will not understand terrorism without knowing oil politics because
they are so closely intertwined. Time and again I would try and find answers
to, you know, the essential question of our time: What makes a man a
terrorist? Why are they so angry? Why do they hate us so much? And it has a
lot to do what is perceived to be energy imperialism in the region. You know,
these are people who are disenfranchised. They feel humiliated. It's not
necessarily a material poverty, even though that plays a big role, but it's a
sort of, as Friedman would say, a poverty of dignity, a lack of dignity.

Let me give you one example. In Azerbaijan three weeks ago, we had this
election where Heydar Aliyev basically handed over the power to his son, some
sort of casino gambler. And there were protests in the street; demonstrators
came out. And this new baby dictator sent out the troops, sent out his
security forces, and crushed these demonstrations quite brutally, arrested
everyone. A couple of people got killed. And then the next day you have
Richard Armitage, the undersecretary of State, calling up this new baby
dictator and congratulating him on his electoral victory, on his, I quote,
"strong showing." Now the next time somebody wonders why they hate us so much
out there, this telephone conversation does give some indication why they do.

BOGAEV: Well, you talked to many US oil executives, also policy-makers in
Washington. How sensitive are they to these realities?

Mr. KLEVEMAN: I've spoken to a number of decision-makers in Washington and,
obviously, the ambassadors in the region, and time and again what I found is
there is the awareness of the nefarious consequences of this oil grab, as it
were--this awareness just isn't there sometimes. It's lacking from the
Beltway perspective. I mean, all these very glib and eloquent politicians
talking about securing oil and making sure that it gets to markets, that all
sounds very well, but there is very little knowledge of what oil wealth in the
region actually means. And it means that for most of the people in the
region, it is a curse; it's not a blessing.

BOGAEV: I don't mean to sound cynical or heartless, but hasn't it always been
the case that US corporations have had to do business with repressive regimes?

Mr. KLEVEMAN: I mean, if you look back into the history of oil politics in
the past couple of decades, yes, what you will find is American and other
Western oil companies dealing with very unsavory regimes. And sometimes they
weren't unsavory and undemocratic to begin with, but obviously the profits
that come with oil wealth make the political spoils so much more valuable. So
people begin to wonder, `Well, maybe I should be in politics myself.' And
then you have all these struggles, and the people who usually come out on top
of these struggles are dictators and military rulers. And then you have to
deal with them. This is what's happening in Nigeria, or was happening until a
few years ago. And I've reported on those oil conflicts in Nigeria. And it's
what's happening in Venezuela, for example, where you have Hugo Chavez, who's
obviously not an ideal ruler, at least in Washington's eyes.

Now what has changed, though, is that there is much more of an awareness now
of corporate responsibility. Oil companies are now expected to do good for
the communities in which they operate. This is why Shell in Nigeria, for
example, is spending quite a bit of money now to build hospitals, to build
schools in the Niger Delta, because people are watching what they're doing.
Now this is so far missing in Central Asia.

BOGAEV: Well, in order to protect American business interests, likewise, the
US government has always had to accept relations with repressive regimes.

Mr. KLEVEMAN: Well, absolutely. I mean, basically what's been happening in
the Middle East for the past six decades, really, is the American government
treating all these dictatorial regimes as one big, dumb gas station, basically
being indifferent to how they treat their own people as long as they keep the
oil flowing. And that has been a fairly sensible policy from a realpolitik
standpoint. But now, of course, since 9/11 when, as you will recall, 15 of
the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens, there is more of an awareness that this
kind of cynical, I should say, policy can backfire and can affect us quite
terribly in America.

So there is more pressure now--and this is what I'm hoping to add to in my
book--on the US government to become aware of the effects this sort of
indifferent policy has in the countries, which is to create anger, create
resentment and create a lot of angry young men out there, who could one day
come over here and, you know, cause tremendous harm.

BOGAEV: Journalist Lutz Kleveman. His new book is "The New Great Game."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: 1959 recording of "You Fascinate Me So"

Now for a little change of pace, a 1959 recording by singer and pianist
Blossom Dearie has just been reissued. It's called "My Gentleman Friend."
Here at FRESH AIR, we like it a lot. And our jazz critic, Kevin Whitehead,
will review it soon on the show. For now, let's listen to the track "You
Fascinate Me So."

(Soundbite of "You Fascinate Me So")

Ms. BLOSSOM DEARIE: (Singing) I have a feeling that, beneath the little halo
on your noble head, there lies a thought or two the devil might be interested
to know. You're like the finish of a novel that I'll finally have to take to
bed. You fascinate me so. I feel like Christopher Columbus when I'm near
enough to contemplate the sweet geography descending from your eyebrow to your
toe. The possibilities are more than I can possibly enumerate. That's why
you fascinate me so. So sermonize and preach to me. Make your sanctimonious
little speech to me. But, oh, my darling, you'll forgive my inability to
concentrate. I think I'm dealing with a powder keg that's just about to blow.
Will the end result deflate me, or will you annihilate me? You fascinate me

BOGAEV: Coming up, what do you think the expression `on the up and up' means?
This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commentary: Expressions mean different things to different people

So what does `on the up and up' mean? Our linguist, Geoff Nunberg, thought he
knew, but it turns out that some people use the expression in another way. He
wonders what it says about our ability to communicate with each other when
words mean different things to different people.


I had a call from my friend Ahni(ph), a Belgian linguist who spends a lot of
time thinking about idioms. She asked me what I thought `on the up and up'
meant. I told her it meant `above-board' or `on the level,' as in, `Are you
sure these intelligence reports are on the up and up?' `Does it mean anything
else?' she asked. `Not as far as I know,' I told her. She answered, `Well,
go look it up on the Web.' So I Googled the phrase, and damned if more than
half the first hundred hits for `on the up and up' didn't have it meaning `on
the increase' or `improving,' as is, `Hong Kong's trade is on the up and up.'

True, a number of these came from sites in the UK or other foreign countries.
It turns out that the Brits have been using `on the up and up' like this for
more than 70 years. But I was surprised to see how many Americans use the
expression that way, too. I found newspaper stories announcing that school
activities' fees were on the up and up in Minnesota and that tourism was on
the up and up on the Delmarva Peninsula. A defensive end for the Tampa Bay
Bucs says that his career is `still on the up and up, still on the rise.'

Out of curiosity, I sent a question about the item to a discussion group
that's peopled by dialectologists and other devotees of word lore. I had a
note back from somebody in Berkeley, who told me that he was surprised to hear
that `on the up and up' could be used to mean `on the increase.' But when he
asked his wife about it, she said that, for her, that was the only thing it
could mean. She didn't know it could mean `on the level.' And what made it
odder still was that they've been married for 20 years and both grew up in
Southern California. I had this image of the two of them sitting at the
breakfast table. He asks, `Is your brother's new business on the up and up?'
And she says, `No, but he's making do.' And they go on like that with
neither of them ever realizing that they're talking at cross-purposes.
Deborah Tannen, call your office.

Of course, expressions are always changing their meaning, and every once in a
while they'll trip the alarm of the grammarati who complain about it. But
it's striking how often these disparate meanings can live side by side without
anybody seeming to notice. What does it mean to say, `That gives me
heartburn'? I always figured it meant that something made you anxious or
worried, but it turns out that a lot of people use that phrase to mean, `That
makes me furious.' I don't know whether that corresponds to a difference in
dialect or in diet.

In fact, sometimes a word can have contradictory meanings with no one being
the wiser. I once got into an argument with a linguist friend over the
meaning of the sentence, `The pool was deceptively shallow.' I maintained
that it meant that the pool was shallower than it looked, and he said it meant
that the pool was deeper than it looked. To settle the argument, I took
advantage in my role as chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage
Dictionary, a group of 175 noted writers that we poll every so often on usage
questions. But when we asked the panelists what `The pool is deceptively
shallow' means, the results were curiously inconclusive. Half of them said it
means the pool is shallower than it appears, a third said that it means the
pool is deeper than it appears, and the rest said it could go either way. In
other words, if you put that sentence on a warning sign, you can be dead
certain that anywhere from a third to a half the people who see it will get
the wrong message.

Or take the word minimal: `She ran her best races when she had a minimal
amount of food in her stomach.' Does that mean she ran best when she'd eaten
nothing or when she'd eaten a bit? The Usage Panel was split on that one,
too. A third said A, a third said B and another said it could mean either.

If you have a pessimistic turn of mind, you could take all this as a reminder
that we can never be sure that we're understanding each other. It puts us on
guard against the illusion that Adrienne Rich described as `the dream of a
common language.' But maybe the wonder of it all is that we manage to muddle
through even so, breakfast after breakfast, turning to faith to bridge over
all the gaps in comprehension, or, anyway, that's how I prefer to think of it.
To paraphrase another poet, Randall Garrett, `We understand each other worse
and it matters less than any of us suppose.'

BOGAEV: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University's Center for the
Study of Language and Information and the author of "the Way We Talk Now."

(Soundbite of music)


BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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