Listen, My Children...

Every Little Helps

Friday, October 31, 2003

On the UN

Well, I can't find it up on the CNN website, but it just scrolled across the banner on CNN that the UN is withdrawing from Baghdad. I really don't know anything at all about the story besides that line, but, taking it at face value: these are the people who want the US to hand over control to them, but they would rather just abandon everyone there to chaos (by an immediate pullout, something, as we hear repeatedly, that even Dean doesn't advocate) than take a few hits. Does anyone else see something wrong with the idea of turning over control to them?

Additionally: have been slow lately, I know. Boyfriend's been down with severe gastro-enteritis; doctors even thought it was appendicitis for a while; and he's only now starting to recover. I've been being domestic, mopping fevered brows and all that.

UPDATE: I haven't heard a thing more about it, so I suppose it was just an unclear CNN banner item with no substance.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

California, II

It must be strange to be the only house on your block left standing.

On Californian Red Tape

From Citizen Smash:
MORE on those idle C-130s from Bill Simon:
While homes burned, it was evident that fire-fighting resources were stretched to the limit and it appeared that nothing more could have been done. But sitting on the ground at the Channel Island Naval Air Station in Ventura County were the Air National Guard C-130 aircraft that had been outfitted to fight wild fires.
Here in San Diego, Mayor Dick Murphy has asked for and received assistance from a Coronado-based Navy helicopter squadron specially trained and equipped to fight wildfires.
But the fires are no longer burning inside the city limits, and the California Department of Forestry will not allow the helicopters to join the fight in the County's unincorporated areas, because the pilots weren't certified by the state of California.
One word from our governor could cut through that red tape, but he has so far failed to provide an adequate explanation as to why he hasn't acted. Local leaders have appealed to the Mr. Davis, but the helicopters remain grounded at an airfield in Ramona.
Bureaucracy can be frustrating. But the mark of a real leader is the ability to cut through red tape and make things happen in a time of crisis.
And people wonder why we recalled this guy.

Monday, October 27, 2003

On Blogs

Apparently, "the typical blog is written by a teenage girl who updates it about twice a month."

I swear I'm not in that demographic. Didn't even start until I was in my twenties.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Infinitely Recursive Things Give Me a Headache

But I'll have to use this example sometime:
there cannot be a complete answer to the question "What is truth?" because, to any answer, the questioner can always reply, "Is that true?" And the question then becomes infinitely recursive. This is one of those questions on which philosophy hits rock bottom, and you have to accept some sort of answer on faith, or else lapse into utter incoherence.

On Outsourcing to India

Just a brief note on the current trend in outsourcing desk jobs (tech support phone lines etc.) to India: what's all the fuss about? Companies would not be able to get people that highly trained for twice their salary in America (people that highly trained are pulling down higher salaries), and the Indians are in some of the highest-paid and most sought-after jobs in their country. There can be absolutely no shrill screams of "sweatshop! sweatshop!" here. Wipro, India's biggest computer programming company, is in a facility that looks like the Rice University campus and has probably a better cafeteria. I know students from Harvard who have gone to Bangalore for summer computer jobs -- obviously, it's not hell. So what are people complaining about? The most I can figure is that those are jobs not being held by Americans anymore. Well: 1) some of them (telemarketer jobs, for example) are for companies who can't even begin to fill their vacancies in America; and 2) I'm sure the companies would be glad to hire a similarly-trained American at the same or a moderately higher salary, if there were any willing to work for a third of what they could make in another job.

On Silly Protesters

Some day I'm going to go to one of these silly protests; I'm going to wear my mother's old funky hippie clothes and have a blast being loony for a day! I've had practice being an off-the-edge moral relativist and beyond-the-reach-of-logic liberal&feminist, as I occasionally take their side in a discussion just for kicks. Ah, it would be a blast.

Yeah? you think we shouldn't have gone in? Well, you know, I think you're right; even if they say it's all about protecting people from Saddam's tyranny, you know, I think they're his people, they elected him, and who are we to say his way of ruling is wrong, you know? Plus, they use less machines there. Want one of my homemade candles? I no longer use electricity. Bad for the environment, you know.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

On Cannibalism and Culture

Reading the Oxblog-suggested article on cannibalism in Africa, I had a delightful (albeit expensive) idea: intense culture exchange. We send farm boys to the Bronx and inner-city kids to the farm; we send American students to Europe and take the Europeans in in turn. But how about an exchange not just between cultures we have heard about and are perhaps envious of, but between cultures that cannot even begin to fathom the most basic elements of each other's ways? Let's take hundreds of Europe and North America's best and brightest (and some from the most isolated parts of the urban centers of the rest of the world, for good measure) and scatter them across tribal regions all over; and take people from each of the cannibalistic, cannibalized, clothing-optional, and what-not group across the globe and drop them down in Paris, Athens, London, Boston... would that not be thrilling?

It's a fascinating exercise to imagine it. What would happen? Are the north-westerners old-fashioned Liberals, modern conservatives, desiring to spread concepts of democracy, human rights, modern healthcare, and so forth to their new neighbors? (Do they get killed and eaten?) Or are they old-fashioned Conservatives, staying aloof? Or are they modern liberals, trying to understand and assimilate? (Do they kill and eat others?) Do they simply panic and find themselves unable or unwilling to adjust or even to continue to exist in such a world? What do they think or say when their host says, ok, now we go raid the others to see how many we can kill -- wanna come? I'll save you some liver! What do they say when, perhaps, someone who has heard of western practices tells them, as one of my new professors told his class recently, "well, beating your wife until she swells up like a purple fruit is not ok in America, but in India it's fine"?

And the visitors to the west: can they adjust to our pace of life? Will they be like a new Bombay-bred friend of mine, not comprehending how our conception of morality could be so different from that which the British left in India fifty years ago? Will they be missionaries, like the Rwanda-based Anglican Mission in America, earnestly believing that they have a duty to call the west back to her traditional morality, or to morality or practices never before seen in the west? Our visitor from the cannibal group -- will he try to organize a group of cannibals in Charlotte? Will he be affected strongly and be driven to the other extreme, becoming vegan?

And what when they return home? as any exchange student or person who has spent significant periods of time in a vastly different culture can affirm, reverse culture shock is often much stronger, in large part because one does not expect to be shocked by looking at "home" with new eyes. Do our assimilating westerners try to bring tribal practices back to Indianapolis? Does our Congolese visitor to Paris try to introduce haute cuisine to his mother? Or do both sides come back like me, when I returned from a trip to Canada, with the newly-formed opinion that the people they have been with are simply very, very silly?

On Similar Points of Reference

Sebastian Holsclaw has a good point:
It can be very disconcerting to engage in a discussion about how to solve a particular problem only to find that the person you are talking to doesn't believe there is a problem at all. In the past month or so, I have spent hours discussing the pros and cons of school vouchers, only to find in the end that I was talking to someone who didn't believe that the state of US schools was particularly bad! Of course you aren't going to want to engage in a fairly dramatic revamping of the system if you don't believe the system is bad. It wouldn't make sense to argue with Princeton professor Peter Singer about the morality of abortion because he believes that infanticide is ok. Before you can get to the issue of abortion, you would need to convince him that killing a born child is immoral. It is important to be aware of the location of your disagreement or you can't really have a meaningful discussion. If you want to discuss means, you ought to be sure that you have similar ends in mind.

His commenters have by now lost me (people who apparently are able to read a statement of "A is true because and only because B" and respond, "what's A? why aren't you responding to my question of why A is true? why do you think there's such a thing as truth?" -- or at least that's what their conversations look like to me). However, his posts are still quite worth a regular read. For me it will be something like LGF, I suppose -- good for a visit, but comments either make your head spin or make you despair for the future of mankind (that latter only on many LGF posts, not SH yet).

Anyhow, his post makes me think of several discussions at Harvard (as of yet, thank goodness, not at UT). It is difficult to debate with someone who denies some of the most basic premises of logic: that both A and not-A cannot be simultaneously true, for example. It can be frustrating to discuss horrors of life in some parts of India with someone who sees nothing wrong with infanticide, with burning women alive for not providing enough dowry, with people who believe that sex with a nine month old girl (heck, at that age she's sure to be a virgin!) is acceptable if you hope it will be a cure for AIDS, someone who says that all those things should be acceptable under the umbrella of tolerance and cultural equivalency. Similarly, I'm sure it was shocking to some acquaintances who were debating two different far- and moderate-left positions on something (I can't quite recall what it was) to ask me which of the two I held -- and find out I actually lean right. It just throws off the whole thread of debate. At some point -- for example, if you come across one of the types who hold that language itself binds people to patriarchy and so forth -- debate becomes entirely impossible.

Friday, October 24, 2003

On Motherhood

Women are realizing in droves that there is more to life than achieving "like men," and they are leaving the workforce to find fulfillment with their children.
As these women look up at the ''top,'' they are increasingly deciding that they don't want to do what it takes to get there. Women today have the equal right to make the same bargain that men have made for centuries -- to take time from their family in pursuit of success. Instead, women are redefining success.

Old-school feminists are livid that they are making that choice.

Woman foils home invasion

"A woman shot at two intruders who tried to invade her home in the Heritage Park area just outside Friendswood, Harris County sheriff's officials said."

You go, girl!

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

On The Dean Campaign

Ok, I want to know why both my universities are in the top 15 contributors to Dean's 2004 Presidential Election campaign.

Sure, Harvard gave even more to John Kerry, but he's local! And he's not Dean!

(hat tip: the Clam.)

On Gentle Flower-haired People

San Francisco and Berkeley were fun. Not that I'd want to live there, though -- the Angry Clam is a braver man than I. I like UT, with a good balance and a bare minimum of the silly fringes. The Berkeley campus is gorgeous, however -- likely a death trap for people in self-propelled wheelchairs, but gorgeous nonetheless. Hills, decent architecture, green spaces, and bells. Give it maple trees and nothing would be lacking.

We all went in to San Francisco for two days, seeing the telegraph hill (a marvel of Art Deco architecture and New Deal artwork -- Lileks would faint from ecstasy, I'm sure) and Union Square (with a glorious grand hotel). The Beekeeper got herself quite a bit of attention from a woman who "loved her titties" and loved showing them to the world; turn away and find yourself confronted with a store catering in supplies for SF's traditional population. And then the Blue Angels, flying down a street -- close enough for the rooftop spectators to see the pilots, even touch the wings maybe.

But the best part of San Francisco, besides of course seeing the Roommates and Hangers-On, was the Musee Mechanique, a thrilling collection of hundred-year-old arcade games. Load up on your nickels, dimes, and quarters, and you can:

-have your fortune told (mine said, quite rightly, that I need more fresh-air exercise)

-see hundred-year-old porn in colorized stereoscope (some of them quite demure and technically decent; others quite in their altogether)

-turn cranks and see flip-book scenes from silent films

-see slides of the 1906 fire-earthquake

-find out your sex appeal

-see stereoscopes of the 1915 World's Fair, for which the city of San Francisco was largely built (over the previous nine years since its near-destruction)

and much more! Several online articles report that, as of spring 2002, it will gone by the end of the year, and there is a petition to stop the destruction, but I cannot find a thing to explain why it is still around. One rumor is that its current location is a temporary one, and it will move back to its original location after remodeling. Whatever the truth, I'm pleased.

Friday, October 17, 2003

New Blog!

Wonderful news! The person who used to be the most sensible blogless commenter on Matthew Yglesias's blog is no longer -- he has just begun what promises to be quite a worthwhile blog.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, Sebastian Holsclaw.

UPDATE: Looks promising -- so far, in 30+ comments, everyone is being intelligent (often intellectual) and quite rational. I like it!

On Martha

Oh dear -- apparently, in preparation for her upcoming inavailability,
Martha Stewart has been moved to the 2am slot. I'm heartbroken!

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Channeling Best of the Web...

Expert: China will not overtake U.S. in space - Oct. 16, 2003 -- what would we do without experts?

Schön ist es, auf der Welt zu sein

What we all need to bear in mind is that statements like this one
We [Muslims] are actually very strong, 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.
are not anti-Semitic. They're just criticism of political policies in Israel.

On the Correlation Between Intelligence and Political Leanings

As happens quite often (forming the main reason I look up to him so much), Josh at Oxblog has said my thoughts, but much better written:
Matthew [Yglesias] asks for suggestions of 'some smart, young (i.e., under-35) conservative journalists.'

The comments are incredibly vitriolic. One of the more restrained commenters claims that seeking smart conservatives is 'like seeking a cow that understands calculus.' A follow-up by another commenter suggests that the precocious cow is actually a more likely find.

This really amazes me. Are people really so sure of themselves that they simply cannot acknowledge that anyone who disagrees could be intelligent?

Exactly. And the next time I hear someone say, "the reason surveys show the vast majority of people in the media or in top-ranked universities vote Democrat or further left is that nobody who would vote otherwise is smart enough to make it into either field," I think I'll scream.

UPDATE: Then again, what with substandard drivel such as UT's "Contumacy" being published as campus conservative newspapers, I'm not surprised where some people are getting their opinions on the academic right. (No, I haven't read their past issues -- I picked the current one up, read it cover to cover, and was embarassed by nearly all of it; the past issues may be better. And yes, their main talking points are accurate conservative positions -- otherwise they would not be considered conservative. They just plain flat-out are incapable of writing in any manner liable to get them into real journalism, unlike their Harvard parallels.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

On Hell...

Which is currently entirely unfrozen.

On the Proper Response to the Israel Attacks

Would that Josh Chafetz were in charge (#12) of fixing this situation.

(He thinks so too.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

On the Murderous Habits of Congress

Good Ideas by Clark?

Sure seems like it.

On Ornamental Women

"In their way, low-rider jeans bear a creepy similarity to Chinese foot-binding—they constrict a woman's action, rendering her ornamental."

I like that.

Thursday, October 09, 2003


I'm off to the center of far-left insanity (and home of many delightful apolitical college friends, including a former roommate, the Catholic Boyfriend, and the Jewish Boyfriend) for the long weekend; back once Columbus has come and gone.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

On the Honor-Killing of non-Muslims

This is horrendous:
LONDON, England (Reuters) -- A Muslim businessman has been jailed for life by a British court for the murder of his teenage daughter's Christian boyfriend in the second case of so-called 'honor killing' in the UK in just over a week. . . . Before Tuesday's sentencing, the Old Bailey heard how Ahmed [the father] lured Hasani [the boyfriend] to his factory in east London, where he bound, gagged and beat him up. Hasani, who was seeking asylum in Britain, was left to slowly suffocate to death.
If you all knew the number of people -- the number of early-twenties American-born students! -- I know who have told me they think this kind of killing is entirely defensible, you would be scared stiff to ever consider pursuing even the most apparently willing Muslim girl.

Something is damned wrong in that culture.

On Relationships

Mr. Lileks has something that made me pause:
Coming up 7th, around 26th street. A car is attempting to nose through an intersection. There are no other cars in front of it, but a large crowd has decided that it will just cross the street against the light. As the car inches forward at a rate somewhat slower than continental drift, a sullen young man with his arm draped around his girlfriend walks in front of the vehicle. The car continues to move forward, moving perhaps half an inch, attempting to imply that it does sort of kinda have, you know, right of way?

The young man glowers at the car. Bitch, he mutters, I outta blow you fukatta tha car.

The woman behind the wheel was roughly the same age and size as the girlfriend. Nevermind him; dime a dozen and overpriced at that. But what of the girlfriend? What goes through her mind when her boyfriend casually remarks that he feels like shooting someone who’s attempting to go through a crosswalk on a green light? Yes, yes, figure of speech. But not one that rises to the lips of a good man. Maybe that’s the attraction; wouldn’t be the first time. But you see them two years down the road - she has the baby, he’s gone, she’s blaming everyone but herself for what happened. Girl, that was your cue, right there at 7th and 26th.

Maybe she’ll heed it.

I left a guy over something like that once. I've never looked back. Girls, the first sign a guy's no good is if he doesn't treat you right; the second is if he doesn't treat your mother right (even when she's not around); the third is if he doesn't treat strangers with respect.

But there are other reasons. The ladies from "The Rules" had one thing right (not original to them, but they're best known for it): girls, if you give a guy everything he wants, cooking, cleaning, and bed rights, then he's got no reason whatsoever to marry you unless he's of higher moral character than you are. And, girls, the average guy seems to be of lower moral character than the average girl.

And there's this, from Houston-band-gone-international Caedmon's Call:
If I may pose a question, it'll only take a second
'Cause I know that it's getting late
And depending on your answer I might have to pack
And make a daring daylight escape
Because it's either high time to make you mine
Or I swear it's time to get outta town
So please say "yes" quick, 'cause the sun's going down

That's a guy worth going after. Someone who sees that at some point the relationship either has to go all the way -- with God's blessing -- or it has to stop. Can't go on as it is eternally. Would that there were more guys like that.

(I'm not having relationship qualms, not at all. Bob's not disrespectful at all, to me or to any other female, but a bit reluctant. And he supports his 27-year-old brother in being reluctant. Perhaps I should rethink things. I'm a bit too much of a Barbara Billingsley for eternal power-woman life or for modern live-in relationships. Anyhow, we'll see. It'll be five years by the end of this year; that's a good time to decide if we're going anywhere or not.)

WooHoo part II

Davis out, Schwarzenegger wins!

Before the anti-Schwarzenegger Owen Courreges (sorry, can't get the accent on the e to show up in both IE and Netscape unless I cut&paste) jumps on me, let me say I care less about the election itself -- all I care about is that this will be so much more fun for late-night TV and it will annoy the hell out of the Europeans who pay attention to such things.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Study: UC Berkleley rebuffed highly quality applicants in favor of others

(From Best of the Web)
Even ignoring the headline, obviously written by one of the "others," the article is disturbing:
nearly 400 students were admitted to UC Berkeley in 2002 with SAT scores falling between 600 and 1,000, well below the 1,337 average for last year's total admitted class.

Now, I understand that there might be mitigating circumstances. My mother, for example, with nearly straight A's at a good school, barely broke 800, simply because she freezes up and panics in testing situations. So, perhaps this is just people who don't test well, right? Not always:
Berkeley officials said some of those high-scoring students that were denied admission had relatively low grade-point averages.

So, people who across the board do not have good academic records are being allowed in. Why? They must have their reasons -- what could they be? Either they're great athletes, or... well, the SacBee draws its own conclusions. I can't load the Angry Clam, or I'd tell you what he thinks as well.
UPDATE: here it is. He thinks it's race.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Red Sox vs. Yankees!


On Stillborn Children

I'm not sure quite where I stand on this:
The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider the case of a woman sentenced to 12 years in prison for murder after drugs were found in the system of her stillborn daughter.
Regina McKnight was convicted under South Carolina's homicide by child abuse law for the 1999 death.

While there should be (and are) penalties for drug use in general, and while I think there should be harsher penalties for it when it harms or kills others (including babies), I do not agree with those of my friends who argue that there should be harsh penalties for anything that causes a miscarriage. They, in accord with the fears of the defense team in this case, believe that pregnant women should be legally banned from "Smoking, medications, certain kinds of jobs and stress," as well as from horseback riding, climbing stairs (you can fall!), eating spicy food (the reason my brother was nearly a month early), etc. I'd say that's rather excessive. I'm all for state-subsidized child-bearing programs that teach women about the side effects of such things; and, if there is irrefutable evidence that a woman does such things with the intent of harming or killing her child, then she should be punished. But good luck telling women they can't worry while they're pregnant!

Perhaps one solution would be to make harsher punishments (as in this case) for things which harm or kill children and are already illegal.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

On the Purchasing of Ill Cats

After the recent demise of my family's old cat, my own little cat is unwell. She ate my houseplants, so I'll take her to the vet tomorrow if she hasn't improved. I also did what any computer-connected person would do, and searched online to see if there were any suggestions. This was by far the most disturbing answer:
Save money and buy cat illness on Ebay!
Find cat illness and anything you are looking for at Ebay. Opening an account is free. Bidding is free. Try it today!

On Sex Accusations

What many people -- and most women -- seem to forget is that just because an accusation of sexual misbehavior is made does not mean that it happened.

This was a topic of conversation at Harvard a few years ago; many shrill voices insisted that no woman would ever dream of alleging even the slightest hint of misbehavior unless it were absolutely true. But, seriously, there are quite a few reasons why a girl might want to fabricate an accusation. One, of course, is simply to get attention, but there are several other reasons:

My cousin, lately of Brigham Young University, says it's rather common among girls there to make false accusations -- if it comes out that you've had sex, or even just gotten a bit hot and heavy, and you're not married, it's much easier for you to save face and claim you were forced and go through the process (generally designed to shield the girl's name, at the request of those complaining how hard it is on the girl to say anything) than it is to own up to your Mormon family and friends that you've screwed up.

Additionally, your boyfriend breaks up with you, your date decided the next day he didn't want another date (both after consensual goings-on), he turned you down in the first place and nothing at all happened, or someone you may never have met runs for office in a party you don't support? In processes (which vary from place to place) where your name will never come out, such as in a university setting or in a Los Angeles newspaper, you can do a lot of damage to the person you hate at absolutely no cost to yourself. We women have a very dangerous resource here.

Now, about Arnold. I'd say it's most likely that he's told his fair share of off-color jokes; I'd bet he's whistled and said, "nice legs, baby"; and I'd be surprised if he's never pinched a girl as he walked by (heck, even Yeltsin does that on international TV). None of those things are acceptable today (and the third one ought to be unacceptable), and all of those things were acceptable in the 1960s and 1970s. But, taken a girl's shirt off in a gym, the girl complains to her husband, and the husband says, stop whining and don't come back to the gym with me? For one thing -- in the extremely unlikely event that such a story is true, that girl needs to check to see if her husband is actually a male. Someone messes with your wife and you tell her to stop whining? You don't go beat up the guy, or, if you're puny, at least tell the people in charge of the gym? Umm, yeah.

So, I think he probably did several things he probably shouldn't have then and which are definitely inappropriate today, and I think he was quite right in apologizing for them. On the other hand, I'd lay even money at least most of the more outrageous accusers are making it up, either to hurt him or to get attention for themselves.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

On Bill Whites

This is just unacceptable. That Bill White's opponents (whether Turner himself or just those who support him -- and those who take money from either side for the purpose) would sink so low is a sign that they're worried.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Said, II

More on Said over at Winds of Change:
Said admitted in the afterword of the 1994 edition of Orientalism that 'I have no interest in, much less capacity for, showing what the true Orient and Islam really are.' In other words, Said was not interested in advancing scholarship, but only anti-Western polemical screeds, being mostly content with hurling vitriolic and malicious invective against past and present Orientalists, such as Silvestre de Sacy and Bernard Lewis.

Very good post. Very well worth a read.

On the Passing of the Icon of Bias

I forgot to blog on this when it happened, but, Edward Said, labelled by CNN as a "scholar and voice for Palestinian cause," has died.

From what I hear, Said may well have been very gregarious in person, a talented speaker, a patient sufferer, and a dedicated teacher. All those things are well and good.

However, I cannot very heavily mourn the passing of an intolerant racist who has done more than any other modern academe to pervert and destroy serious study of the middle east and south asia.

A friend sent me a clipping from the WSJ, which I have been fortunate enough to find on Campus Watch:
by Ibn Warraq
Wall Street Journal
September 29, 2003

Late in life, Edward Said made a rare conciliatory gesture. In 1998, he accused the Arab world of hypocrisy for defending a Holocaust denier on grounds of free speech. After all, free speech "scarcely exists in our own societies." The history of the modern Arab world was one of "political failures," "human rights abuses," "stunning military incompetences," "decreasing production, [and] the fact that alone of all modern peoples, we have receded in democratic and technological and scientific development."

Those truths aside, Mr. Said, who died last week, will go down in history for having practically invented the intellectual argument for Muslim rage. "Orientalism," his bestselling manifesto, introduced the Arab world to victimology. The most influential book of recent times for Arabs and Muslims, "Orientalism" blamed Western history and scholarship for the ills of the Muslim world: Were it not for imperialists, racists and Zionists, the Arab world would be great once more. Islamic fundamentalism, too, calls the West a Satan that oppresses Islam by its very existence. "Orientalism" lifted that concept, and made it over into Western radical chic, giving vicious anti-Americanism a high literary gloss.

In "Terror and Liberalism," Paul Berman traces the absorption of Marxist justifications of rage by Arab intellectuals and shows how it became a powerful philosophical predicate for Islamist terrorism. Mr. Said was the most influential exponent of this trend. He and his followers also had the effect of cowing many liberal academics in the West into a politically correct silence about Islamic fundamentalist violence two decades prior to 9/11. Mr. Said's rock-star status among the left-wing literary elite put writers on the Middle East and Islam in constant jeopardy of being labeled "Orientalist" oppressors -- a potent form of intellectual censorship.

"Orientalism" was a polemic that masqueraded as scholarship. Its historical analysis was gradually debunked by scholars. It became clear that Mr. Said, a literary critic, used poetic license, not empirical inquiry. Nevertheless he would state his conclusions as facts, and they were taken as such by his admirers. His technique was to lay charges of racism, imperialism, and Eurocentrism on the whole of Western scholarship of the Arab world -- effectively, to claim the moral high ground and then to paint all who might disagree with him as collaborators with imperialism. Western writers employed "a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient." They conspired to suppress native voices that might give a truer account. All European writings masked a "discourse of power." They had stereotyped the "Other" as passive, weak, or barbarian. "[The Orientalist's] Orient is not the Orient as it is, but the Orient as it has been Orientalized," he said.

By the very act of studying the East, the West had manipulated it, "politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively." This conspiracy of domination, he said, had been going on from the Enlightenment to the present day. But while deploring "the disparity between texts and reality," Mr. Said never himself tried to describe what that reality was, merely sighing that, "To look into Orientalism for a lively sense of an Oriental's human or even social reality . . . is to look in vain."

Mr. Said routinely twisted facts to make them fit his politics. For example, to him, the most important thing about Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park" was that its heroine, Fanny Price, lived on earnings from Jamaican sugar -- imperialist blood money. In his writings, verbal allusion and analogy stood in for fact, a device to reassure the ignorant of the correctness of his conclusions. Of these he found many over the years in American universities. His works had an aesthetic appeal to a leftist bent of mind, but even this now can be seen as a fad of the late 20th century. The irony, of course, is that he was ultimately grandstanding for the West -- for Western eyes, Western salons, and Western applause.

Ibn Warraq (a pseudonym used to protect himself and his family from Islamists) is the author of "Why I am Not a Muslim" and the editor of "Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out," published by Prometheus Books in 1995 and 2003 respectively.

I reprinted that in full because it says much of what I would want to say, and better than I could say it, and because I cannot disagree with a single word. I will not touch Said's discussions on Israel; I leave that to more knowledgeable people. I discuss only what I do have knowledge of: his views on white people studying brown areas of the world.

I had the misfortune to read Orientalism at the same time as Harvard was in the middle of a storm of current or dredged-up comments from members of cultural and ethnic groups saying how they disliked having so many white people in their groups. A leader of the gospel choir, a few years ago, had said that the white members just really weren't all that welcome because they couldn't perform black music; several current members were echoing the sentiments. Some of the South and East Asian groups were complaining that white students wanted to join their dance troupes -- while one or two students were acceptable, once they reached a critical mass it made the Asians nervous and made them feel like their culture was being stolen from them. This isn't like white families wanting to move out of a neighborhood because they have eighteen black neighbors who do various things that disrupt white suburbia; this is like white families wanting to move out of a neighborhood because they have eighteen black neighbors who try as hard as they can to fit into the existing culture of white suburbia. (Yes, I know, I've written on this before. Several times, actually. Tough -- it's an ongoing interest.)

I must emphasize again that I never was on the receiving end of antagonism from people I knew, despite my Sanskrit major and my sometime interest in taking part in cultural events. There were many generalizations made, however, saying that white people who wear Indian-influenced clothing and people who profess an interest in a culture not their own because they find it fun and interesting are baaad people. (White people who listen to hip-hop were also tarred, but that generalization didn't hit me personally.) These generalizations don't sound like they should be taken personally by someone who fits the generalization? Think of it this way: "black people being Episcopalians, playing country music, and lecturing on Shakespeare are just baaad people. They are getting totally out of line and stealing our culture." Don't find that personally offensive if you're one of those people? Ok, you're strange.

Then I go read a book written directly at and about people like me, westerners studying an eastern culture. We are evil, we are The Enemy, we, even if we deny it to ourselves, are living only to cause inestimable and irreparable damage to the people whose culture we deceitfully say we are simply (perhaps even benevolently, perhaps entirely dispassionately) interested in. As said the New York Review of Books reviewer, in an accurate description of the book, "The scholar who studies the Orient ... the imaginative writer who takes it as his subject ... all have a certain representation or idea of 'the Orient' defined as being other than the 'Occident,' mysterious, unchanging and ultimately inferior." In other words, nobody who does not belong to a culture has any right to study it or write about it. Get your filthy, non-lily-white hands off my Shakespeare and away from criticizing my country, and don't even think about setting your next novel here, then.

Having read this book at the suggestion (to the department and world at large, not to me personally) of people I respected, and having heard it highly praised by two teachers (both of them from the broadly-defined "Orient") I quite liked, I had to come to grips with the notion that people I had looked up to admired a man who believed that people like me should pretty much be shot on sight. I went around to nearly all of my teachers over the next year and a half about my deep concerns. Was I really hurting millions of people by my interest? Did my participation in Indian dances destroy their culture? Did my study of Sanskrit bias the world's perception to make them hate the weak inferior Hindoos? (We're not talking about my attempts at translation, which would certainly skew people's perceptions of ... some things -- we're just talking about my possession of a dictionary and some xeroxed texts.)

To my dismay, all but one of my "Oriental" (stretching from Turkey to South Asia, well within Said's boundaries) professors emphasized that they agreed with Said. Of course, they said, they wouldn't want to dissuade me -- but they did want me to be aware of my position as an outsider, and outsider many would not find welcome, and not an irrational "many" either. The exception, a dear woman, has herself been victim of one heck of a lot of irrational bias from within her own racial group because her religious beliefs and marital choices don't line up with the racial group's ideals, so she told me I shouldn't listen to the loonies.

Then what of my "Occidental" teachers, who, according to Said et al, shouldn't exist -- a good bet they'd disagree with him, right? No luck. I forgot I was in the middle of a place where dead-white politically-active Kennedy relatives expound on the evils of wealth, white people, and America (I'm talking about students, not about our Senator). Self-hating isn't exactly an unusual thing there. Again, with one exception (and one likely exception, to whom I didn't get a chance to talk -- a British man married to a Bengali woman), they reiterated that white people are the enemy and we need to seriously question our position as scholars of what lies near and dear to someone else's heart. The exception pointed out that no one would even dream of complaining when non-Christians write, often quite vindictively, about Christianity; indeed, she said, in the American Academy of Religion, every religion except Judaism boasts more non-adherents among its major scholars than adherents (Judaism's the exception both because of the concept of being "born Jewish" even without any religious beliefs whatsoever and because of the overrepresentation of Jews at the higher levels of academia).

In all, not too good a record. Two of my four favorite professors said they were thrilled to see anyone studying Sanskrit and thought interest in cultural aspects should be seen as flattering, not threatening. The other two, and the rest of the (interviewed) department, were heavily influenced by Edward Said and were at best in the fuzzy middle, if not leading me to believe they were only allowing white students into their class because Harvard's not the University of California and does not allow discrimination in class enrolment. I felt like a monster; I quit or severely curtailed my involvement in South Asian religious and cultural groups (except for a dance class I was paying for) and still have no desire to pick up such associations ever again in this country (Indians in India are, in my experience, uniformly thrilled when you wear Indian clothes, try to speak an Indian language, and eat Indian food with your hands); and I came very close to changing my major entirely to something acceptable for white people, something like German literature or physics.

And then I got help. Bob, of course, as a boyfriend should, supported me in everything and told me the complainers were bigoted idiots -- he's glad I do Indian stuff so that he doesn't have to! -- but that wasn't quite enough. But a book I picked up from the Harvard Book Store for $2.50 changed it all. The author, likely of Portuguese descent, opens with a scathing destruction of the Saidian view of western scholarship of the east. She then goes on to write an impeccable book showing a good knowledge of Sanskrit and an incredible ability to analyze methods of and problems with translation. The book itself convinced me she, a non-Indian, was a respectable scholar; the introduction convinced me I could be one too. The appearance soon afterwards of a thesis instructor (white, previously married to a south Indian) who also found Said et al to be intolerant and hallucinatory fools cemented this notion. Said will no longer scare me.

The scar he has made on academia will last quite some time longer, I fear. An eastern European Sanskrit professor here made a fairly poignant comment in class last week: much great work was done on recording folk tales of India, translating and preserving rare literary materials of India, learning and linguistically tracking Indian languages, and stimulating western influence in Indian religions, practices, and material products -- back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, "before they decided that being interested in things outside one's own culture was intellectual imperialism." She must feel the bite of the hatred and fear emanating from our darker-skinned colleagues.

And what are they afraid of, one may ask? When I began learning about Hinduism, Bob was scared and not supportive. It turned out he was afraid of what I would learn, that I would be so disgusted by the ritual murder, the blood-lust, and the sexual perversion I found that I would leave him. I realized that that which is called "Hinduism" is too vast, that you can pick eight people who have not a single belief in common yet all call themselves Hindus, and that Bob's beliefs were different from those I did find depraved and despicable. His fears and reluctance do lead me to wonder what the other opponents fear -- are there things which truly exist which they do not want to come to light? Various religious groups have "secret texts," things accessible only for those who are sufficiently indoctrinated, things which often bring the group much antagonism or ridicule when they are leaked. Are there things in the east not fit for unindoctrinated eyes, things either so evil or so ludicrous that they should be kept from the eyes of the west? Truly, I do not think so, but I still wonder, what is it that they fear? If they have nothing to be ashamed of, should they not be eager to have others see there is no harm in the other culture or religion? If they do have things to be ashamed of, should not those things be brought to light?

Every American Academy of Religion meeting, I hear, includes a panel or two debating the question of whether Christians and Jews should be allowed to study and write on other religions (never the other way, however). A small yet very bitter and noisy bunch invariably gets into shouting matches with my thesis advisor and others like her who believe that every field of study should be open to everyone. Some even occasionally argue that women should not be allowed to write on Islam as, by the very fact that they believe women have something of interest to say about Islam, they will not be showing respect for Islam. Said and his disciples are the main sources of support for the exclusionary gang. I fear that, despite his passing, his destructive and wretched ideas will not lose their impact for years to come.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Word of the Day

Courtesy of Josh Chafetz, the Bleg.

Site of the Day

This is one weird site.
What is this? It's absolute insanity. Stories written by weirdos. Death and destruction. Big clocks. Garbage bags and their usage as prosthetic appendages. And, of course, monkey porn.

Of course.