gall and gumption

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I Passed 8th Grade Math But Not Brilliantly

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 9/10 correct!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Better Late Than Never... But Not Much Better

Did you hear about the newspaper in Birmingham, AL that kept all these photos from the civil rights era in a box because they were embarrassing to white people? An intern found the box, and they tracked down some of the people in the photos who were still alive.

They have a lot of them here. Have a look. Maybe we can still embarrass some people.

Gabby Inglorious Miltons - II.

Roger Ailes finds another article about those pesky bloggers and how irritating it is that they keep having opinions that nobody cares about.

From the article, by David Ignatius, a columnist for the Washington Post, my favorite bit is this:

The connected world is inescapable, like the global economy itself. But if we can begin to understand how it undermines political stability -- how it can separate elites from masses, and how it can enhance rage rather than reason -- then perhaps we will have a better chance of restabilizing a very disorderly world.

It's bad taste to mention it I know but I've given up on taste. So I will. But I think the person who owns the blame for separating the elites from the masses (a condition that elites rather seem to like) was Jesus. The bit about a rich man getting into heaven being as likely as a camel passing through the eye of the needle. Standing up for the poor, the disgraced, the sick and helpless, saying that's who he cared more about, etc. Now we see it was bloggers.

The French Revolution? Caused by bloggers.

All those anti-monarchical and democratizing movements of the 19th century. Herzen with his newspaper, Garibaldi, Mazzini, all the wonderful characters in Herzen's memoirs. Marx? Who he? That the "elites" as he calls them have always, like for millenia, enjoyed so much more of the means to separate themselves from the non-elites has been one of those central facts about Western Civ. There are plays, operas, novels, big fat histories, essays, polemics, epic poems, it keeps turning up in the record and is something all agree on. People may disagree over why it happens thus, whether it should happen, what should be done about it, whether anything should be done about it. We live to read in the Washington Post of all places that a few blasts of hot blogger air are threatening the unity of society. He sounds like a courtier of Louis XVI, looking over the balcony at the Tuileries and seeing heads on pikes.

There is a whole class of people who think they are thinking about subjects when what they are doing is fretfully insisting that everybody behave. They have no single political adherence, I saw lots of them who you'd consider liberals when I was teaching. The media are full of these people, across the whole political spectrum. They are no longer able to distinguish between truth and decorum. When they think they are talking about truth they are talking about decorum.

I should also mention that this column is in part the consequence of a big storm that occurred at the Post a few weeks ago. Deborah Howell, the ombudsman, wrote a column suggesting that Jack Abramoff, the überlobbyist now under indictment, had donated to Democrats as well as to Republicans. When this was pointed out as untrue, she refused to correct the misstatement and all these people commented, objecting strenuously to the falsehood. The Post took down all the comments, complaining that they were offensive and obscene. A few of them may have been but the majority of them were not. But they Howell, and now, as we see, Ignatius, has ever since that day, taken this stance of being in an embattled fortress from which they look out the windows at the yahoos flinging poo at them.

My feeling is that newspapers are in the information business, not the decorum business. So I find this whole tone rather puzzling. It used to be such a bore, you know, teaching, to run into people who could always tell you what was not to be tolerated. At parties, you sort of want to leave them in whatever room they are in and head to the back porch where the real conversation was going on. And you know, it pleases me that in Persuasion, Anne Elliot's inclination is just exactly the same as mine would be. Oh well if you don't know what I'm talking about go read it again, then... It's surely right about time.

The short version is that decorum is not an end in itself. Decorum serves other ends and sometimes it is only cover for quite base motives. As Persuasion demonstrates so beautifully, decorum as an end in itself is so easy to co-opt to other agendas, it is way easy to corrupt. It needs the backbone of truthfulness, of candor, of generosity and all those other higher-order goods.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Good Dreams

I had good dreams last night because I stayed up late and watched this documentary about George Clinton. You had better watch it too. You will be so glad. For me it was eye-opening because Parliament and the Funkadelics had some popularity in Jamaica when I was a teenager. On Saturdays the thing to do was go to The Plazas, the shopping plazas along Constant Spring Road, and always end up at Tropical Records where they had listening booths. My recollections of Parliament and that whole era of funk music are associated with that time particularly, these album covers that to my eye looked dangerous. When I was 15 really subversive things frightened me -- I thought Peter Tosh was scary back then. Not violent, but really, I can say that I have experienced what it is like to feel that a piece of art is dangerously subversive, and to feel the fear of that. I did fear it, and it was enough to fear: I never enquired into it. By the time I got the idea that I could enquire into that fear, I wasn't afraid any more. With the Funkadelic stuff there was a feeling that to clown in this reckless way was skirting unrespectability.The music was terrific, of course, but everything that went along with it was just a wee bit alarming for a nice uptown Kingston girl.

I mean, whatever you were supposed to be afraid of catching from bad taste, well, whatever that was, it was all over everything Parliament/Funkadelics did. Now, though, I look at this film and what I feel towards all of them is gratitude, for the music and for such reckless originality. It really did have some muscle and kick, what those guys did.

Now it all just seems nothing less than magnificent. I am glad there is a Bootsy in the world, I am glad he was there then, Jesus, I am glad that just this one bunch of people were having so much fun pushing their whole act so completely over the top. In the third photo down in the Bootsy link, do note that he is wearing a souped up KKK hood and robe. And the music still sounds good. Plus it was nice, in the film, to see all these young rappers talking about what an impact funk had on them. Strange to think that this whole genre was pretty much the work of one guiding genius with a few other geniuses along with him, but it was all the same shop, hilariously the same shop as this film attests.

What I loved so much is when they were telling the story of their beginnings. George Clinton had a barbershop in Newark, NJ, and he and his friends had a doo-wop group, as everybody did in those days. They kept it going for years and got signed to a label, not Motown, though they auditioned there. They got on a smaller label and actually had a hit and got invited to perform at the Apollo. Up to this point you are watching every R&B bio documentary. But then the band members who are telling the story get to this point and they start cracking up. Because they got on the stage and they were so BAD, I mean pathetically bad, that they realized that their only hope was in being bad. So they went off and let themselves be awful. and somehow that enabled them to get good at what nobody else was doing, at what they invented for themselves. And I mean they really went for it. There's one clip of a black lead singer in a Mohawk (in the early 1970s!) and he is singing his guts out, just laying it on, and the line he is singing, over and over, is "Friday night, August the 14th."

The film was made by a black woman filmmaker.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Gabby Inglorious Miltons - I

So what am I not doing these days?

Writing about blogging for the Financial Times, for one thing.

Like a certain J-school classmate. Tom sent me the link.

I think Tom likes to hear me talk dirty, I really do. I don't know why else he sends me these things. It's just Kiabaiting. This is what I wrote back to him after my first, reluctant, glance at the article (I've slightly cleaned it up for polite company and added links):

Well, it is an impressive piece of Rolodexing, that
must certainly be said. It seems to me he totally
misses the point about bloggers and news. He doesn't
mention for instance that it was a Washington-based
blogger, John Aravosis, who found out that
Guckert/Gannon was a prostitute. That was original
reporting, not done by the mainstream media and using
all Internet technology and expertise.

Glenn Greenwald breaking the DeWine amendment to the
Patriot Act that would have freed up the FISA
wiretapping law, which the Bush administration
rejected before they went and wiretapped people
without any law...

He doesn't mention, for example, either, that Atrios
and firedoglake can put out a call and raise tens of
thousands of dollars for Democratic candidates in a couple of days.
Hamscher and The Left Coaster have done
incredible work on the Plame affair and the Niger
forgeries -- in-depth reporting, reference material
like timelines, providing actual PDFs of documents,
and very carefully reasoned explanations of the
meaning of the smallest details. This kind of work,
spread out over time, used to be done by reporters.
The Washington Post, during Watergate, did this. And
people ate it up. There was a guy at the New York
Review of Books, his name escapes me now, who should
have had a Pulitzer for his reporting on Iran-Contra,
on the legal issues. His articles were clear, they were
readable, they were hugely informative. When you
finished each installment you felt like you were three
weeks ahead of the daily or TV news cycle -- if they
were ever going to catch up at all, which they never

If it hadn't been for blogging technology, there would
have been nowhere -- NOWHERE -- for this kind of
reporting and explanation of the issues. You look at
Hamscher's blog, and within minutes of a post on
Scooter Libby there are hundreds of comments, and
people also bringing new and salient bits of news,
which she promptly puts into context.

He doesn't talk about any of this. It's all about
celebrity and money.

As for the obsolescence of blogs -- newspapers are
written for posterity, are they? Time magazine is
written for posterity? Vanity Fair? All written in
marble, yup. And it is, we must assume,
technologically impossible to retrieve things from
blog archives. No doubt when Trevor gets among his
friends and talks about philosophy and ideas with
them, every word is automatically recorded on
indestructible platinum tablets for a posterity that
can't wait to be born to read it. Because he is
writing for the immortal Financial Times.

The giveaway is opening the piece about the Gawker
people getting ready to be on the cover of Vanity
Fair. TButt has got his hiking boots and his ropes and
his pitons and he's creeping up the mountain of
radioactive poo -- he thinks everybody is like him and
wants to be buried up to his neck in it up near the

To call up Markos Moulitsas and ask him how much money
he makes, as if that is the most notable thing about
DailyKos, just shows what a grip he has on what one of
the biggest bloggers is in it for.

For a person with so much philosophy in his mouth he
really doesn't have a clue about democracy
either. I mean, a really elementary thing like people
need to communicate in a society, they need to
exchange views, they need to kick their shit around.
Anything that broadens the reach of conversation, that
gives more freedom in terms of what you can say, is
GOOD. Locke would understand this. Jefferson and
Franklin certainly would. Burke would.
Popper would.

The last time this classmate was heard from he announced that he had just got an assignment with the Financial Times to write about transatlantic differences in the use of the semi-colon. I swear to god. You know, one of those, "You Americans do xyz..." vs. "Well, you Brits do abc..." and everybody has a good laugh and much backslapping and another round of drinks and William F. Buckley Jr. rubs his hands happily kind of articles.

Now we see that he has worked his way up from punctuation, presumably through words, fragmentary ejaculations and complete sentences and paragraphs to the subject of blogs and their broader meaning.

And by broader meaning I mean really broad. The Goddess of Fame is not quoted as a source, but evidently our writer enjoys her whispered confidences, on background:

And that, in the end, is the dismal fate of blogging: it renders the word even more evanescent than journalism; yoked, as bloggers are, to the unending cycle of news and the need to post four or five times a day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year, blogging is the closest literary culture has come to instant obsolescence. No Modern Library edition of the great polemicists of the blogosphere to yellow on the shelf; nothing but a virtual tomb for a billion posts - a choric song of the word-weary bloggers, forlorn mariners forever posting on the slumberless seas of news.

In support of this prediction the Goddess gives him a peek at the mouldering corpses of poor Cyril Connolly and George Orwell. Connolly, he tells us, "masticated away his talent." Is it the cheap facility of Cyril Connolly's literary criticism that makes him, now, so little read? Wow. Who knew?

Orwell, who unlike Connolly was rather thin, found presumably some low-calorie way of disposing of his talent. Coughing, probably. Our author notes also that Marx and Engels wrote a lot of journalism that nobody reads.

He doesn't mention John Milton or John Dryden.They both produced staggering amounts of journalism, biassed, self-indulgent, vituperative, mudslinging extremely perishable stuff, that nobody reads. So I will do him a favor and mention them.

So what? I have no idea. I suppose if they had all abstained from joining in the self-indulgent ephemeral vlugar fray of public discourse they would be famous. They would have made it onto the cover of Vanity Fair? Milton, wearing nothing but a fan and a coy expression? What?

Update: I think I fixed those pesky links.

Update:: I updated the title so it would be easier to get to the second installment of this. Also fixed a link.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Big Books

I went a bit nuts this evening in the comments to Roy Edroso's blog. He has just finished reading Swann's Way, most profitably I think. I like what he said about it

So I kept going, and found after a while that Proust’s prismatic rendering of events had a purpose. Nabokov explains it all very well, but even without the technical advice a reader can, if he decides to, get comfortable with Proust’s method and lose at least some of his impatience, so that he can walk through each stretched-out moment, and examine each impacted metaphor, and begin to see things Proust’s way.

and I liked the comments that people posted as well. Except this one woman asked if anyone had read Clarissa and then remarked that "it wasn't worth it." So I took exception to that and wrote a long long comment about how great that novel is. I used up the entire comment space actually which is sort of embarrassing. Blame it on my love of the book.

As for Swann's Way, I put in some time on it. I love the beginning but man, do I hate that romance that Swann gets into with that awful woman. But the worst of Proust for me is the feeling I get from reading it that I have not lived my life properly, that I have wasted the sorts of experiences from which he is able to get so much material for reflection. This depresses me. When I read Clarissa or Tristram Shandy I feel that redemption is possible. Perhaps because they are didactic, unlike Proust.

I read Clarissa last spring. And even though I usually let two years go by between readings I am sort of tempted to read it again these days. More and more I like the feeling of being totally immersed in the world of a novel. I'm reading The Golden Bowl now and it's all right. Just too much padding. Alll this significance that leads you at last to some quite small action -- it is he can't stop fussing with his characters' clothes or something. I read line after line of qualifier oh so artfully placed on top of qualifier, it is sort of as if he is doing some weird multilayered weaving of remarks qualifying other remarks. And then when the character does the something that all these preliminaries are preparing us for I've forgotten all of them, which is surely proof that these preliminaries don't do very much at all. I gave up on The Wings of The Dove about two weeks ago. It was impossible.

Update: Removed a couple of annoying typos and added a sentence or two more about Henry James.

Update: Added my favorite bit from the Proust post.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Imperial Parade

So I had a meeting in Washington today, that lasted about two hours, at a building on Pennsylvania Avenue and we'll just leave it at that. If you want to know the details you can get them offline -- for a price. Anyway when I walked out of the building everything had changed outside. There was no traffic. The street had been completely cleared of vehicles, there were police cars at all the intersections and people standing still on the sidewalk, waiting. The oddest sort of frozen quality. It didn't take me long to figure out that some exalted personage would be passing through. So I thought well, what the heck I'll wait and watch the show. On the cross streets the lines of waiting vehicles got longer and longer. A helicopter circled overhead. From time to time a DC Police motorcycle cop would roar up the road with all its lights flashing. This went on for about 20 minutes. Wayyyy off in the distance I could see the dome of the Capitol, lit up and glowing in the lovely balmy light. That was another reason to linger -- it was so pretty and so balmy out.

A sudden flurry of more motorcycle cops, and then down the road, in the direction of the Capitol, I saw a cluster of flashing red lights. Sound of a siren. Then all these vehicles -- six motorcycles, a couple of black lead cars, a limo with a seal on the door, several vans and SUVs, some sort of black Brinks-truck looking thing, another van with a superduper antenna on top, an ambulance, all with lights flashing, they all had extra extra flashing red lights on the roofs and in the windshields, the headlights, extra bright, were all flashing, they all came roaring up the street. They whizzed by and after another minute everybody could move again.

Another bystander said it was the president's limo. I suppose it could have been. I should think the whole experience would have been touchingly nostalgic for Albanian emigrants to Washington D.C.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Getting to Know the Area

Today I found a new route for a dog walk, through what turned out to be one of Germantown's perhaps less desirable neighborhoods. The way I found the route was that I went to the web site for Montgomery County Parks, where they have this nifty tool that brings up interactive maps showing all the parks within a specified radius. So I found this park, and then I had lunch and took a look through the local weekly, which had a crime story warning people about strong-arm robberies in the exact neighborhood I intended to walk into. So I ran upstairs to our resident policeman, pleasant enough young feller, and asked him about the reports. He assured me that with the two dogs -- especially Daddy's German shepherd who is demented -- I would have no problems. So off we went. And even though it just looks like suburbia you could tell it was not a thriving area. Weird vibe. I don't think it was just word of the robberies either. But nothing untoward happened except that bopping along the sidewalk with the dogs I spotted, on the ground, under a tree, an enormous black vibrator. One of those lifelike ones with the bulgy veins. Just forgotten there, I dunno, maybe somebody's dog carried it out there, like a plastic bottle or a potato chip bag.

I'm really going to have to start taking my camera along on these expeditions.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Let's Wallow In It

Tom posted this in the comments to my last post.

I'm entirely in sympathy with yr drift. Here's the thing: We know all sorts of cartoons that cannot be presented in US media, for various reasons - none of them really having to do with actual tolerance. Selective tolerance might not be honest or noble, but that doesn't enable even the most open society to wean itself from a self protecting sense of obligation to practice it, nearly all the time. It's where tolerance shades into manners, courtesy, respect, and where these things shade into repression, inhibition, prohibition, that matters get damn murky, I fear. And yes, Steyn is a waste of pixelage.

Let's separate out a few things.

Let's begin with toleration as a principle of government. We should start with John Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration. I'm going to bold some of the good bits so you can skim, but the whole passage, indeed the whole book, is worth reading, it's not very long and it is in that lovely 17th-century prose that was beginning to be a little bit less lumpy.

The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.

Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like.

It is the duty of the civil magistrate, by the impartial execution of equal laws, to secure unto all the people in general and to every one of his subjects in particular the just possession of these things belonging to this life. If anyone presume to violate the laws of public justice and equity, established for the preservation of those things, his presumption is to be checked by the fear of punishment, consisting of the deprivation or diminution of those civil interests, or goods, which otherwise he might and ought to enjoy. But seeing no man does willingly suffer himself to be punished by the deprivation of any part of his goods, and much less of his liberty or life, therefore, is the magistrate armed with the force and strength of all his subjects, in order to the punishment of those that violate any other man's rights.

Now that the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to these civil concernments, and that all civil power, right and dominion, is bounded and confined to the only care of promoting these things; and that it neither can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the salvation of souls, these following considerations seem unto me abundantly to demonstrate.

First, because the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, any more than to other men. It is not committed unto him, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another as to compel anyone to his religion. Nor can any such power be vested in the magistrate by the consent of the people, because no man can so far abandon the care of his own salvation as blindly to leave to the choice of any other, whether prince or subject, to prescribe to him what faith or worship he shall embrace. For no man can, if he would, conform his faith to the dictates of another. All the life and power of true religion consist in the inward and full persuasion of the mind; and faith is not faith without believing. Whatever profession we make, to whatever outward worship we conform, if we are not fully satisfied in our own mind that the one is true and the other well pleasing unto God, such profession and such practice, far from being any furtherance, are indeed great obstacles to our salvation. For in this manner, instead of expiating other sins by the exercise of religion, I say, in offering thus unto God Almighty such a worship as we esteem to be displeasing unto Him, we add unto the number of our other sins those also of hypocrisy and contempt of His Divine Majesty.

In the second place, the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, torments, nothing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the inward judgement that they have framed of things.

It may indeed be alleged that the magistrate may make use of arguments, and, thereby; draw the heterodox into the way of truth, and procure their salvation. I grant it; but this is common to him with other men. In teaching, instructing, and redressing the erroneous by reason, he may certainly do what becomes any good man to do. Magistracy does not oblige him to put off either humanity or Christianity; but it is one thing to persuade, another to command; one thing to press with arguments, another with penalties. This civil power alone has a right to do; to the other, goodwill is authority enough. Every man has commission to admonish, exhort, convince another of error, and, by reasoning, to draw him into truth; but to give laws, receive obedience, and compel with the sword, belongs to none but the magistrate. And, upon this ground, I affirm that the magistrate's power extends not to the establishing of any articles of faith, or forms of worship, by the force of his laws. For laws are of no force at all without penalties, and penalties in this case are absolutely impertinent, because they are not proper to convince the mind. Neither the profession of any articles of faith, nor the conformity to any outward form of worship (as has been already said), can be available to the salvation of souls, unless the truth of the one and the acceptableness of the other unto God be thoroughly believed by those that so profess and practise. But penalties are no way capable to produce such belief. It is only light and evidence that can work a change in men's opinions; which light can in no manner proceed from corporal sufferings, or any other outward penalties.

Underlying this is a great optimism about the human spirit, the belief that each person could be trusted to seek his or her own relation with God based on a subjective experience of the rightness of their faith. It is optimistic and it is, of course, very Protestant. And this could all be debated, for instance whether people should be trusted with their own beliefs when we consider that 65 million people are reading the Left Behind books.

But here Locke makes the strongest case to be made for toleration as a matter of governance. You will notice that toleration here is a defense of religion. The separation of church and state is a civic good that is shared and sustained by all, a prudent measure that will allow diversity of religious conviction to flourish. By its nature, Locke maintains, religious conviction is diverse.

This idea of toleration, which I think is rather nice, came out of the dissenting Protestant tradition - well, in so far, at least, as Locke himself did, anyway. It is sort of weird to think that the people who complain the loudest about the separation of church and state are the descendants of this same tradition, or at least so they claim. You just can't help but feel that they don't get it, they don't get the essential point of it at all.

They were nuts, but they had courage. When England got too hot for them, they set out across the Atlantic to a strange country where they would be away from everything they had ever known, where they would have to live in a possibly dangerous climate, and build societies for themselves, starting with little more than their faith.

He cast (of which we rather boast)
The Gospel's pearl upon our coast; 30
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple where to sound His name.
O let our voice His praise exalt
Till it arrive at Heaven's vault,
Which then perhaps rebounding may 35
Echo beyond the Mexique bay!"
Thus sang they in the English boat
A holy and a cheerful note:
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time. 40

When I speak of Locke's optimism I don't mean it to seem naive. He published this Letter in 1689, a year after James II was bundled out of England in the Bloodless Revolution that the English had so that they would not have to repeat the first, bloody revolution. Locke was born in 1632, which means that he lived through the English Civil War and the smaller skirmishes between the Church of England and the Dissenters that pretty much filled up the second half of the 17th century. Not to mention all the hell that was raising across the Channel.

Locke was optimistic in believing that people were best trusted with their own souls, but there was all the pessimism of experience in his equal conviction that they should not be trusted with other people's souls, except by the freely given consent of those souls. Now, some people might feel that their souls or their spirits are in one religious practice rather than the others because of the law of God or Nature, or because they feel a compelling sense of duty to that practice or creed for whatever reason. But the principle of toleration, as a civic principle, does not allow them to make this decision for anyone else. You can stand on a street corner and tell me I'm going to hell, but if you lay a hand on me in the name of Jesus, I can call the police. You are not deprived of something that belongs to me, viz., my right to my religious convictions or, more accurately, my right not to have any religious convictions, or, even more accurately, my right not to have your convictions.

I put this here because I wanted, when thinking about toleration, to put before us the best case for it in relation to government, so that we could sort of refer to it and then just leave it alone, but have it handy.

Next: beliefs, customs, comfort, appropriateness, repressions, etc. Maybe not all at once but whatever I can manage. I feel like Tristram Shandy promising to get to his .

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bad Taste and Beyond

Otto Dix was beyond bad taste.

George Grosz, violated canons of good taste on both sides of the Atlantic. This image clearly shows he was a degenerate.

And you know, if I wanted to understand what was in good taste or bad taste, one person I certainly would not ask would be Francisco Goya.

The current cartoon contentions do have one good effect, though we could have got it in some much more peaceful way: they remind us that visual art is strong stuff. Not content with the lion's share of the proposed budget for this year, the Joint Chiefs wrote a letter to the Washington Post complaining that Tom Toles's cartoon showing an armless, legless soldier in a hospital bed being visited by Donald Rumsfeld was "beyond bad taste." Then of course you've got all those angry Muslims.

I got into an argument about the Danish cartoons with a guy on the J-school list. A Dutch classmate had written in trying to stir up a discussion about the cartoons. He suggested we take a look at an article by Mark Steyn and an article in the Wall Street Journal on the Muslim reaction by a woman who is both a Muslim and an out lesbian. I wondered why on earth anyone would want to read Steyn on the Muslim reaction to the cartoons. He's just a smartmouthed hipster pundit. But it's like a 1980s hipster pundit. You suspect that he wears a skinny black tie and pushes the sleeves of his jacket up to his elbows and spikes his hair.

I, meanwhile, sent in a link from a blogger along with the question Why Read Mark Steyn?

The next person suggested that I should read Mark Steyn so as to have the novel experience of reading an opinion that was not the same as my own.

Oh, well, you know, if you want to take an email discussion down to the level where chairs start to be thrown I'm your girl.

I wrote back to the list:

Well, on Peter's advice (thank you Peter) I took the novel step of reading an opinion different from my own, in contravention to my well-publicized lifetime policy of avoiding such opinions as far as possible.

So I read the Steyn piece and I have now read the Manji piece as well, which I found impressive. oddly, even though I am neither a lesbian nor a Muslim, much less both. What we can do when we stretch our imaginations a little bit, eh, Peter? Again, I thank you for bringing me out into the human community. I never would have guessed there were so many kinds of people in the world!

This situation is a perfect example of a problem that besets the type of socieity that Karl Popper called an "Open Society." One characteristic of an open society is tolerance for diverse points of view, religions, cultural practices, customs, etc. How do tolerant societies deal with intolerance? Do they ban intolerance, or do they make room for it at risk to their own safety? Well, people -- and their governments -- will have different views as to how much intolerance they can tolerate. The US does not prohibit the publication of hateful views: Pat Robertson can call for the assassination of a head of state, Bill O'Reilly can recommend the bombing of San Francisco, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh can threaten actual living liberals -- Coulter recently expressed a wish that a sitting Supreme Court Justice be poisoned -- and we mostly feel that it is enough for public opinion to respond with the contempt that these expressions deserve. There are some thoughtful people who feel that all such speech should be more strongly sanctioned as it creates an atmosphere in which intolerance becomes more and more acceptable, and that the tendency is to degrade discourse with violence, sooner or later, as the result.

These calls for bloodshed, by the way, are much more offensive to me than "blasphemous" representations of religious figures (such as the Teremce McNally play that Steyn puts up as a straw man) because you know, if Jesus and the Prophet are *omnipotent* then I think they can handle it, and I may be perverse, but to imagine that lives should be threatened because of a drawing or a play or a novel's representation of a religious figure sounds a lot to me like idolatry -- which I understand to be the belief that the image is the same as the thing.

Coulter, when she suggested poisoning Stevens, immediately added that it was a joke. Well, what kind of person thinks that is funny? It packs a double insult, and you can't tell me that Coulter, and those cartoonists, don't know that perfectly well. That is, it is the expression of a sincere belief, but as soon as it delivers its little load of offence, the victim is told, "What's the matter, you can't take a joke?" This is such a low way of scoring points that the person who is the victim of it can only conclude that he is being taken for an asshole. Which makes it a triple insult.

And there are large tracts of the world -- including, I might add, parts of the US -- where an insult delivered in that way results in the shedding of blood. People get killed in bar fights for less.

There is no such thing as selective tolerance, and yeah, there are risks to living in an open and tolerant society. But one of the reasons why people organize themselves into societies is because they can solve some problems -- sanitation and public health, transportation, making lots and lots of money, art museums and libraries -- by putting their heads together and figuring out a solution. Along the way, the very effort binds us together.

So I see no other way for societies that truly value openness and freedom for all to be anything but steady and serious in their commitment to tolerance. And if I am enjoying the material benefits of living in a particular society and those benefits are a direct result of a commitment to that principle, I should not find it onerous to be required to share that commitment.

But our globe is becoming one society, a very contentious one, and there are people who don't share my view of the importance of tolerance. It is absolutely necessary to bring them around (what choice do we have?), but I don't see how I could begin a conversation on the indispensable value of tolerance by poking them in the eye and handing such an opportunity for hell-raising to the very worst of them. That is simply not prudent, nor is it good faith.

Well, the writer who had suggested that I read something I didn't agree with wrote back with an apology. Here it is:

If you took my response to you about Mark Steyn as dismissive and condescending, I apologize.

And if I misread your original statement, "MARK STEYN? Why read him of all people?" as dismissive and condescending to his article and viewpoint, I apologize for that, too.

I thanked him, of course, and called attention to his magnanimity in apologizing to me for my error in misreading his intentions.

Now, I have to tell you that the motivation for this particular dodge has always been a complete mystery to me. I am in the wrong about 70 percent of the time, at a modest estimate. I am wrong daily. I wake up in the middle of the night and lie awake thinking about all the ways that I have ever been wrong. Have I fixed it? Can I fix it? When? My mother gives me advice with the greatest reluctance. Her rare advice is almost always right. Instead of advice she usually gives me sayings, like "Three things once set loose can never be brought back; smoke, words, and I always forget what the third one is." I may have the exact wording wrong but she never remembers what the third one is. She thought once it might be a belch but she wasn't sure. Another one is from the Bible: "I have not done the things I ought to have done and I have done the things I ought not to have done."

The second sounds to me like one apt description of the human condition. I am wrong, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be wrong again, my life will be a series of blunders and recoveries until the day I die. I would prefer that it not be so, but I have met myself before. It seems like it would be a huge bother, another burden to lay on my conscience, to try by such transparent and lame artifices to maintain an appearance of always being right. I would fail. My lack of conviction on this point would convict me every time. So I don't even bother to try.

A recent ex-boyfriend was particularly fond of using the "I apologize for your error" device. I used to ask him, "Why are you afraid to admit you were in the wrong? Do you think you are going to persuade me that you are never in the wrong, do you think you can persuade me by lying? But he was one of these people who think that they can burrow their way inside your head using the tools of the soggiest psychobabble and then live up in there like a boll weevil and explain all your deepest motives to you. It baffled and pissed him off that I was relentlessly superficial. To which I confessed readily: I once said to him in one of these arguments, "I live on the top storey of the tallest building in the capital city of the land of Reallydon'tgiveafuck."

Note also in the previous quotation from the apologizer, that he apologizes for thinking so ill of me as to imagine that I was dismissive and condescending to Mark Steyn. Perhaps he came back from having held Steyn's hand in the ambulance after this vicious attack from big bad old me. Well, from my penthouse apartment I wrote back and said I did intend to be dismissive of Steyn, in the confident belief that a person who so liberally dished out dismissiveness and condescension as Steyn did must certainly be able to take it. Or if not then he could do like Liberace and cry all the way to the bank.

At that point my correspondent wrote me offline to call a truce. To which I agreed readily. He wrote back and said we were in agreement about the main thing, that the Danish cartoons were in poor taste.

Which was not, of course the main thing, nor was that suggested by me, nor would I have agreed had my consent to this proposition been asked. But it seems churlish to point it out. Not to mention a total waste of breath.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Subject Fields and Pious Ejaculations

I’ve been subscribing to the St. Kitts Nevis mailing list since I was living in St. Kitts. At irregular intervals I ask myself what is the point, it takes up a lot of space in my mailbox, not to mention the time deleting the messages, I don’t like most of the people on the list and my contributions to any discussion are met, most of the time, with silence or worse.

The people of St. Kitts do not like foreigners telling them about their business.

So I lurk which means a mass of these emails landing in my mail box every day, from 50 to 70 of them.

But it is, with certain reservations, a source of news about St. Kitts and Nevis, probably the best source outside of St. Kitts and Nevis. If you look in the Caribbean news agencies -- there is one in Cayman, Caribbean Net News, and there was one in Barbados that was sort of struggling to come into existence and is only available by subscription -- they only print government press releases. Not because they wouldn’t like to do something better, but because they haven’t found a way to make a regional service along the lines of the AP or AFP a sustainable concern. There are a lot of reasons for this, something to explore, certainly, but the main result is that what they get to work with are government press releases.

The thing is the regional news agencies can’t give you the news on the ground that is being reported and written locally. So you don’t have a sense of crime, for example, or of how policy decisions are actually affecting people, or -- and this is a critical area -- what kinds of deals get made with foreign private investors.

But on the SKN mailing list, when someone gets murdered in St Kitts, as happened shortly after Christmas to poor Lorenzo Greene, owner of the Why Not? Bar and sandwich shop in Basseterre, it is all over the list really quickly. (Greene’s wife was murdred too, it was quite horrible and there were two more murders very shortly after, like within days, and these appeared on the list also). Many of the people on the list are nationals living abroad, and they report back to the list whatever they hear from home, they bring back news from visits, it is very interesting to watch the use of the mailing list as a way to keep informed.

There are also extremely partisan divisions. It is a mix of people, lawyers practicing in New York to semi-literate rastas. The government posts all its press releases on the list and there, they are sometimes met with, among other things, derision. They “buse” the PM’s Press Secretary heartily whenever the notion takes them, and to me this is a really good sign. “Buse” is one of several Kittitian words that I grew fond of. It is, of course, short for “abuse” but this new version has a slightly different meaning. It means tell somebody off or tease them, or bitch about them.

Anyway along with the political arguments there is a lot of other stuff. There is someone who sends out the Word For The Day, some little bit of Bible. There is a woman who sends out great gobs of glurge every week. Everybody is religious. Cricket, of course, turns up all the time. And deaths are always acknowledged, calling forth interesting and touching recollections of the departed and of former days when these little islands were very different places from what they are now.

If a woman cuts off her boyfriend’s penis anywhere in the world or a man has a heart attack while getting down with a woman old enough to be his mother, they are sure to have lots to say about it.

The worst thing about them is the xenophobia and the intolerance and the touchiness. One reason why i stopped posting on the list was because I would call them on this stuff, especially on the racist remarks that they would make, for which I got roundly abused.

I do not read most of this mail. I delete it and only read what looks interesting. But the titles of the email have a daffy poetry that I do enjoy.

This one for instance:

Those with blemishes should not throw stones.

Now, I will not read this, I’ll take the chance of missing something amusing, because life is just too short. But my mind keeps wandering in the direction of the blemish-free: what ar they permitted to throw? Chairs? Bricks?

. Professor Malaprop here, never gets through even a subject header without abusing both the caps lock key and the English language. Now, there is always a libel suit in progress against the PAM Democrat, and there is always a libel suit in progress against the Labour Party’s paper, the Labour Spokesman. When I first got to St. Kitts and saw these papers, my feeling was, to borrow a phrase from Samuel Johnson, that “it is difficult to settle the proportion of iniquity between them.” Not long before I left the Democrat changed its managing editor. The woman who took over -- great that she was a woman, by the way -- was the sister of my veterinaian. Very nice people, both of them. She had worked for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, I think, anyway she was educated, with a broader view of the paper's responsibility. The paper is better for it, too.

Someone tried to start a discussion with the question: “Who is Greater -- Jesus or God?” which I thought we had thrashed out back in about the second century. Not getting much of a response, he proposed, “Which is Greater -- Jesus or Voodoo?”

Strange to say, that one didn’t go anywhere either.

Someone has discovered
Proof that Education is Important

Yet another writer feels compelled to admonish the others:

Guys, we should respect our age!

God’s creation in pairs!
could be glurge, I don’t want to know.

We are enjoined by somone else to

Explicate His Wonders!

About once a year there is a long and spirited debate about the late Sir Robert L. Bradshaw, or “Papa Bradshaw,” the Labour leader who rose from being a lowly sugar worker in St. Kitts’s poorest village to becoming leader of the Labour movement, founder of the Labour Party, and one of the Great Men of the Caribbean’s history in the 20th century. He was an impressive figure and a controversial one, who even now, almost 30 years after his death, casts a long shadow. When these debates start up there is a sort of triangular effect. The Children of Papa Bradshaw, that is, the steady Labour loyalists on one side, the PAM people on Side 2, who really are annoyed with the present Labour government and take every opportunity to say that Labour has betrayed his legacy. On Side Three of this debating triangle is the Nevis contingent, who to a man and/or woman, detest Bradshaw, his memory, his legacy, his character, the whole shebang. The feeling, when the old man was alive, was mutual.

So they will bash away at this subject from these three sides and it can go on and on and on and on. Towards the end of one bout of it last year I saw my favorite subject header of all.

Got up this morning and read nothing about Bradshaw. THANK YOU JESUS.

When you say “THANK YOU JESUS” you say it fervently as if you are at a revival meeting or perhaps just as a pious ejaculation. It comes out like “TENK yu JEEsas!” and the intent is to be killingly ironic. Whatever the immediate relief you are thanking Jesus for, you see, you also thanking him for giving you the strength to have put up with this jackass's nonsense, you are thanking him, as you are inspired to do in church, for sending you the relief, and for that matter, the trial too.

In Jamaica there is an old-fashioned expression that I hope is still in use.

"See me trial, Lord!" as used when you find yourself talking to an idiot. Or, more forcefully, "Lord, if you ever see me dying trial!"

Monday, February 06, 2006

So Who Are the Ones in Yellow?

I went to a Superbowl party last night at a house in DC somewhere, I cannot tell you where. It was pleasant people. I was there for a little more than three hours, got there after the game had started. Hung out sort of around the fringes as I only knew one person there, but I did have some interesting conversations particularly at the end where I got into a lively discussion with a group of -- of all things -- academics. Subjects: reverse influences of colonialism like Indian design transforming English fashion, economic development and relationship with cultural development; how does cultural development happen?; how do attitudes change?: Christianity as a sort of "mental technology" for changing minds; what an intransigent beast the human imagination can be. That came up because the economics perfesser was telling me how much he liked the Greek thinkers. I said, yeah, they should be like the reward for converting to Christianity --as in, "wait, forget about that here's the really good stuff, it's our private stash". But then he pointed out that Aristotle never considered slaves his equal as human beings. I said that that was not something I would quarrel with Aristotle about at this stage, I am so apprehensive of discussions of slavery reaching for cheap emotional effects. But this guy, instead of pursuing that, mercifully said something much more interesting. He marveled at how blind Aristotle was to the whole question, like it had never occurred to him. At which point I said that showed you how something can be a huge part of your mental furniture, something that is present in your life every day, and you don't see it.

I left the party, my friend who invited me dropped me off at the Metro nearby, I travelled the half hour out to the suburbs reading "The Newcomes" by Thackeray, got to my station at the end of the line, called my father, read more of "The Newcomes" while I waited for him, he picked me up, we drove home chatting, I came home, took the dogs out, checked my email, puttered about a bit, fell asleep on the sofa, got up and staggered off to bed, woke up at five thanks to Sweetie's diarrhea, took the dogs out again, came in, read a long email from another friend that got my brain churning furiously, got back into bed with the laptop and ONLY THEN realized that I did not know who won the game.

But I must say my father is even less curious about it than I am. I watched the half-time, well a few minutes of the Stones. I do like the way Mick Jagger somehow conveys the impression of having a character that was fully formed and decided from about the age of six months. Their naturalness maybe started at the place of "what the hell, don't give a shit" but now it seems to have reached some kind of transcendental state of perfect equilibrium. They own the stage, they own the audience, they get out there and they deliver The Stones, the real thing, old, scraggly looking, but the absolute real thing.

Oh and I really liked this one Budweiser commercial.

That is all I can tell you about the Superbowl.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Inside A Million Little Pieces

Eric, my friend in Sebastopol, reads what I write here. He sent me this comment on my Frey/Oprah post.

The Smoking Gun looked into the jail record and other things that could be fact-checked. And the debateafterwards has all centered on the relationship with Oprah and the decisions of Talese and the categories of memoir etc. Not a lot is being written about what is true in the book.

I have a teenage son who felt it was the greatest thing he'd ever read. So I read it and was dutifully gripped by the present-tense fervor of the thing..and at the same time noticed dozens of suspicious signposts that a barely-emerged adolescent male would skim over. I ended up saying that I thought it would have been better if he had just called it a novel. (Of course that wasn't quite true. A novel staggering with such improbabilities would have fallen over too)

But what seems left out of the articles I 've read are thethings one assumes he is telling the truth about in the book.

He lets drop that he made it straight through four years at a Good college. Despite the tales of drug & alcohol oblivion from the age of 12...? His parents were very, very wealthy. They sent him off to Paris after school. Why didn't this alone set off bells? This was a kid of immense privilege... not a gutter-dwelling ravaged teenager. Then there is the point where he admits his only love affair in college fell apart because he was impotent.

Why didn't anyone say: hmmm. A rich boy from a good school gets hooked on something & his parents pay for the finest treatment program in the country. He has a great need to fantasize potency. He writes a memoir in which he is the hero in impossible situations of physical pain and threat. He comes through valiantly time after time. He is dubbed a knight by a Mafioso chieftain who adopts him as a son. He wins the admiration of the toughest inmates. He is disdainful of the God-centered treatment program and will "do it on his own", something 'no one has ever done'. He singlehandedly rescues his wraith of a girlfriend from blowing some guy in a crack den that must be the most lurid & dangerous place on earth.

I looked at the first chapter of the second book... it starts with him in jail. He's immediately jumped by the baddest biggest black guy who then spares him, & tells him the cops paid him to attack Frey. That's how bad he is, the cops pay to have him beat up in jail! Then this guy Tenderloin Jones sees him with a book and has him read to him, War & Peace I think it is...for months! oh lord. That's when I knew how far he had gone in making it all up. I knew the dental work without painkiller was a lie. I knew the Mafia chief was a lie. But that jail scene. Whew.

The funny thing is that Eric had his own jailtime reading experience, with -- I ask you -- a black guy who put him onto good books. I love it that this guy recommended the Snopes trilogy.

When I was in jail, in 1968...(and I don't want to say that my experience disproves or proves anything...but it leaps up at me in contrast with the lie in Frey's story)....I was trying to find books in the prison library, and not having much luck. An older black man approached me one day, said "I see you like to read....have you ever read Faulkner?" I said 'only Absolom'....he said, 'not the Snopes trilogy?' I said no..that I'd felt a little uneasy about his writing about Mississippi, had read some radical critiques . The guy said I was misinformed. "Faulkner is the greatest. You have to read him. HAVE to. Forget all that crap from the Movement people about Faulkner. He knows the South man, knows it, and the writing is just beautiful." He gave me the book and it set me along a kind of life in jail of reading voraciously and trading and loaning books all over. Hesse came my way from a young hippie, an old junkie pushed "Dune" on was one of the ways my time became tolerable. But ...when I imagine a Tenderloin Jones asking me to read to him in full view of the rest of the jail, every day? Hnnnh.

A last word. My son's enjoyment...there is a great need to have extreme experience at his age, in a little shire protected from the carnage of the Times. He loved Fight Club too. And that first person, present tense writing can really suck you in, it's a fast read as they say. So, aside from the appeal to people who love to read of degradation & recovery, there is also this market of wannabe guys, just aching to prove their own fledgling potency. Nothing new really. But, I think I should recommend Faulkner.

Update: Cleaned up the text to remove the annoying line breaks.


He has a blog called Judging Crimes. He works, as some of you know, as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of New Mexico. He has the most interesting theory (possibly the only interesting theory) about homicide rates in the US. And you can check out his supporting evidence too.

And he still writes nice. Good stuff there and I'm not just saying it because it is Joel.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Okay. So It's A Low Form of Entertainment.

But I did enjoy this point-by-point commentary by blogger Kung Fu Monkey on the egregious Jason Apuzzo.

But you know, if you have to talk to someone this way, they are already beyond hope. Actually, KFM puts him "well past the Event Horizon of stupid."