October 11, 2002

Since you asked…


Every blogger has to weigh in on war with Iraq sooner or later.

One of the best reasons I’ve seen so far for supporting a war with Iraq is simply who’s against it. I mean, people, if you line up and see Barbra Streisand, Ted Kennedy and Alice Walker on your side, you’re on the wrong side.

But I was trying to sort it out when I got another e-mail from Toronto’s very own Queen of Marketing, Sarah Welstead, The Girl Who Actually Writes Well And Pays Attention And Gives A Damn Where The Commas Go And Doesn’t Split Infinitives Even. After another great e-mail (sign up to be put on the mailing list) Sarah came right out and asked okay, pal, where do you stand?

“I’m trying very hard to pay attention to all the political commentary, since I know it should mean more to me than it does. But I got very mad the other day - I caught a bit of Oprah (I know, but my mother was here), and they were supposedly doing an ‘information session’ following Bush’s announcement of ‘war on Iraq’.

“‘Information session’ would lead one to believe that one might expect at least an attempt to be unpartisan, but - what was I thinking? - of course this was Oprah... They had an ex-CIA guy who has written a book on why the US should go to war with Iraq (they have nuclear weapons, they have biochemical weapons, they are making more as fast as they can, and Saddam Hussein is a jerk). He talked intelligently, but I had to ask myself: Why is he EX-CIA? Why do people become exes of the CIA? Why is he allowed to use information that he learned while he was at the CIA to write a book and sell a lot of copies on Oprah about it?

“Oh - I know: he’s useful to the Bush cause.

“Then they had an Iraqi fellow who had been captured - with his brother, which allowed for a tearful moment - by Saddam Hussein’s soldiers and kept naked and starving in a 3x4 foot room (they said there were at least 12 other people in there at the time, and I couldn’t work out the physics of this) for 47 days. He was put in there for making a joke about Saddam Hussein. Eventually he was released and came to the US. But how did he get out? How did he get to the US? How did he come to be a mouthpiece for Iraqis?

“Anyhow, he basically said that 99.9% of Iraqis are nice, peace-loving people who hate Hussein. Okay, I thought, then why doesn’t someone just kill him? Why doesn’t the US or someone send in a SWAT team and take him out? How hard is that?

“Oh - I know: it’s not really that simple.

“Then Oprah took comments and questions from the audience. Most of them were things like ‘I wasn’t sure before, but now I know this evil man has to be stopped,’ and ‘Thank God [with a capital G] for America,’ and ‘America has a responsibility to save all the countries of the world from evilness like Saddam Hussein.’ So far, so predictable, and lots of clapping.

“Then one woman had the temerity to say, ‘Well, I’m still not quite sure about all this. I mean, it’s not like Iraq is the only place where atrocities are going on, it’s not like the atrocities just started yesterday, and although I understand that you are telling the truth about your experiences and everything, why do we suddenly have to walk into a war with Iraq? Saddam Hussein has been a problem for years - why is he suddenly public enemy #1?’ Quite reasonable questions, I thought.

“Well, she practically got lynched (heck, if she’d been in Iraq, she’d probably have been captured and held naked in a 3x4 room with 12 other people for 47 days). The ex-CIA guy looked mean, the Iraqi guy looked appalled, and Oprah said, ‘Haven’t you been looking at the pictures we’ve been showing you? Well - I guess you’re entitled to your opinion - let’s go to a break, and after it we’ll talk to some more people about this war on terrorism, because there are scary things going on.’

“She went on to try to back some woman from Buffalo into a corner about the alleged terrorist cell in Lackawanna, at which point I could no longer watch.

“Hey, no one’s saying that bad things aren’t going on, no one’s saying that Hussein isn’t crazy, and even as a Canadian I’m not too thrilled about the prospect of biological warfare being waged anywhere, let alone in the US. But I gotta say that I’m with the woman on the fence - why now? Why all of a sudden? Why war, if it’s only Hussein who’s the problem? (Okay, maybe the US needs to declare war because in war it’s okay to assassinate the leader of a country, whereas if they just sent in a SWAT team it would be ‘political assassination’ and therefore not so great - but it’s not like the US hasn’t got the ability to get that kind of thing done and blame it on someone else long enough for the history books to get written. They’ve done it before.) Is Oprah just another tool of the government feeding us propaganda? (Well, probably yes.) Why isn’t a dissenting voice - which wasn’t even dissenting, just questioning - allowed? How can these people be saying ‘Amen’ (they actually said that) to the whole idea of ‘a democratic and free America’ and not allow someone to ask a question and get a reasonable answer? It was a little frightening to me.

“What do you think?”

I think you don’t get a real picture of America by watching Oprah, but probably a much clearer picture than if you listen to Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings. I think someone on Oprah is probably closer to majority American opinion than someone quoted in The New York Times, and Oprah is simply pandering to her viewers’ preferences.

That said, I think there is a compelling case to go to war with Iraq if a) we can be sure Hussein’s closer to achieving weapons of mass destruction now than he was a year ago, and b) if we’re certain he was aiding, abetting or funding al-Qaeda. It’s easier for me to believe a) than b), simply for the reason that fundamental Islam is one of the few things Saddam’s scared of. It’s one of the few things that could topple him and he knows it. America’s the other one, but you know, he’s probably not as afraid of us for the very reason al-Qaeda wasn’t afraid of us until we blew through Afghanistan:

From the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, where guys parked a truck packed with explosives underneath it and killed six people, to 9/11 al-Qaeda had been strongly suspected in the 1996 attack on Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 people, bombing the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224 people, and the U.S.S. Cole attack, which killed 17 people. We did nothing each of those times. Granted draft-dodging war protester Bill Clinton was in office, so it’s not like we had a president who gave a damn, but still, there should have been some response. There was none.

Which is why bin Laden said openly hey, America’s weak, they cut and run when they get a bloody nose, we have nothing to fear from these people. That’s why 9/11 happened – based on experience he wasn’t afraid of the consequences.

Hussein saw America chicken out at the end of the Gulf War. We let him stay alive and in power. Why should he be afraid now? His experience tells him America doesn’t finish the job. He’s as wealthy under sanctions as he wants to be, political opposition’s a lot weaker, America’s making a lot of noise but they made a lot of noise in 1991 and he wasn’t touched then, so what?

But Saddam is afraid of fundamental Islam sweeping him out the way it did the Shah in 1979. It’s hard to think he’d buddy up to al-Qaeda, he might give limited support for certain objectives but I doubt – I admit I could be proven grossly wrong about this – there are significant al-Qaeda training camps in Iraq or top al-Qaeda leaders being sheltered there. Saddam doesn’t want it. He pays the families of suicide bombers the way most people toss a buck in the offering plate – keeps him in good graces with whoever’s watching.

I would support a war where I was confident the administration is sitting on solid evidence that Saddam was within months of acquiring nuclear weapons. I would support a war where I was confident it was known by the administration that Saddam provided significant material support to al-Qaeda. I do not think Bush is trying to use this for political advantage – what Democrat is he afraid of? Gephardt? Gore? Do not make me laugh.

But if (and when) we do invade Iraq, I wish we would remember the old Japanese proverb: If you must kill a snake, kill it once and for all. Don’t do what we did after the Gulf War, which is wound it and hope its natural enemies will finish the job we were too queasy to finish ourselves. It still rankles me that we used Afghan mercenaries, basically, to do the dangerous work of fighting al-Qaeda, we would have taken more casualties but inflicted far more punishment had we used American troops, and today al-Qaeda would be far weaker than it is.

October 10, 2002

Now we know they’re stupid.


Why attack a French oil tanker?

The Associated Press is reporting that “A fiery explosion aboard a French oil tanker in the Arabian Sea resulted from an attack on the ship, U.S. and French officials concluded Thursday. The Americans said it was an act of terrorism most likely carried out by people with links to al-Qaida.”

Hey al-Qaeda, why are you attacking the French? They’re on your side, for heaven’s sake. Paris is never going to lift a finger against terrorism, America and Britain are the only countries with the gumption to get off their butts and do anything about it, why in God’s name is al Qaeda trying to make an enemy out of the namby-pamby French?

All France does is dither about aimlessly while criticizing America for doing anything -- remember Bosnia? Clear genocide in the heart of Europe? Who had to come in and stop innocent people from being slaughtered after the Eurowimps scurried around wetting their pants? America stopped the war and all the French could do was stuff their faces with wine and cheese as they criticized how we went about saving lives.

Right now the French are the best friends militant Islamic terrorists have in Western Europe. Granted it's not like making an enemy of the French really matters, they're never much good in a fight and their most practiced military move is the surrender, but still.

Odds & Sods


Catching up with e-mail, Zen, etc.

Certainly hope so.
Make that 1974.

A recent headline announced that Gordon Lightfoot was "improving." Clubbeaux thinks it's about time, seeing as how he hasn't done anything worth writing home about since the 1970s.

Consider it done.

From Sarah Welstead, the author of 2 October's “Blast From Toronto”:

“You can always put my name and even e-mail address. (That address again: sarah@stayawake.tv) I am a small-business owner who needs all the exposure she can get. I have sufficient security - both where I live, where I work, and both my business partners weight 300 lbs and have worked as bouncers. When we walk down the street I feel like a nymph between two trees.

“Something to the effect of ‘Would you like this incisive mind trained on the marketing of your business? Call 416.809.STAY.’”

Zen For Today: Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me, either. Just leave me alone.

And baseball rejoices.

On the Yankees’ surprising demise, from a reader:

“If the Yanks had had Tino he definitely would have made some plays that Giambi missed. For that matter, Knoblauch or Sojo would have caught those two pop ups that Soriano missed. That’s life. The Yanks were due some bad karma.

“They can’t trade Clemens, his contract is up. If they want him next year they’ll probably have to pay him an additional $10 million to stay. Who knows, maybe he’ll finish up with the Red Sox. They can’t trade Wells, he’ll sulk and turn into a basket case. I’m guessing they could be in for a few bad years.”

Zen for Tomorrow: Always remember you’re unique. Just like everyone else.

Hillary the magic options trader.

From a reader:

“I remember Clinton once said he didn’t have a problem with people getting rich as long as they did it the right way. Apparently sweetheart treatment on cattle futures given to his wife by executives at regulated industries was OK, Microsoft having a 90% market share wasn’t. Not that I love Microsoft (who does) but it’s the pot calling the kettle black.”

Zen for The Day After Tomorrow: No one is listening until you make a mistake.

More on Allah vs. God.

From a reader:

“Just wondering how you deal with the fact that in Arabic speaking churches they call God Allah and that the Arabic translation of the Bible also uses the term Allah? Are Arab Christians also engaged in worship of some strange, occultish moon god or goddess?”

Clubbeaux: The Christians I knew in Turkey would use Tanrih or Rab to mean the Christian God, they rarely used allah.

“Also, if I remember right, the name we use in English, 'God' comes from Norse mythology originally, and the term used in Greek 'Theos' came from Greek philosophy. What makes these words for God more or less right than the use of the Allah in Arabic?”

Clubbeaux: They were not descriptive of a specific deity before Christians used them. Allah was/is a specific Mesopotamian moon god, as I quote the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics “Allah is not a common name meaning “God” or a “god”, and the Muslim must use another word or form if he wishes to indicate any other than his own peculiar deity.” And of course the fact that Allah came into Islam with his pre-Islamic symbolism, rituals and practices shows that it’s not simple etymology.

Arabs using “Allah” to mean God would be like if the early Romans had called God “Jupiter,” or if the Greeks had called him “Zeus.”

Underrated 1970s Song: Stephen Stills’s “Johnny’s Garden” from Manassas.

Bonds better than Ruth? Sorry, no.

Barry Bonds being touted as the best baseball player ever? Where am I, at a CPA convention?

A steroid-pumped insanely selfish jerkoff who fades when the games mean something and has never led a team anywhere? His teammates can’t stand him, all he does is put up big numbers on teams that go nowhere and he’s bruited about as the greatest player of all time because he racks up statistics?

This is why I will never love baseball the way I love football: Baseball is such a numbers game. Quick, name the greatest quarterbacks of all time – Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas, Fran Tarkenton, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, Brett Favre. How do they rank against each other in the All-Time Passing categories go? Who knows? Who cares? You think of The Drive, The Catch, the Super Bowls, the 47-game TD streak (which is such an insane record it doesn’t merit comparison), the scrambling, the games pulled out in the last seconds. You remember the leadership.

That’s what football’s all about, not that somebody named Warren Moon threw for more yards or that somebody named Ron Jaworski made more consecutive starts or that somebody named Doug Williams threw for more TDs in a Super Bowl or that Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman won more Super Bowls. Steve Young and Kurt Warner are the quarterback rating kings, but I’ll take Johnny Unitas or John Elway and spot you seven any day. Heck, give me Joe Namath in his prime and I’d take that.

Zen for Sometime Later In The Week: If you lend someone $20, and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

Thumbs Down on Homeland Defense.

From two readers:

“I completely agree with your [Homeland Defense] article.”

“OK, you’ve convinced me, Homeland Defense is a bad idea. The U.S. doesn’t need another Federal Agency bloated with unionized bureaucrats who believe that serving the public comes in second to following procedures. The question is why aren’t the Democrats jumping all over this. Even without the work rules they want this is a bonanza, thousands of employees depending on politicians for their jobs.”

Zen for Next Week: If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.

More on global warming.

Well, if you want to get technical about it all. From a reader:

“I have no idea of anything on global warming: the ozone hole was worrying, the other stuff seemed pretty far fetched. But one thing I will disagree with, and that is you claim that satellite info is more reliable. It may be more reliable in the sense that it accurately and consistently tells you what happens at the point they collect the data, but it has little to do with life.

“You have heard of tree lines, right? Life occurs where the satellites often have trouble reaching--below the cloud cover. If temperatures increase here, even though something might prevent that from being recorded up in the sky, then life could be a real problem. The point that weather varies is important--but the discussion must be about the remarkably tiny slice of the universe where life is actually lived.”

Zen for Sometime Later This Month: Never miss a good chance to shut up.

Do-It-Yourself Marketing!

Why pay pros? Sorry Sarah:

http://thesurrealist.co.uk/priorart.cgi

Feminism's increasing irrelevancy.

From Cathy Young, contributing editor of Reason:

After years of male-bashing, it is good to see some appreciation for male heroism and even for the fact that traditional machismo always included not only dominance but protection and rescue. But one senses that some champions of the manly man would have been almost disappointed if the heroes of Flight 93 had included a woman. (In fact, at least one female flight attendant almost certainly did help fight the hijackers.) Meanwhile, feminists who bemoan the lack of attention to the heroines of Sept. 11 tend to sidestep the fact that it's overwhelmingly men who put their lives on the line in dangerous jobs.

The cultural messages that have emerged from the crisis are too complex to be marshaled into the cause of gender nostalgia. The military action in Afghanistan is taking place at a time when there are more women in the military and at the highest levels of government than during any previous American war—from Condoleezza Rice to the women who flew combat missions over Afghanistan.

But while America may not be embracing traditionalism, it is true that the feminist movement, already at low ebb, has slid further into irrelevancy.

For one, the post-Sept. 11 sense that we're all in this together has not dissipated entirely. It may not have proved strong enough to bridge political or even racial polarization (though it has probably diminished such differences), but gender polarization has never been as deep.

Probably, too, the plight of women under the Taliban made many American women realize what real oppression looked like and made some preoccupations of the American women's movement (such as policing sex jokes at work) seem rather trivial.

Perhaps most damningly, many feminists' allegiance to the left made them reluctant to endorse the West's liberation of Afghani women from tyranny. A statement issued in June by prominent American leftists, including feminist luminaries such as Gloria Steinem, novelist Alice Walker and "Vagina Monologues" author Eve Ensler, denounced "the war and repression ... loosed on the world by the Bush administration." It mentioned the "attack" on Afghanistan but not the consequences to that nation's women.

Maybe the real gender-related message to be gleaned from Sept. 11 is this: However much we would like to see women's liberation as a natural right, it is the achievement of a complex, advanced civilization. Recent events remind us that this civilization is fragile and that its enemies are hostile to freedom for anyone—but especially women. Feminists, perhaps more than anyone else, should realize that the West is worth defending. Perhaps if they did realize it, they wouldn't be so irrelevant.

The Seven Habits Of Nobel Laureates in Literature.


A.k.a. Who Wants To Be An Anonymous Millionaire?

1. Write in some obscure language, live in some obscure place or have an obscure cocktail of national identities. Write in Yiddish as Isaac Bashevis Singer did; be born a landless Portuguese peasant as José Saramago did, or be a Hungarian-born Jew living in Sweden, as Imre Kertész is. Extra points for being Jewish, especially a Jew with Holocaust experiences.

2. Make sure nobody’s heard of you. Raise your hand if you’ve read anything by Kenzaburo Oe. Could you pick Wislawa Szymborska out of a crowded elevator? Quote a little Claude Simon?

3. Make sure nobody reads your books, or if they do they don’t enjoy them. V.S. Naipaul -- who gets extra Nobel points for being confused about his triple national identity -- sells millions of books but nobody enjoys reading them. Nobody buys anything by Jaroslav Seifert unless it’s required for a graduate seminar. Dario Fo's Il diavolo con le zinne is holding steady as the 2,402,693rd-best seller on Amazon.com

4. If you are going to be someone people have heard of, make sure it’s not for anything to do with the actual quality of your books. You’ve heard of Toni Morrison because she and Oprah are joined at the hip. You were assigned a Günter Grass novel in college which you didn’t actually read, but which you expounded on at great length while drunk. Pablo Neruda? Oh yeah, wasn’t he the poet in that Italian movie about the mailman?

5. Identify yourself with a politically correct movement. Nobody’s read anything Nadine Gordimer’s written but everyone knows she was an outspoken foe of apartheid – of course the only book anyone's read about apartheid, Cry, the Beloved Country was not written by Nadine Gordimer. Octavio Paz resigned from the Mexican diplomatic corps in protest against the government’s 1968 student massacres. Winston Churchill saved Western civilization, which wouldn't earn him any points today but which in 1953 was still considered an overall positive accomplishment.

6. Be the once-every-thirty-years nationality when its turn comes around. William Golding was putting breath on a mirror when it was Australia’s turn, Wole Soyinka got the nod for being Nigerian and unreadable (as well as a former Biafran political prisoner, big points there) and Naquib Mahfouz is the most recent token Arab. Keep your fingers crossed, Yasar Kemal, it’s gotta be a Kurdish Turk’s turn soon.

7. Whatever you do, never, ever be a white American man unless you're Jewish and/or were born in the Soviet Union. If you must be a non-Jewish American be another acceptable form of American such as a woman or a black – or both. And if you do write about America criticize it.

Sorry, John Updike.

October 09, 2002

My Wife: Not The Ideal Kiwi.


Well, I guess I struck out – my wife is not, it seems, the ideal New Zealand woman.

Hole-Digger the Perfect Woman for New Zealand

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - A remote bar in New Zealand’s mountainous South Island is searching for the perfect woman – a southern belle who can back a trailer load of hay, change a car tire and dig in a fence post.

Publican Stew Burt, who runs the Bullock Bar in the town of Wanaka, said he has 15 entries for his Perfect Woman competition, which offers a cash prize of $474 and a trip for two to a rugby game or other sports event in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city around 620 miles to the north.

Competitors must also throw a set of curling stones, clear a pool table, darn a sock, blow a dog whistle, lift a ram into shearing position, and use anything but a bottle opener to uncap a bottle of beer.

New Zealand has a strong history of promoting women to top positions, including Prime Minister Helen Clark. The country, home to 3.9 million people and 44 million sheep, has nearly 14 million hectares of land used mainly for grazing sheep, cattle and deer.
Burt said the late October charity event was, in part, a recognition of the Southern pioneering woman.

“She might not be a picture, but she can do a lot of things a lot of other women can’t do,” Burt told Reuters.


Silly me – I went for the picture. Yet I’ve seen her clear a pool table, she claims she can darn a sock, she thinks she can blow a dog whistle – New Zealand sheep dog whistles ain’t your run-of-the-mill dog whistles, partner – she’s pretty sure she can lift a ram into shearing position, but she’s never used anything but a bottle opener to uncap a bottle of beer.

She can’t throw curling stones (a point in her favor, far as I’m concerned), she can back a trailer load of hay and change a car tire but has no interest in digging fence posts.

Hey, as long as I get those pea-pie-pud dinners I’ll hire someone to dig the freakin' fence posts.

John McWhorter


Excerpts from a Reason interview with Losing the Race author John McWhorter.

I’m behind on a great number of things – work, at the moment – but I confess I hadn’t heard of John McWhorter until I read a Thomas Sowell column this morning. I liked what I heard about him, so I jumped onto Nexis and ran a search. I like him even more.

McWhorter’s black, brilliant and a tenured professor of linguistics at Cal-Berzerkeley. Sowell used arguments from McWhorter’s 2001 book Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America to refute the argument that blacks need a “critical mass” presence on elite colleges and universities to do well. McWhorter’s study and Sowell’s research found the opposite to be true – if there are only a few blacks at elite colleges they do better than if there are more. Segmenting by ability, not race, is the most effective means of improving smart black kids’ academic performance.

Running through Nexis I ran across an October 1, 2001 interview in Reason with McWhorter. The entire article is well worth the time, here are McWhorter’s thoughts on a few topics:

He’s… plenty confident that most other black Americans are smart. It disappoints him that they don’t express their intelligence by achieving in school. “In 1995,” McWhorter writes in Losing the Race, “exactly 184 black students in the United States scored over 700 on the verbal portion of the SAT--not even enough to fill a passenger plane.”

The problem, argues McWhorter, is not a lack of black brain power or an excess of white racism. Rather, it’s a dysfunctional black culture. Not just a “ghetto culture” that derides intellectual achievement, he insists, but mainstream, middle-, and even upper-class black culture. McWhorter identifies three self-destructive elements in contemporary black America: victimology, separatism, and anti-intellectualism. He spends 260 pages fleshing out these concepts, claiming the trio combine to keep black Americans from being the best they can be.

Racism vs. victimology.

Since the 1960s, black Americans have been encouraged to work under the misperception that residual racism is an obstacle to advancement. Racism remains in America, but in most cases, it is not an obstacle to people being the best that they can be. There is a cult of victimology that claims we remain victims on some cosmic level until there is no racism in any white person’s heart or any instances of discrimination of any kind. That leads to a sense that being black is a thing apart from being a human being in the United States. That’s what I call the cult of separatism, and the sense that black people are subject to different rules and the sense that black people are germane to certain subjects and not to others.

The separatism finally leads to the anti-intellectualism, a cultural disconnect from the school endeavor. Anti-intellectualism is, of course, an American problem. But with black people, there is a sense that knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a “white” thing. Therefore, you’re not culturally authentic as a black if you engage in it. This is why African-American students, regardless of class, tend to not do as well as others do on tests and in grades.

It dismays me to hear some whites say, “What do blacks have left to be complaining about? Slavery ended 150 years ago." Certainly that’s not right. I talk about the subtle forms of racism in my book: Every time anybody tells me I’m articulate, it’s technically racism, because I would not be told that if I were white. What they mean is, “Blacks don’t speak well, and you sound just like us.”

If you look at what black people considered important to talk about 75 years ago, they were interested in talking about progress and uplift and what they could achieve despite the obstacles.

Today, there is such a defeatist message based on all those indignities that Cose talks about. So, for example, let’s say you’re a black man in Manhattan trying to hail a cab uptown at midnight and a cab doesn’t stop. Frankly, I believe that if something like that happens to you about once every two months, there are many white people much, much, worse off than you.

[Affirmative action says] You’re black. You’re different. You’re a victim. We think you can’t do it, so we’re making things different for you.

Black attitudes towards education.

If anything, black people value education more highly than white people because there is a sense that we are a culture climbing upward. The anti-intellectualism among blacks is more subtle. It’s what happens once students are in school. Black parents value that you go get a degree, that you go get earning power, and maybe that you go be a historian or whatever. But the cultural dynamic senses learning as something that other people do, so there is kind of a block on engaging it on that more intimate level.

The Irish were known to be anti-intellectual people before they became “white.” That’s a universal American quality. Black culture is different in that skepticism about pointy heads extends into the upper class. It all comes back to the fact that on average in 1995, among black students whose parents made $70,000 a year or more and had at least one master’s degree or above, SAT scores were lower than the SAT scores of children from white families making no more than $10,000. That’s scary. That’s a really scary statistic. That’s the problem.

There is a sense [among blacks] that to embrace school in a real way would be a step outside of your identity. Or better, your identity is one that does not condition you to embrace knowledge that doesn’t have to do wholeheartedly with black people. You have to remember that stereotype-threat analysis is so appealing in the education community because it’s a victim-based approach.

That doesn’t automatically render it untrue, but it’s interesting to think about what Claude Steele proposes as the solution, to the extent that he really indulges in talking about solutions: He advocated the setting of high standards. His idea is to let black children know that you expect the best of them. Doesn’t that mean that affirmative action is not really a very good idea?

Affirmative action.

Affirmative action is good when it redresses racism. That’s why affirmative action was good in 1965. Affirmative action in business can counteract the tendency for sometimes-subtle cultural conflicts, or the “birds of a feather” phenomenon that can deny people promotions or even jobs in the first place. I think there is still room for discrimination to operate in places such as Coca-Cola, with it not having to be anybody’s intention. So the idea of racial preferences is not anathema to me. But I do consider it to be chemotherapy: It’s something that creates as much harm as good and you withdraw it the minute that you’ve gotten rid of the main symptoms. In education, that happened 15 years ago. In the world of business, I don’t think that we’re there yet.

Diversity is nice, but it cannot be weighted above competence. The diversity rationale was created as a kind of fig leaf. Basically, I think we can sacrifice diversity, which is a rather weak concept anyway, because we have a very selective sense of what kind of diversity we want.

If all schools quit using race as an admissions criterion, there would be a bleak 10 years where there would not be as many black kids on elite campuses as we might like. There would still be a good number, though. It’s not as if black students are so utterly, uniformly awful that Harvard could not find any black students for its freshman class. Yes, the numbers will fall. But during that 10 years, word would get out in the black community and in the education community that black kids have to do as well as everybody else. Black people have shown that they can rise to any obstacle. We’re not allowed to rise to any obstacle when it comes to academics. We’re always given these lowered bars.

If Berkeley and the University of California abolish the SAT, I would resign. It’s so clear that the only reason UC President Richard Atkinson even proposed the idea is because he can’t bear to see minority students actually challenged to do as well as everyone else.

There was a juncture in my life where I did use affirmative action to get a postdoctoral fellowship that got my foot in the door at Berkeley. It was a decision I made at a time when I was much less politicized than I am now. You evolve as time goes by. It was also a time when my back was up against a wall because of a very narrow job market. I look back on it and I realize that it diminishes my sense of accomplishment. I defend my right to question the policy after having gone through it. The “pulling in the ladder” argument is actually a rather nihilistic one, because any black person who got anywhere in life has been affected by affirmative action.

Being “culturally black.”

One, your speech reflects the conglomeration of traits linguists call black English. At the very least, you could be identified as black over the phone. Two, devout Christianity is central to black culture. Three, you sense residual racism as an obstacle to advancement. Today, that is a keystone to having what is a proper “black” identity.

Black students who are culturally white generally do not have the kind of disconnect from learning that I see in other blacks. Black students who are culturally black yet who are sailing through school are almost invariably people with Caribbean or African parents.

In terms of a great many other things, I am a very leftist person. I have a natural sense of ambivalence when I’m embraced by card-carrying white conservatives. I have to keep telling myself that I do believe a lot of what they believe and they are human beings. However, a lot of conservatives don’t realize that black people have things to complain about. The idea that black people need to “just get over it” is an idea that I can’t quite handle. Despite all of the huffing and puffing in Losing the Race, a lot of what I was trying to do is make clear that this is where black people are coming from. That’s why I have a long section about racism and the black experience.

If conservatives need to show their message is not anti-black, and I believe very often it isn’t, and if one way they want to show that is by having a black person be in their company, I don’t consider that to be discrimination.

Blacks, crime & Republicans.

[Question: What could the Republican Party possibly do to attract black voters?]

One thing and one thing only: Address racial profiling. The situation of young black men in the criminal justice system today is the main obstacle to a general revolution in black America toward the truly progressive ideologies of the past.

Thirty years ago, if you asked black people what the evidence was that racism pervaded the United States, they would have said, “Well, there are no black thises and no black thats.” That’s what I heard when I was young. Today, what you hear is, “One out of three young black men are in prison or involved in the criminal justice system.” That is a mantra in the black community memorized from the age of 12.

Now, the fact is that in many communities, if you didn’t concentrate crime-fighting efforts on young black men, you’d have a community preyed upon by criminals. A little-told story is that in many such communities, the actual residents are clamoring for more police enforcement, not less. And it’s true that the statistics on profiling tend to be presented in misleading ways in the liberal media.

But those are things for the educated and the pundits to quibble over. Out on the street, there is a sense that the police are set against young black men. It’s clear that black men get killed too often by the police. All we need is one generation of black children to grow up in an America where it could not be said that the police are set against young black men.

Reparations.

We already have them. Yes, there should be reparations. They are called welfare, workfare, affirmative action, the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, every community development corporation that’s remaking the ghettoes in our cities, scholarships specifically for black people.

In another universe, all of these could be called reparations. What slavery reparations activist Randall Robinson and the gang want is more stuff--although you notice that they tend not to be able to specify what the stuff is going to be besides identifying companies that profited from slavery. They want more stuff specifically labeled as reparations so that white America will acknowledge what happened with slavery. I think white America already did acknowledge that.

October 08, 2002

Don’t Blink.


You might miss National Customer Service Week.

We’re halfway through National Customer Service Week, which explains the surge of unexpectedly wonderful, personal and caring customer service you’ve been experiencing since Monday.

Evidently some American consulting firm got some member of Congress to enter National Customer Service Week in the official record -- declaring things like National Banking Industry Lobbyist Week is a reliable congressional fund-raiser. But it seems to have really caught on in Britain, probably for the same reason a Don’t Get Drunk, Fall Over In The Snow And Die campaign would have more impact in Russia than Saudi Arabia: They need it a whole lot more.

There’s even a WOW! Award in Britain, given to the likes of a restaurateur who keeps prescription glasses for guests who can’t read the menu, pubs who will serve vegetarian meals on request and the hi-fi dealer who lets you try speakers out at home before buying.

So in honor of NCSW here are Clubbeaux’s first-ever Customer Service Awards:

· Bronze medal to the Maxtor executive who told The Inquirer’s Mike Magee that sure, the one-off’s fine but then no more allowed: “You can screw the customer once, but you can’t screw the customer twice.”

· Silver to Tim Curran, owner of Radical Reptiles in Philadelphia, who takes an extremely personal approach to ensuring product quality: “To me, these reptiles are all my kids (since I breed them) and you, as a customer, are adopting them from me.”

· And the gold medal goes to Ron Magen , who explodes the myth that superior customer service is to be found at local, independent hardware shops instead of national chains: “First, there was no one in the store. Second, the guy behind the counter didn’t seem too interested in waiting on me. Third, when he did decide to, the phone rang and he immediately answered it without any ‘excuse me’ comment. Forth, he berated and kicked the old shop dog for barking, even though it was because it was his own daughter who was teasing the dog. Fifth, when he finally finished the call and I asked for what I wanted (which I had been in about a week before) he treated me like I was a moron, repeated that I wanted 4 feet when I said 3 feet, said it didn’t come in 3/4” OD, and before I could say ‘then give me ½ inch’ he loudly said, ‘Just give them the $12.00, my time is worth more than that!’ I walked out.”

Bloody Friday.


Few of those currently opposed to removing Saddam Hussein remember Halabja. Convenient for them.

There are those who argue that we shouldn’t remove Saddam from power since he really wouldn’t use those terrible weapons he probably doesn’t even have in the first place. A quick look at the Kurdish town of Halabja (don’t click on this link unless you have a strong stomach) on March 17th, 1988 should prove otherwise:

On that Friday morning Saddam Hussein ordered Halabja bombed with chemical and cluster bombs. Witnesses reported up to twenty bombing runs. According to Christine Gosden, professor of medical genetics at Liverpool University who studied the attack the chemical agents used were a cocktail of mustard gas attacking skin, eyes and the membranes of the nose, throat and lungs, and the nerve agents sarin, tabun and VX. The lucky victims inhaled cyanide gas and suffocated immediately. The attacks killed over 5,000 people.

Among survivors, complications ten years after the attack were “far worse than anything I had suspected,” Dr. Gosden reports. Birth defects are many times higher than the normal rate and aggressive cancers abound. Farmers have difficulty growing crops.

British filmmaker Gwynne Roberts has documented the attack. Not that it matters to certain people.

Beggar, Baker, Controversialist.


From the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 to the blogger of today.

While helping a friend research his family line last week I found myself in the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, on the grounds of the University of Richmond. As he tried to make sense of church records for a family where every – and I mean every – generation had at least four sons, and named them all George, William, John and Mark, I poked around the displays.

I found a leaflet on Jeremiah Bell Jeter D.D. (1802-1880), who had the sort of job title you don’t see much of anymore: Controversialist and Peacemaker. I could go for that, at least the controversialist part, I thought, and read more.

Jeter edited a Baptist publication named the Herald. As editor, the leaflet says, “Jeter followed a course which distinguished him among Baptist leaders and fellow journalists. Under his administration the Herald was known for ‘its cleanness, dignity, and devoutness of tone.’ Jeter was considered fair but paternal in his writing as evidenced by the many volatile issues he addressed. He allowed other sides to be presented but exercised his editorial prerogative in their selection.”

He held public debates with individuals over such issues as Landmarkism and the Antimissions movement of the early 1800s. Jeter, it seems, was “a controversialist, not by taste, but from convictions.” In other words he didn’t relish controversy itself, but simply felt that his understanding of the truth needed to be presented in the controversy.

Evidently the controversialist was a well-known species of Christian intellectual at one time. Augustus Toplady , the 18th-century Vicar of Broad Hembury was one well-known controversialist who crossed swords with the likes of John Wesley – excoriating Wesley for “those pernicious doctrines which, for more than thirty years past, you have endeavoured to palm on your credulous followers, with all the sophistry of a Jesuit, and the dictatorial authority of a pope,” among other pleasantries.

(In 1776 Toplady penned a more accessible critique of John and Charles Wesley's Arminianism, you know it as "Rock of Ages.")

A later editor of the Herald, R.H. Pitt, notes that as a controversialist, “Dr. Jeter was a model controversial writer. Scrupulously fair in his statement of his opponent’s views, he never descended from the high plane of courteous debate to indulge in personalities.” Would there were more Jeters and fewer Topladys in the religious and social debates of today, and as soon as I get this dang log out of my eye I'll tell you exactly whom we could do without.

Jeter himself wrote “To be useful, religious controversy must be conducted with candor. This is the honest desire to know and maintain the truth. It admits all that is true in the argument of an opponent. It scorns to misrepresent his statements, take advantage of his mistakes or damage his cause by an effort to awaken prejudices against it. In short, it aims to reach or defend truth only by clear statements, sound reasoning and kind appeals.”

Jeter listed “courtesy, humility and prayer” as the three most important ingredients in the handling of religious disputes. Those who lack courtesy in religious debate, he believed, “defeat the end of their discussion and injure their own cause.” And as Jeter correctly observed, “few persons will patiently receive instructions from a self-conceited dogmatic teacher, but most are inclined to pay respectful attention to the utterances of a modest, unassuming defender of his opinions.”

Groundbreaking Biblical translator John Wycliffe was a proud controversialist. It’s not likely that his fiery diatribes had anything to do with instigating the 1381 Peasant’s Revolt, since few peasants could actually read, but they certainly captured the spirit of the movement. The lurid story of controversialist the Very Rev. David Bandinel, 17th Century Anglican Bishop of Jersey is beyond anything Hollywood could come up with.

The greatest achievement of the controversialist, then as now, is simply to have the last word. In the Rev. Dr. J.C. Ryle’s study of Toplady, a man whom Ryle finds disagreeable to the utmost ("I will not stain my paper nor waste my readers' time by supplying proofs of Toplady's controversial bitterness"), he gives credit where credit is due:

“I do not hesitate to say that Toplady's controversial works display extraordinary ability [and] a prodigious amount of research and reading. It is a book that no one could have written who had not studied much, thought much, and thoroughly investigated an enormous mass of theological literature. You see at once that the author has completely digested what he has read, and is able to concentrate all his reading on every point which he handles. The best proof of the book's ability is the simple fact that down to the present day it has never been really answered. It has been reviled, sneered at, abused, and held up to scorn. But abuse is not argument.”

Abuse is not argument – amen to that, brother. Yet as Anne Coulter’s Slander shows abuse is all the argument many thoughtful intellectuals get in today’s public debate. It’s not too much to say that many of today’s pompous little newspaper and TV editorialistas couldn’t carry Toplady or Wycliffe’s Latin and Greek translations. Yet most frequently all the "rebuttal" conservatives get today is "You're a racist homophobe, therefore I don't have to listen to anything you say." Abuse, not argument.

I suppose most of us anti-idiotarians here in blogdom are controversialists at heart, spending hour after hour on these Web sites trying to start an argument – Fellow peasants! To arms! It’s reassuring to know we’re inheritors of a rich intellectual history (and not a little blood spattered here and there), and that the controversialist of yore would be the blogger of today.

October 07, 2002

Thanks Paul.


Always nice to get a mention.

Thanks to Paul Wright at TANSTAAFL (someday we must ask him what that stands for) for his mention last Friday of this blog:

"Over to Clubbeaux for jewellry of mass destruction." ("I Don't See Any Problem. Really." below)

P.S. Ah, I see. Thanks Whack:

TANSTAAFL /tan'stah-fl/

[acronym, from Robert Heinlein's classic SF novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.] "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch", often invoked when someone is balking at the prospect of using an unpleasantly heavyweight technique, or at the poor quality of some piece of software, or at the signal-to-noise ratio of unmoderated Usenet newsgroups. "What? Don't tell me I have to implement a database back end to get my address book program to work!" "Well, TANSTAAFL you know." This phrase owes some of its popularity to the high concentration of science-fiction fans and political libertarians in hackerdom (see Appendix B for discussion).

Outside hacker circles the variant TINSTAAFL ("There is No Such Thing...") is apparently more common, and can be traced back to 1952 in the writings of ethicist Alvin Hansen. TANSTAAFL may well have arisen from it by mutation.

It Really Doesn’t Need The Help.


The Washington Post accuses conservatives of “defaming Islam.” As if it needed the help.

As soon as I saw the title of the editorial “Defaming Islam” in the Post yesterday, I made a bet with myself: I said Dave, I’ve got lunch out today at The Tavern off Three Chopt Road that there will be a recitation of snippets of commentary from conservatives who do not agree that Islam is a “religion of peace,” and there will not be a single fact brought into evidence to support the claim that Islam is a “religion of peace,” but simply an unsubstantiated claim that it is so, in the teeth of all available evidence, as well as a condemnation of those who speak the historical facts of Islam's bloody, hateful history, beliefs and nature.

I plan on having the fish of the day and house salad.

“One of the high-water marks after Sept. 11 last year was President Bush’s leadership in urging Americans not to condemn Islam because of the actions of extremists in the name of their faith,” the Post starts out.

I don’t remember the Post praising the speech when it was made, of course, but it’s a pretty good indication that a sharp blow of criticism is in the offing when some perfunctory gee-wasn’t-he-good-back-then comment is made. Sort of like one boxer telling the other "You know, your chin looks wonderful just right... there." The editorialista waits all the way until the next sentence for the zinger:

“He set aside his war planning - " Zing! " - to visit the mosque at the Islamic Center of Washington, where he reminded the nation that ‘Islam is peace’ and admonished Americans not to take out their anger on innocent American Arabs and Muslims.”

Well, all politicians have to do a little pandering now and then, and Bush, who no doubt is clear-eyed enough to recongize truth for what it is (this is, after all, a man who was earning an M.B.A. at Harvard while Al Gore was flunking out of seminary and law school at Vanderbilt), but given the national mood of the time it was a wise move to pretend that Islam is peace.

And in point of fact Americans never did take out their anger on “innocent” American Arabs and Muslims, since Americans are truly peaceful. Americans genuinely do not like war, when it must occur we want it to be quick and effective and brought to an end and the enemy reconciled with – World War II enemies Japan, Italy and German are today three of our closest allies, closer than World War II allies France and Russia, we’ve even effected a workable reconciliation with Vietnam.

This is the polar opposite of Islamic societies, which irrevocably demonize their enemies and consign them to a perpetual state of war. Today Christians are being brutally murdered in Indonesia and Pakistan for the offense of being Christian. I haven't seen accounts of any anti-Muslim backlash in America.

“In an appearance before a joint session of Congress, Mr. Bush denounced the terrorists as traitors to their faith. The preachings of Osama bin Laden, he said, were a grotesque distortion of a great religion.”

As has been shown in this space before bin Laden is doing nothing more than carrying Islam out to its natural, logical and clearly stated ends. As anyone who cares to do the research quickly learns Islam was birthed in violence, spread through violence, approves of violence and glorifies violence as an Allah-approved means of dealing with non-Muslims. But you have to read the Qu’ran to learn that. Bin Laden read the Qu’ran.

“And despite several highly publicized incidents of threats and lashing out at people thought to be Muslim, most Americans have heeded the president’s message, resisting the ugly lure of religious intolerance and hate.”

A lure the Post in its anti-American snobbery didn’t believe Americans could resist.

“The same, however, cannot be said of some key leaders of the religious right in America who are counted among President Bush’s closest political allies. And on their noxious mix of religious bigotry and anti-Muslim demagoguery, Mr. Bush’s silence is deafening.”

All I learn from this is that some religious leaders in America say things the Post disagrees with. So what? Let’s see if there’s any factual basis to back up the Post’s spleen, or if it’s just a case of I-don’t-agree:

“We have in mind several religious conservative leaders who count Mr. Bush as one of their own. There is the Rev. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and successor and a participant in the president’s inauguration, who has declared Islam a ‘very evil and wicked religion.’”

Sounds as if Franklin keeps up with world events.

“And there is Christian Coalition founder and television evangelist Pat Robertson, who said that ‘to think that [Islam] is a peaceful religion is fraudulent.’”

Pat’s correct here. I’m not a fan of the Rev. Robertson, but he’s got the facts on his side as the entire history of Islam bears out.

“Mr. Robertson, in full attack mode himself, called the prophet Muhammad ‘an absolute wild-eyed fanatic . . . a robber and brigand . . . a killer.’”

Again, it sounds as if Pat’s troubled himself to read some history. “Full attack mode?” What, was Pat blindfolding Muslims, tying them to chairs and shooting them in the back of the head, as Muslim militants did to Christian agency workers in Pakistan a few days ago? There’s full attack mode Robertson-style and there’s full attack mode Muslim-style.

“And, in an appearance on the CBS program 60 Minutes to be broadcast tonight, the Rev. Jerry Falwell completes the demonization of a religion by smearing the prophet of Islam as ‘a terrorist.’”

Completes? What have these men done but describe what Muslims themselves are doing? Muhammad does fit the contemporary definition of a terrorist, and he’d be as proud of that as today’s Muslim terrorists are.

“These are not just the words of a fringe movement.”

No, the Post is correct here, the majority of Americans probably agree with Messrs. Graham, Robertson and Falwell.

“The speakers are leaders among the religious right in America, a movement close to a president who speaks their language. Their embrace is mutual. It therefore falls to the president to break his silence on their gross distortion and to put some distance between their rhetoric and his own professions of tolerance.”

Of course the Post doesn’t really believe this, as its own policy regarding what it doesn’t like about hatemongers it champions – Jesse Jackson, Yasser Arafat, et al – is see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. And of course there is no “religious right” in America, there is only the simple fact of majority American opinion and the fact that candidates favored by the Post seem to keep losing elections at a prodigious pace. But the Post can’t be out of step, oh no, it has to be blamed on some bogeyman.

“To avert his gaze from their actions is to permit the Falwells, Robertsons and Grahams to legitimize their own perverse teachings through their association with the president of the United States. If their words are not his, then the president must say so.”

“Perverse teachings?" Perverse as in factually incorrect or perverse as in distasteful to the Post? They’re not factually incorrect, they’re historically and textually accurate in what they say about Islam, the Qu'ran and Muhammad, which comes from doing more research into the issue than the Washington Post's in-house editorialistas have done. And if the truth's distasteful to the Post, who cares?