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Saturday, May 31, 2003
Political Discourse on Campus

Congratulations to the Dartmouth Free Press for winning COSO's Publication of the Year Award. Though always a good read, it is pretty much the only read when it comes to political issues on campus. The Dartmouth Review, by its own admission, isn't interested in reporting on big issues like the war in Iraq; its scope is local. Writes former TDR Editor-in-Chief Larry Scholer, "If students want to get the conservative bent on Iraq, for instance, they can read what experts think in journals like the National Review or the Weekly Standard, to name only a couple... the Review is a student publication that gives top billing to Dartmouth-related issues; other matters in higher education come in second; a few reviews of books, movies, and music are thrown in for good measure." Fair enough: articles on the library system and the college budget are also - and sometimes even more - interesting to read than those on GMOs in Europe. But students do need, contra what Mr. Scholer seems to think, a place to articulate their views on issues beyond the Dartmouth campus. One learns through both reading stuff in National Review and from researching and writing one's own articles. And at present, the only mouthpiece for political opinion is the Free Press, a left-liberal publication. The absence of a Dartmouth publication that offers centrist, center-right, and conservative perspectives on current affairs and public policy is not good for campus discourse, which is already left-leaning thanks to faculty and administrators. I'm surprised one doesn't exist, given that 1) there are many conservatives on campus who don't write for the Review, 2) the administration despises the Review, and would love to put it out of business by embracing an official conservative publication, and 3) Dartmouth students love to talk politics, as any regulars to Agora/WWIR/Politalk will tell you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003
I wonder what T. S. Eliot would make of this?

Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld

How long before this finds its way into college English departments?

Quote of the Day

"Like the popular computer game StarCraft in which the player gathers minerals to produce marines and firebats, cancer cells recruit hoards of stromal cells to the future tumor site."

From here.

You may have heard that Jayson Blair hopes to write a book. The title? Burning Down my Master's House. "The proposal portrays Blair as a black man 'who rose from the fields and got a place in the master's house and then burned it down the only way he knew how,' according to the [Washington] Post."

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Final Thoughts

It's always interesting to read what graduating seniors have to say about their 4 years at Dartmouth. In one of two op-eds today, Chris Curran writes that he will not give any money to the College, because - although he loves the College - he objects to the way the administration is handling the budget. The second piece is also controversial. Brian Nick observes that

Dartmouth College is not a melting pot of ideas and backgrounds as its advocates often claim. Rather it is a place where the seemingly continuous and uncomfortable redefinition of social identity causes people to retreat further into their natural personas. This is why many seniors are not dramatically different people now than they were four years ago. Identity is such an important aspect of many of the groups on campus. In many cases racial, sexual or ethnic identity is the defining characteristic dictating which types of people congregate together, both socially and organizationally. Without making a judgment as to whether this is a good thing, I believe it is undeniable that identity-driven social interaction goes a long way towards shaping the nature of this campus.


Monday, May 26, 2003

Jonathan Rauch argues that the Left today wants to defang America first and disarm tyrants second. According to him,

The Left's idealism and anti-Americanism blinded it to the realities of Soviet Communism and put it on the wrong side of the Cold War. Now the Left is poised to repeat its mistake, letting its egalitarianism and anti-Americanism put it on the wrong side of the fight against tyranny and terror.


Articles for the Day

1) Apropos of liberal self-criticism, here's an excellent piece in Dissent on Michael Moore. It concludes thus:

None of what I've discussed here would matter if Moore's techniques didn't symbolize bigger weaknesses in the American left today. Moore is not just a quirky guy with enough talent and dough to reach a wide audience. His political criticism signals problems faced by the left more generally: marginalization, a tendency to seek the purity of confrontation rather than to work for long-term political solutions, a cynicism about the possibilities of politics today, and questionable political judgments. Moore exhibits all these weaknesses. Unfortunately, an effective left cannot draw energy or inspiration from a deeply cynical view of politics that blurs entertainment and argument. Moore takes short-cuts when it comes to politics. He entertains, but he doesn't always do much more. That speaks to the state of the left; we are angry and sometimes vocal, but we have too little to offer those looking for or needing social change. Meanwhile, the entertainment industry chugs on, denigrating serious political argument and avoiding deliberation. That is the depressing world Michael Moore has broken into.

2) The second piece is an interview in the Atlantic with Alston Chase, author of Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist. Chase is less than sanguine about what his study means for American society and culture today, even if the Unabomber was a product of the Cold War era. These two remarks caught the eye:

More and more people are becoming fearful about the direction in which the modern, secular nation state is going. At the core of that concern about modernism is an ethical crisis. The message that the modern world carries is that we have no absolute standard on which to make moral judgments. The bin Ladens of the world and the Kaczynskis of the world are reacting against that. Much of the terrorism in the world today, I think, represents a revolt against modernism.

Ideology is the disease of the modern era. From the fifties to today we've seen a proliferation of ideologies. An ideology is nothing more than a political philosophy. It's fine to have a political philosophy, but when a person who holds a political philosophy reaches the point of such absolute certainty about it that he or she can't believe it could possibly be false and is not interested in debating its truth or falsity with others, it can become dangerous. Liberals and conservatives, for example, never talk to each other any more. They talk past each other, and by and large they demonize each other. Liberals look at conservatives as evil people and vice versa. That's what ideologies do. They cause people to depersonalize their political enemies. Political enemies come to be seen as representatives of ideas rather than as flesh and blood.

Sunday, May 25, 2003
Victor Davis Hanson

The Boston Globe has a fascinating article on classicist, National Review columnist, and grape-farmer Victor Davis Hanson, whose book "Carnage and Culture" has become a bestseller of late (it was even assigned for History 59: History of Warfare at Dartmouth). The article does a great job of fleshing out the man behind a steady succession of pro-war columns on NRO (my fascination with character sketches has increased ever since I started reading James's Portrait of a Lady, to which this article can't be compared, of course!). We learn that he, as a registered Democrat, doesn't like big business and "golf club set" Republicans, as he calls them; he also distances his classicism from that of Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom. Yet like Bloom, the classical past is fused with his character: the two share an abiding belief in the permanence of classical wisdom, its ability to provide insights into the problems of today. Both are major participants in the culture wars, each vigorously battling to defend liberal education from what they perceive to be the barbarians at the gates (Hanson prose attacks derive from his appreciation of warfare). Yet while Bloom styled himself after the Greek philosopher, Hanson sees himself as a farmer-soldier, a socially-conservative man of the soil. In the article, we are told that Hanson, was even accused of being the Unabomber.

There's much in his outlook to disagree with, of course. His awareness of history appears limited by his passion for classical civilization at the expense of a more global attitude towards the rise of the West. His characterization of Islam as monolithic (he doesn't actually say this, but the article reports that he believes "the entire Muslim world...can be viewed as a single bloc, no more variegated than the Soviet-controlled Warsaw Pact") is false, as any Middle-Eastern scholar from Bernard Lewis to Gene Garthwaite will tell you. And temperamentally, I find it hard to abide the ferocity of his attacks on his intellectual enemies, even if their faults may be worth pointing out.

A Moratorium on "Neoconservative"

Re-reading Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence (a phenomenal book) reminds one of just how language is abused today: the original meanings of words get lost amidst endless waves of news articles and journalist prose. One such word is "neoconservative." Ever since the Iraq war, the term has come into great favor among critics of the Bush administration (left and right), who employ it pejoratively to describe a whole mass of individuals from William Kristol to Andrew Sullivan. As Jonah Goldberg writes on NRO, "neoconservative has become a Trojan Horse for vast arsenal of ideological attacks and insinuations. For some it means Jewish conservative. For others it means hawk. A few still think it means squishy conservative or ex-liberal. And a few don't even know what the word means, they just think it makes them sound knowledgeable when they use it." Since the word is so imprecise, I propose that we should stop using it and be more precise about how we characterize individuals and groups of people on the right. If you mean pro-war people, say pro-war people, etc.

Self-Criticism and the Left

[The Comments function on Free Dartmouth ate up my remarks, so I once again resort to the tried-and-tested...]

In responding to this post, Sam Stearns makes a very perceptive remark when he says that the public face of the left has been coopted by idiots. He's not the only honest liberal to say this, of course; in the public sphere, we have people like Christopher Hitchens, Michael Walzer, Paul Berman, and Camille Paglia. But they are in the minority. Mainstream liberalism today marginalizes such figures. In their stead, it is raising irresponsible radicals like Michael Moore, Arundhati Roy, and Noam Chomsky to positions of prominence. Liberalism deserves better than to be associated with groups like ANSWER and Socialist International. If indeed, as Clint Hendler told me over a panel discussion last term, the anti-war movement tends to be represented unfairly in the news, then why do we not hear more from anti-war types distancing themselves from the anti-Semites, communists, "Bush=Hitler" believers, and Buchananites amongst them? Perhaps I just haven't been around enough.

One might say the same thing about conservatives, of course. Except that in the New York Times article on "Hipublicans" (shades of "neoconservative") linked to in the original post, I see young conservatives making a strenuous and genuine effort to distance themselves not from the Buchananite right, and from men like Trent Lott and Strom Thurmond. Liberals should do the same to the extremists within their own ranks. The temptation, of course, is not to do so, because liberals' perception that the more urgent need is to combat the entrenched power of the Bush administration and big business, against which any and all may be embraced. Not all coalitions are worth preserving.

Saturday, May 24, 2003
Campus "-isms"

[The feedback mechanism wasn't working, so I'll have to use the post function instead.]

Responding to a previous post of mine, Alex Kirigin '06 asks me to explain why say nothing about Donald Jolly '04's remark that "There's too much racism, sexism, homophobia, classism" on campus.

A valid question, of course (even though the purpose of my post was not to address that point): no, I don't think there's too much racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. on campus. At Dartmouth, what matters is that someone feels offended, which I don't consider an adequate reason for labelling something/someone racist, etc. And when someone feels offended, reason and good sense, which are necessary in order to determine the existence of -isms, tend to go out of the window.

I also find that campus activists, in needing something to be active about on campus, tend to fasten themselves onto relatively trivial (that is, unsystematic and individualized) incidents that most people think little of and proceed to label them campus life sexist, etc. Such thinking overlooks the complexity of individuals and institutions, and lacks both the historical and global dimensions that put Indian t-shirts, a lack of transgendered toilets, etc. into firm perspective.

More Commencement Speaker Protests

This time at Smith College, from where the Weekly Standard's Jonathan Last reports. Don't scroll down; try to guess the speaker before uncovering his/her identity. You might be in for a surprise...I was!

Thursday, May 22, 2003
King Kung

Sorry CW, just wanted to use a pun to start things off. I hereby declare the end of my moratorium from the vacuous world of blogging (aka my thesis is done). In your defense of West you say:

And his rap CD was silly. But let's not paint too one-sided a picture of him. I chanced upon this article which suggests that he is a very good teacher. Here's someone who teaches a class called "The Tragic, the Comic and the Political" featuring authors like Plato, Sophocles, Dante, Kafka, Chekhov, O'Neill, and Beckett.

I find it curious that everyone happens to deride his rap cd when, I hope, no one would deride Professor Cook talking about the origins of rap in his wonderful Classics 10 course. I think that people automatically dismiss West's CD not for the quality of his rap but because he chooses to use the rap form itself. Critics are upset that he had the hubris to believe he could rap too.

In essence your quote above uses signals to stand for high and low culture. You call his foray into low culture, rap, silly while extolling his teaching of traditionally canonized work. What you fail to focus on is the quality of his teaching and of his rap. Certainly there are bad teachers at this school who teach Plato and Chekhov, no? Bad teaching does not always coincide with "inferior" texts, whatever that adjective might mean.

I've listened to some of West's CD and I don't think it is very good. West fails to harness all the wonderful, creative possibilities of rap -- the qualities I believe that most people choose to remain ignorant about -- and in doing so, he proves himself more of an academic and less of an artist.

But at least his form of rap is designed as a meditation on the problems facing the black community, the very problems that are sometimes glorified in rap music; he is composing his "Sketches of [his] Culture," after all. At least he wants to reinfuse rap with the political overtones it had in the 80s and early 90s with groups such as Public Enemy.

Standard White English

In this (slightly old but still relevant) review of a usage guide, David Foster Wallace effectively assaults every pompous linguistic affectation you can think of. If you've ever been a whiny conservative curmudgeon calling for more grammar to be taught in schools, read it. And if you've ever used the word "disadvantaged" with a straight face, you, too, should read it. Donald Pease could stand to commit it to memory, but he may be beyond saving.

Gender Feminism

An interesting article in The D today on gender feminism, the bane of conservatives everywhere. I can't claim to be as well-read in such matters as Laura is, so you'll excuse the simplicity of these following thoughts.

In her article, Ms. Perl writes that the purpose of gender feminism is to "crash the gender system" because gender - which is socially-constructed according to gender feminists - is "arbitrary and useless." These are strong words indeed to describe a system that's been in place for a very, very long time. I'd like to think that an examination of the historical record will demonstrate that the male-female binary isn't arbitrary or useless. Can anyone help me out here with a choice example or two?

To argue that something is arbitrary and useless requires further that one have standards of comparison. What might those standards of comparison be in the case of gender? How might those standards be defended against those who would claim them to be arbitrary and useless?

Ms. Perl says a lot about the problems the traditional discourse on gender creates. We are "teased for gender-inappropriate behavior from time to time." Even worse, "Masculine men and feminine women are stereotyped as Neanderthals who wouldn't know feminism if it bit them on the nose. Masculine women are stereotyped as overbearing, career-driven, unattractive bitches-on-wheels. Feminine men are stereotyped as grotesque, flighty and probably gay (as if there could be nothing worse than being gay). And there is no room in our minds, language or public restrooms for anyone who is neither a man nor a woman." As this last sentence suggests, transgendered people are particularly discriminated against. So gender feminism will emancipate us from all this, to the benefit of all. Ms. Perl tells us that with gender gone, "everyone should be able to do what they want," without having their behavior "gendered."

Emancipate us...and then what? We imagine that things will be better. No guarantees that they will be, of course, since gender has been with us for millennia and can scarcely claim to have been directly responsible for large-scale human misbehavior (unlike, say, race). I've noted already that it may not be desirable to eliminate gender. Is it even possible? How might the battle be waged? You can fight (though perhaps never eliminate) poverty and crime, which take actualized forms. But against the idea of gender?

Perhaps feminists should turn their attention elsewhere. Teasing and stereotyping sure don't strike me as major problems, not when women around the world remain shamefully treated.

The piece concludes with yet another instance of bad comparative analysis: "The feminism I know and love has learned from the Jim Crow laws that we will never be equal as long as we're separate." Erm, Jim Crow meant physical separation, a far more serious form of separation than the kinds engendered (pardon me) by gender. Men and women aren't separate; they interact all the time and indeed depend on each other to a very, very large extent (procreation).

Perhaps I'll compile these thoughts into an op-ed.

Dartmouth's 2003 Cardozo Award Winner

Emmett Hogan on Dartlog links to an article in The D on Donald Jolly '04, who believes that "There's too much racism, sexism, homophobia, classism" on campus. Now I know Mr. Jolly a bit, having lived in the same dorm as him in freshman year. I'll state the obvious: he's completely off the far left end of the political/cultural/economic/social spectrum. He fits pretty much all the conservative stereotypes of leftists you can think of, which is something I can't say about anyone that I know. (Is it any surprise his English 5 professor was Shelby Grantham?) What I find most annoying about him is that he's completely incapable of defending his beliefs intelligently. I don't dislike him as a person at all; he's a nice guy. But if you want to be a crusader against social injustices, it's not enough to have passion and enthusiasm ("the worst are full of passionate intensity" - Yeats). More importantly, you need knowledge and intelligence (Trotsky, in Literature and Revolution, famously encouraged all would-be revolutionaries to read Dante). But trying to engage Don Jolly in a rational argument - as I believe John Stevenson has attempted on more than one occasion - will get you only banal, emotionalized platitudes ("We still need love") in response. (John, anecdotes please.) I find it rather sad that Mr. Jolly will graduate from Dartmouth without the intellectual equipment a liberal education is supposed to cultivate in people.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

From a BBC article on the new Bin Laden tape:

[Bin Laden] also urges Muslims to expel "criminals" from the Middle East and strike at the embassies and commercial interests of the United States, Britain, Australia and Norway.

Since when is Norway on the short list of oppresive foreign regimes? If they'd picked Spain or one of the other countries that half-heartedly endorsed the Iraq war, that might make sense -- but Norway?

Defending Cornel West

Browsing National Review's Corner blog, I noted with some disapproval the derision once again being directed towards Cornel West: Princeton professor, superstar intellectual, and movie-star. West of course makes an easy target for conservatives who like criticizing leftist academics. I'd like to defend Dr./Councillor/Brother West, if I may, against men like Jonah Goldberg, John Derbyshire, and Donald Luskin who seem to think of West as nothing more than a charlatan whose sole purpose is to be mocked.

First, the bad: West has a huge ego. His politics are radical by most standards. And his rap CD was silly. But let's not paint too one-sided a picture of him. I chanced upon this article which suggests that he is a very good teacher. Here's someone who teaches a class called "The Tragic, the Comic and the Political" featuring authors like Plato, Sophocles, Dante, Kafka, Chekhov, O'Neill, and Beckett. West "expects it will be the texts, not his lectures, that will bewitch the students this semester." Now isn't this just the sort of class those New Criterion folks would applaud?

West was at Dartmouth last fall for the very, very silly "Race Matters" conference, named in honor of his most (in)famous book. He struck me as a very intelligent man who wouldn't mind engaging conservatives in dialogue. You can't say this about many leftist academics, I think. The behavior of his nemeses, however, has been less than gracious. When Gertrude Himmelfarb and Hilton Kramer decided to boycott a conference on philosopher Sidney Hook that West was attending, even though West had written about Sidney Hook, they placed politics over scholarship (just the sin West is accused of committing) and missed out on a great opportunity to heal the rift caused by the culture wars.

I Really Wish This Suprised Me, But...

Report: [Jayson] Blair 'couldn't stop laughing' at Times correction, according to CNN.

The disgraced reporter doesn't seem to show much - no, any - remorse for his fraud:

Former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair said he "couldn't stop laughing" when the newspaper corrected his fraudulent description of an American POW's home in West Virginia, according to excerpts of an interview with the New York Observer.

"That's my favorite, just because the description was so far off from the reality. And the way they described it in The Times story -- someone read a portion of it to me -- I couldn't stop laughing," Blair said in an interview scheduled for publication Wednesday. The newspaper made excerpts available to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

In fact, he seems mighty proud that he "fooled some of the most brilliant people in journalism" -- Blair's own words.

Now Blair is trying to turn his story into a book or movie deal. Thank you very much, Mr. Glass...

Monday, May 19, 2003
Separatism and Diversity

Alex Talcott on Dartlog wonders if Dartmouth's Commencement activities include separation graduation ceremonies for minorities, ala. Penn. I don't know about this, but I do know - courtesy of a long-absent member of this blog - that Dartmouth has a matriculation ceremony for blacks in addition to its regular, integrated Commencement. It certainly came as a surprise to me when I heard of it initially, as I don't recall it being listed on any of the official handouts. Can anyone confirm whether or not it was listed? Also, if Mr. Stevenson is out there somewhere, would he care to contribute a paragraph or two describing what he witnessed?

I'm sympathetic when Dartmouth's administrators wax lyrical about bringing different types of people together; I just don't like the racial twist they add to it all the time. But an extra matriculation ceremony - and possibly an extra graduation one - seems to contradict the idea of a single, unified Dartmouth community to a far greater extent than fraternities or ethnic housing do.

Sunday, May 18, 2003
Lynch Rescue a Fraud?

I am usually very suspicious of conspiracy theories, but the BBC reports that the Jessica Lynch rescue may have been staged. And the BBC is not considered a crank by most.

According to the report, which draws mostly on testimony by Iraqi doctors treating Lynch, US Special Forces knew that there were no Iraqi soldiers in the hospital, but barged in firing blanks (blanks!) for the embedded reporter cameras. The doctors said she had broken bones as reported, but no stab or bullet wounds and no abuse by Iraqi forces. Even though the Iraqis had already been trying to return Lynch to the US via an ambulance, they endangered her health dragging the poor girl out of the building.

If this is true (and I can't make up my mind, so use your own judgement), then we've been manipulated by a propaganda machine most of us probably weren't aware existed (after all, embedded reporters equals media transparency, right?)

If anybody sees this story in a popular US media outlet, post the link in the comment area. I'm betting nobody will touch it.

Francis Fukuyama

On Paul Wolfowitz, his old friend and former colleague:

"There's been a lot of unhelpful stuff written about Paul and the neocons suggesting they're on an Israeli agenda. Well, he sees 20th-century history through the lens of the Holocaust, he believes idealistically in using US power, including military power, to make a better world. He helped pull the rug out from Ferdinand Marcos and he was very involved in moving Indonesia away from Suharto. And I think he sees a link between success in Iraq and restarting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians."
On the future of Iraq:

"The idealist view of the Middle East is that Arab politics is stuck, and you can use Iraq to create an alternative model, an Arab state with freedom, the rule of law, greater democracy. I hope that happens. But I must say I'm sceptical. They (the Iraqis) are a fractious people. It's an extremely delicate game to have a non-Baathist regime to keep the country together. And the other reason to be pessimistic is that we (the US) are not good at nation-building. We're quick on the trigger when it comes to military intervention, but much slower on making the commitment to order and reconstruction."
On Euro-American relations:

"Europe's reluctance to embrace military solutions is a consequence of historic factors. A continent ravaged by two great wars is going to be understandably more reluctant to endorse war. We should appreciate the historic roots of European attitudes. But because the Iraq war ended quickly there's room to rebuild the transatlantic relationship and we should try. Ad hoc coalitions of the willing are all very well, but we should seek stability through international institutions. That makes life more predictable, and prevents us returning to a more unstable, 19th-century world."

Saturday, May 17, 2003
Terrorism's next wave

A few days after the attack in Saudi Arabia, another wave of suicide bombings, this time in Casablanca, Morocco. (By the way, there are Dartmouth students in Morocco at the present moment. Thankfully, they're in Fez.) Whether or not it's al-Qaeda remains to be seen.

Will this new wave of attacks, which so far appear to be concentrated within the Middle East, prove harmful to Islamic terrorism in the long run? One can only hope so. We've already seen how Saudi Arabia, for so long a breeding ground for terrorists, appears to have woken up to the dangers terrorism poses to its own country. This article in the Arab Daily News suggests grounds for optimism, even more so these denunciations of terrorism in Saudi mosques and the vow by Saudi leaders to join the anti-terrorism effort. It's too early to say how far the Saudis will go, of course. As the articles I've quoted clearly state, public opinion on the Saudi street can't be considered pro-American, and probably never will be. But if the Saudis and other Islamic states can be persuaded to combat terrorism based on their own self-interest, that can only be a good thing. The US needs to pursue this line of reasoning further.

Friday, May 16, 2003
Matrix Reloaded

For those of you haven't seen it yet, a tip: there's a teaser trailer for the next movie after the credits.

[Warning: there may be spoilers in the rest of the post. Read at your own risk.]

- The rave scene was too long and pretty pointless. And not very titillating either.

- Why is that annoying Frenchman called the Merovingian? The Merovingians were a bunch of semi-barbaric Franks who ruled Gaul during the Dark Ages. I can't for the life of me see the connection. Maybe the Wachowskis just thought the name sounded cool.

- Ditto Persephone and Niobe.

- I'm probably going too far with this names thing, but I thought it mildly amusing that ex-Agent Smith should have so many duplicates of himself. Smith is one of the most popular last names after all...

- Neo can now do all sorts of crazy things in the Matrix itself, including flying through the air at supersonic speeds, healing people, and starting fires. So why does he still have to resort to martial arts to deal with his enemies? (The obvious answer: because martial arts sequences are cool to watch.) Why can't he just use the Force and throw stuff at them, or zap them with lightning, or cause the ground to swallow them up, etc.?

- What happened when Smith picked up the telephone?

- I thought the philosophy was...well, gimmicky. Too many paradoxes for the sake of paradoxes. Mr. Schroeder appears to have a strong opinion on this, so I'll ask him to comment further.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Another year, another report from The D on the incoming freshman class. According to Karl Furstenberg, "approaching 40 percent non-whites on campus...represents real progress." Alas.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003
The Return of the Pig

David Brooks on the return of blatant sexism to American culture.

Monday, May 12, 2003
An amusing exchange over the Straussian neoconspiracy from ephilosopher.

Highlights: First, "The front page of the May 4, 2003 New York Times "Week in Review" section ( continues the mainstream media's long-standing fraudulent portrayal of Leo Strauss, and his acolytes like Allan Bloom, Francis Fukuyama, and Harry Jaffa, as serious political philosophers and scholars...As Myles Burnyeat (Oxford University) wrote in one of the best-known and most devastating assessments of Strauss's work by a real scholar of classical philosophy...Surely the Times might note the peculiarity of a "movement" of purported political philosophers that is universally shunned by political philosophers (not to mention scholars of classical philosophy). Philosophers ought to be concerned when their field is misrepresented in the media: why should the public be led to believe that non-philosophers like Strauss and Fukuyama, or failed philosophers like William Bennett, represent our field? The Times ought to make clear that, whatever the influence of Strauss among intellectual lightweights and political hacks like Paul Wolfowitz and William Bennett, he is viewed by actual scholars as a politically motivated and unreliable scholar, whose philosophical competence is minimal at best," to which his opponent responds, "There is no substance, and little foundation to anything you write. It is the wrath of the pigmy among giants. I see the same type of intolerance and venomous vituperation exibited in Sartre (To be sure, you will take that as a complement). That the neocons found their ideas on the philosophy of Strauss, and , I would add, Burke, frustrates people who though the intellectual domain consisting only of left-leaning clerics," to which a third interlocutor adds, "The writings of Leo Strauss are deeper and more intricate than you could ever imagine, even in the wildest of your (always unerotic, I'm certain) dreams."

I never knew that Bennett was a Straussian too. Our first master debator must have his propaganda confused this week.

More Leo Strauss

The press's fascination with Leo Strauss continues. First the New York Times, and now two pieces in the Boston Globe (here and here).

Iron Maiden

Those are the Falklands underneath the feet of that dog. I am reminded of what Yeats said about politics and creativity, "We make out of the quarrel with
others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." I suppose that the same applies to the visual arts as well.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Journos Gone Bad

The New York Times ran an atricle today apologizing for the "journalistic fraud" of former reporter Jayson Blair, who fabricated or plagerized sections of at least 36 stories while at the Times. Probably most famous was Blair's claim that investigators who were interrogating D.C. sniper suspect John Muhammad were on the verge of obtaining a confession when the Justice Department terminated the interrogation as part of a turf war with local police; the Times now admits the claim was false.

Similarly (I know this was already on Free Dartmouth, but I'm posting it here as well because it is so ironic/outrageous), former The New Republic reporter Stephen Glass - who was fired after fabricating parts of 27 articles, including some that were entirely made-up - is now writing a memoir of his time as a journalistic fraud. Only one catch: the memoir is fictional too - "a fabrication, and this time, an admitted one," writes Glass. His former editor had a slightly harsher take:

"The creep is doing it again," said Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic. "Even when it comes to reckoning with his own sins, he is still incapable of nonfiction. The careerism of his repentance is repulsively consistent with the careerism of his crimes."

Saturday, May 10, 2003
Ignorance is never a good thing

Martin Kramer always has lots of interesting things to say on his weblog, Sandstorm, but I have to disagree with him on his latest post. Kramer, who studied under Bernard Lewis at Princeton, believes that a working knowledge of Arabic is not necessary for college graduates who wish to work in Middle Eastern policy-making for the state:

The United States doesn't need a lot of new grads to explain "why they hate us." What it needs are people who are so persuaded of its mission in the world that they are prepared to undergo some hardship and risk to advance it. I happen to think that calling that mission "empire" just gets in the way. But whatever the mission is called, its bearers have to be persuaded that it is the worthiest of causes. That demands cultural self-esteem and self-mastery—the true purpose of an elite education. It doesn't require a working knowledge of Arabic.

The reason Kramer gives his belief that Arabic isn't necessary, only "cultural self-esteem and self-mastery," is his usual one: Middle East Studies in America, dominated by unthinking acolytes of Edward Said, are "more likely to produce a human shield than a proconsul." He goes on to cite the example of Yale professor Dmitri Gutas, who argued against the US bombing the Taliban and al-Qaeda during Ramadan, and against the recent bombing of Baghdad, because of the cultural significance of both Ramadan and Baghdad. Persons "too knowledgeable in [Middle Eastern] ways and languages might see things rather too readily from their point of view. And knowledge, turned into sympathy, could paralyze." If the US is building an empire in the traditional sense as described by British historian Niall Ferguson in this essay (which Kramer is responding to in his blog), it need not be interested in learning the ways of the culture it is ruling over. As Ronny Heaslop in E.M. Forster's A Passage to India quipped, "We're not pleasant in India, and we don't intend to be pleasant. We've something more important to do."

Kramer has a point about Middle Eastern Studies in America; there needs to be more room within the academy for people like him, Fouad Ajami, and Daniel Pipes (peaceful co-existence with the others, I say). But he exaggerates, I think, the influence men like Joel Beinin, Rashid Khalidi, Gabriel Piterberg, et al. have on their students. We aren't automatons, you know. Not all of us swallow whole what our professors have to say. Kramer also exaggerates the extent to which learning Arabic will necessarily produce radical cultural relativists, and ignores the many benefits that accrue to someone with a knowledge of indigenous languages and cultures working within those cultures. He himself has benefitted from such understanding, after all. If you want to work in Middle Eastern affairs, you can't afford not to know Arabic! Languages are the foremost means towards accessing other cultures (a salient truth that, ironically, many multiculturalists tend to ignore). Even if your purpose is not understanding and scholarship but reform and control, you still need to understand what you're reforming and changing.

And mind you, "Empire" is not how I'd describe the US and UK's current endeavor. The current operation in Iraq cannot be equated with imperial enterprises of old, not without acknowledging the considerable differences between the two eras, the respective governments, and the rhetoric being employed now and then. Within the current framework, I'd say that cultural understanding is far more important than it was previously.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Since we're on the topic of speakers, who would you like to have (or have had, in the case of 03s and lower) as your Commencement speaker? Don't forget to say why.

Senior Symposium

On the one hand, it's sad to see the symposium go. I'd like to see the '04 Class Council resurrect it if they can. But on the other hand, what on earth could Michael Moore possibly contribute to the Dartmouth community? (Maybe Film Studies majors would benefit.) I'm all for bringing in controversial and provocative speakers whom I don't agree with, but they surely must possess an intellect of sorts (even Edward Said or Noam Chomsky would be preferable). Moore, I'm afraid, is a complete idiot (have you tried reading Stupid White Men? - it sits in the third floor bathroom of my fraternity, next to a stack of old Maxims) - and for all that money? I shudder to think that "There was a lot of interest from people on campus for Mike Moore."

Class of 2003 Commencement Speaker announced

And it's Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, biographer of John Adams and Harry Truman. Other recipients of honorary degrees will include tennis legend Billie Jean King and poet W. S. Merwin, lately a translator of Dante (I recall Mr. Samuels had something to say about this).

The D's article also mentions that English professor Nancy Crumbine and Adam Kuhlmann '03 will address the graduating class (Crumbine as faculty speaker, Kuhlmann as Class Orator). I had the chance of hearing Crumbine deliver a public speech before: it was quite a dramatic speech, but I recall being unimpressed by its lack of substance.

My question is: how does one get chosen as Class Orator? Or, for that matter, how do you get chosen as Class Historians (what do they do?) and Class Marshals (again, what do they do?).

Has anyone ever thought of the NYT as the D of the real world? Take for example this editorial by Maureen Dowd, in which she does nothing more than summarize an episode of Ali G.

The Infinite Monkey Theory: Disproved?

Here's some bizarre research bolstering the case of those who support a curriculum emphasizing classic literature.

Bill Bennett and Cultural Decline

I've not been following the Bill Bennett debate that much. Let's just say that I consider the man a creep whose books are only slightly more sophisticated than the pop culture he bashes. If I want to read about cultural decline, I'll turn to Jacques Barzun. I may disagree with his prognostications (the closing chapters in From Dawn to Decadence are simply another variant on a perennial theme), but at least I know I'm in the presence of a genuine intellectual as opposed to some populist conservative like Bennett (or worse still, Buchanan and some of the more radical elements of the Christian Right). This hilarious article in Salon pretty much sums him up. As for the current furor, the best piece so far seems to be Peter Beinart's in The New Republic (link courtesy of Andrew Sullivan, whom Dartmouth should invite to campus this instant - see my previous post).

Depending on my mood, I actually can be sympathetic to arguments about cultural decline, which by the way, is not a partisan, left-right issue. See novelist Margaret Drabble's hysterical rant against Amerikahere. (Best quote: "I detest Disneyfication, I detest Coca-Cola, I detest burgers, I detest sentimental and violent Hollywood movies that tell lies about history.") But to speak of decline requires bringing up a standard that the present state of society can be compared to. The likes of Bennett and Buchanan aren't very good at doing this. When they try, they invariably paint a one-dimensional picture of both the present and the past, exaggerating present vices and past virtues, and downplaying present virtues and past vices. We don't want to turn the clock back to the 1950s, or to the Middle Ages, or to ancient Greece. The present, and by that I mean the post-Cold War period, is not perfect - to assume that society can be perfected is a socialist delusion - but the state of things now is better than it has been ever before.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

As reported in today's D, the LGBTQSA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual...) community at Dartmouth just held an "open meeting of the community" to discuss the implications of a series of "images or phrases that demean homosexuals" that have appeared on campus recently. The D's article doesn't go into much detail about just what images or phrases were employed, save for one example: a "poster that was circulating in the Choates first-year dorm cluster [that] featured a celebrity pointing outward over the phrase 'you're a homo.'"

Is it just me - hey, I'm a minority, so I should be able to empathize with them better than you white people - or is this example not very offensive or homophobic or demeaning at all? It may be from an individual's point of view, but in the wider context, it pales in comparison with other, more vicious and provocative efforts, which I shall not mention here (use your imagination). I'm reminded of the furor that emerged over Abercrombie & Fitch's "Asian-American stereotypes" t-shirts last year, as well as countless other examples that I'm sure Dartloggers will be more than willing to recount. Was a community hour really necessary? As in, what could it possibly hope to achieve in terms of decreasing the incidence of such "bias" on campus? If anything, reactions such as these only reinforce the stereotype that minorities are a hypersensitive bunch. And as history suggests, these events just keep on happening, no matter how many community hours are held. A mature reaction would be simply to ignore what happened, or laugh it off, or at worst, politely tell off the person who originated the stereotypes. (I thought the A&F t-shirts were quite funny, even if my sartorial tastes tend towards solid-colored clothing.)

This is all old hat, of course. The wider questions I'd like to pose are: what are the consequences of colleges attempting to shelter minorities - or anyone else, for that matter - from images and phrases that demean them? How useful is such a form of sensitivity in the wider world, or in an intellectual setting such as the university? A lot of people complain that colleges are ivory towers that isolate their students excessively from the vicissitudes of life. These same people then fret over incidents such as these. They appear to desire a selective engagement with the outside world: I'll take my FSP to Sudan, I'll build some houses in the Bahamas. But don't let me hear or see anything as horrible as "you're a homo." Ironically, real life doesn't really allow for such picking and choosing.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
To D or Not to D
Since the D didn't run my response to Dan Galemba's op-ed yesterday, I am taking advantage of the privilege of being able to post it here:

A Three Part Lesson in Irony

To the editor:

Mr. Galemba asks me if I appreciate my own irony. Tu quoque, Mr. Galemba. In three brief points:

1. Take out the alcohol. Now one has reduced it to two people hooking up, one, the woman, regretting it. One has conveniently left out the next part. I'm a bit confused by this. I think the implication all along has been that the woman then "fabricates" a sexual assault claim. Is Galemba willing to back up this common conservative opinion with an actual number of claims that you insist are fabricated, and a source for that claim?

2. It's very easy for Galemba to build a straw man by calling my claims "hyperemotionalized" and "liberal," and then responding that his, which reflect those held by a conservative organization,, are "independent." Reading Galemba's piece is like watching the O'Reilly Factor. Call a spade a spade. I am not sure which side my views reflect, but if it is liberal, so be it - I stand behind my opinion regardless of how Galemba labels it. It would be nice if Galemba showed the same spine rather than employing a shoddy debating tactic.

3. I have been a student here for nearly 4 years now. I have been fairly involved on campus. I have had a few pieces published in this newspaper, including the one to which Mr. Galemba was responding. So I wonder who to blame for the persistent misspelling of my last name, "Eisenman," in his piece.

Perhaps the last point stopped them. Oh well.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Scott Ritter, again

Comparative analysis can frequently be employed to shed light on contemporary political and social issues. When done wrongly, however, it reveals spectacular lack of both knowledge and cognitive ability; the tendency is always to focus on the superficial similarities, while ignoring the underlying, historical and (dare I say it) moral differences. Take for example the recent flurry of comparisons made between various aspects of the Bush government and Hitler's Germany. We've heard such accusations made not only by street protesters, but also by politicians (some German minister, as I recall) and pundits. The latest person to do so is our old friend Scott Ritter. In an interview with the Berliner Zeitung (how ironic that he should be making these comments in a German newspaper), Ritter states his belief that there is "no difference between the invasion of Iraq and the and the invasion of Poland by Hitler in 1939." No difference? Perhaps Ritter's comments should not come as a surprise. In an interview with Time Magazine last fall, Ritter refused to discuss children's prisons in Iraq "because what I saw was so horrible that it can be used by those who would want to promote war with Iraq, and right now I'm waging peace." Golly. Like Mohammed Said al-Sahaf and many other "knowledgeable" pundits, he also said that the US did not have the military means to take over Baghdad, "and for this reason I believe the defeat of the U.S. in this war is inevitable."

I've added a new website to our links section: The New Atlantis. It's a newly-founded journal of technology and society whose articles should give us plenty to chew on in addition to regular political affairs.

Attack of the Leo-cons

The New York Times has a piece on political philosopher Leo Strauss and his influence on neoconservative thinking today. Among Strauss's most famous students at the University of Chicago were Allan Bloom - who went on to teach Paul Wolfowitz and Francis Fukuyama, amongst others - and Dartmouth's own Roger Masters.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Saturday, May 03, 2003
Donald Rumsfeld needs your help, kids!

Can Idaville's smartest boy detective crack the case? Turn now to Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Weapons of Mass Destruction!

Friday, May 02, 2003

MP for Labour George Galloway opens proceedings for libel against the Telegraph. Darling of "Why War?" Representative Jim McDermott received a check for $5,000 from Shakir al-Khafaji, an Iraqi American businessman with close ties to the Baath. No word from Free Dartmouth. Silence from the American media.

"In my opinion, they are all evil. I would spend the rest of my life bringing them to their knees. These are the real terrorists," said former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop of the Class of 1937 about Big Tobacco. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine later dismissed his remarks as "simplistic." Professor of International Relations Ned Lebow said, "the real Axis of Evil runs between Rockefeller and Silsby Hall."

New Criterion Watch II: Chomsky's Hypocrisy

For an example of un-pretentious, content-rich criticism, the New Criterion editors should read their own piece on Noam Chomsky by Keith Windschuttle. It does what very few pieces of criticism do: it allows the subject to speak for itself, or himself, in this case. Windschuttle doesn't need to engage in verbal gymnastics to demonstrate what's wrong with statements such as these:

the deaths in Cambodia were not the result of systematic slaughter and starvation organized by the state but rather attributable in large measure to peasant revenge, undisciplined military units out of government control, starvation and disease that are direct consequences of the US war, or other such factors.

Windschuttle raises a more contentious point when he claims that left-wing political activism by and large reproduces Chomsky's views uncritically, or to put it more bluntly, left-wing political activists = Chomsky's proteges. I'm not sure I agree with this, and I don't think Free Dartmouth does either.

New Criterion Watch: The Language of Criticism

Another month, another issue of The New Criterion. Kimball and Kramer have really outdone themselves this time. In the latest "Notes & Comments," a short sneer at a recent lit-theory symposium employs the words "lucubration," "epigoni," and "tergiversation," trots out memorable phrases like "dilating the nullity," and "routinely abominated," and quotes Edgar Allan Poe and the Latin epigraph, "Nil sapientiae odiosius acumine nimio" (“Nothing is more hateful to wisdom than excessive cleverness” - at least they provided the translation). What did Orwell say again about pretentious diction? All this in an article attacking postmodernism, mind you.


The D reports on Christina Hoff Sommers at Dartmouth. I'm not going into the contents of the piece, lest I incur Laura's wrath, but check out The D's picture of her: blond, relatively young-ish. Compare that to the picture on her official webpage at the American Enterprise Institute. I don't get it...maybe she had a makeover. Or plastic surgery. Or maybe The D just got it wrong...

(You can read Kathleen Reeder's report on her here, provocatively titled "Sex, Lies, and Feminism.")