The Dartmouth Observer

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Sunday, February 29, 2004

What did I tell you?

P.S. Best moment of the show: Michael Moore getting stomped on by an oliphaunt.

Saturday, February 28, 2004
The Passion

It was one of the most uniquely powerful movies that I as an atheist have seen. Now I was moved on many occasions in the Lord of the Rings movies, but not in a way that I was for the two hours of The Passion; I can only imagine what religious people would feel. Yes, it was violent. But unlike Andrew Sullivan, who considers it "pure pornography," I did not see the violence as sensational or gratuitous. Watch Kill Bill if you want pornographic violence. Also, Sullivan doesn't note that the flayings and the beatings are juxtaposed with flashbacks from the Last Supper and earlier episodes in Jesus's life.

I didn't find the movie anti-Semitic, and neither did my Jewish friend who watched it with me and who thought it was anti-Semitic before he did so. Who's to blame for Jesus's death? It's not just the Jews. While Caiphas and his followers are of course culpable, so too is Pilate, whose indifference and spinelessness in the face of said mob I found deeply disturbing. Speaking of mobs, what about the brutality of the Roman soldiers?

Surprise surprise!

The New York Times reports that "In its final years in power, Saddam Hussein's government systematically extracted billions of dollars in kickbacks from companies doing business with Iraq, funneling most of the illicit funds through a network of foreign bank accounts in violation of United Nations sanctions."

Read the whole article here.

Friday, February 27, 2004
Human Rights

The State Department has published its annual Human Rights Report. Be sure to browse through it when you have the time.

Thursday, February 26, 2004
Harold Bloom vs. Naomi Wolf: the feminists react

The Guardian has a list of quotations from prominent feminists on Naomi Wolf's recent allegation that Harold Bloom molested her 20 years ago. Says one Lynne Segal, a professor of psychology and gender studies at Birkbeck College:

Bloom is such a big, powerful figure that I'm sure he has very little to worry about. He loves to attack feminists, he is one of the leaders of the backlash against feminism and the feminist readings of the canon. He is a conservative influence trying to preserve the world as it was, before minority groups had a voice.
Notice, first of all, the intellectual dishonesty involved in making the shift from accusing Bloom of being anti-feminist to being anti-minority (i.e. racist). Then consider the countervailing evidence that suggests Bloom may very well be just what Segal thinks he isn't: a feminist:

Feminism as a stance calling for equal rights, equal education, equal pay—no rational, halfway decent human being could possibly disagree with this. But what is called feminism in the academies seems to be a very different phenomenon indeed.
So much for Bloom's supposed desire to "preserve the world as it was, before minority groups had a voice." How does one "preserve the world as it was" and not "as it is," by the way?

Segal should drop the intellectual theorizing and just speak her mind like Julie Burchill does about Camille Paglia:

I think Paglia is a frustrated, jealous bitch, whose star is very much on the wane and who has always wanted to fuck Wolf. And, of course, she could barely pull a skunk without money changing hands, she's so disgusting. And that's my considered opinion on the matter.

Victor Davis Hanson

The LA Times profiles military historian and conservative pundit Victor Davis Hanson (registration required to view article).

Hanson's support for the administration's aggressive response to the attacks on New York and the Pentagon has never flagged.

During the rockiest periods of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Hanson has only amped up his support, dismissing the significance of American casualties and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

"In the list of 10 reasons to go to Iraq," Hanson said, "I think WMD was about the 10th. I've told the administration that they made a mistake placing too much emphasis on it."
Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004
But he's not a freshman

Karsten Barde '04, whom I've had disagreements with in the past, returns in the latest DFP with yet another (predictable) piece on the racial exclusiveness of Dartmouth's traditions. This time, it's the Polar Bear Swim -- or this year's Swim in particular -- that's under scrutiny for its supposed exclusiveness. The evidence Karsten employs is, as usual, substantial: one anecdote seems to do the trick this time around. Let's pose a few questions:

First, how reliable were his sources? Judging from comments they made such as "Were white kids the only ones stupid enough to jump into a frozen pond in the dead of winter?" I'd say not very reliable at all. It is of course perfectly acceptable in Karsten's view to make statements such as these calling white kids stupid. How would he react if someone said, "Were black/Asian/minority kids the only ones stupid enough not to attend such a cool event?" I simply cannot believe that they were the only two minorities there. How long did they stay for? How extensive was their search? Could they possibly have been prejudiced against the event before they attended it?

Second, why does Karsten constantly presume to speak on behalf of minorities at this College? According to him, "many students of color feel these divisions every minute of every day" and "it frequently takes an effort for students of color to fit into a white culture." Every minute of the day?? Sorry, I don't buy that; I invite him to converse with many friends of mine who will either strenuously disagree with him or express indifference towards his complaining.

Third, and on a related note, why does Karsten constantly exhort white students to recognize their "privilege" and "leave their own comfort zones?" For guilty white progressives like him, it's always, repeat ALWAYS, the white man's fault. Has he considered the possibility that minorities create their own comfort zones too?

The bottom line is that Dartmouth's traditions are open to everyone. Attitudes towards it, such as those espoused by Karsten and his two sources, are just that: attitudes, paradigms of racialist thinking that inhibit behavior and thought. Nothing is going to stop minorities from participating in the Polar Bear Swim except their own racial sensitivities -- and the cold.

At least he's only a freshman

Luis-Alejandro Dinnella-Borrego '07 piece in the recent Dartmouth Free Press is a spectacularly bad piece of prose. It doesn't say anything substantive except, 'We must fight for injustice, dammit.' No details (okay, the ghettos of Patterson, NJ, are mentioned), no argument, just assertions and cliches. Consider the following:

I am a student and I am a man. But what is that worth, if people are dying overseas?

I don't want to see this misery and suffering anymore.

I have my convictions, my principles, my ideas; and I will remain true to them, until all cease to suffer — until this country is truly free and equal.

We have a duty and a responsibility toward our fellow human beings and we must come to their aid.

The future — our future, everyone’s future — hangs in the balance.
Contrast his piece to Sarah Ayres's article on Feminists for Life in the same issue. She addresses specific points and writes concisely. I may not agree with her on some issues (and I'm not a pro-life absolutist by any means), but I learned from what she had to say.

Sunday, February 22, 2004
"Asian" values, again

What the heck are "Asian values"? Those who frequently invoke the term to justify censorship, oppression, and other very silly policies seem to have no idea just how heterogeneous and plural Asian traditions are. Worse still, proponents of Asian values imply every time they use the phrase that Western values are, by contrast, immoral and corrupting. Have these people actually read and synthesized the texts and thinkers -- Confucius, the Buddha, Muhammad, the Vedas, and so on -- that constitute Asian intellectual history (or histories)? Have they read seriously in the Western classics, or are they deriving their views of the West from Britney, Janet, and other specimens of American pop culture? Are they aware that the cultural relativism that underlies their statement is just one of many Western ideas/values that they've appropriated but conveniently forgotten? Judging by the consistent stream of ill-informed appeals to authority that flow from lawmakers in that region of the world, I guess not.

Schama on contemporary historians

Columbia historian Simon Schama is accusing his fellow academics of making the subject dull by publishing works too full of "scientific data" and "obsessive footnotes." Says Prof. Schama: "History's adventure has become a bit lost...It's not as explosive or exciting as it used to be. What we need to recover is our reckless literary courage."

One of his critics, J. L. Nelson, misses the point when she says that "History is very much more diverse in the things it covers now...There are more people studying history - it's more popular than ever." Schama is making a qualitative and not a quantitative argument here. Sure, there may be more people studying History nowadays, but just what are they studying? What do they hope to achieve by publishing books that no one except a handful of fellow specialists read? Popularity is not a measure of quality; given the current state of the job market, it may not even be a good measure of how interested people are in the subject.

That said, the kind of history that Schama writes and advocates is not without its deficiencies. Popular historians - and Schama is no exception - frequently get stuff wrong and make things up. It's to be expected when you're rushing to meet a deadline and employ armies of graduate students to do research for you.

The bottom line is that historians have a dual responsibility: 1) to their material and 2) to their readers, who constitute not just academics but intelligent laymen as well. History, unlike, say, Chemistry, has a sizable public role: it supplies the material essential for democratic discourse, and thus cannot afford to become either overly academic, or overly populist.

Saturday, February 21, 2004
Noam Chomsky sinks again

He says, "There has been one elected leader in the Middle East, one, who was elected in a reasonably fair, supervised election...namely Yassir Arafat."

As the article Pejman links to points out, this ain't so.

And what about Israel?

Read the rest of his interview (if you can bear it) here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Iranians are NOT Arabs

It looks as if the Times is guilty of...Orientalism!

(In fairness, the article is worth reading.)

(Hat-tip: Pejman)

Monday, February 16, 2004
Back to our regularly scheduled programming

As the debate surrounding David Horowitz's proposed Academic Bill of Rights heats up, as Daniel Pipes gets a warm welcome at Berkeley, it seems appropriate to ask, once again, "why is academia leftist?" Edward Feser is the latest to tackle this question in a two-part TechCentralStation essay. Thoughts and comments may be forthcoming depending on how much work I get done this week.

Sunday, February 15, 2004
And now, for something entirely different from our usual fare

The NYT has a lengthy piece entitled "The Virus Underground" on the people (teenage males, it would seem) who spend their idle hours hatching computer viruses. Check out the photos that accompany the articles. The second guy looks normal, but the first and third strike me as decidely sketchy (why is the first guy posing shirtless, for instance?). And they say that socially-inept geeks are an urban myth...

Friday, February 13, 2004
James Joyce: Overrated? Treason!

Irish writer Roddy Doyle, of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha fame, recently upset a lot of people when he called James Joyce's Ulysses -- widely regarded as the best novel of the 20th century -- "overrated, overlong, and unmoving." He doesn't even think Joyce is the best Irish writer, preferring to bestow that accolade on -- not Swift, Beckett, Yeats -- but on Jennifer Johnston (whom Laura wrote her senior thesis on!).

Now I haven't read Doyle's celebrated book (which has outsold Ulysses on, but having spent one term reading Ulysses, I can tell you that is is not "overrated, overlong, and unmoving." If Ulysses is long, then so too is the Divine Comedy, and there are too many Canterbury Tales, and In Search of Lost Time...well, let's not even get into Proust. I suspect Doyle's antipathy may have something to do with the anxiety of influence that great writers generate in their successors. Whether he likes it or not, Doyle probably owes more to Joyce than he thinks. But again, I should probably read his book first.

More eloquent apologia for Joyce and Ulysses come by way of John Sutherland and John Mullan.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Mark Steyn's Letter of the Week

Daniel Deasy from Ireland writes:

I'm probably not your average reader, being a nineteen-year-old Irish undergraduate, but I feel that my opinion holds great weight in general, and need your sage advice. I have thoroughly enjoyed your articles in the Telegraphs and the Speccie for a number of years now, having been introduced at a tender and malleable age to the Great British Right-wing press by a sinister but well-meaning uncle. I don't find your articles in the least bit offensive or extreme, which probably has to do with my not being a neo-Ghandian anarcho-Bolshevik, like many of my school fellows. In fact I feel that you may be restraining yourself. The main reason I write (if that's the correct word, type maybe) is to ask you how you cope with the constant abuse, loss of friends, social rejection and socio-moral indignation that comes with having sensible conservative opinions, and not hating all things American... I was dating a beautiful Swedish girl not long ago, and one morning she started on about feminism. I'd love to say that I immediately jumped up and left, as a matter of principle, but the truth is she was hot and I tried to keep stumm, nodding furiously and smiling all strained like. I eventually cracked and accidentally mentioned Margaret Thatcher, as an example of a woman I respected, I think, and haven't seen her since (the Swede, that is.) I just can't help it. What do you do?

Read Steyn's response here.

The Chronicle of Higher Education today carries a neat package of stories: conservative students bite back against the so-called liberal bias in academia. Which reminds me of the original Michael Berube article and the ensuing debate.

First things first, from today's Chronicle story:

"When students like myself feel alienated, that drastically compromises the educational environment," says Mr. Miller, the Duke freshman. "We need a completely, utterly, entirely unbiased pursuit of knowledge."

Frankly, the point of education is not to coddle and protect students' political viewpoints and keep them from feeling 'alienated' - it is to challenge those viewpoints, liberal and conservative alike, and make them think long and hard about why they hold the views they hold. How many students at age eighteen or twenty-two have actually thought out their political ideals and can explain them coherently and rationally? I probably couldn't. How many of those students have been politically aware beyond the Clinton and Dubya administrations? Not me. The end result of having your viewpoint challenged could be that your politics shift. Or your arguments for one or the other becoming stronger and clearer and more solidly supported.

As for academia's hostility towards conservatives, the problem is not political views, it is sheer human rudeness, combativeness and ungraciousness. On both sides. These are the same people who, as students, start Blitz wars, with the rest of us clinging tight to our inboxes begging to be taken off the list.

Monday, February 09, 2004
Joseph Epstein on Teaching

As a teacher, I noted many students whom I came to think of as "good at school." The phrase, as I use it, is non-approbative and carries no more weight than, say, "good at soccer." These students have been trained to take tests, to write the A paper, to score high on their SATs. They understand that the first question confronting the college student is what the hell does the professor want. Once they discover this, they deliver it. They may or may not be genuinely interested in books, ideas, culture. But culture isn't their goal--business or law or medical school is.

Read the rest of the essay here. As you might expect from Epstein, it's fabulous.

Friday, February 06, 2004
Quote of the Day

The D's editorial board gets it right on:

Furthermore, it is clear that Buzzflood was interested not in promoting Dartmouth, but rather in promoting Buzzflood.

Thursday, February 05, 2004
Now, with less education or your money back

And rugged excellence is the very fiber of Dartmouth.

Do Kabir Sehgal and Brent Reidy realize how idiotic they sound? First of all their column sounds like a sports article discussing the A-Rod deal. ("Several times during the past four months many believed this discussion was 'dead.'") But that is just a minor irritant. The thing that is really annoying about Buzzflood's rhetoric is how it's steeped in the language of advertising. Their particular tone of voice can put a positive spin on anything, as it does in this column, saying that "yeah we failed, but at least we tried in the first place." If this is excellence in writing and in manufacturing an image of Dartmouth, I can see why the two writers called their efforts in this direction "dangerous."

What they describe is not Dartmouth and it is not America. To quote Thomas Wolfe:

And it seemed to George that Randy's tragedy was the essential tragedy of America. America--the magnificent, unrivaled, unequaled, unbeatable, unshrinkable, supercolossal, 99-and-44-one-hundredths-percent-pure, schoolgirl-complexion, covers-the-earth, I'd-walk-a-mile-for-it, four-out-of-five-have-it, his-master's-voice, ask-the-man-who-owns-ones, blueplate-special home of advertising, salesmanship, and special pleading in all its many catchy and beguiling forms.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004
Bush, Lieberman, Kerry, Dean

Courtesy of Stefan Beck at Armavirumque is an article from Britain's Daily Telegraph on the shared institutional history of four Presidential candidates. It turns out that Bush, Kerry, Dean, and Lieberman were all members of the Skull and Bones secret society at Yale - yes, that same society popularized by that silly movie, The Skulls. A friend once told me that it was the only secret society in America that mattered - Dartmouth's own Sphinx pales in comparison - and I guess this is more evidence to support that claim...