A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Saturday, September 21, 2002
THAT WAS FAST: Steven den Beste attempts a response to my post below that egregiously pulls a quote completely out of context (and boy do I mean completely--read the line in my post that directly follows the sentence that he has quoted) for use in a straw man argument.

My very simple reply: he has either mischaracterized or misinterpreted my argument as ad hominem (people whose texts are used as examples tend to do that, I guess) and does not appreciate that I'm criticizing his claims based on the inadequacy of the evidence he employs (mostly abstract overgeneralizations) to support them.

P.S.: One last point. SDB says: "Let's get some perspective here, OK? I'm just a guy writing and posting because it gives me something to do. The idea that I am someone not entitled to hold or present certain opinions on this site because of lack of academic credentials is silly."

No, Steven, my critique is not that you need to be some sort of expert to present certain opinions. It's that when you sweepingly claim that a culture is worthless without a minimal amount of concrete evidence, you are no longer making an argument; you are simply talking smack about someone's culture.
CULTUREHAWKS: I know I said I wasn’t going to respond to this random flame, but the last line still bothers me: "Until you've lived the muslim life as a woman then you have no right to attack the west."

Now, assuming that Shane is not an oddly named Yemeni woman who has immigrated to Melbourne and that he is what he seems to be—a tempermental guy from Australia with poor orthography—I have to note that it's damned unlikely that he's ever lived as a Muslim woman either. Considering that he thinks that Islam is a religion that's not "even fit for an animal to live in," I have serious doubts that he’s ever even had a 10-minute conversation with a Muslim woman. Given this lack of direct experience, I have to wonder: from where does Shane get his incredible sociological insight into Muslim culture?

This leads me to a question that I would like to turn to the more sophisticated "culturalist" warbloggers out there who make grandiose pronouncements on the deep structural flaws of Islamic culture that can only be reformed through radical, Western-imposed change: What experience and knowledge do you have of Arab and Islamic culture that allows you make these sweeping sociological judgments?

Sometimes I am utterly amazed by the kind of unsupported abstractions that culturehawks will unabashedly pass off as "evidence" for their theories. Steven den Beste writes 4,749 words on why "Arab culture" needs to be radically reformed without managing to cite a single specific concrete example of Arabic life (making a general pronouncements about the use of cellphones and Saudi Arabia's lack of technical infrastructure don't come close to cutting it). Not one Arab name--nevermind a quote from an actual person living in an Arab or Islamic country--graces his 10 screens of analysis. He writes about what he thinks the Koran says without citing any of its passages, although he does refer to the text by its more sophisticated transliteration. He doesn’t even quote a single Western source on Arabic or Islamic culture. The closest he comes is a highly abstract Ralph Peters article that is about less-developed countries in general. Thus, SDB ends up tossing up puffy and exaggerated claims like

The nations and the peoples within the zone of our enemy's culture are complete failures. Their economies are disasters. They make no contribution to the advance of science or engineering. They make no contribution to art or culture. They have no important diplomatic power. They are not respected. Most of their people are impoverished and miserable and filled with resentment, and those who are not impoverished are living a lie. [ed.—compare this graf to a quote this blog picked out from an August Mark Steyn column]

Beyond SDB, I have a few questions for all of you other culturehawk bloggers out there. Have any of you folks ever lived in any of the countries whose cultures you claim require radical reformation? No, that’s asking way too much. How about a much lower bar instead: When was the last time you read or heard a specific and concrete account of Islamic or Arab culture by someone who has actually lived within it in a thick way? Can you cite one account of Islamic or Arab culture that you read or heard this summer that wasn't filtered through a major Western newspaper or television network? Watching half an hour of Behind the Veil and saying hello to Rashid who lives two doors down don’t count (or wait, was he a Sikh?).

When I read pieces like den Beste’s essay or Mark Steyn’s rants, I get the sense that the closest these people have gotten to the cultures they’re attacking is when they read someone who read someone who read Bernard Lewis once. These are guys that Edward Said or any serious Middle East scholar could eviscerate while making tea.

Clearly there are people who have extensive specific and concrete experience of Arabic and Islamic culture who also issue strong critiques of these cultures. Heaven knows that even the most enlightened cultures could improve (no, I am not afraid to assert that "Western" culture has many traits that are superior to those of other cultures). The difference, however, is that a critic with this kind of experience and at least minimal sociological aptitude recognizes that the cultures they criticize are made up of many disparate individuals and factions that cannot easily be reduced to a homogenous "they." Such critics would never say about the cultures they are studying that "they have nothing whatever they can point to that can save face and preserve their egos. In every practical objective way we are better than they are, and they know it."

Finally, I have one very big pet peeve that I would like to unload in the form of a (likely futile) request: culturehawks, before you next decide to speak on behalf of Muslim women, could you at least please read what a Muslim feminist has to say?

But, alas, this is probably too much to ask, for what else is the culturehawk but a first cousin of the chickenhawk, another creature who has so much to say regarding something about which he knows so little?
Friday, September 20, 2002
ME VS. MSNBC: Saw a report today by John Elliott on MSNBC today about the new U.S. Census education attainment figures. My ears popped up when Elliott annouced that Hartford is the 2nd worst educated state capitol in the country, as only 12% of its residents have earned a Bachelor's degree. I was going to blog about what that says about Connecticut and such but when I went to check the figures and to get a link, I noticed that the actual report seems to give a figure of 28.2%. Did I miss something or did Elliott just screw up?

I'd give this a more in-depth check, but I really should be getting to work...blogging is so addictive sometimes, though...
THOUGHT: Watching someone you know die of Alzheimer's is watching someone die in tiny pieces at a time. Each time I saw my grandmother, she was submerged a few millimetres deeper into oblivion. I don't know if doling out the mourning over years makes it easier, since by the time it comes to an end, you're left with the terrible thought that you don't have much grief left to give.
EXPERT ADVICE: Salon reports that Mr. International Congeniality Himself, Sen. Jesse Helms, recently gave warning that "'America bashing' by [German Chancellor] Schroeder is damaging U.S.-German relations."
THE MOTHER OF ALL BLOG-COMMENTS BATTLES is occuring at this post at Eschaton, originally triggered by a duel between Hesiod and Steven den Beste over SDB's identification of "Arab culture" as "the enemy."

They're up to 115 comments in a little over a day. Oh, the humanity...
Thursday, September 19, 2002
THE ONION STRIKES AGAIN: Generally guaranteed to make you laugh hard enough to snort milk out of your nose, this Onion piece cuts so close that it's almost deeply sad instead of funny. Almost.
Wednesday, September 18, 2002
QUASI-RANDOM PROPS to this unconnected burst of three very good pieces that Andrew Edwards has put out over the last couple days. I wanted to highlight them before they fell off his front page: a skilled dismantling of the brutal illogic of an anti-Chrétien NRO piece; a thoughtful meditation on the seamier side of Sully bashing; and a heartfelt but well-argued rant against those silly, whiny "men's issues" activists.
I FEEL LIKE A BONA FIDE BLOGGER now that I've received my first piece of flame-mail from a fellow named Shane, from Australia. I actually got it Sunday, while I was smack in the middle of dealing with my family stuff, so I wasn't quite sure whether or how to react to it. I've now decided that the most appropriate response is to follow the time-honoured tradition of allowing the author's words speak for his character:

Eric, thanks for pointing out that 35% of rapes in Denmark are committed by foreigners. I feel so releived that the figure is not 75% as claimed by Mark Steyn. Now we can all sleep easy at night. But Eric, what percentage of the population are these foreigners? Maybe rapes committed by foreigners as this percentage is far more accurate. As always the indefensible is defended. Of course those blue eyes blond haired danish women were asking for it by not wearing the burqa. how dare they! The affront to a muslims eyes. they should be in the house not on the street. Afghanistan was a just society. seriously if those muslims can't handle the west they should fuck off back to the middle east where honour rapes and honour murders are deemed the rule of law. I'm tired of you hypocrites defending a culture and religion that isn't even fit for an animal to live in let alone human beings. Until you've lived the muslim life as a woman then you have no right to attack the west.
Testify! links to an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that claims that the U.S. government, under the Reagen and Bush-1 administrations, sold a cartload of nasty biotoxins to Iraq. The list includes the West Nile virus(!!), anthrax and botulism toxin. Shocking, but many of us probably suspected that this was the case. The real kicker, however, is that these sales continued until March 1992 -- a full year after the end of the Gulf War.

Is there any truth to this? I did a web search, and with an assist from LA Indymedia, I turned up the Senate report on "U.S. Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual Use Exports to Iraq and their Possible Impact on the Health Consequences of the Gulf War". Prepared by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs in 1994, the report outlines the biological agents provided to Iraq from 1985-9. While there is no mention of the previously alleged March 1992 sale, the nasties include: bacillus anthracis, cl. botulinum (botulism toxin), cl. perfringens (gas gangrene) and West Nile virus. These were sent to organizations as diverse as the State Company for Drug Industries, the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission and the Ministry of Trade. That's just lovely.

A side note: the organization that giftwrapped these goodies for Saddam is the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), which provides lab rats such as myself with cancer lines, etc. for research. Something for me to keep in mind the next time I order up some HeLa cells or hybridomas...
I'D LIKE TO SAY that I have been able to fully appreciate the scope and seriousness of Africa's AIDS crisis since it began. But I hope it doesn't sound too odd that the stark reality struck me harder ever before when I learned that South Africa's Sesame Street is introducing an orphaned HIV+ muppet to its cast.

Kami, a lively bear-like Muppet with a passion for nature...will explain that she was born with HIV and that she has no parents, but lives with a loving foster mother.

[In South Africa, 4.8 million people, or 1 in 9, are HIV+]

Tuesday, September 17, 2002
THE VIEW FROM SEOUL: An exclusive interview with the Korean guy that's renting out a room in my parents' house.

Ho Jin Choi is a 23-year-old business student at the University of Seoul, on exchange since the beginning of September to study English as a foreign language at the University of Toronto. And he's of course a devout Christian, as my parents wouldn't have rented to him otherwise. After dinner last night, conversation turned to politics:

Mom: What do Koreans think of Americans?

Ho Jin: Koreans, they don't like Americans, not Americans, Bush. Koreans don't like Bush.

Me: Why?

Ho Jin: They think he do too many things by self, for self. He don't care what everyone else thinks. [gestures with hands in the shape of a globe]

Me: Do all Koreans think this way?

Ho Jin: Yes! All Koreans liked Clin-ton much more. They think Clin-ton cared about rest of world. Much better than Bush, even if he have personal trouble.

Mom: Really...

Ho Jin: All Koreans also think if Clin-ton still there, September 11 not happen.

Mom and me: What?!? Really?

Me: All Koreans think that?

Ho Jin:, only all university students.

Me: Ah.

Conclusion: South Korea--solidly Dem. Think Bush lost them by mishandling the Ohno short track affair or what?

NOTE: Ho Jin, if you read this, I hope you think I got it just about right...
THE LAST WORD ON SWEDEN GOES TO...the Swedes (imagine that), who have re-elected their social democratic government.

The world community was stunned by this result, as the Swedes' decision flies in the face of independent observations of dozens of nonpartisan, highly qualified, Instapundit-spawned bloggers, who recently concluded that Sweden's progressive social policies have left the once prosperous North Atlantic nation in a wretched condition marked by crime and poverty.
JUST A THOUGHT that struck me as a result of reflecting on the Matt Miller's column that I mentioned below (which, a few hours later, seems suddenly inaccurate again) and the White House's quick rejection of Iraq's offer to unconditionally admit UN weapons inspectors as a "tactic."

What would be better for the U.S. right now?

A national leader who is:

1) Thoroughly venal and vain, but clever and (with respect to substantive policy) careful
2) Righteous (and perhaps self-righteous), but not terribly bright or cautious

Another way of putting it might be: would you rather have a Nixon/Clinton at the helm right now, or are you more comfortable with a Reagan/Bush-type guy?

I just randomly realized that Devra has a sort of similar reflection but from a different angle. Yay for serendipity...or maybe it's osmosis...
WHOOSH! I wish I knew people who know people who do the UN diplomacy thing in NYC. Because I wanna know exactly what's going on with the Bush administration's "consultations with Council members and other partners in New York at this time" that's mentioned in the White House's response to Iraq's unconditional acceptance of UN weapons inspectors.

I probably shouldn't complain, though, since the beginning of the response (which is all of 141 words long) provides a pretty good clue:

As the president said, the U.N. Security Council needs to decide how to enforce its own resolutions, which the Iraqi regime has defied for more than a decade.

This will require a new, effective U.N. Security Council resolution that will actually deal with the threat Saddam Hussein poses to the Iraqi people, to the region, and to the world.

The only way those two sentences could avoid being a massive non sequitor would be to add the implied premise:

The original U.N.S.C. resolutions cannot be enforced without a regime change.

I don't think there's any way we're going to avoid entering Uggabugga's chart o' possibilities, folks...

[via Jeff Cooper]
Monday, September 16, 2002
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN? Or may still be? Who can say? But for anyone who thinks it still might or still should happen, the ever-creative and graphical Uggabugga presents a fun-filled flowchart o' possibilities for an invasion of Iraq.

[via The Rittenhouse Review]

I wonder if that's what they're saying in the White House huddle right now?

That, or:
"We showed them wussy UN/Euro guys--that's how you get things done, you talk tough, shake your aircraft carriers and stealth bombers around the right way, and ya show the bad guys who's boss."

So Saddam is complying with the UN demands, so far. Perhaps a minor monkey wrench for all of those hawks who were hoping to bring a phosphorescent Christmas to Baghdad?

This still can play out in so many ways:

-Is the U.S. going to make more of the conditions that Bush outlined necessary to avoid war? The stated goal, after all, was regime change.
-A lot of people (including, perhaps, Saddam) will try to spin it as though both Iraq and the U.S. gave into the will of the world community, which is half-true
(actually everyone just sort of gave in Tony Blair and Colin Powell)
-Bush did seem to almost get cuddly with the UN, in his Texan, tough-love sort of going to start doing a bit more soft power and little less of the Ugly Unilateralism bit?
-And the Arabs actually started to get onside there. Getting pretty worried, I'll bet...

Matt Miller made a very dark speculation/prediction in a column last Wednesday regarding the Bush admin's rationale/timing for its Iraq bluster that's starting to seem more than a little on point now...very creepy, especially if you're (1) Democrat, and (2) exceptionally cynical.

(which doesn't include Devra, as I will now always remember...)
AIMEE'S INTUITION: The precocious and always cheery MusicPundit has a feeling, backed up with some of her own sources (and the UK's Mirror), that Osama is a little oilspot smeared across a bunch of rocks in Afghanistan. Hope you're right, Aimee...although it would be even better to get him alive and to stick him in a box in the Hague alongside Milosevic so that everyone can see for their eyes what a loony he is...

A CAVEAT: Need I mention the unforgettable epigram that ends The Usual Suspects?

The greatest trick
the devil ever played
convincing the world
he didn't exist...

I CAN EVEN SAY NICE THINGS ABOUT THE NP...well, usually only when they publish Mark Kingwell or Paul Wells (and sometimes Rebecca Eckler, for whom I could be a perfect boyfriend, if I were only 5 years older, much more accomplished, and Jewish). Wells impressed me with a lighthearted but smart apologia for Chrétien's comments on Sept. 11.

Note also that Wells reports that Joe Clark, in opposition to Brian Mulroney, displayed his iconoclastic integrity by defending the Prime Minister in the strongest terms, perhaps much with much more vigour than the PM's carelessness deserved...not that you would know about any of this from the NP's "news" section, which tried its darndest to prove that Alliance leader Stephen Harper does exist with this fluff piece.

Wells is definitely one of the Nat Post redeeming features--and I'm not saying that just 'cause he's a lefty (he's not), but mainly because his style marks him as something close to an anti-Steyn--witty in a subtle way, thoughtful, not too obviously ideological, and most importantly, someone with whom I could hold a conversation without being covered by flecks of spit. It's actually pretty informative to compare Wells' piece to Steyn's latest on the same topic, which unsurprisingly oozes with so much venom that you might need UN inspectors to remove it from your from your browser.

Oh, Andrew Edwards has a very substantive analysis of the PM's comments (helpfully translated into English from their original "weird argot"), and the deeper issues that they cryptically conceal. I agree with 80% of it, and it seems like a pretty good last word on this subject.

ADDENDUM: On the issue of Jean's "weird argot," how could I omit the infamous Chrétienizer? Now, you too can translate a website into something that bares little resemblance to either of Canada's official languages. For example, the American Declaration of Independence:

WE holds deese Truds to be self-evidends, dat all Men ar creadeds equal, dat day ar endoweds by dair Creador wids cerdain unalienable Rights, dat among deese ar Life, Libertee an' da Pursuit of 'Appiness -- Dat to secure deese Rights, Governmends ar instituteds among Men, derivings dair jus' Powers from da Consends of da Governeds, dat whenever any Form of Governmends becomes destructeeve of deese Ends, it is da Right of da Pooples to altier or to abolish it, an' to institute new Governmends, layings its Foundashon on such Principles, an' organizings its Powers in such Form, as to dem s'all seem mos' likely to effect dair Safetee an' 'Appiness...
HI AGAIN FROM TORONTO: So I'm still at my parents' place in Canada, but it's hard to stay away, especially since they have DSL. I'll probably write something about my personal happenings and issues later. For now, I just wanted to quickly get back on the horse and fire a few things off I've spotted that have me close to bursting. =)

And, of course, thanks to the people who sent me supportive messages--I wasn't expecting to find a community so quickly online. You folks are wonderful.