Reader Mail

Clearing the Holiday Air

Peace and Islam. Farewell Trent Lott and Patty Murray. Think Walker Percy. The Fighting French. Plus lots more.

12.22.02

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PEACE IN OUR TIMES
Re: George Neumayr's Pledge Week Islam:

At long last -- a bit of fresh air. Well done to George Neumayr and his willingness to write the truth.
-- Paul Liptz

Yes, well, it must be said that PBS has on more than one occasion propagated a world view that is somewhat less than wholesomely realistic. Fine article.

An excellent source of wisdom about Islam, and the Arab culture which it has shaped and in which it is ineluctably imbedded, may be found in the culture of Oriental Jewry. The Jews, after all, knew the Arabs long before the Arabs knew Mohammed. Jewish communities in what are now Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen predate the arrival of the conquering Islamic armies by nearly 1,000 years, and persisted until uprooted in the late 1940's by Islamist pogroms driven by the founding struggles of the State of Israel.

These Oriental Jews' collective memory of the Arab/ Islamic world might be summarized thus: nice clothes, great entertainment, good produce, swell laid-back lifestyle except that every so often they go nuts and come, as an ecstatic mob, to cut your throat, rape your wife and daughters and burn your house and shop. Keep your bags packed, your sword sharp and your powder dry.

One might politely suggest to the current crop of Islamic scholars such as Secretary Powell, Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Blair and George W. that maybe, just maybe, they ought to make all possible inquiries of the folks who have accumulated 25 centuries of hands-on experience in those precincts which are now so vexing.

Religion of peace ? Oh, dear, how embarrassing it is when smart people say such silly things.
-- Paul Kotik

IT'S OVER
Re: Ben Stein's The Quality of Mercy:

Lott's apologies seem sincere, perhaps even overwrought. No charitable person should refuse to forgive Lott in his capacity as a human being. Nevertheless, he has demonstrated that he is not fit to lead the Republican party. Furthermore, by fighting on as long as he did to save his job, Lott demonstrated a greater interest in preserving himself than the principles the party is supposed to stand for. The supreme irony in this episode is that one of the party's core principles, abolishing financial and educational entitlements based on race, will inevitably suffer.

Forgive, yes. Overlook, no.
-- Scott A. Browdy
Chicago, IL

How tiresome. Ben Stein trumpeting his civil rights advocacy by citing a scar on his rear from some unidentified presumed redneck racist Marylander.

I'm an ordinary American, I think. I didn't march in any civil rights demonstration any time, at any place, and I won't pretend I did. But I also never tried to deprive anyone of their civil rights. And I think the law should treat everyone the same, regardless of race.

None of my forefathers, though they lived in the South, enslaved anyone. At least one I know of fought for the South in the Civil War. He was a sharecropper in North Carolina, and fought simply to protect his home.

I did serve in my country's military for 20 years and I fought in the Gulf War alongside other Americans of many races and creeds. Today I would not trade that experience; that common bond with my fellow soldiers, with complete disregard for their race or belief; for a thousand of these self-righteous civil rights pomposities.

And I really damn tired of people beating a racist drum every chance
they get to further their own agenda.
-- John Mercer
Alexandria, VA

Trent Lott's unfortunate remarks have landed him in trouble. I argue that Lott's problems are greatly exacerbated by the fact that the Republican base does not like him. The overwhelming sentiment on the many conservative websites is a general dislike of Lott with his recent gaffe being the opportunity the chance to oust him.

Republican voters out here in la-la land have wondered for about forever why this man without an ounce of charisma, but a modicum of charm and in need of a spine transplant, is continually re-elected by his fellow Republican senators to such a visible position of Senate majority leader. His gutless behavior in the matter of the impeachment of Bill Clinton didn't help. Nor did his so-called "power sharing" with the Democrats when the Senate was at 50-50. His pork barreling for Mississippi is looked upon with disdain by the Republican base....

In short, we never liked him anyway.
--- Pat Fish

IN CHARACTER
Re: John R. Dunlap's Protestations on Campus:

John Dunlap's lament on the absurdity and unfairness of student evaluations of professors is on target. If students had sufficient judgment to evaluate their professors, they would likely be smart enough not to need the courses. To the extent that important things such as tenure, promotion, and salary are based at all on student evaluations, they are an incitement to craven sucking up on the part of professors. They are among the driving forces behind grade inflation and the dumbing down of college courses.

Perhaps it's a good time to refresh ourselves on what the late Walker Percy had his protagonist say about college students in his splendid 1971 novel, Love in the Ruins, written at a time when college professors were lurching from merely dotty, where they had been content for decades, to something a good deal worse.

Percy's character, Dr. Tom More: "Students are, if the truth be known, a bad lot. En masse they're as fickle as a mob, manipulable by any professor who'll stoop to it. They have, moreover, an infinite capacity for repeating dull truths and old lies, with all the insistence of self-discovery. Nothing is drearier than the ideology of students, left or right."

Later in the same chapter: "People talk a lot about how great 'the kids' are, compared to the kids of the past. The only difference in my opinion is that kids now don't have sense enough to know what they don't know."

Just so, Walker.

Yours for fewer students and more John Dunlaps and Walker Percys,
-- Larry Thornberry
Tampa, FL

DEAREST ENEMY CENTRAL
Re: Enemy Central's Patty Cake:

God bless you, and please continue to pass the ammunition. Just one note re Patty Cake -- or better yet, Patty Nut-Cake Murray. You indicated that she made her comments from Canada. Please note, she made her comments from Vancouver - WASHINGTON, not British Columbia (of which I am -- as an expatriate American -- a current resident.) We have enough socialists here without importing, or supporting an American Senator of Patty's renown, unless -- of course -- she is seeking to dodge the draft. Again, Blessings On Your -- and keep up the good work!
-- Lyle Schrag

It looks as though Senator Murray overlooked all that the U.S. has done via foreign aid and the peace corps when she said we haven't done enough around the world.
-- Dick Melville
Ozone Park, NY

(clap-clap-clap) Thank you ... thank you very much ...aaand good evening. Time now for our Big Championship Round. Let's get to it:

1. Republican senator Trent Lott makes an ill advised comment at the birthday party for 100 year old man Strom Thurmond. Lott loses job. Republicans are bigots and racists.

2. Democrat senator Patty Murray praises Osama bin-Laden for his good works. Murray keeps job. Democrats are compassionate and thoughtful.

Now -- for 200 points and the right to move on to our "Big Bonus Round" -- which of the above stories will end up getting the most coverage from the New York Times-Washington Post and Hillary's website? PLUS -- for an additional 100 points -- and a shot at our "Jumbo Jackpot" -- which state senator from Washington will still have her job in '03?

Take your time. And gooood luck. (tick-tick-tick...)
-- Dave
Elk Grove, CA

GETTING FRANCE
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s Darkest France:

I'd like to address the article you wrote about France and its attitude toward Jews. I'm half French, but I won't spend much time arguing that we're not a bunch of cowards. (Still, you try losing 1.3 million men, a bigger proportion than any other country in World War I, only to have to fight the same invader a little more than twenty years later; most Americans don't get it.)

I do want to talk about anti-Semitism in France. First of all, French people on the whole are much less religious than they were fifty years ago -- so, while there is a dislike of Jews, it's often by different people and for different reasons. I suspect that it's fashionable to speak out for France's Muslim minority and that Parisian students are likely to sympathize with Palestine for this reason. Also, don't forget how many Muslims there are now in France -- and, if the government in Paris decided to speak out strongly against militant Islam, it could find itself being targeted as badly by terrorism as London has probably been by the IRA. In the U.S., we don't have to worry about that issue as much.
-- Matthew Clavel

RACE TO THE FINISH
Re: Mark Goldblatt's A Wake Up Call:

Your point that what's good for white America is good for black America is an interesting one, particularly now. In the last couple decades, a lot of African-Americans have emerged into the middle class, which together with the profound infusion of blackness into mainstream pop culture has helped the separation of race from class. This is an excellent development, and makes the idea that many African-Americans will do well in a setting promoting individual initiative very timely. Do, however, be careful not to get ahead of where we are: less than 40 years past the end of laws enforcing racial discrimination. So it's perhaps unfair to demand that people change their entire worldview and trust a whole new set of people in the space of one generation. We have made profound progress on race, but there's much more to be done. I also agree with the sentiment that portraying African-Americans as victims is to patronize them, and to see them as ultimately limited. I went to a majority-black high school, and saw this kind of patronization foreshorten the dreams of a lot of my smart black classmates.

On the other hand, there is the persistent problem of class: a large fraction of African Americans are still poor, and with meager opportunities. Whatever role the psychology of not thinking one has opportunity plays in this lack, the reality these people live in is one of being firmly convinced, with a lot of hard knocks to back it up, that they're in a dead-end back alley. They are not alone: being poor sucks, whatever your race. And here's where the individual-initiative ideology has a big ugly hole. What do you do, now and at all times, about the people who don't succeed for themselves? The people who are beset with difficulties and don't manage to overcome them? Or worse, the idiots, whiners, obnoxious blockheads, and helpless self-defeaters of all races, classes, and political stripes? What do you do when they don't succeed? Just calling them jerks, and leaving them starving on the sidewalk doesn't improve anyone's situation -- not yours and not theirs. As a nation that likes being able to idle its cars at stoplights during the day, much less at night, we would do well do make arrangements of some sort for them. Ask the residents of Rio and Mexico City, and Bogota about this. Yes, LBJ's Great Society may be outdated, and it may have promoted some excesses, but it's a lot better than the destitution that preceded it, and I sure don't want to go back to those days.

It's disheartening to see politics in this country divide cleanly along the lines of people who think the hard-luck people need a hug, and those who think they need a spanking. Somewhere in here there's got to be a decent, humane combination of carrot and stick. They're not exclusive: we've gotta learn to use them both. I would love to hear Republicans addressing what to do here and now to help the little guy, the middle guy, and the big guy at once that involve more proactivity than just cutting taxes -- again.

Kudos on an interesting take on race in America. It was bold to write a book inhabiting an African American, and that's as far as I can comment, as I have not yet read it. Best wishes for the holidays.

Cheers,
-- Eric Ellsworth

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