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    Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that

    I’m afraid that if I don’t stop reading Jeff and Joanne, I am going to lose my mind, collar Atsushi and take him away from this topsy-turvy world to an uncharted island, where we can read poetry and history beneath a shady lean-to woven from leaves and I can feed him on green mango salad and roasted fishies and we can live out our days in peace without constantly being reminded how many TOTAL NINNIES there are abroad in the land.

    Apparently, Oriana Fallaci is now a fascist. Who knew, huh? Cathy Seipp says that a friend of hers wanted a copy of the English translation of Fallaci’s latest book and thought, foolishly, that City Lights would be an apt place to pick it up:

    So he asked a clerk if the new Fallaci book was in yet.

    “No,” snapped the clerk. “We don’t carry books by fascists.”

    Now let’s just savor the absurd details of this for a minute. City Lights has a long and proud history of supporting banned authors — owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti was indicted (and acquitted) for obscenity in 1957 for selling Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” and a photo at the bookstore showed Ferlinghetti proudly posing next to a sign reading “banned books.”

    Yet his store won’t carry, of all people, Fallaci, who is not only being sued in Italy for insulting religion because of her latest book but continues to fight the good fight against those who think that the appropriate response to offensive books and cartoons is violent riots. It’s particularly repugnant that someone who fought against actual fascism in World War II should be deemed a fascist by a snotty San Francisco clerk.

    Strangest of all is the scenario of such a person disliking an author for defending Western civilization against radical Islam — when one of the first things those poor, persecuted Islamists would do, if they ever (Allah forbid) came to power in the United States, is crush suspected homosexuals like him beneath walls.

    Not only is it helping free speech not to stock a book by a noted free-thinker, but it’s apparently liberating to a teenager to tell her she should shut her mind to a major academic subject. Joanne Jacobs retains her ever-unflappable demeanor while posting a critique of this incomprehensibly dumb Richard Cohen column:

    I confess to be one of those people who hate math. I can do my basic arithmetic all right (although not percentages) but I flunked algebra (once), barely passed it the second time–the only proof I’ve ever seen of divine intervention–somehow passed geometry and resolved, with a grateful exhale of breath, that I would never go near math again. I let others go on to intermediate algebra and trigonometry while I busied myself learning how to type. In due course, this came to be the way I made my living. Typing: Best class I ever took.

    Here’s the thing, Gabriela: You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it. You will never need to know–never mind want to know–how many boys it will take to mow a lawn if one of them quits halfway and two more show up later–or something like that. Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note–or reason even a little bit. If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please.

    The column is over a week old and has been whaled away at by several education bloggers linked by Joanne. Most of them have done an admirable job of defending the usefulness of algebra. But another aspect that deserves attention is Cohen’s corresponding (and self-congratulatory) balderdash about writing.

    Certainly, too few people can write well–no one can gainsay that point. However, there are far too many people who think that style is a substitute for substance. The world now has plenty of English and sociology and history majors who got by by producing essays using the approved template–organized into paragraphs, featuring footnotes in MLA style, relying on the occasional po-mo wordplay to score points for insouciance–without being schooled in cold, hard facts. These are the people you encounter whose arguments sound great when you first hear them–because their internal logic is sound–but fall apart a few hours later when you have time to test them against real life and think, Wait a minute! She never even CONSIDERED the possibility that…. The more facts you have in your mental database, the more likely you are to have some sense of what you don’t know and, thus, to be able to diagnose and address your own assumptions. Pooh-poohing the rigidities of math and overpraising the flexibilities of writing is a good way to reinforce the too-common American belief that you can bluff your way through anything.

    14 Responses to “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that

    1. Mark Alger says:

      I read that item about the Fallaci book (I think the story being retailed is actually several months old) and had a fantasy moment of putting the City Lights clerk in his place —

      Me: (putting on a British accent and doing it letter perfect) You wittering pillock! It’s little wonder the movement has gone to the dogs! At least in my day, we may have been as much a pack of pretentious twits as you lot, but at least we knew what the fuck we were talking about!


    2. “I saw the greatest minds of my generation destroyed by Marxist madness”

      In an amazing tale of a world gone mad, I see (via Sean Kinsell and Jeff at Beautiful Atrocities) that San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore has banned author Orianna Fallaci. Reason? She’s a “fascist”: although my friend is no fan…

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      I’d have no trouble believing the story is months old. And hoisting these characters by their own Anglophilic petard (odd for proclaimed anti-elitists, I’ve always thought) would indeed be very satisfying.

    4. Janis Gore says:

      The Fallaci story I’ve known about for months, and doesn’t bother me. San Francisco is what it is.

      It does bother me that a major American newspaper columnist tells youngsters, any youngster, that they needn’t study math.

      I run our household. I look at at a lot of numbers.

      If you aren’t taking a salary from a source, you’d best have a good damn confidence in your ability to handle them.

      Algebra? It comes in.

      Cohen? His wife does his taxes. Or his latest girlfriend. Or boyfriend. Never can tell with these people.

    5. Sean Kinsell says:

      I think bookstores should be able to carry whatever they like. If their reasoning is retarded, though, they deserve to be taken to task for it.

      And yes, it occurred to me that someone takes care of Cohen in ways that allow him to be as innumerate as he wants to be.

    6. Mary says:

      Testing? I tried to make a post about shitty undergraduate degrees, but it was erased. Blah.

    7. Mary says:

      Honey, historians use evidence and facts to advance their arguments. But, please, continue to pick on sociologists and english-types. :)

      In my (rather conservative) history department some pomo is acceptable, depending on your subfield, but even if that’s the case using more than a tiny bit of jargon to advance an argument just doesn’t fly. This, by the way, is why I moved from an english department to a history department.

    8. Sean Kinsell says:

      Sorry about the trouble commenting, Mary. (When was the last time I used that vocative for an actual woman named Mary and not some queen who was annoying me? Hmm….)

      I know that PC-isms haven’t taken over history departments as quickly as they have English. For that matter, I also have a friend or two who studied sociology who went on to do pretty cool graduate work with no po-mo frills. And hell, I majored in comparative literature, which on the face of it should be the perfect way to get a degree in content-free effusion, but (partially because one of my concentrations was Japanese, and partially because my advisor on the English side was a feminist who believed in old-fashioned rigor) it was nothing like that for me. I think a lot depends on which college’s department you happen to land in, especially at the second or third tier, which is unfortunately where someone who blows off algebra is likely to be an undergrad.

    9. Mary says:

      Yes. Real woman. And a Mary. Blame the catholic parents. (Is this why I’ve always been a fag hag? Is it just the name?) :)

      It’s interesting. I actually *do* women’s/gender history and MANY of the grad students in my program are particularly hostile to pomo and even identity politics (um, count myself in that field). It’s frustrating because I’m writing a master’s thesis on gay and lesbian history and I fear being ostracized – not by my own Big 10 colleagues, but by those in interdisiciplinary studies – because I won’t situate my own work in queer theory. I know the theory. I may use a teeny, tiny bit. But it won’t constitute the bulk of my argument. And apparently that’s bad. Blah. I need another drink.

    10. Sean Kinsell says:

      I don’t think the problem is that most scholars are po-mo nutcases. I think (based on experience a decade ago, it should be noted) that the problem is that the po-mo types have energy and missionary zeal and thus angle to get themselves on hiring committees and stuff. More traditionally bookish types, most of whom can hardly imagine anything worse than a hiring committee, get outmaneuvered.

    11. Mary says:

      YES. Somehow the nutcases always get on hiring committees. They should be banned.

    12. Fascist-free speech is fascist free speech?

      While I’m on the subject of books, Jeff from Beautiful Atrocities reminded me in the comments of something that he, Sean Kinsell and I had posted about before — that San Francisco’s City Lights doesn’t sell books by fascists. Hmmmm…….

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