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.