Archive for the ‘books’ Category

A book I have read some time ago, so we’ll have to rely on tiny scrapes of paper with my notes <3 Obviously, I can’t write reviews, and I dislike writing reviews(1), so there will only be list.

The good things about the book:

1) Buruma actually did talk to actual Muslim people from Netherlands, people from different backgrounds, with different opinions on Islam and its role (if any) in their lives and so on. Compared to typical drivel that is usually written in cases like that by self-proclaimed experts (I’m looking at you, Oriana “Nomen Omen” Fallaci) who just list their racist prejudices in alphabetical or reverse alphabetical order; the reverse alphabetical part being the only variety; this is a huge improvement.

2) Buruma’s criticism of Hirsi Ali as fighting her own made up version of “one true Islam” is spot on.

3) His account of anti-Semitism in Netherlands is… well. I think the stadium scene with people hissing is one of the most disgusting things I read about.

The bad things about the book:

1) Is it really really necessary to call Ayan Hirsi Ali “exotic beauty” or “African beauty” everywhere, all the time? Because, honestly, it’s sexist, racist, and also quite repetitive. If I had an electronic version of the book I’d calculate the frequency per 10 000 words at least, but I don’t and also really, really? It’s the 21st century FFS. Buruma, stop being a creepy stalkerish idiot.

2) Throughout the book, Buruma uses the words “fanatical”, “orthodox” and “fundamentalist” pretty much interchangeably. Well, the problem is, they don’t mean the same thing at all. A look at his bibliography confirms that he used mostly books and articles written by other journalists, but not stuff written by people who, for instance, research fundamentalism as a sociological phenomenon. It’s a great pity; Buruma’s argument would have been much clearer if his narration about fundamentalism versus orthodoxy versus fanaticism had been coherent.

3) Buruma’s insistence on defending van Gogh’s hateful diatribes is a bit disturbing. I mean, of course, no matter how hateful, one should not just be murdered, but on the other hand, why make excuses for everything van Gogh said? “It’s the Dutch tradition” — imagine someone saying this about some group of Muslims, the outrage it would surely cause. Also, it was clear from Buruma’s narration that van Gogh’s hateful tirades were mostly directed against people who are already silenced or oppressed in the mainstream discourse, and not against people who had actual power.

Or maybe, I might be a victim of severe culture shock: in Eastern Europe, it is only to be so vile when one bemoans one’s woeful life, which one is forced to live despite the trials and tribulations one undergoes on a daily basis, look at this shop assistant, he was rude to me on purpose, look at this guy there, he’s looking at me funny, look at that kid, she’s gonna spill that juice isn’t she, and so on.

But I digress.

Anyway, I think the book is definitely worth reading, even if it’s far from perfect. It certainly contains a lot of interesting information, and if one just closes one’s eyes every time Ayan Hirsi Ali is called “the exotic African beauty” everything should be OK.

(1) My theory of reviews is based on stuff written by Kyougoku Natsuhiko, who is otherwise an author of boring pretentious horrors interspersed with pretentious preachy bits about his views on virtually everything which I for some reason keep reading, and looks like that: there are four main types of review-like texts:

1) information: there’s a book, it was written by XY who also wrote ABC, and you can buy here and here

2) ad: you should totally read XY’s new book, it’s awesome

3) account of personal idiosyncrasy: I read XY’s new book and I totally loved it because (…)

4) structural (etc) analysis: I read XY’s new book and it’s made from tropes A, B, C

of which 1) and 2) are rather worthless, and 3) is only interesting to read if you care about the author’s personal tastes and idiosyncrasies, because you’re for instance friends with them. Otherwise it’s boring and useless. 4) requires spoilers and a reader who doesn’t care about spoilers, and we can’t have that here so.

Yes, I actually think about stuff like that. It’s really sad.

Nowadays, in Europe we can still sometimes observe the strong opposition between the City and the provinces, or the city and the countryside, or the Capital and other cities. This opposition often has the form of ridiculous snobbish posturing and frankly laughable claims about the “true” city-dweller (hint: one’s ancestors would have had to be city-dwellers since at least 4 generations), often the word “bourgeoisie” is used as it is something positive (hint: it is not).

Almost 350 years ago on another continent, the absurd situation was also noticed by Ihara Saikaku:

So, this was the capital. People in Kyoto had eyes and noses like everyone else it seemed, and even though this group hailed from Osaka their arms and legs were attached in much the same way.

However, Saikaku failed to make the last step and break the vicious circle of bourgeois hate:

As he crossed the crmbling bridge at Shijou, he was spotted by a most unusual-looking man who could not have been more unmistakably from the north country if he had worna sign around his neck announcing the fact.

Well, that might have well been 350 years ago, but what’s the excuse in 2010?

(Ihara Saikaku, The Great Mirror of Male Love, translated and with introduction by Paul Gordon Schalow)

(I’m reading Introduction to Modern Mathematics right now. It’s very entertaining)

Anyway, in 1967 children were learning too:

The little girl, showing in her domestic play the overriding absorption in personal relationships through which she will later fulfill her role of wife, mother and “expressive leader” of the family (Parsons & Bales, 1956), learns language early in order to communicate. The kind of communication in which she is chiefly interested at this stage concerns the nurturant routines which are the stuff of family life. Sharing and talking about them as she copies and “helps” her mother about the house must enhance the mutual identification of mother and child, which in turn, as Mowrer (1952) and McCarthy (1953) suggest, will reinforce imitation of the mother’s speech and promote further acquisition of language, at first oriented toward domestic and interpersonal affairs but later adapted to other uses as well. Her intellectual performance is relatively predictable because it is rooted in thi early communication, which enables her (environment permitting) to display her inherited potential at an early age.

The same thing happens in boys, but to a lesser extent because they cannot so easily share their interests. Their preoccupation with the working of mechanical things is less interesting to most mothers, and fathers are much less available. Probably too, effective communication about cause and effect presupposes a later stage of mental development than does communication about household routines. The small boy may be storing a great many observations, but his conversation tends to be limited to such remarks as Train stop until he is mature enough to ask Why is the train stopping? … His language, less fluent and personal and later to appear than the girl’s, develops along more analytic lines and may, in favourable circumstances, provide the groundwork for the later intellectual achievement which could not have been foreseen in his first few years.

(Moore 1967, pp. 100-101, cited in Macaulay 1978, p. 360, cited in Eckert, McConnell-Ginet, Language and Gender, 2003)

One has to mention that while extremely creepy, biased and unquestioningly supportive of the extant social order, this sort of pseudoscientific attitude is by no means gone. One only has to smirk derisively at The Female Brain, and lo, its brainless savanna-dwelling adherents come out of the woodwork, mumbling incoherent things about “savanna ancestors”, “hunting and gathering” and “men needing to rape because evolution and also science”, desperately trying to defend the pseudoscience that validates their biases, bigotry and prejudice.

(Incidentally, having read Mark Liberman’s deconstruction of The Female Brain — and other poorly done/described neuroscience research — one has to come to the conclusion that Louann Brizendine is a fraud and a kook. There are only so many end notes that give references to research that doesn’t support her most important claims — or in many cases has nothing to do with her claims at all —  one can read without suspecting foul play(1). Or possibly, she didn’t understand a word of what she hopefully *did* read.)

(Also, there are rumours that there’s a neat deconstruction of Brizendine in Cordelia Fine‘s Delusions of Gender, which I haven’t yet read, and which was recommended on PZ Myers’ blog earlier today. The comment section of that post is, predictably, filled with angry ape-descended savanna-dwellers. For them, I have a message: guise, penis enlargement stuff can be found in the “spam” folder of your mailbox. Have fun!)

(1) Liberman never says it, repeatedly assuming Brizendine’s good will. This is because he’s a nice and also a serious person.

I am neither.

After patriarch Cyrillus death in 444 CE an Alexandrian bishop penned the following eulogy:

“At last this odious man is dead. His departure causes his survivors to rejoice, but is bound to distress the dead. They will not be long in becoming fed up with him and sending him back to us. Therefore, place a very heavy stone on his tomb so that we will not run the risk of seeing him again, even as a ghost.”

Quoted after Manguel, Alberto; A History of Reading, who unabashedly admits to quoting after Lacarrière, Jaques; Les Hommes ivres de Dieu. The possibility that Lacarrière was quoting after someone else cannot be excluded at this time.

(1) Cyrillus of Alexandria.

(2) Not directly.


Posted: April 3, 2010 in books
Tags: , ,

I’m having a reading orgy. Will be back soon.

(just finished Anne Fadiman’s essays. Nice, perfect for an afternoon when you just want to relaaaaaaaaaax *yawn*. At first I thought the piece about culture wars would suffer from acute  golden mean fallacy, but surprisingly — I always expect the worst — it turned out very rational and pragmatic — although I’m quite certain Fadiman wouldn’t think that “rational and pragmatic” is a compliment — but anyway, I do)

I’ thinking, I might just finish Proust, finally.

(I always finish the first three volumes, and then I’m busy or something. But then! When I want totart (finish?) reading it again, I start from the beginning, instead of where I finished last time. The first three volumes, I think I might have read them about four times, hurr hurrrrrrrrr. I might have to reconsider my strategy)

(Because I have to take a break. Pshaw, internet forms, pshaw. Especially if they’re really stupid pdfs that need to be filled out FAIL and sent to like five different secretaries HUMANITY WHAT’S WRONGH WITH YOU *HATES*)

1. Hipster racism – I think this post very articulately sums up what people like Amanda Palmer do.

2. Female astronauts! PRETTY!

3. Goerge Takei in uniform, Brad Altman in a tinfoil, uh, headdress.

It was the tinfoil that totally sold the vid to me.

4. No aliens at Area 51. WO must be terribly disappointed (hurr hurr).

5.  10 Dinge die Sie nicht tun sollten beim Gottesdienst (Ten things you shouldn’t do during a mess)

5, 7, 8 = cool, but the transphobia in 6, not so much.

(Incidentally, this is the first vid that pops out if you search YT for “Gottesdienst”, hurr hurr)

6. Hilarious April Fool’s posts:

6a. by CERN:

“It’s awful”, explains Alain Grand, still shocked by the discovery. “It left horrible tracks inside the detector that made the physicists on duty at the time feel quite sick”.

6b.  via Language Log, the best story of the year: Doctorow and Stross to Write Authorized Sequel to Atlas Shrugged

“But then we realized that both of us shared one important trait with Ayn Rand: all three of us really, really like money. That made it much easier for Cory and I to cash the seven figure check.”

Hurr hurr hurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

6c. Silent no longer.

7.  A very insightful post about framing reading books as a moral issue. While I dislike books like the Twilight series as the next sentient person, I also believe that arguing that they ARE BAD FOR THE CHILDRUNZ will get us nowhere. I mean, when you’re a 11 year old, you simply don’t notice stuff like sexism they way you notice it, say, even ten years later. I mean, I do know I would have hated Twilight even as a 11-year old, but only because it was boring, also romance, also boring.  I was into Tolkien and Philip K. Dick when I was 11.

(OTOH, I think Justine Larbalesier goes on a crusade against strawmen when she argues that the issue of reading versus going to play outside is some sort of a problem. I seriously doubt there are parents telling their kids to not go outside to play BECAUSE BOOKS. C’mooooooon)

8. The “new written language” thing everybody and their cousin’s talking about. Seems like a load of bullshit to me, haven’t had the chance to look at the actual paper yet, though.

But the snow, oh, the snooooooooooow(1).

I’m maybe sort of back to semi-regular blogging, only:

1. I NEED TO MOVE IN THREE WEEKS PANIC PANIC PANIC!!111!!!11 Also, snoooooooooooooow.

2. I need to write, well, I wanted to say “a gazillion” words, but the more empirically accurate estimate would be, like, maybe 50 000 words? Well, that’s what I’m hoping for, anyway.

Part of it has to be in German WOE. My idea of coping with writing in German is: write everything in passive voice, put a full stop every half a page, vomit a Thesaurus all over it.

The really tragic thing: most of the time it works.


4. Also, I read seven thousand interesting things, but most of them have to do with the stuff I have to do, so, the willingness to write about it on my blog? Like, nonexistent.

I’d recommend any article/book ever by Mario Liverani, though, if you’re interested in that kind of thing.


ETA: typos, as usual =_=

(1) At this point I might sort of identify a bit with Captain Ahab, only that would be rather silly, because, chasing snow with a harpoon? Yeah, NO.

(2) Not that anybody would, you see, there are far too many volunteers for slave labour to be needed, but it SOUNDS SO GOOD.