Friday, June 30, 2006

More Bad History, Writing and Thinking

I had only half finished reading Bissell's takedown of Kaplan. I continue.... I won't quote the discussion of how Kaplan turns his laser-pointer-like gaze and nineteenth-century racial and sexual sensibilities on the US and Canada: it has to be read in full to be believed, anyway. I'll move on to his most recent work:
“Indeed,” he writes, “by the turn of the twenty-first century the United States military had already appropriated the entire earth, and was ready to flood the most obscure areas of it with troops at a moment’s notice.” To say the least, the notion that the United States effectively rules the planet is an emaciated one. Does Kaplan not remember the endless haggling the United States was forced to do on the eve of the Iraq War to enable its use of other nations’ airfields? Do other nations’ desires and integrity really mean so little to Kaplan? But at the Pentagon, we learn, Kaplan gazed upon a Mercator projection of the US military’s areas of responsibility and saw a planet chopped up into jagged rectangles of command (CENTCOM, EUCOM, PACOM, and so forth). He “stared at it for days on and off, transfixed. How could the US not constitute a global military empire?” But sometimes a map is just a map.
To be sure, there are certainly imperial aspects to US involvement around the world, but to argue that US goals are “exactly” like those of the Soviets, Persians, French, British, or Spanish is analysis along the lines of History Channel voiceover.
Then you get to the point where, as Bissell says, the book becomes a "thesaurus of incoherencies"
So what is Kaplan’s understanding of imperialism? “Imperialism is but a form of isolationism, in which the demand for absolute, undefiled security at home leads one to conquer the world.” Okay. But then: “The grunts I met saw themselves as American nationalists, even if the role they performed was imperial.” Got that? And: “America’s imperial destiny was to grapple with countries that weren’t really countries.” It is? They aren’t? “Imperialism was less about conquest than about the training of local armies.” Oh. “All America could do was insert its armed forces here and there, as unobtrusively as possible, to alleviate perceived threats to its own security when they became particularly acute.” But you just said— “The Americans wanted clean end-states and victory parades. Imperialism, though, is a never-ending involvement.” Before long you’re wondering if taking a good old-fashioned American dump in a US-dug latrine in Yemen is not also “imperialism.”
The US Military, especially our men (and women? Doesn't seem to be) in uniform is the subject of Imperial Grunts
“The American military is a worldwide fraternity,” Kaplan writes, filled with “singular individuals fronting dangerous and stupendous landscapes.” The soldiers “talked in clichés,” he informs us. “It is the emotion and look in their faces—sweaty and gummed with dust—that matters more than the words. After all, a cliché is something that only the elite recognizes as such.” That is surely why, Kaplan says, “these guys like George W. Bush so much. . . . He spoke the way they did, with a lack of nuance, which they found estimable because their own tasks did not require it.” Besides, those cliché-conscious elites are yellow anyway. As one soldier tells Kaplan, “I believe character is more important than education. I have noticed that people who are highly educated and sophisticated do not like to take risks.” Kaplan himself seems to have come to share this harsh essentialism.
Kaplan argues that Evangelical soldiers, whose entire worldview is founded upon accepting that everyone who is not a Christian will roast on Beelzebub’s spit, is in actual fact the US military’s strongest asset, seeing that “morale could not be based on polite subtleties or secular philosophical constructions, but only on the stark belief in your own righteousness, and in the inequity of your enemy.” God will just have to sort them out.
In soldiers, according to Bissell, Kaplan sees the antithesis of "elites" whose subtlty, education and sensitivity are ill-suited to the simplistic world which Kaplan sees. If it sounds one-sided and unrealistic, there's a reason
After quoting one National Guardsman as saying, “We’re like tourists with guns,” Kaplan writes: “While the media was filled with lugubrious stories about the great sacrifices being made by reservists in Iraq and Afghanistan, these guys were having the time of their lives.” Last summer I was embedded with the Marines in Iraq, and I certainly noticed some of soldiering’s satisfactions, even a few of its hard-won joys. I also saw men and women tensely grinding their dinner between molars and crying while talking to their loved ones back home; I saw equal amounts of frustration and confusion, and, in one particularly awful occasion, some wounded Marines brought into a surgical ward. A screaming, burned Marine is not having the time of his life, and neither are his friends. I am sure the US military has its share of cheerful characters—the burned Marine may have been having a ball until the day our paths crossed—but Kaplan continually, and in my opinion criminally, refuses to dig beyond his baseline feeling that soldiers are super. It is both a literary and moral failure.
I would like to end, in fairness, with the one line from Kaplan quoted by Bissell that actually strikes me as worth consideration:
“Imperialism is but a form of isolationism, in which the demand for absolute, undefiled security at home leads one to conquer the world.”
That's a pretty good summary, actually of the world-systems-theory version of Imperialism, the gradual extension of control over economic or territorial peripheries in order to maintain access to raw materials and markets, to stabilize the economy and protect the citizenry of the metropole. The difference, I guess, is in what you do with that knowledge.

Classic. Liberal.

I know of three people (counting me) who've taken this test, all of whom have gotten incredibly accurate results. Pretty cool.

1. John Stuart Mill (100%) Click here for info
2. Kant (95%) Click here for info
3. Jeremy Bentham (83%) Click here for info
4. Epicureans (65%) Click here for info
5. Aristotle (63%) Click here for info
6. Aquinas (60%) Click here for info
7. Spinoza (60%) Click here for info
8. Stoics (59%) Click here for info
9. Prescriptivism (58%) Click here for info
10. Jean-Paul Sartre (57%) Click here for info
11. Ayn Rand (53%) Click here for info
12. David Hume (43%) Click here for info
13. Nel Noddings (37%) Click here for info
14. St. Augustine (36%) Click here for info
15. Nietzsche (34%) Click here for info
16. Cynics (32%) Click here for info
17. Ockham (27%) Click here for info
18. Plato (25%) Click here for info
19. Thomas Hobbes (25%) Click here for info

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bad History, Bad Writing, Bad Thinking: Same Thing

Tom Bissell on Robert Kaplan
The bus ride from Tashkent to Samarkand provides some spectacularly rocky and mountainous scenery, but somehow Kaplan notices only “high weeds” and an “achingly flat, monochrome landscape.” Once he reaches Samarkand he remarks on the “battered automobiles, and people in unsightly polyester clothing.” Battered automobiles? Most of Uzbekistan’s people are poor, and this seemed needlessly petty. As for people’s clothing, I have never found Uzbekistan’s city-dwellers to be anything but maniacally fastidious about their appearance. (Shoeshining is practically the Uzbek national pastime.) He gets wrong the 1994 exchange rate of the Uzbek currency by a factor of 100. He visits Guri Amir, the tomb of the fourteenth-century despot Tamerlane, which he spells “Gul Emir.” He says the word uzbek means “independent” or “free.” That is wrong. His translator, Ulug Beg, a young Uzbek, claims to be “ashamed” in Samarkand because it has so many Tajiks. “How can I like them?” Ulug Beg asks Kaplan of the Tajiks. “We must settle Uzbeks here. We must settle many, many Uzbeks in Samarkand.” Problem: Samarkand, though a Tajik-majority city, has many, many Uzbeks. He writes that Samarkand is a “would-be Bangkok,” with its “army of whores.” I asked a friend who lived in Samarkand for years if that description at all rang true to him. My friend was still laughing when I hung up the phone. When Ulug Beg slurps as he eats Kaplan calls him “crude” and wonders if Ulug Beg’s manners might be explained this way: “Could these be pre-Byzantine Turks? Could this be what Turks might have been somewhat like before the great Seljuk and Osmanli migrations to Anatolia”? The Seljuks migrated to Anatolia around 900 years ago. That Kaplan does not understand how offensive such eugenic explanations are for one young man’s eating habits is appalling. That he does not recognize the basic implausibility of such an explanation is beyond reason.
I found this Via Scott McLemee. Neither Bissell nor McLemee ask what seems to me to be the obvious question: has anyone checked Kaplan's passport and travel receipts? Bissell is a fine writer, full of piss and vinegar in this piece:
  • "Bush has gone from an isolationist to an interventionist minus the crucial intermediary stage wherein he actually became interested in other places."
  • "Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote that war is the extension of politics by other means. Bush and Kaplan, on the other hand, appear to advocate war as cultural politics by other means. This has resulted in a collision of second-rate minds with third-rate policies. While one man attempts to make the world as simple as he is able to comprehend it, the other whispers in his various adjutants’ ears that they are on the side of History itself."
  • "In all of his books, but especially in Mediterranean Winter, Kaplan is incapable of making a point about the past without pointing a finger at the present. To wit: “Carthage’s defeat in the First Punic War—like Germany’s in World War I—led to anarchy at home.” But how is the 2,200-year-old First Punic War at all otherwise comparable to Weimar Germany? (In another book he again rolls out this hot rod, slightly modulated, and writes how the Second Punic War has “many resemblances to World War II that seems to warn against the hubris of our own era.” Well, they both have a two.) He also connects, preposterously, a fourth-century B.C.E. Athenian invasion of Sicily with “President Lyndon Johnson dispatching half a million American troops to South Vietnam.” Of course he acknowledges the differences, but they “seemed less interesting than the similarities.” That is because Kaplan is addicted to similarities and blind to differences. “One can write endlessly about the differences between the first and twenty-first centuries A.D.,” he writes in another book. Yes. One can."
  • It's not all bad: "Even if the Ethiopian famine did not turn out to have the global ramifications Kaplan projected—wherever Kaplan travels, we are assured that whatever is happening there is going to have vast consequences—his attempt from within one of hell’s inner circles to make others take note of the suffering he has witnessed is salutary, and even moving."
  • This is also good: "His take on Afghan’s guerrillas, while somewhat naive (as he himself admits), is, all the same, winningly honest: “Sympathizing with guerrilla movements is an occupational hazard of foreign correspondents everywhere, but the Afghans were the first guerrillas whom journalists not only sympathized with but actually looked up to.'"
  • But then it goes off a cliff again: " Kaplan can complain about the unwarranted aftereffects of Balkan Ghosts all he wants, but he is the man who salted his book with statements such as, “while the Greeks and the Macedonian Slavs despise each other, as Orthodox Christians they equally despise the Muslim Kosovars.” The metaphysics of what makes people suddenly garrote and rape their neighbors can be debated from now until the end of time, but to generalize so complacently gives hatred a mask that too many can hide behind."
  • "It takes a special kind of man to waltz into a foreign city, tar the entire populace as recessive Nazis, and then refer to them as animals."
I'm not even finished reading it yet....

Compare, Contrast, Contrive

Adapted LiveJournal Self-Quiz

1. What does your LivejournalBlogger name mean?
I do not want to be simply a symptom of the times: I want to draw on the strong but neglected histories and I want to be a harbinger and creator of a different future.

2. Elaborate on your default profile photo?
It's Japanese. When I started this blog I wanted an image that was facelike but abstract, and I had this in my collection.

3. Make up a question.
Have you considered going into politics?
Yes, and I think I have the analytical and policy skills, but I don't think I have the presentation (I think when I talk, which is death on speechmaking) and people skills (I hate asking for money, and I hate committing myself to courses of action in which I don't really believe) to succeed in today's political arena. Every so often I say "I could do better" and my spouse reminds me that I'd hate it....

4. What's your current relationship status?

5. What EXACTLY are you wearing right now?
Not what you think....

6. What is your current problem?
Organization and self-discipline.

7. Who do you love most?
Toss-up: Spouse or child.

8. What makes you most happy?
Doing something for someone that makes them feel loved.
Also chocolate.

9. Are you musically inclined?
In some ways, yes.

10. If you could go back in time, and change something, what would you change?
There's so much to choose from.... I'd prevent the publication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and preserve the Library of Alexandria.

11. If you MUST be an animal for ONE day, what would you be?
It would be fun to fly: I'd have to be a bird. A seagull, I think.

12. Ever have a near death experience?
I've come dangerously close to falling asleep while driving once or twice.

13. Name an obvious quality you have.

14. What's the name of the song that's stuck in your head right now?
Henry Mancini's Theme for the Pink Panther; we heard an amateur rendition recently, and downloaded a really nice one so the Little Anachronism could hear the real thing.

15. Who did you cut and paste this from?

16. Name someone with the same birthday as you.
No, but you can look up your own birthday here.

17. Have you ever vandalized someone's private property?
Not to my knowledge.

18. Have you ever been in a fight?
Not physically.

19. Have you ever sung in front of a large audience?
Yes, several times.

20. What is the first thing you notice about the opposite/same sex?
Whether they are smiling.

21. What do you usually order from Starbucks?
Last time I ordered something in a Starbucks.... it's been a while. I don't remember what they call it, but one of my favorite coffee-shop drinks is the Depth Charge: a cup of coffee with an extra shot of espresso. I don't like to get a lot of calories from creams and flavor shots.... though I will do mocha stuff sometimes.

24. Has anyone ever said you looked like a celebrity?

25. Do you still watch kiddy movies or TV shows?
With Little Anachronism, of course.

26. Did you have braces?

27. Are you comfortable with your height?

28. What is the most romantic thing someone has ever done for you?
Overcome their own fears.

29. Do you speak any other languages?

30. Do you have a crush on someone on your livejournal or blogroll?
Ummm.... in a platonic bloggerly sense, I suppose so.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Funny things we do....

Kids are funny, I like taking pictures of bugs, and there's a lot of bad history out there.

P.S. It's the Pooflinger's Blogiversary: he flings fine poo; go wish him well!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Murakami's Sofa

Wherein I borrow Bill's format and play with my new toy

We just got a new (second hand; thanks, Dad!) scanner so that both of us have them. Now I don't have to interrupt my spouse or go across the house, etc., to scan pictures or text. I'm going to be doing more of that, now!

My first entry is from Murakami Haruki's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (pp. 44-45). It's good, but a bit .... overly neat, too structured. It's well-done but doesn't have the energy or surprise I expect from his surrealism. Wind-up Bird Chronicle, the last one of his I read, was much better on both scores. Still, it's been good reading. This quotation gives away nothing, but it does help to explain why we still have the same couch we got second-hand seven years ago (thanks, Bro!), and why my parents still have the couch set they bought thirty years ago....
I must have rested two or three times during the old man's absence. During these breaks, I went to the toilet, crossed my arms and put my face down on the desk, and stretched out on the sofa. The sofa was perfect for sleeping. Not too soft, not too hard; even the cushions pillowed my head just right. Doing different tabulation jobs, I've slept on a lot of sofas, and let me tell you, the comfortable ones are few and far between. Typically, they're cheap deadweight. Even the most luxurious-looking sofas are a disappointment when you actually try to sleep on them. I never understand how people can be lax about choosing sofas.

I always say—a prejudice on my part, I'm sure—you can tell a lot about a person's character from his choice of sofa. Sofas constitute a realm inviolate unto themselves. This, however, is something that only those who have grown up sitting on good sofas will appreciate. It's like growing up reading good books or listening to good music. One good sofa breeds another good sofa; one bad sofa breeds another bad sofa. That's how it goes.

There are people who drive luxury cars, but have only second- or third-rate sofas in their homes. I put little trust in such people. An expensive automobile may well be worth its price, but it's only an expensive automobile. If you have the money, you can buy it, anyone can buy it. Procuring a good sofa, on the other hand, requires style and experience and philosophy. It takes money, yes, but you also need a vision of the superior sofa. That sofa among sofas.
Sure, it's a variation on an old theme -- "You can judge a person's character by their...." -- but oh, so true.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Blog Poetry Returns

There once was a poetry carnival
Which was fun, but didn't last very well
Now haiku and sonnets
and free verse (and limericks?)
can be seen at Ringing of the Bards, y'all

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Knowledge is Power, even (especially?) for children

As I've said before, withholding information about sex does more harm than good. My favorite bit in his piece is where he notes the disparity between England's age of sexual consent (16) and the age of criminal reponsibility (10).

Were I in a mood to blog...

...I would add this to my Impeachment index. I know, technically you can't impeach him for things he did before he was president. Think of it as a character witness for the prosecution.

I am not in a mood to blog.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Feminist Carnival number Seventeen starts with an old historical fallacy.... but the rest of it's pretty intriguing, though I haven't got time for more than a bit of it. Lots of talking about talking back, which is more interesting than it sounds.

Carnival of Satire has lots of good stuff this week (and not just the ones I found)...

Carnival of the Vanities is the usual mixed bag: some stuff definitely worth checking out.

Skeptics Circle meets in the Bermuda Triangle! Lots of great, great stuff.

Carnival of the Liberals is over at Neural Gourmet, which is always worth a visit.

And, much to my surprise, I beat out archy by getting 13 out of 14 correct on the "Hitler or Coulter" quote quiz. (Apparently Hitler wasn't entirely unconcerned about the Liberal effect on America. Who knew?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Thursday Lyric: Canadian Railroad Trilogy

This is a lovely counterpoint to both the mindless developmental triumphalism and rigid anti-developmental moralism. Also a great song.

Canadian Railroad Trilogy
Gordon Lightfoot

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
But time has no beginnings and hist’ry has no bounds
As to this verdant country they came from all around
They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall
And they built the mines the mills and the factories for the good of us all

And when the young man’s fancy was turnin’ to the spring
The railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring
Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day
And many a fortune lost and won and many a debt to pay

For they looked in the future and what did they see
They saw an iron road runnin’ from sea to the sea
Bringin’ the goods to a young growin’ land
All up through the seaports and into their hands

Look away said they across this mighty land
From the eastern shore to the western strand
Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open ’er heart let the life blood flow
Gotta get on our way ’cause we’re movin’ too slow

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
We’re gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open ’er heart let the life blood flow
Gotta get on our way ’cause we’re movin’ too slow
Get on our way ’cause we’re movin’ too slow

Behind the blue rockies the sun is declinin’
The stars, they come stealin’ at the close of the day
Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping
Beyond the dark oceans in a place far away

We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swingin’ our hammers in the bright blazin’ sun
Livin’ on stew and drinkin’ bad whiskey
Bendin’ our old backs ’til the long days are done

We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swingin’ our hammers in the bright blazin’ sun
Layin’ down track and buildin’ the bridges
Bendin’ our old backs ’til the railroad is done

So over the mountains and over the plains
Into the muskeg and into the rain
Up the st. lawrence all the way to gaspe
Swingin’ our hammers and drawin’ our pay
Drivin’ ’em in and tyin’ ’em down
Away to the bunkhouse and into the town
A dollar a day and a place for my head
A drink to the livin’ and a toast to the dead

Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
O’er the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up the soil
With our teardrops and our toil

For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
And many are the dead men too silent to be real

Blogopedia info request -- from William Beutler

As part of this project, I got the following questions. I don't know if he's working alphabetically (I had no idea when I picked this name how advantageous that would be), or from lowest to highest rank....

Like a good blogger, I will use them as blogfodder. If anyone wants to answer the questions and forward them to Mr. Beutler, feel free. Personally, I'm not sure how I feel about another political blog roundup -- at some point someone will realize that the loudest section of the blogosphere is surrounded by all these really interesting quiet sections -- nor about the idea of having an entry in a wiki, but what the heck.

1. What is your name, or blogging pseudonym?
Ahistoricality. You can find a discussion of my pseudonymity here

2. If it is a group blog, how many contributors does it have?
It is not; here, I blog alone.

3. If you can say, what do you do for a living, and what is your

What have I already revealed? I'm an academic, educated at some very fine schools and at the feet of some extraordinary bloggers. Other than that, I can only refer you to My self-reported self-test and meme page

4. Where do you live, and/or have you lived since you started blogging?
I blog at home and at work. Sometimes on the road. I hate moving.

5. When did you start this blog?
November 7th, 2004.

6. What do you generally write about?
Politics, culture (especially great quotations), internet quizzes, politics, blog carnivals, technology and politics.

7. Do you state political opinions on this blog? If so, what are the
political leaning[s] of this blog?

Oh, absolutely. Well, according to internet quizzes -- which are rarely wrong -- I'm a socialist or social democrat, also known as an old school Democrat. I don't really like political labels all that much, mostly because I hate people telling me what I should think or what I do think without asking me.

8. Is there any objectionable content -- i.e. R-Rated -- on the site?
I've used a naughty word or two. That's about it, I think.

9. Do you consider yourself part of any communities along the lines of "Blogs for Bush" or the "Reality-Based Community"? Or any similar self-selected blog community?
I certainly have affinities for some of them, but decided a long time ago that joining organizations over which I had little or now control was a bad idea. Once they reach a certain size, they become symbolic but not powerful; small ones are hard to manage. I've been known to promote a petition or take a pledge or blog a day, but not to "brand" myself.

10. Are there any notable events, incidents or blog posts that an encyclopedia entry about your blog absolutely must include?

11. Would you say this blog is predominantly about politics or do you think it belongs more to another blog community?
A good deal of what I blog about here is politics, but a good deal isn't. Lots of times this really does serve as an old fashioned Web Log: a list of links I've been reading and finding interesting.
I don't know that it's a community, as such, but I've gotten involved in promoting and contributing to quite a few of the blog carnivals listed on my sidebar: Skeptics, Feminists, Satire and History are the front-runners.

12. Do you blog at any other sites, or are there any other blogs this one is close to?
Yes, I blog elsewhere, but there's little crossover. I have an excellent blogging relationship with Anne Zook, and Ralph Luker got me started and is a tireless inspiration. Mr. Jones and I disagree on many things, and we've been doing so productively for a long time.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Essay Question: Explain the connection

I think there's a direct connection between perfidy at the top [via] and despair at the bottom.


Extra Credit:
"When we look at the figures for nonperforming and troubled loans, they amount to nearly half of China's gross domestic product."
Discuss. Compare with
"There are two rules of behavior in any credit system: Rule #1 is the rule all participants want all other participants to follow: DON’T PANIC! Rule #2 is the rule each participant must be careful to follow herself: PANIC FIRST!"

Monday, June 19, 2006

When you're right...

Quoth Adam
Even if I were to say, "Stalin was the greatest man who ever lived," that would not make me morally equivalent to Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney. They are war criminals; I am, at worst, a dumbass.
No one is crippled for life by my apologetics for Stalin. No one loses their father at age five because I want to pose as a Maoist. My avid reading of Chomsky books does not replace a once-fertile countryside with a mine field.
I want to carefully read this [via] later, but I'd love to see some of my Republican readers take a whack at it, too.

Update: the second Carnival of the Decline of Democracy is up.

Photography Index

Since I've been posting some of my own pictures, I thought I should index them.
7 February 2009: Details: Candle wick, fuzzy bud, moon, soy flower.
1 November 2008: Indian Summer: bugs and flowers
4 July 2008: Fireworks
1 May 2008: Adaptive chess set
22 March 2008: Spring: Flowers, Bunnies, Chicks, Peppers, Easter
17 February 2008: Colors and Textures including Burrito/Ketchup, raindrop ripples, rust, wrapping paper, shower curtain detail.
13 January 2008: Travel Pictures, including the AHA Job Register, clouds and a Mars-Moon conjunction.
1 January 2008: Centers of Flowers
21 November 2007: Splashes of Color
9 September 2007: Art or Garbage: Photo Essay
8 September 2007: Noah Story Play Structure
7 September 2007: Family Quilts
24 July 2007: Damaged Camera
4 July 2007: Spring Shadow
5 June 2007: Caged Butterflies
25 May 2007: Sand
6 April 2007: Do Not Bend!
1 April 2007: Gravel Circles
25 March 2007: Buffalo Indian Head Nickel
13 February 2007: Burnished copper
13 January 2007: Three Clouds
31 December 2006: Baking Blondies
28 December 2006: Kitchen Pictures: Balancing bowls and purple rice
18 December 2006: Spiders and bugs
3 December 2006: Oilspots and odd constellations
7 November 2006: Election Day Flag and quotations.
29 October 2006: Ghostly Toast, and other unexpected faces
20 October 2006: New camera! Fly, Ant and Spider
4 October 2006: Bumblebee
11 September 2006: Frogs in Concrete Contexts
9 August 2006: Full Moon
13 July 2006: A Roach
7 July 2006: Shelf of books
3 July 2006: Colors and Flavors.
27 June 2006: Ants dragging a dead worm
18 June 2006: Rainbow Bark
13 June 2006: Refraction artifact
11 June 2006: Garbage in a doorstop
9 June 2006: American Flags; Got a better one just in time for July 4th, 2006
1 June 2006: Cherry Blossoms
29 May 2006: Several Insect Pictures, including ants, mosquito and little-green-bug.
24 May 2006: Looking through my computer
12 May 2006: Mock Newspaper
26 June 2005: Profile Image: Kabuki Makeup Paper

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Political Children

Via Avedon Carol, two tales of political children. We don't watch TV with the Little Anachronism around (except in extraordinary circumstances), but we do have NPR on many days.

We were trying to explain the election sign in our yard (and the local candidate who came canvassing Sunday), and L.A. got the idea that our own parent-child ticket should run for something: "people can vote for us to do science!"

Rainbow Bark and Carnivals

Happy Father's Day

My father taught me all I know about photography, but I don't think you can blame him for my aesthetic sense. That's my very own....

There's a short but high-quality Carnivalesque, with several ballads, optical painter aids, the great Moses Mendelssohn and Mark Rayner's "Lost Powerpoint Slides: de Sade".

There's a NYRB roundup of critiques of the incipient monarchy, and a Common Dreams discussion of its propoganda, if you're feeling politically adrift...

Update: Via The Cunning Realist, An Iraqi Blogger goes on holiday. Nervously, but safely.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Just for fun: Rabbits

Hannibal the Carnivorous Rabbit sounds like a terrible idea for a children's book. . . well, you can see for yourself how it turned out. I find the book quite disturbing, not for the rabbitry, but for what I think it's a parable for.

And, for a bunny-wunny you really don't want in your wittle woboat, check out this monster. Good thing he's not carnivorous....

Friday, June 16, 2006

X-Men Personality Quiz, Flowers, and a new result from an old quiz

You scored as Wolverine. Wolverine is a loner, and a skilled fighter. He's got the hots for Jean Grey but a better fit for him would be Storm. He doesn't like to follow orders which pisses Cyclops off. He has terrible memories from the experimentation done on him at Weapon X. Even though he doesn't show it, he loves the X-Men. Powers: Fast healing and adamantium skeleton and claws.
Jean Grey
Emma Frost

Most Comprehensive X-Men Personality Quiz 2.0
created with [via]

I think the nearly five-way tie at the top explains why I like the X-men series so much....

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

"You are just a sweet person. When a friend needs a shoulder to cry on, you are happy to offer yours with a box of tissues as well. Once in awhile, you wish you could be a little more dramatic but then sensibility sets back in and you know that you are perfect the way you are." [via]

This result, on the other hand, is inexplicable, though Mr. Jones will certainly take it to mean something:

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Thursday Lyric: Arrow

Because this is one of her best-known songs, it's probably the first Cheryl Wheeler song I ever heard, but I can't be sure. The hopeless, ironic romanticism of this song never fails to make me smile.

Words And Music By Cheryl Wheeler

I wish I could fall in love
Though it only leads to trouble, oh I know it does
Still I'd fool myself and gladly, just to feel I was
In love, in love

I wish I could feel my heartbeat rise
And gaze into some gentle, warm excited eyes
And give myself as truly as an arrow flies
In windless skies

Oh I remember you in the tv light
Holding you close to me where we lay
And now I wish I knew some of those softer nights
Whispering quietly, feeling you turn to me
Only last night in the winter dark
I dreamed of how you loved, in all your innocence
And I've never known a softer warmer feeling since, or a truer heart

Maybe these dreams are leading me
Maybe love is not as gentle as my memory
Maybe time and wishful half-remembered fantasy are the greatest part
Wish I could feel my heartbeat rise
And gaze into some gentle, warm excited eyes
And give myself as truly as an arrow flies
In windless skies

I wish I could fall in love
Though it only leads to trouble, oh I know it does
Still I'd fool myself and gladly just to feel I was,
in love


Cool. Really cool.

Challenging. It's one of the best Disability blog roundups ever, in terms of the consistently high quality of the posts. One or two standouts, lines like "I think that perhaps secretly, the pressure to diet is greater than the pressure to lose weight for very many women – to demonstrate an aspiration as opposed to achieving a tangible goal." Post about the uses of velcro, and another reason to fear gay marriage bans. And that's not even half of it. Go read.

Disturbing on many levels.

Update: Satire.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Legal Humor and Medical.... something

Kierkegaard provides a roundup of recent legal humor, including a citation from Adam Sandler and spell-check fun.

And Orac cites self-endoscopy.... nuff said.

Blogging will be perfunctory until the fever passes....

As I was walking through Dublin City...

You Belong in Dublin
Friendly and down to earth, you want to enjoy Europe without snobbery or pretensions. You're the perfect person to go wild on a pub crawl... or enjoy a quiet bike ride through the old part of town.

Except for the fact that I don't do bike rides or pub crawls, it sounds good to me. Good whiskey, good beer, great music, cool weather, neat caps and wool tweeds, world-class universities and high-tech industries. Yeah, I could do that.

I love the description, but I've never heard of this one. Oh, well: he had eight, and the only ones I actually know are the ones in "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm"....

Which of Henry VIII's wives are you?
this quiz was made by Lori Fury [via]

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Image: Refraction Artifact

Technically, this is evidence that something has gone wrong, probably a reflection of the flash from a raindrop. I like it, though.

Also note the new e-mail address, for those of you e-mailing me anytime in the near future.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Obscurity Meme

In honor of Ralph Luker [via]

Name a CD you own that you think no one else on your friendslistblogroll does: Lou and Peter Berryman, "Double Yodel" (for that matter, any of the half-dozen Berryman titles)

Name a book you own that you think no one else on your friendslistblogroll does: Sydelle Pearl, Elijah's Tears. Also, the entire Asimov Foundation series.

Name a movie you own on DVD/VHS/whatever that you think no one else on your friendslistblogroll does: "A Jumping Night in the Garden of Eden" (Klezmer documentary)

Name a place that you have visited that you think no one else on your friendslistblogroll has: Hicksville, New York (it's on Long Island, so I could be wrong about this, but I've always loved the name.)

Name a piece of technology or any sort of tool you own that you think no one else on your friendslistblogroll has: An abacus/calculator (solar powered!). Also a braille Dymo label gun.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Assymetric Assault

People litter everywhere.
Is that assymetric warfare?
I'm probably about the four-thousandth blogger to quote this, but it's so quotable. According to a Navy spokesman, a high-ranking officer at Guantanamo, the triple suicide of detainees was "not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare against us."

It's something of a truism now that suicide is an act of anger as much as it is an act of depression or desperation (situations matter, of course), and there's little question that the suicides are intended to draw attention in a harmful fashion. There've been suicides like that for centuries: the most prominent recent ones I can think of are self-immolations by anti-war Buddhist priests. As acts of warfare go, it's the most passive-agressive form of assault possible, in that it only does psychological harm and then only to interlocutors who are thoughtful and open; defining it as "assymetric warfare" implies no distinction between speech, civil disobedience and terrorism, and is both ridiculous and disturbing.

According to the reports I've seen, the suicides were by detainees with reported actual ties to anti-American forces, but given the treatment of unconvicted (and mostly unconvictable) detainees, it falls into the category of "Sure, they hate us. Doesn't mean they're wrong."
Defense Department officials have long expressed their pride in not having lost a single life among the approximately 759 detainees who have at one time been incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay. There have been 41 suicide attempts by about 25 individual detainees -- many by hanging -- but in each previous case, medical personnel were able to save them.

"This is a determined, intelligent, committed element," Craddock said. "They continue to do everything they can . . . to become martyrs."
They succeeded, but it's not likely to change anyone's mind. "Drawing attention" only matters if we are actually embarassed about what we're doing, or if anyone else can make us change our behavior....

Non Sequiturs: I'm not a big fan of animated gifs, particularly cheap-shot humor, but this (found here) just made me smile. And cubicles make you dumber. As if you didn't know.

and Hume's Ghost (blogging as part of the group at Glenn Greenwald's place) has the best list of qualifications and quibbles with regard to Zarqawi's death and its strategic and political meaning.

If My Blogging Were a Sports Car, I'd....

I'm a Dodge Viper!

You're all about raw power. You're tough, you're loud, and you don't take crap from anyone. Leave finesse to the other cars, the ones eating your dust.
Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

Of course, it's a sports car quiz. There is no bad result. [via] However, I don't know how this is going to turn out...
You Should Spend Your Summer on a Road Trip
For you, the summer is all about possibilities. And you're not going to be tied down. This is the time for you to embark on an epic road trip, with no ultimate destination in mind. You know you'll have a ton of crazy adventures... at least until you run out of cash!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

One Song Meme

One Song Meme via Tigerlily, who seems to be as much of a Les Miserables fan as I am.

One Song

One song from early childhood:
"Hair".... first record I wore out, I'm told.

One song you associate with your first big love:
Don Henley, "Sad Cafe"

One song that reminds you of one of your holidays:
"Oseh Shalom" for Shabbat.

One song you like, but hate to admit:
Garth Brooks Billy Ray Cyrus, "Achy Breaky Heart." Also, Pat Donohue's "Yucky Sushi Song." And "Oh Holy Night."

One song listened to while you were lovesick:
"Heaven Help my Heart" from Chess

One song you listened to most often in your life:
"This Land Is Your Land", possibly. or "Mary Ellen Carter." (not counting children's music)

One song which is your favorite instrumental:
This is impossible; it's a whole meme unto itself. My favorite instrumental of all time is Dvorak's "New World" symphony, but if I have to pick a pop song I'd go with ... Billy Joel's "Root Beer Rag." (I'm a sucker for piano rags and blues. And you can play almost anything on a hammer dulcimer and I'll sit and listen.) And you can pick a track at random from George Winston's "Summer" and it's engraved in my memory (there's that piano again). Klezmer....

One song by one of your favorite bands:
"Rosie" by The Mollys.

One song in which you recognize yourself or through which you somehow feel understood:
Stan Rogers, "The Idiot" (seriously, you have to listen to it)

One song which reminds you of a certain occasion (and the occasion):
Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody" reminds me of a Christmas drive through Kansas.
The entire musical "I Do! I Do!" gets played on our anniversary, just as my parents did (and still do).
Tom Paxton's "Outward Bound" was played at our wedding, and it's still the most romantic song I know.

One rap/hip-hop song you like:
Bzzz. Does "Talking Blues" count? 'Cause there's a couple of those....

One song that helps you relax:
Stan Rogers, "Working Joe"

One song which symbolizes a great time in your life:
Anything from "The Fantasticks"

One song which is your favorite at the moment:
Mary-Chapin Carpenter, "Why Walk When You Can Fly"

One song you would dedicate to your best friend:
(i.e. spouse) Garnet Rogers, "After All."

One song no one besides you likes:
No such thing. Most of the music I like is despised by some subgroup of my friends and acquaintances, but most of it is adored by some other subgroup thereof.... There are songs I don't talk about much, though. Leon Rosselson sings some of them.

One song you like because of its lyrics:
Stan Rogers, "MacDonnell on the Heights"

One song you like which is not in English:
"Si Buscabas" (sung by Holly Near)

One song that helps you work out:
heh. Though I actually got up and danced to Seth Farber's "Panic Attack Blues" the other night, so that counts for something.

One song that should be played at your funeral:
After you're done with the Mourner's Kaddish, sing a solid round of "Oseh Shalom." Then, assuming that it's some time in the distant future, just put my collection (which'll be digitized and online) on shuffle and see what happens.

Good to know....

If anyone at an airport asks to see your ID, show them, even if its unconstitutional, against regulations, unnecessary, offensive or otherwise screwy.

Political hyper-haiku:
Absolute power
must be taken and given.
Have we no limits?

Friday, June 09, 2006

You Try Taking a Picture of...

For a while now I've been trying to get a good picture of a flying flag. It'd be nice to have a picture of my own to lay out on holidays, etc. It sounds easy enough...

It's hard! Go ahead, try it and post the best results. These are my best solo US flags out of a couple dozen shots from about a dozen "hey, the wind is blowing and I have my camera and I'm not in a hurry" sessions. The second one is more dramatic, but still not close to what I'm looking for. I'm going to have to get closer to the flag: I want to see stars, and I want strong colors and I want to see the whole thing. Try it yourself, seriously.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

We are doomed

Someone who
has used the words "camel jockey," "jihad monkey" and "tent merchant" to refer to Muslims, come out against a woman's right to vote ("It would be a much better country if women did not vote") and said Abu Ghraib proved women "shouldn't be in the military," called for the assassination of a Supreme Court Justice ("someone should put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' crème brûlée"), claimed "a baseball bat is the most effective way" to deal with liberals, called Democrats "gutless traitors," lamented that Timothy McVeigh "did not go to the New York Times building," revealed that she is "not a big fan of the First Amendment," said she hates Canada "because they speak French," said God gave us permission to "rape the planet," told disabled Vietnam vet Bobby Muller "No wonder you guys lost," called people who collect Social Security "greedy geezers," said Episcopalians "don't demand much in the way of actual religious belief," dubbed the Democratic Convention "the Spawn of Satan Convention," and called Pamela Harriman and Patricia Duff "whores."
is rich and famous, despite being offensive, dangerous and anti--science

This story actually made me scream in the car when I heard it on Le Show
Anxious that even the most gushing of descriptions may not market its wares hard enough, one property company has begun a trend that it thinks could catch on everywhere: hiring teams of actors to play "happy families" in its show homes.

Attractive film and stage actors are cast in the roles of cheerful-looking parents and their angelic children, recreating scenes of domestic bliss that they hope will impress prospective buyers.
Americans appear to have taken it entirely at face value. According to Digna Barbieto, 62, who lives in Santa Clarita, it felt neither stage-managed or artificial.

"When we came in, the family was preparing for the surprise and the kids were so excited," she said.

"They offered us cookies and some of the viewers chatted to them. It felt very real and made you want to own a house just like that. I'm encouraging my son and daughter-in-law to buy one."
Yes, that's right: it works. Then I screamed.

And two Iraqi stories, via the same source, chronicling the "Talibanization" of Iraq, a process that decapitation strikes probably won't affect much [via]: lethal attacks on street vendors and ice sellers for purveying products not found during the age of Mohammed (like ice; no, I'm not kidding) and those with a connection, however tenuous, to Israel (falafel, mayonnaise; no, I'm not kidding) or Jews (goatee beards, which went out with Freud). They've banned smoking, too, so you know the next attempt to impose new restrictions on smoking in this country are going to be met with charges of "Talibanization." But real Talibanization means obliterating women's rights and public presence (concern for women's rights in theocracies is not islamophobia, though it's been used to justify it) which has the additional bad effect of removing competent professionals from their jobs, making the reconstruction and revitalization of the Iraqi economy that much harder.

Maybe all is not lost, but I'm going to start screaming in the car more often. When I'm alone.

Praise where praise is due....

Ding, dong Zarqawi's dead.... He's history. Bad history....
OK, a day has passed. Let the limitations of our success be known.
And it's entirely possible that we're doing the right thing about Iran as long as people (including the Admininstration) remember that we are negotiating, which means changing our positions and, as Nexon puts it, engaging in bribery on a massive scale. [via]

Change of pace: The preceding comments were NOT satire. This, however, is a whole carnival of satire.... very praiseworthy indeed.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Optimistic Pessimism? Or vice versa?

FPRI commentator and Iraqi scholar Kanan Makiya [via] says
Despite the high levels of violence and the fact that we cannot yet say that the back of the insurgency has been broken, I believe that ultimately history will look kindly upon the U.S. democratization project in the region. That it was done badly and without the requisite planning goes without saying. However, too many people draw from this “bungled” effort large and sweeping lessons about how history will judge this shift in U.S. foreign policy. I am not prepared to make that kind of leap. That the project was mismanaged in numerous ways has implications for the here and now, but it does not yet speak to the long term. We are on the edge of a chasm from which we can still step back. It is a dangerous moment, but not yet hopeless.
He's flogging the old "there were no good alternatives to invasion" fallacy, but even from that perspective the invasion was about the only thing the US/Coalition did right. There's some interesting -- if not entirely convincing -- social psychology towards the end
the threat to Iraqi life and well-being does not come from the Arab nationalism of the Baath, but from ... the profoundly irrational and self-destructive politics of shrinking oneself down to the mere fact of one’s own victimhood as a reaction to the previous totalizing transnational ideologies that have so poisoned one’s world.

The terrible lesson of Palestinian politics is that a leadership that elevates victimhood into the be-all and end-all of politics brings untold misery upon its own people. Given political power, this kind of a leadership will in turn victimize.
The fact that Iraqis are still competing with each other over who has suffered the most, and who did or did not collaborate with Saddam, is not a good sign; it is a sign that what he represented still lives on inside Iraqi hearts.
My position on the war has always been that regime change was a worthwhile goal, but it's a means to an end and should have been handled very differently (from about 1990 on) to actually achieve desirable outcomes with something like a veneer of competency. Instead, we've catapulted ourselves to the edge of catastrophic chasms.

There is an interesting echo of American politics there, though I haven't quite figured out what it means entirely. It seems to me, though, that the party most energetically arguing victimhood is no longer the "majority of minorities" Democratic party (which is articulating positive visions based on fundamental values), but the Republicans: seemingly afraid of everything, and rallying its "bases" with visions of secular socialist brown-skinned Grinchos stealing their white capitalist Christmases....

Carnival of Feminists; other links to follow, I'm sure

The Carnival of Feminists is up at the Nut House, and it's the usual compendium: large, varied, thoughtful, energetic. Lots of stuff to agree with and to disagree with. The host has been unusually candid about their own views, which makes clicking through even more of an adventure than usual.

The Carnival of Liberals, a nice varied and thoughtful collection this time. The host has some traffic insecurities, though, so be nice.

Grand Rounds is at one of the most visually unappealing sites I've seen in a while (the colors! the columns! the fonts!) but there's great stuff there.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"For Its Own Sake" has many benefits

The last chapter of Pirkei Avot is about the glories of Torah study
"Rabbi Meir (Mai-eer) said, anyone who engages in Torah study for its own sake ('lishma') merits many things. Not only that, but the entire world is worthwhile for him alone. He is called 'friend' and 'beloved,' he loves G-d, he loves man, he brings joy to G-d, he brings joy to man. It (the Torah) clothes him in humility and fear. It enables him to be righteous, pious, upright, and faithful. It distances him from sin and brings him to merit. [Others] benefit from him advice and wisdom, understanding and strength, as it says, 'To me is advice and wisdom, I am understanding, and strength is mine' (Proverbs 8:14). It gives him kingship, dominion and analytical judgment. It reveals to him the secrets of the Torah. He becomes as an increasing stream and an unceasing river. He becomes modest, slow to anger, and forgiving of the wrongs done to him. It makes him great and exalted above all of creation."
The trick is to ignore the fact that there are all these benefits, and do it anyway.....

Oopsies from April

The Angry Professor was honest, but it went to the wrong person. Of course... for general academic mayhem, you really can't beat an Angry Professor (technically, it's "the Angry Professor" but there's more than one of us....)

Pooh witnessed some dumb lawyer moves, most of which did tick off the judges involved.

Monday, June 05, 2006

End of Democracy and of Web 2.0

Gotta hawk a new carnival! Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Round One by Ken Goldstein. If I'd known, I might have submitted this or this. Well, next time. There's lots of good (bad) material out there. How about this: the first attempt to put new restrictions on human rights back into the Constitution since the damn thing was written. (And, just for fun, backtracking and qualification at the same time)

Also, some disturbing new technical features: I'm getting spam in my Technorati RSS feed. Not the watchlist that you click to on the sidebar, but in bloglines, I'm getting multiple "hits" that are clearly splogs with no content or linkage relevant to the watch. I've been wondering for a while now when companies and spammers were going to notice Web 2.0 features like technorati tags. They glommed on to trackbacks quick enough.... Also, online pizza delivery and other companies that save your credit card info should ask for some kind of verification before taking on-line orders....

Update: I finally figured out why I was getting traffic from a website I consider a pretty inhospitable environment: pure dumb luck. They're using the technorati backtracks on articles they consider "of interest" to create rolling link blogs, and when I comment on an article they're tracking, it just happens.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Understatement of the Day, or, Why "Middle" and "Moderate" are two different words

Unity08 wants to create, by webroots (yes, I just made that word up: cite me!), a bipartisan presidential ticket for 2008. As David Broder points out
The practical difficulties facing the venture are enormous. Persuading prominent figures to submit their names for consideration will not be easy. ... it would be a huge risk for Republicans or Democrats who have been elected to a position of responsibility to abandon their party and run under the Unity08 banner.
There's your understatement. The article repeats the canard that internet users are "younger" when surveys have shown a remarkably wide range of ages and professions among us bloggerly types.

Then, of course, there's the problem of concept v. execution: what "moderates" are going to take such a radical step, and will they really be campaigning toward the middle?

Non Sequitur: Brett's got the lyrics to The Deepest Shelter In Town, which reminds me, in a roundabout way, of Shel Silverstein's I'm Standing on the Outside of your Shelter, as sung by Fred Hellerman.

Non Sequitur redux: Ozarque's got some great links up: on credulity in children, framing immigration and other issues, and cute, free toys. Also, because everyone's going to be linking to some version of it, Avedon Carol's commentary on RFK, Jr's election theft report and one lame attempt at rebuttal.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sleep Meme

1. Do you use an alarm clock to wake up?
If the Little Anachronism doesn't get us up first.

2. What time does your alarm go off?
Weekdays: 6:25 am
Weekends: not at all, or 7:25

3. What sound does it make?
NPR news

4. Do you hit the snooze button? How many times?
Rarely. If I have the time to lounge, I just lounge.

5. If you have a partner, do they have a separate alarm?
No. Same kid, same clock.

6. Does your partner get up at the same time, earlier or later?
Spouse tends to get to bed earlier, can get up earlier more easily.

7. Is your clock set ahead? If so, by how much?
No. I use official time to reset my clocks regularly.

8. What's the first thing you do when you get up?
Go to the bathroom.

9. Do you eat breakfast? If so, what?
Weekdays: granola, cheerios, raisins; juice; coffee.
Weekends: chocolate chip corn muffins and assorted cheeses; waffles or pancakes

10. How long does it take you to get ready?
For what?

11. On the weekends, what time do you get up?
Depends. We sort of alternate getting up with Little Anachronism, so it could be 6-ish or it could be 8-ish...

12. Do you lounge or do you jump into action?
Depends on what needs doing. I like a little lounging in my schedule. But I'm capable of remarkable speed when provoked.

13. In an ideal world, what time would you get up?

14. How many hours of sleep do you typically get?
5-7 hours at night. An hour or two of nap about every third day, too.

15. How many hours of sleep do you want to get?
8-10 hours.

Via Little Professor

Friday, June 02, 2006

Self-Pity or Other-Pity?

Brian Ulrich points to this trenchant review of currently popular books on women in Islam. It's good stuff, to some extent, but I think there's a bit of oversensitivity here:
Meanwhile, the abundant pity that Muslim women inspire in the West largely takes the form of impassioned declarations about "our plight"--reserved, it would seem, for us, as Christian and Jewish women living in similarly constricting fundamentalist settings never seem to attract the same concern.
That's absurd. Read anything about Mormonism in US history, read any American (liberal, which is most of us) Jewish take on women in old orthodox (or new ultra-orthodox) communities, or -- taking this out of the realm of religion entirely -- Western discussions of women in patriarchal Asian societies. The rhetoric is identical, really; it's often overdrawn, the air of superiority is annoying because it is sometimes quite hypocritical, and the imposition of solutions is often poorly considered. However, I will go out on a little limb and say that the condition of women under Western liberal democracies is better -- legally, socially, economically, educationally, politically, on average and relative to males -- than the condition of women under religious fundamentalism, under family-first legal and social systems, or under pre-liberal Western societies.

We have made some progress, and though it's uncomfortable to talk about "superior" or "inferior" societies, and a bit silly to talk about one aspect (especially one as important as law and practice with regard to women) without talking about the totality, but a little realism and focus is important sometimes.

Problem with blogging from bloggerly sources: I wrote this, tucked it away, and then found the full article via HU-Islam (a member of the Sunni-Shii harmony bloggers group SuShi). After a pretty strong (and sorta convincing) indictment of the books under consideration, Laila Lalami goes on to say
Where does this leave feminists of all stripes who genuinely care about the civil rights of their Muslim sisters? A good first step would be to stop treating Muslim women as a silent, helpless mass of undifferentiated beings who think alike and face identical problems, and instead to recognize that each country and each society has its own unique issues.
"Unique" does not per se mean "unable to be generalized" and is often a cover for nitpicking and precisely the kind of relativism Lalami rejects earlier in the essay
A second would be to question and critically assess the well-intentioned but factually inaccurate books that often serve as the very basis for discussion. We need more dialogue and less polemic.
Well, that's an easy one: make your interlocutors defensive by claiming that only you want dialogue while they are clearly unhinged. "Dialogue" does not mean "polite exchanges tending to moderate compromise" but civil discourse between strongly held positions about very important and difficult issues. "Polemic" isn't a bad word.
A third would be to acknowledge that women--and men--in Muslim societies face problems of underdevelopment (chief among them illiteracy and poverty) and that tackling them would go a long way toward reducing inequities.
What's odd about that is that the vast majority of the Western feminists Lalami is beating on suggest precisely those sorts of issues as first-priority policies. She's beating up on strawmen. And strawwomen
As the colonial experience of the past century has proved, aligning with an agenda of war and domination will not result in the advancement of women's rights. On the contrary, such a top-down approach is bound to create a nationalist counterreaction that, as we have witnessed with Islamist parties, can be downright catastrophic. Rather, a bottom-up approach, where the many local, homegrown women's organizations are fully empowered stands a better chance in the long run. After all, isn't this how Western feminists made their own gains toward equality?
That's kind of ahistorical, which makes it my provenance. There have been many paths to empowerment, political and otherwise, in the West (there is a bit of occidentalism in Lalami's presentation, but we all need some categories to work with), some of which really were "top down," and most of which are dreadfully incomplete. "Bound to create a nationalist counterreaction" is the kind of "they're not as advanced as us, so all they can do is react emotionally" orientalism that Lalami is trying to reject.

So, the review is its own polemic, a worthwhile corrective but not an answer in itself, no matter how much it tries to present itself that way.