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Corrupting youth

I'm proud to report that I just completed a successful brainwashing campaign, involving an eight-year-old girl, Garfield, and Calvin and Hobbes.

The problem was this: Earlier this year, I was visiting Heidi in Richmond and discovered, to my chagrin, that Sorena, who was seven at the time, had found Garfield books at the library and decided that Garfield was simply the funniest cartoon known to mankind. Well, that was offensive enough, but it would have been bearable save for one problem: Sorena insisted on reading the ones she deemed the funniest out loud to her mother and me. At home. In the car. In the car. At home. Daytime. Nighttime. Afternoons. It was more than either of us could bear, since Garfield hasn't been funny in, oh, fifteen years and probably longer.

And so, the next time I visited, I was determined to break Sorena of her Garfield habit. So I brought with me "The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes," a thick collection of really funny cartoons. I gave it to her to read by telling her it was funnier than Garfield, but not telling her how much I detested Garfield. Hey, I know a little bit about psychology.

She read it three times while I was there, and I gave her the book as a gift. Then I started picking up more Calvin and Hobbes books in the remainders rack at various bookstores. I sent her another book to read on her vacation, which was to include two 20-hour drives. Her mother bought her a couple of Calvin and Hobbes books. And finally, this week, I sent her two more for her birthday.

And last night, after she thanked me for her present, her mother and I spoke. I asked if Sorena was still reading Garfield.

Nope, she reported. Our campaign has worked. Sorena has been successfully redirected to the good cartoons.

I wonder if I should start buying her Bloom County books next.--MAY



I almost forgot.

Check out this link. It's the fun-with-Photoshop version of what the new WTC should be, in its original web appearance at

Lighten up, baby!

I'm thinking it's about damned time I talked about something a bit less serious. I caught a few of the new television shows.

Don't bother with "Inside Schwartz".

"Enterprise" sucked, but it has Scott Bakula. Oh. Funny moment while watching the tape on Saturday with my friends. Bob went into the kitchen to make his guest (that would be me) dessert, and while there, the scene with Bakula in his underpants occurred. So I'm watching it, and Kim's watching it, and I say to her after a few seconds, "What do you think, packed or stuffed?" and Bob shouts from the kitchen, "Hey!" Laughter ensues. Bob points out that he never would have thought of looking where we looked. That would be because he's a straight male.

Dark Angel's season premiere was better than any of last season's shows. Too bad they wrapped everything up in one episode. They had enough material there for half a dozen.

Angel's back. Yay! Buffy's back tonight. Extreme yay! Gilmore Girls opposite Buffy next week. AAAAAAAH! I have only one VCR!!!

Pasadena was--good. Neat. I'll watch it if I'm home on Friday nights.

ER is still boring.

Frasier was funny.

The Practice has now had two episodes bore me enough to stop watching halfway through, then watch the tape and discover they got interesting in the second half.

I gave up my soaps for Yom Kippur. (That oughta cause a few people to go "huh?")



Aftermath but before the battle

My opinions have effectively settled regarding the events of 9/11. Three weeks of observation, reading, discussion, in the myriad ways I have of absorbing information, have led me to certain thoughts. So I guess I'll just let 'em rip.

Kipling was right.

"East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet," he wrote over a hundred years ago. He was speaking more in the terms of India and the British, but Kipling also had experience with Afghanis and the people from what is now Pakistan. I thought what he meant is that the two cultures are so far apart they'll never understand one another. Now I realize that what he meant is far broader: The eastern minds of people like Osama bin Laden don't want to understand the West. In fact, their revulsion for all things Western is what fuels the attacks on America. And their perversion of the teachings of Islam is the spark that ignites the hatred and the anti-American attitudes.

It comes down to a cultural war. Bin Laden realizes that Western culture will eventually make people like him anachronisms. You can't have a repressive, religious way of life in an era of free and open information. The women of Afghanistan don't want to wear the veil; they are forced to. The Taliban eliminated Afghanistan's middle class. Everyone with money fled the country. Only the peasants remain, and, as has always been the case, a nation of ill-educated peasants is easily intimidated by force. So again, the Western way of life threatens the Taliban, because if you educate the peasants, they are no longer so malleable. A free society, one in which the peasants have access to television at worst and the Internet at best, creates an atmosphere in which the repressive regime must be replaced.

The human soul reaches out for freedom. Our history is filled with the overthrow of tyranny after tyranny, and I believe that one day all of the tyrants will be gone. And bin Laden does not want this to happen. Neither does the rest of the Arab world. There is exactly one democracy in the Middle East: Israel. The Palestinian Authority as run by Yassir Arafat and cronies is an autocratic regime that mercilessly oppresses its opponents. So much for the freedom he promises his followers. All of the other Arab nations are either dictatorships, kingships, autocracies, theocracies, or a combination of the three. In none of them is there full suffrage. In none of them can women be called full citizens. Many of those nations make it a crime to practice or preach any other religion than Islam. Anti-Semitism is open and backed by the governments, although few Jews remain in any Arab nations.

It is in those nations' best interests to keep their people down, as well. So they allow bin Laden and the other extremists to work their will among the peasants, because for the Middle Eastern rulers, a peasantry that hates the United States and Israel is a peasantry that won't look too closely at how many billions of dollars go to the Saudi or Kuwaiti royal families instead of to the people of the nations.

And ultimately, it's about hate. Bin Laden hates everything we stand for, because he knows that given the choice, his young people would listen to pop music and wear blue jeans and put on makeup and cut their hair funny. Given the choice, his youngsters would choose going to a disco over going to a mosque, and they'll watch American movies and wear short skirts and eat McDonald's hamburgers and have sex before marriage. Given the choice, they would use the Internet and find out what's going on in the rest of the world and send instant messages to their friends halfway around the globe and decide for themselves what they should think.

Which is why bin Laden hates the West in general, and America in particular. Our way of life threatens Islamic fundamentalists' very existence. And he thinks that in this culture clash, the way to victory is through violence against all Americans, civilian and military.

He is wrong.

I saw an interview this morning with Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan (whom the Taliban tried to assassinate on more than one occasion). She said that she has spoken to some of these radical Islamic fundamentalists. She says they are basically insane, and that they truly believe that America will lose heart when we start to see our soldiers come home in body bags.

That's why Osama ben Laden will fail. He is blinded by his narrow world view. He is surrounded by men who are blinded by their narrow world view. And they have absolutely no clue as to where America's heart truly is.

Thomas Jefferson said in 1787 "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." It's one of our oft-repeated quotes. And most Americans know this to be true.

Bin Laden and his cronies are going to learn exactly what it means in the days and weeks to come.--MAY



Cultural relativism is the refuge of moral cowards

I've felt this way for a long time, but now I simply have no tolerance whatsoever for cultural relativists.

First let me explain the term. A cultural relativist is one who says that one culture (e.g., the U.S.) has no right dictating their values to another culture (e.g., African nations that practice female circumcision) because what one culture "believes" is wrong is not necessarily wrong, since that other culture believes it is right.

To all cultural relativists, I have the definitive response: Bullshit.

In the last three weeks I've read more about Islamic fundamentalism than I ever cared to, and learned more about the plight of women and men under the iron fists--and unpredictable whims--of the Taliban. I watched films of women and men executed for such minor offenses as criticizing the Taliban. And it made me realize that cultural relativism is the last refuge of the coward, to paraphrase an adage. Because if you say that everything is cultural and we have no right pronouncing judgment on another culture, then you relieve yourself of having to take a side in a morally difficult decision.

Like whether it's all right to see nations subjugate fifty percent of their population because that fifty percent happened to have been born with a uterus.

Like whether it's okay to watch nations imprison, torture, and execute people for the crime of preaching--or practicing--a religion different from the majority population.

Like whether it's acceptable to let young girls be mutilated, made sterile, or even killed by female circumcision, to which they are brought forcibly, screaming, all in the name of cultural relativism.

This is one of the arguments we see time and again used in Third World nations: Don't criticize us, this is our culture, you Americans are too stupid to understand.

It isn't we that don't understand. It is they.

Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new concept: That all men are created equal. In this century, of course, the concept also applies to women.

That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

That among these are Life--the freedom simply to live--

Liberty--freedom itself--

and the Pursuit of Happiness.

If you accept these rights as set out in the Declaration of Independence, which prefaces these basic human rights with the phrase "We hold these truths to be self-evident"--in other words, they are so basic as to be obvious to every thinking person--then you cannot, should not, MUST NOT be a cultural relativist.

If you still think we have no right dictating "our" cultural values to the rest of the world, let me remind you of a few cultural phenomena in recent history that ended up in the enslavement and death of millions of people on several continents: Slavery. Hitler's "final solution". "Ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia.

But that was all their problem, wasn't it? We needn't have gotten involved. And slavery--well, that was the South's "peculiar institution"--no need for the North to bother about it--until, of course, brother fought brother in the Civil War.

A little foresight would have helped, but even more an absence of cultural relativism would have saved millions of lives. Which is why I say the cultural relativists ought to make up their minds: Whose side are you really on? Think carefully. Your answer will affect millions of lives.--MAY