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Letters.

Sound judgment

Cathy Young calls the Deaf Pride movement a "reductio ad absurdum" ("Sound Judgment," April). Is that Latin for nucking flits? Deaf parents refusing to allow their deaf daughter a cochlear implant for "cultural" reasons is just outrageous.

My hearing's toast, a combination of RH factor and scarlet fever as an infant, along with guns, chainsaws, and other power toys later in life. While I still do OK in "normal" society, I twitch to contemplate what my life will be like if, when my hearing goes completely, an implant can't fix it. The thought of practical isolation from the wider world should frighten everyone. Yet it seems that various groups--not just the deaf--seek precisely that, wallowing in their isolation and their insular views under the fig leaf of "cultural diversity," often state-subsidized.

And yet diversity-niks criticize the rest of us for being small-minded? I do know the hand signal for what I think of that, and it needs no translation.

Dave Skinner

Whitefish, MT

Cathy Young does not know what being deaf is. Why should she make a mockery out of it? "Maybe the best way to learn something from the Deaf Pride movement is to see it as a reductio ad absurdum of modern identity politics," she writes. This is an insult to all of the Deaf Community. It borders on blatant racism.

Carl Denney

Via e-mail

Cathy Young made a few good points, but I found her piece biased and poorly researched. American Sign Language does not "impose unique and severe limitations on its users." She cites the example of not being able to sign when your hands are full. Can the hearing talk when their mouths are full? No, but the deaf can. Another advantage of signing over speaking: signing to someone across a loud, crowded room, or through a window. English and ASL both have their benefits.

I think the deaf do realize the contradiction in accepting government funding and legal protections for the disabled while at the same time advocating themselves as a cultural minority. However, how successful would they have been in obtaining legal protections of their own (such as mandated interpreting services) if they hadn't joined with other disability groups?

The anger that Young discusses (picketing at oral deaf schools, for example) is perhaps a backlash on the part of the deaf community after years of "benevolent" hearing people controlling their lives and denying them their language (ASL). The history of the deaf is complicated and it seems Young has not taken this history into account.

Finally, Young seems to tout cochlear implants as a cure for deafness. This cannot be farther from the truth. A cochlear implant can help some deaf people hear better in certain situations, such as one-on-one conversations. It may amplify certain sounds in their environment. But what it cannot do is make a deaf person hear as a "normal" person would. If this were the case, there would not be any need for my interpreting services for my many deaf clients with cochlear implants.

Adrienne Kearney

Dallas, TX

Cathy Young replies: Adrienne Kearney is correct in pointing Out that cochlear implants are not a "cure" for deafness. However, particularly when performed early in life, the procedure does in many cases enable the recipient to function normally, and in most other cases results at the very least in substantial improvement. What's more, as even some deaf activist groups recognize, the technology has improved considerably since its inception.

Sure, one can cite a few instances in which users of sign language are advantaged over hearing people--just as one can cite a few situations (e.g., functioning in total darkness) in which blind people are advantaged over the sighted. And even those are debatable; for instance, since people generally use their hands when eating, I doubt that a user of ASL has much of an advantage over an oral speaker in carrying on a conversation at the same time, and seeing another person across a crowded room doesn't seem easier than hearing him or her. In any event, the fact is that hearing (like sight) is one of the most basic faculties of the mammalian organism. Its absence is not a racial identity, as Carl Denney's letter would imply; it is a defect. Many people can live happy, productive, reasonably full lives despite this defect (just as do people with many other disabilities). But to suggest that a cure--even a partial cure--for this condition would be in any way detrimental is...well, Dave Skinner put it rather well.

Back to Bedrock

I love reason, but I'm wondering if all the illegal drugs that Nick Gillespie used to take are finally getting to him ("Back to Bedrock," April). He has a right to speak out against President Bush, but when he refers to him as "the millionaire president who waited out the Vietnam War in the Texas Air National Guard," it reminds me of the garbage rhetoric that I might see if I were reading Ted Rail, or Susan Sontag, or one of the other hate-mongering, America-bashing, leftist whiners. That kind of ad hominem attack is not only disrespectful to a man who is doing a damned good job as commander-in-chief (with approval ratings of more than 80 percent); it detracts from the whole point of the article.

I know Gillespie is at the top of the masthead, but maybe he should run his next Rant past a few of the more mature--and less drug-addled--staffers before he sends it out for printing.

Apart from that, keep up the great work. I learn something new in every issue.

Brother Mike Robinson SGR

Braintree, MA

Fringe Finance

Mike Lynch's "Finance on the Fringe" (April) was excellent. I just got into a discussion with my financee about a similar issue--high-interest credit cards. She's from an upper-middle-class background and was completely shocked that it's "legal to charge such a high rate of interest."

Lynch has correctly identified the crux of the issue: an inability to imagine people who, by their own choice, aren't marching lockstep on the trail to suburbia (incidentally, I love suburbia), combined with a desire to have the not-so-poor subsidize the utopian eradication of poverty. We've gone from believing that poverty is caused by individual immorality to believing that the poor are witless pawns of "corporate greed."

A. Clayton

Marietta, GA

Heavy Breathing

I'm writing regarding Catherine Seipp's "Asthma Attack" (April). I'm one of two 10th District Parent-Teacher Association representatives to the Los Angeles Unified School District's Safety Committee. Several years ago we lobbied the school board to make it very clear to employees that inhalers are not contraband and should be readily available, and that the board's medication policy should reflect this. Our efforts ensured that the policy Seipp cited addressed inhalers.

We are still working to ensure that the medication policy, which is based on state law, does not restrict children's access to their medications. California law requires parents to involve the school when their child takes a medication only if they want the school to assist the child. Parents who send their child to school with an antibiotic to take at lunch are not breaking any law, even though many school officials think that no drugs, including over-the-counter medications, are allowed without specific permission.

L.A. schools do not have and never have had a zero tolerance drug policy. They do have a great many employees engaged in wishful, delusional, and sometimes harmful thinking who believe they can make their own policy.

Helen Fallon

Venice, CA

Arrogant school administrators who steal children's asthma inhalers in defiance of doctors' orders are practicing medicine without a license. Why doesn't anyone jail them for that?

Esther M. Cook

Denver, CO

Carnage and Culture

The title and subtitle of Chris Bray's review of my book Carnage and Culture make the charge that my book "abuses the past" and is "torturing history" ("Torturing History," April). Bray himself characterizes the book--and me personally--as "loud," "sloppy," "a wrecking ball," and "ugly." These are serious allegations that deserve a response.

Bray thinks the book's argument is "military freedom." This is false. The theme is the array of advantages that historically accrues to Western militaries because of a variety of cultural practices and values. A single chapter of nine is devoted to freedom. Eight others discuss civic militarism, decisive battle, landed infantry, technology, capitalism, discipline, individualism, and dissent.

Bray calls military freedom "my career argument." This is false. I wrote one previous book, Soul of Battle, that discussed democratic armies. The other nine dealt with a variety of other topics: contemporary farming, classical studies in the university, ancient agriculture, the mechanics of hoplite warfare, and a survey of Greek warfare from Homer to Alexander.

Because he does not understand the book's themes, Bray spends most of his time objecting to a single chapter on the Greeks' freedom at Salamis. He is upset that I call freedom a "Western value"--and apparently more so by my statement that the West has had a tradition of 2,500 years, one that now has spread to six continents. Yet he adduces no evidence to contradict this point. Bray objects to the book's definition of freedom--not by citing the actual one provided in the book (on pages 46-55) but by quoting my larger definition of Western culture, as if he thinks the latter is synonymous with freedom.

Bray objects to my notion of constitutional government in late 19th-century England, assuring us that the British in 1879 "were ruled by monarchs"--as if there were not a consulting parliament and prime minister. He also makes the weird argument that because free soldiers do not always mouth slogans of freedom in actual battle, I am wrong to argue that they fight well because they reflect a free society in the way they prepare for, think about, and conduct war. He says it's "harder still to believe that the Spanish conquistadors descended with fevered cries of 'One man, one vote!"' I did not actually write that, of course, but rather explained at great length the real differences between Spanish and Aztec approaches to government and culture (see pages 222-232).

Bray cites Sparta, suggesting that I wrongly believed that all Greeks embraced similar ideas of freedom and "the consent of the governed." That is false. I carefully emphasized both the diversity and the inequality present among the various poleis: "Even the most oligarchic states never attempted to establish a theocracy that might control the social, cultural, and economic behavior of its subjects. Generally, Western autocracies that did arise never succeeded to the degree of eastern despots in controlling the lives of their subjects. Still, none of the city-states from the Black Sea to southern Italy extended political equality to women, slaves, and foreigners" (page 50). And: "Within the more than 1,000 city-states not everyone was free. In the fourth-century history of the autonomous polis (700-300 B.C.) there were gradations in which property qualifications were high, moderate, and nonexistent, and office holding was variously open to the few, many, and all" (pages 50-51).

Bray objects to my argument that freedom gave advantages to the Greeks at Salamis and conveniently forgets the context: Unlike the Persians, the Greeks' representatives argued as free men over tactics and strategy, while Xerxes did not tolerate the same degree of free exchange. The Greeks themselves emphasized the key importance of freedom in that victory (pages 48-49).

We simply do not know whether Themistocles' ruse really took place; so one is not "fudging" when expressing doubt about the story. Of course, Themistocles may have given a speech claiming his trick alone was the cause of victory--but those were his views, not necessarily Herodotus' own.

Bray writes, "Hanson describes 'British redcoats methodically blasting apart Zulu bodies at close range' and tallies as many as 800 Zulu dead--although only 381 bodies were found." That too is false. That was not my own tally but a reflection of the widely disparate numbers of casualties as noted by different contemporaries: "Reconnaissance parties discovered 351 enemy dead; the number of wounded who crawled away and eventually died may have added another 200 to the fatality total. Later accounts suggest that the total Zulu dead ranged somewhere from 40 o-8oo as bodies were found for miles beyond Rorke's Drift for the next several weeks" (page 298).

Bray objects to my contention that the British success at Rorke's Drift reflected their unique method of training and discipline: "As he does with Salamis, Hanson finds cultural and political motivations in the actions of men who are fighting simply to stay alive." This is banal. Most soldiers fight to "stay alive." It is the historian's task to understand why and how such soldiers do stay alive--and in different ways and with varying degrees of success that are not merely explicable by the tactical situation at hand but often reflect larger questions of technology, discipline, training, tactics, and, yes, culture.

Bray creates italicized sentences and inserts quotation marks to characterize what I, in fact, did not write. When he cannot find support for his interpretations in the text he distorts with adverbs like purportedly and supposedly. Quotations marked by ellipses are common. Similarly, after producing not a single example of the promised falsity, he resorts to the rhetorical "and so on," "there is no shortage of misstated fact," and "Let one more example stand for the rest."

Carnage and Culture has been assessed favorably in magazines, newspapers, and journals in America, Europe, and Asia by a variety of reviewers--among them apparently Chris Bray himself; who now confesses that his earlier evaluation of the book was apparently too favorable. Most reviewers do not seek to critique a book twice in order to retract what they wrote the first time around.

Bray--who is described as a "freelance writer" from Claremont, California--ends his harangue with a lecture on the proper craft of the historian. But history requires from book reviewers some rudimentary knowledge of facts, intellectual honesty, and reason--as well as quoting correctly from texts and presenting rather than distorting arguments. If Chris Bray were a historian he would have known that.

Victor Davis Hanson

Professor of Classics

California State University, Fresno

Chris Bray replies: Victor Davis Hanson notes, from high atop his pedestal, that I am a freelance writer, not a historian, and that his book has been "assessed favorably" in publications "in America, Europe, and Asia." This is a familiar tactic, of course, and one most recently used by discredited gun historian Michael Bellesiles against law professor James Lindgren, one of his critics: Who is this amateur to attack a highly respected professional historian?

About those favorable assessments Hanson cites, here's Noel Malcolm in the Sunday Telegraph: "Victor Hanson tends to pile up his arguments like a barrister in court, convinced that the more he has of them, the better; he also tends-again, like a lawyer--to pick and choose, seizing whatever will make his point in one aspect of the case and then silently omitting it if it does not fit the text."

That's a pretty consistent theme. The Independent of London compares Hanson to Dr. Strangelove, noting that his book is "mired in self-contradiction," and continuing, "The faults of this book are legion, so there is space to concentrate only on the most egregious." The Sydney Morning Herald agrees: "While his thesis is at least partially correct, the great defect of the book is that Hanson has an a priori argument about the superiority of Western military culture (and the West generally), fitting the evidence to it, rather than distilling the appropriate conclusions from the evidence. His first battle study illustrates this."

As for Hanson's remarkable misreading of my review, let's turn to the text. Hanson writes that I think his book is about "military freedom," and puts that reductionist phrase in direct quotes. Later he writes, "Bray...inserts quotation marks to characterize what I, in fact, did not write." I challenge him to identify where, in my review, the phrase "military freedom" appears. Victor Davis Hanson has inserted quotation marks to characterize what I, in fact, did not write.

I should have been more careful in one place. As Hanson notes, the 19th century British were not simply "ruled by monarchs."

I stand by my review.
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Publication:Reason
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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