Wow! Yesterday was quite the day. I ditched two classes to watch a dictator speak, write an article about it, go to a Mets game, and stay up until 4 am doing accounting/statistics homework.
Thanks to all the well-wishers for my article in the Huffington Post. The backstory on that is: my friend Colin (an Editor for the HP) e-mailed me right before the event asking me if I could write something from the perspective of a Columbia student. I literally ran home to type it and send it off, scooped most of the other bloggers on the “Bollinger was an a-hole” angle, and now there’s over 400 comments. Prettayy, prettayyy goooood.
In all honesty, hearing the President of an Ivy league institution use such crass language, was really quite shocking. The crowd was completely jingoistic about it too, because he’d mix in really passionate charges (about detained scholars, capital punishment of minors, repressed women and homosexuals, denial of the holocaust, nuclear ambitions, meddlings in Iraq) with petty capstone insults (”face of evil”, “ignorant and uneducated,” “intellectually uncourageous.”)
So I found myself clapping at some parts and cocking my head sideways at others. At the end, he walked off the stage like a rapper dropping the mic before on encore. It was really weird. I wonder how much self-loathing went into that address– he has a strong history as a legal scholar in free-speech, and he was clearly pandering to a political base that writes very large checks to the university (read: Upper West Side Jewish community). So maybe he stormed off for effect… maybe he stormed off out of shame. Who knows.
So that’s that. On to snark:
The Persian Hand Wave
Ahmadinejad’s “here’s the back of my hand, kiss my ring” wave has got to be in the top 3 most hilarious salutes of all time, with Nixon’s “two-handed shaking my peace fingers” and Hitler’s “Heil! I have a silly mustache, please be seated!” gestures.
Let’s Make a Stop at Filene’s before the Speech
Um, so apparently our economic embargo on Iran really limits the quality and availability of non-cheap suits. Ahmadinejad was wearing the suit I had in 4th grade that my parents got me to wear to a wedding, because they knew I’d grow out of it in 6 months anyway. Hey dictator! Get with the program, throw on some fatigues!
“We Don’t Have Homosexuals Like You Do”
To me, this was the most important moment of the entire day. A room full of rational people LAUGHING like a studio audience at an irrational person for revealing a nonsensical position. How important is that? Domestically, people fear this man, they are jailed secretly or sent to the army for criticizing him. Gays are arrested and even hung for excercising their sexual preference. And we LAUGHED at him. It felt really, really good to do that.
What does that have to do with the price of rugs in Persia?
Ahmadinejad did a superb job orating until the questions turned to internal repression. That’s when he lost a captive audience. When asked about capital punishment of women, gays and minors, he started talking about drug dealers and thugs, about the need to “eliminate microbes” from the body to keep it healthy. I was proud of our Dean when he interrupted him and said, “Sir, the question wasn’t about punishing thugs and drug dealers, it was about women and sexual preference.” SCOREBOARD!
Denying the Holocaust is not a good way to make friends
I’ve read that this rhetoric doesn’t even play very well in Iran, that it’s spoken mostly to gain legitimacy within the greater Arab world. Whatever. It’s stupid. You want to calculate the exact number of people that were exterminated by Nazi Germany? Go ahead. Does that exact number matter? Does it change the current state of affairs? Does it make the state of Israel less legimitate if the number was 4 million instead of 6 million? Why is there a requisite threshold of deaths for something to be a “holocaust”?
I understand that it’s an issue used to question the legitimacy of the Israeli state. But why must you broach an important issue that has some merit, with an illogical issue that has NO merit, and moreover is extremely painful for those involved? I just don’t see the benefit.
He blinded me with science
Man oh man, the opening epistemological discussion of the “purity” of science was a snoozer. Look, people (including scientists and researchers) pursue things more actively for material gain than for immaterial gain. Sure, many are looking for glory and prestige. But that is secondary, especially in the West, where last time I checked, most scientific research is taking place.
Moreover, material satisfaction is pursued more peacefully and rationally than immaterial satisfaction (unless you’re Buddah). Once someone has something the rest of the world doesn’t, they’re going to try to collect rent from the knowledge. This is how economics works. If God or Allah or whomever intended for all of humanity to be illuminated by all knowledge equally, we would be born omnipotent and divine. If you want the equipment and technology needed to power your country with nuclear energy so you can sell your oil instead of consuming it, you’re certainly not going to get it from us for free.
All things I wish Bollinger would’ve said as a RESPONSE to what Ahmadinejad actually said, instead of the pre-emptive attack he gave. What kind of debate tactic is that? Why is forceful rhetoric the debative norm in US politics now (and apparently US academia)? It’s astounding…