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Post Islam and Public Affairs
Created by John Eipper on 06/13/13 12:11 PM

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Islam and Public Affairs (John Heelan, -UK, 06/13/13 12:11 pm)

As always, Vincent Littrell writes well about Islam (13 June), but I regret that he is probably fighting against human nature in attempting to improve the public image of the religion. As WAIS has discussed before several times, people need an "Other," a bogeyman symbol on which they can park their negative attitudes. Edward Said pointed this facet out in his seminal work on Orientalism.

In in pre-WWII days it was the "Jews" who were the Other. in WWII it was the "Nazis and the Japs"; in the Cold War it was the "Russkies"; nowadays it is "Islamist terrorists" that Joe Public confuses with Muslims in general. That confusion is stoked up by mainly right-wing ideologists to provide excuses for Western military and other actions.

How could Islam's PR problem be resolved? WAIS historians might help us understand how similar problems were conquered in the past. As a dilettante observer, it seems to me that a notable Muslim needs to gain global-wide respect and thus become familiar. Examples in the past have been the respect for Martin Luther King, Jr., helping overcome racial discrimination in the US and similarly, the respect for Nelson Mandela helped overcome apartheid. But in addition, Muslims need to integrate better with their chosen nations. Muslim communities, similar to Jewish communities, tend to congregate rather than integrate. This creates suspicion and the groundwork for "Otherness." Realistically though, improving the image of the Other usually takes decades, but has to start sometime and somewhere, so more power to Vincent's elbow in this matter.

JE comments: I dropped a line this morning to Muqtedar Khan in Delaware. When he answers I'll post.

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  • Islam and Public Affairs (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/16/13 6:00 AM)
    The posts of Vincent Littrell and John Heelan (both 13 June) about Islam are extremely good, and I agree with them.

    However, it is also very easy to confuse the religion with the people who follow such religion, and therefore be afraid of the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims, the Hindus, etc.

    For sure the Jewish religion is good, but in the old times Moses ordered his warriors to go and kill all the enemies, saving only the virgins, and now what will the Palestinians think?

    The Christian religion is beautiful, but what did the Native Americans think about the acts of the Christians invaders?

    In my hometown, the old fellows still say of someone who is extremely bad, "he is worst than a Turk," remembering the Turkish/Saracen incursions. After all, Islam arrived with the sword of the Arabs or Turks. Islamic missionaries, if I am not wrong, are only a modern phenomenon.

    Which religion is more peaceful than Hinduism, but the Hindus too have done and are doing terrible things.

    Therefore it very very difficult to see the beauty of a religion looking at the most visible men who practice it.

    JE comments:  Eugenio Battaglia has summed up the vast topic of religion and PR.  Apologists for a given religion (or for religion in general) appeal to lofty ideals, while critics of a given religion have no problem finding loathsome acts committed in its name.

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    • Palestinian Views of Jews (Istvan Simon, USA 06/16/13 11:01 AM)
      According to our WAIS colleague Alice Whealey, Moses is not a historical but a mythical figure, and if so, what Eugenio Battaglia wrote in his post of 16 June never happened.

      I don't know what the Palestinians think about Jews--perhaps Eugenio can elaborate, if he knows. I have a good Palestinian friend in Brazil whom I've mentioned previously in WAIS. He certainly has nothing against Jews, and this Jew has slept in his house in Brasilia. So at the very least, this shows that such generalizations of what "Palestinians" might think about Jews are fraught with dangers as all such generalizations are.

      JE comments:  I spent 10 minutes looking in our archives for the Alice Whealey post on Moses, but no luck.  Bienvenido Macario, your services are needed!

      I did find this interesting piece from Alice on the Gospels (18 December 2006):  It's well worth a replay:


      Alice:  it's been way too long since we've heard from you!  Hope you are well.  Please drop us a line.

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      • Was Moses a Mythical Figure? (Bienvenido Macario, USA 06/17/13 5:46 AM)
        In response to JE's request of 16 June, I did a quick search of the WAIS archives, and this 16 October 2007 post from Alice Whealey (see below) closely refutes Mosaic laws on adultery, homosexuality, etc.

        Yet there is no categorical statement from Alice saying that Moses's existence was a myth, at least not in this post.

        I'll keep looking. In the meantime, Happy Father's Day.

        JE comments: Don't know how Father's Day got away from me yesterday, but a belated congratulations to Bienvenido Macario and the multitudes of WAISer dads.

        Here's the Alice Whealey post Bienvenido is referring to:


        I still hope to hear from Alice Whealey.  Can Alice's dad Robert encourage her to send us an update?

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      • Palestinian Views of Jews (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/17/13 7:05 AM)
        I understand from Istvan Simon (16 June) that the ancient Jews of Moses were not war criminals as they did not exist, and therefore present-day Israelis have no right whatsoever to Palestine and therefore the first ethnic cleansing of this land did not happen.

        I have known Palestinians since 1967, and I have a clear idea of what they think of the Israelis ("apparently" of the Jewish religion) who kicked them out of their homes.

        I believe I have clearly made the point that it is not correct to confuse a religion with some of its worst followers, but apparently this is what Istvan is doing.

        I also have nice Jewish friends, and Muslims, as well as a couple of Hindus and of course Christians.

        JE comments: It's good to have friends, but I just realized I cannot count any Hindus among mine.  This must be an accident of geography:  Michigan was never a popular destination for Hindus.  Moreover, I cannot think of any practicing Hindus in the diverse world that is WAIS.  We should do something about that.

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  • Islam and Public Affairs; the Need for the "Other" (Robert Whealey, USA 06/17/13 12:32 PM)
    I agree with John Heelan (13 June) that the term "other" is part of the problem of understanding history. American patriots always had an enemy. The British from 1776 to 1846, the Mexicans for a few short years, 1846 to 1853. The North then discovered the slavery question, and the South had the Federal Union to beat up.

    In 1898 the new enemy briefly became Spain. There was some debate around 1905 as to whether the next war would be with the Japanese or the Russians. It turned out by surprise to be Germany from 1917 until 1918. In 1940 some wanted the next enemy to be the USSR, others, Germany, and a third group thought it should be Japan. Most Americans were tolerant or indifferent about "other" religions, whether they were Catholics, Protestants or Jews.

    The issue of anti-Semitism was imported to the US by first-generation immigrants from 1890 to 1933, when the immigration door was temporarily closed. Yet since 1607 the American dilemma has always been the black-white divide, as Gunner Myrdal clarified in a famous book published in 1944.

    From 1945 to 1991, the American press and TV developed a new fanatic Manichaeism which tried to project all of American racial, economic, religious, and political questions into a new holy war called "anti-communism."

    Some Americans are somewhat anti-Islamic today. I and most Americans knew practically nothing about Islam as a religion until after the Arab-Israel War of 1967. The British, the French and the Russians have had more experience with Islam than Americans ever did. Today American students should turn off TV and read some history about Islamic religious groups who have adopted European nationalism.

    In light of Bush 43 and his lost wars in the Middle East, Obama would be a fool to involve the America CIA and military advisers in a Syrian civil war. Obama has already dallied too long in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. Both John Heelan and Vincent Littrell have dwelled too long on "public image." Readers can do nothing about propagandists who get paid to serve Big Brother. Historians have to persuade Democrats and Republicans to study the American Constitution and re-educate a naïve student body about the Bill of Rights.

    JE comments: Yet public image goes hand-in-hand with foreign policy. It's hard to say which one drives which.

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    • Islam and Public Affairs; the Need for the "Other" (Vincent Littrell, USA 06/20/13 3:20 AM)
      Regarding Islam and Islamism, I absolutely believe that militant Islamism of the Salafist or militant Shi'a or other puritanical strands that engage physical warfare, as well as the repression of women and religions other than Islam, has to be pressured and even interdicted by the international community. Warfare, policing, and education are intertwined facets of this necessary process. I don't view the enemy in this regard as an "other," however. They are fully human beings who have taken a horrifically wrong path. At times, however, some of these militant "jihadists" make choices that must be dealt with.

      I grieve for the women of Afghanistan. I don't see how things are going to get better for them in the near term, as Western forces withdraw from that country.

      Regarding Islam and public affairs. I'm going to respectfully disagree with Robert Whealey's recent thought (17 June) that too much is being devoted to the issue of public affairs and Islam. In the West the public image of Islam has to improve. Muslims in the West themselves are too disorganized and not integrated into society enough to get the non-violent message of Islam out there in the face of the waves in the global media the militant jihadists are making. The public image battle for moderate, peaceful Islam has to be waged, not just by Muslims either, but by those who care for the well-being of an increasingly isolated people in the West. A real paradox seems to exist. On the one hand Muslims are in the generality peaceful people, adhering to a religion that has peaceably guided them throughout their lives. On the other hand, they don't seem to me to be integrating well into Western society. I am well aware that Muslims might debate me on that point, and I acknowledge it is a difficult issue to assess properly. I think it is safe to say that there are many Muslims in the West who do integrate into Western society. However, there are the Muslim parallel societies that exist as well, and this is harmful. I also think this societal parallelism and prejudice of uneducated Westerners exacerbates the increasing problem of Islamic puritanism and militant jihadism. Though militant jihadism still represents a small percentage of the Muslim population, it is an increasing problem.

      No Robert, I'm quite firm in the view that non-Muslims and Muslims need to work together to improve the message of moderate spiritual Islam in the mainstream Western media. How to go about doing this is of course the big question.

      JE comments:  Our colleague Muqtedar Khan is one moderate Muslim who is doing all he can to improve Islam's image in the West--in books, media appearances, and op-eds in my mom's local newspaper, the Wilmington [Delaware] News-Journal.  I'll contact him again (Muqtedar:  you didn't answer my e-mail from last week!), to ask him to comment.

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      • Why Must Muslims Integrate into Western Society? (Brian Blodgett, USA 06/21/13 3:33 AM)
        In response to Vincent Littrell (20 June), I am wondering why there is the belief that the Muslims must integrate into the Western society. Throughout history, world powers believed that others had to conform to their societal belief or they were not equals, they were savages, etc. Why cannot different societies exist without conforming to a Western viewpoint?

        Native Americans suffered horrendously at the hands of European colonial powers and then the US government. They made treaties with the US for naught, had their children taken from them and sent to "boarding schools" to learn how to be "American," and were forced to live on land that no one else wanted, at least at that time. The Cherokee tried to be American and they suffered the Trail of Tears. Did this forcing them to accept Western societal views benefit them? From my perspective the answer is no.

        Rest assured that I am not saying that the activities of a few extremist Muslims are correct and should be allowed, but I wonder why "we" have a right to say what is right and not right. Even the US Declaration of Independence states that "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security" (Declaration of Independence, 1776).

        There is nothing in the US Constitution, or I doubt that of other countries, that states we need to become involved in dictating what is right or wrong with other countries or that we have an obligation to act on what "we" believe is in their best interest so that they follow the Western view.

        Of course, I do not favor what is going on across the world in many nations, but should we actually be involved? Lines that shall not be crossed must be drawn in a civilized world, but who should draw these lines does not have to be those of the Western World, does it?

        JE comments:  It's always a pleasure to hear from Brian Blodgett.  Brian raises an important question:  why is cultural integration assumed to be a good thing?  Who gets to decide who integrates with whom?  Attempts, no matter how noble the motivation, to impose a cultural "standard" are invariably met with resistance and backlash.

        At the same time, a certain amount of integration is necessary to maintain a functioning society.  A case in point:  Sharia courts in Western countries deny certain rights that are considered sacrosanct in their host societies.  Should such institutions be allowed to exist?
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        • Sharia Courts in the UK (John Heelan, -UK 06/21/13 5:22 AM)
          When commenting Brian Blodgett's post of 21 June, JE wrote: "Sharia courts in Western countries deny certain rights that are considered sacrosanct in their host societies. Should such institutions be allowed to exist?"

          Could we please shoot this fox for good, at least for the UK? As I have written previously in WAIS, e.g. the UK already has "Sharia Courts" in local mosques, just as it has had "Jewish courts" (Beth Din) in local synagogues for more than 100 years.

          Neither of these are a formal part of the UK judicial system.

          Both provide civil arbitration as an alternative to the legalities of the UK court system and are governed by the Arbitration Act of 1966.

          Under that Act, the agreements reached are legally binding--the parties have to agree that as a precursor to the arbitration taking place. In the event of non-compliance with the agreement or "serious irregularity affecting the tribunal, the proceedings or the award," the aggrieved party can seek the aid of secular courts--often the Court of Appeal.

          Both also provide religious rulings on matters of faith on personal issues of faith that are voluntary, non-binding and limited to the individual's private status. No appeal to secular courts is available.

          See my earlier WAIS posts:

          21 July 2012:


          17 November 2009:


          JE comments:   Ouch, poor fox!  But we've just put him (or her) out of his/her misery.  My thanks to John Heelan for the reminder; it's been a good learning moment.

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        • Why Must Muslims Integrate into Western Society? (Vincent Littrell, USA 06/22/13 4:26 AM)
          Brian Blodgett in his 21 June post brings up some important points that I'll not dispute.

          I think I've not communicated the notion of social integration well enough. Brian is right; what happened to Native Americans and their enforced "Anglification" was a travesty. And the continued isolation of a percentage of the Native American population in the Americas is a continuing travesty. I'm talking about something certainly related, but at a different level.

          I'm talking about the peoples who go from one country to another to live, for whatever reason, and won't learn the social mores or cultural values of their hosts. In Western Europe's case this relates to significant numbers of North Africans, South Asians and Middle Easterners whose families have been in those countries for as long as three generations now, yet Westerners and they still see each other as "the other."

          I'll flip the scenario to make my point. I have spent some time in Afghanistan. In efforts to bring American and Afghan co-workers together, I once sat with my Afghan colleagues and asked them what about Americans bothered them the most. One of the the biggest issues for Afghans was the American male penchant to pass gas in front of other males. Make no mistake, any kind of public passing of gas in Afghan culture is a major offense. They view it as unforgivably disgusting and even an honor violation. I don't exaggerate when I say some past killings of Western advisers by their Afghan colleagues may have had roots in this issue alone.

          An Afghan story:

          There was a man who "farted" in front of his wife.

          She expelled him from the home.

          After a 10-year sojourn abroad he decided to return.

          He sneaked up to his home and peered through the back window.

          He saw a boy of about 10 years of age in the kitchen!

          He saw his wife through the entry to the kitchen.

          His wife said to the boy, "Come here, Son of Farter!"

          The man then knew a return wasn't meant to be.

          One of the frustrating things about being a Westerner in Afghanistan was the regular questioning I received from Afghans once I got to know them (especially younger ones from the villages) about my salary. Of course in the West, at least in the culture I was raised and live in, discussion of one's salary is a private affair.

          Immediately after initial hellos in Pashto or Dari, Afghans in numbers I can't count wanted to know how much money I was making. I confess to being put off by that initially. I have no interest in telling most people my salary. But there it was in my face, almost every day I spent there when I met a new younger Afghan. I never gave my exact salary, but I would explain to the Afghans that though I was able to make a living, I wasn't rich and life in America could be sometimes difficult even if you made a lot of money. I have Afghan friends in the US who make 20 times more than what they earned in Afghanistan and they now understand that $50,000 a year in a place like Washington DC isn't that much, but they themselves cannot explain this to their friends and family back home who have little understanding of life outside their village (even if they have cell phones and Internet now). I got to where every time I was asked about my salary I would say, "I don't know how much I make (which precisely I didn't); my wife back home has all my money." They usually didn't know how to respond to that, except of course many wouldn't believe I didn't know precisely to the penny how much money I was making.

          Anyway, here in the US I have Iranian friends who have been here 30+ years, yet still don't speak good English, still mainly use family businesses or fellow Iranians' businesses for their needs, and who still don't know American "social graces." An example: I have an Iranian ex-patriot acquaintance whom I see from time to time, and we are polite and even friendly. But we don't see each other enough to be really close. There was a period between seeing each other where I confess to some weight gain. When he saw me, in a public setting with lots of people present, he says loudly, "Vince, you are so fat! Why did you gain so much weight?" Of course, I maintained my composure and as I didn't feel like talking about my weight to someone I didn't feel I knew all that well. I just completely ignored the question and I greeted him with a hearty and friendly, "Hello, And how are you this evening?" He repeated his question to me, whereupon I repeated my question to him, adding something to further shift the subject. He repeated his question again and so on, until his wife got the hint that I wasn't going to answer the question and nudged him and shook her head at him whilst "clucking." His eyes brightened with understanding, and he then changed the subject and we proceeded to have a nice conversation.

          Why, then, if one is not native to the culture and nuances of social life in a host nation is integration into that host society important? Why is learning the host nation's language so important? Why is learning a host nation's social mores important? Especially if one is living there, likely to never return to the native land (or return for years anyway)? I speak to some degree from both sides of the coin here, as I've spent a number of years in different countries of the world. Paying respect and attempting to adhere to the social mores and ways of a host society without crossing one's own internal morality pays that society respect! That respect is felt and reciprocated. Good relationships are built on the recent "outsider" showing respect to those they are living amongst.

          I'm not saying Iranians in America have to be "Anglified." What I am saying is that they need to work to build relationships and be friendly and learn the nuances of public social interaction. The "friction" so well described by proponents of the political philosophy of "realism" is enhanced by unwillingness to integrate socially into the host nation. In the context of Muslims in the West, this is an important issue. I am certain that a significant reason for the mid-2000s riots in Paris was because of societal parallelism in that Muslims who hadn't integrated into French society (for reasons not entirely their fault, it should be said) were deeply disgruntled. It is also safe to say that the increase in numbers of Muslim extremists in the West is in significant part because those families and/or communities in which poor Muslim youth live are quite isolated from the mainstream Western society. I shared in this Forum before my shock at driving through Douai, France. I had pulled off the main highway going towards Belgium, and as I headed into the city center I was forced to note that other than road signs, I saw no French business signs anywhere. I'm not kidding! It reminded me of my time in Arab cities.  I remember thinking that this could not be a good thing, especially as I looked on the sidewalks and noted only traditional culture-garbed Muslims.

          I do believe in the concept of Unity in Diversity! Cultural distinctness is one thing. Rudeness towards or just refusal to accept a host nation's culture is another. The situation of the Native Americans of course is another matter that deserves deep attention by US leadership.

          Showing the bottoms of one's feet to Muslims in the Muslim World; bodily passing of gas in Afghanistan; cursing in public; a very direct approach to business that Westerners tend to have; etc.--these are all things Westerners do that anger or offend even the most tolerant Western-oriented of Muslims. Westerners who go to those countries and don't try to integrate to some degree are sure to have problems. In the attempt to show respect for the host nation culture, even if mistakes are made, it is my experience the Muslims understand your efforts and overlook mistakes still made. Integration on the whole is a good thing. This can be done without being an attack on cultural distinctiveness.

          JE comments: Well done, Vincent Littrell! This is one of the most interesting WAIS posts I've read in months on comparative cultures. Poles and Latin Americans have little in common with Afghans, but all three don't have the American taboo against discussing one's salary or weight. I remember a Latin American colleague some years ago who asked a female student when her baby was due.  It turns out the student wasn't pregnant: open mouth, insert foot.

          My Polish wife has learned not to ask Americans about salaries or how much they paid for their house--but these subjects are not off limits in her home culture.

          As for flatulence, a curiosity: is there any culture where the public passing of gas is seen as natural or unoffensive, akin to sneezing?

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          • The "S Question" (John Heelan, -UK 06/23/13 3:16 AM)
            I was puzzled by JE's comment of 22 June that his wife Aldona had "learned not to ask Americans about salaries or how much they paid for their house." Visiting the US over decades, I was always surprised by the second question that my American acquaintances tended to ask people newly met: "How much do you make?" A Brit like myself would usually reply, "Not enough!"

            Such a question would be completely infra dig in UK culture. However, after being asked many times, I came to the conclusion that it was a just question to assess the relative status of the two people using the US class status that appeared to be based on money and possessions.

            Of course, similar status-qualifying questions are posed in the UK class system. Over time, I noticed that whenever freshman ("freshers") first congregated, they searched for relationships based on three questions. "What does your father do?"--i.e.establishes professional class and likely wealth. "What (private) school did you go to?"--confirms the first question and establishes its place in the class pecking order of private schools (e.g. Eton at the top, an unknown private school in the wilds far from the Home Counties somewhere near the bottom).  Lastly, "Who do you know?" --do we have common friends and acquaintances with whom I can check you out?

            This is not a value judgment, merely an observation. Each culture and community tends to have similar ways of establishing the relative importance of the people involved--even closed religious communities.

            JE also asked, "Is there any culture where the public passing of gas is seen as natural or unoffensive, akin to sneezing?" In my experience, farting is a proud component of macho male communities, having its own scaled taxonomy of emission--e.g. from "pants-ripper" to "silent but deadly." Do not Southeast Asian cultures (e.g. Chinese) look kindly on such loud emissions as a compliment to the host on the quality and quantity of his food? Or is that just a myth?

            Much UK humour is based on "bottom joke." A famous apocryphal one some years recounts the following: At a State dinner in Buckingham Palace, a footman eructed when placing a chair for Queen Elisabeth to sit down. HMtheQ said, "James do not do that in front of me!" James replied, "Dreadfully sorry Ma'am, I did not realise it was your turn!"

            JE comments: The "Salary Question"--it is indeed a no-no to ask an American how much he/she earns, because our class system is based on income and assets. The question is therefore tantamount to "how worthy are you as a human being?" I am surprised that John Heelan heard this question so often when visiting the US. Is techie culture different in this regard, as it is with professional dress codes?

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            • The "S Question" in Silicon Valley (Henry Levin, USA 06/23/13 4:56 AM)
              Having lived in Silicon Valley for 31 years and being highly integrated into that community (e.g. President of the Palo Alto School Board), I can say that there are only two utterances that will get you ostracized.

              The first is asking someone how much money he or she makes or about his wealth or declaring your own financial situation. However, you can give heavy-handed hints such as: "I was the 7th employee at eBay." The second is calling the city of San Francisco by the Jack London term of the sailors, "Frisco." Many Easterners use that term, and it really hurts the ears of a Bay Area denizen and will get you ostracized if you say it after a friendly warning.

              JE comments: Isn't San Francisco just "The City"? It's the same in Henry Levin's present home, Manhattan. Some day I'd like to drive from the Big Apple, stop over in St Louie and the Big D, and press on all the way to Frisco.  I could call my trip the "Annoying City Nickname Tour."

              (St Louie is every bit as offensive to locals as is Frisco. Don't know about the Big D, but I hope Dallas native Randy Black will set us straight.)

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              • Frisco and The City; Cal and Berkeley (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 06/23/13 8:48 AM)

                I corroborate Henry Levin's testimony (23 June) and affirm John Eipper's perception that "The City" is the common acceptable standard for San Francisco. Likewise you don't refer to UCB as such but as "Cal." (The unwashed refer to it as Berkeley.)

                What must be remembered is the role of the local media in fashioning those idioms.

                JE comments: Speak English Like a Foreigner, Lesson One, repeat: "How do you do, Sir? I wish to travel to America and study at the university; the University of California at Berkeley."

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              • The Big D (Randy Black, USA 06/23/13 9:20 AM)
                In his comments to Henry Levin on June 23, John Eipper mused about offensive city nicknames or interpretations of those names. Henry had outlined that calling San Francisco "Frisco" was not polite conversation in California.

                John asked my reaction to Big D, a common label for Dallas.

                I've never heard anyone in this region complain about the label Big D. It's in common public use locally on billboards, in news reports and entertainment venues. In my view, Big D elicits pride in our large city that has a big heart and positive community spirit.

                Big D was even the name of a popular song in the early 1960s that was sung by Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews on national television. The song was later part of Julie Andrews's one-woman show at Carnegie Hall. Frank Loesser wrote the tune in 1956 for a Broadway musical that ran for more than a year.

                I was born in Fort Worth, aka Cowtown. Some accept Cowtown; a few take offense. I am not offended. You might also hear "Cowtown, where the West begins and the East peters out." That phrase used to be on a sign along the highway from Big D to Cowtown.

                Waco, Texas is known as "Wacko" to many who remember the Branch Davidians religious debacle in 1993. Wacko is also home to Baylor University, a conservative religious school known for its official position on Biblical inerrancy. It is nevertheless a respected university with a fine school of law.

                Across Texas, there are many city names that are idiomatic in polite Texas conversation. Rather than dwell on derogatory phrases about city names, I enjoy focusing on towns with funny names, or names that elicit a smile.

                Over the years, I've taken photos of the city limit signs leading into one-dog Texas towns such as Muleshoe, Best, Royalty, Wamba, Imperial, Cut and Shoot, Utopia, Paradise, Telephone, Telegraph, Energy, Coffee City, Happy, Valentine, Gun Barrel City, Point Blank, Smiley, Lazbuddie, Sundown, Nameless, and Tarzan.

                Nameless is north of Austin. Appropriately, it's located on Nameless Road at the intersection of Nameless Ranch Road. It was settled in 1869. When residents of the community applied for a post office, they had difficulty getting the post office department to accept the names they suggested. After six names were rejected, residents wrote back saying, "Let the post office be nameless and be damned!" The department took them at their word, and a post office called Nameless was established in 1880. During the 1940s two churches, a business, and a few scattered houses marked the community on county highway maps.

                One of my Best photos is attached. Personally, as a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, I am not offended by labels such as Indian or Redskin. But don't call me Tonto.

                Now, about Nothing, Arizona, Pee Pee, Ohio, Bug Tussle, Oklahoma and Slickpoo, Idaho.

                JE comments: And Hell, which is in Michigan. Paradise, too. I've never spent a cold night in Hell, but I (really) did in Paradise. It was June, and around 30 degrees. (Paradise is in the Upper Peninsula.)

                Here's the lovely young Natasha:

                Natasha Black in Best, Texas.  Photo Randy Black

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                • Salsipuedes (Henry Levin, USA 06/25/13 4:48 AM)
                  To Randy Black's fine list of town names, I must add my favorite, Salsipuedes [Leave if You Can] in Baja California. The scariest for our North African friends is found in Spain and Mexico, Matamoros.

                  JE comments: Spain's patron saint, Santiago Matamoros, could use a name makeover. How about James the Guy Who Refused to Compromise His Religious Values, Even if He Resorted At Times to Extremism?

                  On 4 April 2012, John Heelan told us about the Spanish town of Asquerosa (Disgusting). Gotta replay that one:


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            • The "S" (Salary) Question; Language and Social Status in UK, Russia and Germany (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 11/02/13 3:19 AM)
              Returning to an issue brought up by John Heelan on 23 June 2013, I have to agree with JE about the question of discussing salaries. I don't believe I've ever heard anyone anywhere ask this question, and certainly not in the US. It would be considered shockingly rude in the US to ask people how much they earn, probably for the reasons JE states.

              The one exception was the Soviet Union in 1991--I do remember people asking me how much my salary was (of course I never answered). But I think that was in an atmosphere of naiveté and curiosity about life in market conditions and the extreme exoticism of talking with an American--it might as well have been a case of someone's asking a space alien what he eats.

              I can just barely imagine that some naïve American might ask a Brit such a question, a question he would never ask of a compatriot. But since Brits are not really foreigners, culturally speaking, in the US, I kind of doubt it.

              There are fascinating cultural differences, of course. I spend a great deal of time in the UK and have observed some of the things John Heelan talks about. I have not, however, observed anyone asking any of those questions openly (I realize John was talking about children, a different case), which would be frightfully rude. So one can observe the elaborate dance, when two Englishmen meet each other for the first time, of trying tactfully and indirectly to elicit the required information. The main fact is the school, apparently. My best friend in London went in fact to Eton, and as a modest Northerner, he simply refuses to discuss anything with new acquaintances which would tend to reveal anyone's schools, and thus this awesome fact (and I had known him for years before I even knew!). The fact that he completed the rest of his education at Cambridge--which is what would be impressive to Americans--is not interesting to Brits in the slightest (and thus can be discussed openly). The school is all, it seems. It is very exotic for Americans, so different from our ways and mores, although Brits, to us, aren't really "furriners" at all, which I suppose makes British customs even more exotic.

              I think I have written about this before, but the idea of social status among Russians, despite the increasing importance of wealth, and lots and lots of it, is still dominated by language skill. A high degree of skill and elegance in using the "veliky, moguchy Russky yazik" (that's a set phrase--the "great, powerful, Russian language") is the sine qua non of real social status in Russia, of being an "intelligentny," "obrazovany" and/or "kulturny" person. At the very same time--and this is really remarkable--there are really not such great differences in language skill among different sectors of society in Russia, and there are no differences in accent which would betray your socio-economic level (totally opposite to the UK). The average bus driver or bookkeeper, especially in Moscow or St. Petersburg, uses language with a degree of skill which is extremely rare in English-speaking countries--probably exceeding, without exaggeration, the average degree of skill in English of the average Harvard graduate.

              This is the result, I suppose, of cultural values which place enormous emphasis on education, combined with achievements of the Soviet school system, which made really rigorous education available to the entire society--one of the very few Communist ideals which were realized in practice, rather than remaining empty theories. Although the schools in Russia have gone considerably downhill since the end of the Soviet Union, the cultural value concerning language persists. Russian language is a major part of the school curriculum in every year from the first grade through graduation from high school. Parents of modest means spend up to half their income tutoring their children in the Russian language (I'm not exaggerating; I know actual cases). University-educated Russians go to night classes to keep honing their Russian language skills (there are always billboards around Moscow advertising these classes, which are a big business). The amount of effort spent by society on language skill in Russia is unimaginable to someone from an English-speaking country. It is a different planet altogether.

              German is a vastly simpler language than Russian, and no adults in Germany, other than foreigners, go to night classes to improve their German, as far as I know. As far as I know, exquisite German language skills are not a major issue of social status in Germany. Nevertheless, as in Russia, the general level of language skill in Germany is far higher than in the English-speaking countries. As in Russia, you cannot find whole social groups who are semi-literate (much less, semi-literate, and proud of it, as we find in the UK and the US). Here I think the difference comes down to the schools--German schools are quite rigorous, and from the very beginning. Germans learn a lot more at school than at university, as far as I can tell. German children sweat and struggle and compete and obsess for years in advance about difficult state exams, and no one worries about possible damage to their psyches from their having to work a little, as we would in English-speaking countries.

              Against this background, it is interesting to see, while observing the elaborate dance which Englishmen perform with each other to determine what schools they attended, how little effort anyone devotes to avoiding mistakes of diction and grammar, mistakes which would mean instant social death at a dinner party in Moscow (even if you're a foreigner!). Among the English, one's accent gives essential clues, but it is my impression that carelessness about, or even outright ignorance of, the principles of English grammar, are considered marks of stylish reverse-snobbishness among many well-educated English people. I continue to be shocked by this even after so many years of spending so much time in the UK. My firm spent some years managing an investment fund, jointly with a London firm, whose office was staffed with very highly educated, very highly qualified financial professionals. The quality of written communication which came out of that office was simply unbelievably dismal. Yet these were people who considered themselves the cream of society, a fact which they were skilled in establishing in front of other Brits. I experienced the same thing with the written communication of prestigious, "Magic Circle" law firms--something unimaginable in the US. I think I would have been summarily fired for sending out an ungrammatical letter under the letterhead of the law firm where I worked in the 1980s.

              Americans are poorly educated in general, at least in the basics like using our own language--incomparably worse than the Russians or the Germans. And like the Brits, we have large parts of society who are hardly even functional in English (a terrible social problem, by the way). But unlike the Brits, Americans cannot achieve a certain professional level without a certain minimum level of functionality in English. It's much harder to generalize about something like "social status" in the US, because the US has much less of a clearly defined culture, but I don't think that there is any reverse snobbery about primitive English language skills, and I think many Americans, consciously or unconsciously, look down at people who speak or write poorly. Or perhaps, speak or write differently from the way they speak or write themselves. Perhaps that is the key difference.

              Big differences in language abilities perpetuate harmful social differences in societies and inhibit social mobility. It seems to me that the Germans and the Russians have grasped something which escapes us--if you can instill a high minimum level of verbal ability in everyone, without any exception, or with hardly any exception, then you have the makings of a society where anyone can "pass"--and thus succeed--to whatever the extent of his abilities and desire. We Americans like to think of ourselves as a society of "unlimited opportunities"--where anyone with talent and grit can do anything--but in my opinion this is increasingly a myth. Our economy has been changed in fundamental, revolutionary ways in the last few decades, and we now have an intensely knowledge-based economy, which means we have an intensely knowledge-based society. A person without language skill (granted that language could be math, or C++, or Java, depending on one's field, and not necessarily English) can never succeed, either socially or economically, in a society like that.

              In my opinion, we are hardly aware of the highly alarming process of hard stratification of our society according to language ability (or speaking more broadly, educational achievement). Probably we are lulled into complacency by our mythology about being the "land of unlimited opportunity," which in my opinion we ceased being already a couple of generations ago.

              And what the Brits are thinking, I have no idea--their project seems to be to level society by making everyone equally illiterate, rather than raising the level of the lower layers of society. I cannot imagine where that will lead, but it cannot be anywhere good.

              One footnote to this whole discussion, or rather caveat:

              All discussions about "social status" are fraught with the risk of over-generalization. There is actually no such thing as "social status" anywhere, which is a universal or rigid institution--it is an abstraction and a broad generalization about what people admire or respect in other people. So when we say something like "social status in the UK is derived very much by what school one attended" or "social status in Russia is mostly determined by how well you speak Russian"--it is not true at all that everyone thinks this way--these are very broad generalizations. These kind of generalizations can be fun, but less often are they actually useful. At best they have a kernel of truth to them. This kernel of truth comes from that fact of human nature that people like to rub elbows with people who are like themselves, or perhaps, like what they would like to be themselves. So what does it mean to be "like themselves"? Aha! There indeed is the kernel of truth--how do people define themselves? By wealth? Education? School background? Language ability? If many people really visibly care about this or this, rather than about that or that, then this results in the threads of the concept of "social status" we have been talking about.

              JE comments:  Cameron Sawyer's observations go to the heart of the WAIS mission--language, economics, and comparative cultures.  Regarding language "level" in the nations mentioned above, the reverse-snobbery factor is very interesting.  I wonder about the effect of popular culture (especially music and TV) on Anglophones.  In short, in the US it's "cool" to speak like a rapper (or a country music singer), whereas an elevated syntax and vocabulary can label you as stuffy and out of touch.  Of course, the truly successful English speakers are the ones who can code switch, navigating the registers of social class at appropriate times. Today's American politicians, for example, could not survive or "connect with the people" if they talked like Jefferson, Lincoln, or even Kennedy.

              A parallel issue is the rise of what I would call "neo-redneckism" in the US.  My late father is an excellent example:  when the family moved to Missouri in the 1970s, Dad embraced country music and the word "ain't."  He even bought a pickup truck.

              Returning to Cameron's post, I am intrigued to learn about the proliferation of language "finishing" schools in Russia.  In the US, such places are only for foreigners.  (If Henry Higgins were still with us, I suppose he'd set up shop in Moscow!)
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              • Language, Education, and Social Status in UK (John Heelan, -UK 11/03/13 10:13 AM)
                My thanks to Cameron Sawyer for his extremely interesting discourse on education, language and social class (2 November). Cameron asks, "And what the Brits are thinking, I have no idea--their project seems to be to level society by making everyone equally illiterate, rather than raising the level of the lower layers of society. I cannot imagine where that will lead, but it cannot be anywhere good."

                In my view, UK political interference with its education system over the last 50 years has been aimed at social engineering by both wings of the political spectrum. The Labour party's ill-conceived and implemented "Comprehensive Schooling" was aimed at flattening out the quality of education in state schools. The "Academy" system installed by New Labour (Conservative-Lite) and today's Coalition government is aimed at channeling state education budgets into private pockets of sponsors and groups with definitive religious and other agendas. The resulting quality of education has been mixed--for example one local Isle of Wight "academy" has produced excellent results, but the poor results of three other academies has made Ofsted (the government's educational watchdog) require them to go into "Special Measures" management.

                At the tertiary level, last year, the Coalition tripled the fees of university education (in so doing the Liberal Democrat party sacrificed its political integrity for its finger-nail grasp on political power!), thus dissuading many potential undergraduates from entering university or, in some cases, completing college with appropriate qualifications.

                To answer Cameron's question about "what the Brits are thinking," my rather jaundiced view is that for the last half century, UK politicians of both parties (and the Civil Service mandarins advising them) have been determined to reduce the general education level of the UK population with the intent of making it more malleable. Further, it is accompanied by restricting better education to a privileged elite able to afford education in non-state schools and eventually tertiary education. The growing distance between "the proles" and "The Party" continues.

                I watch the education of my grandchildren with some concern.

                JE comments: The UK "Academies" seem to be basically the same as the so-called "charter" schools in the US--many of which are named Academies of one sort or another. The results of the charter schools have definitely been mixed, as we've learned from Henry Levin's very informative WAIS posts over the years.

                Glad to be back with the Forum after my 28-hour sabbatical. Hope everyone's WAIS-free Saturday evening was relaxing.

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              • Language and Social Status in Latin America (Richard Hancock, USA 11/03/13 6:03 PM)
                I am interested in Cameron Sawyer's comment (2 November) that Russian social class is based on an individual's ability to speak good Russian. I think that this same statement can be made about class in Spain and Hispanic America. In my years of traveling in Hispanic America, I have noticed that the number of New Mexican employees in government service in Latin America exceeds that from almost any other state. They were hired because they are native speakers of Spanish. I was surprised that these "Nuevo Mexicanos" were generally not highly esteemed by their Latin American cohorts. Latin Americans tend to be quite critical of their fellows who live in the US. The Mexicans call them "pochos," literally, faded. Even though New Mexicans serving abroad have at least a BS degree and probably advanced degrees, most of them still speak a "Spanglish" filled with slang and Anglicisms. They tend to use the familiar extensively, even when speaking to high government officials and people they are meeting for the first time.

                In comparing Americans (Gringos) with Hispanic Americans, one finds that in Latin American education places much more emphasis on public speaking with accompanying modulation of voice and gestures than is the case in the US. I took an undergraduate course in public speaking in 1947 which was devoted almost entirely to content, with little or no emphasis on gestures and voice modulation. Moreover, Latino students are expected to be able to recite verses and prose from memory, whereas American students now receive almost no training in recitation. Training in public speaking has been left to adult training such as Dale Carnegie-type courses and in public speaking clubs.

                Incidentally, on our June trip to New Mexico, we ate in a small restaurant in Ojo Caliente where we were the only Anglos present. Nancy heard one man speaking to another couple in the plural familiar: "Vosotros hablasteis con él?" I am sure that many Latin Americans would be mystified by this sixteenth-century usage, maintained in isolated pockets in northern New Mexico since Oñate conquered the area in 1598.

                JE comments:  Prof. Hilton and Richard Hancock both used to stress how the ability to "hablar bonito" is esteemed above all by Latin American politicians.  I wish I knew more about the Spanish of New Mexico, where there are legendary pockets of Spanish preserved from the 17th century.  The great New Mexican writer Sabine Ulibarrí (1919-2003) gave a beautiful talk on his boyhood in one such place, Tierra Amarilla, when I met him at a conference in Albuquerque in 1993.

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                • "Hablar Bonito": Language and Social Status in Latin America (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 11/05/13 6:22 AM)
                  I found Richard Hancock's comments (3 November) on language very interesting. I would like to add that "hablar bonito" in any language should not only be a matter of using poetic language, or figurative, sophisticated, or antique forms of language, but meaningful and good articulation (clear, understandable, eloquent and expressive) of ideas and thoughts.

                  Sometimes in Latin countries this is confusing. Spanish is a very rich language in traditional or poetic forms, but also very structured to help good articulation. For instance, I doubt there are many languages with as many verb conjugations as Spanish (12 conjugations!) to express an action.

                  By the way, the expression quoted by Richard in his trip to New Mexico, "Vosotros hablasteis con él?", is not uncommon to the language, though antique (as many expressions still used).

                  JE comments: Vosotros, "proper" only to Spain, is often used for comic or stilted effect in Latin America. Above all, to Spanish Americans it sounds Biblical, like "thou" from the English-language King James version.  Richard Hancock's point was that the pronoun is (still) used in New Mexican Spanish.  I'd like to know more about this; part of me suspects that the Hancocks encountered a (modern-day) Spaniard in that remote New Mexican town.

                  Our colleagues in the Lusophone world will point out that Portuguese has even more verb conjugations than Spanish. In addition to the 12 it shares with its Castile cousins, Portuguese adds the future subjunctive (this technically exists in Spanish, but only in legal terminology), and the irksome "personal infinitive," which is impossible for foreigners to wrap their minds around.

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                  • "Vosotros" in New Mexico; Juan de Onate (Richard Hancock, USA 11/06/13 2:31 PM)
                    John Eipper suspects that the people I encountered in New Mexico using the vosotros pronoun were Spaniards.  (See José Ignacio Soler's post of 5 November.) I can certify that they were not, although both of the men were of light complexion and had blue eyes. They were Spanish in that their history in New Mexico could be traced to the Conquest. The New Mexicans of Spanish lineage are proud of this. Articles have been written about these vestigial pockets of sixteenth-century Spanish in northern New Mexico, but we were surprised to find elements of it still occurring.

                    The Mestizo element, formerly known as Genízaros, do not respect those who take pride in their Spanish ancestory. They are called Chicanos and are disrespectful of Oñate, as are the Pueblo Indians. Incidentally, the Spanish club at New Mexico State University, my Alma Mater, was called "Los Conquistadores."

                    In recent years, a great conflict has arisen in New Mexico between Hispanics on one side and Chicanos and Pueblos on the other. The Chicanos and Pueblos succeeded in placing a statue of the Pueblo Indian Po'pay in Washington, DC's National Statuary Hall. Po'Pay was the leader of the 1680 Pueblo revolt which ousted the Spanish from New Mexico, resulting in the deaths of 380 Spaniards plus 21 Franciscan missionaries, the greatest victory for Indians over Europeans in American history. The Hispanics placed statues of Oñate in both northern New Mexico and at El Paso in honor of his conquest of New Mexico in 1598. The northern NM statue was vandalized and the El Paso statue was renamed "the equestrian" and transferred to an easily protected site near the El Paso airport. (For full details of this, please see the New Mexico Historical Review, Summer of 2007.)

                    Oñate was undeniably heavy-handed, as were all of the Spanish "conquistadores." At the risk of offending the indigenous people, I say that, on balance, the Spanish conquest of the New World has resulted in a positive influence because it resulted in establishing Christianity and the Spanish language in all regions south of Taos, NM to Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America. Spanish and Christianity constitute the common elements in the lives of the vast majority of people who populate this enormous region. The same can be said of Brazil with the substitution of Portuguese for Spanish.

                    JE comments:  Richard Hancock has convinced me:  "vosotros" is used amongst the old-timers in New Mexico.  I'm honored to learn this from one of my favorite Hispanists.

                    Returning to the conquistadores, I'm much more ambivalent than Richard.  They were as ruthless as they were tireless, and left a mixed legacy of "civilization."  I should acknowledge, however, that they are the reason I have a job now (i.e., teaching Spanish in a US university).

                    Juan de Oñate was born in Zacatecas (Mexico) to Basque parents. As our host son Aritz likes to point out, the Basques are everywhere, and always have been. Oñate married Isabel de Tolosa Cortés de Moctezuma, who was both the granddaughter of Cortés and the great-granddaughter of the Aztec emperor, Moctezuma. Fascinating history.

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              • Language, Education, and Social Status in UK (David Gress, Denmark 11/04/13 2:23 AM)
                Cameron Sawyer (2 November) wonders why British policymakers seem to want to make everyone equally illiterate, rather than raising the level of the lower layers of society.

                That appears to have been their purpose, or so anyone well acquainted with English secondary and tertiary education over the last 40 years, as I am, can confirm. I am surprised that this surprises Cameron in 2013, when the purpose was adamantly clear already in, let us say, 1975.

                Of course no policymaker says, "I want to make the people stupid and ignorant," but when the clear effect of education policy over 40 years is just that, one has to wonder about these policies and how they work.

                Cameron has encapsulated the essence of British education policy for the last 50 years, ever since the Labour Education Secretary Anthony Crosland in 1965 determined to eradicate "every f****ing grammar school in England." The Grammar Schools were the way for smart kids from unlettered backgrounds to acquire a serious secondary education. Entrants were selected by the 11+ test, still one of the best predictors of life success. But in the 1960s, the Labour Party changed its aim from bettering all to lowering all, since all could not pass the 11+. The party policy changed from selecting the best to diluting the best. Egalitarianism replaced the striving for excellence, which used to be a hallmark of Labour policy. Hence the "Comprehensive Schools." Disasters mostly, except in safe and prosperous neighborhoods. To her undying shame, Margaret Thatcher as Education Secretary in Edward Heath's Tory government in 1970-74 notably failed to halt the Labour rape of the Grammar Schools; indeed, she continued it. Few now survive.

                John Heelan (3 November) may well be right that the purpose and effect of British (I refuse to write UK) education policy has been to make the populace more malleable, but whereas he laments this result, I see it as a triumph of Leftism, whose purpose always is to make people malleable and susceptible to emotional appeals of various sorts.

                When John laments that "better education" is being restricted, he should consider just what "better education" means these days. In England, Oxford and Cambridge, perhaps, although those places, too, have been corrupted by Leftism. As for access to non-state schools, I can assure Heelan from personal experience that good schools, such as Winchester College, are more than eager to take any good pupil and will do their utmost to secure funds for the fees from any number of sources. Still, he may be well advised to set up some trust funds for his grandchildren and advise them to emigrate from England.

                JE comments: Glad to hear from David Gress after a long silence; I hope all is well with him.  David blames "Leftism" for the ills of British education. Is it really this simple? To cite just one example, note that the tripling of university fees (see John Heelan, 3 November) was the policy of the present Tory government under David Cameron.

                A curiosity for David:  why refuse to write UK?  Is there an implicit political position that I'm failing to see?

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                • Language, Education and Social Status in Italy (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 11/04/13 6:47 AM)
                  I would like to write a post along the lines of the one David Gress sent on 4 November, only about education in Italy instead of Britain.

                  The great Communist leader Palmiro Togliatti (a great criminal too), when he saw that the communists would not be able to take power in Italy, ordered his followers to enter and gain control of both the schools/universities and the judiciary system. They were successful at this.

                  When, already a ship's master, I attended the University in the Humanities, I found out that the students knew less than what I had learned in the fourth/fifth grade of grammar school. The old academics, called Barons, in their great arrogance, were focused on other matters such as politics or giving paid expert advice. Only a few were properly doing their job. Most delegated their duties to young assistants.

                  Some young professors and teaching assistants, in order to promote egalitarianism, used the "political evaluation." Once I had a test on "political parties," passing this test was a conditio sine qua non, with a professor later found to be a leader of the Red Brigades. The test was on his monographic lectures, but being at sea I had attended only a few, as well as about three books on "Feminism." I attended the exam with a young lady and discussed two books. Then it was the girl's turn. She was asked about the monographic course, but she had not attended the lectures, so she was asked about the books, which she had not read. At that point the professor asked if she was a feminist. Of course the answer was a strong yes. We both received top scores, because I had studied, but she, as the professor remarked, had "conscious political understanding."

                  There were also heavy political discrimination but I had no problem with this, perhaps because I was older or because of my profession. Finally I had very good relations with two good professors, one a former captain of the "Alpini," a partisan with the Badogliani, and with an editor of the communist newspaper L'Unità. The latter did not mind my political uncorrectness and wanted me to be his heir in American History, but I refused because with my ideas the University administration would never have given me the job.

                  JE comments: I gather from Eugenio Battaglia's note that his university examinations were oral and "high stakes" in the strictest sense. Is this still the case in Italy? In the US, oral examinations are nearly unknown, and final exams rarely count for more than 25% of a grade. (I weight my Finals no more than 20%.) On the other hand, you can fail one of my courses if you miss more than three weeks' worth of classes.

                  Ah, the attendance policy:  is this one of the greatest differences between the US and European education systems?  In America, you get a lot of credit simply for showing up.  I believe that class attendance is required as a way to instill a "healthy" work ethic.

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                  • on Compulsory Attendance at University Classes (Henry Levin, USA 11/04/13 1:50 PM)
                    In response to John Eipper's comments about college attendance in the US (see Eugenio Battaglia, 4 November), I have never taken attendance in a single class in 46 years of teaching. I find attendance to be much higher in classes in the places I have taught than in the European universities that I have observed, because we require graded assignments and exams throughout the course rather than relying on one final exam for performance assessment.

                    Also, as John notes, assignments and examinations in the US are mostly written. If grades are based only on a final exam (and the lectures are often boring and available to students in written form by enterprising students who have copied them), why not just cram for the examination in the last two weeks of the semester and engage in other activities rather than going to class, as is quite typical in Europe? But, if the material will be tested periodically by exams or assignments distributed throughout the semester, there is a large incentive to attend class to prepare for the next assignment or exam.

                    JE comments:  I've already taken attendance today--twice.  The high-stakes model of examinations in Europe always puzzled me, for the reasons Henry Levin cites.  What learning actually takes place during a fortnight of cramming?  More precisely, what about retention?  Content that goes in so quickly usually exits the brain with equal alacrity.

                    This is turning out to be an interesting discussion on comparative education.  Next in the queue:  John Heelan on Winchester College.

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                  • Oral Examinations in Italy (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 11/05/13 4:23 AM)
                    Answering JE's questions on my post of 4 November, the oral examination is what normally is used for history courses, and attendance for Humanities is not strictly required (and since I was often at sea, I had a good excuse). On the other hand, almost all other courses have written examinations, and attendance is compulsory.

                    JE comments: It is curious that History and the Humanities would hold oral examinations, when research and writing is what professionals in these fields actually do.

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                    • Compulsory University Attendance in Italy: A Correction (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 11/06/13 2:32 AM)
                      With reference to my post of 5 November, I was not clear.

                      I was speaking only of oral examinations for history.  Also, I should have said that for some Humanities, class attendance was not compulsory. At least this was the case 40 years ago.

                      JE comments: Does anyone know if there is a trend in European universities towards more stringent attendance policies?  How about in Germany, which as we know, served as a model for the US university system (graduate programs, fraternities, and such)?

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                      • Attendance Policies at Greek Universities (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece 11/06/13 7:26 AM)
                        In Greek universities there is a very sharp differentiation between undergraduate and graduate studies. For undergraduates, attendance in lectures is optional and most students show up rarely. In the past one could assign a maximum of two books as reading material in each course (now that they are no longer provided to every student free of charge, the limit has been relaxed). In graduate programs attendance in the seminars is mandatory, and at least one book per week is usual in my courses.

                        JE comments: Very interesting--especially the former two-book-per-semester limit in Greece.  The European custom of optional attendance for undergraduates and required attendance for graduates goes against the US norm, where graduate students are assumed to be responsible enough to decide when to attend class. However, graduate students usually show up--you don´t want to anger or disappoint your professor, who you'll need to direct your research and write letters of recommendation.

                        I was thinking about Harry Papasotiriou this morning, as the news contained reports on today's 24-hour general strike in Greece. I hope he's weathering the crisis well.

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                • Winchester College (John Heelan, -UK 11/04/13 2:24 PM)
                  David Gress (4 November) reminds us that "good schools, such as Winchester College, are more than eager to take any good pupil and will do their utmost to secure funds for the fees from any number of sources."

                  No one doubts the quality of Winchester College (current annual fees £33,750 per year), whose Endowment Fund aims to provide fee support for up to 10% of its 670 pupils. Thus the parents of the other 90% need to find over £200,000 to give their child that excellent education. Given the UK annual salary is about £31,000, such an expense is beyond the pockets of most people.

                  From his right-wing perspective, David takes the opportunity to comment that the failing English and Welsh educational system (David is correct not to use "UK," as education in Scotland has usually been better) as a "triumph of Leftism," although he does point out the failure of Margaret Thatcher--a disastrous Education Secretary in her time, she was known as "Milk-Snatcher Thatcher"--to correct the situation. However he fails to mention that the dumbing-down of education for the masses continues to be the policy of the current right-wing government.

                  However, as a grammar school alumnus with working-class roots, I do agree with David that the demise of the 11+ examination and grammar schools themselves dealt a punishing blow to British education from which it has not recovered.

                  JE comments: Education terminology might be the most egregious example of "separation by a common language" between the UK (Britain) and the US. We all know that Britain's public schools are exactly the opposite in the US (private schools), but I've just learned that the UK "College" is the equivalent of "prep" or boarding school in the US. (I teach in a College, but it's really a small university.) Moreover, grammar schools in the UK were the most elite institutions in the so-called "Tripartite System" of secondary education that reigned from WWII until 1976. The highest-performing 25% of students gained admission to "grammar schools," which taught the Classics and prepared scholars and future leaders.  Otherwise you were relegated to a "technical" or "modern" school, and taught a trade.  "Grammar schools" in the US are elementary schools for small children, although the term has fallen into disuse.

                  Whew. I think I got that right, and I'll confess that I cribbed from Wikipedia. The entry on "Tripartite System of Education" is especially informative.

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                  • Winchester College (David Gress, Denmark 11/05/13 3:38 AM)

                    Yes, John E., you got that right. (See JE's primer on education terminology in the UK, John Heelan, 4 November.) Except I wouldn't say that the Grammar Schools "prepared scholars and future leaders." They were simply the schools that combed the best from the many, as it were. Most graduates from these schools went on to middle-class careers. Some became scholars, a very impecunious calling.

                    To John Heelan: You are absolutely right that the fees now charged by what the British call independent schools, that is, not dependent on public funding, are exorbitant, and I am very glad to hear that he is a former Grammar School pupil. I am sure he is grateful for the education he received.

                    The thing is, these independent or "public" schools have only their endowment to live on. They have a large intake from well-endowed families, many, as I recall, from Hong Kong or the US. They take these families' fees in order, in part, to subsidize the fees of poorer families, such as mine.

                    A few words about Winchester College:

                    I put my eldest son through Winchester at great expense, although two-thirds of the fees were covered by bursaries, the rest by me, and the school generously forgave the part of the rest I couldn't pay, some £8,000. This son of mine is now a lowly paid linguist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Hardly a good investment for Winchester, if that's what you're looking for. My point is, the College can be generous.

                    Winchester College was founded by William, bishop of Winchester, in 1394. He was the son of a peasant who became one of the richest men in England and, being a priest and therefore childless, willed his fortune to a school for poor but bright boys according to his motto, "manners makyth man." Among his collateral descendants are the actor brothers Ralph and Joseph Fiennes who, as my son told me, are annually remembered in the school as "founder's kin."

                    At Winchester, successful applicants to the school, who have previously passed the English exam for admission to most of the "public" schools, known as the "Common Entrance" exam, are assigned to "houses," or, as Americans might say, "dorms." This is a boarding school, after all. My son passed the special exam for "College," which forbids you to seek "Common Entrance" in the same year. He passed, was mentioned in The Times, and was admitted to "College," the oldest "house" or "dorm," which is bishop William's original foundation.

                    JE comments:  Prof. Hilton was born in Torquay but grew up in Winchester.  I do not believe he attended the College, although he did "recall" the boys' "simple and sombre" dress in the 1920s.  See this post from 30 June 2002:


                    Prof. H's memoirs largely gloss over his pre-Oxford days.  I'm going to ask Mary Hilton Huyck if she can fill us in on the details of his early schooling.

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                    • Winchester College and Prof. Hilton (Mary Hilton Huyck, USA 11/06/13 1:36 AM)
                      What an interesting exchange about England's most famous public schools! Now I understand the background of a tile that my father affixed to the wall of my parents' patio, where they ate many meals when the weather was nice. As I recall, the tile showed a handsomely dressed pig, standing on his hind legs as if human and looking sternly straight ahead. Underneath the pig were the following words: "Manners makyth man." I never thought to ask my father about that tile. Now I know!

                      When Ronald Hilton was about eight years old, his family moved from Torquay to Winchester. He did not attend Winchester College. Instead, he and his older brother went to Taunton. Taunton was, I believe, a private day school. (I have no idea whether Taunton had boarding students. The Hilton boys lived at home.) After Taunton, Ronald won a scholarship to go to Christ Church, Oxford. He was later a graduate student at Magdalen. I enjoyed reading the piece he wrote in 2002 about the famous English public schools and Oxbridge. Ronald never spoke much about Winchester College, but Winchester Cathedral was a different matter. He was able to see the cathedral from one of the windows in their house, and I suspect that the view figured largely in his memories of his youth in Winchester. His mother was very devout, and she and her sons attended a smaller nearby parish. Ronald, though, was inspired by Winchester Cathedral, and I suspect that that is what began his life-long love of Gothic cathedrals. In Ronald's will, he left a bequest to Winchester Cathedral for, in his words, "the fabric of the cathedral." When I read his will, I was charmed by his terminology. I think he meant that he wanted the money to go toward the maintenance of the physical plant and not for programs or clergy salaries. Incidentally, he also left a bequest to Oxford, so clearly he had enduring respect and affection for both Winchester Cathedral and Oxford University.

                      With best regards, Mary Hilton Huyck

                      JE comments: And a very warm WAIS greeting to Mary and Philip Huyck. "Manners makyth man":  I propose we add "woman and man" and make it a secondary WAIS motto, right after "Pax, Lux, et Veritas."

                      Here's the Wikipedia entry on Taunton. Of note is its founding date, 1847--a mere youth among UK public schools:


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                  • UK Grammar Schools; "Tripartite System of Education" (John Heelan, -UK 11/05/13 4:07 AM)
                    JE's wrote that the Wikipedia entry on the UK's "Tripartite System of Education" (1944-'76) is "especially informative."

                    A better and detailed survey of education in Britain from post-WWII to the current government can be found at http://www.educationengland.org.uk/history/index.html .

                    If one can ignore its left-wing flavour--at times strong--it provides a detailed map of the ways that successive UK governments had interfered with education for ideological purposes, and in my view long-term social engineering of the UK population.

                    Worth reading.

                    (JE is right, as grammar school students, we had to study the Classics--Latin and Greek--but in addition after the first year, we were divided into those who had an "Arts" bias and those who had a "Science" bias. As one of the former, I never really understood--and for which I still have a blind spot--the fundamentals of mathematics, physics and chemistry, but have been always comfortable with languages and literature. Despite that lack of science, I managed to have a successful career in the high-tech world for 50 years. Strange world!)

                    JE comments:  Given that that Information Technology is essentially a "language," the Humanities provide excellent training.  But I am always biased in favor of the Humanities.
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          • Why Must Muslims Integrate into Western Society? (Henry Levin, USA 06/23/13 3:37 AM)
            To me the most pertinent issue related to "Why must they be like us?" is whether Islam is compatible with a truly democratic society. What has been the history? Where do such societies exist? To what degree do the precepts of Islam overlap with a democratic and non-theocratic society?

            Culturally I understand well where a Koranic society comes from. But, the issue of compatibility with democracy must be central to our discussion of assimilation rather than the sacrilege of farting publicly or showing the bottom of one's shoes. (See Vincent Littrell, 22 June.) Let's get real on the source of the problem.

            JE comments:  To democracy, we should add secular materialism, the mainstay of "Western" culture.

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            • Islam and Democracy (Vincent Littrell, USA 06/23/13 6:58 AM)
              This is in response to Henry Levin's post of 23 June:

              I do think Henry is correct to bring up the importance of the compatibility of Islam with democracy. However, if he thought the issue of public farting or showing the bottoms of feet in Muslim world societies was the focus of my most recent post, then he missed my intent. Those were merely examples to point out the strategically critical necessity for peoples of one culture and society living in another with different cultural/societal mores to pay respect to that host culture. That indeed is on par in terms of central importance to Muslim acceptance of democracy. Many Muslims in the West and Westerners in the Muslim world have suffered, at times fatally, because of issues of cultural clashing with their host societies.

              As it relates to the West, millions of Muslims in the West do accept democracy. This is not even a point of serious debate. It is a fact. However, a few Muslims in the West would indeed like to see Shari'a law enacted and work to subvert the laws of their hosts. Western law-enforcement organizations have interdicted such fringe efforts. Also it might be said that some Muslims in the West might take a long-term view to what they believe to be the emergence of Islam through conversion as a dominant societal religion even in the West, and await the establishment of some form of Shari'a either through social choice or reasons of eschatology (coming of Mahdi or Hidden Imam, etc.). In other words, they tolerate the democracy of the current rulers, but view that in the long-term sense as ultimately to be superseded by Shari'a.

              In the Muslim context, this indeed is a point of contention amongst Muslims themselves. I don't think we need to delve too much into what is going on in Turkey, Afghanistan, Egypt, Gaza, Iran and other Islamic countries, where elections of a quasi-democratic nature do occur (in Turkey I was under the impression that despite inroads of Islamist parties, secularism was still the official stance of the state). It should also be said that in places like Malaysia and Indonesia, though Islam is the dominant religion of those nation-states, there is huge debate in those countries on the relationship of Islam, democracy and human rights. In the past on WAIS I've drawn from the writings of a number of Muslim scholars, such as Mohammad Hossein Kamali and his book Freedom of Expression in Islam to reflect my points about these kinds of debates in Malaysia.

              Do keep in mind that education of Muslims in many countries is of critical importance. A couple of anecdotes to amplify my point. I think I've shared these in the past, so I apologize for the repeat but they have bearing on the problem Henry Levin brings up:

              In US-occupied Baghdad, a man was driving the wrong way down a main thoroughfare into incoming traffic. A US military patrol stops the car. When asked about why he was driving into oncoming traffic, his response was, "is this not democracy? I thought we could do whatever we wanted now!"

              In Afghanistan there is only a very rudimentary ethic of public service amongst government officials, senior military and police officers overall. There are of course some individuals who do have a high sense of ethics of public service, but I suspect those individuals are the minority. Ethics of service in much of Afghan (especially Pashtun) society was oriented towards family, clan, tribe and then tribal confederation. Also, after more than 30 years of war, many Afghans have very much a survivalist mentality of "get what you can when you can." This takes its toll on understanding of Islamic ethics, much less the nuances of the meanings of democracy for society. Elections have occurred in Afghanistan and will happen again in 2014. Of course, amongst those who covet power through the electoral system in Afghanistan, I have to wonder what percentage of those actually do so with intent to serve the public as opposed to their own pocket liners (or the pockets of the tribe). Note that secular considerations in Afghanistan and other tribal areas of the Muslim World have actually as much social strength as Islam itself. With this topic, complexities abound.

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              • "Ethics of Service" (John Heelan, -UK 06/23/13 9:05 AM)
                Vincent Littrell wrote on 23 June: "Ethics of service in much of Afghan (especially Pashtun) society was oriented towards family, clan, tribe and then tribal confederation."

                If "ethics of service" means the same as "loyalty and affection," there is little difference to other societies including Western ones. In the past, I have argued that loyalty and affection expands in decreasing strength in concentric ripples, starting from close family to extended family, to local community, to wider community, to national community to wider cultural community; e.g. the Doe family, the Doe's extended family, "Boise ID," "Idaho," USA, Western Hemisphere culture.

                The closer to the origin of that ripple, the more important and stronger is the ethic.

                The Spanish expressed it as "familia-pueblo (or patria chica)-España." As part of their governance, religious and chauvinistic ideologues often attempt to place loyalty, religious submission to religion and loyalty to the nation earlier in the sequence, sometimes even before family. Examples are Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, Scientology, Communism, National Socialism, and so on.

                In this matter, Muslims are just as normal as the other people of the world.

                JE comments: The US has no concept of tribalism, however, except perhaps for loyalty to a religious sect.  Another difference I've tried to make over the years: we Americans have extremely short memories. This is often a positive trait, as among other things we don't hold grudges.

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                • "Ethics of Service" and Tribalism (Vincent Littrell, USA 06/24/13 4:42 AM)
                  Just a quick note in response to John Heelan and John Eipper (23 June):

                  John Heelan's comments are spot-on. However in the West, despite occasional corruption, there is a general culture of public service among public servants. In Afghanistan this is still developing.

                  To John Eipper, yes, tribalism isn't a part of general US culture, except for the Native Americans. My sister is a member of the Cherokee Tribe.

                  One experience I had in Afghanistan that touches on this issue:

                  When I was in Kandahar in 2007-'08, I stood up and chaired Afghanistan's first-ever Tribal Working Group. This entity actually received some high-level attention, to include at least one member at the Ambassador level. The working group included some Canadian civil affairs specialists, who prior to their arrival in Afghanistan had trained in Northern Canada with Inuit tribes. They found significant parallels between Inuit and Pashtun tribal dynamics. I found that to be very interesting.

                  JE comments:  I apologize for overlooking the Native Americans when I claimed there is no tribalism in the US.  A big mea culpa.

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                • Tribalism and Grudges in the US (John Heelan, -UK 06/25/13 4:01 AM)
                  JE's comment of 23 June suggests that he has donned a pair of rose-coloured spectacles. He wrote, "the US has no concept of tribalism, however, except perhaps for loyalty to a religious sect. Another difference I've tried to make over the years: we Americans have extremely short memories. This is often a positive trait, as among other things we don't hold grudges."

                  If there were no "tribalism" in the US, one would struggle to explain violent interactions between ethnic barrios in cities and the ways that some cities are dominated by the culture of immigrants from another nation, such as the Swedish-American cities in the mid-West, German-American cities in Ohio and Irish-American cities in New England.

                  As to the US not holding a grudge--one might point at the grudges held by the Bush family that some blame for the Iraq War. When Bush II refused to meet Ahmedinejad at the UN, his spokesman gave the reason as ""There's not going to be a steel-case, grudge match between the [US] president and Ahmadinejad."


                  Some whistleblowers are letting off steam caused by personal grudges against their institution or the State itself.

                  In my field, major causes of intended computer systems failure in the US and elsewhere are grudge attacks by employees, ex-employees and people dissatisfied with the company.

                  To suggest that the US population is less likely than other populations to hold a grudge is, perhaps, a little wishful thinking.

                  JE comments: I'll (grudgingly) acknowledge that John Heelan is right about our grudges. Probably the biggest example is the grudge against Castro's Cuba, already into its sixth decade.  What I had in mind with my original comment were those Balkan or Middle Eastern grudges that last generations or centuries.  We don't do that--just look at Germany or Japan, or this country's original Enemy #1, Great Britain, now our greatest friend.

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                  • Grudges in the US (Istvan Simon, USA 06/26/13 3:36 AM)
                    I agree with JE that we Americans do not hold grudges. While there are regional differences in culture, as pointed out by John Heelan (25 June), this is one of the strengths of this wonderful and diverse country, not one of its weaknesses. Suffices to say that the son of a Muslim temporary visitor is in the White House today.

                    No, I am afraid I don't buy John Heelan's argument. This country is phenomenally successful in absorbing its diverse immigrants and making them into just Americans. The melting pot works, and works well. The only other country which I know which succeeds similarly is Brazil. And I'd say that the United States does it better than Brazil.

                    There is a multicultural night every year in the elementary school my son attends. It is something truly remarkable, because there are dozens of tables of every corner of the world: Indians, Russians, Kazakhs, Chinese, Germans, Irish, Mexicans, Afghans, Egyptians, Israelis, and so on and so on. All of these countries are represented in the student body of this little elementary school. There is a remarkable warmth in welcoming all these cultures into the United States. I do not know of anything similar in Brazil, which as I said is the other country that I think is most successful in absorbing its immigrants.

                    I have written about my Anglophile sympathies--I love England and its ways. But Britain does not even come close to being similarly successful in absorbing and integrating its immigrants into British society. Neither does France or any European country as far as I can see. Just recently, there were riots in Sweden, which is perceived as one of the friendliest and most enlightened governments towards immigrants--yet this image was tarnished by the recent events.

                    JE comments: We should also give our neighbor to the north, Canada, due credit for its capacity to absorb and integrate immigrants.  Toronto proudly calls itself the world's most diverse city, with over 100 distinct ethnic communities.  To be sure, places like London and New York could probably make similar claims.

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                    • Grudges in the US (John Heelan, -UK 06/26/13 8:07 AM)
                      In his post of 26 June, Istvan Simon rebuts a question that was not posed. There were two elements in my response to JE (25 June): firstly does "tribalism" exist in the US; secondly, does the US hold grudges?

                      Istvan is correct that the US has a long history of welcoming immigrants. Indeed, it could be said that the US would not exist without the waves of immigrants over the last two centuries that gradually formed US society. But to use that argument to suggest there is no "tribalism" in the US is somewhat specious, given the evidence I presented.

                      Similarly in the case of "grudges." It is part of human nature to nurture a grudge against somebody else for valid or invalid reasons. Using the "we welcome immigrants" argument to suggest that the psyche of individual US citizens is different to those of other nations is naive.

                      How does Istvan explain the grudge felt by expatriate Cubans to the Castro regime, the latent anger that still exists towards those who funded and perpetrated 9/11 extended in general to Muslim communities around the world (but strangely not to Saudi Arabia, the source of those funds) and so on, the grudge against Washington felt by the "crazies" in the backwoods of the Midwest and so on?

                      As a proud immigrant to the US himself, it seems that Istvan will never accept any criticism of his new home. Perhaps he needs at times to peer around his rose-tinted lenses.

                      JE comments: Breaking news:  In a split decision, the US Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibited the Federal Government from recognizing same-sex marriages. This could be the biggest shift in civil rights law in a generation. I look forward to WAISer comments.

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                  • Steel Cages and Steel Cases (David Duggan, USA 06/26/13 10:17 AM)
                    A "steel-case grudge match"? (See John Heelan, 25 June.) It should be "steel cage," but JE may have had the Grand Rapids (Michigan)-based office-furniture company on his mind.

                    JE comments: Nary an error slips by David Duggan, but this time I'll have to direct the blame elsewhere.  The original quote attributed to 2006 White House spokesman Tony Snow referred to "steel case." Snow must be another fan of the high-quality, timeless beauty of Steelcase, 101 years young:


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  • Thoughts on the "Other" (Nigel Jones, -UK 06/18/13 3:56 AM)
    The trouble with arguments about the human need for "the Other"--an enemy on which to project what John Heelan (13 June) calls our negative attitudes--is that this is a blind alley which gets us nowhere.

    John quotes the late Edward Said with evident approval--yet Said himself clearly needed an "Other"--or why else was he filmed throwing rocks at Israelis?

    And John's other examples of "Others"--the Nazi/Fascist/Japanese Axis of WWII; Communism in the Cold War, and Islamism today are all very real threats, not just pretend "bogeymen" in John's word.

    To pretend that "the Others" were not also real enemies who needed to be fought and defeated does a disservice to those who died defending democracy from those all too real enemies.

    JE comments: I vote we try to find a middle ground here. "Others" throughout history have often posed genuine threats, but just as often this threat is manipulated to the advantage of specific parties and political agendas.  The example of the US and Cuba comes to mind--the Yanqui "Other" has worked wonders to keep the Cuban regime in power so long, just as the regime's continuation benefits anti-Castro elements in the US.  Does Cuba represent any actual threat to this country?  Not for last 50 years.

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    • Thoughts on the "Other" (John Heelan, -UK 06/18/13 6:50 AM)
      Nigel Jones (18 June) misunderstands me. In my description of the Other, I did not deny that eventually some actually became the enemy. However, in the lengthy run-up to actual or proxy conflict, it was/is in government's political interest to inculcate fear of, and animosity towards, a potential enemy. This is, of course, the basis of propaganda.

      The inherent fear and distrust of strangers is well summed up in the Punch 19th-century cartoon that shows two miners observing a well-to-do gentleman approaching their village. Miner: "Who's' im Bill?" Bill: "A Stranger!" Miner: "'Eave 'arf a brick at 'm!"

      (The cartoon itself can be seen at http://punch.photoshelter.com/gallery-list . Search for John-Leech-Cartoons-Punch-1854.02.25.82.tif)

      JE comments: Nothing stings like 'arf a brick, except maybe an 'ole one...

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