Pincher Martin's Bibliothèquewebbie -- Sunday, January 29, 2012 -- 01:39:17 AM
Reviews and commentary on all things related to books. Extended discussions on political, social, and cultural topics sparked by a review of a book are also welcome.This thread is tagged:
(All users will see what tags exist for a thread. Please tag carefully!)
It probably just means that you keep a potentially touchy subject light and humorous, and they enjoy the tone of your discussion.
The last two (food and travel tips) are perfectly acceptable topics for discussion with a casual acquaintance, but politics is a death knell to any discussion with me, unless for some reason I hit it off with someone. I have no strict rule on anything, of course -- just a rule of thumb. I've discussed politics at length with many people I've bumped into, but I generally have found the discussions are not interesting or productive, and I prefer not offending people. If I discuss politics, I tend to let the other person explain his ideas and I just listen. But that's usually if they are not Westerners.
I'm probably more used than you to the cognitive dissonance that occurs to me when an otherwise normal person starts spouting liberal nonsense. And I'm often pleasantly surprised when I find someone sane.
What a nice thought! I shall hold onto that.
Here's an example of what I mean. I'm in Tibet for seven days and we're using a Chinese-language guide and driver (guides are mandatory for us) because my Chinese was better than my wife's English at the time.
Halfway through our trip, our guide mentions, quite casually and unprompted, that she doesn't support Tibetan independence. And she explains that she thinks Chinese rule in Tibet has brought many economic benefits. That sounds like the party line the commies use, but her tone seems unforced and reasonable, and she's Tibetan, not Chinese. Besides she's well aware that I'm an American and my wife is Taiwanese. I think she's being sincere.
I listen politely. I ask a couple of general anodyne questions like what benefits she thinks Tibet has gotten from China. But I don't engage her in a full-throated political discussion. I don't share with her my opinion that Bhutan is a much more pleasant place than Tibet because, I believe, the commies have spoiled Tibet. In short, I don't inflict my political opinion on her.
Well, that's just simple politeness. I'd listen quietly, too. But I'd be genuinely interested. I might ask something like "You know, some people think that Tibet is more controlled and less open under the Communists. What do you think?"
I wouldn't say "Lady, from my pov the Commies have turned Tibet into a Stepford world." That's online talk.
You'd be surprised at how some of what we take to be polite opinions will greatly upset many people.
I once shared my opinion with an Indonesian lady that I thought the world was getting closer together and thus becoming more alike. Even if you don't agree with that opinion, it's hardly radical. But she took great offense and I had to abruptly end the conversation.
There's another reason I don't like to share my opinion abroad. I think it affects your companions. They often start shaping their views and discussions to fit your opinion.
Here's an example: I'm talking to a Bhutanese. He mentions his country's environmental policy, which is pretty strict for a developing country since the young Bhutanese king was educated in England, and so imbibed much of the Western environmentalist claptrap that passes for a modern education.
The man I'm talking to seems proud of his country's environmentalist policy, but then the discussion suddenly takes a turn. He tells me a story about his small farm. He tried to prevent wild pigs from eating his crops by killing them, but a foreign NGO which works in the country prevents it. (I think the man wanted to poison the critters). So he gets very little sleep at night because he constantly needs to be aware of when the pigs might be in his crops.
I felt very sorry for the guy. This was not a rich man. I listened politely and sympathetically. You know my opinions on most environmentalist groups. But I didn't betray my views. I didn't want to affect what this guy was telling me by voicing my own frustration with environmentalist groups. I didn't want him shaping what he was telling me because he understood exactly where I stood.
Interesting. I think I would have expressed sympathy. I don't know that I would have gone into an anti-environmental rant.
Consider that conversation if I'm an ardent enviromentalist. He begins by telling me how proud he is of his king's environmental policy. I enthusiastically agree and share my own pro-enviromentalist views.
Perhaps I don't hear about that pig story.
Oh, I know. I agree with you about sharing your own views. But you can make non-committal noises and prompts whilst not shutting him down.
I'm a good listener. One of the reasons I preemptively shut a lot of people out is that the high quality of my listening ability invites a lot of bores to share more about themselves, to open up. And that I can't abide. Life is too short, and I am on vacation. You need ways to maintain a little distance from these bores and keep them from becoming a time-suck.
Just as most people are about average in looks or brains, so most people have average opinions and views. In short, they're uninteresting. There's a bell curve for quality of opinions, as well as for intelligence. Even when abroad, where you would expect to meet a higher class of traveler who is more interesting and cultured, you still find a lot of those types like the Australian housewife.
Of course, I'm mainly speaking about English-speaking Westerners right now. They're fairly predictable. If you're dealing with natives, it's different. But even with natives, I find no reason to discuss my politics or to invite them to discuss theirs. If they want to initiate such a discussion, that's fine. But I'll mostly listen, not talk.
One of the reasons I preemptively shut a lot of people out is that the high quality of my listening ability invites a lot of bores to share more about themselves, to open up.
Oh, my God. This is something to which I can really, really relate. Except in my case, I think it's more about the quality of bores to shout out their own viewpoints than any particular quality of my listening ability.
When we were in Britain during my first pregnancy (eight months along, so fairly obvious), we kept running into an American couple. The wife said, over and over, "You're so brave to travel here when you are pregnant!" To Britain, for God's sake!! It wasn't like I was squatting in some sub-Saharan jungle! But she kept going on and on about it, as if I couldn't find a competent health-care provider in the whole island. Whereas my O.B.'s comment, when I inquired about getting a letter for the flight, was, "If you do run into trouble, you'll get better care over there than you will over here." There's just something about some people that causes them to insert themselves, to everyone elses' great pain, into every situation and conversation.
That lady you kept bumping into has all the features of the itinerant bore: repetitiveness, judgement without knowledge, and stickiness.
Pincher, I remember you reviewed a book on Jackson's battle at Horseshoe Bend, but have you read an entire bio of him? I'm reading Brands' book--I like Brands, generally--and am flabbergasted at some of the details. It reads like a Who's Who. Jackson was the first representative for Tennessee, he knew Jefferson, he fought a duel with Thomas Hart Benton's brother and the scandal is what drove Benton to Missouri, John Fremont was an infant child who happened to be there with his dad, Davy Crockett was in his army, Sam Houston was his pal. And that's all before he got to Washington.
I feel like that movie In & Out: Is EVERYONE Gay? Did EVERYONE know Jackson?
I've read biographies of Jackson, but not Brands' book. The last one I read was Sean Wilentz's brief volume.
Brands is pretty good on everything he writes about, but he seems incapable of writing a superb book. I did see him give a talk on Jackson once. I thought it was a great public lecture.
That's a good way of putting it. I think he's more interested in what happened than why. It always makes for a fun biography but rarely a great one.
It used to be a much smaller country.
How does Brands' book compare with Meacham's?
The parlor-room crap/infighting that went on during Jackson's presidency makes the Clinton administration look tame.
Just discovered last night that I still have the last volume of Morris's Roosevelt biography sitting unread in a bedside table drawer. Got it as a Xmas gift last year. It's like a present from my own forgetfulness.
I, too, have left Colonel Roosevelt unread, but mainly because I was far less enthusiastic about the second volume than I was about the first and heard nothing about the third volume to make me think Morris had returned to his original form.
That was my impression, too.
Pincher, my father's in town and I was telling him about your review of the Babel book and my comments about him. He gave me some interesting background about his family.
My grandfather and grandmother both graduated from Carnegie Tech at a time when it was very common to drop out because the courses got too difficult. My grandfather was an exceptionally bright man, although his skills (like mine) were more verbal than spatial, and he never made enough money to rise out of lower middle class income level, given that the two of them had six kids.
My father reminded me that Gramps, too, was a polyglot, but not the casual conversational sort like my dad. He actually studied languages, and became fluent in a number of them. The minute dad mentioned this the memories came back; I remember Gramps conversing in Russian and Italian, and proudly demonstrating how much Arabic he'd learned just to be able to show off to Dad (and of course, show that he cared).
What I hadn't known is that my grandmother majored in English and minored in Spanish, and was also fluent. Remember, this was Pennsylvania, not a place with a big Hispanic population. I'm wondering now if maybe dad's skill is more part of a pattern than the fluke I'd always thought it.
Whenever my grandparents wanted to discuss something private and found it difficult to find a place in their small home to talk away from six pairs of inquiring ears, they'd just switch into Spanish. Dad said three of his siblings studied Spanish in high school just so they could eavesdrop on their mom and dad.