Besides, Who Else Would Be That Obsessed About Wands?

So J. K. Rowling made an offhanded remark during a Q-and-A session that she thought of Dumbledore as being gay, and now there’s a huge uproar of people writing crap about how wrong this is — but I’m not irate because I’m homophobic, mind you! I think gay folks are fine! Oh, no, I have perfectly rational reasons for being angry and hostile about this! It’s because I believe with heart and soul that the work must speak for itself! And there are no clues about this in the books, so it’s just my perfectly normal and non-prejudiced reaction to this blatant display of political correctness after the fact that makes me froth! at the mouth! in! this! way!

Which is all bullshit, as you can figure out in about five seconds if you imagine the lack of a fuss there would be if her offhand revelation about Dumbledore had been, say, that she’d always thought of him as having had a similar but heterosexual romantic attachment in his youth. Wait a minute, would be? In fact, J. K. Rowling has been making plenty of equally innocuous remarks about her backstory for the books in public appearances all over the place, and nobody in the press has even taken notice of it, let alone let forth with the howls of outrage we’re currently getting. But now the tidbit du jour is that one of the characters is gay, and suddenly everybody is a passionate, angry advocate of the principle that “the work must speak for itself”.

Most of the time the opiner will also make a point of saying that the Harry Potter books aren’t very well written, maybe even adding that the books would have been better if things like Dumbledore’s gayness had been more evident, just to see if we can rub a little salt into the wound we’d like to believe we’re important enough to inflict. Personally, I’m not for the life of me going to defend Ms. Rowling’s leaden prose, but if you think the work isn’t any good, what the freak do you even care whether or not it is being allowed to speak for itself? All over the country, innocent college students are being fed the most ridiculous and countertextual postmodern notions about the characters of Beowulf, Hamlet, and Humbert Humbert, for crying out loud, and not a peep out of you; but now you’re charging to the rescue of Dumbledore? Where are your priorities, man?

And a little bit of unconscious homophobia doesn’t have a thing to do with it, eh? Well, good for you.

By the way, fans have been speculating about precisely this issue, Dumbledore’s sexuality, in discussion groups around the Internet for months. Why? Because there are freaking hints about it in the books, that’s why.

This Time essay, charmingly titled Put Dumbledore Back in the Closet, is not only a typical snark-a-thon, it contains this maddening statement:

Yes, it’s nice that gays finally got a major character in the sci-fi/fantasy universe.

The author’s examples to back up this remarkably ignorant statement? There are no gay characters in Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Well, there you go.

I guess the appearance of gay and other sorts of alternatively sexed characters since at least the 1970s in books by minor, unimportant, scarcely known science fiction writers like, oh, say, Robert A. Heinlein, Ursula K. Le Guin, Mercedes Lackey, Theodore Sturgeon, Poul Anderson, Orson Scott Card, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Samuel Delany don’t count. We’re only talking about major works of science fiction. You know, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and the Harry Potter books.

Sorry, guy, but science fiction got around to making gay characters a normal part of the human landscape well before any other literary genre, or at least among those genres that you could peruse outside an adult bookstore. Same-sex relationships were common in science fiction when they were still rare and controversial in other genres.

Fun fact: The San Francisco gay and lesbian bookstore “A Different Light” gets its name from a 1978 repeat 1978 science fiction novel featuring a relationship between two men.

(One might also ask how the Time writer knows that Gandalf isn’t gay. Is there something establishing his heterosexuality in the books that I’m forgetting? Or are we just assuming that anyone not explicitly identified as gay is therefore straight, and isn’t that assumption itself unconsciously homophobic?)

I’m not saying I’m a Harry Potter fan. I’ve seen the movies so far, which I thought were charming but nothing more, but I tried reading the first book and was bored by chapter five.

I’m just getting royally irritated at the dozens of columnists raking Rowling over the coals for this, the steam rising off their printed pages even as they adopt the pose that they aren’t homophobic at all, oh no, they’re just literary purists and have been so all along. Mm-hmm.

Second Chance

I don’t know how people watch as much television as the polls say they do. There are only two shows I try to watch regularly, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and I download them from the iTunes Store and watch them on my iPod during my commute to and from work, at least when I’m not doing something else like reading or solving puzzles or working on my laptop. That comes to only about three hours of television a week, which is apparently less than most people watch in a day, but I can’t keep up with it. I have maybe 10 unwatched episodes of The Daily Show on my iPod and maybe 25 or 30 of The Colbert Report.

Which is by way of explaining why I am always catching up with yesterday’s news these days. On the way to work today I watched a couple of episodes of The Daily Show from two weeks ago, including one with an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, touting his new book Second Chance. Man, this is one sharp guy. His main point is that if we can get through the next 20 months without making any more terrible moves like declaring war on Iran, the United States still has enough residual goodwill in the world that we can repair some of the damage; but if we spend the next 20 months embroiled in a war that spans Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and probably Pakistan too, then we will at last finish the job of depleting our strength to the point where we are not the most powerful nation any more.

Unfortunately the interview began with Jon Stewart making a few jokes about his name, and since we were making jokes about it back in the 1970s when he first became well known, by this time it’s just a wee bit stale. Though I was pleased to learn that the final W in Zbigniew should be pronounced F. I guess I should have figured as much since I do happen to know that you say “padder-EFF-skee” and not “padder-ROO-skee” and so on with Polish names. Yet “ZBIG-nyoo” is how I’ve always assumed it was pronounced. From now on I’ll say “ZBIG-nyeff”.

I may go back and listen again and jot down a few of the wise and funny things he said, or maybe I’ll go buy the book since presumably he says the same things there only in a more polished manner instead of off the cuff. Though I’m even more backed up on my To Be Read shelf than I am on my iPod.

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid

I read Jimmy Carter’s new book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid about a month ago. It’s a good book, a concise and clearly written summing up of the history of peace efforts in Palestine, much of it from Carter’s own point of view as an observer and participant.

Carter’s been criticized by some for not going into more detail about things, but it seems to me that the books’ conciseness is a strength, not a weakness. It seems to me that we have plenty of books and articles — including some of Carter’s own — that go into the complicated history of the region in more detail. This book, on the other hand, is a good clear overview, and reading it was a great refresher for me.

I’m particularly weak, myself, on what was happening in the Middle East or anywhere else from around mid 1998 to late 2000, because I was coping with a long, serious illness in those years, and as a result I’m always a bit foggy now on the order in which things happened during that period, whether in my life or in the world. So I found the book helpful in straightening out in my head the chronology of what happened near the end of Clinton’s presidency and the beginning of Bush’s. And there’s a lot of good information here, too, including a series of appendices containing the texts of U.N. Resolutions 242, 338, and 465, the Camp David Accords, and other relevant documents.

Carter has written about his views on the Middle East before, and he doesn’t say anything here that seemed very surprising to me. He thinks the best hope for peace in the Middle East is to continue in the direction he was working toward during his presidency. Well, big surprise, that. He thinks Israel’s current policies, which are heading in the very opposite direction, are making things worse, not better. Well, big surprise again.

Since reading the book, though, I’ve been engaged in a few arguments, on the WELL and elsewhere, that all seem to go something like this:

Other Person: Oh, I know all about Carter’s book. It’s terrible. It’s riddled with omissions and factual errors. I can’t believe you were naive enough to read it.
Me: What do you think he has omitted?
Other Person: He never mentions that Yasir Arafat did such-and-such a thing in 1970-something.
Me: Actually, he specifically mentions that incident on page so-and-so.
Other Person: Well, he never mentions that Egypt and Syria did such-and-such a thing in 1980-whatever.
Me: That’s on page so-and-so.
Other Person: Well, he never mentions the bombing of such-and-such in 1990-something.
Me: No, he specifically refers to that on page so-and-so.
Other Person: But he doesn’t point out that all those things justify Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians today.
Me: But that’s not an omission and it’s not a factual error. It’s a difference of opinion. He just doesn’t think those things justify Israel’s actions.
Other Person: There’s no point in talking with you about it. Go back and read the book more carefully and you’ll see.

One thing that makes this book very readable and very moving is that much of what Carter writes comes out of his own experiences and observations in the Middle East, so that we see Israel up close and through his eyes. Throughout a 1973 trip, for example, he writes that “we found the country to be surprisingly relaxed and saw only a handful of people in uniform, mostly directing traffic at the busier intersections. Also, there seemed to be an easy relationship among the different kinds of people we met, including Jews and Arabs.”

But on a trip he took after leaving the White House, he saw a much changed Israel. He recounts the many complaints he heard about the oppressive Israeli treatment of Palestinians, and even Israel’s seizing of foreign aid meant to go to the Palestinians. Carter writes that he found these reports disturbing and hard to believe, but when he asked Israeli authorities about them, the officials freely admitted to these actions, saying to Carter that “…some of the confiscated funds might have been diverted to finance acts of Arab terrorism …. some USAID funds appropriated by the U.S. Congress even for benevolent projects were kept by the Israeli government when necessary to prevent misspending ….”

Carter writes next about a briefing he later received on Israel’s policies in the occupied territories.

“With maps and charts, he explained that the Israelis acquired Palestinian lands in a number of different ways: by direct purchase; through seizure “for security purposes for the duration of the occupation”; by claiming state control of areas formerly held by the Jordanian government; by “taking” under some carefully selected Arabic customs or ancient laws; and by claiming as state land all that was not cultivated or specifically registered as owned by a Palestinian family. Since lack of cultivation or use for farming is one of the criteria for claiming state land, it became official policy in 1983 to prohibit, under penalty of imprisonment, any grazing or the planting of trees or crops in these areas by Palestinians. Large areas taken for “security” reasons became civilian settlements.

Maybe the most painful chapter is Carter’s account of the building of the wall that snakes through the West Bank segregating Israelis from Palestinians.

The wall ravages many places along its devious route that are important to Christians. In addition to enclosing Bethlehem in one of its most notable intrusions, an especially heartbreaking division is on the southern slope of the Mount of Olives, a favorite place for Jesus and his disciples, and very near Bethany, where they often visited Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus. There is a church named for one of the sisters, Santa Marta Monastery, where Israel’s thirty-foot concrete wall cuts through the property. The house of worship is now on the Jerusalem side, and its parishioners are separated from it because they cannot get permits to enter Jerusalem.

I’ve read where Carter has been chastised for allegedly putting all the blame for the situation on Israel, but this doesn’t seem accurate to me. Carter has plenty of criticism both for the Israeli leaders who confiscate Palestinian land and for the Palestinians who take part in violence against Israel, or who applaud it, and for the maze of impossible preconditions that leaders on both sides put on any peace talks, guaranteeing that talks won’t and can’t happen.

But I think Carter’s primary goal in this book is actually to put pressure on the United States, whose participation, he says, is necessary to renewing peace talks but which has all but abandoned any effort to do so. It seems to me that what he really wanted to do with this book is not to put all the blame on Israel, but to show that there is plenty of wrong being done on both sides of the conflict, and that a powerful, trusted third party is needed to act as an honest broker to break through the impasse. If more of the American people know and understand what’s going on in the occupied territories, that the situation is less one-sided than our current administration and news media present it, and that if we could bring peace to Palestine we would be going a long way toward bringing peace to the whole Middle East — including Iraq — then perhaps we in the United States can create enough pressure on our leaders to take more active and sensible steps toward peace.