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Unfiled September 9, 2005
 
An eXile phone call to the Fresno branch of the International Dyslexic Association
 
 

We were so worried about Dr. Hanson's sloppy writing that we decided it was time for an intervention. Posing as his beleaguered editor at the National Review, we called the Fresno branch of the International Dyslexic Association...

eXile: Hi, is the International Dyslexic Association?

Front desk: Just one moment, I'll get you that division.

eX: Thank you.

Dr.: This is Dr. N------, may I help you?

eX: Yes hi, I'm calling basically about a colleague who I suspect might have dyslexia. I just had a few questions. First of all, I wanted to see if I should confront him with this, and how to do it tactfully.

Dr.: Sure.

eX: This is a person who is quite an accomplished writer and academic, yet seems to make a lot of glaring spelling errors. He's a professor at Fresno State, he writes for the Bee sometimes and writes regularly for the National Review Online. And even in columns he's publishing at the National Review, and I work at the National Review, his columns are replete with big spelling mistakes that go online or else there's a word that should be there and he uses a different word that sort of seems like it could fit. I guess the first question is, Is this a sign of dyslexia?

Dr.: Well, he could just be a crummy speller [laughs]. I guess I can't answer that exactly. This person is educated and I'm assuming has many academic credentials. Dyslexia is a language processing disorder. Spelling is sort of like, like an artistic talent, either you have it or you don't. You can improve it, if you're a really horrible speller ...

eX: Well he's already in his 50s and we have to deal with delicate ego situations and so on. I'm not saying that Dr. Hanson is... well, for example, one of the problems is that even in corrections that he makes online about two mistakes in a previous issue had mistakes. And we're worried there are issues about editing him. I just got assigned to this and I'm getting sort of chewed out by a higher up. I'm having a problem approaching Dr. Hanson about this. It's very glaring -- I haven't ever seen something as glaring as this in my professional career. It's not like every third word, but particularly when two letters in a row that were addressing the issue of spelling errors and words that were wrong, twice in a row he made glaring spelling mistakes.

Dr.: You might just ask the gentleman, you might flat out ask him, "This is what I've seen, you're making these errors, is this something new to you?" I mean, what if he had some neurological thing going on that just came on last year or so? He might say, no I've never had any problems until last year. Or he might say yes, all my life I've had difficulty spelling.

eX: That's interesting because just about exactly four years ago, from what another colleague said, some of the things he started writing were different and then there's the spelling mistakes...

Dr.: Have you asked a family member or someone who worked with him five, ten years ago if there's a difference? If you're in your 50s -- well, I'm older than that -- it could be a mini-stroke.

eX: I was wondering, do you think maybe marijuana use in his youth, does that have something to do with this?

Dr.: [laughs] Not that I know of, but they say it's not good for cognition. If he was a heavy user in the past, who knows how many neurons are gone.

eX: Well he was a UC Santa Cruz student in the '70s...

Dr.: [laughs] Can you give me an example of a misuse of a word?

eX: Yes, he was attacking a critic who attacked him at this magazine called the eXile, and he wrote it as Encore, even though he was making a detailed critique of the magazine. He actually attacked mistakes. Then he had an exchange with the editor of that magazine and misspelled the name of the editor. It was A-M-E-S, and he put A-I-M-E-S. And this is in the National Review Online, a big, influential Republican magazine out of Washington. And then in the next issue, when he made an author's note about his mistakes, he wrote an "authorr's" note in which he wanted to correct the spelling mistakes he made in the last issue.

Dr.: Now this isn't just a poor keyboarding kind of thing? What about the intellectual content?

eX: It's been making less and less sense. He was quite a renowned Greek classicist through the mid 90s, and then something happened. Even for us, and we're a pretty renowned Republican magazine, he's been vigorously arguing a position in favor of continuing the Iraq war that even we find -- and we're supporters of it and of President Bush -- even we find increasingly loopy and not very coherent. The arguments are not intellectually rigorous anymore. Maybe we are talking about a neurological event. Is that possible?

Dr.: From your position, when you're getting manuscripts from a person who normally had good thinking skills and they seem to be off a little, I'd worry. The spelling things are mechanical and easily handled. As far as the content, if it's starting to not make sense, you should send it back.

eX: Well this guy's a Prima Dona. Let's get back to the mental deterioration. This is a man who used to write very complex, nuanced arguments tying Greek history to current events. In his last piece, he attacked Cindy Sheehan for being an anti-Semite, he was calling people socialists, anarchists, fascists. He accused somebody of setting fire to his vineyards. And it was full of spelling errors. It was.... I don't know what to think.

Dr.: Well it doesn't sound like dyslexia. Are we talking about Victor Davis Hanson?

eX: Exactly.

Dr.: I read one of his books recently. The one about the valley.

eX: That was then. In terms of the battery of tests, if I were to suggest it to him...

Dr.: He lives in this area, and I could send you a referral list. The fact that this man has been an accomplished writer he obviously had no difficulty with reading and writing in his past. If there is a change going on, I would be worried about other things. A mini-stroke or, well, you don't want to say dementia, but something awry in the neurology. But you're way out of my area of expertise.

eX: One last thing I wanted to ask. Is there much of an ego issue?

Dr.: Well, I don't know. I'd start with the spelling errors, and well, if the content is bizarre, well I don't know how you'd address that. Other than you just don't accept it as appropriate for publication. You can't be calling people anti-Semites and fascists if they're...

eX: Yeah, this is a woman whose son died.

Dr.: You know, people's political views sometimes get a little strange. The fact that this man has a doctorate, is renowned and, regardless of his political views, whether I agree with them or not, some kind of expertise in that area would make me think that whatever is going on is not dyslexia. This is an interesting conversation, I've never quite had one like it.

eX: Thank you so much for your help.

Dr.: Thank you.

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