Quotulatiousness

June 27, 2016

Media fans of Chavez

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Theodore Dalrymple on the unfailing ability of some political pundits to not only be wrong, but to be proven wrong so completely and so quickly (and yet to seem unable to learn from the experience):

In 2000 [former literary editor of The Guardian, Richard Gott] wrote a book about Chavez that I thought startling in its adulatory idiocy. The Bourbons may have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing, but Gott was far worse than any Bourbon. Despite it being obvious that Chavez’s crude and demagogic economic notions were capable of producing a sand shortage in the Sahara, Gott saw in them a rainbow with a pot of social justice at the end of it. As late as 2012, Gott wrote an article in The Guardian with the title “Chavez’s economic lesson for Europe.” Its subtitle was “Hugo Chavez’s rejection of the neoliberal policies dragging Europe down sets a hopeful example.”

Chavez’s policy was simply to use Venezuela’s large oil revenues, in effect its unearned income, to subsidize the standard of living of millions of people, while at the same time antagonizing foreign and even domestic capital. Oddly enough, it did not occur to the learned author of the article that Greece, for example, had no revenues from a resource comparable to oil to distribute, though for a time borrowed money played the role of those oil revenues; nor that an economy utterly dependent on the price of oil was extremely fragile, and that to distribute largesse on the assumption that the price would remain high forever was improvident, to say the least.

The article ends as follows:

    Greece has a wonderful chance to change the history of Europe and to throw their caps of Bolívar into the air, as once the Italian carbonari did in Paris all those years ago. Lord Byron, who planned to settle in Bolívar’s Venezuela before sailing off to help liberate Greece, named his yacht Bolívar; he would certainly have been pleased with contemporary developments.

What this omits, apart from the chaos into which Venezuela has only too predictably fallen, is Bolívar’s own miserable end as a fugitive from what he himself had brought about, and his deeply despairing though splendidly lapidary last pronouncement: He who serves the revolution ploughs the sea.

It was never very difficult, even for persons such as I ungifted with foresight, to predict that Chavez’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution would end in tears, with shortages of practically everything and corruption on a Brobdingnagian scale. For any person possessed of the most minimal common sense, Gott’s own book about the Venezuelan mountebank provided enough evidence that this would happen. Gott’s economic utopia is a place in which everything for everybody is subsidized, and nothing has a real price. A cynic, said Oscar Wilde, is a person who knows the price of everything; a Gott is a person who thinks there should be no prices, and everything should be distributed according to everyone’s wishes.

But perhaps we should not be too hard on poor old Chavez and his Guardian acolyte, praise-singer, and sycophant. Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution was only European social democracy writ large and loud, a tropical parrot to Europe’s more soberly plumaged crows. After all, what is most of Western politics about other than the size and distribution of subsidies, the state, as the great French economist of the 19th century, Frédéric Bastiat, put it (he is the only economist in the history of the world who makes you laugh on practically every page), the means by which everyone seeks to live at everyone else’s expense?

June 25, 2016

Night Drive by Garnet Rogers (the book this time, not the album)

Filed under: Books, Cancon, Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

I’ve just ordered my copy from his website (or you can buy it from him at a live show). I hope I’m not violating any copyright by quoting a bit from the introduction [PDF]:

What I do know is that over the years immediately following Stan’s death, there arose a cottage industry surrounding his music, and a closely managed version of what was supposed to have been his life. It turns out it is easier to market a carefully crafted and maintained legend than a real person.

It was frustrating to watch from the sidelines.

As time went by, the brother I had grown up with, and the complex and kind and frustrating man I knew and loved, and with whom I worked for nearly 10 years had been made into another person entirely, a caricature, and a man I never knew. And all trace of the part I had played in the music, and the part our parents had played in supporting and financing the whole operation had been erased.

So, I did begin to write the stories down, starting one night in Grande Prairie, Alberta, sitting backstage waiting for the sound crew to return from dinner.

[…]

Being in a band is a bit like running away to join a low rent circus, or a badly organized pirate ship.

The band develops its own language and rules and strictly controlled and ritualized behaviour.

Any outsider is viewed with suspicion and hostility if they attempt to breach the inner wall.

Within the band, loyalties shift and morph, and hostility develops. Even something as simple as the way another chews his food is an excuse for a fight and a death grudge that can last for years, and a different person at any given time becomes the butt of all the jokes that day or week.

As a result, even a few months on the road will turn the closest and most well intentioned of friends into a small band of ragged savages, and the jokes are no longer funny. And your glasses are permanently broken, and you’ve lost control of the conch shell. And your former friends are now advancing towards you with sharpened sticks.

As a result some of the behaviour in this story will be inexplicable by any decent person’s standards.

All I can say is we got away with it mostly, because the first rule was to always have the other guy’s back when outsiders were present, even if you had plans to kill him later.

[…]

This is a really long book. I was horrified to see just how big it was the first time John printed it out, and I did my best to edit it down. I removed most of the “F” words. That lost 50 or so pages. I then took out all the sex scenes, which took care of a paragraph. (We were after all, a folk band.)

June 24, 2016

QotD: Affectations of public mourning

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

“Let us be clear,” as the Obama loves to say, in his station as talking-head-in-chief. Grand displays of public grieving are invariably fraudulent. Those who knew none of the victims are faking it. Those who encourage them are morally disordered.

David Warren, “Orlando”, Essays in Idleness, 2016-06-14.

June 23, 2016

Kitaro – Theme from Silk Road (live in Tokyo – 2009)

Filed under: Japan, Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Uploaded on 18 Jan 2010

Song: Theme from Silk Road
Live in Tokyo Orchard Hall
September 26th 2009.

Love and Peace Planet Music Tour 2009 in Tokyo

June 22, 2016

The art of the “dog whistle”

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Scott Alexander on the horribly anti-semitic dog whistle that cost Ted Cruz the Republican presidential nomination (or something):

Back during the primary, Ted Cruz said he was against “New York values”.

A chump might figure that, being a Texan whose base is in the South and Midwest, he was making the usual condemnation of coastal elites and arugula-eating liberals that every other Republican has made before him, maybe with a special nod to the fact that his two most relevant opponents, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, were both from New York.

But sophisticated people immediately detected this as an “anti-Semitic dog whistle”, eg Cruz’s secret way of saying he hated Jews. Because, you see, there are many Jews in New York. By the clever strategem of using words that had nothing to do with Jews or hatred, he was able to effectively communicate his Jew-hatred to other anti-Semites without anyone else picking up on it.

Except of course the entire media, which seized upon it as a single mass. New York values is coded anti-Semitism. New York values is a classic anti-Semitic slur. New York values is an anti-Semitic comment. New York values is an anti-Semitic code word. New York values gets called out as anti-Semitism. My favorite is this article whose headline claims that Ted Cruz “confirmed” that he meant his New York values comment to refer to Jews; the “confirmation” turned out to be that he referred to Donald Trump as having “chutzpah”. It takes a lot of word-I-am-apparently-not-allowed-to-say to frame that as a “confirmation”.

Meanwhile, back in Realityville (population: 6), Ted Cruz was attending synagogue services at his campaign tour, talking about his deep love and respect for Judaism, and getting described as “a hero” in many parts of the Orthodox Jewish community” for his stance that “if you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”

But he once said “New York values”, so clearly all of this was just really really deep cover for his anti-Semitism.

QotD: “Weird nerds are made, not born”

Filed under: Media, Quotations, Science, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Of all the sound, fury, and quiet voices of reason in the storm of controversy about tech culture and what is to become of it, quiet voice of reason Zeynep Tufekci’s “No, Nate, brogrammers may not be macho, but that’s not all there is to it” moves the discussion farther forward than any other contribution I’ve seen to date. Sadly, though, it still falls short of truly bridging the conceptual gap between nerds and “weird nerds.” Speaking as a lifelong member of the weird-nerd contingent, it’s truly surreal that this distinction exists at all. I’m slightly older than Nate Silver and about a decade younger than Paul Graham, so it wouldn’t surprise me if either or both find it just as puzzling. There was no cultural concept of cool nerds, or even not-cool-but-not-that-weird nerds, when we were growing up, or even when we were entering the workforce.

That’s no longer true. My younger colleague @puellavulnerata observes that for a long time, there were only weird nerds, but when our traditional pursuits (programming, electrical engineering, computer games, &c) became a route to career stability, nerdiness and its surface-level signifiers got culturally co-opted by trend-chasers who jumped on the style but never picked up on the underlying substance that differentiates weird nerds from the culture that still shuns them. That doesn’t make them “fake geeks,” boy, girl, or otherwise — you can adopt geek interests without taking on the entire weird-nerd package — but it’s still an important distinction. Indeed, the notion of “cool nerds” serves to erase the very existence of weird nerds, to the extent that many people who aren’t weird nerds themselves only seem to remember we exist when we commit some faux pas by their standards.

Even so, science, technology, and mathematics continue to attract the same awkward, isolated, and lonely personalities they have always attracted. Weird nerds are made, not born, and our society turns them out at a young age. Tufekci argues that “life’s not just high school,” but the process of unlearning lessons ingrained from childhood takes a lot more than a cap and gown or even a $10 million VC check, especially when life continues to reinforce those lessons well into adulthood. When weird nerds watch the cool kids jockeying for social position on Twitter, we see no difference between these status games and the ones we opted out of in high school. No one’s offered evidence to the contrary, so what incentive do we have to play that game? Telling us to grow up, get over it, and play a game we’re certain to lose is a demand that we deny the evidence of our senses and an infantilising insult rolled into one.

This phenomenon explains much of the backlash from weird nerds against “brogrammers” and “geek feminists” alike. (If you thought the conflict was only between those two groups, or that someone who criticises one group must necessarily be a member of the other, then you haven’t been paying close enough attention.) Both groups are latecomers barging in on a cultural space that was once a respite for us, and we don’t appreciate either group bringing its cultural conflicts into our space in a way that demands we choose one side or the other. That’s a false dichotomy, and false dichotomies make us want to tear our hair out.

Meredith Patterson, “When Nerds Collide: My intersectionality will have weirdoes or it will be bullshit”, Medium.com, 2014-04-23.

June 21, 2016

QotD: The nature of poetry

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

A year or two ago, in common with others, I received from America a request that I would define poetry. (America is the source of much irritation of this kind, to be sure.) I replied that I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat, but that I thought we both recognised the object by the symptoms which it provoked in us. One of those symptoms was described in connexion with another object by Eliphaz the Temanite: “A spirit passed before my face: the hair of my flesh stood up.” Experience has taught me, when I am shaving of a morning, to keep watch over my thoughts, because, if a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that the razor ceases to act. This particular symptom is accompanied by a shiver down the spine; there is another which consists in a constriction of the throat and a precipitation of water to the eyes; and there is a third which I can only describe by borrowing a phrase from one of Keats’s last letters, where he says, speaking of Fanny Brawne, “everything that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear.” The seat of this sensation is the pit of the stomach.

A.E. Housman, “The Name and Nature of Poetry”, 1933.

June 20, 2016

AL STEWART TOUR in NYC interview w/PAVLINA

Filed under: Britain, Media, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 18 Jun 2016

Hey! I’m with Folk Singer/Songwriter AL STEWART in NYC at THE CITY WINERY! We talk greatest hits like the iconic YEAR OF THE CAT song, JOHN LENNON, todays world and happenings, his singing style, working with ALAN PARSONS, and MORE! Check out Al’s site for latest info and albums:) The Pavlina Show airs on radio stations across the nation:)

June 18, 2016

The full story of the Pop-Tart kid suddenly makes more sense

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I admit, I’ve occasionally referred to the Pop-Tart incident as a prime example of bone-headed application of so-called “zero tolerance” rules, but given the full story, I’ll have to stop doing that:

Remember the Pop-Tart gun kid? He was 7 years old when he was suspended for chewing his breakfast (not actually a Pop-Tart, as it turned out) into the shape of a weapon and pretending to fire it at his classmates. Now he’s 11, and Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth just upheld his suspension.

In the end, the case hinged on whether the pastry incident was, in fact, the last straw in a long line of disciplinary problems. The Maryland school says yes; the parents say at the time of the suspension they were told that the two day suspension was a direct result of the deployment of food weaponry and that no other incidents were mentioned.

[…]

The records strongly suggest that this kid was trouble, but also that he was troubled. He was new to the school and joined the class late. In addition to the incidents of aggression, records contain multiple reports of the boy banging his own head on his desk and walls.

So why did the breakfast gun make the teachers go nuclear? On the day of the incident, before anyone at the school realized this would be a national story, the administration went straight to DEFCON 1, sending a letter home with every child in the school [PDF] which read, in part, “If your children express that they are troubled by today’s incident, please talk with them and help them share their feelings. Our school counselor is available to meet with any students who have the need to do so next week. In general, please remind them of the importance of making good choices.”

But the documentation makes equally clear that pointing chewed up breakfast food at his classmates wasn’t the most worrisome thing the kid got up to. The records say that over the span of a few months he left the school grounds during the instructional day, threw a chair, and punched a child in the nose.

If the school had suspended the child over that violent incident, I doubt anyone outside the local area would ever have heard of the situation. The media’s focus on the gun-shaped pastry part of the story ended up giving many people (including me) a very distorted picture of what was really the issue.

June 17, 2016

QotD: That time that Jeremy Clarkson sabotaged a Reliant Robin for a Top Gear segment

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Here’s what Clarkson confessed to the Sunday Times:

    TO JUDGE from the letters I get and the remarks in the street, it seems the most memorable thing I did on Top Gear was a short segment about the Reliant Robin. You may remember: I drove it around Sheffield and it kept falling over.

    Well, now’s the time to come clean. A normal Reliant Robin will not roll unless a drunken rugby team is on hand. Or it’s windy. But in a headlong drive to amuse and entertain, I’d asked the backroom boys to play around with the differential so that the poor little thing rolled over every time I turned the steering wheel.

    Naturally, the health and safety department was very worried about this and insisted that the car be fitted with a small hammer that I could use, in case I was trapped after the roll, to break what was left of the glass.

Reliant sold plenty of cheap, usable little three-wheelers, and somehow managed to never be charged for crimes against humanity. The cars weren’t the most stable things in the world (no pointy-fronted three-wheeler is) but they certainly didn’t tumble around like a roofie’d Mary Lou Retton at every turn.

Jason Torchinsky, “Clarkson Reveals Bombshell: Top Gear Modified Reliant Robins To Make Them Roll”, Jalopnik, 2016-01-13.

June 8, 2016

QotD: Categorizing science fiction

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In 1994, critical thinking within the SF field belatedly caught up with reality. Credit for this goes to David Hartwell and Cathryn Cramer, whose analysis in the anthology The Ascent of Wonder finally acknowledged what should have been obvious all along. Hard SF is the vital heart of the field, the radiant core from which ideas and prototype worlds diffuse outwards to be appropriated by writers of lesser world-building skill but perhaps greater stylistic and literary sophistication. While there are other modes of SF that have their place, they remain essentially derivations of or reactions against hard SF, and cannot even be properly understood without reference to its tropes, conventions, and imagery.

Furthermore, Gregory Benford’s essay in The Ascent of Wonder on the meaning of SF offered a characterization of the genre which may well prove final. He located the core of SF in the experience of “sense of wonder”, not merely as a thalamic thrill but as the affirmation that the universe has a knowable order that is discoverable through reason and science.

I think I can go further than Hartwell or Cramer or Benford in defining the relationship between hard SF and the rest of the field. To do this, I need to introduce the concept linguist George Lakoff calls “radial category”, one that is not defined by any one logical predicate, but by a central prototype and a set of permissible or customary variations. As a simple example, in English the category “fruit” does not correspond to any uniformity of structure that a botanist could recognize. Rather, the category has a prototype “apple”, and things are recognized as fruits to the extent that they are either (a) like an apple, or (b) like something that has already been sorted into the “like an apple” category.

Radial categories have central members (“apple”, “pear”, “orange”) whose membership is certain, and peripheral members (“coconut”, “avocado”) whose membership is tenuous. Membership is graded by the distance from the central prototype — roughly, the number of traits that have to mutate to get one from being like the prototype to like the instance in question. Some traits are important and tend to be conserved across the entire radial category (strong flavor including sweetness) while some are only weakly bound (color).

In most radial categories, it is possible to point out members that are counterexamples to any single intensional (“logical”) definition, but traits that are common to the core prototypes nevertheless tend to be strongly bound. Thus, “coconut” is a counterexample to the strongly-bound trait that fruits have soft skins, but it is sorted as “fruit” because (like the prototype members) it has an easily-chewable interior with a sweet flavor.

SF is a radial category in which the prototypes are certain classics of hard SF. This is true whether you are mapping individual works by affinity or subgenres like space opera, technology-of-magic story, eutopian/dystopian extrapolation, etc. So in discussing the traits of SF as a whole, the relevant question is not “which traits are universal” but “which traits are strongly bound” — or, almost equivalently, “what are the shared traits of the core (hard-SF) prototypes”.

The strong binding between hard SF and libertarian politics continues to be a fact of life in the field. It it is telling that the only form of politically-inspired award presented annually at the World Science Fiction Convention is the Libertarian Futurist Society’s “Prometheus”. There is no socialist, liberal, moderate, conservative or fascist equivalent of the class of libertarian SF writers including L. Neil Smith, F. Paul Wilson, Brad Linaweaver, or J. Neil Schulman; their books, even when they are shrill and indifferently-written political tracts, actually sell — and sell astonishingly well — to SF fans.

Eric S. Raymond, “Libertarianism and the Hard SF Renaissance”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-09.

June 4, 2016

QotD: Cyberpunk SF

Filed under: History, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In some respects, it took me thirty years to understand what I was seeing. I’m one of Heinlein’s children, one of the libertarians that science fiction made. Because that’s so, it was difficult for me to separate my own world-view from the assumptions of the field. In grokking the politics of SF, I was in the position of a fish trying to understand water.

Eventually, however, a sufficiently intelligent fish could start to get it about hydrodynamics — especially when the water’s behavior is disturbed by storms and becomes visibly turbulent. I got to look back through the midlist at the Futurian ripples. I lived through the New Wave storm and the pre-Startide-Rising doldrums. By the time cyberpunk came around, I was beginning to get some conscious perspective.

Cyberpunk was the third failed revolution against Campbellian SF. William Gibson, who is generally credited with launching this subgenre in his 1984 novel Neuromancer, was not a political writer. But Bruce Sterling, who promoted Gibson and became the chief ideologue of anti-Cambellianism in the late 1980s, called it “the Movement” in a self-conscious reference to the heady era of 1960s student radicalism. The cyberpunks positioned themselves particularly against the carnographic conservative military SF of David Drake, Jerry Pournelle, and lower-rent imitators — not exactly a hard target.

Despite such posturing, the cyberpunks were neither as stylistically innovative nor as politically challenging as the New Wave had been. Gibson’s prose has aptly been described as Raymond Chandler in mirror-shades. Cyberpunk themes (virtual reality, pervasive computing, cyborging and biosculpture, corporate feudalism) had been anticipated in earlier works like Vernor Vinge’s 1978 hard-SF classic True Names, and even further back in The Space Merchants. Cyberpunk imagery (decayed urban landscapes, buzzcuts, chrome and black leather) quickly became a cliche replicated in dozens of computer games.

Neal Stephenson wrote a satirical finis to the cyberpunk genre in 1992’s Snow Crash, which (with Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix and Walter John Williams’s Hardwired) was very close to being the only work to meet the standard set by Neuromancer. While most cyberpunk took for granted a background in which late capitalism had decayed into an oppressive corporate feudalism under which most individuals could be nothing but alienated and powerless, the future of Snow Crash was a tellingly libertarian one. The bedrock individualism of classical SF reasserted itself with a smartass grin.

By the time cyberpunk fizzled out, most fans had been enjoying the hard-SF renaissance for a decade; the New Wave was long gone, and cyberpunk had attracted more notice outside the SF field than within it. The leaders of SF’s tiny in-house critical establishment, however (figures like Samuel Delany and David Hartwell), remained fascinated on New Wave relics like Thomas Disch and Philip K. Dick, or anti-Campbellian fringe figures like Suzette Hadin Elgin and Octavia Butler. While this was going on, the readers voted with their Hugo ballots largely for writers that were squarely within the Campbellian tradition — Golden age survivors, the killer Bs, and newer writers like Lois McMaster Bujold and Greg Egan (whose 1998 work Diaspora may just be the single most audacious and brilliant hard-SF novel in the entire history of the field).

Eric S. Raymond, “Libertarianism and the Hard SF Renaissance”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-09.

June 3, 2016

The rising reactionary tide

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Self-described “libertarian sissy” Colby Cosh points out that every action has an equal and opposing reaction, especially in politics and culture:

Those signs are more obvious abroad — in central Europe, for example, where the principle of open borders and unlimited “welcoming” of refugees is colliding with the idea of nation-states as indigenous homes for distinct human collectivities. You would swear, at times, that European politicians were doing their best to revive fascism. There has been a long period of schizoid messaging from the political class, theirs and ours: when it comes to changing the makeup of neighbourhoods or transforming school curriculums, anything is possible. If you wish to preserve a small town, or save an old factory from global competition, or to raise your children in the beliefs you received in childhood, the iris of political possibility swirls shut.

Me, I like neoliberalism and globalization and diversity. It is revolutions and their mentality that I loathe. The liberal crusade, though it is essentially right and good, has a flaw in that it does not relent. It does not rest, and will not give ordinary persons a chance to take credit for what were supposed to have been heroic advancements in decency.

[…]

The “social conservative” side of these arguments gains no peace and receives no mercy when it loses, or even when it surrenders. Every new stage in the liberal jihad is a fresh opportunity for progressives to intimidate and castigate the hopelessly backward; the language and tactics used against those on the wrong side of the line grow ever more contemptuous and supercilious, not less.

Even to suggest that genuine social progress has actually taken place at an unprecedented and accelerating rate — that Western Democracy X is less sexist, less racist, less cruel to its minorities than ever — is to invite recrimination. You’d like to believe that, wouldn’t you, Hitler? Haven’t you seen what’s happening on Twitter?

At some point, inevitably, people will tire of being urged to progress while being told that none has ever happened; and the natural next step is for those people to stop accepting the tacit premises of the aggressive-progressive crusade. You see this happening in what is called the “alt-right” circles of the Internet: we’re backward? We’re blockheads? We’re racist and sexist? Very well, we won’t argue with you anymore: we’ll build our own Backward Blockhead Racist Sexist World. We’ll socialize amongst ourselves; we won’t read your newspapers or watch your television; we won’t live by your social taboos, accept your rules about what facts can be stated and in what terms.

If politics is an endless irrational power struggle between identity groups, we’ll take our own side: game on. This is dangerous, but no “progressive” ever accepts that his own obtuse sense of innate superiority has helped create the conditions for this. It’s called “reaction” for a reason.

QotD: “Free speech will always win”

Filed under: Europe, Law, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I don’t make statements like this a lot, and I don’t really feel like engaging in a huge debate. But there’s something I need to say regarding Charlie Hebdo.

God knows I have little in common with the folks who died. I doubt we’d have agreed on very much. Looking over some of their work, I find myself rolling my eyes a lot.

But I do agree on at least one matter with them — they should be free to speak their minds without fear.

I saw this tweet attached to one of the cartoons responding to the massacre:

“Still mortified about our fallen cartoonist colleagues, but free speech will always win.”

No.

No it won’t.

The history of the human race demonstrates /very/ convincingly that free speech is the /exception/ to the human condition, not the rule. For millennia, those who spoke out were imprisoned or killed. Hell, you could say something that wasn’t even subversive, just inept and stupid, and be destroyed for committing the crime of lese majeste.

Make no mistake. What we have today is a level of freedom and self-determination on a scale unparalleled in the history of our species. We live in what is, in many ways, a golden age. So much so that we give tremendous credit to the adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

But everyone always forgets the first half of that quote:

“Under the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword.”

I’m not sure I know of anyplace that’s ruled by anyone “entirely great.” That adage wasn’t a statement of philosophy, as it was originally used: it was a statement of irony.

Don’t believe me? Look around. Notice that everywhere you go in the world, whoever happens to be ruling seems to have a great many swords.

Still, the idea contained within the quote is a powerful one — that intangible ideas, thoughts, and beliefs can have tremendous power. And that’s why we should be paying close attention.

After all, intangible fear can be mightier than the sword, too. Hell, it has been for quite a while now. Don’t believe me? Try getting on an airplane without taking your shoes off in the security line. While you’re doing that, try cracking a joke about having a knife.

That’s the power of fear, guys.

We. Are. In. Danger.

Jim Butcher, “Freedom v Fear”, jimbutcher, 2015-01-07.

May 31, 2016

“Illegal” British schools – “If this whole fuss were any more of a smear you could use it to test for cervical cancer”

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Natalie Solent uses up some past-the-use-by-date outrage over a report of “illegal” schools in Britain:

Here is a BBC story from a couple of weeks ago: Thousands of children taught in ‘illegal schools’. Similar pieces appeared in the Times, the Guardian, and other newspapers. When this story came out I listened on the radio to an interview on the subject with some Ofsted guy, either the Sir Michael Wilshaw quoted by the BBC or one of his minions. Whoever it was, he came across as so evasive on one particular point that by comparison even the BBC interviewer was plain-spoken. From the way Ofsted Guy spoke of these illegal schools as places where only “religion” was taught you’d think clicking on the BBC Bitesize GCSE Religious Studies page makes a red light flash in GCHQ, and from the way he spoke of “radicalisation” you’d think that all roots resulted in the same flower. Oh, and from the way he spoke of these schools being “illegal” you would think that they had been convicted in a court of being illegal. The BBC interviewer pressed him and eventually got him to admit that the alleged illegality was merely his opinion, not having been tested in court, and that “some” of these schools were Islamic.

That’s progress of a sort. The Guardian article linked to above does not mention Islam at all but has a quote from a disgruntled former pupil at a Charedi school. We should all be very grateful to the Charedim and the Belzers. When one simply must have someone other than the Muslims to point to, they are there. They ought to start an agency and charge for their services: “Jews in Hats: the safe option for all your denunciation needs.”

The Times says the unauthorized schools are “predominantly Islamic”.

So far this post has almost written itself. The usual pathetic fear of naming Islam from the establishment, the usual pushback from angry commenters, the usual opportunity for bloggers like me to use up old out-of-code packets of sarcasm from the bottom of the freezer. But now things get a little odd and diffuse and unsatisfactory.

I would like to offer a few scattered thoughts regarding three points. (1) Not for the first time, the efforts of the media to conceal that some minority are disproportionately involved in some disfavoured activity has resulted in the public overestimating the involvement of that minority; (2) this whole effort on the part of the so-called Office for Standards in Education has all the characteristics of a power-grab and a smear; and (3) there is no evidence that these little informal schools, including the Muslim ones, do any worse than the state schools at either education or terrorism-prevention. There is some reason to suppose they might do better in some circumstances despite worse facilities. Many children turn to these schools having suffered bullying at normal schools. The low number of people involved means that everyone, teachers and pupils, knows everyone else; no one can “slip through the cracks”. Another benefit is that the presence of an affordable alternative helps keep more traditional types of schools on their toes.

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