Quotulatiousness

March 25, 2015

The juggling act of mothers in the workforce

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

In The Federalist, Nichole Russell agrees that it is nearly impossible to “have it all” (a real career and a family) … at the same time, anyway:

The conversation about mothers in the workforce seems to be at once continuous and clamoring. Rarely does a working mother nail the problem and solution without sounding too whiny or too arrogant. Yet a recent commentary in Forbes comes as close to any as I have seen recently, complete with some eyebrow-raising admissions. If more men and women — parents and CEOs — viewed this exhausting issue with such clarity, perhaps we could finally work towards a solution.

In the piece, succinctly titled, “Female Company President: I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with,” Katharine Zaleski recounts how, while employed in high-powered editorial positions at The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, she regularly scoffed at the work ethic of other women just because they were mothers, either mentally or by failing to support the decisions they made related to work and family.

She reveals this penitent anecdote: “I secretly rolled my eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to last minute drinks with me and my team. I questioned her ‘commitment’ even though she arrived two hours earlier to work than me and my hungover colleagues the next day.”

What’s just as surprising as her admission that she evaluated a mother’s work-related achievements on a different scale than she did other employees is the equally important truth that the workforce isn’t just a tough place for moms because of their male bosses. “For mothers in the workplace, it’s death by a thousand cuts – and sometimes it’s other women holding the knives. I didn’t realize this – or how horrible I’d been – until five years later, when I gave birth to a daughter of my own.”

Zaleski goes on to discuss how she lamented her status as a new mom and employee only briefly before she determined to find a solution, both for her daughter so she wouldn’t feel “trapped” and other moms facing the same struggle. She wound up co-founding a startup called PowertoFly that matches women in technical positions they can do from home.

While many conservatives and liberals alike might call this an abandonment of the feminist theory, I think it actually expresses the heart of feminism — not radical left-wing feminism, but one of the few Oprah gems I agree with: “You can have it all, just not at the same time.”

March 24, 2015

The Thought Police on the academia beat

Filed under: Liberty,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

A fascinating … and disturbing … post from a Tumblr blog called White Hot Harlots on the pervasive fear among some academics. Not fear of the troglodytes of the right, but fear of their own students:

Personally, liberal students scare the shit out of me. I know how to get conservative students to question their beliefs and confront awful truths, and I know that, should one of these conservative students make a facebook page calling me a communist or else seek to formally protest my liberal lies, the university would have my back. I would not get fired for pissing off a Republican, so long as I did so respectfully, and so long as it happened in the course of legitimate classroom instruction.

The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip — not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery — and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.

Is paranoid? Yes, of course. But paranoia isn’t uncalled for within the current academic job climate. Jobs are really, really, really, really hard to get. And since no reasonable person wants to put their livelihood in danger, we reasonably do not take any risks vis-a-vis momentarily upsetting liberal students. And so we leave upsetting truths unspoken, uncomfortable texts unread.

There are literally dozens of articles and books I thought nothing of teaching, 5-6 years ago, that I wouldn’t even reference in passing today. I just re-read a passage of Late Victorian Holocausts, an account of the British genocide against India, and, wow, today I’d be scared if someone saw a copy of it in my office. There’s graphic pictures right on the cover, harsh rhetoric (“genocide”), historical accounts filled with racially insensitive epithets, and a profound, disquieting indictment of capitalism. No way in hell would I assign that today. Not even to grad students.

Everything’s Awesome and Camille Paglia is Unhappy!

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

Published on 19 Mar 2015

Growing up as “a gender nonconforming entity” during Eisenhower’s America wasn’t easy for cultural critic and best-selling author Camille Paglia. Her adolescence in small-town, upstate New York was marked by rejection, rebellion, and cross-dressing—all in reaction to the stultifying social norms of the 1950s and early ’60s.

So what does Paglia think of contemporary culture, with its openness to a wide variety of ever-proliferating gender, racial, and sexual identities?

Not much.

“I do not feel that gender is sufficient to explain all of human life,” Paglia tells Reason TV‘s Nick Gillespie. “This gender myopia, this gender monomania, has become a disease. It’s become a substitute for religion. It is impossible that the feminist agenda can ever be the total explanation of human life.”

Whether the subject is feminism or the fate of Western civilization, Paglia is no Pollyanna. In this wide-ranging discussion, she says higher education is going to hell, the Fourth Estate is an epic FAIL, millennials are myopic, contemporary criticism has croaked, and Hillary Clinton might singlehandedly destroy the universe. Even Madonna, once Paglia’s ideal of sex-positive feminism, seems to have lost her way.

Does the celebrated author of Sexual Personae and Break Blow Burn have any reason to get out of bed in the morning? Does she have any hope for the universe at all? Watch the video to find out.

March 23, 2015

“You’re doing it wrong!”

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

James Lileks on the omnipresent stories headlined like this: “Respiration: you’re doing it wrong”.

If there’s one thing that makes me want to go all Cagney and push a grapefruit in the Internet’s face, it’s the phrase “You’re Doing It Wrong.” It’s been a popular cliché with tiresome, bossy millennials for a few years, and every week brings more news of things you have performed incorrectly. These are never important things. One doesn’t read YOU’RE UNBLOCKING THAT CLOGGED ARTERY WRONG. It’s always “Putting cans in the fridge: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG,” written in the tone of someone standing behind you with corn-chip dust on his shirt and beard, smirking because you totally don’t know that putting the cans upside down recirculates the carbonation. Moron.

The other way to write the headline is helpful: Here’s a smart new way to do something you do all the time. (Such things are called “life hacks” by people who were not slapped enough by their editors in front of everyone.) But it’s not enough to find a new way; the old way has to be WRONG, and YOU are WRONG for DOING IT. This leads the author’s peers to find something else that everyone is doing wrong, and crow about it on some website that summons buzz and infuses the most banal innovation with virulence. How’s that piece about how everyone’s buttering their toast wrong doing? Forty-six thousand shares! Toast-buttering will never be the same!

This is why many adults read the stories of overeducated millennials stooped with college debt working crap jobs and writing piecework blather for fizzy websites, and are not overly burdened by pity.

March 22, 2015

National Review columnist says Obama is right and his critics are wrong … about the TPP negotiations

I’m a very strong free-trader, but what I’ve heard about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations makes me feel that it’s less to do with any kind of free trade and much more to do with “managed” trade, where favoured companies get sweetheart deals and cronies get their cut of the action. In spite of that, National Review‘s Kevin Williamson says we should all hold our noses and follow behind President Obama and sign the TPP so we can find out what’s in it, so everyone can get their free unicorn … or something:

If there were $3 trillion sitting on the sidewalk, would you stoop to pick it up? That is the main question facing advocates of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a proposed treaty to liberalize trade and investment among a dozen nations including the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, and Japan — and the trade-and-investment accord’s antagonists, too.

“The first thing you need to know is that almost everyone exaggerates the importance of trade policy,” writes TPP critic Paul Krugman in the New York Times. That may seem a strange sentiment for a man who won the Nobel Prize in economics (*) for his work on trade — perhaps the Sveriges Riksbank exaggerated the importance of trade economics? — but Professor Krugman has a point. The effects of large-scale international accords in trade and other economic areas are difficult to forecast, and such deals interact with other economic realities in ways that are not always entirely obvious. When NAFTA was under consideration, we were warned about that infamous “giant sucking sound” by Ross Perot and other protectionists, while the free-traders predicted that the accord would prove a massive boon to the U.S. economy, as well as to those of Mexico and Canada. The reality, as measured by the Congressional Budget Office and others, is that NAFTA has had a small positive effect on U.S. economic growth. Human progress is made up mostly of small positive effects. Beware policymakers offering dramatic promises: As Daniel Hannan points out, those advocating the adoption of the euro promised that it would add 1 percent GDP growth to each participating nation in perpetuity and that it would also provide a check on political extremism — wrong and wrong.

The dispute over TPP finds Barack Obama at odds both with congressional Democrats and with progressive activists, and making uncomfortably common cause with the most reliable partisans of free trade: most everybody who hates his guts.

Some Republicans have reservations about investing the president with “fast track” authority — meaning that he would be empowered to negotiate a deal that would then get a simple yes/no vote in Congress, which turns out to have a say in international affairs after all — because they are mindful of this imperial president’s habitual infliction of violence on the Constitution and of his seething contempt of the legislative branch in which he served for approximately eleven minutes. But it is unlikely that Republicans will in the end say no to a trade deal.

Professor Krugman’s case against TPP is, in brief, “meh.” He offers very little in the way of substantive criticism of the proposed accord, instead pooh-poohing it as modest, something that might add no more than 0.5 percent, and probably not even that, to the incomes of the participating nations. Those nations represent more than one third of the world’s economic output, though. Brad DeLong of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth addresses Professor Krugman’s sniffing directly: What if the additional growth were only half that 0.5 percent number? “In a Pacific region whose GDP is now approaching $30 trillion/year,” he writes, “that is $75 billion/year. Capitalize that at 4 percent/year and we get a net addition to world wealth of $3 trillion. That is indeed a very small number relative to the wealth of the world both now and discounted into the future. But that is a rather large number compared to other things the U.S. government might do this year. So why not grab for it?”

March 18, 2015

Level crossings are dangerous … very dangerous

Filed under: Railways,USA — Nicholas @ 05:00

Liveleak has two separate video angles of a recent fatal accident at a grade crossing in the Louisville Kentucky area. The first one shows the accident itself:

Cell phone footage captures the moment a Toyota Camry ignores the warning signals and drives into the path of a freight train in Buechel, Kentucky on March 14, 2015. Two people on the passenger side of the car were killed instantly, while the driver and another passenger were critically injured. The Camry was pushed at least a mile down the track.

The second video shows just how long it can take for a loaded freight train to stop even after the brakes are thrown into full emergency stop mode:

This is not how a justice system is supposed to work

Filed under: Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Nathan Robinson points out a key finding from the Ferguson investigation … that in a municipality of 21,000 people, the police have outstanding arrest warrants out for 16,000:

The Department of Justice’s 102-page report is a rich source of damning facts about the Ferguson criminal justice system. But tucked halfway in and passed over quickly is a truly revelatory set of figures: the arrest warrant data for the Ferguson Municipal Court.

It turns out that nearly everyone in the city is wanted for something. Even internal police department communications found the number of arrest warrants to be “staggering”. By December of 2014, “over 16,000 people had outstanding arrest warrants that had been issued by the court.” The report makes clear that this refers to individual people, rather than cases (i.e. people with many cases are not being counted multiple times). However, if we do look at the number of cases, the portrait is even starker. In 2013, 32,975 offenses had associated warrants, so that there were 1.5 offenses for every city resident.

That means that the city of Ferguson quite literally has more crimes than people.

To give some context as to how truly extreme this is, a comparison may be useful. In 2014, the Boston Municipal Court System, for a city of 645,000 people, issued about 2,300 criminal warrants. The Ferguson Municipal Court issued 9,000, for a population 1/30th the size of Boston’s.

This complete penetration of policing into everyday life establishes a world of unceasing terror and violence. When everyone is a criminal by default, police are handed an extraordinary amount of discretionary power. “Discretion” may sound like an innocuous or even positive policy, but its effect is to make every single person’s freedom dependent on the mercy of individual officers. There are no more laws, there are only police. The “rule of law,” by which people are supposed to be treated equally according to a consistent set of principles, becomes the “rule of personal whim.”

And this is precisely what occurs in Ferguson. As others have noted, the Ferguson courts appear to work as an orchestrated racket to extract money from the poor. The thousands upon thousands of warrants that are issued, according to the DOJ, are “not to protect public safety but rather to facilitate fine collection.” Residents are routinely charged with minor administrative infractions. Most of the arrest warrants stem from traffic violations, but nearly every conceivable human behavior is criminalized. An offense can be found anywhere, including citations for “Manner of Walking in Roadway,” “High Grass and Weeds,” and 14 kinds of parking violation. The dystopian absurdity reaches its apotheosis in the deliciously Orwellian transgression “failure to obey.” (Obey what? Simply to obey.) In fact, even if one does obey to the letter, solutions can be found. After Henry Davis was brutally beaten by four Ferguson officers, he found himself charged with “destruction of official property” for bleeding on their uniforms.

March 17, 2015

The drones in the FAA don’t want you posting drone footage to YouTube

Filed under: Government,Technology,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Take it away, Tamara:

The FAA says no posting of drone footage on YouTube?

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

That’s a good one, Canute. Have fun with that.

Anyone want to start a betting pool on how long before we have a drone footage on YouTube of another drone hovering along with a Guy Fawkes mask over its camera?

March 16, 2015

Comparing statistics from different sources

Filed under: Economics,Government,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Forbes, Tim Worstall points out that you need to be careful in using statistics sourced from different organizations or agencies, as they don’t necessarily measure quite the same thing, despite the names being very similar:

There are certain sets of statistics put out (largely by the OECD nations like the US and so on) which we really can believe as saying exactly what is indicated upon the tin.

However, that isn’t the same as saying that we should be willing to just accept all such US or OECD statistical numbers. Take, for example and this is one that I have banged on about for many a year now, The US and other OECD measures of poverty. The standard OECD measure of who is in poverty is below 60% of median income, adjusted for housing costs and household size. This is a measure of inequality, not actual poverty. It is also after all of the things that are done to reduce poverty, benefits, redistribution and all that. The US measure is, again adjusted for household size but not for housing costs, a measure of actual poverty. It is not related to average incomes but to what was low income in the early 1960s updated for inflation. And more significantly, it is before almost all of the things done to try to alleviate poverty. The OECD poverty measure is thus a measure of how much (relative) poverty there is after the things done to reduce poverty and the US standard number is a measure of how much absolute poverty there is before attempts to reduce poverty.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with either measure. But we’ve got to be very careful in acknowledging the difference between the two before we go and do something stupid like directly compare them, US poverty rates against the poverty rates of other OECD countries. Yet we do in fact see such comparisons being made all the time.

Another such little mistake of current interest is the way that we’re continually told that US average wages haven’t risen for decades. And it’s true, in one sense, that they haven’t. But wages aren’t actually what we should be looking at: total compensation from work is. And that’s been rising reasonably nicely over that same time period. The difference is in the benefits that we get over and above our wages from going to work. That health care insurance for example. This is more a matter of manipulation in the presentation of the statistics and if you see someone bleating about “wages” be very careful to check and see whether they are talking about what is of interest, compensation, or about wages which is a sign that they’re trying to mislead.

QotD: Idealistic youth and bitter reality

Filed under: Politics,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If there’s one thing young people, particularly college people, like, its the feeling of being at the edge of revolution, being part of something big and important. Most children to some degree grow up with this belief, and the more wealthy and safe the families, the greater the expectation. But this confidence gotten more pronounced in later generations.

Raised to believe they are special and unique and destined for greatness by educators and parents more concerned about self esteem in children than being ready to face a cruel, uncaring world, children expect that they will be terribly important and pivotal in the future, and many never grow out of this stage.

This is played off of by the left, which presents the world as a horrible place that they can change. The entire Obama campaign in 2008 was all about this; “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Vote for Obama and together we’ll fix all the problems!

So far they’ve been very successful with this approach, because young people, particularly those of college age, are just beginning to realize the way they were raised and the way they understand the world ought to be is very different from how it really is.

The left shows up and tells them it can be that way, if only everyone would do what they say. That we can have that wonderful utopia, that we can fix it all with a few more taxes, a bigger government, a few more laws. Some will have to give up things, but that’s okay they’re all richer than you are anyway. Lacking discernment and experience enough in life to see through this, young people eat it up with a spoon. It’s been tremendously effective for 40 years or more.

Christopher Taylor, “TRANSGRESSIVE”, Word Around the Net, 2014-05-30.

March 14, 2015

The parenting style of the Greatest Generation

Filed under: Humour,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:54

In the Wall Street Journal, Dave Barry considers the incongruous fact that his parent’s generation clearly had more fun than his did:

They didn’t go to prenatal classes, so they didn’t find out all the things that can go wrong when a person has a baby, so they didn’t spend months worrying about those things. They just had their babies, and usually it worked out, the way it has for millions of years. They didn’t have car seats, so they didn’t worry that the car seat they just paid $249 for might lack some feature that the car seat their friends just paid $312 for does have. They didn’t read 37 parenting handbooks written by experts, each listing hundreds, if not thousands, of things they should worry about.

It would never have occurred to members of my parents’ generation to try to teach a 2-year-old to read; they figured that was what school was for. And they didn’t obsess for years over which school their kids should attend, because pretty much everybody’s kids went to the local schools, which pretty much everybody considered to be good enough. They didn’t worry that their children would get bored, so they didn’t schedule endless after-school activities and drive their kids to the activities and stand around with other parents watching their kids engage in the activities. Instead they sent their kids out to play. They didn’t worry about how or where they played as long as they got home for dinner, which was very likely to involve gluten.

I’m not saying my parents’ generation didn’t give a crap. I’m saying they gave a crap mainly about big things, like providing food and shelter, and avoiding nuclear war. They’d made it through some rough times, and now, heading into middle age, building careers and raising families, they figured they had it pretty good. Not perfect, but pretty good. So at the end of the workweek, they allowed themselves to cut loose — to celebrate their lives, their friendships, their success. They sent the kids off to bed, and they partied. They drank, laughed, danced, sang, maybe stole a piece of an IBM sign. They had fun, grown-up fun, and they didn’t feel guilty about it.

Whereas we modern parents, living in the era of Death by Handshake, rarely pause to celebrate the way our parents did because we’re too busy parenting. We never stop parenting. We are all over our kids’ lives — making sure they get whatever they want, removing obstacles from their path, solving their problems and — above all — worrying about what else will go wrong, so we can fix it for them. We’re in permanent trick-or-treat mode, always hovering 8 feet away from our children, always ready to pounce on the apple.

Yes, we’ve gotten really, really good at parenting. This is fortunate, because for some inexplicable reason a lot of our kids seem to have trouble getting a foothold in adult life, which is why so many of them are still living with us at age 37.

They’re lucky they have us around.

H/T to Lenore Skenazy for the link.

“If this is feminism, it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama”

Filed under: Politics,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:53

In Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown looks at the reactions to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

I just came across this great February piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the current “melodramatic” strain in mainstream feminist politics. In it Laura Kipnis, a cultural critic and film professor, writes of a “sexual paranoia” that pervades academia, turning once typical behavior suspect and infantilizing students (especially young women) in the process.

Kipnis, 58, has seen a few cycles of feminist thought and activism since her time as an undergraduate, now witnessing millennial politics firsthand from Northwestern University. The author of books such as Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America and The Female Thing: Dirt, Envy, Sex, Vulnerability, she’s very much a feminist herself. In a review of Kipnes’ latest book of essays — covered and praised widely by major media — Salon book critic Laura Miller called her a “worldly, ambiguity-friendly thinker.” This is all to say that Kipnis is no Phyllis Schlafly, or even Caitlin Flanagan. Her liberal-feminist credentials are solid, and she has no need to be provocative just to be provocative.

[…]

Many of the most contentious campus rape stories to be popularized by the media involve students who didn’t initially see themselves as victims. Only after talking with friends, professors, or others do they “come to view” the experience as sexual assault. This certainly isn’t always lamentable — young, inexperienced women may be genuinely unsure about what’s abusive or atypical sexual behavior. But it’s clear that in at least some cases, young women are being steered into more sinister interpretations than may be warranted.

“If this is feminism,” writes Kipnis, “it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama. The melodramatic imagination’s obsession with helpless victims and powerful predators is what’s shaping the conversation of the moment, to the detriment of those whose interests are supposedly being protected, namely students. The result? Students’ sense of vulnerability is skyrocketing.”

Kipnis is far from the only one to suggest that by treating students as “trauma cases waiting to happen,” we’re creating exquisitely fragile monsters, to students’ own detriment — stunting their emotional growth and distorting their interpersonal expectations.

In December, Megan McArdle excoriated the view that because young women tend to be uncomfortable saying “no” to sexual suitors, we need a new framework for sorting out sexual consent. “It is not the word ‘no’ that women are struggling with; it is the concept of utter refusal,” wrote McArdle. “That is what has to change, not the words to describe it. … Unfortunately, no one else can bear the burden of deciding who we want to have sex with, and then articulating it forcefully.” And a feminism that tries to compensate for this, rather than teach young women to be firm about their own sexual wishes, is counterproductive.

The same goes for protecting students from pyschological “triggers,” which they will certainly encounter in the real world. If someone is so traumatized by certain subjects or language that they can’t cope upon exposure, it speaks to deeper psychological issues that should be addressed, not sidestepped and saved for a later day.

March 13, 2015

US corporate welfare by state

Filed under: Business,Economics,Government,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Reason posted an infographic showing which corporation gets the most state support for every state in the union:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

March 11, 2015

QotD: Inequality

Filed under: Economics,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The left has a habit of framing “inequality” (their current social-justice hobbyhorse) in economic terms, which is fortunate because it makes debunking their nonsense easier. The left’s fundamental bit of chicanery lies in their failure to define “inequality” in any rigorous way. This is very intentional, for it allows them to frame inequality however they please — generally in the usual race/gender/class terms and using money as a yardstick. Rich white men have too much money; poor brown people (especially poor female brown people) have too little; therefore equality demands a reapportioning of the money so everybody has more or less the same amount. This is not socialism, they insist (bizarrely, given that this is pretty much the textbook definition of socialism). This is fairness.

[…]

Ultimately, the left’s vision of “equality” is not an empowering vision; it is a cramped and stingy philosophy of reduced expectations and lowered hopes. The unspoken (but never unclear) theme is that it is the State, not individuals or families, who should own and dispense of wealth. A happy man, in the view of the left, is one who receives money from the State and then spends it on consumption with no thought given to the future (for the future belongs to the State). Legacy is what the State says it is. The citizen should always be a creature of the now, concerned with nothing but short-term needs and gratifications, and with no allegiances beyond the vital one to the State.

Monty, “Wealth as an end and wealth as means to an end”, Ace of Spades HQ, 2014-06-24.

March 10, 2015

Magna Carta in the modern world

Mark Steyn talks about the decline in state observance (and in David Cameron’s case, even awareness) of the significance of Magna Carta:

Real rights are like Magna Carta: restraints on state power. Too many people today understand the word “rights” to mean baubles and trinkets a gracious sovereign bestows on his subjects — “free” health care, “free” community college, “safe spaces” from anyone saying anything beastly — all of which require a massive, coercive state regulatory regime to enforce.

But, to give it is full name, Magna Carta Libertatum (my italics – I don’t think they had ‘em back then) gets it the right way round. It was in some respects a happy accident. In 1215, a bunch of chippy barons were getting fed up with King John. In those days, in such circumstances, the malcontents would usually replace the sovereign with a pliable prince who’d be more attentive to their grievances. But, having no such prince to hand, the barons were forced to be more inventive, and so they wound up replacing the King with an idea, and the most important idea of all — that even the King is subject to the law.

In this 800th anniversary year, that’s a lesson worth re-learning. Restraints on state power are increasingly unfashionable among the heirs to Magna Carta: in America, King Barack decides when he wakes up of a morning what clauses of ObamaCare or US immigration law he’s willing to observe or waive according to royal whim; his heir, Queen Hillary, operates on the principle that laws are for the other 300 million Americans, not her. In the birthplace of Magna Carta, a few miles from that meadow at Runnymede, David Cameron’s constabulary leans on newsagents to cough up the names and addresses of troublesome citizens who’ve committed the crime of purchasing Charlie Hebdo.

The symbolism was almost too perfect when Mr Cameron went on TV with David Letterman, and was obliged to admit that he had no idea what the words “Magna Carta” meant. Magna Carta Libertatum: The Great Charter of Liberty. I’m happy to say Mr Cameron’s Commonwealth cousins across the Atlantic in Ottawa are more on top of things: One of the modestly heartening innovations of Stephen Harper’s ministry is that, when immigrants to Canada take the oath of citizenship, they’re given among other things a copy of Magna Carta.

Why? Because everything flows therefrom — from England’s Glorious Revolution to the US Constitution and beyond. It’s part of the reason why the English-speaking world, in contrast to Continental Europe, has managed to sustain its freedoms across the generations.

On the topic of Cameron’s inability to say what Magna Carta translates to in English, Richard Anderson is convinced it was a deliberate ploy by Cameron to downplay his (expensive) educational background:

A Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a graduate of Eton and Brasenose no less, no more forgets stuff like this then he forgets his wife’s name or his archenemy’s personal weaknesses. He flubbed it on purpose. Boris Johnson, the rather eccentric Tory mayor of London, figured out Davy pretty much from the start:

    Johnson, a classics scholar, said: “I think he was only pretending. I think he knew full well what Magna Carta means. It was a brilliant move in order to show his demotic credentials and that he didn’t have Latin bursting out of every orifice.”

A bit of context is required here. Since the Roman Empire went the way of all flesh Latin has been the language of the European elite. At first this was for practical purposes. For centuries any useful knowledge that had survived after the fall of the Empire in the west was in either in Latin or Greek. But long after Gutenberg, whose revolution made the vernacular languages of Europe important stores of knowledge, Latin remained the mark of a gentleman.

[…]

Mr Cameron is a graduate of Eton, an Old Etonian as they say. What is Eton? It makes Upper Canada College look like a cheap poseur. It is a super private high school that has produced nineteen of Britain’s fifty-three Prime Ministers. Harvard has produced a mere eight American Presidents. The University of Toronto a corporal’s guard of four Canadian PMs. Harold Macmillan, Britain’s snottiest modern PM, once derisively quipped that Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet had more Estonians than Etonians. A meritocratic break from an aristocratic past. At least it seemed at the time. Cameron’s particular team of rivals is decidedly Toff heavy. His Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is a descendant of Henry III and his father was a baronet.

And what distinguishes the education of a Toff, even in these fallen times, is a sprinkling of Latin. Two millennia after the Romans decided the British Isles, or at least the warmer bits of it, were worth conquering the language of Cicero is still the mark of the Great and Good. Boris Johnson was perfectly correct. David Cameron almost certainly knew what Magna Carta meant. He was pandering to the lowest common denominator by pretending not to know.

But knowing the meaning of the name of the foundational document of British liberty, and by extension the liberty of the English speaking peoples, isn’t quite like being able to translate Virgil from the original into the Greek. It’s not specialized knowledge and should never be seen as such. This is what every schoolboy should and did know until the day before yesterday. That the Prime Minister of the day should think it politically advantageous to pretend not to know basic historical information is a chilling thought. That he was pandering was disgraceful but hardly shocking. That such pandering would be successful is a condemnation of modern Britain as severe as anything found in the works of Anthony Daniels.

There is stooping to conquer and then there is surrendering to the modern Vandals. David Cameron is the man holding the gate wide open.

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