Quotulatiousness

March 27, 2017

Do you believe the experts?

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

In Reason, Noah Berlatsky reviews The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols:

Believe the experts! Experts are not perfect, but they are more likely than non-experts to be right. Experts know what they do not know, and are therefore more cautious and better able to self-correct. Sometimes, in small ways, non-experts may outperform experts. But in general, America and the world need more respect for expertise.

That is the thesis of Tom Nichols’ The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. It is also, as it turns out, a critique of the book itself. Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, is an expert on Russia and national security; he is not, however, an expert on expertise.* His hand wringing about kids today is not grounded in a scholarly background in education policy or the history of student activism. He is a generalist dilettante writing a polemic against generalist dilettantes. As such, the best support for his argument is his own failure to prove it.

There are two central flaws in The Death of Expertise. The first is temporal. As the title implies, the book is written as though there were once a golden age when expertise was widely valued — and when the democratic polity was well-informed and took its duty to understand foreign and domestic affairs seriously. “The foundational knowledge of the average American is now so low that it has crashed through the floor of ‘uninformed,’ passed ‘misinformed’ on the way down, and finally is now plummeting to ‘aggressively wrong,'” Nichols declares. His proof for this statement is that “within my living memory I’ve never seen anything like it.”

As Nichols would ordinarily be the first to point out, the vague common-sense intuitions and memories of non-experts are not a good foundation for a sweeping theory of social change. Nichols admits that Americans are not actually any more ignorant than they were 50 years ago. But he quickly pivots to insist that “holding the line [of ignorance] isn’t good enough” and then spends the rest of the book writing as if he didn’t know that Americans are not getting more ignorant.

The myth of the informed democratic voter is itself an example of long-ingrained, stubborn anti-knowledge. In their brilliant new Democracy for Realists (Princeton University Press), the political scientists Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels explain that laypeople and experts alike have developed a “folk theory” holding that American democracy is built on an engaged electorate that casts its votes for rational policy reasons. Unfortunately, as Achen and Bartels demonstrate, decades of research have shredded this theory, stomped on it, and set the remains on fire.

March 25, 2017

How to become public enemy number 1 in Quebec

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Andrew Potter, writing for Maclean’s did much more than just ruffle a few feathers in his March 20th article titled “How a snowstorm exposed Quebec’s real problem: social malaise“:

Major public crises tend to have one of two effects on a society. In the best cases, they serve to reveal the strength of the latent bonds of trust and social solidarity that lie dormant as we hurry about the city in our private bubbles — a reminder of the strength of our institutions and our selves, in the face of infrastructure. Such was the case in New York after 9/11, and across much of the northeast during the great blackout of 2003.

But sometimes the opposite occurs. The slightest bit of stress works its way into the underlying cracks of the body politic, a crisis turns those cracks to fractures, and the very idea of civil society starts to look like a cheapo paint job from a chiseling body shop. Exhibit A: The mass breakdown in the social order that saw 300 cars stranded overnight in the middle of a major Montreal highway during a snowstorm last week.

The fiasco is being portrayed as a political scandal, marked by administrative laziness, weak leadership, and a failure of communication. And while the episode certainly contains plenty of that, what is far more worrisome is the way it reveals the essential malaise eating away at the foundations of Quebec society.

Compared to the rest of the country, Quebec is an almost pathologically alienated and low-trust society, deficient in many of the most basic forms of social capital that other Canadians take for granted. This is at odds with the standard narrative; a big part of Quebec’s self-image — and one of the frequently-cited excuses for why the province ought to separate — is that it is a more communitarian place than the rest of Canada, more committed to the common good and the pursuit of collectivist goals.

But you don’t have to live in a place like Montreal very long to experience the tension between that self-image and the facts on the ground. The absence of solidarity manifests itself in so many different ways that it becomes part of the background hiss of the city.

To start with one glaring example, the police here don’t wear proper uniforms. Since 2014, municipal police across the province have worn pink, yellow, and red clownish camo pants as a protest against provincial pension reforms. They have also plastered their cruisers with stickers demanding “libre nego” — ”free negotiations” — and in many cases the stickers actually cover up the police service logo. The EMS workers have now joined in; nothing says you’re in good hands like being driven to the hospital in an ambulance covered in stickers that read “On Strike.” While this might speak to the limited virtues of collective bargaining, the broader impact on social cohesion and trust in institutions remains corrosive.

We’re talking here about a place where some restaurants offer you two bills: one for if you’re paying cash, and another if you’re paying by a more traceable mechanism. And it’s not just restaurants and the various housing contractors or garage owners who insist on cash — it’s also the family doctor, or the ultrasound clinic.

The backlash to Potter’s article hasn’t yet diminished … he’s had to resign from his position with McGill University as Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (although he still holds a professorship there), and Maclean’s has made some modifications to the original text of the article in response to the outcry. In the Montreal Gazette, Don Macpherson says the anger isn’t at what Potter wrote, exactly:

Potter’s piece, though not entirely unfounded, is poorly informed and argued, and betrays the authoritative ignorance of an overconfident observer who only recently moved to this place. It is so indefensible that not even he would try to defend any of it less than 24 hours later. (May I never write anything for which I apologize the next day.)

But the vehemence of the reaction to it, and the indifference to Martineau’s similar column, show that Potter’s real crime is not what he wrote; it’s who wrote it, the language in which he wrote it, and for whom he wrote it.

That is, Potter is an anglophone, who wrote in English, for a publication from outside Quebec (whose editors were therefore unable to do their duty to protect their writer from himself by questioning such assertions as the one that restaurants here routinely offer their clients second bills for payment in cash, tax-free).

[…]

Potter is not family, even though he speaks French well enough to have taught at the Université de Montréal. And he would not be, even if he had been born and raised and educated here, and had spent his entire life here.

For to belong to the English-speaking community in Quebec is to be excluded, or to choose to exclude oneself, from the French-speaking one, the true Québécois nation.

And every now and then, it’s useful for everybody to be reminded of that.

March 23, 2017

QotD: The Economist

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

When I was living in a very remote part of the world I used to read The Economist from cover to cover, though it arrived two months late (communications in those days were not yet instantaneous). It made me feel that I was well-informed, if only in retrospect, despite my isolation. It was my window on the world.

Even then, though, I thought that it was dull and self-congratulatory, characterizing itself as of “the extreme centre.” I noticed that its reports at the front did not always coincide with the economic data at the back and that its prognostications were frequently belied by events — as, of course, most people’s prognostications are. Nevertheless, it managed to convey the impression that the disparities, insofar as they acknowledged them at all, were the fault of the events rather than of The Economist, and that the world had a duty to be as The Economist said it was and as it would be. The anonymity of the articles was intended to create the illusion that the magazine spoke from nothing so vulgar as a perspective, but rather from some Olympian height from which only the whole truth and nothing but the truth could be descried. It is the saving grace of every such magazine that no one remembers what he read in it the week before. Only by the amnesia of its readers can a magazine retain its reputation for perspicacity.

I found its style dull, too. How was it that correspondents from Lima to Limassol, from Cairo to Kathmandu, wrote in precisely the same fashion, as if everything that happened everywhere was fundamentally the same? Walter Bagehot, son-in-law of the founder of The Economist and its most famous editor, was a brilliant prose stylist and a wonderfully witty literary critic, among many other things; but The Economist has long been about as amusing as a speech by David Cameron. Its prose was the literary equivalent of IKEA furniture, prefabricated according to a manual of style; it tried to combine accessibility with judiciousness and arrived only at portentousness.

Who now reads it, and what for? I suppose there is a type of functionary who does not want to be caught out in ignorance of the latest political developments in Phnom Penh, or the supposed reasons for the latest uprising in Ouagadougou. The Economist is intellectual seriousness for middle management and MBAs. To be seen with it is a sign of belonging to, and of identifying with, a certain caste.

Theodore Dalrymple, “From Boring to Baffling”, Taki’s Magazine, 2015-08-01.

March 18, 2017

Camille Paglia on her latest book and other issues

Filed under: Books, History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Vice, Mitchell Sunderland talks to Camille Paglia about her latest book and other topics near to her heart:

BROADLY: Your book is called Free Women, Free Men. Why do you believe men need to be free for women to be free?
Camille Paglia: My primary inspiration since adolescence has been the thrilling decades of the 1920s and 30s, following American women gaining the right to vote in 1920. There were so many major women figures entering the professions—like my idols Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn, who were determined to show that women could achieve at the same level as men. The bold new women of that period did not insult or denigrate men. They admired what men had done and simply demanded the opportunity to show that women could match or surpass it. One of my persistent quarrels with second-wave feminism is how male-bashing became its default mode from the start. Movements often attract fanatics or borderline personalities, and that’s exactly what happened. Too many damaged women with bitter gripes against men took over feminist discourse. Kate Millett was a prime example — her life has been an endless series of mental breakdowns and hospitalizations.

What I’m saying in Free Women, Free Men is that women can never be truly free until they let men too be free — which means that men have every right to determine their own identities, interests, and passions without intrusive surveillance and censorship by women with their own political agenda. For example, if there is an official Women’s Center on the Yale University campus (which there is), then there should be a Men’s Center too — and Yale men should be free to carry on and carouse there and say whatever the hell they want to each other, without snoops outside the door ready to report them to the totalitarian sexual harassment office.

The book argues that construction workers and other working class men’s work have gone unnoticed. How has society ignored their contributions to society?
It is an absolute outrage how so many pampered, affluent, upper-middle-class professional women chronically spout snide anti-male feminist rhetoric, while they remain completely blind to the constant labor and sacrifices going on all around them as working-class men create and maintain the fabulous infrastructure that makes modern life possible in the Western world. Only a tiny number of women want to enter the trades where most of the nitty-gritty physical work is actually going on — plumbing, electricity, construction. Women have played virtually no role in the erection of those magnificent towers in every major city in the world. It’s men who operate the cranes or set the foundations or wash windows on the 85th floor. It’s men who troop out at 2:00 AM during an ice storm to restore power to neighborhoods where falling trees have brought down live wires. It’s men who mix the stinking, toxic cauldrons to spread steaming hot tar on city roofs. Last year in a nearby town, I drove by a huge, chaotic scene where emergency workers in hazmat suits were struggling with a giant pipe break, as raw sewage was pouring into the street. Of course all those workers up to their knees in a torrent of thick brown water were men! I’ve seen figures indicating that 92 per cent of people killed on the job are men — and it’s precisely because men are heroically doing most of the dangerous jobs in modern society. The bourgeois blindness of feminist leaders to low-status working-class labor by men is morally corrupt! Gay men, on the other hand, have always shown their awed admiration of working-class masculinity and fortitude. It’s no coincidence that a buff construction worker in a hard hat was one of the iconic personae of the gay disco group, the Village People, during the Studio 54 era!

[…]

How should young people preserve free speech?
Stand up, speak out, and refuse to be silenced! But identify the real source of oppression, which is embedded in the increasingly byzantine structure of higher education. Push back against the nanny-state college administrators who subject you to authoritarian surveillance and undemocratic thought control! I sent up a prophetic warning shot about this in my 1992 article, “The Corruption of the Humanities in the US,” which was published in London and is reprinted in my new book. The rapid, uncontrolled spread of overpaid administrators on college campuses over the past 30 years has marginalized the faculty, downgraded education, and converted students into marketing tools. Administrators are locked in a mercenary commercial relationship with tuition-paying parents and in a coercive symbiosis with intrusive regulators of the federal government. Young people have been far too passive about the degree to which their lives are being controlled by commissars of social engineering who pay lip service to liberalism but who are at root Stalinist autocrats who despise and suppress individualism. There is no excuse whatever for the grotesque rise in tuition costs, which has bankrupted families and imposed crippling debt on students trying to start their lives. When will young people wake up to the connection between rampant student debt and the administrator-sanctioned suppression of free speech on campus? Follow the money — the yellow brick road leads to the new administrator master class.

February 26, 2017

Julie Burchill on Harriet Harman’s memoir

Filed under: Books, Britain, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Spectator, Julie Burchill isn’t a fan of Harriet Harman’s recent political tell-all, A Woman’s Work:

Like the awful Diane Abbott, Harman is one of those thoughtful, serious-minded Labour women who seems to come alive when saying silly, thoughtless things. She even has the Voice — that more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger Sunday-school drone which remains convinced that if it keeps repeating itself in ever slower permutations, opposition will do the decent thing and crumble. Brexit, of course, was the ripest raspberry ever blown in the face of such wheedling arrogance. Still, it’s hard not to warm to her sharp-nosed, clear-eyed young face on the front cover, peering bravely into a future of policy reviews and quangos galore. Sadly her writing style is so dull it makes ditchwater look like a dry martini — if you had to guess the MP author, you might hazard John Major in his pedantic pomp — and this is rendered comical by the three dynamically named sections of the book: ‘Upheaval’, ‘Transformation’ and ‘Challenge’.

With almost three decades on the front bench, twice acting deputy leader and the first Labour woman to feature at Prime Minister’s Questions, Harman is the definitive Nearly Woman — as are all capable Labour women, trapped in a party which having signed up to the brotherhood of man seems quite happy to ride roughshod over their sisters, forever promising them jam tomorrow so long as they themselves pick the fruit, boil the berries and write the labels. At a time when the Conservatives are on their second female leader and Labour are led by a man who seems as impervious to sexism as any other weirdy beardy from Real Ale Society to mosque, Harman’s book seems especially poignant. But I must say that any sympathy I had for her went out of the window in the first 40 pages when, having already suffered physical and verbal gropings from lecturers, employers and comrades without complaining about it, she gets stalked by a nutter whose case she has been bothering the poor police about through her job with the National Council for Civil Liberties. ‘He was menacing and angry. Having been his solicitor, I was fully aware of every detail of his record of violent crime. I knew that he didn’t just threaten violence, he carried it out’ — and yet she doesn’t tell the coppers for years, until he actually threatens to kill her. ‘As I tipped out the carrier bags full of just some of the letters I’d kept, the police were aghast that I’d done nothing about it before.’

Here is the masochistic madness of do-gooding socialist feminism laid bare — and Labour wonder why women vote Tory! While we’re on the subject of perverts, instead of unreservedly presenting the NCCL as a heroic ‘thorn in the side of government’ forever fighting for the rights of the little man, Harman might have seen fit to mention that, during her time there, they also granted the Paedophile Information Exchange formal affiliate status at a time when this vile lobby group was suggesting that the age of consent be lowered to ten. A little mea culpa might not have gone amiss. Still, it’s in the nature of the great and the good not to admit to anything which might reveal them as the entitled, woolly-minded mediocrities they generally are, and Harman — despite her admirable work for women’s rights — is no exception.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

February 24, 2017

QotD: Western culture is in decline

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

Paglia: At first, I was very excited about the ethnic identity movement, because I feel very Italian-American and have always been in revolt against the WASP style that dominated academe — Leslie Fiedler himself was a victim of this, Harold Bloom was — there weren’t any Jews hired in the Yale English department in the mid-1950s, there were quotas on Jewish students admitted to Harvard, all things like that. But over time, what’s happened, I think, is that gender identity has become really almost fascist. It’s to me a very shrunk and miniaturized way of perceiving your position in the world and in the universe.

There [comes] a time when these fine gradations of gender identity — I’m a male trans doing this, etc. — this is a symbol of decadence, I’m sorry. Sexual Personae talks about this: That was in fact the inspiration for it, was that my overview of history and my noticing that in late phases, you all of a sudden get a proliferation of homosexuality, of sadomasochism, or gendered games, impersonations and masks, and so on. I think we’re in a really kind of late phase of culture.

reason: So that the proliferation of cultural identities, the proliferation of all sorts of possibilities is actually a sign that we’re…

Paglia: On the verge of collapse? Yes! Western culture is in decline. There’s absolutely no doubt about it, in my view, looking at the history of Egypt, of Babylon, of Byzantium, and so on. And so what’s happening is everyone’s so busy-busy-busy with themselves, with this narcissistic sense of who they are in terms of sexual orientation or gender, and this intense gender consciousness, woman consciousness at the same time, and meanwhile…

reason: Is that also racial or ethnic consciousness as well?

Paglia: Right now, to me, the real obsessions have to do with gender orientation. Although I think there’s been this flare-up [regarding race]. I voted for Obama, but I’ve been disappointed. I think we had hoped that he would inaugurate a period of racial harmony, and I think the situation has actually become even worse over recent years. It seems to be overt inflammatory actions by the administration to pit the races against each other, so I think there’s a lot of damage that needs to be healed.

But I think most of the problems as I perceive them in my students and so on, is that there’s this new obsession with where you are on this wide gender spectrum. That view of gender seems to me to be unrealistic because it’s so divorced from any biological referent. I do believe in biology, and I say in the first paragraph of Sexual Personae that sexuality is an intricate intersection of nature and culture. But what’s happened now is that the way the universities are teaching, it’s nothing but culture, and nothing’s from biology. It’s madness! It’s a form of madness, because women who want to marry and have children are going to have to encounter their own hormonal realities at a certain point.

Camille Paglia, “Everything’s Awesome and Camille Paglia Is Unhappy!”, Reason, 2015-05-30.

February 20, 2017

Rand Paul – “McCain’s been wrong on just about everything over the last four decades”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

On Sunday, Rand Paul got some media coverage for his criticism of Senator John McCain:

Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) ripped fellow Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) on Sunday after McCain criticized President Trump’s escalating war of words with the media.

He argued that the nation is “very lucky” that Trump is president and not McCain, who won the 2008 GOP nomination but lost to Barack Obama in the general election.

Paul said that McCain’s recent criticisms of Trump are driven by his “personal dispute” with the president over foreign policy.

He added that McCain and Trump are at odds because McCain supports the wide deployment of U.S. troops to protect and promote American interests abroad while he characterized Trump’s views as closer to a realpolitik approach to foreign policy.
“Everything that he says about the president is colored by his own personal dispute he’s got running with President Trump and it should be taken with a grain of salt because John McCain’s the guy who’s advocated for war everywhere,” Paul said on ABC’s This Week.

“He would bankrupt the nation. We’re very lucky John McCain’s not in charge because I think we’d be in perpetual war,” Paul added.

February 15, 2017

From the Golden Age of SF to the Chalk Age of today

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Here’s an interesting contrarian take on the history of SF: that the “Golden Age” of Campbellian SF was actually the end of the true Golden Age … the era of the pulps:

Here’s the Great Myth of the Golden Age of Science Fiction:

“Science Fiction sucked until the coming of John W. Campbell and the Big Three — Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein. Together they swept away the puerile garbage of the Pulps and brought about Science Fiction’s Golden Age.”

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, utter tosh. Bunk. Hokum.

It’s horseshit.

The coming of Campbell and co. did not save or elevate the Fantasy and Science Fiction genre. Before them, it was already popular and widely read. In addition to the Pulps, there were novels, radio serials, and (eventually) cinema serials.

Nor was F&SF at that time a literary ghetto, a genre thought fit only for teenage boys and pencil-necked geeks. Men and women, adults and children — all read the Pulps. Some F&SF magazines were aimed solely at the adult audience.

It took the twin assaults of Campbell and the Socialist-Libertine wing of the Futurians to turn the mainstream off of SF. And, despite periodic attempts to revive SF, it remains a ghetto today.

February 5, 2017

Being critical of Quebec can be a career-threatening move…

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

…which is why this Washington Post piece by J.J. McCullough is so unexpected:

As Canadian politicians and journalists scramble for tidy, ideologically pleasing narratives in the wake of this week’s senseless slaughter at a Quebec City mosque, one disturbing fact has gone conspicuously unmentioned: A disproportionate share of the country’s massacres occur in the province of Quebec.

I was born in 1984. Since then, Quebec has experienced at least six high-profile episodes of attempted public mass murder.

[…]

Criticism of Quebec, meanwhile, is deeply taboo. In a 2006 essay, Globe and Mail columnist Jan Wong posited a theory that Quebec’s various lone nuts, many of whom were not of pure French-Canadian stock, were predictably alienated from a province that places such a high premium on cultural conformity. She was denounced by a unanimous vote in the Canadian Parliament and sank into a career-ruining depression. The current events magazine Maclean’s ran a cover story in 2010 arguing that Quebec, where old-fashioned mafia collusion between government contractors, unions and politicians is still common, was easily “the most corrupt province in Canada.” That, too, was denounced by a unanimous vote of Parliament.

Privately, English Canadians are far less defensive. They grumble about Quebec’s dark history of anti-Semitism, religious bigotry and pro-fascist sentiment, facts which are rarely included in otherwise self-flagellating official narratives of Canadian history. They complain about the exaggerated deference the province gets from Ottawa as a “distinct society” and “nation-within-a-nation,” and its various French-supremacist language and assimilation laws, which they blame for creating a place that’s inhospitable, arrogant and, yes, noticeably more racist than the Canadian norm. And now, they have good reason to observe that the province seems to produce an awful lot of lunatics prone to public massacres, who often explicitly justify their violence with arguments of dissatisfaction towards Quebec’s unique culture.

The mosque shooting has been quickly politicized by the Canadian left who have seized upon its useful victims to say the sort of things they were going to say anyway: Canada is both a wicked Islamophobic place that must check its various privileges and a multicultural utopia whose pride and empathy for its Muslim community knows no bounds. Rather than drag the entire country along for this tendentious ride, it might be more useful to narrow the focus.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

January 31, 2017

QotD: Parts of the “Wild West” we won’t see on TV or in the movies

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

In the Nineties, a change began to take place. Reviewers and interviewers started describing Flashman (and me) as politically incorrect, which we are, though by no means in the same way.

This is fine by me. Flashman is my bread and butter, and if he wasn’t an elitist, racist, sexist swine, I’d be selling bootlaces at street corners instead of being a successful popular writer.

But what I notice with amusement is that many commentators now draw attention to Flashy’s (and my) political incorrectness in order to make a point of distancing themselves from it.

It’s not that they dislike the books. But where once the non-PC thing could pass unremarked, they now feel they must warn readers that some may find Flashman offensive, and that his views are certainly not those of the interviewer or reviewer, God forbid.

I find the disclaimers alarming. They are almost a knee-jerk reaction and often rather a nervous one, as if the writer were saying: “Look, I’m not a racist or sexist. I hold the right views and I’m in line with modern enlightened thought, honestly.”

They won’t risk saying anything to which the PC lobby could take exception. And it is this that alarms me – the fear evident in so many sincere and honest folk of being thought out of step.

I first came across this in the United States, where the cancer has gone much deeper. As a screenwriter [at which Fraser was almost as successful as he was with the 12 Flashman novels; his best-known work was scripting the Three Musketeers films] I once put forward a script for a film called The Lone Ranger, in which I used a piece of Western history which had never been shown on screen and was as spectacular as it was shocking – and true.

The whisky traders of the American plains used to build little stockades, from which they passed out their ghastly rot-gut liquor through a small hatch to the Indians, who paid by shoving furs back though the hatch.

The result was that frenzied, drunken Indians who had run out of furs were besieging the stockade, while the traders sat snug inside and did not emerge until the Indians had either gone away or passed out.

Political correctness stormed onto the scene, red in tooth and claw. The word came down from on high that the scene would offend “Native Americans”.

Their ancestors may have got pie-eyed on moonshine but they didn’t want to know it, and it must not be shown on screen. Damn history. Let’s pretend it didn’t happen because we don’t like the look of it.

I think little of people who will deny their history because it doesn’t present the picture they would like.

My forebears from the Highlands of Scotland were a fairly primitive, treacherous, blood-thirsty bunch and, as Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, would have been none the worse for washing. Fine, let them be so depicted, if any film maker feels like it; better that than insulting, inaccurate drivel like Braveheart.

The philosophy of political correctness is now firmly entrenched over here, too, and at its core is a refusal to look the truth squarely in the face, unpalatable as it may be.

George MacDonald Fraser, “The last testament of Flashman’s creator: How Britain has destroyed itself”, Daily Mail, 2008-01-05.

January 12, 2017

QotD: Scientific feuds

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

To the outside world the sheer nastiness of scientific feuds often comes as something of a surprise; politics, by contrast, is a relatively polite affair.

Matt Ridley, Genome: The autobiography of a species in 23 chapters, 1999.

January 8, 2017

The worship of NASA

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Science, Space, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

James Miller is more than a bit skeptical of those who unabashedly sing the praises of NASA and more generally the “I love science sexually” crowd:

I’ve never understood the slobbering love affair many have with outer space and, more specifically, NASA. Sure, the moon landing was an incredible feat demonstrating American strength at time of conflict with a competing superpower. But I’m in agreement with Gary North: It was the “most expensive PR stunt in American history,” with little other benefit. We have yet to put a man on another moon, let alone another planet. It’s been a half century since Neil Armstrong made history, and the federal government still fails at running a simple website.

The saccharine lengths some go to to express their admiration for NASA has always made me queasy. Like all government bureaucracies, it wastes an incredible amount of money. Yet conservative lawmakers like Ted Cruz never miss an opportunity to remind us that conquering new galaxies is paramount to our national survival.

If the windbags in Washington can’t put a stop to the caliphate of killers in the Middle East, what hope is there for putting a colony on Kepler-186f?

My antipathy for space travel goes hand in hand with my overall distaste for science worshipping. The celebrification of the study of the natural world has been as infantilizing and degrading as Richard Nixon’s clownish appearance on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. “I fucking love science”? I’d much rather string celebrity science guy Neil deGrasse Tyson up by his thumbs.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link. Kathy also throws shade at Star Wars and praises the heck out of Star Trek:

If Star Trek was actually set on Antarctica (and here, it is) I would watch the hell out of that (and have.)

But I also love how this fictional universe (which I would HATE to live in because they’ve abolished money, wear ugly clothes, and pretend to believe in peace and love and shit) has inspired real world, well, enterprises.

Yes, space travel is stupid. But it’s amazing that a black woman decided she could and would become an astronaut because she saw an actress do it on her TV when she was a kid.

I totally get that, and just get off on the phenomenon of people taking a sliver of fiction, and having seen this fake, plastic, non-functional prop, worked to create a functional version (and a multi-billion dollar industry.)

It’s like cargo culting, except by, well, smart people with way more resources who actually want shit to work.

Star WARS on the other hand is just life-wasting masturbatory etc EXCLUSIVELY.

Star Wars is nothing but escapism.

It has had no real world impact except that negative one. Star Wars has been a net negative on society while Star Trek has been a net positive:

December 18, 2016

QotD: The new Whitney Museum in New York City

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

On a recent visit to New York City, I had the opportunity to walk around the exterior of the new Whitney Museum, built at a cost of $442 million. It is a monument of a kind: to the vanity, egotism, and aesthetic incompetence of celebrity architects such as Renzo Piano, and to the complete loss of judgment and taste of modern patrons.

If it were not a tragic lost opportunity (how often do architects have the chance to build an art gallery at such cost?), it would be comic. I asked the person with whom I was walking what he would think the building was for if he didn’t know. The façade — practically without windows — looked as if it could be the central torture chambers of the secret police, from which one half expects the screams of the tortured to emerge. Certainly, it was a façade for those with something to hide: perhaps appropriately so, given the state of so much modern art.

The building was a perfect place from which to commit suicide, with what looked like large diving boards emerging from the top of the building, leading straight to the ground far below. Looking up at them, one could almost hear in one’s mind’s ear the terrible sound of the bodies as they landed on the ground below. There were also some (for now) silvery industrial chimneys, leading presumably from the incinerators so necessary for the disposal of rubbishy art. The whole building lacked harmony, as if struck already by an earthquake and in a half-collapsed state; it’s a tribute to the imagination of the architect that something so expensive should be made to look so cheap. It is certain to be shabby within a decade.

Theodore Dalrymple, “A Monument to Tastelessness: The new Whitney Museum looks like a torture chamber”, City Journal, 2015-04-22.

November 16, 2016

Looking back on the “Golden Age” of political satire

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

In Maclean’s, Flannery Dean explains how making politics seem like entertainment may have contributed to the defeat of Hillary Clinton through encouraging apathy among her potential supporters:

The next evening, during his Live Election Night special on Showtime, Colbert quickly lost his taste for the political absurdity that has defined his success. When it was clear Trump’s victory was all but assured, the amiable host couldn’t summon up the heart to tell a joke. Trump as president “is a horrifying prospect,” he confessed. “I can’t put a happy face on that and that is my job.”

Cue the sinking feeling that you didn’t really know what was going on — all this time you thought politics was just a big joke that you shouldn’t take too seriously.

It was a Colonel Kurtz moment for Colbert, his guests, and the audience that had tuned in to be entertained by political humour and not troubled by its complete inadequacy in the face of seismic change.

You can hardly blame them for being caught unaware of the new dark zeitgeist, though. For the past 15 years, satire has become the preferred mode of left-leaning civic engagement. And The Daily Show’s tone — sarcastic, smug, chiding, and then creepily sentimental — has infiltrated mainstream media on TV, in print, and online (take this Nov. 11 story on Slate, for instance, that’s suffused with the adolescent eye-rolling that often accompanies troubling political information these days).

Given satire’s cultural dominance, it is not surprising that many may have naively assumed any real threat to American democracy had somehow been ridiculed into nullity by the likes of Stewart and Colbert, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Larry Wilmore and Samantha Bee. But Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton revealed the error of the mainstream faith in political satire as an effective form of political engagement. In reality, our prolonged love affair with cracking wise wasn’t a tonic that shook people out of their apathy — it was a symptom of it.

[…]

“The more liberal you are, the more you see Colbert as a liberal skewering conservatives. But the more conservative you are, the more you see Stephen Colbert as a conservative skewing liberals.”

What did the Left see in Colbert’s murky mirror? Cute and kind of harmless hardliners — wind-up toys for them to play with. It’s hard not to see the mainstream media’s approach to Trump’s candidacy as being tainted by that dynamic: They were entertained by him, but few took him seriously.

That incredulity has legs, unfortunately. Many journalists and thinkers appear to be operating within the old zeitgeist still, assuming American politics is just another genre of entertainment, and that Trump is, at bottom, a soulless entertainer who was only pretending to be a racist, a xenophobe, and a despot in an effort to get elected.

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

November 8, 2016

Voxsplaining Vox

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

Nathan Robinson explains everything you need to know about Ezra Klein’s Vox:

For the past two years, Ezra Klein’s philosophy in running Vox.com has been precisely this: people do not need facts, they need explanations. The ordinary person is ill-equipped to interpret the facts, to figure out what they mean. Klein rejects what he calls the “More Information Hypothesis,” the idea that a better-informed citizenry could have more productive political debates. In fact, because we see facts through partisan lenses, facts alone are useless. People are irresponsible with knowledge; facts just make them “better equipped to argue for their own side.”

Thus for Klein, the job of experts is not to give the public raw information, so that it can come to its own conclusions. The job of experts is to process the information themselves, and tell the public what it ought to have concluded. They are not here to help you figure out what you believe. You are a hopelessly irrational consumer. They are here, rather, to tell you what to think.

Vox therefore does not hesitate to make strong judgments. Its headlines frequently declare that “No, X is not what you think it is…” or tell you “Here’s the real reason why…” It promises to give everything you need to know on a subject, eliminating the need for further curiosity on the reader’s part. If you don’t know what the 18 best television shows are, Vox will tell you. (Quantification is its specialty; Vox builds trust by knowing the numbers, by having the data.) The Vox “explainers” say it plainly: about this, there can be no doubt.

Yet strangely, Vox staff would likely bristle at being called mere manufacturers of “opinion” or “commentary.” This is because when a Vox-er declares a scandal to be “bullshit,” he intends it as fact rather than opinion. There is no attempt to distinguish between the journalistic and the editorial. It all blurs together as “analysis.” Vox is therefore an exercise in the simultaneous having and eating of cake; it wishes to both make strong value-laden assertions and be trusted as neutral and dispassionate. This means that Vox inherently practices a crude and cruel form of rhetorical dishonesty: it treats matters of profound complexity as if they are able to be settled through mere expertise. If anyone disagrees with what the wonks have concluded, they must be dumb, delusional, or both.

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