Quotulatiousness

July 17, 2017

QotD: Utopias

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

All efforts to describe permanent happiness […] have been failures. Utopias (incidentally the coined word Utopia doesn’t mean ‘a good place’, it means merely a ‘non-existent place’) have been common in literature of the past three or four hundred years but the ‘favourable’ ones are invariably unappetising, and usually lacking in vitality as well.

By far the best known modern Utopias are those of H.G. Wells. Wells’s vision of the future is almost fully expressed in two books written in the early Twenties, The Dream and Men Like Gods. Here you have a picture of the world as Wells would like to see it or thinks he would like to see it. It is a world whose keynotes are enlightened hedonism and scientific curiosity. All the evils and miseries we now suffer from have vanished. Ignorance, war, poverty, dirt, disease, frustration, hunger, fear, overwork, superstition all vanished. So expressed, it is impossible to deny that that is the kind of world we all hope for. We all want to abolish the things Wells wants to abolish. But is there anyone who actually wants to live in a Wellsian Utopia? On the contrary, not to live in a world like that, not to wake up in a hygenic garden suburb infested by naked schoolmarms, has actually become a conscious political motive. A book like Brave New World is an expression of the actual fear that modern man feels of the rationalised hedonistic society which it is within his power to create. A Catholic writer said recently that Utopias are now technically feasible and that in consequence how to avoid Utopia had become a serious problem. We cannot write this off as merely a silly remark. For one of the sources of the Fascist movement is the desire to avoid a too-rational and too-comfortable world.

All ‘favourable’ Utopias seem to be alike in postulating perfection while being unable to suggest happiness. News From Nowhere is a sort of goody-goody version of the Wellsian Utopia. Everyone is kindly and reasonable, all the upholstery comes from Liberty’s, but the impression left behind is of a sort of watery melancholy. But it is more impressive that Jonathan Swift, one of the greatest imaginative writers who have ever lived, is no more successful in constructing a ‘favourable’ Utopia than the others.

The earlier parts of Gulliver’s Travels are probably the most devastating attack on human society that has ever been written. Every word of them is relevant today; in places they contain quite detailed prophecies of the political horrors of our own time. Where Swift fails, however, is in trying to describe a race of beings whom he admires. In the last part, in contrast with disgusting Yahoos, we are shown the noble Houyhnhnms, intelligent horses who are free from human failings. Now these horses, for all their high character and unfailing common sense, are remarkably dreary creatures. Like the inhabitants of various other Utopias, they are chiefly concerned with avoiding fuss. They live uneventful, subdued, ‘reasonable’ lives, free not only from quarrels, disorder or insecurity of any kind, but also from ‘passion’, including physical love. They choose their mates on eugenic principles, avoid excesses of affection, and appear somewhat glad to die when their time comes. In the earlier parts of the book Swift has shown where man’s folly and scoundrelism lead him: but take away the folly and scoundrelism, and all you are left with, apparently, is a tepid sort of existence, hardly worth leading.

George Orwell (writing as “John Freeman”), “Can Socialists Be Happy?”, Tribune, 1943-12-20.

July 15, 2017

Another critique of Nancy MacLean’s book smearing economist James M. Buchanan

Filed under: Books, Economics, History, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In the Washington Post, a fellow Duke professor airs some concerns over MacLean’s recent character assassination attempt, Democracy in Chains:

Professor Nancy MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains has received considerable attention since its release a few weeks ago. A recent Inside Higher Ed article reports on the critical reviews and Professor MacLean’s allegation that these critiques are part of a coordinated, “right-wing” attack on her work. The book’s central thesis — summarized elegantly in the Inside Higher Ed piece – is that Nobel Prize-winning economist James M. Buchanan “was the architect of a long-term plan to take libertarianism mainstream, raze democratic institutions and keep power in the hands of the wealthy, white few.” MacLean concludes that Buchanan’s academic research program — known as public choice theory — is a (thinly) disguised attempt to achieve this purpose, motivated by racial and class animus.

As president of the Public Choice Society (the academic organization founded by Buchanan and his colleague Gordon Tullock), I am writing to respond to Professor MacLean’s portrayal. Since she believes that critiques of the book are part of a coordinated attack funded by Koch money, let me begin with a disclosure. I have no relationship with the Kochs or the Koch organization. I have never received money from them or their organization, either personally or to support my research. I have not coordinated my response to the book with anyone. I do, however, have a personal connection to Buchanan. My father was a longtime colleague and co-author of Buchanan’s. I am also very familiar with Buchanan’s academic work, which relates directly to my own research interests. In short, I know Buchanan and his work well, but I am certainly not part of the “dark money” network Professor MacLean is concerned about.

There are many things to be said about Professor MacLean’s book. For an intellectual historian, the documentary record constitutes the primary source of evidence that can be offered in support of arguments or interpretations. For this reason, intellectual historians generally apply great care in sifting through this record and presenting it in a way that accurately reflects sources. As numerous scholars have by now shown (see here, and links therein, for an example), Professor MacLean’s book unfortunately falls short of these standards. In many instances, quotations are taken out of context or abbreviated in ways that suggest meanings radically at odds with the tenor of the passage or document from which they were taken. Critically, these misleading quotations are often central to establishing Professor MacLean’s argument.

[…]

What then, of “chains on democracy”? It is true that Buchanan did not think much of unfettered, majoritarian politics and favored constitutional rules that restrict majority rule. But the foregoing discussion should already make clear that this conclusion was not based on an anti-democratic instinct or a desire to preserve the privilege of a few. Instead, Buchanan’s careful analysis, originating in his seminal work with Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent, led him to the conclusion that in choosing a political framework (“constitution”), all individuals will typically have good reasons to favor some restrictions on majority rule in order to protect against the “tyranny of the majority.” As he argued, democracy understood simply as majority rule “may produce consequences desired by no one unless these procedures are limited by constitutional boundaries” (Buchanan 1997/2001: 226). In other words, what justifies “chains on democracy” for Buchanan are his commitment to individual autonomy and equality, and his emphasis on consent as a legitimating principle for political arrangements. To paint his endorsement of constitutional limits on the use of political power as motivated by an anti-democratic desire to institute oligarchical politics is to fundamentally misunderstand Buchanan’s sophisticated, subtle approach to democratic theory, which was committed above all to the idea that political arrangements should redound to the benefit of all members of a community.

July 11, 2017

The 905’ers – “the bridge-and-tunnel barbarians at the city’s gate”

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

Sniffy Torontonians have apparently adopted the NYC snobs’ favourite term for out-of-towners:

Not satisfied by the socioeconomic barriers to fine dining, downtown gourmands imagine any behaviour not matching their arbitrary standards of etiquette to be uncouth, going so far as to label outsiders to their tribe with a distinct pejorative: “the bridge-and-tunnel crowd.”

Originally a derisive description for commuters to Manhattan (the earliest known instance of its use is found in the December 13th, 1977 edition of the New York Times), the term has been adopted by the inhabitants of urban centres across North America to further alienate outsiders. In Toronto, it is used interchangeably with “905er,” a reference to the common area code for the suburbs surrounding the city.

To fully grasp the classism and snobbishness inherent in the term’s use, one is best advised to revisit an episode of the second season of The Sopranos, in which an annoying bar patron in Manhattan refers to the well-meaning, but simple-minded Christopher as a “bridge-and-tunnel boy.”

There is much sense, but little grace, to the formulation of such a descriptor. The self-absorbed downtown-dweller, you see, requires constant justification for their choice of domicile. The idea that one could escape the claustrophobic propinquity of the city and its higher cost of living while still enjoying its cultural amenities and nightlife on occasion is an affront – a threat that undermines not only the urbanite’s domestic decision-making, but to some extent, their very identity.

[…]

That an expectation of sustenance from ordering food at a restaurant would be scoffed at represents, at least on some level, a misappropriation of values. Oh, yes: It’s definitely the suburbanite who balks at the $35 plate of deconstructed spaghetti who is the fool. Believe it or not, you can live in a home with a dual car garage and still watch Chef’s Table on Netflix – and even understand why one might travel to Chicago to experience a meal at Alinea. However, if a chef is offering a Saturday night prix fixe, they’re probably not Grant Achatz.

Furthermore, it seems that if only one side of the urban versus suburban divide must be labelled ill-mannered, it should be the allotment who greets the other for an economic infusion in their service sector with disdainful mockery. The summer is littered with festivals and three- to five-course restaurant specials purposely constructed as an invitation for out-of-towners to come and open their wallets, and yet, the derisiveness projected toward them suggests a suffix should be attached to the Field of Dreams axiom: if you build it, they will come … for you to disparage them.

July 10, 2017

“Jane Jacobs was fatal to conventional wisdom”

Filed under: Books, Bureaucracy, Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In Reason, Sam Staley reviews Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs, edited by Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring, calling it “Jane Jacobs in her own words”:

In her books, articles, and activism, [Jacobs] destroyed the 20th century urban planning groupthink and laid out a radically different way of thinking about cities and society — one that rejected the prescriptive and centralized approach that dominated the planning profession, and one that instead highlighted how decentralized, market-driven decisions lay the foundation for vibrant and sustainable cities.

A journalist rather than an academic, Jacobs worked regular gigs at Iron Age and Architectural Forum and contributed to popular magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s. By the time she took a leave of absence from Architectural Forum to write what remains her most iconic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Jacobs was already starting to acquire a reputation as a fierce critic of conventional top-down planning.

She was not opposed to planning per se. Indeed, she believed small-scale plans were vital to cities’ sustenance. Neighborhood parks were essential to urban vitality, for example, and their location required planning to be successful. But to work, planning — and governance in general — needed to be devolved to the neighborhood level, moving away from large-scale systems that concentrate authority and power. Jacobs was thus an ardent critic of regional planning and regional government. Regionalizing, or “amalgamating,” made city government too far removed from the governed.

[…]

During the 1950s and ’60s, Jacobs used her position at Architectural Forum to examine urban development and redevelopment. Though the magazine championed modernist city planning, Jacobs emerged as one of modern planning’s chief critics during her stint there. Her journey from urban observer to planning critic began, as Zipp and Storring point out, as she examined how buildings, and then cities, worked rather than how they looked or were designed to function.

In the process, she started to develop her critique. “Philadelphia’s Redevelopment: A Progress Report” (July 1955) reviews the city’s redevelopment plans for 10,000 blighted acres. The city avoided large-scale slum clearing — what economist Martin Anderson would call “the federal bulldozer” a few years later — but still targeted large swaths of land for redevelopment using “a busybody concern with what private developers will be up to next.” (It wasn’t all bad, though: She lauded the city for incorporating some neighborhood features that reinforce such institutions as churches, schools, and playgrounds.) Another Forum column discusses the difference between “pavement pounders” — planners who walk around cities and neighborhoods to get a feel for the urban fabric and dynamic — and “Olympians,” those who plan based on maps and statistics. Her appreciation for small businesses as the glue that holds neighborhoods together comes out in “The Missing Link in City Redevelopment” (June 1956), where she laments the tendency to think of businesses merely as storefronts or spaces, not as enterprises that also serve as social centers and community anchors.

July 7, 2017

QotD: The Marxist influence on modern “Regency” romances

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

Which gets us to why these romances of people sashaying around in costumes while being 21st century moderns go against the wall: It is the perverse and self-aggrandizing view of history of the modern Marxist.

Because their religion is all pervasive, it projects itself into the past. Forget that there was no contraception, there was no modern medicine and the deaths in childbirth were shockingly high and that it was for women eventually a number game: have children often enough and you will die of something going wrong with the pregnancy and the birth. Women are just like men in their view and as “entitled” to consequence free sex. Everything else would be an injustice.

In the same way everyone is “entitled” to being supported while doing whatever they please, be it painting or rescuing unwed mothers. Anything else would be “unfair.” And since they all froze in kindergarten when “unfair” was the battle cry that would bring the teacher down, they think that complaint trumps EVERYTHING.

So they know those people in the past were just pretending at being unenlightened, but really were doing wrong ON PURPOSE. Which is why they hate the past and keep trying to remake it into the current-day-Marxists shining idol image which is always of themselves.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “What Has Gone Before Us”, According to Hoyt, 2015-08-03.

July 5, 2017

“[O]dious, hypocritical, and archly anti-capitalistic 19th-century slavery apologist John C. Calhoun is the spirit animal of contemporary libertarianism”

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

Nick Gillespie on Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, by Duke historian Nancy MacLean:

This book, virtually every page announces, isn’t simply about the Nobel laureate economist James Buchanan and his “public choice” theory, which holds in part that public-sector actors are bound by the same self-interest and desire to grow their “market share” as private-sector actors are.

No, MacLean is after much-bigger, more-sinister game, documenting what she believes is

    the utterly chilling story of the ideological origins of the single most powerful and least understood threat to democracy today: the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance…[and] a stealth bid to reverse-engineer all of America, at both the state and the national levels, back to the political economy and oligarchic governance of midcentury Virginia, minus the segregation.

The billionaires in question, of course, are Koch brothers Charles and David, who have reached a level of villainy in public discourse last rivaled by Sacco and Vanzetti. (David Koch is a trustee of Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website; Reason also receives funding from the Charles Koch Foundation.) Along the way, MacLean advances many sub-arguments, such as the notion that the odious, hypocritical, and archly anti-capitalistic 19th-century slavery apologist John C. Calhoun is the spirit animal of contemporary libertarianism. In fact, Buchanan and the rest of us all are nothing less than “Calhoun’s modern understudies.”

Such unconvincing claims (“the Marx of the Master Class,” as Calhoun was dubbed by Richard Hofstadter, was openly hostile to the industrialism, wage labor, and urbanization that James Buchanan took for granted) are hard to keep track of, partly because of all the rhetorical smoke bombs MacLean is constantly lobbing. In a characteristic example, MacLean early on suggests that libertarianism isn’t “merely a social movement” but “the story of something quite different, something never before seen in American history”:

QotD: Mussolini’s crimes

On the face of it, Mussolini’s collapse was a story straight out of Victorian melodrama. At long last Righteousness had triumphed, the wicked man was discomfited, the mills of God were doing their stuff. On second thoughts, however, this moral tale is less simple and less edifying. To begin with, what crime, if any, has Mussolini committed? In power politics there are no crimes, because there are no laws. And, on the other hand, is there any feature in Mussolini’s internal régime that could be seriously objected to by any body of people likely to sit in judgement on him? For, as the author of this book (The Trial of Mussolini by ‘Cassius’) abundantly shows — and this in fact is the main purpose of the book — there is not one scoundrelism committed by Mussolini between 1922 and 1940 that has not been lauded to the skies by the very people who are now promising to bring him to trial.

For the purposes of his allegory ‘Cassius’ imagines Mussolini indicted before a British court, with the Attorney General as prosecutor. The list of charges is an impressive one, and the main facts — from the murder of Matteotti to the invasion of Greece, and from the destruction of the peasants’ co-operatives to the bombing of Addis Ababa — are not denied. Concentration camps, broken treaties, rubber truncheons, castor oil — everything is admitted. The only troublesome question is: How can something that was praiseworthy at the time when you did it — ten years ago, say — suddenly become reprehensible now? Mussolini is allowed to call witnesses, both living and dead, and to show by their own printed words that from the very first the responsible leaders of British opinion have encouraged him in everything that he did. For instance, here is Lord Rothermere in 1928:

    In his own country (Mussolini) was the antidote to a deadly poison. For the rest of Europe he has been a tonic which has done to all incalculable good. I can claim with sincere satisfaction to have been the first man in a position of public influence to put Mussolini’s splendid achievement in its right light. … He is the greatest figure of our age.

Here is Winston Churchill in 1927:

    If I had been an Italian I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism… (Italy) has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.

Here is Lord Mottistone in 1935:

    I did not oppose (the Italian action in Abyssinia). I wanted to dispel the ridiculous illusion that it was a nice thing to sympathize with the underdog. … I said it was a wicked thing to send arms or connive to send arms to these cruel, brutal Abyssinians and still to deny them to others who are playing an honourable part.

Here is Mr Duff Cooper in 1938:

    Concerning the Abyssinian episode, the less said now the better. When old friends are reconciled after a quarrel, it is always dangerous for them to discuss its original causes.

Here is Mr Ward Price, of the Daily Mail, in 1932:

    Ignorant and prejudiced people talk of Italian affairs as if that nation were subject to some tyranny which it would willingly throw off. With that rather morbid commiseration for fanatical minorities which is the rule with certain imperfectly informed sections of British public opinion, this country long shut its eyes to the magnificent work that the Fascist régime was doing. I have several times heard Mussolini himself express his gratitude to the Daily Mail as having been the first British newspaper to put his aims fairly before the world.

And so on, and so on. Hoare, Simon, Halifax, Neville Chamberlain, Austen Chamberlain, Hore-Belisha, Amery, Lord Lloyd and various others enter the witness-box, all of them ready to testify that, whether Mussolini was crushing the Italian trade unions, non-intervening in Spain, pouring mustard gas on the Abyssinians, throwing Arabs out of aeroplanes or building up a navy for use against Britain, the British Government and its official spokesmen supported him through thick and thin. We are shown Lady (Austen) Chamberlain shaking hands with Mussolini in 1924, Chamberlain and Halifax banqueting with him and toasting ‘the Emperor of Abyssinia’ in 1939, Lord Lloyd buttering up the Fascist régime in an official pamphlet as late as 1940. The net impression left by this part of the trial is quite simply that Mussolini is not guilty. Only later, when an Abyssinian, a Spaniard and an Italian anti-Fascist give their evidence, does the real case against him begin to appear.

Now, the book is a fanciful one, but this conclusion is realistic. It is immensely unlikely that the British Tories will ever put Mussolini on trial. There is nothing that they could accuse him of except his declaration of war in 1940. If the ‘trial of war criminals’ that some people enjoy dreaming about ever happens, it can only happen after revolutions in the Allied countries. But the whole notion of finding scapegoats, of blaming individuals, or parties, or nations for the calamities that have happened to us, raises other trains of thought, some of them rather disconcerting.

George Orwell, “Who are the War Criminals?”, Tribune, 1943-10-22.

June 20, 2017

The Guardian turns on Justin

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Last week, Martin Lukacs savaged Justin Trudeau by way of contrast with British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the pages of The Guardian, which must count as one of the most unexpected sources of criticism for our mediagenic PM:

Their depiction in the international media couldn’t be more different.

You know Justin Trudeau from the Buzzfeed photo-spread or the BBC viral video: the feminist prime minister of Canada who hugs refugees, pandas, and his yoga-mat. He looks like he canoed straight from the lake to the stage of the nearest TED Talk – an inclusive, nature-loving do-gooder who must assuredly be loved by his people.

Then there’s what the columns of trans-Atlantic punditry told you about Jeremy Corbyn: the rumpled, charmless leader of UK’s Labour party whose supporters are fringe lunatics and his stances out-of-date utopianism. If he dared run an election with his political program, he would just as assuredly be rejected by the electorate.

So far, so conventional … and then the gloves come off:

Trudeau’s coronation as a champion of everything fair and decent, after all, has much to do with shrewd and calculated public relations. I call it the Trudeau two-step.

First, he makes a sweeping proclamation pitched abroad – a bold pledge to tackle austerity or climate change, or to ensure the rights of refugees or Indigenous peoples. The fawning international coverage bolsters his domestic credibility.

What follows next are not policies to ambitiously fulfill these pledges: it is ploys to quietly evacuate them of any meaning. The success of this maneuver – as well as its sheer cynicism – has been astonishing.

In this manner, Trudeau has basically continued, and in some cases exceeded, the economic agenda of Conservative Stephen Harper: approved mega fossil fuel projects, sought parliamentary power grabs, cut-back healthcare funding and attacked public pensions, kept up the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, undermined the prospect of universal childcare, maintained tax loopholes for the richest, and detained and deported thousands of migrants.

Out of breath? He has also broken an electoral reform promise, initiated a privatization scheme that is a massive corporate handout, left un-repealed a Tory political spy bill, launched air strikes in Iraq and Syria despite pledging a withdrawal, and inked the largest-ever weapons deal with the brutal, misogynistic Saudi Arabian regime.

Not exactly what those who voted for “real change” were expecting? Before you answer, here’s something titillating to distract and disarm you: Justin and Barack Obama rekindling their progressive bromance at an uber-cool Montreal diner. Jeremy Corbyn has shown us the meaning of a politics of genuine hope: what Trudeau has deployed has only ever been a politics of hype.

Trudeau’s latest progressive posturing is over foreign policy. Last week his government announced, to wide-spread acclaim, a brave course for their military that is independent of the reviled US administration. Except they will boost wasteful military spending by more than $60bn, a shocking seventy percent budgetary increase, and are already entertaining new Nato missions — exactly as Donald Trump has demanded. The doublespeak seems to have escaped the navel-gazing pundits: this is utter deference masquerading as defiance.

I don’t think Justin’s fans on the left need to be too worried about all that mucho-macho military posturing … until the promised spending is actually in the budget, it’s just politico-military theatre for our American allies than anything that will make a material difference to the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. Once Trump is satisfied that Justin is doing his bidding, it can all be allowed to quietly go away (like the last government’s promises to beef up the armed forces and live up to our NATO commitments).

H/T to Ted Campbell for the link.

June 13, 2017

QotD: Conservative love of the police

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

There is absolutely nothing that conservatives love more than cops. To the average right-winger, cops are everything good and wonderful about the world — a thin blue line of barrel-chested, chivalrous, honorable men who are standing, at great personal risk to themselves, against an onrushing hoard of savages who will murder our children, rape our wives, and sweep away all the gains of Civilization over the last 200 years. As a result, anyone who dares to criticize police officer is on the side of anarchy and violence; anyone who mindlessly adores the cops and will kneel down when asked to lick their boots is a defender of justice and of order.

What this means is that conservatives are constantly misinterpreting any legitimate criticism of American police officers as being some kind of an affront to civilized society, a sop on behalf of violent criminals, rapists, and murderers. Recently, a cop got pistol whipped after, according to him, decided not to use force because he was worried about how it would look on the evening news. […]

Basically, they take this officer’s word as law — the reason he didn’t react forcefully (even when his safety was threatened) is because, in the back of his mind, he was considering how this might potentially run on the front page of the New York Times. Maybe that’s true, but it seems equally likely that this officer made a bad call and then, when called upon to justify his poor decision making, invented an excuse that not only alleviated him of any wrongdoing, but also allowed him to proclaim that any critics of the police are putting lives in danger. Now maybe a beat cop is willing to risk a beating to stay out of the news, but I myself have my doubts.

Regardless, this story has traction because conservatives steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that any criticism of the American police could possibly have merit. All critiques of the cops is illegitimate, merely another example, as if any further examples were needed, of a) the fact that black activists are anti-white racists, b) that libertarians are anti-American anarchists, and c) that progressives wish for the policy to lie prone in the streets, drowning on their own blood. No one seriously criticizes the police due to actual and legitimate concerns — it is all as a result of anti-cop bigotry and demagoguery and it is putting lives at risk.

J.R. Ireland, “Cops Deserve Rightful Criticism No Matter What Whiny, Boot Licking Conservatives Might Like to Pretend”, Locust Kings, 2015-08-20.

Note: when I originally read the linked blog post, it was available to all. At some point in the last year or so, the original author or the owner of the blog changed to a members-only model, so you are now required to log in to read it (I don’t have a Blogger account). My apologies for any inconvenience.

June 5, 2017

“Islam now enjoys the same kind of moral protection from blasphemy and ridicule that Christianity once (wrongly) enjoyed”

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

Brendan O’Neill on Facebook:

One of the major problems we face is not that our society is too mean about Islam, but that it flatters Islam too much. Islam now enjoys the same kind of moral protection from blasphemy and ridicule that Christianity once (wrongly) enjoyed. All last week I received furious emails and messages in response to two articles I wrote about the Manchester attack, telling me that using the word Islamist is Islamophobic, because it demeans Islam and its adherents by suggesting they have something to do with terrorism. This is why our political leaders so rarely use the terms Islamism, radical Islam and Islamic terrorism: because they want to avoid offending Islam and also because they don’t want to stir up what they view as the public’s bovine, hateful prejudices. This censorious privilege is not extended to any other religion. We do not avoid saying “Catholic paedophiles” about the priests who molested children for fear of tarring all Catholics with the same brush. We happily say “Christian fundamentalist”about people who are Christian and fundamentalist. We use “Buddhist extremists” to describe violent Buddhist groups in Myanmar. Only Islam is ringfenced from tough discussion; only terms that at some level include the word “Islam” are tightly policed; only criticism of Islam is deemed a mental illness — Islamophobia.

This is incredibly dangerous. This censorious flattery of Islam is, in my view, a key contributor to the violence we have seen in recent years. Because when you constantly tell people that any mockery of their religion is tantamount to a crime, is vile and racist and unacceptable, you actively invite them, encourage them in fact, to become intolerant. You license their intolerance; you inflame their violent contempt for anyone who questions their dogmas; you provide a moral justification for their desire to punish those who insult their religion. From the 7/7 bombers to the Charlie Hebdo murderers to Salman Abedi in Manchester, all these terrorists — *Islamist terrorists* — expressed an extreme victim mentality and openly said they were punishing us for our disrespect of Islam, mistreatment of Muslims, ridiculing of Muhammad, etc. The Islamophobia industry and politicians who constantly say “Islam is great, leave Islam alone!” green-light this violence; they furnish it with a moral case and moral zeal.

There are no quick fixes to the terror problem, but here is a good start: oppose all censorship and all clampdowns on offence and blasphemy and so-called “Islamophobia”. Every single one of them, whether they’re legal, in the form of hate-speech laws, or informal, in the guise of self-censoring politicians being literally struck dumb on TV because they cannot muster up the word “Is…is…is…islamist”. This will at least start the process of unravelling the Islamist victimhood narrative and its bizarre, violent and officially sanctioned sensitivity to criticism. And if anyone says this is “punching down” — another intellectual weapon in the armoury of Islam-protecting censorship — tell them that it is in fact punching up: up against a political class and legal system that has foolishly and outrageously sought to police criticism of a religion. This means that the supposedly correct response to terror attacks — “don’t criticise Islam” — is absolutely the worst response. Making criticism of Islam as commonplace and acceptable as criticism of any other religion or ideology is the first step to denuding Islamist terrorism of its warped moral programme, and it will also demonstrate that our society prizes freedom of speech over everything else — including your religion, your God, your prophets, your holy book and your feelings.

Camille Paglia on Angela Merkel as “the best model for aspiring women politicians”

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

An interview with Camille Paglia about her latest book, , Angela Merkel as a role model for female politicians, and other topics:

DW: In one of your essays for Time magazine, you described Angela Merkel as “the best model for aspiring women politicians.” What did you mean by that?

Camille Paglia: What I have always admired about Angela Merkel is her ability to project confident leadership while also maintaining her naturalness and spontaneity as a real person with a rich personal life. She gardens, she cooks, she loves both sports and opera!

The contrast to Hillary Clinton as a public figure is immense. Hillary lives like a darkly brooding Marie Antoinette, barricaded behind her wealth and security guards. She seems to have no hobbies and few interests, aside from her pursuit of money and power.

Every public appearance is carefully scripted in advance for maximum publicity. She is stiff and guarded, incapable of improvisation, which is why she held virtually no press conferences at all during her presidential campaign.

Everything she does or says is researched and poll-tested by an army of hired sycophants. A recent book, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, has revealed that even the top managers of Hillary’s own presidential campaign were often unable to speak to her directly. Everyone had to go through her chic courtier and major-domo, Huma Abedin.

I love the way that Angela Merkel is completely content to look exactly her age. She has a relaxation, a comfort within her own skin, without all the glamorous, artificial interventions of Hillary’s fancy cosmetics, luxury hair styling, and expensive designer clothing. I regard Merkel as an important role model not simply as a politician but as a mature woman of the world.

It must be emphasized that I am not in any way evaluating Angela Merkel’s policy decisions, where there is reason for controversy, notably about immigration. However, in my view, Merkel has achieved the most successful persona yet for a modern woman politician: She is steely and pugnacious in conflict, yet she exudes warmth and humor, an ease with ordinary human life.

[…]

Where do your viewpoints come from?

As an adolescent in the early 1960s, I was directly inspired by first-wave feminism, the 19th-century protest movement that led to American women winning the right to vote in 1920.

I learned about feminism through my obsession with the aviatrix Amelia Earhart, whom I read about in a 1961 newspaper article. For the next three years, I obsessively pursued a research project into Earhart and her era. No one was talking about feminism at the time, but I was drawn to the subject because of my own aggressive, outspoken personality, which did not conform to standard definitions of femininity during that period.

By the time second-wave feminism was born in the late 1960s, I came into fierce conflict with the new feminists over many issues – above all their neurotic hatred of men and their puritanical hostility to sexual images in art history and Hollywood movies.

I was 16 years old and had just read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet cosmonaut, had just become the first woman launched into space. Newsweek published my letter to the editor, along with a photo of Amelia Earhart: I invoked Earhart’s precedent in protesting the exclusion of women from the American space program. I explicitly demanded “equal opportunity” for American women – and that remains my ultimate principle.

May 27, 2017

Terry Teachout – Building the Wall “is a piece of pornography written in order to stimulate the libidos of political paranoiacs”

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

Sir Humphrey Appleby reminds us that “plays attacking the government make the second most boring theatrical evenings ever invented. The most boring are plays praising the government”. After attending a performance of Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan, Terry Teachout would heartily agree:

Once more, with feeling: Politics makes artists stupid. Not invariably, you understand, but often enough, and pretty much always when the politician in question is Donald Trump, the mere mention of whom can instantaneously reduce writers on both sides of the Great Ideological Divide to red-faced screeching. I place in evidence Robert Schenkkan’s Building the Wall, a two-hander by the author of All the Way that is the dumbest play I’ve ever reviewed….

Building the Wall is set in the visiting room of a prison somewhere in deepest, darkest AmeriKKKa (oh, whoops, pardon me, I meant Texas). The characters are Rick (James Badge Dale), a white prisoner, and Gloria (Tamara Tunie), a black journalist who is writing a book about him. The year is 2019, by which time Mr. Trump has been impeached and “exiled to Palm Beach” after having responded to the detonation of a nuclear weapon in Times Square by declaring nationwide martial law and locking up every foreigner in sight. The bomb, needless to say, was a “false flag” operation, planted not by terrorists but by the president’s men. As for Rick, an avid Trump supporter, he’s since been jailed for doing something unspeakably awful, and at the end of an hour or so of increasingly broad hints, we learn that he helped the Trump administration set up a death camp — yes, a death camp, as in Zyklon B — for illegal immigrants.

What we have here, in other words, is a piece of pornography written in order to stimulate the libidos of political paranoiacs who find their Twitter feeds insufficiently lascivious. Mr. Schenkkan, on the other hand, has described “Building the Wall” as “not a crazy or extreme fantasy,” which tells you everything you need to know about his point of view. It is, of course, possible to spin exciting drama out of raging paranoia, but that requires a certain amount of subtlety, not to mention intelligence, and there is nothing remotely subtle or intelligent about Building the Wall, which is both dramaturgically inept and simple-minded well past the point of unintended comedy….

May 18, 2017

If you subsidize art, you’ll get more [bad] art

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

I missed this when it got posted initially … Theodore Dalrymple on an Irish government initiative to actually audit the art they’re busy subsidizing:

Like most governments these days, the Irish government is a patron of the arts. The problem is that most governments know as much about the arts as I know about how to select camels for a camel race.

Naturally, therefore, governments rely on advisers to advise them on artistic matters, in effect delegating to them the disbursement of funds. Here the problem is that the art world is now so corrupt morally, intellectually, and aesthetically that the advice it gives is more likely to resemble Mr. Madoff’s advice to investors than Lord Duveen’s to Henry Clay Frick. There has always been bad art, of course, but rarely has it been so heavily subsidized; and when we see work of which we are inclined to ask, “But is it art?” we should perhaps be asking instead, “Is it government-funded?”

The Irish Arts Council, however, recently came up with a novel, even transgressive idea (“transgressive” is the highest term of praise in current art criticism, incidentally), namely that the artists they subsidize should show some sign of artistic endeavor. It is true that the council’s choice of word, audit, was an unfortunate one, as if artists were accountants having their accuracy checked; and the eminent Irish writer Colm Toibin said that the council’s terminology — for example, “working artists engaged in productive practice” — had a North Korean ring about it; an exaggeration, no doubt, given that the North Korean regime subjects its artists to something more severe than mere audit, but one knows what he means. These days it is increasingly difficult to distinguish, stylistically, between an official circular and a page from The Selected Works of Kim Il-sung. (The only one of those communist leaders worth reading, by the way, is Enver Hoxha, who had a wonderful natural gift for poisonous invective and insult. As by the end of his life he had fallen out with everyone, he also had a lot of practice at it; his principle was never to speak well of the dead, especially if he had killed them himself.)

But Mr. Toibin was exercised about the very idea of demanding of artists that they actually produce something in return for the money they receive. After all, many a great artist in the past has had a fallow patch in his life, sometimes lasting decades; you can’t just go to an artist and insist that he be inspired, any more than a photographer can insist that his subjects be natural in front of the lens. His logic appears to be:

Great artists a and b had fallow patches

Artist c is having a shallow patch

Therefore artist c is great and indefinitely worth subsidy

Now, I’m not against patronage as such; sometimes I even wish I had had a patron who had relieved me of the necessity to earn my daily bread (and jam). Then, surely, I would have written an imperishable masterpiece; I would have had time for le mot juste instead of having to make do with the le mot approximatif that mere journalism, as against literature, requires. But the government doesn’t have the taste or discrimination to act as patron. It can’t even choose its advisers well.

May 8, 2017

“… it’s inconceivable that a book called Fascism for Kids would ever be printed by a reputable publisher”

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

Jarrett Stepman reviews a new MIT translation of Communism for Kids:

In order to make the deadliest ideology of the 20th century palatable to young Americans, Communism for Kids is coming to a bookstore near you.

This newly released book from MIT Press “proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism.”

The death toll from communist regimes in the 20th century is well-documented. One study found that more people were killed under communism than homicide and genocide combined, and only 9 million more people were killed in World War I and World War II combined than under governments of this ideology.

Another study showed how the mass killings of civilians by their own governments took an immediate nosedive after the collapse of the Soviet Union and international communism.

According to the Amazon synopsis, the book weaves a fairy tale of “jealous princesses, fancy swords, displaced peasants, mean bosses, and tired workers.”

It is bewildering why MIT Press would publish a book that cutesies up the political creed that gave the world Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and many more of the world’s most prolific mass murderers. None of these brutal dictators are mentioned in the book, according to The Washington Free Beacon.

Communism seemingly gets a pass to be reimagined as a sweet fable while it’s inconceivable that a book called Fascism for Kids would ever be printed by a reputable publisher.

[…]

This odd attempt to get kids into communism is unlikely to spawn a new generation of true believers on its own, but it does highlight the growing problem for younger Americans who are generally clueless about even recent history.

As The Daily Signal previously reported, a study from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found that millennials in particular are stunningly ignorant about what occurred under the Soviet Union and other communist regimes just a generation ago.

One-third of millennials surveyed actually believe that more people were killed under former President George W. Bush than under Soviet dictator Stalin.

As suggested, a copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm would be a far more accurate and informative gift than this piece of whitewash.

April 22, 2017

Movie on the Armenian Genocide attracts massive number of Turkish trolls

Filed under: History, Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

One of the worst aspects of the First World War was the attempt by Ottoman forces to eliminate the Armenian “threat” by launching an organized campaign of murder and deportation that killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. A new movie which is set in this time has been drawing trollish attention from Turkish detractors:

The Promise, the grandest big-screen portrayal ever made about the mass killings of Armenians during World War I, has been rated by more than 111,300 people on IMDb — a remarkable total considering it doesn’t open in theaters until Friday and has thus far been screened only a handful of times publicly.

The passionate reaction is because The Promise, a $100-million movie starring Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, has provoked those who deny that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred between 1915 and 1923 by the Ottoman Empire or that the deaths of Armenians were the result of a policy of genocide. Thousands, many of them in Turkey, have flocked to IMDb to rate the film poorly, sight unseen. Though many countries and most historians call the mass killings genocide, Turkey has aggressively refused that label.

Yet that wasn’t the most audacious sabotage of The Promise, a passion project of the late billionaire investor and former MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian.

In March, just a few weeks before The Promise was to open, a curiously similar-looking film called The Ottoman Lieutenant appeared. Another sweeping romance set during the same era and with a few stars of its own, including Ben Kingsley and Josh Hartnett, The Ottoman Lieutenant seemed designed to be confused with The Promise. But it was made by Turkish producers and instead broadcast Turkey’s version of the events — that the Armenians were merely collateral damage in World War I. It was the Turkish knockoff version of The Promise, minus the genocide.

“It was like a reverse mirror image of us,” said Terry George, director and co-writer of The Promise. George, the Irish filmmaker, has some experience in navigating the sensitivities around genocide having previously written and directed 2004’s Hotel Rwanda, about the early ’90s Rwandan genocide.

George bought a ticket to see it. “Basically the argument is the Turkish government’s argument, that there was an uprising and it was bad and we had to move these people out of the war zone — which, if applied to the Nazis in Poland would be: ‘Oh, there was an uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and we need to move these Jews out of the war zone,’” says George. “The film is remarkably similar in terms of structure and look, even.”

The movie itself, however, didn’t win over A.V. Club critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky:

Among the many virtues of James Gray’s The Lost City Of Z is its sense of proportion, which turns a decades-spanning historical epic into a pas de deux between vision and madness. Unfortunately, most recent historical epics have been more on the order of Terry George’s The Promise: messes of soap and cheese. Here at last is a film that tackles the Armenian genocide by way of a flimsy love triangle and an international cast (it really captures the diversity of the Armenian people), straining so hard to show its good intentions that it doesn’t bother to be directed. What does a movie that can’t even mount a competent horse chase — despite repeated attempts — have to say about the murder of 1.5 million people? At least George can rest easy knowing that his film is less bungled than Bitter Harvest, the February release that turned the Holodomor into the stuff of schmaltz. Up next, presumably, is Nicholas Sparks’ Auschwitz.

Doing his best impression of Omar Sharif, Oscar Isaac stars as Mikael Boghosian, a village apothecary who agrees to marry doe-eyed local girl Maral (Angela Sarafyan) in order to use her dowry to finance his dream of becoming a doctor. (Pity poor Maral, as no two members of the cast seem to agree on how to pronounce her name.) Arriving in Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Mikael moves in with his wealthy uncle and enrolls in medical school, but soon develops a crush on Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), the modern young woman who tutors his uncle’s children. But it’s 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is about to enter World War I as an ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary and within months will begin a strategic elimination of its large Armenian minority. As if to make matters worse, Ana has an American boyfriend, Chris Myers (Christian Bale), the Associated Press’ bureau chief of Armenian genocide exposition.

Still from The Promise, by Open Road Films.

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