Quotulatiousness

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.

It’s silly to criticize any president for their travel and security expenses

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

Earlier this week, Kevin Williamson lamented critics both on the right and on the left for misguided complaints about the costs of the presidency:

The Obama administration represented a great missed opportunity for conservatives, because conservatives spent so much time criticizing him for the wrong things. It’s not that there wasn’t serious criticism of the president’s thinking and his policies (see eight years worth of this magazine, for starters) but much of the popular/populist criticism was pretty dumb: He plays too much golf, he takes too many vacations, his family spends too much money on fancy hotels and resorts, etc. Some of these stupid criticisms were made in a similarly stupid fashion by similarly stupid people for similarly stupid reasons when George W. Bush was president.

A lot of those stories went something like: “Heavens, it costs $x for the Obamas to spent six days at Martha’s Vineyard!” But that $x is generally misleading, inasmuch as it costs tons of money to keep Air Force One staffed and prepped and ready to fly irrespective of whether the president actually is traveling in it, and we pay those Secret Service (the name of that agency is odious) agents irrespective of whether the president is in the White House or Hawaii. It isn’t lobster tails and upgrades at the Ritz that really drive the cost of presidential travel expenditures: It is the presidency itself.

The presidential entourage is bloated and monarchical, and it is an affront to our republican traditions. But “even if his household entourage does resemble the Ringling Bros. Circus as reimagined by Imelda Marcos when it moves about from Kailua Beach to Blue Heron Farm,” the cost of operating the presidential household is small beans in the context of federal spending. It just doesn’t matter — it is boob bait for Bubba.

Now, we’re getting the same thing about Trump. It costs $x for him to keep moving about from Trump Tower to the White House to Mar a Lago. Some have tried to make hay out of the fact that some $500,000 in Trump campaign funds (not tax dollars, contrary to some claims) has been paid out to Trump-affiliated companies. This is deeply silly criticism: If there is a campaign event at a Trump hotel or another property, then of course the campaign has to pay for it: If it does not, then the Trump Organization almost certainly is making an illegal political donation to the Trump campaign. Trump did not write the rules.

(They’d probably be a hell of a lot worse if he had.)

April 11, 2017

QotD: The great American humourists

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

The great American humorists have something in common: hatred.

H. L. Mencken and Mark Twain both could be uproariously funny and charming — and Twain could be tender from time to time, though Mencken could not or would not — but at the bottom of each man’s deep well of humor was a brackish and sour reserve of hatred, for this country, for its institutions, and for its people. Neither man could forgive Americans for being provincial, backward, bigoted, anti-intellectual, floridly religious, or for any of the other real or imagined defects located in the American character.

Historical context matters, of course. As Edmund Burke said, “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” Twain was born in 1835, and there was much that was detestable in the America of Tom Sawyer. Mencken, at the age of nine, read Huckleberry Finn and experienced a literary and intellectual awakening — “the most stupendous event in my life,” he called it — and followed a similar path. Both men were cranks: Twain with his premonitions and parapsychology, Mencken with his “Prejudices” and his evangelical atheism. He might have been referring to himself when he wrote: “There are men so philosophical that they can see humor in their own toothaches. But there has never lived a man so philosophical that he could see the toothache in his own humor.”

The debunking mentality is prevalent in both men’s writing, a genuine fervor to knock the United States and its people down a peg or two. For Twain, America was slavery and the oppression of African Americans. For Mencken, the representative American experience was the Scopes trial, with its greasy Christian fundamentalists and arguments designed to appeal to the “prehensile moron,” his description of the typical American farmer. The debunking mind is typical of the American Left, which feels itself compelled to rewrite every episode in history in such a way as to put black hats on the heads of any and all American heroes: Jefferson? Slave-owning rapist. Lincoln? Not really all that enlightened on race. Saving the world from the Nazis? Sure, but what about the internment of the Japanese? Etc. “It was wonderful to find America,” Twain wrote. “But it would have been more wonderful to miss it.”

Kevin D. Williamson, “Bitter Laughter: Humor and the politics of hate”, National Review, 2016-08-11.

April 6, 2017

American “isolationism” between the wars

Filed under: Americas, China, Europe, History, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Reason‘s Jesse Walker linked to this article by Andrew Bacevich which helps to debunk the routine description of US foreign policy between the first and second world wars as “isolationism”:

… McCain is worried about the direction of world events, with Russian provocations offering but one concern among many. Patterson shares McCain’s apprehensions, compounded by what he sees as a revival of “the isolationism in Europe and America that precipitated World War II.”

Now as an explanation for the origins of the war of 1939-1945, American “isolationism” is as familiar as the sweet-and-sour pork featured at your local Chinese takeout joint. Its authenticity is equally dubious. Yet Patterson’s assertion has this virtue: It captures in less than a sentence a prime obstacle to instituting a realistic, fact-based approach to foreign policy.

In truth, isolationism is to history what fake news is to journalism. The oft-repeated claim that in the 1920s and 1930s the United States raised the drawbridges, stuck its head in the sand, and turned its back on the world is not only misleading, but also unhelpful. Citing a penchant for isolationism as a defect afflicting the American character is like suggesting that members of Congress suffer from a lack of self-esteem. The charge just doesn’t square with the facts, no matter how often repeated.

Here, by way of illustrating some of those relevant facts, is a partial list of places beyond the boundaries of North America, where the United States stationed military forces during the interval between the two world wars: China, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Panama, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. That’s not counting the U.S. Marine occupations of Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic during a portion of this period. Choose whatever term you like to describe the U.S military posture during this era — incoherent comes to mind — but isolationism doesn’t fill the bill.

As for Patterson’s suggestion that the behavior of the United States “precipitated” World War II, the claim is simply laughable. World War I precipitated World War II, or more specifically the European malaise resulting from the bloodletting of 1914-1918, compounded by the Bolshevik Revolution and the spread of fascism, and further exacerbated by profoundly shortsighted policies pursued by Great Britain and France. Throw into the mix the Great Depression, Japanese imperial ambitions, and the diabolical plotting of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen, and you have the makings of a catastrophe. Some few observers foresaw that catastrophe, but preventing it lay well beyond the ability of the United States, even if U.S. leaders had been clairvoyant.

April 1, 2017

Repackaging H.L. Mencken for modern-day conservative tastes

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

At The American Conservative, D.G. Hart attempts to rescue H.L. Mencken’s reputation from the progressives:

H.L. Mencken has a conservative problem. The Baltimore journalist became the poster boy for literary modernism thanks to his literary criticism and nationally syndicated op-ed columns, in addition to his work as a magazine editor, most notably at American Mercury. But he ranks well behind the modernist poets T.S. Eliot or Wallace Stevens as an acceptable literary figure for conservative consumption. The reason has much to do with Mencken’s skepticism and irreverence. He mocked Puritanism famously as the cultural force that gave Americans a moralistic squint. Worse, he recommended the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche as an antidote to Victorian morality and then promoted Theodore Dreiser, whose novels offended censors. Mencken proved his heretical ways at the Scopes Trial, where he mocked the prosecution led by William Jennings Bryan and the “simian faithful” who hung on the Great Commoner’s every word. Everywhere Mencken turned, his mantra seemed to be “just say no” to inherited moral, intellectual, and literary standards.

[…]

It doesn’t help conservatives who have a soft spot for Mencken that Gore Vidal took inspiration from the Baltimorean. Vidal’s own moralism could be as priggish as any fundamentalist’s, but that did not stop him from recognizing Mencken as another writer who was too good for America. Vidal applauded Mencken’s ridicule of Americans’ intelligence: “The more one reads Mencken, the more one eyes suspiciously the knuckles of his countrymen,” Vidal wrote, “looking to see callouses from too constant a contact with the greensward.” How grass produces callouses is anyone’s guess, but that imagery’s challenge did not stop Vidal from recommending Mencken’s unbelief. Mencken viewed religion, Vidal contended, “as a Great Wall of China designed to keep civilization out while barbarism might flourish within the gates.” Vidal was convinced that only the few, the proud promoters of licentiousness like himself could recognize Mencken’s charms.

Of course, conservatives have saner writers like Joseph Epstein, longtime editor of The American Scholar, to speak on Mencken’s behalf. Epstein grew up at a time when reading Mencken was required by “young men with intellectual interests.” The reason was Mencken’s iconoclasm — his constant deflating of politicians, reformers, moralists, preachers, and “all the habits and attitudes and hidebound views that for him marched under the flag of twentieth-century Puritanism.” But Epstein noticed that as he became older, Mencken’s appeal grew. For starters, “few American writers have been funnier.” And Mencken’s prose was “original and unmistakable” — “strong verbs, exotic nouns, outrageous adjectives, a confident cadence … and wide learning.” Epstein also credited Mencken with an accessible and engaging point of view that relied on basic common sense. “Like Nietzsche, Mencken could be wildly extravagant, but unlike Nietzsche he was always sane,” Epstein wrote. “Like [George Bernard] Shaw, Mencken made a living out of detesting hypocrisy; but unlike Shaw, he was without the pretensions of the pundit.”

One way of putting Epstein’s point is that with Mencken there is more than meets the eye, a truism that registers as scientific fact when measuring Mencken’s literary output. Over his career he authored approximately 10 million words. That works out roughly to 40,000 pages of manuscript. At roughly 350 pages per book manuscript, that leaves Mencken with the equivalent of 115 books. Much more than meets the eye, indeed.

March 27, 2017

Do you believe the experts?

Filed under: Books, Education, 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.

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