Quotulatiousness

August 15, 2017

Cathy Young talks to James Damore

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

At Reason Cathy Young interviews former Google employee James Damore, who was fired after an internal memo he wrote criticizing the company’s diversity policies “went viral”:

James Damore, a former software engineer at Google, was suddenly propelled to fame after an internal memo he wrote criticizing diversity policies at the company leaked to the media. The document, sometimes labeled a “manifesto” (and, less kindly, a “screed” and a “rant”), asserted that the gender disparities in tech jobs are at least partly the result of innate differences between the sexes (primarily of women being more people-oriented and less attracted to such work) and that the diversity programs intended to boost the number of women at Google are counterproductive and possibly illegal.

While the document proposed alternative ways to make the workplace at Google more female-friendly, it was widely labeled “anti-diversity” and “anti-woman.” After 28-year-old Damore was identified as the author of the memo, he was fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.”

Since then, the controversy has raged unabated — perhaps unsurprisingly, since it touches on many hot-button, polarizing issues from gender equity in the workplace to freedom of speech. A few days ago, I wrote about the debate for USA Today. I interviewed Damore via Google Hangouts text chat on Friday. The transcript has been lightly edited for style, flow and clarity.

Cathy Young: All this must be a little overwhelming?

James Damore: Yes, especially since I tend to be pretty introverted.

CY: Did you think when you wrote the memo, that it could become public at all, let alone as such a huge story?

JD: No, definitely not, I was just trying to clarify my thoughts on Google’s culture and use it to slowly change some of our internal practices.

CY: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you decided to write this memo after attending a staff meeting on diversity at Google.

JD: Yes, I decided to write my thoughts down after attending a particular “Diversity and Inclusion Summit,” although I had seen many of the problems in our culture for a while.

CY: Who was this summit for? All employees, or employees at a certain level?

JD: It was generally for high level employees in my organization that were interested in diversity efforts.

CY: Does Google have a lot of diversity events? Do any of them have mandatory attendance, or is it primarily for those interested in the issue?

JD: Google has many diversity events, including many during our weekly company-wide meeting (TGIF). They’ve also recently made “Unconscious Bias” training, which is ideologically similar, mandatory for those that want to evaluate promotions, all managers, and all new hires.

CY: You’ve mentioned that the summit that prompted the memo had some material that you found disturbing and offensive. I don’t know how specific you can be, but any examples?

JD: They outlined some of the practices where employees were being treated differently based on their gender or ethnicity at Google and during the hiring process. For example, there’s special treatment during the interviews (like more being given) and there are high priority queues for team matching after an employee gets hired. Also, there were calls to holding individual managers accountable for the “diversity” of their team, which would inevitably lead to managers using someone’s protected status (e.g. gender or ethnicity) during critical employment situations.

August 12, 2017

QotD: The decline and fall of art

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

It also turns out that when that sort of revolutionary who believes in tearing down for its own sake, gets power, all they can do is keep tearing down, until the product manages to be, objectively, both repulsive and boring to any sane person. […] In painting this is very obvious. The shock that doesn’t shock anyone does manage, nonetheless, to turn the normal, sane human being off the “art” being displayed. (Though even there most of it is just boring. Really, the Denver museum of art paid millions for a bunch of twisted together kitchen implements? Without the little card explaining what it is and how it relates to domestic dissatisfaction, that “art” evokes “my drawer got stuck again.”)

So this avant garde of the past aged without doing more than throwing continuous artistic tantrums at the world that refused to conform to their visions. Some of the early ones, when they still weren’t the establishment were magnificent and are probably art, just because, well, art includes tantrums too. BUT after they became the establishment all they could do was chase the thrill and shock that no longer existed ever further, off the plank of sanity and into the ocean of irrelevance.

When they realized this — when the museums emptied of the middle-brow and the print runs fell — they chased relevance by erecting ever more exacting rules saying “this you shall not do, that you shall not say, this thing you shall not even think.” This ranges from political correctness to the sort of stultifying mandates on style and manner that are the last gasp of any dying artistic movement. (I’m still sticking my middle finger up at the minimalists and the idiots who think first person is always bad. )

Which brings us to science fiction. Since science fiction in its heyday was not considered art or literature, it was just… what people wrote for fun. (Kind of like Shakespeare in his day.) There would be some reflexive classical references, which were the equivalent of Kit Marlowe putting his stage directions in Latin, just to prove his education wasn’t wasted. However, they weren’t exactly following any school.

Then came… the deluge. Or at least the “if we destroy all the rules and shock everyone, it will be literature and amazing.” And when they took over the establishment, the same thing followed as in the rest of the art.

Now… Now they — even those marginally younger than I — are the establishment. They are the authorities still vainly rebelling against an establishment that doesn’t exist, that probably never existed except in their heads. Which is probably why they attract so many people with issues with daddy or teacher or other authority figures who didn’t let them have their bugs and eat them too in childhood. (It also explains a certain fascination with the contents of their metaphorical diaper, now I think about it.) They must be FOREVER the first woman to write non-binary sex, even if it has been done for decades before they were born. They must be forever the most shocking thing Evah! even if what they’re doing was done better and more apropos by their grandparents’ generation. It’s all they have.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Avant-Garde”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-26.

August 5, 2017

At least someone on the left is willing to find fault with Venezuela’s leadership

Filed under: Americas, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Of course, when I say “find fault”, I mean “criticize for not being even more horrible“:

Ken Livingstone, a former mayor of London, has blamed the turmoil in Venezuela on the unwillingness of the former president, Hugo Chávez, to execute “oligarchs” after he came to power.

Livingstone, who is suspended from the Labour party, also blamed the economic crisis in the country on the government’s failure to take his advice on investment in infrastructure, which he said would have reduced the Latin American state’s dependence on oil.

The former mayor, a longtime supporter of the late president Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro, said the socialist leader’s enemies wanted to restore their power.

“One of the things that Chávez did when he came to power, he didn’t kill all the oligarchs. There was about 200 families who controlled about 80% of the wealth in Venezuela,” Livingstone told Talk Radio.

“He allowed them to live, to carry on. I suspect a lot of them are using their power and control over imports and exports to make it difficult and to undermine Maduro.” When pressed, Livingstone said he was “not in favour of killing anyone”.

Livingstone visited Venezuela during his time in office as mayor of London, striking a cut-price oil deal with Maduro to supply Transport for London. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has also regularly expressed his admiration for Chávez, saying in 2013 he was “an inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neoliberal economics in Europe”.

August 1, 2017

Justin Trudeau and “the uncritical puffery that is passing for political journalism”

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

In the Washington Post, Jen Gerson says that the hero worship from the US media is making it harder to hold the Prime Minister to account for his actions:

As a Canadian, I’m not surprised that the American news media and the Internet are saturated by swooning profiles. The Rolling Stone cover story “Why Can’t He Be Our President” was only the most recent example. Shortly after Trudeau was elected, Vogue fawned: “The New Young Face of Canadian Politics” — despite the fact that he was neither new nor particularly young. Business Insider noted that he looked like a “Disney prince.” Vanity Fair seems to have a Trudeau vertical. US Weekly: “Canada’s New Prime Minister is Super Hot.” He even inspired the quintessential BuzzFeed piece: “Literally Just 27 Really Hot Photos of Justin Trudeau.” CNN’s headline sums up the trend: “Justin Trudeau, ‘the anti-Trump,’ shows U.S. Canada’s progressive, diverse face,” which was a particularly impressive take, considering Trudeau is a white man and the son of a previous Canadian prime minister — making him pretty close to the embodiment of a nascent hereditary political establishment in Canada.

Please stop.

Although Trudeau has proved to be a powerful public relations coup for my country, the political erotica now streaming from the southern border is embarrassing, shallow and largely misses the mark. Trudeau is not the blue-eyed lefty Jesus, and the global affection for him — and for the progressive politics that he and this country seem to represent — presents a puerile and distorted vision of Canada and its political culture. Worse, the uncritical puffery that is passing for political journalism only makes it harder to hold the man to account.

[…]

The most stinging truth about Trudeau is that he hasn’t done much at all. He came into power an avatar of youthful Canadian optimism and has squandered one of the most extraordinary honeymoon periods any politician has had in recent memory. The best that can be said of his accomplishments is that he has tripled his promised deficits, promised deferred tax increases on the wealthy and almost legalized marijuana — although it will be up to the provinces to sort out that mess.

Trudeau promised Camelot and delivered, well, Ottawa.

Ottawa is okay. It’s better than some places and worse than others. Next to the swamp of Washington, the Rideau Canal is idyllic. But let’s not valorize the man who happens to preside over it during a time of national embarrassment for the United States. Canadians have rewarded Trudeau with mediocre poll numbers, typically hovering at between a 50 percent and 60 percent approval rating.

Yes, he’s the poster boy for Brand Canada, and a good one. Perhaps someone who is charming and affable is precisely what Canada needs as key alliances and treaties such as NATO and NAFTA come under threat. But his real talent lies not in government but in showmanship. At least on that front, that Trump and Trudeau have something in common.

July 30, 2017

“… sooner or later, and usually sooner, the British will be blamed”

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, India — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

In Pragati, Alex Tabarrok reviews Shashi Tharoor’s 2016 book history of the British Raj, An Era Of Darkness:

“Political Map of the Indian Empire” from Constable’s Hand Atlas of India, 1893.
(via Wikimedia)

At sophisticated dinner parties in Delhi, Calcutta, or Chennai, whenever the discussion turns to politics, one can be sure that sooner or later, and usually sooner, the British will be blamed. It’s a fine parlor game, and clever players can usually find a way to cast blame for whichever side of the debate they favor. Is India’s traditional family falling apart due to internet porn? Blame the British! Are the laws against homosexuality too strong? Blame the British! The British are an easy target because much of what they did was reprehensible. But blaming British imperialism for contemporary Indian problems is also an easy way to let India’s political class off the hook.

An excellent case against the British comes from Shashi Tharoor, bestselling author, former Under-Secretary-General at the United Nations, and current member of the Indian parliament, in his 2016 book An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India (also published this year under the title Inglorious Empire[UK title]).

Tharoor makes three claims:

  1. The British empire in India, from the seizure of Bengal by the East India Company in 1757 until the end of British government rule in 1947, was cruel, rapacious, and racist.
  2. India would be much better off today had it not been for British rule.
  3. Britain’s success and the Industrial Revolution were due to British depredation of India.

The first claim is true, the second uncertain, the third false.

The first claim is the heart of Tharoor’s book: the British empire in India was cruel, rapacious and racist. All true. But who would expect otherwise? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The theft, the famines, the massacres, the formal and casual racism, the utter hypocrisy of suppressing independence while using hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers to fight for democracy and freedom in two World Wars — on all this Tharoor stands on solid ground. The ground is solid in part because it has been well-trod. Tharoor brings the case against the East India Company and Britain, initiated by Edmund Burke (1774-1785) and continued by the likes of Indian nationalist Dadabhai Naoroji [PDF] (1901) and American historian Will Durant (1930), to its conclusion and climax with the Indian independence movement. In this, Tharoor is entirely successful and his work deserves to be widely read.

In his eagerness to blame Britain, however, Tharoor reaches for every possible argument in ways that are sometimes misleading and sometimes absurd.

July 27, 2017

Andrew Roberts on Dunkirk

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

It comes with the Niall Ferguson seal of approval:

The retreat from the Continent was a perilous time for Britain. The Germans were willing to throw everything into making it as dangerous and costly as possible for the island people. Britain’s French allies were full of suspicion about what they were depicting for propaganda purposes as a treacherous retreat. The British government was in disarray, with senior government ministers even proposing negotiating with the enemy in order to minimize the terrible ultimate cost that they now saw as inevitable. Everyone was crying out for leadership.

But enough about Brexit. What about Christopher Nolan’s new movie about Dunkirk?

July 24, 2017

QotD: Salvador Dali, in his own words

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

Here, then, are some of the episodes in Dali’s life, from his earliest years onward. Which of them are true and which are imaginary hardly matters: the point is that this is the kind of thing that Dali would have liked to do.
When he is six years old there is some excitement over the appearance of Halley’s comet:

    Suddenly one of my father’s office clerks appeared in the drawing-room doorway and announced that the comet could be seen from the terrace… While crossing the hall I caught sight of my little three-year-old sister crawling unobtrusively through a doorway. I stopped, hesitated a second, then gave her a terrible kick in the head as though it had been a ball, and continued running, carried away with a ‘delirious joy’ induced by this savage act. But my father, who was behind me, caught me and led me down in to his office, where I remained as a punishment till dinner-time.

A year earlier than this Dali had ‘suddenly, as most of my ideas occur,’ flung another little boy off a suspension bridge. Several other incidents of the same kind are recorded, including (this was when he was twenty-nine years old) knocking down and trampling on a girl ‘until they had to tear her, bleeding, out of my reach.’

When he is about five he gets hold of a wounded bat which he puts into a tin pail. Next morning he finds that the bat is almost dead and is covered with ants which are devouring it. He puts it in his mouth, ants and all, and bites it almost in half.

When he is an adolescent a girl falls desperately in love with him. He kisses and caresses her so as to excite her as much as possible, but refuses to go further. He resolves to keep this up for five years (he calls it his ‘five-year plan’), enjoying her humiliation and the sense of power it gives him. He frequently tells her that at the end of the five years he will desert her, and when the time comes he does so.

Till well into adult life he keeps up the practice of masturbation, and likes to do this, apparently, in front of a looking-glass. For ordinary purposes he is impotent, it appears, till the age of thirty or so. When he first meets his future wife, Gala, he is greatly tempted to push her off a precipice. He is aware that there is something that she wants him to do to her, and after their first kiss the confession is made:

    I threw back Gala’s head, pulling it by the hair, and trembling with complete hysteria, I commanded:
    ‘Now tell me what you want me to do with you! But tell me slowly, looking me in the eye, with the crudest, the most ferociously erotic words that can make both of us feel the greatest shame!’
    Then Gala, transforming the last glimmer of her expression of pleasure into the hard light of her own tyranny, answered:
    ‘I want you to kill me!’

He is somewhat disappointed by this demand, since it is merely what he wanted to do already. He contemplates throwing her off the bell-tower of the Cathedral of Toledo, but refrains from doing so.

During the Spanish Civil War he astutely avoids taking sides, and makes a trip to Italy. He feels himself more and more drawn towards the aristocracy, frequents smart salons, finds himself wealthy patrons, and is photographed with the plump Vicomte de Noailles, whom he describes as his ‘Maecenas.’ When the European War approaches he has one preoccupation only: how to find a place which has good cookery and from which he can make a quick bolt if danger comes too near. He fixes on Bordeaux, and duly flees to Spain during the Battle of France. He stays in Spain long enough to pick up a few anti-red atrocity stories, then makes for America. The story ends in a blaze of respectability. Dali, at thirty-seven, has become a devoted husband, is cured of his aberrations, or some of them, and is completely reconciled to the Catholic Church. He is also, one gathers, making a good deal of money.

George Orwell, “Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali”, Saturday Book for 1944, 1944.

July 21, 2017

QotD: Anachronistic “Regency” romances

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

Which brings us to a discussion about romances, yesterday. Like apparently most people who read Regencies I’ve become aware of a tendency for them to read more and more like modern romances than like something set in that time.

Someone nailed it for me by pointing out that female characters have been getting more modern. For instance, they will do things like not want to marry UNTIL they have sexual experience, so they’ll be engaged and go out to find someone to sleep with them: in a time without either contraceptives or antibiotics and in a time when a unwed pregnancy would ruin not only the woman but all her relatives.

Or they rebel against being the one who was supposed to marry to make the family fortunes. I’m not saying a woman might not wish to marry someone else rather than make the family fortunes, but it would present in her own mind not as resentment to lifting the family out of debt, but as “I’m madly in love with the stable boy.” or whatever. And if a woman was thoroughly opposed to [being] married, it often manifested (at least in Catholic countries, granted, not England) as a “vocation.” What it didn’t manifest as was “I want to pursue a career.” Women married, or if they were unmarried stayed around the house helping with the nephews and the running of the house. If they had the means they might set up household with a companion. But only the poor worked, (even for men “having to” work was a downcheck on status.) If you were a governess or a nurse, it wasn’t for a “career” but because you were desperate.

Oh, and please save me from all the women running philanthropic organizations. While there were of course a number of these run by women, it wasn’t every other woman as seems to be in today’s regency romances. And charities for unmarried mothers would be very heavy on the preaching and getting them to give the baby up for adoption. Not telling them they’ve done nothing wrong and “affirming” their choices. Again, no contraceptives, no antibiotics. Sex and its consequences were serious business PARTICULARLY for women who make more of an investment in reproduction.

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

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.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress