Quotulatiousness

October 29, 2014

Passionate about #gamergate? Ken White has a few thoughts for you to ponder

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

The Popehat grand poobah suspects that if you’re passionate about #gamergate, you’re probably wrong … or at least, wrong-headed about your passions:

GamerGate is label-heavy, and labels are lazy, obfuscating bullshit.

Labels are supposed to be shorthand for collections of ideas. I might say “I am libertarian-ish” because it’s not practical to go around announcing the whole array of views I hold about demolishing public roads and privatizing the air force and so forth. This, up to a point, is useful.

It stops being useful when we argue over labels instead of over ideas. Take, for instance, “feminist.” A person who describes themselves as “feminist” might associate that term with their grandmother being the first woman in the family to go to college and their mother defying a sexist boss in a male-dominated job and the development of laws saying women can’t be relentlessly harassed in the workplace or fired for being women.1 Someone who routinely criticizes “feminism” might be thinking of Andrea Dworkin saying all heterosexual sex is coercive, or that time a woman snapped at him when he held a door open, or the time someone embarrassed his friend by saying his joke was sexist. When these two people use the term “feminist” in an argument, they are talking past each other and engaging with strawmen rather than ideas. The feminist is engaging the anti-feminist as if he opposes women in the workplace or supports gender-based hiring, which he doesn’t necessarily. The anti-feminist is engaging the feminist as if she thinks all marital sex is rape and as if she thinks jokes should get him fired, which she doesn’t necessarily. Neither is really engaging in the particular issue at hand — because why would you engage with a person who holds such extreme views? Why would it matter if the person you are arguing with has an arguable point on a specific issue, if they also necessarily (based on labels) stand for everything you hate?

Oh, and reacting before thinking (or instead of it)?

People are going to say things about your favorite parts of the culture. Some of these things will be stupid or wrong. It is swell to use more speech to disagree with, criticize, or ridicule the criticism. But when you become completely and tragicomically unbalanced by the existence of cultural criticism, or let it send you into a buffoonish spiral of resentful defensiveness, people may not take you seriously. Rule of thumb: a reasoned rebuttal of wrong-headed cultural criticism mostly likely won’t require you to use the word “cunt.”

There are ten points Ken covers in the original post. I really do recommend that you read it all. By my count, he gores everyone’s ox by the time he’s at point four (and by point five, he’s blaming Canada in the footnotes).

October 27, 2014

The mayoralty race in Toronto

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

I haven’t lived in Toronto for a couple of decades — and when I did, the city hadn’t been amalgamated so the role of the mayor was much more symbolic than real: the mayor had peers in North York, Scarborough, Etobicoke, East York and York. Now, the psychological stakes are higher even though the role of the mayor hasn’t changed all that much — still only one vote on council, but the advantage of the bully pulpit. That said, the voters in the former city of Toronto often feel that the mayor should “really” represent them more than those uncultured swine in the former satellite municipalities. The place is still called Toronto, but the sensibilities of former city of Toronto voters are affronted that the barbarians in the suburbs inflicted the Ford brothers on them. In a sense, Rob Ford was an over-sized middle finger gesture by the rest of Toronto directed toward those effete downtown snobs.

At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson mulls who Torontonians should be voting for (or against):

With days to go we are confronted with two choices here in the Imperial Capital: The polished millionaire non-entity or the white trash millionaire bruiser. It is in moments like these that the vasty fields of Saskatchewan beckon with unusual strength. What are housing prices like in Regina anyway? What’s the price for a Toronto-sized shoe box without the Toronto sized traffic and political idiocy? This used to be a boring city placed within a boring province. It’s gotten very interesting of late and in the very worst way. I miss Mel Lastman. Heck I miss Art Eggleton, if such an emotion is even possible.

The Toronto Sun, a usual bastion of populist common sense, has decided to endorse John Tory. Given the farce that has dominated municipal politics these last twelve months I can’t blame them. The Fords have become so terribly embarrassing. Vulgar, crude and probably violent as well. Respectable people can no longer abide by the Fords’ antics. John Tory could not be more respectable. He says all the right things in all the right ways. The Right respects him, the Left respects him and the Centre looks upon him as a long-lost lover miraculously returned. Who are we to oppose?

[...]

Then there is Team Ford. Rob, Doug and whichever brother is currently running the family business. I don’t think I’d ever invite any of them over for tea. They have a natural ability to alienate those around them. It’s almost a talent. They have a flare for screwing things up. Toronto has never seen anything quite like them and will likely never again. A god awful mess. They are, however, the only conservatives running in this election. A house trained Doug Ford would likely do more to trim municipal government than John Tory. The latter needs to be liked but the former doesn’t give a damn. Therein lies the difference. One is a carefully managed artifice and the other is a sincere disaster.

What I like most about the Fords is their lying. They lie like children. Attempts at deception, misdirection and deflection are so obvious they have a kind of charm. Beneath the trailer trash manners and the millionaire bank accounts they are actual, albeit deeply flawed, human beings. These are rare enough traits that they should be encouraged.

I don’t want a smooth mediocrity bankrupting Toronto, or striking half-baked compromises with the Left. If the Imperial Capital is going to go, let it go with a bang and not a well-heeled whimper. Let’s have Doug Ford’s fat blond figure standing right in the middle of municipal politics for the next few years. For sheer obstructionism he can’t be beat. A clear message to the great and good that there is a mass of people in this city who no have interest in being patronized to.

October 26, 2014

Canadians’ ambivalent views on the Canadian Armed Forces

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In Maclean’s, Jonathon Gatehouse reflects on the reaction of bystanders just after Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot while standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, and how Canadians are still uneasy about the role of the military in Canadian society:

They came together with haste and purpose. Three civilians and two members of Canadian Forces, all working frantically to save the life of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.

In the first minutes after the Hamilton reservist was shot twice at Canada’s National War Memorial on Oct. 22, it was passersby who joined in the challenge of trying to staunch the bleeding and keep his heart beating. Photos captured their desperation. A red-headed woman, her legs stretched out across the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, administering artificial respiration while a uniformed man performs CPR. A man in a dark business suit helping to keep the blood where it was needed by holding the kilted Cirillo’s bare legs in the air. And two more — a grey-haired lady and a man in an army beret — applying pressure to his wounds. All of them as anonymous as the fallen combatant inside the granite sarcophagus that the soldier was guarding.

A discarded backpack leans against the tomb, next to a Thermos mug of morning coffee. A black attaché case has been tossed to the flagstones. Right beside that lie the two military assault rifles—one belonging to Cirillo, the other his regimental partner—perfectly stacked, stocks tucked tight against the brass foot of the monument. By the book, even though they were never loaded, per standard honour detail practice.

[...]

The Canadian public and its military have been out of sync over duties and mission for more than a decade. It is a gap that doesn’t make much sense. In the aftermath of 9/11, we have come to venerate first-responders — those who run toward danger — as local police, the RCMP and Parliament Hill security did in their shoot-out with Zehaf-Bibeau. But we remain slightly suspicious of the motives of people who volunteer to serve in the army, navy and air force, as if there is something nobler — and more Canadian — in playing defence than being on the offensive.

The events of the past week illustrate that we live in an age where such distinctions have been rendered meaningless. First the murder of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, run down by ersatz jihadi Martin Couture-Rouleau in a shopping mall parking lot in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. And now the death of Cpl. Cirillo at the hands of another “self-radicalized” fellow citizen. Like it or not, Canada is in this fight, abroad and at home. Facing enemies who don’t give credit for past good deeds, and have few, if any scruples about whom they target.

There’s a tradition that has sprung up in Ottawa over the past years. After the conclusion of the official Remembrance Day ceremony, members of the public approach the War Memorial, remove the poppy from their lapels, and lay them on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s a small act of respect, and an attempt to connect with our fading, black and white past.

This year will be different. Not just because Nathan Cirillo died at that very spot, but because of what happened in his final moments. When a red-headed lawyer, a grey-haired nurse and a suit-clad government bureaucrat joined with a colonel and a corporal to try and save a soldier’s life, a page turned. The sacrifice, in full colour and public view, can’t be ignored. Everyone has become a witness. It is part of our present, and our uncomfortable future too.

Andrew Sullivan on the end of gamer culture

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

Andrew Sullivan carefully dips his toes into the #gamergate war:

Andrew Sullivan on the end of gamer culture

Many readers have warned me not to dip a toe into the gamergate debate, which, so far, we’ve been covering through aggregation and reader-input. And I’m not going to dive headlong into an extremely complex series of events, which have generated huge amounts of intense emotion on all sides, in a gamer culture which Dish readers know far, far better than I. But part of my job is to write and think about burning current web discussions – and add maybe two cents, even as an outsider.

So let me make a few limited points. The tactics of harassment, threats of violence, foul misogyny, and stalking have absolutely no legitimate place in any discourse. Having read about what has happened to several women, who have merely dared to exercise their First Amendment rights, I can only say it’s been one of those rare stories that still has the capacity to shock me. I know it isn’t fair to tarnish an entire tendency with this kind of extremism, but the fact that this tactic seemed to be the first thing that some gamergate advocates deployed should send off some red flashing lights as to the culture it is defending.

Second, there’s a missing piece of logic, so far as I have managed to discern, in the gamergate campaign. The argument seems to be that some feminists are attempting to police or control a hyper-male culture of violence, speed, competition and boobage. And in so far as that might be the case, my sympathies do indeed lie with the gamers. The creeping misandry in a lot of current debates – see “Affirmative Consent” and “Check Your Privilege” – and the easy prejudices that define white and male and young as suspect identities (because sexism!) rightly offend many men (and women).

There’s an atmosphere in which it has somehow become problematic to have a classic white, straight male identity, and a lot that goes with it. I’m not really a part of that general culture – indifferent to boobage, as I am, and bored by violence. But I don’t see why it cannot have a place in the world. I believe in the flourishing of all sorts of cultures and subcultures and have long been repulsed by the nannies and busybodies who want to police them – whether from the social right or the feminist left.

But – and here’s where the logic escapes me – if the core gamers really do dominate the market for these games, why do they think the market will stop catering to them? The great (and not-so-great) thing about markets is that they are indifferent to content as such. If “hardcore gamers” skew 7 -1 male, and if corporations want to make lots of money, then this strain of the culture is hardly under threat. It may be supplemented by lots of other, newer varieties, but it won’t die. Will it be diluted? Almost certainly. Does that feel like an assault for a group of people whose identity is deeply bound up in this culture? Absolutely. Is it something anyone should really do anything about? Nah. Let a thousand variety of nerds and post-nerds bloom. And leave Kenny McCormick alone. This doesn’t have to be zero-sum.

October 17, 2014

The latest moral panic

Filed under: Gaming, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:22

In sp!ked, Allum Bokhari looks at #GamerGate:

The gaming community is no stranger to cultural warfare and moral panic. In the 1990s, a cohort of censorious, ‘family values’ politicians waged a ceaseless campaign to regulate the gaming industry, following a series of panics over the ultra-violent Mortal Kombat series. In the early 2000s, the socially conservative activist Jack Thompson gained notoriety for engaging in a stream of litigation against video-game companies, arguing that they were responsible for everything from gang violence to school shootings.

The tenor of moral panic has changed since then. Now, the main source of fear, loathing and general misanthropy in the gaming industry stems from the cultural left rather than the socially conservative right. Similar to the old right, the new cultural warriors argue that games promote violence and reinforce so-called rape culture. Arguments that games perpetuate sexism and racism are also fairly common. Instead of being seen as mere escapism, the tastes of modern gamers are portrayed as dangerous and subversive, a threat to right-on values. Gamers ought to be feared and shunned. In this remarkable video, a cultural warrior goes on a tirade against mainstream gamers, culminating in the destruction of a copy of the controversial video-game Grand Theft Auto V before a cheering crowd. The misanthropic disgust with ordinary gamers is palpable.

The growing contempt of the games-industry elite for the preferences of gamers has accelerated in recent months. Following a major confrontation between gamers and activists last August over allegations of journalistic favouritism, article after article has been published decrying the gaming community for its alleged bigotry, sexism and narrow-mindedness. The worst examples of ‘social-media harassment’ were used as an excuse to present gamers as a mass of hateful savages. To those familiar with the regular and sometimes absurd panics over football fans, this language will sound familiar.

You may well ask how these activists are able to sustain these bizarre beliefs, particularly given the mounting evidence that gamers are actually a pretty diverse and welcoming group of people after all. One explanation is their fondness for echo-chambers, maintained through exclusive email groups, social media blocklists and mass deletions of user comments on open forums. The extent to which the new cultural warriors will go to remove uncomfortable opinions from view is quite extraordinary. Reinforcing, rather than challenging, one’s own biases has become the norm.

October 16, 2014

The trouble with “parenting” in 2014

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Health, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Jan MacVarish discusses the problems facing today’s parents that inhibit natural parenting instincts and replace them with the diktats of the bureaucracy:

Here are two scenes which illustrate contemporary parenting culture.

In the first, I am called into my son’s primary school by the ‘family-liaison officer’. I am surprised to learn that she is investigating the concerns of a teacher who has overheard my son and his friends discussing their mothers’ favourite punishment methods. Whereas one of the mothers (who I know) reportedly kicks her boy in the privates with her stilettos, and another (who I also know) prefers to administer an ‘African slap’, my chosen method is, apparently, to hit my son with a frying pan. Visions of Tom and Jerry immediately spring to mind, and I laugh at the ridiculousness of the schoolboys’ conversation. The family-liaison officer admits that it is highly unlikely that a mother such as me (white and middle class) would engage in such behaviour, but, she tells me, she is nevertheless obliged to ask if I have ever deployed the family skillet as a weapon. I am now amused, bemused and starting to see that this could have played out very differently if I were perceived to be one of those ‘other’ parents.

Scene two: While swimming in the local pool with frying-pan boy, I notice a mother engage in an exhausting 20-minute argument with her one-year-old baby boy. He had slapped her, so she was asking him in a quiet, controlled voice to look her in the eye and apologise for ‘hurting mummy’. Being a baby, he refused to comply, and became more and more upset as the request was repeated again and again. My sympathy was equal for both mother and child: he was sobbing and she seemed forlornly trapped in some kind of ‘good parenting’ ritual, in which the parent conveys to the child the emotional consequences of their actions – ‘you hurt mummy, that makes mummy feel sad’ – and expects the child to take ‘ownership’ of their actions.

Both of these scenes demonstrate the abandonment of common sense and, indeed, any kind of ‘instinct’ when it comes to adults relating to children. When you remove any element of instinct from parenting, you replace trust, care, love and joy with empty rituals of ‘safeguarding’ or ‘good parenting’. The family-liaison officer’s dutiful yet hollow investigation makes clear just how corrosive the institutionalisation of parent-blaming in schools has become, while the mother’s exchange with her baby in the pool showed how futile and joy-draining following abstract, good-parenting guidelines can be.

October 11, 2014

“[French] society is corrupted and doesn’t have any moral principles”

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:47

The Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard on the reception Gérard Depardieu received from a “conservative” Russian politician:

Gérard Depardieu’s move to Russia had the effect of making the actor repent sexual activities conducted in Europe, a conservative Kremlin politician has said.

Reacting to the publication of Ça s’est fait comme ça, Depardieu’s memoir in which he discusses stints of employment as a grave robber and a male prostitute, Vitaly Milonov expressed sympathy for the actor.

“It wasn’t easy for him in France,” he told Russian newspaper MK. “There, society is corrupted and doesn’t have any moral principles.”

“I view Gérard’s book as sort of repentance, confession of old sins. Now that he breathed in the purifying air of Mordovia, all that filth left him. He sincerely repents what he was forced to do in his youth in France. He wants to live in a new way, without all that filth.”

October 9, 2014

“Political barriers make it harder to innovate with atoms than with bits”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:30

Virginia Postrel on the barriers that slow down — or completely stop — innovation in far too many non-digital fields:

… I sympathize with science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson and venture-capitalist Peter Thiel, whose new books lament the demise of grand 20th-century dreams and the optimistic culture they expressed. “I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done,” writes Stephenson in the preface to Hieroglyph, a science-fiction anthology hoping “to rekindle grand technological ambitions through the power of storytelling.” In Zero to One, a book mostly about startups, Thiel makes the argument that “we have to find our way back to a definite future, and the Western world needs nothing short of a cultural revolution to do it.”

Their concerns about technological malaise are reasonable. As I’ve written here before, “political barriers have in fact made it harder to innovate with atoms than with bits.” It’s depressing to see just about any positive development — a dramatic decline in the need for blood transfusions, for instance — greeted with gloom. (“The trend is wreaking havoc in the blood bank business, forcing a wave of mergers and job cutbacks.”)

When a report about how ground-penetrating radar has mapped huge undiscovered areas of Stonehenge immediately provokes a comment wondering whether the radar endangers the landscape, something has gone seriously wrong with our sense of wonder. “There’s an automatic perception … that everything’s dangerous,” Stephenson mused at a recent event in Los Angeles, citing the Stonehenge example, “and that there’s some cosmic balance at work — that if there’s an advance somewhere it must have a terrible cost. That’s a hard thing to fix, but I think that if we had some more interesting Apollo-like projects or big successes we could point to it might lift that burden that is on people’s minds.”

Postrel argues that Stephenson’s fix would not work, and that our nostalgia for the early days of the Space Age blind us to the reality that most Americans in that era did not believe that the money for the Apollo missions was well spent (with the brief exception of July, 1969). She makes the point that our culture has changed significantly and those attitudinal changes are much more of the reason for today’s hesitancy and doubt about progress:

We already have plenty of critics telling us that our creativity and effort are for naught, our pleasures and desires absurd, our civilization wicked and destructive. We live in a culture where condemnatory phrases like “the ecosystems we’ve broken” are throwaway lines, and the top-grossing movie of all time is a heavy-handed science-fiction parable about the evils of technology and exploration. We don’t need Neal Stephenson piling on.

The reason mid-20th-century Americans were optimistic about the future wasn’t that science-fiction writers told cool stories about space travel. Science-fiction glamour in fact worked on only a small slice of the public. (Nobody else in my kindergarten was grabbing for You Will Go to the Moon.) People believed the future would be better than the present because they believed the present was better than the past. They constantly heard stories — not speculative, futuristic stories but news stories, fashion stories, real-estate stories, medical stories — that reinforced this belief. They remembered epidemics and rejoiced in vaccines and wonder drugs. They looked back on crowded urban walk-ups and appreciated neat suburban homes. They recalled ironing on sweaty summer days and celebrated air conditioning and wash-and-wear fabrics. They marveled at tiny transistor radios and dreamed of going on airplane trips.

Then the stories changed. For good reasons and bad, more and more Americans stopped believing in what they had once viewed as progress. Plastics became a punch line, convenience foods ridiculous, nature the standard of all things right and good. Freeways destroyed neighborhoods. Urban renewal replaced them with forbidding Brutalist plazas. New subdivisions represented a threat to the landscape rather than the promise of the good life. Too-fast airplanes produced window-rattling sonic booms. Insecticides harmed eagles’ eggs. Exploration meant conquest and brutal exploitation. Little by little, the number of modern offenses grew until we found ourselves in a 21st century where some of the most educated, affluent and cultural influentially people in the country are terrified of vaccinating their children. Nothing good, they’ve come to think, comes from disturbing nature.

Emphasis mine.

October 5, 2014

QotD: “What happened to France?”

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

Here we should pause and ask an important question: What happened to France? To that savoir faire? And to French culture? To the country that we all loved enough to make allowances to put up with the casual hauteur and the studied rudeness? Because, after all, this was la belle France, and they could teach us a thing or two. They had something worth sharing.

But when was that? When was the last time you enjoyed, say, a contemporary French film? How many must-see French actors are there? Their most famous actor has now taken out Russian citizenship (and moved to Belgium). Name a living French painter worth the wall space. Name a great French musician. A novelist, apart from Michel Houellebecq — and the French hate him. Their vaunted cuisine has become a moribund tourist performance. Unable to change, terrified of innovation, France has become the Bourbons, who famously forgot nothing and learned nothing.

The language that committees of old academics protect, like maids fussing over a cabinet of bone china, has been ransacked, seduced, and impregnated with bastard usages by movies, pop music, the Internet, and the global need to speak English. And now even some French universities have begun teaching science and computing classes in English, because no one wants to come to France to study them in French.

The pre-eminence of French culture has evaporated, before our very eyes, within a generation. The fear that innovation might damage or detract from their weighty heritage has left it like an angry child, with its eyes closed and its hands over its ears, la-la-la-ing “Je ne regrette rien.” French civilization went from the brilliant clamor of the streets to the musty hush of the museum. Instead of creating, they have dusting.

A. A. Gill, Liberté! Egalité! Fatigué!“, Vanity Fair, 2014-04

August 25, 2014

People (even men) respond rationally to external stimuli, eventually

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:11

In the wake of all the media attention given to the “epidemic of rape on campus”, male university students appear to be changing their behaviour:

Thanks to an increased focus on sexual assaults on college campuses – mostly due to an overblown statistic claiming 20 percent of college women have been sexually assaulted – young college men are starting to rethink how they talk to women.

At first glance that might seem like a good thing – men learning to be more respectful of women and not be so rapey – but that’s not what this is.

This is about men actually avoiding contact with women because they’re afraid a simple kiss or date could lead to a sexual assault accusation.

Bloomberg reporters John Lauerman and Jennifer Surane interviewed multiple men from colleges like Harvard and Stanford who expressed concern over what was once known as a “hook-up culture” but is now labeled by feminists as “rape culture.” The change in terminology ensures that all responsibility is placed on men, just because of their gender.

[...]

William Pollack, a Harvard Medical School psychologist, told the Bloomberg reporters about a patient who was kissing a girl during a party and began thinking about what would happen if things went further.

“‘I want to go to law school or medical school after this,’” the student said, according to Pollack. “‘I said to her, it’s been nice seeing you.’”

Pollack also noted that the media attention to campus sexual assault has led to a “witch-hunt” mentality.

“Most males would never do anything to harm a young woman,” Pollack told the Bloomberg reporters. But the current focus is “starting to scare the heck out of the wrong people.”

Like Clark Coey, who will be a freshman at East Carolina University in North Carolina this year. He’s worried that the definition of consent might not be clear exactly what it means.

The constantly changing expectations of what consent means and how it has to be communicated are going to be common issues in university culture going forward. No sensible male student is going to dare follow up on hints or suggestions of interest from a female student without explicit invitation … which most women are culturally disinclined to offer. And even that might not be enough to meet the standards of consent some university activists (and administrators) are demanding.

H/T to Amy Alkon who included a few comments that had been posted:

From the comments:

    thewlyno / Isaac T
    Remember, when men drink they are predators, when women drink they are unaccountable victims

Another:

    James Dean
    I also find it ironic that feminists who fought for female sexual choice, including the right to engage in drunken hookups, would now like to put the responsibility for the mutual drunken hookup entirely onto the male. He must now take into consideration not just what she wants now, but also what is really good for her in the long run, because in his drunken state he is better able to make decisions for her than she is in her drunken state. It is his job to recognize her vulnerability, to save her from her disinhibition, and to guide her with his greater wisdom into proper chastity. This used to be called patriarchy.

August 14, 2014

The decline of the British pub won’t be stopped by more rules and regulations

Filed under: Britain, Business — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:01

In sp!ked, Rossa Minogue agrees with the Campaign for Real Ale that the British pub as a fixture of daily life is in rapid decline, but warns that CAMRA’s proposed remedy will not turn things around:

Britain’s pubs are in peril. In 1982, there were almost 68,000 pubs in the UK; today there are fewer than 55,000. They continue to close at a rate of 31 a week.

Pubs in the suburbs are said to be worst affected, with three per cent of all suburban pubs having closed in the past six months alone. A report by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) blames the closures on lax planning regulations that allow pubs to be bought and converted into other kinds of businesses without having to seek permission from the local council. CAMRA’s answer is to call for more planning regulations that would make it difficult to convert your favourite boozer into a Tesco Metro. Publicans have blamed cheap supermarket booze for eating into their revenues and have backed calls for minimum pricing to make drinking at home less attractive. There are no doubt many other factors at work. The ubiquity of mobile phones, for one, makes it easier to arrange a meeting with a friend at short notice, which means the idea of being the ‘regular’ who pops into a ‘local’ unannounced in the hope of bumping into someone one knows is becoming a thing of the past.

Further regulation, however, is not the answer. In fact, as demonstrated by their enthusiastic support for the smoking ban, CAMRA has failed to see that regulations are one of the main things that are killing pubs. Stricter planning laws would do little to address the underlying reasons why pubs are closing. After all, if pubs were drawing the crowds they needed to be viable, why would they be selling up in the first place? Rising rents have been cited as a cause, but the businesses lining up to take over pub premises don’t seem to have a problem paying them.

Pub culture is under threat, but not by greedy property developers desperate to turn every suburban highstreet into a row of Costa Coffees. Rather, the threat comes from the degradation of public life, a process nudged along by a state that disapproves of our habits.

QotD: How to create a depressive society

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

The widespread perception that almost everyone else was a moron — why, just look at the things people post and say on the Internet! – would facilitate a certain philosophy of narcissism; we would have people walking around convinced they’re much smarter, and much more sophisticated and enlightened, than everyone else.

Marinating in the perception that most people are stupid, hateful, sick, and needlessly cruel would undoubtedly alter people’s aspirations and ambitions in life. Why strive to create a new invention, miracle cure, remarkable technology, or wondrous innovation to help the masses? It would be pearls before swine, a gift to a thoroughly undeserving population that had earned its miserable circumstances. The hopeless ignorance and hateful philosophies of the great unwashed might, however, spur quiet calls for the restoration of a properly thinking aristocracy to help steer society in the correct direction.

If we wanted to build a society designed to promote depression, we would want to make children seem like a burden. Children are a smaller, slightly altered version of ourselves; Christopher Hitchens described parenthood as “realizing that your heart is running around in somebody else’s body.” To hate life, you have to hate children. If they are a form of immortality — half of our genetic code and half of our habits, good and ill, walking around a generation later — then a depressive society would condition its members to hate the possibilities of their future.

If we wanted to build a society designed to promote depression, we would want to make old age seem to be a horrible fate. (It is the only alternative to death!) Our depressive society would want to not merely celebrate youth, but we would want to constantly reinforce the sense that one is approaching mental and physical obsolescence. A celebrity who appeared much younger than her years would be celebrated and everyone would openly demand to know her secret. The unspoken expectation would be that anyone could achieve the same result if she simply tried hard enough. We would exclaim, “Man, he’s getting old!” in response to those who didn’t look the same as when we first saw them.

We would want to make sure that appearances not merely counted, but that attractiveness is preeminent. That anonymous and yet public realm of the Internet would ensure that anyone in the world could safely mock the appearance of others to a public audience and then return to picking Cheetos out of his chest hair.

Jim Geraghty, “Robin Williams and Our Strange Times: Does our society set the stage for depression?”, National Review, 2014-08-12.

August 13, 2014

News reporters as myth makers

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:09

Jack Schafer on the cyclical nature of the news and an explanation for certain story types growing into mythic form:

Has some wise guy flipped a switch and thrown the news into summer reruns?

Everywhere you look in your news feed is a story you’ve seen before. In northern Iraq, conquering jihadists have the Kurds calling on the United States for more help. North Korea is again stating its desire to nuke the White House. A virulent contagion abroad has Americans worrying when it will break out on our shores. And, in a rerun of a rerun, a Gaza war of tunnels, rockets, invasions, ceasefires, withdrawals, broken ceasefires, and shuttle diplomacy is claiming a record harvest of headlines.

[...]

But the periodicity of the news has another cause, as press scholar Jack Lule discovered more than a decade ago in his book Daily News, Eternal Stories. Lule proposed that the news was less a pure journalistic creation than it was the modern expression of ancient myths.

Like many all-encompassing formulas, Lule’s reduction of news into myth suffers by attempting to explain too much. But after reading his book, you can’t help but notice how many front-page stories collapse into the seven master myths he assembles (which will sound familiar to anybody who has brushed up against Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces): the victim, a casualty of randomness or a villain; the scapegoat, who is punished for straying outside the social order; the hero, who smites evil; the good mother, who “offers maternal comfort and protection”; the trickster, the rogue who disturbs the social order; the other world, typically foreign countries; and the flood, or any other disaster.

Few, if any, journalists would confess to consciously calling myths to convey the news, perhaps in part because so few of them are aware of the mythic thrust of their work. Instead, the ancient outlines express themselves spontaneously in copy, as reporters, who are usually voluminous readers, seek to infuse higher meaning to the disparate facts they’ve collected in their notebooks, even if they’re covering something as prosaic as a funeral or a legislative battle.

Few readers would confess to myth-seeking in their media choices, yet Lule makes the undeniable case that audiences prefer news when it is fashioned into something more eternal than pure information. Lule writes:

    Newspaper sales, magazine circulation, television news ratings, and website traffic all surge during dramatic and sensational events: schoolyard killings, royal weddings, hurricanes, assassinations, airline crashes, and inaugurations. What are people seeking? They’re not going to use these stories to vote for a candidate. They want compelling dramas. They want satisfying stories that speak to them of history and fate and the fragility of life. They want myth.

August 8, 2014

David Harsanyi is remarkably unimpressed with the “Libertarian moment” talk

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:59

In The Federalist, David Harsanyi goes out of his way to stamp out any libertarian optimism that the typical American voter is becoming more in favour of free minds and free markets:

A libertarian — according to the dictionary, at least — is a person who “upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action.” And there is simply no evidence that Americans are any more inclined to support policy that furthers individual freedom or shrinks government.

Take two of the most frequently cited issues that herald the libertarian renaissance: legalized pot and gay marriage. Both of them, I would argue, are only inadvertently aligned with libertarian values. These are victories in a culture war. Both issues have rapidly gained acceptance in the United States, but support for them does not equate to any newfound longing to “uphold the principles of individual liberty.”

Many supporters of pot legalization are, for example, probably just as sympathetic to nanny-state prohibitions on products they find insalubrious or environmentally unfriendly. More seriously, many of the most passionate proponents of same-sex marriage are also the most passionate proponents of the government forcing Christian bakers and florists to participate in gay marriages and impelling religious business owners to subsidize contraception for their employees.

Beating back people who stand in the way of gay marriage to make room for people who stand in the way of religious freedom and free association doesn’t exactly feel like a victory on the liberty front.

[...]

The case for libertarian political success always seems to hinge on the idea of pleasing the left on social issues — namely, on abortion. So why is that the most successful libertarians — and really we’re talking about Republicans like Justin Amash and Rand Paul — rarely focus on the issues that allegedly define the “libertarian moment.” Paul has taken a moderate, incremental approach on gay marriage. He’s strongly pro-life. And he’s the most successful libertarian politician in America. Many social conservatives are giving Paul’s libertarian views on foreign policy, the NSA, and sentencing reform a fair hearing. Which would not have happened if he had moved strongly to the left on social issues.

Democrats will never be able to accept libertarian fiscal policy. It’s far more likely that conservatives will end up adopting a more laissez faire, let-the-states-decide outlook out of necessity. So maybe the more apt political question should be: how do libertarians and social conservatives coexist? That hasn’t happened yet. Until it does there is no libertarian moment in American politics.

August 2, 2014

QotD: Food as “storehouses of embedded knowledge”

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

It is hard to fathom all of the trial-and-error that has gone into any great cuisine. Imagine how long it must have taken to come up with the idea that food should be cooked in the first place. How many deaths or vomiting sessions stemming from eating spoiled raw meat led to that discovery? How many mistakes were made – and learned from – in the process of aging and curing meats and fish? How many corpses are long since buried and decomposed thanks to someone working out the technical details of food storage? And then there’s the whole wonderful universe of flavor and technique that defines any truly distinctive cuisine. This much salt, that much paprika. Age the cheese this long for this taste, this much longer for that taste. Cuisines are the manifest product of wars, invasions, famines, revolution, religious awakenings, boom times, and scientific breakthroughs. The culinary lessons learned from these momentous times are humbly recorded, without much commentary, in cookbooks. Put it all together and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking is not merely akin to a time capsule, it’s a memory back-up, an auto-save of a document still being written. At least 99 percent of the things we know are things other people figured out first. Our manners, morals, technology, language, culture come to us on an assembly line that stretches off into prehistory with laborers in animal skins at the front and lab coats at the end.

Even rugged-individualist survivalists living completely alone in the woods somewhere are plugged into a support network of millions of human beings who came before him. Nearly every single thing he does alone in the woods was figured out for him by someone else. He didn’t discover how to start a fire. He probably didn’t forge his own gun or knife, and even if he did, he didn’t learn the techniques for doing so all by himself.

One of the ways we plug into all of this knowledge, how we transfer the data banks of civilization onto the empty barbarian hard drive of humanity, is at the dinner table. We teach our children not to be savages by eating with them and including them in the process of cooking. Food is primal, and by diluting and harnessing the primal urge to eat we start turning barbarians into less-than-barbarians.

Jonah Goldberg, The Goldberg File, 2012-07-13.

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