November 29, 2015

QotD: German women

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

If anything change the German character, it will be the German woman. She herself is changing rapidly — advancing, as we call it. Ten years ago no German woman caring for her reputation, hoping for a husband, would have dared to ride a bicycle: to-day they spin about the country in their thousands. The old folks shake their heads at them; but the young men, I notice, overtake them and ride beside them. Not long ago it was considered unwomanly in Germany for a lady to be able to do the outside edge. Her proper skating attitude was thought to be that of clinging limpness to some male relative. Now she practises eights in a corner by herself, until some young man comes along to help her. She plays tennis, and, from a point of safety, I have even noticed her driving a dog-cart.

Brilliantly educated she always has been. At eighteen she speaks two or three languages, and has forgotten more than the average Englishwoman has ever read. Hitherto, this education has been utterly useless to her. On marriage she has retired into the kitchen, and made haste to clear her brain of everything else, in order to leave room for bad cooking. But suppose it begins to dawn upon her that a woman need not sacrifice her whole existence to household drudgery any more than a man need make himself nothing else than a business machine. Suppose she develop an ambition to take part in the social and national life. Then the influence of such a partner, healthy in body and therefore vigorous in mind, is bound to be both lasting and far-reaching.

For it must be borne in mind that the German man is exceptionally sentimental, and most easily influenced by his women folk. It is said of him, he is the best of lovers, the worst of husbands. This has been the woman’s fault. Once married, the German woman has done more than put romance behind her; she has taken a carpet-beater and driven it out of the house. As a girl, she never understood dressing; as a wife, she takes off such clothes even as she had, and proceeds to wrap herself up in any odd articles she may happen to find about the house; at all events, this is the impression she produces. The figure that might often be that of a Juno, the complexion that would sometimes do credit to a healthy angel, she proceeds of malice and intent to spoil. She sells her birth-right of admiration and devotion for a mess of sweets. Every afternoon you may see her at the café, loading herself with rich cream-covered cakes, washed down by copious draughts of chocolate. In a short time she becomes fat, pasty, placid, and utterly uninteresting.

When the German woman gives up her afternoon coffee and her evening beer, takes sufficient exercise to retain her shape, and continues to read after marriage something else than the cookery-book, the German Government will find it has a new and unknown force to deal with. And everywhere throughout Germany one is confronted by unmistakable signs that the old German Frauen are giving place to the newer Damen.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

November 26, 2015

QotD: Culture warriors

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

Culture War 2.0 is as inescapable as it is obnoxious. Its loudest proponents, the Social Justice Warriors, live off a drama that they create, playing enlightened victim-activists fighting micro-struggles against micro-aggressions in areas most people have never even thought about.

The issues are ideological, but they’re mainstreamed by focusing on personal narratives. The victim-activists are usually millennials from wealthy families with useless degrees. It’s a story as old as radicalism, but in the dawn of the 21st century, it’s activism and culture war being replayed as farce.

Culture War 2.0 politicizes narcissism and insecurity. It obsessively masticates culture the way that its political predecessors destroyed people. Its target audience lives and thinks in terms of premium cable shows. They are to it what novels were to its 19th century counterparts.

Even its ideology is more grievance than theory. It only cares about theory to the extent of parsing the Victim Value Index and determining who has more or less privilege, who ought to feel more guilty and who ought to feel more victimized. This is ideology as soap opera. Politics as a means of deciding who gets to play what emotional role in a societal drama.

Its political expressions exist in the space of the personal narrative. In this tawdry post-Orwellian future everyone will get their essay of victimhood on Medium or ThoughtCatalog read for 15 minutes. Their drama will, very temporarily, be a trending topic. For a generation of overindulged children, broadcasting their petty pains is the closest thing their lives have to love and meaning.

Daniel Greenfield, “Our Insecure Culture Warriors”, Sultan Knish, 2015-11-02.

November 24, 2015

How’s your food innovation level for American Thanksgiving?

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

Megan McArdle says you can safely avoid novel and baroque food variations for the most stereotypical American meal of all time:

Every year you’re supposed to come up with something amazing and new to do with the most scripted meal in the American culinary canon. Turkey crusted with Marash pepper and stuffed with truffled cornichons. Deconstructed mashed potatoes. Green bean casserole that substitutes kale for the green beans and a smug expression for the cream-of-mushroom soup. Pumpkin-chocolate trifle with a chipotle-molasses drizzle.

I’m sorry, I can’t. I just can’t.

You know what we’re having for Thanksgiving at our house this year? With minor variations, we’re having the same thing we’ve had every year since my birth in 1973. There will be a turkey, roasted whole, because my oven cannot accommodate a spatchcocked 16-pound bird splayed over a sheet pan full of stuffing. It will be brined in a cooler, stuffed full of stuffing despite all the dire culinary injunctions against it, and cooked in the same undoubtedly subpar way we have always done it. My sister will make her homemade cloverleaf rolls, and stuffing with sausage, ginger and apple. There will be cranberry sauce, little creamed onions, mashed potatoes, and butternut squash, with bok choy for those who want greens. For dessert, there will be pie: apple, pumpkin, and perhaps, if we are feeling especially daring, cranberry-raisin.

Novelty is overrated at holidays. If you want to try planked salmon and braised leeks for the first time this year, then bon appetit. But the idea that we must have novelty, that a good cook is constantly seeking out new and better things, is a curse. The best parts of our lives do not require constant innovation; they are the best because they are the familiar things we love just as they are. When I hug my Dad, I don’t think, “Yeah, this is pretty OK, but how much better would it be if he were wearing a fez and speaking Bantu?”

November 23, 2015

“Food can be used as a tool of marginalisation and oppression”

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

David Thompson works his way through a “social justice” “analysis” of how ethnic food is — or should be — a minefield of oppression and cultural appropriation:

Again, note the loadedness, the questions begged. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten, say, chili while convinced that said meal was an adequate distillation of the entire population of Mexico and Texas, past and present. Nor can I recall “fetishizing the sustenance of another culture.” It’s a meal, not an attempt to absorb world history or to flirt with some notional brownness. Yet this is asserted as “what happens,” as some universal fact:

    Eating food from another culture in isolation from that culture’s history and also current issues mean that we’re just borrowing the pieces that are enjoyable – palatable and easily digestible.

Um, and? Isn’t that rather the point? You know, tastiness without baggage? Isn’t that what makes foreign cuisine commercially viable, a livelihood of millions? Should every visit to, say, a Pakistani restaurant entail a stern lecture on the pros and cons of European colonisation and a lifetime subscription to the fever dream of Islam? Would that aid digestion? Stated plainly, it sounds a little silly. But Ms Kuo wishes to appear concerned, deeply concerned, that people of pallor might enjoy falafel and a spot of hummus “but not understand or address the ongoing Islamophobia in the US.”

Well. I’m pretty sure that the family running my local Chinese takeaway actively encourages heathen white folk to sample their wares, regardless of whether those paying customers are intimately familiar with All Of Chinese History, and regardless of whether those customers dutifully ponder how the cooking of this particular family differs from other Chinese families, from any particular town or province, in a country as vast and sprawling as China. What they want is custom. Pretentiously agonised pseudo-sensitivity is, alas, not billable.

November 22, 2015

QotD: Bargaining in Germany

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

On another occasion I listened in the smoke-room of a German hotel to a small Englishman telling a tale which, had I been in his place, I should have kept to myself.

“It doesn’t do,” said the little Englishman, “to try and beat a German down. They don’t seem to understand it. I saw a first edition of The Robbers in a shop in the Georg Platz. I went in and asked the price. It was a rum old chap behind the counter. He said: ‘Twenty-five marks,’ and went on reading. I told him I had seen a better copy only a few days before for twenty — one talks like that when one is bargaining; it is understood. He asked me ‘Where?’ I told him in a shop at Leipsig. He suggested my returning there and getting it; he did not seem to care whether I bought the book or whether I didn’t. I said:

“‘What’s the least you will take for it?’

“‘I have told you once,’ he answered; ‘twenty-five marks.’ He was an irritable old chap.

“I said: ‘It’s not worth it.’

“‘I never said it was, did I?’ he snapped.

“I said: ‘I’ll give you ten marks for it.’ I thought, maybe, he would end by taking twenty.

“He rose. I took it he was coming round the counter to get the book out. Instead, he came straight up to me. He was a biggish sort of man. He took me by the two shoulders, walked me out into the street, and closed the door behind me with a bang. I was never more surprised in all my life.

“Maybe the book was worth twenty-five marks,” I suggested.

“Of course it was,” he replied; “well worth it. But what a notion of business!”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

November 17, 2015

Jonah Goldberg – “You Stupid Schmucks, Look at You Now”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter last week covered the entertaining spectacle of legions of progressive thinkers turning on their own allies:

… this “crisis” is 100 percent liberalism’s fault. Sure, sure, you can divvy up the slices of blame in different ways, but those guys tailgating in the parking lot drinking beers and eating bratwurst? Those are the conservatives and libertarians enjoying a day off, because they don’t have to wait in line for even a morsel of blame.

I almost feel sorry for those decent, sincere career liberals standing there in the quad as the little Maoists scream in their faces and strip off the suede elbow patches on their tweedy jackets like a lieutenant being busted down to a private. As the kids fit lifelong members of the ACLU with their duncecaps, the poor souls can hear the conservatives hooting and laughing off beyond the fence, throwing nerf footballs and telling jokes at the liberals’ expense.


Outside of the actual headquarters of the Democratic party itself, no major institution in America today is more thoroughly run and controlled by the Left than academia.

For several years now, whenever I’ve visited a college campus, I’ve tried to make the following point. It basically goes like this:

    You kids think it is somehow rebellious to be liberal. So let me see if I get this right. The administrators at this school are liberal. The professors are liberal. Your high-school teachers were probably liberal. Your textbooks are, for the most part, liberal. Hollywood is liberal. The music industry is liberal. The fashion industry is liberal. Publishing is liberal. The mainstream media are liberal. Silicon Valley is liberal. Believe it or not, most corporations and the overwhelming majority of charitable foundations are liberal.

    And yet, you think you’re sticking it to the man by agreeing with them?

Moreover, it’s been like this for generations. It was true when most of these administrators and faculty were born — they have grown up inside a universe where this fact was simply taken for granted. With the Left given total control of these oases of tolerance and citadels of progressivism, what do we get?

We get pampered and coddled students screaming that these institutions are hotbeds of racism, homophobia, sexism, and the rest of the 31 Flavors of Oppression.

I’m sorry, but over here by the hibachi in the parking lot, that’s just frick’n hilarious.

And it is fitting. It is just. It’s almost frick’n Biblical in its justness. You see, there is precious little bigotry and prejudice on college campuses. But the bulk of what does exist is aimed almost entirely at the guys and gals chilling at the tailgate party. Pro-life Christians, Israel-supporting Jews, libertarian professors, conservative scholars, climate-change skeptics, traditionalists of every stripe including classical liberals, and, of course, people who can take a joke: These make up the bulk of the victims of campus bigotry and prejudice. I can’t tell you how many professors I’ve met who have to keep their conservatism secret, at least until tenure, if not forever. I’ve never met or heard of a faculty member who had to keep her Marxism on the down-low.

November 15, 2015

Do Australians sound drunk to you?

Filed under: History, Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Lester Haines on how and when the distinctive “Strine” accent originated:

Australians’ distinctive accent – known affectionately as “Strine” – was formed in the country’s early history by drunken settlers’ “alcoholic slur”.

This shock claim, we hasten to add, comes from Down Under publication The Age, which explains:

    The Australian alphabet cocktail was spiked by alcohol. Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns.

    For the past two centuries, from generation to generation, drunken Aussie-speak continues to be taught by sober parents to their children.

The paper reckons that not only do Aussies speak at “just two thirds capacity – with one third of our articulator muscles always sedentary as if lying on the couch”, but they also ditch entire letters and play slow and loose with vowels.

It elaborates:

    Missing consonants can include missing “t”s (Impordant), “l”s (Austraya) and “s”s (yesh), while many of our vowels are lazily transformed into other vowels, especially “a”s to “e”s (stending) and “i”s (New South Wyles) and “i”s to “oi”s (noight).

The upshot of this total disregard for clear English is that our Antipodean cousins are poor communicators and lack rhetorical skills, something which could cost the Australian economy “billions of dollars”, as The Age audaciously quantifies it.

November 12, 2015

“Camille Paglia is an intellectual flamethrower”

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

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rachel Toor talks to Camille Paglia:

Not long after she had splashed onto the scene with the publication of her first book, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, and followed that up with an essay in The New York Times claiming that Madonna was the future of feminism, I went to see Camille Paglia speak on a panel about political correctness at New York University. My recollection is of being frisked by armed guards before being allowed to enter the auditorium, but it’s more likely we just had to empty our pockets and go through a metal detector. That I thought the extra protection was for the professor from a small arts college in Philadelphia, and not for another speaker on the dais, Edward Said, tells you something about how Paglia was regarded in the circles in which I traveled.

Camille Paglia is an intellectual flamethrower. She’s fearless. She can be bully-mean and a name caller. She makes some people really, really mad. But she’s also a serious thinker who has been able to write important scholarly books that cross over into a wide readership, and you can regularly find her byline in national magazines, where it’s always a treat to read her sentences. Whether she’s writing about the Obama administration, characterizing cats (in Sexual Personae) as the “autocrats of self-interest,” rhapsodizing about The Real Housewives, or bludgeoning feminists, Christopher Hitchens, or Jon Stewart, she is sometimes right and never boring.

I approached her for this series with trepidation. I was eager to hear what she had to say about writing, but, to be honest, I was a little afraid of her (she called my former boss, Stanley Fish, a “totalitarian Tinkerbell”). Silly me. Camille could not have been more gracious, personable, or fun. She did tell me with a bit of glee that my former employer, Oxford University Press, was one of the seven publishers who rejected Sexual Personae. Thankfully that was before I started working there.

November 5, 2015

Do you have a sufficient supply of pronouns yet?

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

Another link I saved a while back and then didn’t get around to using until now:

A private Southern California women’s college now offers students eight different gender pronoun options from which to select, expecting professors and others on campus to use the choices.

The Claremont-based Scripps College, nicknamed “The Women’s College,” offers the gender pronoun options to students through its online student portal accounts. Students use a drop-down menu to select their preference from ten choices – eight of which are various gender pronoun sets such as “Hu, Hum, Hus,” “Per, Pers, Perself” and “Ze, Zir, Zir.” The other two are “none” and “just my name.”

Once students select their preference, a note of it appears on class rosters and other documents informing professors and others.

Though an all-female institution, the drop-down list does not default to the “She, Her, Hers, Herself” option, but instead, “Select Pronoun.” In fact, the choices are listed in alphabetical order, which places the traditional “she/hers” choice as the seventh possibility.

The list of options, along with phonetic pronunciations for the less frequently used choices, was provided to The College Fix by a campus official:

    1. E/Ey, Em, Eir/Eirs, Eirself/Emself (A, M, ear, ears, earself)
    2. He, Him, His, Himself
    3. Hu, Hum, Hus, Humself (hue like HUman,/hue-m like HUMan, hue-s, hue-mself)
    4. Just My Name Please
    5. None
    6. Per, Per, Per/Pers, Perself (per/purr, pers, perself)
    7. She, Her, hers, Herself
    8. They, Them, Their/Theirs, Themse
    9. Ze, Hir, Hir/Hirs, Hirself (zee, hear, hears, hearself)
    10. Ze, Zir, Zir/Zirs, Zirself (zee, zeer, zeers, zeerself)

November 4, 2015

The Manic Pixie Dream Boyfriend

Filed under: Randomness, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 05:00

I guess I’ve been living in a cave for far too long, as I had never imagined the existence of the “The Manic Pixie Dream Boyfriend” in anything other than a fictional setting:

Journalist Anne Breslaw has written a funny piece for New York magazine, “Beware the Manic Pixie Dream Boyfriend.” Briefly summarized, her thesis is that an artsy and eccentric guy might be charming but is ultimately a bad choice for a boyfriend. Breslaw describes this roaming, poetry-reading person as “the self-mythologizing ‘free-spirited’ dude who’s determined to make your life magical, whether you want it or not.” It’s the guy who gets angry that you’re working late because he wants to eat burritos on the roof in the moonlight.

She goes on. The Manic Pixie Dream Boyfriend (MPDB):

    “relishes breaking rules, and relishes even more his complete lack of concern that he’ll get caught. He gushes about tripping on mushrooms at Burning Man and he’s happy to supply you with some, as long as you promise to do them in nature. And he is determined to show women — no matter how much more successful, wealthy, beautiful, happy, and confident they are than him — that they aren’t living life to the fullest.”

An interesting subtext emerges from Breslaw’s piece, however: less pixie, more rage. Her barbs suggest a thinly veiled anger. Clearly contemptuous of the MPDB, Breslaw also comes across as a little jealous of him. The things that annoy her about this 21st-century beatnik – his enthusiasm for natural food, literature, great music, Burning Man, and sitting on a rooftop in New York – all sound like very cool activities. One senses that Breslaw envies the pixie’s freedom. She wants to be a part of his dream. And yet, she also clearly wants the MPDB to be more masculine; in defiance of feminist dogma, she yearns for a little less manic pixie dust and a lot more ambition (and testosterone).

Manic Pixie Dream Boyfriends have always existed, but prior to feminism and the digital revolution they were known simply as bohemians. Pixies had nothing to do with it. A pixie is diminutive and unthreatening, a figure out of fairy tales. While there have always been fey and lightweight male artists, there was once also room for raw masculinity amongst writers, poets, musicians, and filmmakers.

November 3, 2015

QotD: Liberal arts programs

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

… liberal-arts programs have been ailing for decades. The humane thing would be to let them die with whatever modicum of dignity they have left.

My purpose in this essay is not to defend (or attack) “the arts” (the aaaaahts, in my plummiest fake English accent). The arts don’t need defending (or attacking), and even if they did, there are lots of thick books written by people who are far smarter than me making the case. This essay is, instead, a broadside against university humanities departments, which are mostly terrible and not really worth rescuing.

We don’t need university liberal arts programs to expose us to culture. Want some culture in your life? Hit YouTube and you can get all the culture you can choke down, for free. Art, music, dance, guided tours of great museums. Literature? The local library might still have a few books lying around if it hasn’t given itself over completely to being a day-care facility for the homeless. Amazon will sell you any book you want, from The Pilgrim’s Progress to The Brothers Karamazov to The Vagina Monologues and deliver it to your portable reading device in a matter of seconds. Amazon will also sell you a Blu-Ray of any opera or great film you want, and have it delivered right to your door by the next day. (Or stream it right to your TV, iPad, or smartphone.) Embarrassed for funds? You can download tens of thousands of public-domain books, films, and pieces of music for free from a variety of sources. In short, art has been transformed from a luxury good to a commodity good.

“But wait!” the academics cry. “Who’s going to teach you how to understand all this stuff? How to interpret it? How to uncover all the subtleties and meanings in it?”

In this response you get two fallacies for the price of one: that the average citizen requires someone to perform this task, and that universities are capable of performing it even if it were necessary.

Monty, “DOOM (culturally speaking)”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-10-28.

November 1, 2015

QotD: Germany’s class system

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

As a trader, I am inclined to think the German will, unless his temperament considerably change, remain always a long way behind his Anglo-Saxon competitor; and this by reason of his virtues. To him life is something more important than a mere race for wealth. A country that closes its banks and post-offices for two hours in the middle of the day, while it goes home and enjoys a comfortable meal in the bosom of its family, with, perhaps, forty winks by way of dessert, cannot hope, and possibly has no wish, to compete with a people that takes its meals standing, and sleeps with a telephone over its bed. In Germany there is not, at all events as yet, sufficient distinction between the classes to make the struggle for position the life and death affair it is in England. Beyond the landed aristocracy, whose boundaries are impregnable, grade hardly counts. Frau Professor and Frau Candlestickmaker meet at the Weekly Kaffee-Klatsch and exchange scandal on terms of mutual equality. The livery-stable keeper and the doctor hobnob together at their favourite beer hall. The wealthy master builder, when he prepares his roomy waggon for an excursion into the country, invites his foreman and his tailor to join him with their families. Each brings his share of drink and provisions, and returning home they sing in chorus the same songs. So long as this state of things endures, a man is not induced to sacrifice the best years of his life to win a fortune for his dotage. His tastes, and, more to the point still, his wife’s, remain inexpensive. He likes to see his flat or villa furnished with much red plush upholstery and a profusion of gilt and lacquer. But that is his idea; and maybe it is in no worse taste than is a mixture of bastard Elizabethan with imitation Louis XV, the whole lit by electric light, and smothered with photographs. Possibly, he will have his outer walls painted by the local artist: a sanguinary battle, a good deal interfered with by the front door, taking place below, while Bismarck, as an angel, flutters vaguely about the bedroom windows. But for his Old Masters he is quite content to go to the public galleries; and “the Celebrity at Home” not having as yet taken its place amongst the institutions of the Fatherland, he is not impelled to waste his, money turning his house into an old curiosity shop.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

October 29, 2015

QotD: Culture, the arts, and elitism

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

Of course not all liberal-arts professors think this way, and not all universities have become cultural wastelands. There are yet islands of excellence in the dead sea of mediocrity, meretriciousness and cultural Marxist rot.

Let us stipulate that there are excellent liberal-arts programs and professors out there. What value do they bring to students?

The usual answer is that a committed teacher can inculcate in a student a lifelong love of the subject matter, whether it be ancient Greek sculpture or medieval French poetry or American jazz music. However, this happens seldom enough to bring the whole axiom into question. It’s the whole “you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it” problem. You can make a class full of bored young people listen to Mahler and explain to them why you think it’s wonderful, but the point is to convince them that it’s wonderful (or at least worth “appreciating”). This is a much harder task, and one that not many college professors are particularly good at.

This is called the “arts appreciation racket”, and it goes back to the Romantic belief that exposing the hoi polloi to high art would make them more well-rounded people. Somehow. The belief has persisted in spite of mounds of evidence to the contrary. Forcing people to imbibe high art is like forcing a kid to eat broccoli — not only will the kid probably spit it out, he will probably develop a lasting dislike for it. Without context and some motivating purpose, high art simply doesn’t have much relevance for most people.

This is not an inherently bad thing. “High art” has never really been aimed at or intended for a mass audience. The whole notion of “high art” implies a kind of elitism, as a calculus equation is elitist (if you don’t know calculus, the equation will not yield its meaning). The creation and consumption of high art requires a level of literacy, wealth, and leisure that until recently not many people had. But now we live in an age when the jewels of world culture can be had for almost nothing, immediately, anywhere. The limiting factor is no longer literacy, or wealth, or leisure time, but rather motivation. All prerequisites have been removed except the “Why?”. Why spend time listening to a Mozart concerto? Why attend a Wagner opera or study a Turner painting or look up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? The problem with University liberal-arts programs is that they can only give you their “Why?”, not your own “Why?”.

Monty, “DOOM (culturally speaking)”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-10-28.

October 27, 2015

Cultural appropriation is bunk

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

At The Federalist, David Marcus explains how he considered the arguments of those pushing the idea of “cultural appropriation” … and rejected them:

I read a lot as a kid. Books were a pleasure and window into worlds. I read James Joyce and Marcel Proust, but I also read James Baldwin and Zora Neal Hurston. Every book spoke to me in its own way, and I felt a connection to their authors. I felt like I was having a private conversation with them. After finishing a book, I felt a kind of ownership of it. Each volume took a permanent place in my consciousness.

This was before the popular emergence of the idea of cultural appropriation. Nobody told me that books, music, and clothing created by people who didn’t look like me didn’t belong to me, that I was somehow borrowing them. Today, people do tell me this. They tell me that I must tread lightly when engaging in cultural forms not invented by my white ancestors.

I have listened to their arguments, read their theories, and arrived at a conclusion. They are wrong. All cultures are mine.

Over at The Atlantic, Jenni Avins writes about the dos and don’ts of cultural appropriation. To her credit, she explores how culture blending is central to the development of, well, everything. Since time immemorial, from the spice road to Times Square, cultures have influenced each other and produced the world as we know it.


But in America there is one culture that anyone and everyone is free to appropriate. White culture, be it classical music, the novel, or the business suit, is never the subject of claims of appropriation. Last week, a perfect example of this disparity was on display in an announcement from the theater world. Howlround, a website that describes itself as a theater commons and has a strong influence on the theater community, announced its call for 2020 to be a Jubilee year to promote diversity in theater.

What form will this Jubilee take? Well, it’s a doozy: “We declare the year 2020 the year of Jubilee. For the 2020–2021 season, all performances produced in the United States of America will be by women, people of color, artists of varied physical and cognitive abilities, and LBGTQA artists. Every theatre large and small is included in the vision…This is also a time for straight, white men to rejoice, to witness, to listen, and to be fed for one year by the stories they’ve also been denied. “

On its face, this is absurd nonsense. The idea that any American artists would seek to officially prohibit — in other words, ban — any artist’s work on the basis of his or her race or gender is mind-numbing. It is also quite likely that any theater company without an ethnically based mission that officially signed onto this plan would be breaking the law. Finally, it’s obviously not going to happen. But for all its preening silliness, this Jubilee fiasco tells us something interesting about cultural appropriation.

Here’s a clue: if the race or gender of an author or playwright matters more to you than the quality of the book or play, the problem isn’t the artist: the problem is you.

October 25, 2015

QotD: German culture and discipline

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

The Germans are a good people. On the whole, the best people perhaps in the world; an amiable, unselfish, kindly people. I am positive that the vast majority of them go to Heaven. Indeed, comparing them with the other Christian nations of the earth, one is forced to the conclusion that Heaven will be chiefly of German manufacture. But I cannot understand how they get there. That the soul of any single individual German has sufficient initiative to fly up by itself and knock at St. Peter’s door, I cannot believe. My own opinion is that they are taken there in small companies, and passed in under the charge of a dead policeman.

Carlyle said of the Prussians, and it is true of the whole German nation, that one of their chief virtues was their power of being drilled. Of the Germans you might say they are a people who will go anywhere, and do anything, they are told. Drill him for the work and send him out to Africa or Asia under charge of somebody in uniform, and he is bound to make an excellent colonist, facing difficulties as he would face the devil himself, if ordered. But it is not easy to conceive of him as a pioneer. Left to run himself, one feels he would soon fade away and die, not from any lack of intelligence, but from sheer want of presumption.

The German has so long been the soldier of Europe, that the military instinct has entered into his blood. The military virtues he possesses in abundance; but he also suffers from the drawbacks of the military training. It was told me of a German servant, lately released from the barracks, that he was instructed by his master to deliver a letter to a certain house, and to wait there for the answer. The hours passed by, and the man did not return. His master, anxious and surprised, followed. He found the man where he had been sent, the answer in his hand. He was waiting for further orders. The story sounds exaggerated, but personally I can credit it.

The curious thing is that the same man, who as an individual is as helpless as a child, becomes, the moment he puts on the uniform, an intelligent being, capable of responsibility and initiative. The German can rule others, and be ruled by others, but he cannot rule himself. The cure would appear to be to train every German for an officer, and then put him under himself. It is certain he would order himself about with discretion and judgment, and see to it that he himself obeyed himself with smartness and precision.

For the direction of German character into these channels, the schools, of course, are chiefly responsible. Their everlasting teaching is duty. It is a fine ideal for any people; but before buckling to it, one would wish to have a clear understanding as to what this “duty” is. The German idea of it would appear to be: “blind obedience to everything in buttons.” It is the antithesis of the Anglo-Saxon scheme; but as both the Anglo-Saxon and the Teuton are prospering, there must be good in both methods. Hitherto, the German has had the blessed fortune to be exceptionally well governed; if this continue, it will go well with him. When his troubles will begin will be when by any chance something goes wrong with the governing machine. But maybe his method has the advantage of producing a continuous supply of good governors; it would certainly seem so.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

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