October 1, 2015

“Welcome to the new war on cultural appropriation”

Cathy Young trips over cultural appropriation everywhere:

A few months ago, I read The Orphan’s Tales by Catherynne Valente. The fantasy novel draws on myths and folklore from many cultures, including, to my delight, fairy tales from my Russian childhood. Curious about the author, I looked her up online and was startled to find several social-media discussions bashing her for “cultural appropriation.”

There was a post sneering at “how she totally gets a pass to write about Slavic cultures because her husband is Russian,” with a response noting that her spouse isn’t even a proper Russian, because he has lived in the United States since age 10. In another thread, Valente was denounced for her Japanese-style LiveJournal username, yuki-onna, adopted while she lived in Japan as a military wife. In response to such criticism, a browbeaten Valente eventually dropped the “problematic” moniker.

Welcome to the new war on cultural appropriation. At one time, such critiques were leveled against truly offensive art — work that trafficked in demeaning caricatures, such as blackface, 19th-century minstrel shows or ethnological expositions, which literally put indigenous people on display, often in cages. But these accusations have become a common attack against any artist or artwork that incorporates ideas from another culture, no matter how thoughtfully or positively. A work can reinvent the material or even serve as a tribute, but no matter. If artists dabble outside their own cultural experiences, they’ve committed a creative sin.

To take just a few recent examples: After the 2013 American Music Awards, Katy Perry was criticized for dressing like a geisha while performing her hit single “Unconditionally.” Last year, Arab-American writer Randa Jarrar accused Caucasian women who practice belly dancing of “white appropriation of Eastern dance.” Daily Beast entertainment writer Amy Zimmerman wrote that pop star Iggy Azalea perpetrated “cultural crimes” by imitating African American rap styles.

And this summer, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has been dogged by charges of cultural insensitivity and racism for its “Kimono Wednesdays.” At the event, visitors were invited to try on a replica of the kimono worn by Claude Monet’s wife, Camille, in the painting “La Japonaise.” The historically accurate kimonos were made in Japan for this very purpose. Still, Asian American activists and their supporters besieged the exhibit with signs like “Try on the kimono: Learn what it’s like to be a racist imperialist today!” Others railed against “Yellow-Face @ the MFA” on Facebook. The museum eventually apologized and changed the program so that the kimonos were available for viewing only. Still, activists complained that the display invited a “creepy Orientalist gaze.”

September 23, 2015

Oppressed by cisnormative expectations? Harassed by microaggressions? Come to Snowflake U!

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

Ken White imagines a market solution to help academia’s most special snowflakes:

Imagine a world in which the market lets people decide whether to be special snowflakes — people wtih an actual protected right not to be upset or offended.

As the University of California’s proposal shows, the legions of school administrators are perfectly capable of creating Snowflake Schools, where the administration vigorously defends students’ rights to be free of offense. What if we let them?

Take, let’s say, Brown University. They’re already on FIRE’s red light policy list, and frankly I enjoy making fun of them. Brown could decide to take on the mantle of a Snowflake School. It could openly declare that its students have a right not to be offended. It could enact policies accordingly, and discipline students and faculty who cause any offense through their speech and actions. Brown could display the snowflake symbol on their letterhead and web page. They could even vigorously rebrand themselves to attract students who don’t want to be offended — I don’t know, they could rename their teams The Blizzards or something.

Students, staff, and academics could then vote with their feet. Do I want to go to an acknowledged Snowflake School? Maybe I do, and will wear the snowflake badge proudly. Maybe I don’t — either because I don’t want to get expelled for offending someone, or because I’m embarrassed to go someplace that marks me as a snowflake.

Other people could vote, too. Do I want to hire someone who chose to go to a Snowflake School? You might, but I wouldn’t. Do I want to date a Snowflake? Do I want a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant who wears a Snowflake U. sweatshirt?

September 19, 2015

First world problems – pronouns

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

Katharine Timpf explains why we all face potentially insurmountable problems with our pronouns:

Scripps College, a private all-women’s college in Southern California, is giving students ten pronoun options to choose from in their student portal accounts — including “hu, hum, hus, himself,” “Just My Name Please,” and “None”

It’s not clear what the hell students who choose “None” are supposed to be called, especially since “Name Only” is another option. Are they (oops! I said “they!”) asking to not be spoken to at all? Because that sounds like a microaggression.

The other eight options are “E/Ey, Em, Eir/Eirs, Eirself/Emse,” “Per, Per, Per/Pers, Perself,” “Zi, Hir/Hirs Hirself,” “Ze, Zir, Zir/Zirs, Zirself,” “They, Them, Their/Theirs, Themse” (used as a singular pronoun) and — yes — the archaic “He, Him, His, Himself” or “Her, She, Hers, Herself.”


There is, however, an obvious problem with this system: What about the gender-fluid students who may change genders and pronouns throughout the year, or even perhaps throughout the day? I can’t imagine how traumatic (dangerous?) being pressured to choose just one might be.

September 13, 2015

Lord of the Flies, re-imagined for today

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

In The New Yorker, Joe Keohane gives us an updated, modernized version of William Golding’s 1954 book:

By the time Ralph finished blowing the conch, a large crowd had formed.

“Well, then,” he said, clearing his throat. “First rule: we can’t have everyone talking at once.”

Jack was on his feet. “We’ll have rules!” he yelled excitedly. “Lots of rules!”

Ralph explained, “We need to have ‘hands up,’ like at school. Then I’ll pass the conch.”

“Conch?” someone asked.

“That’s what this shell’s called,” Ralph said. “I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it while he’s speaking. And he won’t be interrupted, except by me.”

“Just because we’re stranded doesn’t give you the right to use non-inclusive language,” Jack said.

The littluns muttered in assent.

“Uh, O.K.,” Ralph said. “So he or she can hold this conch when he or she is …”

“He or she,” a littlun cried, “imposes a binary view of sexuality that excludes the gender-non-conforming.”

“I feel unsafe!” Percival whimpered.

“O.K.,” Ralph said. “During assembly, any person who holds the conch—”

“Excuse me,” Roger began, “remind us again why you get to interrupt us even if you don’t have the conch?”

“Because I’m the chief,” Ralph said. “I was chosen.”

“By whom?”

“By you.”

“I didn’t vote for you,” Roger said, with a frown.

“We had a vote. The majority rules.”

“Oh, that’s brilliant — the majority,” Jack scoffed. The littluns tittered. “If anything, that means you have even less of a right to interrupt than we do!” Jack faced the others. “If you agree with me, wiggle your fingers.”

They wiggled their fingers.

“Look, I’m trying to get us rescued by the grownups,” Ralph said, gesturing toward a plane that had been circling the island for some time, and now seemed to be flying away.

“You are speaking from a position of privilege,” Jack said, “so you have no right to criticize us or tell us what to do.”

August 27, 2015

The plight of the Calais migrants

At sp!ked, Brendan O’Neill talks about the situation in Calais between the migrants who want to enter the UK and the government that very much wants them to stay on the other side of the Channel:

What’s worse: treating people like animals or referring to them in animal-like language? Most normal people would say the former. Actions speak louder than words, after all. To treat someone as less than human — by denying them their rights, caging them, beating them — has a direct detrimental impact on their individual autonomy and everyday lives. In contrast, comparing someone to an animal, through your choice of words, is just unpleasant; it doesn’t physically hold that individual back. Sticks and stones can seriously impede our ability to live freely; words can only make us feel bad (if we let them).

Yet in the morally inverted world of political correctness, where speaking in the clipped morals of the new clerisy is the key and hollow duty of every citizen, words are more important than behaviour. You’re judged on how you express yourself, not on what you believe, or what you do. Take Swarmgate, the media fury over British PM David Cameron’s use of the word ‘swarm’ to refer to those few thousand migrants in Calais who long to come to Britain. When Cameron was talking about sending soldiers and barbed wire and dogs to keep these aspirant Brits out of Britain, the self-styled guardians of public decency — the Twitterati, liberal editorialists, Labourites — said little, except perhaps that he should do it more quickly. Yet as soon as he referred to the migrants as a ‘swarm of people’, these Good People became pained: they banged their fists on tables, spilt their tea, went on the telly.

Ladies and gentlemen, behold the inhumanity of political correctness, which bats not one eyelid when 5,000 human beings are reduced to the level of animals, yet which becomes wide-eyed with anger when their animal-like status is mentioned in polite society. ‘Treat them like shit, just don’t use shitty language while you do it’ — that’s the glorious motto of the PC.

Right now, nothing better captures PC’s Kafkaesque levels of dishonesty and censorious linguistic trickery than Swarmgate. This controversy has exposed that many influential people now mistake politeness for morality, linguistic temperance for decency. So it was that Harriet Harman, acting leader of the Labour Party, could go on TV and rail against Cameron for using that s-word and then in her very next breath call on him to do more to prevent these migrants from getting to Britain. ‘He should remember he’s talking about people and not insects’, she said. Then, in mere seconds, without embarrassment, she talked about the ‘nightmare’ of having all these noisy migrants at the English Channel and said Cameron should put pressure on the French to assess ‘these people’ to see which ones ‘should be deported’. Sent back to where they came from, which in some cases is Afghanistan and Iraq: nations Harman’s party helped to destroy.

August 17, 2015

“#Gamergate summarized in one impossibly perfect tweet”

Filed under: Gaming, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It’s always awkward when you see (and publicize) something that seems to perfectly encapsulate your opponent’s position turns out to be nothing of the sort:

This afternoon multiple bomb threats were called in to a Society of Professional Journalists debate about GamerGate. I’ve been passed the remarks my fellow panellist, AEI scholar and feminist academic Christina Hoff Sommers, was planning to make.

A video game journalist from Vancouver recently took to Twitter to draw attention to a Tweet sent by a gamer: The gamer had tweeted: “I fucking swear — they get rid of Huge Boobs, I’m gone.” For this journalist those 11 words captured the essence of the gamer crusade. The hypermasculine dudebro attitude –— the crude objectification of women. It’s all there. Or so it seemed to him. As he put it: “#Gamergate summarized in one impossibly perfect tweet.”

But as is often the case with media accounts of GamerGate – the facts don’t really fit the narrative. First of all, the author was not talking about video games, but rather efforts to censor images of buxom ladies on Reddit. But more importantly — the author of the tweet is a young woman named Alison. Alison is a lesbian gamer who apparently enjoys gazing at images of busty women. For me, it is the game journalist’s tweet, not Alison’s, that is emblematic. It is an impossibly perfect illustration of a serious flaw in contemporary journalism: the narrative matters more than truth. The Rolling Stone’s apocryphal story about a gang rape at UVA is frequently cited as the classic example of narrative over-reach. But the press literature on GamerGate is strikingly similar.

According to dozens of media stories, #Gamergate is a nightmarish cabal of right wing males who will stop at nothing to keep women out of gaming. Comparisons with hate groups, lynch mobs and terrorists are not uncommon. In reality Gamergate has support from hundreds of thousands of rank and file video game enthusiasts from all over the world and across the political spectrum. Gamers identify with GamerGate for different reasons. A recurrent theme is consumerist – gamer journals are toadies for the game companies and need to be replaced by authentic critics, they say. Another — and the one that drew me into the world of gamers — is impatience with cultural scolds who evaluate games through the lens of political correctness. Are there some bullies and lunatics on the fringes of GamerGate? Yes there are. It’s the internet.

Media stories have focused on the female critics who have received hateful messages and even death threats. Those messages and threats are deplorable, but what the journalists typically fail to mention is that no one knows who sent them. Furthermore, those who defend Gamergate (males and females) have received hate mail and death threats as well. Too many in the media are addicted to a simplistic damsel in distress storyline — but inconveniently there are distressed damsels on both sides of the GamerGate controversy. The best data we have on on-line threats, a 2012 Pew Study for example, suggest that men, not women, are the primary targets.

August 14, 2015

Protecting college students from the slightest potential offense

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

In The Atlantic, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt look at how universities are turning themselves inside-out in an attempt to protect their students from ever being confronted with words, thoughts, or images that might possibly offend them:

Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law — or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia — and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.

Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma.

Some recent campus actions border on the surreal. In April, at Brandeis University, the Asian American student association sought to raise awareness of microaggressions against Asians through an installation on the steps of an academic hall. The installation gave examples of microaggressions such as “Aren’t you supposed to be good at math?” and “I’m colorblind! I don’t see race.” But a backlash arose among other Asian American students, who felt that the display itself was a microaggression. The association removed the installation, and its president wrote an e-mail to the entire student body apologizing to anyone who was “triggered or hurt by the content of the microaggressions.”

July 21, 2015

Dave Chappelle’s re-launch

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

At sp!ked, Tom Slater looks at Dave Chapelle’s new comedy routines:

In his own words, Dave Chappelle is the Bigfoot of comedy; a rarely seen legend whose long absence from the stage has only secured his status. The stand-up, actor and writer, who found global success in the mid-2000s for his Comedy Central hit Chappelle’s Show, walked away from a $50 million deal for a third season in 2006, after fame and showbiz politics began to weigh heavy on his shoulders. For the past nine years, he’s been a borderline recluse – living on a farm in Ohio, raising his children and doing the odd, unannounced stand-up gig in mobbed comedy clubs.

Now, he’s making his comeback. Touring across America and, this past week, doing a sold-out seven-night run at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, it’s as if he was never gone. And yet, he has returned to a circuit that is not what it was.

‘Are you a Muslim?’, an affable doorman asked my mate, as we handed over our tickets for Monday night’s Apollo show. He wasn’t on counterterror duty. There’d been a few incidents, you see, during the run so far, as Chappelle’s caustic jibes had ruffled some feathers. ‘He’s got a joke in there about transgenders, and one guy the other night just got up, started shouting and then ran out.’ It seemed our doorman had taken it upon himself to trigger-warn any potential targets of Chappelle’s punchlines.

It was a strange question. Not least because Chappelle is a Muslim, and anyone who comes to one of his shows should know what they’re getting. Like his hero Richard Pryor before him, Chappelle has a unique ability to craft edgy, racially charged and often scatological humour and serve it up to a mainstream audience. Chappelle’s Show, which broke all records at the time for DVD sales, ended its first episode with an extended skit about a blind white-supremacist author who is unaware he is black. It was one hell of a mission statement.

July 12, 2015

Of more than just “academic” concern…

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Jay Currie rounds up the current issues for your university faculty:

Notes Re Coming Academic Year
From: Dean of Arts
To: Faculty
Dear Colleagues,

I hope you are enjoying your well earned summer vacation. I know I am. However, a number of issues have arisen which I feel I must bring to your attention.

1. Marking: Many of you are still clinging to the outmoded idea that marks are designed to measure absolute progress in a subject. You are insisting upon received grammar and spelling in essays. You are setting exams and papers which, in themselves, are triggering events causing significant anxiety. Worse, you are not taking into account the often heart rending oppression narratives which many of your students bring to class. Stop it.

2. Subject matter: It is not enough to include writers and topics from outside the tragically exclusionary Western Cannon. The fact is that even a reference to Shakespeare will trigger feelings of anxiety, worthlessness, racial othering, religious persecution and, of course, sexual confusion. Just stop it. The same with references to the Bible, Plato, Milton, any so called Saint, Mark Twain or that Moby D*** fellow with the harpoon obsession. Each of these references will only serve to underscore the possible ignorance of your students which, rather obviously, will make them feel anxious, disrespected and unsafe. Best not to mention any of it.


6. Race: Pretty much the live hand grenade of the Arts Faculty. Say anything and it explodes with unknowable consequences. Even a supportive statement such as “slavery is wrong” can lead to disastrous conversations about Black African complicity in the trade and the continuing Islamic acceptance of slavery. Plus, and this is an acute problem, Chinese and South Asian students, dealing with our university’s current admission policies, may take strong exception to remarks vis a vis affirmative action or diversity. Just don’t go there.

7. Logic/Argument/Reason: Mansplaining at its heteronormative worst. It is pretty clear that argument, both verbal and written privileges middle class, usually white, usually male, left brain dominant, testosterone charged, individuals. By prioritizing thinking over feeling, requiring reason means an instructor risks making women, minorities and queer students feel unsafe with the feelings they often use in discourse rather than accepting the oppressor’s terms of exchange. Stay away.

July 8, 2015

Political correctness reaches even the railfan community

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

In his blog at Trains magazine, Fred Frailey explains why he’s not a fan of the attempt to shut down an advertiser’s access to the magazine for personal expressions of the advertiser that offended certain ultra-sensitive readers:

Jack runs a company that sells supplies to competitive swimmers. He advertises in Jill’s magazine, which is devoted to competitive swimming. And Bart is a competitive swimmer. On Facebook one day, Jack says that Bart is a alcohol-swilling has-been of a swimmer. Bill and Bob are admirers of Bart and subscribers to Jill’s magazine. They are angered by Jack’s remark and pressure Jill not to accept Jack’s advertising.

Jill asks, what in the dickens do I have to do with this? I didn’t start this fight, none of it occurred on the pages of my magazine, and Jack meets all our advertising standards. Am I to police everything that every advertiser says anywhere? Impossible, she says, and tells Bill and Bob no, she has no reason to ban Jack’s ads. But Bill and Bob respond, Bart is our hero and the hero of many if not most subscribers to the magazine. It’s a smart business decision to ban Jack. They cancel their subs to Jill’s magazine, naturally, thinking this will really, really hurt Jack (let’s all roll our eyes).

I have a name for this. It’s political correctness, and it is becoming the death of independent thought. The tempest involving a small advertiser in Trains Magazine over a comment he made on social media after the derailment of Amtrak train 188 has upset some readers of Trains, who have cancelled subscriptions. To be specific, the businessman ridiculed 188’s engineer, calling him a foamer.


To go back to my example — which I think fairly describes the dispute involving Trains Magazine as an uninvolved bystander — Bill and Bob’s normal recourse would be not to patronize Jack’s company. Certainly this is their right. But Bill and Bob don’t patronize Jack’s company to start with, and it is unlikely that boycotting Jack’s business would have much if any effect. So they twist the arm of Jill, a third party who has no dog in this hunt. It’s not her fight. She probably has no opinion of Bart one way or the other and if she did, it’s still a barroom brawl she isn’t interested in entering. And even if her editor wants to stake out a position on one side or the other on the editorial pages, what does this have to do with access to her magazine by an advertiser?

So now comes the insidious entrance of political correctness. On this blog this past weekend, a poster said to me in a comment: “I’m at a loss trying to figure out how dropping an advertiser that insults many of the magazine’s contributors and readers is somehow equal to stifling dialogue and free speech? Seems like a stretch.” I read that and thought to myself, this is politically correct thinking in full flower. Let me paraphrase the contributor: Some of us don’t like what was said, and therefore this offender must be thrown out, ostracized, punished, silenced. And it is fair to use any means at hand, including bringing outsiders into the fray.

May 29, 2015

QotD: Buying modern indulgences for Silicon Valley billionaires

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

Silicon Valley is an American success story. At a time of supposed American decline, a gifted group of young entrepreneurs invented, merchandized, and institutionalized everything from smartphones and eBay to Google and Facebook. The collective genius within a small corridor from San Francisco to Stanford University somehow put hand-held electronics into over a billion households worldwide — and hundreds of billions of dollars in profits rolled into Northern California, and America at large.

Stranger yet, Silicon Valley excelled at 1950s-style profit-driven capitalism while projecting the image of hip and cool. The result is a bizarre 21st-century 1-percenter culture of $1,000-a-square-foot homes, $100,000 BMWs, and $500 loafers coexisting with left-wing politics and trendy pop culture. Silicon Valley valiantly tries to square the circle of driving a Mercedes or flying in a Gulfstream while lambasting those who produce its fuel.

But the paradox finally has reached its logically absurd end. In medieval times, rich sinners sought to save their souls by buying indulgences to wash away their sins. In the updated version, Silicon Valley crony capitalists and wheeler-dealers buy exemption for their conspicuous consumption with loud manifestations of cool left-wing politics.

Victor Davis Hanson, “The Valley of the Shadow: How mansion-dwelling, carbon-spewing cutthroat capitalists can still be politically correct”, National Review, 2014-07-22.

May 25, 2015

Every word in this article is a microaggression, including ‘and’ and ‘the’

Peggy Noonan writes an article about the incredibly thin-skinned and censorious generation in university right now … everyone to their fainting couches!

Readers know of the phenomenon at college campuses regarding charges of “microaggressions” and “triggers.” It’s been going on for a while and is part of a growing censorship movement in which professors, administrators and others are accused of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, gender bias and ethnocentric thinking, among other things. Connected is the rejection or harassment of commencement and other campus speakers who are not politically correct. I hate that phrase, but it just won’t stop being current.

Kirsten Powers goes into much of this in her book, The Silencing. Anyway, quite a bunch of little Marats and Robespierres we’re bringing up.

But I was taken aback by a piece a few weeks ago in the Spectator, the student newspaper of Columbia University. I can’t shake it, though believe me I’ve tried. I won’t name the four undergraduate authors, because 30 years from now their children will be on Google, and because everyone in their 20s has the right to be an idiot.

Yet theirs is a significant and growing form of idiocy that deserves greater response.

The authors describe a student in a class discussion of Ovid’s epic poem “Metamorphoses.” The class read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, which, as parts of a narrative that stretches from the dawn of time to the Rome of Caesar, include depictions of violence, chaos, sexual assault and rape. The student, the authors reported, is herself “a survivor of sexual assault” and said she was “triggered.” She complained the professor focused “on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text.” He did not apparently notice her feelings, or their urgency. As a result, “the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class.”

Safe is the key word here. There’s the suggestion that a work may be a masterpiece but if it makes anyone feel bad, it’s out.

May 21, 2015

QotD: Silicon Valley hypocrisies

The point of reviewing these hypocrisies is not to suggest that the rich profit-makers of Silicon Valley are any greedier or more cutthroat than the speculators of Wall Street or the frackers of Texas, but merely that they are judged by quite different standards. Cool — defined by casual dress, hip popular culture, and the loud embrace of green energy, gay marriage, relaxation of drug laws, and other hot-button social issue — means that one can live life as selfishly as he pleases in the concrete by sounding as communitarian as he can in the abstract. Buying jet skis is as crass a self-indulgence as buying an even more expensive all-carbon imported road bike is neat.

If Silicon Valley produced gas and oil, built bulldozers, processed logs, mined bauxite, or grew potatoes, then the administration, academia, Hollywood, and the press would damn its white-male exclusivity, patronization of women, huge material appetites, lack of commitment to racial diversity, concern for ever-greater profits, and seeming indifference to the poor. But they do not, because the denizens of the valley have paid for their indulgences and therefore are free to sin as they please, convinced that their future days in Purgatory can be reduced by a few correct words about Solyndra, Barack Obama, and the war on women.

Practicing cutthroat capitalism while professing cool communitarianism should be a paradox. But in Silicon Valley it is simply smart business. The more money you make, any way you can make it, the more you can find ways of contextualizing it. At first these Silicon Valley contradictions were amusing, then they were grating, and now they are mostly just pathetic.

Victor Davis Hanson, “The Valley of the Shadow: How mansion-dwelling, carbon-spewing cutthroat capitalists can still be politically correct”, National Review, 2014-07-22.

May 19, 2015

“I’m just waiting for stories of college deans carrying students from class to class on their backs”

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

Last month, Nick Gillespie published this article about the “human veal” of modern university campuses:

On the wrong side of 50, I know I am an old fart. I graduated from college in 1985 and kicked around getting an M.A. in 1988 and a Ph.D. in 1996, so it’s been a while since I’ve been young and on a campus full time.

But really, what the fuck is wrong with kids these days and, more important, the supposed adults who look after them? They act as if they are raising human veal that cannot even stand on their own legs or face the sunlight without having their eyeballs burned out and their hearts broken by a single deep breath or uncomfortable moment. I’m just waiting for stories of college deans carrying students from class to class on their backs.

As a first-generation college student way back when, one of the very greatest things about college was engaging with ideas and attitudes that were different than what you already knew. Attending Rutgers in the early ’80s, you could walk from one end of the centuries-old College Avenue Campus to the other and encounter screaming matches over divesting the stocks of companies that did business in South Africa, whether Nicaragua was already a Soviet satellite, and the supposedly self-hating theology of Jews for Jesus.

Hardly a week went by, it seemed, without a public demonstration for and against the burgeoning gay rights movement, a protested showing of the anti-abortion movie Silent Scream, and debates over how great and/or evil Ronald Reagan actually was. The whole idea of college was about arguing and debating, not shielding ourselves from disagreements.

Even as it seemed to be an all-you-can-eat buffet of exotic new ideas, outrages, and attitudes, it wasn’t paradise, and I shudder to think of the insensitivities that were taken for granted by the privileged and internalized by the oppressed of the day. Nobody wants to return to the days when campus was segregated by race, gender, and lest we forget, class.

But the way students and especially administrators talk about college today, you’d think parents are paying ever-higher tuition so their children can attend a reeducation camp straight out of China’s Cultural Revolution. It’s as if college presidents, deans, and the ever-increasing number of bureaucrats and administrators and residence-life muckety-mucks walked away from Animal House firmly believing that Dean Wormer was not only the hero of movie but a role model. At all costs, order must be enforced and no space for free play or discord can be allowed!

March 24, 2015

QotD: Critics and reviewers of Science Fiction

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

… I am still bugged by the quality of reviewing generally accorded science fiction. Or let’s call it “speculative fiction” for a moment because one of the things that bugs me the most is that some critics seem strongly indisposed to permit a writer to speculate.

It seems to me that the only excuse for the sort of fiction we write (whatever it is called) is speculation, as far-ranging and imaginative as the author can manage.

But is this permitted? Don’t make me laugh, it hurts. The usual critic drags in his Procrustean bed at the first hint of free-swinging speculation. There has grown up an extremely conservative orthodoxy in science fiction, spineless, boneless, suffocating. It is almost amorphous but I can sketch the vague outlines. It is do-goodish and quasi-socialist — but not Communist; this critic wouldn’t recognize dialectical materialism if it bit him in the face. It is both “democratic” and “civil libertarian” without the slightest understanding that these two powerful and explosive concepts can frequently be in direct conflict, each with the other. It is egalitarian, pacifist, and anti-racist — with no notion that these concepts might ever clash. It believes heartily in “freedom” and “equality” — yet somehow thinks that “older & wiser heads” are fully justified in manipulating the human psyche to achieve these ends — after all, it’s for their own good … [sic] and these new orthodoctrinaires are always quite certain that they know what is good for the human race.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Sturgeon 1962-03-05, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

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