Quotulatiousness

January 29, 2014

Alan Moore on the “cultural catastrophe” of Superheroes

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

In the Guardian, Alison Flood rounds up some fascinating comments that Alan Moore made in what might be his final interview:

Comics god Alan Moore has issued a comprehensive sign-off from public life after shooting down accusations that his stories feature racist characters and an excessive amount of sexual violence towards women.

The Watchmen author also used a lengthy recent interview with Pádraig Ó Méalóid at Slovobooks entitled “Last Alan Moore interview?” — to expand upon his belief that today’s adults’ interest in superheroes is potentially “culturally catastrophic”, a view originally aired in the Guardian last year.

“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence,” he wrote to Ó Méalóid. “It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

The award-winning Moore used the interview to address criticism over his inclusion of the Galley-Wag character — based on Florence Upton’s 1895 Golliwogg creation — in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics, saying that “it was our belief that the character could be handled in such a way as to return to him the sterling qualities of Upton’s creation, while stripping him of the racial connotations that had been grafted onto the Golliwog figure by those who had misappropriated and wilfully misinterpreted her work”.

And he rebutted the suggestion that it was “not the place of two white men to try to ‘reclaim’ a character like the golliwogg”, telling Ó Méalóid that this idea “would appear to be predicated upon an assumption that no author or artist should presume to use characters who are of a different race to themselves”.

“Since I can think of no obvious reason why this principle should only relate to the issue of race — and specifically to black people and white people — then I assume it must be extended to characters of different ethnicities, genders, sexualities, religions, political persuasions and, possibly most uncomfortably of all for many people considering these issues, social classes … If this restriction were universally adopted, we would have had no authors from middle-class backgrounds who were able to write about the situation of the lower classes, which would have effectively ruled out almost all authors since William Shakespeare.”

H/T to Ghost of a flea for the link.

January 21, 2014

What The Three Musketeers owes to real history

Filed under: Europe, History, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:56

Boyd Tonkin discusses some of the real historical incidents that Alexandre Dumas drew upon for his fiction:

In September 1784, an unpleasant incident took place at M. Nicolet’s fashionable theatre in Paris. A young, aristocratic man-about-town, born in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), had escorted to the play an elegant lady whose family also came from the West Indies. Dashing, handsome, the son of Count Davy de la Pailleterie might have seemed the ideal squire for the evening. Save, in many eyes, for one thing. He was black — notably dark-skinned, the mixed-race youth had a slave mother — and his companion white.

At Nicolet’s, a white West Indian officer, Jean-Pierre Titon de Saint-Lamain, decided that it would be good fun to insult the count’s black son. First, he pretended to mistake the young man of colour for the lady’s lackey. Then, after an affray, Titon’s henchmen forced the victim to kneel in front of his assailant and ask for pardon. Soon the police arrived and took both men into custody. Statements were taken, but no further action followed. In 1786, the humiliated colonial boy forsook his life of leisure to embark on a military career. He enrolled in the Queen’s Dragoons under a surname not his father’s. Instead, he chose the identity of his slave-born mother: Marie-Cessette Dumas.

[...]

By the early 1850s, this Alexandre Dumas had become not only the famous novelist but, arguably, the most famous Frenchman in the world. At this point, garlanded with international fame and quickly spent riches, he wrote his memoirs. Dumas the novelist adored and hero-worshipped his father, who had died in 1806 but left indelible memories. The first 200 pages of My Memoirs deal with General Alex; in fact, Dumas abandons the narrative of his own life at the age of 31. But in his version of the contretemps at Nicolet’s, the strapping young Alex picks up Titon and chucks him into the orchestra pit. This is a feat of derring-do worthy of… well, worthy of a musketeer.

[...]

Dumas relished his life, and the privileges and pleasures that his mythic tales earned. He made and lost fortunes as quickly as he wrote bulky novels. He meddled in revolutionary politics first in France and then in rebellious Italy (where he founded a paper called The Independent). He ran through perhaps 40 mistresses and sired (at least) seven children with them. His published works comprise 300 volumes and 100,000 pages. After packing around five lives into one, he died after a stroke in 1870 — the same year as Charles Dickens, whose A Tale of Two Cities pays its own tribute to the style of the comrade with whom he dined in Paris. If living well is the best revenge, then Alexandre made the bigoted society which had tried to humble General Alex kneel to him.

H/T to Jessica Brisbane for the link.

Update, 4 February: A.A. Nofi reviews The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss.

Reiss [...] fits Dumas into his times and his social environment. So we get a look at the brutalities of slavery and racism under the Ancien Régime and later during the supposedly enlightened French Republic. We see the dying days of the Bourbon monarchy, the Revolution that finished it off, and the rise of Bonaparte’s empire, which brought things part way back to their start again. Reiss also gives us little portraits of many individuals; the general’s family, of course, but also soldiers and rulers such as Carnot, Kleber, the Neapolitan and French royals, Lafayette, and others, including Bonaparte, who would become Dumas’ nemesis. Finally, Reiss looks at how the count’s life shaped that of his son and influenced the latter’s novels, noting traces of the senior Dumas in some of the younger’s characters, notably Edmund Dantes of The Count of Monte Cristo.

The book has some flaws. Reiss betrays a certain over-fondness for Revolutionary France, failing to see its dark side. He neglects the corruption of French officials, both at home and in occupied territories, the widespread plundering of supposedly “liberated” peoples, the slaughter of dissidents, and the widespread atrocities committed by French troops, which often sparked resistance from the very people the Revolution claimed to be liberating. There are, however, flaws common in treatments of the era, and Reiss is commendably more critical of Napoleon, who also tends to get a favorable press.

The Black Count, which was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in biography, is an excellent work, well-crafted, with a flowing narrative that makes for an easy read.

January 20, 2014

Sounding the alarm over the endarkenment

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:55

I must not have been paying attention, but according to Jamie Bartlett, we should be terrified of a “dark enlightenment” that is sweeping the internet:

Since 2012 a sophisticated but bizarre online neo-fascist movement has been growing fast. It’s called “The Dark Enlightenment”. Its modus operandi is well suited to today’s world. Supporters are dotted all over the world, connected via a handful of blogs and chat rooms. Its adherents are clever, angry white men patiently awaiting the collapse of civilisation, and a return to some kind of futuristic, ethno-centric feudalism.

It started, suitably enough, with two blogs. Mencius Moldbug, a prolific blogger and computer whizz from San Francisco, and Nick Land, an eccentric British philosopher (previously co-founder of Warwick University’s Cybernetic Culture Research Unit) who in 2012 wrote the eponymous “The Dark Enlightenment”, as a series of posts on his site. You can find them all here.

The philosophy, difficult to pin down exactly, is a loose collection of neo-reactionary ideas, meaning a rejection of most modern thinking: democracy, liberty, and equality. Particular contempt is reserved for democracy, which Land believes “systematically consolidate[s] and exacerbate[es] private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption.”

So, according to this report, we should be terrified of a bunch of basement-dwelling maladjusted would-be techno-feudalists. The question that immediately springs to mind is “why?” We’re told that they’re “neo-reactionary”, “racist”, and “sexist”. We need to be afraid of them because they have the power to … well, nothing. He’s sounding the tocsin of alarm because he’s discovered that there are people who are wrong on the internet!

Update, 3 February: Scharlach created an affinity diagram of the Dark Enlightenment movement, grouped according to their major themes.

Click to see the original post.

Click to see the original post.

Update, 4 February: ESR‘s take on the affinity diagram linked above.

Just looking at the map, someone unfamiliar with the players would be justified in wondering if there’s really any coherence there at all. And that’s a fair question. Some of the people the map sweeps in don’t think of themselves as “Dark Enlightenment” at all. This is notably true of the light green cluster marked “Techno-Commercialists/Futurists” at the top, and the “Economists” connected to it in yellow.

If I belonged on this map, that’s where I’d be. I know Eliezer Yudkowsky; the idea that he and the Less Wrong crowd and Robin Hanson feel significant affinity with most of the rest of that map is pretty ludicrous.

Note, however, that one of only two links to the rest is “Nick Land”. This is a clue, because Nick Land is probably the single most successful booster of the “Dark Enlightenment” meme. It’s in his interest to make the movement look as big and various as he can manage, and I think this map is partly in the nature of a successful con job or dezinformatsiya.

In this, Land is abetted by people outside the movement who are well served by making it look like the Dark Enlightenment is as big and scary as possible. Some of those people lump in the techno-futurist/economist group out of dislike for that group’s broadly libertarian politics – which though very different from the reactionary ideas of the core Dark Enlightenment, is also in revolt against conventional wisdom. Others lump them in out of sheer ignorance.

So, my first contention is that Nick Land has pulled a fast one. That said, I think there is a core Dark Enlightenment – mostly identifiable with the purple “Political Philosophy” group, but with some crossover into HBD and Masculinity and (possibly) the other groups at the bottom of the map.

For the record, I don’t think I’ve got a dog in this fight … I only recognize the names of nine of the linked sites, and most of those are of the recognize-the-name sense, not the familiar-with-the-content sense.

December 19, 2013

Microaggressions

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:26

Paul Rowan Brian explains where the suddenly omnipresent term “microaggressions” came from:

Microaggression is a term first coined by Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Chester Pierce in the 1970s that, at least in original meaning, describes situational, spoken or behavioural slights (especially unintentional) that convey ignorance, hostility or dismissal toward individuals belonging to minority or marginalized groups.

Pierce is also quoted as saying that all children of five-years-old entering school are mentally ill. The reason they’re mentally ill, according to Pierce, is the children’s loyalty to their parents, the Founding Fathers, and belief in God or a Supernatural Being. The education system must seek to correct these mental illnesses, Pierce argues. Which is all to say that Pierce is certainly not one to overstate matters or let his rhetoric get away on him. (Not that anyone was worried about that, right)?

To look at how subtly microaggression may manifest, let’s take an example.

A middle-aged, white male in a city with a white majority offers his seat to a kindly-looking black lady of an older age on a crowded subway train; nobody looks twice, perhaps the lady even smiles as she accepts the offer.

But did you know that the male individual may well have committed microaggression?

Well anyway, he likely wouldn’t know if he had, by definition.

In offering his seat to the kindly-looking older black woman (or even, God forbid, thinking of her in those stereotypical terms), the white man has made hurtful assumptions about her needing the seat more than him including her identity as a woman, older individual and member of a minority. Even if none of these thoughts or impressions crossed the man’s mind or the woman’s, they have subtly-imbued the interaction with a harmful aspect, potentially causing or contributing to long-term feelings of marginalization, ‘otherness’ and psychological damage for the woman.

A number of other variables including the woman’s sexual orientation, socio-economic status and religion could make the seemingly-harmless and chivalrous interaction a double, triple or even quadruple microaggressive whammy.

December 8, 2013

Mandela’s struggle was not the same as Gandhi’s

Filed under: Africa, History, India, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:09

Salil Tripathi met Nelson Mandela and finds the frequent comparisons between Gandhi and Mandela to do less than justice to both men:

The South African freedom struggle was different from India’s, and the paths Mandela and Gandhi took were also different. That did not prevent many from comparing him with Gandhi. But the two were different; both made political choices appropriate to their time and the context in which they lived.

Gandhi’s life and struggle were political, but securing political freedom was the means to another end, spiritual salvation and moral advancement of India. Mandela was guided by a strong ethical core, and he was deeply committed to political change. At India’s independence, Gandhi wanted the Congress Party to be dissolved, and its members to dedicate themselves to serve the poor. But the Congress had other ideas. Mandela would not have wanted to dissolve his organization; he wanted to bring about the transformation South Africa needed, but he also wanted to heal his beloved country.

This is not to suggest that Gandhi wasn’t political. He was shrewd and he devised strategies to seek the moral high ground against his opponents — and among the British he found a colonial power susceptible to such pressures, because Britain had a domestic constituency which found colonialism repugnant, contrary to its values.

Mandela’s point was that he didn’t have the luxury of fighting the British — he was dealing with the National Party, with its Afrikaans base, which believed in a fight to finish, seeking inspiration from the teachings of the Dutch Reformed Church which established a hierarchy of different races, which led to the establishment of apartheid. “One kaffir one bullet,” said the Boer (the Afrikaans word for farmer, which many Afrikaans-speaking South Africans were); “One settler one bullet,” replied Umkhonto weSizwe, the militant arm of the ANC.

And yet Mandela’s lasting gift was his power of forgiveness and lack of bitterness. He showed exceptional humanity and magnanimity when he left his bitterness behind, on the hard, white limestone rocks of Robben Island that he was forced to break for years, the harsh reflected glare of those rocks causing permanent damage to his eyes. And yet, he came out, his fist raised, smiling, and he wrote in his memoir, Long Walk To Freedom, that unless he left his bitterness and hatred behind, “I would still be in prison.”

By refusing to seek revenge, by accepting the white South African as his brother, by agreeing to build a nation with people who wanted to see him dead, Mandela rose to a stature that is almost unparalleled.

[...]

Calling Mandela the Gandhi of our times does no favour to either. Gandhi probably anticipated the compromises he would have to make, which is why he shunned political office. Mandela estimated, correctly, that following the Gandhian path of non-violent resistance against the apartheid regime was going to be futile, since the apartheid regime did not play by any rules, except those it kept creating to deepen the divide between people.

H/T to Shikha Dalmia for the link.

December 7, 2013

QotD: Minimum wage and Social Darwinism

Filed under: History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:53

Consider the debate over the minimum wage. The controversy centered on what to do about what Sidney Webb called the “unemployable class.” It was Webb’s belief, shared by many of the progressive economists affiliated with the American Economic Association, that establishing a minimum wage above the value of the unemployables’ worth would lock them out of the market, accelerating their elimination as a class. This is essentially the modern conservative argument against the minimum wage, and even today, when conservatives make it, they are accused of — you guessed it — social Darwinism. But for the progressives at the dawn of the fascist moment, this was an argument for it. “Of all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites,” Webb observed, “the most ruinous to the community is to allow them unrestrainedly to compete as wage earners.”

Ross put it succinctly: “The Coolie cannot outdo the American, but he can underlive him.” Since the inferior races were content to live closer to a filthy state of nature than the Nordic man, the savages did not require a civilized wage. Hence if you raised minimum wages to a civilized level, employers wouldn’t hire such miscreants in preference to “fitter” specimens, making them less likely to reproduce and, if necessary, easier targets for forced sterilization. Royal Meeker, a Princeton economist and adviser to Woodrow Wilson, explained: “Better that the state should support the inefficient wholly and prevent the multiplication of the breed than subsidize incompetence and unthrift, enabling them to bring forth more of their kind.” Arguments like these turn modern liberal rationales for welfare state wage supports completely on their head.

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change, 2008.

December 6, 2013

QotD: Why Mandela was different

Filed under: Africa, History, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:42

Within moments of the announcement that the great man had passed away, left-wingers on twitter gleefully started posting quotes from Reagan-era conservatives about Mandela. At the time, most right-wingers’ opinions of Mandela — with one notable exception — ranged from skepticism to outright hostility. (This William H. Buckley column from 1990, which compares the recently-released Mandela to Lenin, was not atypical.)

Support for apartheid was never justifiable, but when that racist system was in its death throes, it was hardly unreasonable to worry about what might come next. Many political prisoners and “freedom fighters” have eventually come to power in their countries, only to become exactly what they once fought against — or worse. (One of the most infuriating examples is just over the South African border, where the once-promising Robert Mugabe has driven Zimbabwe into the abyss.)

The young Mandela was a revolutionary, and after spending his entire life as a second-class citizen, and 27 years behind bars, any bitterness on his part would have been understandable.

Instead, he chose an unprecedented path of reconciliation:

[...]

The real measure of one’s greatness comes when that person achieves power. And by that standard, Mandela was one of the greatest of them all. May he rest in peace.

Damian Penny, “Why Mandela was different”, DamianPenny.com, 2013-12-06

October 29, 2013

Colby Cosh on IQ

Filed under: Japan, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

In his latest Maclean’s column, Colby Cosh talks about the odd evolutionary advantages that accrue as you get further from the equator:

A new study in the biometric journal Intelligence presents surprising data from Japan that reveal that IQ, imputed from standardized tests given to a large random sample of Japanese 14-year-olds, varies strongly and persistently with latitude. The Japanese are usually thought of — even by themselves — as being quite homogenous ethnically; the myth of the sturdy, super-cohesive “Yamato race” has not yet been entirely obtruded out of existence. But it turns out that the mean IQs of students in Japanese prefectures apparently vary from north to south by two-thirds of a standard deviation — a spread almost as large as the “race gaps” in cognitive performance which trouble education scholars in multicultural countries like ours. Sun-drenched Okinawans, as a group, do not test as well as the snowbound citizens of Akita.

It is an article of liberal faith that IQ is a bogus tool cooked up by white supremacists to justify imperialism and slavery. I am happy to nod along, but the monsters who developed IQ tests certainly never planned on creating strife between the two ends of Honshu Island. Kenya Kura’s study demonstrates the usual statistical connections between IQ and social outcomes, including physical height, income, and divorce and homicide rates. IQ may be a phony racist artifact, but if shoe size predicted life success as well as those stupid little logic puzzles do, every middle-class parent you know would have one of those Brannock foot-measuring thingies mounted proudly on the wall. That is why IQ persists in the top drawer of the psychometrics toolbox.

October 2, 2013

“Saving” Greek democracy

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:44

The sweep of arrests among the elected members of the Greek far-right Golden Dawn party are being hailed as saving democracy, but as Brendan O’Neill points out, this kind of action is extremely undemocratic:

Why isn’t there more discomfort, or at least the asking of some awkward questions, about the arrest of Golden Dawn MPs in Greece? Yes, Golden Dawn is a profoundly unpleasant organisation. Virulently racist, anti-Semitic, allergic to the ideals of free speech and free movement, and supported by people who are quite happy to use violence against those they hate, especially immigrants, it makes our own British National Party look like a chapter of the Women’s Institute in comparison. Yet that doesn’t mean we should give a nod to, far less cheer, the Greek state’s incarceration of GD’s leaders and members of parliament, who were democratically elected. Any police sweep on elected politicians should make those of us who call ourselves democrats anxious; that Greece’s military-style assault on GD hasn’t is very worrying.

[...]

Far from asking critical questions about what is motivating the Greek state’s clampdown on Golden Dawn, sections of the Greek left and vast swathes of the European left are celebrating it as a victory for democracy. They echo Greece’s public order minister, Nikos Dendias, who described the sweeping-up of GD’s leaders as ‘a historic day for Greece and Europe’. Greek newspapers are competing to see who can be the most effusive in their support for the clampdown. The brilliant arrests are ‘Golden Dawn’s Holocaust’, said one, rather tastelessly. Another claimed that ‘democracy is knocking out the neo-Nazis’. A left-wing British magazine described the arrests as ‘a victory for democracy in Greece’ and demanded to know why the Greek state isn’t doing more to shut down GD. SYRIZA, the left-wing opposition party in Greece which numerous European leftists have excitably hailed as a radical voice against austerity, has stood shoulder-by-shoulder with the state against Golden Dawn, claiming the arrests show ‘that our democracy is standing firm and is healthy’.

These radical cheerleaders of a state clampdown on democratically elected politicians urgently need to look up the word democracy in a dictionary. To describe the arrest of politicians who were elected by the public, by masked, armed police who were not elected by the public, as a ‘victory for democracy’ is the most profound contradiction in terms. Some leftists are claiming that the militaristic clampdown on GD has nothing to do with its political beliefs and is just a straightforward investigation of some men involved in alleged criminal activity. It’s hard to know whether such naivety is touching or disturbing. If this is just a criminal case rather than a political war waged by agents of the state against ideological undesirables, then why are so many describing it as a ‘victory for democracy’, as opposed to a potential victory for justice, and why are so many hailing the ‘knocking out [of] neo-Nazi ideas’? No number of lists of the alleged weapons found in GD members’ homes (apparently the party’s leader owns three guns) can disguise the fact that what we are witnessing here is a state war on a party supported by a significant number of Greeks.

Now we have the real reason for the decline in newspaper revenue

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:25

If you guessed “the internet” — particularly the internet sites that ate the classified ad business alive — you’re apparently wrong. The real culprit is … an amazingly old-fashioned racist and sexist stereotype:

For years, we’ve talked about the ridiculousness with which many old school journalists want to blame the internet (or, more specifically Google or Craigslist) for the troubles some in the industry have had lately. It is a ridiculous claim. Basically, newspapers have survived for years on a massive inefficiency in information. What newspapers did marginally well was bring together a local community of interest, take their attention, and then sell that attention. What many folks in the news business still can’t come to terms with is the fact that there are tons of other communities of attention out there now, so they can’t slide by on inefficiencies like they did in the past.

Either way, it’s always nice to see some in the industry recognize that blaming the internet is a mistake. However, Chris Powell, the managing editor for the Journal Inquirer in Connecticut’s choice of a different culprit doesn’t seem much more on target. Powell, who it appears, actually does have a journalism job (I can’t fathom how or why) published an opinion piece (found via Mark Hamilton and Mathew Ingram) that puts the blame squarely on… single mothers. Okay, not just any single mothers:

    Indeed, newspapers still can sell themselves to traditional households — two-parent families involved with their children, schools, churches, sports, civic groups, and such. But newspapers cannot sell themselves to households headed by single women who have several children by different fathers, survive on welfare stipends, can hardly speak or read English, move every few months to cheat their landlords, barely know what town they’re living in, and couldn’t afford a newspaper subscription even if they could read. And such households constitute a rising share of the population.

September 22, 2013

The lasting influence of the Frankfurt School

Filed under: History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:00

Lee Stranahan talks about the Frankfurt School’s continuing importance in modern liberal thought:

For a decade, the Southern Poverty Law Center and others on the left have been trying to hide and distract from one of the main origins of both radical academia and media hostility towards capitalism: the ideology of cultural Marxism and Critical Theory that arose from the Frankfurt School.

The SPLC and others dismiss the facts about the German think-tank and its subsequent influence in America as a conspiracy theory. Understanding these attacks is an object lesson in how the left creates self-sustaining mythology by demonizing the people who dare expose their ideology while misdirecting their own followers as to the real story behind liberal ideas.

Organizations on the institutional left such as the Southern Poverty Law Center didn’t just appear out of nowhere or in an ideological vacuum. The SPLC in particular has a specific role of designating organizations as ‘hate groups’, often smearing mainstream conservatism by falsely tying it to tiny, violent and racist organizations.

The SLPC’s designation of what does and doesn’t constitute a hate group has clear foundations in the world of academic political correctness and censoring of speech it considers ‘racist, sexist and homophobic’; all terms that it defines in leftist terms and very selectively. For example, in the wake of last year’s shooting at the headquarters of the Family Research Council, the SLPC went out of their way to double down on it’s claim that the FRC is a ‘hate group.’

Even political correctness, however, didn’t just suddenly pop up out of thin air; it has its basis in a group of academic Marxist philosophers that came together in Germany between World War I and World War II called the Frankfurt School. Their cultural Marxist approach would go on to have a profound influence in the United States after many in the Frankfurt school fled Germany and came to America in the 1930s.

August 27, 2013

Martin Luther King and the American Dream

Filed under: History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:21

Brendan O’Neill on MLK’s most famous speech:

Tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, made on the Mall in Washington, DC on 28 August 1963. Re-reading the speech 50 years on, the most striking thing about it is how much faith it puts in the American Dream. Where today it is positively hip to be disdainful of all things American, to look upon America as a land of shopping addicts and fat rednecks, King and his listeners were passionately devoted to the idea of America and an American project. Using tellingly capitalistic lingo, King said of those gathered that “we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” King said that his dream, of racial equality, was “deeply rooted in the American Dream”.

Not for King the fashionable disgust for America’s obsession with consumerism and wealth. On the contrary, he said blacks were sick of living on “the lonely island of poverty” and longed to wade in America’s “vast ocean of material prosperity”. Not for King any sneering at America’s promise of wealth and opportunity to its citizens — “now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children”, he said. Not for King any mocking of the founding fathers of America, who have in recent years been judged by radical Leftists to have been racist and evil (in the words of The Nation magazine just last month, Thomas Jefferson was a “slave-owning rapist”). Instead, King extolled the “magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence” and talked about all men’s “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.

In the run-up to the fiftieth anniversary of King’s speech, there’s been a great deal of debate about what has changed, especially for America’s blacks. But perhaps the most sweeping, dramatic change has been in attitudes towards the very idea of America. Today, cheap anti-Americanism is the glue that holds so-called liberals and radicals together. Tapping one’s toe to the Green Day song “American Idiot” while laughing knowingly at the fallacy of the American Dream is what passes for being edgy these days. Both within and without America, many Leftish activists and serious thinkers view America as dumb, fat, polluting, reckless and unwittingly hilarious, founded by narcissists and drunks, a “greedy and overweening power”, as the New Statesman said in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

August 14, 2013

QotD: Our Postmodern Angst

Filed under: History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Much has been written about Rachel Jeantel, routinely described as the prosecution’s “star witness” in the George Zimmerman trial, almost as if she were some sort of new-generation civil-rights icon. Jeantel has been variously praised by liberals for her street smarts, and lamented by conservatives as emblematic of the tragic detours of the Great Society. Both agree that in some sense she is a victim of the social forces that for decades now have been forging an underclass.

Perhaps — but from her testimony and her post-trial interviews for hire, we learned that Ms. Jeantel was confident and savvy about using electronic media while at the same time apparently illiterate, given that she could not read “cursive.” Yet whose fault is it that she preferred to post obscenities rather than scroll over to a book? Jeantel’s worldview appears anti-liberal to the core. She admitted that her original testimony under oath was not fully accurate: Trayvon Martin, we now learn, wanted to “whoop ass” and so threw the first blow against Zimmerman. Yet Jeantel did not say that at the trial; she was quite willing to see the defendant convicted on false testimony.

Jeantel was unapologetic about her use of “retarded” as a putdown, her preposterous homophobic accusations that George Zimmerman could have been some sort of crazed gay rapist, and her casual use of slurs like “bitch,” “nigga,” and “crazy ass cracker.” True, Jeantel is impoverished and no doubt “underserved” by a host of government agencies entrusted with providing support to the less well off. Yet by both past American and present global standards, she is not victimized in the sense of suffering hunger, unaddressed health problems, or lack of access to technology.

In today’s topsy-turvy world, we are to emphasize the untruth that Ms. Jeantel is poor in the Dickensian sense, while ignoring the truth that her matter-of-fact worldview is by contemporary liberal benchmarks homophobic, racist, and misogynistic — and entirely contrary to the race-blind meritocracy that a much poorer, much more heroic generation of civil-rights leaders once sacrificed for.

From 1619 to 1865, African-Americans in a large region of North America were enslaved. For the century following the Civil War, they were deprived in the South of civil rights that were supposed to be accorded citizens of the United States, and elsewhere were often subjected to insidious racism. In the last half-century, a vast private effort has sought to change the American psyche while a vast public one has used government resources to attempt to redress racist legacies. These are elemental issues of good and evil that are at the heart of the human experience and must continue to be addressed — but not in the manner of our era of psychodramatic trivialization.

Victor Davis Hanson, “Our Postmodern Angst”, National Review, 2013-08-13

July 31, 2013

Even police chiefs can get racially profiled

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:17

An absolutely fascinating story in the New York Daily News. (It’s from several years back, but brought to my attention today by Radley Balko):

At least one cop has been disciplined for ordering the NYPD’s highest-ranking uniformed black officer out of his auto while the three-star chief was off-duty and parked in Queens, the Daily News has learned.

“How you can not know or recognize a chief in a department SUV with ID around his neck, I don’t know,” a police source said.

Chief Douglas Zeigler, 60, head of the Community Affairs Bureau, was in his NYPD-issued vehicle near a fire hydrant when two plainclothes cops approached on May 2, sources said.

One officer walked up on each side of the SUV at 57th Ave. and Xenia St. in Corona about 7 p.m. and told the driver to roll down the heavily tinted windows, sources said.

What happened next is in dispute.

July 24, 2013

In spite of all the overheated rhetoric, there’s good news about race and crime in the US

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:58

Radley Balko looks behind the scripted talking points to get at the actual data they’re ignoring:

Civil rights leaders and progressive activists have cited Zimmerman’s acquittal and the proliferation of robust self-defense laws as evidence of a “war on black men” — or, similarly, that it’s now “open season on black men.” Meanwhile, Zimmerman supporters and many on the political right have used the case to bring up old discussions of black-on-black murders in places like Chicago, and to argue that violence in black America is spiraling out of control. Both positions are cynical, and both tend to pit black and white America against one another.

But both are also wrong on the facts.

First, about the alleged “war on black men.” The argument here is that laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” are encouraging white vigilantism, and moving white people to shoot and kill black people at the slightest provocation. But there just isn’t any data to support the contention. Black homicides have been falling since the mid-1990s (as have all homicides). Moreover, according to a 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, more than 90 percent of black murder victims are killed by other black people. And if we look at interracial murder, there are about twice as many black-on-white murders as the other way around, and that ratio has held steady for decades.

However, it also isn’t true that black America is growing increasingly violent. Again, black homicides, like all homicides, are in a steep, 20-year decline. In fact, the rates at which blacks both commit and are victims of homicide have shown sharper declines than those of whites. It’s true that Chicago has had an unusually violent last few years, but this is an anomaly among big American cities. The 2012 murder rate in Washington, D.C., for example, hit a 50-year low. Violent crime in New York and Los Angeles is also falling to levels we haven’t seen in decades.

[...]

To get to the more sensational conclusion, the article considers interracial homicide as a percentage of total homicides. And indeed, measured that way the “rate” of interracial murder has gone up. But it’s an odd way to measure. The vast, vast majority of murders are intraracial. And, as noted, those murders have been dropping considerably. The interracial murder rate has been dropping, too. According to the Scripps Howard review, the raw number of black-on-white and white-on-black murders combined was about the same in 2010 as it was in the early 1980s. But the United States population has grown considerably in that time, from 227 million in 1980, to 315 million today. So if you measure it the way all other crime is measured, the interracial murder rate has dropped, not increased.

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