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June 19, 2014

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Greg

'The only serious black mark against the NHS was its poor record on keeping people alive. On a composite "healthy lives" score, which includes deaths among infants and patients who would have survived had they received timely and effective healthcare, the UK came 10th.'

Isn't that about where it sits in the NHS order of priorities anyway?

David

Isn’t that about where it sits in the NHS order of priorities anyway?

One might easily believe that the priority isn’t the patient.

Sam

And Perry de Havilland discovers another classic Guardian sentence.

Wow. It's true though, the NHS would be the 'envy of the world' if not for all those deaths and all that other bad stuff.

Dr Cromarty

Talking of 'rape culture', what does wee Laurie do now?

"In the clear after six weeks of agony: Oxford Union president accused of rape is told by police they are taking no further action"

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2661586/Oxford-Union-president-wont-charged-rape-claims-two-undergraduate-students-police-no-action.html

sk60

a book critical of modern feminism, but written by a feminist, catches fire mysteriously.

You mustn't disagree with radical feminists because it makes them look bad. And making themselves look bad is their job.

Nikw211

We cannot let a minority of people -- and that's what it is, it is a minority of people -- hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.

Far from being unusual, I find the sentiment behind this statement from Hillary Clinton to be one that comes up surprisingly often.

For example, last year I took part in a webinar on Critical Linguistics (CL) – the latter is, as you can probably imagine from the word 'Critical', roughly speaking, a Marxist approach to interpreting the language used in a text.

A key message of the webinar was that it was important, essential even, for teachers to prepare students for the world by giving them the tools they need to resist oppression (the speaker twice loosely paraphrased the famous Marx quote about the point being not to explain the world, but to change it).

In the online discussion that followed, I queried this position asking the extent to which – as public civil servants – teachers should be able to introduce a personal moral or political agenda which not only may be opposed to the policies of any given democratically elected government but which also actively encourage 'resistance' to the very system of government itself.

One response to this query was the following:

    Oh. You appear to have far more faith in electoral processes even in liberal democracies than I do. In so many countries such a low percentage of people vote that the winners represent a minority of the given country's population. "The majority view" is actually, at best, the view of the minority.

I was almost as astonished by this reply as Althouse was by Clinton's comment, above. Another response was:

    I think it is important to consider volume. Students are saturated with noise from what Daniel Quinn describes as "Mother Culture", so I think exposing students to views that they are unfamiliar with is important. I think neo-liberal/capitalist messages are over-represented so beyond language learning if I were to use them it would be with the purpose of getting students to respond critically.

Although to be fair, the latter contributor then immediately added: The same goes for stuff I personally have more sympathy with. Even so, that caveat felt rather like a fig-leaf to cover the naked assertion the paragraph led off with.

As tactfully as possible, I then tried to suggest that such views as these were highly problematic, mainly because:

    … I can’t help wondering that this precise argument could be used as a justification for setting up a school run by an organisation like Golden Dawn in Greece or Arrow Guard in Hungary … Those [are examples] of groups who feel it is their duty to teach young people in [the] light of their moral convictions (such as they are!) and who do, to the best of my knowledge, claim to represent the ‘true’ voice of the people/the faithful and who also claim that democracies [aren't] really democratic and are run by a minority masquerading as the majority.

I think this particular point went unanswered. Unfortunately, as it happens - while I can sympathise with teachers having the freedom not to teach anything which would go against their personal moral or political convictions, I don't think this should be at the expense of the students' liberty to express theirs.

Nikw211

Slightly related, to the last story at least - this story here must surely be some kind of hoax? A wild exaggeration at the least.

David

Nik,

this story here must surely be some kind of hoax?

I saw the story elsewhere, I forget which site, and had the distinct impression the extra pronouns were optional. I suppose we’ll see if there’s much demand for xe, xem and xyr. And I did smile at the line about shunning the term ‘one’ as “a bit cold and snooty.”

A key message of the webinar was that it was important, essential even, for teachers to prepare students for the world by giving them the tools they need to resist oppression

A term that they alone get to define. Which is nice. But as we’ve seen many times, the arrogance of such people is a thing to behold. And one doesn’t often encounter an unassuming Marxist.

WTP

Nik/David, probably not a hoax. I recall a similar effort back in the 70's. Don't think it was "xe", "xm", etc.

There's a philosophy professor whose blog I used to read and comment on regularly, less so the last month or so, who will annoyingly change the sex of the pronouns when referring to the same abstract individual in the course of the paragraph and/or posting. An example of such in a discussion of what makes a good leader...

As another example, the chair of the department has greater obligations and rights in this regard. He has the right and obligation to know if they are teaching their classes, doing their assigned work and so on. Thus, when assessing the responsibility of a leader, sorting out what the leader could know and what she was obligated to know are rather important matters.

David

On grounds that randomly changing the gender of the person you’re talking about makes things so much clearer.

WTP

Well, he is a teacher so...

David

Incidentally, I’ve just noticed that the Amazon search widget, top right, now highlights products based on the text in any given post. So now you can see Hillary Clinton smiling at you while you read about all the things that she doesn’t wish to permit. Including your opinions.

Who knew the future would be this exciting?

Nikw211

WTP,

There's a philosophy professor ... who will annoyingly change the sex of the pronouns when referring to the same abstract individual

Who-hoa I just bet professional copy editors and proofreaders just love checking the manuscripts of his work ...

WTP

Yeah, I'm not sure his publishing is done professionally. I have no idea what qualifies as "published" material in the publish-or-perish world. He's written quite a few "books" but I think they are all in the self-publish domain. The writing for someone with a PhD from a major US university (Ohio State) is quite atrocious. The logic even more so. He's an written three books cataloging fallacies. Quite ironic. I've linked him here before but i don't think it drew any interest, but if you're interested:

http://aphilosopher.wordpress.com/

Probably not as twisted as The Guardian and such, but funny in a sad kind of way.

Nikw211

David,

Interesting response (comme toujours, naturellement!) … I might quibble very slightly over the use of 'arrogance'.

Arrogance always connotes a certain smirking kind of swagger to me, so while I don't doubt that 'arrogance' describes perfectly the examples you linked through to above, I'm not sure it fits most of the people I come across on such discussion forums (and I've a lot of examples of those).

That air of despondence and commiseration that you see shown by the newly-converted to the ignorant infidels and wicked 'sinners' (i.e. me, and I presume also on many occasions you and for that matter most everyone who visits this site) does likely entail a kind of arrogance, but personally I tend to think of it more often as a blindside.

Like Fran Barlow and Minnow (this blog, passim), they quite genuinely cannot see that:

    (a) totalitarianism essentially involves decisions made by the few on behalf of the multitude, always ostensibly for the latter's own benefit; and
    (b): that an unimpeachable faith in the inherent goodness of one's own cause is not restricted to people with a like mind to theirs - it's also a common feature of all such groups (i.e. Fascists generally don't knowingly do Evil for Evil's sake - the road to Hell is paved with good intentions in other words); So
    (c): the difference between themselves and actual fascist groups is considerably less than they often assume

It's a kind of ignorance that's been contradiction-proofed by layer-upon-layer of Faith.

Nikw211

(I appear to have even more time on my hands than usual today!!)

OT

I find the article I've linked to below a little disquieting.

Quite apart from the obvious – does anyone else really have the right to tell someone else what they ought or ought not to be doing to themselves on the grounds that Society might be discomfited by it? – I'm more than a little curious about how readers who are sympathetic to the spirit of this article might feel about gender transformation.

How/Why is it on the one hand a sign of immorality and shame to transform one's ethnic identity from one 'category' (lacking a better word) to another, but on the other, a sign of pride and even a moral prerogative to surgically transform one's sex/gender?

Any thoughts from anyone on this will be received with great interest from me.

Oh, I nearly forgot – here is the article in question: Neymar and the Disappearing Donkey

David

I might quibble very slightly over the use of ‘arrogance’.

Perhaps ‘megalomania’ might be better. Or ‘pathological vanity.’ Or ‘deeply obnoxious urge to control other people.’

Hm. We could be here all day.

David

Neymar and the Disappearing Donkey

I’m still trying to process the list of options on the census. “Dark snowy white.” “Somewhat like cinnamon.” “Gourd-coloured.” I fear it’s a path to madness. The list, I mean.

the wolf

Now, it isn’t possible to forcibly prevent people from holding a viewpoint

That won't stop progressives from trying.

I would remind Ms. Clinton that the majority in the US hold the viewpoint that she bungled Benghazi badly. Can we now force the deluded minority to no longer support her? I'm feeling terrorized by their delusions.

Nikw211

Hm. We could be here all day.

Game, set and match to Thompson.

Nikw211

I fear it’s a path to madness.

I fear Facebook has 58 options of a not dissimilar nature.

Nikw211

And there was me thinking Deep Thought was a fictional creation out of the mind of the late Douglas Adams.

David

Poor Banksy and his issues. Poor lamb.

Nikw211

Poor lamb.

[Smirks]

David

[Smirks]

But it does seem a little odd. And if not simply pretentious then slightly unhinged. I mean, yes, advertising can be absurd, sometimes mildly aggravating, depending largely on one’s mood. But to attach such hyperbolical grievance to it, as if one couldn’t help but identify with whatever’s being advertised and therefore couldn’t help but feel “small,” “inadequate” or “leered at” is… well, a little peculiar. But then people on the left often seem much more embedded in these things, invested in them, as if not being bothered by detritus and ephemera, because one doesn’t particularly identify with it, were somehow inconceivable.

If you poke through the archives you’ll find dozens of Guardian columnists who are apparently felled and rendered distraught by celebrity tattle magazines and adverts for mayonnaise or deodorant. As if they had no capacity to disengage from social tat. I can’t help thinking their professed distress says more about them than the world around them. They seem to want to identify with the social world in a way that’s implausible, with everything very tidy and reflecting their preferences, and therefore they get upset when trivial aspects of it – say, cheesy ‘sleb mags – don’t conform to their expectations. And so we get lots of articles, the nub of which is, “Why, oh why, do people like things I don’t like?”

Hell, my phone was advertised as being my “life companion,” a notion that made me laugh. Still does.

[ Edited. ]

D

I mean, yes, advertising can be absurd, sometimes mildly aggravating

I can never process the idea that we should worry more about people who can't force us to do anything, rather than those who can.

I mean, did some investment firms screw over a lot of people, in the sense that they lost their money? Sure. Did they take down some businesses that didn't make specific mistakes? Yes, and that's bad. Are advertisers annoying? Of course.

But the obsession with people who can't put a gun to your head or forcibly take anything from you is bizarre. If corporations can run wild and become unaccountable for their actions, if they can respond to perverse incentives in a damaging way, how much more can government bureaucracies do so, when they don't even have the limited intersections with reality that large companies have?

How can anyone get so worried about the actions of a company which you can avoid completely if you choose, and which must please at least some people in order to continue to exist, but be okay with the idea that the government can ruin you financially if you don't buy a product they think you should buy?

Hal

Hell, my phone was advertised as being my “life companion,”

Well, for the apparent rather a few who have absolutely no life, soul, personality, Etc., the cell phone they're frantically and desperately glued to and constantly staring at is the closest to any sort of existence they've got . . .

dicentra

You mustn't disagree with radical feminists because it makes them look bad. And making themselves look bad is their job.

Reminding me of the classic line, "Don't be a dick; that's Wil Wheaton's job."

dicentra

As a professional writer, I usually resolve the pronoun question by going full-on plural: "Users who have a DHCP server on their networks…"

Neither stuffy nor pretentious, thank all the grammar gods.

dicentra

I fear it’s a path to madness. The list, I mean.

Given that Brazilians are so racially mixed and remixed and then mixed again, they might as well choose their own labels and devil take the urge to standardize the terms.

dicentra

as if one couldn’t help but identify with whatever’s being advertised and therefore couldn’t help but feel “small,” “inadequate” or “leered at”

No, no. Not they. They're not affected by it; it's a problem that affects the people they're looking out for and whose cause they've dedicated their lives to championing.

The unwashed masses are mercilessly manipulated and hectored. People like Banksy are just the voice for the voiceless.

Because he cares so much.

Ted S., Catskill Mtns., NY, USA

I’m still trying to process the list of options on the census. “Dark snowy white.” “Somewhat like cinnamon.” “Gourd-coloured.” I fear it’s a path to madness. The list, I mean.

Perhaps people should just list their skin color as HTML attributes. Or maybe Pantone colors.

dicentra

HTML has more colors than Pantone, and they're truer on a screen, so that the census-takers bring along their iPads they can hold them right up to someone's face and get an accurate reading.

(Notice the use of plural instead of masculine singular.)

David Gillies

Great idea. I'm #E1BDA1, which is 727 in the Pantone solids book.

dicentra

This page calls that color "Brandy."

Ten

Political correctness. So thick you can cut it with a satire.

TimT

The Winners - photo tour of Belarus.

Jeff Guinn

dicentra stole my rant.

If writing about a specific person, then whatever gender that person has applies.

When writing about an abstract person, then that by definition is almost always inherently plural.

Yet too often, people who, somehow, are paid to write treat the abstract person as an individual, then end up trying to satisfy some pronoun bean counter to ensure a balanced representation of "he" and "she".

Regarding that philosophy professor, who, based on this writing fragment, can not be accused of clear thinking:

As another example, the chair of the department has greater obligations and rights in this regard. He has the right and obligation to know if they are teaching their classes, doing their assigned work and so on. Thus, when assessing the responsibility of a leader, sorting out what the leader could know and what she was obligated to know are rather important matters.

Becomes

As another example, department chairs have obligations and rights in this regard. They have the right and obligation to know if they are teaching their classes, doing their assigned work and so on. Thus, when assessing the leaders' responsibility, sorting out what leaders could know and what they are obligated to know are rather important matters.

But apparently not so important as to avoid assaulting English and grammatical common sense when writing about it.

/rant

D

I find the xe/xem thing to be an annoying, inconvenient, ugly solution in search of a problem.

We don't have a neuter pronoun in English, so we have to use either the male or the female for the default. Someone a long time ago chose the male. It's not a value judgement, it's a necessary and arbitrary choice.

There's something profoundly irrational about being upset about an arbitrary pronoun choice. Especially since, when "he" is used as a default, "he" is just as likely to be a rapist or a murderer as "he" is to be a president or a physicist. It's like being upset that I usually default boolean values in my programs to false instead of true.

I continue to be amazed at the ability of people to take offense at incredibly small perceived slights (as our host has extensively documented). Somehow the private statements of a probably senile old man traumatized our whole nation, necessitating weeks of front-page stories in all the newspapers. The fact that some rich guy somewhere doesn't like black people a whole lot and said so in a private setting gave people a collective case of the vapors. It must take intensive training to manage to give a crap about these things.

David

I continue to be amazed at the ability of people to take offense at incredibly small perceived slights

Often it seems to stem from peer group positioning, and so the effort required in order to pretend to care deeply about some contrived irrelevance – coffee cups, cupcakes, the masculinity of James Bond - is rewarded with belonging and in-group status. Piety is a competitive business. Some people, needy people, find that trade-off worthwhile. Others pretend to be fretful and aggrieved in order to fill space and get paid. The pressure of deadlines makes some people write the most extraordinary bollocks. And others may be genuinely upset that the world and people in it don’t conform to their preferences, however unrealistic those preferences may be, and even in matters of excruciating trivia. “Why are people liking things I don’t like or feel I shouldn’t approve of? What’s wrong with them?”

Anon

We don't have a neuter pronoun in English, so we have to use either the male or the female for the default.

No, we don't. The correct singular pronouns for an abstract person are 'they' and 'their'.

Never let anyone tell you that singular 'they' is an error: they don't know what they are talking about.

WTP

Regarding that philosophy professor, who, based on this writing fragment, can not be accused of clear thinking:

Well, yes. But he teaches hundreds of students ever year in classes on the subject of thinking. Think about that.

David Gillies

In a circuit with an automatic gain control (AGC), the level of the output signal is adjusted so that its envelope remains roughly constant. If the input signal drops, the AGC tries to amplify it. If it's cut off completely, then there's nothing left to amplify except noise. Having slain the behemoth evils of slavery, chattel status for women, sending small boys up chimneys etc., our doughty right-on warriors are left with nothing but the white noise of vajazzling, cis-normative picnics, and people lecherously checking out Laurie Penny's bum on the bus. Or, if you like, it's Parkinson's Law of Leftibollocks: outrage expands to fill the Grauniad column inches available..

Dom

Anon, singular "they" was once acceptable in English, but it isn't any longer unless we make a concerted effort to return to bygone days, which is okay with me. In the meantime, why not always make the referent agree in number. Don't say, "When a student arrives, he ..." and certainly don't say "When a student arrives, he or she ...". Instead say, "When students arrive, they ..."

Dom

I see others, especially dicentra, already mentioned the plural alternative. So I just added an extra vote.

dicentra

I continue to be amazed at the ability of people to take offense

As David explained, they're not offended: they're flashing tribal signs. Or playing "sensitivity one-upmanship" to display high status in that tribe. Or indulging in the heady project of Making Big Entities Bow Before You, e.g., the five activists trying to get the Washington Redskins to change their mascot.

They're not thin-skinned: they're eager to find ways to display their exquisite virtue aka status aka power.

Dana Carvey's Church Lady couldn't have done it this well.

Nikw211

… the effort required in order to pretend to care deeply about some contrived irrelevance – coffee cups, cupcakes, the masculinity of James Bond - is rewarded with belonging and in-group status.

Just so.

I would also say that, in addition to the need to fill space, meet deadlines and issue a challenge to the piety of others, that the seeming obsession with the innocuous is not just a mere accident but a natural consequence of having a totalitarian Weltanschauung.

If you believe that there are no free corners of the social order and that there is nothing that escapes the all-pervasive web of the Capitalist-Patriarchy power, then you will be someone for whom signs and wonders abound. Much like a Medieval peasant no doubt.

So a cupcake is as representative of oppression as a police baton charge in much the same way as the appearance of a certain type of flower in a particular spot is a supernatural warning sign from the ancestral spirits not to go fishing today.

David

someone for whom signs and wonders abound.

It does, I think, bear a resemblance to magical thinking. “He bought his girlfriend a cupcake! He’s trying to trivialise and demean her! She’ll be racked with self-disgust, remorse and insecurity! The bastard!”

Nikw211

It does, I think, bear a resemblance to magical thinking.

Indeed it does.

pst314

"Hell, my phone was advertised as being my “life companion,” a notion that made me laugh. Still does."

Just wait: It's only a matter of time until we hear that some designer in Japan has taken that idea seriously. :-)

(And yes, yes, I am sure that the Japanese can find things we do that are equally absurd, but I that Giant Isopod cell phone case still creeps me out.)

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