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April 2009

Entitlement (2)

Seumas Milne has written something peculiar again. (Yes, I know. The Guardian’s well-heeled class warrior writes lots of peculiar things – many of which are bafflingly wrong-headed.) Today Comrade Milne is miffed with the “Tory curmudgeon actor” Michael Caine and

the richest 2% of taxpayers who are going to have to part with 50% of earnings over £150,000.

Caine provoked the Ire of Milne with the following, not unreasonable, sentiment

Tax got to 82 per cent [in the 1970s] and I thought this was kind of unfair. I see... that the government has taken it up to 50 per cent and if it goes to 51 I will be back in America. I will not pay the Government more than I get.

Actually, National Insurance contributions and numerous indirect taxes most likely mean Mr Caine crossed that bridge some time ago, but that’s another matter. More importantly, it’s always heartening to see a successful man from a humble background being badmouthed by a Stalin groupie from a privileged background.

Continue reading "Entitlement (2) " »

Reheated (3)

For newcomers, three more items from the archives:

The Guardian Position.

On cowardice in moral drag. Jakob Illeborg touches his toes and hopes no-one takes advantage.

The Voice of Conscience

Imperialism, brainwashing and the imminent invasion of China. The wild imaginings of Mr John Pilger.

Peddling Stupidity

Professor Carolyn Guertin “inserts bodily fluids and political consciousness into electronic spaces.” Mockery ensues.

Dip a toe in the greatest hits

Even the Word is Unclean

This is one for the “funny-but-actually-quite-mad” pile: 

The outbreak of swine flu should be renamed “Mexican” influenza in deference to Muslim and Jewish sensitivities over pork, said an Israeli health official Monday. Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said the reference to pigs is offensive to both religions and “we should call this Mexican flu and not swine flu,” he told a news conference at a hospital in central Israel. Both Judaism and Islam consider pigs unclean and forbid the eating of pork products.

Let’s set aside for a moment objections that the virus in question – a mongrel strain of H1N1 - has more to do with pigs than with Mexico as a whole, or indeed with Mexicans, as some might infer from the suggested renaming. Let’s also set aside the fact the virus has been found in the US, Canada, Spain, New Zealand and the UK, and has genetic elements of at least three other animal flu viruses found in North America, Asia and Europe. Let’s put that out of our minds and grapple with the much more pressing issue: When did the mere “reference to pigs” – i.e. the word “swine” - become such a trial for the devout? Will the indignity never end? And is the aforementioned “sensitivity” something to do with the fact that transmission from pigs to humans suggests a genetic commonality of some kind? I think we should be told.

Fake Opinions

Daniel Finkelstein considers a well-worn phrase:

Between 2003-2008, I found more than 200 different murderers or murder victims who were described by their neighbours as “keeping themselves to themselves.”

Several examples are quoted, including this rather infamous one:

In the dark, someone was at the stank, pulling masses of rotting flesh from the drains, slopping them into black bag after black bag. It was their neighbour Dennis Nilsen. A civil servant who kept himself to himself.

But why is this not entirely helpful phrase deployed so readily?

There are two possible explanations for this. The first is that people who keep themselves to themselves are substantially more likely to be murdered or murderers than other members of the population. I suppose this is possible. But I did note that there were more than 50 footballers who were also described as keeping themselves to themselves in training. This - and the fact that the phrase appears to be British and isn’t used to describe for instance American murderers or murder victims - leads me to the second explanation.

This is that we all copy each other when asked to provide descriptions by the media. The political scientist James Stimson notes that opinion pollsters frequently get people to opine on issues they don’t actually have an opinion about. He calls these fake opinions “non-attitudes.” I suspect “he kept himself to himself” is the crime equivalent of a non-attitude. The neighbour doesn’t actually know anything. Although perhaps their ignorance is caused by the murderer or murder victim actually keeping themselves to themselves.

Selective Outrage?

Theodore Dalrymple ponders rape, punishment and an interesting selectivity:

It is curious how, when it comes to rape, the liberal press, and presumably liberals themselves, suddenly appreciate the value of punishment. They do not say of rape that we must understand the causes of rape before we punish it; that we must understand how men develop into rapists before we lock them away, preferably for a long time; that prison does not work. It is as if, when speaking of rape, it suddenly becomes time to put away childish things, and (to change the metaphor slightly) to talk the only kind of language that rapists understand.

They quiver with outrage when they learn that the clear-up rate for rape cases is only 6.5 per cent, though this in fact is very similar to the clear-up rate of all crimes. They are appalled at cases where rapists are left free to commit more of their crimes because of police and Crown Prosecution Service incompetence, which is itself the natural result of the policy of successive governments. But it is important for their self-respect as liberals that their outrage should not be generalised, that they should not let it spill over into consideration of other categories of crime, where the same bureaucratic levity and frivolity is likewise demonstrated. For, as every decent person knows, there are far too many prisoners in this country already, and prison does not work.

A claim aired repeatedly in the pages of a certain newspaper. Presumably, the Guardian’s Irwin James feels that imprisoned rapists should be allowed to vote along with the rest of the prison population. (Mr James does tentatively draw a line with Ian Huntley and Rose West, noted hate figures of the “popular press,” for whom he feels the franchise would be “pointless.” However, he maintains, “all others… should be allowed to cast their vote.”) And one might reasonably suppose that Mr James also frets over the “poor quality of the toothbrushes” available to rapists.

If anyone were to write that he thought that rapists should not be locked up because they have had a difficult childhood, have psychological problems and aberrant personalities, including a tendency to take drugs and too much alcohol, and because prison does not work as evidenced by the fact that they often commit the same sorts of crimes on release, he would be (rightly) regarded as a moral idiot. Yet the very same arguments are trotted out, with every appearance of convincing the people who trot them out of their own moral superiority over those who do not believe them, with regard to the kinds of crimes that make the lives of many old people in this country (to take only one example) a torment.

The whole thing. (h/t, Freeborn John)

The Last Gulag

Speaking of Communism and how it works out so well… 

In van Houtryve’s hotel room, propaganda played in an endless loop on the three TV channels. North Korean biographers, striving to make Kim his more revered father’s equal, insist a swallow foretold his birth and attribute a spate of superhuman characteristics to him - the ability to manipulate time among them. Defectors have described him as arthritic and illiterate.

Posing as a businessman looking to open a chocolate factory, documentary photographer Tomas van Houtryve visited North Korea. Despite 24-hour surveillance and the pointed reticence of North Koreans, he managed to take some photographs.

Commute_in_darkness North_Korean_Consumerism Dear_Leader_manipulates_time    

Lest we forget, North Korea still has concentration camps and gas chambers. Hence perhaps the reticence. Via Mick Hartley.

Friday Ephemera

Giant dancing robot spiders. // Can a helicopter lift a plane? // An AK-47 made from bacon. (h/t, Mr Eugenides) // Bacon-flavoured vodka. // Assorted hipsters. // High speed Scrabble. // Calligraphy and light. // Tools of the optician. // The degrees of online friendship. // Free B-movies. // Cat Shit One: The Animated Series. // Retro-electro version of Bohemian Rhapsody. // Time travel cheat sheet. How to reinvent the past. // Behold the Electrochef. // The life and times of Gameboy. // The growth of Las Vegas. (h/t, Coudal) // The museum of menstruation. (h/t, Anna) // “I’d rather not waste my time trying to convince smart people that they are actually smarter than stupid people.” // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr Tommy McCook.

Strange Omissions

I’ve previously noted the eagerness of some literary “theorists” to shoehorn Marxism into their first year reading lists with the expectation that students be “conversant with” Marx’s ideas and claims - if not those of his numerous critics - supposedly as an “exploration of theoretical issues in the study of literature.” Terry Eagleton, for instance, seems to believe that Hamlet, Heart of Darkness and Ariel are best read with Marx in mind, though the literary benefits aren’t immediately obvious to me. Nor is it obvious in literary terms why Eagleton would present students with a reading list that includes no fewer than six books about Marxism and its alleged merits: Tony Bennett’s Formalism and Marxism, Eagleton’s Marxism and Literary Criticism, Eagleton’s Ideology, Eagleton’s Criticism and Ideology: A Study in Marxist Literary Theory, Raymond Williams’ Marxism and Literature, and Leon Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution.

In their book One-Party Classroom David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin note a similar enthusiasm:

Consider, for instance, the “writing-intensive two-year course sequence” called “Intellectual Heritage” that [Temple University] requires all students to take. On the program’s web page professors post some thirty different sample exam and study questions under the title “Faculty Perspectives on Marx.” Every one, without exception, prompts students to explain what Marx said in the way one might explain the theories of Copernicus, whose theories have been confirmed by real world experiments. In contrast, all Marxist experiments in the real world have failed – in fact, they have caused the economic impoverishment of whole continents, man-made famines, and human suffering on an unprecedented scale – and yet not one of the professors contributing to the Intellectual Heritage guides bothers to note this historical fact.

In one sample guideline, a professor writes: “Marx presents an astute understanding and critique of capitalism. Is it convincing?” The question does not say, “Marx analyzed capitalism. Is his analysis convincing?” That would have been educational. Instead, the student is effectively told what to think: Marx wrote a wise critique of capitalism. Are you stupid enough to disagree with him? What if the student is not convinced and encounters that question on an exam? Since he has been forewarned that the professor thinks Marx is “astute,” will the student risk saying that Marx was catastrophically wrong, that his unfounded attacks on capitalism led to the creation of regimes that were among the most oppressive and destructive in human history, and that his professor is living in an intellectual Never-Never-Land? Or is he going to humor the professorial prejudice and maximize his chances of getting a decent grade? […]

The faculty guides to Marx on the Intellectual Heritage website fail in every respect to live up to the standards of basic academic enquiry. They offer no critical literature on Marx and Marxism, no writings by von Mises, Kolakowski, Sowell, Malia, Richard Pipes, or other scholarly critics of Marxism. Nor do they confront the connection between Marx’s ideas and the vastly destructive effect of Marxist societies, which murdered 100 million human beings and created unimaginable poverty on a continental scale.

Horowitz and Laksin’s book is well worth a read, if only to witness just how readily Marxist theorising has been grafted onto the study of comparative literature, rhetoric, communication studies, African-American studies, anthropology and journalism - very often by English graduates with no formal qualification in - or obvious grasp of - economics. Ploughing through these examples isn’t exactly an uplifting experience, in fact it’s quite depressing, not least because of the overtly question-begging nature of so many course outlines. The sense of gloom is made worse by the almost total indifference of administrators to systematic breaches of their own guidelines on bias and academic probity. Though many of the course descriptions and educators’ biographies do offer some amusement of the grimmest possible kind.

Related: A Cautionary Tale.

Friday Ephemera

Tea-bag lights. // The writhing Sun. // The white heat of bacon. // ToneMatrix. // Assorted rocket sleds. // Backyard roller coaster. // Wake-up calls for astronauts. // Enterprise makeovers. // A Wolf Loves Pork. // These images aren’t Photoshopped. (h/t, Coudal) // New York composites. // Das Kapital: the musical. // More eggshell art. // Extinct video recorders. (h/t, Things) // Recurring dance moves in Disney films. (h/t, DRB) // On phantom limbs. // Eating beaver. // Cuddly microbes. // Because owls need love too. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Frank and Bing.

Righteousness 101

Further to this sorry episode and others like it in the archives, Clazy steers us to yet another example of campus tolerance:

I didn’t expect them to literally chase him out of the building.

Readers may detect a familiar pattern here. If someone is invited onto campus to discuss a controversial subject – say, illegal immigration – the most righteous response is not to refute that person’s arguments, which would entail some effort and minimal civility. Good lord, no, there’s no time for that. (And why run the risk of hearing new information - and worse, rethinking one’s own position?) Instead, simply ensure the guest cannot air any argument at all. Then there’s not much to refute. One can simply sloganeer triumphantly and, of course, paraphrase. Call what the speaker would have said “hate speech,” then no-one will be curious and people will stay clear. Should the guest dare to invite questions at the end of his speech, this must be taken as an act of provocation and a license for pre-emptive rage. Great effort should be made to intimidate not only the speaker but those who wish to hear him speak and those who allowed him onto your turf. With luck, faculty will join in with the disruption to signal their own credentials. Breaking windows and showering people with glass is also a sign of possessing unassailable convictions. It sends a message, see, and let’s everyone know who’s boss.

Video here and here.