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August 2011

Elsewhere (46)

Heather Mac Donald on a company filling the knowledge gaps left by modern academia:

The company offers a treasure trove of traditional academic content that undergraduates paying $50,000 a year may find nowhere on their Club Med–like campuses. This past academic year, for example, a Bowdoin College student interested in American history courses could have taken Black Women in Atlantic New Orleans, Women in American History, 1600–1900, or Lawn Boy Meets Valley Girl: Gender and the Suburbs, but if he wanted a course in American political history, the colonial and revolutionary periods, or the Civil War, he would have been out of luck. A Great Courses customer, by contrast, can choose from a cornucopia of American history not yet divvied up into the fiefdoms of race, gender, and sexual orientation, with multiple offerings in the American Revolution, the constitutional period, the Civil War, the Bill of Rights, and the intellectual influences on the country’s founding. There are lessons here for the academy, if it will only pay them heed. […]

So totalitarian is the contemporary university that professors have written to Tom Rollins [founder of Great Courses], complaining that his courses are too canonical in content and do not include enough of the requisite “silenced” voices. It is not enough, apparently, that identity politics dominate college humanities departments; they must also rule outside the academy. Of course, outside the academy, theory encounters a little something called the marketplace, where it turns out that courses like Queering the Alamo, say, can’t compete with Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition.

At which point, readers may wish to revisit the mighty works of Duke’s Professor Pete Sigal - among them, Ethnopornography: Sexuality, Colonialism and Anthropological Knowing and Transsexuality and the Floating Phallus.

Via Jeff and not entirely unrelated, Jack Cashill on the Obamas:

Scarier than Obama’s style, however, is his thinking. A neophyte race-hustler after his three years in Chicago, Obama is keen to browbeat those who would “even insinuate” that affirmative action rewards the undeserving, results in inappropriate job placements, or stigmatises its presumed beneficiaries.

In the case of Michelle Obama, affirmative action did all three. The partners at Sidley Austin learned this the hard way. In 1988, they hired her out of Harvard Law under the impression that the degree meant something. It did not. By 1991, Michelle was working in the public sector as an assistant to the mayor. By 1993, she had given up her law license. Had the partners investigated Michelle’s background, they would have foreseen the disaster to come. Sympathetic biographer Liza Mundy writes, “Michelle frequently deplores the modern reliance on test scores, describing herself as a person who did not test well.” She did not write well, either. Mundy charitably describes her senior thesis at Princeton as “dense and turgid.” The less charitable Christopher Hitchens observes, “To describe [the thesis] as hard to read would be a mistake; the thesis cannot be ‘read’ at all, in the strict sense of the verb. This is because it wasn’t written in any known language.” 

Mrs Obama’s exercise in eye-watering narcissism can be puzzled over here.

Also vaguely related: I’ve been listening to Radio 4’s rural soap The Archers, in which teen eco-warrior and grand enunciator Pip has just received her A-level results – “a B and two Cs.” She is therefore, naturally, going to university.

By all means add your own.

New, Leftwing Physics Discovered

Another classic sentence from the you-know-what, care of concerned reporter Peter Walker:

Health experts blame passive overeating for global pandemic, warning in the Lancet that governments must tackle obesity now. 

One more time.

Health experts blame passive overeating

Much as I hate to question the wisdom of “health experts,” let alone the even greater wisdom of Guardian contributors, I am tempted to ask how exactly passive overeating works. Is it, as the term implies, like passive smoking? Is such a thing physically possible? Mr Walker seems to believe so, as does Lancet contributor Professor Boyd Swinburn:

Swinburn’s paper comes up with a clear primary culprit: a powerful global food industry “which is producing more processed, affordable, and effectively-marketed food than ever before.”

Yes, those utter bastards are making available cheap and tasty food. And – and - you can actually go out and buy it. Will the madness never end?

He said an “increased supply of cheap, palatable, energy-dense foods,” coupled with better distribution and marketing, had led to “passive overconsumption.”

Again, the mind reels at the implied physics of it. Passivity alone has yet to make that extra slice of blackberry cheesecake merge with my good self. So far as I’m aware, tasty cheesecake molecules can’t be absorbed by osmosis or accidental inhalation in sufficient concentrations to add to my mass. Maybe it’s based on some kind of quantum spooky action – someone in Derbyshire scarfs a doughnut and – somehow, miraculously - my cells metabolise it.

Nevertheless – clearly - something must be done:

The journal begins with a strongly-worded editorial arguing that voluntary food industry codes are ineffective and ministers must intervene more directly.

In case there’s any doubt as to what direct intervention means, Professor Swinburn has already made his ambitions clear:  

“They [the government] have to look to how other epidemics, like road injuries and tobacco, have been handled and almost always it has been through taxes and regulation.”

According to our crusading professor, the issue of obesity should not be left to the individual, who is at best a victim and simply can’t be trusted. Family attractions should be “junk food-free zones” and the advertising of such food is, he says, “unethical.” Foodstuffs of which the professor disapproves should be taxed heavily. Making food more expensive is, we’re told, “a benefit.” Provided, that is, raising the cost of popular foods “does not cause disadvantage to poorer people.”

Yes, of course. Consumers must once again be saved from themselves.

Update, via the comments:

Continue reading "New, Leftwing Physics Discovered" »

Friday Ephemera

Apparently not everyone can do this. // Flatten 3D films with 2D glasses. // A guide to grade inflation, or goodbye bell curve. // Giant hands are guiding you. // Formidable rigs. (h/t, Fourth Checkraise) // A photographic history of Russia. (h/t, Mick) // Hydro-power projects. (h/t, Coudal) // Charles Moore on Scargill versus Thatcher. // New Wave time warp. // East Coast earthquake: shocking pictures. // A brief history of copyright law. // Shooting big climbs at Yosemite. // “When I throw something in the garbage, the Earth is warming.” (h/t Peter Horne) // And via the same… A dog, an open car window and an accelerator pedal.

Elsewhere (45)

Via Kate, Michael Moynihan on the reprehensible fantasist Eric Hobsbawm:

In a now infamous 1994 interview with journalist Michael Ignatieff, the historian was asked if the murder of “15, 20 million people might have been justified” in establishing a Marxist paradise. “Yes,” Mr. Hobsbawm replied. Asked the same question the following year, he reiterated his support for the “sacrifice of millions of lives” in pursuit of a vague egalitarianism. That such comments caused surprise is itself surprising; Mr. Hobsbawm’s lifelong commitment to the Party testified to his approval of the Soviet experience, whatever its crimes. It’s not that he didn’t know what was going on in the dank basements of the Lubyanka and on the frozen steppes of Siberia. It’s that he didn't much care.

Readers of How to Change the World will be treated to explications of synarchism, a dozen mentions of the Russian Narodniks, and countless digressions on justly forgotten Marxist thinkers and politicians. But there is remarkably little discussion of the way communist regimes actually governed. There is virtually nothing on the vast Soviet concentration-camp system, unless one counts a complaint that “Marx was typecast as the inspirer of terror and gulag, and communists as essentially defenders of, if not participators in, terror and the KGB.” Also missing is any mention of the more than 40 million Chinese murdered in Mao’s Great Leap Forward or the almost two million Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge.

Similar sleight-of-hand and attempts to isolate Marx from the practical fallout of his totalitarian blueprint can be found here. And for sheer tragicomic delusion, this is tough to beatAs is this.

KC Johnson on the difficulties of juggling Designated Victim Groups:

The contemporary academic majority worships the trinity of race, class, and gender. Class is clearly the third wheel - unsurprisingly given that most tenured professors are well-off financially and secure in employment, and therefore don’t have a personal connection to the preferred ideological viewpoints on the issue. The competition for primacy between race and gender, however, is less clear-cut. In a matter like the lacrosse case, where the preferred viewpoint on class, race, and gender all dictated a rush to embrace false accuser Crystal Mangum’s wild claims, the result - as we all saw with the Group of 88’s activities - can be vicious. But the rape of Katie Rouse, a white Duke student, by a local black man was met with utter silence from the Group. As I noted at the time, they seemed desperate to avoid making a politically difficult choice.

Armed and Dangerous finds affirmation in a flash mob Bolero:

Ravel could not even have imagined the cellphones the musicians used for coordination; our capacity to transvaluate old forms – and our willingness to do so – is unparalleled in human history. What I saw in that video is that embracing this process of perpetual reinvention is what being “Western” means. We have developed more than any previous or competing civilisation the knack of using our past without being limited by it. I looked at those musicians and that audience, and what I didn’t see was decadence or exhaustion or self-hating multiculturalism. I felt like pumping my fist in the air and yelling “This is my civilisation!” It lives, and it’s beautiful, and it’s worth defending.

And Laban Tall notes a lesson in cultural contrasts:

From time to time, I fly to Stockholm from Manchester. On arriving at Arlanda, I’m greeted by giant posters of Stockholmers saying (in English), “Welcome to my town!” On return to Ringway, I’m greeted by posters warning me not to assault airport staff. A few months ago I flew to Munich for the first time. On arrival I was greeted by a Bluetooth message from BMW, promoting their cars. Returning to Manchester, I was greeted at luggage reclaim by a giant poster offering me a test for chlamydia.

As always, feel free to add your own.

Friday Ephemera

Now you can have aeroplane aisle trolleys in your own home. // Couch surfing. // Desktop jellyfish. // Developing bulletproof skin. // Behind the scenes at various museums. (h/t, Coudal) // At last, a device to mute aggravating celebrities. // 10 desolate countries. // Made of wax. // 8 Hours in Brooklyn. // Bottle cap nautilus. // A very large gallery of ballerinas. // A beginner’s guide to hamburger text markup language. // How pencils are made. // New York City, day to night. // Slopeflying, Norway. // And via MeFi... Fearlessly reviewing Finland’s finest salty liquorice sweets. “My entire tongue went numb and I had difficulty breathing.”

Reheated (20)

For newcomers, three more items from the archives.

Because Men Have Abortions Too.

Gender activist Jos Truitt tells us about reality and how it really is.

Jos Truitt can be seen here educating an audience with tremendously deep and radical thought, thereby confirming Hampshire College’s status as a “radical space.” We learn, shockingly, that sex change surgery from female to male typically entails the patient losing the ability to bear children. This is described by Ms Truitt as “an issue of eugenics” and an affront to “reproductive justice.” Rather than, say, an obvious consequence of choosing to have the necessary organs removed in order to become more like the gender that, by definition, doesn’t bear children. Presumably a woman who feels male and wishes to undergo extreme surgery to gain some semblance of physical maleness should also retain a functional uterus and associated organs, perhaps cleverly connected to a decorative penis. An intriguing challenge for any ambitious surgeon.

It’s Protest So It’s Righteous.

Alexander Vasudevan says radical people are entitled to “seize” your property.

Readers who wish to reclaim the belongings of Mr Vasudevan – say, his laptop or his phone – should head for the University of Nottingham. As Mr Vasudevan is keen to excuse the “seizure and reclamation” of other people’s belongings as a “potent symbol of protest,” it seems only fair – and important – to bring that sentiment back to his own doorstep, or that of his employers, if only rhetorically. Of course our academic radical has little to worry about. Readers of this blog are likely to have strong inhibitions regarding the invasion or theft of other people’s property, unlike some enthusiasts of the “radical politics” that Mr Vasudevan finds so exciting.

Socialist Hearts Are Just Bigger Than Ours.

Zoe Williams objects to philanthropy by people richer than herself. Because giving money away “creates inequality.”

Normal salaries won’t of course cut much ice at an Ark Gala, where ticket sales alone raise millions of pounds. Even Zoe, whose former school sends well-heeled little socialists on trips to Rome, Morocco and Barbados, would be out of her league. Still, Zoe’s personal resentments are the important thing and these “obscenely” rich people should stop “creating inequality” while giving money away. Given time, the orphans of Romania will doubtless learn to do without while sharing in Ms Williams’ moral satisfaction.

Abduct the greatest hits and probe them thoroughly.

Causes, More Causes and the Politics of Trainers

Further to this, some post-riot rumination. Of variable quality.

First up, Daniel Hannan on criminal opportunism:

Potential criminals will always outnumber police officers. Law enforcement works on the theory that not all potential criminals will go on a spree at the same moment – just as banking rests on the assumption that we won’t all simultaneously withdraw our deposits. When potential criminals realise that the forces of order are overstretched – during a blackout, for example, or in the aftermath of a natural disaster – looting usually follows. What happened earlier this week was that potential criminals made precisely such a calculation. The trigger was not a power cut or an earthquake, but the television images of police in Tottenham standing by while shops were plundered. Even the dimmest hoodie was capable of making a cost-benefit analysis. If the police were unwilling to defend property on one London high street, they would be quite overwhelmed by more widespread disorder. All that was needed was numbers and, thanks to Blackberry and Twitter, numbers could now be concentrated.

Next, Theodore Dalrymple on dependence and degeneracy:

The riots are the apotheosis of the welfare state and popular culture in their British form. A population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts; and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice. It believes itself deprived (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class), even though each member of it has received an education costing $80,000, toward which neither he nor - quite likely - any member of his family has made much of a contribution; indeed, he may well have lived his entire life at others’ expense, such that every mouthful of food he has ever eaten, every shirt he has ever worn, every television he has ever watched, has been provided by others. Even if he were to recognise this, he would not be grateful, for dependency does not promote gratitude. On the contrary, he would simply feel that the subventions were not sufficient to allow him to live as he would have liked.

And finally, here’s a podcast of the BBC’s World Tonight, in which Laurie Penny offers her “intelligent analysis.” 

The comedy starts around ten minutes in, shortly after one self-declared rioter says he wants “more things for the community” and “less tax.” The same gentleman also thinks the police should have “more power” to “clamp down” on rioters… i.e., on people such as himself. I kid you not. Swollen with righteousness and keen to interrupt, Laurie tells us, “there’s been no attempt to understand” the rioters, which is a typically bold and puzzling statement, not least given the acreage of commentary attempting to do precisely that. Ms Penny also tells us that what frightens her isn’t the delinquent nihilism, the mugging of children or the attempts to burn people in their homes, but the use of the word “feral” to describe the people doing so. It seems we, not the rioters, are the ignorant ones. “Violence,” she repeats, “is rarely ever mindless.” And so, if your home or business was burned to the ground by people who don’t have an explanation for why they did it, besides it being “a laugh” and an opportunity to steal or smash your stuff, then you really should try harder to understand our society’s “social divisions.” And do please note the implied redefinition of the word understand, which now means agree with Laurie Penny.

“Nicking trainers,” Laurie tells us, is a sign of “desperation” and “a political statement.”

Friday Ephemera

It’s a sign of the End Times. // Cat scans. // The remarkable head stability of the Brown Owl. // Beard-measuring T-shirt. // Roof garden apartment, London. // Fog in San Francisco. // World’s highest tennis court. // Drainpipe hotel. // Garbage trucks of yore. For the garbage truck enthusiast. // The internet movie cars database. (h/t, Coudal) // How to deal with vehicle thieves. // Abandoned remains of Russian space shuttle project. // Tetris in the round. (h/t, Anna) // Hiroshima panoramas, six months after the bomb. // Picture of note. // Rating the Bond films. Die, Moonraker, die. // And finally… Stopping looters, the American way.