Previous month:
December 2012
Next month:
February 2013

January 2013

Elsewhere (84)

Chris Snowdon ponders fatness and what mustn’t be said about it: 

This week, lots of outraged people - mainly on the political left - got themselves in a tizzy when public health minister Anna Soubry pointed out that childhood obesity rates are disproportionately high amongst low income groups… Why the controversy? Soubry’s greatest crime was to not use the most politically correct language. She used the word poor instead of deprived or underprivileged. As Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum said: “It was the tone of what she said. It was arrogant and condescending.” As for the facts, he conceded: “Yes it is true that the lower down the social scale you go the more likely people are to be obese.” On Twitter, big boned Labour MP Diane Abbott tried to whip up the mob. She reckons that pointing out the well-known association between poverty and obesity amounts to “blaming the victim.” This is the same Diane Abbott who wrote in 2011: “Studies about the predictors of obesity in the UK have shown that the poorest are most likely to be obese.” 

I don’t see fat people as “victims,” nor do I feel the need to “blame” anyone for something that is none of my business. Even if I did, the incomes of those involved would have nothing to do with it. Abbott, on the other hand, wants us to blame the food industry for making people like her grossly overweight. She won’t take responsibility for herself and she doesn’t expect anyone else to. As a state socialist, she holds institutions accountable for all human outcomes and believes that the only solutions lie in a more coercive government. Terrifyingly, this woman could be Britain’s next health minister.

Ms Abbott, a woman of substance in only the physical sense, is hardly alone in holding such ambitions. There are those, including writers of Observer editorials and Lancet contributor Professor Boyd Swinburn, who wish to save us from “passive overeating” by restricting our choices, including where we may eat, and by making food more expensive. The state, we’re told, must “intervene more directly.” Yes, we must be supervised by those who know better. Because you simply can’t be trusted when there’s pie nearby. 

David Mamet on gun laws in theory and practice (and much more besides):  

Healthy government, as that based upon our Constitution, is strife. It awakens anxiety, passion, fervour, and, indeed, hatred and chicanery, both in pursuit of private gain and of public good. Those who promise to relieve us of the burden through their personal or ideological excellence, those who claim to hold the Magic Beans, are simply confidence men. Their emergence is inevitable, and our individual opposition to and rejection of them, as they emerge, must be blunt and sure; if they are arrogant, wilful, duplicitous, or simply wrong, they must be replaced, else they will consolidate power, and use the treasury to buy votes, and deprive us of our liberties. It was to guard us against this inevitable decay of government that the Constitution was written. Its purpose was and is not to enthrone a Government superior to an imperfect and confused electorate, but to protect us from such a government.

And Jeff Goldstein on dreams of a disarmed citizenry:

As Ace rightly notes, “as the goal is admitted, let us have no more discussion of these ridiculous diversions.” It’s not your folding stocks or flash suppressors or bayonet lugs they’re after: it’s your ability to remind them that you are free people, and that their power is contingent on you. And would-be aristocrats grow weary of such presumptions from the riff raff, particularly those they imagine in a cabin somewhere eating possum stew off of the tits of their first cousins.

As always, feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments. 

Friday Ephemera

“The Vaportini provides a revolutionary way of consuming alcohol. It is inhaled rather than swallowed.” // The sky is angry. // London below you. // Augmented reality contact lenses. // Pitch-shifted REM made upbeat, almost jolly. // John’s weather forecasting stone. (h/t, Dr Westerhaus) // Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, slowed down somewhat. // At last, marzipan elephants. // Key meets lock. // Reef dwellers. // Dog walks horse with limited success. // A surface that’s difficult to wet. // “We’ve got company.” // The internet movie cars database. (h/t, Elephants Gerald) // And via MeFi, this building was on fire and, er, now it’s frozen

Our Brightest Minds

More psychodrama on campus:

Only hours after students installed a “Free Speech Wall” at Carleton University to prove that campus free speech was alive and well, it was torn down by an activist who claimed the wall was an “act of violence” against the gay community. “What we wanted to promote was competition of ideas, rather than ‘if I disagree with you I’ve got to censor you,’” said Ian CoKehyeng, founder of Carleton Students for Liberty, the creators of the wall. Installed on Monday in the Unicentre Galleria, one of campus’ most high-traffic areas, the wall was really more of a 1.2 x 1.8 metre wooden plank wrapped in paper and equipped with felt markers. By Tuesday morning the wall was gone, destroyed in an act of “forceful resistance” by seventh-year human rights student Arun Smith.

Yes, I know. Forceful resistance. Against free speech. By a human rights student.

A human rights student who last year promised to ensure “every voice is empowered and every student’s voice is heard.”

Well, maybe not every voice. It seems there’ll be some pre-emptive and unilateral vetting.

But wait, there’s more.

“In organising the ‘free speech wall,’ the Students for Liberty have forgotten that liberty requires liberation, and this liberation is prevented by providing space … for the expression of hate,” wrote Smith in a 600-word Facebook post in which he identified himself as an anti-homophobia campaigner. Calling the area around the wall a “war zone,” he intimated that it was “but another in a series of acts of violence” against gay rights. In a Tuesday afternoon Twitter exchange with a CBC reporter, Mr Smith dubbed free speech an “illusory concept” and declared that “not every opinion is valid, nor deserving of expression.” 

The punchline cometh. 

In truth, the wall’s only overt references to sexual orientation were pro-gay, such as “QUEERS ARE AWESOME,” “Gay is OK” and “I [Heart] Queers.” The only comment that verged into anti-gay territory was a scrawl reading “traditional marriage is awesome.”

Some kinds of stupid have to be educated into the kids.

Update, via the comments: 

Continue reading "Our Brightest Minds" »

Elsewhere (83)

Tim Worstall on the ever-changing grievances of the left: 

There are certain people, Dianne Abbott being a good enough example, whose existence is only validated by telling people to do something different from what they are. If everyone’s a model of Victorian primness then the shriek will be that free love is a necessary part of civilised society. If everyone is indeed practising free love then Victorian modesty is the only valid more for society to allow. It’s not that either is better or worse. It’s that, by definition, whatever people are doing is wrong and they must be controlled to do the other. After all, Kip Esquire’s Law does require that someone should do the controlling and there are those who do insist they are in the vanguard of those who ought to be. What is being controlled and to what end is much less important than the controlling itself.

Daniel Hannan tackles the myths of Occupy:   

The Occupy crowd are occupying the wrong place. In this country, they were literally occupying the wrong place – they set out to occupy the Stock Exchange; they ended up in St Paul’s Cathedral, on grounds that it’s vaguely near the Stock Exchange. But even if they had a better sense of direction and found the place they were after, they’d have still been occupying the wrong place. 

And Christina Hoff Sommers ponders attempts to reinvent children: 

Swedes can be remarkably thorough in their pursuit of gender parity. A few years ago, a feminist political party proposed a law requiring men to sit while urinating - less messy and more equal. In 2004, the leader of Sweden’s Left Party Feminist Council, Gudrun Schyman, proposed a “man tax” - a special tariff to be levied on men to pay for all the violence and mayhem wrought by their sex. In April 2012, following the celebration of International Women’s Day, the Swedes formally introduced the genderless pronoun “hen” to be used in place of he and she (han and hon).

Feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments.

Just Don’t Call It a Hustle

Arts Council luminary and devout Guardianista Dame Liz Forgan, of whom we’ve spoken previously, has had a rather grand leaving do costing just north of £8,000. A mere bagatelle compared to the £50,000 spent on two Arts Council Christmas parties. However, the Telegraph’s Stephen Pollard isn’t overly impressed:

There could be no clearer demonstration of the contempt that Dame Liz, who exudes the haughty sense of self-worth and entitlement that typifies the arts establishment, has for the rest of us that she chose a drinks party funded by the taxpayer to attack the Government for cutting the arts budget.

A budget that’s been slashed by a hair-tearing 2.6%. Yes, our insufficiently leftwing and therefore evil government is, we’re warned, practically “robbing a generation of its birthright.” 

It’s fair to say Mr Pollard is none too keen on the Arts Council, and not entirely without cause: 

The Arts Council is a body set up specifically to ignore the public’s wishes and provide an income to organisations that they would not receive through the free choices made by consumers… Arts Council England makes sure that “street artists” (buskers is, it seems, a derogatory term) are well looked after: in the recent past, Zap street art in Brighton has received £25,000 a year; Circus Space (a leading provider of “circus education”) has been given £70,000 a year, and Circomedia has been handed £80,000 to train street artists. One might have thought that buskers got their money from passers-by, depending on whether or not they were any good. Apparently, it is much more sensible to take money from taxpayers and simply hand it over.

Those familiar with the assumptions of our official taste-correcting caste will not be altogether surprised, and the readiness with which the Arts Council sets fire to public money is hard to overstate. In 2006 – to take a year at random - the following artistic projects were beckoned to the taxpayer’s teat. £20, 470 was handed to a “participatory photography and self-advocacy project” for East London’s “female sex workers,” while £15,000 found its way into the hands of those hosting “Malian mudcloth and DJ workshops.” A more modest amount, a mere £4,950, was felt necessary for “research and development to explore the writing of a poetry and music show examining issues of cultural identity and sexuality.” Despite the funding, no poetry or music need actually be produced and no show need materialise. The five grand was merely to facilitate the exploration of such things. 

Joshua Sofaer’s artistic project Meeting the Public is described thusly: “A range of initiatives which combine production, research and professional development. They are brought together as a body of work in a collaborative relationship with a producer and a particular kind of active engagement.” All very cryptic and no further explanation is offered, but evidently the project served some pressing cultural need, thereby receiving £31,889. Also funded was the “research” of “live art practitioner” Helena Bryant, whose mission was to “establish the performance persona of Sally Bangs, through an inquiry into intimacy and engagement in performance encounters thematically based on love-sickness and exploring the pathology of erotic love.” When not funding “research” trips to Mongolia, Cuba and the frozen poles, the Arts Council uses your money to bankroll Greenpeace, whose no doubt unbiased “programme of educational activities” coined the handsome sum of £66,795. I could, of course, go on. But such are the mighty talents deemed deserving of your money – which is to say, obviously, more deserving than you

My local publicly-funded galleries of contemporary work, one of which is a glorified coffee shop for two dozen middle-class lefties, can be relied on to disappoint - and to go on disappointing precisely because there’s no obvious mechanism for correction. No box office takings to fret about, no bums on seats, no ghastly commercial metrics need be considered. And so the featured artists, or pseudo-artists, can expect taxpayers to serve as patrons, whether they wish to or not, while being immune to the patron’s customary discrimination between promising art and opportunist flim-flam. The expectation that one must be exempt from base commerce, and by extension the preferences of one’s supposed audience and customers, is an arrangement that rewards and encourages the peddling of drek. Yet Liz Forgan and her associates would have us believe that an interest in visual culture, music, etc., should coincide with an urge to make others pay for whatever it is that tickles you, or for whatever is deemed to improve the species by Liz Forgan and her colleagues, i.e., People Loftier Than Us. Though one might still wonder how the coercive public subsidy of fatuous posturing and god-awful tat became a permanent function of the welfare state. One might also ponder this. The unspoken ethos of the Arts Council is, and always has been, We Have Your Wallet And We Know What’s Best™. And yet somehow they’re the victims.

Friday Ephemera

At last, sweaters made from the dog wool. // Dogs use Skype. // A real-time map of the London Underground. (h/t, Dr Westerhaus) // A guide to dim sum. // Spider + worm = spiderworm. // Designer heels. // How to clip your fingernails in space. // There are howling, carnivorous mice. // How to dance like James Brown. // Dollhouse of note. // Deafen your friends. // Floor plans of fictional apartments. // Impressive frozen dung sculpture. // Cold brew coffee. // This is one of these. (h/t, MeFi) // Pac-Man plus physics. // “Need 2 or 3 women for Star Trek roleplaying. No nudity, no touching. Strictly TNG era. Nothing weird is going to happen.” 

Elsewhere (82)

Theodore Dalrymple on tax, altruism and Gérard Depardieu:

Suppose that Gérard Depardieu were to undergo a conversion experience and see that his wealth was not unjust but unseemly in view of the difficulties or hardships of others, and that as a consequence he decided to give it away to those most in need (as determined by him) in exactly the same proportion as he would have been taxed. Would that be acceptable to all those who criticised him for refusing to pay his tax? I suspect not: for in the modern world, the state claims the monopoly not only of force, but increasingly of compassion as well.

Dalrymple refers to a Libération article by Marcela Iacub, who tells us, “a rational and just society must prevent the accumulation of capital by individuals above a certain level.” Presumably Ms Iacub is much less troubled by an accumulation of power by the state – say, to limit what an individual may lawfully earn. 

KC Johnson on the politicised narrowing of American history: 

If, in fact, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in purging “traditional” approaches to the American past, why don’t we see departments and colleges boasting of the fact? Departmental websites could explain how the study of U.S. history must occur through the prism of race, class, and gender; or how the university eschews such old-fashioned topics as political, diplomatic, or military history. But with rare exceptions colleges have followed the opposite approach, doing everything they can to obscure just how one-sided their approach to U.S. history has become. For those parents, students, or alumni who don’t have the time to drill down and comprehensively examine curricula, the assumption remains that all elements of the American past continue to be taught.

Related, this report by the National Association of Scholars:

The root of the problem is that colleges and universities have drifted from their main mission. They and particular programmes within them, increasingly think of themselves as responsible for reforming American society and curing it of prejudice and bigotry. When universities and university programmes consider it necessary to atone for, and help erase, oppressions of the past, one way in which they do so is by depicting history as primarily a struggle of the downtrodden against rooted injustice. This pedagogical conception may be well-intended, but it is also a limited and partisan one, and history teaching should not allow itself to become imprisoned within a narrow interpretation… The dominance of race, class, and gender themes in history curricula came about through disciplinary mission creep. Historians and professors of United States history should return to their primary task: handing down the American story, as a whole, to future generations.  

Apparently it’s all too easy to conflate education with political activism, especially among those educators who see themselves as “critical thinking change agents” – as gadflies and rebels, “enlightened leaders” - for whom the classroom is a place “to transcend the negative effects of the dominant culture” and where “education is a political act.” Which is to say, the act of describing the world through a Marxoid filter of rhetorically convenient oppressors and victims, while “speaking on behalf” of those they, our self-appointed leaders, deem oppressed. A much more glamorous and flattering function than merely teaching history or literature as commonly understood. And we’ve seen what happens when these “change agents” are challenged by students and peers on points of fact, probity and rudimentary logic. 

Feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments. 

Wet Marbles

A group of researchers put the theory to the test, letting twenty volunteers soak their fingers in warm water for 30 minutes to get them good and pruney, then testing exactly how long it took them to move wet glass marbles and fishing weights from one container to another. On average, pruney-fingered participants moved wet marbles 12 percent more quickly than when they were tested with unwrinkled fingers. When the same test was performed with dry marbles, the times were roughly the same. Thus, it seems, the hypothesis was proved: pruney fingers do help us grip better.

From the Smithsonian magazine

Elsewhere (81)

Matt Welch on Obama’s fantasy economics: 

Democrats are in denial about the true cost of their ideological commitments. If we taxed Americans enough to cover the cost (or even 90 percent of the cost) of what Democrats consider the minimal level of government, the result would be recession. That should, but won’t, give big-government apologists pause.

Somewhat related: “Tax revenue has been falling despite a sharp increase in the rate.” Despite?  

Jonah Goldberg on imaginary opponents: 

When will [the left] accept that they aren’t all that stands between a wonderful, tolerant America and Jim Crow? I was in the room when, during the Democratic convention, civil-rights hero John Lewis suggested that Republicans wanted to “go back” to the days when black men like him could be beaten in the street by the enforcers of Jim Crow. I thought it an outrageous and disgusting bit of demagoguery. The audience of Democratic delegates cheered in a riot of self-congratulation... To watch MSNBC is to think the hosts see themselves as the official newsletter of the Underground Railroad. 

And Victor Davis Hanson on the ‘progressive’ aristocracy:  

The medieval concept of offsetting your sins through public penance is back in play: The more loudly you talk about helping the proverbial people, the more you are allowed to live quite apart from them without guilt… Hollywood still seeks hundreds of millions in tax breaks unavailable to small businesses without shame because it is so manifestly compassionate. Occupy Wall Street does not camp out in Beverly Hills or Malibu, although the likes of Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio make more per year than do most Wall Street fat cats… For the overpaid and pampered Hollywood movie star, calling for raising taxes, banning guns, ending global warming, and legalising gay marriage means never having to feel too bad about living on the beach and making, under our capitalist system, more money in a month than do many Americans in a lifetime.

For some, professions of egalitarianism and socialist belly fire are a kind of rhetorical chaff – a way to elevate oneself as More Compassionate Than Thou, while deflecting envy from below. (“Please don’t hate me for being richer than you. Look, over there – they have even more, or almost as much –  let’s all hiss at them!”) Vicarious philanthropy – giving away freely other people’s earnings – is a remarkably effective ruse, so much so it seems to encourage a certain disregard for dissonance, as demonstrated, for example, by the Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger in this comical exchange with Piers Morgan. And by the Guardian’s imperious class warrior Polly Toynbee, whose rhetoric was contrasted with her actual lifestyle and was promptly reduced to indignant spluttering on national television. Similar obliviousness is also displayed by the millionaire actor Jeremy Irons, who denounces consumerism and asks, “How many clothes do people need?” All while owning no fewer than seven houses, one of which is a peach-coloured castle. No, you’re not allowed to laugh. Because his wife is also very Green and “deeply socialist.” 

Feel free to add your own links and snippets in the comments.