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December 2014

The Year Reheated

In which we reflect on the woes of the Guardianista class, on the great thinkers of academia, and on the mind-shattering wonders of contemporary art.

In January we marvelled at the modesty of the novelist Brigid Delaney, who told Guardian readers that her lifestyle and living arrangements should be determined not by her budget, as is generally the custom, but by her self-estimated importance as a creative person. And therefore taxpayers should pay for her to live in a much nicer flat in a more happening part of town. On the same day in the same paper, fellow creative person Amien Essif bemoaned the fact that “there’s not much money in writing these days.” And so, again, the taxpayer must be made to “subsidise creativity” – including Mr Essif’s own writing on “consumerism, gentrification and hegemony.” For which, it turns out, there isn’t much of a market.

February brought us other elevated sensibilities, among them those of David Dennis, a man who regards the word “serve” as sexist and who, at home, frets about how food is put on plates. For him, meal times are a theatre of patriarchal oppression and fraught with complication. Gender politics also inspired the radical ladies of Columbia University to combat “male-centricity” by making all-girl pornography that is “hard to masturbate to.” Because thwarting masturbation with badly-made erotica is both a “guerrilla action” and “a feminist statement.”

In March the Guardian unveiled its roster of trainee journalists, thereby offering a glimpse of Guardians-yet-to-come. These hothouse talents, for whom lifestyle and pop culture are areas of expertise, promised to tackle “the issues that matter” to an entire generation, from students’ bedrooms and “canoeing to work” to an extended critique of drop-crotch meggings. Meanwhile, the paper’s Leo Hickman looked back on ten years of struggling with ethical purity and the “pangs of consumer guilt” brought on by buying Kenyan mangetout. Being so globally sensitive, Mr Hickman believes that the way to make Kenyan pea farmers richer is to not buy their goods. Despite his displays of piety, Mr Hickman was assailed by his even more pious readers, who pointed out that our fretful Guardianista “cannot be living ethically” or be “environmentally sound” while also having mains power and three healthy children.

April drew to our attention the talents of Ms Keeley Haftner, a taxpayer-funded artist and self-styled educator of the masses, who, in the name of art, deposited garbage on the streets of Saskatoon and was subsequently bewildered by said taxpayers’ lack of gratitude. Oh, and Guardian contributor Paul Krugman was paid $25,000 per month to think about the wickedness of economic inequality. 

In May we beheld the fearsome intellect of Ms Lierre Keith, a radical eco-socialist and “gender abolitionist” whose interests include “sabotaging infrastructure” and cutting power lines, on grounds that leaving tens of thousands of people without light and heat will somehow encourage “class consciousness” and the end of capitalism. 

Urban Studies lecturer Peter Matthews was a highlight of June, thanks to his concern for litter inequality, though with no apparent interest in how litter actually materialises, and his idea for defending the “poor and marginalised” with a “physically radical intervention” – i.e., demolishing homes nicer than his own. Another June notable was Ms Silvia Murray Wakefield, a “London-based feminist and mother of two,” who finds the World Cup distressing and oppressive, due to her belief that all of womanhood is being “erased” by a sporting event that occurs once every four years

Continue reading "The Year Reheated" »

Tidings (8)

Cold, yes, but with style.

Photograph by Ivan Kislov.

As is the custom here, posting will be intermittent over the holidays and readers are advised to subscribe to the blog feed, which will alert you to anything new as and when it materialises. Thanks for another million or so visits this year and thousands of comments, many of which prompted discussions that are much more interesting than the actual posts. Which is kind of the idea and saves me a lot of work. And particular thanks to all those who’ve made PayPal donations to help keep this rickety barge above water. Likewise, those who’ve done shopping via the Amazon UK widget, top right, or via this Amazon US link, which results in a small fee for your host at no extra cost to you. It’s noble work on your part and much appreciated.

Those of you with nothing better to do are welcome to rummage through the reheated series and greatest hits. There you’ll find insights into the strange mental processes of our self-imagined betters, including displays of deep, benevolent feeling, plans to improve your life by making sure you know your placegreat feats of artistry, and our ongoing catalogue of agonised tweets. I’ve laid out fresh towels and stocked the liquor cabinet. Chat among yourselves and try not to get fag burns in the upholstery.

To you and yours, a very good one. 

New Injustice Discovered

Not in the Guardian, as is generally the custom, but in the Spectator, thanks to Carola Binney, an undergraduate history student at Magdalen College, Oxford, who “writes on student life.” In keeping with tradition, the headline is bold:

Cloakrooms should be free to stop young women freezing to death.

If the thought process behind the headline (and its missing comma) is somewhat unobvious, Ms Binney elaborates:

As I wiggled into my tights in preparation for an end-of-term night out, I was faced with the perennial clubbing question: should I take a coat? Logic, and my mum, would say the answer was obvious. My outfit was hardly cosy, and a tipsy walk home at 2am in December is an adventure best braved from within my wardrobe’s most wind-proof, water-proof and fur-lined offering. But the question wasn’t just one of insulation – I had a financial decision to make. The cloakrooms at most Oxford clubs cost between one and two pounds: what did I want more, healthy circulation or a Jägerbomb?

Ah, the life of the mind. Our thoughtful undergraduate goes on to share Dickensian tales of underdressed drunkenness, thereby illustrating the seriousness of her latest cause:

25-year-old Bernadette Lee, for example, died of hypothermia last January after going on a night out in the Kentish snow with no coat.

“Coats,” she informs us, “are especially essential on nights out, because alcohol, although it makes you feel warmer, makes you more vulnerable to hypothermia.” From this, she concludes,

If local councils are looking for a way to protect young women on nights out, they ought to make a free cloakroom a condition of a club’s license.

Readers may wish to take a moment to process Ms Binney’s mindset of entitlement, a mindset not uncommon among our brightest and best. Specifically, the belief that coat-wearing in winter can only be achieved – say, by students at Magdalen College, Oxford, which, incidentally, boasts its own deer park – if local nightclubs are forced to provide storage for these items entirely free of charge. On account of the reluctance of said students to part with one, possibly two, whole British pounds. Money that might otherwise be spent on roughly one half of a tasty and nutritious Jägerbomb. You see, they can’t be arsed to pay. Therefore someone else should. 

Via the ever-vigilant Mr Eugenides

Friday Ephemera

Action panda. // The great guinea pig migration of 2014. // This machine balances things better than you do. // At last, tan leather brogues with liquor in the heel. // The hurdy gurdy man. // Biodegradable cat litter boxes. // Concrete speakers. I suspect the postage may be expensive. // The chemistry of sprouts. // Pasta extrusion. // Test: school lunch or prison food? (h/t, Ace) // Quarter-tonne porn stash “belonged to a friend.” // Snowflakes, categorized. // The public sector debt clock. // Up, down, sideways. // The truth about truth serum. // One man and his organ (or how to play Hard Times). // Tweet of note. // Clouds in the Grand Canyon. // The jigsaw you’ve always wanted. // Jamaica Street, Glasgow, 1901. (h/t, EBD) // And finally, festively, he just won’t stop jingling

Chewing the Scenery for Social Justice

Speaking, as we were, of academia’s efforts to eradicate stoicism, self-possession and any residual sense of proportion, here’s Noah Rothman marvelling at the pretension and self-flattery of a third year student at Harvard Law School. A student whose acute political consciousness has driven him to the brink of nervous exhaustion:

“Our request for exam extensions is not being made from a position of weakness, but rather from one of strength and critical awareness,” wrote William Desmond in the National Law Journal… “The hesitancy to recognise the validity of these psychic effects demonstrates that, in addition to conversations on race, gender and class, our nation is starving for a genuine discussion about mental health,” he continued. “But to reduce our calls for exam extensions to mere cries for help exhibits a failure to understand the powerful images of die-ins and the booming chants of protestors disrupting the continuation of business as usual in cities across the country.” 

You see, you simply fail to comprehend the impact of chants and reclining as expressions of civil disobedience. Their moral gravity eludes you.

If the quotes above lead you to believe that Peak Hyperbole™ must surely have been reached, and camped upon in triumph, I should point out that Mr Desmond, our tearful hero, is barely getting started

Tissues and fainting couches are available at the back. 


And on the subject of student fortitude, another attempt to escape exams on similar grounds proves equally revealing. Della Kurzer-Zlotnick, a freshman activist at Oberlin College, invoked the “significant trauma” of unspecified “students of colour,” on whose behalf she presumed to speak, as grounds for delaying scheduled exams. Apparently, these traumatised students are “tired” and “hurting beyond belief,” and focussed not on their studies but “on their survival” in a racially oppressive environment. Ms Kurzer-Zlotnick’s own “privilege” as “a white, middle-class person” was dutifully confessed.

When her demand was refused, Ms Kurzer-Zlotnick rushed to Facebook to share her deep, deep feelings:

TRIGGER WARNING: Violent language regarding an extremely dismissive response from a professor. This is an email exchange I had with my professor this evening… We are obviously not preaching to the choir. Professors and administration at Oberlin need to be held accountable for their words and actions and have a responsibility to their students.

The violent and triggering language used by her professor, for which he and the entire college must be held accountable? One word:


Elsewhere (146)

Charles Cooke on the Rolling Stone “gang rape” saga and the contortions of certain feminists: 

Just a few short weeks ago, when Rolling Stone’s story was almost universally believed to be true, we were urged to read each and every sordid detail of the case so that we might better acquaint ourselves with the broader problems that are presented by “rape culture.” Today, as the story continues to collapse, the opposite view is regnant, and the very same people now contend that we should not be focusing on an individual case such as this in the first place… “Not sure,” Vox’s Libby Nelson asked last night in a tweet that summed up the volte-face, what the Washington Post’s “endgame is in continuing to pursue” the facts.  

Somewhat related, James Ceaser on the madness of crowds on campus: 

Every adult [on campus], if not every student, knows what happened at Duke eight years ago, where, under pressure from the same kind of academic crowd behaviour, members of the men’s lacrosse team were tainted and criminally prosecuted for rape, under charges that ultimately proved baseless. Every professor in media studies is fully aware of the spectacular hoaxes of modern journalism, from the accounts of urban poverty by Janet Cooke in the Washington Post to the multiple fabrications of Stephen Glass in the New Republic. And scholars of literature and history cannot be ignorant of the psychology of false accusation, from the biblical story of Potiphar’s wife down to the rape charges by Tawana Brawley, cynically perpetuated by Al Sharpton. Yet, in the climate of the moment, none of the perspective that these teachers could have offered, even if they had wished to do so, was ever brought to bear.

Speaking of Mr Sharpton, Ms Brawley and their lies, here’s Bill Whittle on identitarian politics and the new barbarism: 

In 1991, legal scholar Patricia J Williams wrote that Brawley “has been the victim of some unspeakable crime no matter how she got there, no matter who did it to her, and even if she did it to herself.” Are we all clear on that now? A Doctor of Jurisprudence from Harvard Law School and current Law Professor at Columbia University said that Tawana Brawley, who slandered an innocent man with the most vile charges imaginable, was not the perpetrator of an unspeakable crime but the victim of one.   

And Katherine Timpf reports on academia’s ongoing cultivation of stoicism, fortitude and self-possession: 

Princeton University students recently launched Tiger Microaggressions, a service that takes other students’ reports of microaggressions and publishes them on its Facebook page — so that no one has to “carry the burden alone to call out” offences against political correctness... The page, by the way, also refers to microaggressions as “papercuts of oppression,” which are “so small but slice deep.” […] According to the operators, “microaggressions are all around us” and anything can be a microaggression because “there are no objective definitions to words and phrases.”

Yes, “papercuts of oppression.” And “no objective definitions.” At Princeton University. Feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments.  

A Brave New World of Bionic Lingerie

This just in from the University of Wollongong

A ‘bionic bra’ that automatically tightens in response to breast movement is one step closer to reality with the development of a new prototype... Professor Julie Steele has been investigating the movement of women’s breasts during physical activity for more than 15 years… However, technology is only starting to catch up with the researchers’ imaginations.

Via Ace

Heed Ye the Woes of Guardian Readers

Number 2,047

A pay cut means we have had to sack our cleaner to save the £25 a week she cost, but, a month on, nothing’s being cleaned and the house is starting to resemble a squat. We set aside two hours on a Saturday morning but it’s not happening. How do other couples divvy up the cleaning without major rows?

Sadly, there’s no word on the fate of the cleaner. Via Anna. 

Friday Ephemera

Appetisers. // Best try this first with your parents’ car. (h/t, DRB) // Copy cat. (h/t, Jeff Jacques) // Dog butt science. // The Einstein papers. // On rendering buttocks. // Beard baubles. // Concrete Christmas decorations. // Gemstones. // Marble phone amplifier. // Yule logs. // Crosswind landings. // Gas drama at FurFest. (h/t, Poot) // Throw fire at things. // Walking on (frozen) water. // Branding of note. // Cybercrime visualised. // Perhaps not ideal for vegetarians. // Dog licks food. // As seen by satellite. // 707 episodes of Doctor Who played simultaneously. // Doesn’t everyone have a secret underwater ballroom? // Submarine sandwich. // The Hindenburg was big. // Spot the competitive neighbourhood. // And finally, tearfully, “But this isn’t the toy I wanted, Mommy.” 

Great Subtlety of Mind

Our new guardians of morality flex their mental muscles

University of Iowa (UI) students, faculty, and administrators are speaking out in support of the censorship of a statue created and displayed on campus by visiting professor Serhat Tanyolacar that they say constitutes “hate speech.” Tanyolacar’s piece comprised a seven foot tall sculpture of a Ku Klux Klan member whose robes are crafted from newspaper articles about racial violence. Many members of the UI community, however, ignored the intended anti-racist message of the piece and instead demanded that the university take action against what they perceive as a racist display — and the university is complying. 

The statue, which survived unmolested for a mere four hours, can be seen here. Yes, it’s crummy, but not, I think, a basis for fainting with rage. 

Tanyolacar erected the statue last week on an area of campus called the Pentacrest with hopes to “facilitate a dialogue with a community on a college campus,” responding to the controversy over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. But students judged the piece to be racist and offensive, and within hours, university police instructed Tanyolacar to take his piece down.

The article, by Susan Kruth, notes the similarity with a bizarre and sorry episode from 2008, in which a janitor and part-time student named Keith John Sampson was found guilty of “extremely poor judgment” and “racial harassment” - and threatened with “serious disciplinary action” - for quietly reading a history book in his own time. The book in question, which is available in the university’s own library, is an account of a notable defeat of the Ku Klux Klan in 1924. If Mr Sampson’s treatment by the university’s Affirmative Action Office doesn’t sound sufficiently Kafkaesque – a reminder that the absurd and the sinister aren’t mutually exclusive - take a few minutes to watch the video. If it makes you a little angry, maybe that’s no bad thing. And remember, these are the mental horizons of our self-imagined betters. A model for us all. 


More on the farce at the University of Iowa from Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason

David Ryfe, director of UI’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, has different ideas, however. “If it was up to me, and me alone,” he told The Daily Iowan, “I would follow the lead of every European nation and ban this type of speech.”

By “speech” Mr Ryfe presumably means Professor Tanyolacar’s unimpressive artwork - and by implication any number of other things that he may find uncongenial. And note, this is the view of the director of the university’s journalism school. 

Update 2:

The psychodrama rumbles on unimpeded by reality or a sense of proportion. Apparently, students and faculty aren’t feeling “respected and safe.” Some are “traumatised.” Because of all the art. The campus is now abuzz with pretentious apologies, meetings, demands for more committees, more meetings, a “detailed plan of action” and enhanced sensitivity training. Counselling is of course being offered to “anyone negatively affected by the incident.”

Elsewhere (145)

Theodore Dalrymple on the ruminations of superstar philosopher Slavoj Žižek: 

So what is true freedom, unlike the false variety that I enjoy, or rather mistakenly thought that I enjoyed? Professor Žižek tells us, in a rather roundabout way, that our freedom is circumscribed by our circumstances. I can’t say that this came as a great surprise to me, since I cannot imagine what it would be like to have no circumstances at all, or to exist free of any situation whatever.

George Leef on the myths of “diversity”: 

When Americans hear that research has shown that diverse groups are superior at solving problems, they probably assume that detailed studies were carried out to confirm that. They will be surprised to read [mathematics professor, Abigail] Thompson’s rebuttal that [Scott] Page’s work, including a co-authored paper with economics professor Lu Hong, “does not contain information that can be applied to any real-world situation involving actual people.”

Brendan O’Neill on campus-style “justice,” in which mere proof is transcended: 

A male student told me my insistence that individuals suspected of a crime must be fairly tried and found convincingly guilty before we ruin their lives — and being expelled from a prestigious university for rape would undoubtedly be life-ruining — was evidence that I had fallen for the “liberal paradigm” of justice, which tends to benefit white, well-off men. Apparently there is another “paradigm,” a better one, in which women who accuse men of rape are instantly believed and the men in question swiftly and severely punished.

And Victor Davis Hanson on post-Ferguson policing: 

[Officer Darren] Wilson’s second apparent error was in winning the fight over Brown for his gun. Had he allowed Brown to beat him, then Wilson might well have had a chance of surviving the wounds, and thus he might now still be a policeman with a career, rather than ostracised, in danger, and unemployed. Neither the community nor the media would have found newsworthy the shooting or beating of a white policeman by an African-American youth — in the manner that the murder of two California sheriffs by a twice-deported illegal alien was one-day news… Will some law enforcement officials now surmise that it is wiser to ignore some crimes in the inner city on the practicable logic that the denouement for the officer will likely be negative — either by stopping the assailant through force or not stopping the assault and thus being assaulted? If the suspect is unarmed but attacks, the post-Ferguson choice will either be to suffer physical harm or to respond in ways that may equate with the end of a career.

As always, feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments. It’s what these posts are for.