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December 2017

The Year Reheated

In which we marvel at the mental contortions of our self-imagined betters.

The year began with searing insights from the world of academia. Specifically, London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, where black student activists denounced objectivity as an “alienating” concept, and issued numerous demands, allegedly to challenge stereotypes of student laziness and inadequacy. It turns out that the way to avoid any appearance of such things is to complain about the “stress and anxiety” of being corrected, or disagreed with, especially by people who are insufficiently brown and deferential. Elsewhere, the psychological reverberations of Donald Trump’s election victory continued to be felt, as when a charmingly progressive lady sensed a fellow plane passenger’s failure to vote as she did and promptly threatened to vomit on him. Other pious lefties signalled their moral superiority by planning to sabotage transport infrastructure, stranding and distressing countless random people, and thereby reminding us that “social justice” posturing is often difficult to distinguish from petty malice or outright sociopathy. Meanwhile, Laurie Penny preferred to advocate “spite” as a guiding progressive principal, as if this were a new and novel development.

February provided further illustrations of this fashionable malice, as when educators at the University of Cincinnati bemoaned the fact that their attempts to inculcate unrealism, dishonesty and pretentious racial guilt were still being met with pockets of resistance. Objecting to slander and brow-beating by bigoted mediocrities is, we learned, merely “white fragility” and therefore, somehow, damning proof of racism. Racial fixations were also in play at the Writing Centre at the University of Washington, Tacoma, the stated goal of which is to “help writers succeed in a racist society,” a goal to be achieved by denouncing grammar as “an unjust language structure,” and the correction of punctuation as “an oppressive practice.” Because those ungrammatical job applications, the ones enlivened with incomprehensible sentences and lots of inventive spelling, will do just fine. We also learned of the steep price to be paid for small acts of courtesy – namely, holding open a door for a Guardian contributor with weight issues and a gift for hysterical screaming

Accessorising was an unexpected topic of discussion in March, when the crushingly put-upon students at Pitzer College, Claremont, California, informed the world that “winged eyeliner and big hoop earrings” are “an everyday act of resistance,” and should therefore be the exclusive ornamentation of the slightly brown and radical. Elsewhere, at Middlebury College, Dr Charles Murray attempted to give a lecture on, among other things, the dangers of tribalism and social fragmentation, only to be met with tribal hysteria and an actual riot, complete with slanderous chants, hospitalised staff and students wearing ski masks

In April, the immense, frustrated love machine Caleb Luna wondered why his Grindr profile attracts so little interest. Carefully sidestepping the possibility of weight loss, Mr Luna decided that the rest of us must “interrogate” our “phobias,” which is to say our preferences, and consequently start lusting after “alternative bodies.” Specifically, bodies like Mr Luna’s. Avoiding the obvious was also a theme in the world of performance art, where Shannon Cochrane and Márcio Carvalho unwittingly entertained us with their deep thoughts, shifting paradigms and heads wrapped in meat. Another highlight of the month came via Everyday Feminism’s Emily Zak, who wanted us to know that the allure of fresh air is, like everything else, terribly oppressive, due to the “painfully heteronormative” nature of wildland firefighting, and a shortage of adverts featuring gay people kayaking in a suitably gay-affirming manner. 

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A Fear Of Cheese

A while ago, while grumbling about Thor: Ragnarok, I wrote

With Marvel films, there’s usually a tricky balance of bombastic drama and quipping, and it’s easy to lose that balance and end up with the humour kicking the legs out from under any dramatic tension… [In Ragnarok,] the humour is for the most part formulaic and repetitive. A character says something cocky or pompous and a deflating pounding or misfire or pratfall ensues. This is repeated later, and then repeated again, and again. This is the joke template of the whole film. And if everything is essentially a set-up for some more rote goofiness, another gag like the one you saw five minutes ago, the stakes and drama ebb away, along with any goodwill, resulting in a film that feels much longer than it actually is.

With that in mind, and via Ace, here’s a related and more detailed rumination by Just Write. On cinematic bathos, or dramatic knee-capping.

Tidings (11)

Carol of the Bells, performed by Acoustic Trench. Assisted by Maple the dog.

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 around 1.5 million visits this year and thousands of comments, many of which prompted discussions that are much more interesting than the actual posts. Which is pretty much the idea. And particular thanks to all those who’ve made PayPal donations to keep this rickety barge above water. Curious newcomers and those with nothing better to do are welcome to rummage through the reheated series in search of entertainment.

To you and yours, a very good one. 

Friday Ephemera

The fierce and mighty warriors of professional wrestling. (h/t, Obnoxio) || According to the ladies at Marie Claire, this is now a thing. || Tortoise teamwork. || How do machines learn? Or, the thrill of algorithms. || Siberian farm cats. || The frugal Mrs Thatcher. || Heist. || Hard, harder, hardest. || “Comprised of ten organs covering nine metres, this is one of the most complicated systems in the body.” || Just type stuff. || Cats’ eyes. || Christmas spirit. || Classy as all hell. (h/t, Julia) || Auld Lang Syne interactive music box. || Where railways are. || You are still allowed to swear in Rochdale. || Vintage jackhammer restoration. || The dog copes remarkably well. || Seven wonders in 360. || More tiny worlds. || And finally, in shiny, revamped product news, you want one and you know it.

Elsewhere (258)

Tim Newman on the bigotry of low expectations: 

When I was in Melbourne, some government body or other put on a display of “Aboriginal culture” in Federation Square and advertised it all over town. I guessed in advance that it would consist of a bunch of primitives sat around bashing drums while metropolitan white folk looked on as if they were visiting a zoo. Child-like art would be on display wrapped in copious quantities of mumbo-jumbo. I passed by one Saturday afternoon and sure enough, that’s exactly what it was.

And somewhat related, William Buckner on the ‘noble savage’ fantasy, and the rather less charming realities: 

Comparatively little attention has been given to the risk of ‘traveller’s diarrhoea’ common among hunter-gatherers. For mobile groups, infants, the elderly, and other vulnerable individuals have little opportunity to develop resistance to local pathogens. This may help explain why infant and child mortality among hunter-gatherers tends to be so high. Across hunter-gatherer societies, only about 57% of children born survive to the age of 15. Sedentary populations of forager-horticulturalists, and acculturated hunter-gatherers, have a greater number of children surviving into adulthood, with 64% and 67%, respectively, surviving to the age of 15.

Ah, but we must politely overlook the tedium and illiteracy, the malnutrition and dehydration, the alarming levels of child mortality, murder and infanticide, the sharply truncated lifespans, the child rape, and the delights of stone-age dentistry. We must see only how egalitarian and vibrant these exotic creatures are, if you squint and tilt your head, and then carefully turn away while the other stuff takes place.

And if you think such fantasies are confined to the distant past, consider the Utopian ruminations of Guardian columnist George Monbiot, whose urge to romanticise The Other - especially if The Other is brown and poor, and unable to challenge his bizarre worldview - is a thing to behold:

It is impossible not to notice that, in some of the poorest parts of the world, most people, most of the time, appear to be happier than we are. In southern Ethiopia, for example, the poorest half of the poorest nation on earth, the streets and fields crackle with laughter. In homes constructed from packing cases and palm leaves, people engage more freely, smile more often, express more affection than we do behind our double glazing, surrounded by remote controls.

That’s right. Forget about sanitation and drudgery, and the limited options in life. Think instead of how happy these Ethiopian peasants are, these beings we should emulate, with their quaint little shelters made of leaves and packing cases. It’s just so adorable. And not a single remote control to harsh the egalitarian buzz. Like his Guardian colleague Oliver James - another anhedonic hypocrite stressed by the contradictions of being a well-heeled middle-class lefty – Mr Monbiot wants us to believe that “wealth causes misery.” Yes, wealth is bad for “us” – by which of course he means bad for you.

As usual, feel free to share your own links and snippets, on any subject, in the comments.

Friday Ephemera

Why dogs don’t rule the Earth, part 2. || Kid’s got skills. || Lucas wants to warm his legs. || Liverpool’s public wash-houses, 1959. || Feminist scholarship, part 209. || The future is now. || 30 Die Hard factoids. || On stealing Einstein’s brain and keeping it in a beer cooler. || Bunny Lewis in A Couple of Beauties, 1972. Also starring Bernard Manning. || “Radio broadcasts leave Earth at the speed of light. Hear how far the biggest hits of the past have travelled.” || The Hubble advent calendar. || Three-player chess. || The medical effects of Marmite. || Grand Canyon time-lapse. || Disrespected pizza. || Snow in Amsterdam. || John McWhorter on the modishness of Ta-Nehisi Coates. (h/t, Damian) || Hats. || Rokshok. || An oral history of Viagra. || And finally, a short story featuring cats.

The Clown Quarter Now Has An Engineering Division

Toni Airaksinen notes an interesting expansion of the Clown Quarter ethos

The leader of Purdue University’s School of Engineering Education recently declared that academic “rigour” reinforces “white male heterosexual privilege.” “One of rigour’s purposes is, to put it bluntly, a thinly veiled assertion of white male (hetero)sexuality,” she writes, explaining that rigour “has a historical lineage of being about hardness, stiffness, and erectness; its sexual connotations — and links to masculinity in particular — are undeniable.”

Hardness and stiffness. And we can’t have any of that beastliness in the minds of people who may one day be working on projects involving cranes and scaffolding. According to Dr Donna Riley, academic rigour and the expectation of competence are “exclusionary” and tools of “privilege,” and are unfair to women and minorities, for whom rigour and competence are presumably impossible. Dr Riley goes on to denounce engineering’s “cultures of whiteness and masculinity,” and informs us that, “scientific knowledge itself is gendered, raced, and colonising.”

To fight this, Riley calls for engineering programmes to “do away with” the notion of academic rigour completely, saying, “This is not about reinventing rigour for everyone, it is about doing away with the concept altogether so we can welcome other ways of knowing. Other ways of being. It is about criticality and reflexivity.”

Yes, the design and construction of fighter jets, oil rigs and 1000-tonne tunnelling machines will one day be informed not by careful calculation, a knowledge of materials and thoroughly tested principles, but by criticality, reflexivity and “other ways of being.”

Dr Riley is the author of the little-read tome Engineering and Social Justice, which she describes as “an attempt to explain the lack of emphasis on social justice in engineering.” The term “social justice” is, we’re told, “difficult to define” and “resists a concise and permanent definition,” a problem illustrated by the author’s own struggle to arrive at a convincing definition, despite deploying the term on every other page. But apparently, engineers need to spend less time doing load-bearing calculations and more time pondering “radical protest” and “Marxist traditions.” Needless to say, Dr Riley opens the book by congratulating herself for having devised “alternative ways of thinking” that are “challenging,” and which, for those less enlightened, may be “difficult to understand.”  

Update, via the comments:

Continue reading "The Clown Quarter Now Has An Engineering Division" »

Elsewhere (257)

Ed West on the ghosts of Christmas yet to come: 

I’ve noticed these ‘diversity bollards’ popping up everywhere, without a word spoken about it… Does anyone in a position of power believe this is going to get better and these security measures will ever be taken down? If not, perhaps they should explain to us why, how they led us down this route, and what they intend to do about it… No free society can maintain its liberal traditions with that sort of internal [terrorist] threat, so as the problem deteriorates the surveillance state will expand. We will be faced with the decision about whether to allow the government to monitor people’s internet activity, because the alternative would be asking serious questions about immigration and multiculturalism.

Heather Mac Donald and Mark Bauerlein on the fallout of absent fathers: 

One of the fallacies of leftwing ideology is to insist that differences between males and females are socially constructed, at the same times as females are demanding all sorts of privileges and quotas on the basis that, well, you’ve got to have a female there because apparently there’s something essentially different about her. But when it comes to acknowledging the unique and complementary roles of a father in raising a child, that’s all just out the window. Everything is interchangeable, and males are an afterthought. The tragic thing is the kids themselves understand this.

And Bruce Bawer on the demands and evasions of the Swedish Clown Quarter: 

Erik Ringmar, a 56-year-old political scientist at Lund University, had a problem. At Lund, he explained, it’s strongly recommended that 40% of the readings for every course be written by women. There’s a certain flexibility, but if your reading list contains no women at all, your chance of approval is near zero. Ringmar had wanted to teach a course on “the rise of right-wing ideas, and eventually fascism, at the turn of the twentieth century”… and wanted his students to read original texts by fascists themselves. The problem was that during the period in question, there were virtually no female fascist writers of consequence. Ringmar did manage to find one woman who, with a bit of a stretch, could be included on the course list, but that was it. It wasn’t enough. His department head told him so.

Accordingly, Ringmar expanded his course topic to include anarchists as well as fascists. Fortunately for his purposes, there’d been plenty of female anarchist authors back in the day. With this change, Ringmar’s course plan was approved – but just barely, and only on the condition that he also adds Judith Butler. Judith Butler, of course, was not a pre-World War I fascist or anarchist. Born in 1956, she’s a founder of Queer Studies and a propagator of the notion that gender is a social construction. By conventional standards, there was no sensible rationale for putting Butler on Ringmar’s reading list. But Ringmar agreed.

Needless to say, Dr Ringmar’s accommodation of such irrelevance proved insufficient and a campaign of slander and harassment ensued, led by leftist students, with the educator being denounced for his “insufficient focus on gender.” 

As usual, feel free to share your own links and snippets, on any subject, in the comments.

Friday Ephemera

Heavy metal weather. || Murmuration. || The molecular mechanics of cell division. || A world of data. || In search of hidden dimensions. || The man who created Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. (h/t, Obnoxio) || The first man-made nuclear chain reaction. || Sunken villages. || When mum dips her toe in virtual reality. (h/t, Damian) || Thickening time. || No offensively dirty faces. || “The time is fastly approaching where the tables are going to turn.” || Winter. (h/t, Ben) || The Great Smog of ‘52. || Impatient dog. || Punks share their wisdom via the medium of leather jackets. || This is one of these. || Big ‘uns. || Berezka. || Zinnia is woke. Don’t be like Zinnia. || And finally, at long last, a site for those who know the visceral thrill of milk floats. It has audio files and everything.

Elsewhere (256)

Heather Mac Donald on a certain newspaper of record: 

The day after the New York Times informed its readers about the “professional” world of astrology, it ran a front-page story about ICE agents’ alleged reign of terror in Atlanta, Ga., under the Trump administration. This reign of terror consists in targeted enforcement raids against individuals like an illegal Mexican who has been deported twice, served time in prison, convicted of two domestic-violence incidents, and charged with rape which he plea-bargained down to a lesser crime. The number of illegal alien law-breakers in Atlanta is so high that one is booked into a county jail every few hours, reports the Times. The Times notes with dismay that illegal aliens are being arrested for driving without insurance and without a licence. Apparently Times reporters would not mind if their car were totalled by an uninsured driver. A reporter for the Spanish-language newspaper Mundo Hispanico sends out Facebook alerts of sightings of ICE agents so that illegal aliens can evade the law. Yet we are supposed to believe that it is the Trump administration that poses a threat to the rule of law.

Apparently, readers of the New York Times are expected to concern themselves with the violation of their borders by illegal aliens only insofar as illegal alien status is to be construed as excusing other criminal activity.

Peter Wood on perverse art and its admirers: 

Take the elevator to the sixth-floor offices of the college president, however, and… you will find… a celebratory exhibit of art created by the friends and allies of the 9-11 terrorists… The paintings and the models in the show are unremarkable as art. They display no special skill or aesthetic sensibility. That has not stopped Erin Thompson and her two fellow curators from attempting to squeeze whatever portentous meaning they can from the paintings. For example, in reference to a painting of a glass vase, a bottle, and two cups, by Ahmed Rabbani (a member of Al Qaida who trained as a terrorist in Afghanistan), the curators observe in the exhibition notes, that the “empty vessels also serve as an oblique reference both to Rabbani’s absent family and to his acts of self-denial and resistance.” What you won’t find in these paintings is any trace of repentance. These artworks are by terrorists and their accomplices who seem untouched by the monstrousness of their actions. They can wax sentimental about their own families and can draft images of hearts and flowers, but pity for the victims of their jihad is beyond their imagination — at least their visual imagination.

Curiously, or perhaps not curiously at all, the reasons for detention are downplayed or entirely absent. Nor is there any mention of released detainees’ recidivism rates. And despite the claims of artistic and sociological heft, there is, as Peter Wood notes, a baser motive in play – the wearying, juvenile need to be seen as transgressing bourgeois proprieties: “What better way to rile people than to celebrate terrorist art at a college that educates students for careers in law enforcement?” In New York City, no less

Somewhat related, this video here, in which students share their views of the exhibit, and of course this somewhat revealing faculty profile

As usual, feel free to share your own links and snippets, on any subject, in the comments.