Friday, March 17, 2017

Feminism and Literature

My academic specialty – insofar as I can be said to have one – is English poetry and prosody. For several decades now, enterprising scholars have been mining the dusty and unopened books on the unlit, forgotten shelves of academic libraries to find examples of female poets ignored by sexist readers and academics. The anthologies students use are now filled with them, and everyone agrees to ignore the unfortunate fact that none of them come close to equaling the work of their male coevals.

Take Anne Bradstreet (please), from the Poetry Foundation

O Bubble blast, how long can’st last?
    That always art a breaking,
No sooner blown, but dead and gone,
    Ev’n as a word that's speaking.

O whil’st I live, this grace me give,
    I doing good may be,
Then death’s arrest I shall count best,
    because it’s thy decree.

This is the Protestant hymnody that C.S. Lewis derided as “fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music.” And yet our students are supposed to assess this drivel as the equal of Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton. No, that's unfair. They believe this doggerel to be immeasurably superior to the work of any mere male.

And as for sexism: Were academics to frequent Hallmark shops and Christian bookstores, they would discover the best-selling poetess of the 20th century: Helen Steiner Rice, who is the direct heir of Bradstreet and who is every bit as good as her (now-)illustrious predecessor.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Notes on argumentation

I just checked Facebook for the first time in a while (I’ve been busy), and found this from a Facebook friend:

I just think it’s interesting how you don’t seem to be willing to apply your own metrics, measurements and evaluations of such to things that don’t fit your ideology. One person makes up a story about getting her hijab stolen= we will probably hear many many more instances of this... I ask about a woman who fabricates a sexual assault story, and if you’d apply that same hypothesis to those instances (that you will see or have seen many many more instances of that) and its... lets wait for facts. Or, even better- let’s divert the attention to another topic altogether... I just can’t argue with you. Hell, with you, even FACTS are only those that YOU find. So, thanks. I’m done. I’ll leave you to allowing your friends and family to back you up and validate your every view point.

I have several replies to this, of course, but note that this is a reply to a comment of mine in which I said that we should wait for facts before assuming that Trump supporters are on a murderous rampage across the country. Here’s a reasonable summary of the case that that Facebook friend adduced; it’s from a newspaper vehemently committed to the anti-Trump cause: The Washington Post.

In reply, I cited a well-covered story of a hoax by a Muslim woman, who claimed that Trump supporters had been mean to her (Lafayette, LA) as evidence that we should wait for facts before leaping to conclusions. Of course, I could also mention the Rolling Stone magazine’s recent libel verdict. Or the African-American Columbia professor who hung a noose on her own office door as a bid to get tenure because she was so oppressed. Examples can be multiplied endlessly — so much so that, in the absence of actual, physical evidence, one should always assume that a left-winger alleging a “hate crime” is lying. After all, the folks who really do commit hate crimes are too stupid to cover their tracks well enough to evade detection.

This is the fundamental problem — well, one of two, anyway. When it comes to matters of fact, both parties in an argument must be willing to accept that they can be proven wrong — this is called “falsifiability”. If there is no conceivable circumstance that would cause you to admit that you were wrong, then your argument is no longer based on either logic or evidence and should be abandoned. And, furthermore, everyone must agree that mere assertions constitute neither facts nor evidence (except, perhaps, of the asserter’s biases).

The other fundamental problem has to do with those assumptions which cannot be proven. We on the right tend to believe in freedom, even if that freedom leads to bad results. With few exceptions, liberals/Democrats/Progressives believe that no one should ever experience any pain no matter what choices he makes and that it is the responsibility of government to ensure that everyone’s lives are free of pain. Alas for them, this goal in unachievable — and so far as it can be achieved, it leads to stunted, stupid, and incapable human beings, as can be demonstrated by all those flocking to the “safe spaces” on American campuses today.

But these are what logicians refer to as “priors” or “axiomata” — those things which you assume are so obviously true that no proof is required — and, which, once you delve into them, you discover are not susceptible of proof at all, like the existence of God or the reality of moral truth. If you and your interlocutor cannot agree on your priors, then agreement will never come to pass — even if you both agree that each other’s logic is valid. Although, in my experience, left-wingers are not able to recognize a valid argument if they disagree with the priors. But, then, they also consider logic to be patriarchal, hegemonic, imperialist, heterosexist, <insert other bad words here>, etc.

This, by the way, is what made the Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton contest interesting. Hillary was actually more likely to have priors that actually reflected (what I consider to be) reality — but Bernie’s logic was more valid.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Cass Sunstein, Jonathan Gruber, and Michelle Obama: Why Clinton Lost

I don’t think it’s enough to blame Clinton’s loss on her lack of charisma, inability to carry a speech, unusually unpleasant personality, or penchant for being wrong on every major policy issue, foreign and domestic. Still less can it be blamed on her genitalia.

Rather, it’s the product of the approach to governance of three unelected Democrats who have had an outsized influence on the Obama administration and on the Democratic Party as a whole:

  • Jonathan Gruber, who famously attributed Obamacare’s passage to American stupidity: “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.” (The Hill)
  • Michelle Obama, who led the fight for “nutritious school lunches” — which no one wanted to eat. (Washington Post)
  • Cass Sunstein, Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, who popularized the idea of using public policy to “nudge” people into making decisions that he would approve of. (Amazon)

The common thread is the idea that people who have the best credentials (MIT, Princeton, and Harvard, respectively) have the right — indeed, the obligation — to tell everyone else how they should live their lives and, naturally, to inform them at length of how wrong they are if they don’t do as they’re told.

Oddly, most human beings react poorly to such condescension.

More and more, the Democratic Party has been about telling people what they must and must not say, must and must not do, must and must not think, must and must not question, must and must not believe. Yet Americans do not seem to have the same faith in the moral superiority and infinite sagacity of Progressive technocrats that the Democratic Party (and, to a lesser extent, the Republican Party) elites do. This lack of faith is too often borne out by events: the stimulus, Obamacare, Libya, Syria — all dismal failures that Americans, unaccountably, blame on the Democrats who perpetrated them rather than the Republicans who tried to stop them, even though the Democrats have not ceased from explaining how everything is, always and everywhere, the Republican's fault. (E.g., Al Franken on Obamacare.)

It may be that Democrats have been seduced by their college-age voters, who do, in fact, want to be told precisely what to do and have no obvious ability to make their own decisions. Unfortunately for the Democrats, most Americans are adults.

I suspect that they will be in the political wilderness for a while yet.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Art, Politics, Publicity, and Silence

Those of us who follow politics are aware that Tony Podesta, a Democratic lobbyist and fundraiser who also happens to be extremely wealthy (how could that have happened?) is also a major collector of contemporary art. Or “art,” as it should be styled.

Those of us who follow art are aware that the criteria for art have changed substantially over the years. At present, the chief desiderata are shock, ugliness, disgust, and sloppiness; anything that requires talent, is beautiful, or is pleasant to gaze upon is disqualified from all the best museums — and, of course, from the Podesta collection. In short, the art world is a playground for three-year-olds who somehow have grown adult-sized bodies.

So it is not surprising that the Podestas number among their friends one Marina Abramović, who is probably the most famous and well-regarded performance artist (“artist”) in the world today.

Tony Podesta is, of course, the brother of John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. So, today, thanks to Wikileaks, we can witness the collision of the elite of the art world, who intentionally disdain and contemn the taste of everyone else, and the elite of the political world, who also disdain and contemn the common ruck — but while simultaneously attempting to win their votes. A challenge at the best of times, naturally … but even more so today, as Hillary Clinton regularly displays her overwhelming hatred for everyone who dares disagree with her in any way, however slight. One would ordinarily think this a deplorable failing in a politician, but these are not ordinary times. And, besides, the same approach worked (and still works) for Obama.

Abramović is a devotee of the Satanist Aleister Crowley, who, during his lifetime (1875–1947) was dubbed (not without reason) “the wickedest man in the world” and was one of the founders of what, today, is known as Wicca. She practices one of Crowley's made-up rites, “Spirit Cooking” — the disgusting details of which we will gloss over here, involving, as they do, bodily secretions and excretions of every sort — which fits in amazingly well with today’s contemporary art. So she invited Tony and John over for a Spirit Cooking dinner.

A (mostly safe) example of one of Abramović’s recipes can be found in an issue of Vogue which predates the Wikileaks revelation. More explicit (and less safe) images are now all over the place for anyone who wishes to look.

It is pretty clear that no politician who wants the votes of the majority of the American voting public would ever want to be associated in any way, or want any member of her staff to be so associated, with such a ceremony.

What is more interesting to me at the moment is the press coverage of this infamous dinner. It is absolutely certain that, were Trump (or any other Republican) to have engaged — or even been invited to — such a rite, the details would be on the front pages of every newspaper in the world. Since the Podestas are Democrats, the Clintonian omertà is in full force among the mainstream media, and even (for now) among the more respectable right-wing outlets, like National Review and the Weekly Standard. But the Drudge Report and the National Enquirer are, naturally, all over it, just as they were the only outlets to cover John Edwards’s deplorable (that word again) treatment of his wife while she was dying — without which, that cheating shyster could well have ended up President.

Needless to say, should Clinton win the election and manage to overturn Citizens United, anyone who dares publicize anything derogatory about Herself or any of Her minions would find himself in a Federal prison almost instantly. (Cf. Mark Basseley Youssef, the only person ever imprisoned for using an alias on the internet, for an educational example.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On Islamophobia: A Phillippic

We must, before anything else, agree that “Islamophobia” is entirely the wrong term. Americans do not fear Islam (phobos [φόβος] means “fear” in Greek); rather, we despise it.

  • We see women who are not allowed to show their faces in public, and we are disgusted.
  • We see countries which make possession of the Bible a capital offense, and we are offended.
  • We see women who have suffered clitoridectomies to ensure that they will never have any pleasure from the sexual act, and we are appalled.
  • We see the casual mutilation of (alleged) criminals and the grotesquely cruel execution of others (by decapitation, crucifixion, stoning, throwing down from high places, burning) – always to the cheers of crowds of Muslims, and we are shocked.
  • We see an entire religion, half of the adherents of which fervently believe that leaving that religion should be punished by death, and we are incensed.
  • We see that the only countries which still countenance slavery – and slavery of black Africans, at that, in, e.g., Mauritania and the Boko Haram–controlled areas of Nigeria – are Muslim, and we are outraged.
  • We see cultures which use Islam as the justification for men to sodomize young boys, and our anger is overwhelming.

And all these atrocities are committed in the name of Allah and his Prophet. So what else can we conclude but that this is the sum total of Islam? There is nothing else; nor can anyone deny it. Islam is based on nothing other than violence and sexual slavery (what Nietzsche called the “Will to Power”) – it has no, and never has had any, other claim to our attention: no metaphysics, no love, no mercy, no good works, no science (save that which they stole from Greeks and Hindus), no engineering (save that which they have been given by the West), no philosophy, no theology, no law, no justice, no economic successes (again, save the questionable gift of petroleum technology from the West); at best, a few acceptable works of poetry and some calligraphy – from the time of its (false) prophet, who raped a nine-year-old “wife,” Aisha, to the present.

Stated simply, there can be no faithful Muslim – that is, one who believes that the Koran is the infallible Word of Allah – who does not enthusiastically endorse all manner of sexual perversion and violence. Make no mistake: the horrific crimes perpetrated by Muslims in Rotherham and throughout the world – especially in areas controlled by ISIS and other “radical” Muslim groups, but even in the great cities of Western civilization – are exactly what every Muslim man wishes to do everywhere, and would, were it not for the fear of punishment, which our oh-so-enlightened and politically correct leaders – in America, in Europe, and throughout the world – work tirelessly to shield them from.

Am I wrong? I would like to be wrong. But there is no evidence that any Muslim anywhere speaks against these inhuman abuses in the languages of the people guilty of them. And who can blame them, really? Writing something like this phillippic in Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, or Urdu would be a death sentence for anyone unfortunate enough to be a resident of a Muslim country. Some will point out that much lip service is paid to Western sensibilities in Western languages, and this is true, of course. But this can only be seen as a part of what Muslims call taqiyya: the idea that it is a moral good for Muslims to deceive the infidels. This is a fundamental part of the Muslim “faith,” if it can, indeed, be so called. And the prominence of taqiyya in Islamic thought does raise important questions for us – if we dare to face them – as we in the West deal with Islamic states and peoples.

But, nevertheless, we Americans are not afraid.

Instead, as John Sexton writes vis-à-vis ISIS, we long for a president, a government, and a culture which will make them afraid of us.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Solving ISIS

Dr. Ben Carson has been criticized (justly) for his opinion that ISIS could be destroyed “fairly easily.” President Obama went so far as to say that Dr. Carson “doesn't know much about” foreign policy. And if anyone knows a lot about not knowing much about foreign policy, it’s got to be Obama.

But I think Carson is correct. It is easy to come up with a strategy that would take out ISIS – especially if one is willing to dispense with the Western rules of war (which ISIS, like most Muslim groups and Muslim countries, doesn't abide by, anyway).

What would happen if a President Carson (or Cruz or Rubio or Fiorina or *shudder* Clinton) – ideally with the support of Hollande, Merkel, and Cameron – said this:

I address this statement to the Ummah, the world-wide community of Muslims.

We know that the majority of Muslims do not approve of the theology and actions of ISIS. But we also know that thousands of Muslims flock to their banner and wage a terroristic war against everyone, infidel and Muslim alike.

As “infidels,” it is not our place to solve religious disputes in the Dar al-Salam from our position in the Dar al-Harb.

But it is our place to ensure that our countries and our people are protected from unprovoked, vicious, and cowardly attacks.

It is your place to police the actions and beliefs of your co-religionists.

Therefore, I solemnly swear before the Ummah and before all the world, that if you do not destroy ISIS within the next year, we will drop nuclear weapons on Mecca and Medina, to provide an everlasting symbol and reminder of the abject failure of Islam.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

We're living in Harry Potter's world

Some bright fellow going by the sobriquet Coffeeman recently composed a little pictorial essay to explain why people hate Dolores Umbridge (the officious power-hungry apparatchik in the Ministry of Magic) so much. It’s well worth reading. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

The Real Reason You Hate Umbridge So Much

During the school year, hardly a day goes by without some new story of teachers and/or administrators doing something incredibly stupid: ordering a lockdown because some idiot thought an umbrella was a gun, forcing a child to change his clothes because of a politically incorrect slogan, expelling a child for biting his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun, confiscating a child’s lunch because it doesn’t meet Federal standards, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum. Then there are all the sexual predators: The invaluable Instapundit regularly features stories of female teachers arrested for sexual relations with their charges (and just as regularly notes that their punishments [if any] are mere shadows of those meted out to men guilty of the same offenses).

Umbridges, one and all.

Then there are the busybodies who deem themselves qualified to override parental choices, even to the point of removing their children from their care for the offense of letting them walk through their neighborhood without Mommy hovering over their shoulders.

Umbridges, one and all.

Then there’s the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (or, more accurately, “Housing and Urban Decay”), which is using a new rule they concocted called “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing,” the goal of which is to make every home and every neighborhood in the United States precisely like every other home and neighborhood. Because, after all, it’s unfair that people with more money have bigger homes than do people with less.

Umbridges, one and all.

In fact, Umbridgeousness is the natural condition of every government employee, and few indeed are those whose wages are paid by the taxes of their fellow citizens who do not arrive at the conviction that they are better, smarter, wiser people than those they work for and that they should by right have the power to regulate the lives of everyone else.

But Rowling’s Umbridge is not merely a petty tyrant, but a moral coward. She, like most of the rest of the Ministry of Magic, is unwilling to see the evil that threatens their world. Thus, instead of naming and facing the evil, she persecutes those who do.

Note that this is exactly the behavior of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. They will not name the evils we face (Iran, Isis, and Jihadism in general); they will not face it; they will not do anything to prepare for the fight against it; they insult, belittle, and persecute those who can and do.

At bottom, then, the 2016 American election is not between Democrats and Republicans; it is between those who suffer from moral cowardice and the conviction that they know best (Cornelius Fudge and Dolores Umbridge) and those who have the moral strength to confront evil and the humility to know that they don’t know everything (Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore).

In our world, Dolores Umbridge wears a pantsuit.