Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cruising the Web

Camille Paglia has a great essay tracing how the Free Speech movement and other moves to allow free expression from the 1960s have now been transmogrified into an effort to use slogans "enforced by apparatchiks" to "kill great ideas." She traces the history of the 1960s cultural revolution and how, at its heart, was the movement to allow freedom of speech for new ideas and rights for all. She tells her own story of studying literature of the 1970s and how humanities professors at that time were not at all interested in the sort of criticism she wanted to do based on sex, psychology, and cultural expression. So the solution was to create separate programs such as women's studies or African-American studies that became their own "autonomous fiefdom[s]" that froze ideological discussion and debate. And thus the seeds were sown that would grow into the politically correct censorship of today.
I maintain, from my dismayed observation at the time, that these new add-on programs were rarely if ever founded on authentic scholarly principles; they were public relations gestures meant to stifle criticism of a bigoted past. In designing any women’s studies program, for example, surely a basic requirement for students should be at least one course in basic biology, so that the role of hormones in human development could be investigated — and rejected, if necessary. But no, both women’s studies and later gender studies evolved without reference to science and have thus ensured that their ideology remains partisan and one-dimensional, stressing the social construction of gender. Any other view is regarded as heresy and virtually never presented to students even as an alternative hypothesis.

Today’s campus political correctness can ultimately be traced to the way those new programs, including African-American and Native American studies, were so hastily constructed in the 1970s, a process that not only compromised professional training in those fields over time but also isolated them in their own worlds and thus ultimately lessened their wider cultural impact. I believe that a better choice for academic reform would have been the decentralized British system traditionally followed at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, which offered large subject areas where a student could independently pursue his or her special interest. In any case, for every new department or program added to the U.S. curriculum, there should have been a central shared training track, introducing students to the methodology of research and historiography, based in logic and reasoning and the rigorous testing of conclusions based on evidence. Neglect of that crucial training has meant that too many college teachers, then and now, lack even the most superficial awareness of their own assumptions and biases. Working on campus only with the like-minded, they treat dissent as a mortal offense that must be suppressed, because it threatens their entire career history and world-view. The ideology of those new programs and departments, predicated on victimology, has scarcely budged since the 1970s. This is a classic case of the deadening institutionalization and fossilization of once genuinely revolutionary ideas.
She tells the story of a women's studies professor objecting in 1991 to the print of Francisco Goya's landmark painting, Naked Maja.
She complained that the presence of this work of art in her classroom was grounds of sexual harassment that couldn't be ameliorated by moving either the print or her class.
No, she was insistent that images of nude women must never be displayed in a classroom — which would of course gut quite a bit of major Western art since ancient Greece.

Finally, the Naked Maja was moved, along with four other classic art prints in the classroom, to the TV room of the student community center, where a sign was posted to alert unwary passerby that art was present — a kind of enter-at-your-own-risk warning. This action by the university seems to have been widely regarded as a prudent compromise instead of the shameful capitulation to political correctness that it was. There was a spate of amused publicity about the incident in the mainstream press, with criticism passingly voiced by prominent journalists like Nat Hentoff (a free speech warrior) and Robert Hughes, the longtime art critic of TIME magazine. But the response from within the teaching profession was strikingly weak and limited....

The instructor claimed that she was protecting future women students from the “chilly climate” created by the Naked Maja. But in a later published article about the controversy, she revealed that she herself was uncomfortable in the presence of the painting. She wrote, “I felt as though I were standing there naked, exposed and vulnerable.” I’m sorry, but we simply cannot permit uncultivated neurotics to set the agenda for arts education in America.
Right there she's got me because I have a whole wall of prints of famous paintings in my high school classroom. I teach European history and the history of art is an important component. I don't have Goya's painting, but I do have prints of Manet's The Luncheon on the Grass and Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People. I also do regular art presentations as we travel through history showing the students more landmark works of art which, frequently feature the naked body. Never once has a student, parent, or administrator said anything about the presence of paintings displaying women's naked breasts in a high school classroom except to comment on how wonderful it is to have students exposed to such wonderful examples of classic art. I guess I have more freedom of expression than the college community.

Paglie goes on to argue that this sort of attitude typifies the approach to teaching as social work.
The teacher as an individual citizen may and should have strong political convictions and activities outside the classroom, but in the classroom, he or she should never take ideological positions without at the same time frankly acknowledging them as opinion to the students and emphasizing that all students are completely free to hold and express their own opinions on any issue, no matter how contested, from abortion, homosexuality, and global warming to the existence of God or the veracity of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Unfortunately, because of the failure of American colleges and universities to seek and support ideological diversity on their campuses, the humanities faculties have trended so far toward liberal Democrats (among whom I number myself) that they often seem naively unaware that any other beliefs are possible or credible
She then connects the post-structural movement in literary analysis to the readiness with which today's tender snowflakes respond to any language that they consider offensive.
[P]ost-structuralism set the groundwork for the present campus impasse where offensive language is conflated with material injury and alleged to have a magical power to create reality. Furthermore, post-structuralism treats history as a false narrative and encourages a random, fragmented, impressionistic approach that has given students a fancy technique but little actual knowledge of history itself.
She finishes with recommendations to universities on how best to move away from the stultifying bounds of political correctness and the whole atmosphere of paternalistic protection from anything that might be considered remotely offensive. It's a great essay and I recommend it to anyone concerned at what has happened to the admiration for freedom of speech and thought that colleges should foster instead of stifle.

David French connects
the sort of environment that Paglia is describing with the whole story about Ben Rhodes' bragging about deceiving the media and populace about Obama's foreign policy. He quotes Harvard's Harvey Mansfield who said,
Students doubt that there really is anything fundamentally that they need to learn. And they look at themselves and say, if I don’t need to learn anything fundamentally, my attitudes deserve to remain as they are right now. And I’ll defend those attitudes, and defend them by feeling offended, rather than reconsider or stop and reflect and wonder if what I’m listening to in the classroom has any effect on my life.
French connects that attitude to the mindset within the Obama administration.
These Harvard undergraduates, allegedly the best of the best, of course defend those values and “attitudes” zealously, and they do so with all their considerable intellectual and rhetorical gifts. But their attitudes are impervious to facts. And so it is in the Obama administration, where neither consistent failure nor bloody disappointment can alter his view of the world. In the memorable phrase of an unnamed official, “Clearly the world has disappointed [Obama.]” It stubbornly refused to conform to his expectations.
He tells of having his own beliefs changed when he served in Iraq and saw for himself that George W. Bush's vision of a world where every human heart was calling for freedom wasn't the reality that he was encountering there. But is there really much sign that the Obama administration has any similar wake-up call when reality doesn't match their beliefs?
It extols the virtues of the Muslim world against all available evidence. It dismisses thoughtful critics and has open contempt for the opposition. As one anonymous source said of Obama himself, “He has a real problem with what I call the assignment of bad faith.” In other words, “he regards everyone on the other side at this point as being a bunch of bloodthirsty know-nothings from a different era who play by the old book.”

That’s the left elite in a nutshell. Their virtue is presumed, their critics are despicable, and a self-flattering story always trumps the truth.

I witnessed a little of how some students embrace the bubble yesterday. A colleague of mine assigned students a project to research some public policy issue in North Carolina and then make a recommendation to address that issue. She then invited several people who work in the field of public policy to come in and listen to the students' presentations and give them pointers about the issues and their recommendations. She made a distinct effort to invite in people from across the political spectrum to be part of the panel of experts. So some of the students from her class were eating lunch in my classroom after their class. (My school doesn't have a cafeteria so students eat in classrooms and outside.) One of the students was talking about another student's presentation about North Carolina's controversial HB2 concerning transgenders and public bathrooms. He was complaining that the representative from the conservative NC think tank, John Locke Foundation, corrected the student on her understanding of what the bill said. The student's comments to his friends at lunch was that this speaker should have known better than to have expressed his views when he was the only conservative in a classroom full of liberals. So I challenged the student, who happens to be a member of the quiz bowl team, and asked him if there isn't a worth in hearing the other side of an issue and learning if, perhaps, what he thought wasn't exactly what was in the bill. And his attitude was that he and his friends knew what they knew and didn't appreciate having someone tell them differently. So I pressed him so that he finally admitted that it was worthwhile to hear both sides of an argument so he could make up his own mind and that he shouldn't close his mind to what this gentleman, who by the way freely gave up his own time to come listen to what 10th graders think about public policy, had to say. But the student was very begrudging in his admission. Maybe the fact that his lunchtime friends were ridiculing his attitude helped more than what I said. I don't know if we got through to him, but the fact that his default position was that a conservative should not speak when the room was full of liberals and that he wasn't interested in hearing any correction to his own understanding of the facts was very dismaying to me. Our school prides itself on helping students develop their own opinions and respecting the views of others, but I wonder sometimes how much progress we're making.

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In his interview with John Leo, Harvey Mansfield has some other comments, similar to Paglia's about the malignant effect that the postmodern approach that there is nothing that is true plus feminism have created the climate we're now seeing on campus of students believing that offensive language must be banned. He also connects it up to the students' involvement in activism that has become more important to them than their classes.
HARVEY MANSFIELD: This idea of being offended gains momentum from feminism, because feminism has used the notion of sexual harassment to establish something called a hostile environment, which had been applied to the workplace, but now also to universities. So women are entitled to be at a university which is welcoming to women, has safe spaces and which doesn’t require them to hear things that they don’t want to hear.

JOHN LEO: Right. A hostile environment now seems to include any difference of opinion, or even the slightest twinge of a hurt feeling.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Yes, I think that’s right. Because it becomes one’s moral duty to look for offenses. [laughs] And the people who give offense, even though they may be innocent or not ill meaning, still deserve to be smoked out, reproached and told that they are wrong.

Democrats are already using Trump's many, many crude comments about women in an ad against a senatorial candidate who has said he'd support Trump.
"She ate like a pig," Trump said in one clip. "I'd look her in that fat, ugly face of hers," he said in another. The ad then defines harassment and cuts to more of Trump's past comments.

"The boob job is terrible, you know. They look like two light posts coming out of a body," Trump said, adding, "A person who's flat-chested is very hard to be a 10." In other clips Trump tells a female reporter she wouldn't have a her job if she weren't beautiful, remarks that it would be a "pretty picture" to see a female contestant from "The Apprentice" on her knees and talks about his ex-wife in bed.

[Donald Trump can't stop saying nasty things about women. It could cost him.]

Eldridge calls his opponent in the race, Sen. John Boozman (R), an enabler of Trump and his comments, cutting to a clip of Boozman stating that he would support Trump if he were the nominee. The video then shows a computer screen saying that Eldridge, a former U.S. attorney, prosecuted domestic violence and harassment.
Expect to see such ads across the country. And it will continue all year long as every time he says something outrageous as the media will run to every Republican candidate to ask them to comment and explain how they can support Trump.

Trump is now trying to downplay his reputation for licentiousness, although it's hard to do that when he himself has bragged about sleeping with married women. And he certainly cultivated that reputation as a way of marketing his image. And yakking about sex and women with Howard Stern was just part of that PR effort. So now we're being told that all that playboy locker room talk was just a phony facade and the real Donald Trump just went home and watched TV. Of course, that poses the question as to how much of the image that he is projecting now is real or just a facade to help his run for president.

The support for Trump owes a good deal to the sort of PC-enforced hostile environment for any view that departs from the given line on liberal nostrums such as feminism or the environment. It now becomes so much more difficult to say where the line is between truly objectionable speech that we must allow because we value free discourse and the sorts of speech and attitudes that really should be disqualifying in the nation's potential leader. I might not have minded what Trump said when he was just some rich guy yakking it up with Howard Stern, but I don't want that guy now in the Oval Office. And it's not enough for him to claim that he was just projecting one persona back then (a few years ago) and will adopt a totally different, presidential persona if he were to get elected. That's a bit too postmodern for me.

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Randall Smith writes
about how meaningless our public discourse has become where words don't mean anything anymore.
One obvious example would be the slogan, “We need to take back America!” Take it back? From whom? Did Russia invade? No? Then from whom are we taking it back?

If recent elections are any gauge of such matters, on many political issues Americans are 49 percent on one side and 50 percent on the other (with a 3 percent margin of error). So from whom would we be “taking back” the country? Basically from the other 50 percent of Americans. Both halves of the voting public are aggressively trying to “take back the country” from the other half, with the notion of “compromise” anathema to both.

The results are fairly predictable: 100 percent of the country is frustrated with the “gridlock in government” that is the natural result of their empty slogans and their failure to realize that the country hasn’t been invaded by Russia but is simply engaged in democratic debate between two opposing sides.
What does it mean to call someone part of the "establishment" if Ted Cruz is now part of the establishment and Donald Trump, who has been donating to candidates, mostly Democrats, for decades is not. Then there are those people who just hate interest groups.
No, the problem isn’t just in Washington; it’s all those organizations that use their money to influence government! You mean like the Sierra Club, the National Rifle Association, the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institution, Google, GM, Ford, the Koch brothers, George Soros . . . need I go on? Money used to influence the government the way I want is money to “take back the country.” Money my opponents use to further their agenda becomes part of the hated “establishment.”
This is actually a good thing as Madison argued in Federalist #10 that the new nation's pluralism would prevent any one faction from dominating the country. Unfortunately, we are now so partisan that we regard the mere existence of a group that opposes what we support as an evil presence polluting the nation.

Smith then turns to contemplating the modern cry that society should be "fair."
Let’s take a nicer-sounding word, like “fairness.” Think of such promises as, “I’m going to make the system more fair.” This sounds very nice. But what does it mean? One of the biggest challenges facing current American political discourse is that there are two common meanings of “fair” that are mutually exclusive.

One meaning of “fair” in effect says, “You didn’t build that.” Expressed in its most sophisticated form in John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, it involves an equal distribution of all of society’s goods. Rawls identifies two basic principles of “justice as fairness.” First, there should be “equality in the assignment of basic rights and duties.” Second, social and economic inequalities should be permitted only if they result in “compensating benefits for everyone, and in particular for the least advantaged members of society.” Rawls’s theory of “fairness” is so radical that he believes even the “natural assets” with which individuals are born—not only the status, wealth, or privileges of their family, but “even the willingness to make an effort, to try, and so to be deserving in the ordinary sense [that] is itself dependent upon happy family and social circumstances”—must be compensated for. Thus, “fairness” would entail high taxes on the rich and better schools for the poor than for the children of the wealthy.

The second common view of “fairness” in our society is based on merit. It says, in effect, “I worked hard for this, so I get to keep it.” Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia expresses a well-known defense of this view, but we can also trace its lineage back to John Locke’s “labor theory of property.” In Locke’s formulation, it is due to the fact that I have mixed my labor with the earth’s resources that it becomes my “private property.” Of course, the human tendency to feel that “those who shall not work should not eat” clearly goes back further than Locke. It is a very deep-seated tendency, and whether one could ever really eradicate it from the human spirit is deeply questionable.

What is “fair” for one group of Americans—“I get to keep what I earn”—is not only different from what the other group means, it can often be totally contrary to it: “No, because you didn’t build that.” If I get to keep what I earn, then we are not spreading out the benefits of society equally; this would be deemed “unfair” by those who accept any version of egalitarian fairness. And if we were to take what people have earned through their hard work and spread it out equally among the entire population, some of whom may not have worked hard, then this would be deemed “unfair” by those who accept a merit-based view of fairness.
Well, there you have it - that's the difference in the right and left right there. And politicians can use the term and signal whatever they want to voters. Another phrase that is open to interpretation is "Make America great." What does that mean to you? I bet a lot of people would define it differently. Smith proposes six different meanings of greatness.
1. We’re the wealthiest country in the world.

2. We have the strongest army in the world.

3. We’re morally good.

4. We take care of the poor and disadvantaged in our society.

5. We treat other nations with justice.

6. We are faithful to the constitutional order established by the Founders and the political principles set forth in The Federalist Papers.
If only people wouldn't be so accepting of vague slogans that politicians toss out there and force them to actually indicate what policies they believe will help them achieve the goals in their platitudinous statements.
“Progress.” “Growth.” “Fairness.” “Protecting America’s Interest.” “Looking Out for the Middle Class.” “Putting America First.” “The War Against Women.” All are meaningless slogans that are allowed to substitute for real discussion of the serious issues facing the nation. They tell us nothing more about the candidates than phrases like “You’re Worth It,” “Be More,” and “Be There!” tell us about L’OrĂ©al’s shampoo, PBS’s educational value, or NBC’s programming.

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IBD notes what journalists didn't say about the Ben Rhodes interview bragging about how much contempt the administration has for the media and how they deceived them about the Iran deal.
And what has been the mainstream media’s reaction to these blatant insults to its professional credibility? Did they erupt in fits or moral outrage at the White House for lying and manipulating them into spreading those lies, while viewing the press with utter contempt?


When reporters had the chance on Friday to confront Obama about the revelations contained in the Times article, they asked four questions: Three of them were about Donald Trump and one was about the ongoing safety problems with the Washington, D.C., subway system. Zero were about Ben Rhodes or Iran.

Times’ author Samuels seems mystified by how compliant the press has been, since “carrying water for the White House was a cause for shame, no matter which party was in power.”

Has Samuels been asleep for the past eight years, or the past four decades for that matter? The reason the administration can be so contemptuous of the press is because reporters have, at all levels, experienced or not, acted like adoring lap dogs for Obama.

The Obama administration routinely abuses the press: It flouted Freedom of Information Act, spied on the Associated Press, named Fox News reporter James Rosen as a possible co-conspirator to an Espionage Act violation, and so on. The press simply took it, and then came back asking for more. IBD described it in an editorial as akin to “battered spouse syndrome.”

The only apology Ben Rhodes owes to the mainstream media is in revealing how easy it was for the White House to manipulate them.

David Bernstein noticed
that President Obama's proclamation to celebrate Jewish Heritage Month focused on Jews' contributions to progressive causes, especially how Jews have worked for the rights of other minorities. That has certainly been part of the Jewish heritage in America, but that is not their sole contribution. Bernstein comments,
It’s no secret that many liberal American Jews emphasize the “social justice” part of their identity. But this doesn’t preclude also recognizing, as part of Jewish Heritage Month, that Jews have contributed disproportionately to the arts, business, medicine, academia, science, and so forth. Nor does it preclude recognizing that American Jews have successfully created unique and innovative Jewish communal charities, educational institutions, and internal religious movements (such as Conservative Judaism). Nor does it preclude recognizing that American Jews have been at the forefront of helping to establish and defend Israel and in rescuing persecuted Jews from Ethiopia to the USSR.

I’m sure if you asked whoever drafted the president’s proclamation about these other matters, he would say something along the lines of, “yeah, that stuff is nice, too.”

But for some progressives on the far left, including some progressives of Jewish descent, that other stuff isn’t “nice too.” To them, Jews exist only for the role assigned to them by the progressive mythos—to use their experience of oppression and their privilege to fight for the rights of others, and then to assimilate or disappear....

So for some fraction of the far left, the Jewish contribution to various liberation movements is not simply the Jews’ most important contribution to the world, and is not simply the only one worth mentioning if you have limited space, as with President Obama’s proclamation. It is, rather, the only legitimate praise one can give to the Jews.

Meanwhile, Jewish support for Israel, or sometimes even for fellow Jews suffering elsewhere, is nothing but reactionary nationalism based on at best foolish sentimentality and at worst racist notions of Jewish superiority. Exactly why Jewish solidarity is racist, but not solidarity among other groups, is never clearly explained, but it seems to have something to do with the fact that Jews aren’t a legitimate ethnic group to begin with.

Once we understand that there are those who believe that the existence of Jews as a recognizable entity, is only justified (and only temporarily) to the extent Jews rely on their residual memories of collective oppression to aid left-wing liberation movements, one can begin to understand the far left’s problem with the Jews. Their ideology leaves no room for anything but revulsion with Zionism, dismissal of claims of anti-Semitism (in ways they would never dismiss accusations of other forms of racism), nor for considering the Holocaust to have any more significance than as an unfortunate example of “white on white crime.”

In short, to many on the far left, the only good Jew is a secular left-wing internationalist political activist with no particular interest in the well-being of his fellow Jews. (Consider again the Oberlin students: “We urge all Jewish students concerned about anti-Semitism to fight with equal passion for Palestinian liberation, Black liberation, and an end to all forms of oppression, on and off campus.” Others, but not Jews, are permitted to be especially concerned with the fate of their own group.)

At least, Hillary Clinton deserves some kudos for coming out in opposition to the invidious BDS - boycott, divest, sanctions - movement against Israel.

Ah, the left - where tolerance goes to die.
A Harvard law professor has called for liberals to begin treating like Nazis those who subscribe to Christian or conservative beliefs.

In a Friday blog post at Balkinization, Mark Tushnet said conservatives and Christians have lost the culture wars, and now the question is “how to deal with the losers.”

“My own judgment is that taking a hard line (‘You lost, live with it’) is better than trying to accommodate the losers,” he wrote.

“Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown,” Mr. Tushnet wrote, citing the Supreme Court case on segregation. “And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.”
Tushnet then goes on to lay out how Democrats should put their strongest efforts into dominating the Supreme Court with no concern at all for any of that constitutionalism nonsense. He has a list of cases that he wants reversed.
Liberals should be compiling lists of cases to be overruled at the first opportunity on the ground that they were wrong the day they were decided. My own list is Bakke (for rejecting all the rationales for affirmative action that really matter), Buckley v. Valeo (for ruling out the possibility that legislatures could develop reasonable campaign finance rules promoting small-r republicanism), Casey (for the “undue burden” test), and Shelby County.
He goes on and on with his triumphalist and scorched-earth approach to liberal jurisprudence. Above all, he wants liberals to get out of their "defensive crouch" and stop trying to win Anthony Kennedy's vote.

Kevin Drum reports in Mother Jones, no conservative writer or outlet,
on the lead levels in Flint's water and why it isn't as disastrous as people think. This is certainly different from what has been reported.
What happened in Flint was a horrible, inexcusable tragedy.

Residents have every right to be furious with government at all levels.

But the health effects are, in fact, pretty minimal. With a few rare exceptions, the level of lead contamination caused by Flint's water won't cause any noticeable cognitive problems in children. It will not lower IQs or increase crime rates 20 years from now. It will not cause ADHD. It will not affect anyone's ability to play sports. It will not cause anyone's hair to fall out. It will not cause cancer. And "lead leaching" vegetables don't work.

For two years, about 5 percent of the children in Flint recorded blood lead levels greater than 5 m/d. This is a very moderate level for a short period of time. In every single year before 2010, Flint was above this number; usually far, far above.

The choices here are sickening. On the one hand, nobody wants to downplay the effects of lead poisoning, or even be viewed as downplaying them. On the other hand, feeding the hysteria surrounding Flint has real consequences. The residents of Flint should not be tormented about what's going on. They should not be flocking to therapists. They should not be gulping Xanax.

Of course, at this point Flint residents probably don't believe anything the government tells them, and for understandable reasons. So maybe it's time for someone they trust a little more to begin telling them the truth. I'm looking at you, Rachel Maddow. (Link via Steven Hayward)
He then presents this graph of lead levels in the past 18 years in Flint.
As Hayward writes, the CDC has changed its assessment of safe blood lead levels.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, in the mid-1970s 88 percent of children nationwide had blood lead levels above 10 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dl). In the old days the dangerous level was thought to be around 30 ug/dl, but of course we’ve moved that down to about 5, and you hear a lot of people breathlessly say that there is no safe level. Here’s the chart from the 2011 edition of my Almanac of Environmental Trends:
So does that mean the real anger should be at the level of lead that was allowed in Flint and throughout the country in earlier years? Or are fears being overblown and people being scared into believing that their children have been irreversibly damaged when that is not the case?

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Four members of my quiz bowl team (which I coach) competed in Raleigh's local televised academic competition for high schoolers. The matches went on all year long and the finals were this past Saturday. Our team went against our nemesis, the N.C. School of Science and Math, a special school that enrolls top students from around the state. It was an exciting match and you can watch it online.