Cultural appropriation

One thing the pompous can't stand is ridicule.

Not superheroes, really, just people in funny costumes.  You could as easily take it as a joke about the relentless march of tawdry American culture.  But the important thing is that IT'S NOT FUNNY.

"Did you hear what he said?"

The news this week is sounding more and more like a junior-high rumor mill.  I'd heard that former president Obama made a crack about "mommy issues" and wondered what that might be referring to.  Once again, a Google search of recent articles about what sounded like a hot topic left me scratching my head.  Mr. Obama uttered the phrase, the consensus seems to be that the audience laughed knowingly (or tittered nervously?), and a few people are asking whether it's obvious whether he was taking a jab at President Trump's relationship with his mother.

I had not previously been aware of the minor cottage industry in analyzing Mr. Trump's supposed failure to bond with a primary caregiver in infancy.  In any case, some reports of Mr. Obama's curious remark are skeptical that he was even referring to Mr. Trump at all, though quite a few analyzed the strategy of throwing out comments without mentioning the sitting president by name. If the press were a little more curious and evenhanded, at least a few of the articles might have adopted an attitude of wonder that the former president was making such inscrutable remarks to apparently appreciative audiences.  There would be talk of dog whistles. If President Trump had tweeted about "mommy issues," I suspect there'd be more 25th Amendment chatter this week.

For my own part, I wouldn't assume the remark referred to Mr. Trump at all.  I'd assume it was a crack about what keeps people from voting for wonderful candidates like Hillary Clinton (or even Angela Merkel?).  It was perhaps a less incendiary version of the "ex-wife issues" excuse for Clinton's perceived loathsomeness.

But it's a sign of the state of the press that people are grasping at these pieces of fluff instead of discussing anything concrete that someone currently in power is actually doing.  "I heard Mary didn't sit next to Susie at lunch today."

Thanksgiving menus

Neighbors are joining us for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, which also happens to be my husband's birthday.  That means he gets to choose the menu and no static of any kind from me.  He's going to try an oyster-bread-cornbread stuffing this year, while reprising a number of brined-turkey and brussels-sprouts dishes that he likes, and probably a wonderful little seafood-in-bordellaise thing in puff pastries.

He doesn't care about cranberry relish, but I decided to think of the others.  My own favorite recipe has a lot of peppers and grapefruit chunks and jicama and nuts and sambal oelek and Chinese five-spice; unfortunately no one but me much likes it, though I can eat it with every meal for a week.  Instead I tried an Anthony Bourdain uncooked relish that's simply raw cranberries and an orange pulsed in a food processor, with sugar added to taste. Three ingredients, no cooking. five minutes, delicious. I'm sold.

I was also planning a Caesar salad until I found that the grocery store has combed its shelves and removed every trace of Romaine, answering the frantic call of the CDC this week.  I was prepared to buy up a lot of Romaine packages marked with skulls-and-crossbones and 90%-off stickers, but the store chain's managers weren't born yesterday: cheaper to put the product on a bonfire than contend with lawsuits in the face of an unambiguous (indeed hysterical) recall notice.  We switched on the fly to an old favorite with spinach leaves, oranges, green olives, and candied toasted pecans.

We've been lazy this fall and haven't put in our usual winter greens crops.  Time to get moving on that, before the CDC loses its mind completely.

Now I'm fascinated

It's become my settled habit to click on articles about Facebook to see if anyone, anywhere will mention what Facebook has done wrong.  Today's catch is a New York Magazine article explaining that it's looking pretty grim for the embattled giant.  It seems that Zuckerberg failed to attend properly assembled corporate meetings to discuss Morally Complex Decisions.  Also, FB allowed itself to function as a Vector for bad things. Those stories you heard about censorship of conservative views, though?  Those were spurious, though they may help us construct the Growing Bipartisan Consensus.  And anyway we're not talking about censorship.  Stop talking about censorship. We're not even talking about destroying the company, but these issues Aren't Going Away.  There are a few specifics in today's article, in the form of statistics on how FB employees feel about the future of the company, which demonstrate conclusively that FB is on the wrong side of history.

It's becoming standard for the author of such an article to explain that nobody goes there any more, it's too crowded. I guess some people still go there, though, which is a Bad Thing, because of the vector and stuff. The people who don't know enough to quit logging in are still being inoculated with improperly curated views.

All I'm getting out of this flap is "nice business, wouldn't want to see anything happen to it." How is it that FB can't figure out how to be the victim instead of the villain in this fuzzy drama?  Does Zuckerberg not have someone on staff who tells him how big a check to write and to whom to write it?

I continue to use Facebook for the simplest of practical reasons:  it's the easiest way to keep an eye on news and opinion in my little county.  I mute all the national nonsense as quickly as I can figure out how.  It doesn't matter in the least whether I like the platform:  I'll use whatever platform a majority of my neighbors use, because their presence is the only important thing.  They're the ones I'm trying to talk to conveniently. I notice, however, that my "blogging," as the current county leadership describes my activity, arouses significant hostility in the powers that be, particularly as it so clearly got me elected at about 5% of the cost that most of them are used to spending on a campaign.  I guess that means I'm a "vector" too.

A Blog on Runes in Orkney

A grad student working on runic inscriptions there has put together a fun blog out of the things that she isn't putting into her dissertation. Those of you interested in such things may enjoy it.

Public services

Powerline records the exact moment when the serpent finished consuming itself:
I was reading an old lecture on Aristophanes by Leo Strauss when I came across these very usable sentences:
When about to enter a place at at which we are meant to laugh and to enjoy ourselves, we must first cross a picket line of black-coated ushers exuding deadly and deadening seriousness. No doubt they unwittingly contribute to the effect of the comedies.
Strauss had in mind of course the typical college professoriate of our time. These lines came springing back to mind when you come across a story like this:
As an unwoke ciswoman, I denounce myself.

Schumpeter Thought Otherwise

Pointing out a UC Berkeley class on destroying Israel and erasing its Jewish history (and, presumably, population), a hopeful author writes:
But good will come of this. Since there are no constraints on what universities do, they are increasingly moving toward the extremes. In doing this, they undermine their own legitimacy and their bogus claims of serving a societal good or promoting civic virtue.

Eventually, such a system will collapse because the larger society will recognize that it is paying for its own delegitimation and destruction through courses that view America and Western Civilization as the roots of all evil in the world.
The great economist Joesph Schumpeter thought the opposite. He believed that this very feature of the university's education of the rising elite would eventually destroy the West and capitalism itself.

We seem to me to be closer to Schumpeter's vision with every generation. Indeed, in Schumpeter's day Marx was recognized as disproven; now the Marxists are resurgent, and whole fields that are utterly Marxist in their frames of interpretation and criticism often do not even realize how wholly they have been subsumed.

The Second Must Not Be A Second Class Right

A piece at National Review by John Yoo, part of a series on restoring constitutional order, addresses the issue.

Everyone here knows my position, which I see no need to repeat after 15 years of blogging. If you don't know what I think about it, or just about anything else, it's in the archives. As a matter of fact, I could probably stop writing this blog just anytime, returning to it only when I change an older opinion for some reason. My opinion on the 2nd has not changed at all.

Good Advice Democrats Will Ignore

Joan C. Williams more-or-less accurately explains what Democrats need to know about attracting non-elite votes. To whit, stop treating economic concerns as pure racism; stop playing up race and gender issues, and focus on helping ordinary people; stop thinking that you and your fellow elites are so much less racist than ordinary people anyway. (Williams doesn't quite have the courage to go beyond 'ordinary white people,' and explain that racism is more or less universal and just as unhelpful in every demographic; but maybe The Atlantic isn't ready for that yet.)

Stop, in other words, focusing on demographic change as a solution. Quit telling white working class voters that you plan is for them to die so they stop being a problem for your agenda.
[P]eople on Twitter ask whether I’m finally ready to admit that the white working class is simply racist. What my Twitter friends don’t seem to recognize is their own privilege. If elites cling to the idea that working-class whites are perpetrators of inequality, rather than both perpetrators and victims, perhaps it’s because they want to believe that they are where they are because they’ve worked hard and they’re the smartest people around. Once you start a conversation about class, elite white people have to admit they have not only racial privilege but class privilege, too.

Acknowledging this also requires elites to cede yet another advantage: the extent to which they have controlled Democrats’ priorities. Political scientists have documented the party’s shift over the past 50 years from a coalition focused on blue-collar issues to one dominated by environmentalism and other issues elites cherish.

I’m one of those activists; environmentalism and concerns related to gender, race, and sexuality define my scholarship and my identity. But the working class has been asked to endure a lot of economic pain while Democrats focus on other problems. It’s time to listen up. The only effective antidote to a populism interlaced with racism is a populism that isn’t.
Needless to say, she is being totally ignored.
Democrats thinking about running for president in 2020 are dramatically changing the way the party talks about race in Donald Trump’s America: Get ready to hear a lot more about intersectionality, allyship, inclusivity and POC.

White and nonwhite Democratic hopefuls are talking more explicitly about race than the party’s White House aspirants ever have — and shrugging off warnings that embracing so-called identity politics could distract from the party’s economic message and push white voters further into Donald Trump’s arms.
I'm pretty sure that ordinary people -- and not just white people -- will be very impressed by intersectionality. Negatively impressed, but deeply impressed all the same.

Biker In Chief Stares Down Putin

The President is a little soft-hearted for my tastes, but for whatever it is worth, our VP is solid.

Men of the North

A longstanding question of the Hall, posed rhetorically but meaningfully, has been 'where are our Wagners, our Beethovens, today?' One of them is Jeremy Soule.

Soule writes for Bethesda Softworks, and produced some few years ago one of the greatest orchestral pieces since Wagner.

If you have the nearly-four-hours, it is well worth your time throughout. The songs, echoing Tolkien, are in an invented language originally belonging to dragons. Although the game is an adventure, most of the music is peaceful rather than stressful: mostly it focuses on the beauty and wonder of creation, rather than the strife between creatures. But when it does consider conflict, it rises into the epic scale.

He has a new album out this year, which is symphonic sketches on the same scheme. It does not aspire to epic, and so it is not quite as powerful, but it is also well constructed.

An Interview with Paglia

Definitely the most interesting voice currently participating in that movement broadly called 'feminism,' Camile Paglia has given one of her periodic long and wide-ranging interviews. They are usually worth reading, and this one is no exception. For me there is always much to disagree with, but surprising points of commonality. For an example of the latter:
Claire Lehmann: You seem to be one of the only scholars of the humanities who are willing to challenge the post-structuralist status quo. Why have other humanities academics been so spineless in preserving the integrity of their fields?

Camille Paglia: The silence of the academic establishment about the corruption of Western universities by postmodernism and post-structuralism has been an absolute disgrace.... Most established professors in the 1970s probably believed that the new theory trend was a fad that would blow away like autumn leaves. The greatness of the complex and continuous Western tradition seemed self-evident: the canon would surely stand, even if supplemented by new names. Well, guess what? Helped along by a swelling horde of officious, overpaid administrators, North American universities became, decade by decade, political correctness camps. Out went half the classics, as well as pedagogically useful survey courses demonstrating sequential patterns in history (now dismissed as a “false narrative” by callow theorists). Bookish, introverted old-school professors were not prepared for guerrilla warfare to defend basic scholarly principles or to withstand waves of defamation and harassment.
It's hard to find anyone in academia now who will openly proclaim that the Western canon represents something categorically superior to, well, anything else. Western philosophers will still quietly murmur to each other their recognition that what they are doing is both categorically different from, and better than, what goes by the name of "Eastern philosophy." But they won't say it in public, and in private only among trusted friends.

"Fix it, Facebook"

I've been following the most recent flap over Facebook in a desultory way. I assumed if I clicked on a few articles I'd find one that explained what FB was supposed to have done wrong this time.  Instead, I found article after article that assumed I understood the obvious crime(s), and lots of increasingly desperate acknowledgements by FB that it can and should "do more."

Particularly interesting were the sprinkling of references to FB's failure to "do more" to stem ethnic violence in Myanmar.  Wait, what?  Did something just happen in Myanmar?  When I click through on the Myanmar references I get more comments about "doing more," but no dates or particulars.  Even FB's 60-page white paper on "doing more" fails to explain what happened in Myanmar before it drifts off into an extended discussion of the history of censorship and repression in that country.  Finally a general search for "Myanmar Facebook" took me to reports of a violent flare in 2014 said to be connected to someone's publishing a deliberately false rape report in a FB post in an apparently successful attempt to stoke racial violence in that benighted country.  It seems that FB did not already have Burmese-speaking moderators in place on the night the false allegations were made, despite its clear responsibility for understanding how dangerous communication can be in a country with a history of such iron repression.  After failing to reach FB executives in the first few hours of the crisis, Myanmar officials simply disabled FB in their country, which apparently caused things to calm down by morning.  Those terrible people at FB, however, took more than a year to put its Burmese-speaking moderation operation into place, complete with operatives well-versed in the entire social and culture quagmire that is Myanmar.  And in the meantime FB callously allowed the Myanmar people to continue communicating with each other.

So why the sudden interest in FB late in 2018?  The New York Times apparently is investigating again, and--as helpfully summarized by the San Francisco Chronicle editorial page--this time has discovered that FB is engaged in denial and deflection.  It hired consultants to discredit its critics, mostly in the context of the Russian influence on our 2016 election, but Myanmar keeps getting thrown in the mix, too.  FB downplayed the seriousness of reports from its own executives about something apparently related to these concerns.  It deflected blame onto its rivals.  It sought special favors from politicians.  (These are nearly direct quotations; I'm not removing any references to specifics.)  And it took these unprecedentedly vile measures to escape blame for--what, exactly?

Well, it seems FB isn't taking its trust, transparency, and privacy problems seriously.  FB is not doing enough to combat false news and information on its platform.  Its failure in Myanmar four years ago shows that it's not willing to be an aggressive defender of human rights.  Its shaky steps to improve transparency haven't been thorough or consistent.  It uses contractors to hit back at critics.  Social media platforms are being used to sway and divide people, and the new House Democrats are thinking of doing something about it, so FB had better get with the program.

I feel an unwilling sympathy for Zuckerberg, trying to punch back against this amoeba.  I can't wait to see what the incoming class of representatives are drafting up.  It shall be a federal crime to operate a social media platform when your head isn't in the right place?

Way back in 2014, someone apparently had the bright idea of pursuing a successful criminal prosecution against the woman who first published the deliberately false rape claim in Myanmar.