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When I published my first book, Unlearning Liberty, in 2012, I felt optimistic that the situation for free speech on campus, though not good by any means, was improving. A lot of the campus censorship efforts had become less ideological and more of the old-fashioned, “Don’t you dare criticize my university” type of censorship. Even the scourge of campus speech codes seemed to be eroding—albeit very slowly in the face of Herculean efforts.
Still, I knew from experience that things could turn around—and, sadly, turn around they have. In the last two years, the intense political correctness of the late 1980s and early ’90s has returned with a vengeance, and we are now experiencing the wrong kind of renaissance.
Yesterday, I examined the contributing forces to this “renaissance” in my latest essay on Minding the Campus. As I write in the piece:
I don’t know how many are interested in such things, but among those who follow the careers of the best American actors, there is a well-known bit of lore about the pre-fame friendship of Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, and Robert Duvall.
Well, it’s not lore, it’s true. You can read about it here. The trio banged around New York for a solid 10 years before finally finding their footing in the film business.
Every young actor in New York or Hollywood feasts on such stories because they make the impossible seem real. You and your buddies—as hungry and invisible as you are now—could one day find yourselves on top. It could happen. It has.
We can’t be sure which specific events or trends will define this age when we look back at America in fifty years (okay, when others look back in fifty years), but I have the sinking feeling it might just be the so-called “selfie.” This type of narcissism — be it in our hands or on a stick — is everywhere. We no longer have to ask, “Where’s Waldo?” He’s not losing himself in a crowd; he’s ahead of the crowd. It’s almost as though there’s no reality unless we’re in front of it, complete with goofy grins on our faces.
From the White House to the Grand Canyon, we are insinuating ourselves into virtually every vista, every scene, every event. Oh, I know we’ve always enjoyed placing ourselves in a picture, but there is something oddly disturbing about the way in which the selfie puts us in such a dominant position. Our iPhones now contain hundreds of photos of giant faces (usually our own) covering up something or other. One can only imagine how many photos of Mt. Rushmore feature a fifth head.
Of course, it’s possible I find this trend irritating simply because — as I get older — I find virtually every trend irritating, but I do think there is something especially telling about our insistence that we are the focal point of…well, of everything. The Age of the Selfie says something, and I’m not sure it’s something good.
Should a foul-mouthe, anti-Catholic bigot, and pornographer, be accepted into the mainstream television industry, and there granted license to express his odious tripe on a prime time situation “comedy”? At first blush we might respond that it’s a First Amendment issue. The Constitution, it can be asserted, protects offensive speech, so any attempt at censorship should be quickly shut down. That may be true when the government attempts to silence speech. But the media — it was once believed — should exercise some sensible self-censorship, if for no other reason than good taste. Sadly, television entertainment executives have clearly concluded that must see TV should be filled with sewage. Evidently, viewers crave depravity.
But are there any limits? The question arises again as Disney-ABC has begun to promote a show called The Real O’Neals, based on the life of Dan Savage. The promotional trailer
trailer is out, and is all one wouldexpect of Savage. Like so many sitcoms, the entire story line revolves around sex, with the twist being that the Catholic Church is portrayed as sex-obsessed, Catholic parents as hypocrites, and priests as oppressive guardians of outdated rules and regulations still taught by Rome. The usual clichés are the essence of the show. Catholic families are stunted in their moral lives, and parents just can’t see the inconsistencies in defending Church teachings, while at the same time violating every rule. The message — as should be expected of a character as Savage — is that Catholics parents are just too uptight about allowing their children to experiment with their various body parts.
Apparently, the National Coalition Against Censorship is really concerned about censorship. So concerned, apparently, that some folks agreed to sponsor a quartet of plays at the Greenwich Village’s Sheen Center for Thought and Culture as a benefit event for the group. They asked Neil LaBute to contribute a short play… and subsequently cancelled the entire event.
LaBute’s career as a playwright and filmmaker has attracted controversy since his first film, In the Company of Men, which was both about misogyny and accused of being misogynist. So it should have come as no surprise that his contribution here would be, um… different. But apparently the sponsors of the event were surprised when LaBute titled his work “Mohammad Gets A Boner.” That was too much for the New York Times, which would not print the title in its reporting, though it hasn’t had a problem with The Vagina Monologues for many, many years, the sensitive dears.
Gloria Kadigan, the founder of Planet Connections where the event would held, knew the play would be “a discussion of whether or not it’s all right to poke fun at religion or religious figures” but didn’t know the title of the play or its specific contents. So when she found out that the play would actually poke fun at Islam, it was all far too much.
I was reading a piece by the great Mark Hemingway this morning about Obama’s “casual slander” of American Christians. As Mark points out:
We’re at the point where the man well-intentioned liberal Christians like [E. J.] Dionne said could end the culture wars [i.e., President Obama] makes a flatly wrong and objectionable assertion that fighting poverty is an afterthought for Christians too often obsessed with abortion, and nobody bats an eye.
How can this be?
I sometimes weep at series finales and — writing this shortly before the final episode of Mad Men airs on AMC — I’m almost certain to so again tonight. Regardless of the final scene and music, I’ll likely tear up when it’s time to ritually delete the program from the Series Manager list on our DVR, in which Mad Men has held the #1 priority position since its 2007 debuted (the #1 slot tells the DVR “if you must record only one program, let it be this one.”)
It surprised me when I suddenly began bawling on March 1, 2005 after the final episode of NYPD Blue aired, and I deleted it from the auto-record menu of the DVR. It wasn’t just that brilliant final crane shot which completed the transformation of Andy Sipowicz. It was all the memories of that classic program flooding back, and knowing there would never be another scene, another frame of the show.
Some of you may have seen this already; the Dallas Morning News published this four days ago, but if you’ve got a Sunday morning free to read, this is gripping. It’s a really well-researched account of George H. W. Bush’s role in the days after Reagan was shot.
Whenever I see a good, in-depth article like this called a “longread” by the paper it’s in, I sigh–this was once the length of any good piece of investigative reporting. Its very hard to say anything new or useful about something like this in fewer words.
Anyway, that was your daily middle-aged kvetch about kids these days and their short attention spans. Lots in this piece I’d never known before, and lots of details struck me as evidence of how much has changed since then. This is an event I remember vividly, but to many Americans alive now, I guess it’s just history, something that happened before they were born:.
Ladies and gents, I apologize in advance for the intolerably long notes below, but I recommend them if you have some leisure–they seem to me to include some insights about what Shakespeare offers as an education for love.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red.
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
if hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red & white,
but no such roses I see in her cheeks.
& in some perfumes there is more delight
than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
that music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
my mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
& yet, by heav’n, I think my love as rare
as any she belied with false compare.
Just yesterday, I was musing over the summer concert calendar — The Who and Stevie Wonder are among those coming to town — and thinking that this may be an expensive few months. Sure, most of these acts are nowhere near the peak of their powers anymore, but I’ve got a long list of people I want to see live before they either retire or move on to trashing hotel rooms in the great hereafter. Unfortunately, one of the entries on that list was B.B. King, who died yesterday at his home in Las Vegas at the age of 89. I don’t, contra one report I read, regard this as “tragic news.” Anyone with even a cursory understanding of the actuarial tables for blues musicians ought to recognize that making it nearly nine decades and dying in your bed is something just short of miraculous. Nonetheless, a legend has passed. But, oh, to be in the front row in heaven tonight when he fires this one up:
Last year, I was appointed to a study committee in the Georgia House of Representatives that looked at the federal role in education. One of the topics that came up was the increased reliance on data schools collect from students. This data is valuable for teachers and educators, as it helps them understand how the student is doing and what areas the student may need help. It also presents challenges. Over time, this can get out of hand as the scope of the information increases to the point where parents might feel it is intrusive. I decided to do something about this. So this legislative session, I introduced to the HB414, the ‘Student Data Privacy, Accessibility, and Transparency Act.’
After a lot of work on the bill with a broad coalition of education and technology groups — as well as input from the Department of Education — HB414 passed unanimously out of the House Education Committee. Though it did not make it out of the House Rules Committee in time to be considered by the Senate, no bill is ever really dead in the legislature so we began looking for a Senate bill we could attach our bill to. We found one, and I’m grateful to Georgia State Sen. John Albers for allowing us to add HB414 to his bill SB89. The amended bill received final passage on sine die and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed it into law earlier this week. Other states are now considering similar bills, as is the U.S. Congress. This important law will limit the education related data schools collect on students and make sure it remains private and secure. For more on this bill, see the press release below from Excellence in Education, one of the many education reform groups that supported this legislation.
According to Adam Smith, “Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of affluence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.” Our founding fathers wisely constituted a government designed to provide this modest foundation and little more. Wisely, because government – made up of fallible human beings – is not capable of providing more; and it will fail to provide what it can if it attempts to provide what it cannot.
We know, for example, what justice is: giving to each their due. A free market – that is people buying, selling, and exchanging their own goods and services without coercion and without interference – rewards people for what they produce and thus does a “tolerable” job of providing justice. If government restricts itself to acting against fraud and coercion, and otherwise stays out of the way, justice will be the happy – if only approximate – result.
By contrast, even the deepest thinkers cannot define “social justice” concretely enough to provide a workable procedure for attaining it. Proponents of social justice seek — at a minimum — to compensate the more unfortunate among us for the unfair burdens of chance. But only an omniscient and omnipotent being can hope to weigh each man’s troubles and determine just compensation. And only such a being can divine the penalties that are to be assessed on those more favored. In the end, attempts to implement “social justice” invariably result in injustice, because some are invariably given what is due others. And so we abandon what is possible in trying to achieve the impossible.
President Obama shared his thoughts on private education at an anti-poverty summit Tuesday. Held at the Georgetown University, the president slammed parents who send their kids to private schools:
You may have heard me say it here before: California is the world’s largest open-air asylum. I’ve always thought that, but it became much clearer to me after I decamped from my native Golden State to Tennessee last year. Now every time that I sent foot back on California soil — as I did last night — I’m struck by the air of unreality that characterizes the place. All you have to do is look around for a few minutes before you start thinking “Is it possible that there’s a gas leak in this entire state that no one knows about?” That’s about the same reaction I had reading through the San Francisco Chronicle this morning, which notes this — ahem — innovation taking place in Oakland schools:
Mouthing off in class or failing to follow a teacher’s instructions will no longer lead to suspension in Oakland schools, a ban that will be phased in and be fully in effect just over a year from now, the school board unanimously decided Wednesday night.
Oakland Unified will become one of a handful of California school districts that restrict suspensions to more serious offenses and eliminate the punishment for willful defiance — a broad category of misbehavior that includes minor offenses such as refusing to take a hat off or ignoring teacher requests to stop texting and more severe incidents like swearing at a teacher or storming out of class. San Francisco and Los Angeles are also among those districts.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence. If you are interested in the difference between the state established by the Palestinian Jews 67 years ago today and its neighbors – and you have a strong stomach – consider the case of Samir Kuntar.
Kuntar is a Lebanese member of the Palestine Liberation Front terrorist group. On April 22, 1979, Kuntar and three chums landed on a beach in Nahariya, Israel. After finding an Israeli policeman and killing him, Kuntar broke into an apartment belonging to Danny Haran, his wife, Smadar, and their daughters (Einat, 4, and Yael, 2). While Smadar and Yael hid in a crawlspace, Kuntar led Danny and Einat down to the beach. There, according to witnesses, he executed Danny in front of his four-year-old daughter and drowned him in the Mediterranean to make sure that he was dead. Then he smashed the girl’s skull against a rock with the butt of his rifle. Back in the crawlspace, Smadar smothered her two-year-old to death in a desperate attempt to silence her.
In the decades since this terrorist attack, we have gotten used to baroque levels of violence and sadism in the Middle East, so that Kuntar’s crimes seem almost quaintly old-fashioned by comparison. But here is my point. Kuntar was captured, convicted of murder, and spent 30 years in an Israeli prison. (Israel has the death penalty, but it is reserved for those who commit genocide; it does not apply to men who smash the skulls of four-year-old girls). While in prison, Kuntar married Kifah Kayyal, an Israeli Palestinian woman. While they were married, she received a monthly stipend from the Israeli government, an entitlement due to her as the wife of a prisoner of Israel. Also while in prison, Kuntar took online courses from the Open University of Israel, which granted him a Bachelor’s degree in Social and Political Science. In 2008, the Israeli government released Kuntar and four other Lebanese prisoners in exchange for two coffins containing the remains of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped, tortured, and executed by Hezbollah.
Here’s me, Jonah Goldberg, our own James Lileks, Tucker Carlson, P.J. O’Rourke, Stephen Hayes, and editor Jonathan Last at AEI yesterday.
Ross Douthat wrote a powerful piece last week that used the upcoming SSM ruling as a jumping-off point for a larger discussion about the history of social predictions and SoCons’ strong (if imperfect) record on the matter. I commend the whole piece to everyone, but this passage on the left’s increasing prejudice towards quantitative analysis — to the exclusion of all other modes of thought — stood out:
[T]he modern liberal mind is trained to ask for spreadsheet-ready projections and clearly defined harms, and the links that social conservatives think exist aren’t amenable to that kind of precise measurement or definition. How do you run a regression analysis on a culture’s marital iconography? How do you trace the downstream influence of a change in that iconography on future generations’ values and ideas and choices? How do you measure highly-diffuse potential harms from some cultural shift, let alone compare them to the concrete benefits being delivered by the proposed alteration? How do you quantify, assess and predict the influence of a public philosophy of marriage — whatever that even means — on manners and morals and behavior?
Of course, there is nothing in traditionalist thinking that precludes serious data dives; indeed, a traditionalist should hold that his positions will very much be validated by statistics, provided the right questions are posed and investigated dispassionately. Nor, for that matter, should a data-focused researcher be allergic to tradition, which — through the forces of trial, error, and selection — should be expected to form a great many gems that need only a little sunlight to shine. Indeed, Hayek went so far as to say in The Fatal Conceit that “all the benefits of civilization, and indeed our very existence, rest… on our continuing willingness to shoulder the burden of tradition.”
About twice a year, I decry how conservatives are conceding an important and powerful demographic and cultural change to liberals. It’s sometimes called the New Urbanism. To conservatives, though, its just the Evil City all over again. And anything good that may be happening is “yuppification,” “gentrification,” or — even worse — “hiptserfication.” I don’t see the problem: all three words mean revitalization, which means the creation of fine, safe, productive, and interesting places for people to live and work. In other words, it means bringing back downtown and main street which, once upon a time, were natural homes for conservatives. But, as I’m wont to say, conservatives are used to what they are used to and skeptical of all else. Many modern conservatives are simply not used to downtown and main street.
But that’s not totally true. My last foray into this arena was a four–part history of transportation in America. The responses to that thread made it clear that there is a solid core of potential, budding, and already-arrived conservative urbanists. Today, I’m here with some good news for conservative urbanists and to announce a fine discovery in the form of a blog: Market Urbanism, whose motto is “Urbanism for Capitalists / Capitalism for Urbanists.”
Hayek and Bastiat (and of course, Jane Jacobs, she of Spontaneous Order) are displayed prominently in their bookstore. A few quotes I’ve so far gleaned from a brief perusal of some of the site. About the website’s founder, Adam Hengels:
Last week, first lady Michelle Obama lectured the leaders of The Whitney Museum at their grand opening, insisting that American museums are unwelcoming to “people who look like (her).” Her stable, middle-class childhood and her Ivy League education — topped with wealth, power, and privilege — can ‘t mitigate her fury at perceived ill-treatment at the hands of a racist America.
This week, FLOTUS registered a new complaint about the bad hand America has dealt her. In a commencement address, she inspired graduates of Alabama’s Tuskegee University by lamenting the pain and emotional distress she has endured as the first African-American First Lady.
“You might remember the on-stage celebratory fist bump between me and my husband after a primary win that was referred to as a ‘terrorist fist jab,’ ” she said.