Category: Culture

260

Two Kinds of Freedom of Speech (or #Strangeloop vs. Curtis Yarvin)

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Two kinds of freedom of speech

I've argued a few times (sometimes conveying my message successfully sometimes not), that freedom of speech is not merely a legal issue centering on the first amendment, but also a cultural issue, centering on our willingness to tolerate the presence and the words of those we disagree with – even when we know that those ideas aren't merely foolish (e.g. preferring Chocolate ice-cream over a good French Vanilla), but actively destructive to individuals, families, and nations (take your pick – abortion pro/con, immigration pro/con, etc.) ( I note in passing that I've been called an "Enlightenment fundamentalist" by one of my Popehat co-bloggers for my willingness to engage with people outside the Overton window, and, no, he didn't intend it as a compliment; quite the opposite.)

I've even argued for years something sillier – silly because it should have to be argued at all – that we should enjoy non-political products by people that we disagree with politically (I gave as an example how I read books by China Mieville – a member of the International Socialist Organization and Socialist Workers Party).

Culture considered more important than law

In my earlier Gamer Gate post I talked about "entryism":

As a poet once said: Cthulhu swims slowly, but he only swims left. Isn't that interesting?

The blue team has made amazing progress over the last three hundred years. Occasionally by force of arms, but usually by a much more clever strategy: entryism.

Entryism, for those not hip to the lingo, is "a political strategy in which an organization or state encourages its members or supporters to join another, usually larger organization in an attempt to expand influence and expand their ideas and program. In situations where the organization being 'entered' is hostile to entryism, the entryists may engage in a degree of subterfuge to hide the fact that they are an organization in their own right."

Since World War II the Blue team in the US has entered into the stodgy old universities (taking advantage of the GI Bill and the resulting explosion in size of secondary education institutions), and taken them over completely. It has taken over the media (now called the "mainstream media" or MSM by the red team), because of this. It has taken over many corporate boards (although not all attempts have succeeded).

Over the last few years blue team has been rolling up red team's flank in a new battle: the tech world (or, pace Scott Alexander, they're actually trying to roll up the flank of a minor Red faction / ally that should perhaps be called "Gray": techno-libertarians).

This is a really smart move for Blue, as much of the economy has stalled out over the last ten years, and tech is the only area of growth. Who wants to own 90% of a stalled boat, when you could own 90% of a boat that's going somewhere?

Entryism is not a political or legal or economic mode of warfare ; it is a cultural mode.

But what are politics, law, and economies other than cultural structures?

Once you control Harvard Law, you control the courts. Once you control the courts, you control the laws. Once you control the laws, you control the people.

Or, alternatively: once you control the technology conferences you control the team leads, once you control the team leads, you control the engineers, once you control the engineers, you control the tech industry, once you control the tech industry, you control the 21st century economy.

(Godwin lulz: you know who else tried to take over education?)

If enlightenment law is destroyed, but enlightenment culture survives, we can rebuild the law.

…but if enlightenment culture is destroyed, then law necessarily follows, and there is no foundation to ever rebuild the lost freedoms on.

Thus one mote in the eye of the culture of free speech bothers me more than a beam in the eye of the law of free speech.

An anonymous email

Perhaps because I've written about free speech, or perhaps because I've written about "Urbit" twice before, or perhaps because of both I received an email with a pastebin URL.

The timeline

As best I can tell the the timeline of events is this:

Some time on or before 1 June the Strangeloop tech conference threw open its submissions process and Curtis Yarvin of the Tlon corporation submitted a proposal about his Urbit network / functional programming language. (Note: the Urbit talk description is at archive.is, because it's been memory-holed at the StrangeLoop website).

On 3 June Alex Miller of the Cognitect corporation sent told Curtis that his proposed speech was interesting enough to be worthy of being heard by "the creators and users of the languages, libraries, tools, and techniques at the forefront of the industry."

Then around 1pm on 3 June @bobpoekert noticed, in a relatively calm way, that Curtis had some off beat politics.

The calmness didn't last; @aphyr declared

And @bodil perceives that an error – the error of tolerance – has been committed, and hopes that it occurred only by accident, and will soon be corrected:

@joescii wonders how such an error of tolerance could possibly have happened

And @kf suggests that the tolerance was accidental – perhaps the Party merely forgot to do its due diligence and failed to ask software engineers if they are now, or have ever been, a card carrying member of any party right of center:

And one social justice warrior, @steveklabnik noted that

…oh, that's odd … the tweet is gone and the account is protected.

I guess Steve didn't like his own words being quoted to show that he like violence? Anyway, no problem, I took screenshots:

Who is this Steve Klabnik, by the way? Oh, just your average rails coder and violent communist!

The point being: Steve really, really, really doesn't like fascism. But initiating violence against his political enemies? That's different, and ggggggreat! And up there with initiating violence is getting thought criminals banned from technical conferences, it seems.

So there was a bit of a tempest in an organic, fair-trade teapot, and after five or so tweets, Alex Miller realized that Strangeloop had invited someone to speak on functional programming languages who might not, in his heart of hearts, agree that Thomas Carlyle was a dead white man who should be forgotten.

And thus, Alex Miller "fixed the glitch": he emailed Curtis and said that even though Curtis thoughts on functional programming were interesting enough to be heard at the conference, because of Curtis's thoughts on Carlyle and such, he was no longer welcome to talk to decent people about functional programming:

http://pastebin.com/e3X5xpNG

From: Alex Miller
Date: Wed, Jun 3, 2015 at 5:45 PM
Subject: Re: Strange Loop 2015 submission "urbit, a clean-slate functional stack"

Hi Curtis,

When your talk was posted on the Strange Loop web site today, I had immediate and vigorous feedback about the fact that you would be speaking at Strange Loop. I do not generally make any attempt to audit or care about the particular opinions or ideology of the people that I accept as speakers; I am generally focused on the content of the talks themselves.

However, in this case it is clear to me that your opinions in areas outside your talk are concerning enough for a significantly large number of attendees that those reactions are overshadowing the talk and acting as a distraction for launching the conference as a whole. Because of this, I am sorry that I must rescind your invitation and I will not be able to accept or include your talk at the conference. My apologies if this causes you any inconvenience.

Alex Miller

Or, to be a precise, it was alleged by an email I received that Alex had said this. Had Alex actually?

I reached out on 4 June and asked Alex if it was true:

Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong. Can you hear me, Alex Miller?

Despite several tweets asking for confirmation, Alex never responded to me. (Or at least that's my belief – I checked my mentions closely, but it's possible that a response slipped through.)

However the next day I saw a link being tweeted around; Alex, it seemed, had finally responded.

Strangeloop conference doubles down

https://s3.amazonaws.com/sl-notes/yarvin.txt

Curtis Yarvin submitted a talk in the Strange Loop 2015 Call for Presentations. The talk went through the review process and was one of about 60 talks selected for the conference out of about 360. The subject of the talk was urbit (attached below). While we use a multi-stage review process, ultimately all final decisions are made by me.

Earlier this week we published the bulk of the 2015 Strange Loop session list, including Curtis's talk. I quickly received feedback that Curtis also has an online persona under the name "Mencius Moldbug" where he has posted extensive political writings.

A large number of current and former speakers and attendees contacted me to say that they found Curtis's writings objectionable. I have not personally read them.

I am trying to create a conference where the focus is on the technology and the topics being presented. Ultimately, I decided that if Curtis was part of the program, his mere inclusion and/or presence would overshadow the content of his talk and become the focus. This would not serve the conference, the other speakers, the attendees, or even Curtis.

Thus, I chose to rescind Curtis's invitation and remove him from the program…

Alex Miller

So there we have it: Alex Miller believes in the heckler's veto:

If several people contact him saying "person X will speak on topic Y, but is bad because of opinion Z which he will not speak on, but I – the emailer – dislike", then Alex will exclude person X from his conference.

I defend Strangeloop on legal grounds

Now, Strangeloop is a private conference, and if Curtis' speech was going to violate one of the Strangeloop policies, I'd entirely support the legality of their decision.

Heck, even though Curtis' scheduled speech was entirely in keeping with every single one of their policies, and Strangeloop blatantly made up policies ad hoc in order to achieve the desired result, I support their right to do so. I've long supported the legal right of free association. The law (i.e. the government monopoly on violence) should not force people to socialize, work, or do business with those they prefer not to.

So, while I might not throw myself in front of literal tanks to keep the government from forcing Strangeloop to accept Curtis, I'd surely throw metaphorically throw myself in front of some metaphoric tanks, while I sit in my easy chair and type.

Side note: Lefties are Ayn Rand Acolytes

I've noticed a fascinating phenomena: ask a stereotypical rightist about some private action he doesn't like, and he'll say "anyone who doesn't like it should take their money elsewhere". As in "if a baker won't make cakes for gay couples, gays should take their money elsewhere", or "if Starbucks doesn't allow open carry, gun owners should take their money elsewhere".

Leftists are often more nuanced than this. Instead of using just a few of the ethical bases that Jonathan Haidt identified, as conservatives do, they use more.

Thus, instead of only embracing the "exit" branch of the "loyalty, voice, and exit" fork, they also embrace the "voice" branch: Whole Foods should stop selling meat, stop carrying Eden Foods products, abjure security guards, and open a new location.

Well, they're nuanced up to a point. It's been my sad experience to run into a majority of lefties who, as soon as you suggest to a leftist that they might change how they're doing things to be more progressive and congruent with the goals of an open and freedom-loving society, turn into Ayn Rand acolytes: "this is my bakery, and if you don't like it, go somewhere else!"

Curious.

But, still, I agree with them.

A call for consistency

I'll make a deal with lefties: I'll keep throwing myself in front of metaphorical tanks to defend their legal right to exclude Curtis and other wrongthink badfun people, if they'll defend a privately owned bakery, or a hobby craft store, or a –

Hey, wait, where are you guys going?

A few questions for Alex and the other conference organizers

Questions for Alex Miller (@puredanger), Ryan Senior (@objcmdo), Mario Aquino (@marioaquino), Nick Cowan (@notetoself_stl), and Bridget Hillyer(@bridgethillyer):

  1. Alex says that he does not "generally" consider political opinions, but – apparently – he does at least on occasion. What are the boundaries of acceptable opinions that one may quietly hold inside one's head while at Strangeloop ? May one hold a belief in a flat income tax? In no income tax? May one be a professed communist, wishing for the proletarians to rise up in armed revolution?
  2. If the organizers of Strangeloop have not read Curtis' political writings, how do you know that his beliefs are outside the bounds allowable at Strangeloop?
  3. If the answer is "significantly large number" of people complain, what is that number? One ? Two ? More ?
  4. Will that numeric threshold be applied in the future? If two or three conference attendees email you to say that some presenter's advocacy of, say, polyamory, or lesbianism, or whatever would make the conference something other than a "safe space", will you disinvite the speakers so that your conference attendees aren't forced to be in the same building as people they disagree with?
  5. Do you support the legal right of other conferences to discriminate against speakers based on characteristics that have nothing to do with their presentations?
  6. As adherents of the dominant (and growing!) ideology in America (Progressivism) do you think that diversity of opinions is our strength, or would you think that we would be better served by an ideological mono-culture?
  7. If you think "no", would that stance change if American society suddenly lurched to the right?
  8. Alex told Curtis that Strangeloop was canceling his talk because "reactions [ to his presence would ] act as a distraction for launching the conference". In light of the last few days, do you (plural) still think that banning Curtis was the most pragmatic approach to keeping attention focused where you wanted it?
  9. As your conference is intended to help curious and open-minded developers "make connections with the creators and users of new languages", and you've decided not to let them meet Curtis or hear about Urbit, where do you suggest they go for more information ?

A few questions for the conference sponsors

Questions for the corporate sponsors of Strangeloop, including Sparx, Machinezone, Cisco, Twosigma, Basho, Engineyard, Wolfram, Criteo, Mandrill, 8thlight, Asynchrony, Oreilly, Oasisdigital, Riotgames, Context.io, and Adzerk:

  1. In any of your HR documents do you describe your firm and workplace as "tolerant", "diverse", "welcoming", or "open"?
  2. Do you ask prospective employees about their personal beliefs, religion, or politics anywhere in the hiring process?
  3. Do you ask employees post-hiring about their personal beliefs, religion, or politics ?
  4. Have you ever found that excluding conservative candidates from your hiring process increases your pool of candidates?
  5. Would you fire an employee for personal beliefs, religion, or politics if you received emails complaining about opinions they held, but never mentioned at work?
  6. Do you think that your sponsorship and financial support of strangeloop is consistent with your corporate culture of tolerance?
  7. What message do you think your sponsorship of Strangeloop sends to conservative or libertarian engineers who are looking for their next job?
  8. What message do you think your sponsorship of Strangeloop sends to conservative or libertarian customers who are considering your products?
  9. Do you think that your sponsorship of a tech conference that excludes people based on their personal beliefs is a net win for your firm?

tl;dr

The legal right of free speech is important and worth defending.

The culture of free speech is important and worth defending.

We all profit in the long term if we tolerate – and even encourage – speech that we disagree with.

We all profit in the long term if we tolerate – and even encourage – non-disagreeable speech from people that we dislike for other reasons.

Tolerating everything except the outgroup is no sort of tolerance at all.

It is valid to use cultural means (e.g. this blog post) to pressure people and groups (e.g. Strangeloop) to advance from the Dark Ages to the futuristic year 1650 and accept Enlightenment ideas.

Further reading on Strangeloop vs Curtis Yarvin

A partial list of news articles and blog posts that have caught my attention:

and finally – and ironically – a blog post by Curtis himself two years ago that is hugely prescient: Technology, communism and the Brown Scare.

65

Mad Max: Actually, It's About Ethics In Truck Driving

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(note: nearly zero spoilers. perhaps actually zero.)

The three genres of the Mad Max trilogy

The interesting thing about the original Mad Max trilogy is that each movie belongs to an entirely separate genre. Mad Max is a 1970s biker film, Road Warrior is a western, and Thunderdome is NFL half-time show. In world-building, yes, they're all post-apocalyptic films (except for the first, which is perhaps during the very early stages of a grinding apocalypse), but genre conventions and associations matter a heck of a lot: they give us a structure to fit the pieces in to and a set of expectations about what comes next.

The original Road Warrior is, it's almost universally agreed, the best of the three, and I think the reason is not just the incredible visceral car chases and wrecks and stunts, but the western format. Echoing perhaps not only Star Wars and a bunch of Sergio Leone spaghetti, but the best western ever (Kurosawa's Seven Samurai) , the plot plays out like this: the drifter encounters a populace in need, insists that he's no hero, reluctantly is converted to serving the cause, and then – ronin-like – drifts away when the moment of need is over.

As a side note, the original Road Warrior also delivers on the important but unspoken requirement of a good western: good cinematography that displays a vast panoramic landscape. The shots where Max is looking down at the refinery camp and the desert looks so huge and empty under the infinite sky is breath taking. Later there's a second shot that always makes me catch my breath: the leaders of the refinery camp are deliberating under a single electric light against a wide purple sky. The juxtaposition of the small bright spark of technology (the first electric light we see in the entire movie, and, I think, the only one) against vast world gone dark is stunning.

Thunderdome sucked (although, after a re-watch recently, not as much as I'd once thought – it's actually the second best movie in the trilogy, and if only a few things were changed could be a lot better) for a lot of reasons, and one of them is that it departed from the Western genre for a Hollywood-ized, big-budget, campy halftime show.

Anyway, I take us down memory lane not merely for the sake of nostalgia, but as a jumping off point to explain Fury Road. Because until you understand what genre the movie is, you can't understand the movie.

A Western Super-Hero Movie

Fury Road has many of Road Warrior's strengths: it is at least half a western, and it is jam-packed with dangerous automotive mayhem.

Crucially, it did not make the same mistake as Thunderdome: taking its huge budget and using it for camp. Or, rather there are a few bits that could be campy in other contexts, but because they're so overwhelmed by gasoline, metal, and anger, they don't register as camp: one moment they're a distant dot on the horizon, and the next they're gone, behind, never to be seen again.

So, how well does Fury Road do as a Western? It does decently, but not great. The drifter arrives in town, he accidentally hooks up with the people in need, and he reluctantly agrees to help them. And then, at the end, like a tumbleweed, he drifts on. It checks all the Western boxes, but it does so perfunctorily, without passion …and, on one occasion, without a lot of sense.

Oh, and about the unspoken rule of good westerns? Yes, the amazing shots of the desert are there – boy are they there. But you knew that already, from the trailers.

If I had to put my finger on the one thing that disappointed me about Fury Road it was that it had a bit of superhero genre mixed in. In watching Road Warrior one feels concern for the protagonists and fear over their prospects. The villains are just real enough – one thinks that, yes, two years after the nukes fell and the gas ran out, the most brutal of the biker gangs and the renegade cops could have come to exactly this. In the first third of Road Warrior we see Humongous and his gang murder, rape, and loot outriders from the refinery camp, so we know exactly what they're capable of. Later, when our hero and his charges venture out into the wasteland and into conflict with the villains we know how it might very well end: the vehicles caught, destroyed, captives pulled out, brutally raped, and then crossbow-bolted when they're of no more use.

In contrast to this level of realism, Fury Road turns the dial one more, to eleven, for that push over the cliff. It was an inspired choice, in a way: I'm glad I saw these insane war rigs, I'm glad I saw the gouts of flame, the grenades, the spiked cars, the white skinned lunatics leaping off of moving vehicles to their certain deaths, and more. I've never seen anything like it before, and it was glorious.

…but necessarily, if you're serving up an apple, you're not serving up an orange.

The scale, the craziness, the everything – all at once, in every direction – is shocking, and aweing, and wonderful. …but because it's so much, and so hyper-real, the movie slips away from being a Western and into being a superhero movie. These villains are not what real biker gangs and real cops could have evolved into in the wasteland: these are comic book crazies. In the real world, no one would actually build these vehicles. No one would actually do these things. No one would actually set up this tribe or this economy.

…and thus, because it's so much larger than life, it is not life. In Blade Runner, when Deckard misses his jump at the very end of the movie and is hanging twenty stories above hard pavement I gulp, because the idea of falling twenty stories is a real one. I can picture it. My heart hammers. My palms sweat.

In Fury Road, when Max is standing on top of a war rig hurtling through the desert I'm mostly curious as to what will explode next. There is not a moment of fear about the shear insanity of standing on top of a moving vehicle doing sixty over rough terrain. Think about that: if you're anything like me, just standing on top of the tanker would scare you to the point of needing new underwear. Yet in Fury Road none of it seems real. The violence was glorious and picturesque and insane…but not once was it scary. …because not once was it real.

Fury Road is a superhero movie.

Who is the superhero?

Fury Road is odd. Unlike the previous films in the franchise, there's not one hero, there are two. And, in fact, Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa is at the center of the plot, and at the center of the heart of the film. She drives the action, she drives the truck, she drives the plot. This is a bit odd, given that the movie is called "Mad Max: Fury Road" and not "Imperator Furiosa: Fury Road", but what are you going to do?

That said, Max gets a lot of the action, and even if it's not 51%, there's more than enough to go around.

MRA boycott because Fury Road is feminist propaganda

Someone, I think Roosh V, has announced that Fury Road is feminist propaganda and should be boycotted. There are three reasons that I can think to call a boycott.

First, to put economic pressure on someone. Given the size of the movie industry and the size of the MRA world, I can't imagine that anyone thinks that this might work.

Second, to keep out badthink (the SJW tactic of blockbots, etc.). Say what you will about the MRAs, but I don't think that this is their style.

Third, to create a conspicuous cost to being a member of community, thus serving as an initiation ritual of sorts, and binding the members of the community together.

It's gotta be number three, right?

< shrug >

Moving on:

So, is Fury Road a feminist movie?

I can see why the MRAs say so. It does seem to go out of its way to hit a few feminist tropes – I felt like I was reading bad lesbian science fiction from the 70s once or twice.

Clan of wizened "wise women"? check.

…who live a simpler, more peaceful life? check.

…and have peaceful flower-power hippie names ("Initiating Mother", "Vuvalini of the Many Mothers", "Clan Swaddle Dog", etc.)

…and carry a bag of seeds with them, a symbol of the nurturing protective womb? check.

Pro-forma enunciation that women are not property? check.

Kick-ass heroine, because girls can be just as tough as guys? check.

So, yes, there is a bit of feminism shoe-horned awkwardly into the movie. But it's more silly than objectionable. And, in fact, conservatives will find a lot to chuckle over: the maguffin on the entire chase is the group of young breedable women…and yet not once does anyone suggest that they do anything other than breed. No, a just society, it seems, will still have these women cranking out babies…just under (heh) the good guys, and not the Ugly Old Coot.

Yes, but is Fury Road a feminist movie?

No. Not unless "blowing immense quantities of shit up in a vast barren desert" is a new form of feminism I'm unfamiliar with (and if it is, I promise to give feminism another look-see – that'd be a promising development).

To the degree it's got any ideology, it's about ethics in truck driving: "people should not be slaves, nor should they live under corrupt all-powerful kleptocratic dictatorships".

That strikes me as pretty damned libertarian.

Should you see it?

Yes.

In the theater.

Now.

It's not the perfect movie. It's not even the perfect Mad Max movie. But it is a spectacle of the best kind, and there's no substitute for seeing it the way every western is meant to be seen: spread across a screen as huge as the desert itself.

422

The Ken vs Vox Day Slap Fight

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My wrong prediction

The other day my friend Ken asked me (and the other Popehat contributors) for feedback on his idea of blogging about his depression. He specifically wondered if various folks on the net would attack him for it.

I'm not a personal friend of Vox's, but I am an acquaintance (I have roughly as many political points of agreement with Vox as I do with Ken, so we run in the same circles, even if I'm not a card carrying member of the "Dread Ilk"), and I thought the idea that Vox would attack Ken for the post was a bit far fetched – I thought Vox wouldn't stoop to that level.

So I responded:

Ken,

As someone who wrestled the black dog for a decade or more (thankfully, tho, not in the last 15 years or so), I'm a huge fan of your posts on this topic.

The cost of writing is centralized (your effort, your potential embarrassment (not that I think there's anything remotely embarrassing about it)) , and the benefit is widespread. Which is to say, in pure market terms, it's "not worth it" for you to write on the topic.

…but it makes the world a better place.

Re Vox: he's not a friend of mine, but he is an acquaintance. If he says shit, I'll rain hell-fire on him.

And then, after Ken put up his great post, I tweeted

and I stand by that.

And now it turns out that Vox has – exactly as some expected, and exactly contrary to my own predictions – attacked Ken for the contents of his post.

The raining of hell-fire – a desire I don't have at the moment

I told Ken I'd rain hell-fire on Vox, but now that it comes down to it, I realize that I'm not angry – I'm sad. I'm not sad for Ken's sake – Ken is a big boy and can take a bit of name calling on the net. I'm sad because I thought Vox was made of better stuff.

Actually, I still do. Vox is a performance artist par excellence, but he's also a crisp thinker, and usually not a name-caller. He understands that the effect of deflating someone's argument through logic and facts is a thousand times better than calling them names.

…which isn't to say that Vox doesn't call names. He does. He often does it in a cutesy way where what he says is – technically – not name-calling. "I was just stating a fact – the guy is short, given the median height of Canadians, which is 5' 9.8" according to a UNESCO survey I'm linking to."

Vox does this, I think, because years of playing war games and fighting MMA has taught him a fair bit about tactics, and he realizes that these feints lead his opponents to – well, I could invoke some phrases from Clausewitz or Jomini, but, in the parlance of our times, "lose their shit" is appropriate and isn't overstating it – and then he can step back and point, shrug, and say "see what I mean?"

This may be good tactics, but I'm not in love with it, and – as someone who's got a decent measure of respect for Vox – I wish he wouldn't do it.

So, anyway, I'd like to explain why I respect Ken, why I respect Vox, and why I think that the politics of personal attack are uncool, and why I wish both my friend and my e-acquaintance wouldn't do it.

My friend Ken

I'm proud to call Ken a friend, and I only hope that I've earned enough of his respect so that he chooses to use the same word for me.

I've met a lot of impressive people in my time on the planet, and Ken is near the very top of the list. He's whip-smart, he's compassionate, he almost always sides with the underdog, he started out as a federal prosecutor but had the strength of character admit that maybe the other side had the better ethical argument, he built a law firm from scratch, he's a great family man – basically, I haven't come across an area where Ken is not devs above the mean.

– and, on a personal note, when I was deep deep in the shit once years ago, he answered the proverbial 3am phone call and saved my ass (full details some other time, but, if you think "subpoenas, a briefcase full of money, and expert advice on how much lime to use to dissolve a body", you're off in the right direction).

You can't buy loyalty like that, and if you could, you couldn't afford it.

And even I, who sing Ken's praises, was a bit surprised by his blog post the other day. Not surprised, overly, at the contents, but surprised at the balls he had to publish it, knowing that people would use it against him.

There's the old saw that bravery isn't the absence of fear: bravery is being afraid and doing the right thing anyway.

Ken's posts on depression help people – the most vulnerable and despised people out there: the sad sacks, the "slackers", the people who "just need to buck up and start getting shit done".

As I said in my forum post, quoted above, when Ken does one of these posts, the benefit accrues to dozens or hundreds of nobodies, and the the costs all land on Ken's shoulders.

And Ken does it anyway.

DAMN.

I'd like to be half the man Ken is some day.

My acquaintance Vox Day

Popehat.com is a civil liberties blog, and because Ken is fashionably, but discretely, left of center, the entire tone of the blog and of the readership averages left of center.

So, when I say "I've got a lot of respect for Vox Day", I expect to be met with hisses and boos.

Well fuck that shit: listen up, people.

Vox, like Ken, is a thoroughly impressive person. Back when most of us were farting around in college, Vox managed to bootstrap a band that cranked out some top-40 hits (amusing note: I actually picked up one of his band's CDs used about 20 years ago, a decade before I ever encountered the modern incarnation of Vox). Aside from music, Vox is also a very good fiction writer, putting many of his more respectable peers to shame. His organizational skills are fantastic, and he's bootstrapped not just his own online brand and followers, but mobilized them in a culture war against the SJWs for the control of the Hugo (a large blog post on this topic is half written, by the way). He's launched a science fiction publishing company seeming in his spare time, he's edited books, he's recruited top authors, and more. …and all of this in his spare time between doing game design, raising a family, and playing in a soccer league.

You can say that Vox's political opinions are terribly wrong. You can say that Vox is mean. You can say that he's cruel.

…but anyone who says that Vox is stupid, illogical, or lazy is just revealing themselves as either ignorant (the best case) or dishonest (the worst case).

If anyone hear thinks that Vox is dumb, I encourage you to hold your nose, read his blog for a week, and actually think about his arguments. You might think his axioms are wrong, but if you're honest with yourself, you won't think that his logic is flawed.

The Ken and Vox slap fight

I'm not exactly sure when the Ken and Vox started going at it, but my hunch is that Ken started it. I know that at least a few years ago Ken said something along the lines of "Vox looks like he gets his haircuts at the same place he got his lobotomy".

Sigh.

I really wish that when Ken wanted to attack someone's ideas, he just attacked their ideas, instead of making fun of them personally. But, as a wise man once said

Maybe that was the first slap in the fight. Maybe it was the 400th. But, yeah, my money is that Ken started this. And then Vox responded in kind.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Vox started it, and Ken responded in kind.

Anyway: I respect both of these guys, and I wish they wouldn't be dicks.

I'm going to respond to Vox's post, because it's handy.

First, I think that Vox is honest when he says:

Now, I don't wish disease of any kind on anyone. I never have and never will. I would very much like for everyone, even those who most hate me, to be healthy, happy, and well.

…but this is part of Vox's standard style, where all of the words of his posts are calm and unobjectionable, so when they're quote later they look like the most innocent things…but the overall gestalt is carefully engineered to provoke at an emotional level.

I admit that I've used exactly the same technique in my time. It's effective, it's clever – and on my better days, I think it's a bad thing. So, yes, I think Vox is telling the truth when he says this…but when this is sandwiched into a post that starts with the subject line "What part of 'cruelty artist' don't you understand?" and ends with the advice for Ken to get off the internet because, presumable, Ken is too fragile and delicate to handle the manly give-and-take of no-holds-barred intellectual action…well, I don't think one is really going out on a limb when one declares the whole bit of performance art a carefully designed bit of cruelty.

What is Vox trying to achieve with this post? What do we monkeys ever try to achieve in our social machinations? We intend to increase the status of ourselves and our teams, and we intend to mock, ridicule, and degrade the status of the opposing team.

So when Vox writes

When I read Ken's post about his breakdown and his struggles, my overwhelming impression was sheer bewilderment. He might as well have written it in Chinese for all that I related to it.

he's saying, translated into monkey code: "Sad pink Ken SJW team: girly, weak and uncool. Awesome blue Vox PUA team: benchpress, squat, awesome awesome hoo-ah!"

Well, I call bullshit.

Vox is pretty awesome (sorry, SJWs) in a bunch of ways.

…and Ken is pretty awesome in at least as many.

So I'm not buying into Vox's narrative. It takes a certain kind of moral strength to fight when outnumbered, when scorned by the establishment, when mocked by all the cool people (hat tip to Vox). But it takes a different and at least equally good kind of moral strength to voluntarily expose personal weakness, for no better reason than because the act of exposure helps others (hat tip to Ken).

And you know what? Ken isn't lacking in the first kind of bravery either. Look at him wade into the Vox's lion den.

A call to slap no more

All men are mortal. Socrates is a man.

– wait –

What I meant to say is: All human are sinners. I'm a human. Therefore I'm a sinner.

I've gotten catty on the internet. I've name called. I've mocked people for their personal traits instead of engaging with their arguments.

I think this is a crappy way to behave, and at least every now and then I promise myself I'll do better in the future.

Ken and Vox also get catty and engage in name-calling.

I wish they wouldn't.

I'm not going to call on either of them to apologize. Not only because I don't know who started the spat, but because "calls for apology" are a bullshit SJW tactic: they're a power play, implicitly promising absolution and forgiveness and return to the fold in return for ritual humiliation.

Neither Ken nor Vox need absolution from me, because they haven't sinned against me.

…and neither needs to, nor should, apologize to each other, because given our current caustic culture war, apologies are just status lowering struggle-session rituals.

Here's what I do suggest, not just for Ken and Vox, but for all of us:

That we examine our behaviors with regard to name calling, and that we examine our motivations.

For those of us who identify as Christian, I further suggest that we reflect on the definition of cruelty – "pleasure in causing pain and suffering".

I suggest that it is entirely reasonable for a Christian to engage in rigorous ideological warfare, even if this accidentally causes butt-hurt and bruises when pretty lies are destroyed.

…but it is not, I suggest, What Jesus Would Do, to take active delight in causing pain or suffering.

In my ideal world, ideological antagonists would fight bitterly with each other, but they would do so virtuously:

Prudence (φρόνησις, phronēsis): also described as wisdom, the ability to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time.

Justice (δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosynē): also considered as fairness, the most extensive and most important virtue.

Temperance (σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē): also known as restraint, the practice of self-control, abstention, and moderation tempering the appetition.

Courage (ἀνδρεία, andreia): also named fortitude, forbearance, strength, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.

This is my modest proposal.

Signed,

a sinner.

72

Tumult At Oberlin In Wake Of Emotional Support Animal Companion Initiative

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Oberlin, Ohio (AP): A new initiative calculated to promote healing and inclusiveness has instead led to controversy, legal threats, violence, and reported feelings of unsafeness on the campus of Oberlin College.

Oberlin administrators announced the Emotional Support Companion Animals Program for Everyone, affectionately known as "ESCAPE," last week to an eager student body. "This is a safe space," said Walter Green, the college's Executive Vice-President for Redress of Grievances. "And we choose to make it safer with the help of the nonhuman companions with whom we share Mother Earth."

"The nonhuman companions' choices will also be part of our community dialogue," he added.

With that, Oberlin launched an ambitious plan to supply each student and faculty member with an animal companion to support their emotional, spiritual, and socioeconomic needs, drawing from a large population PETA recently liberated from various forms of servitude across the midwest. Excited undergraduates lined up outside the Nifong Student Empowerment Cooperative, waiting their turn to choose and bond with a companion. "We needed this. We needed this to get through this year from hell," remarked Sophomore False Consciousness Studies major Lauren Haller, as her friends jazzhanded in an affirming manner.

Haller referred to a series of crises that have intruded upon the lifespaces of Oberlin students. In February a senior delayed three days before accepting public responsibility for using the term "girls." College administrators, citing federal privacy rules, declined to specify his punishment. In March, the campus roiled when a computer error resulted in several issues of GQ being stocked at the student convenience store, and the administration failed timely to respond to a Campus Justice Petition demanding changes to certain culturally normative elements of the engineering curriculum. More recently, a speech by extremist Christina Hoff Sommers caused widespread distress. Plans to pelt Ms. Sommers with rotten fruit was derailed when organizers learned that their organic produce supplier had once spoken in opposition to a $25 minimum wage, news that led to widespread tearful recriminations.

Unfortunately, ESCAPE has not provided the solace for which it was designed. Problems began the first day when Little Mister Derrida, a wolf hybrid companioned with popular Classism Professor Forrest Moore, savagely attacked senior Pietro Salvador's emotional support rabbit Che. "It's unreasonable, and in fact very offensive, to expect Little Mister Derrida to deny his nature in order to confirm to social expectations that make the majority comfortable," protested Professor Moore, who declines to classify his companion as either wolf or not-wolf. Salvador, who could not be reached for comment, reportedly informed his RA that he had not found the experience emotionally supportive.

There were other violent confrontations between companions of different backgrounds and life experiences throughout the week. Moreover, many students reported that their classmates had not offered the welcoming and accepting community that is the hallmark of Oberlin. Sophomore Henry Trask's attempt to bring his emotional support pig to a Comparative Religion class led to a largely unproductive and mostly screamed debate about the inherent tension between Trask's right to emotional support and his classmates' protected right against offense. Freshperson Darlene Oswalt filed a federal civil rights complaint when a professor asked her to take her raptor outside, saying that the college had attempted to "silence [the eagle's] own story." Moreover, students with sensory differences have reported hygiene anxieties. "The residence halls reek from feces and urine," said one student who asked to remain anonymous. "And this time not just that one graduate dorm."

Administrators rushed to address student concerns, but unsuccessfully. Room-to-room trigger warnings listing the types of companions therein proved impractical with an active and mobile student body and were condemned as "othering and stigmatizing" by some students. The school hired emergency crisis counselors, but discovered that the students' anxieties and conflicts merely relocated to the waiting areas of the counselors' offices. "I can't reach serenity without Dostoyevsky," said one student, referring to her emotional support chinchilla. "And Dostoyevsky can't be serene if there are, like, four coral snakes waiting there with those pretentious assholes from the theater department."

At press time, administrators were privately expressing grave concern. "I don't know what to do," said Green. "There's going to be a surge in calls for emotional support next week when those free speech fanatics from FIRE show up to talk. And this is Peak Triggering season in the economics and history departments. These students need to have someone unquestioning and uncritical reaffirm their feelings, and we thought animals fit that bill."

"They are being exposed to upsetting ideas every day," said Green. "What are we supposed to do, just tell them to deal?"

72

"Safe Spaces" And The Mote In America's Eye

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My three kids are sarcastic and irreverent. This isn't a shock to anyone who knows me. Their mouthiness can be irritating, but usually I manage to remember that I don't set much of an example of rhetorical decorum.

Maybe I should start giving the same consideration to other people's kids.

For some time I've been mean to university students who feel entitled to a "safe space" — by which they seem to mean a space where they are insulated from ideas they don't like.

I call these young people out for valuing illusory and subjective safety over liberty. I accuse them of accepting that speech is "harmful" without logic or proof. I mock them for not grasping that universities are supposed to be places of open inquiry. I condemn them for not being critical about the difference between nasty speech and nasty actions, and for thinking they have a right not to be offended. I belittle them for abandoning fundamental American values.

But recently a question occurred to me: where, exactly, do I think these young people should have learned the values that I expect them to uphold?

(more…)

Roosh V's "Reaxxian" Website Kicks Off Exciting Era Of Gaming Ethics And Innovation

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[PR NEWSWIRE: IRC CHANNEL "CHATEAU ROISSY"] The worldwide computer gaming community reacted with excitement this week at news that gender relations expert Daryush Valizadeh has launched "Reaxxian," a bold new online platform for game journalism.

Valizadeh, best known by his scholarly pen name  "Roosh V.", built a global publishing empire with philosophical works including the best-selling "Bang Estonia: How To Sleep With Estonian Women In Estonia." He is both the financial backer and editor-in-chief of Reaxxian, which aims to combine the gender-equity social-ethical ontological-literary activism that made his name with his devotion to cutting-edge games such as "Starcraft," "Oregon Trail," and "SimPlaymate." "I see this project as a way to overcome inequities and barriers to traditionally excluded groups," said Roosh. "I want to create a safe space for heterosexual males who play video games."

Roosh V. says he's prepared to invest substantial amounts of his Bang earnings to achieve that goal. "I have hired some of the most cogent and disciplined minds of 8chan.co, and they're coding like mad," Roosh explained. "This is a team of the iron-willed. Blue-pillers need not apply." Planned innovations include a commenting system codenamed TOGTFO, which promotes comments supporting masculinity by bombarding Twitter and Facebook with their content, and sends messages of affirmation, acceptance, and brotherhood to their authors. TOGTFO identifies preferred comments through a complex algorithm that assesses spelling, grammar, capitalization, and frequency of use of common dialetical terms including "cunt" and "panties." TOGTFO's media uploading application will make it easy for female readers to comply with Reaxxian's commenting policy.

Reaxxian also promises to be an innovator in trigger warnings. "As part of our safe space policy, we'll have customizable pop-ups that warn readers of potentially upsetting game content, like flat-chested female avatars, implied universal suffrage, pepper spray, or creepshaming," said Roosh. "When you think about it, the entire concept of 'wandering monsters' in computer role playing games is a form of creepshaming."

Reaxxian emphasizes that this project is not intended to denigrate women, the traditional consumers of video game content, but to promote acceptance of men. In the words of Reaxxian team leader "DieFagsDie," "Isn't it time we had a safe gaming space of our own, without outdated and judgmental socio-gender concepts such as 'stalking?'"

But Reaxxian's lofty goals are not limited to merely reviewing games. "We're going to crowdfund male-positive and heterosexual-affirming games too," confirmed a Reaxxian administrator who goes by the handle "StoP3nis3nvy." At launch Reaxxian unveiled an early version of "Alphas of Gor," a massively multiplayer online role-playing game set in the universe created by noted philosopher John Norman. Reaxxian's readers have eagerly stepped in as game-testers, and Reaxxian forums are busy with constructive criticism of the game's intricacies like "OMG who nerfed negging" and "lolconsent spell cool-down is too long" and "fm merchant npcs standoffish."

Concept art from early build of "Alpha Males of Gor" by Reaxxian Game Studios.

Concept art from early build of "Alphas of Gor" by Reaexxian Game Studios.

Roosh promises that Reaxxian will feature regular strategy guides for its promoted games. "Theodore Beale — Vox Day himself — is working on a newbie guide to selecting the best race during character creation," an enthused Roosh revealed. "Alpha Males of Gor" is not the only game Reaxxian is promoting; there is also talk of Kickstarting a first-person-shooter to be titled "Divorce Court," a remake of "Custer's Revenge," and a children's game under the working title, "Strawberry Shortcake Gets What She Deserves."

The timing of Reaxxian's launch is no coincidence; it will draw traffic from the game-industry controversy referred to as "GamerGate." Roosh joins other prominent thinkers like Adam Baldwin, Milo Yiannoppouos, and Pat Robertson who have recognized GamerGate as an opportunity to explore the important social and political issues raised by modern gaming.

"We're just very excited that another powerful voice has joined our call for ethics in journalism," said ardent GamerGate supporter and Reaxxian fan Kajira Lisa, speaking with the permission of her master, Chad of the Free City of Bakersfield.

Ken White and Patrick Non-White contributed to this article.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

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I'd like to thank Ezra Klein for his excellent work in creating a Readers' Digest version (1 November) of my post (21 October) and podcast (31 October) explaining the tribalistic aspects of Gamer Gate.

It did a great job of simplifying the details for the lower IQ audience over at Vox, and my thesis didn't lose too much in the repackaging.

Normally I'd expect a shout-out in the form of a link, but given that my post excoriated Ezra in the fifth paragraph for being a Pink activist (for creating Journolist to help coordinate Cathedral media air cover for the social justice warrior shock troops), I can see why he wouldn't want to point his readers at my original.

Clark on the Ace of Spades Podcast

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I've been reading Ace of Spades since way back in the early days of the blogosphere, so it was a thrill to be invited on the podcast last night to talk about the blue, pink, red, and gray teams, about #GamerGate, about John Scalzi and Vox Day fighting for the heart of science fiction, about how the broader culture war is over, and about how that doesn't much matter because the current American government will be swept away by the tide of history within twenty five years.

Listen to the whole thing here.

Gamer Gate: Three Stages to Obit

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A lot of things been written about Gamer Gate. Some of them wrong, some of them stupid, some of them both.

A lot of the confusion (both accidental and malicious) is because Gamer Gate is three separate things clustered together under one name.

The Three Stages of Gamer Gate

Gamer Gate began in a relationship spat. Person X was dating person Y. At some point person X realized that person Y had engaged in a pattern of cheating and lying, and person X blogged about the dirt.

This relationship drama was the first stage of the GamerGate, and as a he-said-she-said tale, it's of interest only to the two people involved, and their friends.

The blog post, though, went beyond "she told me she loved me and then she showed she didn't", and alleged that the unfaithful partner had slept with powerful media figures in the small world of computer games journalism…figures who either reviewed games coded by the unfaithful partner, or managed writers who did review the games. The alleged behavior is (at best) a breach of common sense, and (at worst) a major breach of journalistic ethics.

This gamer journalism drama was the second stage of GamerGate, and as a sex-for-positive press coverage scandal (unproven, in my mind), or just as a "jeez, gamer journalism is as corruptly orchestrated as mainstream media is under Ezra Klein's Journolist" scandal, it's of interest to the tens of thousands of people who read and write game review journalism… which doesn't include me.

This is where things got wacky. And by "wacky", I mean "exploded like a barbecue grill when liquid oxygen is poured on it."
(more…)

Strange Seeds on Distant Shores

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In Soviet Russia, Pravda punches you

I once asked a coworker who had grown up in the Soviet Union "What was the most surprising thing about coming to the West?" I was assuming it was going to be something physical and mundane: the shape of traffic lights, or the fact that you can't find Vodka for sale in bus stops – something like that.

His answer, though, made me realize that I'd accidentally asked a really interesting question. "Growing up under communism, things didn't make perfect sense. Facts didn't quite fit together. But because everything – schools, newspapers, radio – was all from the same people, you never knew what was wrong…but you could tell that something wasn't right. It was like boxing while you're blind folded. You keep getting hit in the face, but you don't know why. Only after I got out did I see how the real world really was, and how everything we'd been told was lies and distortions." (Quote is from memory ten years later)

There's an aphorism that "fish don't know that they're in water." While googling up the phrase to make sure I had it exactly, I learned that Derek Sivers has made exactly the point I wanted to make next, and made it well, so I'll let him speak:

Fish don't know they're in water.

If you tried to explain it, they'd say, "Water? What's water?"

They're so surrounded by it, that it's impossible to see.

They can't see it until they get outside of it.

This is how I feel about culture.

We're so surrounded by people who think like us, that it's impossible to see that what we think are universal truths are just our local culture.

We can't see it until we get outside of it.

I was born in California and grew up with what I felt was a normal
upbringing with normal values.

My Russian friend was a fish, and it wasn't until he got out of the water that he could look down and exclaim "Holy shit! That is why I felt so wet all the time!"

Well, lucky us – we live in the West where the schools, the media, and the government aren't all held captive by one totalitarian ideology, so we get a diversity of viewpoints and can see how things really work.

I'm joking, of course. (more…)

Fear Cuts Deeper Than Swords: Bergen Community College Freaks Out Over "Game of Thrones" T-Shirt

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Tragedy is inevitable. Our reaction to tragedy is not. We cannot govern every risk, but we must govern our reactions to risks. Here's the question we must ask ourselves: when awful things happen in the world, will we abandon reason and accept any measure urged by officials — petty and great — who invoke those awful things as justifications for action? Or will we think critically and demand that our leaders do so as well? Will we subject cries of "crime" and "drugs" and "terrorism" and "school shootings" to scrutiny? Will we be convinced to turn on each other in an irrational frenzy of suspicion, "for the children?"

If we don't maintain our critical thinking, we wind up with a nation run more and more like Bergen Community College in New Jersey, where we may be questioned and sent for reeducation for posting a picture of our daughter in a popular t-shirt on Google+.

Naturally the FIRE has the story, sourced from Inside Higher Education.

Francis Schmidt is a popular professor of design and animation at Bergen. Schmidt posted to Google+ a cute picture of his young daughter wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt in a yoga pose next to a cat. The t-shirt was this one, bearing the phrase "I will take what is mine with fire and blood," a quote from Daenerys Targaryen, a fictional character in a series of fantasy novels (which has sold tens of millions of copies) turned into a hot TV series on HBO (with close to 15 million viewers per episode.) Googling the phrase will instantly provide a context to anyone unfamiliar with the series.

So: a professor posts a cute picture of his kid in a t-shirt with a saying from a much-talked-about tv show. In the America we'd like to believe in, nothing happens. But in the America we've allowed to creep up on us, this happens:

But one contact — a dean — who was notified automatically via Google that the picture had been posted apparently took it as a threat. In an email, Jim Miller, the college’s executive director for human resources, told Schmidt to meet with him and two other administrators immediately in light of the “threatening email.”

Although it was winter break, Schmidt said he met with the administrators, including a security official, in one of their offices and was questioned repeatedly about the picture’s meaning and the popularity of “Game of Thrones.”

Schmidt said Miller asked him to use Google to verify the phrase, which he did, showing approximately 4 million hits. The professor said he asked why the photo had set off such a reaction, and that the security official said that “fire” could be a kind of proxy for “AK-47s.”

Despite Schmidt’s explanation, he was notified via email later in the week that he was being placed on leave without pay, effectively immediately, and that he would have to be cleared by a psychiatrist before he returned to campus. Schmidt said he was diagnosed with depression in 2007 but was easily cleared for this review, although even the brief time away from campus set back his students, especially those on independent study.

So. That happened.

Pressed for an explanation of this lunacy, Bergen Community College Kaye Walter retreated into the first refuge of a modern authoritarianism, "think of the children":

Walter said she did not believe that the college had acted unfairly, especially considering that there were three school shootings nationwide in January, prior to Schmidt’s post. The suspects in all three shootings were minors targeting their local schools (although three additional shootings at colleges or universities happened later in the month).

This — this — is the core demand of the modern Fear State. Tell us what to fear, leaders, for the night is dark and full of terrors. Tell us what we have to do. Tell us what to think, and how to assess risks. Tell us "if you see something, say something" so we may feel duty-bound to vent our fears and insecurities about our fellow citizens rather than exercising judgment or compassion or proportion. Assure us that you must exercise your growing powers for our own safety, to ward off the terrible things we worry about.

Is Bergen some sort of unlikely citadel of irrationality? At first glance it may seem so. After all no well person would interpret the t-shirt as a threat and report it. That takes irrationality or dysfunction. No minimally competent or intelligent or honest school administrator would pursue such a report upon receiving it; rather, anyone exercising anything like rational discretion would Google the thing and immediately identify it as a mundane artifact of popular culture. No honest or near-normal intellect would say, as Jim Miller did, that the "fire" in the slogan might refer to an AK-47, a profoundly idiotic statement that resembles arguing that "May the Force Be With You" is a threat of force. Nobody with self-respect or minimal ability would claim that this professor's treatment was somehow justified by school shootings.

But Bergen isn't an anomaly. It's not a collection of dullards and subnormals — though Jim Miller and Kaye Walker could lead to think that it is. Bergen is the emerging norm. Bergen represents what we, the people, have been convinced to accept. Bergen is unremarkable in a world where we've accepted "if you see something, say something" as an excuse to emote like toddlers, and where we're lectured that we should be thankful that our neighbors are so eager to inform on us. Bergen is mundane in a world where we put kids in jail to be brutalized over obvious bad jokes on social media. Bergen exists in a world where officials use concepts like "cyberbullying" to police and retaliate against satire and criticism. Bergen exists in a world where we have allowed fears — fear of terrorism, fear of drugs, fear of crime, fear for our children — to become so powerful that merely invoking them is a key that unlocks any right. Bergen exists in a country where our leaders realize how powerful those fears are, and therefore relentlessly stretch them further and further, so we get things like the already-Orwellian Department of Homeland Security policing DVD piracy.

Certainly the Miller-Walter mindset is not unique in American academia. We've seen a professor's historical allusion cynically repackaged as a threat. We've seen a community college invoke 9/11 and Virginia Tech and Columbine to ban protest signs. In pop-culture debacle much like this one, we've seen a college tear down a "Firefly" poster as a threat. We've seen satire and criticism punished as "actionable harassment" or ""intimidation."

As a nation, we all need to decide whether we will surrender our critical thinking in response to buzzwords like "terrorism" and "drugs" and "crime" and "school shootings." On a local level, we must decide whether we will put up with such idiocy from our educational institutions. So tell me, students and teachers and alumni of Bergen Community College. Are you going to put up with that? Because institutions that act like this are not helping young people to be productive and independent adults. They are teaching fear, ignorance, and subservience.

If you feel strongly about it, you could tell Bergen Community College on its Twitter Account or Facebook page.

Update: Bergen made a statement doubling down:

"The referenced incident refers to a private personnel matter at Bergen Community College. Since January 1, 2014, 34 incidents of school shootings have occurred in the United States. In following its safety and security procedures, the college investigates all situations where a member of its community – students, faculty, staff or local residents – expresses a safety or security concern."

There are at least two maddening components to this. First, they didn't just "investigate" — they suspended the professor and made him see a psychiatrist because he posted a picture of his daughter in a wildly popular t-shirt from pop culture. Second, the statement is an implicit admission that the college refuses to exercise critical thinking about the complaints it receives. There is no minimally rational connection between school shootings — or any type of violence — and a picture of someone's kid in a pop-culture t-shirt. The college is saying, in effect, "complain to us about your angers or fears, however utterly irrational, and we will act precipitously on them, because OMG 9/11 COLUMBINE TEH CHILDREN." Shameful. Ask yourself: what kind of education do you think your children will get from people who think like this?

Takei on Phelps

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On the topic of gay marriage, I'm pretty old fashioned.

…by which I mean I believe what goes on in a marriage contract is between two or more people, their lawyers, and their goðar / non-governmental polycentric legal service providers.

As a non aligned bystander in the left-vs-right culture wars, I'm not as much a reflexively huge fan of George Takei as some people are.

Then I saw this:

George Takei

I take no solace or joy in this man's passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding "God Hates Freds" signs, tempting as it may be.

He was a tormented soul, who tormented so many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.

Well done, sir.

Houdini Now and Then – Caught on the Web

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This article originally appeared in The Mandala Magazine (2:5), April 2012

Houdini Now and Then
:
Caught on the Web

It’s tough being a fan of the Great Houdini. Your non-magician friends quickly grow tired of hearing you say “Watch me escape from this” or “Tie me up! Tighter!” The patience of your significant other wears thin as you beckon “Look at this photo of the fourth milk can!” And your magician friends who are not fans of HH (a defect we fans describe with the phrase “just doesn’t get it”) are likely to respond with “You know, he wasn’t really much of a magician” or “You know, Vernon fooled him with a double” or “You know, he was sort of an arrogant bastard to… well… everyone.”

Houdini, Germany, ca. 1902 (John Cox Collection)

Houdini, Germany, ca. 1902 (John Cox Collection)

OK. Yes, we know. Even so, there’s just something about Houdini the man and the myth. And being a fan is no longer about becoming Houdini (though for some it once was). Nor is it about defending Houdini. (Well, maybe a bit.) It’s about appreciating two interwoven themes in the life of Ehrich Weiss: a tragically imperfect pursuit of the American Dream and a splendidly perfect example of magical theatrics. The actor lived a life, not always well, but the character he played projected a fiction, always magnificent. (more…)