Weekend Linkage

Paleo Retiree writes:

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The Good Censor

Fenster writes:

I read about Google’s semi-official report The Good Censor on Breitbart, which broke the story. If you are unfamiliar with the story check out the Breitbart coverage first.  The gist:

An internal company briefing produced by Google and leaked exclusively to Breitbart News argues that due to a variety of factors, including the election of President Trump, the “American tradition” of free speech on the internet is no longer viable.

Breitbart did a good job savaging the study so when I read the whole thing I thought I would be totally turned off. Actually I give it one or one and one-half cheers. It is thoughtfully done.

Like it or not social media platforms have become publishers and the questions raised in the report cannot fairly be dodged. And the report is pretty fair-minded in its recommendations, calling, for instance, for clamping down on tone and not content. In theory that means hostile lefty stuff ought to get into as much trouble as hostile righty stuff. So no problem there . . . in theory.

The problem comes when the rubber of theory hits the real road.

For all the talk of policing tone not content all the examples of bad behaviour cited in the report are from the right and none from the left.

Maybe that’s not sinister but rather innocent.  Perhaps the authors sincerely believe that one side is the problem.

I’d prefer sinister.  Better a hypocrite out for gain than a true believer out to right the world.

And then there’s the nagging problem of how global sites can possibly reconcile their newly acknowledged publisher role with competing values and laws in different countries. The report pushes transparency but that seems a bit naive.

The report talks a good game about the need to move from the American to the European model of embracing some censorship in the name of dignity. Very Euro! What is left unsaid is that the eastbound train does not have to stop at Berlin’s Dignity Station.  It can go all the way to Beijing’s Extreme Control Station: censorship because the regime says so. The American model may not be replaced by the somewhat soft European model but by the harder Chinese one.

I don’t know what to make of Mark Zuckerberg’s identity at this point.  Maybe he is truly a man of the world.

But me, I am still an American.  I believe in free speech like my pappy and Justice Holmes set it out.  Fighting words are not OK.  Short of that let ‘er rip.

I acknowledge that social media companies have a problem in reconciling American values with the rest of the world.   I know they have to do that – – but don’t expect me to be any less American in my own views as they try to square their own circles in their businesses.  That’s not my problem.  My problem, as an American, is that I want free speech. 

Meantime we are back to the problem of social media necessarily morphing into a publisher role.  That is a hard nut right there, that one. What is the answer to that one?

Seems to me that we may need to accept that the large social media sites are publishers.  But if that is the case it is simply unacceptable for them to take on the role of censor as private entities without some public intervention or regulation.  That may mean some regulation of content to ensure that the biases of private employees are not substituted for public values.  It may mean breaking the suckers up since there is no feasible way to regulate content.  It decidedly does not mean leaving the current a-holes in place to do their bogus “good censor” schtick while playing politics 24/7.

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Wilt and Wither

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


There are certain objects, to which politicians show a marked partiality, which can be classified as bad ones, to be avoided on all occasions. They include political actions such as freedom, justice and democracy; or, to put it the other way round, the suppression of tyranny, injustice, and autocracy.

It is one thing for nations to fight to defend their own freedom, system of justice, or democratic form of government. In that case, the best description of their political object in so doing is the word security; security to order their national life in their own way. “Crusades” to bring freedom, justice, or democracy into other nations’ lives are quite a different matter. Such crusades have a bad case history. The war to “make the world safe for democracy” of 1914-18 was not a success. In Russia, the Duma, or Parliament, was scrapped and a ruthless dictatorship set up even while the war for democracy was in progress. In Italy, dictatorship sent democracy packing within four years of the end of the democratic crusade, while Germany followed suit not very long after, and Portugal and Spain also joined the authoritarian ranks.

It is not only with individuals that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, reluctant though politicians are to recognise the fact. Having obviously failed to appreciate from the developments of the inter- war period that the accident of being victorious is no sound reason for changing the loser’s political systems to conform with one’s own, the British politicians of the Second World War declared it to be their intention to destroy the German dictatorship and to “re-educate” the Germans in the ways of parliamentary democracy; which, though it may be suited to the British and the Americans, had never made much appeal in Germany, has for years been a bad joke in France, and has now been banished altogether from the whole of eastern Europe except Greece. Even in England professorial voices are being raised to predict that parliamentary government is on its last legs. Moreover, as we saw in the last chapter, the endeavour to impose a political system on a defeated enemy by force is quite enough by itself to make that enemy throw it oft at the first opportunity.

The other crusading aspect of the 1914-18 war, “the war to end war,” was a worse failure than its democratic companion. The armistice of 1918 was not a year old before the British and French were fighting the Bolsheviks in Russia in the vain attempt to stifle the Communist regime at birth. In the following year (1920), the Bolsheviks were invading Poland. In 1921, the British and Irish were locked in bitter strife. In 1922, came the Greco-Turkish war, and in 1923 the French invaded the Ruhr. About 1924 began the long-drawn-out struggles of the various war lords in China; in 1931, the Japanese occupied Manchuria and, in 1932, attacked the Chinese at Shanghai. In 1935, the Italians were at war with Abyssinia; in 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out; in 1937 the Japanese began their war against China; and in 1938 the Germans marched into Austria, in 1939 into Czechoslovakia, and in the same year into Poland. But the Second World War that came with the last-named event had hardly begun when British politicians started afresh to speak hopefully of permanent peace if only their fellow-countrymen would fight hard enough to overcome the German enemy — as they had said on the previous occasion.

There is little enough hope for crusades to make the world more virtuous, and none at all if they are conducted with unlimited violence and the abandonment of all civilised restraints. The obliteration and atom bombing of open cities and the arming and encouragement of the midnight cut-throats of the underworld masquerading as “resistance movements” are not calculated to inculcate Christian righteousness in mankind. The world is now in a more disturbed and lawless state than it has been for centuries, perhaps than ever before. There is cold war in Europe, hot war in Korea, trouble in Persia and Egypt, brigandage in Malaya, insurrection in Indo-China, Mau-Mau terrorism in East Afiica, racial rioting in South Afiica, anxiety everywhere. In Britain, crimes of violence increased alarmingly after 1945, and have not even yet, eight years later, been got under proper control; while the prisons of the country are crammed to two or three times their designed capacity. In France, M. Jean Giono, the well-known author, told Mr. Warwick Charlton, who was investigating the atrocious Drummond murders on behalfof “Picture Post”:

“During the war and during the liberation the people of the country, who were normally law-abiding and kind, in appearance at least, became beasts: women are known to have torn young boys who could have been their sons into pieces with their bare hands. And a young man I know, who seems quite harmless, after raping a woman, poked her eyes out, cut off her ears, and otherwise mutilated her with a kitchen knife. His excuse was that she spoke with a German accent. She was in fact a French woman from Alsace.”

The British Government’s wartime boast of its intention to bring freedom to the enslaved German people has been a complete failure. All that has happened is that arbitrary government by the Nazi party has been exchanged for arbitrary government by foreign High Commissioners, under whom politically unpopular newspapers are suppressed and politically suspect individuals are summarily arrested and imprisoned just as they were between 1933 and 1939. And should the foreign occupation forces be withdrawn, there would obviously be nothing to prevent a new form of internal despotism being established at once, should the Germans so wish; as the partitioned, despoiled, and weakened state of their country following on Yalta and Potsdam might well make them wish.

It is, moreover, unpleasantly characteristic of crusades that the crusaders seem prone to adopt the very abuses which they go to war to suppress in other people. Thus, the crusade to restore freedom to Germany led to British freedoms being suspended right and left. Freedom of speech was interfered with in order to “prevent the spread of alarm and despondency,” and the liberty of the subject was savaged by the 1 8B Regulation which allowed men and women to be cast into prison without charge or trial and kept there at the Home Secretary’s pleasure, being denied all legal assistance. AU that was necessary was that the Minister should “have reasonable cause to believe” that the detention was desirable in the public interest. There was thus created in Britain a direct counterpart of those German concentration camps which had been so bitterly assailed by British politicians and publicists. These two forms of tyranny reacted on each other, and it became quite a common occurrence for Members of Paliament, who spoke under the protection of privilege, to demand the summary incarceration of anyone who dared to express views that they disliked and could represent as in any way unpatriotic or which could be construed as damaging to the war effort.

Six years of suppression of “dangerous thoughts’ have left their mark on the British people, who nowadays display a noticeable timidity in giving that free expression to their opinions on current, and especially international, affairs which would have been taken for granted at the beginning of the century.  “Freedom is in peril,” said the official posters of 1939, “defend it with all your might.” These posters spoke the truth but not all the truth. Freedom was in peril not only from outside the country but from inside it, too.

Indeed, the conduct of the war by the democracies themselves was hardly an inspiring example of democracy in practice. The two chief democratic leaders. President Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill, went about the world to top-level conferences where they made Olympian decisions as to how the war was to be fought and how the world was to be carved up after it, how many hundreds of thousands of square miles of territory were to be taken from one country and given to another, and how many millions of wretched refugees were to be driven from their homes in consequence.

The war had to be got on with, and it was clearly impracticable for top-level conferences which involved long journeys by the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of England to be reconvened, perhaps more than once, because objections were raised in Parliament or Congress. But other methods could have been used. If the conferring had been done on a lower level by ambassadors or even Foreign Secretaries, the home Cabinets and Parliaments could have exercised some control over what was agreed. As it was, the decisions reached by the highest men clearly had to be forced through the democratic legislatures as faits accomplis. Thus we find Mr. Churchill, after Yalta, brusquely disposing of Parliamentary criticism by saying that the Soviet leaders were “honourable and trustworthy men” and that he “declined absolutely to embark here on a discussion about Russian good faith.”

Such high-handed procedure cannot be called democratic. Nor can it be justified by the argument that the Prime Minister knew best and that his estimate of the situation was the right one. We know that, in fact, he was disastrously wrong. “The impression I brought back from the Crimea,” Mr. Churchill told the Commons, “and from all other contacts is that Marshal Stalin and the Soviet leaders wish to live in honourable friendship and equality with the western democracies. I know of no Government which stands to its obligations even in its own despite more solidly than the Russian Soviet Government.” This must surely rank as one of the most serious political misjudgments in history.

This danger attending Big Three decisions was not overlooked in America, where Mr. W. R. Burgess, speaking on behalf of the American Bankers’ Association, told the Banking and Currency Committee of the U. S. House of Representatives on March 21, 1945, that:

“The negotiation of international agreements is a double task. They must be negotiated with the representatives of foreign countries; they must also be negotiated with our people at home. It is all too easy to forget the second step … to make an agreement abroad and then to hope to sell it at home. But selling is not negotiation.”

Freedom, justice, civilised conduct and democratic self-government are exceedingly tender plants that grow well only in conditions of peace and order. War, so far from stimulating them, causes them to wilt and wither. “No one could expect Parliamentary democracy,” said the London Times on May 31st, 1952, “to flourish among all the horrors, chaos, and devastation of the (Korean) war that began two years ago.”

The radical unwisdom of fighting for abstract principles is emphasised by the completely negative results of the “finest hour” of 1940. If that was, as Mr. Churchill has it, a period of great glory for Britain by which she put the rest of the non-Axis world in her moral debt, the payment of that debt is long in coming. So far from being treated with honour and respect by other nations for her valiant stand in 1940, Britain has received an unheard-of series of slights, rebuffs, and injuries since 1945. The Albanians mined British warships. The Argentines sent gunboats to seize British islands in the Falklands group. The United States has been rubbing in Britain’s reduced status in the world by demanding and obtaining all the supreme commands of all the U.N. and N.A.T.O. forces. Even Britain’s ancient pride, her Navy, is now for the most part taking its orders from American Admirals; so much so that the British Admiral commanding the coast of (British) Scotland gets his appointment from the other side of the Atlantic. The Indians were so forgetful of the “finest hour” that they took the earliest postwar opportunity to get rid of the British who had governed their country for two centuries. In the Middle East, the heroes of 1940 have received one kick in the face after another; first from the Jews in Palestine, then from the Persians, shortly afterwards from the Egyptians, and then from the Iraqis. In Persia, the finest-hourers were hustled roughly out of their own huge oil properties with threats and imprecations and a loss of £300 millions.

But if there are so many unsound reasons for going to war, what are the sound ones? Again, the Field Service Regulations come to our aid. A nation goes to war, they say, “to protect its vital interests.” Not, be it noted, to protect another nation’s vital interests. It is a point very much to be noted, because democratic politicians frequently overlook it. Judging from their utterances over recent years, many of the British variety believe that British armies should range the world setting other people free from their brutal oppressors — the Czechs (1938) and the Poles (1939) from the wicked Germans, the Finns (1940) from the wicked Russians, the Greeks (1941) from the wicked Germans, the wicked Germans themselves (1940-1945) from the even wickeder Nazi regime, the Spaniards (1945 onwards) from the wicked Franco, and the South Koreans (1950) from their former fellow-countrymen across the artificial frontier of the 38th parallel of latitude.

Russell Grenfell

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Naked Lady of the Week: Marika

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


Marika has a breezy, unaffected quality and the kind of bod that can be accurately called both slammin’ and healthy. She seems like she’d be fun to be around. She has particularly lovely breasts and skin. I bet a boy or two has written a poem about her.

According to this, she’s Ukrainian, and is retired.

Nudity below. Have a great long weekend.

Continue reading

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Sokal Redux Reflux

Fenster writes:

I recently contrasted the hard-edged doctrine of diversity in today’s academy with its emerging form, still then subject to some level of skepticism, in the more innocent 1990s.

Way back in the 1990’s, back before our current sophisticated understandings of intersectionality and other advanced concepts, the Diversity Dynamo was just warming up. It was a more innocent time, though a time still redolent of ideas like multiculturalism and privilege, albeit in crude and truncated form.

Jordan Peterson is hardly the first to notice that underlying much of today’s fashionable doctrines is the presence of postmodern thinking.

Another example of how this set of ideas has morphed over time is now on display in an article in Aero entitled Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship.

The article is the occasion for its three authors to come clean on a Sokal-style unmasking of the corruption of scholarship in what they call “grievance studies.”  By way of background, and to contrast the 1990s with today, you should first recall the 1996 Sokal Affair that the Aero unmasking resembles:

The Sokal affair, also called the Sokal hoax,[1] was a scholarly publishing sting perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University and University College London. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the journal’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to investigate whether “a leading North American journal of cultural studies – whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross – [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions”.

The Sokal affair was a relatively big deal in the 1990s but it hardly moved the fundament.  For one, it was one article taking a jab at a relatively easy target.  Additionally while the acceptance of gibberish in a peer-reviewed journal was hardly a welcome development there are limits to how far you can go in arguing for its destructive capabilities.  Sokal’s article, and the articles it so slavishly imitated, were, after all, gibberish.

But the authors of the Aero piece are after bigger game.  We no longer live in the more innocent 1990s and, as we have seen in the weaponization (apologies for that overused term) of diversity so we now see the migration of postmodern concepts into forms of expression that actually start to make sense.  That does not make them sensible--but you can read a current article derived from the postmodern worldview and clearly understand the main thrust of the language.

So how did the authors of the Aero article proceed to take on the newer manifestations of postmodernism in the academy?

We spent that time writing academic papers and publishing them in respected peer-reviewed journals associated with fields of scholarship loosely known as “cultural studies” or “identity studies” (for example, gender studies) or “critical theory” because it is rooted in that postmodern brand of “theory” which arose in the late sixties. . . . We undertook this project to study, understand, and expose the reality of grievance studies, which is corrupting academic research. . . .

So they undertook over a period of year to grind out twenty “outlandish” papers and submit them to a variety of peer reviewed journals.

Our paper-writing methodology always followed a specific pattern: it started with an idea that spoke to our epistemological or ethical concerns with the field and then sought to bend the existing scholarship to support it. The goal was always to use what the existing literature offered to get some little bit of lunacy or depravity to be acceptable at the highest levels of intellectual respectability within the field. Therefore, each paper began with something absurd or deeply unethical (or both) that we wanted to forward or conclude. We then made the existing peer-reviewed literature do our bidding in the attempt to get published in the academic canon.

The papers they produced were not gibberish, if by that term one means prose that a monkey and a typewriter might possibly produce given enough time.  The articles made–I hesitate to say this but it is true–a certain kind of sense.

What if we write a paper saying we should train men like we do dogs—to prevent rape culture? Hence came the “Dog Park” paper. What if we write a paper claiming that when a guy privately masturbates while thinking about a woman (without her consent—in fact, without her ever finding out about it) that he’s committing sexual violence against her? That gave us the “Masturbation” paper. What if we argue that the reason superintelligent AI is potentially dangerous is because it is being programmed to be masculinist and imperialist using Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Lacanian psychoanalysis? That’s our “Feminist AI” paper. What if we argued that “a fat body is a legitimately built body” as a foundation for introducing a category for fat bodybuilding into the sport of professional bodybuilding? You can read how that went in Fat Studies.

As of the writing of the Aero article seven of the twenty articles were accepted for publication.  Six were rejected. At the time the authors called a halt to the exercise the remaining seven were still under consideration, with several in the “revise and resubmit” category, indicating probable approval for publication.

What to make of all this?  The short answer is provided by the authors:

What we just described is not knowledge production; it’s sophistry.

As to the consequences:

(T)hese fields of study do not continue the important and noble liberal work of the civil rights movements; they corrupt it while trading upon their good names to keep pushing a kind of social snake oil onto a public that keeps getting sicker. For us to know anything about injustice in society and be able to show it to those who are unaware or in denial of it, scholarship into it must be rigorous. Currently, it is not, and this enables it, and social justice issues with it, to be dismissed. This is a serious problem of considerable concern, and we must address it.

It is important to note the distinctions that can be made between this set of events and Sokal in 1996.  For one, Sokal was a rifle shot aimed at the journal Social Text.  OK, Social Text screwed up.  What of it?  Does it really mean the field is corrupted?  The academy in need of serious reform?

But in this case the authors took on the entire field by seeking publication in the best known peer reviewed journals, the ones that often serve as the basis for tenure.

More importantly, to the extent that the articles make a certain kind of sense is this not even more damning than the publication of gibberish?  As postmodernism emerged from its nonsense cocoon and flew off into the real world it started to become about real things.  Nonsense alone is seldom harmful; it is the marriage of sense and nonsense that is more likely to create monsters.

Fenster commented on this meme movement back in 2017, in a post here on UR entitled Sokal Redux? The post commented on several recent examples of sense emerging from nonsense, including an early paper by the enterprising Aero group, that piece looking to make a connection between–yes–the penis and climate change.

From the blog post:

When making sense no longer makes sense it is very tempting to stop making sense, this urge itself a form of sense-making.  In 1984 the interrogator tells Winston Smith that two and two can equal five if the state says so.  But on this point Dostoevsky has the better take: “the formula two plus two equals five is not without its attractions.”  People can be drawn to a lack of sense as moths to a flame, if the alternatives are less palatable.

In this regard, consider the rich night soil that is the modern postmodern mind.  It is a fecund thing but it lies shallow on the earth, discouraging the deep rootedness that would provide for sturdy growth and favoring instead the rapid spread of a kind of mental kudzu across the landscape.  It is hard to hold this kind of thing in check, and no good solution has yet to be found.  The limited success to date has come from a kind of “fighting fire with fire”, as with the famous Sokal Hoax.

When Sokal wrote his debunking piece in 1996 the kind of postmodern writing at which he took aim took the form of gibberish, and his spoof was structured as meaningless tripe.  As you will recall it was waved through the gates of the journal Social Text by the peer review watchmen and the rest is, alas, mostly only history.  The Sokal Hoax caused delight in some quarters and consternation in others but it hardly stopped the kudzu spread.

In part this hardiness is a function of adaptation.  In some measure meaninglessness has given way to meaning again and this is, in a way, a kind of progress.  A lot of writing nowadays may be nutty but it is getting explicable.  It is trying to say something.

What is the something that is struggling to be said?

The Aero authors are most concerned about

the belief that in urgent need of “disrupting” is the simple truth that science itself—along with our best methods of data-gathering, statistical analysis, hypothesis testing, falsifying, and replicating results—is generally a better way of determining information about the objective reality of any observable phenomenon than are non-scientific, traditional, cultural, religious, ideological, or magical approaches. That is, for grievance studies scholars, science itself and the scientific method are deeply problematic, if not outright racist and sexist, and need to be remade to forward grievance-based identitarian politics over the impartial pursuit of truth. These same issues are also extended to the “Western” philosophical tradition which they find problematic because it favors reason to emotion, rigor to solipsism, and logic to revelation.

So just as the doctrine of diversity has hardened since the more innocent 1990s the underlying expressions of postmodernism have mutated from a landscape-clearing nonsense into actual expressions of sense, harmful as they may be.  The authors have done the academy a great service by moving from Sokal’s rifle shot approach to that of a large blunderbuss aimed at several academic disciplines and, by implication, the academy as a whole.  Will the academy take notice?

Watch the Provosts and Deans.  That is the level where you are mostly likely to observe a “tell”.  Boards and presidents are too far above.   Grievance studies departments are already marinated in the goop.  Faculty in other disciplines won’t be willing to challenge the grievance crowd out of disinterest, bogus “collegiality”, reflexive left sympathy or fear of challenging orthodoxy.  If there is to be change this time it will need to be led by true academic leaders— provided there are any to be found.

UPDATE:  “Sokal Squared” has gotten tons or press and has been more entertaining than the original Sokal.  The question remains whether it will have an impact.  Sokal 1 did not, after the first entertaining flurry.

Jordan Peterson has tweeted his skepticism.

I believe sadly that this revelation-through-satire will produce no positive effect. Why? The “serious” papers currently published are already indistinguishable from satire, and that hasn’t doomed the degenerate fields. Why would actual satire make a difference?

And while several high profile academics have applauded the effort there has been a lot of grousing, too, as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Here’s one example:

Karen Gregory, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Edinburgh, wrote that “the chain of thought and action that encourages you to spend 10 months ‘pulling a fast one’ on academic journals disqualifies you from a community of scholarship. It only proves you are a bad-faith actor.”

My advice remains the same: watch the Provosts and Deans.  That’s the only part of the academy where real change may originate.

However, my instincts remain skeptical, like Peterson’s, and watching the Provosts and Deans is likely to be like watching the grass grow.

UPDATE 2: The one exception to the above: while it is almost certain that no board of a private university would seek to abolish such departments it is in theory possible that a state government might opt to get into a ruckus with a public institution over grievance studies.  This could take the form of an outright ban of the type that Hungary is implementing.  More likely it would take the form of hearings and public skirmishes that might put public institutions on the defensive and on notice.  I have not heard any rumblings on this yet but it is possible that some red state would consider taking a whack.

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Fenster writes:

In their discussions of cultural life and of societal trends, the organs of American educated opinion . . . frequently and increasingly assert, rather than argue, a set of vaguely interlocking propositions and slogans concerning (I’ll spare the scare quotes) white privilege, social justice, systemic racism, diversity, inclusivity, microaggressions, and the intellectual and cultural heritage — irrelevant at best, baneful at worst — of dead white males.

Although both the champions and critics of these propositions characterise them (and the attendant attitudinising) as ‘political’, they are nothing of the sort. They are merely gestural.

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Tweet Curation

Fenster writes:

Selected with care by your correspondent.

Don’t know (((Murshak))) but it is a nice quote worth keeping handy.

hbdchick was mysteriously dumped from twitter and just as mysteriously allowed back in.  Go figure.

She seems dangerous.

Next: Hume seems reasonable though it is not clear reason plays a big part in it.

A Georgetown professor had thus to say.

Ready for World Tripe Day? Upcoming, so to speak, October 24!

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