Two Aretha Videos

Fenster writes:

Like a lot of people, I expect, I first heard Aretha Franklin’s voice when I first heard the song Respect.  And like a lot of people, I expect, the first hearing of that song was one of the important “holy shit” moments when you realize you are hearing something you’ve never heard before, and are witnessing greatness.

Aretha remained great over the years, and I got a kick out of her at many points along the way, including her raucous video of Pink Cadillac.  But for the most part the classics like Respect, Chain of Fools and Natural Woman were the songs that played over and over in my mental jukebox.

An old friend sent me two videos of Aretha yesterday.  They are extraordinary.  I had not seen either before, and they are well worth your time if you are a fan.

They are in some ways a pair of bookends to her amazing career. In the first, from very early on, she and Ray Johnson sing Mockingbird.  He is great; she is great.  Then suddenly-bang! just like that–she gets even greater.  She can’t contain her talent, her voice, her enthusiasm.  A perfect performance of a perfect song for her at that moment, one that permitted her to combine her artistry with a kind of saucy innocence and charm.

The second is a 2015 performance for the Pope of Nessun Dorma.  This is altogether a more sober piece, suitable for a career nearing its end.  All I can say is Holy Mother of Jesus.


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More Globe Watch

Fenster writes:

This is a continuation of the Globe Watch I undertook yesterday.

The idea behind that post: yes we have a free press in this country, and rightly so, but nothing confers on the press some special virtue by which it is charged with the protection of the American people from the evil intentions of government.  Government itself is the main vehicle for conducting affairs in accord with the public’s interest, and the three branch system devised by the founders was the key contraption aimed to accomplish this.

Contraptions are designed to work but sometimes they work and sometimes they do not.  Much depends on the nature of the individuals running the contraption.

The free press is not defined in the Constitution and its powers not enumerated or hedged in the fashion that the powers of the three branches are.  It is just assumed to be free in the same manner as the speech of individuals is assumed to be free.  The Constitution sets these apart as part of a private realm that is a good thing in itself, or at least as something that our inherent rights and dignity require that government not violate.  But the framers did not create the press as a kind of fourth branch, in order to assist in the better running of government.

Of course you hear a different theme nowadays emanating from an aggrieved and self-righteous press.  It is not uncommon to hear members of the press–self-designated in the media to explain their role to the American people–describe the press as explicitly as a protector of the people, as though that is the Constitutional design, stupid.

Even if the press served this explicit function under our system–and it does not–virtue does not come pre-conferred by means of one’s station.  It must constantly be earned, just as the members of the three branches of government cannot automatically be considered virtuous.  According to Madison a lack of virtue is the most likely default position, with the result that powers become factions, and factions must be created to counter factions.

If the main powers of government are managed by people that the framers view with skepticism then why would one presume to conclude that the press is automatically virtuous by reason of its ability to engage in free speech?  Government can be corrupted and the press can be corrupted too.

So before we all go off on a toot, the way the Globe has done, about the sanctity of press freedom it behooves us to consider whether the press has become corrupted in its own way, and is a kind of faction of the sort that Madison warned against.

That’s why I thought it worthwhile to take a look at some of the stories that a paper with the Globe’s national reputation choose to cover, or not to cover.

The Globe went a long time without mentioning Imran Awan, mentioning the name only after it concluded (incorrectly in my view) that he was off the hook and the story could be wrapped up before they even told it.  The Awan saga continues.  No Globe coverage.

Ditto Sarah Jeong.  No coverage.

One story on Keith Ellison, the one where he proclaims his innocence even before the Globe covered the initial charges.  That one seemed to make it to the online Globe site only, and does not seem to have appeared in the print editions.

A couple of stories on the Rotherham sex scandal when it broke in 2014-15.  But the story has gotten much bigger and is now not really about the grooming gangs but about a British elite that willfully ignored and suppressed the story for fear of appearing anti-Muslim.  No coverage of that story, and no mention of grooming gangs, since 2015.

Here are some more.

Tommy Robinson?  No coverage of his arrest, imprisonment and release.

Social Media Bias and Viewpoint Suppression?  Pew released a study about a month ago that concluded that “seven out of ten Americans think social media platforms intentionally censor political viewpoints.”  An important story, no?  How did those Americans come to that view if not for reading about it somewhere?  Where?

Not the Globe.

The Globe is fine with Pew generally, and ran with a story about a Pew analysis of teen social media use a few weeks before the study about censorship came out.

But nothing about the Pew social media censorship findings can be found at the Globe.

Shadow banning? How about “shadow banning”.  That story is everywhere, and is one of the threads that has led Americans to be suspicious about social media.

The term “shadow banning” appears only twice in the Globe, in two stories dated July 26.  In the first, Trump decries Twitter gutting conservative voices and Twitter is allowed to say it does not.  That article received only one comment.  No surprise, like the Ellison article, this article does not seem to have appeared in the print edition.

Then there is a second article from the same day (July 26) downplaying Trump’s charges and bringing Twitter’s denial to the lede.  It is almost as if the Globe decided to more or less replace the story that led with Trump’s charges to one that led with Twitter’s denial.  This story gets a few more comments–11–but once again it does not seem to have appeared in any print edition.

Assange?  An even better example: Julian Assange.  The world knows the walls are closing in on Assange, with Ecuador apparently about to disgorge him to the Brits who can hand him over to Washington.  For what?  For publishing leaked information.  How is what Assange did any different from the Pentagon Papers fracas recently brought back to life in the hagiographic The Post?

You might think that a press which celebrates Ellsberg’s leak and defends the Post’s decision to publish might spare a moment to put in a good word for Assange.  But no.  The Globe archives indicates his name has shown up a few times in the past few months–months that are critical in terms of Assange’s fate–and that the coverage has mostly been critical.  It has never dealt squarely with the main issue at hand: whether WikiLeaks is the press and whether it should be assumed to operate freely.

You can try this at home in other ways too, with variations on search terms related to the free press issues the Globe professes to care about: Facebook, PragerU, YouTube and so on.  You will for the most part find a lack of interest at the Globe in the entire complex of issues.

Now, the throttling of social media and the pending arrest of Assange are in my book textbook examples of the kind of free press issues that the Globe is so hot and bothered about.  Why then can’t it be bothered to cover them?



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Globe Watch

Fenster writes:

My hometown paper, the Boston Globe, took the lead in the recent cooperative effort on the part of hundreds of papers nationwide to run editorials slamming Trump for his comments about the press.

I think the Globe can and should write what it wants.  I also think it is fine if the Globe wants to organize a nationwide anti-Trump set of editorials.  You can call it collusion if you want a laugh, and there is some truth to that charge.  But hey it’s a free country and we have a free press.

But the idea that the Globe, and the mainstream press generally, has any moral high ground here is ludicrous.  I have in my somewhat long lifetime never seen anything like the low shenanigans on the part of the mainstream press in the last couple of years.

Now, I don’t like Trump’s turn of phrase “the enemy of the people.”  It does have a bit of “l’etat c’est moi” about it that is unseemly. But keep in mind that for the most part Trump has reserved his harshest words for the parts of the press that in his view dispense “fake news.”  That is to say: his enemies.

And there is no question the mainstream press is the enemy of Trump.  Whether it is the enemy of the people is a harder question to answer–though I hardly think the idea is out of the question.  Let us see how far FISAgate, FBIgate, Uraniumgate and all the related Gates go, and let us see how complicit the press has been in bad actions, before we draw a firm conclusion on whether it has operated in bad faith relative to the public trust it alleges to uphold.

How well the Globe upholds the public trust is no doubt a long and complicated question, and the drama is not yet over.  But we can get some hints of how well it does simply by asking whether, how,  and how well it has opted to cover what appear to me to be important stories.

The Sarah Jeong story has been huge.  It was among other things one of the key stories analyzed by the WGBH press hounds on the weekly show Beat the Press.  Of course it was a story.  It has been in fact a huge story, one that the press was obliged to cover because of its importance, and the fact that it deals directly with possible bias in decisions by the press itself.

As of the date this post went up online the Boston Globe archives include nothing about Sarah Jeong’s hiring at the Times.  Not one word.

Then there’s the recent charge that Keith Ellison abused an ex-girlfriend.  The Globe loves this angle so you might think the story would be well and regularly reported on.  It is elsewhere, in many reputable outlets.

What do we find?  Hey look!  The Globe actually ran an article, one.  Here it is.

Anything worth noting here?

First, there is only one article in the archives and it briefly covers Ellison’s denial. Apparently the Globe did not find the charges sufficiently newsworthy to cover them as a news item, preferring to wait for Ellison to issue a denial, which becomes the lede in a short, throwaway, article.  No follow up.

Second, note that there are only 11 comments.  Does that not seem like a small number of comments about such a large news item, even in progressive Boston?  Why yes it does.  Why might this be the case?

So I took a look at the Boston Globe e-paper, a digital recreation of the actual page-by-page in the Globe on both August 13 (the day of the breaking news) and August 14 (the following day.)

Neither paper includes a story about Ellison.  Tentative conclusion: the Globe ran the story as breaking news online but did not actually include it in the papers that were circulated in print form.

How about the Rotherham grooming gangs scandal?  That hit the presses in late 2014 and early 2015 and sure enough the story was covered by the Globe.  But it was only covered in five stories in 2014 and 2015, with one emphasizing the “uncomfortable focus on race and ethnicity.”

As the Rotherham story metastasized in the years since the initial breaking of the story into a shameful scandal of huge significance the Globe has not seen fit to mention it one more time.  Moreover, the search term “grooming” in the Globe archive returns some ads and stories about pet care but “grooming gangs” only returns that one 2015 story fretting about the uncomfortable focus on race and ethnicity.  Grooming gangs?  Down the memory hole.

This is the paper that purports to hold the moral high ground, and feels it has a right to get all sanctimonious about how the press is always there to protect the people.  Balderdash.

The Constitution calls for freedom of the press and freedom of the press we shall have.  But just at the system envisioned by the Constitution presupposes virtue with respect to the three defined branches of government virtue is an indispensable prerequisite for the Fourth Estate as well.  The Globe lacks sufficient virtue to make the case that it is making about press freedom.  It is in the tank, and whether or not that rises to the level of being an enemy of the people remains to be seen.

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Falling from the Sky

Fenster writes:

If you are planning to write a book about something or someone falling from the sky be aware that the landscape is already littered with fallen objects and you might have a copyright problem.

Continue reading

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Niall Ferguson on Free Speech

Fenster writes:

Niall Ferguson is liberalism’s favorite apostate.  He is not predictably conservative.  He is reliably contrarian but the liberal mind savors a little intellectual frisson, especially if it is put across in an erudite way.  He is not crude or doctrinaire like that low-rent bounder Alex Jones.

Plus, whatever happens he has got, the Oxford gun and they have not.

Liberals are attracted to their own kind,  especially aspirationally, and the patina of class, status and education can help put renegade opinions in a proper perspective.  It’s like the two main PBS stations in my home city of Boston.  The second-in-line World Channel, produced in cooperation with the flagship station WGBH, does the heavy lifting of pushing a Left agenda with a lot of identity politics themes.  That leaves the flagship WGBH to run Downton Abbey and other high class Brit offerings.  So a spoonful of Marmite helps the medicine go down.

It also helps, in being contrary, to pick one’s fights.  Take free speech, the subject of a column last year by Ferguson in the Boston Globe.  Ferguson describes himself as a free speech absolutist and my strong hunch is that a lot of liberal Globe readers think of themselves more or less the same way.  Liberalism has long been one the great defenders of free speech.  So a stirring defense of free speech such as the one presented in his column does not have to be a provocation to progressives.  They oughtta like it, if history is a guide.

The problem of course is that history has taken one of those odd turns that it is famous for, and the Left is now more often on the wrong side of the free speech issue than is the Right.  At least that is the gist of Ferguson’s column, and he is IMHO totally correct.  If the column traffics in Ferguson’s famed contrariness it does so in the most clever of ways–by attempting to drive a subtle wedge between his readers’ old instincts and their newfound alliances.

Ferguson has enough sense to start out with the ritual Trump-bashing that is obligatory nowadays even if you are aiming to stick it to progressives in the rest of the column.

(T)he worst thing about the Trump presidency is that its failure risks opening the door for the equal and opposite but much more ruthless populism of the left. Call me an unreconstructed Cold Warrior, but I find their tyranny a far more alarming — and more likely — prospect.

He then moves on to what he considers the white hot center of anti-free speech energy: the college campus.

Almost every month this year has seen at least one assault on free speech on an American college campus. In February the University of California, Berkeley, canceled a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, the British “alt-right” journalist and provocateur, after a violent demonstration. In March students at Middlebury College in Vermont shouted down the sociologist Charles Murray and assaulted his faculty host. In April, it was the turn of conservative writer Heather MacDonald at Claremont McKenna and pro-Trump journalist Ann Coulter at Berkeley.

No problem here. I have posted a lot on free speech and have mostly focused on higher education, where the problem is acute.  Some of that is due to the excess passions of the young, especially the elite-in-training at wealthy private colleges.  Some of it is due to the excess of postmodernist thinking among a blinkered faculty, especially in the humanities.

Ferguson quotes NYU’s former vice provost Ulrich Baer:

“The idea of freedom of speech,” wrote Baer, “does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community.”

BTW Fenster used that same quote by the hapless Baer in a post here at UR last year.

So yeah I agree with Ferguson that the problem comes from the Left more than the Right and that has been until recently most apparent on campuses.  Still, I think there are limitations to this kind of campus-based analysis.

Much has changed in the year since the column appeared.  A number of events in the recent past suggest that opposition to free speech has jumped the firewall between the hothouse of the academy and the real world.   There was, for instance, the firing of James Damore at Google.  That was on an issue of concern to the Left (women and technology) but do you really think that the senior managers at Google that fired him are actually practicing postmodern masters?

Andrew Sullivan wrote a few days ago about the hiring by the New York Times of Sarah Jeong:

(W)e all live on campus now.

And that’s true too.  But I don’t think it is sufficient to look at the assault on free speech as fundamentally about postmodern concepts like intersectionality and privilege being adopted sincerely in the real world.

What has been happening just in the past few months, weeks and days is arguably a lot worse.  The big social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are now openly and actively trying to curb speech.  They all came down at once on Alex Jones’ conspiratorially-oriented website Infowars.  That is bad in itself.  Jones is erratic and publishes some theories without backup but he is no threat to the republic.  Meanwhile those same sites leave up all manner of cuckoo stuff by Islamists preaching the killing of Jews and blacks demeaning whites.  And without a pause to take a breath after suppressing Infowars the heads of social media companies have started the purge of normals.

So the real, tangible threat to free speech is coming not from the academy but from social media.  Are the two connected?  Sure.  It is the Right that is being throttled by social media not the Left so of course the problem is, as Ferguson writes, arising more from the Left than the Right.

But I do not think the heads of these multi-billion dollar social media companies are animated by the kind of academic postmodernism that Ferguson correctly decries and puts forth as the driver of the action.  The opposition to free speech in the real world, while still pushing Left over Right, has morphed from ideology-driven passion into a calm management technique employed to secure the interests of the censors.

In the 20th century the communists and fascists came to power with idealistic notions rattling around in their heads.  But human nature is what it is, and when you give large institutions unfettered power it will be abused.  So I don’t think social media curbs presage a Left utopia, or that that is even the aim.

Throttling speech is much more likely to result in an old fashioned centralization of power for its own sake.  If and when the custodians of that power want to turn their attention to pesky campus social justice warriors those warriors will go down next.  Whatever gets in the way.

Note: here is the rogue leftie publication Jacobite pointing out that Sarah Jeong’s racist tweets are mostly an exercise in power.  I agree.  She is probably a careerist first, and if in her formative years she’d been fed a different bowl of tripe and told to regurgitate it she’d be doing that now.  A racist of convenience.



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Quotes from a New Yorker Article

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

Today there is a craft-coffee shop across the street, on the first floor of a building from 1898, which was home to the S. H. Kress & Co. department store. During a recent renovation, workers found bricks made by enslaved women, which were donated to the Equal Justice Initiative. Hip and industrial, it resembles a coffee shop that one might find in San Francisco. It seems odd for such a place to look out on a former slave market, especially given the historic connection between slavery and coffee. Yet these two spaces appear to be in deep conversation with each other. The shop’s owners, who are white, got interested in ethically sourced coffee while working for an N.G.O. in West Africa. We ordered coffee and biscuits and wondered whether the past that has made Alabama infamous could be a force for economic development, as the new memorial draws visitors to the area. Would that revival benefit its citizens equally? The name of the coffee shop, which isn’t visible from the street outside, is Prevail Union.


Between the fountain and the Alabama River, the Legacy Museum occupies a building that was once a warehouse for human chattel. Just past the entrance, a ramp slopes down to five “slave pens,” behind which ghostly holograms in nineteenth-century costume tell their stories. Visitors huddle around the pens and listen closely, as the figures speak in hushed tones. The effect is authentic—maybe because this is a building where such scenes took place, and the testimonies are those of real people. The ghostly prisoners include two children dressed in white nightshirts. “Mama!” they cry. “Mama?”


As visitors leave the ghosts in the cages, the museum painstakingly shows how slavery, after Reconstruction, was “dusted off and repurposed” in the American penal system. The words of an enslaved man named Aaron, near the entrance, seem to have prophesied a person like Stevenson: “Go to the slave auction! See humans from infancy to gray hairs sold. See human souls bartered for cash. See families that God hath joined together, separated, never more to meet in this world. Count, if you can, the groans, fathom the bitter woes, occasioned by these separations . . . . Follow out the investigation into its detail, and you will begin to learn the greatness of the sin.”


One exhibit wall holds shelves of Mason jars filled with soil from lynching sites.


We think of racial violence in the South as male violence—men in white hoods—but the memorial makes the role of Southern women explicit. As Ida B. Wells wrote in “Southern Horrors,” “Nobody in this section of the country believes the old thread-bare lie that Negro men rape white women. If Southern white men are not careful, they will overreach themselves and public sentiment will have a reaction; a conclusion will then be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women.”


The rain moved on, and the sun went in and out of gray clouds. The steel slabs threw ovoid shadows onto the wooden floor—shadows with a softer and more human shape than their steel counterparts. I Googled the county where my grandmother is buried, next to her husband and her parents. We had been there in 2005, for her memorial, driving through green Kentucky horse country, noting Confederate flags from the windows of the rental car. There was one ragged, nearly translucent specimen, like something from a Hollywood movie about the South. The cemetery is in Breckinridge County, and so that was the region I looked for at the memorial. I finally stopped to ask a young man in an Equal Justice Initiative T-shirt; as soon as I asked the question, though, I looked up—we were standing underneath it. There were three names, representing the lynchings in Breckinridge County that the Initiative has been able to document:

Dick Casey

Beverly Stewart

Henry Watson

“You found it,” Allyson said.

I said that I’d kind of been hoping I wouldn’t find it—that Breckinridge might be the sole Southern county in which there had been no lynchings.

Allyson nodded. “I’ve been afraid that I would find my family’s name,” she said.


According to officials and security guards at the memorial, the residents of Montgomery are not visiting the memorial or museum. “I’ve seen more Europeans than Montgomerians,” one security guard said.

Read the whole thing here.

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Linkage: The Other Side of Russiagate

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


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