URLs du Jour

2021-10-25

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Emerson College Kinda Sus. Techdirt (in its "highly-educated-but-apparently-low-on-common-sense" department) notes the latest imbroglio on Boylston Street: Massachusetts College Decides Criticizing The Chinese Government Is Hate Speech, Suspends Conservative Student Group. The writer quotes and notes Emerson's official fealty to freedom of expression. Which got memory-holed pretty quickly:

    Truly inspiring. And Emerson College truly respects this right. Except when it doesn't.

    Emerson College suspended a campus chapter of conservative student group Turning Point USA on Oct. 1 after members passed out stickers critical of China’s government.

    The "conservative group" was Turning Point USA, one created and led by unfortunate human being Charlie Kirk and supported by people who think Charlie Kirk actually has anything useful to offer anyone.

    Here's the sticker:

    [Emerson Kinda Sus]

    Techdirt further comments:

    Notably it does not say "Chinese people are sus" or "Orientals are sus" or anything else that suggests this sticker refers to anything but the country and, by extension, its government.

    Is China kinda sus? You be the judge. It refuses to recognize Taiwan as a country, has turned Hong Kong's government into an extension of its own following months of pro-democracy protests, subjects its citizens to intrusive, omnipresent surveillance, censors its citizens and companies providing internet services, and is engaged in the ongoing persecution of certain minorities. That's all pretty "sus."

    Yet, the college chose to believe this was actually an offensive thing to say and bypassed its own stated support for protecting First Amendment rights to limit TPUSA's activities on campus.

    Needless to say, cowardly college administrators are prone to completely forget their institution's high-minded devotion to free expression when irate students demand action. Their first impulse: How can I make these people shut up and go away? I've got a lunch reservation at the Capital Grille at noon!

    [Blognote: grep counts 24 occurrences of the word "imbroglio" at Pun Salad over the years. Above makes 25; I think I'm in love with that word.]


  • But hype works. John Tierney weighs in at City Journal on the latest Pixel Panic: Anti-Instagram Case Built on Hype, Not Science.

    Contrary to what you’ve heard from the press and Congress, the internal documents leaked by former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen do not prove that that the company’s Instagram platform is psychologically scarring teenagers. But the current furor does clearly demonstrate another psychological phenomenon: the Fredric Wertham effect, named for a New York psychiatrist who, like Haugen, starred at a nationally televised Senate hearing about a toxic new media menace to America’s youth.

    Wertham testified in 1954 about his book, Seduction of the Innocent, which he described as the result of “painstaking, laborious clinical study.” After reciting his scientific credentials, Wertham declared: “It is my opinion, without any reasonable doubt and without any reservation, that comic books are an important contributing factor in many cases of juvenile delinquency.”

    The hearing made the front page of the New York Times, one of many publications (including The New Yorker) to give Wertham’s book a glowing review. Others featured his warnings under headlines like “Depravity for Children” and “Horror in the Nursery.” During the great comic book scare, as the historian David Hajdu calls it, churches and the American Legion organized events across the country where schoolchildren tossed comics into bonfires. Wertham’s recommendation “to legislate these books off the newsstands and out of the candy stores” inspired dozens of state and municipal laws banning or regulating comic books, and many people in the industry lost their jobs.

    Unfortunately, as Tierney notes, even the sainted Wall Street Journal got sucked in.


  • If it weren't for double standards… the media would have no standards at all. Summary: Steven Hayward has a longer memory than (apparently) WaPo fact-checker Glenn Kessler. Media Vapors Over “Let’s Go Brandon”

    The Washington Post‘s “fact checker” (use your best Austin Powers scare quotes pronunciation here) Glenn Kessler has his knickers in a wad today about the “increasingly vulgar taunts” being delivered at Resident Biden:

    [WaPo headline: "Biden’s critics hurl increasingly vulgar taunts"]

    During the 2020 presidential campaign, one of Biden’s political superpowers was his sheer inoffensiveness, the way he often managed to embody — even to those who didn’t like him — the innocuous grandfather, the bumbling uncle, the leader who could make America calm, steady, even boring again after four years of Donald Trump.

    Hayward pulls out a number of equally vulgar examples aimed at President Bone Spurs, I'm pretty sure none of which were noted, let alone bemoaned, by Mr. Kessler.


  • But there's still room for improvement. David Harsanyi looks at the facts and concludes: America Is the Most Tolerant Place on Earth.

    By any genuine measurement, America is the most tolerant place on earth. This is an easy fact to forget for those who experience it. And these days, it’s also an unfashionable thing to say. But the level of peaceful cooperation between people of truly diverse backgrounds, faiths, and creeds — or anything even approaching it — is wholly unprecedented in human history.

    Though the European Union was conceived to maintain peace on the Continent and compete with the United States, it has never come close to replicating the comity of American life. No single country in Europe has come close to replicating it. Certainly not in the past, and definitely not today. Despite perceptions, minorities in Europe are worse off. Anti-Semitism is reaching dangerous levels — again. European policies have made it nearly impossible for immigrants to assimilate successfully. In nearly every Western European nation, as well as many Eastern and Central European ones, these problems have sparked ugly nativist reactions.

    None of this is to contend that prejudice doesn’t exist in America. Such a claim would be preposterous. Still, many Americans live under the false notion that the United States is — by its nature, its founding, its destiny — an inherently racist and xenophobic enterprise. And so do many Europeans.

    I think he's right.

A Gentleman in Moscow

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Wow, what an impressive novel. Topnotch. I've occasionally read the odd Russian novel (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, Bulgakov); they have a certain cadence in translation, and while reading this I was thinking: this guy must be Russian. Because he had that same style.

But no. The back jacket flap says Amor Towles was "born and raised in the Boston area." May have eaten a lot of borscht as a kid, perhaps.

It's the story of Count Alexander Rostov, Russian aristocrat, who has returned to Russia after a period of self-imposed exile during the Russian Revolution. The opening is a transcript of his 1922 trial before the "Emergency Committee of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs". AKA, the thugs in charge of shooting ex-aristocrats. But thanks to a pre-Revolution poem attributed to him, mercy is shown: he's simply sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel, an island of relative opulence in otherwise dreary Bolshevik Moscow.

It's not a perfect situation. He is booted from his luxurious suite on the third floor up to a tiny area in the hotel attic. But (see the title) Rostov is every inch the gentleman, and he adapts. He finds his niche, making many friends, and a few adversaries. There's a lot of humor, some pathos, many surprises and twists, and (as it turns out) a very suspenseful, action-filled finish.

Here's something I didn't notice while reading, from Towles' website: "From the day of the Count’s house arrest, the chapters advance by a doubling principal: one day after arrest, two days after, five days, ten days, three weeks, six weeks, three months, six months, one year, two years, four years, eight years, and sixteen years after arrest. At this midpoint, a halving principal is initiated with the narrative leaping to eight years until the Count’s escape, four years until, two years, one year, six months, three months, six weeks, three weeks, ten days, five days, two days, one day and finally, the turn of the revolving door."

That's so nerdy! I'm even more impressed.

I see they're planning on making a miniseries of this, with Kenneth Branagh starring. It's aimed at Apple TV, probably, and this may cause me to subscribe.