URLs du Jour


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  • A quaint preference for precise language. Bryan Caplan replies to a twitter-critic of his recent book Don't be a Feminist: The Definition of Feminism. The critic points to the dictionary definition: "feminism is the belief in full social, economic, and political equality for women." And, indeed, who could be against something so noble-sounding (albeit vague on the details).

    My response, to be blunt, is: The dictionary is wrong. Defining feminism as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes” is advocacy disguised as lexicology.

    Feminism is not remotely as bad as Stalinism, nor is the feminist movement’s intimidation against dissent remotely as harsh. Both movements, however, successfully corrupted dictionaries.

    He notes that the anodyne definition conflicts with common usage:

    [I]n this 2016 Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 40% of women and 67% of men did not consider themselves “feminists.” But over 90% of both genders agreed that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” If Google’s definition of feminism conformed to standard English usage, these patterns would make very little sense. Imagine a world where 90% of men say they’re “bachelors,” but only 40% say they’re “unmarried.”

    He proposes a definition of "feminism" more in line with actual usage: it's "the view that society generally treats men more fairly than women". And suggests this is a definition that "feminists, non-feminists, and anti-feminists" could potentially agree with.

    Our Amazon Product du Jour is (of course) Bryan's book. It's short, cheap, and (as I type) Amazon hasn't gotten around to banning it yet.

  • Blaming the system is pretty easy. It's what Kevin D. Williamson calls The Soft Smollett.

    Jussie Smollett entered our national hall of infamy by pretending to be the victim of a violent crime motivated by racism and homophobia, one that was carried out by (so we were instructed to believe!) a couple of racist and gay-hating MAGA types who spent a lot of time watching gay black men on Empire—so much that they could spot Jussie Smollett on the street in Chicago, where they happened to be wandering around on the coldest night of the year with a bottle of bleach and a noose. The Smollett story was an interesting test case: Only a few months before the hoax hit the news, the nation had been transfixed by the Senate confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of all manner of sexual violence, most prominently by Christine Blasey Ford. Blasey Ford, for whatever reason, received a tremendously sympathetic hearing, including from people who did not believe her claims about Kavanaugh but who conceded that something awful simply must have happened to her. People in public life were remarkably hesitant to suggest that the most obvious explanation was the true one—i.e., that she made the whole thing up, just as other similar claims about Kavanaugh, including those made in sworn statements, clearly had been invented. But people generally took a much more skeptical view of Smollett’s claims.

    The “soft Smollett” is different from the full Smollett in that it cannily declines to provide specific villains whose guilt or innocence can be adjudicated in some rigorous way. Instead, it posits a general moral failing on the part of society at large—one that just happens to provide a useful excuse for an embarrassing failure, as in the case of Bros’ disappointing box-office numbers. Or it can provide useful ballast to wobbly progressive victimization narratives. Apocalypse cults always go wrong when they proffer a specific date for the end of the world—a competent conspiracy theory does not provide such easily falsified hypotheses. And, of course, a conspiracy theory—a polite-society conspiracy theory—is precisely what this sort of thing really is.

    I'm currently reading Hate Crime Hoax by Wilfred Reilly (written pre-Smollett). It discusses in detail the left's need to keep pushing the "America is irredeemably bigoted" narrative; if specific actual incidents are lacking to support that, then let's just fuzz it up and talk about "systemic" oppression.

  • What? But it's supposed to be hard. Many folks out there are jumping on this story, but let's go to Robby Soave at Reason: NYU Chemistry Professor Fired After Students Said His Class Was Too Hard.

    Maitland Jones Jr. was a professor of chemistry at Princeton University. In 2007, he semi-retired and began teaching organic chemistry at New York University on an adjunct basis.

    Not anymore: NYU has fired Jones after students circulated a petition protesting that his class was too hard.

    But according to Jones, the students weren't putting in enough effort—and had become disengaged, anxious, and indolent as a result of the pandemic.

    "They weren't coming to class, that's for sure," said Jones. "They weren't watching the videos, and they weren't able to answer the questions."

    Robby summarizes the story so you don't have to evade the New York Times paywall. Also weighing in is (self-admitted Marxist) Freddie deBoer: NYU Students Punch Down at Adjunct.

    “Punching up vs. punching down” is an inane, stupid standard for behavior. Power in human affairs is not found along a simple ordinal scale, but exists in all manner of dimensions. Power relations are irreducibly complex, not a matter of simplistic binaries pre-tuned for culture war.

    But, OK, let the activists have it their way: we can now say with great certainty that at New York University students punch down at their contingent professors. Celebrated organic chemistry professor Maitland Jones Jr. had high standards, and we can’t have that in 2022. NYU students - who are, by any rational measure, some of the most privileged people on planet earth - organized a petition and got him fired. I hope you never get treated by one of the doctors who emerges from this mess. For years and years, I’ve used the example of adjunct vs. college students to trouble the artificial punching up vs punching down binary; adjuncts hand out grades and have ostensible power over their students in class, but in the 21st-century university, students have power in almost every way that matters. And yet the wokies continue to represent students as oppressed truth-tellers and advocates, rather than as entitled consumers who expect to be handed everything in exchange for their crushing loan debt. Well, here we have it folks, the central dilemma of social justice politics: the belief that you are a powerless subaltern under the thumb of the injustice of oppressors who you can nevertheless get fired at your whim. It’s almost enough to make you think that the world’s more complicated than the simplistic binaries everyone is so deeply dedicated to.

    And finally, a one-liner from Alan Jacobs, offering a translation of the students' demands:

    “I’m not paying you to teach me organic chemistry, I’m paying you to tell medical schools that I know organic chemistry — and you’re not keeping your end of the bargain!”

  • To be fair, not a lot of help is required. But David Harsanyi provides it anyway: Some Helpful Ideas For Biden's Impeachment.

    Over at MSNBC, Steve Benen contends that Republicans, poised to take back the House next year, keep promising to impeach Joe Biden but “haven’t quite worked out” why. As a big fan of impeachments and congressional investigations, I may have some helpful ideas.

    In his conduct while president of the United States, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. has shown a habitual contempt for the rule of law, on numerous occasions willfully violating his constitutional oath by corrupting and manipulating the power of the executive branch.

    Take the eviction moratorium. The Supreme Court explicitly ruled that the plan “exceeded … existing statutory authority.” Biden even conceded that the “bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster.” And yet, knowing all this, the president decreed it so, openly ignoring the Constitution, admitting to cynically exploiting the slow pace of judicial branch rulings “to keep this going for a month, at least — I hope longer.”

    David also covers the impeachable conduct embodied in Wheezy's "student loan forgiveness" decree, and more.

  • The progressive longing for authoritarianism. It's often exemplified by WIRED, and a recent example is here: Biden's AI Bill of Rights Is Toothless Against Big Tech.

    Toothless? That's bad! We need teeth! Big sharp ones! The better to rip our enemies apart!

    Last year, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced that the US needed a bill of rights for the age of algorithms. Harms from artificial intelligence disproportionately impact marginalized communities, the office’s director and deputy director wrote in a WIRED op-ed, and so government guidance was needed to protect people against discriminatory or ineffective AI.

    I think WIRED writers have a hotkey that allows them to enter "disproportionately impact marginalized communities" with a single keystroke.

    Today, the OSTP released the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, after gathering input from companies like Microsoft and Palantir as well as AI auditing startups, human rights groups, and the general public. Its five principles state that people have a right to control how their data is used, to opt out of automated decisionmaking, to live free from ineffective or unsafe algorithms, to know when AI is making a decision about them, and to not be discriminated against by unfair algorithms.

    I refer you to our first item in today's list. This is "advocacy disguised as lexicology". Who could be against making algorithms "effective" and "safe" and "fair"? Or (for that matter) being able to "control how your data is used"? Who wants to me "discriminated against"?

    However, unlike the better known US Bill of Rights, which comprises the first 10 amendments to the constitution, the AI version will not have the force of law—it’s a nonbinding white paper.

    Awww. You mean Biden can't just decree that "big tech" start acting the way he wants? You mean there might actually have to be legislation passed by Congress? And that it specify exactly (for example) what an "unfair" algorithm is?

    This is one reason (among many) I'm letting my WIRED subscription expire.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:54 AM EDT