My daughter recently received a Post-it note on her homework that read, “Your [sic] Awesome!” A year or two ago her teacher had written, “No merkers! [sic]” on an assignment. How does one not know how to spell “marker”? Why doesn’t “your” look strange to a teacher when she uses it as a contraction of “you” and “are”? Does she not read? Is she not familiar with what words look like?
My daughter attends one of the better public schools in Brooklyn. Since the demand for private school has gone through the roof, prices have followed and parents have been forced to try their local public schools. Still, I’m starting to wonder if public schools are reparable in the first place. You can’t fire the teachers. That’s what’s wrong with socialism, and all the after-school programs in the world can’t make up for such a fatal flaw.
On Sunday, the New York Post published letters that high-school students had sent in defending blended learning. The program has become a pathetic trick where students are granted an easy pass by playing a video game and watching a show. Their teachers are so illiterate and incompetent, they assume their students are capable of a letter-writing campaign. “[Y]ou can digest in the information at your own paste [sic],” one student suggested. Another claimed, “I passed and and [sic] it helped a lot you’re a reported [sic] your support to get truth information [sic]….” The letters the Post received from these high-school students were rife with errors, and none of the students deserved to be above second grade.
This shocking slaughter of the English language is not unusual in NY public schools. I recently interviewed a teacher whose students didn’t realize “nigger” was a bad word. I met another who didn’t know that you don’t pronounce “ask” like “axe.” A local parent told me about a notice his kid’s school gave out telling parents not to wear pajamas when they drop off the kids and discouraging them from smelling like “illegal substances.” A neighbor of mine taught in East New York and told me she didn’t teach all year. I didn’t understand her until she said, “No, you’re not hearing me. I mean, I did not teach for one second of one day for an entire year. One hundred percent of my job was telling kids to sit down and shut up.” She quit after two years because, as she put it, “I didn’t sign up to become a Corrections Officer.” In late January, police discovered the dismembered body of Avonte Oquendo, a handicapped child who was abandoned by his teachers. Public schools let this happen all the time. Recently my son’s best friend wandered from his school and was discovered almost a mile away walking down the snowy streets without a jacket.
Sending your kid to private school is a tough decision to make. Here in New York, demand has made the price between $20-40K a year, and even then there’s a line around the block. Parents will do anything to get in, including spying on each other. Many move upstate where you can get the same education for $3K a year if you’re willing to do the two-hour commute back to the city.
I used to scoff at homeschooling. Kids who are homeschooled always seem like weird little adults to me. They make up their own superheroes and carry around a homemade wand wrapped in tape, but I’ll take a disturbing nerd over a kid who thinks “pace” is a type of glue.
Private-school teachers make much less than public-school teachers, but they take the hit because it’s satisfying. Being coated in the Teflon of tenure is bad for morale. Humans benefit from taking risks, and those who don’t take risks tend to go extinct. We need to be rewarded when we do well, but public-school teachers are encouraged to do the opposite. It seems the only thing they’re professional about is complaining. The teacher’s unions have painted a picture of oppressed women working their asses off for no money, but these bitches get four months off a year! When you check their per-hour rate, they reportedly make as much as architects and engineers. But architects and engineers can get fired. Teachers can”t. Few seem to know this, but it’s not hard to learn. Peter Brimelow’s book The Worm in the Apple carefully explains exactly how difficult it is to fire a teacher.
The most recent moment of defining culture for the DC metropolis wasn”t the finagling over the nation’s debt ceiling or the tug of war over restoring funding to military pensions. It was the premiere of a television show. The Netflix drama House of Cards has been hyped up specifically to Beltway residents.
It’s a strange paradox. House of Cards is the embodiment of Washington’s seedy underbelly. The characters are ruthlessly conniving. Sexual deviance is everywhere. Payoffs for votes are normal. Personal lives are put in jeopardy. The threat of ruin is always in play.
And yet in the run-up to the show’s second season launch, it’s all “This Town” could talk about. Social media was abuzz with anticipation. Office workers speculated on the transgressions antihero Francis Underwood”played brilliantly by Kevin Spacey”would commit on his way to the top. Even the sitting President of the United States said he was excited for the season opener. It’s as if everyone in Washington knows that Spacey’s role is not all that fictional, that his spirit lurks in the city and is responsible for all those quiet dealings in hallways and restaurants.
Subway stations in the District are plastered in advertisements for the show. Finding significance in a television program is usually a misguided task. But this was different. All the anticipation pointed to a larger context. These subway backdrops represented more than a cheap marketing ploy. They brought commuters together in a kind of shared appreciation. It was in witnessing one of these posters beneath the swampy ground of the nation’s capital that I caught a glimpse of what conservative writer Ross Douthat calls the “script.”
It’s tough to find roots anywhere along the Potomac. This is especially true for Millennials (including myself) who have flocked to the city in recent years because of job opportunities not found elsewhere in the country.
It’s an easy phenomenon to observe, specifically when new batches of interns make their way to the city at the beginning of each college semester. The influx of young blood arrives with the same story: Local commerce gets a boost, while connections to a firmly rooted culture are weakened.
This merry-go-round of visitors and denizens is only the effect, not the cause, of Washington’s attractiveness. After all, ants don’t congregate around breadcrumbs for no reason. DC has always been a magnet for go-getters. As the federal government has grown, it only makes sense that the surrounding area grows with it. In 2012, Andy Ferguson documented this trend in a piece for TIME magazine titled “Bubble on the Potomac.” Due to a rising affluence (out of the top eleven richest counties in America, six surround the District), Ferguson calls Washington a “world apart from the country it governs.” The claim is on point. It’s nearly impossible to keep small-town sentimentality when you live in a place awash in tax dollars.
GSTAAD—Walking into a dinner party for fifty chic and some not-so-chic people in a nearby village last week, I was confronted by a tall man with horn-rimmed glasses who called me his neighbor but then added, “No, you’re not my neighbor—what’s your name?”
No cunning linguist I, nor used to being barked at by nouveau-riche whippersnappers, I turned my back to him and told him to “Look it up in the Almanach de Gotha, asshole!” He wasn’t best pleased, especially as I also called him dickhead.
Now, please don’t think for a moment that I approve of my bad manners. But nor do I accept some hemorrhoid of a man half my age acting like a cop in a cheap gangster movie circa 1936. The name of the whippersnapper whom I don’t know nor want to know turned out to be Hunt, spelled with a “C.” His very rich American wife bought him the Wally Yacht company, one started by an Italian friend of mine that is now rumored to be in receivership or close to it. She’s a nice woman whose father was Mort Sackler, an inventor of some drug that made everyone happy and also made him a happy billionaire. What she should do is invest in a book of manners or tutorials on social graces—they would be much cheaper—and teach John Hunt to be less arrogant and less likely to be hit by an old-timer like me.
Mind you, Hunt’s manners made him seem possessed of plenipotential dignity when compared with a Spaniard whose name is Macaque, someone whose loud voice and showy mannerisms made him as inconspicuous as a fully dressed cardinal in a whorehouse. With an ego the size of a football field, he made it impossible for anyone to remain within hearing distance, so his table emptied quicker than you can say “monkey.”
So there you have it, dear readers—society at its best during the height of the Gstaad season 2014. There are exceptions, of course. A dinner party by Dino Goulandris for the ex-prime minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney (who attended with his wife Mila), was a wonderful evening. The premier gave a graceful speech ending with a Yeats poem and my host asking me to respond. My answer was that I might be plucky, but I am not stupid. To respond after such an articulate and charming speech was like going to bed with a woman who had just made love with Rubirosa; it makes a man feel small and rather clumsy. (Incidentally, Brian Mulroney spoke with great affection about Conrad Black and told us he was doing very well back in Canada.)
The next evening, Prince Pierre d’Arenberg and his beautiful wife Sylvia threw a hell of a bash for a hell of a lot of us, one that left me feeling that my nights were finite, but a good ski the next morning pumped me up enough to attend a great dinner given by Chaz Price and Jonathan Sieff and their wives, one that closed out the week that tripled the size of my liver but registered a minus as far as my years to come are concerned.
No matter. The Putin Olympics and the raspberry served to Western doomsayers and wishful thinkers have made me a happy man. Russia won the most medals and kudos from all honest people the world over. The closing ceremony was as brilliant as it gets. The only bad note was when the BBC speaker informed us philistines that Turgenev, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, etc. were “all Russians, you know.” Thank you. The two small nations of Norway and Switzerland also excelled—as well they should, being alpine countries—but Uncle Sam, alas, was full of excuses.
“The book that people are reading now,” according to Lion of the Blogosophere, is Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s The Second Machine Age. I hastened to buy a copy and read it…so you don’t have to!
The authors are professional Deep Thinkers with positions at the MIT Center for Digital Business, which you can read about at that link should you care.
So what’s it all about? The Second Machine Age is an addition to the growing pile of books about the vanishing middle class, books such as Charles Murray’s Coming Apart and Tyler Cowen’s Average is Over. If you haven’t been paying attention, here’s the message: Great swaths of the pen-pushing middle classes are about to lose their jobs to smart machines.
The authors offer TurboTax as an illustration. Why use an H&R Block tax preparer when, for much less money (the basic version costs $29.99) and a modest investment of time, TurboTax will do the job for you? You get a better service at a lower price. The creators of TurboTax get rich”one is a billionaire. Tens of thousands of tax preparers lose their jobs.
This has been going on for a while. You could ask a travel agent; or, much easier to find, an ex-travel agent.
Brynjolfsson and McAfee did a New York Times op-ed after their original e-book came out, and it’s accompanied by a striking graph. The graph shows private employment and productivity since 1947. The two curves rise together until the year 2000. Then the productivity curve keeps on rising, but the employment curve flattens out. The authors call this a “decoupling.” There is no reason to think there will be a re-coupling, ever.
Yes, folks, it’s official: The future”the quite near future”will have less and less use for human workers. Software or gadgets will do the tasks that millions of people now do for modest middle-class salaries. The software and gadgets’ creators will get tremendously rich without employing many people. WhatsApp, whose entire payroll headcount seems barely to have made it into two digits, sold for $19 billion.
It’s all happening very fast. The field of Artificial Intelligence was dominated for decades by Moravec’s Paradox: Tasks that are very difficult for human beings, such as playing grandmaster-level chess, are fairly easy to get computers to do, while tasks any two-year-old can accomplish, such as distinguishing between a cat and a dog, are ferociously difficult to computerize.
That’s beginning to look quaint. The authors tell us about some robotics researchers working on SLAM”simultaneous location and mapping. That’s the mental work of knowing where you are in an environment and where other things are in relation to you. It’s the kind of thing the human brain does well, with very little conscious thought, but which is hard to get machines to do.
In 2008 the researchers were close to despair. A review of the topic that year described SLAM as “one of the fundamental challenges of robotics…[but it] seems that almost all the current approaches cannot perform consistent maps for large areas….” Three years later, thanks to the development work behind the Xbox Kinect accessory, SLAM was a solved problem.
Things don”t work like they spoza. A cause of this dysfunction is the notion that criminals can “pay their debt to society” and then be all better, as if crimes were purchases made on a credit card. Say that a marginal human wielding a bolo knife crawls through a window, burglarizes the house, and gets caught and sentenced to five years. He gets out some time later having “paid his debt””actually the citizenry have paid $20K a year to keep him fed and comfortable. He is now thought to have been cleansed and ready to make a fresh start.
Not a chance.
As any cop can tell you, career criminals commit almost all crime. When Willy Bill gets caught carrying a television out from someone’s window, you will find, with the absolute certainty one associates with bankruptcy in a Democratic administration, that he has a rap sheet going back to puberty. Two years after getting out for one offense, he will be arrested for another. Normal, civilized people don”t suddenly think, “Gosh, slow day. I guess I”ll do a little burglary.” Either you don”t do it at all, or it’s all you do.
Whenever I covered a guy who stabbed a woman thirty-seven times while robbing her at an ATM, I knew he would prove to be out on parole for something similar. He always was. Which is why three-strikes-and-you”re-out makes considerable sense, at least for serious crimes: e.g., forcible rape, armed robbery, and ADW, though not for felony shoplifting or peddling grass. You can cage a rattlesnake after it bites someone, but when you let it out, it is still a rattlesnake.
Which brings us to parole and the phoniness of sentencing.
Suppose that a judge gives Willy Bill fifteen years for a bloody robbery. This looks good to the public: Grr, woof, bow-wow. Sternness. But Willy gets time off for good behavior and a parole-eligibility date in seven years or next Wednesday, whichever comes first. The sentence he gets isn”t the sentence he serves. It has to do with crowding in prisons and, I strongly suspect, a desire to make it appear to the public that criminals are being punished when they aren”t much.
Then you have Willy Bill and his parole hearing. Parole boards often consist of gullible citizens with no experience of criminal behavior. Further, Willy is a good con man. He does great repentance-speak. He is All Fixed Now. Nobody produces better sincerity than a psychopath who wants out. It’s forty-weight. You could lube a diesel with it. The parole board bites. Three months later he kills a woman.
Jesus is responsible for much of this mayhem. Prisons churn out conversions to Christ like Hershey’s does chocolate kisses. I once spent a week of workdays in the Cook County Jail in Chicago when a friend was head of IAD there. He arranged for me to interview prisoners. I heard a common song: “I done wrong. I know I did. But I found Jesus. He my man now. All I want is serve my savior.”
Sure. Any day now. But it convinces parole boards, some of them anyway. When he gets out, whatever he did, he”ll do again. Within weeks, most likely. He’s doesn”t know how to do anything else. The system rests on the idea that criminals can get better. Mostly they don”t. They can”t.
Incidentally, if you want a marvelous (I thought, anyway) book about how scams work in the slam, try Games Criminals Play. It’s a hoot.
Then comes plea-bargaining, a labor-saving device for prosecutors and judges. America is supposed to have trial by jury. It says so in the Constitution we used to have. Actually, something over 90% of cases are pleaded. If ten percent of criminals had a jury trial, the system would stop like a two-dollar watch. Our legal system supposes we are a civilized people and that such peoples don”t commit a lot of crime. Try that in Detroit, Newark, Camden, Chicago.
Suppose that an urban hairball slingin” rock on the corner fires seven times at a competitor with a stolen Glock, missing because he has no idea how to shoot. He is arrested for attempting murder, which is exactly what he was attempting. The public defender pleads him down to aggravated assault or malicious jaywalking, or maybe Inappropriate Thought, which is what we pay PDs to do: keep violent felons on the street (which, by the way, they know perfectly well they are doing). What with time off and a probably stupid parole board that additionally has been told to let people go because the slams are full to bursting, a few years later he’s out and, sure enough, kills….
Similarities and differences between Russian and American conservatism”especially in regard to the topic of the moment, Ukraine“can be observed in the thought of Russian geopolitical theorist Aleksandr Dugin, director of the Center for Conservative Studies at Moscow State University.
Dugin’s program of “Neo-Eurasianism” has come under attack in the West since Vladimir Putin proposed a Eurasian Union of former Soviet republics to compete with the European Union.
Dugin has cleverly adapted traditional Czarist and Soviet political goals to postmodern tropes about diversity and multiculturalism:
The world today finds itself on the brink of a post-political reality”one in which the values of liberalism are so deeply embedded that the average person is not aware there is an ideology at work around him. As a result, liberalism is threatening to monopolize political discourse and drown the world in a universal sameness, destroying everything that makes the various cultures and peoples unique.
Yet Dugin’s analysis of the implications always seems to point toward the same solution: greater power for the Kremlin. Dugin proudly proclaims himself a “statist,” which doesn’t make him in sync with the Tea Party. And in his vision the Muscovite state expands in territory and influence.
After last week’s coup in Kiev, Dugin said in an interview on Russian state television:
I suggest that it is necessary that Russia, in an organized way, help Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
When asked by the interviewer what he meant by “an organized way,” Dugin replied, “with tanks.”
But like many American invade-the-world spokesmen, Dugin went on to say that he wasn’t calling for an incursion out of concern for his country’s national interest:
We need to militarily strengthen the East and Crimea, not in our own interest but in the interest of Ukraine.
Dugin at least has the justification that invasion and autocracy are ancient Russian traditions. He recently pointed out:
The fundamental axiom of Russian conservatism can be traced to the time of the monarchy and is known by a simple formula: “Good tsar”bad elites.”
(That explains much of the popularity of Vladimir Putin with the Russian electorate: After the anarchic looting of the Yeltsin years, the new oligarchs are now at least under Kremlin control.)
In contrast, the document once respected as the most carefully considered legacy of the Founding Fathers”George Washington’s Farewell Address (which received help from Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay)”advised against “foreign entanglements.”
Because Ukraine (a word that may mean “borderlands,” although like everything else about the place, the etymology remains in dispute) lacks both natural defenses and an agreed-upon national identity, this wide expanse of Slavic-language-speaking territory has long attracted the attention of the most audacious geopolitical philosophers. They have seen it as the crucial blank slate upon which to inscribe their designs for world domination. In turn, Ukraine’s fundamental vulnerability motivates locals toward extremes of nationalism (although not always in agreement with their neighbors).
Ukraine’s perennially precarious geopolitical situation was memorably parodied in a 1995 Seinfeld episode in which Kramer and Newman are playing the board game Risk on the subway. Kramer taunts Newman, “I’ve driven you out of Western Europe, and I’ve left you teetering on the brink of complete annihilation.”
Newman desperately bluffs, “I’m not beaten yet! I still have armies in the Ukraine.”
“The Ukraine? You know what the Ukraine is, it’s a sitting duck,” scoffs Kramer. “A road apple, Newman. The Ukraine is weak. It’s feeble. I think it’s time to put the hurt on the Ukraine….”
A fellow passenger, a deep-voiced Ukrainian in a fur hat, is naturally outraged. He asks, “Ukraine is game to you?” before smashing the board.
To the misfortune of the people who live there, Ukraine is a game to the idea men (and women, such as neoconservative insider Victoria Nuland) of numerous surrounding deep states.
As the most populous European region of arguable nationality, Ukraine has long played a sizable role in geopolitical theorizing about oceanic versus continental strategies.
The land v. sea distinction is fundamental to Dugin, who argues:
We have to see the struggle for geopolitical power as the old conflict of land power represented by Russia and sea power represented by the USA and its NATO partners….The 1990s was the time of the great defeat of the land power represented by the USSR. Mikhail Gorbachev refused the continuation of this struggle. This was a kind of treason and resignation in front of the unipolar world.
The notion of America as, by nature, a sea power was popularized by Alfred Thayer Mahan. America’s energies were long absorbed settling its West, but in 1890, the year the Census Bureau found the frontier to be finally closed, Captain Mahan introduced Americans to geopolitical strategizing with The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660″1783.
Mahan’s analysis of Britain’s rise provided a suitable ideology for the Spanish-American War of 1898, with consequences for which we’re still paying. The Los Angeles Herald reported on December 2, 1898:
Mahan insists weightily on the great military importance of Porto Rico, which is to Cuba, to the future Isthmian canal and to the Pacific coast what Malta is or may be to Egypt and beyond.
In the movie business, conventional wisdom has it that to succeed at the box office a film must include profanity, obscenity, blood, gore, blasphemy, and, of course, lots of sex. There’s only one little problem with this theory. Empirical data illustrates that the opposite is true. Clean, wholesome family affairs generally do much better at the till. Yet motiveless violence and crimes committed at random continue to be the order of the day.
The awful Quentin Tarantino leads the pack among the talentless directors now forming our culture. His dialogue is mostly mindless, he makes no distinction between right and wrong, and most of his characters wallow in violence and brutality. His point is slaughter for slaughter’s sake, and in slow motion to boot, in case we missed any of the gore.
The pattern of honoring ugliness, violence, and brutality in films is a recent phenomenon. The message seems to be that portrayals of cruelty and dementia deserve more serious consideration and automatic respect than any attempts to convey nobility or goodness. In the past thirty years the entertainment industry’s most influential leaders have demonstrated a powerful preference for the perverse. Even the stars have followed this pattern. During the golden era of Hollywood”the 1930s to the 1960s”stars were different from you and me. They looked, talked, and lived better, and had replaced the millionaire robber barons as the dream figures in the popular imagination. Now they look as grubby as the characters they portray on the screen”or better yet, like homeless people. They talk like thugs and act like drug dealers, menacing fans and waiters alike. Most are incapable of stringing a sentence together without the word “like” repeated ad nauseam.
Which brings me to the point of my story.
I mostly live in Gstaad, Switzerland, an alpine village that turns ugly only during Christmas and the month of February. The rest of the time the extremely rich people who own chalets here are away screwing their fellow man elsewhere. Two men”both of whom I met and became friends with in Gstaad”have been knighted by the Queen. Both played 007 and both are gentlemen of the old school: Sir Sean Connery and Sir Roger Moore, the latter being a friend of long standing.
Let’s start with Sean, the first James Bond. The irony is that the producer Cubby Broccoli wanted Roger Moore to play Fleming’s hero, but Roger was unavailable and under contract playing another Bond-like G-Man. So the unknown Connery got picked, and you know the rest. Sean Connery happens to be a very good actor. He played Bond with confidence and a sense of humor. He openly womanized, chased the fairer sex, and ignored the outraged cries of hairy feminists who thought him a male chauvinist pig. “Proud of it,” he’d mumble. In Dr. No, the first Bond picture, women swooned while he flirted with secretaries, bedded easy women, and ended up with Ursula Andress, a Swiss lassie who emerged from the sea and into his powerful arms. He played Bond like a man, never questioning himself because he knew he was on God’s side.
Connery told me a funny story about that particular movie. They were shooting in Jamaica, and the master himself, Noel Coward, a long-time resident of the island, came down for a look-see. He introduced himself to Sean and invited him to dinner that evening. Connery accepted with alacrity. Upon arrival he noticed the dinner table was set for only two. He nevertheless sat down, eager to get to know the legend that was Sir Noel. The first question from his host was, “Are you homosexual?”
As recently as the early 1970s, millions of Americans couldn”t say the word “cancer” out loud, let alone “breast.”
Although All in the Family had broached the taboo topic in 1973, it was still a big deal a year later when new First Lady Betty Ford announced matter of factly that she’d undergone a mastectomy for breast cancer. She urged other women to get tested for the disease. They did, in droves.
Whether or not this is a net positive depends upon your opinion of 20th-century allopathic medicine: Either “countless daughters, mothers, and grandmothers were saved from certain death just in time” or”uttered in one’s best Dr. McCoy voice”“who knows how many women were poisoned and tortured by glorified witch doctors to add a few miserable, mutilated years to their lives? Dammit, Jim!”
And since those particular years encompassed the subsequent Carter Administration (plus the Pet Rock, Dr. Scholl’s Exercise Sandals, and KC and the Sunshine Band), I’m kinda with Bones on this one.
Luckily, not all of Betty Ford’s campaigns achieved such traction. (Remember the Equal Rights Amendment?) Nevertheless, she helped propagate a freak mutation of old-fashioned civic duty that’s outlasted Earth Shoes and Billy Beer: that species of empty-calorie activism known as “raising awareness.”
Ford’s original low-key yet candid breast-cancer campaign now seems quaintly Shaker-like in its simplicity. Inevitably, that particular cause has metastasized into a tacky, inescapable industry it’s tempting to dub Big Boob, a subsidiary of the Bourgeois Disease Complex.
Old and tired? Little pink lapel ribbons and the occasional fun run. New hotness? “Limited edition” pink cars, Cuisinarts, and other deeply dubious “fundraising” goodies.
A bunch of newish books (and lots of whistle-blowing articles dating back well over a decade) have examined Big Boob and found it not so benign. Breast Cancer Action’s counter-campaign called “Think Before You Pink” condemns “pinkwashing” as shallow consumerism, a cynical exercise in corporate image-burnishing and shameless profiteering. (Note that “Susan G. Komen” is now a registered trademark.)
Others point out that heart disease and strokes kill more women than breast cancer, that deadlier but less trendy cancers receive fewer research dollars, and that men’s cancers were getting screwed up the butt until that gimmicky “Movember” drive came along.
And come on: News programs only run breast-cancer specials as an excuse to show tits on TV and boost their ratings, right?
Meanwhile, it looks like Big Boob’s takeaway message”get that mammogram, ladies!“is a bust as well.
Yet another study casts doubts on this forty-year-old screening technique’s effectiveness. Annual mammograms for middle-aged women apparently “don’t save lives, but instead can cause over-diagnosis of cancers that won”t be fatal.”
“What mammography has done,” writes one physician, “is turn healthy people into sick but grateful cancer survivors.”
Britannia, we proudly and rather wistfully proclaim, rules the waves. Over the last couple of weeks, however, it has seemed that the waves are ruling Britannia. Reading the UK newspaper headlines or watching the news, one might have been forgiven for thinking that the country was becoming a second Atlantis, slipping below the waters to become the legendary inspiration for innumerable bad films and books in a thousand or so years” time. While polar vortices and killer ice storms enveloped the United States, and as Java was covered by volcanic ash, it was, I suppose, typically British that our meteorological downfall should be rain. Large swaths of southern England, and in particular a wide area of low, flat farmland called the Somerset Levels, are only now reappearing after having spent much of February underwater.
Perhaps predictably, but no less depressing for it, the first instinct of our political class was not to drop everything and help. No, they preferred to run around blaming each other. It was the Prince of Wales, not politicians, who first went down to meet those affected by the floods. Only after several days of deeply unedifying squabbling did David Cameron belatedly step in, ordering calm. He may well have hoped to appear like Neptune in The Aeneid stepping in to calm the stormy waves in an uncannily apt passage:
As, when in tumults rise th’ ignoble crowd,
Mad are their motions, and their tongues are loud;
And stones and brands in rattling volleys fly,
And all the rustic arms that fury can supply:
If then some grave and pious man appear,
They hush their noise, and lend a list’ning ear;
He soothes with sober words their angry mood,
And quenches their innate desire of blood:
So, when the Father of the Flood appears,
And o’er the seas his sov’reign trident rears,
Their fury falls: he skims the liquid plains,
High on his chariot, and, with loosen’d reins,
Majestic moves along, and awful peace maintains.
Unfortunately, he came across rather more like Joyce Grenfell’s harassed and hapless nursery-school teacher desperately pleading: “George, don”t do that!”
General consensus among the most vocal commentators seems to be that the flooding’s overwhelming cause was the decision taken by the Environment Agency, a government organization, to stop dredging the rivers that had been carrying excess water from the region since Dutch engineers first drained them in the seventeenth century. The Agency said that this was all because the government has put a cap on how much they are able to spend on flood defenses in the area. Wider conspiracy theorists noted the instructions from the European Union to let nature revert in natural flood plains. Inevitably there were rumblings from the implacable sides of the climate-change debate.
As it happens, some experts in the field seem to believe that dredging in itself would not have prevented the situation. Partly this was all caused by an extraordinary level of rainfall that fell over a sustained period. It was allegedly the heaviest combination of those two elements since records began some 240 years ago. Deeply distressing though this undoubtedly has been for those affected, and I wish in no way to gloss over their situation, even had everything possible been done to minimize this downpour’s effect, there would still have been a lot of flooding. To go back to Virgil: “sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangent.“ (“There are tears for events and mortal things touch the soul.”)
If this was a one-off, I”d probably leave it at that, wait for the inevitable inquiry, and hope”probably unrealistically”that what can be done will alleviate any such event in the future. But this has been happening a lot lately. In fact, in terms of resultant damage this wasn”t even the worst such crisis to hit the UK recently. Estimates are that about 1,000 properties were flooded. Compare that to the floods in June 2007 when in just Yorkshire and Humberside over 20,000 people were affected. Cynics have noted that hysteria levels in the British media tend to rise exponentially the closer any disaster is to the majority of reporters” southern, and particularly London, homes. They may well have a point.
There is, however, a wider underlying issue that I want to flag, hinted at by the aforementioned EU policy. That is the alarmingly widespread advocacy of returning land to its natural state, or “rewilding” as it is unfortunately often known. This, I suspect, is the underlying, woolly-headed rationale that envisaged a few controlled, decorative flood plains lying around lazily looping tributaries, presumably dotted with cowherds, swains, and milkmaids. Instead, when the heavens opened we were left in our own little bit of Genesis, with desperate Somerset residents beginning to order their pets two by two. The original intent was charming, I agree. Unfortunately it’s only feasible where people haven”t built thousands of houses on land that had always been avoided for its propensity to flooding. So scratch the entirety of lowland Britain.
With all due respect to the Founding Fathers, I do not find it “self-evident” that all men are created equal. If anything, it appears bleedingly obvious that they are highly”even comically”unequal.
About a dozen years ago I gave a lecture in a Seattle bookshop packed to the mossy rafters with young, fresh-faced, presumably inquisitive alterna-individuals. As I was pontificating and blabbing and waxing smart-assed, I noted that the common myth currently binding American society together is the idea of equality, but the problem is that there is no evidence for it.
It was as if every jaw in the crowd dropped at once. They all looked stunned. Here was this sacred idea they”d unquestioningly swallowed, yet it had zero evidence to buttress it.
No one raised a hand to offer evidence.
Equality is one of the most ludicrous notions ever hatched from a human brain. But despite its self-evident falsehood, it is the closest our secular society has to a shared religious belief. It seems to exist not as an established and unquestionable fact, but mostly as a tranquilizer for the less-than-equal.
Your modern smug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug progressive egalitarian dimwit generally believes in evolution”except for the uncomfortable parts. Have you ever noticed that when you disagree with them about the notion of innate human equality, they immediately condemn you as innately inferior to them? In stereotyping the “racist””which is by far the most pervasive stereotype in modern society”it’s telling how often racists are depicted as stupid, subhuman, genetically inferior, and stuck in the Stone Age. It appears an indelible trait of human group psychology that people need to feel superior to at least someone, and that someone is currently the “racist” rather than the old standby, the Negro.
I like to at least pretend I have an open mind.
Therefore, I’d love to see some hard, cross-referenced data that conclusively proves genetics are entirely unrelated to measurable racial differences in physiology and intellect.
I yearn to look at spreadsheets that prove that Jews ‘n’ Japs aren’t generally smarter than other groups and that black people in no way tend to excel at the hundred-yard dash.
Would you be so nice as to prove to me that your average Russian chess master and your typical Maori tribesman would score equally on IQ tests if they’d only been brought up the same?
Would you kindly explain in simple English why a hardworking Asian usually achieves a lot more than a hardworking Mexican?
I really want racial equality to be a scientific verity rather than a well-meaning but possibly dangerous fantasy. I’m not joking. I want to believe in it, but I want some proof. Is that too much to ask?
But rather than bothering to cough up even a tiny slimy loogie of evidence to bolster what they insist is a fact that has been proved beyond question, egalitarians will trot out Lewontin’s Fallacy, which roughly runs thusly:
Differences within any group are greater than those between groups.
Against every known rule of logic, this statement is always used as some blanket proof of equality.
Let’s carefully dismantle this super-dumb time bomb.
Here’s why the statement is deceptive: Differences between highs and lows WITHIN a group do not discount or magically wash away differences between group AVERAGES. Exceptions may disprove a rule, but they in no way undermine demonstrable patterns.
Keeping it simple, I”ll use a baseball analogy. Let’s say the best hitter for the Boston Red Sox bats .350. And, oh, let’s say their worst hitter bats .150. And let’s allege that the team’s batting average is .250.
And let’s say the New York Yankees’ hitters average .350.
So the difference between the Red Sox’s best and worst hitters is a steep 200 points, while there’s only 100 points between the teams’ averages.
Does this, even for a second, mean the Red Sox and Yankees are equal at batting?
Not if you aren’t a moron.
The Yankees, on average, still bat 100 points better than the Red Sox, and a betting man would be a fool not to put his money on the Yankees.
Notice how they never invoke Lewontin’s Fallacy when speaking of economic inequality?