John Derbyshire reviews Civil War movies, sight unseen

John Derbyshire just can’t get a break. The poor man…first he was fired from the National Review for racist ignorance even they couldn’t take, and now he’s getting raked over the coals for his review of 12 Years A Slave. Don’t y’all think it would be unkind to expect him to actually sit through a whole two hours of an illustration of the injustice and horror of American slavery? He’s got an opinion, he doesn’t need to actually see slavery demonized to know it’s a one sided show.

It seems I’ve picked up an interest in the Civil War just as America is undergoing a revival of Abolitionist Porn. That, at any rate, is what I take this much-talked-of new movie 12 Years a Slave to be.

No, I haven’t seen the thing, but I’ve read reviews. Also I’ve seen (and reviewed) a specimen of the allied genre: Civil Rights Porn.

What a perfect example. Just as I know I don’t have to sit through every porn movie ever made to know that there will be a) naked people b) moaning as they c) have sex, just so Derbyshire doesn’t need to sit through every movie about slavery to know people will just be complaining and neglecting to tell the other side of the story, the story about kindly, noble masters taking loving care of their property.

To that end, Derbyshire feels obligated to tell the white side of the story, and unlike all those squeamish people who just shudder and speak from emotion at the awful thought of losing all liberty, Derbyshire brings the facts, the actual accounts of former slaves, who, he claims, weren’t treated all that badly. So he cites this brief anecdote.

Mars George fed an’ clo’esed well an’ was kin’ to his slaves, but once in a while one would git onruly an’ have to be punished. De worse I ever seen one whupped was a slave man dat had slipped off an’ hid out in de woods to git out of wuk. Dey chased him wid blood hounds, an’ when dey did fin’ him dey tied him to a tree, stroppin’ him ’round an’ ’round. Dey sho’ did gib him a lashin’.

[Mississippi Slave Narratives , Harriet Walker.]

I know, most of us are just appalled at the story of a man being hunted down with dogs, tied to a tree, and whipped. Read it with Derbyshire’s eyes, and instead, it becomes an account of a well-deserved punishment for a layabout, perhaps of the sort that the young wastrel who gave him the wrong order at McDonald’s ought to get, and notice instead only the first line. Master George gave his slaves food and clothing, and was kind. Just stop there. Don’t bother to read on to the bit about dogs and lashings. He was kind. His own slave said so.

As that extract illustrates, though, the Slave Narratives also remind us how remarkably often ex-slaves spoke well of their masters.

Plainly there was more to American race slavery that white masters brutalizing resentful Negroes. How much more, though? What was slavery actually like?

His conclusion? Slavery was irksome to some, but there were and are people who would be happy in slavery. Not him personally, of course, but other people. And of course it is entirely reasonable to judge who would like slavery best by the color of their skin.

The way this is described, maybe I need a man

Surely you must trust Fox News? They’re here to tell us why women still need husbands.

Fortunately, most women come to the realization that they do, in fact, need a man [Lesbians? How about just generally independent women?]—at least if they want a family [Or a turkey baster. It won't change the diapers either, I know.]

Financial independence is a great thing [Well, yeah. Are you arguing that dependency is fine?], but you can’t take your paycheck to bed with you [Of course not. Because you've deposited it in your investment account, are using the revenue to pay your rent or mortgage, and are paying your health insurance and grocery bills with it. You can aspire to financial security and a love life, you know]. And there’s nothing empowering about being beholden to an employer [But being beholden to a man is OK? Why don't we argue that independence and personal dignity are good things for every human being?] when what you really want is to have a baby [Not everyone does. Argument over.]. That’s dependency of a different sort.

This is the conclusion to which most women have come. Research shows that what women want more than anything else is not to work full-time and year-round but to live balanced lives. 

Hang on there. Women want “not to work full-time and year-round but to live balanced lives”…the conclusion is inescapable. I must be a woman.

Brilliant and sensible people, those women. They seem to have come to the same conclusion about what constitutes a good life that I have.

Knockout knocked out

You know that horrible paranoid racist Robbie Cooper I mentioned yesterday? He’s got another post up about the “knockout game”, this claim that degenerate evil black youth are forming gangs to beat up random white people. He’s obsessed with this subject, despite never having experienced such an attack, claiming that his lovely state of Texas is completely free of such behavior, and despite bragging that he’d murder any black teenagers who tried it.

Well, the “knockout game” is a myth. It’s your typical phony panic.

Indeed, when asked about the “knockout game,” law enforcement has been skeptical. According to a recent New York Times piece, “[P]olice officials in several cities where such attacks have been reported said that the ‘game’ amounted to little more than an urban myth, and that the attacks in question might be nothing more than the sort of random assaults that have always occurred.”

But…but…what will the racists do if they don’t have a justification for killing black kids?

Casual reductionism and genetic determinism

Finally, a tiny voice of caution speaks out against the genetic testing hype.

The Food and Drug Administration has ordered DNA testing company 23andMe to stop marketing its over-the-counter genetic test, saying it’s being sold illegally to diagnose diseases, and with no proof it actually works.

The heavily marketed test includes a kit for sampling saliva, and the company promises to offer specific health advice. “Based on your DNA, we’ll provide specific health recommendations for you,” the company says on its website. "Get personalized recommendations."

In an unusually scathing letter dated Friday, the FDA says it’s been trying to work with the company to get some sort of evidence that the test can do that with any accuracy.

I had no idea that 23andMe was making any health claims, and that’s deplorable. You can’t do that. That’s naive billiard-ball-biology, and it’s never going to be as simple as testing a few markers and then declaring that you understand physiology.

I prefer the approach of the National Genographic project, where the results are used to infer relationships rather than leaping to biomedical conclusions. We have far more accurate tools for determining your medical condition — it’s direct and involves examining your health, rather than indirectly looking at genes that have a remote connection to your health.

Which brings me to an essay that had me gawping in disbelief. A neuroscientist, James Fallon, noticed the results of a PET scan of his own brain.

“I got to the bottom of the stack, and saw this scan that was obviously pathological,” he says, noting that it showed low activity in certain areas of the frontal and temporal lobes linked to empathy, morality and self-control. Knowing that it belonged to a member of his family, Fallon checked his lab’s PET machine for an error (it was working perfectly fine) and then decided he simply had to break the blinding that prevented him from knowing whose brain was pictured. When he looked up the code, he was greeted by an unsettling revelation: the psychopathic brain pictured in the scan was his own.

OK. If this happened to me, I’d place the most importance on my personal experience — if I were a successful professional with no history of unethical behavior, I’d say “uh-oh…maybe these scans aren’t such a reliable indicator of personality after all.” I would not say, “uh-oh, I must be a psychopath.”

But guess what interpretation Fallon put on it? He got genetic tests.

But when he underwent a series of genetic tests, he got more bad news. “I had all these high-risk alleles for aggression, violence and low empathy,” he says, such as a variant of the MAO-A gene that has been linked with aggressive behavior. Eventually, based on further neurological and behavioral research into psychopathy, he decided he was indeed a psychopath—just a relatively good kind, what he and others call a “pro-social psychopath,” someone who has difficulty feeling true empathy for others but still keeps his behavior roughly within socially-acceptable bounds.

Wow. And then he starts self-rationalizing. He’s aggressive when he plays games, therefore his diagnosis must be true. He admits that maybe this isn’t as clear-cut as he thinks.

But the fact that a person with the genes and brain of a psychopath could end up a non-violent, stable and successful scientist made Fallon reconsider the ambiguity of the term. Psychopathy, after all, doesn’t appear as a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in part because it encompasses such a wide range of symptoms. Not all psychopaths kill; some, like Fallon, exhibit other sorts of psychopathic behavior.

But one thing he doesn’t consider? That maybe PET scans and genetic tests aren’t as robust and interpretable as he thinks. What I find personally chilling is that he so blithely considers a scan or a gene so definitive that he will defend a diagnosis of psychopathy in himself; does he also judge the subjects of his research on the basis of these abstractions rather than on their behavior?

A most excellent answer

One of those agony aunt columns received a request from a parent unhappy with the fact that her son was gay, asking for advice on how to get him to stop. So Amy gave her a very reasonable answer.

You could teach your son an important lesson by changing your own sexuality to show him how easy it is. Try it for the next year or so: Stop being a heterosexual to demonstrate to your son that a person’s sexuality is a matter of choice — to be dictated by one’s parents, the parents’ church and social pressure.I assume that my suggestion will evoke a reaction that your sexuality is at the core of who you are. The same is true for your son. He has a right to be accepted by his parents for being exactly who he is.

You could teach your son an important lesson by changing your own sexuality to show him how easy it is. Try it for the next year or so: Stop being a heterosexual to demonstrate to your son that a person’s sexuality is a matter of choice — to be dictated by one’s parents, the parents’ church and social pressure.

I assume that my suggestion will evoke a reaction that your sexuality is at the core of who you are. The same is true for your son. He has a right to be accepted by his parents for being exactly who he is.

Weird, isn’t it? The people who want to change others’ sexual preferences all seem to suffer from a profound inability to empathize. Maybe opening their eyes like this will help.

Oh, no, I’ve been doing blogging wrong!

You know, Al Franken is my senator. I voted for him (and far more happily than I did voting for Obama), and I’ve said a few good words about him here. But does he invited me to dinner? Does he ask me to join him out on the shootin’ range? Does he call? Does one of his assistants ever call? No. No politician ever comes a-courtin’.

He does have a very nice beard.

He does have a very nice beard.

I wasn’t feeling snubbed until I heard about Robbie Cooper. Who? He’s a small-time blogger in Austin, and recently Texas Republicans Greg Abbott, Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, and Ken Paxton have invited him in for conversations. See? The Republicans know how to treat their people!

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “But, Myers, you’re a crappy blogger who alienates everyone, it’s no wonder you have no friends in high places.” And, well, that’s true, but that doesn’t stop the Republicans from befriending Robbie Cooper, who is a racist jerk.

Robbie Cooper is very concerned about “The Blacks”, or as he prefers to call them, “The Niggers”.

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Really? I checked out his awful blog, and you get the flavor pretty quickly. He’s obsessed with roving gangs of urban black teenagers running around beating up innocent white people — it seems to be his major theme, that The Blacks are out of control, and Good White People need to get a concealed handgun license so they can shoot them when they get too close. He favorably cites John Derbyshire’s racist advice and condemns places like Philadelphia as “shitholes” because they’re full of urban thugs running rampant and hunting white people. I lived in Philadelphia for many years; I worked in North Philadelphia and walked in black neighborhoods there; the only times I’ve ever been shot at were by a white prostitute in Seattle (I was an innocent bystander in the line of fire when when she opened fire on someone else), and by a good ol’ boy in the farm country east of the Cascades who decided it would be hilarious to open fire with a hunting rifle on some hikers. I’d feel safer in North Philly than I would in rural Texas…and admittedly, part of that is bias, from reading blustering, quick-on-the-trigger bully boys like Cooper.

His other topics seem to be how much he despises liberals, gays, liberals, illegal immigrants, liberals, public schools, liberals, feminists, liberals, and anyone who isn’t white. And that was from just scanning the front page, no need to dig into his archives.

And he’s still called in for chummy little gatherings with Texas Republicans.

So that’s the formula for becoming a politically influential blogger? Write more racist screeds, brag about my guns, become a Republican, and live in Texas? Dang. I can’t do any of those things.

And somehow, I don’t think Al Franken would want to be my friend if I were to do them.

If teachers are welfare queens, then social theorists at Ivy League colleges must be world-class parasites

I saw this title on an article by Randall Collins and my hackles rose, my eyes turned red, I started to sprout hair everywhere as I growled and slavered. I will have blood.

Millennials, rise up! College is a scam — you have nothing to lose but student debt

Students chase degree after degree, adding crushing debt, as jobs vanish. It is time to radically rethink college

Now wait, I said to myself as I tried to suppress the change, titles are written by editors, and sometimes reflect the content poorly — they are trying to get a rise out of you, so you’ll read what follows. Maybe it’s not so bad. Give the guy a chance. So I read on.

Credential inflation is the rise in educational requirements for jobs as a rising proportion of the population attains more advanced degrees. The value of a given educational certificate or diploma declines as more people have one, thereby motivating them to stay in school longer. In the United States, high-school (i.e., twelve-year secondary school) diplomas were comparatively rare before World War II; now high-school degrees are so commonplace that their job value is worthless.

Job…value? JOB VALUE? We have a more educated citizenry (not educated enough, I would say, looking sideways at the Tea Party), and this bozo is complaining that their value is less because so many have reached a minimal educational standard? The US has a literacy rate of approximately 99% — what a disgrace. What is the point of teaching people to read if it doesn’t give them an edge over a vast illiterate mob? Think what a great advantage it would give you if you were one of the only 1% who could add and subtract — you’d have great job security, and your market value would be phenomenal! Afghanistan, with it’s overall literacy rate of 28%, should be regarded as an ideal.

In light of this wonderfully blinkered perspective on education, I am radically rethinking college myself. Maybe we need institutions of ignorance to slap down millions of minds just to keep the economic value of my degrees high…because, after all, the only reason I do what I do is for my personal gain, with never a thought about making society better or helping other individuals.

Oh, wait. I forgot. We do have such institutions of ignorance: they’re called churches. I am beginning to see their place in the ecosystem of culture.

This attitude is taken for granted throughout the article, which sees all of education solely in a vocational light.

Educational degrees are a currency of social respectability, traded for access to jobs; like any currency, it inflates prices (or reduces purchasing power) when autonomously driven increases in monetary supply chase a limited stock of goods, in this case chasing an ever more contested pool of upper-middle-class jobs.

I know the universities promote this view already, advertising their role as one of granting access to the big bucks of a job after graduation. I hate it. Most faculty don’t think that way either — if we did, we sure as hell wouldn’t have used our ever-so-precious degrees to get jobs at relatively low paying places like colleges.

We are not handing out tickets to jobs. If you want that, go to a vocational college and learn a trade; this is an entirely respectable option and is often a very wise move. Go to college if you want to learn something about how the world works more deeply, or if you want to experience the unconventional and different and see a wider picture. Go to college because there’s something you love that you can’t pursue elsewhere precisely because it has no market value…but it means something to you as a human being. Poetry is not a path to riches, but in college you can find people who love it; there’s practically no economic value to thinking hard about ethics, but at a college you’ll not only find people who live for ethical issues, but will teach you what they know and ask you hard questions to make you think more about it too. Why learn about history, or dead languages, or exotically impractical bits of abstract mathematics, or putter about making art? Because it will make you wealthy? Hell, no. Because you’ve only got one life to live and you ought to use it to make yourself wiser and happier, and if learning about those weird and strangely human subjects is what you want to do, do it.

There are things we need to fix in our educational system, I would agree. But the very last people you should consult on how to fix it are those who so poorly understand the meaning of the word “education” that they confuse it with a certification in a task. Randall Collins is clearly such a benighted ignoramus that I could feel my urge to howl at the moon declining…until…

Until…

Although educational credential inflation expands on false premises— the ideology that more education will produce more equality of opportunity, more high-tech economic performance, and more good jobs—it does provide some degree of solution to technological displacement of the middle class. Educational credential inflation helps absorb surplus labor by keeping more people out of the labor force; and if students receive a financial subsidy, either directly or in the form of low-cost (and ultimately unrepaid) loans, it acts as hidden transfer payments. In places where the welfare state is ideologically unpopular, the mythology of education supports a hidden welfare state. Add the millions of teachers in elementary, secondary, and higher education, and their administrative staffs, and the hidden Keynesianism of educational inflation may be said to virtually keep the capitalist economy afloat.

Aaaargh. The “mythology of education”? K-12 teachers are in sinecures, sucking up money to keep the economy afloat? Schools are a hidden welfare system for teachers who really aren’t otherwise contributing to the economy or society as a whole?

Fuck that. I’m wolfing out. GRRRRRRR.

So that’s how religious fantasies directly harm people…

The child-raping and the beheadings get all the headlines, but meanwhile, the machinery of faith keeps clawing at the foundation of society in subtler ways as well — it’s a free-wheeling parasitic scam, an infection that our social immune system is conditioned to tolerate. Answers in Genesis is a beautiful example. They have millions of dollars that they funnel into lying to people and corrupting education, and ultimately, they really are just a grand scam for leaching money out of their environment. I mentioned that they’re selling junk bonds to expand their operations, and that their ridiculous Ark Park is a boondoggle retreating into the distance as they continually promise and fail. Americans United describes their other tactic: hoodwinking secular government into propping up their depradations.

The latest ploy comes courtesy of the city of Williamstown, which is not far from Cincinnati. The town already gave the overtly religious park a 75 percent property tax break, and Bloomberg News reported this week that the city plans to sell $62 million in municipal bonds in December for AiG affiliates. This means the city is actively taking on quite a bit of debt for the sole purpose of funding the Ark Park.

And by “the city”, of course, what they mean are the citizens and businesses of Williamstown, who are being robbed of massive sums of money to support that con man, Ken Ham.

The article also mentions that AiG has received $40 million plus in tax incentives from the state…for a proposal that has only managed to get somewhere around $4 million in donations. That’s a whole lot of huffing and puffing to inflate the lead balloon of the Ark Park. Further, they’re sinking $2 million into improving a road to nowhere, the proposed Ark Park site.

But let’s step back a bit. This isn’t just a sinkhole into which the state of Kentucky proposes to throw money — even if it were to “succeed” as a tourist attraction, the existence of a state-subsidized monument to anti-scientific idiocy ought to be an embarrassment and an impediment to the status of the region. The state of Kentucky and the city of Williamstown seem to be happily shooting themselves over this deal…all because it’s in the name of faith and piety and god.