Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Academics (Especially in the Humanities) Write Very Badly

This isn’t new, but we can’t resist posting about it.

Between 1995 and 1998, the journal Philosophy and Literature had a Bad Writing Contest. You’ll want to check out all the winners, but here, for your edification, is one winner. According to a press release from Philosophy and Literature. . .
Judith Butler, a Guggenheim Fellowship-winning professor of rhetoric and comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley, admired as perhaps “one of the ten smartest people on the planet,” wrote the sentence that captured the contest’s first prize.
And just what piece of prose won this honor?
The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
One might be tempted to say it takes real talent to write such turgid, stilted and opaque prose. Surely, this must a a parody, right? But no, it’s not.

We are rather a fan of George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.” Orwell insists that bad language doesn’t merely show ineptness, it results from intellectual slovenliness and downright dishonesty.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.
The reason that foolish language is so often found in the humanities is, quite simply, that academics in the humanities so often have foolish thoughts.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Politically Correct Intolerance in Academia

From Naomi Schaefer Riley in the New York Post:
For the second time in three months, the Chronicle of Higher Education has allowed a violation of academic orthodoxy — and professors are calling for the head of another Chronicle contributor.

The higher-ups seem to have decided it’s not worth the trouble and are shutting down two of its blogs entirely next week. If you can’t take the heat, close the kitchen?

Last month, Peter Wood, the head of the National Association of Scholars, published a post on the Chronicle’s Innovations blog in which he suggested that Jerry Sandusky’s serial child molestations weren’t the only thing Penn State had tried to cover up in recent years.

Wood pointed at the university’s investigation into the conduct of Prof. Michael Mann, who played a major role in the “Climategate” memos.

The probe, he said, hardly rigorous; it was conducted by a university vice president – who, as others have noted, had clear incentive to go easy, since Mann brought a lot of research money to the university.

In short, Wood argued, “Penn State has a history of treading softly with its star players.”

The comments section lit up with accusations that Wood had libeled Mann. A blogger called “Profmandia” launched an online campaign demanding that the Chronicle retract the post and apologize.

What might lead Profmandia — whose day job is in the physical sciences department at Suffolk Community College — to believe the Chronicle would respond to his demands?

Well, he had history on his side. In May, the Chronicle gave in to demands that I be reprimanded for daring to criticize the dissertations of some graduate students in black studies at Northwestern University.

For the record, I believe there’s ample ground for serious research in the black experience in America – but I questioned the rigor of the politicized dissertation topics highlighted in a Chronicle news article.

An online petition signed by more than 6,000 academics accused me of “personally attacking” the students. After a week, the Chronicle fired me.

Just as I did not engage in ad hominem attacks by looking askance at a list of topics, Wood hasn’t libeled Mann by suggesting that the university’s investigation was a weak one.

But the Chronicle editors are probably fed up with all of this controversy. Yes: In modern academia, too much debate is a problem.

That is, if you doubt that climate change is man-made (as Wood acknowledges he does) or that institutional racism is the cause of most problems in the black community, you are barred from commenting on the academy.

Perhaps the only idea that competes with these two for their sacredness at universities today is the notion that gender is a social construct and its corollary that children of gay parents have the same (if not better) outcomes than children of heterosexual parents.

Mark Regnerus, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin, recently challenged this idea with an article in Social Science Research, in which he suggested that children of gay parents tend to have lower levels of economic success and more problems with mental health.

Some scholars have reasonably disagreed with Regnerus’ methodology, but interest groups and the guardians of sociology’s orthodoxy have demanded his head. As a result, UT has launched an investigation into accusations of scientific misconduct.

Though the article was peer-reviewed and published by a respected academic journal, one columnist wrote that Regnerus’ study was “designed so as to be guaranteed to make gay people look bad, through means plainly fraudulent and defamatory.”

Reasonable people may disagree about Regnerus’ conclusions, Wood’s views of climate science or my opinions on black studies, but on these topics, there is no room for discussion in the Ivory Tower.

And the enforcers of this orthodoxy are shameless. A study out next month in Perspectives on Psychological Science finds: “In decisions ranging from paper reviews to hiring, many social and personality psychologists admit that they would discriminate against openly conservative colleagues. The more liberal respondents are, the more willing they are to discriminate.”

At least they’re honest.
Academics, essentially, have become the High Priests in a new religion of political correctness. And like all groups who are rigidly attached to an orthodoxy, and have power, they use that power to stiffle dissent.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Conservative Catholicism: The Future of the Church

From the Wall Street Journal:
In his Holy Thursday homily at St. Peter’s Basilica on April 5, Pope Benedict XVI denounced calls from some Catholics for optional celibacy among priests and for women’s ordination. The pope said that “true renewal” comes only through the “joy of faith” and “radicalism of obedience.”

And renewal is coming. After the 2002 scandal about sexual abuse by clergy, progressive Catholics were predicting the end of the celibate male priesthood in books like “Full Pews and Empty Altars” and “The Death of Priesthood.” Yet today the number of priestly ordinations is steadily increasing.

A new seminary is to be built near Charlotte, N.C., and the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., has expanded its facilities to accommodate the surge in priestly candidates. Boston’s Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley recently told the National Catholic Register that when he arrived in 2003 to lead that archdiocese he was advised to close the seminary. Now there are 70 men in Boston studying to be priests, and the seminary has had to turn away candidates for lack of space.

According to the Vatican’s Central Office of Church Statistics, there were more than 5,000 more Catholic priests world-wide in 2009 than there were in 1999. This is welcome news for a growing Catholic population that has suffered through a real shortage of priests.

The situation in the U.S. is still tenuous. The number of American Catholics has grown to 77.7 million, up from 50 million in 1980. But the priest-to-parishioner ratio has changed for the worse. In 1965, there was one priest for every 780 American parishioners. By 1985, there was one priest for every 900 Catholics, and by 2011 there was one for every 2,000. In dioceses where there are few ordinations, such as New York’s Rochester and Albany, people know this shortage well.

Still, the future is encouraging. There were 467 new priestly ordinations in the U.S. last year, according to a survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, up from 442 a decade ago.

While some of the highest numbers of new priests are in the Catholic-majority cities of Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia, ordinations in Washington, D.C. (18 last year) and Chicago (26) also are booming. The biggest gains are not only in traditional Catholic strongholds. In Lincoln, Neb., Catholics constitute only 16% of the population yet have some of the strongest numbers of ordinations. In 2011, there were 10 men ordained as priests in Lincoln.

What explains the trend? Nearly 20 years ago, Archbishop Elden Curtiss, then leader of the Omaha, Neb., diocese, suggested that when dioceses are unambiguous and allow a minimum of dissent about the male, celibate priesthood, more candidates answer the call to the priesthood. Our preliminary research on the correlates of priestly ordinations reveals that the dioceses with the largest numbers of new priests are led by courageous bishops with faithful and inspirational vocations offices.

Leadership and adherence to church doctrine certainly distinguish the bishop of Lincoln, the Most Rev. Fabian Bruskewitz. He made national news in 1996 when he stated that members of dissident Catholic groups including Call to Action and Catholics for Choice had automatically excommunicated themselves from the church.

Cardinal Francis George, the longtime leader of the Chicago archdiocese, once gave a homily that startled the faithful by pronouncing liberal Catholicism “an exhausted project . . . parasitical on a substance that no longer exists.” Declaring that Catholics are at a “turning point” in the life of the church in this country, the cardinal concluded that the bishops must stand as a “reality check for the apostolic faith.”

Such forthright defense of the faith and doctrine stands in clear contrast to the emphasis of an earlier generation of Catholic theologians and historians. Many boomer priests and scholars were shaped by what they believed was an “unfulfilled promise” of Vatican II to embrace modernity. Claiming that the only salvation for the church would be to ordain women, remove the celibacy requirement and empower the laity, theologians such as Paul Lakeland, a Fairfield University professor and former Jesuit priest, have demanded that much of the teaching authority of the bishops and priests be transferred to the laity.

This aging generation of progressives continues to lobby church leaders to change Catholic teachings on reproductive rights, same-sex marriage and women’s ordination. But it is being replaced by younger men and women who are attracted to the church because of the very timelessness of its teachings.

They are attracted to the philosophy, the art, the literature and the theology that make Catholicism countercultural. They are drawn to the beauty of the liturgy and the church’s commitment to the dignity of the individual. They want to be contributors to that commitment—alongside faithful and courageous bishops who ask them to make sacrifices. It is time for Catholics to celebrate their arrival.
Of course, the same thing is happening within Protestantism. Liberal denominations that spend their time accepting gay marriage, criticizing politicians like Paul Ryan and divesting themselves of stock in companies that do business with Israel are declining. More conservative denominations (and liberal denominations in the Global South -- Methodists and Anglicans in Africa, for example) are at least holding their own, and often prospering.

None of this, of course, proves that liberals in the Church are wrong on theology. But it does prove that their liberal views simply aren’t consistent with a growing, thriving Church.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Paul Ryan As Vice Presidential Candidate

We’ve been sharing our opinions about the choice of Paul Ryan to be Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate with a large portion of the local media, so perhaps fairness demands that we share them with the readers of this blog.

We were convinced that Romney would pick a boring white guy as a running mate. That seemed to be the safe choice. Romney’s strategy was to make the election a referendum on Obama’s economic performance, and selecting a running mate with a high policy profile seemed to detract from that. Ryan appeared to be a lightning rod. It was too easy to see the Democratic commercials with Ryan (and then Romney) pushing Grandma off the cliff.

And, until this past Saturday, Romney has been anything but bold.

So we were surprised. Shocked would be too strong, but only slightly.

But we political scientists can usually explain things after they happen, even if we can’t predict them beforehand.

So it may have been relevant that Romney’s former strategy did not seem to be working. Obama chronically led in the polls. Given the state of the economy, he should not have. But he did.

So if you can’t win by making the election a referendum on the incumbent, why not make it a battle of rival political philosophies? That’s what the Ryan pick did. It is a high-risk choice, but just might have a high reward.

At first glance, it seems that the Romney campaign will have a major problem selling the Ryan budget to the public. In no democracy do people like to be told that the goodies they are getting from government are unsustainable, and must be taken back. Not that the Ryan budget takes back much. Mostly it just limits the growth of government. But in politics, that translates as a “cut.” If a program now costs 300 billion dollars, and it projected to cost 500 billion dollars in four years, and somebody proposes to limit it to 400 billion, that’s a 100 billion “cut.”

Even in Greece, where the gross over-extension of the welfare state has gone much further than here, voters are having trouble accepting that they can’t have all the goodies they want from government. They riot. They blame international bankers. When the Germans refuse to bail them out, they trot out allusions to Nazism.

It’s not that the specifics of the Ryan plan are that toxic. Once one explains to people that it won’t affect anybody older than age 55, that doesn’t seem so bad. The idea that old people will get to buy insurance from competing private insurance companies doesn’t seem too bad either – everybody buys auto insurance that way.

But the question is whether anybody will pay much attention to the specifics. Seniors, remember, oppose Obamacare in virtually every poll. That’s not so much because they are conservative as because they are risk averse. Any change threatens to make things worse, regardless of what any politician says.

But the same risk aversion that causes seniors to oppose Obamacare will likely make them skeptical of Ryan’s proposals. It may not matter how patiently it is explained.

On the Other Hand

But there is an alternative scenario.

Sometimes the character and personality of a candidate can diffuse voter fears. It’s happened before. Ronald Reagan was portrayed by liberals as a reckless pro-military hawk who might start a nuclear war. But his amiable and easy-going mien in the debates with Jimmy Carter convinced people that he really wasn’t a rash war monger.

This was in sharp contrast with Barry Goldwater, who joked about lobbing a nuclear bomb into the men’s room of the Kremlin. Goldwater was sufficiently stern and even harsh in his comportment to make it all too easy to fear what he might do in a crisis.

This is why Ryan’s likability might just give the Romney/Ryan ticket a chance.

Ryan, as Rush Limbaugh put it, “may well be the last Boy Scout.” It will be hard to believe that he would do anything nasty to seniors, or that the limits he proposes for means tested programs are the result of callousness toward the poor – as opposed to a genuine concern with rapidly increasing dependency in this nation.

Add to this the fact that the Ryan choice seems to have energized the Romney campaign, and indeed to have energized Romney himself, who now seems to be speaking with vigor and energy. This may have been a brilliant choice.

But Then, On the Other Hand

But then, it may have been a monumental blunder. Perhaps a couple of additional months of bad economic news would have finally put Romney in the lead. Romney has been raising lots of money, and perhaps the ads it could buy would have turned the tide.

But for better or worse, Romney has produced a bold, make-or-break choice.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Romney to Israel: You Did Build That

From Front Page Magazine:
When Mitt Romney arrived in Jerusalem and suggested that Israel’s success contrasted with its Muslim neighbors was due to a culture of success, he was waving a red flag in front of a red bull. Romney’s comments were as provocative to the left as Obama’s “You didn’t build that” remark was to us.

To the left, success has become the Mark of Cain. Where success once used to be proof of good character, the balance has shifted and it is now proof of bad character. The left blames all disparities on injustice. If A has less than B, then B has somehow discriminated against A. All that’s left is for the sociologists and critical race theorists to plug in the variables, write their papers and explain the mechanism for the injustice and how it can be remedied through centralized redistribution.

This is the era of “You didn’t build that” where achievement is inherently unfair and an object of guilt. To succeed is to steal. Anyone who has achieved more than those around him has unfairly taken from them. And the more he succeeds, the more he has to feel guilty about and the more he must atone through social justice.

Mitt Romney didn’t build companies; he unfairly redistributed what should have been equal resources in an unequal way to create that success. America also didn’t build anything; it just looted the resources and markets that should have been divided equally among the nations of the world. And the same goes for Jews and the Jewish State. Individual success is not exceptionalism; it’s stealing from the collective. The left already knows why Israel is more successful. Because it’s a greedy country whose success has come at the expense of its poorer neighbors. The left finds the idea of explaining success in terms of character, either individual or national, to be offensive. To suggest that success is due to personal virtue is to also imply that failure is due to a lack of virtue. The left is not interested in exploring what’s wrong with nations or groups that fail, only in explaining how their failure is no fault of their own.

The left was only interested in Jews as an oppressed minority and in Israel as a small doomed country. Once Jews became successful and Israel emerged victorious, the left turned on them and on Israel.

Israel’s success is one of the greatest weapons that the left uses against it. If Israelis were still living in tents and trying to get the power to stay on for more than a few hours a day, the Jewish State wouldn’t make nearly as tempting a target. Israel’s transformation from a bunch of refugees and farmers armed with third-rate weapons to a prosperous nation of flowering orchards, booming tech companies and new towns rising out of the earth, is proof of its immorality. If the Jewish State were truly moral, it would have stayed poor.

Most offensively Israel’s economic success has kept pace with its transition from socialist collectives to free enterprise, going from a “You didn’t build that” culture to a “You built it” culture. While the Palestinian Authority and most of Israel’s Muslim neighbors still operate under government monopolies, Israel’s tech industry revolution has boosted its international trade while making it possible for a few army or air force veterans to cobble together a company that brings a revolutionary new product to market.

USB flash drives and instant messaging software came out of that “You built it” culture. On the other side of the border malaise and misery, bombs and fanatics, have come out of the economic monopolies wielded by military rulers, tribal leaders and religious despots.

Like the left, the Muslim world believes that Israel’s success and its failure is proof of guilt. But even out of the Muslim world come glimpses of the basic truth. Khalaf Al-Harbi, a Saudi columnist, wrote, “The secret to Israel’s survival, despite all the great challenges it has faced, lies in democracy and respect for the worth of the [Israeli] individual… The secret to the collapse of the Arab countries, one after another, lies in dictatorship and in the oppression of the individual… [Israel] drew its power from the honor it granted to its citizens, while its Arab neighbors trampled the [poor] creatures known as their citizens.”

Al-Harbi, no friend of Israel, went further than Mitt Romney did. If Mitt Romney crediting freedom and democracy as the ingredients that make for Israel’s culture of success is racist, then the Democrats must also charge Al-Harbi with racism.

Mitt Romney came to Israel to try and explain Israel’s success in the same terms that he has explained the success of the American businessman, by crediting the labor and dedication of the free individual in a culture that values freedom and accomplishment.

Every Israeli, like every American, who set foot in a new land, had to start all over again. They had to build houses, plant fields and raise cattle. They had to learn how to build armies and run institutions. And they had to do all those things while surrounded by enemies. They had to learn to sink or swim.

While the Muslim world wails over Palestinian refugees, the Jewish State is a nation of refugees populated by refugees from Czarism, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, Nasserism and Islamism. And each of those refugees had to begin a new life. The process wasn’t easy and Israel is still struggling with the challenges of absorbing millions of people from cultures as far apart as Russia, Yemen and France. But the refugee camps where they once lived, the tents and shacks, are a distant memory. The survivors of the Holocaust are not still living in DP camps in Europe and Iraqi Jews aren’t living in tents in Israel. The last DP camp in Europe closed in 1959. The last of Israel’s refugee camps shut down in 1963. Meanwhile the Shatila refugee camp for Palestinian Arabs has been an ongoing concern in Beirut since 1949 making it older than many Israeli towns.

In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt addressed the Cambridge Union and told them, “Success, the real success, does not depend upon the position you hold but upon how you carry yourself in that position.” That assessment is the final rebuttal to the class warfare worldview of the left. Success is not in what you have, but in what you make of it.

A culture of free men and women who believe that they are here to build rather than destroy is able to do great things. And a culture of slaves of Allah who believe that they are here to destroy what others build and who prefer the public martyrdom of the suicide bomb and the refugee camp cannot hope to equal their accomplishments. When the individual has the power to build then he is living in a “You built it” society. But when he only has the power to complain or destroy, then he is living in the Islamic or leftist “You didn’t build that” society.
For liberals and leftists, the assigned role of all minority groups is to fail. That failure justifies a sense of grievance, and an excuse for the expansion of government to redress the grievance. Groups like the Jews who overcomes great obstacles to success are thus traitors to the left. Admittedly, so long at they keep voting left (as Jews do in the U.S.) that can be forgiven.

But Israeli Jews are a different matter.

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