All posts filed under: Features

How Most American Kids Are Kept Out of the Best Public Schools

Nothing about North Avenue in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago feels like a political barrier or a sociological fault line. Residents of Old Town cross busy North Avenue every day. If you live north of North, you might cross the street to meet a friend for a pint at the Old Town Ale House. If you live to the south, you might cross North Avenue to see a show at the world-famous Second City comedy club or to take your family to the 11am choir service at St. Michael’s Catholic Church. If you need medical care in Old Town, no matter which side of North Avenue you live on, you have your choice of Family Urgent Care on the north or Physicians Immediate Care on the south. Both receive excellent ratings from patients. But North Avenue is a fault line in one extremely important way. If you stand at the corner of Larrabee and North, there are two public elementary schools within a mile. Both schools are operated by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Both …

Reflections on Intersectionality

Inspired by the fallout from a recent Twitter thread posted by Sarah Haider, I’d like to offer some passing thoughts on intersectionality. Originally conceived by Kimberlé Crenshaw as a way of highlighting bias against black women that did not fit neatly into the category of either racism or sexism, intersectionality has since expanded to include oppression based on class, LGBTQ, disability status, and so forth. The basic idea is that when two or more dimensions of oppression coincide in the same person (say, a black woman), she not only faces “double-discrimination” (racism and sexism), but she may also face a third kind of discrimination which is not reducible to the other two. Put simply, oppression is more than the sum of its parts. Crenshaw’s original intent was narrow. She did not mean for intersectionality to become an all-encompassing thought system with its own epistemology, politics, aesthetics, and more. Indeed she has distanced herself from some of intersectionality’s modern purveyors, criticizing those who see it as a “grand theory of everything.” Nevertheless, that is exactly what …

Demoted and Placed on Probation

It all started in June 2018, when Quillette published my article, “Why Women Don’t Code,” and things picked up steam when Jordan Peterson shared a link to the article on his Twitter account. A burst of outrage and press coverage followed which I discussed in a follow-up piece. The original article was one of the ten most read pieces published by Quillette in 2018, and continues to generate interest. A recent YouTube video about it has been viewed over 120,000 times, as of this writing: In his tweet promoting my article, Peterson took issue with one of my claims. I had written that I thought I could survive at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering where I work. Peterson disagreed: Make no mistake about it: the Damore incident has already established a precedent. Watch what you say. Or else. https://t.co/3Zzg1g2y9C — Dr Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) June 19, 2018 As it turns out, Peterson was right. My position is not tenured and when my current three-year appointment came up for review …

My University’s Plan for a Brave New World

As the Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported, the University of Tulsa has been bitterly divided by True Commitment, an academic restructuring that guts the liberal arts and eliminates departments in favor of divisions. The blueprint for the restructuring was laid out in a strategic plan formulated by President Gerard Clancy after he took office in 2016. Trustees and administrators claim the plan’s narrow emphasis on technical and vocational training—a strategy other institutions are adopting as the higher education bubble deflates—will allow TU, until 2016 a top-100 national research university, to remain relevant in the 21st century. Faculty believe the plan’s impoverished view of the human person and historical and cultural obliviousness show that liberal education is indispensable if freedom and human dignity are to survive. The plan’s introduction, “Jobs as Central to Life,” starts by praising the liberal arts. But like Hamlet’s insincere Player Queen, it doth protest too much. A “point of pride,” the plan declares, is that TU professors teach students “how to solve complex problems,” and thus “move well past teaching …

The National Book Foundation Defines Diversity Down

Last month the Huffington Post published an essay by Claire Fallon entitled “Was this Decade the Beginning of the End of the Great White Male Writer?” Fallon celebrated the notion that white men are losing their prominence in contemporary American literature and that the best books being published in America today are being written by a wider variety of authors than ever before: “What was once insular is now unifying,” National Book Foundation director Lisa Lucas told the crowd at the 2019 National Book Awards Gala, where the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry honors all went to writers of color. “What was once exclusive is now inclusive.” Lucas took over the foundation in 2016, at a time when the high-profile awards had a somewhat checkered record with representation. Though historically the honorees had skewed heavily white and male, that began to change around 2010. (However, there had been some other recent embarrassments, like 2014 host Daniel Handler’s racist jokes following author Jacqueline Woodson’s win for “Brown Girl Dreaming.”) Lucas, the first woman and person of color …

Build Your Own Intellectual Oasis

Two years ago I started an experiment I would like to recommend to you. At the urging of my best friend, concerned not just about my happiness but my mental health, I went dark. Perhaps if enough people give this a try it could help pull our troubled culture out of its downward spiral. What do I mean by going dark? I’ve enjoyed a four-decade long career as an engineer, entrepreneur, and venture capital investor working with many others to help build the digital world in which we now live. As the years passed I became more of an “activist,” devoting increasing amounts of time, money, and attention to various issues and causes impacting the body politic. For 25 years I wrote regular opinion columns for publications like Network Computing and Communications Week, back in the pre-web days, transitioning to Forbes.com, the Huffington Post, RealClear Markets, the Daily Caller, and the Foundation for Economic Education in the digital age. As my tech career began winding down I spent half a dozen years as a fellow …

Bloody Harvest—How Everyone Ignored the Crime of the Century

In June of this year the China Tribunal delivered its Final Judgement and Summary Report.1 An independent committee composed of lawyers, human rights experts, and a transplant surgeon, the Tribunal was established to investigate forced organ harvesting on the Chinese mainland. These rumours have haunted the country for years—lurid tales of the fate suffered by members of the banned Falun Gong religion after being taken into police custody. Their organs, so the rumours go, are cut from their bodies while they are still alive, and then transplanted into waiting patients. The Tribunal examined these claims, extending the group of victims to include Uyghur Muslims (among others), and its findings were unambiguous. “On the basis of all direct and indirect evidence, the Tribunal concludes with certainty that forced organ harvesting has happened in multiple places in the PRC [People’s Republic of China] and on multiple occasions for a period of at least twenty years and continues to this day.”2 Further to this, “the PRC and its leaders actively incited the persecution, the imprisonment, murder, torture, and …

Politics and Rationality: On the Uses and Limits of Science

How rational is your politics, and how rational could or should politics be, in general? What is, and what ought to be, the role of reason and of science in policy-making or in campaigning? To answer such questions in a reasonable or scientific way, it would first be necessary to define such terms as “rationality,” “reason,” and “science.” That’s a nice Socratic-style challenge, anyway, and I’m not confident that people mean anything very clear or specific by them on most occasions. And, whatever they mean, the things themselves—conceived as faculties in people’s heads or as a series of procedures or guidelines for how to gain knowledge—have little to do with why anyone has the politics they do. People who think their own politics are rational and those of their opponents irrational (that is, more or less everybody) are engaged in a self-congratulatory self-delusion. A traditional account of the faculty of rationality might be that it encompasses the canons of deductive and inductive reasoning and perhaps the scientific method (which it then is incumbent on the …

Accessibility, Ableism, and the Decline of Excellence

For many years, colleges and universities have observed the Americans with Disabilities Act by finding alternate ways for students with disabilities to meet course requirements. For example, a blind student might be accommodated by allowing a university representative to orally read the student questions from a written exam. A student with limited mobility might be allowed some extra time in getting from one class to another. More recently, many universities have expanded accommodations to cover conditions that might have been ignored in the recent past: today, students who can document Attention Deficit Disorder are routinely offered extra time in taking exams. One example of the rapidly changing institutional culture regarding students with disabilities is a new service provided by Blackboard, which is perhaps the most common software platform in American colleges for delivering course content. Through Blackboard, professors post required readings and assignments, grade student work, and even facilitate online discussions among members of the class. This fall, the university at which I teach implemented an additional service offered by Blackboard that is called “Ally.” …

‘White Christmas’ and the Triumphs of the Greatest Generation

Michael Curtiz’s 1954 classic White Christmas is so popular that it generates new think-pieces every time the holiday season rolls around. Last year, the New York Times republished its own original review of the film, in which the late Bosley Crowther panned the movie. Other pieces in other places discussed Vera-Ellen’s alleged bulimia, the fact that her neck is covered throughout the film, the rumor that Bob Fosse was an uncredited choreographer on the film, and the many continuity errors. The film has been called a romantic comedy, a buddy picture (or “bromance”), a musical, and a holiday film. Curiously, I’ve never seen it listed in the war genre, which is the category in which it really belongs. For all its holly and ivy and hot-buttered rum, White Christmas is as much about World War II as Edward Dmytryk’s The Caine Mutiny (both films were among the five highest grossing movies of 1954) or Casablanca (released in 1942, and which Curtiz also directed). It opens in war-torn Italy on Christmas Eve, 1944. Bing Crosby plays …