All posts filed under: Must Reads

America Exports Cancel Culture to the World

Recently, I was interviewed for a video for the Dutch media outlet NU.nl, a popular news website in the Netherlands. The topic was cancel culture, which refers to the social trend of ending (or attempting to end) an individual’s career or prominence to hold them to account for violating moral norms. The video was about the uses and abuses of this new trend, including how cancel culture has rightly jettisoned reprehensible individuals like Harvey Weinstein from polite society. On the other hand, it also discussed its excesses, such as the recent social media mobbing of J.K. Rowling. During my segment, I described how individuals use cancel culture to elevate their own social position. Three days after it was published, the video was taken down. I contacted the journalist who interviewed me, asking what happened. He replied that although the video gathered over 176,000 views and was positively received by viewers, his employer determined that it “didn’t meet their profile.” He then revealed that his supervisors believed the video was too sympathetic to the targets of …

JK Rowling Is Right—Sex Is Real and It Is Not a “Spectrum”

JK Rowling recently drew fire on social media for tweeting the statements to the effect that “biological sex is real.” The tweets began when she mocked an opinion piece that used the term “people who menstruate” in place of “women” to account for the fact that transgender men also menstruate, and prefer not to be described as women. If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth. — J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020 The backlash on Twitter has been swift and cacophonous, and headlines have followed. GLAAD, an LGBT advocacy group, issued a response on Twitter, calling Rowling’s tweets “inaccurate and cruel.” One commenter wrote “I know you know this because you have been told over and over and over again, but transgender men can menstruate. Non-binary people menstruate. I, a 37-year old woman …

Condemn this Violence without Equivocation

I thank God that the brutal and senseless killing of George Floyd—an unarmed black man—by the white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, was captured on video for all the world to see. That shocking episode provides irrefutable evidence—yet again—of the callous, corrupt, and inhumane practices that are being used by some of those to whom we have granted the fearsome authority and weighty responsibility of policing the streets of our cities. Chauvin’s behavior (and that of his fellow officers, who are depicted in the video standing idly by for what seems like an eternity, while Chauvin casually kneels on Floyd’s neck choking the life out of him) is contemptible, enraging, and entirely unacceptable. This would be true, of course, regardless of the victim’s or the policeman’s race. Yet, given our country’s history, when the murderous cop is white and the dead civilian is black, it is truer still. So, it is essential that those who committed this apparent crime be held accountable in a duly constituted court and, should they be found guilty, punished to …

COVID-19 Superspreader Events in 28 Countries: Critical Patterns and Lessons

In 1899, a German bacteriologist named Carl Flügge proved that microbes can be transmitted ballistically through large droplets that emit at high velocity from the mouth and nose. His method for proving the existence of these “Flügge droplets” (as they came to be known) was to painstakingly count the microbe colonies growing on culture plates hit with the expelled secretions of infected lab subjects. It couldn’t have been pleasant work. But his discoveries saved countless lives. And more than 12 decades later, these large respiratory droplets have been identified as a transmission mode for COVID-19. Flügge’s graduate students continued his work into the 20th century, experimenting with different subjects expelling mucosalivary droplets in different ways. Eventually they determined, as a 1964 report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine put it, that the quantity of expelled Flügge droplets varies markedly based on the manner of respiration: “Very few, if any… droplets are produced during quiet breathing, but [instead, they] are expelled during activities such as talking, coughing, blowing and sneezing.” A single heavy …

The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire—A Review

A review of The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire by Kyle Harper, Princeton University Press, 417 pages (October 2017) Why did the Roman Empire fall? The classic answer is given by Edward Gibbon (1737 — 1794), in chapter 38 of the third volume of The History of the Fall and Decline of the Roman Empire (1776 — 1789): The decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight. Kyle Harper, Senior Vice President and Provost of the University of Oklahoma, seeks to complement Gibbon’s account by emphasising the role of nature, and specifically climate change and infectious disease, in the fall of Rome in his provocative, exceptionally well-written book The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire. Is Harper correct? Were plagues and …

Romance, Race, and Retribution

I “This is a crisis of epic proportions,” wrote an alarmed Romance Writers of America (RWA) board member on Christmas Eve as the scenery started to collapse.1 Longstanding tensions within the trade organization had detonated the previous day when novelist Alyssa Cole revealed that RWA’s board of directors had suspended her friend Courtney Milan. The decision provoked a hurricane of condemnation from the membership, mass resignations from the board, and a spectacularly vicious frenzy of internecine bloodletting online. Milan’s suspension has been widely reported as the latest indignity suffered by a woman of color in an ongoing battle between RWA’s old guard and minority authors struggling against marginalization. In this version of events, Milan had exposed and confronted the scourge of racism within RWA and been crucified for it. For a few days, the 40-year old organization looked like it might tear itself to pieces, until what remained of the board agreed to commission an independent review of the events that led to Milan’s suspension. RWA retained multinational law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP …

The Two Middle Classes

Politicians across the Western world like to speak fondly of the “middle class” as if it is one large constituency with common interests and aspirations. But, as Karl Marx observed, the middle class has always been divided by sources of wealth and worldview. Today, it is split into two distinct, and often opposing, middle classes. First there is the yeomanry or the traditional middle class, which consists of small business owners, minor landowners, craftspeople, and artisans, or what we would define historically as the bourgeoisie, or the old French Third Estate, deeply embedded in the private economy. The other middle class, now in ascendency, is the clerisy, a group that makes its living largely in quasi-public institutions, notably universities, media, the non-profit world, and the upper bureaucracy. Standing between the oligarchs, who now own as much as 50 percent of the world’s assets, and the growing population of propertyless serfs, the traditional middle class increasingly struggles for survival against those with the greatest access to capital and political power. The power of this modern-day equivalent …

Sorry, New York Times, But America Began in 1776

The United States of America began in 1776, not 1619. That one sentence is the thesis statement of “1776”—a non-partisan black-led response to the New York Times’s “1619 Project” initiative, which launched last week at D.C.’s National Press Club. I am pleased and proud to be a part of 1776, along with founder Bob Woodson, Glenn Loury, Coleman Hughes, Jason Hill, Carol Swain, John Wood, Taleeb Starkes, Robert Cherry, and many others. From my perspective as a member, 1776 has three core goals: (1) rebutting some outright historical inaccuracies in the 1619 Project; (2) discussing tragedies like slavery and segregation honestly while clarifying that these were not the most important historical foundations of the United States; and (3) presenting an alternative inspirational view of the lessons of our nation’s history to Americans of all races. The first of these points is perhaps the least important, but still a weighty task. Many of the claims made by the 1619 Project, which attempts to link everything from non-socialized medicine to American sugar consumption to historical slavery, are …

Thatcher Warned Us to Go Slow on European Integration. Too Bad We Didn’t Listen

This November will mark 30 years since former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher left office. After she had narrowly failed to secure an outright win in a 1990 leadership contest triggered by a challenge from Michael Heseltine, her former defense secretary, the majority of Thatcher’s Conservative cabinet colleagues withdrew their support and forced her departure following what she described as “eleven-and-a-half wonderful years.” For Thatcher, the “coup,” as she referred to the events of 1990, had been unexpected. But as journalist Charles Moore explains in the third and final volume of his authorized Thatcher biography, Herself Alone (2019), the writing had been on the wall for some time. Thatcher’s style, which some considered abrasive, had turned senior figures against her. And many younger party members believed that if the party were to win a fourth consecutive election victory, in 1991 or 1992, it should be under a new standard-bearer (who turned out to be John Major). An important underlying factor was the long-standing policy conflict regarding the European Community (or the EC as the European …

Confessions of an Equity-Industry Propagandist

My artistic skills are nil, but my lettering is solid. So when I doodled a cartoon hand around an erect cartoon penis, it was the word inside the dick I was most proud of: DIVERSITY. As team members ran through their collective to-do list—tear down the patriarchy, tear down capitalism, tear down oppression—they shared their favorite Viennese hotels, yoga retreats and keto-friendly recipes (#OMG #SOGOOD). This was the nature of the quarterly meetings. I smiled through the video feed, nodding, adding little curlies to my diversity dick off-screen while jotting down a secret affirmation to myself: Do NOT let them add you in WhatsApp. I was their writer. The doodles were a cry for help. I’d hit the wall. Having worked in advertising agencies for more than 20 years, it’s always been my job to write in a way that sells. Products, services, brands. But over the last decade, I’ve found myself in the pay of a series of wokepreneurs. Thanks to word-of-mouth, I unwittingly specialized as the equity industry ballooned. I polished one social-justice …