All posts filed under: Spotlight

Elder Millennial Metalheads: Our Shrinking World of Dark Thoughts and Bad Jobs

I was born in 1986, the year of release for the first movie I ever saw, David Cronenberg’s The Fly. I was raised in a middle-class, mixed-race family, in the suburbs of Riverside County, California, surrounded by heavy metal, violent cartoons, and children’s programming like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark?—all of which warned me that the world I was entering was a wild, nasty place. I also grew up watching Married with Children, sitting on the couch with my father, emulating Al Bundy’s signature pose. Another message I got: Middle-class American life is a nightmare. It’s a vicious trap for suckers too stupid to be successful or too scared to be vagabonds. George Carlin, N.W.A., Black Flag. Everywhere I looked, it seemed all of the cool people had the same message. The American Dream is a sham. You’re better than that. Kurt Cobain, Tupac, Biggie, and River Phoenix showed a generation of suburban boys our nihilistic path. We were too clever for the assembly lines, too principled for Wall Street, too vulgar …

Chile’s Elites Are Creating Another Latin American Populist Meltdown. Voters Must Stop Them

On October 25, Chile will hold its most important vote since 1988, when General Augusto Pinochet lost a national plebiscite on the question of whether he’d be permitted to extend his rule for another eight years. That 32-year-old referendum result allowed Chile to finally adopt the democratic form originally set out in the country’s 1980 constitution. This time around, the referendum will be on the constitution itself. In an extraordinary development, Chileans are deciding whether they want to create an entirely new constitution from scratch or preserve the existing one. The first voting option is called Apruebo (Approve), and the second is Rechazo (Reject). Anticipating a scenario in which Apruebo wins, which seems likely, Chileans will also vote on whether the new constitution will be drafted by a mixed constitutional convention of politicians and elected representatives from the citizenry, or a constitutional assembly composed entirely of citizens. In either case, decisions by the body would require a two-thirds majority, and its deliberations must be completed within a year. The constitution they produce would have to …

Black Lives Matter and the Mechanics of Conformity

The death of George Floyd in May, circulated in a bystander’s excruciating video clip, reignited furious and sometimes violent protests demanding reforms to address police brutality against ethnic minorities. According to the Center for Police Equity’s 2016 report “The Science of Justice,” black Americans are disproportionately affected by the amount of force used against them by police, such as being tasered. Additional investigations have found that black suspects are more likely to be manhandled, pushed to the ground, handcuffed, threatened, or pushed against a wall during a police interaction than their white counterparts. Bias against the black community appears to extend in all kinds of directions, from the courtroom to the maternity ward, where black women are 10 times more likely than white women to have their newborn baby taken from them if they test positive for an illicit drug. The apparently inequitable use of force against ethnic minorities, meanwhile, has unleashed a torrent of emotion and allegations against police departments across the United States in the wake of Floyd’s death, spurred on by celebrities …

At the Intersection of Art and Science: Revisiting EO Wilson’s ‘Consilience’

I first read EO Wilson’s Consilience in the late 1990s when I was a student in a contemporary literary theory class. The class was taught by a poet, Gerald Locklin, who assigned it as a counterpoint to the postmodern theorists we’d be reading that semester. Wilson makes the case for the unification of knowledge—in the convergence of diverse disciplines such as the sciences and the arts, he says, there is an important story to tell, “about where we came from and why we are here: Neither science nor the arts can be complete without combining their separate strengths. Science needs the intuition and metaphorical power of the arts, and the arts need the fresh blood of science.” As someone who writes poetry, novels, and short stories, I have often drawn inspiration from science and its “fresh blood.” When I teach creative writing classes, I tell my students that aspiring writers not only need to read novels if they want to be a novelist, or poems if they want to be a poet, they need to …

Exploiting a Woman’s Deadly Fall to Smear Toronto’s Police

A few years ago, when I did ride-alongs with Toronto-area police officers, I saw how much of their job involves dealing with mental-health and addiction issues. Most of the incidents these officers responded to were rooted in troubled households, and the protagonists typically were well-known to the arriving officers: an autistic adult son whose outbursts overwhelmed aging parents, a wife fearful of an alcoholic husband, an agitated elderly man who’d become convinced his neighbours were spying on him through his devices. Most of these incidents required therapists as much as (or more than) police officers. But since the threat of violence hovered over all of them, at least in theory, it was the police who got the call. As I wrote at the time, the officers mostly played the role of social workers with a badge. The stereotype of police as violent, poorly trained hotheads is sometimes borne out on YouTube, which now functions as a highlight reel for every bad apple wearing a uniform. But the reality—at least in Canada, where I live—is that …

‘Science Fictions’ Review: Begone, Science Swindlers

A review of Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth by Stuart Ritchie, Bodley Head, 353 pages (July, 2020). As I sat down to review Stuart Ritchie’s new book, Science Fictions, I was interrupted immediately by mournful texts from a young man who was being hosed for his write-up of the results from a study. He’d asked me to take a look at it. A charity wanted to improve literacy in poor children. Children’s literacy had been measured before and after a “treatment” or intervention. There was no “control group” in the design. No similar sample of children who trundled along without the intervention, nor an intervention designed to match the treatment in all but the supposed crucial component. Had literacy increased at the second assessment because of the treatment or because the children were a year older? Your guess is as good as mine. The young man fed this problem back to his superiors and was called, peremptorily, to an online meeting. The charity had wanted a glowing …

International Scholars Must Resist the American Campaign to Inject Racial Tribalism Into Science

“Schœlcher n’est pas notre sauveur,” declared protestors who toppled statues on the French territory of Martinique earlier this year—“Schœlcher is not our savior.” The reference is to Victor Schœlcher, the 19th-century politician who’s long been lauded for his role in abolishing slavery in France and its colonial holdings. French President Emmanuel Macron rightly condemned the act, as did cabinet minister Annick Giradin, who denounced the destruction of monuments that embody the nation’s “collective memory.” And the mayor of Martinique’s capital warned against la tentation de réécrire l’histoire—the temptation to rewrite history. Hier, alors que nous célébrions la date d’anniversaire de la célébration du 172e anniversaire de l’abolition de l’esclavage en Martinique, deux statues de Victor Schœlcher ont été détruites à Fort de France et à Schoelcher, en Martinique. — Annick Girardin (@AnnickGirardin) May 23, 2020 Unfortunately, the force of that temptation has been growing stronger recently, and not just within the progressive subcultures of English-speaking countries. On June 22nd, Parisian vandals threw red paint on a statue of no less a French intellectual icon than …

The Piety of the Impious

Writing with not a little insight, commentators have observed a deeply intriguing dimension to the protests currently convulsing the United States: Percolating beneath the callow progressivism lies a kind of spiritual fervour, which animates a great swathe of the demonstrators. It’s not simply the case that some people have been driven by prior religious convictions to respond to the killing of unarmed African Americans by police; rather, it’s that much of the outpouring of grief, activism, and even violence triggered by the death of George Floyd is itself quasi-religious in character. Popular opinion holds that the United States remains a bastion of piety within the community of Western nations; although European states long ago settled into an easy secularism, the pulse of vital religion still beats strongly on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s true that the US remains an outlier in this regard, although the reality is far more complicated than common narratives suggest. Moreover, statistical evidence indicates that the country may be on the same trajectory towards secularisation as the Continent. But …

I Was Invited to Testify on Energy Policy. Then Democrats Didn’t Let Me Speak

Today, shortly after giving expert testimony to Congress about energy policy, I had the startling experience of being smeared by sitting members of the United States House of Representatives. The context was a special House Committee hearing to evaluate a Democratic proposal similar to the one proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, which would spend $2 trillion over four years on renewables and other climate programs. Congressional interest in my testimony stems in part from the fact that I advocated for a Democratic energy proposal very similar to Biden’s between 2002 and 2009. Back then, the Obama administration justified the $90 billion it was spending on renewables as an economic stimulus, just as Biden’s campaign is doing today. But then, late in the hearing, Representatives Sean Casten of Illinois and Jared Huffman of California, both Democrats, used the whole of their allotted time to claim that I am not a real environmentalist, that I am not a qualified expert, and that I am motivated by money. Had I been given a chance to respond, …

Understanding Totalitarianism

In recent years, amid concern about a possible resurgence of totalitarianism, a number of books and articles have appeared that are intended to warn about the rhetoric and behavior of the populist Right. At the same time, a countercurrent of public intellectuals and journalists have leveled similar accusations at the radical Left, alleging illiberal motives, ideas, and tactics for influencing culture and politics. Alarm about both of these developments can be found across the political spectrum. A sense of proportion is important when discussing this topic. For all its problems, America does not seem to be on the brink of a totalitarian revolution. Its institutions have been stressed during Trump’s term in office, but they have proved to be remarkably robust. And while there has been a concerning resurgence of radical leftwing activism in the months following the death of George Floyd, the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for American president is a political moderate. And, although the pandemic provides unique challenges for the election in November, the country remains a constitutional republic of laws and …