All posts filed under: Top Stories

Slack Wars: Corporate America’s Woke Insurgency

Between 2008 and 2019, total newsroom employment in the United States declined by 23 percent. At newspapers, the drop has been more than 50 percent. Journalists are hardly to blame for the underlying causes of this contraction (which include the long-term shift from physical to digital media, and the growing ad-market share controlled by Google and Facebook). But they can be blamed for the gratuitous acts of self-sabotage that are exacerbating the industry’s woes. Many journalists—and even their unions—now seem more preoccupied with denouncing heresies among colleagues than with maintaining their audience and livelihoods. At the New York Times, to take one obvious case study, op-ed editor James Bennet was hounded out in June after publishing a column that reflected widespread frustration with violent social-justice protests. Bari Weiss, one of the newspaper’s brightest stars, decided to follow Bennett out after enduring an internal newsroom campaign of verbal bullying, which included bizarre claims that she was a racist and a Nazi (these slurs targeting a Jewish woman whose recent book is titled How to Fight Anti-Semitism). …

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The Moral Panic over ‘Sexualisation’

When I was running a streaming adult movie site in 2007, two business threats appeared almost simultaneously—one from the market and the other from the state. The first was the arrival on the scene of YouPorn and a plethora of similar “tube” sites, which provided free streaming content. Within a couple of years, the tubes had ravaged the global pornography industry and put most players out of business. With their retail base annihilated, many of the big production studios were snapped up by Manwin (which later became Mindgeek), the owner of the biggest tube sites, and it gained a near-monopoly over what remained of the industry. My business limped on for a few more years, but from the autumn of 2007 onward, we saw a consistent month-on-month decline in sales. The second threat came from what are euphemistically called British media regulators. Ofcom—a huge state-funded body with a wide range of responsibilities—maintained a tight grip on TV and radio, and the British Board of Film Classification or BBFC (a private business) enjoyed a government monopoly …

My Brief Spell as an Activist

I knew a few social justice campaigners in high school. They were advocates, they liked to remind the rest of us, and they were endowed with holy outrage and an acute awareness of inequality and a passion for tolerance that never quite translated into actual kindness. They wore t-shirts that bore slogans like “The Future Is Female,” they crusaded against “oppressive” dress codes, and they confronted a patriarchal grading system. They were practised in the art of derailing conversation with accusations of heteronormativity or cultural appropriation. The battles they won (“We can wear tube tops now!”) were triumphs of resistance, while those they lost only accentuated the ubiquity of the inequity du jour. No matter how petty and irrational their grievances became, these students eluded criticism from peers, teachers, and administrators alike. Nobody wanted to take them on. After all, who wanted to argue with the pursuit of justice? Throughout high school, conversations were had, discourses were dismantled, lived experiences were brandished, and I sat through all of it silently. I was more bored by …

The Lawrence Mead Affair

Lawrence Mead, a long-time proponent of welfare reform, is a professor of politics and public policy at New York University. On July 21st this year, an ill-advised article he had written, ‘Poverty and Culture’, appeared in the academic journal Society. The article began by asking, “Why do so many Americans remain destitute… even when jobs are available?” According to Mead, the answer is not “social barriers, such as racial discrimination or lack of jobs,” but rather “cultural difference.” Noting that “the seriously poor are mostly blacks and Hispanics,” he argued that such individuals have not internalised Western norms of individualism. As a consequence, he maintained, “they are at a disadvantage competing with the European groups—even if they face no mistreatment on racial grounds.” Regarding the claim that “black social problems” are due to “white oppression,” Mead argued, “By that logic, the problems should have been worst prior to the civil rights reforms in the 1960s.” Yet in his reading of events, “The collapse of the black family occurred mostly after civil rights rather than before.” …

Revisiting the Simon-Ehrlich Wager 40 Years On

It is 1980, and you are getting married. Your parents decide to celebrate your nuptials by inviting 100 guests to a wedding reception. The reception cost them $100 per person or $10,000 in total. Fast forward to 2018. Now it is you who is throwing a wedding reception for your child. The guest list has increased by 72 percent (some of the old folk are no longer around, but the cousins have exploded in number). That means that you are now catering to 172 people. The price per guest remained the same (suspend your disbelief and ignore inflation for now), and you expect to get a bill for $17,200. Instead, the bill comes to $4,816, which is less than half of what your parents paid for you. How is that possible, you ask the caterer? The caterer responds that for every one percent increase in attendance, the bill fell by one percent. And so, while the number of guests rose by 72 percent, your bill declined by 72 percent. Surely, things like that don’t happen …

The End of the Islamic Republic of Iran?

The recent explosion in Beirut was like the most recent episode in a tragic decline. Beirut used to be known as Paris in the Levant and the bride of Middle Eastern cities. It was once beautiful, cultured, and exotic. No longer. Last year, hyperinflation, shortages of food and energy, unaccountable government, and a steady erosion of social liberties combined to ignite widespread protests. The protestors only demand: That Iran get out of their country. A New York Times investigative team found that the explosion had been the result of negligence—a rot inside the government. Those protests coincided with protests in Iraq, which also demanded an end to Iran interference, and in Iran itself, where protestors demanded that Iran stop meddling in Lebanon and Iraq. In neighboring Syria, half a million died between 2011 and 2016, and millions more were displaced. There are signs of life in Syria, but no sign of living. Everything Iran touches dies, and its regime extends its malign influence wherever it can. The civil war devastating Yemen began when the Iran-backed Houthis …

Is China the Governance of the Future?

In his 2009 book When China Rules the World, Martin Jacques notes with satisfaction that “as a Chinese world order begins to take shape, the American world order is eroding with remarkable speed.” His widely praised book is highly complimentary to the present Chinese polity and to its president, Xi Jinping—Jacques sees the huge nation as an example to developing countries, especially in its creation of what he calls a “proactive, competent, and strategic state.” Jacques is one of the most enthusiastic boosters of China in the West, and his book aims to show that an increasingly dynamic China will soon lay a claim to global hegemony. Since its publication, he has increasingly acted as the country’s promoter, welcoming its growing strength and hoping it will take its rightful throne as soon as may be. His commentary does make clear, although without adverse comment, that China lacks democratic institutions. Nevertheless, his emphasis is on its efficiency and its strategic thinking—an ability, he writes, that the US, “locked in old ways of thinking” and with “hardened …

How We Lost Our Way on Human Rights

Sir Roger Scruton died on January 12th. He was a philosopher, public intellectual, provocateur, novelist, composer, lawyer, organist, and Fellow of The British Academy. Scruton wrote more than 50 books, as well as countless literary articles and journalistic columns. His work attracted opprobrium—but also much admiration. In 2017, I joined a small gaggle of admirers from around the world for 10 days of philosophizing with Sir Roger. At the time, I had recently left my position in university administration and teaching politics to work as CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. We attended seminars and excursions, and typically ended our days with hours of conversation over long dinners and musical performances. One afternoon, I found myself alone with our host in his study. Scruton, as I was already aware, was skeptical of the direction in which the human-rights movement was headed. He agreed wholeheartedly with what others would call first-generation human rights—in his terms, “claims for liberty” drawn from natural law. In particular, he defended the idea of individual agency, which …

For Some Adjunct Professors, It’s Speak Your Mind versus Keep Your Job

The issue of academic freedom is particularly tenuous for the growing number of college teachers who hold positions that are neither tenured nor on the tenure track. Various titles are used to describe these positions, including adjunct professor, visiting professor, professor of practice, professor in residence, acting professor, and lecturer. There is wide variation in the job duties, qualifications for appointment, and appointment procedures associated with such titles. (And in some rare cases, it should be noted, university instructors who aren’t tenured faculty do have security of employment—such as at the University of California, at which some adjuncts have a “Lecturer with Security of Employment” job title.) But for simplicity, we will use the term “adjunct” to describe any college instructor who does not have, and is not on a formal track to receive security of employment through the tenure system. There is tremendous variation regarding the length of service and level of involvement that adjuncts have with colleges. An adjunct might be hired for a period of only a few months to teach a …

George Orwell, Henry Miller, and the ‘Dirty-Handkerchief Side of Life’

I. In December 1936, George Orwell was on his way to Spain to join the Republican side in the fight against fascism. On the way, he stopped in Paris where he met with Henry Miller in his Montparnasse studio. As D. J. Taylor notes in Orwell: The Life, Miller’s friend Alfred Perlès was present for the meeting, and he recalled an encounter that perfectly captured the seemingly antithetical worldviews of the two men. Miller thought Orwell’s decision to fight in Spain was absurd—as Taylor puts it (summarizing Perlès’s account of Miller’s attitude): “Wasn’t he more use to the world alive than dead? Orwell replied ‘earnestly and humbly’ that in extraordinary times there could be no thought of avoiding self-sacrifice.” Miller then offered his corduroy jacket as a “contribution to the Republican war effort,” but he “tactfully refrained from adding that Orwell would have been welcome to the jacket even if he had been fighting for Franco.” “Watching the two of them together,” Taylor writes, “Perlès was struck by the sharp contrast in personality and temperament, …