All posts filed under: Top Stories

At Australian Ballot Boxes, the Left’s Empathy Deficit Came Home to Roost

The result of Saturday’s federal election in Australia is being treated as the most staggering political shocker in my country since World War II. Scott Morrison, leading the Liberal Party, looks to have won a majority government—a result that defies three years of opinion polling, bookie’s odds and media commentary. In the aftermath, analysts on both sides are trying to explain what went wrong for the centre-left Australian Labor Party, and what went right for the centre-right Liberals. Some attribute the result to Morrison’s personal likeability, and his successful targeting of the “quiet Australian” demographic—the silent majority whose members feel they rarely have a voice, except at the ballot box. Others cast the result as Australia’s Hilary-Clinton moment: Bill Shorten, who resigned following Saturday’s loss, was, like Clinton, an unpopular political insider who generated little enthusiasm among his party’s traditional constituencies. In 2010 and again in 2013, he roiled the Labor Party by supporting two separate internal coups, machinations that cast him as a self-promoter instead of a team player. The swing against Labor was …

Identity, Islam, and the Twilight of Liberal Values—A Review

A review of Identity, Islam, and the Twilight of Liberal Values by Terri Murray, Cambridge Scholars, 212 pages (Dec. 2018) After the collapse of the totalitarian Communist regimes in 1989-91, Francis Fukuyama famously wrote in The End of History and the Last Man that “we may have reached the end of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of government.” Terri Murray begins Identity, Islam and the Twilight of Liberal Values by arguing that Fukuyama’s optimism was premature, because the rise of religious fundamentalism—especially radical Islam—has become a powerful bulwark against the spread of liberal democracy. Rather than exposing and opposing the damage done by Islamism in the West, soi disant liberals, leftists, and progressives have acted as its supporters and cheerleaders. Murray instead labels them as “pseudo-liberals” and the “regressive Left” as a result of their abandonment of bedrock liberal principles, and progressive and secular values. Murray aims to diagnose the ways in which European and American social liberalism has been eroded in the post-9/11 era, asserting …

The Abortion Issue Isn’t About ‘The Patriarchy’

On Wednesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law the most restrictive ban on abortion in the United States. The legislation bans all abortions—even in cases of rape and incest—with exceptions being offered only to pregnant women whose lives are in serious danger. Medical practitioners who perform abortions will be liable for felony charges, which carry a potential sentence of up to 99 years in prison. (Mothers will not be liable.) Alabama has gone even further than other states that recently have passed anti-abortion laws, since those laws ban the practice only after a heartbeat is detected—usually at six or eight weeks into a pregnancy. The Guardian’s headline on the Alabama story—These 25 Republicans—all white men—just voted to ban abortion in Alabama—channelled a dominant social-media meme by putting gender front and centre. Twitter and Facebook were rife with claims that Alabama’s bill, like other anti-abortion laws, was really all about men attacking women’s rights and bodily autonomy. Perhaps the most succinct articulation of this view goes back to 1971, when feminist Gloria Steinem famously claimed: …

Goodbye, Herman Wouk

On May 17, American novelist Herman Wouk died, just ten days before he was due to turn 104. If Ernest Hemingway’s life and career had been as long as those of Herman Wouk, he’d have been alive as recently as 2003 and he’d have published a book in 1999. Had John Steinbeck lived and worked as long as Wouk, he’d have seen the re-election of George W. Bush and have published a book around the same time as Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Had Charles Dickens lived as long as Wouk, he’d have witnessed the arrival of World War I. Had Arthur Conan Doyle lived as long, he might’ve heard the Beatles first single, “Love Me Do,” on the radio in his final days. Rudyard Kipling would have been able to purchase a copy of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Wouk not only outlived all of his Lost Generation heroes (notably Thomas Wolfe and Hemingway), but also all of his literary contemporaries of the Greatest Generation (Malmud, Welty, Salinger, Bellow, Mailer, Cheever, Vonnegut, Vidal, Heller). …

A Contrarian View of Digital Health

“The pursuit of health is a symptom of unhealth.” —Petr Skrabanek Picture Jim from Kentucky. A farmer, tall, Peterbilt hat. Just retired. He takes basic meds for high blood pressure and diabetes. Arthritis slows him but he has no cardiac symptoms. He plays cards, goes fishing and hangs out with his grandkids. Jim’s family bought him a smart watch, so he could improve his health. The watch kept telling him that his heart rate was low. Jim called his family doctor, who arranged an urgent cardiology visit. Jim’s electrocardiogram showed occasional premature ventricular contractions (PVCs). His cardiologist worried because PVCs can indicate trouble. Jim tried to reassure his doctor, saying, “I feel well.” The cardiologist insisted on further testing. One of the scans—known for its propensity for false-positives—showed an abnormality. So Jim, the asymptomatic happy man who met the cardiologist because of a smart watch, had a near-normal coronary angiogram—a test that requires placing a catheter in the heart. Soon after the procedure, Jim stopped talking, his face drooped and he could not move the …

Conformity and the Dangers of Group Polarization

Editor’s Note: This is excerpted from Conformity: The Power of Social Influences by Cass R. Sunstein, 198 pages, NYU Press (May 28, 2019) When people talk to one another, what happens? Do they compromise? Do they move toward moderation? The answer is now clear, and it is not what intuition would suggest: members of deliberating groups typically end up in a more extreme position, consistent with their tendencies before deliberation began. This is the phenomenon known as group polarization. Group polarization is the usual pattern with deliberating groups, having been found in hundreds of studies involving more than a dozen countries, including the United States, France, and Germany. It helps account for many terrible things, including terrorism, stoning, and “mobbing” in all its forms. It follows that a group of people who think that immigration is a serious problem will, after discussion, think that immigration is a horribly serious problem; that those who approve of an ongoing war effort will, as a result of discussion, become still more enthusiastic about that effort; that people who …

Conspiracism at the Atlantic

In his short story The Portrait of Mr W.H. (1889), Oscar Wilde depicts a quest to identify the mysterious dedicatee, known only as Mr W.H, of Shakespeare’s sonnets. On purely internal evidence, his protagonists “prove” that it must have been an enchanting boy actor called Willie Hughes. The conceit, clearly deriving from Wilde’s own sexual interests, is compellingly written and completely fictitious. Last weekend the Atlantic magazine published a long article that I initially assumed must be a similarly imaginative parody of misplaced literary ingenuity. The piece, titled “Was Shakespeare a Woman?”, suggests that the works attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford may have been written by a woman. The author, Elizabeth Winkler, maintains: “Doubts about whether William Shakespeare … really wrote the works attributed to him are almost as old as the writings themselves.” She accuses what she calls orthodox Shakespeare scholars of “a dogmatism of their own” on the issue, whereby “even to dabble in authorship questions is considered a sign of bad faith, a blinkered failure to countenance genius in a glover’s …

On the Vital Importance of (Good) Journalism

Editor’s Note: This is the text of a speech delivered by Victor Greto at the Delaware Press Association Awards banquet on May 2, 2019. My experience as a journalist for three decades, and as a professor for more than a decade, has given me at least one insight: that the core of journalism as a vocation and duty has been dissipating in an increasingly divided American society mesmerized by technology and social media. Teaching classes at Wesley College for the past decade has revealed to me declining knowledge among students of the importance or relevance of an independent institution which keeps tabs on the powers-that-be, from federal and state governments to college administrations. In fact, it seems to me that the majority of news acceptable to most of us must be that which confirms our own political and social prejudices and expectations for it to elicit any kind of approval and to be sharable on social media. This unfortunately encompasses many un-journalistic tributaries of journalism, including public relations and fake news. There is nothing inherently …

Seventy-five Years Later, Hungary Still Hasn’t Come to Terms with its Role in the Holocaust

On the 75th anniversary of the extermination of most of Hungary’s Jews—including the Auschwitz deportations, which began in May, 1944—we should also take note of the Hungarian government’s apparent determination to distort the country’s historical record. In some circles, this effort includes even the rehabilitation of Miklós Horthy, the longtime Hungarian Regent who governed Hungary during the Holocaust. A former admiral and adjutant to the Habsburg Emperor-King, Horthy entered Budapest in dramatic style with his army on November 16, 1919, astride a white horse. His army defeated the ragtag Bolshevik forces that had imposed 133 days of “Red Terror” upon the country, but also inflicted its own “White Terror,” in some ways more brutal than its communist predecessor. Early during Horthy’s rule, Hungary enacted some of Europe’s first 20th-century anti-Jewish laws. Jews were capped at 6% of university admissions, and subsequent measures limited Jewish participation in elite professions to the same benchmark. Jews also were prohibited from working in the public service and judiciary, or as high school teachers. During World War II, an additional …

Naked Yoga and Cuddle Parties: Lap Dancing Clubs for the Woke

My friend Eva, who has accompanied me to a buffet of odd events, is giving me her feedback on the people we’ve encountered there. “I don’t know what it is, but I’ve noticed that if there’s an event with nakedness, the majority of people who turn up will be older guys.” As a journalist writing about weird workshops and unusual classes I’ve covered cuddle parties, rope-binding, naked yoga, and tantra, to name but a few. These classes are popular with the hipsters who are colonising Hackney Wick and other areas of East London in the throes of gentrification. And with each event I cover, I become more suspicious that these “alternative” workshops are simply a way for apparently progressive men to gawp at women—lap dancing clubs for the woke. On the surface, these workshops are all above-board. After all, what could be creepy about a fully-clothed cuddle? Don’t we all need some affection? What could be impure about practising yoga as nature intended? Surely we could all benefit from taking part in such innocuous activities? …