All posts filed under: Top Stories

Baizuo Lessons

It has become increasingly common in recent years for universities to contract out their international recruitment efforts to private companies. These companies also often provide a pre-college set of courses designed to get them ready for undergraduate or graduate studies. These “pathway” or “accelerator” programs have come under scrutiny from Inside Higher Ed, the Associated Press, and others over tuition-sharing arrangements. The University of Kansas’s partnership with Shorelight was one of that company’s first two ever. It began its “accelerator” program in the fall of 2014, and curriculum was decided upon jointly between the company and the university. I taught two of these courses as a masters student. These teaching roles come with considerably more responsibility than a graduate assistant generally has: we teach every class, we assign grades, and so on. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, and at first I found it very exciting. I think college students at all levels would benefit from being given more responsibility. Most people thrive when given responsibility, and even the failures are usually instructive. Here …

On the Value of Truth

Many claim that we live in a “post-truth” era. Trust in major civic and political institutions is rapidly declining. People on all sides of the political spectrum dismiss the media as biased at best and little more than “fake news” at worst. The postmodern President of the United States is the most powerful man in the world, and according to Politifact makes statements that range from “half true” to outright lies 83 per cent of the time. In an earlier article for Canada’s The Hill Times, I invoked the philosopher Harry Frankfurt and summarized these developments as a rising “Age of Bullshit.” Concurrently, our post-truth era has been marked with lamentations across the ideological spectrum by those who provide a variety of explanations for our climate of untruth. Many progressives and liberals pin the blame on manipulative conservative politicians such as Trump and Boris Johnson, interference by foreign governments and cyber-attacks, and politically biased media. Many conservatives, meanwhile, pin the blame on progressive activists, the rise of PC culture and oversensitivity, and…politically biased media. I have already …

Tiers of Pride and Shame

On December 9, in the small hours of the morning, a drunk Columbia undergraduate student named Julian von Abele was filmed outside the campus’s main library delivering a passionate ode to whiteness. “White people are the best thing that ever happened to the world,” von Abele declared to a group of students, many of whom were not white. “We invented science and industry, and you want to tell us to stop because, ‘Oh my God we’re so bad.’” In an ill-fated attempt to pacify the collection of students surrounding him, he added the caveat, “I don’t hate other people, I just love white men.” Students and administrators reacted to the incident with unanimous condemnation. Barnard College, Columbia’s sister school, banned von Abele from campus. Many argued that von Abele’s tirade should be understood not as an isolated event, but as a symptom of the university’s ongoing complicity in white supremacy—a systemic problem calling for a systemic solution. Columbia’s Black Student Organization led the charge with a list of demands including extra time for affected students …

Is Western Civilization Uniquely Bad?

This is part three of a four-part series on the Classics.  Even if the concept of Western civilization isn’t inherently incoherent, some would argue that we should still be extremely cautious of it, or maybe even avoid it altogether, because of the way Western nations have engaged in various sorts of racism, war-mongering, and imperialistic exploitation. On this view, the legacy of the West is irredeemably tainted, and we should either steer clear of it altogether, or, if we have to teach it, we should teach it in an openly and self-consciously critical way. Now, it’s impossible to deny that Western nations have done some terrible things. From the Spanish looting of the Inca Empire, to the British massacre of Indian civilians at Amritsar, the list of Western depredations is long. Violence within the West, and among Western nations, has been just as horrific, from the eight million or so deaths caused by the Thirty Years’ War to the 60 or 70 million fatalities of World War II. The problem is, though, that if we …

“Jihadists”—A Review

Jihadists (dir. François Margolin and Lemine Ould Salem, Cinema Libre Studio 2018, 75m) Some years ago, when assessments of the Arab Spring were at their most optimistic, it became common to hear it suggested that al-Qaeda was, if not defeated entirely, then virtually irrelevant. And yet, with all eyes on the Middle East, towns and cities in Mali would soon be falling like dominoes to al-Qaeda and its Islamist allies. This was the context in which two French filmmakers, François Margolin and Lemine Ould Salem, boldly journeyed to North Africa to document life in territory now governed by sharia law. The result of that trip is an extraordinary documentary entitled Jihadists, an unprecedented, unflinching, and unsettling glimpse into life under Islamist control. While it is increasingly hard to miss the existence of this totalitarian ideology, the same cannot be said for Margolin and Salem’s film. Worried that Jihadists offered no dissenting voices to counter the extremists featured in the film, France’s National Center of Cinematography expressed concern that, rather than repel people, the film’s stark portrait …

Correcting ‘Youth’s Eternal Temptation to Arrogance’—One Bedtime Story at a Time

“We almost never take this out because it is really fragile,” said Christine Nelson, a curator at the Morgan Library in New York. I was sitting across from her, in her office. She drew out a small navy-blue case and opened the lid. Inside, its glossy red leather binding embossed with gold, was the earliest surviving volume of the fairy tales of Charles Perrault. This beautiful object had been created in 1695 as a gift for the teenage niece of Louis the Fourteenth, a girl known as “Mademoiselle.” Nelson opened to the frontispiece (illustrated above), revealing a charming little painting. A plain-faced woman in a linen coif and rustic dress sits before a fire, holding a spindle of wool. She seems to be telling a story to three young people in elegant clothes, one of whom leans forward, touching the storyteller’s knees in her eagerness. Curled up by the fire, a plump little cat listens, too. On the wooden door behind the spindle holder, a sign reads: Contes de Ma Mere l’Oye. (Tales of My …

The Posthumous #MeToo-ing of J. D. Salinger

The first day of this year would have been the 100th birthday of J.D. Salinger, the American writer whose 1951 novel of teenage rebellion, The Catcher in the Rye, mesmerized generations and made him a cult figure. The Salinger legend was only enhanced by his reclusive life in rural New Hampshire, where he shunned interviewers and photographers and continued to write but published nothing from 1965 until his death in 2010. Given both Salinger’s literary stature and his mythic aura, the centennial should have been a big deal. And yet it went by almost unremarked—a startling fact that almost certainly has more to do with the cultural and sexual politics of this moment than with Salinger’s place in literature. It is telling that the most prominent essay on Salinger to appear in the American media so far in 2019 has been a Washington Post piece questioning whether the writer is still relevant, given that his best-known work focuses on “the anxieties of a white heterosexual young man expelled from an expensive prep school.” (By that …

Patreon Games

On December 6, crowdfunding service Patreon removed the account of popular YouTuber Carl Benjamin, who is better known by his YouTube moniker Sargon of Akkad. In a statement, Patreon explained that Benjamin was removed for exposing hate speech under its community guidelines, which prohibit: “serious attacks, or even negative generalizations, of people based on their race [and] sexual orientation.” The incident in question was an appearance on another YouTube channel where Benjamin used racial and homosexual slurs during an emotional outburst. (The outburst was transcribed and included for reference as part of Patreon’s statement.) Patreon’s reaction sparked immediate accusations of political bias from many centrists and conservatives, as Benjamin—who identifies as a classical liberal—is a frequent and outspoken critic of contemporary progressivism, receiving hundreds of thousands of views on many of his videos. The fact that Benjamin was removed from Patreon for an outburst on another YouTube channel almost a year ago, when he produces hours of content every week on his own channels and appears regularly on many others, suggested that this was a …

60 Years On: Reflections on the Revolution in Cuba

Sixty years ago, as thousands of Cubans celebrated the fall of Fulgencio Batista’s regime, an atmosphere of hype and hatred was also overtaking Havana. Not many people foresaw what was to come, but on January 1, 1959, the Republic of Cuba was murdered. Few tears were shed for her at the time—some were too busy desperately packing their bags, while others were preoccupied with burning cars and smashing storefront windows. The institutions not destroyed by the previous dictatorship were savagely dismembered in the following months and years by the Castro regime. Cuba’s National Congress would never again return to session in the National Capitol building (or anywhere else, for that matter). Christmas, bars and cabaret clubs, independent trade unions, religious schools, private clubs, large and small businesses, any and all vestiges of what was Cuba before communism—all of these were destroyed, expropriated, or otherwise expunged from the lives and minds of the Cuban people. The Cuban Revolution never disguised its contempt for the greatest symbol of the Republican era: Havana itself. The Havana Hilton hotel …

Malaysia’s Struggle to Preserve Religious Pluralism

For observers of contemporary Malaysia, much has been written about the tropical nation’s creeping Islamization. To define this more specifically, the observable interjection of Islamic morality into its institutions, its legal systems, and its political discourses and practices. The move towards a more puritanical and intolerant Islam has raised alarm bells for a country whose identity is rooted in its cosmopolitan and pluralistic character, raising the ugly specter of ethnic and religious conflict in one of Southeast Asia’s most developed economies. However, the shock victory of an opposition coalition in a historic general election in May 2018 raised hopes of a “New Malaysia.” The incumbent political coalition, Barisan Nasional (National Front), composed of race-based parties, with the dominant United Malay National Organization (UMNO) component explicitly espousing Malay-Muslim supremacy, was ousted after 61 years of uninterrupted rule since the country’s independence from the British in 1957. With a new administration under the Pakatan Harapan (Coalition of Hope) coalition, and with veteran leader Mahathir Mohammed back in power in his second stint as Prime Minister (at the …