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Free enterprise

“Balancing” the past

The Republican majority on the Texas Board of Education has revised the state’s social-studies curriculum so as to make Republicans in history look better, to call “into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution”, and to ensure that students will learn about “the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association”. ((Thanks to richard.))

“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

History has already been skewed, you see. So it’s only right to skew it back. Indeed, perhaps deliberately skewing it back will restore it to an essentially unskewed state? Or perhaps the argument is that the curriculum has been skewed too far towards the truth, and that needs to be “balanced” with lies. Lies weigh as much as the truth, you know. Sometimes even more!

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.”

“Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’ ”

This is a surprising pre-emptive move, but one can admire the thinking behind the preference for free-enterprise system: after all, everyone loves what is free (except perhaps for free radicals?), and everyone loves the USS Enterprise.

In the field of sociology, another conservative member, Barbara Cargill, won passage of an amendment requiring the teaching of “the importance of personal responsibility for life choices” in a section on teenage suicide, dating violence, sexuality, drug use and eating disorders.

“The topic of sociology tends to blame society for everything,” Ms. Cargill said.

Yes, the clue’s in the name, isn’t it? Sociology blames society for everything, just as criminology blames criminals for everything, virology blames viruses for everything, and geology blames the world for everything?

8


Linked to

Miaow miaow, croak

In the latest drug scare to hit the UK, the news media is excitedly reporting that Cake mephedrone has been linked to several deaths of young people. Have coroners and toxicology reports determined that mephedrone was actually the cause of death in these cases? Er, no. All that is known is that the unfortunate users had taken some of it, along with other drugs (in what is usually known as a cocktail). So far, then, mephedrone is thus linked to these deaths in the same way that what you had for breakfast is linked to your being run over by a bus three hours later. Your breakfast could have been to blame (perhaps it was spiked with LSD, causing you to wander out abruptly into the road), but that remains to be empirically demonstrated.

As things stand, then, to report that mephedrone is linked to instadeath is not to report a causal link or a statistically robust correlation; it is simply to report the existence of, and thus to perpetuate, a media fiction that, as cast in the passive voice, also dissuades us from wondering about the identity and medical authority of the original hypothesizer (who is doing this linking, and on what evidence?). On the basis of this fiction, our guardians of health and sanity are demanding that users of mephedrone be criminalized forthwith. This kind of evidence-agnostic hysteria, of course, is standard procedure for official drugs policy, as David Nutt and his colleagues know all too well.

What have you linked to what on the basis of no more evidence than a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy lately, readers?

25


Delivering

Post-modernity

Tony Judt, talking to Kristina Boži? in the LRB:

In Britain the most striking abuse of language is the redefinition of private, for-profit economic activities as services provided by the state. A concrete example is the way private entrepreneurs were given the right to run old people’s homes. However, no one wants to spell that out, which is why they are described as ‘delivering’ the service, as if they were the milkman bringing milk to old people. It prevents people from fully grasping that the state has handed over its mandate of responsibility to a private actor, whose motivation is to provide the cheapest possible service and make the most money. ((Thanks to Tawfiq Chahboune.))

Quite. One might add that to speak of delivering a service also helps to imply that, regardless of who is doing the delivering, the service does not change, just as a parcel would be the same whether it was DHL or Royal Mail who took it to the recipient; though this is obviously untrue for privatized social services.

It is a further irony, I suppose, that such widespread usage of delivering seeks to add to more or less complex or abstract activities (also: delivering “shareholder value”, delivering “growth”, in general delivering deliverables) a connotation of direct, dynamic physicality (the honest work of moving stuff from one place to another) at a time when people who do actually deliver physical objects are under attack from all sides — indeed, as Roy Mayall has explained, you can even be a private postal company without ever actually delivering anything, because Royal Mail will take it to the letterbox while you take the profit.

From what would you like to be delivered, readers?

5


An interview without coffee

It’s bean rough

Annals of military discipline:

[T]he soldier was given “an interview without coffee” (ie a bollocking) for his trouble. ((Private Eye, no. 1258 (19 March), p6.))

Quite. Is there anything that isn’t transformed into an intimidating and unpleasant version of itself by the enforced absence of coffee?

4


Teamed

équipe-ment

Purifying the dialect of the fashion tribe, part deux: ((Part une.)) my Guardian colleague Sarah Crown tweeted the other day about “the need to stop saying ‘teamed’?! ‘A jean, teamed with a shoe…’ Infuriating.”

I agree! Literally seconds of research on my part turned up the following examples:

The 27-year-old fellow Russian suffered a fashion own goal as she stepped out in a ghastly hot pink Juicy Couture tracksuit and white quilted vest yesterday. And taking colour co-ordination to the extreme, she teamed the outfit with a hot pink Nike handbag and hot pink trimmed Nike sneakers. [Daily Mail.]

They wear the latest fashions, teamed with the most up-to-date accessories. Yet these are not girls in their teens or twenties but women in their sixties and seventies. [Daily Mail.]

[Jonathon] Ross teamed the cape with knee-high biker boots. [Daily Mail?]

Has this fashion use of teamed been influenced by our age’s immanent corporate-cultural propaganda according to which a team is the best possible arrangement of people imaginable for any conceivable circumstance? ((The correct response to “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team'” is: “There’s no ‘we’ in ‘team’ either, fuckface.” Part of the point of brainwashing employees into thinking of themselves as teams, eg in the kind of corporate team-building exercises discussed in an earlier thread, is presumably to distract them from the realization of their essential servility: a trick perhaps learned from military organization.)) Or is it rather that thinking of my leather jacket as being teamed with my socks makes me feel just a little less alone in an implacable, uncaring universe, as though I am not a mere puny individual but — thanks to the semantically complex fashion products fastidiously draped around my person — a team?

Such disturbing connotations noted, I still feel this could go either way. If we censure this use of teamed, then fashion hacks, whose job is already arduous enough, will be condemned to falling back on more boring constructions such as combined with. As a contrarian experiment, it might be worthwhile to extend the usage into new areas. This evening, for instance, I aim to team lashings of beer with a delicious curry. Hmmm. I must say I find it hard to detect anything the least undesirable in that sentence.

What are you planning to team with what today, readers?

14


Post-American

Bolton on Obama

Via the dunderwhelpish gabbling of one “Melanie Phillips”, I learn that John Bolton, moustachio’d former US “ambassador” to the UN, has described Barack Obama as post-American:

Mr. Netanyahu’s current government had, until last week, strived to stay close to President Barack Obama. That strategy would have been entirely sensible if Mr. Obama were simply another president in the long line since Franklin Roosevelt who vigorously asserted U.S. national interests, championed our friends (especially beleaguered ones), and kept alliances strong. But Mr. Obama is different.

He is our first post-American president. He looks beyond American exceptionalism and believes that our role on the world stage should be merely one nation among many. ((WSJ preview; full text here, eg.))

There is a difference, of course, between arguing that Obama’s policies are somehow post-American-exceptionalism, and saying that Obama himself is post-American. The insinuation blatantly is that he is not really American, a notion that will doubtless give succour to “birthers”, racists, and other nidiots. Indeed, one might even suspect that the phrase is designed to do just that, to act as a little slow-fused bomb of hatred and contempt secreted within an ostensibly rational discussion of foreign policy in a broadsheet newspaper. I don’t recall any Republican wingnuts arguing that, say, Bill Clinton or Al Gore were not actually American; presumably there is something about Obama other than the colour of his skin that renders the accusation more relevant in his case, though I cannot right now think what it might be.

What are you post–, readers?

10


Fully refreshed

And out of a job

Concerned members of the Royal Institution have come up with a splendid new euphemism:

members will be asked to vote to pass three motions: first, that the trustees explain the decision to abolish the post of director; second, the introduction of a bylaw allowing a meeting to “fully refresh” the council; and third, that the council should be fully refreshed, and a new transitional council be appointed. ((Thanks to Judith Weingarten.))

I don’t suppose that the current members of the council will be lulled by this delicate Unspeak into a false sense of security, perhaps believing that a motion to fully refresh them equates to a proposal that they be furnished with thoroughly satisfying quantities of tea and cake?

7


Entropic juggernaut

Atomic physics

John Gray reviews Jeremy Rifkin in the Guardian:

“Our rush to universal empathic connectivity,” Rifkin writes, “is running up against a rapidly accelerating entropic juggernaut in the form of climate change and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

IANAP, but doesn’t “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” contribute rather a (local) decrease in entropy — at least until they go off?

6



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