Attempts to find contemporary political meaning in the most popular works of science fiction and fantasy are a perennial favorite on the Internet, even when they get out of hand.
The most reason one seems to be a dispute over whether a post on J.K. Rowling’s blog makes mistakes about political science as it relates to the history of Africa. Timothy Burke, an anthropologist at Bryn Mawr, has all the links here and here; Vox has an explainer here. I like Burke’s, especially, because he goes into what he thinks the differences would be, between an African magical establishment of the kind described by Rowling, and what she describes at Hogwarts.
Attempts to find a philosophical meaning in a book based explicitly on Plato’s Republic are not very surprising. Jo Walton’s The Just City is such a book, and Crooked Timber has a symposium about it.
My mother’s primary e-mail account is with one of those free
service providers, so she gets a lot of spam.
For some reason, some of it’s in German, and I can read German a little,
so she asked me what it said. Here’s a
little bit from one of them:
“Die 99% - die Elite – sorgt dafür, dass Sie in so einem
Hamsterrad sind und bleiben.” (The 99% -
the elite – make sure you will remain in your hamster wheel. That’s why you aren’t making large amounts of
money, working from home.)
What I like about this is that it identifies “the 99%” as “the
elite.” I didn’t know spammers were
using Occupy rhetoric in their pitches now, but then again I haven’t been
paying much attention.
I also like one of the other e-mails, which describes
someone who’s used the product as a “Müttersöhnchen” (which might be translated
by the “Pump You Up” guys on Saturday
Night Live as “a puny little mama’s boy”) who’s thirty-eight years old and
still lives “bei Mutti,” but who in his first week made 4,575 Euros. Everyone who uses the system, apparently,
makes 4,575 Euros in the first week.
At a major conference I attended as
a PhD student, I presented a paper on a fraction of my research in hybrid
digital and human networks. As the panel concluded, an angry man approached me
and accused me of “using” “his” work without citing him. Between the shouting
and gesturing, I came to understand that he believed the only possible source
of one of my presentation examples was his (unpublished) research. As a novice
scholar, I was too stunned by the aggression and implicit accusation to do more
than stand there. Eventually he stormed off promising to follow up. A few days
later, he emailed me a citation of a forthcoming journal article he had
co-written. In his email he insisted I either cease discussing the broad topic
or refer to his work *whenever* I did. He also demanded I *never* return to
that particular conference to engage in similar discussions.
I also liked the post titled “Home
Economics Is Roughly the Same as Electrical Engineering.” I’ve actually had the contrary experience. Someone on a listserv once took the time to
e-mail me off-list to explain that when he thinks of engineering, what he
thinks of is in fact EE, and that to him software engineering is more on a par,
probably, with “domestic engineering”—which I suppose is basically home ec
(rather than “social engineering” done by the NSA, as opposed to CIA, or
something). And then again it could have
been a woman letting me know what the dominant male culture thinks of what I do
for a living. Really, it could have been.
On the other hand, some people are just jerks. I’ve heard similar behavior to some of this—a
college junior saying, “if you want to know everything there is about
cryptography, come see me, because I did a research paper on it last year,”
announcing this to a whole room of undergraduate and graduate students, and at
least 80% men. I’m sure that in private
women get a lot more of it, and unattached from any kind of friendly rivalry
where the same would be expected in return.
But a lot will be new to people who haven’t thought about it before.
Also this one. I have to say, if I ran across that on the
Internet (rather than a close friend on Facebook whose judgment I trusted in
other things), I’d assume the guy was either mentally disturbed or a character
in a Harry
Frankfurt essay (that link only works sometimes for me, try this if it doesn't). At least on
Facebook you could ignore the guy, instead of feeling you had to defend your
honor and reputation by refusing to let him get the best of you.
Language Log, commenter “anon” (who I'd guess is British) says:
years ago, some Army combat engineers tried to teach dogs to sniff out
explosives. They taught the dogs to bark once for a land mine, twice for an
unexploded bomb, and so forth. Unfortunately, when the dogs encountered
explosives for which they had not been taught barking and growling patterns,
the dogs ignored the explosives, and some of the dogs and their trainers were
blown to bits.
engineers concluded that the dogs' ability to detect explosives depended on the
words for explosives in the dogs' language.
Here's a candidate who embodies and epitomizes not just conservative values but a conservative style. At the same time, she's a person who inspires very little confidence in her ability to run a modern government. Which of these things is more important to you?
Frum voted for the McCain/Palin ticket, and said he thought there was nothing to choose between Palin and Obama when it came to fitness for high office. He's the most well known of those Republicans who criticized the Palin VP pick very harshly (as did his wife, Danielle Crittenden, at the Huffington Post), and he writes genial posts on occasion about the English and American novel, but he is the farthest thing from "nonpartisan" that can be imagined.
He and others are trying to find a new direction for “conservatism,” by which they mean the Republican party. To begin to see why they are unlikely to succeed, and why David Frum is not a good ally for those who might consider themselves to be “cultural conservatives” without strong ties to either party, try to answer the following questions:
1. What are “conservative values”? a) Values typically possessed by the mass of people who accept things as they are b) Opposition to values typically possessed by those who can’t rightly be considered part of “the mass of people who accept things as they are” c) Values that derive from conservative institutions, such as Christianity, the writings that constitute “Western Civilization,” and the medical professions d) Values that my parents, grandparents, and teachers shared
2. What best characterizes a “conservative style”? a) “Of the people,” practical-minded, taking cues from the past b) Proudly defiant and defiantly anti-intellectual c) Calm, staid and dignified d) Reminds me of the most respected members of the community in which I spent the most time as a child
3. What would “inspire confidence in [a person’s] ability to run a modern government” or other large organization? a) Has worked in large organizations, had management positions within them, got things done effectively and reasonably efficiently, left behind a good reputation among other people in those organizations b) Knows everything without having to ask or to look it up, and doesn’t take no for an answer or let anyone push him/her around c) Good manners, conservative moral values, requires hard work from themselves and others, makes the bottom line a priority d) Reminds me of the people my teachers and past employers had labeled as having “leadership qualities”
4. Which set of answers would be given by a) Ramesh Ponnuru? b) Ross Douthat? c) Andrew Sullivan? d) David Frum? e) Leon Wieseltier? f) Jim Manzi?
5. Who can the GOP most easily do without?
6. Who is most likely to stick with the GOP no matter what?
7. Why do conservatives feel that “values” and “style” are appropriate criteria for choosing a president?
8. Who or what is responsible for the fact that global warming and obesity are considered partisan issues? a) Human nature b) Capitalism c) Secular humanism d) “Arrogant libruls always telling people what to do” e) National Review and rightwing talk radio
9. Who or what is responsible for the fact that “modern art” was long considered a partisan issue?
10. What is the difference -- if any -- between a policy argument and a strategy argument?
Jan Freeman, in her language column in today’s Boston Globe, shares a complaint she’s been sent from readers: people asking us to “confirm” or to “verify” information when what they really mean is, “give me the information yourself.” Freeman’s answer: (nicely) get over it.
Of course if we just got over it, Freeman and other language writers wouldn’t have much to say. And it’s fun to bring up peeves. When I read the first paragraph of her column to my husband, he brought up his own -- that when you’re on a plane and about to land, the pilot says you are making your “initial descent.” Why an “initial” descent? Does the pilot envision that you’ll some of the time have to climb again and then start over?