Among the Intellectualoids

Among the Intellectualoids

What ‘The Goldfinch’ and Commencement Speeches Have In Common

By 6.19.14

If you were following the great Commencement Speaker Bloodbath of 2014, you might have noticed that there were two stories happening. Here’s story number one: “hyper-sensitive college students suppress freedom of speech.” This was the story most people accepted at the time. The other story went like this: “college administrators and commencement speakers prove unable to handle freedom of speech.” This story, though less popular, fits the facts a little better.

Students, though loud and opinionated, have no real power; they can’t even suppress a mouse uprising in their dorm rooms without administrative help. As protests go, these were weak. Christine Lagarde, for instance, decided not to give an address at Smith’s commencement ceremony over a Change.org petition. When have you ever heard about a Change.org petition as anything other than the punchline to a joke?

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Among the Intellectualoids

Satan and Man at Harvard

By 5.11.14

Plans for a Satanic black mass Monday evening in Memorial Hall at Harvard University recall conservative icon William Buckley's famous God and Man at Yale, which in 1951 chastised his Ivy League school for abandoning its Christian roots. His critique applied to nearly all of America's most prestigious, historically Protestant academies that shed their church affiliations in favor of a brash secularism. 

What would Buckley, a devout Catholic, say today about a black mass at Harvard, the nation's oldest university and founded by the Puritans to train Calvinist clergy?

The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston expressed its “deep sadness and strong opposition to the plan to stage a 'black mass' on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge.” Certainly Buckley would be sad too but not too surprised. He diagnosed the spiritual and intellectual trajectory over 60 years ago.

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Among the Intellectualoids

Plato’s Stepchildren

By 5.1.14

Here’s a puzzle: Rebecca Newberg Goldstein has released a very solid and well-received book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away. Half-dialogue, half-explanatory essay, practically every page has a citation that goes to one Platonic dialogue or another. And yet, the further I read, the more I missed Plato. Sure, there was a Plato on the page. But I didn’t recognize him—or the Greeks, for that matter, who seem reduced to a set of ideological stereotypes.

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Among the Intellectualoids

Junk Economics at the ‘Times’

By 3.8.14

The Great Divide” series of articles on inequality in the New York Times offers a textbook example of exaggerating the size of the hole and ignoring the donut. In “We Are Not All in This Together,” for instance, sociology professor Shamus Khan at Columbia paints a picture of the economy as a fixed pie: “Let’s be honest. If a few of us are better off, then many are not. If many are better off, then a few will be constrained. Which world would you rather live in? To me the answer is obvious.”

In fact, Khan’s assertion of how the world works is far from obvious.

Is he saying the rest of us became worse off when Steve Jobs and his top associates became better off? Is he claiming that we’ll somehow become worse off, automatically, if the stockholders of Merck or Bristol-Myers become better off because their investments succeed in producing a drug that can zap cancer tumors via the immune system?

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Among the Intellectualoids

Jesuitical Confusion

By 2.13.14

There was a remarkable piece titled “What We Wrought” recently in America, a Jesuit publication, by a Catholic pacifist long active against the U.S. led overthrow of Saddam Hussein. It is remarkable primarily because even as it bewails how the U.S. “destroyed” Iraq, it omits all mention of Saddam and his own central role in Iraq’s destruction.

The Catholic anti-war activist recalls her own travel 12 years ago to Iraq under the unnamed dictator in solidarity against international sanctions and against the impending U.S. led invasion. She was active with “Voices in the Wilderness,” a now disbanded group militantly against Iraq war and sanctions, as well as U.S. nuclear weapons and Israeli policies.

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The Worst Idea in the World

By 2.5.14

Five years after the Bolshevik Revolution, Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises predicted that the Soviet project was doomed to fail. In his classic work Socialism, Mises explained that the attempt to replace the market system with central economic planning could not succeed, because the planners could not possibly have the information necessary to make all the decisions which, in a market economy, are made by individuals whose needs and desires are reflected in prices: "The problem of economic calculation is the fundamental problem of Socialism."

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The Inequality Bogeyman

By 1.28.14

During a recent lunch in a restaurant, someone complimented my wife on the perfume she was wearing. But I was wholly unaware that she was wearing perfume, even though we had been in a car together for about half an hour, driving to the restaurant. 

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Among the Intellectualoids

The Politics of the Carpool Lane

By 1.17.14

My son takes a bus to school, but my daughter does not, and the carpool lane where she and I pass several minutes every weekday morning creeping past traffic cones to whichever teacher has Door Duty at the school entrance can be aggravating. Other parents tend to drive carefully, and we’re all pretty good about making allowances for children who disembark slowly, hefting backpacks that look big enough to hide their siblings. Aggravation, when it happens, is usually triggered by the decals on other vehicles.

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Hot Under the Collar

By 12.19.13

The world now faces its 16th year of no global temperature increases after the 20th century’s one degree increase. Naturally, the faithfully devout believers in cataclysmic human induced “climate change,” formerly known as “global warming,” are digging in their heels, only reluctantly admitting the “pause,” if at all. Liberal religious activists, who specialize in transferring faith away from orthodox belief towards statist political empowerment, are among the most determined climate fundamentalists. There can be no heresy tolerated in the church of radical environmentalism. 

A recent article in Jim Wallis’ Sojourners ignored the stall in global warming and instead plaintively asked: “WHY IS IT so hard for people to respond effectively to the reality of climate change?”

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