Is Chaucer Relevant

The University of Leicester is planning to “decolonize” their English Literature Department by ending the study of Chaucer and other great poets of Medival English and replacing them with new and up-to-date modules on race and sexuality. According to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald:

The University of Leicester will stop teaching the great English medieval poet and author Geoffrey Chaucer in favour of modules on race and sexuality, according to new proposals.

Management told the English department that courses on canonical works would be dropped in favour of modules that “students expect” as part of plans now under consultation.

Foundational texts such as The Canterbury Tales and the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf would no longer be taught, under proposals to scrap medieval literature. Instead, the English faculty will be refocused to drop centuries of the literary canon and deliver a “decolonised” curriculum devoted to diversity.

Academics now facing redundancy were told via email: “The aim of our proposals [is] to offer a suite of undergraduate degrees that provide modules which students expect of an English degree.”

New modules described as “excitingly innovative” would cover: “A chronological literary history, a selection of modules on race, ethnicity, sexuality and diversity, a decolonised curriculum, and new employability modules.”

Professors were told that, to facilitate change, management planned to stop all English language courses, cease medieval literature, and reduce early modern literature offerings.

Despite Chaucer’s position as “the father of English literature”, he will no longer be taught if plans currently under consultation go ahead.

They would end all teaching on texts central to the development of the English language, including the Dark Age epic poem Beowulf, as well as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

This brings up the question of whether we ought to continue to teach these Medieval and Early Modern literary works or whether we ought to eliminate them in favor of newer, more diverse selections. Are these texts still relevant to our modern age, or should they be forgotten as relics of a darker, less tolerant past? Is it more important to study our own history and heritage or a selection of modules on race, ethnicity and the rest of that woke crap? Who is Geoffrey Chaucer anyway, and why should we read him six hundred years after his death?

                                                                         Geoffrey Chaucer

If you remember Chaucer at all from your English classes, you know him as the author of the Canterbury Tales, the one that begins with

When April with its sweet smelling showers

Has pierced the drought of March to the root

and then tells the story of a diverse group of pilgrims to Canterbury who decide to tell each other stories to make the long journey pass by more quickly Chaucer wrote and did a lot more than the Canterbury Tales, however. He was quite an interesting man. Born sometime in the 1340s, we don’t know exactly when; Chaucer was a Member of Parliament and close personal friend of King EdwardIII’s son John of Gaunt. Chaucer held a number of government posts, under the patronage of the royal family, including comptroller of the customs for the port of London, and clerk of the King’s works. King Edward III and his grandson King Richard II entrusted Chaucer

                                               King Edward III

When Chaucer was captured by the French during the Hundred Year’s War, King Edward III paid his ransom out of his own pocket, a measure of how greatly the king valued Chaucer.

Today, Chaucer is known more for his literary endeavors than his services to the King of England. Most educated people know about The Canterbury Tales, but he wrote a whole lot more. Chaucer translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin and wrote a treatise on the astrolabe for his son. His works of poetry include the epic poem Troilus and Criseyde, and of course, the Canterbury Tales, a work he began late in life and never actually finished before his death in 1400.
So that is who Chaucer was. Why should we study him? Well, Geoffrey Chaucer lived and wrote during a pivotal moment in the history of the English Language and Literature. Before Chaucer’s time, English wasn’t considered to be a very prestigious language. Latin was the international language of the Church, scholarship, and diplomacy. If you had anything important to say, you said it in Latin. Since the Norman Conquest of 1066, the aristocrats and anyone of importance in England spoke Norman French. England was a sort of colony of Normandy and English was the language you spoke to the servants or to the peasants to remind them to pay their taxes. The Angevin kings of England were more concerned with their lands on the continent and seldom visited England except to get money to finance their wars and crusades.

The Kings of England spent more time in France than England

This situation began to change about a century before Chaucer’s time, when King John, of Magna Carta fame, managed to lose all of his territory in France. After that, the kings and aristocracy of England began to identify more and more as English rather than Norman and the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons became melded into one English people. English started to become the language of everyday life among the nobility. The process only accelerated with the coming of the Hundred Year’s War. Wars always encourage patriotism and this war was no exception.
English was still not a literary language, however. This had to wait until the later 1300s when Chaucer and other poets, under the patronage of the king, began to what in what is now called Middle English. These poets helped to establish the dialect spoken around London as the form of standard English and developed much of the vocabulary and devices used in English poetry. Geoffrey Chaucer was the greatest of these Middle English poets. His influence cannot be underestimated. Chaucer was, in many ways, the father of English literature, rescuing the English language from the negligence the language had endured after the Norman Conquest. The revival of English as a literary language would likely have occurred without Chaucer, but the history of English literature would be much poorer without him.
Needless to say, My answer to this question is an unambiguous yes. Chaucer is still relevant to the present day and we should still read and study his works. Chaucer’s works have endured for over six hundred years. I doubt very much if any of these modules “on race, ethnicity, sexuality, and diversity” will be read in six decades. If you want to understand the history and development of the English language and literature, you have to study the greatest masters of the English language, including Geoffrey Chaucer and the unknown writer of Beowulf. A university course that does not include these great writers is not teaching English literature. That university is defrauding its students, promising them an educated but delivering only woke fluff; politically correct nonsense that cannot stand the test of time. The woke universities that go this route ought to be shut down for academic fraud and the students’ tuition and other expenses should be paid back to them so they can get a real education.

Nightfall

A couple of months ago, I discovered the science fiction/horror classic The Nightland by William Hope Hodgson. The Night is a poignant story of love and adventure set in a dying world millions of years in the future. In the Nightland the Sun has long ago gone out and the world is shrouded in an eternal night without even the Moon or stars to relieve the darkness of the night sky. The surface of the Earth is frozen and uninhabitable and life is only possible at the bottom of a canyon hundreds of miles deep where there is still some warmth from the Earth’s cooling core. There the last remnant of humanity survives in a gigantic pyramid-shaped Last Redoubt besieged by monsters and eldritch forces of evil. There is no chance for humanity to break the siege or defeat the evil forces arrayed against it. They can only wait until the Earth Current which powers the defenses of the Last Redoubt fail at last and the evil forces destroy them.

This story has made quite an impression on me and lately, I find myself thinking about endings. Maybe it is because I am getting older and can see the end coming, Maybe current events seem to be pointing towards the decline and fall of the American Empire as we watch. Whatever the reason, I have been thinking about the end of all things.

The Nightland was written in 1912 and so the science in the book is more than a little dated. We now know that the Sun is powered by nuclear fusion, not by gravitational collapse, and is going to continue burning for billions rather than millions of years. We also know that the Sun will grow hotter and brighter as it exhausts its hydrogen, that it will become a red giant and will swallow Mercury, Venus, and probably Earth before settling down to become a white dwarf slowly cooling down to become a black dwarf. The Earth, assuming it survives, will have long since become uninhabitable, and the human race, unless we have colonized other star systems, will be extinct.

But what about the universe as a whole? Assuming we have learned to travel the vast distances between the stars and made new homes on other planets, how long can we expect to survive. How long will the universe last? Will the world in fire or ice, as the poet said?

Well, the universe certainly began in fire, according to current scientific theory. To be less poetic, the universe began in a state of extreme temperature and density being very much smaller than it is at present, perhaps even beginning as a singularity of infinite density and infinitesimal size. From this point, the big bang, the universe began to expand very rapidly in the process, creating the matter that currently makes up the universe.

Since the big bang, the universe has continued to expand, becoming ever larger and cooler. The question of whether the universe will end in fire or ice depends on whether that expansion will continue forever or whether at some point it will stop and the universe will begin contracting back to a hotter, denser state, perhaps all the way back into a singularity. Maybe the history of the universe is a never-ending cycle of expansion and contraction. Maybe the universe will end in fire to rise again from its own ashes like the phoenix

That doesn’t seem to be the case, though. The does not seem to be enough matter in the universe to slow its expansion and in fact, the rate of expansion seems to be accelerating due to a mysterious force scientists call. dark energy. If current theories are true, the universe will end in ice. We are living in a universe that will grow ever larger, colder, darker, and emptier without any definite end. The stars will die out as they exhaust their nuclear fuel and after some time there will not be not hydrogen gas in space to create new stars. The galaxies will be filled with the corpses of stars, bodies of degenerate matter such as white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes.

Over the limitless eons, the black holes will attract most of the matter in the universe to themselves with their immense gravitational pull, and eventually, the universe will consist almost entirely of black holes.

This is not quite the end, though. Black Holes do not last forever. According to Stephen Hawking, black holes are not entirely black. For complicated reasons having to do with quantum mechanics, black holes actually emit a small amount of thermal or black body radiation. As they emit this radiation, black holes slowly lose mass, until eventually a black hole is unable to hold itself together with its gravity and it explodes. Paradoxically, larger black holes emit less such radiation than smaller ones. At present, a black hole will take in far more matter and radiation than it could possibly lose through Hawking radiation, but as the universe grows cooler and emptier, black holes will begin to lose mass. This will only happen in the far, distant future and the process of black hole evaporation will take an inconceivably long time, but we are talking about such immense stretches of time that all the thirteen billion years from the big bang to the present is just an eyeblink.

The last events that anyone will observe, if any observers exist, will be the very occasional, perhaps once every billion years, death of a black hole. After the last black hole is gone then night will fall and the universe will be shrouded in darkness, eternal and inescapable. Even matter itself, as we know it will no longer exist if protons decay, as some theories suggest.

Or, maybe not. All of this assumes that our current understanding of the laws of nature over the long eons is correct. It may not be. In fact, it is more than a little presumptuous to imagine that we can know what is really going to happen in the distant future. The universe is full of surprises. In particular, not very much is known about the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the expansion of the universe. The term dark energy seems to me to be a sort of place holder, a short way of saying we don’t know what it is, or anything about it. For all anyone knows, dark energy could reverse itself and cause the universe to contract. Even if our ideas about the future of the universe are correct, they may not be complete. There may be emergent properties in the universe, yet to develop.

To understand what I mean, imagine some form of intelligence arising in the seconds after the big bang. These beings might consider the future of the universe as growing ever colder and darker over such unimaginable lengths of time as days, years, or centuries. They could have no conception that such objects as stars or planets, or even atoms might develop, filling the universe with light and life. In like fashion, it is possible that new forms of matter and energy might develop in the extremely distant future. There could be lifeforms spanning thousands of light-years living for eons who look back on our time as simply the last stage of the big bang, never imagining that anything could live in the dense, hot universe of the past. Perhaps night will not fall, but the universe will continue to be filled with life in forms we cannot imagine.

Maybe the universe will end in fire, maybe in ice, or maybe there will never be an end, just a continual evolution into new and very different forms. Perhaps we will never know.

 

Books of Color

You would think that the late-night show comedians would find all sorts of fodder for comedy in the ongoing campaign to cancel anything and everything that might possibly be the slightest bit offensive, especially such silliness as putting warnings on the Muppet Show and canceling six Dr. Seuss books, but you would be wrong. According to this recent article at the blog Hollywood in Toto, the comedians didn’t find the cancellations worth making fun of. Instead, they mocked those silly conservatives who just don’t see the necessity of eliminating every vestige of racism from our culture and who imagine there is really some sort of cancel culture going on.

It goes without saying that today’s late night comics won’t mock the new Biden administration.

They’ve made it crystal clear their shows are progressive propaganda first and foremost. Speaking “truth to power” comes in a distant second. Some nights it ranks dead last.

When you wait nearly a year to call out a corrupt governor, that’s all the proof you need.

These comedians still could, in theory, pay attention to the culture wars attacking beloved institutions. Take Disney+ inexplicably slapping warning labels on classic episodes of “The Muppets.” Just this week the Dr. Seuss estate decided to stop publishing six of the author’s works because a very select few believe they contain racist imagery.

That’s despite Dr. Seuss’s own stepdaughter swearing he didn’t have a racist bone in his body.

Enter Stephen Colbert.

The far-left “Late Show” host chortled about the Dr. Seuss cancellation, ignoring the decades of joy his books have given children across the globe.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

“It’s a responsible move on their part … they recognize the impact of these images on readers, especially kids,” he said. What impact? Kids have read these books for decades without any impact save giggles and hugs from their parents.

So Colbert is firmly on the side of the cancellers and the censors. I guess he is less a comedian than a propagandist. That might be why he is not very funny. Comedy, by its nature, tends to be subversive. Authoritarian comedy is seldom very funny.

But it is this next part that made me stop and think.

He then cued up Fox News clips to mock anyone calling this another “Cancel Culture” moment.

If you’re worried your books shelves just got a bit duller, he advised, why not add tomes written by authors of color to cushion the blow?

“It’s fun to read books written after the ’40s,” he said with a twinkle.

Authors of color? What kind of an idiot selects books based on the color of the author? All last month, during Black History Month, Amazon kept offering me suggestions for Black authors I might be interested in, I wasn’t the slightest bit interested. My reasons for choosing a book to read simply do not include the race of the author. For nonfiction, I want a book about a subject I am interested in learning about and I want the author to present the information clearly and interestingly. For fiction, I want an interesting and entertaining story with characters I can relate to. I do not see how, in either case, the race or nationality of the writer matters at all. I could not possibly say how many of the books I own were written by authors of color. I would have to pull down each book from the shelf and look to see if there is a picture of the author on the cover to get an idea. I am not that interested.

As for the comment about books written since the 1940s, well many of my favorite authors, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, George Orwell, wrote their best works during the 1940s, and most of the greatest books ever written were written decades and centuries ago. I am not sure if there have been all that many books that have been written in recent years that can compare with the great classics, certainly, none that have, as yet, stood the test of time. If the censors and the wokescolds have their way there won’t be any books worth reading at all.

So, what kind of a person chooses books based on the color of the author? Maybe the sort of person who buys Books by the Foot. The sort of superficial person who is not so interested in the ideas contained in books as much as impressing people by seeming to read the correct books. Why else would someone care about the race or color of the author, than to demonstrate that they are woke or politically correct in their reading and thinking? Maybe the sort of person that becomes a late-night propagandist.

As for me, I am going to keep on reading the books I want to read and am going to ignore the suggestions from Amazon and Stephen Colbert that I should read authors because of their color because, unlike the people on the left, I am not a racist.

Dr. Seuss is Racist

I don’t think anyone expected this, but the woke have decided that something as innocuous as Dr. Seuss’s books are racist and must disappear into the memory hole, Unfortunately, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company that oversees the publication of the late author’s works rather than standing up for freedom of expression and literary contest, has decided to yield to the small minority of extremists who see racism everywhere and end the publication of six books that are considered to be particularly racist.

Dr. Seuss became the latest target of “cancel culture” Tuesday when six of his children’s books were yanked from publication  because of their alleged racism.

The company that oversees the publishing of Dr. Seuss’s works said  it scrapped the six books — “If I Ran the Zoo,” “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and “The Cat’s Quizzer’’ — because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

“We believed that it was time to take action,” DSE told The Post in a statement.

“We listened and took feedback from our audiences including teachers, academics and specialists in the field, too, as part of the review process.”

The move came on what would have been the 117th birthday of the late author — who has traditionally been feted by schools across the country March 2 as part of “Read Across America Day.”

President Biden even avoided mentioning Dr. Seuss in the traditional annual presidential proclamation Monday marking “Read Across America Day.”

While Dr. Seuss — whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel — remains one of the world’s most popular children’s authors three decades after his death, his books have come under fire in recent years for how they portray black people, Asian people and other groups.

If I Ran the Zoo,” for instance, has been panned for depicting Africans as “potbellied” and “thick-lipped,” as one biography of Seuss put it.

It also describes Asian characters as “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” from “countries no one can spell,” notes a 2019 paper on Geisel’s work published in the journal Research on Diversity in Youth Literature.

And “Mulberry Street,” the first children’s book Geisel published under his pen name, contains a controversial illustration of an Asian man holding chopsticks and a bowl of rice whom the text called “A Chinese man Who eats with sticks.”

“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” said DSE, which works with Penguin Random House  on their publication, in an official statement.

The company — asked by The Post if there were other titles under review to be nixed —  suggested there could be.

“Dr. Seuss Enterprises is committed to identifying how they can make meaningful and lasting change in their catalog and entire portfolio,’’ the group said.’

A racist book

They should probably just get ahead of the curve and stop selling Dr. Suess’s books altogether since there is sure to be something some oversensitive wokescold is going to find in each one. Maybe they should hire some new author, someone chosen to check off as many diversity boxes as possible, never mind if he, she, or xe can actually write, to create new, politically correct books to teach children to read. Of course, children probably won’t be as interested in reading the new politically correct Suess, but learning to read is probably a racist means of enforcing white supremacy anyway.

It occurs to me that if we keep canceling everything that could possibly be considered objectionable or that must be considered in a historical context, we are not going to have much left to read or watch or listen to. Certainly, the great classics of Western literature, theater, music, and cinema will have to be jettisoned. Even if a particular piece is not problematic, its creator has surely expressed a (forbidden) opinion at some point. Besides, any aspect of Western Civilization must be considered racist and white supremacist by default. Probably the classics from other traditions will have to go too. We can’t risk exposing the snowflakes to cultures with very different values and societal norms, at least not without a trigger warning.

All that will be left, if the cancellers have their way will be bland, politically correct works with every word and expression carefully sifted and parsed to avoid any possibility of offending any member of a “marginalized” group, heterosexual White males are fair game. These woke works may not be very entertaining or informative and no one will really want to read or watch them, but at least they’ll show off the producers’ virtue, such as it is in our brave, new world of wokeness.

I think I’ll stick with Dr. Seuss and the old books.

The Indispensable Man

It may not be the popular or politically correct thing to believe, but I hold fast to the opinion that our founding fathers, men like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and the rest are among the greatest men who have ever lived. Our nation would be blessed to have even one such great men at its founding. The fact that we had so many great men must surely attest that America is under the protection of divine providence. Of these great men, George Washington stands head and shoulders above the rest. For his contribution to the cause of liberty, leading the fight for American independence, and then not making himself a king or president for life, Washington is surely one of the greatest men who have ever lived.

It is no easy task to write a biography of Washington. For too many people, Washington seems to be too distant a marble statue of implacable virtue that normal people cannot relate to. The man, with his very real flaws, disappears behind the image. More recently, there is a tendency, among the ignorant woke, to dismiss Washington as merely a slaveholder, never mind the fact that Washington grew up in a time in which slavery was accepted and uncontroversial, that he came to have misgivings about the institution of slavery, and he, almost alone among his contemporary planter class, actually made a real effort to prepare his slaves for the freedom he believed they would gain when slavery, being obsolete, would die out. A candid assessment of Washington’s life and works runs the risk of seeming to be a hagiography, and yet to focus too much on his flaws, does the man an injustice.

James Thomas Flexner’s Washington: The Indispensible Man tries to thread the needle of writing a biography of Washington that makes him be a paragon of virtue while not dwelling overmuch on his flaws. In this effort, Flexner is mostly successful doing a passable job of relating Washington’s life and accomplishments and establishing that Washington was, indeed, the indispensable man without whom the American colonies could not have gained their independence. If you want to know about Washington’s life and accomplishments, this is a good book to read.

I cannot help, however, but feel a little disappointed when I finished Washinton: The Indispensable Man. It is a good work but there are some flaws. For one thing, there are no maps. This might be a fatal flaw in the sections dealing with Washington’s military career in the French and Indian War, and particularly in the Revolutionary War. How is the reader expected to follow the movements of the Continental and British armies without any maps? How can we understand the course of the battles? If I were not already familiar with the battles of the War of Independence, I would have been lost.

The lack of maps is somewhat frustrating, but I had a more serious problem with this book, it is too short, or too long. The problem is that Washington: The Indispensable Man is not the right length for what Flexner is trying to do. It is too long for a mere summary, but not long enough to get to know Washington. The author seems to hint at things but then moves on without going any deeper. I learned about Washington’s deeds, but I did not feel that I got to know Washington the man. I do not feel I got to know any of the people Washington interacted with, his friends, mentors, officers, subordinates. Flexner mentions names, tells a little about what they did and how Washington acted, and then moves on. I don’t get to know how Washington really felt about people he shared his life with.

Part of the problem is that Washington: The Indispensable Man is a condensation of James Thomas Flexner’s earlier four-volume biography of Washington. Flexner asserts in the preface that the text in this book is almost entirely new and not a series of patched together extracts, and while I have no reason to doubt his word, the book does indeed read as if he took out selections from his longer work. It summarizes but leaves tantalizing hints that there is more.

As I said, I can recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about Washington, but I fear that the reader is going to end the book unsatisfied. It is a good book to begin to learn about Washington, but not to end one’s study of the great man.

 

Only Women Can Give Birth

George Orwell once allegedly said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. Orwell does not appear to have said that, but the quote is apt in our own time of LBGTIDK inspired deceit and madness. I am afraid that I am going to tell certain biological truths in this post as a response to this bit of insanity from the United Kingdom. whether I am going to commit a revolutionary act is not clear, but I am sure that some would regard the statement of basic biological facts as being transphobic, anti-LGBT, or bigoted.

First, the relevant article, concerning a birth coach who was fired for the high crime of stating only women can have babies, from Venus Valley, a feminist web magazine, which I don’t think is satire.

It all started in the UK, where a birthing coach was forced to resign after she said that only women could give birth, but how on earth did it get to this?

Her name is Lynsey McCarthy-Calvert, and she is a mother of four as well as a former Doula UK birth coach. She said that a small number of activists opposed her statement and then pressured her company to punish her too!

She is a non-medical companion that supports people who have given birth and she says that her company “ostracised” her over the pressure of being politically correct.

She said:

“I am angry and sad …I was effectively ostracised for saying I am a woman and so are my clients.”

“I have been very disappointed by Doula UK’s response. The leadership is paralyzed by not wanting to upset transgender rights activists. They have fallen over themselves to acquiesce to their demands.”

The margarine brand, called Flora, refused to advertise on Mumsnet after the website was said to be transphobic for having a wide range of views on transgender issues.

The makers of Always sanitary towels got rod of the female “Venus” symbol from the packaging after they got complaints from transgender men.

The fall out with Doula UK started after Cancer Research UK dropped the word ‘women’ from its smear test campaign, instead of saying screening was:

“…relevant for everyone aged 25-64 with a cervix”

So in response to this Mrs. McCarthy-Calvert then posted a picture on Facebook of a negligee-clad woman somersaulting, underwater, with these words:

‘I am not a “cervix owner” I am not a “menstruator” I am not a “feeling”. I am not defined by wearing a dress and lipstick. I am a woman: an adult human female.’

Then she added below it:

“Women birth all the people, make up half the population, but less than a third of the seats in the House of Commons are occupied by us.”

These statements, which would not be at all controversial, or even remarkable just ten years ago, are now completely beyond the pale. Mrs. McCarthy-Calvert has committed a revolutionary act of truth-telling.

Then it seems that her words provoked a group of about 20 individuals, also known as “trans-activists”, they wrote to the company saying that she had “clearly” breeched the company’s inclusive guidelines.

In the letter they wrote, they claimed McCarthy-Calvert was guilty of making several “trans-exclusionary comments” which included, of course, her description of being an “adult human female.”

Doula UK proceeded to straight away withdraw Mrs. McCarthy-Calvert as a spokesperson and, after a four-month dragged out an investigation, its board of directors decided:

“[The post] does breach Doula UK’s guidelines”

They said:

“We are proud to say that we seek to listen to the lived experience of marginalized groups and make changes – including changes to the language we use – if we believe it is necessary to make the Doula UK community more welcoming and supportive”

Here are the facts. Human beings, like nearly all complex organisms on the Planet Earth, are divided into two, and only two, genders. There are indeed a small number of people who have some medical condition, or genetic defect, which renders a certain gender ambiguity, but such conditions are pathologies and not the norm. It is also true that some individuals believe that they are, or ought to be, the gender opposite of their biological gender. These people, who are generally called transgendered, may be sincere in their feelings that they are “really” the opposite of their biological sex, but their feelings, however strong and sincere, do not change physical reality, even if they have pharmacological and surgical techniques applied to themselves to change their physical appearance to resemble the opposite sex.

The two genders into which human beings are divided are male and female. Each gender plays a separate and distinct role in reproduction. The female produces the ova or egg, and in mammals carries the fertilized egg in the uterus until it is born. The male produces the sperm which fertilizes the egg. Only women can become pregnant and give birth to children. Only men can beget children. This is a simple biological fact. It may be a laudable goal to be more welcoming and supportive of marginalized people, but not at the expense of denying the truth. Truth is a higher value than compassion and ought not to be compromised simply because some people might feel uncomfortable.

However, I am not convinced that the goal is in fact laudable. This is not so much an LGBT issue as a matter of how we define reality. Those people who insist that gender is a matter of personal feelings are stating that reality is defined not by any sort of objective facts but by subjective feelings, backed by the threat of punishment for those who dissent.  If a pregnant woman who feels that she is really a man can be considered a pregnant man, then there may be no distortions of facts and logic that we cannot be coerced into conceding. The implications here are truly Orwellian.

In George Orwell’s 1984, one of the central tenets of INGSOC, the ideology of the Party that rules Oceania is that there is no such thing as objective reality. Reality is what the Party says it is. If the Party says that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia when it was at war with Eurasia last week, or that the chocolate ration has been raised when it has really been lowered, they are not lying. Oceania really has always been at war with Eastasia and the chocolate ration really has been raised, because the Party said so. If you happen to remember otherwise, you are in the wrong, and you had better get your thinking straightened out, or else the Thought Police will straighten it for you. In the end, the protagonist Winston Smith reflected, the Party was going to declare that 2+2=5, with torture and execution in store for anyone who insisted that 2+2=4.

If we can be intimidated into saying that men can become pregnant, how long before we are forced to believe that 2+2=5?

Red State Blue State

I have started to read Kurt Schlichter’s “People’s Republic” and its prequel “Indian Country”.  The premise of these two stories is that the United States has split up between the red states and the blue states. The red states have retained the name, and presumably the constitution of the United States of America. The blue states have named themselves the People’s Republic of North America and have adopted a new, progressive constitution. The protagonist, Kelly Turnbull, a former soldier who now assists people fleeing the tyranny of the People’s Republic, is charged with rescuing a young Texan woman who has defected to the People’s Republic, and may not want to come back.

Indian Country is a prequel, telling the story of a previous adventure of Turnbull’s, in which he engaged in an undercover operation to assist people in southern Indiana who are fighting against the tyrannical regime of the People’s Republic. Here is where I begin to have some problems with the story.

Here is the cover of People’s Republic, which presumably shows how the United States is split between red and blue.

 

Now, as a life long Hoosier, I can attest that there is no way that Indiana would voluntarily be part of anything called the People’s Republic. Indiana happens to be one of the redder, more conservative states. We are the home state of Mike Pence. Don’t be fooled by the fact that we currently have a Democratic Senator and have sent some Democrats to Congress. In Indiana, particularly in southern Indiana, even the Democrats are red.

Perhaps Kurt Schlichter believes that in the give and take of the Split Indiana has to go with the blue states because we are surrounded on three sides by blue states and the Ohio River would make a logical border between the two states. That really doesn’t work, however. Ohio is not a blue state but a purple state. That is, Ohio is a swing state that can go either way in presidential elections. The state is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, but I suspect that there are just as many rednecks and hillbillies in southern Ohio as there are in Kentucky and West Virginia. Illinois is a deep blue state, but that is mostly due to the densely populated region around Chicago in the north. The Illinoisans in other parts of the state tend to resent Chicago’s domination and there is even a movement for the rest of the state to secede from the Chicago region. Like Indiana, Illinois becomes redder as you move south. It is not unlikely that if Chicago dominated Illinois seceded from the Union to join the People’s Republic; the southern half of Illinois would secede to form South Illinois, just like West Virginia in the first Civil War.

The truth is that few states are entirely red or blue. California is another deep blue state, perhaps the most liberal state in the Union. The whole state of California is not populated by the loony left, only the urban coastal regions from San Francisco to San Diego. The more rural interior of California is conservative, by California standards anyway. Texas is a very red state, but it turns blue along the border and in Austin. Indiana is, as I have said, red, but there are blue enclaves in Bloomington, Indianapolis, and the northwest corner adjacent to the Chicago area.

Here is a map of the 2016 election results by country.

What we see here is a country divided between a small, densely populated region and a large, sparsely populated region. The division between red and blue is not so much a division between red and blue states as a division between red rural areas and blue urban areas. What this means is that any split between red and blue would not occur along neat, geographical lines, as was the division between the Union and the Confederacy. Actually, even the results by county map is somewhat misleading. In every red or blue space, there are still a number of people of the opposite color.

A split between red and blue would be messy. In the preface of People’s Republic, Kurt Schlichter that his story is not any sort of fantasy he wants, but a warning of what could happen if present trends continue unchecked. He is being overoptimistic in assuming a neat, relatively peaceful division. The Civil War is often described as, “brother against brother”. This was not true, except in a metaphorical sense. Except for the inhabitants of the border states, and the small, pre-war officer’s corps, few of the soldiers who fought were related to anyone fighting on the other side. The new civil war would be literally brothers fighting brothers, neighbors fighting neighbors. It would be less Grant and Lee meeting at Appomattox Court House and more Bosnia or Rwanda.

A red-blue split would be messy not only in political terms but also in economics. Part of the reason Kurt Schlichter wrote People’s Republic seems to be to demonstrate the superiority of the Red economic model over the Blue. The capitalist, free market United States is shown to be prosperous, while the People’s Republic has adopted Venezuelan-style socialism with predictable results, an increasingly impoverished country unable to feed its people. This seems fair enough. When you compare North and South Korea or East and West Germany, cases in which both sides share a common language and culture, the superiority of free market capitalism to provide needed goods and services is evident. The problem is that I do not see how it would be possible to divide a country with an economy as interconnected as America’s into two separate states, with no trade between them, without causing massive economic dislocations. I would think that even a peaceful separation would bring about a depression. A civil war would cause an economic collapse that would make the Great Depression look like the height of prosperity. Nor is it clear that the red states would flourish on their own. Losing the coasts, with their population centers and wealth would be a terrible blow. It seems likely that even a decade after the split both sides would be trying to recover.

Kurt Schlichter wrote these novels as a warning. The future he describes is an unpleasant one, but not all that realistic. The actually consequences of a red-blue split would be far worse than anything in these books, which is good reason to extend any effort to make sure nothing like this scenario every takes place. We really need to tone down the rhetoric we use with each other and stop thinking of our fellow Americans as the enemy. We have to accept the results of elections, provided there is no provable fraud, and not delegitimize our elected officials for political gain. Everyone has to start playing by the same rules and not change them whenever they are inconvenient for one side. Most of all we have to learn, or relearn the practice of disagreeing with someone without hating them. If we can’t manage this, then we are all in for a very bad time.

The Fisher King

The Fisher King is a figure in Arthurian legend. He is the guardian of the Holy Grail who has been wounded in the foot and cannot discharge his duties as king of the land he rules. Many scholars believe that the foot or leg is an euphemism for a wound in the groin and that the king is impotent. Whatever the case, according the the legend, because the Fisher King is barren and impotent, so is the land he rules. The health of the land depends on the health or virtue of its king.

This happens to be a motif found in many places in mythology, folklore, and political propaganda. There seems to be a strong need to believe that a strong and virtuous king will have a flourishing kingdom, while the kingdom of a weak or evil king will be desolate. The Chinese belief in the Mandate of Heaven held that the prosperity of the Empire was directly dependent on the virtue of the Emperor. If China was doing well, the Emperor must be good. If there were natural disasters or economic catastrophe, than the Emperor must be at fault somewhere. In the Old Testament there is an explicit link between the devotion of the kings of Israel and Judah and the welfare of the kingdom. It makes sense that if the king or emperor is the representative of God or the gods and is not doing a good job then Heaven might signal its displeasure by causing natural disasters.

One might think in our more modern world in which most countries are republics, such superstitions would be a thing of the past. That does not seem to be the case. It is true that people no longer ascribe earthquakes or hurricanes to the faults of our political leaders, but we do have a way of assuming that they have far more influence over the affairs of the country, especially over the economy, than they actually do. Here is an example from Sean Hannity.

President Donald Trump has made the United States more than $4 trillion richer since taking office last January, but you wouldn’t know that from watching or reading the mainstream press, writes Fox’s Stuart Varney.

As the destroy-Trump media continues to obsess over Russia-Trump conspiracy theories, the President has made good on his campaign promise to unleash the American worker and get the US economy back on track.

Since the President’s inauguration, Trump has added roughly $4.1 trillion to the nation’s overall wealth, affecting all Americans with a 401k, an IRA, a savings account, loans, stocks; essentially anyone with “a dime in the market.”

President Trump did no such thing. He does not have the power to add $4.1 trillion to the economy. It is possible that the policies he supports will encourage economic growth, but six months is far too early for any presidential policies to take effect. Of course, a good deal of economics is psychology. It is likely that if the president is perceived as pro-business, businesses will be more inclined to expand, believing that the economy will improve, creating a self fulfilling expectation. On the other hand, if the president keeps talking about spreading the wealth around, businesses will play it safe, anticipating an economic downturn, that their actions will help precipitate. I think that if Bernie Sanders had been elected president, we would be going into a deep recession. We can give Trump credit for inspiring optimism, but not for any magical powers.

Here is a more egregious example from a singer named Lana Del Rey

I feel less safe than I did when Obama was president. When you have a leader at the top of the pyramid who is casually being loud and funny about things like that, it’s brought up character defects in people who already have the propensity to be violent towards women. I saw it right away in L.A. Walking down the street, people would just say things to you that I had never heard.

I definitely changed my visuals on my tour videos. I’m not going to have the American flag waving while I’m singing “Born to Die.” It’s not going to happen. I’d rather have static. It’s a transitional period, and I’m super aware of that. I think it would be inappropriate to be in France with an American flag. It would feel weird to me now—it didn’t feel weird in 2013.

Women started to feel less safe under this administration instantly. What if they take away Planned Parenthood? What if we can’t get birth control?

This is precisely the same country in 2017 as it was in 2015. The only difference is that the person who is president has changed. If Ms. Lane is not as proud of her country now as when Obama was president, than she is not really very proud of her country at all. Trump cannot make the streets of Los Angeles more or less dangerous. He has no control over people’s character defects. He cannot take Planned Parenthood away. Even if Congress should cut Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, which they should, Planned Parenthood has other sources of revenue. Trump cannot ban birth control. She is ascribing to Trump powers that no president has.

Why do we do this, assume that our political leaders have greater power over events than they actually do? Part of the reason must be that this is what they want us to think. How many politicians running for office criticize their opponent’s handling of the economy? How many politicians boast of the economic growth that occurred during their time in office? They might as well be bragging about how good the weather was. Indeed, the whole idea behind the global warming/climate change alarmism is that national and international governments can change the climate.

Whatever the reason for this kind of thinking, we need to get over it. The president does not run the country. We do. . President Trump cannot make America great again, though he can lead the effort. It is up to each one of us to make this country a better place.

 

 

The Timely, Relevant Handmaid’s Tale

Hulu has begun airing a series based on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the critics are falling all over themselves in proclaiming how timely and relevant the program is in Trump’s America.

The Handmaid’s Tale, for those fortunate enough not to have encountered it, is a dystopian novel set in the “Republic of Gilead”, a future North American nation in which Christian fundamentalists have seized power. Naturally women are horribly oppressed in Gilead, since that is what Christian fundamentalists most like to do. Women are chattel who are forbidden to work outside the home or to have bank accounts. There is an epidemic of infertility caused by environmental pollution and those women who are still fertile are pressed into service as “handmaids” compelled to give birth to women incapable of having their own children. As you can see, The Handmaid’s Tale is timely and relevant, for women living in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. Since Trump hardly ran on a platform of disenfranchising women, the novel is probably not particularly relevant to the experiences of American women, whatever Atwood and her fans might believe.

An everyday sight in Trump’s America

The purpose of dystopian literature, and science fiction in general, is not to predict the future but to highlight circumstances and emerging trends in the present. If it had been Margaret Atwood’s intention to highlight the oppression of women in the Middle East by portraying a similar situation in a more familiar context, much as George Orwell highlighted Stalinist tyranny by placing it in the more familiar context of England, than her effort would be laudable. That is not what she was trying to do. By her own account, she was trying to show what the “religious right” intended to do to women when they gained power. The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, at a time when the Moral Majority seemed to be on the ascendant, so it might have been timely and relevant then; except that not a single prominent figure on the “religious right” was proposing anything at all like the subjugation of women in the book. If treating women like chattel had been on the agenda of the Christian Coalition, I doubt very much if it would have had any influence on politics at all. And again, Trump is hardly a fundamentalist Christian, nor did he campaign on reducing women to brood stock as part of his program to Make America Great Again.

This is where The Handmaid’s Tale falls short as a dystopia. A dystopia works by pointing out the most extreme consequences of existing trends. The resulting vision need not be especially realistic. This is science fiction after all. However it ought to ring true. The setting of a dystopian work ought to at least seem possible, based on things already happening

As a man of the left, George Orwell knew from personal experience the totalitarian tendencies of most left wing movements. He knew what he was writing about when he wrote 1984. He was able to make the setting of his novel match the real life circumstances of totalitarian governments like the Soviet Union under Stalin and Nazi Germany. He believed, with good reason, that Britain was heading towards a totalitarian socialist state. We may not currently be living in Big Brother’s Oceania, but in an age of mass surveillance and bigger, unaccountable bureaucracies, we should certainly be aware of the possibilities.

Aldrous Huxley had considered very carefully the possible changes that advancing technology might bring to society. His Brave New World is a study of how advances in contraception, cloning (though the word hadn’t been coined at the time) might change family life. If we can design each person according to plan would we design different people for different jobs? What would the concept of equality mean if some people are designed before birth to be the leaders while others to be workers? Huxley also explored the implications of freedom of thought in a world in which thoughts are conditioned by persuasion techniques far more advanced than the crude advertising and propaganda of our time. You might not need the Thought Police if every thought in every head is put there by years of conditioning. It is possible that something like Brave New World might really be in our future, perhaps closer than we might imagine.

In contrast, Margaret Atwood knew nothing about the goals and aspirations of conservative Christians when she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale and there is no sign that she has bothered to learn anything about them in all the years since. Her vision is one that simply does not match the reality. No prominent Christian leader of any sect or denomination has come out in favor of disenfranchising women. Christianity is not the religion that teaches that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. Historically, women have generally had a higher status in the Christian West than in any other civilization. It is true that women have often been discriminated against and patronized in the West, but women have rarely been treated as chattel or worse to the extent they have in East Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, and especially the Islamic world. It is in the Christian West that the idea that women ought to be treated as actual human beings, and even protected arose. Only in the West could anything like feminism come to be.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a fantasy. I think it is poorly written, but that is just my opinion. Perhaps others may think it a classic. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about the literary quality of the work, but please don’t insult my intelligence by saying it is in any way timely or relevant to contemporary America.

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent

Chances are, that if you are ever questioned by the police about a crime, you will be eager to tell them everything you know. And, if it turns out that you are a suspect, you will want to waive your rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present, and will want to explain to the police the reasons you couldn’t have the crime. That is a serious mistake according to James Duane, author of the book, “You Have the Right to Remain Innocent” and the YouTube video “Don’t Talk to the Police“. In his book and video, Duane contends that you should never talk to the police or give out any unnecessary information unless you have an attorney present, especially if you are innocent.

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The problem is that while you know that you are innocent, the police do not. They think that you are guilty or they wouldn’t be interested in talking to you. Because the friendly police officer who is asking questions just to clear things up is certain, in his mind, that you are guilty, he feels justified, and is legally empowered to, use any means of deception or pressure to get you to confess to the crime. This means that any discrepancies in your answers (who really can keep every detail of what they did last Thursday evening straight in their minds, especially when questioned by a trained interrogator seeking to trip them up?), any misstatements, any statement taken out of context  can be taken as proof of guilt and used against you in court. Remember that scene in My Cousin Vinny in which Ralph Macchio repeats the statement, “I shot the clerk” incredulously only to have it repeated as a straightforward statement of guilt at his trial. This sort of thing really happens.


Compounding the problem are recent court decisions which, according to Duane, make more difficult for a suspect to use their rights to remain silent and seek counsel. It is far easier for the police to get away with lying to you to induce a confession and they can ignore a request to speak to an attorney, unless you clearly and explicitly ask for one. Taking the fifth to avoid incrimination can be a perilous step, since such a request can not be used to imply guilt. Making matters worse is the problem of overcriminalization. As Duane points out, there are so many federal laws on the books and so many of them are badly and carelessly worded by Congress, that it is no longer possible for any human being to know the whole scope of the laws, much less be in compliance. Any given individual may be guilty of committing many federal offenses on any given day. A clever and unscrupulous prosecutor can find something to convict anyone. Speaking too freely could get you in trouble.

It is not necessary to buy and read this book if you can remember to say only four words when questioned by the police; “I want a lawyer”. But You Have a Right to Remain Innocent is worth reading if you want to get some idea of just how poorly our system of justice protects the rights of the accused. Prepare to be shocked and alarmed.