There be ducks!

Mirabile dictu: it’s turned warm today, and I went down to the pond just in case. .   And there I found a pair of mallards: a lovely female and her handsome boyfriend, who seemed to be getting along quite well. Sadly, I couldn’t get close enough to the hen mallard to see if it was Honey (I suspect it wasn’t, as she didn’t respond when I whistled. However, she could have been engrossed in her amours.)

Had I gotten close enough, I could have inspected her beak for its telltale stippling. At any rate, here’s the pair, who probably just stopped by for a rest on their migrations.

I will, of course, keep checking to see if it’s my beloved Honey. I was hoping that it was her, and that she had brought her boyfriend for inspection by Uncle Jerry.


Wellesley student paper argues for “hate speech” limitations on free speech

Here’s an editorial from the April 12 edition of the Wellesley College student newspaper, The Wellesley News. (The school is an expensive and high class women’s school in Massachusetts.) This editorial came to my attention from a post on the website of Jonathan Turley, a professor of constitutional law and writer at George Washington University Law School.

When you see an editorial like the one below (click on the screenshot to go there), you just know that the headline is a lie:

What always strikes me when first reading these editorials is how poor the writing is: it’s verbose and sometimes has grammatical or word errors, like “hot house flowers” (which could be misinterpreted!) instead of “hothouse flowers” in the first paragraph. I’ve highlighted a few more infelicities below. Think how much these women are paying for a Wellesley education, and they can’t even write!

But leaving that aside, what we have is Orwellian doublespeak: “We’re not violating free speech, we’re just shutting down hate speech.” To wit (emphasis is mine):

Many members of our community, including students, alumnae and faculty, have criticized the Wellesley community for becoming an environment where free speech is not allowed or is a violated right. Many outside sources have painted us as a bunch of hot house flowers who cannot exist in the real world. However, we fundamentally disagree with that characterization, and we disagree with the idea that free speech is infringed upon at Wellesley. Rather, our Wellesley community will not stand for hate speech, and will call it out when possible.

Wellesley students are generally correct in their attempts to differentiate what is viable discourse from what is just hate speech. Wellesley is certainly not a place for racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia or any other type of discriminatory speech. Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech. [JAC: Note the erroneous structure of this sentence: they are saying “shutting down rhetoric” is “hate speech”. What they mean is that shutting down rhetoric is shutting down hate speech.] The founding fathers put free speech in the Constitution as a way to protect the disenfranchised and to protect individual citizens from the power of the government. The spirit of free speech is to protect the suppressed, not to protect a free-for-all where anything is acceptable, no matter how hateful and damaging.

There you have it: a double mischaracterization. First, as we know well, one person’s hate speech is another person’s constructive speech. Discussions about transgender people, the nature of feminism, and the oppressive aspects of Islamic doctrine can be fruitful, but apparently they’re going to be “shut down” at Wellesley.

Further, where did they get the idea that the purpose of the First Amendment was to “protect the disenfranchised”? It is there so that government cannot suppress free discussion by anyone, disenfranchised or not, and no matter what they say. What these editors consider “hate speech” clearly is protected by the First Amendment so they have, as usual, redefined “free speech” to suit their own ideology.

The editors give the impression that the Founding Fathers wrote that Amendment so that blacks, Hispanics, gays, and trangender people would be protected. That is not the case; if any minorities were to be protected, it was religious minorities. But the Amendment was written because its authors saw the liberty of speech as the best way to protect their nascent democracy. Yet characterizing “free speech” in this way gives the students a license to shut down any speech that is on the side of the “non-suppressed.” And that’s exactly what they want to do.

Then we have the obligatory lip service to free discourse, which goes awry because of the hauteur and arrogance of the editors. “Mistakes will happen” here means “you might by accident, or because of your background, say something ideologically impure”:

This being said, the tone surrounding the current discourse is becoming increasingly hostile. Wellesley College is an institution whose aim is to educate. Students who come to Wellesley hail from a variety of diverse backgrounds. With this diversity comes previously-held biases that are in part the products of home environments. Wellesley forces us to both recognize and grow from these beliefs, as is the mark of a good college education. However, as students, it is important to recognize that this process does not occur without bumps along the way. It is inevitable that there will be moments in this growth process where mistakes will happen and controversial statements will be said. However, we argue that these questionable claims should be mitigated by education as opposed to personal attacks.

We have all said problematic claims, [JAC: “said” probematic claims? Which ones? ] the origins of which were ingrained in us by our discriminatory and biased society. Luckily, most of us have been taught by our peers and mentors at Wellesley in a productive way. It is vital that we encourage people to correct and learn from their mistakes rather than berate them for a lack of education they could not control.  While it is expected that these lessons will be difficult and often personal, holding difficult conversations for the sake of educating is very different from shaming on the basis of ignorance.

In other words, “We’re here to educate you!” BUT, if you don’t learn, well, there are consequences:

This being said, if people are given the resources to learn and either continue to speak hate speech or refuse to adapt their beliefs, then hostility may be warranted. If people continue to support racist politicians [JAC: read: Donald Trump. NO PRO-TRUMP SPEECH!] or pay for speakers that prop up speech that will lead to the harm of others [JAC: Read: any right-wing speaker], then it is critical to take the appropriate measures to hold them accountable for their actions.

I hope by “hostility” they don’t mean punching!

And this bit is incredibly arrogant:

It is important to note that our preference for education over beration [JAC: that’s a good word, but shouldn’t have been used as it’s vanishingly rare! At any rate, they’ve already engaged in beration] regards students who may have not been given the chance to learn. Rather, we are not referring to those who have already had the incentive to learn and should have taken the opportunities to do so. Paid professional lecturers and politicians are among those who should know better.

Translation: “Look, we’ll give you two years to get yourself ideologically pure. After that, if you’re still making ‘problematic claims’, then HOSTILITY IS WARRANTED. If you’re on the faculty, speaking to the college, you should already have learned and HOSTILITY WILL BE WARRANTED.”

They finally lapse into the old “emotional labor” trope, which comes off as “You need to be educated, but oy, do you know what trouble it is to educate you?!”

We at The Wellesley News, [JAC: the comma doesn’t belong there] are not interested in any type of tone policing. The emotional labor required to educate people is immense and is additional weight that is put on those who are already forced to defend their human rights. There is no denying that problematic opinions need to be addressed in order to stop Wellesley from becoming a place where hate speech and casual discrimination is okay. However, as a community we need to make an effort to have this dialogue in a constructive and educational way in order to build our community up.

The editorial winds up with a call for “productive dialogue,” which of course means “dialogue that brings you around to the correct point of view—that held by the editors.”

This whole editorial reminds me of the famous statement that Mary McCarthy said when referring to Lillain Hellman’s memoirs: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and “‘the'”. If I were to be more charitable in my criticism, I’d say that the editorial stands out for its lack of specificity: it doesn’t define what hate speech really is. But that’s probably a deliberate omission—on top of the editors’  gross misunderstanding of why we have the First Amendment in the first place.

Were I putting out the thousands of dollars in tuition that these students pay the college, I’d be concerned about whether I was getting my money’s worth. At any rate, here, at Yale, at Harvard, at Berkeley—and at many of the “elite” American colleges—we see in embryonic form the kind of authoritarianism that will ensue if these students ever get political power. Ceiling Cat help us if they do!

Huffington Post clarifies Oppression Hierarchy by incisive analysis of cultural appropriation (dreadlocks versus Chinese tattoos)

HuffPo has done us all a service by deciding the ranking of oppressed groups, and they’ve done so in a clever way: by adjudicating which group should be most offended by cultural appropriation. The decision is in the piece below, co-written by Lilly Workneh, HuffPo’s Black Voices Senior Editor, and Jessica Prols, the Asian Voices Executive Editor.  Click on the screenshot. In this case, it’s a black versus Asian contest: which, would you guess, is the most oppressed (i.e., which group is most hurt by cultural oppression: tattoos vs. dreadlocks)?  

First, the contests: Asian-American basketball player Jeremy Lin (above right, plays for the Brooklyn Nets) sports dreadlocks. Former Net Kenyon Martin, above left, who is black, sports, among his copious ink, a Chinese tattoo on his arm. I can’t read it (maybe a reader can help), but here it is:

I thought the fracas about dreadlocks had died out, and I still think it’s okay for people who aren’t black to wear them. After all, the hairstyle is adopted not as an insult, or a gesture of “colonialism”, but out of admiration for the look. It’s not at all like blackface or wearing a “Mexican bandito” costume during Halloween. And, after all, cultural appropriation is pervasive for every culture. Asians now wear Western suits, as do blacks, who didn’t wear them until they got their freedom from slavery and mingled with culture derived from Europe. In fact, the black parts of Chicago are loaded with Chinese restaurants. Why is that not cultural appropriation, while Sporting Dreadlocks While Asian is?

At any rate, Lin wrote a thoughtful defense of his hairstyle at The Player’s Tribune, and did so because there was, as usual, a back-and-forth not only between these two players, but also on social media. Here’s part of his explanation:

I never thought I’d ever think so much about hair. Honestly, at first I was surprised anyone would care what I did with my hair. When I started growing it out a few years ago in Charlotte, it was just something I was doing with six of my family members and friends. It was meant to be fun, and to be an expression of freedom.

I didn’t really plan for it to be anything more than that.

Then I kept going with it and it started to become … a thing. Looking back, I can see why my hairstyles turned some heads. (What was I thinking here?) But I liked how the process of changing my look actually made me feel more like myself again. I realized that in the years since Linsanity, I had spent a lot of time in a box, worrying about other people’s opinions on what I should and shouldn’t be doing. I wanted to stop basing my decisions so much on what strangers or critics might say about me. It was cool how something as simple as how I wore my hair could pull me out of my comfort zone and make me feel more free. Before I got older and had a family and kids and all of that, I wanted to be able to say to myself, Who cares what anyone else thinks? For me, the different hairstyles became a fun way to do that.

But then he goes on to worry about insensitivity, which is fine, but concludes that he’s keeping his dreads. The very fact that he felt he had to write this is a sign of how deeply Offense Culture has spread. And the essay didn’t satisfy Martin. As PuffHo reports:

The matchup between the two began last week when Lin wrote an essay about why he got dreads. In the The Player’s Tribune, he admitted he hadn’t considered the issue of cultural appropriation, that he had talked with a number of people about his decision and pointed out he was able to empathize.“I know how it feels when people don’t take the time to understand the people and history behind my culture,” he wrote. “It’s easy to brush some of these things off as ‘jokes,’ but eventually they add up. And the full effect of them can make you feel like you’re worth less than others, and that your voice matters less than others.”

Three days later, Martin weighed in and said Lin’s dreadlocks pointed to the fact he wanted to “be black.”

“Do I need to remind this damn boy that his last name Lin?” Martin asked in a YouTube video. “Come on man, somebody need to tell him, like, ‘Alright bro, we get it. You wanna be black.’ Like, we get it. But the last name is Lin.”

And PuffHo won’t let it die. First, the black and Asian authors of the article agree to declare Martin the Most Appropriated, because blacks are more oppressed:

But borrowing a cultural marker like dreadlocks, which embody both joy and struggle unique to the black community, is not the same as having a Chinese tattoo, a symbol that doesn’t carry the same weight of oppression. Yes, appropriating Chinese culture through a tattoo is exoticizing and insensitive. But the the act of putting on and taking off dreadlocks ― which are related to the systematic economic and social oppression of a racial group ― demonstrates a greater level of disregard.

And they go into excruciating detail, to explain why (my emphasis):

To Lin’s point, the adoption of Chinese tattoos, tribal tattoos and other similar varieties is problematic. It doesn’t cross a using-someone-else’s-culture-for-personal-gain line in the same way, say, Kylie and Kendall Jenner’s Chinese takeout purse does. But the issue of appropriation boils down to the fact that most Asian people don’t like their culture reduced to an accessory. There’s also the issue of modern-day and historical discrimination against Chinese people, so turning Chinese customs into an accessory can come across as cherry-picking parts of a culture to accept ― rather than embracing an ethnic group as a whole. And ultimately, a practice like making Chinese tattoos a Western trend without an actual connection to the culture can feel exoticizing.

But Lin’s retort to Martin’s criticism was basically saying the tattoos and dreads are uniform in their demonstration of “respect,” and that’s just not accurate. Yes, cultural appropriation of Asian culture is oppressive in that exoticizing a culture can create a depiction of Asians as “others” or perpetual foreigners. But Asian-Americans are not held down by this characterization in the same way black people are for something as fixed as hair ― and the struggle it represents. 

Dreadlocks, which are essentially twisted locks of hair, are more than just a hairstyle. They have become symbolic of blackness and black culture and while some wear them for aesthetic reasons, others can have a deep cultural and spiritual connection to them. The style itself is widely worn by many Rastafarians, a religious movement bred in Jamaica, and, for some among them, it can represent a resistance to Western or Euro-centric hairstyles while honoring their roots.

Well maybe it’s not “respect” that’s demonstrated, but it’s certainly “admiration” for the hairstyle.  The key to PuffHo’s answer is in the bolded part above.  It’s surely true that blacks are more oppressed, and subject to more discrimination, than are Asians. But it’s not because of their hair.  What PuffHo is saying is that it’s not appropriation that’s the real issue, but “appropriating up“—emulating aspects of a culture that’s less oppressed than yours. Apparently all sorts of borrowing is bad (except borrowing from European culture), but it’s more bad to borrow from a culture seen as more marginalized than yours. I’d suggest that PuffHo and others fixated on cultural appropriation produce a Hierarchy Chart, so we can know when we have to worry (i.e. it’s not ok to appropriate from those lower on the list).

As for the “false equivalency”, that’s misleading. According to HuffPo, they are equivalent faux pas; it’s just that one is more faux than the other.

And as for tattoos, that’s risible. I’ve seen many people inked with phrases in Sanskrit, French, Hebrew, and many other languages. The phrases are not expressions of bigotry, but usually phrases expressing some sentiment or emotion in its original language. When I see a movie star with a Hebrew tattoo, getting angry would be the last thing I’d do. In fact, that wouldn’t even cross my mind.  Tablet shows eleven non-Jewish celebrities with Hebrew tattoos. Perhaps the “worst offender” is David Beckham, who has arm tattoos in both Hebrew and Sanskrit:

Both Beckhams are inked with ani l’dodi v’dodi li, ha’roeh bashoshanim, the Song of Songs wedding fave: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine, who browses among the lilies.” Shockingly, hers is written and spelled correctly. His is ungrammatical (“my beloved,” dodi, is in the masculine form) but still sweet. FYI: His tattoo is above a Sanskrit rendition of his wife’s name, spelled wrong. (Becks also has a bonus, smaller Hebrew tattoo above his left elbow, from Proverbs 3:1; it means“My son, do not forget my teaching but keep my commands in your heart.” I can’t find any non-blurry pictures of it, but one must assume it features the correct gender pronouns. Yay?)

Should I write an article for HuffPo? I could give ELEVEN cases of Jewish appropriation, and who has historically been more marginalized and oppressed than the Jews? It’s a thought. . .

I’ve discussed this issue several times before, and have argued that yes, there are times when cultural appropriation is, well, inappropriate. Most invidious is when you actually damage a person or group by appropriating their culture. I find this uncommon, but there was one potential instance that I used as a counterfactual: if Paul Simon had appropriated South African music, collaborating with the members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the “Graceland” album, but then denied them credit or a decent amount of money, that would be offensive and execrable. That didn’t happen, of course, because Simon is a decent man, but if it had, it would be cultural appropriation that should be called out. Likewise, dressing in blackface, which is meant to mock African-Americans, is hurtful.

But things like food, dreadlocks, tattoos, wearing kimonos, and so on—these are expressions of admiration, not denigration, and they don’t hurt anybody except the Pecksniffs eternally looking to be offended as a way to affirm their uniqueness. I refuse to stop wearing my Indian clothes in India (and sometimes in the U.S.): they look good, and in India they’re simply more comfortable. Do I need to be mindful of the oppression of Indians by the British every time I put on a kurta? I don’t think so, nor do I need to explain it. I know what happened in India, and that’s enough for me. But even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t feel it necessary to apologize if an Indian person called me out for wearing the clothes of their culture.

It’s venues like HuffPo that continue to divide the Left and make us all look ridiculous. Culture is meant to be appropriated, for it’s that kind of fusion that improves life, and is damaging only rarely. Yet this rot is spreading into society at large. When two professional athletes need to argue about who’s been the most damaged by tattoos and dreadlocks, then you know something’s gone wrong with society.

Here’s the M&M!

Did you spot it? It wasn’t too hard, and here’s the reveal:

Readers’ wildlife photos

I’ll be busy writing today, so posting may be light. To quote Maru the cat, “I do my best.” Today’s animal photos were sent by reader Richard Dahl. I can’t find a relevant email, so the IDs may be all he sent.

I need more photos, please. Send ’em in!

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias):

Male mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos):

Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta):

Male Wood duck (Aix sponsa):


And a landscape photo from Stephen Barnard in Idaho, sent September 30:

When I took the landscape photo this afternoon I was listening to elk bugling.

Spot the M&M!

Since today is National M&M Day, we have an appropriate quiz. Below is a photo of that worst of all confections, candy corn (otherwise known as “sugared paraffin”). In this picture is a single M&M. Can you spot it? I’ll put the reveal up in two hours. Hint: clearly the M&M has one of the colors of the “candy”. This was posted on the Amazon Facebook page a year ago.

First, though, a poll (you can see the responses by clicking “view results”):


h/t: Blue

Friday: Hili dialogue

OMG: it’s Friday the 13th (October, 2017), supposedly an unlucky day. But the odds are there will be at least one such day per year given that there are 12 thirteenths per year and only seven days of the week. And yesterday, at least, was lucky for the Chicago Cubs, who won the Central Division of the National League with a squeaker 9-8 victory over the Washington Nationals—in a game lasting over 4.5 hours. Our Cubbies now face the National League champions series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and if they win that one they’re on to the World Series again. It looks as if baseball might extend into November this year, an outcome I predicted long ago, when I said that one day the American baseball, football, and basketball seasons would all overlap. On the down side, Trump started dismantling Obamacare by executive order and is about to use Congress to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran. 

It’s National M&M’s Day, and how many of you haven’t eaten one? Here are some fun facts about the ubiquitous candy introduced in 1940 (the first five are from Foodimentary):

  1. From 1976 to 1985, there were no red M&Ms (see below)
  2. Blue M&Ms were introduced in 1995.
  3. M&Ms were taken along on the first space shuttle voyage in 1982.
  4. There are 340 million M&M’s produced daily. [JAC: Wikipedia now says 400 million]
  5. The “M&M” was modeled after a candy Forrest Mars, Sr. encountered while in Spain during the 1930s. During the Spanish civil war there, he observed soldiers eating chocolate pellets with a hard shell of tempered chocolate. This prevented the candies from melting, which was essential when included in soldiers rations as they were.
  6. (From Wikipedia) “The following is a summary of the changes to the colors of the flagship (milk chocolate) flavor of M&M’s, the only filling manufactured continuously since the beginning of the brand. From 1941 until 1969, each package contained M&M’s in five different colors; when red M&M’s were reintroduced in 1987, they were added as a sixth color instead of replacing any of the existing colors.”

Bring back the violet ones!! We’ll have an M&M based quiz in an hour or so.

It’s also the International Day for Disaster Reduction, which means to me a day on which we should impeach Trump. On this day in 1792, the cornerstone of the White House (the “Executive Mansion”) was laid. And, October 13, 1881, Hebrew revivalist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda had the first conversation in modern Hebrew with his friends. I had no idea that Hebrew was a dead language for a long time, which shows you what a bad (secular) Jew I am. On this day in 1884, the zero meridian for longitude was decreed by the International Meridian Conference to pass through the Greenwich Observatory. On this day in 1903, the Boston Red Sox defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates to win the first “modern” World Series.  The Sox won again in 1918, but then had a long drought, not winning again until 2004. The only longer “Series Drought” was by our Cubbies, who won last year after not winning since 1908. On this day in 1917, the so-called “Miracle of the Sun” occurred in Fátima Portugal, where some solar anomaly was witnessed by 70,000 people. It was most likely either mass hallucination or an atmospheric anomaly; see here for other explanations). Here’s a Portuguese newspaper reporting the event, officially recognized by the Vatican as a “miracle.”

Finally, on October 12, 1983, the first cellular network began; it was set up in Chicago by Ameritech (now AT&T). And so we will always be connected. I know almost nobody who doesn’t have a cellphone.

Notables born on this day include Rudolf Virchow (1821), Wilfred Pickles (1904; I like the name), the cartoonist Herblock (1909), Lenny Bruce and Margaret Thatcher (both 1925), Paul Simon (1941), Marie Osmond (1959), and Sacha Baron Cohen (1971). Those who died on this day include Milton S. Hershey (1945; chocolate magnate) Ed Sullivan (1974) and Lê Đức Thọ (1990).  Here’s a 1978 clip of Barbara Walters interviewing Donnie and Marie Osmond, asking them why blacks can’t be priests in their Mormon faith. (Church officials had a “revelation” in 1978 in which God said it was okay after all.) Watch Donnie equivocate!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the Editor in Chief is issuing orders:

Hili: Efficient management requires delegation.
A: So what am I supposed to do?
Hili: Think for yourself and start thinking from the kitchen.
In Polish:
Hili: Sprawne zarządzanie wymaga delegowania.
Ja: Czyli co mam zrobić?
Hili: Sam pomyśl, zacznij myślenie od kuchni.

And from Winnipeg we have a photo of Gus that his staff calls “a nice picture”. Indeed. Look at that adorable face, stuffy ears (the result of frostbite) and snow white fur!

Finally, a tw**t from Matthew, who loves optical illusions:

Pandas falling all over the place

I’m tired and have just finished a paid piece of writing, which still needs work. This is the break both of us need: a video compilation of teenage pandas at the Toronto Zoo, apparently unable to balance themselves. Good thing they’re round and fat, immune to damage.

h/t: Matthew Cobb

Author of article on “the case for colonialism” withdraws it after death threats and social-media mobbing; academics are mostly silent

In today’s political and social climate, trying to defend colonialism is just asking for trouble—in fact, even for death threats. That’s what happened to associate professor Bruce Gilley at Portland State University, who recently published an article—actually, a “Viewpoint”, the academic equivalent of an op-ed, but refereed like a regular article—called “The case for colonialism” in a journal called the Third World Quarterly. If you go to the link, though, you won’t find the article; you’ll find this:


According to Andy Ngo, who’s been reporting this in Quillette, Gilley’s article said this:

First published on September 8, “The case for colonialism” argues Western colonialism has created net-good in some instances, particularly through establishing governance, institutions and infrastructure. Gilley argues that nations who embraced and built on their Western colonial legacy, for example, Singapore, have fared better than those who followed anti-colonial nationalist ideologies. The article also advocates for temporary “recolonization” in specific contexts, such as public finance and criminal justice, for populations who consent as a means to build up their institutions.

Well, you can imagine what a furor that caused! As Ngo reports, two petitions immediately went up on asking for the article to be retracted and the journal’s editor fired, and 15 editors resigned in protest at the article. A howling social media mob descended on Gilley, calling for his tenure to be revoked and for him to be fired. Some people even called for Gilley’s Ph.D. to be revoked! Students prepared to protest outside his office, but they couldn’t find him as he’s on sabbatical. And he began receiving death threats on the phone—threats credible enough that Gilley himself asked for the article to be withdrawn. (The journal’s claim that it withdrew the piece because the editor got threats of violence may be the real reason, or part of the reason, but since nobody’s talking we just don’t know.)

Apparently, although this wasn’t a “regular” journal article, it did go through peer review: one reviewer recommended minor changes while the other recommended rejection. In such cases the main editor makes a judgment call, and he decided to accept it. To his credit, one of the journal’s editors, Noam Chomsky—an anti-colonialist if ever there was one—didn’t resign, and said this:

Chomsky told The College Fix via email that while the method by which the article was published should be reviewed, he opposes demands to retract the article, saying it opens “dangerous doors.”

I haven’t read the article since it’s been removed. Perhaps it lingers somewhere on the Internet. But for this discussion it doesn’t matter. What bothers me are several issues.

The first is the censorship of an opinion that’s worth discussing. Surely colonialism has in the main been bad, and if Gilley maintains otherwise I’d disagree. But he apparently didn’t: he argued that in some instances colonialism has created a net good. Maybe he’s right. Perhaps  there have cases of colonialism, or certain actions of colonial powers, that could cause an overall improvement of a dysfunctional nation. I can’t think of any, for eventually all those nations demand independence, but it’s certainly something worth discussing. Asking for such a discussion is not, of course, the same thing as justifying willy-nilly occupation of someone else’s lands, which I oppose, but it’s a counterfactual type of argument worth having.

Why is it worth having? Because even though most people (and nearly all progressives) despise colonialism, we need to hear arguments on the other side, if for no other reason than to firm up our own arguments and hear the best case of our opponents. If Gilley can make a case that Singapore, for instance, was improved by colonialism, we need to hear it rather than stop our ears and shout “nyah nyah nyah nyah!” We need to hear these arguments for the same reason we should listen to the arguments of Holocaust denialists: we need to learn the evidence for the Holocaust, and be able to meet the best arguments of our opponents. If you simply shout “colonialism is always harmful” without being able to defend that, or without hearing the opposition, you have an assertion without an argument. Further, as John Stuart Mill noted in On Liberty, each generation forgets those arguments, so they have to be repeated over the years.

I object, too, to the academic and social-media mobs that try to quash articles like this and punish their authors, just like they tried (and failed) with Rebecca Tuvel’s Hypatia article comparing transracialism with transgenderism. What is happening is that there are certain Received Points of View that are considered “correct”, and if you don’t adhere to them in academia, you become fair game for the howling bands of online thugs who threaten you. Of course not all opinions are equally worth discussing: a journal shouldn’t need to publish an article saying that women should be denied the vote or blacks enslaved—the moral arguments against these are much clearer. But if an article passes peer review, as Tuvel’s and Gilley’s did, then it’s not right to call for its retraction because it doesn’t conform to the mores of the moment.

These mobs of academics and the public are, in effect, trying to control the content of academic knowledge and discourse by deciding which views are acceptable and which are not; and the latter views are not to be aired. But this is the journalistic equivalent of de-platforming someone already invited to speak. (I needn’t point out that Gilley is not Richard Spencer.) As Chomsky said, the best response to an article like Gilley’s, given that you oppose his thesis, is to write an article showing (with reasons) why he’s wrong.  You don’t censor his paper, you don’t retract it, you don’t threaten his life, and you don’t call for his firing or revoking his Ph.D. Knowledge advances not by bullying and censorship, but by free discussion—the kind of discussion that can’t take place now that Gilley’s article has vanished. (I wonder how many people who condemned it even read it beyond the title.)

Finally, this kind of mob control of academia breeds a climate of fear that chills all open discourse. Gilley’s life was threatened, but it’s notable that few people are speaking out in defense of his right to publish his piece after it passed peer review. That’s because while Gilley (and the journal editor) may have feared for their lives, the rest of us fear other consequences of this thuggery: being called racists, bigots, or colonialists. The climate of fear is evident from Ngo’s report:

While Bruce Gilley’s colleagues in the political science department remained silent as the controversy was brewing, a few of them are now speaking out. David Kinsella, professor of political science in the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State and former editor-in-chief of International Studies Perspectives,expressed repulsion at the thought of violent threats being sent to an editor or author but is concerned about the wider implications. “I also worry that this episode could encourage others to threaten violence as a means of influencing decisions about scholarly research and publication.”

The silence of so many who should be defending academic freedom clearly derives from fear. After all, as a colleague told me yesterday, if an academic published an article criticizing Big Pharma or Republican attacks on women, other academics would rush to proclaim the right to publish such articles, articles that would certainly offend some people. Why the difference? Because articles attacking Big Pharma and Republicans are acceptable to the academic Left. And if you flout the ideological standards of the Regressive Left, you’ll be subject to either personal threats or lifelong demonization as a racist, a misogynist, or some other beast of ideological impurity.

In the end, though, name-calling is inimical to free discourse, and free discourse is the only path to truth—or to social improvement.


There’s another relevant piece in Quillette that I don’t have time to discuss, but it’s good and well worth reading: “The case for contrarianism” by Oliver Traldi.

The FFRF wins a big one: federal court rules that ministers’ tax-free housing allowances violate the Constitution

You may know that American ministers have some tax advantages under the law: they often get a housing allowance from their church, and that allowance, in contrast to non-ministers who get such perks, is free from taxes.  Here’s the stipulation from the Internal Revenue Service code:

A licensed, commissioned, or ordained minister may be able to exclude from income the fair rental value of a home (a parsonage) or a housing allowance provided as compensation for ministerial services performed as an employee. A minister who is furnished a parsonage may exclude from income the fair rental value of the parsonage, including utilities. However, the amount excluded can’t be more than reasonable compensation for the minister’s services.

A minister who receives a housing allowance may exclude the allowance from gross income to the extent it’s used to pay expenses in providing a home. Generally, those expenses include rent, mortgage interest, utilities, repairs, and other expenses directly relating to providing a home. The amount excluded can’t be more than the reasonable compensation for the minister’s services.

This exemption—the tax-free housing allowance can also be used by ministers for stuff like home repairs, cable television fees, towels, bedding home decor, and computers—costs the government an estimated $700 million per year in taxes, and is used widely. As Christianity Today reports (and they’re pissed off!):

CT previously examined whether pastors’ homes are really that different from everyone else’s. According to the 2018 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff, 81 percent of fulltime senior pastors receive a housing allowance, while 11 percent receive a parsonage allowance. For fulltime solo pastors, 67 percent receive a housing allowance, while 27 percent receive a parsonage allowance; among part-time solo pastors, 59 percent receive a housing allowance, while 10 percent receive a parsonage allowance.

This is a blatantly unconstitutional provision because it gives religious people a tax advantage not shared by nonbelievers. In other words, it privileges religion—a violation of the First Amendment.

On that basis, in 2013 the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sued the government in the Federal District Court in Wisconsin—and won! (You can see the court’s ruling here.) But the government appealed, and the appeals court overruled the lower court on the grounds that the plaintiffs—the FFRF and its co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker—didn’t have “standing” to sue. In other words, they couldn’t prove they’d been injured by the policy, which is necessary to bring a lawsuit.

But the FFRF is tenacious. As GOP USA notes,

The foundation then had two employees who got housing allowances try to claim the exemption on their tax forms, and when the IRS denied them, the foundation re-filed the lawsuit.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said they followed exactly what the 7th Circuit said they would need to do to have standing in order to bring the lawsuit.

“I think they are going to have a hard time saying we don’t have standing,” she said. “They’re going to have to look at the merits.”

 The Alexandria News explains more:

In November 2014, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out that victory—not on the merits but on the question of standing—arguing that [FFRF Co-Presidents] Barker and Gaylor had not yet sought a refund of their housing allowance from the IRS. Accordingly, they sought them and when denied, went back to court.

FFRF, a national state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wisconsin, renewed its historic challenge of the housing allowance in April 2016. Sued are Steve Mnuchin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and John Koskinen, IRS Commissioner. The case also had religious intervenors as defendants.

Plaintiffs are FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, and Ian Gaylor, representing the estate of President Emerita Anne Nicol Gaylor, whose retirement was paid in part as a housing allowance.

The new ruling, by the same judge in the same Wisconsin court, was issued on October 6, and it’s another victory for the FFRF. Click on the screenshot below to see the ruling:

The take-home message:

Here are some quotes from Judge Barbara Crabb’s ruling as reported by the News:

“Although defendants try to characterize § 107(2) as an effort by Congress to treat ministers fairly and avoid religious entanglement, the plain language of the statute, its legislative history and its operation in practice all demonstrate a preference for ministers over secular employees,” writes Crabb, for the Western District of Wisconsin.

“As I noted in the earlier lawsuit,” Crabb writes, “there is no reasonable interpretation of the statute under which the phrase minister of the gospel could be construed to include employees of an organization whose purpose is to keep religion out of the public square.”

Any reasonable observer would conclude that the purpose and effect of the statute is to provide financial assistance to one group of religious employees without any consideration to the secular employees who are similarly situated to ministers, Crabb noted. “Under current law, that type of provision violates the establishment clause,” she adds.

“In reaching this conclusion, I do not mean to imply that any particular minister is undeserving of the exemption or does not have a financial need for one. The important point is that many equally deserving secular employees (as well as other kinds of religious employees) could benefit from the exemption as well, but they must satisfy much more demanding requirements despite the lack of justification for the difference in treatment.”

Crabb also discusses financial benefits to even wealthy ministers: “”Thus, an evangelist with a multimillion dollar home is entitled under § 107(2) to deduct the entire rental value of that home, even if it is not used for church purposes. (“Joel Osteen lives in a $10.5 million home and is entitled to exclude the fair rental value of that home so long as he spends that money on the home and his church allocates that amount to housing.”).”

You can also find this on page 4 of the ruling:

Ministers receive a unique benefit under § 107(2); it is not, as defendants suggest, part of a larger effort by Congress to provide assistance to employees with special housing needs. A desire to alleviate financial hardship on taxpayers is a legitimate purpose, but it is not a secular purpose when Congress eliminates the burden for a group made up of solely religious employees but maintains it for nearly everyone else.

Judge Crabb suggests some fixes for the law, but none of those involve favoring religion:

As I have discussed throughout this opinion, Congress could have enacted a number of alternative exemptions without running afoul of the First Amendment. For example, Congress could have accomplished a similar goal by allowing any of the following groups to exclude housing expenses from their gross income: (1) all taxpayers; (2) taxpayers with incomes less than a specified amount; (3) taxpayers who live in rental housing provided by 43 Case: 3:16-cv-00215-bbc Document #: 87 Filed: 10/06/17 Page 43 of 47 the employer; (4) taxpayers whose employers impose housing-related requirements on them, such as living near the workplace, being on call or using the home for work-related purposes; or (5) taxpayers who work for nonprofit organizations, including churches. Or some of these categories could be combined.

Make no mistake about it: this is a big victory, and churches are complaining loudly. Cry me a river! Some churches are whining that they may have to close without such advantages, but that’s too damn bad: they are entitled to no such tax privileges under U.S. law. If they can’t keep their enterprise going without taking advantage of illegal provisions, they shouldn’t be open.

The government will of course appeal, but now that the plaintiffs have standing, I can’t see on what grounds they could lose. This is clearly favoritism of religion. But of course the Supreme Court, where this might ultimately land, is deeply conservative, and might suss out some wonky rationale. If it does, that will be a serious erosion of the Constitution they’re supposed to follow.

Congrats to Annie Laurie, Dan, and the FFRF for this victory.

h/t: Woody