Wednesday, October 18, 2017

There Will Always Be an England

by John Stevenson

Alarmists and Islamophobes claim Europe is being overrun by Muslims.  They already constitute significant percentages in the populations of some European nations.  And their birth rate is much higher than that of non-Muslim Europeans.  As migrants and refugees they are flocking into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa in large numbers. 

But is there really cause for alarm?  Let’s look at Britain. 

Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that for 2016 the most popular given name for baby boys in England was Oliver.  There were 6,623 Olivers born.  Muhammad came in eighth, with 3,908 Muhammads.  So what’s the worry?

Well, it turns out that ONS says the results were “based on exact spelling of the name given on the birth certificate.”  Grouping similarly pronounced names would change the rankings.  Thus babies with the also popular names Mohammed, Mohammad, and Muhammed are separately counted---not included with the Muhammads.  If those variants had been included with the Muhammads, they would add up to 7,084---beating the diapers off the Olivers.  Nationwide.

Regionally, Muhammad alone (without including the variant spellings) is the top choice in both London and Birmingham---England’s two most populous cities.  Not to say that Muslims “own” London, but in fact London’s mayor is---well, you know---a Muslim.

So what about the trend line?  Well, over the decade 2006 to 2016, Muhammad (just Muhammad, no variant spellings) moved up 35 spots in the nationwide rankings of boy baby names.  That’s a whopping increase.

Muhammad’s 2016 placement at number eight ousted the traditionally popular William from the top ten.  As in William the Conqueror (1066-1087), his royal namesake successors, and countless schoolboys over the centuries. 

ONS says on their web site that they treat “all names separately by publishing the names of babies as they are written on their birth certificates and ranking them accordingly. This has been our longstanding approach and is consistent with international practice.”  They follow this with a tortured and downright silly conjecture about why Muhammad is the top choice of so many, even suggesting that it’s because of the popularity of Muhammad Ali (really? in 2016?). 

By breaking the differently spelled Muhammads into separate categories and ranking them separately, ONS has obscured the fact that all of these boy babies are in fact named after the Prophet, the Messenger of Allah.  Thus ONS has, in its own way, masked the growth trend of the Muslim population in England.

There is a WWII patriotic song, sung by Vera Lynn, “There Will Always Be an England.”  It rallied the British in those dark days.  And there always will be an England, in the sense that---absent a tectonic cataclysm---the land itself will doubtless outlive mankind. 

If the demographic trajectory continues---and there is no evidence that it will not---the Muslim population will inevitably become the majority.  This will mean an England whose people, their religion, their culture, their language would have been unimaginable a few years ago.  London already has that feel.

Yes, “There Will Always Be an England,” but it won’t be recognizable.  It won’t be English.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Historical Villains

by John Stevenson

The movement to tear down monuments and to rename buildings, schools, and streets seems to have hit an orgasmic crescendo.  And it has gone well beyond symbols of the Confederacy.  It reaches out now to all symbols of white supremacy, white privilege, whiteness, Western Civilization…and all things Caucasian and therefore now thought to be at the heart of all evil.

When you and I were going to school, Christopher Columbus was an explorer, adventurer, sailor.  A pretty gutsy guy for risking it all on the belief that the Earth was round, not flat.  Columbus sailed under the auspices and financial backing of the Spanish crown.  He sailed forth to spread Christianity, claim lands for Spain, and return with gold.  That’s what explorers did in the Age of Exploration.  That was his job.

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  Remember that one?

For some five centuries most folks believed this was a great achievement.  It was taught in school.  It was history.  But suddenly it’s no longer true!  Columbus is now called a racist and an exploiter of indigenous people.   

The natives would have been better off if Europeans had never appeared on their shores.  They would have invented the wheel, the alphabet, vaccines, electric power, flush toilets, television, and the Apollo space program all by themselves and without having to suffer the presence of white folks and the industrial revolution.

So statues of Columbus are being defaced, decapitated, splattered with paint, and torn down by vandals.  But, if the vandals don’t get to them first, these symbols of the birth of our American civilization are being covered up or removed by city councils and other local jurisdictions. 

Well, enough about Columbus.  Being a West Coast guy, my sympathies go with another occupant of the endangered species list---Father Junipero Serra.  In the 1700s, Father Serra established the California missions.  He was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.  He brought Christianity to the California natives.  Of course, he is now accused of also bringing them exploitation and slavery. 

I grew up in a small town on the California coast.  A key feature of our town was one of Father Serra’s missions.  Established in 1770, the mission is still functioning today and is Father Serra’s burial place. When I was in school, the Catholic kids all went through grammar school at the mission, and the rest of us went to the public grammar school.  Then we all ended up together at the public high school. 

Now three points:

→Our public high school’s mascot was named for (of course) Father Serra: The Padres. 

→Each State is represented in the U.S. Capitol by statues of two of its most important historical figures.  Of the two who represent California in Statuary Hall, one is Father Serra.

→In my home town a life-size and beautifully maintained statue of Father Serra on a high pedestal presides over the intersection of Camino del Monte and Serra Drive.   

I’m sure it will be only a matter of time that my Padres are renamed, Father Serra is ousted from Statuary Hall, and his statue at Camino del Monte and Serra Drive is vandalized, destroyed, or banished. 

The movement to erase American historical figures, or to re-cast them as villains, marches on.  

Saturday, September 30, 2017


by Monreale

I went over to the local mall this Friday afternoon.  Although it's only 10 minutes away, I hadn't been there in a long time. I bought new glasses from Costco and they needed fitting. I figured Lenscrafters would do a better job than Costco, and they did.

For those who don't know it, this mall is big. Anchored by Macy's, Sears and Penny's, it has some 170 stores and restaurants.

After the fitting, I went for a walk. My conscience (and my oldest daughter) has been after me to walk more so I set out to walk the length of the mall, both levels.

What I saw was a revelation. Some 80 to 90 % of the shoppers looked peculiar to me. Every conceivable ethnicity, language and, of course, race seemed to be represented. Even though I'm not one myself I was hoping to see a few WASPS. Somehow, that would have reassured me.

The clothing worn was to me odd. It's 85 degrees in California today. Why did some people wear long coats? To balance that, I suppose, some wore next to nothing. The jeans wearers were obviously competing as to whose jeans could stay up while having the most holes. Over large farmer's overalls were seen next to slinky, skin-tight dresses and slacks. There seemed to be no attempt to wear compatible colors--it was color chaos. Shoes competed with sandals competed with a kind of slipper sox and even bare feet.

Then there was the "body adornment." Piercings everywhere. Eyebrows, noses, cheeks, lips, tongues, backs of the neck. Earlobes punctured with big, round black objects, sometimes with strange devices hanging from them. Tattoos covering one arm, covering both arms, one leg, both legs, on necks edging up to the face. Striking configurations of facial hair--tufts, forests and everything in between. Heads shaved, partly shaved, shaved on top with ringlets hanging down on the sides, big bubble afros, dreadlocks.

It seemed to me that I had suddenly been transported to a kind of alien colony. And then it hit me. I was the alien.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Trees Have Rights Too

by John Stevenson

Friends of mine have a cabin in the Tahoe basin.  On their property there was a tree encroaching on the cabin’s foundation.  They wanted to remove it, so they contacted a tree service but were told a permit was required.  You don’t just go cutting down a tree without a permit, even on your own property.  The controlling agency was the U.S. Forest Service.

My friends contacted the Forest Service, made an appointment, and a forester came out.  He tagged the problem tree along with some others, and my friends got the required permit.   So the tree problem was resolved to their satisfaction.  However, their initial contact with the Forest Service had not gone smoothly; a clerk had become adversarial, telling them that “trees have rights too.”

At that time, at least two or maybe three decades ago, my friends and I took this response as preposterous and laughable.  But since then we have evolved.  We have learned to be tolerant, accepting, even defenders of the rights of other life forms. 

After all, why should we defend only human life?  Why not all cute, cuddly, furry, warm blooded animals?  Well, come to think of it, why not all animals?  Who is to say, for example, that mammals or even primates are more deserving of our empathy, love, and protection than alligators, snakes, spiders, wasps, termites, or tapeworms? 

As if in response to the “God bless America” and “God bless our troops” bumper stickers there are also the more inclusive bumper stickers “God bless everyone” and “God bless us all---no exceptions.”  Aren’t the latter sentiments an affirmation of all humans?  So why not, by extension, all God’s creatures?  

Which brings me back to my Tahoe friends and their encroaching tree.  At the time, we scoffed at the ludicrous notion that “trees have rights too.”  But haven’t we, as a society, progressed, become more inclusive?  Why do we, members of the animal kingdom, consider ourselves to be superior, more deserving, than members of the plant kingdom? 

Why do we believe that we hold dominion over the plant kingdom?  We mow, prune, pot, and otherwise maim our plants.  We alone decide on the timing and amount of their hydration and feeding.   With Roundup and other poisons, we even mass-murder those we deem undesirable. 

But I should not say “our” plants.  Are they not entitled to be their own masters?  There’s a school of thought in San Francisco that pets are now animal companions---no pets, no masters.  Why not plant companions?  Why do we feel entitled to enslave them? 

Well, I submit that we are not entitled.  If animals have rights, so should plants.  They should not be exterminated, harvested, maimed, or forced to exist only at the pleasure of humans. 

Praise God that we are morally evolving every day.  Eventually, perhaps during your lifetime or mine, plants will be afforded the dignity and protection they deserve. 

You may scoff at this.  But within the next few decades or hopefully sooner humanity will evolve to an understanding of its one-ness with the plant kingdom.  In the meantime, cultivate your relationships with your plant companions, lest they judge you harshly in the enlightened future.

Ooops! Hold the phone.  There could be a problem.  Once we reject the exploitation and murder of plants and animals, we may be a doomed species.  Unless we turn to cannibalism, where will we find food?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Common Soldier

by John Stevenson

There was a monument in front of the Old Durham County Courthouse.  It consisted of a granite base upon which stood an anonymous Confederate soldier.  Erected in 1924, the whole works was about 15 feet high. The base was inscribed: “In memory of the boys who wore the gray.”

Two days after the violence in Charlottesville, a group of vandals destroyed that monument.   One person climbed the pedestal and looped a rope around the soldier.  The group then pulled the soldier to the ground where it crumpled.  The police were present but, apparently wanting to avoid a confrontation, did not intervene.  They did, however, film the event and have since made several arrests.

Regardless where you stand on the issue of whether there should be monuments to Confederate leaders or not, this vandalism is wrong on two counts.  First, it is illegal to vandalize or destroy the property of another---in this case the city.  Several jurisdictions are deciding or have decided to remove Confederate statues---others won’t.  It is up to the monument owner---not a mob of self-appointed vigilantes---to decide the disposition of that monument.  If the mob felt aggrieved by the presence of this memorial, their appropriate remedy would have been to petition the city.

Second, and setting aside the criminality issue, the vandals’ choice of target was inexcusable.  Here’s why.

The monument depicted no Confederate leader, no known slaveholder.  It was an anonymous soldier without rank or identification. As described on the UNC-maintained website documenting southern history, it was a “common soldier.”  Officers in those days typically got their commissions by graduating from a military academy, or through their wealth or political connections.  The common soldier---Johnny Reb---had no such power and would be an unlikely slaveholder.  He fought for his State.

What was Johnny Reb’s condition?  Compared to his Union opponent, he was under-equipped and under-fed, and his weapons were less effective.  The Union had the industrial strength to outfit an army which the South did not.

For example, he may or may not have even had shoes.  If he had shoes, there probably wasn’t a right and left---his shoes were interchangeable.  If he had none, he might eventually acquire a pair when scavenging from the dead on the battlefield. 

The same applied to weapons.  Johnny Reb may well have arrived on the battlefield with his personal shotgun or hunting rifle.  Confederate-issued rifles were less effective than Union rifles.  But again, scavenging from the dead was common.   As an example of the Union’s technological advantage, the Gattling Gun, forerunner to the true machine gun, was used by Union forces but not available to the Confederates.  

Common soldiers on both sides had it tough---perhaps even tougher than today's college kids retreating to their safe spaces.  But Johnny Reb had it tougher than the Yankee.  His tour of duty featured extreme privation in a fight against long odds.    

Video of the mob pulling Johnny Reb off his granite base is a study in contrasts.  Johnny Reb represented toughness, courage, determination, fighting to the end against forbidding odds for a lost cause. 

He was pulled down by Lilliputians.  Once the statue of Johnny Reb was crumpled on the ground, the vandals bravely took turns kicking, spitting upon, and “giving the finger” to the common soldier.  A sorry spectacle.

But there’s an unfortunate precedent for disagreeing with Government policy and taking it out on the common soldier: the vandals’ ideological grandparents spat upon American troops returning from Viet Nam.   

In case you misunderstood, this is not an endorsement of the Confederacy.  It is an affirmation of “the boys who wore the gray,” the common solder whose monument in Durham was trashed by his inferiors.

“It does not take a brave dog to bark at the bones of a dead lion.”
(attributed to Winston Churchill)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

See? I Told You So

by John Stevenson

My August 9 column discussed the renaming, removal, or downright destruction of symbols of the Confederate States of America and, by extension, “white supremacy.”  These actions had been sporadic and seemingly unconnected with each other until the June 2015 South Carolina church massacre by a white supremacist.  That terrible shooting galvanized public opinion, and the previously sporadic efforts became a nationwide movement to erase all traces of the Confederacy.

I described the primary target for historical erasure as being the Confederate leaders and generals, most notably General Robert E. Lee---who was typically depicted astride his horse, Traveller.  And although Traveller probably took no position on slavery or on secession, just as Lee’s statues are taken down so are Traveller’s.

Then I took the liberty of posing a fanciful extrapolation of the history-scrubbing movement.   I theorized that, once statues of Lee and Traveller had been removed from every public place in America, the movement would discover another Traveler worthy of their attention.

The University of Southern California’s mascot Traveler is a white horse with a rider in faux Trojan get-up.  I believe USC’s Traveler is named after Lee’s Traveller, but there are folks on both sides of that question.  Nevertheless, I warned that, once the statues were all gone, the streets, cities, and schools all renamed, the history scrubbers would demand that USC’s Traveler undergo a name change.  I did this in an effort to point out the absurdity of the purification movement, which knows no limits.

Well, what a difference three days makes.  I had of course failed to foresee the Nazis/KKK versus Antifa/BLM confrontation, slugfest, mayhem, and murder in Charlottesville on August 12.  This event had a profound effect on the movement, since the Nazi/KKK element had announced that their presence was to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

This show of hate-group support for Confederate monuments gave the history-scrubbing movement an adrenalin rush which greatly accelerated their enthusiasm for destroying all things Confederate.  Some statues were assaulted and pulled down by movement vandals, while others were removed and relocated in the dead of night by local authorities.  The result of Charlottesville is that all Confederate symbols are now on the endangered species list. 

Which brings us back to USC’s horse, Traveler.  My somewhat tongue-in-cheek August 9 column predicted that Traveler (or at least his name) would be in danger---but I thought this would be in the future, when the statues had been eradicated and the history erasers sought new targets.  My mistake.

According to the USC website “The Black Student Assembly is the official umbrella organization and funding board that oversees recognized African-American student organizations at USC.”   (About three dozen such organizations are listed as being under that umbrella.)

Well, during the week following the Charlottesville tragedy, that Black Student Assembly held a protest rally in front of the Tommy Trojan statue on the USC campus.  According to the Daily Trojan, “Saphia Jackson, co-director of the USC Black Student Assembly, opened the rally encouraging students not to remain silent, and reminding those in attendance that white supremacy hits close to home, referring to the presence of Traveler, USC’s mascot…”  But “BSA co-directors Saphia Jackson and Ariana Seymore declined to comment on...(whether)…they would seek to remove Traveler’s statue from the campus.”   Nevertheless, that door appears to have now been opened.

As you read this, the Trojans are just a couple of days from playing their 2017 home opener.  Will Traveler take the field with the Trojans, as he and his forefathers have done each season since 1961?  Will he be required to gallop incognito---or under an assumed name?  Or will he simply be replaced by a non-white horse?  And, if Traveler is still on the Trojans’ roster, will he survive the season without being cut?

What started out in my imagination as an absurdity has come true.  See?  I told you so.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Man-Tax

by John Stevenson

Alex O’Brien has opened a vegan restaurant named Handsome Her in Melbourne, Australia.  Here are “House Rules” she has posted:  Rule #1: Women have priority seating.  Rule #2: Men will be charged an 18% premium to reflect the gender pay gap….which is donated to a women’s service.  Rule #3: Respect goes both ways.

O’Brien’s “man-tax” has caused a media kerfuffle in Australia and in Old Blighty.  A headline on the website explained her intent: “Feminist vegan hopes the move will provoke people into discussing unfair treatment of women.”

Of course the man-tax is not really a tax, because it isn’t levied by any government.  It’s really just a surcharge she applies to those of the male persuasion in order to make her point.  “I do want people to think about it, because we’ve had this (pay discrepancy) for decades and decades and we’re bringing it to the forefront of people’s minds.  I like that it is making men stop and question their privilege a little bit.”

O’Brien says the man-tax is only applied for one week per month, and it is unclear whether she will enforce it if someone objects.  There are other unanswered questions.  What if a man and woman come in together?  Does the man-tax apply only to what he orders?  What if the woman is picking up the check?  Is the man-tax waived?  What if the man is paying the entire check?  How much of it is subject to the man-tax?  As you can see, the complications rival the Internal Revenue Code.  O’Brien will need a tax advisor!

A sign posted in Handsome Her advises that the man-tax O’Brien collects is donated to Elizabeth Morgan House---a charity which supports Aboriginal women and children.  If Australian law provides for a tax deduction for charitable donations it would seem that the customers paying the man-tax should be entitled to take that deduction, since O’Brien is functioning as a conduit rather than as a philanthropist.

O’Brien did indeed provoke people, but not into “discussing unfair treatment of women.”  She says that customer response is all favorable.  “There has been nothing but positivity from everyone, males and females.”  But the comments appended to the article on show just the opposite.  They are overwhelmingly negative toward O’Brien and her man-tax, and many predict Handsome Her’s early demise---more on that in a moment.

Perhaps there’s a way of evading the man-tax.  It’s likely that a metrosexual chap sporting a man bun might be viewed as sufficiently sympathetic to feminism or even sufficiently gender-ambiguous that O’Brien might forgive the man-tax.

Which of course brings us to the gender dysphoric customer.  Assuming a male customer who claims to be transitioning to female, how will O’Brien rule on that one?  Will she celebrate her new sister and forgive the man-tax?  Or will she suspect a likely ruse?  Dangerous ground there.

Handsome Her will not fail---at least not because of the man-tax.  O’Brien is catering (forgive the pun) to a feminista clientele, and they are likely to be delighted with her politics and become loyal customers.  The publicity she has gained from her goofy man-tax will spur her business. 

The vegan cafĂ© would not have attracted many male customers anyway.  But if she were serving up real food like cheese steak sandwiches, T-bone steaks, and Tooheys beer, her man-tax would have killed her business.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

“Fire and Fury”

by John Stevenson

For starters, let me say that this is neither an endorsement nor a defense of President Trump’s public declarations on Kim Jong Un’s missile rattling.   Instead, it is a call for a bit more perspective and balanced view on the part of critics of those declarations.

The statements causing the critics to reach for the smelling salts are that North Korea would be met with “fire and fury” if they continue their provocations, and later that “military solutions are now fully in place…locked and loaded.”

Just for a bit of historical perspective, Trump’s immediate predecessor President Obama, in an April 2016 interview with CBS host Charlie Rose, called North Korea erratic and irresponsible.  He went on to say “We could obviously destroy North Korea with our arsenals” but that doing so would have negative consequences for our ally South Korea.  The North Koreans were none too pleased with Obama’s statement, but it drew no criticism from the American press or politicians. 

In addition, in 1993 then-President Clinton said that if North Korea were to develop and use an atomic weapon “we would quickly and overwhelmingly retaliate” and “it would mean the end of their country as they know it.”  The North Korean government was outraged, but for the American press and politicians, this declaration was a snoozer. 

So how have the critics responded to Trump’s statements?  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi offered that Trump’s words were “recklessly belligerent and demonstrate a grave lack of appreciation for the…nuclear situation.”  Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein called Trump’s statements “bombastic.”  Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer labeled Trump’s words “reckless rhetoric.”

Even Senator John McCain got in on the fun: “I take exception to the president’s comments because you got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do…in other words the old walk softly but carry a big stick…because all it’s going to do is bring us closer to some kind of serious confrontation.”  Perhaps McCain had forgotten that, in his 2008 presidential campaign, he had regaled a rally crowd by briefly singing the “Barbra Ann” knock-off---“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran.” 

So regardless of how you view Trump’s tough talk, the inconsistency of his critics reeks of hypocrisy or at least of selective amnesia.

There’s even a move afoot in the Congress to pass a prohibition against Trump taking military action against North Korea.  I am not often given to quoting Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.  But I think his counsel in this case is worth consideration.  Dershowitz opposes any congressional effort to impede the President in his use of force against North Korea. 

Dershowitz says such a move “interferes with the President’s right as commander in chief to make decisions affecting the national security of the United States….I think we ought to take a deep breath and wait and see how it plays out.”

In this situation, the critics should not try to restrain the President---instead they should restrain themselves.  Less of the vapors.  Dershowitz has it right.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


by John Stevenson

For years, there have been occasional and seemingly unconnected efforts to erase symbols of the Confederate States of America---to tear down a statue, rename a school, or remove a Confederate flag.

Then came the June 2015 South Carolina church massacre by a white supremacist. That heinous act galvanized public opinion, and the previously sporadic efforts became a nationwide movement. 

A primary target for historical erasure is the plethora of statues of Confederate military leaders.  And most prominent among those are statues of General Robert E. Lee.

Like other Confederate generals, statues of Lee almost always depict him astride his horse Traveller.  Lore is that Traveller was fast, strong, and brave---a fitting horse for a renowned military commander of that era. 

Unlike Lee, Traveller was presumably not a slaveholder.  His heart likely was not even committed to the Confederate cause.  But, as Lee’s warhorse, in a sense he too was a Confederate hero.  And of course, as the statues are taken down, Traveller is being scrubbed from history as surely as his rider.

Barring some unforeseeable shift in public sentiment, the erasing of Confederate leaders will continue until there is no more Robert E. Lee astride Traveller in any public place in America.   

The historical expunging will be complete.  Or maybe not.

As it turns out, the University of Southern California has a horse named Traveler as its mascot.  Traveler attends home football games and, with his Trojan rider, gallops around the field whenever USC scores---which is far too often.

Traveler first appeared at USC in the 1961 football season.  Of course over the years USC has had a succession of Travelers.  The original one was, according to its owner Richard Saukko, named in honor of---you guessed it---General Lee’s Traveller.

So even after the removal of Confederate statues and flags, and even after the renaming of streets, schools, and buildings, a symbol of the Confederacy will endure in the name of USC’s mascot. 

The historical erasure enthusiasts should turn their attention to this living, breathing, galloping Confederate namesake.  USC’s Traveler and all of his successors will have to be renamed. 

Previous renaming efforts have often included a jujitsu component: the now-disfavored names would be replaced by those of prominent minorities or civil rights leaders.  For example, the renaming of San Francisco’s Army Street as Cesar Chavez Blvd.; the so-far-unsuccessful campaign to rename J.E.B. Stuart High School in Virginia after Thurgood Marshall; and the fizzled renaming of San Francisco’s Washington High in favor of Maya Angelou.  

In keeping with that spirit, USC could select the name of a prominent minority or civil rights leader to replace their Confederate namesake.  For consideration, here are a couple of distinguished figures with already-established connections to USC:  O.J. Simpson, “The Juice,” who galloped for record-setting yardage in the Coliseum in the 1960s.  And Snoop Dogg (nee Calvin Broadus, Jr.) who can often be found horsing around on the sidelines at USC games.

If they are willing to choose a replacement name without regard for minority status or civil rights involvement, here are a couple of USC grads to consider:  John Wayne, “The Duke,” who starred in several westerns as a cavalry officer.  And Charles Paddock (nicknamed “The Human Race Horse”), 1920 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist.

For now, the historical erasure folks are busy with removing the Confederate statues and flags and with the renaming of schools and such.  But once they are finished up with those more tangible targets, USC officials should expect a knock at the door.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Tranimal

by John Stevenson

For my April 19 column, I thought I had uncovered the ultimate absurdity.  “You Won’t Believe This One,” described the removal of a scale from a college gym so that one student would not be caused anxiety over her weight.  Well of course I was wrong, as confessed in my May 31 offering “Trust Us, You Are Beautiful” concerning the covering of mirrors in order to shield some students from the presumably ugly truth.

Well, it turns out there’s always (and perhaps always will be) another winner of the sweepstakes of the absurd.  The current leader in that contest is a visiting PhD student at the University of Arizona.  Hang onto your hat.

This student is apparently a female who identifies as male.  Thus she is a “transgender man.”  Since biologically she is now and forever will be female, I would normally call her “her” or “she.”  However, I must quote below from sources all of which use the politically correct but biologically wrong “him” or “he.”  So I will do the same so as not to inject needless confusion into this story of an already confused person.  OK so far?

On the University of Arizona’s web site, the Gender and Womens Studies Department and the Institute for LGBT Studies jointly welcomed their visiting scholar “…a French student who just started his PhD this year at Universite Paris 8. He works at the intersection of Trans Studies and Animal Studies, focusing on tranimal body modifications, practices and subjectivities. He is beyond excited to be in Tucson for the Spring semester, benefit from all the department’s and the Institute’s activities, conduct fieldwork in the US, and meet everyone!”   

Apparently not satisfied with his gender transition, he has forged onward to now identify as a hippopotamus.  His paper on this was published in “The Journal of Theoretical Humanities.”  An abstract of this scholarly work says: “Confronting transgender with transpecies, the author claims that his hippopotamus identity allowed him to escape…several sets of categorization that govern human bodies.”  And “The article then investigates the politics of equating transgender and transpecies, critically examining the question of the inclusion of xenogenders in the trans political movement.”  That should be useful after graduation.

In his own words, “…being a hippo makes me feel cute, confident, sexy and safe. I discovered that another self was available for me; being a hippo means that I don’t have to be a boy or a girl, a child or an adult, normal or strange.”  As if it’s not strange for a woman to declare herself male and then transmogrify into a gender-free hippopotamus.

Writing further about his newfound freedom from classification, he says “Unlike the somewhat checkered, locked-down, and policed space of transgender, the space of transpecies remained open, as it is not scripted yet.”   And also, that self-identifying as a hippo is “a political form of resistance to the (trans)gender policing of my body.”

As of this writing the welcoming statement remains on the UA website.  However, reports that a UA spokesman has told them that “…despite some early contact with the department, he was not a researcher or an employee of any kind, and he had no student status with UA.” 

So perhaps the kumbaya moment so eagerly anticipated by the Gender and Womens Studies folks and their LGBT soulmates was never actually consummated.  We can’t be sure, because reports that the tranimal did not respond to their inquiries.

This is a great loss to the academic excellence of the University of Arizona, because their Gender and Womens Studies Department and their Institute for LGBT Studies might have benefited greatly from the wisdom and scholarly contributions of the visiting ungulate.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

“Exactly What He Deserved”

by John Stevenson

I’m pretty cautious about travel.  I go to friendly spots like Canada and western Europe. 

If the State Department recommends against going someplace, it’s likely I had already crossed it off.  Places not to go include: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Zimbabwe, and a whole passel of other enticing destinations---like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 

As you have surely heard, 22-year old University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier went on an organized tour to North Korea (DPRK).   If I’d been invited to tag along, chances are pretty good that I would have had other plans.  But he went.  A bad decision, as it turned out. 

Warmbier stole a poster off his hotel wall, likely as a souvenir, was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to15 years at hard labor.  All done probably as quickly as it took you to read that sentence.  People are unlikely to survive 15 years in a DPRK prison.  And he didn’t.  We can only imagine the beatings and other horrors he experienced, but after a year of it he was returned to his family with severe brain damage and died shortly after. 

Politicians, pundits, folks across the political spectrum cried out for some redress of this injustice.  It was a terrible decision to go tourista in the DPRK.  But his death at the hands of that barbaric regime surely deserves our sympathy for him and his family rather than our criticism.  

But along comes 62 year-old Katherine Dettwyler, adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware. reported that Dettwyler’s subsequently-deleted Facebook post said Warmbeir was “typical of a lot of the young, rich, clueless males who come into my classes.” 

She also wrote: “These are the same kids who cry about their grades because they didn’t think they’d really have to study the material to get a good grade.  His parents ultimately are to blame for his growing up thinking he could get away with whatever he wanted.  Maybe in the U.S., where young…rich, clueless white males routinely get away with raping women.  Not so much in North Korea.” 

Campus Reform reports that in another since-deleted comment she posted:  “If you knew these kids you’d be appalled.  They think nothing of raping drunk girls at frat parties and snorting cocaine, cheating on exams, and threatening professors with physical violence.” 

So Dettwyler, who likely never met Warmbier and likely knows nothing about him except what has been in the media, links him to raping, drug use, violence, and cheating on exams.  Her abusive rants smear young white males in general, and Warmbier in particular.   Her writings reek of racism, sexism, and a callous disdain for the tuition-paying parents of her rich white male frat boy students.   

But her most odious comment was this:  “Is it wrong of me to think that Otto Warmbeir got exactly what he deserved?”

Responding to the backlash that followed, the University rightfully disowned Dettwyler:  “We condemn any and all messages that endorse hatred and convey insensitivity toward a tragic event such as the one that Otto Warmbier and his family suffered.  We find these comments particularly distressing and inconsistent with our values.  Our sympathies are with the Warmbier family.”  

Adjunct professors work on contract and are not tenured.  At the time of Dettwyler’s comments she was between semesters.  The University’s statement said Dettwyler “will not be rehired to teach at the University in the future.” 

Apparently Dettwyler’s hateful comments were not an anomaly.  The Review, a student newspaper, said that she had a reputation for being politically outspoken.  One student who had taken two courses from her said Dettwyler’s Facebook post was typical of her: “the most Kathy thing I’ve ever seen.”  So apparently she was known for doling out her ugly opinions in the classroom.

If she had not posted her despicable message on social media, Dettwyler’s behavior would probably never have been exposed.  Donors, parents, and alumni would probably never have learned of her existence, let alone her hateful mindset and statements.   So there would have been no public outcry and the University would never have had to denounce and terminate her.

What’s worse, she would still be in the classroom projecting her hatefulness.  And the parents she so despises would still be paying her salary to preach her loathsome opinions to their children.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Cultural Appropriation Warriors

by John Stevenson

I guess the scourge of “cultural appropriation” has been around a while, but I first learned of it three years ago, and wrote about it in my June 25, 2014, column.  Two fraternities had been disciplined by their respective universities.  One for holding a Cinco de Mayo themed charitable fundraiser.  The other for holding a Fiji Islander charitable fundraiser (grass skirts, coconut bras---like in that racist musical “South Pacific”).  In the first case the event was canceled; in the other, fraternity leaders were required to undergo cultural sensitivity re-education. 

Cultural appropriation is defined by Nadra Kareem Nittle, an expert in the field:  “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.  This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”  Nittle goes on to say that it is worse if the source community is a minority group or when the thing appropriated is particularly sensitive (like a religious symbol). 

There are other similar definitions, but key to their application is that there’s no actual rule book.  Whether a particular act or event is or is not really cultural appropriation is up to the offended individual or community.   Non-negotiable.

I actually was hoping sanity had prevailed and this issue had gone away.  Alas, Michael Barone’s May 5, 2017, column on cultural appropriation brought me back to reality.  So I rummaged around on line and quickly found writings by Nittle, Jenni Avins, Kovie Biakolo---cultural appropriation experts all.  Google cultural appropriation and you’ll find those writers along with many others.  Apparently there’s a cultural appropriation industry out there, taking offense, writing, lecturing, re-educating miscreants and, of course, making up the rules as they go along.

So my vain hope was that the stink about the Cinco de Mayo party and the South Pacific-style event had blown over   Barone brought me back to reality.  The offense of cultural appropriation is now more offensive than ever.

Barone postulated that only the culturally pure should be able to partake of that culture.  For example, that only Italian-Americans with proof of ancestry should be able to buy pizza in the school cafeteria, panini at Panera, or pasta at Olive Garden.  He says “Fortunately, modern technology makes this possible. [Prospective purchasers] could display their profiles on their smartphones…”  The non-qualified “would have to be politely but firmly informed that their ancestry bars them from partaking of cuisine their ancestors had no part in concocting.”

Of course Italian cuisine is just an example.  The right to purchase and drink a Guinness, to  listen to Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” or dance to Chubby Checker’s twist, to wear a sari or a barong, to attend a Greek festival or an Oktoberfest, even to watch a movie such as “Hidden Figures” or “Coming to America.”  All would be subject to proof of membership in the matching culture.

Again, appropriating from my June 2014 column: “America, by its very nature, is a potpourri of cultural foods, music, behaviors, dress, and language.  Borrowing from each other’s cultures has been standard practice in our society.  Unless it is done to mock or ridicule, where’s the offense?”

The culture warriors believe cultural appropriation, a class one felony, wreaks havoc from sea to shining sea.  Me?  I think I’ll put on my aloha shirt, have a gyro sandwich, drink a cerveza---maybe even polka.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

When in Rome….

by John Stevenson

Do you wear shoes in your home?  No one in my family wears shoes in my home or in their own.  It’s our custom.  Visitors usually follow suit.  

It’s also the custom in some Asian countries and in Hawaii to leave one’s shoes at the door.  And it’s becoming more common in “the contiguous 48.”   So what to do when you go to someone else’s home.  Shoes or no shoes?  Well, the solution is to follow the custom of your host.  If shoes are acceptable, leave them on.  If it’s a no-shoe house, go shoe-less.  Common sense.

Similarly if you were visiting Japan, for example, you would leave your shoes at the door.  You would never, I hope, think that the fact that you wear shoes in your own home should privilege you to wear shoes in your Japanese host’s home.  The local custom takes precedence. 

Of course wearing shoes (or going shoeless) in the house is not the real subject here.  It’s just an illustration of a commonly held principle:  people the world around generally accept and follow the primacy of local custom.

Which brings us to another example of campus craziness---perpetrated not by the students, but by the school administration. reports on Clemson University’s diversity training program for its faculty.  To drum up attendance, Clemson’s Office of Inclusion and Equity offered mugs and t-shirts for faculty members who completed the online “inclusion awareness course.”

The training features diversity-related fictitious scenarios from which participants are to select the most inclusive response.  Here’s an example.

“Alejandro scheduled a 9:00 a.m. meeting with two groups of visiting professors and students from other countries.  When he arrived, he found the first group had been waiting for 15 minutes.  The second group arrived at 9:10.”

What should Alejandro do?  The incorrect answer, of course, is for him to explain to the tardy arrivals that “in our country 9:00 a.m. means 9:00 a.m.”  The correct answer is that he “should recognize cultural differences…and adjust accordingly.”  The explanation is that “time may be considered precise or fluid, depending on the culture.”  So Alejandro should recognize “that his cultural perspective regarding time is neither more nor less valid than any other.” 

Notice what has happened here.  Alejandro is the host.  In his country (the U.S., since Clemson is in South Carolina) “9:00 a.m. means 9:00 a.m.”  But the diversity training encourages faculty to ignore the primacy of local custom and accept instead that it “is neither more nor less valid than any other.”

As a consequence, members of the tardy group in this fictitious scenario do not learn the local custom and of course are not expected to follow it---and they presumably have no clue they have been discourteous to the members of the on-time group and the host.  If there’s to be a second meeting, I wonder how the fictional and likely frustrated Alejandro will go about scheduling it?

The anonymous Clemson faculty member who alerted had this to say:  “I’m appalled that Clemson thought it was necessary to ‘encourage’ its employees to take this course.  I can only guess the number of productivity hours the University lost while faculty and staff suffered through the infuriating, biased, laughable examples.”

The Alejandro scenario dismisses the primacy of local custom.  Shoes in the house or not?  Show up on time or not?  Ignoring (or unaware of) the wisdom of the ages, Clemson’s Office of Inclusion and Equity says it doesn’t matter: all perspectives are equally valid.

Paraphrasing  St.  Augustine, who bequeathed us the correct answer some 17 centuries ago:  When in Rome, I do as the Romans do.  It is polite and avoids conflict.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Trust Us, You Look Great

by John Stevenson

In my April 19 column “You Won’t Believe This One,” I described the removal of a scale from the gym at Canada’s Carleton University.  A student complained that the presence of the scale triggered her anxiety, presumably by reminding her she is not winning the battle with her BMI. 

The column described backlash and ridicule of the scale’s removal.  One student acerbically suggested banning mirrors because they could be equally distressing.  Well, it turns out that no trigger for emotional trauma (whether real or imagined and no matter how frivolous or dubious) is to be overlooked or discounted.  Thus the facetious suggestion to ban mirrors has come true.

Sabrina, an idealistic student at Laguna Hills High School, replaced mirrors in the girls’ restrooms with “signs of affirmation.”  Girls who look in the mirror see, instead of their reflection, messages like “You are beautiful” and “You are enough.”  Apparently the school had a “What if…..Week,” each day having a specific theme, one being “What if we showed more love?”  Sabrina, who made and posted the signs, told ABC News (this made the news) “I put the signs in the bathroom the night before so students would see them throughout the next day.”  So her affirmation-instead-of-mirrors effort was planned to last one day.

Sabrina’s project was certainly well-intentioned.  She wanted to make other girls feel loved and valuable.  But she overlooked that mirrors serve a purpose.  Girls don’t want to go through their school day with hair askew, spinach-teeth, cockeyed pussy hat, or smeared mascara.  A “you are beautiful” feel-good message does not help a girl to make it so.

So along comes an adult who might help Sabrina understand this.  Chelsea, the school’s activities director, told ABC News that Sabrina had “made it her goal for the semester to spread positive messages around campus.”  She also said that student reaction had been so positive that there were no immediate plans to take the signs down. 

As the adult in this scenario, activities director Chelsea---in addition to praising Sabrina’s desire to raise other girls’ self esteem---might also have helped her to understand that mirrors serve an actual purpose by reflecting reality and allowing people to make needed adjustments.

Well, it turns out that Laguna Hills High was not the only, or even the first, school to experiment with removing or covering mirrors.  A couple of months earlier, a dorm at Bucknell University covered its bathroom mirrors during “Self Love Week” and “Eating Disorder Awareness Day.” 

The signs said:  “Trust us you look great. Take a break from the mirror today and be good to yourself and your body, regardless of appearance. Know that you are much more than how you look. Celebrate your inner beauty today…” and so on.  How this promotes eating disorder awareness is unclear.  It would even seem to promote unawareness

I claim no expertise in this area, but it would seem logical that eating disorders are serious problems which require medical treatment or psychological intervention and cannot be wished away by covering a mirror with a message of affirmation and self love.

At first glance, removal of the gym’s scale and covering mirrors with signs of praise may seem silly or frivolous.  But in fact both acts represent the denial of reality.  Denial is in vogue on today’s campus and is being enabled---even encouraged---by school administrators and teachers.

Administrators and teachers tend to promptly give in to student demands and to the mindset that uncomfortable truths should be ignored, dissenting opinions should be silenced, and “safe spaces” should be provided.  These adults---in loco parentis---should be providing a dose of reality rather than reinforcing its denial.

In the world beyond graduation safe spaces are in short supply.  And denial will prove to have been an unhelpful lesson with unfortunate consequences.