Yes, Down’s Syndrome Children can Go to College

One, at least:

Confidence is not something the 22-year-old Parker lacks. She’s the only student at UTC with Down syndrome, but its limitations are simply things for her to overcome, not hold her back. Although she usually has someone with her while she’s on campus, she’s unafraid to go it alone. Friends, family and teachers say she loves to learn, studies religiously, turns her assignments in on time and has an active on-campus social life.

I doubt seriously that UTC intended this post to be a pro-life statement, but given that in some places Down’s Syndrome children have been driven to extinction due to abortion, it really is.  Many parents are looking to have brilliant children who will “change the world,” but what we really need is more who will be diligent to the task in front of them while bringing joy, skills which elude many people these days.  Down’s Syndrome people can have productive, happy lives as this one does; we just have to give them a chance and the support.

And speaking of support, I’d like to give a shout-out to something that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga does really well: its support for people with learning and other disabilities.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Disability Resource Center and their work with these people–and the faculty who teach them–is exemplary.

Muqtada al-Sadr: Not a Reinvention After All

He’s back in the saddle in Iraq, or at least working on it:

On May 12, when Iraqis voted in the country’s latest parliamentary elections 15 years after the U.S. invasion, a new image of Sadr emerged: a smiling cleric with a snowy beard, holding up his ink-stained index finger after casting his ballot in Najaf. In his left hand, he held a plastic Iraqi flag.

al-Sadr was never the demon that the Bush Administration made him out to be.  The Middle East is tough territory, and Muqtada al-Sadr is up to the task.  Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani wanted to exit politics in favour of al-Sadr (or at least someone like him) as I noted in 2006, but I noted at the time a Muslim leader exiting politics is an oxymoron, and evidently he found this too: he’s still involved.

For all his faults, al-Sadr has always been a person of above average personal integrity who had the best interests of his people at heart, and his current attack on corruption is a part of that.  Most importantly for us, he has always wanted Iraq to be independent of domination from Tehran, something that the Bush administration (in its obsession to fight “terrorism” and encourage “democracy in the Middle East”) and the Obama administration (in its obsession to bury the hatchet with Iran) blithely ignored.  Now we have Iran stretching its influence across Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean and wonder why.  One can only conclude that serial stupidity is the American way when it comes to foreign policy, which is why I shed few tears when Rex Tillerson “gutted” the State Department.

 

Laying Out American Inequality: The View from the Top

Matthew Stewart’s account of his holidays certainly resonates with some of us:

For about a week every year in my childhood, I was a member of one of America’s fading aristocracies. Sometimes around Christmas, more often on the Fourth of July, my family would take up residence at one of my grandparents’ country clubs in Chicago, Palm Beach, or Asheville, North Carolina. The breakfast buffets were magnificent, and Grandfather was a jovial host, always ready with a familiar story, rarely missing an opportunity for gentle instruction on proper club etiquette.

Getting past that, Stewart’s account of the nature of American inequality–especially benefiting those between the very top and the bottom–is probably the single best (if not perfect) description of how we got into the unequal pickle that we’re in today.  And along the way his description of how it is for people like him (and frankly like me) is an education that seldom sinks into Americans.

The way he ends his piece, however, betrays the steep climb he is looking at to solve the problem:

It’s going to take something from each of us, too, and perhaps especially from those who happen to be the momentary winners of this cycle in the game. We need to peel our eyes away from the mirror of our own success and think about what we can do in our everyday lives for the people who aren’t our neighbors. We should be fighting for opportunities for other people’s children as if the future of our own children depended on it. It probably does.

Like most people who come from where he does, he pooh-pooh’s the “old time religion” as part of the solution.  But that’s a mistake.  Christianity, with its affirmation of the basic God-created dignity of each person, is the only thing powerful enough to get us past our obsessive if self-concealed amour-propre and deal with the issues in front of us.

Karl Marx: Maybe too Cynical to be Demonized?

Ryan Cooper at The Week is looking for a rehabilitation:

Happy birthday to Karl Marx, who was born 200 years ago on May 5. He was the most astute and influential critic of capitalism in history — and also the most misunderstood.

It is long since time that Marx re-joined the community of ordinary intellectuals, considered as neither the terrifying harbinger of social upheaval, nor a secular pope with the eternally correct description of all human society. He was a genius, but in the end, only another human scholar with a brilliant but incomplete perspective.

But consider this gem from Fritz Raddatz’ Karl Marx: A political biography:

After a heated argument, first humorous and then serious, as to who should do the chores in the state of the future, the lady of the house asked him: “I cannot picture you in an egalitarian period since your inclinations and habits are thoroughly aristocratic.”  “Neither can I, ” Marx replied, “those times must come  but we must be gone by then.”

Marx is a complicated figure whose life was neither pleasant nor pretty, as evidenced by this and this.  I highly recommend Raddatz’ biography; it more than anything else finally closed the door on me being a socialist or communist.

Ibiza Isn’t the Only Place Where the Tourists are Hated

In the Balearic Islands, along with other parts of Spain, the locals have had enough:

More than 500 people have taken to the streets to protest against the impact of overtourism in Ibiza – the first rally of its kind on the Balearic island famed for its hedonistic 24-hour lifestyle.

The rally, organised by local pressure group Prou!, took place on Vara de Rey in Ibiza Town last Friday. Protesters decried the privatisation of beaches, party boats, the rise in crime, the increase in rental prices and noise pollution. Some held placards reading “For Sale”.

They’re not the first–back home in South Florida, we hated tourists too.  Instead of dealing with people from the UK, France and Germany, we had to bear the brunt from other strange places, like NY and NJ

We didn’t protest, however: we just worked as hard as we could to relieve them of their money and be rude to them in the process.  What a country!

The Matter of Women Pilots Should Have Been Settled in the 1930’s

The Daily Beast correctly notes the achievement of Southwest pilot Tammy Jo Shults but with the usual caveat:

Just how masterfully Tammie Jo Shults, the pilot of the badly crippled Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, handled the problem of an engine exploding at 30,000 feet is winning admiration from thousands of her fellow pilots—and should finally help to temper the hubris of what has been a notoriously testosterone-charged profession.

That last point was settled a long time ago, as I noted here:

One of the more interesting parts of our story concerns the substantial number of women who flew and took parts in the competitions that Chet coordinated. This is not just a “hindsight” kind of thing; it garnered a good deal of attention at the time as well.

Aviation was still a new technology in the 1930’s, and attitudes about “roles” weren’t as fixed about flying as they were about other activities. Moreover many of the women who flew came from the upper reaches of society, which put the whole role of women in a different light than elsewhere.

When we think of women’s aviation in those times, we usually think of Amelia Earhart.  But there were many other women who achieved great things in the pilot’s seat: as I noted here, in the lead-up to the May 1934 Langley Day air show in Washington, my grandfather hosted “…a reception at the Willard Hotel in honour of Laura Ingalls, the New Jersey “society girl” who had just (22 April 1934) come from setting a world’s record by flying 15,000 miles from the U.S. to South America and back, which included crossing the Andes Mountains.”

As Camille Paglia noted, the 1920’s and 1930’s were indeed the “favourite period” of feminism, with plenty of lessons for us now.

At Last, the Best Solution for Scooter Libby

It took long enough:

President Donald Trump is poised to pardon Scooter J. Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, according to sources familiar with the president’s thinking.

The president has already signed off on the pardon, which is something he has been considering for several months, sources told ABC News.

This case has always bothered me deeply, as I expressed in 2007:

President Bush’s decision to extend executive clemency to Scooter Libby is a sensible way to resolve what has been one of the most dangerous prosecutions in recent memory.

The job of a prosecutor is to obtain convictions for crimes committed, not to manufacture them and then send people to prison.  The most recent “celebrity” example of the latter is the Duke lacrosse case, and mercifully Mike Nifong is finding out the hard way that this isn’t the way to obtain convictions.

Things like this make the Fifth Amendment a dead letter.  Won’t cooperate?  Obstruction of justice.  Have a slip of memory?  Perjury.

Although executive clemency was a sensible solution, pardoning him is the best.   But George Bush was too anal for a pardon; that same anality got us the quest for “democracy in the Middle East” with even worse consequences.

Today once again we’re in a “moral crusade/throw them in jail” mode.  The last time our country had a nervous breakdown we went through Watergate, and what was best solved through political action ended up being a legal and media circus.  That engendered much of the cynicism of the 1970’s.  I don’t think this current cycle of Trump derangement is going to end any better, even if the left achieves their political and legal goals in the short term.

Rubbish like this makes living in this country a distasteful business, but alas we are too blind to see it.

Why the Spanish Civil War is Still Important

The history of the Twentieth Century is one written in blood.  Between two world wars, the procession of genocides from Armenia to Stalin to the Holocaust, China and the Killing Fields, millions seemed to vanish for causes that are better hated than understood.  Is there one conflict that we can look at than encapsulates the century better than others?  Although it’s forgotten outside its home country today, I think it’s fair to say that the Spanish Civil War should top the list.  Just about every ideology that dominated the century was represented there, either by Spanish adherents, foreign ones, or both.  And the combination of the conflict’s intensity and the tendency of the participants to romanticise their own cause and demonise their opponents’ certainly has lessons for our own polarised society today.

Probably the best single volume work on the subject in English is Hugh Thomas’ The Spanish Civil War.  He later acted as an adviser to Margaret Thatcher.  Most of what follows is derived from this work.

The existence of Spanish Latin America, from the Rio Bravo del Norte to the Tierra del Fuego–and beyond–is a testament to Spain as a world power for three centuries.  Napoleon’s invasion, with the loss of most of the American colonies, put it into more than a century of instability, ranging from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy to succession disputes (the Carlists) to the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and finally to the Spanish Republic, which was established in 1931.

Through all of this, like France and Italy, Spain was a country with a wide variety of political parties, a system which tended towards fragmentation.  On the left were the Socialists, Anarchists, Communists (whose role increased as the war progressed) and other parties supporting the Republic.  On the right were Catholic parties (CEDA,) Monarchists and Carlists, Falangists and Agrarians.  There were some parties in the centre.  Complicating the scene (then and now) were the regional parties, primarily the Catalan and Basque parties, which themselves had an ideological range.  The one thing that Spanish parties had in common was a intensity of commitment to their cause that was extremely bore-sighted, first figuratively and soon literally in the war.

Most Americans will be surprised that Anarchism was a serious political movement, associating it as a fringe terrorist group involved with the assassination of President William McKinley.  In Spain it certainly was serious; the idea that we didn’t have to have a government had traction.  As Thomas explains:

To these a great new truth seem to have been proclaimed.  The State, being based upon ideas of obedience and authority, was morally evil.  In its place, there should be self-governing bodies–municipalities, professions, or other societies–which would make voluntary pacts with each other.  Criminals would be punished by the censure of public opinion.

The last point indicates that they were waiting for the advent of social media…the Anarchists on the one hand and the Socialists and Communists on the other had a great deal of bad blood between them going back to Marx and Bakunin, and this conflict bedeviled the Republic’s war effort when crunch time came.

With a Republic came a constitution, and at this point the Republican-Socialist majority made a strategic error: they decided to make the document a political one, embodying their own idea rather than creating a document acceptable to a broad range of Spaniards.  No where was that more evident than in its anticlerical clauses regarding the Catholic Church: religious education was ended, the Jesuits were banished, no more payment of salaries to priests (which were compensation for the seizure of the Church’s lands in the last century,) etc.   Overplaying one’s hand is a hallmark of religious conflicts; that was certainly the case in France, but in Spain the shoe was on the other foot.  One tireless advocate of these measures–even in face of opposition in his own coalition–was Prime Minister Manuel Azaña, who would play such a large role in the coming civil war.

Some of Azaña’s confidence that he would succeed in his quest–a quest whose genesis came from his own bad experiences in the Catholic educational system–came from the desultory way in which Spaniards related to the Church.  In 1931 only about a third of Spaniards were practicing Catholics, this in the home country of the Inquisition.  But under that low level, Spaniards wrapped their identity as such with the Church, and same Church was an instrument of social justice in many instances.  In their hard-line anti-clerical policies Azaña and his allies made unnecessary enemies which would come back to haunt them on the battlefield.

The next four years were times of conflict and instability that rivalled France’s Fourth Republic (to say nothing of postwar Italy.)  The elections of February 1936 brought a strong majority to the Republican Popular Front.  The right felt it had been cornered.  In July, part of the military rose at two ends of the Republic: in Spanish Morocco and the Canary Islands, under Francisco Franco, and in the North, under Emilio Mola.  The Spanish Civil War had begun.

From a military standpoint, as was the case with its American counterpart, the war was the steady advance of one side (in this case the Nationalists, eventually under Franco) and the steady retreat of the other (the Republicans, with Azaña as its president at the start.  As also with that war, the details in between were complicated, and only a cursory summary can be done here.

The basic reason why the Nationalists won the Spanish Civil War was that their military organisation was superior and coherent.  The Nationalists had a real army; in the early stages, the Republicans had a collection of political militias.  Only as the war progressed did Soviet and Communist influence help to weld the Republican military together, and by then it was too late.  This was also reflected politically; the Anarchists, Socialists, Communists, Catalan and Basque nationalists and other made for a fragmented scene that consistently undermined the Republic’s attempts at a united front.  They spent a great deal of energy fighting each other, and this contributed to the Republic’s defeat.  That result is always the great “Antifa” fear, one that dominates their thinking to this day.

The Spanish Civil War became a proxy war for the various powers in Europe, themselves preparing for the much greater war that was coming.  It wasn’t a straightforward or uniform process.  Starting with the Nationalists, the one power that was “all in” for Franco was Italy, who contributed more support than just about anyone else.  Much of this support left something to be desired of; Franco, for example, wished that he could sent the Italian ground troops back, finding them as useless as Hitler shortly did.  Hitler and the Germans used the Condor Legion as a military experiment for their equipment and strategy, which they put to use in Poland and France.  Their support of the Nationalists was not entirely enthusiastic; at one point Hitler wished that the Republicans would win to crush the Catholic Church, for him a desired result.

The Republic’s foreign aid was, if anything, more desultory than the Nationalists.  The power that corresponded to Italy for the Republic was the Soviet Union, although their aid was sidetracked from time to time by events at home, namely Stalin’s purges and then the pact with Germany.  They also used that aid to forward the Communist’s status in the Republic, usually at the expense of the Anarchists.  As far as Britain and France were concerned, the 1930’s were the “decade of indecision.”  As one right-wing French paper observed, how was France (then under Leon Blum) supposed to help the Spanish Republic if they couldn’t keep the Germans from reoccupying the Rhineland?  Ultimately these two lead the Non-Intervention movement, which included Germany and Italy, and this amounted to having two foxes guard two chicken coops.  In any case their lack of support for the Republic was one cause of its defeat.

But the Spanish Civil War was the golden age of “volunteers,” from all over Europe and the US.  Not even World War II excited intellectuals and writers from these places like this conflict did, and many of them fought–and died–for the Republic.  The International Brigades were the stuff of legend, a phenomenon recently replicated in Syria (which is a good recent analogy for the brutality of the Spanish conflict, at the opposite end of the Mediterranean.)

Mentioning brutality brings up the subject of the atrocities, and there were plenty.  Most people think of Guernica, whose bombing was a complete waste in every sense of the word.  (Guernica is the sacred city of the Basques, with its tree, the way the Basques look at it echoes something out of J.R.R. Tolkien.)  The majority of the brutality, however, was more direct and personal.  The rule on both sides was to shoot first, no questions later.  The difference between the two sides was the context of the brutality.  The Republicans kicked off things with a massacre of Catholic religious and the destruction of churches.  Later the Communists would import techniques of torture and execution from the Soviet Union.   In executing most of the pre-war right-wing leadership, the Republicans did Franco a favour by clearing the field of most of his potential political rivals when the war was done.  The Nationalists did their dirty work, as with the fighting, in a more methodical manner.  The brutality of each side sickened their respective intellectuals, which is more than one could say for their foreign counterparts.

Although the Nationalists became the champions of Catholic religion in Spain, that process was not instantaneous.  Franco was indifferent to the faith (his wife, however, was not.)  The Falange was largely secular; the existence of a secular right was certainly a reality in those days and is becoming one again with the alt-right movement.  The use of Catholicism to bind the Nationalists together was a process encouraged by the conflict, another by-product of the Republic’s overreach in that regard.

Franco’s ultimate victory–just before the outbreak of World War II–was followed by his neutrality.  For all of his faults, Franco had no territorial ambitions beyond Spain and its existing colonies (Morocco had furnished him some of his toughest fighters) and was a profoundly cautious man.  Hitler tried to get him to join the Axis, but his was one of the few people who stiffed Hitler and got away with it.

After Franco’s death, Spain finally got a constitutional monarchy with a Republican political bent.  Franco got what the Romans called damnatio memoriae, he cannot be mentioned.   For the most part the social issues that helped push Spain leftward have been resolved in the modern welfare state, with the good and bad that goes with that.  But issues such as Basque and Catalan separatism–and of course the perennial issue of the Catholic Church–still remind us that the issues for which 600,000 people died are still very much with it.

And not just for Spain either.  It is hard to convey the relevance of the Spanish Civil War in a piece this short.  The polarisation, the heated rhetoric, the refusal for anyone to see the broader picture–all of these things are very much with us, and if we do not take some lessons from Spain’s experience–the most riveting single story of the Twentieth Century–than we risk having our own nation go down the same road.

The Core Problem With Liberal Arts Curricula/Degrees

I’ve taken flak for saying this in other contexts, but this comment on a frustrated history PhD’s failure to land a tenure-track position hits the nail on the head:

my own experience has been very similar although now i’m glad that i left the humanities and i believe that the humanities themselves should be completely erased as actual graduate disciplines. so many wasted minds, so much wasted capital for really very little societal value and much much grief to very smart individuals only to keep up a very vague idea that a university teaches you “how to think” or how to “read” or “how to write.”

the irony is that, given the current way in which most writing and reading occurs, taking a humanities course in milton, cervantes, or baudelaire may actually make you a worse writer and reader for today’s environment… but i digress.

i encourage you to think of this as an opportunity and to go outside of the field completely. i myself am now a software engineer although i once did a phd in comparative literature. it is possible to change, and it can be very fulfilling.

Painting Ourselves Into a Corner on Porn

Ross Douthat’s idea to ban porn is entirely sensible:

In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine there is a long profile of a new kind of pedagogy unique to our particular stage of civilization. It’s called “porn literacy,” and it involves explaining to young people whose sexual coming-of-age is being mediated by watching online gangbangs that actually hard-core pornography is not an appropriate guide to how the sexes should relate.

For anyone who grew up with the ideals of post-sexual revolution liberalism, there is a striking pathos to these educators’ efforts. The sex education programs in my mostly liberal schools featured a touching faith from the adults in charge that they were engaged in a great work of enlightenment, that with the right curricula they could roll back the forces of repression and make sexuality a place of egalitarian pleasure and safety for us all.

Although he puts it differently, Douthat has put his finger on the central dilemma of feminism and the #MeToo movement: when you live in a society whose elites believe that the central purpose in life is to get laid, high, or drunk, getting away from anything that encourages sexual activity simply cannot happen, or life loses its significance.  As a consequence they have painted themselves into a corner, and are not big enough to either admit it or seek alliances (which Douthat recalls from the 1980’s) with people who have common cause on at least this issue.