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Learning can be fun, or history class as a game of hunt-the-Nazi

by James Bowman

Posted: Apr 18, 2014 10:26 AM


n the current issue of The New Criterion I write en passant about the “Common Core” curriculum in history which the educational establishment has been so terrifyingly successful in imposing on America’s school-children. Remarkably, there is no body of knowledge attached to the history standards. History, along with “social studies,” is itself tellingly subsumed under “English language arts” and is to the authors entirely a matter of analyzing and interpreting “texts.” The reason is of course that history is no longer to be regarded as transparent — stories, facts and dates to be learned like the multiplication table or spelling rules. The facts are now thought to be subsidiary to the true story, knowledge of which requires a certain interpretive subtlety on the part of the student. “History” now consists, according to the Common Core, of the skills necessary for the extraction of this hidden truth from the welter of mere facts.

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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

by James Bowman

Posted: Apr 11, 2014 12:46 PM


“If you insist upon fighting to protect me, or ‘our’ country,” wrote Virginia Woolf in Three Guineas, a book which Theodore Dalrymple thought ought rather to have been called How to Be Privileged and Yet Feel Extremely Aggrieved, “let it be understood, soberly and rationally between us, that you are fighting to gratify a sex instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits which I have not shared and probably will not share. . . For as a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”

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Linguistic libertines on the march

by James Bowman

Posted: Mar 27, 2014 12:14 PM


Here we go again. Ezra Pound said that poetry is news that stays news. If so, the news that we don’t have to worry about our grammar anymore has got the Cantos beaten all hollow, as it has been making headlines since long before ol’ Ez kicked the bucket more than 40 years ago. The latest herald of these linguistic liberators is Tom Chivers of the Daily Telegraph, which headlined last week: “Are ‘grammar Nazis’ ruining the English language?” The answer is: not if he can help it. As the sub-head has it: “Split infinitives make them shudder and they’d never end a sentence with a preposition. But linguist Geoffrey Pullum has a message for all grammar pedants: you’re wrong.” For someone purporting to pooh-pooh ideas of grammatical correctness, linguist Geoffrey Pullum (co-author of the massive Cambridge Grammar of the English Language) is awfully quick to be telling people that they’re “wrong.” 

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Who’s the boss?

by James Bowman

Posted: Mar 21, 2014 01:00 PM


If it’s all right with the rest of you, I’ll just make a small observation about the proposed campaign to ban the word “bossy.” Wouldn’t want to seem bossy myself, would I? But of course, the point of the campaign is precisely that the word is never used of men. Nor, I might add, are the words “slut” or “slattern,” which I’m sure bossy women somewhere are also trying to ban at this very moment. But why? Please allow me to propose that the reason lies in the residue of the Western honor culture which still lurks in nooks and crannies of the consciences even of the most progressive among us. You can see it too, as I point out in my book Honor, A History, in the way that the promiscuous but progressive women of “Sex and the City” are brought up short by the question, “Are we sluts?” Yet, if anyone else had dared to call them so, he (or she) could be confident that the imputation would have been furiously resented.

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On the further uses of “history”

by James Bowman

Posted: Mar 18, 2014 12:26 PM


Lately, I found that I was being Twitter-bombed by the sort of person — and what a lot of such people there are on Twitter! — who seem to think it a devastating retort to someone they disagree with politically to call him "moron" or "racist." My sin, in case you haven’t heard about it already from one of these people, was to have suggested last year, in a review of Steve McQueen’s now Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave, that it could only have been improved by the addition of a contented slave or two, or a kind master — just as a token or signal to the audience that the film-makers were at least as concerned with questions of historical authenticity as they were with the starkly-presented moral drama of its main story and all that it implied of polemical or hortatory motives. I thought, perhaps wrongly, that this would have added to rather than subtracted from the emotional force of its moving account of a free black man from New York who was kidnaped and sold into slavery in 1841.

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Intellectual fashion neither science nor history

by James Bowman

Posted: Feb 22, 2014 01:13 PM


One problem with being the proud possessor, as so many people are these days, of a change-the-world ideology of your very own, is that you come to think of the world as having already been changed in accordance with your ideology’s specifications — which can lead to further problems. Charles Krauthammer called attention to the phenomenon in yesterday’s Washington Post when he ridiculed the claim of the President of the United States that what we are now supposed to call "climate change" is "settled science" and therefore no longer open to question or doubt by anyone who doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of science. "There is nothing more anti- scientific," wrote Dr. Krauthammer, himself a trained physician, "than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge."

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Outrage at lying liars: also a lie

by James Bowman

Posted: Feb 19, 2014 10:08 AM


In the forthcoming number of The New Criterion, I return to my theme in the magazine of last December and October of 2012, when I discussed the growing penchant in our political culture for each side to make frivolous, reckless and often quite unfounded accusations of bad faith against the other. This is true on both sides of the political divide, but more ingrained, perhaps, on the left after eight years of its remarkable fulminations against the last Bush administration. Now, in a mailing I have received from The Nation magazine, I see that such gratuitous belligerence — and I am old enough to remember when the question, "Are you calling me a liar?" was invariably the prelude either to a retraction or to a fist-fight — appears to have become part of what nowadays we call the left-wing "brand."

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Some Celebrity Villains and Heroes

by James Bowman

Posted: Feb 12, 2014 11:00 AM


In Monday’s Daily Telegraph blogs, I noticed the following piquant headline to a posting by Cristina Odone: "Vladimir Putin has made it impossible for me to be against gay marriage." Gosh! I have a lot of respect for Vlad’s powers of persuasion, but how did he do that? "I have written before," writes Ms Odone, again —

I have written before about my fear that legalising gay marriage would affect the special status of marriage as a sacred institution. I have argued that once gay people could demand to be married, believers who refused to open their churches or even church halls to the ceremony would be punished. But Putin's homophobic measures have changed my mind. If I oppose gay marriage I may be seen as condoning his anti-gay campaign. I couldn't live with that.

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Show me a media narrative, and I’ll show you a “narrative of inevitability”

by James Bowman

Posted: Jan 30, 2014 12:30 PM


Oh-oh. This morning’s Washington Post tells us that “Hillary Rodham Clinton” — and since when, I wonder, has her maiden name once again become an obligatory part of her identification in the media when just “Hillary” would be quite enough? — 

holds a commanding 6 to 1 lead over other Democrats heading into the 2016 presidential campaign, while the Republican field is deeply divided with no clear front-runner, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Clinton trounces her potential primary rivals with 73 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, reinforcing a narrative of inevitability around her nomination if she runs.

As usual, the media modestly leave out the detail that the “narrative of inevitability” is their narrative, assiduously promoted by polls like this as well as articles like that of David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times, mentioned in my last-but-one post here. But then their denial of any proprietary claim to the narrative is presumably all part of the inevitability of Hillary: it’s not just what somebody, or even lots of somebodies think, but what everybody already knows. Sometimes I think I know it myself.  

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On “Who We Are”

by James Bowman

Posted: Jan 18, 2014 02:26 PM



Mark Wahlberg in
Lone Survivor.(Universal Pictures)  

The new movie Lone Survivor retells the true story of a small band of Navy SEALs on a covert mission in Afghanistan who chance upon some Afghan goat-herds, one of whom is a small boy. The SEALs surmise, correctly as it turns out, that if the goat-herds are allowed to proceed on their way unmolested, they will instantly alert a large force of Taliban fighters in the area to their presence. Unless they can re-establish communications with their base, now lost, and call for helicopters to extract them in very short order the SEALs will almost certainly be killed. Alternatively, they could ignore the rules of engagement along with their civilian sense of decency and morality and kill the Afghans. What should they do? Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that the movie is right, as it might easily be, to present these as the only choices available to the SEALs in the circumstances.

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About ArmaVirumque

 

( AHR-mah wih-ROOM-kweh)

 

In the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil sang of "arms and a man" (Arma virumque cano). Month in and month out, The New Criterion expounds with great clarity and wit on the art, culture, and political controversies of our times. With postings of reviews, essays, links, recs, and news, Armavirumque seeks to continue this mission in accordance with the timetable of the digital age.

 

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