Onion Singularity — Military Edition

As I’ve said many times, I believe we reached the Onion Singularity years ago. The Onion singularity is kind of like the Turing Test — it’s when the average reader can no longer reliability differentiate between “serious journalism” and satire.

This week brought yet another example of it.

Back in the 1970s, this (see below) was considered fun, family-friendly slapstick humor:

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Overton Window in Action — Death Tax Edition

While reading the British press the other day I was struck by an interesting example of the modern tendency for the Overton Window — the range of policy options that can be discussed in polite society — constantly to creep to the left while narrowing.

The substance of the matter isn’t much to write home about. It was a fairly vapid and poorly argued editorial piece in the hard-left Guardian, written by an apparently unashamed, unmarried drunken floozy, proposing a 100% inheritance tax for the express purpose of funding more welfare state programs.

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Like a House On Fire, American Edition

Recently, I wrote about the Grenfell Tower disaster in London, noting that the unusual severity of the fire, and its unusually high death toll, was a function of Europe’s second-rate fire safety culture — and that something similar would simply not happen in the U.S. At the time, I brought up a 2014 high-rise fire in New York as a perfect counterexample; that is, an example of a high-rise fire done right, with minimal casualties and destruction.

Today, I take notice of a recent high-rise condo fire in Honolulu which illustrates the point yet again. The funny thing is that the American press does not regard this Hawai’i incident as a particular mark of success. Three people died, several were injured, and a fair bit of damage was done to a number of condo units. I pause for my usual statement: May God have mercy on the souls of the dead, bring healing to the injured and comfort to the bereaved.

The building which burned in Hawai’i was an older building which lacked a sprinkler system; sprinklers were not required at the time the building was built and Honolulu has no law requiring retrofits. Had sprinklers been installed, the toll would have almost certainly been lower — and this is the point that all observers are stressing, disappointed with the fatal outcome in this case. Still, compared with a death toll of nearly 100 and the total loss of an entire high rise structure (the outcome in London), the recent outcome in Hawai’i is a smashing success.

As the LA Times puts it:

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BART’s Adverse Inference

San Francisco Transit Agency Creates Presumption of Black Criminality.

From Fox News:

Officials from BART, the public metro system serving California’s San Francisco Bay area, have come under fire for their refusal to release crime surveillance videos, claiming such tapes will promote stereotypes and “stir up racial animosity.”

That’s a pretty funny statement for BART to make.

I mean, Not Reporting Race is definitely a “thing” in mainstream press coverage of street crime, and has been for quite some time now. See, e.g., the Houston Chronicle, back in 2005, lamely attempting to justify and deflect when caught in the act.

But rarely does an official Blue State organ so clumsily admit to the underlying facts of the matter: What other inference could one possibly draw from BART’s statement, besides the fact that by golly, crime scene videos do universally show that perpetrators of crime on the transit network are “riders of color,” to use BART’s hilariously au courant PC phrase. If BART officials saw only White folks committing crimes in those tapes, they surely wouldn’t have concluded that releasing such tapes to the public would stir up animosity towards Black people. By saying what they did, they confirmed the very thing they were trying to conceal! Own goal!

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Orwell Lives On

All learned men will remember George Orwell’s timeless essay “Politics and the English Language.” I still recall the first time I heard it, sitting in a lecture hall in Harvard almost exactly twenty years ago while a professor read parts of it aloud. It is still good writing — fresh, vivid and absolutely spot-on, seventy years after it was published. But while we remember the joy and the glory of that little piece, we must also admit that Orwell lost.

That is, his plain intent in publishing that essay was to help roll-back the use of incomprehensible, jargon-laden, double-negative, overly Latinized English diction in modern, educated contexts. But anyone who has read a modern academic paper, or attended a scholarly talk, will tell you that bad English has won. Clarity, brevity and concise expression are not at all prized — nor even much practiced — among the scholars and professors who fancy themselves the intellectual elite.

Bad writing won because it is often a feature, not a bug. Orwell understood this perfectly well. The political writing of his age was a “defense of the indefensible,” which demanded muddy expression if it was to achieve the aim of avoiding having to face the vividly brutal facts of his day — world war, totalitarianism, nuclear bombs. These days, with no world war in recent memory, bad writing serves slightly more prosaic ends in the hands of accredited and would-be intellectuals. Their theories are often some mix of obvious, oblivious, fashionable, simplistic, stupid and just plain wrong. Muddy expression makes up for these faults in so many (perverse) ways, which is why it is so popular.

If daft intellectuals wrote plainly and spoke clearly, then several bad things would happen: (1) Their theories would look less impressive to others, which would erode their prestige and social position. (2) Quite possibly, laymen off the street would be able to catch them in their foolishness and force them to give up their theories, which would be even worse. And (3), their theories would look less impressive to themselves; reading their own specialist literature would be too simple and easy, removing any sense of intense labor or that satisfied feeling of a hard day’s work which might flow from doing their jobs. To sum up: Illusions of importance; evasion of responsibility; and self-delusion — so many ego-assuaging vices can easily be accomplished through the simple use of bad English!

But back to the heart of the thing. I repeat below what is perhaps the best known passage from that entire essay. I do this because, while reading a Wikipedia article the other day, I felt a strong sharp pang of nostalgia which thrust this passage to the top of my mind.

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Leaded Law At Work in Little Rock

Nightclub shooting leaves at least 25 injured; no fatalities.

A nightclub was recently shot up in Little Rock, Arkansas. Local news sources report that 25 people were shot but nobody was killed. Based on our well established Leaded Law, which allows us to infer the demographic characteristics of a shooter or shooters simply from the killed-to-wounded ratio, we may safely assume that this shooting was conducted by one our more young Black men, possibly with gang connections.

I must also gratefully acknowledge the shout-out that noted blogger and journalist Steve Sailer recently gave to my blog when he was writing on this very topic. I have great respect for his work and his audience, and I am pleased that he shared a little of his stage with me this week.