Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Feminists attack Oxford Dictionary of English for 'reinforcing sexist stereotypes'
Critics claim example sentences provided by the dictionary are filled with 'explicit sexism'. I can't see it but even if they were, the OED is a dictionary of record, not a prescriptive dictionary. It records how words ARE used, not how they should be used
Twitter users have been taking Oxford Dictionary or English to task claiming it is 'filled with explicitly sexist usage examples'. Michael Oman-Reagan, an anthropologist at Memorial University of Newfoundland, led the charge in a series of tweets to @OxfordWords, the official Oxford Dictionaries Twitter account.
Writing on Medium Oman-Reagan said: "The Oxford Dictionary of English is the default dictionary on Apple’s Mac OS X operating system. Anyone using a Mac, an iPad, or iPhone will get definitions from this dictionary. So why is it filled with explicitly sexist usage examples?" He tweeted a number of example sentences
According to the Oxford Dictionaries website, its example sentences are "extracted from the world’s newspapers and magazines, academic journals, fiction, and blogs."
In what could be read as a premptive caveat to such criticisms, Oxford Dictionaries says: "There are hundreds of thousands of English headwords and senses in Oxford Dictionaries, and almost every one of these words, senses, and phrases has been linked to a selection of up to 20 extra examples from the databank. If a word or phrase has more than one meaning, each individual sense is linked to its own set of example sentences.
"Please note: All the examples sentences throughout the site are real examples of usage. They are taken from a huge variety of different sources, from all parts of the world where English is used, and they reflect a wide spectrum of views and levels of language. Opinions and views expressed in the usage examples are the views of the individuals concerned and are not endorsed by Oxford University Press."
Carolyn Cox writing on culture blog The Mary Sue, offered a partial defence of the publisher, saying: "It’s depressing to think that ... some readers might take these sexist usage examples as definitive ... Obviously it’s impossible for lexicographers to keep their opinions totally separate from their work, but, at least without having more details on how Oxford selects their usage examples, I’m not entirely convinced that this misogyny is Oxford’s fault."
"Although Oman-Reagan’s examples almost reflexively make we wish that Oxford could sometimes be prescriptive, at least when a word’s usage might have a negative impact on young girls (so many of those examples reinforce that, as women, we’re not the default and therefore don’t have a future as doctors, researchers, etc.), it’s also easy for me to see why it’s important that they honor their role as a descriptive institution."
"Oxford has recognized 'bae,' 'twerk,' 'fandom,' and the gender-neutral honorific 'Mx,' all words created or popularized by marginalized communities and that might not necessarily have found a home in a prescriptive dictionary."
How did my Communist family get it so wrong? Because politics was their religion
Martin Kettle says "Marxism gave my parents faith to last a lifetime and helped them deny reality. The left today looks as if it’s also developing into a church". The British Labour party as presently led by "Jezza" Corbyn is certainly a huge throwback
The first public event I can remember took place in 1953. I was three years old. But I don’t remember the Queen’s coronation, as other children of my age may have done. What I remember was my mother reading from the Daily Worker about the death of Stalin. This tells you a lot about what it was like to grow up in a communist family, even in a not particularly doctrinaire one like mine. We lived in a different world from normal people.
The Times columnist David Aaronovitch lived in that strange world too, though his bit of it was in north London, and mine was in Leeds. But the communist life he writes about in his new book about his family, Party Animals, is very familiar to me. We don’t know one another all that well, Aaronovitch and me, but we knew many of the same people as kids, went on many of the same demonstrations, went briefly to the same university (though not at the same time), were active in student politics (him even more than me) and have both ended up as newspaper columnists who are pretty sceptical (him more than me again, perhaps) about the future of the kind of leftwing politics in which we were raised.
Although Aaronovitch is very funny about the communist world, and sometimes very affectionate about it too, he is anything but sentimental. Nothing is harder for an atheist than to be told they are, in fact, religious. But in his book Aaronovitch makes just such a claim. The Party was a cause and a world– an incredibly supportive world in my experience – to which people, including his parents and mine, chose to dedicate their lives. “The Party was a church,” he writes. “Its strength was that it was about belief and faith as much as about intellect.”
I think that is an important insight, and it still matters in leftwing politics today. It’s one that Eric Hobsbawm also came to, years ago, when he described the cold war as a war of religion. But in the 1950s the claim that communism was a religion would have been both insulting and laughable to my parents. For we communists had Marxism to guide us in our world view. Marxism was scientific – its laws of history were as incontestable as the laws of physics. Marxism was, quite simply, true. Everything else was mere ideology or, in the case of religion, superstition.
The question at the heart of Aaronovitch’s book, just as it must be at the heart of any study of British communism, is a much wider one, wider even than politics. With some notable exceptions, many of the communists I knew seemed to be essentially decent and intelligent people. But how was it that decent people like Sam and Lavender Aaronovitch – or my parents – could stick with the Party when they all knew, at some level, about the inhumanities for which the communist movement was responsible? And how was it that they stuck with it when it was becoming ever more obvious that the whole determined communist experiment was failing?
The answer, as Aaronovitch movingly argues, is that these people were human and flawed. They believed in the ideals. They believed that Marxism was true. They had faith for a lifetime. When the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, with whom the book starts, my boyhood hero too, flew into space in 1961, the faith still seemed plausible, providing you overlooked Stalin’s trials and purges, the invasion of Hungary, the ban on Boris Pasternak and the rest. But they went on believing in the ideals and the Party long after it became obvious that it had all gone irrevocably wrong, and was perhaps even wrong in the first place.
Communism didn’t work. And most people who lived under it hated it. These are not passing objections. They will need to be relearned as the centenary of the Russian revolution approaches. Yet our parents were like the deluded old Bolshevik in the gulag in Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, who cannot see the connection between his youthful political commitment and the horror of life and death in the labour camp. They were like – in Sam and Lavender’s case they actually were – people who remained in a failed marriage. They couldn’t in the end face the reality that something that had given their lives such meaning had turned out so badly. They put loyalty before sense and reason in their politics and in their lives. They lived with their lies as best they could. And they certainly weren’t the only ones, then or since.
Steeped in it though I was, I confess that, for much of the 25 years since the Party finally died, I have been suspicious of books and seminars and websites that try to keep its memory alive in a world that has happily moved beyond it. Too often, these votaries seem to me to be clinging to something that was moderately interesting in its time but ought to be let go, at best a curiosity like the theosophical movement in which my mother was brought up a century ago. In some cases, as seems glumly inevitable in small leftwing movements, some of the acolytes of communist history are intent on refighting old battles, as though they still matter and nothing has changed.
But Aaronovitch’s song of love and pain for the lost family of British communism has made me think again. True, we don’t have a communist movement any more. But we do without doubt have a revived left in Britain, which has dusted off some of the same ambitions, some of the same political ideas, some of the same historic dreams and some of the same deep flaws, foolishness and even intellectual turpitude that made British communism unsustainable.
This left of today looks to me suspiciously as if it is developing into another church. This left too is marked by a reluctance to ask necessary but difficult questions about its plans for the world beyond the church walls. This left too seems happiest as a fellowship of true believers, squabbling among itself, dismissive of all those who remain sceptics or whose beliefs the elders find unacceptable. Just as the communists knew things deep down that they should have faced up to, so too does this left.
There is nothing inherently wrong with having a politics that is essentially a religion, providing that you recognise it for what it is, something personal between you and your friends. But I’ve been there and done that. If politics is an act of faith – rather than a programme and a willingness to change and adapt to new times – it will fail, as communism did. That’s fine for those for whom belief in socialist principles matters more than anything else, just as it was for the communists. But it won’t work. And in the end people will hate it too.
Blacks and the Confederacy
By Walter E. Williams
Last July, Anthony Hervey, an outspoken black advocate for the Confederate flag, was killed in a car crash. Arlene Barnum, a surviving passenger in the vehicle, told authorities and the media that they had been forced off the road by a carload of “angry young black men” after Hervey, while wearing his Confederate kepi, stopped at a convenience store en route to his home in Oxford, Mississippi. His death was in no small part caused by the gross level of ignorance, organized deceit and anger about the War of 1861. Much of the ignorance stems from the fact that most Americans believe the war was initiated to free slaves, when in truth, freeing slaves was little more than an afterthought. I want to lay out a few quotations and ask what you make of them.
During the “Civil War,” ex-slave Frederick Douglass observed, “There are at the present moment many colored men in the Confederate army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops, and do all that soldiers may to destroy the Federal Government and build up that of the traitors and rebels” (Douglass' Monthly, September 1861).
“For more than two years, negroes had been extensively employed in belligerent operations by the Confederacy. They had been embodied and drilled as Rebel soldiers, and had paraded with White troops at a time when this would not have been tolerated in the armies of the Union.” (Horace Greeley, in his book, “The American Conflict”).
“Over 3,000 negroes must be included in this number (of Confederate troops). These were clad in all kinds of uniforms, not only in cast-off or captured United States uniforms, but in coats with Southern buttons, State buttons, etc. These were shabby, but not shabbier or seedier than those worn by white men in rebel ranks. Most of the negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabres, bowie-knives, dirks, etc. They were supplied, in many instances, with knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, etc., and were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederacy Army. They were seen riding on horses and mules, driving wagons, riding on caissons, in ambulances, with the staff of Generals, and promiscuously mixed up with all the rebel horde” (report by Dr. Lewis H. Steiner, chief inspector of the U.S. Sanitary Commission).
In April 1861, a Petersburg, Virginia, newspaper proposed “three cheers for the patriotic free Negroes of Lynchburg” after 70 blacks offered “to act in whatever capacity” had been “assigned to them” in defense of Virginia.
Those are but a few examples of the important role that blacks served as soldiers, freemen and slaves on the side of the Confederacy. The flap over the Confederate flag is not quite so simple as the nation’s race “experts” make it. They want us to believe the flag is a symbol of racism. Yes, racists have used the Confederate flag as their symbol, but racists have also marched behind the U.S. flag and have used the Bible. Would anyone suggest banning the U.S. flag from state buildings and references to the Bible?
Black civil rights activists, their white liberal supporters and historically ignorant Americans who attack the Confederate flag have committed a deep, despicable dishonor to our patriotic Southern black ancestors who marched, fought and died not to protect slavery but to protect their homeland from Northern aggression. They don’t deserve the dishonor. Dr. Leonard Haynes, a black professor at Southern University, stated, “When you eliminate the black Confederate soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the South.”
We need real public health
Public health was once about saving us from illness, not from ourselves
From pronouncements from the UK's chief medical officers last week on how many units of alcohol it is safe to drink (none apparently) to the ongoing panic-mongering about the non-existent dangers of vaping - which, I'd argue, is potentially the biggest contributor to improving the public's health in a generation - public-health busybodies have been making a bit of a show of themselves recently. They seem hell-bent on banning anything that even looks like a threat to public health - even when it plainly isn't.
But what is public health anyway? Is it really about guilt-tripping us over our festive indulgences this Dry January? Or about banning two-for-one food promotions and calling for a sugar tax to tackle obesity? Or about supporting mothers to breastfeed their babies in public? Well, public health used to be about scientific breakthroughs, sanitation and slum-clearance. It was about building massive infrastructure like the sewers that carried away the stench and disease that blighted 19th-century London. It was about mass vaccination against once-killer diseases. In other words, it was about big, far-reaching changes that helped us to live longer, happier, healthier lives.
Today's campaigners, by contrast, are obsessed with intervening in the minutiae of our once-private, everyday lives. Even the genuinely big threats to our health, like diabetes, which is thought to affect more than four million people in Britain, are framed as a problem of lifestyle, and become another opportunity to lecture the obese masses. Diabetes is not, according to today's public-health campaigners, a challenge to be met by medical science - not to mention a side effect of living in an ageing and well-fed society, made possible in no small part by historic public-health interventions. Instead, they argue, on very dubious grounds, that our unhealthy diets, lifestyles and childrearing choices will lead to disease, death and disadvantage. That is, unless the fear and anxiety generated by public-health campaigns (otherwise known as 'awareness-raising') persuade us to take the official advice and change our ways.
Indeed, what really drives the officially endorsed breast-is-best campaign is not support for women's right to breastfeed - it is contempt for women's right to bottle-feed - the allegedly less-healthy alternative. There is no campaign to destigmatise those mothers who would rather not go through the discomfort and exhaustion of 'natural' feeding, and who opt for the convenience of bottle-feeding their babies with formula milk instead.
Not only is this sort of hectoring objectionable in itself, but this petty, paternalistic turn, in which public health has become synonymous with intrusive meddling in people's lives, is also, to my mind, not a good use of public money. It was announced in the last Comprehensive Spending Review that the NHS budget is to rise over the next few years - not least to get cash to the increasing numbers of hospital trusts which are in serious financial trouble. However, the œ15 billion of the Department of Health's annual œ116 billion budget which is spent on particular departments and quangos, including Health Education England and Public Health England, is to be cut by a quarter.
It is not clear how this will impact on public-health activities. Public health is more than the projects backed by the Department of Health, with other government departments and the charity sector also being keen advocates of protecting us from ourselves. But the threat of cuts to student nurses' bursaries, which brought them on to the streets at the weekend, can only make the existing nurse shortage that much worse. Add to that the junior doctors' strike over seven-day working, planned for tomorrow, and you get a sense of the real crisis facing the public's health.
While blaming people's unhealthy lifestyles for the crisis in the NHS is commonplace, there is a growing recognition that practical initiatives designed to prevent ill-health can also have a real impact on the wider health economy. By, for instance, reducing the incidence of falls and infections among the older population, or improving the management of long-term conditions, which too often end in a deterioration that can easily rob people of their independence, we can avoid the expense of hospital admissions and residential care down the line.
Public health as it stands today rides roughshod over people's liberty. And this is all despite the fact that it is our longevity, rather than our lifestyles, which poses the biggest challenge to provision today. It is the side-effects of getting older, brought about by the past gains of public health, and the costs that come with treating serious conditions that people used to die from, that are responsible for bankrupting the system.
Beyond the billions supposedly spent on it, the biggest cost of public health today is the continual undermining of personal autonomy and our capacity to make our own choices. The sooner public health stops patronising people, leaves us alone to run our own lives and gets back to focusing on those interventions that really make a difference, the better.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.