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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A review of: Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me

Douglas Young gives us an even-handed review of Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me.

As a life-long Sir Elton John fan, it was exciting to see that his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, had penned an autobiography, Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me. Whereas Beatles John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney were the 1960s’ top composers, two of their disciples, Elton and Bernie, would be the 1970s’ reigning songwriters. This is all the more notable since the duo’s wordsmith was only in his early-to-mid-twenties when Captain Fantastic ruled FM radio with an incredible run of hit singles and albums from 1970 through 1976. Indeed, Taupin wrote the lyrics for “Your Song” as a nineteen-year-old virgin. The pair have continued to produce plenty of hits over the decades, and Taupin has occasionally written the words to songs for other performers, such as Alice Cooper, Starship (“We Built This City”), Heart (“These Dreams”), and Willie Nelson.

But as outrageously public as melody maker Sir Elton has been, his lyrical partner has generally stayed stubbornly backstage, making his memoir somewhat of a revelation. Though reared in rural England, Taupin was always in love with America’s music, movies, pop culture, and Wild West. These influences saturate his lyrics and, as soon as he could afford to, he headed for Hollywood: “I left because I wanted an alternate lifestyle and was driven by an Americanism that was always in my soul. I excommunicated myself from a culture that I didn’t feel I belonged to or was terribly interested in and embraced one that had inhabited my imagination since I straddled a broom and galloped across my old front lawn.”

By far Taupin’s longest love affair has been with America, and it is touching how grateful this immigrant remains. Of his SiriusXM program, “American Roots Radio,” he explains that “Preserving the heritage of consequential Americana had always been of the greatest importance to me,” crediting how “it served me well as an inspirational arsenal.” Taupin has no patience for fellow expats who ridicule American culture, bluntly telling them, “Don’t pillory the fabric of a nation that has invited you with open arms and p*$% on its pastimes.” Instead, having lived the last three-plus decades in a rural part of southern California, Taupin displays deep affection for his adopted homeland: “The Santa Ynez Valley is still quintessentially small-town America… They still wash your windows and pump your gas at the local Chevron, the coffee shop knows what I want without asking, and I know everyone on a first-name basis at the local market. I’m indebted to it and its inhabitants for giving me a stable and concurrently ordinary life. Everyone knows who I am, yet no one panders or fawns. I might garner a little extra attention, but in every other way I’m just another neighbour. They’re hardworking, good-natured people intrinsically patriotic in their respect for American tradition.”

Yet so much of the book is dominated by anecdotes about a huge variety of famous artists and entertainers Taupin has met, including John Lennon, Sir Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Katharine Hepburn, Stevie Wonder, the Rev. Al Green, Bob Marley, Billie Jean King, Freddie Mercury, and loads more. Many vignettes are quite revealing and fun. For example, surrealist painter Salvador Dali referred to himself as “The Dali,” doodled a delightful drawing on a restaurant napkin, and tossed it to a grateful Taupin, only for his hotel maid to mistakenly launder it.

→ Continue reading: A review of: Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me

Savvy and Witty: a review of Jimmy Failla’s ‘Cancel Culture Dictionary’

Douglas Young gives us a review of Jimmy Failla’s Cancel Culture Dictionary

Jimmy Failla’s Cancel Culture Dictionary: An A to Z Guide to Winning the War on Fun is a remarkably well-reasoned, witty, and surprisingly serious takedown of cancel culture. The book defines it, explains how it came about, profiles its tactics and contradictions, demolishes its arguments, and shows how to successfully push back against this dangerous assault on our freedom of expression since, as Failla sees it, “If speech ain’t free, neither are we.”

Echoing books last year from fellow anti-woke comics Kat Timpf, Greg Gutfeld, and Tyrus, Failla’s thesis is that “we need to stop appeasing the censorship brigades because they keep narrowing the lanes in which we can enjoy ourselves.” Indeed, “we absolutely need to get back to a time when the world knew the difference between a joke and a hate crime. Because any society that can’t take a joke is destined to become one.”

Superbly organized with subjects grouped alphabetically, the book quickly pinpoints the forces abetting the rise of cancel culture. A major one is iPhones, leaving Failla nostalgic for growing up in the 1980s when “the only one who spent all day obsessing about their phone was E.T.”

Of course, iPhones are merely a means to the narcotic of social media which “has created a world where what you say is way more important than the things you do. Empathy has become a brand instead of an actual character trait.” Furthermore, “social media made it trendy to look at ourselves as victims and blame society for all of your shortcomings.”

The rise of this cult of victimhood has armed the censorship warriors with a hyper-sensitivity to the remotest possibility of a slight. In fact, “a world that champions victimhood… [h]as taught way too many people to look for things to get offended by instead of living their lives in search of joy.”

So, while many years earlier comedienne Roseanne Barr got away with trashing the national anthem and satirically wearing a Nazi uniform, by 2018 a social media mob got ABC to cancel her TV series over a single ugly tweet about Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett. In fact, standup comics now face fake fans armed with iPhones “to get attention for calling a joke out as offensive” by unleashing it on social media with no context to try to destroy a career.

Failla further contends that helicopter parenting germinated a generation of completely coddled children convinced they should be protected from ever hearing anything they dislike. Couple this with the Left’s equating words with violence and you have an ideal climate for a cancel culture mob to be generated by a single upsetting statement or even word.

All this toxic brew bubbled over when the Left’s nightmare candidate was elected president in 2016 “after breaking every social media rule there was.” Donald Trump’s ascension to the White House so shocked and enraged progressives that they became unhinged in their fanatical drive to destroy anyone deemed an enemy.

Failla is particularly perceptive about the sad, empty lives manning the cancel culture brigades who he sees as a misfit gang that is dangerously angry, bored, and narcissistic:

an online rage mob that knows nothing about you, save for the fact that they want to destroy your existence in the name of getting likes and showing the world they know better. That’s cancel culture in a nutshell. A collection of people who wake up every day looking for something to get offended by so they can leverage their victimhood into your firing and their clout. The trend has become so prevalent in society that scientists have a word for people who do this: they’re called losers.

Failla is convinced this lonely lot cares nothing about whatever issue happens to be trending on social media that day. It is only interested in cheap virtue-signalling and scoring the “digital dopamine” that comes with “destroy[ing] anyone who achieves something in showbiz that they themselves couldn’t dream of pulling off.”

Recalling Kat Timpf’s You Can’t Joke About That, Failla chronicles what is likely the worst trait of “the outrage mob,” a merciless bloodlust to ruin lives for a typically trivial verbal faux pas because, “whenever somebody says something dumb, online prosecutors always recommend the career death penalty.” This is not only grossly disproportionate, but “losing one’s job the first time you say something stupid isn’t a great strategy for any of us to endorse in the long run, given how flawed we all happen to be.” More ominously, “If someone is so devoid of nuance and empathy that they’re willing to destroy your livelihood for one step out of bounds, do you really think they won’t be on board with jailing you for it someday down the road?”

→ Continue reading: Savvy and Witty: a review of Jimmy Failla’s ‘Cancel Culture Dictionary’

Marvellously melodic but mercurial: a review of Philip Norman’s George Harrison: the Reluctant Beatle

Douglas Young reviews George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle

How swell to at last have a major biography of that most aloof of all rock stars, George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle, by respected pop music historian Philip Norman, and how sobering to learn that the reclusive rocker’s feet were all too completely made of clay. Though this book is quite detailed and very well written, I now know far more information about Harrison than his underlying motives. Alas, what is still a worthy biography could have been splendid if not for several shortcomings.

Perhaps the book’s top theme is George Harrison’s remarkable cornucopia of contradictions, something he alluded to in the “Pisces Fish” song on his superb last album, 2002’s Brainwashed:

Sometimes, my life it seems like fiction,
Some of the days it’s really quite serene,
I’m a living proof of all life’s contradictions,
One half’s going where the other half’s just been.

Massive contrasts define Harrison’s story. With bomb craters from World War II still decorating his neighbourhood, he grew up in a crowded little Liverpool apartment with no bathroom, whose only heat came from a “small coal fire,” and where the weekly bath was in a backyard bucket. But massive musical success would earn him enormous wealth. Harrison was the Beatle most in the background whose growing songwriting abilities were largely ignored by the group’s leaders, John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney. But after the Fab Four’s 1970 breakup, the lead guitarist would stun everyone with his astonishing All Things Must Pass triple album to become the most critically and commercially successful Beatle of the early 1970s.

It is comforting to learn how Harrison was usually kind, caring, and giving. Not only did he co-write “It don’t come easy” and “Back off Boogaloo,” two of Beatle brother Ringo Starr’s biggest solo hit songs, but he did not even ask for a (quite lucrative) songwriting credit for either. Even when sick in bed dying of cancer, he offered to visit the drummer’s ailing daughter. But Harrison was a stubborn loner who was often moody and brutally blunt. As Ringo put it, “There was the love and bag-of-beads personality and the bag of anger. He was very black and white.” Indeed, when Beatle brother John Lennon queried his bandmates on what they thought of his girlfriend and future wife, Cynthia Powell, Mr. Curt remarked she had “teeth like a horse.” While the second Mrs. Lennon, Yoko Ono, conceded “George was very nice,” she still complained how “very hurtful” his caustic comments could be, to which John would shrug, “That’s just George.” And on a long flight when a stewardess asked the softly chanting Hindu convert if she could get him anything, Harrison snarled, “F#%& off, can’t you see I’m meditating?”

The supposedly most spiritual Beatle who publicly sang warnings about “Living in the Material World” privately luxuriated in a 25-bedroom gothic mansion, and the Beatle purportedly most at peace as a devout Hindu nevertheless smoked lots of marijuana, drank loads of liquor, snorted copious quantities of cocaine, and chain-smoked French cigarettes. He was also an inveterate adulterer who cheated in his own house when his first wife was home and even with his closest Beatle brother Ringo’s wife. This was a conquest too far even for licentious Beatle brother John who denounced it as “virtual incest,” and the affair led to the Starrs divorcing the next year.

Surprisingly for the superb composer who wrote so many beautiful love songs, including the classic “Something,” George did not appear to be all that passionate or romantic. He not only routinely betrayed both of his spouses but did not seem to mind losing his first wife to his closest friend, Eric Clapton – who remained his best buddy. While enjoying most of his time in the world’s biggest band for all the easy camaraderie with his bandmates and being too shy to perform on his own, by the latter 1960s Harrison firmly rejected any more concert tours and had grown deeply bitter that more of his compositions were not allowed on Beatle albums. Later calling himself “the economy-class Beatle,” he felt liberated when the group finally broke up and would never seek a reunion. Asked to help Sir Paul perform
“Let It Be” at London’s 1985 Live Aid Concert, George’s typically tactless retort was that his Beatle brother “didn’t want me to sing on it ten years ago, so why does he want me now?”

→ Continue reading: Marvellously melodic but mercurial: a review of Philip Norman’s George Harrison: the Reluctant Beatle

Any Sympathy for the Devil? A review of ‘The Stones and Brian Jones’ (2023)

Douglas Young asks “Any Sympathy for the Devil?” A review of the documentary The Stones and Brian Jones (2023)

With The Stones and Brian Jones, veteran English documentarian Nick Broomfield weaves a captivating collage of revealing film footage and candid interviews to paint a poignant portrait of the creator of pop music’s second biggest band. Though an idolized rock star, Brian Jones was so wracked by personal problems that he relentlessly pursued a path of self-destruction. In doing so, he became the founding member of “the 27 Club” of famous rockers whose excess killed them at age 27 (including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse). The movie also conveys the youth culture of 1960s Britain that flattered Jones and hastened his dissolution. Throughout, the rockumentary raises many questions about the powerfully seductive allure of fame and the dangerous ways it can enable people to act their worst, with disastrous results.

Despite its brevity, the whirlwind life of Brian Jones is shown to be one of dizzyingly dramatic contrasts: so musically talented, handsome, charming, successful, and idolized by millions, yet so tortured by insecurity, loneliness, and paranoia, all amplified by an accelerating, gargantuan intake of booze and drugs. It was certainly a life of enormous promise. Having grown up in a middle-class home, Jones would assemble and initially lead the Rolling Stones, the musical group whose massive impact only the Beatles would exceed. Jones was such a musical virtuoso that he was proficient on guitar, piano, harmonica, marimba, mellotron, saxophone, clarinet, and still more instruments. Can you imagine the Stones’ passionately pulsating 1966 hit song, “Paint It Black,” without Jones’s remarkable sitar contribution, or 1967’s hauntingly hypnotic “Ruby Tuesday” sans Brian’s beautiful recorder flute?

Though a fan of Jones’s music, Broomfield still pulls back the curtain to let us at least glimpse the man’s dark side as well, and how ironic that the acutely sensitive child who so craved love and affection from perhaps emotionally constipated parents would become a supremely selfish narcissist. In fact, Jones left a long trainwreck of abused young ladies and at least five (though I have read six) illegitimate children with as many women (mostly teenagers) for whom he seems to have cared and done nothing. Whatever Jones’s reserved, traditional parents’ faults, they at least gave him a stable family and an education. Like Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway, Jones is a poster boy for the maxim that we must “separate the artist from the man” to appreciate his art since, well beyond the typical hedonistic rock star, Jones exhibited a sociopathic streak seemingly devoid of the slightest pangs of conscience. He was not only unfaithful to his many girlfriends (surprise) but, despite his wealth, the film shows no trace of his ever providing for any of his many children. When one came with his mother to try to see his daddy, Jones and his latest conquest merely laughed at them from his upstairs window as they stood forlorn in the street. He also enjoyed secretly spiking people’s drinks with powerful drugs, flicking cigarette ashes in a bandmate’s hair, and posing in a Nazi stormtrooper uniform.

No matter how emotionally Dickensian the film hints Jones’s childhood may have been, who could excuse his utter indifference, casual cruelty, and even sadism toward those closest to him? Even if Jones was a victim of emotional neglect growing up, Dennis Prager warns that victims can become the most dangerous people of all because, if lacking a moral compass, they can pervert their victimhood to justify the unjustifiable. Unchecked, there is no end to what horrors can be explained away. But can any of Hitler or Stalin’s colossal crimes be excused because their fathers beat them so brutally?

→ Continue reading: Any Sympathy for the Devil? A review of ‘The Stones and Brian Jones’ (2023)

Why the upsurge in Jew hatred and support for the Hamas terrorists?

Douglas Young has views on the remarkable toxic upsurge in Jew hatred

A lot of folks are shocked and mystified by all the recent open displays of hatred and even violence toward Jews on many elite American university campuses and the streets of major U.S. cities. People are also stunned at the significant public support for the Hamas terrorists, particularly among young, college-educated Democrats, and especially after Hamas on October 7 inflicted the worst murder of Jews since the Holocaust of World War II.

Understand these American leftists are cultural Marxists who divide the world into arbitrary and rigid “oppressor” and “oppressed” classes that have been fixed for centuries. Because Jews tend to be white, Western, and economically successful, they check three major oppressor boxes. Furthermore, since most of Israel’s Palestinian enemies are dark-skinned, Muslim, and poor, that adds three more strikes against the Jews. That Hamas is a terrorist gang of mass-murderers, rapists, and kidnappers whose leaders routinely rob the Palestinian people so they can live luxuriously is irrelevant to the closed social justice warrior mindset. So is the fact that Hamas uses the Gazan people as human shields and even shoots at those daring to try to flee its totalitarian grip on Gaza. Also trivial to fervent progressives is all the considerable Western aid used by Gaza’s Hamas dictators not to help the Gazan people but to buy weapons and build tunnels to murder still more Jews. In fact, with all the generous U.S. and West European aid Hamas has gotten, it could have easily transformed the Gazan coast into a booming Mediterranean tourist mecca, but Hamas is obsessed with wiping out the Jewish people, as its charter clearly states.

Yet Hamas can never be wrong to ardent leftists because it checks all the right oppressed boxes. Remember that progressives tend to see people as groups, not individuals. So the well over a thousand Jewish men, women, children, and babies slaughtered on October 7 are dismissed by the radical woke as “colonialist” oppressors on “occupied” land who had it coming. Recall it was Judaism that gave us the first monotheistic religion in which God judges each individual by his own personal deeds, irrespective of any group status. But outside of Judaism and Christianity, most of the rest of the world (including secular leftists) remains fiercely tribal in which your group status trumps all else.

Indeed, Marx called for the utter annihilation of every oppressor group in a “revolutionary holocaust,” with zero regard for any innocent individuals. This has always been the way of leftists ever since the French Revolution when the radical Jacobins implemented le Terror and Le Grande Terror against all men, women, and children guilty of being Christian, royalist, bourgeois, or insufficiently revolutionary. The 20th century Bolsheviks’ “Red Terror” murdered the same groups in Russia by the millions, Stalin’s purges killed over 20 million more, and Chairman Mao’s communists murdered and starved to death over 60 million non-communists and communists alike in China, most zealously when the fanatical young Red Guards terrorized the Chinese people during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

After many decades of the Left thoroughly infiltrating and corrupting America’s vast educational-industrial complex, the news media, publishing, Hollywood, big tech, and much of corporate America – and aided by the Left’s de facto open borders immigration policy and so many schools no longer even trying to Americanize immigrants – there is now a record number of young American Red Guards seeking to “cancel” or even destroy all who they have been indoctrinated to hate as oppressors.

Hopefully heretofore dangerously uninformed and naive Americans will at last wake up and stop voting for politicians pushing cultural Marxism; stop sending their children to any schools or universities that convince them to hate their religion, America, and their own parents; stop donating money to their college alma mater if it is part of the problem; and stop buying products from corporations pushing critical race theory and donating big bucks to radical leftist groups like Black Lives Matter that work to destroy Western Judeo-Christian civilization. In 2008 Barack Obama promised to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” With the dominant opinion-forming institutions now captured by leftists and so many in the
globalist ruling class either leftists or intimidated by them, the fate of America as we have known it is now in real jeopardy. As our wise and brave Founding Fathers understood, we will enjoy exactly as much freedom as we are willing to fight for – and not one whit more.

Dr. Douglas Young is a political science professor emeritus who taught government and history for over 33 years and whose essays, poems, and short stories have appeared in a variety of publications in America, Canada, and Europe. His first novel, Deep in the Forest, was published in 2021 and the second, Due South, came out in 2022. His next book, This Little Opinion Plus $1.50 Will Buy You a Coke: A Collection of Essays, is about to be published.

The Triumph of a Libertarian Comic: a review of Greg Gutfeld’s The King of Late Night

The Triumph of a Libertarian Comic: A Review of Greg Gutfeld’s The King of Late Night by Dr. Douglas Young, U. of North Georgia-Gainesville Political Science Professor Emeritus

Political comedian Greg Gutfeld’s new eighth book, The King of Late Night, explores what he sees as many recent U.S. cultural “flips” helping his TV show, Gutfeld!, trounce its late-night American competition. Throughout, the author offers sage advice to wannabe comics while making brilliant cultural and political observations exposing a surfeit of societal double standards demanding to be satirized. Despite warning of the lethal threat to our civil liberties posed by woke leftists, the book is laden with laughs since Gutfeld makes his points with humour as opposed to the angry ad hominem attacks so de rigueur today. All this makes for a most satisfying read.

Central to Gutfeld’s enduring TV and writing success is perhaps the most pronounced flip of all. Though U.S. Humor, Inc. had long been dominated by rebellious, edgy liberal firebrands like Richard Pryor and George Carlin, too many of today’s American liberal comedians have pretzeled themselves into unfunny political propagandists to appease the career-cancelling woke mob while gutsy conservatives and libertarians like Gutfeld poke fun at leftist shibboleths. Indeed, as Gutfeld sees it, “if Richard Pryor or George Carlin were alive, they would run screaming from campuses, chased by a crowd of nonbinary Oberlin students.”

This is because the Left has become the boring home of angry, intolerant, and utterly “humorless” censors while rightists have morphed into the creatively funny rebels taking on the establishment. As Gutfeld sees it, “the Left, once the haven for free speech, is now a bounty hunter for the truly outspoken – tracking the violators, and destroying careers…. The Left is now the old fart pushing censorship, and the Right is the side championing the offensive.” As proof, how bizarre that TV’s Comedy Central network is arguably not remotely as cutting edge or funny as Gutfeld’s programs (Red Eye, The Greg Gutfeld Show, and Gutfeld!) have been on the Fox News Channel. In woke America, liberal comics have become the stuffy parents while the libertarian and conservative clowns have evolved into the hip outsiders gleefully pointing out the woke emperor has no clothes.

Gutfeld contends that cowardice has compelled his late-night TV competitors to castrate their comedy since Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, and James Corden covet being part of the establishment clique and fear being fed to the wokesters if they ever make fun of President Biden or any other leftist sacred cows. Though thoroughly funny in his own right, Gutfeld repeatedly concedes that his rivals have cravenly sacrificed their humorous gifts to become scowling, strident blowhards content to score easy political points with a loyal but small audience of rabid partisans. Explaining his decision to enter the late-night comedy arena with Gutfeld!, the author concluded that “Comedy at night was no longer comedy: it was propaganda thinly disguised as entertainment.”

The backlash against the humorless Left provides another flip since it is coming from older, more established comics who can afford to be much more anti-establishment. Bill Maher, Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais, Russell Brand, Joe Rogan, and Gutfeld have been on stage for decades – thus, “the old guy is now the daredevil and the young ones are delicate daffodils.” How ironic but understandable that most young comics are too scared to risk the wrath of uber-sensitive wokesters eager to pounce on anyone daring to poke fun at them or their dogmas. As Gutfeld acknowledges, younger, less established comics can far less afford to risk career cancellation, especially when social media make past public statements so easily accessible.
The backdrop to all this and perhaps the ultimate recent societal flip Gutfeld dissects is how the Left has become the American ruling class zealously protecting powerful establishment elites against the underdog out-groups now championed by the Right. So it was Democrats hysterically pushing government mandates and bolstering big business during the Covid panic while folks on the right defended individuals’ freedom not to get vaccinated, locked down, or masked. Some Iowa college students were even “protesting that they wanted more Covid policies on campus” and, in a rich Orwellian irony, “the pro-mask protest was organized by the ‘Campaign to Organize Graduate Students,’ or COGS.”

Gutfeld sees the woke incarnation of leftism as “the ideology of punishment. There’s something addictive about telling people how to live their lives.” Observing how National Public Radio (NPR) even “developed a system to snitch on coworkers who aren’t complying with the very pro-mask-wearing policies,” he posits this is a mighty McCarthyist means to neurotically enforce leftist diktats. What a flip that the same libs who protested President Bush II’s Iraqi War are now the biggest backers of ever more U.S. military aid to Ukraine despite the risk of direct U.S. involvement in the Russian-Ukrainian War. Conservatives have become the anti-war skeptics, though Gutfeld suspects the Left would reject U.S. Ukrainian policy if a President Trump was pushing it.

Yet another flip begging for satire is what Gutfeld calls “the changing face of women’s sports (which now comes with a five o’clock shadow)” since woke feminists now insist on biological men’s supposed right to dominate women’s sports under the banner of transgenderism. Conservatives and libertarians have become the real feminists trying to protect female athletes from having their hard-fought dreams dashed by far bigger men loaded with testosterone. The book boasts a bounty of trenchant cultural and political points, perhaps chief of which is something conservative alternative media trailblazer Andrew Breitbart argued — that culture drives politics. Gutfeld holds that “it’s really all about culture. And we need to win some of it back. Or it will be all gone soon.” Contending that everyone enjoying free speech must stand up to the wokesters or we will lose our rights, he also agrees with author Dennis Prager that what drives the Left is its endless lust for power and that we cannot let it redefine language in its Orwellian drive to dictate the terms of debate since “Words are to ideas what fetuses are to
→ Continue reading: The Triumph of a Libertarian Comic: a review of Greg Gutfeld’s The King of Late Night

Harry and Meghan are the King and Queen of Narcissism

By Dr. Douglas Young, U. of N. GA-Gainesville political science professor emeritus

Pity Party Prince Harry and manipulative Miss Meghan Markle may well be the most narcissistic couple on the planet: endlessly self-absorbed, utterly oblivious to others’ feelings, and blaming everyone but themselves for all their “troubles.” And precisely what “injustices” do the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have to gripe about? Of the world’s eight billion folks, Meghan and Harry are easily among the richest one-tenth of one percent, two of the few thousand royals, as well as young, beautiful, and (physically at least) healthy to boot.

Perhaps their real problem is that they are typical well-heeled leftists: incredibly entitled, dangerously bored, cynically secular, and desperately in search of meaning. If they were not such fine-looking celebrities, who would give them a second look?

She comes across as entirely opportunistic and he appears bitter at not being even more privileged, actually calling his ghost-written memoir “Spare” since poor Harry is not first in line to be King. A little gratitude for all their huge blessings would likely help.

To be fair, and to his enormous credit, His Royal Highness assisted orphans in Lesotho, served in his country’s armed forces for a decade, and was a bona fide war hero in Afghanistan, having volunteered to be a helicopter gunner on many combat missions. His royal status could have easily shielded him from such deadly duty, but he sought out a very dangerous job in the fight against Islamic terrorism. After his military service, he went on to help wounded veterans.

So how ironic such a proven warrior gives the impression of being completely dominated by his social-climbing and ever-complaining wife. Indeed, the only other royal thought to have surrendered his autonomy so totally to “the woman I love” was Harry’s weak great-great uncle, Edward VIII. While Harry claims his penis once suffered frostbite at the North Pole, it sure looks like his testicles are locked securely in Meghan’s Strathberry handbag.

→ Continue reading: Harry and Meghan are the King and Queen of Narcissism

You can’t joke about that… a review

Comedy is a serious subject: A book review of Kat Timpf’s You can’t joke about that: Why everything is funny, nothing is sacred, and we’re all in this together (2023)

By Dr. Douglas Young, U. of N.GA-Gainesville political science professor emeritus

Comedienne and libertarian commentator Kat Timpf’s first book is a serious examination of comedy that is also quite funny and challenges many well-intentioned but mistaken myths about social taboos. A regular on TV’s Gutfeld! and former National Review writer, Timpf taps personal experiences, extensive observations, a slew of studies, and relentless logic to make a convincing case that humor has remarkable power to help us heal, face our fears, grow, and come together. Despite some disappointments, You can’t joke about that: Why everything is funny, nothing is sacred, and we’re all in this together makes a reliably witty, warmly candid, and solidly convincing case that the present censorious atmosphere surrounding comedy harms us on many fronts.

Indeed, Timpf persuasively argues that our society is mired in an unprecedentedly restrictive cultural climate constipating so much of our public and private dialogue, including comedy. As proof, she cites a passel of comics’ careers recently destroyed due to a single joke that upset the cancel culture mob on social media, as well as survey data documenting that over three times as many Americans say they censor themselves today than in the supposedly straitjacketed “1950s – the era of McCarthyism.”

Despite their self-righteous boasts of being devoted to protecting “marginalized” communities, Timpf contends that today’s “woke” censors are generally totalitarian bullies virtue-signaling in the pursuit of power. In fact, she argues: “[c]laiming ‘words are violence’ is a tool to dictate and control, all while engaging in a massive fraud that they are on the side of compassion.” The reality as she sees it is that “[t]he words-are-violence crowd doesn’t want conversation – at least not one that is an equal playing field… They want to make you afraid.” Noting instances of even violence against individuals for mere controversial jokes, Timpf posits this is in fact inevitable because, “[w]hen you say that words are violence, you inherently are saying that violence is an acceptable response to words, because violence is universally considered an acceptable response to violence.”

Interestingly, she holds that:

[H]umans have actually treated words as violence for most of our history. From the caveman days all the way through the Civil War, duelling to the death was a socially acceptable way to deal with a dispute. If you consider words violence, you’re not a forward-thinking progressive; you’re a knuckle-dragging troglodyte. It’s only as we have become more modern and civilized over the past few hundred years that we have moved away from this, opting to instead respond to words that insult us with words.

At the core of the book is its case for the healing power of humor. Citing a plethora of personal experiences, as well as a multitude of observations and respected studies, Timpf believes poking fun at even our most painful ordeals not only can relieve stress through laughter but knock down walls to create connections with others. Of her early days performing stand-up comedy when her life was a miserable mess, she fondly recalls:

[T]here was only one thing to do: Go to open mics and tell jokes about my dumpster-fire life onstage. Everything was awful, but I’ll never forget how great it felt to turn my pain into jokes that made me — and other people — laugh about all of it. During the loneliest time of my life, comedy became my means of connection. It was my one refuge from hopelessness, the only thing that gave me power over the things that were making me feel so powerless… I didn’t feel powerless or lonely when the audience was laughing along with me.

Reflecting the book’s title as she examines lots of times when humor helped her endure a variety of traumas, Timpf boldly asserts that “[t]he darker the subject matter, the greater healing that laughter can bring, disarming the darkness and making the people who are feeling isolated by their trauma feel less alone.”

To further reinforce this theme, perhaps the book’s best and most brilliantly original chapter points out many parallels between comedy and religion, including medicinal ones. Regretting the loss of the comforting Catholic faith of her youth, Timpf confesses that “the closest thing that I have to any sort of religion is comedy,” and cites research showing both worship services and laughter “are associated with an increase of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in people’s brains, making them feel happy.” As to “[t]he power of comedy in terms of coping emotionally with difficult or even traumatic situations,” she cites U.S. “Vietnam War prisoners who claimed making jokes about their captivity was even more helpful than religion in getting them through it.” Timpf goes on to reference research showing that, like religious faith, “laughter can make a difference in terms of physical healing, too.”

→ Continue reading: You can’t joke about that… a review

The censorship temptation

Dr. Douglas Young, U. of North Georgia-Gainesville political science professor emeritus.

There’s no shortage of temptations to ignore our First Amendment free expression rights and pervert the law into a billy club to banish disturbing speech. Indeed, ever more people demand we outlaw all “hate speech” and “disinformation” in the name of “equity” and “social justice.”

In this vein, to justify their recent attempt to ban any pro-Israel speaker from the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, the school’s Law Students for Justice in Palestine explains: “Free speech and the exchange of ideas cannot be romanticized when the by-product of such rhetoric causes harm to marginalized communities.” Of course, this “reasoning” can easily justify the suppression of any statement alleged to “harm” some preferred group.

But freedom fans know that, as George (Animal Farm; 1984) Orwell observed, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Indeed, as Justice Harlan Fiske Stone noted, “If only popular causes are entitled to enjoy the benefit of constitutional guarantees, they serve no purpose, and could as well not have been written.” Furthermore, we’re all vulnerable to the whims of speech censors. As Thomas Paine understood, “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression.”

Ironically, totalitarians may appreciate even more the power of freedom and the ideas it conveys. Vladimir Lenin (not good Beatle John, but bad commie Vlad) proclaimed, “It is true that liberty is precious, so precious that it must be rationed.” His even less tolerant and bigger mass-murdering disciple, Joseph Stalin, stated, “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns; why should we let them have ideas?”

Alas, the world has been littered with formerly free lands transformed into totalitarian plantations by snowballing restrictions on individual expression, and usually out of a sincere conviction to stop speech many decent folks find repellent. Anyone wanting the right to voice politically incorrect views is deemed as defending the indefensible.

In today’s U.S., to deter “hate speech” against “LGBTQ+” and other groups preferred by the ruling class, to protect “public health” against “disinformation,” and to “save our democracy,” so many controversial views are excised from Twitter and other media outlets that free public discourse has been substantially restricted.

But, as for unsettling internet content, who’s a better filter for what you read: big tech, the state, or you? Why entrust others to be nannies for your mind? As Thomas Jefferson declared, “We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” So fight bad speech with your own informed judgment and good replies.

Contrary to what 1984 implied, it’s precisely the modern flowering of the means of mass communication that has empowered more people than ever to stand tall for truth and freedom, making it harder for dictators to keep their citizens ignorant and oppressed. Witness the fall of the cruel communist tyrannies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the liberalization of post- Maoist China, and exciting liberty liberation movements, even in a Muslim theocracy like Iran.

The root of censorship is a lack of faith in people. The censor is an arrogant elitist idealist bent on saving the rest of us from our own ignorant, depraved selves. Since he also lacks confidence in his ideas’ currency, he stifles all opposition. Furthermore, as Joe Sobran observed: “If a would-be censor could express himself so well, he’d have no need, or urge, to censor. He’d be content to oppose words with better words. Censorship is a confession of failure…. [A]ll the qualities such people tend to lack [include]: candor, humor, self-confidence, and self-respect.”

This typifies today’s speech cops on so many American campuses who are true totalitarians seeking what censors sought in 1984. As Orwell explained, “It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all, and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought … should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.”

There’s never a dearth of fervent ideologues and purists, secular and religious alike, eager to legally pounce on any deviation from their enlightened orthodoxy. But witness the bitter fruit of such repressive regimes as Revolutionary France, communist Russia and China, Nazi Germany, Muslim theocratic Saudi Arabia and Iran, Castroite Cuba, and socialist Venezuela and Nicaragua. While none would permit the controversial expressions many seek to end here now, neither would any of these statist societies sanction the most basic right of the people to even question their rulers. Remember that our Bill of Rights is a Ten Commandments of thou-shalt-nots restraining the state since rights are granted by God – not government.

Secular political fanatics

Dr. Douglas Young, political science professor emeritus at University of North Georgia-Gainesville, has some interesting views about political fanatics: secular edition.

There are loads of obsessives today: folks fixated on their phone, TV, sports, race, sex, etc. But the only ones labelled “fanatics” by secular media are religious. And, Lord knows, they are among the last people with whom I’d ever want to get stuck in an elevator. As Deepak Chopra said, “God gave man the truth. Then the Devil came in and said, “Hey, let’s organize it and call it ‘religion’.” A bumper sticker is more blunt: “Dear Lord, save me from your followers.”

Yet there are secular/worldly fanatics too. Because they lack a religious centre, many have a spiritual/emotional hole crying to be filled. So as traditional religion declines, we see a marked rise in political activism, especially save-the-world groups concerning “climate change”, “equity”, and “social justice”.

For many, their new religion is politics, their faith is their political ideology, and their church is their political party. Like religious zealots, they fervently believe they have a monopoly on truth and are hell-bent to spread their convictions, whatever the consequences.

But history shows secular political fanatics do far more harm since they lack a Ten Commandments, Golden Rule, or fear of a judgmental God to restrain them. The godless want to create a heaven too – but right here today since they think this is all there is. So, they have a peculiarly uncompromising urgency to remake society NOW.

And what a horrific toll many political true believers have wrought. With no religious humility to reign them in, they have created the first totalitarian dictatorships in which the party-state (national secular church) prescribes every aspect of citizens’ lives. Inspired by the French Revolution’s Jacobins who sought to create “a republic of virtue”, 20th century communists fought to forge a new “revolutionary man”. So Marxists in Russia, Eastern Europe, North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Cuba criminalized all religious, political, social, and even private personal conduct deemed “ideologically incorrect”. A Russian Bolshevik once asked dictator Joseph Stalin to execute a group because “They have no [communist] faith”. The stridently secular Nazi Adolf Hitler declared, “Anyone who interprets National Socialism merely as a political movement knows almost nothing about it. It is more than religion; it is the determination to create a new man.”

The death toll alone from such anti-religious regimes is light years worse than that of all religious wars and tyrannies combined – and in such a terribly brief span of time. Indeed, tolerance and forgiveness can be mortal sins to atheist political puritans.

→ Continue reading: Secular political fanatics

The Life of Brian

Dear fellow friends of Brian,

Many of you will have received Tim Evans’ email below with a message from Brian Micklethwait telling us that he has lung cancer. Brian asks that we boost his morale by telling him if and how we have been inspired or influenced by what he has written, said, or done.

Since several of us at the IEA have been inspired by Brian, we would like to invite you to celebrate ‘the life of Brian’ Micklethwait on the evening of Friday September 3rd, at the Institute of Economic Affairs, 2 Lord North Street, London SW1P 3LB. The event will be from 6pm to 8pm, but you are welcome to stay on until Brian decides to go home. Consider it a special edition of Brian’s Fridays, with Brian being the topic rather than the host.

If you are able to attend, please can you reply to VIPEvents@iea.org.uk so we know numbers in advance. If we have more than the maximum capacity of the IEA, we may have to seek another venue.

Please save the date in your diary and forward this email to fellow friends of Brian who are not in Tim’s distribution list below.

Can I also ask for a volunteer who would be willing to be the recipient of photos and short videos of Brian as well as video messages from those unable to join us, so that these can be shown on the evening.

We will send further details over the next few weeks. In the meantime, please do keep emailing and/or phoning Brian and writing about him. I know Brian is looking forward to us all joining him on September 3rd.

Best wishes,

Professor Syed Kamall, Institute of Economic Affairs

The fundamental hubris of modern humanity

Some interesting analysis by commenter Wintergreen.

When I ponder the societal response to COVID, the theme that leaps out at me is the fundamental hubris of modern humanity. Of course I’m speaking in sweeping generalities that don’t apply uniformly to all individuals, but modern man has convinced ourselves that we are the masters of the universe. We scoff at the benighted fools who went before us, we tear down their statues if they do not rigidly adhere to every tenet of certain strands of modern philosophy. We laugh at their belief in the old gods, or in old now-falsified scientific theories, but always lacking the self-awareness to see that our recent forebears who are now the target were doing the same and that we will soon be the butt of the joke.

We have torn down the old gods, and I’m not here to tell you that they were true (or to agree that they were false), but it is audacious hubris to be certain that there was nothing at all to be taken from the millennia of distilled thinking on the human condition that they represented. They sometimes led to horrors – crusades, inquisitions, jihads, witch hunts, and those horrors confirm our rectitude. But in their place, men have been forced to find other animating reasons for being. Nationalism, Marxism, socialism, totalitarianism, environmentalism, and now scientism and Wokism have all attempted to fill this void, and they have produced their very own horrors, but no matter. Yesterday’s intellectual craze that lit the world on fire is discarded and replaced by a new one, and this time it will surely be utopia.

So confident are we in our status as masters of the universe that when the utopia fails to materialize, it takes at least a generation to consider that perhaps the new ideology was not the answer. In the mean time, it must be that other humans have foiled the triumph, because humans have conquered all (confusingly, the high priests sometimes acknowledge that we are small, not particularly physically-gifted creatures trying to use our brains to carve out an existence for ourselves on a small rock circling a small star in a small galaxy in some far-flung corner of a largely empty and cold universe, but do so to buttress their own authority rather than admit their own fallibility). So some group must be otherized and the blame laid on them. Depending on the ideology that’s been foiled, it might be a religious or ethnic group, it might be the opponents of the ideology in question, or it might be polluters, capitalists, or the unvaccinated. In any event it must have a purely human source because to consider other possibilities would be to shake the foundations of the fundamental hubris. If people are hungry, it must be because some other human is hoarding resources. If people are not reaching their potential, it must be because some other human is oppressing them. If people are sick, it must be because some other human is failing to subjugate themselves enough to “stop the spread”.

Even an ideology that rejects objective truth and grand narratives like post-modernism is used not as it might be to reject human hubris but rather simply as a cudgel with which to kill the old gods and the old ideologies. All ideologies have the potential to fall into hubris and otherizing, but the risk can be greatly reduced when an ideology embraces the notions of inalienable individual rights, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression — notions that if they were ever truly embraced have now been disregarded as the the cynical refuge of the scoundrels who are blocking utopia.

The opiate of the masses being deployed in this moment is not promises of an afterlife but promises of a life after – a life after two weeks then months then years of being deprived of some of the most simple pleasures of human existence. Just as the priests of old could not actually deliver on their promises in a verifiable manner, neither can the priests of today. As many of their parishioners await their future reward, they may die of non-COVID diseases, suicide and drug abuse, their intellectual and social skills may atrophy, but surely they will emerge on the other side sicker and older and weaker because no amount of intellectual posturing can overcome the physical constraints of the human condition itself.

Scientism is proving to be one of the most dangerous of the new ideologies because it mutates with the speed of a virus, and each mutation wipes out the memory of the previous iteration so as to not puncture the hubris of its adherents. It can credibly claim to do so by expropriating the mantle of science, which is a way of thinking that requires old beliefs to be jettisoned when evidence demands. Scientism, though, plays fast and loose with the evidentiary requirements, treating hypotheses as theories and requiring that the currently fashionable hypotheses be venerated as in a faith.

So now a vast campaign of othering has commenced against those who refuse an experimental vaccine for a disease they are very unlikely to suffer serious harm from. That it is completely infeasible, even with an utter disregard for individual rights, to vaccinate 8.8 billion people in time to prevent new variants from emerging is no matter. The first major campaign demonized those who refused to accept indefinite house arrest, the wonton suspension of economic and civil liberties, and the complete disregard for all aspects of life other than virus avoidance. The second demonized those who questioned the efficacy of cloth talismans. Woven throughout was the dismissal of those who questioned how this disease emerged and whether it may in fact itself be a manifestation of human hubris, and of any possible remedies that didn’t line the pockets of DME manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies. But this new campaign is the most vicious, because while the others were at least theoretically temporary in nature, there is no way to walk back an injection, and the campaign now seeks to physically rather than simply rhetorically otherize its opponents.

The admirers of the experts (e.g. Fauci) will defend their flip-flops by saying “the science changed”. Well, actually, the science didn’t change. Perhaps our understanding changed, but the workings of the natural world that we are grasping to understand did not (of course, viruses evolve and conditions change etc., but that’s not how it’s being invoked). Maybe you should show a little humility as a result, and submit yourself to honest cross-examination while allowing people to dissent.