I saw online that Kathy Shaidle passed away on Jan. 9, after a long battle with cancer. She wrote her own obituary, which appeared on her blog Five Feet of Fury and that of her partner Arnie’s, Blazing Cat Fur. In it she wrote: “Contrary to cliche, Kathy did not conduct herself with particular ‘grace,’ ‘dignity’ or ‘courage’ in her final months. She didn’t ‘bravely fight on’ after her cancer was pronounced terminal. All she did was (barely) cope, and then only with assistance from her generous employer, and some energetic and selfless friends whom she’d somehow managed to acquire over the years, much to her astonishment.”
I’ve known Kathy since we were both bloggers in the early 2000s, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, meeting at some right-wing blogger get-together (where I also met Rick McGinnis). Kathy had a great blog, Relapsed Catholic, which was later re-branded Five Feet of Fury. At various times she wrote for the Catholic Register, FrontPage Magazine, Pajamas Media, and Taki’s Magazine. She wrote a number of book reviews for our paper and the 2009 cover story naming Ezra Levant as man of the year, saying of the conservative gadfly, “I think of him as the Evel Knievel of the Canadian right.”
Kathy had eight books to her name: three collections of poetry, four collections of essays, and, with co-author Pete Vere, The Tyranny of Nice, published by Interim Publishing. Mark Steyn wrote the introduction to Tyranny of Nice, a book about Canada’s human rights commissions.
She won four Canadian Church Press awards and was a poetry finalist for the Governor General’s Awards in 1998.
After her post-9/11 move to the right, she would not receive any such recognitions. She was fearless. She didn’t care what others thought of her or what she said. She wrote about freedom of speech, religion, culture (high and low), movies, terrorism, and much more, with wit and bite. Her writings featured references to old movies and lyrics, literature and history. Sometimes, I understood them.
Liberal activist and lawyer Warren Kinsella tried to get one of her appearances on TVO cancelled, claiming that her views were beyond the pale. I can’t tell you her theory about Kinsella’s odd behaviour, but I’ve never looked at him the same way.
I understand why Kathy wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. She spoke her mind and bluntly. One time we were panelists together on a show on CTS and she called something ‘retarded.’ The host said she couldn’t say that and she responded, “I meant retarded as in gay.” Half the panel smiled in amusement.
I would not call Kathy a friend, but we were acquaintances, and she was one of my favourite people. Kathy and I hit it off swimmingly because neither of us had much patience for the fake niceties of the right-wing blogosphere meetups that were held once a year in the early days of that new medium for commentary. She often said she was allergic to BS and regularly remarked that the most conservative women had “bigger balls” than most conservative men — that too many conservative men secretly sought “respectable” employment whereas conservative women knew those avenues were closed to them. Without being entirely correct, there is probably enough truth in her observation. And if “conservative women” had not given up on respectable careers, Kathy preferred to speak her mind than self-censure and get ahead. In my own blogging, sometimes I wondered if I had gone too far and then I’d ask WWKD: What Would Kathy Do? Call it like I see it.
Despite the caustic online persona and not suffering fools gladly in person, she was the sweetest person to those who were lucky enough to call her a friend. I don’t presume to rise to that lofty designation with her, but I was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of her friendliness and kindness.
It’s been a bumpy ride for her over the past 13-14 months. She looked like she might overcome the cancer despite an early catastrophic diagnosis, but it wasn’t to be. In early January, she entered a hospice and died two days later. She always said she would return to smoking if she ever got cancer, but I don’t think she did.
Joseph Epstein is one of my favourite writers. I have about two dozen of his books on my shelves, most of them collections of essays, but also several shorter volumes on topics such as ambition, envy, friendship, and Fred Astaire. He taught writing at Northwestern University in Chicago, but is better known for the familiar essays he has written in The American Scholar, Commentary, Weekly Standard, and Wall Street Journal, among other publications. And it is one of those essays that extended his fame in a surprising but hardly shocking way in December. Epstein wrote 800 words advising the then future first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, drop the honorific, which, not being a medical designation, seemed a bit fraudulent (“Is there a doctor in the White House? Not if you need an M.D.,” Dec. 12, Wall Street Journal). He begins, “Madame First Lady — Mrs. Biden — Jill — kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small, but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the ‘Dr’ before your name?” He argues that “Dr. Jill Biden” “sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.” The easily offended were immediately in high dudgeon, with social media causing the often-obscure writer to trend as feminists and in the grip of identity politics, condemned Epstein as a misogynist, casting aspersions on him as jealous (“degree-envy”), and calling for the Journal to retract the column, issue an apology, and vow to never publish Epstein again. Essays were written in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Slate complaining that men like Joseph Epstein routinely demean women like Jill Biden, but this was a particularly egregious example. Yes, these are all outlets of illiberal Left, but unlike the barely educated on Twitter who were (probably) reading Epstein for the first time, these writers should be familiar with his style, if not his argument. Calling Jill Biden “kiddo” was considered condescending, but it is the style of the familiar essay — that Epstein is a master of — to be more casual and reflective of the author’s personal qualities. Epstein has referred to great authors as “old pal,” and certainly he meant no disrespect to the writers of the western canon. Never mind that Joe Biden frequently uses the term kiddo, including for his wife.
The Epstein episode is instructive not just to illustrate that social media and the Extremely Online part of the citizenry that populates the media are easily offended and will try to cancel the offender — although it does that in spades (to use a term that the language police will throw you in the hoosegow for). It represents more than just political correctness run amok. Northwestern University issued a press statement condemning Epstein, and he hasn’t taught there since 2002. Then, going full Orwell, they removed his name from the list of lecturer emeriti – of course, doing so while maintaining they support academic freedom and freedom of speech. No, this was a first shot in the culture wars we can look forward to in the Biden years.
The Wall Street Journal received more than 5,000 letters, almost all of them negative and most of them calling for Epstein’s scalp. Paul Gigot, the paper’s editorial pages editor, wrote a rare defense not only of Epstein and why such commentary is important, but why resisting the cries to do something about it must be resisted. It is all part of a political strategy to silence dissenters from the dominant illiberal Left orthodoxy, wrote Gigot, or at least try to ruin their reputation lest their arguments take hold. He also wrote that he expected the Biden administration to resort to this political strategy frequently: “The Biden team concluded it (the Epstein controversy) was a chance to use the big gun of identity politics to send a message to critics as it prepares to take power. There is nothing like playing the race or gender card to stifle criticism.”
Joseph Epstein’s larger point was not about Jill Biden, but
credentialism. In the hierarchy of degrees and doctorates, the doctorate of education is low on the totem poll (excuse the cultural appropriation). Epstein said elsewhere (“The Making of a Misogynist” in the February Commentary), that in the academy, “calling oneself Dr. is more than a little motivated by the hope of garnering some of the prestige of physicians.” Indeed. Now that she’s First Lady, the Dr. should be unnecessary. One should be careful about committing psychology, but how insecure is Joe Biden’s wife if she insists on this honorific, especially during a pandemic? Kyle Smith wrote a series of articles for National Review Online savaging Jill Biden’s dissertation, “Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.” If you have access online, I strongly recommend them. Nicholas Clairmont wrote in The Tablet (the American Jewish magazine, not the English Catholic one) that the Ed.D “is not really comparable to a Ph.D.,” and that “it’s not a welding certificate, but it is perhaps closer to welding than comparative literature … It’s an occupational license,” to become a better paid teacher (“What’s up doc,” Dec. 17). I read that and I can hear Rick McGinnis or the late Kathy Shaidle saying that the welding certificate is more useful. Clairmont continues: “Jill Biden is not a Ph.D. stealing the valour of physicians. She is a technical school student stealing the valour of Ph.D.s.” Ouch. There was a lot of ink spilt, keyboards tapped upon, and broadcast time spent (the local evening news in Chicago as well as late-night host Stephen Colbert) commenting upon a humorous opinion column in a newspaper. But as Gigot said, it was a preview of what the next four years will bring.
Many publications insist on using the “Dr” before Jill Biden – especially after Epstein’s light-hearted column — including many that have policies that instruct writers not to use “Dr.” except for doctors who practice medicine. I guess it is different when it is the Democrat First Lady and the title gives her more authority. The New York Times which unfailingly refers to her as Dr. Jill Biden, refused to call Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson “Dr” and he is an actual neurosurgeon. Partisanship aside, it is a useful issue to contemplate, and perhaps for us, to explain, The Interim’s policy in this regard. Since I joined the editorial board in May 1997, when my predecessor became editor, this paper has eschewed use of the term Dr. before any name. Part of this is (partial) adherence to Canadian Press style, which reserves the term for medical practitioners. But we have avoided it even for medical doctors in order to no refer to those individuals who employ their medical skills to commit abortions as doctors. A few months ago, we changed the policy to follow the CP Stylebook more fully on this matter: medical doctors will now be called Dr. when they are first identified, followed afterward by their surname. An exception will continue to be made for those within the medical profession who commit abortion or euthanasia; use of the term Dr. in such cases is clearly stealing the valour of physicians who use their craft to heal rather than kill people.
Ruth Davidson, the long-time Conservative in the Scottish Parliament, is headed to the House of Lords in the United Kingdom as a Life Peer. She is in an openly lesbian relationship and several years ago, quite publicly tried to have a child using in vitro fertilization. She recently wrote an op-ed for the Daily Telegraph in support of legalizing euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. At Holyrood, the Scottish Parliament, she voted against a bill allowing assisted suicide six years ago. But she has changed her mind, saying the experience of going through IVF changed her mind. That seems a strange leap in logic, but it shouldn’t. She writes that “medical intervention to help create life has,” for her, “hewn away inhibitions about a more planned or even medicalized end of life” because the process of IVF – egg retrieval, choosing donors based on various characteristics, embryo implantation and (potentially selective abortion) – “makes a mockery of the mystique of kismet surrounding birth.” So, she argues, “if birth can be demystified … then what rule of fate exists for death and why is there such an imbalance?” Indeed. As man believes he can control every aspect of life, including many intimate and mysterious ones such as conception and death, human life becomes ruled by technology, further commodified, and completely de-sanctified. These issues are ultimately all connected.
We also reported last month that after a New York Times expose of Pornhub’s hosting of violent pornography and video of victims of child sex-trafficking and revenge porn, the giant site was facing a backlash and political scrutiny. Credit card companies said they wouldn’t do business with the Montreal-based website. Pornhub responded by removing about 10 million videos that were not uploaded to the site by verified porn producers. Pornhub said it would examine each to ensure that none depicted rape, sexual assault, or child abuse, and, to the extent possible, that all participants in the video consented for the video to be made public. Pornhub tooted its own horn, years after the presence of such videos were brought to its attention: “we enacted the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history” – too little too late for potentially tens of thousands of victims.
Salon, a far-left website that often reads as satire, reported: “The anti-porn religious lobby just destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of pornographers,” by Angela Jones. She sardonically wrote Pornhub should have stated: “Under pressure from the porn abolitionist movement that operates under the guise of thwarting sex trafficking, we are going to compromise the economic lives of hundreds of thousands of performers—during a pandemic, no less.”
I find it amusing that almost everyone invokes “during a pandemic” to promote the causes they long cheer for. But more amusing is that Salon ran an article depicting pornographers as a wrongly done-by class of victims. Acknowledging that “certainly, sex trafficking is a scourge,” Jones went on to defend Pornhub’s business model. Users upload pornographic videos, with no way of knowing which ones are produced with both individuals knowing what they are doing. There have been cases of men uploading personal images of ex-girlfriends as revenge once they broke up or partners being filmed by hidden cameras without their knowledge.
Jones raises the usual free speech issues, but hones in on another: spare some sympathy not only for victims of human trafficking but the producers, actors, and models and in the, ahem, legitimate porn industry who will lose a source of income from Pornhub’s actions. As Akynos, a pornographic model and founder of the Black Sex Workers Collective (good grief), said, “Pornhub should have also stood up for sex workers,” implying that they, like children of sex traffickers and girls taken advantage of by ex-boyfriends, are victims.
Jones raised another issue that I do not think she meant. She quoted one unnamed “content producer” who complained that with the massive purge of content, there will be fewer viewers: “No viewers means no money.” That suggests that many viewers of porn want the highly dubious material, not just the so-called legit stuff.
We recently reported that Marie Stopes International changed its name to MSI to distance itself from the racist, eugenic birth control promoter in whose honour it had been named in 1976. Right to Life UK noted that “after dropping the name of a racist eugenicist, abortion giant Marie Stopes International have now renamed themselves after the post-war Italian neo-fascist party, the MSI.” The Movimento Italiano di Unità Sociale was founded in 1946 by former fascist veterans of the violent Italian Social Republic.