Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Quora

Someone at work asked if Quora is a reliable source of information.  I gave an incomplete answer off-the-cuff, and am writing one out here.  Perhaps I will email her the link.

It's a simple, democratic concept, relying on collective knowledge and crowd wisdom.  People propose questions, however many others as want to answer them, and the rest vote on what is the best answer.  You can dig down to see what the 2nd or 10th-place answers are, if you wish. It does not rely on argument or discussion. For what it is, it's great. Best in class.

But it illustrates beautifully how all forms of communication have strengths and weaknesses. The quora community is not a random sample of humanity, or even of online humanity.  It is self-selected, and bias effects tend to increase rather than decrease over time in such communities. I suppose it could be partially hijacked, with selected topics being put forward by some nefarious group which acted in concert to vote certain answers up. It would take effort, and the effect would likely narrow.

Here is what I see as biases from my own observation.  I welcome other data.

It is a tech-heavy group, with lots of questions and up-votes about computer culture and operation, current science questions about desalinisation or black holes or medicine.  Therefore, one can predict the type of answer that will be voted best when the question is some relative of "Is technology really good for us, or is it going to kill us?" The top answer will note that there are risks and unintended effects of all new technology, but holy-moly, look where we've come, technology is gonna save us! It will be a really good answer of that type, thoughtful and well-written, but its overall conclusion is foregone.

It won't necessarily be the best answer, but it will be a good one, and the one this group thinks is best.

It is largely white North American, white northern European, and Northeast Asian in its audience. You will find a lot of Americans asking about China, voting up answers by 1st-generation Chinese-Americans. You won't see many questions or answers by African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, North Africans, or Central Asians. Also, please note, you will not find the Chinese asking many questions about Japan, or Koreans about India. The curiosity doesn't extend there.

There are a lot of young people, with a lot of focus on "How do I get a great job in Silicon Valley?" "What's the best way to make a lot of money fast?" "What is the meaning of life, really?" This group also has the usual outsize fascination with rogues, eccentrics, and Guinness Record-type info: "Who was the smartest person ever?" It's geek trivia night there.

It is generally liberal, especially socially liberal, so if a general question comes up that seems to ask "Is America a good thing in general or are we all screwed up?" the answer which receives the most votes will be of the form "Insofar as we have done and will do liberal stuff, we've been great.  But there's too much exploitation, self-congratulation, and other countries do some things better than us." It won't contain any lies, though it may omit some key facts, such as winning the Cold War.  It will be the best mid-liberal answer, which is a good thing to read.

OTOH, there is a fair bit of fascination with military topics, and not just cyberwar. There aren't many parenting questions, but there are quite a few about education and training.

Fires

There are articles circulating in supposedly objective news sources about the large number of recent fires - 6 - at black churches since the shooting in Charleston.  The articles I have encountered have been full of references to the shooting, and to the history of black churches being burned in earlier years.  Being suspicious, I traced them back, and it seems that only 3 are arson, and two are not suspected of being hate crimes and are not being investigated as such.

So that means there is one not-ruled-out (it didn't say "suspected") hate crime against black churches in that time period. I don't know how strong the evidence for that one is.  But doesn't that make the stories, and especially the headlines, er, dishonest?  It's almost as if those news sources are hoping that there will be some hate crime. Which means they would be glad to report on it, encouraging any number of mushy-headed or paranoid individuals to seek their fifteen minutes of fame.

As with so much else recently, it is best to wait.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Memory

Identifying this song has been an irritation in the back of my mind for a decade or more. I knew that I could do the labor-intensive work of finding a website that listed week-by-week Top Forty in the late 60's and just work my way through a month or so at a time, but I also knew that I might need Top 100 lists, as the song never got very big.  I also knew I could just call Mike King or Bill Whitman and see if they could pull it out of 1966-69 memory.

But I wanted to see if I could pull that sucker out of the rubbish myself.  Trivia mavens will understand.  The first problem is that the title is "Live," pronounced with a short "i," so you can't google that. I recalled it was a two-hit band, both minor, but couldn't remember the other hit. (It was "You're A Very Lovely Woman" for those of you scrambling for a hint to guess this before the reveal.) You know the type of memory-jogging one tries...

The band was two words, maybe three

There were "m's" in it.  Mojo Men...Pictures of Matchstick Men...Manfred Mann...Muh, mah, mighty, magic...dammit.

Every Mother's Son...The Music Explosion (these turned out to be the exact time frame)

Why do I keep thinking about "Sunshine Girl" by The Parade?

Live... was there more to it?  Live For Today? (The Grassroots actually turned out to have a connection.) Live is, live like...

Hyphens...I'm thinking hyphens...make-or-break...men at work...mick, mack, mortimer, mostly...

I remember talking about it with Doug Manter, so it must be late '66 at the earliest, early '69 at the latest, I'm thinking more likely '67 than '68, I only liked it because of one guitar riff that had a country flavor for one measure and I remembered that when Nashville Cats and Creedence Clearwater came in and everyone said they were the first, but I remembered that riff but no one cared about that (I always deeply remember being right and not having it be noticed) and I don't remember the B-side which is strange because I always remember the B-side..

Yes, those of you that search your memories know this drill.

So I broke down and looked for Top 40 lists from the 1960's and scoured the back ends of them. May 1967, there it was at #95.




Gee, I'd forgotten about the Easybeats...and Jon & Robin...The Electric Prunes...and there they are, The Parade, which is sorta like Merry-Go-Round, and in the same month.

Anyway, the song isn't that great, but the Bangles did it later, and Fairport Convention did the B-side for years, and finally, finally, I have this song identified.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Examining Prejudices

Without examining, at least at present, the fairness of my prejudice, I will simply note it: when I encounter less-educated people, I expect their political and social opinions to be unsavory, derived directly from The View, or bad Sunday School, or HuffPo, or laundromat rumors.  They are powerless, they don't understand what is happening, they might vote but otherwise have no understanding how to influence their culture, and they can't even get their own self-interest straight. I don't worry about them, I don't think them dangerous even if they have money and businesses, and I think whatever evil they bring to the culture can be dealt with gradually and kindly. They either irritate me or bore me.

But when I encounter people who have some education and status, who have some idea how systems work, how power is distributed, and have the verbal cleverness to put their opponents down and put in a good word for their friends, I consider them very dangerous, possibly evil, and self-righteous enough that they cannot be reasoned with, and must be simply opposed.

Note that this is the opposite of the conventional wisdom, which regards the former as dangerous barbarians who should be disempowered in every way, and the latter as reasonable folks whom one can work with.
“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of "Admin." The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern. CS Lewis, Preface to The Screwtape Letters.
I admit it. I want you to hate them too.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Increased Temptation?

I don't usually overlap my FB and AVI posts, but I thought this was too long for wone and too short for the other, so I did both.

"As many of my FB friends are Christian I thought I might risk a short sermon. The rest of you can listen in and see if there is anything valuable for you.

Screwtape is never far from my mind. When we congratulate ourselves on our own symbolic morality, as the nation is now doing instead of mourning, we might not be trading up and becoming better. Our goblins may only be retreating deeper into the mine, chuckling. Division and tribalism are not exceptions to human behavior,... they are the default position. I don't exclude by race - but I have several other exclusions, equally ugly but Less Unpopular.

This is not just theoretical. I see this not only in myself, but in many others, online and in person, who are entirely oblivious to their exclusions and condescensions. I am not seeing victory but fearing temptation this week. Jesus never called anyone out for racism or our other popular sins. He did call people out for self-righteousness. A lot. It scares me deep in the night sometimes."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Don Featherstone

I haven't posted on flamingoes for a long time, having switched to the occasional meerkat instead.  But a giant of American culture has died.  Remember, flamingoes are pink from eating pink shrimp not because they absorb the color, but because eating shrimp makes them healthy, which keeps them pink.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Morning Girl, Later

I had forgotten this song - liked it mildly when it came out but paid little attention. There was a followup set of verses I had never heard, which Saussy bridged together with the pop original.  Interesting.


Dubbahdee sent an accompanying article from the Mockingbird site. Odd, all very odd.  I did like the line "A Christian is honored by betrayal."  It is interesting to listen to the complexity of the background.  Overdone, perhaps.  I was a tune-and-lyrics guy, so I never noticed such things in those days.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Search For Simplification

Ben and I discussed last night how rapidly the various media, with the support and encouragement of all of us, rapidly tries to find the one point of focus for every tragedy. The shooting in Charleston has coalesced around discussion of the Confederate flag.  Obama tried to make it about gun control right out of the gate, but it didn't stick.  I saw various attempts to tie it to a discussion of white supremacist groups, of gun-free zones, the shooter's complaint that there weren't enough racists nearby to get together with, and some less-likely ideas, but the Stars and Bars decoration has taken center stage. It isn't the most logically solid connection, but ideas have their time.

Personally, the very quick decision of the congregation to engage in public forgiveness was the stunner. I would have been impressed by an ability to mouth platitudes and talk about refusal to be defeated in The Struggle. They left that miles behind.  Only by grace, only by grace.  I hope someone makes a movie about the discussions leading up to that decision. Done well, that could be the longer legacy. The Amish did something similar a few years ago, and I was similarly humbled.

I wondered how many people are sincere in their sorrow and reaction, and how many are calculating, waiting cynically for the next tragedy in order to manipulate opinion and advance their political agenda.  Rahm Emanuel makes no bones about belonging to the latter group.  Most people I meet belong to the former. (However, I don't think their unwillingness to believe that Emanuel, Jonathan Gruber, and Eric Holder are A) really that dishonest and B) really that representative of those they work for/with is just naivete, trying to think the best of others.)

There is a social sense of journalists and public figures, able to sense early where the trend is going to go. Those who guess right get to be early-adopters, and might also get to put their weight behind those ideas if they pick their spots well. This part of why mainstream media is liberal, and always will be.  The profession selects for that quality quite competitively.  They get burned, of course, by the inevitable groundswell phenomenon of conservatives, who they do not sense well.  When something new comes up they at first find it impossible and ridiculous.  As it gains steam they can only demonise. Eventually they are able to partly isolate it and relegate it to a corner of the political discussion, even if it a large corner. They quarantine it.  Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, the Tea Party come to mind.

I will declare that there is nothing similar on the Right, because it has different problems: fighting the wrong battles, making arrogant declarations, and shooting their wounded for lack of Conservative Purity, variously defined. However, having said that, I expect someone will come up with an immediate counterexample.  And that's fine.  Glad to be wrong on this one.

Back to the original point: has anyone read anything reasonable on how these questions narrow to single symbolic issues so quickly, and how they go away?  It seems like a phenomenon that must apply to more than just 21st C America.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

More Onomastics

Steve Sailer points out that the young golfers leading at the US Open aften 3 rounds are all "Generation Ǝn," that is, their names all end in that schwa-n sound: Jordan, Jason, Dustin, Brandon. Add in the rhyming Braydon, Jaydon, Graydon, Hayden, Peyton, and even Creighton; plus Justin, Ethan...it goes on forever among guys born in the 80's and beyond. There are girls' names that have that ending, but I think all are ones stolen from the boys, such at Jordan, Jaydon.  Madison is a tweener - the "o" is pronounced ins some versions, not in others. But recently the -a names have dominated among the girls: Sophia, Emma, Isabella, Olivia, Alexa, Michaela, Sarah, Hannah.  In the previous two generations the "-ee" sound was far more popular at the end: Kelly, Tracy, Dorothy, Shelly, Amy, Brittany, and even the -a names would become -ee names in nickname, such as Theresa/Terri, Barbara/Barbie, Rebecca/Becky.

The -Ǝn sound is not a common universal for boys' names, as far as I can tell. In fact, the -ee sound that girls used was a common ending for boys' names until recently: Kelly, Shirley, Leslie, Tracy, Terry, Jackie, Bobby. The -a sound, not so much for boys.  But the -a ending is a feminine ending in many languages in the world, common enough that Merritt Ruhlen and the other linguists who believe we can detect echoes from the original language of humans suggest that -a is one of the language universals that has been there for 50,000 years. Those of you who know foreign languages might reflect on whether that sound is feminine in the ones you know.

So mothers are reverting to so some deep association of -a with girl children that is old-fashioned in about as complete a sense as one can imagine. Why the schwa-n sound for boys comes from I don't know.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Theophilus North

I am surprised to search and find I have never mentioned the book here.  It came out when I was in college, and as I had to read all of Thornton Wilder's previous work to do a presentation on him for a 20th C drama class, I thought I would complete the set. I loved it then, have reread it once, and still think of it from time to time. Rob Reiner intended to do the movie but never did.  Someone else did, calling it "Mr. North."  The description suggests the director missed Wilder's intents.  I imagine Reiner would have done better.

Most sources call the book autobiographical, or semi-autobiographical, which is not quite so, though the setting does draw on Wilder's own experiences. Much is also made of the main character's name and its significance.  It causes me to wonder how hard people work to do their research. Thornton was born a twin; his brother Theophilus lived only a half-hour.  All his life he contemplated the life that the other Thornton might have lived, and eventually wrote down what that life might have been.  All the wild conjectures that the various professors have about choosing the name might have some truth, of course, and requiring their students to discuss this on exams might have some value...

But not much.

It is set in Newport, RI in the summer of 1926. Theophilus, a Yale graduate who has just quit his job teaching at a prestigious preparatory school, drives in search of a new life until his car breaks down in Newport, where he had served in the Coast Guard during the war. He decides to stay, and rapidly observes that there are nine distinct cities in Newport which only sometimes touch each other.  There are the remnants of the 17th C colonial town and the continuing religiously tolerant 18th C seaport; there are the intersecting three cities of the very rich, their servants, and the journalists/fortune-hunters/ hangers-on; there is Ft Adams and its connections; the sailing, fishing, and yachting tribe; the artists; and the standard middle-class New England town.

North, who prefers to be called "Ted" or "Teddy," moves about semi-plausibly in all nine cities. He is barely and provisionally accepted by the rich because of his education and connections. That he is of modest means (he artfully hides from most that he lives in a quiet boardinghouse) and works tutoring French and giving tennis lessons to their children drops him beneath him on the scale in their eyes, but still admitted into their houses and conversation. His Coast Guard experience buys him entry into both the military and boating communities, his knowledge of history into the company of the preservers and restorers of the colonial city.  And so on through all the groups.  Semi-plausible, as I said.

Less plausibly, but entertainingly, he succeeds at everything he touches that summer (quite literally, see in a bit).  He convinces an elderly wealthy man whose relatives are all waiting for him to die that he has health in him yet, and gets him out of the house on his first jaunts in years.  He restores the reputation of a woman under a cloud, he gently redirects an insecure and insufferable young man, he helps engineer the matchmaking of friends. Quite by accident he develops a reputation for having "healing hands," of some vague electrical nature, and people come to him to be touched and healed.  He is embarrassed and disapproving, but cannot turn the implorers away.  They blow his cover about where he lives as well. All quite fun, gently humorous.

I saw at once that Wilder's last novel was the inverse of his first one, The Cabala.  I have never read that anyone else has made this connection, possibly because no one reads The Cabala anymore - nor should they. Its protagonist goes as a young man to Rome, where he becomes involved in the lives of diverse others there. However, everything goes sour, with only wry bits of philosophical comfort remaining in that work.  People commit suicide, die in mild discouragement, lose their faith, leave everything behind, all amidst classical allusions to the Aenid, which is somehow supposed to buck us all up. The young man has had some hand in all of it, all turned to dust.

I doubt Wilder wrote Theophilus North with conscious intention of reversal, though he was certainly aware of the deep change of his general cast of mind fifty years later.

Further extraneous notes: My oldest son and I did "The Skin of Our Teeth" as a read-aloud when he was ten or so, dividing up the parts.  Great rollicking fun. A lesser-known play is "The Servant's Name was Malchus," about a man who sneaks into heaven to ask God to erase him from the Bible, where he appears only once. (John 18:10 is the only named reference.  The versions in the other gospels probably refer to the same man.) God talks him out of it.  Not a stunningly great play, but interesting.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Virtue

It seems that acting morally counts for very little, but saying the right things, and in the right way, is now the signature of virtue. Or rather, saying wrongthings wrongly is proof of evil.  Witness, for example, the number of decent people who have had their careers ruined by expressing improper sentiments. Some of the comments were mild, some vile, but still...comments.

This used to be an attribute of fundamentalism, but is now more common on the social justice side. I think inquisitors generally focus on one having the proper public sentiments, with much personal behavior overlooked.

I suggest quick communication/social media/24-7 news cycle drives the change.  It is a step toward a world in which impression matters more than reality. While it is certainly true that modern crowdsourcing of news can provide quick correction to false information, it remains true that some myths persist anyway. People develop an impression of you, and that remains.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dalrymple

One of the main topics of Theodore Dalrymple's In Praise of Prejudice is pointing out the many weaknesses and hypocrisies of those arguments which purport to only believe those things which are based on evidence.  In fact no one does this, but picks and chooses instead. I had not known that the word nihilism comes from this determination to reject all inherited authority and belief, in favor of those things one can either prove with one's own eyes, or deduce from facts known to him. (Coined by Ivan Turgenev.) The current meaning is a bit different, but I think a natural result of the original philosophy.

The skepticism of radical skeptics who demand a Cartesian point from which to examine any question, at least any question that has any bearing on how they ought to conduct themselves, varies according to subject matter.  Very few are so skeptical that they doubt that the sun will rise tomorrow, even though they might have difficulty offering evidence for the heliocentric (or any other) theory of the solar system.  These skeptics believe that when they turn the light switch, the light will come on, even though their grasp of the theory of electricity might not be strong.  A ferocious and insatiable spirit of inquiry overtakes them, however, the moment they perceive their interests are at stake - their interests here being their freedom, or license, to act upon their whims.  Then all the resources of philosophy are available to them in a flash, and are used to undermine the moral authority of custom, law, and the wisdom of ages.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Nuance

Personal Note:  My wife is recovering nicely and is being wisely cautious.  She expects to get the okay to return to light duty at work at her post-op appointment Tuesday.  Thank you for your prayers.

Upcoming:  I just read Theodore Dalrymple's In Praise of Prejudice, which puts some of my thoughts better than I could, and expands on others in ways I had not fully thought through.  It is a slim volume - 126 page - but I will likely draw a few posts from it.

Nuance

A minor point of social expression turned more interesting as I thought about it.

Using someone's first name in a declarative sentence makes it into a criticism, or intensifies the criticism already present. As in "The meeting is at nine," versus "Jeremy, the meeting is at nine, " or  "The meeting is at nine, Jeremy." Also compare "Alexandra, men don't really act like that," versus "Men don't really act like that."

There is an air of command, or irritation, or reproval, which comes across in both speech and writing. Using an interrogatory or an affectionate name softens it considerably: "Jimmy? That was in 2006, not 2007."  Also, those who actually do have some legitimate authority over you can use it with less offense.  All very standard nuance, hard to teach. I noticed it because two people used it on me on Facebook, and there is a person at work who uses it frequently, to my annoyance. You can't easily call someone out on it, because it sounds stupid when described. It is your name, after all. People who use this don't usually recognise that it is an assertion of dominance.

They would pick that up pretty quickly if you used it on them, of course, but that's different.  They might not realise that it was the use of first name, and might attribute it more generally to your tone or attitude. As with everything else, I immediately went looking for patterns of who uses this and who doesn't. Spouses use it on each other a fair bit.  Understandable. Older people tend to use it on younger ones,  which is also unsurprising, though I imagine it gives more offense than they realise.

I hear it most from conservative men and liberal women, even when there is no political topic involved. That's a very interesting contrast to me.  There are more exceptions of liberal men using it, but the base trend is pretty strong among my friends, relatives, and acquaintances. Note:  I am more aware when people use it on me, but the trend I am describing is more general, including what I hear addressed to others at church, at work, or on FB.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Writing For Uh...Posterity

Yeah, that's it.

I don't expect my prose to be deathless (and I don't write poetry).  Nonetheless, I do have a certain eye to the future, for the avoidance of humiliation. I read a Slate article yesterday about the disinviting of the blogger Mencius Moldbug from speaking at a tech conference, because of his unorthodox political views. The writer was at pains to be disparaging about his beliefs, including  a sneer in the direction of Charles Murray and The Bell Curve, which he referred to as "science," quotation marks included.

Perhaps I only noticed it because I largely agree with Murray, yet I think I would never write anything like that.  If you condescend and put a word in quotation marks, you run the risk ten or twenty years later of being revealed as a complete ass. I don't get how writers are not more cautious.  Perhaps it is required if one writes for publications which have to compete for eyeballs right now, today.  And why I have never been invited to write for same.  The copy much be punchy, to use an older phrase.

There are some things written in the last years I might take back, but these would be largely to reslant instead of rescind.  I have overclaimed, but there is little I would retract entirely.  I have been rude or arrogant and now wish I had said things more kindly, but not often do I wish I had said other things. When I first came to work at the hospital, the descendants of Freud and Skinner still ruled, and those two originators were still greatly honored, even by those who believed their disciples had surpassed them.  In social work and family counseling, the Palo Alto Group held sway.

All are deservedly on the rubbish heap now, with only fragments and flavorings surviving. Even among those my age, there is a roll of the eyes and a wave of the hand when someone tries to use those categories.  As to my hobbies, in baseball statistics we are in our second revolution since I first started following them in the 1960's; Historical linguistics has had linear improvement in its bread-and-butter topics of languages in the last 4000 years, but archaeology and genetics have left it in shambles in discussions of earlier speech. They try to drive their horses-and-buggies not only on the freeway, but down the runway, insisting that only strict attention to oats and spokes will reliably get you to Chicago.  Why, those jets could go anywhere, and who would know? Genealogy, sound and lighting, libraries and reading for pleasure, - all quite different.

Personal Matters

Attention to the blog has been light because I brought my wife to the ER Monday night, and she had her appendix out the following morning.  She is recovering well but is being cautious.

Riley Taylor Teaches

You may not have heard of the Riley Taylor Videos, illustrating the Acts of Apostles using flannelgraphs - sort of. Here's the first one.


Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Moral Foundation

A silly argument keeps popping up whether one can be an atheist and still be a moral person.  Well of course you can, I've seen it myself. 

It's less silly at the next level, however. Does it work into the next generation?  Can it hold for two generations?  We have a hard time measuring this, because nearly every American was religion-affiliated in 1960, so there isn't a good control group for comparison.  (Also, in terms of sexual morality, I think the cause flowed in the other direction, at least in my generation. People first decided or fell into having sex, then decided that their church rules were outmoded, and dropped the faith of their parents. The dissonance was too great.  Philosophy did not undermine behavior; behavior undermined the philosophy.)

Still, a case could at least be made that the habits of a foundational morality give the false impression that morality can be sustained indefinitely without a religious faith.  I bring it up because of the conflicts suddenly arising on the left between the Boomer liberals who adopted a fashionable skepticism and even nihilism, versus a younger PC crowd that was raised on relativism as a reality. The former were church-raised and deeply rooted in the western tradition. As the younger generation turns its skepticism on them (Jonathan Chait and Josh Marshall most recently) they have been aghast.  Rather like Obama's horror that OWS was including his friends, and even he himself, in their protests.  It was one of the few times we saw the inner conflict break out into a sweat on Barack's face.  He thought he identified with them, and so thought they must identify with him.  He moved heaven and earth for the PR on that one, even though it may have cost him with the general public. Shaken to the core. 

One can hear it still in the religious assumptions the people of my generation still make even while professing to be Buddhists or other Eastern or alternative spiritualities. Their skin is no longer Christian, but their bones still are, though they know it not.

That is is now only half true for the next generation down, and simply no longer true at all for the liberals* in the generation after that; and it is not mere lack of Biblical knowledge that I reference here.  A great deal of the western intellectual tradition persists, even as it is being mocked and rejected. But it is eroding, and those who thought no foundation is needed are no wondering what will come next.

*Plus a lot of the conservatives and independents.

Two From Maggie's Farm: Lee Siegel

The NYTimes carries an ope-ed from a man who has defaulted on his student loans, and explains why. Because this is much in the news, I leaped immediately to the assumption that this was a young man (or perhaps woman - Lee is sometimes feminine), in his 20's or perhaps 30's. Lee Siegel is almost 60, and a successful writer. The loans he defaulted on are old, and now that he is better off it does not seem to him that he should make good the sins of his youth.

Because it wasn't his fault, you see. He is actually doing the morally superior thing by not repaying the loans. If everyone did likewise it would expose the corrupt higher educational system, you see. Their money-grabbing, insensitive ways would be out for everyone to see, and the world would scream out that such madness be fixed. We should thank Siegel, really.  A hero.  It takes great courage not to pay money back, I imagine.

I would not agree, but I could understand the excuse of the young person who got in too deep, then his parents divorced and the money went away, and the jobs weren't there despite his best efforts when he graduated, who just felt there would never be respite or relief and apologetically turned his back. But Siegel's argument is quite different (though it includes those elements when it serves him). He has writes with disdain for the banker who approved his first education loan. He had to leave an expensive private college and go to a cheaper, less fashionable school.  This still wounds him, as he has to mention, sneering back at those he imagines are sneering, that perhaps they think he didn't deserve being at such a school.

Of course it was impossible to take a job where he might make more money and pay it back, because his usefulness to society is as a writer, not mere trade.


Monday, June 08, 2015

Two From Maggie's Farm: Watts - McKibben

I have had harsh things to say about Bill McKibben in the past, but his sit-down with Anthony Watts was apparently quite pleasant. Credit where credit is due, then.  Affability isn't everything, of course, but an ability to listen and exchange is laudable.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Take Off The Top Plate



At cafeterias when I was a lad, bowls and plates were stacked into tubes with a spring-loaded platform at the bottom.  As you took your plate off the top, the stack would rise accordingly.  In the short run, it seemed a sort of magic to a boy:  there was always a full stack of plates, no matter how many you took. 

Something similar happens in improving the justice of American society.  We take off a plate and there are handshakes all around.  A poor man can prevail in court if he is right. Hey, people can keep their property even if they are Quakers.  The woman of the house has authority over the farm when her husband dies, even if her sons object.  A free black man can vote.  A woman can become a doctor. 

On and on goes the list of increasing justice. Plates keep coming off the top. Yet to each generation, the stack looks the same.  How could you?  This injustice has been going on for centuries and America did nothing.  Only in our new moral age, which began last Tuesday, have there been people who really understand justice.

We quickly take standard-of-living improvements for granted.  We forget how poor even Americans were in living memory.  An easy-to-remember set of numbers: In 1949, 41% of Americans lived below what we later defined as the poverty line. In 1941, 49% of Americans were below the poverty line.  And that was after the Great Depression was over. Death in epidemics remained high. Medical care was mostly useless. 

The politics of outrage knows no history.  So you had starving children, and relatives dying in pain? What of it?  You came to America because no one would kill you for being Jewish, or Laotian here? Too bad.  Get with the program because people are really suffering today, having to pay for their own birth control and being spoken of disapprovingly for their sexual behavior.  It just proves that America is racist because we can still find some racist people. 

CS Lewis mentions it in Screwtape, that what a human being comes to expect he rapidly convinces himself he deserves, and is put out of sorts when he doesn't get it, however little he has done to earn it.

It might be argued with a bit of fairness "Well, fine then.  You did those wonderful things and now we are down to the last few things that need to be made fair.  What's stopping you now?" I have seen a few answers, but here is mine:  we are down to ambiguous cases.  There are competing values, not merely interests and traditions. It's tradeoffs from here on in. If you can't see that government paying for abortions;  or affirmative action; or women in combat; or a dozen other things we argue about are ambiguous, then I must conclude you are not a deep thinker.

I long ago said that in much of depression, people are first depressed, and then attach it to life circumstances.  The paranoid style comes first, then goes looking for conspiracies. I think social justice outrage comes first, then goes looking for causes.  That's not necessarily all bad.  A subset of the tribe that is hyperalert to underdog-rooting probably improves the general lot. But it's a good thing only insofar as it counterbalances societal inertia.  It's not a stand-alone virtue.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

QOTD

From James, at "I Don't Know, But..."

Cruise control isn’t terribly useful in West Virginia. 

Yeah.  That.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Courage

I grant that it does take courage to expose oneself to ridicule and criticism, even if there is praise as well.  It is certainly worse when that exposure is public. I give Caitlin Jenner credit for some courage, and I don't think I'm being insincere about it. I certainly would want the criticism she's getting, even if lots of other people were telling me what an amazing human being I am.

I have no doubt that other types of courage are harder: facing death, facing pain, facing failure, facing helplessness in the presence of the suffering of wives or children, facing poverty, facing abandonment or loneliness, witnessing the destruction of life's work and beginning again.  Nor do I think most other people would disagree with me, when one confronts them with the comparison.  Is Caitlin Jenner's courage greater than Lauren Hill's? Than a Navy Seal's? Than a mother with four kids who has just been abandoned? I think most of the people swooning over Jenner's courage, if you backed them into a corner, would entirely get the point that this isn't really the height of courage.

My issue is with them more than with Caitlin Jenner.  When people stop to think about it and make clear comparisons, nearly everyone would agree that public criticism, embarrassing and unpleasant as it is, is not as difficult to bear as many other evils.  Yet social criticism, ostracism, threat of shunning is the first fear people think of. Millions and millions of people fear this most of all - until you make them think about it.  Curious.  It is easy to dismiss it as emotional immaturity, the response of people who are still trapped in a high school world where the disapproval of the cool kids is the worst of evils.

Perhaps not.  Perhaps this is not some new immaturity of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, illustrating the grave deterioration in character from which we will never recover. Perhaps this is simply what human beings have always been, Sumerians, Inupiat, Andamanese, Miqmaqs, Yamna, Avars, or Valley Girls.

Addition: The person who wrote the story for Vanity Fair, Buzz or Biz-something, made reference to being a cross-dresser himself and being "mercilessly crucified" for admitting this a decade ago.  That's part of what I'm talking about here.  You write for important magazines.  You have friends and good health. Some people applaud you, even if others say vile things about you.  This is not merciless, nor crucifixion, and if we were sitting at the same table, you would sheepishly acknowledge that (I hope). Criticism is not the worst of evils.

Monday, June 01, 2015

QOTD

From Steve Sailer:

"What percentage of contemporary culture is vengeance for high school? Our culture is obsessed with adolescent slights. Are there any Safe Spaces for grown-ups?"

Are Religious People Less Good Scientists?

I almost passed up this little essay by Razib Khan, knowing that he is an atheist and finding that the discussion has little that is new about it these last 30 (or 300) years. I am nearly as bored by Christians writing on the topic as well.  I'm glad I risked the click.  I knew better than to read the comments, however.