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  • Archive for the 'Academia' Category

    Clowns, Fools, and Generally Unpleasant People of the Week

    Posted by David Foster on 21st December 2014 (All posts by )

    1) If a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education (excerpted here)  is correct, then Rensselaer Polytechnic president Shirley Jackson seems a little…imperious…in her approach to her job.

    Having created the very model of an undemocratic, corporate university, President Jackson is appropriately imperious. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, she has a series of rules that are clear to everyone. These include: 1) Only she is authorized to set the temperature in conference rooms; 2) Cabinet members all rise when she enters the room; 3) If food is served at a meeting, vice presidents clear her plate; and 4) She is always to be publicly introduced as “The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson.” Falling into rages on occasion, she publicly abuses her staff and frequently remarks: “You know, I could fire you all.” In 2011, RPI’s Student Senate passed a resolution criticizing her “abrasive style,” “top-down leadership,” and the climate of “fear” she had instilled among administrators and staff. It even called upon RPI’s board of trustees to consider Jackson’s removal from office. But, once again, the board merely rallied in her defense.

    2) Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, blocked the nomination of Lt General Susan Helms to head the Air Force Space Command, leading to Helms’ subsequent retirement from the service.   McCaskill assailed Helms’ 2012 decision to grant clemency to an officer serving at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., who had been convicted of aggravated sexual assault.

    Helms used her judgment and her command authority to prevent what she apparently viewed as an injustice, based on her review of evidence in the case.  McCaskill said that the clemency decision “sent a damaging message to survivors of sexual assault who are seeking justice in the military justice system.”  Apparently, McCaskill cares much more about “sending messages” than about justice to individuals. The message that she has sent to all American military commanders is this:  Do not ever extend clemency in a matter where an individual has been accused of an offense which is of particular concern to the Democratic Party, or your career will be immediately destroyed.

    If a governor pardons someone accused of witchcraft, then the governor himself must be a witch.  That seems to be the level of McCaskill’s thinking here.

    Much more about the case at this link.

    3) Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a very courageous woman who was raised as a Muslim and has been attempting, in the face of many threats, to warn the western world about the danger of Islamic extremism.  At an event in Washington, Joe Biden informed her that “ISIS had nothing to do with Islam.”  Hirsi Ali disagreed.  To which Slow Joe responded “Let me tell you one or two things about Islam.”

    4) Speaking of  Muslims…Omar Mahmood, a Muslim conservative who is a student at the University of Michigan, wrote a satire on political correctness, mocking the current vogue for claiming “microaggressions.”  He was denounced by students of  the “progressive” persuasion…”people attacked his dorm room door, egging it and leaving copies of his satirical article with notes on the backs including “Shut the f— up!” and “You scum embarrass us” and “DO YOU EVEN GO HERE?! LEAVE!!” along with various others, including an image of a creature with horns and another one of him with his eyes crossed out.”  Mahmood was also fired from the student newspaper.  He says that “the political environment on campus is radically left-wing and intolerant,” noting that:

    “Almost all student clubs have ‘social justice’ wings… some use violent rhetoric, shameless rhetoric, to promote their ideology, and call it ‘liberation.’ They call it ‘tolerance’ and ‘equality’ and ‘creating a safe space’ — which is all very ironic.”

    The students who reacted to Mahmood’s satire in this way are not worthy of being university students, or for that matter American citizens, and the administrators of this university should be ashamed of themselves for allowing such a climate to develop.  They won’t be, though.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Islam, Law, Leftism, Military Affairs | 8 Comments »

    A Critique of Credentialism, circa 1500

    Posted by David Foster on 18th December 2014 (All posts by )

    …from Leonardo da Vinci.

    Leonardo did not attend a university to study the liberal arts, and apparently some of his contemporaries disrespected him considerably because of this omission.  His response:

    Because I am not a literary man some presumptuous persons will think that they may reasonably blame me by arguing that I am an unlettered man.  Foolish men!…They will say that because I have no letters I cannot express well what I want to treat of…They go about puffed up and pompous, dressed and decorated with the fruits not of their own labours but those of others, and they will not allow me my own.  And if they despise me, an inventor, how much more could they–who are not inventors but trumpeters and declaimers of the works of others–be blamed.

    (The quote is from Jean Gimpel’s book The Medieval Machine)

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education, History, Lit Crit | 5 Comments »

    Rape Culture

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 14th December 2014 (All posts by )

    The country is going through one of the increasingly common episodes of hysteria in modern times. In the 17th century, there was the period of The Salem Witch Trials.

    From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft; dozens languished in jail for months without trials until the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts subsided.

    The episode was begun by what sounds like hysterical symptoms occurring in the daughter of the new minister. Before it was over, a number of people of the village of Salem had been accused of witchcraft and 19 were executed and five others had died.

    SALEMCLR

    Suspected witches were examined for certain marks, called “witch marks,” where witches’ “familiars” could nurse. The hysteria ended as quickly as it began. By the end of 1692, it was over and all surviving accused were released.

    The period of the hearings in America after World War II, in which many were accused of being communists, the so-called “McCarthy period,” is often compared to this era and a left wing playwright, Arthur Miller, wrote a play called “The Crucible,” which made the connection between the Salem trials and Senator McCarthy’s accusations the theme.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Education, Feminism, Leftism, Military Affairs, Politics, The Press | 20 Comments »

    Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – The Enemy Within

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 28th November 2014 (All posts by )

    And yet there are signals of personal defeat which are like red lamps on broken roads, to these we must pay heed. I grew anxious when a man’s speech began to betray him; when he was full of windy talk of what the Boche had done in the new sector the battalion was taking over, of some new gas. It was always about something which was going to happen; the wretched fellow must have known the mess would muzzle him if it could, but he seemed driven by some inner force to chatter incessantly of every calamity that could conceivably come to pass. It was as if he had come to terms with the devil himself, that if he could make others as windy, his life would be spared. How full of apprehension the fellow was; death came to him daily in a hundred shapes. This was fear in its infancy. It was a bad sign, for when a man talked like that, his self-respect was going, and the battle was already half lost. It was just a matter of time. Such a man did the battalion no good for the disease was infectious; I was glad to get him away.

    – Lord Moran, The Anatomy of Courage

    [Readers needing background may refer to the earlier members of this series, Don’t Panic: Against the Spirit of the Age; Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series; Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – Ebola or Black Heva?; and Don’t Panic: A Continuing Series – Ebola Realities and the True Test.]

    Not everyone is helpful in what Strauss and Howe call a Crisis Era. This is not a matter of ability or resources, but of attitude. I have recently encountered numerous highly intelligent, capable, and often firmly upper-middle class men who at the slightest provocation vehemently insist that the United States is doomed. This year alone, they have predicted at least three of the last zero national calamities. Repeatedly failed scenarios make no impression on them. Some of these people are actually planning to run and hide somewhere. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, International Affairs, Leftism, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Predictions, Quotations, Society, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 7 Comments »

    Narratives, Scenarios, and Strategies

    Posted by Grurray on 22nd November 2014 (All posts by )

    “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful”

    -George E.P. Box

    Models, predictions, and forecasts are always wrong, or, more accurately, they’re never completely right. That’s obvious since the map can never truly be the territory. Some are better than others, but no matter how hard we try and how much information that we gather, we’ll never construct a representation of reality better than the real thing. That being the case, forecasts therefore reveal more about ourselves and our present state of mind than anything about the future.

    The Research Feature in the fall issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, “Beyond Forecasting: Creating New Strategic Narratives” (link here – requires a one time registration – or purchase Kindle article here for a few dollars), concerns a certain type of forecasting called scenario planning. The authors studied a tech company that was being hit hard during the 2001 economic crash and needed to find new strategies to navigate the rough seas ahead.

    Their research revealed that

    “future projections are intimately tied to interpretations of the past and the present. Strategy making amid volatility thus involves constructing and reconstructing strategic narratives that reimagine the past and present in ways that allow the organization to explore multiple possible futures.”

    These explorations of possible futures, more commonly referred to as scenarios, are stories intended to describe possible futures, identify some significant events, main actors, and motivations, and convey how the world functions.

    The authors note that constructing forecasts based on these methods usually doesn’t work very well because the future is uncertain and often unfolds in a way that is very different from current trajectories. The current paths are comfortable and familiar, so they are difficult to deviate from. Constructing scenarios of the future actually first requires constructing paths that connect the past, present, and future. The narratives are those paths.

    ”In comparing strategy projects within CommCorp, we found that the more work managers do to create novel strategic narratives, the more likely they are to explore alternatives that break with the status quo. In other words, to get to an alternative future, you have to create a story about the past that connects to it.”

    Predicting, prognosticating, and prophesying have been around since time immemorial. The modern version of strategic scenario planning can be attributed to Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute and his “thinking the unthinkable” about nuclear war by taking into account non-linear, disruptive changes that lead to an uncertain future. The first to bring scenarios into the business world was the pioneering strategy guru Pierre Wack at Shell Oil who coined the term. Wack was a colorful and imaginative individual who took Kahn’s insights and repurposed them to affect the quality of judgment rather than quality of predictions.

    Among the many books, case studies, and articles on the Shell planning department, I just completed The Essence of Scenarios: Learning from the Shell Experience, a history of the scenario group culled from interviews of former members. Pierre Wack helped found it and headed it throughout the 1970s. The book concerns the entire history from then until the present, but it devotes a large part to Wack’s work and legacy.

    In contrast to Kahn’s theories, Wack was less concerned about decoding uncertainty or getting predictions right and more concerned with making future uncertainty more relevant to the present situation.

    “Wack was interested in scenarios as a way to ‘see’ the present situation more clearly, rather than as a basis for knowing about the future. The value of the scenarios is not in better forecasting what ‘the’ future will be, but in encouraging already smart people to learn by ‘seeing’ the present situation afresh, from the perspective offered by plausible, alternative futures , in a process that Wack termed ‘disciplined imagination’.”

    With an emphasis on present adaptation instead of future clarity, their first attempts happened to be nicely prescient. Their November 1971 scenarios covering “Producer Government Take/World Economic Development” and their January 1973 scenarios for “Impending Energy Scarcity” presented different tracks for oil prices including: a low slow growth scenario based on the continuation of past agreements with producer countries, a track that the corporate leadership expected; and a high price growth scenario which factored into concerns that producer countries were reaching limits to how much more capital inflows they could absorb.

    These scenarios involved explorations for prices through the late ’70s into the early ’80s. It’s important to keep in mind that, in keeping with the notion that they weren’t meant to be exact predictions, the high price track scenario still ended up being off by a factor of 20 as oil embargoes and inflation pushed prices higher than anyone could have imagined. Despite the fuzziness of the numbers, however, presenting a possible future far off from what was expected shifted thinking outside the company’s comfort zone.

    There was some initial skepticism from top executives, but the scenario planning helped the company to think differently and conditioned them to adjust in flexible ways that they wouldn’t have considered previously. Consideration of the high price track eventually led to Shell investing in nuclear and coal which helped offset the political turmoil and price shock that would arrive in the mid ’70s.

    “In October 1973, the first oil crisis began to unfold, and the entire organization became aware of the possibilities that scenarios offered. The 1973 scenarios report had provided a new frame of reference – the mindset of the oil producer countries. This new frame was significantly different from the usual analytical frame – the mindset of an oil company. The scenarios had enabled Shell executives to rehearse the future as a thought experiment rather than a crisis exercise. When the crisis actually occurred, Shell was able to collectively re-interpret the turbulent situation and to respond much faster than its competitors.”

    In order to be taken seriously, the Shell scenario team had to relate to top management how the oil producers’ situation related to their own situation.

    “In September 1972, Wack gave what those present remember as a three-hour, enthralling performance that was based on an image of the six scenarios as a river forking into two streams, each of which divided into three tributaries. The insight about hither oil prices and possible energy crisis… were integrated into one of these scenarios.”

    This technique demonstrated the narrative of how the high price scenario was linked to Shell’s operations and how it could have sprung forth from Shell’s past. The key was teasing out the culture, values, and qualities of the past that could make that future plausible.

    Similar re-interpretations of the past are what the MIT researchers found were most successful for their tech company. It wasn’t that they provided better predictions, but it helped provide a unifying vision and get everyone to buy into course changes that didn’t seem to fit before.

    “the crash in the market for its existing products had forced everyone at CommCorp to reevaluate the company’s historical strategic trajectory. This questioning enabled one manager to reinterpret CommCorp’s history, not only as a provider of big-ticket hardware for the backbone of the Internet but also as a provider of communications technologies across the whole network. By seeing the company as all about “communications,” the manager was able to propose a project for improving access at the “last mile” of the network. This reinterpretation made a radical shift in a future vision possible: CommCorp could provide small-ticket, standardized products as well as customized, high-end technologies.

    The narratives and scenarios became a way to define the company as it was today and illustrate a more coherent organizational structure. This is possible because of the rich potential of examining the past.

    “strategy making is not about getting the ‘right’ narrative. It’s about getting a narrative that is good enough for now, so that the organization can move forward and take action in uncertain times. This recognizes that strategy will in some ways always be evolving and “emergent.”

    Everyone loves to try to make predictions, but the real value lies in re-evaluating the past and restructuring past trajectories to provide for a launching point to navigate into the future. This “re-programming” the past is the way to deal with an uncertain future. Instead of forecasting futures that merely extrapolate from the status quo or futilely fighting future models that conflict with conventional mental maps, the use of narratives, scenarios, and strategies provides ways to create stronger and more harmonious models of the present.

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Management, Predictions | 16 Comments »

    Observation of the Month

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 17th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Posted in Academia, Ebola | 9 Comments »

    The New Criterion’s Crankiness is Well Founded

    Posted by Ginny on 16th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Two (almost) dead horses at once: the humanities establishment and Obama’s mis- and un-educated view of his responsibilities from The New Criterion,, which can get cranky but isn’t wrong: Instapundit links Mark Bauerlain’s “Humanities”. Flog away he does, but that’s because dead or not establishment academics still educate the next generation and even now some see Obama as a defender of art and light.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Obama | 17 Comments »

    Election Day is Coming Up Fast

    Posted by David Foster on 28th October 2014 (All posts by )

    Spare a thought for the stay at home voter
    Empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
    And a parade of the gray suited grafters
    A choice of cancer or polio

    –The Rolling Stones, 1968

     

    I think quite a few people, including many conservatives/libertarians, are intending to sit this one out.  It’s an understandable sentiment–the “strange beauty shows” have not gotten any more substantive since 1968, quite the contrary, and the “gray suited grafters” have as a class become even graft-ier.  And there is plenty wrong with the institutional Republican Party…too much crony capitalism at the expense of the real free market, too much go-along-to-get-along behavior, too many lame candidates, too much incompetence in political marketing.

    Nevertheless, I think it is of extreme importance for everyone who truly cares about the future of this country–and who understands the harm being done by Barack Obama and the “progressive” movement that he represents–to vote, and in almost all cases to vote for the Republican candidate.

    Because what is facing us right now is not “a choice of cancer or polio.”  It is a choice between a chronic disease which is unpleasant, but may eventually be curable, and an accute disease that will kill or permanently cripple the patient in short order.

    Free speech is under severe attack by the American Left.  There have been moves to have the FCC and/or the FEC regulate Internet expressions of opinion, further entrenching the monopolistic position of the establishment media…and even traditional media companies are finding considerable hostility from the Obama administration should they step the least little bit out of line.  “Political correctness” dominates many if not most university campuses.  People in the private sector have been driven out of their jobs because of their personal political opinions.  The administrative and police power of the State is being used against political opponent;  see for example the IRS case and the use of SWAT teams to invade the homes of Scott Walker supporters on highly questionable grounds–actions which, George Will argues convincingly, are politically motivated by a desire to intimidate Walker supporters and defeat him in the upcoming election. Direct violence or threats of violence by Leftists and their supporters, directed at purveyors of non-Left-approved opinions, also appears to be on the upswing; see for example the hundreds of death threats directed against a black Chicago pastor who had the audacity to endorse a Republican candidate for Illinois governor.

    Perhaps most disturbing of all are the intrusions into the computers used by former CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson and the evidence that government agencies may have played a role in this–including the planting of false evidence against Ms Attkisson.  I do not think we can consider this verified at the present time-and may never know for sure who was behind this operation–but it is certainly consistent with the “progressive” pattern.

    My point is that the window for deflecting the “progressive” takeover of American politics and institutions is rapidly closing.  Intrusions on free expression, and enablement of voting corruption, are likely to make it increasingly almost impossible to change directions in the future.  A Republican majority in the Senate, and a maintained or increased Republican majority in the House, together with a goodly number of Republican governorships, will not solve these problems, but will offer a far better chance of bringing them under control than will the alternative.

    There are also very serious threats facing the United States and its allies on the international front: especially,  the prospective Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons.  There is every reason to believe that Obama intends to reach a deal which lifts sanctions without seriously dismantling Iran’s uranium-enrichment capabilities.  The likelihood of this happening is definitely increased or decreased by any increase or decrease in the political power of the Democratic Party.

    I urge you most seriously to vote–to vote Republican (unless there is an alternative candidate who can really win, not just “make a statement”)–and to contribute money directly to your preferred candidates…you may not be able to match the very large contributions being made by Hollywood types and other wealthy Democrats and entities such as the teachers’ unions, but every bit helps.  Voting and contributing now helps ensure that you will have a meaningful opportunity to vote, contribute, and engage in political discourse in future elections.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Elections, Leftism, Obama, Politics, USA | 28 Comments »

    Aspiring American Elites versus America

    Posted by David Foster on 11th October 2014 (All posts by )

    Here’s a video in which various Harvard students assert that the United States is a worse threat to world peace than is the terrorist organization ISIS.

    This isn’t a statistically-valid survey, and we don’t really know from it what proportion of Harvard students share these views.  But there are certainly a disturbing number of highly-educated (or at least highly-credentialed) Americans who feel this way about their country.  I am reminded once againtof an essay that C S Lewis wrote in March 1940.  At that time, there was evidently a movement among British youth to “repent” England’s sins (which evidently were thought to include the treaty of Versailles) and to “forgive” England’s enemies.

    Young Christians especially..are turning to it in large numbers. They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England…Most of these young men were children…when England made many of those decisions to which the present disorders could plausibly be traced. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?

    If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happen) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society…The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor; for a foreign secretary or a cabinet minister is certainly a neighbor…A group of such young penitents will say, “Let us repent our national sins”; what they mean is, “Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.”

    Lewis points out that when a man who was raised to be patriotic tries to repent the sins of England, he is attempting something that will be difficult for him.

    But an educated man who is now in his twenties usually has no such sentiment to mortify. In art, in literature, in politics, he has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother’s milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasms of his less-educated fellow countrymen.

    It’s hard to believe that this was written more than 50 years ago–it’s such a bulls-eye description of a broad swath of our current “progressives.” (The only difference being that many of them today are a lot older than “in their twenties.”)

    But now Lewis comes to the real meat of his argument.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anti-Americanism, Britain, Leftism, Terrorism, USA | 23 Comments »

    Book Review: Nice Work, by David Lodge

    Posted by David Foster on 12th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Nice Work by David Lodge

    —-

    What happens when an expert on 19th-century British industrial novels—who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory?

    This not being a time-travel novel, the factory is a contemporary one for the book’s setting in mid-1980s Britain.  It is a metalworking plant called Pringle’s, run by managing director Vic Wilcox.  Vic is not thrilled when his boss  (Pringle’s is owned by a conglomerate) suggests that he participate in something called the “shadow” program, designed to make academics and businesspeople better-acquainted with one another, but he goes along with the request.

    Robyn Penrose, literature professor at a nearby university, is also not thrilled about her nomination to participate in the program, but she is concerned about her job in an era of reduced university funding, and also thinks she had better do as asked.  The way the program works is that Robyn will be Vic’s “shadow,”  joining him at the plant every Wednesday, sitting in on his regular activities, and learning just a bit about what is involved in managing a business.

    Vic is a self-made man, not well-educated and with few interests outside work.  He is acutely aware of the danger that faces Pringle’s under the current economic climate, and is resolved that his factory will not join the long list of those that have been tossed on the scrapheap.

    There is nothing quite so forlorn as a closed factory–Vic Wilcox knows, having supervised a shutdown himself in his time.  A factory is sustained by the energy of its own functioning, the throb and whine of machinery, the unceasing motion of assembly lines, the ebb and flow of workers changing shifts, the hiss of airbrakes and the growl of diesel engines from wagons delivering raw materials at one gate, taking away finished goods at the other.  When you put a stop to all that, when the place is silent and empty, all that is left is a large, ramshackle shed–cold, filthy and depressing.  Well, that won’t happen at Pringle’s, hopefully, as they say.  Hopefully.

    Robyn and Vic dislike each other on first meeting:  Vic sees Robyn’s profession as useless, which Robyn sees Vic’s managerial role as brutal and greedy.  She is appalled by what she sees in her first tour of the factory..especially the foundry:

    They crossed another yard, where hulks of obsolete machinery crouched, bleeding rust into their blankets of snow, and entered a large building with a high vaulted roof hidden in gloom.  This space rang with the most barbaric noise Robyn had ever experienced…The floor was covered with a black substance that looked like soot, but grated under the soles of her boots like sand.  The air reeked with a sulphurous, resinous smell, and a fine drizzle of black dust fell on their heads from the roof.  Here and there the open doors of furnaces glowed a dangerous red, and in the far corner of the building what looked like a stream of molten lave trickled down a curved channel from roof to floor…It was the most terrible place she had ever been in her life.  To say that to herself restored the original meaning of the word “terrible”:  it provoked terror, even a kind of awe.  To think of being that man, wrestling with the heavy awkward lumps of metal in that maelstrom of heat, dust and stench, deafened by the unspeakable noise of the vibrating grid, working like that for hour after hour, day after day….That he was black seemed the final indignity:  her heart swelled with the recognition of the spectacle’s powerful symbolism.

    But still:

    The situation was so bizarre, so totally unlike her usual environment, that there was a kind of exhilaration to be found in it…She thought of what her colleagues and students might be doing this Wednesday morning–earnestly discussing the poetry of John Donne or the novels of Jane usten or the nature of modernism, in centrally heated, carpeted rooms…Penny Black would be feeding more statistics on wife-beating in the West Midlands into her data-based, and Robyn’s mother would be giving a coffee morning for some charitable cause…What would they all think if they could see her now?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Human Behavior, Management | 12 Comments »

    Thought-Provoking Posts from Italy, continued

    Posted by David Foster on 11th August 2014 (All posts by )

    …some additional Joy of Knitting posts found at archive.org.

     

    Immigration 8/29/04:

    Those who want an unlimited number of immigrants to move into our country always say sighingly, to the sound of violins, “we were a nation of migrants…”. Which means that as Eyties once used to migrate to other countries, now we have to be generous and take in a billion people. I’m not against immigration, provided that it’s legal and regulated according to established quotas. But I also think that, as Italy can’t provide a decent livelihood for millions upon millions of immigrants, it’s useless to attract them here only to condemn them to a hand to mouth existence. Better support the economy in their own countries. Likewise the same beautiful souls look indulgently on crimes committed by immigrants reminding us that “we exported the Mafia”. Alas, so we did. However, as foreign governments quite rightly adopted whatever measures they deemed necessary to stamp it out, so we shouldn’t condone immigrant criminality. It would be offensive to law-abiding immigrants, sending them the message that they are racially inferior and therefore unable to tell right from wrong.

     

    Communism as a Religion 11/18/04:

    The fact that communism is a religion first dawned on me in the seventies. It struck me that, for all their virulent anti-Catholicism, comrades weren’t after all that different from the most bigoted among their opponents. They believed in Marxism with such a blind faith that merely hearing a different opinion made them fly into a rage and scream “fascist!” with the zeal of an Inquisitor. There were lots of dogmas to believe in unquestioningly, the coming of the Revolution, something called “the centrality of the working class”, proletarian violence, and lots more. No one could depart one jot from the approved faith on pain of excommunication. The doctrine was Marxism, enshrined in its holy texts, and the main prophet was Marx, but there were other prophets, like Lenin. There were saints, like Che Guevara. The god of this religion was a somewhat nebulous figure, either communism itself or a mythical entity called the People, or the Masses, or the Proletariat, which did not in reality correspond to any actual group of persons. Comrades talked about their love humanity all the time, but if there was something they couldn’t stand it was people. Human beings are so messy, so unpredictable, always botching up beautiful dreams of a perfect society in which everybody would be free to do as he is told by the comrades themselves, for his own good, of course. Their idea of paradise, where everyone would be exactly like everyone else, would be brought about by the Revolution. Belief in the Revolution was a central dogma of their faith, the one around which everything gravitated. It was the eschatological event that would lead, through purifying proletarian violence, to palingenesis, to total world renovation. It would be the Second Coming, the Apocalypse, the end of time, freeing humanity from its chains and placing it outside history. With the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the final triumph of the communist god, there would be no more history. That is, no more anxiety-inducing change, but endless stagnation. Where was Satan in all this? It was capitalistic bourgeois society. An often repeated slogan in those days was “The bourgeois state must be destroyed, not changed”. Criminals were therefore seen as romantic outcasts, the victims of bourgeois society, and terrorists were heroes of the People who fought for the Revolution. If they had to choose between criminals (or terrorists) and their victims, comrades would sympathise with the former and blame the latter. Imagine the left’s predicament in these days. Towards the end of the seventies, when revolutionary ideals started showing cracks, many comrades went mad or even committed suicide. Now, they must either wake up, face reality and renege on everything they’ve believed in so far, or just keep on dreaming.

    When the Translator is a Deconstructionist 11/25/04:

    I once bought a book of John Donne’s poems. I found an Italian edition with the original text on one page and the translation on the facing page. Plus, there was a short introduction about ten pages long. So far, so good. I took the book home, sat down to read it, and got a big surprise. When I happened to glance at the translation I found out that it was much more difficult than the original. The critic who had done it and had also written the introduction was a deconstructivist. While Donne’s text was easy to understand and not at all as obscure as I had been told it was, the translation into my own language was incomprehensible, twisted and tortured, with short, abrupt sentences that did nothing to follow the sustained flow of the original. The translator had rewritten the poems to his liking, even deliberately altering the meaning of the words, but the result had nothing in common with Donne’s work. Determined to see all of the horror perpetrated, I tried to read the introduction, ten miserable pages in a mysterious Italian I couldn’t understand. In the end I gave up. The problem is that the average student who couldn’t yet read English Metaphysical Poetry in the original would have thought that was Donne. The same thing happens to all those who touch anything deconstructivists have been messing about with, like cultures and civilizations. Claiming reality doesn’t exist, they present their own mistaken perceptions as the only possible reality, and want others to behave as if that was the only truth available.

     

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Deep Thoughts, Europe, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, Leftism | 6 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 7th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Knitted footwear…may have significant implications for the global shoe industry

    US Civil Rights commissioner uses “science” to argue for restricting the free speech rights of college students.  (Is anyone surprised that he was formerly an aide to Nancy Pelosi?)

    College professor accuses program about gardening of being “racist”

    Functional geniuses and business idiots

    Fuel cells as a major energy source:  for real this time?

    Sea and sand from the sky.  More here.

    The Social Pathologist is back!

    Posted in Academia, Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Energy & Power Generation, Management, Photos | 13 Comments »

    Recent Events in the Middle East

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd August 2014 (All posts by )

    …remind me of a few things.

    There are a lot of people who can’t understand why Israel can’t just achieve a compromise settlement with the Palestinian leadership, in Gaza and elsewhere.  In response to this kind of  thinking, here’s a comment by the writer and former Army intelligence officer Ralph Peters, written circa 2006:

    One of the most consistently disheartening experiences an adult can have today is to listen to the endless attempts by our intellectuals and intelligence professionals to explain religious terrorism in clinical terms, assigning rational motives to men who have moved irrevocably beyond reason. We suffer under layers of intellectual asymmetries that hinder us from an intuititive recognition of our enemies.

    And in 1940, the French politician Paul Reynaud, who became Prime Minister of France just two months before the German invasion, incisively explained what was at stake at that point in time, and why it was so much greater than what had been at stake in 1914:

    People think Hitler is like Kaiser Wilhelm. The old gentleman only wanted to take Alsace-Lorraine from us. But Hitler is Genghis Khan.(approximate quote)

    Today’s radical Islamists, including leaders of Hamas, often assert: “We love death like you love life.” This expression is very close to that of the Spanish Fascists of the 1930s: “Long live death!”  The Fascist motto was taken from that of the Spanish Foreign legion….it is pretty strange even as the motto of an elite military force, and, when adopted as the motto of a society-wide movement, is a pretty good indicator of people who have moved “irrevocably beyond reason,” as Peters puts it.

    The excuse-making for Palestinian terrorism, and romanticization of same, continues.  It is especially strong today in Europe, but also exists on a considerable scale in the U.S., and indeed, even some Jews and Jewish organizations seem to be bending over backwards  to find some moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas.  I believe the psychological mechanisms behind these attitudes are significantly explained in a  1940 essay by C S Lewis on the “Dangers of National Repentance.” When Lewis wrote (March 1940), there was evidently a movement among Christian youth to “repent” England’s sins (which evidently were thought to include the treaty of Versailles) and to “forgive” England’s enemies.

    “Young Christians especially..are turning to it in large numbers,” Lewis wrote. “They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England…Most of these young men were children…when England made many of those decisions to which the present disorders could plausibly be traced. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?”

    “If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happen) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society…The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor; for a foreign secretary or a cabinet minister is certainly a neighbor…A group of such young penitents will say, “Let us repent our national sins”; what they mean is, “Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.” (Emphasis added.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Britain, France, History, Israel, Jewish Leftism, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    Money, Politics, Media, and Academia

    Posted by David Foster on 28th July 2014 (All posts by )

    Much discussion lately about money and politics—about contributions in-kind, not so much.

    As is well-known, the mass media in general slants Left.  Importantly, this is not only the case with explicit news and opinion shows (viz Bob Simon’s 60 Minutes smear against Israel), but also more indirectly, in the case of messages–subtle or otherwise–contained in fictional TV programs and films.  To take one example out of many, HBO managed to work a slam against Republicans in general, and Ted Cruz in particular, into a vampire movie. And, of course, many prominent newspapers transmit left-aligned messages in virtually all sections of the paper, from the front page through the Style section.

    It would be difficult to put a financial value on the in-kind contributions being made by the media to the Democratic Party and the Left in general, but surely to purchase equivalent coverage at commercial ad rates would run into the multiple billions of dollars, probably the tens of billions.  Additional in-kind contributions to the cause on the Left are being made by many academics, who choose to use their taxpayer-and-tuition-provided salaries and classrooms for political preaching or at least subtle brand-promotion activities.

    Placing tight restrictions on explicit political contributions would have the effect of further increasing the power–greatly further increasing the power–of those institutions which are in a position to directly conduct political speech….those who own a microphone instead of having to pay for access to one.

    See this piece on restricting speech to the political class, with excerpt from Ace:

    It occurs to me that the Left is attempting to create a system wherein there are two different classes of citizenship, one fully possessed of its right to speak and act politically, the other whose rights in this regard are sharply curtailed. . . .
    The Left, were it to have its way, would forbid anyone who is not primarily in the business of politics (or working for the government or university) from exercising their full political rights.  If you work in any other industry, your rights are substantially reduced. . . .The only people who would be permitted to speak on political issues, or at in accordance with their social/cultural/religious/political principles, would be the Political Class Itself, which is of course largely “progressive.”

    See also the divine right of the US media…note especially this statement by someone who works for the New York Times:

    The government really needs to get its message out to the American people, and it knows that the best way to do that is by using the American news media,” said Shanker. “The relationship between the government and the media is like a marriage; it is a dysfunctional marriage to be sure, but we stay together for the kids.”

    How do you feel about being considered as a child under the parental authority of media-company employees and government officials such as Obama’s State Department spokesidiot Jen Psaki?  Want to see these people effectively given more even more power than they already have?

    Posted in Academia, Advertising, Elections, Leftism, Media, Politics, USA | 7 Comments »

    Words and Phrases I Dislike: “Middle-Skilled Jobs”

    Posted by David Foster on 20th July 2014 (All posts by )

    WSJ has a good article about three people who have put themselves on good career trajectories without benefit of 4-year college degrees.  One is a welder, one is a nurse, and one is an owner of franchised fast-food restaurants.  Unfortunately, however, the article uncritically uses the term “middle-skilled jobs,” which is seen increasingly in articles about the job market.  These jobs are said to be those which require more than high school and less than four years of college, and typically involve some sort of technical or practical training.

    “Middle-skilled”….really?  Is the job of a toolmaker in a factory really less-skilled than the entry-level job likely to be obtained by someone with an undergraduate Sociology degree?  Is a nurse’s job less-skilled than the work likely to be assigned to someone hired on the basis of his English degree?  Does owning and operating a food truck really require less skill than the kind of tasks typically assigned to an undergraduate Business major?  Is the work of an air traffic controller less-skilled than the kind of a job likely to result from a major in Victim Studies?

    It is good that there is increasing recognition of good career paths not requiring college degrees; however, the term “Middle-Skilled Jobs” is misleading and contributes to the continuation of credential-worship.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Media, Tech | 17 Comments »

    Book Review: That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

    Posted by David Foster on 24th June 2014 (All posts by )

    That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis

    —-

    This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.

    Mark Studdock is a young on-the-make sociologist, a professor at Bracton College, in an English town called Edgestow. He is is far more interested in university politics than in his research or teaching. and as a member of the “progressive element” at the college, he strongly supports Bracton selling a tract of property to a government-sponsored entity called NICE. The NICE is the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation,which Lewis describes as “the first fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world.”  What excites Mark most about the NICE is this:

    The real thing is that this time we’re going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past.  One hopes, of course, that it’ll find out more than the old freelance science did, but what’s certain is that it can do more.

    Trigger Warning: There is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  It contains things that will offend technologists and believers in human progress…social scientists…feminists…academic administrators…bioscience researchers…and surely many other categories of people.  It will probably also offend some Christians, for the way in which Christian theology is mixed with non-Christian magic. By the standards now becoming current in American universities, this book, and even this book review, should be read by no one at all.  But for those who do not accept those standards…

    The Basic Story. Mark has recently married Jane, a woman with strong literary interests and with vague plans for getting an advanced degree. She has recently started having disturbing, indeed terrifying, dreams, which suggest that she has a clairvoyant ability to see distant events in real time. Afraid that she is losing her mind, Jane seeks advice, and is told that her dreams are actually visions, they are very real, will not stop, and are of utmost importance:

    “Young lady,” said Miss Ironwood, “You do not at all realize the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, and even the life, of you and me, is of no importance.”

    Miss Ironwood warns Jane that extremely evil people will seek to use her gift, and that she would do well–both for her own interests and those of the entire human race–to join the community of which Miss Ironwood is a part, located at a place called St Anne’s. Jane responds quite negatively to the invitation, afraid that membership in the St Anne’s group will limit her autonomy. She is not interested in the dreams’ meaning; she just wants them to go away.

    Mark, on the other hand, responds enthusiastically when he is invited to take a position at the NICE, temporarily located at an old manor called Belbury.  One of the first people he meets there is the Head of the Institutional Police, a woman named Miss Hardcastle (picture Janet Napolitano), nicknamed the Fairy, who explains to Mark her theory of crime and punishment:

    “Here in the Institute, we’re backing the crusade against Red Tape.”  Mark gathered that, for the Fairy, the police side of the Institute was the really important side…In general, they had already popularized in the press the idea that the Institute should be allowed to experiment pretty largely in the hope of discovering how far humane, remedial treatment could be substituted for the old notion of “retributive” or “vindictive” punishment…The Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite; you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was.  And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention?  Soon anyone who had ever been in the hands of the police at all would come under the control of the NICE; in the end, every citizen.

    Another person Mark meets in his first days at Belbury is the acclaimed chemist William Hingest…who has also come down to investigate the possibility of a job at Belbury, has decided against it, and strongly advises Mark to do likewise:

    “I came down here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it’s something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home. I’m too old for that kind of thing, and if I wanted to join a conspiracy, this one wouldn’t be my choice.”

    “You mean, I suppose, that the element of social planning doesn’t appeal to you? I can quite understand that it doesn’t fit in with your work as it does with sciences like Sociology, but–“

    “There are no sciences like Sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn’t wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I’d let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again…I happen to believe that you can’t study men, you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing. Because you study them, you want to make the lower orders govern the country and listen to classical music, which is balderdash. You also want to take away from them everything that makes life worth living and not only from them but from everyone except a parcel of prigs and professors.”

    Nevertheless, Mark decides to remain at Belbury, and is drawn ever-deeper into its activities–which, as only those in the innermost circles of that organization realize, are not only consistent with the goals of the 20th-century totalitarianisms, but go considerably beyond them.  The NICE seeks to establish a junction between the powers of modern science and those of ancient magic, accessing the latter by awakening the medieval wizard Merlin and using him for their purposes.  At the same time, Jane–despite her reservations–becomes increasingly involved  with the company at St Anne’s and is entranced with its leader, a Mr Fisher-King. (His name comes from the Wounded King in Arthurian legend.)  The St Anne’s group is aware of the truth about NICE and its ultimate goals, and exists for the primary purpose of opposing and, hopefully, destroying that organization.

    I will not here describe the war between the forces of Belbury and those of St Anne’s (in order to avoid spoilers), but will instead comment on the characters of some of the protagonists and some philosophically-significant events in the novel, with appropriate excerpts. Hopefully this will be enough to give a sense of the worldview that Lewis is presenting in this book.

    Mark Studdock. His character is largely defined by his strong desire to be a member of the Inner Circle, whatever that inner circle may be in a particular context.  The passage at the start of this review where Mark agrees to engage in criminal activity on Belbury’s behalf is proceeded by this:

    After a few evenings Mark ventured to walk into the library on his own; a little uncertain of his reception, yet afraid that if he did not soon assert his right to the entree this modesty might damage him. He knew that the error in either direction is equally fatal.

    It was a success. Before he had closed the door behind him all had turned with welcoming faces and Filostrato had said “Ecco ” and the Fairy, “Here’s the very man.” A glow of pleasure passed over Mark’s whole body.

    That “glow of pleasure” at being accepted by the Belbury’s Inner Circle (what Mark then thinks is Belbury’s Inner Circle) is strong enough to overcome any moral qualms on Mark’s part about the actions he is being requested to perform.  Lewis has written a great deal elsewhere about the lust for the Inner Circle, which in his view never leads to satisfaction but only to a longing for membership in another, still-more-inner circle. In That Hideous Strength, there are concentric Inner Circles at Belbury, which Mark does penetrate–and each is more sinister than the last.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 12 Comments »

    The Rule of Credentialed “Experts”

    Posted by David Foster on 14th June 2014 (All posts by )

    Lead and Gold links an article by Noemie Emery:

    They had a dream. For almost a hundred years now, the famed academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex has dreamed of a government run by their kind of people (i.e., nature’s noblemen), whose intelligence, wit, and refined sensibilities would bring us a heaven on earth. Their keen intellects would cut through the clutter as mere mortals’ couldn’t. They would lift up the wretched, oppressed by cruel forces. Above all, they would counter the greed of the merchants, the limited views of the business community, and the ignorance of the conformist and dim middle class…Their stock in trade was their belief in themselves, and their contempt for the way the middle class thought, lived, and made and spent money: Commerce was crude, consumption was vulgar, and industry, which employed millions and improved the lives of many more people, too gross and/or grubby for words.

    These attitudes, Emery notes, explain the passionate attraction that so many academics and journalists felt toward Barack Obama:

    Best of all, he was the person whom the two branches of the liberal kingdom—the academics and journalists—wanted to be, a man who shared their sensibilities and their views of the good and the beautiful. This was the chance of a lifetime to shape the world to their measure. He and they were the ones they were waiting for, and with him, they longed for transcendent achievements. But in the event they were undone by the three things (Fred) Siegel had pegged as their signature weaknesses: They had too much belief in the brilliance of experts, they were completely dismissive of public opinion, and they had a contempt for the great middle class.

    Much of the “expertise” asserted by people in the academic-artistic-and-punditry complex is entirely imaginary, as far as the organization and management of social institutions goes.  L&G cites one of my old posts at Photon Courier:

    In university humanities departments, theory is increasingly dominant–not theory in the traditional scholarly and scientific sense of a tentative conceptual model, always subject to revision, but theory in the sense of an almost religious doctrine, accepted on the basis of assertion and authority. To quote Professor “X” once again: “Graduate “education” in a humanities discipline like English seems to be primarily about indoctrination and self-replication.”… 

    Becoming an alcolyte of some all-encompassing theory can spare you from the effort of learning about anything else. For example: if everything is about (for example) power relationships–all literature, all history, all science, even all mathematics–you don’t need to actually learn much about medieval poetry, or about the Second Law of thermodynamics, or about isolationism in the 1930s. You can look smugly down on those poor drudges who do study such things, while enjoying “that intellectual sweep of comprehension known only to adolescents, psychopaths and college professors” (the phrase is from Andrew Klavan’s unusual novel True Crime.)

    See also L&G’s post How We Live Now: The Rule of Inept Experts.

    I  believe that the overemphasis on educational credentials has played a major part in shifting the power balance between Line and Staff in organizations of all types…here, I am using “Line” to refer to people who have decision-making authority and responsibility, and corresponding accountability for outcomes, while “Staff” refers to people who analyze, study, and advise, but are not themselves decision-makers.  It was once pretty well understood that one should not take a person whose entire experience is in Staff positions (however exalted) and put him in a high-level Line position, where the consequences of failure will be very serious, without first having him gain experience and prove his performance in lower-level Line positions where the consequences of failure will be less-devastating to the entire organization.  This seems to be much less well-understood today, the ultimate example of course being the career path of Barack Obama.

    Fred Siegel, mentioned in Noemie Emery’s article, is the author of the very interesting book The Revolt Against the Masses, which is on my (long) list of books that need reviewing.

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Book Notes, Business, Civil Society, Management, Media, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 17 Comments »

    The Rise of the American Clerisy

    Posted by David Foster on 9th June 2014 (All posts by )

    Joel Kotkin:

    The very term Clerisy first appeared in 1830 in the work of Samuel Coleridge to described the bearers society’s highest ideals: the intellectuals, pastors, scientists charged with transmitting their privileged knowledge them to the less enlightened orders.  

    The rise of today’s Clerisy stems from the growing power and influence of its three main constituent parts: the creative elite of media and entertainment, the academic community, and the high-level government bureaucracy.

    The Clerisy operates on very different principles than its rival power brokers, the oligarchs of finance, technology or energy. The power of the knowledge elite does not stem primarily from money, but in persuading, instructing and regulating the rest of society. Like the British Clerisy or the old church-centered French First Estate, the contemporary Clerisy increasingly promotes a single increasingly parochial ideology and, when necessary, has the power to marginalize, or excommunicate, miscreants from the public sphere.

    Definitely read the whole thing.

    Via Stuart Schneiderman

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Society, History, Media, Politics, USA | 2 Comments »

    Literature, Literary Criticism, and the American College Student

    Posted by David Foster on 5th June 2014 (All posts by )

    True Blue writes about his younger cousin, who just graduated from Columbia University. Previously, she attended a high school associated with the University of Chicago (where both of her parents are professors.).

    Walking through a bookstore the other day, she asked me if “Dickens is worth reading.” I thought she was joking. Dear readers, I was very wrong. It so happens, through all of high school and college, she had never been assigned Dickens, Chaucer, Milton, T.S. Eliot, Austen, or Melville! The list went on and on. Needless to say, nary a Bible was cracked during all this time either.  

    Effectively, my cousin was raised without a heritage. Her American/English-speaking birthright was denied her. Though she thought herself in possession of a stellar academic background, she knows worse than nothing about her civilization. I say “worse than nothing” because her head has been crammed full of multi-culti garbage.

    It will come as no surprise when I tell you that she read Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison in high school.

    Personally, I don’t have much useful to say about Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison; I’ve read very little by either of them and with what I’ve read, I was not very impressed. I have, however, heard some of Maya Angelou’s work referenced in very positive terms by people whose literary judgments I respect.  I think the point here is not that there’s anything bad about reading contemporary authors, but there’s plenty bad about reading contemporary (and highly trendy) authors to the exclusion of all other literature.

    Thomas Bertonneau writes about his experiences teaching literary criticism in college:

    Increasingly in our post-literate society, however, few students at the undergraduate level (and surprisingly few even at the master’s-degree level) bring with them much in the way of exposure to literature.  Today’s students have read few books. What they have read is typically the topical, published-yesterday fiction that the hucksters of the scholastic book market sell to the middle schools and high schools as “edgy,” “with it,” or “out-of-the-headlines” portrayals of teenage anxiety…

    Since I occasionally teach my department’s Introduction to Literary Criticism, I have had to think the problem through. When I recently received the assignment to teach the course again, I moved “proactively.” 

    A survey on the first day of class confirmed my expectations. Among them, the sixteen students could produce the titles of only eight novels that they had read (but that not all of them had read). Of the three most-mentioned (five students had read all three) were Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games (2008), its sequel Catching Fire (2009), and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (2005).  Four students listed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby (1925); one listed Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). Four out of the ten coeds, but none of the men, had read Jay Asher’s adolescent female suicide-story Thirteen Reasons Why(2007). A few students had read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but none had read Hamlet or The Tempest. No student could name a poem by William Wordsworth, John Keats, or Robert Frost.

    Read the whole article to learn how Prof Bertonneau approached the problem of teaching literary criticism to these kids.

     

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education, Lit Crit, USA | 8 Comments »

    Checking Privilege

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 20th May 2014 (All posts by )

    Oh, not to worry – I had my privilege topped up last week. Full of privilege I am, and ready to go … I assume that this is the ephemeral white privilege that these undergraduates-of-excruciatingly-top-drawer-non-state-uni muppets are referring to? Is this the female privilege, the veteran privilege, or the mainstream religious privilege, or even the privilege of having been brought up by a relatively well-adjusted heterosexual married couple in those benighted times when it was possible and even laudable for a male to go out and earn a living, while the spouse (usually referred to as a help-mate) stayed at home, raised the children, organized the housekeeping and the meals, the education, clothing and schooling of those children, the social sphere in which she and the pay-check winning spouse moved, and volunteered in the community where they lived … that must be it. (Hey, I’ll swipe my privilege card through the dispenser, just in case I have burned through some of my previously-deposited privilege.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Leftism, Urban Issues | 8 Comments »

    When Formalism Kills

    Posted by David Foster on 1st May 2014 (All posts by )

    I’ve read a great deal about the French defeat of 1940, attempting to understand the military, political, and cultural factors behind this debacle. (Some of my conclusions can be found here.)  I had not, however, encountered a report Picasso’s response to Matisse, when the latter asked him, “But what about our generals, what are they doing?”

    According to this article, Picasso’s response was “Our generals? They’re the masters at the Ecole des Beaux Arts!”…ie, men possessed by the same rote formulae and absence of observation and obsessive traditionalism as the academic artists.

    Picasso’s comment is entirely consistent with the observations of Andre Beaufre, in 1940 a young captain on the French staff and after the war a general. When Beaufre was promoted to a staff position…

    I saw very quickly that our seniors were primarily concerned with forms of drafting. Every memorandum had to be perfect, written in a concise, impersonal style, and conforming to a logical and faultless plan–but so abstract that it had to be read several times before one could find out what it was about…”I have the honour to inform you that I have decided…I envisage…I attach some importance to the fact that…” Actually no one decided more than the barest minimum, and what indeed was decided was pretty trivial.

    I believe that the kind of formalism of which Picasso and Beaufre spoke is becoming increasingly dominant in many spheres of American society (though hopefully not the the degree to which it pervaded the inter-war French military…and that this malign phenomenon is largely a side effect of the higher-education bubble, although it is also being driven to a certain extent by the growth of government and the increasingly-abstract nature of much work.

    Thoughts?

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, France, History, USA | 11 Comments »

    Letting It Burn

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 29th April 2014 (All posts by )

    As a matter of interest as an independent author, with some affection for science fiction … (principally Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, and once upon a time for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, both of which explored in an interesting and readable way, a whole range of civilizational conceits and technologies with a bearing on what they produced vis-a-viz political organizations, man-woman relations, and alternate societies of the possible future … oh, where was I? Complicated parenthetical sentence again; science fiction. Right-ho, Jeeves – back on track.) … I have been following the current SFWA-bruhaha with the fascinated interest of someone squeezing past a spectacular multi-car pile-upon the Interstate. Not so much – how did this happen, and whose stupid move at high speed impelled the disaster – but how will it impact ordinary commuters in their daily journey, and will everyone walk away from it OK? So far, the answers to that are pretty much that it will only matter to those directly involved (although it will be productive of much temporary pain) and yes – pretty near everyone will walk away. Scared, scarred, P-O’d and harboring enduring grudges, but yes, they will walk away, personally and professionally. Some of these are walking away at speed and being pretty vocal about why.
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    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Entrepreneurship, Human Behavior, Leftism, Libertarianism, Media, USA | 17 Comments »

    Education for America 3.0 – now

    Posted by leifsmith on 29th March 2014 (All posts by )

    Interview with Isaac Morehouse, co-founder of Praxis Institute, about their programs for (in my words) people who want to live in America 3.0. The interview is by Bill Freeza, Competitive Enterprise Institute, on Real Clear Radio. If you like America 3.0 you will think this is a great interview!

    blog.discoverpraxis.com/2014/03/04/praxis-interview-on-real-clear-radio

    Also posted on one of my own sites: http://www.scoop.it/t/freeorder

    Posted in Academia, America 3.0, Education, Entrepreneurship, Philosophy, Society | Comments Off

    Spiritual Battles and Contemporary Politics, continued

    Posted by David Foster on 21st March 2014 (All posts by )

    A couple of weeks ago, I commented on an article by Joseph Bottum about the search for spiritual meaning as a driver of “progressive” politics.

    Comes now an essay by David Goldman–The Rise of  Secular Religion–which is in part a review of Mr Bottum’s new book, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America. Recommended reading. Excerpt:

    America’s consensus culture, Bottum argues, is the unmistakable descendant of the old Protestant Mainline, in particular the “Social Gospel” promulgated by Walter Rauschenbusch before the First World War and adopted by the liberal majority in the Mainline denominations during the 1920s. Although this assertion seems unremarkable at first glance, the method that Bottum brings to bear is entirely original. A deeply religious thinker, he understands spiritual life from the inside. He is less concerned with the outward forms and specific dogmas of religion than with its inner experience, and this approach leads him down paths often inaccessible to secular inquiry. The book should be disturbing not only to its nominal subjects, the “Poster Children” of post-Protestant America, but also to their conservative opposition. The battle is joined on a plane far removed from the quotidian concept of political debate.

    Closely related: Carbon Dioxide as Original Sin. Excerpt:

    Thanks to this new green faith, our smallest acts have incalculable repercussions. The world seems literally to hang on whether we leave the water running as we brush our teeth, take the subway rather than drive, or flick off the switch as we exit a room. The humblest objects are alive with meaning. Bruckner calls it “post-technological animism” (33). Environmentalist discourse, he suggests, is a variation on the Fall of Genesis: eating of the fruit of the tree of scientific knowledge has driven us from God-given Paradise.

    (link via American Digest)

    Also see Paul Gottfried on the lack of interest in logical argument prevalent among today’s leftist campus professors, and how this differs from the attitudes of their predecessors of a few decades ago. Indeed, if contemporary “progressivism” is a religion, it is not a religion of the intellectual system-building type represented by, say, Saint Thomas Acquinas or William of Ockham, but rather of the most emotionally-driven type of snake-handling fundamentalism.

    Also related to this topic of spiritual hunger as a driver of political belief: Arthur Koestler’s novel of ideas The Age of Longing, which I reviewed at length here:  Sleeping with the Enemy.

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Environment, Human Behavior, Leftism, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics, Religion, USA | 25 Comments »

    Rape Culture

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 20th March 2014 (All posts by )

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    The college scene is all agog about rape culture. How do we know if it is a problem ?

    It’s a phrase you hear a lot. But, what exactly does it mean? Is there one general definition? Not necessarily. In many ways the phrase evokes the famous Supreme Court comment about obscenity from Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.”

    And, you don’t have to look far to see examples of rape culture these days. Whether it’s advertising, movies, music videos or social media — images, words, concepts — it’s all out there illustrating men dominating women.

    So, now we know the problem. It is men.

    Popular movies are strewn with plots of men with the sole purpose of having sex. In the movie “American Pie,” the entire plot of the film revolves around teenage boys wanting to throw a party so they can get girls drunk and have sex with them.

    That movie was when ? Well, it was 1999. That was 15 years ago, wasn’t it ? How old were these activists then ?

    It’s also been stated by writer Adam Herz that the title also refers to the quest of losing your virginity in high school, which is as “American as apple pie.” So, it wasn’t just about girls losing virginity ?

    How about porn star/student, Belle Knox ?

    Despite the ordeal, Knox said she plans to continue both her porn work and her classes at Duke. In interviews, she frequently mentions working to increase the rights of sex workers.

    “I really want to break down barriers,” Knox said. “I want to change peoples views on sex work. … I mean, I was the first porn star to go on ‘The View.’ This is really exciting for me.

    She complains about the publicity and the reaction of others but “This is really exciting for me.” Feminism 2014 version. Another porn star success story.

    Ph.D. program in sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She does cam work, some porn, stripping, and some fetish work. Unlike Knox and L., Parreira is out about her sex work. “The department seems to be a sort of hub for sex workers and sex work research, so it has been a non-issue,” Well, that’s a relief.

    Now, back to rape culture. Maybe it’s a tiny bit exaggerated ?

    An early sign of an obsession with “rape culture” on campus occurred at Duke during the lacrosse case. In April 2006, in a 2000-plus word statement that declined to mention the presumption of innocence, Duke president Richard Brodhead created a “Campus Culture Initiative,” to explicate and “confirm [emphasis added] the existence of a dominant culture among Duke undergraduates.” There was, of course, no rape, but the CCI proceeded along as if there were, operating under the Orwellian slogan that “diversity makes a more excellent university.”

    The Duke LaCrosse team case is a horrible example of leftist agitation in action. The whole story is here. Briefly, a hysteria descended on the Duke University campus after a stripper, later convicted of murder, accused the La Crosse team of a gang rape. The young men of the team were immediate demonized by the usual suspects of campus radicals. Fortunately, the boys came from families that could afford good lawyers.

    The immediate frenzy followed the usual script.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Human Behavior | 15 Comments »