"Restore(s) a little sanity into current political debate" - Kenneth Minogue, TLS "Projects a more expansive and optimistic future for Americans than (the analysis of) Huntington" - James R. Kurth, National Interest "One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years" - Lexington Green
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If the GOP leadership have ten brain cells between them, Reince Priebus would be back in private practice and Bill Whittle would be chairperson of their party. But back in the real world, that might cut into the graft coming from Alphabet Street lobbyists. And that’s really why they’re there.
His insights on the importance of gaining a persuasive voice in the pop culture and reimaging and repackaging the classically liberal, libertarian message are incredibly important.
Posted by Charles Cameron on 18th March 2016 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
[ by Charles Cameron — on the necessary simultaneity of temporal and eternal perspectives ]
First as to glamour -– it may help to reflect that glamour, our word, comes not from Vogue but from the same origins as grammar (referring to languages) and grimoire (a book of spells, spelling also being a matter of language), and means something along the lines of “luminous illusion”. If we say terror is glamour, then, we mean that it “casts a spell” — and thus creates an appealing, indeed compelling, mirage. It lies, then, in the realm of magic, image, imagination, so ably delineated by Ioan Couliano in his great book, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.
The best of contemporary advertising draws on precisely the same Renaissance principles of persuasion — principles of extraordinary power which we nowadays tend to dismiss as “magical thinking”.
Glamour can sell religious devotion or military glory as surely as it can pitch lipstick or island vacations. All promise a way to transcend our everyday circumstances, to experience more and become better than ordinary life allows. All invite us to imagine escape and transformation.
From Achilles and Alexander to “national greatness,” the glamour of battle is remarkably persistent. So is the glamour of martyrdom, as any trip through a Western museum or perusal of a Lives of the Saints (or its Protestant equivalent) will demonstrate. Nor is martyrdom’s appeal to Christians merely historical, as Eliza Griswold reported in this 2007 TNR piece.
Glamour appeals to our desires, whatever they may be, and Jihadi glamour offers something for everyone: from historical importance to union with God, not to mention riches and beautiful women.
Postrel then quotes Egyptian cleric Hazem Sallah Abu Isma’il, indicating that the “beautiful women” in question are “black-eyed virgins” from a world conceptually above our own:
If one of these virgins were to descend to this world, her light would extinguish the light of the sun and the moon. That’s how beautiful she is.
Yet as Postrel comments, “glamour proves perishable”:
As Rushdie suggests, of course, glamour always leaves something out, in this case the literally gory details of the act .. Either aspirations change, entropy and boredom set in, or the audience learns too much, destroying the mystery and grace on which glamour’s beautiful illusion depends.
She concludes with a significant question and preliminary response:
How do we puncture the glamour of Jihadi terrorism? The first step is recognizing that such glamour exists.
That may seem like CVE 101, but the deeper our understanding of magic, imagination, image — and hence the power of glamour — the deeper our understanding of the deep problem that CVE presents will become.
Next we turn to Richard Fernandez, writing in A Bellyful of War, picking up the themes of war’s attraction, and the carnage its glamour omits from mention, and tying both to the notions of war as game and war as brutal reality:
William Tecumseh Sherman understood what many modern theorists have forgotten: war can be attractive to young men for as long as long as it remains a game. War in small doses is supremely thrilling, even glamorous. It is peace which can be routine and boring.
And so it goes until war stops being a game and the going gets really rough. “Its glory is all moonshine,” said Sherman. “It is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.” To Sherman a “bellyful of war” was ironically the psychological foundation of generational peace.
Not only is that last sentence a profound statement worthy of the contemplation of all who love peace – it is also far more subtly convincing than the old Strategic Air Command motto, Peace is Our Profession, which sounds more like one of Rochefoucauld’s tributes that vice pays to virtue than anything, and yet is presumably intended to convey the same insight.
Finally we have Plotinus, for whom – in a manner richly echoed by Shakespeare — life itself is a dream, a play, a sport, a game:
Murders, death in all its guises, the reduction and sacking of cities, all must be to us just such a spectacle as the changing scenes of a play; all is but the varied incident of a plot, costume on and off, acted grief and lament. For on earth, in all the succession of life, it is not the Soul within but the Shadow outside of the authentic man, that grieves and complains and acts out the plot on this world stage which men have dotted with stages of their own constructing. All this is the doing of man knowing no more than to live the lower and outer life, and never perceiving that, in his weeping and in his graver doings alike, he is but at play; to handle austere matters austerely is reserved for the thoughtful: the other kind of man is himself a futility. Those incapable of thinking gravely read gravity into frivolities which correspond to their own frivolous Nature. Anyone that joins in their trifling and so comes to look on life with their eyes must understand that by lending himself to such idleness he has laid aside his own character. If Socrates himself takes part in the trifling, he trifles in the outer Socrates.
Plotinus is correct, I would suggest, sub specie aeternitatis, just as is Sherman sub specie incarnationis — and it is the role of the artist to hold both visions, trivial and eternal, as Koestler suggests.
Posted by Charles Cameron on 18th March 2016 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
[ cross-posted from Zenpundit — on creativity at the intersection of the fleeting and the eternal ]
Centaur, displayed in the International Wildlife Museum, Tucson, AZ
You know Lao Tzu’s “uncarved wood” (pu) — and Spencer Brown’s “Mark” or “first distinction? It is hard to speak of “the one and the many” without language itself favoring the many, the one being “one” and the many “another”. The Greek phrase “Before Abraham was, I am” attributed to Christ may be as close as we get.
The “uncarved wood” is not some definite -– named and thus defined -– “one” -– it is also “raw silk” (su), the simple -– the natural way or stream, from which things have not yet been separated out by naming.
There is delight, however, both in one becoming two and thus many, in the making of distinctions and naming of names, and no less in two (or the many) becoming one, in the resolution of paradox, the release of tension, peace after strife. In human terms, there is joy in both solo and collaborative achievement.
What better, then, than the perfect fit between disparate entities?
I have written often enough about Arthur Koestler and the place where two disparate spheres of thought link up — the centaur links horse and man in an indissoluble unity — there’s no question here of dismounting after a ride, giving the horse a rub down and some feed, then retiring to the verandah for a whiskey…
The mythological aha! we get from the centaur displayed in the museum hinges on the fit of horse and human skeletons, the perfection with which disparates are joined.
Thus far, whenever I’ve discussed Koestler‘s notion of bisociation, I’ve focused on the sense that it liea at the heart of creativity. Koestler himself takes it deeper. Here’s Nicholas Vajifdar, in a review titled Summing Up Arthur Koestler’s Janus: A Summing Up:
Koestler .. asserts that there are two planes of existence, the trivial and the tragic. The trivial plane is the stage for paying bills, shopping, working. Most of life takes place on the trivial plane. But sometimes we’re swept up into the tragic plane, usually due to some catastrophe, and everything becomes glazed with an awful significance. From the point of view of the tragic plane, the trivial plane is empty and frivolous; from the point of view of the trivial plane, the tragic plane is embarrassing and overwrought. Once we’ve moved from one plane to the other, we forget why we could have felt the way we used to.
That’s not just any old distinction between two realms, that’s the one Koestler himself prioritizes. And following his basic principle that a creative spark is lit when two disparate “planes of ideas” intersect, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find Vajifdar continuing:
“The highest form of human creativity,” Koestler writes, “is the endeavor to bridge the gap between the two planes. Both the artist and the scientist are gifted — or cursed — with the faculty of perceiving the trivial events of everyday experience sub specie aeternitatis, in the light of eternity…”
Finally, Vajifdar tells us why he finds Koestler’s definition of art maybe the best he’s ever read:
What I value in this definition of creativity is its emphasis on the subjective being of those who experience the work of art or scientific theory, a surer gauge than cataloguing formal properties or whether it's "interesting." Art has always seemed like a kind of sober drunkenness, or drunken sobriety. Most people probably have wondered whether the feelings they felt while drunk were more or less real than their sober feelings. Koestlerian art joins these seemingly irreconcilable feelings together.
This intense and perverse peace, superimposed on scenes of flesh-tearing and eardrum-splitting violence, is an archetype of war-experience. Grass never smells sweeter than in a dug-out during a bombardment when one’s face is buried in the earth. What soldier has not seen that caterpillar crawling along a crack in the bark of the tree behind which he took cover, and pursuing its climb undisturbed by the spattering of his tommy-gun? This intersecting of the tragic and the trivial planes of existence has always obsessed me in the Spanish Civil War, during the collapse of France, in the London blitz.
Posted by Mrs. Davis on 27th February 2016 (All posts by Mrs. Davis)
The government is asking Apple to give it the password to Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone and iCloud account. Apple is refusing to do so based on its First Amendment rights. This seems to me to be a very weak argument. Just ask Judith Miller. And there really is very little difference. Apple will have to spend $100,000 to comply and all Judith Miller needed to do was name a source. But Apple’s case involves a national security threat to each and every American whereas Judith Miller’s involved only an implausible threat to Valerie Plame who chose to garner all kinds of media attention thereafter. If there were a safe deposit box the government wanted opened, it would go to a court and get an order for the bank to drill the locks out so that the box could be removed. The bank would comply. Apple will lose.
And if Apple does not lose, the matter will go, as its pleading requests and as it may, even if it loses, now that Apple has made such a ruckus, from the fairly rational precincts of the judiciary to the fully irrational floor of the Congress. Let’s suppose that before legislation is completed there is another domestic terror incident in the US and the terrorist used an Apple iPhone. What kind of legislation would Apple get after that? While not yet widely known, Apple has likely put a back door into every Chinese iPhone via a Chinese designed chip added to the iPhone at China’s insistence for phones sold in the PRC. If this is confirmed, Congress would go even more non-linear.
And what other things might the government do if Apple were to prevail? Well, in the extreme it could ask GCHQ or some other foreign service to crack the iPhone in general. No device is uncrackable. It could also signal the Chinese that it would not be aggressive in pursuing IP violations by China in the case of Apple products. Apple is refusing to cooperate with its government in the first responsibility of that government, to protect its citizens. There would be consequences. Is it really good legal advice to let your client take such risks?
Apple should have quietly cut a deal with the government that would offer its customers the maximum security and quietly complied with court orders until a truly offensive order was received. Barring that, Apple would have a far better argument saying that ordering it to break its phones would lower their value to customers, lowering Apple’s revenues, and lowering Apple’s market cap. This would constitute an uncompensated taking by the Federal government of enormous monetary value from every Apple shareholder for which Apple should be compensated.
With existing technology, you have no privacy. Products are in development that will allow retailers to know how long you look at an item on a shelf, if you pick it up, if you return it to the shelf, how long you look at it and if you buy it. And if you wear an iWatch or other wearable, it will know how much your pulse and bp increased at each step of engagement. If you use gmail, as almost everyone seems to, Google knows the content of every email you send and receive. Who is more likely to release or resell your email, Google or the FBI? The Silicon Valley forces lining up against the government are the most probable threat to what you think is your privacy. It’s been almost 20 years since Scott McNealy said “You’ve got no privacy. Get over it.”
Apple will be made out to be protecting the ability of terrorists to communicate in secret. We are at war with these terrorists. They will kill any of us where ever they can. Article III, section 3 of the Constitution states,”Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” That sounds a lot like what Apple is seeking to do under protection of the first amendment’s emanations and penumbras.
Tim Cook is engaging in the same kind of magical thinking that has dominated the boomer elite and led to so many tragedies for the last 24 years. Losing wars has consequences.
(An updated version of a post from some years ago, presented for your diversion. I confess that things to do with real life, the Tiny Publishing Bidness and my busy schedule of book-related events have been coming thick and fast. I have about three posts on various topics planned, half-written and nearly complete, but, alas — this will have to do for now.)
Among my regular chores as regards maintenance of the various sites that I own and administer is that of emptying out the spam queue – which, unless there is more than a couple of hundred entries in it – I feel obliged to do a quick pass-over just to make sure that no ones legitimate comment has been caught in the spam torrent. This does happen, on occasion. But the most marvelous part is that none of the automated comment spam has ever “leaked” into the blog portions of The Daily Brief, Celia Hayes Books & More, and the new addition to the Sgt. Mom family of websites, LunaCityTexas.com, thus depriving readers of a handy link with which to purchase or download a dizzying variety of pharmaceutical products, porn, online games of chance, fake designer products, and cell phone ring tones. (Alas, sometimes legitimate comments are caught in the spam queue.) Every once in a while, there is a spam which looks like a completely conventional and legitimate business; a spam with somewhat of an embarrassed look to it, as if not being able to figure out how it got into such disreputable company. But such are very rare – and since I do not click on the links, I have no way of knowing if they are indeed legitimate – or just generated by someone who is a little cleverer about disguising themselves. Read the rest of this entry »
After two losses to the farthest left president ever, conservatives have been agonizing over how win back the presidency. More importantly, the truly thoughtful among us have been agonizing over how to win back a once freedom-loving culture drifting ever farther leftward.
On the political front, the debate is over moderates (who might win the middle) and conservatives (who might excite the base). That seems to be the debate that sucks up all the oxygen. I would make the case that if you are focusing on the political front, you are fighting a battle, but have already lost the war.
I take the position that politics, while important, is merely the manifestation of what is happening to the culture. If you lose the culture, you are going to lose the elections. It’s that simple.
I think it was post 2012, where Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit, opined that conservatives should start buying up media, so that they could compete, at least partly, with the progressives’ dominance in the MSM. I think that is a good idea, and would argue that it is far better investment than giving money to another think tank. It isn’t easy, though. First you have to buy the medium, then you have to market it so it is followed. Last, and most important, that medium has to do much more than Fox News and talk radio, both of which do little more than pound the rubble for the already converted – making conservatives angrier and less palatable in the process.
It’s a great idea, but difficult. What if there is an easier way?
A study by Pew Research says that Americans are increasingly getting their news from Facebook and Twitter. The study indicates that 63% of both FB and Twitter users says that they get news from these sites, up from 47% and 52% in 2013. (Bear in mind that 66% of US adults use Facebook, whereas only 17% use Twitter.) In general, it seems that FB users are more likely to pro-actively share and comment on politically-related posts, whereas Twitter users are more likely to follow stories from “official” news organizations.
Of course, the fact that someone gets news from FB or Twitter does not by itself say anything about how important that site is to them within the universe of possible news sources. Another part of the survey attempts to answer that question. Among people 35 and over, 34% say Facebook is “the most or an important” way they get news; the corresponding number for Twitter is 31%. But among those 18-34, the number is 49% for both FB and Twitter.
WSJ recently reviewed a new book, The Selfie Vote, by political analyst Kristen Soltis Anderson, who says:
“I’ve spent the last six years trying to crack the code on young voters. What I’ve found should terrify Republicans.”
She believes the current Republican approach to political marketing does not mesh with the way Millennials (“who view their comfort with technology as what makes their generation ‘special'”) tend to get information. Quoting the WSJ piece:
“Take the 2012 presidential race. Mitt Romney’s campaign stuck mostly with network TV ads during prime time, sometimes…paying nearly six times as much as Barack Obama’s campaign for an ad of the same length during the same time slot. Team Obama made use of individually targeted ads for satellite subscribers, tailoring the campaign’s message to specific voters in swing states and spending less money on network TV. The Obama campaign also developed cost-effective online ads that targeted Facebook and YouTube users based on personal-preference data, even running ads in online videogames…As more millennials pull the cable plug and spend their free time exclusively online, Republicans can’t expect to compete by pouring resources into 30-second spots during “Jeopardy!””
I think Facebook is a poor source for news and a very inferior venue for political discussion. But the Left is using it very effectively to circulate memes, usually in the form of simplistic poster-like images with a photo or graphic of some kind and a few words or dubious statistics. There does not seem to be any coherent effort on the part of the RNC, or any other Republican campaign organization or conservative/libertarian organization, to rapidly generate refutations of these when called for, nor do I see very many counter-leftist memes that I judge to be good enough, from a marketing standpoint, to be worth circulating. And there is very little of marketing value to be found on either the FB page of the RNC or the FB page of RNC chairman Reince Priebus.
My sense is that while the RNC leadership may understand old-style get-out-the-vote campaigns and precinct organization, they have little concept of social media marketing, and have also been outdone in the use of “big data” for campaign management. (See my post Catalist, “The 480,” and The Real 480.) I don’t think they’re really all that good at old-fashioned direct-mail marketing, either, based on what shows up in my mailbox.
Cold Spring Shops reminds us of the political value of mockery, linking Instapundit and Sarah Hoyt, and cites, as a classic example of the effective use of mockery as a propaganda weapon. the 1943 Donald Duck film Der Fuehrer’s Face.
For your Sunday evening enjoyment and enlightenment, here it is.
There has been much discussion recently of Catalist, a database system being used by the Democratic Party to optimally target their electioneering efforts…see Jonathan’s post here. I’m reminded of Eugene Burdick’s 1964 novel, The 480. The book’s premise is that a group within the Republican party acquires the services of a computing company called Simulation Enterprises, intending to apply the latest technology and social sciences research in order to get their candidate elected. These party insiders have been inspired by the earlier work of the 1960 Kennedy campaign with a company called Simulmatics.
Simulmatics was a real company. It was founded by MIT professor Ithiel de Sola Pool, a pioneer in the application of computer technology to social science research. Data from 130,000 interviews was categorized into 480 demographic groups, and an IBM 704 computer was used to process this data and predict the likely effects of various alternative political tactics. One question the company was asked to address by the 1960 Democratic campaign, in the person of Robert F Kennedy, was: How best to deal with religion? There was considerable concern among some parts of the electorate about the prospect of choosing a Catholic as President. Would the JFK campaign do better by minimizing attention to this issue, or would they do better by addressing it directly and condemning as bigots those who would let Kennedy’s faith affect their vote?
Simulmatics concluded that “Kennedy today has lost the bulk of the votes he would lose if the election campaign were to be embittered by the issue of anti-Catholicism. The simulation shows that there has already been a serious defection from Kennedy by Protestant voters. Under these circumstances, it makes no sense to brush the religious issue under the rug. Kennedy has already suffered the disadvantages of the issue even though it is not embittered now–and without receiving compensating advantages inherent in it.” Quantitatively, the study predicted that Kennedy’s direct addressing of the religion issue would move eleven states, totaling 122 electoral votes, away from the Kennedy camp–but would pull six states, worth 132 electoral votes, into the Democratic column.
It is not clear how much this study influenced actual campaign decision-making…but less than three weeks after RFK received the Simulmatics report, JFK talked about faith before a gathering of ministers in Houston. “I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end,” Kennedy said, “where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind.” (Burdick’s novel also suggests that the Kennedy campaign used Simulmatics to assess the effects of a more-forthright posture on civil rights by the campaign, and furthermore to analyze Kennedy’s optimal personality projection during the debates–I don’t know if these assertions are historically correct, but the religion analysis clearly was indeed performed.)
Considerable excitement was generated when, after the election, the Simulmatics project became publicly known. A Harper’s Magazine article referred to to the Simulmatics computer as “the people machine,” and quoted Dr Harold Lasswell of Yale as saying, “This is the A-bomb of the social sciences. The breakthrough here is comparable to what happened at Stagg Field.” But Pierre Salinger, speaking for the Kennedy campaign, asserted that “We did not use the machine.” (Salinger’s statement is called out as a lie in the recent book, The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns.)
In Burdick’s novel, the prospective Republican candidate is John Thatch, head of an international engineering and construction company. Thatch has achieved popular renown after courageously defusing a confrontation between Indians and Pakistanis over a bridge his company was building, thereby averting a probable war. Something about Thatch’s personality has struck the public imagination, and–despite his lack of political experience–he looks to be an attractive candidate. But initially, the Republicans see little hope of defeating the incumbent Kennedy–“the incumbent is surrounded by over four years of honorific words and rituals,” a psychologist explains. “He seems as though he ought to be President. He assumes the mantle.” This outlook is deeply disturbing to a Republican senior statesman named Bookbinder, who strongly believes that defacto 8-year terms are bad for the country…but if it is true that Kennedy is unbeatable, then the best the Republicans can hope to do is lose as well as possible. Things change when Kennedy is assassinated and the election becomes a real contest.
Bookbinder and Levi, another Republican senior statesman, are introduced to Simulation Enterprises by a young lawyer named Madison (Mad) Curver and his psychologist associate (quoted above), a woman named Dr Devlin. Mad and Dr Devlin explain that what Sim Enterprises does is different from the work done by garden-variety pollsters like the one they have just met, Dr Cotter:
“The pollster taps only a small fragment of the subject’s mind, attention, background, family influence, and habits. The Simulations thing, just because it can consider thousands of elements influencing the subject, even things he may not know himself, gets much better results.”
“And one further thing, Book,” Mad said. “Simulations Enterprises can predict what people will do in a situation which they have never heard of before. That was the whole point of the UN in the Midwest example. No one has gone out there and asked them to vote on whether we should get out of the UN, but Dev outlined a procedure by which you can predict how they will react…if they ever do have to vote on it.
Again Bookbinder had the sharp sense of unreality. Unreal people were being asked invented questions and a result came out on green, white-lined paper…and when you got around to the real people six months later with the real question they would act the way the computer had said they would.
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.
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.”
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?
(It’s been a rough and work-filled weekend from me, as regards providing good bloggy ice cream. I am wrapping up a couple of finished projects for Watercress clients, prepping for three more – from repeat clients no less, so they are entitled to an extra ration of care) and hand-holding a poet, coming down to getting her first book launched. I tell you, I am in two minds about publishing poets after this; a temperamental and high-maintenance variety of author … anyway, this rant dates from 2006, and was one of my more biting ones, written at the time of the last Israeli-Palestine conflict, or possibly the one before that. Yeah, I took sides. This explains how and why that came about.)
So, one of NPR’s news shows had another story, banging on (yet again) about the plight of the poor, pitiful, persecuted Palestinians, now that the money tap looks to be severely constricted; no money, no jobs, no mama no papa no Uncle Sam, yadda, yadda yadda. (It’s sort of like an insistent parent insisting that a stubborn child eat a helping of fried liver and onions, with a lovely side helping of filboid studge. You will feel sorry for these people, the international press, a certain segment of the intellectual and political elite insist— you must! You simply must! It’s good for you!) I briefly felt a pang, but upon brief consideration, I wrote it off to the effect of the green salsa on a breakfast taco from a divey little place along the Austin Highway. (Lovely tacos, by the way, and the green salsa is nuclear fission in a plastic cup. Name of Divey Little Place available upon request, but really, you can’t miss it. It’s painted two shades of orange, with navy blue trim.)
It may have been a pang of regret, barely perceptible, for the nice, sympathetic person I used to be. I used to feel sorry for the Palestinians, in a distant sort of way, the same way I feel about the Tibetans, and the Armenians, and the Kurds, and the Chechens (well, once upon a time, say before the Beslan school atrocity) and the poor starving Biafrans and Somalis, and whoever the international press was holding the current pity party for. Really, I used to be a nice person. I really did feel kindly, and well-disposed to those parties, and I wished them well, since all of them (and more) being victims of historical misfortune. Read the rest of this entry »
That is what they were called in towns and cities in Spain – the main plaza or town square, which served as the center of civic life, around which were ranged the important civic buildings, the biggest church; this the regular market place, the assembly area for every kind of public spectacle imaginable over the centuries. Every plaza mayor in every Spanish town is alike and yet different; different in size and shape, and in the confirmation of the buildings around it. Some are bare and paved in cobbles, and some have trees and gardens in them now. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 13th November 2013 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
I don’t want to wear out my welcome with posts but this is a topic that has interested me for many years. When I retired from practice, I spent a year at Dartmouth trying to learn how we can improve health care delivery and reduce cost without reducing quality.
The Obamacare web site now has lost its happy photo of the Obamacare girl. The fact that she is a non-citizen seems appropriate. The web site is supposed to be fixed by November 30. Will that happen ? Well, maybe not.
On Friday, the man tasked with the digital fixes said the site “remains a long way from where it needs to be” as more and more problems emerge.
“As we put new fixes in, volume is increasing, exposing new storage capacity and software application issues,” Jeff Zients told reporters on a conference call.
And at Tuesday’s White House Press Briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney again said there was “more work to be done” on repairing HealthCare.gov.
Carney, along with Zients and other administration officials, have repeatedly said the November 30 deadline is to get the health care website working for a “vast majority” of Americans looking to enroll in the Obamacare exchanges.
So, what happens December 2, the Monday after the “glitches” are fixed ? First, they won’t be fixed. The contractor that designed the program, not just the web site, has a terrible record.
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 14th October 2013 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
I hadn’t thought of this situation, only because I didn’t have enough imagination to see that politics trumps all with Obama.
A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally-sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping. This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government verifies your information and decides whether or not you’re eligible for subsidies. HHS bureaucrats knew this would make the website run more slowly. But they were more afraid that letting people see the underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans would scare people away.
This just didn’t occur to me. It should have. After all, what was Benghazi about ?
This political objective—masking the true underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans—far outweighed the operational objective of making the federal website work properly. Think about it the other way around. If the “Affordable Care Act” truly did make health insurance more affordable, there would be no need to hide these prices from the public.
It is just amazing that the politicians know so little about technology (this was the guy with the Blackberry who made fun of McCain) that they did not understand that saying something doesn’t make it happen.
(I originally posted this in late 2007…I was reminded of it by the recent story about the Obama administration’s propaganda video game featuring space aliens, global warming, and gender issues)
My post today is inspired by In the Beginning was the Command Line, by Neal Stephenson, a strange little book that will probably be found in the “computers” section of your local bookstore. While the book does deal with human interfaces to computer systems, its deeper subject is the impact of media and metaphors on thought processes and on work.
Stephenson contrasts the explicit word-based interface with the graphical or sensorial interface. The first (which I’ll call the textual interface) can be found in a basic UNIX system or in an old-style PC DOS system or timesharing terminal. The second (the sensorial interface) can be found in Windows and Mac systems and in their respective application programs.
As a very different example of a sensorial interface, Stephenson uses something he saw at Disney World–a hypothetical stone-by-stone reconstruction of a ruin in the jungles of India. It is supposed to have been built by a local rajah in the sixteenth century, but since fallen into disrepair.
The place looks more like what I have just described than any actual building you might find in India. All the stones in the broken walls are weathered as if monsoon rains had been trickling down them for centuries, the paint on the gorgeous murals is flaked and faded just so, and Bengal tigers loll among stumps of broken columns. Where modern repairs have been made to the ancient structure, they’ve been done, not as Disney’s engineers would do them, but as thrifty Indian janitors would–with hunks of bamboo and rust-spotted hunks of rebar.
In one place, you walk along a stone wall and view some panels of art that tell a story.
…a broad jagged crack runs across a panel or two, but the story is still readable: first, primordial chaos leads to a flourishing of many animal species. Next, we see the Tree of Life surrounded by diverse animals…an obvious allusion (or, in showbiz lingo, a tie-in) to the gigantic Tree of Life that dominates the center of Disney’s Animal Kingdom…But it’s rendered in historically correct style and could probably fool anyone who didn’t have a PhD in Indian art history.
The next panel shows a mustacioed H. sapiens chopping down the Tree of Life with a scimitar, and the animals fleeing every which way. The one after that shows the misguided human getting walloped by a tidal wave, part of a latter-day Deluge presumably brought on by his stupidity.
The final panel, then, portrays the Sapling of Life beginning to grow back, but now man has ditched the edged weapon and joined the other animals in standing around to adore and praise it.
Clearly, this exhibit communicates a specific worldview, and it strongly implies that this worldview is consistent with traditional Indian religion and culture. Most viewers will assume the connection without doing further research as to its correctness or lack thereof.
I’d observe that as a general matter, the sensorial interface is less open to challenge than the textual interface. It doesn’t argue–doesn’t present you with a chain of facts and logic that let you sit back and say, “Hey, wait a minute–I’m not so sure about that.” It just sucks you into its own point of view.
It’s already underway and will only get worse. J.E. Dyer’s analysis is worth reading:
It’s one thing when advertisers seek to drive emotional connections with lite beer, pick-up trucks, and air fresheners. It’s something else when the government hires advertisers to drive emotional connections with government policies and institutions. This goes far beyond the old-fashioned “good government” idea of providing information to citizens. In its essence, it differs not at all from a Stalin-era poster hyping the Soviet government’s policies to a beleaguered Russian people.
Advertising is a dangerous thing in the hands of the armed state. I am no more in favor of Republican administrations spending a lot of money on it than of Democrats doing so. With Obamacare, we have reached the fork in the road. A government with the powers conferred by Obamacare cannot, on principle, be trusted to “advertise” its policies to us. The inevitable descent into untrustworthy propaganda has already begun. Until Obamacare is repealed, it will continue to get worse.
Posted by Ginny on 24th September 2012 (All posts by Ginny)
“Third party payer systems are always inflationary.” Steyn points to one of those truisms Obama seems to have never understood. Subsidiarity is another. Someone from Romney’s background knows that – knows efficiency, responsibility, community – with every fiber of his being because this is his life – as Shannon so solidly summarizes below. It isn’t just that Obama doesn’t take care of his blood relations and Romney has long stretched that responsibility out to increasingly large communities. He knows what fulfills him and what works. He probably also thinks it is good. What are we doing with a president that can’t even imagine such responsibilities?
Via Maggie’s Farm and Dinocrat, here’s a Bob Newhart skit from 1970. Bob plays the role of an 1890s-style venture capitalist, talking on the phone with inventor Herman Hollerith, who is trying to explain the merits of punched card technology.
There’s always a steady steam of books and articles offering advice to people who are beginning, or about to begin, their business careers. In the current crop of such publications, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on “taking care of yourself’–negotiating hard about starting salary, being insistent about raises and promotions, making sure you get full credit for the things you accomplish, etc etc. This general theme seems particularly pronounced right now in advice directed at women.
Within limits, it’s common sense. If you don’t stand up for yourself, you’re going to get run over. And, in an era of (at least perceived) insecurity, it’s natural that people would be increasingly focused on career self-protection.
But. Note the qualifier, “within limits.”
Readers of the afforementioned publications need to also read a little article that appeared in Investor’s Business Daily (2/23), under the title “Opportunists are Trouble.” Opportunists:
..avoid assignments that carry high risk of failure–even when such situations also present a great opportunity for success. They shirk responsibility for the actions of their subordinates…And while opportunists might seem highly intelligent, it’s often not the case…They master the art of appearance, but have very little depth.
The article quotes the author of “Staying There,” Thomas Schweich:
If you are going to be an executive with staying power, you must value ambition, destroy opportunism and be adept at telling the diference between the two…(Wise) executives search for small, tangible signs in those they are evaluating.
Earl Graves, founder & publisher of the magazine Black Enterprise, offers some advice as to how to detect an opportunist. One clue is an excessive preoccupation with perks–company credit cards, tickets to sports events, etc–and particularly, a focus on perks during the first few days on the job. And Mike Sears, previously CFO at Boeing, advises executives to look out for the “spotlight” mentality. People with this personality trait will “be charming when the spotlight is on, but turn irritable and condescending when they think “no one of importance” is watching.”
Another clue to an opportunist–and this one should be obvious–is excessive use of the words “I” and “me” when discussing positive outcomes. And then there’s the “should be” flag. Let’s say you ask your subordinate about the status of an assignment, and his response is that “it should be done.”
“(It) says that you think I am too stupid to figure out that you do not know the answer,” (said a senior Justice Department official). (And it) “says you are ready to blame someone else if the job hasn’t been done. You are pre-distancing yourself from the failure.”
It seems to me that many of the current practices in our educational system–grade inflation, excessive focus on unearned self-esteem–contribute to the development of the personality pattern referenced here under the name “opportunism.” And the problem with the kind of business advice that I mentioned at the beginning is that it tends to reinforce these tendencies, rather than causing the individual to reflect on them and balance them out. I worry that some of this advice could cause people who could have been successful to adopt behavior patterns that will destroy or limit their careers. Some, of course, will succeed despite their behavior (or even because of it, in unhealthy organizations), and they can then do damage that is sometimes on a very large scale.
A worthwhile article, and Schweich’s book sounds very interesting.
8/24/2012: I was reminded of this post by Bill Waddell’s post here.
The daughter unit was working today, so we waited and had late-lunch, early dinner. The local Chick-fil-A nearest us was jammed, even more than it was last Saturday, and the line of cars for the drive-through window went around the building, through the parking lot of the business next to it, out to the access road through the shopping center, down the access road to the highway access road. The cashier told us that at lunch today, the line went all the way to the Costco, about a third of a mile away.
Yep – when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro … Here we are, shaking our heads in amazed disbelief that now a fast-food chain purveying tasty chicken entrees, distinguished among other fast-food outlets only for a corporate policy of being closed on Sunday and a rather witty advertising series featuring illiterate cows urging us to eat chicken … is the hill to be defended in the culture war. That would be the newly-vicious cultural war between the forces of tolerant political correctness and those conservative and libertarian defenders of free-market principles as well as the freedom of belief and expression. Most of us of that persuasion are actually rather stunned at how suddenly Chick-Fil-A is now the demon that must be defeated! And defeated by any means, fair, foul, shrill or underhanded as is required by the mission, naturally. Is there some PC target of the week decided upon? Last time I looked around it was the Koch Brothers who were the Goldstein o’the Week. One can hardly keep up without a scorecard. Read the rest of this entry »
I don’t remember why I took Debate 101 my sophomore year of high school.
I’m not an enthusiastic public speaker nor was I inclined to become one. Perhaps I was interested in learning advanced debating techniques. Then I’d be ever triumphant in the important debates of daily life:
“You think you deserve that last piece of pizza? Let me tell you why you don’t.”
The explanation may be much simpler:
my experience suggests that teenagers aren’t terribly bright
my later experience as a junior and senior suggests that sophomores aren’t terribly bright either
Entering Debate 101, I was:
a teenager and
The evidence, however circumstantial, is sufficient to convict.
If I was interested in learning debate technique, I was disappointed: the debate class wasn’t designed to systematically instruct students to taking apart their own position, reassemble it into a stronger position, and then use their new strong position to destroy their opponent’s position. This debate class was designed to cull skilled debaters out of the general student body who would then go on and compete in regional and state debate competitions. Some technique was dispensed in miserly bursts but mostly it was one instruction-free speaking assignment after another. Those with innate debating instinct went on to join the school team with all the glory that bestowed (not much). The rest of the class had to live with disappointment (again, not much).
One debate format we were taught, Lincoln-Douglas (LD), was roughly similar to this format laid out by Wikipedia:
Posted by Ginny on 25th March 2012 (All posts by Ginny)
ALDaily has a questionnaire up. If you don’t check it out regularly, give it a look. We’re on their blog roll, so keep us in mind. Just saying. And don’t be put off by Chronicle ownership – this may indicate changes to come, but under the late Dutton, it was remarkably open to all viewpoints, though reflecting his interests in evolutionary art criticism (examples too rare to notice unless you knew Dutton’s work).