56 thoughts on “A Couple of Interesting Posts”

  1. Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice “without pictures or conversations?”

  2. The peak looks to me like a lagging indicator of the old Progressives who actually believed in progress being ousted by the ‘new’ Left that rejected progress.

    Once upon a time there were progressives who actually believed in progress. They died out in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the Apollo program being their last hurrah. Afterwards they were supplanted by a new left with a new party line of “Learn to live with less, you hate-filled greedy bastards!”

    Now those actually-for-progress progressives had some major flaws. One was a willingness to bulldoze people’s personal plans in favor of their own Big Plans For Society. Another was to seriously underestimate just how poisonous socialism and government regulation is to an economy. But they still favored a better, brighter, more prosperous future in a way the “Learn to live with less!” leftists did not.

  3. As far as being burdened by books: Why are people that can’t read very well studying French Existentialists in the first place? Why should we be surprised they don’t do it well? The challenge of the instructor becomes finding a rational for not failing them. Of course, they probably can’t read well enough to become electricians or plumbers either. The National Electrical Code (and there will be a test with math) makes Existentialism absolutely riveting by comparison.

    How much higher can an education be when you start with people that can’t read? The problem isn’t the internet and screens. It’s the schools that have dispensed with teaching the basics.

  4. MCS…I would guess that the problem is 60% the poor teaching of reading and 40% the short attention span that is encouraged by social media.

    This passage from the essay:

    “Faced by this difficulty, students told me that they listen to audio recordings of the book as they read. The sound of the words, it seems, helps them grasp the sense of the words.”

    …makes me think that they’ve never learned to read easily. It’s also the case, though, that social media is architected for distraction. If I’m on FB and trying to write a post with more than 2 sentences, then in the middle of me typing it the system will announce “Sandra Smith liked a post you were mentioned in”, or something of the sort.

  5. According to the author bio at the bottom of the story, “Robert Zaretsky teaches at the Honors College, University of Houston”, so that his students are supposed to be academic high achievers.
    When we finally let our oldest daughter get an iphone in her junior year of high school or so, her reading amount absolutely plunged. I don’t think it was a good idea at all.

  6. Here’s a clue: I’d be surprised if most of those kids “who don’t read well” were taught reading through some other technique than traditional phonics. “Whole language” is a crap idea, and the root of a lot of the problems in our educational system. Or, at least, a symptom thereof.

    I suppose the real problem is that we have allowed substandard intellects into the education pipeline from the bottom up–My grandmother was probably someone who “should have been doing something else” besides teaching, in today’s terms. As it was, she taught, and she taught well, right along with my great aunt. Both of those women were some of the smartest people I’ve known in my life, but that “misuse” of their talents served us well, and it is truly sad that the old “guild” system of teaching in the elementary and high-school levels did not maintain its standards. Most of today’s teachers would have been blackballed and driven out of the profession, back when, simply for sheer incompetence and wanton idiocy. The contrast between my Mom’s years of teaching (which she kept up until well into her late 70s…) and what the previous generation’s standards were is something to behold. It slipped considerably from when Mom started out in the 1970s and when she retired–She worked with a bunch of good people back in the day, who were my teachers as well. The dolts doing the work today? Dear God… Some of their work-product is simply excretory. I’ve seen inter-teacher memos these creatures have written that demonstrated an utter lack of any sort of grasp on grammar or the rest of the English language skills they should have been demonstrating, and their vocabularies…?

    It ain’t a coincidence that one of the things the rest of the teachers twitted my Mom about at her retirement dinner were her monomaniacal tendencies to gently correct their poor English in email traffic and speech. You wonder why kids can’t use the language? Look at who is teaching them–They can’t, either.

    We’re undergoing a process of auto-barbarization, at the hands of the people who should be doing their utmost to maintain civilization. Makes you wonder, because they are clearly acting against self-interest, in that there will be no place for most of these dolts in the coming wind and wolf age they’re so diligently creating around us.

  7. yes french existentialists don’t make any sense, sartre kierkegaard, et al, same for the deconstructionists like heidegger derrida, outright frauds like foucault and baudrilard,
    bradbury predicted this with the shells, in fahrenheit 451

  8. re the thinking/feeling link, it’s interesting that the switch from thinking language to feeling language in recent years is paralleled by a switch to more ‘individualistic’ language. (‘I’ versus ‘we”, for example)

    This is a little counterintuitive to me, since feeling seems to be more herd-oriented than does thinking. But perhaps the I/we switch reflects more narcissism rather than more actual individualism.

  9. The only really intelligent teachers I had in public 1-12 (hs 1971) were women. Not all of them were that smart of course, but the men were worse, across the board. It was hard to respect a lot of those guys, and it was usually for something other than intellect.

    Librarians at my place were “non-teaching faculty” although in reality we taught all the time whether we adjuncted in other departments of not, and many of us did. So I was inside the beast in various ways, and the decline from the 1970s to today is marked, and comprehensive across admin, staff, and students.

    We had highly paid and credentialed bosses who couldn’t compose a coherent email paragraph, and run-of-the-mill employees who had to be told not to try.

  10. Certainly, the broadening of opportunities for women has had in negative impact on teacher quality. Another big factor is surely the tolerance of disruptive and highly disrespectful students…top-notch people are not going to put up with that kind of environment for any realistic amount of money.

  11. I understand that the policy of Jeff Bezos at Amazon is that decision proposals have to be supported by an actual, written document, NOT a powerpoint presentation. This probably excludes a lot of people from any significant management role at that company.

  12. A Finn of my acquaintance who had experience dealing with the primary-grade educational establishment here in the US, and who had been a teacher herself in Finland prior to her marrying an American, made the observation that the overwhelming majority of the people she met in her the course of her kids American education wouldn’t have been allowed within a country mile of a teaching position anywhere in the Finnish system. From her perspective, most of them were not even second-rate intellects, but actively and destructively stupid.

    She eventually went to homeschooling her kids herself.

    I think a lot of the problem is that the American system which has been in effect for the last many generations does not allocate our higher-end intellects and competencies into education. Or, government. All our bright lights go into industry, or more recently, law or finance. The kids who can’t do anything else generally wind up dominating the education system–And, then there’s the not-so-minor problem that we have limited to no mobility between “academia” and “doing”, which means that the overly-academized and rarefied teaching of subjects becomes entirely irrelevant to the career fields they’re reputedly teaching the students to go into. If you have most of your practitioners telling new hires to “forget what you learned in school…”, you have a problem. And, I honestly can’t think of too many cases where what’s taught formally matches up with what the actual job requires.

    Language is supposed to be a tool for thinking with, and your ability to communicate using that language is a marker for how clearly your thinking is. If you can’t express what you’re thinking, then your thinking is likely muddled and without essential merit. All across the American scene, we see utter inability to think clearly or express thought in the English language–Go look at some of what passes for “thought” by journalists and pundits. Then, compare that to, say… Ulysses S. Grant’s verbiage. Almost anything from the late 19th Century makes much of our current public discourse look like the prattling of kindergartners.

    It’s not the fault of anyone in particular, which is what makes it so maddening. It’s a systemic failure; the parents own it as much as the teachers do, particularly those defending the performance and behavior of their little asocial cretins. Much of this has come about because we don’t value real education enough, nor do we value the people teaching our kids. Education is an afterthought; the people doing it are nonentities. I’ve seen stuff come home with my nieces and nephews that would have me frothing at the mouth, were I their parents, but because I’m not? I have to grit my teeth and just try to point out the errors politely. The kids know no better; their parents really don’t, either–Being victims of the same inadequate system.

    I know where my education was lacking, but I’ve got the knack for self-instruction and an insatiable curiosity. I shudder to think how much of my money has gone towards books, or how much time I’ve spent learning things on my own. People that lack these innate traits are screwed, because without a functional educational system to guide them, they’re inevitably bound for a life of intellectual ignorance and torpor.

    Which may be the aim of all this, I suppose. In any event, fixing it isn’t simply a matter of throwing more money at it. Before it’s worth spending money, the people you’re spending it on have to value and desire what you’re buying them. Absent that? You might as well just warehouse them somewhere and keep them amused. Which is precisely what most of our schools are doing in lieu of actually educating them and teaching them to think.

    This is on all of us, to put it bluntly. You get what you tolerate, and what you reward. We’ve rewarded dolts who think “whole language” is a thing, all across education. Dolts who, I might point out, can’t even recognize that that pedagogical technique doesn’t actually work

  13. I had two cousins that had been teachers in the ’20’s-’30’s before they married brothers. Neither had gone beyond high school which wasn’t uncommon then. I’ll bet that all their pupils could read when they got done with them.

    I don’t remember much formal reading classes after around the 3rd grade until around 9th grade, they were pushing a speed reading class that used a machine that projected a bubble of words on a screen at a given WPM. I think I got up to around 600. I don’t read that fast now. Usually I’m trying to pick the 15-20 really important words out of some mass of text.

    The reason the formal classes ended was because we all could read and every other class required reading. Those that couldn’t were lost. (actually, sent for special classes until they could) Failure to read was not an option. I’m sure a few manged to slip through but nothing like now. When I see modern high school proficiency tests they remind me of what I was reading in the 5th grade and it’s considered exceptional when a bare majority can pass.

    One thing I’m sure of is that they’ll need to read a lot if they want any sort of decent job and there won’t be an audio version or Cliff Notes.

    When they talk about a “post literate” society it’s because the real word, illiterate, is too harsh for their precious sensibilities. But that’s the word I’d use to describe those “honor” students.

  14. The really odd thing about a lot of our “elites” today is the incredibly skewed picture that they have and operate from, when it comes to the “intellectual lives” of the much-derided working classes.

    Even back in the supposed “dark ages”, you had very well-read people of “limited education” out in the hinterlands, whose libraries and reading lists would leave most modern college students with their eyes crossed in sheer horror at perhaps being expected to even skim them for content, let alone comprehension.

    For some reason, we’ve gotten this idea going in our culture that you have to have taken part in one of the vast intellectual latifundia of our university system, in order to lay claim to any form of intelligence, erudition, or expertise in some subject. This has not always been true, nor does it still hold true in this sadly diminished age. There are very well-read people out there whose intellectual capabilities put most of our “educated elite” to shame, who have never seen the inside of an institution of “higher learning” in their lives.

    Educated ain’t necessarily smart; smart ain’t necessarily educated, and equating real raw intelligence with educational achievement is fallacy from either direction. You can only look at performance-based metrics, which is something our system fails to do.

    Another aspect of all this is just how much our current intellectual “biome”, for lack of a better expression, tilts towards the new and novel; ancient wisdom is denigrated, unless it comes from the East or primitive sources. Who reads Blackstone, today? Who can actually lay claim to having read all of the “Great Books” in the Western canon? I know a lot of people who have those things on display in their homes and offices, but there ain’t a one of them who’ve actually cracked the spines on the vast majority of those works.

    We stopped teaching Greek and Latin because they were “irrelevant”. This has cut us off from huge swaths of our own culture, because many or most of the shining lights of that culture fed at those tables, and spoke in their terms. Try reading anything from the 19th Century without a grasp of either Latin or Greek, and you’ll spend much of your time trying to figure out all the allusions and quotes they’re making to classical literature–Which was a touchstone for much of their culture, which used to be ours.

    Unfortunately, the intellectually weak and philistine took over the academy, and here we are. We are either going to sink into a morass of ignorance and sloth, or there will have to be another Enlightenment when we finally decide to rediscover the lost virtues of the “dead white male”.

  15. Here’s an interesting example of how educated educated people actually were a hundred years ago.

    Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Henry Cabot Lodge could have–if it had been necessary–carried on their arguments and campaigns in fluent German. Nowadays a national political figure who was fluent in a foreign language would have to hide it.

    Due to some access and password issues I will be scarce at my other favorite haunts until early next week, probably. So keep it interesting here!

  16. “Here’s an interesting example of how educated educated people actually were a hundred years ago”

    Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou actually translated Agricola’s classic on mining, ‘De Re Metallica’, from Latin to English, just for fun.

  17. Browsing in a used bookstore, I ran across some copies of the journal of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, circa 1880 or so. In addition to industry news, organizational stuff, and info on various individuals, the magazine had some short stories–nothing to do with railroading, in general–that were really not so short…5-10 pages long and not simplistically written.

    I doubt that there were *any* firemen who were college graduates, and the majority, I’d bet were not high school graduates either…but I wonder how many college graduates today would have the patience and the reading skills to make it through any of the stories or the longer articles.

  18. One of the real measures of change in educational levels is to read the Federalist Papers — effectively newspaper articles from 250 years ago. The modern reader will note not only the extensive vocabulary and the intricate sentence structure, but also the assumption of substantial historical knowledge in the allusions.

    One of the other real measures is to visit a “hard science” university department full of foreign (mainly Chinese & Indian) graduate students, and play “Find the American”.

    There will be consequences!

  19. Sigh. I graduated from a public uni in 1976, with a degree in English, and was pretty conversant in, and interested in writings pre-WWII. And yes, one of the college courses I took was a study of Greek and Roman lit, mostly so that I could better grasp the casual classical allusions made by writers of that time. I also deeply regretted that high schools in LA didn’t offer Latin classes any more, by the time I went through the system. They did, in my parent’s day. I had to make do with German. During my time stationed in Greece, I was pretty well on the way to familiarity with the Greek alphabet – just through looking at street signs, for pete’s sake. (which were all in Greek and Latin alphabets.)
    I pretty much agree – public school today is maliciously and deliberately aimed at making the poor kids subject to it even dumber and more ignorant upon emerging from it than they were upon entering. Ignorant and easily-driven serfs are more easily controlled by their superiors, aren’t they? (Pretty much the same reason why the medieval church resisted having the Bible translated into the vernacular – who knows what might happen if the lower classes could read the Word for themselves?! They might get all kinds of uppity notions, and the lords and nobles can’t have that…)

  20. Tom Watson Jr, the longtime head of IBM, relates in his autobiography that he had a friend who had worked himself up from a tough coal-mining town to a high executive position at IBM. When Tom asked him how he had done it, the man said that his self-improvement program had had 3 cornerstones:

    –read the classics
    –listen to classical music
    –buy suits at Brooks Brothers

    What might the modern equivalent be?

  21. “What might the modern equivalent be?”

    Be born into the right family, with the right background to get into Hahvahd, Yale, or one of the other “elite” schools.

    You could read what has been going on over these last few generations as the formation of a caste-based society, as the “elites” clamp down on the social mobility of their inferiors and actively encourage them to take up failure-probable lifestyles. It’s all well and good for all those progressive ideas about family to become part of the routine culture, among the lesser breeds, but you’ll look long and hard for those syndromes among the elite.

    Part of this comes up out of the “lower classes”, as well–There’s nothing to say that they had to do what they did. They could have kept on studying things for themselves, kept on transmitting the culture they’d inherited. But, somewhere along the line, they decided to listen to the wreckers, and here we are.

    One of the problems I see with things out in the realm of “tribal knowledge” not being honored or transmitted is the fact that the average guy who knows that knowledge can not express what he knows in terms that the “educated elite” can recognize or understand. We’ve rendered ourselves dumb, as a group–And, it isn’t just because the “elite” cannot or will not listen, either. A large part of it comes from the fact that the guys who “know things” will not express themselves and they do not think that what they know is of any import. They’re oddly shy, unable to articulate what they think, what they know, when confronted with arrant idiocy on the part of some educated twit–But, they’ll damn sure walk away muttering darkly to their peers, expressing what they know will happen once Idiotic Idea “A” is implemented.

    I am not sure how the hell it happened, either–I wasn’t alive to watch the culture change across the span of time that it did, but here we are. I’m unsure of how to fix it, either–I think we really need to break down the barrier between those who really know these things, and those who administer and manage it all. We’ve drawn too broad a line between the study and the doing of things…

  22. Watson Jr also mentioned in his autobiography that he had been interested in a girl in his hometown, but she was not allowed by her mother to go out with him because he didn’t come from an ‘Old Family’. IBM was not then the behemoth that it later because, but it was already a well-known and very successful, and Tom Jr was the clear heir apparent. But this fact, combined with whatever personal qualities he might have possessed, was not sufficient to overcome the ‘Old Family’ deficiency.try

    A modern equivalent might be an Ivy League degree…not necessarily, but likely, associated with having parents having the same…combined with being in an or destined for an industry of approved coolness and social desirability.

  23. The public schools here weren’t actually that bad, and among other distinctions they kept a strong tradition of Latin study much longer than most. I wish I’d taken the Latin, as did many of my friends, rather than the Spanish which I thought easier and more practical.

    High school is late to start foreign language learning, and college even worse. Lucky for me I have a pretty good facility with my hs Spanish (2 years) and college German (2 semesters), and can read what I call ‘librarian’s French.’

    My people didn’t have much money, but my German-born grandparents made sure we were exposed to some travel and to the greatest music. I took to reading early and on my own, but Brooks Brothers is right out.

  24. Thanks to my old-fashioned ways, my previously announced access problems have been resolved. 1) Write important passwords down. 2) Remember that you did. 3) Remember where you did. 4) Find them.

  25. Cousin Eddie,
    I used Firefox Sync on my three computers for several years. It was a great convenience to have all my passwords and bookmarks on all three machines. Then, one day when I was typing away, I hit the control key instead of the shift without realizing it (I’m a lousy typist) and deleted the passwords on my home system. When I next woke up my work computer, I had to disconnect the network cable to prevent it from syncing long enough to disable it and preserve the passwords. I haven’t enabled it since. I had to find a program that let me copy those passwords to an encrypted spreadsheet so I could use them. I feel your pain.

  26. My mother was a high school graduate and a graduate of a “business school” typical of the era. (She was born in 1898 and died in 2001). She qualified as a legal secretary and could type my high school papers at my normal speaking rate dictating them. My father left school at age 15 to join the Navy (1918) and never returned to school. He was intelligent and probably would have made a good engineer but he disdained school. I am the only one of my immediate family to go to college. I was accepted at CalTech but could not afford to go so went to another California college on scholarship. Had I known anything about college, I probably could have written the school and found other funding.

    My grandfather was a farmer but two of his boys graduated from college so it was not a family thing. I attended USC (Southern Cal in football talk) in the 1950s and it was a wonderful experience. The Engineering school was not very good and I ended up in pre-med, then medical school. All on scholarship. I was determined to see my kids have the opportunities I did not have. The results have been mixed.

    Two are lawyers and left wing. One has a Masters and did about half of a PhD and is left wing but not aggressively so as are her two sibs. My second son tested gifted on IQ but has never been all that interested in school. He is a fireman/paramedic and is happy (and conservative). I tried to interest him in a USC PA program before he was married but he declined, a lost opportunity. He would have been a good PA. He loves what he is doing and spends some time teaching paramedics. His wife is a whiz who put herself through college with no family help and has run a successful business from home for 20 years. They have three kids, one of whom is at U of Alabama.

    The results, mixed as I said, suggest that college education does not make the person.

  27. Mike K: “I was determined to see my kids have the opportunities I did not have. The results have been mixed. Two are lawyers and left wing.”

    When did those two come out as Lefties? High school? University? Law school? Legal practice?

    How sincere are they as Lefties? Real believers in the dictatorship of the proletariat? Or smart guys who recognize that kissing the Democrat ring is a prerequisite for a successful legal practice in California?

  28. One is an FBI agent, a minor worry about the culture. The other is a trial lawyer. That kind of goes with the territory although his conservative brother mentioned that he has been a contrarian since they were kids. Both are pretty committed although trial lawyers are typically cynical about politics. Neither was that political as kids and both are in their 50s now. The third, a younger daughter (40), told her mother that Trump would be immediately impeached before he was sworn in. I think the two females are mostly TDS.

  29. Thanks, Mike.
    “Neither was that political as kids and both are in their 50s now.”

    Implication is that it was the college system that successfully radicalized them. Since they are in their 50s, that would have put them as college-aged in the mid 1980s. The Long March through the Institutions started a long time ago.

  30. ” I think the two females are mostly TDS.”
    White college-educated women are the Democrat base now. They hated Trump with a passion because they’re all about “following the rules” and he’s all about disregarding them and his success made them feel like total losers, with their pitiful empty lives. Now they’re all walking around with two masks and three shots and insisting everything be cancelled or we’re all going to die. It’ll all end ok because men of all classes and races are recoiling in horror from these crazy harpies.

  31. I’ve never been too sure where political leanings come from, or how they form. I suspect that there are probably some complex biological inputs to it all, because while I’m a deeply cynical pragmatist whose political leanings are more small “c” conservative than anything else, both of my parents were pretty much “bleeding heart liberals”, one more-or-less tolerable, and the other one totally intolerable. Sister veers that way, as does one half-brother, while the remaining one is pretty much as cynical as I am.

    So… How the hell does that happen? I was “conservative” and a soldier before I ever signed on the dotted line to enlist, and that’s from a family with no military tradition whatsoever. I felt “the vocation”, I joined, liked it, made a career of it. Ain’t nobody else in the lineage who’s done anything that fundamentally nuts since before the Civil War, so you explain how that happened without real cultural input from anywhere. My stepdad was an unreconstructed central European peasant, with all the dark and deep prejudices that implies, but I never picked up on any of the really egregious ones. I grew up immersed in an environment of counter-mainstream influences, but I’m probably way more mainstream than most are today, not having imbibed at the trough of political correctness.

    I have to wonder if it isn’t something deeply rooted in the genes, and perhaps affected by things like your gut biome. I also have to wonder about environment, because I feel like something has changed in the milieu–Young men do not behave the way I remember them, from my youth. They’re more effeminate, more odd in their behaviors. I would postulate that all the estrogen mimics in the environment have played some part in this.

    I have no earthly idea how the hell I wound up with the attitudes I have, because I’m pretty much a sport inside my own family, a likely changeling if there weren’t all the physical resemblances.

    Politics is downstream of behavior, and if behavior is influenced by genetics…? That can tell us an awful lot about people. I’ve noticed, too, a tendency for politics to flip between generations, ‘cos some kids seem to love being contrary. On the other hand, it may be the same as physical traits, with some skipping generations, some not.

  32. Implication is that it was the college system that successfully radicalized them. Since they are in their 50s, that would have put them as college-aged in the mid 1980s. The Long March through the Institutions started a long time ago.

    I tend to agree. My older son was a rebel type since he was age 10. At 16 he was an alcoholic but pulled himself out of that death spiral at age 26 and went to law school. I give him a lot of credit for staying sober since then. Both his grandfathers were alcoholics, one joined AA the other died in DTs. I do think there is a genetic component.

    His sister is pretty rigid emotionally. He and I talked this week and laughed about his sister caring for his mother, my ex-wife. She had a total knee replacement on 12/23 at Kaiser, an HMO. They sent her home the next day. The second night she got confused and they had some trouble with her. My son and I laughed about his sister being the least likely family member to be nursing someone. We could both visualize his sister giving her mother her strong pain med every 4 hours if she needed it or not.

  33. Happy New Year! (my ration of exclamation marks for the whole year)

    I think I got to this via Instapundit:

    If I still held The Economist in the same regard as when I paid $94 a year to read it on dead trees, I might consider this the definitive measure of the epidemic. That is, until I read the fine print.

    There I see that this is just another exercise in compounded guessing. Provisionally accepting their good faith, they are, nevertheless, embarked on a fools errand. The one chart they don’t provide that would be the most informative would show what confidence interval they assigned to the excess death data they had available for each country.

    If they had, they would have been forced to assign the designation “Terra Incognito” to most of the world. In places like Sub-Saharan Africa, the authorities have only the most tenuous grasp of the population of the living, let alone the dead. In others, notably China and Russia, the numbers released are undoubtedly wildly distorted by political considerations.

    To give The Economist due credit, they arrive at a toll of around 3.4 times the “official” one and as high as 4 times. China enthusiasts will be especially apoplectic.

  34. Excess deaths, for countries that produce reliable death numbers, has always been the way to go. That being said, there are a few huge red flags to me:
    1. The excess deaths among younger people clearly are not due to covid. Any calculation that doesn’t take that into account should be disregarded. There has been a massive increase in drug overdoses in the past two years.
    2. As far as I have seen, the first half of 2021 saw basically zero excess deaths in the US, Britain, and similar countries. Then it started to rise substantially in the second half of the year. I don’t see why any calculation that doesn’t give a plausible way to separate out whether this is due to “delta” or “vaccine” effects should be taken seriously. We’re supposed to take it on faith that the latter is basically zero, but I don’t see any reason why I should just automatically assume that.

  35. Brian,
    To the contrary, excess deaths is at best a very blunt instrument. It is an admission that the data available is incapable of any discrimination finer than life or death.

    Judging from the error bars assigned to the data from different countries, the authors consider the numbers from North America fairly credible although I would have serious qualms about data from Mexico. They also assigned all the excess deaths to covid both directly and indirectly, allowingthat some were caused from effects of the various disruptions rather than direct covid mortality.

    Nationally, we lost the chance of making fine distinctions very early, if it ever existed at all. It’s certain that covid was abroad months before any public announcement. Once government money entered the equation, objective truth disappeared.

  36. Agreed that, in the face of so much propaganda, “excess” deaths is the only meaningful measure. However, even that measure is not simple to apply.

    If we look back over a meaningful time frame, say 30 years rather than the 5 (good) years favored by the authorities), there appears to be a significant variance around the annual mean — bad years as well as good years. How much of 2020 & 2021 “excess” deaths are within the expected range of human experience? Not a simple question.

    The other complicating factor is Lock Down-related deaths — delayed cancer treatments, late treatment for cardiac events and strokes, additional drug overdoses, suicides, etc. Some English analysts have estimated that such deaths there may constitute as much as 1/3 to 1/2 of the “excess”. Again, not a simple question.

    Given a biased data set, such as paying hospitals more for deaths listed as “Covid”, it is very difficult to get to credible numbers. The one thing that is absolutely clear is Covid is not an epidemic on the scale of the Black Death or even the 1918 Influenza.

  37. “To the contrary, excess deaths is at best a very blunt instrument. It is an admission that the data available is incapable of any discrimination finer than life or death.”
    I agree with this 100%, I’m not quite sure what this is “contrary” to? The whole point of looking at excess deaths is that deaths in first world countries are tracked quite well, but there’s massive problems with what to attribute deaths to.

    “They also assigned all the excess deaths to covid both directly and indirectly, allowing that some were caused from effects of the various disruptions rather than direct covid mortality.”
    I’m not a paying subscriber to the economist, so I can’t read about their methodology in detail, but if this is true then their numbers are garbage, for the reasons I list above, just to start off with.

  38. I called it compounded guessing for a reason, I don’t have access to anything beyond the link and even if I did, how would I prove my guess was better than theirs, or worse. If you limit yourself to the countries with more reliable data, it’s still just a single number. There isn’t any way to go back. the data we have now is all we’ll ever have. If it’s bad, it’ll always be bad. They implicitly seem to agree that the attribution of cause of death is highly suspect.

    Counting excess deaths requires a baseline. Any such value will be a moving target subject to argument over just how it should be set. As I said, a very blunt instrument. Changing the sample used to set the baseline will move it higher or lower, a sort of pointless argument when all we’re talking about is a rough guess. Some of us have spent the last couple of years playing at epidemiology, I suppose some will spend the next few playing at statistics.

    They also implicitly conclude that the number of people killed by this is comparable to the number killed in WWI and that numbers from both China and Russia are wildly wrong. The top line number I consider nothing better than a guess. You can add up as many random numbers as you like but all you’ll have is a bigger random number.

  39. Let’s not even get into the whole “attribution” question of whether or not these numbers actually represent people who actually died from COVID, as opposed to died with a positive PCR test for COVID. Or, whose hospital administrators pencil-whipped things to reflect that they’d had COVID after the fact and without real proof.

    I’ve heard some flakey things, recently, about the accuracy of the tests. Lots and lots of false positives, false negatives, and enough question about the accuracy to make taking any numbers reported as being, at best… Questionable.

    I suspect that a lot of these “COVID break-through” cases in vaccinated people actually represent false positives, just like the supposedly asymptomatic. We’re no longer in the realm of trustworthy reporting on this crap, and we haven’t been since January of 2020.

  40. David,

    Thank you for both of these not unrelated discussions. The tension between the man of thought and the man of feeling is old, but we seem to be in a period that emphasizes the latter and cripples the former.

    The emphasis of “feel” rather than “think” when making what would seem an objective argument is everywhere – and doesn’t seem to be accidental. Or the real travesty – “my truth.” Of course, “my truth” is not one best supported by facts, precedent, reality but sufficiently by subjectivity.

    How do students learn what schools were traditionally primarily designed to teach – to argue well, to prove – through the induction of the scientific method or the deduction of rhetorical syllogisms – a conclusion that is true, standing outside feelings and powerful buttressed by those facts and not the speaker’s feelings, as powerful as they might be in gaining the audience’s understanding.

    Of course, many disciplines analyze feelings – isn’t that what we do when we discuss a character in a novel? Only in an allegorical work (one less complex and I think less interesting to many of us) does that character represent a pure abstraction. Understanding that character helps us understand feelings, ethics, love, etc. But analyzing a character, well developed and complex and sympathetic and quite individualistic, also leads us to an understanding of some truths about human nature, a truth about the human condition that applies more broadly to the world of people in the novel – and if the writer is wise and we are appropriately thoughtful – in the world. But even as we look at a painting or a poem, we are aware our analysis runs on two different tracts – the unique nature and power of the work and the broad application of our understanding.

    I wonder how much this is related to the insane idea of gender neutral writing – or preferably using “he” for a paragraph and then using “she,” or the equally irritating one that makes everything plural, considering number an unimportant marker in terms of meaning.

    We are different from men in many ways and some of those are the way we think, but if we approach problems somewhat differently, I do not think either draw primarily from emotions or is very successful if we do. To effectively solve problems, men and women need to communicate clearly and be flexible enough to see as the other sees. However, we are both thinking, analyzing, if sometimes analyzing feelings – why I felt that there, we ask, and it was because we felt the shock of recognition of a truth or we felt the sock of a falsity we had not yet realized was a lie.

    I was struck when lately an older woman was complaining to me about her alienation from the word “man” in statements about the nature of man, etc. Because I always found that particular wording powerful – that all of us, mankind, shared certain rights, certain characteristics that made us, well, human and sentient, I had felt even more embraced by the word “man” than “he.” I don’t understand such alienation – which I assume means I’m less flexible intellectually than I should be, but that isn’t how I feel, of course. I feel right.

    The Jesuit-trained women and men I knew in my youth had learned to make arguments cogently. They weren’t always right, of course (that took me a while to realize) but the forms were good. I wonder how much, with the heavy influence of liberation theology, that is still true. I’m pretty sure that the power of Bill Ayers in the teachers’ colleges of America hasn’t helped a lot. Funny how the movement that emphasized “raising women’s consciousness” and that that placed feelings at the center of arguments (with CRT the only validation is the “feeling” of alienation, of being dissed – aren’t we back to the worst about tribal cultures?) And tribal thinking is less thinking than feeling – feeling the understandable identification with family, but the much less desirable attempt to use that feeling as justification, as reason.

    It is easier to raise a mob – of “Karens,” of . . . well lynchers, etc. – through feeling than through reason. Two who respected the rationality of the Constitution and feared the irrationality of mobs, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, argued against liquor, knowing how vulnerable we all are to emotions and how much more vulnerable we are when intoxicated.

    Okay, so all this is on an old, well-beaten path, but the weak arguments of the teachers’ unions over the past two years, the equally weak acceptance of their arguments by the CDC, etc. means that what one would think were bulwarks of thought have become conduits of feeling. The evidence, the “science” has not back them, but their “feelings” have.

  41. The Romantic era, that I like to think started with the premiere of Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony, and quickly encompassed all of art, literature and music was paralleled in technology by the discovery that the physical world could be measured. This sort of describes the 19th century.

    When the strength of metals could be measured, it could be controlled. Falling bridges and exploding boilers became less common. When electric charge and current could be measured, it made motors and generators possible. Similar efforts in the arts have always died out quickly. People, in general, just seem to like what they like for reasons that defy empirical measurement.

    It’s just as well. I suspect that a world where you could specify a novel to sell a million copies the way you can specify a steel beam to support so many thousand pounds would be boring at best. Not that there aren’t numerous media executives that dream of that very thing and a few deluded into thinking they can. When discussing people, whether in fiction or real life, there’s always the distinction between what they do and why they do it. In literature, what they do is journalism, why they do it is art and has a much longer half life.

  42. The whole point of looking at “excess deaths” is that it removes the issue about testing, diagnoses, etc. You can in theory calculate a number of “excess deaths” relative to a “normal” number (which yes is a fluctuating number so there is uncertainty associated, but that’s ok as long as you’re honest about it). Now what to attribute those deaths to is a different issue, subject to interpretation. For 2020 it seems pretty clear that the presence of the virus is the only real new change, so attributing the deaths to covid is probably reasonable, with the caveats I already mentioned, plus presumably others that people more knowledgeable than me can come up with. However in 2021 you have the virus, with its variants, but also the vaccine, as well as various other effects of the reaction to the virus, so I don’t see how you can get a number of deaths from covid that won’t have massive error bars.

    “They also implicitly conclude that the number of people killed by this is comparable to the number killed in WWI and that numbers from both China and Russia are wildly wrong.”
    I have no doubt that the latter is true, but the former is just absurd and can’t possibly be taken seriously.

  43. Brian: “so I don’t see how you can get a number of deaths from covid that won’t have massive error bars.”

    The Swamp does not do error bars; they just know. That is a huge tell right there!

    But let’s simply look at total annual deaths, recognizing the unknowables within that probably-reasonably accurate number. It is absolutely overwhelmingly obvious that this “pandemic” is in no way comparable to events like the Black Plague or the 1918 Influenza outbreak.

    The initial over-reaction was understandable and maybe appropriate, given those never-repeated Chinese photos of people collapsed on the street. Continuing the over-reaction in the face of what we all know now is perverse, and deeply damaging to Western society.

  44. Ginny…”And tribal thinking is less thinking than feeling”…yes–which is why it’s odd that the study that found Feeling words to have become more common also found ‘individualistic’ words to have become more common relative to ‘community’ words. (‘I/we’, for instance)

    Though maybe what is really being measured with the latter distinction is not individualism so much as narcissism.

  45. Of course, both the Nazis and the Communists believed that the whole notion of ‘truth’ needed to be qualified…that there was such a thing as ‘Aryan science” or ”Proletarian science.’

    The phrases ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth’, now popular among Progs, echo this.

  46. MCS, Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations have new interpretations of the Beethoven symphonies out. Crisp and clear, without centuries of late-Romantic gunk.

    The key figure–almost forgotten today–in the science of that era was the incomparable,
    unstoppable, von Humboldt. The first 30,000 foot (OK, 18,000 foot) scientist and philosopher of science. He combined Romantic sensibility and feeling with new ways of exploring and understanding the world that saw underlying unities where others had seen disparate facts and mysteries.

    As to COVID, don’t nobody know nothin.

  47. @Cousin Eddie,

    The von Humboldt brothers, and their milieu, are why I look at anyone talking about “Prussian Rigidity” with an eyebrow raised to the nearest ceiling.

    People do not bother to go past the “conventional wisdom”, which really ought to be a shorthand for “utterly wrong”, whenever they start talking about what made Germany and its military what they were. The reality is that they might have had some forms left over from the days of “kadaversgehorsam”, but those were forms, only. The actual expressed tradition in terms of what they did was extremely pragmatic and very much “open to the talents”, especially when compared to what a lot of other nations did. The Germans may have had the forms of a rigidly hierarchical military, but in practice…? They actually did all of the “power down” things that we only really paid lip service to. German officers were few and far between; NCOs were expected to and actually did fill the roles that other armies required commissions for, and which could not function effectively when those officers were not there for whatever reason. The Germans? They expected, and got, whoever was on the scene to “do the necessary”, which was why so many of our “successful attacks” bogged down in a morass of hastily improvised German counter-attacks and ad-hoc units formed up around some random staff officer who happened to be on the scene when things happened. They didn’t always live up to that standard, but they did it a lot more often than any other army managed to…

    And, ain’t none of that coming out of a source culture that lacked flexibility and ability to adapt. The von Humboldt’s and their educational contributions had a lot to do with that. French schools were fixated on a top-down rigidity that flatly blows your mind–They wanted a state such that ever school in France was teaching the exact same section of the exact same schoolbook at the exact same time of the exact day, nation-wide… Which kind of goes to show where the “rigidity” really was, and why the French system collapsed under the organized chaos created by the Germans in 1940. The French system was the product of minds that thought they could impose their own reality on everything, and the result was abject failure when presented with real-world chaos and those able to operate in it.

    This is the fundamental conceit behind every left-wing theorist: That the world is both understandable and amenable to external, planned control. It isn’t, and that’s why you had the massive dysfunction you had under the Soviets; they took the breadbasket of Europe and turned it into a food desert. That takes considerable doing, and considerable hubris, not to mention an outright utter conscious ignorance directed towards observation of result.

    A lot of the right doesn’t do much better, TBH. They have different, but similar foibles. Not nearly as destructive, but very similar.

  48. On the confluence of technology, music and Beethoven; I read a biography a few years ago that claimed that the metronome he used to make his tempo markings, (a modern innovation and invention at the time) was seriously in error. This has caused controversy through to the present over just what his intentions were.

    Like Bach with the organ, he was influential in the development of the piano. Beethoven’s style of playing was so energetic that he often broke strings. He consulted with several instrument makers to solve the problem. Iron sound boards allowed using heavier strings than the wooden ones that had been good enough for plucked instruments like the harpsichord.

    Surely there had to have been Classical Symphonies written after 1800 by others besides Haydn but you never hear them performed.

  49. @Kirk– your take on German military culture was the basis for a lot of the wargame culture and military history of the late 60s and 70s. S&T Magazine and SPI in general (ha) were the first to put a more nuanced picture of German military practice into popular consciousness–against a generation of war movies, and the legitimate memories of veterans on the winning side(s) who were damned proud of what they had done.

    In fact, the pendulum swung so far in some cases that a predictable and sometimes necessary reaction set in, to the benefit of the discipline and wargamers. (My own quick-and-dirty take is that the Germans set the high standard and the pace in applied militarism, but by 1918 and then 1944 their low-level superiority had eroded while their opponents grew generally more skilled–and 2.5X good soldiers will beat X good soldiers every time, over time.)

    I’m not enough of a musician to speak to the metronome issue–which I have heard of over the years. (Who sets the standard for metronomes anyway?) Ditto with the metal soundboard–he needed new tools for his work. Although not an instrument issue, I saw a doc with Emmanuel Ax among others, who confessed that he had to kludge some passages on the keyboard that Beethoven obviously did not.

    The Classical/Romantic distinction in art and culture can be drawn too sharply, IMO–or rather, the processes by which one gave way to the other are easy to oversimplify. An artist like Brahms looks Classical in some lights, Romantic in others; IIR Peter Gay correctly, Brahms himself was taken for austere classicist by one generation and blubbery romantic by another.

    John Lukacs once speculated that in theory historians of the future could write plausible books with titles like “Warfare from Bach to Beethoven”–the clear distinctions of discipline and profession we see being perhaps just limits of evidence and historical imagination.

    Prokofiev called one of his symphonies “Classical” and by the measure of formal structure “classical” is a good-enough description for most Western art music from the “Classical” period of Haydn and Mozart through Sibelius, Nielsen, and Hindemith IMHLO.

  50. Antoine de St-Exupery, who served as a reconnaissance pilot in the campaign of 1940, wrote:

    The seed haunted by the sun never fails to find its way between the stones in the ground. And the pure logician, if no sun draws him forth, remains entangled in his logic. I shall not forget the lesson taught me by my enemy himself. What direction should the armored column take to invest the rear of the enemy? Nobody can say. What should the armored column be for this purpose? It should be weight of sea pressing against dike.

    What ought we do? This. That. The contrary of this or that. There is no determinism that governs the future. What ought we be? That is the essential question, the question that concerns spirit and not intelligence. For spirit impregnates intelligence with the creation that is to come forth. And later, intelligence is brought to the bed of creation. How should man go about building the first ship ever known? Very complicated, this. The ship will be born of a thousand errors and fumblings. But what should man be to build the first ship? Here I seize the problem of creation at the root. Merchant. Soldier. In love with the prospect of faraway lands. For then of necessity designers and builders will be born of that love. They will drain the energy of workmen and one day launch a ship. What should we do the annihilate a forest? The question is not easy. What be? Obviously, a forest fire.

  51. St-Exupery, to my mind, demonstrates how easily you can lose yourself in solipsism. Which is what so many philosophers do, getting lost in the forest while the practical man hacks and slashes his way through the density, towards his goal. Which he does without pausing to consider things, losing the forest for the trees.

    The question is one of balance; you must be able to do, as well as think. We have an imbalance in our social culture, in that we have doers who do not formally think, and thinkers who cannot do. And, because there is this vast gulf we’ve built up between the two, thanks in no small part to the role of modern academia, we’ve got this tremendous imbalance.

    I’ve often remarked on this, the fact that so many of our “leaders” do not seem to exist in the real world, preferring their self-created worlds where their words make reality. Nobody in any of our institutions ever seem to step outside things, and actually observe. They create policies and procedures in utter ignorance of the actual environments that those policies and procedures will have to work within, and then wonder why the results of their diktat do not match what they conceived them as being. They’re ignorant of the fact that the real world doesn’t match what they’ve ideated; causative factors intervene which they are not aware of, and it’s a rare manager or leader who actually goes out and considers these things at all.

    It’s all a question of behavior, when you get down to it: What cues in the environment are people responding to? Analyze those, understand those, and you’ll be on your way to grasping the root of nine-tenths of our problems.

  52. Kirk, I’d say if there was anyone who could *do* as well as think, it was St-Ex…airmail pilot back when aviation was a lot more dangerous than it is now, lived (as airmail station manager) among not-always-friendly tribes in North Africa), recon pilot in 1940 and volunteered for US forces in 1944, where he flew P-38s until he disappeared at sea.

    His point in the quote…one of his points, anyhow…is that you can’t always plan until you see the specifics of the situation.

  53. Here’s the thing, though… What did St-Exupery actually accomplish? Do you read any of his oeuvre and find practical guidance, actual recipes, as it were, for how to do things? Can you learn from him, in practical terms?

    The man wrote wonderfully, I’ll grant you that. But… Did he manage anything at all, like say, the conceptions and explanations which LTC John Boyd left behind him as a legacy?

    Boyd was an excellent example of a practitioner who contributed real things to the human realm of knowledge. What St-Exupery left behind was some lovely art, some contemplative solipsististic philosophizing, and not a hell of a lot past that. If anything, he’s an example of what I’m talking about, the vast gulf between the practicum of life, and theory. It’s like reading some of the Eastern philosophies, where you go looking for practical advice, and all you discover is airy-fairy bullshit where anything useful is buried sixteen layers deep, obfuscated by form over substance, style over practical use.

    I mean, I have read St-Exupery, and maybe I missed the things of value he had to contribute, but beyond the solipsism I found on my initial reading, I’ve never been able to find much of practical use. Unlike, say, Baltazar Gracian’s works.

    The difference is that of the one between art and the practicum of life. St-Exupery wrote beautiful things, but… Practical wisdom, advice to the ages? If it’s in there, it’s well-buried.

  54. I assume that quote is from Road to Arras? What a great book that is. It could be from any number of his works, I guess.
    St Ex wasn’t writing about how to manage a campaign, he was writing philosophically about how to go about your life when you find yourself in the middle of a completely hopeless situation.

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