Chicago Boyz

                 
 
 
What Are Chicago Boyz Readers Reading?
 

 
  •   Enter your email to be notified of new posts:
  •   Problem? Question?
  •   Contact Authors:

  • CB Twitter Feed
  • Blog Posts (RSS 2.0)
  • Blog Posts (Atom 0.3)
  • Incoming Links
  • Recent Comments

    • Loading...
  • Authors

  • Notable Discussions

  • Recent Posts

  • Blogroll

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Archive for the 'Academia' Category

    Perception and…

    Posted by David Foster on 14th July 2019 (All posts by )

    Culture?  Language?  Genetics?

    Alison Gopnik, writing in the WSJ, discusses an interesting experiment on problem solving in very young children which was run by two researchers at UC San Diego, following on to research in which Gopnik was herself involved.  Children of various ages were shown a machine that lights up when you put a block of a certain color or shape on it.  “Even toddlers can easily figure out that a green block makes the machine go while a blue block doesn’t.”

    The researchers wondered:  what if the test was of the relationship between objects..say, two square blocks of the same color made the machine light up, but not two blocks of different colors?

    For American children, 18-month-old children had no trouble figuring out that the relationship between the objects was the key thing.  But older American children, 3-year-olds, did worse at the relationship test than did their younger counterparts.  For Chinese children, however, the fall-off in relationship-assessing performance between 18 months and 3 years old did not happen.

    Here’s a reasonably decent summary of the paper’s main points, and here’s the paper itself.

    Why the fall-off for American kids?  (A temporary fall-off, it seems…the researchers say that the American kids recover their relationship-assessing skills between the ages of  4-6 years.)  One hypothesis is language….possibly the “noun spurt” that is said to characterize early-English learning has something to do with it.  Or perhaps there are broader cultural factors:  “In particular, there are well-documented differ- ences in holistic and analytic processing (and relatedly, collectivist and individualist cognitive styles) across cultures, which may simi- larly result in an emphasis on relationships between entities or on characteristics of individual entities. More broadly, environmental variation across these learning contexts (e.g., socioeconomic status, number of siblings, and pedagogical and child- rearing practices) may differentially affect general cognitive skills that are known to influence relational reasoning, like executive function.”  (quoted from the paper)

    Or, perhaps, could there be a genetic explanation?…Would children of Chinese ancestry, raised in the US in English-speaking homes, show more often the Chinese  pattern or the American pattern in these experiments?  While a genetic explanation seems unlikely to me, I would think it should at least be considered.

    Most likely, to me, seems the language explanation.  The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which has also been dubbed ‘linguistic relativity’, holds that the language we speak has a major impact on how we perceive the world…it fell into some disrepute after WWII because of its appropriation by the Nazis to make claims of cultural superiority and also because of some apparent errors in Whorf’s reporting, concerning for example the Inuit words for ‘snow’…it does make sense, however, that language has a significant impact on what thoughts can be most easily expressed and hence on what thoughts are most likely to be conceived.

    Posted in Academia, China, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, USA | 10 Comments »

    But for Wales?

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th June 2019 (All posts by )

    It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … but for Wales, Richard?- From A Man for All Seasons

    I have been following the Oberlin/Gibson Bakery trial with the same kind of reluctant and horrified fascination with which one might regard a multi-vehicle pileup on the highway; the mass-casualty kind that involves numerous vehicles in every kind of disassembled condition and in every possible position, scattered or crunched together on the roadway or catapulted off on the verge, which attracts the professional attention of multiple fire department engines, ambulances, and every police and highway patrol cruiser for miles around. In the case of the Gibson Bakery suit against Oberlin, extensive coverage of the protests, trial, verdict and local background to the whole messy affair was provided by the Legal Insurrection blog.

    One of the nastier aspects to the imbroglio is the revelation that there was an ongoing problem with students shoplifting, at Gibson’s and apparently at other local retailers. A writer for a student publication called it as a “culture of theft.” Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Blogging, Civil Society, Current Events, Education | 27 Comments »

    A Conversation in the Check-out Line

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 11th May 2019 (All posts by )

    Last weekend, I was at the local HEB … the nice new one on Bulverde Road and 1604, the one newly-built and opened last spring to serve a rapidly expanding population along that crossroads. When I bought the home that I live in now and probably forever, there was nothing much out that way but a gas station and a large plant nursery. Now – all kinds of commercial enterprises. We like that particular HEB, by the way. It’s a longer drive to get to, then the one nearer the neighborhood, which we term “the podunk HEB.” One is better for a slightly more upscale and very much wider collection of groceries and household stuff, the other is more convenient, just around the corner, and where we are more likely to encounter neighbors.
    At any rate, I was in the check-out line; an early Sunday afternoon, with all my purchases laid out on the belt, and a very much younger woman with a toddler in the seat of her cart, and a pretty full basket of comestibles in the basket, next in line after me. The toddler; a boy, about a year old, and with a short haircut of his dark hair. She was about mid-twenties and Hispanic, with purple-dyed hair. She reached up to the top row of the rack where impulse purchases are arrayed, books and magazines mostly, in a last attempt to get shoppers to make that one last purchase and picked out a small book. She laid it down on the belt, and said to me,
    “I can’t resist books.”
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Personal Narrative, Texas | 9 Comments »

    Study in White

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 3rd May 2019 (All posts by )

    I was ruminating all this week, after last week’s post on the practice of ‘othering’ and how common it seems of late that that white people (that is, those of us who are on the paler end of the skin-color spectrum and whose ancestors originated somewhere north of the Mediterranean and west of the Urals) are the piñata of choice among a wide swath of lefty academics, and certain media and political personalities. Last week it was the lefty librarian blogger getting her pantyhose in a twist about all those books by white people in academic libraries, this week it’s students at an Oakland HS (of course – Oakland/SF) demanding that murals of George Washington be painted over, a couple of months ago it was a rather nasty bigot named Sarah Jeong landing a cushy gig at the so-called newspaper of record, in spite of a series of tweets that would have seen any writer of pallor and masculinity reduced to waiting tables and driving for Uber. And now it appears that such concepts as a rule of law, assumption of innocence, conventional good manners and even timeliness are now held to be proof of the iniquity of whiteness. Why should this be so, and why now? Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Conservatism, Culture, Current Events, Human Behavior, Leftism, Media, Politics | 9 Comments »

    The Great Othering

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 24th April 2019 (All posts by )

    Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings. – Heinrich Heine

    This last week there was a mild kerfuffle in the world of those bloggers who love and often write books, and who also love history. This was caused by a marginally-literate screed published on a personal blog by one Sofia Leung, who professes to be a feminist and a librarian of the totally-woke/social-justice/critical-race-theory variety. Said screed was amplified in the twitter feed of the Library Journal, until the tweet was deleted, (possibly at the urging of someone with a lick of sense and professionalism). I suspect that the Library Journal is a publication which was once much more respected and authoritative; like Time, Newsweek, Scientific American, Harper’s, Smithsonian and National Geographic once were, before being overtaken in a flood of semi-coherent woke/social-justice/critical-race-theory nonsense. Quoth Ms. Leung –

    “Library collections continue to promote and proliferate whiteness with their very existence and the fact that they are physically taking up space in our libraries. They are paid for using money that was usually ill-gotten…”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Conservatism, Deep Thoughts | 22 Comments »

    The College Admissions Scam and the State of American Higher Education

    Posted by David Foster on 16th March 2019 (All posts by )

    The admissions scandal reveals a lot about the characters of the parents, college officials, and others that were involved; more importantly, it points up some unpleasant truths about the state of American higher education today.

    Heather MacDonald:

    None of this could have happened if higher education had not itself become a corrupt institution, featuring low classroom demands, no core knowledge acquisition, low grading standards, fashionable (but society-destroying) left-wing activism, luxury-hotel amenities, endless partying, and huge expense. Students often learn virtually nothing during their college years…

    Peggy Noonan, writing in the WSJ about the pressure on kids to become Success Robots:

    I go to schools a lot, have taught at universities and seen a ton of great kids and professors who’ve really sacrificed themselves to teach. A few years ago I worked for a few months at an Ivy League school. I expected a lot of questions about politics, history and literature. But that is not what the students were really interested in. What they were interested in—it was almost my first question, and it never abated—was networking. They wanted to know how you network. At first I was surprised: “I don’t know, that wasn’t on my mind, I think it all comes down to the work.” Then I’d ask: “Why don’t you just make friends instead?” By the end I was saying, “It’s a mistake to see people as commodities, as things you can use! Concentrate on the work!” They’d get impatient. They knew there was a secret to getting ahead, that it was networking, and that I was cruelly withholding successful strategies.

    In time I concluded they’d been trained to be shallow, encouraged to see others as commodities. They didn’t think great work would be rewarded, they thought great connections were. And it was what they’d implicitly been promised by the school: Get in here and you can network with the cream of the crop, you’ll rise to the top with them.’

    Indeed, much of the promotion of Higher Ed in the US has been based not on the idea that you will acquire knowledge, which is in itself a worthwhile thing, nor on the idea that you will acquire specific conceptual skills needed for your career, but rather, on the point that you will acquire a Degree, a Credential, a piece of paper.  And where ‘elite’ colleges are concerned, a big part of the perceived value of that credential is its scarcity value, quite similar to the scarcity value of a limited-edition print, the plates of which are destroyed after the initial run in order to keep the prices up.

    Fifty years ago, Peter Drucker asserted that one of the major advantages America has over Europe is the absence of a narrow educational funnel, in the form of a few ‘elite’ institutions, through which future high-level leaders must pass:

    One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…

    We as a country are a lot closer to accepting Grande Ecole status for Harvard Law School and similar institutions than we were when Drucker wrote the above.

    He continues:

    It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A. and M. is an engineer and not a draftsman.

    Parents who participated in the admissions scam seem to have had a view of American society similar to that which Drucker attributed to European society of 50 years ago.  And indeed, as I noted above, for some fields, this has even become somewhat true.

    To a considerable extent, the real social function of the ‘elite’ college degree in America today is the erection and perpetuation of class barriers:  the limitation of social mobility.  See this piece by Glenn Reynolds.

    If the colleges in question had truly rigorous programs, and one had to do well in these programs in order to get the coveted degree, then scams like the current one wouldn’t work very well. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that bribing your way into MIT would do you much good if you couldn’t do the work.  And bribing your way into a flight training program wouldn’t do you any good unless you developed the knowledge to pass the relevant written exam and the skills to convince an FAA Designated Examiner that you knew what you were doing.  Unfortunately, too many of America’s colleges seem to be more interested in establishing their admission processes as gateways to success than in demonstrating enough respect for what they profess to be teaching to ensure that their graduates have actually learned something about it when they get that magical certificate.

    Drucker also wrote:

    The central moral problem of the knowledge society will be the responsibility of the learned, the men of knowledge. Historically, the men of knowledge have not held power, at least not in the West. They were ornaments…But now knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement. Scientists and scholars are no longer merely “on tap,” they are “on top.”…

    But power and wealth impose responsibility. The learned may have more knowledge than the rest of us, but learning rarely confers wisdom. It is, therefore, not surprising that the men of knowledge do not realize that they have to acquire responsibility fast. They are no different from any other group that ever before entered into power..They too believe that anyone who questions their motives must be either fool or villain, either “anti-intellectual” or “McCarthyite.” But the men of knowledge, too, will find out that power can be justified only through responsibility…

    It is highly probable that the next great wave of popular criticism, indignation, and revolt in the United States will be provoked by the arrogance of the learned.

    I’m not sure university administrators, for the most part, should really count as “the learned”, although they do play that role on TV.

    Posted in Academia, Education, Europe, USA | 22 Comments »

    Stink on Ice

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 18th January 2019 (All posts by )

    Count De Monet – “Sir, the peasants are revolting!”
    King Louis – “You said it. They stink on ice.”

    Played for laughs in a movie by a producer/performer whom many of us doubt would ever get a green light today. But the great and good in the media and in the intellectual class – really do affect the pose that the peasants stink on ice, and say so, at every opportunity and in every possible venue. They despise the residents in Flyoverlandia – those who had the temerity to be conservative, conventionally religious, independent of thought, fiscally-careful, or even (gasp!) voting for Trump – or against Her Inevitableness, the Dowager Empress of Chappaqua. Victor Davis Hansen collected up a litany of poisonous disparagement in this recent essay; a collection that is all the more depressing as an assemblage, nasty as each one of them were considered in isolation as they occurred and bubbled up to the top of the outrage cycle.

    How did all this come about? (David F. ventured on this topic earlier this month.) I mean, there has always been a certain degree of social snobbery on the part of those who viewed themselves as being of the upper class, the managerial sort, the better-educated, and those who honestly felt they were the winners in the Darwinian struggle. The intellectual and artistic set always did regard themselves as a cut above the common herd. Over in Jolly Olde England, the gentry and nobility enforced their own supreme position with a fine sense of social brutality against ambitious interlopers.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Current Events, Leftism | 73 Comments »

    The Costs of Formalism and Credentialism

    Posted by David Foster on 16th December 2018 (All posts by )

    Via Grim, an interesting post at the Federalist:  Our Culture War Is Between People Who Get Results And Empty Suits With Pristine Credentials.

    Subtitle:  Donald Trump declines the authority of the cultural sectors that most assertively claim it. That’s the real conflict going on.

    I’m reminded of an interchange that took place between Picasso and Monet as the German Army advanced through France in 1940.  Monet was shocked to learn that the enemy had already reached Reims.  “But what about our generals?” asked Monet. “What are they doing.”

    Picasso’s response: “Well, there you have it, my friend. It’s the Ecole des Beaux-Arts”

    …ie, formalists who had learned one set of rules and were not interested in considering deviations from same.

    It was an astute remark, and it fits very well with the observations of Andre Beaufre, who before the invasion had been a young captain on the French General Staff. Although he had initially been thrilled to be placed among this elevated circle…

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

    The consequences of that approach became clear in May 1940.

    In addition to the formalism that Picasso hypothesized (and Beaufre observed) on the French General Staff, the civilian side of the French government was highly credential-oriented.  From the linked article:

    In the first days of July, 1940, the American diplomat Robert Murphy took up his duties as the chargé d’affaires at the new U.S. embassy in Vichy, France. Coming from his recent post in Paris, he was as impressed as he expected to be by the quality of the Vichy mandarinate, a highly credentialed class of sophisticated officials who were “products of the most rigorous education and curricula in any public administration in the world.”

    As the historian Robert Paxton would write, French officials were “the elite of the elite, selected through a daunting series of relentless examinations for which one prepared at expensive private schools.” In July 1940, the elite of the elite governed the remains of their broken nation, a few days after Adolf Hitler toured Paris as its conqueror. Credentials were the key to holding public office, but not the key to success at the country’s business.

    It certainly appears that the current protests and riots in France are at least in part due to long-simmering resentment at that country’s credentialed class, whose performance has not matched their pretensions.  An interesting anecdote about Macron, in the Sunday Express:

    This is a man who chastised a teenager at an official event for calling him “Manu” (the friendly diminutive of Emmanuel), saying that he should not express a view until he has acquired a degree and a job.

    and

    Macron is a graduate of the Ecole Normale d’administration (ENA), an elite Grande Ecole created by General De Gaulle in 1945 to break the upper class control of top Civil Service positions. 

    In reality, only nine percent of ENA the graduates that fill the corridors of power in industry and government have a working class background.  The top 12 or 15 students will move to L’Inspection générale des finances (IGF), and then into a career in politics, or finance, Macron’s chosen route since he became a partner with Rothschild and Cie bank.

    Americans should not feel smug about our relatively-lesser obsession with credentials.  I’ve previously quoted  something Peter Drucker wrote in 1969:

    One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…

    and

    It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A. and M. is an engineer and not a draftsman.

    We as a country are a lot closer to accepting Grande Ecole status for Harvard Law School and similar institutions than we were when Drucker wrote the above.  We haven’t gone as far as France and other European nations, but the trend has clearly been in the wrong direction.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, China, Deep Thoughts, Education, Europe, France, History, Society, Trump, USA | 15 Comments »

    Heather MacDonald

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd December 2018 (All posts by )

    …on identity politics.  Interview with Mark Levin.  Highly recommended.

     

     

    Posted in Academia, Feminism, Leftism, USA | 2 Comments »

    The Two Minutes Hate is Being Indefinitely Extended

    Posted by David Foster on 29th October 2018 (All posts by )

    Atlantic writer Franklin Foer:

    Any strategy for enhancing the security of American Jewry should involve shunning Trump’s Jewish enablers. Their money should be refused, their presence in synagogues not welcome. They have placed their community in danger.

    I wonder if Franklin Foer has been equally vehement in denouncing the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic harassment on American university campuses, or the ongoing relationship of prominent Democrats with Louis Farrakhan, or the attempted political murders of Steve Scalise and others. After Nancy Pelosi said “I just don’t even know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country,”  did he call for the shunning of Pelosi contributors?

    Saturday, from a journalist named Julia Loffe:

    And a word to my fellow American Jews: This president makes this possible. Here. Where you live. I hope the embassy move over there, where you don’t live was worth it.

    So she thinks the US should establish its foreign policy to ensure against a possible violent reaction from any of the worst criminals, crazies, and thugs in the country?  That is an equation with no solutions, and her foregoing tweet doesn’t strike me as even being sane.

    Also Saturday, journalist Salena Zito was confronted by a reporter for the Guardian:

    In middle of a somber moment at staging area while I was talking to a member of the Jewish community this @guardian reporter started screaming at me that I was an anti-Semite/that I caused shooting because I reports on Trump  & to leave and kept screaming in my face to get out.

    “Progressives” often accuse Trump supporters of being “haters”, but it should be obvious that many of the Progs are themselves filled with hate and rage to a frightening degree.

    John Podhoretz:

    Based on the early evidence, the shooter was not only consumed with a hatred of Jews but possessed a kind of sneering contempt for Trump on the grounds that Trump was basically a Jewish agent or a Jew-lover himself. Trump can only be blamed for the murderous Jew-killing actions of someone who thought of him that way by people who are so consumed by hatred of him that there is nothing they won’t blame him for.

    It has even been asserted that Soros is shorthand for the Jews, and anyone who has said anything about him (presumably he means said anything negative about him) has blood on their hands.  (I suspect that the people making these claims are mostly the same people who object vehemently to “big money in politics.”)

    Masha Merkulova, who came to the US from the Soviet Union:

    Not a week goes by that I don’t hear about university professors who are concerned about openly identifying as Zionist for fear of being punished in their professional lives; or college students who worry about their grades and social lives if they object to their professors’ anti-Israel words and actions; or teens whose teachers are outwardly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, or whose classmates draw a swastika next to their name.

    Yet this sort of thing seems to be of little interest to most prominent journalists, “intellectual” writers, activist-entertainers, etc…most probably because it can’t be used as a hammer to beat up on their favorite targets.

    Much of the Left today seems absolutely blinded by hate. (For one more example, see the disruption of a moment of silence for the Pittsburgh victims, at a Marsha Blackburn event in Tennessee.)  As the election approaches, I am convinced that it’s important to keep these people as far away as possible from the levers of power.  The assertions that there should be a prohibition against criticism of George Soros seems like a clear indicator that the Left, if they had the power, would like to treat this as a Reichstag Fire moment to shut down speech and political activity of which they don’t approve.

    Posted in Academia, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Jewish Leftism, Judaism, Leftism, USA, War and Peace | 32 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Senator Elizabeth Warren & Three E-mails Sent With No Response

    Posted by Jonathan on 17th October 2018 (All posts by )

    [START: #1]
     
    [Dear Professor,]
     
    I am sure you have read the news reports about Senator Warren. I am wondering what you think of the position you put forward some years ago. See …, Intersectionality and Positionality: Situating Women of Color in the Affirmative Action Dialogue, 66 Fordham L. Rev. 843, 898 (1997) (“Harvard Law School hired its first woman of color, Elizabeth Warren, in 1995.”); id. at 898 n.284 (citing to …, News Director, Harvard Law School (Aug. 6, 1996)) ….
     
    Perhaps a follow up or letter to the editor (at Fordham Law Review) might be interesting and worthwhile. See Fordham Law Review (e-mail); (alt e-mail) ….
     
    [. . .]

    Read the rest.

    Posted in Academia, Leftism, Media, Politics, USA | 8 Comments »

    A Reductio ad Absurdum of the “Progressive” Categorization Obsession

    Posted by David Foster on 25th September 2018 (All posts by )

    Here’s a “lifeboat” exercise for students at an Ohio middle school.  The scenario is that Earth is doomed–a spaceship is escaping, but there is only room for 8 passengers out of the original 12 who were selected.  Students were required to choose who should go and who should stay, based on such descriptive criteria as:

    –“an accountant with a substance abuse problem”
    –“a militant Afro-American medical student”
    –“a female movie star who was recently the victim of a sexual assault”
    –“an Asian, orphaned 12-year-old boy”

    etc etc

    Note that these descriptions are mainly about demographics categories and sexual preferences/behavior/experiences, and about attitudes toward these things.  There’s a little about occupations, not much about skills, and very little indeed about personality and behavior.  We are a long way here from Martin Luther King’s dictum about judging people by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin.

    The above may be a particularly egregious example, but this kind of thinking has become quite common in American universities.  Administrators, along with substantial parts of the faculties and now also the student populations, tend to view people through exactly this kind of lenses.  I’m reminded of the University of Delaware indoctrinator who became rather disturbed when one of his indoctrinees responsed to the question “When were you first made aware of your race?” with  “That is irrelevant to everything. My race is human being” and  “When did you discover your sexual identity?” with “That is none of your damn business”…and, most significantly, responded to  “When was a time you felt oppressed? Who was oppressing you? How did you feel? with this:

    “I am oppressed everyday on basis of my undying and devout feelings for the opera”

    …which elegantly makes the point that people are more than the sum of their demographic categories, and that the things that result in their “oppression” or “privileging” are often things other than those categories.  I greatly admire this young woman’s courage.

    This sort of thing may have started in odd corners of American universities, but has now become one of the defining characteristics of those universities, and has substantially spilled out with toxic effects for the entire society.

     

    Posted in Academia, Leftism, USA | 15 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: The Five-Pound Butterfly Revisited

    Posted by David Foster on 17th September 2018 (All posts by )

    Several years ago, the WSJ wrote about the tendency of many companies to do hiring based on a long string of highly-specific (and excessively-specific) requirements. One person interviewed remarked that “Companies are looking for a five-pound butterfly. Not finding them doesn’t mean there is a shortage of butterflies.”

    Since that article was written, the five-pound butterfly effect has probably gotten worse rather than better in the business world. (Until very recently–see below.)  But hunting for five-pound butterflies also seems to be increasingly affecting other areas of life, including college admissions and the search for love and marriage.

    First I’ll talk about the five-pound butterfly effect in a business context and then develop its applicability to other areas. The WSJ article mentioned a company that makes automobile bumper parts and was looking for a factory shift supervisor. They eliminated all candidates who didn’t have a BS degree, even though many had relevant experience, and also insisted on experience with the specific manufacturing software that was in use at the plant. It took six months to fill this job (during which time the position was being filled by someone who wouldn’t ultimately be chosen for it.) Another company, Wabtec, which makes components for railcars and buses, insisted on knowledge of a specific version of the computer-aided design system it uses, even though the differences between that version and the earlier version were not all that great.

    And as the article (which focused mainly on engineering jobs) didn’t mention…there were certainly talented salespeople who didn’t get hired this week because they lacked specific experience with the particular sales automation or customer resource management system being used..knowledge that they could have easily picked up during their first week or two on the job.

    As I said in my original post inspired by the WSJ article: It’s a basic reality of life that you can’t optimize everything at once. So, if you insist on a perfect fit for certain things, you are probably getting less of some other attributes–and these may be ones that matter more. I’d personally rather have a salesman who has demonstrated (for example) skill at managing the customer politics in a large and complex sale than one who has specific experience with the Snarkolator CRM system. It’s a lot easier to train for the second than for the first.

    Similarly, if a newly-hired mechanical engineer doesn’t work out, the cause will probably not be his lack of experience with the latest version of a CAD system. More likely, it will be a lack of good design intuition…or poor interpersonal skills…or an inability to integrate mechanical design with electrical and electronics aspects of the same product…or fit with the cultural style of the organization. Maybe he comes from an environment where he was closely supervised, and the new environment is more open and requires more self-starting…or vice versa. These things are not easily represented in “checklist” form, as is knowledge of a specific software package and version, but they matter a lot. The problem with increasingly long lists of requirements is that they tend to shortchange those things that cannot be easily compressed into a yes/no format, and also tend to screen out potential employees whose extreme excellence on certain criteria could well make up for their deficiencies in others.

    Moving from work to love…there are apparently a lot of single people (especially women, it seems) who have developed long checklists for prospective partners. (It’s rumored that one woman had something like 350 items on her “mandatory” list.) As in the work environment, long checklists tend to delay the search..but more important, they can shortchange the factors that matter most. If someone insists on a prospective husband who is an investment banker with a good sense of humor and cooks gourmet meals and really likes kids, then she might, if she is very lucky, eventually find someone who satisfies all these criteria to some degree…but the sense of humor might not be quite as great, and the liking for kids not quite as strong, as if she were willing to compromise on the investment banker and the gourmet meals criteria. (And, of course, there are plenty of factors that operate below the conscious level and can’t be meaningfully represented on a checklist at all.)

    (Update 9/17/18:  There are some indications that, as full employment gets closer, more employers are willing to compromise on educational requirements, and also experience requirements.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Blogging, Education, Human Behavior, Management, USA | 10 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

    Posted by David Foster on 9th September 2018 (All posts by )

    That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Political Philosophy | 5 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: My Post on CONLAWPROF: On Elected Judges and Elected Prosecutors

    Posted by Jonathan on 26th August 2018 (All posts by )

    It strikes me that the complaint against judicial elections (as voiced on this listserv) is rooted in the absence of life tenure — not elections per se. You could have elections filling judicial vacancies — but with the candidates’ receiving life tenure. And you could have appointments by political authorities to fixed and limited judicial terms — with the possibility of reappointment. The threat to the rule of law (such as it is), lies with the prospective candidate for reelection/reappointment to judicial office biasing his/her decision for self-interested reasons. But that conflict of interest will appear whenever you have terms of limited duration with the possibility of reelection/reappointment. It is not elections per se that create the conflict.

    This is an excellent point.

    Read Seth’s post in full.

    Posted in Academia, Deep Thoughts, Elections, Law, Politics, Tradeoffs | 3 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Higher Education, Un(der)employment, and Dissatisfaction

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd August 2018 (All posts by )

    Some thoughts from the great economist Joseph Schumpeter, writing in 1942:

    The man who has gone through a college or university easily becomes psychically unemployable in manual occupations without necessarily acquiring employability in, say, professional work. His failure to do so may be due either to lack of natural ability—perfectly compatible with passing academic tests—or to inadequate teaching; and both cases will . . . occur more frequently as ever larger numbers are drafted into higher education and as the required amount of teaching increases irrespective of how many teachers and scholars nature chooses to turn out.

    The results of neglecting this and of acting on the theory that schools, colleges and universities are just a matter of money, are too obvious to insist upon. Cases in which among a dozen applicants for a job, all formally qualified, there is not one who can fill it satisfactorily, are known to everyone who has anything to do with appointments . . .

    All those who are unemployed or unsatisfactorily employed or unemployable drift into the vocations in which standards are least definite or in which aptitudes and acquirements of a different order count. They swell the host of intellectuals in the strict sense of the term whose numbers hence increase disproportionately. They enter it in a thoroughly discontented frame of mind. Discontent breeds resentment. And it often rationalizes itself into that social criticism which as we have seen before is in any case the intellectual spectator’s typical attitude toward men, classes and institutions especially in a rationalist and utilitarian civilization.

    Well, here we have numbers; a well-defined group situation of proletarian hue; and a group interest shaping a group attitude that will much more realistically account for hostility to the capitalist order than could the theory—itself a rationalization in the psychological sense—according to which the intellectual’s righteous indignation about the wrongs of capitalism simply represents the logical inference from outrageous facts. . . . Moreover our theory also accounts for the fact that this hostility increases, instead of diminishing, with every achievement of capitalist evolution.

    via the WSJ

    Reminds me of Francis Bacon’s assertion…way back in the late 1500s!…that one cause of sedition and mutiny in any polity is “breeding more scholars than preferment can take off.”

    (In the original post, there was also a link to a Theodore Dalrymple excerpt at the old Neptunus Lex site, but I haven’t been able to locate it)

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society | 22 Comments »

    The problem of modern socialism

    Posted by TM Lutas on 18th August 2018 (All posts by )

    This is lifted from one of many retyped responses to people who just want to engage in history-free, context-free thought experiments on whether socialism is any good. This particular one came in response to a person who was defending the USSR as a viable method of organizing society.

    “The problem is, and likely will remain for the foreseeable future, that there are wannabee genocidaires who would like to be signing the death warrants for those who resist the advance of socialism. There is no reliable test to separate those evil people from those who haven’t figured out why socialism landed on the ash heap of history and genuinely want to run through what happened, what went wrong, and why so many people died in the pursuit of this idea of implementing the labor theory of value as government policy.”

    If there is a reliable test, I certainly would love to know it. The ignorant are coming out of the US education system by the boatload. The malicious are far fewer than that, but so dangerous that they can’t be ignored.

    Posted in Academia, Economics & Finance, Education, Philosophy | 15 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: The Age of Blather

    Posted by David Foster on 17th August 2018 (All posts by )

    Diana Senechal, guest-blogging at Joanne Jacobs, told the following story:

    I run two lunchtime literature clubs at my school. The fourth graders just finished reading A Little Princess. During our discussions, I encourage delving into the text and discussing it on its own terms. I am not a big fan of “accountable talk,” “making predictions,” “making connections,” and so forth when they assume precedence over the subject matter itself.

    One student brought up the part where Sara spends her money on hot buns for a beggar girl. “She made a self-to-self connection,” the student said. I felt sorry that students are learning such ghastly terminology, however well meant. Why are students not encouraged to say, “She understood how the girl felt” or “She felt compassion for the girl”?

    Why, indeed? It’s bad enough to impose verbiage like “self-to-self connection” on college students: to do it to a 4th grader is really unforgiveable. It adds nothing to understanding–indeed, it very likely interferes with the true understanding and appreciation of the story by creating an emotional distance.

    Strange, awkward, and unnatural verbal formulations, used ritualistically and without contributing to understanding, are becoming increasingly common in our society: although this phenomenon is arguably at its worst in education, it is by no means limited to that field. These word and phrases are not similar to the traditional jargon of a profession or trade. “Self-to-self connections” is not the same kind of thing as “amp” or even “kanban.”

    Mark Helprin, in an essay about art, writes about people who are so obsessed with their tools and techniques that they lose sight of the substance of the work:

    Modernism is by necessity obsessed with form, much like a craftsman obsessed with his tools and materials. In my climbing days we used to call people like that “equipment weenies.” These days you can see it in fly-fishing, where not a few people go out once a year with $5,000-worth of equipment to catch (maybe) $5-worth of fish. What should have been the story of the man, the stream, and the fish becomes instead a romance between the man and his tools. In this century the same thing happened in art.

    Athough Helprin is talking here about art, but the same excessive focus on methodology is visible in other areas as well.

    Who are the people who perpetrate and cling to these fake-erudite verbal formulations? I suspect that they are generally those who have an education which is extensive–in terms of total years spent in the classroom–but not deep.

    Bruce Fleming, who teaches English at the U.S. Naval Academy, has some interesting thoughts on the teaching/misteaching of literature, which are highly relevant to this topic. Excerpt:

    Literary study in the classroom nowadays offers views of the work of literature rather like the views of Mt. Fuji in Hokusai’s celebrated spring series on “100 Views of Mt. Fuji.” In each view, the mountain, while present, is frequently tiny and in a corner, viewed (in the most famous print) beyond the crest of a wave whose foam seems to make fingers at the edges, or (in another) through a hoop that a barrel-maker is shaping.

    Those are not the front-and-center shots on a postcard. They foreground the angle of the mountain, its treatment, much the way a literature professor does with a funky viewpoint that got him or her tenure. Of course the postcard shot has its own point, but in a real sense it’s more neutral than the angled treatment. It doesn’t push our noses in its approach: It defers to the object it is depicting. We’re far more conscious of the treatment of Mt. Fuji in an artsy Hokusai print than we are in a postcard shot. And that means, we’re all but compelled to see the mountain the way it’s presented, rather than being able to work on our own presentation. That’s why literary studies is intrinsically coercive.

    I think the blatherification of America is an important issue. It inhibits clear thought. It is harmful to the enjoyment of art and of literature. It is destructive of intelligent policy-making in both business and government.

    What say you? Do you agree that blatherification is happening and that it matters? Thoughts on causes and possible countermeasures?

    (links for the Helprin and Fleming quotes removed–no longer working)

    Posted in Academia, Education, Society | 6 Comments »

    Are Universities in the Business of Producing Jeongs?

    Posted by David Foster on 8th August 2018 (All posts by )

    Instapundit quotes Jonah Goldberg, writing about Sarah Jeong:

    [Joseph] Schumpeter predicted, before the massive expansion of higher education, that capitalism would breed a new class of intellectuals (writers, journalists, artists, lawyers, etc.) who would be motivated by both ideology and self-interest to undermine liberal democratic capitalism. “Unlike any other type of society, capitalism inevitably and by virtue of the very logic of its civilization creates, educates and subsidizes a vested interest in social unrest,” Schumpeter wrote in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. He adds a bit further on: “For such an atmosphere [of social hostility to capitalism] to develop it is necessary that there be groups whose interest it is to work up and organize resentment, to nurse it, to voice it and to lead it.”

    Sarah Jeong is not the ideal example of what Schumpeter was talking about, viz. capitalism (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fits that bill better). But she is a good example of the larger adversary culture that universities not only “nudge” students toward, but actively indoctrinate them into. Simply put, there is an entire industry dedicated to the proposition that not just the American past, but the American present, is disordered, bigoted, and oppressive. And Jeong’s meteoric and meritocratic rise demonstrates how so many of our best and brightest have gotten that message. How many have internalized it as ideology or have just cynically decided that’s how you get ahead is an open question.

    …which reminded me of an observation made a long time ago:

    Francis Bacon pointed out four hundred years ago that one reason for sedition and mutiny in any polity was “breeding more scholars than preferment can take off”…

    (Honor: A History, by James Bowman)

    A modern translation of “breeding more scholars than preferment can take off” might be “graduating more PhDs than have any hope of getting tenure.”

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, History, Leftism, USA | 11 Comments »

    Are Professors Undercutting Women in STEM?

    Posted by David Foster on 15th July 2018 (All posts by )

    …and, if so, which professors?

    It has often been asserted that (male) professors in engineering, math, computer science, etc are causing a shortage of women in STEM by projecting the attitude that women are unwelcome in their fields.  I’ve always thought this seemed rather unlikely as a common thing–though no doubt it happens in some  cases–if the assertion is meant to apply to the events of the last 20 years or so.

    Comes now Barbara Oakley, herself a professor of engineering:

    Professors have profound influence over students’ career choices. I’m sometimes flabbergasted at the level of bias and antagonism toward STEM from professors outside scientific fields. I’ve heard it all: STEM is only for those who enjoy “rote” work. Engineering is not creative. There’s only one right answer. You’ll live your life in a cubicle. It’s dehumanizing. You’ll never talk to anyone. And, of course, it’s sexist. All this from professors whose only substantive experience with STEM is a forced march through a single statistics course in college, if that.

    My colleagues in the humanities unthinkingly malign STEM in front of me. Their bias has become so deeply ingrained that they don’t think twice. My students tell me it’s worse when I’m not around.

    She also argues that the differing patterns of math vs verbal skills in men and women tends to make women more susceptible to the anti-STEM shots taken by the professors of which she is speaking:

    Many studies, including a critical review by Elizabeth Spelke in American Psychologist, have shown that on average men and women have the same abilities in math and science. But as Mr. Reges notes, women tend to do better than men verbally—a consequence of early developmental advantages…Consider a student who gets an A in every subject. Let’s call her Nadine. She’s the type of student who could excel in whatever she chooses. Her engineering professors might be telling her that an electrical engineering degree is a great career choice that will open doors and pay well. But her non-STEM professors may be telling her something completely different: “You won’t use your fantastic writing skills. And besides, you’ll just sit in a cubicle crunching numbers.” Nadine can begin to feel she’s untrue to her full set of talents if she picks engineering. So Nadine jumps the STEM ship.

    Only anecdotal evidence is presented; still, given the level of bitterness that seems to pervade today’s academia, the STEM-slamming behavior that Oakley describes doesn’t seem all that unlikely.

    Thoughts?

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Human Behavior, Science, Tech | 10 Comments »

    Wilder Othering

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 14th July 2018 (All posts by )

    I cannot say how much the ditching of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name for a yearly award for the best in published books for children and young adults distresses and disappoints me. I am one of those millions of readers who read and adored the Little House books early on, which various volumes my parents presented to me for Christmas and my birthday from the time that I could read – basically from the age of eight on. I would sit down and read the latest gift from cover to cover almost at once, so much did I love the books. After so many decades of honor, respect, and dedicated fanship, after having basically created (along with her daughter) a whole YA genre – historical adventure novels set on the 19th century frontier – LIW is now writer-non-grata, in the eyes of a segment of the American Library Association which deals primarily with library services to kids. Henceforward, sayeth the Association for Library Service to Children, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award will now be called The Children’s Literature Legacy Award, or something equally forgettable. The public reason given for this are two-fold, as nearly as I can deduce.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Americas, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Civil Society, Culture, Current Events, History, Libertarianism, Society | 20 Comments »

    Conformity, Cruelty, and Political Activism

    Posted by David Foster on 10th July 2018 (All posts by )

    John Dos Passos was an American writer.  In his younger years, he was a man of the Left, and, like many leftists and some others he was very involved with the Sacco and Vanzetti case.

    But he was more than a little disturbed by some of those that shared his viewpoint.  Describing one protest he had attended, he wrote:

    From sometime during this spring of 1926 of from the winter before a recollection keeps rising to the surface. The protest meeting is over and I’m standing on a set of steps looking into the faces of the people coming out of the hall. I’m frightened by the tense righteousness of the faces. Eyes like a row of rifles aimed by a firing squad. Chins thrust forward into the icy night. It’s almost in marching step that they stride out into the street. It’s the women I remember most, their eyes searching out evil through narrowed lids. There’s something threatening about this unanimity of protest. They are so sure they are right.

    I agree with their protest:  I too was horrified by this outrage.  I’m not one either to stand by and see injustice done.  But do I agree enough?  A chill goes down by spine..Whenever I remember the little scene I tend to turn it over in my mind.  Why did my hackles rise at the sight of the faces of these good people coming out of the hall? 

    Was it a glimpse of the forming of a new class conformity that like all class conformities was bent on riding the rest of us?

    Quoting Dos Passos and connecting his observations to our own time, Jay Nordlinger wrote:

    I know these people. I saw them in Ann Arbor. I saw them in many other places afterward.  Today, you can see them on campuses as “SJWs”: “social-justice warriors.” You can see them wherever there is arrogant, intolerant extremism (no matter which direction it’s coming from).

    The thing that frightened Dos Passos in the attitude of these protestors–who were, remember, his allies–is in my opinion quite similar to the thing that is so disturbing about so many of today’s “progressive” protestors.  Dos (as he was called) was entirely correct to be disturbed by what he saw, but I don’t think he diagnosed it quite correctly.  Though he refers to the protestors he observed as “those good people,” quite likely many of them weren’t good people at all–even if they were right about their cause–but were rather engaging in the not-good-at-all pleasure of conformity and the enforcement thereof, and would given half a chance have gone all the way to the even-worse pleasure of bullying.

    Whether or not this view of the protestors’ motivations is a fair one–and I am simply layering the explanation that seems to make sense to me on top of Dos’s description of his own subjective reactions–the spirt of conformity certainly drives a great deal of political and other wickedness.  I remember a German man who was interviewed near the beginning of the TV series The World at War.  Although he was anti-Nazi, he described the emotional pull he felt when viewing Party rallies–a strong desire to be part of such a cohesive and comitted group.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 16 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Nice Work, by David Lodge

    Posted by David Foster on 7th July 2018 (All posts by )

    Nice Work by David Lodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But still:

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Human Behavior, Management | 1 Comment »

    The Toughest Job in America?

    Posted by David Foster on 24th May 2018 (All posts by )

    Admiral William McRaven, who is retiring as Chancellor of the University of Texas system, asserted that  “Leading a university or health institution is ‘the toughest job in the nation.'”

    McRaven was for many years a SEAL leader, with his career culminating in planning and overseeing the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

    I’d suggest that, if leading a university (and for this post, I’ll be focusing on that part of the admiral’s statement rather than the healthcare part) is harder that leading major special-forces operations against determined enemies…then something is very wrong.

    Mind you, I’m not saying he’s incorrect.  Indeed, I’d go further: except for certain niche institutions, the job of university president or chancellor may now not just be difficult, but impossible.  Impossible, that is, if you look at success in terms of generating reasonable positive educational results within a reasonably positive culture, not just keeping one’s job.

    And this situation is largely the result of the poor performance of several generations of previous university administrators. There has been overselling of what universities are offering..increasingly including graduate studies…as the only key to success in American societies.  There has been encouragement of students to sign up for very large loans, without the kind of disclosure of risks that would be required for any other kind of large investment; coupled with the first point, this has resulted in many people being on campus who shouldn’t be there at all and/or aren’t taking their education very seriously. There has been in many cases a lack of attention to the mission of teaching.  There has been a lack of respect for civil liberties of both students and professors, a tolerance of intimidation tactics by students, professors, and outside parties, and an encouragement of organizations and ‘fields of study’ that are by their very nature hostile to the notion of an academic community.  And there has been little pushback against intrusive regulation from government, as long as funding is at stake.

    True, not all university administrators have conducted themselves in the manner described above, but enough have that American higher education as a whole has become increasingly toxic.  And when a culture has become sufficiently toxic, it is very difficult for even the best leader to implement meaningful change.

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Organizational Analysis, Texas, War and Peace | 29 Comments »

    The Custom of the Country

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 21st April 2018 (All posts by )

    I always had rather a soft spot in me for Barbara Bush; the exemplary old-school upper-middle-class good wife, with her triple strand of pearls, and the way that she didn’t give a damn about going prematurely white. That was the way she was, and she didn’t give two pins. Class – that’s what she had, the class of a previous generation; a class now belatedly appreciated and mourned, now that the upholders and exemplars of it are almost now gone from between us. Among my transitory friends in Korea was a security policeman who had come off the White House protection squad at the end of the senior Bush administration: he adored Barbara, who called him Timmy – possibly the only person on earth besides his mother who did so, as he was one of these six-and-a-half foot tall human hazards in traffic, who looked rather like an Irish-Anglo version of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
    So – I took brief note of her passing; yes, good to die at home, refusing anything but palliative care, among family, and those whom hold you in affection. I am certain that Timmy – wherever he is now – is riffling through his fond memories of his particular First Lady and drinking a toast to her. A good long life, well lived, a loving marriage, well-adjusted and successful children, and grandchildren; what more could a brief life on this earth offer? I also drink a toast to Barbara Bush, and convey my sincerest condolences to those who loved her, a circle which extends far beyond those of her blood family. (I wish, though, that she had not been so catty about Sarah Palin, but I guess she was just going along with the old-line Establishment GOP crowd.)

    This appears to be a simple social courtesy too much for a certain professor of … something or other at a California State University. Oh – it’s the one in Fresno. Fresno – like Bakersfield, it’s own punishment. (Yes, I am letting my latent California snobbishness show. Yes, there are places in California too infra dig for words. Fresno is one of them, although it did feature in a hilarious and all-star parody of 1980s dramas like Dynasty and Dallas. I continue.) The tweets posted by this so-called professor (of what, pray tell? Oh, dear – of English.) Couldn’t prove it through the content of her tweets, which largely appear barely literate speak for themselves – mostly a narrative of vicious ignorance and malice. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Current Events, Customer Service, Education, Leftism, Media, Society | 13 Comments »