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

    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.

    B&H Search Banner Small
    B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Organizational Analysis, Texas, War and Peace | 24 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 »

    Click Here To Save $15 at Ammo.com

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

    So, Really Want to Talk About Foreign Intervention?

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

    Much ink and many photons have been spent discussing Russia’s attempts to influence (or at least disrupt) the American 2016 Presidential campaign.  Meanwhile…

    Here’s an appalling story about how anger from the Chinese government led Marriott Corporation to fire an employee who had ‘liked’ a tweet which congratulated the company for listing Tibet as a country, along with Hong Kong and Taiwan….of course, the Chinese regime considers Tibet to be a part of China, not a separate country.

    China forced Marriott to suspend all online booking for a week at its nearly 300 Chinese hotels. A Chinese leader also demanded the company publicly apologize and “seriously deal with the people responsible,” the Journal reported.

    And boy, did Marriott ever apologize. Craig Smith, president of the hotel chain’s Asian division, told the China Daily that Marriott had committed two significant mistakes — presumably the survey listing Tibet and the liked tweet — that “appeared to undermine Marriott’s long-held respect for China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

    He announced an “eight-point rectification plan” that included education for hotel employees across the globe and stricter supervision.

    And the Marriott executive said this to China’s most-read English-language newspaper: “This is a huge mistake, probably one of the biggest in my career.”

    (More here…according to this article, the Chinese suppression of Marriott bookings was in response to the initial listing of Tibet as a country rather than to the tweet approving of this listing)

    The Chinese economy is, shall we say, a little more dynamic than that of Russia, so the government of China has much more ability to strong-arm American corporations (in general) than does the Putin regime.

    Turning now from the hotel industry to the movie industry, Richard Gere says that Chinese pressure due to his stand on Tibetan independence has led to his being dropped from big Hollywood movies.  Also:

    Gere’s activities have not just made Hollywood apparently reluctant to cast him in big films, he says they once resulted in him being banished from an independently financed, non-studio film which was not even intended for a Chinese release.

    “There was something I was going to do with a Chinese director, and two weeks before we were going to shoot, he called saying, ‘Sorry, I can’t do it,’” Gere recalled. “We had a secret phone call on a protected line. If I had worked with this director, he, his family would never have been allowed to leave the country ever again, and he would never work.”

    See also How China’s Censors Influence Hollywood.  Because the Chinese market is so large…(Fast and Furious 7 pulled in $388 million in China, more than it made in the US)…the influence of the Chinese regime on US film production and distribution has become immense.

    In recent years, foreign filmmakers have also gone out of their way not to provoke the Communist Party. For instance, the 2012 remake of the Cold War action movie, Red Dawn, originally featured Chinese soldiers invading an American town. After filming was complete, though, the moviemakers went back and turned the attacking army into North Koreans, which seemed a safer target, at least until last year’s hack of Sony Pictures.

    and

    Ying Zhu, a professor of media culture at the College of Staten Island at the City University of New York, worries China’s growing market power is giving the Communist Party too much leverage over Hollywood.

    “The Chinese censors can act as world film police on how China can be depicted, how China’s government can be depicted, in Hollywood films,” she says. “Therefore, films critical of the Chinese government will be absolutely taboo.”

    In the late 1990s, when China’s box office was still small, Hollywood did make movies that angered the Communist Party, such as Seven Years In Tibet, about the life of the Dalai Lama, and Red Corner, a Richard Gere thriller that criticized China’s legal system. Given the importance of the China market now, Zhu says those movies wouldn’t get financing today.

    Plus, Chinese companies have snapped up Hollywood studios, theaters and production companies.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Business, China, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Environment, Film, Media, Russia, Science, Tech, USA | 34 Comments »

    More and Better Disclosures!

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

    It’s now required for publicly-traded companies to publish the ratio between the CEO’s annual compensation and that of the median employee.  That ratio is, for example,  367:1 at Disney (Robert Iger), 124:1 at Deere & Co (Samuel Allen), and 50:1 for Whirlpool (Jeff Fettig). Link

    These numbers (which, it should be clarified, include seasonal and part-time employees) have caused much alarm in many quarters, and even referred to as heralding a “crisis of capitalism.”

    But why stop at CEOs and other business executives when requiring this kind of analysis?  My idea is that there are many other fields in which high-visibility disclosures could be interestingly required…

    In movies, for example, it should be required that the opening credits include the ratio of the pay of each of the top 5 stars to the median pay of the entire crew that worked on the film–including accounting clerks, boom operators, sweepers, and various ‘assistants to’.

    In professional sports, team uniforms should display prominently the total value of the player’s current contract.  This feature would greatly add to the pleasure of fans, who could instantly and continuously compare the player’s financial value to his demonstrated, moment-by-moment playing-field value.

    At colleges and universities, a sign out front of the president’s mansion should display the ratio of his compensation to that of the median faculty member, which category of course must include the starvation-paid adjunct professors.  (The compensation number for the president should certainly include the imputed value of his university-provided mansion and any other similar benefits, such as cars and drivers.)

    For politicians, the disclosure problem is a little more complicated, since in many cases the main financial payoff for these jobs is in the form of “deferred compensation”, i.e., lobbying positions and consulting contracts offered after the term of office ends, in recognition of services rendered while in office.  About all I can think of for the politician class is that, for all public appearances, they must wear jackets, with the names of their top sponsoring/contributing organizations prominently emblazoned, in a manner similar to the way racecar drivers display the names of their sponsors.

    There are probably a lot of additional possibilities for disclosure and transparency, which the ChicagoBoyz and Chicago Grrrlz and Readerz can surely suggest.

    Concerning those who support the CEO pay-ratio requirement but would object to these further suggestions…I have to wonder if their primary agenda really concerns ‘inequality’ or is really about something else.

    B&H Search Banner Small
    B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

    Posted in Academia, Business, Capitalism, Economics & Finance, Leftism, Sports, USA | 10 Comments »

    Catalist, “The 480,” and The Real 480

    Posted by David Foster on 19th March 2018 (All posts by )

    (In the light of the Cambridge Analytica revelations and controversy. I thought this 2014 post might be due for a rerun)

    There has been much discussion recently of Catalist, a database system being used by the Democratic Party to optimally target their electioneering efforts…see Jonathan’s post here.  I’m reminded of Eugene Burdick’s 1964 novel, The 480.  The book’s premise is that a group within the Republican party acquires the services of a computing company called  Simulation Enterprises, intending to apply the latest technology and social sciences research in order to get their candidate elected.  These party insiders have been inspired by the earlier work of the 1960 Kennedy campaign with a company called Simulmatics.

    Simulmatics was a real company.  It was founded by MIT professor Ithiel de Sola Pool, a pioneer in the application of computer technology to social science research. Data from 130,000 interviews was categorized into 480 demographic groups, and an IBM 704 computer was used to process this data and predict the likely effects of various alternative political tactics.  One question the company was asked to address by the 1960 Democratic campaign, in the person of Robert F Kennedy, was:  How best to deal with religion?  There was considerable concern among some parts of the electorate about the prospect of choosing a Catholic as President.  Would the JFK campaign do better by minimizing attention to this issue, or would they do better by addressing it directly and condemning as bigots those who would let Kennedy’s faith affect their vote?

    Simulmatics concluded that “Kennedy today has lost the bulk of the votes he would lose if the election campaign were to be embittered by the issue of anti-Catholicism.  The simulation shows that there has already been a serious defection from Kennedy by Protestant voters. Under these circumstances, it makes no sense to brush the religious issue under the rug.  Kennedy has already suffered the disadvantages of the issue even though it is not embittered now–and without receiving compensating advantages inherent in it.”  Quantitatively, the study predicted that Kennedy’s direct addressing of the religion issue would move eleven states, totaling 122 electoral votes, away from the Kennedy camp–but would pull six states, worth 132 electoral votes, into the Democratic column.

    It is not clear how much this study influenced actual campaign decision-making…but less than three weeks after RFK received the Simulmatics report, JFK talked about faith before a gathering of ministers in Houston.  “I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end,”  Kennedy said,  “where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind.” (Burdick’s novel also suggests that the Kennedy campaign used Simulmatics to assess the effects of a more-forthright posture on civil rights by the campaign, and furthermore to analyze Kennedy’s optimal personality projection during the debates–I don’t know if these assertions are historically correct, but the religion analysis clearly was indeed performed.)

    Considerable excitement was generated when, after the election, the Simulmatics project became publicly known.  A Harper’s Magazine article referred to to the Simulmatics computer as “the people machine,” and quoted Dr Harold Lasswell of Yale as saying, “This is the A-bomb of the social sciences.  The breakthrough here is comparable to what happened at Stagg Field.”  But Pierre Salinger, speaking for the Kennedy campaign, asserted that “We did not use the machine.”  (Salinger’s statement is called out as a lie in the recent book, The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns.)

    In Burdick’s novel, the prospective Republican candidate is John Thatch, head of an international engineering and construction company.  Thatch has achieved popular renown after courageously defusing a confrontation between Indians and Pakistanis over a bridge his company was building, thereby averting a probable war.  Something about Thatch’s personality has struck the public imagination, and–despite his lack of political experience–he looks to be an attractive candidate.  But initially, the Republicans see little hope of defeating the incumbent Kennedy–“the incumbent is surrounded by over four years of honorific words and rituals,” a psychologist explains.  “He seems as though he ought to be President.  He assumes the mantle.”  This outlook is deeply disturbing to a Republican senior statesman named Bookbinder, who strongly believes that defacto 8-year terms are bad for the country…but if it is true that Kennedy is unbeatable, then the best the Republicans can hope to do is lose as well as possible.  Things change when Kennedy is assassinated and the election becomes a real contest.

    Bookbinder and Levi, another Republican senior statesman, are introduced to Simulation Enterprises by a young lawyer named Madison (Mad) Curver and his psychologist associate (quoted above), a woman named Dr Devlin.  Mad and Dr Devlin explain that what Sim Enterprises does is different from the work done by garden-variety pollsters like the one they have just met, Dr Cotter:

    “The pollster taps only a small fragment of the subject’s mind, attention, background, family influence, and habits.  The Simulations thing, just because it can consider thousands of elements influencing the subject, even things he may not know himself, gets much better results.”

    “And one further thing, Book,” Mad said.  “Simulations Enterprises can predict what people will do in a situation which they have never heard of before.  That was the whole point of the UN in the Midwest example.  No one has gone out there and asked them to vote on whether we should get out of the UN, but Dev outlined a procedure by which you can predict how they will react…if they ever do have to vote on it.

    Again Bookbinder had the sharp sense of unreality.  Unreal people were being asked invented questions and a result came out on green, white-lined paper…and when you got around to the real people six months later with the real question they would act the way the computer had said they would.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Click Here To Save $15 at Ammo.com

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Elections, History, Human Behavior, Marketing, Obama, Politics, Polls, Predictions, Trump, USA | 14 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 4th January 2018 (All posts by )

    Cold Spring Shops:  Losing the Intellectual Tradition.  He cites Joy Pullman, who in turn quotes Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn:

    We’re living in a time as if some blight has come across the earth. Something fantastic, something deep, something old, something elevated, something high is basically being obliterated.

    Also from Cold Spring Shops:  Collaboration creates mediocrity.  I would rephrase this to say that collaboration can create mediocrity, especially when used as an unthinking buzzword and deployed as a pseudo-religion…after all, the purpose of basically all organizations is to allow people to collaborate, in various ways, to do what they could not do individually.  But shallow thoughts about collaboration and de-leveling and de-siloing and de-hierarchicalization are indeed in many cases detracting from the serious work that needs to be done on organizational design.

    At Politico: The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook.  See also a response to this story from The DiploMad.

    Related, from Roger Simon:  Iran protests expose mainstream media as reationary, not liberal.

    Three from Sarah Hoyt:

    Childhood memories:  The things that stay

    The importance of feedback:  Breaking the Gears

    Of course they do:  When the Left bullies, they pose as anti-bullies

    Click Here To Save $15 at Ammo.com

    Posted in Academia, Business, Crime and Punishment, Education, Leftism, Management, Media, Terrorism | 12 Comments »

    The Fastest-Growing Job Category of the Decade?

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd December 2017 (All posts by )

    In Robert Heinlein’s SF novel Revolt in 2100, American society fallen under the rule of a rigid theocracy.  The protagonist is introduced in the following passage…

    It was cold on the rampart. I slapped my numbed hands together, then stopped hastily for fear of disturbing the Prophet. My post that night was just outside his personal apartments-a post that I had won by taking more than usual care to be neat and smart at guard mount . . . but I had no wish to call attention to myself now.

    I was young then and not too bright-a legate fresh out of West Point, and a guardsman in the Angels of the Lord, the personal guard of the Prophet Incarnate. At birth my mother had consecrated me to the Church and at eighteen my Uncle Absolom, a senior lay censor, had prayed an appointment to the Military Academy for me from the Council of Elders.

    Uncle Absolom:  a senior lay censor…In the real America in 2017, ‘censor’ is no longer a role restricted to the pages of science fiction novels or to a limited military activity in time of war, but is rather becoming a mainstream occupation, and a fast-growing one.

    Facebook, for example, is hiring 3000 people to add to its existing 4500 on the team “reviewing posts with hate speech, crimes, and other harming posts.”  (The illiterate phrasing of the preceding sentence was evidently perpetrated by the professional journalists at TechCrunch, not by FB itself)  YouTube (owned by Google) also employs many people to review videos which are believed to be inappropriate or worse.  There are also programmers and system designers employed in creating and tuning software to facilitate the censorship function, and there are actually startups focused on this area.

    It has often been observed that the number of college administrators is growing much faster than the numbers of college faculty.  A nontrivial number of these are engaged in what are basically censorship functions.  Even in business, the censorship of wrongspeech has become a major function of Human Resources and a consumer of management time.

    There are also plenty of volunteer censors, eager to report people of whose speech they disapprove and get them fired or instigate mob action against them…for example, Lena Dunham, who sent the following Instagram message directed to airline travelers (and possibly flight crews as well)..

    I’m at the airport. And I think people now know, when I’m at the airport, they have to f—ing watch out for me, because I hear and I see all.

    There are multiple reasons for the censorship boom:  (1) With social media, communications that were once private are now semipublic and mediated by the social media company (2) Content that was once created and distributed by a relatively small number of media companies..who in effect conducted their own internal censorship process…is now created by a much larger number of individuals and distributed via social media, especially Twitter (3) Many of the previously-generally-accepted standards of behavior and speech have eroded (4) There appears to be growing hostility toward free speech, driven partly but not entirely by academic theorists  (5) There are a lot of people who are just plain sadists and bullies, and shutting other people down gives them pleasure.  Social media gives them new scope for this activity.

    With regard to (1), the social media companies…especially FB…really do have a dilemma.  There is an obvious public interest in preventing the dissemination of terrorist propaganda and operational plans, and an obvious human interest in responding to desperate cries for help, as with the suicides that were pre-announced on Facebook.  And the semipublic nature of FB communications implies that individual and group posts can have an impact on FB’s brand, whereas phone conversations and emails would have no such impact on the brand of the carrier involved.  Meanwhile, the Leftist orientation of most of these companies, combined with Silicon Valley groupthink, does not tend toward policies that are particularly supportive of free speech.

    With regard to (5), I am reminded of a passage in Goethe’s Faust….Gretchen, after finding that she is pregnant by Faust, is talking with her awful friend Lieschen, who (still unaware of Gretchen’s situation) is licking her chops about the prospect of humiliating another girl (Barbara) who has also become pregnant outside of marriage. Here’s Gretchen, reflecting on her own past complicity in such viciousness:

    How readily I used to blame
    Some poor young soul that came to shame!
    Never found sharp enough words like pins
    To stick into other people’s sins
    Black as it seemed, I tarred it to boot
    And never black enough to suit
    Would cross myself, exclaim and preen–
    Now I myself am bared to sin!

    There’s a lot of this…”sharp enough words like pins to stick in other people’s sins”, combined with the pleasure of preening…in the amateur censors of our day.  And the amateur censors often operate by activating the professional censors.

    See also my post Freedom, the Village, and the Internet.

    B&H Search Banner Small
    B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Media, Society, Tech | 9 Comments »

    The Education Bubble.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th November 2017 (All posts by )

    It is a very long time since I graduated from college. I have been teaching medical students for 15 years until I finally retired two years ago.

    My five children have all attended college and all but one have graduated. Three have advanced degrees.

    The most recent graduate, my youngest daughter, was taught some untruths at the University of Arizona a few years ago.

    For example, she was taught, in her “US History Since 1877” course that “The Silent Majority” consisted of white people who refused to accept the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That was in her final exam review study guide. There was no mention of Nixon or the Vietnam War.

    My theory is that university faculties when I attended were mostly World War II veterans or older and I could never sense the political affiliation of any of them. During the Vietnam War, colleges became refuges for anti-war students who stayed in grad school to avoid the draft. Since they were mostly strongly leftist in sympathy, they have perpetuated the leftist bias in faculty by recruiting similar students and by rejecting those who hold more conservative views.

    As evidence I offer Steve Hayward’s report on hiring practices today.

    Here is the announcement.

    Evidence of ability for excellence in teaching and research grounded in political theory and focusing on topics central to the discipline at large: e.g., ancient, modern, and contemporary theories; democratic theory; critical race theory; immigration; the carceral state; postcolonial theory; identity; hybridity; intersectionality; queer theory; deconstruction’s focus on alterity; globalization, and neoliberalism.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Click Here To Save $15 at Ammo.com

    Posted in Academia, Education, Leftism | 15 Comments »

    Professors and the Pornography of Power

    Posted by David Foster on 25th November 2017 (All posts by )

    Jonathan Haidt on Identity Politics:

    Today’s identity politics . . . teaches the exact opposite of what we think a liberal arts education should be. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a utilitarian or as a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or as a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any given question or problem.

    But what do we do now? Many students are given just one lens—power. Here’s your lens, kid. Look at everything through this lens. Everything is about power. Every situation is analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult. It’s a fundamentalist religion. It’s a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety and intellectual impotence. . . .

    Read the whole thing.

    So why is the single-lens approach so attractive to many academics?

    More than 50 years ago, C S Lewis wrote about some similar tendencies that he observed in British primary education, in his book The Abolition of Man.  Referring to two textbook authors who he had critiqued, he remarked that “literary criticism is difficult, and what they actually do is very much easier.”  Indeed, it is surely easier to base one’s classes around fashionable themes than around serious intellectual topics, and it probably results in better student reviews, as well.

    I’m also reminded of something asserted by Andre Maurois:  people who are highly intelligent, but not in any way creative…who are not capable of formulating a system of thought on their own…tend to throw themselves voraciously on those systems they come across, and to apply them more vigorously than would their originators.

    Particularly given the vast expansion of higher education in recent decades, it does seem likely that a lot of academics–perhaps the majority–do fall into the “intelligent but not creative” category, and hence will be eager system-adopters rather than objective analyzers and integrators of systems.  People of this sort also probably have a tendency to reify abstractions…to treat some categorization  or conceptual model, which may be useful under particular circumstances, as if it were actually something real and tangible.

    B&H Search Banner Small
    B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

    Posted in Academia, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Society | 36 Comments »

    CP-1 Diamond Anniversary Meetup(s)

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 21st November 2017 (All posts by )

    “We are great and we are grand, we make bombs beneath our stands!”

     

    I have decided to attend various events around the 75th anniversary of Chicago Pile-1 and will therefore be in Hyde Park for about 48 hours, from late afternoon Thursday 30 November to late afternoon Saturday 2 December. As of now, the one known gathering is lunch at Valois, 1518 E 53rd (Harper Court, just west of Lake Park and the Metra Electric tracks), at 1 PM on Saturday.

    Others are possible, however. I will be at the physics colloquium on Thursday afternoon in Kersten (SW corner of 57th & Ellis) and was thinking vaguely of pizza at Giordano’s (on Blackstone just south of 53rd) afterward, which means 6-ish. I expect to spend much of both Friday and Saturday mornings prowling the bookstores on 57th, and should also be free after around 7 Friday evening, when what seems to be the main event wraps up at Mandel Hall.

    In general, respond in comments, and graze (Midwesterners don’t surf) around here for official events.

    Posted in Academia, Announcements, Blogging, Chicagoania | 5 Comments »

    Summer Rerun – Book Review: That Hideous Strength

    Posted by David Foster on 15th September 2017 (All posts by )

    (people tend to think of summer as being over after Labor Day, but actually, it extends until the September Equinox, which this year is on September 22)

    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 »

    Click Here To Save $15 at Ammo.com

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 13 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 29th July 2017 (All posts by )

    A photo essay about an old mill, by Gerard Van der Leun

    From welder to welding robot programmer

    Showing love through food

    The University Empire

    Privilege hoarding: Harvard and granite countertops

    A 2006 post by Dr Sanity on the Western Left and radical Islam

    Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, 30 years later.

    Cold Spring Shops writes about education, mating, fertility, and work.

    Posted in Academia, Feminism, History, Human Behavior, Islam, Leftism, Photos, Tech | 3 Comments »

    Jordan Peterson: 12 Principles for a 21st Century Conservatism

    Posted by Lexington Green on 26th July 2017 (All posts by )

    If you are not familiar with the videos of Dr. Jordan Peterson, you should acquaint yourself with them, and him, forthwith.

    This one is a good introduction to the style and substance of the man.

    Peterson starts talking about 18 minutes in, after a lengthy and rambling introduction which you should skip.

    If two hours is too much here are shorter snippets:

    The consequence of trying to build imaginary utopias out of real human beings.

    Stop saying things that make you weak.

    Proven differences between men and women.

    Go out and make something of yourself.

    The temptation of victim identity.

    Clean your room.

    Peterson on starting an online humanities university.

    The twelve principles from the video are as follows:

    1. The fundamental assumptions of Western civilization are valid.
    2. Peaceful social being is preferable to isolation and to war. In consequence, it justly and rightly demands some sacrifice of individual impulse and idiosyncrasy.
    3. Hierarchies of competence are desirable and should be promoted.
    4. Borders are reasonable. Likewise, limits on immigration are reasonable. Furthermore, it should not be assumed that citizens of societies that have not evolved functional individual-rights predicated polities will hold values in keeping with such polities.
    5. People should be paid so that they are able and willing to perform socially useful and desirable duties.
    6. Citizens have the inalienable right to benefit from the result of their own honest labor.
    7. It is more noble to teach young people about responsibilities than about rights.
    8. It is better to do what everyone has always done, unless you have some extraordinarily valid reason to do otherwise.
    9. Radical change should be viewed with suspicion, particularly in a time of radical change.
    10. The government, local and distal, should leave people to their own devices as much as possible.
    11. Intact heterosexual two-parent families constitute the necessary bedrock for a stable polity.
    12. We should judge our political system in comparison to other actual political systems and not to hypothetical utopias.

    Posted in Academia, Conservatism, Personal Narrative, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics, Speeches, Video | 19 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Jousting with a Phantom

    Posted by David Foster on 19th July 2017 (All posts by )

    (Victor Davis Hanson’s recent piece, The Fifth American War, reminded me of this post.  I think it is crucially important to understand that many of those calling for ‘equality’ do not themselves have any interest in being merely equal, any more than Napoleon the Pig did in Orwell’s novel ‘Animal Farm’)

    Those people who call themselves “progressives” are talking a lot about equality and inequality these days. And conservatives/libertarians, in response, attempt to explain why “equality of outcomes” is infeasible and unwise.

    To a substantial degree, though, they/we are jousting with a phantom. Because leading “progressives” don’t really believe in anything resembling equality—indeed, quite the contrary.

    Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.

    Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?

    The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?

    There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is.

    The reality is that “progressivism” is not in any way about equality, it is rather about shifting the distribution of power and wealth in a way that benefits those with certain kinds of educational credentials and certain kinds of connections. And remember, power and connections are always transmutable into wealth. Sometimes that wealth is directly dollar-denominated, as in the millions of dollars that former president Bill Clinton has been paid in speaking fees, or the money made by a former government official who leverages his contacts into an executive job with a “green” energy company–even though he may have minimal knowledge of either energy or business. And sometimes the wealth takes the form of in-kind benefits, like a university president’s mansion. (Those who lived in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can tell you all about in-kind benefits for nominally low-paid officials.) And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do with those experts have decided would be best.

    To a very substantial extent, the talk about “equality” is a smokescreen, conscious or unconscious, behind which “progressives” pursue their own economic, status, and ego agendas.

    Writing in 1969, Peter Drucker–who was born in Austria and had lived in several European countries–wrote about what he saw as a key American economic advantage: the much less-dominant role played by “elite” educational institutions:

    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…
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.

    The “unwillingness of American society to accept this claim”…the claim of elite education as the primary gateway to power and wealth…has been greatly undercut since Drucker wrote. And “progressives” have been among the main under-cutters and the leading advocates for further movement in that direction.

    Related: Paying higher taxes can be very profitable.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Political Philosophy, USA | 19 Comments »

    Craziness, Conformity, Cowardice, and Cruelty

    Posted by David Foster on 16th June 2017 (All posts by )

    Some stories about behavior of “progressives” and their institutions which represent the above characteristics in particularly egregious fashion.

    John Wright’s sons were expelled from their Boy Scout troop…apparently based largely on accusations of ‘Islamophobia.’

    Aisha O’Connor writes about her experiences at Bryn Mawr.  This was back in the early 1990s.  I doubt that things have gotten any saner since.

    Rick Poach reports on a conversation (if you can call one-way communication a conversation) overheard in a diner last November 10.

    Roger Simon writes about witch hunts and unhinged leftist rage.

    Posted in Academia, Islam, Leftism, USA | 4 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 26th May 2017 (All posts by )

    (Worthwhile but not very cheerful reading, for the most part, I’m afraid)

    “Progressives” as Minor Nobles of Exquisite Breeding and Dubious Character

    Related:  The New Class War

    Ex-Muslims in America meeting in secret for reasons of safety

    Bookworm links a carefully-reasoned Victor Davis Hanson about Trump and the accusations being made against him, and contrasts it with  “the incoherent rage attack visited upon a conservative friend of mine via a series of text messages from one of the parents in his children’s community.”

    American universities as assembly points for the anti-free-speech Left

    Case in point:  Student mob shrieks at professor and calls for his firing

    Manchester and the lies we tell ourselves about terrorism.  A good piece, though I would question to use of the word “we” in the title–the intellectual fallacies described in the post are held by a set of people comprising less than 50% of the population…but still, a set of people with considerable power and influence.

    In Robert Heinlein’s 1952 story The Year of the Jackpot, a statistician observes many simultaneous indicators suggesting that the society is going totally insane.  Young women are removing all their clothes in public, but can’t explain why they are doing it.  A man has sued an entire state legislature for alienation of his wife’s affections–and the judge is letting the suit be tried.  In another state, a bill has been introduced to repeal the laws of atomic energy–not the relevant statutes, but the natural laws concerning nuclear physics.

    I was reminded again of Heinlein’s story by this post:  Woman sues candy maker for it’s sugar-filled jelly beans and again by this piece of late-Weimar-level degeneracy.

    Hopefully I’ll be able to post some more encouraging links for the next roundup…

    Posted in Academia, Britain, Civil Liberties, Islam, Leftism, Society, Terrorism | 5 Comments »

    Intellectuals and Totalitarian Dictators

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd May 2017 (All posts by )

    Theodore Dalrymple reviews Paul Hollander’s book about the attraction felt by many intellectuals toward dictators and toward totalitarian systems of government.  There are certainly plenty of academics, writers, and journalists who have fallen and continue to fall into this pattern, with the objects of their affections including Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chavez.

    I’m reminded of something Aldous Huxley wrote:

    In the field of politics the equivalent of a theorem is a perfectly disciplined army; of a sonnet or picture, a police state under a dictatorship. The Marxist calls himself scientific and to this claim the Fascist adds another: he is the poet–the scientific poet–of a new mythology. Both are justified in their pretensions; for each applies to human situations the procedures which have proved effective in the laboratory and the ivory tower. They simplify, they abstract, they eliminate all that, for their purposes, is irrelevant and ignore whatever they choose to regard an inessential; they impose a style, they compel the facts to verify a favorite hypothesis, they consign to the waste paper basket all that, to their mind, falls short of perfection…the dream of Order begets tyranny, the dream of Beauty, monsters and violence.

    I haven’t seen any actual quantitative data demonstrating that intellectuals are more likely to support totalitarian dictators than are, say, bricklayers or physicians…maybe we just notice them more…but it does seem that way. At a bare minimum, I think it’s fair to say that intellectualism, as it has developed in the West over the past century, does not provide much of a shield against the totalitarian temptation.

    Arthur Koestler, himself a former Communist, wrote about the mental world of the Closed System:

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    Intimidation, Conformity, and Cowardice in American Academia

    Posted by David Foster on 11th May 2017 (All posts by )

    I have previously mentioned an incident described in the memoirs of Tom Watson Jr, longtime CEO of IBM.

    There was a moment when I truly thought IBM was going to lose its shot at defense work because of the kind of window blinds I had in my office.

    These were vertical blinds, which were not common at the time. An engineer who was in Watson’s office for a meeting made a sketch of the blinds, and inadvertently left it in his shirt pocket when he took the shirt to the dry cleaner. The laundry man thought the paper looked suspicious, and sent it to Senator McCarthy. Pretty soon, a group of investigators came and said to the engineer, “We’ve identified this as a plan for a radar antenna, and want to hear about it. We want to be perfectly fair. But we know it is a radar antenna and the shirt it was found in belongs to you.”

    The engineer explained about the vertical blinds, and the investigation team then asked to see Watson. The chief executive officer of IBM showed them the blinds and demonstrated the way they worked.

    They looked them over very carefully and then left. I thought I had contained it, but I wasn’t sure, and I was scared. We were working on SAGE (the computerized air defense system–ed) and it would have been a hell of a way to lose our security clearance.

    Shortly after the incident with the vertical blinds, Watson was invited to a lunch at Lehman Brothers, along with about 20 other high-ranking businesspeople. During the lunch, he mentioned his concerns about McCarthyism:

    Of the twenty-odd people present, I was the only one who took that position. That didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that the following week I got letters from several people who had been there, and they all had a similar message: “I didn’t want to commit myself in public, but I certainly agreed with everything you said.”

    I was reminded of this story once again by the current academic ragestorm involving the work of Professor Rebecca Tuvel.  And, just as with Watson’s experience during the McCarthy era, what is particularly disturbing is that there are apparently a lot of people who don’t like what has been happening…but are afraid to say so.

    And who is Professor Tuvel and what is the ragestorm about, you may ask?  Tuvel is an assistant professor of philosophy at Memphis College; you can see her teaching and research interests at the link.  Recently she published an article entitled “In Defense of Transracialism” in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy.  A writer at Inside Higher Ed summarizes:

    The article explores whether there might be parallels between being transgender and being transracial, focusing specifically on the well-known case of Rachel Dolezal, who is white but presented herself as black for many years.

    Tuvel’s argument is that the very same reasons that might justify an individual’s decision to change sexes could also be used to justify an individual’s decision to change races — so if one is committed to the acceptability of the former (as Tuvel herself is), then one would be committed to the acceptability of the latter.

    And then the ragestorm broke:

    Shortly after the paper was published in the spring 2017 edition of Hypatia, an open letter with signatures but no author appeared on the internet soliciting further signatures. The letter called for Tuvel’s paper to be retracted by the journal, stating that “its continued availability causes further harm.”

    This open letter is now closed to further signatures and has been sent to the editor of Hypatia. While the open letter was still circulating, a statement appeared on the Hypatia website repudiating the article and making multiple references to the harms caused by the article’s publication. The statement has no signatures but is credited to “A majority of the Hypatia board of associate editors.”

    “The harms caused by the article’s publication” sounds like an argument that would have been made by the Inquisition in support of burning someone at the stake for unauthorized theological writing, or the arguments that were frequently made by Nazi and Soviet courts when calling for the execution of those who had disseminated forbidden political and social views.

    A recent New York Magazine article, This is what a modern-day witch hunt looks like,  argues that many of the assertions by Tuvel’s ‘critics’ (way too mild a word in this context) are based on a mischaracterization of what she actually wrote.  And this piece asserts that the over-the-top reaction has caused serious damage to Tuvel’s career…”How can Prof. Tuvel, for example, now use this repudiated but allegedly peer-reviewed article as part of her tenure process?   Indeed, how can her department or college support her for tenure when she has been so vilified as a scholar and professional by people who work in her fields?”…and suggests that these attacks may rise to the level of defamation in the legal sense.

    My main concern here is not whether Tuvel’s work is good or bad (read it for yourself here, if you’re so inclined, not sure how much longer it will stay up before the bit-burners get it)…indeed, I question the value of the whole subdiscipline encompassing this work and that of many of its critics), but the vitriolic tone of the attacks which in my view clearly inhibit intellectual exploration and and the ability to freely and (individually or collectively) play with ideas…which things are supposed to be primary reasons for the existence of academia…in favor of the dead hand of conformity.  And what is particularly disturbing…and closely echoes Tom Watson’s experiences during the McCarthy era…is this:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Education, Leftism, Philosophy | 28 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 4th May 2017 (All posts by )

    Roger Simon:  Will Fascism come to America through its colleges and universities?

    Case in point:  Brooklyn College

    Also from Roger Simon:  Roots of Liberal/Progressive Rage

    Joel Hirsch:  The Gulag and the Islamists

    In 1711, the Spectator had some positive things to say about merchants–not a common opinion among the smart set in that place and time.  (Original article here.)

    Thoughts about the archetype of the American farm boy and the present-day hostility of elitist ‘progressives’ toward people who fit this archetype:

    Then it hit me. The new American myth, carefully constructed by the SJWs and their ilk, is that farmers are stupid. Mechanics are dumb. Plumbers only ply their trade because they are too stupid to take gender studies courses. And since they are all idiots, of course their children must be idiots too. Indeed, they are all far too stupid to be permitted a say in how their own lives are run.

    Related to the above:  The roots of campus progressivism’s madness

    Click Here To Save $15 at Ammo.com

    Posted in Academia, Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Islam, Leftism, USA | 20 Comments »

    Is This Really the Ukraine?

    Posted by Ginny on 2nd May 2017 (All posts by )

    A few years ago, Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands was both popular and esteemed. I found it an uncomfortable but powerful read. I mentioned it and two students – a Russian Jewish student whose grandfather had fought in the Russian army, been tortured in one of the Russian purges, but died loyal to Stalin and a student whose ancestors were from those borderlands ordered it. (My mention was cursory; it was after all American lit; both were hungry to know more about the obscure world of their ancestors.) I gave it to a son-in-law, who had heard Snyder discussing it with intensity and even despair. I can remember discussing passages with colleagues in philosophy and history – especially lies spoken and assented to as the truth stood (and died) before their eyes: families starved, Stalin argued, to sabotage Stalin. Snyder’s aim and success was to make that unreal world and its victims live. He eloquently countered the great arrogance of Stalin’s assumption (so often proved true) that a million deaths was merely a statistic. Of course it was futile – no one person can make millions live on a page. An intense experience to read, Snyder’s research must have truly looked into the abyss. Today, I tracked references at Chicagoboyz; several praised it. I haven’t read his later works. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Anti-Americanism, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Russia, Trump | 21 Comments »

    Bad Stewards

    Posted by David Foster on 26th April 2017 (All posts by )

    Yesterday’s WSJ – Parents are Drowning in College-Loan Debt:

    Millions of U.S. parents have taken out loans from the government to help their children pay for college. Now a crushing bill is coming due. Hundreds of thousands have tumbled into delinquency and default. In the process, many have delayed retirement, put off health expenses and lost portions of Social Security checks and tax refunds to their lender, the federal government…“This credit is being extended on terms that specifically, willfully ignore their ability to repay,” says Toby Merrill of Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center. “You can’t avoid that we’re targeting high-cost, high-dollar-amount loans to people who we know can’t afford to repay them.”

    We already knew, of course, that many former students are suffering under the burden of their student loans for years and decades, and that the problem is so common and so severe that it is impacting major purchases of things like houses and cars, and probably also marriages and business formations. The article indicates that in many cases the exploding costs of higher education are devastating their parents as well.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Education | 13 Comments »

    The Riot at Middlebury College and Academic Life.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 1st April 2017 (All posts by )

    Recently, Charles Murray, author of the book, “The Bell Curve,” a study of intelligence in the population, was invited to speak at Middlebury college, a liberal arts college in Vermont. His attempt to speak was interrupted by a riot which injured a professor at the college.

    Inside Higher Ed’s story on the event explains that college officials admonished the students prior to the talk that they could protest but not disrupt Murray’s talk, which was to be about the way white America is coming apart—the title of his latest book—along class lines. Unfortunately, that admonition did no good. “As soon as Murray took the stage,” we read, “students stood up, turned their backs to him and started various chants that were loud enough and in unison such that he could not talk over them.

    The confrontation continued after he had left the stage and attempted to move to another location.

    And then matters turned worse. Fearing that there might be a raucous, disruptive mob instead of an audience of students willing to listen and consider Murray’s arguments, school administrators had set up a contingency plan. Once it became clear that the mob had killed the lecture, they moved to another location where Murray would give his talk, which would be live-streamed to students.

    Sadly, that location was soon beset by the mob, with banging on windows and pulling of fire alarms. Murray and Professor Allison Stanger, who was the moderator for the talk, tried their best to continue a rational discussion.

    Finally, Murray, Professor Stanger, and a few others tried to leave campus.

    Mayhem resulted when Professor Stanger, who had been willing to state her agreement that Murray should not have been invited, was injured.

    Why did this happen ? Tribalism ?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Leftism, Politics, Trump | 12 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 28th March 2017 (All posts by )

    Some people find it very upsetting that President Trump likes to put ketchup on steak.  (Not something I’d do, but then I never put ketchup on french fries, either…)  Matthew Continetti says:  It is hard to read stories like these without coming to the conclusion that so much of our elite’s abhorrence of Trump is a matter of aesthetics.

    There’s considerable truth in that point, I think.  Lead and Gold quotes GK Chesterton:  The modern world will not distinguish between matters of opinion and matters of principle and it ends up treating them all as matters of taste.  Follow the link to read what L&G has to say about the worship of ‘taste’, using the Bloomsbury group as an example.

    How Communism became the disease it tried to cure:

    Contrary to the socialist promises of making a new man out of the rubble of the old order, as one new stone after another was put into place and the socialist economy was constructed, into the cracks between the blocks sprouted once again the universals of human nature: the motives and psychology of self-interested behavior, the search for profitable avenues and opportunities to improve one’s own life and that of one’s family and friends, through the attempt to gain control over and forms of personal use of the “socialized” scarce resources and commodities within the networks and interconnections of the Soviet bureaucracy.

    Stuart Schneiderman writes about nationalism vs internationalism, and Don Sensing has some thoughts on tribalism.  Both are well worth reading.

    Why college graduates still can’t think:

    Traditionally, the “critical” part of the term “critical thinking” has referred not to the act of criticizing, or finding fault, but rather to the ability to be objective. “Critical,” in this context, means “open-minded,” seeking out, evaluating and weighing all the available evidence. It means being “analytical,” breaking an issue down into its component parts and examining each in relation to the whole. Above all, it means “dispassionate,” recognizing when and how emotions influence judgment and having the mental discipline to distinguish between subjective feelings and objective reason—then prioritizing the latter over the former…I assumed that virtually all the readers (of a post on a higher-education website) would agree with this definition of critical thinking—the definition I was taught as a student in the 1980s and which I continue to use with my own students.

    To my surprise, that turned out not to be the case. Several readers took me to task for being “cold” and “emotionless,” suggesting that my understanding of critical thinking, which I had always taken to be almost universal, was mistaken.

    Some great pictures of villages around the world.  (via Craig Newmark)

    Posted in Academia, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Photos, Trump | 11 Comments »

    Economic Growth and the Spirit of Debate

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd March 2017 (All posts by )

    Writing in the WSJ, Naftali Bennett takes on the question of what is the “secret educational ingredient” that accounts for Israel’s dramatic economic success.  While agreeing with others that good schools are a part of it, he also assigns credit to “a parallel education system that operates alongside the formal one.  This is where our children learn to become entrepreneurs.”

    And what are the components of this parallel education system?  He identifies three of them.  First, there is “our heritage of debate”…the study of the Talmud. “The meaning of complex texts is debated by students in hevruta–pairs–with a teacher offering occasional guidance..Since the Talmud is one of the most complex legal codes ever gathered, the idea of a verdict is almost irrelevant to those studying.  Students engage in debate for the sake of debate.  They analyze issues from all directions, finding different solutions.  Multiple answers to a single question are common.”

    Bennett identifies the second component of the parallel education system as the collection of youth organizations:  “Teenagers work closely with younger children; they lead groups on excursions  and hikes, develop informal curricula, and are responsible for those in their care.  As an 11th-grade student , I took fifth-graders on an overnight hike in the mountains.  Being given responsibilities at a young age helped shape me into who I am today.”

    The third component is the army:  “Consider a hypothetical 19-year-old soldier in the intelligence corps, analyzing aerial photographs or intercepted communications.  She must decide if the material in front of her indicates an impending attack or not.  This isn’t a rare occurrence. Thousands of Israeli soldiers experience it daily.”

    Just a couple of hours after reading the Bennett piece, I encountered this story about Wellesley College:

    In an email to fellow faculty yesterday afternoon, a committee of Wellesley College professors made several startling recommendations about how they think future campus speakers should be chosen. If implemented, the proposals by the faculty Commission for Ethnicity, Race, and Equity would have a profound impact on the quality and quantity of voices Wellesley students would be permitted to hear.

    FIRE has obtained the email, sent by one of the signatories to a faculty listserv, and republished it in full below.

    While paying lip service to free speech, the email is remarkable in its contempt for free and open dialogue on campus. Asserting that controversial speakers “impose on the liberty of students, staff, and faculty at Wellesley,” the committee members lament the fact that such speakers negatively impact students by forcing them to “invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers’ arguments.” 

    And here we thought learning to effectively challenge views with which one disagreed was an important part of the educational process!

    Meanwhile, at the University of Arizona, students who feel offended are being told to say “ouch”…and the student who made the supposedly-hurtful comment is supposed to respond with “oops.”  And these two universities are far from the only ones adopting such policies.

    So if a key part of Israel’s economic success is the training of kids in the skills and attitudes of debate…it would appear that many if not most American universities are doing the exact opposite.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Israel, USA | 14 Comments »

    A Classical Education in the Azores

    Posted by David Foster on 12th March 2017 (All posts by )

    Here’s a very interesting article by a Portuguese teacher who developed and ran an intensive classical-studies program for high school students in the Azores Islands.  Highly recommended.

    Meanwhile, back in the USA.

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education, History | 8 Comments »