Archive for January, 2013
This is my first day back in class, and I’m completely frantic–the beginning of the term is ALWAYS a mess, and they ALWAYS change the boilerplate for the syllabus.
Anyway, I can’t do a blog post today, but I did get the following in e-mail from Robert.
It connects to yesterday’s post, so I throw it out there for your consideration.
I won’t tell you, at the moment, how much I do and don’t agree with.
It comes in two parts.
I can’t excuse myself for not checking in yesterday by blaming it on the weather. It was a nice enough day, but I got up at two thirty in the morning, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep.
In other words, I was walking into walls.
And this means I’m even more behind than I was the day before yesterday.
So, for a head’s up–
I’m going to talk about the John Fonte today, and then I’ve got another book I actually want to comment on after that.
I am counting books on the list by when I finish them. That means if I start a book in January and finish in February, it goes on the February list.
Right now, I’ve got the Fonte and one other finished and both seem interesting. I’ve started another, but I don’t know if I will finish it before the first.
And I don’t know that I’m going to want to comment.
All that established, let me get to John Fonte’s Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or Be Ruled By Others?
As I said last time, the book is about the project for “global governance” and how it affects life, law and policy in the US (and, by extention, other places).
Cheryl looked up the book and got the impression that it was positing some kind of conspiracy to bring about t his global goverance.
I got no sense, from the book itself, that conspiracy had anything to do with it.
In fact, the author denied that any such conspiracy existed, and in several places.
What he does suggest–and what I think is undeniable from any look at the facts on the ground–is that a consensus has grown up among a broad category of people that 1) global governance is both necessary and a good thing and 2) that t his goverance should be based on what is generally called “global norms” about “human rights.”
You can find lots of people in this camp who are not conspiring with each other at all. They are simply part of a political and cutural subculture that, at the moment, has wide currency and influence in most of the West and, through the United Nations, in much of the rest of the world.
These people/groups include the the faculties of most of the world’s most prestigious universities, the administration and staffs of most of the most influential NGOs (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross International, the ACLU). the administrative staff of the EU project, a large proportion of the prestige media (NYT, Washington Post, BBC) and others.
There doesn’t need to be a conspiracy here, just a common understanding, a common culture, and a common recognition of a simple fact:
The “global norms” being pushed by people in the global governance camp are not global. They’re highly parochial, extending only to a small group of people (relative to the population of the earth) who do not even have the support of the majorities in their home countries, never mind majorities of the world.
That does not matter to the people involved in this project, because the project itself is by definition inherently anti-democratic.
That is, it bases its legitimacy not on the consent of the governed, but by its sense that it represents Real Morality–a set of norms that is morally better than anything else, and that the Moral Good should trump any considerations of national, ethnic or religious sovereignty.
People should not be allowed to govern themselves if they will make the Wrong Moral Choices when they do.
I think that, as a description of what is going on with a certain sub section of the human population at this moment, this would be hard to beat.
I think it avoids, for one thing, the attempts to explain this project by saying it is supported only by people who expect to be able to run things once democracy is destroyed.
I do not doubt that there are some people who hope or expect to be in the saddle when they bring their preferred form of government about, but if they were the only people we had to worry about, we wouldn’t have anything to worry about.
The problem is that there are a lot of people out there who think that their preferred moral ideas are in fact The Whole Moral Truth, and who are hostile to real (individual, natural) rights to the extent that such rights give free reign to their opponents to advocate for t hings that the WMT people believe to be evil.
This is true not only of the global governance people, but also to Islamists, for instance, who reject freedom of speech and press because it allows people to say things that attack or criticize their faith.
I t hink Fonte would say that the Islamists are less dangerous than the global governance people because the Islamists are straightforward about what they want, why they want it, and what it would mean for day to day life if they got it.
The global governance people tend to make their arguments first in the language of “rights,” which is a word we in the West tend to associate with Good Things, and then in the vein that what they are asking for is just a little extenuation of our “core values” anyway.
The problem with the “core values” argument is that it all depends on definitions.
Equality is a core value of the West, certainly–but what does equality mean, exactly? There’s a vast difference between equality before the law and equality of condition, for instance, and an even vaster one between equality of opportunity (as originally understood) and the “substantive equality” that means making sure that every minority population has “proportionate representation” in everything.
The underlying definitional change is, as I’ve noted on this blog before, the redefining of the word “right.”
Rights as originally, and properly, understood are negative only–they are restrictions on government’s power over you.
Since under the original (and proper) understanding of rights, nothing can be a right that somebody else has to provide for you, there are no conflicts in natural rights.
Your right to free speech is your right to be free of government control of what you say.
You have no right to not be offended by what other people say–the government cannot control their right to free speech any more than it can control yours.
A right is a right. If you are only allowed to exercise your rights in ways that the government approves of, then your rights have been violated, and in that particular system you don’t have them.
Unlike real rights, “human rights” are constantly in conflict, because they are inherently contradictory.
You have a right to free speech, but you also are supposed to have a “right” to things like “nondiscrimination,” which does not mean equality before the law but to an environment where your identity, beliefs and personal integrity are always to be affirmed no matter what you do (unless you hold an idea (like thinking homosexuality is a sin) that contradicts the definition of rights…
Okay, anybody who looks at this must realize, in thirty seconds flat or less, that the project is so inherently incoherent that it cannot mean what it says it means.
What it actually means is that “rights” are to be defined as your “right” to live under that set of cultural conditions that the ruling party has decided constitute the Whole Moral Truth.
Now, the first thing to notice about this is that it is not a “progressive” stance. In fact, it’s a highly regressive one.
It is, in fact, very old. In the Catholic Church, it was the position that “error has no rights.” Therefore, “free speech” meant that you could speak the Truth about Catholicism, but you had no right to criticize the institution of the Papacy. This was an error, and since error has no rights, you have no right to freely speak it.
The “error has no rights” thing has been resurrected, recently, by Muslims in the Cairo Declaration, which includes a provision pretty much like the one about. You can speak the Truth about Islam–but not criticize it, because that would be an error, and not proselytize for another religion, because that would be an error, too.
The thing to notice here, though, is that the “error has no rights” position is essential to the “human rights” people, because it is the only way in which their project can be made workable.
Your right to free speech, therefore, is only the “right” to speak what has already been decided to be the Whole Moral Truth.
Your attempt to speak anything else is automatically a violation of the “human rights” of people who don’t want to hear it.
We’ve talked a lot about things like this here, but one of the things this book explained to me was the ways in which this sort of thing can be imported into the law of democratic societies in spite of a clear rejection by a nation’s constitution and its population.
This is what is going on when a Supreme Court justice–Ginsberg and Breyer are both on record both doing this and declaring it’s a good thing–consults foreign law to “inform” a decision in an American court case.
Both Ginsberg and Breyer have declared that this is perfectly natural, and of course the Constitution would be the “controling” factor in the eventual decision–but the more you look at the way this looks in actual practice, the less savory it actually looks.
It is especially disturbing when it results in SCOTUS and other court decisions in favor of policies the US electorate has already firmly rejected.
The global goverance people would say that if the US electorate has rejected these policies, then that is reason enough for courts to overrule them. These policies are, after all, the Whole Moral Truth, and no nation should be allowed to flout them.
The book changed my mind about something. I no longer think that citing law in the EU, or wherever, is a minor legal annoyance. I think that any judge that does so should be impeached, period. The US Constitution should not be “controlling” for US law. It should be absolute for US law.
The “living Constitution” is a way to deny that the Constitution says anything at all. This is a way to say it should be irrelevant in any case where it conflicts with the “new global norms.”
But this does not, I’ll repeat, a conspiracy. It is, rather, the result of a culture that has taken over most of our prestige law schools, and produced a cohort of like minded people.
The next time we have a SCOTUS nomination, it might make sense if we stopped asking the candidate about his opinions on abortion and began asking, instead, his opinions on this.
The other thing that this book explained to me is the whole argument about the “Geneva Conventions.”
And whether or not the Bush administration was violating them.
It turns out that the original Geneva Conventions–signed in a final form in 1949–were followed in 1972 by a new set called the Additional Protocol I.
Additional Protocal I turns out to be a very interesting document, largely reducing the protections for civilians in war while claiming to increase them and largely skewing the rules to provide cover for the terrorism favored by “indigenous movements.”
Jimmy Carter signed thing, but it was not ratified, and by now we have decided never to ratify it. And we’re not the only ones. I think it’s something like 61 countries that have refused to touch the thing, including France.
It is under the provisions of Additional Protocal I that the war in Iraq could be called “illegal”–but under the usual international rules of sovereignty, a nation that has not signed a treaty is not subject to its provisions.
Part of the global governance project is exactly to get around such an understanding, and to impose its rules even on nations that have rejected them.
I’ve never been a fan of the International Criminal Court, because I don’t want my government signing away my rights of due process as they are outlined in the Constitution, but now I’m really against it.
There’s more, of course, but it’s late and this syllabus has to be fixed.
There are no tales of conspiracy here, but the book is very definitely very interesting and informative.
And it’s not the usual same old same old about global politics.
It is, instead, a book about who decides.
Well, fortunately, it hasn’t been getting colder.
It’s been getting warmer all day today, so that after something like five days I have actually been able to sit in this office and work at this computer.
It’s not the coldest it’s ever been. I can remember a time in around 2002 or so when it would easily hit -9 or -12 in January and February.
We didn’t get below zero where I am this time, although a c0uple of places to the Northwest and Northeast of us did.
Still, it was cold enough so that my office–the sunroom–wasn’t workable, even though the sunroom is heated. I think I’m going to need to replace the auxilliary heating system sometime soon.
Since this didn’t seem like the time for it, I spent the last half week trying to write a syllabus in the living room under a pile of quilts.
The living room isn’t the warmest place in the house, but the warmest place is the upstairs bathroom, and when I wasn’t doing that, or cooking, reading.
And I did get a fair amount of reading done, and a LOT of Stash Lemon Ginger tea drunk, and I finally managed to get over whatever it was I had.
What I read and completed while I’ve been holed up in the living room was:
6) C.S. Lewis. An Experiment in Criticism.
7) John Fonte. Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or Be Ruled By Others?
In terms of talking about books here, I think I’m going to let the Lewis pass. It was interesting in some ways, but also sort of vague, and it was very short.
The central idea was certainly worthy of discussion–but I think I’ll save it for a time when I feel like hammering away about Literature again.
The Fonte, on the other hand, was fascinating, and the next time I get on to write a blog post, that’s the one I’m going with.
For one thing, it made clear to me things that I’d never been able to put together before–like why UN “human rights” conventions are always full of stuff that is a “global norm” only to global “human rights” activists and that is simultaneously anathema to 99.999% of everybody now living on earth.
It also gave me a whole new criteria by which to judge whether a politician deserves my vote, and a whole new direction (and a better and likely to be more effective one) to combat what up until now I’ve called the Professionalization of Everything.
But that’s a longer post than I have time to get to today, so I’ll just leave you with this.
It’s been very, very cold. And downstate from me are a lot of people who were left homeless or half-homeless by Sandy who are trying to ride this out in shelters and temporary housing, and the whole thing is a complete mess.
We heard a lot after Katrina about the continuing mess everything was in.
We’ve heard very little about Sandy.
But in case you don’t know it, FEMA didn’t do much better this time, most of the places worst hit are still an unholy mess, and there is, at the moment, no end in sight.
Now I’m going to go worry about my chickens, and get back to the Syllabus from Hell.
I knew I shouldn’t have been typing in the condition I was in yesterday.
Of course, I’m in even worse condition today, because on top of being still sick I can’t seem to sleep.
It’s three thirty in the morning. I came wide awake around one after having gotten to sleep around ten thirty.
I don’t know what state I’m in.
As in state of the Union.
The other kind of state I’m all too sure about, and it’s miserable.
Needless to say, I’m finding it nearly impossible to read anything of any length. I keep getting lost in what isn’t all that much complexity to begin with.
So, last night, in an attempt to get something done or maybe just to feel normal–when I’m well, I don’t feel normal unless I’ve done some writing and some reading every day; when I’m well, I can feel normal as long as I just read, but I have to read.
Anyway, in an attempt to feel normal, I went back to the short stories.
And this time, the short stories I read were
b) Dorothy Parker. “Lolita.”
c) Dorothy Parker. “Arrangement in Black and White.”
Okay. I have a collection of stories by Parker, and it was just easier to stick to one book.
So, first something in general, and then some specifics.
I’ve always thought of Dorothy Parker as a minor writer.
And a minor writer is what she is. For one thing, her themes are often out of date in a way that, say, the themes of Jane Austen are not, even though both women wrote about the relationships between men and women and the ways in which those relationships led to marriage.
Parker was the spokeswoman for the great minority of women who did not fare will in what was called the marriage market, for the homely, for the undistinguished, for the desperate.
I think part of the problem, part of what makes me feel that a lot of her work is dated, is that desperation doesn’t look like this anymore. There are desperate women out there, but not because the men they sleep with all take off as soon as the act has been completed.
And most women these days have other things in their lives to turn their attention to. Their lives don’t fall apart just because they aren’t married.
Parker’s stories of desperate women are so distinctive that they often seem to be the only stories she wrote, so that people who say they have “read Dorothy Parker” have really on read that clutch of stories that deal with that particular theme and nothing else.
But Parker wrote all kinds of stories, and the two above have nothing to do with women whose boyfriends have walked out because they put out, or walked out because they just weren’t pretty enough, or walked out because…
Let me take the second of the two above first.
“Arrangement in Black and White” is, as far as I’m concerned, the best short story about racism ever written.
And part of the reason it’s the best is that it doesn’t do any of the things you would expect it to do. It is not preachy. It is all show and not tell.
And the show is magnificent.
If you’re going to write about racism, this is the way it should be done, instead of the way it’s usually done, which is as an exercise in self-righteous moralizing, complete with Serious Gravity in every word.
Parker almost never indulged in Serious Gravity, and she doesn’t do it here. Instead, she simply presents the conversation of a single woman at a reception for a black singer. The story was written in 1927–ahead of its time, especially given what’s in it–and it almost certainly is take from a real life reception for Paul Robeson.
The only fully realized character–intentionally, I’m sure–is the woman speaking nearly nonstop through this whole thing, but the story is good enough that I find myself sympathizing with her unnamed, monosyllabic host.
If she were a guest in my house, I wouldn’t know what to do with her, either.
At any rate, worth looking into, if only as a tour de force.
The other story, “Lolita,” was published in 1955.
Nabokov’s novel of the same name was published in Paris the same year, but not published in New York until 1958. The novel was published in English even in France, so it’s possible that Parker had heard about it, or read it. I have no way to make sure.
Whether she did or not, her Lolita is almost the polar opposite of Nabokov’s–not pretty in any particular way, and almost the opposite of sexualized.
The focus of the story, however, is on Lolita’s mother, Mrs. Ewing–and all I can say is that she is not only one of the most clearly and compellingly realized characters in any fiction I have ever read, but that she is, as well, a right nasty piece of work.
In fact, an incredibly nasty piece of work.
It’s one of those things that creeps up on you slowly, so that by the time you realize what she really is, it’s almost gone past you.
And it is, again, an almost textbook perfect example of show and not tell.
Parker did herself a disservice with all t hose stories about desperate, homely women–and by her life of playing the part she wrote about so often.
Too much of the response to her has been a kind of contemptuous pity.
It obscures the fact that when she wrote well she wrote very well indeed, and that she always had a first class mind.
I’m going to see if I can finally get to sleep.
I had a mild cold about a week and a half ago, the kind of thing that sort of hangs on without being too much of a bother.
Then I started to feel a little better and there was something I needed to do, so I went and did it.
And it washed me out, but I still thought I was probably okay.
Then Thursday night came and I–
Let’s just say you’ll have to excuse the typing more than usual today. I feel awful, and as soon as I finish this I’m going to go back to bed and have a nap.
And I’ve only been up since six.
But it’s warmish today, for New England in January, and I have things to say, so I’ll say them.
Then I’ll just fall over like a tree.
The good news is that tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which means no mail and no business and nobody yelling at me to get things done.
The other good thing is that school doesn’t open until the 25th, and I don’t have a Friday class, so I don’t have to be in to do anything until the following Wednesday.
By then, I should either be over this or so far worse that it doesn’t matter.
I do think that I made something of an odd choice to put Anonymous 4’s Origins of Fire on for the background, as if I were in need of someone to save my soul.
Okay, maybe I am.
But, for now, the report:
Book number four on the list was
4) Thomas Penn. Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England.
This is a new book just out, and oddly for me I heard about it from a book review.
I do hear about some of the books I read through book reviews, but I also tend not to take reviews seriously. And once, many years ago, I bought a book–a thriller–simply because the New York Times review was so outrageously negative, I was sure it had to be a hatchet job.
I was wrong.
In this case, the reviewer was Florence King, a writer whose tastes tend to coincide with mine on lots of points, and with whose life I have a certain amount of sympathy.
I mean, here she is, a bisexual agnostic, but she’s a “conservative,” and can only get published in “conservative” because–well, I don’t know what it is that started it.
I will say she is one of a growing number of people who have been tossed out of the mainstream and liberal press because of some view or other that is considered completely beyond the pale, and that in no such case so far was the view in question anything like outrageous.
I will also say that this kind of thing must be counterproductive.
Eventually, you begin to look like the Inquisition.
The review was not political, and the book is only political in the sense that it talks about the politics of fifteenth and sixteenth century England.
Let’s get the quibbles out of the way first.
This is Thomas Penn’s first book, and he graduated from Cambridge. The second thing makes me think he ought to know better.
For some reason beyond my comprehension, he has given up on the subjunction mood and the word “whom” both, and every time I ran into places where they were needed I ended up swearing at him a little.
Fortunately, those particular grammatical errors weren’t so numerous as to make the book unreadable. They did get in the way when they did show up, though, and it was very annoying.
The other quibble is only sort of a quibble.
Although this book was classed as a biography of Henry VII, it isn’t really.
What it is is the chronicle of Henry VII’s rise and reign, with the emphasis largely placed on the people around the king instead of on the king himself.
And you know what?
That was fine. It was a very clarifying book for me. It brought together a lot of people and events not only in England but across Europe in a way that made it possible for me to fix the time in a way I hadn’t before.
It’s the problem with reading history the way I read it. I read a book about fifteenth century Florence and another book about the development of political philosphy from Aquinas to John Locke and I don’t put it all together into a comprehensive timeline.
This book put a lot of that together for me, including Erasmus, Macchiavelli, Pope Alexander VI, Savonarola and a lot else.
It’s an excellent book and worth reading for a lot of reasons. It’s even fun every once in a while.
There’s a detailed description of the sixteen year old Henry VIII as he ascended the throne–a description that, taken out of context, would apply almost exactly to the present Prince Harry.
I then ran into a problem with my list.
Unlike some of you, I do not read more than one book at a time. I find it distracting.
I do, however, read things other than books while I have a book going–magazines, newspapers, web sites, etc.
I had already decided that, for the purposes of this list those things wouldn’t count, but then I ran into another problem.
I sometimes read short stories either between books or while I’m reading books.
This is especially the case when I have finished one book and don’t know what I want to go on to.
When that happens, my practice for the last couple of years is to read one or more of the Sherlock Holmes stories. There’s an excellent two volume collection of all of them in order of publication put out by Barnes and Noble. And since I only read one or two of them at a time, they’ve been lasting me quite well.
This time, though, I reread a different kind of story in the middle of reading Winter King, because the story was part of a conversation I was having about Hemingway.
I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided that short stories ought to count, if only because I don’t think of them as ephemeral.
The story in question was
a) Ernest Hemingway. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”
For what it’s worth, it’s my all time favorite Hemingway story (followed by “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber”), and I’ll be putting short stories on this list as lettered entries instead of numbers.
And that brings us back to Winter King, because when I was finished reading it I suddenly got a bright idea.
One of the things I have around the house is my father’s old complete set of the Yale Shakespeare, the old ones in the Yale b;ue cloth covers first published in 1927 and reprinted innumerable times since.
If Shakespeare had written a play about Henry VII, I would have read that–but he didn’t, and Winter King makes it clear why not.
He did write Richard III, though, and that’s what I went back to.
5) William Shakespeare. Richard III.
I read my way all the way through the plays when I was in junior high, and then I read them through again in college as part of Vassar’s year-long Shakespeare course requirement.
This therefore made the third time I’d read the play, although it had been many years since the second time.
But the history plays are the Shakespeare I love best, and Richard III was in some ways very memorable for me.
What I hadn’t realized before I read Winter King was that, for Shakespeare’s audiences, the history plays must often have been closer to current events than history.
If there were not people alive who remembered the reign of Richard III, there would certainly have been people alive who remembered the reign of Henry VIII. And maybe even Henry VI.
It must have made an enormous difference in the experience of watching those plays performed.
It must have created some problematic moments in the writing of them.
I do wonder how easily the audiences would have accept the idea of the Lady Anne, widow of the Prince of Wales, as such a consummate twit.
But then, twits don’t seem to me to be very common in Shakespeare, at least among his women.
I’m really not well.
I’m going to go lie down for a while.
I had a sort of rocky start to the morning. And that’s too bad, because it should have been a good one.
We had a storm come through overnight. It put what looks to be about six inches on the ground and pretty much closed this county, with the schools all out and the plows coming through all morning.
It’s not really enough of a fall to constitute a perfect day. For that I need about a foot and a half, because that stops all activity dead in its tracks and gives us what amounts to a local bank holiday.
I like that kind of thing a lot, because it means a Calm and Relaxed day, with nobody in a hurry and nobody expecting me to be in a hurry.
Still, this was enough to constitute a minor snow day for the schools, so I was happy when I saw it.
At that point I did something I keep reminding myself not to do. The problem is that no matter how often I remind myself to do it, there always comes a time when I can’t remember why I’m reminding myself not to do it, and then here I am.
Among the other things I have in my stack of CDs is one of the Brahms String Quintets with James Galway featured. It is the only Brahms I have, because it was the first Brahms I ever bought, and the CD is flat awful.
Honestly, you should think that Brahms would sound more like Mozart or Beethoven than like twentieth century atonal crap. He was born in 1833 and died in 1897.
Still, twentieth century atonal crap is what this CD sounds like, and I’ve never bought anything else by Brahms because of it.
So here we are.
Insead of calming me down and making me capable of reading and writing, I feel like I’ve been carbonated.
When the CD ends–yes, yes, I insist on finishing those, too–I put on Mussorsky (sp?) and Pictures at an Exhibition. That one has every right to sound like twentieth century atonal crap, but doesn’t.
Anyway, while I’ve been sitting around being annoyed by the Brahms, I’ve been thinking about something called the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
There’s a web site for this, and if you want to see it you can go here:
You’ve got to excuse me if I start to sound a little disorganized around here.
I wasn’t introduced to CCSS as itself. Rather, I was given a precis of the English high school required reading list, and it was only after I’d looked around on Google for a while that I realized that what I had was not really just a list, but a comprehensive plan to teach approaches to literature (and math, and eventually history and “social studies”) than any particular pieces of fiction or poetry.
If you will forgive, for a moment, the seemingly irresistable need of the kinds of people who write these things to write in stiff-kneed professionalese, the standards are worth looking into, whether you like the reading list used to implement them or not.
For instance, one of the standards for grades 9 and 10 says:
>>>Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).
And one of the standards for grades 11 and 12 says:
>>>Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
If schools actually teach this stuff, it has to be better than what we’ve got now.
I like that this is a voluntary plan, not a top-down exercise controlled from the Department of Education.
I admit to being skeptical that schools will actually teach these things, or if they do, whether they will actually require students not in honors sections to learn them.
I am also more than a little uneasy with the skill-based approach. I’m not sure you can really teach reading comprehension that way.
I think that in the long run, a knowledge based approach is necessary in the early grades at least in order to end up being able to read well at all, and I can’t find any indicators that a knowledge-based approach is ever a part of the program.
Even under the “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas” section for Grade 5 you get:
>>>Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics.
Which is, again, a skills-based approach.
In a lot of ways, this does not bode well for the success of the program in the long run.
Still, these sound like better than anything we’ve got now except in places like Wilton, and they’d certainly be an improvement on what we have now.
I don’t see anything about parts or speech or basic grammar, but I may be looking in the wrong place.
It’s worth looking into the web site, and the idea.
I’ve been looking at the comments this morning and wondering first and foremost if it’s REALLY necessary to go through all this again.
But it looks like I’m not going to be able to avoid it, so let me give it a shot.
Nobody has so far hijacked the blog.
Nobody needs to apologize to me for the contents of their comments as they have existed from the last post.
“Hijacking the blog” concerns ONE circumstance and ONE circumstance only.
That is when people jump in and try to “defend” science fiction and/or fantasy from what they THINK is something nasty I’ve said.
I have maintained to this point and continue to mainstain that these dust ups have been entirely paranoic. I’ve said nothing derogatory about either, ever.
In an attempt to avoid these idiocies, I have been trying to be very careful never to say anything at all about either genre or any of their writers.
It turns out that it’s either that or censoring the comments. I don’t, in the end, want to censor the comments.
Therefore, since NOTHING I say will stop people from doing this, I am censoring myself.
The heckler’s veto has succeeded. I have been permanently and globally shut up on anything involving that particular subject.
But comments like this latest thing I absolutely love. They’ve been very interesting. I wish they happened much more often.
And, interestingly enough, they dovetail with the subject of this post, which is the third book I’ve read so far this year.
3) C. Northcote Parkinson. The Evolution of Political Thought.
This book was published in 1958, and I’m willing to bet it’s out of print. A friend sent it to me in a very nice used copy, and for a while I didn’t pay much attention to it because I’d read another book by the same author, and that book had been humorous.
I’ll read humourous books sometimes, I wasn’t really up for one just then.
This was especially true because I had just finished the Sayers, which is definitely light reading. I tend to like to vary the tone and genres of what I read, so the idea of going from light reading to light reading–even of different kinds–didn’t appeal to me.
Still, I kept circling around this one.
I finally picked it up, and started reading, and then I ran into another problem.
For the first 30 pages or so, this book is very, very dull.
It isn’t even interesting on the conceptual level. which many books can be.
And then, something started to happen. I’m having a hard time figuring out what.
This is one of those times when I’m very glad I have a strict rule to finish any book I start. If I hadn’t had that rule, I wouldn’t have finished this one.
I’m not sure I bought all of it, and some of the propositions put forward are marked by the fact that this book was written in 1958 and not last week.
The fundamental idea is this: there is no such thing as a linear progress from bad to good in governments. Rather, there is a cycle that goes from monarchies to oligarchies to democracies to dictatorships and back around again.
Under monarchies, Parkinson would include everything from Egypt in the Pharoanic age to Queen Victoria. Under oligarchies he would include both the plutocracies of classical age Athens and the governments-by-bureaucrat of the present.
In other words, he classifies governments by what they actually do and not by the rhetoric they use to justify themselves. Under theocracies, therefore, he places both those Egyptian pharoahs and the Soviet Union from at least the death of Lenin on.
The reason I think this book speaks to the discussion on the comments is this: he presents democracy as being inherently unstable, and everywhere and always for the same reason.
Democracies, he says, suffer from this fatal flaw: in any society in which it is possible for some people to vote themselves the property of others, they’ll do it.
All democracies start in a sort of Benthamite environment of free trade and individual liberty, and all democracies end in socialism–with socialism, again, being defined by what it does and not what it says about themselves.
For Parkinson, Social Security and unemployment benefits are social just as surely as government ownership of the banks.
We just don’t say so in this country because we’ve got a phobia about the word.
Anyway, according to Parkinson, once socialism starts there are only two places for it to end, and it will get to both: the destruction of personal liberty, and the destruction of the economy.
The destruction of personal liberty comes with the rise of the oligarchic bureaucratic state, the nattering regulation of more and more aspects of private life.
These regulations are often justified as a matter of cost effectiveness–obesity costs us X trillion dollars a year! How are we going to keep health care costs down if you don’t take off the flab?
The destruction of the economy is a lot more complicated, because it involves a lot of unintended but also a lot of unconscious decisions and motivations.
And here is where I really wished this guy had been around to do an update at, say, 1990.
Because we’ve added a few wrinkles to the destroy-the-economy scenario that didn’t exist before.
Parkinson starts the beginning of the end with the minimum wage and goes from there. The minimum wage raises the cost of the lowest skilled labor. It therefore becomes to the advantage of employers to to without as much of such labor as they can manage.
Of course, there always was a certain incentive to that that anyway, but the minimum wage vastly increased that incentive and made mechanization not only desirable but increasingly necessary for sheer survival.
With each mandate–unemployment insurance, half the social security contribution, now health care–the cost of employing an actual human being goes up.
Eventually, it begins to affect the feasibility of employing the middle class.
If an employer wants to take on one full time worker at $40,000 a year, his actual cost is almost half again that much, even BEFORE you consider things like anti-discrimination law.
And antidiscrimination law drives the cost of hiring in firm of 50 or more employees right through the roof.
The big problem here is that the standards are squishy–they are a matter of interpretation. So Firm A engaging in Practice Y may get hit with tens of thousands of dollars in fines for being in “noncompliance” with anti-discrimination regulations, while Firm B engaging in the same Practice Y may be judged to be perfectly in compliance and charged nothing at all.
To the extent that these decisions are made by regulators themselves at their own person discretion, operating a business becomes more a matter of who you know than what you know.
If you’re in with the incrowd, everything’s fine. If you’re not, you could be hit with business-bankrupting decisions at any time on the basis of anything at all. You cannot anticipate these things, because they are not written down. They exist in the heads of individual regulators and nowhere else. They are entirely subjective.
Martha Stewart goes to jail for eight months because she tells her board of directors and her stockbrokers that she will be found not guilty of insider training–and that happens even though she’s right. She IS found guilty of insider trading.
So why does she go to jail? Because telling her stockholders she would be found not guilty amounted to trying to deceive them.
Why was it tring to deceive them if she was in fact found not guilty?
Well, because the judge thought so, because the regulations are written in such a way that they have no objective meaning, only a subjective one to be determined at the time of trial or hearing.
A country of men and not laws.
That’s what that is.
But there’s another reason why all these regulations reduce the number of jobs available–they’re expensive.
I don’t mean that businesses have to pay government money. I mean that they amount to thousands of man hours of work added on top of whatever work needs to be done to actually run the business.
No new car company has arisen in the US in decades up decades–do you know why?
Because it takes over 16,000 man hours of work to do the paperwork to comply with the regulations to start one.
People used to start car companies in their garages. These days, between the zoning, the environmental regs, the labor regs, the health and safety regs and on ad infinitum, nobody could.
This does 2 things: it protects the existing car companies from competition, and it makes it certain that when a new car company arises, it will not be here.
Notice how, when new companies start here these days, they are largely the ones in industry that haven’t yet been highly regulated or that are in areas that have never existed before and that nobody has yet thought of.
Steve Wozniak started Apple Computer in his garage. You couldn’t do that now.
But all this regulation does something else–it makes running a business (especially a SMALL business) and hiring workers more and more expensive by the minute.
The average number of man hours expected to be necessary to comply with the paperwork and other requirements of Obamacare is expected to be around 14,000–now divide that by 40 hour weeks plus the expense of the SS contribution plus all the rest of it, and suddenly your cost per worker gets more and more astronomical.
If you’re General Motors, you don’t give a damn–and besides, you’ve got friends, so you’re at least partially protected.
If you’re the little guy on Main Street, you’re trying desperately to keep your workforce under 50 with as many of t hose as possible working less than 29 hours a week.
Would you think a robot was worth it? I would.
If you’re sitting there thinking that this would all be all right if we could just “get money out of politics”–forget it.
Once government by men instead of law is in place, the corruption is inevitable. Up the number of regulations and you’ll just make the “top 1%” more and more secure–except it’s not the top 1%. It’s the top .01%.
All you’re doing when you yell about the top 1% is displacing the focus from people like Dick Fuld and Jamie Diamond and letting it fall on local lawyers and surgeons who are certainl well paid, but just as likely to be killed by the prevailing trends as anybody underneath them.
Get rid of the government of men and not of laws and you have Harry Truman taking a lone to move back home after being in the White House.
I’m not in the least worried about robots. I am worried about living in a country that actively discourages job growth, job creation, and general competition.
And that is being enabled in its course by people yelling income inequality! when the necessary long term result of anything done to address the problem from that direction is more of what we’ve got, and not less.
I’m going to go see what’s going on in the rest of the house.
I was looking over the comments yesterday while I was reading and responding to a FB thread about whether curricular standards for publics schools ought to be imposed by the federal government on a “fact based” standard.
I was, obviously, opposed to the centralized “fact based” standard, not for the least reason that a lot of what people call facts are actually opinions.
That fact was demonstrated beautifully when a poster on the other side–they were all on the other side–posted a link to a NYRB article on Texas textbook adoption and how it affects the rest of us–and most of its examples were of places where Texas insists on interpretations (the New Deal was a bad idea) that cannot be countered with “facts.” Whether the ND is a bad idea or a good one is a matter of opinion, not fact, and will never be anything else.
But in the middle of that, as I said, I was reading the comments here, and I found them very interesting.
First, Robert is quite right. What I was talking about has nothing to do with Cheryl’s example. In fact, I don’t think schools should be allowed to control their students’ lives outside school hours (except for the necessary homework). If a teacher came up and tried to correct my child at the store or in the public park and I was there to witness it, I’d rip her a new one.
In that case, she is not “taking responsibility.” She is simply being an officious busybody.
I was talking about how people respond in emergencies–traffic accidents, school shootings, people in danger of dying without a rescue.
Most of us do not have the expertise to help in a serious traffic accident, but the vast majority of us can call 911. In other cases, we do have what’s needed to help, and I think we should all feel that the default position is that we are personally responsible for doing it.
So I would say that texaspurl’s accident example fits what I was talking about.
Her other example, however, does not.
If I saw one person physically beating up another person–child or not–I would certainly call the police.
If all I saw was one person yelling at another–child or not–then my proper response would be to accept that it was none of my business, and that interfering in any way would make me…one of those officious, self righteous busybodies.
But in NO case would I ever call CPS.
CPS is a Constitution-free zone. They can enter your house without a warrant, even if the only “evidence” they have is an anonymous accusation. You have no right to confront your accusers. You’re not even allowed to know their names. You have no right to refuse to incriminate yourself. In fact, there’s a case in the courts right now where a state CPS is claiming that if it has to allow the people it accuses their Constitutional rights, then it can’t function at all.
I think that a government agency that cannot operate unless it violates the Constitutional rights of citizens should not be allowed to operate at all.
What’s more, however, is that CPS is also a rule-0f-law free zone. “Abuse” is defined as whatever the social worker subjectively thinks it is.
Yes, I know. Yada yada yada. They’ve been “trained.” But all they’ve been trained in is a lot of pseudoscientific conventional wisdom that often has nothing at all to do with reality. Witness the number of cases “proving” child abuse by the fact–and it was a fact–that the supposed victims, given anatomically correct dolls, pulled and prodded at the genitals.
This, according to the best social work practice of the day, “proved” abuse because children who had not been abused did not behave this way. Given the dolls, they just left the genitals alone.
Then–oops! It turned out that nobody had ever looked into how children who had not been abused (or were not supposed to have been abused) acted with those dolls.
When they did, it turned out that ALL children behaved exactly the same way when presented with those dolls.
By then, of course, hundreds of families had been destroyed, hundreds of children had been forced into the truly vile foster care system and probably screwed up for life, and it was too late to undo the damage.
But, hey–SOME of those children probably had been abused. Who cares what happened to the rest of them?
I agree that children need protection, but mostly I think they and their families need protection from CPS.
You want to see a war against the poor? Take a look at CPS, where what are being enforced are middle class cultural biases.
You want to see truly egregious pseudoscience? Take a look at the ‘red flags’ that supposedly tell us when a child may be being abused.
What’s wrong with them?
Well, as in the case of those anatomically correct dolls, nobody is checking to see if those “red flags” aren’t being found equally often in children who are not being abused.
Nationwide, CPS departments admit that a minimum of 60% of the accusations they receive are eventually classified as “unfounded”–and that, as you would expect from a system that allows anonymous accusations, a good chunk of those turn out to be spite calls.
Having a problem with your neighbor? What to get your cheating spouse in trouble? Jealous because your coworker got that promotion and you didn’t?
Pick up the phone and make any accusations you want. There’s virtually no downside. The accused won’t be allowed to know your name. You can’t be sued for making the accusation, and CPS can’t be sued for pursuing it, even if it’s totally bogus.
Some states have laws on the books that allow prosecution for false accusations of child abuse, but they turn out to be targetted at divorcing spouses. Anonymous spiteful tipsters are free and clear.
And they can get a lot of traction, too. If the social worker that shows up at your house wants to, she can remove your children from your home for no reason at all.
And once that happens, you’ll be embroiled in a mess the like of which you wouldn’t believe.
Even if you’re totally innocent of any wrongdoing, your child could end up in foster care for months before the courts straighten it out. You will have none of the due process protections–not even the assumption of innocence–that you would have in any other court proceeding, and the standard of proof will be much lower than in the criminal courts.
What’s more, the chances are good that the foster care system will be LESS safe for your child–for most children–than they would be at home.
In a case that was decided some time back by the SCOTUS–Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the opinion–a father who was falsely accused by a disgruntled neighbor of the sexual abuse of his son tried to get the right to sue the state (PA, I think) after the kid was found to have been given AIDS by the foster father who raped him.
SCOTUS said no–it was too important to protect “the children.”
So a father who was entirely innocent, and a child that had exhibited NO physical signs of sexual abuse, had their lives completely destroyed because the social worker was “protecting” “the children.”
CPS ought to be abolished, period. I don’t think they’ve protected even a single child. They’ve turned our schools into vast complexes of state-mandated informers who are afraid not to report anything at all because they’ll lose their livelihoods if they don’t. They’ve made the worst nightmare of parents whose children survive accidents or kidnapping the descent of social workers whose response to such things is to assume the parents MUST be guilty of something and to therefore further traumatize the child.
If there is EVIDENCE of physical assault, call in the police and file proper criminal charges with proper due process protections for the accused.
If there isn’t, no court, no social worker, no teacher and not anybody else has the right to assume the pose of self righteous crusader and destroy the lives of parents and children on a lot of subjective nonsense.
So, to start–I went through a certain amount of trouble yesterday NOT to mention any names in that story I told, since it appeared on FB in the context of a restricted audience.
So, cat out of the bag or not, I’m not going to mention any names here.
But the answering to my question of yesterday about what the employees, the managers and the other shoppers did after a hundred pound box fell on a 4 year old girl is–nothing.
Everybody just stood around and watched as the mother tried to get the box off the girl.
Nobody helped. Nobody called 911.
And nobody did anything else, either.
And that was what struck me about that story, and about a few other stories I’ve read over the last year or so.
What struck me was the image of lots of people standing around waiting for somebody else to tell them what to do, rather than jumping in and doing something themselves.
What struck me was the passivity.
The first time I heard a story like this, it wasn’t about the US, but about England.
I went looking for my notes on it this morning and couldn’t find them, but what it concerned was a group of police who let a man die because the department that was supposed to deal with that particular man’s rescue was somebody else.
So, instead of saving the man’s life, they waited patiently for the right people to show up. Following the rules was more important that saving the man.
I remember thinking at the time that the US hadn’t gotten to that point of bureaucratic passivity yet, but less than a year later, I heard a virtually identical story about California.
There were a bunch of police officers standing on the beach, doing nothing as they watched a swimmer drown in the ocean. They didn’t have authorization to save a victim of drowning. They were waiting for the EMTs, who did.
The story of the girl and the box and the everybody who sat around doing nothing is a similar one, just on a smaller scale.
I don’t think the managers or the employees or the other customers were worried they’d get sued. I think they’d been trained to sit and wait until somebody official came along who was the one who was supposed to solve the problem.
I don’t think the issue was that they didn’t care. I think it was that they had been taught all their lives that they were NOT to take the initiative.
This is the entire idea behind the “anti-bullying” campaigns, which punish both the agressor and the defender for fighting.
Don’t defend yourself, these campaigns say. Wait patiently, get your ass kicked six ways to Sunday, until the Official Person shows up. Then she’ll put the bully in detention and send you to a therapist.
The problem, however, started a long time before the anti-bullying campaigns.
You see it in some of the stories that came out of Virginia Tech–classroom after classroom full of students and teachers who just…sat there.
The gunman could only be in one classroom at a time.
Yet, nobody in the classrooms where this guy wasn’t got the idea to jump out a window and run, or barricade the classroom door and call the cops, or…
The only person who tried to do anything was a professor who was also a Holocaust survivor.
Maybe that was because he’d had first hand experience of the perils of passivity.
He did die in his attempt to do something about the situation.
I don’t really see that it’s preferable to live through a situation like that at the cost of waiting patiently to see if you win the lottery of this guy not getting to you, and of knowing that lots of other people are dead because you were among the people w ho did absolutely nothing.
In the week that followed the Newtown shooting, the news kept reporting over and over and over again that mass shootings are crimes of opportunity, that these gunmen do not go where they expect to meet resistance.
Mike F suggested that this would be a good reason to limit the size of the magazines that can be sold–take that down to ten rounds per clip instead of thirty. Maybe if he had to stop and load every few minutes, it would slow him up, slow him down, or finish him earlier.
Other people suggested arming school teachers or putting armed guards in schools. They were widely derided, but the suggestion was by no means stupid.
There’s a reason why the vast majority of these incidents take place in areas that have been publicly designated as “weapons free zones.”
And although I much prefer that second approach–which at least acknowledges the fact that in real life we sometimes have to act and can’t wait for the Properly Authorized Person to show up and sae us–
I wonder if the guns are the issue per se.
The problem, as I see it, is not that the teachers aren’t armed, but that they have been disarmed by being fed the notion that Waiting for Somebody in Authority should be their first response to virtually any situation.
Well into the 1950s, violence in heavily populated areas in this country was relatively rare. Armed or not, if it’s one against 20, the chances are that somebody is going to be able to take you down–IF the vast majority of people in that space instinctively respond to an emergency by trying to take action.
That is, if almost everybody assumes that being an adult means acting when action is necessary.
What scares me is that we seem to be training this idea out of our children. We tell them that if they get hit or threatened, they should just put up with it and tell a teacher, who is the only person authorized to act.
We tell them going through proper channels is everything and acting on their own will only get them into trouble, even if they’re right.
We dwell on the risks of taking action and ignore the rewards–rewards that accrue not to the individual but to all of us.
We tell them that we are doing this to make them “safe”–because “safe” seems to be the only legitimate goal–but in fact we are making them less safe by the day.
And then we wonder why so many of them can’t get up the initiative to do–
Much of anything.
Okay, still mostly at the beginning of it. I’ve been having a very strange week.
My life tends to be very scheduled and repetitive. It’s either that, or watching everything fall into chaos in no time flat.
I wake up at 4:35 in the morning (long story), make a 60 ounce cup of tea with two tea bags steeped twenty minutes, and–while it’s steeping next to me–sit down at the computer and Write For Serious.
Once that’s done, I write this blog and/or write emails and–that kind of thing.
I do, of course, have times where I relax a little–every Sunday I turn off the alarm and get up to read and listen to music. I do the same on Christmas Day and my birthday.
Even on those days, however, I do the Writing for Serious, because if I don’t do the Writing for Serious, I feel as if something has gone wrong with my head.
About a week ago, something annoying happened.
I don’t use an alarm clock to wake up. I use the alarm function on my cell phone.
My cell phone is one of these Samsung slider things that is probably at least five years old. For years now, AT%T has been trying to get me to “upgrade,” but all the models they’ve shown me have had touch screens instead of keyboards and all kinds of “smart” functions that I not only don’t need, but actively don’t want.
It has gotten to the point where it is almost impossible to find a charger for this thing, but I love it, and I’ve been holding onto it for dear life.
Well, I suppose the bottom line is that all good things must come to an end.
A few days ago, the phone began to refuse to do things–it won’t let me onto the menu, for instance, or to instant messaging. It will let me onto my address book, and it will dial out, but that’s about it.
And that has meant that I have not been able to use the phone as an alarm clock.
Now, it’s break at my place, and will be until January 25.
I don’t have to be up to get anywhere on time until then, and I saw no reason to go running off to get another phone or to find another alarm clock.
I’ve kept to the same schedule for many years. In my experience, even when I don’t have an alarm clock, I wake up pretty much on time anyway.
But here’s the thing.
I haven’t been.
For the past several days, I have been waking up–quite naturally, and feeling really good–at 7:30 instead of 7:35.
I have wandered downstairs in order to do what I always do.
I have managed the tea, and sometimes I have put on the Bach, but I’ve been accomplishing nearly nothing.
In the meantime, of course, Actual Work has wandered across my doorstep and deposited itself on the dining room table. It sits there demanding to be done.
It’s been extremely odd.
Well, today, even though I got up late, I made myself do the Actual Work, and I worked on some new writing.
I will get back into schedule soon enough. And I’ll find a phone that doesn’t completely annoy me.
In the meantime, however, I’m feeling a little unbalanced.
I have therefore decided, in what I think may be a desperate attempt to return order to my life and block out the memory of just how good it feels to sleep until 7:30, to keep a log of all the books I read this year.
I know, I know.
It’s kind of dweeby and unnecessary and the sort of thing you do when you’re twelve, but there it is.
I’d say I’ll comment on each one, but I can’t pretend that’s part of the project. I always comment on what I’m reading anyway.
So far this year, I’ve read:
1) George Steiner. The Poetry of Thought: From Hellenism to Celan.
2) dDorothy L. Sayers. Five Red Herrings.
The Steiner you’ve already heard about.
As to the Sayers–I first read it when I was first living in New York thirty years ago. I didn’t remember it when I picked it up to read again, which is part of the reason I picked it up to read this week.
It’s a Lord Peter Wimsey without Harriet Vane, and possibly before Harriet Vane.
And what it actually is is a study in detection–detection is pretty much all there is.
The characterization is light, at best, and always at one remove. We are told about characters rather than seeing them whole, and all the action consists of various people–Wimsey, a police constable, a police inspector, etc–trying to detect the solution.
It’s interesting enough, but it’s not what I read novels for, even if the novels are detective stories.
I think we had a discussion here a while back about the relative standing, as writers, of Sayers and Christie.
I’ll stick with my original judgment that Christie was always a better writer than Sayers. Sayers had one or two really spectacular successes–Gaudy Night especially–but the average quality of her work starts off weak and only gets to Christie’s level by a long and rather laborious process.
It took Sayers a while to learn to write novels. Christie wrote novels from off.
To be clear, though–the book is very enjoyable, and I would recommend it, but I would recommend it for what it is: detective fiction defined very narrowly.
I have a next up, and I’ll get to it eventually.
First, though, I have a question:
Let’s say you were in a large store. A woman is there with her four year old daughter. The woman is pushing a shopping cart that has been overloaded–by a store employee, not the mother–with an enormous box containing the part of a wooden desk.
The box weighs a hundred pounds.
As the mother and daughter stop at a shelf, the little girl goes around to the front of the cart to look at some things and the box suddenly falls on her, slamming her to the ground.
What would you do?
What do you think the store employees, the store managers, and the other customers did?
Having actually gotten some work done today, and this blog written, I’m going to go off and see what needs done next.