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Archive for December, 2010

Wait! Wait!

with 2 comments

Okay, second post of the day. 

This is Victor Davis Hanson on the liberal arts:


I’m going to go do somthing now.

Written by janeh

December 16th, 2010 at 10:14 am

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Ends and Beginnings

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I have a real tendency to inertia–I don’t think I always did, but maybe I’m getting older, or maybe I’m getting stale–it’s hard to tell.

At any rate, I just did a whole lot of paperwork, and I did another lot yesterday, and now I’m almost free up to not worry about much for a few weeks, except that we’re traveling and there are logistics with children at schools, and…

You know what I mean.

I finished the Kenneth Minogue book today, just before I left to come out here, and although it didn’t say much I wasn’t expecting it to say, it formulated a few problems more precisely than I’d seen them formulated before.  I don’t know if that helps or not.  My two big complaints with Minogue are that he tends to use “European” definitions of things that are significantly different from the American varieties, and then to ascribe them to the entire “West.”  In some cases, this causes a distinct rise in the confusion level.  Europe and Canada are free to legislate against “hate speech” as speech, but the US is not, and that has a definite practical as well as theoretical effect on how society is run.

My other problem with him is that he gives the people he calls the “politico-moral” way too much credit for good intentions.  People with real good intentions would inquire into whether the things they’re doing actually help or instead harm–if the result of giving billions of dollars in aid to some African dictatorship results not in feeding the people of the country but in enriching the dictator and causing the people to starve even faster, they’d stop insisting we should give billions of dollars that African country.

What strikes me as the prime attribute of the “politico-moral” is rather self-regard–the point of it is not to actually reduce worldwide poverty, or even poverty within their own countries, but to be able to preen themselves on their high virtuousness, especially in relation to all those people who make so much more money than they do.

And then there are, of course, the people who opt into the “politico-moral” for the sake of power, period–but Minogue gets them.  It’s the hangers on and followers he doesn’t get.

And I have less and less impatience with them, as I do with people who scream bloody murder about being searched at the airport while giving various regultory agencies the right to enter homes and businesses without a warrant, take anonymous accusations and act on them as if they were probably cause, refuse to reveal relevant information to persons accused of violations, denying the Fifth amendment right against self incrimination, denying trial by jury, and a host more that would have gotten Bush and company lynched if they’d even suggested it–and all because there’s supposed to be a “significant government interest” in enforcing a set of regulations that have not been voted into law by legislators in the first place.

And by the way, if you think I’m making all that up–that no government agency operates like that–go looking around the Internet. 

Oh, and did I mention?  If the agency screws up, no matter how badly–if the accusations were false and you’d done nothing wrong, if it turns out that the investigation was motivated by spite on the part of investigators or the anonymous tipster who started it all–you can’t even sue. 

Sorry, but I listen to the screams and hollers of both Democrats and Republicans on Bush’s fascism and Obama’s Communism, and what I see is both sides willing to sign on to the power of whole mountains of agencies.  The Tea Party isn’t for me, but if something came along that would directly target this sort of thing, I’d be willing to sign on in a minute.

And the Tea Party doesn’t matter, because they’re not interested in changing that situation, either–like the standard Republicans and Democrats, they only want to change which agencies have the right to pull that kind of crap.

Whatever.  I’ve gone on to reading some more Agatha, where at least when there’s a body on the floor, there’s also a proper Constable and a set of rules to play the game by.

Too often, in the real world, the rules come down to some bureaucratic’s “because I said so.”

Written by janeh

December 16th, 2010 at 10:09 am

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We All Just Want To Be Big Rock Stars…

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This post was actually supposed to be about something else, but I ended up in the middle of something.  That means I can’t really sit down and concentrate on…well, anything.

What I can concentrate on–momentarily–is what I saw on television this morning.  I turned it on to get some idea of the weather, which is just lousy, period, at the moment, and what I saw instead was a clip of Vladimir Putin, former President of Russia, on a stage with a microphone in his hand, singing Chuck Berry’s “Blueberry Hill.”

This would have  been odd enough, except that a few months ago, Kim Jong Il offered to concede on nuclear talks and policy if he got to play Batman in the next Batman movie.

I ought to Google that and get the details, but I’m at a strange computer in a strange place, and I’m not sure I want to risk the post by clicking on things that do things I have no idea they’re going to do.

The point is just that I’ve begun to wonder if Nickelback was right–maybe the secret to dictators, maybe to totalitarians of any kind, is not so much a will to power per se, but a will to power as a substitute for the kind of adulation they really crave–the all-out, no-holds-barred, hysterical unconditional love that rock stars get in concert, and nobody else ever gets at all.

If you’ve got talent, you’re Chad Kroeger, or Bob Dylan in 1968–hell, I went to a Dylan concert on the Forever Young tour much later than that, and the audience response was mindboggling.

Anyway, maybe if you have talent you get to do that, and if you don’t you either sink into bumhood or try to rule the universe.  Or at least a little part of it.

And maybe this can all be explained by psychology, as a result of these people not getting enough unconditional love as children.

I don’t know.

I just know that Vladimir Putin is no Chuck Berry.

Written by janeh

December 15th, 2010 at 10:19 am

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Outside In

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So, let me try to start from some sort of beginning here.  This


showed up this morning on Arts and Letters Daily, and I recommend it to you for a number of reasons, probably not the ones the writer of it thought he was writing it for.

Okay.  It’s early in the morning.  The syntax isn’t working right.

But what this is is an article on the relationship between literary writing and the MFA programs in creative writing–except.  Except except except.

At the risk of setting somebody off again on the evils of literary fiction–I already agree on that one; the modern “literary” novel is an anemic thing, trying to (as Bill used to say) “write better and better about less and less until it writes perfectly about nothing at all.”

And I knew all about the writer in residence, MFA program thing long ago.  It’s hard to avoid it in the circles in which I move.

No, what interested me about this article is this:  every once in a while, the author of it cheerfully recognizes that none of this stuff is getting read.

I’d already assumed–again, long ago–that the audience for the literary novel, for literary fiction in general, was that web of people around the writing programs, who all read each other’s work and commented on it.

Now, it seems, that nobody is reading anybody’s work, except maybe the professors in the programs themselves, who are reading things to grade, or workshop participants, who read what’s submitted to class.  Once the work starts getting published, nobody bothers any more–except, maybe, the editor.

There is a lot I could say about all this, but what hits me hardest is:  in what sense are the people caught in this system to be considered writers at all?  The logic of this description of the present state of the writers in this system is that there comes a time when there is no audience for the actual work–the writer isn’t talking to anybody, not even the other professors in the department or the people on the tenure committee.

The fact of the book is enough to ensure professional advancement.  And nobody has time to read the actual book.  So you write it, you publish it, and then you put it on the shelf, and the only time it matters is when you’re asked to go somewhere to speak about it.

Another interesting thing is what is not happening–literary fiction is taught in creative writing programs, but not in Freshman English, or in the English department at all.  I suppose there must be upper level courses in “the contemporary novel”–there usually are–but I know enough about academia to know that very few people take those, and the ones who do are almost always the people who aspire to write contemporary novels themselves. 

Academic writing, in other words, doesn’t even have an academic audience. 

The writer of this article makes a lot of fun of the old advice to writers–get out and live!–but I don’t think it’s getting out and living that’s the problem.

The chief virtue of sending your work out to be read by an actual audience is this:  it lets you know if you’re making any sense.

You don’t have to aim for mass popularity.  And we can all admit up front that a fair hunk of readers these days lack the kind of reading skills to understand even basic literary devices, like unreliable narrator or multiple viewpoint.

But when you send a book into the world to be read, and practically everybody gets back to you to say that the book is about a cat when you know you were writing about a dog–that tells you something about what you need to work on next time.

Of course, the “literary” novels this writer is talking about do have an audience of sorts in the undergraduates who take creative writing courses.

Unlike the graduate students in MFA programs, undergraduates aren’t usually looking to be a writer when they take “creative writing” junior year.  They’re mostly just looking for the easiest A they can get, and creative writing courses are very easy A’s indeed.

The problem with this is that none of the feedback such students could provide will ever actually get back to the writers–and that’s especially if that feedback consists of hating the damned story, or thinking it’s crap on the philosophical level, or wondering why all the characters have “intellectual” jobs and feel alienated.

Okay, that was bad of me.

But years ago, I made a conscious decision to do what I do instead of going for a more “literary” audience.  I came out of an undergraduate writing program that has produced numerous “MFA writers,” as the article calls them.  I went on to grad school in Literature instead of writing, but that was largely a combination of inertia and terror.  Then I left that and came to New York, and from that I got here.

Wherever here is.

When I made that decision, my reasons were largely about content.  I didn’t want to live in a closed, introspective world where everybody knew everybody and then wrote about themselves, where there was no contact with the rest of the planet.

Now I think I was lucky to have made that decision because I can’t understand the appeal of being a writer without readers, of producing book after book whose only real purpose is to fill up a library shelf.

I am not, at this stage of my life, likely to become one of those blockbuster mystery novelists with her own TV show and a space on the NY Times best seller list.

But I know from painful experience that people do actually read what I do–and that they’re not “thoughtful,” “considered,” or even very polite about it.

And, thank God, they’re certainly not indifferent.

Exam week.  Lots of sitting around listening to students explain why they should be allowed to make up all the work of the term today.

I need serious tea.

Written by janeh

December 13th, 2010 at 6:48 am

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Driving Ambition

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Can I remind everybody, before I start, that if you’re having trouble getting the program to allow you to post, you should e-mail and we’ll fix it?

We haven’t had that kind of complaint for a while, but I don’t know if it’s fixed or if people are just giving up. 

Whatever, it’s Sunday, and in a minute I’m going to go play some music.

I just wanted to say that it’s a little odd, hearing all the comments about Matt’s driving.

For one thing, as I said, his father never learned, and never much wanted to learn. 

For another, I was like Cathy–I didn’t learn to drive until I was 21, and then my father forced me because I was going to be home for the summer, he was not, and my mother had a continuing medical condition he was worried would turn into an emergency.

Looking back on it, I suspect it was one of my mother’s periodic bouts of hyper-hyperchondria, if there is any such thing.  She has been all her life–and still is, now–subject to severe free floating anxiety attacks.   She managed, on three or four occasions, to convince doctors that she was genuinely sick and in need of some kind of care–once it was actually minor surgery.

These days, we’d put her on anti-anxiety medication, and in fact they did that when she first needed to enter a nursing home.  The problem was that she took it badly–even though her dementia was too far gone to know that she’d been given the pills, the side effects were terrific.

This makes sense to me, because I was subject to the same sort of thing when I was  younger–not the concentration on physical ailments, but the high levels of anxiety that seemed to come out of nowhere and completely wind me up.

Part of this was certainly natural–a genetic gift from my mother–and part of it was certainly the amount of caffeine I was drinking, which was massive.  But by the time I got to my doctoral program, I found myself being hit, periodically, with such massive, all-encompassing anxiety that I would end up having tachycardia.

And then, when the tachycardia was over, I’d be fine.  No anxiety at all.

I did get a prescription for anti-anxiety medication around then, and I took it for three weeks–the side effects were something like being hit over the head by a truck.  I lost all my ambition, which was bad, but I also lost my ability to write fiction–and every time I’d think it might be a good idea to go back on the stuff  just to take the edge off an anxiety high that would sometimes last weeks at a time, the same thing would happen.

In the end, it just mattered too much to me to be able to write.  Writing was the only thing I’d wanted to do since I was old enough to remember anything much.  Suddenly having no imagination was not an option.  So I finally threw the pills out and decided to cope. I also gave up caffeine in every form–tea, coffee, even diet Coke. 

Then I decided to take off for New York and “be a writer,” no matter what–and within weeks, the anxiety attacks disappeared.  They have never returned, at least on a free floating basis.  I’ve been drinking tea again now for years, although I keep the Diet Coke to the caffeine free kind most of the time.  If I get anxious these days, it’s because I have something to be anxious about.

But my experience is part of the reason I’m so resistant to the idea that we should meet “mood disorders” with chemicals. 

I’m sure there really are biochemical states that make some people anxious or depressed for reasons that have nothing to do with anything in reality. But I don’t think that the means that we should try to alter the chemistry artifically.  In fact, the whole pharmacopia thing seems to me to have more drawbacks than advantages, at least for some people.

My best friend in New York ditched her anti-depressants decades ago because they left her with no sex drive, no ambition, and not much in the way of interest in life.  Her alternative–self-medicating with cigarettes; nicotine, it seems, is a really good anti-depressant and available in a form that makes it possible to take in just as much as you need exactly when you need it–

Anyway, that altnerative may seem crazy to you and me, but for her, the issue was simple–have a longer but miserable life with no major accomplishments and not much to show for it otherwise, or have a shorter life full of things that made her happy and proud of herself.

I just wonder, however, if it might make more sense to at least try to deal with people with anxiety and depression by something closer to common sense–get off your butt and do something, take your mind off yourself, engage with the world, something.

In a world where we’re all supposed to be patients, and where every variation from an arbitrarily designated “human norm” is supposed to be some kind of “disorder,” I doubt that’s going to catch on.

But back to the driving. 

Like I said, it’s a funny discussion to be having, right this minute. 

The big news in Connecticut these days–big enough to be hitting the headlines six states away–is the deaths of four of five teenagers riding in a car together about a week ago, with the fifth in critical condition ever since.  It was dark but clear.  The road they were on was fairly straight.  Nobody was drinking. 

That’ll give an anxiety attack to anybody with a kid in Driver Ed.

Written by janeh

December 12th, 2010 at 6:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Slouching Towards Vacation

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Or, at least, break.

Classes are over.  Next week there are exams, and then…well, I don’t know about then.  Several weeks, at least, where I don’t have to set the alarm clock for myself, at any rate.

But to get to the point here:  on the principle that I’m incapable of doing anything  this term without causing myself damage, I managed to pull something and “bruise a tendon” a couple of weeks ago–or something like that–in my left leg.

This is actually not as much trouble as you would think it might be.  I’m fine when I’m sitting down.  I’m fine when I’m standing up.  It’s going from one state to the other that’s the problem.  

Although, I have no trouble getting  into or out of the car.  Go figure.

Anyway, for the sake of making my life less than miserable, my older son–who’s home this term; long story–has been coming with me everywhere to carry things for me.  This is not a small task, because at this point in the term I’m carrying a lot–handouts for final projects and final exams, boatloads of arriving-at-the-last-minute papers that I need to find some time to correct, you name it.

And the situation is complicated a bit by the fact that Matt doesn’t drive.  I think he may well be the only person he knows over the age of sixteen who doesn’t drive.  But although I’ve offered to pay for driving school, and I’ve hinted (and done more than that) more than once that it would be really convenient for him to get a license, he doesn’t seem to be interested. 

He lives in Philadelphia most of the time now, and there’s public transportation.  Maybe it’s that.

Of course, Bill never learned to drive in his life.  He just wasn’t interested, and then he moved to Manhattan.

At any rate–yes, I think I’m going somewhere with this–the situation in its entirety means that I only take the serious pain medication for this thing at night, when I’m not going to need to get behind the wheel. I get by the rest of the time on Ibuprofen.

And, let me tell you, it’s an interesting perspective. 

For one thing, I’ve come to truly hate handicapped spaces.  I’m not eligible for one, of course,  because I’m not disabled, and this thing isn’t likely to last more than a couple of weeks.

What I am, however, is somebody who gets unbelievably exhausted after walking only a few hundred feet.  As long as I keep my leg  just a little rigid, I can walk fine–but it drains the energy out of me like you wouldn’t believe. 

By the time I get from one of the regular spaces in the parking lot to the door of wherever it is I’m going, I want to sit down for half an hour.  And, of course, there’s no place to sit. 

And, of course, the handicapped spaces are empty when I get to the place and empty when I leave.

The other thing is this:  physical pain makes me a very annoying and unpleasant person. 

I’ve always known that physical “discomfort” could do this to people, but I’ve surprised myself by how much it is true of me.

It’s not that I yell or get irrational–I don’t. 

What I do find myself doing is being far less patient and understanding with the kind of bull my students are likely to pull, and far less patient with the machinery of institutions of any sort.

On Wednesday, in one of my heavily remedial classes, a student who had managed to miss better than fifty percent of her classes decided to spend the class period bitching–out loud, over and over and over again–about everything we were doing.

“I can’t be doing this now.  This is bullshit.  Can I leave?  I want to leave and go back to sleep.  I can’t do this now.  This is stupid.”


And I hate “etc.”

This sort of thing happens with a fair amount of frequency in these classes.  What I usually do is roll my eyes inwardly–so that nobody sees me–and just carry on.  On Wednesday, I just told her off–and she sort of settled down sullenly and got through the class.

It’s not that I don’t know that I feel this way about this kind of thing.  Of course I do.   It’s just that functioning in the environment in which I work in these classes requires a lot of self discipline.

And to do it well, it requires a belief–maybe a self delusion–that what you’re seeing in classroom behavior is only temporary, a result of years of absolutely terrible schooling and worse neighborhoods, destined to disappear as you bring them up to speed.

Part of me, I think, has reached a place where I no longer believe that this is true–where I no longer believe that what’s wrong is being caused largely outside the people who are exhibiting the behavior that is making them fail over and over and over again.

I already understood that about the small segment of this population that just wasn’t academically talented, that didn’t have the basic intellectual capacity to do the work.

We all pretend that there is no such thing as innate intelligence, but we also all know it’s a lie, and we keep on anyway. 

The problem for me, all of a sudden, is with the ones who are perfectly mentally capable, but who fight the process at every turn–who don’t turn in papers, don’t show up for make-ups, talk all through class to their friends, text through lectures, sit and stare at the floor when given in-class writing assignments and then say they couldn’t think of anything because that’s a stupid topic–

The sheer level of rude is truly remarkable some days.

And I know the places these kids come from.  I’ve seen them.  I’ve seen some of their parents, too, if you can call people who behave like that “parents.”

But there’s a place in my head that’s started going, “it doesn’t matter.  In the end, you have to do it anyway.”

And that’s not a good place for me to be if I want to go on teaching the sub-remedials.

If that’s even a word.

Ack. I told you I always get miserable around Christmas.

Written by janeh

December 11th, 2010 at 9:18 am

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All I Want For Christmas…

with 3 comments

Well, okay.  That could cover a lot of ground.

What I really meant when I wrote that title was:  all I want for Christmas is a title for this damned book, which is not a Gregor but does take place just around Christmas and in a bed and breakfast that allows cats.

But it’s not a cozy.

You see my problem here.

But there are actually other things I can think of, and they start with a return to sanity in just the day to day procedures of the institutions I’m involved with.

It’s not just that society at large has become rule-bound and bureaucratic, it’s that everything has–at my place, there’s an automatic appeal hearing any time you give a student an F, for any reason; the process required to get a student thrown out of school makes putting someone on death row seem quick and transparent; you can’t get a student expelled for plagarism at all, even if he engages in it multiple times.

What’s more, we’ve gone from the requirement that we all provide a syllabus, to the requirement that we provide a syllabus including three to five pages of boilerplate bureaucrateze on everything from college policy on students with disabilities to grandiose (and completely incoherent) statements on “measurable outcomes” that are often not measurable.  Then we were required to treat the syllabus as a “contract’ with students, meaning that we couldn’t change it mid-stream for any reason at all.

Am I really the only one who finds that most of her classes vary in terms of the average abilities of the students in them?  I struggle every single term with classes that sometimes far exceed any expectations I could have had for them when I started, or fall far short.  I’ve got all kinds of things planned out on every one of my syllabi that are either not needed when we get to the point, or that lack some specific training in a skill set I wouldn’t expect to need.

I’ve taken to putting in a disclaimer saying I can change anything I want any time I want, but you really can’t do that.  Students have learned to rely on the syllabus, and they will often follow it rather than anything you say in class.

I’m getting wound up on myself here.  I don’t mind writing syllabi, and I think it’s a good idea to have one, but I am very unhappy with the rigidity of the way the system is run. 

And the rigidity creeps into everything–to the relationship between teachers and students, certainly, but also to the relationship between the students themselves and the university.  It’s like trying to maintain a marriage with a pre nup in one hand and Robert’s Rules in the other.

For those of you who think government always does things worse than the private sector, and the private nonprofit sector always does things worse than the for private for profit sector–when it comes to education, you’re wrong.

The public colleges and universities around here are far and away more sane in their administrations than the for profit ones, which may have something to do with less need (or desire) to overdefine everything.

That doesn’t mean the public universities don’t overdefine everything–this is academia, it’s what we do–but they tend to fall short of six page mission statements full of indecipherable “visions” that would be unrealizable in Utopia.

At least the public colleges and universities know what they’re there for–provide the local community with a certain set of skills meant to enable them to do a certain set of jobs, or to go on to graduate work to for a professional degree. 

The private places have sort of hard to articulate ideas about “and educated citizenry” and “achieving success in a dynamic future” that turns your brains to mush.  The for profit places are worse because they both want that kind of mission statement and feel the need to sell themselves as a surefire pathway to career success.  Or something.

The problem with the for profit places, I think, is that they’ve got a business model that does not really accord with reality.  They exist largely because they see places like Harvard and Swarthmore and Vassar and Johns Hopkins charging $30K, $40K, $50K a year and figure that they can make a lot of money that way–keep costs down, but charge the going market rates.  Parents will pay anything to get their kids through college.

Most for profits are in for an initial shock when they find out what most people actually pay at the private non-profit places like Smith and Wellesley.  The sticker price may be $52K, but the actual out of pocket expense is almost always under $10K, the rest made up by grants and scholarships.

The goal then becomes getting to the students who for some reason will not be offered that kind of aid at the private nonprofits, and who find the idea of attending a public school to be sort of low rent and unacceptable.

And there are fewer of those than you’d think, and most of them would rather throw the money at Syracuse and NYU instead of the local small school with a big price tag.

This wouldn’t be such a bad plan if the for profits actually delivered students who were better–or even competently–trained in the skills employers wanted, but they don’t.  In fact, sometimes they do a lot worse.

When I say this whole system is unsustainable, this is what I mean.  Robert asked once who got hurt by it but students and their parents, but this isn’t true–employers also get hurt by it when they end up hiring “credentialed” people who cannot write a grammatical English sentence, can’t spell anything, don’t actually know how to operate a human resources office, et cetera and ad infinitum. 

Around here, a fair number of employers have started their own remedial schools, little training sessions in things like how to write a report and avoid slang and how to read a spread sheet. 

And this is why I say that we’re on our way to an alternative method of credentialing–you can rip off parents and students all you want and they’ll still pay up, but when you rip off employers they will find other and better methods of getting what they have to have.


In a world where you need an “associate’s degree” to be a car mechanic, at least the public places are cheap.

Written by janeh

December 9th, 2010 at 10:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Back to Kenneth Minogue

with one comment

It’s one of those days, so this isn’t likely to be extensive.

For those of you who didn’t see, Mique posted the following link


That goes to an Australian magazine which has excerpted a bit from the book I was talking about yesterday.

It’s a good book, and I’m sort of sorry that the excerpt is of one of what I think is its weakest sections.

It’s weak not because the argument is weak, but because Minogue uses what I think of as the European definition of “rights” rather than the one developed in the Anglophone sphere–that is, “rights” as entitlements to things (education, housing, not to be offended) rather than rights (no scare quotes) as negative only, as restrictions on government power.

Rights properly understood–rights as originally defined by Locke and the eighteenth century–have none of the bad effects Minogue complains of, because (as he puts it) they “confer no benefit.”  They simply forbid the government from interfering on our lives in certain specified areas.

Beyond that, this book is written by an Australian living in Britain, and it takes Europe as its focus.  The few times it mentions the US it does so in passing–and in some ways that’s too bad.

Minogue’s critic of the fundamentally anti-democratic project of the European Union would apply equally well to the system of regulatory agencies in the US–unelected, unaccountable institutions empowered to issue legally binding regulations that no one has ever voted for and that the people cannot control since the people who issue them are not subject to election.

Okay.  That was one of those sentences.

At any rate–it’s a good book and I recommend it.

And since he starts off telling us he wants to understand things, not to change them–well, we can’t fault him for not having a solution.

I do, however, have a few suggestions.

Written by janeh

December 8th, 2010 at 6:32 am

Posted in Uncategorized

A Little Teeny Tiny Note

with 2 comments

I know–no post, or two or three in a day.  What can I say?

Anyway, the main one is Parental Units, but I wanted to make note of the fact that I have seen Shadia Drury’s latest column–if you go to the Free Inquiry website, they still have the old issue up, unfortunately–

Anyway, I’ve seen it, and she maintains her status as a fact-free zone.

This time it’s that all that talk about Lenin and Stalin persecuting religious people was…well, exaggerated. 

No, I’m not kidding.  She really said that.

Along the way, she implied that the Catholic Church has been “undone” by the priest sex abuse scandals.

I’d suggest we not disturb her peace by pointing out that Catholicism is actually growing internationally and remains the world’s largest religious body–but we don’t have to hold back.

She wouldn’t listen to actual facts under any circumstances.

Written by janeh

December 7th, 2010 at 11:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Parental Units

with 8 comments

Well, in the middle of all this, I’ve started to read a book–The Servile Mind, by Kenneth Minogue–that speaks to a lot of it, but before I get to the book, I want to get to the parents.

Lymaree said that kids don’t learn the kinds of things I’m talking about in school, they learn them from their parents long before they get to school.

But I’m not too sure that the parents are much of a better bargain.  I watched a Dateline on ID episode a few weeks ago–at least, I think that’s what it was; I watch the ID Channel so much I get the stuff it shows confused after a while–about an episode of cheating in a small town.

The issue was a final project for a high school biology class.   The project was to count for a large proportion of the final course grade, and students had plagarism explained to them beforehand, as they had the punishment for plagarism–failing the paper, period–also explained.

Come time to hand in the projects, the teacher failed something like eight to twelve students for plagarism.

At which point, their parents hit the school, ready to sue.  And under no circumstances would they admit that their children had done anything at all worthy of punishment.  One kid insisted he had not plagarized, because where the source he’d used had put the information into one long sentence, he’d divided that sentence into two shorter ones.

Then the administration–took the side of the parents.  The teacher was forced to resign, and the student grades on the plagarized papers were raised while the proportion those papers counted toward the final grade were lowered.

The one bright spot in this whole mess was that it became national news, and transcripts from that school were suddenly sharply downgraded by colleges when they considered those students for admission.

Of course, that was also the bad news, since everybody–even the students who did not cheat–was tarred with the same brush.

Minogue sees this kind of thing and explains it as part of a larger whole–this idea that there should be no serious consequences to anything, that punishment is always wrong and probably abusive. 

But he points out, and I think he’s right, that this doesn’t actually lead to a society in which individuals have more liberty.  What used to be a bad habit, or criminal behavior, is now a “disorder.”  What used to be punishment is now “treatment.”  But punishment was finite–you go to jail for a determined number of years, you lose your job, you spend all your money and don’t have it for the rent and get tossed out on the street.

“Treatment,” on the other hand, is open-ended, and in more ways than one.  There is no time when you’re “done,” except when your therapist or other authority says you are.  You are therefore subordinate to your therapist in a way that you’re never subordinate to your boss or the guards in your prison. 

A prisoner who just doesn’t want to deal with these people any more can always refuse to apply for parole, fulfill his entire sentence, and walk out the door a free man.  A patient with a disorder has no objective guidelines to tell him when he’s “cured,” and the rules for being cured can change on him every other week without his being able to do a thing about it. 

Of course, if the patient has voluntarily made himself one and gone into treatment under his own steam, he’s free to quit when he wants to quit.

But a person forced into therapy–as part of the “treatment” for his “disorder” required by the school, or by his employer, or by a court–must defer to the judgment of this therapist in everything.  Anything less than total acquicense is “proof” that he still has his “disorder.” 

Forced therapy is the ultimate example of the rule of men and not laws.

What’s more, courts, schools, employers and others are willing to impose “therapy” even when it is demonstrably useless.  Over 95% of everybody who enters drug or alcohol rehab programs goes back to using within a year.  That’s what is usually called “failure” in any other enterprise. 

Still, courts and parole boards confidently demand attendance at “programs” as a condition of release, probation or parole. 

When the system ends up in a situation where the patent uselessness of the “therapy” cannot be denied, the result is both hysteria and a frantic backpedaling on all the sacred cows of the movement.

Practicing pedophiles, it seems, are not curable–that means the condition must be innate.  But an innate sexual preference is a sexual orientation, and we shouldn’t discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation.  So–well, so pedophiles are born bad, they’re barely human, they ought to be treated like scum, they should have no civil rights.

Since that doesn’t sound right, we try something else–they themselves were abused as children.

Hmm.  But if they themselves were abused as children, and that explains their pedophilia, then anybody who has been abused as a child is “at risk” to become an abuser himself. 

So, if you admit to the social worker that you were abused as a child, you are automatically under heightened suspicions of abusing your own children, and that admission alone has been used in some states (California, for instance) as a reason in and of itself for putting a child into foster care.

Am I the only one seeing the problem here?

The Minogue is interesting if only in its attempt to investigate whether these kinds of situations are a natural result of an expanding franchise, because–he thinks–the shift to thinking of government as a “provider of services” is itself a natural result of an expanding franchise. 

I’m blithering, and the office is full of people today and not exactly conducive to reflective thought.

But I’ll leave you with that, and with this:

Faith based systems–systems that require us to believe things even when reality contradicts them–always result in higher and higher levels of central control.

It’s the only way to keep the peanut gallery from noticing that the faith is full of…horse manure.

Written by janeh

December 7th, 2010 at 9:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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