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So, from AL Daily


Heather McDonald going ballistic on the state of the humanities, and that kind of thing.

I will finish this syllabus eventually.

Written by janeh

January 20th, 2014 at 10:59 am

Posted in Uncategorized

34 Responses to 'Alterity'

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  1. First and most important: I am in nearly complete agreement with Heather MacDonald on this one. I have one hedge, and then I’d like to make some suggestions against the day when Western Civilization is once more proud of itself and anxious to pass on its greatest achievements to the next generation.

    First the hedge. I like the Teaching Company, and I’ve done serious business with them–but I’m not as optimistic as she is about it. A lot of their emphasis lately has gone into upper-end Boomer stuff: courses on wine tasting, travel and–of course–how to stay young forever. And so much of their English Lit section amounts to half an hour per author that I find myself thinking less of hungry minds and more of bluffers’ guides. To my way of thinking the good stuff starts with a course on a single book or author, and those are very thin on the ground. I’ll probably order something from the Teaching Company this week–but they don’t fill the gap left by the collapse of the universities.

    And now the modest proposal: when the teaching of the Great Conversation is resumed in our universities, whether in five years or five centuries, I would suggest that they not blow the dust off the 1962 course catalogs, but think afresh what they’re trying to do. Sorting books and authors by “melanin and gonad” may be a stupid way to organize them–but other than aesthetic grounds, is sorting them by language, country or residence and time period any vast improvement?

    Related to that, unless we want to go back to halting literature with the fall of Western Rome and insisting that everyone learn Latin before they enter the university and Greek and Hebrew prior to graduation, we’re going to have to end the opposition to reading literature in translation. most of the Great Conversation takes place in languages we don’t speak. It always has.

    Filling in my own gaps, I read Bulgakov’s THE MASTER AND MARGARITA several times–six, actually–over the past few years. I read Marlowe’s DOCTOR FAUSTUS this fall, and now I’m gearing up for Goethe’s FAUST. These are closely-related works: Marlowe is based on English translations of the German Faust Book, which Goethe read–as he also read Marlowe. And Bulgakov is crammed with allusions to Goethe. But even back when universities were serious about such learning, you’d get Marlowe only in upper-level English, Goethe only as a German minor, and Bugakov–if taught at all–only in Russian. I mention that example as one among hundreds of possible ones. The great authors do not just speak to one another across the centuries, but address ones writing in other languages and forms of writing as well–English prose sometimes answering Greek poetry and French fiction answering Latin philosophy.

    When we do this again, I’d say that while teaching the history of writing in a given language is a fine thing, we might also want to look at what authors are talking about and group them that way now and then. The sea of human thought is vast, and none of us do more than drink a few cups from it. There is no reason we have to use uniform cups.


    20 Jan 14 at 2:25 pm

  2. Robert, do the DVDs from The Teaching Company have subtitles? They would be useless to me without them.

    As to McDonald, I agree completely and consider it yet another example of intellectuals hating their own civilization.


    20 Jan 14 at 5:20 pm

  3. JD, I only once ordered a DVD. I always work with audio CDs so I can paint toy soldier while I listen. Also my experience is that DVD players are fussier than CD players.


    20 Jan 14 at 5:30 pm

  4. jd, I didn’t think it through. If you have to have the subtitles, don’t bother with the Great Courses. I enjoy them, but the point for me is that I can do other things while they play. On sale, they run more or less $5 for each hour of lecture, and an hour of lecture is maybe 60 pages of text. It’s a good price for a college lecture–but a little steep next to scholarly used trade paperbacks on the same subject.

    They DO sell transcripts of the lectures. You might see whether you can buy those without buying the course.


    20 Jan 14 at 6:56 pm

  5. Tkis is a semi hijack.


    Hanson echoes most of my concerns.


    22 Jan 14 at 5:01 pm

  6. jd, I think pretty much every word is true, but most of it is beside the point. People talk about injustice and oppression not lasting, but they’re talking nonsense. Open any history book, and you’ll see government as organized thievery and oppression–especially of minorities–going on for centuries.

    What you can’t do as a ruling class is 1) to become estranged from the men with the guns, and 2) to keep letting stupid ignorant people make the diplomatic and economic decisions. They are the ONLY fatal errors a ruling class can make, and ours has made both.

    I saw a sign in a government office lately–“NSA–THE ONLY PART OF THE GOVERNMENT THAT ACTUALLY LISTENS.” Too, too true.


    23 Jan 14 at 7:07 pm

  7. Robert, fools who make promises they can’t keep because the promises require spending other people’s money we have in plenty.

    As for men with the guns, I get very nervous every time I see an election map of the US with coastal states in 1 color and the rest of the country in another color.

    I wonder when the politicians will realize the cost of life time pensions after 20 years in the military and what will happen when they try to cut that cost.


    24 Jan 14 at 6:25 pm

  8. No problem. The ubiquitous “Thank you for your service” will keep them happy. Everyone knows that when people say that, or “Have a nice day”, they really really mean it, and that henceforth they should skip down the street singing “Zipadeedoodah”. If they have legs to skip with.


    24 Jan 14 at 6:37 pm

  9. Hijack alert.

    And VDH wrote this BEFORE the State of the Union.

    Be afraid, be _very_ afraid. Your Constitution is in tatters.


    29 Jan 14 at 7:09 pm

  10. Mique

    29 Jan 14 at 7:10 pm

  11. Assuming that the US still has a Constitution which is doubtful given the present doctrine of a “living constitution”.


    29 Jan 14 at 11:11 pm

  12. Mique, that ship sailed under FDR–and JD’s right: the English for “living constitution” is “anything goes–if the ruling class likes it.” But like the other Western nations, the ship is sinking very gradually. Every year there is more government and less freedom. Bureaucratic decisions mean more, and personal decisions mean less. But there will be no mass roundups of troublesome categories, and dissident individuals will neither have show trials nor disappear in the night–not until we hit a crisis point, like a stock market crash, hyperinflation or a lost war.

    Even then the danger won’t be from the Obama types who attended leftist schools and believed everything they were told, however contradictory. Even as constitutional Presidents, Obama, Gore and Kerry would have been out of their depth.

    The danger will come from a seriously charismatic and ruthless individual who understands how things are done and has a mission rather than talking points. Obamoids come and go, but Bobby Kennedy, had he lived, could have done some real damage.

    Or maybe saved the country. Those are the chances.

    But Obama’s just a standard-issue President in a period of slow national decline. In a generation, no one will be able to remember that HE was the one with the drones and the health insurance law and SHRUB was the one with renditions and a prescription drug benefit. “I keep getting them mixed up, Grandpa!”


    30 Jan 14 at 6:21 pm

  13. Another semi-hijack and another essay by Hanson.



    31 Jan 14 at 1:01 pm

  14. yet another hijack.

    Long ago I was told that a rule of thumb held that one person can effectively manage 10 people. Lets apply that to a civil service with 1 million people in direct contact with the public.

    1,000,000 frontline workers
    100,000 first level managers
    10,000 second level managers
    1000 third level managers
    100 fourth level managers
    10 fifth level managers
    1 sixth level managers

    According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_civil_service the US has 2.7 million people in the civil service. That won’t change the above analysis by much.

    In the US, the sixth level manager is the President and the fifth level are the members of the Cabinet.

    I suggest that there are too many levels of bureaucracy for effective management from the top. This seems to call for decentralization. One idea would be to remove power from the federal government and return it to the states.

    Which seems like the Tea Party but stripped of ideology.


    4 Feb 14 at 12:59 pm

  15. Back in the day when I was doing promotion exams in the Australian Air Force, the “span of control” rule of thumb was that, as a generality, a supervisor should manage no fewer than three, no more than seven, although it was accepted that with simple tasks the higher limit could exceed seven. Given the bureaucracies natural tendencies eg to prove Parkinson’s Law and so on. Over the next 25 years or so, I saw no reason to doubt the 3-7 rule. So if that rule is applied, the situation is even worse that you suggest, John.


    4 Feb 14 at 5:52 pm

  16. And for my next trick, I will hijack the hijack of the previous hijack.


    You gotta laugh.


    4 Feb 14 at 5:53 pm

  17. If we are going into unlikely health claims, I offer this one.


    “We can’t, as a world, treat our way out of the burden of cancer,” he said. “We now know for certain that the vast majority of cancers are attributable to what have been called ‘lifestyle choices’, or decisions people make about their own situation.”


    4 Feb 14 at 6:03 pm

  18. I’d agree with the three to seven as opposed to ten, but that doesn’t begin to capture the full horror of the bureaucracy. I work for a team lead who reports to a team chief who reports to a division manager who reports to a director who reports to a division manager who reports to an agency director who reports to a cabinet secretary who reports to the President–eight levels without counting deputies who might easily add another four. That just means orders are distorted and top management gets no manageable feedback. It’s the staffs that are the actual killers. No higher than director and possibly as low as division manager, half the manpower is consumed with staff positions or with preparing reports and attending meetings required by those bosses and their staffs. Lose the bottom quarter of the work force–the experiment has been tried–and there will be NO actual production. Rather than fill in, the management and staff will sit there looking at nice colored pie and bar charts showing them that there is no production, and holding meetings to discuss the nonexistent production. They can do this for weeks at a time.

    As for a “Tea Party without ideology”–it is precisely the Tea Party’s belief that the Constitution sets some limits on the Federal government which is the “ideology” the political class abhors. If you don’t believe in ever-expanding government and the “living constitution” to justify it, in the eyes of our rulers you’re a knuckle-dragging Klansman, and ABCNBCCBS will call you that in public, evidence be hanged.


    4 Feb 14 at 7:14 pm

  19. “who reports to a division manager who reports to a director who reports to a division manager who reports to an agency director who”

    You have a nice little loop there, Robert. I don’t know if it reflects the actual structure or if you just wandered a bit. But that kind of a craziness in organization leads to positions where someone works full time on org charts…and every new fad in management results in redrawing said charts (on who reports to whom) while never requiring an actual reduction in management levels.

    Also, no one lower than the President wants to actually make a decision, because decisions can go bad, while the lack of a decision rarely has consequences, or if it does, the consequences fall on a future occupant of the position, so who cares? Thus the motivation for even more meetings from which issue forth nothing but more directives, memos and committees, but not real decisions.

    I once worked as a consultant for a company that had a nearly flat organization. A president/owner, a managing director, and everyone else. Just as bad for getting anything done, as they tended to try to make decisions by consensus. I don’t know if this was a result of the firm being nearly all female, or if it was a result of the odd organization. Given that they had about 75 employees, I’ve never seen a like-sized company with so few managers.


    4 Feb 14 at 11:06 pm

  20. and it’s not just that no one wants to make a decision. There is also the fact that no one wants to report bad news up the line.


    4 Feb 14 at 11:21 pm

  21. Actually, I had that right: different levels of “division.” But saying no one “lower than the President” wants to make a decision gives our incumbent an undeserved pass on a lot of issues, I’m afraid. If the energy that goes into meetings and reporting internal issues could somehow be channeled into the mission…


    5 Feb 14 at 6:06 am

  22. And rehijacking the blog yet again, Christopher Snowden is having a ball with the health freaks:



    5 Feb 14 at 7:53 pm

  23. I think this guy is one of the best commentators around, and it’s high time this subject was brought out into the glaring light of reason:



    6 Feb 14 at 6:01 pm

  24. I think anti-Semitism may be the price of intellectual success, a diaspora and a high level of cohesion. Whether the perceived problem is cultural, political, diplomatic or economic there’s a Jewish success story–and an over-representation–to make a conspiracy plausible. Say “the Jews are behind it all!” and you may sound (and be) nuts–but not half as nuts as if you’d said Germans, Irish, Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    The question he doesn’t address is why conspiracies or something close to them have become a more acceptable way of describing what’s going on. Myself, I think it reflects a dangerously unstable world, lessened individual autonomy–and very real hidden agendas.

    There is one thing at least I like about conspiracists: they believe humanity’s problems derive from human decisions, and can be solved by making different decisions. It’s the people who look at some deteriorating situation, shrug and say “well that’s just the way things are” that drive me to screaming fury, and I think they still outnumber the conspiracists.


    7 Feb 14 at 10:35 pm

  25. And now some heretic has suggested that not all cultures are academically and economically equal:



    9 Feb 14 at 12:04 pm

  26. The same phenomena of Chinese and Vietnamese students doing well has been noticed in Australia. I would point out that the parents were willing to move to a country with a very different language and culture from their own. Self selection bias may apply.


    9 Feb 14 at 1:07 pm

  27. jd

    9 Feb 14 at 3:01 pm

  28. And the marvellous Heather Mac Donald does it again:


    Her work by itself justifies the cost of an annual subscription to City Journal.


    10 Feb 14 at 1:27 am

  29. Yet another hijack


    a Wall Street Journal opinion piece about how Obama keeps changing the ACA by decree. Whatever happened to the US Constitution?


    11 Feb 14 at 2:23 am

  30. OK, not a Jane post, but a Jane subject:


    I would like to take a moment to quarrel with the author’s notion that there is something wrong with our understanding of a condition if the remedy is decades old. Just staying within medicine, we’ve been vaccinating for centuries, and splinting bones for longer than that. It is appropriate to criticize a cure for not working, for being worse than the disease, or for not being the best cure available–but not for exceeding a “sell by” date.


    15 Feb 14 at 6:15 pm

  31. I’d like to quarrel with the author’s description of William as a student in sixth grade. Sixth grade has pupils who might, with luck, aptitude, hard work and good teaching, eventually turn into students.

    Apart from that, I didn’t get the same sense of the author’s notion. I thought he was saying that by focussing on the new(er)-fangled notion of ADHD, people were failing to see the ancient woods for the newer trees. In diagnosing ADHD and treating “symptoms”, too many were failing to investigate the older and well-understood conditions, like depression and bi-polar with similar symptoms but that treating for ADHD could not address.

    I’m an ADHD skeptic myself knowing full well that had I been born yesterday I would have been loaded up with medication like Ritalin instead of being sent to boarding school. (Because our family doctor believed that if I didn’t kill myself by some outrageous Darwinian stunt, my mother would kill me. He was probably right. :-))


    15 Feb 14 at 8:29 pm

  32. More good sense from VDH. http://victorhanson.com/wordpress/?p=7019

    The centenary of the start of WWI has generated a bunch of revisionist histories and orchestrated ravings of the usual leftist suspects down here in Oz. Their aim, as ever, is to exploit the occasion to drive a wedge into the Australian polity and to destroy the ANZAC legend that has for the past century been seen to be one of the pillars of Australia’s democracy and self-image. The legend has always been a bit dubious for many reasons, but it has been a unifying force quite inimical to the perceptions and political ambitions of the Marxist left which, here as elsewhere in the Anglosphere, has pretty much achieved the Gramscian aim of colonising the institutions without, as yet, having produced much else but chaos and destruction.

    I particularly liked this line: “One of the lessons of the aftermath of World War I is that danger mounts when threats go unenforced, and sermons prove both annoying and empty.”

    Plus ça change….

    Be afraid, be very afraid.


    18 Feb 14 at 7:38 pm

  33. I offer this for for laughs:


    Mr Rudd is a very strange man. Be afraid, be very afraid.


    21 Feb 14 at 9:25 pm

  34. Enhance your calm, Mique. Placing a man there is a way of removing him from politics until his students hold office, and in this case the issue will be settled by then.

    There is no surer way to kill an idea with most of the American population than by explaining that Harvard or Yale faculty and staff are all in favor or it. If we could just remove their graduates from political power, they (and Columbia) could go on telling fantasies to one another until their endowments ran out without doing any further harm.

    Of, course, that’s a pretty big “if.” And now Jane will be mad at me again, because no one is supposed to say what we all know–that those schools exist to manufacture Obamoids, and the handful of Coulters are regarded by them as factory seconds, not intellectual alternatives–because the schools no longer admit there are intellectual alternatives.

    Cynical? ME??


    22 Feb 14 at 9:35 am

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