Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Archive for July, 2014

Slough of Despond

with 4 comments

Okay, start here:


The above is a link a friend of mine sent me yesterday, and that I put up on FB near the end of the afternoon, because really–

Well, go read it.  Ignorance in the media.  But not the way you think.  And not the way we usually talk about it.

And now that I have had a chance to read it a couple of times, let me give you some notes.

1) Because this was written by Mollie Hemingway for The Federalist, it’s not the usual thing about how incredibly dumb everybody is at Fox News. 

All of the howling boners it highlights–and there are a lot of them, and they are very much howlers–come from mainstream or liberal/left leaning publications, cable stations, and blogs.

These include The New York Times.

If there is one thing that is screamingly unattractive about liberals/progressives/the Left in America today, it’s the endless nattering about how THEY’RE smart and the other side is stupid, THEY’RE educated and the other side is ignorant, THEY’RE for science and the other side is against it–

Well, if that kind of thing drives you anywhere near as crazy as it does me, this is the place to go. 

It was a write named Kate Zernike writing in The New York Times who earnestly explained that “the rule of law” is ” Hayek’s term for the unwritten code that prohibits the government from interfering with the pursuit of “personal ends and desires.”’

It’s one of those things where you just sort of sit there and don’t know what to do next.

2) The above anecdote about Kate Zernike and her apparent complete innocence of the history of political science comes under the subhead “No Liberal Education,” and that is surely the LARGEST part of the problem.

The people who wrote these absolutely cringe-making pieces of nonsense were almost certainly several steep rungs of academic achievement above even the best of my kids, they lack all cultural context.

They google things–well, most of them do–but what they receive in answer connects to nothing else in their heads. 

They can’t understand their own research because in order to understand it they need a complicated web of referents that take in the history of ideas in the West.

A huge packload of these people, including Ben White at Politico, became unhinged over a statement by David Brat, the guy who beat out Eric Cantor in the primary, that ‘”‘The government holds a monopoly on violence.  Any law that we vote for is ultimately backed by the full force of government and the military.”‘”

Everybody got so worked up declaring that this was fascism personified that they failed to notice that it actually stated a position on government of which they all heartily approved.

Not only is it a commonplace about modern government that every high school freshman used to pick up in civics class, it’s the principle that would allow government to ban all the guns.

I believe that there are many cases in which autodidacts can and do replicate a liberal education for themselves. 

But the advantage of going to school is supposed to be that the institution will give you a framework, an overarching narrative within which these ideas developed and only within which they can be meaningfully understood.

Or at the very least give you a sort of rote-memory acquaintance with the various stock phrases and ideas, so you don’t embarrass yourself this way.

3) The real issue here is what this writer didn’t bring up and none of the comments on FB ever mentioned.

It’s not just that these writers wrote what they wrote, mind-numbingly ignorant as it might be.

It’s that their editors saw it and read it and passed on it, apparently without protest.

Since I don’t believe that the editors of The New York Times and Politico are really okay with appearing like ignorant idiots to millions of people, I must assume they didn’t know what was wrong with this stuff either.

Which means we have not just an upcoming generation of arrogance and ignorance, but arrogance and ignorance that at least goes a full generation back.

And out major media are being run by people with less extensive educations that I had in the 9th grade.

I get asked sometimes to defend the idea of a liberal education–it’s usually phrased as a “liberal arts education,” but I’ll rant about the misnomer another time.

Let me just note for the moment that one thing an actual liberal education will do for you is save you from making these kinds of mistakes. 

It might even lift you out of the fog of confusion that must be what the world looks like to people who think the rule of law is the secret unwritten code of proto-fascits and gun ownership rates are the same as gun violence statistics and, you know…

Make it possible for you to actually get a clue.

Written by janeh

July 11th, 2014 at 9:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

“The Road to Life Adjustment”

with 19 comments

I looked over the comments from yesterday and found myself wishing that I could find a way so that all of you could read just one chapter of Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, chapter XIII, “The Road to Life Adjustment.”

In looking over the post, I’ve decided that the misunderstanding was entirely my fault.  I should have realized that, this blog being what it is, almost everybody on it would have been college-track in high school.  And if there’s one thing that is nearly universal among college-track students in American high schools, it’s the conviction that the “dumb kids” were the ones taking shop, or Voc-Ed.

But the “life adjustment” educators of the 50s were not concerned with kids smart enough to learn a trade.

They were concerned with the kids they considered to be uneducable on almost any level.

These would be the kids who, although not technically  mentally handicapped, were close enough to that any attempt to teach them any academic subject at all–even arithmatic and basic history–was largely futile.

And what gets me about this chapter, and about Hofstadter’s report of the state of pre-Sputnik education in the 50s US, is how familiar it sounds.

We’ve got different jargon these days, and different sounding rationales.

Nobody would come right out and say, in 2014, that 60%–


of the students in America’s elementary and high schools are unable to learn on any meaningful level.

For one thing, making such a statement now would have racial overtones nobody would be able to live with.

But although our rhetoric is different, I don’t think our thinking actually is.

I think that the educational establishment as exists today believes two things the Life Adjustment educators also believed, and those two beliefs explain a lot of what is going on in the world.

1) most children are unable to learn any academic subject on any level and

2) the entire policy structure and culture of the school must revolve around these children and what they (supposedly) need and want.

I’ve put the “supposedly” there because I think the entire framework of assumptions here is completely wrong, but if you look at those assumptions, some things that seem crazy stop seeming so.

The first is the absolute hysteria over things like “high stakes testing” and “merit pay.”

If bringing the solid majority of your students up to even the most minimal “grade level” standards is impossible, but you can’t say so–saying “people of color are just plain stupid” isn’t likely to put your career into high gear–then testing and merit pay represent a gotcha game that you can’t even play, let alone win.

Once such policies go into effect, the only possible result for the teacher is failure and punishment, and for something that is not their fault and that they cannot change.

This is, I think, why even very good and effective teachers strenuously resist performance-based bonus systems of any kind. 

It’s not that they reject standards of any kind, it’s that they see this standard as requiring them to bag a unicorn.  The people trying to impose merit pay are, to many teachers, people trying to demand that they square the circle in order to hang on to their jobs.

There’s something that needs to be said here about self fulfilling prophecies, but before that, I want to contemplate the other thing: the idea that the school’s main purpose is to accommodate the least able of the students, that everything the school is and everything the school does should be to make things and comfortable and happy as possible for the untalented and the unintelligent.

This is, if you think about it, a really extraordinary idea.

And it’s certainly more than alive and kicking today.  It’s the reason why, in so many communities, the first thing to be sacrificed are “gifted and talented” programs.

Hell, it’s the reason why “gifted and talented” programs are “gifted and talented,” and not just gifted.  There must never, ever be any suggestion anywhere that there is any advantage to being brighter than the average bear.

Of, in this case, the subaverage bear.

The Life Adjustment movement imported courses into the high school curriculum in things like “family life” and “leisure.”  Students ‘studied” things like “how can I get everybody in the party to participate” and “how can I get people to like me”?

I didn’t make those up.  Those are actual examples from actual curricula of the period.

These days, students are more likely to “study” some hyped-up version of “oppression” or to maunder around contemplating their “self esteem,” but the principles and the outcomes are identical.

 Some of this, I think, is the result of the chief downside to universal free education.

If you make schooling compulsory, you inevitably end up with a system with a hefty minority of students–and sometimes even a majority–who just don’t want to be there.

Students who don’t want to be where they are are, first and foremost, very disruptive.   They’re bored.  They’re resentful.  They see no point in anything they’re doing.  Why shouldn’t they act out?

If the school has enough of these students, what to do about the acting out soon becomes the major issue for the school.  

A lot of the ever more desperate attempts to find subject matter and teaching styles that are “fun” and “relevant to the students’ lives” are actually attempts to find something, anything, that will calm these kids down.

It’s possible that the significantly better results reported in students 100 years ago had less to do with the rigor of the curriculum, the quality of the teaching, or the talents of the students than it did with the absence of the unwilling.

A lot more gets done when everybody in the room wants to find a way to do it.

I’m not trying to suggest here that we give up on requiring that all children achieve basic literacy–even though requiring it doesn’t mean that all children achieve it.

I do think that the other half of this equation is catastrophically destructive.

To design your school system in such a way that it devalues thinking, reading, writing, mathematics and the sciences is not going to get your dullest students to learn any part of any of these things. 

It’s not even going to make them feel better about themselves.

What it is going to do is give them the feeling that the whole thing is a rigged game, a secret-handshake private club that no one will tell them how to be admitted to, where all the power and the glory is handed out to snotty little stuck ups who think they’re so special because they just got admitted to Harvard.

Or North Caroline State.

And that, I think, is where we are now, after a history starting before the First World War and going through “progressive” education, life adjustment education, and now whatever it is.

But it’s the same two assumptions.

Most children can’t learn.

Schools should be so configured as to cater first and foremost to children who can’t learn.

All that other stuff, that’s really of no use to the kids who can’t learn, should be postponed to later.  We can let the colleges take care of it.

Or maybe not even then.  If it makes stupid people feel bad about themselves, we’ll reconfigure college so that it accommodates them, too. 

Which is how we get to my kids taking “college algebra,” which is just the eighth grade algebra my sons took at their private school.

I agree with Lymaree, of course, that nurturing the most intellectually talented students has the potential to make us all eventually much better off.

But I’m not expecting to see that kind of thing any time soon, if ever.

Written by janeh

July 8th, 2014 at 10:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Levellers, Spelled The Old Way

with 3 comments

I have gotten to that point in Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life that’s good for me to read because it reminds me that nothing is new, especially in American education policy.

And looked at this way, as part of a continuous history rather than a phenomenon of the last few decades, it occurs to me that it’s really a fundamental question about equality in the larger sense–and what is and what should be the goal of a free public education in a democratic society.

Okay, that sounds more convoluted than it actually is.

Let me back up a little.

First, I think most of us would agree that the common school was one of the best ideas New England ever had, and that the project of providing at least a basic education for everyone, without direct charge, is a good thing.

This is a simple idea in theory, but a nearly impossible one in practice.

I think we could manage nearly universal agreement that all children should learn to read, write and figure, and that all American children should learn how American institutions work (how to vote, how Congress passes bills) and how American history unfolded.

We often have different ideas about what these things should mean (is American history a glorious story of a march to freedom or a shabby tale of oppression?), but whether we actually accept that these things should be taught or not, we almost all pay lip service to them.

And that’s fine, as far as it goes.

All children who are not mentally handicapped–and I mean that in the sense it was used 50 years ago, not today’s “everything is autism” regime–can be taught to do these things, to read at least well enough to understand a newspaper, to do accurate addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, to comprehend that the country started in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence and that Congressmen are elected every two years.

My guess is that almost all children could understand a lot more, but that doesn’t matter for the moment.

What does matter is this:

Sooner or later, we will inevitably reach a point where not all children will be able to understand what needs to be taught to go on with a particular subject.

This is inevitably for a variety of reasons–not all children are born with the intellectual talent to understand all subjects at a high level, and some are born not able to understand any subjects at a high level; not all children are motivated; not all children come from families that will allow them to understand any subject at a high level.

If you’re confused about that last one, you need to look into the cases of parents in Appalachia who deliberately prevent their children from learning to read because if the children learn to read they will no longer be classified as “learning disabled” and the family will lose the extra money the federal government provides for learning disabled children.

At any rate, there are reasons, and the reasons will never entirely disappear.

This is not something we can fix, although we pretend we can. 

For better or for worse, intellectual talent is like every other kind of talent.  The highest levels of it will be present in only a very small percentage of the population.

It’s at this point that we run into trouble. 

This would be a problem even if there wasn’t a history of distrust of “fancy education” in this country–and there is such a history.

No matter what any of us think of a rigorous education–calculus, Kant, Shakespeare, John Locke, the intricacies of the history of the American Civil War, foreign languages both ancient and modern, laboratory science–there is no way to create a world in which everybody can “succeed” in “getting it.”

The usual estimate for enough ability to reach the most rigorous levels of this kind of thing is 10% of the population.  The usual estimate for “acceptable” levels is about 25%.  And there are other students–maybe the most numerous–who can reach the highest rigor in one or two subjects and only an acceptable level in the rest.

That’s a very small proportion of the population.  The population at large will get little direct benefit from a rigorous academic curriculum, although their long term secondary benefit may be large.

I am one of those people who thinks that the secondary benefit can be very large. 

Susie Cheerleader may not be intellectually capable of doing advanced mathematics or wrapping her head around the structure of the adrenal system, but the person who does is more likely than she is to figure out how to cure the cancer that pops up in her life when she’s 42.

Even so, there is an argument to be made that in a system of free public education in a democratic society, the emphasis should be on teaching those things that everybody needs and almost everybody can learn.

One of the things rereading the Hofstadter has done for me is to remind me how pervasive such an attitude has been throughout our history and how many times the educational system of one place or another, or the nation as a whole, has tried to install such a product.

When I see this kind of thing happening today, I tend to ascribe it to racial skittishness–given the state of public education in minority-heavy inner cities, installing an intellectually rigorous system would cause racial disparities in outcomes that most of the country would find politically unacceptable.

But many earlier attempts at dumbing down the public school curriculum occured long before racial integretation was even a serious issue.  You can find schemes for this kind of thing going back to 1910, at least. 

Proposals for dumbing down were one of the first public papers produced by the NEA. 

Such proposals weren’t called “dumbing down,” of course.  They had names like “education for democracy.”   And the were usually written in such truly awful pseudo-intellectual jargon that they were nearly impossible to understand.

And, of course, its most famous exponent was John Dewey.

But no matter what it called it self, it came down to this:  not everybody can understand differential equations and the molecular structure of lead and Romeo and Juliet, and since not everybody can understand them, we shouldn’t teach them.

What we should teach instead is what students will find meaningful in their daily lives, which means…

Well, it’s meant a lot of things.  It turns out “relevance” wasn’t invented by the Left in the Sixties.  It’s been around for a hundred and fifty years, if not more.

The version of it Hofstadter was dealing with was called the “life adjustment” movement, where students were processed through a thin line of very attentuated study in academic subjects and otherwise urged to pursue things like home economics and “preparation for marriage.”

I have the Russians to thank for the fact that I missed this lovely little trend.  Sputnik went up and people began to think they ought to get serious about students, you know, actually k nowing some things.

But I remember my parents talking about it–or rather, my father ranting and railing about it.

He wasn’t a fan.

These days we get “critical thinking” and “becoming a lifetime learner,” which sound really great–the educational theorists who come up with this stuff have learned to make it sound better–but it all comes down to the same thing: not everybody can learn the high level stuff, so we shouldn’t be teaching it.

We shouldn’t even acknowledge its existence.

By now, it should be obvious that I’m not a fan of this sort of thing either,  but the question remains, and it isn’t a stupid one.

What is a free public education in a democratic society supposed to do?

Should it be aimed at teaching the basic knowledge everybody needs to know and almost everybody is able to learn?

Or should it be structured to provide high level academics for that very small minority capable of  students capable of taking advantage of them?

Resourses are limited.  No matter how much we want to think we can do both, we probably can’t, both because we lack the money and the high-level teachers to do it with, and because we will constantly run into that wall that says there’s something wrong about spending the community’s resources on something the community cannot use.

Which is a little garbled, there.

But there it is.

And I have things I need to do.


Written by janeh

July 7th, 2014 at 10:23 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Lifestyles of the Rich and Boring

with 11 comments

What I intended to do on the blog today was to finish the #bookadaychallenge–to do the second half of the month.  I’ve been sick for a week and I’m still very draggy today, and I thought it would be an easier and gentler way of doing the blog when what I really want to do is sleep.

Unfortunately, when I went to Twitter to find the list of questions, it seemed to have disappeared.  I have no idea if it’s actually disappeared of if I’m just so stupid about Twitter that I can’t find it, but one way or the other I can’t get it, and so I can’t answer the second half of the month’s questions.

What I’ve decided to do instead is to talk about the week, which, being a week when I could make no sense about anything, was also a week when I was watching a lot of television.

Well, not exactly television.  Or rather, television, but not as ordinarily watched.

Here’s what happened:  a couple of years ago, on the recommendation of several of my friends, I started to watch a British production of a thing called Downton Abbey. This is a modern version of Upstairs, Downstairs, a sort of high class soap opera about aristocratic Brits and their servants.

Downton Abbey added a little interest by tying its story to the events of the period, so that the first episode takes place just as the world has received news of the sinking of the Titanic. 

And one of the people who dies on the Titanic is the heir presumptive of the Earl of Grantham, lord of Downtown Abbey and possessed of three daughters and no sons.

If you’ve ever watched this kind of thing, the progress of the plot will be largely predictable. 

Lord Grantham’s daughters are about as well able to handle their affairs as you’d expect, and they get into one great mess after another.

The writers of the show, though, have a remarkable attachment to the idea of killing people off.  The body count on this thing rivals that of Cabot Cove, although not always from murder.

Although there is a murder at one point.

There is also WWI, financial ruin, social ruin, and a one night stand dead of heart failure in an unmarried woman’s bed.  Plus death in childbirth and a car accident.  Plus…

You get the picture.

I started to watch this and then, for no reason I could tell, our local PBS stations stopped putting it up on their FOD.  The show aired at ten o’clock at night, and I almost never stay up until ten, so I was relying on the FOD encores to enable me to see the thing.  For a while this worked well.  Then the episodes became sporadic.  Then they disappeared altogether.

I have no idea why this happened.  It’s entirely possible that PBS stations just stopped showing the thing, although that’s unlikely, since it was having quite a vogue.

Whatever the reason, I couldn’t get the thing any more at all, and I’d missed a whole line of episodes at the beginning of one of the seasons because those hadn’t been put up either.

Just to make everything even more annoying, the program wasn’t available on any of the other platforms that carry this kind of thing, like Netflix or Hulu.

I would go looking for the thing.  My sons would go looking for it.  Nothing.

About the time the being-sick thing got to the point that it was obvious that a) it was going to last a while and b) it was going to make it extremely difficult for me to read while it was going on, one of the boys tried one more time, and there it was.

Not only was it up for free, it was up in its entirety, mostly in the “original British” versions, and that meant I could start at the beinning with Season 1, Episode 1, and go right on to the end of what’s been filmed to date.

I’ve done this with a couple of television shows now–the HBO series The Newsroom for one–and I much prefer it to the usual stop in every week, see each episode separately method.

It’s rare that television shows these days are made as they were in the 50s, where each episode is discreet and isolated from the rest and where there is no overarching narrative about the main characters.

So there I was, with the show back in my orbit, so to speak, and just the way I like it, and all I had to do was conk out on the love seat in the afternoons after work, let the fever rage, and watch the world of Downton Abbey go by.

And that is when the trouble started.

Maybe I was just sick and out of sorts, or something.  Maybe it’s just that the difference between watching something episodically and watching it whole is fundamental to the way you react to the characters.

Whatever it was, I was increasingly annoyed the longer I paid attention, and more and more impatient the better I felt and the better I could pay attention.

Part of it was particular to the series.  There are a tremendous number of really unappetizing characters in this thing, both in the upper class and the servant class.  One sister ruins the reputation of another out of jealousy and spite.  A lady’s maid engineers an accident she expects to cause a miscarriage in her mistress, and it does.  A footman spends all his time trying to sabotage every other servant in the house and manages half the time.  A nanny tries to get one of the Downtown grandchildren to hate the other.

A lot of what goes on is trivial enough, but a lot of it is first class nasty, and none of what is first class nasty ever seems to result in any actual comeuppance. 

I’m not the kind of reader (or viewer) who needs to have everything tied up tidily, to have evil always punished and virtue always rewarded.  The world is not like that, and I do not go to fiction to escape from reality.

The sheer unrelievedness of it all got very oppressive very fast, though.  I continued watching it–I’ll finish up today–but I’ve been carping at it now for a couple of days.

But I think there’s something bigger going on here.

I know that shows like this–and books about the same or similar milieus–are very popular.  I even know that they’re especially popular with people who love PBS, and who tend to be both politically progressive and terribly worried about “income inequality.”

Before I ever watched a single episode of the show, I read a number of different articles in respectably progressive venues about why this might be so.

But for me, I think the bottom line is that I don’t find the heritidary rich all that interesting.

I sometimes find the self-made rich very interesting indeed, depending on how they made their money.   You have to have an unusual kind of mind to get rich honestly, and especially by making something new, and that I can play with all day.

But your ordinary person who inherits a ton of money shallow, clueless and almost patholically insecure. 

I sometimes find it odd that so many people are so entranced by servants and expensive clothes and cars with drivers that they’re willing to put up with all the whining.

And there is always whining.  Sometimes it seems to me as if the born rich do nothing but whine.  What should be the glorious opportunity to do anything–write, paint, work in the ghetto, invent things–ends up being nothing more than an invitation to prove how important you are by proving how miserable you are.

And that description applies as well to even the people counted relatively poor in most of the rich countries.  \

I’m not saying that poverty doesn’t exist in rich countries like the US or France or Sweden, although it’s almost always relative poverty next to what “poor” means in countries worldwide.

I am saying that so many of us in the rich countries are rich enough that we spend our lives bemoaning all the ways in which we feel slighted, ignored, and put upon.

We’ve taken a strong word like “oppressed,” which used to mean being put to death for your religion or not allowed to get an education because of your sex, and applied it to things like people coming up to you and complimenting you on how beautiful your sari is.   In doing that, you see, they mark you out as different, exotice, The Other. 

And anybody who expects you to be able to get a graduate degree or succeed in something competitive in the face of that is part of the problem, because he’s upholding cultural and structural oppression.

Okay, I’ll admit it.

I’m having one of those days.

And it probably means I should stop watching Downton Abbey.

But I won’t.

Written by janeh

July 5th, 2014 at 10:49 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Not Really The Week End

with 4 comments

Every once in a while I get into these odd states where I feel as if I don’t have anything to say, but I want to write anyway. 

Except that that isn’t really it.  It’s more like I have something to say, and I don’t know if it’s very important.   Or if it relates to anything, to use the term my students favor.

Let’s take a look at this for a minute–at the primary challenger who lost to the incumbent and then claimed that the incumbent was actually dead.

I’m going to link here to a local news website for the story:


You can google this thing, if you want, and get much livelier accounts of the whole mess, because the liberal and progressive websites are having a field day, as they should.

The basic facts are this:

Back during this past primary season, an Oklahoma politician named Timothy Ray Murray challenged Republican incumbent Congressman Frank Lucas for the Republican nomination for Congress in the state’s third district.

This is being consistently reported as a “Tea Party” challenge on the left liberal blogs, but that may not be true.  As it turns out, Murray ran for something during the election cycle before this one, and that time he ran as a Democrat.

Democrat or Tea Party, though, is less interesting than what came next.

First, Mr. Murry lost.

And when I say lost, I mean he was bulldozed flat.  Lucas got 82% of the vote.  Not only was it not even close, it wasn’t close enough to call not even close. 

That would probably be the end of it, except for what came next.

What came next was those two letters you can read on the link I gave you, posted on Tim Murray’s web site and stating that:

The person the voters took to be Frank Lucas and voted for because they thought he was Frank Lucas wasn’t really Frank Lucas.

The real Frank Lucas had been executed by the “international court” in the Ukraine “on or about” January 11, 2011, and then been replaced by an android replicant that looked and sounded like Lucas, but wasn’t really Lucas.

What’s more, Lucas wasn’t the only Congressperson who had been executed and replaced by a replicant.

But since Lucas wasn’t actually alive any more, and since replicants were n ot eligible for Congress under the Constitution, Lucas had actually lost the primary and Murray was the proper candidate.

Then there’s this:

This is a situation similar to the Senators’ from Kentucky situation in the 2012 election. I am contesting that this matter has happen since his election was blocked, because of the U.S. Defense Department’s use of Mr. Murray’s DNA. To my knowledge, the U.S. Defense Department has not released to the public that information, as it is their confidential information about many people. Congress is likely wanting me to state that all my DNA used will not result in benefits to people I have never had relations with of a family nature. I have been bound to protect that information unless it causes harm to The People.

If you have any idea what that is supposed to mean, you’re doing better than I am.

Now, a couple of things.

First, the left liberal web presence, on social media and off, has been predictably outraged and horrified at this, often asking why nobody has yet dragooned this man into a psych evaluation.

Every once in a while somebody who knew what it takes to coerce a psych evaluation would point out that the man wasn’t eligible (unless he decided to submit voluntarily), but I’d give the “he should see a shrink and be on medication” people a break.

It certainly does sound pretty damned crazy.

And the howling of “this is what the Tea Party gets you” isn’t entirely unfounded, either, since the Tea Party has thrown up a few distinctly odd candidates across the country.  Think of  Christine O’Donnell, Republican candidate for the US Senate from Delaware in 2010, who ran an ad telling us that she was not a witch.

I’m not joking.  That’s still up on YouTube if you want to see it.

It most certainly hurt the entire party and not just the candidate.  And the party knew it even at the time.

But I’m going to give the Republicans a pass here, too.  If you’re trying to bring in people to run for office who aren’t the usual people–not Ivy graduates, not lawyers, not members of the club–the chances are that you’re going to pull in a few nutcases. 

And, strange as it may seem, some voters on both sides of the divide may think your position on abortion or immigration or half a dozen other things is more important than the fact that you think people still worry about who might be a witch.

What I objected to wa the implication, or outright charge, that Mr. Murray’s beliefs about replicants and dead people running for office were “stupid.”

Because not only were these beliefs not stupid, they weren’t even, in the strictest sense of the word, anti-intellectual.

First, hard as this may be to believe, they’re part of an elaborate and well articulate belief system with tens of thousands of adherents around the world.

It’s the variant of another belief system, this one claiming that the world is run by nonhuman “reptilians” who are the descendants of the coupling of human beings with Satan’s demons, that has an even larger number of adherents, dates back to around the time of the American Revolutionary War, and comes in denomination that cover everything from Catholics and Protestants and Muslims to atheists and agnostics.

If you go looking, you can find web sites and organizations in the thousands not only espousing these things, but doing it articulately and logically.

Not rationally, necessarily, but logically.

Certainly there are, across the world, established religious and ideological systems that are no more or less divorced from reality than Mr. Murray’s ideas seem to be.  

We don’t react as strongly to those as to this because we’re used to them. 

Or because we don’t actually know what they say, but assume they must make sense, because so many people believe in them.

What Mr. Murray is engaging in, no matter how odd it may seem to most of us, is a form of theology.  (And all ideology is theology, so keep that in mind.)

And like all theology–Catholic, Marxist, Freudian–it’s a closed system.  Once you accept its premise, everything else follows automatically.

I am not saying here that I think we should accept Mr. Murray’s ideas as true, or even as ‘true enough to deserve respect.”

I am enormously grateful that Mr. Lucas’s constituents cast their eye over his challenger and decided they really had no interest.

I am saying that these beliefs are neither crazy nor stupid.

They’re just wrong.

And they’re just as representative as the capacity for abstract thought as the theory of relativity.

Written by janeh

July 4th, 2014 at 10:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Liberal. Or Not.

with 13 comments

Here’s where we are.

I started to feel a little ill in a summer cold/maybe flu kind of way on Saturday, and I thought it would be over in no time.

Instead, it’s been getting worse and worse, and today I feel as if I’ve been hit by a Mack truck.

And then it backed up.

I’ve got two links below, both on the question of what is a liberal.

The first one is sort of wishy washy.  The second one is by Charles Murray.

I think what’s going on is that a number of people–Murray among them–are trying to figure out the differences between liberal as it was long understood in the US–and even the world–and what we’ve got now.

I think it’s interesting to note that the pulls of the ideologies we now call “progressive” and “conservative” go all the way back to the founding and before.

But I feel really bad, and I’m going to go away now.



Written by janeh

July 2nd, 2014 at 8:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Bad Behavior has blocked 310 access attempts in the last 7 days.