Thursday, November 27, 2014
THANKSGIVING AND TEMPORAL BIGOTRY
(rerun, with updates)
Stuart Buck encountered a teacher who said “Kids learn so much these days. Did you know that today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives?” (“She said this as if she had read it in some authoritative source”, Stuart comments.)
She probably had read it in some supposedly-authoritative source, but it’s an idiotic statement nevertheless. What, precisely, is this wonderful knowledge that high-school seniors have today and which the 40-year-olds of 1840 or 1900 were lacking?
The example of knowledge that people usually throw out is “computers.” But the truth is, to be a casual user of computers (I’m not talking about programming and systems design), you don’t need much knowledge. You need “keyboarding skills”–once called “typing.” And you need to know some simple conventions as to how the operating system expects you to interact with it. That’s about it. Not much informational or conceptual depth there.
Consider the knowledge possessed by by the Captain of a sailing merchant ship, circa 1840. He had to understand celestial navigation: this meant he had to understand trigonometry and logarithms. He had to possess the knowledge–mostly “tacit knowledge,” rather than book-learning–of how to handle his ship in various winds and weathers. He might well be responsible for making deals concerning cargo in various ports, and hence had to have a reasonable understanding of business and of trade conditions. He had to have some knowledge of maritime law.
Outside of the strictly professional sphere, his knowedge probably depended on his family background. If he came from a family that was reasonably well-off, he probably knew several of Shakespeare’s plays. He probably had a smattering of Latin and even Greek. Of how many high-school (or college) seniors can these statements be made today?
(In his post, Stuart compares knowledge levels using his grandfather–a farmer–as an example.)
Today’s “progressives,” particularly those in the educational field, seem to have a deep desire to put down previous generations, and to assume we have nothing to learn from them. It’s a form of temporal bigotry. Indeed, Thanksgiving is a good time to resist temporal bigotry by reflecting on the contributions of earlier generations and on what we can learn from their experiences.
As C S Lewis said: If you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its neighboring units. If you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from previous generations. (Approximate quote.)
How better to conduct such destruction than to tell people that previous generations were ignorant and that we have nothing to learn from them?
11/27/2014: In the Hawaiian traditional religion, there is apparently a saying that goes something like this--
A monster cannot survive in an environment of gratitude.
It seems likely that the decline in the emotion of gratitude in our society is indeed correlated with the rise of monsters.
Previous CB discussion threads here and here. See also related posts by Jonathan and Ginny.
Thoughts on the lessons of the Plymouth Colony from Jerry Bowyer and Paul Rahe.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz , where comments are open
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
A special Russia-focused issue of National Geographic, in 1914
Does automation make people dumb?
Strategies for dealing with randomness in business
Labor market fluidity in the US seems to be declining
There are very different reactions to the waving of an Isis flag and the waving of an Israeli flag at Berkeley
Strategies for dealing with toxic people
Czars as political officers
Two princes: Machievelli's Il Principe and Antoine de St-Exupery's Le Petit Prince
"Speaking Truth to Power." A great post by Sarah Hoyt on the way this expression is being used:
One of the most fascinating conceits of our ruling powerful elites — be they in entertainment, politics, governance, jurisprudence or news reporting — is the often repeated assertion of being some kind of underdog “speaking truth to power.” This comes with the concomitant illusion that anyone opposing them is paid by powerful interests.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Sunday, November 23, 2014
RETROTECH: AN ON-LINE DISCUSSION BOARD
Interesting that girls as well as boys were participants in this network
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
RERUN: WHEN LAW YIELDS TO ABSOLUTE POWER
(I should have included this post in my Theme roundup on totalitarianism and the fully politicized society. It’s important enough, I think–especially in our current circumstances–to be worth putting up as a stand-alone rerun post.)
Almost five years ago, I reviewed the important and well-written memoirs of Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars. I think the state of affairs in America today makes it appropriate to re-post some excerpts from the review and from the book.
In 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, Haffner was working as a junior lawyer (refendar) in the Prussian High Court, the Kammergericht. He was comforted by the continuity of the legal process:
The newspapers might report that the constitution was in ruins. Here every paragraph of the Civil Code was still valid and was mulled over and analyzed as carefully as ever…The Chancellor could daily utter the vilest abuse against the Jews; there was nonetheless still a Jewish Kammergerichtsrat (high court judge) and member of our senate who continued to give his astute and careful judgments, and these judgments had the full weight of the law and could set the entire apparatus of the state in motion for their enforcement–even if the highest office-holder of that state daily called their author a ‘parasite’, a ‘subhuman’ or a ‘plague’.
In spring of that year, Haffner attended Berlin’s Carnival–an event at which one would find a girlfriend or boyfriend for the night and exchange phone numbers in the morning…”By then you usually know whether it is the start of something that you would like to take further, or whether you have just earned yourself a hangover.” He had a hard time getting in the Carnival mood, however:
All at once I had a strange, dizzy feeling. I felt as though I was inescapably imprisoned with all these young people in a giant ship that was rolling and pitching. We were dancing on its lowest, narrowest deck, while on the bridge it was being decided to flood that deck and drown every last one of us.
Though it was not really relevant to current events, my father’s immense experience of the period from 1870 to 1933 was deployed to calm me down and sober me up. He treated my heated emotions with gentle irony…It took me quite a while to realize that my youthful excitability was right and my father’s wealth of experience was wrong; that there are things that cannot be dealt with by calm skepticism.
continued at Chicago Boyz
Thursday, November 20, 2014
THEME: TOTALITARIANISM AND THE FULLY POLITICIZED SOCIETY
As Jonathan pointed out here, one problem with the blog format is that worthwhile posts tend to fade into the background over time, even when they might be of continuing value. One approach I'd like to try is Theme roundups, in which I'll select a number of previous posts on a common topic or set of related topics, and link them with brief introductory sentences or paragraphs. At least initially, I'll focus on my own posts.
The posts in this first "theme" roundup focus on the nature of the politically-dominated society, ranging from the effects of extreme political correctness in America and Europe today to the nature of life under absolutist totalitarianism.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
LIFE IN THE FULLY POLITICIZED SOCIETY, CONTINUED
In his memoirs, Russian rocket developer Boris Chertok (previously excerpted in my post here) tells of his experiences while he was in Germany with Soviet occupation troops, right after the war. One of his friends was an officer, Oleg, who was also a talented poet. Irrespective of his military talents, Oleg's prospects for promotion were not viewed as favorable, because his poetry was "very unsettling to the political department."
And why was Oleg's poetry looked upon with disfavor? It was not because the Red Army had any dislike of poets. Nor was it even because his poetry contained criticisms of the regime--there were no such criticisms. No, the objection was because of what the poetry didn't contain. As another friend of Chertok's, Mira, explained the situation:
The political workers consider his poems to be demoralizing and decadent. Not once does he mention the Party or Stalin in them.
Of course, something like that could never happen in the US...we are not a society where someone could have their career opportunities gravely limited because of their failure to engage in expected political cheerleading. Right?
I was reminded of the above Chertok comments by Stuart Schneiderman's post here. Apparently, the book/movie "Gone Girl" (which I've neither seen nor read), has a female protagonist who is a rather nasty piece of work, attempting to get revenge against men in her life by making two false charges of rape and one false charge of murder. The film has been denounced by certain critics for portraying such a woman. For example, Rebecca Traister of the New Republic told Financial Times that the movie’s depiction of “our little sexual monsters” traded “on very, very old ideas about the power that women have to sexually, emotionally manipulate men. When you boil women down to only that, it’s troubling.” Apparently, in Ms Traiser's view, there must not be even one character is one book or movie who departs from the image of womanhood that Traister and her like-thinkers believe should be standardized.
Remarkably enough, Maureen Dowd (yes, Maureen Dowd!) comes out in this case against the witch-hunters and in favor of artistic integrity:
Given my choice between allowing portrayals of women who are sexually manipulative, erotically aggressive, fearless in a deranged kind of way, completely true to their own temperament, desperately vital, or the alternative — wallowing in feminist propaganda and succumbing to the niceness plague — I’ll take the former.
The idea that every portrait of a woman should be an ideal woman, meant to stand for all of womanhood, is an enemy of art — not to mention wickedly delicious Joan Crawford and Bette Davis movies. Art is meant to explore all the unattractive inner realities as well as to recommend glittering ideals. It is not meant to provide uplift or confirm people’s prior ideological assumptions. Art says “Think,” not “You’re right.”
After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks pushed Socialist Realism, creating the Proletkult to ensure that art served ideology. Must we now have a Gynokult to ensure Feminist Unrealism?
The politicization of American society has gone very far--see for example the comments from playwright David Mamet, cited in my earlier Life in the Fully Politicized Society post--and it is good to see even such a creature of the Left as Maureen Dowd starting to push back a little.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz
, where comments are open
Thursday, November 13, 2014
RETROTECH: USING NETWORK TECHNOLOGY FOR A STOCK TRADING EDGE
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
BOOK REVIEW: THE YEAR OF THE FRENCH
The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan
Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”
In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland. The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.
Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition. He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising. With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–”In Caslebar. They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.
Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia. Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,” jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,” Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.” ”A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”
Ferdy O’Donnell is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land. Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper ”a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”
Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘
Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen. This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic. His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.
John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land. He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster. ”One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”
Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.
Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses. His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”
Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces. A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution. He is a talented commander, but the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland. Seen through the eyes of a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it. ”The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”
This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships. Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
VETERANS DAY 2014
The War was in Color
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Saturday, November 08, 2014
MARKING THE END OF THE IRON CURTAIN
This would be an appropriate occasion to watch or re-watch the excellent film The Lives of Others, which is told from the standpoint of an agent in East Germany’s immense internal spying apparatus. I also recommend Anna Funder’s superb book Stasiland, in which she describes her 1994 trip to the former East Germany and reconstructs the way things were in the days of Communist rule. I reviewed it here.
Also, here’s an interesting story about Harald Jaeger, an East German border guard whose snap decision was the right one.
Friday, November 07, 2014
THE EFFECT OF INDUSTRY OF EMPLOYMENT ON POLITICAL VIEWS
Wednesday, November 05, 2014
THE AMERICAN MITTELSTAND
Two posts that sort of go together:
GE Capital cites some data from the National Center for the Middle Market on the importance of the “unsung heroes of the US economy”–the 200,000 businesses with annual revenues ranging from $10 million to $1 billion.
Amy Cortese writes about the potential re-emergence of local/regional stock markets, which could provide an avenue for companies in the middle market category to obtain financing and hence accelerate their growth.
Saturday, November 01, 2014
BOOK REVIEW: A TIME OF GIFTS
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
In late 1933, Patrick Fermor–then 18 years old–undertook to travel from the Holland to Istanbul, on foot. The story of his journey is told in three books, of which this is the first. This is not just travel writing, it is the record of what was still to a considerable extent the Old Europe–with horsedrawn wagons, woodcutters, barons and castles, Gypsies and Jews in considerable numbers–shortly before it was to largely disappear.
Paddy, as everyone called him, was the child of a British civil servant in India and his wife who remained in Britain. At school, Paddy was an avid student of history, literature, and languages; of math, not so much. He was often in trouble–his housemaster wrote that “he is a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness which makes one anxious about his influence on other boys.” Paddy’s career at the school came to an end after he was caught holding hands with the beautiful 24-year-old daughter of a local grocer. He then knocked around London for a while with a rather Bohemian crowd…his comments on the role of Leftism in this subculture, written many years later, are interesting:
In this breezy, post Stracheyan climate, it was cheerfully and explicitly held that all English life, thought, and art were irredeemably provincial and a crashing bore…The Left Wing opinions that I occasionally heard were uttered in such a way that they seemed a part merely, and a minor part, of a more general emancipation. This was composed of eclectic passwords and symbols–a fluent awareness of modern painting, for instance, of a familiarity with new trends in music; neither more important nor less than acquaintance with nightlife in Paris and Berlin and a smattering of the languages spoken there.
At this stage in his life, Paddy was not very interested in political matters, and his interests when he set out on his walking tour centered on art, architecture, languages/dialects, and folk customs. He didn’t have much money for the trip, and planned on living pretty rough…in the event, his general likeability got him many free stays in homes and taverns, and in some cases introductions from one aristocrat to another. There was still plenty of roughing it, though…in Holland, he found that “humble travelers” were welcome to spend the night in a jail cell, and were even given coffee and bread in the morning…and he spent quite a few nights out-of-doors. (He notes that a night in a castle can be appreciated much more when the previous night has been spent in a hayloft.)
With his considerable knowledge of art, Paddy found Holland to be strangely familiar even though he had never been there before:
Ever since those first hours in Rotterdam a three-dimensional Holland had been springing up all round me and expanding into the distance in conformity with another Holland which was already in existence and in every detail complete. For, if there is a foreign landscape familiar to English eyes by proxy, it is this one…These confrontations and recognition-scenes filled the journey with excitement and delight. The nature of the landscape itself, the colour, the light, the sky, the openness, the expanse and details of the towns and villages are leagued together in the weaving of a miraculously consoling and healing spell.
It did not take him long to cross Holland…”my heels might have been winged”…and soon he was in Germany, where the swastika flag had now been flying for ten months. In the town of Goch was a shop specializing in Nazi paraphernalia. People were gathered around photographs of the Nazi leaders. One woman commented that Hitler was very good-looking; her companion agreed with a sigh, adding that he had wonderful eyes.
For the most part, Paddy was treated in a very friendly way: ”There is an old tradition in Germany of benevolence to the wandering young: the very humility of my status acted as an Open Sesame to kindness and hospitality.” In a bookstore he met Hans, a Cologne University graduate with a strong interest in literature, who invited him to stay at his apartment. The landlady joined them for tea, and expressed quite different opinions from those Paddy had heard at the Nazi store in Goch. ”Such a mean face!” she observed about Hitler, “and that voice!” Hans and his bookseller friend were also anti-Nazi. Paddy observes that “it was a time when friendships and families were breaking up all over Germany” over the political question.
Hans arranged a ride for Paddy up-river with a barge tow, and he got off at Coblenz to continue on foot. Christmas Eve was spent at an inn in Bingen, where Paddy was the only customer. He was invited to help decorate the Christmas tree and to join them for church that evening. On the day before New Year’s, he stopped at a Heidelberg inn called the Red Ox, “an entrancing haven of oak beams and carving and alcoves and changing floor levels,” where an elderly woman greeted him with a smile and the question ”Who rides so late through night and wind?”, which Paddy did not then recognize as the first line of Goethe’s Erlkoening. She and her husband were the owners of the inn, and invited Paddy to stay for a while. Paddy became friendly with Fritz, the son of the owners, and pestered him with questions about student life at Heidelberg, especially the custom of dueling with sabres. ”Fritz, who was humane, thoughtful and civilized and a few years older than me, looked down on this antique custom and he answered my question with friendly pity. He knew all too well the dark glamour of the Mensur among foreigners.” (Many years later, Paddy wrote to discover what had become of this family, and discovered that Fritz had been killed in the fighting in Norway, where a battalion of his own regiment at the time had been engaged.)
When walking long distances, Paddy liked to either sing or recite poetry. Germans were very used to people singing as they walked, and such tunes as Shuffle off the Buffalo, Bye Bye Blackbird, and Shenandoah generally resulted in “tolerant smiles” from other wayfarers. Poetry, on the other hand, tended to cause “raised eyebrows and a look of anxious pity”…even, sometimes, “stares of alarm.” One woman who was gathering sticks dropped them and took to her heels, evidently talking Paddy for a dangerous lunatic.
Paddy devotes several pages to the names of poems that he remembers reciting, ranging from the choruses of Henry V and long stretches of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Marlowe, Spencer, Browning; Kipling and Houseman…in French, Baudelaire, Verlaine, and large quantities of Villon. In Latin, there was Virgil, Catallus, and Horace; also some profane medieval Latin lyrics. And also a bit of Greek, including part of the Odyssey and two poems of Sappho. Amusingly, Paddy prefaces this section of the book with the statement “The range is fairly predictable and all too revealing of the scope, the enthusiams and limitations, examined at the eighteenth milestone, of a particular kind of growing up,” and ends it with the rather apologetic “a give-away collection…a fair picture, in fact, of my intellectual state-of-play…”
At a cafe in Stuttgart, he fell into conversation with two cheerful girls, Annie and Lise, who had come in to buy groceries. They invited him to a “young people’s party” in celebration of the Feast of the Three Kings, and then insisted that he stay overnight. (Annie’s parents were out of town.) The next day was rainy; the girls insisted that he stay longer and go to another party with them, this being one they were not looking forward to but couldn’t get out of: it was being held by an unlikeable business associate of Annie’s father.
The was ”a blond, heavy man with bloodshot eyes and a scar across his forehead,” and “except for the panorama of Stuttgart through the plate glass, the house was hideous”…Paddy devotes quite a few words to critiquing its interior decoration. Particularly appalling was a cigarette case made from a seventeenth-century velllum-bound Dante, with the pages glued together and scooped hollow. The trio was very happy to finally escape and return to Annie’s residence. (After Paddy left to continue his journey, he wrote the girls and discovered that the wine bottles they had “recklessly drained” had been a rare and wonderful vintage that Annie’s father had been particularly looking forward to. ”Outrage had finally simmered down to the words: “Well, your thirsty friend must know a lot about wine.” (Totally untrue.) ”I hope he enjoyed it.” (Yes) It was years before the real enormity of our inroads dawned on me.”)