Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Almost every day, I see a headline that starts with the words “scientists say”…everything from “Scientists say pizza is better than money for motivating employees” to “scientists say men who are good listeners are better at sex.” Sometimes the headlines go even further and assert that “science says.”
If you try to track down the actual headlines behinds these assertions, you will often find a study done on 40 or so undergraduates, sometimes using questionable methodologies, on which the which the journalists base their imprimatur of ‘science says.’ And very often, you can’t ever read the study unless you’re willing to pay $30 or more for the privilege, because it’s in an access-controlled journal. This doesn’t stop the university PR departments from issuing breathless press releases about the study conclusions, though.
It’s sort of sad–scientific publishing was once a way of disseminating information; now it functions largely as a means for limiting access to information. I have a hard time understanding why publicly-funded research shouldn’t be required to be publicly available on the Internet at no or minimal cost.
I think the ‘scientists say’ and ‘science says’ memes would not work in a society where most of the population had some degree of scientific education. Science is not shamanism, and scientists are not oracles.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
REMEMBERING NEPTUNUS LEX
Bill Brandt has assembled and posted some comments by readers about what Lex meant to them. Very much worth reading.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
LIFE IN THE FULLY POLITICIZED SOCIETY (rerun)
(The politicization of American society has increased markedly since I wrote this post in May of 2014. Sports, for example, is now politicized–see what happens when a culture loses its last neutral ground?–along with everything from shopping to education. The sway of ‘progressive’ orthodoxy continues to extend its sway over all aspect of American life.)
Many will remember Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, in which she said:
Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed….You have to stay at the seat at the table of democracy with a man like Barack Obama not just on Tuesday but in a year from now, in four years from now, in eight years from now, you will have to be engaged.
We are going to have to change our conversation; we’re going to have to change our traditions, our history; we’re going to have to move into a different place as a nation.
…which is, of course, entirely consistent with the assertion made by Barack Obama himself, shortly before his first inauguration: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
It should be clear by now that all aspects of American life and society are rapidly becoming politicized. Obama has greatly accelerated this movement, but he didn’t initiate it. The “progressive” political movement, which now controls the Democratic Party, has for a long time been driving the politicization of anything and everything. The assertion “the personal is political” originated in the late 1960s…and, if the personal is political, then everything is political.
Some people, of course, like the politicization of everything–for some individuals, indeed, their lives would be meaningless without it. In his important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars, Sebastian Haffnernoted divergent reactions from people when the political and economic situation stabilized (temporarily, as we now know) during the Stresemann chancellorship:
The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.
But this return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:
A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.
To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.
I’m afraid we have quite a few people in America today who like having “the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions.” But for most people, especially for creative and emotionally-healthy people, the politicization of everything leads to a dreary and airless existence.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
THE GENERAL, THE DEVIL, AND THE ELECTION
Heinz Guderian was a German general who played an important role in the development of Blitzkrieg tactics. He was also a highly effective field commander, known to his men by the nickname “Hurrying Heinz.”
Also not a bad writer–here’s his description of the character of Adolph Hitler:
He had no real friend. His oldest Party comrades were, it is true, disciples, but they could hardly be described as friends. So far as I can see there was nobody who was really close to him. There was nobody in whom he would confide his deepest feelings. There was nobody with whom he could talk freely and openly. As he never found a true friend, so he was denied the ability to deeply love a woman. He remained unmarried. He had no children. Everything that on this earth that casts a glow of warmth over our life as mortals, friendship with fine men, the pure love for a wife, affection for one’s own children, all this was and remained for ever unknown to him. His path thru the world was a solitary one and he followed it alone, with only his gigantic plans for company.
There is an interesting parallel between the above excerpt and a passage in Thomas Carlyle’s review of Faust, published in 1822:
Mephistopheles is not the common devil of poetry, but one much more adapted to his functions. It is evident that he was a devil from the first and can be nothing else. He is emphatically ‘the Denyer’, he fears nothing, complains of nothing, hopes for nothing. Magnanimity, devotion, affection, all that can sweeten or embellish existence, he looks upon as childish mummery.
(No, I’m not accusing Guderian of plagiarism…there are things a lot worse than plagiarism of which he could be justly accused! But it is very likely that he read Faust in school, and I wonder if he might have also been exposed to early commentary on the play, including the Carlyle piece.)
While searching for the Guderian quote (in conjunction with my recent Faust post), I ran across this blog post, which attempts to draw parallels between Guderian’s description of Hitler’s character, and…the character of Donald Trump. The blogger does this by interspersing passages from the Guderian quote with comments about Trump made by Mark Shields and David Brooks in a PBS Newshour appearance.
(Now, personally, I don’t see why anyone would consider a man who evaluates presidential candidates by the quality of the crease of their trousers as a particularly good source for analysis and insight, but whatever…)
Something is missing from the linked blog post, as it is from many similar Trump denunciations….and that is the name Hillary Clinton. Because Trump isn’t running in a vacuum, he isn’t running against, say, JFK or Harry Truman or even Jimmy Carter; he is running against Hillary Clinton, and barring some unlikely event or events, one of the other of the is going to be President.
And I would assert that whatever degree of match there might be between Trump’s character and the character outlined in the Guderian piece, the match is considerably stronger in the case of Hillary Clinton.
Sunday, September 04, 2016
…especially for Labor Day weekend
There probably aren’t too many TV series centered around a CNC machine shop…but there’s at least one, and it’s called Titans of CNC. The producer and central figure, Titan Gilroy–yes, that’s his real name–grew up in rough circumstances, spent some time in prison, and eventually learned machine-tool operation and CNC programming. With these skills in hand, he built a pretty substantial business, Titan America, which is focused on precision machining, mainly producing components of products being made by larger companies.
The program is about the challenges involved in the operation of Titan America and a portrait of some of its employees and customers. It is also a passionate argument for the importance of manufacturing in America. Sponsors include Autodesk, IMCO Carbide Tools, Haas Automation and GoEngineer.
The series was made for a cable channel called MATV, which is owned by Lucas Oil Products and is targeted towards car people. It’s available on Amazon streaming, which is where I’ve been watching it.