The French, Coming Apart | City Journal
A process that Guilluy calls métropolisation has cut French society in two. In 16 dynamic urban areas (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Rennes, Rouen, Toulon, Douai-Lens, and Montpellier), the world’s resources have proved a profitable complement to those found in France. These urban areas are home to all the country’s educational and financial institutions, as well as almost all its corporations and the many well-paying jobs that go with them. Here, too, are the individuals—the entrepreneurs and engineers and CEOs, the fashion designers and models, the film directors and chefs and other “symbolic analysts,” as Robert Reich once called them—who shape the country’s tastes, form its opinions, and renew its prestige. Cheap labor, tariff-free consumer goods, and new markets of billions of people have made globalization a windfall for such prosperous places. But globalization has had no such galvanizing effect on the rest of France. Cities that were lively for hundreds of years—Tarbes, Agen, Albi, Béziers—are now, to use Guilluy’s word, “desertified,” haunted by the empty storefronts and blighted downtowns that Rust Belt Americans know well. [...]

The laid-off, the less educated, the mistrained—all must rebuild their lives in what Guilluy calls (in the title of his second book) La France périphérique. This is the key term in Guilluy’s sociological vocabulary, and much misunderstood in France, so it is worth clarifying: it is neither a synonym for the boondocks nor a measure of distance from the city center. (Most of France’s small cities, in fact, are in la France périphérique.) Rather, the term measures distance from the functioning parts of the global economy. France’s best-performing urban nodes have arguably never been richer or better-stocked with cultural and retail amenities. But too few such places exist to carry a national economy. When France’s was a national economy, its median workers were well compensated and well protected from illness, age, and other vicissitudes. In a knowledge economy, these workers have largely been exiled from the places where the economy still functions. They have been replaced by immigrants.
The Benefits of Solitude
As the urban revolution reaches a head and humans become more citified than not, “nature deficit disorder” blooms in every apartment block, and the crowds of urbanity push out key components of human life that we never knew we needed to safeguard. Nature activists like Richard Louv use less poesy and more research to prove that cities impoverish our sensory experience and can lead to an impoverished identity, too—one deprived of “the sense of humility required for true human intelligence,” as Louv puts it.

But what really happens when we turn too often toward society and away from the salt-smacking air of the seaside or our prickling intuition of unseen movements in a darkening forest? Do we really dismantle parts of our better selves?

A growing body of research suggests exactly that.
nature  walking  from instapaper
Philosophers have a new job: coaching Silicon Valley executives to question everything
Still, practical philosophers like Taggart insist philosophical inquiry is the essence of an executive’s job. Philosophy, unlike other fields, offers no assumptions, just relentless inquiry. By subjecting every belief to critical reflection, Taggart’s clients start down a path of inquiry that can lead to genuine understanding, better business decisions, and, eventually, happiness. But that only happens after a painful period of reflection, which will often involve abandoning the deceptive stories we tell ourselves.

“Philosophers arrive on the scene at the moment when bullshit can no longer be tolerated,” says Taggart. “We articulate that bullshit and stop it from happening. And there’s just a whole lot of bullshit in business today.” He cites the rise of growth hackers, programming “ninjas,” and thought leaders whose job identities are invented or incoherent.
philosophy  solutionism  tech  from instapaper
The Beginning for the American Church – In a State of Migration – Medium
The data bears out as well that poor Liberal Protestant retention is the actual direct source of the growing unclaimed population. Pew Research finds that only about 45% of people born into Mainline denominations remain there today, vs. 65% for Evangelical Protestants, 59% for Catholics, 53% for Orthodox, 70% for historically black protestants. Jews, Muslims, and Hindus all have higher retention, while Buddhists and Jehovah’s Witnesses are quite low. Of those raised in each group, Mainline Protestant kids are the 3rd most likely to end up Unaffiliated, at 26%, behind Jehovah’s Witnesses (35%) and Buddhists (40%). Evangelical and Black Protestants are the least likely to become unaffiliated. So, yes, it really is the collapse of mainline denominations that gives rise to the large unclaimed or unaffiliated population and, to a lesser extent, reaffiliation by Catholics. For Millennials, just 37% of Mainline-raised remain in the Mainline, vs. 61% for evangelical protestants.

So to be clear: this isn’t just a question of demographic transition and aging. This is a question of some denominations doing systematically worse at retaining and attracting people over the last few generations.
Christianity  church  from instapaper
People Reluctant to Kill for an Abstraction, a Movement
Since the world began, we have gone about our work quietly, resisting the urge to generalize, valuing the individual over the group, the actual over the conceptual, the inherent sweetness of the present moment over the theoretically peaceful future to be obtained via murder. Many of us have trouble sleeping and lie awake at night, worrying about something catastrophic befalling someone we love. We rise in the morning with no plans to convert anyone via beating, humiliation, or invasion. To tell the truth, we are tired. We work. We would just like some peace and quiet. When wrong, we think about it awhile, then apologize. We stand under awnings during urban thunderstorms, moved to thoughtfulness by the troubled, umbrella-tinged faces rushing by. In moments of crisis, we pat one another awkwardly on the back, mumbling shy truisms. Rushing to an appointment, remembering a friend who has passed away, our eyes well with tears and we think: Well, my God, he could be a pain, but still I'm lucky to have known him.

This is PRKA. To those who would oppose us, I would simply say: We are many. We are worldwide. We, in fact, outnumber you. Though you are louder, though you create a momentary ripple on the water of life, we will endure, and prevail.

Join us.

Resistance is futile.
ethics  from instapaper
Troubled times: How “The Plague” infects the modern political mood | The Economist
Ultimately, the disease passes and Oran is once again open up to the world. The narrator reminds us in the book’s final pages that the celebrating townspeople clapped unaware that “the bacillus Plague never dies or vanishes entirely, that it can remain dormant for dozens of years in furniture or clothing, that it waits patiently in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, handkerchiefs and old papers and perhaps the day will come when, for the instruction or misfortune of mankind, the plague will rouse its rats and send them to die in some well-contented city.”

Some would argue that the day has come, or is dawning. Written as an allegory for life in occupied Paris, Camus’s novel is not an up-close portrait of evil or domination. Instead it acts a guide to the victimhood and despondency of an uncontrollable crisis; it is why it resonates as strongly as anything else published during the midnight of the last century. Today the futility of Rieux’s efforts may speak to those with a creeping fear that good ideas are no longer considered valuable by angry and iconoclastic electorates. Suddenly millions of people are once again looking at their passports and wondering where and when they might be welcome. The usual prescriptions of facts, rational arguments and appeals to empathy merely underscore the impotence of being earnest. As of yet, there is no known antidote. Luckily our redemption is as true now as it was 70 years ago when Camus’s protagonist concluded that “there are more things to admire in men than to despise.” 
it turns out we’re all locked up in here together
So many campus controversies are represented as clashes between different kinds of people – liberals vs. conservatives, activists vs. educators, the black bloc vs. the alt right. But all of those groups, ultimately, are powerless within the system. Neither Milo Yiannopoulos’s little brood nor the black hoodies that came to meet them will decide the future of college. The 21st century university is owned by the chief litigation officers, by the media liaisons, by the marketing department. Whose values will win? What do values have to do with it? Somebody’s crisis response manual somewhere, carefully put together through the actuarial science of risk prevention, says who wins and who loses on campus. I hate to say I told you so.

People ask me questions. How are the kids these days, really? Are they principled activists or coddled children of affluence? Are they really so deeply opposed to free speech and intellectual freedom? When I read some strategic action plan, put together by a consultant who learned about intersectionality from a PowerPoint at a conference about cultivating the alumni donors of tomorrow, I feel compelled to answer back… what’s the difference?
2 days ago
The Battle for France | The American Conservative
We could easily include Finkielkraut’s friend Pierre Manent, author of Situation de la France, which lays out a blueprint for coming to terms with an Islam that was invited, without preconditions, into France. He suggests flexibility on headscarves; accommodation for separate hours for girls and boys in gym; firmness in rejection of the face-covering hijab; and absolute support for freedom of speech. At the same time, he bemoans the reality that France’s adherence to the EU deprives the state of the strength and flexibility needed to facilitate a deeper assimilation. Others in this new school of French cultural identity include the historian Jacques Julliard, the famous onetime revolutionary theoretician Régis Debray, and prominent writer Pascal Bruckner—all major intellectuals, all now labeled reactionaries. Last year Eugénie Bastié observed in Le Figaro that Nov. 13, 2015, the date of the Bataclan massacre, marked a decisive breaking point for French intellectuals, generating a dichotomy between, on the one hand, those who thought it essential to see the world as it truly was; and, on the other hand, those who doubled down on the cause of anti-racism because they thought it was just and because, above all, they must not “play the game” of the National Front. Some described this as a battle between “the Good and the True.” This split will certainly endure after this May’s presidential election, whatever the outcome. But it can’t be denied that the influence of those bent on “seeing things as they truly are,” represented in some form by Zemmour, Finkielkraut, and Houellebecq, among others, had grown tremendously over the past five years. [...]

While this is just one aspect of the growing concern within French society about the seemingly intractable assimilation issues facing the country, it is a significant one. Beyond it is a host of more general popular fears and cultural anxieties focused on the France of old and what will be lost when it is gone. It is not surprising, therefore, that we are seeing in French intellectual circles a fresh appreciation for the habits, culture, virtues, and even flaws of the historical French republics. No one should be fooled into thinking that this intellectual ferment in France, centered on the protection of the country’s traditional culture, is a phenomenon peculiar to this particular European nation. Just as we see echoes of Le Pen’s National Front in the politics of other Western countries, including the United States, we are likely to see a growing intellectual focus on such political controversies. A powerful new debate has opened up in the nations of the West, and writers, thinkers, essayists, and polemicists of various stripes and viewpoints will be pulled into it. But France is the country to watch because it is the vanguard.
2 days ago
Yahoo’s Demise Is a Death Knell for Digital News Orgs
Jason Kint, the CEO of Digital Content Next, estimates that Facebook and Google accounted for about 99 percent of all advertising growth in the third quarter of 2016—54 percent of the pie for Google, 45 percent of it for Facebook, 1 percent for everybody else. (That’s based on numbers from the each company’s public financial records and data from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group for advertisers.)

For everyone other than Facebook and Google, Kint tweeted in December, it’s a “zero-sum game.”

Many investors have reached this conclusion, too. “The ad-tech market will go the way of search, social, and mobile as investors and entrepreneurs concede that Google and Facebook have won and everyone else has lost,” the venture capitalist and blogger Fred Wilson wrote in January. “It will be nearly impossible to raise money for an online advertising business in 2017.”
Facebook  google  from instapaper
3 days ago
A Father’s Final Odyssey
One night, after we’d traipsed around a ruin in the southwestern Peloponnese which is known as “Nestor’s palace”—Nestor is an elderly comrade of Odysseus’, whom Telemachus visits in Book 3, looking for news of his father—he turned to the group around the piano.

“Obviously, I’m glad I got to see the places and be able to make a connection between the real places and what’s in Homer,” he said.

People nodded, and he went on. “If I would have read Book 3 now, for instance, I would know exactly what the seashore of ‘sandy Pylos’ looks like”—he wiggled his fingers to indicate that he was quoting verbatim—“where Telemachus landed. And now we all have a sense of Troy, the way it’s sited, how it looks out with the water in the distance. That’s great. But for me it’s a little bit empty compared to the story. Or maybe half-empty. It’s like these places we’re seeing are a stage set, but the poem is the drama. I feel that that is what’s real.”
lit  poetry  from instapaper
3 days ago
Lecky on superstition
Many superstitions do undoubtedly answer to the Greek conception of slavish 'fear of the Gods,' and have been productive of unspeakable misery to mankind ; but there are very many others of a different tendency. Superstitions appeal to our hopes as well as our fears. They often meet and gratify the inmost longings of the heart. They offer certainties where reason can only afford possibilities or probabilities. They supply conceptions on which the imagination loves to dwell. They sometimes impart even a new sanction to moral truths. Creating wants which they alone can satisfy, and fears which they alone can quell, they often become essential elements of happiness ; and their consoling efficacy is most felt in the languid or troubled hours when it is most needed. We owe more to our illusions than to our knowledge. The imagination, which is altogether constructive, probably contributes more to our happiness than the reason, which in the sphere of speculation is mainly critical and destructive. The rude charm which, in the hour of danger or distress, the savage clasps so confidently to his breast, the sacred picture which is believed to shed a hallowing aud protecting influence over the poor man's cottage, can bestow a more real consolation in the darkest hour of human suffering than can be afforded by the grandest theories of philosophy. . . . No error can be more grave than to imagine that when a critical spirit is abroad the pleasant beliefs will all remain, and the painful ones alone will perish.
history  religion  superstition  from notes
3 days ago
When did modern philosophy begin? - On 'The Age of Genius' by A. C. Grayling
Tangled debates about the meaning of “modernity” aside, there can be no denying that something very special happened in philosophy in the seventeenth century – and especially in natural philosophy, what we now call science. Roughly between 1600 and 1700, there emerged new ways of thinking about the world and about the human being’s place in nature, in society, and in the cosmos. Here is how Grayling puts it: “At the beginning of the seventeenth century the mind – the mentality, the world-view – of our best-educated and most thoughtful forebears was still fundamentally continuous with that of their own antique and medieval predecessors; but by the end of that century it had become modern”. He calls it “the greatest ever change in the mental outlook of humanity”. [...]

Grayling also claims that the Church was against both the occult and the scientific (“it did not distinguish them”) and that “enquiry into nature . . . was vigorously opposed by the Roman Catholic Church”. This is just plain wrong, as much recent scholarship has shown, and only perpetuates the long-standing myth that the Church categorically opposed science and the advancement of knowledge. For an obvious and significant counter-example in this period, one need look no further than Galileo’s ecclesiastic judge. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine was not an enemy of “enquiry into nature” as such, and put his foot down only when natural philosophy appeared to undermine Christian doctrine. And what does Grayling think the mathematically skilled astronomers at the Vatican-sanctioned Jesuit Collegio Romano were up to? Contrary to what Grayling concludes, the priests were not always villains: Father Mersenne, as Grayling’s narrative itself shows, is excellent evidence for this.
philosophy  modernity 
3 days ago
IQ With Conscience | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty
I'm an IQ realist, all the way. IQ tests aren't perfect, but they're an excellent proxy for what ordinary language calls "intelligence." A massive body of research confirms that IQ predicts not just educational success, but career success. Contrary to critics, IQ tests are not culturally biased; they fairly measure genuine group differences in intelligence.

Yet I've got to admit: My fellow IQ realists are, on average, a scary bunch. People who vocally defend the power of IQ are vastly more likely than normal people to advocate extreme human rights violations. I've heard IQ realists advocate a One-Child Policy for people with low IQs. I've heard IQ realists advocate a No-Child Policy for people with low IQs. I've heard IQ realists advocate forced sterilization for people with low IQs. I've heard IQ realists advocate forcible exile of people with low IQs - fellow citizens, not just immigrants. I've heard IQ realists advocate murdering people with low IQs.
intelligence  from instapaper
4 days ago
Climbing Out Of Facebook's Reality Hole
The Facebook CEO took the stage at the company's annual F8 developers conference a little more than an hour after news broke that the so-called Facebook Killer had killed himself. But if you were expecting a somber mood, it wasn't happening. Instead, he kicked off his keynote with a series of jokes.

It was a stark disconnect with the reality outside, where the story of the hour concerned a man who had used Facebook to publicize a murder, and threaten many more. People used to talk about Steve Jobs and Apple’s reality distortion field. But Facebook, it sometimes feels, exists in a reality hole. The company doesn’t distort reality — but it often seems to lack the ability to recognize it.

The problem with connecting everyone on the planet is that a lot of people are assholes. The issue with giving just anyone the ability to live broadcast to a billion people is that someone will use it to shoot up a school. You have to plan for these things. You have to build for the reality we live in, not the one we hope to create. [...]

But Facebook made no nods to this during its keynote — and realistically maybe it’s naive to expect the company to do so. But it would be reassuring to know that Facebook is at least thinking about the world as it is, that it is planning for humans to be humans in all their brutish ways. A simple “we’re already considering ways people can and will abuse these tools and you can trust us to stay on top of that” would go a long way.

Instead Facebook went into the reality hole. It touted Facebook Spaces, a new social virtual reality thing that helps you escape the world while experiencing it, too. As Rachel Rubin Franklin, who used to be executive producer of Electronic Arts’ “The Sims" game and now runs Facebook’s social VR efforts, said of Spaces: “When your friends and family join your space, it’s just like really being together.”
Facebook  from instapaper
4 days ago
Design, Complexity, and Freedom - Bleeding Heart Libertarians
Some of the problem of design has to do with complexity and how people react to complex environments. The problem with hospital birth is that too often the environment is too complex for people to make good decisions. When that happens, as Shah points out, people will revert from high-resistance modes of operation (waiting for a woman to give birth vaginally) to a low-resistance mode of operation (surgery). Rarely are the providers aware that they are doing this. They are reacting to complexity and to the situation in which they find themselves and they’re trying to find a simple way to deal with that complexity. Same thing for the Ferguson residents who don’t show up in court to deal with traffic tickets. Faced with a bewildering bureaucracy, logistical difficulties, and the high likelihood of further entanglement with the law, they choose the path of least resistance and skip their court date, inadvertently triggering an arrest warrant. Jacobs finds a similar pattern in urban design. City planners clearing slums inadvertently prevent people from solving their own housing problems and instead force them into public housing or other kinds of living arrangements they would not choose for themselves.
design  complexity  from instapaper
5 days ago
It might be time to begin experimenting with geoengineering schemes to test what works
It would work like this: Fleets of large drones would crisscross the upper latitudes of the globe during winter months, sprinkling the skies with tons of extremely fine dust-like materials every year. If Mitchell is right, this would produce larger ice crystals than normal, creating thinner cirrus clouds that dissipate faster. “That would allow more radiation into space, cooling the earth,” Mitchell says. Done on a large enough scale, this “cloud seeding” could ease global temperatures by as much as 1.4 °C, more than the planet has warmed since the Industrial Revolution, according to a separate Yale study.

Big questions remain about whether it would really work, what damaging side effects might arise, and whether the world should risk deploying a tool that could alter the entire climate. Indeed, the suggestion that we should entrust the global thermostat to an armada of flying robots will strike many as preposterous. But the real question is: preposterous compared to what?
climate  from instapaper
5 days ago
There is a blind spot in AI research
“People worry that computers will get too smart and take over the world, but the real problem is that they’re too stupid and they’ve already taken over the world.” This is how computer scientist Pedro Domingos sums up the issue in his 2015 book The Master Algorithm. Even the many researchers who reject the prospect of a ‘technological singularity’ — saying the field is too young — support the introduction of relatively untested AI systems into social institutions. [...]

A social-systems analysis could similarly ask whether and when people affected by AI systems get to ask questions about how such systems work. Financial advisers have been historically limited in the ways they can deploy machine learning because clients expect them to unpack and explain all decisions. Yet so far, individuals who are already subjected to determinations resulting from AI have no analogous power.

A social-systems analysis needs to draw on philosophy, law, sociology, anthropology and science-and-technology studies, among other disciplines. It must also turn to studies of how social, political and cultural values affect and are affected by technological change and scientific research. Only by asking broader questions about the impacts of AI can we generate a more holistic and integrated understanding than that obtained by analysing aspects of AI in silos such as computer science or criminology.
AI  from instapaper
5 days ago
Jürgen Schmidhuber on the robot future​: ‘They will pay as much attention to us as we do to ants'
Given his interest in sci-fi, has he never worried that robots will enslave and rule over us once they become self aware? Schmidhuber shakes his head. “We won’t be enslaved, at the very least because we are very badly suited as slaves for someone who could just build robots that are far superior to us.” He dismisses The Matrix, in which imprisoned humans are used to power AIs: “That was the most idiotic plot of all time. Why would you use human bioenergy to power robots when a power station that keeps them alive produces so much more energy?”

But in that case won’t robots see it as more efficient to wipe out humanity altogether? “Like all scientists, highly intelligent AIs would have a fascination with the origins of life and civilisation. But this fascination will dwindle after a while, just like most people don’t understand the origin of the world nowadays. Generally speaking, our best protection will be their lack of interest in us, because most species’ biggest enemy is their own kind. They will pay about as much attention to us as we do to ants.”
from instapaper
5 days ago
Netflix's biggest competitor? Sleep
"Sometimes, tech firms have a different view of their competition than everyone else because of the sheer scale on which they operate. Google may think Google+ is a Facebook competitor, for instance; but Facebook thinks its competitors are video games and TV. You aren’t going to leave Facebook for another social network, and it knows that, so its job is to maximise the amount of time you actually spend using it. For that, it needs to be more compelling than all the other things you could be doing with your time."
from instapaper
5 days ago
Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re More Cognitively Diverse
"Received wisdom is that the more diverse the teams in terms of age, ethnicity, and gender, the more creative and productive they are likely to be. But having run the execution exercise around the world more than 100 times over the last 12 years, we have found no correlation between this type of diversity and performance. With an average group size of 16, comprising senior executives, MBA students, general managers, scientists, teachers, and teenagers, our observations have been consistent. Some groups have fared exceptionally well and others incredibly badly, irrespective of diversity in gender, ethnicity, and age.

Since there is so much focus on the importance of diversity in problem solving, we were intrigued by these results. If not diversity, what accounted for such variability in performance? We wanted to understand what led some groups to succeed and others to crash and burn. This led us to consider differences that go beyond gender, ethnicity, or age. We began to look more closely at cognitive diversity."
from instapaper
5 days ago
Deregulation in Higher Education
Here there are things conservatives can do to fight against the homogenizing efforts of our administrative class. For one, break the monopoly of the regional accrediting associations. For another, make accreditation much less intrusive. More generally, the national government should just give our institutions a lot less to comply with. The result might be the laying off of a lot of compliance offers, an important cause of administrative bloat, and the national government would no longer be facilitating efforts to inhibit authentic diversity. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos trumpets school choice as a way of making quality education available to everyone, not just rich folks. A huge menu of choice is already available on the level of higher education, because the market is national and competition for the scarce resource of the residential student continues to gets more intense. Once again, we conservatives should be for the right kind of deregulation, deploying libertarian means in the service of non-libertarian ends.
6 days ago
Interview with Cardinal Ratzinger :: Catholic News Agency
Raymond: And that sense of sacrifice and worship that you’ve talked about so eloquently, how do you see that being restored concretely?  Will we see a return to the ad orientem posture, facing the East, the priest facing away from the people during the Canon, a return to the Latin, more Latin in the Mass?

Cardinal: Versus orientem, I would say could be a help because it is really a tradition from the Apostolic time, and it’s not only a norm, but it’s an expression also of the cosmical dimension and of the historical dimension of the liturgy.  We are celebrating with the cosmos, with the world.  It’s the direction of the future of the world, of our history represented in the sun and in the cosmical realities.  I think today this new discovering of our relation with the created world can be understood also from the people, better than perhaps 20 years ago.  And also, it’s a common direction – priest and people are in common oriented to the Lord.  So, I think it could be a help.  Always external gestures are not simply a remedy in itself, but could be a help because it’s a very classical interpretation of what is the direction of the liturgy.  Generally, I think it was good to translate the liturgy in the spoken languages because we will understand it; we will participate also with our thinking.  But a stronger presence of some elements of Latin would be helpful to give the universal dimension, to give the possibilities that in all the parts of the world we can see “I am in the same Church.” 
liturgy  Catholic 
6 days ago
Habermas and the Fate of Democracy
Habermas’s life-long interest in the nexus between democracy and capitalism, however, remains. Müller-Doohm devotes nearly a quarter of his thick volume to a discussion of Habermas’s cosmopolitanism, a longstanding component of his thinking that in recent decades has taken on a central role. Habermas has always expressed sympathy for Immanuel Kant’s idea of a perpetual peace founded on cosmopolitan law. Structural Transformation posited that modern means of mass destruction underscore the need to transcend the “state of nature in international relations” that is “so threatening for everybody.” His early security-centered call for a new post national politics was then supplemented in the 1990s by the thesis that economic globalization outstrips the nation-state’s capacity to regulate its own affairs. Like many on the left, Habermas has become increasingly worried about global-level economic transformations that make it difficult especially for small and medium-sized states to maintain a generous welfare state. This diagnosis has motivated him to provide an account of how best to move towards the post national order he thinks we need.

Against those on both left and right who seek what he views as a retrograde rolling back of globalization, Habermas wants political decision-making to be scaled up to our globalizing economy. Democracy and the welfare state not only need to catch up to globalization if they are to survive, but can only do so when reconstituted in new and more inclusionary ways beyond the nation state. He considers it a mistake to try to shore up the nation state with outdated ideas of political identity based on common ethnicity or far-reaching cultural or linguistic sameness, and he attacks nationalists and populists for doing so. For today’s Europeans, he believes, only a more democratic and politically robust European Union (EU) can navigate economic globalization’s rocky waters and preserve democracy’s social presuppositions. And only in a stronger more democratic EU could more porous and tolerant political identities flourish.
politics  cosmopolitanism  from instapaper
9 days ago
Gregory of Nazianzus, The Third Theological Oration: On the Son
He was tempted as Man, but he conquered as God. He hungered, but he fed thousands. He thirsted, but he cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.” He was wearied, but he is the Res...
theology  from notes
9 days ago
Call me British, American, Jewish, Londoner – just don’t call me patriotic | Will Self
It may be that we wealthy types feel able to call ourselves “citizens of everywhere”, but it’s a status that depends on the very frictionless mobility that made us so: our cosmopolitanism was really the froth off the top of financial deregulation. We should have called ourselves “citizens of easyJet” – because mobility is always either a function of wealth or poverty; taedium vitae or desperation. I have no time for a patriotism based on delusions – nor am I convinced any more that there’s a residuum of core British values more puissant than those embodied by other nationalisms: the long war between multinational finance and the nation state continues, and values don’t enter into it. But, in common with many ageing baby boomers, I find myself more and more in thrall to a vast and bureaucratic organisation, undoubtedly polyglot and cosmopolitan in character, which depends for its existence on progressive taxation, and which aims, at least, to embody values of tolerance, inclusiveness and compassion. Yes, I’m not a British citizen, or an American one; nor do I hanker for the Australian or Israeli citizenship to which I’m also entitled; for I am a citizen of the National Health Service, a far more vital body politic.
brexit  cosmopolitanism 
9 days ago
Org-Mode Beginners Customization Guide
Org-mode is a highly customizable package. It currently contains close to 400 customization variables that can be changed to tweak every detail, and more than 260 are known to be actually used out there.

However, as a beginner you do not care about this kind of flexibility. On this page, we have a list of five settings that you might want to try first in order to personalize your system.

Once you are done with that, we also have a list of some 40 variables that are changed by many users.
11 days ago
How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture | Minding The Campus
During my lifetime, lamentation over student ignorance has been sounded by the likes of E.D. Hirsch, Allan Bloom, Mark Bauerlein and Jay Leno, among many others. But these lamentations have been leavened with the hope that appeal to our and their better angels might reverse the trend (that’s an allusion to Lincoln’s first inaugural address, by the way). E.D. Hirsch even worked up a self-help curriculum, a do-it yourself guide on how to become culturally literate, imbued with the can-do American spirit that cultural defenestration could be reversed by a good reading list in the appendix. Broadly missing is sufficient appreciation that this ignorance is the intended consequence of our educational system, a sign of its robust health and success.

We have fallen into the bad and unquestioned habit of thinking that our educational system is broken, but it is working on all cylinders. What our educational system aims to produce is cultural amnesia, a wholesale lack of curiosity, history-less free agents, and educational goals composed of content-free processes and unexamined buzz-words like “critical thinking,” “diversity,” “ways of knowing,” “social justice,” and “cultural competence.”

Our students are the achievement of a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country, cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes “flexibility” (geographic, interpersonal, ethical).

In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice”), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps.
education  academentia 
11 days ago
Building a Bridge Between Engineering and the Humanities - The Chronicle of Higher Education
Acquiring the habit of overcoming habitual perception is one process that brings engineering and the arts together. It is how great writers impart human experience in new ways, and it is how engineers innovate. Technology does not proceed along a preordained single path, as one might suppose from a textbook or problem-solving approach. Like literature, engineering sometimes works not by satisfying recognized needs but by creating the needs it satisfies. And that is also like literature: Tolstoy did not satisfy someone’s need for a novel called Anna Karenina.

But Tolstoy did provide his readers with a glimpse into Anna’s inner life. Similarly, engineering thrives by going beyond the technical into the realm of its human users. More and more, engineering education is recognizing the importance of understanding devices, systems, and processes in terms of the people who use them.

At the heart of human-centered design is empathy, and empathy is what literature, above all, is good at teaching. When you read a great novel, you identify with a character, experience what she is experiencing, follow her thoughts and feelings moment by moment from within. You do this with people of a different culture, age, gender, social class, nationality, profession, and religion. You do it with several characters in the course of one long novel, and not just once, but countless times, until it becomes a habit. Empathy creates better people and better technical innovations for people to use.

So how do we ensure that more skillful innovators emerge from academe?
twocultures  academe 
11 days ago
Reclaim Human Rights by Mary Ann Glendon | Articles | First Things
Reno is certainly right that conditions for dialogue are often poor or nonexistent. He writes, “our moment calls for witness not dialogue.” But why not witness plus dialogue, at least whenever dialogue is possible? As Richard Neuhaus wrote in The Naked Public Square, unless our “engagement moves toward dialogue, we will continue to collaborate, knowingly or not, in discrediting the public responsibility of religion. . . . We will discredit it by giving a monopoly on religiously informed political action to the most strident moral majoritarians who show few signs of understanding the problems and promises inherent in the American experiment.”

As for human rights, my inclination is to say that a concept of human rights properly understood is still well worth promoting, and need not detract from the political responsibilities that Reno rightly says have been neglected. Why not do both? I see no reason why church leaders should cease promoting Christian understandings of human rights in public settings as a way of promoting justice, morality, and the common good. To do so would be to leave the field to those who use human rights as a mere pretext for imposing the views of the powerful upon the weak.
politics  Christianity  religion 
11 days ago
Mormon Transhumanists
I’m not surprised by the existence of religious tech futurists. Overall, the major world religions have been quite successful in adapting to the many social changes since most of them first appeared many millennia ago. Also, the main predictor of interest in tech futurism and science fiction is an interest in science and technology, and religious folks are not underrepresented there. Even so, you might ask what your favorite theories of religion predict about how MTA folk would differ from other transhumanists. The most obvious difference I saw is that MTA does community very well, with good organization, little shirking, and lots of polite, respectful, and friendly interaction. This makes sense. Mormons in general have strong community norms, and one of the main functions of religions is to build strong communities. Mormonism is a relatively high commitment religion, and those tend to promote stronger bonds.
11 days ago
The Stars at Night from South Llano River State Park
But as Texas becomes urbanized, many people never see the stars at all. A satellite map of light pollution in the United States shows the country split down the middle, with nearly everything to the east full of light and broad swaths of the west still dark. The Interstate 35 corridor forms the boundary between the two; immediately west is the Hill Country. “We call it ‘the edge of night,’ because you have dark skies that are close to very populated cities,” says IDA board member Ken Kattner, a Houston lawyer and amateur astronomer who is leading an effort to curb light pollution in the area. “If we don’t do something now, we’re going to lose that forever.”

Dark-sky enthusiasts in Texas have been galvanized by that threat. Of the 44 dark-sky parks around the world, 5 are in Texas. The towns of Dripping Springs and Horseshoe Bay are 2 of the 14 certified Dark Sky Communities worldwide. Several other municipalities, including Fredericksburg and Llano, have passed dark-sky ordinances that govern outdoor lighting.
12 days ago
The Corporation Does Not Always Have To Win
But those were actual human beings speaking to Ali, not, like, the corporation’s animating logic rendered as two CGI beings on a screen (as far as we know), and yet they were evidently unable even to conceive of courses of action that might find an agreeable middle ground in the conflict between a corporation’s policies and a human being. These were actual people, in all their mysterious and profound complexity, their unmatched imaginative capacity, circumscribed entirely by the policies of the machine—in this case, the United Airlines computer that unthinkingly selected that man for ejection from the flight.

Put the United personnel in a rental car or shuttle bus for the relatively short road trip from Chicago to Louisville to avoid displacing people who’d booked their tickets and been allowed to board the flight? Offer the passenger however much money would get him to leave the flight voluntarily? Find somebody else on the flight who might be willing to give up their seat if that passenger would not leave at any price? Literally any course of action that might force a corporate behemoth, and not the sucker who’d done nothing more than expect a service in exchange for his money, to eat a little bit of shit? No. Not possible. The passenger had to be removed. The error in the workflow had to be snuffed out, the algorithm restored to its familiar course, there and then, in the person of that guy, at that exact moment, before it propagated further delays and inefficiencies at the next node. [...]

But the point is: You are not the corporation. You are the human. It is okay for the corporation to lose a small portion of what it has in terrifying overabundance (money, time, efficiency) in order to preserve what a human has that cannot ever be replaced (dignity, humanity, conscience, life). It is okay for you to prioritize your affinity with your fellow humans over your subservience to the corporation, and to imagine and broker outcomes based on this ordering of things. It is okay for the corporation to lose. It will return to its work of churning the living world into dead sand presently.
politics  ethics 
12 days ago
David Graeber • Dead zones of the imagination: on violence, bureaucracy, and interpretive labor
We are not used to thinking of nursing homes or banks or even HMOs as violent institutions—except perhaps in the most abstract and metaphorical sense. But the violence I’m referring to here is not epistemic. It’s quite concrete. All of these are institutions involved in the allocation of resources within a system of property rights regulated and guaranteed by governments in a system that ultimately rests on the threat of force. “Force,” in turn, is just a euphemistic way to refer to violence.

All of this is obvious enough. What’s of ethnographic interest, perhaps, is how rarely citizens in industrial democracies actually think about this fact, or how instinctively we try to discount its importance. This is what makes it possible, for example, for graduate students to be able to spend days in the stacks of university libraries poring over theoretical tracts about the declining importance of coercion as a factor in modern life, without ever reflecting on that fact that, had they insisted on their right to enter the stacks without showing a properly stamped and validated ID, armed men would indeed be summoned to physically remove them, using whatever force might be required. It’s almost as if the more we allow aspects of our everyday existence to fall under the purview of bureaucratic regulations, the more everyone concerned colludes to downplay the fact (perfectly obvious to those actually running the system) that all of it ultimately depends on the threat of physical harm.
sociology  violence 
12 days ago
Get Up, Stand Up | City Journal
It is not enough for professors to sign statements in support of free speech (and surprisingly few have actually done so). When word goes out of a plan to “shut down” non-conforming political views, that plan must be taken deadly seriously. Claremont McKenna took obvious pains to protect my talk, but they were not enough. I will not second-guess president Chodosh’s decision not to arrest the mob blocking access to the Athenaeum. Administrators and campus police are loathe to do anything that might necessitate the use of force against student darlings, as the deplorable passivity of the UC Berkeley campus (and Berkeley city) police during the anti-Milo riots on February 1 revealed. But if arrests are all but foreclosed, enough police manpower must be summoned to maintain open access through sheer command presence. Before a planned blockade, the faculty must reaffirm in their classes the campus’s belief in free expression. And the faculty must show up to the threatened event itself to give meaning to the ideal of free speech; they must shame the students trying to prevent their fellow students from hearing ideas that challenge campus orthodoxies. Fortunately, the campus thugs are too dim-witted to understand that by trying to shut down nonconforming speech, they are only giving it a greater cachet, as President Chodosh ruefully noted in his post-blockade email.

Retroactive punishment for violating school rules is necessary, as Charles Murray has persuasively written. President Chodosh should follow through on his promise to hold the censors accountable; if he does, it will be a first, since punishment violates the consumerist ethos of American higher education.
[We learned from Middlebury that college administrators will not act *even when their faculty are criminally assaulted* — and that local police departments allow those administrators to decide which crimes, if any, will be prosecuted. The craven depravity has no bottom to it.]
freespeech  academentia 
13 days ago
What Warm Texas Winters Really Mean
Nielsen-Gammon notes that the DFW airport normally records its last freeze of the winter in mid-to-late March, with the earliest last freeze recorded on February 5. This year, DFW dipped below 33 last on January 7. “This would be so far earlier than the previous date, the odds of this happening are somewhere in the one-in-10,000 range,” Nielsen-Gammon says. “If there was no global warming.”

Our even warmer than usual winter puts us about a month ahead of schedule for spring, according to Nielsen-Gammon. Real-world manifestations were everywhere. I’ve been recording the first bluebonnets in my own Houston neighborhood since 2010. This year, I saw my first ones on February 8, about a week earlier than any I’d seen before. At least this year you can make your sweetie a truly Texas-style Valentine’s bouquet.
texas  climate 
13 days ago
A revolt against deference | Books & Essays | spiked
Today’s elite angst about so-called post-fact or post-truth public discourse is but the latest version of an historical struggle – a struggle over the question of who possesses moral and intellectual authority. Indeed, the rejection of the values and outlook of the holders of cultural power in many Western societies has long been portrayed as a rejection of truth itself. The reason elite values have been enshrined as ‘the truth’, right from the Ancient Greeks onwards, is because the rulers of society need to secure the deference of the masses. The masses are being encouraged to defer not to the power of the elites, but to the truth of elite values. [...]

The flipside of the apotheosis of expertise is the idea of an incompetent public. This is why, historically, the ambiguous relationship between democracy and a reliance on expertise has led many commentators to draw pessimistic conclusions about the capacity of the public to play the role of a responsible citizenry. The public are seen as irrational, governed by emotion rather than reason. As a result, the public’s refusal to defer to the experts is perceived as a threat to the political order – because it promises the rule of unreason and emotion. The political elites do not see a decline in deference to their opinions for what it is – a rejection of their values; rather, they experience it as a rejection of the facts and even of truth itself!
13 days ago
My life with Oliver Sacks: ‘He was the most unusual person I had ever known’ | Books | The Guardian
Not long after I moved to New York, Michael Jackson died. O had no idea who Michael Jackson was. “What is Michael Jackson?” he asked me the day after the news – not who but what – which seemed both a very odd and a very apt way of putting it, given how much the brilliant singer had transmuted from a human into an alien being. O often said he had no knowledge of popular culture after 1955, and this was not an exaggeration. He did not know popular music, rarely watched anything on TV but the news, did not enjoy contemporary fiction, and had zero interest in celebrities or fame (including his own). He didn’t possess a computer, had never used email or texted; he wrote with a fountain pen. This wasn’t pretentiousness; he wasn’t proud of it; indeed, this feeling of “not being with it” contributed to his extreme shyness. But there was no denying that his tastes, his habits, his ways – all were irreversibly, fixedly, not of our time.

“Do I seem like I am from another century?” he would sometimes ask me, almost poignantly. “Do I seem like I am from another age?”

“You do, yes, you do.”
tech  bloggable 
14 days ago
Pogue's Basics: How to speed up YouTube playback with a keystroke
If you’re a longtime “Pogue’s Basics” fan, then you already know that you can jump 10 seconds ahead in playback of a YouTube video by pressing the L key. Or jump 10 seconds back with the H key. Or pause/unpause the video with the letter K. And maybe you know that the number keys on your keyboard, 1 through 0, represent 10-percent increments of the video. Hit 3 to jump 30% of the way in, for example. But here’s one more: It’s super helpful to watch a video on high speed, especially if it’s a slow talker. Usually, you have to do a bunch of clicks to adjust the speed, starting with the gear icon at lower right. But there’s a keyboard shortcut: type >! That is, Shift-period. And less-than (<, or Shift-comma) to slow it down. Cool!
17 days ago
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Libertarian Atheists
Undergraduates like communism and libertarianism for the same reasons they like utilitarianism and the categorical imperative. These theories are expansive in their reach, claiming to explain every aspect of the universe from the Milky Way to marriage. At the same time, they are metaphysically parsimonious. I call these “low buy-in” philosophies. They claim to explain a lot, without asking adherents to commit to many things up front. Economy notwithstanding, I see low buy-in theories as a poor value. Like cheap appliances, they look neat in the packaging. Once you start trying to use them, it becomes clear that they’re riddled with bugs. When a political or moral view is grounded in just a few conceptually simple premises, the fleshed-out picture never turns out to be either satisfying or plausible. I reject false economy, in philosophy just as in domestic science. Let’s accept that reality is complicated.
17 days ago
Seeing Like a Market
What do markets see when they look at people? Information dragnets increasingly yield huge quantities of individual-level data, which are analyzed to sort and slot people into categories of taste, riskiness or worth. These tools deepen the reach of the market and define new strategies of profit-making. We present a new theoretical framework for understanding their development. We argue that (a) modern organizations follow an institutional data imperative to collect as much data as possible; (b) as a result of the analysis and use of this data, individuals accrue a form of capital flowing from their positions as measured by various digital scoring and ranking methods; and © the facticity of these scoring methods makes them organizational devices with potentially stratifying effects. They offer firms new opportunities to structure and price offerings to consumers. For individuals, they create classification situations that identify shared life-chances in product and service markets. We discuss the implications of these processes and argue that they tend toward a new economy of moral judgment, where outcomes are experienced as morally deserved positions based on prior good actions and good tastes, as measured and classified by this new infrastructure of data collection and analysis.
17 days ago
Review: Seeing Things as They Are
At the center of Searle’s account of human seeing is the concept of intentionality. Intentionality is, for Searle, rooted in biology: in the way humans are made. Intentionality, for Searle, means ‘that feature of the mind by which it is directed at or about or of objects and states of affairs in the world’ (13). Derived, as Searle points out, from the Latin intension – meaning aim or extension – intentionality involves the organism’s requirement to rightly relate itself to the context of its existence. As such, the intentionality of perception finds satisfaction only if it meets with the causational objects of the real world; ‘a perceptional experience is satisfied only if the state of affairs perceived causes the perceptional experience’ (36). And it is access to the real world, an ontologically objective existence outside the ontologically subjective perceptional experience, that Searle is most concerned with arguing for in this book. It is to this end that he terms his theory of perception a form of Direct Realism.
23 days ago
Fascism Has Already Come To America - MTV
Fascism has a history in the United States, and we should look to this history to inform our preparations for the darkest timelines. America is not the same country as it was in the Jim Crow era — a new American fascism will adapt to the present, and that means that resistance must adapt as well. This new fascism will have its own face, but America's peculiar history is still the ground from which fascism will rise, making it all the more valuable to examine that terrain. The questions that we're asking ourselves about the tactics and strategy of fascist resistance aren't new to America — they've been asked before, in times that were more dire than they are now. All this has happened before. Good luck.
history  populism  race  politics  election2016 
23 days ago
5 ways to actually reform American healthcare - Doctors Without Boredom
5. Blow It All Up And Build A Distributist Paradise

This is the most radical option, but it also has the most potential to create a better system than what we have now. I sketched out some of the basic points of a distributist system here that can be applied to any of the above systems, but I think it would still be wisest to federally fund and deliver the basics, primarily using community health workers to do a lot of basic chronic care and preventive care. Mid-level providers could do a lot of the day-to-day hospital work, acute visits, and slightly more complex chronic care. They often do this now, but the basic assumption of the system would be that doctors shouldn’t do anything that someone who was trained less than them can do. (This is an infrequently deployed and frequently underdeveloped conservative talking point that I agree with.) Doctors, in turn, would be responsible for the more complex and sick individuals. Churches and other community organizations would partner with hospitals and doctors to provide the sort of services that hospitals now employ an army of social workers and case managers now must do.

Funding everything else is the fun part: eliminate Medicaid, Medicare, and tax exemptions for health insurance so you can start from scratch. States, cities, and municipalities then have the freedom to raise taxes, operate charitable foundations, or whatever else to finance their local healthcare systems however they wish. Or you could create a federally-funded mandatory HSA for every person that they could use to buy insurance, save as they wish, or self-organize into cost-sharing or local funding schemes. States could choose to take a cut (or all) of this to create its own public option, or let citizens choose whatever they want. Liberals who wanted to help subsidize care for the poor could join national or state insurance schemes designed for this purpose, and conservatives who wanted a perfectly free market could do business with providers as they wish. There would have to be some sort of national accountability linked to health outcomes in order to keep parts of the country from being shafted, but this would not have to be terribly complicated (e.g. if a county in Mississippi falls below a certain level of infant mortality three years in a row then Mississippi has to work with the Feds to clean up its act or it starts to get massive fines).
health  medicine  Distributism 
24 days ago
Democratizing Community Health | Comment Magazine
What would a more democratic, empowering system look like? Foundationally, it would be based on the understanding that health is stewardship of all available resources, individual and institutional. It would maximize the power and utility of any health-care worker so that no one’s training would be put to waste doing tasks that someone else could do. It would use statistics to judge the effectiveness of different programs, but it would not constrain itself to such numerical assessments; a holistic approach to promoting health requires more than numbers to be considered successful. It would see any area of human life as open to intervention, but always ask what the least intrusive intervention would be.

The first practical change we should pursue is directing the bulk of primary preventive care away from physicians’ offices and into the realm of community health workers (hereafter CHWs). The only benefit of the annual checkup by a primary-care provider is that it establishes a relationship with someone you can then trust if another health crisis emerges. It is a waste of time and money to pay physicians, physician assistants, or nurse practitioners to order flu shots and tell patients to eat healthier—both of which are often crucial elements of a typical annual checkup but don’t need to be tied to a physician. But that that’s how our current reimbursement practices work. The administration of universally applicable evidence-based treatments and counselling for a healthier lifestyle should be given to CHWs who come from the communities they serve, possess some sort of training that focuses on how to help individuals choose healthy behaviours as a part of public health, and control a budget for health-promotion initiatives in the community.
medicine  health 
24 days ago
welcome to the ANOVA – the ANOVA
I’ve gotten a lot out of writing online, but it has had downsides, especially concerning people targeting my employment. Online politics, are not good for my mental well-being. As someone with poor impulse control and bipolar disorder, it’s best to limit my political engagement in digital mediums that favor immediacy over thoughtfulness. I also have found much better ways to utilize my political energy in recent months. Since moving to New York I’ve gotten involved in my own union, in a tenant’s union, and in local education politics, along with attending many protests. This has been wonderful for my mood and sense of political purpose. Online politics leave me discouraged and unhappy; offline politics make me hopeful and energized. So I intend to keep my political engagement squarely offline.
socialmedia  politics 
25 days ago
Weaponized Narrative Is the New Battlespace - Defense One
Weaponized narrative seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity, and will by generating complexity, confusion, and political and social schisms. It can be used tactically, as part of explicit military or geopolitical conflict; or strategically, as a way to reduce, neutralize, and defeat a civilization, state, or organization. Done well, it limits or even eliminates the need for armed force to achieve political and military aims.

The efforts to muscle into the affairs of the American presidency, Brexit, the Ukraine, the Baltics, and NATO reflect a shift to a “post-factual” political and cultural environment that is vulnerable to weaponized narrative. [...]

In the hands of professionals, the powerful emotions of anger and fear can be used to control adversaries, limit their options, and disrupt their functional capabilities. This is a unique form of soft power. In such campaigns, facts are not necessary because – contrary to the old memes of the Enlightenment – truth does not necessarily prevail. It can be overwhelmed with constantly repeated and replenished falsehood. Especially powerful are falsehoods or simplifications that the target cohort has been primed to believe by the underlying narratives with which they are also being supplied.
politics  tech  bloggable 
25 days ago
Department of Religious Studies
12. Although critical inquiry has become commonplace in other disciplines, it still offends many students of religion, who denounce it as "reductionism". This charge is meant to silence critique. The failure to treat religion "as religion"--that is, the refusal to ratify its claim of transcendent nature and sacrosanct status--may be regarded as heresy and sacrilege by those who construct themselves as religious, but it is the starting point for those who construct themselves as historians.

13. When one permits those whom one studies to define the terms in which they will be understood, suspends one's interest in the temporal and contingent, or fails to distinguish between "truths", "truth-claims", and "regimes of truth", one has ceased to function as historian or scholar. In that moment, a variety of roles are available: some perfectly respectable (amanuensis, collector, friend and advocate), and some less appealing (cheerleader, voyeur, retailer of import goods). None, however, should be confused with scholarship.
25 days ago
Elif Batuman reviews ‘The Programme Era’ by Mark McGurl · LRB 23 September 2010
The continual production of ‘more excellent fiction … than anyone has time to read’ is the essence of the problem. That’s the torture of walking into a bookshop these days: it’s not that you think the books will all be terrible; it’s that you know they’ll all have a certain degree of competent workmanship, that most will have about three genuinely beautiful or interesting sentences and no really bad ones, that many will have at least one convincing, well-observed character, and that nearly all will be bound up in a story that you can’t bring yourself to care about. All that great writing, trapped in mediocre books! Who, indeed, has time to read them?

In the greater scheme, of course, the creative writing programme is not one of the evils of the world. It’s a successful, self-sufficient economy, making teachers, students and university administrators happy. As for literature, it will be neither made nor broken by the programme, which is doubtless as incapable of ruining a good writer as of transforming a bad one. That said, the fact that the programme isn’t a slaughterhouse doesn’t mean we should celebrate, or condone, its worst features. Why can’t the programme be better than it is? Why can’t it teach writers about history and the world, and not just about adverbs and themselves? Why can’t it at least try? The programme stands for everything that’s wonderful about America: the belief that every individual life can be independent from historical givens, that all the forms and conditions can be reinvented from scratch. Not knowing something is one way to be independent of it – but knowing lots of things is a better way and makes you more independent. It’s exciting and important to reject the great books, but it’s equally exciting and important to be in a conversation with them. One isn’t stating conclusively that Father Knows Best, but who knows whether Father might not have learned a few useful things on the road of life, if only by accident? When ‘great literature’ is replaced by ‘excellent fiction’, that’s the real betrayal of higher education.
25 days ago
Morphosis: The Categorical Im-Pratchettive
What I mean is: rather than seeing the categorical imperative as a top-down quasi-tyrannical imposition of moral order on the universe, we could see it as exactly the opposite. After all, it takes as axiomatic that nobody is outside the moral world—that is to say, it fundamentally repudiates one of the oldest moral fix-ups in human history, the one where the world is divided into ‘us’, who deserve to be treated ethically, and ‘them’, the outgroup, the Others (the Jews, the slavs, the Blacks, the barbarians, the Muslims, the poor, the women, the gays, all those many varieties of homines sacri) who fall outside of the protection of justice, who can be treated in ways beyond the ambit of morals. Kant isn't having that, and neither is Pratchett. This manifests, for Pratchett, in a refusal to take the dramatically easy way of demonising one or other outgroup. Really, nobody is beyond the pale in Discworld. No group is demonised, actual demons least of all. This same impulse manifests for Kant in an ethical rule that obtains categorically, not only to those like us, or whom we like.

This is also why Schopenhauer's third objection to the Kantian categorical imperative, as a cold and dead matter of obedience to mere duty, misses the mark; as a criticism of Kant (I think, though it would take a lot longer than I have here to demonstrate why) and certainly as a criticism of Pratchett. Pratchett's anger was hot, and his humour was continually and wonderfully alive; and that heat and that liveliness are what power his ethical vision. And one final point occurs to me: Pratchett's strategy for communicating ethically with his readers was fundamentally story-based: he tells us stories, and we are amused, and intrigued, and moved, and in that process we are called-forth into actualised ethical situations, made to think through the business of what it means to act well and to act badly, to consider consequences and otherness and so on.  I suppose it's true that actual Kantian moral philosophers are thin on the ground nowadays, but one of the most importat and celebrated interventions into ethical thought of the last ten years or so was Barbara Herman's Moral Literacy (2008), which is not only thoroughly Kantian, but which explores how morals are a mode of existential literacy, something we learn and practice, and something for which stories are the ideal mode. Herman doesn't discuss Pratchett, but she could easily have done. Doing the right thing, Pratchett says, over and over, is not a passionless matter of obeying an inhuman universal duty; it is always particular, always passionate, and above all always funny.
ethics  SF 
25 days ago
In Conversation With Robert Silvers -- New York Magazine
I believe in the writer—the writer, above all. That’s how we started off: admiring the writer. We organized the New York Review according to the writers we admired most: Edmund Wilson, Wystan Auden, Fred Dupee, Norman, Bill, Lizzie, Mary among them. Each of them had a confident sense of their own prose, and it meant a great deal to them—the matter of a comma, a semicolon, a word—and it does to our writers today. And so, when it comes to making a change, we should not do it without their permission. If a moment comes at some point where we see something should be improved, we don’t just scribble it in but call them up wherever they are. And that is, I think, crucial.
Although often you will scrawl a note in the margins saying, “It might be helpful here to have a word or a line about X.”

Yes! We do often in the galley.
Even though it may be Christmas Eve, as it often was.

That has to do with the schedule of the press.
But it also amounts to a kind of sign, whether the intention is there or not, a signal to the writer that absolutely everything is being done, no matter what the time, to care for this prose.

Well, I hope it makes people feel that each word counts. It’s going to be read by a lot of people. It’s going to have an effect. It means everything.
When I began working for you, there were two shifts for editorial assistants working in your office: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and then a later one.

Two-thirty to 10:30 p.m.
Which I learned often went on to midnight or later. How is it after 50 years you are able to maintain that level of meticulousness and determination?

I don’t feel that that kind of work is a matter of decision. There’s simply no alternative to reading every piece attentively and very critically. It would be unthinkable not to. I work my way through several reviews a day. If I’m at home I’ll simply try to stay up until I do it. If I’m here at the office I’ll try to stay until I finish it.
25 days ago
Plainness and Sweetness – Frank Chimero
I am for a design that’s like vanilla ice cream: simple and sweet, plain without being austere. It should be a base for more indulgent experiences on the occasions they are needed, like adding chocolate chips and cookie dough. Yet these special occassions are rare. A good vanilla ice cream is usually enough. I don’t wish to be dogmatic—every approach has its place, but sometimes plainness needs defending in a world starved for attention and wildly focused on individuality. Here is a reminder: the surest way forward is usually a plain approach done with close attention to detail. You can refine the normal into the sophisticated by pursuing clarity and consistency. Attentiveness turns the normal artful.
design  attention 
26 days ago
Remembering Bob Silvers | by Christopher Benfey | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
He said he never wanted to write anything, only to encourage others to write. But he often seemed as much a co-author as an editor, even though he never actually co-wrote. A parcel of books would arrive from the office with a few sentences in them underlined by his obviously rapid pen. Weeks later, when an essay about the books finally got written, those sentences would turn out to have been the focus for a dozen paragraphs of argument. A quick word or two in an e-mail message or phone call would develop into a unifying theme. Later, he would casually refer to “our piece on so-and-so.”

In his messages and phone calls Bob tended to be formally expansive or cheerfully abrupt. His editorial attention felt nothing like love, but it had the same effect. It made his writers braver and more generous, more sure-footed, more confident in looking forward to a goal rather than downward to their feet. The one genius he never wanted to read about was himself.

—Edward Mendelson

27 days ago
First Words by Stephen M. Barr | Articles | First Things
But evolutionary theory and evolutionary data have come a long way since Darwin. It is now thought that a number of evolutionary developments may have involved fairly large qualitative jumps, including the first appearance of DNA, of cells with nuclei (eukaryotes), of multicellular organisms, and of sexual reproduction. Such jumps are very rare “one-off” events. So it must have been, argue Berwick and Chomsky, with Merge. It presumably had to happen in a single individual:

Such a change takes place in an individual—and perhaps, if fortunate, in all of [his or her] siblings too, passed on from one or (less likely) both parents. Individuals so endowed would have advantages, and the capacity might proliferate through a small breeding group over generations.
What advantage did Merge and hierarchical language confer? Here Berwick and Chomsky make one of their most important claims: Merge and syntactically hierarchical language were not, to begin with, an instrument of communication at all, but of thought. This makes sense, as it would have been valueless for communication when only one person possessed it. Externalization developed later and more gradually.
28 days ago
Whit Stillman and the art of the courteous comedy | Film | The Guardian
In Damsels in Distress, Violet is something of a female Samuel Johnson (Stillman is known to be a fan), sharing his decided opinions, his moral questioning, even his neurotic compulsive habits. She declares her faith in clichés and hackneyed expressions, seeing these as repositories of the wisdom of the ages. It's a paradox that unsettles cliché itself, its conservatism in fact disquieting the stale response. There are many similar contrarian moments in the films, from the character who in watching The Graduate prefers Carl Smith, the blond make-out king jilted at the altar, to the seedy stalker, Dustin Hoffman, or another who finds Scottie the true loyal hero of The Lady and the Tramp, as opposed to the philandering Sinatra-figure that's Tramp. This inversion of expectations even extends to his characters' religious sympathies. At a screening of Damsels in Distress at the Rotterdam Film Festival, Violet's declaration that "We're all Christians, or Judaeo-Christians" evoked a collective gasp of horror – the only one I heard at a festival that prided itself on displaying the taboo-breaking.
29 days ago
Obamacare: The Republican Waterloo - The Atlantic
I take no pride or pleasure in saying “I told you so.” We’ve all been wrong about enough things to teach us humility about our rare bursts of foresight. What I would urge is that those conservatives and Republicans who were wrong about the evolution of this debate please consider why they were wrong: Consider the destructive effect of ideological conformity, of ignorance of the experience of comparable countries, and of a conservative political culture that incentivizes intransigence, radicalism, and anger over prudence, moderation, and compassion.
29 days ago
The Never-Ending Lukács Debate - Los Angeles Review of Books
Western audiences know only liberal anticommunism, the kind created by antifascist émigrés such as Karl Popper, Hannah Arendt, and Michael Polanyi, as well as by former far-left figures such as George Orwell, Ignazio Silone, and Arthur Koestler. After 1968, this type of anticommunism was picked up by East and Central European and Russian dissidents and clandestine human rights groups. But relatively little is known in the West about the “White Guard” type of anticommunism, which was prevalent on the European continent in the interwar period, and which is now triumphantly reborn in contemporary Eastern and Central Europe, including Hungary. The latter has tended to see socialism and communism as the uprising of the Untermensch, the biologically and spiritually inferior members of society. For these anticommunists, communism does not mean too little, but too much freedom, and the idea of equality is a sin against nature.
politics  marxism 
4 weeks ago
Was Francis Fukuyama the first man to see Trump coming? | Aeon Essays
Fukuyama predicted that such restlessness and resentment would eventually need a political outlet – and when it came, it would be explosive. The anti-capitalist Left, however, was a busted flush. Communism was now a known fraud and failure, and post-Historical people driven by megalothymia would have no truck with its egalitarian pretensions, or its nakedly tyrannical realities. Far more threatening to the stability of liberal capitalist societies would be the emergence of demagogic strongmen from the fascistic Right, cynically feeding narrow self-interest and popular discontent, preying on human impulses for mastery and domination that the hollow comforts of consumer capitalism could not hope to appease.

Fukuyama was here looking to a future that still lies beyond our present (although we might be taking the first steps towards it). His was a grim warning that if overly recognition-thirsty individuals lived in a world ‘characterised by peaceful and prosperous liberal democracy, then they will struggle against that peace and prosperity, and against democracy’. More starkly: ‘Modern thought raises no barriers to a future nihilistic war against liberal democracy on the part of those brought up in its bosom.’
history  election2016 
4 weeks ago
What a Democracy Needs in an Editor - Bloomberg View
Some of his writers were famous for their polemical skills, but, in my own experience, he valued fairness and honesty above all else. I had only one difficult editorial experience with him, and, in retrospect, the difficulty stemmed from his (undoubtedly accurate) sense that I was reading an author unfairly -- that I was putting his argument in the weakest possible light. Bob did not appreciate unearned victories. In his view, it was far more important to be clear on the underlying arguments than to establish that one person was right and another wrong.
4 weeks ago
Catacombs or Cloister? | Blog & Mablog
We should be grateful to Dreher for the wake-up call. Things really are bad.

But what kind of bad? Bad news could include the fact that you have bone cancer, or it could alternatively mention the fact that an asteroid is going to land on your house. Both of these things are sufficiently bad, but the remedial measures will look completely different in each case. And this means that before taking remedial measures, you have to decide what kind of bad you are up against. If it is going to be the asteroid, there will be no point standing on your front porch with a bottle of chemo pills.

Dreher appears not to have settled this crucial question in his mind, and unfortunately it affects his entire Benedict thesis. This is what I mean. In the ancient world, Christians were up against it in the first century, when Rome began her first persecution of the Christians, and they were up against it in the sixth century, when Benedict laid down his rule. But in the first case, they were up against a hegemonic, swollen, persecuting world power, and in the latter case they were up against the disarray and ruin that had resulted from the collapse of that civilization.

There is a difference, in other words, between a totalitarian surveillance state and a failed state. Now if I were seeking to prepare Christians for the coming hardscrabble times, it would matter whether I was preparing Christians in Beijing for another crack-down from the commies, or Christians in Somalia, preparing for a period of anarchistic foment and unrest. The difference in response is the difference between the catacombs and the cloister.
4 weeks ago
Q&A with Bill Flanagan | The Official Bob Dylan Site
Rock and roll was indeed an extension of what was going on – the big swinging bands – Ray Noble, Will Bradley, Glenn Miller, I listened to that music before I heard Elvis Presley. But rock and roll was high energy, explosive and cut down. It was skeleton music, came out of the darkness and rode in on the atom bomb and the artists were star headed like mystical Gods. Rhythm and blues, country and western, bluegrass and gospel were always there – but it was compartmentalized – it was great but it wasn’t dangerous. Rock and roll was a dangerous weapon, chrome plated, it exploded like the speed of light, it reflected the times, especially the presence of the atomic bomb which had preceded it by several years. Back then people feared the end of time. The big showdown between capitalism and communism was on the horizon. Rock and roll made you oblivious to the fear, busted down the barriers that race and religion, ideologies put up. We lived under a death cloud; the air was radioactive. There was no tomorrow, any day it could all be over, life was cheap. That was the feeling at the time and I’m not exaggerating. Doo-wop was the counterpart to rock and roll. Songs like “In the Still of the Night,” “Earth Angel,” “Thousand Miles Away,” those songs balanced things out, they were heartfelt and melancholy for a world that didn’t seem to have a heart. The doo-wop groups might have been an extension, too, of the Ink Spots and gospel music, but it didn’t matter; that was brand new too. Groups like the Five Satins and the Meadowlarks seemed to be singing from some imaginary street corner down the block. Jerry Lee Lewis came in like a streaking comet from some far away galaxy. Rock and roll was atomic powered, all zoom and doom. It didn’t seem like an extension of anything but it probably was.
4 weeks ago
Mary Midgley on cooperative thinking - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
Midgley quotes Colin McGinn describing his own philosophical education at Oxford, thirty years later, especially in classes with Gareth Evans: “Evans was a fierce debater, impatient and uncompromising; as I remarked, he skewered fools gladly (perhaps too gladly). The atmosphere in his class was intimidating and thrilling at the same time. As I was to learn later, this is fairly characteristic of philosophical debate. Philosophy and ego are never very far apart. Philosophical discussion can be ... a clashing of analytically honed intellects, with pulsing egos attached to them ... a kind of intellectual blood-sport, in which egos get bruised and buckled, even impaled.” To which Midgley replies, with her characteristic deceptively mild ironic tone:

Well, yes, so it can, but does it always have to? We can see that at wartime Oxford things turned out rather differently, because even bloodier tournaments and competitions elsewhere had made the normal attention to these games impossible. So, by some kind of chance, life had made a temporary break in the constant obsession with picking small faults in other people’s arguments – the continuing neglect of what were meant to be central issues – that had become habitual with the local philosophers. It had interrupted those distracting feuds which were then reigning, as in any competitive atmosphere feuds always do reign, preventing serious attempts at discussion, unless somebody deliberately controls them.

And Midgley doesn't shy away from stating bluntly what the thinks about the intellectual habits that Gareth Evans was teaching young Colin McGinn and others: “Such habits, while they prevail, simply stop people doing any real philosophy.”
4 weeks ago
Remembering Bob Silvers
Bob kept a mental list of what he called “non-words”—that is, expressions so over-used that they had lost all their force. In one of my first articles, back in 1973, I used the phrase “in terms of.” He insisted on deleting it, because, he explained, writers used it as filler when they thought there was some relation between A and B but did not know what the relation was. Never again did I use “in terms of,” and I have blue-penciled it whenever I’ve found it in the papers of my students. Bob left a mark on writing and reading that will last for generations.
4 weeks ago
The Iron Law Of Evaluation And Other Metallic Rules - Gwern.net
• The Iron Law of Evaluation: The expected value of any net impact assessment of any large scale social program is zero.

The Iron Law arises from the experience that few impact assessments of large scale2 social programs have found that the programs in question had any net impact. The law also means that, based on the evaluation efforts of the last twenty years, the best a priori estimate of the net impact assessment of any program is zero, i.e., that the program will have no effect.

• The Stainless Steel Law of Evaluation: The better designed the impact assessment of a social program, the more likely is the resulting estimate of net impact to be zero.

This law means that the more technically rigorous the net impact assessment, the more likely are its results to be zero - or not effect. Specifically, this law implies that estimating net impacts through randomized controlled experiments, the avowedly best approach to estimating net impacts, is more likely to show zero effects than other less rigorous approaches. [pg5]

• The Brass Law of Evaluation: The more social programs are designed to change individuals, the more likely the net impact of the program will be zero.

This law means that social programs designed to rehabilitate individuals by changing them in some way or another are more likely to fail. The Brass Law may appear to be redundant since all programs, including those designed to deal with individuals, are covered by the Iron Law. This redundancy is intended to emphasize the especially difficult task in designing and implementing effective programs that are designed to rehabilitate individuals.

• The Zinc Law of Evaluation: Only those programs that are likely to fail are evaluated.

Of the several metallic laws of evaluation, the zinc law has the most optimistic slant since it implies that there are effective programs but that such effective programs are never evaluated. It also implies that if a social program is effective, that characteristic is obvious enough and hence policy makers and others who sponsor and fund evaluations decide against evaluation.
sociology  politics 
4 weeks ago
Mark Ravenhill on the trouble with television | Media | The Guardian
"The thing about TV drama," she said after a few ladles of punch, "is whatever they commission - docs or cops or drama-doc - what they really want is a little half-hour or 50-minute morality play." I almost understood her, but I wanted more. "TV drama hates a loose ending - it hates an unanswered question," she explained. "Script editors and directors and producers always feel they have to teach the viewer something. They always want you to get to the scene where you say, 'And the moral of the story is ...' It's very boring to write."

She's right, of course. There's a tablet of commandments in soap opera (Lou Beale has them with her, I imagine, on Mount Walford) - a set of liberal values. "Be true to yourself"; "talk about your feelings"; "learn to forgive and move on"; "accept difference"; and "you're still family even after the murder/arson/substance abuse". Most of the plots of the soaps are generated when one of the characters strays from these commandments and the others rush around the Street or Square or Village trying to get them back living by these liberal values until - whoops! - another character slips and the game is on again. And again and again. The message is clear: learn these values or be ostracised by your community and banished to panto in Crewe.

This teaching of moral values is spreading across the TV drama spectrum. The wards of Holby City now live by the same principles, as do the cops at Sun Hill. Even Billie and the Doctor had to learn this time around, in a way that Tom Baker would never have done, that "Daleks have feelings too", and "you can travel in time but you mustn't forget your family". It seems there's nowhere in time or space, or the TV schedule, that can fully escape what they call in American sitcom script meetings "hugs and learning".
tv  ethics 
4 weeks ago
The Benedict Option or the Augustinian Call? | Comment Magazine
The uniquely Dreher-ish rendition of these analyses and proposals by others repurposes them within a project that is narrow and reactionary, with little of the outlandish beauty of grace. This is probably my biggest concern: that Dreher's idiosyncratic repackaging of the historic disciplines and formative practices of the church retroactively makes newcomers and outsiders mistake the Great Tradition with the narrowness of the Benedict Option—that the catholic heritage of the faith gets owned by the BenOp™, thereby associating the treasures and riches of the tradition with a particular take that is ultimately parochial and reactionary.

For example, was John Calvin extolling Rod Dreher's Benedict Option when he hoped that the entire city of Geneva could be reformed as a magnum monasterium? When Abraham Kuyper founded a Christian political party, a Christian newspaper, and a Christian university, was he unwittingly a practitioner of the Benedict Option? When Reformed communities in Michigan or Ontario built Christians schools alongside their churches, were they building arks in despair of the culture around them? Is Stanley Hauerwas merely an early adopter of the BenOp™? No, because they all had a fundamentally different posture and hope. Their proposals and actions grew out of the logic of mission and not merely as a "strategy" reacting to the times. They had fundamentally different understandings of the relationship between the church and the world.
4 weeks ago
Can Trees Save the World After We’re Gone? | Literary Hub
Can a tree be feral? I return to my starting question with the sense that, in this emergent Anthropocene, ferality indeed might offer the best hope for trees, and a boost for human prospects as well. I’m back with the copse of Ailanthus in Bussey Brook Meadow, watching their lithe boles bend springily in the city breeze. A steel howl rises from beyond the trees where the Acela train slices through the neighborhood on its way out of the city; lazy motes of passenger jets high above contrast with the staccato flocks of sparrows rippling the sky into tweed. On the tangled bank of the mesa, refuse peeks out from beneath the bittersweet underbrush: a bruised shoe, a tangle of copper flashing, a torn page of roofing paper, all nestle together in the loose black soil. And the slender Ailanthus, towering above, dapple these mingled objects and the promiscuous vines with a softening light. Throughout the city, stands of Ailanthus such as this mark provisional and temporary demarcations of property; they fill the vacant lots, springing from amid the tires and wreckage of fences. They shelter the trash-pickers and the gleaners, clutch and hold the poisoned soils that would otherwise run off the salvage lots into sewers that flow into Boston Harbor. These trees treasure up their carbon in dark abundance, in compounds that compose fungible resources of elemental matter and overflowing possibility. A century ago, from the dizzy imperial heights of industrial progress, it was possible to envision the city after us returning to wild forest; today, we might do better to acknowledge that a city is a feral forest, always and already; to know that forms of life are forever branching, and that bewilderment is our natural habitat.
4 weeks ago
The lie of the land: does environmentalism have a future in the age of Trump? | Books | The Guardian
This sense of the uniqueness of places, and of the cultures that sprang from them, had been what pushed me towards green activism in the first place. From a young age I had an inchoate sense that much of the world’s colour, beauty and distinctiveness was being bulldozed away in the name of money and progress. Some old magic, some connection, was being snuffed out in the process. It must be 20 years since I read the autobiography of the late travel writer Norman Lewis, The World, The World, but the last sentence stays with me. Wandering the hills of India, Lewis is ask by a puzzled local why he spends his life travelling instead of staying at home. What is he looking for? “I am looking for the people who have always been there,” replies Lewis, “and belong to the places where they live. The others I do not wish to see.”

As a writer, whether of fiction or non-fiction, I have been looking for the same thing. That first book of mine, it turned out, was a journey in search of people who belong. It was a defence of a threatened fragility. A few years later, I wrote another, this time about globalisation’s impact on England, my home country. I’ve since written novels and essays and poems and they always seem, however hard I try to write about something else, to circle back around to that primal question: what does it mean to belong to a place, to a people, to nature, in a time in which belonging is everywhere under attack? Does it mean anything? Why should it matter?
4 weeks ago
Classical architecture makes us happy. So why not build more of it? | Coffee House
There are two major reasons that more British cities are not beautiful. Firstly, there are the architects themselves, who tend to prefer innovative buildings over traditional ones. In 1987 a psychologist called David Halpern did a survey of students rating buildings by attractiveness and while almost everyone had similar tastes, uniquely the architecture students rated everyone else’s favourite as their least favourite and vice versa. Curiously the longer someone had been studying architecture the more contrarian their tastes.

This makes sense, in the same way that people who study music their whole lives tend to prefer more idiosyncratic and unpopular artists and styles than what’s played on Capital Gold. But there may be a status aspect too; just as deliberately unpopular modern art is a status signal – because any idiot can like a Rembrandt – so unloved architecture sends a similar message.

However the bigger problem is British planning law, under which Georgian architecture is impossible to build because of well-meaning regulations; some of the most beautiful and sought after houses in London break up to 12 different rules.
4 weeks ago
How the stress industry is gaslighting Britain
My work, which recommends traditional problem-solving skills and robustness training rather than soothing and drugs, has led to accusations that I am ‘a heartless bitch’. But my books present evidence that ‘stress management’ has not just failed to halt spiralling mental health casualties and work absenteeism; it has itself helped to create the pandemic. Despite the Health and Safety Executive’s new ‘stress’ standards and costly initiatives, the number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2014/15 was unimproved at 440,000, with 234,000 new cases. [...]

The sociologist David Wainwright, a senior lecturer in the health department at Bath University, is an opponent of playground ‘stress awareness’ and ‘safe spaces’ on campuses: ‘Over the past 40 years there has been an inversion of traditional values of courage, resilience and stoicism,’ he says. ‘A “stiff upper lip” is increasingly seen as a problem and encouraging people to confront their fears is viewed as grossly insensitive or damaging. The outcome is an amplified sense of emotional vulnerability and the widespread belief that the challenges and problems of everyday life cannot be managed without professional intervention.’
4 weeks ago
Now 87, Norman Podhoretz has outlived his friends and adversaries
“My view of life is, most people mind their own business,” he said. “They go to make a living, they got marriages, they got kids. And only a small minority of people venture forth into things that don’t have a direct bearing on their lives.” After the battles of the 1960s and ’70s, he said, the air has gone out of such disputation. “All Americans really care about is sports,” he said. “They pretend to care about other things, but what they care about is sports.”
politics  culture 
4 weeks ago
A ‘Digital Alchemist’ Unravels the Mysteries of Complexity
You’re absolutely right that it’s completely counterintuitive. We typically think entropy means disorder, and so a disordered structure would have more entropy than an ordered structure. That can be true under certain circumstances, but it’s not always true, and in these cases, it’s not. I prefer to think of entropy as related to options: The more options a system of particles has to arrange itself, the higher the entropy. In certain circumstances, it’s possible for a system to have more options—more possible arrangements—of its building blocks if the system is ordered. What happens is the particles try to maximize the amount of space that they have to wiggle around in. If you can wiggle, you can rearrange your position and orientation. The more positions, the more options, and thus the more entropy. So you imagine these baseballs in water. They are moving around—translating, rotating. They’re jiggling, because of the thermal motion of the water molecules. And what these systems want to do is space out the particles enough so that it maximizes the amount of wiggle room available to all the particles. Depending on the particle shape, that can lead to extremely complicated arrangements.
science  math 
5 weeks ago
'London Bridge is down': the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death | UK news | The Guardian
More overwhelming than any of this, though, there will be an almighty psychological reckoning for the kingdom that she leaves behind. The Queen is Britain’s last living link with our former greatness – the nation’s id, its problematic self-regard – which is still defined by our victory in the second world war. One leading historian, who like most people I interviewed for this article declined to be named, stressed that the farewell for this country’s longest-serving monarch will be magnificent. “Oh, she will get everything,” he said. “We were all told that the funeral of Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But actually it will really be over when she goes.” [...]

The second Elizabethan age is likely to be remembered as a reign of uninterrupted national decline, and even, if she lives long enough and Scotland departs the union, as one of disintegration. Life and politics at the end of her rule will be unrecognisable from their grandeur and innocence at its beginning. “We don’t blame her for it,” Philip Ziegler, the historian and royal biographer, told me. “We have declined with her, so to speak.” [...]

What we think of as the ancient rituals of the monarchy were mainly crafted in the late 19th century, towards the end of Victoria’s reign. Courtiers, politicians and constitutional theorists such as Walter Bagehot worried about the dismal sight of the Empress of India trooping around Windsor in her donkey cart. If the crown was going to give up its executive authority, it would have to inspire loyalty and awe by other means – and theatre was part of the answer. “The more democratic we get,” wrote Bagehot in 1867, “the more we shall get to like state and show.”
England  history  London 
5 weeks ago
Why Spelling Counts | John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
The ugly truth about work in this Real World, despite a generation or more of affirmation of each student’s precious wonderfulness—or, to be sure, in the alternative situation of a ruthless passing-along of barely educated pupils to the next grade level by overworked teachers whose attentions are disproportionately occupied by the variously troubled “problem children” in each excessively large class—is that few jobs, even in the Information Age, require and reward originality, or even creativity to any significant degree.

All jobs, however, require correct and complete following of instructions.

Those jobs—again, that would be all jobs—require, furthermore, such following of instructions regardless of whether one sees and agrees with the value of each instruction.

Failing to comply with the express directives of one’s supervisor is not generally understood as a mark of individual specialness. Nor do supervisors typically strain to “see past” such deviations into some underlying brilliance that more than compensates for this disappointment of expectations. No, not following instructions to the letter is more typically termed “cause for termination.”
5 weeks ago
(Re)Secularizing the University | The American Conservative
I think that Marcuse’s stance represents a slippery slope, establishing as it does a tribunal of censorship consisting of ideologically-charged activist milieus. It effectively means that illiberalism must be a characteristic of “liberal” society. This principally represents a contradiction and fails to consider the strong possibility that, sooner or later, the continually narrowing Overton window will close on the speech of the very people who sought to bar the speech of others. In any case, one must wonder: just who is fit to be arbiter, and what makes them—and not others—the interpretative conscience of society, suited to ban expression they deplore? In our contemporary moment, the strange irony is that these arbiters aim to foreclose lines of inquiry they have never even directly encountered or considered. But if they had, the irony would be even greater. The arbiters have survived, so why wouldn’t others? Marcuse’s advocacy of social and legal intolerance toward supposed intolerance reproduces the very repression that he lamented and hoped to prevent. And one wonders just how he managed to arrive at such conclusions as early as 1965. Not that he was prescient; as a prominent communist theorist, had he already completely forgotten the McCarthy hearings?
politics  academentia 
5 weeks ago
The Academic Home of Trumpism - The Chronicle of Higher Education
In other words, one of the things that is most disturbing about Trump for liberal and conservative elites (including some East Coast Straussians) — his utter disdain for expertise and convention — is what is most promising about him from the point of view of the Claremonsters. "There’s a fundamental clash between the self-evident truths of the Declaration and the worldview of the progressives," said Voegeli. "Our view is that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, whereas progressives are inclined to think that government derives just powers from the expertise of the experts." Voegeli’s sense that Trump drew his power from the consent of the governed, often in open opposition to the expertise of the experts, connected with what Kesler had earlier praised to me as Trump’s "willingness to fight and his openness to changing both the Democratic and the Republican establishments." Or, as Anton put it in "The Flight 93 Election": Only a "loudmouth" could outshout the "bipartisan junta."
politics  election2016  strauss 
5 weeks ago
The War of the Worlds (1898)
The War of the Worlds is as much metaphorical fiction as rational extrapolation, and that the many touches of carefully observed verisimilitude in the novel reinforce rather than contradict this metaphoricity. Big guns are explosive. Big guns are the technology of big war, and war, bigger even than the one Lieutenant-Colonel Chesney foretold, was the coming thing. We can, in other words, take seriously the ‘war’ in Wells’ title, here. It’s yet another way in which he was surprisingly prescient, treating war not as warriors meeting on a battlefield but as massed tides of refugees. As civilians terrorised and massacred, living under bombardment and gas-attack. The final chapter of the novel’s first book (16: ‘the Exodus from London’) is not only one of the first but also one of the most powerful representations in fiction of the way war would come to figure in the 20th-century: huge crowds of non-belligerents flooding away from the fighting in fear of their lives. War in The War of the Worlds is no longer a horizontal interaction between two armies. It now has a terrible vertical vector—something the 20th-century world would come to know only too bitterly, from shells and bombs to V2s, cruise missiles and drones plummeting down from on-high. When the narrator says ‘suddenly, like a thing falling upon me from without, came fear [Wells, War, 24] he is describing the Martians s externalisations of a state of mind. Indeed that, in a crucial sense, is what The War of the Worlds is about.
SF  modernism  war 
5 weeks ago
Two Feeds, Two Scarcities
As we think about the firehose of the Stream — that never-ending reverse-chronological scroll of events that has become the primary metaphor of the web, via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and who-knows-what-else — it’s worth noting that the Stream was originally a solution for scarcity, not abundance. That is, the reason that Facebook made the News Feed was that people got tired checking out all of their friend’s Facebook walls only to find there were no updates. So Facebook borrowed a lesson from RSS, that had solved this problem years earlier: serialize contributions from different places into a single reverse chronological feed. This made sure that when ever you logged into Facebook you were guaranteed there was some activity with which to engage. To repeat, the Stream here was a solution for too little activity. By pooling activity and time-ordering it, a sense of abundance was created.
5 weeks ago
Making Athens Great Again - The Atlantic
Socrates’s compatriots wanted to make Athens great again. They wanted to restore the culture of kleos that had once made them feel so terrific about themselves. It’s not hard to understand why Plato fled a citizenry that, in struggling to recover from its sense of diminishment, was prepared to destroy what had been best about the polis—the extraordinary man whose subversive challenges to blinkered opinion and self-righteous patriotism held the key to resurrecting any exceptionalism worth aspiring to.

And yet eventually, after his years of self-imposed exile, Plato came back to Athens, bringing his newly gathered learning along with him, to take up where Socrates had left off. Except Plato didn’t philosophize where Socrates had. He abandoned the agora and created the Academy, the first European university, which attracted thinkers—purportedly even a couple of women—from across greater Hellas, including, at the age of 17 or 18, Aristotle. Foremost among the problems they pondered was how to create a society in which a person like Socrates would flourish, issuing stringent calls to self-scrutiny, as relevant now as ever.
politics  philosophy 
5 weeks ago
Why check-cashing stores are a good deal, according to a UPenn professor - Business Insider
Outsiders may think the signage at a check casher — resembling that of a fast-food menu — is gauche compared with simple, polished interiors of their local bank branch. But that's a feature, not a bug.

Customers "felt like they knew exactly what they were paying when they went to the check casher. And if you go into a check casher, you will see there are signs that span the teller window that list every product that's for sale and how much it costs," Servon said. "The transparency is really critical."

On the contrary, customers couldn't predict when banks would charge them a fee or what that amount would be — a deal-breaker when you're operating on a tight budget.

"Walk into your bank branch and you'll see there's no literature like that that makes it obvious what's on offer," Servon said.

Moreover, Servon writes, checking accounts were the antithesis of transparent. The terms and conditions were long, technical, and laden with jargon. Many people can't afford to wonder when their deposit will clear, and they prefer paying a small fee for the clarity and speed offered by check cashers.
5 weeks ago
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