Gnod: No Quentin S. Crisp

I discovered an interesting website: Gnod.  Quentin S. Crisp linked to it in a comment on his blog.  He was pointing out that his name isn’t included in the map of literature.  Nonetheless, the map is still pretty cool.  I tried out some other author’s names and it was interesting to see the other authors that were mapped.  The website also has a map of movies as well.

Matt Cardin: What I read in 2009

I was just now checking out Matt Cardin’s blog The Teeming Brain.  He had some new posts since the last time I visited.  I was impressed by one in particular: What I read in 2009.  He listed a wide variety of reading material.  Some I was already familiar with, but there was much I hadn’t come across before.  I particularly appreciated his listing of articles.  The following are a few that caught my attention.

Whose Country?
By Andrew Sullivan

Buchanan, of all people, should know better than these tedious recurring explosions of racial panic. And, of course, he does know better. He has read more history than most pundits. He is personally a civil and decent man. But he feels these things in such a profound and tribal way that what he knows is submerged by tribal fear and expressed as hateful hackery. But this much is true and deserves restating:

Black Americans have shed blood in every American war since the Revolution. This country, even the very Capitol building in which today’s legislators now demand to see the birth certificate of the first black president, was built on the sweat and sinew of slaves. Before we were people in the eyes of the law, before we had the right to vote, before we had a black president, we were here, helping make this country as it is today. We are as American as it gets. And frankly, the time of people who think otherwise is passing. If that’s the country Buchanan wants to hold onto, well, he’s right, he is losing it.

And about time too.

I couldn’t agree more.

Rand’s Atlas Is Shrugging With a Growing Load
By Amity Shlaes

Some assumed the libertarian philosopher would fall from view when the Berlin Wall fell. Or that at least there would be a sense of mission accomplished. One Rand fan, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, wrote in his memoir that he regretted Rand hadn’t lived until 1989 or 1990. She’d missed the collapse of communism that she had so often predicted.

But “Atlas Shrugged” is becoming a political “Harry Potter” because Rand shone a spotlight on a problem that still exists: Not pre-1989 Soviet communism, but 2009-style state capitalism. Rand depicted government and companies colluding in the name of economic rescue at the expense of the entrepreneur. That entrepreneur is like the titan Atlas who carries the rest of the world on his shoulders — until he doesn’t.

Yeah, this is true to an extent.  I, however, think it misses a major issue. 

The companies colluding with the government once were entrepreneurs themselves.  The entrepreneurs became successful by beating out the other entrepreneurs.  As history shows, many successful entrepreneurs became powerful by fighting dirty which included using political influence when it was convenient.  The problem is that many of these pro-capitalists use Rand’s capitalistic mythology to support their views of state corporatism. 

Sadly, Rand’s vision of honest, hardworking entrepreneurs are the exception to the rule; and they aren’t the ones that get filthy rich.  In reality as it is, entrepreneurs are as devious as any other group of people including politicians.  There is a very good reason that Rand is most popular for her fiction that reads like Romance novels.  She does tell a good story.

Critical thinking? You need knowledge
By Diane Ravitch

Just a couple of years later, “the project method’’ took the education world by storm. Instead of a sequential curriculum laid out in advance, the program urged that boys and girls engage in hands-on projects of their own choosing, ideally working cooperatively in a group. It required activity, not docility, and awakened student motivation. It’s remarkably similar to the model advocated by 21st-century skills enthusiasts.

This article does make some good criticisms.  However, the traditional method of teaching is problematic in its own way.  Traditional rote memory does have its merits, but it has its weaknesses in a world of such vastly increasing amounts of knowledge.  It is true that the hands-on approach doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of helping kids to really understand.

This article isn’t criticizing critical thinking.  Neither the traditional rote memorizing nor the modern hands-on methodology teaches critical thinking skills to any great degree.  I personally think that education should include the best of both of these methods all the while teaching actual critical thinking skills.  I don’t have any solutions to offer, but I’m always irritated by the attitude that the past was better.

The problem, for certain, isn’t that good teaching methodologies don’t exist.  The problem is that teachers have little motivation to take risks by stepping outside of pre-packaged curriculum.  Most parents aren’t wealthy enough to send their kids to private schools that offer the best of education and most politicians aren’t interested in encouraging public schools to offer the best of education.

Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students
By David Glenn

If you’ve ever sat through a teaching seminar, you’ve probably heard a lecture about “learning styles.” Perhaps you were told that some students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and others are kinesthetic learners. Or maybe you were given one of the dozens of other learning-style taxonomies that scholars and consultants have developed.

Almost certainly, you were told that your instruction should match your students’ styles. For example, kinesthetic learners—students who learn best through hands-on activities—are said to do better in classes that feature plenty of experiments, while verbal learners are said to do worse.

Now four psychologists argue that you were told wrong. There is no strong scientific evidence to support the “matching” idea, they contend in a paper published this week in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. And there is absolutely no reason for professors to adopt it in the classroom.

I was prepared to be critical of this article, but it turns out to have been a fair analysis of a complex topic.  Basically, the conclusion is that there needs to be more research.

Confessions of a Middlebrow Professor
By W.A. Pannapacker

The Great Books—along with all those Time-Life series—were often “purchased on the installment plan by parents who had never owned a book but were willing to sacrifice to provide their children with information about the world that had been absent from their own upbringing,” Jacoby writes. They represented an old American belief—now endangered—that “anyone willing to invest time and energy in self-education might better himself.”

What has been lost, according to Jacoby, is a culture of intellectual effort. We are increasingly ignorant, but we do not know enough to be properly ashamed. If we are determined to get on in life, we believe it will not have anything to do with our ability to reference Machiavelli or Adam Smith at the office Christmas party. The rejection of the Great Books signifies a declining belief in the value of anything without a direct practical application, combined with the triumph of a passive entertainment—as anyone who teaches college students can probably affirm.

For all their shortcomings, the Great Books—along with many other varieties of middlebrow culture—reflected a time when the liberal arts commanded more respect. They were thought to have practical value as a remedy for parochialism, bigotry, social isolation, fanaticism, and political and economic exploitation. The Great Books had a narrower conception of “greatness” than we might like today, but their foundational ideals were radically egalitarian and proudly intellectual.

As Beam concludes, “The Great Books are dead. Long live the Great Books.” And, I might add: Long live middlebrow culture.

I’m always of a mixed opinion about The Great Books.  I do think that many of them are great for a reason, but I’m also a fan of lowbrow philosophizing and counterculture thought.  I want the best of both worlds.  What I dislike is ignorance.  I don’t like the populist ignorance of intellectual knowledge and I don’t like the intellectual elite ignorance of anything that exists outside of their specialization.

This middlebrow perspective seems admirable in that it’s taking a broad perspective.  It was originally the purpose of a liberal arts education.  It’s at the heart of the ideal of meritocracy.  It feels like the reality of meritocracy is dead, but the ideal is still lovely.  This article relates to another article (Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School?) which I wrote about in another post (Interesting Stuff on the Web: 1/13/10).

Please Save This Nation From the Birthers
By Laurie Fendrich

Instead, I’d like to ask everyone involved in education–at any level–the following question. Where did we go wrong? Why did we end up with so many citizens who have been through our schools who don’t know how to distinguish between fiction and fact, or rumor and truth?

Some, like Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, blame the Internet. Would that it were so simple. True, it takes only a few bucks to get yourself a Web site where you can post whatever slimy hogwash you want. And even the dullest crayons in the box can stumble their way to that post. But posting hogwash and mustering passionate followers is an entirely different matter. “True believers” (as opposed to people using their reason) frequently morph into an ugly mob. (Shouting down your Congressional representative, for example, constitutes ugly mob behavior.)

Scariest of all is the “mainstream media,” which keeps stoking this stinky fire–especially Lou Dobbs at CNN, and with the implicit approval of CNN. After giving credence to “Birthers” by saying, “Well, perhaps, maybe, blah, blah, blah,” Dobbs wasn’t even chastised. Instead, CNN’s president Jonathan Klein hid behind the wretchedly abused excuse of “freedom of speech.” Freedom of speech! That lofty idea, born of the Enlightenment, now used as a smokescreen for a major news organization to deliberately spread malicious rumors? (If you’re wondering about the reason for CNN’s behavior, you don’t need to look far. Hint: money.)

The Birther movement reflects our failure as parents and teachers to educate our children. We no longer seem to care if they become rational adults. This absurd movement reflects a wholesale abandonment of the original American idea of an educated, democratic citizenry.

Three definitely is a failure somewhere.  If it isn’t the education system at the root of the problem, then I don’t know what is.  There will always be an irrational element to society, but it’s perplexing how it becomes mainstream in a society that has so much educational opportunities.

The Rural Brain Drain
By Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas

What is going on in small-town America? The nation’s mythology of small towns comes to us straight from the The Music Man’s set designers. Many Americans think about flyover country or Red America only during the culture war’s skirmishes or campaign season. Most of the time, the rural crisis takes a back seat to more visible big-city troubles. So while there is a veritable academic industry devoted to chronicling urban decline, small towns’ struggles are off the grid.

And yet, upon close inspection, the rural and urban downturns have much in common, even though conventional wisdom casts the small town as embodiment of all that is right with America and the inner city as all that is wrong with it.

I’ve been thinking about this recently.  It’s from these rural areas that much of the outrage arises.  Combined with how electoral colleges represent underpopulated areas, this creates a weird political dynamic.  The problematic part is that the media pays a lot of attention to the outrage that results but little attention to the social context that creates that outrage.

“But in this dark world where he now dwelt…”

I’m in the process of reading again The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen.  In a recent discussion with Quentin S. Crisp, I was mentioning how Derrick Jensen is more depressing than even Thomas Ligotti. 

The more I think about it, though, their two views do seem to resonate to a degree.  Jensen is an environmentalist and writes about environmentalism.  Ligotti, although not an environmentalist as far as I know, relies heavily on the Zappfe’s philosophy and Zappfe was an environmentalist who inspired the beginnings of deep ecology.

There is one other similarity between the two.  Both take suffering very seriously which I appreciate, but there is a limitation to this.  I don’t know how else to explain this limitation other than to use an example.  Here is a scene from A Scanner Darkly (the video is from the movie and the quote is from the novel):

“There had been a time, once, when he had not lived like this… In former days Bob Arctor had run his affairs differently; there had been a wife much like other wives, two small daughters, a stable household that got swept and cleaned and emptied out daily, the dead newspapers not even opened carried from the front walk to the garbage pail, or even, sometimes, read. But then one day, while lifting out an electric corn popper from under the sink, Arctor had hit his head on the corner of a kitchen cabinet directly above him. The pain, the cut in his scalp, so unexpected and undeserved, had for some reason cleared away the cobwebs. It flashed on him instantly that he didn’t hate the kitchen cabinet; he hated his wife, his two daughters, his whole house, the back yard with its power mower, the garbage, the radiant heating system, the front yard, the fence, the whole fucking place and everyone in it. He wanted a divorce; he wanted to split. And so he had, very soon. And entered, by degrees, a new and somber life, lacking all of that.

“Probably he should have regretted his decision. He had not. That life had been one without excitement, with no adventure. It had been too safe.  All the elements that made it up were right there before his eyes, and nothing new could ever be expected. It was like, he had once thought, a little plastic boat that would sail on forever, without incident, until it finally sank, which would be a secret relief to all.

But in this dark world where he now dwelt, ugly things and surprising things and once in a long while a tiny wondrous thing spilled out at him constantly; he could count on nothing.

 ~ Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly (the book)

The last sentence is particularly what I had in mind as being a contrast to that of Jensen and Ligotti.  I’ve written before comparing Ligotti with PKD(Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti, PKD Trumps Harpur and Ligotti).  There are certain similarities: both are mainly fiction writers who also wrote extensively about philosophical ideas, both willing to look unflinchingly at the sources of human suffering.  But the difference is that PKD expresses an endless sense of curiosity, wonder, awe (see: PKD, ACIM, and Burroughs, PKD on God as Infinity).

I just love the way he describes this sense of reality: “ugly things and surprising things and once in a long while a tiny wondrous thing spilled out at him constantly…”  That is beautiful.  It’s this kind of verbal expression that inspires my desire to write.

I’ve had many experiences that have touched me deeply, and they’re always at the back of my mind.  Even though I’ve rarely written about them, I strongly desire to write about them.  There are several things that hold me back.  First, they’re experiences that are a bit on the uncommon side.  Second, I don’t feel capable of of fully describing them in words, of capturing that actual in-the-moment experience.

Let me just mention some of them briefly so that you’ll have an idea of what I speak of:

  • Dream – In general, dreams are perplexing to write about.  One particular dream was of a theatre where spirits would come and go, but when the spirits were present the theatre transformed into a vast desert landscape.  The experience of it was profound and mysterious.  More than any other, this dream has always stuck with me.
  • Psychedlic – I experimented with drugs in my 20s.  I only did mushrooms once, but they really blew me away.  I felt the whole world alive, breathing in unison, and the field was shimmering like that scene from Gladiator.  Concepts such as ‘animism’ or panentheism are just interesting philosophies until you experience them.
  • Spiritual – In some ways, the most haunting experiences I’ve had happened while fully awake and when no drugs were involved.  There was a period of my life where depression, spiritual practice, and a broken heart all came together.  At the bottom of this suffering, I came across a truly incomprehensible experience of life, almost a vision.  It was a unified sense of the world that was both absolutely full and utterly empty.  My response to it was at times a sense of loneliness but it was an intimate loneliness that transcended my individuality.  It was a presence that wasn’t my presence.  It just was whatever it was.

Any of those experiences are probably meaningless to anyone who hasn’t had similar experiences.  Of course, they are far from meaningless to me.  Each individual experience is meaningful to me in that they’ve all influenced me.  I can even now viscerally remember these experiences.  More importantly, these experiences together are meaningful because they remind me of my sense of wonder.  The world is a truly strange place.

The animistic visions I’ve had particularly give me a sense of wonder on a daily basis.  I can to some degree shift my perception into an animistic mode.  I can put my mind into that sense of anticipation where the whole world feels like it’s on the verge of becoming something entirely else. 

This animistic sensibility combines both PKD’s gnostic revelation and the shamanistic worldview.  Much of PKD’s writing conveys a sense of paranoia.  I think this modern sense of paranoia is essentially the same thing as the premodern shamanistic view of the natural world.  The suffering of life is more than mere biological horror, more than mere existential angst.  The darkness isn’t empty.  There are things out there unseen that aren’t human.  The world is alive with intelligences.  The seeming empty spaces have substance.  We aren’t separate from the world.  Our skin doesn’t protect us from invasion.  Most of that which exists is indifferent to humans, but some things may take interest.  When we look out at the world, the world looks back.

We modern humans bumble our way through the world oblivious to all that surrounds us.  The police protect us.  Various public and private institutions make sure our daily lives run smoothly.  We generally don’t think about any of it… until something goes wrong.  The indigenous person lived differently than this.  A tribal person depended on themselves and others in their tribe to take care of everything.  If you’re walking through the wilderness, you have to pay attention in order to remain alive.  The possibility of death is all around one.  Death is a much more common event for hunter-gatherers.  When someone is injured or becomes sick, there is no emergency room.

This seems rather scary to a modern person.  However, to the indigenous person, this is simply the way one lives.  If your life had always been that way, it would feel completely normal.  You simply know the world around you.  Being aware would be a completely natural state of mind.  All of the world can be read for the person who knows the signs.  Just by listening to the calls of birds you can know precisely where the tiger is, and you simply make sure you’re not in that same place.

The problem is that I’m not an indigenous person and I’m definitely no shaman.  I at times can see something beyond normal perception, but I don’t know how to read the signs.  If you go by polls, most people have experienced something weird in their lifetime.  The weird is all around us all of the time.  We just rarely think about it.  And when we do notice it, we usually try to forget about it as quickly as possible.

Yes, Jensen is correct about how humans victimize one another, is correct about how civilization is destroying all life on earth.  And, yes, Ligotti is correct about how humans are paralyzed by suffering, is correct that all of human culture arose as a distraction from this primal horror.  Yes, yes, yes.  Even so, there is something beyond all of that.

Charles M. Blow: Conservatism & Racism

Charles M. Blow of The New York Times often has interesting things to say about conservatism and racism, separately and as they relate to each other.

A study by Benjamin Edelman, an assistant professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, titled “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?” and published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that subscriptions to online pornography sites are “more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles, and sexuality.”

No surprise there.  It’s actually rather predictable.  It’s just human nature that what is forbidden becomes more tempting.  It’s the reason why conservative states have the highest divorce rates.  It’s why some studies have shown that abstinence education might actually increase sexual activity.  I suppose it’s even related to why the war on drugs is a complete failure considering the majority of the US population will use illegal drugs in their life.

Simply put, it’s about fear-fueled anger. But anger is not an idea. It’s not a plan. And it’s not a vision for the future. It is, however, the second stage of grief, right after denial and before bargaining.

The right is on the wrong side of history. The demographics of the country are rapidly changing, young people are becoming increasingly liberal on social issues, and rigid, dogmatic religious stricture is loosening its grip on the throat of our culture.

The right has seen the enemy, and he is the future.

Yeah.  That has been my assessment for quite a while now.  Demographics are destiny.

Lately I’ve been consuming as much conservative media as possible (interspersed with shots of Pepto-Bismol) to get a better sense of the mind and mood of the right. My read: They’re apocalyptic. They feel isolated, angry, betrayed and besieged. And some of their “leaders” seem to be trying to mold them into militias.

Many have already noted the every increasing outrage on the right. 

It is disconcerting that Christian fundamentalists and other rightwing extremists have been behind more terrorist incidents in the US than Muslims.  But what bothers me even more is that all of this anger is so unfocused or somehow unclear.  It doesn’t seem like many rightwingers are all that clear what they’re angry about and their anger too often seems misdirected.  They have reason to be angry, but I’d prefer they quit attacking doctors, police officers, gays, and people attending churches.

Those following the New York Post cartoon flap might find this interesting.

Six studies under the title “Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization, and Contemporary Consequences” were published in last February’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Among the relevant findings:

Historical representations explicitly depicting Blacks as apelike have largely disappeared in the United States, yet a mental association between Blacks and apes remains. Here, the authors demonstrate that U.S. citizens implicitly associate Blacks and apes.

And …

After having established that individuals mentally associate Blacks and apes, Study 4 demonstrated that this implicit association is not due to personalized, implicit attitudes and can operate beneath conscious awareness. In Study 5, we demonstrated that, even controlling for implicit anti-Black prejudice, the implicit association between Blacks and apes can lead to greater endorsement of violence against a Black suspect than against a White suspect. Finally, in Study 6, we demonstrated that subtle media representations of Blacks as apelike are associated with jury decisions to execute Black defendants.

This may provide some context for considering the motives of the cartoonist and his editors, and for understanding the strong public reaction.

I don’t have much to say about this other than pointing out that this is more evidence of the subtlety and pervasiveness of racism.

Where do babies come from?

Sadie: Where do babies come from?

Debbie: Where do you think they come from?

Sadie: Well. I think a stork, he umm, he drops it down and then, and then, a hole goes in your body and there’s blood everywhere, coming out of your head and then you push your belly button and then your butt falls off and then you hold your butt and you have to dig and you find the little baby.

Debbie: That’s exactly right.

Quote of the Day: 1/14/10

“…our hyper-emphasis on competition in all aspects of our public life leads immediately and inevitably to insecurity and hatred.  If you believe that the fundamental organizing principle of the world is competition (or if the fundamental organizing principle of your society is competition) you will perceive the world as full of ruthless competitors, all of whom will victimize you if they get the chance.  The world as you perceive it will begin to devolve into consisting entirely or almost entirely of victims and perpetrators; those who do, and those who get done to; the fuckers, and the fucked.  Your society will devolve — not in perception but in all truth — into these roles you have projected onto the world at large.  You will begin to believe that everyone is out to get you.  And why not?  After all, you are certainly out to get them.

In 1790, John Philpot Curran wrote, “It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active.  The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance, which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt.”  We’re probably more familiar with abolitionist Wendell Phillips’s version of this sentiment, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” which has been used to sell everything from increased military spending (already standing at 51.3 percent of the U.S. federal discretionary budget), to increased surveillance capabilities for the CIA and FBI, to a neat little hand-painted porcelain eagle night light I just saw in an ad (“perfect for den or office”) that’s available for only $15.95, plus $4.35 shipping and handling.

Nifty as this porcelain eagle may be, I think Curran and Phillips are wrong.  In fact, eternal vigilance doesn’t sound much like freedom to me, but just another form of slavery.  It would be more accurate to say that the price of slaveholding is eternal vigilance: Not only must you always be on the lookout for more avenues of exploitation, but you must also be on guard against slave rebellions, and must be especially vigilant against all those others you presume to be as devoid of humanity as you are.  Real freedom, it seems to me, as opposed to a nominal freedom that masks its opposite, would surely lead to a sense of peace.”

 ~ The Culture of Make Believe, Derrick Jensen, pp. 323-24

Google vs China, Capitalism vs Communism

Google is threatening to leave the Chinese market.  

Hackers attacked Google and one of the targets was the email accounts of chinese human rights activists.  Google has said they will no longer cooperate with Chinese censorship, but many have wondered why they ever agreed to do so in the first place.  They’ve lost all credibility in their supposed company policy of “do no evil”, but they’re apparently hoping to save their tarnished image.

In reality, Google cares little about human rights and censorship.  Google cares about profits and they’ve had losing profits in China because of all of the restrictions.  China may be the single largest market, but the costs of doing business there are very high.  Anyways, Google wasn’t directly concerned about the hacking of email accounts.  Google, instead, was concerned about the fact that hackers (probably working for China) were trying to steal information from Google including code.

Interesting Stuff on the Web: 1/13/10

Jesus Had A Cat [PIC]

This is, of course, assuming that Jesus himself wasn’t a cat.  Anyways, a lion-maned savior “walking on water” isn’t any great surprise for those familiar with astrotheology.

The Americanization of Mental Illness

It’s because of this kind of in-depth article that I appreciate The New York Times so much.

This is an area of study that fascinates me.  Mental illness and culture are topics of interest on their own, but combined they offer much insight.  As an American, it is easy to forget how different the world looks from the point of view of other cultures. 

Sadly, not only is ecological diversity dying out but so is cultural diversity.  I truly hope that Americanization never becomes entirely complete.

Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School?

The view presented in this article should confirm what many intellectual elite liberals already knew, but it may seem counter-intuitive or morally questionable to certain conservatives (i.e., those who think it’s a criticism to call someone intelligent and well-educated).

That insight led Mr. Martin to begin advocating what was then a radical idea in business education: that students needed to learn how to think critically and creatively every bit as much as they needed to learn finance or accounting. More specifically, they needed to learn how to approach problems from many perspectives and to combine various approaches to find innovative solutions.

In 1999, few others in the business-school world shared Mr. Martin’s view. But a decade and a seismic economic downturn later, things have changed. “I think there’s a feeling that people need to sharpen their thinking skills, whether it’s questioning assumptions, or looking at problems from multiple points of view,” says David A. Garvin, a Harvard Business School professor who is co-author with Srikant M. Datar and Patrick G. Cullen of an upcoming book, “Rethinking the M.B.A.: Business Education at a Crossroads.”

Learning how to think critically — how to imaginatively frame questions and consider multiple perspectives — has historically been associated with a liberal arts education, not a business school curriculum, so this change represents something of a tectonic shift for business school leaders. Mr. Martin even describes his goal as a kind of “liberal arts M.B.A.”

“The liberal arts desire,” he says, is to produce “holistic thinkers who think broadly and make these important moral decisions. I have the same goal.”

Considering multiple perspectives, dismissed as relativism by conservatives, is something that liberals excel at.  Liberal arts education lost it’s favor in recent decades.  The only thing students cared about was getting careers that made lots of money and so they got degrees in business and management.  The problem is that our democracy was built on the ideal of liberal arts education.  Having a widely educated public is supposed to make for a better voting public, but it turns out that it makes someone a better thinker in all areas of life including business.

This reminds me of how I once had some unintentional influence.  I believe it was sometime shortly after highschool.  I argued to my dad about the importance of critical thinking in that the human ability to use logic is one of the few things that truly differentiates humans from the rest of nature.  My dad was a professor of business management at the time and it just so happened that he was participating in a discussion about the curriculum of business majors.  Based on my argument, my dad suggested that logic courses should be included and I think his suggestion was accepted.

This article doesn’t provide any grand insight, but apparently it’s an insight that many people in the business field have so far lacked.  My dad was a proponent for teaching ethics to business students and I think it’s clear that ethics is inseparable from critical thinking skills.  It’s too bad that it took an economic downturn for leaders in the business field to figure this out.

Let’s Talk About Faith

The author made starts off with some decent points, but then offered some questionable analysis about the specific incident in question.  On the other hand, I did appreciate some of the comments.

13. Ken: Mr. Hume is a news host/reporter on FOX News. He is not a guest theologian who is invited to compare religions. Should Katie Couric over at CBS proclaim her religious views? What about Sawyer at CBS, Williams at NBC, etc.? Mr. Douthat should be astute enough to know that Mr. Hume was playing to the religious/cultural tendencies of his audience. As I am an Evangelical Christian, I would love for Tiger Woods and all people to come to Christ. However, the misuse of public airwaves, and the put down of Buddhism, exhibited by Mr. Hume is not the way to win converts.

107. jj: This column is a somewhat disingenuous, face-value analysis. I don’t think the problem with Brit Hume’s statement was any factual debate over whether Christianity offers a forgiveness or compassion that Buddhism does not. What I found outrageous was the arrogance and implied superiority Hume exhibited, in holding up his religion as a model for someone else.

I think that the tendency – even requirement, as you noted here – to proselytize is one of the most repellent things about Christianity (the same can be said for any religion that actively seeks to convert non-believers). Hume’s statement reflected the same condescension and patronizing arrogance that missionaries world over practice, in taking their beacon of light into the benighted lands. Buddhism is not a missionary religion.

The only forgiveness that Tiger Woods needs is from his family – certainly not from us, and not from someone else’s god. And theology is not the most important debate there is, particularly for those of us who are non-religious. Morality is.

126. Gloria Endres: I think what bothers people most about the Brit Hume comments is the hubris he showed in denigrating the Buddhist religion from a one sided and very public national forum that most of us do not have.

He was not a theologian or clergyman having a nice philosophical discussion about the merits of his faith with another theologian, but a talking head engaged in a one sided condemnation of another person’s personal beliefs. It sounded exactly what it was – bigoted and rude.

If Mr. Hume really had Tiger’s salvation at heart, he could have offered to meet with him in a private conversation and offered him his counsel for improving his situation, man to man. Woods would have had the option of politely accepting or declining the invitation. The shock of it was that Hume decided unilaterally to make the suggestion publicly and with no chance at a “no, thank you” from Woods.

Coming from someone who is neither a pastor nor personal friend, it sounded crass and highly offensive.

127. Rob: I’m not bothered that Mr. Hume voiced the opinions he did — I strongly defend his right to free speech and free opinions. However, I’m very bothered that we all refer to him as a “news analyst” on “Fox News”, instead of as a “commentator” on “Fox Opinions”. The latter is accurate; the former is a dangerous blurring of the very thick line between objective news analysis and evangelizing.

 Religion and Women

A nice op-ed piece about the relationship of religion and human rights. 

It can’t be denied that many holy texts and many religious histories offer examples of atrocious beliefs and behaviors.  Religious people aren’t wrong when they quote their favored text to support slavery or oppression of women because there are passages that directly support such things.  Monotheism in particular has clear messages in support of slavery and oppression of women… which goes back to the 10 commandments (it states that you shouldn’t covet you neighbors property with ‘property’ being defined as including your neighbors wife and slaves; and that is the very same 10 commandments that Christians would like to have put on the walls of courthouses and schools).

This reminds me of two things.  First, Derrick Jensen’s book The Culture of Make Believe is an awesome book that analyzes this in detail.  Second, I was reading about the beginnings of the culture wars. 

The culture wars began with anti-communism and the Republican fight against the New Deal.  At one time, Republicans were supportive of some civil rights and they criticized the KKK.  However, when the Democrats embraced civil rights, the Republicans turned their back on the poor and took up the Southern Strategy to steal the Democrat’s southern base.  This worked for the Republican party, but this led to odd results.  In poor states, the rich vote for Republicans and the poor vote for Democrats.  In rich states, both poor and rich vote for Democrats.  The swing states are the middle income states and the swing voters are the middle class. 

The interesting part is that Republicans became the party that was against communism and socialism, and the two were seen as the same.  As the socialists in this country were for civil rights, the Republicans became the party that opposed government intervention into civil rights issues.  This seems odd at first glance considering that the Southern Strategy also made the GOP the party of the religious right.  You’d think that Christians would be for helping the poor and underprivileged, but that isn’t the case for the religious right because the fear of communists/socialists was greater than their love of the gospel.

How News Happens: A Study of the News Ecosystem of One American City

The study, which examined all the outlets that produced local news in Baltimore, Md., for one week, surveyed their output and then did a closer examination of six major narratives during the week, finds that much of the “news” people receive contains no original reporting. Fully eight out of ten stories studied simply repeated or repackaged previously published information.

And of the stories that did contain new information nearly all, 95%, came from traditional media—most of them newspapers. These stories then tended to set the narrative agenda for most other media outlets.

I’m not surprised, but it does dissapoint me.  The newspapers do a mediocre job of reporting.  The failure of our political system largely rests on the major media such as newspapers that set the narrative agenda.

What dissapoints me is that the newspapers aren’t creating most of the new information, but they are creating most of the new information that gets read by most people.  There are many organizations that report on various issues.  These organizations often focus solely on a particular issue or area of study and they do very detailed investigations.  Newspaper reporters depend on these kinds of organizations to discover news stories that exist outside of press releases. 

Newspapers are shrinking and doing less investigative reporting.  The fact that the public is so dependent on them is a sad state of affairs. 

What papers do well is less about offering new information and more about offering information that has been filtered and analyzed.  If you want to consider simply the factor of new information, twitter beats all of the news media combined.  Even news media watches twitter to discover emerging trends and breaking news, but the average person doesn’t want to follow thousands of twitterers in order to discover random bits of new information.

Two defense contractors indicted in shooting of Afghans

I don’t know too much about this incident, but I have researched some of the history of Blackwater.  This incident seems to be systemic to the entire organization as this isn’t an isolated event.  I always wonder why upper level officials are rarely held accountable.  The way Blackwater employees acted would appear to be grounded in how they were trained and the general policies of the company.

This is similar to other types of organizations.  Consider the case of the FBI vs Judi Bari.  The FBI agents involved were found guilty, but it was obvious that the responsibility went beyond just some low level employees.  The FBI upper level management were simply untouchable by the court system.  Or consider the torture situation.  It was obvious that many people in the military and in Washington knew what was going on at various military detainment prisons, but those who were ultimately culpable never were charged or even investigated to any extent. 

There are hundreds of examples like this.  A number of US politicians and military leaders have been charged of crimes against humanity and yet they walk free.  And just consider the enormous number of corporate crimes and how it’s rare for wealthy people to spend much time in prison (if any time at all).  Some corporate criminals have stolen more money by themselves than all of the thiefs held in prison combined.

We don’t live in a just society.

A Fight for the Homeless and Against Authority

This guy is the kind of libertarian that I’m so fond of.  If you actually want to help the poor and homeless, there is no way to do it but fight those in power.

“I believe he truly does care for the people he takes in,” said Bruce Gibson, the outgoing chairman of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. “And there’s only one thing he cares more about. And that’s fighting with the county.”

Mr. de Vaul admits to enjoying battling local officials, but he also says he has been shaken by his prosecution.

“What I’m saying is that I’m in over my head,” Mr. de Vaul said. “And because I don’t like authority, I’m not going to give up.”

Millennials: They’re Younger – But Their Preferences Aren’t That Different

There was one detail about this survey that caught my attention.  Millennials and GenXers are on the same page when it comes to technology and the internet.  These are the two generations that are now taking over the work force and positions of leadership.  Because of various reasons including economics, Boomers have been slow to leave the work force and positions of leadership, but it’s inevitable that the Boomers will be leaving in large numbers in this upcoming decade. 

We are in a transition right now.  Once that transition is complete, the entire work force and the positions of leadership will be filled with the technology embracing generations.  I don’t know if that is good or bad, but there are massive changes on the horizon.

This is why Republicans are so worried [PIC]

From looking at demographics, I already knew that the younger generation was liberal to moderate on most issues.  All of this is interesting as the conservative movement has been fleeing the moderate position and attacking all moderate Republicans.  If the GOP simply stopped catering to extremists (most of them being of the religious variety) and returned to an egalitarian form of libertarianism, they could quite possibly attract many of these younger voters.

Her GOP Critics Unleashed, Will Palin Fire Back?

Palin is joining Fox News and speaking at the first tea party convention which is the movement backed by Fox News.  Palin, Fox News, and tea party leaders have been attacking many GOP politicians. 

Within the tea party movement, many of the Ron Paul libertarians are critical of their movement having been taken over by Fox News and the Beckheads.  In the near future, the real libertarians are going to start causing problems for the career politicians like Palin who simply want to take over the GOP.

It makes me excited.  The conservative movement is going to get really ugly when all these folks turn on eachother.

The former Alaska governor’s memoir did, in fact, outrage many people involved in the McCain-Palin operation. They saw in the book an array of the same qualities they had come to discern in her during the two months of the general election: the self-serving habits, the vindictiveness, the distant relationship with the truth. For McCainworld, all the old feelings toward Palin came back in a rush. But except for chief strategist Steve Schmidt’s concise dis of the book (“fiction”) and communications adviser Nicolle Wallace’s somewhat more lengthy refutation on The Rachel Maddow Show, virtually everyone else in the McCain-Palin orbit abided by the Senator’s wishes — keeping the secrets of the campaign secret.

Until this week, that is. With the publication of our book Game Change and the appearance of Schmidt on 60 Minutes in a piece discussing our reporting, much of the truth about Palin has begun to emerge. The questions are how she might respond and what effect the turn of events will have on her future — a future that now includes a gig at Fox News.

The picture presented in Game Change of Palin’s emergence as national phenomenon — and the real Palin behind her public persona — is often startling and sometimes shocking. The scantness of the vetting she received before being placed on the Republican ticket. Her substantive deficiencies, even more dramatic than those that had previously been reported: her lack of understanding about why there are two Koreas, her ignorance about the function of the Federal Reserve, her belief that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. The fact that, at her lowest moments during preparation for her debate against Joe Biden, some senior McCain aides worried that she was mentally unstable. And, ultimately, their fears that she wasn’t up to the job of being Vice President.

Adding to the picture are the revelations that Schmidt brought forward on 60 Minutes — in particular, her habitual shading of the truth in ways that exposed the campaign to extreme political vulnerability. “You know, it [was] the equivalent of saying down is up and up is down,” Schmidt told Anderson Cooper on the program. “[She routinely said things] that were provably, demonstrably untrue.”

No Seat for Wall Street at Tea Party

Judson Phillips, a Tennessee attorney and organizer of the convention, says the tea-party movement, disparate as it is, includes many people “who believe that Congress pays far too much attention to Wall Street and not enough attention to Main Street.” Tea-party rallies, he says, draw a lot of small businessmen and women frustrated at their own inability to get capital while big banks prosper, and thus inclined to think the deck is stacked against them.

Asked specifically about Wall Street bonuses, Mr. Phillips replies: “I think the reaction of most people in the tea-party movement is going to be this: If a company is doing well, they don’t have a problem with it. Most people in the tea-party movement are capitalists….If the company in question is one that received a government bailout — totally different story. Most people in the tea-party movement don’t believe in the concept of too big to fail.”

Would a transnational mega-corporation such as News Corp that is behind Fox News support the tea party movement if they thought it was against the financial interests of transnational mega-corporations? The tea party was originally the party of Ron Paul. Many Fox News pundits such as Glenn Beck criticized, ridiculed, and dismissed Ron Paul. After undermining Ron Paul’s movement, Glenn Beck (and Fox News in general) has attempted to take over Ron Paul’s movement and call it his own.

Many in the tea party have as much faith in the market as they do in God. It goes back to the earliest Christians who came to America. They believed that being rich was an outward sign of being saved. This is why the lower middle class tea party movement trusts the rich and distrusts those even more poor than they are. This same mentality has led the legal system to be tough on crimes of the poor all the while going easy on the crimes of the rich.

The problem with the government we have right now is that it’s neither capitalism nor socialism. It’s a soft form of fascism where the line between govt and capitalism is so blurred as to almost not exist at all. The bailouts are a problem, but just focusing on them would be to ignore the real problem. If a free market is to exist, the influence of big money needs to be taken out of Washington. I don’t know what the exact solution is, but the government we have doesn’t serve the average person of any political persuasion.

Free markets only can be held accountable if the general public can have direct influence on the companies they work for and have money invested in. When companies become transnation megacorporations, they become so big that they can’t be controlled and instead usurp control. Free markets like democracy only work on the small level of direct participation of the citizenry and direct accountability to specific communities.

The problem of our system is that there is a deep inconsistency. The political system was set up with divisions of power because it was assumed that individuals aren’t to be trusted with too much power. On the other hand, the mainstream has had naive trust in capitalism based on an assumption of enlightened selfishness. The problem is that these two beliefs are at odds. Many people in politics were once worked for or owned private corporations, and many people working for or owning private corporations were once politicians. There is a revolving door between them.

The tea party’s trust of capitalism and mistrust of government makes absolutely no sense. What makes an individual trustworthy when they are privately employed but use their personal connections to influence politics but untrustworthy when they become a politician with personal connections to private corporations?

There are very few political groups demanding that corpoations be held accountable to their shareholders. And one of these few are the socialists (such as Noam Chomsky). Socialism is in reality the complete opposite of big government. Instead, with socialism, companies are directly accountable to the people who work for them and to the communities they effect… and, of course, to their shareholders. Neither democracy nor free markets can exist on a large scale. When companies and governments become too big, they can’t be controlled by the people and instead act to control the people. Whether we are ruled by big government or big business, it’s all the same.

Socialism is simply the counter-balance to libertarianism. Libertarians believe that the powers that be should quit meddling with our lives and communities. Socialists believe that we as individuals and communities should take personal responsibility to force those in power to be accountible. However, if libertarians merely take power away from government, big business will fill the void and simply become the new political force. And if socialists put their faith in the present faux democracy, the government will continue on as before.

The tricky part is how does power get put back in the hands of individuals and small business owners, of communities and workers. Basically, what this is about is the need for grass roots activism that can fight against being taken over by big business astro turf. Grass roots activism has to be rooted in communities. People have to know and trust eachother and have to be fighting for a common cause.

Unfortunately, the tea party at present doesn’t fit the bill. There may be some factions of genuine grass roots within the tea party. Instead of fighting outside forces of the evil Democrats, for right now the grass roots activists should be fighting to take back their movement from Fox News and the GOP.

The difficulty these days is that grass roots can’t easily be differentiated from astro turf. Even astro turf movements have genuine grass roots activists. That is exactly what the astro turf manipulators want. The real grass roots activists lend the astro turf movement credibility, and then propaganda and spin is used to manipulate the movement. The interesting thing about astro turf is that most people in such a movement don’t even know who is in control.

Even the government used to be in the business of astro turf. The FBI had its COINTELPRO where they’d infiltrate grass roots organizations. Once infiltrated, they’d either destroy the organization or take over positions of leadership. The average person wouldn’t even notice anything had changed. The same techniques used by the FBI are essentially what private companies use as well. The difference is that this kind of activity became illegal for the FBI to be involved with, but it’s perfectly legal for private corporations.