09 December 2013

Are today's radical trangressives just conservative moralists in drag?

"The open secret of violating a taboo with language that—through its richness, wit or rage—acknowledges the taboo, is that it represents a kind of moralizing.."

This quote comes from a thought provoking article by Lee Seigel from "The Wall Street Journal" online. I'm assuming for current purposes that this observation has more than a grain of truth in it, though some might feel there's no such secret, open or otherwise, implicit in the conscious public violation of a taboo.

But if it is so, could it therefore be that the current tsunami of willfully conspicuous sexually and culturally "transgressive" posturing in the online, broadcast and print media, that so many in that media say others complain about, is in fact an outbreak of a yearning for conservative morality?

 Now that's an interpretation that frankly hadn't occurred to me 'til now. Could it be that Miley Cyrus's ostentatious twerking and provocative gyrating is not a scream for the freedom to be more licentious, but is in reality Miley Cyrus crying out for more observance of the rules of decorum and for more sanctity to be given to expressions of personal intimacy?

The author of the article, Lee Siegel (who I now seem to make a habit of quoting), even goes on to suggest:
"From Miley Cyrus's brilliant, purposeful, repeated travesties of her wholesome image—"This is what culture is really about now," she seems to be saying—to songs by Eminem, Lady Gaga, Kanye West and others that express disgust with their own celebrity and wealth, pop culture itself seems to yearn for a time when obscenity and graphic sexual images were morally potent rather than merely titillating and profitable."

Has transgressivness in popular culture now become so pervasively common that it has truly "jumped the shark"? It seems pretty clear that the decline in quality in popular culture is now irredeemably beyond recovery. A more interesting question appears to be whether this apparently "purposeful" self recognition of the emptiness of "transgressiveness" amongst the current crop of populist icons is the harbinger of some new "radical" recognition of the merit of modesty or the sanctity of authentic personal virtue. But it seems more likely that, as usual, I, like every moralising old fart in history, have miscalculated the time within which our culture moves. I seem to recall that there were even ancient Roman and Athenian scribes, amongst others, who mused aloud in a similar vein.

I suspect it could take some eons before we humans sate our collective appetites for unrestrained vulgarity. For a start we'd probably nearly all have to be old farts for that to be even possible (but hey that makes it actually possible too, since, as I understand it, our population is aging fast). Perhaps then we might begin to see some new version of individual righteousness given widespread community credence, with its sacredness acknowledged and treated with sanctity. Yeah, as if that's going to happen any time soon.

01 October 2013

For success failure must be an option

I have been taken by two potentially contrasting bits of potted wisdom recently.

John Bertrand, the skipper of Australia II who first won the America's Cup from the USA for Australia 30 years ago in 1983, coming from 1/3 down to win 4/3,  has been interviewed multiple times recently as the anniversary is marked. It has fortuitously coincided with the Oracle Team USA remarkable defense last week in San Francisco of the current America's Cup, 9/8 against Team New Zealand, after coming back from being 1/8 down.

One of the observations Bertrand made was that in high pressure, high stakes situations, such as coming from behind to win a regatta when a single loss means failure, is to remove all thought and speculation on the consequences of defeat or victory in any race, and focus wholly on the task at hand, the process required to win. Seems like good advice to me and James Spithall who skippered Team USA and his crew must have taken it to heart.

By way of superficial contrast, I read a bit of home spun wisdom today, after being referred there from Instapundit via TaxProfBlog. The prof, Paul Caron of the Pepperdine University Law School, had a blog post about The Saturday Essay in the Wall Street Journal on 27 September called "Why tough teachers get good results" by Joanne Lipman. She writes that:

...our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, "Who eez deaf in first violins!?" He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.
Today, he'd be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years' worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.
 I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher we knew as Mr. K. But I was equally struck by the success of his former students ...

Many of us also had a Mr K or two in our own educational journey, who we revere for what they gave to us in understanding the lasing value of application and discipline. Her thesis here is that it is the lack of such teachers today that is seeing America falling behind in its educational standards. She goes on to lay out a new manifesto for optimising educational outcomes. She lays down an 8 point plan as follows:

  1. A little pain is good for you
  2. Drill, baby, drill
  3. Failure is an option
  4. Strict is better than nice
  5. Creativity can be learned
  6. Grit trumps talent
  7. Praise makes you weak…
  8. …while stress makes you strong.

And Ms Lipman goes on to say:

... individually, these are forbidding precepts: cold, unyielding, and kind of scary.

But collectively, they convey something very different: confidence. At their core is the belief, the faith really, in students' ability to do better. There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.
         [my emphasis]

My opening contrast was between John Bertrand's observation that you need to put out of your mind the consequences of failure and concentrate on the process, if you are to succeed, with Mr K and Joanne Lipman's belief that it helps if you let students know that failure is an option.

These observations are readily reconcilable: you'll have the requisite desire to focus on the process necessary to win, if failure is the consequence of a lack of that focus.

12 September 2013

A Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer and a 3 Wolf Moon T-shirt

Check out these astonishing Amazon products and a book called "How to Avoid Huge Ships" (also available at Amazon).

They are reviewed here.

Resistance is useless.

16 July 2013

Who ruined the humanities? Humanities departments.

This article (Lid dip to Instapundit) , "Who Ruined the Humanities?", which is the Saturday Essay in the Wall Street Journal of 12 July 2013, struck a real chord with me. The sub-heading reads:

Of course it's important to read the great poets and novelists. But not in a university classroom, where literature has been turned into a bland, soulless competition for grades and status.

What is it about contemporary college curricula all around the Western world that makes it look past the most powerful and insightful understanding brought to us by the cannon of our civilization's great literature to the mere process?

If Shakespeare is taught as a deconstructed, ante-feminist, pre-colonial, racist expression of the dominant white male monarchical social order, is there any wonder that nearly everyone so taught will miss the point and not perceive the majesty, subtlety and astonishing insight into the human condition?

Yes, it is hard to teach the substance of great art when it is so ineffable and illusive. But to reduce it to process, technique and context and measure and record student performance on such incidental efflusia is a high order travesty. It brings literature and art down to the metrics of management theory and engineering projects.  These are worthy subjects in their own right, but completely distinct from, and not to be conflated with, the rare and incisive epiphanies of great art.

Lee Siegel, the author of the above article gets it:
No longer will the reading of, say, "King Lear" or D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love" result in the flattening of these transfiguring encounters into just two more elements in an undergraduate career—the onerous stuff of multiple-choice quizzes, exam essays and homework assignments.
And he says, oh glory of glories::
So you see, I am not making a brief against reading the classics of Western literature. Far from it. I am against taking these startling epiphanies of the irrational, unspoken, unthought-of side of human life into the college classroom and turning them into the bland exercises in competition, hierarchy and information-accumulation that are these works' mortal enemies.

Yes. Yes!  I embrace you, Lee Siegel. You get it.
Why, oh why, do department academics not get it?

28 May 2013

Winter is coming. Very inconvenient. But "cool"?

A bit of inconvenient truth is starting to leak out into the public domain from the UN's climate data vaults, despite the best efforts of the gatekeepers in the media to keep a lid on it. The world is getting cooler. Not more hip, cooler.  It seems, most inconveniently, that the planet has not been getting any hotter for the last 15 or so years, even though global atmospheric carbon concentration continues to rise through 400 parts per million.  And all this whilst our opinion making elites have been incessantly telling us for decades that we must change our lives drastically to a non-carbon energy base or it it will all get catastrophically hotter.

This cooling is not cool for today's urban hipsters who have so much invested in rising heat. What are we to do with our carbon taxes and trading schemes, our Priuses, our bicycles, our food miles, our righteous indignation, and our smug sense of superiority about our special insight into our planet's climatic doom?

Watch now for the imminent unsignalled posture pivot to a transgressive new "cool": Global winter.

The scramble that is likely to ensue in the coming decade to claim a piece of this emerging new contradictory paradigm in art, music, film, literature and popular culture, should be well worth the price of the ticket for those who like to watch.

At least one wise old head wasn't suckered into the prevailing narrative to date. Have you read this fascinating  article from the New York Times in 2009 about Freeman Dyson, reputably one of the smartest people currently sharing this planet with the rest of us? Do. It seems he has remained properly scientifically sceptical about global warming, whilst all the climate hysterics have been screaming at us all about the sky falling.

Christopher Booker has set us all a challenge in his article in UK Sunday Telegraph on 27 April 2013 with a searching question:

"... Has there ever in history been such an almighty disconnect between observable reality and the delusions of a political class that is quite impervious to any rational discussion ?. ..'

What about Neville Chamberlain's "Peace in our Time" proclamation Christopher?  I admit that this became pervious to rational discussion when Poland was subsequently invaded. Or Mao Tse Tung's Cultural Revolution in China? I guess starving 300 million peasants to death did eventually change the People's Republic's agricultural practices. What about Stalin's communist utopia in Soviet Russia?  Yes I suppose it did eventually morph into Putin's oligarchic state after 70 odd years.

Maybe a better comparable "almighty disconnect" is between the pre-Copernican Earth-centred cosmology and the subsequent heliocentric view. It took centuries for the sun-centred model of the universe to supplant the Medieval Earth-centred universe, even after Nicholas Copernicus demonstrated the reality of our planet's place in the solar system. It only took the climate hysterics of the late 20th century about 20 years to flip our world view back to an Earth-centred one yet again on climate. It is a curious irony that it is the failure of the alarmists' Climate models to have adequate regard to the influence of the Sun on the Earth's climate that seems to be one of the principle reasons their climate models have been so poor in predicting global temperatures. Their immensely complex models dealing with carbon "forcings", cloud formation and ocean currents, somehow blinded them to the obvious: that less heat from the Sun would mean a cooler Earth. This notion didn't fit their anthropogenic hypothesis, so it was not adequately taken into account. And we now appear to be on the cusp of a little ice age, apparently due to reduced solar radiation and sun-spot activity. All this whilst we were have been told definitively and continuously by the good and the great in science and politics that our global ice caps were in irretrievable retreat, that we were facing inundation from rising sea levels and inevitable doom in our overheated planet due to the greenhouse effects from the buildup in atmospheric CO2. Isn't hubris an amazing phenomenon?

Christopher Booker's point remains good though. The disconnect we are observing between climate policy today and the observable world we live in and experience, seems truly to be on the same monumental scale as these previous historical misconceptions. Maybe we live in interesting times after all?

It could take at least one, probably two, full generations from now before the systematic embedding of the global warming fallacy in our children, becomes sufficiently diluted by time so that the hysterical over-reaction to carbon consumption no longer materially affects our political discourse.  It could be tiresome, uneven and unsettling for many of us for the rest of our lives, as we adjust to the different paces at which the millions of true believers climb down from their sense of certainty about humanity's catastrophic climate doom from over consumption of and dependence on fossil fuels.

13 February 2013

Revenge of the pubic louse

Nature does have a way of re-establishing karmic balance in the cosmos.

Even in the face of the seemingly irrevocable thoughtless destruction of pubic lice habitat by humans, mother nature bites back at such hubris.

It seems that destroying lice habitat has had unforeseen adverse consequences for those who so wantomly contribute to the extinction of another species. In news just in:

Restore Bush!

22 January 2013

A shark jumping ham sandwich?

Glenn Reynolds has now published his promised (see previous post) article on due process in a time of over-regulation. He has called it Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime. You should read the whole thing. It's short. He encourages readers to offer their own suggestions for improvement. Do.

It has already generated some traction. At the Atlantic Conor Friedersdorf has a put out a piece entitled 8 Ways to Stop Overzealous Prosecutors from Destroying Lives and at The Volokh Conspiracy Randy Barnett has a long blog post on it.

I was entertained also by Glenn drawing attention the other day at Instapundit to this passage in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged:

Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against – then you’ll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We’re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you’d better get wise to it. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now, that’s the system, Mr. Rearden, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”
Glenn comments that the US hasn't reached this state. Yet.

With Australian Federal Attorney General Nicola Roxon current proposed changes to Federal Anti- Discrimination Laws now potentially exposing all Australians to prosecution simply for someone taking offence at what they might say, we Australians may be fast approaching the state Dr Ferris describes in the above passage.

Nicola Roxon is a Fink.

I just wanted to get that statement in while I still think I can. That is without being prosecuted for "misogyny" (under in the new watered down, expanded and revised definition now adopted by the Macquarie Dictionary after the Prime Minister's manifestly incorrect use of the word under parliamentary privilege, but with such effective and acclaimed political venom against her male enemy) or "publicly supporting opposition to the rule of law", or some other new trumped up offence. One gets the distinct feeling with the current ruling mob that it's only a matter of time before such behaviours will be criminalised.

I take offence that there are so many offences. So who do I sue? The guvmint?

17 January 2013

Have we "jumped the shark" with over-regulation?

 "Rule of Law" now imperilled by too much law

Glenn Reynolds has recently linked to an article by David French entitled "David Gregory and the Decline of the Rule of Law".  In it French asks:

"Can we even speak of the rule of law as a meaningful concept when we combine an explosive regulatory state with near-absolute prosecutorial discretion?”

This link appears as part of seemingly growing series of cross linkages that Reynolds is apparently accumulating for an imminent scholarly piece he says he is putting together on the theme "Due Process When Everything is a Crime".

In the western world we are now not just drowning in a sea of over-regulation from our over-zealous legislatures and bureaucracies. It seems that as well our law making institutions are bizarrely indifferent to the fate that its citizens labour under in the vast byzantine morass of freedom depleting strictures and criminalised triviality we now live with. But society may well have already unconsciously reached the point when the Rule of Law is, for all practical purposes, a laughably theoretical concept ignored as a guiding principle by the majority of the populous. It seems almost trite to observe now that most citizens implicitly recognise the inevitability of committing inadvertant breaches of the law in any ambitious project (opening a business?) or even in doing mundane ordinary human activities (driving a car?).  The Rule of Law, formerly one of the cornerstones of our civilization, may now have been subtlety and insideously replaced by a new dominant paradigm: Do What Can You Get Away With.

We await an event that will crystallise this pre-existing community consciousness and which catches the popular imagination. It seems plausible to envisage some popular form of social media catching fire with indignation at some innocent celebrity prosecuted for some trifling indiscretion, prompting the mass market media to create a cause celebre. If this does finally happen maybe then we can say our modern democracies have "jumped the shark" on over-regulation. We may then have reached the moment, as when the Fonz water ski jumped over a shark in Happy Days, when we can openly acknowledge that the decline in quality is beyond recovery.

There is still a remote hope that, if such a "shark jumping" event ever occurs, from amongst the countless pointless criminal prosecutions, the citizens of the western world may see and acknowledge the folly of what we have wrought with the criminalisation of nearly all conduct. Maybe then we will then have the political conditions in which a serious effort can be made to wind back and seriously reduce the absurd volume of ours laws and regulations.

We might be waiting for a while for that though. It requires brave politicians.

15 January 2013

Mankind's reckless endangerment of other species

More evidence has recently come to light of Mankind's pitiless destruction of other species in its relentless self-interested march to complete planetary domination and, hubristically it is hoped, to its own inevitable demise.

The pubic louse is now an endangered species, apparently due to the viral new fashion preference in urban society for bikini waxes. There is now so little viable habitat for the poor pubic louse that it has been unable to breed in sufficient numbers to maintain its population.

We surely now need a public campaign to preserve the pubic louse and its habitat. It could have a slogan like: "Keep Bush. Save the Louse". That might generate enough itch for the luvvies to have a good old fashioned scratch.