Quotulatiousness

October 22, 2014

QotD: Ancient history

Filed under: History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

New interests and different locations are provided by an iPad app that gathers pages relevant to my interests, and lets me indulge particular subjects, like “Ancient History.” This gives me the impression I am learning something, and perhaps I am, but when you finish an article about Xobar the Cruel who ruled during the Middle Period of the Crinchothian Empire (140 square miles in modern-day Herzo-Slavbonia) you think “well, there’s something of which I was previously unaware, and let’s preen for a second about being the sort of person who cares about ancient history,” and then it’s all forgotten. It’s all the history of rulers, which means the history of cruelty, and the remnants of settlements, which means the history of floors and walls and tombs. I fault myself for not having a better grasp on the shadowy beginnings of civilization; it doesn’t snap into focus until the Greeks, and then you’re surprised because they have shoes and religion and government and traditions and the rest of the recognizable pillars that hold up the ceiling mankind builds to put some space between himself and the raging caprices of the gods above. Except for Egypt, where they were doing stuff for a long time, but it was weird.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2014-04-01

October 21, 2014

QotD: Hipster economics

Filed under: Economics, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Hipster economics are standard economics because hipsters are everything the US economy has ever wished for in one convenient package. It’s a group consisting largely of young, upper-middle class people with very little conviction, who will spend large amounts of money to maintain their own comfort and the appearance of diversity and rebellion. They are activists as long as it’s easy, poor as long as it doesn’t involve dirt or hunger, and selfless as long as they don’t stand to lose anything. They represent the sanitizing of national issues so that they can be discussed without being addressed. And all you have to do to control them is use some reverse psychology. They’re not rebels, they’re not even malicious, because they’re not anything except a bunch of kids playing pretend. They’ll eventually grow up and become bankers, lawyers and politicians, just like their parents…

“Robert” commenting on “The peril of hipster economics: When urban decay becomes a set piece to be remodelled or romanticised“, by Sarah Kendzior, 2014-05-28.

October 20, 2014

QotD: Sexual differentiation

Filed under: Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Our sexual differences can be more or less general, or more or less individual i.e. they may be typical for the whole sex or for only an individual member of that sex. Men with a vigorous growth of beard, hairy chests broad shoulders narrow hips, big penises, for example, are generally more in demand as are, conversely, women with delicate skin, big breasts, wide hips. The more individual polarity exists in any given case, the more ideal the sexual relationship is likely to become. We all do what we can to emphasize our sexual differentiation from the opposite sex — or with respect to a specific member of the opposite sex — as skillfully as possible. Whoever is not strikingly male or female will do everything possible to seem so by, for example, developing his biceps through gymnastics, pad her bra, style the hairdo, etc.

The same motivation also underlies the so-called ‘typically masculine’ and ‘typically feminine’ kinds of behavior: it is always a conscious or unconscious parading of sex-specific characteristics. To smile rarely or often, talk much or little, swing the hips or not in walking, makes people ‘more manly’ or ‘more womanly.’ This kind of behavior is simulated, as shown by the fact that it is subject to fashion and can be dropped at will. The ‘womanly’ mannerisms of the stars in the old movies are markedly different from those we see in films by Truffault or Godard. To behave like a movie vamp of the twenties today is to appear not womanly but ridiculous.

Esther Vilar, The Polygamous Sex, 1976.

October 19, 2014

QotD: The countryside, at night

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

We are creatures of the sun, we men and women. We love light and life. That is why we crowd into the towns and cities, and the country grows more and more deserted every year. In the sunlight — in the daytime, when Nature is alive and busy all around us, we like the open hill-sides and the deep woods well enough: but in the night, when our Mother Earth has gone to sleep, and left us waking, oh! the world seems so lonesome, and we get frightened, like children in a silent house. Then we sit and sob, and long for the gas-lit streets, and the sound of human voices, and the answering throb of human life. We feel so helpless and so little in the great stillness, when the dark trees rustle in the night-wind. There are so many ghosts about, and their silent sighs make us feel so sad. Let us gather together in the great cities, and light huge bonfires of a million gas-jets, and shout and sing together, and feel brave.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.

October 18, 2014

QotD: Mothers, fathers, and children

Filed under: Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Human beings also operate on this principle of similarity. Identification with her young is of course easiest for the mother: she has felt it inside her for months, she has known it come out of her own body, it is ‘flesh of her flesh’ i.e. herself. The father, by comparison, depends on hearsay; he is therefore likely to be rather indifferent at first. Despite the repeated assurances from everyone around him that the newborn is his ‘spitting image’ it is not easy for him to see this. It is only some time later that he begins to accept the resemblance and to love the child.

A woman’s predisposition to identify with the infant at once, to a degree impossible for the male, has won her the reputation of being the more selfless parent. Since she instantly accepts the newborn as her charge and actively devotes herself to its care and feeding, a mother’s love is held to be stronger than that of a father. Actually it is only a matter of time lapse between two equally powerful emotional attachments, based entirely upon biological causes.

That fathers are capable of loving their children just as much as mothers, and that the male nurturing instinct is in no way less developed than that of the female, is amply attested by the exchange of parental roles in various primitive cultures, as well as by the experimental knowledge of modern sociology.

Esther Vilar, The Polygamous Sex, 1976.

October 17, 2014

QotD: Legislating absolute equality

Filed under: Law, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

…to oppose the notion of equality of opportunity these days is to be thought some kind of monstrous ultramontane reactionary, a Metternich or Nicholas I, who wants by means of repression to preserve the status quo in amber. Members of young audiences to which I have spoken have almost fainted with shock when I have said that I not only did not believe in equality of opportunity, but to the contrary found the very idea sinister in the extreme, and much worse than mere egalitarianism of outcome. To say to a young audience today that equality of opportunity is a thoroughly vicious idea is like shouting “God does not exist and Mohammed was not his prophet” at the top of one’s voice in Mecca.

Those who believe in equality of opportunity must want, if they take the idea seriously, to make the world not only just but fair. Genetic and family influences on the fate of people have to be eliminated, because they undoubtedly affect opportunities and make them unequal. Ugly people cannot be models; the deformed cannot be professional footballers; the retarded cannot be astrophysicists; the small of stature cannot be heavyweight boxers; I don’t think I have to prolong this list, as everyone can think of a thousand examples for himself.

Of course, it might be possible to level the field a little by legislating for equality of outcome: by, for example, insisting that ugly people are employed as models in proportion to their prevalence in the population. English novelist L.P. Hartley, author of The Go-Between, satirized such envious suppression of beauty (and, by implication, all egalitarianism other than that of equality under the law) in a novel called Facial Justice. It’s not a very good novel, as it happens, but the idea is very good; Hartley envisages a state in which everyone aspires to an “average” face, brought about by plastic surgery both for the abnormally ugly and the abnormally good-looking. Only in this way can the supposed injustice (actually it’s unfairness) of the genetic lottery be righted.

Hartley’s novel is a reductio ad absurdum of a pernicious idea. By contrast, Roosevelt’s “measurable quality of opportunity” is roughly achievable by human design: only roughly, of course, because some (though few) will still be excluded biologically, and there are (again few) upbringings so terrible that they preclude opportunity for the person to become anything much. But the aspiration to deny no one a “measurable quality of opportunity” is not intrinsically nasty, as is the insistence on equality of opportunity. On the contrary; our problem is, however, that the political arrangements needed to bring this about already exist in most Western countries, and still we are unhappy or discontented. Thus we — many of us, that is — attribute our unhappiness to inequality of opportunity for fear of looking elsewhere, including inward.

Theodore Dalrymple, “A More Sinister Equality”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-04-06

October 16, 2014

QotD: The art of writing

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

I’d like to say it’s great to be back from vacation, but frankly it’s not. A lot of people think the biggest problem with being a pundit is all the blood sacrifice and unlicensed steel-cage shovel fighting. That’s true. But there’s obviously nothing to be done about that. Another problem is that when you usually write several thousand words a week — at least — you build up muscle memory. It’s like exercise — I’m told. When you train yourself to run every day, taking a week off doesn’t make running easier, but harder. Since I’ve been back, I haven’t been able to find my groove (this isn’t it). I had to delete the first 700 words of this “news”letter because it turned into a lengthy poem in Esperanto about chinchillas. Frankly, I nailed the iambic pentameter. Maybe someday I will publish “Kiam la Chinchilla vekas el sia dormado en la pantalono de mia koro” (Loosely: “When the chinchilla awakes from his slumber in the trousers of my heart”), but today is not that day.

Jonah Goldberg, “The Goldberg File”, 2014-04-04

October 15, 2014

QotD: The value of economics

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Having taken a stab at sociology and political science, let me wrap up economics while I’m at it. Economics is a highly sophisticated field of thought that is superb at explaining to policymakers precisely why the choices they made in the past were wrong. About the future, not so much. However, careful economic analysis does have one important benefit, which is that it can help kill ideas that are completely logically inconsistent or wildly at variance with the data. This insight covers at least 90 percent of proposed economic policies.

Ben Bernanke “The Ten Suggestions”, speech at the Baccalaureate Ceremony at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey. June 2, 2013.

October 14, 2014

QotD: “Teaching” kids to be more creative

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

We don’t send our children to public school, but we hear all about what goes on there. They’re always maundering on in the local papers about their bright new ideas — generally already discredited since the 1960s — about “teaching children to be more creative.” See, there’s your problem right there.

I don’t know exactly how dull you have to be to be a public school administrator, but school is supposed to try to put some sort of lid on a child’s creativity, and get them to add single digits without using a sundial as a stopwatch, and put apostrophes where they belong once in a while, for five goddamn minutes a day, at least. Children only have one problem, and that’s creativity. The reason you’re all still sitting at the dinner table after an hour and fifteen minutes has come and gone is because your seven-year-old is still building stonehenge with his french fries. That’s creativity, isn’t it? The reason your bathroom smells like a cattle stall is all the creative ways that little Magellan you’re raising has figured out to circumnavigate the bowl. This video is like shooting fish in a barrel, which incidentally produces a very similar kind and amount of splashback.

If your kid doesn’t compose at least one insane opera a day that lasts from sunup to sundown, he’s not normal. A kid with that little imagination is luckily not common, but when he or she grows up, they’re likely to cause trouble, likely by becoming a public school administrator or a state senator. Claiming you’re going to teach children to be creative is like claiming you’re going to teach Mike Tyson to be aggressive. And your Common Core plan for teaching creativity? Well, as Mike once said, everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

Sippican Cottage, “Still Better Dialog Than Anything George Lucas Ever Wrote”, Sippican Cottage, 2014-03-26

October 13, 2014

QotD: Remember your days in the educational-industrial complex?

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

They started him out on basic blocks and why he shouldn’t nail somebody who took his cookie. Those are hard lessons. How to stack something up so it doesn’t collapse in a heap at the first shudder in the earth. How to “share” your very limited and very personal resources. Why you don’t just whack anyone who irritates you with the nearest blunt object.

These are basic lessons, and we forget how hard they are. Some of us don’t learn them at all. Those people are either in prison, assembling bombs, or CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Still, that’s your entry level position in the educational-industrial complex at age 3. It’s all downhill from there.

For years you get up at an ungodly hour and don’t even get a chance to read the paper. Plus, no coffee at all. Not. A. Drop.

You are then pushed out of your home and either driven to your “office-complex” by a cranky chauffeur with complete control over you, or you get to ride with a few dozen of your more-or-less peers with different ideas of hygiene and levels of intelligence in a shaking tin box with no seatbelts, driven by some of the least intelligent members of your community. I’d be a nervous wreck by the time I got to the office, I’ll tell you.

Once you do get to the office, your time to just goof off is extremely limited. No leisurely stints by the water cooler for you. No coffee cart with tasty pastries coming by after only an hour. Bladder issue? Raise your hand and get a note. Other than that you are never alone.

You get one break out in the dirt, with, I might add, no coffee. A couple of hours later you get a quick hit of really bad food that is the same this Wednesday as it was last Wednesday. After that, it’s back to your office where they don’t even have a little cube for you, but slam you together with 15 to 30 other slaves to the clock in a room fit only for 10.

In some huge gesture to your youth, they let you out of this joint at 3 in the afternoon. They tell you it’s a “school day,” but if you’ve been up since 7 and out at three, that’s a full eight hours in my book.

Oh, and no chatting with your friends. Yes, you, pipe down. If not it’s off to the CEO’s antechamber for a quick and humiliating performance review. Daily if you don’t snap out of it. If you really don’t snap out of it, we’re calling your father AND your mother to come here from work right now.

Gerard Vanderleun, “Back to School”, American Digest, 2014-09-09.

October 12, 2014

QotD: Montmorency, the fox-terrier

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Montmorency [...] does not revel in romantic solitude. Give him something noisy; and if a trifle low, so much the jollier. To look at Montmorency you would imagine that he was an angel sent upon the earth, for some reason withheld from mankind, in the shape of a small fox-terrier. There is a sort of Oh-what-a-wicked-world-this-is-and-how-I-wish-I-could-do-something-to-make-it-better-and-nobler expression about Montmorency that has been known to bring the tears into the eyes of pious old ladies and gentlemen.

When first he came to live at my expense, I never thought I should be able to get him to stop long. I used to sit down and look at him, as he sat on the rug and looked up at me, and think: “Oh, that dog will never live. He will be snatched up to the bright skies in a chariot, that is what will happen to him.”

But, when I had paid for about a dozen chickens that he had killed; and had dragged him, growling and kicking, by the scruff of his neck, out of a hundred and fourteen street fights; and had had a dead cat brought round for my inspection by an irate female, who called me a murderer; and had been summoned by the man next door but one for having a ferocious dog at large, that had kept him pinned up in his own tool-shed, afraid to venture his nose outside the door for over two hours on a cold night; and had learned that the gardener, unknown to myself, had won thirty shillings by backing him to kill rats against time, then I began to think that maybe they’d let him remain on earth for a bit longer, after all.

To hang about a stable, and collect a gang of the most disreputable dogs to be found in the town, and lead them out to march round the slums to fight other disreputable dogs, is Montmorency’s idea of “life;” and so, as I before observed, he gave to the suggestion of inns, and pubs., and hotels his most emphatic approbation.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.

October 10, 2014

QotD: When bashing America is just code for bashing the Red Tribe

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

[A]lthough liberals and conservatives live in the same area, they might as well be two totally different countries or universe as far as level of interaction were concerned.

Contra the usual idea of them being marked only by voting behavior, we described them as very different tribes with totally different cultures. You can speak of “American culture” only in the same way you can speak of “Asian culture” – that is, with a lot of interior boundaries being pushed under the rug.

The outgroup of the Red Tribe is occasionally blacks and gays and Muslims, more often the Blue Tribe.

The Blue Tribe has performed some kind of very impressive act of alchemy, and transmuted all of its outgroup hatred to the Red Tribe.

[...]

Spending your entire life insulting the other tribe and talking about how terrible they are makes you look, well, tribalistic. It is definitely not high class. So when members of the Blue Tribe decide to dedicate their entire life to yelling about how terrible the Red Tribe is, they make sure that instead of saying “the Red Tribe”, they say “America”, or “white people”, or “straight white men”. That way it’s humble self-criticism. They are so interested in justice that they are willing to critique their own beloved side, much as it pains them to do so. We know they are not exaggerating, because one might exaggerate the flaws of an enemy, but that anyone would exaggerate their own flaws fails the criterion of embarrassment.

The Blue Tribe always has an excuse at hand to persecute and crush any Red Tribers unfortunate enough to fall into its light-matter-universe by defining them as all-powerful domineering oppressors. They appeal to the fact that this is definitely the way it works in the Red Tribe’s dark-matter-universe, and that’s in the same country so it has to be the same community for all intents and purposes. As a result, every Blue Tribe institution is permanently licensed to take whatever emergency measures are necessary against the Red Tribe, however disturbing they might otherwise seem.

And so how virtuous, how noble the Blue Tribe! Perfectly tolerant of all of the different groups that just so happen to be allied with them, never intolerant unless it happen to be against intolerance itself. Never stooping to engage in petty tribal conflict like that awful Red Tribe, but always nobly criticizing their own culture and striving to make it better!

Sorry. But I hope this is at least a little convincing. The weird dynamic of outgroup-philia and ingroup-phobia isn’t anything of the sort. It’s just good old-fashioned in-group-favoritism and outgroup bashing, a little more sophisticated and a little more sneaky.

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 9, 2014

QotD: “I can tolerate anything except intolerance”

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The result is exactly what we predicted would happen in the case of Islam. Bombard people with images of a far-off land they already hate and tell them to hate it more, and the result is ramping up the intolerance on the couple of dazed and marginalized representatives of that culture who have ended up stuck on your half of the divide. Sure enough, if industry or culture or community gets Blue enough, Red Tribe members start getting harassed, fired from their jobs (Brendan Eich being the obvious example) or otherwise shown the door.

Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble.

If you mix together Podunk, Texas and Mosul, Iraq, you can prove that Muslims are scary and very powerful people who are executing Christians all the time and have a great excuse for kicking the one remaining Muslim family, random people who never hurt anyone, out of town.

And if you mix together the open-source tech industry and the parallel universe where you can’t wear a FreeBSD t-shirt without risking someone trying to exorcise you, you can prove that Christians are scary and very powerful people who are persecuting everyone else all the time, and you have a great excuse for kicking one of the few people willing to affiliate with the Red Tribe, a guy who never hurt anyone, out of town.

When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said.

“Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”.

“I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 8, 2014

QotD: Blue Tribe and Red Tribe media encoding

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Imagine hearing that a liberal talk show host and comedian was so enraged by the actions of ISIS that he’d recorded and posted a video in which he shouts at them for ten minutes, cursing the “fanatical terrorists” and calling them “utter savages” with “savage values”.

If I heard that, I’d be kind of surprised. It doesn’t fit my model of what liberal talk show hosts do.

But the story I’m actually referring to is liberal talk show host / comedian Russell Brand making that same rant against Fox News for supporting war against the Islamic State, adding at the end that “Fox is worse than ISIS”.

That fits my model perfectly. You wouldn’t celebrate Osama’s death, only Thatcher’s. And you wouldn’t call ISIS savages, only Fox News. Fox is the outgroup, ISIS is just some random people off in a desert. You hate the outgroup, you don’t hate random desert people.

I would go further. Not only does Brand not feel much like hating ISIS, he has a strong incentive not to. That incentive is: the Red Tribe is known to hate ISIS loudly and conspicuously. Hating ISIS would signal Red Tribe membership, would be the equivalent of going into Crips territory with a big Bloods gang sign tattooed on your shoulder.

[...]

In a way, Russell Brand would have been braver taking a stand against ISIS than against Fox. If he attacked ISIS, his viewers would just be a little confused and uncomfortable. Whereas every moment he’s attacking Fox his viewers are like “HA HA! YEAH! GET ‘EM! SHOW THOSE IGNORANT BIGOTS IN THE outgroup WHO’S BOSS!”

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 7, 2014

QotD: The Blue Tribe’s reaction to two famous deaths

Filed under: Britain, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The worst reaction I’ve ever gotten to a blog post was when I wrote about the death of Osama bin Laden. I’ve written all sorts of stuff about race and gender and politics and whatever, but that was the worst.

I didn’t come out and say I was happy he was dead. But some people interpreted it that way, and there followed a bunch of comments and emails and Facebook messages about how could I possibly be happy about the death of another human being, even if he was a bad person? Everyone, even Osama, is a human being, and we should never rejoice in the death of a fellow man. One commenter came out and said:

    I’m surprised at your reaction. As far as people I casually stalk on the internet (ie, LJ and Facebook), you are the first out of the “intelligent, reasoned and thoughtful” group to be uncomplicatedly happy about this development and not to be, say, disgusted at the reactions of the other 90% or so.

This commenter was right. Of the “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people I knew, the overwhelming emotion was conspicuous disgust that other people could be happy about his death. I hastily backtracked and said I wasn’t happy per se, just surprised and relieved that all of this was finally behind us.

And I genuinely believed that day that I had found some unexpected good in people – that everyone I knew was so humane and compassionate that they were unable to rejoice even in the death of someone who hated them and everything they stood for.

Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall – made of these same “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people – the most common response was to quote some portion of the song “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead”. Another popular response was to link the videos of British people spontaneously throwing parties in the street, with comments like “I wish I was there so I could join in”. From this exact same group of people, not a single expression of disgust or a “c’mon, guys, we’re all human beings here.”

I gently pointed this out at the time, and mostly got a bunch of “yeah, so what?”, combined with links to an article claiming that “the demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure’s death is not just misguided but dangerous”.

And that was when something clicked for me.

You can talk all you want about Islamophobia, but my friend’s “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful people” – her name for the Blue Tribe – can’t get together enough energy to really hate Osama, let alone Muslims in general. We understand that what he did was bad, but it didn’t anger us personally. When he died, we were able to very rationally apply our better nature and our Far Mode beliefs about how it’s never right to be happy about anyone else’s death.

On the other hand, that same group absolutely loathed Thatcher. Most of us (though not all) can agree, if the question is posed explicitly, that Osama was a worse person than Thatcher. But in terms of actual gut feeling? Osama provokes a snap judgment of “flawed human being”, Thatcher a snap judgment of “scum”.

[...]

And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

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