October 23, 2016

QotD: The coalition of the cool

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

[T]here’s this fundamental problem where so many people who identify themselves as being part of the broad left define their coalition based on linguistic cues, cultural overlap, and social circles. The job of politics, at its most basic, is finding common cause with people who aren’t like you. But current incentives seem to point in the opposite direction — surveying the people who are just like you and trying to come up with ways in which that social connection is actually a political connection.

As usual, I blame the internet, which I’m more and more convinced is one of the worst things to ever happen to the left. It encourages people to collapse any distinction between their work life, their social life, and their political life. “Hey, that person who tweets about the TV shows I like also dislikes injustice,” which over time becomes “I can identify an ally by the TV shows they like.” The fact that you can mine a Rihanna video for political content becomes, in that vague internety way, the sense that people who don’t see political content in Rihanna’s music aren’t on your side. The fact that you are part of the tiny sliver of humanity that lives in very small geographical and social enclaves in a handful of coastal cities and can identify some such thing as the “litbro” doesn’t change the fact that 99.9% of the people who use the term “bro” would find the conflation of that term with a love for literature totally, utterly confusing. But since those enclaves are vastly overrepresented in digital media, so is the concept of the litbro, which then becomes another means through which potential allies are alienated by the obscurity and insiderism of left discourse. With no one particularly intending it to be so, left discourse becomes indistinguishable from a social discourse that is exclusive rather than inclusive.

Fredrik deBoer, “getting past the coalition of the cool”, Fredrik deBoer, 2015-11-09.

October 22, 2016

Polls, voting trends, and turnouts

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Jay Currie looks at the US election polling:

Polls tend to work by adjusting their samples to reflect demographics and an estimate of a given demographic’s propensity to actually vote. On a toy model basis, you can think of it as a layer cake with each layer representing an age cohort. So, for example, if you look at younger voters 18-29 you might find that 90% of them support Hilly and 10% Trump. If there are 100 of these voters in your sample of 500 a simple projection would suggest 90 votes for Hilly, 10 for Trump. The problem is that it is difficult to know how many of those younger voters will actually go out and vote. As a rule of thumb the older you are the more likely you are to vote so now you have to estimate voting propensity.

There are two ways to get a sense of voting propensity: ask the people in your sample or look at the behaviour of people the same age but in the last couple of elections.

And now the landscape begins to shift. In 2008, nearly 50% of voters aged 18-29 voted. In 2012, 40% voted. In both elections, the youth vote was heavily pro-Obama. If you were designing a poll at this point, what sort of weighting would make sense for youth voters? Making that call will change the landscape your poll will reflect. If you want your poll to tilt Hilly you can believe that the prospect of the first woman President of the United States will be as motivating as Obama was and assign a voting propensity of 40-50%; alternatively, if you don’t see many signs of Hillary catching fire among younger voters, you can set the propensity number at 30% and create a tie or a slight Trump lead.

(The results of this are even more dramatic if you look at the black vote and turnout. In 2008 black turnout was 69.1%, 2012, 67.4% with Obama taking well over 90%. Will the nice white lady achieve anything like these numbers?)

One the other side of the ledger, the turnouts of the less educated have been low for the last two elections. 52% in 2008 and a little less than 50 in 2012. There is room for improvement. Now, as any educated person will tell you, often at length, Trump draws a lot of support in the less educated cohorts. But that support is easily discounted because these people (the deplorables and their ilk) barely show up to vote.

Build your model on the basis that lower education people’s participation in 2016 will be similar to 2008 and 20012 and you will produce a result in line with the 538.com consensus view. But if you think that the tens of thousands people who show up for Trump’s rallies might just show up to vote, you will have a model tending towards the LA Times view of things.

October 21, 2016

QotD: Check your privilege

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

I’m privileged. We are privileged beyond the dreams of kings and queens of past centuries.

Unfortunately when they tell you to “check your privilege” that’s not what they mean.

This is a phrase increasingly deployed by people (usually women – rolls eyes) with an academic background and its meaning is … liberal squid ink. If you’re telling them that Welfare was a disaster for black families (it was) and that affirmative action not only has been a disaster for many organizations, but corrodes the soul (you never know why you were hired. I have friends in that position) and institutes birth-privilege based on who your ancestors were (aka nobility) they will say “check your privilege.” This really doesn’t mean a heck of a lot. It can’t, because they have no idea who you are, or indeed if you have ever received any privilege growing up.

What it is based on is the idea that our society is so inherently racist/sexist/homophobic that just by being straight, white and male someone receives better treatment than someone else who isn’t one or more of those things.

Like most lunatic ravings of the left, it has a point, except for the “male” thing.

Is there some sort of automatic boost you get for being a member of the majority (which women are, despite being accorded minority status.) Of course. You’re a known quantity. Just by virtue of people having interacted with someone like you, you’re going to get “helpful” treatment, even if you are supposedly a minority.


The reason so many academic liberals deploy it as a war cry, though, is because they are mostly academics from – da – privileged backgrounds. This sort of “insult” is the worst they’ve ever suffered. They’ve never been low man on the totem pole with sh*t flowing downhill for things you couldn’t even vaguely control.

So they imagine these casual slights are the worst thing ever.

It’s sort of like kids who always got all the candy they wanted, feeling crushed because you said “no chocolate before breakfast.” It’s the worst thing ever, because it’s the worst they’ve ever experienced.

They also find it useful to shut up opponents because well… if they say it, any normal rational people thinks of my opening to this post. They think “Well, I am unusually blessed, maybe—”

Don’t. Just don’t. Most of the people who use “check your privilege” could buy you and sell you outright. The real “downtrodden” battling to get to the top will often have the same reaction YOU have.

The point is, we’re all equal under the law. Human discrimination is not something you can stop, but it’s also not something that is triggered to the Marxist categories of race, orientation or even class. It’s usually more subtle. I might discriminate against someone because something about him bothers me: accent, gestures, something. I might not even know why. It might be unjust.

It’s just a result of humans not being perfect. No human society can get rid of it. Giving people the power to point and cry privilege to shut others up will just privilege a bunch of academics and bureaucrats who will use it to their advantage.

When told to check your privilege, I suggest you answer “it’s fine, thank you. How about yours? A bit overlarge, no?”

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Squid Ink”, According to Hoyt, 2015-02-10.

October 18, 2016

QotD: “Smart Growth” regulations hurt the poor

Filed under: Economics, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In the 1970s, municipalities enacted new rules that were designed to protect farmland and to preserve green space surrounding rapidly growing cities by forbidding private development in those areas. By the late 1990s, this practice evolved into a land-use strategy called “smart growth.” (Here’s a video I did about smart growth.) While some of these initiatives may have preserved green space that can be seen, what is harder to see is the resulting supply restriction and higher cost of housing.

Again, the lower the supply of housing, other things equal, the higher real-estate prices will be. Those who now can’t afford to buy will often rent smaller apartments in less-desirable areas, which typically have less influence on the political process. Locally elected officials tend to be more responsive to the interests of current residents who own property, vote, and pay taxes, and less responsive to renters, who are more likely to be transients and nonvoters. That, in turn, makes it easier to implement policies that use regulation to discriminate against people living on low incomes.

Sandy Ikeda, “Shut Out: How Land-Use Regulations Hurt the Poor”, The Freeman, 2015-02-05.

October 17, 2016

Hillary Clinton tells us to expect a major US recession shortly after January 20, 2017

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Fortunately, as Tim Worstall explains, politicians can rarely be believed — especially when it comes to economics:

Hillary Clinton Vows To Slam The Economy Into Recession Immediately Upon Election

This probably isn’t quite what Hillary Clinton intended to say but it is what she did say at a fundraiser on Friday night. That immediately upon election she would slam the US economy into a recession. For what she has said is that she’s not going to add a penny to the national debt. Which, in an economy running a $500 billion and change budget deficit means tax rises and or spending cuts of $500 billion and change immediately she takes the oath. And that’s a large enough and fierce enough change, before she does anything else, to bring back a recession.


Now, what she meant is something more like this. That she has some spending plans, which she does. And she is also proposing some tax rises. And that her tax rises will balance her spending plans and thus the mixture of plans will not increase the national debt. Which is possibly even true although I don’t believe a word of it myself. For her taxation plans are based upon static analyses when we really must use dynamic ones to measure tax changes. This is normally thought of as something that the right prefers. For if we measure the effects of tax cuts using the dynamic method then there will be some (please note, some, not enough for the cuts to pay for themselves) Laffer Effects meaning that the revenue loss is smaller than that under a static analysis. But this is also true about tax rises. Behaviour really does change when incentives change. Thus tax rises gain less revenue in real life than what a straight line or static analysis predicts.

That is, as I say, probably what she means. But that’s not actually what she said. She said she’ll not add a penny to the national debt. Which means that immediately on taking office she’s got to either raise taxes by $500 billion and change or reduce spending by that amount. Because the budget deficit is that $500 Big Ones and change at present and the deficit is the amount being added to the national debt each year. The problem with this being that that’s also some 3.5% or so of GDP and an immediate fiscal tightening of that amount would put the US economy back into recession.

QotD: The “narrative”

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

The most exhausting thing about our politics these days — other than the never-ending presidential election itself — is the obsession with “shaping the narrative.” By that I mean the effort to connect the dots between a selective number of facts and statistics to support one storyline about the state of the union.

Narrative-building is essential for almost every complicated argument because it’s the only way to get our pattern-seeking brains to discount contradictory facts and data. Trial lawyers understand this implicitly. Get the jury to buy the story, and they’ll do the heavy lifting of arranging the facts in just the right way.


I’m not naive. Crafting stories to serve political purposes is as old as politics itself. But the problem seems to be getting worse. Perhaps it’s because our country is so polarized and our media environment so balkanized and instantaneous. Politicians and journalists alike feel compelled to make facts serve some larger tale in every utterance. The reality is that life is complicated and every well-crafted narrative leaves out important facts.

Jonah Goldberg, “Narrative-Building Has Become a Political Obsession”, National Review, 2016-09-28.

October 16, 2016

Trump supporters aren’t who you think they are

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

An interesting article in, of all places, the Guardian discusses where Trump support comes from and why the media has difficulty identifying or covering them in a realistic fashion:

Hard numbers complicate, if not roundly dismiss, the oft-regurgitated theory that income or education levels predict Trump support, or that working-class whites support him disproportionately. Last month, results of 87,000 interviews conducted by Gallup showed that those who liked Trump were under no more economic distress or immigration-related anxiety than those who opposed him.

According to the study, his supporters didn’t have lower incomes or higher unemployment levels than other Americans. Income data misses a lot; those with healthy earnings might also have negative wealth or downward mobility. But respondents overall weren’t clinging to jobs perceived to be endangered. “Surprisingly”, a Gallup researcher wrote, “there appears to be no link whatsoever between exposure to trade competition and support for nationalist policies in America, as embodied by the Trump campaign.”

Earlier this year, primary exit polls revealed that Trump voters were, in fact, more affluent than most Americans, with a median household income of $72,000 – higher than that of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders supporters. Forty-four percent of them had college degrees, well above the national average of 33% among whites or 29% overall. In January, political scientist Matthew MacWilliams reported findings that a penchant for authoritarianism – not income, education, gender, age or race –predicted Trump support.

These facts haven’t stopped pundits and journalists from pushing story after story about the white working class’s giddy embrace of a bloviating demagogue.

In seeking to explain Trump’s appeal, proportionate media coverage would require more stories about the racism and misogyny among white Trump supporters in tony suburbs. Or, if we’re examining economically driven bitterness among the working class, stories about the Democratic lawmakers who in recent decades ended welfare as we knew it, hopped in the sack with Wall Street and forgot American labor in their global trade agreements.

But, for national media outlets comprised largely of middle- and upper-class liberals, that would mean looking their own class in the face.

The faces journalists do train the cameras on – hateful ones screaming sexist vitriol next to Confederate flags – must receive coverage but do not speak for the communities I know well. That the media industry ignored my home for so long left a vacuum of understanding in which the first glimpse of an economically downtrodden white is presumed to represent the whole.

H/T to John Donovan who comments “I’m pretty sure I don’t share this Kansan’s policy preferences, but I find her view here refreshing.”

October 15, 2016

QotD: “Progressive” versus “liberal”

Filed under: Britain, Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Some years ago, the liberal writer Michael Kinsley described the different attitudes to free speech in the U.K. and the U.S. as follows: “In a country like Great Britain, the legal protections for speech are weaker than ours, but the social protections are stronger. They lack a First Amendment, but they have thicker skin and a greater acceptance of eccentricity of all sorts.”

Today, both sorts of protection for speech — legal and social — are weaker than before in both countries. This year, official regulation of the press was passed into U.K. law for the first time since 18th-century juries nullified press prosecutions. These new restraints enjoyed the backing not just of all the parties but apparently of the public as well.

In the U.S., the case of Mann v. Steyn, let alone a hypothetical case involving Quran-burning, has yet to be decided. But Democrats in the Senate are seeking to restrict political speech by restricting the money spent to promote it. And in the private sector, American corporations have blacklisted employees for expressing or financing certain unfashionable opinions. In short, a public culture that used to be liberal is now “progressive” — which is something like liberalism minus its commitment to freedom.

The U.S. and Britain have long thought of themselves as, above all, free countries. If that identity continues to atrophy, free speech will be the first victim. But it will not be the last.

John O’Sullivan, “No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech”, Wall Street Journal, 2014-10-31.

October 13, 2016

QotD: Libertarian constitutionalism

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

Libertarian constitutional thought is a distinctly minority position among scholars and jurists, one that at first glance has little connection with either modern Supreme Court jurisprudence or the liberalism that remains dominant in the legal academy. However, libertarian ideas have more in common with mainstream constitutional thought than at first meets the eye. They have also had greater influence on it.

This article explores the connections between mainstream and libertarian constitutional thought in recent decades. On a number of important issues, modern Supreme Court doctrine and liberal constitutional thought has been significantly influenced by pre-New Deal libertarian ideas, even if the influence is often unconscious or unacknowledged. This is particularly true on issues of equal protection doctrine and modern “substantive” due process as it pertains to “noneconomic” rights. Here, both the Supreme Court and much of the mainstream academic left have repudiated early twentieth century Progressivism, which advocated across-the-board judicial deference to legislatures. They have also rejected efforts to eliminate common law and free market “baselines” for constitutional rights.

The gap between libertarian and mainstream constitutional thought is much greater on issues of federalism and property rights. Here too, however, recent decades have seen significant convergence. Over the last thirty years, the Supreme Court has begun to take federalism and property rights more seriously, and the idea that they should get strong judicial protection has attained greater intellectual respectability. Moreover, much of libertarian constitutional thought merely seeks to apply to federalism, property rights, and economic liberties, the same principles that mainstream jurists and legal scholars have applied in other areas, most notably “noneconomic” constitutional rights and separation of powers.

Ilya Somin and David Bernstein, abstract to “The Mainstreaming of Libertarian Constitutionalism” in Law and Contemporary Problems, reposted in the Washington Post, 2015-02-20.

October 12, 2016

Jonah Goldberg was having “a case of the Mondays on a Friday”

Filed under: Humour, Politics, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

In last week’s Goldberg File email, Jonah explained how even taking time away from covering the presidential race wasn’t quite as restful as he might have hoped:

I’m having a case of the Mondays on a Friday. I keep poking at the computer screen like an orangutan with a Speak-and-Spell. (For the kids out there, a Speak-and-Spell is what my generation called an iPad.) I’m taking a much-needed vacation day from writing about that whole presidential-election thing. But, when I look at the all the other headlines, I kind of feel like I’m visiting a museum after the zombie apocalypse. It’s not that these things aren’t important, they just seem like they’re from another time.

You have to stare at the painting or the sculpture for a few minutes until you can conjure the memory of why this stuff matters. Take, for example, the dawning realization that Obamacare is like a Claymation version of Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen staged entirely with characters sculpted out of fecal matter: The mother of all sh*t shows.

October 6, 2016

QotD: Political Correctness to the point of derangement

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

My favourite example of political correctness involves the American Navy. In October 2001, shortly after America invaded Afghanistan, some of its Navy personnel were preparing missiles that were going to be fired at al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds. One of the Navy men decided to write some words on the side of his missile to express his anger about 9/11. So in reference to the 9/11 hijackings, he wrote the following message on his missile: ‘Hijack this, you faggots.’

Now, little did he know that even though the American military had rather a lot on its mind at that moment, his message would still cause a massive controversy. When they heard about what had happened, the upper echelons of the Navy were outraged. They expressed ‘official disapproval’ of the homophobic message. They issued a warning that Navy personnel should ‘more closely edit their spontaneous acts of penmanship’. Some unofficial guidelines were issued, covering what could and could not be written on post-9/11 missiles. So it was okay to write things like ‘I love New York’ but not okay to use words like faggot.

That is my favourite example of political correctness for two reasons. Firstly because it sums up how psychotically obsessed with language politically correct people are. Because what these Navy people were effectively saying is that it is okay to kill people, but not to offend them. It is okay to drop missiles on someone’s town or someone’s cave, just so long as those missiles don’t have anything ‘inappropriate’ written on them. Heaven forbid that the last thing a member of the Taliban should see before having his head blown off is a word reminding him of the existence of homosexuality.

This really captures the warping of morality that is inherent in political correctness, where one becomes so myopically focused on speech codes, on linguistic representation, that everything else, even matters of life and death, can become subordinate to that.

Brendan O’Neill, “The new war against PC – it’s too late and it’s picked the wrong target”, Spiked, 2015-01-29.

October 5, 2016

“You have to die to eventually get out of the taxes […] few people are willing to take that step”

Filed under: Business, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Megan McArdle addresses the social media outrage at revelations from Il Donalduce‘s partial tax returns leaked to the media:

The big news this weekend was the leak of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns to the New York Times. The returns showed that in that year, Trump claimed $916 million worth of business losses; those losses, said the Times, “could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.”

Liberal social media dissolved into an ecstatic puddle; conservative social media, at least the part that is supporting Trump, angrily denounced the Times for publishing this tripe.

A few sensible people tried to explain that while the story might have well show that Trump was a bad businessman, it didn’t really show any sort of interesting tax shenanigans. And since we had long known that Trump lost a bunch of money in Atlantic City, a story that has been amply and ably covered by folks like our own Tim O’Brien, it didn’t even really offer much news.

Why did people see scandalous tax avoidance in this case? At issue is the “net operating loss,” an accounting term that means basically what it sounds like: When you net out your expenses against the money you took in, it turns out that you lost a bunch of money. However, in tax law, this has a special meaning, because these NOLs can be offset against money earned in other years. You can use a “carryforward” to offset the losses against income made in future years (as many as 15 future years, under the federal tax law of 1995). You can also use a “carryback” to offset those losses against income you made in past years (three in 1995, which when added to the 15-year carryforward term, gives us the 18 years the Times refers to).

To judge from the reaction on Twitter, this struck many people as a nefarious bit of chicanery. And to be fair, they were probably helped along in this belief by the New York Times description of it, which made it sound like some arcane loophole wedged into our tax code at the behest of the United Association of Rich People and Their Lobbyists. They called it “a tax provision that is particularly prized by America’s dynastic families, which, like the Trumps, hold their wealth inside byzantine networks of partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations.”

Every tax or financial professional I have heard from about the New York Times piece found this characterization rather bizarre. The Times could have just as truthfully written that the provision was “particularly prized by America’s small businesses, farmers and authors,” many of whom depend on the NOL to ensure that they do not end up paying extraordinary marginal tax rates — possibly exceeding 100 percent — on income that may not fit itself neatly into the regular rotation of the earth around the sun.


Rich people do manage their income to minimize their taxes, and some of the means they use to do so should probably be written out of the tax code. But the wealthy individual who manages to make a lot of money while paying absolutely no taxes on it is more a creature of myth than reality. That myth, like many myths, has some basis in fact: It used to be eminently possible to do, thanks to loopholes in the tax code that allowed people to take advantage of real estate losses, among other things. Those loopholes, however, were mostly closed by that notorious liberal crusader Ronald Reagan, during the 1986 tax reform package.

If Trump managed to pay no taxes for years, the most likely way he did this was by losing sums much vaster than the unpaid taxes. This is fair, it is right, it is good tax policy. There are many valid indictments of Trump as a candidate and as a businessman. But on the charge of unseemly tax avoidance, if this is all the evidence we have, then the grand jury would have to return … no bill.

Some politicians absolutely love tax laws, because they get to write them in ways that force taxpayers (both individual and corporate) to behave in certain ways to minimize the taxes they pay, and then they get to pillory disfavoured individuals or corporations in the media or on the campaign trail when they actually follow those arcane and intricate laws and end up paying “less” tax than the politician thinks they should. Win/win from the political hack’s point of view, but lose/lose for the law-abiding taxpayer.

October 2, 2016

QotD: Camille Paglia on what’s wrong with American feminism today

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

After the great victory won by my insurgent, pro-sex, pro-fashion wing of feminism in the 1990s, American and British feminism has amazingly collapsed backward again into whining, narcissistic victimology. As in the hoary old days of Gloria Steinem and her Stalinist cohorts, we are endlessly subjected to the hackneyed scenario of history as a toxic wasteland of vicious male oppression and gruesome female suffering. College campuses are hysterically portrayed as rape extravaganzas where women are helpless fluffs with no control over their own choices and behavior. I am an equal opportunity feminist: that is, I call for the removal of all barriers to women’s advance in the professional and political realms. However, I oppose special protections for women, which I reject as demeaning and infantilizing. My principal demand (as I have been repeating for nearly 25 years) is for colleges to confine themselves to education and to cease their tyrannical surveillance of students’ social lives. If a real crime is committed, it must be reported to the police. College officials and committees have neither the expertise nor the legal right to be conducting investigations into he said/she said campus dating fiascos. Too many of today’s young feminists seem to want hovering, paternalistic authority figures to protect and soothe them, an attitude I regard as servile, reactionary and glaringly bourgeois. The world can never be made totally safe for anyone, male or female: there will always be sociopaths and psychotics impervious to social controls. I call my system “street-smart feminism”: there is no substitute for wary vigilance and personal responsibility.

Camille Paglia, “The Catholic Pagan: 10 Questions for Camille Paglia”, American Magazine, 2015-02-25.

September 30, 2016

QotD: Why is high school so deadly dull?

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

All teaching takes a toll on what’s taught, but high school is wondrously efficient at making interesting things dull. So why are kids forced to go? Well, one reason has to do with child-­labor laws. In the middle of the 19th century, kids in most states could stop going to school after eighth grade, once they had learned to read and do a little arithmetic, and they got jobs. They worked on farms or in dark satanic mills, and one by one the states made laws (or began to enforce existing laws) that said that young people had to stay in school so their morals wouldn’t be corrupted and they wouldn’t languish in ignorance and be roped into a life of labor from dawn to dusk and die of consumption before they reached 30. So the government built high schools, lots of them, and the number of kids in high school burgeoned, and blossomed, and ballooned. By 1940, there were five times as many high-school graduates as there were before the labor-­law reforms. It was a huge change all over the country, and it required discipline. Squads of truant officers would go sniffing around finding kids who were evading high school, and they threatened parents with fines or even jail time and got them to comply.

What happens if you suddenly have millions of kids in high school who would have been working under the old laws? You have to hire more teachers, and you have to figure out what they’re going to teach. You then get endless debates about cultural literacy — about what subjects should be required. Should everyone in high school learn Greek? What about Latin? What about sewing? Or needlepoint? Cursive? And the schools became bigger. The local schoolhouse went away, and the gigantic brick edifice on the edge of town took its place. James Conant, a president of Harvard, decided in the 1960s that the ideal high school should have at least 750 students. That’s a lot of students — it’s a battalion of students, in fact — and that’s perhaps where it all began to go wrong. The regional schools became meatpacking plants, or Play-Doh fun factories, squeezing out supposedly educated human beings, marching them around from class to class — bells bonging, punishments escalating, homework being loaded on. And yet the human beings who were marching from class to class weren’t being paid. “Review the elements of transcendentalism listed on Page 369.” Oh, and do it for free.

Every day something like 16 million high-school students get up at the crack of dawn, slurp some oat clusters while barely conscious, hop on a bus, bounce around the county, show up and sit in a chair, zoned out, waiting for the first bell. If they’re late, they are written up. Even if they don’t do much academic work, they are physically present. Their attendance is a valuable commodity, because if students don’t attend, teachers and guidance counselors and principals and textbook makers and designers of educational software have no jobs. A huge lucrative industry is built around them, and the students get nothing out of it but a G.P.A. They deserve not to have their time wasted.

And it is wasted, as everyone knows. Teachers spend half their time shouting themselves hoarse, and young adults are infantilized. Their lives are absurdly regimented. Every minute is accounted for. They sit in one hot room after another and wait for each class to end. Time thickens. It becomes like saltwater taffy — it becomes viscous and sticky, and it stretches out and it folds back on itself through endless repetition. Tuesday is just like Wednesday, except the schedule is shuffled. Day after day of work sheets. By the time they graduate, they’ve done 13 years of work sheets. When they need to go to the bathroom, they have to write their name on a piece of paper by the door. If they hide in the bathroom, they’re in trouble. Whole hierarchies of punishment for scofflaws arise — school-­supplied iPads are restricted, parents are called on the phone, in-school suspensions are meted out.

What makes all this almost tolerable is the kids themselves. They find ways to make it entertaining. They discover friends and co-­conspirators. They rebel. They interrupt one another constantly in search of some tiny juicy Jolly Rancher of surprise. They subvert the system. They learn to lie convincingly to avoid work. The teacher’s aide (sometimes it was me) says, “Are you all caught up?” Kid: “Yep.” Aide: “Did you do that BrainPOP about the flipflap of the doodlesquat?” Kid: “Yep, handed that in yesterday.” One young man I ­talked to seemed unusually intelligent but downcast. I asked him how he survived his days. He pulled out his earbud, and he said one word: “music.”

Nicholson Baker, “Fortress of Tedium: What I Learned as a Substitute Teacher”, New York Times Magazine, 2016-09-07.

September 29, 2016

Today’s utopian visionaries

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Daniel Greenfield describes them very well:

The sort of people who set off class wars as a hobby have very particular classless societies in mind. The average left-wing revolutionary is not poor. He is a homicidal dilettante from the upper classes with a burning conviction of his own importance that he is unwilling to realize through disciplined labor. His revolution climaxes with a classless society in which he is at the very top.

Not near the top, not adjacent to the top, as he usually was before, but at the very top.

Utopia has a class system. At the top are the thinkers, the philosopher kings who develop plans based on how things ought to be and then turn them over to lesser men to actually implement. They are the priestly class of an ideological movement whose deity is politics and whose priests are politicians.

In a planned economy, they are the titans of industry and finance, they are the heads of banks and the men who move millions and billions around the board, and they are utterly unfit for the job. But they also make decisions in matters of war and science. And in all things. They measure political heresy in all things and all the activities of man are measured against their dogma and rewarded or punished.

This is the way it was in the Soviet Union or Communist China. But take a closer glance at the White House and see if you don’t spot the occasional similarity.

In the middle of Utopia’s class system is the middle class. This is not the middle class you are familiar with. There are no small business owners here. No one striving to make it up the ladder. Utopia’s middle class is the bureaucracy, the interlinked hive mind of government and non-profits.

At the top of Utopia’s class system are the philosopher-planners who issue the regulations. Or rather they offer objectives. The bureaucracy filters them through successive layers, transforming grandiose ideas into stultifying regulations and each successive layers expands them into further microcosms of unnecessary detail. This expansion of regulations also expands the bureaucracy. One feeds off the other.

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