Quotulatiousness

April 13, 2014

Japan does not understand how it is perceived overseas

Filed under: Government, History, Japan — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:02

In The Diplomat, Robert Dujarric explains some of the odd behaviour of some Japanese politicians in dealing with and talking about other nations:

… why are outsiders so worried about Japanese militarism?

First, there is the “sheep in wolf’s clothing” posture of the Abe Cabinet. In barely more than a year it has engaged in an endless stream of symbolic or verbal provocations: pilgrimages to Yasukuni, participation at Takeshima Day rites, Abe-appointed NHK governors denying wartime sexual slavery and the Nanjing Massacre, discussions about revisiting the Kono Statement, and a convoluted speech by Deputy Premier Taro Aso on learning from the Fuehrer.

Second, many Japanese politicians don’t know how the rest of the world thinks. A telling example was the prime minister giving a thumbs up from the cockpit of Japanese Air Self Defense jet with tail number 731. That prompted memories of Imperial Japanese Army Unit 731, which performed gruesome experiments on Chinese, other Asians, Russians and some Westerners (and whose leaders received a “get out of jail card” courtesy of the United States). Yet the premier either didn’t notice the markings or didn’t realize what the impact would be, and then failed to fire his entire advance team afterwards. The “731 photo-op” was not unique. Aso’s trip to Yasukuni just after attending the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye of South Korea was another.

Third, Japan has an excellent but minute corps of diplomats and bureaucrats who excel at interaction with foreigners. Beyond this, though, most of its officialdom, including many in the Foreign Ministry, have not received the necessary training to, as the American expression goes, “make friends and influence people” overseas. The root causes lie in the inward-looking education system. Unfortunately, the government is blind to the requirement to provide extensive multi-year “remedial education” to the graduates it hires to ensure they are capable of functioning in a non-Japanese setting.

Also, Japan’s is a “closed shop.” Most Japanese who grew up overseas or have a parent from another country end up working for foreign companies or governments. Those best suited for interacting between Japan and the world are lost to the Japanese state.

Fourth, most Japanese officials view outsiders who criticize the LDP as hostile to Japan as a nation, which is generally not true. During a recent session with a Japanese diplomat, I mentioned a Western journalist in Tokyo. This reporter, whom I would describe as an open-minded left-winger, is neither a supporter of historical revisionism nor of Koizumi-Takenaka economics. Anyone who cares to read his prose will also notice a deep empathy for the Japanese people, an outstanding knowledge of the country, and a passion for Japanese culture. My Japanese interlocutor, however, saw him as a foe.

March 29, 2014

China’s “barbarian-handling tools” date back 2,000 years

Filed under: China, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:35

Edward Luttwak describes the very first time China was able to bring powerful “barbarians” into a tributary state, and how that first success has become a key element of Chinese geostrategic thought ever since:

It is this successful transformation of a once superior power first into an equal (signified by imperial marriages) and then into a subservient client-state that seems to have left an indelible residue in China’s tradition of statecraft. It was achieved with a specific “barbarian-handling” tool box first described by its early practitioner, the scholar and imperial advisor Lou Jing (婁敬) 199 BCE. His method was first applied when the Xiongnú [匈奴 horse-nomad state] were still very strong and the Han were not only tactically inferior (their chariots were totally obsolete for fighting mounted archers) but also beset by political divisions, so much so that a 198 BCE4 treaty required the payment of an annual tribute in kind (silk, grain, etc.), and the formal attestation of equality for the Chanyu [Qagan, Khan] embodied in a marriage alliance, formalized by imperial letters that make the equality fully explicit.

The first barbarian-handling tool is normally translated as “corruption” in English translations, but perhaps “addiction,” or more fully “induced economic dependence” are more accurate: the originally self-sufficient Xiongnú were to be made economically dependent on Han-produced goods, starting with silk and woolen cloths instead of their own rude furs and felt. At first supplied free as unrequited tribute, these goods could still be supplied later on when the Han were stronger, but only in exchange for services rendered.

The second tool of barbarian handling, is normally translated as “indoctrination”: the Xiongnú were to be persuaded to accept the authoritarian Confucian value system and the collectivistic behavioral norms of the Han, as opposed to the steppe value system, based on voluntary allegiance to a heroic (and successful in looting) fighting and migration leader. One immediate benefit was that once the Chanyu’s son and heir married an imperial daughter, he would be ethically subordinated to the emperor as his father-in-law — remaining so when he became Chanyu in turn.

The much larger, longer-term benefit of the second tool was to undermine the entire political culture of the Xiongnú, and make them psychologically well as economically dependent on the imperial radiance, which was willingly extended in brotherly fashion when the Han were weak, and then contemptuously withdrawn when the Xiongnú were reduced to vassalage. What happened between the Han and the Xiongnú from the equal treaty of 198 BCE to the vassalage treaty of 51 BCE, remained thereafter, and still remains today the most hopeful precedent for Han dealings with powerful and violent states — evidently the assigned role of the United States in the present Beijing world-view.

The method forms a logical sequence:

Stage One: start by conceding all that must be conceded to the superior power including tribute, in order to avoid damage and obtain whatever forbearance is offered. But this in itself entangles the ruling class of the still-superior power in webs of material dependence that reduce its independent vitality and strength.

Stage Two: offer equality in a privileged bipolarity that excludes all lesser powers, or “G-2” in current parlance. That neutralizes the still powerful Other party, and isolates the manipulated soon-to-be former equal from all its potential allies, preventing from balancing China with a coalition.

Stage Three: finally, when the formerly superior power has been weakened enough, withdraw all tokens of equality and impose subordination.

Until the Chinese government decided — very prematurely I believe — to awaken the world to its classically imperial territorial ambitions by demanding the cession of lands, reefs, rocks, and sea waters from India, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam (demands that disturb and damage the concurrent Tianxia narrative of an alternative and more harmonious state system, disseminated even within the confines of Stanford University), it was making much progress towards Stage Two, the stage of equality preparatory to the final stage of subordination.

March 26, 2014

QotD: Britain’s “common culture”

Filed under: Britain, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:22

In The Lion and the Unicorn, George Orwell wrote that the most salient fact about England’s liberal elite was “their severance from the common culture of the country”. By “the common culture” Orwell was thinking of things like beer and bingo, as well as smutty humour, the tabloid press and a distrust of the state and its officials. What connects these things, according to Orwell, is that they all have a whiff of rebelliousness about them, something that appeals to the Sancho Panza in all of us rather than the Don Quixote – “your unofficial self, the voice of the belly protesting against the soul”. These are the things ordinary people genuinely enjoy, as opposed to what they ought to enjoy. In indulging in these simple, unpretentious pleasures, they are making use of their freedom to spend their money on whatever they like, not what various authority figures think they should spend it on. “One thing one notices if one looks directly at the common people, especially in the big towns, is that they are not puritanical,” wrote Orwell. “They are inveterate gamblers, drink as much beer as their wages will permit, are devoted to bawdy jokes, and use probably the foulest language in the world.”

The reason the liberal elite are disconnected from this culture isn’t simply because it’s alien to them. It’s also because they actively disapprove of it. Unlike the common people, they are puritanical. They think gambling, drinking and bawdy humour, not to mention tabloid newspapers, are wrong and they often give vent to these feelings. Alongside a desire for a more just society, sits a yearning for a purer, less sinful society, one in which the workers spend their evenings reading self-improving books – Booker Prize-winning novels – and engaging in traditional arts and crafts, like basket making. The reason they seek political power isn’t primarily because they want to protect working-class people from being exploited by evil capitalists. They want to protect them from themselves.

Toby Young, “The Conservatives should become the party of beer, bingo and Lamborghinis”, Telegraph, 2014-03-26

March 25, 2014

Tech culture and ageism

Filed under: Business, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:56

Noam Scheiber examines the fanatic devotion to youth in (some parts of) the high tech culture:

Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. “Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its “careers” page: “We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.”

And that’s just what gets said in public. An engineer in his forties recently told me about meeting a tech CEO who was trying to acquire his company. “You must be the token graybeard,” said the CEO, who was in his late twenties or early thirties. “I looked at him and said, ‘No, I’m the token grown-up.’”

Investors have also become addicted to the youth movement:

The economics of the V.C. industry help explain why. Investing in new companies is fantastically risky, and even the best V.C.s fail a large majority of the time. That makes it essential for the returns on successes to be enormous. Whereas a 500 percent return on a $2 million investment (or “5x,” as it’s known) would be considered remarkable in any other line of work, the investments that sustain a large V.C. fund are the “unicorns” and “super-unicorns” that return 100x or 1,000x — the Googles and the Facebooks.

And this is where finance meets what might charitably be called sociology but is really just Silicon Valley mysticism. Finding themselves in the position of chasing 100x or 1,000x returns, V.C.s invariably tell themselves a story about youngsters. “One of the reasons they collectively prefer youth is because youth has the potential for the black swan,” one V.C. told me of his competitors. “It hasn’t been marked down to reality yet. If I was at Google for five years, what’s the chance I would be a black swan? A lot lower than if you never heard of me. That’s the collective mentality.”

Some of the corporate cultures sound more like playgroups than workgroups:

Whatever the case, the veneration of youth in Silicon Valley now seems way out of proportion to its usefulness. Take Dropbox, which an MIT alumnus named Drew Houston co-founded in 2007, after he got tired of losing access to his files whenever he forgot a thumb drive. Dropbox quickly caught on among users and began to vacuum up piles of venture capital. But the company has never quite outgrown its dorm-room vibe, even now that it houses hundreds of employees in an 85,000-square-foot space. Dropbox has a full-service jamming studio and observes a weekly ritual known as whiskey Fridays. Job candidates have complained about being interviewed in conference rooms with names like “The Break-up Room” and the “Bromance Chamber.” (A spokesman says the names were recently changed.)

Once a year, Houston, who still wears his chunky MIT class ring, presides over “Hack Week,” during which Dropbox headquarters turns into the world’s best-capitalized rumpus room. Employees ride around on skateboards and scooters, play with Legos at all hours, and generally tool around with whatever happens to interest them, other than work, which they are encouraged to set aside. “I’ve been up for about forty hours working on Dropbox Jeopardy,” one engineer told a documentarian who filmed a recent Hack Week. “It’s close to nearing insanity, but it feels worth it.”

It’s safe to say that the reigning sensibility at Dropbox has conquered more or less every corner of the tech world. The ping-pong playing can be ceaseless. The sexual mores are imported from college—“They’ll say something like, ‘This has been such a long day. I have to go out and meet some girls, hook up tonight,’ ” says one fortysomething consultant to several start-ups. And the vernacular is steroidally bro-ish. Another engineer in his forties who recently worked at a crowdsourcing company would steel himself anytime he reviewed a colleague’s work. “In programming, you need a throw-away variable,” the engineer explained to me. “So you come up with something quick.” With his co-workers “it would always be ‘dong’ this, ‘dick’ that, ‘balls’ this.”

There’s also the blind spot about having too many youth-focussed firms in the same market:

The most common advice V.C.s give entrepreneurs is to solve a problem they encounter in their daily lives. Unfortunately, the problems the average 22-year-old male programmer has experienced are all about being an affluent single guy in Northern California. That’s how we’ve ended up with so many games (Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, Crappy Bird) and all those apps for what one start-up founder described to me as cooler ways to hang out with friends on a Saturday night.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

March 16, 2014

Defining hackers and hacker culture

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:49

ESR put this together as a backgrounder for a documentary film maker:

In its original and still most correct sense, the word “hacker” describes a member of a tribe of expert and playful programmers with roots in 1960s and 1970s computer-science academia, the early microcomputer experimenters, and several other contributory cultures including science-fiction fandom.

Through a historical process I could explain in as much detail as you like, this hacker culture became the architects of today’s Internet and evolved into the open-source software movement. (I had a significant role in this process as historian and activist, which is why my friends recommended that you talk to me.)

People outside this culture sometimes refer to it as “old-school hackers” or “white-hat hackers” (the latter term also has some more specific shades of meaning). People inside it (including me) insist that we are just “hackers” and using that term for anyone else is misleading and disrespectful.

Within this culture, “hacker” applied to an individual is understood to be a title of honor which it is arrogant to claim for yourself. It has to be conferred by people who are already insiders. You earn it by building things, by a combination of work and cleverness and the right attitude. Nowadays “building things” centers on open-source software and hardware, and on the support services for open-source projects.

There are — seriously — people in the hacker culture who refuse to describe themselves individually as hackers because they think they haven’t earned the title yet — they haven’t built enough stuff. One of the social functions of tribal elders like myself is to be seen to be conferring the title, a certification that is taken quite seriously; it’s like being knighted.

[...]

There is a cluster of geek subcultures within which the term “hacker” has very high prestige. If you think about my earlier description it should be clear why. Building stuff is cool, it’s an achievement.

There is a tendency for members of those other subcultures to try to appropriate hacker status for themselves, and to emulate various hacker behaviors — sometimes superficially, sometimes deeply and genuinely.

Imitative behavior creates a sort of gray zone around the hacker culture proper. Some people in that zone are mere posers. Some are genuinely trying to act out hacker values as they (incompletely) understand them. Some are ‘hacktivists’ with Internet-related political agendas but who don’t write code. Some are outright criminals exploiting journalistic confusion about what “hacker” means. Some are ambiguous mixtures of several of these types.

March 9, 2014

More on that “cultural appropriation” meme

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:45

A couple of days back, I linked to a Salon article where an Arab woman was expressing her anguish and hurt that non-Arabs were appropriating belly dancing and how this was something she just couldn’t stand to see. Eugene Volokh responds in the Washington Post, asking “What would Salon think of an article called, ‘Why I can’t stand Asian musicians who play Beethoven’?”:

Appropriation — the horror! People treating artistic genres as if they were great ideas that are part of the common stock of humanity, available for all humanity to use, rather than the exclusive property of some particular race or ethnic group. What atrocity will the culturally insensitive appropriators think of next? East Asian cellists? Swedish chess players? The Japanese putting on Shakespeare? Jews playing Christians’ Christian music, such as Mozart’s masses? Arriviste Jewish physicists using work done for centuries by Christians? Russian Jews writing about Anglo-American law? Indians writing computer programs, using languages and concepts pioneered by Americans and Europeans? Japanese companies selling the most delicious custard cream puffs? Shame, shame, shame.

But, wait: Maybe — and I know this is a radical thought — artists, whether high or low, should be able to work in whatever artistic fields they want to work in. Maybe they should even be able to work in those fields regardless of their skin color or the place from which their ancestors came.

Maybe telling people that they can’t work in some field because they have the wrong color or ancestry would be … rats, I don’t know what to call it. If only there were an adjective that could be used to mean “telling people that they mustn’t do something, because of their race or ethnic origin.”

March 7, 2014

White belly dancers are “appropriating” inappropriately, says Salon writer

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:08

That vast invisible knapsack of white privilege is even deeper and more capacious than we thought: Randa Jarrar writes that the sight of white belly dancers is something she cannot stand:

Google the term “belly dance” and the first images the search engine offers are of white women in flowing, diaphanous skirts, playing at brownness. How did this become acceptable?

The term “belly dance” itself is a Western one. In Arabic, this kind of dance is called Raqs Sharqi, or Eastern dance. Belly dance, as it is known and practiced in the West, has its roots in, and a long history of, white appropriation of Eastern dance. As early as the 1890s in the U.S., white “side-show sheikhs” managed dance troupes of white women, who performed belly dance at world’s fairs (fun trivia: Mark Twain made a short film of a belly dancer at the 1893 fair). Many white women who presently practice belly dance are continuing this century-old tradition of appropriation, whether they are willing to view their practice this way or not.

[...]

“It’s Arab face,” my friend Nadine once said, pointing at an invitation from a white acquaintance of hers. The invitation was printed on card stock and featured the woman and a dozen of her white friends dressed in Orientalist garb with eye makeup caked on for full kohl effect and glittery accessories. We wanted to call these women up and say, “How is this OK? Would you wear a dashiki and rock waspafarian dreads and take up African dance publicly? Wait,” we’d probably say, “don’t answer that.”

The most disturbing thing is when these women take up Arabic performance names — Suzy McCue becomes Samirah Layali. This name and others like it make no sense in Arabic. This, in my estimation, completes the brownface Orientalist façade. A name. A crowning. A final consecration of all the wrongs that lead up to the naming.

Women I have confronted about this have said, “But I have been dancing for 15 years! This is something I have built a huge community on.” These women are more interested in their investment in belly dancing than in questioning and examining how their appropriation of the art causes others harm. To them, I can only say, I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late. Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.

H/T to Steve Muhlberger, who wondered “what kind of purity test will would-be dancers have to pass?”

January 29, 2014

Alan Moore on the “cultural catastrophe” of Superheroes

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

In the Guardian, Alison Flood rounds up some fascinating comments that Alan Moore made in what might be his final interview:

Comics god Alan Moore has issued a comprehensive sign-off from public life after shooting down accusations that his stories feature racist characters and an excessive amount of sexual violence towards women.

The Watchmen author also used a lengthy recent interview with Pádraig Ó Méalóid at Slovobooks entitled “Last Alan Moore interview?” — to expand upon his belief that today’s adults’ interest in superheroes is potentially “culturally catastrophic”, a view originally aired in the Guardian last year.

“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence,” he wrote to Ó Méalóid. “It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

The award-winning Moore used the interview to address criticism over his inclusion of the Galley-Wag character — based on Florence Upton’s 1895 Golliwogg creation — in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics, saying that “it was our belief that the character could be handled in such a way as to return to him the sterling qualities of Upton’s creation, while stripping him of the racial connotations that had been grafted onto the Golliwog figure by those who had misappropriated and wilfully misinterpreted her work”.

And he rebutted the suggestion that it was “not the place of two white men to try to ‘reclaim’ a character like the golliwogg”, telling Ó Méalóid that this idea “would appear to be predicated upon an assumption that no author or artist should presume to use characters who are of a different race to themselves”.

“Since I can think of no obvious reason why this principle should only relate to the issue of race — and specifically to black people and white people — then I assume it must be extended to characters of different ethnicities, genders, sexualities, religions, political persuasions and, possibly most uncomfortably of all for many people considering these issues, social classes … If this restriction were universally adopted, we would have had no authors from middle-class backgrounds who were able to write about the situation of the lower classes, which would have effectively ruled out almost all authors since William Shakespeare.”

H/T to Ghost of a flea for the link.

January 18, 2014

QotD: Belief

Filed under: History, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:59

Why do so many people believe in a god? Dennett’s Breaking the Spell is an attempt to examine that question, for Christian fundamentalists, Islamic teachers, Buddhist monks, atheists, and others. He begins by pointing to the commonality of pre-scientific answers in groups of people: “How do thunderstorms happen?” answered by “It must be someone up there with a giant hammer” (our example, not his). Then, probably after a minimum of discussion, a name such as “Thor” becomes agreed. Having successfully sorted out thunderstorms, in the sense that you now have an agreed answer to why they happen, other forces of nature are similarly identified and named. Soon you have a pantheon, a community of gods to blame everything on. It’s very satisfying when everyone around you agrees, so the pantheon soon becomes the accepted wisdom, and few question it. In some cultures, few dare to question it, because there are penalties if you do.

Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, & Jack Cohen, “Disbelief System”, The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day, 2013.

January 7, 2014

“Boomer Classic” and “Boomer Reboot”

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:45

Chronologically speaking, I’m a late Baby Boomer, but I’ve never felt I was a Boomer culturally. In the New York Times, Richard Pérez-Peña helps to explain why this is:

This year the youngest of the baby boomers — the youngest, mind you — turn 50. I hit that milestone a few months back. But we aren’t what people usually have in mind when they talk about boomers. They mean the early boomers, the postwar cohort, most of them now in their 60s — not us later boomers, labeled “Generation Jones” by the writer Jonathan Pontell.

The boom generation really has two distinct halves, which in my mind I call Boomer Classic and Boomer Reboot. (Take this quiz to see where you stand.) The differences between them have to do, not surprisingly, with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — and economics and war. For a wide-ranging set of attitudes and cultural references, it matters whether you were a child in the 1940s and ‘50s, or in the 1960s and ‘70s. And it probably matters even more whether you reached adulthood before or after the early ‘70s, a time of head-spinning changes with long-term consequences for families, careers and even survival.

[...]

Late boomers like me had none of that — no war, no draft, no defining political cause, and most of our fathers were too young for World War II. I remember, as a teenager, seeing old footage of the riots outside the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, and thinking, “People my age don’t feel that strongly about anything.”

People raised in the immediate postwar years had more faith in their government, and an idealistic view of America that curdled in the ‘60s and ‘70s. My childhood memories of the evening news, on the other hand, include the war, protests, Watergate and the dour faces of Johnson and Nixon, not the grins of Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

In this way, I think we late boomers have more in common with the jaded Generation X that followed: we had less idealism to spoil. No, I don’t remember where I was when Kennedy was killed and innocence died (I was an infant), but I sure remember where I was when Nixon resigned and cynicism reigned. Older boomers may have wanted to change the world; most of my peers just wanted to change the channel.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

January 4, 2014

Colorado – pot capital of North America

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:22

In yesterday’s Goldberg File email “news”letter, Jonah Goldberg talks about the legalized marijuana situation in Colorado:

I should say I’ve long favored the gradual decriminalization and eventual legalization of pot (but not narcotics). My reasons never stemmed from a burning desire to see ganja legalized. I simply recognized that pot is different from hard drugs and lumping them all together created real political problems and real injustices. I wanted it to be gradual for Burkean reasons. Give the culture time to adapt and to create healthy stigmas against being high all the time.

Things are moving a bit too fast for my tastes, but the way it’s happening is still better than many of the alternatives. The worst way to do it would be top-down, from D.C. Colorado (and Washington State) will be test cases. We’ll see how it works out.

I should also say I pretty much agree with David Brooks’s column today. Pot smoking is something to grow out of early, or never start. Yes, I know there are exceptions, but as a general rule I’m convinced pot-smoking — particularly routine pot-smoking — creates potheads, by which I mean fuzzy-minded and slothful people (or people who are more fuzzy-minded and slothful than they would otherwise be). If you are one of the high-functioning exceptions, or if you are a pothead and don’t realize that you are not one of the high-functioning exceptions, I’m sorry if this hurts your feelings.

[...]

A friend pointed out an irony in all of this. Right now, inequality is supposed to be the great bane of our nation. According to liberals like Barack Obama and Bill de Blasio, inequality is a function of systemic problems in the U.S. The have-nots have naught because of the deficiencies of our economic and political system. The victims deserve none of the blame. While that’s obviously true for some people, it’s also obviously untrue for others. For instance, heroin junkies rarely leave the bottom quintile. That’s not because John Locke and Adam Smith duped the Founding Fathers. More important, culture matters more than pure economic arrangements. For instance, as Charles Murray has demonstrated for decades, family structure has an enormous role in economic disparities. Today the data is pretty much in that family structure is a better predictor of economic mobility than inequality. That goes for this tragic symbol of income inequality, too.

It seems obvious to me that in a country where pot is cheap and ubiquitous, kids raised in messed-up families will be more likely to smoke pot — and more of it. Doing so may give temporary respite from the anxieties of a dysfunctional family, but it won’t better prepare them for a successful life. “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure,” Orwell writes, “and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.” Similarly, a teen may take to weed because he feels himself a loser and then become all the more of a loser because he smokes weed.

The irony is that liberals who think inequality is so terrible are cheering a reform that will in all likelihood exacerbate inequality. At least the libertarians celebrating the news from Colorado are consistent. They don’t care about income inequality. They argue legalization will increase liberty and happiness. They are right on the liberty part. The jury is out on the happiness part.

Update: Apparently one of David Brooks’ old toking buddies had a response to the column that Jonah linked to. It’s … well worth reading.

The other part he didn’t tell was about how we got high at lunch. This was back when you could smoke at school. Cigarettes, I mean, but naturally that wasn’t all we smoked. Smokers had to go to an area set up outside the cafeteria, hemmed in by the other wings of the building, sort of like a cell block. Architects must have been stoned or something, or maybe that was back when we didn’t care so much about smoking, but anyway they put the air intake for the second floor in a corner of the cell block. So we were smoking this joint of Jamaican over in that corner and Dave got the bright idea to blow the smoke into the register. “That’ll make everyone up there one of us!” he said. And sure enough when we went up to class the whole floor stank and the vice-principal was hustling up and down the hallway, wrinkling his nose like a bloodhound trying to figure out where the smell was coming from, and then he went into the boys’ room and dragged out one of the only two black boys at Radnor High, yelling at him for smoking pot in school.

I remember the guilty look on Dave’s face when he saw Mr. Santangelo with the kid by the collar. Later on, he told me that he was tempted to confess, but he also happened to know that that boy did smoke pot, that he was a full-on stoner, so if he got in a little trouble, it might be good for him. When I read today that Dave thinks that “not smoking, or only smoking sporadically gave you a better shot at becoming a little more integrated and interesting,” while “smoking all the time seemed likely to cumulatively fragment a person’s deep center,” I thought about that boy and wondered if getting kicked out of school had helped him hold together his deep center, and if his going to juvy was the kind of subtle discouragement that Dave thinks governments should engage in when it comes to the “lesser pleasures.” I suppose he thought he was doing the kid a favor by letting him take the rap.

December 29, 2013

QotD: Memes and culture

Filed under: History, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:41

People in all cultures grow up and acquire a set of beliefs. One way of looking at this is to call the beliefs that are inherited “memes”. Just as “genes” code for hereditary traits, so memes are intended to show the inheritance of individual items, rather than a whole belief system. A tune like “Happy Birthday”, a concept like Father Christmas, atom, bicycle, or fairy — all are memes. A whole slew of memes that forms an interacting whole is called a memeplex, and religions are the best examples, which at various times and in various cultures have had, or still do have, many linked-up memes like “There is Heaven and there is Hell …” and “Unless you pray to this God you’ll go to Hell” and “You must kill those who don’t believe in this …” and so on. You will have some familiarity with other religions, and you will appreciate that we’re not saying that your religion is like that. It’s all the others, the mistaken ones …

Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, & Jack Cohen, “Disbelief System”, The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day, 2013.

December 19, 2013

Changing perspectives of gender

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:19

Christopher Taylor on how women’s views of boys and men change as they grow:

Something interesting happens to most women when they get married and have a boy: they change their perspective on men. I think its not unreasonable of girls to get a certain grrl power men-are-dumb point of view in modern culture, we’re constantly bombarded with this message. It would take a pretty strong and unusual girl to resist the education that music, film, television, books, and education all imprint on her.

In college, young women are told all men are rapists at heart, and their denials is simply proof of the rape culture that menaces women constantly. Advertisements continually portray men as hapless idiotic children. With few exceptions, television shows almost always show the male characters as barely-literate frat boys and cave men. Music and movies promote the image of the all-powerful kung fu genius girl who looks hot constantly and always has the right put down to make men look bad.

But when a woman marries, she finds out guys aren’t all like that. Her husband has [his] faults, but strengths as well — or why would she love and marry him to begin with? She finds out that he’s no more immature and childish than her, just in different ways. She learns that men have strengths and abilities that women lack, just as they lack things women have.

And when she has a son, she sees things from a different perspective. That shirt that was so cool and empowering that said “Boys suck throw rocks at them” when she was 12 seems horrible and abusive when her son is the target. She finds out that her school treats boys as if they are some awful imposition that need to be drugged into submission and silenced in class. She learns that all the girl-power stuff she grew up with was at the expense of the boys.

But with a culture that so strongly tries to repress and shunt aside boys and treats men like knuckle dragging brutes, its even tougher for a boy to grow up as a man. I feel for the boys of today in school where they learn they should shut up and stop being masculine, that its awful and wrong to be a man and beautiful and good to be a woman. Growing up in the face of that can’t be easy.

December 11, 2013

The overpraising of popular culture

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:37

In the Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout comes not to praise Leonard Elmore:

… It used to be that we didn’t take popular culture seriously, but now we don’t take anything else seriously.

Do I exaggerate? Consider the endless encomia that greeted the airing in September of the final episode of “Breaking Bad,” which the Daily Beast described as “a perfect, A-1 piece of televisual filmmaking…an unparalleled valedictory achievement.” Or Tuesday’s announcement by LA Weekly that it’s cutting back its theater reviews from seven per issue to two. Or the fact that no classical musician has appeared on the cover of Time magazine since 1986. Or…but why go on? You know as well as I do that in postmodern America, pop culture gets most of the ink. It always has, but nowadays it also receives the kind of dead-serious critical attention in the academy and elsewhere that used to be reserved for high art — and increasingly it does so to the exclusion of high art.

[...]

Once again, it’s not my purpose to demean pop culture. I think that most of the best movies made in America in the 20th century were crime dramas, screwball comedies and westerns. But there’s more to life than getting your head blown off in a drug deal, and more to be said about love than can be crammed into a 32-bar ballad. Novels like Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, plays like Tennessee Williams’s “The Glass Menagerie,” ballets like Jerome Robbins’s “Dances at a Gathering,” paintings like Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series,” musical compositions like Aaron Copland’s Piano Sonata: These are large-scale works of art that aim higher than their popular counterparts. (In fact, that’s not a bad rough-and-ready definition of high art.) Mere ambition, mind you, is not in and of itself a good thing, any more than bigger is by definition better, but we’re cheating ourselves when we direct our attention solely to less ambitious art.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

December 4, 2013

QotD: A nation of shopkeepers

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:44

When Napoleon called us “une nation de boutiquiers”, a nation of shopkeepers, he meant to insult us. Down the centuries, many Continentals have disparaged what they see as the soulless money-grubbing of the English-speaking peoples. Fascists and communists used remarkably similar language when they attacked “decadent Anglo-Saxon capitalism” — though, happily for the human race, it turned out not to be in decay at all.

It’s true that there was always a countervailing Anglophile tendency: Voltaire and Montesquieu, among others, admired us precisely because of our individualistic, mercantile, libertarian ways. But the idea that we “Anglo-Saxons” are too materialistic has never entirely gone away.

The phrase “Anglo-Saxons”, in this sense, is of course economic rather than racial. When the French talk of “les anglo-saxons” or the Spanish of “los anglosajones,” they don’t mean descendants of Æthelwulf or Oswine. They mean people who speak English and believe in small government, whether in Kowloon, Killarney or Kaukapakapa.

A nation of shopkeepers? Sounds good to me. What would you rather have? A nation of generals? Of civil servants? Of monks? Small employers are the greatest heroes we produce, and their heroism is all the greater for being unappreciated, unacknowledged, unthanked.

Daniel Hannan, “Shopkeepers have done more for human happiness than generals, statesmen or kings “, Telegraph, 2013-12-03

Older Posts »
« « Some owls are more (politically) valuable than others| Apple iPhone pricing in different markets » »

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: