The State of the News

Not anything in particular except by way of illustration.

When did the news become The News? I don’t know and don’t have time at the moment to research it, but it’s good to remember that, somehow, for centuries, people made do with gossip and hearsay about almost everything we consider news today, delivered by word of mouth. So things haven’t really changed much, except at some point the gossip mongers and rumor mills got professionalized. The also added some research capabilities, and have greatly taken advantage of technological advances. However, based on personal experience, on what a look at the news has revealed over the past 5 decades during which I’ve looked at it, the content only marginally and occasionally reflects supposed improvements in research (“investigative reporting”) – it’s still mostly of the quality of what I’d imagine the women discussed around the fountain in the village square.

Image result for dirty laundryInstead, professional and technological improvements have mostly merely expanded the scope of what is to be gossiped about, without much improving the quality. Our poor benighted ancestors would only gossip about the foibles of the people they knew, maybe encompassing a few neighboring villages. Maybe the local aristocracy might come come in for a few whispers. Now, we can hear gossip about ‘celebrities’ and politicians  (insofar as those differ) round the clock and around the world. Based on what’s in the news and who and how many are paying attention to it, the research from the Moscow Bureau or whatever serves a tiny audience – at least, until the “investigative reporting” by “senior correspondants” is reduced to gossip, in cases where such a reduction is necessary. Thus, what exactly is going on in, say, Venezuela or Palestine is unlikely to see the light of day in the Press, and will be simplified beyond legitimate meaning before it sticks in anybody’s brain. The facts as revealed in conversations with just about anybody in almost any media sadly seem to bear this out.

We did go through a period in my lifetime where certain news anchors were canonized if not deified. Walter Cronkite springs to mind. They were trusted dispensers of the Truth. So was, I suppose, Walter Duranty a few generations earlier. But a harder look shows that such news anchors and senior correspondents had only augmented their rumor mongering with a bit of propaganda. The assumption that they were any smarter or better informed, let alone more moral and truthful, than your average garage mechanic or numbers racketeer is hard to maintain in the light of objective evidence.

But we trusted them. And, frankly, adored them. Modern reporters are now faced with an increasingly hostile environment in which only the Home Team even listens to them, and only if they say what the fans want to hear (not that there seems to be much of a risk of anything else happening). It has got to be hard when your idols are attacked, and even harder when what you, the cub reporter, had aspired to goes up in smoke: if you do a great job and get a few breaks, you still won’t be respected and loved like Uncle Walter. People will probably do worse than hate you – they will dismiss you without a thought.

Maybe. Some reporters still seem to think News Media are the secular clergy, and that those who oppose them are thus heretics in need of a good burning at the stake.

I wish I were kidding.

A couple years ago, I wrote a blog post which included a discussion of one Zach Carter, a “Senior political economy reporter” at the Huffington Post. Over the course of an interview with a wizened political economist, Mr. Carter, it seems, was revealed to be both utterly uniformed on the topic of his supposed expertise – political economy – and, more worrisome, utterly unconcerned with his ignorance. In his defence, I’ll point out that the problem is really the Huffington Post’s, who gave him the job and title, and the University of Virginia, which gave him a degree supposedly in evidence he knew some stuff. Also, he can’t be much older than 35, and his pictures on his bios would make Zuckerberg appear an ancient sage by comparison. He’s still getting carded, I’d bet.

I take this as evidence of a general trend, that of inflating titles far beyond the demonstrable qualifications of the position-holder, merely because a) the company needs that position filled, and b) the person filling it must appear to have a certain gravitas that it is hoped a ponderous title might give him. Moreover, as prestige and money in the news media continues to evaporate, papers are forced to recruit among people who will take reduced compensation in exchange for perceived prestige – that’s how you get Senior Vice Presidents and Senior Associate Directors.

Next, I’ve lost track of some item I thought I’d saved somewhere, wherein it was claimed that journalism is more and more becoming a profession for those who don’t need a job. Googled around, and what I could find: journalism in general pays a solid middle-class wage, in the neighborhood of $50k a year on average. Put another way, your average journalist makes around $25/hr, which is a bit more than an auto union member makes, and indeed, considerably less than what your plumber likely makes.

Yet another source (not going to provide links here – these items were on the 1st page of a Google search on journalist salaries, if you’re interested) mentions that journalist tend to be highly educated, and that the name publications, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, have high representation of people with degrees from elite schools, like 40-50% among editors and reporters.

Now, putting two and two together: if I get a degree from Harvard or Yale, I’m not looking at taking a few years to work up to a $50k salary. We can safely assume the NYT and WSJ, prestigious and located in New York, pay way more. But even twice the average – $100K – is not providing the kind of life a Manhattan sophisticate is expected to live.  I’m not paying off any of the couple hundred grand of school debt I may have incurred by going Ivy League on $100k/yr if I’m also paying Manhattan level living expenses. Further, if this is true, that cub reporter in Des Moines is going to be lucky to make $25K, or about $12.50 an hour, if the averages are going to work out.

So, the allegation that people who don’t need the money are overrepresented among journalists is at least not contradicted by the tiny amount of data I was willing to dig up for a blog post. Speculating a little more broadly, it would not be surprising if the wanna be Zach Carters of the world, with sterling degrees, no significant school debt, and delusions or at least aspirations of relevancy, might end up in journalism, while people with school debt to repay and objectively valuable knowledge and skills would have less of that tendency. Who knows? But in the immortal words of Don Henley:

You don’t really need to find out what’s going on
You don’t really want to know just how far it’s gone
Just leave well enough alone
Eat your dirty laundry

Finally, year before last, when the Oroville Dam was having some serious issues due to a rainy season with near 200% of average precipitation, I wanted to keep up on the goings-on. Evacuations, the risks, if any, to the dam itself, mitigation and repair steps taken, that sort of thing. If you consume any mainstream news, you will not be surprised to learn that I found the information on offer from these sources sorely lacking.

So I surfed around. I discovered a YouTube channel run by Juan Brown, a gentleman who lives in the general area of the dam, flies his own airplane, and likes to make videos. Turns out that a number of people put together videos on the failure of the main and emergency spillways and on the California DWR’s efforts to manage the situation. (The CA-DWR is the manager of our reservoir system). The DWR P.R. department even hired some people with drones to put out dramatic videos every week or so of the damage and, later, the repair efforts. Very pretty stuff. But Mr. Brown was the only source that stayed on top of it and, most importantly, seemed to actually understand what was going on. When something crazy was said on the news – and, shocking, I know, but any scary-sounding thing got immediately picked up by all the news ‘sources’ – Juan would address it in his videos. No, he would patiently explain, cracks or leaks in the underlying roller compacted concrete are not an issue, as Phase II entails installation of drainage and placing of a hardened concrete cap on top, for example. Cost overruns were not due (this one time, at least) to bureaucratic incompetence, but to the inability to get a good estimate due to the need to do a lot of work to understand the underlying geology before being able to size the project. And so on.

He attended the DWR news briefings, and seemed to be the only guy there asking intelligent questions or, indeed, understanding the answers. As you can imagine, the PR people with the DWR and Kiewit, the project management firm, started to get to know and appreciate Brown. Last week, he published part II of a guided tour of the site, not something the general public is getting, lead by a DWR and a Kiewit P.R. person.

At one point, off-camera, the lady from the DWR asked him a question: why are you doing this? Why are you so interested in this project? He gave the obvious answers: it’s in his backyard, it’s the biggest engineering project going on at the moment in the entire US, and he finds it fascinating.

Now, I have no way to independently verify the accuracy of Brown’s understanding and analysis of the Oroville Dam spillway projects, but I have a lot more confidence in him than I do any of the young, pretty people I’ve seen report on this in the ‘real’ media. Why? He asks the questions I would ask, and explains the answers in a way that makes sense.

Juan Brown is in some sense exactly the reporter who doesn’t need the money. He just doesn’t work for the media.

The appearance that needs to be saved here is the readily-observable ignorance and clear lack of worry over such ignorance by just about any news reporter or writer. The theory on the table is that careers in journalism appeal to a certain type of person: one who doesn’t need to make a lot of money, and who is attracted to an inner circle of sorts. The sort who can be paid in prestige, and who is not worried by, or perhaps fails to notice, their own manifest incompetence in the face of confusing facts.

In other words, the reason journalists are in general not any more reliable or informative than the women gossiping while drawing water in the village square is that, for many people involved, it’s not a passion for accuracy or truth that drives them, but in fact something much more akin to that feeling a gossip gets when she has something particularly juicy to share.

Maybe? Hey, it’s a theory, I’m sure there are others.

Perhaps next I should think about what news even is, really, and how much, if at all, we need it. I suspect not very much.

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Catholic Schools & the Prussian Model

As mentioned yesterday, currently reading Parish School by Timothy Walch and The Catholic School System in the United States,  by James A. Burns, C.S.C. , a two-volume set published in 1908. For the last few years, I’ve been trying to track down the when and why of the Catholic Church in America adopting the Prussian graded classroom model of school for all parochial schools and high schools. I think I’m on the right track. From the introduction of Burn’s epic:

In point of fact, however, there is a direct historic connection between the Catholic school system in this country and the Catholic school systems of various countries of Europe. The first Catholic schools here were offshoots of the existing school systems there. The founders and first teachers of our schools were products of the Catholic schools and colleges of Europe, and the institutions they established here were reproductions, to a great extent, of those in which they had been trained, or with which they were familiar in the Old World. All through the history of the Catholic school system in this country, this European influence is traceable through immigration, the religious Orders, and other agencies. It has been a potent factor in the making of our schools and colleges and in the molding of their character.

Oh. Duh. In my defense, it seemed amazing that the parish schools in America, founded in opposition to the express anti-Catholicism of the public schools, ended up adopting exactly the graded classroom model used by our Prussian model schools.

To recap: starting with the Potato Famine in the mid 1840s, millions of Catholic Irish immigrated, raising the Catholic population in the US from tiny to significant. According to a couple writers, the few Catholics in America before the Irish tended to be well-off English Recusants and their Catholic friends who knew enough to keep their heads down, mostly, and could afford to do it. They weren’t impoverished peasants showing up in the better neighborhoods looking for work.

The Irish were. They were desperately poor, and coming from a nation where they and their ancestors had suffered  from centuries of English oppression. It’s also not entirely accurate to say the Irish fled Ireland. Some not insignificant portion had their boat fare for the crossing paid for by their English landlords, who did the math and found it cheaper to do that than to feed them as the laws at the time required. (The English hadn’t suddenly gone soft – they just knew a bunch of starving people without hope would be a lot of trouble to control.) The Irish departure from Ireland was not purely voluntary.

The response of the solid Protestant majority was to impose compulsory graded classroom Prussian schooling. Horace Mann and a host of others traveled to Prussia to study their schools, which were, ultimately, the outgrowth of Luther’s demand that the state compel all parents to send their kids to school, so that state-certified teachers could make good little Lutherans out of them. (It never seems to have occurred to Luther that the state might want to do anything else. He’d have made a good Socialist.) Parents might have other plans than what Luther considered the proper moral upbringing of their own children, and that was intolerable. Such families needed to be, at the very least, overridden. This is a consistent theme in German and, ultimately, all state-run schooling

So, in the 1850s, it was legal in Massachusetts for kids to work in a factory or attend a state school – but illegal to keep them home. If you were a good Protestant or at least a better-off non-Catholic, I’d imagine those charged with enforcing truancy laws might not focus on your neighborhood. Instead, focus on the Irish slums. Because truancy – keeping your child out of school unless he’s off working in a factory (likely as not run by one of Mann’s peers), even if at home with you – could lead to your child being taken away from you. The goal was always the destruction of Catholic families and faith. This is of a piece with the Know Nothings and the anti-Catholicism that has always been a constant in America.

A key part of the Church’s response was to found parish schools. In many ways, the Parish Schools were a remarkable achievement, built, managed, and financed largely by independent groups of Catholics, staffed by religious orders, educating millions of American kids over many decades. My siblings and I all attended Catholic schools, as did many of my friends and neighbors. But from the bishops’ perspective, the results were  mixed: even at their peak (1960) fewer than half of Catholic kids attended Catholic schools.

Public schools were ‘free’ after all, and immigrants are poor. Bishops understood this, but still sought (and failed to obtain) papal permission in the late 19th century to excommunicate anyone who sent his kids to public school if a Catholic school was available and affordable. That’s how seriously the bishops took the threat of the public schools.

Yet, even with this well-founded fear of letting the adversarial state educate Catholic kids, all parish schools to this day, even those few that are vigorously orthodox, are little more than kinder, gentler versions of public schools.

Somehow, that seemed like a good idea? Look at graded classroom schools: what insanity inspired people to accept having their kids rigidly segregated by age? We take it for granted now, but there’s no rational basis for it at all! It’s not ‘efficient’ or ‘scientific’ – there’s no evidence of that, and never was! Seriously, no one ever ran a side-by-side comparison of different models of schooling to see which worked better for some clearly understood definition of ‘better’. The sort of slapdash studies or comparisons that did and do happen, such as comparing test result (whose tests? testing for what?) tend to show, before elaborate ‘adjustments’, that just about anything – tutoring, homeschooling, one room schools, any of the many ‘alternative’ schools – produce better results even on the self-serving tests developed for the public schools.  So much so that there’s a sort of industry around doctoring data explaining away this phenomenon.

The reality, clear in all the writings of all the advocates of the graded classroom schools, from Luther to Fichte to Mann to Barnard to Dewey to today, is that the point isn’t the 3 Rs. It is control, for the state is a jealous god. Graded classroom are favored precisely because they disrupt family relationships that could oppose the state.

Recall that over almost all of America in the 19th century, many if not most kids attended one-room schools, where family and neighbors learned side-by side regardless of age. Teachers assigned kids to teach each other with little regard for age. Natural relationships were reinforced. Results were *better* as measured by the state school’s own tests than those of graded school, despite what the propaganda from the time to this day asserts.

Thus ‘educators’ hated, fought & tried to kill off one-room schools. How are kids to be controlled if their loyalty is to home and village – and Church? Much better to school them in doing what they’re told regardless of natural relationships. Thus, graded classrooms.

Yet, ultimately, all parish school came to use the graded classroom model! How did this happen? Short answer: this battle was already a century or more old back in Europe. Messy compromises had been struck, where the Church could run schools if they followed state models.

Immigrants brought these compromises with them. German Catholics, the single largest group of Catholic immigrants and founders of the most parish schools, brought what they knew with them, evidently having long forgotten the origin: exact copies of state schools but run by Catholics. Prussian model graded classroom schools.

On to more research. I’ve got tabs open (hope this computer doesn’t die suddenly!) on many of the people who come up in the discussions, many I had not heard of before. And it seems I’ll need to get up to speed on a bunch more history, especially the Kulturkampf, which I believe largely overlaps the period of greatest German Catholic immigration to the US.

Image result for Kulturkampf
“Between Berlin and Rome”, with Bismarck on the left and the Pope on the right, from the German satirical magazine Kladderadatsch, 1875. Pope: “Admittedly, the last move was unpleasant for me; but the game still isn’t lost. I still have a very beautiful secret move.” Bismarck: “That will also be the last one, and then you’ll be mated in a few moves – at least in Germany.”

Final Thoughts on Lewis’s Inner Rings & Update

The previous 2 posts are concerned with C. S. Lewis’s 1944 address “Inner Rings“, Fr. Longenecker’s commentary on it, and my commentary on both and examples from That Hideous Strength. I also added a few thoughts on some ways in which fans, both of sports and celebrities in general, can fall into the trap of enforced conformity merely by being such fans.

Politics has become largely such a fan club. The utterly irrational enthusiasm for Obama, Bernie, and to a lesser but still troubling degree, Trump(1) is exactly the sort of behavior we expect from sports fans.

Fans consider a team or celebrity or politician ‘ours’ even though fans in no way own or control or even influence those teams, celebrities or politicians. In sports, it may be more or less harmless for fans to consider a team ‘theirs’ even though they don’t own it, don’t influence coaching or management or personnel decisions, and even though the real owners can take the team to some other city, or sell it or even disband it without a second thought to what the loyal fans might want.

But in politics, here’s what happens: ‘fans’ of socialism, for example, get their hero put in charge, with the belief that, unlike previous leaders, he is going to hold their feelings close to his heart. He will take care of them! Policy details are necessarily vague to non-existent, as the fans are most definitely not fans of all the little detailed steps needed to get to the Worker’s Paradise – that why they hope to elect the Bern or that Ocasio-Cortez woman. It is much more important to the fans that their heroes’ hearts be in the right place than that they have any idea what they’re doing.

The incoherence and impatience with which these two politicians respond to practical, even slightly detailed questions reflects the attitude of their fans. Their resumes – “politician, educator, and political activist” – are completely without any objective, measurable achievements. And the fans don’t care.

Put the last two points together: political fans have no control and vanishingly little input into what their heroes will do once they have power, and they are uninterested in how these results are to be achieved, and even uninterested to an amazing degree if anything at all is achieved. Just as supporters swooned over the ACA, they will swoon over whatever the next nice-sounding power grab is. The Economic Fairness Act, if supported by the Bern or Ocasio-Cortez will garner unquestioning support from their fans, who will not investigate or even care how or if it will work. The American Dreamer Immigration Reform Act, or the Oligarchy Control Act, the Income Equalization Act – any and all of these made-up bills will receive the support of the fans provided their heroes support them. (2) No amount of pointing out how they will really work will even register. The Bern wants economic fairness! Miss Ocasio-Cortez wants to help immigrants! That’s all that will register in the typical fan’s mind.

In the extreme case, you get apologists for Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Che and Chavez. Because, despite what they did in reality – purges (3), murder, mayhem, complete economic destruction, all while personally living high on the hog – because, darn it all, their hearts are in the right place! Look at the Soviet constitution! More and better guarantees of rights than even the US Constitution! Never mind that all those rights didn’t help the Kulaks much, because I’m not a Kulak. They were asking for it anyway.

But, boy, isn’t their rhetoric lovely! My failures and unhappiness are not my own, I am a victim of oppression by vast historical forces. We must defeat those forces by killing all that are under their sway! Then we will all be happy.

I wish I were exaggerating, but I’m merely stating the core beliefs in plain English.

Well before it finally goes too far, fans may start to realize that they have no say and no effective way to oppose any course of action their heroes chose to pursue, up to and including killing off the fans themselves.

I wish there were a way to help people ask, always, will that plan work? How? At what cost? But there doesn’t seem to be any.

On a lighter note:

IMG_5206

This little dwarf fig tree grew in a pot, then a barrel, for over 10 years. Two springs ago, we transplanted it in this spot by the front door.

It really likes being in the ground. Last year, we got an early and late fig crop, and the tree was trying for a third before the weather turned cold; I trimmed it back over the winter. Now, it’s twice the size and yields a few cups of figs per day, and has been for a couple weeks, and is still loaded with maturing figs:

(Don’t know if you can see them in there, but lots of little figs)

Now, I’m not a huge fig fan. I make a very lightly sweetened fig jam which a couple of the kids like. That’s about it. But I’m a huge fan of beautiful plants and trees, and this is a beautiful little tree. That biblical image of a man content beneath his own fig tree comes to mind every time I pass it.

Further, while we are following the best practice of not letting our other fruit trees bear much fruit until Year 3 – next year – in order to make sure the trees get properly rooted, my lack of thoroughness allowed a couple dozen peaches and pomegranates to grow. We let a handful of apricots come in for testing – they were good – but I failed to dig around in the lower, more hidden reaches of the very thick foliage of our dwarf peach tree and missed a bunch. They were really good, and the little tree is so vigorous I’m figuring its roots are doing fine anyway.

Pomegranates don’t ripen until November or later. This little tree I have trimmed and trimmed again – can’t let them get much over 7′ tall or our front yard orchard will be unmanageable – there’s just no stopping it! Must have pinched off hundreds of blossoms and little fruit and – well, like the dwarf peach, I’m figuring it’s so vigorous the roots must be doing OK. So, in a couple months, we’ll have a 2-3 dozen beautiful pomegranates to deal with.

Really looking forward to next season!

Finally, Tool Time! I’ve never had a workshop or even adequately large garage to work in, so my tool collection, though not insubstantial, is not very big for somebody as into home improvement projects as I am. Things I really wish I had, but have no place to keep: planer, drill press, good size workbench with some bench clamps, masonry saw,  welding equipment, cutting torch and probably a bunch more I’m not thinking of at the moment.

I’m always happy when I find some small tool or gadget that does exactly what I need but doesn’t take up much space. Previous additions include little angle grinder – how did I ever do without one? – a hammer drill and various router bits. The latest add: a step drill bit. Little tiny thing that is making putting in the wrought iron style fence and gate I’m working on much easier. I need to cut all these 1/2″ holes through some fairly soft iron, but I was chewing up drill bits and time doing it. Now? Cordless drill in one hand, can of WD-40 in the other, and I’m a hole-drillin’ fool!

It’s the little things….

For both my readers who care, I’ll have pics of the Endless Brick and Faux Wrought Iron Fence Front Yard Project of Death soon. It’s coming along.

  1. I make this distinction because, in general, fans of Trump express their love based on stuff Trump actually did, e.g., reducing regulation & stimulating economic growth, or is measurably making some progress on, e.g., reducing illegal immigration and building the wall, while fans of Bernie and Barry base their fandom entirely on what they believe their heroes stand for. Bernie and Barry share a track record of having done very, very little except for grand symbolic gestures. Consider: Obama’s greatest achievement is considered getting the Affordable Care Act passed. Note that getting this law passed did not in practice provide affordable care, it merely shifted burdens around, compelled people who might not have wanted insurance to get it anyway, and created a vast, unworkable bureaucratic structure all while providing no workable cost control. But – it’s called the Affordable Care Act, so he’s credited as if affordable care was actually provided. And he’s a positive Edison compared to the Bern.
  2. Again, I’m not a Trump lover, but his support seems fundamentally different (which is why his opponents can’t begin to understand it) – if he somehow tried to get bills passed which restricted gun ownership or opened the boarders or increased taxes, a large section of his base would rebel, no matter how charming the name such bills were given. Compare & contrast Clinton getting NAFTA passed over the objections of the unions – which unions continued to support him.
  3. Fans never think they’ll get purged, because they are True Believers. Wake-up call: fans are often at the top of the culling list.

Follow Up: C. S. Lewis’s Inner Rings and Fans

In yesterday’s post, we discussed C. S. Lewis’s 1944 address The Inner Ring. Fr. Dwight Longenecker mentions this essay in an article of his own, in which he points out the obvious relationship between the concepts in Lewis’s address and his wonderful novel/grown up fairy tale That Hideous Strength.

That Hideous Strength is my second favorite work by Lewis, after Til We Have Faces, and as it is full of memorable scenes and I’ve read it a number of times, it was not difficult to recall passages to illustrate the points in his address. The reality of what Lewis is discussing is patent.

In his address, Lewis goes out of his way to say that Inner Rings are not always a bad thing:

I must now make a distinction. I am not going to say that the existence of Inner Rings is an Evil. It is certainly unavoidable. There must be confidential discussions: and it is not only a bad thing (1), it is (in itself) a good thing, that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together. And it is perhaps impossible that the official hierarchy of any organisation should coincide with its actual workings. If the wisest and most energetic people held the highest spots, it might coincide; since they often do not, there must be people in high positions who are really deadweights and people in lower positions who are more important than their rank and seniority would lead you to suppose. It is necessary: and perhaps it is not a necessary evil. But the desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous.

So rings are everywhere, sometimes serve a purpose, and are something almost everyone, it seems, is attracted to. But there are exceptions. In That Hideous Strength, Lewis provides the example of Hingest, the renowned chemist, who is a man of actual achievement. He has no interest in the N.I.C.E. and its circles within circles, tries to leave, and is murdered.

Through no merit of my own, I seem to be largely immune to the allure of Inner Rings.  I’m happiest, generally, working on some project on my own, although team activities can be satisfying, too, I’m just more likely to enjoy working solo.

Even back at high school, I do not recall ever wanting to hang with the cool kids. Of course, as the weird loner kid who did both sports (basketball) and drama club and sang in the school choir, there was no Inner Circle that would have me. Nope, it’s another temptation that attracts me, one that is both very much like an Inner Circle while at the same time its polar opposite: the allure of fandom.

Sports is the obvious example. It’s very exciting when your team competes, never mind that they are in no real sense ‘your’ anything. ‘Your’ city doesn’t own them, you have no say over who is on the team, team strategy, long term goals, or any other aspect of team operation. Team owners can and do move their teams away, as the nearby Oakland Raiders fans know too well. This idea that any professional sports team is ‘our’ team, is the fan’s team, is preposterous.

I’ve known all this since I was a kid. Yet, it took me almost 60 years before I shook off my emotional attachment to several professional teams. (2)

Being a sports fan is like being in an inner circle in this respect: there are insiders and outsiders. There are other teams (and their fans) that you despise as a function of your being a fan of your team. Your identity is tied up with being a fan of your team.

Now, few sports fans would admit to this. They’d claim it’s just a game, just for fun. Yet, on an emotional, and even functional level, it’s all true. Sure, those crazy Raiders fans in the Black Hole know it’s a game, that they are playacting according to rules almost as specific as those followed in the game on the field.

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But then again, it’s not. It becomes a chief, sometimes defining, aspect of personality.

Being a fan is nearly opposite to being part of an Inner Ring in three respects: it’s as easy as buying a hat or t-shirt to become a fan, membership is open to everyone, and loyalty is valued. Yet there are definite insides and outsides, and rules. You can criticize the team, the players, the coaches, the front office and the owners, but only so far. People who criticize structural issues, such as how players are compensated or the absence of reasonable safety measures, run the risk of being called out as not real fans – unless they make the proper noises about how much they love the team.

So why even bring this up? The social usefulness of the compelled conformity of fans has not escaped those in love with the idea of compelled conformity.  In this sense, fandom can be made to be an extension of the will of some Inner Circle or other. I think this use of team worship as a method of control has been in play for a long time now. Consider:

Athletes, actors & other entertainers take political stands as an exercise in herd management. Team loyalty is invoked to usurp thought in political affiliation; athletes and actors tell ‘fans’ what politics to root for.  In a sane world, who would care what a 25 yr old jock has to say about anything, let alone politics? Or an actor? The hot dog vendor at the stadium is more likely to have interesting views, since he’s not spent 10,000+ hrs on his jump shot or learning to fake emotions. He may not be compelled in his positions by the need to conform to the group.

In my lifetime, the first famous athlete to take political stands during his career was Ali. He helped reverse public opinion on Vietnam. The press loved him. He was a bit of an outlier, since at the time sports figures could not be counted on to express the ‘correct’ views.

Now? Imagine if someone on the NBA Champion Warriors, who have twice turned down invitations to the Trump White House after a heavily-publicized love fest with Obama, were to be seen wearing a MAGA hat? It would be as shocking as if they started passing the ball to the other team in games.

Now imagine you’re a 20 year old 1st round draft pick, and you wander in to that environment – you going to buck the trend? The coach and stars have made it publicly clear they despise as idiots, evil or both EVERYBODY who holds opposing political views. So you, the 20 year old rookie, conform. Fans continue to be presented with a 100% consistent team political position. Fans may be under less pressure than rookies, but I’d be shocked if anyone at a Warriors game were to wear that MAGA hat. They’d get verbally abused, at least.

That facade of 100% consistent team politics must be maintained. Thus, some of the greatest hatred today is reserved for athletes and entertainers who fail to conform. Traitor to the team! Eeeeevil! Stupid! They must be destroyed! When the NFL tried to get these infants to dial it back for business reasons, all the knives come out.

We cannot let anyone start thinking that freedom of thought trumps group cohesion. All those years of training in school, all the conformity & mindless loyalty, would be undone in a minute if it were shown that teammates could disagree about politics and still be – teammates.

There’s roughly a 50/50 chance an American chosen at random will not be some flavor of committed liberal/progressive/socialist/communist. Yet we are presented with the image of 99% conformity among professional athletes and entertainers, and the complete vilification of that remaining 1%.

This facade of cohesion is one of the last remaining bastions against having to face the true variety of political positions that exist in any functioning democracy. The point of democracy, after all, is to allow people to honorably disagree and still live together in peace.

That’s why, while sane people just role their eyes at the posturing of these prima donnas and get on with their lives, the left cannot tolerate the very idea of professional athletes and other pampered celebrities rejecting any part of their politics. The edifice of group think – the herd – so painstakingly built, would fall.

  1. I think there was a typo here, as context and sense demand it should read “it is not only not a bad thing…” Or?
  2. Lakers, then Warriors, if you must know. I’ve watched a lot of sports, but only gotten really involved in these 2 teams. Now? Meh.

Inner Rings: Lewis & That Hideous Strength

Lack of discipline paid off once again, as clicking from here to there lead me to this article at The Imaginative Conservative by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, which lead me to The Inner Ring, an address by C. S. Lewis.

Good stuff, go read them. I here expand a little on Fr. Longenecker’s themes by illustrating them with passages from That Hideous Strength.

Longenecker starts by quoting Lewis quoting Tolstoy. (1).

Image result for tolstoy
Can I be forgiven for thinking: ZZ Top? No?

When Boris entered the room, Prince Andrey was listening to an old general, wearing his decorations, who was reporting something to Prince Andrey, with an expression of soldierly servility on his purple face. “Alright. Please wait!” he said to the general, speaking in Russian with the French accent which he used when he spoke with contempt. The moment he noticed Boris he stopped listening to the general who trotted imploringly after him and begged to be heard, while Prince Andrey turned to Boris with a cheerful smile and a nod of the head. Boris now clearly understood—what he had already guessed—that side by side with the system of discipline and subordination which were laid down in the Army Regulations, there existed a different and more real system—the system which compelled a tightly laced general with a purple face to wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain like Prince Andrey chatted with a mere second lieutenant like Boris. Boris decided at once that he would be guided not by the official system but by this other unwritten system.

Lewis makes the general points that this situation – the existence of both a more or less official structure to an organization and an unofficial Cool Kid’s Club that mans the gates to acceptance and advancement – is ubiquitous and is almost always soul-destroying evil.  Sure, once in a while, when a leader might gather a few good men to his side to get something urgent done, this Inner Circle might even work towards good.  That would be a rare exception to the rule, however.

Longenecker mentions That Hideous Strength, appropriate as the finale of Lewis’s space trilogy is largely a novelization of the concepts presented in Lewis’s address. Here the protagonist is called upon to write propaganda for the newspapers libeling opponents and disguising the true purpose of the N.I.C.E., of which he is a junior member. He is faced with needing to sell, bit by bit, the soul he doesn’t really think he has and in any event has remained nearly completely un- or ill-formed up to now, in order to move into an even tighter Inner Circle:

It was, after all, not so long ago that he had been excited by admission to the Progressive Element at Bracton. But what was the Progressive Element to this? It wasn’t as if he were taken in by the articles himself.He was writing with his tongue in his cheek — a phrase that somehow comforted him by making the whole thing appear like a practical joke. And anyway, if he didn’t do it, someone else would. And all the while the child inside him whispered how splendid and how triumphantly grown up it was to be sitting like this, so full of alcohol and yet not drunk, writing (with his tongue in his cheek) articles for great newspapers, against time, “with the printer’s devil at the door” and all the inner ring of the N.I.C.E. depending on him, and nobody ever again having the least right to consider him a nonentity or cipher.

Simple, normal, healthy relationships put the lie to the allure of Inner Rings. Studdock wants into the Inner Circle so badly that this desire is allowed to kill his normal relationships, even his relationship with his wife.  The N.I.C.E. leadership wants him to bring her to their headquarters at Belbury:

Until the D.D had said this Mark had not realised that there was nothing he would dislike so much as having Jane at Belbury. There were so many things that Jane would not understand: not only the pretty heavy drinking which was becoming his habit but — oh, everything from morning to night. For it is only justice both to Mark and to Jane to record that he would have found it impossible to conduct in her hearing any one of the hundred conversations which his life at Belbury involved. Her mere presence would have made all the laughter of the Inner Ring sound metallic, unreal; and what he now regarded as common prudence would seem to her, and through her to himself, mere flattery, back-biting and toad-eating. Jane in the middle of Belbury would turn the whole of Belbury into a vast vulgarity, flashy and yet furtive. His mind sickened at the thought of trying to teach Jane that she must help to keep Wither in a good temper and must play up to Fairy Hardcastle. He excused himself vaguely to the D.D., with profuse thanks, and got away as quickly as he could.

Studdock, like all well-schooled Moderns, lacks any ground to stand on from which to judge his own actions. There is always a ground of being, of simple, directly-experienced emotions, but without formation by parable and myth, such inclinations or natural reactions can easily be silenced or twisted to almost any abomination.

It must be remembered that in Mark’s mind hardly one rag of noble thought, either Christian or Pagan, had a secure lodging. His education had been neither scientific nor classical — merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honour to help him. He was a man of straw, a glib examinee in subjects that require no exact knowledge (he had always done well on Essays and General Papers) and the first hint of a real threat to his bodily life knocked him sprawling. And his head ached so terribly and he felt so sick. Luckily he now kept a bottle of whisky in his room. A stiff one enabled him to shave and dress.

The whiskey here is a stand in for whatever lies we tell ourselves to allow us to deny that we’re cowards and traitors. While all this is going on, Jane, his wife, is being confronted by the mirror image of Mark’s trials: good people eager to be true friends are trying to help her be true to herself. In both cases, the success of what might be called corporate plans depends on the free surrender of the will of those involves – N.I.C.E. requires surrender to the devil, while the company around Ransom requires submission to the will of God.

In her own way, Jane fights for her membership in another Inner Ring, a vague and largely mythical one comprised of enlightened young women who, as G. K. Chesterton quipped, would not be dictated to and so became stenographers. Jane is a slave to her idea of freedom, one that separates her from husband and friends. and from the commitments that make one free and fulfilled.

Since That Hideous Strength is a fairy-tale, both Mark and Jane win their battles and find happiness. They each take the small, feeble steps of which they are capable, away from evil and toward the Good – then miracles happen.

Towards the conclusion of Lewis’s The Inner Ring, he explains the antidote:

The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.

And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.

In The Inner Ring and That Hideous Strength, Lewis describes how we can personally avoid or mitigate the ill effects of the Inner Rings with which we will inevitably be confronted. But what about the evil such rings can wreck upon institutions and individuals? He is silent on that issue in The Inner Ring, except by the inference that, by staying out of it ourselves, we weaken and oppose it. In That Hideous Strength, those who are invited into the Ring and decline are murdered. It takes divine intervention to defeat the Inner Circle.

Longenecker makes a point Lewis doesn’t emphasize, yet is clearly of the nature of Inner Rings:

Whenever an inner ring is exposed it evaporates. Proof is demanded, but there isn’t any because it was all secret handshakes, winks, and nods all along. It was never a formal organization to start with, so the members simply deny, shift their position, and slide away like the serpents they really are.

I would add that Inner Rings reform the instant the light is shined elsewhere. Thus, the calls to Drain the Swamp and reform the Catholic hierarchy, two cases of Inner Rings gone completely rogue, can only make progress when members are removed from positions of authority, prevented access to others in positions of authority, and publicly named and shamed. Prison would be good, where appropriate. Otherwise, people will be shocked, shocked to find out what was going on – and then pick up right where they left off the moment the lights are turned off.

Warning: not to get too hysterical quite yet, but history shows some members of such rings will murder before they let that happen. There will be enough sociopaths (Inner Rings are ideal playgrounds for those with no moral compass) that starting a war or revolution is completely on the table. Blackmail, character assassination and back-stabbing of all kinds is standard operating procedure for Inner Rings, whether it’s the FBI, a papal dicastery or your local parent co-op preschool. (2) We kid ourselves if we think it will stop there.

Then, there’s always divine intervention. Let us pray that God can find a way to be merciful, and that we can bear whatever part of His justice that we have earned for our sins of commission and omission.

  1. Reminds me of the alternative music scene where you wear the next cooler band’s t-shirt to whatever band’s show you’re attending. So, here, you quote a cooler author. You’d next need to find Tolstoy quoting Dante quoting Homer…  No? Never mind.
  2. The key reason I was appalled at Obama even running for President, let alone winning, is the history of Chicago politics: 100 years of mafia control, Roti takes one for the team in the early ’90’s, BUT EVERYONE ELSE GOT A PASS. Whatever Inner Circles enabled mob control STAYED PUT. That the Anointed One staffed his campaign and cabinet with career Chicago politicians and ‘public servants,’ many of whom got their careers started under Roti, should have been seen as a nightmare come true; the current mishegas should not be a surprise.

Damn Lies and Statistics Update: School Shootings Data

As noted in the previous post, I was surprised to find on NPR something even as mildly critical of accepted wisdom as an article pointing out that, no, there have not been 230+ school shooting in one year (2016, I think) but rather only around 11, and only 2 of those might be what non-hysterics think of as school shootings – somebody with a gun trying to kill a lot of kids and teachers on school grounds.

I stopped listening to NPR 20 years ago except for the occasional accidental flip through the station in the car. We used to be supporters, like $10 a month. So it’s not like I don’t know their shtick. Their shtick is to provide a thin yet thoughtful sounding veneer on progressive politics without ever saying: we are promoting progressive politics. After a while, their standard practice of dwelling on only explanations that comported with their biases and remaining mum on those that didn’t wore me out, even when they’d interview the occasional token person who might actually have  thought they didn’t agree with.

Yet somehow, the producers let a segment get through that ran the real risk of revealing to even those of very little brain that, at the very least, the Department of Education did a comically incompetent, amateur job of collecting shooting statistics. The USDA knew the numbers thus collected were nonsense  – yet published them anyway. See in the article the number of issues and questions around the survey question. Any reckoning critter would know that mechanically summing up and reporting on data collected amid such a miasma of confusion and misunderstanding is nonsensical.

In the good old days of 20 years ago, such a segment would garner very little reaction. NPR’s core audience would barely stir from their dogmatic slumbers; as the report washed over them in their dream state, they’d reflexively interpret it as only some vague call for better statistics or more money for the USDE, while approving of the truthy-ness of the reported numbers – there’s a school shooting crisis, after all! Only haters would quibble over arcane reporting problems!

The few that noted it at all at a conscious level, and did a little rational analysis, might tell their family and friends or even write a sure to be ignored letter to the editors. In short, criticisms of the USDE and of panic mongering in general engendered by this segment would die a quick and nearly silent death.

But not today. Ah, the wonders of the internet! Someone on Twitter linked to this segment; I read it and posted on it, and maybe as many as 100 people (I flatter myself) read my thoughts on it. A few even clicked through to the NPR website! Woohoo!

But I and the person who tweeted the link are not alone! My humble efforts were evidently matched by dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of other readers and critics, so much so that this NPR segment was getting all kinds of social media coverage. Perhaps even millions of people were being exposed to all sorts of wrong think, such as USDE statistics not being reliable, and the school shooting crisis being largely a hoax, and the possibility the USDE is not exactly apolitical, and…

So much so that Facebook censored mention of it.

We have always been at war with Eastasia.

 

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Assorted Thursday Links & Comments

A. Cool maps: How land is used in the contiguous 48 states.

useage map
From Bloomberg https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-us-land-use/

Comments: heard somewhere that the entire world could be fed from California’s Central Valley alone. Given the commentary accompanying these maps, that’s not hard to believe: only a relatively small fraction of US farmland is used to directly grow food for humans. Mostly, it’s ethanol, animal feed – and fallow land. The Central Valley is, like so many things here in California, upscale – they grow almonds, watermelons and sweet corn instead of wheat, rice and beans. Nothing wrong with comparative ‘luxury’ foods, and I’d imagine the ‘feed the whole world’ claim might ignore the need to lets fields rest occasionally, but it’s easy to imagine a world’s worth of rice and beans coming from the world’s single best agricultural region.

The enormous amount of land classified as ‘grazing’ also gave me pause. Included are vast swaths of Nevada, Utah and New Mexico where, having seen those area, I’d have to think if you were a herdsman, you’d be grazing not too many very tough animals, like longhorn or goats. Those areas look a lot more like deserts than pastures. Be that as it may, having driven through them occasionally, I have never seen very many cattle. Classifying land as grazing land doesn’t seem to mean anything much is grazing on it.

Finally, the Eastern quarter of the US seems to be largely forests. This comports with my experience. As soon as you get out of the larger cities, you more often than not end up among the trees. (Of course, I’m driving, so these areas = what you can see from the road in my experience.) My experience of California is that about 1/3 of it is covered in forests as well – but the classification system puts national and state parks in another category, so those forests are not forests. Still, driving around or flying over the northern third of the state would certainly give the impression you’re seeing pretty much contiguous forests. But, hey, it’s a government classification system versus my lying eyes – who you going to believe?

B. Stopped clock division: School Shootings. Or not. Suffice it to say that, like Mark Twain’s death, the number of school shootings has been greatly exaggerated. Just under 240 show up on the US Department of Education’s report. NPR (doing some actual reporting. For once.) managed to confirm – 11. 238 is a little different from 11. I have a minor in math, so you can trust me on this.

There’s this concerted effort – NPR, SciAm, NYT and 538 are in on it, at least – to shake collective heads (heads often positioned above lab coats, after all) and declare that Science is Hard when presented with examples of Science! being stupid, dishonest, and laughably incompetent in some combination.

In this case, the takeaway should be: if the US Department of Education were to tell you the sun rises in the east, you’d probably want to stick your head out the window some early morning and verify. I occasionally have pointed out egregiously self-serving numbers from this source. Graduation and drop-out rates? I’d expect no more accuracy in them than in the school shooting numbers from the link.

The USDE does have a difficult task: it needs present government controlled compulsory schools as both successful enough to warrant our continued support, yet dismal enough to warrent continued calls for more money, more time, more homework – in effect, more school. Round up those drop-outs! (and home schoolers!) More homework and before and after school programs! Free college all around! Because the solution to people failing and bailing school, to graduating without a measurable trace of education is: More school!

That these claims contradict each other is never to be mentioned.

C. Not a link – who needs it, at this point? We live in an age where character assassination is not only an acceptable response to allegations we don’t like, but is frankly the only acceptable response. Used to be the sign of an educated person that they could separate the argument or claim from the person making it, and deal with each separately. A scoundrel might speak the truth, after all, and a saint might be in error.

We’ve progressed beyond such simple, might I say even binary, thinking!

A few brief highlight along the road we took to get here:

Hegel: Classic logic, including especially the Law of Non-contradiction, is for the little people. Real philosophers, who can be identified by their agreement with Hegel, just know stuff. The enlightened are enlightened by their enlightenment, and no argument, especially a logical argument, can gainsay them!

Marx: Hegel was correct, except true enlightenment consists of agreeing with Marx. We’ll call such agreement being on the Right Side of History.  If you persist in disagreeing with Marx or are even simply unaware of Marx’s views, you are on the wrong side of History, tools of oppression, and have marked yourself for culling at the earliest opportunity.

Freud: You only disagree with Freud because you’re sexually repressed. Your outrageous demands for evidence, replication, acknowledgement of other theories, and so on just mean you’re really, really sexually repressed.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: There are work-a-day lawyers and judges out there for whom my fine theories are too elevated. But you enlightened lawyers and judges, who of course can be identified by your agreement with me, have figured or are ready to figure it all out.

And so on.

Lesser minds than these 4 gentlemen will see the weapon here without feeling in the least encumbered by the wall of words disguising it. Cutting to the chase: if you disagree with me, you are not just wrong, but evil! We have no duty to understand or even acknowledge your position or claims, there could be no point to that, because you are a bad actor acting badly!

In other words, argument has been reduced to simply asserting your opponent is a bad actor. Trying to reason about it is simply more evidence of evil. Kafka trap is now the norm, and has been for decades.

This right here is a key feature of the modernism all those 19th century popes were condemning.