Category: life

Camille Paglia

Camille Paglia has briefly appeared on my radar a handful of times in the last twenty years, though I admit I never before paid much attention to her. For some reason, I vaguely associated her with post-modernism and deconstructionism, which of course made me suspicious; while at the same time I have seen a few soundbites and blurbs by her that made me go, “Hmmm.” She was at UCI for a while when I lived in Costa Mesa.

The following video interview is from a few years ago, but it is the first time I’ve ever seen her talk, and the first time I have really gotten a feel for her opinions and attitudes. And I must say hers is certainly one of the most refreshing voices I have heard in many years. In fact, she is a passionate critic of deconstructionism and I wish I had given her more attention earlier.

Here, you should watch the video, it’s definitely worth an hour for any thoughtful American:

She is clearly more comfortable lecturing to a class than engaging with an interviewer (sometimes the best ideas are offered by the worst presenters), but I have to admit that after a short time I found myself getting impatient with the interruptions by Nick Gillespie (who is otherwise an excellent interviewer), and I wanted to hear her just go on with her thoughts for a while. He also kept trying to steer the interview in bizarre directions; I think a subject like Paglia should simply be primed with a few general questions and allowed to go off in whatever direction she wants. Of course, you could end up with a very long video if you did that.

I was shocked that she was repeating so many ideas I have embraced myself, some of them concepts I’ve never heard expressed anywhere else. For example, she is the only other person I have ever heard suggest that the growth in student loans in the last 35 years has led directly to the inflation in college tuition, through greater market liquidity; that’s something I’ve been saying for years (I’m not saying I’m the only person who ever came up with that idea, simply that I have never seen it repeated anywhere else, not that I’m an omnivorous consumer of economic and academic commentary). And she is one of the very few public figures I have seen who seems to have the same problems with Hillary Clinton that I have, and who addresses the fact that Clinton gets her principles, if you can call them that, from focus groups.

She seems to be an example of what I might call a “thoughtful leftist,” or at least a “thoughtful feminist;” people from the last century who were trying to nudge society in a more liberal and tolerant direction. But leftism and feminism got co-opted by ideological sheep who want to tear down 2,500 years of Western culture. As she says, by the 1970s, none of the smart ones ever bothered with graduate school, which is the root of the intellectual crisis we are seeing today (though her explanation that 1960s idealism was destroyed by drugs is a little too pat for me). The promise of the radicalism of the 1960s was stunted by the rise of mediocre intellects who increasingly focused not on the world, but on personal identity, resulting in an intolerant solipsistic worldview that is tearing modern society apart and making millions of people very, very confused and unhappy.

Some of her petty irritations have big ramifications, like the (claimed) extinction of college survey courses. I loved my survey courses. I always assumed survey courses were necessary so that engineers and microbiologists could still acquire an education with their degrees and certificates. Why would survey courses disappear? Who was behind that? The students or the faculty?

Another thing I got out of the video was the pronunciation of “hegemony” and “academe.” I’d never before heard those words spoken aloud.

I found myself wondering whether Paglia ever met Gore Vidal. I think they would have had a lot to talk about; but on the other hand they probably would have hated each other. Vidal was a patrician to the bone who knew and admired Hillary Clinton; while Paglia revels in her being one generation from Italian peasant farmers (and she loathes Clinton). I strongly suspect she enjoys beer. I would love to share a few beers with her.

The future will probably not be like the past

ProTip: if you are relying on an artificial levy to keep river waters from flooding your home, think about moving to higher ground. Those levies were designed to protect against historic worst cases, but the thing about the historic worst case was that when it occurred, nothing like it had occurred before. So there is no reason to believe the historic worst case, the event the levies were designed to resist, will be the actual future worst case. In fact, a study of nature indicates the historic worst case will almost certainly be topped. As will the levies protecting your home.

Some advice from reading Antifragile. There will probably be more later.

Also, whether global warming is caused by humans or not, it will affect the climate, and the river-containing infrastructure was designed for yesterday’s climate, not tomorrow’s.

“We’ve never seen water this high,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told CNN’s “New Day.” “The Meramec River is going to be 4 feet over its historic level.”

At its peak, the Mississippi should be at its highest level ever, Nixon said, beating the highest level of the great flood of 1993.

At least with regard to rivers, I have always been suspicious. When visiting Reno, we walked along the beautiful Truckee River, and my first thought was, “I wonder how high this gets.” Then when we met with the commercial Realtor, we learned it gets very high indeed. Reno has experienced catastrophic flooding in 1950, 1954 and 1997. So I will make sure my new home is above the flood zone (my new office will probably be in the flood zone since that’s where most commercial space is, but there’s things you can do with a business to mitigate the effects of a flood).

Social integration

In the US, you don’t achieve any sane person’s definition of “success” without integrating (not sure how Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton define “success,” but are they really sane?).

Integration is easier for some groups than for others, and the most important aspect is command of English. Hispanics historically had a problem here in California for a couple of obvious reasons:

  1. They were largely ghettoized into exclusively Hispanic communities and neighborhoods; and
  2. The public schools used to include an “English as a Second Language” (ESL) track for Hispanic kids, which meant they were taught in Spanish and would go through public schools without learning proper conversational English.

Fortunately, the disastrous ESL program was dismantled about 15 or 20 years ago. The ghetto problem is still an issue, compounded by easy access to 24-hour multiple channel Spanish-language teevee and radio broadcasting (teevee and radio historically being where a lot of immigrants learned English). But since here in Greater Los Angeles there are teevee channels dedicated to Mandarin, Korean, Arabic, Japanese, Farsi and Vietnamese speakers, it’s hard to lay any blame at the feet of foreign-language broadcasting.

What I mean by the ghetto problem is simply that a child growing up in an exclusively ethnic neighborhood will have few opportunities to mingle and integrate with the broader American culture. To use the Hispanic example, Spanish is of course used in the home; on teevee and radio; on the streets with the other kids; at the store; and in the schoolyard (since all the other kids at school are also Hispanic). Pretty much everywhere a kid goes they are speaking Spanish, except, fortunately, in the actual classroom at school.

When I had a Korean girlfriend, I though a lot about this. In Korean households, Korean is the only language spoken (and they can watch Korean teevee, though only one or two channels). So how come Korean kids never have a problem with English, or even an accent, even while the parents have made no effort to expose them to English? Because the minute they leave the house the language used is English. Koreans don’t live in exclusively Korean neighborhoods (though they are working on it). Same with most other groups here in California, except Hispanics.

There are Arabic-speaking “ghettos” in some other US states, like Michigan.

Another more subtle problem is social attitudes and immigrant education level. Generally, less educated immigrants are going to put less importance on social and language integration if it’s not necessary. And if you are living in the Californian Hispanic community working at non-information jobs, you don’t need much English to get by. Of course, your kids will be severely disadvantaged if they don’t learn English, but that’s not uppermost in the minds of people struggling to make ends meet, and they wouldn’t know how to help their kids anyway.

Earlier immigrants were different, for whatever reason. Even when people lived in exclusively, for example, Italian ghettos, there will still a strong recognition of the importance of everyone in the household learning English. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the actual hostility earlier generations of native-born Americans showed to immigrants that moved the latter to integrate more rapidly, since immigrant Italians and Poles and Germans were hardly very educated themselves. My great grandfather grew up in New Jersey and his first language was German, even though he was several generations removed from actual immigrants himself. But there was no question that English was to be used outside the home. On the other hand, I have also met the children of immigrants a few years older than myself who never did learn their parents’ language because its use was forbidden in the home.

I have seen how children absorb languages and when, at various times, I considered having children with a Korean-, French- or Spanish-speaking woman, I expected the mothers to use their own languages exclusively with the child, while I used English, so they would grow up bilingual at least (my ex was fluent in Arabic, French and Spanish, in addition to English). It’s a bit of a disgrace how native-born Americans (like me) are largely monolingual (as I am). They do not integrate with the larger world community for the same reason some immigrants don’t integrate with the ambient culture: they don’t have to.

By and large, despite what is happening in Europe (and I have experienced that first hand, from both sides), I think America’s immigrants integrate pretty well. In the Hispanic ghetto, it might take an extra generation, compared to other groups. If integration is slower than it used to be, it can only be down to a change of cultural attitudes, of a willingness to enable a superficial success without integration. The old ESL program was an example of this (during our last teen hike there were three girls, two Mexican and one El Salvadoran, who only recently arrived in the US and who were not yet comfortable with English. They all found it tough going at school, where the lessons were in English, but what would be a better alternative? Well, they were on our hike because they sought additional assistance outside the public school program through SOY, the group from which we draw our teen hikers). They will do all right, in the end. Today if you meet a family of Hispanic immigrants here in Costa Mesa, the parents will often be very shy with their stuttering English, while the little kids will effortlessly translate for them.

In my opinion, the integration problem we have in the US is in the urban black community, and this probably down to the “enabling” I mentioned above. When any conventional measure of success is condemned as “being white;” when anti-social and even violent attitudes are accepted as intrinsic and even vital aspects of a distinct culture; when language distinctions that contributed more than anything else to a sense of “otherness” in the broader society are celebrated and reinforced (“ebonics” gained currency as a legitimate dialect in Californian schools about the same time ESL was being phased out); when the community’s political leaders reinforce all these differences and show no inclination at all to leading their constituents to integration with the ambient culture; you have a recipe for social and economic ghettoization: pretty much exactly what has been happening since the 1964 Civil Rights Act was supposed to end all that (the Federal and state governments’ decade-long policy of breaking up black families hasn’t helped either).

Foreigners come to America and, generally within a generation, often much sooner, integrate pretty well. It is our home-grown urban blacks who won’t integrate, generation after generation.

Study: Religious upbringing does not ensure that kids are generous or kind

From the New York Daily News.

Now I would have thought there was nothing surprising about that, since all you have to do is look around to see how many of the insufferable assholes you deal with on a daily basis are Bible-thumpers (to say nothing of ISIS and their fellow travelers). However, in the last decade of mingling with people on-line I have been rather shocked to discover quite a lot of folks actually equate morality with religion, to the extent they really believe you can’t be moral (or “good”) without first embracing some kind of religious moral foundation.

Maybe this thinking is obvious to most people, but I was really astonished. It doesn’t make any sense at all objectively, but then what you are running into is ingrained religious indoctrination: the religious simply can’t imagine what it must be like to not to believe in an angry sky wizard who writes down all his rules and precepts for everyone to follow. They will look you right in the eye and say, “If I did not accept the Baby Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, I would have no morals at all.” And they would mean it (to the extent that religious people actually believe what they say they believe, but that is (and has been) the subject for another post).

To the contrary of what most religious people believe, I actually think that religion potentially makes you less moral (or less “good”). After all, the morality of religion is based on written codes laid down, for the most part, three thousand years ago. If a religious person encounters a situation that requires judgement, he looks up the relevant precept and carries on from there. If the situation is not covered by the commandments, he is either at a loss as to what to do, or considers himself free of any moral restrictions at all. And there is a lot of shit in the modern world that is not covered by three thousand year old dictates. Then there are “lapses:” the Christian concept of eternal and serial forgiveness (of one’s self, never of other people, natch) means, as far as I can tell, that Christians are free to behave immorally from time to time, chalking it up to the Devil’s works, as long as they clean up their spiritual messes afterward.

The atheist has morals, of course. I think everyone must, except for a very few complete sociopaths who probably don’t live very long in society. But where does an atheist get his morals? From a book? Maybe a few do, from Ayn Rand or Karl Marx or some of the published philosophers. Such people are no different from the religious, when it comes to morality.

But most atheists, like me, probably depend on general principles they have established for themselves or through the influence of others. So instead of relying on a rigid written moral code, we apply any new situation to our broad moral framework to see how it fits. I think this make the conscientious atheist a potentially more generous (or “good”) person than the religious person.

The wrenching life

Damn. that’s satisfying. Replaced the water pump in my GTO. It was long overdue. I bought a replacement water pump maybe five or six years ago, and just never got around to doing the work. Finally the grinding noise the bearing was making was too much, and too much water was leaking out all the time. Had to do it. Now it purrs again, like a big cat.

First time I’ve pulled a wrench (on a car) in a long time. BITD, I was a real gearhead:

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Now I just gotta get my shit together and install in the El Camino the factory TPI EFI I bought a few years ago off Craigslist.

Found my old slides

After my father died, we pulled out the photo albums and looked at them for a few days and then I resolved, finally, to get everything scanned and uploaded to Flickr. There are literally a thousand or so photos. I bought a slide scanner and pulled the flatbed scanner I bought a couple years ago out of its box.

When going through my folks’ 35mm slides, I found a set of the slides I took on my first expedition backpacking trip, from Giant Forest to Mineral King with my Boy Scout troop in 1976. I thought these slides had been lost long ago:

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This was a sort of shuttle hike that took us south along the western side of the Sierra Nevada. The main High Sierra Trail continues on east across the range and comes out at Whitney Portal. For over 35 years after the 1976 hike, I wanted to go all the way across, and that’s what Ingrid and I did in 2013, retracing my steps from 1976 for the first two or three days.

Here is Ingrid standing in front of that same Precipice Lake 37 years later:

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How to lose weight

Been away from the blog. Lotta crap last month, aside from Dad dying and all the stuff that needs to be done in the wake of that. And my mother is getting as bad mentally as my father was near the end. It doesn’t stop.

A couple of vendors have completely FUCKED us, and recovering from that has been difficult, and costly. Just laid off three dudes this week. Been pretty good about the diet (no salt, no fat), except the stress has sent me to the bar a few times. Not suppose to drink, but it’s a stress reliever and the stress is sending me to the edge. Never had anything like it.

I have spent over a decade working on this business and pretty much poured most of my savings into it. I had hoped to sell it for a good return, but right about now I think I will be happy to take a couple million (half going to taxes, natch, and maybe 25% or so to key contributors) if I could find a buyer. And I can’t see a fit with the two most likely buyers in this industry. I find myself fantasizing about having a job, just a job, though I suspect I would obliged to move for a new job, and not to a pleasant place like Reno.

Yesterday there was a birthday. I went out at the end of the day to move some furniture out of my Dad’s apartment and when I got back to the office the remaining employees had emptied a bottle of Patrón and were working their way through a lot of beer. This morning the break room looked like this:

It was a good time. Often in the past these parties have gotten out of hand and ended in violence and arguments. We all banned tequila from the office by mutual agreement, and I was disappointed to see they had drunk all that Patrón. But everyone had a good time and we all took taxis home. I didn’t know taxis let dogs ride free.

I have lost weight. On Monday I told one of my people I came up with a pretty reliable way to lose weight: “lay off a bunch of people.”

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