There was an armed cop and Pittman doesn’t understand the words he writes

Interesting two bits from Eschaton:

That there already was an armed cop means the people crying for there to be authorities with guns lurking in schools don’t really have a point here. Unless they want a bigger presence. I guess as long as we keep the prison model of primary and secondary schooling we may as well have armed thugs to really stay true to it. Though perhaps there’s some better alternative. (Of them, arming the teachers doesn’t sound awful. Teachers can be insane, too, but I’d guess the overall insanity level in the teacher population is lower than the student or security populations.)

As for Pittman, perhaps someone should inform him communists are almost all in favor of less gun control.

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When did freezing people become okay?

Sometimes people create and freeze embryos. Often these people are married. Sometimes they divorce after the creation but without bringing them to term. Then sometimes one partner wants to bring them to term and the other wants them destroyed. Courts get involved.

The arguments made for leaning towards the one favoring keeping them alive invoke the personhood of the embryo. This strikes me as rather odd given, as a general rule, you’re not allowed to freeze people indefinitely against their will. If you really believe it’s a person, you don’t freeze it and then decide later if and when to let it resume living. So, this argument strikes me as a dishonest, ad hoc rationalization for one’s right to force another into parenthood.

(Another prominent argument is that by going forth with the plan to create the frozen embryos, one has already consented to becoming a parent. I simply ask where that came from. Freezing the embryos seems like a pretty clear decision to not be a parent (or parent to another child) at the moment but to instead postpone the decision.)

I’m guessing the growing awareness of sexual assault problems on college campuses needs no introduction. Nor does the zeal that is leading the charge. In recent news, a guy was accused of sexual misconduct, but he made a case for asymmetry in application of the rules and won. I am, at least at this initial stage without that much information, pleased to see this. The asymmetry in how men and women are treated is bad. To borrow the already well-used expression, many of the zealous are seeing women as sex objects and men as sex offenders. If that’s right, it’s bad for everyone. (Well, I suppose the nonbinary individuals might make it out alright, if anyone advancing this pernicious sort of zeal acknowledges them. I’m sadly doubtful.)

The clearest example of the asymmetry, for any nonbelievers, is the existing cases (and approval thereof) wherein a gal and a guy are both heavily intoxicated, they are both unable to consent, and somehow only the gal is wronged. To take that approach to the situation is to deny the gal her agency. And, if either was harmed, deny the guy his vulnerability.

This is of course not to say I think we should let up on the pursuit of preventing sexual assault and harassment. Of course both would ideally be eradicated. But the asymmetry changes the dynamic from aiming to fix the problem of sexually predatory behavior to the different problem of gender politics. Are there real asymmetries and structural injustices along gendered lines? Yes. But hijacking the campaign to get rid of sexually predatory behavior just makes both pursuits worse.

Occupy Democrats, being dishonest makes everything you say suspect

Popular Facebook page Occupy Democrats posts a video slamming the Trump tax scam. It begins with some stores closing. Second and third on the list are Sears and K-Mart. The problem is those two have been on the decline for years. The stores were closing either way. The new command of the businesses has been pretty transparent in his plan to gut them. To blame Trump or the tax law for this is just dishonest. Or stupid. Regardless, it places suspicion on everything else they say.

Were the other stores already going to close? Maybe. That the changes in taxes destroyed them seems a bit suspicious unless they were already dangerously near destruction. Perhaps they were. I’m not about to take that page’s word for it, though. I’m at least already to the left of them, so it doesn’t matter. The people somehow to the right of them may also know the well-known fact that Kmart and Sears are dying on their own. Their distrust will grow stronger. Worse, they may take OD’s dishonesty as a bad sign for anyone to the left of them.

The policies put forth by the GOP are awful enough in reality. Making things up is just stupid.

More reason to decimate nonprivate evaluation

Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò wrote a great piece on how he’s a teacher, not a job trainer. I commonly complain about liberal arts institutions being co-opted as job training centers. Táíwò’s article takes the individual perspective, and gets a better personal angle on why this is bad. My usual argument is primarily that life has a lot of awesome stuff to it, and making money really isn’t that much of it. That “When will I use this?” is a common question asked about ethics classes shows how deep the problem is. We have more resources than ever being poured into higher education, but we’re getting rid of most of higher education.

Conveniently, Ben Orlin wrote about math’s role as a gatekeeper around the same time. Mathematics, an allegedly more practical field of study than any humanity, is abused as a gatekeeper. Mathematicians see beauty in math. I know many who would love to instill some enjoyment for mathematics into their students. Instead they have to teach requirements to a room full of people looking to take the test. Mathematicians by and large don’t seem fond of their role as gatekeepers. I’m not sure who does. At best playing gatekeeper is a means to dragging students into classes so administrators will agree to let the department have money.

One step out of the muck would be increased, mandatory privacy on grades, and perhaps courses taken. The gatekeeper function is much harder to fill when there’s no record to look at. Employers can’t bog down the education process with their exploitation of it as a filtering mechanism. (If they have too many applications to look at applicants as individuals, perhaps they’ll see some incentive to fix the broken job market.)

I’m not denying the importance of evaluation. Feedback is a critical part of the learning process. You have to know where you’re going wrong to fix it. Sometimes you need pointing in the right direction to improve. But these can be had without letting anyone outside the educational process aware of the feedback.

Unfortunately this idea falls among those that would require universal adoption all at once. If any small group of institutions did this at once, they would likely just be shunned. If they won’t play into the wishes of HR departments, then HR departments will shun their graduates. Then they’ll struggle to find any students. But, I retain three thoughts: One, there may still be something of use in this partial idea. Two, if UBI gets rolling, universities can exist without depending on high enrollment. Three, grade inflation is leading us down this road anyway. If everyone gets an A, nobody gets an A. If anyone can get a degree, the degree doesn’t signify much. At that point, all the degree says is one came up with tuition money one way or another. At that point, one should hope at least students get an education out of the deal.

We need to figure out what parties are supposed to be

This article really, indirectly, highlights a fundamental disagreement about the role of parties in US politics.

The side the article is on sees the parties as these independent groups that back people running for office. Which is descriptively true. That’s what they are. Private clubs that try to get people into political offices.

The other side sees them more for their functional role in the current US political games: de facto filters for candidacy. In most elections, the options that are almost guaranteed to win are put forth by the Democratic and Republican parties. The two parties aren’t just functioning as clubs that put forth candidates, but rather acting as a method for determining the two candidates on the ballot. For elections with primaries, they are round one, and the election itself is round two.

Of course, given they serve this purpose, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect or demand they act fairly in light of it. If we want free and fair elections, then we can’t have de facto gatekeepers. If everyone who wants to run has to go through the approval of one of these two private clubs, then these two private clubs control the elections.

The Sanders supporters upset by the unfair treatment by the DP are generally told that the DP was well within their right to throw Sanders under the bus because Clinton had done more for the party. Sure, in a legal sense, that’s true, and if they really are just clubs that support their favorite people, that’s true. But as it stands, there were three options:

A) Run as a Democrat.
B) Run as a Republican.
C) Don’t run.

Now, unless we’re saying we don’t want free and fair democratic elections, this is a terrible trichotomy to have unless the disjunction of A or B is an option for anyone intending to run.

There are, it appears to me, two options to fix this:

1) Destroy the party system.
2) Make the parties public and equal-access.

Given option 1) would likely just lead to replacements running under the radar, 2) seems like the far more practical option. Given we don’t make any more radical changes to the system, not acknowledging the two-party state is silly. If we’re going to have two parties running the state, best to not have them de jure private interests.

The poetry aisle at Wal-Mart is awful

I read this article to make sure I wasn’t missing something. But, no, it’s indeed the case that finding anyone who seriously cares about poetry or creative writing generally has anything good to say about Kaur’s work. It’s pretty transparently vapid.

What’s left me at a loss is why I actively dislike it. Sure, it’s a bunch of platitudes published by a major publisher and getting a lot of attention. But most popular films are the same. Most popular music is, too. Which is fine. I’ll gladly say I enjoy stupid stuff sometimes. Not everything needs to be Infinite Jest or Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous. I liked the new Spiderman movie.

My best guess is that it’s actively interfering with the activities of people who might read or write better, worthwhile things. Someone picking up poetry or postmodern poetry picks this up and thinks it’s the deep stuff. Nobody watches Transformers and thinks it’s thoughtful cinema. It’s one-liners and explosions. Milk and Honey is one-liners (with a bunch of pointless line breaks) mixed in with stories with hard-hitting subject matters.

I’m not just assuming this is what happens, either. Look at people defending it and you’ll quickly find people saying things similar to “Look, if you don’t like the style [of having no regard for form or the use of language] then you just don’t like [post-]modern poetry.” Because they think that’s the extent of it. And then the door is open to anyone to criticize the good stuff on the basis of the bad stuff.

It hardly is limited to poetry, but this particular work got put it in my mind. You definitely see it elsewhere. “It’s just my style” is not an excuse for terrible artwork, either. Style is not a replacement for skill. Hitting random notes on a guitar or piano doesn’t constitute avant-garde; it constitutes being too lazy or disinterested in the actual skill or art to bother learning. Saying bogus unsupported nonsense with some idiosyncratic word usage doesn’t constitute philosophy. There’s a reason people who innovate in the newer, less (apparently) structured styles of anything first go through the process of how to do things the old way.

My hands are hardly clean, either. I’ve written tons of awful stuff that had no chance of ever being worthwhile. I thought “Oh, if I write free verse, I can disregard rhythm, rhyme, and word choice! Great!” (Yes, back to poetry.) Which was stupid. I still can’t write free verse (that isn’t complete trash). The rest of my work isn’t great by any means (at least I don’t think so), but maybe some of it has hope. And if I get the hang of playing in traditional forms to get them to do what I want, and then breaking the rules in small ways to get them to do neat things, then I’d love to move on to breaking all of the rules purposefully. But I’m not about to skip the parts where I bother learning the craft.

Now, one might make the case that, sure, people browse the poetry (or fiction, or philosophy, or religion, or art, or whatever) section, find this sort of thing, and then move on to better things. But, I turn to Harold Bloom:

“What’s happening is part of a phenomenon I wrote about a couple of years ago when I was asked to comment on Rowling. I went to the Yale University bookstore and bought and read a copy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I suffered a great deal in the process. The writing was dreadful; the book was terrible. As I read, I noticed that every time a character went for a walk, the author wrote instead that the character “stretched his legs.” I began marking on the back of an envelope every time that phrase was repeated. I stopped only after I had marked the envelope several dozen times. I was incredulous. Rowling’s mind is so governed by cliches and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing.
But when I wrote that in a newspaper, I was denounced. I was told that children would now read only J.K. Rowling, and I was asked whether that wasn’t, after all, better than reading nothing at all? If Rowling was what it took to make them pick up a book, wasn’t that a good thing?
It is not. “Harry Potter” will not lead our children on to Kipling’s “Just So Stories” or his “Jungle Book.” It will not lead them to Thurber’s “Thirteen Clocks” or Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows” or Lewis Carroll’s “Alice.”
Later I read a lavish, loving review of Harry Potter by the same Stephen King. He wrote something to the effect of, “If these kids are reading Harry Potter at 11 or 12, then when they get older they will go on to read Stephen King.” And he was quite right. He was not being ironic. When you read “Harry Potter” you are, in fact, trained to read Stephen King.
Our society and our literature and our culture are being dumbed down, and the causes are very complex. I’m 73 years old. In a lifetime of teaching English, I’ve seen the study of literature debased. There’s very little authentic study of the humanities remaining. My research assistant came to me two years ago saying she’d been in a seminar in which the teacher spent two hours saying that Walt Whitman was a racist. This isn’t even good nonsense. It’s insufferable.”

Should you start somewhere? Sure. Maybe don’t open with really complex stuff. Starting with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is probably silly. There’s easier or simpler, but still good works. But also, starting with Dawkins’s The God Delusion is probably even worse. It doesn’t tend to lead anywhere worthwhile, but it makes you think you ended up somewhere worthwhile. (Of course, reading something and acknowledging it’s silly fun when it’s silly fun is harmless, but that’s rarely the case in these examples. I’ve noticed a few movies and TV shows get a bit of a sub-audience who thinks there’s something deeply intellectual about them when, in fact, and most people recognize the fact, it’s almost entirely silly fun.)