Saturday, February 17, 2018

Two brothers reunited

Dead Wake by Erik Larson. The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is the subtitle. Page 304. I have read a handful of books about the Lusitania and this story always tugs my heartstrings. The scene is in the small town of Queensland in Ireland, where the survivors were brought ashore and whose presence overwhelmed the facilities.
Seaman Leslie Morton spent Friday night looking for his brother Cliff on the lists of survivors and in the hotels of Queenstown but found no trace. Early the next morning he sent a telegram to his father, “Am saved, looking for Cliff.” He went to one of the morgues. “Laid out in rows all the way down on both sides were sheeted and shrouded bodies,” he wrote, “and a large number of people in varying states of sorrow and distress were going from body to body, turning back the sheets to see if they could identify loved ones who had not yet been found.”

He worked his way along, lifting sheets. Just as he was about to pull yet one more, he saw the hand of another searcher reaching for the same sheet. He looked over, and saw his brother. Their reaction was deadpan.

“Hallo, Cliff, glad to see you,” Leslie said.

“Am I glad to see you too, Gert,” Cliff said. “I think we ought to have a drink on this!”

As it happened, their father had not had to spend very much time worrying. He had received telegrams from both sons, telling him each was looking for the other. The telegrams, Leslie later learned, had arrived five minutes apart, “so that father knew at home that we were both safe before we did.”

That night Leslie had his first-ever Guinness. “I cannot say that I thought much of it in those days, but it seemed a good thing in which to celebrate being alive, having got together again and being in Ireland.”

6th Street Bridge, Los Angeles c. 1930 by Emil Kosa Jr.

6th Street Bridge, Los Angeles c. 1930 by Emil Kosa Jr.

Click to enlarge.

The inclination to consider Animal Farm a how-to manual

Bari Weiss and the Left-Wing Infatuation With Taking Offense by Shadi Hamid.
In our identitarian age, the bar for offense has been lowered considerably, which makes democratic debate more difficult—citizens are more likely to withhold their true opinions if they fear being labeled as bigoted or insensitive. (The irony, of course, is that I can be a critic of identity politics without being labeled racist in part because of identity politics.) In the longer term, the effects of identity-driven discussions become even more pernicious. As I recently argued, basing our positions on who we are rather than what we believe is polarizing precisely because identities are more fixed than ideas.

This is why identity politics can sometimes seem like a new sort of political theology. Belief and conviction are good things, but only if there’s something to believe in. Identity politics and the virtue-outbidding it necessitates often signal the absence of religion in search of religion—with followers mimicking its constituent elements: ritual, purity, atonement, and excommunication.

In purely practical terms, moral posturing doesn’t usually change anyone’s mind, because people intuitively interpret it “as a form of jockeying for in-group status.” But it doesn’t need to change minds, nor is it necessarily supposed to. Its point is to transform politics into a question of purity. It’s not enough to have the right opinion or intent: The precise words used to convey the right opinion become just as important, as Weiss herself quickly found out. Within this framework, acknowledging the legitimacy of different opinions—if the language used can conceivably be seen as insensitive to a disadvantaged group—becomes more than difficult, too; it becomes a moral failing.
The additional irony is that in pursuit of respect and sensitivity of the marginalized, the postmodernists are entirely relaxed about disrespecting and obliterating anyone in disagreement with them on any issue, no matter how trivial. Postmodernism in its various forms is intellectually incoherent. Postmodernism is not only a new faith-based religion, but it is an authoritarian and totalitarian religion.

Sometimes it feels as if postmodernists never evolved from their first infatuation with Animal Farm by George Orwell in junior high school and have never been disabused of their initial impression that it was a how-to book.

On Raglan Road by Patrick Kavanagh

On Raglan Road by Patrick Kavanagh, sung by Luke Kelly.

Double click to enlarge.

On Raglan Road
by Patrick Kavanagh

On Raglan Road on an autumn day
I saw her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare
That I might one day rue

I saw the danger, yet I passed
Along the enchanted way
And I said, "Let grief be a falling leaf
At the dawning of the day"

On Grafton Street in November
We tripped lightly along the ledge
Of a deep ravine where can be seen
The worth of passions pledged

The 'Queen of Hearts' still making tarts
And I not making hay
Oh, I loved too much and by such, by such
Is happiness thrown away

I gave her gifts of the mind
I gave her the secret sign
That's known to the artists who have known
The true gods of sound and stone

And word and tint I did not stint
For I gave her poems to say
With her own name there and her own dark hair
Like clouds over fields of May

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet
I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly
My reason must allow

That I had loved not as I should
A creature made of clay
When the angel woos the clay
He'll lose his wings at the dawn of day

Grass by Carl Sandburg

by Carl Sandburg

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Turner’s experience left him with such a deep hatred of seagulls that until his retirement he used to carry a .22 rifle and shoot every seagull he could

Dead Wake by Erik Larson. The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is the subtitle. Page 296. Captain Turner commanded the Lusitania. Though the British Admiralty did their best to assign blame for the sinking of the Lusitania to Turner, he was blameless.

He did his duty as he understood it, remaining on the bridge of his command after having ordered all passengers and crew to abandon ship. He went down with the ship but death did not follow sinking.
His life jacket made him buoyant and lifted him from the bridge, but the descending hull pulled him under. “The whole ship seemed to be plucked from my feet by a giant hand,” Turner said. When he came back to the surface, he found himself in an archipelago of destruction and death. “Hundreds of bodies were being whirled about among the wreckage,” he said. “Men, women and children were drifting between planks, lifeboats and an indescribable litter.”

He had done all he could, he believed, and now an instinct to live ignited. He began to swim. He recognized another man nearby, William Pierpoint, the Liverpool police detective. All at once, Pierpoint disappeared. Like newlywed Margaret Gwyer, he was dragged into a funnel. “I thought he had gone,” Turner said. But in a burst of steam and hissing air, Pierpoint popped back out, his body coated with a layer of wet black soot that clung to him like enamel. At which point, Turner said, Pierpoint “started swimming for home like ten men, he was so scared.”

The ship was still moving at about 4 knots, by Turner’s estimate. But as he watched, its bow struck bottom—he was sure of it. “I noticed it because the sinking of the hull stopped for a few seconds with the stern in the air, quivering her whole length of 800 feet, and then down she went.”

It was a strange moment for a sea captain. Twenty minutes earlier Turner had stood on the bridge in command of one of the greatest ocean liners ever known. Now, still in uniform, he floated in the place where his ship had been, in a calm sea under a brilliant blue sky, no deck, cabin, or hull in sight, not even the ship’s tall masts.

He and Pierpoint swam together. Turner saw the bodies of some of the ship’s firemen floating nearby, upside down in their life jackets—he counted forty in all. Seagulls dove among corpses and survivors alike. Turner later told his son, Norman, that he found himself fending off attacks by the birds, which swooped from the sky and pecked at the eyes of floating corpses. Rescuers later reported that wherever they saw spirals of gulls, they knew they would find bodies. Turner’s experience left him with such a deep hatred of seagulls, according to Norman, “that until his retirement he used to carry a .22 rifle and shoot every seagull he could.”

Turner spent three hours in the water, until he was pulled aboard a lifeboat, and later was transferred to a fishing trawler, the Bluebell.

At Auntie Vi's Cafe by Ian Stephens

At Auntie Vi's Cafe by Ian Stephens

Click to enlarge.

Cheap and easy propositions need some hard facts

From ACT/SAT for all: A cheap, effective way to narrow income gaps in college by Susan M. Dynarski. I am deeply skeptical of all silver bullet solutions based on a fairly extensive consistent pattern of over-claiming beneficial outcomes, under-estimating costs, risks and unintended consequences, and a near perfect record of failing to deliver the promised outcomes.

But this looks promising.
There are many logistical hurdles on the road to college: financial aid forms, admissions essays, letters of recommendation, and entrance exams. There are dozens of details to remember, deadlines to meet, forms to complete, and fees to pay. Parents who have gone through this themselves, and have the time and resources, can coach their children through this process. Other kids are largely on their own.

These seemingly minor obstacles put many low-income students off the path to college. A study of high school seniors in Boston found that few low-income youth “decide” against college. Rather, they miss a key deadline, or incorrectly fill out a form, or fail to take a required class, and thereby fall off the path to college.

Consider the ACT and SAT. These entrance exams are required for admission to virtually all selective colleges in the US. Students have to register and pay for these tests, and then travel to a testing center on a weekend to take them. This is straightforward, if you have internet access, a computer, a credit card, and a car. If you are missing any of these resources, it’s a lot more challenging. The nearest testing center may be in a suburb that is unreachable by public transportation early on a Saturday morning.

But, in a dozen states, the ACT or SAT is now given in school, for free, on a school day during school hours. In most cases, the ACT or SAT replaces the standardized test that students would otherwise take in high school, so there is no additional time spent testing. This is an attractive feature, given the widespread backlash against perceived over-testing in schools. Sitting for the test is also required, which means that students can’t opt out because of low expectations – whether theirs or those of the adults around them.

In Michigan, in 2007, the ACT became part of the test required of juniors in the public schools. As a result of this shift in policy, the share of Michigan’s high school students taking a college entrance exam rose from 54 percent to nearly 99 percent. The growth was even sharper among low-income students, of whom only 35 percent were previously taking the test.
In a globally competitive economic system, an aging population and an increasingly complex world, we need all the talent we can find. And it is morally distressing that some might be being left behind because of low expectations. All of which makes this initiative sound extremely attractive.

One concern is that the report is squirrely in the reporting of the results.
The results were surprising. Thousands of academically talented students in Michigan had not been taking the ACT (or the SAT, which Hyman also tracked). For every 1,000 students who scored high enough to attend a selective college before testing was universal, another 230 high scorers were revealed by the new policy. Among low-income students, the effect was even more dramatic: for every 1,000 low-income students who had taken the test before 2007 and scored well, another 480 college-ready, low-income students were uncovered by the universal test.
What's that mean? I don't want relative rates. I want some sort of outcomes.

Did the number of students with a very high score of, say 1400, go from 100 students to 150 students. Or did it go from 100 to 110? It is impossible to see the whole picture based on what they are reporting.

And independent of how they scored, how many of those with a score 1400 actually enroll in university? Did it go from 100% of 100 to 100% of 150? Or is it 92% of 110?

And independent of how many actually enrolled in university, how many actually graduate? In other programs to increase the number of low income students at high reputation universities, the dropout rate is notoriously high.

I am concerned that Dynarski reports on none of this. Her idea sounds simple and promising, but the truth is in the numbers. But if these programs have been going on for a decade at some of these states, why aren't they reporting these results? The promise of a cheap and easy silver bullet without definitive results matches too closely the results of most such efforts over the past couple of decades. Efforts which ended expensively in failure.

And for all the chatter that this is cheap and easy to do, it is not free. There is a cost. In order to know whether it is worthwhile, we need to know the numbers to the above questions.

Death, be Not Proud by John Donne

Death, be Not Proud
by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

My Back Pages sung by The Byrds

My Back Pages sung by The Byrds

My Back Pages
by Bob Dylan

Crimson flames tied through my ears, rollin' high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads using ideas as my maps
"We'll meet on edges, soon, " said I, proud 'neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, "rip down all hate, " I screamed
Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now

Girls' faces formed the forward path from phony jealousy
To memorizing politics of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists, unthought of, though somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now

A self-ordained professor's tongue too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school
"Equality, " I spoke the word as if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now

In a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand at the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I'd become my enemy in the instant that I preach
My existence led by confusion boats, mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then I'm younger than that now