Thursday, March 31, 2011

During the Middle Ages people read aloud

I am reading a collection of essays and speeches by Robertson Davies, The Merry Heart.

There are two lectures, Reading and Writing, which he delivered as part of Yale University's Tanner lecture series. Filled with marvellous quotes and thoughts. Page 224.
Everybody used to verbalize as they read. Indeed during the Middle Ages people read aloud, and everybody knows the story about the scholar who had to discontinue his studies because he had a sore throat. Because they verbalized — I hate that word, but I can’t find another — they truly took in — drank in, one might almost say — what they read and it was impressed on their minds forever.

When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins

Copybook headings are proverbs, adages and morals from Aesop's Fables which used to be printed at the top of copybook (workbooks, bluebooks, similar to spiral notebooks today) pages in England in the 19th century.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings
by Rudyard Kipling

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Most ready to hand

I am reading a collection of essays and speeches by Robertson Davies, The Merry Heart.

There are two lectures, Reading and Writing, which he delivered as part of Yale University's Tanner lecture series. Filled with marvellous quotes and thoughts. Page 221
There are many ways of educating our feelings, but I recommend reading as that which is most ready to hand.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

From the godlike to the villainous

I am reading a collection of essays and speeches by Robertson Davies, The Merry Heart.

There are two lectures, Reading and Writing, which he delivered as part of Yale University's Tanner lecture series. Filled with marvellous quotes and thoughts. Page 221.
Anybody who cares about the matter knows that the intellect requires constant attention and renewal. The notion that someone who has graduated from a university has thereby been victualed for a long voyage through life as an intelligent human creature, is totally contradicted by common observation. And when I speak of intellect, you must not suppose that I mean merely that really rather humble ratiocinative ability — that power to reason about the ordinary concerns of life and to reach conclusions from given facts. I do not even mean that same ratiocinative faculty carried to a higher level, where it attacks complex, but still wholly finite problems. I use “intellect” to include all that vast realm of thinking and feeling that goes beyond the merely puzzle-solving work of the mind and establishes, so to speak, the very fabric and atmosphere in which life is lived and from which it is perceived. And when I talk of education I have no desire to belittle the powers of reason, but only to assert the power of feeling, the power of sympathy in the true meaning of that word, which enlarges our understanding of every aspect of our lives. We are quick to say that it is man’s power of abstract thought that separates him from the animal world, but how rarely do we say that it is man’s power to feel through a broader spectrum of emotion and sympathy that also makes him human — and, because human, capable of conduct that ranges from the godlike to the villainous.

We are in dark territory and nobody knows what the outcome will be

From Food and Syria's failure By Spengler
What might emerge from the Arab world two or three generations from now is beyond anyone's capacity to foresee. As individuals, Arabs are as talented and productive as anyone on earth. For the time being they are caught in the maelstrom of a failing culture. The social engineers of the neither the American left nor right will ''get them right,” in Undersecretary Burns' grammatically challenged expression.

Gates is right: the existing political structures will not hold. As he told David Ignatius, ''I think we should be alert to the fact that outcomes are not predetermined, and that it's not necessarily the case that everything has a happy ending ... We are in dark territory and nobody knows what the outcome will be.'' As I said of Egypt in my February 2 essay: we do not know what kind of state will follow Basher Assad. We only know that it will be a failed state.

Hope is not a method and wishes are not plans

From Donald Sensing's Sense of Events.
When I was assigned to the Army Operations Center in the early 1990s at HQDA, the chief of staff was Gen. Carl Vuono. He sometimes found occasion during our briefings to him about current and planned operations to hammer home a point: "Hope is not a method and wishes are not plans."

Don't tell me what you hope will happen, don't tell me what you wish you could do, he repeated. "Give me a plan that makes it happen."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Take pride in the pleasures of the intellect

I am reading a collection of essays and speeches by Robertson Davies, The Merry Heart.

There are two lectures, Reading and Writing, which he delivered as part of Yale University's Tanner lecture series. Filled with marvellous quotes and thoughts. Page 219.
So what is to be done? Is all lost? Not at all, but the salvation lies not with the government bodies but with individualswith hundreds and thousands of men and women who decide that this diseased concept of democracy shall not prevail. Whenever I talk in this way — and I have been doing so for more than thirty years — somebody is sure to protest that I am proposing the establishment and recruitment of an intellectual elite. My reply is enthusiastic agreement: that is precisely what I am doing. What is an elite? Is it not a body which values the best above that which is less good? Your country has never hesitated to let it be known that it leads the world in certain respects. You do not insist that your national standard of living should be that of your humblest citizens. You do not inhibit scientific research lest some less fortunate country should feel left out and protest that your scientists are elitist. Your moral standards as expressed by your politicians are the wonder of less ethically grandiose folk; I have always thought your invincible morality was a heritage from the Pilgrim Fathers, who were so unremittingly moral that the Old World couldn’t stand them for another minute and kicked them out. You do not conceal the fact that you are the wonder of the world. But in matters of intellect you are strangely unwilling to assert yourselves. Although many of the world’s leading intellectuals are citizens of the United States, you do not, as a nation, take pride in the pleasures of the intellect, enjoyed for their own sake, as adjuncts of the truly good, well-rounded life.

I wish you would give it a try.

The Phrase Finder

The Phrase Finder - a neat little site for finding the origins and meanigns of common idioms, phrases, morals, etc.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I suspect that they hate me

I am reading a collection of essays and speeches by Robertson Davies, The Merry Heart.

There are two lectures, Reading and Writing, which he delivered as part of Yale University's Tanner lecture series. From the Reading essay, page 216.
I do not myself use a word processor, because I am what it is now the fashion to call a technomoron. I have no skill with machines. I fear them, and because I cannot help attributing human qualities to them, I suspect that they hate me and will kill me if they can.

What the ideal is

Inflation or Unemployment? by Megan McArdle. Emphasis added.
More to the point, this rather begs the question of what the ideal is. You could define "full employment" as a situation in which everyone who wants a job has one. But on any level of economic organization above the size of a small village, this will not be true. At any given time, there will be what economists call "frictional unemployment", which reflects the fact that it takes a little time to find a job after you've entered the labor force. As long as companies are constantly creating and destroying jobs, the ideal level of unemployment is not zero.

To me, full employment is probably best defined as the situation where everyone's going to get a job in a relatively comfortable period of time--not instantly, but pretty briskly. The time to find a job will vary with skill and income level (in my full employment world, we understand that a laid-off marketing executive is going to take longer to find another job than someone who works retail for $9 an hour, because it takes longer to find work that suits specialized skills).

Over time, I'd say full employment will probably correspond pretty closely with what Milton Friedman and the monetarists called "the non-inflation accelerating rate of unemployment", or NAIRU. NAIRU could be 4%, but it's not particularly likely to be--and it's even less likely to stay at 4%. NAIRU changes along with changes in the economy and the labor force. Equilibrium unemployment rates are very low when most men are unskilled labor who can pick up new jobs very easily--and need to, because they can never save up enough of a cash cushion to see them through an extended job search. They will be higher when jobs are more specialized, when people are rich enough not to have to take whatever's offered, and when there are regulatory barriers to hiring and firing.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

They pranced and cavorted in coy prose

I am reading a collection of essays and speeches by Robertson Davies, The Merry Heart.

There are two lectures, Reading and Writing, which he delivered as part of Yale University's Tanner lecture series. Filled with marvellous quotes and thoughts. From the Reading lecture, page 214.
An astonishing number of those who can read and write think that they do so rather well. I spent twenty years as a journalist, and I met all kinds of men and women who prided themselves on what they called their “communication skills’’; they would tell you, with an unconvincing show of modesty, that they thought they could write “a pretty good letter.” It was my duty as as editor to deal with their pretty good letters, and I never ceased to be astonished at how badly people expressed themselves who did well in the world as lawyers, doctors, engineers, and the like. When they were angry they seemed unable to focus their anger; they roared like lions, and like lions they roared on no identifiable note. When they wished to express grief they fell into cliché and trivialized their sincere feeling by the awful prose in which they expressed it. When they were soliciting money for charity, they pranced and cavorted in coy prose, or else they tried to make the reader’s flesh creep with tales of horrors that may have been true but did not sound true. I used to wonder what made them write as they did, and whenever I was able to find out I discovered that it was because of the dreadful prose they read and the way they read it. They admired cheap stuff, they imitated cheap stuff, and they appeared to have no understanding of how they cheapened their own minds and their powers of expression by so doing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

But clerisy is a mild term

I am reading a collection of essays and speeches by Robertson Davies, The Merry Heart.

There are two lectures, Reading and Writing, which he delivered as part of Yale University's Tanner lecture series. Filled with marvellous quotes and thoughts. Page 233.
Its first chapter was titled A Call to the Clerisy, and it said rather the sort of thing I have been saying in this lecture. It proposed that an educated class should recognize itself in North America, and take into its own hands the literary influence which had been pretty much abandoned to the universities and the academic critics. By an educated class I certainly did not mean people of substantial means with university degrees; I meant anybody who knew how to use a public library and did so with zeal and devotion. I expressed no enmity toward the academic critics but I did say that I thought their professionalism and the need they had to establish personal reputations made them less-thanperfect guides for the public at large. I called for the rise and self-recognition of a group of readers whom I defined as “those who read for pleasure, but not for idleness; who read for pastime but not to kill time; who love books but do not live by books.” And to that group, the members of which are to be found everywhere, I applied the almost forgotten word clerisy.


But clerisy is a mild term, one might almost say a Trollopian term. It could not frighten the most neurotic banker. And the clerisy do not want to take anything from anybody; they merely want to recover what was their own in those distant days before so much of our intellectual life was abandoned to the universities. They want to have a say in the world of books. They want the world of books, through them, to have its influence in the national life — social and political. To return, somewhat apologetically, to Matthew Arnold, they want the history of the human spirit to have its influence in the history of our own times.

The limerick is furtive

Limerick is furtive
by Morris Bishop

The limerick is furtive and mean;
You must keep him in close quarantine
Or he sneaks to the slums
And promptly becomes
Disorderly, drunk and obscene.

But we have lost touch with those intellectuals

From Neal Stephenson's In the Beginning Was the Command Line, page 53.
The twentieth century was one in which limits on state power were removed in order to let the intellectuals run with the ball, and they screwed everything up and turned the century into an abattoir. . . . We Americans are the only ones who didn’t get creamed at some point during all of this. We are free and prosperous because we have inherited political and value systems fabricated by a particular set of eighteenth-century intellectuals who happened to get it right. But we have lost touch with those intellectuals.

We invoke cataclysms to desolate the world

Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species
So profound is our ignorance, and so high our presumption, that we marvel when we hear of the extinction of an organic being; and as we do not see the cause, we invoke cataclysms to desolate the world, or invent laws on the duration of the forms of life!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My heart was rife with the joy of life

Where did I orignally read this and when? "When you were a tadpole and I was a fish" . . . perhaps Wodehouse? Hmmm. Interesting the little bits and pieces that are stuck in the cranial cave somewhere.
by Langdon Smith (1858-1908)

When you were a tadpole and I was a fish
In the Paleozoic time,
And side by side on the ebbing tide
We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
Or skittered with many a caudal flip
Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
My heart was rife with the joy of life,
For I loved you even then.

Mindless we lived and mindless we loved
And mindless at last we died;
And deep in the rift of the Caradoc drift
We slumbered side by side.
The world turned on in the lathe of time,
The hot lands heaved amain,
Till we caught our breath from the womb of death
And crept into life again.

We were amphibians, scaled and tailed,
And drab as a dead man's hand;
We coiled at ease 'neath the dripping trees
Or trailed through the mud and sand.
Croaking and blind, with our three-clawed feet
Writing a language dumb,
With never a spark in the empty dark
To hint at a life to come.

Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
And happy we died once more;
Our forms were rolled in the clinging mold
Of a Neocomian shore.
The eons came and the eons fled
And the sleep that wrapped us fast
Was riven away in a newer day
And the night of death was passed.

Then light and swift through the jungle trees
We swung in our airy flights,
Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms
In the hush of the moonless nights;
And oh! what beautiful years were there
When our hearts clung each to each;
When life was filled and our senses thrilled
In the first faint dawn of speech.

Thus life by life and love by love
We passed through the cycles strange,
And breath by breath and death by death
We followed the chain of change.
Till there came a time in the law of life
When over the nursing sod
The shadows broke and the soul awoke
In a strange, dim dream of God.

I was thewed like an Auroch bull
And tusked like the great cave bear;
And you, my sweet, from head to feet
Were gowned in your glorious hair.
Deep in the gloom of a fireless cave,
When the night fell o'er the plain
And the moon hung red o'er the river bed
We mumbled the bones of the slain.

I flaked a flint to a cutting edge
And shaped it with brutish craft;
I broke a shank from the woodland lank
And fitted it, head and haft;
Than I hid me close to the reedy tarn,
Where the mammoth came to drink;
Through the brawn and bone I drove the stone
And slew him upon the brink.

Loud I howled through the moonlit wastes,
Loud answered our kith and kin;
From west to east to the crimson feast
The clan came tramping in.
O'er joint and gristle and padded hoof
We fought and clawed and tore,
And cheek by jowl with many a growl
We talked the marvel o'er.

I carved that fight on a reindeer bone
With rude and hairy hand;
I pictured his fall on the cavern wall
That men might understand.
For we lived by blood and the right of might
Ere human laws were drawn,
And the age of sin did not begin
Til our brutal tusks were gone.

And that was a million years ago
In a time that no man knows;
Yet here tonight in the mellow light
We sit at Delmonico's.
Your eyes are deep as the Devon springs,
Your hair is dark as jet,
Your years are few, your life is new,
Your soul untried, and yet --

Our trail is on the Kimmeridge clay
And the scarp of the Purbeck flags;
We have left our bones in the Bagshot stones
And deep in the Coralline crags;
Our love is old, our lives are old,
And death shall come amain;
Should it come today, what man may say
We shall not live again?

God wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds
And furnish’d them wings to fly;
He sowed our spawn in the world's dim dawn,
And I know that it shall not die,
Though cities have sprung above the graves
Where the crook-bone men made war
And the ox-wain creaks o'er the buried caves
Where the mummied mammoths are.

Then as we linger at luncheon here
O'er many a dainty dish,
Let us drink anew to the time when you
Were a tadpole and I was a fish.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement

Thomas Jefferson's Inaugural Address. Interesting to reread some two hundred years later and see how contemporary it is.
Friends and Fellow-Citizens:

Called upon to undertake the duties of the first executive office of our country, I avail myself of the presence of that portion of my fellow-citizens which is here assembled to express my grateful thanks for the favor with which they have been pleased to look toward me, to declare a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and awful presentiments which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire. A rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land, traversing all the seas with the rich productions of their industry, engaged in commerce with nations who feel power and forget right, advancing rapidly to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye—when I contemplate these transcendent objects, and see the honor, the happiness, and the hopes of this beloved country committed to the issue, and the auspices of this day, I shrink from the contemplation, and humble myself before the magnitude of the undertaking. Utterly, indeed, should I despair did not the presence of many whom I here see remind me that in the other high authorities provided by our Constitution I shall find resources of wisdom, of virtue, and of zeal on which to rely under all difficulties. To you, then, gentlemen, who are charged with the sovereign functions of legislation, and to those associated with you, I look with encouragement for that guidance and support which may enable us to steer with safety the vessel in which we are all embarked amidst the conflicting elements of a troubled world.

During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others, and should divide opinions as to measures of safety. But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world's best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest Government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own Federal and Republican principles, our attachment to union and representative government. Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter—with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens—a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.

About to enter, fellow-citizens, on the exercise of duties which comprehend everything dear and valuable to you, it is proper you should understand what I deem the essential principles of our Government, and consequently those which ought to shape its Administration. I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none; the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against antirepublican tendencies; the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad; a jealous care of the right of election by the people—a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided; absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism; a well disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them; the supremacy of the civil over the military authority; economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burthened; the honest payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith; encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its handmaid; the diffusion of information and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.

I repair, then, fellow-citizens, to the post you have assigned me. With experience enough in subordinate offices to have seen the difficulties of this the greatest of all, I have learnt to expect that it will rarely fall to the lot of imperfect man to retire from this station with the reputation and the favor which bring him into it. Without pretensions to that high confidence you reposed in our first and greatest revolutionary character, whose preeminent services had entitled him to the first place in his country's love and destined for him the fairest page in the volume of faithful history, I ask so much confidence only as may give firmness and effect to the legal administration of your affairs. I shall often go wrong through defect of judgment. When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground. I ask your indulgence for my own errors, which will never be intentional, and your support against the errors of others, who may condemn what they would not if seen in all its parts. The approbation implied by your suffrage is a great consolation to me for the past, and my future solicitude will be to retain the good opinion of those who have bestowed it in advance, to conciliate that of others by doing them all the good in my power, and to be instrumental to the happiness and freedom of all.

Relying, then, on the patronage of your good will, I advance with obedience to the work, ready to retire from it whenever you become sensible how much better choice it is in your power to make. And may that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity.

The identity of being an intelligent reflective human being

From Isaac Chotiner's review of That's Offensive! Criticism, Identitity, Respect by Stefan Collini.
This is Collini’s central passage: “Where arguments are concerned—that is, matters that are pursued by means of reasons and evidence—the most important identity we can acknowledge in another person is the identity of being an intelligent reflective human being.” And in case this seems too easy or too glib, he adds:

“This does not mean assuming that people are entirely—or even primarily—rational, and it does not mean that people are, in practice, always and only persuaded by reasons and evidence. It means treating other people as we wish to be treated ourselves in this matter—namely, as potentially capable of understanding the grounds for any action or statement that concerns us. But to so treat them means that, where reason and evidence are concerned, they cannot be thought of as primarily defined by being members of the ‘Muslim community or ‘Black community’ or ‘gay community.’”

What is crucial here is the ability of people to evaluate and to criticize, and to not feel as if their doing so is given more or less respect based on the groups to which they belong. Their words do not gain force or lose force—or “credibility,” to deploy a nonsensical and overused term—because of their specific identities.

The related point, which Collini also touches upon, is that if one decides to criticize a culture or a tradition or a work of art, doing so is not an act of Western arrogance. Criticism is not Western or Eastern or Christian or Jewish, and those facing criticism—and those societies and cultures facing criticism—should respond in a spirit of openness about truth. To withhold criticism from certain communities or religions is, in Collini’s word, a form of condescension towards them. It denies these groups the ability to engage in constructive dialogue, and to fortify their own values. In the final analysis, everyone loses.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I myself have often babbled doubtless of a foolish past

As a followup to the Locksley Hall poem a couple of days ago.

Locksley Hall - Sixty Years After
by Alfred Lord Tennsyon

Late, my grandson! half the morning have I paced these sandy tracts,
Watch'd again the hollow ridges roaring into cataracts,

Wander'd back to living boyhood while I heard the curlews call,
I myself so close on death, and death itself in Locksley Hall.

So--your happy suit was blasted--she the faultless, the divine;
And you liken--boyish babble--this boy-love of yours with mine.

I myself have often babbled doubtless of a foolish past;
Babble, babble; our old England may go down in babble at last.

'Curse him!' curse your fellow-victim? call him dotard in your rage?
Eyes that lured a doting boyhood well might fool a dotard's age.

Jilted for a wealthier! wealthier? yet perhaps she was not wise;
I remember how you kiss'd the miniature with those sweet eyes.

In the hall there hangs a painting--Amy's arms about my neck--
Happy children in a sunbeam sitting on the ribs of wreck.

In my life there was a picture, she that clasp'd my neck had flown;
I was left within the shadow sitting on the wreck alone.

Yours has been a slighter ailment, will you sicken for her sake?
You, not you! your modern amourist is of easier, earthlier make.

Amy loved me, Amy fail'd me, Amy was a timid child;
But your Judith--but your worldling--she had never driven me wild.

She that holds the diamond necklace dearer than the golden ring,
She that finds a winter sunset fairer than a morn of Spring.

She that in her heart is brooding on his briefer lease of life,
While she vows ' till death shall part us,' she the would-be-widow wife.

She the worldling born of worldlings--father, mother--be content,
Ev'n the homely farm can teach us there is something in descent.

Yonder in that chapel, slowly sinking now into the ground,
Lies the warrior, my forefather, with his feet upon the hound.

Cross'd! for once he sail'd the sea to crush the Moslem in his pride;
Dead the warrior, dead his glory, dead the cause in which he died.

Yet how often I and Amy in the mouldering aisle have stood,
Gazing for one pensive moment on that founder of our blood.

There again I stood to-day, and where of old we knelt in prayer,
Close beneath the casement crimson with the shield of Locksley--there,

All in white Italian marble, looking still as if she smiled,
Lies my Amy dead in child-birth, dead the mother, dead the child.

Dead--and sixty years ago, and dead her aged husband now,
I this old white-headed dreamer stoopt and kiss'd her marble brow.

Gone the fires of youth, the follies, furies, curses, passionate tears,
Gone like fires and floods and earthquakes of the planet's dawning years.

Fires that shook me once, but now to silent ashes fall'n away.
Cold upon the dead volcano sleeps the gleam of dying day.

Gone the tyrant of my youth, and mute below the chancel stones,
All his virtues--I forgive them--black in white above his bones.

Gone the comrades of my bivouac, some in fight against the foe,
Some thro' age and slow diseases, gone as all on earth will go.

Gone with whom for forty years my life in golden sequence ran,
She with all the charm of woman, she with all the breadth of man,

Strong in will and rich in wisdom, Edith, loyal, lowly, sweet,
Feminine to her inmost heart, and feminine to her tender feet,

Very woman of very woman, nurse of ailing body and mind,
She that link'd again the broken chain that bound me to my kind.

Here to-day was Amy with me, while I wander'd down the coast,
Near us Edith's holy shadow, smiling at the slighter ghost.

Gone our sailor son thy father, Leonard early lost at sea;
Thou alone, my boy, of Amy's kin and mine art left to me.

Gone thy tender-natured mother, wearying to be left alone,
Pining for the stronger heart that once had beat beside her own.

Truth, for Truth is Truth, he worshipt, being true as he was brave;
Good, for Good is Good, he follow'd, yet he look'd beyond the grave,

Wiser there than you, that crowning barren Death as lord of all,
Deem this over-tragic drama's closing curtain is the pall!

Beautiful was death in him who saw the death but kept the deck,
Saving women and their babes, and sinking with the sinking wreck,

Gone for ever! Ever? no--for since our dying race began,
Ever, ever, and for ever was the leading light of man.

Those that in barbarian burials kill'd the slave, and slew the wife,
Felt within themselves the sacred passion of the second life.

Indian warriors dream of ampler hunting grounds beyond the night;
Ev'n the black Australian dying hopes he shall return, a white.

Truth for truth, and good for good! The Good, the True, the Pure, the Just;
Take the charm 'For ever' from them, and they crumble into dust.

Gone the cry of 'Forward, Forward,' lost within a growing gloom;
Lost, or only heard in silence from the silence of a tomb.

Half the marvels of my morning, triumphs over time and space,
Staled by frequence, shrunk by usage into commonest commonplace!

'Forward' rang the voices then, and of the many mine was one.
Let us hush this cry of 'Forward' till ten thousand years have gone.

Far among the vanish'd races, old Assyrian kings would flay
Captives whom they caught in battle--iron-hearted victors they.

Ages after, while in Asia, he that led the wild Moguls,
Timur built his ghastly tower of eighty thousand human skulls,

Then, and here in Edward's time, an age of noblest English names,
Christian conquerors took and flung the conquer'd Christian into flames.

Love your enemy, bless your haters, said the Greatest of the great;
Christian love among the Churches look'd the twin of heathen hate.

From the golden alms of Blessing man had coin'd himself a curse:
Rome of Caesar, Rome of Peter, which was crueller? which was worse?

France had shown a light to all men, preach'd a Gospel, all men's good;
Celtic Demos rose a Demon, shriek'd and slaked the light with blood.

Hope was ever on her mountain, watching till the day begun
Crown'd with sunlight--over darkness--from the still unrisen sun.

Have we grown at last beyond the passions of the primal clan?
'Kill your enemy, for you hate him,' still, 'your enemy' was a man.

Have we sunk below them? peasants maim the helpless horse, and drive
Innocent cattle under thatch, and burn the kindlier brutes alive.

Brutes, the brutes are not your wrongers--burnt at midnight, found at morn,
Twisted hard in mortal agony with their offspring, born-unborn,

Clinging to the silent Mother! Are we devils? are we men?
Sweet St. Francis of Assisi, would that he were here again,

He that in his Catholic wholeness used to call the very flowers
Sisters, brothers--and the beasts--whose pains are hardly less than ours!

Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! who can tell how all will end!
Read the wide world's annals, you, and take their wisdom for your friend.

Hope the best, but hold the Present fatal daughter of the Past,
Shape your heart to front the hour, but dream not that the hour will last.

Ay, if dynamite and revolver leave you courage to be wise:
When was age so cramm'd with menace? madness? written, spoken lies?

Envy wears the mask of Love, and, laughing sober fact to scorn,
Cries to Weakest as to Strongest, 'Ye are equals, equal-born.'

Equal-born? O yes, if yonder hill be level with the flat.
Charm us, Orator, till the Lion look no larger than the Cat.

Till the Cat thro' that mirage of overheated language loom
Larger than the Lion,--Demos end in working its own doom.

Russia bursts our Indian barrier, shall we fight her? shall we yield?
Pause, before you sound the trumpet, hear the voices from the field.

Those three hundred millions under one Imperial sceptre now,
Shall we hold them? shall we loose them? take the suffrage of the plow?

Nay, but these would feel and follow Truth if only you and you,
Rivals of realm-ruining party, when you speak were wholly true.

Plowmen, Shepherds, have I found, and more than once, and still could find,
Sons of God, and kings of men in utter nobleness of mind,

Truthful, trustful, looking upward to the practised hustings-liar;
So the Higher wields the Lower, while the Lower is the Higher.

Here and there a cotter's babe is royal-born by right divine;
Here and there my lord is lower than his oxen or his swine.

Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! once again the sickening game;
Freedom, free to slay herself, and dying while they shout her name.

Step by step we gain'd a freedom known to Europe, known to all;
Step by step we rose to greatness,--thro' the tonguesters we may fall.

You that woo the Voices--tell them 'old experience is a fool,'
Teach your flatter'd kings that only those who cannot read can rule.

Pluck the mighty from their seat, but set no meek ones in their place;
Pillory Wisdom in your markets, pelt your offal at her face.

Tumble Nature heel o'er head, and, yelling with the yelling street,
Set the feet above the brain and swear the brain is in the feet.

Bring the old dark ages back without the faith, without the hope,
Break the State, the Church, the Throne, and roll their ruins down the slope.

Authors--atheist, essayist, novelist, realist, rhyrne-ster, play your part,
Paint the mortal shame of nature with the living hues of Art.

Rip your brothers' vices open, strip your own foul passions bare;
Down with Reticence, down with Reverence--forward--naked--let them stare.

Feed the budding rose of boyhood with the drainage of your sewer;
Send the drain into the fountain, lest the stream should issue pure.

Set the maiden fancies wallowing in the troughs of Zolaism,--
Forward, forward, ay and backward, downward too into the abysm.

Do your best to charm the worst, to lower the rising race of men;
Have we risen from out the beast, then back into the beast again?

Only 'dust to dust' for me that sicken at your lawless din,
Dust in wholesome old-world dust before the newer world begin.

Heated am I? you--you wonder--well, it scarce becomes mine age--
Patience! let the dying actor mouth his last upon the stage.

Cries of unprogressive dotage ere the dotard fall asleep?
Noises of a current narrowing, not the music of a deep?

Ay, for doubtless I am old, and think gray thoughts, for I am gray:
After all the stormy changes shall we find a changeless May?

After madness, after massacre, Jacobinism and Jacquerie,
Some diviner force to guide us thro' the days I shall not see?

When the schemes and all the systems, Kingdoms and Republics fall,
Something kindlier, higher, holier--all for each and each for all?

All the full-brain, half-brain races, led by Justice, Love, and Truth;
All the millions one at length, with all the visions of my youth?

All diseases quench'd by Science, no man halt, or deaf or blind;
Stronger ever born of weaker, lustier body, larger mind?

Earth at last a warless world, a single race, a single tongue,
I have seen her far away--for is not Earth as yet so young?--

Every tiger madness muzzled, every serpent passion kill'd,
Every grim ravine a garden, every blazing desert till'd,

Robed in universal harvest up to either pole she smiles,
Universal ocean softly washing all her warless Isles.

Warless? when her tens are thousands, and her thousands millions, then--
All her harvest all too narrow--who can fancy warless men?

Warless? war will die out late then. Will it ever? late or soon?
Can it, till this outworn earth be dead as yon dead world the moon?

Dead the new astronomy calls her. . . . On this day and at this hour,
In this gap between the sandhills, whence you see the Locksley tower,

Here we met, our latest meeting--Amy--sixty years ago--
She and I--the moon was falling greenish thro' a rosy glow,

Just above the gateway tower, and even where you see her now--
Here we stood and claspt each other, swore the seeming-deathless vow. . . .

Dead, but how her living glory lights the hall, the dune, the grass!
Yet the moonlight is the sunlight, and the sun himself will pass.

Venus near her ! smiling downward at this earthlier earth of ours,
Closer on the Sun, perhaps a world of never fading flowers.

Hesper, whom the poet call'd the Bringer home of all good things.
All good things may move in Hesper, perfect peoples, perfect kings.

Hesper--Venus--were we native to that splendour or in Mars,
We should see the Globe we groan in, fairest of their evening stars.

Could we dream of wars and carnage, craft and madness, lust and spite,
Roaring London, raving Paris, in that point of peaceful light?

Might we not in glancing heavenward on a star so silver-fair,
Yearn, and clasp the hands and murmur, 'Would to God that we were there'?

Forward, backward, backward, forward, in the immeasurable sea,
Sway'd by vaster ebbs and flows than can be known to you or me.

All the suns--are these but symbols of innumerable man,
Man or Mind that sees a shadow of the planner or the plan?

Is there evil but on earth? or pain in every peopled sphere?
Well be grateful for the sounding watchword, 'Evolution' here.

Evolution ever climbing after some ideal good,
And Reversion ever dragging Evolution in the mud.

What are men that He should heed us? cried the king of sacred song;
Insects of an hour, that hourly work their brother insect wrong,

While the silent Heavens roll, and Suns along their fiery way,
All their planets whirling round them, flash a million miles a day.

Many an Æon moulded earth before her highest, man, was born,
Many an Æon too may pass when earth is manless and forlorn,

Earth so huge, and yet so bounded--pools of salt, and plots of land--
Shallow skin of green and azure--chains of mountain, grains of sand!

Only That which made us, meant us to be mightier by and by,
Set the sphere of all the boundless Heavens within the human eye,

Sent the shadow of Himself, the boundless, thro' the human soul;
Boundless inward, in the atom, boundless outward, in the Whole.

* * * * *

Here is Locksley Hall, my grandson, here the lion-guarded gate.
Not to-night in Locksley Hall--to-morrow--you, you come so late.

Wreck'd--your train--or all but wreck'd? a shatter'd wheel? a vicious boy!
Good, this forward, you that preach it, is it well to wish you joy?

Is it well that while we range with Science, glorying in the Time,
City children soak and blacken soul and sense in city slime?

There among the glooming alleys Progress halts on palsied feet,
Crime and hunger cast our maidens by the thousand on the street.

There the Master scrimps his haggard sempstress of her daily bread,
There a single sordid attic holds the living and the dead.

There the smouldering fire of fever creeps across the rotted floor,
And the crowded couch of incest in the warrens of the poor.

Nay, your pardon, cry your 'forward,' yours are hope and youth, but I--
Eighty winters leave the dog too lame to follow with the cry,

Lame and old, and past his time, and passing now into the night;
Yet I would the rising race were half as eager for the light.

Light the fading gleam of Even? light the glimmer of the dawn?
Aged eyes may take the growing glimmer for the gleam withdrawn.

Far away beyond her myriad coming changes earth will be
Something other than the wildest modern guess of you and me.

Earth may reach her earthly-worst, or if she gain her earthly-best,
Would she find her human offspring this ideal man at rest?

Forward then, but still remember how the course of Time will swerve,
Crook and turn upon itself in many a backward streaming curve.

Not the Hall to-night, my grandson! Death and Silence hold their own.
Leave the Master in the first dark hour of his last sleep alone.

Worthier soul was he than I am, sound and honest, rustic Squire,
Kindly landlord, boon companion — youthful jealousy is a liar,

Cast the poison from your bosom, oust the madness from your brain.
Let the trampled serpent show you that you have not lived in vain.

Youthful! youth and age are scholars yet but in the lower school,
Nor is he the wisest man who never proved himself a fool.

Yonder lies our young sea-village--Art and Grace are less and less:
Science grows and Beauty dwindles--roofs of slated hideousness!

There is one old Hostel left us where they swing the Locksley shield,
Till the peasant cow shall butt the 'Lion passant' from his field.

Poor old Heraldry, poor old History, poor old Poetry, passing hence,
In the common deluge drowning old political common-sense!

Poor old voice of eighty crying after voices that have fled!
All I loved are vanish'd voices, all my steps are on the dead.

All the world is ghost to me, and as the phantom disappears,
Forward far and far from here is all the hope of eighty years.

* * * * *

In this Hostel--I remember--I repent it o'er his grave--
Like a clown--by chance he met me--I refused the hand he gave.

From that casement where the trailer mantles all the mouldering bricks--
I was then in early boyhood, Edith but a child of six--

While I shelter'd in this archway from a day of driving showers--
Peept the winsome face of Edith like a flower among the flowers.

Here to-night! the Hall to-morrow, when they toll the Chapel bell!
Shall I hear in one dark room a wailing, 'I have loved thee well.'

Then a peal that shakes the portal--one has come to claim his bride,
Her that shrank, and put me from her, shriek'd, and started from my side--

Silent echoes! you, my Leonard, use and not abuse your day,
Move among your people, know them, follow him who led the way,

Strove for sixty widow'd years to help his homelier brother men,
Served the poor, and built the cottage, raised the school, and drain'd the fen.

Hears he now the Voice that wrong'd him? who shall swear it cannot be?
Earth would never touch her worst, were one in fifty such as he.

Ere she gain her Heavenly-best, a God must mingle with the game:
Nay, there may be those about us whom we neither

Felt within us as ourselves, the Powers of Good, the Powers of Ill,
Strewing balm, or shedding poison in the fountains of the Will.

Follow you the Star that lights a desert pathway, yours or mine.
Forward, till you see the highest Human Nature is divine.

Follow Light, and do the Right--for man can half-control his doom--
Till you find the deathless Angel seated in the vacant tomb.

Forward, let the stormy moment fly and mingle with the Past.
I that loathed, have come to love him. Love will conquer at the last.

Gone at eighty, mine own age, and I and you will bear the pall;
Then I leave thee Lord and Master, latest Lord of Locksley Hall.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see

Some wonderful lines in this poem and some impressive philosophy/prescience about midway through the poem

Locksley Hall
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet 't is early morn:
Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn.

'Tis the place, and all around it, as of old, the curlews call,
Dreary gleams about the moorland flying over Locksley Hall;

Locksley Hall, that in the distance overlooks the sandy tracts,
And the hollow ocean-ridges roaring into cataracts.

Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest,
Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the West.

Many a night I saw the Pleiades, rising thro' the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.

Here about the beach I wander'd, nourishing a youth sublime
With the fairy tales of science, and the long result of Time;

When the centuries behind me like a fruitful land reposed;
When I clung to all the present for the promise that it closed:

When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.—

In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin's breast;
In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;

In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove;
In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love

Then her cheek was pale and thinner than should be for one so young,
And her eyes on all my motions with a mute observance hung.

And I said, "My cousin Amy, speak, and speak the truth to me,
Trust me, cousin, all the current of my being sets to thee."

On her pallid cheek and forehead came a colour and a light,
As I have seen the rosy red flushing in the northern night.

And she turn'd—her bosom shaken with a sudden storm of sighs—
All the spirit deeply dawning in the dark of hazel eyes—

Saying, "I have hid my feelings, fearing they should do me wrong";
Saying, "Dost thou love me, cousin?" weeping, "I have loved thee long."

Love took up the glass of Time, and turn'd it in his glowing hands;
Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands.

Love took up the harp of Life, and smote on all the chords with might;
Smote the chord of Self, that, trembling, pass'd in music out of sight.

Many a morning on the moorland did we hear the copses ring,
And her whisper throng'd my pulses with the fulness of the Spring.

Many an evening by the waters did we watch the stately ships,
And our spirits rush'd together at the touching of the lips.

O my cousin, shallow-hearted! O my Amy, mine no more!
O the dreary, dreary moorland! O the barren, barren shore!

Falser than all fancy fathoms, falser than all songs have sung,
Puppet to a father's threat, and servile to a shrewish tongue!

Is it well to wish thee happy?—having known me—to decline
On a range of lower feelings and a narrower heart than mine!

Yet it shall be; thou shalt lower to his level day by day,
What is fine within thee growing coarse to sympathize with clay.

As the husband is, the wife is: thou art mated with a clown,
And the grossness of his nature will have weight to drag thee down.

He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force,
Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse.

What is this? his eyes are heavy; think not they are glazed with wine.
Go to him, it is thy duty, kiss him, take his hand in thine.

It may be my lord is weary, that his brain is overwrought:
Soothe him with thy finer fancies, touch him with thy lighter thought.

He will answer to the purpose, easy things to understand—
Better thou wert dead before me, tho' I slew thee with my hand!

Better thou and I were lying, hidden from the heart's disgrace,
Roll'd in one another's arms, and silent in a last embrace.

Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth!
Cursed be the social lies that warp us from the living truth!

Cursed be the sickly forms that err from honest Nature's rule!
Cursed be the gold that gilds the straiten'd forehead of the fool!

Well—'t is well that I should bluster!—Hadst thou less unworthy proved—
Would to God—for I had loved thee more than ever wife was loved.

Am I mad, that I should cherish that which bears but bitter fruit?
I will pluck it from my bosom, tho' my heart be at the root.

Never, tho' my mortal summers to such length of years should come
As the many-winter'd crow that leads the clanging rookery home.

Where is comfort? in division of the records of the mind?
Can I part her from herself, and love her, as I knew her, kind?

I remember one that perish'd; sweetly did she speak and move;
Such a one do I remember, whom to look at was to love.

Can I think of her as dead, and love her for the love she bore?
No—she never loved me truly; love is love for evermore.

Comfort? comfort scorn'd of devils! this is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.

Drug thy memories, lest thou learn it, lest thy heart be put to proof,
In the dead unhappy night, and when the rain is on the roof.

Like a dog, he hunts in dreams, and thou art staring at the wall,
Where the dying night-lamp flickers, and the shadows rise and fall.

Then a hand shall pass before thee, pointing to his drunken sleep,
To thy widow'd marriage-pillows, to the tears that thou wilt weep.

Thou shalt hear the "Never, never," whisper'd by the phantom years,
And a song from out the distance in the ringing of thine ears;

And an eye shall vex thee, looking ancient kindness on thy pain.
Turn thee, turn thee on thy pillow; get thee to thy rest again.

Nay, but Nature brings thee solace; for a tender voice will cry.
'Tis a purer life than thine, a lip to drain thy trouble dry.

Baby lips will laugh me down; my latest rival brings thee rest.
Baby fingers, waxen touches, press me from the mother's breast.

O, the child too clothes the father with a dearness not his due.
Half is thine and half is his: it will be worthy of the two.

O, I see thee old and formal, fitted to thy petty part,
With a little hoard of maxims preaching down a daughter's heart.

"They were dangerous guides the feelings—she herself was not exempt—
Truly, she herself had suffer'd"—Perish in thy self-contempt!

Overlive it—lower yet—be happy! wherefore should I care?
I myself must mix with action, lest I wither by despair.

What is that which I should turn to, lighting upon days like these?
Every door is barr'd with gold, and opens but to golden keys.

Every gate is throng'd with suitors, all the markets overflow.
I have but an angry fancy; what is that which I should do?

I had been content to perish, falling on the foeman's ground,
When the ranks are roll'd in vapour, and the winds are laid with sound.

But the jingling of the guinea helps the hurt that Honour feels,
And the nations do but murmur, snarling at each other's heels.

Can I but relive in sadness? I will turn that earlier page.
Hide me from my deep emotion, O thou wondrous Mother-Age!

Make me feel the wild pulsation that I felt before the strife,
When I heard my days before me, and the tumult of my life;

Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield,
Eager-hearted as a boy when first he leaves his father's field,

And at night along the dusky highway near and nearer drawn,
Sees in heaven the light of London flaring like a dreary dawn;

And his spirit leaps within him to be gone before him then,
Underneath the light he looks at, in among the throngs of men:

Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain'd a ghastly dew
From the nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue;

Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples plunging thro' the thunder-storm;

Till the war-drum throbb'd no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.

So I triumph'd ere my passion sweeping thro' me left me dry,
Left me with the palsied heart, and left me with the jaundiced eye;

Eye, to which all order festers, all things here are out of joint:
Science moves, but slowly, slowly, creeping on from point to point:

Slowly comes a hungry people, as a lion, creeping nigher,
Glares at one that nods and winks behind a slowly-dying fire.

Yet I doubt not thro' the ages one increasing purpose runs,
And the thoughts of men are widen'd with the process of the suns.

What is that to him that reaps not harvest of his youthful joys,
Tho' the deep heart of existence beat for ever like a boy's?

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and I linger on the shore,
And the individual withers, and the world is more and more.

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and he bears a laden breast,
Full of sad experience, moving toward the stillness of his rest.

Hark, my merry comrades call me, sounding on the bugle-horn,
They to whom my foolish passion were a target for their scorn:

Shall it not be scorn to me to harp on such a moulder'd string?
I am shamed thro' all my nature to have loved so slight a thing.

Weakness to be wroth with weakness! woman's pleasure, woman's pain—
Nature made them blinder motions bounded in a shallower brain:

Woman is the lesser man, and all thy passions, match'd with mine,
Are as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine—

Here at least, where nature sickens, nothing. Ah, for some retreat
Deep in yonder shining Orient, where my life began to beat;

Where in wild Mahratta-battle fell my father evil-starr'd,—
I was left a trampled orphan, and a selfish uncle's ward.

Or to burst all links of habit—there to wander far away,
On from island unto island at the gateways of the day.

Larger constellations burning, mellow moons and happy skies,
Breadths of tropic shade and palms in cluster, knots of Paradise.

Never comes the trader, never floats an European flag,
Slides the bird o'er lustrous woodland, swings the trailer from the crag;

Droops the heavy-blossom'd bower, hangs the heavy-fruited tree—
Summer isles of Eden lying in dark-purple spheres of sea.

There methinks would be enjoyment more than in this march of mind,
In the steamship, in the railway, in the thoughts that shake mankind.

There the passions cramp'd no longer shall have scope and breathing space;
I will take some savage woman, she shall rear my dusky race.

Iron-jointed, supple-sinew'd, they shall dive, and they shall run,
Catch the wild goat by the hair, and hurl their lances in the sun;

Whistle back the parrot's call, and leap the rainbows of the brooks,
Not with blinded eyesight poring over miserable books—

Fool, again the dream, the fancy! but I know my words are wild,
But I count the gray barbarian lower than the Christian child.

I, to herd with narrow foreheads, vacant of our glorious gains,
Like a beast with lower pleasures, like a beast with lower pains!

Mated with a squalid savage—what to me were sun or clime?
I the heir of all the ages, in the foremost files of time—

I that rather held it better men should perish one by one,
Than that earth should stand at gaze like Joshua's moon in Ajalon!

Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.

Thro' the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.

Mother-Age (for mine I knew not) help me as when life begun:
Rift the hills, and roll the waters, flash the lightnings, weigh the Sun.

O, I see the crescent promise of my spirit hath not set.
Ancient founts of inspiration well thro' all my fancy yet.

Howsoever these things be, a long farewell to Locksley Hall!
Now for me the woods may wither, now for me the roof-tree fall

Comes a vapour from the margin, blackening over heath and holt,
Cramming all the blast before it, in its breast a thunderbolt.

Let it fall on Locksley Hall, with rain or hail, or fire or snow;
For the mighty wind arises, roaring seaward, and I go

Saturday, March 19, 2011

General intelligence and practical intelligence are "orthogonal"

From Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Page 101.
The particular skill that allows you to talk your way out of a murder rap, or convince your professor to move you from the morning to the afternoon section, is what the psychologist Robert Sternberg calls "practical intelligence." To Sternberg, practical intelligence includes things like "knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect." It is procedural: it is about knowing how to do something without necessarily knowing why you know it or being able to explain it. It's practical in nature: that is, it's not knowledge for its own sake. It's knowledge that helps you read situations correctly and get what you want. And, critically, it is a kind of intelligence separate from the sort of analytical ability measured by IQ. To use the technical term, general intelligence and practical intelligence are "orthogonal": the presence of one doesn't imply the presence of the other. You can have lots of analytical intelligence and very little practically intelligence, or lots of practical intelligence and not much analytical intelligence, or - as in the lucky case of someone like Robert Oppenheimer - you can have lots of both.

Friday, March 18, 2011

They work much, much harder

From Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Page 39
Regarding the 10,000 hours rule.
The striking thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any "naturals," musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any "grinds," people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn't have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

A continuing ethical hope for better lives

How relevant is pragmatism to the education system today? by Lynda Stone
In its best sense, a pragmatist stance functions in the moment as past and future are taken into account, individual and collective agency work to resolve current problems hopefully for benefit of many, this amid a continuing ethical hope for better lives for more persons.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Accumulative advantage

From Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Page 30.
The sociologist Robert Merton famously called this phenomenon the "Matthew Effect" after the New Testament verse in the Gospel of Matthew: "For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It's the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It's the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. And it's the biggest nine- and ten-year-olds who get the most coaching and practice. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call "accumulative advantage." The professional hockey player starts out a little bit better than his peers. And that little difference leads to an opportunity that makes that difference a little bigger, and that edge in turn leads to another opportunity, which makes the initially small difference bigger still - and on, and on until the hockey player is a genuine outlier. But he didn't start out an outlier. He started out just a little bit better.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Skewed age distributions

From Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Page 25
Barnsley argues that these kinds of skewed age distributions exist whenever three things happen: selection, streaming, and differentiated experience. If you make a decision about who is good and who is not good at an early age; if you separate the "talented" from the "untalented"; and if you provide the "talented" with a superior experience, then you're going to end up giving a huge advantage to that small group of people born closest to the cutooff date.

Explaining why most members of a competitive sports league are going to be aged close to the sign up cut off date: the younger adherents are smaller and less developed and therefore get winnowed out by those that are closer to the age cutoff date and therefore are older and stronger.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Success and inevitability

I have just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Interesting to have read it in close proximity to Thomas Sowell’s The Quest for Cosmic Justice. Both authors are very gifted, Sowell in argumentation and Gladwell in storytelling. Both grapple with important issues. Both have a knack for spotting the interesting story, occurrence, event or the obscure fact or measure. You are carried along by their argument and have to will yourself to step back and consider just what their argument might be and whether you might agree with it.

Gladwell is an author whose essays appear in the New Yorker and so his books have the disadvantage that they feel as if he has shaped individual articles into support of a broader argument rather than a seamless book length argument. Sowell on the other hand is usually taking a particular proposition and either demolishing it or marshaling supporting evidence across a book length canvass.

Outliers is chock full of interesting information and ways of looking at familiar information in a new fashion and which sheds new light. And Gladwell is certainly a gifted storyteller.

For all that the storytelling is wonderful, there are a couple of significant flaws in the book. The first is that much of what Gladwell is reporting originates out of the academic fields of psychology and social sciences – fields notorious for their fads, their relaxed approach to statistical rigor, and their susceptibility to cognitive bias. The findings can be fascinating and thought provoking but when you discover that they are based on a sample of twenty-four middle class, 20 year old college students (or some similarly constrained and unrepresentative sample) over a four week time frame, suddenly your confidence in the data takes a dive and the novel insight you thought you were drawing from the article suddenly seems more like a sophomoric bull session.

The second challenge for the reader is that Gladwell is selective, as a storyteller needs to be, in the evidence he advances. He has a story to tell and that demands a narrative arc, tension, etc. Data doesn’t often lend itself to such a structure. The upshot is that while you are enjoying the story, you are not getting the whole story or maybe even an accurate story. It feels like science, looks like science but it is storytelling.

It is not perfectly clear to this reader what, exactly, the intended thesis of Outliers is meant to be. The cover blurb claims that “The lives of outliers – those people whose achievements fall outside normal experience – follow a peculiar and unexpected logic, and in making that logic plain Gladwell presents a fascinating and provocative blueprint for making the most of human potential.” This is manifestly not what Gladwell is doing. He sheds some light here and there but he does not present a blueprint for making the most of human potential. It just isn’t there.

Rather than a holistic argument, there are a couple of times in the book where you might almost conclude that Gladwell’s argument is that success is substantially a function of luck and that successful people ought to recognize that their success depended on luck and ought to have some humility. While the need for humility is an important one, and sadly absent in much modern discourse, I don’t think that is completely or even primarily what Outliersis about.

It is in fact one of the attractions of Outliers to figure out exactly what is the nature of Gladwell’s thesis. What is he proposing? On his website, Gladwell says
My wish with Outliers is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is. When outliers become outliers it is not just because of their own efforts. It's because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances— and that means that we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds—and how many of us succeed—than we think.

The first claim, that success is achieved through ” the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances” is, I suspect, for most people, unexceptional and almost tautological. The outcomes of one’s life have to be the product of the multitudinous inputs and circumstances.

The second claim is a little more problematic. For most of the book, Gladwell seems to be making the argument that people achieve success because they were lucky: they were in the right place at the right time under the right circumstances. This hardly seems consistent with the second argument that “we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds—and how many of us succeed—than we think”.

It is indisputably the case, and Gladwell marshal’s some of the evidence for this point, that the most productive societies are the most complex and that it is difficult to isolate, in such a complex environment, the relative contributions of individual effort versus societal organization. Even though a given society may be measurably more productive than others, it is also true that there is always the bell curve at work. Even in a very productive society, some individuals are more productive than others. Pointing out that some places, some times, and some social structures are more productive than others, given particular circumstances, is of relatively little value. The more interesting question is why, given those structures, times, and circumstances, some excel and others do not. Even though his main thesis may not be of particular value, I do think Gladwell is on to some useful things in Outliers and that his real message is that there are many things that we can do to improve our odds of being successful.

From page 19, we have this slightly more detailed explanation of the thesis.
In Outliers, I want to convince you that these kinds of personal explanations of success don’t work. People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grow up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.

So his argument is fundamentally that how far we go in terms of success depends on where we come from and from whence we started. No dispute there. In making this argument though, it often comes across as a claim that people are successful only because they are lucky. But the very stories that Gladwell tells disprove that. Every outlier he identifies share some common characteristics that distinguish them from the full range of humanity. Among these attributes are an extraordinary capacity for hard work, an intense and sustained focus on some area of expertise, a willingness to take considered risks, and yes some luck.

The argument as to whether successful people are talented or just lucky is ill-formulated and is akin to discussions about lotteries. Yes, your odds of winning any substantial lottery are astronomically against you but the only thing more certain than the odds against you winning is the odds of your winning if you don’t play. Likewise with successful people. There is an element of luck in their success but they had to be positioned for that success in the first place and that positioning came about through their own efforts – they had to have the capacity for hard work, intense focus, perseverance, etc. Those were the choices they made that determined whether, when luck brought them a chance, they would benefit from that chance. One is reminded of the quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson, “I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

The alternative way of looking at this is in terms of absolute and relative outcomes. The fact that Bill Gates is a billionaire technology titan is a product of being in the right place at the right time with the right background but it could only have happened through his own efforts. Other than lottery winners and heirs to a fortune, there are no accidental outliers. Nobody gets to the top of their profession or industry by accident. Whether being at the top pays you thousands or millions or billions is a matter of luck and timing. Bill Gates five years older or younger would have a different bank account but likely would have still been a top player in his field. And for every Bill Gates who was there at the right place at the right time, there are hundreds if not thousands that had similar backgrounds but did not become billionaires. If luck and circumstance were similar, how to explain the difference in outcomes? Personal choices.

There is an odd discordance here. On the one hand all the evidence that Gladwell accumulates in his stories points to personal choices as being the real differentiators between those that succeed and those that don’t and yet he seems to also want to make the argument that those that are successful were given the opportunity to be successful in ways that others weren’t. This is where Thomas Sowell becomes especially caustic. The quest for cosmic justice is a chimera. There is no capacity by which to determine what might have been under different circumstances, no way for us to determine how to equalize the playing field a priori. All we can do is to remove barriers, increase transparency, ensure the rule of law, and convey constructive knowledge to all those that wish to avail themselves of it. Or, as Sowell puts it in The Quest for Cosmic Justice.
Much of the quest for cosmic justice involves racial, regional, religious, or other categories of people who are to be restored to where they would be but for various disadvantages they suffer from various sources. Yet each group tends to trail the long shadow of its own cultural history, as well as reflecting the consequences of external influences. The history of every people is a product of innumerable cross-currents, whose timing and confluence can neither be predicted beforehand nor always untangled afterward. There is no "standard" history that everyone has or would have had "but for" peculiar circumstances of particular groups, whose circumstances can be "corrected" to conform to some norm. Unraveling all this in the quest for cosmic justice is a much more staggering task than seeking traditional justice.

If we move away from the effort to ensure that everyone has an equal start, an impossible task, and instead focus on what are the things that anyone can do regardless of their starting point and circumstances, we get into much more fruitful discussion and here is where Outliers is especially interesting. What are some of the lessons learned about success which Gladwell documents. Among the many are:
• Work hard, work long, stay focused.
• Know the rules of the game.
• Pay attention to the process
• You can’t rely on IQ alone
• Culture is consequential and predictive
• We are not constrained by culture – we can change our ways
• We make our own luck
• Be aware of history – it has a long tail that shapes the current environment
• Pay attention to initial conditions – There is an inescapable compounding effect
• Language matters
• Communication matters
• Behaviors and values are crucial

Despite the blurb promising a blueprint for making the most of human potential, there is no such explicit blueprint. The above items, though, do appear to be the effective blueprint and it would seem to be a pretty good one. Not much point in talking about social justice, inherent inequities, and cosmic unfairness. If you want to make the most of your situation and rise to the top in your particular environment, take the dozen observations to heart. And it you want to become spectacularly successful, do all of the above and be in the right place at the right time.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

God save us from reading nothing but the best

I am reading a collection of essays and speeches by Robertson Davies, The Merry Heart.

There are two lectures, Reading and Writing, which he delivered as part of Yale University's Tanner lecture series. Filled with marvellous quotes and thoughts.
Do not suppose, however, that I intend to urge a diet of classics on anybody. I have seen such diets at work. I have known people who have actually read all, or almost all, the guaranteed Hundred Best Books. God save us from reading nothing but the best. But God deliver us from contenting ourselves with a steady diet of mediocrity, for it is mediocrity, rather than downright trash, that influences the majority of readers.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Zero-sum and Non-zero-sum

From Robert Wright's Nonzero, page 4
On the day James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA, Crick, as Watson later recalled it, walked into their regular lunch place and announced that they had "found the secret of life." With all due respect for DNA, I would like to nominate another candidate for the secret of life. Unlike Francis Crick, I can't claim to have discovered the secret I'm touting. It was discovered — or, if you prefer, invented — about half a century ago by the founders of game theory, John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern.

They made a basic distinction between "zero-sum" games and "non-zero-sum" games. In zero-sum games, the fortunes of the players are inversely related. In tennis, in chess, in boxing, one contestant's gain is the other's loss. In non-zero-sum games, one player's gain needn't be bad news for the other(s). Indeed, in highly non-zero-sum games the players' interests overlap entirely. In 1970, when the three Apollo 13 astronauts were trying to figure out how to get their stranded spaceship back to earth, they were playing an utterly non-zero-sum game, because the outcome would be either equally good for all of them or equally bad. (It was equally good.)

Back in the real world, things are usually not so clear-cut. A merchant and a customer, two members of a legislature, two childhood friends sometimes — but not always — find their interests overlapping. To the extent that their interests do overlap, their relationship is non-zero-sum; the outcome can be win-win or lose-lose, depending on how they play the game.

Sometimes political scientists or economists break human interaction down into zero-sum and non-zero-sum components. Occasionally, evolutionary biologists do the same in looking at the way various living systems work. My contention is that, if we want to see what drives the direction of both human history and organic evolution, we should apply this perspective more systematically. Interaction among individual genes, or cells, or animals, among interest groups, or nations, or corporations, can be viewed through the lenses of game theory. What follows is a survey of human history, and of organic history, with those lenses in place. My hope is to illuminate a kind of force — the non-zero-sum dynamic — that has crucially shaped the unfolding of life on earth so far.

The survey of organic history is brief, and the survey of human history not so brief. Human history, after all, is notoriously messy. But I don't think it's nearly as messy as it's often made out to be. Indeed, even if you start the survey back when the most complex society on earth was a hunter-gatherer village, and follow it up to the present, you can capture history's basic trajectory by reference to a core pattern: New technologies arise that permit or encourage new, richer forms of non-zero-sum interaction; then (for intelligible reasons grounded ultimately in human nature) social structures evolve that realize this rich potential — that convert non-zero-sum situations into positive sums. Thus does social complexity grow in scope and depth.

You might even say that non-zero-sumness is a nuts-and-bolts, materialist version of Bergson's immaterial é lan vital; it gives a certain momentum to the basic direction of life on this planet. It explains why biological evolution, given enough time, was very likely to create highly intelligent life — life smart enough to generate technology and other forms of culture. It also explains why the ensuing evolution of technology, and of culture more broadly, was very likely to enrich and expand the social structure of that intelligent species, carrying social organization to planetary breadth. Globalization, it seems to me, has been in the cards not just since the invention of the telegraph or the steamship, or even the written word or the wheel, but since the invention of life. All along, the relentless logic of non-zero-sumness has been pointing toward this age in which relations among nations are growing more non-zero-sum year by year.

All of this relates to It is all in how the story is told and The larger a shoal is, the smaller is the proportion of it that needs to know what is actually going on.

Friday, March 11, 2011

But what is it?

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, page 85.

A great many internal and external portents (political and social upheaval, moral and religious unease) have caused us all to feel, more or less confusedly, that something tremendous is at present taking place in the world. But what is it?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The larger a shoal is, the smaller is the proportion of it that needs to know what is actually going on

From Follow My Leader from The Economist.
HUMAN beings like to think of themselves as the animal kingdom’s smartest alecks. It may come as a surprise to some, therefore, that Iain Couzin of Princeton University believes they have something to learn from lesser creatures that move about in a large crowd. As he told the AAAS meeting in Washington, DC, groups of animals often make what look like wise decisions, even when most of the members of those groups are ignorant of what is going on.

He discovered that leadership is extremely efficient. The larger a shoal is, the smaller is the proportion of it that needs to know what is actually going on for it to feed and avoid predation effectively. Indeed, having too many leaders with conflicting opinions results in confusion. At least, that is true in the model. He is now testing it in reality.

Read the whole thing. Speculative still, but interesting.

If accurate, it would seem to emulate the pricing mechanism and Hayek's Problem of Knowledge. Certainly at a macro level, the more trade there is, and the freer that trade is, the more participants none of whom know any material fraction of the whole process but for whom the pricing mechanism allows the collective group to optimize outcomes.

A database somewhere in his lower intestine

Longhorns 17, Badgers 1 by Iowahawk. A solid take down by Iowahawk of shoddy thinking and analysis proffered by Paul Krugman. This is an example of Bruce Thorton's concern about "False Knowledge" - that which we think to be true and never examine the details to verify whether it is in fact true or not. Analyzing one of the erroneous claims made by Krugman, Iowahawk comments:
Mr. Krugman . . . doesn't mention where he gets his dropout statistic from. I suspect a database somewhere in his lower intestine.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Major classes of thinking errors

From Rationality versus Intelligence by Keith E Stanovich
Psychologists have studied the major classes of thinking errors that make people less than rational. They have studied people’s tendencies to show incoherent probability assessments; to be overconfident in knowledge judgments; to ignore the alternative hypothesis; to evaluate evidence with a “my side” bias; to show inconsistent preferences because of framing effects; to over-weigh short-term rewards at the expense of long-term well-being; to allow decisions to be affected by irrelevant context; and many others.

Weather isn't climate in the months which have 'r' in them

From Walter Russell Mead in his essay Mad Meat Making Scientist Proves Climate Doomsayers Wrong.
But record cold temperatures and snowfalls so heavy that I have to dodge falling icicles descending abruptly from the ivy-covered halls of Bard College aren't the cause of my current skepticism about the alarmist predictions on climate change.

We are now in the season when the media tells us over and over again that "weather is not climate" and that the natural variations in the temperature do not, repeat not, affect the credibility of climate change. I actually believe this, although in just a few months the fiddlehead ferns will be poking up through the forest floor and the media will be back to reporting each and every hot spell as conclusive proof that climate change is already here.

My totally unscientific conclusion based on close study of the media: weather isn't climate in the months which have "r" in them. The rest of the year, it is.