Destitute of all Decency

Phillip Roth on Trump:

“I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

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What fiction is for

This remarkable quote is from President Obama, speaking with Marilynne Robinson

Are you somebody who worries about people not reading novels anymore? And do you think that has an impact on the culture? When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.

 

No difference

Most mornings I walk three or four miles.  As I walk I like to listen to podcasts or books on tape (or whatever they are now called). This morning it was episode 257 of the Kunstler Cast, an interview with Piero SanGiorgio, author of Survive the Coming Economic Collapse, a practical guide.  Fascinating stuff, especially in light of the different approaches Americans take (lone wolf survival, a la Jeremiah Johnson) vs. European approaches, which do not involve turning your back on society and manning big guns.  The great thing about being alive today is the ability we have to go further, track down books we hear about, and even download first chapters on Kindle to read.  That’s what I did.  And .. even though I will probably not read the book in its entirety, I read enough to be inspired.  I love the quotes which open each chapter.  Here’s one from Einstein: “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment.  Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”  And also this:

“To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.”

― Jules H. Poincare

Yes.  Yes .. it works on so many levels, from the unthinking, uncritical fundamentalist, to the whack jobs who populate the far right – the birthers, the truthers, the deniers and the assholes who throw sand in the face of truth, for whatever benighted or greedy reasons.  What, I ask you, can you do with people who refuse to believe in climate change, despite overwhelming evidence, but who are more than ready to believe that ISIS is at the Mexican border, spreading Ebola.  For the former there is evidence – ample, sound, mainstream evidence.  For the latter there is none – just naked, ignorant fear.  Imminent “threats” trump long term problems. Cranks and crackpots get listened to, while mainstream expertise is ‘elitist” .. or whatever.  Fear does this, fear and denial.

To doubt everything is no different to believing everything – it all amounts to the same lack of thinking.  And my oh my, that makes life convenient, doesn’t it?

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When Data is God

From The New Yorker, 7.21.14, an extensive piece about cheating in Atlanta, GA, and the pressures which caused it – pressures which may be summed up by the term “data driven” results:

John Ewing, who served as the executive director of the American Mathematical Society for fifteen years, told me that he is perplexed by educators’ ”infatuation with data,” their faith that it is more authoritative than using their own judgment. He explains the problem in terms of Campbell’s law, a principle that describes the risks of using a single indicator to measure complex social phenomena: the greater the value placed on a quantitative measure, like test scores, the more likely it is that the people using it and the process it measures will be corrupted. “The end goal of education isn’t to get students to answer the right number of questions,” he said. “The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life.” In a 2011 paper in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, he warned that policymakers were using mathematics “to intimidate—to preëmpt debate about the goals of education and measures of success.”

Wordsworth and Big Country

 Hence in a season of calm weather
              Though inland far we be,
          Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
              Which brought us hither,
              Can in a moment travel thither,
          And see the Children sport upon the shore,
          And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.

I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime
In a big country dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive

a whole mental mansion trip-wired against invasion

Brilliant:

“Where Obama projected the calm consciousness of a grave but unnamed mission, Ryan’s self-love is more recognisably American-boyish. He radiates ambition, healthy ambition, as if ambition were one of those permitted substances you could take at the gym to enhance performance. He has a lean and hungry look even when he smiles; and a relentless eagerness also, which will wear on people over time. His constant demeanour is cocksure; his face never registers reflection. Listening to other people is a formality, for Ryan, to be endured before he springs his answers. And how the answers pour out! There is an attractive, efficient speed in the way he works, but also a kind of deadness. And the deadness is there in his eyes – the hard eyes of the self-fulfilled and self-justified, clean of mind and clean of body, a whole mental mansion trip-wired against invasion by entities seeking pity and bearing excuses.”

Makes me think of this, from The Kinks:

cause hes oh, so good,
And hes oh, so fine,
And hes oh, so healthy,
In his body and his mind.
Hes a well respected man about town,
Doing the best things so conservatively

Bad Stories

The great Katha Pollitt, over at The Nation, has this to say about the almost unapproachable topic of gun control:

The trouble is, as with so many aspects of conservatism—the anti-choice movement, the Tea Party, Ron Paul—“gun rights” supporters win on intensity and single-mindedness. We have common sense, but they have a master narrative: rugged individualism, patriotism and self-defense (which includes paranoid fantasies about threats from ordinary people in turbans whom they are too ignorant to realize are Sikhs, not Muslims…and obviously I’m not saying it would have been less horrific and more “understandable” if Page had attacked a mosque).

Oh, God.  She’s right.  There’s no reasoning going on here, just knee-jerk fear of the unknown.  God help us.