Sunday, October 23, 2011

Quote for the day

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. -- John Stuart Mill

Found among the personal possessions of a US soldier who died in Iraq. The original post is here

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Anne Waldrop

Anne Waldrop talks about being the first successful applicant for a Rotary Scholarship from Millsaps in a decade.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conservatives are Racists

It is official: everything proves Conservatives are racists. The proposition is now formally un-refutable. There is no conceivable fact that could possibly refute the proposition that conservatives are racists.

Here is the proof. Matt Sullivan argues in the New York Times Magazine today that the reason conservatives are supporting Cain is in order to prove that they are not racists. Of course, their desire to prove that they are not racists is proof that they are racists. By defending yourself against the charge of racism you are proving that you are a racist.

Now, it is not normally thought that defending yourself against an accusation is proof of the accusation so why is it in this case? Because, according to Mr. Sullivan, no one has charged them with being racists. Now, this is a rather curious premise on which to base an argument intended to show that a group of people are racists, which is, after all, accusing people of being racists. How is this rather obvious difficulty circumvented? By subtly switching from the implied premise that no one is accusing conservatives of being racists to the premise that President Obama does not accuse them of being racists. This move allows Mr. Sullivan to rightly point out that Mr. Obama seldom makes the charge that those who oppose him are racists.

It is true Mr. Obama doesn't often make the charge himself. For one thing, whenever he has he has found that it has worked against him. But more importantly, he doesn't have to. The charge is made constantly on the left. Mr. Sullivan himself is exhibit A. What does the left and the establishment press do with the fact that a black man has come from behind to lead the polls and finds himself the darling of the most conservative elements in the Republican party? Write articles about how it all proves that conservatives are racists. Of course it does. Everything does. And if Cain falls in the polls or eventually does not get the nomination it will also prove that conservatives are racists. Whatever happens we can rest assured and comfortably in the knowledge that it will prove that conservatives are racists.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sensitivity U

The university stands for the free exchange of ideas and thought. It marks itself out as the place where transgressive thoughts are given a fair hearing. And yet, is there any place in modern American life where one must be more careful about what one says and above all the way in which one says it?

We talk all the time about being sensitive. but what we should really be worried about is being insensitive in the nineteenth century sense of not letting ourselves be succumb to pain and discomfort, of not allowing ourselves to be offended and, when offended, not allowing ourselves to show it or make a great deal of it.

Trying to talk about serious issues without ever offending anyone is a fool's errand. You can't do it. If you are talking about anything important, if you are talking about anything important and taking a position that is different from the position that most people around you take, you are bound to offend someone. You can't help but hurt someone's feelings.

After all, what do people care about but the things that are important to them. If you are telling someone that they are wrong about something that they think is very important and vital to the course of the future you are going to have to challenge a deeply held belief and, almost inevitably, offend someone.

We train our students to follow a carefully worked out set of guidelines that allow them to talk about important issues--within boundaries--without offending anyone, or at least the members of the groups whose sensibilities are considered especially important by the choice and master spirits of the age. If you say something that offends heterosexual males or is generally disparaging of southerners you needn't worry so much. I say that last bit not because I think that those groups deserve sympathy or are treated unfairly but to point out that I wish we could treat all groups with such similar lack of concern for their feelings.

I think that such insensitivity would be to their benefit. People who will be honest with you about your own shortcomings do you a favor, though it may not be one that is very pleasant to receive.

And just as we should be less concerned about being offended for our own good, we should be less careful about offending others for our own good. The reason you should take care to avoid as much as possible putting a thought in a way that hurts someone's feelings or transgresses against their cherished beliefs is that they will be less receptive to your argument. Thus, you should be sensitive out for entirely selfish reasons. When you really want to help someone is precisely when you should put concerns about being sensitive aside.

Nurse Jackie and Contagion

Laid up for a final weekend I acquired a "Nurse Jackie" addiction. It has a few too many contrived moments but the actors are just great. One thing I really like are the surprises and how intelligent the characters are. There is a scene at the end of the second season where you see an intervention set up and you are lead along just to the edge of a standard come to Jesus moment where the addict breaks down and admits she is an addict but instead she turns it around and goes on the attack, battling back through overwhelming evidence to make it all their fault. People are never so intelligent and resourceful as when they are in the wrong and know it.

Also saw Contagion. It seems to be a story about a virus that attacks really good looking people. I felt safe myself. Still it was very good. I really liked how it departed from the usual storyline. Not only was virus created by some nefarious corporation or the result of some terrible defense department experiment gone wrong I the character that usually turns out to be the hero, the crusading outcast blogger (blogging described as graffiti with punctuation but I don't that is necessarily true because I have seen so many blogger that they don't know about how to use punctuation at least in my opinion) turns out to be the bad guy. Or not even that. Just a bad guy. There is no one overall plot. It is one of those films where a bunch of story lines go through intersecting on surprising occasions. The main purpose seems to be to imagine what would really happen with a new virus and to imagine the consequences as realistically as possible. I personally think they did an unusually good job of it, even down to the overly-cautious and profoundly conscientious military officers.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The bipartisan softsoap we deserve

I was invited by Warren Strain of local NBC affiliate WLBT

to attend the gubernatorial debate and comment on it afterwards. I somehow envisioned myself sitting there like a baseball commentator, giving an extended running critique. As it turns out they were filming for a report at 10:00; I will be lucky to get 8 seconds air time. As it turned out Warren did a nice little segment structured around my comments and I was quite flattered.

The debate is in a small way historic. Dupree, the Mayor of Hattiesburg, is the first African American candidate for statewide office since Reconstruction. That is not simple suppression of the black vote; race relations are more amicable here than in Chicago by a long shot. There is no shortage of blacks in the state house. One of them, Senator Eric Powell, represents a majority white district. Still, the last time the Democrats nominated a black candidate for statewide office the lightbulb had not been invented and the automobile had not left Europe.

The debate between Lt. Governor Bryant and Mayor Dupree was one of the most friendly and amicable debates in political history. It was also one of the least informative.

The candidates were so concerned to not be seen arguing that they avoided coming out and openly disagreeing with one another. Unfortunately, as unpleasant as disagreement is it is the only way that the issues come out.

We first saw them chatting amiably in the hallway outside the debate hall at MC Law. They looked like they knew each other well and liked each other. That is interesting because even the Republicans don't really like Bryant, they just have him. On the other hand, Dupree is someone that his worst enemies seem to like. The focus on comity surely benefits Bryant.

Bryant faces a big problem in having a black opponent. He can't appear to be negative or mean. Bryant is in danger of appearing that way at any time so the emphasis on comity relives him of a dangerous duty.

It was a debate about the things they agree about rather than the things they disagree about. In other words, it was not really a debate.

Warren Strain, the NBC reporter who was kind enough to invite me to do the piece, was very good about taking my comments and editing them in a way that did not distort their meaning and summarized them in his own reporting very fairly. I would quibble with one thing that he said. At the very end he said that I agreed with the main reporter that the debate stayed on the issues. I agree that it was on the issues in the sense that it was not about the candidates. Neither challenged the other's character or ability. And it was on the issues in that they talked about their goals for Mississippi and the things they wanted to have happen. But it was on the issues in the wrong sense. In the language of political scientists it was all about valance issues, issue that everyone agrees on. It was not about making the real choices, the trade-offs, necessary to get there.

I think that the public is just wrong. The public thinks that the problem is those people in Washington are bickering about a bunch of things that just don't really matter and that there is a simple common sense solution to our budget problems that most people would agree on if those bitter bickerers in Washington would just stop all the nonsense and enact those policies. People think that we can close a 40% hole in our budget by cutting foreign aid (at most 1% of our budget) or taxing the rich (possibly as much as 4 or 5% of the hole closed but at a progressively greater cost in economic growth the more those such taxes are relied upon). The reason that we don't get serious proposals to close the deficit is that no one wants to be the one to tell the American people that if they can't have all the things they want at the price they are apparently willing to pay. Blaming it all on partisan bickering and the tone in Washington is a way of allowing the American people to ignore the unpleasant facts by pretending that it is all the fault of partisan politicians who won't listen to the people. The problem is just the opposite. The American people have spoken loudly and clearly that they don't want to face the facts and the politicians, by going along with the "its all the fault of those bickering Washington insiders" story are giving the people what they want.

A people get the politicians they deserve. What did Mencken say? That democracy is the theory that "The people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." I think we have gotten it good and soft, but we have certainly deserved it.

car wreck

Sorry about the light blogging. I was hit by a car Monday. I had a bit of back pain that kept me out of the Paul Lacoste thing for a couple of weeks and it took ages to get a rental car, mainly because of the Jackson police department. But I am back now. I apologize to all the people that I have been late in getting back to.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sitting Silent

President Obama has really made a great deal out of this one fool booing the gay soldier at the last Republic debate and not being denounced by former Senator Rick Santorum. He has taken on quite a self-righteous tone and made it a central theme of his campaign speeches on the basis of some rather ambiguous facts. If Santorum's silence after one momentary incident is damning for the entire Republican party what are we to make of the years the future President spent silently listening to, allowing his children to be educated by and dedicating his book to this man?