Saturday, September 26, 2020

"The Tyranny of Merit": (Michael Sandel), the dark side of meritocracy


Smersonish, this morning on CNN, interviewed author Michael Sandel, from Harvard as professor at Government Theory, his new book “The Tyranny of Merit: What Becomes of the Common Good?”, from Farrar, Straus and Girroux, September 15, 2020, 288 pages. 


Meritocracy has a dark side, in that it tends to create a view of people as winners and losers, with success as always their own doing, a measure of worthiness.

The opposite of this idea would seem to be critical theory, especially critical race theory.

In a personal sense, it leads to a desire to avoid people who fail personally as being less morally “worthy”.  If applied by everybody this would wind up with fascism.

This becomes important in socialization of some edgy people, like me, who may not find a point in joining in with (other) people who claim to be “oppressed”.

Friday, September 25, 2020

"White Awareness: A Handbook for Anti-Racism Training" caused a controversy for the Smithsonian


There is an old handbook a 1978 paperback, now expensive and a collector’s item, “White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training”, by Judith H. Katz, from the University of Oklahoma Press. The existence of the book reminds us that the theory of anti-racism (and even critical race theory) have been around before, and I recall them occasionally from the early 1970s.  As an author myself, I have a bit or revulsion over the idea of spoonfeeding people in handbooks. 

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture admitted that it had used a “whiteness” chart that seems to emphasize individualism (deferred gratification, logical thinking, etc) but as an example of “ideology”, according to a Washington Post article by Peggy McGlone July 17. Newsweek had a similar story by Marina Watts.

The Smithsonian periodical has several articles with a flavor of anti-racism, such as “How to Talk about Race, Racism and Racial Identity”, by Allison Keyes.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Wall Street Journal Series, "The COVID Storm"


The Wall Street Journal offers a series called “The COVID Storm”.  I’ll link to the most recent one, Sept. 7, by Robert Lee Holtz and Natasha Khan, “’Really Diabolical’:Inside the Coronavirus that Outsmarted Science” (paywall).   The master page will link to “A Deadly Coronavirus Was Inevitable.  Why Was No One Ready?”  by Betsy McKay and Phred Dvorak, Aug. 13.

The current essay explains how the virus can attack almost every organ system because it can use several receptors (the most important is ACE2) to get inside cells.

It developed this seemingly improbable multiplicity of ways to damage humans by incubating in bats, whose high metabolism and body temperature forces it to evolve more to survive in them.

Particularly scary are the findings that sometimes the virus has been found in spinal fluid and brain.

I have thought of measles as a reasonable comparison to a multi system disease, but COVID19 does seem unprecedented in the variety of damage a highly contagious respiratory disease can do, because it evolved in an unusual mammal.  The development inside bats probably explains most of the unusual properties sometimes attributed to labs (including a recent rumor on Tucker Carlson).

Friday, September 18, 2020

New York Review of Books: "It Can Happen Here", the imposition of fascism

The New York Review of Books, in an article by Cass R, Sunstein (June 28, 2018), argues “It can happen here” with the byline “Many accounts of the Nazi period depict a barely imagineable set of events, a nation gone mad. That makes it easy to take comfort in the thought it can’t happen again.”

Sustein discsses three books on the lives of ordinary Gentile citizens in Nazi Germany.

One is Milton Mayer, “They Thought They Were Free”, 1955.

But in 1939 Sebastian Haffner (real name Raimund Pretzel) had written “Defying Hitler”.

And Konrad Jarausch had written “Broken Lives”. 

The main point seems to be that ordinary Lutheran or Catholic Germans probably had the best times of their lives economically.  The government entertained and indulged them and kept “speech” at bay, of course.  Many barely grasped what was going on or, or knew enough to care. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Internet Archive in legal battle with book publishers over too-lenient lending of e-books during pandemic


Maria Bustillos has a story about a lawsuit against the Internet Archive by some major book publishers for being overly generous with rental e-copies of books to students during the pandemic, link. 

That’s ironic in that publishers normally have strong relationships with public libraries (although I haven’t gotten far with that with my own books).

The article discusses the “rentier” behavior of both publishers and digital libraries. 

Internet archive rental periods are supposed to expire but have been relaxed during the pandemic.

The article also implies a concern with what makes digital books “sell”.  It has become popular, even sometimes expected, to see books on social justice address the reader and instruct them (even provide worksheets), as opposed to more abstract, literary style of writing which is now seen by many people as gratuitous and abusive, a curious change in values.

YouTubers who recommend books (like John Fish and Nate O’Brien) ought to look at this.

Picture: San Francisco, 2018

Saturday, September 12, 2020

"The 1619 Project" of the New York Times Magazine

I need to create an entry on this blog for the New York Times Magazine "1619 Project", which started in 2019.

The major photoessay documenting many forgotten locations of the slave trade, where they auctioned human beings as property,  is here

Matthew Desmond has an essay showing how American capitalism originated in the slave trade.

Jake Silverstein has an update in March 2020     There is controversy over whether slavery affected the beliefs of most of the colonists before the American Revolution or “only” some of them.

The reader should understand that there are many criticisms of the Project online.

Picture: Jamestown, my visit, Dec 30, 2018 

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Bob Woodward's "Rage" reports Trump understood the COVID risk to Americans by late January


OK, now we are hearing a lot about Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage”, from Simon and Schuster, 466 pages, due out Sept. 15, comprising 18 interviews with Trump.

There is a lot being said in media today about Bob Woodward’s reporting a conversation he had with Trump on Tuesday, Jan. 29, where Trump realized that the novel coronavirus would be deadly and could be easily passed through the air.  But Trump didn’t want to cause “panic”.  He later understood if could affect younger people and could become a grave national security threat.

Now I written elsewhere that the US cases as reported rose only very slowly in February, partly because of a flawed CDC test, but also because there really weren’t any “superspreader” indoor events in the US until probably late in February.  It doesn’t seem that surfaces or brief personal encounters was spreading the virus much.

It’s arguable that by late February (based on what was happening in Italy and the certainty people had flown here with the virus from Europe as well as China) that a soft “stay at home” could have prevented much of the run up of cases we saw in NYC and then other locations starting in mid March.

Had Trump acted by late February, I might have recovered the $3500 or so that I lost with a trip that I self-canceled out of exploding concern about the virus from my own info.

Robert Costa and Philip Rucker report in the Washington Post, here

Trump could give a knee-jerk reaction to all this criticism in coming weeks.

They also report that the book covers Trump’s evasion of the issue of structural racism (or critical race theory), which I personally have a lot of problems with (it isn’t the right way to look at personal social creditworthiness).

It also covers some of the actions and exchanges with Kim Jong Un (as with Jim Sciutto’s book).