Monday, January 23, 2017

Quotations

In a recent Facebook post, I offered up an observation that the peaceful transfer of power on Inauguration Day was pretty neat, and was a sign of something that couldn't be obscured by the likes of Donald Trump or all of the people whining about him (Let's be clear -- criticism he's earned and he will earn more before this day is done. Whining is like the guy screaming no while President Trump took the oath of office).

I then said all I could do for the next four years or so was remember the greatness of the system of government we have and hope for the best from the people in it, including the twerp at the top.

Someone I've known for 25 years then commented unfavorably on my post and wound up deploying a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer about stupidity. It's from a letter he wrote marking the tenth anniversary of Adolf Hitler's rise to power. The quote was in a picture that pairs the first paragraph of the letter with a smaller headshot of Bonhoeffer. He was a Lutheran pastor whose writings on discipleship and resistance to tyranny have offered some pretty important ideas for Christians and non-Christians alike in how to confront state-sponsored evil or injustice. He was jailed for participation in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and executed.

As I said, the quote in the picture held the first paragraph of the letter, which ends with the caution, "Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous."

I looked it up, because as Abraham Lincoln has warned us, you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet. The part quoted in the picture is about one quarter of the whole letter, which goes on as Bonhoeffer defines the stupidity he's speaking of and how he does see that it should be engaged. You can find it in his Letters and Papers from Prison Vol. 8, and a website that has the whole letter online here.

Bonhoeffer's use of "stupidity" refers more to the way people seem to follow along in movements when large groups gain power or offer a cause in which to be swept up. It's not, he says, a matter of intellect because some very intellectual people manage to be stupid in this way and some very non-reflective people manage to avoid it. Probably we would today use phrases like "herd instinct" or something similar. Stupidity is cured not by listening to a reasoned argument, but from being liberated from the sweeping current of power to which the stupid have surrendered their liberty.

It's a little paternalistic, but that's understandable. When your opponents are literally Nazis, it's tough not to be smarter than them and probably even tougher not to sound like it. In any event, it's clear that Bonhoeffer suggests not complete disengagement from the stupid but engagement along different lines than reasoning and argument. He notes in his closing paragraph that his thoughts on stupidity "utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance." Which would seem to mean that it's possible for anyone to be stupid, if the right cause or right leader comes along that meshes with the way of thinking that can sweep them along.

Now you might think that I would win the argument by quoting Bonhoeffer's entire letter rather than just the part that's been memed. Nope. Long before I could use the rest of the letter in the discussion, my friend followed the leading of the truncated version and stopped dealing with the person considered stupid -- me -- and both unfriended and blocked me. So I lose.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Intergalactic Kegger, Coming Up!

This experiment must happen. Soon. And often.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Here, Kitty Kitty Kitty

Although Yale University is thought of as one of the best in the world and we could surmise it employs some of the smartest people in the world, I am not always sure if that's true.

A psychiatry professor there wanted to see what happens in our brain during our feeding behaviors (when eating Brussels sprouts, the brain seems to be weeping and wailing, "Kill me now! Kill me now!"). So he used an experiment to "turn on" a section of a mouse's brain that's connected to its amygdala, a more primitive part of the brain that wakes up when we're being predatory. The laser light shined on li'l Squeaker's gray matter turned him into a wee ravening beast, attempting to attack and eat just about anything in his cage except other mice. Including things that aren't actually edible, like bottle caps and rolls of tape. He didn't stop until the laser was switched off.

Now, Mr. Jinks, Jerry and Scratchy's opinions to the contrary, mice are considered dangerous mostly in their potential to spread disease, as they are small and couldn't eat very much of you if they tried (Mouse restaurant sign: "This pinkie toe free if eaten in one hour!") But there are a whole bunch of them, so finding a switch that turns them into bottomless pits of hungry rage doesn't seem like such a smart idea to me.

Of course, I didn't graduate from Yale, so I may be missing something there.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Snow the Crows!

Earlier this month a snowfall decorated the trees in Portland, OR, and at one plaza  downtown, crows later landed on the trees. It produced this sight:


A crime-scene technician in a nearby police office building saw it from a window and quickly used one of the department's cameras to get the shot, and the Portland Police Department posted it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Non-Fiction Pairing

Lucas Mann spent the 2010 season living in the Iowa town of Clinton and following the fortunes of the Class A minor league Clinton LumberKings. Then he wrote a book about it, Class A Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere.

Not about Clinton or the Clinton LumberKings, but about Lucas Mann spending a season with them, and therein lies the problem. I don't really know Lucas Mann and although I have no reason to believe he is anything other than a fine person, I don't really care about what the 2010 season of the LumberKings meant to him. Details about the players and the season are liberally salted with anecdotes about Mann's own high school baseball days and the personal events that he himself went through during the season.

Like the title suggests, Class A baseball can be found just about anywhere in the United States, and the connection between the smaller cities where it's played and the young men who spend one or maybe two seasons there on the way up or down can make for interesting reading. Major League baseball's acquisition of talent from different Latin American countries brings players from a completely different culture to small-town America, also an interesting subject on which Mann touches way too briefly.

In the end, Class A Baseball is less an exploration of the community and sport at its center and more of a diary exploring the author. And like most of us, he's not half as interesting to any of us as he is to himself.
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In the world of high school, popularity, athleticism and "cool" rule. Studiousness, introspection and following one's own path are quick routes to Outcastville, Nerdom and Loser Central. A lot of modern media imitates this pattern; there is literally no other reason to care about what happens in the life of any Kardashian other than they are the "popular kids" in the pop culture lunchroom.

Author Alexandra Robbins thinks that's not wrong in a moral sense, but also in a real-world conditions sense. The race of life after high school doesn't usually go to the strong, swift and perfectly coiffed, but to the goofballs that get stuffed in lockers and swirlied until bald. By not following the crowd when in school, they develop the confidence to make their own choices as adults and often do so to their material as well as personal benefit. After all Bill Gates never tackled a quarterback, but he could buy every one of them today if he wanted.

Robbins' 2011 book The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth tries to make this case by exploring several students who live on the fringes of their different schools and communities. They share that status though they differ in home life, parental support and many other factors. She interviewed the students extensively and spent some time shadowing them in their daily lives. As a part of the study she's doing, she presents each student with a challenge that could help them break part of the shell that's keeping them confined to their pre-set roles and largely unhappy.

Robbins is a skillful interviewer and her thesis is probably more right than wrong. But she has in Geeks and other books developed a habit of casting everything in its most sensational light possible -- nothing like internet clickbait, but definitely shaded to grab attention as much if not more than enlighten. The case studies here tend to blend, echo one another and even repeat themselves. We learn after a little space that one of the main people Robbins followed was not a student but a teacher, and see the same Lord of the Heathers scenes enacted by adults as by students. After that, though, not a lot distinguishes one storyline from another.

I'm all for students thinking for themselves and breaking the social shackles of high school caste systems as early as possible, and I think the same strengths that prompt that help us succeed in later life. Robbins gets somewhere along that same line, but still imperfectly. A better exploration and explanation await.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Test Pattern

Wild day. Back tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Long-Established Fact?

Well, this item from 1651 settles it, then...