hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Friday, February 25, 2011
Arthur Silber - A Week in Hell

Following the guidelines I discussed in the last post, I decided early Tuesday morning that I was in the midst of "an emergency emergency." Among other symptoms, repeatedly collapsing on the floor after taking one or two steps tends to indicate that conclusion. So I did what I will not do under less extreme circumstances, and I called 911.

I returned home from the hospital a few hours ago. I wasn't worried about the cats having enough to eat; for over a year, I've always intentionally left out enough dry food for about a week, since I've accepted this kind of occurrence as unavoidable at some point(s). And if I'm gone for longer periods, I have a couple of neighbors I can call on to look after them. The cats are fine. I'm out of danger for now, but I'm far from fine. . .

. . .My profound gratitude again to those of you who are so kind. I will rest up and return as soon as I can. I'm very glad I had mentioned the Callas Puritani performances in the last entry. I know those performances of hers so well (and many other Callas performances, too) that I can play them fully in my head whenever I wish. Especially during the first awful day in the hospital, I played the Puritani scene many times. It brought me incommunicable solace, and is yet another of the many ways in which I can never repay the magnificent gift that Callas's artistry represents to me.

See you soon, I hope and trust.

Gary Farber on Libya

Felix Salmon - In search of an everything bagel

Robert Waldmann on Phau, Salmon & Yglesias

Felix Salmon has a proposal

[Wade] Pfau makes a very basic calculation that for someone on a constant real wage, saving for 30 years and then living for another 30 years on 50% of their final salary, saving about 16% of your salary each year into a portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% bonds will put you into safe territory. . .

. . . Matthew Yglesias comments

"They Could Call It “Social Security”"

I comment on Yglesias.

You ignored part of the quoted passage "a portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% bonds ". It wouldn't work so well if one invested only in bonds. Salmon's point is that people would be much better off buying and holding a diversified portfolio than trying to pick winners. . .

Reminds me of a paragraph in Andrew Tobias's My Vast Fortune (1997)

Not the Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need (But Close)

Make a budget, scrimp and save, pay off your credit cards, quit smoking, fully fund your retirement plan and start early - tomorrow, if you possibly can - putting away $100 or $500 or $5000 a month, whatever you can comfortably afford, in two places: short-and intermediate-term Treasury securities, for money you might need in a few years; into no-load, low-expense "index funds", both U.S. and foreign, for everything else. You will do better than most.

*You can buy Treasuries through almost any bank or broker or through an excellent program called Treasury Direct - contact any Federal Reserve Branch. A good source for index funds is Vanguard, because it keeps expenses low. In the investment race, it has the lightest jockey.

Amanda Marcotte - Bieber vs. Townhall: Point, Bieber

Ann Friedman - Here are the women writers.

Paul Krugman - The Return of Depression Economics (1999)

. . .More broadly, anyone who has seen how economic statistics are constructed knows that they are really a subgenre of science fiction. Real gross domestic product is, in principle, constructed by valuing everything the economy produces at the prices of some base year. But no statistical agency can really keep track of everything that is produced, or put a price on every product (indeed, this may be impossible, even in principle, if the good in question - say Viagra - wasn't available at any price in the base year). So actual estimates of economic growth are based on a good deal of fudging: on "imputations" and approximations. This can be done well or badly; in the United States the men and women who prepare statistics are scrupulous and careful, doing the best job possible given their limited resources and the inherent difficulties of their task. Elsewhere the job is less well done. I personally once consulted for a government that each year published many charts and tables describing the growth of national income, but which at the time really collected only about a dozen actual statistics (among them agricultural production numbers supplied by the United States, thanks to satellite photos) and based the rest on fairly casual guesswork.

Mike Konczal - Walker’s Budget Plan is a Three-Part Roadmap for Conservative State Governance

There’s a three-prong approach in Governor Walker’s plan that highlights a blueprint for conservative governorship after the 2010 election. The first is breaking public sector unions and public sector workers generally. The second is streamlining benefits away from legislative authority, especially for health care and in fighting the Health Care Reform Act. The third is the selling of public assets to private interests under firesale and crony capitalist situations.

This wasn’t clear to me at first. I thought this was about a narrow disagreement over teacher’s unions. . .

Carroll Quigley was a historian, who among other things taught and inspired Bill Clinton - I remember reading somewhere that Clinton, quoting Quigley, would lecture his aides on the importance of the "fu-chah preference".

He wrote a huge book called Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time, of which I remember the dedication, "To all who care and seek to help", and Chapter 75: "The United States and the Middle-Class Crisis". My feelings about that chapter are the same as a comment a teacher once made of one of my assignments: "The good stuff is good, but there's a lot of nonsense". Some parts of the chapter are racist and annoying, but it's fairly easy to edit those out, and parts of it have stuck in my head for years. So here is a bit of it:

Carroll Quigley - The United States and the Middle-Class Crisis (1966)

. . .This complex outlook that we call middle class or bourgeois is, of course, the chief basis of our world today. Western society is the richest and most powerful society that has ever existed largely because it has been impelled forward along these lines, beyond the rational degree necessary to satisfy human needs, by the irrational drive for achievement in terms of material ambitions. To be sure, Western society always had other kinds of people, and the majority of the people in Western society probably had other outlooks and values, but it was middle-class urgency that pushed modern developments in the direction they took. There were always in our society dreamers and truth-seekers and tinkerers. They, as poets, scientists, and engineers, thought up innovations which the middle classes adopted and exploited if they seemed likely to be profit-producing. Middle-class self-discipline and future preference provided the savings and investment without which any innovation—no matter how appealing in theory—would be set aside and neglected. But the innovations that could attract middle-class approval (and exploitation) were the ones that made our world today so different from the world of our grandparents and ancestors.

This middle-class character was imposed most strongly on the United States. In order to identify it and to discuss a very complex pattern of outlooks and values, we shall try to summarize it. . .a large number of attributes of which we shall list only five: future preference, self-discipline, social conformity, infinitely expandable material demand, and a general emphasis on externalized, impersonal values.

. . .For more than half a century, from before World War I, the middle class outlook has been under relentless attack. . .

. . .[the young] are quite alien to any theory that the self is a creature of trained patterns and is not a creature of discovered secrets. . .

. . . This new outlook is basically existentialist in its emphasis on direct, momentary personal experience, especially with other people. It emphasizes people, and finds the highest good of life in interpersonal relations, handled generally with compassion and irony. The two chief concerns of life are "caring" and "helping." "Caring," which they usually call "love," means a general acceptance of the fact that people matter and are subjects of concern. This love is diffuse and often quite impersonal, not aimed at a particular individual or friend but at anyone, at persons in general, and especially at persons one does not know at all, as an act of recognition, almost of expiation, that we are all helpless children together. The whole idea is very close to Christ's message, "Love one another,". . .It is reflected in the tremendous enthusiasm among the young for the Peace Corps, civil rights, and racial equality, and the attack on poverty, all of which have much greater support among middle-class young people than can be measured even by the surprisingly large numbers who actively do something.

This desire to do something is what I call "helping." It is a strange and largely symbolic kind of helping, since there is with it a fairly widespread feeling that nothing that the helper can do will make any notable dent in the colossal problem; none the less, there is an obligation to do something. . .the real motivation behind the urge "to help" is closely related with the urge "to care"; it consists simply of a desire to show another human being that he is not alone. There is little concern for human perfectibility or social progress such as accompanied middle-class humanitarianism in the nineteenth century.

Both of these urges are existentialist. They give rise to isolated acts that have no significant context. Thus an act of loving or helping has no sequence of causes leading up to it or of consequences flowing from it. It stands alone as an isolated experience of togetherness and of brief human sharing. This failure or lack of context for each experience means a failure or lack of meaning, for meaning and significance arise from context; that is, from the relationship of the particular experience to the whole picture. But today's youth has no concern for the whole picture; they have rejected the past and have very little faith in the future. Their rejection of intellect and their lack of faith in human reason gives them no hope that any meaning can be found for any experience, so each experience becomes an end in itself, isolated from every other experience.

This skepticism about meaning, closely allied with their rejection of organizations and of abstractions, is also closely related with a failure of responsibility. Since consequences are divorced from the act or experience itself, the youth is not bound by any relationship between the two. The result is a large-scale irresponsibility. If a young person makes an appointment, he may or may not keep it. He may come very late or not at all. In any case, he feels no shame at failure to carry out what he had said he would do. In fact, the young people of today constantly speak of what they are going to do—after lunch, tonight, tomorrow, next week—but they rarely do what they say. To them it was always very tentative, a hope rather than a statement, and binding on no one. If the young fail to do what they say, they are neither embarrassed nor apologetic, and hardly think it necessary to explain or even mention it. Their basic position is that everyone concerned had the same freedom to come or not, and if you showed up while they did not, this does not give you any right to complain because you also had the same right to stay away as they had.

The other great weakness of the younger generation is their lack of self-discipline. They are as episodic in their interests and ambitions as they are in their actions. They can almost kill themselves with overwork for something that catches their fancy, usually something associated with their group or with "caring" and "helping," but in general they have little tenacity of application or self-discipline in action.

They lack imagination also, an almost inevitable consequence of an outlook that concentrates on experiences without context. Their experiences are necessarily limited and personal and are never fitted into a larger picture or linked with the past or the future. As a result they find it almost impossible to picture anything different from what it is, or even to see what it is from any long-range perspective. This means that their outlooks, in spite of their wide exposure to different situations through the mass media or by personal travel, are very narrow. They lack the desire to obtain experience vicariously from reading, and the vicarious experiences that they get from talk (usually with their fellows) are rarely much different from their own experiences. As a result, their lives, while erratic, are strangely dull and homogeneous. . .

. . .Efforts by middle-class parents to prevent their children from developing along these non-middle-class lines are generally futile. . . if his parents insist on conformity, he has an invincible weapon to use against them: academic failure. This weapon is used by boys rather than by girls, partly because it. . .involves doing nothing rather than doing something, but also because the school seems to most middle-class boys an alien place and an essential element in their general adolescent feeling of homelessness.

These remarks, it must be emphasized, apply to the middle class, and are not intended to apply to the other classes in American society. The aristocrats, for example, have considerable success in passing along their outlook to their children. . .chiefly because the aristocrats use a separate school system, including disciplined boarding schools. As a consequence of this, any resentment the aristocratic adolescent may have is aimed at his masters, not at his home and parents, and home comes to represent a relatively desirable place to which he is admitted occasionally as a reward for long weeks on the firing line at school. . .

. . .These remarks bring us close to one of the major problems in American culture today. We need a culture that will produce people eager to do things, but we need even more a culture that will make it possible to decide what to do. This is the old division of means and goals. Decisions about goals require values, meaning, context, perspective. They can be set, even tentatively and approximately, only by people who have some inkling of the whole picture.

Means are almost as difficult as ends. In fact, personal responsibility, self-discipline, some sense of time value and future preference, and, above all, an ability to distinguish what is important from what is merely necessary must be found, simply as valuable attributes of human beings as human beings. . .Here we must discriminate. We have an achieving society because we have an achieving outlook in our society. And that achieving outlook has been, over the last few centuries, the middle-class outlook. But there are other achieving outlooks. An achieving society could be constructed on the aristocratic outlook, on the scientific outlook (pursuit of truth), on a religious basis, and probably on a large number of other outlooks. There is no need to go back to the middle-class outlook, which really killed itself by successfully achieving what it set out to do. But parts of it we need, and above all we need an achieving outlook. It might be pleasant just to give up, live in the present, enjoying existential personal experiences, living like lotus-eaters from our amazing productive system, without personal responsibility, self-discipline, or thought of the future. But this is impossible, because the productive system would itself collapse, and our external enemies would soon destroy us.

We must have an achieving society and an achieving outlook. These will inevitably contain parts of the middle-class outlook, but these parts will unquestionably be fitted together to serve quite different purposes. Future preference and self-discipline were originally necessary in our society so that people would restrict consumption and accumulate savings that could be spent to provide investment in capital equipment. Now we no longer need these qualities for this purpose, since flows of income in our economy provide these on an institutional basis, but we still need these qualities so that young people will be willing to undergo the years of hard work and training that will prepare them to work in our complex technological society. We must get away from the older crass materialism and egocentric selfish individualism, and pick up some of the younger generation's concern for the community and their fellow-men. The unconventionality of this younger group may make them more able to provide the new outlook and innovation every society requires, but they cannot do this if they lack imagination or perspective.

. . .the real problem does not rest so much in theory as in practice. The real value of any society rests in its ability to develop mature and responsible individuals prepared to stand on their own feet, make decisions, and be prepared to accept the consequences of their decisions and actions without whining or self-justification. This was the ideal that the Christian tradition established long ago, and in consequence of its existence, our Western society, whatever its deficiencies, has done better than any other society that has ever existed. If it has done less well recently than earlier in its career (a disputable point of view), this weakness can be remedied only by some reform in its methods of child-rearing that will increase its supply of mature and responsible adults.

. . .if Western culture can do that, either in America or in Europe, it need fear no enemies from within or from without.

Saturday, February 19, 2011
Arthur Silber - For Moments Like This...

. . .Much of what I've described above concerning my daily life is extremely unpleasant. So I look for those precious moments that allow me to feel, "Yes, it's all worth it ... if only to experience this." On very rare occasions, I feel something akin to that when I've managed to put an article together in a way that approaches what I had envisioned. But much more often, as is true for many people, I find such moments in art. Since opera has been hugely significant in my life, I'm likely to find those moments in especially cherished performances -- such as this one. . .

Arthur Silber - For Maria Callas, Now and Always: All Things Are Connected

Arthur Silber - A Morning's Mild Diversion, and Becoming Artists Unto Ourselves

Chris Floyd is offering a series of excellent articles about Egypt. One aspect of these events is greatly inspiring and hopeful, and it is one for which I feel endless gratitude: by means of their deep understanding of and unyielding, consistent adherence to non-violence, the protesters have given the world an invaluable and desperately needed lesson in how powerful non-violence can be. Yes, it's true that the military remains in control. . .

. . .the military is at least saying that they plan to turn power over to a democratically elected government at an early date, and a number of comments from protesters indicate that the protesters themselves view Mubarak's departure as only the beginning of their work.

comment to Kevin Drum's "Good Spy, Bad Spy"

"The essential point is that any nation that steals American defense or intelligence secrets does serious damage to our nation"

Depends on the secrets and the circumstances. Most leaks of defense & intelligence secrets aren't, and shouldn't, be prosecuted. I don't know where this idea came from that executors of the law, like prosecutors, should be robots, blindly following the letter of the law without the least traces of proportion, priorities, or common sense, but its an idea that has done tremendous damage, IMO.

So yes, free Jonathan Pollard, already. If freeing him improves the chances of peace by 0.000000001 %, it's still worth it. And treat victimless crimes as leniently as possible, focusing instead first on violent crimes, then on crimes that directly harm people. In Bradley Manning's case: if he is convicted, give him a small fraction of the sentence that was given to Charles Graner.

Berkeley Political Economy Colloquium: February 18, 2011: "Austerity"

The highlight for me was probably the discussion starting at ~ 45:00 about where the jobs of the future will come from.

How did the GOP get so radical on contraception?

Matt Yglesias has had some interesting posts on college affordability. My uninformed opinions:

A market that seems to work well is the restaurant business, where in the US you can spend $1, $10, $100, or a $1000 dollars for a single meal, and leave the table with a feeling that you've gotten good value for money. The (unattainable) ideal to strive for is that all markets would work as well as the market for restaurants.

5 reasons to go to a college: 1) a credential 2) to learn something 3) to acquire tangible proof you have learned something 4) to have a great college experience 5) to become a member of a prestigious & productive institution. All 5 are valid reasons, it seems to me, but people who care mainly about 1-3 should have much cheaper & possibly faster alternatives available to them than people who care about 1-5; even, possibly, the alternative of exams similar to PhD qualification exams.

Deep Thought: A "5-tool" college.

Community & state colleges are fairly affordable, I think. What I don't understand is why they aren't expanding to meet demand, especially the basic plain-vanilla courses, and allowing students to complete their degrees as quickly as they want to. Why are they reducing capacity & flexibility at a time when demand is increasing, and technology makes flexibility easier than it has ever been? (though it's probably still not easy to increase flexibility in a way that maintains accountability)

Probably what I would like to happen is for the community and state colleges, which provide very good value for money, to expand capacity to meet demand, and the private for-profit universities, which provide very little value for money, not necessarily contract, but lose the government subsidies and loan-guarantees which were intended for traditional high-quality schools.

Any college who advertises that you can complete your degree while lying down is not a college which deserves any government subsidies or loan-guarantees.

A European argument for liberalism: "You're already paying 30% and getting nothing for it. Why not pay 35-40% and get affordable health care & higher education?"

A forgotten episode in recent American economic history, I think:

William Greider - Secrets of the Temple (1989)

. . .On March 14 [1980], with the dramatic flourish available to the Presidency, Jimmy Carter announced to the nation that urgent measures were being invoked. "The actions I've outlined involve costs." the President said. "They involve pain. But the cost of acting is far less than the cost of not acting. The temporary pain of inconvenience is far less, for all of us together, than the still worse, permanent pain. . .

. . .The TV evening news repeated the announcements portentously, and displayed credit cards on the television screen. . .to dramatize the President's plea: stop borrowing. . .

. . .The White House mailroom was inundated by cut-up credit cards sent by hundreds of citizens to demonstrate their support for the campaign. . .

The economy collapsed. . .The loss of economic activity was swift and alarmingly steep. . .the sharpest recession in thirty-five years. For a time, it looked like a free-fall descent. . .

"The thrust of Carter's message was that it was kind of unpatriotic to use credit cards," [Fred] Weimer said, "and people responded. We thought it was overkill. . ."

[Fred Schultz] ". . .the consumer got it into his head that the government was telling him not to use credit. The darned economy just fell off the cliff."

. . .Jimmy Carter earned an unpleasant distinction. "For the first time in history," as Henry Reuss complained, "a Democratic President put the economy in recession.". . .

p. 320:

. . .Once the 1937 recession hit, the economic argument among the New Dealers was settled. Keynes won. The lesson was that balanced budgets could do real harm to the economy. The only thing wrong with the New Deal's deficits was that they had not been large enough to get the job done. . .

When I read this I got a shock of recognition of the difference between actual truth and pseudotruth. I realized that, when it came to macroeconomics at least, comfortable platitudes ("tough love", "sacrifice", etc.), common sense, and good intentions are necessary, but not sufficient.

Mistakes like the one Carter made are more likely when you become more rigid & moralistic about beautiful abstractions, i.e. "fiscal responsibility", than about flesh and blood.

Paul Krugman - Peddling Prosperity (1993)

. . .There are many economic puzzles, but there are only two really great mysteries. One of these mysteries is why economic growth takes places at different rates over time and across countries. Nobody really knows why the US economy could generate 3 percent annual productivity growth before 1973 but only 1 percent afterward; nobody really knows why Japan surged from defeat to global economic power after World War II, while Britain slid slowly into third-rate status. . .The other mystery is the reason why there is a business cycle — the irregular rhythm of recessions and recoveries that prevents economic growth from being a smooth trend. . .

. . .it fell to the British Economist John Maynard Keynes to provide a clear story about what happens during a recession, and some useful advice about how to get out of one. . .

. . .Keynes's ideas were bitterly criticized. To many people it seems obvious that massive slumps must have deep roots. . .(It is reported that Franklin Roosevelt, early in his administration, received a memo suggesting a large monetary expansion to fight the Depression. He is supposed to have dismissed it with the comment, "Too easy."). . .

Friday, February 11, 2011
Keynes - A Treatise On Money (1930)

It has been usual to think of the accumulated wealth of the world as having been painfully built up out of that voluntary abstinence of individuals from the immediate enjoyment of consumption, which we call Thrift. But it should be obvious that mere abstinence is not enough by itself to build cities or drain fens.

. . .It is Enterprise which builds and improves the world's possessions… If Enterprise is afoot, wealth accumulates whatever may be happening to Thrift; and if Enterprise is asleep, wealth decays whatever Thrift may be doing.

We can't spend our way out. We can't cut our way out. We can only work our way out. Increasing spending is worthless indulgence if it fails to create jobs. Cutting spending is worthless masochism if it reduces or fails to create jobs. And since government borrowing capacity is a finite resource, the most important policy metric is "extra jobs created" / "extra amount of externally held debt incurred". If it means the jobs created are public-sector entry-level jobs, so be it. We can worry about the composition of the workforce, and increasing the share of private sector workers, once we're at full employment.

Note that if the Fed monetizes the deficit, by buying up some government debt, that doesn't count against the jobs created / externally held government debt metric. So unorthodox monetary policy has some role to play, IMO, in getting us out of this jobs crisis as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A plea to seasoned citizens: We'll protect your Social Security & Medicare, you support full-employment policies.

National Down Syndrome Congress - Medicaid Funding Shortfalls Threaten Community Services

The state of Arizona has asked the federal government for permission to change maintenance of effort provisions for the federal/state Medicaid program because of a substantial increase in state Medicaid spending. Several other states are expected to try doing the same because of Medicaid costs.

If states change standards without a federal government waiver, they risk losing federal funding which would devastate the program and individuals who rely on Medicaid for services. Medicaid is the primary source of funding for support services for adults to live and work in the community.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides several options to help reduce spending on Medicaid including:

· The Community Living Assistance Supports and Services (CLASS) Act , a voluntary insurance program which offers employees with disabilities (including part-time employees) or their employers the opportunity to purchase long-term insurance by paying monthly premiums.

· A rebalancing initiative which financially rewards states for increasing the percentage it spends on community v. institutional services.

· The Community First Choice option which financially rewards states for providing community services for individuals on the waiting list. States must make services available statewide, with no caps or targeting by age, severity of disability, or any other criteria. Services must be provided in the most integrated setting appropriate, given an individual’s needs.

To read more about state efforts and concerns, go to Kaiser Health News

National Network of Abortion Funds - How are women's lives affected?

. . .My husband and I have five children. We love kids and we love having a big family. But when my husband got laid off from his contractor job, having a big family got really hard.

When I found out I was pregnant again, it was terrifying. . .

. . .An abortion fund. Who knew, right?

They gave us what we needed.

And when I broke down on the phone and admitted that we didn't even have gas money to get to the clinic, they helped us with that, too.

So now I pay the pawn shop every month to keep our things -- my wedding ring and my husband's tools are the only ones we can afford to pay on. And if you miss a month, the payment is doubled from then on. So we're stuck in this cycle. We'll be paying for this abortion for a long time.

But the panic is gone. The rest of it, well...we'll figure it out. We'll do whatever we have to do to take care of our family.

Especially after living in a poor country, you realize that it's not a given that that there exist institutions where people in trouble can go to. Pseudoscandals aside, does anyone doubt that Planned Parenthood is a valuable institution that does valuable work? When there's a scandal in the military, we don't contemplate throwing away the military. Why, in response to some manufactured outrage, do we consider threatening institutions like Planned Parenthood?

Dorothy L Sayers - Begin Here: a statement of faith (1941)

. . .I fear we may forget the paradoxical nature of these things. . .peace can be preserved only by unremitting vigilance. . .prosperity is the reward of hard work and hard living. . .security dwells in the midst of danger. . .(vii)

. . .it does not matter that the arguments are inconsistent: the aim is to set the good against the good by attacking every virtue on its more vulnerable side, and so divide and rule. . .that tendency to split up the nature of mankind. . .into a number of distinct and mutually incompatible "absolutes". . .(x)

God the and poets. . .have an unpleasant habit of stimulating searching inquiry into meanings and motives, and it pays better to push them away into water-tight compartments, where their dangerous habit of synthesizing human activities can exert no control on public affairs. .(xi)

. . .the first step towards constructing the kind of world he wants is to decide the kind of person he is, and ought to be. Dorothy L. Sayers (Christmas, 1940) (xii)

War is an ugly disaster; it is not a final catastrophe. Whatever men may have said in their haste and terror, let us get that fact firmly into our heads. There are no final catastrophes. Like every other historical event, war is not an end, but a beginning.

Nobody can wish to minimize the evil wrought by war; it stares us in the face; but we must not so exaggerate the power of evil as to fall into lethargy and despair. This is not to give the devil his due, but to hand over the whole business to him, lock, stock, and barrel. . .While time lasts there will always be a future, and that future will hold both good and evil, since the world is made to that mingled pattern. . . (3)

. . .It is important, I think, to realize that the future does not exist "in the future", vaguely and far off, but here and now. Second by second it is upon us. . .When things look dark and difficult, there is a very natural tendency to procrastinate - to push the future away into the future. . .That will not do. . .(4)

Great literature calls upon us to remember what we are. . .sentimental literature invites us to forget what we are. . .(10-11)

. . .Nothing is more cruel to the young than to tell them that the world is made for youth. It is a lie that we do not believe; or why do we lament so bitterly for those whom war or accident has cut off in the flower of their manhood? That kind of talk is the "escape mechanism" of the lazy minded, who want to shuffle off their responsibilities upon the shoulders of the young. . .what encouragement do we offer to the young if we tell them - for that is what it amounts to - that all life has to offer them is the alternative of an early death or a stuffy, dreary and disappointed middle age? I want to say, here and now, to those of my own age: That is a lie; do not utter it; and to the young: It is a lie; do not listen to it.

. . .All this is but another aspect of the statement with which we set out. We must not keep pushing the future into the future. It is we, and not the next generation, who must deal with national and international reconstruction. It is now that we must start to work for it, and not "after the war". . .(18-19)

. . .The [medieval] Church had fallen into the same lazy habit which we discussed in the first chapter. She had allowed the professionals to do most of her thinking for her. And the professionals had become old-fashioned in their method of thinking. . .(37)

. . .At any rate, the New Learning was an adventure of the spirit, and the professional Church was not ready for adventure. She thrust the Reformers out. . .(39)

. . .Scientists, however, do not confine themselves to the acquisition of merely "useful" knowledge, much as our timid minds would like them to do so, and strongly as we urge them in that direction by pecuniary inducements. They have an uncompromising reverence for all kinds of facts, and cannot be persuaded to suppress them, however startling, humiliating, or inconvenient they may be. . . .

[talking about models of the universe as mechanism, organism & dream]
. . .Throughout this development of scientific thought, one result has remained constant. In no field of experiment has science been able to reveal any purpose in the universe. Always, men have hoped that by investigating the mechanism, the organism and the dream, science would discover the use of the mechanism, the goal of the evolving organism, the interpretation of the dream. . .always the priests and philosophers. . .have tried to retire into the area in which science was not yet at work, saying: "The purpose is not in matter, it is in life; the purpose is not in life, it is in the soul." But there is no room now for further retreat; science has penetrated the last defenses, and once again it has brought back no news of a purpose, but only a system of working. And men are asking in desperation: is existence, then, without meaning or purpose? . . .indeed the despair is unfounded and the whole quarrel between science and philosophy a quarrel about nothing. The silence of science about purpose is certainly not a coincidence, but neither is it a proof that purpose does not exist. . .(47-48)

. . .Puritanism was imbued with the idea (borrowed from the Gnostics) that there was something intrinsically evil about the flesh, and imagined that the Fall of Man was a fall into sexuality, which makes nonsense of the whole story. That Fall was a fall into a particular kind of knowledge - the knowledge of good and evil which is called self-consciousness and is peculiar to man among all the animals on earth; and its first result was to make him ashamed of his animal passions. The psychological conflict in man is not a plain fight between good and evil; it is a disharmony between two kinds of good - the simple animal innocence, which he hankers after but can never enjoy again, and the more complex and victorious good which comes of using self-conscious knowledge to build up a richer and fuller experience than the other animals can attain. . .

. . .The violent assertions of man's right to his animal nature which we find in many modern writers, and in the theories of those educationalists who demand complete self-expression (even as it manifests itself in kicking one's pastors and masters or taking off all one's clothes in public), are a revolt against past systems of thought which repressed Biological Man. Like most revolts, they tend to go too far in the other direction and create an "absolutism" of their own. . .

It is impossible for us to abolish self-consciousness by pretending that it does not exist . .Having once begun to think consciously about sex, we can never again treat it with the unashamed innocence of the ape; we can only exalt it into romantic love, in the Western-Mediterranean-Christian way, or debase it into bestiality, which is something that no beast knows. "Bestiality" is the name we give to behaving like a beast deliberately and with the conscious mind of a man. No man can be merely pitiless, like a cat playing with a mouse; he can only be pitiful, or else wantonly cruel. . .Even those who repudiate the virtues of meekness and mercy and obey Nietzsche's command, "Be hard," have to learn cruelty like a lesson and practice it in full knowledge of what they are doing. It is true that the lesson easily learnt; but that it is a thing learnt and a thing unnatural to humanity is seen by the general deterioration brought about in the character of a man by habitual indulgence in cruelty. . .the cruel man degenerates in all his human attributes, and so does the habitually sensual man. The same is true of all animal appetites in man; for good or evil, they have become self-conscious, and must remain so. We cannot achieve complete innocence even in the enjoyment of food and drink; we have learnt to become gluttons and drunkards, and, on the other hand, we have learnt how to dine. . .Every manifestation of the beast in man is complicated by his peculiar awareness of his own beasthood. Yet the beast is with us and must remain with us. It is as fatal to ignore him as to ignore our conscious humanity. . .Here again, we must take pains to preserve the balance. It is amusing and instructive to see how each successive reassertion of the human animal's claims is accompanied by an emphasized cult of the body. . .

. . .deep down in our natures, we honor reason, and protest against the irrationality of the world as it presents itself to us today. We are lost and unhappy in a universe that seems to make no sense, and cling to science and machines and detective fiction, just because within their limited fields, the problems do work out, and the end corresponds to the intention. . .

All questions of fact and all judgements calling for specialized experience must be referred to the people who have that special knowledge and experience. But when we have heard what they have to say, we must use our individual judgment as to the action to be taken. . .we must also remember that an expert in one department is only an amateur in another. . .

. . .peace is an active and not a passive condition. . .I believe that peace is one of those things, like happiness, which we are sure to miss if if we aim at it directly. . ."Sleep after toil, port after stormy seas, ease after war, death after life, does greatly please." Spenser, with the poet's unerring intuition, put those lulling words into the mouth of Despair. . .

. . .You did not imagine any death for your son. you did not think of death at all; you thought about life.. .for life can be good, but it is not and cannot be an absolute, any more than anything else in this world. To make life into an absolute is to exchange it for death in life, because, like every other temporal absolute, life takes revenge on those who make it a god. . .

. ..increasingly violent conflict as every new Temporal Absolute sent the balance reeling from one disastrous excess to another. The task is urgent; we must not push it into the future; we must not leave it to others; we must do it ourselves, and we must begin now and here. (156)

Dorothy L Sayers - The Mind of the Maker (1941)

I am informed by philologists that the "rise to power" of these two words, "problem" and "solution" as the dominating terms of public debate, is an affair of the last two centuries, and especially of the nineteenth, having synchronised, so they say, with a parallel "rise to power" of the word "happiness" for reasons which doubtless exist and would be interesting to discover. Like "happiness", our two terms "problem" and "solution" are not to be found in the Bible-a point which gives to that wonderful literature a singular charm and cogency. . . . On the whole, the influence of these words is malign, and becomes increasingly so. They have deluded poor men with Messianic expectations .. . which are fatal to steadfast persistence in good workmanship and to well-doing in general. . . . Let the valiant citizen never be ashamed to confess that he has no "solution of the social problem" to offer to his fellow-men. Let him offer them rather the service of his skill, his vigilance, his fortitude and his probity. For the matter in question is not, primarily, a "problem", nor the answer to it a "solution".-L. P. JACKS: Stevenson Lectures, 1926-7. . .

. . .he does not subscribe to the heresy that confounds his Energy with his Idea. . .

Not sure the extent to which I agree with this. Some things, important things, are technical problems amenable to technical solutions. Technical skill is not everything, but it's too easy to underrate its importance.

Paying Attention To The Sky - My Notes On Dante

"To appreciate Dante it is not, of course, necessary to believe what he believed, but it is, I think, necessary to understand what he believed, and to realize that it is a belief which a mature mind can take seriously. The widespread disinclination today to take Hell and Heaven seriously results, very largely, from a refusal to take this world seriously. If we are materialists, we look upon man’s life as an event so trifling compared to the cosmic process that our acts and decisions have no importance beyond the little space-time frame in which we find ourselves. If we take what is often vaguely called `a more spiritual attitude to life,' we find that we are postulating some large and lazy cosmic benevolence which ensures that, no matter how we behave, it will all somehow or other come out right in the long run. But here Christianity says `No. What you do and what you are matters, and matters intensely. It matters now and it matters eternally; it matters to you and it matters so much to God that it was for Him literally a matter of life and death.'"
Dorothy L Sayers, Introductory Papers on Dante

It's funny how mathematicians (Godel & Martin Gardner were the 2 I was thinking of) are often more religious than scientists.

Saturday, February 05, 2011
It's A Wise Physicist (Or Economist)

Who was it that said "As far as I can see, the right way to raise kids is to find out what they want to do, and then tell them to do it."? I thought it was Murray Gell-Mann, but it might have been an economist instead. Googling, the only references I could find were a 1983 magazine article in Folio magazine and a 1940 memoir of LDS member Jesse Knight.

There are a lot of really good letters in Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track: The Letters of Richard P. Feynman. Here is one, plus a bit from the foreword by Timothy Ferris:

Foreword by Timothy Ferris

. . .When a Caltech student asked the eminent cosmologist Michael Turner what his "bias" was in favoring one or another particle as a likely candidate to comprise the dark matter in the universe, Feynman snapped, "Why do you want to know his bias? Form your own bias!" . . .

. . .Mindful of his own shortcomings, Feynman could be admirably indulgent of the shortcomings of others. . .so long as their inquiries struck him as arising from honest intentions. . .a missive from one Bernard Hanft, enclosing a washer and thread the unprompted spinning of which, Hanft proposed, was due to a new force that he rather immodestly dubbed "The Hanft Force." . . .Feynman - reacting, perhaps, to Hanft's earnest, hands-on approach - performed the experiment himself and replied . . .showing that the washer's twirl had a simpler explanation and concluding with a gracious salutation: "Thank you again for calling my attention to these entertaining phenomenon." . . .

Raymond R. Rogers to Richard P. Feynman, December 17, 1965

Dear Sir:
I watched and listened to your discussion with members of KNXT's news commentators tonight and was amazed at the colossal ignorance and smugness. . .Your comment on smog was of a man entirely ignorant of the problem. . .

. . .I have never progressed beyond high school. My ambition was to attend Throop College which is now Cal Tech. My I.Q. was too low to get in. I served my apprenticeship as a machinist starting at ten cents an hour. My whole life has been to be the best machinist there was.

When I retired from Technical Laboratories (now. T.R.W. Systems) on account of age I had worked up as far as I could go without a degree. Your smart young men from Cal. Tech. came over to tell me how things should be done. It sounded like the prattle of small children.

One part of the O.G.O. satellite was so poorly designed I told them so, and I could design one that would really work. They laughed at me, (a poor slob without an education). Two years later when O.G.O. was put into orbit that part was on O.G.O. exactly as I designed it. . .

. . Some times I think education is a handicap.

How did you get the Nobel Prize?
Yours Truly,
Raymond R. Rogers

Richard P. Feynman to Raymond R. Rogers, January 20, 1966

. . .Thank you for your letter about my KNXT interview. You are quite right that I am ignorant about smog and many other things. . .

. . .I won the Nobel Prize for work I did in physics trying to uncover the laws of nature. The only thing I really know very much about are these laws. . .

. . .although you have become a very good machinist and I a good scientist, neither of us really know about the smog problem. Just as my comments on it seem ignorant to you, so your comments on it in your letter do not seem so wise to me. . .

. . .So, please excuse the fact I wasn't happy and polite during my interview, and had to answer questions about which I had no particular special knowledge.

By the way, one of my ambitions had been to be at least good in the machine shop, but everything I made fit poorly, my bearings wobbled, etc. Good machining is essential to building good apparatus for the precise and careful measurements required in physics to discover Nature's laws. So, we physicists have always worked close to and depended on men like you and some of us (like Rowland, who made the first very precise ruling engines to make diffraction gratings) have been great machinists.

About using the words "you guys" - I am sorry it offended you, but it is because I never believed that people who used big words and very fancy speech were especially smart or good. I think it is important only to express clearly what you want to say. I admit though, that "you guys" doesn't sound polite, so I guess that wasn't so good.

Yours sincerely,
R.P. Feynman