Thursday, May 25, 2017

What really happened at Cornell

This is an account of the first student assault on an elite university: Cornell 1969.

I think this conservative narrative while factually correct is fundamentally wrong. It blames the radical black students and the cowardly Administration and faculty. But I don't think that's what drove this explosion. Key points:

1. This followed Cornell's admission of academically underqualified black applicants. "Window Dressing"
2. This preceded the creation of black and other cultural studies programs that give elite schools' "window dressing" a place to hide.
3. Brought there under condescending but false pretenses the unqualified and unprepared students immediately began floundering in an institution that had decided to use them but hadn't thought through the consequences.
4. The underprepared black kids, realizing this and realizing that weren't going to get asked back next year much less graduate decided to take a page from their cousins on the street. 
5. The administration and facuty, shocked and not sufficiently cynical to not feel accountable for their selfish actions folded not because they were cowards but because they were in the wrong.
6. They and the rest if academe then went full cynical and made sure that henceforth window dressing kids had window dressing departments to get them their window dressing degrees.
7. The problem today is that the (politicized) window dressing parts of these universities keep expanding. The mean grade at Harvard us now an A-. The mode or most common grade is an A.

Is Harvard's answer to racial inequality simply to stop trying to truly educate anyone? After all the hard bit is clearly getting in, not getting out.

And how unequal is this? Because it simply transfers the competition earlier ,  placing massive burdens on 15, 16, 17 year olds when many kids don't mature that early emotionally or intellectually. But Rich kids and parents have even more massive advantages at this stage.

And the conveyor belts of privilege keep chugging on.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Is Trump Like Caligula?

Is Trump Like Caligula?

No, I'm not saying he's insane or sleeping with his sister or about to kill a third of the billionaires or thinks he's a God. But there is one alarming aspect of Caligula's reign that Trump parallels:  Like "Little Bootikins" did to the Principate, Donald Trump is using the true and massive power of the executive that his predecessors had hidden behind republican/constitutional forms tradition and good manners be damned. Like Caligula Trump has dropped the facade of moderation and the fiction of the 'res publica' that predecessors had maintained.

Don't believe me? Here's a little Roman History.

Caesar Augustus and the Civil War finally destroyed the Roman Republic for good but Caesar feared an elite shorn of status and authority ( what the Romans called "Autorictus") and smoldering with resentment would be susceptible to conspiracy, coups and assassination. So Augustus hid his autocratic exercise of power behind traditional constitutional forms. He insisted he was only the Princeps - First Citizen, he refused to be deified in life as was the norm for great Kings and Emperors in antiquity. He even let the Senate thwart his plans from time to time just to sustain the fiction that the Republic still lived. Tiberius, his successor largely did the same although towards the end his paranoia got the best if him and he let the mask slip a bit.

But his successor, Caligula had no taste for Republican play acting. He knew he had the whip hand of power and was the single focal point for the Empire and he was going to jolly well play the part. It's interesting that observers at the time claimed he was a megalomaniac - power mad. But he had the same powers Augustus had, he was just more honest about the reality. So he announced that he was a God and he exercised the prerogatives of absolute power by taking what he wanted, killing whom he pleased, and indulging his whims. Not the strongest mind, Caligula let all of his power get the best of him, slipping into madness.  As a result he was eventually felled by an elite conspiracy that dressed up its murder with promises to restore the Republic. But the Republic was dead and another Emperor simply rose to take his place. And eventually all Emperors acted with the impunity and assumed the deity that was inherent in the power that they held.

Likewise the American Presidency and its associated Federal bureaucracy has radically expanded its power and reach, particularly over the last 16 years. But up until now Presidents have been careful to sheath this incredible and largely unconstitutional power in the velvet of constitutional forms. But Donald Trump has no desire to disguise the real state of affairs and doesn't have the personality to do so if he wanted to. The result is the so called 'ruling elite' is outraged at the effrontery of a President demonstrating to the the country just how the Presidency completely dominates the nation's governance. So like with "Little Bootikins" they are targeting Trump for removal. If they can dress it up in some thin veneer of legality, so be it. But mark my words, in back rooms they are sharpening knives and thinking the unthinkable.

But Americans aren't Romans and Donald Trump may be crude and reckless, but he's a survivor. This is going to get very ugly.  Perhaps it was unwise to vest so much power in one office at the center of the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

Monday, February 06, 2017

The real problem with the administrative state.

Steven Hayward hits the nail on the head:

The political character of the administrative state is more important than the economic inefficiency or arbitrariness of bureaucracy that is the usual target of conservative ire, because it represents a new answer to the classic political question: Who should rule? The premise of the Constitution is that the people should rule. The premise of the administrative state, explicitly expressed by Woodrow Wilson and other Progressive-era theorists, is that experts should rule, in a new administrative form largely sealed off from political influence, i.e., sealed off from the people. At some point, it amounts to government without the consent of the governed, a simple fact that surprisingly few conservative politicians perceive.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Look at me

Look at me. Can you see me?
The real me.
I trade my honor 
for nothing that means.

I say I'm free
but I enslave me.
See that bird she's free.
I want to be like her. 

See my soul through all the dust?
See how I treat myself?
How can you believe in me.
I'm not even free.

I want to to be free.
I want to be free from me.
For to save my life
I must give it up.

And be free.

Monday, January 30, 2017


Is my love true? 
They're not the same, you know.
Love stands on truth's shoulders
And truth without love is dead.

So do I have something to say?
Something i want to say to you?
Because without truth my love doesn't reach.
And right now this is killing you.

Is your truth love?
One's not the other,  you know.
Without love truth is buried and dead.
And without truth love's a song in your head

So do you have something to say?
Something you want to say to me?
Because without love your truth is dead.
And right now it's killing me.

So if there's anything left of us.
Some small measure of truth,
a tiny trace of love.
Could we try again?

Sunday, January 29, 2017


I've been dying and I've been alone.
And I'd rather die with You than be alone with me.

My heart can stop but once,  my soul can fly away.
But being without You is to die every day.

Lord I've been dying and I've been alone.
And I'd rather die in You than live for me.

I've clung to cliffs and fled gunfire,  choked till I turned blue.
But I've never hurt so much as when I was without You.

I've slammed bloody onto reefs, feared sharks would eat me through.
But I've never been so frightened  as when I didn't have you.

I've wavered with my handgun, pointing it straight at my face.
Because I've never been so hopeless as when without your grace.

So my Love whatever You do don't leave me here.
Because it's losing You  and being alone I fear.

Cause I've been dying and I've been alone.
And I'd rather die with You than be alone with me.

Lord I've been dying and I've been alone.
And I'd rather die in You than live for me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


From time to time I get my breakfast at McDonalds.  I am particularly partial to McGriddles - that classically American concoction with the bun filled with faux maple syrup - I mean who comes up with this stuff? Almost every time I come in a small latina serves me. Her face and arms are horribly disfigured - I have this image of her as a child pulling a large vat of boiling water on top of herself. When I first started coming Marta - for that's her name - wouldn't look me in the eye no matter what I did - she'd look anywhere but at my face.

I first experienced this reluctance to look directly at me among the lepers that hung out around the marketplace in Jakarta when I was a boy: I guess they found that 'whole' people wouldn't look them in the eye or if they did, their 'look' would be filled with shock and horror. So the disfigured go through life avoiding visual connection with other people lest it once again remind them that to the world they are "hideous". Of course to them, they're not. Just as when I look in the mirror I don't think I'm old - but the disfigured have learned that looking 'wholes' in the eye is a painful experience best to be avoided. It must be a strange, lonely world  - so much of what is essential about us is communicated through our gaze. As Shakespeare wrote: "the eyes are the window to your soul"

Despite never looking directly at me, Marta came to recognize me - I suppose by my voice and my typically "just got out of bed" appearance. Early on I tried a number of different stratagems to 'trick' her into looking me in the eye, including introducing myself "hi, I'm Bill, what's  your name?" "Marta" she said, never raising her eyes above my chest. After a while I gave up - Marta had spent her whole life dealing with her appearance - who was I to try to manipulate her just to see if I could catch her eye? This went on for the longest time - we'd talk and joke (for I am terribly perky in the morning, it's quite a burden for others) and do all the other things that familiar strangers do in an open culture like Texas, but no eye contact.

Until one day when I was so preoccupied with my own problems that I didn't even really notice her serving me. When she asked me if I wanted my "re-goo-lar" as she puts it, I didn't even hear her. Then snapping back to the real world I looked over and there they were: her eyes - gazing steadily into mine. Her smiling eyes. I felt like I'd been given a great gift - a view into a soul more closely guarded than a fortress. And it was beautiful. Because she is beautiful - much more beautiful than I'll ever be.

We're friends now - and I'm eating a lot more McDonalds breakfasts than I probably should but I can't resist those eyes. Marta's smiling eyes.