This Quarantine Is Proving To Me Just How Terrible The Schools Truly Are

It’s only been about two weeks since the Clark County Schools closed here in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, and I’m already prepared to never send my kids back—to either public or private school. I’ve been unfortunate/blessed to have been unemployed since January 22nd (have no fear, I’ve accepted a new job—more on that in another post), so I’ve spent nearly every second of every day with them at home since the quarantine went into effect.

Frankly, I’m disgusted.

I don’t blame the teachers or the schools for not being suitably prepared for this Chinese virus crisis—after all, who was? Certainly not our government, or our hospitals, or our corporations. No, what I blame them for is not being suitably prepared to do the jobs they do every single day at the charity of the tax and/or tuition payer.

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Boomer-Os Killed The Summer Job Star

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing; it allows us to look back fondly at times in our lives which were often difficult and unrewarding. It can produce joy in the present moment and assist us in feeling optimistic about the future. I assume that it evolved in us as some sort of defense against suicide or despair; people who felt nostalgia were less likely to just walk into the ocean and not come back.

Of course, nostalgia can also be harmful. It can cause us to hold onto people, possessions, and situations which would be better left behind. Worse yet, it can cause us to drastically misinterpret the past, which in turn causes us to make mistakes in the present day. Such is the case with business-book-huckster Eric Chester’s lament regarding the elimination of teenaged paperboys and other forms of youth labor. Chester notes with disdain that today’s paper is “will be thrown from the window of a hail-damaged 2006 Saturn Ion by a 30-something woman, and it will land at the edge of the curb at least 35 yards from my front porch.” Things were different when Eric Chester delivered the newspaper in 1970, yesireebob.

To his credit, Chester doesn’t necessarily blame the Millennials for not having been paperboys, which is very generous of him. He’s identified another enemy — and since he’s a Baby Boomer, you can probably guess what it is.

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Welcome To The Future! We Didn’t Figure Out Flying Cars, But Here’s A Device That Continually Checks Your Work Conversations For Signs Of Ungoodthink

Here we are in the distant future. February of 2020, after Blade Runner and entire decades after the putative settings of various space odysseys and whatnot. We’re still woefully short on:

* space travel
* flying cars
* intelligent robots
* aliens
* lightsabers

and that’s just the beginning of the list. To make matters worse, we are facing an unprecedented crisis. A critical resource, one which employs tens of thousands of people across the country and which is absolutely essential to all segments of the American economy from academic to governmental to corporate, is becoming harder and harder to find. Once upon a time it just bubbled up from the ground; you could find it everywhere from small-town public squares to the Los Angeles streets. Then we had to start digging for it, seeking it out beneath deep layers of rock and out in the ocean. Now, we’re using complex technology to ferret out the last remnants. We’re also creating some of it via artificial means, although the fake stuff doesn’t work as well as the real thing. In the near future, we may have to start looking at serious rationing, just so there’s enough to go around for everyone.

No, I’m not talking about oil. Why would you think that? I’m talking about racism and sexism — but don’t worry, we have our best people on it, and they’ve come up with a brilliant solution to the problem.

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It Was A Small World After All

I don’t know how you’re spending your airplane time lately — maybe you’ve arranged your life in some eminently sane manner that doesn’t require periodic four-hour stints spent breathing other peoples’ fecal particles and noroviruses in a 25-year-old metal tube indifferently steered by a recent graduate of low-cost simulator training — but I’m spending mine reading Godel, Escher Bach for the fourth and, I hope, final time. It’s not an entirely voluntary re-perusal. My son is crawling through The Turing Omnibus and “GEB” is the logical next step after that. He will want to discuss it. I will need to be prepared.

Much of this book concerns the mechanism by which we might construct “consciousness loops”, at least in a mathematical sense. As they currently exist, computers are awfully powerful but they have no ability to “step outside” their processing loop and examine themselves. We can nest levels within levels, and indeed that’s our current moronic H1-B-centric computing paradigm of Docker-inside-Kubernetes-inside-VMWare and so on, but none of these levels have the ability to “think” about themselves. That’s the beginning of consciousness. A computer (or a dog, or a monkey) can run a program and exhibit all sorts of fascinating behaviors, but at no point can it stop and ask itself “Why am I doing this?” To our knowledge, human beings are the only devices in the universe with the ability to consider themselves in the abstract. Dolphins, maybe. I wouldn’t bet on that.

It’s a neat trick, but only if we use it. Any time you find yourself explaining your past actions to an employer, spouse, or officer of the law with “I don’t know why I did that,” what you really mean is that you didn’t take a moment to be conscious, to examine your behaviors and motivations from a distance. In those unexamined moments, you were no better than a chimpanzee and considerably worse than, say, an array of Core i7 processors operating in parallel. It is never wasted time to pause what you are doing and use that uniquely human faculty of consciousness to evaluate your actions from a third-party perspective.

Perhaps that explains why I found myself wheedling a “FastPass+” for Space Mountain out of a bored foreign national with a journeyman’s command of the King’s English on Martin Luther King Day — or perhaps it does not. As you’ll see, however, applying a bit of human consciousness to Disneyworld raises more questions than it answers.

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Where The Boys Aren’t

When I die, it might be said of me that I was a bad uncle.

Not a creepy uncle, or a dangerous one, mind you. Just one who is occasionally derelict in his duty towards his niece. I like to make plans for my son and Bark’s son — plans for indoor karting, NERF(tm) guns, trips to South Carolina. Whenever I do this, Bark reminds me that he has two children. “You always forget about your niece,” he chides.

He’s wrong. I’m not forgetting about her; I simply think that she doesn’t need my help or involvement in any significant amount. She’s a talented young woman with a long list of accomplishments, outstanding bone structure, and a family history of staying thin. This is THE_CURRENT_YEAR and the deck is stacked in her favor.

I’m not so sure the same is true for our sons. Over the past decade I’ve gotten the impression that young American men are increasingly under fire, so to speak — that’s a metaphor, although it’s literally true for many of our least fortunate young men who see the armed forces as a way to escape what increasingly looks like a planned economic hollowing-out of our rural counties. The above chart, which has been circulating a bit on Twitter with no substantive refutation of its statistics, only serves to reinforce my concern. (You can see the original, and click through for references, here.)

This is what I want you to do.

0. Read the chart quickly;
1. Then consider your most immediate reaction to it.

Is that reaction some mixture of shame and annoyance? Do you feel a small (or significant) measure of contempt for the type of person who would even bother to create such a thing? When you hear the phrase “a war on boys”, is your first response to express your disappointment with, or contempt for, the sort of person who uses that phrase? If you’re like most of our male readers, I bet you have at least some of these reactions.

Would you like to know why? And would you like to know why it’s critical that you change your response?

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KidLit, Capeshit, America As A Private NYC Preschool, And The Boy Who Won’t Be The Best At Anything

It appears that each generation of vaguely literate upper-middle-class Americans must find a particular genre of writing and clutch that tightly to its collective breast. The Lost Generation had their dissipated tales of ennui from Hemingway and Mr. Zelda Fitzgerald, the Greatest loved their massive trash novels (think Thorn Birds). The Boomers read Updike and Jong with (mastur)bated breath, and their younger siblings luxuriated in the privileged sense of wokeness conferred by suffering through an entire rambling Novel Of Blackness by the likes of Toni Morrison or Alice Walker.

Generation X has something unique — the upscale-parenting screed. This is something genuinely new, and like “trap music” it was nowhere until the moment it was everywhere. It litters the pages of the Atlantic and New Yorker the same way Tom Wolfe used to bully his way through the fiction section of every respectable East Coast magazine. The alpha example of this is “When The Culture War Comes For Your Kids,” a recent Atlantic piece skewered by Steve Sailer at Unz Review. Written by a National Book Award winner, the article bemoans the misery of finding out that your child can’t make the cut for a private preschool because at the age of two, his sense of visual ideation was already far behind the curve of other, more promising, two-year-olds. Later on, the author realizes that it will cost $1.5M to send his child through a NYC private primary and secondary education, leading him to whine preciously about schools filled with the progeny of “finance people” rather than the children of “orchestra conductors”.

The alternative to playing this brutal, and brutally expensive, game? Why, it’s horrifying:

When parents on the fortunate ledge of this chasm gaze down, vertigo stuns them. Far below they see a dim world of processed food, obesity, divorce, addiction, online-education scams, stagnant wages, outsourcing, rising morbidity rates—and they pledge to do whatever they can to keep their children from falling.

This single sentence should obliterate any vestigial feel-good beliefs you might have that the elites give any kind of shit about heartland or heritage America. They know how bad it is down here on the ground: the opioids, the joblessness, the PTSD from our endless foreign adventures, the hollowing-out of everything beyond the city limits of twenty white-hot real-estate markets. They know how bad it is — and their primary concern is to ensure that their children never see or touch it.

Despite Packer’s undoubted competence as a writer, he is too close to this particular forest to see anything besides the privileged and individual trees. He accurately describes the hellscape of American meritocracy while failing, tactfully or otherwise, to mention the glaringly obvious reason for its creation, to wit: we now have an unlimited supply of rich people, successful people… scratch that. There is now an unlimited supply of people, period. And it will only get worse. Much worse.

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You Can’t Play With My (Weight-Related) Yo-Yo

For the past eight years, when it comes to exercise and health, I’ve only had two modes—all in, or all out. I have either worked out six days a week and watched my diet with the intensity of a thousand suns, or I’ve sat on the couch and consumed four Cokes a day. As a result, my weight has tended to have massive amounts of fluctuation. I scrape the bottom of 5’9″ on a good day, and when I’m super healthy, I weigh around 160. When I’m not, I weigh around 195.

Three months ago, I was right at that 195 number, literally fat and happy. I had a wonderful job, healthy and content children, finances under control. And then I lost my job. Having that life changing moment made me analyze a great many things about myself. I may have been fat, but I wasn’t happy at all. When I’m overweight, I don’t feel good about myself. I shy away from having my photo taken. I wear loose-fitting clothes. I make a ton of excuses about why I can’t be healthy, but I know that they’re all lies.

Thankfully, I landed on my feet, but I decided to use that massive change in my life to enact another massive change—I started another round of P90X3. New job, new life, new Bark, you know?

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Shiny Happy Prole People And YouTube As A One-Way Mirror

It’s the academic megatrend of our time: applying quasi-sophisticated analytical and rhetorical flourishes to trash culture. I couldn’t tell you how or where it started, although the “Shakespeare In Film” courses which popped up mushroom-like in English departments across the country during the Eighties and Nineties probably acted as some sort of gateway drug. Today’s universities have absorbed that rush and now provide the mainline hit of seriously discussing Anime As Global Popular Culture or getting a Harvard Law degree by thoroughly, ahem, “investigating” pornography.

These courses, which offer the sheen of intellectual discourse without the substance of cultural literacy, are so popular that they have begun to affect way we evaluate and criticize human endeavors outside the university. The best example of this is the webzine Pitchfork, which treats the latest productions by Arctic Monkeys, Fleet Foxes, or other musical animals with the same level of rhetorical rigor once reserved for Chaucer or Titian. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that Liz Phair’s spectacularly mis-conceived eponymous album did not, in fact, deserve an ass-beating just as pretentious as the album itself was vile, because it did. Nor am I going to make the claim that criticism has always restricted itself to the finer things in life. Chaucer wrote a whole story about analingus way before it became Gen-Z first-date protocol. As for Shakespeare, I have one thing to say: “Villain, I have done thy mother.” Yesterday’s pop culture is today’s middle-class amusement and tomorrow’s high art. Each generation pushes the boundaries of decency, only to see that boundary pushed again and again within their lifetimes. It is only through the effort of periodic social re-engineerings, such as the one that took place in the Victorian Era, that we have avoided becoming bonobos with airplanes. We’re probably due for another one of those moral resets, which perhaps explains the fascination some Westerners have with Islam at the moment.

Pitchfork’s reviews and thought pieces can be a guilty pleasure even to people who are not familiar with the source material — which is a very good illustration of the idea that criticism competes with the text on which it is based just as much as it reflects upon it. The format reaches its apex with Pitchfork’s commentary on Father John Misty and his work; the immovable-object-irresistible-force event of a critical coterie dedicated to extracting meaning from music and an artist determined to bury every last bit of his meaning beneath a princess-pea plethora of fluffy-mattress deceptions.

Sometimes, however, Pitchfork semi-accidentally deviates into matters of relevance beyond simple pop music, which brings us to the matter of Shiny Happy Prole People.

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Fopped Up: Ellison, Voltaire, Adam Ant, And The Grunge Depp

Sunday’s post about Fancy Men generated the usual excellent commentary, some of which discussed whether the Fancy Man of today was the “fop” of yesterday. At about the same time, I had a conversation about a fellow I know who, having been a massive and undoubted success in a very difficult field, decided that he wanted to be known instead as a leader in a completely different, and much less admirable, field. This seemed like a good excuse for a quick-ish romp through the idea of foppery and why it mirrors, but does not quite envelop, the idea of the Fancy Man. We’ll make this one quick, because I have an early day tomorrow. I promise.

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