Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Don't Do It

Never judge a book by its cover, they say, but sometimes I can’t help myself. What’s the first thing you notice about Donald Trump? The hair, right? For a long time, I couldn’t get past it and dismissed him from serious consideration. Who would go out in public with that coiffure, I asked myself. Think of the time it takes every day to make his hair look like that. It was hard to see it as anything but a vanity flag.
When I wrote about this before the election, several enthusiastic Trump supporters emailed me to express dismay. They saw what I saw, but to them his hair indicated he didn’t care what people thought. It was a sign of confidence and they liked that. They believed Donald Trump alone had the gumption to go to Washington, DC and turn things upside down, and that’s exactly what they wanted him to do. I knew I’d vote for him if he won the nomination but I hoped he wouldn’t. Neither did I expect him to win the general election, but he did.
Betsy DeVos

It’s only been a month, but I have to admit I really like what he's doing so far. The people he’s appointing are terrific. As a career teacher with strong opinions about how to improve education, I applaud his appointment of Betsy DeVos. The best way to improve public schools is to break the teachers’ union stranglehold over them. The best way to do that would be fostering voucher programs in our states and local districts — and the best person to do that is Betsy DeVos. She is a longtime champion of vouchers in her home state and supported with her own money. Vouchers would empower real innovation in education by breaking the public school monopoly and allowing private citizens to form their own, decentralized schools. Local control of education will bring real change, unlike that bastion of entrenched special interests and stifling bureaucracy that is Washington, DC.
I might have violated that “never judge” dictum in the case of another New Yorker — the writer, Tom Wolfe — but I never got the chance. If I’d seen Wolfe on the covers of Time and Newsweek dressed like a dandy courtier for Louis XVI, it is likely I would never have picked up Bonfire of the Vanities, the first of his books I read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I was somewhat shocked afterward when I saw what he looked like. I was also surprised that it was his first novel. He was a successful writer of non-fiction up to that time and the move to novel writing seemed effortless. After Bonfire, I enjoyed A Man in Full, I Am Charlotte Simmons, and Back To Blood.
Language is Wolfe’s stock in trade, and he believes it a uniquely human ability that did not evolve from lower animals. Just a few months ago, he published Kingdom of Speech in which he ridicules two sacred cows of the secular left: Darwinism and Chomskyism. He claims Charles Darwin stole ideas from an obscure researcher named Alfred Russell Wallace and published them as his own. He also portrays MIT linguist and leftist demigod Noam Chomsky as vile and vindictive toward anyone who questions him. Anthropologist Daniel Everett’s work on the language of the obscure Piraha tribe of the Amazon is outlined in the bestselling Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes. It casts doubt on Chomsky’s long insistence that humans evolved with a “language organ” in our brains even if neurosurgeons have never found one. The language organ explains “universal grammar” in all language, Chomsky maintains. Piraha language, however, not only lacks “universal grammar,” it lacks tense. There is no future, no past, only eternal present. There are no numbers or colors either.
Piraha and Everett

Wolfe’s Kingdom of Speech enrages the left, but it cannot be attacked as religious hocus-pocus. While Daniel Everett is an evangelical Christian, he doesn’t argue from there. Rather, he bases his case on scientific observation while living with the Piraha for decades. And, Tom Wolfe is an atheist. He endorses Everett’s ideas from a logical standpoint and teases both Chomsky and Darwin for their pomposity. Typical of the left, neither Chomsky nor his defenders have any sense of humor which makes teasing them so much fun for Wolfe.
Wolfe has been cranking out books that are windows on American culture for a long time while Trump is just beginning his career in government. He could still screw up, but he seems to have already taken over the presidency. He’s leading us while Obama is yelling, “Hey! I’m still here! Look at me and my legacy!”
There’s a lesson for me in all this. From now on, I won’t judge people with facial metal, neck tattoos, or purple hair. I’m going to look past those things… I think.


Stopp Planned Parenthood of Connecticut said...

I think getting Planned Parenthood out of the local school systems is first priority besides resigning to fighting with them and wasting your time and homeschooling instead. Special interest groups are in the local public schools in the form of Planned Parenthood of (in your case) Northern New England style sex-ed classes to increase its clientele and for-profit, baby killing business. Planned Parenthood centers are in every single state, not only in DC..
That's why Stopp Planned Parenthood, Inc., needs at least one volunteer from each state to peacefully pray, witness and sidewalk counsel outside on the sidewalk of these slaughter houses.

Stopp Planned Parenthood of Connecticut said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

What fresh hell is THIS?
District Governance association?
Linguist? I'll stick with Richard Lenderer thank you. (But not his PoliSci) Or Maybe a convicted murderer in an insane asylum. (The Professor and the Madman)
Mr. Chomsky reminds me too much of ANOTHER "academic" who seems to spend too much time taking umbrage at his critics and peers.

Anonymous said...

Don't judge a book by it's cover is wonderful advice. It is undeniable that many people judged Obama by his black "cover".

I like the cartoon of the republicans standing by Obama's "legacy tree" with their lighters. I like that these same people were so frustrated and angered that they couldn't also destroy Obama's chances at getting re-elected. I love that despite their constant attempts to thwart his every move, and the desperate attempts to try and paint him as a failure by putting their twisted spin on reality, that he leaves office with such a good approval rating (he would have won another re-election if he was allowed), and that his legacy will be a great one. I can hear the conservatives whining already about future historians and texts in decades to come proclaiming him a great president.

As for Trump, hardly anybody would dismiss his as a cruel joke just because of his clownish looks. It is the fact that he plays the part of a clownish buffoon as well.

Brian said...

You thought what we have now is a swamp.....hold on to your hats. We are about to sink into the swampiest, dirtiest, pay-to-play-est government in US history. The 1% are so incredibly thrilled that this clownish buffoon wandered onto the scene. What more could they hope for then an uber-confident huckster selling them "I'll help ya" snake oil, one with the electability boost of being soviet supported?

Welcome to the super-sized, bigger and better, Trump Swamp!

It's about to get a whole lot deeper.

Anonymous said...

You like what DeVos has done for education in Michigan?

You like that in Brightmoor, the only high school left is Detroit Community Schools, a charter boasting more than a decade of abysmal test scores and, until recently, a superintendent who earned $130,000 a year despite a dearth of educational experience or credentials.

On the west side, another charter school, Hope Academy, has been serving the community around Grand River and Livernois for 20 years. Its test scores have been among the lowest in the state throughout those two decades; in 2013 the school ranked in the first percentile, the absolute bottom for academic performance. Two years later, its charter was renewed.

Or if you live downtown, you could try Woodward Academy, a charter that has limped along near the bottom of school achievement since 1998, while its operator has been allowed to expand into other communities.

For students enrolled in schools of choice — that is, schools in nearby districts who have opened their doors to children who live outside district boundaries — it’s not much better. Kids who depend on Detroit’s problematic public transit are too far away from the state’s top-performing school districts — and most of those districts don’t participate in the schools of choice program, anyway.

This deeply dysfunctional educational landscape — where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and “choice” means the opposite for tens of thousands of children — is no accident. It was created by an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades, with little regard for the outcome.

President-elect Donald Trump has made a number of controversial cabinet nominations already. But none seems more inappropriate, or more contrary to reason, than his choice of DeVos to lead the Department of Education.

DeVos isn’t an educator, or an education leader. She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance. In fact, she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards and guiding dollars for the nation’s public schools.

She is, in essence, a lobbyist — someone who has used her extraordinary wealth to influence the conversation about education reform, and to bend that conversation to her ideological convictions despite the dearth of evidence supporting them.

For 20 years, the lobby her family bankrolls has propped up the billion-dollar charter school industry and insulated it from commonsense oversight, even as charter schools repeatedly failed to deliver on their promises to parents and children.

See more at:


Anonymous said...

Why make some cheap shot at Darwin, a charge that he has been vindicated from for years?


Oh yeah, because you don't respect scientists and this fits your agenda, facts be damned.

And can you point out who exactly is "outrage" by Kingdom of Speech? Here is a bit of what Jerry A. Coyne is, professor emeritus in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, has to say about it:

Tom Wolfe shrouds both a mean-spiritedness, and a superficial take on his subject. Sadly, his latest book, “The Kingdom of Speech,” suffers from the same mix of sarcasm and ignorance...

... the book grossly distorts the theory of evolution, the claims of linguistics and the controversies about their connection. Finally, after misleading the reader for nearly 200 pages, Wolfe proposes his own theory of how language began — a theory far less plausible than the ones he mocks.

Wolfe joins those creationists who, if they can’t personally and immediately see how evolution could produce something complex, declare that the problem is insoluble and that an entire scientific edifice has crumbled.

But in fact Wolfe doesn’t even understand the theory he so despises. Evolution, he argues, isn’t a “scientific hypothesis” because nobody’s seen it happen, there’s no observation that could falsify it, it yields no predictions and it doesn’t “illuminate hitherto unknown or baffling areas of science.” Wrong — four times over. We’ve seen evolution via real-time observations and ordered series of fossils; evolution could be falsified by finding fossils out of place, such as that of a rabbit in 400 million-year-old sediments; and evolution certainly makes predictions (Darwin predicted, correctly, that human ancestors evolved in Africa).

Continues next post

Anonymous said...

As for his take on Chomsky, every part of this story is wrong. Chomsky’s views were influential but hardly, as Wolfe maintains, a universal paradigm — perhaps not even the majority view. And Everett didn’t slay universal grammar: Later linguists found that the Pirahã language indeed had recursion (e.g., “I want the same hammock you just showed me”). Finally, the technical notion of “recursion” was never the totality of Chomsky’s theory anyway. He highlighted the idea in a brief paper in 2003, but his theory always consisted of operations for merging words into bigger and bigger phrases, something no one disputes.

Although Wolfe haughtily dismisses the idea of universal grammar, he does so without considering the facts. In reality, all languages, including Pirahã, have common elements. For one thing, they use words (not just sounds), which are made from groups of sounds subject to language-specific rules. We can end an English syllable, for instance, with a group of consonants, like “frisks,” but that’s verboten in Japanese, whose syllables end with a vowel. And these words may be combined into more complex words and in turn into phrases that can be joined to express ideas. This structure is found not just in long-existing spoken languages with writing systems, but in sign languages that arose in a single generation in communities of deaf Bedouins and Nicaraguans.

The upshot — the universality — is that languages are generative, with rules that help us merge sounds into words, and words into sentences, yielding a creativity of communication far beyond what other species can manage.

Determined to reject the idea that any part of language is hard-wired, Wolfe chooses again to rely on sarcasm rather than data. He therefore ignores the observation that circuits of our brains are devoted to processing language, while different parts deal with non-linguistic sounds and with general reasoning and problem-solving. Further, the configuration of the human larynx is novel among primates: The voicebox has evolved downward, and half the tongue is lodged in the throat, giving us an exquisite ability to articulate — particularly the vowels so important for speech. There are genes that, when mutated, cause disorders of language, speech and comprehension, and statistical analyses of our genomes show that these genes were targets of Darwinian natural selection.

All this grammatical structure, genetic data and uniquely human behavior implies something Wolfe cannot abide: that our language is — horrors! — the result of . . . evolution!

Wolfe has an answer! White suit unsullied by any real research, he proposes . . . yes . . . his own theory of language. And it’s a doozy! Language arose as . . . wait for it . . . a MNEMONIC DEVICE! Yes, that’s right: We devised words to help us remember objects and facts and then — poof! — we had language!! All from memory tricks like “30 days hath September!” No matter that this ignores language’s function not just in private reveries but for communication between people. Or that languages have . . . rules — the same rules for everyone in a community! But Wolfe must be Wolfe, and if that involves smacking evolutionary biology and linguistics on the tuchas, then — potch! — smacked they must be.

I’m not sure why Wolfe bears such animus against evolution and the use of evidence rather than bluster to support claims about reality. Perhaps his social conservatism has bred such a discomfort with the implications of modern science — that the universe works by natural rather than supernatural or divine laws — that he’s compelled to snicker at one of the foundations of modern science: He’s called another one, the big bang, “the nuttiest theory I’ve ever heard.”

Wolfe has forgotten how to think.

Brian said...

Hard to understand this conservative push for charter schools. It is what their talking heads want though, so they are for it too. This is From last Friday's NH Union Leader:

School privatization is the GOP's new sacred bull...they disguise it as "school choice", or a way to "make your state free again", to sound as though privatization empowers parents and students. But it does exactly the opposite. It strips the power from your locally elected school boards and hands the reins over to private enterprises that lack accountability. The result: inferior schools that waste your tax dollars and offer sub-par education. (Like DeVos and others have caused in Michigan). Like all private enterprises, charter schools primarily seek to make a profit. The question is not "How can we offer a quality education?".but "How do we make the most money with the least effort". (In other words,"good business")

The column continues, saying:

It should alarm you that Betsy DeVos, the architect of Michigan's catastrophic educational failures, is Trump's pick for the Secretary of Education. Unsurprisingly, she has no formal educational training. Nor does she have any idea how public schools work or what they face, as her children never attended one.

In other words Trump made a pick with NO experience at all, and has been a failure at doing what she wants done!

Anonymous said...

Tom says that the people Trump is appointing are "terrific." Like the aforementioned education flop? Like the Putin's puppet pick of Tillerson? And to get surreally funny, how about Rick Perry taking over the agency he wanted eliminated, but couldn't remember what the agency was!!??!! The wrestlers wife pick? Oh, what a clown show. It’s become clear that he’s not simply making bad choices out of necessity. He’s purposely putting the most inappropriate person he can think of in each role.

Ben Carson? A psychologically compromised man who admitted to being an attempted murderer and who was last seen rambling about Lucifer during the Republican Convention? Carson also recently admitted trough his spokesman he doesn’t view himself as being qualified for any cabinet position. And yet Donald Trump has apparently begged Carson to go ahead and become his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – a position for which he has no qualifications.

Elsewhere we’ve got Michael Flynn for Trump’s National Secretary Advisor, even though he previously lost his job in the military in part because he gave classified information to Pakistan without anyone’s approval. And Linda McMahon! from the World Wrestling Entertainment. This one doesn’t even sound like it could be real.

He may only be making these nightmare picks to distract from his own corruption, so he can scapegoat them down the road.

What an enormous swamp he is creating!!!

Anonymous said...

Just imagine the massive outrage that would be loudly displayed by the right if it was Hillary who had just been outvoted, yet won the election with the help of illegal hacking activity from the Kremlin!!!!! OR if Obama had been supported illegally by foreign nations!!

But since it is the reverse, what do we hear from the hypocrites? Nothing but whistling past the graveyard.

Tom McLaughlin said...

If you post again with a name, I might respond.

Brian said...

Like you responded to me? Like you responded to all the other tough questions posed in past posts by people with names? It looks as though you are simply looking for excuses to once again post and hide.

Mr. Anonymous said...

At least Tom is now at least acknowledging that he doesn't dare answer the tough questions or respond to the facts that tear holes in his columns, even if this acknowledgment comes in the form of excuses.

Baby steps....

P. C. Poppycock said...

Let's go with 'parental choice,' not 'school choice.'

Don't you think parents should be able to choose where their children go to school? Aren't you 'pro-choice??'

Suppose you were required to attend the college closest to your domicile, and they were required to make room for you? How would that work out?

P. A. Elderberry said...

How would I feel if I were required to attend the free college (yea, I'm with Bernie on that one) closest to my home? GREAT!

My understanding of a "charter school", is that it is an " independently operated public school started by parents, teachers, community organizations, and for-profit companies." I am 100% for charter schools, right up until the point the "for-profit companies" part enters into it. Because it then becomes, more often than not, a bottom line of the almighty dollar overpowering what is really best for the students. Perhaps that's debatable.

And yes, I think parents should have choice in the schools their children attend. And they should demand that their local schools are run to the standard they choose. Stand up and fight for their community. And if, while fighting that battle, they choose to send their child off to some other localities school, then so be it, that's fine by me. Figure out a way to compensate the new school of choice and get on with it.

Yes, it would work out great to attend a nearby school instead of having to travel a longer distance.

As for "Aren't you 'pro-choice??" Well, that depends on the question.

Back to free college. Why free schooling until the arbitrary number of grade 12? Why not grade 16, or however long it takes to reasonable learn one's productive trade? I wouldn't say the free education is a "right", but I would think it a great quality of a country that is able to provide it anyway.

See Tom, that is called "answering questions", debating, discussing, trying to figure stuff out together...

Peter said...

It is hard to believe that some fell for Trump's "drain the swamp" BS, but those that did are getting upset.

"Following reports that Donald Trump chose a former Goldman Sachs executive, Steven Mnuchin, to run the Treasury Department, some of the president-elect's most vocal supporters expressed anger and outrage online.

Trump claimed many times during his campaign and since the election that he will "drain the swamp," meaning he will remove career politicians, lobbyists and people with ties to financial institutions from positions of power.

One major Trump supporter, conservative author Mike Cernovich, complained about Trump choosing former Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin to run theTreasury Department in a tweet: "Trump's Treasury Secretary is former Goldman Sachs employee...WTF is going on @transition2017?"

Conservative radio host and former-Congressman Joe Walsh, who before the election said he would arm himself and take to the streets if Trump was not elected, also called "bullshit" on the hire: "Mr Trump, this is bullshit. Can you hire someone who doesn't work for Goldman Sachs? What about that swamp? Huh?"

"Mnuchin is exactly, down to the last detail, everything that Mr. Trump caricatured as his great formidable enemy that he was going to smite, in the Biblical sense, and here he is putting that guy in charge," said Richard Wolff, a professor of economics emeritus.

Some people just have difficulty spotting an obvious con man, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Now this may not be politically correct, but I guess sometimes it IS best to judge a book by it's cover, to see a cheesy, clownish snake-oil salesmen, and instantly peg him for what he is.

Brian said...

Talk about crawling into office! It seems that Trump, after being outvoted by millions of citizens, is now entering office with the lowest approval rating for any President starting their first term..


Anonymous said...

cnn ha ha