I’m not an idiot! I’m not! I’m not! (Or am I?)

Background: On February 20, 2011, at 10:59 A.M., “Inagua” posted the following message about me on another blog site: “LLS is a teacher! I missed that. It explains everything — the fuzzy thinking, the smug tone, the fact free posts.” (Chris Fountain’s For What It’s Worth, under “Greenwich teacher quality”)

(I’m going to respond, at considerable length, directly to Inagua. Although the response will seem long-winded and not-very-interesting to most people, I’m using this spot for it, rather than take up space on CF’s site. I’ll tell Inagua about it and hope to hear back. Here goes.)

This was a double whammy, because you’re saying (1) that teachers are much more likely than others to be dull-witted and self-satisfied, and (2) that I in particular have impressed you in a heap of negative ways.

These suggestions would be hurtful in and of themselves, simply because they’re so unfriendly. Beyond that, though, they were delivered under a posting from Chris Fountain that had begun with a kind of respectful disclaimer addressed to me: “LLS, you’re a teacher, and obviously not one of the folks [lousy teachers] I’m about to discuss, but perhaps you’d care to comment and give your insight.” You took Chris’s friendly, unthreatening opening and converted it to . . . well, whammy.

In addition, I really didn’t see why you’d declare me “fuzzy thinking,” “smug,” and “fact free.” I do remember that not long ago you and I went back and forth over the question of global warming, that you wanted to pin me down on the Richard Feynman statement about predictions and hypotheses, that you wanted to prove that I don’t think like a scientist, and that I refused to behave like a person in the witness stand, obliged to “answer the question and only the question being asked.” This struck you as evasive and irresponsible, I think, but as I said then, I did not want to get into either the issue of global warming itself or the question of whether I accept basic scientific principles.

We enter into discussions on blog sites for many different reasons. I distinctly remember that my reason for posting comments on that particular topic was that I think global-warming deniers (and global-warming believers, for that matter) are going to hold resolutely to their convictions, regardless of strong contradictory evidence. I was accusing Chris of taking an easy escape (from looking into the evidence) by hurling insults at warming proponents and the “sheep” who follow them. You were in that discussion for other reasons, obviously, not to dispute my contention that people hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe. I think you wanted to show me up for a shallow thinker and/or a fool. Maybe not, but in light of more recent statements, it seems likely that you were far more interested in shutting me down than in an open-minded discussion of either global warming or (my specific interest at that juncture) cognitive dissonance/rationalization.

It’s not quite accurate to say “I really didn’t see why you’d declare me ‘fuzzy thinking,’ ‘smug,’ and ‘fact free.’ ” I suspected that your disapproval of me stemmed from various things I’ve posted that you didn’t agree with, and, more particularly, from my uncooperativeness in the global warming discussion. But I think that you jumped to some unjustifiable conclusions. I don’t deny being all those bad things at times, but those are not characteristics of mine. The global warming scenario, which I’m sure convinced you I was fuzzy-thinking and evasive, actually amounted to this (as I more or less said at the time): An honest discussion of the issue deserves a lot more space, time, and thought than can be found in the midst of a multi-person back-and-forth on Chris Fountain’s blog.

Here’s how I think–or try to think–about global warming:

I’ve heard the claims and counterclaims, watched the Al Gore film, clicked a number of blog postings, pro and con. After many hours of honest uncertainty—at least about specific data, claims, and predictions—and many hours of investigation, I could only take my best guess about global warming. My best guess is that it’s real, that a significant portion of it is man-made, and that the consequences are going to prove, though not entirely foreseeable, largely unpleasant. Am I a scientist? Nowhere near. It seems to me that a non-scientist is forced to rely on authorities, much more than one would like. And the authorities I have tended to rely on have strongly indicated that global warming is anything but a hoax. I should add that no matter how much time I spend looking into something, there’s never a point at which I’m 100% certain. In the case of global warming, I’ve more than once put my convictions on Pause and taken another look. Last summer, for instance, I stumbled across a very long video series, available online, that seemed to me to be balanced and authoritative. I started watching the installments without knowing what the presenter’s verdict would be, and I was willing to suspend judgment until I heard his case and weighed his verdict. I came away from the series thinking, “Wow! The deniers are stubborn, but the evidence is pretty convincing.” This echoes a long-held suspicion about people hearing and believing what they want to hear and believe, regardless. (I’ve thought this for decades, and more so with each passing year.)

In the proper space, and given sufficient time, I would be happy to reopen the global-warming dialogue. And I’d be willing to discover, if it’s true, that I don’t think at all like a scientist—that I instinctively reject the scientific principle laid down by Richard Feynman, if that proves to be the case. If you or someone else feels it’s worthwhile to convince me that I’m a shallow-minded fool, I might even give that message serious consideration, because despite what I think is true of all human beings, I would love to be able to rise above rationalizations and self-delusions. If I am actually an idiot, why should I deny it?

The secret of convincing me, though, probably lies in patience. I think you have to sneak up on me, engage me in civil discourse, make it seem as though you respect me. Under such conditions, I am such a gullible guy that I’ll be lulled into complacency and, before you know it, I’ll discover for myself that I’m a lame brain!

Please note: Much of the preceding language will strike you as sarcastic. I don’t deny a sarcastic (or maybe just playful) tone. But, if it’s conceivable to you, I mean every word of it!

Addendum: As a fan of Feynman, you might appreciate this “job interview” that I just found: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ericlippert/archive/2011/02/14/what-would-feynman-do.aspx

Posted in About this Blog, Education, Liberals and Others | 15 Comments

What was YOUR response to 9-11?

I don’t know if this defines me as a liberal, but my response to 9-11 was not anger. It was sorrow.

Several years ago, a writer named Charles Taylor had a piece (in Salon, I think) about his own response to 9-11. He was angry, to put it mildly. He described, in no ambiguous terms, what he would like to have done to the hijackers. When I posted a comment saying I felt enormous sorrow over the atrocities committed–over the realization that a group of extremists could hate America so much that they would give up their lives to destroy us, and that our country would almost certainly engage in one or more wars in retaliation–Mr. Taylor questioned the legitimacy of my un-angry reaction.

What made me think of this now is a recent conversation about a different subject: the savage rapes and murders of a family in Cheshire, Connecticut. As I read the proclamations by angry people who described, much as Charles Taylor had done years ago, their own fantasies about punishing/torturing the perpetrators of the Cheshire crimes, it occurred to me that, once again, I was way out of the mainstream in my profoundly sad, but not angry, reaction to that horror.

Posted in American Society, Human Nature, Liberals and Others | 1 Comment

Kristof to Muslims: I’m sorry

NYT op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof today writes, “I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you. The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you. Muslims are one of the last minorities in the United States that it is still possible to demean openly, and I apologize for the slurs.”

Yes, he says, there are violent and crazy Muslims: “In my travels, I’ve seen some of the worst of Islam: theocratic mullahs oppressing people in Iran; girls kept out of school in Afghanistan in the name of religion; girls subjected to genital mutilation in Africa in the name of Islam; warlords in Yemen and Sudan who wield AK-47s and claim to be doing God’s bidding.”

But: “I’ve also seen the exact opposite: Muslim aid workers in Afghanistan who risk their lives to educate girls; a Pakistani imam who shelters rape victims; Muslim leaders who campaign against female genital mutilation and note that it is not really an Islamic practice; Pakistani Muslims who stand up for oppressed Christians and Hindus; and above all, the innumerable Muslim aid workers in Congo, Darfur, Bangladesh and so many other parts of the world who are inspired by the Koran to risk their lives to help others. Those Muslims have helped keep me alive, and they set a standard of compassion, peacefulness and altruism that we should all emulate.

“I’m sickened when I hear such gentle souls lumped in with Qaeda terrorists, and when I hear the faith they hold sacred excoriated and mocked. To them and to others smeared, I apologize.”

Quite a contrast to the fervid lumping-together we see elsewhere. My right-wing pal, Chris Fountain, recently announced, “I don’t like these people.” He meant Muslims in general, as he later made clear.

Posted in Human Nature, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Guess who’s smarter than the U.S.?

Thomas Friedman in op-ed today: In a year that’s on track to be our planet’s hottest on record, America turned “climate change” into a four-letter word that many U.S. politicians won’t even dare utter in public. And: While American Republicans were turning climate change into a wedge issue, the Chinese Communists were turning it into a work issue. Further: “There is really no debate about climate change in China,” said Peggy Liu, chairwoman of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, a nonprofit group working to accelerate the greening of China. “China’s leaders are mostly engineers and scientists, so they don’t waste time questioning scientific data.”

Meanwhile, our scoffers here in America grow more certain by the day that it’s all nonsense. Guess who’s gonna have us for dinner?

Posted in American Society, Economy, End of the World | Leave a comment

Welcoming the huddled masses

From the Comments section of an earlier entry that was titled “Say something outrageous” . . .

Old School Grump says:

Here’s an “outrageous” proposition to consider:

The best way to solve our nation’s economic problems? Encourage immigration! I mean legal immigration, and lots of it. And all types–from the smart people who come over here to earn advanced degrees but then aren’t allowed to stay (because of our stupid policies), to the poorest Mexicans who, whatever else you want to say, show a damn sight more initiative, risk-taking, and willingness to work than much of our native talent.

That said, we don’t have to be patsies about it. In fact, we should be pretty ruthless about who we accept and what we require of them. And children should have to speak English in school, sink-or-swim. People get all mushy and sentimental about immigration, as if that “huddled masses yearning to be free” bit were an actual policy. It isn’t, and it never was. Immigration policy can and should be self-serving (in an intelligent way, one can hope).

We need to do this 1) to build our math and science and engineering talent pool, and
2) to build our population. The looming Social Security and Medicare shortfalls are due to the dropping ratio of workers to retirees. Tinkering with pay-in and pay-out formulas is needed too, but it won’t be enough, this is an actuarial problem, we need more people in the system.

What are the odds that this country can have a genuine discussion on The Practical Benefits of Dramatic Immigration Reform? Ha ha. The conservatives get too much mileage out of playing the illegal-immigrants-are-destroying-our-country card; the liberals have too much of their self-image wrapped up in “give us your huddled masses yearning to be free so we can coddle them,” and the Tea Partiers, well, that’s just hopeless.

Posted in American Society, Economy | 3 Comments

Spoiled rotten?

Thomas Friedman of the NYT says about America, “We’re No. 1(1)!”–Number 11, that is–and he quotes Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson on the condition of education in this country:

“The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation,” wrote Samuelson. “Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a ‘good’ college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school ‘reform’ is that if students aren’t motivated, it’s mainly the fault of schools and teachers.” Wrong, he said. “Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 percent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 percent cited ‘student apathy.’ ”

A while ago, on local teachers’ first day back on duty this school year, I posted an Onion “panel discussion” about how unfair life is for “students who don’t give a shit.” If you haven’t seen that clip yet, here it is again.

Posted in American Society, Education | 1 Comment

“He piddled around when he had 60 votes.”

Obama, that is.

Maureen Dowd’s op-ed in the NYT features Dowd’s sister, Peggy, a Republican who voted enthusiastically for Obama in 2008 (she had soured on Bush and detested Cheney and Rumsfeld). But Peggy is now disenchanted:

Obama has to get “a backbone” if he wants to lure her back to the fold. “He promised us everything, saying he would turn the country around, and he did nothing the first year,” Peggy says. “He piddled around when he had 60 votes. He could have pushed through the health care bill but spent months haggling on it because he wanted to bring some Republicans on board. He was trying too hard to compromise when he didn’t need the Republicans and they were never going to like him. Any idiot could see that.

Posted in Barack Obama | Leave a comment