05.20.19 | Children...Why?

The decision to parent back in the Eisenhower days was largely the default condition, reflecting the country's post-WWII swagger and industrial strength balance sheet. The world was made safe for . . . . breeding. Thus arose the demographic bulge -- the Boomer Generation --  which moved through time, in that visually compelling phrase, like a "pig in a python." Those excessively domestic fifties gave rise to what some labeled the "cult of the child," denounced by one literary critic at the time as "this most maudlin of primitivisms."

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Steve SmithComment
05.13.19 | Free Will

Are you reading this sentence as an exercise of free will? No, you are not. You are exercising your freedom of choice, certainly, but said choice was established before you even made it. Free will is an illusion. So say followers of determinism i.e belief that all behaviour has a causal connection and is thereby predetermined.

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05.06.19 | On Writing

Author Anne Spencer Morrow (wife of Charles Lindbergh) put her finger on a fundamental truth when she observed, "Writing is more than living, as it is being conscious of living." Even (maybe especially) the young diarist knows how the blank page can be a wonderful way to "work things out."  No audience is necessary, or even desired. The privacy, the very anonymity of it all, invites thought on fire. Some continue the therapeutic practice throughout their adult years.


Compare such private stream-of-consciousness writing to the demands of compelling fiction as reflected in, say, novelist Ernest Hemingway's articulated machismo, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." Of course he bled. Not for nothing was he the esteemed Hemingway.

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Steve SmithComment
04.29.19 | No More Consensus

There's a fantastic question I was asked several years ago that has stuck with me. The question was, "what important truth do you believe that few people agree with you on". 

At the surface, to find an answer seems simple. One quickly discover, however, that most answers are not novel but in fact common knowledge. "Education is important", "we need to learn to work together", "progressive taxation is good", etc. Though these are all answers that are widely agreed upon, they don't satisfy the "very few people agree with you" constraint. 

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Ian Reid Comments
04.22.19 | Now Listen, Whitey (Racism)

Here's one Whitey who listens from the heart. Kyle Korver, the NBA shooting guard for the Utah Jazz, provides the most tender, personal, and affecting commentary on the subject of racism that could ever be delivered on the white side of the tracks (link: Privileged). While no white should ever presume to speak for a person of color, the piece does invite an honest discussion at a fundamental human level. This Member Monday session is dedicated to the proposition that failure to openly and honestly address the topic of racism only drives it further underground where it continues to metastasize.  

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Ian ReidComment
04.15.19 | Drug-Resistant Superbugs

There are times when nature, even if temporarily, mocks our attempt to control her. Take public health. The ebola outbreak provided a glimpse of the skull beneath the skin of post-industrial civilization. That was preceded by the AIDS epidemic. Before that, poliomyelitis infected 600,000 Americans, ten percent fatally. The epidemic of Spanish influenza in 1918-19 killed more than half a million in this country alone. And so on, back to fourteenth century Europe where "Ring around a rosie!" described the telltale symptom of the Black Death which wiped out half of that entire continent.

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Ian ReidComment
04.08.19 | Fight Club Politics

"Many of my friends and City Club members tell me they are sick of politics, and have had it with the extreme partisanship that has divided our country more than anytime in our history, other than the Civil War." Sina Simantob, The Weekly.


Amen to that. Note the underlying dynamic:

“Imagine your boss, who is kind of a jerk, needs your help to finish his projects. If you help him, he’ll keep his job, maybe get a promotion. If you refuse to help him, you’ll become his boss, and he might get fired. Now add in a deep dose of disagreement — you hate his projects and think they’re bad for the company, even the world. That’s basically American politics right now. Bipartisan cooperation is often necessary for governance, but irrational for the minority party to engage in.” That principle, from our focus article (link: The political scientist Donald Trump should read - Vox), speaks volumes of where we find ourselves today -- bloodsport politics, gridlock, and the dialogue of the deaf. In its most basic terms: once a political party has decided the path to governing is winning back the majority, rather than working with the existing majority, the incentives transform; instead of cultivating a good relationship with your existing colleagues across the aisle, you need to destroy them because you need to convince the voters to destroy them, too. 

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Steve SmithComment
04.01.19 | Solitude (Nature)

Maybe not right away. Maybe refrain from reading the focus essay until the time is right -- when you find yourself most comfortable in your own company, preferably after a solitary meditative "walk in the woods." Only then might you appreciate Thoreau's essay, Solitude (link: PDF).

Even then the writing may at first come across as a tad off-putting. Time-traveling to Thoreau's 1845 Massachusetts Walden Pond requires a certain suspension of present-day reality in the same way the study of a foreign language requires a force-fit into a different cultural context. Some heavy lifting is required. It's worth it. A decade or two of life experience makes this a very different read from what you may recall as a pimply four-eyed adolescent trying to cop a grade in your high school english class.

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Ian ReidComment
03.25.19 | Collapse of Trust

Psychologists sometime speak of the false self. Now apply the term in the most literal sense to the unfolding world of the elite college selection process -- from the extremes of the reported world of photoshopped faux athletes and bribed entrance exam proctors to the more mundane examples of the oft-cited ghostwritten essays, fudged transcripts and tightly focused preparation courses. The notion that certain applicant "positioning" may be quite legal (e.g. one's check-the-box performance for years and years in advance as if to edit oneself into some sort of standout doppelgänger) does not change the fact of the underlying motivation is essentially one of creating an inauthentic self.

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Steve SmithComment
03.18.19 | Political Correctness

It's hard to know if we're being played. We are confronted with anecdotal evidence of free-speech suppression on the campuses e.g. feminist critic Christina Hoff Sommers dissed at Lewis & Clark Law School; Jordan Peterson, the self-described free speech warrior, shouted down at McMaster University. Such events certainly make for compelling coverage by the mouth-frothing, feed-me, feed-me, 24-7 omnivore television news network…

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Steve Smith Comment
03.11.19 | The Socialist Seduction

It's not like we've ever shied away from taking a hard look at capitalism. An earlier Member Monday discussion centered around a synopsis of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, the unapologetic embrace of the free market (see Capitalism: MM 05/22/17). There was much "energy" about the real-world implications of her credo (Objectivism), especially given today's reality of resource constraints, global interdependence, deepening income disparity, regulatory capture, and a distorted monetary system…

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Steve SmithComment
03.04.19 | The State vs. Socrates

Would you choose to die for the sake of principle? If so, what principle(s)?

We will wipe the figurative dust off a few old Greek marble statues and resurrect a discussion some 2,500 years ago, this time through modern eyes. Socrates back then was facing the death penalty. The facts of the case would evoke an eye-roll, even laughter, today (and perhaps back then). The charge: studying things in the sky and below the earth, corrupting the youth through inappropriate questions, and believing in unauthorized gods. Jury: about five hundred random, "non-expert" citizens. Sentence: death by mandated suicide. Rationale: hard to tell. Possible exacerbating circumstances: Athens' recent stinging loss to Sparta; the accuser's (Meletus) demagoguery, and maybe a touch of chutzpah (not a Greek word).

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Steve SmithComment
02.25.19 | Artificial Intelligence

The debate in Paris in 1975 resonates even today in the world of machine learning. The topic: the nature of human cognition. Noam Chomsky, the noted linguist and intellectual, held that babies are born with in-built rules and instincts that help them develop the knowledge needed to navigate the world; Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, argued rather that babies are effectively blank slates that acquire knowledge on-the-fly from their world experiences.

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Steve SmithComment
02.11.19 | Sharing V-Day Sentiments

One version has it that Valentine's Day originated in the Middle Ages to commemorate the warbling of songbirds as they finally emerge from the dead of winter to start looking for a mate (another version marks the beheading of a holy priest ordered by Claudius II in 278 A.D. after performing marriage ceremonies for otherwise-eligible army conscripts ). In any event, the mating dance for us creatures with a neocortex involves a little more than just warbling.

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Steve SmithComment
02.04.2019 | Full Faith and Credit

Start with the dollar bill in your wallet. Actually, this piece of paper is labeled a Federal Reserve Note. A note suggests it's a debt instrument i.e. that someone owes you something. What does this even mean? There's no real obligor, no claim against some balance sheet or, in fact, a claim to any real asset at all. The "legal tender" language thus suggests its worth is presumed without regard to something tangible. That legally imposed (fiat) presumption is supported by an intangible called full faith and credit.  All one can do with this irredeemable piece of paper is trust the next guy will value it the same way. 

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Steve SmithComment
01.28.19 | Reefer Madness

If there were ever a film to cure any nostalgic pangs for the good old days this would be it. Originally titled "Tell Your Children," this church-financed American propaganda piece made in 1936 revolved around melodramatic events that ensue when high school students are lured by pushers to try marijuana -- hit-and-run accidents, manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, hallucinations, and descent into madness. This would-be morality tale smoldered in the shadow of the 40s and early 50s (at one time panned as one of the worst films ever made) until it was rediscovered and relabeled Reefer Madness to wonderful satirical effect. Watch the trailer . . . . and be thankful you now live in such an enlightened world Reefer Madness ORIGINAL TRAILER - 1936 (Not the full film)…

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Steve SmithComment
01.14.19 | Standardized Testing Revisited

It's the major rite of passage, perhaps second only to one's trip through the birth canal. Most of us sat for the SAT. Break the seal with your No. 2 pencil . . . . and go! The ensuing four hours could determine one's future. A few achieved the holy grail of 1600 (or equivalent) -- name in the local paper, acceptance into the scholastic pinnacle assured. For others, the results could relegate the test-taker to the backwaters of academia, maybe to life itself.

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Steve SmithComment
01.07.19 | All In Our Lifetime

It's probably the best one-line take on the subject of history: History is just one damn thing after another. Yet, as we once discussed (MM 3/20/17), these damn things are said to occur in patterns. Our book subject back then -- The Fourth Turning -- stands for the proposition that history, far from being a collection of random events, moves in predictable cycles. Each grand cycle, a so-called saeculum spanning the length of a long human life of roughly eighty years, contains four generational "turnings" that arrive in a fixed pattern as life phases intersect with events and react to the generation which spawned it. Five hundred years of Anglo-American history demonstrate how history creates generations just as generations create history.

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Steve SmithComment
12.17.18 | Flawed? Us? Me?

Judge not. Seek first to understand. We humans are flawed. What makes us that way is the subject of our focus article (link: The Worst Of Human Nature), a very readable digest of the extensive research into that which makes us . . . . what, exactly?

Three philosophical views have prevailed historically on the subject of man and child development: the Original Sin (children born bad, necessitating societal constraints for proper development); Tabula Rasa (John Locke, children a blank slate); Innate Goodness (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, children born pure and should thus be left alone to grow naturally without societal contamination).

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Steve SmithComment
12.10.18 | Spirit in the Sky

The prospect of death invites a peek into the world of metaphysics. Member Monday (12/10/18) is dedicated to the two Highland community members we recently lost. Actually, it is dedicated to each and every one of us -- to us, simply different cars on the same train. May we endeavor to share our respective views on the nature of the soul, spirit, and the other immeasurables even if in doing so it feels like both an accommodation to the necessity of language and proof of its inadequacy.

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Steve SmithComment