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Category: Culture

The best that has been thought and written and why these ideals are difficult to meet.

August 7, 2010 | 15 Comments

What The Sale of Barnes and Nobel Means To Reading

Not too long ago, on the outdoor-shopping-mall-like 86th street in New York City—chain stores everywhere—Barnes and Noble opened a new store. Enormous, wide aisled (a rarity for stores in the city), plenty of space for videos, music, games, stationary, seating, author speaking room, kids play area, coffee, biscuits, and on and on.

There’s books, too. But not too many because people aren’t buying a lot of them.

So if you’re thinking about buying B&N just for the real estate, you won’t need that big a truck to haul off the merchandise.

If you can afford the mortgage, you won’t just get the store on 86th, but the stores in the giant strip malls in various rural neighborhoods, like Los Angeles and Dallas.

But before you put in a bid, it might help to know that last month was the first time that more e-books were sold than real ones. At Amazon, of course. B&N sells books for their rival Nook reader, but only a trivial amount.

Thus, you’ll be buying a store that is selling a product—real books—that fewer and fewer people want.

B&N recognized this years ago when they began swapping out space used for books for expensive biscotti, lattes, and discounted Sports Illustrated calendars.

We can bet that whoever buys the stores, a good many of them will be closed. The people in the area of those closed shops who still want books will be forced to drive a long way to rival stores, or, more likely, they’ll just log on to Amazon.

Which will put the pressure on the remaining physical stores, and a lot of them will go bust. Forcing more people to go on line. And so on.

Books, of course, will survive, but in greatly diminished number. Ten years from now it will be a rarity to find a store devoted to selling new real books.

Now, once a person has bought a real book and read it, or bought it and acknowledged that they’re not going to read it, they can haul it down to a used bookstore and sell it.

Other people will wander into that store to discover new authors, or just to buy cheap books.

But if fewer are buying new real books, then it follows that there will be fewer used books to sell. Ten years from now, used bookstores will still exist, but the survivors will call themselves variants of “Antiquarian” or “Rare” book dealers. These people will be selling antiques, not books to be read.

The shift towards buying e-books will increase—this does not mean that reading will increase. I predict fewer people will read complete books in electronic form.

Novels will be read completely at rates greater than non-fiction. This is true for real books, but the proportional difference in rates will increase, while both rates decrease absolutely.

Worse, if everybody buys e-books, then there will be no used books. Strike that: you don’t buy an e-book, you license it. You do not own the e-book, you are granted permission to use it for as long as the owner decides. There is nothing that you own that you can sell.

Specialty markets will continue, such as kids book-toys (which are meant to be played with, not read), gift books (which are designed not to be read), and college textbooks (which are rarely read).

Since people’s patience for reading hundreds of pages of uninterrupted text is rapidly waning, e-books will usher in the new golden age of the short story. These fiction pieces will be just long enough to sustain a commute, say, between two- and four-thousand words.

Books and long-form reading will survive, but will be seen as a curious but interesting hobby, much like wood carving or choral signing.

Those found perusing thick tomes will be assumed to be scholars, big-brained folks who possess secret powers. This is already true.

There is a stock scene in movies where the protagonist is shown reading a battered copy of Plutarch, Herodotus, or perhaps William James. The intent of the scene is two-fold: to demonstrate that we’re dealing with an obviously intelligent person. But it also instills envy. The viewer thinks, “Boy, I wish I could read like that.”

The idea of reading a book is so strange that the viewer doesn’t discern that he can if wants to. All he must needs do is to enter the library and borrow these books—at no cost.

At least, that’s what he can do until libraries stop stocking real books.

August 6, 2010 | 46 Comments

California Judge Reverses Prop 8: A Right To Marriage?

A judge in California has, as we have all heard, struck down the publicly created law which bans two-person, same-sex marriage. This was no surprise, as most expected that this contentious case would spend many days in court.

Marriage between male and female is found (or so we have read) in all cultures, both historical and modern. The tradition for this view of marriage is long and deep.

Polygamy, which is marriage between one (usually male) and many (usually females) is rarer; and in many or most of those cases, one of the females is usually seen as the “first” or “head” spouse. The tradition of this kind of marriage is shallow and variable.

Marriage between three or more mixed sexes—groupings variable in number and composition—is exceedingly rare, and barely, if ever, countenanced. There is no tradition at all for these experiments in living.

For a moment, consider only traditional, male-female marriage. Forget the talk of reproduction, religion, and so on. For it is important to understand what most have forgotten. Marriage is not a “contract” between a male and female. That is, it may be partly that—the couple usually pledge allegiance of some kind, such as forswearing all others; again, traditionally—but marriage is not predominately an inter-personal contract.

Instead, marriage is a “contract”, or rather agreement, between the couple and the culture in which the couple lives. It is the culture which confers the special status of “husband and wife.” Marriage, culture says, is different, legally, religiously, and morally, from, say, two (or more) people merely cohabitating.

Another way of stating this is to say that it is everybody but the couple that confers the right of marriage. After all, the couple looks to society and asks each member of that society to recognize the couple’s bond, a bond to which is attached certain privileges and responsibilities.

To emphasize: it is other people, not the couple, that confers the right (and duties) of marriage.

Californians created a law which said, in essence, “We recognize traditional marriage only.” We can now see that this is another way of saying that the majority of the voters (especially the large majorities of Black and Hispanic people) did not want to confer a newly created right.

The judge who canned the law argued that society is wrong and that society must confer the right, a brand new right the judge was lucky to discover. They must, that is, abandon tradition and create a new culture.

There are three points of interest here. The first is tradition itself. As already said, by any reading of history, tradition is on the side of two-person, male-female marriage.

Those outside of two-person, male-female sets who want conferred upon them the status of marriage paradoxically ask to be part of tradition. That is, they want the trappings of marriage: the ceremony, the rights and, although we rarely hear about these, the responsibilities. But they also want the tradition overthrown, or abandoned. There is no solution to this paradox.

The other point is the wisdom of the judge over the wisdom of society. Now, it is certainly possible that the judge, acting in a parental fashion, knows what it is best for all society. And not just in the legalistic sense. The judge could have, for instance, nullified the proposition because it was discovered somebody forgot to dot an i.

But this is not what happened. The judge instead claimed that the right of marriage for two same-sex persons was there all along, only hidden from view. Society must confer this new right, sayeth the judge.

Once more, it is logically possible that the judge is correct, and that society should be coerced into doing something it does not want to do. But wholesale changes of these kinds, where entire traditions are upset, are never painless and are always, at the least, tumultuous.

The third, and most fascinating point, is that the judge, in slaying tradition, only discovered a right for two same-sex persons. He did not (yet?) unearth a right for three, four, or more mixed-sex persons. Nor did he tell us that people and cats could be wed.

Pose these kinds of scenarios to supporters of the judge and they will scoff and consider such absurdities unworthy of answering. In not answering, these supported admit defeat, or at least admit that their arguments are not sound.

Some see this and say it is obvious that marriage is only between two people. But, of course, that argument can only rely on tradition, but only on the part of tradition that they find comforting to their desires.

Since our California judge made this decision, which has already being appealed, the only thing for certain is that the acrimony has just begun.

August 3, 2010 | 17 Comments

Everybody Has A Mental Disease: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5

I am so far Up North that I heard a radio interview with Uncle Ted Nugnet on the best kinds of arrowheads to bring down feral pigs. Internet still only once daily mlh


Step into my parlor, and let me wave my diagnosticulator at you. OK, let me just consult the book.

Ah! Just as I suspected. Since you yelled at that IRS agent during your audit, we know you suffer from temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria. This is normally seen in children, and is what we used to call a temper tantrum. Actually, it is a mental disease.

When seen in adults such as yourself, it requires medication, if not confinement. It’s for your own good.

And speaking of children, you have some, do you not? With a guardian such as yourself already known to be suffering from a mental disease, your children are at risk. In fact, I’m going to write a prescription for Psychosis Risk Syndrome. You just give them these pills, OK?

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-V is on its way. Just as did DSM-II, DSM-III, and DSM-IV, the fifth entry in this best seller from the American Psychiatric Association will expand the number, kinds, and ranges of mental disease.

Thus, the APA will have fulfilled at least one of its functions: providing job advocacy for its members.

As in previous editions, we can predict that the creators of the maladies will be as certain sure that the diseases they discover will be just as real as the old diseases they discovered and said were real, only to later say that they were not.

For example, homosexuality, which used to be a mental disease classified by the DSM, is now normal. In DSM-IV, “problems with law enforcement” was a disease, and in number five, it won’t be. Why? Because of “cultural issues”. Cancer is cancer whether you are Chinese of Zimbawayan. But a mental disease can depend on where you live?

Anyway, now “heartache over a lost spouse” will be a disease “Suck it up, Bob. Everybody dies. What made your wife special? Walk it off before they come at you with the nets.”

According to an official draft which was released in February, “internet addiction” nearly made the cut. But the consensus committee to develop a consensus—all science is done by Consensus nowadays; didn’t you know?—thought they couldn’t quite get away with this one.

Still, it was too sexy to ignore. Reports are that it will be relegated to the Appendix. As if that will stop shrinks and social workers from making the diagnoses.

Even if they cannot (yet) officially use “internet addiction”, they can still take somebody’s iPhone from them, and if those deprived squabble, they can be hit with “miscellaneous discontinuation syndrome.”

Is it merely your malcontented author complaining, or is there something untoward occurring in the ranks of the white-coated lithium prescribers? After all, we know more about the brain and its functioning now then we knew when the last manual appeared in 1994. Shouldn’t these advances be incorporated?

Professor Til Wykes from Kings College London coauthored an editorial in the August issue of the Journal of Mental Health arguing that DSM-V is “leaking into normality. It is shrinking the pool of what is normal to a puddle.”

Docs at Psychiatric Times, social workers at New York University, and others are are writing in to say, “Slow Down.”

We can visualize the so-called progress of the DSM with this cartoon, which shows the range of human behavior.

At the extremes, people are considered, or actually are, nuts. But as time progresses, what used to be considered eccentric, is viewed as abnormal and in need of medicating, or at least worthy of employing members of the APA to treat.

Nobody, not even the APA, disagrees that, according to the progressive editions of the DSM, a narrower and narrower range of behavior had been labeled “normal.”

If this trend towards limiting acceptable behaviors continues, psychitary will soon be indistinguishable from psychoanalysis or scientology, systems in which it is believed everybody suffers and must be “made clear”, and where only occult experts can guide one on the path to enlightenment.

July 31, 2010 | 12 Comments

Professor Fired For Offending Friend Of Student (Then Rehired)

Whatever you do, don’t diss John Stuart Mill or Jeremy Bentham at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. You might just “offend” the friend of a student, and will thus be out on your keister.

Here’s what happened: according to the Alliance Defense Fund, Kenneth Howell, an adjunct, sent an email to his class explaining the dismal philosophy of utilitarianism.

It is crucial to understand that Howell’s class was in the Religious Studies Department, and the course was “RLST 447 Modern Catholic Thought”. The blurb for that course reads:

Traces the history of Catholicism in its interaction with the modern world from the sixteenth century to the present, concentrating on the uneasy relationships that Catholicism has sustained with the modern world. 3 undergraduate hours. 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: RLST 127 or consent of instructor.

Now, anybody but a UI administrator or a modern student—defined as a student who already knows everything that she will be taught—would read that blurb and expect that the nature of the “uneasy relationships” the Catholic Church has with the modern world would be explained.

But, no. See, before the final exam, Howell sent an email to his class defining utilitarianism and its relationship to morality and the Catholic Church. He sent this because the material was to be part of the exam.

A friend of student—not the student—was frightened by Howell’s explanation. She was—I’m guessing it’s a “she”; the accused nowadays is not allowed to learn the name of his accuser; the “seriousness of the charges” trumps four-hundred years of English common law–she was offended!

I can think of no crime short of racism that is as horrific, as brutal, as soul-searing—scratch that: no soul here; make it awareness-searing—as being offended! The mental abilities of UI administrators allowed them to agree with this assessment of the egregiousness of Howell’s crime, and mere moments after the receipt of the email, Howell was shown the door.

Due to the ADF, the agitations of some students, and, amazingly, some other faculty members, the UI administrators did what they do best: cower. Howell was reinstated, in a weak way. The administrators were quick to acknowledge only one thing: they had done no wrong.

How about Howell’s class email? He said:

[B]y what criterion should we judge whether sexual acts are right or wrong? …Utilitarianism in the popular sense is fundamentally a moral theory that judges right or wrong by its practical outcomes…[A] man who is trying to decide whether he should cheat on his wife, if he is a utilitarian, will weigh the various consequences. If the cheating side of the ledger is better, he will conclude that it’s okay to cheat. If the faithful side is better, he will refrain from cheating…Utilitarianism counsels that moral decisions should NOT be based on the inherent meaning of acts. Acts are only good or bad relative to outcomes.

Thus far, an excellent summary. Howell then makes the sound logical deduction—this argument really does follow from utilitarianism—

If two men consent to engage in sexual acts, according to utilitarianism, such an act would be morally okay. But notice too that if a ten year old agrees to a sexual act with a 40 year old, such an act would also be moral if even it is illegal under the current law. Notice too that our concern is with morality, not law. So by the consent criterion, we would have to admit certain cases as moral which we presently would not approve of.

Howell then contrasts one of those uneasy relationships the Catholic Church has had with the world and explains “Natural Moral Law (NML)” and its relationship to certain activities between men. In a non-graphic manner, he suggests that these acts are sometimes injurious to the health of the practitioners, an empirically true statement.

To round out the Catholic viewpoint, he says,

Natural Moral Theory says that if we are to have healthy sexual lives, we must return to a connection between procreation and sex. Why? Because that is what is REAL. It is based on human sexual anatomy and physiology.

Since Howell’s gray matter is more densely packed than a UI college administrator’s, he had the sense to anticipate squeamishness, and so ended his missive:

All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult….Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter. [emphasis mine]

That last line, my dear readers, is what sunk him. How dare he imply that unless one actually study the history of moral thought, one cannot make judgments about moral truth! The darlings at UI don’t need to study. They already know!

Update Let’s not forget that the University of Illinois happily employs—with tenure!—terrorist Bill Ayers.