30 January 2019

Higher Education & Male Bovine Feces

Notre Dame Professor Christian Smith has had enough, as he writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Some money quotes:
I have had nearly enough bulls***. The manure has piled up so deep in the hallways, classrooms, and administration buildings of American higher education that I am not sure how much longer I can wade through it and retain my sanity and integrity.

Even worse, the accumulated effects of all the academic BS are contributing to this country’s disastrous political condition and, ultimately, putting at risk the very viability and character of decent civilization.
And . . .
BS is the grossly lopsided political ideology of the faculty of many disciplines, especially in the humanities and social sciences, creating a homogeneity of worldview to which those faculties are themselves oblivious, despite claiming to champion difference, diversity, and tolerance.
And . . .
BS is the ascendant "culture of offense" that shuts down the open exchange of ideas and mutual accountability to reason and argument. It is university leaders’ confused and fearful capitulation to that secular neo-fundamentalist speech-policing.
And . . .
Ideas and their accompanying practices have consequences. What is formed in colleges and universities over decades shows up for better or worse in the character and quality of our public servants, political campaigns, public-policy debates, citizen participation, social capital, media programming, lower school education, consumer preferences, business ethics, entertainments, and much more. [In other words, the blame for much of today's societal ills can be laid at the doorsteps of academia.]
And . . . 
Much of American higher education now embodies the problems it was intended to transcend and transform: unreason, duplicity, refusals of accountability, incapacities to grasp complexity and see the big picture, and resorts to semi-masked forms of coercion.

The most disturbing consequences of this long-term corruption are now playing out in our national political culture and institutions.
Well worth the time to read Professor Smith's complete essay here.

29 January 2019

More Negativity About Twitter

From the Associated Press:
If Twitter is the town square for journalists, some are ready to step away.
That’s happening this week at the online news site Insider — by order of the boss. Reporters have been told to take a week off from tweeting at work and to keep TweetDeck off their computer screens. The idea of disengaging is to kick away a crutch for the journalists and escape from the echo chamber, said Julie Zeveloff West, Insider’s editor-in-chief for the U.S.
Addiction to always-rolling Twitter feeds and the temptation to join in has led to soul-searching in newsrooms. Some of it is inspired by the reaction to the Jan. 19 demonstration in Washington involving students from a Covington, Kentucky, high school, which gained traction as a story primarily because of social media outrage only to become more complicated as different details and perspectives emerged.
A lesson for many, that most will ignore. Their virtue requires it, their rage demands it. And not just journalists.
“The viciousness, toxic partisan anger, intellectual dishonesty, motive-questioning and sexism are at all-time highs, with no end in sight,” she wrote. “It is a place where people who are unquestionably upset about any number of things go to feed their anger, where the underbelly of free speech is at its most bilious. Twitter is now an anger video game for many users.”
Spot. On.

23 January 2019

Twitter & Civil War

I don't participate or engage on Twitter. I did set up an account several years ago, but I can't even recall if I ever actually "tweeted" anything. (Is that even the right phraseology?) I've since deleted the account. However, I do read the Twitter accounts of others occasionally. And in doing so I quickly realized that the Twitter universe appears (at least to me) to be a virtual sewer of hate, extremism, personal insults and, most of all, adolescent level arguments. Jumping from outrage to outrage, every news item must be framed in a moral argument. Their "virtue" requires it. Their rage demands it.

So, with this in mind, I came across Damon Linker's very insightful piece about Twitter recently at The Week. I think he's spot on. Below are a few of the money quotes:
This has been a deeply demoralizing week for American media and democratic culture — one with implications that may well point to something far worse.
Linker first discusses the Cohen fiasco reported by Buzzfeed, but then goes on to the incident at the Lincoln Memorial to make his point:
Then, on Saturday, a video appeared on Twitter purporting to show a group of high schoolers confronting and mocking an elderly Native American protestor and Vietnam veteran while wearing MAGA hats at Friday's pro-life March for Life in Washington. By early Saturday afternoon, this video had inspired frantic spasms of denunciation on Twitter — of the indisputably racist teenagers, of their obviously bigoted Catholic school in Kentucky, of the transparently misogynistic and hate-filled pro-life movement, and indeed of anyone who dares to wear a MAGA hat in public.
And . . .
Extreme partisan polarization is combining with the technology of social media, and especially Twitter, to provoke a form of recurrent political madness among members of the country's cultural and intellectual elite. And that madness, when combined with the rising extremism of the populist right, is pushing the country toward a dangerously illiberal forms of politics.
Then this . . .
Much has been made of the way Twitter serves as a megaphone for popular anger that's made more intense by the speed of the news cycle and the distinctive malice and ineptitude of the Trump White House. But too little attention has been paid to what may be the most potent facet of the social media platform: its ability to feed the vanity of its users. There's always an element of egoism to intellectual and political debate. But Twitter puts every tweeter on a massive stage, with the nastiest put-downs, insults, and provocations often receiving the most applause. That's a huge psychological incentive to escalate the denunciation of political enemies. The more one expresses outrage at the evils of others, the more one gets to enjoy the adulation of the virtual mob.
But isn't a virtual mob much less damaging than a real one? I've suggested as much myself, most recently in a column titled "If you think another civil war is imminent, get off Twitter." Yet more and more the venom has been bleeding into the real world, with boycotts, doxings, firings, death threats, and groveling apologies offered to placate mobs wielding digital pitchforks. It increasingly feels like it's just a matter of time before real-world violence breaks out in response to an online conflagration.
But here's the real issue:
What Twitter shows us is a real-time ultrasound of the souls of America's cultural and intellectual elite and its most committed activists — the people in charge of disseminating knowledge and who take the lead in organizing political action in our society. The picture it reveals is ugly, vulgar, shrill, and intolerant, with souls exhibiting an incapacity to deliberate, weigh evidence, and judge judiciously. They display an impulsiveness and unhinged rage at political enemies that is incompatible with reasoned thinking about how we might go about governing ourselves, heal the divisions in our country, and avoid a collapse into civic violence that could usher in tyranny. . . . Nothing, it seems, is quite as satisfying as singling out our fellow citizens for their moral failings and indulging in fantasies of their fully justified punishment.
[All emphasis is mine.]

It is this "moral" aspect of Twitter that seems to make it so attractive to a certain segment (and profession) of our society. Linker is right and it's very disturbing. Very disturbing.

Read Linker's piece here.

03 January 2019

Battles & Bones Postings

I'm posting regularly at the new website and blog now and much less here. That will continue. The latest posts:

Healing a Broken Nation: Civil War Veterans Show the Way

Celebrating the Old Breed

Also, please become a subscriber at the new site so you can receive notices of updates, etc.


01 January 2019

New Website & Blog: Beta Version 2.0

New Website Screen Shot
I hope you all have had a very Merry Christmas and are enjoying the New Year! As I continue to test themes and layouts for the new website and blog, I think I've finally settled on an overall theme and design. While the look and name is different, the central focus remains the same:

"Exploring and celebrating American history,
heritage, adventure and tradition."

I hope to explain later about the evolution, name change and redirection in a detailed blog post. There is method behind the madness. Due to business issues, some family health challenges and other intervening events, this is taking longer than I'd planned. There are, as always, a number of things going with my research and writing that don't make it to this blog. Hopefully, that will change with the new website/blog.

One thing I love about the new platform is how well high resolution images display. I think it really brings a higher level of attractiveness and professionalism to my work.

In any event, please visit my new online home and watch for the first blog post coming soon.

Happy New Year.