Michael Chabon after a week guest-blogging at Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Novelist time is reptile time; novelists tend to be ruminant and brooding, nursers of ancient grievances, second-guessers, Tuesday afternoon quarterbacks, retrospectators, endlessly, like slumping hitters, studying the film of their old whiffs. You find novelists going over and over the same ground in their novels—TNC was talking about Gatsby last week, Fitzgerald’s a prime example—configuring and reconfiguring the same little set of preoccupations, haunted by missed opportunities. That may be because getting a novel written, or a bunch of novels, means that you are going to miss a lot of opportunities, and so missing them is something you have to be not only willing but also equipped by genes and temperament to do. Blogging, I think, is largely about seizing opportunities, about pouncing, about grabbing hold of hours, events, days and nights as they are happening, sizing them up and putting them into play with language, like a juggler catching and working into his flow whatever the audience has in its pockets.

My tweet was kidding; I did not procrastinate on reading the New Yorker article on procrastination (which is dated 11 October so you probably already saw it, I just clicked on it now while procrastinating on reading Susan Orlean on social networking):

A two-stage experiment provides a classic illustration: In the first stage, people are offered the choice between a hundred dollars today or a hundred and ten dollars tomorrow; in the second stage, they choose between a hundred dollars a month from now or a hundred and ten dollars a month and a day from now. In substance, the two choices are identical: wait an extra day, get an extra ten bucks.

No, that’s not identical. In the first option, you are waiting twice as long as you would otherwise; in the second option, you are waiting an extra 3% as long. 3% is a marginal tax to pay in return for $10; $10 is not much to give up to cut your waiting time in half, or by even more than half. This sounds like a book written by economists; surely they know something about how money and time interrelate.

(I translate everything into percentages and sales. 10% is not much of a discount, but 25%? that’s a good sale, makes me consider buying something. 50% is a “buy-it-now” or “stock up” discount. Helps me figure out what’s worth being upset about.)

In other words, hyperbolic discounters are able to make the rational choice when they’re thinking about the future, but, as the present gets closer, short-term considerations overwhelm their long-term goals.

I don’t know. Taking the relative value of time into account sounds pretty rational to me, but I’m a procrastinator.

(And if it was a choice between getting $100 right then and sending in a form or having to make a trip or cash a check to get the $110 a month later—fuck, $10 ain’t worth paperwork or errands and I know that’s a rational choice.)

I have the knowledge to teach Shakespeare. I don’t have the wisdom to teach Basic Comp.

Fretful Porpentine at Quills

He repeatedly declares that good technology requires the liberal arts, to global audiences.

Now (okay, couple weeks back, I’m slow) he shoots down the classic student entitlement whine.


Because I have had such good experiences as a college student using Apple products, I was incredibly surprised to find Apple’s Media Relations Department to be absolutely unresponsive to my questions, which (as I had repeatedly told them in voicemail after voicemail) are vital to my academic grade as a student journalist.


Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry.

Jobs is a wacko, and there are plenty of days I hate Apple despite being a die-hard Mac user, but you gotta appreciate.

The Chronicle has a provocative piece on 10 Myths About Legacy Preferences in College Admissions. It’s a nice article, worth reading—the author Richard Kahlenberg posted in the comments that additional information is available: one chapter of their book is available online, and he plans a follow up post, and I’m half posting this to remind myself to go back and read it.

(I’m lackadaisically in favor of legacy admissions as part of my general belief that universities have never been meritocracies, but always instruments of social engineering and therefore ought to have quite a lot of leeway to engineer as they see fit.)

I’m just gonna be a bit snarky about a tangent, though (all emphasis in any quotations in this post added by me):

A generation later, two new legal theories are available to challenge legacy preferences. First, Carlton Larson, a law professor at the University of California at Davis, lays out the case that legacy preferences at public universities violate a little-litigated constitutional provision that “no state shall … grant any Title of Nobility.” Examining the early history of the country, Larson makes a compelling case that this prohibition should not be interpreted narrowly as simply prohibiting the naming of individuals as dukes or earls, but more broadly, to prohibit “government-sponsored hereditary privileges”—including legacy preferences at public universities. Reviewing debates in the Revolutionary era, he concludes: “Legacy preferences at exclusive public universities were precisely the type of hereditary privilege that the Revolutionary generation sought to destroy forever.” The founders, Larson writes, would have resisted “with every fiber of their being” the idea of state-supported-university admissions based even in part on ancestry.

Oh, please. How do you even write that sentence without saying “oh, wait, slavery. Gee. Hmm.” Every fiber of their being. Really.


Thomas Jefferson famously sought to promote in America a “natural aristocracy” based on “virtue and talent,” rather than an “artificial aristocracy” based on wealth. “By reserving places on campus for members of the pseudo-aristocracy of ‘wealth and birth,'” Lind writes, “legacy preferences introduce an aristocratic snake into the democratic republican Garden of Eden.”

Again, how do intelligent people manage to put together those words and take them seriously?

But, really, we don’t need to focus on slavery here. I want to see a whole pile of direct quotations before I’m convinced that leading eighteenth-century politicians even contemplated the concept that there might possibly be a difference between education and intelligence, and that they should do something about that.

I have no intention of researching this further, but it took me five minutes to come up with this old history of the University of Virginia, discussing Jefferson’s planning for the school that would open in 1819 (based on how history used to be written, I bet this is a pretty close paraphrase, but I also bet that the letter itself is available online somewhere for those who really care.):

In no form did these ponderings find a weightier expression than in his famous letter to Peter Carr in 1814. In that letter, he again laid down the various lines which a system of public instruction, in his judgment, should follow. Again he broadly declared, by way of introduction, that every citizen was entitled to an education commensurate with his condition and calling in life. How was this to be determined? By the social station to which he belonged. The whole community was capable of division into two classes: (1) the laboring class; and (2) the learned class. Members of the first would require elementary tuition to qualify them for the proper performance of their tasks; members of the second would need it as an indispensable forerunner to further study. So soon as the primary school had been left behind, the laboring class were expected to begin the pursuit of agriculture, or serve apprenticeships in different handicrafts, while, on the other hand, the learned class were expected to enter the colleges

Does anyone know at what point advanced education began to be separated from wealth, on a widespread scale?

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a beautiful piece on compassion over at The Atlantic, which I will not undermine by selectively quoting here. You should go read it. But I will pull out a tangent, which is a nice sound-bite:

The problem with rage is that it’s a conversation-stopper, it forecloses all other questions.

and a comment from reader and sometime guest-blogger Cynic, about being a plantation owner in the antebellum south:

You sketch a compelling picture of the thousand strings tied to any man who wishes to abandon the core social structures of the world in which he lives, to abandon his status and privilege and obligations. That sort of change is wrenchingly hard. But I find it harder to empathize with those who simply accepted this state of affairs, or worse yet, defended it. Jefferson, at least, strained all his life against those thousand Lilliputian ropes, by his exertions pulling his society a little further towards his ideal. He never severed the bonds, to be sure, which I suppose makes him a hypocrite – he enjoyed, and exploited, all the privileges they conferred. But I prefer the tormented hypocrisy of the individual sinner working for moral reform to the perfect complacency of the obdurate sinner defending the sinful society.

I am almost seduced by Cynic’s language—

I prefer the tormented hypocrisy of the individual sinner working for moral reform to the perfect complacency of the obdurate sinner defending the sinful society.

—into liking Jefferson, but truly, I’ve always thought Jefferson’s hypocrisy was worse than those who moved blindly through their world in unseeing conviction that brutality and exploitation were merely the natural order of things.

Whom do you find harder to forgive?

I drafted this nine months ago, and never published it for some reason (fisking seems so outdated?), but although it’s from the journal of the American Enterprise Institute instead of the American Spectator, I am currently fired up with hatred for the faux intellectual approach of the would-be conservative intelligentsia, and so am posting it now.

For a wonderfully designed and written indictment of this tendency that is not completely outdated, please see The Economist on Dinesh D’Souza on Obama.

A wee blog post from Charles Murray, of The Bell Curve fame. This is the entire post, from 23 December 2009. I am obliged to rant.

I’ve been marooned in Paris the last three days, waiting for a plane home after the snowstorm mess (“Poor Charles,” you’re all saying). Last night, having been struck by how polyglot Paris has become, I collected data as I walked along, counting people who looked like native French (which probably added in a few Brits and other Europeans) versus everyone else. I can’t vouch for the representativeness of the sample, but at about eight o’clock last night in the St. Denis area of Paris, it worked out to about 50-50, with the non-native French half consisting, in order of proportion, of African blacks, Middle-Eastern types, and East Asians. And on December 22, I don’t think a lot of them were tourists.

Mark Steyn and Christopher Caldwell have already explained this to the rest of the world—Europe as we have known it is about to disappear—but it was still a shock to see how rapid the change has been in just the last half-dozen years.


Europe is changing, becoming polygot, multicultural. Fine. Nothing racist about recognizing that. It’s not even necessarily racist to lament it, or think it’s a bad thing. Even if you think it’s a bad thing because you hate non-white people, sure whatever, that’s your privilege. And if you want to focus on place of birth rather than on passport to define French, well, that’s a legitimate approach even if I disagree.

But this—what Charles Murray actually wrote, as opposed to what he might hypothetically mean—has no legitimacy. None at all.

I collected data

You walked down the street looking at people. Trying to dress up bad research methods as scientific. Not okay.

counting people who looked like native French (which probably added in a few Brits and other Europeans)

Hmm. If you pay some bit of attention to dress or facial movements, I’m pretty sure it’s not that hard to winnow out most of the British people in a crowd of Parisians. So, I strongly suspect you were counting people with white skin and defining that as native French? Not okay.

about 50-50, with the non-native French half consisting, in order of proportion, of African blacks, Middle-Eastern types, and East Asians.

And where did you categorize the inhabitants of the Caribbean islands Martinique and Guadeloupe, which are PART OF FRANCE, making them native French people who are also black. You don’t seem to know such a category even exists. Ignorance of relevant facts is not okay.

Nor do you appear to be aware the word “native” refers to place of birth, not ancestry, nor that immigration has happened for a very long time, nor that immigrants often have children. Not okay.

It’s the intellectual dishonesty I can’t stand.

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