“Why are Nigerians among the most successful Americans? What privilege did they have? What privilege did Koreans have to make such success in one generation?”
I like to think of myself as a rational man, so I spend most of my time somewhere between irate and livid.
“Last Saturday marked the 60-year anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that desegregated America’s public schools.
Again and again, we still hear the unscientific mantra that the only difference is ‘skin color.’ When we are told that ‘African Americans were underrepresented by 48 percent in gifted education,’ the implication is that this is solely due to white racism rather than a natural dearth of gifted black students.
After 60 years, is it still accurate to call it ‘prejudice’? Forget about ‘separate but equal’—maybe what many Americans have learned over the past few generations is that even if you force everyone into the same classroom, they’re still going to be unequal.”
“Yet for all his self-pity and sense of persecution, on at least one occasion Nixon showed a striking degree of self-knowledge. In a conversation with an aide in the early weeks of his exile, Nixon reflected on what had brought about his downfall. He said to the aide, ‘What starts the process are the laughs and snubs and slights that you get when you are a kid. But if you are reasonably intelligent and if your anger is deep enough and strong enough, you learn that you can change those attitudes by excellence, personal gut performance, while those who have everything are sitting on their fat butts.’ He had appointed tough guys as his aides, he said, because he wanted people around him who were, like him, fighters. He went out for high-school and college football, and the fact that he had no real athletic ability ‘was the very reason I tried and tried and tried. To get discipline for myself and to show others that here was a guy who could dish it out and take it. Mostly, I took it.’
And then Nixon recognized the danger of such an approach to life: ‘You get out of the alley and on your way.’ At first it was easy. ‘In your own mind you have nothing to lose, so you take plenty of chances. It’s a piece of cake until you get to the top.’ Then came the danger. ‘You find that you can’t stop playing the game because it is part of you … So you are lean and mean and resourceful and you continue to walk on the edge of the precipices because over the years you have become fascinated by how close to the edge you can walk without losing your balance.’
‘This time it was different,’ the aide responded.
‘Yes,’ Nixon replied quietly. ‘This time we had something to lose.'”
“To an elderly and frail patient, the stranger who addresses them as a close friend sounds invasive and insulting. They are erasing that final vestige of autonomy that the elderly patient clings to. I remember my late mother, during one of her many hospital stays, pleading with a nurse to address her as ‘Mrs Odone’. Nothing she said budged staff: nurses and some consultants insisted on calling her ‘Ulla’ – which, being a Swedish name, they mangled every time. In the end, like so many others in a similar condition, she gave in and let them do it their way. Everyone knows that making yourself unpopular with your hospital carers can prove a fatal mistake.”
My very elderly grandfather was in hospital on his deathbed and nurses were addressing him as “Ross”, a nickname derived from his middle name. I was 15 at the time and even I could see that this was not right. He was 89 years old, a World War II veteran, a retired senior executive, a retired charity chairman and a lay preacher who retired after 40 years of unpaid service. In his final days, a nurse who he did not know, who was decades younger, who he may have never met while conscious was calling him by a name even I as his grandson could not use.
Even though I imagine this is merely what she was trained to do, in an abstract way, it felt like she was taking advantage of the situation. After all, if the situation were different and he were on his feet and well, it is hard to imagine her being so presumptuous.
“More than 40 percent of American students who start at four-year colleges haven’t earned a degree after six years. If you include community-college students in the tabulation, the dropout rate is more than half, worse than any other country except Hungary.”
Recently, popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has received some well-deserved public flogging for dismissing the value of philosophy.
And then there’s Stephen Fry. I have liked Fry for quite a long time, but all this attention in the last few years for being an intellectual (and not merely a funnyman and an actor) has clearly done things to his brain that have not been altogether positive. I appreciate how his great show with Hugh Laurie repopularised P. G. Wodehouse but somehow, some way, Fry and the general public got it into their heads that he really is Jeeves.
He occasionally latches on to famous atheists like Dawkins and the late Hitchens, who are also British men with accents refined enough to sound intelligent but whose words, phrasing and attitude are vulgar enough to keep the masses entertained. A number of people have said that Fry is the stupid person’s idea of what an intelligent person would be like and I think his performance on QI is a good show of that.
In a way, he is playing a character on QI in the same way as his fall guy Alan Davies: he is the clever one and Alan is the stupid one. Anybody who knows intelligent people, people who actually do know lots of obscure and interesting bits of information and who can quote lots of things in lots of languages do not act anything like Stephen Fry in QI or his other appearances. The way he overpronounces foreign words as if he has any idea of what he’s saying and other such peculiar and obvious affectations belie his origins as a sad luvvie. As Kathy Shaidle says “Stephen Fry is, in fact, the very sort of person Stephen Fry would mock mercilessly, were he not already Stephen Fry”.
Dawkins was actually quite reasonable early on, saying that he was not completely sure of atheism and so forth, but, as with Fry, as his fame and followers grew, he slowly lost the plot and reduced the concessions he was willing to make. Blogposts and YouTube videos abound with titles like “Stephen Fry Dismantles the Catholic Church”. I mean, come on. If anybody is going to “dismantle” the Roman Catholic church it is not going to be a celebrity saying a series of mean things. Similarly, if anybody is going to seriously make a go of pushing the idea that there is no God for years and years, it’s not going to be a popular biologist like Dawkins. The idea that science in general is the great Opposition sitting on the benches across from religion, jeering and criticising is completely disingenuous and I have yet to encounter a theologian who really feels this way.
Theologians, especially evangelical ones, will debate these people because “souls are being lost” and things like that, but that does not in any way mean that evolutionary biology et al. undermine religions like Christianity which are based on a large collection of stories and poems, which are freely admitted to have being written by men who were not perfect and who may not have necessarily been trying to report precise facts anyway. Allegory and metaphor are big parts of teaching in general, but probably more so in the ancient Middle East.
In a way, the fact that intellectuals of any kind are still capable of getting a lot of attention is probably a good thing. I just wish they would do more good than harm.
I’ve known rich and I’ve known poor, and when it comes to neighbors, I have to say, the rich have been cheaper for me.
“But the big picture is clear. While tolerant and undemanding mainstream religions struggle to hold on to nominal adherents, radical religion punches above its weight. Indeed, for good or ill, it’s one of the major drivers of social change in the 21st century. Watch this space.”
“But it’s hard to be truly prepared for a country so full of contradictions, divisions and delusions that some argue it is barely a country at all. By the time I left — actually, long before the Bin Laden raid — I was a wreck, prone to emotional outbursts, extremely cynical about religion and disillusioned by practically every actor involved in the Pakistani drama.”