Friday, September 23, 2016

Trump or Clinton? Neither!

Happens all the time these days. I post something on Facebook indicating I don’t support Hillary and immediately get this from Jane, a friend of a friend: “So your thought is to elect Trump? And that would be better?”

Instead of writing another editorial, I’ll just give you our ensuing dialogue.

Eric Mader: No. My thought is not "to elect Trump”. My thought is rather: A vote is a vote FOR someone, not merely a vote against someone else. Hillary does not deserve the votes of honest citizens, and I refuse to swell her numbers (and thus the illusion of her legitimacy) by giving her my vote. I will no longer join in the Democrat vs. Republican race to the bottom, but will vote third party. The mainstream Democrats deserve to lose, and I'm willing to take the risk of Trump in office if it will help delegitimize these utter fakes.

Jane Doe: Wow. If Trump wins, our world will be pretty scary, and if you supported the tenets of Bernie you will be in for a rude awakening. Unfortunately, at this time a vote for third party is a vote for Trump.

Eric Mader: You’re just being patronizing, Jane. I'm well aware of what rude awakenings there may be. And no: A vote for a third party is emphatically NOT a vote for Trump. A vote for a third party is a vote for a third party. That's why it's called "a vote for a third party".

Jane Doe: Call it what you will, but a Trump presidency certainly would not "delegitimize these utter fakes". He appears to be the biggest fake of them all. And because you are a US citizen you can express your opinions freely and vote for who you want. Good luck.

Eric Mader: Your response is characteristic. Realizing that I will not be voting Hillary, you immediately change the subject to Trump and how he's a bigger fake than Hillary--"the biggest fake of them all". I think which of these two is the bigger fake is arguable, because they are fakes in such different ways, but ultimately the argument is beside the point.

If a place offered you lunch with the choice of shit in a bowl or shit on a stick, your logic would have to be that the shit on the stick is the only wise choice because, look, the amount of shit in the bowl is larger. My choice is to not eat lunch. Who is wiser? Which is the course of action more likely to put that shit restaurant out of business, yours or mine?

I am not voting for Trump, so I'm not sure why you even mention him. The only way to delegitimize fakes in a democracy is not to vote for them. I'm not going to vote for them. You, however, are in the camp that keeps saying: "Mm, this shit on a stick, it really isn't that bad. Creamy actually. Mm, everyone should eat here."

I worked hard to elect Obama twice, the first time enthusiastically, the second time not so much. For me, this election is not between Trump and Hillary, it's between the possibility of democracy and the reality of corporate control over our whole political process. Whether you can see this or not, it is Hillary who is the consummate corporate candidate, which is why, surprise surprise, so many Republican establishment figures are now coming out in her favor. They're doing so because their Republican commitments, all along, have not been to maintaining a democratic republic but rather to furthering the smooth corporate takeover of our republic--ensuring, in short, that government continues to sell out the population to corporate interests. They know--which is bizarre, isn't it?--that the GOP candidate, this time, is actually a less reliable corporate rubber stamp than the Democratic candidate.

Anyhow, good luck to you. I'm fifty now, and I won't be supporting these people any more. I've spent thousands upon thousands of hours in politics, going back to my undergrad years, and am no longer giving the benefit of the doubt to anyone who's spent as much time sucking Wall Street and the corporate elites as Hillary has.

Check out my book Idiocy, Ltd. and begin the long, hard reckoning.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Despair Election: Michael Hanby on our Exhausted Options

First, go read philosopher Michael Hanby’s brilliant remarks on the widespread sense among people great and small that our political order (the liberalism ushered in by the Enlightenment) is “exhausted” and somehow can’t respond to the crisis we’re in.

Then consider my following comments on how left and right function in our political thinking and day-to-day wrangling--or rather, how they fail to function. I see this dichotomy of left vs. right as one of the subsidiary blinders making our liberal horizon much more difficult to see past.

How might we overcome this impasse and begin to forge a more workable politics of hope?


Reply to Hanby:

One of our problems, along with the conceptual horizons imposed by liberalism, is the obsolete language of “left” and “right” that we continue to apply when weighing our options. This too is part of why we can’t construct a politics of hope, and in my reading this outworn dichotomy helps explain the decline of the left into identity politics and of the right into free-market fundamentalism/free trade or Trumpian nationalism.

Classical liberalism presents itself not as a tentative theory of how society might be organized but as a theory of nature. It claims to lay out the forces of nature and to make these a model for social order. Thus free-market fundamentalism, letting the market function “as nature intended”. It’s an absurd position when applied dogmatically, and no more “natural” than other economic arrangements humans might develop.

The only truly rock solid aspect of classical liberalism in my mind is its theory of individual dignity, the permanent and nonnegotiable value of each individual in essence and before the law. The left has taken this and run with it and turned it into identity politics, which has morphed into a virtual divination of individual desire and self-definition. This is of course something quite different from the classical liberal understanding of the nonnegotiable value of the individual. The capitalist right, on the other hand, has taken liberal individual rights and turned them into a theory of individual responsibility for one’s economic fate, which is helpful in ways, but not decisive or even fully explanatory as to why people end up where they are. Free trade enthusiasts have put a lot of people in dire economic straits, but when you listen to these enthusiasts they speak as if their economics somehow represents nature, as opposed to what such economics really is: a shallow apologetics for the practices of international corporations.

Further, as I suggest, our two camps left and right are no longer even distinctly left and right in any traditional sense. The market forces and self-marketing that lead to the fetishization of identity by the left are the same market forces championed by the capitalist right. In America today, both left and right are merely different bourgeois cults of Self. The right’s cult of Self is the old one of the self-made man, whereas the left’s, an utter betrayal of any real left politics, echoes the thrust of market forces in a different way, playing off the myriad little marketable differences between individuals or demographics. The “left” has thus morphed into just another version of the vast capitalist marketing cult that America itself has become: iPhone, myWorld, iChat, iVictim, SelfieLove, iBornThisWay, iPride, iDentity.

It should be no surprise that the inalienable dignity of the individual, that rock solid core of liberal thinking, grew directly from the Christian soil of Paul’s assertion of the equality of all--men, women, Greek, Jew, freed, slave--in Christ. (Galatians 3:28) The now internationalized Western concept of human rights is merely a universalized version of Paul’s thought, hatched in a Christian Europe by philosophes who didn’t recognize just how Christian they were.

After all the utopian dusts settle, whether the dust of Adam Smith or the dust of PC Non-Discrimination, we must see that the one thing holding us together is this recognition that the political order must respect human rights. The core issue at present, the most fundamental way of respecting human rights, is thus that we legislate in ways that reflect a realistic understanding of these rights. In short, we must wisely theorize these rights if we are to preserve them. As for the right’s free-market fundamentalism/free trade or the left’s PC progressivism, they each are proving to be pipe dreams that don’t address the economic or legal challenges in coherent ways. They each sacrifice true rights at one altar or another in the vast temple of the Market.

The obsolete language of “left” and “right” keeps us blinded to the real human challenges. It keeps us unwilling to grapple with our concrete economic and legal problems, if only because we’re too busy cheerleading either one version of the capitalist cult or the other.

I’m looking forward to Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option (to be published in 2017) mainly as providing some answers as to how the remnant of faithful Christians in this mayhem might both hold their faith intact while perhaps simultaneously developing less utopian modes of thinking about community. For us Christians, the current political order may very well be shaping up to be something like the pagan Roman Empire was to the early church. We finally have to face that, politically speaking, we are in the world but not of it. At least as regards any hope we might have of swaying the forces that capitalism has unleashed via its largely bogus “left” and “right” branches. I do not think left and right are completely useless as political concepts, but that they are less and less helpful in America, as the two sides are coming ever more to resemble each other.

Crucially, we must give up cheering for either of our two national parties, which have grown into one Corporate Oligarchical Party. We must focus our energies elsewhere, in building more solid local communities. When or whether these communities might offer alternative political parties is a different and less pressing question.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The "Deplorables" Reply to Hillary Clinton

“Basket of Deplorables”?

That’s what Hillary Clinton called tens of millions of Americans yesterday, claiming that those opposed to her were racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic.

I know the current liberal PC definition of terms like racist or homophobic, and it's likely I'd be called these things by many an unhinged activist. So I'm with the deplorables myself. And I feel solidarity with them.

We see through you, Hillary. Play your PC “-phobic” card all you want. We’re not buying it. Over the past dozen years, liberals have thrown around the word "bigot" so much that the word has lost its meaning. It is debased. All one has to do is disagree with the robots of political correctness on any small point and one is a bigot. I disagree with them on many many points.

We Americans who see what's going on aren't afraid of your smear words because we see the illegitimate way you define these words. And the way you, Hillary, use them to distract people from their real problems. Namely: Corporate control of our government. Namely: You yourself and everything you stand for.

No. Just because we think Black America needs to officially condemn its gangsta rap culture and take more responsibility for its communities doesn’t make us racist. It makes us awake to what is happening.

Just because we think LGBT activists don’t have the right to dictate sex and gender norms for our whole culture doesn’t make us homophobic. It makes us, uh, sane.

Just because we call radical Islamic terrorism by its real name doesn’t make us Islamophobic.

Just because we don’t of approve our elected leaders (your party, Hillary) exporting our jobs to foreign countries doesn’t make us xenophobic.

We see through you, Hillary. We’ve watched official Washington, your party included, sell us down the river for two decades now. Everything we know about you tells us you’ll do nothing but sell the last bit of us left to be sold.

We see that you have nothing but scorn for our values and traditions. Your former boss, Barack Obama, has shown this scorn time and again. We know you are full of such scorn too. Your words yesterday prove it.

In our minds, Hillary, the real deplorables are those who imagine you will stand for working Americans. We know very well you will not. You will stand for your PC special interest groups on the one hand, and Wall Street and the corporate boards on the other.

We see through you. We don’t accept your insulting labels. We are not "racist", "homophobic", etc., etc. We are Americans with our own vision of what our country should be. And we aren’t going to give you our vote in November. Count on it.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Full LGBT Rights--Or Else

If you're not bowing to this flag already, you'd better start soon.

We LGBT Americans have had enough. Though progress has been made in recent years, we are still far from the full rights we demand. It is time, finally, for the heteronormative majority to recognize our rights. It is time that federal and state governments put in place and enforced laws to crush once and for all the rampant homo- and transphobia that continues to guide this deeply sick culture.

What are the full rights we demand?

First and foremost, it is necessary that all Americans recognize our right to fully control people's thinking about sex. We LGBT citizens represent a massive 3.8% of the US population, yet there remain people out there who are allowed to live and hold steady jobs while refusing to bow to our wisdom on all matters related to sex, marriage, gender and child rearing.

This is intolerable. It is a clear breach of our rights. Such holdouts against the ultimate triumph of our ideology must be silenced, and if they will not shut up and learn to think and speak as we tell them--if our demands continue to be ignored, we can only respond by enacting yet stricter laws to threaten their employment and their hateful religious institutions.

Because enough is enough. Who do these people think they are claiming that boys are boys and girls are girls, that humanity is divided into two sexes? Who brazenly continue teaching this sick ideology in their homes and churches (which will be closed if they aren’t careful)--who ARE these people anyway and why don’t they just SHUT UP?

The disconnect in some people's heads is almost impossible to credit. Don’t you even understand where you live? You live in the United States of America. Don’t you realize that we LGBT activists have a constitutionally protected right to force you to parrot our every pronouncement?

The existence of these backsliders underlines a sobering truth. Though we have made progress, hurdles and roadblocks remain. Yes, thanks to the wisdom of the Obama Administration, and after many many years (almost three) of bitter struggle, we now control all discussion of sex and gender in American public schools. Any public school districts out of sync with our ideology will lose federal funding. Any teacher who doesn’t employ our psychojargon in the classroom will be publicly shamed and hounded out of a job. As is only right.

But this is not yet the endgame. We must keep moving forward. America’s schools are only part of the picture. In homes and “religious” settings across the country, offensive ideas about sex and gender continue to be foisted off on innocent children. It is a scandal that cannot be allowed to go on.

Everyone now recognizes that being LGBT brings with it a better understanding of human sexuality and family than that held by merely heterosexual citizens. The science is clearly on our side. We LGBT activists are naturally the best people to be directing education policy, and we finally do direct it, but the important issue of how children are taught the facts of life in other settings remains far too open. The status quo is intolerable and we will not let it continue.

Those who persist in naysaying our plans on this front will soon come to regret it. Parents of heterosexual orientation, and particularly parents with Christian leanings, had better get their priorities queered within the next few years or we are going to have to take the gloves off. That day will not be a pleasant one for those found shirking their responsibilities.

The trans movement has a crucial role to play in the proper LGBT authority spectrum that we are bringing about. It is here that the holdouts are most starkly revealed. If you are such a holdout, it is here that we will unmask you.

Incredibly, there are still parents out there who do not accept that their son, at age 4 or 5, has the wisdom and knowledge of sex to decide if he is a boy or a girl. There are still parents out there who think it is their right (rather than the right of LGBT-vetted school administrators) to decide what’s best for their children. It’s hard to believe, but these people do still exist.

We’re now finding that some of these “parents” even get upset when they learn that schools have been instructed not to inform them of their child’s new declared gender identity. Which is amazing. I mean DUHHH!--the schools are only doing it to protect your child, who may want to begin hormone therapy and live according to his or her or their or zir new identity.

Think about it. Our school administrators are trying to protect your children from any undue or backward influence you might have on them, and all you offer in gratitude is complaints and threats.

Don’t you understand who you are threatening? We are the “Love wins” people. We are the people who lit up the White House in rainbow colors. When we say “Love wins”, it means love as we define it. Anything you might have called love previously, anything that doesn’t fit our definition, is actually hate. Haven’t you figured this out yet?

The LGBT movement is getting fed up with this ongoing parental interference. Your child has rights. If your daughter decides she wants to be a boy during some months of her childhood, then she simply IS a boy. Why don’t you people understand this? She has a right to allow us to declare her a boy. And once declared, she must remain a boy--that’s what she IS--and we demand that you recognize our right to administer hormone blocking treatments and, eventually, breast removal.

If your son is seen at some point playing with a Barbie doll--quick, change his name from Dan to Demi and start the hormone therapy before his stubble starts to grow in. Later we'll remove the offending male parts, government paid. Sure, he’ll be in and out of psyche wards now and then, the hormones will lead to secondary health complications, but so what? The main thing is he will grow up to join our rainbow voting block. And that is crucial for our takeover to succeed.

In Britain claims of gender nonconformity among young people have surged more than 900% in the past few years. In short, things are going as planned. You won't stop us now.

By interfering in the sacred process called Transition that only LGBT-approved doctors and administrators can guide, you only threaten your child’s well-being. We cannot allow that to happen. We are the arbiters here, the Obama Administration says so, the next Clinton Administration agrees, and we will continue to implement our agenda through the laws we enact.

Do you want these laws to get even more invasive and punitive? No? Then why not just go along? Why not be a smart little rainbow butterfly and float with the hot air we blow? Because let me tell you, it’s only going to get hotter.

Among that useless and perverse demographic called Christians, we are glad to see many people waking up and choosing prudence over self-destruction. Like David Gushee, who has wisely abandoned Christian teachings on sexuality and embraced our rainbow revolution:

It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. This is true both for individuals and for institutions.

Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.

This is the kind of Christian we can work with. Prof. Gushee, president of the Society of Christian Ethics, knows that in order to avoid our wrath, it is best to just submit. Unfortunately, there are many others out there who are not good Christians like Gushee, and who continue to put their hopes in a Jewish peasant from two-thousand years ago, who managed to get himself crucified, rather than in the leaders of our movement or prominent cultural figures like Lady Gaga.

Gushee knows what's up. If you don't agree with us, we will "come and find you".

I have already said a few things about the importance of the trans movement. But I want to mention another issue that continues to put speed bumps in the path of our turbocharged steamroller. I hesitate to even raise it because it’s now so passé, but there’s no telling what dinosaurs lurk out there. The issue is marriage.

We LGBT activists know what marriage is, as we should, since we rewrote the book on it. We rewrote it together with the Supreme Court last year. So it’s really unfortunate that some people continue to think of marriage in terms of what their religious tradition or the history of the world (which stretches back a mere handful of millennia) tells them it is. To stick so stubbornly to such outmoded ideas when already same-sex marriage has been accepted by a small fragment of the world’s population and for almost five years--it’s really too much to swallow.

Don’t you people know that one way of determining what is true or false is to look at the calendar? It is now 2016. Think. Things accepted by a percentage of people in 2016 must be truer than things accepted by all humanity since the beginning of recorded history. That’s just progress. It’s obvious. You look at the year and the simple truth will hit you: If it’s past the year 2000, that must mean SERIOUS PROGRESS is happening. And progress being ultimate truth, and LGBT people having a UNIQUE ACCESS to truth . . . hmm, it all points in the same direction, doesn’t it? LGBT people are the VEHICLE OF TRUTH AND PROGRESS!

This is what’s called a calendar syllogism. It’s both logically valid and perfectly true. We are the Vehicle. If you don’t want to become part of the pavement, watch your step as you cross the street.

It’s a lofty calling, being the Vehicle, but nobody should be surprised it fell to us. Being gay, trans or queer, we simply KNOW. We know the real meaning of sex and gender, the essence of marriage, how to raise and educate children, etc. Which is why, again, we’re now insisting on our full rights. For us who simply know, full rights means the right to be right about whatever we claim and the right of anyone who disagrees with our claims to be called a bigot and suffer legal consequences.

That is another syllogism. Equally valid and true.

A bit of cultural history: We came into these full rights to perfect rightness about everything thanks to a seismic shift in the understanding of liberal society, which we were sure to push along when we first discovered it. Yes, there are throwbacks and dead-enders in the America population who still believe in the old idea of pluralism--i.e. that groups with different faiths or ideas about fundamentals might still recognize each other’s rights to peace and prosperity and might still live side by side in the same republic. We were sharp enough early on to reject this outdated pluralist idea of America when we discovered the new concept of diversity.

What diversity means is this: Any ideas of whatever cultural or ideological background can be respected and given space if they match our own ideas. And: Those who show thinking that diverges from ours are not to be considered diverse enough and must be silenced.

This diversity we’ve championed is now the real meaning of America, as you will see by visiting any university campus. It replaces the old defunct practice of pluralism which allowed for far too much diversity in public speech and thinking and led to LGBT people feeling offended when other citizens didn’t show sufficient cognitive meekness.

Given the triumph of diversity over pluralism, Americans who hope to continue holding down a job must demonstrate their diversity by affirming us in our various LGBT identities. They must affirm the full rights of LGBT people to determine public discourse related to sex and gender and they must bow to the Human Rights Commissions we set up to punish those who don’t.

So: If you are not ready to affirm us in our full right to rightness, you are not a true American. You are just a bigot, and bigots are worse than the lowest criminals, some of whom might be LGBT people and thus have redeeming qualities.

We hold these truths to be self-evident. The sacred truths that those alone possess who can claim an alphabetically-designated sexual identity will continue to march forward until the Rainbow Flag shall be all in all. You who do not bow to this flag while there’s still time, where will you stand on that day? You will have no ground to stand on. Better to just bow down today.

David Joseph Stern
Philadelphia LGBTQIA Human Rights Commission

Check out my book Idiocy, Ltd. and begin the long, hard reckoning.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Zombies and the Great Cursive Debate

I can’t remember when I first heard about the heated debate going on over cursive back in the US. I do however remember my reaction: “Figures.”

Living as an expat and teacher in Asia, I’ve watched my country from overseas since the mid-1990s, and have learned to expect that if a policy represents dumbing down, most Americans will be cheering it on.

Reading the debate in the press, I found the usual predictable points made by the anti-cursive camp--"It will save classroom time!” key among them, of course. But was more depressed by the often misguided counterpoints made by the pro-cursive camp--"How will kids read their grandparents' old letters?" etc.

Given the lame level of this debate and the generally bad pedagogy in vogue, I could see the pro-cursive camp was fated to lose.

And they did. Cursive is now federally frowned upon. Yet another card pulled from the teetering house of cards.

The pro-cursive camp, I think, would have done better if they'd just stuck to basic truths in this debate, like reminding their adversaries: “You’re all fucking MORONS! Remove handwriting from education? You're fucking IDIOTS! We're going to SECEDE!”

I'm actually convinced this is the only way to deal with these people. Debating them is impossible. Just call a spade a spade.

Then we'll set up an alternative state somewhere else on the globe where watching reality TV is a punishable offense and kids learn not just cursive but also classics and manners and also that there are two genders, male and female, rather than seventeen.

Jump to this month, August. A few days ago a high school friend of mine, I’ll call him Steve, who graduated from the University of Chicago no less, and who, as a technophile, considered himself in the anti-cursive camp, posted on Facebook a New York Times editorial by one Anne Trubek opining that cursive was unnecessary and that “the kids will be alright.” This bit of offensive NYT blather is titled “Handwriting Just Doesn’t Matter”. And the kids aren’t alright. They already aren’t alright, never mind what they “will be” after a dozen more years of the anomie we’re raising them into.

I should point out that Steve and I have both just turned fifty, that we remain good friends since we left high school in the 1980s, and that we tend to disagree strongly on what are called "hot button" issues. The caption Steve added to his posting of Ms. Trubek's article showed his typical approach of cool optimism whenever such questions come up:

Soon the conspiracy theorists will be claiming that this is yet another example of turning our children into brainwashed automatons. Change is tough. Especially on the old.

For Steve, anyone who points to educational decline and sees the culture going to hell is just being “alarmist”. I’ve written him before about his scary inability, as a University of Chicago graduate, to differentiate between its and it’s and compliment and complement and suchlike things, but carping on English usage to Steve is counterproductive. He replies with an emoticon with its tongue stuck out. If he’s forced to use actual words, they are: “Lighten up dude. Its not important.”

For Steve, people who even use words like civilization are being alarmist by definition. Because, don’t you know, civilization grows on trees. And there are trees all over, dude.

The first two of Steve’s friends to comment in the thread were also in the “Civilization? Who cares?” camp. They wrote:

MARY S.: Oh thank you thank you thank you for posting this article, Steve! I feel like I am shouting into the wilderness when I say that cursive offers no special cognitive advantages over printing, no special ability to "read historical documents" (as someone who actually has read handwritten historical documents, I can assure everyone that older styles of penmanship are so different from our own that knowing cursive is no help--plus, why waste millions of precious learning hours teaching something that only the tiny minority of kids who go on to be academic historians will ever use?), no special fine motor skills that couldn't be better taught by learning to cook or sew a button back on. Change is hard, except for those of us who remember sitting inside on a beautiful day, hunching over our desks for hours a week, papers at a perfect 45-degree angle, meticulously drawing little parallel lines. My son is old enough to have had some cursive in school, while my daughter didn't have it at all. Let cursive go the way of button-hooks, itchy starched collars, and other anachronisms!

ALANIA C.: YES! I hurt my wrist and write like crap and then this. Well played universe, well played.

I couldn’t let all this slide. The Pokemon Go phenomenon already has me in a bad state this summer, and seeing all this on a friend’s wall, I had to deliver a few punches. The thread went on as you see below. What surprised me, this time, is that in the end I actually won Steve over. That is a rarity. In fact I'm not sure I’d ever before convinced Steve of anything.

ERIC MADER: The end of cursive handwriting would be a great cultural loss. The decline of writing on paper is already a serious loss. For many reasons. One of the most basic reasons being cognitive. Studies have shown it.

In general you’re a geek about these things, Steve. But get something in your head: You and your friend Mary and the others in your camp will eventually be devoured by cyborg zombies. And in my mind, the worst thing about this is that you'll probably all enjoy it. Hell, you’re half-devoured already.

I ain’t even gonna debate this with you it's so fucking obvious. I live in a culture where kids, just in order to READ, have to learn three thousand different handwritten characters. We're talking thousands upon thousands of hours of practice. And this basic hard work of learning the writing system deepens their respect for the content they learn and sharpens their skills in so many ways. So that in most other subjects, often even including the foreign language ENGLISH, they could outperform their American peers who over there in the States can graduate high school by learning to wipe their asses and spell their names. I've seen this happen over and over--kids leaving Taipei and going to school in the US and realizing it's a joke. I have kids, in regular public schools here, who study English no more than an hour or two a day and have larger ENGLISH vocabulary and better spelling and grammar than the majority of American kids their age.

“Millions of precious learning hours wasted" on cursive? It’s a fucking joke. Many of my pre-teen students TEACH THEMSELVES English cursive just for fun. They do it in a couple afternoons. After which they'll often hand me homework and essays in English in perfectly functional cursive.

SHAME on America. “Hours wasted” indeed!

STEVE L.: I didnt write the article man. And I guess you didnt read it, because according to the article (and I dont have an opinion on this actually as I dont know enough about cognitive brain functions) what you say is not true when it comes to learning. But hey, take it up with the author. And as for being a zombie, you too will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

ERIC MADER: You posted the article man. And I did read it and have read into the positions of the two sides in this debate. And this NYT piece, in the spectrum of this debate, is simply DAFT. Its arguments are shallow. It's typical of a new strain at the NYT, a paper growing DAFTER and DAFTER every year. Along with the whole country.

When we all hit 70 or so, if we're still around, we're going to see just what kind of culture our "reforms" and “advances" have brought about. The key difference is that you, muttering "Holy shit", are going to be surprised. I'm not.

Resistance will continue.

BRIAN D.: Steve, I don't need cursive to write this: I will wrestle you for food. Cursive is just one stop on the road to anarchy. And no, I don’t need to read the article to register my desire to wrestle you for food. THAT should be a given.

LOUISE B.: Aside from the arguments made in the article, my gut (a pretty accurate scientific barometer, if I do say so myself) dislikes the loss of any learning opportunity. My sisters were forced to conform their writing through hours of repetition. Though I learned cursive, it wasn't perfected at their level. I believe we should throw cursive at the kids just to expose them to the art of written language. Cave drawings, the development of written language around the world, evolution of cursive, etc. Let kids play with it: feather quills, calligraphic nibs, roller balls, the speed of texting and typing--let them play with all of it.

STEVE L.: I would be happy to say the jury is still out. I can also say this: I haven't actually written in cursive in any extended way, save my signature, in years. I also don't think that the merits of learning cursive have ever equalled the seeming abuse left handed writers have faced in American schools. But who knows, maybe learning cursive, just like riding horses (animal empathy) or chopping wood for fire (connection to environment) has/does make us better people. I simply don't know. Apparently you do, on the cursive issue anyway.

ERIC MADER: I haven't done algebra in 30-some years, or much of any other math other than calculating percentages. I haven't worked through a geometric proof either. That doesn't mean I would subscribe to arguments that we should get rid of these basic elements of education just because they aren't "the skills needed for the job market".

That you personally haven't written in cursive doesn't mean much. I write almost everything important that I write on paper, in CURSIVE, and many writers of the books published every year do the same. If I didn't know how to write cursive, my handwriting would be slowed considerably, and I'd need a digital device of some kind to keep recording words at the pace of my thoughts. I'd be seriously hampered if for some reason a digital device wasn't at hand. I short, you take away cursive skills, and you take away a huge swathe of important cultural work, journal writing, personally handwritten notes, novels, poetry, etc., that is better done, according to many professional writers, on paper first. And you permanently link that very crucial cultural process called writing to access to digital devices. Are you sure you want to do all this?

I would have to say that yes, on this issue, I do know the right side.

STEVE L.: Excellent points. Consider me converted. Not kidding. Reason. It is a great thing.

ERIC MADER: Glad to hear. You’ve proven yourself an honest man. But that has a downside. When those cyborg zombies come to finish you off a couple decades from now, if you’re still an honest man, you won't actually enjoy it like I thought.

The arguments of mine that convinced you are really only a small part of the question of what is at stake in this kind of debate.

Anthropologists GET the fact that societies or civilizations hold together in myriad complex ways, often in ways that nobody in the society itself understands or knows consciously. Anthropologists have documented in case after case how pulling out only a couple little rivets is all it takes to cause the whole culture to fall into decline. Pulling out this or that rivet, especially in a practice as central to us as reading or writing, is going to have complex interactions with the whole of the structure. It’s going to have repercussions that we can't foresee. Any change, however reasonable or practical it may look at the moment, may play a role in ushering in things we really don't want.

All advanced civilizations that we know of have taught the young to write by making marks or characters on some surface. Forming these written marks BY HAND. We don't know of any advanced civilization that HASN'T included this practice. The upshot: We simply can't know much about what a civilization based on typing, texting or voice input (which is where it will lead) will be like. Going that direction as a pedagogical norm or goal, we may very well be undermining a whole host of other things in ways we can't even predict. Again: for a certain kind of cognitive development alone I strongly suspect handwriting is crucial.

Yes, resistance may be futile given the fast-growing cyborg zombie demographic. But I would still say: Resist!

Eric Mader

Check out my book Idiocy, Ltd. at and begin the long, hard reckoning.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Hugh Hochman Reviews Idiocy, Ltd.

Bookish Asia has just posted a review of my Idiocy, Ltd. by Prof. Hugh Hochman of Reed College. Hochman is a sharp reader. Go check it out.

And pick up your own copy of Idiocy.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Drawing of Giacomo Casanova by his brother

Still working our way through a novel--can you guess which?--in our small Saturday reading class, I was telling the four boys a bit about the great Venetian lover Casanova, alluded to in the book. We’d read enough that day, so I gave them a challenge. They had thirty minutes to write out a Casanovan narrative of their own and had to use as many of the words in the handout vocabulary list as possible. The words:

Results from Anthony, Felix, Ryan and Shawn. I edited the tales for grammar, but the narratives are theirs.



by Anthony

He stepped out of the Santa Lucia Train Station, taking in the extraordinary view. He was seeing it for the first time.
     “How beautiful!” he said aloud, and, thinking back on his plan, a sinister grin appeared on his face.
     His name was actually Casanova--yes, the same name. He’d just read Casanova’s Story of My Life, finishing it some weeks earlier, and he considered the lines illuminating. He’d immediately decided to take the man as his ancestor and namesake, and decided as well to do what his great ancestor had done in the 18th century. So he had come to Venice.
     “Plan A”, he thought. “This will almost certainly work, so I won’t have need for any Plan B.”
     He took an object from his elegant Italian bag and placed it under the sun. A crystal prism!
     “Okay, c’mon, ladies,” he thought, peaking at the passing women from where he was standing.
     The prism refracted the sunlight into a rainbow of colors on the slab of marble where he’d placed it.
     To his surprise, none of the women even stopped to look.
     But in fact somebody did notice him, a man standing not far away. A frown bent his face. It was “Alhambra”, nickname of this particular Venetian policeman.
     “What’s that guy up to?” he thought.
     Casanova looked around in disappointment. “Why?” he wondered. He felt it extremely strange that the women showed no interest in this magic of light and color he had brought.
     “Newton was English, not Italian,” he thought. Maybe that was it. In any case, since he’d prepared no Plan B, he put the prism back in his bag and began to walk around. As he walked, he kept his hand on the prism in his bag, which alarmed the policeman watching him.
     Casanova strolled through the streets trying to come up with some Plan B.
     “What’s he going to do?” Alhambra wondered, stalking not far behind.
     Passing through the city and across St. Mark’s Square, Casanova reached the Bridge of Sighs. He remembered some superstition that kissing a woman under the bridge would lead to success in love. He waited.
     Moments later, a girl passing by stopped and looked at Casanova.
     “Who’s she?” Alhambra wondered.
     Since the girl had made eye contact, Casanova stepped up to speak to her.
     “She will have a sudden girlhood crush on me!” he thought. He had dressed himself with understated elegance for his first adventure in Venice, and his clothes gave him confidence.
     He began talking with the girl, and though she began to walk away, he didn’t stop. He followed her closely, talking all the while, asking if she had ever seen a prism refract light.
     The girl felt a growing anguish in the presence of this nervous man speaking English to her. After enduring it for a few minutes more, she shouted: “Stop, please! You are overbearing and swashbuckling!”
     Casanova was taken aback by the odd words she’d chosen. While he wondered how to reply, the girl slipped away.
     Alhambra still had no idea what was going on, and couldn’t understand why this foreign man kept his hand in his bag.
     Casanova then wandered to a different quarter, Alhambra not far behind. In a quiet neighborhood Casanova began to peer through the quatrefoil perforations in the stone surfacing of an old building.
     “No,” Alhambra thought. “Not . . .” Alhambra moved closer.
     A woman’s voice was heard from within. “Pervert!” she finally yelled in Italian.
     The woman came out the entrance, still in her underwear, wielding a broom to hit the foreigner who’d spied on her.
     “You are under arrest for invasion of privacy!” Alhambra announced, seizing Casanova’s arm.
     “No!” Casanova cried. “I just--“
     “If it were up to me you’d languish in the lead-roofed cells atop the palace, you English scum!” Alhambra yelled.
     “But I was just--“
     “This woman is my wife!” Alhambra said, dragging Casanova away.


[The “Mr. Ma” mentioned in the story is the former president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-Wen the current president.]

by Felix

The very day that Mr. Ma finished reading his copy of Casanova’s My Life, the Alhambra exploded, but that’s not important.
     The important thing is that Mr. Ma decided to become just like Casanova and go to Venice. In Venice he knew he would find his boyhood crush, Tsai Ing-Wen, since she was going there on a state visit to the Venetian Republic.
     Mr. Ma approached her on St. Mark’s Square. But as he approached, he also noticed a handsome Italian man with a six-pack doing a perfect swashbuckling scene to impress the foreign woman. Fortunately, after the scene was over, that man had some business, so Mr. Ma seized his chance to ask her on a date. She thought he looked familiar, was a bit suspicious, but finally accepted, and their date on the Grand Canal was everything Mr. Ma had dreamed it would be.
     Over the following months in Venice, he did the same thing to hundreds of women young and old--but especially old.
     One day, Mr. Ma was hitting on a Russian model when the same man appeared, but this time he had a twelve-pack and huge pecs that were bigger than his own head. The man threw Mr. Ma against a low-slung lead-tiled roof and began to beat him savagely.
     But suddenly, the Ghost of Casanova appeared to protect his follower Mr. Ma. The Ghost was now taller than Taipei 101, and it appeared holding a rubber slipper, the kind you can buy at any thrift shop. He swung the slipper down on the man with the twelve-pack, but he swung with such force that the whole city was broken apart and began to sink into the lagoon.
     And so the ancient legend was fulfilled that said the great city of Venice would be destroyed by a rubber slipper.


by Ryan

A man in Japan named Cusinowa, inspired by the holy book The Life of Casanova, decided he would model his life after the famous Venetian. So he bought another book from Amazon called How to Seduce Italian Girls and read it carefully. Thirteen days later he packed up his books and notes and boarded a flight to Italy.
     He got lost in the Marco Polo International Airport and met the first interesting girl in the men’s room there. It was a boyhood crushed because within thirty seconds he found certain things about the girl to be disgusting. Cusinowa abandoned her and set out to find his next target.
     The first chapter of How to Seduce Italian Girls said it was necessary to find a nice suit, so he went to buy a pair of jeans and a pair of handsome binoculars. He thought his outfit had understated elegance. He finally found the train to Venice and arrived in the city without incident.
     Cusinowa thought the best way to show how handsome he was was to pilot a gondola by himself. His first customer was a girl, and he happily piloted the gondola into one of the smaller, less busy canals so he could be alone with her. He soon found out it wasn’t a canal, but a sewer ditch that carried the city’s flushings into the sea. Cusinowa, the prow of his canal now stuck in a huge pile of poop, realized he was in trouble.
     The girl happened to be the niece of Antonio Pimponi, former head of Venice’s Department of Historical Preservation. She phoned her uncle to send rescue and had Cusinowa incarcerated in a sea level room in the prison next to the Ducal Palace. It is there that Cusinowa languishes today, waiting for the flood that will drown him and doing his best to concoct sushi plates from the small sea creatures that wash through his barred windows at high tide.


[Ryan, writer of the previous tale, is made the main character in Shawn’s tale. Ryan is a dedicated fanatic of curry dishes.]

by Shawn

After Ryan finished reading The Life of Casanova, a copy of which Eric had given him for his birthday, he couldn’t get the famous womanizer out of his mind and decided that becoming a 21st century Casanova was the best thing a young man could hope for. Borrowing money from everyone he knew, he used the sum to buy a ticket to Venice. To his great frustration, he took the wrong flight and ended up part of a tour group heading to Spain.
     “I can’t afford another flight,” thought Ryan. So he decided to follow the tour.
     Visiting the Alhambra, he broke away from the group and set out on his own. He had put on his understatedly elegant black suit that day, which made him stand out, given the June heat.
     Around lunch time he caught sight of a curry stand behind which a slim Pakistani girl was making curry. The sight of slim girl, the smell of curry, and the June heat struck him with a sudden force. This was more than just a boyhood crush.
     “That’s my spicy stuff,” he thought. “The love of my life!”
     He took out his wallet and stepped toward the curry stand.
     “Hello,” he said to the girl. “It must be hot selling curry in such weather--and hey, your stand even has a lead-tiled roof! That’s crazy!”
     The girl said nothing to this, busy making another customer’s order.
     “Please give me . . . uh, your best curry chicken,” Ryan said, “along with . . . er, your milk tea.”
     “Okay,” the girl said.
     Ryan got his curry and started eating, the whole time watching the girl.
     Before he had half finished half his meal, a policeman approached.
     “Papers?” he said.
     “Huh?” Ryan said.
     “Your passport,” the policeman said. “Please show it to me.”
     “Uh, I don’t have it,” Ryan said. “I’m with a tour group.”
     What Ryan didn’t know was that the police were looking for a terror suspect, a Pakistani immigrant whose complexion and height were not very different from Ryan’s, and who also was known to prefer wearing suits regardless of the weather.
     “Come with me,” the policeman said.
     And so Ryan never finished his curry that day, and never again saw his beloved Pakistani curry girl. Three days later, when he had finally cleared up his identity with the police and returned to the street where he saw the stand, she was nowhere to be found.

Shawn Chuang (莊崴翔), Ryan Tsai, Anthony Huang (黃聖翔), and Felix.

Whatever are you waiting for? Read my new book Idiocy, Ltd. and begin the long, hard reckoning.