A Few Ways Of Looking At Atlantic City

It can be the right kind of fun, but the steep drop from glittery artifice to gritty despair in Atlantic City is enough to make even the most contented reflect a little.

Across the street lies the baffling gaze of a woman, gripping the edge of her lawn-chair and cigarette at the same time.  Her peeled, faded porch displays a ‘For Rent’ sign.

Tourist towns, for me, have an air of the superficial and sad, despite the amenities and excitement they promise.  There always seems to be a lack of the local, as the locals must cater to tourists, coming and going.  What Atlantic City had going for it was trying to be the East Coast’s premier destination for gambling.  It’s since been mostly in decline from that holy peak.

Perhaps, in my early twenties (the last time I was there), I was looking for something like bittersweet confirmation of my oh-so-earnest impressions of how-the-world-really-is.  It was done with more than a little melancholic self-regard (apparently I haven’t changed that much).

Yeah, I can handle it.  I only lost $200 and we got to see Jon Bon Jovi playing craps as a crowd gathered (leather-jacket, surprisingly big head).

Glitzy:

No, dear reader, I haven’t suddenly joined the barely organized, deeply personal hatred of a man who thwarts political activism and idealism in crude, populist fashion.

I can’t really say I support him all that much either (although I think a lot of the right people are pissed-off).

For the sake of our Republic, I hope Trump’s a decent steward, because I suspect the forces driving deep institutional dysfunction and mistrust are probably still growing, and maintaining our freedoms will be difficult.  It could get quite a bit worse before anything gets better (maybe pretty bad, I’m afraid).

Sorry to not just focus on serious questions and policy, and to blather and link on a blog, but I’ve got a life and a job.  Writing for money seems…compromising, and my writing isn’t all that great, and my insights are nearly always second-hand, anyways.

I’m thankful when a few dozen people read what I’ve bothered to think and write down.

Really, thank you:

From ‘Atlantic City Waiter’ by Countee Cullen

Just one stanza might do, to show there are many eyes you see, that may also see you:

‘For him to be humble who is proud
Needs colder artifice;
Though half his pride is disavowed,
In vain the sacrifice.’

As previously posted, and probably relevant enough to post here: Bowling Alone and Charles Murray:

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***A reader passed along this bit of news: ‘Black Trump supporter beats white anti-Trump protester…’

A new kind of populism?

Charles Murray argues that controlling the data for just for whites in America, a gap has opened up between working-class ‘Fishtown’ and professional-class ‘Belmont.’ Fishtowners have increasing rates of out-of-wedlock births and divorce, more isolation from churches, civic organizations and the kinds of voluntary associations that Murray suggests can make a life more fulfilling, regardless of income beyond certain basic needs. Fishtowners have higher incidences of drug and alcohol use and intermittent work.

Belmonters, on the other hand, are mostly college-educated and beyond, still tend to court, marry, engage in family planning and tend to stay connected with family, friends and colleagues. Folks in Belmont are still living more moderate personal lives and working to stay ahead in the changing economy through academia, the professions, government, tech, business and global business.

Being a social scientist with a more limited government/small ‘c’ conservative/libertarian worldview, Murray likely sees a smaller role for government and limited ways in which some people acting through government can actually solve problems in other people’s lives. As a contrarian social scientist in a small minority, then, he disagrees with many basic assumptions often found amongst a majority of social scientists.

Murray thus advocates for people in ‘Belmont’ to increasingly preach what they practice, to look outside the bubble of their daily lives and wealthier enclaves, and perhaps reconstitute the kinds of family and civic associations, moral virtues and opportunities for independence and success he’d like to see more broadly.

What this would look like in practice, exactly, is unclear.

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Robert Putnam, author of ‘Bowling Alone‘, seems to agree with Murray about what much of what the data highlights: Working-class whites are behaving more like working-class non-whites, and college-educated non-whites are behaving more like college-educated whites.

Putnam also focuses more on economic factors, the decline of manufacturing and the disappearance of working-class jobs that has without question affected large parts of America and small-town life. Globalization has opened American firms to global competition, global capital markets and mobile labor. Whatever your thoughts on race, Putnam creates some daylight between the data and strictly race based interpretations (often aligned with ideology, especially in academia nowadays) and focuses more on ‘class’ in a way slightly differently than does Murray.

An interesting discussion, in which the empirical research of social science can highlight important differences in political philosophy and try and transcend the inevitable political and ideological battles of the day.

A Wednesday Link On Afghanistan

Via Mick Hartley-Terry Glavin at The Ottawa Citizen: ‘Admit it. We’ve Lost Afghanistan:’

I can’t say I really agree, but am open to argument  (I don’t believe U.S. soldiers have died in vain, either). The logic keeping coalition forces in Afpak is pretty simple:

Because it’s so unstable, Afghanistan is a haven for all networks of ruthless, unscrupulous Islamist and terrorist organizations aiming to target citizens in Western countries, and Western leaders can’t risk that happening:

Of course, it’s a mess, and it appears a worsening mess:

‘Like every Afghan leader over the past two centuries, Ghani is a Pashtun – the ethnic bloc that has produced everything from enlightened monarchs and quick-witted statesmen to the murderous pro-Soviet thug regime of the late 1970s to the leadership of the Taliban and its allied Haqqani network in Pakistan’

Many parts of the world are truly lawless, but increasingly connected: It’s important to remember there’s a world black market full of shady, unscrupulous people, sometimes in control of States, that peddle nuclear technology and Afghanistan often serves as the market bazaar:

‘In recent weeks, Taliban commanders have confirmed that Tehran is boosting its supply of funding and weaponry to the Taliban leadership, and that some of those arms shipments originate in Russia.’

Ah, that delightful post-1979 crowd in Iran may simply have been emboldened to keep oppressing many of its people and to keep advancing its aims with questionable and limited gains for the West (the community of nations may have in fact, less leverage than the coalition in Afghanistan).

Here’s a documentary on the Green Berets passed along by a reader, which has good footage of what American special forces are being asked to do in Afghanistan: The fierce fighting. The tribal, poor and divided loyalties of what come to be Afghan forces. The thuggish tactics of the Taliban:

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Related On This Site: From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation

Repost At The Request Of A Reader-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

As you’ll notice in the James Damore affair (memo here, interview here), data and methodologies can be disputed, as can conclusions and recommendations derived from the data in the hopes of arriving at truth.  The point is you want forums to arrive at the truth, because the truth really doesn’t go away, and the wrong untruths and incentives can lead to much human misery.

I don’t know if Google really ought to be a forum for this particular discussion, as Google is a private company and I don’t have all the details.  I do suspect as an influential company Google tithes to various groups in/out of power in order to have the engineers do the work they really want to do (governments, interest groups/loud voices, lobbyists…).

Moral reasoning attached to ideas and ideologies engenders emotions and loyalties, beliefs and meaning, around which individuals seek common purpose.  This can also create vast structures of social, political and intellectual influence, self-interest, and money.

I suspect that’s a lot of what’s going on here, and if the truth is shown to potentially conflict with any or all of the above, then watch out.

***(Google clearly has a lot of social, political and intellectual influence, but it also in the business of providing tangible value and products to people’s lives bound by contract and law (enforced by governments)..this also attracts all kinds of people).

As previously posted:

He may have been fired for many reasons, but Summers off-the-cuff Remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce had a lot to do with it:

1.  The first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis-Summers notes that high positions demand high commitment.  Science could be analogous to other professions like law.   He appeals to a longitudinal study that suggests that fewer women may agree to, or be willing to, devote such time and energy to their jobs over their careers as do men.  Changing the nature of these professions to higher female ratios may change some of the fundamental ways we arrange our society:

“…is our society right to expect that level of effort from people who hold the most prominent jobs?”

Perhaps…though the subtext might be:  are some members of our society right to expect that the guiding ideas of diversity and equality won’t come with a host of other problems…?

***Charles Murray takes it a few steps further, asserting that our social sciences are leading us to become more like Europe (less dynamic and less idealistic in our pursuit of Aristotelian happiness)  He also argues that there is a sea-change going on in the social science that will come to support his thinking.

2.  The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end-The bell curve argument that there are more genius and idiot men.  When you get to MIT, 3 and more standard deviations above the mean…means a lot.

3.  The third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search-If discrimination is such an important factor in there being a lack of women scientists, then economic theory holds that there are going to be:

“…very substantial opportunities for a limited number of people who were not prepared to discriminate to assemble remarkable departments of high quality people at relatively limited cost simply by the act of their not discriminating.”

So if the theory holds…where are the science departments scooping up all women scientists at low cost…who’ve been rejected elsewhere due to discrimination?

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I believe there is quite arguably discrimination against women in the sciences, and they have a harder road to reach success.  But there is also substance here…and clearly politics was a factor in Summers’ firing as well;  the women’s groups who viewed his ideas as an attack on their belief appealed to public sentiment in the worst kind of way.

Will social science ever be enough to address such an issue…or is it possibly changing to adapt to the demands people require of it?

On This Site:  Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Addition:  I always get an email or two that suggests I’ve joined the ranks of those who don’t fully understand the problem and seek to oppress women.  I don’t think I’ve done such a thing, and if women are going broaden and deepen feminism, they may well have to answer to arguments like these.

It’s not like there aren’t women in the sciences either, Vera Rubin, Lisa Randall and Lise Meitner come to mind, but this debate is clearly not just about science.  It’s also about feminism, the social sciences, money, politics, public opinion etc…

Larry Summers - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2007 by World Economic Forum

Double, Double, Toil & Cuddle

You amateur cuddlers are doing it wrong!

‘Franzblau created Cuddle Sanctuary in 2014, after attending her first group cuddle event, to help others realize their own touch needs. Since the election, Cuddle Sanctuary has seen 252 new clients beginning as early as the day following the election. The usual Wednesday night cuddle workshop following the decision was dubbed “Election Detox.” Five of the 21 attendees were new.’

After reading ‘The Calm, Gentle Rise Of Cuddlers For Hire‘ in our household back in 2015 (a joke still that still runs), we knew we were on to something good.  There’s talk of technology, literature, global economics, modernity etc. all in relation to professional cuddling.  Why, you could have a day at TED focused just on professional cuddling, and maybe throw-in that guy who’s an adult baby.

As to politics:  Whatever your thoughts on Trump, I doubt it helps any elected President having to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous infantilization. I mean, this is a President who might well respond in-kind.

When the personal gets political, politics gets personal.

To be honest: Seeking intimacy and paying money to hug strangers in a warehouse with a fair amount of new-age blather might help some people.

Using the kind of judgment I reserve for people I actually care about, however, (you know, personally) I might say something like the following:

Hey, at least you’re not paying for sex!  

No, really…you’ve got a lot to offer. Why don’t you go to meet-ups, book-clubs, take a course and start building yourself up that way?  You can do it.  Let’s grab a drink talk it out.’

A part of the piece that rung a bell:

‘Everyone should be in what Wyatt calls a “hell yes” space – that if asked for a specific touch, the reply would be a passionate OK. But more importantly, if you don’t want to partake, the word “no” should not be marred with guilt or shame.’

I’ll leave this from a post I put up about Jeff Koons, because I think it has some relevance to where parts of the ‘culture’ may be heading:

Koons’ Made In Heaven only amplifies that sound, blurring the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.

Koons himself:

‘This type of dislocated imagery is what motivates people. They’re amused by it, but they have a lot of guilt and shame that they respond to it.  I was trying to remove that guilt and shame.

Freedom is next!

***Call me old-fashioned, but you don’t earn respect from others by demanding it, and you don’t convince others of your political views by using politics to beat them into seeing the world as you do.

Or perhaps you do if you’re business model isn’t so good…

Dear Reader, what are you doing with your imagination? For a few hours, this is what I’ve done with mine.

Apparently not all cuddlers are overtly political (addition: never mind, this is the same lady as featured in the Rolling Stone piece).

Tyler Cowen At Bloomberg On Automation And Displacement

In A Robot Economy, All Humans Will Be Marketers

Cowen:

‘This shift toward marketing, in the broad sense of that term, isn’t just about bank tellers. More legal work is done by smart software, but cultivating client relationships has never been more important. Some functions of medical assistants are being automated, but hospitals and doctors are still trying to improve the patient experience and reach new customers. Amazon Inc. warehouses use robots to pull goods down off the shelves, but someone has to persuade consumers to buy the stuff.’

I’m sure this will strike some people as deeply unfulfilling, others as threatening, and others as just fine.

I think automation is the key word, here.  Many tasks you do are repetitive, and the hardware and software is being developed to automate many of these tasks depending on complexity, feasibility and profitability where big business and technology meet (current revenue streams are directed by big players into areas where it’s too expensive and too costly not to compete (or try), and by start-ups trying to enter markets and disrupt).

This innovation shows up in our daily lives bit by bit, as consumers, as users, and as employees, but also in more personal and intimate ways (finding love online, suddenly having access to a book that changes your life etc.)

We already live within thousands of years of good and bad design all around us, and that is continuing, just perhaps more rapidly at the moment.

As to personal, social and political consequences, I’m reminded that old ideas die hard.  Many I see as worth conserving.

It’d be nice if Americans were competing more robustly with India and China in producing people ready to hit the ground running in STEM fields, but we’re doing alright.

It’d be really nice if American universities’ humanities and social science departments weren’t dealing with the postmodern and ideological problems of radical liberation politics.

Ah, well.

Hold on, keep learning, and don’t lose sight of the important things.

 

Repost-A Concrete Wonderland In D.C.

From Buzzfeed: The 7 Ugliest Government Buildings In Washington D.C. (Via Althouse)

The author of that post fired for plagiarism. Let’s hope those are real photos!

The modern art that’s often been left to roam the lobbies and courtyards of large bureaucracies is often curiously bad, and some is on display at the link.

A reader sends a link to a bad public art blog.

Perhaps you’ve caught a glimpse of the strangely familiar in a favorite work of art; being moved deeply, comforted, given some pleasure, frightened. Maybe for a moment some deeper truth seemed to reveal itself to you, and you were free to follow it for awhile, wherever it lead, along some thread of intuition.

Now, why would you want to do that in the lobby of the Department Of Housing & Urban Development?

We should be comforted when corporate/bureaucratic art is bland, bad, and uncommunicative. After all, do you think you’d trust a bank more or less if it had a shocking modern/pop art sculpture in the lobby?

More broadly, sometimes I worry about the attempt to seek collective purpose and postmodern meaning in modern art, music and even cartoons etc. The flirtations with nihilism can encourage more desperate collectivist/ideological impulses to fill the void. The excesses are many.

As for a critique of Albany Plaza, another modernist/bureaucratic concrete wonderland, here’s Robert Hughes:


Richard Serra was commissioned to put a piece in Federal Plaza, paid for the public, and some people didn’t like it.

It was removed. Serra felt railroaded. There was a lot of press and drama.

Now, New York City is a different town (trade, finance, money, tech, real estate etc.), but this was in a Federal building.

Pretty relevant, I’d say:

Some snippets of previous posts:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece which reflects upon the modernist influence. From the Atlantic piece.

‘At their best, the Schiffs can be models for renewing the unquenched aspiration of a century ago, to place art and its imaginative demands at the center of an effort to build a more humane future’

Humane. Human. Human rights. Make it new. Break with the past. Shape man’s destiny upon new foundations of knowledge, explore new possibilities, and perhaps shape men themselves.

Why, there’s a whole philosophy under there. Not a religion necessarily, and not always moral claims to knowledge, but a whole framework nonetheless.

Well, some of it, anyways.

A previous head of the Social Security Administration was also a pretty good poet.

See Also On This Site: Trying to stick something against his poems: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarWednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens, The Snow ManFriday Poem: Wallace Stevens And A Quote By David Hume

They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

Repost-Modern Land Artists Point You Back To Nature, Placing You In Time, But Whose ‘Now’ Is This, Man? What Is Nature, Exactly?

Paul Wood discusses the works of Robert Smithson (Broken Circle, Spiral Hill) and Richard Serra (Fulcrum, Spin Out):

Land-art pieces are site-specific. They require you to be there and experience them, designed as they are to be within the specific spaces they occupy.

In so doing, they break from previous modernist ‘Readymades‘ and reproduced images (I don’t know about you, but I’m tiring of so many commentaries on consumerism, the desire for craft over mass production, a certain collective vagueness against such disposability…the dream of unique Selfhood, celebrity even, amidst a thousand urinals).

As a viewer, you’re supposed to interact with these pieces and start feeling and thinking differently than perhaps you might have otherwise. Walk around, through, and over them. View one hillock from another. Walk back over to the first hillock and look from whence you came. The view is never quite what you were imagining.

Clap inside of Serra’s ‘Vortex:’

Time is clearly intended to be an element, here; the long sweep of geologic and/or historical time as the artist understands it, as well as the relative brevity of personal time during just a 10-minute visit.

These pieces can act as signposts towards Nature and what we can begin to observe of our specific natural environments (steel rusts in unique, but perhaps underlying, patterns…winds blow at different angles and around different obstacles in one grove as opposed to another, these lichens are growing here…other lichens over there, are they the same species?).

If you pull the piece out of its specific environment, it may just wither and die, looking out-of-place as many other products of civilization do amidst natural settings (a jar in Tennessee). Perhaps, though, they won’t look quite so out-of-place as mass-produced objects because of such careful design and attention to detail.

That said, these pieces will eventually look quite awkward undergoing the changes they will undergo if Nature’s Laws are any guide (Romantic/Modernist recreations of Nature can promise the comforts of Home).

Here’s Wikipedia, keeping it simple:

‘Land art, earthworks (coined by Robert Smithson), or Earth art is an art movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked.’

From the video description:

‘Robert Smithson and Richard Serra both believed that sculpture should have a dialog with its environment. This program explores the challenging dialectic of the site-specific sculpture of Smithson and Serra through examples of their work. In an interview, Serra discusses the aspects of time and context in relation to his art as well as the influence of Smithson.’

Maybe it’s worth pointing out that Serra seems interested in symmetry, visualizing and realizing abstract shapes with the help of some mathematics and the practice of drawing/drafting. Interesting problems can arise from tooling around with shapes on paper (a practice of Serra’s), the kind I’m guessing folks fascinated by puzzles and software and math love to solve.

But Serra’s not a mathematician nor an engineer nor an architect. He’s not writing a proof for its own sake nor building bridges nor houses for practical use.

Rather, the intuitive and creative impulses of the artist take over in his work, a kind of creative exploration, as well as the dialog between fellow artists, living and dead.

Much (A)rt, of course, is useless for most, if not all, purposes. It’s one of the things that can make it meaningful for people. There can be a significant gap between what the artist may have felt, thought and realized, and which emotions, thoughts and experiences any viewer/listener might have in interacting with a particular piece.

Serra, in his work, wants to alter the thinking of anyone moving through the space he creates by manipulating specific substances like steel (he has a facility with the material), and by getting viewers to a point of reorientation of spatial and temporal awareness.

Of course, this involves reorientation towards certain ideas as he understands them, and by promising people a return to themselves, or a state of experience and creative play perhaps similar to that of the artist.

Here’s a Charlie Rose interview:

More about Land Artists:

Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Feel free to highlight my ignorance…

Related On This Site:A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?

Modern Art For Sale In The Middle-East-From The New Yorker: ‘Richard Serra In the Qatari Desert’