Friday, August 31, 2018

Hurricane Harvey

One year ago today, I was into my seventh of 23 straight 12-hour days. I served as the WebEOC communications desk for the Texas State Guard Emergency Operations Center (TEOC). My primary duty was recording to the Position Log every communication I could capture from the operators at three other desks. I also maintained the posted schedule of events (Battle Rhythm). In addition, I answered phones for the Battle NCOIC and the Battle Captain if they were away from their desks. 
Three weeks in and we still looked good.
Easy enough when you are getting fed and
are not waist deep in waste water.
Following the Incident Command Structure (ICS) defined by FEMA, I sat between the operations section and the planning section. Although internally our administrative control was military, we were operationally and tactically serving in response to civil authority.

Nothing happened until and unless a State of Texas Assistance Request (STAR) was filed, approved, and issued. STARs begin with civilian authorities in need of resources. They call the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) State Emergency Operation Center (SOC). If approved, the STAR is passed to a responding agency with authorization.

Texas Maritime Regiment handled water-borne
search-and-rescue and search-and-recovery
The Texas State Guard has three primary missions: evacuating people; staffing shelters; and searching for those in need of rescue or those to be recovered. In addition, we are all trained to be WebEOC operators in order to maintain communications across operations. In reality, that works at the higher echelons of decision making, not in the field.
The Emergency Transportation Network evacuated people
who could not leave the strike zones on their own.
We were awed by the flows of material support from individuals and ad hoc groups. A local Starbucks manager took it upon herself to bring breakfast to the TEOC for days and days. Day after day local restaurants sent over BBQ and soft drinks. 

It was relatively easy to be in the command center. My stresses were from empathy and sympathy as our people in the field used up their rations and their pocket money. The TXSG traditionally is prepared to take care of itself for 72 hours. On the fourth day, our squads, teams, and platoons were in situations no one had planned for. In the three annual hurricane drills I had participated in, the scenario played itself out in 120 hours. Twelve days into Hurricane Harvey, people were ready to go home. Thirty days into Harvey, FEMA declared the emergency over. After 30 days, you no longer have an emergency: you have a state of affairs.
The Israeli Defence Force sent a liaison to find out
how we handle mass emergencies.
Working 12 hours a day does not mean sleeping 12 hours a night. You arrive for shift change briefings and you stay for shift change briefings. You get five hours of sleep, sometimes three. Very soon the rhythm seems natural. So does the intensity of focus. Every fact has to be a necessary truth because every decision matters to someone in a shelter or in a boat who will reap the consequences of your choices. 

AFK: Hurricane Harvey

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Critic Meets the Military

Write about what you know. Every student of journalism, fiction, or poetry hears that from our teachers. Carol Burke was already a professor of English at UC Irvine when she wrote Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight: Gender, Folklore, and Changing Military Culture (Beacon Press, 2004). That was before she went to Iraq (2008) and Afghanistan (2010). Her experiences probably did not change her from a Democrat into a Republican. She did not become a better writer; her prose is beyond critique—which is why she became a professor of English. But something perhaps ineffable is obvious as a result of her experiences while imbedded with soldiers in a warzone. 

Her book, Camp All-American, is an anti-sexist anti-military diatribe. It was easy to agree with. Her criticisms were more than valid. She was on-target. But others had aced the same firing range. So, like any good marksman, her skill can be credited to her instructors. The problem with Camp All-American is that Burke does not explore the foundations and superstructure of the edifice of sexism. 

The subtitle is "... Changing Military Culture" and it has a double meaning. Sociologists tell a joke: How many sociologists does it take to change a lightbulb? The lightbulb does not need changing; it is society that must be changed. So, Prof. Burke is not chronicling the changes going on at that moment or before or to come, but her intention to change the military to be what she wants it to be. And what she wants is not bad or wrongful. In fact, it is the way the military has been headed since the first female chief petty officer in 1917 (Navy Live blog here).  

Even so, I agree with Burke's major premise: the military treats women differently from men in ways that have nothing to do with the objective requirements of the job. For instance, women are forbidden  from the high-and-tight. Female "short" hair styles must be at least one-quarter inch long. If the rationale of the military were accepted prima facie, every boot would get a buzzcut.  It is just one point among many that are easy to accept yet annoyingly shallow for want of analysis.

Exploitation has three excuses: gender, race, and class. They are braided, though in a particular time and place, one skein may be larger or dyed brighter than the others. Generally, in America, we are classless, sometimes with an unfortunate double meaning. We have been trying hard to get passed race; and, mostly, in the middle of the culture, we have been successful despite the agendas of guilt and hate (also intertwined) from the extremists of the left and right. And the fact is that the military followed baseball in racial integration, ahead of Brown vs. Board of Education and the marches in the south. Racial equality in the services should be a model for gender equality. Burke draws no parallels there.

Sex and gender have genetic roots that define the sociology, economics, and politics of sex and gender. Ultimately, the solution may be epigenetic. When gender enjoys the mobility and mutability of race and class, it will cease to be casus belli—at least for most people, though probably never for the radicals. 

Burke is not alone in her revulsion for the confluence of sex and violence among military men. She accepts it as a perceptual primary. So, she offers no conceptual causes.

She does soft soap Jane Fonda. I did not know that Fonda apologized for her "insensitivity" during the Vietnam war.  Several times. See here and here. But the problem is complicated and Burke does not follow all of the paths of inference. Jane Fonda's tourist visit to an anti-aircraft gun was not a momentary lapse, but a moment within an integrated life. All of her other choices seem to line up pretty well with that. Under the influence of Jane Fonda Ted Turner became a benefactor of the United Nations. 

To say that the military is “conservative” has little to do with the election strategies of Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, except as they, too, reflect, a long, broad, and deep cultural matrix. We accept that military people are in families. To enforce Spartan barracks would seem unnatural (here and now). Yet, about 20,000 to 25,000 military families benefit from food stamps, and other federal family support subsidies. (See stories here and here.) Every soldier (sailor, airman) knows the cliché: If the Army wanted you to have a family, they would issue you one.

And barracks today are sexually segregated, just as they were separated by race until after World War II—and as they are still separated by class: officers sleep better than enlisteds, even in the very frontiersy Texas State Guard.

Statistical surveys of the military carried out by military leaders (on NecessaryFacts here) reveal an unsurprising geographical bias for the South and the West. The interplay between regional conservatism and military presence is hard to ignore. Per capita enlistments from Massachusetts are not what they were in 1776 or 1861. Only a well-defined liberal elite believes that the military could benefit from the traditional liberal education at university. Most people in America, Democrat and Republican, believe that it is good, right, and proper that the military stands aside, alone, and apart with its own ethical and moral standards.  

Nonetheless, it is paradoxical yet unsurprising that enlisted soldiers (sailors, airmen) are statistically aligned with the country at large. Forty percent feel this way; forty percent want the other thing; and 20% are undecided. Among officers, the story is different. And the higher you go, the farther to the right you drift. The more conservative you become, the better your chances are for promotion. Inevitably, liberals self-select themselves out after the first six to eight years.

So, attitudes about class, race, and gender linger in the highest echelons. Change erupts from below. As non-European non-men inevitably achieved rank and rating military culture changed. But it did not radically alter overnight. Nor could it. To expect that is to wish for the unreal. Yet change does happen. We have no lawful, legal nobility in America. And even in England nobles are now tried before juries of commoners.  Social change happens. But it happens one mind at a time.

I was no stranger to war. In December 2008 and January 2009, for two months before heading off to Afghanistan in 2010, where I served as a cultural advisor to two brigade commanders …
We traveled to small villages, to the few remaining schools in the heavily Taliban-influenced district, and to the large local bazaar with its long line of dirt-floored stalls where over a hundred merchants sold farm supplies, veterinary medicines, motorcycles, materials for making I.E.D.’s (improvised explosive devices), drugs intended for the local clinic that had been mysteriously diverted to this makeshift drugstore, boots, plastic pails, decorated metal trunks, CDs that featured what some soldiers referred to as “the latest Taliban Fight songs,” naan, potatoes, raisins, produce in season, and freshly slaughtered lamb.
Rather than improving, security in this area became worse each month. When I had first traveled to the base, we could go twelve kilometers before encountering a tic, short for “troops in contact.” Within nine months, the circle of safety had shrunk to one kilometer.
A soldier in whose vehicle I often rode received a package from his young son, and amid the toiletries, candy and cookies was a five-inch plastic toy. At first, he simply propped the toy on his dashboard to remind him of his son, but after the first firefight from which he safely returned, the figure accrued talismanic meaning, and the soldier turned away the toy that he believed was his protection so that it no longer faced him, but instead looked out the windshield. It was as if, like a charm, it had the power to ward off the enemy’s evil eye.
Many personnel brought small tokens given to them by parents, children, lovers and fellow soldiers. Some were objects of faith —medals, rosaries, prayer beads, angels, crosses, gold and silver lockets with verses of the Quran tucked inside. Others acquired their significance from one’s relation to the giver. Still others accrued meaning along the way. What might be considered minor trinkets back home takes on a new meaning when one ventures into harm’s way. 
(“In the Event of My Death” by Carol Burke here:

Previously on Necessary Facts

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Dining Out Ceremony

The Officer Candidate School of the Texas State Guard held a reunion dinner for all classes 2001-2017, last Saturday night, August 18. I was invited as a member of the training cadre because I teach WebEOC for battle captains.
This was a dining out for officers and their cadre, including spouses and significant others. It followed many of the ceremonial details. (See Wikipedia here for "Dining In.") In addition to the formal flourishes - entering of the honored guests; salute to the colors and anthems; chaplain's invocation - the grog bowl symbolized the celebration.

Dry ice goes in last after the rum, whiskey, beer, and more.
The Lieutenant serves to the XO and the Commanding General.
The XO is also the brains, heart, and soul of the OCS.
 That said, we also paused to remember those who were not with us. The details of the special table were explained. When I worked at the VA this past winter, they had a table set up on our floor. That it was highly symbolic was obvious. What it all meant was not.
The lemon is for the bitterness of their captivity.
The salt is for our tears.
Rose, ribbon candle, Bible, and all explained here
We got home safely, watched some TV and went to bed just after midnight. I got up without an alarm at 0500 feeling good. I had slept through the night without interruption. And I woke up without any aches. I was happy. And it was not for myself. 
The Lieutenant was one of the organizers.
I had spent four-and-a-half hours tapping my spoon on the table, being happy for other people. It was a new experience for me. I am pretty much an individualist and my time in the TXSG has been a learning curve. Taking orders, giving a few, working together to accomplish a difficult task, and taking care of civilians in an emergency, that was all predictable. Saturday night was a new experience.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Wizard of Oz and the Anti-Intellectual Tradition

“Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through the slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from we have universities, seats of great learning where men go to become great thinkers. They think deep thoughts with no more brains than you have.”

L. Frank Baum was a serial entrepreneur, a newspaper publisher, a playwright, and theater producer. With The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum intended to create for his children and their friends an American fairy tale. That claim is supported by two biographies, The Wizard of Oz and Who He Was by Martin Gardner and Russell B. Nye, and To Please a Child by Frank Joslyn Baum and Russell P. MacFall. The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen are archaic and often gruesome. Baum’s story is filled with the stuff of 19thcentury America: hot air balloons, colored glasses, and intricate mechanisms. The heroes do not take vengeance on the vanquished. In the next Oz book, women rule the kingdom. A trope used by Aristophanes, it surely reflected the drive for women’s suffrage in Baum’s day. But for all of his cleverness, insight, and intelligence, Baum was not an intellectual. And, to the point here, the successful 1939 cinematic presentation of his story speaks from and to the anti-intellectual tradition.
In the book, rather than a grand ceremony, each of the heroes receives their reward privately. The Wizard removes the Scarecrow’s head and stuffs it with bran, pins, and needles. 

“Hereafter you will be a great man, for I have given you a lot of bran-new brains.” The Scarecrow was both pleased and proud at the fulfillment of his greatest wish, and having thanked Oz warmly, he went back to his friends.
Dorothy looked at him curiously. His head was quite bulged out at the top with brains.
“How do you feel,” she asked.
“I feel wise indeed,” he answered earnestly. “When I get used to my brains, I shall know everything.”
“Why are those needles and pins sticking out of your head?” asked the Tin Woodman.
“That is proof that he is sharp,” remarked the Lion.

In the movie, the Scarecrow is handed a diploma for his Th. D. degree and he says, “The sum of the square roots of two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.” That, of course, is nonsense. But that does not matter. It sounds complicated and it came from a Scarecrow who did not even get fresh bran stuffing. The men at the university (there being no women at university in the common view) have no more brains than the Scarecrow. They only have impressive degrees that empower them to recite silliness. 

Numismatists and economists have probably underscored the real meaning of the Scarecrow's brains by reading in allegories about William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech. Baum clearly took many elements from American culture. He was an active politico, speaking to both Democrat and Republican rallies. The truth may be that as myth, The Wizard of Oz allows us to read our own meanings into its symbols. Whether he intended to lean on the Crime of '73 as he did the use of ipecac and sunglasses is an open question. 

My article on the economic allegory within The Wizard of Oz can be found on the ANA Website Blogs here. That presentation was taken from my article in the Central States Numismatic Society CentinelI previewed that with a letter to the Numismatic Bibliomania Society E-Sylum here. That was from 2009. But the trend continues, demonstrated by this 2016 report about the opinions of retired economics professor David Denslow in the Gainesville Sun

Friday, August 10, 2018

Armadillocon 40, Part 1

Once again, we had a great time at Austin’s very literary science fiction convention. They have no filkfest singing, no television stars as guests, and no costume party. Instead, they bring together publishers, editors, writers (past, present, and future), artists, and readers. We spent Friday night through Sunday afternoon attending panel discussions and workshops about the art, science, and craft of speculative fiction, fantasy, and horror. On Saturday, I delivered a presentation, “From Texas to the Moon with John Leonard Riddell” about the first working scientist to publish a science fiction story, here
David Afsharirad
Although the first sessions began at 2:00 PM, I started Friday at 6:00 o’clock in the evening with readings of flash fiction by David Afsharirad, editor of Annual Best Military and Adventure Science Fiction.He does not write military SF himself, and these three stories were quirky and cute encounters. I then walked the dealer’s room and said hello to people with interesting displays that I would come back to on Saturday.

Socializing is important. So, assuming a long night of literary discussions over drinks, nothing starts early. 

The first panel discussion that I attended on Saturday was on the current state of the Star Trek franchise. The panelists were not screenwriters, or movie reviewers. Only one had published an open Star Trek story though another had an early work published that was "about Commander Data but with a different name."

At 11:00, I sat in on “The Fine Art of Moderating a Panel,” easily, the best presentation at the con. Marguerite Reed moderated. The panelists were Tex Thompson, Patrice Sarath, and Rebecca Schwartz. Reed said that moderating is like being a host at a dinner party. “You are choreographing a conversation,” she said. Bad moderation leads to monopolized conversations, disrespect, and comments instead of questions. Good audience participation requires that you lay down the ground rules as you would with kindergarteners. “We are not here to listen to you. You are here to listen to us.  Questions are not comments. Questions end with a question mark.” Tex said that there comes a time when you have to “pour them a nice tall glass of shut the hell up.” The moderator should know the panelists and develop lines of questions that will draw out their expertise. Keep in mind that the moderator is not the star. Your job is to bring out a variety of viewpoints. I asked for their tips for panelists. Research the topic. “Pop your watch:” time your responses. Know why you are on the panel. Be informative. Take notes before you speak to answer. Do not go rogue. Do not try to moderate. The session closed with suggestions for alternatives to the panel format such as round tables, dinner brigades, and breakfast bars.
Official Opening and Welcome Session Friday 7:00 PM

At Noon on Saturday, I attended a lecture on orbital mechanics, “Rules of the Road for Flying in Space” by Bob Mahoney. Bob tied the physics to the elements of plot with an animated PowerPoint presentation. An orbit is a clock and a ticking clock brings suspense. Limits to motion are the framework for action. Changes in orbit let you change the plot setting. There was much more and I took a page of notes with drawings.

After my talk, I had a few hours to spend in the dealers room. I bought the current volume of Military SF and Adventure. David Afsharirad autographed it and re-inscribed the three that I bought last year. They and about 20 more books from other tables will be going out to a Texas National Guard battalion stationed overseas. We also bought a steampunk necklace for our daughter’s birthday from Vyktohria.

At 5:00 on Saturday, I attended “Cyberpunk: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times,” chaired by T. Eric Bakutis with panelists Lauren C. Teffeau, Christopher Brown, and David L. Yang. It was a good session for me. I enjoyed cyberpunk in its day. For one thing, I was working for Kawasaki Robotics. Closer to now, I continue to read William Gibson’s later works. The subgenre still rings with truth: “The street finds its own uses for things.” Among the many recommendations from the panel was a story about zombie appliances, Ann McDonald’s “The Revolution Will Not be Refrigerated.” The devices in our Internet-of-things can be and have been taken over and used for denial of service attacks. The future is here, even though I never got that blue mohawk I always wanted.  
Cyberpunk Panel
As much as I enjoyed what was offered, I felt that the panel was behind the times, unaware of other real-world instantiations of the fictional projections from the eighties and nineties. Somewhat later, I chatted with another attendee who shared my views, and we exchanged good words about do-it-yourself biopunk in the real here-and-now. 

At six o’clock, I attended “The Fine Art of Writing for Games,” moderated by T. Eric Bakutis, with David Chang, Ari Marmell, and Aaron Orive. It is not a market for me, but I was curious. Writers with book credits get preference. Design is not writing but writing is part of the process. Learn how to script.

Panel discussions, readings, and book signings went on all day ending only at 10:00 PM. But I get up at 4:30... 

Bright and early Sunday morning at 10:00, I rushed to Collecting. The moderator was Scott A. Cupp, with help from Jeremy Brett (curator for SF&F archives at the Cushing Library of Texas A&M) and Troyce Wilson. This was a waste of time and I left halfway through, disappointed by the moderator’s droning monologues about his great purchases. The American Numismatic Association granted me a couple of literary awards and I actively read and write for the Numismatic Bibliomania Society. Back in the 20thcentury, before being hired as an editor by Coin World, I attended several talks by Clifford Mishler, former president of the ANA and president of Krause Publications. According to Mishler, a true collector, whether of coins, stamps, automobiles, or rock ‘n’ roll vinyl, pursues completeness, condition, rarity, and value. At our conventions, we grade and grant awards to museum-quality displays that demonstrate “the collector’s ethic.” Anyone can buy anything with enough money. What counts is knowing what to pursue and staying on the track. So, I was primed to learn about collecting science fiction books and other memorabilia, but reality took a different course. At 10:30, I joined Science 2018. 

Moderated by John K. Gibbons with panelists C. Stuart Hardwick, Bill Frank, and Bob Mahoney, the session was less informative but more thoughtful. Like the cyberpunks, the panelists seemed not to know as much about today’s science. That was how I met my collocutor on biopunk. However, a running argument between Hardwick and Mahoney gave me a lot to think about then and since. Hardwick said, “We are having a medieval argument about something far in the future that we need to think about now.” He meant morality; and to him, there is no sense in debating right and wrong about something that is going to happen anyway. Mahoney disagreed insisting that if we do not commit wrongful acts, then those possible events will not happen. Hardwick replied that regardless of what we think, someone is going to clone humans (or whatever) and we need to plan for it. Time ran out….  In the Q&A, I asked the panel for their sources and they cited Science News, AAAS emails, and New Scientist

I then went to “Learning to Write.” Moderator Marguerite Reed had help from Cassandra Rose Clarke, Trakena Prevost, Emily McKay, and Amanda Downum. They all recommended Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Clarke suggested getting started by writing fan fic. Several endorsed the Online Writing Workshop well worth the $50 per year. 

“Since 2000, OWW has been helping people become better writers. Our members have made over 1,500 sales to print and online publications, won many awards (including the Hugo), and appeared in Best Of anthologies. Dozens of members have sold novels to major publishers.” --

A member of the audience cited Scribophile: “The online writing group, writing workshop, and writing community where writers get quality critiques and feedback on your writing.” --

McKay recommended NaNoWriMo, and finding local meet-ups.

After a bit of lunch, I went to Once and Future Military SF at 1300 Hours. 
(Review continues in the post below this.)


Armadillocon 40, part 2

After a bit of lunch on Sunday, I went to "Once and Future Military SF" at 1300 hours. Moderator William Ledbetter has experience in the defense industry. Panelist David Afsharirad edits the military SF annual from Baen Books.  Lawrence Person writes the Battleswarm blog which is offers more right wing political commentary than military news. Several veterans sat in the audience. All in all, the panel opened doors to further thought and research. I asked them where they get their military news, citing Task & Purpose for myself, but they all agreed that they get their military news from mass media news stories. 

“Take and hold territory is a questionable axiom of military thinking.”

Military themes have long been a staple within science fiction. Autonomous robots for warfare followed stories about airplanes and tanks.  Lawrence Person pointed to a double misunderstanding in how we think about new technology: either it is not in the right place or it is in all places. In other words, for example, he said that an early recommendation for airplanes was to drop shipments of oats for the cavalry. But then came flying cars, and airplanes were everywhere. All technology goes through this, Person said. 

The panelists tossed ideas back and forth. David mentioned autonomous remote drones amd remote control and Lawrence said that the Predator from Kosovo has been retired and replaced by the Reaper. David suggested that we have the right to prevent the future.  Turning to asymmetrical warfare with non-state actors, David recommended The Last Good Man by Linda Nagata.

Ledbetter recommended Jerry Pournelle’s The Strategy of Technology. (Originally written together by Jerry Pournelle and Stefan Thomas Possony, this book has defined the evolution of modern warfare and laid the foundation to US military domination in the late 20th and early 21st century. Formerly required reading at the US War College, the book explains the necessity of technological innovation for the control of strategical and tactical operations since the dawn of war. Like the Art of War this text can be applied to general human systems including the business environment. Application of its principles has led to American hegemony in both the military and economic spheres of influence in our transnational world. It also explains the rise and fall of empires due to the increasing cost of military budgets through technological development and deployment. An issue as critical today as it was in its use during and through the end of the Cold War.” -- Gregory Alan Wingo, Amazon review.)

Everyone agreed that the last war remains the next war in the minds of planners. The fact is that the new targets will be – or are now – the financial sector, satellites, and the power grid.

A question from the audience suggested that we will have even more boots on the ground because autonomous automated support groups can carry supplies to troops. But that is what "Air Cavalry" was invented for and how it was deployed in Vietnam. (See We Were Soldiers Once... and Young  reviewed here.)

The name “Coyote Smith” came up and I found Dr. M.V. “Coyote” Smith on The Space Show website “… a professor of strategic studies at the Air University's eSchool of Graduate Professional Military Education. He retired from active duty in August 2016 while serving as professor of strategic space studies at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies. Prior to this, he served as the Director of the Center for Strategy and Technology where he led PROJECT BLUE HORIZONS for the Air Force Chief of Staff.  Earlier, he served at the Pentagon as the Chief of “Dream Works,” which was the Future Concepts division of the National Security Space Office where he led the Defense Science Board and directed the Space-Based Solar Power Study.”

“Technology” is a broad word and it led to Ledbetter's mention of NineFox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, the first book in the Machineries of Empire triology. “... The trilogy follows the young infantry captain Kel Cheris and the traitorous general Shuos Jedao in a war among factions of a despotic interstellar empire, whose technology and power is based on the population's faith in the imperial calendar.”

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life

Nothing has changed in the fifty years since Richard Hofstadter chronicled the history of anti-intellectualism. The warning bell may seem muted because the names Billy Sunday, Carl McIntire, and J. Frank Norris no longer resonate. The value here is to learn and remember that today’s attacks on education are not momentary news but substantial tradition. Anti-intellectualism is not a quirk of the times; it is an abiding cultural context within which other phenomena can be understood. 

The irony of history is that we cannot see the day after tomorrow. So, publishing in 1962, Hofstadter could not write about the transformative generation that was about to enjoy a long life of broad, deep, and swift intellectual activity. But Hofstadter was prescient in identifying the long train of abuses against education launched by both nominal progressives and self-styled patriots. 

It is the patriots, in particular, who easily deny the Enlightenment that made possible the American Revolution and the political constitution that resulted from it. They did so in the 1800s and the 1900s, and do so today. But they are not alone. Radical progressives use physical force to deny access to campuses by those whose ideas they dislike. It is not just actual “hate speech”- though the Skokie Ruling long ago protected even that – but anything they seem to find worthy of their own hatred. 

Hofstadter examines the foundations of thought (or lack of it) that appear as outbursts in the common space. The newspaper editorials and Congressional hearings of the past exist today as blogs, websites, podcasts, and tweets. They all reflect deep assumptions within our culture. The insistence that university, high school, or elementary education serve “practical” goals of career or employment, community service or family responsibility can be found all along the course of American political history whether you look to the left or the right. 

“This distinction may seem excessively abstract, but it is frequently illustrated in American culture. In our education, for example, it has never been doubted that the selection and development of intelligence is a goal of central importance; but the extent to which education should foster intellect has been a matter of the most heated controversy, and the opponents of intellect in most spheres of public education have exercised preponderant power. But perhaps the most impressive illustration arises from a comparison of the American regard for inventive skill as opposed to skill in pure science. Our greatest inventive genius, Thomas A. Edison, was all but canonized by the American public, and a legend has been built around him. One cannot, I suppose, expect that achievements in pure science would receive the same public applause that came to inventions as spectacular and as directly influential on ordinary life as Edison’s. But one might have expected that our greatest genius in pure science, Josiah Willard Gibbs, who laid the theoretical foundations for modern physical chemistry, would have been a figure of some comparable acclaim among the educated public.”

The equivalents in our time are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk. Admirable as their achievements have been, they upstage the work of the geniuses who discovered the general laws of cybernetics, informatics, and electronics by inventing the infrastructure of our civilization. A hundred years ago, classical Greek was ebbing out of high school education, as unnecessary. Fifty years ago, Latin retreated. Their demise may have been a loss only to a few, but they have not been replaced by new languages such as Java and C. The value in learning to program is not to win a lucrative career in computing – though that is predictable and desirable – but to open the mind to new ways of perceiving and creating ideas that can operate in the material world. In that, they are as important as drama, art, and music, which are academic offerings that also have suffered reduced budgets for want of “practical” value.