Culture & Family RSS feed for this section

Whistling While You Work… in Construction

I’m not surprised by this news:

According to TINYpulse’s 2015 Best Industry Ranking report, gathered from its anonymous one-question feedback surveys from over 30,000 employees across more than 500 organizations, among 12 distinct industries, construction and facility service workers are the happiest employees.

Although, the big factor that isn’t even mentioned suggests that the survey creators and the reporter, Lydia Dishman, don’t have any experience, themselves, with that sort of work.

They talk about the fact that construction’s on the upswing, economically.  They list things like supportive managers, having the necessary tools, and having “opportunity for professional growth.”  They also mention the advantages of an industry in which employees kick back after work for the proverbial few beers.  (The construction company with which I spent most of my time in the industry did this on Fridays.)

Readers might wonder, though, why any of these factors, other than the economic upswing part, don’t apply to every industry.  Why should construction companies be more likely to have supportive managers?  (That certainly wasn’t my experience.)

The biggest source of satisfaction in the industry, from what I observed, isn’t to be found in a management textbook.  Rather, it’s the nature of the work.  At the end of the day (most days), you’ve got something tangible that you’ve done.  You can step back and look at the house frame that wasn’t there in the morning, the pattern of newly laid tiles, or the color contrasts of new paint.  The electrician turns on the breaker and then watches light appear thanks to wires that he strung along the framing.  The plumber watches the pipes he connected, like a connect-it building game for adults, hold water as it flows up the structure and then down the drains.  Even landscapers (who are included) see the grass go from unruly to ordered with each pass.

It’s about the satisfaction of producing.  If managers and workers in other industries want to learn something from the construction field, it should be the value of finding ways to make it appear that employees have something to show for their work at the end of the day.

Travel Bans and Taking Credit When the Dog Sits Anyway

My uncle once joked that he could prove that he’d taught his dog to sit.  We just had to wait until the animal looked ready to take the order.

I’ve seen several tweets this morning exclaiming the wonder of Governor Gina Raimondo’s travel ban, like this one from the Providence Journal’s Amanda Milkovits:

Wow: No accidents reported ANYWHERE in Rhode Island after midnight’s driving ban. No arrests for violating ban either

What’s the point of amazement, here?  That we’ve reached some new milestone of compliance to the governor’s authority?

I can’t help but wonder how many people — after a day or more of wall-to-wall breathless blizzard coverage and widespread cancellations of school and work — would have been out and about in a blizzard, after midnight, on a Monday night, when the storm didn’t kick in until well after normal business hours no matter what the governor had said.

Why Do Planners Plan?

Commenting on a recent post on this site, “Mangeek” expresses the socialist planners’ rationalization for undermining democracy:

Politicians generally prefer votes over growth, because votes are useful right away, whereas decisions to maximize growth often take longer to materialize; sometimes longer than an election cycle.

“How… do we suddenly get “good planning”?”

By insulating the planners from the voters and politicians, and recruiting/retaining good ones? I guess I’m a bit of a technocrat. If things like RhodeMap, Obamacare, and the EDC are properly done, they’ll have better outcomes than the hyperlocal model Justin seems to champion, because they’ll be backed by research and statistics instead of popular opinion and votes.

As I commented briefly in reply, just one more step in reasoning and a little more historical knowledge would bring this faith in government crashing down.  Stalin, for example, was a master planner insulated from voters and politicians.  How’d that work out?

Even if you think it’s too much of a leap from Rhode Island’s Kevin Flynn to Stalin, it raises the question:  Once we’ve “insulated” the planners from public accountability, what do we do if we happen — by some horrible twist of bad luck — to have bad (even wicked, self-interested) planners in place?

The disconnect may be the incorrect sense that mere planning is a benign, passive, objective activity.  That’s the substance of Mangeek’s subsequent reply, in which he supposes that only the state government has the resources to pay people to do the research, so planners should be insulated to do that, but local governments should be free to ignore the plans.

That misconception, too, would fall quickly upon scrutiny.  First of all, local volunteers appointed to planning boards do plenty of research, and political opponents do more, between which the public must judge.

More importantly, what’s the point of insulated planners if their suggestions have to be ratified by the popular will anyway?  No, if we’re going to create a technocratic class of planners, then it must be assumed that their “good plans” will be implemented.  That’s why RhodeMap RI includes plans on how to get communities to adopt the plan. 

As Glenn Reynolds summarizes, while posting an excerpt from an essay by Alicia Kurimska, “urban planning is about control.”  As Kurimska argues, Soviet planning designed communities in a manner intended to force people to structure their lives as the planners wanted… with the values that the planners demanded.

Reynolds follows the excerpt with this: “The planners promise more than they can deliver, time after time. And someone else pays the price, time after time.”

We must stop accepting the pretensions of the planners simply because they claim to have expertise and good intentions.

No Empathy for the I-93 Commuter

They’re still a bunch of self-righteous losers, but one can almost have empathy for the kids who blocked off I-93 in Boston the other day.  I mean, if the few whom CBS Boston tracked down are representative, one must concede that it’s difficult for well-to-do young adults who live with their parents to understand the stresses and strains on people with families to support who must battle traffic every workday to and from their jobs.

I don’t like to blame the victim, but you have to admit that we, as a society, have not done right by these kids — perpetual adolescents with no sense of the rewards of adult life.  Their parents should do them a favor and kick them out of the house.

Hollywood Liberals Are Amazing

If you haven’t read the book, The Maze Runnerby James Dashner, or seen the movie, it isn’t exactly a spoiler for me to tell you that the basic plot is that a large group of teenage boys (and one girl) are placed in a giant maze, with no recollection of their pasts, for some reason that doesn’t become clear until subsequent books in the series.  (I’ve ventured into it only in order to know the sorts of ideas being pushed on my children and their peers.)

Apart from Dashner’s annoying tic of insisting that at least one teenage boy per chapter must “roll his eyes,” the first book is entertaining enough.  Of course, in the hands of the wizards of Hollywood, even young-adult literature can be dumbed down further, and the movie brings some of the annoying tics of pop culture.  The boys spend their nights drinking, in the movie, while in the book they’re keyed to their survival.  They swear in the movie, but not in the book.  And of course, all of the scenes and settings from the book that I really wanted to see brought to life had been edited out.

But the folks at Twentieth Century Fox really outdid themselves toward the end.  (Here comes the spoiler.)

Although they get there by somewhat different routes, at the end of both the movie and the book the group splits in two: the daring group that wishes to chase down the chance that they’ve found a way out of the maze and the scared and heretofore complacent group that thinks it’s better to stay put and cower in fear from the monsters that come out at night.

The most surprising difference in the movie, though, is that it comes to more of a head, with the two groups standing there looking at each other.  The daring group, thoroughly multiracial, with the only female, and the scared and superstitious group that had actually wanted to perform a human sacrifice (not in the book), whose leader is dogmatically insistent on “the rules” — all white males.

Actually, no, that’s not correct.  If you watch very closely, you can see that the stay-behind group has one black guy in it, but as if to emphasize the racial divide, the director has him crouch down so that he isn’t visible in the close-up shot of his group, and the only time he’s visible after the groups have sorted themselves out is while walking away, from more of a distance.

These sorts of demographic decisions are everywhere in pop culture, and they have to be deliberate.  Each one is ultimately minor, but it’s intriguing psychologically and sociologically, and the attention to detail in the great liberal narrative is amazing.

The irony, in the context of the Charlie Hebdo attack, is that it’s clear that it’s PC liberals who will stay behind from the charge toward life and freedom and engage in superstitious cowering, awaiting death.

Mockingbirds Can Change Their Tunes

Taking my daughter’s school reading list as inspiration, I recently remedied a long-standing omission on my own by picking up Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  Apart from being an especially enjoyable read, for a classic, it’s a timely one, given recent events.

Given my own vocation, though, what struck me most was my sense of self-identification with Atticus Finch and the likelihood that race-obsessed progressives would think me absurd.  After all, I’m a conservative, which Everybody Knows™ means I’m animated by fundamental bigotry and closed-mindedness, and Atticus put himself and his family on the line in order to assert the integrity of the courtroom and the humanity of the black folks in his community.

That actually points to a literary thread that I picked up in Mockingbird.  During a scene set amidst one of Aunt Alexandra’s “missionary circles” (chapter 24), Mrs. Grace Merriweather (“a faithful Methodist under duress”) laments the state of the “those poor Mrunas” in Africa, with all of their “sin and squalor.”  When it comes to people of the darker race in her own town, naturally, she’s exposed as a thoroughly ignorant racist, who complains that the wife of Tom Robinson should be sullen after he’d become a clear-cut example of injustice in the service of racism.

There’s an echo, here, of Charles Dickens’s Blithe House, in which Mrs. Jellyby neglects her family and ignores the sin and squalor to be found even down the street from her in London while devoting herself to a “Borrioboola-Gha venture” in Africa — again, trying to civilize the savages.

But most relevant to my thoughts, right now, is Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.  It also has a scene of racist Southerners being shown to be fools by the ridiculous conclusions they draw from inexplicable actions of Jim… which, the reader knows, were almost entirely the imaginative machinations of Tom Sawyer.  In an essay on the book that probably did its share in keeping me out of graduate school, I theorized that this pointed to Twain’s message.

It’s a common complaint that the story is a compelling tale of a white boy befriending a black man until the moment that Tom Sawyer makes his appearance and turns the book into a racist stage show that proceeds to mock Jim’s dehumanizing predicament.  I think Twain set a trap for what I called “fashionable ‘bourgeois’ post-emancipation abolitionists.”  Like Tom Sawyer, they wanted Twain to rescue Jim from his predicament, but they wanted it to be done in the correct way — with the proper adventure and symbolism.  As with Merriweather and Jellyby, they like supporting a mostly abstract minority group in a way that they find entertaining and morally rewarding, but without any real risk.

I don’t think a modern Atticus Finch would be challenged to stand against backwoods bigots.  The mockingbird has changed its tune, and the self-righteous progressives are busily hunting it down, all while taking comfort in the received opinion of their peers that what they don’t understand is nonsense.

The Scandinavian Bowl of Mush

Tired of having to say things like, “Socialism only works in a homogeneous society, and besides, look at the immigration problem,” when liberals trumpet the Scandinavian countries as a model for human society?  Kyle Smith has an antidote for the belief that all is well in Europe’s northern regions.

Danish happiness?  A modern exercise in gaming surveys.  Universal healthcare?  Make an appointment to have an obstruction removed from a child’s eye.  And why does Finland lead the continent in murder and suicide?

Read the whole thing, but the ending is too profound not to quote:

… The dead-on satire of Scandinavian mores “Together” is a 2000 movie by Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson set in a multi-family commune in 1975, when the groovy Social Democratic ideal was utterly unquestioned in Sweden.

In the film’s signature scene, a sensitive-apron wearing man tells his niece and nephew as he is making breakfast, “You could say that we are like porridge. First we’re like small oat flakes — small, dry, fragile, alone. But then we’re cooked with the other oat flakes and become soft. We join so that one flake can’t be told apart from another. We’re almost dissolved. Together we become a big porridge that’s warm, tasty, and nutritious and yes, quite beautiful, too. So we are no longer small and isolated but we have become warm, soft and joined together. Part of something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes life feels like an enormous porridge, don’t you think?”

Then he spoons a great glutinous glob of tasteless starch unto the poor kids’ plates. That’s Scandinavia for you, folks: Bland, wholesome, individual-erasing mush. But, hey, at least we’re all united in being slowly digested by the system.

(Via Instapundit.)

The Thing Is: Infants Want the Nanny

This sort of thing has been weighing on me a lot, recently:

According to the Associated Press, sledding prohibitions are more and more common:

No one tracks how many cities have banned or limited sledding, but the list grows every year. One of the latest is in Dubuque, Iowa, where the City Council is moving ahead with a plan to ban sledding in all but two of its 50 parks.

“We have all kinds of parks that have hills on them,” said Marie Ware, Dubuque’s leisure services manager. “We can’t manage the risk at all of those places.”

As Reason‘s Robby Soave goes on to suggest, the problem isn’t entirely one of top-down imposition of nannying.  People want the nannies, or at least they want the right to sue somebody when they aren’t preventively nannied.  One municipal lawyer puts it in absurd terms:  “In the past, people might have embraced a Wild West philosophy of individuals being solely responsible for their actions, but now they expect government to prevent dangers whenever possible.”

That’s absurd because we’re not talking a rational calculation of preventing the dangers of a mysterious world, in my opinion.  We’re talking a desire to offload basic, not-all-that-arduous responsibilities.

If we have to live under the assumption that there’s a general, default “No Lifeguard on Duty” sign in places that aren’t explicitly guarded, then we have to figure out, for ourselves, what it is safe to do, and we’ll often make mistakes.  Even more difficult, we have to teach our children where they can and cannot go and what they shouldn’t do. That takes time, and it imparts an uncomfortable amount of blame when sometimes-unpredictable and -irrational children hurt themselves.

I fear that there’s no good way out of this particular societal decline.  The thing that we’re training out of ourselves and our children is too intangible, so its absence may not be felt until it’s a matter of critical necessity.  Even then, so many people will be invested in the system of nannying that we might choose the consequences over a correction.

A Briefcase of Moral Elevation

With the first full workweek of the new year, it seemed like a good time to revisit Arthur Brooks’s New York Times commentary about “moral elevation.”

Brooks relates an anecdote about receiving a briefcase as a gift from the Mormon Brigham Young University.  Although reluctant to use the briefcase, at first, he found that when he did, he was inspired to be kinder… more Mormonesque, if you will.

But it wasn’t magic. Psychologists study a phenomenon called “moral elevation,” an emotional state that leads us to act virtuously when exposed to the virtue of others. In experiments, participants who are brought face to face with others’ gratitude or giving behavior are more likely to display those virtues themselves. …

We can be the passive beneficiaries of moral elevation. But we can actively pursue it as well by rejecting bad influences and seeking good ones. We can even create the circumstances for moral elevation ourselves. In this era of political recrimination and reproach, this is vital for personal and national improvement.

It’s a bit like the notion of “pay it forward” — that is, doing good deeds with the expectation that the recipient will then do something good for somebody else, and on throughout society.  What Brooks is talking about, though, is more a way of looking at things, and frankly, it wouldn’t make for a bad New Year’s resolution for anybody.

Truth and Perspective

I haven’t the time or spare mental space to dig through to a conclusion, here, but I’ve felt vaguely like pointing to two items in my daily reading, and it just occurred to me that they’re thematically related.

The first is a review by Father Robert Barron of “Stephen Hawking’s God-Haunted Movie.”  Hawkings, you likely know, is a bit of a poster child for modern science, as well as modern atheism.  Writes Barron:

Two suppositions were required for the sciences to flourish, and they are both theological in nature, namely, that the world is not divine and that nature is marked, through and through, by intelligibility. As long as the natural world is worshipped as sacred-as it was in many ancient cultures — it cannot become the subject of analysis, investigation, and experimentation. And unless one has confidence that the world one seeks to analyze and investigate has an intelligible structure, one will never bother with the exercise. Now both of these convictions are corollaries of the more fundamental doctrine of creation. If the world has been created by God, then it is not divine, but it is indeed marked, in every nook and cranny, by the intelligence of the Creator who made it.

What comes first to mind is how modern progressives pervert both of these “suppositions” in a way that makes them feel as if they are “on the side of science” while belittling science to its political utility.  In their way, for one, environmentalists have, indeed, made the natural world into a sacred place.  In a sense, with the elimination of the divine altogether, they’ve re-elevated the natural world to the highest position.

And from the promoters of identity politics, we get the notion that there is no right answer to reality.  How you feel about the world is how the world is.

That brings us to the second item, Tom Maguire’s take-down of Charles Blow (via Instapundit). It turns out that First Lady Michelle Obama once told an anecdote about a short woman’s asking her to get something from a high shelf in a Target store, not realizing who she was.  “It felt so good,” said Michelle.

But now that we’re in the world of “hands up, don’t shoot,” Mrs. Obama appears to be repurposing the anecdote as one of racial prejudice.  Apparently ignorant of her prior use of the story, Blow takes up the feeling:

But that is, in part, what racial discussions come down to: feelings. These feelings are, of course, informed by facts, experiences, conditioning and culture, but the feelings are what linger, questions of motive and malice hanging in the air like the stench of rotting meat, knotting the stomach and chilling the skin.

One can easily imagine Blow next arguing that it doesn’t matter whether Michelle changed her story, because, having reconsidered it, her feelings have changed.

To Father Barron’s point, science could never survive in a world in which there is only chaos.  When personal feelings can change facts and bring into being unprovable theories about how the world operates, there is only superstition.

Integrity and Moral Compass

A recent essay by Jonah Goldberg, in National Review, notes how the popular culture’s understanding of integrity has shifted from heroes in this mold:

Through virtually the entire history of Western civilization, heroes had the right-end-of-the-spectrum version of integrity. They did good out of a desire to do good — and that good was directed by some external ideal. Sure, it wasn’t always, strictly speaking, a Biblical definition of good. You can’t blame Odysseus or Achilles for not following a book that hadn’t been published yet. But however “good” was defined, it existed in some sort of Platonic realm outside of the protagonist’s own id. (Or ego? Or superego? Or super-duper id? I can never keep that stuff straight.) The hero clung to a definition of “good” that was outside himself, and therefore something he had to reach for.

Goldberg argues that we’ve now inverted the idea of integrity to the point on the spectrum that used to be considered its lowest form: internal consistency based on some self-directed principle.  That’s more of a structural integrity; a building may not collapse because its parts fit together well, but we once prioritized the aesthetics and purpose of the building.  There once was an architectural integrity that married sound building principles with aesthetics that matched the surroundings, with a harmony of form and purpose and a moral component to that purpose.

These days, Jonah goes on, everybody from cable-TV’s dark protagonists to cartoons’ moral lodestars teaches the lesson that morality comes from within:

The truth is, it’s hard to find a children’s cartoon or movie that doesn’t tell kids that they need to look inside themselves for moral guidance. Indeed, there’s a riot of Rousseauian claptrap out there that says children are born with rightly ordered consciences. And why not? As Mr. Rogers told us, “You are the most important person in the whole wide world and you hardly even know you.” Hillary Clinton is even worse. In her book It Takes a Village, she claims that some of the best theologians she’s ever met have been five-year-olds …

Like many of the socio-cultural truisms that guide us, these days, this notion has some foundation in old-school Christianity.  But as philosophy, they’re simply downward slopes that help us get a little farther on the fumes left in the moral tank that Jesus filled up a couple millennia ago.

Yes, conscience is divinely inspired and sacrosanct, and we must listen for it inside ourselves.  But there are many other voices in there, from the base animal instinct that is the residue of our formation, to the whispers of outright evil.  Our task is to determine which of them aligns with the direction of good that can be understood through reason, as honed and instructed by our long heritage of experience translated into traditions.

A moral compass is like a regular compass.  On its own, it doesn’t offer much instruction about how to read the thing, let alone what destination we ought to use it to reach.

Dr. Flanigan to Talk at Portsmouth Institute Saturday

Long-time readers will know that I used to write, every year, from the Portsmouth Institute conference on the grounds of the Portsmouth Abbey school in late June.  It was always one of the highlights of my year, and for some reason, the institute took a hiatus.

Well, it’s back, and extending its activities through the year.  In fact, this Saturday, Dr. Tim Flanigan will be talking about his missionary adventure in Liberia, rebuilding medical infrastructure in Africa.  The talk, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. is titled “Faith and Fear in the Ebola Crisis: Two Months Volunteering in Liberia.”

The event is free and open to the public, but the institute is requesting that people RSVP.

Dawson Doesn’t Get the Annex of Conservatism and Minorities

While preparing to disengage from the Internet Friday evening, I came across a statement from soon-to-be-former State Senator and unsuccessful Republican candidate for attorney general Dawson Hodgson that merits response.  From Ian Donnis’s weekly must-read TGIF post for the week:

Hodgson and fellow Republican Catherine Taylor got swamped in Rhode Island’s cities. So it’s not surprising to hear Hodgson call for the RI GOP to do a better job in courting Latino and black voters, particularly in Providence. “That’s the future of this [Republican] Party if we want to be competitive in the urban landscape,” Hodgson said on this week’s RIPR Bonus Q+A. “I think there are a lot of principles that cross over and that are very generationally appealing: freedom, the ability to control your own destiny and make your way in life and be given a fair shot by your government. That’s what being a Republican means to me. I think that’s a winning message in Providence if you can get people to listen to it.”

This makes me wonder if Hodgson has actually spent much time interacting with urban members of minority communities that already do or might nearly align with Republicans.  As I’ve pointed out before (on this site and on TV), while he and his fellow white, male, suburban Republican state senators were taking a bow for being the only full Republican caucus in the country to back same-sex marriage, black urban Senator Harold Metts (D, Providence) was standing against the wave as the voice of traditional values and a choir of presumably urban Latinos were singing for the traditionalist cause outside the Senate chambers.

The implications of this fact are larger than could be explained as a few old-school folks among the urban minorities who just haven’t gotten the “right side of history” message, yet.

Disadvantaged communities can see the brand of freedom espoused by relatively wealthy whites who profess to be “fiscally conservative, but socially liberal,” as a license to take away all supports from those who need them most.  Paring back government funding and programs that offer direct support for urban communities, while at the same time taking a sledgehammer to the social supports that help communities and families survive and thrive without government assistance, can sound like a promise of having freedom to drown.

Liberal Republicans shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that the things they like about liberal Democrats are the same things that urban minorities like about liberal Democrats.  The bottom line is that — because of their values or because of the crass requirements of their bases — Republicans will never be able to outbid Democrats for the affections of disadvantaged groups; they have to offer an alternative.  Fortunately, the alternative available to them is both more moral and more powerful and sustainable.

If Not on the Ballot, Where?

Jim Vincent, of the Providence NAACP, quotes the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity in a recent Providence Journal op-ed.  (Naturally, he fails to name his source, because progressive activists aren’t about public debate, they’re about confusing public debate for political reasons.)

Supporters have also suggested that a Constitutional Convention would be a good opportunity to “resolve some thorny cultural issues — one way or another.” Cultural issues have no place on the ballot.

He’s referring to a line, way toward the end of this analysis from the Center, in a section about ways in which Rhode Islanders might use a constitutional convention to “take issues off the table” of the General Assembly, where they come up regularly to distract the public and distort the legislative process.  Most of the points have to do with the operation of government, but here’s the final bullet point:

Resolve some thorny cultural issues — one way or another — though the mechanism that most clearly represents the will of the people

Look, cultural issues have to be resolved.  When the government begins dabbling in them (which it inevitably will do if we let it become as large and invasive as it has become), lines must be drawn by somebody concerning the appropriate scope and, if government is going to take a side, which side it will take.  To people with Vincent’s political philosophy, it’s not a question of whether cultural issues should be resolved within government, but how government should assert authority and make decisions.

In March, Vincent told Bob Plain, of RI Future, that “he will lobby legislative leaders this session to pass a bill that would tax and regulate rather than criminalize pot.”

In other words, the “thorny cultural issues” — which are at the core of defining our society and directing its course for generations — “have no place on the ballot” because he wants them decided in back rooms by insiders and special interests.  He doesn’t trust the people — black, white, male, female, gay, straight, liberal, conservative — to come to the right decisions, so it’s imperative that their betters — the elite power brokers who’ve manipulated their way into positions of influence — control the system to tell the people what to do and who to be.