2015-10-31 21:40:05

Hallows' Eve Must-Read: Roger Zelazny: A Night in the Lonesome October:


  • "Why do you tell me this?” “Perhaps because I am a cat and it amuses me to be arbitrary and do you a good turn.” October 2 (p. 9)
  • Never trust a cat, anyway. All they’re good for is stringing tennis racquets. October 6 (p. 28)
  • I thought about the Elder Gods and wondered at how they might change things if the way were opened for their return. The world could be a good place or a nasty place without supernatural intervention; we had worked out our own way of doing things, defined our own goods and evils. Some gods were great for individual ideals to be aimed at, rather than actual ends to be sought, here and now. As for the Elders, I could see no profit in intercourse with those who transcend utterly. I like to keep all such things in abstract, Platonic realms and not have to concern myself with physical presences. October 21 (pp. 138-139)
  • It is a city of neat cottages and cobbled streets where wander cats without number, for the enlightened legislators of long ago laid down laws for our protection. A good, kind village, where travelers take their ease and pet the cats, making much of them, which is as it should be. October 22 (p. 160)
  • “When you talk about being an ‘anticipator,’ of having a pretty good idea of when something’s going to happen—or how, or who will be there—isn’t that a kind of divination?” “No. I think it’s more a kind of subconscious knack for dealing with statistics, against a fairly well-known field of actions.” October 23 (p. 173)

Max Gladstone (2014): Humorous Exposition: Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October: "‘I like being a watchdog better than what I was...

...before [Jack] summoned me and gave me this job.’

When I encountered this line for the first time, on page 2 of Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, I cracked up. I didn’t get the line’s full genius, though, until I finished the book.

See, Zelazny writes science fiction and fantasy so dense even the most cursory outline of his novels makes them sound like crackfic. Take Creatures of Light and Darkness, for example: the late stage of a civil war between cybernetically enhanced maybe-gods at the end of time, featuring temporal kung fu, blind tinkering Norns, banjo-playing revolutionaries, a quest for a pair of holy tennis shoes, dueling augurs, poetic interpolation, prophecy computers, the Possibly Proper Death Litany, a centaur, God, and, as Pandora would say, ‘complex tonality.’ Yet, at something like 50,000 words, it’s less than half the standard length of a novel. Most books would strain to include any two of these conceits, but Zelazny wraps them all together in a madcap smorgasbord of invention. He makes it work, I think, because of his genius for suggestion. Why waste narrative space detailing a concept when you can drop a single perfect line and let the reader build her own conclusions?

The sentence at the top of the article is my favorite example. A Night in the Lonesome October is nuts—an enormous monster mash featuring Dracula (sorry, ‘The Count’), witches, Lovecraftian vicars, Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, et al as participants in a Game of mysterious significance. (No, not of Thrones.) Our first-person narrator, naturally, is Jack the Ripper’s dog, Snuff. He very much likes being a watchdog. He’s quite good at it. And, as we learn in Chapter One: he likes being a watchdog better than he liked what he used to be.

This one sentence does more expository work than most backstory chapters.

It tells everything you need to know about Snuff and Jack. The simple language says ‘dog,’ but its slight edge suggests the hardboiled voice of detective novels and Zelazny’s own Chronicles of Amber. And that word, summoned—whatever Snuff was before, it was something you could summon. A demon might fit the bill, or an angel, or some horrible squamous thing from beyond time. Jack, we learn here, is (along with his other proclivities) a person who summons things—normally not a good sign, but Snuff seems nice enough to the reader, so maybe Jack is too. And on the whole, the space from which Jack summoned Snuff sounds worse than Earth (viz. the singing understatement of ‘better’), which in turn suggests all sorts of multiversal horror pits beyond our little circle of firelight. Snuff’s summoning isn’t a plot point in the novel. He’s never released from his doggie shell or anything. It’s a single line that builds an entire world for the book, like a brushstroke mountain in a Watanabe Shiko landscape.

And, of course, it’s a damn good laugh.

Well Worth Reading... 2015-10-31 21:12:01

Must-Read: Mark Thoma: The GOP Circus: Truth-Defying Feats: "By Rick Perlstein:...

...Step right up! Be amazed, be enchanted, by the magic GOP unicorn-and-rainbow-producing tax cut machine! It takes a lot of energy to sustain a lie. When enough people do it together, over a sustained period of time, it wears on them. It also produces a certain kind of culture: one cut loose from the norms of fair conduct and trust that any organization requires in order to survive as something more than a daily, no-holds-barred war of all against all. A battle royale. A circus, if you prefer. And the act in the center ring? The Amazing Death Spiral. One performer does something so outrageous that anyone else who wishes to further hold the audience’s attention has to match or top it––even if they know it’s insane.... That’s what poor old John Kasich did. Hear him cry about his:

great concern that we are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job. I’ve watched people say that we should dismantle Medicare and Medicaid.... I’ve heard them talking about deporting 10 or 11 [million] people from this country.... I’ve heard about tax schemes that don’t add up.’

And what happened to him? Read the snap poll from Gravis research. Only 3 percent of Republicans thought he won the debate....

David Brooks says not to worry if candidates are lying about their economic plans, they are just exaggerating to make themselves more attractive to conservative voters.... Paul Krugman is, shall we say, unconvinced....

'What matters is how a candidate signals priorities.' Yes, and the priority seems to be lying is okay to get what you want. That's a great trait to have in a president who might fact the decision to send our kids to die in a war he or she wants. Oh wait."

‚The GOP Circus: Truth-Defying Feats‘

Rick Perlstein:

The GOP Circus: Truth-Defying Feats, by Rick Perlstein: ...Step right up! Be amazed, be enchanted, by the magic GOP unicorn-and-rainbow-producing tax cut machine!
It takes a lot of energy to sustain a lie. When enough people do it together, over a sustained period of time, it wears on them. It also produces a certain kind of culture: one cut loose from the norms of fair conduct and trust that any organization requires in order to survive as something more than a daily, no-holds-barred war of all against all. A battle royale. A circus, if you prefer.
And the act in the center ring? The Amazing Death Spiral. One performer does something so outrageous that anyone else who wishes to further hold the audience’s attention has to match or top it––even if they know it’s insane. Listen to the warning of the one guy who dares grab the ringmaster’s microphone and say that if this keeps on going everyone will end up dead. That’s what poor old John Kasich did. Hear him cry about his “great concern that we are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job. I’ve watched people say that we should dismantle Medicare and Medicaid. . . . I’ve heard them talking about deporting 10 or 11 [million] people from this country. . . . I’ve heard about tax schemes that don’t add up.”
And what happened to him? Read the snap poll from Gravis research. Only 3 percent of Republicans thought he won the debate. (First place was Trump with 26.7; second was Rubio with 21.1; third was Cruz with 17.3; and fourth was Ben Carson with 12.5.) Only 2.4 percent said they would vote for Kasich for president. When the clowns are running the show, of course it’s going to be in disarray.

David Brooks says not to worry if candidates are lying about their economic plans, they are just exaggerating to make themselves more attractive to conservative voters (they couldn't possible be lying about who their true allegiance, could they?):

At this stage it’s probably not sensible to get too worked up about the details of any candidate’s plans. They are all wildly unaffordable. What matters is how a candidate signals priorities. Rubio talks specifically about targeting policies to boost middle- and lower-middle-class living standards.

Paul Krugman is, shall we say, unconvinced:

...My experience is that the best way to figure out a candidate’s true priorities — and his or her character — is to look hard at policy proposals.
My view here is strongly influenced by the story of George W. Bush. Younger readers may not know or remember how it was back in 2000, but back then the universal view of the commentariat was that W was a moderate, amiable, bluff and honest guy. I was pretty much alone taking his economic proposals — on taxes and Social Security — seriously. And what I saw was a level of dishonesty and irresponsibility, plus radicalism, that was unprecedented in a major-party presidential candidate. So I was out there warning that Bush was a bad, dangerous guy no matter how amiable he seemed.
How did that work out?
So now we have candidates proposing “wildly unaffordable” tax cuts. Can we start by noting that this isn’t a bipartisan phenomenon, that it’s not true that everyone does it? Hillary Clinton isn’t proposing wildly unaffordable stuff... And proposing wildly unaffordable stuff is itself a declaration of priorities: Rubio is saying that keeping the Hair Club for Growth happy is more important to him than even a pretense of fiscal responsibility. Or if you like, what we’ve seen is a willingness to pander without constraint or embarrassment.
Also, his insistence that the magic of supply-side economics would somehow pay for the cuts is a further demonstration of priorities: allegiance to voodoo trumps all.
At a more general level, I’d argue that it’s a really bad mistake to wave away policy silliness with a boys-will-be-boys attitude. Policy proposals tell us a lot about character — and the history of the past 15 years says that journalists who imagine that they can judge character from the way people come across on TV or in personal interviews are kidding themselves, and misleading everyone else.

"What matters is how a candidate signals priorities." Yes, and the priority seems to be lying is okay to get what you want. That's a great trait to have in a president who might fact the decision to send our kids to die in a war he or she wants. Oh wait.


This is from Richard Thaler:

...Many companies are nudging purely for their own profit and not in customers’ best interests. In a recent column in The New York Times, Robert Shiller called such behavior “phishing.” ...
Some argue that phishing — or evil nudging — is more dangerous in government than in the private sector. The argument is that government is a monopoly with coercive power, while we have more choice in the private sector over which newspapers we read and which airlines we fly.
I think this distinction is overstated. In a democracy, if a government creates bad policies, it can be voted out of office. Competition in the private sector, however, can easily work to encourage phishing rather than stifle it.
One example is the mortgage industry in the early 2000s. Borrowers were encouraged to take out loans that they could not repay when real estate prices fell. Competition did not eliminate this practice, because it was hard for anyone to make money selling the advice “Don’t take that loan.”

Schedule for Week of November 1st

The key report this week is the October employment report on Friday.

Other key indicators include October vehicle sales, the October ISM manufacturing and non-manufacturing indexes, and the September trade deficit.

There will be several Federal Reserve speakers this week.

----- Monday, November 2nd -----

ISM PMI10:00 AM: ISM Manufacturing Index for October. The consensus is for the ISM to be at 50.0, down from 50.2 in September.

Here is a long term graph of the ISM manufacturing index.

The ISM manufacturing index indicated expansion at 50.2% in September. The employment index was at 50.5%, and the new orders index was at 50.1%.

10:00 AM: Construction Spending for September. The consensus is for a 0.4% increase in construction spending.

2:00 PM ET: the October 2015 Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices from the Federal Reserve.

----- Tuesday, November 3rd -----

Vehicle SalesAll day: Light vehicle sales for October. The consensus is for light vehicle sales to decrease to 17.7 million SAAR in October from 18.1 million in September (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate).

This graph shows light vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967. The dashed line is the September sales rate.

10:00 AM: Manufacturers' Shipments, Inventories and Orders (Factory Orders) for September. The consensus is a 0.9% decrease in orders.

----- Wednesday, November 4th -----

7:00 AM ET: The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) will release the results for the mortgage purchase applications index.

8:15 AM: The ADP Employment Report for October. This report is for private payrolls only (no government). The consensus is for 185,000 payroll jobs added in October, down from 200,000 in September.

U.S. Trade Deficit8:30 AM: Trade Balance report for September from the Census Bureau.

This graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum, through August. The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products.

The consensus is for the U.S. trade deficit to be at $41.1 billion in September from $48.3 billion in August.

10:00 AM: the ISM non-Manufacturing Index for October. The consensus is for index to decrease to 56.7 from 56.9 in September.

----- Thursday, November 5th -----

8:30 AM: The initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released.  The consensus is for 262 thousand initial claims, up from 260 thousand the previous week.

----- Friday, November 6th -----

8:30 AM: Employment Report for October. The consensus is for an increase of 190,000 non-farm payroll jobs added in October, up from the 142,000 non-farm payroll jobs added in September.

The consensus is for the unemployment rate to decrease to 5.0%.

Year-over-year change employmentThis graph shows the year-over-year change in total non-farm employment since 1968.

In September, the year-over-year change was 2.75 million jobs.

A key will be the change in real wages - and as the unemployment rate falls, wage growth should pickup.

3:00 PM: Consumer Credit for September from the Federal Reserve. The consensus is consumer credit increased by $18.0 billion in September.

Early Monday Smackdown: David Graeber Resurfaces in My Twitterstream!


David Graeber Surfaces!: Ignorant and uncurious about the Federal Reserve, the Ming Dynasty, and many other topics--yet somehow eager to claim omniscient authority when he writes about them, and profoundly... resistant to any form of debate or correction...

No, I don't know why David Graeber surfaced suddenly in my twitter stream.

I am not going to waste the time to find out.

What is interesting here is Philip Clarke. He ought to say:

  1. Yes, Graeber got the structure of the Federal Reserve wrong.
  2. Yes, neither Graeber nor his editors did proper due-diligence and fact-checking in preparing the book ms.
  3. But Graeber is a brilliant man extending himself over a very broad intellectual range
  4. So we should be charitable in reading his book.
  5. Because there are brilliant and useful insights in his intellectual work.
  6. Like [X], which is a great insight because of [Y].

People like my friend Suresh Naidu will make (a weaker version of) that argument.

But the relatively green and wet-behind-the-ears Philip Clarke doesn't have the ovaries to be physically able to type step (1) of this argument.

And "I'm too scared of David Graeber to say that he was wrong and that votes on the FOMC are roughly 5/6 public officials, 1/6 banker representatives. So I will try to joke and say the FOMC is made up of Lizard People from ZOG" is perhaps the most undignified intellectual position I have seen anyone adopt this fall...

Well Worth Reading...

Weekend Reading: Elizabeth Barre: What is the Point of a Teacher?

Elizabeth Barre: What is the Point of a Teacher?: "What is it that makes a teacher valuable in a way that books are not?

In what follows, I want to propose that how we answer this question--that is, how we conceptualize the added value of the teacher--is likely to be the best predictor of whether and how we use the lecture within our pedagogical repertoire. Although it is true that most of what happens in college classrooms is the result of inertia (how many of us can honestly say we're doing something radically different from how our teachers taught us?), there are those on both sides of this debate who have put a great deal of thought into their teaching. And I want to argue that for these folks, at least, where they land on the status of the lecture can probably be traced back to how they answer this more fundamental question.

I am, all things considered, a relatively fierce critic of the lecture as a form of pre-scripted continuous exposition by the teacher (though I should add I do not feel the same way about direct instruction that is responsive to students). But after years of debating this issue with friends and colleagues I deeply respect, I've come to realize that this is an issue about which incredibly thoughtful and fair-minded people can disagree.

And the more I've tried to make sense of this disagreement, the more I've come to think it is not really a debate about the research. Instead, it is about defending what we take to be the most valuable component of the work we do as teachers. Worthen hints at this when she jokes that those of us who favor alternative pedagogies are participating in the 'great American pastime of populist resentment of experts.' And those on my side hint at something similar when we joke that 'teaching without learning is just talking.' Both of these jokes are unfair, but they represent fairly well what I take to be the two views animating debates about the lecture.

To help us fix these views in our mind, I want to describe each in its most extreme form. I'm fully aware that this is something of a false dichotomy, and that the reality is that most of us adopt something of a hybrid view. But it is useful to begin here before moving on to the more nuanced positions.

The Teacher-as-Author

According to this view, the pedagogical value of the teacher extends beyond the value of the library for at least three reasons. First, as an expert producer of knowledge, the university teacher is likely to have access to knowledge that has not yet appeared in print. By attending school, students get privileged access to this new knowledge (on this model, the university functions as something similar to a journal paywall). But due to her status as an expert in her field, the teacher is also able to organize the knowledge her students might discover elsewhere. As Chad Wellmon notes in his fascinating book about the rise of the modern research university:

the solution to Enlightenment information overload [via texts] and anxieties about the authority of knowledge was not a more expansive encyclopedia ... but an institution that organized the objects of knowledge.

And on this view, the teacher is valuable insofar as she stands at the center of this organizing project. But because there is no real reason this authoritative organization cannot itself occur via texts (think here of published secondary scholarship and/or textbooks), the value of the professor in the classroom cannot be reduced to this organization alone. So, finally, she is also valuable insofar as she is able to serve as a charismatic and inspiring model of the scholarly production and organization of knowledge within her discipline.[11] The idea is that students gain something of value by experiencing the teacher's production and organization of knowledge because it helps them to '[imagine] themselves part of the scholarly community as a whole.'

Put simply, the point of the teacher is to provide access to knowledge, as well as the experience of its production. And what this access means for the student is ultimately up to the student. If he has no interest in engaging this knowledge or reflecting on his experience in the classroom, that does not make the work of the teacher any less valuable (just as it would not make the work of an author any less valuable if one of her readers chose not to sufficiently engage her text). This view does not deny that students will get more out of their experiences in the classroom if they have been taught to make the most of them; it simply denies that this teaching task should be the focus of a teacher's energies. It is, we might say, not the point of the teacher to help students acquire those skills. As such, the standards of success have less to do with student outcomes than with the extent to which the professor's production and organization of knowledge is charismatic, authoritative, and sound.

The Teacher-as-Tutor

According to this view, the teacher is more valuable than the public library because--unlike inanimate texts--teachers can actively attend to their students and their development. And this attending manifests itself in a variety ways. In the first place, students are understood to be both the subject and object of teaching. The teacher's attention is primarily directed toward the students--who they are when they enter the classroom, how they are changing throughout the semester, and where they end up when they leave. And the ultimate goal of the teaching is to ensure students experience growth in the knowledge, skills, or dispositions teachers (or perhaps even the students themselves) designate as goals in advance.

Teachers also attend to their students by being actively responsive to them and their unique pedagogical needs. If teachers assign readings, demonstrate a skill, or engage in direct instruction, it is always as a response to a specifically demonstrated need. Bill Deresiewicz captures this aspect of attending well when he notes the following: '[we] do not talk to [our] students; [we] listen to them. [We] do not tell them what to do; [we] help them hear what they themselves are saying.' 

Finally, teachers attend to their students by treating their teaching (and student learning) as a scholarly enterprise. And by this I mean they work to become experts on teaching and learning within the unique contexts of their specific classrooms. They not only study the literature, but also their students. And over time they discover the most common mistakes their students are likely to make, as well as the most helpful pedagogical moves to help them overcome those mistakes.

As my name for it suggests, this model of the teacher is much closer to the tutorial system that prevailed for many years in the college systems of Oxford and Cambridge than the pedagogical model handed down to us from the German research university. In the classic version of this system, the tutor meets with groups of two to three students once a week, helping them to work through their responses to the texts they read the previous week. Although the tutor has ultimate control of the curriculum, the texts are often chosen in collaboration with the students. And according to the Oxford Institute for the Advancement of University Learning, 'The tutor is not a teacher in the sense that it is her or his role to impart information. Rather, the tutor’s role is to encourage her students creatively to engage with the knowledge they have encountered, constructing and re-constructing their own understanding. By demonstrating in this way the methods of the scholar, the best tutors enable their students to achieve their own scholarly independence.'

As I noted at the outset, these two models present something of a false dichotomy. The reality is that most of us believe teachers are valuable for all of these reasons. Or, at the very least, that the approach we favor is at its best when it incorporates elements of the other model, as well. And this hybridity is not simply a feature of the contemporary 'multiversity' that tries to combine the British College with the German University. When one looks at the earliest descriptions of each model, hints of the alternative are already present. The tutorial was never meant to replace the direct instruction of the authoritative scholar, and both Fichte and Schleiermacher (two major proponents of the modern research university) argued that direct instruction must be supplemented by 'additional forms of interaction and community between professors and students ... small groups, individual conversations, testing, and sessions in which students share their work.'

So what this means for my purposes is that I am NOT trying to argue that debates about the lecture are about defending our allegiance to one of these two starkly drawn views. The reality is that those of us who endorse active pedagogies take disciplinary expertise quite seriously. It is hard to imagine how we might successfully develop our students without the expert ability to organize knowledge and model scholarly argument. Likewise, I know that many of those who endorse the lecture recognize the value of responsive assignments, feedback, and even small group discussions for student learning (as I noted in my third footnote, we should recognize that Worthen was defending a model that includes weekly discussion sections).

So what are we arguing about if not the efficacy of the lecture? I want to suggest that in our debates about the lecture, we are ultimately arguing about how these various aspects of our identities should be prioritized.

And if you think you value each aspect of your teaching identity equally, just ask yourself this: in the context of the contemporary university, where professorial time is scarce, which parts of your job would you be most willing to outsource? Would you feel most anxious having someone else organize knowledge for your students or having someone else attend to their individualized development (leading discussions, organizing and grading assignments, providing feedback in office hours, etc.)? And if you think you aren't doing either of these things, ask yourself this: do you assign secondary sources or videos as forms of direct instruction? Do you leave discussion sections and grading to your graduate students?

Alternatively, you could ask yourself the following: when it comes to training future teachers, which kinds of expertise should we be developing? Should we be focusing our energies on developing their abilities to organize and produce knowledge? Or should we be developing their understanding of the typical struggles students will have acquiring knowledge in their discipline, and the best strategies for responding to those struggles? Which do you think PhDs are smart enough to 'pick up along the way'? Are you more troubled by the thought of a newly minted PhD with no teaching experience (or training) teaching a class in his or her subject area, or by the thought of an expert teacher, with years of experience teaching undergraduates, teaching a course far outside the field in which she received a PhD?

If you're anything like me, these questions are likely to produce some fairly strong reactions. And it seems to me these reactions are at the root of why our conversations about the lecture have such an edge. When someone suggests that, given the time constraints of the modern university, it is OK to abandon or outsource the thing we take to be the core of our teaching identities, it's understandable that we get grumpy. This also explains why so much of the rhetoric on both sides of this debate is about teachers 'not doing their jobs' when they adopt one or the other approach. And it's entirely understandable we get even more grumpy when we're told the thing we value most about our jobs is tantamount to not doing them at all.

So where does that leave us? I don't imagine that framing the debate in this way is going to change anyone's mind about the value of the teacher or the value of the lecture. We are likely to be arguing about this long after I'm gone. My hope, however, is that reframing the debate in this way will help us have the right kind of argument. Instead of trying to defend our practices in terms of the research literature (a literature that presupposes student outcomes as the standard of success), we should be having a normative debate about what we think we should be providing our students, and why.

And while we're at it, we should be including our students in these conversations. They do, after all, have much more at stake in these debates than we do. I have no reason to doubt my friends who tell me their students (or their past selves) consider the lectures of world-renowned experts to be what they signed up for. But because I have seen, along with Deresiewicz, that many of our students are starved 'for validation, for connection--for (let's not be shy of saying it) parental figures other than their parents,' I'm certain they are just as likely to see value in teachers who attend to them and their development, as well.

And what better way to attend to our students--that is, to teach them--than by urging them to join us in this conversation?

Well Worth Reading...

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