Category Archives: Life in General

“don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology”

Go ahead, click on the video and enjoy the music before reading below. Sam Cooke predicted in 1960 an attitude that is gaining momentum.

A diminished expectation of ability or preparation is one under discussed consequence of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency; in short, we now believe anybody can do the job. But this is thoroughly consistent with the recent death of respect for ability or expertise. The February 2017 edition of Foreign Affairs has an article on the loss of respect for expertise and superior levels of knowledge in America. The basic argument, which was well defended, is that Americans have increasingly lost their respect for achievement and the sense that somebody actually knows something more than others and should be listened to. The article can be found here. Moreover, those confronted with their ignorance are fierce in defense of their own opinions.

The article reports an interesting, and depressing, experiment where subjects were asked if the United States should intervene militarily in the Ukraine. Only one in six of the respondents could actually identify the Ukraine on a map and most of them were off by about 1,800 miles. But the real news value of the study was the correlation between the strength of one’s intensity for intervention and how far off they were from being able to identify the location of the Ukraine. In other words, those who are most ignorant about the geographic location of the Ukraine and perhaps thought it was in South America were also the most enthusiastic about military force. In another study Democrats and Republicans were asked whether or not they would support the bombing of the country of Agrabah. About 1/3 of Republicans said they would and 36% of Democrats were opposed. There is no such country as Agrabah.

Again, the issue is not so much that people are ignorant of geography or foreign relations. That’s another issue. The bigger problem is that many people don’t respect established knowledge and are sometimes even proud of rejecting the advice of an actual expert. There is an increasing belief that all information is manipulated and perceptual (note “fake news” or the Trump campaign’s use of “alternative facts”). In this era of post-truth everyone figures that language is unstable so every person’s knowledge or meanings are as good as the next.

There are more than a few reasons for this loss of faith in expertise. The disrespect for experts is one of the more insidious. There is now a segment of the population that takes pleasure in challenging expertise not on the basis of superior knowledge or argument but because they see elites as evil and cannot tolerate being told anything. I grant you that sometimes elites can be insufferable and arrogant but that doesn’t detract from their better knowledge. Journalists, pundits, opinion writers, and professors have lost favor over the decades with the population and are now seen as antagonists rather than sources of reliable information.

It is also true that the world of information is complex and it is easy to feel insecure about one’s control of information. Nobody could be in command of everything and we are all relianton experts and those who know more than we do. One of the skills of the educated – and should be even more emphasized in schools – is the ability to identify reliable sources of information; the ability to judge and evaluate and make educated decisions about the quality of information.

It’s okay if Sam Cooke’s love struck friend “doesn’t know much about history, or biology” as long as somebody does and we as a society recognize that expertise.








Carving Up the Internet with Blogs I Like: Some Conservative, Some Liberal, Some Just Fun

Blogs are probably the best form of user generated content. And finding good blogs is a challenge because there’s plenty of junk out there. Let’s take a look at a little of the organizational structure for blogs. The network of computers that connects us all makes for an ecosystem and every blog fits somewhere into that system. The first type of blog and the most popular is the personal blog. This is the type of blog where you express yourself and layout your own feelings and thoughts. Of course, if you happen to be bright and interesting and quirky than these are good blogs. But if you are dull and plodding than your blog will follow suit. A good example of a personal blog is You can check it out here:  is a personal blog that records the person’s life. A second type of blog is a filtering blog. These simply lists links with little or no commentary but they connect you to many other blogs. Filtering blogs filter the web from the blogger’s point of view. So some topics are more representative than others. Jason Kottke’s blog is a particularly good example that uses the web to represent his own interests particularly when he and his wife had a baby. You can find the blog here:   Jason Kottke’s Blog

Topical blogs are of course extremely popular  and they are simply devoted to issues and focused topics rather than the blogger.  You can probably imagine the variety of topics available on the Internet.  Politics is important but less so than you might think. A Pew Internet research study in 2006 found that only around 11% of all blogs were primarily about politics .  You might also try The Daily Kos and The Artful Parent.  Topical blogs usually take the practice of  writing a post like a news story;  that is, they describe an activity and then include additional information  and insights about that activity.  Some of these topical blogs are simply quirky and creative and enjoyable to read.  For this, I would recommend “your civic doody.”  You can find it here: Your Civic Doody.

Liberal blogs are plentiful on the web but there are even more conservative blogs.  One fellow who is chronically pissed and pretty fun to read  can be a found here : chronically Pissed. An angry liberal blogger. No holds barred language

And conservative blogs can also be informative  and a reading pleasure :  Conservative Blog  or Americans or

Conservative musings. Good portrayal of the conservative mentality

The conventions and the  practices of blogging will change over time.  Blogs will change as the technology changes  as well as the  communication interests of people.  Still,  there are millions of blogs and very few of them receive very much attention .  But it is also important not to think of them as mass communication .  They are not designed  for the masses but for  slices of the audience. I think the issue of  whether blogs are simply a medium  or whether they are genre of writing  is an interesting one. If they are simply an electronic tool through which text passes  then they have relatively little to offer  other than speed and availability.  But if they are genre of writing  then blogs stand to  play a significant role in the expression of information.

Power outage

Major power outage in Connecticut and I have no access to a computer. Blog posts will continue next week. Don Ellis

How Do You Get from Chomsky to bin Laden?

 One of the valuable pieces of intelligence found by the Navy Seals in bin Laden’s hideaway was a copy of Noam Chomsky’s book. Apparently, when Osama wanted to do some light reading he put his feet up and popped open a little Chomsky. Or there might even be times when Osama needed an ideological boost. Perhaps he became too comfortable with Coca-Cola and computer technology – all creations of the imperialistic west – and felt himself faltering ideologically. Chomsky would surely roust you out of your ideological stupor and have you back on the track of a revolutionary utopia in no time.

Hugo Chavez was also a Chomsky fan and tried desperately to get George Bush to read it. What is it about Chomsky that makes him so appealing to authoritarian leaders? Well, on one hand, it’s simple. Chomsky is a scathing critic of the United States and provides authoritarian leaders with intellectual sustenance. Chomsky argues that American media operates essentially on a propaganda model. This means that the US uses the media as a nonviolent means of control, similar to totalitarian governments, and that American propaganda is a weapon in the same way that totalitarian leaders use guns as weapons. Read more about the propaganda model here. Chomsky has been a critic of about every aspect of United States including its war on terrorism, activities in the Middle East, anti-Semitism, Cuba, globalization, and numerous other political topics.

 But Chomsky’s critique of American politics and foreign policy is not my main concern. We should not forget that Chomsky is an intellectual and an academic in the purest sense of the terms. It is his job to tell us what he thinks. There are more than a few spots where he makes sense or touches on a nerve of truth.

 Chomsky and bin Laden: Opposites Attract?

 Interestingly, it would be possible to put Chomsky and bin Laden on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. What could they possibly have in common? I mean Chomsky is a classic leftist urging revolution to overturn repressive rule of czars or presidents or whomever. He calls for class warfare and for the oppressed of the world to rise up and break their chains. It is a secular ideology that “never met a minority group that wasn’t oppressed.” The PLO is one such example of the secular leftist group with an agenda and political perspective left over from the Cold War. During the life of the Soviet Union most politically motivated violence was inspired by repressive political systems such as the Soviets. But there is a difference between politically motivated violence and terror. The Cuban revolution was politically motivated and designed to amass the military and political forces necessary for political change. But it was not “terror” in the sense that we use the word today; that is, the killing of innocents for the purpose of sowing fear. I realize that the word “terror” has become a broad metaphor for any type of violence one opposes. But if we cling to the most typical definition of terror, then it does not include cases of violence between recognized military units or those situations where a populace is protecting itself against a repressive government. Religion, in the case of secular leftists, was used in the service of oppressive governments to pacify a populace, or was out rightly banned and discouraged.

 What could all this have to do with bin Laden? What would bin Laden get out of Chomsky other then harsh criticism of the United States? Bin Laden is extremely religious and wants to replace governments with religious polities. Bin Laden’s battle for the sensitivities of others is filtered through the prism of religion; Chomsky’s battle for the sensitivities of others is filtered through the prism of capitalism. Bin Laden, unlike Chomsky, is a conservative force who wants to religiously constrain the behaviors of citizens and governments. Bin Laden does not want to “free” a public – except in the most metaphorically stretched sense of the term used mostly as a rhetorical trick – he wants to confine them in the narrow religious world.

 The answer to what these two find in each other probably lives in the mind of the “true believer.” Both Chomsky and bin Laden have clearly defined and rigid political ideologies that are considered true with the capital “T.” As the secular social justification for violence has passed with the third wave of democracy and the demise of the Soviet Union, the true believer must find a new ideology to legitimize himself. This at least partially explains the rise in Islamic extremism. Chomsky’s secular revolutionary belief system may seem incompatible with Islam, but they have deep kinship when it comes to the justification of violence. Both consider themselves to be arguing for utopias, although both would strenuously disagree with the use of the word utopia in an unattainable sense, and both believe that violence is justified. In fairness to Chomsky, he calls for anarchy rather than terror but bin Laden sees the two as conflated.

 Chomsky and bin Laden share the mentality of true believers. That’s what they see in each other, that’s the foundation of bin Laden’s attraction to Chomsky; true believers have fanatical faith and extravagant hope. This is what binds the oneness of opposites and makes it possible for the conservative bin Laden to find common cause with the liberal Chomsky. There’s a great passion and great attraction to those who believe strongly in something. The high diction of “sacrifice” and “commitment” accompanies the true believer and the appeal is mesmerizing.

 The appeal is mesmerizing but potentially dangerous. For as Hoffer wrote:

 The true believer is “without wonder and hesitation.” “An active mass movement rejects the present and centers its interest on the future.” (p. 82) The mass movement hates independence and individualism.

 Even at the risk of glossing over important differences between Chomsky and bin Laden, it bears warning that the mind of the true believer is potentially more dangerous than the politics contained therein.

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