Ellen Handler Spitz Reviews "The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales Of The Brothers Grimm" | The New Republic

The Storytellers

Anne Anderson's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves"

The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm

translated and edited by Maria Tatar

W.W. Norton & Company, 368 pp., $16.95

Year after year, we print and re-print fairy tales. What is it that makes them valuable? Should we keep telling them, and if so, why? What about their detractors, the self-appointed child protectors who complain about their violence and cruelty, not to mention a different set of worriers who protest their “false” happy endings? And surely the tales do not teach morality. Remember the egregious brutality of that spoiled princess in The Frog King who, after hurling the little animal who helped her against the wall, gets rewarded. And we quail at even a mention of The Jew in the Brambles, an outrageous portrayal of barbarism and prejudice, which, in Maria Tatar’s new selection of the Grimm fairy tales, wisely appears only in a separate section marked for adults. 

via tnr.com

See link for the rest.

Matters of life and death – Prospect Magazine

Matters of life and death

  7th October 2010  —  Issue 175 Free entry
Interest in “trolleyology”—a way of studying moral quandaries—has taken off in recent years. Some philosophers say it sheds useful light on human behaviour, others see it as a pointless pursuit of the unknowable

The “trolley problem” thought experiment is designed to test our moral intuitions


A shocking memo leaked to Prospect, drafted by civil servants from the treasury and the department of health, exposes the stark reality of future cutbacks. Harsh decisions are inevitable, says the memo; in one NHS trust people on life-support systems are to be “finished off” on 1st November—either by smothering, or by having the plugs pulled out. Their organs are then to be used to save the lives of others on transplant-waiting lists, who have themselves become a considerable burden to the taxpayer. The total saving to the trust is estimated at £2.3m a year.

Hogwash, of course. But the government will make some tough choices in its spending review on 20th October, and these will cost lives. Whether “efficiencies” are made in the department of transport, the military or the NHS, there will be victims, even if they are unidentifiable. Governments always have to prioritise—choosing, for example, between a cheap medicine which benefits few people a little, and an expensive one which benefits many people a lot. But in hard financial times, such predicaments become more acute.

Moral philosophers have long debated under what circumstances it is acceptable to kill and why, for example, we object to killing a patient for their organs, but not to a distribution of resources that funds some drugs rather than others. To understand the debate you need to understand the trolley problem. It was conceived decades ago by two grande dames of philosophy: Philippa Foot of Oxford University (click here to read more about Foot) and Judith Jarvis Thomson of MIT. The core problem involves two thought experiments—call the first “Spur” and the second “Fat Man.”

In Spur, (see diagram one, below), an out-of-control trolley—or train—is hurtling towards five people on the track, who face certain death. You are nearby and, by turning a switch, could send the trolley onto a spur and save their lives. But one man is chained to the spur and would be killed if the trolley is diverted. Should you flick the switch?

In Fat Man (see diagram two), the same trolley is about to kill five people. This time, you are on a footbridge overlooking the track, next to a fat man. (The Fat Man is now sometimes described as a large gentleman. But fat or large, the fact of his corpulence is essential.) If you were to push him off the bridge onto the track his bulk would stop the trolley and save the lives of those five people—but kill him. Do you push him?

Study after study has shown that people will sacrifice the spur man but not the fat man. Yet in both cases, one person is killed to save five others. What, then, is the relevant ethical distinction between them? This question has spawned a thriving academic mini-industry, called trolleyology.

See link for the rest,,,,

C. S. Lewis: Of all tyrannies

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
C. S. Lewis

 

What Rough Beast?

The news is gloomy.  Our national debt is greater than we think. Our populations are regressing to fatalism and dependency . Some of us have lost those exceptional qualities and virtues that made America such a success.  But now we are in decline. We are losing our will to play a leading part in the world. Unemployment and a distorted market seem to be our fate.

The decline will mean a weakened dollar, higher taxes, less innovation, but more social welfare programs. The free and independent citizen morphs into a cllient of the state. Housing, food, education, healthcare, elder care--all the needs once nurtured by the family are to be managed by the state. And as our domestic need grows ever, our ability to spend abroad declines and with that our influence in the world.  Mark Stein points to the cases of England and France.  Each was the center of an empire and defined civilization, yet within eighty to a hundred years each was an empty shell living off its former strength--and, not incidentally, each protected in its decline by the Americans.

Now it is America's turn to decline, some say. Even the President of the United States thinks American exceptionalism is mostly myth.  We are all the same, under the skin.It's time for us to get off our high horses and join the community of nations. Such thinking, say the doomsters, is itself a sign of the decline.

But what follows if the doomsday scenario comes to pass?  Will the new world order post-
America preserve anything of what made America exceptional? Or will that exceptionalism prove ephemeral or even illusory, as some seem to believe?  Will we end up like Athens and Rome--glorious for a time but utterly vanished (except for cultural influenes) and in utter ruin?

Connecting the Dots: Back to Literature

There's not much a person can do to make grammar exciting to a student so I am also excited about lit also.

This from a teacher. Not, "It is hard to convey how fascinating grammar is to some students' but "it is hard to make the subject of grammar, which bores me, into something of interest to my students." If he would stop pandering--wasting time with silly movies for example--maybe there would be a chance. He could use the wonderful O Brother Where Art Thou? instead of Troy. 

But I am being too harsh. The poor guy is rowing against the tide. And he is no different than the men who taught me in high school so long ago.  So few of them seemed to really enjoy what he taught.


MLA's Open Letter to Arizona Governor

There is no rational basis for making language ability an indicator of an individual’s citizenship or residency status.
via mla.org

That sentence appears in an open letter issued by the Moderrn Language Association (MLA)  to the Governor of Arizona in protest of the law passed by its legislature requiring law enforcement officers to check the residency status of anyone they lawfully stop for other reasons whose residency status the officer has reason to doubt.  The Supreme Court has already held that an officer who stopped a car full of people in the early morning and found that none could speak English and none had legal ID was within his rights in taking them to the Federal Immigration Center, where they were found to be "undocumented" (some say, "illegal aliens.')

"There is no rational basis" is a huge claim to defend. Why not claim instead that there is merely insufficient reational basis?  That while there may be SOME reason to think that people who cannot speak English may be foreigners and therefore may be undocumented, the preponderance of reason is on the other side, Surely, a skillful reasoner will defend the easier to defend proposition. But not the MLA. Instead, they make a demonstrably false claim. The reason for the blunder is that they want to influence a court: "no rational basis" is a legal term from Constitutional law. The Constitution of the United States holds that states may not discriminate against particular groups or individuals when there is no rational basis for doing so. Conversely, a rational basis will allow some laws to stand. States can and do discriminate against prostitutes, since it is rational to want to limit the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  The MLA wants to go on record as supporting the claim that Arizona had no rational basis "for making language ability an indicator of ... residency status." We could all agree that it would not make sense for language to be the sole indicator. But that is not what the MLA claims. They claim it cannot be an indicator at all. Contra Arizona, the MLA contends that one ought not to think a question of legal status is raised because of language and accent--even when taken together with other evidence.

Would a rational being doubt the proposition that if we wish to pressure illegal immigrants to return to their country of origin--nothing stops them from applying for citizenship--we must first find them? And while the ideal of the MLA is lovely--the law cannot even SUSPECT me just because I can't speak English and have no means of identifying myself--it remains true that we ALL get inconvenienced by the law from time to time. Arizona believes taht the rational basis test is well met when one considers the problems Arizona is trying to solve.

Is the MLA a scholarly organization or a political activist group? Nowadays the question may not even make sense to some.

 

The Lileks Zone : Hughniverse

The Reverse Groucho Rule

June 30th, 2010 James Lileks 1 comment

On the way back from the coffee shop – sustainable shade-grown fair-trade coffee served by a twentysomething hipster with a metal bone through his lip – I was listening to Michael Medved. (It all averages out at the end of the day.)

Like Lileks, I too have witnessed the devolution, as more and more Americans show their solidarity with the primitive (tatoos, bones through nose of Africa) or rejection of everything (anarchists protesting the system with bombs). An element of youth rejects reason, the enlightenment, Aquinas, etc. For many, Western Civilization is just a cover up operation for a giant colonial rip off of the Other worlds of Africa, India, Indonesia and wherever else the European Colonial Powers chose to meddle and govern and demean.

The American Spectator : America's Ruling Class -- And the Perils of Revolution

Feature

America's Ruling Class -- And the Perils of Revolution

By from the July 2010 - August 2010 issue

As over-leveraged investment houses began to fail in September 2008, the leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties, of major corporations, and opinion leaders stretching from the National Review magazine (and the Wall Street Journal) on the right to the Nation magazine on the left, agreed that spending some $700 billion to buy the investors' "toxic assets" was the only alternative to the U.S. economy's "systemic collapse." In this, President George W. Bush and his would-be Republican successor John McCain agreed with the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama. Many, if not most, people around them also agreed upon the eventual commitment of some 10 trillion nonexistent dollars in ways unprecedented in America. They explained neither the difference between the assets' nominal and real values, nor precisely why letting the market find the latter would collapse America. The public objected immediately, by margins of three or four to one.

When this majority discovered that virtually no one in a position of power in either party or with a national voice would take their objections seriously, that decisions about their money were being made in bipartisan backroom deals with interested parties, and that the laws on these matters were being voted by people who had not read them, the term "political class" came into use. Then, after those in power changed their plans from buying toxic assets to buying up equity in banks and major industries but refused to explain why, when they reasserted their right to decide ad hoc on these and so many other matters, supposing them to be beyond the general public's understanding, the American people started referring to those in and around government as the "ruling class." And in fact Republican and Democratic office holders and their retinues show a similar presumption to dominate and fewer differences in tastes, habits, opinions, and sources of income among one another than between both and the rest of the country. They think, look, and act as a class.

Although after the election of 2008 most Republican office holders argued against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, against the subsequent bailouts of the auto industry, against the several "stimulus" bills and further summary expansions of government power to benefit clients of government at the expense of ordinary citizens, the American people had every reason to believe that many Republican politicians were doing so simply by the logic of partisan opposition. After all, Republicans had been happy enough to approve of similar things under Republican administrations. Differences between Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas are of degree, not kind. Moreover, 2009-10 establishment Republicans sought only to modify the government's agenda while showing eagerness to join the Democrats in new grand schemes, if only they were allowed to. Sen. Orrin Hatch continued dreaming of being Ted Kennedy, while Lindsey Graham set aside what is true or false about "global warming" for the sake of getting on the right side of history. No prominent Republican challenged the ruling class's continued claim of superior insight, nor its denigration of the American people as irritable children who must learn their place. The Republican Party did not disparage the ruling class, because most of its officials are or would like to be part of it.

Never has there been so little diversity within America's upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America's upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another. Few had much contact with government, and "bureaucrat" was a dirty word for all. So was "social engineering." Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday's upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed.

Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters -- speaking the "in" language -- serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America's ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.

The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century's Northerners and Southerners -- nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, "prayed to the same God." By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God "who created and doth sustain us," our ruling class prays to itself as "saviors of the planet" and improvers of humanity. Our classes' clash is over "whose country" America is, over what way of life will prevail, over who is to defer to whom about what. The gravity of such divisions points us, as it did Lincoln, to Mark's Gospel: "if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand."

The Political Divide

Important as they are, our political divisions are the iceberg's tip. When pollsters ask the American people whether they are likely to vote Republican or Democrat in the next presidential election, Republicans win growing pluralities. But whenever pollsters add the preferences "undecided," "none of the above," or "tea party," these win handily, the Democrats come in second, and the Republicans trail far behind. That is because while most of the voters who call themselves Democrats say that Democratic officials represent them well, only a fourth of the voters who identify themselves as Republicans tell pollsters that Republican officeholders represent them well. Hence officeholders, Democrats and Republicans, gladden the hearts of some one-third of the electorate -- most Democratic voters, plus a few Republicans. This means that Democratic politicians are the ruling class's prime legitimate representatives and that because Republican politicians are supported by only a fourth of their voters while the rest vote for them reluctantly, most are aspirants for a junior role in the ruling class. In short, the ruling class has a party, the Democrats. But some two-thirds of Americans -- a few Democratic voters, most Republican voters, and all independents -- lack a vehicle in electoral politics.

Sooner or later, well or badly, that majority's demand for representation will be filled. Whereas in 1968 Governor George Wallace's taunt "there ain't a dime's worth of difference" between the Republican and Democratic parties resonated with only 13.5 percent of the American people, in 1992 Ross Perot became a serious contender for the presidency (at one point he was favored by 39 percent of Americans vs. 31 percent for G.H.W. Bush and 25 percent for Clinton) simply by speaking ill of the ruling class. Today, few speak well of the ruling class. Not only has it burgeoned in size and pretense, but it also has undertaken wars it has not won, presided over a declining economy and mushrooming debt, made life more expensive, raised taxes, and talked down to the American people. Americans' conviction that the ruling class is as hostile as it is incompetent has solidified. The polls tell us that only about a fifth of Americans trust the government to do the right thing. The rest expect that it will do more harm than good and are no longer afraid to say so.

While Europeans are accustomed to being ruled by presumed betters whom they distrust, the American people's realization of being ruled like Europeans shocked this country into well nigh revolutionary attitudes. But only the realization was new. The ruling class had sunk deep roots in America over decades before 2008. Machiavelli compares serious political diseases to the Aetolian fevers -- easy to treat early on while they are difficult to discern, but virtually untreatable by the time they become obvious.

Far from speculating how the political confrontation might develop between America's regime class -- relatively few people supported by no more than one-third of Americans -- and a country class comprising two-thirds of the country, our task here is to understand the divisions that underlie that confrontation's unpredictable future. More on politics below.

The Ruling Class

Who are these rulers, and by what right do they rule? How did America change from a place where people could expect to live without bowing to privileged classes to one in which, at best, they might have the chance to climb into them? What sets our ruling class apart from the rest of us?

The most widespread answers -- by such as the Times's Thomas Friedman and David Brooks -- are schlock sociology. Supposedly, modern society became so complex and productive, the technical skills to run it so rare, that it called forth a new class of highly educated officials and cooperators in an ever less private sector. Similarly fanciful is Edward Goldberg's notion that America is now ruled by a "newocracy": a "new aristocracy who are the true beneficiaries of globalization -- including the multinational manager, the technologist and the aspirational members of the meritocracy." In fact, our ruling class grew and set itself apart from the rest of us by its connection with ever bigger government, and above all by a certain attitude.

Other explanations are counterintuitive. Wealth? The heads of the class do live in our big cities' priciest enclaves and suburbs, from Montgomery County, Maryland, to Palo Alto, California, to Boston's Beacon Hill as well as in opulent university towns from Princeton to Boulder. But they are no wealthier than many Texas oilmen or California farmers, or than neighbors with whom they do not associate -- just as the social science and humanities class that rules universities seldom associates with physicians and physicists. Rather, regardless of where they live, their social-intellectual circle includes people in the lucrative "nonprofit" and "philanthropic" sectors and public policy. What really distinguishes these privileged people demographically is that, whether in government power directly or as officers in companies, their careers and fortunes depend on government. They vote Democrat more consistently than those who live on any of America's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Streets. These socioeconomic opposites draw their money and orientation from the same sources as the millions of teachers, consultants, and government employees in the middle ranks who aspire to be the former and identify morally with what they suppose to be the latter's grievances.

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Letter to the Editor

Codevilla is always thought-provoking.