Tag Archives: Writing

Writing as Microcosm, Part One: Publish and Perish, by John Michael Greer

It’s become very difficult to make much money as a writer, and unfortunately, that statement applies to a lot of other professions and occupations as well. From John Michael Greer at ecosophia.net:

’m not sure how many of my readers have noticed the massive realignment going on right now at the foundations of the industrial economy. Venture below the towering abstractions of notional wealth that fill business websites, all the way to the base, and you’ll find that the whole gargantuan structure rests on certain relationships between individuals and the economy. Most people in the industrial world participate in economic activities in two ways: selling their time and labor to businesses as employees, and buying goods and services from businesses as consumers. That’s the base from which the whole tottering mess rises.

What we’re seeing now is that a growing number of people have lost interest in continuing to fill those particular roles. Intractable labor shortages are becoming the norm in today’s industrial societies. Part of that is a function of the soaring number of people who are struggling with bad health just now—no, we don’t have to get into why that’s happening—but not all of it. At the same time, the consumer side of the equation is also collapsing, and stores are floundering as inventory builds up and sales slump. Quite a bit of that is a function of the wicked blend of inflation and recession that’s got the global economy in its grip, but again, that’s not all of it.

You can catch a whisper of what else is going on if you listen to the frequent rants heard from the managerial class these days about how young people just don’t want to work any more. Talk to the young people in question and you’ll find that quite a few of them are working very hard on projects of their own. What they’re not willing to do is waste their lives working in abusive and humiliating environments to make someone else rich, in exchange for rock-bottom wages, no prospect for advancement, and no benefits worth mentioning. That their reaction comes as a surprise to anyone is a good measure of just how detached our society’s comfortable classes have become from the reality their preferred policies have created.

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No, it is not elitist to correct students’ spelling, by Frank Furedi

Nor is it elitist to refuse to hire someone who can’t spell, or write and talk proper English. From Frank Furedi at spiked-online.org:

Some universities now claim it is ‘white, male and elitist’ to expect students to have good English.

I wasn’t surprised when I read that some British universities are adopting the philistine policy of not marking students down for spelling and grammar errors. Nor was I surprised to learn that sections of British higher education have embraced the anti-intellectual practice of ‘inclusive assessment’. The aim of this is to narrow the attainment gap between white and black, Asian and ethnic-minority students.

Unfortunately, this strategy of ‘narrowing the attainment gap’ is not about levelling upwards with high-quality academic teaching. Rather, the advocates of ‘inclusive assessment’ are more interested in lowering the already low expectations that universities have of students from certain backgrounds.

One of the key tactics of the inclusive-assessment outlook is to brand genuine academic expectations and standards as ‘elitist’. This is why some university administrators are instructing academics not to lower students’ marks for spelling mistakes – because good English is increasingly seen as an elitist demand; as something associated with the ‘homogeneous, north European, white male elite’.

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The Common Core of Education Failure: The Language and Literacy Disaster, by Linda Schrock Taylor

How do we think? With words, mostly. If you don’t understand words, if you don’t understand how they’re structured, can you think anything but the most simple thoughts? The American educational system is destroying the ability to think. From Linda Schrock Taylor at lewrockwell.com:

Literacy failures continue to compound with each generation as mis-educators focus on everything except the core problem:  The Devastation of Language and Literacy.

The vast majority of Americans no longer Hear, Speak, Spell, Read, or Write English with competency, let alone with skill. The destruction of Americans’ ability to precisely understand and use their own language is at the root of every problem that faces our nation: school failure;  dearth of general knowledge; limited horizons; shallow, inaccurate thought processes; poor communication skills; unemployability; criminality; and the development of this shallow, polarized society in which we live.  Still teachers are wasting precious educational time, and damaging young brains, with flashcards and sight word memorization.

We have no reason to expect any noticeable change, whether a Hobby Educator, or a Degreed Educator, is at the helm of the money wasting, regulation imposing, U.S. Department of Education.  The True Educators have mostly died off or been spiritually beaten into silence.  Thus far, no one in power has been willing to 1) accurately identify the Core Problem and its breadth,  2) agree to fund only proven traditional methods, and 3) demand absolute use of successful teaching methods.  Only by doing these three things can America solve the Core Problem at each level and thus RESET the learning and intellectual abilities of all Americans:  Preschool; Elementary; 6-12th  Grades, and Adult.

The Goal should be Life Learning Until America Is Re-Educated!

Most modern teachers in America have never taught any child to be a great reader.  My very wise educator mother always maintained that, “Children, who do learn to read in today’s schools, learn in spite of the instruction.”  I have to agree with her.  My own son, by the school’s own testing, was reading at the 11th grade level in Second Grade BUT he was forced to use First Grade basal readers in the classroom because that was the level of the lowest child.  He was not allowed to check out chapter books from the school library because the school rule was that children could not check out chapter books until Third Grade, no matter their reading level.  It is not politically correct to be a very intelligent child in today’s public schools.

To continue reading: The Common Core of Education Failure: The Language and Literacy Disaster

He Said That? 11/20/16

From Voltaire (1694–1778), French writer, deist and philosopher, letter to Marie-Louise Denis (1752), a good reminder to writers:

To hold a pen is to be at war. This world is one vast temple consecrated to discord

He Said That? 8/27/16

From Leon Uris (1924-2003), American novelist:

This was what I came to found. The conquest of loneliness was the missing link that was one day going to make a decent novelist out of me. If you are out here and cannot close off the loves and hates of all that back there in the real world the memories will overtake you and swamp you and wilt your tenacity. Tenacity stamina… close off to everything and everyone but your writing. That s the bloody price. I don t know maybe it’s some kind of ultimate selfishness. Maybe it’s part of the killer instinct. Unless you can stash away and bury thoughts of your greatest love you cannot sustain the kind of concentration that breaks most men trying to write a book over a three or four year period.

He Said That? 7/31/16

From Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), American novelist, short story writer, and journalist, New York Journal-American (11 July 1961):

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

Ground Control to Captain Zhou Xiaochuan, by James Howard Kuntsler

Most blog writing is serviceable, some of it is atrocious, and once in while you find a gem. James Howard Kunstler’s piece won’t tell you anything you probably don’t already know about China, but the writing is superb. The first paragraph in particular far exceeds standard Internet fare. From Kunstler at kunstler.com:

Why would anybody suppose that the Peoples Bank of China might want to tell the truth about anything that was within their power to lie about? Especially the soundness of any loan portfolio vested unto the grasp of its tentacles? Of course, most of what China has done in speeding toward the wall of financial crack-up, it learned from watching US bankers slime their way into Too Big To Fail nirvana — most particularly the array of swindles, dodges, and frauds constructed in the half-light of shadow banking to hedge the sudden, catastrophic appearance of reality-based price discovery.

When so many loans end up networked as collateral in some kind of bet against previous bets against other previous bets, you can be sure that cascading contagion will follow. And so that is exactly what’s happening as China’s rocket ride into Modernity falls back to earth. Like most historical fiascos, it seemed like a good idea at the time: take a nation of about a billion people living in the equivalent of the Twelfth Century, introduce the magic of money printing, spend a gazillion of it on CAT and Kubota earth-moving machines, build the biggest cement industry the world has ever seen, purchase whole factory set-ups, and flood the rest of the world with stuff. Then the trouble starts when you try to defeat the business cycles associated with over-production and saturated markets.

Poor China and poor us. Escape velocity has failed. Which raises the question: escape from what, exactly? Answer: the implacable limits of life on earth. The metaphor for all this, of course, is the old journey-into-space idea, which still persists in the salesmanship of Elon Musk, the ragged remnants of NASA, and even the nightmares of Stephen Hawking. Get off this messed-up home planet and light out of the territories, say Mars. Of course, this is a vain and stupid idea, since we already have a planet engineered to perfection for all the life systems associated with the human project. We just can’t respect its limits.

So now, that dynamic duo, Nature and Reality, the actual owners of the planet, have showed up to read the riot act to the renters throwing a wild party. The fourth and perhaps ultimate financial crisis of the last twenty years begins to express itself in terms that only the raptors and vultures can see from on high. George Soros, Kyle Bass, and the other flocking shadow banking scavengers prepare to short the living shit out of the old Middle Kingdom. The immortal words of G.W. Bush ring in their ears: “This sucker is going down,” and they are sure to win big by betting on the obvious. Trouble is, this sucker could go down so much further than they imagined, that whatever fortunes they gain from its descent will be foiled by the destruction of the very economic system needed for them to enjoy their gains.

To continue reading: Ground Control to Captain Zhou Xiaochuan


He Said That? 11/14/15

From Mark Twain (1835-1910), American author and humorist, on writing:

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Confession Of An Economist: Writing To Impress Rather Than Inform, by David Hakes

Earlier today SLL took some well-deserved shots at the economics profession (“Herd Extinct“). Here’s some more shots, from an economist. However, it should be noted that the crime to which Mr. Hakes pleads guilty—writing to impress rather than inform—is not one exclusively committed by economists. In fact, the blogosphere is filled with bloggers who wrap whatever kernels of analysis, wisdom, and insight they’ve derived in such ponderous, portentous prose that their writing is either skimmed or skipped (SLL is a skipper). From David Hakes, at Econ Journal Watch, via zerohedge.com: 

Think back to your first years in graduate school. The most mathematically complex papers required a great deal of time and effort to read. The papers were written as if to a private club, and we felt proud when we successfully entered the club. Although I copied the style of these overly complex and often poorly written papers in my first few research attempts, I grew out of it quite quickly. I didn’t do so on my own. I was lucky to be surrounded by mature confident researchers at my first academic appointment. They taught me that if you are confident in your research you will write to include, not exclude. You will write to inform, not impress. It is with apologies to my research and writing mentors that I report the following events.

The preference falsification in which I engaged was to intentionally take a simple clear research paper and make it so complex and obscure that it successfully impressed referees. That is, I wrote a paper to impress rather than inform—a violation of my most closely held beliefs regarding the proper intent of research. I often suspected that many papers I read were intentionally complex and obscure, and now I am part of the conspiracy.

A colleague presented a fairly complex paper on how firms might use warranties to extract rent from certain users of their products. No one in the audience seemed to follow the argument. Because I found the argument to be perfectly clear, I repeatedly defended the author and I was able to bring the audience to an understanding of the paper. The author was so pleased that I was able to understand his work and explain it to others that he asked me if I was willing to coauthor the paper with him. I said I would be delighted.

I immersed myself in the literature for a few of months so that I could more precisely fit our contribution into the existing literature. We managed to reduce the equations in the paper to six. At this stage the paper was perfectly clear and was written at a level so that it could reach a broad audience. When we submitted the paper to risk, uncertainty, and insurance journals, the referees responded that the results were self-evident. After some degree of frustration, my coauthor suggested that the problem with the paper might be that we had made the argument too easy to follow, and thus referees and editors were not sufficiently impressed. He said that he could make the paper more impressive by generalizing the model. While making the same point as the original paper, the new paper would be more mathematically elegant, and it would become absolutely impenetrable to most readers. The resulting paper had fifteen equations, two propositions and proofs, dozens of additional mathematical expressions, and a mathematical appendix containing nineteen equations and even more mathematical expressions. I personally could no longer understand the paper and I could not possibly present the paper alone.

The paper was published in the first journal to which we submitted. It took two years to receive one referee report….

To continue reading: Confession Of An Economist

He Said That? 7/14/15

It is difficult to select just two quotes from William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style. This classic should be one of the first books on writing assigned to students. It should be reread regularly by anyone who takes writing seriously. The Internet is larded with bad to awful writing and fighting the trend is a fool’s errand, but SLL has never shied away from fools’ errands. To ask that writers on the Internet, and elsewhere, observe all those yucky rules and things is a plea doomed to failure.  SLL instead offers the following quotes as suggestions only, which bloggers and other Internet scribes might consider before they begin pounding their keyboards, because it is clear that if they are acquainted with these quotes, they have not taken them to heart.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

*                              *                           *

Clarity is not the prize in writing, nor is it always the principal mark of a good style. There are occasions when obscurity serves a literary yearning, if not a literary purpose, and there are writers whose mien is more overcast than clear. But since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue. And although there is no substitute for merit in writing, clarity comes closest to being one. Even to a writer who is being intentionally obscure or will of tongue we can say, “Be obscure clearly! be wild of tongue in a way we can understand!” Even to writers of market letters, telling us (but not telling us) which securities are promising, we can say, “Be cagey plainly! Be elliptical in a straightforward fashion!”

Clarity, clarity, clarity. When you become hopeless mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh; do not try to fight your way through the terrible odds of syntax. Usually what is wrong is that the construction has become too involved at some point; the sentence needs to be broken apart and replaced by two or more sentences.

For those who cannot be troubled to read these paragraphs, remember these two words: concise and clear, and repeat them like a mantra as you write.  Your readers will thank you. SLL won’t read poorly written blog posts, believing that the quality of writing reflects the quality of thought.