Monday, November 14, 2016

A Cheer And A Half For Meritocracy

The system is rigged in favor of anyone who excels at getting her or himself educated to the graduate degree level and then working hard for decades. See, e.g., Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, almost all of the infamous 1%.
The quote above is from one of the several high school classmates that I have reconnected with on Facebook in the last few years.  For purposes of this discussion, I am going to call him CM, although he may want to step forward. Other classmates may figure out who he is, but he did give me permission to use the quote.

Quotes like that are pretty common from him.  He is upset about the Occupy mentality that demeans the 1%.  He also finds the notion of white privilege silly.

Maroon And Blue

As I mentioned we were high school classmates.  Xavier High School in New York City.  Jesuit and military.  A few blocks north of Greenwich Village.  1966-1970.  Interesting times. I've got a series going of Xavier if you want to know more about it, so some of what I say here might seem a bit sketchy because I don't give you enough background.

High points of the school. Considered academically elite among metro New York Catholics, but it was probably not like Deerfield Academy elite.  We commuted to school in uniforms every day.  Three different uniforms. One looked like we were ready to march on Richmond, one like we were in the Army, kind of, and one that looked like we were mailmen or NYC police cadets.

All Deprivation Is Relative

My mother went to some sacrifice to send me to Xavier thinking the male influence would be good for me.  My father had died when I was in eighth grade and we were technically living in poverty, although she at least owned the wall our back was up against. The only really persistent feature of our relative deprivation was that I did not learn to drive until I was 24.

CM's straits were much more dire than that, as he will sometimes mention in his facebook rants.  One of these days I'd like to learn is how Xavier attendance was managed for him given his difficult circumstances. And he did not just get through.  He was a top student and a cadet officer.

Me And My Classmate

He and I were not close.  I forget how we overlapped other than running into one another on the subway here and there.  We were in different homerooms.  Science honors for him and classical honors for me.  Might have had modern language or AP English together.

I remember a couple of interactions and the fallout from one that I don't remember.   The latter was something that he said to me that I made the mistake of mentioning to my mother.  I did not carry a grudge about it but she sure did.  "Wasn't he the kid that said ____________", but I don't remember.

There is one interaction that I particularly remember though from when we were Sophomores just happening to be on the subway, I think.  Besides being divided academically in homerooms, the school was also a Regiment, with each of us having rank and a position of some sort.

As a freshman you were a private and a member of something like the third squad of the second platoon of Company B of the First Batallion. Beginning in sophomore year you could get promoted getting as high as sergeant first class, even though there were not any positions to go around to justify that rank, since the most a junior could be is a squad leader.

All the higher ranks and positions from platoon sergeant to the Colonel went to seniors in one fell swoop at the beginning of senior year.  One of the flaws in the system is that a freshman's first interaction with a senior who was not condescending to him or maybe yelling at him, was with a private standing next to him in the ranks at weekly drill.  The freshman was a private because all freshmen were privates.  The senior was a private after maybe ten or so promotion opportunities had not yielded a single stripe.  To accomplish that without getting thrown out of the school required that you walk a fine line.  Private Senior would be mocking the pretentious of his higher ranking classmates and serving as an allround bad example for Private Freshman.


I imbibed some of that and also a general disrespect for authority to arrive at the conclusion that it was kind of silly to worry about becoming a cadet officer.  CM took the opposite tack in our discussion, indicating that it was quite important.  Hey.  There was a competition and he was going to compete.

As I related in the series.  I never did become a cadet officer, even though I thought it likely that I would.  It bothered me for a few hours mainly because I had lusted after the Sam Browne from which hung a saber on occasions of high ceremony.  And the gold trim that replaced the never used chin strap on the hat.  That was cool.  My consolation was that being First Sergeant of the Regimental Supply Corps was a glorious job much more satisfying than one of the battalion S-4 slots that might have come my way.  Being commander of the Supply Corps - the regimental S-4 - one of the Colonel's 12 apostles, but still a grungy Supply Corps type might have been better, but Paul Fulller probably executed that office better than I would have.

CM, on the other hand, became a cadet officer.  He was, however, much more chagrined than I was at being a second lieutenant making him like everyone in my primary reference group a marvel of military mediocrity.  In the past final rank had been much more attuned to academic standing, but the growing anti-military feelings had, I think, influenced Major Smullin to double down on military merit.   There was also probably some politics going on.  There were stories that having parents who donated to the school or heritage helped in the rank sweepstakes, but I never found any proof of that.  Regardess, neither CM nor I had any of that, nor were we athletes, which helped.  What we had going for us was being top students

Regardless, CM really seemed to feel he was treated unfairly, as was I.

And From There

But moving on into the competition of life.  Relative to my background, I did pretty well.  Partner in a large regional CPA firm.  In the bottom tier of the compensation scheme and sometimes on the edge, but still it is not so bad.

CM on the other hand, as far as I can reasonably infer, has greatly exceeded that.  Some multiple of my not so shabby low six digit compensation and likely corresponding net worth.

He attributes that success to hard work and making good decisions.  He believes that he earned it all.  And he really resents attacks on the 1% by Bernie bros and Occupy types and thinks white privilege is bullshit, because he started with zilch and earned it all.  (I may be exaggerating his position a bit)

What Exactly Did You Build?

This is not an uncommon observation among successful people.  There are some features of life that support the observation.  Within each field of endeavor, you might get involved in, there tends to be a certain amount of rough justice.  Figuring out what it takes to get ahead and focusing and executing greatly enhances your chances.

When you think about people who did not do as well as you, you will be able to discern the reasons.  If you have enough humility, you will also be able to discern why others did better.  Often it is true merit.  And sometimes it is because they are bigger pricks than you are. The latter circumstance causes me to withhold total endorsement to our meritocracy.

The other thing is that if you firmly believe that your fate is in your own hands, you will probably be more successful.  One of the Jesuit mottos we learned was "Work as if everything depended on you.  Pray as if everything depended on God."

What I think people like CM can sometimes lose track of is  the truth behind Elizabeth Warren's infamous "You didn't build that" statement.

Last night I saw John Frank's play - The Institute - Coming of Age during the Vietnam War

The play was based on his experience at Xavier, which corresponded closely with that of CM and me.  One of the main characters is excited about being the first generation of his family to go to college.  There is a point at which he feels intimidated by his classmates coming from much more prosperous circumstances.  A teacher points out ot him that they are all dressed the same. We all commuted by bus and subway and wore the same uniform.  Visible differences were based on personal effort and achievement.

Some kids were extra good at shoe shining and brass polishing.  Top students wore honor cords and would advance in rank.  Various activities and achievements would result in  "fruit salad".  The latter has really gotten out of hand among contemporary students, but that is neither here nor there.

So if you wanted to play Elizabeth Warren  to CM, you might say that the very ethos that led to his success was at least strongly reinforced by the school and he didn't build that.  Whatever the circumstances that allowed him to attend the school despite his dire straits, are also probably something that he didn't build.

In my view, there are two large groups in out elite.  The graduate school attending non-fuckups  from modest circumstances and people with an entrepreneurial flair who have access to capital.  Essentially Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  And of course many in the graduate school group are not from modest circumstances.

What distinguishes someone like CM from the rest of the elite is that they are working without a net.   George Bush Jr. and Donald Trump had multiple second chances. Others get only one shot.  And I think that in the time that CM and I grew up things were not quite as hard for first-generation college graduates.  You could get through without acquiring a crushing debt load and if, like me, you had a false start you could recover more easily.

This, in part, accounts for my being a little more sympathetic to those left behind than CM seems to be.  I also think that you will be happier if you cultivate gratitude for all the undeserved gifts the universe has presented you.  But maybe that is just me.

Peter J Reilly CPA hopes to be first tax blogger to give up his day job.  The dream keeps receding but nerver dies.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Live Blogging Election Night

We went to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester to watch the results.  First discussion was what station to watch.  I was for Fox since I thought we might learn more. Not a lot of enthusiasm for that, but we switched there during MSNBC commercial. Bill O'Reilly on now, but consensus is not Fox.  Now we are on MSNBC,

Seven of us at 8:25. commercial.

One of the guys looking at his phone says 311 electoral votes for Hillary.

Lots of commercial.

Trump just took Alabama.

It is Hillary 75 to Trump 72.  Florida is too close to call.

GOP will remain in control of the House.

We can't get the closed captions turned off.  I hate TV remotes.

Bob Baty messaged me to keep an eye on the Conecuh county Commissioner race.  You have to be a Hovindologist to get that one.

Florida close.

Red America is getting redder.  Blue America is getting blue.

Still struggling with closed captions "Television is becoming exponentially  more complicated"

Trump ahead 14 million to 12 million - "Oh my God"

"Are people insane ?"

Michigan going for Trump

Closed captions finally gone at 8:50

Commercials muted.

"It should be a landslide for Clinton"

"I think Clinton is going to win, but this is nauseating to watch"

"If somebody like Jeb Bush was running I'd be worried, but Trump is horrifying"

Florida in the balance. Trump has lead.  Miami versus Panhandle.  Could be Hovinidcators moving to Alabama might be hurting Trump.


Texas and Kansas Louisiana Nebraska to Trump Dakotas Wyoming

Clinton New York

Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, New Hampshire, Virginia - Too close

Trump 137 Clinton 104 at 9:03

McCain reelected

We bailed out of the church around 10:00.

I'm in the basement office now.

10:30 and Clinton has Virginia

The funny thing is that the coverage makes it sound like something is happened, but really it is just counting. It's like Candyland where the game is determined after you shuffle.

Right now they are blaming the Comey letter.

Now it is white voters without college degrees.

Shutting down at 11:12.

The sun will come up tomorrow.

Peter J Reilly CPA is not very good at live blogging.

Future Generations Endorses Hillary Clinton

One of the reliefs of post-election will be the end of campaign appeals in my inbox.  It is my own fault, as I sign up for everything in the hope of getting material for my blog.  I think they are all written by the same person and they are all done in a very annoying manner.  There is this incredible urgency for me to send it $5, $10 whatever.

I think it is like the way the baskets would come around multiple times at Mass, so that Monsignor O'Brien would get at leat thirty cents from each parishioner.  And there is the presumed intimacy
Peter --
It's Election Day!! Millions of Americans are casting their ballots today and participating in our democracy.
I want to thank you for having my back during this campaign. This team gave me the strength to keep fighting.
This is the final step of the long journey we’ve been on together, but now it's in your hands. Make history by heading to the polls today. 
Thank you -- let's go!
If I ever meet Hillary Clinton, I will address her as Madame Secretary or, God willing, Madame President, so I really think that when she asks me for money she should call me Mr. Reilly, but I'm old fashioned that way.

The most troubling ad I got though was from Eric Trump.

Our last ad we showed you did so well that we decided to release a new one -- and go even bigger with a last-minute $4 MILLION final ad-buy.
It’s an UNPRECEDENTED two-minute ad that presents voters with the true stakes of this historic election.
I found the ad very disturbing.

There is an element behind it that I have sympathy with.  Back in the day, I think there was a better deal for ordinary people who were ready to show up for work and do what needed to be done.  I suspect historically it was transient thing. I had a factory job in college where with the lowest pay grade and a lot of overtime I made a years tuition in a summer.

Thinking that some asshole who focused on luxury housing and casinos wants to bring back those days, or could if he wanted to, is pretty delusional, but I can't knock the guys who think that.

The thing that really concerned me was whether that piece was really effective propaganda on the Leni Riefenstahl scale.

I always refer questions like that to my filmmaker friend Jonathan Schwartz of Interlock Media.  I was comforted by his response.

The Trump ad is meant to be an enduring anthem for conspiracy theorists, legitimized by the man who almost won the presidency. The use of compositing and special effects is average, mid level film technique and not spectacular. The important thing here is the message, and its pure and simple...there is a reason you are struggling, and that is because it is someone else's fault and they did it to you and must be eliminated.
So the message is disturbing, but apparently not delivered that well which makes it less disturbing.

The final Clinton two minute ad is much more comforting.  Kind of boring actually.

So the choice is kind of like you are in the fourth grade.  Do you want to join the class bully's gang and go beat up the kids from the other school?  Or do you want to listen to the teacher?

Or put another way.  Do we want to be ruled by the girls who went to college and got more knowledge or the boys who went to Jupiter and got more stupider?

Tell your inner ten year old to calm down, and vote like a grown up.  If you do that you are allowed to skip watching the polls and stay up late watching war movies tonight.

Peter J Reilly CPA made donations to just about every presidential candidate and all he got out of it was a lot of annoying email.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Not Every Women's Rights Narrative Starts At Seneca Falls

.....memory is made, not found and what we remember matters. - Lisa Tetrault
This post is something of a personal reaction to The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement by Lisa Tetrault, so I should start with the most important thing before I go into the wandering digressions.  It is a really good book and you should read it.

Some People Don't Get It

The most negative review on Amazon (a three star) highlights by omission what is really good about the book.
This book does reveal some nuggets of difficult to find information and the author is obviously extremely knowledgable and gifted but the book contains too much run-of-the-mill, feminist cheerleading and the revealing information in the book is revealed in a way that makes it seem as though it was included almost as an afterthought.
The book is overly verbose and should have been half its length but the author has a bad tendency to lapse into moments of drawn out flattery of the movement which we've already heard a thousand times. Even though the suffrage movement obviously deserves some cheerleading this book pours on the cheese a bit too much to warrant a higher rating.
The key words in the title are Memory and Myth.  Lisa Tetrault's work is about how and why we make narratives about the past using a reasonably familiar (in some circles) narrative,illustrating its incompleteness and more importantly how and why that particular narrative was constructed.


I could see this work becoming not only a standard text in women's studies or the history of social reform, but also in historiography , which the infallible source tells us is "the study of the methodology of historians in developing history as an academic discipline, and by extension in any body of work on a particular subject".

Tetrault quotes historian Lori Ginzberg:
Every event in history is a beginning, a middle and an end, it just depends on where you pick up the thread and what story you choose to tell.
Sam Gamgee made the same point:
We've got - you've got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on.  Don't the great tales never end?
'No, they never end as tales, said,  Frodo. 'But the people in them come, and go when their part's ended
Frodo of course. recognized the essence of historiography in this clip.

 Nothing like referring to the world's greatest bromance in a reaction to a great work on women's history.  Back to the book.

The Myth

The "myth" under discussion in this work is illustrated in the National Women's History Museum's Woman Suffrage Timeline (1840-1920).
Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are barred from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London. This prompts them to hold a Women's Convention in the US.
Seneca Falls, New York is the location for the first Women's Rights Convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes "The Declaration of Sentiments" creating the agenda of women's activism for decades to come.
Due credit is given to conventions in Worcester in 1850 and 1851, which I have a particular attachment to, but beginning in 1853, the partnership between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B, Anthony starts to dominate, with Susan B. Anthony taking the limelight.  To take a biblical analogy, Elizabeth Cady Stanton would be John the Baptist making Susan B. Anthony, well, you know.

Tetrault's work is about how that story became THE story. And it is not just about how Susan B Anthony became the main actor in the story, but also about how suffrage becomes the big story about women's right, white women's suffrage actually, since the 19th amendment did not help black women vote in the South, where black men had been systematically disenfranchised.

Like The Late Unpleasantness 

Tetrault connects the story of the creation of the women's rights narrative to that of the construction of the narratives that help us remember slavery and the war with many names (Civil War, War Between the States, War of Northern Aggression - personally I prefer The Late Unpleasantness)

The fierce debate - over competing definitions of freedom - took place in the arena of memory.  It was not the only arena, but it was a critical one.  Because freedom had no inherent self-evident meaning, Americans debated its definition by attempting to define the past. Why had the Civil War been fought? Answers to that question, which varied widely, defined different paths forward.  Had it been fought, as freedpeople and abolitionists argued for emancipation? If so that required a postwar political response that validated the needs of freedpeople and invested freedom with significant weight?  Or had it been fought, as white supremacists argued, for valor, honor, and states' rights? If so, that required a postwar political response that elevated the rights of white Confederates over the rights of freedpeople, whose needs were largely erased by such a memory.
More Than A Counter-Narrative

I'm now going to be seguing from reviewing the book to my rambling personal reaction, but to sum up I will react to one of the five star reviews.
The publication of "The Myth of Seneca Falls" is a big event for those of us who like to live in the suffrage world. Professor Tetrault has come up with the first really effective counter-narrative to Eleanor Flexner's classic "Century of Struggle".
I really don't view Tetrault's work as a "counter-narrative".  It is much more than that.  It is a narrative of the making of the received narrative that suggests many other narratives that might be constructed and from there I will move to my personal reaction.

Searching For Margaret Fuller

I discovered Professor Tetrault's work from a hunt that someone had sent me on.  The question as I might frame it now, having read Myth of Seneca Falls, was why Margaret Fuller, who, Margaret Fuller scholars consider with substantial support, a women's rights pioneer of the highest order, whose Woman in the Nineteenth Century was published in 1845 whose Conversations, arguably the 1840 version of second wave consciousness raising groups, included Elizabeth Cady Stanton does not appear in the Timeline.

It really would not be that hard.  Between 1840 and 1848, you put in 1845 publication of Woman in the 19th Century.  Fuller was in Italy covering and taking a hand in a revolution in 1848 when Seneca Falls took place.  She had been invited to preside over the first national women's rights conference in Worcester in the fall of 1850.  Sadly her only participation  was in spirit during a moment of silence as she lost her life in the wreck of the Elizabeth, a 530 ton sailing vessel, that grounded off Fire Island on July 19,1850.

Professor Tetrault, answers the question even though her work does not even mention Margaret Fuller.  In the received narrative the story really starts in Seneca Falls and focuses on Susan B. Anthony who is first mentioned on the timeline in 1853, but along with Stanton dominates it through the post-Civil War period. The received narrative was largely the creation of Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Not only are they center stage, but there is also a singular focus on suffrage.

Many Narratives

Probably, the most important thing we can learn about history is that there are many valid narratives that can be crafted from the raw material of the past.  We can ask different questions of different sources and derive different stories.  I think that many people when they encounter this reality find it rather disturbing.  I know I certainly did when I asked my father how it was that Robert E Lee, chief bad guy in the Civil War, was accounted a national hero appearing on postage stamps.  The budding neoabolitionist never got a good answer from his old man.

Professor Tetrault is an historian and they tend to be a bit allergic to counterfactuals, but as a graduate school dropout who loves Harry Turtledove, SM Stirling and Eric Flint, I'm different.  Thanks to her book I am now in the grip of a profound counterfactual.  What would have happened if the Elizabeth had docked safely in New York and Margaret Fuller had presided over the first national women' rights conference in Worcester?

My favorite biography of Margaret Fuller is the one by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and in it he saw her mainly as a woman of action ready to unleash. It is just possible that she might have been able to galvanize a different reform movement than the one that fragmented over votes for African Americans versus votes for women in 1866.  In her work she addressed issues of gender, but also of race and class.  She was rare among New England Unitarian reformers in having kind words for Irish refugees, then the most despised white people in America.

Higginson's assessment deserves to be taken seriously, because he, himself, had strong activist credentials - the Anthony Burns rescue, John Brown, command of a regiment of liberated slaves (First South Carolina Volunteers - later 33rd United States Colored Troops).

But maybe it was too soon to have a holistic reform movement and maybe it could have turned out worse - like when Spock and Kirk had to stop McCoy from saving the life of the 1930's peace activist in The City on the Edge of Forever.

I'm sorry I don't have the talent to write "The Elizabeth Must Sink", but I can always hope that a talented alternate history writer might pick it up.


Peter J Reilly CPA hoped to be an historian, but public accounting has been good to him.