don’t blame teachers blame poverty, rain drops indigo rose, the first vampire story

While the degree to which some people value the good opinion of others varies, Adam Smith was right in general about the effects of poverty on on one saw oneself and one’s role in society, Adam Smith on Poverty

‘The poor man … is ashamed of his poverty. He feels that it either places him out of the sight of mankind, or, that if they take any notice of him, they have, however, scarce any fellow–feeling with the misery and distress which he suffers. He is mortified upon both accounts; for though to be overlooked, and to be disapproved of, are things entirely different, yet as obscurity covers us from the daylight of honour and approbation, to feel that we are taken no notice of, necessarily damps the most agreeable hope, and disappoints the most ardent desire, of human nature. The poor man goes out and comes in unheeded, and when in the midst of a crowd is in the same obscurity as if shut up in his own hovel.’

For Smith, a person’s possessions function as signals of underlying personal characteristics — characteristics that others regard either favourably or unfavourably. In the Wealth of Nations he wrote:

‘A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably, though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty, which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct.’

As Mark Thoma notes, Adam Smith thought poverty was about much more than physical deprivation. The labourer’s linen shirt has value because it can be used to influence other people’s opinions. The labourer is using the shirt as a raw material in a production process — a process that affects other people’s mental states, changes their behaviour and, ultimately, improves the psychological well being of the wearer.

The ‘good’ that is being consumed here is not the shirt — it is the observer’s opinion. While it’s true that the observer’s opinion only affects the labourer’s well being via behavioural signaling, this is true of many consumer goods. …


It is also true as parents with a fair but modest income know that children, especially teens can become overly concerned about what their peers think about their shirts or cell phone or whatever it is this year that everyone is supposed to have. I’m not sure why the discussion drifts away into esoterica, but frequently when people talk about poverty and behavior they inevitably bring up not just moral issues, but where and how to place blame. Poverty becomes, in this fairy tale, a failure of character. Sometimes that is true, but not enough of the time to be considered generally true. If George W. Bush had been and alcoholic for twenty years and ran three businesses into the ground, but came from a poor family, society would have regarded him as an abject failure. Someone who squandered every opportunity. So wealth also tends to insulate one from the recriminations generally reserved for the poor or those of modest means. Wealth also protects individuals from a life that distracts from study. Poverty has psychological implications, but very real physicals consequences Poverty Goes Straight to the Brain and here, Children’s Genetic Potentials Are Subdued by Poverty . This recently released study shows that when we look at test scores it is not always teachers or teacher’s unions ( a favorite bogeyman) that are to blame, it is poverty, Want to improve standardized test scores? Increase Americans’ incomes. Richie Rich Aces the SAT

The influence couldn’t be more decisive. The board measured household income in increments of $20,000—starting with students from households making $0 to $20,000 annually, then $20,000 to $40,000, all the way up to $160,000—then an increment of $40,000 ($160,000 to $200,000) and then a final category of more than $200,000. And SAT scores rose considerably at every step in the income scale. The poorest students, from households making less than $20,000 had a mean combined score of 1322 out of 2400; the next highest, 1397; then 1458, then 1497—all the way to a score of 1722 for students from households making more than $200,000. That’s a 400-point difference between our richest and poorest students.

If society wants better test scores, a better economy, less street crime – than we need to do something about the redistribution or unequal sharing of proceeds from work of the nations’ GDP to the top 1%. We might never get to the perfect society with a better division of GDP, but we’ll at least stop the slide into Pottersville.

rain drops on indigo rose wallpaper


For better or worse we have a remarkably high bar for libel in the U.S. Though one exception might be accusing someone of misconduct having to do with their professional credentials. So when this blogger, a lawyer and professor at Cornell University who writes a blog accuses Massachusetts Democratic senate candidate Elizabeth Warren of professional malfeasance with obviously specious evidence, said candidate might have grounds for a law suit, No, Elizabeth Warren Did Not Engage in the Unauthorized Practice of Law.

Here we have a situation where someone can tell a pants on fire lie and get away with it, legally anyway. That is because pants on fire lies have been established by Republicans as the new normal,  Ryan’s ‘Secret’ Tape Is Even More Extreme Than Romney’s

When they booed [5] Paul Ryan at the American Association of Retired Persons last week, most people didn’t even know he called [6] Medicare and Social Security “third party or socialist-based systems.” Or that he said [7] he wants to privatize them in order to “break the back” of a “collectivist philosophy.”

On recently transcribed remarks from an audio recording, Ryan said his ideas and values were shaped by an extremist author who thought humanity must “reject the morality of altruism,” and that his opinions on monetary policy are guided by a fictional speech which says “the words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality.”

That author says the “collectivist philosophy” Ryan ascribes to Social Security and Medicare is a “looters’ credo.” By that reckoning, anyone who receives assistance from the government — including disabled combat veterans or impoverished children — is a “looter.”

Let’s assume that Ryan, a college educated Congressman, carefully weighed the evidence some years ago, the pros and cons of his beliefs. Applied some logic as to how best to handle a problem – income security of the elderly over the course of western and eastern civilization – and came to his conclusion that any programs to address that income issue was looting, isn’t the sudden turnaround a suggestion of  intellectual and moral corruption then or now. Lots of teens, for some reason fail to see how ludicrous that last scene in Atlas Shrugged is – you don’t see the Koch brothers down at the plant refining their own oil everyday, they have some of the 47% do it for them. Ryan seems to have never grown out of his teen infatuation.

old movie posters by walker evans. done around 1936 in atlanta, georgia. the poster on the right shows carole lombard starring in “Love Before Breakfast” and the one on the left shows Anne Shirley in “Chatterbox.”

Frankenstein’s Cousin, The Vampyre

“It was a dark and stormy night” in June, 1816 that brought together some of Romantic literature’s shining lights to read ghost stories in the Villa Diodati near Geneva, Switzerland.  Diodati had once hosted Milton and was now occupied by Lord Byron and his personal physician, John William Polidori. In attendance with them, were Percy Bysshe Shelley, his wife Mary, and her half-sister, Claire Clairmont. They shared a roaring fire and read to each other from a collection of chilling German folk tales. Byron suggested they each compose a ghost story and in the days and weeks that followed, they all began writing. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein came from this night of inspiration, as did small pieces by Byron and Percy Shelley. Claire Clairmont may have written a story but there is no record of it other than a mention in one of Mary’s letters. The only other story of real note to be produced came from John Polidori. His Vampyre was the first vampire story in English and preceded Bram Stoker’s Dracula by three quarters of a century. It laid the foundation for nearly every work of vampire fiction since, including those by Anne Rice (The Vampire Chronicles) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight). But who was Polidori and how did he come to be in Switzerland that cold, dark summer of 1816?

I did not know about John Polidori’s Vampyre. I had thought that Bram Stoker was the first to write a vampire story, though the legend about vampires had been around for decades before he wrote Dracula. Polidori did seem to get the suggestion for his plot from Byron, but Polidori wrote the story. Polidori’s vampire, modeled on Byron. Still Polidori deserved credit for being the writer of Vampyre with some acknowledgement to Byron for the inspiration.

Polidori travelled through Italy, returned to England, and resumed medical practice. Under mysterious circumstances and without his permission, The Vampyre was published in April of 1819 by the New Monthly Magazine and attributed to Byron. Byron and Polidori both sought to clear up the question of authorship but the work continued for a time to be attributed to Byron, a fact appreciated by the publisher who was profiting by the false connection.

I recently ran across this post from a blogger who specializes in rare books,  The Complete Historical Background to Lord Byron’s Copy of Frankenstein. There are photos at the link. I’m going to be a spoiler and say that the rarity of the book might escape a casual observer as Mary Shelley did not sign it Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, but ” from the author”.