Tag Archives | Personal

RIP Jorie Blair Long

Jorie Blair Long:   2 March 1926—1 September 2017

Jorie Blair Long:
2 March 1926—1 September 2017

My mother died today, at the age of 91. I want to say a bit about her life.

She was born in what to outside eyes would have looked like circumstances of privilege: her parents were affluent (her father was Deputy Governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago) and could afford to travel to destinations far less accessible in the 1930s than they are today (Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Australia, New Zealand). But her childhood was harrowing, dominated by a physically abusive older brother (who literally tried three times to kill her, by his own later admission) and emotionally abusive parents who treated her more like a “poor relation” than like a member of the family.

Despite her consistent A’s in schoolwork, her parents told her she was mentally deficient, nicknaming her “non compos mentis.” Her father was willing to pay for only two years of college for her, as this was all he thought girls needed. (He would happily have paid the full four years for her brother, had he been willing to go.) On her father’s deathbed, when he was no longer able to communicate, her mother stole her inheritance by literally forcing his hand to make an X on a new will, thus leaving my mother penniless and dependent.

My grandmother kept my mother at home for years as essentially a servant, convincing her that she was not competent to survive on her own. (She came to identify with the heroine of Now, Voyager.) Finally, at age 30, my mother gathered the courage to escape, driving to Los Angeles in a mix of fear, guilt, and elation. My mother soon found secretarial work and was able to support herself perfectly well. She also learned to fly an airplane.

In a few years she met and married the man who would become my father. Sadly, while on a business trip in Latin America he died in a plane crash, while I was still a baby. My mother was left to raise me on her own, which meant years of difficult financial struggle for her; at one point most of our possessions were sold for debt.

My mother was determined to raise me in as different a manner as possible from the way she had been raised. She treated me almost as an adult – discussing serious matters with me, and never censoring my reading. She also encouraged my intellectual interests; I couldn’t have been much more than five when she pasted the words “Cogito ergo sum” on my bathroom mirror and explained to me what they meant. It was around the same age that we debated the question whether everything that has a beginning has to have an ending: I said no, she said yes; I pointed to the series of numbers from zero to infinity, and she countered by telling me about the negative numbers.

My mother also taught me the importance of independence and thinking for oneself; I’m sure she’s a large part of the reason I became first a libertarian, and then a dissident within libertarianism.

Now that she’s gone, there’s no one – or no one I’m in touch with, anyway – who remembers me when I was a child. It feels strange.

While I was earning my graduate degree at Cornell, my mother was working there as an administrative assistant and taking courses on the side. Eventually she applied to become a full-time student, finishing her final two years of college and graduating at the age of 65. So there, granddad.

In the years since, the one thing my mother most wanted was to have a home – by which she meant a place large enough to have all her papers and letters unpacked and out, so that she could use them to write her memoirs. My greatest regret is that I was never able to provide this for her. I hope eventually to make up for this in part by writing some sort of biography of her, drawing on her papers plus whatever I can remember of her stories. I’m glad that I was at least able to provide her with comfort and companionship in her final years, and that while she was still able to travel I could take her on several trips to Europe.

She was a wonderful person, and a wonderful mother. She deserved better from life than she got. Farewell, dearest Mother. I miss you.

CFP: Alabama Philosophical Society 2017

Owing to a time- and energy-consuming family medical crisis, I’m about two months late in announcing this – the submission deadline’s just over a week away.

But anyway, this year’s APS will be September 29-30 in Pensacola; submission deadline is August 1st. Note also the undergrad essay contest (Alabama students only), which pays $100 plus one night’s stay at the conference hotel.

More info here.

Alas, I won’t be able to attend this year. Hoping for next year.

Farewell to St. Paul’s

For a long time, one of my most idyllic memories has been of the summer of 1980, which I spent in the St. Paul’s School Advanced Studies Program in Concord NH.

St. Paul's School

Now it turns out that St. Paul’s has been a hotbed of sexual abuse against students for decades, with at least 23 faculty members (and possibly as many as 34 – at a school where the total number of faculty is only slightly over 100) being guilty of everything from “clear boundary crossings to repeated sexual relationships to rape” – and with the administration having been despicably (though, alas, not atypically) recalcitrant and blame-the-victim-ish in addressing the problem for many years. Some of the named perpetrators are faculty I’d remembered with fondness from my time there.

Well, there’s that memory tainted. Ugh.

I always thought that someday when I could afford to, I’d donate money to St. Paul’s. Well, I still can’t afford to, but if I could – sorry guys, nope.

Sour Note

For the past 35 years, my mother and I have had two pianos in storage in Vermont. One was the piano I grew up with and learned to play (a bit) on as a child. The other – the more valuable one, with genuine ivory keys, inherited from her own mother – was the piano my mother grew up with and likewise learned to play on (with much greater ability) as a child.

In all these years, we’ve never had a place large enough to hold them, though we always hoped to eventually.

This week we were notified that the facility where they were stored burned down last month, and both pianos were destroyed.


Immigration and Liberty Symposium

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

The Molinari Society will be holding its annual Symposium in conjunction with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, 202 East Pratt Street, in Baltimore, January 4-7, 2017. Here’s the current schedule info:

Molinari Society symposium: Libertarianism and Refugees
GFC. Thursday, 5 January 2017, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon.

James P. Sterba (University of Notre Dame), “Libertarianism and the Rights of Refugees
Jan Narveson (University of Waterloo, Ontario), “Accommodating Refugees and Respecting Liberty

Charles W. Johnson (Molinari Institute)
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to participate in person, but my comments will be read out in absentia.

Soap Opera

Things I notice when I’m in the kitchen waiting for something to finish cooking on the stove, and there’s nothing to do but watch the water in the dishpan:

1. Soap bubbles act as though they’re gravitationally attracted to each other. When there’s a large cluster of bubbles over here, and a lone bubble (or smaller cluster of bubbles) about an inch or so away over there, the lone bubble will move toward the large cluster, very slowly at first, and then gradually accelerating until it merges with the cluster. I know nothing about the physics and chemistry behind this phenomenon. (Something to do with surface tension?)

2. My eggbeater seems to have an air pocket in the handle. When I put it in the dishpan, it emits a slow and steady stream of bubbles. Most of the time, dishpan suds contain bubbles of various sizes all mixed together; but the bubbles coming out of the eggbeater handle are of uniform size, which presumably explains what happens, next, namely, that as the bubbles rise to the surface they spontaneously organise themselves into regular hexagonal grids. Order from chaos, man.

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