Posted by David Foster on 27th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
It seems clear that many Americans are less concerned than they should be about the threat of radical aggressive Islam…ranging from intimidation of cartoonists in the US and Europe to direct military aggression in the Middle East. This seems to be particularly true among the well-educated (or at least well-credentialed) and affluent. I’ve commented on this situation in several previous posts, for example, The Perfect Enemy; today I’d like to throw out for discussion some of the factors that I think are largely driving this head-in-the-sand phenomenon. They range from fairly rational (but flawed, IMO) thought processes to ignorance to obvious logical errors to malevolence and outright crazy thinking.
1) Some people really don’t understand the full range of what’s going on. Those of us who follow politics and international affairs pretty closely can easily lose sight of just what an information desert exists for those whose only info source is the mainstream media…it is very unlikely, for example, that the NBC and CNN-watcher is aware of the full range of anti-free-speech intimidation conducted under the banner of Islam, in the US as well as in Europe.
2) Some people do have an idea about what’s going on, but tend to repress thinking about the threat because while they on some level perceive its awfulness they do not think anything can really be done about it…probably often, this threat is lumped together with seemingly-unstoppable malign trends, such as an ever-worsening economy and a deteriorating culture.
In Arthur Koestler’s 1950 novel The Age of Longing, a young American woman living in France–who has belatedly come to understand the likelihood of an imminent Soviet invasion–corners a French security official and asks him why so many people are in denial about the forthcoming attack. His response:
“No, Mademoiselle, don’t be misled by appearances. France and what else is left of Europe may look like a huge dormitory to you, but I assure you nobody in it is really asleep. Have you ever spent a night in a mental ward? During the Occupation, a doctor who belonged to our group got me into one when the police were after me. It was a ward of more or less hopeless cases, most of whom were marked down for drastic neurosurgical operations. When the male nurse made his round, I thought everybody was asleep. Later I found out that they were only pretending, and that everybody was busy, behind closed eyes, trying to cope after his own fashion with what was coming to him. Some were pursuing their delusions with a happy smile, like our famous Pontieux (a philosopher modelled on Sartre–ed). Others were working on their pathetic plans of escape, naively hoping that with a little dissimulation, or bribery, or self-abasement, they could get around the tough male nurses, the locked doors, the operating table. Others were busy explaining to themselves that it wouldn’t hurt, and that to have holes drilled into one’s skull and parts of one’s brain taken out was the nicest thing that could happen to one. And still, others, the quiet schizos who were the majority, almost succeede in making themselves believe that nothing would happen, that it was all a matter of exaggerated rumours, and that tomorrow would be like yesterday. These looked as if they were really asleep. Only an occasional nervous twitch of their lips or eyes betrayed the strain of disbelieving what they knew to be inevitable…No, Mademoiselle nobody was really asleep.”
But in our case, as noted above, there are quite a few people who really are asleep.
3) Some people believe that all religions are essentially equivalent…generally they will argue that all religions are basically equally awful and that Evangelical Christians (for example) are as dangerous as radical Muslims and that it is only a matter of time until their dangerous tendencies explode into widespread violence. But sometimes they will argue that religion is inherently good and that hence, acts of terrorism cannot be motivated by religious belief but must be driven by something else.
4) Some argue that terrorism, while deplorable and tragic, isn’t really that dangerous in the scale of things, and that your risk of being killed or crippled from slipping while getting out of the bathtub (for example) is greater than your chance of being killed or crippled in a terrorist attack. This view is often coupled with the view that fear of terrorism is being stoked for political and/or bureaucratic reasons: for example, increased surveillance of citizens. There is great suspicion that the oil industry and the “military-industrial complex” are encouraging warfare for their own economic purposes.
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Posted in Anti-Americanism, Civil Liberties, Islam, Middle East, Society, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 22 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 19th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Since the recent Amtrak crash, I’ve seen people in several places…including here…suggesting that engineers should be eliminated and trains operated entirely by automatic control. Here is a cautionary tale about such automation, which I originally posted about a year ago under the title Blood on the Tracks. I’ve added a few thoughts at the end.
Kevin Meyer has a thought-provoking post (referencing, among other things, the Asiana Flight 214 crash) on achieving the right balance between manual and automatic control of systems. His post reminded me of something that has been lurking in my queue of things-to-blog-about for a long time.
On January 6, 1996, Washington Metrorail train T-111 departed the Rockville (MD) station northbound. Operating under automatic control as was standard practice, the train accelerated to a speed of 75 mph, and then began slowing for a station stop at Shady Grove. The speed was still too great for the icy rail conditions, however, and T-111 slid into a stopped train at the station, killing the driver.
What happened? I think the answer to this question is relevant not only to the specific topics of mass transit and railroad safety, but also to the more general issues of manual and automatic operation in system design, and perhaps even to the architecture of organizations and political systems.
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Posted in Aviation, Human Behavior, Management, Tech, Transportation | 15 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 15th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
(I originally posted this in 2009 and reran it in 2013. The plague of atrocities carried out by those who justify them under the banner of Islam has continued and expanded, as has the tendency of many American and Europeans to downplay the significance of Islamic radicalism and terrorism. Indeed, the effective justification of terror attacks by attacking the victims–be those victims French cartoonists or Israeli Jews–is disturbingly common. And I am sensing an almost frantic desire, on the part of many commentators and even ordinary people, to deny that Islamic terrorism is any more of a threat than, say, Presbyterian terrorism or Baptist terrorism.)
Suppose you wanted to create a perfect enemy. An enemy so vile that its evil would be recognized by almost everyone. An enemy that would inspire people to come together in order to ensure its defeat.
To be more specific: suppose you were a screenwriter with the assignment of creating a suitable villain-organization for a major motion picture. The marketing plan for this movie suggests that it will be marketed primarily to a certain demographic and that, hence, your villain-organization should be particularly appalling to members of that demographic. The demographic in question consists of people who are affluent, highly educated (college with at least some postgraduate education), not particularly religious, and who consider themselves politically liberal or “progressive.” The plot of the movie demands that the audience must see the necessity for Americans–of many beliefs, occupations, and social backgrounds–to come together in order to defeat the enemy.
Oh, and one other thing. The year in which you are given this assignment is 1999.
You will clearly want your enemy to share many of the characteristics of the Nazis–disrespect for human life, wanton cruelty, a love of apocalyptic violence. But to make the enemy particuarly awful from the standpoint of your target demographic, you will want to emphasize certain aspects of its belief system.
Members of your demographic usually have strong beliefs about women’s rights. So, your enemy must have a particularly disrespectful belief set, and a violent behavior pattern, towards women. Similarly, your demographic is generally favorable toward gay rights…so the enemy must advocate and practice the suppression, torture, and killing of gays. Your demographic is generally nonreligious and often hostile toward religion…so, make sure the enemy includes a large element of religious fanaticism. Members of your demographic talk a lot about “the children”–so make sure your enemy uses children in particularly cruel ways.
Had you created such an enemy for your screenplay in 1999, you would have surely felt justified in assuming that it would achieve its intended reaction with your target demographic.
It didn’t work out that way, though.
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Posted in Human Behavior, Islam, Religion, Terrorism | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 12th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
In my post Advice from Goethe on How to Attract Women, I cited some of Goethe’s thoughts about why the Weimar girls preferred visiting Englishmen to the local male talent. When his friend Eckermann objected that Englishmen were not “more clever, better informed, or more excellent at heart than other people,” Goethe responded:
“The secret does not lie in these things, my good friend, Neither does it lie in birth and riches; it lies in the courage which they have to be that for which nature has made them. There is nothing vitiated or spoilt about them, there is nothing halfway or crooked; but such as they are, they are thoroughly complete men. That they are also sometimes complete fools, I allow with all my heart; but that is still something, and has still always some weight in the scale of nature.”
“In our own dear Weimar, I need only look out of the window to discover how matters stand with us. Lately, when the snow was lying upon the ground, and my neighbour’s children were trying their little sledges in the street, the police was immediately at hand, and I saw the poor little things fly as quickly as they could. Now, when the spring sun tempts them from the houses, and they would like to play with their companions before the door, I see them always constrained, as if they were not safe, and feared the approach of some despot of the police. Not a boy may crack a whip, or sing or shout; the police is immediately at hand to forbid it. This has the effect with us all of taming youth prematurely, and of driving out all originality and all wildness, so that in the end nothing remains but the Philistine.”
Skipping forward 94 years, I was intrigued to find some rather similar comments in the memoirs of Wilhelm II, the former Kaiser of Germany:
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Posted in Britain, Civil Society, Education, Germany, History, Human Behavior, USA | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 10th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’
(A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)
On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:
The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.
If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.
This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.
First, I will very briefly summarize the campaign from a military standpoint, and will then shift focus to the social and political factors involved in the defeat.
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Posted in Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 15 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 6th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
A “safe space” at Brown University:
The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.
and at the University of Chicago:
A few weeks ago, Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist at Charlie Hebdo, spoke at the University of Chicago, protected by the security guards she has traveled with since supporters of the Islamic State issued death threats against her. During the question-and-answer period, a Muslim student stood up to object to the newspaper’s apparent disrespect for Muslims and to express her dislike of the phrase “I am Charlie.”
Ms. El Rhazoui replied, somewhat irritably, “Being Charlie Hebdo means to die because of a drawing,” and not everyone has the guts to do that (although she didn’t use the word guts). She lives under constant threat, Ms. El Rhazoui said. The student answered that she felt threatened, too.
A few days later, a guest editorialist in the student newspaper took Ms. El Rhazoui to task. She had failed to ensure “that others felt safe enough to express dissenting opinions.” Ms. El Rhazoui’s “relative position of power,” the writer continued, had granted her a “free pass to make condescending attacks on a member of the university.”
Why do so many college students choose to “self-infantilize?” Judith Shulevitz, author of the above-linked NYT article, quotes Eric Posner:
Perhaps overprogrammed children engineered to the specifications of college admissions offices no longer experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity.
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Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Leftism | 31 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 3rd May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy
I reread this book a couple of years ago (having originally read it in high school), and had intended to write a review of it one of these days. The review recently posted at Powerline, though, is so good that I think I’ll just link it and save myself the trouble:
The passion of “Tess”
WWW hyperlinks: enabling laziness since 1994
Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Britain | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 25th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
An article in an aviation magazine pointed out that this summer will mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. As a matter of perspective, it’s interesting to observe that the length of time separating the US Civil War from the Battle of Britain is the same as the length of time between the Battle and today.
The archetypal fighter planes of the Battle of Britain were the Spitfire, the Hurricane, and, on the enemy side, the Messerschmitt 109. Here are some recent pilot reports on what each of these aircraft is like to fly:
It is now possible to take a ride in a Spitfire–allowing this apparently required some regulatory changes on the part of the British CAA. Here’s one company offering such flights. For pilots, it’s possible to get Spitfire training at Boultbee Flight Academy. I don’t think anyone is offering rides or training in the Hurricane or the 109…very few 2-seat versions of either were built, apparently–so if you want to fly one of these, you’ll probably have to buy one. Here’s a recently-restored Hurricane for sale.
As an interesting historical irony, Israel’s first fighter was a version of the Messerschmitt 109.
See also my post Radar Wars: a case study in science and government, which is about the secret decision-making involved in making Britain’s commitment to a large-scale investment in radar deployment.
Posted in Aviation, Britain, Europe, Germany, History, Tech, War and Peace | 13 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 20th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Do not fail to read these links describing the use of the police in Wisconsin against individuals who dared offer opposition to the Democratic Party–Big Labor machine:
Glenn Reynolds at USA Today: Wisconsin’s dirty prosecutors pull a Putin
David French at National Review: Wisconsin’s Shame: I thought it was a home invasion
Also David French at NR: The deep state knows how to protect itself
If these reports are true, or anything like true–and I see little reason to doubt it given the conduct of the Democratic Party and its agents and allies over the past decade–then the threat to individual rights and the rule of law in America is even more serious than I thought it was.
Posted in Civil Liberties, Law, Law Enforcement, Leftism, USA | 28 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 19th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Here’s a video and a short writeup about Weizac, the first electronic computer built in Israel. Einstein was initially dubious about the project, wondering how a tiny country like Israel could possibly keep such a powerful machine busy.
The article mentions that the co-leader of the project was Jerry Estrin. His daughter, Judy Estrin, is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who among other things co-founded Bridge Communications and has served as CTO of Cisco. Her 2008 book, Closing the Innovation Gap, is on my reading list.
Posted in History, Israel, Tech | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 17th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
(Originally posted in January 2010–now an April perennial)
Chevy Chase, MD, is an affluent suburb of Washington DC. Median household income is over $200K, and a significant percentage of households have incomes that are much, much higher. Stores located in Chevy Chase include Tiffany & Co, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks-Jandel.
PowerLine observed that during the 2008 election season, yards in Chevy Chase were thick with Obama signs–and wonders how these people are now feeling about the prospect of sharp tax increases for people in their income brackets.
The PowerLine guys are very astute, but I think they’re missing a key point on this one. There are substantial groups of people who stand to benefit financially from the policies of the Obama/Pelosi/Reid triumvirate, and these benefits can greatly outweigh the costs of any additional taxes that these policies require them to pay. Many of the residents of Chevy Chase–a very high percentage of whom get their income directly or indirectly from government activities–fall into this category.
Consider, for starters, direct employment by the government. Most Americans still probably think of government work as low-paid, but this is much less true than it used to be. According to this, 19% of civil servants now make $100K or more. A significant number of federal employees are now making more than $170,000. And, of course, the more the role of government is expanded, the more such jobs will be created, and the better will be the prospects for further pay increases.
If one member of a couple is a federal employee making $100K and the other is making $150K, that would be sufficient to allow them to live in Chevy Chase and occasionally partake of the shopping and restaurants. But to make the serious money required to really enjoy the Chevy Chase lifestyle, it’s best to look beyond direct government employment and pursue careers which indirectly but closely benefit from government activity…which are part of the “extended government,” to coin a phrase.
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Posted in Big Government, Taxes | 3 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 15th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Sarah Hoyt, a science fiction writer and a thought-provoking blogger, has a long post called the architecture of fear. One of the things she talks about in this post is an incident from several years ago, where on a mailing list for writers she:
…dared question the insanity of a well-respected pro who said that George Bush (personally) had raised the price of stamps to ruin her (personally) in her efforts to sell used books through Amazon.
There are levels of insanity I can’t tolerate and couldn’t even while in the political closet. So I pointed out the sheer insanity of this, the inefficiencies of the post office and probable causes for it.
The list went silent. I figured tons of people were cussing me behind my back (this was when GB’s name was after all like invoking the devil.)
So, I shrugged, figured I’d be kicked out of the list and went for a walk. When I came back my email was full of “Oh, thank you, for saying…” ALL OF IT IN PRIVATE MESSAGES. The senders ranged from raw beginners to established pros, but no one would challenge this lady’s illusions to her face. Only me.
Sarah’s story uncannily parallels another story, this one told by long-time IBM CEO Tom Watson Jr and dating from the early 1950s.
There was a moment when I truly thought IBM was going to lose its shot at defense work because of the kind of window blinds I had in my office.
These were vertical blinds, which were not common at the time. An engineer who was in Watson’s office for a meeting made a sketch of the blinds, and inadvertently left it in his shirt pocket when he took the shirt to the dry cleaner. The laundry man thought the paper looked suspicious, and sent it to McCarthy. Pretty soon, a group of investigators came and said to the engineer, “We’ve identified this as a plan for a radar antenna, and want to hear about it. We want to be perfectly fair. But we know it is a radar antenna and the shirt it was found in belongs to you.”
The engineer explained about the vertical blinds, and the investigation team then asked to see Watson. The chief executive officer of IBM showed them the blinds and demonstrated the way they worked.
They looked them over very carefully and then left. I thought I had contained it, but I wasn’t sure, and I was scared. We were working on SAGE (the computerized air defense system–ed) and it would have been a hell of a way to lose our security clearance.
Shortly after the incident with the vertical blinds, Watson was invited to a lunch at Lehman Brothers, along with about 20 other high-ranking businesspeople. During the lunch, he mentioned his concerns about McCarthyism
Of the twenty-odd people present, I was the only one who took that position. That didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that the following week I got letters from several people who had been there, and they all had a similar message: “I didn’t want to commit myself in public, but I certainly agreed with everything you said.
(Watson’s story is from his excellent autobiography, Father, Son, &
Co, which I reviewed here
Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, USA | 17 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 13th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Peter Thiel is interviewed by Tyler Cowen, in a conversation that ranges from why there is stagnation “in the world of atoms and not of bits” to the dangers of conformity to what he looks for when choosing people to why company names matter.
Evaporative cooling of group beliefs. Why a group’s beliefs tend to become stronger rather than weaker when strong evidence against those beliefs makes its appearance.
More academic insanity: the language police at the University of Michigan.
Why Sam Sinai became a computer scientist instead of a doctor
A National Archives official, in an e-mail comment that the people were not supposed to see: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the White House”
Why a pact with Iran throws Arab liberals under the bus (“liberals” used here in the archaic and largely obsolete sense of “people who believe in liberty”)
Garry Trudeau (he wrote a cartoon called Doonesbury–is it really still being published?) gives his thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo murders perpetrated in the name of Islam–by accusing the cartoonists of “hate speech” and denouncing “free speech absolutism.”
The secret Republicans of Silicon Valley
Baseball, the stock market, and the dangers of following the herd
Antoine de St-Exupery’s original watercolors for The Little Prince
Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Business, Civil Liberties, Human Behavior, Islam, Markets and Trading, Society, Sports, Tech, USA | 12 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 6th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
(Inasmuch as the spirit of the Grand Inquisitor is stirring in the land, I thought it would be appropriate to rerun this post from last year)
It seems that Jesus Christ returned to earth, sometime during the sixteenth century…at least, this is the premise of the parable that Ivan relates to Alyosha, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. The city to which Christ came was Seville, where on the previous day before almost a hundred heretics had been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, “in a magnificent auto da fe, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville. He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognised Him.”
But the Grand Inquisitor observes the way in which people are being irresistibly drawn to Jesus, and causes him to be arrested and taken away.
The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on. The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy Inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, ‘breathless’ night of Seville. The air is ‘fragrant with laurel and lemon.’ In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.
“‘Is it Thou? Thou?’ but receiving no answer, he adds at once. ‘Don’t answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us?
The Grand Inquisitor explains to Jesus why his presence is not desired and why he must burn. Excerpts below:
So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they’ve slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, “Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!” And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone- the banner of earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven. Behold what Thou didst further. And all again in the name of freedom! I tell Thee that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born. But only one who can appease their conscience can take over their freedom. In bread there was offered Thee an invincible banner; give bread, and man will worship thee, for nothing is more certain than bread. But if someone else gains possession of his conscience- Oh! then he will cast away Thy bread and follow after him who has ensnared his conscience. In that Thou wast right. For the secret of man’s being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance. That is true. But what happened? Instead of taking men’s freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering. And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic; Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, acting as though Thou didst not love them at all- Thou who didst come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings for ever.
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Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Human Behavior, Political Philosophy, Russia | 2 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 2nd April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
The replacement for Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” is named Trevor Noah. His Twitter stream has revealed some…interesting…”jokes,” like this one:
South Africans know how to recycle like Israel knows how to be peaceful.
Apparently, the Israel-is-an-aggressor meme has oozed its way into the popular consciousness to the degree that Israel is stereotypically non-peaceful in the way that dogs stereotypically dislike cats. I expect this sort of thing will go over quite well with the audience (generally left-leaning, I feel sure) of The Daily Show. They will also probably like this one:
When flying over the middle of America the turbulence is so bad. It’s like all the ignorance is rising through the air.
…although perhaps this won’t go over as well coming from a non-American (Noah is South African) as it would coming from a suitably hipsterish American.
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Posted in Europe, Germany, Humor, Israel, Judaism, USA | 10 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 30th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Once upon a time we knew enough to curse the darkness. In the aeons long climb from the muck, we have only had the ability to hold back the dark for a bit over a century. Now millions yearn to embrace it and, should they yearn long enough and hard enough, the darkness will embrace them and hold them for much longer than a brief hour of preening and self-regard.
The Big Picture at the Boston Globe site routinely publishes stunning photographs of what is taking place in the world. But at editor Alan Taylor’s whim after last year’s “Earth Hour”, it went a step further in “celebrating” the rise of mass insanity in our age. “Earth Hour 2009″presents a round-the-world tour of cities with each picture designed to fade from light into darkness at the click of a mouse. Proud of his clever variation on a theme, the editor’s instructions were — without a hint of irony:
“[click image to see it fade]”
Of course with a second mouse click the lights came back on. It never seems to occur to the people with the Green Disease, that is perfectly possible to
[click civilization to see it fade]
and get no second click.
I’ve done four posts with the “Powering Down” heading, all relating to the stream of political and social attacks which are being conducted against the West’s energy sources and industrial base. These attacks are usually justified by “environmentalism” raised to the status of a religion; often, they are also motivated by individual and/or group desires to align themselves with technologies and trends that are considered “cool” and to avoid any connection with technologies and trends that are considered “uncool.”
Powering Down #1: Here’s the great French scientist Sadi Carnot, writing in 1824:
To take away England’s steam engines to-day would amount to robbing her of her iron and coal, to drying up her sources of wealth, to ruining her means of prosperity and destroying her great power. The destruction of her shipping, commonly regarded as her source of strength, would perhaps be less disastrous for her.
For England in 1824, substitute the United States in 2009. And for “steam engines,” substitute those power sources which use carbon-based fuels: whether generating stations burning natural gas, blast furnaces burning coke, or trucks/trains/planes/automobiles using oil derivatives. With these substitutions, Carnot’s paragraph describes the prospective impact of this administration’s energy policies: conducting a war on fossil fuels, without leveling with people about the true limitations of “alternative” energy technologies and without seriously pursuing civilian nuclear power.
Powering Down #2: Patrick Richardson: Kansas is ranked second in the nation behind Montana for wind energy potential, a fact which should have environmentalists jumping for joy. Instead, they’re trying to block the construction of transmission lines to wind farms in south central Kansas and north central Oklahoma.
Why? Well it all has to do with the lesser prairie chicken. According to a story by the Hutchinson News in February of this year, ranchers and wildlife officials in the area are teaming up with groups like the Sierra Club to block the construction of the lines, which would apparently run through prime breeding territory for the bird.
Powering Down #3: The California Water Resources Board has ruled that 19 natural gas power plants, located in coastal areas, are in violation of the Clean Water Act for using a technique called “once-through cooling.” According to this article, it appears that this ruling will result in the shutdown of most of these plants. continued
Powering Down #4: George Will writes about the the attack that Obama’s EPA is conducting against the Navajo Generating Station, which together with the coal mine that feeds it represents an important factor in Arizona’s economy and an important source of employment for members of the Navajo tribe.
Will notes that the NGS provides 95 percent of the power for the pumps of the Central Arizona Project, which routes water from the Colorado River and which made Phoenix and most of modern Arizona possible. A study sponsored by the Interior Department estimates that the EPA’s mandate might increase the cost of water by as much as 32 percent, hitting agriculture users especially hard.
original post and comments
Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Environment, USA | 18 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 27th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
The Swann family saga, by R F Delderfield:
God Is an Englishman
Theirs Was the Kingdom
Give Us This Day
In 1850, Adam Swann returned from India to his native England, having decided that a career in military service (especially in what he now viewed as basically a mercenary force, the East India Company’s army) was not for him. He had in his possession a valuable cache of jewelry which he had acquired on a battlefield and (probably illegally) kept for himself. While in India he had kept abreast of events in England by reading several-month-old newspapers, and was intrigued with the possibilities unleashed by industrial expansion. His original intention was to sell the jewelry and invest the proceeds in railway stock or in actually building a railroad branch line somewhere–but was dissuaded by a chance meeting with a railroad official, who advised him that railway building was in a bubble and that most of the lines now being constructed would prove uneconomic. The official had, however, an alternative suggestion: put the money on the horses. But not in the usual way.
There’s more future in horse-transport than the Cleverdicks would have you believe. The railroads can solve all the big problems but none of the small ones…If I were you, Mr Swann–and I wish to God I were and starting all over again–I would spend the next week studying the blank areas of that map there. Then travel about and take a look at the goods yards of the most successful companies, and see merchandise piled in the rain on all their loading bays for want of a good dispersal system.
Swann takes the man’s advice and sets off on a cross-country ride to evaluate the prospects for a new horse-drawn freight transportation business. On the way, he meets Henrietta, who is fleeing a prospective marriage arranged by her father, a coarse and greedy mill owner. It is Henrietta who proposes for the projected transport company the name Swann-on-Wheels and the wheeled-swan logo that will soon adorn the sides of hundreds of wagons rolling throughout Britain.
The series is the story of Swann-on-Wheels, of Adam and Henrietta’s marriage and family, and of British society in the time period 1850-1914. Unlike most historical novels covering this period, the aristocracy plays a very minor part, to the point of being almost completely irrelevant to the story, other than as a source of status markers:
In the England into which he had been born, blood and breeding were still paramount and continued to call the national tune. Ancient wealth was still the legislator and determiner of the national destiny. But all this had changed when he was still a lad. By then the man of brass and the man of iron had come into their own, elbowing their way forward and demanding, at the top of their voices to be heard and heeded…Adam, who sometimes conjured with these abstracts, saw the process as a second Reformation, a phase of history repeating itself, with inventors, engineers, and their sponsors matching the hard-faced adventurers of Tudor times…For his part, he welcomed the transformation. To him it was a cleansing tide, notwithstanding the mountains of muck and rubble it left behind…(but) it seemed to him that the wives and daughters of the men of brass took no pride in their menfolk’s astounding victory. All they wanted, it appeared, was to replace their former masters without deviation by so much as a single inch from their ways of life, or discarding a single one of their prejudices.
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Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Business, History, Management, Tech | 6 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 24th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Posted in Islam, Terrorism, War and Peace | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 20th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Here I will link several posts that I see as related. At the moment I don’t have time to tie them together in a coherent way, so will just put them out there in a somewhat disconnected fashion in the hope of sparking some good discussion.
I would like to see a study of decision-making based on how much fiction one consumes. My hypothesis is that consumers of fiction will draw their “experience” in part from fiction and it will warp their understanding of what is practical or possible in the real world…I think exposure to fiction makes you less grounded in the real world (subconsciously) and more likely to make decisions the way the captain of the Enterprise would have done it, for example.
This is a quite different view of the role and value of fiction from the one expressed in an article I summarized in my post Fiction and Empathy:
In one experiment, researcher Keith Oatley and colleagues assessed the reading habits of 94 adults, separating fiction from nonfiction. They also tested the subjects on measures of emotion perception (being able to discern a person’s emotional state from a photo of only the eyes) and social cognition (being able to draw conclusions about the relationships among people based on video clips.) This study showed a “strong” interconnection between fiction reading and social skills, especially between fiction reading and the emotion-perception factor. This correlation, of course, does not by itself demonstrate the direction of causality. Another study involved assigning 303 adults to read either a short story or an essay from the New Yorker and following up with tests of analytical and social reasoning. Those who read the story tended to do better on the social reasoning test than those who read the nonfiction essay.
Dr Oatley has referred to fiction as “the mind’s flight simulator.”
And here is an argument that reading fiction will make you a better investor:
Unlike historical accounts, through well-drawn characters it is possible to absorb the world through another perspective, an immensely valuable skill for investors looking for ideas (or trouble). A memory bank of fictional characters will also help when the market “hive mind” pushes prices in unexpected directions, answering the question “what kind of person buys here?” The primary lesson of fiction is learning “this is how people act”, when they’re scared, confident, happy, determined or demoralized. Not how I would act, or how I think they should act, but how the combination of different experiences and different patterns of cognition lead to aggregate outcomes. Empathy.
In her post the message and the story , SF writer Sarah Hoyt offers some thoughts on how novels can influence the worldviews of their readers:
But part of it is that I doubt the effectiveness of overt messages in stories. I don’t scruple to say I was raised by Heinlein, nor that I wasn’t the only one. The man might have had no biological kids, but he has sons and daughters all over the world, including me.
But then we have to look at how he raised me. Remember I came at Heinlein through (mostly) the later books because most of the Juveniles (Door Into Summer and Have Spacesuit Will Travel excepted) were either not translated to Portuguese or no longer available when I came along. And yet, what I took from his books was not the obvious messages: “Though art God” or the bedhopping or multiple marriages as the natural way to live. (Oh, for a while, but that was the spirit of the times, too, being the late seventies.) What I took from the books were not so much the messages as “the way to be.”
By creating characters that were tough, questioning, strong, and, most of all, useful, he made me want to be that way. I took as my model (being touched in the upper works) the broken caryatid, not just for characters but for what a human being should be, lifting whatever the burden without complaining.
Now, it takes a certain type of personality to teach at that level. I’ve seen it in some teachers, too, who, regardless of whether they teach you history or English, really give you a model you aspire to being. The left, being daft, thinks this has to do with the character/teacher looking like you. They think only black people can model to black children. This is part of their insanity with “there must be so many characters of tan per book.” And also with promoting incompetent teachers to positions of power, because they have a certain ancestry or skin color.
But it doesn’t work that way. It’s more subtle. It’s more about being who you are in such a strong and convincing way and making the characteristics you have or approve of so admirable that people want to follow them. Which is what Heinlein did.
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Posted in Arts & Letters, Film, Human Behavior, Media | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 17th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan
(This being St Patrick’s day, I’m taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)
Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”
In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland. The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.
Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition. He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising. With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–“In Caslebar. They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.
Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia. Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,” jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,” Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.” “A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”
Ferdy O’Donnell is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land. Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper “a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”
Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘
Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen. This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic. His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.
John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land. He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster. “One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”
Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.
Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses. His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”
Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces. A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution. He is a talented commander, but the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland. Seen through the eyes of a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it. “The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”
This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships. Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:
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Posted in Book Notes, France, History | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 11th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Here’s a fun video about early American jet engine development, made in 1952 and recently found in the archives and posted on the GE blog.
The Jet Race and the Second World War is a useful source on the early days of the turbojet revolution. The concept of the jet was developed independently in Britain (by Frank Whittle) and in Germany (by Hans von Ohain.) US Army Air Corps chief of staff Henry “Hap” Arnold championed bringing this technology to the United States, promising the Brits that absolute secrecy would be maintained. GE was chosen for the US production contract, largely because of its experience with turbosuperchargers, which in turn had benefited from its work with marine and powerplant turbines. There had been a US research project on possible turbine applications in aviation, but it was focused on turboprops and ducted fans rather than pure jets. (Interestingly, Arnold chose to exclude the piston engine manufacturers from this work, being concerned about possible conflicts of interest.)
Bell Aircraft was chosen to design and build the airplane which was to be mated with the first American-built jet engine: it was called the XP-59 Airacomet, and GE’s engine (a derivative of the Whittle W2B) was called the I-A. The prototype Airacomet was delivered to the test field via steam train (with the engine being kept in constant rotation at low speed because of concerns about vibration damaging the bearings), and first flew in October 1942. The Army Air Corps ordered 80 of them, but only 30 were delivered, with the balance of the production contract being cancelled because of somewhat disappointing performance and the incipient availability of better engines and airframes.
Meanwhile, the British had proceeded with development of their first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor, powered by Rolls Royce Welland engines. The Meteor did not see any air-to-air combat during WWII, but it was used with success against German V-1 buzz bombs (“cruise missiles,” as we would now call them) and also ground attack and airfield defense missions during the last stages of the war in Europe. It would later serve in the Korean War with the Royal Australian Air Force.
The Planes of Fame Air Museum has a P-59 Airacomet and is restoring it to flying condition.
Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, Britain, History, Military Affairs, Tech | 16 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 8th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Dr Rosamund Langston, a lecturer in neuroscience, says that by using satnavs, we wither away our ‘caveman’ ability to familiarise ourselves with new surroundings by memorizing snapshots of them. Some of the research suggests that lack of exercising these spatial-reasoning abilities may have implications beyond a reduction in one’s ability to find one’s way unaided.
See also my related posts:
Duz Web Mak Us Dumr? and
Duz Web Mak Us Dumr–continued
Posted in Human Behavior, Tech | 10 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 5th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Here’s a Maryland couple who got in trouble with the Government because they let their children–a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old–walk home from the park by themselves. They (the parents) were found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect”–whatever that means….it sounds pretty Kafkaesque.
There are at least two issues here: out-of-control discretion by an administrative agency, whether granted to them by bad legislative drafting, or simply grabbed…and, even more fundamentally, a society which has responded to one of the safest environments in human history by becoming fear-ridden and safety-obsessed.
I am reminded, and not for the first time, of a passage in Walter Miller’s great novel A Canticle for Leibowitz:
To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.
Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Society, USA | 10 Comments »