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    Intellectuals and Totalitarian Dictators

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd May 2017 (All posts by )

    Theodore Dalrymple reviews Paul Hollander’s book about the attraction felt by many intellectuals toward dictators and toward totalitarian systems of government.  There are certainly plenty of academics, writers, and journalists who have fallen and continue to fall into this pattern, with the objects of their affections including Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chavez.

    I’m reminded of something Aldous Huxley wrote:

    In the field of politics the equivalent of a theorem is a perfectly disciplined army; of a sonnet or picture, a police state under a dictatorship. The Marxist calls himself scientific and to this claim the Fascist adds another: he is the poet–the scientific poet–of a new mythology. Both are justified in their pretensions; for each applies to human situations the procedures which have proved effective in the laboratory and the ivory tower. They simplify, they abstract, they eliminate all that, for their purposes, is irrelevant and ignore whatever they choose to regard an inessential; they impose a style, they compel the facts to verify a favorite hypothesis, they consign to the waste paper basket all that, to their mind, falls short of perfection…the dream of Order begets tyranny, the dream of Beauty, monsters and violence.

    I haven’t seen any actual quantitative data demonstrating that intellectuals are more likely to support totalitarian dictators than are, say, bricklayers or physicians…maybe we just notice them more…but it does seem that way. At a bare minimum, I think it’s fair to say that intellectualism, as it has developed in the West over the past century, does not provide much of a shield against the totalitarian temptation.

    Arthur Koestler, himself a former Communist, wrote about the mental world of the Closed System:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Leftism | 11 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading – Science and Technology Edition

    Posted by David Foster on 15th May 2017 (All posts by )

    It seems that octopuses have the ability to edit their RNA dynamically.

    An interesting piece on FDA regulation and medical device innovation.

    Zymergen has automated part of the drug discovery process via a combination of robotics and machine learning.

    Was big data analytics (more specifically, excess faith in same) a major cause of Hillary Clinton’s electoral loss?

    Is there an artificial intelligence misinformation epidemic?

    Cotton spinning – a quintessential technology of the Industrial Revolution – returns to England.

    But to what degree will spinning, as well as weaving, cutting, and sewing, be replaced by 3d printing of clothing?

    James L Taylor Manufacturing, a 106-year-old company making clamps and other woodworking tools sold to producers of furniture, flooring, and cabinets, recently introduced a robotic nester…it replaces the work of a human nester who “snatches boards coming off a conveyer belt in random lengths, hastily rearranges them so that each row of one to five pieces is so long, and bundles the rows into a stack.” One mill in Mississippi placed an urgent order for 3 of these (at $115K each) with the explanation: “I have eight nesters and four of them just called in sick.”

    What is especially interesting about this is that the robotics system was not developed by hiring consultants from MIT or Silicon Valley; the company’s chief engineer (also part-owner of the company) designed the machine himself and wrote the 7000 lines of C++ code to run it.  Reminds me of the cucumber sorting machine developed by a Japanese guy to help out on his parents’ cucumber farm..although that system was developed for the family’s own use rather than as a saleable product as with the robotic nester.

    Posted in Business, Entrepreneurship, Health Care, Medicine, Tech | 6 Comments »

    Intimidation, Conformity, and Cowardice in American Academia

    Posted by David Foster on 11th May 2017 (All posts by )

    I have previously mentioned an incident described in the memoirs of Tom Watson Jr, longtime CEO of IBM.

    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 Senator 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.”

    I was reminded of this story once again by the current academic ragestorm involving the work of Professor Rebecca Tuvel.  And, just as with Watson’s experience during the McCarthy era, what is particularly disturbing is that there are apparently a lot of people who don’t like what has been happening…but are afraid to say so.

    And who is Professor Tuvel and what is the ragestorm about, you may ask?  Tuvel is an assistant professor of philosophy at Memphis College; you can see her teaching and research interests at the link.  Recently she published an article entitled “In Defense of Transracialism” in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy.  A writer at Inside Higher Ed summarizes:

    The article explores whether there might be parallels between being transgender and being transracial, focusing specifically on the well-known case of Rachel Dolezal, who is white but presented herself as black for many years.

    Tuvel’s argument is that the very same reasons that might justify an individual’s decision to change sexes could also be used to justify an individual’s decision to change races — so if one is committed to the acceptability of the former (as Tuvel herself is), then one would be committed to the acceptability of the latter.

    And then the ragestorm broke:

    Shortly after the paper was published in the spring 2017 edition of Hypatia, an open letter with signatures but no author appeared on the internet soliciting further signatures. The letter called for Tuvel’s paper to be retracted by the journal, stating that “its continued availability causes further harm.”

    This open letter is now closed to further signatures and has been sent to the editor of Hypatia. While the open letter was still circulating, a statement appeared on the Hypatia website repudiating the article and making multiple references to the harms caused by the article’s publication. The statement has no signatures but is credited to “A majority of the Hypatia board of associate editors.”

    “The harms caused by the article’s publication” sounds like an argument that would have been made by the Inquisition in support of burning someone at the stake for unauthorized theological writing, or the arguments that were frequently made by Nazi and Soviet courts when calling for the execution of those who had disseminated forbidden political and social views.

    A recent New York Magazine article, This is what a modern-day witch hunt looks like,  argues that many of the assertions by Tuvel’s ‘critics’ (way too mild a word in this context) are based on a mischaracterization of what she actually wrote.  And this piece asserts that the over-the-top reaction has caused serious damage to Tuvel’s career…”How can Prof. Tuvel, for example, now use this repudiated but allegedly peer-reviewed article as part of her tenure process?   Indeed, how can her department or college support her for tenure when she has been so vilified as a scholar and professional by people who work in her fields?”…and suggests that these attacks may rise to the level of defamation in the legal sense.

    My main concern here is not whether Tuvel’s work is good or bad (read it for yourself here, if you’re so inclined, not sure how much longer it will stay up before the bit-burners get it)…indeed, I question the value of the whole subdiscipline encompassing this work and that of many of its critics), but the vitriolic tone of the attacks which in my view clearly inhibit intellectual exploration and and the ability to freely and (individually or collectively) play with ideas…which things are supposed to be primary reasons for the existence of academia…in favor of the dead hand of conformity.  And what is particularly disturbing…and closely echoes Tom Watson’s experiences during the McCarthy era…is this:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Education, Leftism, Philosophy | 28 Comments »

    How to Get a Complex/Technical Bill Through a Legislature

    Posted by David Foster on 5th May 2017 (All posts by )

    In 1751, Lord Chesterfield decided that the time had come for England to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.  In a letter to his son, he explained how he got this done:

    I consulted the best lawyers and the most skillful astronomers, and we cooked up a bill for that purpose. But then my difficulty began: I was to bring in this bill, which was necessarily composed of law jargon and astronomical calculations, to both which I am an utter stranger. However, it was absolutely necessary to make the House of Lords think that I knew something of the matter; and also to make them believe that they knew something of it themselves, which they do not. For my own part, I could just as soon have talked Celtic or Sclavonian to them as astronomy, and they would have understood me full as well: so I resolved to do better than speak to the purpose, and to please instead of informing them. I gave them, therefore, only an historical account of calendars, from the Egyptian down to the Gregorian, amusing them now and then with little episodes; but I was particularly attentive to the choice of my words, to the harmony and roundness of my periods, to my elocution, to my action. This succeeded, and ever will succeed; they thought I informed, because I pleased them; and many of them said that I had made the whole very clear to them; when, God knows, I had not even attempted it. Lord Macclesfield, who had the greatest share in forming the bill, and who is one of the greatest mathematicians and astronomers in Europe, spoke afterward with infinite knowledge, and all the clearness that so intricate a matter would admit of: but as his words, his periods, and his utterance, were not near so good as mine, the preference was most unanimously, though most unjustly, given to me.

    Posted in Britain, History, Politics, Rhetoric, Science | 3 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 4th May 2017 (All posts by )

    Roger Simon:  Will Fascism come to America through its colleges and universities?

    Case in point:  Brooklyn College

    Also from Roger Simon:  Roots of Liberal/Progressive Rage

    Joel Hirsch:  The Gulag and the Islamists

    In 1711, the Spectator had some positive things to say about merchants–not a common opinion among the smart set in that place and time.  (Original article here.)

    Thoughts about the archetype of the American farm boy and the present-day hostility of elitist ‘progressives’ toward people who fit this archetype:

    Then it hit me. The new American myth, carefully constructed by the SJWs and their ilk, is that farmers are stupid. Mechanics are dumb. Plumbers only ply their trade because they are too stupid to take gender studies courses. And since they are all idiots, of course their children must be idiots too. Indeed, they are all far too stupid to be permitted a say in how their own lives are run.

    Related to the above:  The roots of campus progressivism’s madness

    Posted in Academia, Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Islam, Leftism, USA | 20 Comments »

    Oxytocin and Conformity – Public and Private

    Posted by David Foster on 29th April 2017 (All posts by )

    An interesting article by Robert Sapolsky distinguishes between public conformity, in which subjects change their opinions to be more agreeable to the crowd, and private conformity, where the individual actually adopts the crowd’s opinion as his own.

    Sapolsky describes a classic experiment for studying conformity, in which solitary subjects are first asked something with an obvious answer such as, “Here’s a line.  Which of these three other lines is it closest to in length?”  Then a subject is asked the question which amid a group of other “participants,” actually confederates of the researcher who have been instructed to give a unanimously wrong answer. When these false answers were given first, the real study subjects would agree with that answer up to three-quarters of the time.

    Neuroscience research suggests that “the discovery that everyone disagrees with you turns out to typically activate the amygdala and the insular cortex, brain regions associated with anxiety, disgust, and unease.”

    In another experiment, which involved watching a documentary and then being quizzed about it, subjects were divided into two groups.  One group was administered oxytocin, the so-called ‘cuddling hormone,’ which is said to promote bonding and affiliation in couples and also among social groups.  The other experimental group got a placebo.  Among the placebo group, about 2/3 conformed to the crowd opinion…but of these, about half reverted to the correct answer when they were on their own again.  Among those who got oxytocin, there was a 15% increase in the rate of public conforming, but no increase in the rate of private conforming.

    I’m not sure how definitive a 15% increase really is given the sample size of only 92 subjects, but it is consistent with what has been frequently claimed about the effects of oxytocin.  It is slightly comforting (again, to the extent that these results are validate-able)  that the increase in public conformity does not drive a corresponding increase in private conformity.  Only slightly comforting, though–the mob can still burn you at the stake for witchcraft even though most of its members privately believe that there is no such thing.)

    This is obviously connected to the idea of the preference cascade.  Failure to understand this concept is surely one reason why Hillary Clinton and her minions were so taken aback by Donald Trump’s presidential victory.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism | 8 Comments »

    Bad Stewards

    Posted by David Foster on 26th April 2017 (All posts by )

    Yesterday’s WSJ – Parents are Drowning in College-Loan Debt:

    Millions of U.S. parents have taken out loans from the government to help their children pay for college. Now a crushing bill is coming due. Hundreds of thousands have tumbled into delinquency and default. In the process, many have delayed retirement, put off health expenses and lost portions of Social Security checks and tax refunds to their lender, the federal government…“This credit is being extended on terms that specifically, willfully ignore their ability to repay,” says Toby Merrill of Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center. “You can’t avoid that we’re targeting high-cost, high-dollar-amount loans to people who we know can’t afford to repay them.”

    We already knew, of course, that many former students are suffering under the burden of their student loans for years and decades, and that the problem is so common and so severe that it is impacting major purchases of things like houses and cars, and probably also marriages and business formations. The article indicates that in many cases the exploding costs of higher education are devastating their parents as well.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Education | 13 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd April 2017 (All posts by )

    Sarah Hoyt:  Hereditary monarchy, feudalism, and a vicious cycle of crazy….coming soon to a country near you?

    Why Danusha Goska left the Left.  Years of observing, and being subjected to, unpleasant and just-plain-nuts behavior.

    There has been much discussion lately about the increased suicide rate and addictive behavior among white working-class men.  Here’s a collection of comments to a Huffington Post article on that topic.  (via The Arts Mechanical.)

    In her ‘why I left the Left’ post, Danusha described the prevalence of hate, rather than a true desire to make things better, among today’s ‘progressives.’  That hate is very much on display in the Huffington Post comments.

    The past of the future apocalypse:  Stuart Schneiderman reviews some predictions of doom from back in 1970.

    Posted in Environment, Europe, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 10 Comments »

    Worthwhile Visiting

    Posted by David Foster on 15th April 2017 (All posts by )

    The National Museum of Industrial History is located on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel complex.  Most of the original buildings are derelict or partly torn-down, but the above array of blast furnaces and supporting equipment has been preserved.

    Suggested musical accompaniment for a visit to the place that was Bethlehem Steel…features a different company and a slightly different geography, but basically the same sad story.

    Posted in Business, Capitalism, History, Management, Tech, Unions, USA | 16 Comments »

    Still Crazy After All These Years

    Posted by David Foster on 13th April 2017 (All posts by )

    German Political Thought

    …although, in fairness, the trend toward suppression of political speech that challenges the Official Viewpoint is by no means limited to Germany, it appears to be a Europe-wide phenomenon.  One might have hoped, though, that Germany, given its history, would be particularly aware of the dangers of this sort of thing.

    If this law really goes into force, you can bet that it will be employed largely against those who dare to criticize Islam in any of its manifestations.  (Even without the proposed law, a German satirist has been prosecuted for insulting President Ergodan of Turkey.)

    Prosecutions for blasphemy and lèse-majesté…not just for the Middle Ages!

    (In his memoirs, Kaiser Wilhelm II expressed admiration for the stringent British libel laws and also expressed his regret that a similar level of constraint on newspapers in German had not been possible.  If present trends continue, maybe the German democracy in 2017 will manage to actually become a less-free society than the German Empire in 1914.)

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Germany, History, Islam | 13 Comments »

    How to Sell NCR Cash Registers in 1917

    Posted by David Foster on 9th April 2017 (All posts by )

    An interesting and well-done video

    Posted in Business, Marketing, Tech, USA, Video | 7 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 7th April 2017 (All posts by )

    Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan is, IMO, one of the more thoughtful of the financial industry CEO’s.  In his annual letter to shareholders, he devotes considerable space to the current situation of the United States–our assets, our problems, and potential paths for improvement.  The public policy section of the letter starts on page 32.

    My view of several issues is different from Mr Dimon’s, but I think the letter is well worth reading and thinking about.

    (Disclosure:  I’m a JPM investor)

    Posted in Business, Capitalism, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, Immigration, USA | 13 Comments »

    Freedom and the American Character

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd April 2017 (All posts by )

    I was thinking, for some reason, about the old Cole Porter song Don’t Fence Me In.  It’s not all that good of a song, IMO–but it does express a chafing at restriction that most people would once have agreed was a core aspect of the American character.

    Now, however, I’m not so sure.  Seems to me a lot of people–especially but not only on college campuses–are asking to be fenced in, and are looking at hobbles not negatively but with admiration.

    Questions for discussion:

    –Has individual freedom indeed become a less-important value to Americans (in general) over recent decades?

    –If so, what are the drivers of this change?…and what are the implications?

    –Was Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor right about human nature?

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Music, USA | 30 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 28th March 2017 (All posts by )

    Some people find it very upsetting that President Trump likes to put ketchup on steak.  (Not something I’d do, but then I never put ketchup on french fries, either…)  Matthew Continetti says:  It is hard to read stories like these without coming to the conclusion that so much of our elite’s abhorrence of Trump is a matter of aesthetics.

    There’s considerable truth in that point, I think.  Lead and Gold quotes GK Chesterton:  The modern world will not distinguish between matters of opinion and matters of principle and it ends up treating them all as matters of taste.  Follow the link to read what L&G has to say about the worship of ‘taste’, using the Bloomsbury group as an example.

    How Communism became the disease it tried to cure:

    Contrary to the socialist promises of making a new man out of the rubble of the old order, as one new stone after another was put into place and the socialist economy was constructed, into the cracks between the blocks sprouted once again the universals of human nature: the motives and psychology of self-interested behavior, the search for profitable avenues and opportunities to improve one’s own life and that of one’s family and friends, through the attempt to gain control over and forms of personal use of the “socialized” scarce resources and commodities within the networks and interconnections of the Soviet bureaucracy.

    Stuart Schneiderman writes about nationalism vs internationalism, and Don Sensing has some thoughts on tribalism.  Both are well worth reading.

    Why college graduates still can’t think:

    Traditionally, the “critical” part of the term “critical thinking” has referred not to the act of criticizing, or finding fault, but rather to the ability to be objective. “Critical,” in this context, means “open-minded,” seeking out, evaluating and weighing all the available evidence. It means being “analytical,” breaking an issue down into its component parts and examining each in relation to the whole. Above all, it means “dispassionate,” recognizing when and how emotions influence judgment and having the mental discipline to distinguish between subjective feelings and objective reason—then prioritizing the latter over the former…I assumed that virtually all the readers (of a post on a higher-education website) would agree with this definition of critical thinking—the definition I was taught as a student in the 1980s and which I continue to use with my own students.

    To my surprise, that turned out not to be the case. Several readers took me to task for being “cold” and “emotionless,” suggesting that my understanding of critical thinking, which I had always taken to be almost universal, was mistaken.

    Some great pictures of villages around the world.  (via Craig Newmark)

    Posted in Academia, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Photos, Trump | 11 Comments »

    Economic Growth and the Spirit of Debate

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd March 2017 (All posts by )

    Writing in the WSJ, Naftali Bennett takes on the question of what is the “secret educational ingredient” that accounts for Israel’s dramatic economic success.  While agreeing with others that good schools are a part of it, he also assigns credit to “a parallel education system that operates alongside the formal one.  This is where our children learn to become entrepreneurs.”

    And what are the components of this parallel education system?  He identifies three of them.  First, there is “our heritage of debate”…the study of the Talmud. “The meaning of complex texts is debated by students in hevruta–pairs–with a teacher offering occasional guidance..Since the Talmud is one of the most complex legal codes ever gathered, the idea of a verdict is almost irrelevant to those studying.  Students engage in debate for the sake of debate.  They analyze issues from all directions, finding different solutions.  Multiple answers to a single question are common.”

    Bennett identifies the second component of the parallel education system as the collection of youth organizations:  “Teenagers work closely with younger children; they lead groups on excursions  and hikes, develop informal curricula, and are responsible for those in their care.  As an 11th-grade student , I took fifth-graders on an overnight hike in the mountains.  Being given responsibilities at a young age helped shape me into who I am today.”

    The third component is the army:  “Consider a hypothetical 19-year-old soldier in the intelligence corps, analyzing aerial photographs or intercepted communications.  She must decide if the material in front of her indicates an impending attack or not.  This isn’t a rare occurrence. Thousands of Israeli soldiers experience it daily.”

    Just a couple of hours after reading the Bennett piece, I encountered this story about Wellesley College:

    In an email to fellow faculty yesterday afternoon, a committee of Wellesley College professors made several startling recommendations about how they think future campus speakers should be chosen. If implemented, the proposals by the faculty Commission for Ethnicity, Race, and Equity would have a profound impact on the quality and quantity of voices Wellesley students would be permitted to hear.

    FIRE has obtained the email, sent by one of the signatories to a faculty listserv, and republished it in full below.

    While paying lip service to free speech, the email is remarkable in its contempt for free and open dialogue on campus. Asserting that controversial speakers “impose on the liberty of students, staff, and faculty at Wellesley,” the committee members lament the fact that such speakers negatively impact students by forcing them to “invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers’ arguments.” 

    And here we thought learning to effectively challenge views with which one disagreed was an important part of the educational process!

    Meanwhile, at the University of Arizona, students who feel offended are being told to say “ouch”…and the student who made the supposedly-hurtful comment is supposed to respond with “oops.”  And these two universities are far from the only ones adopting such policies.

    So if a key part of Israel’s economic success is the training of kids in the skills and attitudes of debate…it would appear that many if not most American universities are doing the exact opposite.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Israel, USA | 14 Comments »

    Around the World by Zeppelin, in 1929

    Posted by David Foster on 21st March 2017 (All posts by )

    In August 1929, the airship Graf Zeppelin set off for a round-the-world tour.  Among the 20 passengers on board was Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, whose trip was paid for by the Hearst newspapers and whose assignment was to write about the venture from a woman’s perspective.  Lady Hay was somewhat disconcerted to find out that among the other passengers on the trip would be a journalist named Karl Henry von Wiegand, with whom she was deeply in love–Karl having broken off their relationship six months earlier.

    Here’s a wonderful pseudo-documentary about the flight, with the story told from Lady Hay’s perspective.  I call it a pseudo-documentary because while the film is genuine, the narration is only partly taken from Hay’s articles and letters–part of it was created by the screenwriters—and there is at least one event that was fictionalized. Includes great film footage of New York, Friederichshafen, and Toyko.  Very much worth watching.

    Posted in Aviation, Film, History, Transportation | 7 Comments »

    Book Review: The Year of the French (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 17th March 2017 (All posts by )

    The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan

    (This being St Patrick’s day, I’m again 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:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, France, History, Ireland | 2 Comments »

    Music Review: The Rose of Roscrae

    Posted by David Foster on 14th March 2017 (All posts by )

    This work by Tom Russell is a highly ambitious album:  a song-cycle, practically an opera, whose storyline extends from Ireland to the American West to the island of Molokai, where the priest Father Damien cared for outcast lepers.

    In the title song, Johnny Dutton tells of being beaten up by the father of the beautiful 15-year-old Rose (after being caught in the hayloft with her) and making his way from Ireland to the United States, where he planned to live out the dreams he had absorbed from cheap novels of the West.

    Johnny works for the legendary rancher Charlie Goodnight, but eventually turns to a life of crime.  He is caught and found guilty, but escapes.  He is pursued by his nemesis Augie Blood, US Marshal and evangelist, who travels in a prairie schooner (drawn by mules named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) with a cross on the sail and a saloon piano in the back on which he plays gospel tunes.

    Will Johnny escape Augie Blood?  Will he ever be reunited with the Rose of Roscrae?  Will his longing for Ireland ever take him back to the Old Country?

    A few of the songs:

    The Rose of Roscrae

    Doin’ Hard Time in Texas

    I Talk to God

    The Water is Wide / Overture

    He Wasn’t a Bad Kid When He Was Sober.  (Russell got a letter from “a rather well-known Western artist” who apparently wanted him to write a song based on “new information that Billy the Kid was a real hero of sorts. A true Irishman and a friend of the Mexican poor.”  This song is Russell’s answer)

    There are a LOT of performers on this album, in addition to Tom R himself, they include Johnny Cash, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Maura O’Connell, Ian Tyson, and Gretchen Peters.  There is even a Swiss Yodel Choir!

    When I first heard this album, I liked it but didn’t think it quite measured up to TR’s earlier song-cycle, The Man from God Knows Where (link goes to my review)  But The Rose of Roscrae grows on you.  An exceptional piece of work, well-worth buying and listening to many times.

    The album can be purchased at Amazon.  Also available is a bundle which includes the program guide / libretto as well as the album itself.

     

    Posted in History, Ireland, Music, USA | Comments Off on Music Review: The Rose of Roscrae

    A Classical Education in the Azores

    Posted by David Foster on 12th March 2017 (All posts by )

    Here’s a very interesting article by a Portuguese teacher who developed and ran an intensive classical-studies program for high school students in the Azores Islands.  Highly recommended.

    Meanwhile, back in the USA.

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education, History | 8 Comments »

    Mark Zuckerberg as Political and Social Philosopher

    Posted by David Foster on 7th March 2017 (All posts by )

    A long essay by the founder of Facebook includes this assertion:

    History is the story of how we’ve learned to come together in ever greater numbers — from tribes to cities to nations.

    To which Steve Sailer responds:

    As we all know, independence and diversity have always been the enemy of progress.

    For example, that’s why Thomas Jefferson wrote The Declaration of Dependence submitting the American colonies to the British Empire.

    Similarly, the father of history, Herodotus, wrote to celebrate the mighty Persian Empire’s reduction of the various Greek city-states to a satrapy ruled from Babylon.

    Likewise, every year Jews gather to admit that their stiff-neckedness provoked the Roman Empire into, rightfully, smashing the Temple in Jerusalem on the holy day of We-Had-It-Coming.

    And, of course, who can forget Shakespeare’s plays, such as Philip II and Admiral-Duke of Medina Sidonia, lauding the Spanish Armada for conquering the impudent English and restoring to Canterbury the One True Faith?

    Similarly, Oswald Mosley’s prime ministership (1940-1980) of das englische Reich is justly admired for subordinating England’s traditional piratical turbulence to the greater good of Europe.

    Likewise, who can not look at the 49 nations currently united by their adherence to the universalist faith of Islam and not see that submission is the road to peace, prosperity, and progress? If only unity had prevailed at Tours in 732 instead of divisiveness. May that great historical wrong be swiftly rectified in the decades to come!

    (links via Isegoria)

    Zuckerberg’s assertion about history being about “coming together in ever larger numbers”…with the implication that this is inherently in a good thing…is quite reminiscent of the views of Edward Porter Alexander, a Confederate general and later a railroad president…as excerpted in my post What are the limits of the Alexander analysis?

    Following his initial snarkiness, Steve Sailer goes on to point out that “consolidation is some times a good thing, and other times independence or decentralization is a better thing. Getting the scale of control right all depends upon the circumstances. It’s usually a very interesting and complicated question that is the central issue of high statesmanship.”

    Thoughts?

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Organizational Analysis, Political Philosophy, Tech | 33 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 4th March 2017 (All posts by )

    Simulating a microprocessor with techniques similar to those used in neuroscience raises some cautionary thoughts about conclusions being drawn in the later work.

    Don Sensing links his 2014 post:  America is adopting the Middle East model, and he’s not talking about Islam but rather about the   fact that “At an increasing pace, politics in the West, especially in America, is the surest way to wealth, a 180-out from the West’s history”…but consistent with the way things have worked for millennia in the Middle East.

    Anthony Esolen:  We are a people now illiterate in a way that is unprecedented for the human race. We can decipher linguistic signs on a page, but we have no songs and immemorial stories in our hearts.

    Wendy McElroy on “social justice warriors” and the persecution of heretics.

    Despite about all the automation innovations and the concerns about robots taking all the jobs, manufacturing productivity may really not be showing much in the way of an upward trend.

    Management and meaningful work, studied via Legos

    Posted in Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Leftism, Management, Medicine, Middle East, Science, Tech | 1 Comment »

    Robots and Jobs – the Bet

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd February 2017 (All posts by )

    Keith Ablow, a Fox News analyst, asked Should Trump stop robots from stealing jobs?

    Economist Don Boudreaux responded:

    It’s true that the pace of introducing new labor-saving techniques has magnificently quickened in the past two hundred years.  This fast pace continues today.  Yet still we encounter no evidence that labor-saving techniques permanently increase unemployment.

    You’ll reply “This time is different!”  Perhaps, but I doubt it.  And I’m so confident in my prediction that I’ll put $10,000 of my own my money where my mouth is.

    Terms of the wager are at the Boudreaux link. I’m not sure if the bet has been accepted or not.

    Meanwhile, here is Bill Gates, suggesting that robots should be taxed.  Left undefined, at least in this interview, is a question of Exactly What is a Robot?  Is a CNC machine tool a robot?  I’d say it absolutely is, as was the case with earlier numerically-controlled machine tools that became pretty common in the 1970s and 1980s.  How about an automated teller machine in a bank?  And what about “robots” that have no direct physical incarnation but are purely software, such as the office productivity software that accounted for a huge portion of Microsoft’s success?  It was largely Microsoft Word and similar software that made secretaries an endangered species in most organizations.  (Can you imaging the lobbying, litigation, and regulatory struggles that would surround this definitional issue if politicians were to take Bill’s proposal seriously?)

    The proposal also ignores that fact that the United States is not the entire world–taxing robots here would harm our competitiveness vis-a-vis those countries pursuing no such policy.  (Which would clearly include China.)  The only way to make a US-only anti-robot policy ‘work’ would be to establish very high tariff barriers.

    See also my posts Attack of the Job-Killing Robots and Attack of the Job-Killing Robots Part 2.   I hope to soon complete Part 3 of the series, which will focus on automation technologies and their impact in the post-WWII era.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Tech | 19 Comments »

    ENIAC Anniversary

    Posted by David Foster on 15th February 2017 (All posts by )

    With all the current discussion about robotics and artificial intelligence, this seems like an anniversary worth noting:  the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator) was formally announced on February 15, 1946.  (Or maybe it was February 14.)  Originally developed to compute artillery trajectories, it was sufficiently general in its design that it could be programmed to address other kinds of problems as well.  The programming was originally done with patch cords, but soon a sort of stored-programming approach was developed wherein the patch cord layout remained the same and the program was entered via an array of rotary switches.

    See also Robot Mathematician Knows All The Answers, about the Harvard Mark I, a slightly earlier computer that was electromechanical rather than purely electronic in its operation, and a post about the Naval Ordnance Research Calculator, a ‘supercomputer’ of 1954.

    I wonder if these early computers would have made such a strong popular impression if they had not been so physically large.

    Posted in History, Tech, USA | 5 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 10th February 2017 (All posts by )

    How the 16th century invented social media

    Virginia Postrel thinks that now is the time for big-box stores to embrace the 19th century

    Is it possible to make American mate again?

    Related to the above:  mapping the geographical patterns of romantic anxiety and avoidance

    Maybe also related:  sex doesn’t sell anymore, activism does

    PC oppression and why Trump won

    Theory and practice: an interesting Assistant Village Idiot post from 2010

    Learning about effective selling from a surfer dude

    Here’s a guy who says: I help create the automated technologies that are taking jobs…and I feel guilty about it

    After discussing his concerns about automation-driven job losses, he goes on to say “I feel even worse when I hear misleading statements about the source of the problem. Blaming China and NAFTA is a convenient deflection, but denial will only make the wrenching employment dislocation for millions all the more painful.”

    I’ve seen this assertion–“offshoring doesn’t matter because Robots”–and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.  It should be obvious that both factors play a role; there’s no need for a single-variable explanation.  (Actually, offshoring-driven job losses and automation-driven job losses are somewhat less than additive in their effect, since automation generally makes US-based production more relatively attractive.)

    Here’s an argument that the next big blue-collar job is coding.

    What if we regarded code not as a high-stakes, sexy affair, but the equivalent of skilled work at a Chrysler plant? Among other things, it would change training for programming jobs—and who gets encouraged to pursue them. As my friend Anil Dash, a technology thinker and entrepreneur, notes, teachers and businesses would spend less time urging kids to do expensive four-year computer-­science degrees and instead introduce more code at the vocational level in high school….Across the country, people are seizing this opportunity, particularly in states hit hardest by deindustrialization. In Kentucky, mining veteran Rusty Justice decided that code could replace coal. He cofounded Bit Source, a code shop that builds its workforce by retraining coal miners as programmers. Enthusiasm is sky high: Justice got 950 applications for his first 11 positions. Miners, it turns out, are accustomed to deep focus, team play, and working with complex engineering tech. “Coal miners are really technology workers who get dirty,” Justice says.

    I’m reminded of two things that Peter Drucker said in his 1969 book The Age of Discontinuity.  In attacking what he called ‘the diploma curtain’, he wrote “By denying opportunity to those without higher education, we are denying access to contribution and performance to a large number of people of superior ability, intelligence, and capacity to achieve.”

    But also, Drucker wrote, in his discussion of the Knowledge Economy:

    The knowledge worker of today…is not the successor to the ‘free professional’ of 1750 or 1900.  He is the successor to the employee of yesterday, the manual worker, skilled or unskilled…This hidden conflict between the knowledge workers view of himself as a ‘professional’ and the social reality in which he is the upgraded and well-paid successor to the skilled worker of yesterday, underlies the disenchantment of so many highly educated young people with the jobs available to them…They expect to be ‘intellectuals.’  And the find that they are just ‘staff.’

    Indeed, many jobs that have been thought of as ‘professional’ and ‘white collar’…programming, financial analysis, even engineering…are increasingly subject to many of the stresses traditionally associated with ‘blue collar’ jobs, such as layoffs and cyclical unemployment.  As a higher % of the corporate cost structure becomes concentrated in jobs which are not direct labor, it is almost inevitable that these jobs will be hit increasingly when financial problems make themselves felt.

    Drucker’s second point, which I think is very astute, is somewhat orthogonal to the coal-miners-becoming-coders piece, and probably deserves it own post for discussion.  Regarding the question of non-college-educated people becoming programmers (of which there has long already been a fair amount), the degree to which succeeds is to some degree coupled with the whole question of h-1b visa policy, and trade policy in general as it relates to offshoring of services.

    Posted in Business, Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Education, Leftism, Marketing, Media, Tech | 11 Comments »

    Freedom, the Village, and the Internet (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 7th February 2017 (All posts by )

    (Hearing in a town this size, by John Prine and Delores Keane, reminded me of this 2013 post–rerun here, with some edits and a special musical bonus added at the end.)

    I’ve reviewed two books by German writer Hans Fallada: Little Man, What Now?, and Wolf Among Wolves (the links go to the reviews), both of which were excellent. I’ve also read his novel Every Man Dies Alone, which is centered on a couple who become anti-Nazi activists after their son Ottochen is killed in the war…it was inspired by, and is loosely based on, the true story of  a real-life couple who distributed anti-Nazi postcards and were executed for it.

    I thought this book was also excellent…the present post, though, is not a book review, but rather a development of some thoughts inspired by a particular passage in the story.

    Trudel, who was Ottochen’s fiancee, is a sweet and intelligent girl who is strongly anti-Nazi..and unlike Ottochen’s parents, she became an activist prior to being struck by personal tragedy: she is a member of a resistance cell at the factory where she works.  But she finds that she cannot stand the unending psychological strain of underground work–made even worse by the rigid and doctrinaire man (apparently a Communist) who is leader of the cell–and she drops out. Another member of the cell, who has long been in love with her, also finds that he is not built for such work, and drops out also.

    After they marry and Trudel becomes pregnant, they decide to leave the politically hysterical environment of Berlin for a small town where–they believe–life will be freer and calmer.

    Like many city dwellers, they’d had the mistaken belief that spying was only really bad in Berlin and that decency still prevailed in small towns. And like many city dwellers, they had made the painful discovery that recrimination, eavesdropping, and informing were ten times worse in small towns than in the big city. In a small town, everyone was fully exposed, you couldn’t ever disappear in the crowd. Personal circumstances were quickly ascertained, conversations with neighbors were practically unavoidable, and the way  such conversations could be twisted was something they had already experienced in their own lives, to their chagrin.

    Reading the above passage, I was struck by the thought that if we are now living in an “electronic village”…even a “global village,” as Marshall McLuhan put it several decades ago…then perhaps that also means we are facing some of the unpleasant characteristics that–as Fallada notes–can be a part of village life. And these characteristics aren’t something that appears only in eras of insane totalitarianism such as existed in Germany during the Nazi era. Peter Drucker, in Managing in the Next Society, wrote about the tension between liberty and community:

    Rural society has been romanticized for millenia, especially in the West, where rural communities have usually been portrayed as idylic. However, the community in rural society is actually both compulsory and coercive…And that explains why, for millenia, the dream of rural people was to escape into the city. Stadluft macht frei (city air frees) says an old German proverb dating back to the eleventh or twelfth century.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Media, Tech | 15 Comments »