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    “Top-Tier University Graduates Only”

    Posted by David Foster on 28th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Here’s a LinkedIn post from a young woman who doesn’t like the way certain companies are specifying “degree from a top-tier university required” in certain of their job postings. I think she makes some good points.

    From the standpoint of the individual company or other organization, absolutely requiring a degree from a “top-tier university” (whatever the individual’s other experience and capabilities) reduces the size of the talent pool and quite likely increases costs without commensurate benefit. From the standpoint of the overall society, this practice wastes human resources and creates damaging inhibitors to social mobility. (And in most cases, “top-tier university” is defined based only on the perception of that university’s “brand”…very few HR organizations or hiring managers conduct serious research on the actual quality of different universities from an educational perspective…and the perceived quality may be years or even decades out of date.)

    I think we as a society have delegated far too much influence to the admissions officers of various Ivy League universities, and also to whoever constructs the metrics for the US News & World Report college ratings. When discussing “inequality” and declining social mobility..and less-than-stellar economic growth…the role of credentialism in all these things needs to be seriously considered.

    Related: the five-pound butterfly revisited

    Posted in Academia, Business, Education, Human Behavior, Management | 16 Comments »

    The First Transcontinental Telephone Call

    Posted by David Foster on 24th January 2015 (All posts by )

    …was made 100 years ago, on January 25, 1915. (Well, actually, that was the first official transcontinental phone call; the line had actually been completed and tested by July of 1914, but the big PR event was timed to coincide with something called the Panama-Pacific exposition.) Alexander Graham Bell was in New York City and repeated his famous request “Mr Watson, come here, I want you” into the phone, Mr Watson then being in San Francisco.

    Long-distance calls from the East Coast had previously reached only as far as Denver; it was the use of vacuum-tube amplifiers to boost weak signals that made possible true transcontinental calling.

    Here’s the NYT story that marked the occasion. Note that the price announced for NYC-SF calling was $20.75 for the first three minutes and $6.75 for each minute thereafter. According to the CPI inflation calculator, these numbers equate to $486.38 and $158.21 in today’s money.

    Posted in History, Tech, USA | 7 Comments »

    Mick Ryan’s Lament

    Posted by David Foster on 19th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Performed by John Sheahan with Jane & Shane

    I heard this song on the radio a couple of days ago and googled it…it was written by Robert Emmet Dunlap and covered by several singers, including Tim O’Brien and the group at the link above, whose version I think is especially fine.

    Posted in History, Ireland, USA, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    Homesteaders in Nebraska, 1880s through 1900

    Posted by David Foster on 19th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Wonderful photos at American Digest

    More images here

    Posted in History, USA | 14 Comments »

    Is American Entrepreneurship in Decline?

    Posted by David Foster on 19th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Jim Clifton, who is Chairman & CEO of Gallup, presents data showing that creation of new businesses has fallen considerably over a long-term trend running from 1977 to the present, and that for the last several years, the number of firms created has actually fallen below the number of firms closing.

    LINK

    And furthermore:

    The U.S. now ranks not first, not second, not third, but 12th among developed nations in terms of business startup activity. Countries such as Hungary, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Israel and Italy all have higher startup rates than America does.

    Read the whole thing.

    These numbers and trends seem somewhat counterintuitive to me. I see a lot of startups looking for angel funding, and quite a few of them getting it. There is a lot of public interest in entrepreneurship, as evidenced by the success of TV programs such as “Shark Tank”, and even universities are attempting to capitalize on the interest in entrepreneurship by offering courses and programs on the topic.

    I suspect that much of the decline in business creation is among people who don’t have a lot of formal education–many of them immigrants–and who in former years would have started businesses but are now inhibited by inability to navigate the dense thicket of regulations and pay the substantial costs involved in doing so. OTOH, I also suspect that quite a few of these people have actually created businesses, in fields such as home maintenance or home day-care, and are doing so off-the-books in ways that don’t get counted in the formal statistics.

    Among those who do have college degrees–and especially among those who have spent six, eight, or more years in college classrooms–student loan debt, much of it incurred on behalf of degrees having little or no economic or serious intellectual value, surely also acts as an inhibitor to business creation.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, USA | 5 Comments »

    The Rally in Paris

    Posted by David Foster on 15th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Was it a meaningful coming-together in resistance to radical Islamicist violence and in support of free expression and Western civilization?

    Or was it a meaningless feel-good event, along the lines of the old “sending our love down the well” vignette on South Park?

    Claire Berlinski, who was there, tends toward the first view.

    The blogger known as The Diplomad–a long-time US Foreign Service officer–tends toward the second.

    These are both very astute observers and analysts.  Read them both, and comment.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, France, Islam, Terrorism | 27 Comments »

    Appalling, but Not Really Surprising

    Posted by David Foster on 13th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Obama White House wants to persuade/encourage/pressure media to drop coverage that might upset jihadis or potential jihadis

    Last Thursday, I mentioned the administration’s 2012 criticism of Charlie Hedbo’s decision to publish “offensive” cartoons.  Comes now presidential spokesman Josh Earnest, defending that administration position and asserting that there will be more such presidential critiques directed toward noncompliant media in the future.

    This reminds me of something.  Oh, yes…

    In the late 1930s, Winston Churchill spoke of the “unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure…In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands” which “may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty.” A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. “Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.” (excerpt is from The Last Lion: Alone, by William Manchester.)

    Churchill’s concern was not just a theoretical one. Following the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, photographs were available showing the plight of Czech Jews, dispossessed by the Nazis and wandering the roads of eastern Europe. Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, refused to run any of them: it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended. (same source as above.)

    Obama’s desire to ensure that the media avoids antagonizing jihadis is of a piece with Chamberlain and Dawson’s desire to avoid antagonizing the Nazis.

    And I’m reminded of something else Churchill said.  In March 1938, he spoke of Britain and its allies descending incontinently, recklessly, the staircase which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad staircase at the beginning, but, after a bit, the carpet ends. A little further on there are only flagstones, and, a little further on still, these break beneath your feet.

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Civil Liberties, Germany, History, Islam, National Security, Obama, Terrorism | 26 Comments »

    Book Reviews – 2014 Summary

    Posted by David Foster on 12th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Last year I reviewed quite a few books, including several that IMO are extremely important and well-written.  Here’s the list:

    The Caine Mutiny.  The movie, which just about everyone has seen, is very good.  The book is even better.  I cited the 1952 Commentary review, which has interesting thoughts on intellectuals and the responsibilities of power.

    To the Last Salute.  Captain von Trapp, best known as the father in “The Sound of Music,” wrote this memoir of his service as an Austrian submarine commander in the First World War–Austria of course being one of the Central Powers and hence an enemy to Britain, France, and the United States.  An interesting and pretty well-written book, and a useful reminder that there are enemies, and then there are enemies.

    That Hideous Strength.  An important and intriguing novel by C S Lewis. As I said in the review, there is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  So, by the standards now becoming current in most American universities, the book–and even my review of it–should by read by no one at all.

    The Cruel Coast.  A German submarine, damaged after an encounter with a British destroyer, puts in at a remote Irish island for repairs.  Most of the islanders, with inherited anti-British attitudes, tend toward sympathy with the German:  one woman, though, has a clearer understanding of the real issues in the war.

    Nice Work.  At Chicago Boyz, we’ve often discussed the shortage of novels that deal realistically with work.  This is such a novel: an expert in 19th-century British industrial novels–who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory.  Very well done.

    Menace in Europe.  Now more than ever, Claire Berlinski’s analysis of the problems in today’s Europe needs to be widely read.

    A Time of Gifts.  In late 1933, Patrick Fermor–then 18 years old–undertook to travel from the Holland to Istanbul, on foot. The story of his journey is told in three books, of which this is the first.  This is not just travel writing, it is the record of what was still to a considerable extent the Old Europe–with horsedrawn wagons, woodcutters, barons and castles, Gypsies and Jews in considerable numbers–shortly before it was to largely disappear.

    The Year of the French.  The writer, commentator, and former soldier Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century.”

    Posted in Academia, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Ireland, Islam, Management, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Terrorism | 7 Comments »

    The Atrocity in France

    Posted by David Foster on 8th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Yesterday, Claire Berlinski reported from Paris

    Obama, of course, “condemned” the attack. It’s important to remember, however, his administration’s response to earlier threats against the magazine Charlie Hebdo:

    In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.

    The quoted statement basically implies that people should use “judgment” to avoid saying or publishing anything that will offend Muslims. The video referred to is of course the one that the Obama administration blamed for the Benghazi attacks, going so far as to purchase newspaper ads to denounce the video. And Hillary Clinton, who was Obama’s secretary of state, told the father of one of the murdered Americans (Tyrone Woods) that “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.” Not “we’re going to destroy those terrorists,” but rather, they’re going to destroy a filmmaker. The Obama administration’s statements have acted not only to normalize that “thug’s veto” over all expressions of opinion, but even to put United States government power behind the thug’s veto.

    Time Magazine posted an article titled “5 Facts That Explain the Charlie Hebdo attack.” Can you guess what they were, and which one they left out? (Link) And numerous publications are censoring the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

    The staff of a humor magazine demonstrated far more courage than either Western governments or the bulk of Western media in standing up for Enlightenment values. I’m reminded once again of a passage in Sebastian Haffner’s memoir. Haffner was working in the Prussian Supreme Court, the Kammergericht, when the Nazi thugs came to the Court, demanded to know who was Jewish and who was not, and established totalitarian control over what had previously been an actual judicial process.

    As I left the Kammergericht it stood there, grey, cool and calm as ever, set back from the street in its distinguished setting. There was nothing to show that, as an institution, it had just collapsed.

    That evening, Haffner went with his girlfriend to a nightclub called the Katakombe. The master of ceremonies was a comic actor and satirical cabaret performer named Werner Fink:

    His act remained full of harmless amiability in a country where these qualities were on the liquidation list. This harmless amiability hid a kernel of real, indomitable courage. He dared to speak openly about the reality of the Nazis, and that in the middle of Germany. His patter contained references to concentration camps, the raids on people’s homes, the general fear and general lies. He spoke of these things with infinitely quiet mockery, melancholy, and sadness. Listening to him was extraordinarily comforting.

    In the morning, the Prussian Kammergericht, with its tradition of hundreds of years, had ignobly capitulated before the Nazis. In the same evening, a small troop of artistes, with no tradition to back them up, demonstrated the courage to speak forbidden thoughts. “The Kammergericht had fallen but the Katakombe stood upright.”

    CNN, MSNBC, Time Magazine, the White House, the Elysee Palace, 10 Downing Street may have all demonstrated a lack of resolution in the face of Islamist threats and violence, but at least Charlie Hebdo has stood upright.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, France, Germany, Islam, Obama, Terrorism | 40 Comments »

    Some Key Technologies for 2015 and Beyond

    Posted by David Foster on 5th January 2015 (All posts by )

    …as viewed by General Electric

    Posted in Business, Tech | 7 Comments »

    Today’s Israel-Bashers

    Posted by David Foster on 4th January 2015 (All posts by )

    UAW Local 2865 (that’s UAW as in “United Auto Workers”) has voted to join the movement to boycott Israel.

    So, what kind of work do the members of UAW Local 2865 do, would you imagine? Do they work the line in an auto assembly plant? Are they involved in making components such as brake shoes or camshafts? Do they pack and ship spare parts in a distribution center?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Israel, Leftism, Unions | 6 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd January 2015 (All posts by )

    A prehistoric village, found beneath the sea near Haifa

    A timelapse video of the Albuquerque balloon festival

    Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack assert that actually, the world is not falling apart: “Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times”

    Also, Richard Fernandez argues that the American can-do spirit continues to exist

    The allure of omnipotent explanations

    Is Washington the new Wall Street?

    Ideology and closed systems, at Grim’s Hall

    In France, criticism of Islam can get you prosecuted. Basically, we are seeing the return of laws against blasphemy–and not only in France–but with this difference: I don’t think ever before have governments forbidden criticism of a belief system that is not held by the majority of their citizens, or at least of their ruling classes

    Posted in Aviation, Europe, France, History, Islam, Leftism, Photos, USA, Video | 14 Comments »

    Movie Review: The Imitation Game

    Posted by David Foster on 30th December 2014 (All posts by )

    I recently saw this film, which is based on the life and exploits of the mathematician, codebreaker, and computer science pioneer Alan Turing.  It is very well acted and definitely worth seeing; it’s good for more people to become familiar with Turing’s story and the accomplishments of the Bletchley Park codebreakers.  HOWEVER, the extremely negative portrayal of Commander Alastair Denniston, who ran BP, seems to have little basis in fact. Denniston was a real person, and his family is understandably upset at the way he was misrepresented in the film. Dramatic license is one thing, but if you want a villain, then make one up; don’t turn a real historical non-villainous individual into one.  There have been several articles in the UK press lately about the film and its portrayal of various individuals, especially Denniston:

    Bletchley Park Commander not the ‘baddy’ he is in The Imitation Game, family says

    Bletchley Park ‘villain’ was kind and dedicated, says ex-colleague

    The Imitation Game falsely paints Bletchley Park commander

    The film also could have done a better job at giving credit to the Polish mathematicians who pioneered machine methods of codebreaking, before WWII began.  Also, the film gives the impression that Turing’s friend Joan Clark was the only female codebreaker at Bletchley…this is not true, a very large number of women worked at BP, and some of them were in professional codebreaking roles.  One of these women was Mavis Lever; I excerpted some of her writing about BP at my 2007 post the Bombe runs again.  And it seems that the real Alan Turing, while he definitely came across as a bit of an odd duck, was more likeable than he is (at least initially) portrayed in the film; he has been called “a very easily approachable man” who did in fact have a sense of humor.  There’s a bit too much of “standard character type 21037–eccentric genius” in this version of Turing.

    The above critiques to the contrary, though, you should definitely see the film.  It does a good job of maintaining interest, even for those like myself who are already pretty familiar with the history The filmmakers could have avoided the above problems without harming the film’s impact as drama; indeed, I think there are accuracy-related changes that could have made the film more rather than less dramatic.

    This article compares several of the fictionalized Bletchley Park individuals with the real-life counterparts.  And this piece, by a woman who has spent a lot of time studying Turing and BP, is focused particularly on the character of Turing in real life versus in the film.  Probably makes most sense to see the movie first and then read these links for additional perspective. 

     

    Posted in Britain, Film, Germany, History, Society, Tech, War and Peace | 17 Comments »

    Christmas 2014

    Posted by David Foster on 24th December 2014 (All posts by )

    Newgrange is an ancient structure in Ireland so constructed that the sun, at the exact time of the winter solstice, shines directly down a long corridor and illuminates the inner chamber. More about Newgrange here and here.

    Grim has an Arthurian passage about the Solstice.

    Don Sensing has thoughts astronomical, historical, and theological about the Star of Bethlehem.

    A wonderful 3-D representation of the Iglesia San Luis De Los Franceses. Just click on the link–then you can look around inside the cathedral. Use arrow keys or mouse to move left/right, up/down, and shift to zoom in, ctrl to zoom out.

    Vienna Boys Choir, from Maggie’s Farm

    Lappland in pictures…link came from the great and much-mourned Neptunus Lex

    Snowflakes and snow crystals, from Cal Tech. Lots of great photos

    A Romanian Christmas carol, from The Assistant Village Idiot

    In the bleak midwinter, from The Anchoress

    Rick Darby has some thoughts on the season. More here.

    A Christmas reading from Thomas Pynchon.

    The first radio broadcast of voice and music took place on Christmas Eve, 1906. (although there is debate about the historical veracity of this story)

    An air traffic control version of The Night Before Christmas.

    Ice sculptures from the St Paul winter carnival

    O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, sung by Enya

    Gerard Manley Hopkins

    Jeff Sypeck on a winter garden

    Posted in Architecture, Christianity, Holidays, Music, Religion | 6 Comments »

    A Christmas-appropriate Poem from Rudyard Kipling

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd December 2014 (All posts by )

    (may not seem like a Christmas-appropriate post based on the first 2 stanzas, but read on…)

    “Gold is for the mistress — silver for the maid —
    Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.”

    “Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
    “But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of them all.”

    So he made rebellion ‘gainst the King his liege,
    Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
    “Nay!” said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
    “But Iron — Cold Iron — shall be master of you all!”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Christianity, Holidays, Poetry | 12 Comments »

    The Christmas Eve Radio Broadcast of 1906

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd December 2014 (All posts by )

    …a case study in the difficulties of finding historical truth.

    On Christmas Eve of 1906, a few shipboard radio operators–listening through the static for signals in Morse code–heard something that they had never before heard on the radio, and that most had never expected to hear. A human voice.

    The first voice radio broadcast was conducted by Reginald Fessenden, originating from his experimental station at Brant Rock, Massachussetts. After introducing the transmission, Fessenden played a recording of Handel’s “Largo” and then sang “O Holy Night” while accompanying himself on the violin. Fessenden’s wife and a friend were then intended to conduct a Bible reading, but in the first-ever case of mike fright, they were unable to do it, so the reading was conducted by Fessenden as well.

    Fessenden’s radio work at this period was based on a high-frequency AC generator (alternator), an electromechanical device created by Ernst Alexanderson of GE and modified by Fessenden.   The signals were generated at somewhere around  45-80khz.  (Low frequency compared to today’s normal radio, where the AM band starts at around 500khz; high frequency compared to the 50-60 hz that AC generators normally produce.)  The Alexanderson machines were expensive and very large–broadcast radio on a commercial scale was not practical until the introduction of the vacuum tube for both transmitting and receiving, several years later.

    The italicized story, which was the subject of a post I wrote in 2004, has apparently been accepted in radio and electronics engineering circles for many years: in fact, in 2006 there were commemorative events of the broadcast.  More recently, though, the story has been challenged:  James O’Neal has done considerable research on the matter and concludes that the Christmas Eve broadcast never actually happened,  based on lack of contemporaneous evidence (logs of other radio stations, for example)  among other factors.  He argues that Fessenden was no shrinking violet, indeed, he was a publicity hound and would have been expected to do everything possible to publicize such an obviously PR-able achievement…if it had actually happened.  (There is no question that Fessenden did do pioneering work in radio, including speech/music transmission: the controversy deals specifically with the legendary Christman Eve broadcast.)

    Comes now John Belrose, who has also done considerable research on this matter and who argues that the broadcast did in fact happen.  Belrose notes that from a business point of view, Fessenden was pursuing radio for point-to-point applications, rather than broadcasting, and hence would have had no reason to devote great effort to publicizing the Christmas Eve event.  I found a much longer analytical piece by Belrose here; he has done further research and continues to believe that the broadcast did in fact happen. The associate editor of IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, where the article appears, finds his arguments persuasive.

    1906 was only 108 years ago, not long in historical time. Yet even for an event so relatively recent, which would have involved several people directly and been heard by several more, and which was relevant to extremely intense litigation around the rights to various radio-related patents, anything near absolute certainty appears impossible to attain.

    In any event, here’s O Holy Night.

    Posted in History, Holidays, Tech | 12 Comments »

    Clowns, Fools, and Generally Unpleasant People of the Week

    Posted by David Foster on 21st December 2014 (All posts by )

    1) If a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education (excerpted here)  is correct, then Rensselaer Polytechnic president Shirley Jackson seems a little…imperious…in her approach to her job.

    Having created the very model of an undemocratic, corporate university, President Jackson is appropriately imperious. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, she has a series of rules that are clear to everyone. These include: 1) Only she is authorized to set the temperature in conference rooms; 2) Cabinet members all rise when she enters the room; 3) If food is served at a meeting, vice presidents clear her plate; and 4) She is always to be publicly introduced as “The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson.” Falling into rages on occasion, she publicly abuses her staff and frequently remarks: “You know, I could fire you all.” In 2011, RPI’s Student Senate passed a resolution criticizing her “abrasive style,” “top-down leadership,” and the climate of “fear” she had instilled among administrators and staff. It even called upon RPI’s board of trustees to consider Jackson’s removal from office. But, once again, the board merely rallied in her defense.

    2) Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, blocked the nomination of Lt General Susan Helms to head the Air Force Space Command, leading to Helms’ subsequent retirement from the service. McCaskill assailed Helms’ 2012 decision to grant clemency to an officer serving at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., who had been convicted of aggravated sexual assault.

    Helms used her judgment and her command authority to prevent what she apparently viewed as an injustice, based on her review of evidence in the case.  McCaskill said that the clemency decision “sent a damaging message to survivors of sexual assault who are seeking justice in the military justice system.”  Apparently, McCaskill cares much more about “sending messages” than about justice to individuals. The message that she has sent to all American military commanders is this:  Do not ever extend clemency in a matter where an individual has been accused of an offense which is of particular concern to the Democratic Party, or your career will be immediately destroyed.

    If a governor pardons someone accused of witchcraft, then the governor himself must be a witch.  That seems to be the level of McCaskill’s thinking here.

    Much more about the case at this link.

    3) Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a very courageous woman who was raised as a Muslim and has been attempting, in the face of many threats, to warn the western world about the danger of Islamic extremism.  At an event in Washington, Joe Biden informed her that “ISIS had nothing to do with Islam.”  Hirsi Ali disagreed.  To which Slow Joe responded “Let me tell you one or two things about Islam.”

    4) Speaking of  Muslims…Omar Mahmood, a Muslim conservative who is a student at the University of Michigan, wrote a satire on political correctness, mocking the current vogue for claiming “microaggressions.”  He was denounced by students of  the “progressive” persuasion…”people attacked his dorm room door, egging it and leaving copies of his satirical article with notes on the backs including “Shut the f— up!” and “You scum embarrass us” and “DO YOU EVEN GO HERE?! LEAVE!!” along with various others, including an image of a creature with horns and another one of him with his eyes crossed out.”  Mahmood was also fired from the student newspaper.  He says that “the political environment on campus is radically left-wing and intolerant,” noting that:

    “Almost all student clubs have ‘social justice’ wings… some use violent rhetoric, shameless rhetoric, to promote their ideology, and call it ‘liberation.’ They call it ‘tolerance’ and ‘equality’ and ‘creating a safe space’ — which is all very ironic.”

    The students who reacted to Mahmood’s satire in this way are not worthy of being university students, or for that matter American citizens, and the administrators of this university should be ashamed of themselves for allowing such a climate to develop.  They won’t be, though.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Islam, Law, Leftism, Military Affairs | 13 Comments »

    A Critique of Credentialism, circa 1500

    Posted by David Foster on 18th December 2014 (All posts by )

    …from Leonardo da Vinci.

    Leonardo did not attend a university to study the liberal arts, and apparently some of his contemporaries disrespected him considerably because of this omission.  His response:

    Because I am not a literary man some presumptuous persons will think that they may reasonably blame me by arguing that I am an unlettered man.  Foolish men!…They will say that because I have no letters I cannot express well what I want to treat of…They go about puffed up and pompous, dressed and decorated with the fruits not of their own labours but those of others, and they will not allow me my own.  And if they despise me, an inventor, how much more could they–who are not inventors but trumpeters and declaimers of the works of others–be blamed.

    (The quote is from Jean Gimpel’s book The Medieval Machine)

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education, History, Lit Crit | 5 Comments »

    Sympathy for the Devil

    Posted by David Foster on 16th December 2014 (All posts by )

    The Sydney Morning Herald called for “empathy” for the terrorist who committed the recent hostage-taking in a cafe.  Hillary Clinton, too, has recently called for empathy for our enemies.

    I’m reminded of something G K Chesterton wrote:

    The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive. Mr. Blatchford is not only an early Christian, he is the only early Christian who ought really to have been eaten by lions. For in his case the pagan accusation is really true: his mercy would mean mere anarchy. He really is the enemy of the human race– because he is so human.

    (Orthodoxy, 1908)

    Posted in Christianity, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Media, Terrorism, The Press | 16 Comments »

    Theme: Fanny Kemble

    Posted by David Foster on 14th December 2014 (All posts by )

    The posts in this fourth “theme” roundup are about the British actress and writer Fanny Kemble, whose observations on America…and on life in general…are very interesting.

    Fanny Kemble’s train trip.  A ride on the newly-constructed London-Manchester line, in 1830.  Fanny’s escort for the trip was George Stephenson (“with whom I am most horribly in love”), the self-taught engineer who had been the driving force behind the line’s construction.  She contrasts Stephenson’s character with that of an aristocrat called Lord Alvanley  and the class of which he was an outstanding representative.

    Author appreciation:  Fanny Kemble.  Shortly after her railroad trip, Fanny visited the United States on a theatrical tour and married an plantation owner from Georgia.  Her “Journal of a Residence in America” got a lot of attention, quite a bit of it negative; however,  her vivid description of the realities of slavery has been credited with helping to ensure that Britain would not enter the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy.

    Further Fannyisms.  Some excerpts from the Kemble journals that I thought were particularly interesting.

    There are a number of memoirs by Europeans who visited America during the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s, and I hope to review some of the other ones in the future.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Britain, History, USA | 4 Comments »

    “Promotion Jobs”

    Posted by David Foster on 11th December 2014 (All posts by )

    (I came across this while going through some old Photon Courier posts…originally from 2005)

    I recently read The U-Boat Peril, by Captain Reginald Whinney, RN, a British destroyer commander during WWII. In the late 1920s, Capt Whinney attended the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. He was not very impressed with the place, and his retrospective analysis is interesting:

    What was really wrong with Dartmouth then? Well, my answer is cynical. The jobs of captain in command of the college and of his second-in-command, the commander, were ‘promotion jobs'; and, in those days, the incumbent in a promotion job had only to do the same as his predecessor had done and he could hardly fail to be promoted. Further, these same captains and commanders had, while at Dartmouth…usually themselves been Cadet Captains. What was good enough for them…The requirement was to keep the sausage machine going.

    I have no idea how accurate Capt Whinney’s assessment of Dartmouth is…surely, they must have been doing something right, given the Royal Navy’s performance in the war. But his analysis of the “promotion job” is an interesting one, with its applicability by no means limited to military organizations.

    It’s almost tautological…if you put people in jobs where all they have to do to get promoted is to remain in the job for a few years, then they are unlikely to do anything but remain in the job for a few years. You’re certainly unlikely to see much in the way of innovation or of risk-taking behavior.

    So, if you are an executive, you might ask yourself whether your organization includes anything that looks like a “promotion job”–and, if so, restructure it; that is, unless you actually like drones and time-servers as subordinate managers.

    And what about the realm of education? It strikes me that, as things are now, the role of being a college student has been largely structured as a “promotion job.” The student is incented to go through his 4 years or more, avoid taking any classes that might be difficult enough to unduly threaten his GPA, and avoid antagonizing any faculty members in a way that might harm the GPA or the letters of recommendation. Because the objective is, too often, not to accomplish things during the time spent on the job (in this case, to learn things), but rather to spend the requisite amount of time so that the much-desired certification can be obtained. That’s a “promotion job” in Whinney’s sense.

    This is less true, of course, in the hard sciences and in engineering, where it’s obvious that after graduation you’re actually going to need to know what Young’s Modulus is (or whatever)…but across wide swaths of American higher education, the concept of the “promotion job” seems highly applicable.

    Posted in Britain, Education, History, Management | 8 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 9th December 2014 (All posts by )

    Amazing treehouses from around the world

    Failure Porn.  Is there now too much celebration of failure?

    Why do journalists love twitter and hate blogging?  (from 2011)  Also:  the message of the medium:  why the Left loves twitter

    Leftists don’t like being reminded of the socialist roots of Naziism.  Also:  Hitler and the socialist dream.

    Best programming languages for beginners to learn.

    Some signs of recovery in the rustbelt

    A 3d printed kinematic dress

    Lightpaper!

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Leftism, Media, Photos, Tech | 10 Comments »

    Pearl Harbor + 73

    Posted by David Foster on 7th December 2014 (All posts by )

    A date which will live in infamy

    See Bookworm’s post and video from 2009 and her post from 2011; also, some alternate history from Shannon Love.

    In 2011,  Jonathan worried that the cultural memory of the event is being lost, and noted that once again Google failed to note the anniversary on their search home page, whereas Microsoft Bing had a picture of the USS Arizona memorial.
    (12/7/2014: same thing this year, at least as of this posting)

    Shannon Love analyzes how Admiral Yamamoto was able to pull the attack off and concludes that “Pearl Harbor wasn’t a surprise of intent, it was a surprise of capability.”

    Trent Telenko wrote about the chain of events leading to the ineffectiveness of the radar warning that should have detected the approaching attack.

    Via a Neptunus Lex post (site not currently available),  here is a video featuring interviews with both American and Japanese survivors of Pearl Harbor.

    Posted in History, Japan, USA, War and Peace | 15 Comments »

    Theme: Germany’s Descent into Naziism

    Posted by David Foster on 5th December 2014 (All posts by )

    The posts in this third “theme” roundup explore different aspects of the question:  How did one of the world’s most advanced and cultured nations descend so rapidly into a state of utter barbarism, which was eventually curable only by the application of apocalyptic violence?

     

    Book Review: The Road Back.  This neglected novel by Erich Maria Remarque, best known for All Quiet on the Western Front, is a beautifully-written portrayal of the psychological impact of the First World War.

    Western Civilization and the First World War.  Cites some thoughts from Sarah Hoyt on the impact of the war, and excerpts a powerful passage from the Remarque book mentioned above.

    An Architect of Hyperinflation.  Central banker Rudolf von Havenstein, “der Geldmarshall,”  although a well-meaning public servant, had much to do with the extreme inflation that proved so socially destructive.

    Book Review:  Little Man, What Now?  Hans Fallada’s famous novel follows the experiences of a likeable young couple in late-Weimar Germany.  (see also movie review)

    Book Review: Wolf Among Wolves.  Also by Fallada, this is an epic novel with many characters and many subplots, set a little earlier in time than Little Man, during the period of the great inflation.

    Anti-Semitism, Medieval and Modern.  Suppose you had historical information from the 1300s showing in which German cities pogroms had occurred…and in which German cities pogroms had not occurred.  Would you think this data would be of any use in predicting the levels of anti-Semitic activity in various localities in the 1920s thru 1940s….almost six hundred years later?

    Book Review:  Herman the German.  Gerhard Neumann, who would eventually run GE’s jet engine business, writes about growing up in an assimilated German-Jewish family (more stereotypically Prussian than stereotypically Jewish) during the 1920s and 1930s.

    Book Review:  Defying Hitler.   Sebastian Haffner’s important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars.

    Who would be a Nazi?  Writing in 1941, the American author Dorothy Thompson speculates about which of her acquaintances would and wouldn’t “go Nazi” in a “showdown.”  The original post consisted of  links to the Harpers and to a  Chicago Boyz post by Michael Kennedy  with ensuing discussion.

    Posted in Germany, History, Human Behavior | 18 Comments »

    Extremely Cool

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd December 2014 (All posts by )

    Home movie footage from a 1931 cruise aboard the ocean liner Mauretania.

    Video

    This ship was built in 1906 and was sister ship to the ill-fated Lusitania.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, History, Transportation | 4 Comments »