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    Sam Damon or Courtney Massengale?

    Posted by David Foster on 27th April 2016 (All posts by )

    The novel Once An Eagle (also made into a TV miniseries) tells the story of two American army officers, across a time span ranging from the First World War to the interwar years to World War II and beyond.  Sam Damon is a farm boy who has worked his way up in rank: he is committed to accomplishing his assigned missions and looking out for the survival and well-being of the men under his command.  Courtney Massengale is a West Point graduate with something of an upper-class background: he seeks out higher rank through political maneuvering, prefers Staff to Line assignments, and has little concern for subordinates.  The book is widely-read and highly-regarded in U.S. military circles.

    In the story’s climactic scene, Sam is commanding a division destined to participate in an attack on a Japanese-held island.  He is not thrilled to find that his division has been placed under the command of Courtney–now a three-star general and corps commander despite having spent his entire career in staff roles.  He is even less thrilled when he hears Courtney’s plan for the invasion–“PALLADIUM”–which is in Sam’s judgment far too complex to succeed in actual combat conditions.

    The Japanese launch their counterattack while Sam’s division is in a highly vulnerable state, in the midst of the turning maneuver required by the Palladium plan.  And the reserve unit which could have saved the situation has been redeployed by Courtney so that he can have the honor of being the first American general to capture a Japanese-held city intact.  While Sam is leading a desperate fight for the survival of his division, Courtney is riding in triumph through the town of Reina Blanca.

    Sam Damon and Courtney Massengale are endpoints on a spectrum, of course; few real people are as good as Sam or as bad as Courtney.  But still, it seems to be useful to ask the following question:

    What is the mix of Damon vs Massengale in each of our current presidential candidates and among other members of our national leadership?

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, Management, War and Peace | 31 Comments »

    TechnoProletarians?

    Posted by David Foster on 18th April 2016 (All posts by )

    Here’s a story about some Silicon Valley tech workers protesting outside a Hillary Clinton event co-hosted by a venture capitalist and George Clooney.  One might expect that these people are protesting Clinton because their political preferences lean toward the Libertarian or Conservative side.  But then, one would be wrong.

    They are mostly Sanders supporters.  And they feel oppressed by the industry that they are in, and especially by the VCs who fund the companies where they work. Here’s the complaint of a 26-year-old software engineer:

    “They sell you a dream at startups – the ping-pong, the perks – so they can pull 80 hours out of you. But in reality the venture capitalists control all the capital, all the labor, and all the decisions, so yeah, it feels great protesting one.”

    “Tech workers are workers, no matter how much money they make,” said another guy, this one a PhD student at Berkeley.

    Now, one’s first instinct when reading this story–at least my first instinct–is to feel contempt for these whiners.  Most of them are far better off financially than the average American, even after adjusting for the extremely high costs of living in the Bay area.  And no one forced any of them to work at startups, where the pressures are well-known to be extreme.  They could have chosen IT jobs at banks or retailers or manufacturing companies or government agencies in any of a considerable number of cities.

    Looked at from a broader perspective, though, the story reminded me of something Peter Drucker wrote almost 50 years ago:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Elections, Entrepreneurship, Management, Society, Tech, USA | 48 Comments »

    Paying Higher Taxes Can be Very Profitable (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 15th April 2016 (All posts by )

    (originally published in 2010 and now an April perennial)

    Chevy Chase, MD, is an affluent suburb of Washington DC. Median household income is over $200K, and a significant percentage of households have incomes that are much, much higher. Stores located in Chevy Chase include Tiffany & Co, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks-Jandel.

    PowerLine observed that during the 2008 election season, yards in Chevy Chase were thick with Obama signs–and wondered (in 2009) how these people were now feeling about the prospect of sharp tax increases for people in their income brackets.

    The PowerLine guys are very astute, but I think they missed a key point on this one. There are substantial groups of people who stand to benefit financially from the policies of the Obama and company, and these benefits can greatly outweigh the costs of any additional taxes that these policies require them to pay. Many of the residents of Chevy Chase–a very high percentage of whom get their income directly or indirectly from government activities–fall into this category.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Economics & Finance, Leftism, Taxes, USA | 3 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 11th April 2016 (All posts by )

    Many types of preening

    The mind of the Left, from a former insider

    How leftist Western intellectuals are undercutting a Muslim dissident

    There seems to be a lot of this sort of thing going on

    Drinking on a date has very different effects for men and for women

    How a US kid turned into a free-range German child

    Related to the above: how free play creates emotionally stable children in an unstable world

    An American fighter pilot meets the North Vietnamese ace who shot down his friend

    Neptunus Lex described the proper frame of mind for winning in air combat as “personal, like you’re in a knife fight in a phone booth, and someone has to die before anyone gets to leave.”

    Posted in Aviation, History, Human Behavior, Islam, Leftism, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    When Slander Goes Rampant

    Posted by David Foster on 8th April 2016 (All posts by )

    In her memoirs, Russian combat pilot Anna Egorova remembered her mother ”kneeling before the icons, as she firstly listed all our names, the names of her children, begging God for health and wisdom for us, and then at the end of each prayer repeating: ‘God save them from slander!’”  She didn’t understand that word ‘slander’ in her childhood, Egorova wrote, but after her brother was sent away as An Enemy of the People, “it was exposed before me in all its terrible nakedness.”

    I was reminded of Egorova’s story by a recent article by Richard Rahn titled The high cost of slander:

    Endless cruelties have been and continue to be committed on the basis of group slander. The communists and socialists imprisoned and slaughtered many of their merchant and property-owning citizens on the basis of a gross slander, not to mention what the Nazis did to the Jews. In America, blacks, gays, many ethnic groups and women were first stereotyped, then slandered, and then discriminated against. But the fashion of which groups of individuals can be slandered has changed to such people as Wall Street bankers; pharmaceutical, coal and oil company executives; conservative scholars; those who question the global warming establishment; and white males, among others.

    The general rule that one is innocent until proven guilty goes back at least to ancient Roman law: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat — “Burden of proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies.” Over the centuries, not only individuals, but whole classes of people, have been denied this basic human right. The oppressors normally begin by slandering a group, and then use the slander to discriminate and ultimately persecute — and, unfortunately, this persists even in America.

    If one listens to Bernie Sanders’ rants, somehow all of those who work on Wall Street are far greedier than most other Americans. It is also obvious that he has no idea of what the functions of financial markets are, nor the disaster that would occur without them. Yes, there are plenty of unethical and incompetent people on Wall Street, as there are in Washington and in most other places in America. That does not justify indicting all who work in a particular industry and a particular place. The ignorant attacks on the financial industry have resulted in increasingly costly and destructive regulation, which increases the risk in the financial system rather than diminishing it.

    RTWT.  Indeed, much political writing and speech these days is reminiscent of the two-minute hate sessions which were a feature of the totalitarian society portrayed in Orwell’s 1984.  Any day on Facebook, one can see the sharing and sometimes the origination of extreme and even vile assertions about individuals and whole groups…usually people and groups that are Designated Targets, similarly to Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984.

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Leftism, Politics, USA | 11 Comments »

    Culture, Cooperation, and Entrepreneurship

    Posted by David Foster on 6th April 2016 (All posts by )

    Claire Berlinski is very pleased with the response to the GoFundMe page in support of her new book ($9700 as of this writing) as well as the strong interest in the crowdfunding investment possibility.

    A conversation between Claire and her brother Mischa suggests some grounds for cautious optimism about the future of this country:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Capitalism, Civil Society, Tech, USA | 25 Comments »

    Europe, Crowdfunding, and a New Publishing Model

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd April 2016 (All posts by )

    Claire Berlinski wants to write a sequel to her important book Menace in Europe, which I reviewed here.  She hopes to do this via a  self-publishing and investment model, under which people will make contributions toward the estimated $60,000 cost of the project and receive in return a percentage of the profits.

    Obviously, it will take some work to structure a deal like this properly and in compliance with all relevant regulations.  In the meantime, Claire is doing some initial fundraising via GoFundMe–see the link at Brave Old World.  Contributions here, which will go especially toward development of the project website, are straight donations without expectation of any financial return.  However, you do get the benefit, as Claire notes, of helping to replace the New York Times and similar publications as gatekeepers of the news.

    Posted in Business, Europe, Media | 6 Comments »

    Is Ted Cruz “Our Last, Best Hope”?

    Posted by David Foster on 27th March 2016 (All posts by )

    David Goldman (“Spengler”) makes the case

    Posted in Elections, Politics, USA | 31 Comments »

    Alternate History

    Posted by David Foster on 24th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Having long been intrigued by lighter-than-air craft (see earlier post on this topic), I picked up a copy of  Dr. Eckener’s Dream Machine…Dr Hugo Eckener being the head of the Zeppelin company for many years, and a man who contributed much to the transient success of this transportation mode.  Also, I thought the book would be a pleasant vacation from politics.  However, that was not to be…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, Germany, History, Politics | 27 Comments »

    Book Review: The Year of the French (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 17th March 2016 (All posts by )

    The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan

    (This being St Patrick’s day, I’m taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)

    Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”

    In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland.  The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.

    Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition.  He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising.  With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–“In Caslebar.  They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.

    Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia.  Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,”  jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,”  Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.”  “A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”

    Ferdy O’Donnell  is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land.  Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper  “a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”

    Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘

    Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen.  This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic.  His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.

    John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land.  He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster.  “One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”

    Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.

    Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses.  His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”

    Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces.  A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution.  He is a talented commander, but  the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and  Napoleon Bonaparte.

    Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland.   Seen through the eyes of  a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it.  “The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”

    This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships.  Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, France, History, Ireland | Comments Off on Book Review: The Year of the French (rerun)

    Another Software & Systems Debacle

    Posted by David Foster on 10th March 2016 (All posts by )

    I’ve previously written about the failure of the “Advanced Automation System,” an FAA/IBM effort to create a new-generation system for air traffic control: the story of a software failure.  (The post excerpts the thoughts of Robert Britcher, who was deeply involved in the effort and is an excellent writer–very much worth reading.) The AAS project has been called “the greatest debacle in the history of organized work”–there are a lot of contenders for that honor, though, and here’s another one…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Management, Tech | 25 Comments »

    Happy Anniversary to the Spitfire!

    Posted by David Foster on 5th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Today marks the 80th anniversary of  the first flight of the Spitfire fighter prototype.

    See also my post from last year: the Battle of Britain + 75

    Posted in Aviation, Britain, History, Tech, War and Peace | 7 Comments »

    The Romance of Terrorism and War

    Posted by David Foster on 5th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Richard Fernandez has a very good post exploring the reasons why a person would choose to join something like an Islamist militia in Libya.  Read the whole thing.

    His post reminded me of something that Virginia Postrel posted on 9/11/2008:

    Glamour can sell religious devotion or military glory as surely as it can pitch lipstick or island vacations. All promise a way to transcend our everyday circumstances, to experience more and become better than ordinary life allows.  All invite us to imagine escape and transformation…The question for this September 11 is, How do we puncture the glamour of Jihadi terrorism? The first step is recognizing that such glamour exists.

    I was also reminded of a passage from Erich Maria Remarque’s neglected novel ‘The Road Back,’ which follows a group of former German soldiers in the aftermath of WWI. One member of the group, George Rahe, explains his inability to come to terms with peacetime: Comradeship and idealism are perishing in “this pig’s wash of order, duty, women, routine, punctuality and the rest of it what they call life here”…he sees an ordinary city street as “All one long fire trench” and the houses as “Dugouts, every one–the war still goes on–but a dirty, low-down war–every man against his fellow–”  These feelings drive him to join up again–most likely one of the Freikorps units which sprang up during the postwar chaos.

    Also,  Arthur Koestler wrote about what he called the  Tragic and the Trivial planes of life. His friend, the writer and fighter pilot Richard Hillary, explained the concept thusly:

    K has a theory for this. He believes there are two planes of existence which he calls vie tragique and vie triviale. Usually we move on the trivial plane, but occasionally in moments of elation or danger, we find ourselves transferred to the plane of the vie tragique, with its non-commonsense, cosmic perspective. When we are on the trivial plane, the realities of the other appear as nonsense–as overstrung nerves and so on. When we live on the tragic plane, the realities of the other are shallow, frivolous, frivolous, trifling. But in exceptional circumstances, for instance if someone has to live through a long stretch of time in physical danger, one is placed, as it were, on the intersection line of the two planes; a curious situation which is a kind of tightrope-walking on one’s nerves…I think he is right.

    The desire to move to the emotional intensity of the Tragic plane explains part of the attraction of war; I think it also explains to a considerable degree the revolutionary attitudes of many “progressives,” especially those who spend their actual days in pretty Trivial-plane ways.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Islam, Leftism, Middle East, Terrorism, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    A Transition of Moral Cultures?

    Posted by David Foster on 20th February 2016 (All posts by )

    Jonathan Haidt summarizes a paper (by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning) which may help explain some of the dynamics now manifesting themselves on college campuses and even in the larger society.  In brief:  prior to the 18th and 19th century, most Western societies were cultures of honor, in which people were expected to avenge insults on their own–and would lose social respect and position should they fail to do so.  The West then transitioned to cultures of dignity, in which “people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it.  They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transitions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means.  There’s no more dueling.”  The spirit of this type of culture could be summarized by the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

    Campbell and Manning assert that this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture. But the difference, Haidt explains is this:

    “But they must not obtain redress on their own; they must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimized.”  Campbell and Manning distinguish the three culture types as follows:

    “Public complaints that advertise or even exaggerate one’s own victimization and need for sympathy would be anathema to a person of honor – tantamount to showing that one had no honor at all. Members of a dignity culture, on the other hand, would see no shame in appealing to third parties, but they would not approve of such appeals for minor and merely verbal offenses. Instead they would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue, or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether.”

    I had read something about this model a couple of months ago, and was reminded of it by a discussion at Bookworm Room.  She described a scene of insanity at Rutgers “university,” in which students were so traumatized by a speech given by Milo Yiannopoulos that “students and faculty members held a wound-licking gathering at a cultural center on campus, where students described “feeling scared, hurt, and discriminated against.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Education, Human Behavior, Leftism, Miscellaneous, USA | 15 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 9th February 2016 (All posts by )

    Content abundance and curation in the media industry

    18th-century Scotland had an interesting system for paying for college

    Has getting things done in business…hiring new employees, finalizing business-to-business sales deals…become slower?

    Rejecting one’s country for aesthetic reasons

    Overconfident students major in political science

    This should be obvious, but to many people it’s unfortunately not: why the best hire might not have the perfect resume

    Interesting thoughts:  how debt/equity mix affects the trajectory of oil prices

    This writer is pessimistic about pessimism

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Education, History, Human Behavior, Media, Organizational Analysis | 11 Comments »

    The Ultimate Renovation Project

    Posted by David Foster on 4th February 2016 (All posts by )

    I’ve written before about the classic ocean liner SS United States, which has been in danger of being sold for scrap.  Now, it appears that not only may the ship be saved, but she may actually be returned to commercial service.  Crystal Cruises has taken out a purchase option on the vessel, and during 2016 will carry out a project to scope out the conversion of the vessel to an operating cruise ship, which will sail on transatlantic as well as other itineraries.  A retired US Coast Guard admiral, Tim Sullivan, will be in charge of this very complex project.

    It is probably inevitable that the ship’s steam turbines and boilers will be replaced with a more efficient propulsion plant, probably diesel.  Some major changes to the superstructure are also planned, driven in part by the desire to offer passenger suites with balconies.  The artist’s  concept of the modified ship which is shown in the press release loses something compared to the aesthetics of the original vessel,  at least to my eye; hopefully it will be improved during the study effort.  In any case,  saving the ship and restoring it to service would be a wonderful outcome.

    Posted in History, Transportation, USA | 32 Comments »

    Generations, Politics, and Culture

    Posted by David Foster on 1st February 2016 (All posts by )

    Here is an interesting piece with thoughts on  how generations look at the world differently.  Obviously there are tremendous differences in individual experiences within a generation…and I certainly don’t share the author’s apparent leftist worldview–but I do think it’s probably true that one generation tries to deal with, and sometimes even partly solves, one set of challenges, thereby setting up a different set of challenges for succeeding generations.

    Related thoughts from Hawaiian libertarian, who says that:

    Prior to the advent of mass mind control enabled by mass media technology, there was no real substantial differences between generations…at least not the sort that so thoroughly and contentiously divided us for the past century. Culture was far more static and slow changing, and influenced much more by religion and cultural traditions and norms. 

    I don’t think mind control is actually required, or even systematic propaganda:  improved communications and transportation will tend to create more coupling within a generation, and more differences between generations, even in the absence of any central orchestration of messages.

    Regarding generational perspectives in general and mating patterns in particular,  Vox Day says:

    (The Boomers)  tend to think of “change” as something that an individual does within the context of a permanent infrastructure. GenX, on the other hand, sees that there is no permanence to the infrastructure, and that the infrastructure is not only transforming, but is imposing its changes on the individual.

    The Millennial doesn’t even see the cultural infrastructure, and thereby doesn’t understand either the Boomer perspective or the GenX fury at the order and infrastructure they have lost.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Morality and Philosphy, Society, USA | 6 Comments »

    To Borrow a Phrase from Glenn Reynolds

    Posted by David Foster on 25th January 2016 (All posts by )

    …well, this is the 21st century, you know

    used-robots.com

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, USA | 2 Comments »

    A Message to Merkel

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd January 2016 (All posts by )

    from a 16-year-old girl in Germany

    Posted in Europe, Feminism, Germany, Islam | 10 Comments »

    What Are Our Stories?

    Posted by David Foster on 21st January 2016 (All posts by )

    I’ve been reading The Devil’s Pleasure Palace.  The author remarks that, in the 19th century, the reading material in many American homes included Milton’s Paradise Lost.  We already knew that Shakespeare and the Bible were common reading in those days.

    The author notes (and this is unarguable, I think) that a society is largely characterized by the stories and myths that it shares.

    So my question for discussion is this…and I’m almost afraid to ask it…in American in 2016, what are our primary shared stories and myths?

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Society, USA | 12 Comments »

    Re-reading Drucker: Concept of the Corporation

    Posted by David Foster on 17th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Concept of the Corporation, by Peter Drucker

    It’s been a long time since I read this 1946 book by Peter Drucker.  I recently pulled it down from the shelf and thought it worth a reread.  I’ll be excerpting some passages I think are particularly interesting, not necessarily in sequential order.  For starters, under the heading the corporation as a social institution:

    Americans rarely realize how completely their view of society differs from that accepted in Europe, where social philosophy for the last three hundred years has fluctuated between regarding society as God and regarding it as merely an expression of brute force.  The difference between the American view of the nature and meaning of social organization and the views of modern Europe goes back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  During that period which culminated in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) the Continent (and to a lesser degree England) broke with the traditional concept of society as a means to an ethical end–the concept that underlay the great medieval synthesis—and substituted for it either the deification or the degradation of politics.  Ever since, the only choice in Europe has been between Hegel and Machiavelli.  This country (and that part of English tradition which began with Hooker and led through Locke to Burke) refused to break with the basically Christian view of society as it was developed from the fifth to the nineteenth century and built its society on the reapplication of the old principle to new social facts and new social needs.  

    To this social philosophy the United States owes that character of being at the same time both the most materialistic and the most idealistic society, which has baffled so many observers…The American who regards social institutions and material goods as ethically valuable because they are the means to an ethical goal is neither an idealist nor a naturalist, he is a dualist.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Europe, Management, Political Philosophy, USA | 10 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading–Annotated Edition

    Posted by David Foster on 12th January 2016 (All posts by )

    The Diplomad observes that “‘Progressives’, of course, are greatly influenced by movies. In fact…the majority of what passes for “Progressive thought” is derived from the Hollywood version of history that they have running in an endless video loop in their heads. Listen to them talk about the economy, race relations, education, “gender equality,” US history, etc., and it all forms part of some giant Hollywood script.”  Indeed—shortly after 9/11, when the idea of arming airline pilots was first mooted,  critics of the idea referred to “gunfights at 35,000 feet” as something “out of a Tom Clancy movie”. Hadn’t they thought that deliberately crashing airplanes into buildings might be something out of a Tom Clancy movie, too? And whether or not something might appear in a movie is obviously irrelevant to its validity from a policy standpoint.

    This topic relates closely to my earlier post about metaphors, interfaces, and thought processes, in which I discuss the consequences of the “iconic” versus the “textual” modes of presenting information.

    David Warren writes about the conspiracy of German elites, in both media and government, to suppress knowledge of the New Year’s atrocities in Cologne and other cities.  Indeed, one might conclude that the whole idea of free speech hasn’t taken hold very well in Germany over the last 70 years, at least among the writing and political classes.  Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to Germany: Mark Zuckerberg, the ringmaster of the Facebook circus, was apparently all too eager to co-conspire with Merkel to delete strong criticisms of her immigration policies.

    A society cannot thrive or even survive if its decision-making organs are disconnected from knowledge of what is actually happening, any more than your furnace can keep your house at the right temperature if the wires connecting it to the thermostat are cut.  In a democracy, the ultimate decision-making organ is supposed to be the people of the country.

    Don Sensing writes about totalism, and how it is reflected in the behavior of the Obama administration and the attitudes of the “progressive” Left.  He quotes Mussolini’s definition of Fascism:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Film, Germany, History, Islam, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Religion, Society | 6 Comments »

    Book Review: The Memoirs of Anna Egorova

    Posted by David Foster on 6th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Over Fields of Fire, by Anna Timofeeva-Egorova

    Red Sky, Black Death, by Anna Timofeeva-Egorova, edited by Kim Green

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    During the Second World War, a number of Soviet women served as night bomber pilots, flying the obsolescent Polikarpov biplane.  A favorite tactic was to cut the engine and glide down almost noiselessly to the bomb-release point, and these flyers were known to the Germans as the “Night Witches.”  A smaller number of Russian women flew IL-2 Sturmovik attack planes and also Yak and other fighters.  The memoir reviewed here was written by a woman who first flew the biplanes and later became a Sturmovik pilot. (I read the first of the 2 books linked above and only just became aware of the second one; see remarks at the end of this post.)

    Anna Egorova begins her memoir with a recollection of her feelings on the day (before the war) when she reported for training to begin her hoped-for career as a professional pilot:

    In Unyanovsky, I rushed straight from the train station to the Venets–the highest spot above the Volga. And such an inconceivable space opened up before me from up here, such an expanse that it took my breath away!…And what a wonder, above the Volta covered by young December ice, a rainbow began to shine.  It threw its multicoloured yoke from one bank to the other…Yet maybe I had just imagined it?  But I was already laughing loudly, sure it was a rainbow and that it was a sign of luck.  Again just like back at the Kazan train station in Moscow, waves of joy were coming from my chest and their splashes were curtaining the horizon with a rainbow mist.

    Her ecstasy was short-lived, however.  Soon she was summoned before the school commandant, informed that her brother had been discovered to be “an enemy of the people,” and she was expelled from the school. (“How could my brother be an enemy of the people? My brother was the people”)

    Anna’s hometown was a tiny village, so small that it had only one street.  As a teenager, she had been thrilled by the plans for construction of the Moscow Metro, and volunteered as a worker, doing heavy and sometimes dangerous construction work.  At the time there was great interest in aviation throughout the Soviet Union; Anna joined a glider club and looked forward to becoming a full-fledged pilot. And when walking to the airfield on the morning of her first powered flight:

    Victor Kroutov runs off the footpath, barges into the bushes, and I am presented with the first bouquet of flowers in my life.  I am still angry at him but accept the gift.

    And then:

    Everyone stood to attention.  A light breeze was blowing in our faces, we were breathing easily and freely.  And it was so nice to live in this world, so joyful!  I thought that there would be no end to our youth or to our lives…

    Anna did well in training and was given the sole “ladies’ ticket” from her class to attend an advanced aviation school, but her anticipated career was derailed by the discovery of her brother’s “treason.”  (He had written an article for an economics journal which was reprinted by a British publication.)

    Eventually, she was able to reenter the aviation field, and when Nazi Germany invaded, sought to actively participate in the defense. Marina Raskova, a pilot who was famous for her long-distance flights (also a former aspiring opera singer!) had lobbied effectively for female participation in combat aviation.  Three female regiments were formed in late 1941 and were active by early 1942.  Some women also participated in almost-all-male units.

    Her initial service involved flying the Polikarpov biplane on message-delivery missions–apparently many Red Army units lacked functioning radios even at higher command levels–and also for reconnaissance.  Navigational instruments and facilities were basically nonexistent, and reaching one’s destination often involved landing near a village and asking someone , “Where am I?”  The slow and unarmored biplanes might seem like easy prey for the German Messerschmitts, but it was sometimes possible to evade them by clever maneuvering and by flying very low and slow. (The stall speed of the ME-109 was greater than the top speed of the Polikarpov!)

    After 130 missions, Anna wanted to transfer to a ground-attack unit, but met with some initial resistance: “No woman has fought in a Sturmovik yet! Two cannons, two machine-guns, two batteries of rockets, various bombs…Trust my experience–not every good pilot can handle such a machine!  Not every good pilot can handle such a machine!  Not everyone is capable steering a ‘flying tank,’ of orienting himself in combat conditions while hedge-hopping, bombing, shooting the cannons and machine-guns, launching rockets at rapidly flashing targets, conducting group dog-fights, sending and receiving orders by radio–all at the same time.  Think it over!”  Anna replied that she had already thought it over, and got this response:  “God save us, what a stubborn one!  Then do what makes sense to you!”

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    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, History, Military Affairs, Russia | 14 Comments »

    New Year’s Eve

    Posted by David Foster on 31st December 2015 (All posts by )

    A thought from the late and very great Neptunus Lex:

    “I’ve often wished that you could split at each important choice in life. Go both ways, each time a fork in the road came up. Compare notes at the end, those of us that made it to the clearing at the end of the path. Tell it all over a tumbler of smokey, single malt.”

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Holidays | 10 Comments »

    Are We Living at the Intersection of These Two Stories?

    Posted by David Foster on 29th December 2015 (All posts by )

    The first story is Robert Heinlein’s The Year of the Jackpot.  A consulting statistician with the unlikely name of Potiphar Breen observes that many strange social trends are on a strong upswing.  One such trend:  young women removing all their clothes in public.  Potiphar sees one such disrobing in process, shoos away the police, covers the girl with his raincoat, then takes her home and asks her why she did it.  She doesn’t know.

    Potiphar informs her that nine other girls have done the same thing, in Los Angeles alone, on that very day…and goes on to tell her that this is a small part of the overall pattern of increasing craziness that he is observing.  A man has sued an entire state legislature for alienation of his wife’s affections–and the judge is letting the suit be tried.  In another state, a bill has been introduced to repeal the laws of atomic energy–not the relevant statutes, but the natural laws concerning nuclear physics. Potiphar shows the girl (her name is Meade) the graphs on which he has plotted the outbreak of bizarre things over time, and notes that many different indicators, all with different cycles, are all converging in this very year.  Still, Meade wants to look at her disrobing episode on an individual basis:  “I want to know why I did what I did!”

    “I think we’re lemmings, Meade,” Potiphar says.  “Ask a lemming why he does it.  If you could get him to slow up his rush to death, even money says he would rationalize his answer as well as any college graduate.  But he does it because he has to–and so do we.”  When Meade tries to defend free will–“I know I have it–I can feel it”, Potiphar continues with another analogy:  “I imagine every little neutron in an atom bomb feels the same way.  He can go spung! or he can sit still, just as he pleases.  But statistical mechanics works out anyhow.  And the bomb goes off.”

    As Meade and Potiphar become romantically involved, Potiphar’s indices of bizarre behavior and events continue to climb. Transvestism by draft-dodgers has resulted in a mass arrest in Chicago and a gigantic mass trial–but the (male) prosecutor shows up in a pinafore.  At the All Souls Community Church of Springfield, the pastor has reinstituted ceremonial nudity.  Two weeks later, a hundred and nine other churches have announced the same policy.  California is suffering a major water crisis, but people continue watering their lawns as usual.  Hardly anyone is interested in the upcoming Republican and Democratic conventions; all the excitement is about the revived Know-Nothing party.

    Foreign affairs, too, are disintegrating into chaos…topped off by a nuclear exchange.  Meade and Potiphar manage to survive, and Potiphar’s cycle charts seem to indicate that things will soon get better…(read the story to see how it comes out.)

    The fictional events of Heinlein’s Year of the Jackpot (set in 1952–it was written in 1947) don’t seem any more bizarre than the kind of headline stories that we are seeing every day in real-life:

    College students cry ‘racism’ when served ‘culturally-incorrect cuisine’ in the cafeteria

    The “Queen of YouTube, famous for eating cereal out of a bathtub of milk that she was bathing in , is granted interviews by both the sitting President and the leading democratic contender

    Woman loses her job and is threatened with having her children taken away, because she let her three sons (11,9,and 5) play by themselves in a playground next to her apartment building.

    Seven-year-old boy suspended from school for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun

    Previously-male person selected as Woman of the Year

     

    The second story is the play Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco.

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    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, France, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 16 Comments »