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    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 | 3 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 »

    Theme: Productivity and Economic Growth

    Posted by David Foster on 1st December 2014 (All posts by )

    As Jonathan pointed out here, one problem with the blog format is that worthwhile posts tend to fade into the background over time, even when they might be of continuing value.  One approach I’d like to try is Theme roundups, in which I’ll select a number of previous posts on a common topic or set of related topics, and link them with brief introductory sentences or paragraphs.  At least initially, I’ll focus on my own posts.

    The posts in this second “theme” roundup focus on issues affecting productivity and economic growth.

    Energy, Productivity, and the Middle Class.  The primary driver of middle class affluence has been the availability of plentiful and low-cost energy…especially in the form of electricity…coupled with a whole array of productivity-increasing tools and methods, ranging from the horse-drawn harvester to the assembly line to the automated check sorting machine.

    Demographics and productivity growth.  Slowing population growth is of concern in just about every developed county because of the effects on worker/non-worker population mix.  Economist Michael Mandel presents a country-by-country analysis of the productivity growth rates required, in light of these demographics, to achieve a doubling of individual income by 2050.  (from 2005)

    The Innovator’s Solution.  My review of the now-classic book by Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor.  Far more valuable than most books on business strategy.

    Closing time?  Citigroup (this is from 2010) listed  “ten themes that spell the end of Western dominance,” while Joel Kotkin challenged what he called “declinism.”

    Entrepreneurship in decline?   Michael Malone, who has been writing about technology and Silicon Valley for a couple of decades, worries (in 2009) that the basic mechanism by which new technologies are commercialized–the formation and growth of new enterprises–is badly broken. (Malone’s original article has disappeared, but I excerpted part of it.)

    Decline is not inevitable.  Many Americans have come to believe that our best years are behind us.  I assert that American decline is by no means inevitable…and if we do wind up in long-term decline, it will be driven not by any sort of automatic economic process, but rather by our own choices–especially our own political choices.

     The suppression of entrepreneurship.  Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone has some words for Obama.  (2010)

    The politics of economic destruction.  What Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd tried to do to angel and venture capital funding of new enterprises.

    The idea that bigness automatically wins in business still seems to have a remarkable number of adherents, despite all evidence to the contrary.

    Startups and jobs…some data.  (the original post was just a link)

    Bigotry against businessspeople.  Media and political hostility toward businesspeople, and its consequences.

    Leaving trillions on the table.  The transistor as a case study in central planning versus entrepreneurial diversity.

    Misvaluing manufacturing. The once-common assertion that “services” are inherently of higher value than manufacturing was not very well thought out.  (2003)

    “Protocols” and wealth creation.  With  help from Andrew Carnegie, I challenge some assertions in a David Brooks column.

    Musings on Tyler’s technological thoughts. Comments on Tyler Cowen’s book Average is Over.  While it’s worth reading and occasionally thought-provoking, I think much of what he has to say is wrong-headed.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Entrepreneurship, Politics, Tech, USA | 4 Comments »

    Thanksgiving and Temporal Bigotry

    Posted by David Foster on 27th November 2014 (All posts by )

    (rerun, with updates)

    Stuart Buck encountered a teacher who said “Kids learn so much these days. Did you know that today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives?” (“She said this as if she had read it in some authoritative source”, Stuart comments.)

    She probably had read it in some supposedly-authoritative source, but it’s an idiotic statement nevertheless. What, precisely, is this wonderful knowledge that high-school seniors have today and which the 40-year-olds of 1840 or 1900 were lacking?

    The example of knowledge that people usually throw out is “computers.” But the truth is, to be a casual user of computers (I’m not talking about programming and systems design), you don’t need much knowledge. You need “keyboarding skills”–once called “typing.” And you need to know some simple conventions as to how the operating system expects you to interact with it. That’s about it. Not much informational or conceptual depth there.

    Consider the knowledge possessed by by the Captain of a sailing merchant ship, circa 1840. He had to understand celestial navigation: this meant he had to understand trigonometry and logarithms. He had to possess the knowledge–mostly “tacit knowledge,” rather than book-learning–of how to handle his ship in various winds and weathers. He might well be responsible for making deals concerning cargo in various ports, and hence had to have a reasonable understanding of business and of trade conditions. He had to have some knowledge of maritime law.

    Outside of the strictly professional sphere, his knowedge probably depended on his family background. If he came from a family that was reasonably well-off, he probably knew several of Shakespeare’s plays. He probably had a smattering of Latin and even Greek. Of how many high-school (or college) seniors can these statements be made today?

    (In his post, Stuart compares knowledge levels using his grandfather–a farmer–as an example.)

    Today’s “progressives,” particularly those in the educational field, seem to have a deep desire to put down previous generations, and to assume we have nothing to learn from them. It’s a form of temporal bigotry. Indeed, Thanksgiving is a good time to resist temporal bigotry by reflecting on the contributions of earlier generations and on what we can learn from their experiences.

    As C S Lewis said: If you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its neighboring units. If you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from previous generations. (Approximate quote.)

    How better to conduct such destruction than to tell people that previous generations were ignorant and that we have nothing to learn from them?

    11/27/2014: In the Hawaiian traditional religion, there is apparently a saying that goes something like this–

    A monster cannot survive in an environment of gratitude.

    It seems likely that the decline in the emotion of gratitude in our society is indeed correlated with the rise of monsters.

    Previous CB discussion threads here and here. See also related posts by Jonathan and Ginny.

    Thoughts on the lessons of the Plymouth Colony from Jerry Bowyer and Paul Rahe.

    Posted in Education, History, Holidays, Society, USA | 9 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 25th November 2014 (All posts by )

    A special Russia-focused issue of National Geographic, in 1914

    Does automation make people dumb?

    Strategies for dealing with randomness in business

    Labor market fluidity in the US seems to be declining

    There are very different reactions to the waving of an Isis flag and the waving of an Israeli flag at Berkeley

    Strategies for dealing with toxic people

    Czars as political officers

    Two princes:  Machievelli’s Il Principe and Antoine de St-Exupery’s Le Petit Prince

    “Speaking Truth to Power.”  A great post by Sarah Hoyt on the way this expression is being used:

    One of the most fascinating conceits of our ruling powerful elites — be they in entertainment, politics, governance, jurisprudence or news reporting — is the often repeated assertion of being some kind of underdog “speaking truth to power.” This comes with the concomitant illusion that anyone opposing them is paid by powerful interests.

     

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Business, History, Human Behavior, Management, Politics, Russia, Tech | 13 Comments »

    Retrotech: An On-Line Discussion Board

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

    …in 1907

     

    Interesting that girls as well as boys were participants in this network

    Posted in History, Society, Tech, USA | Comments Off

    When Law Yields to Absolute Power (rerun)

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

    (I should have included this post in my Theme roundup on totalitarianism and the fully politicized society. It’s important enough, I think–especially in our current circumstances–to be worth putting up as a stand-alone rerun post.)

    Almost five years ago, I reviewed the important and well-written memoirs of Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars. I think the state of affairs in America today makes it appropriate to re-post some excerpts from the review and from the book.

    In 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, Haffner was working as a junior lawyer (refendar) in the Prussian High Court, the Kammergericht. He was comforted by the continuity of the legal process:

    The newspapers might report that the constitution was in ruins. Here every paragraph of the Civil Code was still valid and was mulled over and analyzed as carefully as ever…The Chancellor could daily utter the vilest abuse against the Jews; there was nonetheless still a Jewish Kammergerichtsrat (high court judge) and member of our senate who continued to give his astute and careful judgments, and these judgments had the full weight of the law and could set the entire apparatus of the state in motion for their enforcement–even if the highest office-holder of that state daily called their author a ‘parasite’, a ‘subhuman’ or a ‘plague’.

    In spring of that year, Haffner attended Berlin’s Carnival–an event at which one would find a girlfriend or boyfriend for the night and exchange phone numbers in the morning…”By then you usually know whether it is the start of something that you would like to take further, or whether you have just earned yourself a hangover.” He had a hard time getting in the Carnival mood, however:

    All at once I had a strange, dizzy feeling. I felt as though I was inescapably imprisoned with all these young people in a giant ship that was rolling and pitching. We were dancing on its lowest, narrowest deck, while on the bridge it was being decided to flood that deck and drown every last one of us.

    …..

    Though it was not really relevant to current events, my father’s immense experience of the period from 1870 to 1933 was deployed to calm me down and sober me up. He treated my heated emotions with gentle irony…It took me quite a while to realize that my youthful excitability was right and my father’s wealth of experience was wrong; that there are things that cannot be dealt with by calm skepticism.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Germany, History, Law, USA | 6 Comments »

    Theme: Totalitarianism and the Fully Politicized Society

    Posted by David Foster on 20th November 2014 (All posts by )

    As Jonathan pointed out here, one problem with the blog format is that worthwhile posts tend to fade into the background over time, even when they might be of continuing value.  One approach I’d like to try is Theme roundups, in which I’ll select a number of previous posts on a common topic or set of related topics, and link them with brief introductory sentences or paragraphs.  At least initially, I’ll focus on my own posts.

    The posts in this first “theme”  roundup focus on the nature of the politically-dominated society, ranging from the effects of extreme political correctness in America and Europe today to the nature of life under absolutist totalitarianism.

    Stasiland.  Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, author Anna Funder traveled to the previous East Germany to interview both those who had lived under Communist oppression and the perpetrators of that oppression.

    The Nature of Dictatorships.  Thoughts from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, maker of the excellent film The Lives of Others, which is set in Communist East Germany.

    Prefiguring the Hacker…and the American Surveillance Society. A 1953 science fiction story, Sam Hall.

    Eric Hoffer on the destruction of individualism. “Even in the freest society power is charged with the impulse to turn men into precise, predictable automata. When watching men of power in action it must be always kept in mind that, whether they know it or not, their main purpose is the elimination or neutralization of the independent individual – the independent voter, consumer, worker, owner, thinker – and that every device they employ aims at turning man into a manipulatable ‘animated instrument,’ which is Aristotle’s definition of a slave.”

    Bitter Waters.  A Stalin-era Soviet factory manager writes about his experiences.  Describing the chaos into which the Russian lumber industry had been thrown by Soviet central planning:  “Such is the immutable law. The forceful subordination of life’s variety into a single mold will be avenged by that variety’s becoming nothing but chaos and disorder.”

    Rose Wilder Lane.  The author and political thinker describes a debate she had with a Russian village leader, back in 1919 when she was still a Communist, about the centrally planned society.   “It is too big – he said – too big. At the top, it is too small. It will not work. In Moscow there are only men, and man is not God. A man has only a man’s head, and one hundred heads together do not make one great big head. No. Only God can know Russia.”

    The mentality of the totalitarian revolutionary.  Thoughts from the Russian writer of Dr Zhivago, Boris Pasternak.

    Life in the fully politicized society.  Michelle Obama explains what Barack Obama wants to make you do, Sebastian Haffner writes about those 1920s and 1930s Germans who needed to have “the entire content of their lives…all the raw material for their deeper emotions”  delivered gratis by the public sphere, and Ayn Rand paints a vivid picture (based on personal experience) of the dreariness of living in a society in which everything is political.

    Life in the fully politicized society, continued.  Even Maureen Dowd may be finding limits as to how much politicization of art she wants to see.

    The bitter wastes of politicized America.  “The best way to hold a large group of people together is to make them feel as if everyone else is out to get them.  The most effective political adhesives are distilled from hatred and distrust.  People who disagree with your agenda are “attacking” you or “robbing” you…When the government controls everything, there is no constructive relief valve for all this pent-up tension.  It all boils down to a “historic” election once every couple of years, upon whose outcome everything depends.  They’re all going to be “historic” elections from now on.  That’s not a good thing.”

    “But would you want your daughter to marry one?”  Americans increasingly say they would be displeased if their son or daughter were to marry a supporter of the opposing political party.

    Deconstructing a Nazi death sentence.  The text of the justification for the sentence passed on three members of the White Rose resistance group provides useful insight into the totalitarian mind.  (The link to the transcript in the post doesn’t work anymore; use this instead)

    Defying Hitler. This important and well-written (but mis-titled) memoir deals mainly with the social environment in Germany prior to the Nazi takeover, but the latter part of the book demonstrates what life was like under a new totalitarianism that was rapidly tightening its grip. The section about the author’s father–who was given the choice of either endorsing political opinions he did not share or losing his pension and being reduced to destitution, along with his family–is painful to read and is unpleasantly reminiscent of certain recent events in America today.

    The party of paranoia, racial obsession, and totalitarian thinking. Link to a post by Daniel Greenfield, aka Sultan Knish, in which he explains the nature of today’s Democratic Party.

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Europe, Germany, History, Leftism, Politics, Russia, Society, USA | 15 Comments »

    Life in the Fully Politicized Society, continued

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

    In his memoirs, Russian rocket developer Boris Chertok (previously excerpted in my post here)  tells of his experiences while he was in Germany with Soviet occupation troops, right after the war.  One of his friends was an officer, Oleg, who was also a talented poet.  Irrespective of his military talents, Oleg’s prospects for promotion were not viewed as favorable, because his poetry was “very unsettling to the political department.”

    And why was Oleg’s poetry looked upon with disfavor?  It was not because the Red Army had any dislike of poets.  Nor was it even because his poetry contained criticisms of the regime–there were no such criticisms.  No, the objection was because of what the poetry didn’t contain.  As another friend of Chertok’s, Mira, explained the situation:

    The political workers consider his poems to be demoralizing and decadent.  Not once does he mention the Party or Stalin in them.

    Of course, something like that could never happen in the US…we are not a society where someone could have their career opportunities gravely limited because of their failure to engage in expected political cheerleading.  Right?

    I was reminded of the above Chertok comments by Stuart Schneiderman’s post here.  Apparently, the book/movie “Gone Girl” (which I’ve neither seen nor read), has a female protagonist who is a rather nasty piece of work, attempting to get revenge against men in her life by making two false charges of rape and one false charge of murder.  The film has been denounced by certain critics for portraying such a woman. For example, Rebecca Traister of the New Republic told Financial Times that  the movie’s depiction of “our little sexual monsters” traded “on very, very old ideas about the power that women have to sexually, emotionally manipulate men. When you boil women down to only that, it’s troubling.”  Apparently, in Ms Traiser’s view, there must not be even one character is one book or movie who departs from the image of womanhood that Traister and her like-thinkers believe should be standardized.

    Remarkably enough, Maureen Dowd (yes, Maureen Dowd!) comes out  in this case against the witch-hunters and in favor of artistic integrity:

    Given my choice between allowing portrayals of women who are sexually manipulative, erotically aggressive, fearless in a deranged kind of way, completely true to their own temperament, desperately vital, or the alternative — wallowing in feminist propaganda and succumbing to the niceness plague — I’ll take the former.

     and

     

    The idea that every portrait of a woman should be an ideal woman, meant to stand for all of womanhood, is an enemy of art — not to mention wickedly delicious Joan Crawford and Bette Davis movies. Art is meant to explore all the unattractive inner realities as well as to recommend glittering ideals. It is not meant to provide uplift or confirm people’s prior ideological assumptions. Art says “Think,” not “You’re right.”

    After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks pushed Socialist Realism, creating the Proletkult to ensure that art served ideology. Must we now have a Gynokult to ensure Feminist Unrealism?

    The politicization of American society has gone very far–see for example the comments from playwright David Mamet, cited in my earlier Life in the Fully Politicized Society post–and it is good to see even such a creature of the Left as Maureen Dowd starting to push back a little.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Film, Leftism, Media, Society | 7 Comments »

    Retrotech: Using Network Technology for a Stock Trading Edge

    Posted by David Foster on 13th November 2014 (All posts by )

    1914-style

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Markets and Trading, Media, Tech | 4 Comments »

    Book Review: The Year of the French

    Posted by David Foster on 12th November 2014 (All posts by )

    The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Veterans Day 2014

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

    The War was in Color

    Posted in History, Holidays, Music, Video | 4 Comments »

    Marking the End of the Iron Curtain

    Posted by David Foster on 8th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the day the gates were opened in the Berlin Wall.

    This would be an appropriate occasion to watch or re-watch the excellent film The Lives Of Others, which is told from the standpoint of an agent in East Germany’s immense internal spying apparatus.  I also recommend Anna Funder’s superb book Stasiland, in which she describes her 1994 trip to the former East Germany and reconstructs the way things were in the days of Communist rule.  I reviewed it here.

    Also, here’s an interesting story about Harald Jaeger, an East German border guard whose snap decision was the right one.

    Posted in Book Notes, Film, Germany, History, Leftism | 11 Comments »

    The Effect of Industry of Employment on Political Views

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

    An interesting analysis of political opinion as a function of the industry in which an individual works.  (The authors of the Business Insider article seem confused about the distinction between an industry and a profession.  For example, “automotive manufacturers and dealers” is an industry categorization; it includes everything from line workers at car factories to salesmen at auto dealerships to engineers and executives at GM and Ford…unlikely that all these professions have the same political preference pattern.)

    Posted in Politics, USA | 2 Comments »

    The American Mittelstand

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

    Two posts that sort of go together:

    GE Capital cites some data from the National Center for the Middle Market on the importance of the “unsung heroes of the US economy”–the 200,000 businesses with annual revenues ranging from $10 million to $1 billion.

    Amy Cortese writes about the potential re-emergence of local/regional stock markets, which could provide an avenue for companies in the middle market category to obtain financing and hence accelerate their growth.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Entrepreneurship | 9 Comments »

    Book Review: A Time of Gifts

    Posted by David Foster on 1st November 2014 (All posts by )

    A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor

    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.

    Paddy, as everyone called him, was the child of a British civil servant in India and his wife who remained in Britain.  At school, Paddy was an avid student of history, literature, and languages; of math, not so much.  He was often in trouble–his housemaster wrote that “he is a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness which makes one anxious about his influence on other boys.”  Paddy’s career at the school came to an end after he was caught holding hands with the beautiful 24-year-old daughter of a local grocer.  He then knocked around London for a while with a rather Bohemian crowd…his comments on the role of Leftism in this subculture, written many years later, are interesting:

    In this breezy, post Stracheyan climate, it was cheerfully and explicitly held that all English life, thought, and art were irredeemably provincial and a crashing bore…The Left Wing opinions that I occasionally heard were uttered in such a way that they seemed a part merely, and a minor part, of a more general emancipation.  This was composed of eclectic passwords and symbols–a fluent awareness of modern painting, for instance, of a familiarity with new trends in music; neither more important nor less than acquaintance with nightlife in Paris and Berlin and a smattering of the languages spoken there.

    At this stage in his life, Paddy was not very interested in political matters, and his interests when he set out on his walking tour centered on art, architecture, languages/dialects, and folk customs.  He didn’t have much money for the trip, and planned on living pretty rough…in the event, his general likeability got him many free stays in homes and taverns, and in some cases introductions from one aristocrat to another.  There was still plenty of roughing it, though…in Holland, he found that “humble travelers” were welcome to spend the night in a jail cell, and were even given coffee and bread in the morning…and he spent quite a few nights out-of-doors.  (He notes that a night in a castle can be appreciated much more when the previous night has been spent in a hayloft.)

    With his considerable knowledge of art, Paddy found Holland to be strangely familiar even though he had never been there before:

    Ever since those first hours in Rotterdam a three-dimensional Holland had been springing up all round me and expanding into the distance in conformity with another Holland which was already in existence and in every detail complete. For, if there is a foreign landscape familiar to English eyes by proxy, it is this one…These confrontations and recognition-scenes filled the journey with excitement and delight.  The nature of the landscape itself, the colour, the light, the sky, the openness, the expanse and details of the towns and villages are leagued together in the weaving of a miraculously consoling and healing spell.

    It did not take him long to cross Holland…”my heels might have been winged”…and soon he was in Germany, where the swastika flag had now been flying for ten months.  In the town of Goch was a shop specializing in Nazi paraphernalia. People were gathered around photographs of the Nazi leaders.  One woman commented that Hitler was very good-looking; her companion agreed with a sigh, adding that he had wonderful eyes.

    For the most part, Paddy was treated in a very friendly way:  “There is an old tradition in Germany of benevolence to the wandering young: the very humility of my status acted as an Open Sesame to kindness and hospitality.”  In a bookstore he met Hans, a Cologne University graduate with a strong interest in literature, who invited him to stay at his apartment.  The landlady joined them for tea, and expressed quite different opinions from those Paddy had heard at the Nazi store in Goch.  “Such a mean face!” she observed about Hitler, “and that voice!”  Hans and his bookseller friend were also anti-Nazi.  Paddy observes that “it was a time when friendships and families were breaking up all over Germany” over the political question.

    Hans arranged a ride for Paddy up-river with a barge tow, and he got off at Coblenz to continue on foot.  Christmas Eve was spent at an inn in Bingen, where Paddy was the only customer.  He was invited to help decorate the Christmas tree and to join them for church that evening. On the day before New Year’s, he stopped at a Heidelberg inn called the Red Ox, “an entrancing haven of oak beams and carving and alcoves and changing floor levels,” where an elderly woman greeted him with a smile and the question  “Who rides so late through night and wind?”,  which Paddy did not then recognize as the first line of Goethe’s Erlkoening.  She and her husband were the owners of the inn, and invited Paddy to stay for a while. Paddy became friendly with Fritz, the son of the owners, and pestered him with questions about student life at Heidelberg, especially the custom of dueling with sabres.  “Fritz, who was humane, thoughtful and civilized and a few years older than me, looked down on this antique custom and he answered my question with friendly pity.  He knew all too well the dark glamour of the Mensur among foreigners.”  (Many years later, Paddy wrote to discover what had become of this family, and discovered that Fritz had been killed in the fighting in Norway, where a battalion of his own regiment at the time had been engaged.)

    When walking long distances, Paddy liked to either sing or recite poetry.  Germans were very used to people singing as they walked, and such tunes as Shuffle off the Buffalo, Bye Bye Blackbird, and Shenandoah generally resulted in “tolerant smiles” from other wayfarers.  Poetry, on the other hand, tended to cause “raised eyebrows and a look of anxious pity”…even, sometimes, “stares of alarm.”  One woman who was gathering sticks dropped them and took to her heels, evidently taking Paddy for a dangerous lunatic.

    Paddy devotes several pages to the names of poems that he remembers reciting, ranging from the choruses of Henry V and long stretches of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Marlowe, Spencer, Browning; Kipling and Houseman…in French, Baudelaire, Verlaine, and large quantities of Villon.  In Latin, there was Virgil, Catallus, and Horace; also some profane medieval Latin lyrics. And also a bit of Greek, including part of the Odyssey and two poems of Sappho.  Amusingly, Paddy prefaces this section of the book with the statement “The range is fairly predictable and all too revealing of the scope, the enthusiams and limitations, examined at the eighteenth milestone, of a particular kind of growing up,”  and ends it with the rather apologetic “a give-away collection…a fair picture, in fact, of my intellectual state-of-play…”

    At a cafe in Stuttgart, he fell into conversation with two cheerful girls, Annie and Lise, who had come in to buy groceries.  They invited him to a “young people’s party” in celebration of the Feast of the Three Kings, and then insisted that he stay overnight. (Annie’s parents were out of town.)  The next day was rainy; the girls insisted that he stay longer and go to another party with them, this being one they were not looking forward to but couldn’t get out of: it was being held by an unlikeable business associate of Annie’s father.

    The was  “a blond, heavy man with bloodshot eyes and a scar across his forehead,” and “except for the panorama of Stuttgart through the plate glass, the house was hideous”…Paddy devotes quite a few words to critiquing its interior decoration.  Particularly appalling was a cigarette case made from a seventeenth-century vellum-bound Dante, with the pages glued together and scooped hollow.   The trio was very happy to finally escape and return to Annie’s residence.  (After Paddy left to continue his journey, he wrote the girls and discovered that the wine bottles they had “recklessly drained” had been a rare and wonderful vintage that Annie’s father had been particularly looking forward to.  “Outrage had finally simmered down to the words: “Well, your thirsty friend must know a lot about wine.” (Totally untrue.)  “I hope he enjoyed it.” (Yes)  It was years before the real enormity of our inroads dawned on me.”)

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    Posted in Arts & Letters, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Europe, Germany, History, Judaism, Leftism | 11 Comments »

    Halloween

    Posted by David Foster on 31st October 2014 (All posts by )

    From the hag and hungry goblin
    That into rags would rend ye
    And the spirits that stand
    By the naked man
    In the Book of Moons, defend ye!

    That of your five sound sense
    You never be forsaken
    Nor wander from
    Yourself with Tom
    Abroad to beg your bacon

    The moon’s my constant mistress
    And the lonely owl my marrow
    The flaming drake
    And the night-crow make
    Me music to my sorrow

    I know more than Apollo
    For oft, when he lies sleeping
    I see the stars
    At mortal wars
    And the rounded welkin weeping

    With a host of furious fancies
    Whereof I am commander
    With a burning spear
    And a horse of air
    To the wilderness I wander

    By a knight of ghosts and shadows
    I summoned am to tourney
    Ten leagues beyond
    The wide world’s end
    Methinks it is no journey

    (Not specifically a Halloween poem, but it certainly sets the mood, doesn’t it? This is Tom O’Bedlam’s Song, dating from sometime around 1600. There are lots more verses, and many different versions.)

    Posted in Arts & Letters, History, Holidays | 6 Comments »

    Election Day is Coming Up Fast

    Posted by David Foster on 28th October 2014 (All posts by )

    Spare a thought for the stay at home voter
    Empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
    And a parade of the gray suited grafters
    A choice of cancer or polio

    –The Rolling Stones, 1968

     

    I think quite a few people, including many conservatives/libertarians, are intending to sit this one out.  It’s an understandable sentiment–the “strange beauty shows” have not gotten any more substantive since 1968, quite the contrary, and the “gray suited grafters” have as a class become even graft-ier.  And there is plenty wrong with the institutional Republican Party…too much crony capitalism at the expense of the real free market, too much go-along-to-get-along behavior, too many lame candidates, too much incompetence in political marketing.

    Nevertheless, I think it is of extreme importance for everyone who truly cares about the future of this country–and who understands the harm being done by Barack Obama and the “progressive” movement that he represents–to vote, and in almost all cases to vote for the Republican candidate.

    Because what is facing us right now is not “a choice of cancer or polio.”  It is a choice between a chronic disease which is unpleasant, but may eventually be curable, and an accute disease that will kill or permanently cripple the patient in short order.

    Free speech is under severe attack by the American Left.  There have been moves to have the FCC and/or the FEC regulate Internet expressions of opinion, further entrenching the monopolistic position of the establishment media…and even traditional media companies are finding considerable hostility from the Obama administration should they step the least little bit out of line.  “Political correctness” dominates many if not most university campuses.  People in the private sector have been driven out of their jobs because of their personal political opinions.  The administrative and police power of the State is being used against political opponent;  see for example the IRS case and the use of SWAT teams to invade the homes of Scott Walker supporters on highly questionable grounds–actions which, George Will argues convincingly, are politically motivated by a desire to intimidate Walker supporters and defeat him in the upcoming election. Direct violence or threats of violence by Leftists and their supporters, directed at purveyors of non-Left-approved opinions, also appears to be on the upswing; see for example the hundreds of death threats directed against a black Chicago pastor who had the audacity to endorse a Republican candidate for Illinois governor.

    Perhaps most disturbing of all are the intrusions into the computers used by former CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson and the evidence that government agencies may have played a role in this–including the planting of false evidence against Ms Attkisson.  I do not think we can consider this verified at the present time-and may never know for sure who was behind this operation–but it is certainly consistent with the “progressive” pattern.

    My point is that the window for deflecting the “progressive” takeover of American politics and institutions is rapidly closing.  Intrusions on free expression, and enablement of voting corruption, are likely to make it increasingly almost impossible to change directions in the future.  A Republican majority in the Senate, and a maintained or increased Republican majority in the House, together with a goodly number of Republican governorships, will not solve these problems, but will offer a far better chance of bringing them under control than will the alternative.

    There are also very serious threats facing the United States and its allies on the international front: especially,  the prospective Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons.  There is every reason to believe that Obama intends to reach a deal which lifts sanctions without seriously dismantling Iran’s uranium-enrichment capabilities.  The likelihood of this happening is definitely increased or decreased by any increase or decrease in the political power of the Democratic Party.

    I urge you most seriously to vote–to vote Republican (unless there is an alternative candidate who can really win, not just “make a statement”)–and to contribute money directly to your preferred candidates…you may not be able to match the very large contributions being made by Hollywood types and other wealthy Democrats and entities such as the teachers’ unions, but every bit helps.  Voting and contributing now helps ensure that you will have a meaningful opportunity to vote, contribute, and engage in political discourse in future elections.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Elections, Leftism, Obama, Politics, USA | 28 Comments »

    Women, Islam, and the West’s Loss of Cultural Self-Confidence

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

    Young European women, as well as young European men, are joining ISIS, in numbers which–while not huge–are still large enough to raise concern.

    And in the United States,  more Hispanics are turning towards Islam, and  more than half of Miami’s 3,000 Hispanic Muslims are female.  One converted-Muslim Latina, who holds a masters degree, explained the appeal of the religion partly as follows:

    It defines their world on a clear grid of what’s permitted or ‘halal,’ and what’s prohibited which is ‘haram’. So they know exactly where they stand. So the Qur’an becomes this guidebook that tells you exactly what to wear, what to eat, how to wash, how to behave, when to pray.

    From the above-linked article about European girls converting to Islam and joining ISIS:

    The girls sought out IS fighters because the West seems weak and unmanly and they pine for real men who are willing to kill and die for what they believe in.

    Why? Europe’s got great health care, welfare, and lots of attractive young men and attractive women who, unlike the vast majority of women in the Middle East outside of Israel, are sexually available. So, why given a choice between a comfortable, if somewhat boring, life as a pharmacist in Hamburg, or fighting and dying in the desert, are thousands of Western Muslims opting for the latter?

    Because, for all the awesome social services and consumer goods it can offer, Europe has become incapable of endowing the lives of its citizens, Muslim or not, with meaning. A generation of young European Muslims are giving up their relatively easy lives in Malmö, Marseilles, and Manchester for the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, because Europe is devoid of values worth living—or dying—for. They are leaving for the same reason that Europe’s Jews are moving to Israel: Strength and a sense of purpose can be found elsewhere, whether it’s ISIS, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khameni, or the IDF.

    Karim Pakzad, of the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations, said some young women had “an almost romantic idea of war and warriors.  I think this has been true in many if not most places throughout the world and many if not most times throughout history…but today’s West, in many if not most of its subcultures, does not honor its own warriors very much these days.

    The motivations of the women referenced in these articles are similar though not identical to the motivations of Arthur Koestler’s protagonist Hydie Anderson, in the 1950 novel The Age of Longing.  (My review of the book is here.)  Hydie is a young American woman living in Paris, a former Catholic who has lost her faith.  She is not attracted to any of the American or European men she knows, but falls hard for a committed Russian Communist. Koestler makes it clear that Fedya’s sexual appeal to Hydie is due in large part to his cultural self-confidence:

    “Listen, please,” (Fedya) said. “We have talked about these matters often before. You don’t like that we make scientific studies of human nature like Professor Pavlov. You don’t like revolutionary vigilance and lists on the social reliability of people, and discipline and re-education camps. You think I am brutal and ridiculous and uncultured. Then why did you like making love with me? I will tell you why and you will understand…”

    “I am not a tall and handsome man…There are no tall and handsome men who come from the Black Town in Baku, because there were few vitamins in the food around the oilfields. So it was not for this that you liked to make love with me…It was because I believe in the future and am not afraid of it, and because to know what he lives for makes a man strong…I am not handsome, but you have felt attracted to me because you know that we will win and that we are only at the beginning–and that you will lose because you are at the end…”

    In my review, which was originally posted almost 5 years ago, I linked a British Muslim woman who said that ““Since 9/11, vast numbers of educated, privileged middle-class white women have converted to Islam”…she identified these converts as including women at “investment banks, TV stations, universities and in the NHS.” Her concern was not that they are converting to Islam…something I’d presume she would applaud…but that they were converting to “the most restricted forms” of the religion.

    In the review, I said:

    I don’t think Koestler’s protagonist would have been attracted to a fundamentalist Muslim in the way that she was drawn to the communist Fedya. The gap in values would have been far wider: while Communism is a bastard child of the Enlightenment, radical Islam is counter-Enlightenment, and does not make the kind of universalist, humanitarian, and secular promises that the Communists made–the cruelty is closer to the surface.But the loss of Western self-confidence has greatly accelerated since Koestler wrote, and today’s Hydies are unlikely to share the educational and religious depth of the woman Koestler imagined.

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, France, Islam, Philosophy, Society, Terrorism, USA | 24 Comments »