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    “Scientists Say”

    Posted by David Foster on 28th September 2016 (All posts by )

    Almost every day, I see a headline that starts with the words “scientists say”…everything from “Scientists say pizza is better than money for motivating employees” to “scientists say men who are good listeners are better at sex.”  Sometimes the headlines go even further and assert that “science says.”

    If you try to track down the actual headlines behinds these assertions, you will often find a study done on 40 or so undergraduates, sometimes using questionable methodologies, on which the journalists base their imprimatur of ‘science says.’  And very often, you can’t ever read the study unless you’re willing to pay $30 or more for the privilege, because it’s in an access-controlled journal.  This doesn’t stop the university PR departments from issuing breathless press releases about the study conclusions, though.

    It’s sort of sad–scientific publishing was once a way of disseminating information; now it functions largely as a means for limiting access to information.  I have a hard time understanding why publicly-funded research shouldn’t be required to be publicly available on the Internet at no or minimal cost.

    I think the ‘scientists say’ and ‘science says’ memes would not work in a society where most of the population had some degree of scientific education.  Science is not shamanism, and scientists are not oracles.

    Posted in Academia, Media, Science, USA | 9 Comments »

    Remembering Neptunus Lex

    Posted by David Foster on 26th September 2016 (All posts by )

    Bill Brandt has assembled and posted some comments by readers about what Lex meant to them.  Very much worth reading.

    Posted in Aviation, Blogging, Internet, Military Affairs, Personal Narrative, War and Peace | 7 Comments »

    Life in the Fully Politicized Society (rerun)

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

    (The politicization of American society has increased markedly since I wrote this post in May of 2014.  Sports, for example, is now politicized–see what happens when a culture loses its last neutral ground?–along with everything from shopping to education. The sway of ‘progressive’ orthodoxy continues to extend its sway over all aspect of American life.)

    Many will remember Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, in which she said:

    Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed….You have to stay at the seat at the table of democracy with a man like Barack Obama not just on Tuesday but in a year from now, in four years from now, in eight years from now, you will have to be engaged.

    Victor Davis Hanson notes that she also said:

    We are going to have to change our conversation; we’re going to have to change our traditions, our history; we’re going to have to move into a different place as a nation.

    …which is, of course, entirely consistent with the assertion made by Barack Obama himself, shortly before his first inauguration:  “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

    It should be clear by now that all aspects of American life and society are rapidly becoming politicized. Obama has greatly accelerated this movement, but he didn’t initiate it.  The “progressive” political movement, which now controls the Democratic Party, has for a long time been driving the politicization of anything and everything.  The assertion “the personal is political” originated in the late 1960s…and, if the personal is political, then everything is political.

    Some people, of course, like the politicization of everything–for some individuals, indeed, their lives would be meaningless without it. In his important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars, Sebastian Haffnernoted divergent reactions from people when the political and economic situation stabilized (temporarily, as we now know) during the Stresemann chancellorship:

    The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.

    But this return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:

    A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.

    and

    To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.

    I’m afraid we have quite a few people in America today who like having “the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions.”  But for most people, especially for creative and emotionally-healthy people, the politicization of everything leads to a dreary and airless existence.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Germany, Human Behavior, Leftism, Politics, Russia, USA | 21 Comments »

    The General, the Devil, and the Election

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

    Heinz Guderian was a German general who played an important role in the development of Blitzkrieg tactics.  He was also a highly effective field commander, known to his men by the nickname “Hurrying Heinz.”

    Also not a bad writer–here’s his description of the character of Adolph Hitler:

    He had no real friend. His oldest Party comrades were, it is true, disciples, but they could hardly be described as friends. So far as I can see there was nobody who was really close to him. There was nobody in whom he would confide his deepest feelings. There was nobody with whom he could talk freely and openly. As he never found a true friend, so he was denied the ability to deeply love a woman. He remained unmarried. He had no children. Everything that on this earth that casts a glow of warmth over our life as mortals, friendship with fine men, the pure love for a wife, affection for one’s own children, all this was and remained for ever unknown to him. His path thru the world was a solitary one and he followed it alone, with only his gigantic plans for company.

    There is an interesting parallel between the above excerpt and a passage in Thomas Carlyle’s review of Faust, published in 1822:

    Mephistopheles is not the common devil of poetry, but one much more adapted to his functions.  It is evident that he was a devil from the first and can be nothing else.  He is emphatically ‘the Denyer’, he fears nothing, complains of nothing, hopes for nothing.  Magnanimity, devotion, affection, all that can sweeten or embellish existence, he looks upon as childish mummery.

    (No, I’m not accusing Guderian of plagiarism…there are things a lot worse than plagiarism of which he could be justly accused!  But it is very likely that he read Faust in school, and I wonder if he might have also been exposed to early commentary on the play, including the Carlyle piece.)

    While searching for the Guderian quote (in conjunction with my recent Faust post), I ran across this blog post, which attempts to draw parallels between Guderian’s description of Hitler’s character, and…the character of Donald Trump.  The blogger does this by interspersing passages from the Guderian quote with comments about Trump made by Mark Shields and David Brooks in a PBS Newshour appearance.

    (Now, personally, I don’t see why anyone would consider a man who evaluates presidential candidates by the quality of the crease of their trousers as a particularly good source for analysis and insight, but whatever…)

    Something is missing from the linked blog post, as it is from many similar Trump denunciations….and that is the name Hillary Clinton.  Because Trump isn’t running in a vacuum, he isn’t running against, say, JFK or Harry Truman or even Jimmy Carter; he is running against Hillary Clinton, and barring some unlikely event or events, one of the other of them is going to be President.

    And I would assert that whatever degree of match there might be between Trump’s character and the character outlined in the Guderian piece, the match is considerably stronger in the case of Hillary Clinton.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Elections, Germany, History, Leftism, Media, Trump, USA | 35 Comments »

    Worthwhile Watching

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

    …especially for Labor Day weekend

    There probably aren’t too many TV series centered around a CNC machine shop…but there’s at least one, and it’s called Titans of CNC.  The producer and central figure, Titan Gilroy–yes, that’s his real name–grew up in rough circumstances, spent some time in prison, and eventually learned machine-tool operation and CNC programming. With these skills in hand, he built a pretty substantial business, Titan America, which is focused on precision machining, mainly producing components of products being made by larger companies.

    The program is about the challenges involved in the operation of Titan America and a portrait of some of its employees and customers.  It is also a passionate argument for the importance of manufacturing in America.  Sponsors include Autodesk, IMCO Carbide Tools, Haas Automation and GoEngineer.

    The series was made for a cable channel called MATV, which is owned by Lucas Oil Products and is targeted towards car people.  It’s available on Amazon streaming, which is where I’ve been watching it.

    There’s an interview with Titan in Manufacturing & Technology News.

    Posted in Business, Management, Media, Tech, USA | 11 Comments »

    The “Social Justice Movement” Claims Another Victim

    Posted by David Foster on 31st August 2016 (All posts by )

    A teenage girl in the UK has killed herself, apparently because of fears that she would be branded ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’ after sending a joke photograph as an Instagram message.

    Never forget that Hillary Clinton is closely aligned with the ‘politically correct’ instigators and leaders of the kind of attack mobs..on-line and off-line…that this girl apparently feared.

    And given the current state of things in the UK, her fear was probably not irrational, though her action certainly was.   See this:  police are investigating social media critics of planned refugee center.

    “Although you may believe your message is acceptable, other people may take offence, and you could face a large fine up to two years in prison if your message is deemed to have broken the law” said an assistant chief constable.

    And in Manchester, a Police Chief Inspector for Greater Manchester, himself a Muslim, indicated that, according to his understanding, “freedom of speech does not mean freedom of offending culture, religion or tradition”.

    If you want people in the US to fear police visits as a result of ‘politically incorrect’ online communications or comments to friends, then you should do everything you can to help Hillary Clinton win the Presidency.

    Posted in Britain, Civil Liberties, Islam, USA | 19 Comments »

    The United States of Weimar? -continued-

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

    In Minneapolis, attendees at a Trump rally were attacked by a mob.  Police were present, but no arrests were made.

    There have been similar incidents at other Trump rallies; see for example  this story from San Jose.

    Meanwhile, establishment journalists and academics wring their hands about how dangerous Trump is, while mostly ignoring the danger to the democratic process driven by the destructive behavior of  ‘progressive’ thugs…often enabled by winks and nods from ‘liberal’ government officials, who are all too happy to let them get away with it.

    Too much more of this, and I may have to remove the question mark from the line:  The United States of Weimar?

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Elections, Leftism, Trump, USA | 16 Comments »

    Faustian Ambition (rerun)

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

    A post on ambition at another blog (in 2010) , which included a range of quotations on the subject, inspired me to think that I might be able to write an interesting essay on the topic of ambition in Goethe’s Faust. This post is a stab at such an essay.

    The word “Faustian” is frequently used in books, articles, blog posts, etc on all sorts of topics. I think the image that most people have of Faust is of a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for dangerous knowledge: sort of a mad-scientist type. This may be true of earlier versions of the Faust legend, but I think it’s a misreading (or more likely a non-reading) of Goethe’s definitive version.

    Faust, at the time when the devil first appears to him, has devoted his entire life to the pursuit of knowledge–in many different scholarly disciplines–and is totally frustrated and in despair about the whole thing. It is precisely the desire to do something other than to pursue abstract knowledge that leads him to engage in his fateful bargain with Mephistopheles.

    If it’s not the pursuit of abstract knowledge, then what ambition drives Faust to sell his soul? C S Lewis suggests that his motivations are entirely practical: he wants “gold and guns and girls.” This is partly true, but is by no means the whole story.

    Certainly, Faust does like girls. Very early in the play, he encounters a young woman who strikes his fancy:

    FAUST: My fair young lady, may I make free
    To offer you my arm and company?
    GRETCHEN: I’m neither fair nor lady, pray
    Can unescorted find my way
    FAUST: God, what a lovely child! I swear
    I’ve never seen the like of her
    She is so dutiful and pure
    Yet not without a pert allure
    Her rosy lip, her cheek aglow
    I never shall forget, I know
    Her glance’s timid downward dart
    Is graven deeply in my heart!
    But how she was so short with me–
    That was consummate ecstasy!


    Immediately following this meeting, Faust demands Mephisto’s magical assistance in the seduction of Gretchen. It’s noteworthy that he insists on this help despite the facts that (a)he brags to the devil that he is perfectly capable of seducing a girl like Gretchen on his own, without any diabolical assistance, and (b)a big part of Gretchen’s appeal is clearly that she seems so difficult to win–a difficulty that will be short-circuited by Mephisto’s help.

    Mephisto, of course, complies with Faust’s demand…this devil honors his contracts…and Faust’s seduction of Gretchen leads directly to the deaths of her mother, her child by Faust, her brother, and to Gretchen’s own execution.

    Diabolical magic also allows Faust to meet Helen of Troy (time and space are quite fluid in this play) whom he marries and impregnates, resulting in the birth of their child Euphorion.

    So, per Lewis, yes, Faust is definitely motivated by the pursuit of women. But this is only a small part of the complex structure of ambition that Goethe has given his protagonist.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Deep Thoughts, Germany, Philosophy, Poetry, Political Philosophy | 6 Comments »

    An Important Point About the Election

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

    Daniel Henninger, writing in the Wall Street Journal, points out one consequence of a Hillary Clinton presidency: the continuation and acceleration of the trends that are destroying American higher education.

    One mechanism of destruction is the use of federal enforcement agencies to further entrench political correctness. Expect a lot more Star Chamber proceedings and witch-burnings. Another mechanism is increased federal dollars pipelined into the education industry, eliminating any incentives for reform.

     

    (also posted it the members’ section at Ricochet)

    Posted in Academia, Education, Elections, Politics | 41 Comments »

    The Seven Threat Vectors Against Free Speech

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

    Free speech…free expression generally…is under attack in America and throughout the Western world to a degree not seen in a long time.  I think there are seven specific phenomena, incarnated in seven (partially-overlapping) categories of people, which are largely driving this attack, to wit:

    The Thugs.  As I pointed out in my recent post The United States of Weimar?, illegal actions against political opponents–ranging from theft of newspapers to direct assault and battery–have in recent decades become increasingly common on university campuses, and now are well on track to being normalized as aspects of national political campaigns.

    The Assassins.  These individuals go beyond the level of violence practiced by the Thugs, and make credible death threats…which they attempt to carry out…against those whose actions or believe they view as unacceptable.  The majority of threats and attacks falling in this category have certainly been the doing of radical Muslims; however, some of the more extreme ‘environmentalist’ and ‘animal rights’ groups have also demonstrated Assassin tendencies.  At present, however, it is those Assassins who are radical Muslims who have been most successful in inhibiting free expression. Four years in hiding for an American cartoonist.

    The Wimps.  It seems that among the younger generations in America, there are a disproportionate number of people whose ‘self-esteem’ has been raised to such lofty but brittle levels that they cannot stand any challenge to their belief systems. Hence they are eager to sacrifice their own freedom of speech, as well as that of others, on the altar of ‘safety’ from disturbing words and thoughts.

    The Bureaucrats.  Bureaucrats, especially in the universities but also increasingly in the private sector, are eager to provide the altars for the sacrifice of free speech, with Star Chamber proceedings and various forms of witch-burnings.

    The Regulatory State.  The vast expansion of Federal regulatory activities and authority enables a wide range of adverse actions to be taken against individuals without the checks and balances of normal judicial proceedings. Witness, for example, the IRS persecution of conservative-leaning organizations (possibly extended to pro-Israel organizations as well.)  And the Bureaucrats in nominally-independent organizations are really often acting as agents and front men for the Regulatory State. (Consider the 2011 ‘Dear Colleague’ letter sent from the Department of Education to colleges and universities, regarding the handling of sexual assault allegations–which has had, the linked article argues, serious negative impact on free speech and due process.)

    The Theoreticians.  Various academics have developed the concept of ‘oppressive speech’ and have developed models which attempt to break down the distinction between speech and action.  Since everyone agrees that actions must be regulated to some degree, this tends to pave the way for tightened regulation of speech.  (I think the conflation of speech with action is particularly sellable to those who in their professional lives are Word People and/or Image People.  To a farmer or a machinist or even an electrical engineer, the distinction between speech and action is pretty crisp.  To a lawyer or an advertising person or to a professor (outside the hard sciences), maybe not so much.  And the percentage of Word People and Image People in the overall population has grown greatly.)

    The Fragility Feminists.  Actually, the word ‘Feminists’ should probably be in quotes, because the argument these people are making is in many ways the direct opposite of that made by the original feminists. There is a significant movement, again especially on college campuses, asserting that women are such fragile flowers that they must be endlessly protected from words that might upset them.  See the controversy over the name of the athletic center at the Colorado School of Mines…here I think we have the Bureaucrats and the Fragility Feminists making common cause, as they so often do.  For another (and particularly bizarre) case, read about professor Laura Kipnis, whose essay decrying ‘sexual paranoia on campus’ resulted in a Title IX inquisition against her.  In a particularly disturbing note, when Kipnis brought a ‘support person’ to her hearing, a Title IX complaint was filed against that person.

     

    Your thoughts?

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Law, USA | 30 Comments »

    New Jobs Contest! You Could Be a Winner!

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

    In a comment to my post About Those Job-Killing Robots, TM Lutas said:

    If you want to slay the mistaken talk about the end of human employment, hold a contest. Come up with labor demand boosting ideas that we do not engage in today because we either don’t have enough people or don’t have enough money to do it. Weigh jobs that don’t require much intelligence or education as more valuable than those requiring high education/intelligence. Within a year I predict enough entries to be submitted to put the entire world to work multiple times over.

    It is a bit embarrassing to think about things we are too poor to do. This makes these jobs invisible to us today. By creating a contest and an artificial market for these ideas, they become visible and we turn from despair at the jobless future to wondering how we can become efficient enough to afford to do all these wonderful things.

    Let’s prototype the contest here, among friends (and a few special adversaries and maybe even some enemies), and maybe we can roll it out later on a larger scale. The winner will receive a microscopic amount of fame, and also a virtual certificate, not suitable for framing.

    What are the things that we collectively and individually can’t afford–but might be able to afford given higher levels of productivity and national income–that would meaningfully affect well-being and human satisfaction?  Define “things” as broadly as you like.  Consider both things that could become more affordable due to productivity improvements in a specific industry, and things whose creation might not by itself be meaningfully improvable from a productivity standpoint but which people could better afford given an upward trend in overall productivity and income.

    Thoughts?

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Tech | 34 Comments »

    About Those Job-Killing Robots

    Posted by David Foster on 30th July 2016 (All posts by )

    Every day, there are articles and blog posts about how quickly robots are replacing jobs, particularly in manufacturing.  These often include assertions along the lines of “robots are replacing human labor so rapidly and so completely that it doesn’t really matter whether the factories are in the US or somewhere else.” There are also many assertions that robotics and artificial intelligence will triumph so completely that we must accept that we will permanently have a huge unemployed population who will need to be paid a “basic income” of some sort from the government.

    This May, there were breathless headlines about how Foxconn, which is Apple’s primary contract manufacturer, was replacing 60,000 workers with robots–indeed, in some tellings, had already replaced them.  If you google “foxconn 60000 workers”, you will get about 130,000 hits.

    But the story, however, is false; indeed, it did not even originate with Foxconn but rather with some local Chinese government officials who wanted to promote their area as “innovative.”

    There has also been a lot of coverage of robotics at Adidas, which is trying to use automation to improve the labor productivity of shoe-making to the point that it can be done economically in high-wage countries such as Germany.  This article on Adidas also cites the Foxconn “60,000 jobs” assertion.

    One key pair of numbers is missing from the stories I’ve seen on the Adidas project:  the ratio of human workers to shoes produced, with and without the addition of the robotics. You can’t really judge the labor-reducing impact of the project without these numbers.  In this Financial Times article, Adidas is quoted as saying, entirely reasonably, that they will need to get further into production with their new factory before developing meaningful productivity numbers.  The article also cites Boston Consulting Group as estimating that by “2025 advanced robots will boost productivity by as much as 30 per cent in many industries.”  Thirty percent is a very significant number, but it’s a long, long way from a productivity increase that would imply that factory jobs don’t matter, or that we’re going to inevitably have a very large permanently-unemployed population.

    There are a lot of very significant innovations taking place in robotics and AI, but the hype level is getting a little out of hand.  And it’s important to remember that automation is not a new phenomenon.  For example, a CNC (computer numerically  controlled) machine tool is a robot, albeit it might not look like the popular conception of one, and these machines, together with their predecessor NC (numerically controlled) machines, have been common in industry since the 1970s. One thing that articles and blog posts on the topic of robotics/AI/jobs could benefit from is a little historical perspective: do today’s innovations really represent a sharp break upwards in labor productivity, or are they more of a continuation of a long-term trend?  And how, if it all,  is the effect of these technologies appearing in the productivity statistics?

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Tech, USA | 28 Comments »

    Statistical Malpractice, Cluelessness About Humans

    Posted by David Foster on 28th July 2016 (All posts by )

    Almost every day, I see someone arguing that we shouldn’t worry about terrorism so much because your chances of being killed by a terrorist are less than your chances of being killed in an auto accident, or by slipping in the bathtub, or some such comparison.  Barack Obama, according to The Atlantic, “frequently reminds his staff that terrorism takes far fewer lives in America than handguns, car accidents, and falls in bathtubs do.”

    Indeed, this argument was even being made shortly after 9/11, even being made by people with obviously high intelligence and mathematical knowledge.  Marvin Minsky, MIT professor and pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, recommended scrapping “the whole ‘homeland defense’ thing” as “cost-ineffective.” According to the WSJ, Minsky calculates that the cost of preventing each terrorist-caused airplane fatality would be around $100MM, and that “we could save a thousand times as many lives at the same cost by various simple public-health measures.”  Whatever one thinks about the performance of Homeland Security as an organization, as a matter of logic Minsky’s argument was just plain wrong, as are its present-day equivalents.

    Calculations of probability must be based on assumptions about whether the rate at which some phenomenon is occurring is static or is subject to change.  Based on the numbers of influenza in 1914, you might have concluded that you were not at material risk of dying from this disease. In 1918, things looked very different. The dynamics of the disease led to a very rapid increase in the probability of infection.

    If the FAA receives some service difficulty reports indicating that cracks have appeared in the wing spars of a few aircraft that have reached about 10,000 hours in service…aircraft of this service level representing a small portion of the total production for this model…they’re not going to dismiss it with ‘well, no biggie’ and wait until substantial numbers of planes reach 15,000 hours or so and have the wing spars actually break in flight.  They’re going to analyze the situation and quite likely issue an Airworthiness Directive against the aircraft, requiring inspections and remedial action.

    The wing spar case is an example of a process in which the mere passage of time can change the probabilities of the adverse event occurring.  The influenza case is an example of a malign positive feedback loop, i.e., a vicious circle–the more people become infected, the more other people they infect.  Positive feedback loops tend to have exponential growth patterns until something stops them.

    In the case of terrorism, it should be obvious that successful terror attacks act as encouragement for future acts of terror–definitely a positive feedback loop. Remember what Osama bin Laden said about people wanting to side with the ‘strong horse’?  Moreover, terror attacks are demoralizing to the target country in a way in which random accidents are not.  There has already been a chilling effect on free speech driven by the desire to avoid angering the Islamists.

    Bookworm offered an interesting take on this topic:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Human Behavior, Islam, Terrorism | 27 Comments »

    Loyalty and Risk-Taking

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd July 2016 (All posts by )

    In one of the old Neptunus Lex posts that Bill Brandt has been rerunning at The Lexicans, Lex wrote about the man who was CO of his FA-18 training squadron:

    My student cohort held him in awe: We’d been told that he had received an Air Medal during the war for saving a squadron mate’s life, or his liberty anyway. The latter had come off target badly hit and managed to limp only as far as the harbor at Hai Phong before his machine came apart. The pilot had been forced to eject and was floating in his raft a mile or so off shore, when he saw an NVA patrol craft bounding out to seize him. The unlucky aviator was contemplating the austere amenities of the Hanoi Hilton when our CO roared overhead at 500 feet, firing a Shrike missile in boresight mode.

    The Shrike is an anti-radiation missile, designed to home on enemy radar and destroy it.  The radar-following mechanism is its only guidance system; the only way to hit a target that is not emitting radar is to get very close to it before you fire the missile–thereby placing yourself at considerable additional risk  Lex’s CO had taken that risk, destroying the North Vietnamese patrol craft, and making it possible for the shot-down pilot to be rescued by helicopter..

    Reading the story, I couldn’t help wondering:  which if any of our current crop of political candidates and leaders would–in the extremely unlikely event that they ever found themselves flying combat aircraft–have made the same decision?

    Posted in Human Behavior, Politics, USA, Vietnam, War and Peace | 25 Comments »

    Automated Systems Need to be Supervised by Humans

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

    …and not just any humans.

    Listen to this very-well-done podcast about one of those times when thermonuclear war did not happen: Flirting with the end of the world.

    Automated systems need to be supervised by humans, and not just any humans, as Stanislav Petrov’s story makes clear.  Individuals and bureaucracies that themselves behave in a totally robotic fashion cannot be adequate supervisors of the automation.  See also my post Blood on the tracks for an additional example.

    Posted in History, Russia, Tech, USA, War and Peace | 9 Comments »

    The United States of Weimar?

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

    There is much political violence in the US these days, ranging from attacks on Trump rally attendees to protesters at those rallies being sucker-punched to the politically and racially-motivated murder of police officers in Dallas to the throwing of Molotov cocktails at police in the state of Minnesota (where the social climate was once characterized by the term ‘Minnesota nice’)—and there is every prospect that the violence will get worse as the political season moves into full swing.  Indeed, it seems that political violence is in the process of being normalized in this country. To understand the roots of this malign phenomenon, I think it is important to look at what has been going on in America’s universities for the past decade and a half.

    In 2002, a pro-Israel event at San Francisco State University was interrupted by ‘protestors’, screaming things like “go back to Russia!” and “get out or we will kill you!’ and shoving Hillel students against a wall.  Laurie Zoloth, a campus Jewis leader “turned to the police and to every administrator I could find and asked them to remove the counter demonstrators from the Plaza, to maintain the separation of 100 feet that we had been promised. The police told me that they had been told not to arrest anyone, and that if they did, ‘it would start a riot.’  I told them that it already was a riot.”

    “This is the Weimar Republic with Brownshirts it cannot control” is how Professor Zoloth summed up the situation on her campus.

    This kind of Brownshirt behavior at an American university was by no means an isolated incident: there have been many, many cases of intimidation, vandalism, and outright violence being employed against campus groups and speakers which some people–those people being almost always self-defined ‘progressives’–do not like.

    At St Cloud University in Minnesota, for example, the College Republicans had a kiosk supporting Israel, complete with Israeli flag.  Two professors approached the booth and asserted that since the members of the group were not Jewish, they had no right to fly the Israeli flag!  One of the professors told a students that she would break his camera if he took her picture, and then tried to grab the camera–also, according to this report, also grabbed the student by the neck and slammed him up against the wall.  The university administration backed the professors, also asserting that non-Jews have no right to fly the Israeli flag.  (The real issue, I’m pretty sure, wasn’t that the students were non-Jewish, but rather that they were Republican.)

    At Yale in 2002, some students had set up a memorial to victims of a car bombing in Israel.  The memorial was destroyed by vandals. A week earlier, at the same university, a petition opposing divestment (ie, withdrawal of pension fund investments from companies doing business in Israel) was defaced–in the law school.

    Theft of newspapers containing unapproved viewpoints has become common at universities. In 2004, the entire press run of the Yale Free Press, a conservative publication, was stolen by people who did not want Yale students to be able to read the opinions contained therein.

    In Florida in 2004, a social sciences instructor at a community college walked into local Republican headquarters and punched a cardboard cutout of George W Bush…and then, according to this report, also punched a Republican official in the face.  The punchee reports that the assailant “proceeded to say how he had a Ph.D., and he was smarter than me. I’m a stupid Republican,” and other comments laced with obscenities.

    In 2006, “Protestors” of the Brownshirt variety attempted to disrupt a scheduled speech by Congressman Tom Tancredo. The chairman of the campus organization that had sponsored the event was kicked and spat upon by some of the thugs, and the building fire alarms were pulled twice.

    Also in 2006, at Columbia University, left-wing students distrupted a speech hosted by the College Republicans. Angry students stormed the stage, shouting and knocking over chairs and tables and succeeding in their intent to prevent Jim Gilchrist (founder of the anti-illegal-immigration group known as the Minuteman) from delivering his talk. Columbia Public Safety did nothing to prevent the disruption. Christopher Kulawik, the College Republican president, told The New York Sun he was berated afterward by Columbia University administrators for allowing the speakers to say anything that would infuriate the crowd.

    A week later, Columbia administrators interfered with another event planned by the College Republicans. The scheduled speaker was Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist who saw the error of his ways and is now a supporter of Israel and the U.S. Just 3 hours before the event was to take place, a Columbia administrator sent an e-mail uninviting many of those who had already RSVP’d for the event–some of whom were already in transit. Apparently, Columbia was afraid of a repetition of the earlier disruption, and preferred to deny legitimate attendees their right to hear Mr Shoebat speak, rather than to take effective action against thuggishness by beefing up security and expelling disrupters.

    In 2008, Robert Spencer spoke at U Wisconsin-Madison, on the subject of the thread from jihad.  He says:

    I got off the phone a little while ago with one of the student organizers of my address tonight at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He told me that I would be led to and from the stage via secret passageway; that thirty security personnel would be on hand (in addition to my own); that attendees would have to pass through metal detectors; and that a bomb-sniffing dog would also be on hand…and also: The Rushdiean security precautions and these warnings were all necessary because of the fascist tactics of trying to intimidate and shout down opponents that students and others at UWM have employed in the past against speakers such as David Horowitz. 

    In 2003, former Israeli cabinet minister Natan Sharansky visited several US campuses:

    When I got to Rutgers University in New Jersey last month, I almost forgot I was on a college campus. The atmosphere was far from the cool, button-down academic reserve typical of such institutions. It was more reminiscent of a battlefield…Things were not much calmer at Boston University: An anonymous bomb threat brought swarms of police to the lecture hall and almost forced a cancellation of my appearance. But here, too, some good resulted when the bomb threat caused the lecture to be moved to a larger hall, which was quickly filled with some 600 listeners who were unwilling to accept the violent silencing of pro-Israel views.

    and

    During a frank and friendly conversation with a group of Jewish students at Harvard University, one student admitted to me that she was afraid — afraid to express support for Israel, afraid to take part in pro-Israel organizations, afraid to be identified. The mood on campus had turned so anti-Israel that she was afraid that her open identification could cost her, damaging her grades and her academic future. That her professors, who control her final grades, were likely to view such activism unkindly, and that the risk was too great.

    Having grown up in the communist Soviet Union, I am very familiar with this fear to express one’s opinions, with the need to hold the “correct opinions” in order to get ahead, with the reality that expressing support for Israel is a blot on one’s resume. But to find all these things at Harvard Business School? In a place that was supposed to be open, liberal, professional? At first I thought this must be an individual case, particular to this student. I thought her fears were exaggerated. But my conversations with other students at various universities made it clear that her feelings are widespread, that the situation on campuses in the United States and Canada is more serious than we think. And this is truly frightening.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Germany, History, Society, USA | 49 Comments »

    Shall It Be Sustained?

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

    For the 4th of July of 2014,  Cassandra had an excellent post:  Independence in an Age of Cynicism.  I recommend the entire post and all the links; read especially the third linked essay, which Cass wrote in 2008:  Why I Am Patriotic: a Love Letter to America.

    For the last several years, on July 4th I’ve posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem Listen to the People.  The title I’ve used for these posts prior to 2013 was It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet’s poem.

    Narrator:

    This is Independence Day,
    Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
    Whatever happens and whatever falls
    Out of a sky grown strange;
    This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
    The day of the parade,
    Slambanging down the street.
    Listen to the parade!
    There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
    Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
    The Fire Department and the local Grange,
    There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
    Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
    The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
    Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
    There are the veterans and the Legion Post
    (Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
    The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
    Good-humored, watching, hot,
    Silent a second as the flag goes by,
    Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
    Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
    Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
    The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
    The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
    All of them there and all of them a nation.
    And, afterwards,
    There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
    By somebody the Honorable Who,
    The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
    And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
    Will read the declaration.
    That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
    That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
    That’s our fourth of July.

    And a lean farmer on a stony farm
    Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
    And walked ten miles to town.
    Musket in hand.
    He didn’t know the sky was falling down
    And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
    But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
    By kings or any such.
    A workman in the city dropped his tools.
    An ordinary, small-town kind of man
    Found himself standing in the April sun,
    One of a ragged line
    Against the skilled professionals of war,
    The matchless infantry who could not fail,
    Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
    Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
    But first, and principally, since he was sore.
    They could do things in quite a lot of places.
    They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.

    He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces

    The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here.

    Benet’s poem ends with these words:

    We made it and we make it and it’s ours
    We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained

    But shall it?

    Posted in History, Holidays, USA | 11 Comments »

    Mers-el-Kebir (rerun)

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

    One of the many tragedies of the World War II era was a heartbreakingly fratricidal affair known as the Battle of Mers-el-Kebir.

    I’ve written before about the defeat of France in 1940 and the political, social, and military factors behind this disaster. Following the resignation of Paul Reynaud on June 16, the premiership was assumed by the First World War hero Philippe Petain, who immediately asked the Germans for an armistice.  With an eye toward revenge, Hitler chose the Forest of Compiegne…the same place where the armistice ending the earlier war had been executed…as the venue for the signing of the documents. Indeed, he insisted that the ceremonies take place in the very same railroad car that had been employed 22 years earlier.

    The armistice provided that Germany would occupy and directly control about 3/5 of France, while the remainder of the country, together with its colonies, would remain nominally “free” under the Petain government. (One particularly noxious provision of the agreement required that France hand over all individuals who had been granted political asylum–especially German nationals.)

    Winston Churchill and other British leaders were quite concerned about the future role of the powerful French fleet…although French admiral Darlan had assured Churchill that the fleet would not be allowed to fall into German hands, it was far from clear that it was safe to base the future of Britain–and of the world–on this assurance. Churchill resolved that the risks of  leaving the French fleet in Vichy hands were too high, and that it was necessary that this fleet join the British cause, be neutralized, be scuttled, or be destroyed.

    The strongest concentration of French warships, encompassing four battleships and six destroyers, was the squadron at Mers-el-Kebir in French Algeria. On July 3, a powerful British force under the command of Admiral James Somerville confronted the French fleet with an ultimatum. The French commander, Admiral Jean-Bruno Gensoul, was given the following alternatives:

    (a) Sail with us and continue the fight until victory against the Germans.

    (b) Sail with reduced crews under our control to a British port. The reduced crews would be repatriated at the earliest moment.

    If either of these courses is adopted by you we will restore your ships to France at the conclusion of the war or pay full compensation if they are damaged meanwhile.

    (c) Alternatively if you feel bound to stipulate that your ships should not be used against the Germans unless they break the Armistice, then sail them with us with reduced crews to some French port in the West Indies — Martinique for instance — where they can be demilitarised to our satisfaction, or perhaps be entrusted to the United States and remain safe until the end of the war, the crews being repatriated.

    If you refuse these fair offers, I must with profound regret, require you to sink your ships within 6 hours.

    Finally, failing the above, I have the orders from His Majesty’s Government to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German hands.

    The duty of delivering this ultimatum was assigned to the French-speaking Captain Cedric Holland, commander of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal.

    Among the ordinary sailors of both fleets, few expected a battle. After all, they had been allies until a few days earlier.

    Robert Philpott, a trainee gunnery officer on the battleship Hood:  ”Really it was all very peaceful. Nobody was doing any firing; there was a fairly happy mood on board. We all firmly believed that the ships would come out and join us. We know the French sailors were just anxious to get on with the war. So we didn’t think there would be a great problem.”

    André Jaffre, an 18-year-old gunner on the battleship Bregagne:  ”Our officer scrutinizes the horizon, then looks for his binoculars and smiles.  What is it, captain?  The British have arrived!  Really?  Yes. We were happy!  We thought they’d come to get us to continue fighting against the Nazis.”

    Gensoul contacted his superior, Admiral Darlan. Both men were incensed by the British ultimatum: Gensoul was also personally offended that the British had sent a mere captain to negotiate with him, and Darlan was offended that Churchill did not trust his promise about keeping the French fleet out of German hands. Darlan sent a message–intercepted by the British–directing French reinforcements to Mers-al-Kebir, and the British could observe the French ships preparing for action.  All this was reported to Churchill, who sent a brief message: Settle matters quickly. Somerville signaled the French flagship that if agreement were not reached within 30 minutes, he would open fire.

    It appears that one of the the options in the British ultimatum–the option of removing the fleet to American waters–was not transmitted by Gensoul to Admiral Darlan. Whether or not this would have made a difference, we cannot know.

    As Captain Holland saluted the Tricolor preparatory to stepping back into his motor launch, there were tears in his eyes. Almost immediately, Admiral Somerville gave the order to fire to open fire.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    Somme + 100

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

    Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.  The Telegraph is covering the events as if in real time, in a blog-like format, most recent posts at the top.

    Posted in Britain, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    Worthwhile Reading

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

    No aesthetically-appealing photos or amusing stories today, I’m afraid, just some very serious links and excerpts.

    The rockets of Hezbollah.  I knew they had accumulated considerable weaponry, but didn’t know it was this bad.

    Men, women, Christianity, and Islam

    Kevin Williamson on  preventing jihadist violence

    The impact of Islamic fundamentalism on free speech

    James Schall of Georgetown University on Orlando in hindsight:

    The Orlando killer was not alone. He was a true believer and other believers in the mission of Islam inspire him. Neither he nor any of his predecessors or future companions are to be explained by psychology, economics, or sociology. They are to be explained by taking their word for what they are doing. If the President of the United States or the British Prime Minister, the media, the professors, the clerics, cannot or will not understand this reality, we cannot blame ISIS and its friends. They are also realists who understand where ideas and reality meet, sometimes on a battlefield in Iraq, sometimes in a night club in Orlando.

    The Democrats as the American Totalist Party

    Football player Herschel Walker reports that he has had speaking engagements canceled because of his support for Donald Trump.   Which is exactly the kind of action one would expect from members of a Totalist party.

    Shortly before the Brexit vote, writer Frederick Forsyth wrote about the basic character of the EU:  Government by deception:

    You have repeatedly been told this issue is all about economics. That is the conman’s traditional distraction. This issue is about our governmental system, parliamentary. Democracy versus non-elective bureaucracy utterly dedicated to the eventual Superstate.

    Our democracy was not presented last week on a plate. It took centuries of struggle to create and from 1940 to 1945 terrible sacrifices to defend and preserve. 

    It was bequeathed to us by giants, it has been signed away by midgets.

    Now we have a chance, one last, foolishly offered chance to tell those fat cats who so look down upon the rest of us: yes, there will be some costs – but we want it back.

    A former ‘big proponent’ of the EU has this to say:

    To be fair, the EU’s main problem has always been its troubled relationship with democracy…This contempt for the will of the people might still be perceived as tolerable if the leaders otherwise seemed sensible – but now that someone as bad as Merkel calls the shots in EU, we’re reminded of just why having perpetual democratic safeguards is so important…the EU’s contempt for European voters and its current attempts to shut down dissenting voices bodes ill for its ability to course-correct on its own. If the EU is to be saved, it first needs to be humbled, nay, outright humiliated in such a manner that no-one can doubt that recent developments can’t be allowed to continue.

    John Hussman  of Hussman Funds looks at Brexit from an economic and investing perspective:  Brexit and the bubble in search of a pin.  He quotes his own post from last month:

    My impression is that the best way to understand the next stage of the current market cycle is to recognize the difference between observed conditions and latent risks. This distinction will be most helpful before, not after, the S&P 500 drops hundreds of points in a handful of sessions. That essentially describes how a coordinated attempt by trend-followers to exit this steeply overvalued market could unfold, since value-conscious investors may have little interest in absorbing those shares at nearby prices, and in equilibrium, every seller requires a buyer.

    Imagine the error of skating on thin ice and plunging through. While we might examine the hole in the ice in hindsight, and find some particular fracture that contributed to the collapse, this is much like looking for the particular pebble of sand that triggers an avalanche, or the specific vibration that triggers an earthquake. In each case, the collapse actually reflects the expression of sub-surface conditions that were already in place long before the collapse – the realization of previously latent risks.

    Posted in Big Government, Britain, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Economics & Finance, Elections, Europe, Islam, Leftism, Terrorism, USA | 15 Comments »

    When Sleep the Sentinels

    Posted by David Foster on 13th June 2016 (All posts by )

    When sleep the sentinels, ’tis the barbarian at the gate who strews their eyes with dreams.  Then are they vanquished by the desert, leaving the gates free to turn noiselessly on their well-oiled hinges so that the city may be fecundated when she has become exhausted and needs the barbarian.

    Sleeping sentry, you are the enemy’s advance guard.  Already you are conquered, for your sleep comes of your belonging to the city no more, and being no longer firmly knotted to the city…And when I see you thus I tremble;  for in you the empire, too, is sleeping, dying.  You are but a symptom of its mortal sickness, for ill betides when it gives me sentries who fall asleep…

    For if you no longer know that here a tree stands, then the roots, trunk, branches, leafage have no common measure.  And you can you be faithful when an object for your fidelity is lacking?  Well I know you would not sleep were you watching at the bedside of her you love.  But that which should have been the object of your love is dispersed into fragments strewn at random, and you know it no more.  Unloosed for you is the God-made knot that binds all things together.

    –Antoine de St-Exupery,  Citadelle

    Posted in Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Society, Terrorism, USA | 12 Comments »

    No, They Don’t Really Believe in ‘Equality’

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

    There was a bit of media coverage of Hillary Clinton choosing to wear a $12K Armani jacket while delivering a speech lamenting Inequality.  The price of this jacket, of course, represents an utterly trivial proportion of the wealth the Clintons have amassed from their lifetimes of Public Service.

    This little incident serves to emphasize a point I made several years ago in my post Jousting With a Phantom:  leading ‘progressives’ for the most part don’t really believe in anything resembling equality–indeed, quite the contrary.

    Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.

    Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?

    The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?

    There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is such an asset.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Leftism, Political Philosophy, USA | 11 Comments »

    June 6, 1944

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

    Today, June 6, is the  72nd anniversary of the Normandy landings. See the Wikipedia article for an overview. Arthur Seltzer, who was there, describes his experiences.

    Don Sensing points out that success was by no means assured: the pivot day of history.

    Two earlier Photon Courier posts: before D-day, there was Dieppe and transmission ends.

    See Bookworm’s post from 2012, and Michael Kennedy’s photos from 2007

    A collection of D-day color photos from Life Magazine

    Neptunus Lex:  The liberation of France started when each, individual man on those landing craft as the ramp came down – each paratroop in his transport when the light turned green – made the individual decision to step off with the only life he had and face the fire.

    The Battle of Midway took place from June 4 through June 7, 1942. Bookworm attended a Battle of Midway commemoration event in 2010 and also in 2011: Our Navy–a sentimental service in a cynical society.

    See also  Sgt Mom’s History Friday post from 2014.

    General Electric remembers the factory workers at home who made victory possible.  Also, women building airplanes during WWII, in color and the story of the Willow Run bomber plant.

    Also, a very interesting piece on  the radio news coverage of the invasion

    Posted in Europe, History, USA, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Powering Down

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

    Everyone is aware of Obama’s suppression of the Keystone XL pipeline project.  But the legal, regulatory, and PR assault against critical infrastructure construction goes far beyond this. WSJ reports that:

    Many major fossil-fuel projects across the U.S., from pipelines to export terminals, have been shelved or significantly delayed because of a confluence of new regulations, grass-roots opposition and a drop in energy prices.  Overall, more than a dozen projects, worth about $33 billion, have been either rejected by regulators or withdrawn by developers since 2012, with billions more tied up in projects still in regulatory limbo.

    Among the projects that the WSJ article identified as ‘cancelled’ were the $875MM ‘Constitution’ gas pipelines for the Northeastern US and the $3 billion “Northeast Direct” for the same region.

    Natural gas is, of course, a major source for generating electricity, and the only practical way of getting the gas to the power plants is via pipeline.

    (The CEO of New England’s power grid operator), said pipeline) projects are badly needed. Residential consumers in New York and New England paid between 5% and 41% more than the national average for natural gas in March, the latest month for which data were available. They also paid more for electricity, which itself is increasingly made with natural gas. 

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Obama, Politics, USA | 9 Comments »

    Memorial Day 2016

    Posted by David Foster on 29th May 2016 (All posts by )

    A powerful and beautifully-done music video:  The war was in color

    Neptunus Lex:  We remember them

    Also from Lex:  A memorial day message from 2004

    Update: Bookworm’s Memorial Day essay for this year is up at her site

     

    Posted in History, Holidays, USA, War and Peace | 23 Comments »