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    You Can Drown in a Lake Whose Average Depth is 6 Inches

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

    Where electrical power is concerned, it seems quite difficult for many people to grasp the importance of peak versus average demand and of  peak versus average supply.

    A letter in today’s WSJ argues in favor of solar power, noting that “unlike large generation plants, enormous wind turbines and especially nuclear reactors, all of which require years of planning, personal and small industrial solar installations can be planned and installed in a month or so”  The writer says that utilities are seeing these installations diminish their income, and hence “understandably are fighting back by charging not just for electricity, but separately for connection to the grid.”  He argues that as utilities raise their connection charges to compensate for the newly disconnected, more and more people will think that utility power is a bad deal and will disconnect totally, which will “ultimately result in electric utilities holding sway only in urban or perpetually cloudy areas.”

    What happens with solar will be largely dependent on the future improvements in battery or other energy storage technologies, but I think it is most unlikely that most people will be comfortable disconnecting from the grid totally.  With any economically-reasonable level of local storage, a run of bad weather is likely to result in running out of power totally, with very uncomfortable consequences.

    What most people who invest heavily in solar are likely to do, IMO, is to maintain a backup grid connection for those exceptional cases.  The problem is that the exceptional conditions will occur for thousands of households and other sites at the same time over a broad area…requiring the utility’s generation and transmission facilities to be sized for these exceptional conditions, with capital expenditures made accordingly.

    Continuing financial viability of the utilities will require these costs to be recovered, either via a connection fee (“readiness-to-serve charge”) or a very high kwh charge for these infrequent and difficult-to-handle customers.  But the solar people will argue vehemently against these charges, asserting that they represent nothing more than corporate greed and hostility to new technology, and are likely to gain considerable political support.

    In this scenario, in those areas with substantial distributed solar power, the utilities will be driven into financial distress or will have to raise rates considerably on their non-solar customers…which in turn will encourage more people to invest in solar, but will create great economic pain from those people and businesses who cannot do this, and eventually result in the costs of the entire vast grid infrastructure and its maintenance being allocated against an ever-declining base.  This seems unlikely to end well.

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Tech | 16 Comments »

    How Systems Get Tired

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd August 2015 (All posts by )

    This great post by Richard Fernandez  reminded me of a quote from George Eliot:

    The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

    (from Silas Marner)

    Posted in Big Government, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Political Philosophy, Tech | 20 Comments »

    Markets vs Bureaucracies

    Posted by David Foster on 17th August 2015 (All posts by )

    Glenn Reynolds has an article in USA Today:  free markets automatically create and transmit negative information, while socialism hides it.  Excerpt:

    It is simple really: When the “Great Leader” builds a new stadium, everyone sees the construction. Nobody sees the more worthwhile projects that didn’t get done instead because the capital was diverted, through taxation, from less visible but possibly more worthwhile ventures — a thousand tailor shops, bakeries or physician offices.

     At the same time, markets deliver the bad news whether you want to hear it or not, but delivering the bad news is not a sign of failure, it is a characteristic of systems that work. When you stub your toe, the neurons in between your foot and your head don’t try to figure out ways not to send the news to your brain. If they did, you’d trip a lot more often. Likewise, in a market, bad decisions show up pretty rapidly: Build a car that nobody wants, and you’re stuck with a bunch of expensive unsold cars; invest in new technologies that don’t work, and you lose a lot of money and have nothing to show for it. These painful consequences mean that people are pretty careful in their investments, at least so long as they’re investing their own money.  Bureaucrats in government do  the opposite, trying to keep their bosses from discovering their mistakes.

    Indeed, this is an important point, and one that is too rarely understood.  Rose Wilder Lane, the author and political thinker, offered the example of British versus French and Spanish approaches to colonial management:

    The Governments gave them (in the case of the French and Spanish colonies–ed) carefully detailed instructions for clearing and fencing the land, caring for the fence and the gate, and plowing and planting, cultivating, harvesting, and dividing the crops…The English Kings were never so efficient. They gave the land to traders. A few gentlemen, who had political pull enough to get a grant, organized a trading company; their agents collected a ship-load or two of settlers and made an agreement with them which was usually broken on both sides…To the scandalized French, the people in the English colonies seemed like undisciplined children, wild, rude, wretched subjects of bad rulers.

    Yet the English colonies, economically-speaking, were generally much more successful.

    RWL also explained the way in which central planning demands the categorization of people:

    Nobody can plan the actions of even a thousand living persons, separately. Anyone attempting to control millions must divide them into classes, and make a plan applying to these classes. But these classes do not exist. No two persons are alike. No two are in the same circumstances; no two have the same abilities; beyond getting the barest necessities of life, no two have the same desires.Therefore the men who try to enforce, in real life, a planned economy that is their theory, come up against the infinite diversity of human beings. The most slavish multitude of men that was ever called “demos” or “labor” or “capital” or”agriculture” or “the masses,” actually are men; they are not sheep. Naturally, by their human nature, they escape in all directions from regulations applying to non-existent classes. It is necessary to increase the number of men who supervise their actions. Then (for officials are human, too) it is necessary that more men supervise the supervisors.

    And the planner will always demand more power:

    If he wants to do good (as he sees good) to the citizens, he needs more power. If he wants to be re-elected, he needs more power to use for his party. If he wants money, he needs more power; he can always sell it to some eager buyer. If he wants publicity, flattery, more self-importance, he needs more power, to satisfy clamoring reformers who can give him flattering publicity.

    Read  Glenn’s whole article, and  my post about Rose Wilder Lane’s ideas and writing

    Posted in Big Government, Britain, Economics & Finance, France, Leftism, Political Philosophy, USA | 4 Comments »

    Open Letter

    Posted by David Foster on 14th August 2015 (All posts by )

    Tony Parker, Treasurer–RNC

    Reince Priebus, Chairman–RNC

    Gentlemen,

    I recently received a letter from Tony Parker which is excerpted below:

    Chairman Priebus has written to you several times this year asking you to renew your Republican National Committee membership for 2012  As the Treasurer of the RNC, I’m concerned that we haven’t heard back from you…I know other things come up, and perhaps you’ve just been delayed in renewing your membership.  If that’s the case I understand….I hope you haven’t deserted our Party.

    Oh, no, Tony, I haven’t forgotten.  I’ve made substantial political contributions in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.  But at present, I believe the highest leverage can be obtained by contributing directly to campaigns I like, rather than to the RNC or the various umbrella campaign organizations.

    For one thing, I’m not very impressed with the way the Republican leadership has chosen to conduct itself, which seems more oriented toward ensuring long-term employment (followed by comfortable retirement) for members of the Republican side of the political class, than it does with pursuing the needed political change.  But in addition,  I am extremely unimpressed by your political marketing skills, particularly those having to do with the ever-more-critical Internet arena.

    Please review my post at the Chicago Boyz blog, for some thoughts on this:

    Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is…do you, Mr Priebus?

    You are failing at social media, not using it effectively either offensively or defensively.  For example, this morning the following image was being circulated on Facebook:

    11885204_907892592606031_7481520359598440573_n

    Note the assertion that the problems with medical services for veterans are to be laid at the door of the Republican Party.  A competent political marketing organization would monitor for things like this and make a hard-hitting response post available for sharing immediately.  You don’t seem to be able to do this, or even to see the need for it.

    You’re not very good at traditional direct-mail marketing, either.  Most of the very high volume of mail I get from you is so bad it’s embarrassing.  Your DM people seem to think that we are living in the ’50s….not the real ’50s, but some highly stereotypical version thereof:

    “Maw!  Maw!  We got us a letter from these political people up in Washington DC…and it must be REAL important!  It has this really long number on it, and it says we HAVE to answer it!”

    Most people who have enough money to make significant political contributions have at least some degree of astuteness, and are not likely to respond well to this sort of thing.

    The verbal communication of the senior Republican leadership is also generally pretty terrible.  There is too much talking like a Martian, as Thomas Sowell has pointed out:

    When the government was shut down during the Clinton administration, Republican leaders who went on television to tell their side of the story talked about “OMB numbers” versus “CBO numbers” — as if most people beyond the Beltway knew what these abbreviations meant or why the statistics in question were relevant to the shutdown. Why talk to them in Beltway-speak? 

    As Sowell also said:

    You might think that the stakes are high enough for Republicans to put in some serious time trying to clarify their message. As the great economist Alfred Marshall once said, facts do not speak for themselves. If we are waiting for the Republicans to do the speaking, the country is in big trouble. 

    Democrats, by contrast, are all talk. They could sell refrigerators to Eskimos before Republicans could sell them blankets.

    You…the institutional Republican party…are doing a very poor job at selling and marketing.  The consequences for this country and the world of your failure are likely to be very severe.  I hope that you will solve the problem before it is too late, but history does not lead me to be very optimistic on this front.  Unless and until I see serious evidence of change and improvement, I will be directing my political contributions to individual candidates who appear to “get it,” rather than to the RNC or to the various Republican umbrella campaign organizations.

    Regards

    David Foster

    via: paper mail and electronic mail; posted at the Chicago Boyz blog and the Ricochet blog

    Posted in Elections, Marketing, Politics, Rhetoric, Tea Party | 32 Comments »

    What Are the Fundamental Axioms of “Progressivism”?

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

    Arthur Koestler, himself a former Communist, wrote about  closed intellectual systems:

    A closed sysem has three peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of causistry, centered on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself. The orthodox Freudian school in its early stages approximated a closed system; if you argued that for such and such reasons you doubted the existence of the so-called castration complex, the Freudian’s prompt answer was that your argument betrayed an unconscious resistance indicating that you ourself have a castration complex; you were caught in a vicious circle. Similarly, if you argued with a Stalinist that to make a pact with Hitler was not a nice thing to do he would explain that your bourgeois class-consciousness made you unable to understand the dialectics of history…In short, the closed system excludes the possibility of objective argument by two related proceedings: (a) facts are deprived of their value as evidence by scholastic processing; (b) objections are invalidated by shifting the argument to the personal motive behind the objection. This procedure is legitimate according to the closed system’s rules of the game which, however absurd they seem to the outsider, have a great coherence and inner consistency.

    The atmosphere inside the closed system is highly charged; it is an emoional hothouse…The trained, “closed-minded” theologian, psychoanalyst, or Marxist can at any time make mincemeat of his “open-minded” adversary and thus prove the superiority of his system to the world and to himself.

    In debating with “progressives,” one often encounters this kind of closed-system thinking:  there is absolutely no way you are going to change their minds, whatever the evidence or logic.  (I don’t think this is true of  all  “progressives”–otherwise the situation in America today would be even more grim than it actually is–but it’s true of a lot of them.)

    But what are the “axioms of great emotive power” in which “progressives” believe?  It is pretty easy to write down on one sheet of paper the basic beliefs of Christianity, or of Marxism, or of American Democratic Republicanism.  The fundamental tenets of Naziism…Nationalism, Socialism, anti-Semitism, etc….were well summarized by Joseph Goebbels in this pamphlet.

    I find it difficult to summarize today’s “progressive” belief system.  It does not seem to be a coherent intellectual system, not even a faux-coherent intellectual system such as Marxism.  But it clearly appeals deeply to millions of people, and has largely pervaded many if not most institutions, ranging from academia to popular media, throughout America and Western Europe.

    So let’s try to identify these axioms.  What are the things in which one must believe if one is to be a good “progressive”?  Please try to be maximally objective and to maintain emotional distance, as if you were describing the religious beliefs of a lost tribe in South America or a band of Christian heretics in the Middle Ages, and try to separate the intellectual content of the belief system from the emotional drivers of those beliefs.

    Posted in Europe, History, Human Behavior, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, USA | 38 Comments »

    Some Thoughts on Anger

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

    Girlwithadragonflytattoo has a post on anger, in which she argues that expressing one’s anger is generally not a good idea, from the standpoint of one’s own mental health.

    Dragonfly Girl’s post reminded me of a recent post by Grim, in which he discusses anger in a political context, and channels Andrew Klavan to point out that anger can make you stupid.

    Grim:  We need to be cunning.  We need to think and act strategically.

    Klavan:  You want to win back your country? Here’s how. Fear nothing. Hate no one. Stick to principles. Unchecked borders are dangerous not because Mexicans are evil but because evil thrives when good men don’t stand guard. Poverty programs are misguided, not because the poor are undeserving criminals, but because dependency on government breeds dysfunction and more poverty. Guns save lives and protect liberty. Property rights guarantee liberty. Religious rights are essential to liberty. Without liberty we are equal only in misery.

    Anger of course does have a purpose.  In politics, it is anger at bad policies and their destructive impact that can motivate one to get involved and work hard for positive change.  In relationships, anger at mistreatment can motivate one to fix it or get out of it.  But anger needs to be controlled and moderated or it becomes the enemy of judicious thought and effective action.

    Speaking of effective action, the original post also reminded me (oddly enough!) of a famous event in military history, the Charge of the Light Brigade.  This  unnecessary disaster took place during the Crimean War, in 1854, and seems to have been driven in considerable part by toxic emotions on the part of British officers involved.  While the details of the Charge are still being debated by historians,  161 years later, the general outline was as follows…

    The Light Cavalry Brigade was commanded by Lord Cardigan, who in turn was subordinate to the overall Cavalry commander, Lord Lucan.  The two men were related, and they could not stand each other, to the point where they avoided communication.  Neither was popular in the army.

    On October 25, the overall British commander in the Crimea, Lord Raglan, was situated on high ground, from which he had a far better view of the field than did Cardigan and Lucan.  He and his staff observed that the Russians had captured some heavy British guns and were about to haul them away.  An order was dispatched to Lucan under the signature of Raglan’s chief of staff:

    Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front – follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. R Airey. Immediate.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, History, Human Behavior, Politics | 21 Comments »

    More on Politics and Social Media

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

    some thoughts from the UK:

    A lot of what happens on Facebook, as with Twitter, is “virtue signalling” – showing off to your friends about how right on you are.

    via the Assistant Village Idiot, who says:

    I mentioned this long ago in terms of Not In Our Name, and also suggested that Jonathan Haidt overlooks those places where liberals are just as purity vs. disgust* concerned as conservatives. (See also environmentalism, vegetarianism, NASCAR and a host of other disgust issues, including, I think wealth – though that is more ambiguous in both camps.

    *And authority driven, another trait supposedly more common among conservatives.  The imprimatur of Roberth Reich or Paul Krugman is enough in economics; climate change catastrophe is based on choice of authorities.

    See also my related post  Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is…do you, Mr Priebus?

     

    Posted in Britain, Human Behavior, Internet, Leftism, Media, Politics, Tech | 1 Comment »

    King Philip of Spain

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd July 2015 (All posts by )

    …and his Portuguese subjects.

    A political and social analogy from Sarah Hoyt:

    Yesterday I was talking to my mom and she said the news from the States and the things “your funny critters” (pretty much how mom refers to governments in general!) are doing remind her of the Spanish occupation of Portugal.

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Europe, History, Obama, USA | 6 Comments »

    Something is Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What it Is

    Posted by David Foster on 20th July 2015 (All posts by )

    …do you, Mr Priebus?

    A study by Pew Research says that Americans are increasingly getting their news from Facebook and Twitter.  The study indicates that 63% of both FB and Twitter users says that they get news from these sites, up from 47% and 52% in 2013.  (Bear in mind that 66% of US adults use Facebook, whereas only 17% use Twitter.)  In general, it seems that FB users are more likely to pro-actively share and comment on politically-related posts, whereas Twitter users are more likely to follow stories from “official” news organizations.

    Of course, the fact that someone gets news from FB or Twitter does not by itself say anything about how important that site is to them within the universe of possible news sources.  Another part of the survey attempts to answer that question.  Among people 35 and over, 34% say Facebook is “the most or an important” way they get news; the corresponding number for Twitter is 31%.  But among those 18-34, the number is 49% for both FB and Twitter.

    WSJ recently reviewed a new book,  The Selfie Vote,  by political analyst Kristen Soltis Anderson, who says:

    “I’ve spent the last six years trying to crack the code on young voters.  What I’ve found should terrify Republicans.”

    She believes the current Republican approach to political marketing does not mesh with the way Millennials (“who view their comfort with technology as what makes their generation ‘special'”) tend to get information.  Quoting the WSJ piece:

    “Take the 2012 presidential race.  Mitt Romney’s campaign stuck mostly with network TV ads during prime time, sometimes…paying nearly six times as much as Barack Obama’s campaign for an ad of the same length during the same time slot.  Team Obama made use of individually targeted ads for satellite subscribers, tailoring the campaign’s message to specific voters in swing states and spending less money on network TV.  The Obama campaign also developed cost-effective online ads that targeted Facebook and YouTube users based on personal-preference data, even running ads in online videogames…As more millennials pull the cable plug and spend their free time exclusively online, Republicans can’t expect to compete by pouring resources into 30-second spots during “Jeopardy!””

    I think Facebook is a poor source for news and a very inferior venue for political discussion.  But the Left is using it very effectively to circulate memes, usually in the form of simplistic poster-like images with a photo or graphic of some kind and a few words or dubious statistics.  There does not seem to be any coherent effort on the part of the RNC, or any other Republican campaign organization or conservative/libertarian organization, to rapidly generate refutations of these when called for, nor do I see very many counter-leftist memes that I judge to be good enough, from a marketing standpoint, to be worth circulating.  And there is very little of marketing value to be found on either the FB page of the RNC or the FB page of RNC chairman Reince Priebus.

    My sense is that while the RNC leadership may understand old-style get-out-the-vote campaigns and precinct organization, they have little concept of social media marketing, and have also been outdone in the use of “big data” for campaign management.  (See my post Catalist, “The 480,” and The Real 480.)  I don’t think they’re really all that good at old-fashioned direct-mail marketing, either, based on what shows up in my mailbox.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Blogging, Book Notes, Elections, Human Behavior, Media, Politics, Rhetoric, Tech | 31 Comments »

    Something Positive and Inspirational, For a Change

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

    If you’re flying an airplane at 30,000 feet, in the clouds, communicating with Chicago Air Traffic Control Center, here’s something you really don’t want to hear over your headset:

    Chicago Center is evacuating.  Radar service is terminated….Good luck.

    But that’s what numerous pilots heard on the early morning of September 26, 2014, after a fire was set by a saboteur in the equipment racks at Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center.

    Flying Magazine has a story about how controllers and tech staff faced with this situation worked rapidly, flexibly, and creatively to avoid accidents and minimize the disruption to traffic.  Other organizations should take note.

    Posted in Aviation, Management, Transportation | 4 Comments »

    Goethe, the Original Gretchen, and the Hackers of 1764

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

    When Goethe was 15, he was already recognized by friends as an exceptional writer.  One of these friends, “Pylades,” told Goethe that he had recently read some of his verses aloud to “some pleasant companions…and not one of them will believe that you have made them.”  Goethe said he didn’t much care whether they believed it or not, but just then one of the “pleasant companions” showed up, and Pylades proposed a way of convincing the fellow of Goethe’s abilities:  “Give him any theme, and he will make you a poem on the spot.”

    The disbeliever asked Goethe if he “would venture to compose a pretty love-letter in rhyme, which a modest young woman might be supposed to write to a young man, to declare her inclination.”

    “Nothing easier,” said Goethe, and after thinking for a few minutes commenced to write. The now-former disbeliever was very impressed, said he hoped to see more of Goethe soon, and proposed an expedition into the country.  For this expedition, they were joined by several more young men “of the same rank”…intelligent and knowledgeable, but from the lower and middle classes, earning their livings by copying for lawyers, tutoring children, etc.

    These guys told Goethe that they had copied his letter in a mock-feminine hand and had sent it to “a conceited young man, who was now firmly persuaded that a lady to whom he had paid distant court was excessively enamored of him, and sought an opportunity for closer acquaintance.”  The young man had completely fallen for it, and desired to respond to the woman also in verse…but did not believe he had the talent to write such verse.

    Believing it was all in good fun, Goethe agreed to also write the reply.  Soon, he met the would-be lover, who was “certainly not very bright” and who was thrilled with “his” response to his inamorata.

    While Goethe was with this group, “a girl of uncommon…of incredible beauty” came into the room.  Her name was Gretchen, and she was a relative of one of the tricksters present.  Goethe was quite smitten:

    “The form of that girl followed me from that moment on every path;  it was the first durable impression which a female being had made upon me: and  as I could find no pretext to see her at home, and would not seek one, I  went to church for love of her, and had soon traced out where she sat. Thus, during the long Protestant service, I gazed my fill at her.”

    The tricksters soon prevailed upon Goethe to write another letter, this one from the lady to the sucker  “I immediately set to work, and thought of every thing that would be in the highest degree pleasing if Gretchen were writing it to me.”  When finished, he read it to one of the tricksters, with Gretchen sitting by the window and spinning.   After the trickster left, Gretchen told Goethe that he should not be participating in this affair:  “The thing seems an innocent jest: it is a jest, but it is not innocent”…and asked why  “you, a young man man of good family, rich, independent” would allow himself to be used as a tool in this deception, when she herself, although a dependent relative, had refused to become involved by copying the letters.

    Gretchen then read the epistle, commenting that “That is very pretty, but it is a pity that it is not destined for a real purpose.”  Goethe said how exciting it would be for a young man to really receive such a letter from a girl he cared about, and…greatly daring…asked:  “if any one who knew, prized, honored, and adored you, laid such a paper before you, what would you do”…and pushed the paper, which she had previously pushed back toward him, nearer to Gretchen.

    “She smiled, reflected for a moment, took the pen, and subscribed her name.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Germany, History, Human Behavior | 8 Comments »

    Shall It Be Sustained?

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

    Last Fourth of July,  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 | 7 Comments »

    Mers-el-Kebir (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd July 2015 (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 | 15 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 1st July 2015 (All posts by )

    Propaganda:  turning human beings into automatically responding machines

    Victor Davis Hanson:  Progressive mass hysteria, enabled by the Internet

    Sarah Hoyt thinks we are suffering from  the political equivalent of an autoimmune disease

    Tolerance for ambiguity can be an important career asset

    It seems that color movie film was often used in early cinema, going back to the 1890s

    If  railroads are a gauge of a society’s health, then it sounds like Sweden is in serious trouble.  See also  railway socialism and safety

    The story of  Pyrex

    A visit to the Le Creuset factory

    Virtual reality for football training

    Once there was a “know-nothing” movement in America;   today, we have the “know-betters”

    Why we should study the ancient Greeks

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Business, Civil Society, Film, History, Human Behavior, Internet, Leftism, Management, Society, Tech, Transportation | 15 Comments »

    Reset

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

    RESET

    That’s what Hillary Clinton thought was inscribed, in English and in Russian, on the button that she gave to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in early 2009…actually she got the translation wrong…(why on earth, with all the linguistic resources that were available to her?…but that’s a subject for another day.)

    I don’t think I need to provide a slew of links to prove that the reset didn’t work very well.  Russia-US national relations are currently pretty bad, and Russia is now perceived as a threat to many other countries in a way that would have seemed unbelievable back in 2008.  Resetting institutional and societal things…complicated, intertwined, human things…is generally much harder than rebooting a computer or flipping a circuit breaker back to ON.

    Yet the RESET button is a good metaphor for the entire worldview of the Obama administration, and of the “progressive” movement generally.  Remember that line about “fundamentally transforming” the United States?

    One tactic employed by modern-era leaders who wish to “fundamentally transform” their societies is to transform the use of language and other symbols.  The French revolutionaries pioneered in this:  even the names of the months of the year were changed.  The Nazis required that the traditional greeting “gruess gott” (roughly, “God bless you”) be replaced with “Heil Hitler.”  It was part of their version of what I have called the politicization of absolutely everything.

    In the US today, the politicized transformation of language has largely originated in universities, especially in their various “studies” departments, and is now being transmitted and amplified by certain corporations.

    For example, it is credibly reported that JP Morgan  now discourages its employees from using terms such as “wife” and “boyfriend.”  According to the internal memo, not referring to your wife as your wife “offers up the opportunity for more inclusive conversations.”

    Presumably, the idea is that those who lack wives or boyfriends…on account of being gay or transgender…will be hurt and offended by the use of the terms.  Which makes about as much sense as the idea that religious people shouldn’t refer to their “minister” or their “rabbi” because to do so might be painful to the non-religious.  Or that people with children shouldn’t refer to their “child” or their “kid” because it might be painful to those who only have cats…maybe a more neutral term like “dependent companion creature” might be used.

    What this is really all about, of course, is sucking up to what somebody at JPM thinks the zeitgeist is among those who may have power over its future.

    Apple Computer, also, is following a similar course.  They have banned the use of the Confederate flag even  as a marker for units in Civil War simulation games sold on the App Store.  (Specifically, they have banned any such marker appearing on a screenshot of the game which will appear in the store.)

    Several days ago, I linked an article arguing that modern “liberalism,” or “progressivism,” or whatever they call themselves, is now almost purely a symbolic project.  The Apple policy that I described about represents symbol-obsession taken to a level that is truly insane.

    While banning the use of the Confederate flag even for purposes of unit-identification icons, Apple has apparently not restricted the use of the Nazi swastika for similar purposes in WWII simulation games. I don’t conclude from this that Apple is a group of Nazi sympathizers, rather, that they are a group of herd-followers and enforcers of the “progressive” herd’s current direction, whatever that direction may be.  (Apple once used the slogan “Think Different”…now, it seems, their slogan should be “think like you are supposed to!)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 10 Comments »

    “Seven Liberal Pieties Only the Right Still Believes”

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd June 2015 (All posts by )

    …an interesting piece by Robert Tracinski

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Civil Liberties, Education, History, Human Behavior, Israel, Leftism, Society, USA | 7 Comments »

    Last Stand on the Loire (rerun)

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

    By this date in 1940, the Battle of France was clearly lost. British troops had been evacuated at Dunkirk by June 4. Large numbers of French soldiers had been killed or captured, the French Air Force had been largely crippled, German armored units were marauding across wide areas of France. Columns of refugees were blocking the roads,  seriously interfering with military operations. The French government had evacuated Paris for Bordeaux, and on June 16 the combative Paul Reynaud resigned as premier, to be replaced by the aged Philippe Petain.

    And by June 18, the cadets of the French Cavalry School at Saumur, in obedience to the orders of their Commandant, had taken position to defend the bridgeheads across the Loire. It was a military operation that had been the subject of war-game exercises at the school for years, but few had imagined it would ever be carried out in earnest. The 800 cadets and instructors were joined by 200 Algerian riflemen, by various units in the vicinity, and by volunteers whose units had disintegrated but who wished to continue fighting. Arrayed against this small and ill-equipped force would be the German First Cavalry Division—more than 10,000 men, well-equipped with tanks and artillery.

    The Battle of Samaur is the subject of an excellent photo essay….there is also a Wikipedia page.

    The German attack started just before midnight on June 18. The cadets and their associated units held out until late on June 20. French casualties were 79 killed and 47 wounded–one of those killed was the composer Jehan Alain.  German casualties are estimated at 200-300.

    The German commander, General Kurt Feldt, was very impressed by the tenacity of the French defense, and so indicated in his report. On July 2, someone in the German command structure–probably Feldt–decided that out of respect for their courage and sacrifice in the battle, the cadets would be allowed to leave the school and transit into the Unoccupied Zone, rather than being interned as prisoners of war. He advised them to get going quickly, before someone in higher authority could countermand his order.

    The most comprehensive English-language source on the Battle of Saumur is the book For Honour Alone, by Roy Macnab.

    Posted in Britain, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    Cool Retrotech

    Posted by David Foster on 16th June 2015 (All posts by )

    Flight simulation technology, 1958-style

    Posted in Aviation, History, Tech, Transportation | 2 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 14th June 2015 (All posts by )

    Jerry Seinfeld and the Progressive Comedy Pause

    Do political beliefs drive partisanship, or does partisanship drive political beliefs?

    Blackboards, report cards, and newspaper clippings from 1917 discovered behind walls of an Oklahoma City school

    What overparenting looks like from a Stanford dean’s perspective

    The conservatory under a lake

    Some pictures of Japan

    The rise of the new Groupthink, and the power of working alone

    The coming of the Cry-bullies

    Girlwithadragonflytattoo visits an art museum

    Marco Rubio’s boat versus John Kerry’s boat. The NYT is making much of Rubio having spent $80K on a boat.

    There has been much talk of late about the influence of money in politics.  Rarely mentioned is the power of in-kind contributions, such as that represented by the NYT’s predictable favorable coverage of Democratic versus Republican candidates.

    How much would it cost to buy the advertising equivalent of NYT’s support for, say, Hillary Clinton?  The answer has to be at least in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Education, Human Behavior, Humor, Japan, Photos, That's NOT Funny | 12 Comments »

    Virtual Movie Review: Runaway Train

    Posted by David Foster on 14th June 2015 (All posts by )

    Runaway Train

    The recent prison break in New York reminded me of this 1985 movie, starring Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, and Rebecca De Mornay, with the screenplay reworked from an earlier version by Akira Kurosawa.

    Here’s a review by Roger Ebert, who liked it a lot, as did I.

    WWW hyperlinks:  enabling laziness since 1994

     

    Posted in Crime and Punishment, Film, Transportation | 12 Comments »

    Theme: The Fully Politicized Society

    Posted by David Foster on 10th June 2015 (All posts by )

    Sgt Mom recently posted about the “Sad Puppies” affair:  basically, it seems that the science-fiction publishing industry and its leading association and award structure have become highly politicized in the name of “progressivism”…in reaction, a contrarian movement arose called the “Sad Puppies”  (there are also “Rabid Puppies”)…and these groups have been vitriolically attacked by some prominent members of the SF publishing establishment.

    It strikes me that this would be a good time to update and repost my earlier Theme roundup of posts on the general topic of politicization.

    A very funny post about a very serious topic.  Sarah Hoyt, herself a science fiction writers, tells of (and illustrates) some of her own experiences with the Science Fiction Writers Association.

    What kind of things do you think they talk about at a convention of the National Art Education Association?  Best ways to teach perspective and watercoloring techniques?  How to explain Expressionism and Impressionism? Not these days.

    “Political correctness” has become a serious threat to American society

    What makes people want to live in a politicized society, and what is day-t0-day life like once the complete politicization has been accomplished?  In this post, I cite some thoughts from Sebastian Haffner, who came of age in Germany when the Nazi movement was casting its spell, and a vivid fictional passage from Ayn Rand, who grew up in the early Soviet Union.

    Gleichschaltung.  A word much favored by the Nazis, it means “coordination,” “making the same,” “bringing into line”…especially, in Nazi usage, “forcible coordination.”  The orientation toward Gleichschaltung is very apparent in today’s “progressive” movement and today’s Democratic Party.

    Prestigious Physics Professor Protests Politicization. Harold Brown, professor emeritus at the University of California Santa Barbara, explains the reasons for his resignation from the American Physical Society.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Germany, History, Political Philosophy, Russia, USA | 19 Comments »

    Remembering

    Posted by David Foster on 6th June 2015 (All posts by )

    Today, June 6, is the  71st 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 last year.

    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.

    Update: a very interesting piece on  the radio news coverage of the invasion

    Posted in Britain, Business, France, Germany, History, Photos, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    Political Beliefs vs Occupation

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

    I’ve previously linked an analysis of political beliefs as a function of the industry in which an individual works.  Comes now a much more fine-grained analysis of political affiliation versus occupation/profession.  Below the summary chart–pairs of somewhat-related occupations that have very different political profiles–is a much more detailed chart that allows expansion of an occupational category into multiple subcategories:  for example, “engineering” further subdivides into civil, chemical , mechanical, electrical, etc.  (That detailed chart doesn’t work on my Mac for some reason, although it works fine on iPhone and Android:  not sure whether or not this is a general problem)

    Please read & discuss.

    Posted in Business, Human Behavior, Politics, USA | 11 Comments »

    When They Came for Those Other People

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

    Into our town the hangman came,
    smelling of gold and blood and flame.
    He paced our bricks with a diffident air,
    and built his frame on the courthouse square.

    The scaffold stood by the courthouse side,
    only as wide as the door was wide
    with a frame as tall, or a little more,
    than the capping sill of the courthouse door.

    And we wondered whenever we had the time,
    Who the criminal? What the crime?
    The hangman judged with the yellow twist
    of knotted hemp in his busy fist.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior | 7 Comments »

    Fear of Heresy Accusations, Then and Now

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd June 2015 (All posts by )

    I’m currently reading The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe.  There’s an interesting section on the 7th-century monk Bede, a thoughtful scholar who wrote the first history of England.  A couple of centuries later, he would be known as the Venerable Bede, a Doctor of the Church…but back when he was just another monk:

    He once heard that he had been accused of heresy by someone who was having dinner with a bishop.  He was aghast, he told his friend Plegwin, he went white.

    Sure glad people don’t have to worry about things like that these days…but actually, this passage reminded me of something I read in the WSJ a few days ago.  It’s an excerpt from an article by Laura Kipnis, a feminist professor who–because of something she wrote in February–has been attacked by feminist students who tried to use Federal Title IX mechanisms to shut her down.  She was cleared of the charges against her, but says:

    After the essay appeared, I was deluged with emails from professors applauding what I’d written because they were too frightened to say such things publicly themselves. My inbox became a clearinghouse for reports about student accusations and sensitivities, and the collective terror of sparking them, especially when it comes to the dreaded subject of trigger warnings, since pretty much anything might be a “trigger” to someone, given the new climate of emotional peril on campuses. . . .

    A tenured professor on my campus wrote about lying awake at night worrying that some stray remark of hers might lead to student complaints, social-media campaigns, eventual job loss, and her being unable to support her child. I’d thought she was exaggerating, but that was before I learned about the Title IX complaints against me.

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Liberties, USA | 13 Comments »