Posted by David Foster on 22nd May 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Former FDCI head Sheila Bair says that low interest rates are hurting, not helping, the economy
Boring, narrow, think-alike apparatchiks.
Educational credentialism and the landed aristocracy.
The irreversible decline of Sears
Rita King is not impressed with Marissa Mayer’s ban on remote work at Yahoo
How volatility boosts career resilience
Seven characteristics of creative people
Stephen Hawking’s warped moral calculus
19 emotions for which English has no words
AT&T predicted the future in these 1993 ads…but how many of these possibilities-turned-actualities was it really able to convert into sources of revenue and profit?
The CEO of Siemens USA thinks young people should seriously consider careers in manufacturing. (When he talks about high-level executives at Siemens who started as apprentices on the shop floor, I have to wonder how many of these success stories are in Siemens USA versus Siemens in Germany)
Some vintage air travel photos
The 22 most beautifully secluded places in the world
Posted in Aviation, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Human Behavior, Management | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 20th May 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Catherine Engelbrecht and her husband own a small manufacturing business.
Catherine dared to express political opinions and organize political activities which were not to the liking of the Obama administration and its left-wing allies. Very quickly, Engelbrecht Manufacturing found itself facing inquiries from the IRS and the FBI and OSHA and the ATF.
Read Catherine Engelbrecht’s story here.
Of course, we can’t be sure–and Catherine can’t be sure–that these investigations were politically-motivated. Maybe the aggregate of separate actions by separate agencies was merely a matter of chance. It seems about as likely as being hit on the head by a meteor, but it’s possible.
And it is specifically this impossibility of knowing what is really behind discretionary activities on the part of large and powerful government bureaucracies (absent legal action forcing the agencies to reveal their internal documents and discussions, which most people will not be able to afford) that makes this sort of thing so frightening.
I don’t think any seriously-informed person can doubt that a climate of intimidation is being driven by the Obama administration. Obama has clearly brought some of the toxic aspects of Chicago political culture to Washington with him, and these are added to the end-justifies-the-means philosophy which is a staple of leftism in general.
As long as Barack Obama is in office, I don’t see how anyone can feel reasonably assured of fair and nonpolitical treatment by any federal agency.
Catherine Engelbrecht says the harassment has forced her to seriously reconsider whether her political activity is worth the government harassment she’s faced.
“I left a thriving family business with my husband that I loved, to do something I didn’t necessarily love, but [which] I thought had to be done,” she says. “But I really think if we don’t do this, if we don’t stand up and speak now, there might not [always] be that chance.”
Posted in Business, Civil Liberties, Obama, Politics, USA | 22 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 19th May 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Lord, Thou hast made this world below the shadow of a dream,
An’, taught by time, I tak’ it so – exceptin’ always Steam.
From coupler-flange to spindle-guide I see Thy Hand, O God -
Predestination in the stride o’ yon connectin’-rod.
John Calvin might ha’ forged the same – enorrmous, certain, slow -
Ay, wrought it in the furnace-flame – my “Institutio.”
I cannot get my sleep to-night; old bones are hard to please;
I’ll stand the middle watch up here – alone wi’ God an’ these
My engines, after ninety days o’ race an’ rack an’ strain
Through all the seas of all Thy world, slam-bangin’ home again.
Slam-bang too much – they knock a wee – the crosshead-gibs are loose;
But thirty thousand mile o’ sea has gied them fair excuse….
Fine, clear an’ dark – a full-draught breeze, wi’ Ushant out o’ sight,
An’ Ferguson relievin’ Hay. Old girl, ye’ll walk to-night!
His wife’s at Plymouth…. Seventy-One-Two-Three since he began -
Three turns for Mistress Ferguson…. an’ who’s to blame the man?
There’s none at any port for me, by drivin’ fast or slow,
Since Elsie Campbell went to Thee, Lord, thirty years ago.
(The year the ‘Sarah Sands’ was burned. Oh roads we used to tread,
Fra’ Maryhill to Pollokshaws – fra’ Govan to Parkhead!)
Not but they’re ceevil on the Board. Ye’ll hear Sir Kenneth say:
“Good morrn, McAndrew! Back again? An’ how’s your bilge to-day?”
Miscallin’ technicalities but handin’ me my chair
To drink Madeira wi’ three Earls – the auld Fleet Engineer,
That started as a boiler-whelp – when steam and he were low.
I mind the time we used to serve a broken pipe wi’ tow.
The whole poem is here.
Posted in Poetry, Tech | 6 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 16th May 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Professor Anne Hendershot, a sociologist, was targeted for an IRS audit in 2010 after she wrote a series of articles, mostly in Catholic publications, that were critical of Obamacare. The IRS summoned Professor Hendershott to a meeting to discuss the “business expenses” associated with her writing. Hendershott reports that the IRS agent wanted to know “who was paying her” and barred her husband from attending the inquiry, even though the Hendershotts file joint returns. Hendershott says that she was so traumatized by the experience that she stopped writing about political topics, which presumably was the intended effect.
“It was clear they didn’t like me criticizing the people who helped pass Obamacare,” she said of the audit,” later adding, ”The IRS is very frightening.”
In addition to creating stress and fear, Hendershott said that the experience came at a great emotional and financial expense for the family, noting that even after the audit the government sought more information from her.
(excerpted from PowerLine and The Blaze)
Of course, she can’t prove that she was targeted politically (or couldn’t until now, when subpoenas directed against the IRS may force the revelation of such information.) And that is precisely what makes the power wielded by the IRS and other Federal agencies so frightening. An individual can be sentenced to a Kafkaeqsue subterranean passage of indefinite duration, at the discretion of low-level officials in a local office, Cabinet officials in Washington, or mid-level bureaucrats anywhere in between. Hence, the maintenance of individual freedom requires that Federal Government activities be conducted with a high degree of integrity and respect for law.
What apparently happened to Professor Hendershott should not be happening to anyone in America.
Obama says he is “angry” about the IRS political activities that have been revealed. Sure, he’s angry about the political impact of the revelations on his administration. But is he angry that the activities occurred in the first place?
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Posted in Britain, Civil Liberties, History, Politics, USA | 26 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 10th May 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’
(A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)
On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:
The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.
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Posted in France, Germany, History, Military Affairs, War and Peace | 33 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 9th May 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
(Here is something I wrote in November of last year)
At a minimum–at a bare minimum–the Benghazi affair reveals a dismal level of incompetence pervading the Obama administration. There is also reason to believe that it reveals decison-making about life-and-death matters based on this President’s desire to preserve his “narrative,” rather than facing reality and acting upon it. And, I suspect, the more we learn about what happened in Benghazi, and why it happened, the more disturbing the answers are going to be.
I’m currently re-reading the memoirs of General Edward Spears, who was Churchill’s emissary to France in 1940. There was a disturbing amount of defeatism, and in some cases actual sympathy with the Nazi enemy, among certain government officials and other French elites. Weygand’s friend Henri de Kerillis, a Deputy and newpaper editor, had been consistently pressing Prime Minister Daladier to investigate some sinister behavior by members of the extreme Right.
“Il faut de’brider l’abces,” he had said time and time again to the Premier. He had done so again lately and received this strange answer: I have done exactly what you urged, I have opened the abscess, but it was so deep the scalpal disappeared down it, and had I gone on, my arm would have followed.” This was really very frightening, and I said so. “You cannot be more frightened than I am,” said Kerillis.
I feel sure that we are going to find that the abscess revealed by the Obama administration’s behavior re Benghazi goes very deep indeed.
5/9/2013: A useful source of information about the Benghazi debacle and the related investigations is the site Special Operations Speaks.
Posted in France, History, Middle East, Politics, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 8th May 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Back in 2004, one of the Ben & Jerry’s cofounders put up an animation using stacks of cookies to demonstrate that the US spends way too little on education relative to its spending on defense. The page showed $35 billion worth of cookies for K-12 education as opposed to $400 billion for defense.
Actually, the US in that year was spending almost $500 billion in government money for K-12 education. The $35 billion looks about right –for Federal government spending only. Most educational funding in the US occurs, of course, at the county, state, and municpal levels. The phrase “Federal budget” does occur somewhere in the presentation. But the manner in which the numbers are presented–in the form of a single bar graph–implied that the $35B for education was directly comparable to the $400B for defense. The casual or not-very-knowledgeable reader would be likely to look at this page and draw very incorrect conclusions about the relative levels of defense and educational spending in the United States.
I was reminded of this misleading presentation of data by another bad infographic, this one appearing in the United Airlines in-flight magazine. The piece, titled “Geek Tragedy,” shows the U.S. having a rank of 27th among developed nations in proportion of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) bachelor’s degrees, asserted that the US economy would benefit by $75 trillion (over the next 80 years) if we could match Canada’s math proficiency level…and went on to compare “Annual US Federal Investment in STEM Education Programs” ($3 billion) with “Amount Americans Spent on Beer in 2011″ ($96 billion.)
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Posted in Education, Tech | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 5th May 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
I’ve written before about Rose Wilder Lane, the writer and political thinker. In 1926, Rose and her friend Helen Dore Boylston, both then living in Paris, decided to buy a Model T Ford and drive it to Albania. I recently picked up the book Travels With Zenobia, which is the chronicle of their adventure.
Acquisition of the car–a “glamorized” 1926 model which was maroon in color rather than the traditional Ford black–went smoothly. Acquisition of the proper government documentation allowing them to actually drive it–not so much:
Having bought this splendid Ford, my friend and I set out to get permission to drive it, and to drive it out of Paris and out of France. We worked separately, to make double use of time. For six weeks we worked, steadily, every day and every hour the Government offices were open. When they closed, we met to rest in the lovely leisure of a cafe and compared notes and considered ways of pulling wires…
One requirement was twelve passport pictures of that car…But this was a Ford, naked from the factory; not a detail nor a mark distinguished it from the millions of its kind; yet I had to engage a photographer to take a full-radiator-front picture of it, where it still stood in the salesroom, and to make twelve prints, each certified to be a portrait of that identical car. The proper official pasted these, one by one, in my presence, to twelve identical documents, each of which was filled out in ink, signed and counter-signed, stamped and tax-stamped; and, of course, I paid for them…
After six hard-working weeks, we had all the car’s papers. Nearly an inch think they were, laid flat. Each was correctly signed and stamped, each had in addition the little stamp stuck on, showing that the tax was paid that must be paid on every legal document; this is the Stamp tax that Americans refused to pay. I believe we had license plates besides; I know we had drivers’ licenses.
Gaily at last we set out in our car, and in the first block two policemen stopped us…Being stopped by the police was not unusual, of course. The car’s papers were in its pocket, and confidently I handed them over, with our personal papers, as requested.
The policemen examined each one, found it in order, and noted it in their little black books. Then courteously they arrested us.
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Posted in Biography, Book Notes, Europe, France, History, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy | 3 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 26th April 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
A couple of months ago, I posted some links about 3-D printing, aka Additive Manufacturing.
Here’s an interesting piece on 3-D printing applications in the jewelry industry.
As always, nothing in this post should be considered as investment advice.
Posted in Business, Tech | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 24th April 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Istanbul, compared the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing to the nine Turkish activists killed by the IDF as they tried to break Gaza’s naval blockade. Here’s what Kerry said:
I know it’s an emotional issue with some people. I particularly say to the families of people who were lost in the incident we understand these tragedies completely and we sympathize with them. And nobody – I mean, I have just been through the week of Boston and I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence and something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you. It affects a community, it affects a country. We’re very sensitive to that.
Kerry is here conflating the legitimate use of force by an allied state, against people who knowingly put themselves in harm’s way by challenging a naval blockade, with a terrorist act against the wholly innocent citizens of Boston. His statement insults the citizens of Boston, it demonstrates hostility toward Israel, and it blurs moral distinctions and projects a sense of weakness which can only encourage more terrorist attacks against the United States in the future.
As Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks said, “It’s unconscionable to compare the loss of life resulting from an act of self-defense to the results of cold-blooded, premeditated murder by terrorists.”
In related news, Richard Falk, the Princeton professor emeritus who is a high official of the UN “Human Rights Council,” blamed the Boston terror attacks on US foreign policy and “Tel Aviv.” More at Breitbart:
The Obama administration has long championed the UN Human Rights Council, which it decided to join as one of its first foreign policy moves in 2009. Thanks to the Obama administration, U.S. began a second three-year term on the Council this past January. At the opening of the Council’s most recent session in March, Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer traveled to Geneva to address what she called “this esteemed body.” As author Anne Bayefsky says:
There is nothing about a “human rights” body that countenances the likes of Richard Falk that is “esteemed,” and the United States should resign–effective immediately.
Posted in Islam, Israel, Middle East, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 18th April 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Most readers will have at least heard of the anti-Nazi resistance movement known as The White Rose, which was centered around the University of Munich.
On February 22, 1943, three leading members of the group–Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie Scholl, and their friend Christoph Probst–were tried by a “People’s Court” and sentenced to death. The sentences were carried out that same day.
The transcript of the People’s Court’s verdict provides useful insight into the totalitarian mind. It can be found here.
I have some comments on this document, but before posting them I’ll wait to see what others have to say.
What, if anything, particularly strikes you about the transcript?
Posted in Civil Liberties, Germany, History, Morality and Philosphy | 27 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 13th April 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
On April 8, 1838, the steamship Great Western..the first steamship to be purpose-built for the transatlantic passenger traffic…left Bristol for New York City. Four days earlier, though, another steamship, the Sirius, had left Cork for the same destination. Sirius had not been designed for the Atlantic run; it was a small channel steamer which had been chartered by the rivals of Great Western’s owners. This competitive enterprise had encountered delays in the construction of their own Atlantic liner, the British Queen, and had chartered Sirius to keep Great Western from scoring a win in the PR battle. Sirius did arrive at New York first, on April 23, but Great Western came in only 12 hours later…its crossing of a little more than 15 days was the fastest ever from England to America.
There were earlier crossings that had been at least partly steam-powered: the American ship Savannah in 1819 (which actually used only sails for most of the voyage), and the Dutch Curacao and the Canadian Royal William, which made their crossings in 1827 and 1833 respectively. But it was the Great Western vs Sirius race which marked the beginning of steam passenger and mail service across the Atlantic.
The paddle wheels and auxiliary sailing rigs of the early steamers gave way to screw propellers and total reliance on steam, and reciprocating steam engines were later supplanted by steam turbines…which in turn have now largely been replaced by diesels and in some cases gas turbines. Aircraft carriers and submarines still use steam turbines, though, with the steam generation done by nuclear energy rather than the burning of coal or oil.
Here’s the British actress Fanny Kemble, writing circa 1882, in annotation of her years-earlier comments about the difficulties and emotional pain caused by slow communications between the continents:
To those who know the rate of intercourse between Europe and America now, these expressions of the painful sense of distance from my country and friends, under which I suffered, must seem almost incomprehensible,—now, when to go to Europe seems to most Americans the easiest of summer trips, involving hardly more than a week’s sea voyage; when letters arrive almost every other day by some of the innumerable steamers flying incessantly to and fro, and weaving, like living shuttles, the woof and warp of human communication between the continents; and the submarine telegraph shoots daily tidings from shore to shore of that terrible Atlantic, with swift security below its storms. But when I wrote this to my friend, no words were carried with miraculous celerity under the dividing waves; letters could only be received once a month, and from thirty to thirty-seven days was the average voyage of the sailing packets which traversed the Atlantic. Men of business went to and fro upon their necessary affairs, but very few Americans went to Europe, and still fewer Europeans went to America, to spend leisure, or to seek pleasure; and American and English women made the attempt still seldomer than the men. The distance between the two worlds, which are now so near to each other, was then immense.
(The quote is one of several passages cited in my post Further Fannyisms)
Also: the ultimate development of the steam-turbine-powered passenger liner was represented by the SS United States. Sadly, this beautiful ship is in imminent danger of being turned over the the scrapper’s’ torches…to save her, the SS United States Conservancy needs to raise $500K in the next month and will welcome contributions.
Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Business, History, Tech, Transportation, USA | 3 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 9th April 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
(Originally posted in January 2010–now an April perennial)
Chevy Chase, MD, is an affluent suburb of Washington DC. Median household income is over $200K, and a significant percentage of households have incomes that are much, much higher. Stores located in Chevy Chase include Tiffany & Co, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks-Jandel.
PowerLine observed that during the 2008 election season, yards in Chevy Chase were thick with Obama signs–and wonders how these people are now feeling about the prospect of sharp tax increases for people in their income brackets.
The PowerLine guys are very astute, but I think they’re missing a key point on this one. There are substantial groups of people who stand to benefit financially from the policies of the Obama/Pelosi/Reid triumvirate, and these benefits can greatly outweigh the costs of any additional taxes that these policies require them to pay. Many of the residents of Chevy Chase–a very high percentage of whom get their income directly or indirectly from government activities–fall into this category.
Consider, for starters, direct employment by the government. Most Americans still probably think of government work as low-paid, but this is much less true than it used to be. According to this, 19% of civil servants now make $100K or more. A significant number of federal employees are now making more than $170,000. And, of course, the more the role of government is expanded, the more such jobs will be created, and the better will be the prospects for further pay increases.
If one member of a couple is a federal employee making $100K and the other is making $150K, that would be sufficient to allow them to live in Chevy Chase and occasionally partake of the shopping and restaurants. But to make the serious money required to really enjoy the Chevy Chase lifestyle, it’s best to look beyond direct government employment and pursue careers which indirectly but closely benefit from government activity…which are part of the “extended government,” to coin a phrase.
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Posted in Big Government, Taxes | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 8th April 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Patty Murray is a United States Senator.
Speaking to a group of high school students in 2002, she explained the appeal of Osama bin Laden to his followers, thusly:
“He’s been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health-care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. He’s made their lives better. We have not done that.”
Day-care facilities. Yeah, women in Taliban-controlled areas like the convenience of dropping the kids of at the day care center before they check themselves in for the whipping or the stoning.
Murray’s deficiencies of understanding are not limited to foreign policy matters. Michelle Malkin:
” I’ll never forget interviewing her many years ago when I worked for the Seattle Times editorial board. We were talking about federal entitlement spending. I asked her about FICA taxes. She didn’t know what I was talking about; when I said “payroll taxes,” she still had a frozen blank look on her face.”
Another example of Murray’s ignorance shows her also to be a nasty bigot. When lobbying against a contract award for an Air Force tanker plane to Northrop Grumman, she said:
“I have stood on the line in Everett, Wash., where we have thousands of workers who go to work every day to build these planes. I would challenge anybody to tell me that they’ve stood on a line in Alabama and seen anybody building anything.”
This blogger responds:
Perhaps Senator Murray has heard of “Hyundai.” They manufacture “automobiles.” She might be shocked to learn that Hyundai has a “manufacturing plant” in Montgomery, Alabama. She might also find it surprising to learn that Mercedes-Benz has a huge, state of the art manufacturing facility just outside of Tuscaloosa. The last time I heard, manufacturing plants had “lines” where people “build things.” In fact, according to the Manufacture Alabama! website, Alabama has a strong manufacturing base.
Patty Murray is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. What do you think are the chances that this individual is able to understand the complexities of the Federal Government budget, or that she is willing to work seriously and objectively to analyze the issues involved?
Of course, not ALL the dumb politicians are on the Democratic side of the aisle…though they certainly do seem to have a lot of them…for example, the Congresswoman who thought Ben Bernanke had been CEO of Goldman Sachs, and the Senator who is unable to comprehend the difference between “carbon” and “carbon dioxide.” Of course, there are some dumb politicians on the Republican side, too.
But it is especially the Democratic Party…and most especially the “progressive” wing that now dominates that party…that wishes to restructure American society in order to give ever-increasing power to the political class. Which means giving ever-increasing power to people like Patty Murray.
Posted in Economics & Finance, Political Philosophy, Politics | 14 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 4th April 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
(Originally posted November, 2009. See also this 2010 post: “Protocols” and Wealth Creation.)
Continuing my retro-reading of old Forbes ASAP issues. In the October 1993 issue, Rich Karlgaard, arguing that book value is of declining importance in evaluating companies, says:
Human intelligence and intellectual resources are now any company’s most valuable assets.
(Note that word “now”…we’ll be coming back to it)
Rich quotes Walter Wriston:
Indeed, the new source of wealth is not material, it is information,knowledge applied to work to create value…A person with the skills to write a complex software program that can produce a billion dollars of revenue can walk past any customs officer in the world with nothing of ‘value’ to declare.
I think Rich Karlgaard (now publisher of Forbes) is a very smart and insightful guy. (His blog is here.) And Walter Wriston was one of the giants of banking, back when it was possible to use such a phrase without snickering. But in this case, I think they are seriously overestimating the newness of the importance of knowledge in the economy. And such overestimation has continued and increased in the years since 1993.
The reality is that the leading companies of the much-maligned “industrial era” were themselves based on knowledge. The original Boulton & Watt steam engine business (which James Boswell visited in 1776) was based on James Watt’s design knowledge of how steam engines could be made more efficient and Matthew Boulton’s process knowledge about how they could be better manufactured. The original General Electric Company was based on Thomas Edison’s knowledge about numerous topics related to electricity. And so on.
And it would be a mistake to believe that while these businesses may have been based on an original brilliant idea or two, everyone other than the original inventors was restricted to uncreative drone work. The truth is, any substantial and surviving business requires thousands of innovations big and small, on a continuing basis, by many people. This is not new.
And knowledge isn’t something that only applies in laboratories, engineering departments, and executive suites…and has never been. I recently picked up an interesting autobiography by the engineer-writer L T C Holt, who grew up in the Welsh border area and worked in several factories in the 1920s and 1930s. Here’s his description of the work of a steam-hammer operator in a locomotive factory:
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Posted in Business, History, Tech | 9 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 2nd April 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Amazon: Elective Affinities
Charlotte and Eduard were in love when they were very young, but parental pressures separated them. Twenty years later, they are finally able to be together, and now they live contentedly on Eduard’s large estate, somewhere near Weimar.
Eduard is in correspondence with his long-time friend, the Captain, who is frustrated by his current inability to find suitable employment, and suggests to Charlotte that he should come and live with them on the estate, where his surveying and construction-management skills would be very useful. Charlotte, though, has the sense that bringing a third party into the mix will somehow compromise the happiness for which they have waited so long. She makes her case nicely but determinedly, drawing from Eduard the reaction that a woman like Charlotte is “quite invincible” in debate:
First you are reasonable, so that it is not possible to contradict you; then charming, so that giving in to you is a pleasure; then full of feeling, so that a man wishes to avoid causing you any pain; then full of foreboding, which alarms him.
Despite Charlotte’s persuasiveness, though, Eduard remains concerned about the Captain’s situation, and does not drop the matter. Finally, Charlotte agrees that the Captain can join them, but with a proviso: she would also like her adopted daughter, Ottilie–who is having some difficulties at bording school–to move in with them.
The rather strange title of this book is taken from late-18th-century science, where it refers to the separation and combination of chemical substances…the Captain knows a bit about chemistry and shares his knowledge with Charlotte and Eduard after joining them at their estate.
The story is primarily concerned with Charlotte, Eduard, Ottilie, and the Captain—the four “substances” in the chemical analogy, whose varying affinities for one another create the drama of the book. There are also a few other important characters. One is a strange man named Mittler, whose self-appointed calling it is to travel about, seeking out conflicts among people and attempting to help resolve them. Another is Charlotte’s daughter Luciane, a budding socialite whose extremely hyper personality I found rather exhausting even at a distance of 200 years.
My description above may influence the reader to think that Elective Affinities is merely a rather trivial romance novel. And the stye of the book, the Arcadian setting, the unfailing courtesy with which the characters address one another…all these may at first seem to confirm such an opinion. But what Goethe is really dealing with here are the polarities of social structure versus passion and of free will versus fate.
Charlotte, who like her kindred spirit the Captain is a very organized and controlled person, at first sees an absolute distinction between the blind, automatic affinities of chemical substances and the freely-chosen affinities of human beings. But a year and a half later, her views about her degree of control over her own fate–and even her own feelings–have, as a result of experience, changed considerably.
Really sort of a mix between novel and essay, Elective Affinities is a short book, easy to read, and emotionally involving if not emotionally overwhelming. I read the Oxford edition, with the translation by David Constantine…one reviewer at Amazon strongly recommended this in preference to the Penguin version.
Here’s an interesting review of Elective Affinities from 1885. It’s chock-full of spoilers, so if you plan to read the book, you may want to hold off on the link until you finish it.
There is also a 1996 movie based on the book–made by Italian filmmakers and with the action transposed from Germany to Italy. I’ll comment on it in a later post.
Posted in Book Notes, Europe, Germany, Human Behavior | 4 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 30th March 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
(Originally posted in February 2012. I don’t usually rerun posts that are this recent, but RWL’s thoughts are relevant to the recent posts by Jonathan and myself, and more broadly, to the issues of freedom versus control which dominate our current political debates.)
Rose Wilder Lane, born in 1886 in the Dakota Territory, was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House on the Prairie” books. Lane is best known for her writings on political philosophy and has been referred to as a “Founding Mother” of libertarianism; she was also a novelist and the author of several biographies.
In her article Credo, published in 1936, she describes her political journey, beginning with the words:
In 1919 I was a communist.
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Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Europe, History, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy, USA | Comments Off
Posted by David Foster on 29th March 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
(Originally posted in October of 2010. I was reminded of this post by Stuart Schneiderman’s post here about the growing acceptance of the idea that government knows best what’s good for everyone..and should have the power to make them do it. I should note that Cass Sunstein is no longer an Obama Czar but is back to being a law professor.)
I haven’t read Jonathan Franzen’s novel, Freedom, but Erin O’Connor has been reading it and reviews it here. Based on her summary, it seems that Franzen’s basic opinion about freedom is this: he doesn’t like it very much. Consider for example these excerpts:
…the American experiment of self-government, an experiment statistically skewed from the outset, because it wasn’t the people with sociable genes who fled the crowded Old World for the new continent; it was the people who didn’t get along well with others.…also: The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.
“Freedom,” for Franzen, is a red herring. As a national ideal, it paralyzes us, preventing government from behaving with the rationalism of European nations (there are passages about this in the book). And, on a personal level, it is simply immiserating. Every last one of Franzen’s major characters suffers from the burden of too many choices.
In a novel, of course, one cannot assume that opinions expressed by the characters are those of the author himself–but in this case, it seems to me that they likely are, and this opinion appears to be shared by most commenters at Erin’s post.
What really struck me in Erin’s review is her remark that I am starting to think that this novel may amount to a fictional companion piece for Cass Sunstein’s Nudge..the referenced work being not a novel, but a book about social, economic, and political policy co-authored by Cass Sunstein, who is now runnning the Office of Regulatory and Information Policy for the Obama administration. (See a review of Nudge, Erin’s post about the book, and my post about some of Sunstein’s policy ideas.)
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Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 2 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 26th March 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
…and was inspired to write this very interesting post.
If she gets well quickly, will we ever get to see the sequel?
Posted in Economics & Finance, Human Behavior | 4 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 26th March 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
At the age of 21, Danielle Fong cofounded LightSail Energy, a venture focused on energy storage via compressed air, with heat generated by the compression recovered for later use. Investors include Peter Thiel, Khosla Ventures, and Bill Gates. (GE and RWE of Germany are also developing a compressed-air-based energy storage technology that they call ADELE…it will be interesting to see how these two alternative approaches play out.)
A New York University student has developed a new substance for wound closure, which may be able to replace bandages in many cases. Any comments, Michael K?
Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Medicine, Tech | 6 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 24th March 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Margaret Soltan’s husband was searching for his grandmother’s name on Google, and found her in a 1908 portrait, which is now in the National Museum at Warsaw.
The post reminded me of a post from a couple of months ago by Bookworm, about finding a book in which her grandmother’s friends at her finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland, wrote her farewell letters when she graduated and moved back to Belgium in 1913:
As befitted a young woman of her class back in the day before WWI began, my grandmother was multilingual, so the messages in her book were in French, German, Dutch, and English. The young ladies all included their home addresses — in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, America, Scotland, England, Wales, Romania, and Persia (Tehran). Each inscription was written in beautiful copperplate and the girls all drew exquisite little flags reflecting each girl’s country of origin.
Since I, unlike my grandmother (and my parents), am not multilingual, I was able to read only the inscriptions from my grandmother’s English-speaking friends. I have no word for how charming these little missives were. An American girl wrote about the irony that she and my grandmother hated each other at first sight, only to become close friends by the end of their time together. An English girl wrote about the “jolly good times” they had going to concerts with “modern” music consisting of one note, played so low no one could hear it. Another girl wrote about the disappointment of endless dinners consisting of macaroni and disappointingly watery “chocolate creme.”
And Bookworm’s post, when I first read it, reminded me of a passage in the memoirs of British general Edward Spears, close friend of Churchill and emissary to France during the campaign of 1940. Spears had grown up in France, and in the 1960s he returned to the house he had lived in. There, he found a picnic basket filled with his grandmother’s old letters:
The next letters I opened dropped me back two generations into a land of other people’s memories but with an occasional sharp glint as they recalled things I had heard of as a child. They were the letters of a poor sick young woman written to her absent husband whilst she was immobilised awaiting her first and only child, my mother.
I never imagined my grandmother other than I had known her, white haired, stout, and dignified. The picture painted in these letters of a girl frantic with loneliness and longing, exasperated at the threat of a miscarriage which kept her lying on her back, begging her husband to come to her, all told in the reserved language of that day, filled me with a kind of fond protective amusement. It was so unexpected. Time, so long imprisoned in these boxes, was revealing itself in an entirely new guise, oscillating quite regardless of years from one generation to the next or back again–more, it was taking me, an elderly man in the 1960s, and leading me back to the year 1864, there to watch over, with infinite tenderness, a young woman I had never known, my grandmother as a young wife…
Another time-travel experience, albeit of a less directly personal nature than the above three ventures back in time, can be found in this set of photographs: 1910–The Summer of our Content.
Posted in History, Photos | 3 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 23rd March 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Neptunus Lex, from 2004: Monsters
Robert Avrech, from yesterday: Liberty, Then and Now
Posted in Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 22nd March 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Via Isegoria, here is Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine–in high-resolution photography and with a video showing the machine at work. It was designed in 1849 but not actually built until 2002.
The Difference Engine is not a general-purpose computer, but rather was designed for the specific purpose of producing mathematical tables by the method of differences. More about Babbage, the Engine, and the Method of Differences, here.
Posted in Britain, History, Tech | 1 Comment »
Posted by David Foster on 18th March 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
1942 photos by Margaret Bourke-White. (via The Lexicans)
Women building airplanes during WWII, in color
The London Blitz, in color
Dresden: a meditation on strategic bombing
ShrinkWrapped has published his father’s recollections of flying 50 missions as a B-24 tail gunner. There are 6 different posts at the link–start at the bottom for the first one–and one more post here.
Posted in Aviation, Britain, Germany, History, USA, War and Peace | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 17th March 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
…at Grim’s Hall.
The Celtic harp
Speaking of things Irish, there is an interesting Dublin-based blog called Sibling of Daedalus. Check it out.
Posted in History, Holidays, Ireland, Music | 2 Comments »