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    Scary but not Surprising

    Posted by David Foster on 24th February 2015 (All posts by )

    43% of Democrats believe that the President should have the right to ignore court rulings if they are standing in the way of actions he feels are important for the country.  Only 35% of Dems disagree, the remainder being undecided.

    This from a  Rasumssen poll of likely voters, which also shows that 81% of Republicans disagree with the President having the power to ignore the courts.

    Today’s Democratic Party is an enemy of American self-government, and it appears that a lot of the party’s supporters want to it be this way.

    See also my related posts:

    The Democratic Party and the drive for unlimited government power

    When law yields to absolute power

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Law, USA | 12 Comments »

    What are Obama’s True Feelings About America and Americans?

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

    Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani:

    “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,  He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

    In 2009, I wrote a post titled he’s just not that into us in which I contrasted Obama’s attitude toward his fellow Americans with George Orwell’s attitude toward Britain and the Brits, noting that clearly Obama does not identify with America in the same sort of way that Orwell identified with England, and asking: “Why, then, did Obama wish to become our President?”

    I think the post has stood up pretty well over the last 5 years…it is reproduced below, with some additional comments at the end.

    Here’s George Orwell, writing in 1940 about England and the English:

    When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids biking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning – all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?

    But talk to foreigners, read foreign books or newspapers, and you are brought back to the same thought. Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillarboxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches in to the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantlepiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.

    And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillarboxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side of the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.

    George Orwell was a socialist. He wanted to see radical transformation in his society. But in the above passage, he displays real affection for the English people and their culture.

    Can anyone imagine Barack Obama writing something parallel to the above about America and the American people? To ask the question is to answer it. Clearly, Obama does not identify with America in the same sort of way that Orwell identified with England.

    Why, then, did Obama wish to become our President?

    Two analogies come to mind…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Obama, Politics, USA | 24 Comments »

    Worth Pondering

    Posted by David Foster on 18th February 2015 (All posts by )

    Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.

    –Thomas a Kempis

    (I found this in Boswell’s “Life of Samuel Johnson”)

    The thread of previous Worth Pondering posts starts here

    Posted in Christianity, History, Human Behavior | 1 Comment »

    Dresden

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

    (This is a post I wrote in 2009, on the occasion of Obama’s visit to the city of Dresden.  Today Instapundit notes that today is the 70th anniversary of the Dresden firebombing, and says  “The Nazis opened a can of whoop-ass, and this is one of the things that came out. The world would be a safer place if their modern-day equivalents were more afraid of the same fate.”)

     

    Dresden, once known as “Florence on the Elbe” because of its beauty and culture, is now best known for its destruction by British and American bombers in February of 1945.  “Dresden” is the name of a haunting movie, originally made for German television, about a love affair in the doomed city.

    Dresden is of course also the German city that Barack Obama intends to visit–for reasons best known to himself–during his current trip to Europe. It seems like this would be an appropriate time to review the film (which I watched a couple of months ago via Netflix) and to use it as a springboard for discussion of the Dresden bombing and of the WWII strategic bombing campaign in general.

    Here’s a brief synopsis of the film. I’ve tried to minimize the spoilers, but some are inevitable.

    Anna Mauth is a nurse in a Dresden hospital. Although she hopes to attend medical school and become a physician, she has put these plans on hold in order to assist her father, Dr Carl Mauth, who runs the hospital–which is heavily overloaded and constantly short of supplies. Anna’s fiance, Alexander Wenninger, is a dedicated young physican but just a bit of a pompous prig. Her sister, Eva, is a horrible little Nazi enthusiast, glorying in her affair with a Gauleiter’s adjutant and luxuriating in the special privileges she is able to obtain through this relationship. Anna’s best friend, Maria, is married to a Jewish man, Simon Goldberg–and she holds his life in her hands, because it is only by virtue of the marriage that he has been–thus far–protected from arrest and shipment to a concentration camp.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Europe, Germany, History, Politics, Society, War and Peace | 44 Comments »

    Lovescanning

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

    Especially for Valentines Day,  GE posts a video about Stanford University’s MRI-based “love contest.”

    It’s not quite a cold and clinical as it sounds, on account of the individual stories told by the participants.

    Posted in Human Behavior, Medicine, Science, Tech | 2 Comments »

    Truthtelling

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

    …when a nation’s leader refuses to face reality.

    Immediately following the German attack on Poland, on September 1 of 1939, Neville Chamberlain’s government temporized.  A message to was sent to Germany proposing a ceasefire and an immediate conference, promising that “If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty’s Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier.”

    According to General Edward Spears, who was then a member of Parliament, the assembly had been expecting a declaration of war. Few were happy with this temporizing by the Chamberlain government. Spears describes the scene:

    Arthur Greenwood got up, tall, lanky, his dank, fair hair hanging to either side of his forehead. He swayed a little as he clutched at the box in front of him and gazed through his glasses at Chamberlain sitting opposite him, bolt-upright as usual. There was a moment’s silence, then something very astonishing happened.

    Leo Amery, sitting in the corner seat of the third bench below the gangway on the government side, voiced in three words his own pent-up anguish and fury, as well as the repudiation by the whole House of a policy of surrender. Standing up he shouted across to Greenwood: “Speak for England!” It was clear that this great patriot sought at this crucial moment to proclaim that no loyalty had any meaning if it was in conflict with the country’s honour. What in effect he said was: “The Prime Minister has not spoken for Britain, then let the socialists do so. Let the lead go to anyone who will.” That shout was a cry of defiance. It meant that the house and the country would neither surrender nor accept a leader who might be prepared to trifle with the nation’s pledged word.

    Greenwood then made a speech which I noted that night as certain to be the greatest of his life; a speech that would illuminate a career and justify a whole existence. It was remarkable neither for eloquence nor for dramatic effect, but the drama was there, we were all living it, we and millions more whose fate depended on the decisions taken in that small Chamber.

    I was reminded of this occasion by the upcoming Bibi Netanyahu speech to Congress and the hostile political reactions to it.  The reality is that Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons represents a severe threat not only to Israel but to the entire world, and by speaking to this point, he is serving not only his own country, but all of us.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, History, Iran, Israel, Obama, USA, War and Peace | 34 Comments »

    Fishing Only in the Heavily-Fished Pools

    Posted by David Foster on 8th February 2015 (All posts by )

    …probably won’t lead to great results.

    Virginia Postrel  notes that “elite investment banks, law firms and management consulting firms often hire almost exclusively from a handful of schools,” citing  research by sociologist Lauren Rivera:  “So-called ‘public Ivies’ such as University of Michigan and Berkeley were not considered elite or even prestigious.”

    Virginia argues that “If everyone you interview comes from the same few schools, the same social networks, the same previous employers or the same geographic regions, you aren’t really fighting for talent.”

    What she is saying here is similar to my point in the recent post  “Top-tier university graduates only.”

    Of course, for the industries Virginia mentions–law, investment banking, management consulting–people are being hired not only for their ability to do the job, but also for the advertising value of their credentials in attracting potential business.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Management, Society | 2 Comments »

    Could This Company Have Been Saved?

    Posted by David Foster on 7th February 2015 (All posts by )

    If you had been elected as CEO of Radio Shack, let’s say 5 years ago, what would you have done?  Was there a viable strategy for a long-term future for this company, or would it have been best to wind it up in an orderly manner?

    Posted in Business, Management, Tech | 35 Comments »

    Book Review: Rockets and People

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

    Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Boris Chertok’s career in the Russian aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high school annual or inside company history edited by someone who wants to be sure no one feels left out and that all the events and tragedies and inside jokes are appropriately recorded. Partly, it is a technological history of rocket development, and partly, it is a study in the practicalities of managing large programs in environments of technical uncertainty and extreme time pressure. Readers should include those interested in: management theory and practice, Russian/Soviet history, life under totalitarianism, the Cold War period, and missile/space technology. Because of the great length of these memoirs, those who read the whole thing will probably be those who are interested in all (or at least most) of the above subject areas. I found the series quite readable; overly-detailed in many places, but always interesting. In his review American astronaut Thomas Stafford said “The Russians are great storytellers, and many of the tales about their space program are riveting. But Boris Chertok is one of the greatest storytellers of them all.”  In this series, Chertok really does suck you into his world.

    Chertok was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1912: his mother had been forced to flee Russia because of her revolutionary (Menshevik) sympathies. The family returned to Russia on the outbreak of the First World War, and some of Chertok’s earliest memories were of the streets filled with red-flag-waving demonstrators in 1917. He grew up on the Moscow River, in what was then a quasi-rural area, and had a pretty good childhood–“we, of course, played “Reds and Whites,” rather than “Cowboys and Indians””–swimming and rowing in the river and developing an early interest in radio and aviation–both an airfield and a wireless station were located nearby. He also enjoyed reading–“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn met with the greatest success, while Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave rise to aggressive moods–‘Hey–after the revolution in Europe, we’ll deal with the American slaveholders!” His cousin introduced him to science fiction, and he was especially fond of Aelita (book and silent film), featuring the eponymous Martian beauty.

    Chertok remembers his school years fondly–there were field trips to study art history and architectural styles, plus a military program with firing of both rifles and machine guns–but notes “We studied neither Russian nor world history….Instead we had two years of social science, during which we studied the history of Communist ideas…Our clever social sciences teacher conducted lessons so that, along with the history of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune, we became familiar with the history of the European peoples from Ancient Rome to World War I, and while studying the Decembrist movement and 1905 Revolution in detail we were forced to investigate the history of Russia.” Chertok purused his growing interest in electronics, developing a new radio-receiver circuit which earned him a journal publication and an inventor’s certificate. There was also time for skating and dating–“In those strict, puritanical times it was considered inappropriate for a young man of fourteen or fifteen to walk arm in arm with a young woman. But while skating, you could put your arm around a girl’s waist, whirl around with her on the ice to the point of utter exhaustion, and then accompany her home without the least fear of reproach.”

    Chertok wanted to attend university, but “entrance exams were not the only barrier to admission.” There was a quota system, based on social class, and  “according to the ‘social lineage’ chart, I was the son of a white collar worker and had virtually no hope of being accepted the first time around.” He applied anyhow, hoping that his journal publication and inventor’s certificate in electronics would get him in.” It didn’t–he was told, “Work about three years and come back. We’ll accept you as a worker, but not as the son of a white-collar worker.”

    So Chertok took a job as electrician in a brick factory…not much fun, but he was soon able to transfer to an aircraft factory across the river. He made such a good impression that he was asked to take a Komsomol leadership position, which gave him an opportunity to learn a great deal about manufacturing. The plant environment was a combination of genuinely enlightened management–worker involvement in process improvement, financial decentralization–colliding with rigid policies and political interference. There were problems with absenteeism caused by new workers straight off the farm; these led to a government edict: anyone late to work by 20 minutes or more was to be fired, and very likely prosecuted. There was a young worker named Igor who had real inventive talent; he proposed an improved linkage for engine and propeller control systems, which worked out well. But when Igor overslept (the morning after he got married), no exception could be made. He was fired, and “we lost a man who really had a divine spark.”  Zero tolerance!

    Chertok himself wound up in trouble when he was denounced to the Party for having concealed the truth about his parents–that his father was a bookkeeper in a private enterprise and his mother was a Menshevik. He was expelled from the Komsomol and demoted to a lower-level position.  Later in his career, he would also wind up in difficulties because of his Jewish heritage.

    The memoir includes dozens of memorable characters, including:

    *Lidiya Petrovna Kozlovskaya, a bandit queen turned factory supervisor who became Chertok’s superior after his first demotion.

    *Yakov Alksnis, commander of the Red Air Force–a strong leader who foresaw the danger of a surprise attack wiping out the planes on the ground. He was not to survive the Stalin era.

    *Olga Mitkevich, sent by the regime to become “Central Committee Party organizer” at the factory where Chertok was working…did not make a good first impression (“had the aura of a strict school matron–the terror of girls’ preparatory schools”)..but actually proved to be very helpful to getting work done and later became director of what was then the largest aircraft factory in Europe, which job she performed well. She apparently had too much integrity for the times, and her letters to Stalin on behalf of people unjustly accused resulted in her own arrest and execution.

    *Frau Groettrup, wife of a German rocket scientist, one of the many the Russians took in custody after occupying their sector of Germany. Her demands on the victors were rather unbelievable, what’s more unbelievable is that the Russians actually yielded to most of them.

    *Dmitry Ustinov, a rising star in the Soviet hierarchy–according to Chertok an excellent and visionary executive who had much to do with Soviet successes in missiles and space. (Much later, he would become Defense Minister, in which role he was a strong proponent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)

    *Valeriya Golubtsova, wife of the powerful Politburo member Georgiy Malenkov, who was Stalin’s immediate successor. Chertok knew her from school–she was an engineer who became an important government executive–and the connection turned out to be very useful. Chertok respected her professional skills, liked her very much, and devotes several pages to her.

    *Yuri Gagarin, first man to fly in space, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman.

    *Overshadowing all the other characters is Sergei Korolev, now considered to be the father of the Soviet space program although anonymous during his lifetime.  Korolev spent 6 years in labor camps, having been arrested when his early rocket experiments didn’t pan out; he was released in 1944.  A good leader, in Chertok’s view, though with a bad temper and given to making threats that he never actually carried out.  His imprisonment must have left deep scars–writing about a field trip to a submarine to observe the firing of a ballistic missile, Chertok says that the celebration dinner with the sub’s officers was the only time he ever saw Korolev really happy.

    Chertok’s memoir encompasses the pre-WWII development of the Soviet aircraft industry…early experiments with a rocket-powered interceptor…the evacuation of factories from the Moscow area in the face of the German invasion…a post-war mission to Germany to acquire as much German rocket technology as possible…the development of a Soviet ballistic missile capability…Sputnik…reconnaissance and communications satellites…the Cuban missile crisis…and the race to the moon.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech, Transportation | 5 Comments »

    Political Correctness

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

    …not just an irritant anymore, but now a serious threat to American society.

    Jonathan Chait tells the story of Omar Mahmood, a student at the University of Michigan, who dared to publish a column satirizing (rather gently, I think) those people who go around being offended at everything.  He has been demonized, was fired from his job at the Michigan Daily, and his apartment was vandalized.  Chait notes that  at a growing number of campuses, professors attach “trigger warnings” to texts that may upset the oh-so-sensitive students…and that the insistence on “protecting” people from ideas that may upset them has resulted in movements to ban speakers such as Condi Rice (Rutgers), Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Brandeis), and IMF director Christine Lagarde (Smith).

    Stuart Schneiderman describes how Political Correctness can influence national politics, noting that “When Obama became president, political debate was no longer about ideas. In social media and universities those who opposed Obama were slandered and defamed…Now, with the candidacy of Hillary Clinton looming, the debate will no longer concern Mrs. Clinton’s thin resume and  barely visible accomplishments, but about the sexism of those who oppose her.”

    And here is Frederik deBoer, a self-defined leftist (who does not much like Jonathan Chait), writing about the ways he has seen Political Correctness at work and the impact it has had on individuals:

    I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 19-year-old white woman—smart, well-meaning, passionate—literally run crying from a classroom because she was so ruthlessly brow-beaten for using the word “disabled.” Not repeatedly. Not with malice. Not because of privilege. She used the word once and was excoriated for it. She never came back. I watched that happen.

    I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 20-year-old black man, a track athlete who tried to fit organizing meetings around classes and his ridiculous practice schedule (for which he received a scholarship worth a quarter of tuition), be told not to return to those meetings because he said he thought there were such a thing as innate gender differences. He wasn’t a homophobe, or transphobic, or a misogynist. It turns out that 20-year-olds from rural South Carolina aren’t born with an innate understanding of the intersectionality playbook. But those were the terms deployed against him, those and worse. So that was it; he was gone.

    I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 33-year-old Hispanic man, an Iraq war veteran who had served three tours and had become an outspoken critic of our presence there, be lectured about patriarchy by an affluent 22-year-old white liberal arts college student, because he had said that other vets have to “man up” and speak out about the war. Because apparently we have to pretend that we don’t know how metaphorical language works or else we’re bad people. I watched his eyes glaze over as this woman with $300 shoes berated him. I saw that. Myself.

    Frederik deBoer, writer of the above, objects to this kind of Political Correctness at least in part because it drives people out of leftist politics.  He says “I want a left that can win, and there’s no way I can have that when the actually-existing left sheds potential allies at an impossible rate. But the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving is so powerful and calcified it’s a permanent feature of today’s progressivism.”

    (Some of us think that the control of speech is an inherent feature of  ideologies of the type represented by today’s “progressivism.”)

    And here are a bunch of idiotic “Social Justice Warriors” (ie, aggressive wielders of the Political Correctness sabre) raging on Twitter about the US Army’s use of the term “chink”…in the context of a discussion of Special Operations, the specific sentence which resulted in so much fury being “Chinks in special ops’ digital and physical armor pose challenges, experts  say.”

    I’m reminded of something I read many years ago: a university professor came under virulent attack by a group of radical feminists because he had used the term “bang for the buck.”  This phrase originated, of course, in the field of weapons systems procurement and refers to getting the most military capability for the money.  But the attackers decided that the term referred to some kind of discount prostitution business and hence that its use was “degrading to women.”

    It has long been said that American universities are “islands of tyranny in a sea of freedom.”  But it was inevitable that the habits of groupthink and submission to the loudest voices that were inculcated in these institutions would seep out into the broader society and begin to poison political dialog in many contexts–and this process is now well underway.

    Tying this post to my last post, Conformity Kills:  if a person spends his college years learning to carefully avoid speaking his mind on all matter of politics, social organization, human nature, relationships between the sexes, and many other subjects–what are the chances that he will be willing to speak him mind in a career context where the stakes are high–even if those stakes involve matters of life and death?

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, USA | 10 Comments »

    Conformity Kills

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

    (Last Wednesday was chosen by NASA as a Day of Remembrance for the astronauts lost in the 1967 Apollo fire, the 1986 Challenger explosion, and the 2003 crash of the shuttle Columbia.  The occasion reminded me of my 2003 post which appears below, with the links fixed.)

    What does a space shuttle disaster have to do with the current troubling situation in the teaching of the humanities? Strange as it may seem, I believe that there is a connection.

    Most observers believe that the Columbia disaster was caused, to a substantial degree, by the unwillingness of key individuals to speak up forcefully enough about their safety concerns. This is often phrased as a “culture issue” or a “climate issue”–but, however you phrase it, it seems that a significant number of people didn’t raise their concerns–or at least didn’t raise them forcefully enough–because of worries about the implications for their own careers. (This also seems to have been a key factor in the earlier Challenger disaster.)

    And in today’s university humanities departments, there are many senior professors who understand that much of what is now being taught is nonsense, and who are heartsick about the “posturing and lies.” But, as Erin O’Connor says: “…an older generation of “dinosaurs” looks on, seeing it all, and saying nothing. They do this to minimize the open displays of contempt for their traditional ways that they have learned to expect as their due.”

    Now, here is an interesting point. There are very few people in American who have more job security than a civil servant or a university tenured professor. But this security seems to have little payoff when it’s time to speak up about something important and truly controversial. Perhaps jobs that offer high security tend to attract people who are not risk-takers. Or perhaps concerns about being liked by one’s peers trump job-security issues per se. In any event, it does not seem that systems with a high degree of employee protection really yield the expected benefits in terms of outspoken employee behavior.

    I’m sure there are some NASA employees who had and have the courage to speak out, just as I am sure that such courage exists among some senior professors of the humanities. But it seems that such people are too few in number, at both institutions, to make a real difference.

    No set of organizational policies, however well-designed, can substitute for human character. It takes many virtues, including the virtue of courage, to make an organization perform effectively. That’s true whether the organization is a university, a corporation, or a government agency.

     

    Posted in Academia, Human Behavior, Management, Space, Tech | 4 Comments »

    “Top-Tier University Graduates Only”

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

    Here’s a LinkedIn post from a young woman who doesn’t like the way certain companies are specifying “degree from a top-tier university required” in certain of their job postings. I think she makes some good points.

    From the standpoint of the individual company or other organization, absolutely requiring a degree from a “top-tier university” (whatever the individual’s other experience and capabilities) reduces the size of the talent pool and quite likely increases costs without commensurate benefit. From the standpoint of the overall society, this practice wastes human resources and creates damaging inhibitors to social mobility. (And in most cases, “top-tier university” is defined based only on the perception of that university’s “brand”…very few HR organizations or hiring managers conduct serious research on the actual quality of different universities from an educational perspective…and the perceived quality may be years or even decades out of date.)

    I think we as a society have delegated far too much influence to the admissions officers of various Ivy League universities, and also to whoever constructs the metrics for the US News & World Report college ratings. When discussing “inequality” and declining social mobility..and less-than-stellar economic growth…the role of credentialism in all these things needs to be seriously considered.

    Related: the five-pound butterfly revisited

    Posted in Academia, Business, Education, Human Behavior, Management | 30 Comments »

    The First Transcontinental Telephone Call

    Posted by David Foster on 24th January 2015 (All posts by )

    …was made 100 years ago, on January 25, 1915. (Well, actually, that was the first official transcontinental phone call; the line had actually been completed and tested by July of 1914, but the big PR event was timed to coincide with something called the Panama-Pacific exposition.) Alexander Graham Bell was in New York City and repeated his famous request “Mr Watson, come here, I want you” into the phone, Mr Watson then being in San Francisco.

    Long-distance calls from the East Coast had previously reached only as far as Denver; it was the use of vacuum-tube amplifiers to boost weak signals that made possible true transcontinental calling.

    Here’s the NYT story that marked the occasion. Note that the price announced for NYC-SF calling was $20.75 for the first three minutes and $6.75 for each minute thereafter. According to the CPI inflation calculator, these numbers equate to $486.38 and $158.21 in today’s money.

    Posted in History, Tech, USA | 7 Comments »

    Mick Ryan’s Lament

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

    Performed by John Sheahan with Jane & Shane

    I heard this song on the radio a couple of days ago and googled it…it was written by Robert Emmet Dunlap and covered by several singers, including Tim O’Brien and the group at the link above, whose version I think is especially fine.

    Posted in History, Ireland, USA, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    Homesteaders in Nebraska, 1880s through 1900

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

    Wonderful photos at American Digest

    More images here

    Posted in History, USA | 14 Comments »

    Is American Entrepreneurship in Decline?

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

    Jim Clifton, who is Chairman & CEO of Gallup, presents data showing that creation of new businesses has fallen considerably over a long-term trend running from 1977 to the present, and that for the last several years, the number of firms created has actually fallen below the number of firms closing.

    LINK

    And furthermore:

    The U.S. now ranks not first, not second, not third, but 12th among developed nations in terms of business startup activity. Countries such as Hungary, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Israel and Italy all have higher startup rates than America does.

    Read the whole thing.

    These numbers and trends seem somewhat counterintuitive to me. I see a lot of startups looking for angel funding, and quite a few of them getting it. There is a lot of public interest in entrepreneurship, as evidenced by the success of TV programs such as “Shark Tank”, and even universities are attempting to capitalize on the interest in entrepreneurship by offering courses and programs on the topic.

    I suspect that much of the decline in business creation is among people who don’t have a lot of formal education–many of them immigrants–and who in former years would have started businesses but are now inhibited by inability to navigate the dense thicket of regulations and pay the substantial costs involved in doing so. OTOH, I also suspect that quite a few of these people have actually created businesses, in fields such as home maintenance or home day-care, and are doing so off-the-books in ways that don’t get counted in the formal statistics.

    Among those who do have college degrees–and especially among those who have spent six, eight, or more years in college classrooms–student loan debt, much of it incurred on behalf of degrees having little or no economic or serious intellectual value, surely also acts as an inhibitor to business creation.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, USA | 5 Comments »

    The Rally in Paris

    Posted by David Foster on 15th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Was it a meaningful coming-together in resistance to radical Islamicist violence and in support of free expression and Western civilization?

    Or was it a meaningless feel-good event, along the lines of the old “sending our love down the well” vignette on South Park?

    Claire Berlinski, who was there, tends toward the first view.

    The blogger known as The Diplomad–a long-time US Foreign Service officer–tends toward the second.

    These are both very astute observers and analysts.  Read them both, and comment.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, France, Islam, Terrorism | 27 Comments »

    Appalling, but Not Really Surprising

    Posted by David Foster on 13th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Obama White House wants to persuade/encourage/pressure media to drop coverage that might upset jihadis or potential jihadis

    Last Thursday, I mentioned the administration’s 2012 criticism of Charlie Hedbo’s decision to publish “offensive” cartoons.  Comes now presidential spokesman Josh Earnest, defending that administration position and asserting that there will be more such presidential critiques directed toward noncompliant media in the future.

    This reminds me of something.  Oh, yes…

    In the late 1930s, Winston Churchill spoke of the “unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure…In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands” which “may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty.” A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. “Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.” (excerpt is from The Last Lion: Alone, by William Manchester.)

    Churchill’s concern was not just a theoretical one. Following the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, photographs were available showing the plight of Czech Jews, dispossessed by the Nazis and wandering the roads of eastern Europe. Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, refused to run any of them: it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended. (same source as above.)

    Obama’s desire to ensure that the media avoids antagonizing jihadis is of a piece with Chamberlain and Dawson’s desire to avoid antagonizing the Nazis.

    And I’m reminded of something else Churchill said.  In March 1938, he spoke of Britain and its allies descending incontinently, recklessly, the staircase which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad staircase at the beginning, but, after a bit, the carpet ends. A little further on there are only flagstones, and, a little further on still, these break beneath your feet.

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Civil Liberties, Germany, History, Islam, National Security, Obama, Terrorism | 26 Comments »

    Book Reviews – 2014 Summary

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

    Last year I reviewed quite a few books, including several that IMO are extremely important and well-written.  Here’s the list:

    The Caine Mutiny.  The movie, which just about everyone has seen, is very good.  The book is even better.  I cited the 1952 Commentary review, which has interesting thoughts on intellectuals and the responsibilities of power.

    To the Last Salute.  Captain von Trapp, best known as the father in “The Sound of Music,” wrote this memoir of his service as an Austrian submarine commander in the First World War–Austria of course being one of the Central Powers and hence an enemy to Britain, France, and the United States.  An interesting and pretty well-written book, and a useful reminder that there are enemies, and then there are enemies.

    That Hideous Strength.  An important and intriguing novel by C S Lewis. As I said in the review, there is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  So, by the standards now becoming current in most American universities, the book–and even my review of it–should by read by no one at all.

    The Cruel Coast.  A German submarine, damaged after an encounter with a British destroyer, puts in at a remote Irish island for repairs.  Most of the islanders, with inherited anti-British attitudes, tend toward sympathy with the German:  one woman, though, has a clearer understanding of the real issues in the war.

    Nice Work.  At Chicago Boyz, we’ve often discussed the shortage of novels that deal realistically with work.  This is such a novel: an expert in 19th-century British industrial novels–who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory.  Very well done.

    Menace in Europe.  Now more than ever, Claire Berlinski’s analysis of the problems in today’s Europe needs to be widely read.

    A Time of Gifts.  In late 1933, Patrick Fermor–then 18 years old–undertook to travel from the Holland to Istanbul, on foot. The story of his journey is told in three books, of which this is the first.  This is not just travel writing, it is the record of what was still to a considerable extent the Old Europe–with horsedrawn wagons, woodcutters, barons and castles, Gypsies and Jews in considerable numbers–shortly before it was to largely disappear.

    The Year of the French.  The writer, commentator, and former soldier Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century.”

    Posted in Academia, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Ireland, Islam, Management, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Terrorism | 7 Comments »

    The Atrocity in France

    Posted by David Foster on 8th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Yesterday, Claire Berlinski reported from Paris

    Obama, of course, “condemned” the attack. It’s important to remember, however, his administration’s response to earlier threats against the magazine Charlie Hebdo:

    In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.

    The quoted statement basically implies that people should use “judgment” to avoid saying or publishing anything that will offend Muslims. The video referred to is of course the one that the Obama administration blamed for the Benghazi attacks, going so far as to purchase newspaper ads to denounce the video. And Hillary Clinton, who was Obama’s secretary of state, told the father of one of the murdered Americans (Tyrone Woods) that “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.” Not “we’re going to destroy those terrorists,” but rather, they’re going to destroy a filmmaker. The Obama administration’s statements have acted not only to normalize that “thug’s veto” over all expressions of opinion, but even to put United States government power behind the thug’s veto.

    Time Magazine posted an article titled “5 Facts That Explain the Charlie Hebdo attack.” Can you guess what they were, and which one they left out? (Link) And numerous publications are censoring the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

    The staff of a humor magazine demonstrated far more courage than either Western governments or the bulk of Western media in standing up for Enlightenment values. I’m reminded once again of a passage in Sebastian Haffner’s memoir. Haffner was working in the Prussian Supreme Court, the Kammergericht, when the Nazi thugs came to the Court, demanded to know who was Jewish and who was not, and established totalitarian control over what had previously been an actual judicial process.

    As I left the Kammergericht it stood there, grey, cool and calm as ever, set back from the street in its distinguished setting. There was nothing to show that, as an institution, it had just collapsed.

    That evening, Haffner went with his girlfriend to a nightclub called the Katakombe. The master of ceremonies was a comic actor and satirical cabaret performer named Werner Fink:

    His act remained full of harmless amiability in a country where these qualities were on the liquidation list. This harmless amiability hid a kernel of real, indomitable courage. He dared to speak openly about the reality of the Nazis, and that in the middle of Germany. His patter contained references to concentration camps, the raids on people’s homes, the general fear and general lies. He spoke of these things with infinitely quiet mockery, melancholy, and sadness. Listening to him was extraordinarily comforting.

    In the morning, the Prussian Kammergericht, with its tradition of hundreds of years, had ignobly capitulated before the Nazis. In the same evening, a small troop of artistes, with no tradition to back them up, demonstrated the courage to speak forbidden thoughts. “The Kammergericht had fallen but the Katakombe stood upright.”

    CNN, MSNBC, Time Magazine, the White House, the Elysee Palace, 10 Downing Street may have all demonstrated a lack of resolution in the face of Islamist threats and violence, but at least Charlie Hebdo has stood upright.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, France, Germany, Islam, Obama, Terrorism | 40 Comments »

    Some Key Technologies for 2015 and Beyond

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

    …as viewed by General Electric

    Posted in Business, Tech | 7 Comments »

    Today’s Israel-Bashers

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

    UAW Local 2865 (that’s UAW as in “United Auto Workers”) has voted to join the movement to boycott Israel.

    So, what kind of work do the members of UAW Local 2865 do, would you imagine? Do they work the line in an auto assembly plant? Are they involved in making components such as brake shoes or camshafts? Do they pack and ship spare parts in a distribution center?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Israel, Leftism, Unions | 6 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd January 2015 (All posts by )

    A prehistoric village, found beneath the sea near Haifa

    A timelapse video of the Albuquerque balloon festival

    Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack assert that actually, the world is not falling apart: “Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times”

    Also, Richard Fernandez argues that the American can-do spirit continues to exist

    The allure of omnipotent explanations

    Is Washington the new Wall Street?

    Ideology and closed systems, at Grim’s Hall

    In France, criticism of Islam can get you prosecuted. Basically, we are seeing the return of laws against blasphemy–and not only in France–but with this difference: I don’t think ever before have governments forbidden criticism of a belief system that is not held by the majority of their citizens, or at least of their ruling classes

    Posted in Aviation, Europe, France, History, Islam, Leftism, Photos, USA, Video | 14 Comments »

    Movie Review: The Imitation Game

    Posted by David Foster on 30th December 2014 (All posts by )

    I recently saw this film, which is based on the life and exploits of the mathematician, codebreaker, and computer science pioneer Alan Turing.  It is very well acted and definitely worth seeing; it’s good for more people to become familiar with Turing’s story and the accomplishments of the Bletchley Park codebreakers.  HOWEVER, the extremely negative portrayal of Commander Alastair Denniston, who ran BP, seems to have little basis in fact. Denniston was a real person, and his family is understandably upset at the way he was misrepresented in the film. Dramatic license is one thing, but if you want a villain, then make one up; don’t turn a real historical non-villainous individual into one.  There have been several articles in the UK press lately about the film and its portrayal of various individuals, especially Denniston:

    Bletchley Park Commander not the ‘baddy’ he is in The Imitation Game, family says

    Bletchley Park ‘villain’ was kind and dedicated, says ex-colleague

    The Imitation Game falsely paints Bletchley Park commander

    The film also could have done a better job at giving credit to the Polish mathematicians who pioneered machine methods of codebreaking, before WWII began.  Also, the film gives the impression that Turing’s friend Joan Clark was the only female codebreaker at Bletchley…this is not true, a very large number of women worked at BP, and some of them were in professional codebreaking roles.  One of these women was Mavis Lever; I excerpted some of her writing about BP at my 2007 post the Bombe runs again.  And it seems that the real Alan Turing, while he definitely came across as a bit of an odd duck, was more likeable than he is (at least initially) portrayed in the film; he has been called “a very easily approachable man” who did in fact have a sense of humor.  There’s a bit too much of “standard character type 21037–eccentric genius” in this version of Turing.

    The above critiques to the contrary, though, you should definitely see the film.  It does a good job of maintaining interest, even for those like myself who are already pretty familiar with the history The filmmakers could have avoided the above problems without harming the film’s impact as drama; indeed, I think there are accuracy-related changes that could have made the film more rather than less dramatic.

    This article compares several of the fictionalized Bletchley Park individuals with the real-life counterparts.  And this piece, by a woman who has spent a lot of time studying Turing and BP, is focused particularly on the character of Turing in real life versus in the film.  Probably makes most sense to see the movie first and then read these links for additional perspective. 

     

    Posted in Britain, Film, Germany, History, Society, Tech, War and Peace | 17 Comments »

    Christmas 2014

    Posted by David Foster on 24th December 2014 (All posts by )

    Newgrange is an ancient structure in Ireland so constructed that the sun, at the exact time of the winter solstice, shines directly down a long corridor and illuminates the inner chamber. More about Newgrange here and here.

    Grim has an Arthurian passage about the Solstice.

    Don Sensing has thoughts astronomical, historical, and theological about the Star of Bethlehem.

    A wonderful 3-D representation of the Iglesia San Luis De Los Franceses. Just click on the link–then you can look around inside the cathedral. Use arrow keys or mouse to move left/right, up/down, and shift to zoom in, ctrl to zoom out.

    Vienna Boys Choir, from Maggie’s Farm

    Lappland in pictures…link came from the great and much-mourned Neptunus Lex

    Snowflakes and snow crystals, from Cal Tech. Lots of great photos

    A Romanian Christmas carol, from The Assistant Village Idiot

    In the bleak midwinter, from The Anchoress

    Rick Darby has some thoughts on the season. More here.

    A Christmas reading from Thomas Pynchon.

    The first radio broadcast of voice and music took place on Christmas Eve, 1906. (although there is debate about the historical veracity of this story)

    An air traffic control version of The Night Before Christmas.

    Ice sculptures from the St Paul winter carnival

    O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, sung by Enya

    Gerard Manley Hopkins

    Jeff Sypeck on a winter garden

    Posted in Architecture, Christianity, Holidays, Music, Religion | 6 Comments »