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    Six Hundred Million Years in K-12

    Posted by David Foster on 17th August 2014 (All posts by )

    (Millions of kids are already headed back to school, making it an appropriate time to again rerun this post from 2012)

    Peter Orszag, who was Obama’s budget director and is now a vice chairman at Citigroup, thinks it would be a good idea to cut back on summer school vacations for kids, arguing that this would both improve academics and reduce obesity.

    I’m with Jeremy LottBut to look at the vast wasteland that is American public education — the poor teaching, the awful curriculum, the low standards, the anemic achievement, the institutional resistance to needed reform — and say that the real problem is summer vacation takes a special sort of mind.

    I wrote about the war on summer vacation back in 2006, after stopping at a store in Georgia on the first day of August and discovering that this was the first day of school for the local children. In this post, I said:

    The truth is, most public K-12 schools make very poor use of the time of their students. They waste huge proportions of the millions of hours which have been entrusted to them–waste them through the mindless implementation of fads and theories, waste them through inappropriate teacher-credentialing processes, waste them through refusal to maintain high standards of performance and behavior.

    When an organization or institution proves itself to be a poor steward of the resources that have been entrusted to it, the right answer is not to give it more resources to waste.

    Orszag and similar thinkers seem to have no concept that good things can happen to children’s development outside of an institutional setting. Plenty of kids develop and pursue interests in science, literature, art, music…plus, there is plenty to be learned simply by interacting with friends in an unstructured environment.

    Would the world be better off if Steve Wozniak and Jeri Ellsworth..to name only two of many, many examples..had their noses held constantly to the school grindstone rather than having time to develop their interests in electronics?

    Lewis E Lawes, who was warden of Sing Sing prison from 1915 to 1941, wrote an interesting book titled Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing. The title refers to the aggregate lengths of the sentences of the men in the prison at a typical particular point in time.

    Lawes:

    Twenty-five hundred men saddled with an aggregate of twenty thousand years! Within such cycles worlds are born, die, and are reborn. That span has witnessed the evolution of the intelligence of mortal man. And we know that twenty thousand years have seen nations run their courses, perish, and give way to their successors. Twenty thousand years in my keeping. What will they evolve?

    Following the same approach, the aggregate length of the terms to be spent in K-12 schools by their current students is more than 600,000,000 years. What proportion of this time is actually used productively?

    And how many of the officials who supervise and run the public schools, and the ed-school professors who influence their policies, think about this 600,000,000 years in the same serious and reflective way that Lawes thought about the 20,000 years under his supervision? Some do, of course, but a disturbing percentage of them seem to be simply going through the bureaucratic motions.

    And the politicians and officials of the Democratic Party are the last people in the world who are ever going to call them on it.

    Posted in Crime and Punishment, Education, Politics, USA | 12 Comments »

    Book Review: Nice Work, by David Lodge

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

    Nice Work by David Lodge

    —-

    What happens when an expert on 19th-century British industrial novels—who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory?

    This not being a time-travel novel, the factory is a contemporary one for the book’s setting in mid-1980s Britain.  It is a metalworking plant called Pringle’s, run by managing director Vic Wilcox.  Vic is not thrilled when his boss  (Pringle’s is owned by a conglomerate) suggests that he participate in something called the “shadow” program, designed to make academics and businesspeople better-acquainted with one another, but he goes along with the request.

    Robyn Penrose, literature professor at a nearby university, is also not thrilled about her nomination to participate in the program, but she is concerned about her job in an era of reduced university funding, and also thinks she had better do as asked.  The way the program works is that Robyn will be Vic’s “shadow,”  joining him at the plant every Wednesday, sitting in on his regular activities, and learning just a bit about what is involved in managing a business.

    Vic is a self-made man, not well-educated and with few interests outside work.  He is acutely aware of the danger that faces Pringle’s under the current economic climate, and is resolved that his factory will not join the long list of those that have been tossed on the scrapheap.

    There is nothing quite so forlorn as a closed factory–Vic Wilcox knows, having supervised a shutdown himself in his time.  A factory is sustained by the energy of its own functioning, the throb and whine of machinery, the unceasing motion of assembly lines, the ebb and flow of workers changing shifts, the hiss of airbrakes and the growl of diesel engines from wagons delivering raw materials at one gate, taking away finished goods at the other.  When you put a stop to all that, when the place is silent and empty, all that is left is a large, ramshackle shed–cold, filthy and depressing.  Well, that won’t happen at Pringle’s, hopefully, as they say.  Hopefully.

    Robyn and Vic dislike each other on first meeting:  Vic sees Robyn’s profession as useless, which Robyn sees Vic’s managerial role as brutal and greedy.  She is appalled by what she sees in her first tour of the factory..especially the foundry:

    They crossed another yard, where hulks of obsolete machinery crouched, bleeding rust into their blankets of snow, and entered a large building with a high vaulted roof hidden in gloom.  This space rang with the most barbaric noise Robyn had ever experienced…The floor was covered with a black substance that looked like soot, but grated under the soles of her boots like sand.  The air reeked with a sulphurous, resinous smell, and a fine drizzle of black dust fell on their heads from the roof.  Here and there the open doors of furnaces glowed a dangerous red, and in the far corner of the building what looked like a stream of molten lave trickled down a curved channel from roof to floor…It was the most terrible place she had ever been in her life.  To say that to herself restored the original meaning of the word “terrible”:  it provoked terror, even a kind of awe.  To think of being that man, wrestling with the heavy awkward lumps of metal in that maelstrom of heat, dust and stench, deafened by the unspeakable noise of the vibrating grid, working like that for hour after hour, day after day….That he was black seemed the final indignity:  her heart swelled with the recognition of the spectacle’s powerful symbolism.

    But still:

    The situation was so bizarre, so totally unlike her usual environment, that there was a kind of exhilaration to be found in it…She thought of what her colleagues and students might be doing this Wednesday morning–earnestly discussing the poetry of John Donne or the novels of Jane usten or the nature of modernism, in centrally heated, carpeted rooms…Penny Black would be feeding more statistics on wife-beating in the West Midlands into her data-based, and Robyn’s mother would be giving a coffee morning for some charitable cause…What would they all think if they could see her now?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Human Behavior, Management | 12 Comments »

    Thought-Provoking Posts from Italy, continued

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

    …some additional Joy of Knitting posts found at archive.org.

     

    Immigration 8/29/04:

    Those who want an unlimited number of immigrants to move into our country always say sighingly, to the sound of violins, “we were a nation of migrants…”. Which means that as Eyties once used to migrate to other countries, now we have to be generous and take in a billion people. I’m not against immigration, provided that it’s legal and regulated according to established quotas. But I also think that, as Italy can’t provide a decent livelihood for millions upon millions of immigrants, it’s useless to attract them here only to condemn them to a hand to mouth existence. Better support the economy in their own countries. Likewise the same beautiful souls look indulgently on crimes committed by immigrants reminding us that “we exported the Mafia”. Alas, so we did. However, as foreign governments quite rightly adopted whatever measures they deemed necessary to stamp it out, so we shouldn’t condone immigrant criminality. It would be offensive to law-abiding immigrants, sending them the message that they are racially inferior and therefore unable to tell right from wrong.

     

    Communism as a Religion 11/18/04:

    The fact that communism is a religion first dawned on me in the seventies. It struck me that, for all their virulent anti-Catholicism, comrades weren’t after all that different from the most bigoted among their opponents. They believed in Marxism with such a blind faith that merely hearing a different opinion made them fly into a rage and scream “fascist!” with the zeal of an Inquisitor. There were lots of dogmas to believe in unquestioningly, the coming of the Revolution, something called “the centrality of the working class”, proletarian violence, and lots more. No one could depart one jot from the approved faith on pain of excommunication. The doctrine was Marxism, enshrined in its holy texts, and the main prophet was Marx, but there were other prophets, like Lenin. There were saints, like Che Guevara. The god of this religion was a somewhat nebulous figure, either communism itself or a mythical entity called the People, or the Masses, or the Proletariat, which did not in reality correspond to any actual group of persons. Comrades talked about their love humanity all the time, but if there was something they couldn’t stand it was people. Human beings are so messy, so unpredictable, always botching up beautiful dreams of a perfect society in which everybody would be free to do as he is told by the comrades themselves, for his own good, of course. Their idea of paradise, where everyone would be exactly like everyone else, would be brought about by the Revolution. Belief in the Revolution was a central dogma of their faith, the one around which everything gravitated. It was the eschatological event that would lead, through purifying proletarian violence, to palingenesis, to total world renovation. It would be the Second Coming, the Apocalypse, the end of time, freeing humanity from its chains and placing it outside history. With the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the final triumph of the communist god, there would be no more history. That is, no more anxiety-inducing change, but endless stagnation. Where was Satan in all this? It was capitalistic bourgeois society. An often repeated slogan in those days was “The bourgeois state must be destroyed, not changed”. Criminals were therefore seen as romantic outcasts, the victims of bourgeois society, and terrorists were heroes of the People who fought for the Revolution. If they had to choose between criminals (or terrorists) and their victims, comrades would sympathise with the former and blame the latter. Imagine the left’s predicament in these days. Towards the end of the seventies, when revolutionary ideals started showing cracks, many comrades went mad or even committed suicide. Now, they must either wake up, face reality and renege on everything they’ve believed in so far, or just keep on dreaming.

    When the Translator is a Deconstructionist 11/25/04:

    I once bought a book of John Donne’s poems. I found an Italian edition with the original text on one page and the translation on the facing page. Plus, there was a short introduction about ten pages long. So far, so good. I took the book home, sat down to read it, and got a big surprise. When I happened to glance at the translation I found out that it was much more difficult than the original. The critic who had done it and had also written the introduction was a deconstructivist. While Donne’s text was easy to understand and not at all as obscure as I had been told it was, the translation into my own language was incomprehensible, twisted and tortured, with short, abrupt sentences that did nothing to follow the sustained flow of the original. The translator had rewritten the poems to his liking, even deliberately altering the meaning of the words, but the result had nothing in common with Donne’s work. Determined to see all of the horror perpetrated, I tried to read the introduction, ten miserable pages in a mysterious Italian I couldn’t understand. In the end I gave up. The problem is that the average student who couldn’t yet read English Metaphysical Poetry in the original would have thought that was Donne. The same thing happens to all those who touch anything deconstructivists have been messing about with, like cultures and civilizations. Claiming reality doesn’t exist, they present their own mistaken perceptions as the only possible reality, and want others to behave as if that was the only truth available.

     

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Deep Thoughts, Europe, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, Leftism | 6 Comments »

    Some Thought-Provoking Posts from Italy

    Posted by David Foster on 10th August 2014 (All posts by )

    In 2004, I discovered an Italian blog called Joy of Knitting, and linked to one of her posts, from which I excerpted the following:

    Cupio dissolvi…These words have been going through my mind for quite a long time now. It’s Latin. They mean “I (deeply) wish to be annihilated/to annihilate myself”, the passive form signifying that the action can be carried out both by an external agent or by the subject himself…Cupio dissolvi… Through all the screaming and the shouting and the wailing and the waving of the rainbow cloth by those who invoke peace but want appeasement, I hear these terrible words ringing in my ears. These people have had this precious gift, this civilization, and they have got bored with it. They take all the advantages it offers them for granted, and despise the ideals that have powered it. They wish for annihilation, the next new thing, as if it was a wonderful party. Won’t it be great, dancing on the ruins?

    The post reminded me of some words from Walter Miller’s philosophical novel A Canticle for Leibowitz:  ”children of Merlin, chasing a gleam. Children, too, of Eve, forever buiding Edens–and kicking them apart in berserk fury because somehow it isn’t the same.”

    Joy of Knitting had many interesting posts, focusing on the state of Western civilization and culture as well as items on Italian politics and society.  Sadly, the blog disappeared circa 2008.  Happily, I recently realized that some of the posts might still be available at archive.org, and indeed several snapshots are there.  I’ve retrieved and posted a few of the ones I think are particularly good below and will add more in the future.

    Siding with the Aggressor 8/29/04:

    In an argument I have often observed people instinctively side with the aggressor even if personal safety was not at stake. The attacker is stronger, faster, more determined. By his nature fated to triumph over his enemy, he becomes an object of admiration. Sheer destructive violence is more fascinating to many than playing by the rules. I believe that siding with the aggressor is a primeval survival trait. Along with death wish, desiring the extermination of all rivals, being on the side of the winner ensured a longer life. These traits were superseded with the onset of civilisation, but they never disappeared. Nowadays we can see death wish fuelling peacenik rage, but it’s a death wish that turns against the very society in which they were born, bred and pampered so much that they never grew up into responsible adults. Likewise, instead of siding with boring, humdrum democracy, they support those who want to destroy it. In their boundless love for violence they identify with the aggressor so much that they glamorise terrorism, sincerely believing that in the final Armageddon the enemy will be grateful and spare them. He won’t. Once I read a sentence, maybe in Cyril M. Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons”, that went “nobody invites the hangman to the victory banquet”. These babes in the wood will realise it only when it’s too late. As they cloak their deadly hatred of Western civilisation under a pretence of pacifism, so they justify their passionate love for the aggressor by pretending he’s the helpless victim. The intellectuals’ secret love for violence must also be taken into account. Living secure lives, hermetically insulated from reality, they long for excitement. Once they inebriated themselves contemplating Mussolini’s “masculine figure”, then they were all agog for proletarian violence, now they enthuse about the guerrilla of the month. Living mostly in their heads, they want a bit of action and revel in the total destruction they can only dream about.

     

    The Spinsterization of Western Culture 8/26/04:

    We’ve often heard about the feminization of Western culture. I would propose instead to talk about the spinsterization (or spinsterification? I do apologise to English speakers everywhere) of Western civilisation. I mean here spinsterhood as a state of the mind, and as such pertaining both to men and women. Forget about the inner child. It’s the inner spinster, the one that lies dormant inside all of us, that has surfaced with a vengeance. The ferocious do-goodery, doing good works all around whether they are required or not. The eternal preaching. There’s a homily for every occasion and an occasion for every homily. The prim, tight-lipped disapproval of about everything (actually, nowadays it’s rather a pout to show off the lips, plus the flaring nostrils). Loving animals and hating people. The moralising fury against small pleasures, like smoking, drinking, red meat, etc.. The constant “now look what you’ve done” look of reproach meant to unleash guilt trips that will last forever, taking as the official excuse concern about the third world or the environment. The tearful sympathy for the oppressed that quickly turns into loving the criminals and despising their victims. The ill concealed resentment against the rest of the world that becomes sympathy for those who want to destroy it. The hatred against men, especially white men, who are always dead and/or stupid. The revenge against Westerners who have a good life, and the attempt to make them wretched and miserable so as to smother them with condescension and good works. Preaching peace while relishing carnage. Seeing opponents as demons from hell. Using one’s own virtue as a battering ram in order to take control. Despite saintly words, absolute power is the spinster’s ultimate target and worthy causes are nothing but means to an end.

     

    Leftists as Aristocrats 9/14/04:

    Over time, lefties have filled the niche previously occupied by the aristocracy. The Italian nobility has not vanished, but since it lost its relevance it keeps itself very much to itself. Aristocrats once used to be the arbiters of taste, the supreme judges in matters of elegance and fashion, and established the rules of etiquette. They decreed what was in and what was out every season, what was done and what was definitely not done. As nobility slowly dwindled into insignificance, it left a social void. Lefties, once the proud sons (and daughters) of the people, moved in to fill that vacant space. It’s amusing to see how lefties, who used to pride themselves on their genuine, down to earth authenticity and their deliberately rough, uncouth manners, are now the essence of social refinement. They dress in cashmere and silk, they discuss wines with the smooth assurance of connoisseurs, and the places where top lefties go on holiday become instantly fashionable for a chosen elite. In their salons gathers the pick of the intellectual world, the culturati and the glitterati of the day. Lefties sneer at the right, which they call vulgar. They shiver when they think that Silvio Berlusconi, our PM, is a self made man, an entrepreneur who started from nothing and amassed an immense fortune. It’s somehow so unrefined. Lefties fawn instead on millionaires who belong to dynasties of industrialists. With their heightened sensitivity, they resemble the fine ladies of the Ancien Regime on the Eve of the French Revolution.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Europe, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, Religion | 4 Comments »

    Journalistic Appeasement, With a Precedent

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

    The London Times has refused to run an ad featuring Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust surviver Elie Wiesel.  The ad, which has already run in several US newspapers, is headlined  ”Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,500 years ago. Now it’s Hamas’ turn.”

    (via Pam Geller.  The whole ad can be seen here.)

    The London Times said it refused the ad because “the opinion being expressed is too strong and too forcefully made and will cause concern amongst a significant number of Times readers.”

    Hmm…reminds me of something.  Yes…

    In 1939, photos of dispossessed Czech Jews wandering the roads of Eastern Europe were made available to the Times.  Geoffrey Dawson, then the editor of this publication, refused to publish them:  it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended.  (Source:  William Manchester, The Last Lion: Alone, cited in my 2006 post here and  with an extended excerpt from the book at this interesting post on appeasement.)

    Posted in Britain, History, Israel, Judaism, Media, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

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

    Knitted footwear…may have significant implications for the global shoe industry

    US Civil Rights commissioner uses “science” to argue for restricting the free speech rights of college students.  (Is anyone surprised that he was formerly an aide to Nancy Pelosi?)

    College professor accuses program about gardening of being “racist”

    Functional geniuses and business idiots

    Fuel cells as a major energy source:  for real this time?

    Sea and sand from the sky.  More here.

    The Social Pathologist is back!

    Posted in Academia, Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Energy & Power Generation, Management, Photos | 13 Comments »

    Two Surveys About Israel and the Palestinians

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd August 2014 (All posts by )

    Survey by Pew Research conducted 7/24-27 and survey by Gallup conducted 7/23-24.  There are some notable differences in the results…while the questions asked weren’t precisely the same, they seem pretty close, and the response gaps seem pretty significant.

    Effect of age:  When asked about Israel’s response to the conflict with Hamas, in the Pew survey, only 22% of those in the 50-64 and 65+ age ranges say “gone too far,” whereas about 30% of those in the 18-49 range give this response.  With the Gallup survey, the question was whether Israel’s actions are “justified” or “unjustified”…about 30% of those in the 50-64 and 65+ ranges said “unjustified,” whereas 51% of those in the 18-29 range, and 43% of those in the 30-49 category, gave this answer.

    Effect of race:  In the Pew survey, 14% of whites, 27% of blacks, and 35% of Hispanics said that Israel is most responsible for current violence.  In the Gallup survey, the justified/unjustified question resulted in 34% of whites saying that Israel’s actions were unjustified, with 49% of nonwhites giving that response.

    Effect of gender:  With Pew, 19% of both men and women say that Israel is most responsible for the current violence.  With Gallup, 32% of men but 49% of women say that Israel’s actions are unjustified.

    Effect of political affiliation:  With Pew, 13% of Republicans but 26% of Democrats say Israel is most responsible for the violence.  With Gallup, 21% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats say Israel’s actions are unjustified.

    These opinion numbers are important not only from the standpoint of Israel’s survival and well-being, but also for the survival and well-being of the United States and the entire world, as they are largely (though not completely) proxies for attitudes which greatly affect our long-term ability to conduct a rational foreign and military policy in the face of radical Islamic terrorism.

    Posted in Israel, Statistics, Terrorism, USA | 4 Comments »

    Movies About Leadership

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd August 2014 (All posts by )

    PJ Media has a post that lists “10 films that teach important lessons for leading in tough times.”

    I think there are quite a few other movies and TV series that could be placed in this category.  For starters:

    Once an Eagle, which follows the comparative careers of Army officer Sam Damon–an excellent leader–and Courtney Massengale, an officer whose ambitions exceed his abilities and performance.

    Friday Night Lights, focused on leadership in a sports, school, and community context.

    The Caine Mutiny, which is indeed about leadership, albeit of a not very effective kind.  ”No one is totally useless, you can always serve as a bad example.”

     

    Others?

    Posted in Film, Human Behavior, Management | 15 Comments »

    Recent Events in the Middle East

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd August 2014 (All posts by )

    …remind me of a few things.

    There are a lot of people who can’t understand why Israel can’t just achieve a compromise settlement with the Palestinian leadership, in Gaza and elsewhere.  In response to this kind of  thinking, here’s a comment by the writer and former Army intelligence officer Ralph Peters, written circa 2006:

    One of the most consistently disheartening experiences an adult can have today is to listen to the endless attempts by our intellectuals and intelligence professionals to explain religious terrorism in clinical terms, assigning rational motives to men who have moved irrevocably beyond reason. We suffer under layers of intellectual asymmetries that hinder us from an intuititive recognition of our enemies.

    And in 1940, the French politician Paul Reynaud, who became Prime Minister of France just two months before the German invasion, incisively explained what was at stake at that point in time, and why it was so much greater than what had been at stake in 1914:

    People think Hitler is like Kaiser Wilhelm. The old gentleman only wanted to take Alsace-Lorraine from us. But Hitler is Genghis Khan.(approximate quote)

    Today’s radical Islamists, including leaders of Hamas, often assert: “We love death like you love life.” This expression is very close to that of the Spanish Fascists of the 1930s: “Long live death!”  The Fascist motto was taken from that of the Spanish Foreign legion….it is pretty strange even as the motto of an elite military force, and, when adopted as the motto of a society-wide movement, is a pretty good indicator of people who have moved “irrevocably beyond reason,” as Peters puts it.

    The excuse-making for Palestinian terrorism, and romanticization of same, continues.  It is especially strong today in Europe, but also exists on a considerable scale in the U.S., and indeed, even some Jews and Jewish organizations seem to be bending over backwards  to find some moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas.  I believe the psychological mechanisms behind these attitudes are significantly explained in a  1940 essay by C S Lewis on the “Dangers of National Repentance.” When Lewis wrote (March 1940), there was evidently a movement among Christian youth to “repent” England’s sins (which evidently were thought to include the treaty of Versailles) and to “forgive” England’s enemies.

    “Young Christians especially..are turning to it in large numbers,” Lewis wrote. “They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England…Most of these young men were children…when England made many of those decisions to which the present disorders could plausibly be traced. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?”

    “If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happen) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society…The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor; for a foreign secretary or a cabinet minister is certainly a neighbor…A group of such young penitents will say, “Let us repent our national sins”; what they mean is, “Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.” (Emphasis added.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Britain, France, History, Israel, Jewish Leftism, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    “But Would You Want Your Daughter to Marry One?”

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

    …one of the supporters of the other political party, that is?

    The graph above reflects an estimate of what percent of Republicans and Democrats would feel displeased if their son or daughter were to marry a member of the opposing party.  I constructed the graph based on the survey data reported in this paper and referenced in this Psychology Today article.

    The most interesting thing about the graph IMO is the sharp increase from 2008 to 2010…might this have something to do with the election of Barack Obama and the policies and rhetoric he has pursued since his first inauguration?  It’s too bad that there are only the 3 data points for the survey data.  In any event, it is clear that the past 50 years have seen a considerable uptrend in the belief that political divisions between the major factions are so strong as to prevent a happy and successful marriage.

    I think it’s clear that this phenomenon is largely a result of what I have called the politicization of absolutely everything.  (See also my post life in the fully politicized society.)

    The PT article is titled  ”Why Republicans Don’t Want to Marry Democrats,” and goes on to say that  ”As we’ve become increasingly polarized in America, conservatives have also defined liberals as an out group.”  I think the title is a little dishonest:  although the data shows a higher % opposed to cross-party marriages among Republicans than among Democrats, the proportion is quite substantial for both sides:  49% versus 33%.  Furthermore, the increase in such negativity from 2008 to 2010 is pretty similar:  1.81 versus 1.65.  (Also, the survey wasn’t about who people wanted to marry; it was about who they wanted their children to marry.)  And re the assertion about conservatives defining liberals as an out-group, anyone who has been paying attention over the past 6 years has seen and heard a constant stream of vituperation directed at conservatives, libertarians, and indeed anyone who dares depart from the “progressive”  worldview.  (As a very current example, see the just-uncovered comments by former IRS official Lois Lerner.)

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Human Behavior, Politics, USA | 21 Comments »

    July 28, 1914

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

    100 years ago today, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, marking the start of the First World War.

    Eric, at Grim’s Hall:

    100 years ago today…the middle ages ended. The Empire of Austria-Hungary, with a pedigree stretching back nearly 1000 years, (remember that the Duchy of Austria was created by Emperor Otto III in AD 996, the Kingdom of Hungary in AD1000), declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia (established AD1217, conquered by the Ottomans in AD1459, and reestablished in AD1882), and starting the first world war. 

    By 1918, Three of the 4 big monarchies in Europe, Austria, Russia, and Germany, were gone. The British survived, but began to yield it’s global supremacy to the USA. 

    The old European civilization, and it’s notions of societal order, hierarchy, and supremacy,  were all overthrown. 

    Posted in Europe, History, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    Money, Politics, Media, and Academia

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

    Much discussion lately about money and politics—about contributions in-kind, not so much.

    As is well-known, the mass media in general slants Left.  Importantly, this is not only the case with explicit news and opinion shows (viz Bob Simon’s 60 Minutes smear against Israel), but also more indirectly, in the case of messages–subtle or otherwise–contained in fictional TV programs and films.  To take one example out of many, HBO managed to work a slam against Republicans in general, and Ted Cruz in particular, into a vampire movie. And, of course, many prominent newspapers transmit left-aligned messages in virtually all sections of the paper, from the front page through the Style section.

    It would be difficult to put a financial value on the in-kind contributions being made by the media to the Democratic Party and the Left in general, but surely to purchase equivalent coverage at commercial ad rates would run into the multiple billions of dollars, probably the tens of billions.  Additional in-kind contributions to the cause on the Left are being made by many academics, who choose to use their taxpayer-and-tuition-provided salaries and classrooms for political preaching or at least subtle brand-promotion activities.

    Placing tight restrictions on explicit political contributions would have the effect of further increasing the power–greatly further increasing the power–of those institutions which are in a position to directly conduct political speech….those who own a microphone instead of having to pay for access to one.

    See this piece on restricting speech to the political class, with excerpt from Ace:

    It occurs to me that the Left is attempting to create a system wherein there are two different classes of citizenship, one fully possessed of its right to speak and act politically, the other whose rights in this regard are sharply curtailed. . . .
    The Left, were it to have its way, would forbid anyone who is not primarily in the business of politics (or working for the government or university) from exercising their full political rights.  If you work in any other industry, your rights are substantially reduced. . . .The only people who would be permitted to speak on political issues, or at in accordance with their social/cultural/religious/political principles, would be the Political Class Itself, which is of course largely “progressive.”

    See also the divine right of the US media…note especially this statement by someone who works for the New York Times:

    The government really needs to get its message out to the American people, and it knows that the best way to do that is by using the American news media,” said Shanker. “The relationship between the government and the media is like a marriage; it is a dysfunctional marriage to be sure, but we stay together for the kids.”

    How do you feel about being considered as a child under the parental authority of media-company employees and government officials such as Obama’s State Department spokesidiot Jen Psaki?  Want to see these people effectively given more even more power than they already have?

    Posted in Academia, Advertising, Elections, Leftism, Media, Politics, USA | 7 Comments »

    Cool Video of a CNC Machine Tool at Work

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

    Here’s a motorcycle helmet of fairly complex design being fabricated out of a single block of aluminum by a computer-numerically-controlled machine tool:

    LINK

    There’s been a lot of excitement lately about 3-D printing, and rightly so, but the hype level in some quarters may be getting a little extreme.  I think a lot of journalists lack an appropriate context into which to put this emerging technology, and, in particular, fail to understand just how much flexibility and universality is already provided by the numerically-controlled machine tools which have been in common use for the last several decades.

    See also my post on 3-D printing from 2013.

    Posted in Business, Tech | 5 Comments »

    Nautical Book Review: Two Years Before the Mast

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

    Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.

    —-

    (Review by CB commenter Gary Snodgrass, whose blog is here)

    In 1834 a young Harvard undergrad from the upper class of Boston left school to become a common merchant sailor. Sailing around Cape Horn to California aboard a Yankee Clipper, “Two Years before the Mast” is the memoir of that trip.

    While a student at Harvard, Richard Dana contracted measles and was in danger of losing his sight. Hoping to improve his condition he signed on to the Merchant Vessel “Pilgrim” for a two year trip. I think it was more for the adventure, and chance to prove himself than for the stated “Health” reasons.

    Dana describes in detail the day to day duties of the common sailor and what they went through. In the opening pages he captures the fact that he is an outsider hoping to measure up.

    “… and while I supposed myself to be looking as salt as Neptune himself, I was, no doubt known for a landsman by everyone on board as soon as I hove in sight. A sailor has a peculiar cut to his clothes, and a way of wearing them which a green hand can never get. … doubtless my complexion and hands were enough to distinguished me from the regular salt, who, with a sunburnt cheek, wide step, and rolling gait, swings his bronzed and toughened hands athwart-ships, half open, as though just ready to grasp a rope.”

    His adventure quickly becomes a hard life as he loses a shipmate and friend overboard and two other sailors are viciously flogged for minor offenses. Yet still, he is able to take pride in his new life.

    “… But if you live in the forecastle, you are “As independent as a wood-sawyers clerk, and are a sailor. You hear sailors’ talk, learn their ways, their peculiarities of feeling as well as speaking and acting. … No man can be a sailor, or know what sailors are, unless he has lived in the forecastle with them – turned in and out with them, eaten of their dish and drank of their cup. After I had been a week there, nothing would tempt me to go back to my old berth”

    It was the comradeship he felt and the atrocities he had witnessed that later led the attorney Richard Dana to become a champion of the Common Sailor and a leading abolitionist later in life.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Nautical Book Project, Transportation, USA | 9 Comments »

    Words and Phrases I Dislike: “Middle-Skilled Jobs”

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

    WSJ has a good article about three people who have put themselves on good career trajectories without benefit of 4-year college degrees.  One is a welder, one is a nurse, and one is an owner of franchised fast-food restaurants.  Unfortunately, however, the article uncritically uses the term “middle-skilled jobs,” which is seen increasingly in articles about the job market.  These jobs are said to be those which require more than high school and less than four years of college, and typically involve some sort of technical or practical training.

    “Middle-skilled”….really?  Is the job of a toolmaker in a factory really less-skilled than the entry-level job likely to be obtained by someone with an undergraduate Sociology degree?  Is a nurse’s job less-skilled than the work likely to be assigned to someone hired on the basis of his English degree?  Does owning and operating a food truck really require less skill than the kind of tasks typically assigned to an undergraduate Business major?  Is the work of an air traffic controller less-skilled than the kind of a job likely to result from a major in Victim Studies?

    It is good that there is increasing recognition of good career paths not requiring college degrees; however, the term “Middle-Skilled Jobs” is misleading and contributes to the continuation of credential-worship.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Media, Tech | 17 Comments »

    Words and Phrases I Dislike: “Controls X Percent”

    Posted by David Foster on 18th July 2014 (All posts by )

    …as in, “Universal Entities controls 73% of the Gerbilator market.”

    Uh, no, actually they probably don’t.  IBM once had something like 70% of the market for computer hardware, software, and services.  The big integrated steel companies, Bethlehem Steel and US Steel, once had a very high share of the American steel market.  Sears once had a high share of the retail market.  These examples could be multiplied easily and almost endlessly.

    A seller into a market does not control that market, or its position in that market, absent direct violence (the Mafia and various drug cartels, for example) or heavy government intervention–and even the latter is unlikely to be reliable in the long term, as the owners of TV station licenses facing first cable competition, and later Internet competition as well, found out, and as the owners of taxicab franchises facing Uber and similar competition are now discovering.

    The phrase “controls X percent,” when applied to a market, is almost always intellectually lazy, and is used far too often by writers who should know better.

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

    Words and Phrases I Dislike: “Humanitarian Crisis”

    Posted by David Foster on 15th July 2014 (All posts by )

    It’s all over the media, almost all the time, and a pretty weird phrase, if you think about it.  Actually, the flood or hurricane or earthquake or war or refugee crisis isn’t first and foremost a crisis for humanitarians.  The crisis may impose some additional stress on humanitarian organizations that are trying to help  (or at least to attract contributions), but the floor or hurricane or whatever is primarily a crisis for its victims.

    It is a very narcissistic way of talking/thinking about things, and I’m afraid the almost universal employment of this phrase says something about out society.

    Posted in Media, USA | 6 Comments »

    Nautical Book Review: The Cruel Coast, by William Gage

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

    The Cruel Coast by William Gage

    —-

    In an early morning in May 1944, the German submarine U-234 is cruising on the surface in heavy fog.  The bored lookouts are startled fully awake by the sight of a British corvette heading directly for them at full speed, 4-inch gun crashing and 20-millimeter cannon hammering.  The corvette rams the submarine about 30 feet from the bow, hitting hard and doing major damage.

    The submarine manages to disengage from its British pursuer and find temporary safety in the fog, only because the corvette also has suffered from serious damage.  But the effects of the ramming make it impossible for U-234 to submerge, and Captain Ludtke knows that his expected lifetime on the surface, in an Atlantic dominated by Allied air and naval forces, is quite short.  He resolves to put in at sparsely-populated Spanish Island, off the coast of Ireland, and attempt to repair his U-boat.

    To the people of Spanish Island, U-234′s arrival is like the appearance of a spaceship. The inhabitants are mostly fishermen, all living without much in the way of luxuries or possessions, isolated from the mainland except for the weekly visits of an old steamer, the Kerry Queen.  Ireland is of course neutral in the Second World War, but the people of Spanish have an inherited anger against Britain and hence have pro-German inclinations, carried over from the First World War without much thought.  The only person on Spanish who has a real sense of the issues in the present war is Nora Berkeley, a college graduate who lived for several years on the island after becoming orphaned as a child. She is now on Spanish to visit her grandmother, Lady Maud.  Nora loves the people of Spanish and feels protective toward them;  she does not like the Nazis and does not like submarine warfare—”How can they be honorable, and torpedo defenseless merchant ships?”

    U-234′s captain is Gerhard Ludtke.  He is a very successful submarine commander, holder of the Iron Cross, and his greatest ambition is to add the Oak Leaves…the ultimate award for military valor and success…to this decoration. Ludtke’s father surrendered a battleship to Bolshevik mutineers in the chaotic days following the end of WWI, and Ludtke’s own life has been largely driven by a strong need to redeem this strongly-felt disgrace.

    The submarine’s First Officer is Kurt Riegel—a devout Nazi, and with the kind of personality one might expect of such an individual–Riegel is arrogant, dramatic, quick to cast blame on others when anything goes wrong. The Engineering Officer, Peter Hoffman, is a very different sort of individual–quiet, with a “shy, tilted smile.” Once a violinist and an avid skier, Hoffman was deeply affected by the death of his wife Erika, who was killed in an air raid.  His considerable capacity for loyalty and devotion is now directed toward the crew of U-234;  indeed, his sense of responsibility toward the submarine’s crew parallels Nora Berkeley’s feelings toward the people of Spanish Island.

    Most of the people on Spanish are initially enthusiastic about the submarine’s presence and eagerly volunteer to help with the necessary repair work.  But Peter Hoffman quickly determines that submerged operation will only be possible if they can procure certain electrical parts which are by no means available on the island.  Captain Ludtke initially considers radioing for a Luftwaffe air drop, but realizes that any transmission would probably be intercepted and triangulated by the British.  He resolves to send Hoffman to the mainland by fishing boat to buy or steal the necessary equipment, with two strong islanders to do the rowing and Nora Berkeley as a guide.  Ludtke overcomes Nora’s objections by telling her that if the sub doesn’t get repaired quickly he may be unable to control his men, and some of the island women are likely to be raped… moreover, he warns, if the sub is still there when the Kerry Queen arrives on her weekly trip, he will blow the steamer out of the water.

    Hoffman and Nora Berkeley and the two islanders make their way to the mainland without incident, with Nora harboring a secret intent to slip away and notify the police about the sub’s presence in Irish waters.  They borrow a car and begin a tour of electrical distributors and power stations, with Peter looking for circuit breakers and battery acid that he can acquire and Nora looking for an opportunity to get away and go for the police.

    But as they become acquainted, talking among other things about music and  their childhoods (“Things did not seem to have been greatly different at Wassenburg Akademie and the St Brigid Convent School”), a strong mutual attraction grows up between Nora and Peter.  Nora now has a three-way dilemma: Keep harm from coming to the people of Spanish, keep U-234 from returning to the fight, and keep Peter Hoffman alive until the end of the war.

    The author has done a good job in portraying the two closed worlds of the islanders and the submariners and in building the action of the story around the collision of these worlds.  This book would have made…still could make…an excellent movie, with lots of opportunities for good visuals and good acting.

    Long out of print, but a fair number of used copies are available.

    Posted in Book Notes, Germany, Ireland, Nautical Book Project, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Thoughts on the Politicization of Absolutely Everything

    Posted by David Foster on 9th July 2014 (All posts by )

    One reason why American political dialog has become so unpleasant is that increasingly, everything is a political issue.  Matters that are life-and-death to individuals…metaphorically life-and-death, to his financial future or the way he wants to live his life, or quite literally life-and-death…are increasingly grist for the political mill. And where that takes us is that:

    People who disagree with your agenda are “attacking” you or “robbing” you.  How commonly do you hear dissent described in precisely those terms nowadays?

    When the government controls everything, there is no constructive relief valve for all this pent-up tension.  It all boils down to a “historic” election once every couple of years, upon whose outcome everything depends.  They’re all going to be “historic” elections from now on.  That’s not a good thing.   (link)

    I’m reminded of something Arthur Koestler wrote, in his great novel Darkness at Noon.  Rubashov, the protagonist, is a dedicated Communist who has been arrested during the Stalin purges of the 1930s.  (Although Stalin is never named in the novel, he is only referred to as “Number One.”)  During the interval between his arrest and his execution, Rubashov has plenty of time for thought and reflection:

    A short time ago, our leading agriculturist, B., was shot with thirty of his collaborators because he maintained the opinion that nitrate artificial manure was superior to potash. No. 1 is all for potash; therefore B. and the thirty had to be liquidated as saboteurs. In a nationally centralized agriculture, the alternative of nitrate of potash is of enormous importance: it can decide the issue of the next war.  If No. I was in the right, history will absolve him, and the execution of the thirty-one men will be a mere bagatelle. If he was wrong…

    Rubashov of course was incorrect in his assertion that “If No. I was in the right, history will absolve him, and the execution of the thirty-one men will be a mere bagatelle”…even if the dictator had been correct on this specific issue, the system of top-down rule and suppression of dissent absolutely ensured that there would be other issues, with potential for equally or even more disastrous outcomes, on which he would be wrong, and his wrongness would guarantee catastrophe.

    When everything is centralized, the temptation to deal with dissent in a draconian manner becomes overwhelming.  Just as Rubashov (at that stage in his thought process) justified Stalin’s ruthless suppression of dissenters on agricultural policy, so do many American “progressives” today seek the silencing of  those who disagree with their ideas. It will not be surprising if they escalate their demands to insist that dissenters should not only lose their jobs or be imprisoned, but should actually be killed.

    Posted in Book Notes, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 12 Comments »

    Shall It Be Sustained?

    Posted by David Foster on 4th July 2014 (All posts by )

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

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

    Narrator:

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

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

    He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces

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

    Benet’s poem ends with these words:

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

    But shall it?

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, History, Holidays, Poetry, Political Philosophy, USA | 3 Comments »

    Rerun: Mers-el-Kebir

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd July 2014 (All posts by )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, France, Germany, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    Blood on the Tracks

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd July 2014 (All posts by )

    Kevin Meyer has a thought-provoking post (referencing, among other things, the Asiana Flight 214 crash) on achieving the right balance between manual and automatic control of systems.  His post reminded me of something that has been lurking in my queue of things-to-blog-about for a long time.

    On January 6, 1996, Washington Metrorail train T-111 departed the Rockville (MD) station northbound.  Operating under automatic control as was standard practice, the train accelerated to a speed of 75 mph, and then began slowing for a station stop at Shady Grove. The speed was still too great for the icy rail conditions, however, and T-111 slid into a stopped train at the station, killing the driver.

    What happened?  I think the answer to this question is relevant not only to the specific topics of mass transit and railroad safety, but also to the more general issues of manual and automatic operation in system design, and perhaps even to the architecture of organizations and political systems.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Human Behavior, Management, Tech, Transportation | 19 Comments »

    June 28, 1914

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

    A century ago today, the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, along with his wife Sophie, lighting the fuse that would soon ignite the First World War.

    Here is a British project which invites people to send a time-traveling letter to the young WWI soldier whose bronze likeness stands at Paddington Station.

    See my post Western Civilization and the First World War, which references and excerpts Sarah Hoyt’s post on that subject.

    Posted in Europe, France, Germany, History, USA, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    Book Review: That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

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

    That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis

    —-

    This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.

    Mark Studdock is a young on-the-make sociologist, a professor at Bracton College, in an English town called Edgestow. He is is far more interested in university politics than in his research or teaching. and as a member of the “progressive element” at the college, he strongly supports Bracton selling a tract of property to a government-sponsored entity called NICE. The NICE is the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation,which Lewis describes as “the first fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world.”  What excites Mark most about the NICE is this:

    The real thing is that this time we’re going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past.  One hopes, of course, that it’ll find out more than the old freelance science did, but what’s certain is that it can do more.

    Trigger Warning: There is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  It contains things that will offend technologists and believers in human progress…social scientists…feminists…academic administrators…bioscience researchers…and surely many other categories of people.  It will probably also offend some Christians, for the way in which Christian theology is mixed with non-Christian magic. By the standards now becoming current in American universities, this book, and even this book review, should be read by no one at all.  But for those who do not accept those standards…

    The Basic Story. Mark has recently married Jane, a woman with strong literary interests and with vague plans for getting an advanced degree. She has recently started having disturbing, indeed terrifying, dreams, which suggest that she has a clairvoyant ability to see distant events in real time. Afraid that she is losing her mind, Jane seeks advice, and is told that her dreams are actually visions, they are very real, will not stop, and are of utmost importance:

    “Young lady,” said Miss Ironwood, “You do not at all realize the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, and even the life, of you and me, is of no importance.”

    Miss Ironwood warns Jane that extremely evil people will seek to use her gift, and that she would do well–both for her own interests and those of the entire human race–to join the community of which Miss Ironwood is a part, located at a place called St Anne’s. Jane responds quite negatively to the invitation, afraid that membership in the St Anne’s group will limit her autonomy. She is not interested in the dreams’ meaning; she just wants them to go away.

    Mark, on the other hand, responds enthusiastically when he is invited to take a position at the NICE, temporarily located at an old manor called Belbury.  One of the first people he meets there is the Head of the Institutional Police, a woman named Miss Hardcastle (picture Janet Napolitano), nicknamed the Fairy, who explains to Mark her theory of crime and punishment:

    “Here in the Institute, we’re backing the crusade against Red Tape.”  Mark gathered that, for the Fairy, the police side of the Institute was the really important side…In general, they had already popularized in the press the idea that the Institute should be allowed to experiment pretty largely in the hope of discovering how far humane, remedial treatment could be substituted for the old notion of “retributive” or “vindictive” punishment…The Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite; you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was.  And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention?  Soon anyone who had ever been in the hands of the police at all would come under the control of the NICE; in the end, every citizen.

    Another person Mark meets in his first days at Belbury is the acclaimed chemist William Hingest…who has also come down to investigate the possibility of a job at Belbury, has decided against it, and strongly advises Mark to do likewise:

    “I came down here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it’s something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home. I’m too old for that kind of thing, and if I wanted to join a conspiracy, this one wouldn’t be my choice.”

    “You mean, I suppose, that the element of social planning doesn’t appeal to you? I can quite understand that it doesn’t fit in with your work as it does with sciences like Sociology, but–”

    “There are no sciences like Sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn’t wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I’d let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again…I happen to believe that you can’t study men, you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing. Because you study them, you want to make the lower orders govern the country and listen to classical music, which is balderdash. You also want to take away from them everything that makes life worth living and not only from them but from everyone except a parcel of prigs and professors.”

    Nevertheless, Mark decides to remain at Belbury, and is drawn ever-deeper into its activities–which, as only those in the innermost circles of that organization realize, are not only consistent with the goals of the 20th-century totalitarianisms, but go considerably beyond them.  The NICE seeks to establish a junction between the powers of modern science and those of ancient magic, accessing the latter by awakening the medieval wizard Merlin and using him for their purposes.  At the same time, Jane–despite her reservations–becomes increasingly involved  with the company at St Anne’s and is entranced with its leader, a Mr Fisher-King. (His name comes from the Wounded King in Arthurian legend.)  The St Anne’s group is aware of the truth about NICE and its ultimate goals, and exists for the primary purpose of opposing and, hopefully, destroying that organization.

    I will not here describe the war between the forces of Belbury and those of St Anne’s (in order to avoid spoilers), but will instead comment on the characters of some of the protagonists and some philosophically-significant events in the novel, with appropriate excerpts. Hopefully this will be enough to give a sense of the worldview that Lewis is presenting in this book.

    Mark Studdock. His character is largely defined by his strong desire to be a member of the Inner Circle, whatever that inner circle may be in a particular context.  The passage at the start of this review where Mark agrees to engage in criminal activity on Belbury’s behalf is proceeded by this:

    After a few evenings Mark ventured to walk into the library on his own; a little uncertain of his reception, yet afraid that if he did not soon assert his right to the entree this modesty might damage him. He knew that the error in either direction is equally fatal.

    It was a success. Before he had closed the door behind him all had turned with welcoming faces and Filostrato had said “Ecco ” and the Fairy, “Here’s the very man.” A glow of pleasure passed over Mark’s whole body.

    That “glow of pleasure” at being accepted by the Belbury’s Inner Circle (what Mark then thinks is Belbury’s Inner Circle) is strong enough to overcome any moral qualms on Mark’s part about the actions he is being requested to perform.  Lewis has written a great deal elsewhere about the lust for the Inner Circle, which in his view never leads to satisfaction but only to a longing for membership in another, still-more-inner circle. In That Hideous Strength, there are concentric Inner Circles at Belbury, which Mark does penetrate–and each is more sinister than the last.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 12 Comments »

    The Political Impact of Cultural Technology

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

    It was observed by Andrew Breitbart that politics is downstream from culture.

    Be sure to read this post by Daniel Greenberg on the use of cultural technology in the culture war.

    Related: this Grim’s Hall review of the movie Maleficent, a new version of Sleeping Beauty.  The reviewer connects the implicit cultural messages of the move with the reaction of the Obama administration and its supporters to the Benghazi debacle.

    Glenn Reynolds said today that “Personally, I don’t think we’ll fix America’s political problems until we fix its media problem.”

    See also my related post Metaphors, interfaces, and thought Processes.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Media, Politics, USA | 3 Comments »