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    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 9th February 2016 (All posts by )

    Content abundance and curation in the media industry

    18th-century Scotland had an interesting system for paying for college

    Has getting things done in business…hiring new employees, finalizing business-to-business sales deals…become slower?

    Rejecting one’s country for aesthetic reasons

    Overconfident students major in political science

    This should be obvious, but to many people it’s unfortunately not: why the best hire might not have the perfect resume

    Interesting thoughts:  how debt/equity mix affects the trajectory of oil prices

    This writer is pessimistic about pessimism

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Education, History, Human Behavior, Media, Organizational Analysis | 5 Comments »

    The Ultimate Renovation Project

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

    I’ve written before about the classic ocean liner SS United States, which has been in danger of being sold for scrap.  Now, it appears that not only may the ship be saved, but she may actually be returned to commercial service.  Crystal Cruises has taken out a purchase option on the vessel, and during 2016 will carry out a project to scope out the conversion of the vessel to an operating cruise ship, which will sail on transatlantic as well as other itineraries.  A retired US Coast Guard admiral, Tim Sullivan, will be in charge of this very complex project.

    It is probably inevitable that the ship’s steam turbines and boilers will be replaced with a more efficient propulsion plant, probably diesel.  Some major changes to the superstructure are also planned, driven in part by the desire to offer passenger suites with balconies.  The artist’s  concept of the modified ship which is shown in the press release loses something compared to the aesthetics of the original vessel,  at least to my eye; hopefully it will be improved during the study effort.  In any case,  saving the ship and restoring it to service would be a wonderful outcome.

    Posted in History, Transportation, USA | 32 Comments »

    Generations, Politics, and Culture

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

    Here is an interesting piece with thoughts on  how generations look at the world differently.  Obviously there are tremendous differences in individual experiences within a generation…and I certainly don’t share the author’s apparent leftist worldview–but I do think it’s probably true that one generation tries to deal with, and sometimes even partly solves, one set of challenges, thereby setting up a different set of challenges for succeeding generations.

    Related thoughts from Hawaiian libertarian, who says that:

    Prior to the advent of mass mind control enabled by mass media technology, there was no real substantial differences between generations…at least not the sort that so thoroughly and contentiously divided us for the past century. Culture was far more static and slow changing, and influenced much more by religion and cultural traditions and norms. 

    I don’t think mind control is actually required, or even systematic propaganda:  improved communications and transportation will tend to create more coupling within a generation, and more differences between generations, even in the absence of any central orchestration of messages.

    Regarding generational perspectives in general and mating patterns in particular,  Vox Day says:

    (The Boomers)  tend to think of “change” as something that an individual does within the context of a permanent infrastructure. GenX, on the other hand, sees that there is no permanence to the infrastructure, and that the infrastructure is not only transforming, but is imposing its changes on the individual.

    The Millennial doesn’t even see the cultural infrastructure, and thereby doesn’t understand either the Boomer perspective or the GenX fury at the order and infrastructure they have lost.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Morality and Philosphy, Society, USA | 6 Comments »

    To Borrow a Phrase from Glenn Reynolds

    Posted by David Foster on 25th January 2016 (All posts by )

    …well, this is the 21st century, you know

    used-robots.com

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, USA | 2 Comments »

    A Message to Merkel

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd January 2016 (All posts by )

    from a 16-year-old girl in Germany

    Posted in Europe, Feminism, Germany, Islam | 10 Comments »

    What Are Our Stories?

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

    I’ve been reading The Devil’s Pleasure Palace.  The author remarks that, in the 19th century, the reading material in many American homes included Milton’s Paradise Lost.  We already knew that Shakespeare and the Bible were common reading in those days.

    The author notes (and this is unarguable, I think) that a society is largely characterized by the stories and myths that it shares.

    So my question for discussion is this…and I’m almost afraid to ask it…in American in 2016, what are our primary shared stories and myths?

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Society, USA | 12 Comments »

    Re-reading Drucker: Concept of the Corporation

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

    Concept of the Corporation, by Peter Drucker

    It’s been a long time since I read this 1946 book by Peter Drucker.  I recently pulled it down from the shelf and thought it worth a reread.  I’ll be excerpting some passages I think are particularly interesting, not necessarily in sequential order.  For starters, under the heading the corporation as a social institution:

    Americans rarely realize how completely their view of society differs from that accepted in Europe, where social philosophy for the last three hundred years has fluctuated between regarding society as God and regarding it as merely an expression of brute force.  The difference between the American view of the nature and meaning of social organization and the views of modern Europe goes back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  During that period which culminated in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) the Continent (and to a lesser degree England) broke with the traditional concept of society as a means to an ethical end–the concept that underlay the great medieval synthesis—and substituted for it either the deification or the degradation of politics.  Ever since, the only choice in Europe has been between Hegel and Machiavelli.  This country (and that part of English tradition which began with Hooker and led through Locke to Burke) refused to break with the basically Christian view of society as it was developed from the fifth to the nineteenth century and built its society on the reapplication of the old principle to new social facts and new social needs.  

    To this social philosophy the United States owes that character of being at the same time both the most materialistic and the most idealistic society, which has baffled so many observers…The American who regards social institutions and material goods as ethically valuable because they are the means to an ethical goal is neither an idealist nor a naturalist, he is a dualist.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Europe, Management, Political Philosophy, USA | 10 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading–Annotated Edition

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

    The Diplomad observes that “‘Progressives’, of course, are greatly influenced by movies. In fact…the majority of what passes for “Progressive thought” is derived from the Hollywood version of history that they have running in an endless video loop in their heads. Listen to them talk about the economy, race relations, education, “gender equality,” US history, etc., and it all forms part of some giant Hollywood script.”  Indeed—shortly after 9/11, when the idea of arming airline pilots was first mooted,  critics of the idea referred to “gunfights at 35,000 feet” as something “out of a Tom Clancy movie”. Hadn’t they thought that deliberately crashing airplanes into buildings might be something out of a Tom Clancy movie, too? And whether or not something might appear in a movie is obviously irrelevant to its validity from a policy standpoint.

    This topic relates closely to my earlier post about metaphors, interfaces, and thought processes, in which I discuss the consequences of the “iconic” versus the “textual” modes of presenting information.

    David Warren writes about the conspiracy of German elites, in both media and government, to suppress knowledge of the New Year’s atrocities in Cologne and other cities.  Indeed, one might conclude that the whole idea of free speech hasn’t taken hold very well in Germany over the last 70 years, at least among the writing and political classes.  Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to Germany: Mark Zuckerberg, the ringmaster of the Facebook circus, was apparently all too eager to co-conspire with Merkel to delete strong criticisms of her immigration policies.

    A society cannot thrive or even survive if its decision-making organs are disconnected from knowledge of what is actually happening, any more than your furnace can keep your house at the right temperature if the wires connecting it to the thermostat are cut.  In a democracy, the ultimate decision-making organ is supposed to be the people of the country.

    Don Sensing writes about totalism, and how it is reflected in the behavior of the Obama administration and the attitudes of the “progressive” Left.  He quotes Mussolini’s definition of Fascism:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Film, Germany, History, Islam, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Religion, Society | 6 Comments »

    Book Review: The Memoirs of Anna Egorova

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

    Over Fields of Fire, by Anna Timofeeva-Egorova

    Red Sky, Black Death, by Anna Timofeeva-Egorova, edited by Kim Green

    anna-realpic

    il-2-sturmovik

     

     

     

     

     

    During the Second World War, a number of Soviet women served as night bomber pilots, flying the obsolescent Polikarpov biplane.  A favorite tactic was to cut the engine and glide down almost noiselessly to the bomb-release point, and these flyers were known to the Germans as the “Night Witches.”  A smaller number of Russian women flew IL-2 Sturmovik attack planes and also Yak and other fighters.  The memoir reviewed here was written by a woman who first flew the biplanes and later became a Sturmovik pilot. (I read the first of the 2 books linked above and only just became aware of the second one; see remarks at the end of this post.)

    Anna Egorova begins her memoir with a recollection of her feelings on the day (before the war) when she reported for training to begin her hoped-for career as a professional pilot:

    In Unyanovsky, I rushed straight from the train station to the Venets–the highest spot above the Volga. And such an inconceivable space opened up before me from up here, such an expanse that it took my breath away!…And what a wonder, above the Volta covered by young December ice, a rainbow began to shine.  It threw its multicoloured yoke from one bank to the other…Yet maybe I had just imagined it?  But I was already laughing loudly, sure it was a rainbow and that it was a sign of luck.  Again just like back at the Kazan train station in Moscow, waves of joy were coming from my chest and their splashes were curtaining the horizon with a rainbow mist.

    Her ecstasy was short-lived, however.  Soon she was summoned before the school commandant, informed that her brother had been discovered to be “an enemy of the people,” and she was expelled from the school. (“How could my brother be an enemy of the people? My brother was the people”)

    Anna’s hometown was a tiny village, so small that it had only one street.  As a teenager, she had been thrilled by the plans for construction of the Moscow Metro, and volunteered as a worker, doing heavy and sometimes dangerous construction work.  At the time there was great interest in aviation throughout the Soviet Union; Anna joined a glider club and looked forward to becoming a full-fledged pilot. And when walking to the airfield on the morning of her first powered flight:

    Victor Kroutov runs off the footpath, barges into the bushes, and I am presented with the first bouquet of flowers in my life.  I am still angry at him but accept the gift.

    And then:

    Everyone stood to attention.  A light breeze was blowing in our faces, we were breathing easily and freely.  And it was so nice to live in this world, so joyful!  I thought that there would be no end to our youth or to our lives…

    Anna did well in training and was given the sole “ladies’ ticket” from her class to attend an advanced aviation school, but her anticipated career was derailed by the discovery of her brother’s “treason.”  (He had written an article for an economics journal which was reprinted by a British publication.)

    Eventually, she was able to reenter the aviation field, and when Nazi Germany invaded, sought to actively participate in the defense. Marina Raskova, a pilot who was famous for her long-distance flights (also a former aspiring opera singer!) had lobbied effectively for female participation in combat aviation.  Three female regiments were formed in late 1941 and were active by early 1942.  Some women also participated in almost-all-male units.

    Her initial service involved flying the Polikarpov biplane on message-delivery missions–apparently many Red Army units lacked functioning radios even at higher command levels–and also for reconnaissance.  Navigational instruments and facilities were basically nonexistent, and reaching one’s destination often involved landing near a village and asking someone , “Where am I?”  The slow and unarmored biplanes might seem like easy prey for the German Messerschmitts, but it was sometimes possible to evade them by clever maneuvering and by flying very low and slow. (The stall speed of the ME-109 was greater than the top speed of the Polikarpov!)

    After 130 missions, Anna wanted to transfer to a ground-attack unit, but met with some initial resistance: “No woman has fought in a Sturmovik yet! Two cannons, two machine-guns, two batteries of rockets, various bombs…Trust my experience–not every good pilot can handle such a machine!  Not every good pilot can handle such a machine!  Not everyone is capable steering a ‘flying tank,’ of orienting himself in combat conditions while hedge-hopping, bombing, shooting the cannons and machine-guns, launching rockets at rapidly flashing targets, conducting group dog-fights, sending and receiving orders by radio–all at the same time.  Think it over!”  Anna replied that she had already thought it over, and got this response:  “God save us, what a stubborn one!  Then do what makes sense to you!”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, History, Military Affairs, Russia | 14 Comments »

    New Year’s Eve

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

    A thought from the late and very great Neptunus Lex:

    “I’ve often wished that you could split at each important choice in life. Go both ways, each time a fork in the road came up. Compare notes at the end, those of us that made it to the clearing at the end of the path. Tell it all over a tumbler of smokey, single malt.”

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Holidays | 10 Comments »

    Are We Living at the Intersection of These Two Stories?

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

    The first story is Robert Heinlein’s The Year of the Jackpot.  A consulting statistician with the unlikely name of Potiphar Breen observes that many strange social trends are on a strong upswing.  One such trend:  young women removing all their clothes in public.  Potiphar sees one such disrobing in process, shoos away the police, covers the girl with his raincoat, then takes her home and asks her why she did it.  She doesn’t know.

    Potiphar informs her that nine other girls have done the same thing, in Los Angeles alone, on that very day…and goes on to tell her that this is a small part of the overall pattern of increasing craziness that he is observing.  A man has sued an entire state legislature for alienation of his wife’s affections–and the judge is letting the suit be tried.  In another state, a bill has been introduced to repeal the laws of atomic energy–not the relevant statutes, but the natural laws concerning nuclear physics. Potiphar shows the girl (her name is Meade) the graphs on which he has plotted the outbreak of bizarre things over time, and notes that many different indicators, all with different cycles, are all converging in this very year.  Still, Meade wants to look at her disrobing episode on an individual basis:  “I want to know why I did what I did!”

    “I think we’re lemmings, Meade,” Potiphar says.  “Ask a lemming why he does it.  If you could get him to slow up his rush to death, even money says he would rationalize his answer as well as any college graduate.  But he does it because he has to–and so do we.”  When Meade tries to defend free will–“I know I have it–I can feel it”, Potiphar continues with another analogy:  “I imagine every little neutron in an atom bomb feels the same way.  He can go spung! or he can sit still, just as he pleases.  But statistical mechanics works out anyhow.  And the bomb goes off.”

    As Meade and Potiphar become romantically involved, Potiphar’s indices of bizarre behavior and events continue to climb. Transvestism by draft-dodgers has resulted in a mass arrest in Chicago and a gigantic mass trial–but the (male) prosecutor shows up in a pinafore.  At the All Souls Community Church of Springfield, the pastor has reinstituted ceremonial nudity.  Two weeks later, a hundred and nine other churches have announced the same policy.  California is suffering a major water crisis, but people continue watering their lawns as usual.  Hardly anyone is interested in the upcoming Republican and Democratic conventions; all the excitement is about the revived Know-Nothing party.

    Foreign affairs, too, are disintegrating into chaos…topped off by a nuclear exchange.  Meade and Potiphar manage to survive, and Potiphar’s cycle charts seem to indicate that things will soon get better…(read the story to see how it comes out.)

    The fictional events of Heinlein’s Year of the Jackpot (set in 1952–it was written in 1947) don’t seem any more bizarre than the kind of headline stories that we are seeing every day in real-life:

    College students cry ‘racism’ when served ‘culturally-incorrect cuisine’ in the cafeteria

    The “Queen of YouTube, famous for eating cereal out of a bathtub of milk that she was bathing in , is granted interviews by both the sitting President and the leading democratic contender

    Woman loses her job and is threatened with having her children taken away, because she let her three sons (11,9,and 5) play by themselves in a playground next to her apartment building.

    Seven-year-old boy suspended from school for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun

    Previously-male person selected as Woman of the Year

     

    The second story is the play Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, France, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 16 Comments »

    Christmas 2015

    Posted by David Foster on 24th December 2015 (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.

    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 King’s College Cambridge

    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

    Mona Charen, who is Jewish, wonders  what’s going on with the Christians?

    Posted in Christianity, Holidays, Music, Religion | 2 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 21st December 2015 (All posts by )

    An analysis of the Trump campaign from a Boydian perspective.  (“Boydian” refers to the views of the fighter pilot and military theorist John Boyd, who emphasized the importance of the “OODA loop”–observe, orient, decide, act)

    Desperately trying to be one of the Kool Kidz:

    …the increasing number of voters who do not make their decisions on who will create the most jobs, build the most infrastructure, save the environment, strengthen the economy or even keep citizens most safe. These people don’t care about that. And while they do vote based on what they think is in their own self-interest, their regard is not for what they view as the path most likely to improve society’s lot. It is, curiously, motivated entirely by their sense of what is most socially fashionable – in other words, the fundamental high school desire to be one of the cool kids.

    Claire Berlinski has a thread on Churchill quotations

     

    Posted in Britain, Current Events, Human Behavior, India, Leftism, Politics, USA | 3 Comments »

    Songs of 2015

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

    I’ve heard quite a few good new songs this year…not all “new” in the sense of being just-released, but at least new to me.  Some of them…

    Della Mae is an all-female bluegrass-oriented group.  Their songs include Hounds (inspired by Francis Thompson’s poem ‘The Hound of Heaven’),  Some Roads Lead On,  Heaven’s Gate, and  To Ohio.

    Reflections from the beyond of an Irish immigrant who fought in both the American Civil War and at Little Big Horn: Mick Ryan’s Lament, sung here by John Sheahan, Jane, & Shane.

    From Tom Russell’s new album: The Rose of Roscrae and When the Wolves No Longer Sing.  (I’ve written about some of Tom’s earlier work here)

    Laura Orshaw: Guitar Man

    I heard this sequence of songs on the radio while driving home one foggy night:

    John Prine, Clay Pigeons

    Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams,  Midnight Highway

    Jason Isbell,  Hudson Commodore

    Nanci Griffith,  Waiting on a Dark Eyed Girl  (can’t find Nanci’s version online, the link goes to one by Kevin Welch)

     

    Posted in Music | 3 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 11th December 2015 (All posts by )

    Thoughts on Church and State–in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam–at Grim’s Hall

    A professor argues that the epidemic of hysterical rage in the face of dissenting opinions, now sweeping America’s campuses, is a consequence of  cutting out the teaching of logic and rhetoric

    Related:  the age of mass delusion  (via Bookworm)

    Reputation culture and the cult of likeability

    Posted in Academia, Christianity, Human Behavior, Islam, Judaism, Leftism | 22 Comments »

    The Phobia(s) That May Destroy America (rerun)

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

    (originally posted in 2012–a rerun seems appropriate under current circumstances)

    I am continually amazed by the level of fear, contempt, and anger that many educated/urban/upper-middle-class people demonstrate toward Christians and rural people (especially southerners.) This complex of negative emotions often greatly exceeds anything that these same people feel toward radical Islamists or dangerous rogue-state governments. I’m not a Christian myself, or really a religious person at all, but I’d think that one would be a lot more worried about people who want to cut your head off, blow you up, or at a bare minimum shut down your freedom of speech than about people who want to talk to you about Jesus (or Nascar!)

    It seems that there are quite a few people who vote Democratic, even when their domestic and foreign-policy views are not closely aligned with those of the Democratic Party, because they view the Republican Party and its candidates as being dominated by Christians and “rednecks.”

    What is the origin of this anti-Christian anti-“redneck” feeling? Some have suggested that it’s a matter of oikophobia…the aversion to the familiar, or “”the repudiation of inheritance and home,” as philosopher Roger Scruton uses the term. I think this is doubtless true in some cases: the kid who grew up in a rural Christian home and wants to make a clean break with his family heritage, or the individual who grew up in an oppressively-conformist Bible Belt community. But I think such cases represent a relatively small part of the category of people I’m talking about here. A fervently anti-Christian, anti-Southern individual who grew up in New York or Boston or San Francisco is unlikely to be motivated by oikophobia–indeed, far from being excessively familiar, Christians and Southern people are likely as exotic to him as the most remote tribes of New Guinea.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Christianity, Civil Society, Leftism, Society, USA | 33 Comments »

    Some Random Thoughts

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

    Hillary Clinton, if elected president, would likely do for gender relations what Barack Obama has done for race relations.

    Speaking of Hillary, anyone remember her response when the harmful impact of her proposed healthcare plan on small businesses was questioned?  Her response was: “I can’t be responsible for every undercapitalized small business in America.”

    No one was asking her to “be responsible” for them, of course, only to refrain from wantonly devastating them.  Should Hillary become the Democratic nominee, Republicans need to ensure that this quote, and other similar ones, are brought to the attention of every small business owner in America.

    There are a lot of small business that are run by women, and an effective attack on the Democratic hostility toward small business should help to reduce Hillary’s advantage among the female demographic.  Part of such attack should consist of hammering on the cultural factor–the truth is, Hillary feels contempt for you, Ms small businessperson–and part of it should consist of a very specific and tangible critique of particularly obnoxious regulatory and tax policies.  (I recently ran across a message board on which Etsy sellers, really micro-manufacturers, almost all female, were discussing the pain suffered while trying to comply with IRS inventory accounting rules.)

    Marco Rubio’s comment statement that “we need more welders and less philosophers” was unfortunate.  His overall point is entirely correct–we need to stop stigmatizing vocational education and assuming that College is and should be the only path to a really good job–but he could have said it better.  (See discussion at Ricochet, led by an actual philosopher.)  Republicans need to be careful not to project contempt toward anyone who thinks of himself as an intellectual, in the way that Obama projected contempt for a wide swath of working people with his snide comment about “clinging to guns or religion”…which comment certainly cost him votes and would have cost him a lot more had Republicans been able to use it more effectively.

    In that same debate, when the subject of whether large banks should be bailed out in crisis situations came up, neither Cruz nor Kasich mentioned the existence of the FDIC.  I don’t care about Kasich, but Cruz should have responded that ‘we have the FDIC to protect the vast majority of depositors–although we need to ensure that it is adequately funded by fees to the banks–so the real question about a bailout has to do with protecting the bank shareholders and bondholders–and no, we shouldn’t do that.’

     

    Posted in Academia, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Politics, USA | 14 Comments »

    Book Review: On the Rails–A Woman’s Journey, by Linda Niemann (rerun)

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

    (Norfolk Southern has renamed its Memphis railyard in honor of Deborah Harris Butler, who is retiring as their EVP of planning.  I notice that Ms Butler started out with a degree in English literature…which reminds me of another woman who went from an English degree to a railroading career, and wrote a truly great memoir about her experiences.)

    On the Rails: A Woman’s Memoir, by Linda Niemann

    What happens when a PhD in English, a woman, takes a job with the railroad? Linda Niemann tells the story based on her own experiences. It’s a remarkable document–a book that “is about railroading the way ‘Moby Dick’ is about whaling”, according to a Chicago Sun-Times reviewer. (Although I think a better Melville comparison would be with “White Jacket”, Melville’s book about his experiences as a crewman on an American sailing warship. Which is still very high praise.)

    Niemann had gotten a PhD and a divorce simultaneously, and her life was on a downhill slide. “The fancy academic job never materialized,” and she was living in a shack in the mountains and hanging around with strippers, poets, musicians, and drug dealers. Then she saw the employment ad for the Southern Pacific railroad.

    When I saw the ad in the Sunday paper–BRAKEMEN WANTED–I saw it as a chance to clean up my act and get away. In a strategy of extreme imitation, I felt that by doing work this dangerous, I would have to make a decision to live, to protect myself. I would have to choose to stay alive every day, to hang on to the side of those freightcars for dear life. Nine thousand tons moving at sixty miles an hour into the fearful night.

    Niemann is hired by the Southern Pacific to work at Watsonville, a small freightyard whose main function is to switch out all the perishable freight from the Salinas Valley. Other pioneering women are also joining the railroad at this time, and Niemann soon finds herself a member of an “all-girl team,” assigned to work the midnight shift during the rainy season. Their responsibility will be to reorganize all the cars that have come in during the day, positioning them on the correct tracks and in the correct sequence. They will have at their disposal a switch engine and an engineer, but it will be their responsibility to plan the moves as well as to execute them–coupling and uncoupling cars and air hoses, setting and releasing handbrakes, throwing switches. Before work, they meet at a local espresso house.

    It was an odd feeling to be getting ready to go to work when everybody else was ending their evenings, relaxed, dressed up, and, I began to see, privileged. They were going to put up their umbrellas, go home, and sleep. We were going to put rubber clothes on and play soccer with boxcars…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, History, Transportation, USA | 7 Comments »

    The Attrition Mill Speeds Up

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

    In one of my posts on the aftermath of 9/11, I introduced the metaphor of the Attrition Mill.  An attrition mill consists of two steel disks, rotating at high speed in opposite directions and crushing the substance to be milled between them.  Metaphorically, I see America, and western civilization in general, as being caught in a gigantic attrition mill, with one rotating disk being the Islamofascist enemy and the other disk representing certain tendencies within our own societies…most notably, the focus on group identities, the growing hostility toward free speech, and the sharp decline of civilizational-self confidence.

    The combination of the upper and lower disks of the metaphorical Attrition Mill is far more dangerous than either by itself would be.  For example, the student government at the University of Minnesota has rejected a resolution calling for annual commemorations of the 9/11 atrocity.  Why?  It was argued that such a resolution would make Muslim students feel “unsafe.” The “Students for Justice for Palestine” said that being reminded of 9/11 on its anniversary would lead to increased “Islamaphobia.”

    It seems pretty clear that this sort of ridiculously deferential “sensitivity” does not make immigrants, or children and grandchildren of immigrants, more likely to assimilate.  Contrarily, it reinforces group identifies and intergroup hostilities.  And in doing so, it creates a social environment in which it is much more likely that actual terrorists–representing the upper disk of the Attrition Mill–will go unreported or even be actively supported in their ethnic/religious communities. And that, in turn, greatly increases the risks inherent in large-scale migration.

    Hillary Clinton reacted to the Benghazi murders by blaming a video, going so far as to tell a grieving father that  he would have his revenge–not on the killers, oh, no, but rather we are going to have that filmmaker arrested Here, we see the threat and actuality of Islamist violence being used as an excuse for interfering with the free-speech rights of Americans…and you can bet that if that precedent is successfully established, it will be applied with plenty of other justifications, too.

    (On a related note,  John Kerry came very close to saying that the attacks on Charlie Hebdo were in some manner justified.)

    And both disks of the Attrition Mill are revolving with increasing speed. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the Paris kosher grocery store, and the Russian airliner were followed by the large-scale attack that just happened in Paris.  The lower disk of the Mill is turning faster as well:  Amherst students are demanding restrictions on free speech, with compulsory “reeducation” for offenders.  We have seen insane behavior at Yale, with students raging at a couple of professors who dared to suggest that people not go overboard about the issue of  Halloween costumes.  Here is Alan Dershowitz on what is happening to our colleges:  “the fog of Fascism is descending

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    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, History, Islam, Leftism, Terrorism, USA | 29 Comments »

    Veterans Day 2015

    Posted by David Foster on 11th November 2015 (All posts by )

    One of Kipling’s lesser-known poems:  The last of the Light Brigade

    There were thirty million English who talked of England’s might,
    There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
    They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
    They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

    They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
    That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
    They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
    And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !

    They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
    Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
    And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, “Let us go to the man who writes
    The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites.”

    They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
    To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
    And, waiting his servant’s order, by the garden gate they stayed,
    A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

    Read the whole thing here

    Posted in Britain, History, Holidays, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    Another Software Debacle

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

    The project to computerize immigration documentation is not going well…after $1 billion in expenditures and and a new estimated total cost of $3.5 billion—the original estimate having been for half a billion.  (via Marginal Revolution)

    And, of course, we’re all aware of the problems with the Obamacare website and supporting back-end systems.

    Back in 2006, I wrote about the failure of the FAA/IBM project to develop the “Advanced Automation System” for air traffic control: The story of a software failure, based on the writing of Robert Britcher, who was involved in the project.

    The problems with the ATC project were to my mind somewhat more excusable than the ones with the current immigration project:  the “Advanced Automation System” was required to operate with extreme reliability and availability with stringent real-time response criteria, to interface with radar systems, and to support a complex and safety-critical user interface.  The immigration system sounds like basically a large database and workflow system.

    Posted in Big Government, Management, Tech | 18 Comments »

    Lewis vs Haldane (rerun)

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

    (I cross-posted my 2014 review of C S Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength over at Richochet, where a good comment thread has developed. Some of the comments reminded me of the extremely negative review of the book written by JBS Haldane in 1946, and Lewis’s response thereto.)

    Haldane was an eminent British scientist (population genetics) and a Marxist. C S Lewis was…well, you probably already know who C S Lewis was.

    Haldane’s critique was directed at the series of novels by Lewis known as the Ransom Trilogy, and particularly the last book of the series,  That Hideous Strength . Lewis responded in a letter which remained unpublished for many of years. All this may sound ancient and esoteric, but I believe the Lewis/Haldane controversy is very relevant to our current political and philosophical landscape.

    To briefly summarize That Hideous Strength: Mark, a young sociologist, is hired by a government agency called NICE–the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation–having as its stated mission the application of science to social problems. (Unbelievably, today the real-life British agency which establishes rationing policies for healthcare is also called NICE.) In the novel, NICE turns out to be a conspiracy devoted to very diabolical purposes, as Mark gradually discovers. It also turns out that the main reason NICE wanted to hire Mark is to get control of his wife, Jane (maiden name: Tudor) who has clairvoyant powers. The NICE officials want to use Jane’s abilities to get in touch with the magician Merlin and to effect a junction between modern scientific power and the ancient powers of magic, thereby bringing about the enslavement of mankind and worse. Jane, though, becomes involved with a group which represents the polar opposite of NICE, led by a philology professor named Ransom, who is clearly intended as a Christ-figure. The conflict between NICE and the Ransom group will determine the future of humanity.

    A brilliantly written and thought-provoking book, which I highly recommend, even if, like me, you’re not generally a fan of fantasy novels.

    With context established, here are some of the highlights of the Lewis/Haldane controversy:

    1) Money and Power.

    In his article, Haldane attacks Lewis for the latter’s refusal to absolutely condemn usury, and celebrates the fact that “Mammon has been cleared off a sixth of our planet’s surface”…clearly referring to the Soviet Union. Here’s part of Lewis’s response:

    The difference between us is that the Professor sees the ‘World’ purely in terms of those threats and those allurements which depend on money. I do not. The most ‘worldly’ society I have ever lived in is that of schoolboys: most worldly in the cruelty and arrogance of the strong, the toadyism and mutual treachery of the weak, and the unqualified snobbery of both. Nothing was so base that most members of the school proletariat would not do it, or suffer it, to win the favour of the school aristocracy: hardly any injustice too bad for the aristocracy to practise. But the class system did not in the least depend on the amount of pocket money. Who needs to care about money if most of the things he wants will be offered by cringing servility and the remainder can be taken by force? This lesson has remained with me all my life. That is one of the reasons why I cannot share Professor Haldanes exaltation at the banishment of Mammon from ‘a sixth of our planet’s surface’. I have already lived in a world from which Mammon was banished: it was the most wicked and miserable I have yet known. If Mammon were the only devil, it would be another matter. But where Mammon vacates the throne, how if Moloch takes his
    place? As Aristotle said, ‘Men do not become tyrants in order to keep warm’. All men, of course, desire pleasure and safety. But all men also desire power and all men desire the mere sense of being ‘in the know’ or the ‘inner ring’, of not being ‘outsiders’: a passion insufficiently studied and the chief theme of my story. When the state of society is such that money is the passport to all these prizes, then of course money will be the prime temptation. But when the passport changes, the desires will remain.

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    Posted in Arts & Letters, Big Government, Britain, Christianity, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, History, Human Behavior, Law, Leftism, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Religion, Society | 18 Comments »

    The Ivy League and American Society

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

    Glenn Reynolds has some thoughts

    I believe that excessive credentialism is definitely reducing social mobility and inhibiting the full use of America’s human talents…and that the excessive reverence paid to “elite” colleges is part of this problem.

    I’m reminded of something Peter Drucker wrote, way back in 1969:

    One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…

    We as a country are a lot closer to accepting Grande Ecole status for Harvard Law School and similar institutions than we were when Drucker wrote the above.

    He continues:

    It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A. and M. is an engineer and not a draftsman.

    See also my 2011 post Drucker on Education, which includes additional excerpts from Professor Drucker on this topic.  Very well worth reading and contemplating.

    University Diaries also has a post and discussion thread on Glenn’s column.

     

    Posted in Academia, Education, Society, USA | 5 Comments »

    99 Luftballons

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

    The story about the runaway surveillance balloon,  especially in conjunction with the report that  there may have almost been an unauthorized missile launch in Formosa, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, reminded me of  this song.

    Original German version, with on-screen lyrics, and  an attempt at directly translating the lyrics into English.

    Posted in Germany, History, Music, War and Peace | 8 Comments »

    Organizational Culture, Improvisation, Success, and Failure

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

    Maggie’s Farm reminds us that October 21 was the 210th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.  (JMW Turner painting of the battle at the link)  I am reminded of a thoughtful document written in 1797 by a Spanish naval official, Don Domingo Perez de Grandallana, on the general subject “why do we keep losing to the British, and what can we do about it?”  His thoughts were inspired by his observations while with the Spanish fleet off Cape St Vincent,  in a battle which was a significant defeat for Spain, and are relevant to a question which is very relevant to us today:  

    What attributes of an organization make it possible for that organization to accomplish its mission in an environment of uncertainty, rapid change, and high stress?

    Here are de Grandallana’s key points:

    An Englishman enters a naval action with the firm conviction that his duty is to hurt his enemies and help his friends and allies without looking out for directions in the midst of the fight; and while he thus clears his mind of all subsidiary distractions, he rests in confidence on the certainty that his comrades, actuated by the same principles as himself, will be bound by the sacred and priceless principle of mutual support.

    Accordingly, both he and his fellows fix their minds on acting with zeal and judgement upon the spur of the moment, and with the certainty that they will not be deserted. Experience shows, on the contrary, that a Frenchman or a Spaniard, working under a system which leans to formality and strict order being maintained in battle, has no feeling for mutual support, and goes into battle with hesitation, preoccupied with the anxiety of seeing or hearing the commander-in-chief’s signals for such and such manoeures…

    Thus they can never make up their minds to seize any favourable opportunity that may present itself. They are fettered by the strict rule to keep station which is enforced upon then in both navies, and the usual result is that in one place ten of their ships may be firing on four, while in another four of their comrades may be receiving the fire of ten of the enemy. Worst of all they are denied the confidence inspired by mutual support, which is as surely maintained by the English as it is neglected by us, who will not learn from them.

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    Posted in Anglosphere, Book Notes, Britain, France, History, Human Behavior, Management, Military Affairs, Society, War and Peace | 4 Comments »