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    Loyalty and Risk-Taking

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd July 2016 (All posts by )

    In one of the old Neptunus Lex posts that Bill Brandt has been rerunning at The Lexicans, Lex wrote about the man who was CO of his FA-18 training squadron:

    My student cohort held him in awe: We’d been told that he had received an Air Medal during the war for saving a squadron mate’s life, or his liberty anyway. The latter had come off target badly hit and managed to limp only as far as the harbor at Hai Phong before his machine came apart. The pilot had been forced to eject and was floating in his raft a mile or so off shore, when he saw an NVA patrol craft bounding out to seize him. The unlucky aviator was contemplating the austere amenities of the Hanoi Hilton when our CO roared overhead at 500 feet, firing a Shrike missile in boresight mode.

    The Shrike is an anti-radiation missile, designed to home on enemy radar and destroy it.  The radar-following mechanism is its only guidance system; the only way to hit a target that is not emitting radar is to get very close to it before you fire the missile–thereby placing yourself at considerable additional risk  Lex’s CO had taken that risk, destroying the North Vietnamese patrol craft, and making it possible for the shot-down pilot to be rescued by helicopter..

    Reading the story, I couldn’t help wondering:  which if any of our current crop of political candidates and leaders would–in the extremely unlikely event that they ever found themselves flying combat aircraft–have made the same decision?

    Posted in Human Behavior, Politics, USA, Vietnam, War and Peace | 25 Comments »

    Automated Systems Need to be Supervised by Humans

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

    …and not just any humans.

    Listen to this very-well-done podcast about one of those times when thermonuclear war did not happen: Flirting with the end of the world.

    Automated systems need to be supervised by humans, and not just any humans, as Stanislav Petrov’s story makes clear.  Individuals and bureaucracies that themselves behave in a totally robotic fashion cannot be adequate supervisors of the automation.  See also my post Blood on the tracks for an additional example.

    Posted in History, Russia, Tech, USA, War and Peace | 9 Comments »

    The United States of Weimar?

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

    There is much political violence in the US these days, ranging from attacks on Trump rally attendees to protesters at those rallies being sucker-punched to the politically and racially-motivated murder of police officers in Dallas to the throwing of Molotov cocktails at police in the state of Minnesota (where the social climate was once characterized by the term ‘Minnesota nice’)—and there is every prospect that the violence will get worse as the political season moves into full swing.  Indeed, it seems that political violence is in the process of being normalized in this country. To understand the roots of this malign phenomenon, I think it is important to look at what has been going on in America’s universities for the past decade and a half.

    In 2002, a pro-Israel event at San Francisco State University was interrupted by ‘protestors’, screaming things like “go back to Russia!” and “get out or we will kill you!’ and shoving Hillel students against a wall.  Laurie Zoloth, a campus Jewis leader “turned to the police and to every administrator I could find and asked them to remove the counter demonstrators from the Plaza, to maintain the separation of 100 feet that we had been promised. The police told me that they had been told not to arrest anyone, and that if they did, ‘it would start a riot.’  I told them that it already was a riot.”

    “This is the Weimar Republic with Brownshirts it cannot control” is how Professor Zoloth summed up the situation on her campus.

    This kind of Brownshirt behavior at an American university was by no means an isolated incident: there have been many, many cases of intimidation, vandalism, and outright violence being employed against campus groups and speakers which some people–those people being almost always self-defined ‘progressives’–do not like.

    At St Cloud University in Minnesota, for example, the College Republicans had a kiosk supporting Israel, complete with Israeli flag.  Two professors approached the booth and asserted that since the members of the group were not Jewish, they had no right to fly the Israeli flag!  One of the professors told a students that she would break his camera if he took her picture, and then tried to grab the camera–also, according to this report, also grabbed the student by the neck and slammed him up against the wall.  The university administration backed the professors, also asserting that non-Jews have no right to fly the Israeli flag.  (The real issue, I’m pretty sure, wasn’t that the students were non-Jewish, but rather that they were Republican.)

    At Yale in 2002, some students had set up a memorial to victims of a car bombing in Israel.  The memorial was destroyed by vandals. A week earlier, at the same university, a petition opposing divestment (ie, withdrawal of pension fund investments from companies doing business in Israel) was defaced–in the law school.

    Theft of newspapers containing unapproved viewpoints has become common at universities. In 2004, the entire press run of the Yale Free Press, a conservative publication, was stolen by people who did not want Yale students to be able to read the opinions contained therein.

    In Florida in 2004, a social sciences instructor at a community college walked into local Republican headquarters and punched a cardboard cutout of George W Bush…and then, according to this report, also punched a Republican official in the face.  The punchee reports that the assailant “proceeded to say how he had a Ph.D., and he was smarter than me. I’m a stupid Republican,” and other comments laced with obscenities.

    In 2006, “Protestors” of the Brownshirt variety attempted to disrupt a scheduled speech by Congressman Tom Tancredo. The chairman of the campus organization that had sponsored the event was kicked and spat upon by some of the thugs, and the building fire alarms were pulled twice.

    Also in 2006, at Columbia University, left-wing students distrupted a speech hosted by the College Republicans. Angry students stormed the stage, shouting and knocking over chairs and tables and succeeding in their intent to prevent Jim Gilchrist (founder of the anti-illegal-immigration group known as the Minuteman) from delivering his talk. Columbia Public Safety did nothing to prevent the disruption. Christopher Kulawik, the College Republican president, told The New York Sun he was berated afterward by Columbia University administrators for allowing the speakers to say anything that would infuriate the crowd.

    A week later, Columbia administrators interfered with another event planned by the College Republicans. The scheduled speaker was Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist who saw the error of his ways and is now a supporter of Israel and the U.S. Just 3 hours before the event was to take place, a Columbia administrator sent an e-mail uninviting many of those who had already RSVP’d for the event–some of whom were already in transit. Apparently, Columbia was afraid of a repetition of the earlier disruption, and preferred to deny legitimate attendees their right to hear Mr Shoebat speak, rather than to take effective action against thuggishness by beefing up security and expelling disrupters.

    In 2008, Robert Spencer spoke at U Wisconsin-Madison, on the subject of the thread from jihad.  He says:

    I got off the phone a little while ago with one of the student organizers of my address tonight at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He told me that I would be led to and from the stage via secret passageway; that thirty security personnel would be on hand (in addition to my own); that attendees would have to pass through metal detectors; and that a bomb-sniffing dog would also be on hand…and also: The Rushdiean security precautions and these warnings were all necessary because of the fascist tactics of trying to intimidate and shout down opponents that students and others at UWM have employed in the past against speakers such as David Horowitz. 

    In 2003, former Israeli cabinet minister Natan Sharansky visited several US campuses:

    When I got to Rutgers University in New Jersey last month, I almost forgot I was on a college campus. The atmosphere was far from the cool, button-down academic reserve typical of such institutions. It was more reminiscent of a battlefield…Things were not much calmer at Boston University: An anonymous bomb threat brought swarms of police to the lecture hall and almost forced a cancellation of my appearance. But here, too, some good resulted when the bomb threat caused the lecture to be moved to a larger hall, which was quickly filled with some 600 listeners who were unwilling to accept the violent silencing of pro-Israel views.

    and

    During a frank and friendly conversation with a group of Jewish students at Harvard University, one student admitted to me that she was afraid — afraid to express support for Israel, afraid to take part in pro-Israel organizations, afraid to be identified. The mood on campus had turned so anti-Israel that she was afraid that her open identification could cost her, damaging her grades and her academic future. That her professors, who control her final grades, were likely to view such activism unkindly, and that the risk was too great.

    Having grown up in the communist Soviet Union, I am very familiar with this fear to express one’s opinions, with the need to hold the “correct opinions” in order to get ahead, with the reality that expressing support for Israel is a blot on one’s resume. But to find all these things at Harvard Business School? In a place that was supposed to be open, liberal, professional? At first I thought this must be an individual case, particular to this student. I thought her fears were exaggerated. But my conversations with other students at various universities made it clear that her feelings are widespread, that the situation on campuses in the United States and Canada is more serious than we think. And this is truly frightening.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Germany, History, Society, USA | 49 Comments »

    Shall It Be Sustained?

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

    For the 4th of July of 2014,  Cassandra had an excellent post:  Independence in an Age of Cynicism.  I recommend the entire post and all the links; read especially the third linked essay, which Cass wrote in 2008:  Why I Am Patriotic: a Love Letter to America.

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

    Narrator:

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

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

    He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces

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

    Benet’s poem ends with these words:

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

    But shall it?

    Posted in History, Holidays, USA | 11 Comments »

    Mers-el-Kebir (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd July 2016 (All posts by )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    Somme + 100

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

    Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.  The Telegraph is covering the events as if in real time, in a blog-like format, most recent posts at the top.

    Posted in Britain, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 27th June 2016 (All posts by )

    No aesthetically-appealing photos or amusing stories today, I’m afraid, just some very serious links and excerpts.

    The rockets of Hezbollah.  I knew they had accumulated considerable weaponry, but didn’t know it was this bad.

    Men, women, Christianity, and Islam

    Kevin Williamson on  preventing jihadist violence

    The impact of Islamic fundamentalism on free speech

    James Schall of Georgetown University on Orlando in hindsight:

    The Orlando killer was not alone. He was a true believer and other believers in the mission of Islam inspire him. Neither he nor any of his predecessors or future companions are to be explained by psychology, economics, or sociology. They are to be explained by taking their word for what they are doing. If the President of the United States or the British Prime Minister, the media, the professors, the clerics, cannot or will not understand this reality, we cannot blame ISIS and its friends. They are also realists who understand where ideas and reality meet, sometimes on a battlefield in Iraq, sometimes in a night club in Orlando.

    The Democrats as the American Totalist Party

    Football player Herschel Walker reports that he has had speaking engagements canceled because of his support for Donald Trump.   Which is exactly the kind of action one would expect from members of a Totalist party.

    Shortly before the Brexit vote, writer Frederick Forsyth wrote about the basic character of the EU:  Government by deception:

    You have repeatedly been told this issue is all about economics. That is the conman’s traditional distraction. This issue is about our governmental system, parliamentary. Democracy versus non-elective bureaucracy utterly dedicated to the eventual Superstate.

    Our democracy was not presented last week on a plate. It took centuries of struggle to create and from 1940 to 1945 terrible sacrifices to defend and preserve. 

    It was bequeathed to us by giants, it has been signed away by midgets.

    Now we have a chance, one last, foolishly offered chance to tell those fat cats who so look down upon the rest of us: yes, there will be some costs – but we want it back.

    A former ‘big proponent’ of the EU has this to say:

    To be fair, the EU’s main problem has always been its troubled relationship with democracy…This contempt for the will of the people might still be perceived as tolerable if the leaders otherwise seemed sensible – but now that someone as bad as Merkel calls the shots in EU, we’re reminded of just why having perpetual democratic safeguards is so important…the EU’s contempt for European voters and its current attempts to shut down dissenting voices bodes ill for its ability to course-correct on its own. If the EU is to be saved, it first needs to be humbled, nay, outright humiliated in such a manner that no-one can doubt that recent developments can’t be allowed to continue.

    John Hussman  of Hussman Funds looks at Brexit from an economic and investing perspective:  Brexit and the bubble in search of a pin.  He quotes his own post from last month:

    My impression is that the best way to understand the next stage of the current market cycle is to recognize the difference between observed conditions and latent risks. This distinction will be most helpful before, not after, the S&P 500 drops hundreds of points in a handful of sessions. That essentially describes how a coordinated attempt by trend-followers to exit this steeply overvalued market could unfold, since value-conscious investors may have little interest in absorbing those shares at nearby prices, and in equilibrium, every seller requires a buyer.

    Imagine the error of skating on thin ice and plunging through. While we might examine the hole in the ice in hindsight, and find some particular fracture that contributed to the collapse, this is much like looking for the particular pebble of sand that triggers an avalanche, or the specific vibration that triggers an earthquake. In each case, the collapse actually reflects the expression of sub-surface conditions that were already in place long before the collapse – the realization of previously latent risks.

    Posted in Big Government, Britain, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Economics & Finance, Elections, Europe, Islam, Leftism, Terrorism, USA | 15 Comments »

    When Sleep the Sentinels

    Posted by David Foster on 13th June 2016 (All posts by )

    When sleep the sentinels, ’tis the barbarian at the gate who strews their eyes with dreams.  Then are they vanquished by the desert, leaving the gates free to turn noiselessly on their well-oiled hinges so that the city may be fecundated when she has become exhausted and needs the barbarian.

    Sleeping sentry, you are the enemy’s advance guard.  Already you are conquered, for your sleep comes of your belonging to the city no more, and being no longer firmly knotted to the city…And when I see you thus I tremble;  for in you the empire, too, is sleeping, dying.  You are but a symptom of its mortal sickness, for ill betides when it gives me sentries who fall asleep…

    For if you no longer know that here a tree stands, then the roots, trunk, branches, leafage have no common measure.  And you can you be faithful when an object for your fidelity is lacking?  Well I know you would not sleep were you watching at the bedside of her you love.  But that which should have been the object of your love is dispersed into fragments strewn at random, and you know it no more.  Unloosed for you is the God-made knot that binds all things together.

    –Antoine de St-Exupery,  Citadelle

    Posted in Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Society, Terrorism, USA | 12 Comments »

    No, They Don’t Really Believe in ‘Equality’

    Posted by David Foster on 11th June 2016 (All posts by )

    There was a bit of media coverage of Hillary Clinton choosing to wear a $12K Armani jacket while delivering a speech lamenting Inequality.  The price of this jacket, of course, represents an utterly trivial proportion of the wealth the Clintons have amassed from their lifetimes of Public Service.

    This little incident serves to emphasize a point I made several years ago in my post Jousting With a Phantom:  leading ‘progressives’ for the most part don’t really believe in anything resembling equality–indeed, quite the contrary.

    Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.

    Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?

    The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?

    There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is such an asset.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Leftism, Political Philosophy, USA | 11 Comments »

    June 6, 1944

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

    Today, June 6, is the  72nd anniversary of the Normandy landings. See the Wikipedia article for an overview. Arthur Seltzer, who was there, describes his experiences.

    Don Sensing points out that success was by no means assured: the pivot day of history.

    Two earlier Photon Courier posts: before D-day, there was Dieppe and transmission ends.

    See Bookworm’s post from 2012, and Michael Kennedy’s photos from 2007

    A collection of D-day color photos from Life Magazine

    Neptunus Lex:  The liberation of France started when each, individual man on those landing craft as the ramp came down – each paratroop in his transport when the light turned green – made the individual decision to step off with the only life he had and face the fire.

    The Battle of Midway took place from June 4 through June 7, 1942. Bookworm attended a Battle of Midway commemoration event in 2010 and also in 2011: Our Navy–a sentimental service in a cynical society.

    See also  Sgt Mom’s History Friday post from 2014.

    General Electric remembers the factory workers at home who made victory possible.  Also, women building airplanes during WWII, in color and the story of the Willow Run bomber plant.

    Also, a very interesting piece on  the radio news coverage of the invasion

    Posted in Europe, History, USA, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Powering Down

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

    Everyone is aware of Obama’s suppression of the Keystone XL pipeline project.  But the legal, regulatory, and PR assault against critical infrastructure construction goes far beyond this. WSJ reports that:

    Many major fossil-fuel projects across the U.S., from pipelines to export terminals, have been shelved or significantly delayed because of a confluence of new regulations, grass-roots opposition and a drop in energy prices.  Overall, more than a dozen projects, worth about $33 billion, have been either rejected by regulators or withdrawn by developers since 2012, with billions more tied up in projects still in regulatory limbo.

    Among the projects that the WSJ article identified as ‘cancelled’ were the $875MM ‘Constitution’ gas pipelines for the Northeastern US and the $3 billion “Northeast Direct” for the same region.

    Natural gas is, of course, a major source for generating electricity, and the only practical way of getting the gas to the power plants is via pipeline.

    (The CEO of New England’s power grid operator), said pipeline) projects are badly needed. Residential consumers in New York and New England paid between 5% and 41% more than the national average for natural gas in March, the latest month for which data were available. They also paid more for electricity, which itself is increasingly made with natural gas. 

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Obama, Politics, USA | 9 Comments »

    Memorial Day 2016

    Posted by David Foster on 29th May 2016 (All posts by )

    A powerful and beautifully-done music video:  The war was in color

    Neptunus Lex:  We remember them

    Also from Lex:  A memorial day message from 2004

    Update: Bookworm’s Memorial Day essay for this year is up at her site

     

    Posted in History, Holidays, USA, War and Peace | 23 Comments »

    Book Review: Little Man, What Now?, by Hans Fallada (rerun)

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

    (I posted this review four years ago…given the continued economic difficulties faced by many Americans, and the political implications thereof, this seems like an appropriate time for a rerun)

    I’ve often seen this 1932 book footnoted in histories touching on Weimar Germany; not having previously read it I had been under the vague impression that it was some sort of political screed. Actually it is a novel, and a good one. The political implications are indeed significant, but they’re mostly implicit rather than explicit.

    Johannes and Emma, known to one another as Sonny and Lammchen, are a young couple who marry when Lammchen unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Their world is not the world of Weimar’s avant-garde artists and writers, or of its risque-to-outright-degenerate cabaret scene. It is far from the world of a young middle-class intellectual like Sebastian Haffner, whose invaluable memoir I reviewed here. Theirs is the world of people at the absolute bottom of anything that could be considered as even lower-middle-class, struggling to hold on by their fingernails.

    When we first meet our protagonists, Sonny is working as a bookkeeper–he was previously a reasonably-successful salesman of men’s clothing, working for the kindly Jewish merchant Mr. Bergmann, but a pointless quarrel with Bergmann’s wife, coupled with a job offer from the local grain merchant (Kleinholz) led to a career change. Sonny soon finds that as a condition of continued employment he is expected to marry Kleinholz’s ugly and unpleasant daughter, never an appealing proposition and one which his marriage to Lammchen clearly makes impossible. Lammchen is from a working-class family: her father is a strong union man and Social Democrat who sees himself as superior to lower-tier white-collar men like Sonny.

    When Sonny and Lammchen set up housekeeping, their economic situation continually borders on desperate. Purchasing a stew pot, or indulging in the extravagance of a few bites of salmon for dinner, represents a major financial decision. An impulsive decision on Sonny’s part to please Lammchen by acquiring the dressing table she admires will have long-lasting consequences for their budget.

    The great inflation of Weimar has come and gone; the psychological damage lingers. Sonny and Lammchen’s landlady cannot comprehend what happened to her savings:

    Young people, before the war, we had a comfortable fifty thousand marks. And now that money’s all gone. How can it all be gone?…I sit here reckoning it up. I’ve written it all down. I sit here, reckoning. Here it says: a pound of butter, three thousand marks…can a pound of butter cost three thousand marks?…I now know that my money’s been stolen. Someone who rented here stole it…he falsified my housekeeping book so I wouldn’t notice. He turned three into three thousand without me realizing…how can fifty thousand have all gone?

    Inflation is no longer the problem, unemployment is. There are millions of unemployed, and those who do hold jobs are desperately afraid of losing them and will do anything to keep them.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Germany, History | 3 Comments »

    TV Series Review: “American Genius”

    Posted by David Foster on 16th May 2016 (All posts by )

    Over at The Lexicans, Bill Brandt posted an item about an 8-part TV series titled ‘American Genius’…it is about a selection of inventors and entrepreneurs who have had a major impact on technology, society, and history.  It sounded worthwhile and I’ve watched about half of the episodes–thanks, Bill!…definitely worth watching, but OTOH I think there are a few things in the series that should have been covered a little differently.

    Edison vs Tesla is about the AC-vs-DC power wars, and correctly reports on the sleazy fearmongering tactics that Edison used in his unavailing attempt to maintain DC’s dominance.  The show referred to George Westinghouse, who was Tesla’s sponsor in this battle, as “sort of a railroad baron,” completely ignoring the fact that Westinghouse was himself a major American inventor.  Most people would think of a ‘railroad baron’ as someone who owns or manages railroads, not someone who invented the air brake.

    Farnsworth vs Sarnoff  is about the battle to dominate the emerging television industry.  It was presented as a David-versus-Goliath story–though Goliath was in this case named David (Sarnoff)–individual inventor versus ruthless tycoon.  Sarnoff was indeed ruthless, indeed could be fairly referred to as a prototypical crony capitalist…but it would have been interesting to point out that he wasn’t always a Goliath, wasn’t born to that position, but had in fact come to this country as an impoverished Russian Jewish immigrant and had encountered severe and career-threatening anti-Semitism on his path to Goliath-dom.

    Space Race is focused on two individuals, the German/American Wernher von Braun and the Soviet rocket designer Sergei Korolev.  Korolev was played by an actor who looked a little too young for the role at the subject time period:  more importantly, it should have been mentioned that Korolev had been arrested and sent to the Gulag, where he lost most of his teeth due to the brutal labor-camp conditions.  There were psychological scars as well–Boris Chertok , who worked closely with Korolev for years, said that there was only one single time that he saw the man really happy.  In a series focused primarily on the leading characters and their conflicts rather than on technical details, these things deserved to be covered.

    The program refers to a successful Soviet test in 1957 of a missile with intercontinental range, shortly before the launch of Sputnik.  Actually, the test was a failure because the warhead disintegrated on reentry…and reentry, while a critical factor for ICBMs, is not important at all for one-way satellite launches.  The American belief that Sputnik meant all of our cities were vulnerable to Soviet missiles was a little premature–not much.

    I thought Wernher von Braun got off too easily in this program.  The show did mention that the V-2 missile was assembled by slave labor in an underground factory adjacent to a concentration camp: the truly horrific nature of V-2 manufacturing (this was possibly the only weapons system ever made that killed more people in its making than in its employment) could have gotten more emphasis, and the evidence is that von Braun was fully aware of what was going on in this place.

    I’m also not convinced that von Braun was as absolutely critical to US missile and space programs as the show implies.  The program to build the Atlas missile, which was developed in roughly the same time period as Korolev’s R-7, was directed by USAF General Bernard Schriever, with technology expertise provided largely by the newly-formed Ramo-Wooldgridge Corporation and by Convair.  I see no reason why this team could not also have conducted a Moon program, had they been so chartered.

    The show does point out that von Braun, in addition to his technical and management contributions, played an important role in popularizing the ideas of rocketry and space travel…I had been unaware of his work with Disney to this end.  So, in addition to being a genuine rocket scientist (and, arguably, a war criminal in at least a moral sense), von Braun was also one of the great PR men of the century.

    Again, with the omissions and missed opportunities, the series is still very much worth watching.

    Posted in Business, History, Media, Space, Tech, Transportation | 13 Comments »

    Putin, Bukovsky, and National Sovereignty

    Posted by David Foster on 11th May 2016 (All posts by )

    Vladimir Bukovsky was prominent in the dissident movement within the old Soviet Union, and spent 12 years in prisons, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals.  He has lived in Britain since the late 1970s, and has been a vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin, referring to Putin and his cricle as the heirs of Lavrenty Beria–Beria being Stalin’s notorious secret-police chief.  Bukovsky also expressed the opinion that the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko (in Britain, by radioactive polonium) was done at the behest of Russian authorities.  So you can be pretty sure that Bukovsky isn’t on Vladimir Putin’s list of 10 favorite people.

    Recently, Bukovsky has been charged with child pornography by British authorities.  Claire Berlinski believes that he was likely framed by the Russian regime.  (More from Claire here.)  It certainly seems quite possible that Putin’s intelligence agencies planted the evidence on Bukovsky’s computer, and I am happy that Claire is going to be further investigating this matter, which has received little attention from the legacy media.

    I tend to believe that Claire is right and Bukovsky is innocent, though I have no way of putting probabilities on this at the moment.  I am also impressed by the logic of  Diana West’s question:  “Is there a sentient person, naturally revolted by the thought of child pornography, even five or six images’ worth, going to believe for one minute that the British state, for decades having turned the blindest and hardest and most craven of eyes against the sexual despoilment and prostitution of generations of little British girls at risk at the hands of criminal Islamic “grooming” gangs, has suddenly developed some compelling interest in protecting the welfare of children, and thus turned its avenging sword on … Vladimir Bukovsky?”

    Above and beyond this specific case–and it is extremely important to ensure that Bukovsky gets fair treatment by the British judicial system, which seems unlikely without considerable sunlight on the matter–there an overwhelmingly critical general issue involved here: that of national sovereignty. There is little question that Litvinenko was murdered at the behest of people in the Russian government.  There is no question at all that the ayatollahs running the Iranian government called for the murder of Salman Rushdie, a citizen of Britain, because they didn’t like something he wrote.  There is no question at all that many imams throughout the Islamic world are calling for the murder of people in other countries, based on the opinions of those people, and there is no question at all that Iranian authorities are actively encouraging acts of violence against Israel.  And there is no question at all that German authorities are prosecuting a comedian for the ‘crime’ of insulting a foreign leader, at the behest of Turkish ruler Erdogan.

    John Kerry, America’s idiot secretary of state, recently talked to a group of college students about a borderless world, which he apparently either believes is inevitable or of which he actually approves.  But in the universe that actually exists, a borderless world is one in which foreign leaders and rabble-rousers can cause great harm to citizens of other nations, with the governments of those nations either unable or unwilling to protect them.

    G K Chesterton is credited with the saying “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.”  (ascribed to Chesterton by John F Kennedy–the actual Chesterton quote can be found here)  But I doubt if Kerry has ever read Chesterton, and also doubt that he is capable of understanding him if he did read his works.

    Global interchange facilitates many good things, in trade, culture, and human connections:  it can also be a vector for bad things such as epidemics and cross-border murder and intimidation.  Cheerleading for a ‘borderless world’, without serious consideration of how to encourage the good and prevent the bad, is highly irresponsible.

    At a bare minimum, each civilized government should ensure that any planned legal proceedings against its one of its citizens which appears likely to have been instigated by a foreign power should be carefully vetted before proceeding.  Each civilized government should also react very strongly to any call by a foreign government for the murder of one of its citizens or residents–ranging from trade sanctions up to the funding of the overthrow of the regime in question and continuing to, in extreme cases, military action.

    Claire could use some additional contributions to assist with her work on the Bukovsky case; the link is here.

    Posted in Britain, Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Islam, Russia | 21 Comments »

    A Neglected but Significant Anniversary (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 10th May 2016 (All posts by )

    ‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
    ‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
    When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
    And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
    When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’

    (A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)

    On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:

    The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.

    If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.

    This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.

    First, I will very briefly summarize the campaign from a military standpoint, and will then shift focus to the social and political factors involved in the defeat.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 31 Comments »

    The State of American Politics in May, 2016

    Posted by David Foster on 5th May 2016 (All posts by )

    …my feelings right now as expressed in song, prose, and poetry.

    Bob Dylan:  I threw it all away

    For I’, substitute ‘we’:

    Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand
    And rivers that ran through every day
    I must have been mad
    I never knew what I had
    Until I threw it all away

    Procol Harum:  Broken Barricades

    Now gather up sea shells
    And write down brave words
    Your prayers are unanswered
    Your idols absurd
    The seaweed and the cobweb
    Have rotted your sword
    Your barricades broken
    Your enemies Lord

    British general Edward Spears, describing his feelings in the aftermath of Munich:

    Like most people, I have had my private sorrows, but there is no loss that can compare with the agony of losing one’s country, and that is what some of us felt when England accepted Munich.  All we believed in seemed to have lost substance.

    The life of each of us has roots without which it must wither; these derive sustenance from the soil of our native land, its thoughts, its way of life, its magnificent history; the lineage of the British race is our inspiration.  The past tells us what the future should be.  When we threw the Czechs to the Nazi wolves, it seemed to me as if the beacon lit centuries ago, and ever since lighting our way, had suddenly gone out, and I could not see ahead.

    Yet it was only two years after Munich that Britain demonstrated its  magnificent resistance to Nazi conquest.

    From an English or Scottish ballad

    I am a little wounded but am not slain
    I will lie me down for to bleed a while
    Then I’ll rise and fight with you again

    Lie down to bleed a while, if you need to–but not for too long–but do not give up.  The stakes are way too high.

    Posted in Britain, Deep Thoughts, History, Music, USA | 5 Comments »

    Tolstoy on Human Nature, and Certain Interpreters Thereof

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

    Prince Andrei (in War and Peace), who is falling in love with Natasha, is talking with her sister Vera:

    “Yes, that is true, Prince.  In our days,” continued Vera–mentioning “our days” as people of limited intelligence are fond of doing, imagining that they have discovered and appraised the peculiarities of  “our days” and that human characteristics change with the times–“in our days a girl has so much freedom that the pleasure of being courted often stifles real feeling in her.”  (emphasis added)

    Bingo, Leo Tolstoy!  I have often observed people writing or speaking about “these days” but equally or more often about “this country” or “this society” as if they had conducted a vast comparative study.  Frequently you will hear people talking about some unfortunate characteristic that is pretty much universal across space and time and attributing it the “modern American society” or simply “our society.”  Few of these, I’m pretty sure, have either spent a lot of time in  other societies or made a serious study thereof, nor have many of them conducted extensive historical research about other eras.

    I’ll give the floor to Gilbert and Sullivan, whose Lord High Executioner was looking forward to doing away with:

    The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone
    All centuries but this, and every country but his own

    Posted in Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior | 9 Comments »

    Sam Damon or Courtney Massengale?

    Posted by David Foster on 27th April 2016 (All posts by )

    The novel Once An Eagle (also made into a TV miniseries) tells the story of two American army officers, across a time span ranging from the First World War to the interwar years to World War II and beyond.  Sam Damon is a farm boy who has worked his way up in rank: he is committed to accomplishing his assigned missions and looking out for the survival and well-being of the men under his command.  Courtney Massengale is a West Point graduate with something of an upper-class background: he seeks out higher rank through political maneuvering, prefers Staff to Line assignments, and has little concern for subordinates.  The book is widely-read and highly-regarded in U.S. military circles.

    In the story’s climactic scene, Sam is commanding a division destined to participate in an attack on a Japanese-held island.  He is not thrilled to find that his division has been placed under the command of Courtney–now a three-star general and corps commander despite having spent his entire career in staff roles.  He is even less thrilled when he hears Courtney’s plan for the invasion–“PALLADIUM”–which is in Sam’s judgment far too complex to succeed in actual combat conditions.

    The Japanese launch their counterattack while Sam’s division is in a highly vulnerable state, in the midst of the turning maneuver required by the Palladium plan.  And the reserve unit which could have saved the situation has been redeployed by Courtney so that he can have the honor of being the first American general to capture a Japanese-held city intact.  While Sam is leading a desperate fight for the survival of his division, Courtney is riding in triumph through the town of Reina Blanca.

    Sam Damon and Courtney Massengale are endpoints on a spectrum, of course; few real people are as good as Sam or as bad as Courtney.  But still, it seems to be useful to ask the following question:

    What is the mix of Damon vs Massengale in each of our current presidential candidates and among other members of our national leadership?

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, Management, War and Peace | 33 Comments »

    TechnoProletarians?

    Posted by David Foster on 18th April 2016 (All posts by )

    Here’s a story about some Silicon Valley tech workers protesting outside a Hillary Clinton event co-hosted by a venture capitalist and George Clooney.  One might expect that these people are protesting Clinton because their political preferences lean toward the Libertarian or Conservative side.  But then, one would be wrong.

    They are mostly Sanders supporters.  And they feel oppressed by the industry that they are in, and especially by the VCs who fund the companies where they work. Here’s the complaint of a 26-year-old software engineer:

    “They sell you a dream at startups – the ping-pong, the perks – so they can pull 80 hours out of you. But in reality the venture capitalists control all the capital, all the labor, and all the decisions, so yeah, it feels great protesting one.”

    “Tech workers are workers, no matter how much money they make,” said another guy, this one a PhD student at Berkeley.

    Now, one’s first instinct when reading this story–at least my first instinct–is to feel contempt for these whiners.  Most of them are far better off financially than the average American, even after adjusting for the extremely high costs of living in the Bay area.  And no one forced any of them to work at startups, where the pressures are well-known to be extreme.  They could have chosen IT jobs at banks or retailers or manufacturing companies or government agencies in any of a considerable number of cities.

    Looked at from a broader perspective, though, the story reminded me of something Peter Drucker wrote almost 50 years ago:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Elections, Entrepreneurship, Management, Society, Tech, USA | 48 Comments »

    Paying Higher Taxes Can be Very Profitable (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 15th April 2016 (All posts by )

    (originally published in 2010 and now an April perennial)

    Chevy Chase, MD, is an affluent suburb of Washington DC. Median household income is over $200K, and a significant percentage of households have incomes that are much, much higher. Stores located in Chevy Chase include Tiffany & Co, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks-Jandel.

    PowerLine observed that during the 2008 election season, yards in Chevy Chase were thick with Obama signs–and wondered (in 2009) how these people were now feeling about the prospect of sharp tax increases for people in their income brackets.

    The PowerLine guys are very astute, but I think they missed a key point on this one. There are substantial groups of people who stand to benefit financially from the policies of the Obama and company, and these benefits can greatly outweigh the costs of any additional taxes that these policies require them to pay. Many of the residents of Chevy Chase–a very high percentage of whom get their income directly or indirectly from government activities–fall into this category.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Economics & Finance, Leftism, Taxes, USA | 3 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 11th April 2016 (All posts by )

    Many types of preening

    The mind of the Left, from a former insider

    How leftist Western intellectuals are undercutting a Muslim dissident

    There seems to be a lot of this sort of thing going on

    Drinking on a date has very different effects for men and for women

    How a US kid turned into a free-range German child

    Related to the above: how free play creates emotionally stable children in an unstable world

    An American fighter pilot meets the North Vietnamese ace who shot down his friend

    Neptunus Lex described the proper frame of mind for winning in air combat as “personal, like you’re in a knife fight in a phone booth, and someone has to die before anyone gets to leave.”

    Posted in Aviation, History, Human Behavior, Islam, Leftism, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    When Slander Goes Rampant

    Posted by David Foster on 8th April 2016 (All posts by )

    In her memoirs, Russian combat pilot Anna Egorova remembered her mother ”kneeling before the icons, as she firstly listed all our names, the names of her children, begging God for health and wisdom for us, and then at the end of each prayer repeating: ‘God save them from slander!’”  She didn’t understand that word ‘slander’ in her childhood, Egorova wrote, but after her brother was sent away as An Enemy of the People, “it was exposed before me in all its terrible nakedness.”

    I was reminded of Egorova’s story by a recent article by Richard Rahn titled The high cost of slander:

    Endless cruelties have been and continue to be committed on the basis of group slander. The communists and socialists imprisoned and slaughtered many of their merchant and property-owning citizens on the basis of a gross slander, not to mention what the Nazis did to the Jews. In America, blacks, gays, many ethnic groups and women were first stereotyped, then slandered, and then discriminated against. But the fashion of which groups of individuals can be slandered has changed to such people as Wall Street bankers; pharmaceutical, coal and oil company executives; conservative scholars; those who question the global warming establishment; and white males, among others.

    The general rule that one is innocent until proven guilty goes back at least to ancient Roman law: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat — “Burden of proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies.” Over the centuries, not only individuals, but whole classes of people, have been denied this basic human right. The oppressors normally begin by slandering a group, and then use the slander to discriminate and ultimately persecute — and, unfortunately, this persists even in America.

    If one listens to Bernie Sanders’ rants, somehow all of those who work on Wall Street are far greedier than most other Americans. It is also obvious that he has no idea of what the functions of financial markets are, nor the disaster that would occur without them. Yes, there are plenty of unethical and incompetent people on Wall Street, as there are in Washington and in most other places in America. That does not justify indicting all who work in a particular industry and a particular place. The ignorant attacks on the financial industry have resulted in increasingly costly and destructive regulation, which increases the risk in the financial system rather than diminishing it.

    RTWT.  Indeed, much political writing and speech these days is reminiscent of the two-minute hate sessions which were a feature of the totalitarian society portrayed in Orwell’s 1984.  Any day on Facebook, one can see the sharing and sometimes the origination of extreme and even vile assertions about individuals and whole groups…usually people and groups that are Designated Targets, similarly to Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984.

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Leftism, Politics, USA | 11 Comments »

    Culture, Cooperation, and Entrepreneurship

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

    Claire Berlinski is very pleased with the response to the GoFundMe page in support of her new book ($9700 as of this writing) as well as the strong interest in the crowdfunding investment possibility.

    A conversation between Claire and her brother Mischa suggests some grounds for cautious optimism about the future of this country:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Capitalism, Civil Society, Tech, USA | 25 Comments »

    Europe, Crowdfunding, and a New Publishing Model

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd April 2016 (All posts by )

    Claire Berlinski wants to write a sequel to her important book Menace in Europe, which I reviewed here.  She hopes to do this via a  self-publishing and investment model, under which people will make contributions toward the estimated $60,000 cost of the project and receive in return a percentage of the profits.

    Obviously, it will take some work to structure a deal like this properly and in compliance with all relevant regulations.  In the meantime, Claire is doing some initial fundraising via GoFundMe–see the link at Brave Old World.  Contributions here, which will go especially toward development of the project website, are straight donations without expectation of any financial return.  However, you do get the benefit, as Claire notes, of helping to replace the New York Times and similar publications as gatekeepers of the news.

    Posted in Business, Europe, Media | 6 Comments »