Posted by David Foster on 31st July 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Girlwithadragonflytattoo has a post on anger, in which she argues that expressing one’s anger is generally not a good idea, from the standpoint of one’s own mental health.
Dragonfly Girl’s post reminded me of a recent post by Grim, in which he discusses anger in a political context, and channels Andrew Klavan to point out that anger can make you stupid.
Grim: We need to be cunning. We need to think and act strategically.
Klavan: You want to win back your country? Here’s how. Fear nothing. Hate no one. Stick to principles. Unchecked borders are dangerous not because Mexicans are evil but because evil thrives when good men don’t stand guard. Poverty programs are misguided, not because the poor are undeserving criminals, but because dependency on government breeds dysfunction and more poverty. Guns save lives and protect liberty. Property rights guarantee liberty. Religious rights are essential to liberty. Without liberty we are equal only in misery.
Anger of course does have a purpose. In politics, it is anger at bad policies and their destructive impact that can motivate one to get involved and work hard for positive change. In relationships, anger at mistreatment can motivate one to fix it or get out of it. But anger needs to be controlled and moderated or it becomes the enemy of judicious thought and effective action.
Speaking of effective action, the original post also reminded me (oddly enough!) of a famous event in military history, the Charge of the Light Brigade. This unnecessary disaster took place during the Crimean War, in 1864, and seems to have been driven in considerable part by toxic emotions on the part of British officers involved. While the details of the Charge are still being debated by historians, 161 years later, the general outline was as follows…
The Light Cavalry Brigade was commanded by Lord Cardigan, who in turn was subordinate to the overall Cavalry commander, Lord Lucan. The two men were related, and they could not stand each other, to the point where they avoided communication. Neither was popular in the army.
On October 25, the overall British commander in the Crimea, Lord Raglan, was situated on high ground, from which he had a far better view of the field than did Cardigan and Lucan. He and his staff observed that the Russians had captured some heavy British guns and were about to haul them away. An order was dispatched to Lucan under the signature of Raglan’s chief of staff:
Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front – follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. R Airey. Immediate.
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Posted in Britain, History, Human Behavior, Politics | 15 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 29th July 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
…some thoughts from the UK:
A lot of what happens on Facebook, as with Twitter, is “virtue signalling” – showing off to your friends about how right on you are.
via the Assistant Village Idiot, who says:
I mentioned this long ago in terms of Not In Our Name, and also suggested that Jonathan Haidt overlooks those places where liberals are just as purity vs. disgust* concerned as conservatives. (See also environmentalism, vegetarianism, NASCAR and a host of other disgust issues, including, I think wealth – though that is more ambiguous in both camps.
*And authority driven, another trait supposedly more common among conservatives. The imprimatur of Roberth Reich or Paul Krugman is enough in economics; climate change catastrophe is based on choice of authorities.
See also my related post Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is…do you, Mr Priebus?
Posted in Britain, Human Behavior, Internet, Leftism, Media, Politics, Tech | 1 Comment »
Posted by David Foster on 22nd July 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
…and his Portuguese subjects.
A political and social analogy from Sarah Hoyt:
Yesterday I was talking to my mom and she said the news from the States and the things “your funny critters” (pretty much how mom refers to governments in general!) are doing remind her of the Spanish occupation of Portugal.
Read the whole thing.
Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Europe, History, Obama, USA | 6 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 20th July 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
…do you, Mr Priebus?
A study by Pew Research says that Americans are increasingly getting their news from Facebook and Twitter. The study indicates that 63% of both FB and Twitter users says that they get news from these sites, up from 47% and 52% in 2013. (Bear in mind that 66% of US adults use Facebook, whereas only 17% use Twitter.) In general, it seems that FB users are more likely to pro-actively share and comment on politically-related posts, whereas Twitter users are more likely to follow stories from “official” news organizations.
Of course, the fact that someone gets news from FB or Twitter does not by itself say anything about how important that site is to them within the universe of possible news sources. Another part of the survey attempts to answer that question. Among people 35 and over, 34% say Facebook is “the most or an important” way they get news; the corresponding number for Twitter is 31%. But among those 18-34, the number is 49% for both FB and Twitter.
WSJ recently reviewed a new book, The Selfie Vote, by political analyst Kristen Soltis Anderson, who says:
“I’ve spent the last six years trying to crack the code on young voters. What I’ve found should terrify Republicans.”
She believes the current Republican approach to political marketing does not mesh with the way Millennials (“who view their comfort with technology as what makes their generation ‘special'”) tend to get information. Quoting the WSJ piece:
“Take the 2012 presidential race. Mitt Romney’s campaign stuck mostly with network TV ads during prime time, sometimes…paying nearly six times as much as Barack Obama’s campaign for an ad of the same length during the same time slot. Team Obama made use of individually targeted ads for satellite subscribers, tailoring the campaign’s message to specific voters in swing states and spending less money on network TV. The Obama campaign also developed cost-effective online ads that targeted Facebook and YouTube users based on personal-preference data, even running ads in online videogames…As more millennials pull the cable plug and spend their free time exclusively online, Republicans can’t expect to compete by pouring resources into 30-second spots during “Jeopardy!””
I think Facebook is a poor source for news and a very inferior venue for political discussion. But the Left is using it very effectively to circulate memes, usually in the form of simplistic poster-like images with a photo or graphic of some kind and a few words or dubious statistics. There does not seem to be any coherent effort on the part of the RNC, or any other Republican campaign organization or conservative/libertarian organization, to rapidly generate refutations of these when called for, nor do I see very many counter-leftist memes that I judge to be good enough, from a marketing standpoint, to be worth circulating. And there is very little of marketing value to be found on either the FB page of the RNC or the FB page of RNC chairman Reince Priebus.
My sense is that while the RNC leadership may understand old-style get-out-the-vote campaigns and precinct organization, they have little concept of social media marketing, and have also been outdone in the use of “big data” for campaign management. (See my post Catalist, “The 480,” and The Real 480.) I don’t think they’re really all that good at old-fashioned direct-mail marketing, either, based on what shows up in my mailbox.
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Posted in Advertising, Blogging, Book Notes, Elections, Human Behavior, Media, Politics, Rhetoric, Tech | 31 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 19th July 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
If you’re flying an airplane at 30,000 feet, in the clouds, communicating with Chicago Air Traffic Control Center, here’s something you really don’t want to hear over your headset:
Chicago Center is evacuating. Radar service is terminated….Good luck.
But that’s what numerous pilots heard on the early morning of September 26, 2014, after a fire was set by a saboteur in the equipment racks at Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center.
Flying Magazine has a story about how controllers and tech staff faced with this situation worked rapidly, flexibly, and creatively to avoid accidents and minimize the disruption to traffic. Other organizations should take note.
Posted in Aviation, Management, Transportation | 4 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 12th July 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
When Goethe was 15, he was already recognized by friends as an exceptional writer. One of these friends, “Pylades,” told Goethe that he had recently read some of his verses aloud to “some pleasant companions…and not one of them will believe that you have made them.” Goethe said he didn’t much care whether they believed it or not, but just then one of the “pleasant companions” showed up, and Pylades proposed a way of convincing the fellow of Goethe’s abilities: “Give him any theme, and he will make you a poem on the spot.”
The disbeliever asked Goethe if he “would venture to compose a pretty love-letter in rhyme, which a modest young woman might be supposed to write to a young man, to declare her inclination.”
“Nothing easier,” said Goethe, and after thinking for a few minutes commenced to write. The now-former disbeliever was very impressed, said he hoped to see more of Goethe soon, and proposed an expedition into the country. For this expedition, they were joined by several more young men “of the same rank”…intelligent and knowledgeable, but from the lower and middle classes, earning their livings by copying for lawyers, tutoring children, etc.
These guys told Goethe that they had copied his letter in a mock-feminine hand and had sent it to “a conceited young man, who was now firmly persuaded that a lady to whom he had paid distant court was excessively enamored of him, and sought an opportunity for closer acquaintance.” The young man had completely fallen for it, and desired to respond to the woman also in verse…but did not believe he had the talent to write such verse.
Believing it was all in good fun, Goethe agreed to also write the reply. Soon, he met the would-be lover, who was “certainly not very bright” and who was thrilled with “his” response to his inamorata.
While Goethe was with this group, “a girl of uncommon…of incredible beauty” came into the room. Her name was Gretchen, and she was a relative of one of the tricksters present. Goethe was quite smitten:
“The form of that girl followed me from that moment on every path; it was the first durable impression which a female being had made upon me: and as I could find no pretext to see her at home, and would not seek one, I went to church for love of her, and had soon traced out where she sat. Thus, during the long Protestant service, I gazed my fill at her.”
The tricksters soon prevailed upon Goethe to write another letter, this one from the lady to the sucker “I immediately set to work, and thought of every thing that would be in the highest degree pleasing if Gretchen were writing it to me.” When finished, he read it to one of the tricksters, with Gretchen sitting by the window and spinning. After the trickster left, Gretchen told Goethe that he should not be participating in this affair: “The thing seems an innocent jest: it is a jest, but it is not innocent”…and asked why “you, a young man man of good family, rich, independent” would allow himself to be used as a tool in this deception, when she herself, although a dependent relative, had refused to become involved by copying the letters.
Gretchen then read the epistle, commenting that “That is very pretty, but it is a pity that it is not destined for a real purpose.” Goethe said how exciting it would be for a young man to really receive such a letter from a girl he cared about, and…greatly daring…asked: “if any one who knew, prized, honored, and adored you, laid such a paper before you, what would you do”…and pushed the paper, which she had previously pushed back toward him, nearer to Gretchen.
“She smiled, reflected for a moment, took the pen, and subscribed her name.”
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Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Germany, History, Human Behavior | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 4th July 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Last Fourth of July, 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.
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.
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 | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 3rd July 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
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.
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Posted in Britain, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 15 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 1st July 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Posted in Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Business, Civil Society, Film, History, Human Behavior, Internet, Leftism, Management, Society, Tech, Transportation | 15 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 28th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
That’s what Hillary Clinton thought was inscribed, in English and in Russian, on the button that she gave to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in early 2009…actually she got the translation wrong…(why on earth, with all the linguistic resources that were available to her?…but that’s a subject for another day.)
I don’t think I need to provide a slew of links to prove that the reset didn’t work very well. Russia-US national relations are currently pretty bad, and Russia is now perceived as a threat to many other countries in a way that would have seemed unbelievable back in 2008. Resetting institutional and societal things…complicated, intertwined, human things…is generally much harder than rebooting a computer or flipping a circuit breaker back to ON.
Yet the RESET button is a good metaphor for the entire worldview of the Obama administration, and of the “progressive” movement generally. Remember that line about “fundamentally transforming” the United States?
One tactic employed by modern-era leaders who wish to “fundamentally transform” their societies is to transform the use of language and other symbols. The French revolutionaries pioneered in this: even the names of the months of the year were changed. The Nazis required that the traditional greeting “gruess gott” (roughly, “God bless you”) be replaced with “Heil Hitler.” It was part of their version of what I have called the politicization of absolutely everything.
In the US today, the politicized transformation of language has largely originated in universities, especially in their various “studies” departments, and is now being transmitted and amplified by certain corporations.
For example, it is credibly reported that JP Morgan now discourages its employees from using terms such as “wife” and “boyfriend.” According to the internal memo, not referring to your wife as your wife “offers up the opportunity for more inclusive conversations.”
Presumably, the idea is that those who lack wives or boyfriends…on account of being gay or transgender…will be hurt and offended by the use of the terms. Which makes about as much sense as the idea that religious people shouldn’t refer to their “minister” or their “rabbi” because to do so might be painful to the non-religious. Or that people with children shouldn’t refer to their “child” or their “kid” because it might be painful to those who only have cats…maybe a more neutral term like “dependent companion creature” might be used.
What this is really all about, of course, is sucking up to what somebody at JPM thinks the zeitgeist is among those who may have power over its future.
Apple Computer, also, is following a similar course. They have banned the use of the Confederate flag even as a marker for units in Civil War simulation games sold on the App Store. (Specifically, they have banned any such marker appearing on a screenshot of the game which will appear in the store.)
Several days ago, I linked an article arguing that modern “liberalism,” or “progressivism,” or whatever they call themselves, is now almost purely a symbolic project. The Apple policy that I described about represents symbol-obsession taken to a level that is truly insane.
While banning the use of the Confederate flag even for purposes of unit-identification icons, Apple has apparently not restricted the use of the Nazi swastika for similar purposes in WWII simulation games. I don’t conclude from this that Apple is a group of Nazi sympathizers, rather, that they are a group of herd-followers and enforcers of the “progressive” herd’s current direction, whatever that direction may be. (Apple once used the slogan “Think Different”…now, it seems, their slogan should be “think like you are supposed to!)
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Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 10 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 19th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
By this date in 1940, the Battle of France was clearly lost. British troops had been evacuated at Dunkirk by June 4. Large numbers of French soldiers had been killed or captured, the French Air Force had been largely crippled, German armored units were marauding across wide areas of France. Columns of refugees were blocking the roads, seriously interfering with military operations. The French government had evacuated Paris for Bordeaux, and on June 16 the combative Paul Reynaud resigned as premier, to be replaced by the aged Philippe Petain.
And by June 18, the cadets of the French Cavalry School at Saumur, in obedience to the orders of their Commandant, had taken position to defend the bridgeheads across the Loire. It was a military operation that had been the subject of war-game exercises at the school for years, but few had imagined it would ever be carried out in earnest. The 800 cadets and instructors were joined by 200 Algerian riflemen, by various units in the vicinity, and by volunteers whose units had disintegrated but who wished to continue fighting. Arrayed against this small and ill-equipped force would be the German First Cavalry Division—more than 10,000 men, well-equipped with tanks and artillery.
The Battle of Samaur is the subject of an excellent photo essay….there is also a Wikipedia page.
The German attack started just before midnight on June 18. The cadets and their associated units held out until late on June 20. French casualties were 79 killed and 47 wounded–one of those killed was the composer Jehan Alain. German casualties are estimated at 200-300.
The German commander, General Kurt Feldt, was very impressed by the tenacity of the French defense, and so indicated in his report. On July 2, someone in the German command structure–probably Feldt–decided that out of respect for their courage and sacrifice in the battle, the cadets would be allowed to leave the school and transit into the Unoccupied Zone, rather than being interned as prisoners of war. He advised them to get going quickly, before someone in higher authority could countermand his order.
The most comprehensive English-language source on the Battle of Saumur is the book For Honour Alone, by Roy Macnab.
Posted in Britain, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 14th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Jerry Seinfeld and the Progressive Comedy Pause
Do political beliefs drive partisanship, or does partisanship drive political beliefs?
Blackboards, report cards, and newspaper clippings from 1917 discovered behind walls of an Oklahoma City school
What overparenting looks like from a Stanford dean’s perspective
The conservatory under a lake
Some pictures of Japan
The rise of the new Groupthink, and the power of working alone
The coming of the Cry-bullies
Girlwithadragonflytattoo visits an art museum
Marco Rubio’s boat versus John Kerry’s boat. The NYT is making much of Rubio having spent $80K on a boat.
There has been much talk of late about the influence of money in politics. Rarely mentioned is the power of in-kind contributions, such as that represented by the NYT’s predictable favorable coverage of Democratic versus Republican candidates.
How much would it cost to buy the advertising equivalent of NYT’s support for, say, Hillary Clinton? The answer has to be at least in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Education, Human Behavior, Humor, Japan, Photos, That's NOT Funny | 12 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 14th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
The recent prison break in New York reminded me of this 1985 movie, starring Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, and Rebecca De Mornay, with the screenplay reworked from an earlier version by Akira Kurosawa.
Here’s a review by Roger Ebert, who liked it a lot, as did I.
WWW hyperlinks: enabling laziness since 1994
Posted in Crime and Punishment, Film, Transportation | 12 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 10th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Sgt Mom recently posted about the “Sad Puppies” affair: basically, it seems that the science-fiction publishing industry and its leading association and award structure have become highly politicized in the name of “progressivism”…in reaction, a contrarian movement arose called the “Sad Puppies” (there are also “Rabid Puppies”)…and these groups have been vitriolically attacked by some prominent members of the SF publishing establishment.
It strikes me that this would be a good time to update and repost my earlier Theme roundup of posts on the general topic of politicization.
A very funny post about a very serious topic. Sarah Hoyt, herself a science fiction writers, tells of (and illustrates) some of her own experiences with the Science Fiction Writers Association.
What kind of things do you think they talk about at a convention of the National Art Education Association? Best ways to teach perspective and watercoloring techniques? How to explain Expressionism and Impressionism? Not these days.
“Political correctness” has become a serious threat to American society
What makes people want to live in a politicized society, and what is day-t0-day life like once the complete politicization has been accomplished? In this post, I cite some thoughts from Sebastian Haffner, who came of age in Germany when the Nazi movement was casting its spell, and a vivid fictional passage from Ayn Rand, who grew up in the early Soviet Union.
Gleichschaltung. A word much favored by the Nazis, it means “coordination,” “making the same,” “bringing into line”…especially, in Nazi usage, “forcible coordination.” The orientation toward Gleichschaltung is very apparent in today’s “progressive” movement and today’s Democratic Party.
Prestigious Physics Professor Protests Politicization. Harold Brown, professor emeritus at the University of California Santa Barbara, explains the reasons for his resignation from the American Physical Society.
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Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Germany, History, Political Philosophy, Russia, USA | 19 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 6th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Today, June 6, is the 71st anniversary of the Normandy landings. See the Wikipedia article for an overview. Arthur Seltzer, who was there, describes his experiences.
Posted in Britain, Business, France, Germany, History, Photos, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 5th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
I’ve previously linked an analysis of political beliefs as a function of the industry in which an individual works. Comes now a much more fine-grained analysis of political affiliation versus occupation/profession. Below the summary chart–pairs of somewhat-related occupations that have very different political profiles–is a much more detailed chart that allows expansion of an occupational category into multiple subcategories: for example, “engineering” further subdivides into civil, chemical , mechanical, electrical, etc. (That detailed chart doesn’t work on my Mac for some reason, although it works fine on iPhone and Android: not sure whether or not this is a general problem)
Please read & discuss.
Posted in Business, Human Behavior, Politics, USA | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 4th June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Into our town the hangman came,
smelling of gold and blood and flame.
He paced our bricks with a diffident air,
and built his frame on the courthouse square.
The scaffold stood by the courthouse side,
only as wide as the door was wide
with a frame as tall, or a little more,
than the capping sill of the courthouse door.
And we wondered whenever we had the time,
Who the criminal? What the crime?
The hangman judged with the yellow twist
of knotted hemp in his busy fist.
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Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 3rd June 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
I’m currently reading The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe. There’s an interesting section on the 7th-century monk Bede, a thoughtful scholar who wrote the first history of England. A couple of centuries later, he would be known as the Venerable Bede, a Doctor of the Church…but back when he was just another monk:
He once heard that he had been accused of heresy by someone who was having dinner with a bishop. He was aghast, he told his friend Plegwin, he went white.
Sure glad people don’t have to worry about things like that these days…but actually, this passage reminded me of something I read in the WSJ a few days ago. It’s an excerpt from an article by Laura Kipnis, a feminist professor who–because of something she wrote in February–has been attacked by feminist students who tried to use Federal Title IX mechanisms to shut her down. She was cleared of the charges against her, but says:
After the essay appeared, I was deluged with emails from professors applauding what I’d written because they were too frightened to say such things publicly themselves. My inbox became a clearinghouse for reports about student accusations and sensitivities, and the collective terror of sparking them, especially when it comes to the dreaded subject of trigger warnings, since pretty much anything might be a “trigger” to someone, given the new climate of emotional peril on campuses. . . .
A tenured professor on my campus wrote about lying awake at night worrying that some stray remark of hers might lead to student complaints, social-media campaigns, eventual job loss, and her being unable to support her child. I’d thought she was exaggerating, but that was before I learned about the Title IX complaints against me.
Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Liberties, USA | 13 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 31st May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
People on Sunday, Criterion Collection DVD
When Americans think of Weimar Germany, the images that tend to come to mind are of degenerate nightclub habitues and drug users…marching Brownshirts…hungry people…and political violence and rising anti-Semitism. This movie shows a different side of Weimar: four young working people go to the beach on Sunday.
The film was made by Billy Wilder and several other aspiring directors, screenwriters, and producers, almost all of whom later wound up in Hollywood. It’s a silent film, one of the last made, probably because the team could not afford sound equipment. They also could not afford to hire “real” actors: instead, they chose likely-looking people off the street and had them play characters who shared their own real-life professions.
Erwin is a taxi driver, Wolfgang is a wine salesman, Brigitte sells records for a living, Christl works as an extra in movies, and Annie (Erwin’s girlfriend) is a not-very-successful model.
On Saturday, Wolf picks up Christl near a subway station, where she is apparently waiting for someone who hasn’t shown up. They go to a nearby cafe (“it’s tough to get stood up,” he sympathizes, to which she responds “I *don’t* get stood up”) and make plans to meet the next day for a picnic at the Wannsee lakefront beach. Christl brings her friend Brigitte, and Wolf brings Erwin. (Annie was supposed to come, but wouldn’t get out of bed.)
This has been called an “effervescent, sunlit” film; it has also been called “cynical.” Both interpretations are correct, IMO, although the cynicism aspect is pretty subtle. I thought the acting done by the nonprofessionals was quite fine.
It’s impossible to watch the film today, of course, without thinking about what was coming just a few years down the road. If you have heard the word “Wannsee” before, and you are not a Berlin resident or visitor, it is probably because this district was to be the site of the Wannsee Conference, at which the initial planning for the “Final Solution” was done.
There are almost no actors in this film, other than the 5 non-professionals mentioned above; the people in the background in downtown Berlin and at the lake are not extras but rather are real-life Berliners going about their normal lives. Watching, it’s hard to imagine that these quite-normal-seeming people would soon collectively perpetrate some of the worst crimes in history, or that many of them would themselves meet an apocalyptic fate.
The movie (previous titles considered had been Summer 29, Young People Like Us, and–rather presumptuously–This Is How It Is and No Different) was a big hit with Berlin moviegoers, and has apparently been very influential in the evolution of film. There’s a well-written review at wonders in the dark.
The film was revived with considerable effort, involving the processing of multiple surviving partial prints. The whole thing is available on-line, here; I watched the Criterion Collection DVD, which also includes a 2000 documentary about the film, featuring an interview with Brigitte Borchert, a short film by the People on Sunday cinematographer, and a booklet on the film’s making and influence.
Posted in Film, Germany, History | 6 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 27th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
It seems clear that many Americans are less concerned than they should be about the threat of radical aggressive Islam…ranging from intimidation of cartoonists in the US and Europe to direct military aggression in the Middle East. This seems to be particularly true among the well-educated (or at least well-credentialed) and affluent. I’ve commented on this situation in several previous posts, for example, The Perfect Enemy; today I’d like to throw out for discussion some of the factors that I think are largely driving this head-in-the-sand phenomenon. They range from fairly rational (but flawed, IMO) thought processes to ignorance to obvious logical errors to malevolence and outright crazy thinking.
1) Some people really don’t understand the full range of what’s going on. Those of us who follow politics and international affairs pretty closely can easily lose sight of just what an information desert exists for those whose only info source is the mainstream media…it is very unlikely, for example, that the NBC and CNN-watcher is aware of the full range of anti-free-speech intimidation conducted under the banner of Islam, in the US as well as in Europe.
2) Some people do have an idea about what’s going on, but tend to repress thinking about the threat because while they on some level perceive its awfulness they do not think anything can really be done about it…probably often, this threat is lumped together with seemingly-unstoppable malign trends, such as an ever-worsening economy and a deteriorating culture.
In Arthur Koestler’s 1950 novel The Age of Longing, a young American woman living in France–who has belatedly come to understand the likelihood of an imminent Soviet invasion–corners a French security official and asks him why so many people are in denial about the forthcoming attack. His response:
“No, Mademoiselle, don’t be misled by appearances. France and what else is left of Europe may look like a huge dormitory to you, but I assure you nobody in it is really asleep. Have you ever spent a night in a mental ward? During the Occupation, a doctor who belonged to our group got me into one when the police were after me. It was a ward of more or less hopeless cases, most of whom were marked down for drastic neurosurgical operations. When the male nurse made his round, I thought everybody was asleep. Later I found out that they were only pretending, and that everybody was busy, behind closed eyes, trying to cope after his own fashion with what was coming to him. Some were pursuing their delusions with a happy smile, like our famous Pontieux (a philosopher modelled on Sartre–ed). Others were working on their pathetic plans of escape, naively hoping that with a little dissimulation, or bribery, or self-abasement, they could get around the tough male nurses, the locked doors, the operating table. Others were busy explaining to themselves that it wouldn’t hurt, and that to have holes drilled into one’s skull and parts of one’s brain taken out was the nicest thing that could happen to one. And still, others, the quiet schizos who were the majority, almost succeede in making themselves believe that nothing would happen, that it was all a matter of exaggerated rumours, and that tomorrow would be like yesterday. These looked as if they were really asleep. Only an occasional nervous twitch of their lips or eyes betrayed the strain of disbelieving what they knew to be inevitable…No, Mademoiselle nobody was really asleep.”
But in our case, as noted above, there are quite a few people who really are asleep.
3) Some people believe that all religions are essentially equivalent…generally they will argue that all religions are basically equally awful and that Evangelical Christians (for example) are as dangerous as radical Muslims and that it is only a matter of time until their dangerous tendencies explode into widespread violence. But sometimes they will argue that religion is inherently good and that hence, acts of terrorism cannot be motivated by religious belief but must be driven by something else.
4) Some argue that terrorism, while deplorable and tragic, isn’t really that dangerous in the scale of things, and that your risk of being killed or crippled from slipping while getting out of the bathtub (for example) is greater than your chance of being killed or crippled in a terrorist attack. This view is often coupled with the view that fear of terrorism is being stoked for political and/or bureaucratic reasons: for example, increased surveillance of citizens. There is great suspicion that the oil industry and the “military-industrial complex” are encouraging warfare for their own economic purposes.
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Posted in Anti-Americanism, Civil Liberties, Islam, Middle East, Society, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 26 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 19th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Since the recent Amtrak crash, I’ve seen people in several places…including here…suggesting that engineers should be eliminated and trains operated entirely by automatic control. Here is a cautionary tale about such automation, which I originally posted about a year ago under the title Blood on the Tracks. I’ve added a few thoughts at the end.
Kevin Meyer has a thought-provoking post (referencing, among other things, the Asiana Flight 214 crash) on achieving the right balance between manual and automatic control of systems. His post reminded me of something that has been lurking in my queue of things-to-blog-about for a long time.
On January 6, 1996, Washington Metrorail train T-111 departed the Rockville (MD) station northbound. Operating under automatic control as was standard practice, the train accelerated to a speed of 75 mph, and then began slowing for a station stop at Shady Grove. The speed was still too great for the icy rail conditions, however, and T-111 slid into a stopped train at the station, killing the driver.
What happened? I think the answer to this question is relevant not only to the specific topics of mass transit and railroad safety, but also to the more general issues of manual and automatic operation in system design, and perhaps even to the architecture of organizations and political systems.
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Posted in Aviation, Human Behavior, Management, Tech, Transportation | 15 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 15th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
(I originally posted this in 2009 and reran it in 2013. The plague of atrocities carried out by those who justify them under the banner of Islam has continued and expanded, as has the tendency of many American and Europeans to downplay the significance of Islamic radicalism and terrorism. Indeed, the effective justification of terror attacks by attacking the victims–be those victims French cartoonists or Israeli Jews–is disturbingly common. And I am sensing an almost frantic desire, on the part of many commentators and even ordinary people, to deny that Islamic terrorism is any more of a threat than, say, Presbyterian terrorism or Baptist terrorism.)
Suppose you wanted to create a perfect enemy. An enemy so vile that its evil would be recognized by almost everyone. An enemy that would inspire people to come together in order to ensure its defeat.
To be more specific: suppose you were a screenwriter with the assignment of creating a suitable villain-organization for a major motion picture. The marketing plan for this movie suggests that it will be marketed primarily to a certain demographic and that, hence, your villain-organization should be particularly appalling to members of that demographic. The demographic in question consists of people who are affluent, highly educated (college with at least some postgraduate education), not particularly religious, and who consider themselves politically liberal or “progressive.” The plot of the movie demands that the audience must see the necessity for Americans–of many beliefs, occupations, and social backgrounds–to come together in order to defeat the enemy.
Oh, and one other thing. The year in which you are given this assignment is 1999.
You will clearly want your enemy to share many of the characteristics of the Nazis–disrespect for human life, wanton cruelty, a love of apocalyptic violence. But to make the enemy particuarly awful from the standpoint of your target demographic, you will want to emphasize certain aspects of its belief system.
Members of your demographic usually have strong beliefs about women’s rights. So, your enemy must have a particularly disrespectful belief set, and a violent behavior pattern, towards women. Similarly, your demographic is generally favorable toward gay rights…so the enemy must advocate and practice the suppression, torture, and killing of gays. Your demographic is generally nonreligious and often hostile toward religion…so, make sure the enemy includes a large element of religious fanaticism. Members of your demographic talk a lot about “the children”–so make sure your enemy uses children in particularly cruel ways.
Had you created such an enemy for your screenplay in 1999, you would have surely felt justified in assuming that it would achieve its intended reaction with your target demographic.
It didn’t work out that way, though.
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Posted in Human Behavior, Islam, Religion, Terrorism | 8 Comments »