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  • Archive for the 'Book Notes' Category

    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 | 4 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 »

    What Chicago Boyz Readers Are Reading (March 2016)

    Posted by Jonathan on 6th April 2016 (All posts by )

    Below is a list of the books, ebooks, music and videos that Chicago Boyz readers viewed and/or ordered in March 2016 via Amazon links on this blog. (A cumulative list of Chicago Boyz readers’ Amazon purchases is here.)

    Your book and non-book Amazon purchases help to support this blog via the Amazon Associates program. Chicago Boyz earns a percentage on all of your Amazon purchases as long as you get to the Amazon site by clicking on Amazon links on this blog (including the Amazon banner in the blog header, the link under the Amazon banner, and even Amazon links on Chicago Boyz for products other than the ones that you want to buy).

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes | No Comments »

    The New Bolsheviks

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 3rd April 2016 (All posts by )

    Progressive Totalitarianism

    In his book The Snapping of the American Mind, David Kupelian asks the following painful question that millions of Americans like myself have pondered for years and will ponder for some time to come as America slowly rips itself apart. Kupelian writes, “How could it be that hundreds of thousands of Americans fought and bled – and many died – on foreign shores to contain an evil and metastasizing ideology variously called communism, Marxism, socialism, collectivism, or statism, and yet now, just a few years later, we would gaze up at the pinnacle of power in our own country and behold leaders in thrall to essentially the same core ideology we fought and died to protect strangers from?”
     
    The answer to this is can be found within the culture itself and more specifically within America’s youth who have seemingly embraced the concept of socialism with little to no understanding of what socialism even is. Yet, like frogs slowly boiling to death in the cesspools that have become our college campuses, our nation’s youth collectively embrace the ideology that will destroy them while demanding that they be “protected” from opinions that run contrary to their beliefs.

    I have this issue with one of my daughters. She’s very sweet and very hard working, but like everyone who has lived she has struggled at times and dealt with situations that seemed completely unfair. She wonders why Bernie’s ideas won’t work. Why shouldn’t lots more thing be free for everyone? Why can’t that work? She received little or no history education in school, and obviously no economics. Of course, there are reasons for that. And what history they do hear is more likely to be Howard Zinn than Steven Ambrose. Without understanding the history of these movements, you cannot understand where all this leads. And they don’t recognize the road on which they are treading.

    Posted in Book Notes, Culture, Education, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Society | 13 Comments »

    Poukisa Mwen Te Ale An Ayiti

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 27th March 2016 (All posts by )

    After 240 years of relative quiescence, at 4:53 PM local time on Tuesday 12 January 2010 the Enriquillo fault system ruptured near 18°27’ N, 72°32’ W in an M 7.0 earthquake, followed by numerous aftershocks, mostly westward of the mainshock hypocenter. Institutional functionality, or the lack thereof, in Haiti prior to the earthquake was such that there was no local seismometer network in place, so nuances of slip in the 2010 earthquake involving several associated faults have had to be inferred from kinematic models.
    The Enriquillo fault itself forms the boundary between the Gonâve Microplate and the Caribbean Plate, but seismic activity along it is driven by collision with, and subduction of, the North American Plate. The entire fault system may have begun a new cycle of large earthquakes similar to those of the 18th century, in which case there will be several more such events with significant effects in Haiti and the Dominican Republic through, very roughly, 2080.
    Around half the entire US population donated money for Haitian earthquake relief in 2010. I may not have been among them, but as initially recounted in this forum in April of 2011, I was drawn into restoration work in a computer lab and fixed-wireless network in Petit-Goâve, and have subsequently assisted in similar efforts in Musac (Mizak), La Vallée-de-Jacmel. Paging through the visa section of my passport, I now find an astonishing number of red ENTRÉE and blue SORTIE stamps from the Ministere de l’Interieur et des Collectivites Territoriales / Direction de l’Immigration. My God, I’ve been down there 16 times. What was I thinking?
    Something like this …

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Society, Culture, Current Events, Ebola, Elections, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Latin America, Personal Narrative, Politics, Predictions, Religion, Society, Systems Analysis, USA | 4 Comments »

    Another step for Craig Venter.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 24th March 2016 (All posts by )

    cell

    I have previously posted about Venter’s work with synthetic organisms.

    While I was digesting this new material, Craig Venter was making the Gene VII book obsolete. He set up a new company to compete with the Human Genome Project The result is well described in The Genome War by James Shreeve who was given access to Venter but less to the government funded project. This year, Venter’s autobiography was published and his plans for the future are described.

    The links are at the original article which is from 2007.

    Now, his group has progressed to a synthetic bacterium.

    Using the first synthetic cell, Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 (created by this same team in 2010), JCVI-syn3.0 was developed through a design, build, and test process using genes from JCVI-syn1.0. The new minimal synthetic cell contains 531,560 base pairs and just 473 genes, making it the smallest genome of any organism that can be grown in laboratory media. Of these genes 149 are of unknown biological function. By comparison the first synthetic cell, M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 has 1.08 million base pairs and 901 genes.

    A paper describing this research is being published in the March 25th print version of the journal Science by lead authors Clyde A. Hutchison, III, Ph.D. and Ray-Yuan Chuang, Ph.D., senior author J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., and senior team of Hamilton O. Smith, MD, Daniel G. Gibson, Ph.D., and John I. Glass, Ph.D.

    This is huge news and will take years to develop.

    The most surprising result of their work—and perhaps the most sobering one for the rest of the field: The team still doesn’t understand what 31 percent of the essential genes do in even the simplest organism, to say nothing of a human genome. It’s a development Venter called “very humbling.”

    “We are probably at the 1 percent level in understanding the human genome,” said Clyde Hutchison III, a distinguished professor at the Venter Institute.

    That lack of knowledge isn’t standing in the way of entrepreneurs. Biology has been “hot and heavy” since the development of a molecular tool that makes gene editing easy, Hutchison explained. Scientists might be able to remove disease-causing genes or even determine a baby’s eye color. This technology, known as CRISPR/Cas-9, has alarmed many inside and outside the research community, who fear it may be used on the human genome before its effects are understood, with unforeseen results.

    If he does another public seminar, I hope my friend Bradley can get me a ticket. I am now reading Lewin’s Genes XI, although he seems to be no longer the editor.

    I hope I can wade through it. Sometimes, as knowledge progresses, it becomes simpler. I hope so.

    “These cells would be a very, very useful chassis for many industrial applications, from medicine to biochemicals, biofuels, nutrition, and agriculture,” said Dan Gibson, a top scientist at both Venter’s research institute and his company, Synthetic Genomics Inc. Ultimately, the group wants to understand the tiny genetic framework well enough to use it as a biological foundation for more complex organisms that could address many of the world’s ills. Once each essential gene’s function is identified, scientists can build an effective computer model of it; from there, they can simulate how best to go about “adding pathways for the production of useful products,” they wrote.

    I will be following this story closely, if I can only understand it.

    Posted in Book Notes, Miscellaneous, Science | 5 Comments »

    Alternate History

    Posted by David Foster on 24th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Having long been intrigued by lighter-than-air craft (see earlier post on this topic), I picked up a copy of  Dr. Eckener’s Dream Machine…Dr Hugo Eckener being the head of the Zeppelin company for many years, and a man who contributed much to the transient success of this transportation mode.  Also, I thought the book would be a pleasant vacation from politics.  However, that was not to be…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, Germany, History, Politics | 27 Comments »

    Getting deeper into Koestler

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 18th March 2016 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit — on creativity at the intersection of the fleeting and the eternal ]
    .

    centaur skeleton
    Centaur, displayed in the International Wildlife Museum, Tucson, AZ

    **

    You know Lao Tzu’s “uncarved wood” (pu) — and Spencer Brown’s “Mark” or “first distinction? It is hard to speak of “the one and the many” without language itself favoring the many, the one being “one” and the many “another”. The Greek phrase “Before Abraham was, I am” attributed to Christ may be as close as we get.

    The “uncarved wood” is not some definite -– named and thus defined -– “one” -– it is also “raw silk” (su), the simple -– the natural way or stream, from which things have not yet been separated out by naming.

    There is delight, however, both in one becoming two and thus many, in the making of distinctions and naming of names, and no less in two (or the many) becoming one, in the resolution of paradox, the release of tension, peace after strife. In human terms, there is joy in both solo and collaborative achievement.

    What better, then, than the perfect fit between disparate entities?

    I have written often enough about Arthur Koestler and the place where two disparate spheres of thought link up — the centaur links horse and man in an indissoluble unity — there’s no question here of dismounting after a ride, giving the horse a rub down and some feed, then retiring to the verandah for a whiskey…

    The mythological aha! we get from the centaur displayed in the museum hinges on the fit of horse and human skeletons, the perfection with which disparates are joined.

    **

    Thus far, whenever I’ve discussed Koestler‘s notion of bisociation, I’ve focused on the sense that it liea at the heart of creativity. Koestler himself takes it deeper. Here’s Nicholas Vajifdar, in a review titled Summing Up Arthur Koestler’s Janus: A Summing Up:

    Koestler .. asserts that there are two planes of existence, the trivial and the tragic. The trivial plane is the stage for paying bills, shopping, working. Most of life takes place on the trivial plane. But sometimes we’re swept up into the tragic plane, usually due to some catastrophe, and everything becomes glazed with an awful significance. From the point of view of the tragic plane, the trivial plane is empty and frivolous; from the point of view of the trivial plane, the tragic plane is embarrassing and overwrought. Once we’ve moved from one plane to the other, we forget why we could have felt the way we used to.

    That’s not just any old distinction between two realms, that’s the one Koestler himself prioritizes. And following his basic principle that a creative spark is lit when two disparate “planes of ideas” intersect, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find Vajifdar continuing:

    “The highest form of human creativity,” Koestler writes, “is the endeavor to bridge the gap between the two planes. Both the artist and the scientist are gifted — or cursed — with the faculty of perceiving the trivial events of everyday experience sub specie aeternitatis, in the light of eternity…”

    William Blake made a similar observation in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, writing:

    Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

    Finally, Vajifdar tells us why he finds Koestler’s definition of art maybe the best he’s ever read:

    What I value in this definition of creativity is its emphasis on the subjective being of those who experience the work of art or scientific theory, a surer gauge than cataloguing formal properties or whether it's "interesting." Art has always seemed like a kind of sober drunkenness, or drunken sobriety. Most people probably have wondered whether the feelings they felt while drunk were more or less real than their sober feelings. Koestlerian art joins these seemingly irreconcilable feelings together.

    Let’s just go one step further. In Promise and Fulfilment – Palestine 1917-1949, Koestler specifically singles out this intersection as an aspect of the experience of warfare:

    This intense and perverse peace, superimposed on scenes of flesh-tearing and eardrum-splitting violence, is an archetype of war-experience. Grass never smells sweeter than in a dug-out during a bombardment when one’s face is buried in the earth. What soldier has not seen that caterpillar crawling along a crack in the bark of the tree behind which he took cover, and pursuing its climb undisturbed by the spattering of his tommy-gun? This intersecting of the tragic and the trivial planes of existence has always obsessed me in the Spanish Civil War, during the collapse of France, in the London blitz.

    **

    I am grateful to David Foster for his ChicagoBoyz post The Romance of Terrorism and War which triggered this exploration, and that on the glamour of war which will follow it.

    Posted in Advertising, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Culture, Miscellaneous, Philosophy, War and Peace | 2 Comments »

    Food 2 – Assimilation 1

    Posted by Ginny on 17th March 2016 (All posts by )

    The distinction between rich and poor was large in 1900, less large in 1950, larger again now. My husband’s tax accountant friend keeps arguing that taxes made the difference – so we need more of them. Well, maybe, he knows a hell of a lot more about taxes than I do. Of course, that seems counterproductive. Equally obvious is that large percentages of immigrants will add to the bottom rungs of an open market economy and their assimilation over the next generations (if immigration is lessened for a generation or two) is likely to lessen overall disparities.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Anti-Americanism, Book Notes, Immigration | 18 Comments »

    Book Review: The Year of the French (rerun)

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

    The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan

    (This being St Patrick’s day, I’m taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)

    Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”

    In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland.  The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.

    Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition.  He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising.  With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–“In Caslebar.  They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.

    Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia.  Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,”  jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,”  Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.”  “A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”

    Ferdy O’Donnell  is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land.  Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper  “a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”

    Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘

    Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen.  This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic.  His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.

    John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land.  He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster.  “One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”

    Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.

    Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses.  His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”

    Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces.  A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution.  He is a talented commander, but  the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and  Napoleon Bonaparte.

    Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland.   Seen through the eyes of  a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it.  “The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”

    This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships.  Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, France, History, Ireland | Comments Off on Book Review: The Year of the French (rerun)

    A Dish Best Eaten Cold: A Tale from Luna City

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th March 2016 (All posts by )

     (Because of the enthusiastic response to The Chronicles of Luna City, and because several of those who reviewed it were wondering mightily about the cliffhanger at the end, my daughter and I have decided to push full ahead on the next installation of the story, and release it in May. One of the ongoing threads in the new tale regards a movie production coming to town, to do local shooting – at first with the enthusiastic cooperation of the residents. But then, certain things come to light about the production itself …)

    Three days later, two men sat on the terrace of the Wyler home place, watching the sun slide down in the western sky, and the shadows lengthen across the formal garden below, and the green pastures beyond, where cows drifted idly hither and yon. A comfortably shabby set of rustic bentwood furniture contrasted rather oddly with the pillared splendors of the mansion built by Captain Herbert Wyler, in the first flush of his prosperity in the 1880s cattle markets. But they sat at the exact best place to watch the sun go down on the Wyler Exotic Game Ranch, and on the distant trees and church spires of Luna City, and so it was one of Doc Wyler’s favorite places, even in the heat of a Texas mid-summer. The temporary headquarters for filming extensive location shots was also within view, a prospect in the farthest meadow, and now regarded by both men with extreme distaste.

    “Good of you to drop everything, and hustle all the way from Houston,” Doc Wyler said at last. The pages of the script lay on the table between them.

    “You said it was an emergency in the note,” Clovis Walcott replied, as grim as s stone face on Mount Rushmore. “By god, so it is. I’d like to smash that miss-representing little weasel into a bloody pulp with my bare hands. We got taken, Doc. And taken bad.”

    “That we did, Colonel – that we did. They told us what we wanted to hear, like any good convincing conman does.” Doc Wyler sounded much the calmer of the two, although the half-consumed mint julep at his side may have had something to do with his air of relative equanimity. “The thing is now … what are we gonna do about it?”

    “My lawyer’s going to hear from me – first thing in the morning, if not by voicemail tonight,” Clovis sounded as if he were grinding his teeth. “And my banker, as well. I invested in this travesty – and I was near as dammit about to make it a bigger investment, on account of what those bastards said. I wouldn’t have touched this travesty with a ten-foot-pole, no matter how sweet they talked. As it stands in this script, this movie will be a disaster, all the way around. I wonder if my lawyer can make a case for fraud …”

    “Ah, but there was nothing in writing about the plot itself, was there?” Doc Wyler sipped meditatively at his julep. “All a verbal understanding between honorable men doing business together on a handshake understanding … sharp practice, Colonel. It’ll be the death of this world. A man’s word used to be a bond. I’ve always said ‘trust but verify,’ but when it turns out that you can’t trust ‘em after all…”

    “Thought that was Ronnie Reagan who said that,” Clovis Walcott sounded as if his own barely touched julep had just begun to mellow the edges of his fury.

    “Yeah, he did – but he stole that line from me,” Doc Wyler replied. “As I was saying – if it turns out to be that you can’t verify, and don’t trust … and that you have been, in fact, lied to in the most infamous fashion – what do you do then?” Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Diversions | 3 Comments »

    What Chicago Boyz Readers Are Reading (February 2016)

    Posted by Jonathan on 8th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Below is a list of the books, ebooks, music and videos that Chicago Boyz readers viewed and/or ordered in February 2016 via Amazon links on this blog. (A cumulative list of Chicago Boyz readers’ Amazon purchases is here.)

    Your book and non-book Amazon purchases help to support this blog via the Amazon Associates program. Chicago Boyz earns a percentage on all of your Amazon purchases as long as you get to the Amazon site by clicking on Amazon links on this blog (including the Amazon banner in the blog header, the link under the Amazon banner, and even Amazon links on Chicago Boyz for products other than the ones that you want to buy).

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes | 5 Comments »

    Rough-Hewn Land: California to the Rocky Mountains

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 6th March 2016 (All posts by )

    RoughHewnLandKeith Meldahl, a geologist and professor of geology, has written one of the most interesting books on the history of the American West I’ve ever encountered. It’s a history of how it got the way it is, physically. He covers the creation of California – it’s only recently been pasted onto North America – how the Sierra Nevada formed and what it actually is, why Nevada looks like it does, how the Colorado Plateau got there, how the Rocky Mountains were formed, and some very interesting and odd details as well. Along the way, he provides a few vignettes of the early explorers and settlers and their often brutal encounters with these features.

    Probably the two most important players in all this are something you’ve never heard of, the Farallon Plate, and the North America continent itself. Long story short, 240 million years ago  the world’s landmasses had merged together into single massive conglomeration called Pangea (All Land). Prior to that time, North America had moved West to East, the East coast was the active margin and the West coast, which then ended in a line from Wyoming across Utah and through Nevada, trailed along. The eventual impact with Africa raised the Appalachians to Himalaya scale and merged us to it like India to Asia. By 150 million years ago, Pangea was breaking apart and a newly born mid-ocean ridge opened the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. As the ridge continued to build new seafloor, it spread apart. Everything east of that ridge began being pushed to the east, and everything west of it, including North America, began being pushed to the west. It was then that things began changing for the western states. You can page through that 100 million years at Arcadia Street for a glimpse at the plant and animal life you would have seen, had you been there.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Environment, History, North America, Science, USA | 8 Comments »

    On This Texas Independence Day

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 2nd March 2016 (All posts by )

    What I’m feeling for the GOP is a kind of disinterested sympathy, punctuated with schadenfreude, the disinterest arising from never having been a Republican, the sympathy from the GOP identification of a plurality of my close friends – uniformly horrified by what is happening – and the schadenfreude from the abrupt collapse of three-plus decades of pharisaical social conservatism. Turns out that eventually enough of the electorate whose resentment you’ve been stoking figures out that it’s a waste of time and fastens on to something else, something that matches their actual resentments a lot more closely. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Blogging, Book Notes, Civil Society, Crony Capitalism, Current Events, Elections, History, Human Behavior, National Security, Politics, Predictions, Society, Trump, USA | 13 Comments »

    Toward Financial Independence

    Posted by Nathaniel T. Lauterbach on 28th February 2016 (All posts by )

    I commented in this post about the consumerist fog that in which I was living as a middle-rank American military officer, and my desire to “fix” or improve my situation by taking command of my finances.

    How did we do it?

    It was simple, but not easy.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Miscellaneous, Personal Finance, Personal Narrative, Taxes | 14 Comments »

    A Short Story – VJ+71

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 12th February 2016 (All posts by )

     

    (I meant to have a historical piece about an early and most mysterious resident of San Francisco ready for posting today, but … good intentions and all that, plus we were struck by sudden inspiration for the next Luna City Chronicle … which has been selling nicely and has some nice reviews on Amazon. Yes, there will be at least several more Luna City volumes – especially since the first book ends on a cliff-hanger, we haven’t gotten around to more than a handful of Luna City citizens, and I am convinced more than ever now, that light and amusing trifles are necessary diversions in bleak times.) 

    Early on an August Sunday morning, Miss Leticia McAllister combed out her long grey hair, rolling and neatly pinning it into an old-fashioned hair-net, and surveyed her appearance in the dressing table mirror. The hat, gloves and scarf that she would wear against the chill – for the sanctuary of the First Methodist Church of Luna City was enthusiastically air-conditioned against the blistering heat of a Texas late summer – all lay in order on the dressing table, next to Miss Letty’s Sunday handbag, which held a fresh handkerchief, her house keys, and the envelope with her weekly offering. Hat, bag, scarf and all carefully matched, and coordinated beautifully with the colors of Miss Letty’s flowered and full-skirted summer dress.

    I never had beauty or elegance, Miss Letty told her reflection, with clinical satisfaction – but I could manage chic by paying attention, and I had the brains enough to be charming. Alice was the one for elegance! Oh, my – did she turn heads! Hard to believe it has been seventy-one years to the day. Every man in Schilo’s Delicatessen on Commerce on VJ-Day – they all turned to look at her, as she came in the door. You could have heard a pin drop; I think most of them thought that a movie star had come to San Antonio, but she was really only the chief secretary to an insurance company manager, for all that she was only twenty-four. And he kept trying half-heartedly to seduce her, the wretched little Lothario. She wrote complaining about that to me, all the time that I was in England, and then in France. Alice had a hatpin, though – and she could use it, too. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Diversions | 6 Comments »

    What Chicago Boyz Readers Are Reading (January 2016)

    Posted by Jonathan on 7th February 2016 (All posts by )

    Below is a list of the books, ebooks, music and videos that Chicago Boyz readers viewed and/or ordered in January 2016 via Amazon links on this blog. (A cumulative list of Chicago Boyz readers’ Amazon purchases is here.)

    Your book and non-book Amazon purchases help to support this blog via the Amazon Associates program. Chicago Boyz earns a percentage on all of your Amazon purchases as long as you get to the Amazon site by clicking on Amazon links on this blog (including the Amazon banner in the blog header, the link under the Amazon banner, and even Amazon links on Chicago Boyz for products other than the ones that you want to buy).

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes | 5 Comments »

    The Collapse of Obama’s Syria Policy

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 4th February 2016 (All posts by )

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    The US foreign policy conducted by the Obama administration has been a disaster all along. He abandoned Iraq and the rise of ISIS has followed. I have read “Black Flags“, which describes how the al Qeada organization of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has morphed into ISIS after Obama pulled US forces out of Iraq. Now, as Richard Fernandez explains in another masterful analysis, Assad is about to rout the last of the non-ISIS opposition.

    Reuters reports that Bashal al-Assad’s forces have made major advances behind a major Russian air offensive and are now poised to destroy the non-ISIS rebels opposing the Syrian government is rocking the foreign policy establishment. “After three days of intense fighting and aerial bombardment, regime forces, believed to include Iran-backed Shia militias, broke through to the formerly besieged regime enclaves of Nobul and Zahra.”

    The Russians have been surprising US military leaders in ways that are very unpleasant.

    The performance of the miniature, “rust bucket” Russian air force has formed an invidious baseline to what the USAF has achieved. The Independent reported:

    Their army’s equipment and strategy was “outmoded”; their air force’s bombs and missiles were “more dumb than smart”; their navy was “more rust than ready”. For decades, this was Western military leaders’ view, steeped in condescension, of their Russian counterparts. What they have seen in Syria and Ukraine has come as a shock.

    Russian military jets have, at times, been carrying out more sorties in a day in Syria than the US-led coalition has done in a month.

    We are not serious and the US military has to wonder what will happen if Putin decides to take the Baltic republics.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Military Affairs, Obama | 40 Comments »

    Spring Newsletter – Luna City

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 3rd February 2016 (All posts by )

    This is just for fun … and I fully believe that we need relatively meaningless fun, humor, diversion … all of that silly, fluffy, lighthearted stuff. In the depths of the Depression of the 1930s, the most popular movies were musicals. Silly, fluffy, light-hearted musicals.

    But if your inclination is for unrelieved Grim and Determined, I put this below the fold, so that the Seriousness can proceed, undisturbed by a single comic hiccup.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Book Notes, Humor | 9 Comments »

    Why the Big Short didn’t work but the next one likely will!

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 28th January 2016 (All posts by )

    In promoting the Hollywood version of The Big Short by Michael Lewis, Paul Krugman (NYT, December 18) misrepresents the central point of this excellent book, previously made by Peter Wallison, who Krugman attacks for his Republican dissent to the 2010 Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) majority Report.

    The Hollywood version reflects the Report’s fundamental conclusion that the root cause of the financial crisis was Wall Street greed: hardly newsworthy, disputable or dispositive. The Big Short is about the equally greedy speculators who were shorting the housing market: had they succeeded early on – as they do in less distorted markets – they would have prevented the bubble from inflating to systemic proportions.

    Contrary to the “indifference” theorem (i.e., between debt and equity finance) of Nobel Laureates Franco Modigliani and Merton Miller, both household borrowers and mortgage lenders chose to finance almost entirely with debt, a strategy best described as “going for broke.” The first distortion – tax deductibility of debt – makes leverage desirable until discouraged by rising debt costs. The second distortion – federally backed mortgage funding as Depression era deposit insurance became virtually universal and the Fannie Mae “secondary market” facility morphed into a national housing bank – prevented these costs from rising. This highly leveraged strategy was guaranteed to fail systemically if bad loans entered the system.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Economics & Finance, History, Markets and Trading, Politics | 9 Comments »

    Re-reading Drucker: Concept of the Corporation

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

    Concept of the Corporation, by Peter Drucker

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    What Chicago Boyz Readers Are Reading (December 2015)

    Posted by Jonathan on 7th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Below is a list of the books, ebooks, music and videos that Chicago Boyz readers viewed and/or ordered in December 2015 via Amazon links on this blog. (A cumulative list of Chicago Boyz readers’ Amazon purchases is here.)

    Your book and non-book Amazon purchases help to support this blog via the Amazon Associates program. Chicago Boyz earns a percentage on all of your Amazon purchases as long as you get to the Amazon site by clicking on Amazon links on this blog (including the Amazon banner in the blog header, the link under the Amazon banner, and even Amazon links on Chicago Boyz for products other than the ones that you want to buy).

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes | 1 Comment »

    Book Review: The Memoirs of Anna Egorova

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

    Over Fields of Fire, by Anna Timofeeva-Egorova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And then:

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    At the Turning of the Year

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 1st January 2016 (All posts by )

    It is that time of year again, isn’t it? To review the past year and look to the next, and make those personal resolutions and decisions; I’ve done a post on this subject several times in past years. I’ve made resolutions late in December or early in January and twelve months later, tallied them up. Usually the tallying up came out with a score overall of 75% achieved. Alas; the backyard is still not a bountiful truck garden and orchard of edibleness; nor are my books on any kind of best-seller list – nor even above five figures in the overall Amazon author rankings, a position which I reach intermittently and usually on the occasion of a new book being released or an Instapundit link.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Diversions | 12 Comments »

    Are We Living at the Intersection of These Two Stories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Previously-male person selected as Woman of the Year

     

    The second story is the play Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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