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  • Archive for the 'Book Notes' Category

    Don’t Panic: Against the Spirit of the Age

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 21st September 2014 (All posts by )

    Cold and misty morning, I heard a warning borne in the air
    About an age of power where no one had an hour to spare …
    – Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Part 1

    Imagine that you just stepped out of a time machine into the mid-1930s with a case of partial historical amnesia. From your reading of history, you can still remember that the nation has been beset with economic difficulties for several years that will continue for several more. You also clearly remember that this is followed by participation in a global war, but you cannot recall just when it starts or who it’s with. A few days of newspapers and radio broadcasts, however, apprise you of obvious precursors to that conflict and various candidates for both allies and enemies.

    As mentioned several times in this forum, I adhere to a historical model, consisting either of a four-part cycle of generational temperaments (Strauss and Howe), or a related but simpler system dynamic/generational flow (Xenakis). That model posits the above scenario as a description of our current situation and a prediction of its near future: a tremendous national trial, currently consisting mostly of failing domestic institutions, is underway. It will somehow transform into a geopolitical military phase and reach a crescendo early in the next decade. It cannot be avoided, only confronted.

    Nor will it be a low-intensity conflict like the so-called “wars” of recent decades, which have had US casualty counts comparable to those of ordinary garrison duty a generation ago. Xenakis has coined the descriptive, and thoroughly alarming, term genocidal crisis war for these events. Some earlier instances in American history have killed >1% of the entire population and much larger portions of easily identifiable subsets of it. Any early-21st-century event of this type is overwhelmingly likely to kill millions of people in this country, many if not most of them noncombatants. And besides its stupendous quantitative aspect, the psychological effect will be such that the survivors (including young children) remain dedicated, for the rest of their lives, to preventing such a thing from ever happening again.

    I will nonetheless argue that no matter how firmly convinced we may be that an utterly desperate struggle, with plenty of attendant disasters, is inevitable and imminent, we must avoid both individual panic and collective overreaction.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Current Events, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, International Affairs, Islam, Latin America, Leftism, Media, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Personal Narrative, Political Philosophy, Predictions, Religion, Rhetoric, Science, Systems Analysis, Tech, The Press, USA, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    All Apologies …

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th September 2014 (All posts by )

    For not having posted anything much this week, but I have a book project that I needed to finish this week … and well, that sucked up just about every scrap of available writing time. But it’s done … and see the cover, below the fold Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes | 13 Comments »

    What Chicago Boyz Readers Are Reading (August 2014)

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th September 2014 (All posts by )

    Here is a list of the books, ebooks, music and videos ordered in August 2014 by Chicago Boyz readers via the links on this blog.

    Please make your Amazon purchases via the links below or elsewhere on this blog. Chicago Boyz earns a percentage on all of your Amazon purchases as long as you enter the Amazon site via the Amazon links here (even Amazon links other than for the product you are buying).

    A cumulative list of Chicago Boyz readers’ Amazon purchases is here.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Announcements, Book Notes | 5 Comments »

    Unhistory Friday: The Discovery of Middle Earth

    Posted by L. C. Rees on 5th September 2014 (All posts by )

    As The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts nears its end and appeals to Geoffrey of Monmouth as a source of historical truth proliferate, even the most oblivious reader starts to get the joke: Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae was a milestone in the genre of historical fiction satirizing historical non-fiction by posing as historical non-fiction.

    Geoffrey succeeded so well that he earned 900 years worth of cranks mistaking his fiction for fact. As with Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, Geoffrey’s character of King Arthur is so compelling that many Historia readers keep insisting that Arthur must be real. This insistence is yet another demonstration that fiction believed shapes history as much as fact believed. The ideal of the real (but fake) Arthur shaped how Latin Christian rulers portrayed themselves and (sometimes) acted, and how their subjects thought they should portray themselves and act. Edward I even resorted to digging up Arthur’s bones to co-opt fiction to support his conquest of Free Britain.

    Longshanks to Britons: See here? Arthur’s bones. No Once and Future King can save you now.

    (Twirls mustache).

    The Discovery of Middle Earth does not approach works by titans of its genre like Rachel Carson or Umberto Eco; the library Discovery of Middle Earth belongs in would explode in swirls of subatomic particles if it ever brushed against Eco’s antilibrary. But, even if it does not belong in Eco’s library, it does belong in another Eco chamber. Like Eco’s Foucault’s PendulumDiscovery of Middle Earth satirizes independent scholars who start drinking their own research. Though it lacks the deep scholarly verve and meticulous revelry in small details that makes Eco’s masterpiece a feast for readers, Discovery of Middle Earth is more approachable to readers who might get lost in Foucault’s weeds of arcana but who want more than the thin swill of the Dan Brown corpus.

    The protagonist of The Discovery of Middle Earth (a thinly veiled pastiche of best-selling British highbrow tourist guide author Graham Robb) is an English independent scholar who spirals down into madness as an artifact recovered in the backyard of his Oxford cottage leads him to discover a previously unseen “Celtic” geography of lines drawn across Europe by “Druids” so contemporary that they would not be out of place at a Davos symposium. Soon enough he starts seeing this pattern staring back at him from obscure rural corners of France and later Britain and Ireland. As with all madness, he first becomes one with the pattern and then descends below that oneness when he finds the pattern staring back into him.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Europe, France | 7 Comments »

    Quote(s) of the Day — one from a review of America 3.0

    Posted by Lexington Green on 3rd September 2014 (All posts by )

    Arnold Kling has a nice quote about the relative importance of cultural over institutional factors. If for some reason the US Government stopped working overnight, the American people would not be plunged into chaos. We have a culture which would permit us to voluntarily organize much of what we need to do. As Mr. Kling put it:

    [T]he cultural margin is more important than the institutional margin. … [T]here are no societies in which anarchy will work well but government would work poorly, or vice-versa. Instead, on the one hand there are well-developed cultures, which could have good government or good anarchy, while on the other hand there are poorly-developed cultures, which could have only bad government or bad anarchy.

    Arnold Kling

    If you are not currently making a daily visit to Arnold Kling’s blog Askblog you must begin doing so.

    Note also, Arnold Kling’s review of America 3.0, entitled America’s Past and America’s Future.

    He concludes:

    The vision that Bennett and Lotus put forth is not the technocratically-run national system that most contemporary politicians and pundits presume is ideal. Nor is it the philosophically-driven rights-based society that libertarians might prefer. However, if the authors are correct in their cultural anthropology, then their idea of America 3.0 is what fits best with our culture.

    This is a nice summary of the future we hope to see in America.

    Posted in America 3.0, Book Notes, Quotations | 9 Comments »

    Book Review: Menace in Europe, by Claire Berlinski

    Posted by David Foster on 27th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis Is America’s, Too by Claire Berlinski

    —-

    I read this book shortly after it came out in 1996, and just re-read it in the light of the  anti-Semitic ranting and violence which is now ranging across Europe.  It is an important book, deserving of a wide readership.

    The author’s preferred title was “Blackmailed by History,” but the publisher insisted on “Menace.”  Whatever the title, the book is informative, thought-provoking, and disturbing.  Berlinski is good at melding philosophical thinking with direct observation.  She holds a doctorate in international relations from Oxford, and has lived and worked in Britain, France, and Turkey, among other countries.  (Dr Berlinski, may I call you Claire?)

    The book’s dark tour of Europe begins in the Netherlands, where the murder of film director Theo van Gogh by a radical Muslim upset at the content of a film was quickly followed by the cancellation of that movie’s planned appearance at a film festival–and where an artist’s street mural with the legend “Thou Shalt Not Kill” was destroyed by order of the mayor of Rotterdam, eager to avoid giving offense to Muslims. (“Self-Extinguishing Tolerance” is the title of the chapter on Holland.)  Claire moves on to Britain and analyzes the reasons why Muslim immigrants there have much higher unemployment and lower levels of assimilation than do Muslim immigrants to the US, and also discusses the unhinged levels of anti-Americanism that she finds among British elites.  (Novelist Margaret Drabble: “My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable.  It has possessed me, like a disease.  It rises up in my throat like acid reflux…”)  While there has always been a certain amount of anti-Americanism in Britain, the author  notes that “traditionally, Britain’s anti-American elites have been vocal, but they have generally been marginalized as chattering donkeys” but that now, with 1.6 million Muslim immigrants in Britain (more worshippers at mosques than at the Church of England), the impact of these anti-Americans can be greatly amplified.  (Today, there are apparently more British Muslims fighting for ISIS than serving in the British armed forces.)

    One of the book’s most interesting chapters is centered around the French farmer and anti-globalization leader Jose Bove, whose philosophy Berlinski summarizes as “crop worship”….”European men and women still confront the same existential questions, the same suffering as everyone who has ever been born. They are suspicious now of the Church and of grand political ideologies, but they nonetheless yearn for the transcendent.  And so they worship other things–crops, for example, which certain Europeans, like certain tribal animists, have come to regard with superstitious awe.”

    The title of this chapter is “Black-Market Religion: The Nine Lives of Jose Bove,”  and Berlinski sees the current Jose Bove as merely one in a long line of historical figures who hawked similar ideologies.  They range from a man of unknown name born in Bourges circa AD 560, to Talchem of Antwerp in 1112, through Hans the Piper of Niklashausen in the late 1400s, and on to the “dreamy, gentle, and lunatic Cathars” of Languedoc and finally to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Berlinski sees all these people as being basically Christian heretics, with multiple factors in common.  They tend appeal to those whose status or economic position is threatened, and to link the economic anxieties of their followers with spiritual ones.  Quite a few of them have been hermits at some stage in their lives.  Most of them have been strongly anti-Semitic. And many of the “Boves”  have been concerned deeply with purity…Bove coined the neologism malbouffe, which according to Google Translate means “junk food,” but Berlinski says that translation “does not capture the full horror of bad bouffe, with its intimation of contamination, pollution, poison.”  She observes that “the passionate terror of malbouffe–well founded or not–is also no accident; it recalls the fanatic religious and ritualistic search for purity of the Middle Ages, ethnic purity included.  The fear of poisoning was widespread among the millenarians…”  (See also this interesting piece on environmentalist ritualism as a means of coping with anxiety and perceived disorder.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Film, France, Germany, History, Immigration, Islam, Judaism, Leftism, Middle East, Religion | 7 Comments »

    Some World War I Book Recommendations

    Posted by Lexington Green on 26th August 2014 (All posts by )

    A friend asked for recommendations for books about World War I. I responded with the following list. I have read all of the books on the list. There are many books I have heard of and I am sure are good, but I only put ones I have read myself on the list.

    Please list any favorites I have missed in the comments.

    [Jonathan adds: Please also let us know if any of the book links don't work or if we have overlooked a link to a public-domain edition of any of these books.]

    Memoirs:

    Ernst Junger, Storm of Steel — essential

    Also by Junger, Copse 125 — a good addendum, depicting the German Army in the closing months of the war.

    Erwin Rommel, Infantry Attacks — pure nuts and bolts infantry fighting, zero philosophizing

    Frederick Manning, The Middle Parts of Fortune (also @ Project Gutenberg) — the enlisted man’s view

    Robert Graves, Good-Bye to All That — classic, on every short list

    Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer — very solid, not quite so literary as Graves

    Sidney Rogerson, Twelve Days on the Somme: A Memoir of the Trenches November 1916

    also by Rogerson, The Last of the Ebb: The Battle of the Aisne 1918 — both down to earth depictions

    Herbert Hoover, the first volume of his memoirs has a section on the outbreak of World War I and his involvement in getting food into occupied Belgium. An unusual, informative and fascinating perspective. The book can be had for pennies (free here, or on Amazon).

    The novel by Joseph Roth, The Radetzky March is very good on Austria Hungary up to the outbreak of the war. It is a great favorite of mine.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Military Affairs, War and Peace | 34 Comments »

    Why Foley wasn’t rescued.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 25th August 2014 (All posts by )

    The Delta Force raid on the Syrian ISIS camp failed to rescue any hostages. They had been moved. Now we know why.

    Anthony Shaffer, a former lieutenant-colonel in US military intelligence who worked on covert operations, said: “I’m told it was almost a 30-day delay from when they said they wanted to go to when he finally gave the green light. They were ready to go in June to grab the guy [Foley] and they weren’t permitted.”

    This is a reflex reaction of Obama to any call for action. He delays and thinks and worries about the politics. It has been reported that Obama delayed the bin Laden raid three times.

    President Barack Obama — at the urging of senior adviser Valerie Jarrett — canceled the operation to kill Osama bin Laden three times before finally approving the May 2, 2011, Navy SEAL mission, according to a book scheduled to be released next month.

    In “Leading From Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors who Decide for Him,” Richard Miniter writes that Obama canceled the mission in January 2011, again in February, and a third time in March, The Daily Caller reports

    It isn’t just the conservative press but Hillary Clinton even says so.

    Through weeks of sometimes heated White House debate in 2011, Clinton was alone among the president’s topmost cabinet officers to back it. Vice President Biden, a potential political rival for Clinton in 2016, opposed it. So did then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

    The optics and the political fallout were most of his concerns. In the case of Captain Phillips of the ship hijacked by Somali pirates, reports have circulated that Obama delayed the SEALS raid several times as he agonized over the decision.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Military Affairs, Obama, Terrorism, Vietnam | 16 Comments »

    Deirdre McCloskey at the Illinois Policy Institute: The Ethical and Rhetorical Foundations of Modern Freedom and Prosperity

    Posted by Lexington Green on 21st August 2014 (All posts by )

    GREAT talk by Deirdre McCloskey at the Illinois Policy Institute last night.

    She was promoting her book Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World which is the second in a trilogy with The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. She announced last night that she just finished the third volume.

    This essay, entitled The Great Enrichment Came and Comes from Ethics and Rhetoric gives some insight into her ideas.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Book Notes, Britain, Economics & Finance, Politics, Rhetoric, Science | 36 Comments »

    Deirdre McCloskey speaking on how the rich got rich, and how everyone else will too, at the Illinois Policy Institute, August 20, 2014

    Posted by Lexington Green on 18th August 2014 (All posts by )

    deirdre_mccloskey_image

    This will be an excellent event. Deirdre McCloskey talking about her most recent book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World.

    Her topic: How the rich got rich and how everyone else will too.

    Get tickets here.

    This is the message of America 3.0 as well, though we have our own spin.

    The Illinois Policy Institute always puts on good events — including a modest charge for a great event and a very nice open bar.

    This Wednesday, August 14, 2004, 6-8 p.m.

    I hope to see you there.

    Here is a short video of Deirdre McCloskey speaking, as a teaser trailer for the event.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Announcements, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Political Philosophy | 2 Comments »

    History Friday: Oliver P. Morton, The Great War Governor

    Posted by Lexington Green on 15th August 2014 (All posts by )

    I mentioned Oliver P. Morton, the Governor of Indiana during the Civil War, in this post.

    The statue in front of the Indiana state house has a plaque which says he shall “ever to be known in history as
 The Great War Governor.” When the Union veterans who built the state house and put up the statue were alive, I am sure they believed the heroic deeds of the war would “ever be known … .”

    But one of the lessons of history is the fleetingness of fame. The things that move and inspire one generation are rejected by the next, or simply forgotten. This is especially true in America, where we are a forward looking people and typically not terribly concerned about what happened in the past. Henry Ford spoke for America when he said history is more or less bunk.

    This short article from the Indiana Historical Bureau, entitled OLIVER P. MORTON AND CIVIL WAR POLITICS IN INDIANA is worth reading.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Biography, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, History, Military Affairs, Politics, Quotations, Tradeoffs, USA, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Michael Barone Recommends Some Books, including America 3.0

    Posted by Lexington Green on 12th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Barone in seersucker

    In a recent post entitled Reading Recommendations for Summer or Fall, Michael Barone mentioned several books that sound very good.

    This passage in particular stuck out, for obvious reasons:

    Nick Adams, The American Boomerang: How the World’s Greatest ‘Turnaround’ Nation Will Do It Again. There’s a grand tradition, starting with Alexis de Tocqueville, of foreign writers telling Americans more about their country than most Americans know or understand. Nick Adams, a young Australian writer, continues this tradition in this book about how the United States can rise again from its current doldrums.
     
    This is a book to read in conjunction with two excellent recent books on Anglosphere exceptionalism, James Bennett and Michael Lotus’s America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century—Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come and Daniel Hannan’s Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World.

    I had not heard of Nick Adams or his book, but I ordered a copy. I am eager to hear his assessment of how the USA is going to get out of this current mess and on to something better.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Book Notes | 4 Comments »

    Book Review: Nice Work, by David Lodge

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

    Nice Work by David Lodge

    —-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But still:

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    What Chicagoboyz Readers Are Reading (July 2014)

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Here’s a list of the books, ebooks and videos purchased through this blog on Amazon last month. I’m going to try to post updated versions of this list regularly as it seems to be something that would interest many of us. I’ll stick this post to the top of the page for a few days.
    —-

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Announcements, Book Notes | 8 Comments »

    Quote of the Day, or, A Challenge to the Millennial Generation

    Posted by Lexington Green on 5th August 2014 (All posts by )

    They stand now on the threshold of public life. They are in the leash, but in a moment they will be slipped. What will be their fate? Will they maintain in august assemblies and high places the great truths which, in study and in solitude, they have embraced? Or will their courage exhaust itself in the struggle, their enthusiasm evaporate before hollow-hearted ridicule, their generous impulses yield with a vulgar catastrophe to the tawdry temptations of a low ambition? Will their skilled intelligence subside into being the adroit tool of a corrupt party? Will Vanity confound their fortunes, or Jealousy wither their sympathies? Or will they remain brave, single, and true; refuse to bow before shadows and worship phrases; sensible of the greatness of their position, recognise the greatness of their duties; denounce to a perplexed and disheartened world the frigid theories of a generalising age that have destroyed the individuality of man, and restore the happiness of their country by believing in their own energies, and daring to be great?

    Conigsby, or The New Generation (1844) by Benjamin Disraeli.

    Will they? Will they believe in their own energies? Will they dare to be great? Will they restore the happiness of their country? Will they denounce the frigid theories that have destroyed the individuality of man?

    Incidentally the book is great.

    Posted in America 3.0, Anglosphere, Book Notes, Quotations, USA | 6 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Lexington Green on 1st August 2014 (All posts by )

    [W]e are swimming, or drowning, in a rhetoric of national, social and individual failure. Producers of this rhetoric … are so filled with narcissistic self-doubts as to depict America’s many adversities and frustrations as impending apocalypses or Auschwitzian holocausts. … No responsible historian advocates insensitivity to America’s historical warts, present difficulties and conceivable future problems … . Attention must obviously be paid to a nation’s dynamics of decline if this is what afflicts us. But attention does not require accepting an assumption that America’s reverses or unfulfilled goals are equivalent to total failures or disasters, or that America if not uniquely blessed, is uniquely cursed for allegedly singular sins.

    Harold M. Hyman, American Singularity: The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, The 1862 Homestead And Morrill Acts, and the 1944 G.I. Bill (1986), referencing Christopher Lasch, The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times (1984).

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Quotations, USA | 2 Comments »

    Nautical Book Review: Two Years Before the Mast

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

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

    —-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    The Next 40 years in Twelve Hundred Words

    Posted by T. Greer on 19th July 2014 (All posts by )

    This post was originally published at The Scholar’s Stage on 19 July 2014 and has been reposted here without alteration.

    Info-graphic taken from Peter Turchin, “The Double-Helix of Inequality and Well-Being,” Social Evolution Forum (8 February 2013).

    .

    Recently in a discussion at a different venue I wrote the following:

    I am extremely pessimistic about the near term (2015-2035) future of both of the countries I care most about and follow most closely, but very optimistic about the long term (2040+) of both.

    I was asked to give a condensed explanation of why I felt this way. The twelve thousand words or so I wrote in response proved interesting enough that participants in the discussion urged me to re-post my speculations here so that they might receive wider circulation and discussion.

    Below is a slightly edited version of my response:

    The demons that afflict the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China are legion, and every pundit that turns their eye to either country seems to have their own favorite. Some of these difficulties are more alarming than others.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, China, Politics, Predictions, Society, USA | 43 Comments »

    History Friday – American Biowar Preparations in the War with Japan

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 18th July 2014 (All posts by )

    Never trust the American government about weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This a lesson learned about American government behavior with the late 1990′s ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ scandals which eventually turned up the suppressed bombing of a 1991 Saddam Hussein nerve gas depot that trace-poisoned thousands of Gulf War Vets. See CIA analyst Patrick G. Eddington’s 1997 book Gassed in the Gulf: The Inside Story of the Pentagon-CIA Cover-Up of Gulf War Syndrome.

    Little did I know that this thought about official American government WMD narratives applied for decades longer than the first Gulf War. In a past column “History Friday: A Tale of Balloon Bombs, B-29s and Weather Reports” I said the following about the Japanese strategic balloon bombing campaign –

    American authorities — through the Chinese intelligence reports and captured Japanese documents — knew of the Japanese biological weapons program and greatly feared that the Japanese would use these balloons to deliver disease to the American heartland.

    It turns out that the American War Department, and particularly Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, was seriously interested in Japanese biological warfare experiments far earlier than the November 1944 through April 1945 Japanese strategic balloon bombing campaign. In fact, he had instituted a blood screening program of Japanese prisoners of war five months earlier to get an early warning of Japanese biological weapons (AKA bio-weapons).

    See this 1 July 1945 follow War Department letter Ryan Crierie found recently in the US National Archives:

    Biowar July 1945

    Secretary of War Stimpson message to Pacific Theater General MacArthur and China Theater General Albert Wedemeyer requesting blood samples be taken for tests once a month for the 15 most recently captured Japanese prisoners and air freighted to Washington DC for testing to screen for bioweapon exposures.

    This letter was a follow up letter to a 19 July 1944 radio instruction that complained to both Generals MacArthur and Wedemeyer that they were not regularly following the 19 July 1944 War Department directive and directing them how to properly draw package and ship the desired blood samples to the Director of the US Army Medical School in Washington DC.

    Given this recently uncovered background data, plus the dodgy behavior by American military prosecutors at MacArthur’s War Crimes tribunal in Manila to cover up the Japanese biological program from the American public for decades, it is easy to see why diplomatic historians like Gar Alperovitz started talking about great “Atomic Diplomacy” cover ups.

    There _was_ a weapons of mass destruction cover up…just not one dealing with atomic bombs.

    The first act of the Cold War wasn’t President Truman sending arms to stop a Communist takeover of Greece. It was his administration’s cover up of the Japanese biological weapons program. This, just by itself, is a good reason not to trust the American government on the subject of weapons of mass destruction. If they did it once, they will do it again…and have, as Patrick G. Eddington documented.

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, History, Military Affairs, USA, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    American Spartan

    Posted by Zenpundit on 15th July 2014 (All posts by )

    Cross-posted from Zenpundit.com

    ]

    American Spartan: The Promise, the Mission, and the Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant by Ann Scott Tyson 

    When I first posted that I had received a review copy of American Spartan from Callieit stirred a vigorous debate in the comments section and also a flurry of email offline to me from various parties. Joseph Collins reviewed American Spartan for War on the Rocks , Don Vandergriff posted his review at LESC blog , Blackfive had theirs here,and there was an incisive one in the MSM by former Assistant Secretary of Defense and author Bing West, all of which stirred opinions in the various online forums to which I belong. Then there was the ABC Nightline special which featured Tyson and Gant as well as an appearance by former CIA Director, CENTCOM, Iraq and Afghanistan commander General David Petraeus:

    Major Gant was also a topic here at ZP years ago when he released his widely read and sometimes fiercely debated paper “One Tribe at a Time“, at Steven Pressfield’s site, which launched all of the events chronicled by Tyson in American Spartan.  To be candid, at the time and still today, I remain sympathetic to strategies that enlist “loyalist paramilitaries” to combat insurgencies and other adversarial irregular forces. It should only be done with eyes wide open as to the potential drawbacks (numerous) and it won’t always work but the militia option works often enough historically that it should be carefully considered. With that background in mind, on to the book.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Biography, Book Notes, International Affairs, Islam, Military Affairs, National Security, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Israel/Mideast History Book Bleg

    Posted by Jonathan on 15th July 2014 (All posts by )

    A friend emails:

    I am becoming very disturbed seeing otherwise intelligent people that I know and respect starting to succumb to the anti-Israel drumbeat in the mainstream press. What books could I recommend to people like this so that they get a more factual picture of the history and evolution of Israel in general, and the evolution of the Israeli- Palestinian (and other Arabs) conflicts in particular?

    Great question. Any recommendations?

    UPDATE: My friend provides additional info in a follow-up email:

    Sir Martin Gilbert has written several good books but I am looking for others. I especially want to turn younger folks onto some good books because they have mostly been force-fed propaganda if they graduated within the last 10-15 years. I will watch the blog to see what your readers recommend. They are a pretty sharp bunch!

    Martin Gilbert’s books are a good start. And I agree about CB readers.

    Posted in Blegs, Book Notes, Current Events, History, Israel, Middle East | 9 Comments »

    Nautical Book Review: The Cruel Coast, by William Gage

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

    The Cruel Coast by William Gage

    —-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Beware of Populist Economics”

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th July 2014 (All posts by )

    Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

    John R. Lott’s review of the latest Freakonomics book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Lott seems to have an ongoing personal quarrel with Levitt and Dubner. However, his critiques of their arguments seem reasonable. His review is worth reading.

    Posted in Book Notes, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior | 4 Comments »

    Thoughts on the Politicization of Absolutely Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Do doctors understand test results?”

    Posted by Jonathan on 7th July 2014 (All posts by )

    The short answer in many cases is “no”:

    In one session, almost half the group of 160 gynaecologists responded that the woman’s chance of having cancer was nine in 10. Only 21% said that the figure was one in 10 – which is the correct answer. That’s a worse result than if the doctors had been answering at random.
     
    The fact that 90% of women with breast cancer get a positive result from a mammogram doesn’t mean that 90% of women with positive results have breast cancer. The high false alarm rate, combined with the disease’s prevalence of 1%, means that roughly nine out of 10 women with a worrying mammogram don’t actually have breast cancer.
     
    It’s a maths puzzle many of us would struggle with. That’s because, Gigerenzer says, setting probabilities out as percentages, although standard practice, is confusing. He campaigns for risks to be expressed using numbers of people instead, and if possible diagrams.
     
    Graphic showing “false positives” in mammogram tests
    Even so, Gigerenzer says, it’s surprising how few specialists understand the risk a woman with a positive mammogram result is facing – and worrying too. “We can only imagine how much anxiety those innumerate doctors instil in women,” he says. Research suggests that months after a mammogram false alarm, up to a quarter of women are still affected by the process on a daily basis.
     
    Survival rates are another source of confusion for doctors, not to mention journalists, politicians and patients. These are not, as you might assume, simply the opposite of mortality rates – the proportion of the general population who die from a disease. They describe the health outcomes of people who have been diagnosed with a disease, over a period of time – often five years from the point of diagnosis. They don’t tell us about whether patients die from the disease afterwards.

    The linked article is worth reading despite its implicit pro-NHS boosterism. See also this. The poor education in statistical analysis of doctors, lawyers, journalists and members of other influential groups in our society is a significant problem.

    (Via Mangan RT by heartiste on Twitter.)

    UPDATE: Gerd Gigerenzer’s Books

    Posted in Book Notes, Health Care, Human Behavior, Medicine, Statistics | 7 Comments »