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  • Archive for the 'Deep Thoughts' Category

    Generations, Politics, and Culture

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

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

    Related thoughts from Hawaiian libertarian, who says that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Vinegar Joe’s Long Walk (Conclusion)

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 31st January 2016 (All posts by )

    (OK – finally the last of the history post I started earlier this week. Things to do, places to, things to write about. I said I would have this second part on Friday, but … real world, you know?)

    Towards the end of that day, May 6th, 1942, the road petered out. Stilwell abandoned the last of the trucks and the radio van – the radio set weighed 200 pounds alone. Last messages were sent, one advising General Brereton, in New Delhi that Stilwell and his party were on foot, heading for Homalin and then Imphal, and asking for them to be met at Homalin by resupply and medical aid. “Indian govt. should be warned rice, police, and doctors urgently needed by refugees on all routes to India from Burma. Large numbers on way. All control gone. Catastrophe quite possible. End.” Another, to the US War Department via Chunking, ended, “We are armed, have food and map and are on foot 50 miles west of Indaw … believe this is probably our last message for a while. Cheerio. Stilwell.”
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History | 10 Comments »

    What Are Our Stories?

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

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

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

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

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

    “Return of the Letter to a Young Social Justice Warrior”

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Tillman on Lamya H: “Your complaint is that your psychology professor was too—fat? I am so sorry. I can see that that would ruin your freshman experience. You were expecting? Luke Skywalker during his youth? Princess Leia Organa during her Jabba the Hutt years?”

    From: Seth Barrett Tillman, Return of the Letter to a Young Social Justice Warrior—responding to Lamya H.’s: A personal history of Islamophobia in America, Vox (January 15, 2016), http://ssrn.com/abstract=2719141.

    (Related post: “Dear Young Social Justice Warrior”.)

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Law, Leftism, Lit Crit, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Rhetoric, Society | 4 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading–Annotated Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    A Robotic Society

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 7th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Metropolis, 1927

    Robot, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, 1927

    Fifty years ago, if you were a company building automobiles or telecommunications equipment, you would have employed an assembly line full of workers. There also would have been people kitting parts, making inspections, doing tests, even running errands. If you operated a catalog company, you might have warehouse full of people loading and unloading goods, taking inventory, generating reports and packing and shipping goods. If you manufactured metal goods, you might employ several grades of craftsmen, from apprentice to master machinist, as well as cutters and welders, finish workers, inspectors, packers and shippers.

    Much less so today. Automobiles and electronics and every other sort of manufactured good are increasingly made on robotic lines. From painting to welding to complex assembly, robots are replacing people. Warehouses can run almost autonomously, with goods stored in a 3D grid that is accessed, inventoried and replenished by increasingly intelligent networks of machines and computers. Jeff Bezos would like to robotize even the delivery of those goods via autonomous drones. That seems entirely doable, though the thought of computer controlled helicopters moving through the skies upsets some people.

    Sixty six years ago, almost to the day, Isaac Asimov’s novel I, Robot was published. It was followed by four more novels over 30 years as well as 38 short stories in what became known as The Robot Series. In these books, Asimov explored all sorts of aspects of a robot populated world, including the dangers they might pose to people, problems with machines that think with digital logic, their inevitable evolution from simple mechanisms to organo-machines that were difficult to differentiate from human beings, except for their vastly superior intellectual capacity and increased lifespan, and some of the implications of that.

    In a society relieved of all sorts of menial labor and drudgery, Asimov envisioned something of a Golden Age of Man. Material goods would be so cheaply and easily made that no one would lack for any basic goods, and most people would enjoy a standard of living and a degree of leisure time available now to only the extremely wealthy. That’s a view with some precedent in how other technologies have improved our lot, so it’s one possible future.

    I find myself wondering, though. Suppose something like that were to come to pass. After all, we’re seeing signs of its development now. How does this future society actually work? How are people employed? What does one do to earn a living in a society where work is done by machines? We see this problem already, which tells us we’re farther along this road than maybe we realize. All the people that are not employed in Jeff Bezos’ warehouses or building electronics assemblies or automobiles, what do they do? In the past, when people were displaced from agriculture by machinery, they went to cities and were employed in large scale industrial and retail businesses. That is no longer the case. Not only have the manufacturing base dispersed across the globe chasing cheaper labor and fewer rules and regulations, even the human staffed retail store is increasingly in question as a viable model.

    This is all creative destruction in action, I know. And we can wave our hands and say, Well, people will adapt, they always have! Yes they will. But to what? Everyone can’t be – and doesn’t want to be – a robotics designer or research chemist or test technician in a robotics factory. Will there simply be more people to do fewer jobs? Will the work week get reduced to 3 days on, 4 days off? I’m trying to imagine a world where the same or more people are available but less work needs to be done by them. And if the answer is more leisure time, is that necessarily a good thing? Do we get a Golden Age, or an Age of Sloth, where everyone gets crazier and more destructive in an attempt to amuse themselves. Who cares, eh? The robots will clean up the mess.

    And is a robotic recursion process possible, where robots set about designing and building better robots? If we assume cookbook engineering can be encoded into a machine brain, millions of possible combinations may be scanned and modeled and simulated for each mechanism and each circuit, always searching for an optimal solution. And as everyone from Asimov to Clarke have asked, when is sentience reached and will we recognize it when it occurs? And then what? Our society is the early stages of major, ground shifting changes. There’s a lot on the horizon we haven’t even begun to think about to the level necessary. And how do we stay up with these changes if our political class is intent on bankrupting us and destroying our civilization?

    Elon Musk compares AI efforts to ‘Summoning the Demon’
    BTW, this is a talk he gave at MIT, and is well worth watching in full.

    Walter Schulze-Mittendorff’s ‘Maschinenmensch’ simulacrum in crystal.
    I would love to own one these. The large cylindrical version.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Society, Tech | 26 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 »

    New Year’s Eve

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

    A thought from the late and very great Neptunus Lex:

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

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Holidays | 10 Comments »

    Two New Posts from Seth Barrett Tillman

    Posted by Jonathan on 3rd December 2015 (All posts by )

    The Guardian and San Bernardino

    The Tale of the Swedish Prosecutor, the Citizen, and the Human Being

    These posts are brief and worth reading.

    Posted in Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Law, Leftism, National Security, Political Philosophy, Terrorism | 6 Comments »

    Random Thoughts

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th November 2015 (All posts by )

    -Why should food made using GMO techniques be specially labeled? It’s indistinguishable from non-GMO food. The only difference between GMO techniques and older breeding techniques is the speed and precision with which the desired genetic outcomes are obtained. The outcomes themselves are the same. Going out of our way to label GMO food is like going out of our way to label manufactured products built using CNC machine tools.

    -There are often two purposes to an election. One is the selection of the best candidate. The other is the punishment of an inept or corrupt incumbent in order to discourage bad behavior by future elected office holders. A similar point holds for wars. Winning or changing the strategic situation to favor your country is but one reason to go to war. Another reason is to punish your enemy in order to discourage others like him. This is one reason why it was important to depose and humiliate Saddam Hussein after our 2003 invasion and why it was a mistake not to have done so in 1991.*

    —-

    *It might have been best to get rid of Saddam Hussein by bribing him to leave Iraq. However, he might not have been amenable to such a deal, and once we decided to invade it probably made more sense to do what we actually did.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Elections, Tech, War and Peace | 29 Comments »

    Lewis vs Haldane (rerun)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1) Money and Power.

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

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    Trust

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th October 2015 (All posts by )

    A society as huge and complex as the United States can run economically only on the basis of acceptance and trust. This has been true for so long it is no longer noticed, like the air. People accept the rules and generally follow them whether or not there is a policeman in attendance. …. All over the the land people go about their business secure that arrangements will be honored and carried out. A high-trust society is a low-cost society.

    Wretchard, at the Belmont Club

    Of all that has changed over the last decade in the general culture of the United States, I wonder if a widespread loss of trust in the political, media, intellectual and bureaucratic establishments is the most quietly catastrophic of all the damage done to our society of late. It is axiomatic that once trust in an individual, a friend or a spouse is lost, it can almost never be regained; one of those things which is easily, almost casually done, never to be completely repaired. I suspect that we will discover over the next few decades that the thinking and observing portion of our society will never regain that unthinking trust in our institutions, now that we have seen them become weaponized in open and politically partisan ways. We have observed the national news media become politically partisan, more intent on hiding matters of significance than informing the public about them. What doesn’t appear above the fold, so to speak, or even in the back pages is sometimes more revealing. And the hate for ordinary American citizens in flyover country, frequently expressed by those residents of the wealthy bicoastal enclaves has been mind-boggling. There are personalities who have been so casually offensive in this regard that I have made it a point to avoid patronizing with my pocketbook anything that they have had anything to do with. I suspect that I am not alone in this – it’s another element of that ‘cold anger’ that I wrote about some days ago. How has it come to be that the so-called ruling elite of a nation now appear to hold their fellow-citizens in such deep contempt? (This contempt has begun to be returned with interest of late, although the ruling elites are predictably mystified by such quiet demonstrations as in the Chick-Fil-A appreciation day, the failure of certain lavishly promoted moves and TV shows, and heavily attended Tea Party rallies of a few years ago.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crony Capitalism, Deep Thoughts, Entrepreneurship, Obama | 18 Comments »

    A Blast From the Past – Magical Spam

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 4th October 2015 (All posts by )

    (An updated version of a post from some years ago, presented for your diversion. I confess that things to do with real life, the Tiny Publishing Bidness and my busy schedule of book-related events have been coming thick and fast. I have about three posts on various topics planned, half-written and nearly complete, but, alas — this will have to do for now.)

    Among my regular chores as regards maintenance of the various sites that I own and administer is that of emptying out the spam queue – which, unless there is more than a couple of hundred entries in it – I feel obliged to do a quick pass-over just to make sure that no ones legitimate comment has been caught in the spam torrent. This does happen, on occasion. But the most marvelous part is that none of the automated comment spam has ever “leaked” into the blog portions of The Daily Brief, Celia Hayes Books & More, and the new addition to the Sgt. Mom family of websites, LunaCityTexas.com, thus depriving readers of a handy link with which to purchase or download a dizzying variety of pharmaceutical products, porn, online games of chance, fake designer products,  and cell phone ring tones. (Alas, sometimes legitimate comments are caught in the spam queue.) Every once in a while, there is a spam which looks like a completely conventional and legitimate business; a spam with somewhat of an embarrassed look to it, as if not being able to figure out how it got into such disreputable company. But such are very rare – and since I do not click on the links, I have no way of knowing if they are indeed legitimate – or just generated by someone who is a little cleverer about disguising themselves.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Blogging, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Humor, Miscellaneous | 1 Comment »

    Christianity in Europe

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

    It’s well-known that Christianity in Europe is on the decline; links confirming this trend are easy to find.  (For example)

    Why, then, does this writer assert that: “Today in Europe, we have become if anything over-Christianized”?  Read the article to understand his thinking.

    I am reminded of a passage from G K Chesterton, written circa 1908:

    The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive. Mr. Blatchford is not only an early Christian, he is the only early Christian who ought really to have been eaten by lions. For in his case the pagan accusation is really true: his mercy would mean mere anarchy. He really is the enemy of the human race– because he is so human.

    Posted in Christianity, Conservatism, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Religion | 16 Comments »

    Book Review: Menace in Europe, by Claire Berlinski (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 20th September 2015 (All posts by )

    (Originally posted in August 2014.  I think the current situation in Europe makes it appropriate for a rerun)

    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, Religion | 5 Comments »

    History and Unexpected Shock

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 7th September 2015 (All posts by )

    One of the fallacies of studying history and interpreting historical events is that:

    1) you look at the course of events that occurred and assume that they mostly would follow a similar narrative with different variables
    2) you ignore what might have happened that is significantly out-of-the-box or the “black swans” that could have resulted in  radically different outcomes.

    I discussed this here with equity markets by country; while we talk about the “long term” and staying with stocks since they generally rise, we ignore that for most countries there have been “liquidation events” that wiped out all the players who remained in the markets (of their stockholdings, at least).

    For instance, in the course of WW2, there has been much discussion of whether or not the Germans would have won had they attempted a sea-landing of England.  The much more important train of thought, however, is what might have happened had Churchill not been the Prime Minister of England during those critical hours.  Many, many lesser men would have capitulated in that time of crisis.

    On the Russian front, in 1941, Russia likely came within a hair’s breadth of moral and system-wide collapse after their frontier armies were annihilated and the Germans began driving across the steppe.  The fact that they were able to sacrifice armies for time and keep some semblance of discipline is taken as a given, but likely if the world ran that as a true Monte Carlo simulation over and over again that outcome is rare.

    A third WW2 example is “what would have happened had the US Navy lost at Midway” which was what the odds said would have occurred.  It is true that in the end US material advantages would vastly outstrip Japan, but another issue is “if we didn’t have victories, would the US political system have produced an isolationist president who would have sued for peace?”  FDR was an ill man and could have conceivably died anytime from 1940 onward.  Even today, looking back, I am amazed that so many US servicemen were preparing to invade Japan at the end of the war, a task that would have led to virtually certain death or injury (for the lucky ones) for tens of thousands without some sort of riots or desertion given the immense casualties and deaths the US faced at Okinawa and Iwo Jima.  Today we lack the social cohesion to attempt anything so disruptive and likely to result in mass casualties.

    It is important to remember that historians and prognosticators are notoriously bad at predicting events – even on topics that they are intimately close to.  For example, few saw the collapse of the USSR in 1989 and the entire “Arab Spring” that began with a vendor self-immolating in Tunisia swept the world with surprise.  It isn’t that in hindsight many showed the “rot” of these decaying systems, but that they couldn’t predict the “triggers” that would set off the maelstrom.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Military Affairs | 6 Comments »

    Risk: An Allegory

    Posted by Jonathan on 26th August 2015 (All posts by )

    Here’s an interesting article on CNBC’s website: Katrina anniversary: Will New Orleans levees hold next time?

    The 100-year threshold is also a statistical guess based on data on past storms and assessments of whether they’ll occur in the future. That means the models change every time a new hurricane strikes. The numbers being used as guidelines for construction are changing as time passes.
     
    The standard also does not mean—can’t possibly mean—that a 100-year storm will occur only once per century. It means that such a storm has a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year. So for example, it’s technically possible for several 100-year floods to occur in just a few years, although it’s highly unlikely.

    One way to look at it is that the engineers need to estimate how high a wall New Orleans needs to protect itself against a reasonably unlikely flood — say, a 1-in-1000-year event. This is the line of discussion pursued in the CNBC article.

    Another way to look at it is to observe that the odds of another Katrina, or worse, within a specified period are highly uncertain. In this case a radical course of action might be called for. You do something like: take the best estimate for the wall height needed to protect against a 1000-year flood and then double it. Building such a levee would probably be extremely expensive but at least the costs would be out in the open. Or you might decide that it’s not the best idea to have a coastal city that’s below sea level, and so you would discourage people from moving back to New Orleans, rather than encourage them by subsidizing a new and stronger system of walls.

    In this kind of situation the political incentives are usually going to encourage public decisionmakers to ignore radical solutions with high obvious costs, in favor of the minimum acceptable incremental solution with hidden costs: probably subsidies to rebuild the levees to, or perhaps a bit beyond, the standard needed to protect the city in the event of another Katrina. And it’s unlikely that any local pol is going to advise residents to move out and depopulate his constituency. Thus, eventually, a worst case will probably happen again.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Environment, Human Behavior, Markets and Trading, New Orleans Tragedy, Predictions, Public Finance, Statistics, Systems Analysis, Tradeoffs | 14 Comments »

    How Systems Get Tired

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

    This great post by Richard Fernandez  reminded me of a quote from George Eliot:

    The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

    (from Silas Marner)

    Posted in Big Government, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Political Philosophy, Tech | 20 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 18th August 2015 (All posts by )

    Richard Fernandez:

    If you had to name ten things “which changed everything” in the last 2 decades nearly all the good stuff will have crept out of woodwork from the inner pages while all the bad stuff was parading above the fold. You can even think of the inner pages as being in an endless war with the front page, in an unending battle between the ordinary working stiff and the self-important leaders. The working stiff makes and the self-important leader taxes and wastes. Booms happen when the regular Joe can temporarily outpace the great men and the years of the locust occur when the opposite is true.

    This is a nice post that touches a number of important themes about progress and how people perceive it. Worth reading.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Media, Politics, Predictions, Quotations | 9 Comments »

    Ads sell everything from Apple to Zippo. Why aren’t they used to sell ideas?

    Posted by Bruno Behrend on 11th August 2015 (All posts by )

    After two losses to the farthest left president ever, conservatives have been agonizing over how win back the presidency. More importantly, the truly thoughtful among us have been agonizing over how to win back a once freedom-loving culture drifting ever farther leftward.

    On the political front, the debate is over moderates (who might win the middle) and conservatives (who might excite the base). That seems to be the debate that sucks up all the oxygen. I would make the case that if you are focusing on the political front, you are fighting a battle, but have already lost the war.

    I take the position that politics, while important, is merely the manifestation of what is happening to the culture. If you lose the culture, you are going to lose the elections. It’s that simple.

    I think it was post 2012, where Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit, opined that conservatives should start buying up media, so that they could compete, at least partly, with the progressives’ dominance in the MSM. I think that is a good idea, and would argue that it is far better investment than giving money to another think tank. It isn’t easy, though. First you have to buy the medium, then you have to market it so it is followed. Last, and most important, that medium has to do much more than Fox News and talk radio, both of which do little more than pound the rubble for the already converted – making conservatives angrier and less palatable in the process.

    It’s a great idea, but difficult. What if there is an easier way?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Conservatism, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Media, Political Philosophy, Politics, Rhetoric, USA | 29 Comments »

    “Charles Krauthammer on his distinguished career in writing and ideas”

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th July 2015 (All posts by )

    This is a delightful interview of Krauthammer by William Kristol from earlier this year. It’s quite long but the whole thing is worth watching.
     

    In this conversation, Charles Krauthammer reflects on his upbringing in a politically-tumultuous Quebec, his work in medicine, and his views on Zionism, Judaism, and religion. Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol also discuss some of the key ideas, questions, and themes of his writing—including the “Reagan Doctrine,” an idea he coined, the role of America in a new post-Cold War world, and whether the America of 2015 is in decline.

     
    (A timeline of the interview appears on the interview’s YouTube page.)
     


     

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Biography, Conservatism, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, History, Israel, Judaism, Media, Political Philosophy, Politics, Reagan Centenary, Religion, Video | 4 Comments »

    “Dear Young Social Justice Warrior,”

    Posted by Jonathan on 24th July 2015 (All posts by )

    From an open letter by Seth Barrett Tillman:

    To sum up, if you decide to publish an article, and your article gives rise to a response or responses taking issue with your ideas, that is cause for genuine pride and congratulations, as most ideas are never even noticed. But, if instead, your reaction to such responses is to claim that you have been injured (i.e., your feelings are hurt because you have become aware that others see the world differently from you), then it seems to me that your purported injury is not meaningful or cognizable. If mere hurt feelings were a recognized injury, then no one could possibly disagree with anyone else, and all intellectual inquiry, in law and in other fields, would be at an end. You do see that, right? At a time when free speech is in decline all over the world, when free speech is threatened by government monitoring, by ever expanding legal liability, and by criminals who respond with violence to speech with which they disagree, are you sure you are on the right side of this issue? Exactly whose side are you on?

    Worth reading in full.

    (SSRN link.)

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Law, Leftism, Lit Crit, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Rhetoric, Society | 6 Comments »

    Unintended Consequences

    Posted by Jonathan on 16th July 2015 (All posts by )

    The Obama administration has directly or indirectly caused several gun-control panics beginning in late 2008. With each successive panic the high-water price level for popular weapons has declined, because manufacturers ramped up production in response to price incentives and because panic is difficult to sustain. There is more market competition and improved manufacturing technology, so supply and quality have improved despite executive orders curbing imports. In 2015 you can buy a US-made budget AR-15 from a good manufacturer for around $600. Back in the early ’90s when these panics started a similar gun would have cost $2k+ in more-expensive dollars.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Markets and Trading, Obama, RKBA | 33 Comments »

    HOWTO: improve a historic document via committee (classic rerun)

    Posted by L. C. Rees on 4th July 2015 (All posts by )

    How the Declaration of Independence evolved from its first draft by Thomas Jefferson (blue) to the revised draft by the Committee of Five (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman (red) to the final changes made by the Continental Congress as a committee of the whole (bold black) (source):

    A Declaration of the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in General Congress assembled. In Congress, July 4,1776. The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America.
     
    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for a People to advance from that Subordination, in which they have hitherto remained, one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the Ppowers of the Eearth the equal and independant Station the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Rrespect to the opinions of Mmankind requires that they should declare the Ccauses which impel them to the Change separation.
     
    We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal and independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which that among these are the Preservation of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. tThat to secure these Ends rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the Cconsent of the governed; t.—That whenever any Form of gGovernment shall become becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Rright of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Ffoundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Ccauses; and accordingly all Eexperience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to Ssuffer, while Eevils are Ssufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of Aabuses and Uusurpations, begun at a distinguish’d Period and, pursuing invariably the same oObject, evinces a Ddesign to reduce them under absolute Power dDespotism, it is their Rright, it is their Dduty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient Ssufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the Nnecessity which constrains them to expunge alter their former systems of government. The history of his present Majesty, the present king of Great Britain is a history of unremitting repeated injuries and usurpations, among which no one Fact stands Single or Solitary to contradict the uniform tenor of the rest, all of which have having in direct object the Eestablishment of an absolute Ttyranny over these Sstates. To prove this let Ffacts be Ssubmitted to a candid Wworld., for the Truth of which We pledge a Faith, as yet unsullied by falsehood.
     
    He has refused his assent to laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
     
    He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and, when so suspended, he has neglected utterly to attend to them.
     
    He has refused to pass other Laws for the accomodation of large Ddistricts of Ppeople unless those Ppeople would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a Rright inestimable to them, and formidable to Ttyrants only.
     
    He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public rRecords, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
     
    He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly and continually,for opposing with manly Ffirmness his Iinvasions on the Rrights of the Ppeople;
     
    He has refused, for a long Space of Ttime after such Ddissolutions to cause others to be elected, whereby the lLegislative Ppowers, incapable of aAnnihilation have returned to the People at large for their Eexercise, the sState remaining, in the mean Ttime meantime, exposed to all the Ddangers of Iinvasion from without, and Convulsions within.
     
    He has endeavoured to prevent the Ppopulation of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for nNaturalization of fForeigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Mmigrations hither, and raising the Cconditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
     
    He has suffered obstructed the Administration of Justice totally to cease in some of these Colonies, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
     
    He has made our Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Ttenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their Ssalaries.
     
    He has created a Mmultitude of nNew oOffices by a Self-assumed Power, and sent hither swarms of oOfficers to harass our Ppeople, and eat out their Ssubstance.
     
    He has kept among us, in Ttimes of Ppeace, Standing Armies and Ships of War without the cConsent of our legislatures..
     
    He has affected to render the mMilitary independent of and Superiour superior to the cCivil Ppower.
     
    He has combined with others to subject us to a Jjurisdiction foreign to our Cconstitution, and unacknowledged by our Llaws; giving his Assent to their pretended Acts of pretended Legislation:
     
    fFor quartering large Bbodies of armed Ttroops among us:
     
    fFor protecting them, by a Mmock Tryal Ttrial from Ppunishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
     
    fFor cutting off our Ttrade with all Pparts of the Wworld;
     
    fFor imposing Taxes on as without our Consent—fFor depriving Uus in many cases of the Bbenefits of Trial by Jjury;
     
    fFor transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
     
    fFor abolishing the free sSystem of English Llaws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an aArbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these cColonies:
     
    fFor taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable lLaws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Government:
     
    fFor suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Ppower to legislate for us in all Ccases whatsoever.
     
    He has abdicated Government here withdrawing his Governors, and by declaring us out of his Allegiance and pProtection, and waging war against us.
     
    He has plundered our Sseas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the Lives of our Ppeople.
     
    He is at this Ttime transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete compleat the Wworks of death, Ddesolation, andTtyranny, already begun with Ccircumstances of Ccruelty and Pperfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nnation.
     
    He has excited domestic insurrection among us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Iinhabitants of our Ffrontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rrule of Wwarfare is an undistinguished Ddestruction of all Aages, Ssexes, and Cconditionsof existence.
     
    He has incited treasonable Insurrections of our Fellow Citizens, with the allurement of Forfeiture and Confiscation of our Property.
     
    He has constrained others our fellow citizens taken cCaptive on the high sSeas, to bear arms against their cCountry, to become the executioners of their friends and bBrethren, or to fall themselves by their hHands:
     
    He has waged cruel War against human Nature itself, violating its most sacred Rights of Life and Liberty in the Persons of a distant People who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into Slavery in another Hemisphere, or to incur miserable Death, in their Transportation thither. This piratical Warfare, the opprobrium of infidel Powers, is the Warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain.
     
    He has prostituted his Negative for Suppressing every legislative Attempt to prohibit or to restrain an execrable Commerce, determined to keep open a Market where Men should be bought and sold, and that this assemblage of Horrors might want no Fact of distinguished Die.
     
    He is now exciting those very People to rise in Arms among us, and to purchase their Liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the People upon whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off, former Crimes committed against the Liberties of one People, with Crimes which he urges them to commit against the Lives of another.
     
    In every stage of these oOppressions wWe have pPetitioned for rRedress, in the most humble tTerms: oOur repeated Petitions have been answered by repeated Iinjury.
     
    A Prince whose Ccharacter is thus marked by every Aact which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Rruler of a People who mean to be free people. future ages will scarce believe, that the Hardiness of one Man, adventured, within the Short Compass of twelve years only, on so many Acts of Tyranny, without a Mask, over a People, fostered and fixed in the Principles of Liberty.
     
    Nor have wWe been wanting in Aattentions to our British Bbrethren. We have warned them from Ttime to Ttime of attempts of by their Llegislature to extend a an unwarranted Jjurisdiction over these our States us. We have reminded them of the Ccircumstances of our Eemigration and Ssettlement here no one of which could warrant so strange a Pretension. That these were effected at the expense of our own Blood and Treasure, unassisted by the Wealth or the Strength of Great Britain; that in constituting indeed, our Several Forms of Government, we had adopted one common King, thereby laying a Foundation for Perpetual League and Amity with them; but that Submission to their Parliament, was no Part of our Constitution, nor ever in Idea, if History may be credited; and wWe have appealed to their Nature, native Jjustice and Mmagnanimity and we have conjured them by as well as to the Tties of our common Kkindred to disavow these usurpations which were likely to would inevitably interrupt our Correspondence and Connection connection and correspondance. They too have been deaf to the Vvoice of Jjustice and of Cconsanguinity. and when occasions have been given them by the regular Course of their Laws of removing from their Councils, the Disturbers of our Harmony, they have by their free Election, re-established them in Power. At this very Time too, they are permitting their Chief Magistrate to send over not only soldiers of our common Blood, but Scotch and foreign Mercenaries, to invade and deluge us in Blood. These Facts have given the last Stab to agonizing affection, and manly Spirit bids us to renounce forever these unfeeling Brethren. We must endeavour to forget our former Love for them, and to hold them, as we hold the rest of Mankind, enemies in War, in Peace Friends. We might have been a free and a great People together but a Communication of Grandeur and of Freedom it seems is below their Dignity. Be it so, since they will have it: The Road to Happiness and to Glory is open to us too; we will climb it, apart from them We must therefore and acquiesce in the Nnecessity which denounces our eternal Sseparation and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
     
    We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress aAssembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these States Colonies, reject and renounce all Allegiance and Subjection to the Kings of Great Britain, and all others, who may hereafter claim by, through, or under them; We utterly dissolve and break off, all political Connection which may have heretofore subsisted between us and the People or Parliament of Great Britain, and finally we do assert solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be fFree and iIndependent States; that they are Absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as fFree and iIndependent States, they shall hereafter have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which independent States may of Right do. And for the Ssupport of this Declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honour Honor.

    Posted in Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, History, Holidays, Rhetoric, Systems Analysis, Tradeoffs, USA | 5 Comments »

    Random Thought

    Posted by Jonathan on 27th June 2015 (All posts by )

    The Supreme Court and Federal Reserve are corrupt in the same way. Both institutions defer excessively to legislative and regulatory agendas instead of sticking to their respective mandates.

    (Re: Judicial Restraint.)

    Posted in Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Law, Organizational Analysis, Political Philosophy, Politics, Public Finance, Tea Party | 6 Comments »