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  • Archive for the 'Deep Thoughts' Category

    Summer Rerun: Sleeping with the Enemy

    Posted by David Foster on 12th July 2017 (All posts by )

    Why has the western world shown such loss of will in defending itself from radical Islamic terrorism? Why, indeed, do substantial numbers of people–particularly those who view themselves as intellectuals–endlessly make excuses for belief systems and terrorist movements whose values are completely at odds with their own stated values–and even romanticize these systems and their followers? I think some clues can be found in a forgotten novel by Arthur Koestler.

    The Age of Longing (published in 1950) is set in Paris, “sometime in the 1950s,” in a world in which France–indeed all of western Europe–is facing the very real possibility of a Soviet invasion. Hydie Anderson, the protagonist, is a young American woman living in Paris with her father, a military attache. Hydie was a devout Catholic during her teens, but has lost her faith. She was briefly married, and has had several relationships with men, but in none of them has she found either physical or emotional satisfaction…she describes her life with a phrase from T S Eliot: “frigid purgatorial fires,” and she longs for a sense of connection:

    Hydie sipped at her glass. Here was another man living in his own portable glass cage. Most people she knew did. Each one inside a kind of invisible telephone box. They did not talk to you directly but through a wire. Their voices came through distorted and mostly they talked to the wrong number, even when they lay in bed with you. And yet her craving to smash the glass between the cages had come back again. If cafes were the home of those who had lost their country, bed was the sanctuary of those who had lost their faith.

    Through her friend Julien DeLattre, Hydie is introduced to a number of Paris intellectuals and and East European emigres. Members of the former group are mostly in denial about the danger of a Soviet attack…many of them have indeed convinced themselves that Communist rule wouldn’t be all that bad. For example, there’s Professor Pontieux (modeled on Sartre)…”He did not believe that the Commonwealth of Freedomloving People had solved all its problems and become an earthly paradise. But it was equally undeniable that it was an expression of History’s groping progress towards a new form of society, when it followed that those who opposed this progres were siding with the forces of reaction and preparing the way for conflict and war–the worst crime against Humanity.” Vardi, another intellectual, says that if he had to choose between the (American) juke box on one hand, and Pravda on another, he isn’t sure which he would pick.

    Madame Pontieux, modeled on Simone de Bouvoir (with whom Koestler had a brief affair) is less ambiguous about her choice among the alternatives. “You cannot enter a cafe or a restaurant without finding it full of Americans who behave as if the place belonged to them,” she complains to an American official. When the Russian emigre Leontiev suggests that France would not survive without American military support, pointing out that “nature abhors a vacuum,” she turns on him:

    “I am surprised at your moderation, Citizen Leontiev,” Madame Pontieux said sarcastically. “I thought you would tell us that without this young man’s protection the Commonwealth army would at once march to the Atlantic shore.”

    “It would,” said Leontiev. “I believed that everyone knew that.”

    “I refuse to believe it,” responds Madame Pontieux. “But if choose one must I would a hundred times rather dance to the music of a Balalaika than a juke box.”

    (The French intellectuals Koestler knew must have really hated juke boxes!)

    Julien is romantically interested in Hydie, but she is not attracted to him, despite the fact that he seems to have much to recommend him–a hero of the French Resistance, wounded in action, and a successful poet. On one occasion, she tells him that she could never sleep with him because they are too similar–“it would be like incest”..on another occasion, though, she tells him that “what I most dislike about you is your attitude of arrogant broken-heartedness.” Parallel to Hydie’s loss of religious faith is Julien’s loss of his secular faith in the creation of a new society. He does not now believe in utopia, or any approximation to same, but he does believe in the need to face reality, however unpleasant it may be. Hydie argues that the Leftists of their acquaintance may be silly, but at least they believe in something:

    “Perhaps they believe in a mirage–but isn’t it better to believe in a mirage than to believe in nothing?”

    Julien looked at her coldly, almost with contempt:

    “Definitely not. Mirages lead people astray. That’s why there are so many skeletons in the desert. Read more history. Its caravan-routes are strewn with the skeletons of people who were thirsting for faith–and their faith made them drink salt water and eat the sand, believing it was the Lord’s Supper.”

    At a diplomatic affair, Hydie meets Fedya, a committed Communist who works for the Soviet Embassy. She is powerfully attracted to him: things get physical very quickly and, from Hydie’s point of view, very satisfactorily. (Fedya is one of Koestler’s best-developed characters. His boyhood in Baku is vividly sketched, and Koestler–himself a former Communist–does a good job in showing how a political faith can become core to an individual’s whole personality.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, France, Political Philosophy, Terrorism | 10 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: The Calendar is Not Omnipotent

    Posted by David Foster on 7th July 2017 (All posts by )

    Here’s a video of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser reacting to a Muslim Brotherhood demand that women be required to wear head coverings.  Nasser and his listeners are quite amused that anyone would propose such an idea in the modern year of 1958.  The video reminded me of this post from March 2014…

    Barack Obama and John Kerry have been ceaselessly lecturing Vlad Putin to the effect that: grabbing territory from other countries just isn’t the sort of thing one does in this twenty-first century, old boy.

    For example, here’s Obama: “…because you’re bigger and stronger taking a piece of the country – that is not how international law and international norms are observed in the 21st century.”

    And John Kerry:  “It’s really 19th century behavior in the twenty-first century. You just don’t invade another country on phony pretexts in order to assert your interests.”

    The idea that the mere passage of time has some automatic magical effect on national behavior…on human behavior…is simplistic, and more than a little odd.  I don’t know how much history Obama and Kerry actually studied during their college years, but 100 years ago..in early 1914…there were many, many people convinced that a major war could not happen…because we were now in the twentieth century, with international trade and with railroads and steamships and telegraph networks and electric lights and all. And just 25 years after that, quite a few people refused to believe that concentration camps devoted to systematic murder could exist in the advanced mid-20th century, in the heart of Europe.

    Especially simplistic is the idea that, because there had been no military territory-grabs by first-rank powers for a long time, that the era of such territory-grabs was over. George Eliot neatly disposed of this idea many years ago, in a passage in her novel Silas Marner:

    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.

    Or, as Mark Steyn put it much more recently:

    ‘Stability’ is a surface illusion, like a frozen river: underneath, the currents are moving, and to the casual observer the ice looks equally ‘stable’ whether there’s a foot of it or just two inches. There is no status quo in world affairs: ‘stability’ is a fancy term to dignify laziness and complacency as sophistication.

    Obama also frequently refers to the Cold War, and argues that it is in the past. But the pursuit of force-based territorial gain by nations long predates the Cold War, and it has not always had much to do with economic rationality. The medieval baron with designs on his neighbor’s land didn’t necessarily care about improving his own standard of living, let alone that of his peasants–what he was after, in many cases, was mainly the ego charge of being top dog.

    Human nature was not repealed by the existence of steam engines and electricity in 1914…nor even by the broad Western acceptance of Christianity in that year…nor is it repealed in 2014 by computers and the Internet or by sermons about “multiculturalism” and bumper stickers calling for “coexistence.”

    American Digest just linked a very interesting analysis of the famous “long telegram” sent by George Kennan in 1947: George Kennan, Vladimir Putin, and the Appetites of Men. In this document, Kennan argued that Soviet behavior must be understood not only through the prism of Communist ideology, but also in terms of the desire of leaders to establish and maintain personal power.

    Regarding the current Russian/Crimean situation, the author of the linked article (Tod Worner) says:

    In the current crisis, many will quibble about the historical, geopolitical complexities surrounding the relationship between Russia, Ukraine and Crimea. They will debate whether Crimea’s former inclusion in the Russian Empire or Crimea’s restive Russian population justifies secession especially with a strong Russian hand involved. Papers will be written. Conferences will be convened. Experts will be consulted. Perhaps these are all prudent and thoughtful notions to consider and actions to undertake. Perhaps.

    But perhaps we should, like George Kennan, return to the same questions we have been asking about human nature since the beginning of time. Maybe we are, at times, overthinking things. Perhaps we would do well to step back and consider something more fundamental, something more base, something more reliable than the calculus of geopolitics and ideology…Perhaps we ignore the simple math that is often before our very eyes. May we open our eyes to the appetites of men.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Humor, Leftism, Middle East, Obama, Russia, USA, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Time Travel

    Posted by David Foster on 25th June 2017 (All posts by )

    Margaret Soltan’s husband was searching for his grandmother’s name on Google, and found her in a 1908 portrait, which is now in the National Museum at Warsaw.

    The post reminded me of a post from a couple of months ago by Bookworm, about finding a book in which  her grandmother’s friends at her finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland, wrote her farewell letters when she graduated and moved back to Belgium in 1913:

    As befitted a young woman of her class back in the day before WWI began, my grandmother was multilingual, so the messages in her book were in French, German, Dutch, and English.  The young ladies all included their home addresses — in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, America, Scotland, England, Wales, Romania, and Persia (Tehran).  Each inscription was written in beautiful copperplate and the girls all drew exquisite little flags reflecting each girl’s country of origin.

    Since I, unlike my grandmother (and my parents), am not multilingual, I was able to read only the inscriptions from my grandmother’s English-speaking friends.  I have no word for how charming these little missives were.  An American girl wrote about the irony that she and my grandmother hated each other at first sight, only to become close friends by the end of their time together.  An English girl wrote about the “jolly good times” they had going to concerts with “modern” music consisting of one note, played so low no one could hear it.  Another girl wrote about the disappointment of endless dinners consisting of macaroni and disappointingly watery “chocolate creme.”

    And Bookworm’s post, when I first read it, reminded me of a passage in the memoirs of British general Edward Spears, close friend of Churchill and emissary to France during the campaign of 1940. Spears had grown up in France, and in the 1960s he returned to the house he had lived in. There, he found a picnic basket filled with his grandmother’s old letters:

    The next letters I opened dropped me back two generations into a land of other people’s memories but with an occasional sharp glint as they recalled things I had heard of as a child. They were the letters of a poor sick young woman written to her absent husband whilst she was immobilised awaiting her first and only child, my mother.

    I never imagined my grandmother other than I had known her, white haired, stout, and dignified. The picture painted in these letters of a girl frantic with loneliness and longing, exasperated at the threat of a miscarriage which kept her lying on her back, begging her husband to come to her, all told in the reserved language of that day, filled me with a kind of fond protective amusement. It was so unexpected. Time, so long imprisoned in these boxes, was revealing itself in an entirely new guise, oscillating quite regardless of years from one generation to the next or back again–more, it was taking me, an elderly man in the 1960s, and leading me back to the year 1864, there to watch over, with infinite tenderness, a young woman I had never known, my grandmother as a young wife…

    Another time-travel experience, albeit of a less directly personal nature than the above three ventures back in time, can be found in this set of photographs: 1910–The Summer of our Content.

    See also the comments for the original post of the above.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Human Behavior | 5 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Two Election Stories: New Jersey, November 7, 2016 & Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, 2013

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th June 2017 (All posts by )

    Please forward [this] to people in Lakewood [New Jersey]. I gave [Rabbi] Yeruchum Olshin [May he live for many good days, Amen], [a] ride this morning and [he] said [that] I [may quote him – that is, Rabbi Olshin] in his name to vote for [candidate] Trump because [the authoritative commentary on Jewish law and practice explains] [King] David [had] 2 [failings] and [David] didn’t lose [his] kingdom, but [King] Saul [had] only one [failing] and lost [his] kingdom. Why? [The] answer is [because] David’s [failures] were in his private life but Saul[’s] [failure] was in [relation to] the [kingship] … [albeit it is all distinguishable] [Rabbi Olshin] said Trump is [low] … in his private life but Hillary [is] corrupt in public office. [quoting Rabbi Aaron of blessed memory]… Forward to everybody!!

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Deep Thoughts, Elections, Trump | Comments Off on Seth Barrett Tillman: Two Election Stories: New Jersey, November 7, 2016 & Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, 2013

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Responding to Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain in The Guardian…

    Posted by Jonathan on 24th May 2017 (All posts by )

    (Read the entire exchange here.)

    Posted in Britain, Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Rhetoric, Terrorism | 21 Comments »

    Oxytocin and Conformity – Public and Private

    Posted by David Foster on 29th April 2017 (All posts by )

    An interesting article by Robert Sapolsky distinguishes between public conformity, in which subjects change their opinions to be more agreeable to the crowd, and private conformity, where the individual actually adopts the crowd’s opinion as his own.

    Sapolsky describes a classic experiment for studying conformity, in which solitary subjects are first asked something with an obvious answer such as, “Here’s a line.  Which of these three other lines is it closest to in length?”  Then a subject is asked the question which amid a group of other “participants,” actually confederates of the researcher who have been instructed to give a unanimously wrong answer. When these false answers were given first, the real study subjects would agree with that answer up to three-quarters of the time.

    Neuroscience research suggests that “the discovery that everyone disagrees with you turns out to typically activate the amygdala and the insular cortex, brain regions associated with anxiety, disgust, and unease.”

    In another experiment, which involved watching a documentary and then being quizzed about it, subjects were divided into two groups.  One group was administered oxytocin, the so-called ‘cuddling hormone,’ which is said to promote bonding and affiliation in couples and also among social groups.  The other experimental group got a placebo.  Among the placebo group, about 2/3 conformed to the crowd opinion…but of these, about half reverted to the correct answer when they were on their own again.  Among those who got oxytocin, there was a 15% increase in the rate of public conforming, but no increase in the rate of private conforming.

    I’m not sure how definitive a 15% increase really is given the sample size of only 92 subjects, but it is consistent with what has been frequently claimed about the effects of oxytocin.  It is slightly comforting (again, to the extent that these results are validate-able)  that the increase in public conformity does not drive a corresponding increase in private conformity.  Only slightly comforting, though–the mob can still burn you at the stake for witchcraft even though most of its members privately believe that there is no such thing.)

    This is obviously connected to the idea of the preference cascade.  Failure to understand this concept is surely one reason why Hillary Clinton and her minions were so taken aback by Donald Trump’s presidential victory.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism | 8 Comments »

    Freedom and the American Character

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd April 2017 (All posts by )

    I was thinking, for some reason, about the old Cole Porter song Don’t Fence Me In.  It’s not all that good of a song, IMO–but it does express a chafing at restriction that most people would once have agreed was a core aspect of the American character.

    Now, however, I’m not so sure.  Seems to me a lot of people–especially but not only on college campuses–are asking to be fenced in, and are looking at hobbles not negatively but with admiration.

    Questions for discussion:

    –Has individual freedom indeed become a less-important value to Americans (in general) over recent decades?

    –If so, what are the drivers of this change?…and what are the implications?

    –Was Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor right about human nature?

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Music, USA | 30 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 28th March 2017 (All posts by )

    Some people find it very upsetting that President Trump likes to put ketchup on steak.  (Not something I’d do, but then I never put ketchup on french fries, either…)  Matthew Continetti says:  It is hard to read stories like these without coming to the conclusion that so much of our elite’s abhorrence of Trump is a matter of aesthetics.

    There’s considerable truth in that point, I think.  Lead and Gold quotes GK Chesterton:  The modern world will not distinguish between matters of opinion and matters of principle and it ends up treating them all as matters of taste.  Follow the link to read what L&G has to say about the worship of ‘taste’, using the Bloomsbury group as an example.

    How Communism became the disease it tried to cure:

    Contrary to the socialist promises of making a new man out of the rubble of the old order, as one new stone after another was put into place and the socialist economy was constructed, into the cracks between the blocks sprouted once again the universals of human nature: the motives and psychology of self-interested behavior, the search for profitable avenues and opportunities to improve one’s own life and that of one’s family and friends, through the attempt to gain control over and forms of personal use of the “socialized” scarce resources and commodities within the networks and interconnections of the Soviet bureaucracy.

    Stuart Schneiderman writes about nationalism vs internationalism, and Don Sensing has some thoughts on tribalism.  Both are well worth reading.

    Why college graduates still can’t think:

    Traditionally, the “critical” part of the term “critical thinking” has referred not to the act of criticizing, or finding fault, but rather to the ability to be objective. “Critical,” in this context, means “open-minded,” seeking out, evaluating and weighing all the available evidence. It means being “analytical,” breaking an issue down into its component parts and examining each in relation to the whole. Above all, it means “dispassionate,” recognizing when and how emotions influence judgment and having the mental discipline to distinguish between subjective feelings and objective reason—then prioritizing the latter over the former…I assumed that virtually all the readers (of a post on a higher-education website) would agree with this definition of critical thinking—the definition I was taught as a student in the 1980s and which I continue to use with my own students.

    To my surprise, that turned out not to be the case. Several readers took me to task for being “cold” and “emotionless,” suggesting that my understanding of critical thinking, which I had always taken to be almost universal, was mistaken.

    Some great pictures of villages around the world.  (via Craig Newmark)

    Posted in Academia, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Photos, Trump | 11 Comments »

    Mark Zuckerberg as Political and Social Philosopher

    Posted by David Foster on 7th March 2017 (All posts by )

    A long essay by the founder of Facebook includes this assertion:

    History is the story of how we’ve learned to come together in ever greater numbers — from tribes to cities to nations.

    To which Steve Sailer responds:

    As we all know, independence and diversity have always been the enemy of progress.

    For example, that’s why Thomas Jefferson wrote The Declaration of Dependence submitting the American colonies to the British Empire.

    Similarly, the father of history, Herodotus, wrote to celebrate the mighty Persian Empire’s reduction of the various Greek city-states to a satrapy ruled from Babylon.

    Likewise, every year Jews gather to admit that their stiff-neckedness provoked the Roman Empire into, rightfully, smashing the Temple in Jerusalem on the holy day of We-Had-It-Coming.

    And, of course, who can forget Shakespeare’s plays, such as Philip II and Admiral-Duke of Medina Sidonia, lauding the Spanish Armada for conquering the impudent English and restoring to Canterbury the One True Faith?

    Similarly, Oswald Mosley’s prime ministership (1940-1980) of das englische Reich is justly admired for subordinating England’s traditional piratical turbulence to the greater good of Europe.

    Likewise, who can not look at the 49 nations currently united by their adherence to the universalist faith of Islam and not see that submission is the road to peace, prosperity, and progress? If only unity had prevailed at Tours in 732 instead of divisiveness. May that great historical wrong be swiftly rectified in the decades to come!

    (links via Isegoria)

    Zuckerberg’s assertion about history being about “coming together in ever larger numbers”…with the implication that this is inherently in a good thing…is quite reminiscent of the views of Edward Porter Alexander, a Confederate general and later a railroad president…as excerpted in my post What are the limits of the Alexander analysis?

    Following his initial snarkiness, Steve Sailer goes on to point out that “consolidation is some times a good thing, and other times independence or decentralization is a better thing. Getting the scale of control right all depends upon the circumstances. It’s usually a very interesting and complicated question that is the central issue of high statesmanship.”

    Thoughts?

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Organizational Analysis, Political Philosophy, Tech | 33 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 4th March 2017 (All posts by )

    Simulating a microprocessor with techniques similar to those used in neuroscience raises some cautionary thoughts about conclusions being drawn in the later work.

    Don Sensing links his 2014 post:  America is adopting the Middle East model, and he’s not talking about Islam but rather about the   fact that “At an increasing pace, politics in the West, especially in America, is the surest way to wealth, a 180-out from the West’s history”…but consistent with the way things have worked for millennia in the Middle East.

    Anthony Esolen:  We are a people now illiterate in a way that is unprecedented for the human race. We can decipher linguistic signs on a page, but we have no songs and immemorial stories in our hearts.

    Wendy McElroy on “social justice warriors” and the persecution of heretics.

    Despite about all the automation innovations and the concerns about robots taking all the jobs, manufacturing productivity may really not be showing much in the way of an upward trend.

    Management and meaningful work, studied via Legos

    Posted in Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Leftism, Management, Medicine, Middle East, Science, Tech | 1 Comment »

    The Crazy Years 21st Century Style

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 27th February 2017 (All posts by )

    I honestly thought that once the election was done and Donald Trump duly sworn into the highest office in the land that those whose favored candidate lost would calm the heck down. You know, sort of the way that those of us whose chosen candidate lost in 2012… you know, disappointed but sporting about it. We went home, sniffled a little as we communed via the internet with equally disappointed friends, assumed the fetal position and turned the electric blanket onto “high” and got over it in a week or so. That’s the way the constitutionally-mandated cookie crumbles. The day after the election, I assumed that Hillary and Bernie voters would have had the maturity to do the same; morn a little, snivel a little, write editorials in the national media-of-record rationalizing their unfortunate reversals, perhaps throwing a little blame against whomever, and then pull themselves together and put as good a face on it as they could muster, promising to do better in 2020.

    Nope; the march of the disappointed pussy-hatters the very next day, riots and protests in deep blue cities, the absolute frothing at the mouth Trump-hate at the Oscars and on the national news broadcasts, the impassioned print editorials, the ranting, raving, stompy-footing, the mass-defriending and insanely hateful rants on Facebook: Trump is a Nazi-fascist-anti-Semitic-racist-who-pulls-tags-off-mattresses and trips old ladies hobbling along on canes, and so is everyone who voted for him. Yes, over the last few years, we have kind of gotten the idea that the Ruling Class; the bi-coastal comfortable and well-connected (including the intelligentsia, the national media and bureaucracy) were contemptuous of the ordinary working and middle class residents of Flyoverlandia. Now we know for a certainty that those who form the coalition of the Ruling Class and many who aspire to be a member of that Class in good standing despise us. They despise us with a passion and fury that renders them incoherent, and unashamed of displaying that hatred.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Civil Society, Conservatism, Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Politics, Trump | 18 Comments »

    Robots and Jobs – the Bet

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd February 2017 (All posts by )

    Keith Ablow, a Fox News analyst, asked Should Trump stop robots from stealing jobs?

    Economist Don Boudreaux responded:

    It’s true that the pace of introducing new labor-saving techniques has magnificently quickened in the past two hundred years.  This fast pace continues today.  Yet still we encounter no evidence that labor-saving techniques permanently increase unemployment.

    You’ll reply “This time is different!”  Perhaps, but I doubt it.  And I’m so confident in my prediction that I’ll put $10,000 of my own my money where my mouth is.

    Terms of the wager are at the Boudreaux link. I’m not sure if the bet has been accepted or not.

    Meanwhile, here is Bill Gates, suggesting that robots should be taxed.  Left undefined, at least in this interview, is a question of Exactly What is a Robot?  Is a CNC machine tool a robot?  I’d say it absolutely is, as was the case with earlier numerically-controlled machine tools that became pretty common in the 1970s and 1980s.  How about an automated teller machine in a bank?  And what about “robots” that have no direct physical incarnation but are purely software, such as the office productivity software that accounted for a huge portion of Microsoft’s success?  It was largely Microsoft Word and similar software that made secretaries an endangered species in most organizations.  (Can you imaging the lobbying, litigation, and regulatory struggles that would surround this definitional issue if politicians were to take Bill’s proposal seriously?)

    The proposal also ignores that fact that the United States is not the entire world–taxing robots here would harm our competitiveness vis-a-vis those countries pursuing no such policy.  (Which would clearly include China.)  The only way to make a US-only anti-robot policy ‘work’ would be to establish very high tariff barriers.

    See also my posts Attack of the Job-Killing Robots and Attack of the Job-Killing Robots Part 2.   I hope to soon complete Part 3 of the series, which will focus on automation technologies and their impact in the post-WWII era.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Tech | 19 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 10th February 2017 (All posts by )

    How the 16th century invented social media

    Virginia Postrel thinks that now is the time for big-box stores to embrace the 19th century

    Is it possible to make American mate again?

    Related to the above:  mapping the geographical patterns of romantic anxiety and avoidance

    Maybe also related:  sex doesn’t sell anymore, activism does

    PC oppression and why Trump won

    Theory and practice: an interesting Assistant Village Idiot post from 2010

    Learning about effective selling from a surfer dude

    Here’s a guy who says: I help create the automated technologies that are taking jobs…and I feel guilty about it

    After discussing his concerns about automation-driven job losses, he goes on to say “I feel even worse when I hear misleading statements about the source of the problem. Blaming China and NAFTA is a convenient deflection, but denial will only make the wrenching employment dislocation for millions all the more painful.”

    I’ve seen this assertion–“offshoring doesn’t matter because Robots”–and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.  It should be obvious that both factors play a role; there’s no need for a single-variable explanation.  (Actually, offshoring-driven job losses and automation-driven job losses are somewhat less than additive in their effect, since automation generally makes US-based production more relatively attractive.)

    Here’s an argument that the next big blue-collar job is coding.

    What if we regarded code not as a high-stakes, sexy affair, but the equivalent of skilled work at a Chrysler plant? Among other things, it would change training for programming jobs—and who gets encouraged to pursue them. As my friend Anil Dash, a technology thinker and entrepreneur, notes, teachers and businesses would spend less time urging kids to do expensive four-year computer-­science degrees and instead introduce more code at the vocational level in high school….Across the country, people are seizing this opportunity, particularly in states hit hardest by deindustrialization. In Kentucky, mining veteran Rusty Justice decided that code could replace coal. He cofounded Bit Source, a code shop that builds its workforce by retraining coal miners as programmers. Enthusiasm is sky high: Justice got 950 applications for his first 11 positions. Miners, it turns out, are accustomed to deep focus, team play, and working with complex engineering tech. “Coal miners are really technology workers who get dirty,” Justice says.

    I’m reminded of two things that Peter Drucker said in his 1969 book The Age of Discontinuity.  In attacking what he called ‘the diploma curtain’, he wrote “By denying opportunity to those without higher education, we are denying access to contribution and performance to a large number of people of superior ability, intelligence, and capacity to achieve.”

    But also, Drucker wrote, in his discussion of the Knowledge Economy:

    The knowledge worker of today…is not the successor to the ‘free professional’ of 1750 or 1900.  He is the successor to the employee of yesterday, the manual worker, skilled or unskilled…This hidden conflict between the knowledge workers view of himself as a ‘professional’ and the social reality in which he is the upgraded and well-paid successor to the skilled worker of yesterday, underlies the disenchantment of so many highly educated young people with the jobs available to them…They expect to be ‘intellectuals.’  And the find that they are just ‘staff.’

    Indeed, many jobs that have been thought of as ‘professional’ and ‘white collar’…programming, financial analysis, even engineering…are increasingly subject to many of the stresses traditionally associated with ‘blue collar’ jobs, such as layoffs and cyclical unemployment.  As a higher % of the corporate cost structure becomes concentrated in jobs which are not direct labor, it is almost inevitable that these jobs will be hit increasingly when financial problems make themselves felt.

    Drucker’s second point, which I think is very astute, is somewhat orthogonal to the coal-miners-becoming-coders piece, and probably deserves it own post for discussion.  Regarding the question of non-college-educated people becoming programmers (of which there has long already been a fair amount), the degree to which succeeds is to some degree coupled with the whole question of h-1b visa policy, and trade policy in general as it relates to offshoring of services.

    Posted in Business, Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Education, Leftism, Marketing, Media, Tech | 11 Comments »

    Freedom, the Village, and the Internet (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 7th February 2017 (All posts by )

    (Hearing in a town this size, by John Prine and Delores Keane, reminded me of this 2013 post–rerun here, with some edits and a special musical bonus added at the end.)

    I’ve reviewed two books by German writer Hans Fallada: Little Man, What Now?, and Wolf Among Wolves (the links go to the reviews), both of which were excellent. I’ve also read his novel Every Man Dies Alone, which is centered on a couple who become anti-Nazi activists after their son Ottochen is killed in the war…it was inspired by, and is loosely based on, the true story of  a real-life couple who distributed anti-Nazi postcards and were executed for it.

    I thought this book was also excellent…the present post, though, is not a book review, but rather a development of some thoughts inspired by a particular passage in the story.

    Trudel, who was Ottochen’s fiancee, is a sweet and intelligent girl who is strongly anti-Nazi..and unlike Ottochen’s parents, she became an activist prior to being struck by personal tragedy: she is a member of a resistance cell at the factory where she works.  But she finds that she cannot stand the unending psychological strain of underground work–made even worse by the rigid and doctrinaire man (apparently a Communist) who is leader of the cell–and she drops out. Another member of the cell, who has long been in love with her, also finds that he is not built for such work, and drops out also.

    After they marry and Trudel becomes pregnant, they decide to leave the politically hysterical environment of Berlin for a small town where–they believe–life will be freer and calmer.

    Like many city dwellers, they’d had the mistaken belief that spying was only really bad in Berlin and that decency still prevailed in small towns. And like many city dwellers, they had made the painful discovery that recrimination, eavesdropping, and informing were ten times worse in small towns than in the big city. In a small town, everyone was fully exposed, you couldn’t ever disappear in the crowd. Personal circumstances were quickly ascertained, conversations with neighbors were practically unavoidable, and the way  such conversations could be twisted was something they had already experienced in their own lives, to their chagrin.

    Reading the above passage, I was struck by the thought that if we are now living in an “electronic village”…even a “global village,” as Marshall McLuhan put it several decades ago…then perhaps that also means we are facing some of the unpleasant characteristics that–as Fallada notes–can be a part of village life. And these characteristics aren’t something that appears only in eras of insane totalitarianism such as existed in Germany during the Nazi era. Peter Drucker, in Managing in the Next Society, wrote about the tension between liberty and community:

    Rural society has been romanticized for millenia, especially in the West, where rural communities have usually been portrayed as idylic. However, the community in rural society is actually both compulsory and coercive…And that explains why, for millenia, the dream of rural people was to escape into the city. Stadluft macht frei (city air frees) says an old German proverb dating back to the eleventh or twelfth century.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Media, Tech | 15 Comments »

    Uncle Henry, Charlie Kellstadt, and Donald Trump

    Posted by David Foster on 24th January 2017 (All posts by )

    As President Trump has focused on persuading certain specific companies to increase their US employment (or at least to refrain from decreasing it as much as originally planned), concerns have been raised about his ability to operate above the level of the single case and to think in terms of framing general policies.  I do share this concern to a certain extent.

    But I’m also reminded of Peter Drucker’s story about two old-line merchants.

    The first of these, called “Uncle Henry” by those who knew him, was the founder and owner of a large and succesful department store. When Drucker met him, he was already in his eighties. Uncle Henry was a businessman who did things by intuition more than by formal analysis, and his own son Irving, a Harvard B-School graduate, was appalled at “the unsystematic and unscientific way the store was being run.”

    Drucker remembers his conversations with Uncle Henry. “He would tell stories constantly, always to do with a late consignment of ladies’ hats, or a shipment of mismatched umbrellas, or the notions counter. His stories would drive me up the wall. But gradually I learned to listen, at least with one ear. For surprisingly enough he always leaped to a generalization from the farrago of anecdotes and stocking sizes and color promotions in lieu of markdowns for mismatched umbrellas.”

    Drucker also knew another leading merchant, Charles Kellstadt (who had once run Sears.) Kellstadt and Drucker served together on a Department of Defense advisory board (on procurement policy), and Kellstadt told “the same kind of stories Uncle Henry had told.” Drucker says that his fellow board members “suffered greatly from his interminable and apparently pointless anecdotes.”

    On one occasion, a “whiz kid” (this was during the McNamara era) was presenting a proposal for a radically new approach to defense pricing policy. Kellstadt “began to tell a story of the bargain basement in the store in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he had held his first managerial job, and of some problem there with the cup sizes of women’s bras. he would stop every few sentences and ask the bewildered Assistant Secretary a quesion about bras, then go on. Finally, the Assistant Secretary said, “You don’t understand Mr. Kellstadt; I’m talking about concepts.” “So am I,” said Charlie, quite indignant, and went on. Ten minutes later all of us on the board realized that he had demolished the entire proposal by showing us that it was far too complex, made far too many assumptions, and contains far too many ifs, buts, and whens.” After the meeting, another board member (dean of a major engineering school) said admiringly, “Charlie, that was a virtuoso performance. but why did you have to drag in the cup sizes of the bras in your bargain basement forty years ago?” Drucker reports that Charlie was surprised by the question: “How else can I see a problem in my mind’s eye?”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Deep Thoughts, Management, Trump | 6 Comments »

    National Tantrum

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th January 2017 (All posts by )

    As the Deity be my witness, I have never – not even since 1968 (which I am sufficiently old enough to remember, being 14 years of age in that cursed year) – seen such a massive and public temper tantrum as that which we have been observing since November, 2015. Let it be said that I am observing all this with appalled and horrified fascination. It used to be that only certain very far-leftish intellectuals and college students were given to briefly melt down in such an over-the-top fashion – but over the last month and a bit this appears to have become the chosen reaction to their side losing an election on the part of most Hollywood A- B- and C-Listers, all the social justice warrior front, most of the establishment media, a good chunk of our public intellectuals, a good few businesses (looking at you, Kellogg) a generous selection of our Democrat Party establishment, and a representative sample of leftish freelance political freaks. (As an aside – good show; displaying your contempt toward at least half of your prospective audience/consumers/& etc is a sure winner, when it comes to the consumer market. This household will never purchase Kellogg brands again. Or go to a movie with Meryl Streep in it.)

    So – why the Cat-5 hurricane degree of hysteria, which shows not the slightest degree of diminishing? A number of reasons, I would venture; and for many of the most demonstrative “Never Our President” virtue signalers it may be a combination of several of these.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Politics, Tea Party, The Press, Trump | 21 Comments »

    Jargon, Proverbs, and Memes

    Posted by David Foster on 7th January 2017 (All posts by )

    Texan99, writing at Grim’s Hall, discusses the ‘thick fog of buzzwords’ that pervades the educational arena in this country. My comment is that buzzwords and jargon are worst in education, government, and the ‘nonprofit’ world, but increasingly are also pervading the world of business and having a malign effect therein. Many of the posts I see on LinkedIn, for example, represent attempts by people who have never had a creative idea or insight in their lives to posture a deep thinkers and business intellectuals by maximizing their use of the buzzwords du jour.

    Sarah Hoyt draws a distinction between memes and proverbs:

    Of all the ways people have come up with to avoid thinking, I like memes the most.  They are so ridiculously easy to fall into.  You see the words, you see the picture and you go “ah ah, that’s so true.” Even when on a minute’s reflection it makes no sense whatsoever…I think in a way it follows the same pattern that proverbs followed in more ancient cultures…While proverbs were ways not to have to think or short cuts around thinking, they weren’t, by themselves, pernicious…Proverbs are in a way, the encoding of societal wisdom into short cuts to lead people into ways that have worked before…Memes are similar, but you have to remove societal wisdom and put in “the commanding forces of culture and mass media”.  RTWT

    Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young captain on the French General Staff (later a general, he commanded the French contingent in the Suez attack) commented on his impressions when he first breathed the refined air at the General Staff level:

    I saw very quickly that our seniors were primarily concerned with forms of drafting. Every memorandum had to be perfect, written in a concise, impersonal style, and conforming to a logical and faultless plan–but so abstract that it had to be read several times before one could find out what it was about…”I have the honour to inform you that I have decided…I envisage…I attach some importance to the fact that…” Actually no one decided more than the barest minimum, and what indeed was decided was pretty trivial.

    Entirely consistent with Beaufre’s observation was a interchange between the artists Picasso and Matisse which took place in the midst of the collapse of 1940:

    Matisse: But what about our generals, what are they doing?

    Picasso:  Our generals? They’re the masters at the Ecole des Beaux Arts!

    …ie, men possessed by the same rote formulae and absence of observation and obsessive traditionalism as the academic artists.

    The decline in clarity of writing and speaking presages nothing good.  Confucius pointed out that “If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.”

    See my earlier post When Formalism Kills and the ensuing discussion thread.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Deep Thoughts | 5 Comments »

    What are the Limits of the Alexander Analysis?

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd January 2017 (All posts by )

    Edward Porter Alexander, who was Lee’s artillery commander at Gettysburg, became a railroad president after the war. His experiences in running a major transportation system probably had something to do with the evolution of his thoughts regarding state’s rights:

    Well that (state’s rights) was the issue of the war; & as we were defeated that right was surrendered & a limit put on state sovereignty. And the South is now entirely satisfied with that result. And the reason of it is very simple. State sovereignty was doubtless a wise political instution for the condition of this vast country in the last century. But the railroad, and the steamboat & the telegraph began to transform things early in this century & have gradually made what may almost be called a new planet of it… Our political institutions have had to change… Briefly we had the right to fight, but our fight was against what might be called a Darwinian development – or an adaptation to changed & changing conditions – so we need not greatly regret defeat.

    I think a lot of the belief in unlimited globalization is implicitly driven by an extension of Alexander’s argument, with the jet plane, the container ship, and the Internet taking the place of the railroad, steamboat, and telegraph.

    How far does this extension make sense?  If the ability of locomotives could pull trains across the United States in three days meant that full sovereignty for individual states was obsolete, does the ability of jet airplanes to carry passengers and freight anywhere in the world in less than one day similarly imply that full sovereignty for nations is obsolete?

    I suspect that most people at this site will not agree with a transportation-based argument for the elimination of national sovereignty.  So, what is valid and what is invalid about Alexander’s analysis, and what are the limits for the extension of its geographical scope?  Discuss.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Political Philosophy, Tech, Transportation, USA | 22 Comments »

    A Christmas Eve Story: Father Christmas and the Provost

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 24th December 2016 (All posts by )

    (This is a short-story version of an episode in Adelsverein: The Sowing, which I reworked as a free-standing Christmas story a good few years ago, for a collection of short stories. The scene; the Texas Hill country during the Civil War – a war in which many residents of the Hill Country were reluctant to participate, as they had abolitionist leanings, had not supported secession … and had quite enough to do with defending themselves against raiding Indians anyway.)

    It was Vati’s idea to have a splendid Christmas Eve and he broached it to his family in November. Christian Friedrich Steinmetz to everyone else but always Vati to his family; once the clockmaker of Ulm in Bavaria, Vati had come to Texas with the Verein nearly twenty years before with his sons and his three daughters. “For the children, of course,” he said, polishing his glasses and looking most particularly like an earnest and kindly gnome, “This year past has been so dreadful, such tragedies all around – but it is within our capabilities to give them a single good memory of 1862! I shall arrange for Father Christmas to make a visit, and we shall have as fine a feast as we ever did, back in Germany. Can we not do this, my dears?”
    “How splendid, Vati! Oh, we shall, we shall!” his youngest daughter Rosalie kissed her father’s cheek with her usual degree of happy exuberance, “With the house full of children – even the babies will have a wonderful memory, I am sure!” Her older sisters, Magda and Liesel exchanged fond but exasperated glances; dear, vague well-meaning Vati!
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Deep Thoughts, Diversions | 3 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

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

    A USAF jet fighter pilot flies a WWII P-51 Mustang.

    An argument that China will never be as wealthy as America.  (‘Never’ is a long time, though)

    A huge database of artworks, indexed on many dimensions.

    An ethics class that has been taught for 20 years (at the University of Texas-Austin) is no longer offered.  According to the professor who taught it:

    Students clam up as soon as conversation veers close to anything controversial and one side might be viewed as politically incorrect. The open exchange of ideas that used to make courses such as Contemporary Moral Problems exciting doesn’t happen. It’s not possible to teach the course the way I used to teach it.

    At the GE blog:  Direct mind-to-airplane communication…and, maybe someday, direct mind-to-mind communication as well.  Although regarding the second possibility, SF writer Connie Willis raises some concerns.

    Also at the GE blog:  The California Duck Must Die – a very good explanation of the load-matching problems created when ‘renewable’ sources become a major element of the electrical grid. Media discussion of all the wind and solar capacity installed has tended to gloss over these issues.

    The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 – January 1945.

    Posted in Academia, Aviation, China, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Education, Energy & Power Generation, History, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    An Interesting Story About Government Funding

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

    If the government wants to give money to your organization, that’s a good thing, right?

    Here’s a letter to the editor that recently appeared in the Financial Times:

    Sir, I was raised in a Catholic orphanage, along with 800 boys and girls, pre-kindergarten through high school. It was established in 1883. I experienced none of the “abuse, neglect and trafficking” JK Rowling talks about (“Rowling shines a light on the false incentives distorting aid”, Gillian Tett, November 19). That is, until the orphanage began accepting funds from the state rather than via charitable donations from religious organisations.

    Once government money began flowing in, the orphanage had to adhere to all the latest politically correct modalities then in vogue: no more dormitories, only small “cottages” of 10 with live-in grievance counsellors rather than nuns; no more in-residence classrooms — the kids now had to be bussed to the nearest school; no more football and basketball teams — everybody had to get a trophy; and no more need to work on that 850-acre farm, or to work in the kitchen, in the bakery, in the dairy, in the powerhouse shovelling coal, or in the shoe and carpenter shops — these things would be provided by state subsidies.

    Knock on the door of any one of its graduates and you would find that person a veteran of the second world war, the Korean war, Vietnam, the Gulf war, simply working in the corporate world as a productive member of our society. Now, its graduates are wards of the state.

    In time, the orphanage dwindled from 800 children to 80 — the rapacious after-effects of public funding. Most recently it became entangled in equal rights abuses, the legal costs absorbing scare funds for upkeep and maintenance, before finally sinking into insolvency and closure. That orphanage out on the Illinois prairie is now surely one of Rowling’s “fairy tales”.

    Jeremiah Norris (Hudson Institute)

    As Rose Wilder Lane wrote, a long time ago:

    Nobody can plan the actions of even a thousand living persons, separately. Anyone attempting to control millions must divide them into classes, and make a plan applying to these classes. But these classes do not exist. No two persons are alike. No two are in the same circumstances; no two have the same abilities; beyond getting the barest necessities of life, no two have the same desires.

    She was talking about individuals, but a similar point could be made about organizations.

    The people who talk so much about ‘diversity’ rarely seem to understand (or at least to care) that top-down government management is a destroyer, not an enabler, of true diversity.

    Posted in Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Political Philosophy | 8 Comments »

    Book Review: The Road Back, by Erich Maria Remarque (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 20th November 2016 (All posts by )

    The Road Back by Erich Maria Remarque

    —-

    (I had intended to rerun this post during the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, which took place from July 1 to November 18, 1916…missed that window, but of course the war lasted for two more years after the Somme)

    The narrator is a young German who served in the First World War. The war is finally over, and Ernst, together with his surviving comrades, has returned to the high school from which they departed in 1914. The Principal is delivering a “welcome home” speech, and it is a speech in the old oratorical style:

    “But especially we would remember those fallen sons of our foundation, who hastened joyfully to the defence of their homeland and who have remained upon the field of honour. Twenty-one comrades are with us no more; twenty-one warriors have met the glorious death of arms; twenty-one heroes have found rest from the clamour of battle under foreign soil and sleep the long sleep beneath the green grasses..”

    There is suddden, booming laughter. The Principal stops short in pained perplexity. The laughter comes from Willy standing there, big and gaunt, like an immense wardrobe. His face is red as a turkey’s, he is so furious.

    “Green grasses!–green grasses!” he stutters, “long sleep?” In the mud of shell-holes they are lying, knocked rotten. ripped in pieces, gone down into the bog–Green grasses! This is not a singing lesson!” His arms are whirling like a windmill in a gale. “Hero’s death! And what sort of thing do you suppose that was, I wonder?–Would you like to know how young Hoyer died? All day long he lay in the wire screaming. and his guts hanging out of his belly like macaroni. Then a bit of shell took off his fingers and a couple of hours later another chunk off his leg; and still he lived; and with his other hand he kept trying to pack back his intestines, and when night fell at last he was done. And when it was dark we went out to get him and he was as full of holes as a nutmeg grater.—Now, you go and tell his mother how he died–if you have so much courage.”

    Not only Willy, but several other student/soldiers rise to challenge the tone of the Principal’s speech:

    “But gentlemen,” cries the Old Man almost imploringly, “there is a misunderstanding–a most painful misunderstanding—”

    But he does not finish. He is interrupted by Helmuth Reinersmann, who carried his brother back through a bombardment on the Yser, only to put him down dead at the dressing-station.

    “Killed,” he says savagely, “They were not killed for you to make speeches about them. They were our comrades. Enough! Let’s have no more wind-bagging about it.”

    The assembly dissolves into angry confusion.

    Then suddenly comes a lull in the tumult. Ludwig Breyer has stepped out to the front. “Mr Principal,” says Ludwig in a clear voice. “You have seen the war after your fashion—with flying banners, martial music, and with glamour. But you saw it only to the railway station from which we set off. We do not mean to blame you. We, too, thought as you did. But we have seen the other side since then, and against that the heroics of 1914 soon wilted to nothing. Yet we went through with it–we went through with it because here was something deeper that held us together, something that only showed up out there, a responsibility perhaps, but at any rate something of which you know nothing and of which there can be no speeches.”

    Ludwig pauses a moment, gazing vacantly ahead. He passes a hand over his forehead and continues. “We have not come to ask a reckoning–that would be foolish; nobody knew then what was coming.–But we do require that you shall not again try to prescribe what we shall think of these things. We went out full of enthusiasm, the name of the ‘Fatherland’ on our lips–and we have returned in silence,. but with the thing, the Fatherland, in our hearts. And now we ask you to be silent too. Have done with fine phrases. They are not fitting. Nor are they fitting to our dead comrades. We saw them die. And the memory of it is still too near that we can abide to hear them talked of as you are doing. They died for more than that.”

    Now everywhere it is quiet. The Principal has his hands clasped together. “But Breyer,” he says gently. “I–I did not mean it so.”

    Ludwig Breyer’s words: “We do require that you shall not again try to prescribe what we shall think of these things…Have done with fine phrases” capture well the break which the Great War caused in the relationship between generations, and even in the use of language. It is a disconnect with which we are still living.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, History, War and Peace | 7 Comments »

    Attack of the Job-Killing Robots, Part 2

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

    In my previous post of this series, I remarked that most discussion of the employment effects of robotics/artificial intelligence/etc seems to be lacking in historical perspective…quite a few people seem to believe that the replacement of human labor by machinery is a new thing.

    This post will attempt to provide some historical perspective on today’s automation technologies by sketching out some of the past innovations in the mechanization of work,  focusing on “robots,” broadly-defined…ie, on technologies which to some degree involve the replacement or augmentation of human mind/eye/hand, rather than those that are primarily concerned with the replacement of human and animal muscular energy…and will discuss some of the political debate that took place on mechanization & jobs in the 1920s through 1940s.

    Throughout most of history, the production of yarn for cloth was an extremely labor-intensive process, done with a device called a distaff, almost always employed by women, and requiring many hours per day to generate a little bit of product.  (There even exists a medieval miniature of a woman spinning with the distaff while having sex…whether this is a comment on the burdensomeness of the yarn-making process, or a slam at the love-making skills of medieval men, I’m not sure—-probably both.)  Eventually, probably around 1400-1500 in most places in Europe, the spinning wheel came into use, improving the productivity of yarn-making by a factor estimated from 3:1 to as much as ten or more to one.

    Gutenberg’s printing press was invented somewhere around 1440.  I haven’t seen any estimates of its effect on labor productivity, compared with the then-prevailing method of hand copying of manuscripts, but surely it was at least 1000 to 1 or more.

    The era from 1700-1850 was marked by tremendous increases in the productivity of the textile trades.  The flying shuttle and other advances greatly improved the weaving process; this created a bottleneck in the supply of yarn, which was partly addressed by the invention of the Spinning Jenny–a foot-powered device that could improve the yarn production of one person by 5:1 or better. Power spinning and power looms yielded considerable additional productivity improvements.

    An especially interesting device was the Jacquard Loom (1802), which used punched cards to direct the weaving of patterned fabrics.  In its initial incarnation, the Jacquard was a hand loom: its productivity did not come from the application of mechanical power but rather from the automation of the complex thread-selection operations previously carried out by a “Draw Boy.”

    Turning now to woodworking:  in 1818, Blanchard’s Copying Lathe automated the production of complex shape–a prototype was automatically traced and copied. It was originally intended for making gunstocks, but also served in producing lasts for shoemakers, and I believe also chair and table legs.

    Another major advancement in the clothing field was the sewing machine.  French inventory Barthelemy Thimonnier invented a machine in 1830, but was driven out of the country by enraged tailors and political instability.  The first commercially-successful machines were invented/marketed by Americans Walter Hunt, Elias Howe, and Isaac Singer, and were in common use by the 1850s.

    By the late Victorian period the sewing machine had been hailed as the most useful invention of the century releasing women from the drudgery of endless hours of sewing by hand. Factories sprung up in almost every country in the world to feed the insatiable demand for the sewing machine. Germany had over 300 factories some working 24 hours a day producing countless numbers of sewing machines. 

    The beginnings of data communications could be seen in gold ticker and stock ticker systems created by Edison and others (circa 1870) , which relayed prices almost instantaneously and eliminated the jobs of the messenger boys who had previously been the distribution channel for this information.  Practical calculating machines also appeared in the 1870s.  But the big step forward in mechanized calculation was Hollerith’s punched card system (quite likely inspired in part by the Jacquard), introduced in 1890 and used for the tabulation of that year’s census.  These systems were quickly adopted for accounting and record keeping purposes in a whole range of industries and government functions.

    Professor Amy Sue Bix, in her book Inventing Ourselves out of Jobs?, describes the fear of technological unemployment as silent movies were replaced by the ‘talkies’. “Through the early 1920s…local theaters had employed live musicians to provide accompaniment for silent pictures.  Small houses featured only a pianist or violinist, but glamorous ‘movie places’ engaged full orchestras.”  All these jobs were threatened when Warner Brothers introduced its Vitaphone technology, with prerecorded disks synchronized to projectors.  “Unlike other big studios, Warner did not operate its own theater chains and so had to convince local owners to screen their productions. Theater managers would be eager to show sound movies, Harry Warner hoped, since they could save the expense of hiring musicians.”

    The American Federation of Musicians mounted a major PR campaign in an attempt to convince the public that ‘living music’ was better than ‘canned sound.’  A Music Defense League was established, with membership reaching 3 million…but the ‘talkies’ remained popular, and the AFM had to admit defeat.  A lot of musicians did lose their jobs.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Capitalism, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, History, Tech, USA | 47 Comments »

    Don Beaudreaux Supports Government by Experts

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

    …which doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means

    Similar points are made in Sarah Hoyt’s post makeup, mate choice, and political philosophy

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Political Philosophy | Comments Off on Don Beaudreaux Supports Government by Experts

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Why the Anti-Trump Commentariat are not Trusted

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

    A significant part of the commentariat, including the legal professoriate, has again and again stated, with a regularity that belies conviction, that the American public’s choice, the choice between Trump and Clinton, is not a choice, not in the sense of a normal election, but a choice in which one is morally or prudentially impelled to choose Clinton because Trump poses an existential threat to the country. Their position is that to vote for Trump is to put the nation and its people at a profound risk approaching certainty. Why? Because Trump will be dictator-strongman of sorts: one election, one time. Or because Trump will plunge the nation into destructive wars. Or because Trump will wreck the fabric of the economy. Or because Trump will destroy the constitutional order and the rule of law.
     
    I am not going to comment on the substance of the anti-Trump message. You have heard it all before, and you have or will very soon make up your own minds whether Trump or Clinton deserves your vote. What I will say here is that the messengers of the anti-Trump message are not believable because their actions (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) do not accord with their message. Moreover, because these messengers are not believable, on balance, I suspect they are helping Trump, not Clinton.
     
    [. . .]
     
    After the Brexit referendum, Frank Field, a long serving Labour MP, explained why Vote Leave eked out a majority. Too many in the elite told ordinary voters how they must vote and that the alternative was madness, chaos, and anarchy. Adults just don’t take kindly to being told what they must do in a democratic election, particularly from those who are going about their lives just as they always seem to do. The elite’s strategy backfired, or at the very best, it convinced no one. The same may happen in the United States. And if it does, we will know who is responsible for the result.

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Elections, Politics, Trump | 16 Comments »