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  • Archive for the 'Human Behavior' Category

    Summer Rerun: Attack of the Robot Bureaucrats

    Posted by David Foster on 20th September 2017 (All posts by )

    (rerun inspired by this story)

    Via Bookworm, here is a truly appalling story from Minnesota. When the fire alarm went off at Como Park High School, a 14-year-old girl was rousted out of the swimming pool, and–dripping wet and wearing only a swimsuit–directed to go stand outside were the temperature was sub-zero and the wind chill made it much worse. Then, she was not allowed to take refuge in one of the many cars in the parking lotbecause of a school policy forbidding students from sitting in a faculty member’s car. As Bookworm notes:

    Even the lowest intelligence can figure out that the rule’s purpose is to prevent teachers from engaging sexually with children.  The likelihood of a covert sexual contact happening between Kayona and a teacherunder the actual circumstances is ludicrous.  The faculty cars were in full view of the entire school.  There was no chance of illicit sexual congress.

    But the whole nature of bureaucratic rules, of course, is to forbid human judgment based on actual context.

    Fortunately for Kayona, her fellow students hadn’t had human decency ground out of them by rules: “…fellow students, however, demonstrated a grasp of civilized behavior. Students huddled around her and some frigid classmates [sic], giving her a sweatshirt to put around her feet. A teacher coughed up a jacket.” As the children were keeping Kayona alive, the teachers were workingtheir way through the bureaucracy.  After a freezing ten minutes, an administrator finally gave permission for the soaking wet, freezing Kayla to set in a car in full view of everybody.

    As Bookworm notes, this sort of thing is becoming increasingly common. In England in 2009, for example, a man with a broken back lay in 6 inches of water, but paramedics refused to rescue him because they weren’t trained for water rescues. Dozens of similar examples could easily be dredged up.

    The behavior of these bureaucrats is very similar to the behavior of a computer program confronted by a situation for which its designers did not explicitly provide. Sometimes the results will be useless, sometimes they will be humorous, often they will be harmful or outright disastrous.

    Last year in Sweden, there was rampant rioting that included the torching of many cars.  The government of Sweden didn’t do a very good job of protecting its citizens and their property from this outbreak of barbarism. Government agents did, however, fulfill their duty of issuing parking tickets…to burned-out cars. Link with picture.  In my post The Reductio as Absurdum of Bureaucratic Liberalism, I said…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Education, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Management, Video | 11 Comments »

    Summer Rerun – Book Review: That Hideous Strength

    Posted by David Foster on 15th September 2017 (All posts by )

    (people tend to think of summer as being over after Labor Day, but actually, it extends until the September Equinox, which this year is on September 22)

    That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis

    This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.

    Mark Studdock is a young on-the-make sociologist, a professor at Bracton College, in an English town called Edgestow. He is is far more interested in university politics than in his research or teaching. and as a member of the “progressive element” at the college, he strongly supports Bracton selling a tract of property to a government-sponsored entity called NICE. The NICE is the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation,which Lewis describes as “the first fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world.”  What excites Mark most about the NICE is this:

    The real thing is that this time we’re going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past.  One hopes, of course, that it’ll find out more than the old freelance science did, but what’s certain is that it can do more.

    Trigger Warning: There is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  It contains things that will offend technologists and believers in human progress…social scientists…feminists…academic administrators…bioscience researchers…and surely many other categories of people.  It will probably also offend some Christians, for the way in which Christian theology is mixed with non-Christian magic. By the standards now becoming current in American universities, this book, and even this book review, should be read by no one at all.  But for those who do not accept those standards…

    The Basic Story. Mark has recently married Jane, a woman with strong literary interests and with vague plans for getting an advanced degree. She has recently started having disturbing, indeed terrifying, dreams, which suggest that she has a clairvoyant ability to see distant events in real time. Afraid that she is losing her mind, Jane seeks advice, and is told that her dreams are actually visions, they are very real, will not stop, and are of utmost importance:

    “Young lady,” said Miss Ironwood, “You do not at all realize the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, and even the life, of you and me, is of no importance.”

    Miss Ironwood warns Jane that extremely evil people will seek to use her gift, and that she would do well–both for her own interests and those of the entire human race–to join the community of which Miss Ironwood is a part, located at a place called St Anne’s. Jane responds quite negatively to the invitation, afraid that membership in the St Anne’s group will limit her autonomy. She is not interested in the dreams’ meaning; she just wants them to go away.

    Mark, on the other hand, responds enthusiastically when he is invited to take a position at the NICE, temporarily located at an old manor called Belbury.  One of the first people he meets there is the Head of the Institutional Police, a woman named Miss Hardcastle (picture Janet Napolitano), nicknamed the Fairy, who explains to Mark her theory of crime and punishment:

    “Here in the Institute, we’re backing the crusade against Red Tape.”  Mark gathered that, for the Fairy, the police side of the Institute was the really important side…In general, they had already popularized in the press the idea that the Institute should be allowed to experiment pretty largely in the hope of discovering how far humane, remedial treatment could be substituted for the old notion of “retributive” or “vindictive” punishment…The Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite; you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was.  And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention?  Soon anyone who had ever been in the hands of the police at all would come under the control of the NICE; in the end, every citizen.

    Another person Mark meets in his first days at Belbury is the acclaimed chemist William Hingest…who has also come down to investigate the possibility of a job at Belbury, has decided against it, and strongly advises Mark to do likewise:

    “I came down here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it’s something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home. I’m too old for that kind of thing, and if I wanted to join a conspiracy, this one wouldn’t be my choice.”

    “You mean, I suppose, that the element of social planning doesn’t appeal to you? I can quite understand that it doesn’t fit in with your work as it does with sciences like Sociology, but–“

    “There are no sciences like Sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn’t wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I’d let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again…I happen to believe that you can’t study men, you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing. Because you study them, you want to make the lower orders govern the country and listen to classical music, which is balderdash. You also want to take away from them everything that makes life worth living and not only from them but from everyone except a parcel of prigs and professors.”

    Nevertheless, Mark decides to remain at Belbury, and is drawn ever-deeper into its activities–which, as only those in the innermost circles of that organization realize, are not only consistent with the goals of the 20th-century totalitarianisms, but go considerably beyond them.  The NICE seeks to establish a junction between the powers of modern science and those of ancient magic, accessing the latter by awakening the medieval wizard Merlin and using him for their purposes.  At the same time, Jane–despite her reservations–becomes increasingly involved  with the company at St Anne’s and is entranced with its leader, a Mr Fisher-King. (His name comes from the Wounded King in Arthurian legend.)  The St Anne’s group is aware of the truth about NICE and its ultimate goals, and exists for the primary purpose of opposing and, hopefully, destroying that organization.

    I will not here describe the war between the forces of Belbury and those of St Anne’s (in order to avoid spoilers), but will instead comment on the characters of some of the protagonists and some philosophically-significant events in the novel, with appropriate excerpts. Hopefully this will be enough to give a sense of the worldview that Lewis is presenting in this book.

    Mark Studdock. His character is largely defined by his strong desire to be a member of the Inner Circle, whatever that inner circle may be in a particular context.  The passage at the start of this review where Mark agrees to engage in criminal activity on Belbury’s behalf is proceeded by this:

    After a few evenings Mark ventured to walk into the library on his own; a little uncertain of his reception, yet afraid that if he did not soon assert his right to the entree this modesty might damage him. He knew that the error in either direction is equally fatal.

    It was a success. Before he had closed the door behind him all had turned with welcoming faces and Filostrato had said “Ecco ” and the Fairy, “Here’s the very man.” A glow of pleasure passed over Mark’s whole body.

    That “glow of pleasure” at being accepted by the Belbury’s Inner Circle (what Mark then thinks is Belbury’s Inner Circle) is strong enough to overcome any moral qualms on Mark’s part about the actions he is being requested to perform.  Lewis has written a great deal elsewhere about the lust for the Inner Circle, which in his view never leads to satisfaction but only to a longing for membership in another, still-more-inner circle. In That Hideous Strength, there are concentric Inner Circles at Belbury, which Mark does penetrate–and each is more sinister than the last.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 13 Comments »

    Informers and Tattle Tales

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 13th September 2017 (All posts by )

    Tattle tale tit,
    Your tongue shall be slit,
    And all the dogs in the town
    Shall have a little bit! – trad. schoolyard taunt

    How bizarre it is to come to a time in these sort-of-United States where certain people who might otherwise have been mistaken for grownups appear to take great pleasure in channeling their inner selves; that of a malicious, sneaky tattle-tale, running to the teacher to inform on their fellow students at every opportunity. We do not — yet — have the equivalent of the East German ‘Stasi’, where half the population eagerly and voluminously informed on the other half. I would have assumed that Americans, young and old, despised tattletales – the adult version every bit as much as the juvenile variety. But we have moved on, it seems. A certain kind of mentality seems bound and determined to sign up as informers even before such volunteers are requested by the authorities in various venues.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Customer Service, Diversions, Human Behavior, Just Unbelievable | 18 Comments »

    Remedial Reading for a ‘New Yorker’ Writer

    Posted by David Foster on 9th September 2017 (All posts by )

    This New Yorker writer seems to feel that, had government been adequately respected, funded and supported (and the dangers of Climate Change properly recognized), the ‘Cajun Navy’ of volunteer rescuers would not have been needed.

    Glenn Reynolds suggests that the author has apparently never read Alexis de Tocqueville.  (Or, alternatively, I would suggest, may have read him but not really understood him all that well)

    Tocqueville, of course, wrote famously (in his book Democracy in America) about the tendency of Americans to come together and form voluntary associations to accomplish particular goals, without anyone having to tell them to do so.

    Tocqueville also wrote another book, The Old Regime and the French Revolution, in which he traced the constancy of certain aspects of French society across the monarchy and the Republic.  In an appendix, he argues that “the physiognomy of governments can be best detected in their colonies, and rendered more conspicuous.”  Looking at French Canada under Louis XIV and Algeria under the Republic, he wrote:

    In both places the government numbers as many heads as the people; it preponderates, acts, regulates, controls, undertakes everything, provides for everything, knows far more about the subject’s business than he did hiself–is, in short, incessantly active and sterile.

    He contrasts this system–under which “there was not a shadow of municipal or provincial institutions; and no collective or individual action was tolerated” with that in America:

    In the United States, on the contrary, the English anti-centralization system was carried to an extreme.  Parishes became independent municipalities, almost democratic republics.  The republican element, which forms, so to say, the foundation of the English constitution and English habits, shows itself and develops without hindrance. Government proper does little in England and individuals do a great deal; in America, government never interferes, so to speak, and individuals do everything.

    Rose Wilder Lane also found it useful to contrast the differing colonial strategies of European powers:  France and Spain, on the one hand, and Britain, on the other:

    The Governments gave them (in the case of the French and Spanish colonies–ed) carefully detailed instructions for clearing and fencing the land, caring for the fence and the gate, and plowing and planting, cultivating, harvesting, and dividing the crops…The English Kings were never so efficient. They gave the land to traders. A few gentlemen, who had political pull enough to get a grant, organized a trading company; their agents collected a ship-load or two of settlers and made an agreement with them which was usually broken on both sides…To the scandalized French, the people in the English colonies seemed like undisciplined children, wild, rude, wretched subjects of bad rulers.

    Does the New Yorker writer also see Americans as “undisciplined children, wild, rude, wretched subjects of bad rulers,” with the badness of the rulers lying mainly in their not having been given enough power?

    It strikes me that Leftists are mostly very institutional people….they believe that things must be done by people who are properly trained and credentialed, organized in a top-down manner.

    This attitude was very much on display when, immediately after 9/11, the idea of arming airline pilots was first mooted. Media types were appalled; to them, there are people who are trained and credentialed to fly airplanes and there are people who are trained and credentialed to carry firearms on behalf of the government, and never the twain shall meet.

    (And, of course, it was action of the passengers, not coordinated by any central authority, that prevented Flight 93 from being used to conduct even greater devastation on 9/11.)

    Robert Heinlein wrote: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    Such thoughts are anathema to the Institutional Left.

    See also Lead and Gold on Elite Panic and The Hive Mind, also People are the Design Margin, by Richard Fernandez.

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, France, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, Society, USA | 28 Comments »

    To Save the Union

    Posted by Ginny on 14th August 2017 (All posts by )

    Before the Civil War, the two sides often read different authors, saw different newspapers, read different novels. Some northern works were not easily available in the south and the levels of literacy differed. Of course, today, all is open. We choose to narrow our options: a Fox listener is likely to be a Wall Street Journal reader who begins surfing with Instapundit. A CNN listener is more likely to read the NYTimes and check out HuffPost.

    So, we can speak to each other, but anyone listening to the rhythms of Obama and those of Trump, the voices of the average humanities teacher and of the dirty jobs guy, may well wonder if they would understand. (Though, of course, it is a perspective rather than position – Rowe and Victor Davis Hanson, as academically credentialed as they come, understand each other thoroughly.)

    Listening to Trump’s speech on Charlotte, I heard something reporters didn’t mention. The speech’s rhythms came from an emphasis we’ve heard before: in Trump’s inaugural, in Lincoln’s second inaugural – and blended them in Trump’s less rhythmical, less evocative but direct and emotion-driven voice. It lacks the distance and gravitas of Lincoln, but its purpose is similar.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Culture, Current Events, History, Human Behavior, Speeches, Trump | 40 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

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

    A photo essay about an old mill, by Gerard Van der Leun

    From welder to welding robot programmer

    Showing love through food

    The University Empire

    Privilege hoarding: Harvard and granite countertops

    A 2006 post by Dr Sanity on the Western Left and radical Islam

    Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, 30 years later.

    Cold Spring Shops writes about education, mating, fertility, and work.

    Posted in Academia, Feminism, History, Human Behavior, Islam, Leftism, Photos, Tech | 3 Comments »

    Access, Access, Access

    Posted by Ginny on 3rd July 2017 (All posts by )

    “Access, Access, Access” Rick Perry repeated to Bret Baier. It seemed a grilled candidate’s non sequitur to Baier’s question: weren’t many Texans uninsured? But I was struck by its truth. Insurance is of little use if no doctors take it, no medicine is available, deductibles and premiums are unmanageable. Positive rights – to food, to medicine, to jobs – are not rights. The theory never stands up to experience.

    Perry’s run was brief; now, his task is encouraging access to energy – of all kinds. Trump seemed an example of excess – still is, I guess. But a nation not just energy independent but energy dominant is one empowered, free. And we can free others: a Europe not beholden to Russian oil is a healthier Europe. Neither Trump nor Perry invented fracking nor could Obama stop its success. But this administration respects it, clears the way for its natural flow.

    Access, access, access – how much does access to energy change our lives each day? How many are alive today because of access to energy forms unknown or at least unused 300 years ago? (Without air conditioning, I would have left my husband years ago. Then, again, he might have come with me.) Consider, though, the other extreme: we would be shocked to hear of elderly couples found frozen in the depth of winter, not uncommon in other times and places. How much more food is generated because of cheap energy? How broadly is food distributed?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Health Care, Human Behavior | 12 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: 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 »

    The Internet Rewards Crazy (Rerun)

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th May 2017 (All posts by )

    (This is a reposting of a post from five years ago. I think it holds up pretty well. The Internet seems to be changing human society in significant ways which are not yet entirely clear. Perhaps the nature of what is happening will become a topic of systematic research.)

    —-

    Crazy, overconfident; the opposite of the judicious, scientific, skeptical temperament.

    Extreme opinions.

    Stubborn.

    Bombastic.

    The opposite of thoughtful.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Human Behavior, Internet, Society, Systems Analysis | 13 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 »

    FORT SUMTER,CALIFORNIA

    Posted by Subotai Bahadur on 23rd April 2017 (All posts by )

    Despite appearances, there is no natural law that says history repeats itself. As inventive as we are, there are only a limited number of ways that humans can screw things up. We keep trying to come up with new ways, but until we evolve a new brain with more folds on the surface we will keep repeating ourselves.

    No matter what our race, culture, or creed; whenever you get a lot of people together in a restricted space, some sort of political order and structure arises. Anarchy as a human ideal is about as fact based as the Land of Oz. And even Oz had a Wizard, sundry Witches, Munchkin Mayors, and probably Alpha and Beta Flying Monkeys.

    People have different temperaments; some are more active, some more passive, some are dominant, some less dominant. Then there is the matter of talents, and lacks thereof. People end up being sorted out in various power relationships inside and outside of their family groupings.

    It does not matter what the basis of the structure is, be it feudal, democratic, aristocratic, results oriented merit-based, or who has the biggest club and is more willing to use it on everybody else. They share two things. First, whatever the rules of the game, the social contract if you will, with the exception of a criminal fringe pretty much everybody in the society accepts and supports the rules actively or tacitly. Second, if a sufficient percentage refuses to accept those rules, the whole thing falls apart until a new order arises. The new order may or may not be better than the old, but it will be different than the old.

    Our country and fairly unique society came into existence through that process. This is in part because we diverged demographically from the parent society. Our population was made up of exiles [including self-exiles], ne’er do wells, criminals, religious fringe elements from the British point of view, and a sufficiency of foreign elements to render the population no longer homogeneous with the old country. Couple that with the detail that in Britain there was much higher percentage of the population that had a vested interest in the existing system, and that a relatively small percentage of the minor nobility and none of the higher nobility and royal family bothered to cross the pond.

    What we ended up with is a majority of the population who had no memory of serfdom, were not slaves [Leftist fantasies notwithstanding, slaves were always a minority of the population], and who were used to both being politically and economically free compared to the old country. And the aristocracy here really did not have the pull to make generations of sycophancy attractive and profitable as a lifestyle.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Human Behavior | 18 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd April 2017 (All posts by )

    Sarah Hoyt:  Hereditary monarchy, feudalism, and a vicious cycle of crazy….coming soon to a country near you?

    Why Danusha Goska left the Left.  Years of observing, and being subjected to, unpleasant and just-plain-nuts behavior.

    There has been much discussion lately about the increased suicide rate and addictive behavior among white working-class men.  Here’s a collection of comments to a Huffington Post article on that topic.  (via The Arts Mechanical.)

    In her ‘why I left the Left’ post, Danusha described the prevalence of hate, rather than a true desire to make things better, among today’s ‘progressives.’  That hate is very much on display in the Huffington Post comments.

    The past of the future apocalypse:  Stuart Schneiderman reviews some predictions of doom from back in 1970.

    Posted in Environment, Europe, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 10 Comments »

    The state of state surveillance technology

    Posted by Mrs. Davis on 25th March 2017 (All posts by )

    All the discussion of the Trump “wiretapping” seems to assume that there are targets of surveillance. I thought that had passed away years ago and that NSA was simply capturing all transmissions in the ether, converting them from voice to text and storing both in a searchable data base. While additional land lines may be intercepted, the vast majority of signals are now airborne at some point so the NSA has access to virtually all electronic communication, foreign and domestic. Likewise, they do not, except in extraordinary circumstances, have acres of analysts sitting in cubes listening to conversations in real time. Instead, software constantly crawls the text database for terms of interest or manually input searches, such as the names of everyone on the Trump transition team. This is how team 0bama got the dirt that has been leaked to the press.

    Politics is now under the influence of those at NSA with search authorization much more than the Kremlin, except to the extent they have comparable capabilities. I suspect the Kremlin has comparable intellectual capabilities but less access to transmissions and even less processing bandwidth. Given the acceptance of the loss of privacy by the facebook generation, this can only expand. And to think that only 80 years ago a Secretary of State could opine that “Gentlemen do not read each others mail.” Things have changed, and once again, not for the better.

    Got that off my chest. Now if only the tin foil would stop irritating my scalp.

    Posted in America 3.0, Big Government, Current Events, Human Behavior, Just Unbelievable, Politics, Privacy | 11 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 Boom/Bust Cycle Isn’t about Emotion

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 27th February 2017 (All posts by )

    My first experience with manias was in the 1950’s. As a pre-schooler, I was dragged along to the Filene’s Basement annual designer dress sale. Thousands of women of all types and sizes pressed against the glass doors opening into the subway station. Within minutes of the doors opening, these “maniacs” cleared all the racks and, holding armfuls of dresses, began stripping to their slips. That’s when I panicked.

    Looking back, those women acted rationally. There was a limited supply of deeply discounted dresses available on a first come basis. They traded among themselves to get the right size and their most desired dress. Buyer’s remorse was cushioned by Filene’s liberal return policy.

    The premise of U.S. financial regulation is that actors within private markets are irrational, but the evidence shows that it’s not maniacal, illogical behavior that sends markets into freefall.

    Great Depression and Recession

    Now in its seventh edition, Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises, Charles Kindleberger’s seminal work provides the narrative that underlies virtually all public financial protection and regulation: First, the irrational exuberance of individuals transforms into “mob psychology” and fuels an asset bubble. Then, when the exuberance of a few turns to fear, the mob panics and overreacts, causing a crash that brings down both solvent and insolvent financial institutions.

    In his memoir, the former Federal Reserve Bank President and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was at the epicenter of the last crisis, concluded, “It began with a mania — the widespread belief that devastating financial crises were a thing of the past, that future recessions would be mild, that gravity-defying home prices would never crash to earth.”  

    Most U.S. federal financial regulation originates from the Great Depression and the subsequent introduction of federal deposit insurance provided by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which was established in 1933 to protect “small” savers. All prior state attempts to provide insurance failed. Because there were no effective, non-politicized regulations that could prevent the moral hazard of insured banks and savings institutions taking on excessive risks, an extensive regulatory infrastructure was put in place.

    Rational Actors

    Now, the U.S. has about 100 financial regulators, including those in the U.S. Treasury and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the FDIC, and the Fed. With near-universal deposit insurance, bank runs have become a rarity, but systemic crises have occurred more frequently. It is incontestable that big bubbles eventually burst, asset prices crash, and financial crises ensue. What causes the bubbles to inflate to systemic proportions, and to ultimately burst, is more contentious.

    At the time of Kindleberger’s analysis, individuals were assumed to be rational. The latest edition of his book, written after the 2008 financial crisis, postulates numerous theories about mob psychology (mania) that could lead rational individuals to produce irrational markets, but these ideas are all rather lame.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Capitalism, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Markets and Trading, Public Finance, Real Estate, Systems Analysis, Tradeoffs | 9 Comments »

    “More Trump”

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

    Assistant Village Idiot:

    Consequently, the standard for avoiding mistakes is now the same for you as you have been applying to others for your whole career. When accusing Trump of making some inaccurate statement, if you get that wrong once it outweighs nine times that you got it right. And, just between you and me and the lampost, you aren’t close to getting it right 90% of the time just now. so in the minds of the public, you are digging yourself in deeper and deeper. Fresh examples are best. There was a lot of excitement this past weekend about Trump claiming something had gone wrong in Sweden, but there hadn’t been any big incident that anyone could recognise. When I first read it, I thought What the hell is Trump talking about there? I thought the story plausible, because Trump does stuff like this. Then I saw the transcript, and without even knowing the rest of the story, I thought Unh, there’s some window there. It’s a little clumsy in the wording, but he could be talking about events in general in Sweden, maybe an “Every Friday night…” You shouldn’t try to slam dunk these, because they keep hitting off the rim. So when I read the full response, that Trump had watched Tucker Carlson on the news Friday with a story about the increase in rape and violence in Sweden due to immigration, it made entire sense.
     
    The people who always believe you – the people who will believe any bad thing about Trump (and his minions – don’t forget his minions) will throw up their hands, roll their eyes and say “Aw come on, that’s a ridiculous excuse. You got caught out, you old windbag. Don’t try to bring that crap in here.” Except it’s not ridiculous at all. That’s exactly how Trump talks, and how he thinks. He’s been talking like this for years. His claim is entirely plausible. It not only could be true, so you can’t get your slam dunk, it is actually the most likely thing that happened. Because why the hell else would Sweden suddenly occur to him? The news story was in his stew, it bubbled to the top, and he spooned it.
     
    Net result: Your pals, no change. They still don’t believe Trump but even if he had some sort of definite proof they would just scowl and wait for the next time. (We’ll get him next time.) Trump’s pals, no change. Even if you had proof they’d just shrug it off. People in the middle, that one-third of the population, most will now remember They lied about Trump again, about something really small and pointless like it was a big deal. Maybe a few will think you scored a point, but also notice that it doesn’t much matter. Small potatoes. So now you need to catch him nine times, without a miss, to make up for it. Welcome to the world you made. How does it feel to be on the receiving end?
     
    Remember the first rule of holes.

    Worth reading in full.

    Posted in Big Government, Elections, Human Behavior, Leftism, Media, Politics, Trump | 11 Comments »

    Environment

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th February 2017 (All posts by )

    Amid some pretty stiff competition news-wise this week, these two linked stories were particularly infuriating – mostly because the matter received relatively little attention, in comparison to coverage of the protest itself. But such is the towering hypocrisy of these times. The establishment national news media continues to conduct itself in the manner that, sadly, we have come to expect of them. Mostly, they cover stories like this with a pillow, until they stop moving.

    But the sheer gall of a protest encampment called to protest potential-possible- maybe environmental damage caused by construction of a pipeline … which then actually does damage to the local environment by the sheer quantity of stuff abandoned over the past six months, and the possibility of seepage of human waste into the nearby river. Well, really – one might have very good reason for doubting the sincerity of those protesters with regard to protecting the environment in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Conservatism, Environment, Human Behavior, Media | 13 Comments »

    Overdrawn

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 6th December 2016 (All posts by )

    I was kind of intrigued by last week’s Buzzfeed article, attempting to whip up the internet mob for the purpose of going after Chip and Joanna Gaines, who have a hugely popular home renovation show on the HGTV channel, and cannily have never said a word on the show regarding their more or less mainstream Christian beliefs, or their attendance at a mega-church where the pastor apparently is on the record as having expressed disapproval of the concept of the institution of formal marriage being anything other than that of a man and a woman. (Note: I’ve never watched the show myself, although my daughter has. Blondie avers that Joanna Gaines is a one-note designer; her thing is shabby chic. All to the good, since that is my own preference, well-mixed with Laura Ashley comfortable country antique seasoned with a splash of William Morris/Craftsman. And … well, most people have items of décor and large furniture of which they are fond … who the heck clears the deck and redecorates every year or so, in response to the fashion of the moment? Only the very wealthy and socially insecure, I surmise.)

    More power to them – the Gainses and their redecorating business; not the internet lynch mob, always ready to be whipped up to a fine frothing frenzy. Really, this early 21st century is increasingly resembling the 16th, in the ruthless search for the ritual burning at stake by officials or by the annoyingly self-appointed for individuals who refuse to give lip-service to the prevailing social/political orthodoxies. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Current Events, Diversions, Human Behavior | 13 Comments »

    The Inner Ring

    Posted by David Foster on 4th November 2016 (All posts by )

    The behavior of the network of people surrounding the Clintons, as detailed in recent revelations, reminds me of a talk that C S Lewis gave at King’s College, University of London, in 1944.

    And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still—just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig—the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”—and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure—something “we always do.”

    And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

    The full text of the talk is here:  The Inner Ring

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

    Human Emotions and the Nuclear Codes

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd November 2016 (All posts by )

    Two stories about Hillary Clinton:

    1–Yossi Tzur, who lost his son, Assaf, in a terror bus bombing in Israel, described the meetings with a number of American officials that he participated in when he came to this country as part of a delegation including other families of terror victims:

    “We were welcomed with warmth, with empathy, all heard us and gave us their attention, well, almost everybody.”

    Tzur went on to describe the delegation’s meeting with Rudy Giuliani. “You could feel the warmth of the man, his humanity, his care,” he wrote. “You could see tears in his eyes when he told the stories. The meeting was scheduled for an hour, it took almost two hours and then he stood with us patiently taking photos with each and every one.”

    From New York, the delegation went to Washington for a series of meetings, one of them was in the Senate with NY Senator Hilary Clinton. Tzur recalled that “we arrived at her office in the Senate and were shown into a small meeting room, it could hardly fit all of us, it was dark, crowded, it didn’t even had water on the table. So we waited.

    “Time went by, 15 minutes, 30, an hour. Her aides were embarrassed saying she is coming any minute now. After an hour and a half Clinton arrived. 

    “She looked as us seeing the group in the room, we could see she is not really there with us, we felt she was impatient and just looking to finish it and go. We felt really uncomfortable… Even before we could speak she said, you probably want a photo, come let’s go out, leading us to the stairs. There she asked us to stand on the stairs and one of her aides took the photo. We still wanted to talk to her, people came ready to tell her their story, she didn’t intend to hear, it looked she didn’t want to hear. With inhuman coldness she went out amongst us all and disappeared in one of the corridors leaving us shocked and disappointed.”

    2–Linda Tripp, White House secretary during the Bill Clinton administration, describes the reactions of Vince Foster and Hillary Clinton while watching the horrible Waco “law-enforcement operation” (in which 76 people died, including many children) unfold on television:

    “A special bulletin came on [CNN] showing the atrocity at Waco and the children. And his face, his whole body slumped, and his face turned white, and he was absolutely crushed knowing, knowing the part he had played. And he had played the part at Mrs. Clinton’s direction.

    Her reaction, on the other hand, was heartless. And I can only tell you what I saw.”

    Indeed, it seems obvious that Hillary Clinton does not possess the normal human complement of emotional reactions, that she is cold and robotic.  Something is definitely missing there.

    Democrats and their supporters keep arguing that Donald Trump must not be trusted with the nuclear codes.  In my view–if a decision for or against a nuclear launch must be made, I’d prefer it to be made by someone that can understand at a visceral level what it means for real people.  Which would not be Hillary Clinton, who really does not appear to see other human beings as anything other than tools in her unending power games.

    There has been much discussion lately about whether decisions in war can be entrusted to intelligent robots.  I’d rather not see the most important military decision of all time made by a human robot.

     

    Posted in Elections, Human Behavior, Politics, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    Public Policy As Fashion

    Posted by Jonathan on 2nd November 2016 (All posts by )

    Thomas Sowell notes, again, the failure of leftist policies to achieve their intended results:

    If the left chooses to believe that government intervention is the answer to such tragedies, that is their right. But, if they expect the rest of us to share that belief, surely they could subject that belief to some empirical test. But we can, however.
     
    The 1960s were the triumphant decade of those who wanted government intervention to “solve” what they called “social problems.” How did that work out? What were things like before this social vision triumphed? And what were things like afterwards?

    The failures of the Left to correlate cause and effect, even to remember how things used to be, in relation to leftist govt policies are legion. Thus leftists advocate War on Poverty-type programs as antidotes to problems that became worse after the original War on Poverty. Similarly and classically, leftists have favored rent control laws as remedies for housing shortages in cities such as NYC where housing shortages did not exist before rent control. And they defend, or at least have a soft spot for, the Castro dictatorship even though pre-Castro Cuba was relatively much more free and prosperous. It’s difficult to hold leftist views if you see govt policies as subject to empirical validation. In that case you ask the right question: Did things get better or worse after X? But it’s easy to hold such views if you see politics as fashion or a means of engaging in virtue-signalling. Then the question becomes: What are the popular opinions among today’s in-crowd?

    Being a follower of clothing fashions is harmless. Being a follower of opinion fashions is personally corrupting and harmful to others, especially as government becomes larger and more intrusive.

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Political Philosophy, Politics | 10 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading and Watching

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

    Makeup, mate choice, and political philosophy…an interesting piece by Sarah Hoyt.

    Historical ignoramuses at American universities.  A professor has been quizzing his students for 11 years concerning their knowledge of some basis fact, and the trend is not positive.

    Crybullies at Smith College…a student reports:

    During my first days at Smith, I witnessed countless conversations that consisted of one person telling the other that their opinion was wrong. The word “offensive” was almost always included in the reasoning. Within a few short weeks, members of my freshman class had quickly assimilated to this new way of non-thinking. They could soon detect a politically incorrect view and call the person out on their “mistake.” I began to voice my opinion less often to avoid being berated and judged by a community that claims to represent the free expression of ideas. I learned, along with every other student, to walk on eggshells for fear that I may say something “offensive.” That is the social norm here.

    The dark art of political intimidation.  A video by Kimberly Strassel.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Education, Human Behavior, Political Philosophy | 1 Comment »

    “Underground DSM-IV – Full Version”

    Posted by Jonathan on 31st October 2016 (All posts by )

    An interesting and entertaining post from AVI:

    Related: “No one is listening to me,” means “no one is agreeing with me.” This has been remarkably durable over my career. The idea seems to be “If you were really listening to me you couldn’t possibly disagree.” Countering with the statement “I hear what you are saying, but i don’t agree with it” can actually provoke assaultive rage. It must come near the core of problem.
     
    Pts. referring to length of time they have been in hospital as an argument for privileges or discharge means they still don’t get it.
     
    Gazing intently slightly upward — choosing among several things to say (Lots of people do this.)
    The further up the gaze, the more possible responses – usually not a healthy sign.
    Gazing at ceiling: = Choosing among a multitude of things to say, i.e. lying.
    Turning back to interviewer, spinning in chair: = Antisocial PD

    Worth reading in full.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Medicine | Comments Off on “Underground DSM-IV – Full Version”

    Life in the Fully Politicized Society (rerun)

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

    (The politicization of American society has increased markedly since I wrote this post in May of 2014.  Sports, for example, is now politicized–see what happens when a culture loses its last neutral ground?–along with everything from shopping to education. The sway of ‘progressive’ orthodoxy continues to extend its sway over all aspect of American life.)

    Many will remember Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, in which she said:

    Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed….You have to stay at the seat at the table of democracy with a man like Barack Obama not just on Tuesday but in a year from now, in four years from now, in eight years from now, you will have to be engaged.

    Victor Davis Hanson notes that she also said:

    We are going to have to change our conversation; we’re going to have to change our traditions, our history; we’re going to have to move into a different place as a nation.

    …which is, of course, entirely consistent with the assertion made by Barack Obama himself, shortly before his first inauguration:  “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

    It should be clear by now that all aspects of American life and society are rapidly becoming politicized. Obama has greatly accelerated this movement, but he didn’t initiate it.  The “progressive” political movement, which now controls the Democratic Party, has for a long time been driving the politicization of anything and everything.  The assertion “the personal is political” originated in the late 1960s…and, if the personal is political, then everything is political.

    Some people, of course, like the politicization of everything–for some individuals, indeed, their lives would be meaningless without it. In his important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars, Sebastian Haffnernoted divergent reactions from people when the political and economic situation stabilized (temporarily, as we now know) during the Stresemann chancellorship:

    The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.

    But this return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:

    A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.

    and

    To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.

    I’m afraid we have quite a few people in America today who like having “the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions.”  But for most people, especially for creative and emotionally-healthy people, the politicization of everything leads to a dreary and airless existence.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Germany, Human Behavior, Leftism, Politics, Russia, USA | 21 Comments »