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  • Archive for the 'Human Behavior' Category

    Top of the Slide

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

    Forty years after the fact is a fine time to wonder if that murderous freak Charles Manson had a point, after all. This is a savage disappointment to me, having been carefully schooled in racial tolerance since about the time that my mother nearly kicked off an epic family fracture when she requested that my paternal grandfather please tone down his expressions of racial denigration in front of us kiddies. She might also have asked the same of Dad, back in the day – he was, after all, raised by Grandpa Al, who – by his talk – couldn’t abide Negro-Black-African-Americans, or whatever the current socially correct term is – and Grandma Dodie, who couldn’t stand Jews. That their favorite entertainer of all time was Sammy Davis, Jr., was just one of those amusing ironies – that and the fact that they were always perfectly cordial to those of my parent’s friends and mine who were Jewish, and/or not by any stretch of imagination white Anglo-Saxon protestants was another one.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Human Behavior, Obama, Tea Party, Urban Issues | 31 Comments »

    By Way of Explanation

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 18th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Everyone has these two visions when they hold their child for the first time. The first is your child as an adult saying “I want to thank the Nobel Committee for this award.” The other is “You want fries with that?”
    – Robin Williams

    I suppose I should say something here, because this quote turns out to be a bit on the poignant side. Readers already aware of some portion of the following detail may be excused for skipping this one; I have alluded to various portions of it in posts and comments on different blogs over the years, and I tend to feel like I’ve worn friends and acquaintances out with it in conversation. It’s that worst of topics, my autobiography.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Current Events, Human Behavior, Personal Narrative, Tradeoffs | 7 Comments »

    Miami Condo Boom

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

    Funny how this kind of thing sneaks up on you.

    Prepare to be overwhelmed with the most comprehensive bus tour of the nearly 60 new condo towers proposed for Greater Downtown Miami.
     
    Miami condo expert Peter Zalewski – who has been cited more than 1,000 times by local, state, national and international news outlets – is scheduled to narrate the 10 AM morning tour of the Greater Downtown Miami preconstruction condo market where more than 17,300 new units are proposed. The 2 PM afternoon tour of Greater Downtown Miami is narrated in Spanish by licensed Florida real estate broker Jenny Huertas. Zalewski will ride on the afternoon tour to answer any questions.

    17,000 new units. Of course it’s unlikely that all of them will be built, but still. And this time around the developers aren’t borrowing so much, and many of the buyers are paying cash, but still. Wasn’t it just last week that we were in the midst of an endless economic stagnation? Or maybe it was a bubble. It’s easy to lose track.

    It looks like there’s a lot more US dollars in Latin America than anyone thought. Or could it be inflation? Nah. If there were inflation we’d see crazy stuff like the Dow at 17k and $12 hamburgers. . .

    I’m sure it will all end well.

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Markets and Trading | 8 Comments »

    Book Review: Nice Work, by David Lodge

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

    Nice Work by David Lodge

    —-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But still:

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    Thought-Provoking Posts from Italy, continued

    Posted by David Foster on 11th August 2014 (All posts by )

    …some additional Joy of Knitting posts found at archive.org.

     

    Immigration 8/29/04:

    Those who want an unlimited number of immigrants to move into our country always say sighingly, to the sound of violins, “we were a nation of migrants…”. Which means that as Eyties once used to migrate to other countries, now we have to be generous and take in a billion people. I’m not against immigration, provided that it’s legal and regulated according to established quotas. But I also think that, as Italy can’t provide a decent livelihood for millions upon millions of immigrants, it’s useless to attract them here only to condemn them to a hand to mouth existence. Better support the economy in their own countries. Likewise the same beautiful souls look indulgently on crimes committed by immigrants reminding us that “we exported the Mafia”. Alas, so we did. However, as foreign governments quite rightly adopted whatever measures they deemed necessary to stamp it out, so we shouldn’t condone immigrant criminality. It would be offensive to law-abiding immigrants, sending them the message that they are racially inferior and therefore unable to tell right from wrong.

     

    Communism as a Religion 11/18/04:

    The fact that communism is a religion first dawned on me in the seventies. It struck me that, for all their virulent anti-Catholicism, comrades weren’t after all that different from the most bigoted among their opponents. They believed in Marxism with such a blind faith that merely hearing a different opinion made them fly into a rage and scream “fascist!” with the zeal of an Inquisitor. There were lots of dogmas to believe in unquestioningly, the coming of the Revolution, something called “the centrality of the working class”, proletarian violence, and lots more. No one could depart one jot from the approved faith on pain of excommunication. The doctrine was Marxism, enshrined in its holy texts, and the main prophet was Marx, but there were other prophets, like Lenin. There were saints, like Che Guevara. The god of this religion was a somewhat nebulous figure, either communism itself or a mythical entity called the People, or the Masses, or the Proletariat, which did not in reality correspond to any actual group of persons. Comrades talked about their love humanity all the time, but if there was something they couldn’t stand it was people. Human beings are so messy, so unpredictable, always botching up beautiful dreams of a perfect society in which everybody would be free to do as he is told by the comrades themselves, for his own good, of course. Their idea of paradise, where everyone would be exactly like everyone else, would be brought about by the Revolution. Belief in the Revolution was a central dogma of their faith, the one around which everything gravitated. It was the eschatological event that would lead, through purifying proletarian violence, to palingenesis, to total world renovation. It would be the Second Coming, the Apocalypse, the end of time, freeing humanity from its chains and placing it outside history. With the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the final triumph of the communist god, there would be no more history. That is, no more anxiety-inducing change, but endless stagnation. Where was Satan in all this? It was capitalistic bourgeois society. An often repeated slogan in those days was “The bourgeois state must be destroyed, not changed”. Criminals were therefore seen as romantic outcasts, the victims of bourgeois society, and terrorists were heroes of the People who fought for the Revolution. If they had to choose between criminals (or terrorists) and their victims, comrades would sympathise with the former and blame the latter. Imagine the left’s predicament in these days. Towards the end of the seventies, when revolutionary ideals started showing cracks, many comrades went mad or even committed suicide. Now, they must either wake up, face reality and renege on everything they’ve believed in so far, or just keep on dreaming.

    When the Translator is a Deconstructionist 11/25/04:

    I once bought a book of John Donne’s poems. I found an Italian edition with the original text on one page and the translation on the facing page. Plus, there was a short introduction about ten pages long. So far, so good. I took the book home, sat down to read it, and got a big surprise. When I happened to glance at the translation I found out that it was much more difficult than the original. The critic who had done it and had also written the introduction was a deconstructivist. While Donne’s text was easy to understand and not at all as obscure as I had been told it was, the translation into my own language was incomprehensible, twisted and tortured, with short, abrupt sentences that did nothing to follow the sustained flow of the original. The translator had rewritten the poems to his liking, even deliberately altering the meaning of the words, but the result had nothing in common with Donne’s work. Determined to see all of the horror perpetrated, I tried to read the introduction, ten miserable pages in a mysterious Italian I couldn’t understand. In the end I gave up. The problem is that the average student who couldn’t yet read English Metaphysical Poetry in the original would have thought that was Donne. The same thing happens to all those who touch anything deconstructivists have been messing about with, like cultures and civilizations. Claiming reality doesn’t exist, they present their own mistaken perceptions as the only possible reality, and want others to behave as if that was the only truth available.

     

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Deep Thoughts, Europe, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, Leftism | 6 Comments »

    Some Thought-Provoking Posts from Italy

    Posted by David Foster on 10th August 2014 (All posts by )

    In 2004, I discovered an Italian blog called Joy of Knitting, and linked to one of her posts, from which I excerpted the following:

    Cupio dissolvi…These words have been going through my mind for quite a long time now. It’s Latin. They mean “I (deeply) wish to be annihilated/to annihilate myself”, the passive form signifying that the action can be carried out both by an external agent or by the subject himself…Cupio dissolvi… Through all the screaming and the shouting and the wailing and the waving of the rainbow cloth by those who invoke peace but want appeasement, I hear these terrible words ringing in my ears. These people have had this precious gift, this civilization, and they have got bored with it. They take all the advantages it offers them for granted, and despise the ideals that have powered it. They wish for annihilation, the next new thing, as if it was a wonderful party. Won’t it be great, dancing on the ruins?

    The post reminded me of some words from Walter Miller’s philosophical novel A Canticle for Leibowitz:  ”children of Merlin, chasing a gleam. Children, too, of Eve, forever buiding Edens–and kicking them apart in berserk fury because somehow it isn’t the same.”

    Joy of Knitting had many interesting posts, focusing on the state of Western civilization and culture as well as items on Italian politics and society.  Sadly, the blog disappeared circa 2008.  Happily, I recently realized that some of the posts might still be available at archive.org, and indeed several snapshots are there.  I’ve retrieved and posted a few of the ones I think are particularly good below and will add more in the future.

    Siding with the Aggressor 8/29/04:

    In an argument I have often observed people instinctively side with the aggressor even if personal safety was not at stake. The attacker is stronger, faster, more determined. By his nature fated to triumph over his enemy, he becomes an object of admiration. Sheer destructive violence is more fascinating to many than playing by the rules. I believe that siding with the aggressor is a primeval survival trait. Along with death wish, desiring the extermination of all rivals, being on the side of the winner ensured a longer life. These traits were superseded with the onset of civilisation, but they never disappeared. Nowadays we can see death wish fuelling peacenik rage, but it’s a death wish that turns against the very society in which they were born, bred and pampered so much that they never grew up into responsible adults. Likewise, instead of siding with boring, humdrum democracy, they support those who want to destroy it. In their boundless love for violence they identify with the aggressor so much that they glamorise terrorism, sincerely believing that in the final Armageddon the enemy will be grateful and spare them. He won’t. Once I read a sentence, maybe in Cyril M. Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons”, that went “nobody invites the hangman to the victory banquet”. These babes in the wood will realise it only when it’s too late. As they cloak their deadly hatred of Western civilisation under a pretence of pacifism, so they justify their passionate love for the aggressor by pretending he’s the helpless victim. The intellectuals’ secret love for violence must also be taken into account. Living secure lives, hermetically insulated from reality, they long for excitement. Once they inebriated themselves contemplating Mussolini’s “masculine figure”, then they were all agog for proletarian violence, now they enthuse about the guerrilla of the month. Living mostly in their heads, they want a bit of action and revel in the total destruction they can only dream about.

     

    The Spinsterization of Western Culture 8/26/04:

    We’ve often heard about the feminization of Western culture. I would propose instead to talk about the spinsterization (or spinsterification? I do apologise to English speakers everywhere) of Western civilisation. I mean here spinsterhood as a state of the mind, and as such pertaining both to men and women. Forget about the inner child. It’s the inner spinster, the one that lies dormant inside all of us, that has surfaced with a vengeance. The ferocious do-goodery, doing good works all around whether they are required or not. The eternal preaching. There’s a homily for every occasion and an occasion for every homily. The prim, tight-lipped disapproval of about everything (actually, nowadays it’s rather a pout to show off the lips, plus the flaring nostrils). Loving animals and hating people. The moralising fury against small pleasures, like smoking, drinking, red meat, etc.. The constant “now look what you’ve done” look of reproach meant to unleash guilt trips that will last forever, taking as the official excuse concern about the third world or the environment. The tearful sympathy for the oppressed that quickly turns into loving the criminals and despising their victims. The ill concealed resentment against the rest of the world that becomes sympathy for those who want to destroy it. The hatred against men, especially white men, who are always dead and/or stupid. The revenge against Westerners who have a good life, and the attempt to make them wretched and miserable so as to smother them with condescension and good works. Preaching peace while relishing carnage. Seeing opponents as demons from hell. Using one’s own virtue as a battering ram in order to take control. Despite saintly words, absolute power is the spinster’s ultimate target and worthy causes are nothing but means to an end.

     

    Leftists as Aristocrats 9/14/04:

    Over time, lefties have filled the niche previously occupied by the aristocracy. The Italian nobility has not vanished, but since it lost its relevance it keeps itself very much to itself. Aristocrats once used to be the arbiters of taste, the supreme judges in matters of elegance and fashion, and established the rules of etiquette. They decreed what was in and what was out every season, what was done and what was definitely not done. As nobility slowly dwindled into insignificance, it left a social void. Lefties, once the proud sons (and daughters) of the people, moved in to fill that vacant space. It’s amusing to see how lefties, who used to pride themselves on their genuine, down to earth authenticity and their deliberately rough, uncouth manners, are now the essence of social refinement. They dress in cashmere and silk, they discuss wines with the smooth assurance of connoisseurs, and the places where top lefties go on holiday become instantly fashionable for a chosen elite. In their salons gathers the pick of the intellectual world, the culturati and the glitterati of the day. Lefties sneer at the right, which they call vulgar. They shiver when they think that Silvio Berlusconi, our PM, is a self made man, an entrepreneur who started from nothing and amassed an immense fortune. It’s somehow so unrefined. Lefties fawn instead on millionaires who belong to dynasties of industrialists. With their heightened sensitivity, they resemble the fine ladies of the Ancien Regime on the Eve of the French Revolution.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Europe, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, Religion | 4 Comments »

    The Age-Old Hatred

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 8th August 2014 (All posts by )

    You know, I am genuinely shocked at the level of free-floating antisemitism on offer and open display these days. Yes, it is being dressed up as anti-Zionism, as if that made any difference in the same old Jew-hatred that’s been around since … I don’t know, as long as there have been Jews as a discrete and identifiable religious minority, even well before a certain sub-sect branched off, upon accepting that a relatively obscure itinerant Jewish preacher was really the son of G*d, accepting his destiny as a sacrifice in atonement for the sins of us all.

    I am also certain – from my education as an old-style Lutheran in readings from the Old Testament and my own general studies in history – that the ancient historic Hebrew nation had enemies. Damn few of them are around today in a recognizable guise. The pharaohs of Egypt, the Assyrians, the Seleucid Greeks, the Roman Empire – all had a bash at ancient Israel, some with more success than others. The Roman Empire, though – that sent the ancient Jews a-wandering, after putting down a hard-fought rebellion in the first century as the Christian era is reckoned. For nearly two millennia, a people – hardy, resourceful, self-identified and adaptable, given to the work of the mind rather than the body – took their chances in the larger and intermittently viciously hostile world. In some ways, I am reminded of how the native American coyote was hunted, trapped, poisoned as a pest and a blight, nearly wiped out of the habitat for a time … and yet all that has resulted is the making of a hardier, wilier, more daring and successful coyote.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Europe, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Religion | 19 Comments »

    Revolving Doors

    Posted by onparkstreet on 5th August 2014 (All posts by )

    From Pat Lang’s blog, Sic Semper Tyrannis:

    “- DNI Clapper perjured himself before the US Senate and was allowed to apologize and stay on.

    - General Keith Alexander has gone into business in retirement for the purpose of selling cyberwarfare knowledge that rightly belongs to the American people.

    - John Brennan is now revealed as yet another liar. He told everyone who would listen that CIA had not hacked its way into computers belonging to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). Now the CIA IG has produced a report that states the opposite. Brennan has apologized to the senate. That is not enough. The SSCI’s role is oversight of the CIA. Under Brennan’s command CIA tried to escape that oversight.”

    Link

    The national security state is a bureaucracy that is rapacious, it grows and never slows in its growth; politicians, reporters, analysts, retired military, retired civilian bureaucrats, routinely trade on connections and insiderism and then go on television and basically say whatever comes to mind, precious little of it correlating with reality. But you have to look for it, you can’t assume that you know if you don’t look. I’m not saying I’m right, but I am saying that I’m tired of closing my eyes to the phenomenon.

    Posted in Human Behavior, International Affairs, Military Affairs | 10 Comments »

    Movies About Leadership

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd August 2014 (All posts by )

    PJ Media has a post that lists “10 films that teach important lessons for leading in tough times.”

    I think there are quite a few other movies and TV series that could be placed in this category.  For starters:

    Once an Eagle, which follows the comparative careers of Army officer Sam Damon–an excellent leader–and Courtney Massengale, an officer whose ambitions exceed his abilities and performance.

    Friday Night Lights, focused on leadership in a sports, school, and community context.

    The Caine Mutiny, which is indeed about leadership, albeit of a not very effective kind.  ”No one is totally useless, you can always serve as a bad example.”

     

    Others?

    Posted in Film, Human Behavior, Management | 15 Comments »

    “But Would You Want Your Daughter to Marry One?”

    Posted by David Foster on 30th July 2014 (All posts by )

    …one of the supporters of the other political party, that is?

    The graph above reflects an estimate of what percent of Republicans and Democrats would feel displeased if their son or daughter were to marry a member of the opposing party.  I constructed the graph based on the survey data reported in this paper and referenced in this Psychology Today article.

    The most interesting thing about the graph IMO is the sharp increase from 2008 to 2010…might this have something to do with the election of Barack Obama and the policies and rhetoric he has pursued since his first inauguration?  It’s too bad that there are only the 3 data points for the survey data.  In any event, it is clear that the past 50 years have seen a considerable uptrend in the belief that political divisions between the major factions are so strong as to prevent a happy and successful marriage.

    I think it’s clear that this phenomenon is largely a result of what I have called the politicization of absolutely everything.  (See also my post life in the fully politicized society.)

    The PT article is titled  ”Why Republicans Don’t Want to Marry Democrats,” and goes on to say that  ”As we’ve become increasingly polarized in America, conservatives have also defined liberals as an out group.”  I think the title is a little dishonest:  although the data shows a higher % opposed to cross-party marriages among Republicans than among Democrats, the proportion is quite substantial for both sides:  49% versus 33%.  Furthermore, the increase in such negativity from 2008 to 2010 is pretty similar:  1.81 versus 1.65.  (Also, the survey wasn’t about who people wanted to marry; it was about who they wanted their children to marry.)  And re the assertion about conservatives defining liberals as an out-group, anyone who has been paying attention over the past 6 years has seen and heard a constant stream of vituperation directed at conservatives, libertarians, and indeed anyone who dares depart from the “progressive”  worldview.  (As a very current example, see the just-uncovered comments by former IRS official Lois Lerner.)

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Human Behavior, Politics, USA | 21 Comments »

    Iron Dome: Winning Asymmetric Warfare Through Superior Cost Accounting

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 14th July 2014 (All posts by )

    Ted Postol, the MIT physicist, media talking head, and so-called ‘missile-defense expert’ is again putting in another Face Palm worthy political performance in analyzing technical capabilities of the Israeli Iron Dome anti-artillery rocket system at the link.

    See:
    http://www.technologyreview.com/news/528916/israeli-rocket-defense-system-is-failing-at-crucial-task-expert-analysts-say/

    There are numerous practical political reasons that show Postol’s reasoning today with Iron Dome, as it was with the with the Patriot ABM in 1991, is an exercise in political “Magical Thinking.”

    Iron Dome ABM system diagram

    Iron Dome ABM system diagram complete with “Shoot to Kill” Border Fence

    First, missile defense contributes to deterrence — even North Korea’s slightly less than “Hamas-level suicidal sociopaths” have to consider the possibility that South Korea Patriots or Standard-3s (Via the US Navy’s Aegis ships) will stop a surprise missile attack gambit.

    Second, missile defense provides a degree of political strategic confidence — governments have an option other than quick counter-strike or pre-emptive strike.

    Last, on the political level, Iron Dome today (like Patriot in 1991) buys Israeli leadership the gift of time in war, the breathing space to act from Nation-State interest in the classic Westphalian sense, rather than be driven by media pressure and constituent tribal cries of revenge for lost loved ones _Right Now_.

    However, the by far more important reasons why Postol and those relying upon him are wrong were actually laid out in 2011 by Alternatewars.com guru, and fellow “History Friday” column researcher, Ryan Crierie in terms of the actuarial cost of injuries and death in a Western Society. This cost account reasoning shows just how badly opponents of missile defense are buried in the unreality of magical thinking political cant over the realities of war on the ground.

    In a very real sense, Iron Dome is Asymmetric Warfare by a technologically advanced society on an irrational/suicidal opponent that has converted suicide terrorism into a affordable war of attrition that trades suicidal robots — Iron Dome’s Tamir interceptor missiles plus traditional guided missiles from Jets or unmanned drones — for sucidal Hamas rocket crews and the civilian “human shield” infrastructure that hides them at a cost-trade off beneficial to the advanced western economy supported Westphalian Nation-State.

    Dividing by zero in war — zero Israeli deaths and very few rocket injuries for huge Palestinian losses — is just as impossible to do in reality as it is in mathmatics.

    See this link:
    http://www.alternatewars.com/BBOW/ABM/ABM_Economics.htm

    Or simply read the text clipped below to understand why I think Israel has “Flipped the Script” of the “Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism” on its head. —

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Human Behavior, International Affairs, Israel, Middle East, Military Affairs | 19 Comments »

    “Beware of Populist Economics”

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

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

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

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

    “Do doctors understand test results?”

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

    The short answer in many cases is “no”:

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

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

    (Via Mangan RT by heartiste on Twitter.)

    UPDATE: Gerd Gigerenzer’s Books

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

    Quote of the Day II

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

    Richard Fernandez:

    Jefferson’s great insight is that all decisions in this world are marginal cost decisions; and if we feel free to heap deficit spending on the future to remember the children will also be free to repudiate it. The paramount question we should be concerned with is not whether slavery was evil, but whether a black man living in America today can make a better life than in the Congo; whether Israel is better replaced by the Palestinian authority. For we cannot change the past; it is useless to try and even more useless to make a career of it. Even if it were possible to change the past, Bradbury argues there is no guarantee that the resulting alternative future would be any better.
     
    Our task must to leave the world better than we found it, not to remake it from the foundations. That doesn’t mean the past is gone, but it lacks the special quality of activity. The dead are already costed into the present…

    He got that right.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Israel, Jewish Leftism, Quotations, Tradeoffs, USA | 2 Comments »

    Blood on the Tracks

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd July 2014 (All posts by )

    Kevin Meyer has a thought-provoking post (referencing, among other things, the Asiana Flight 214 crash) on achieving the right balance between manual and automatic control of systems.  His post reminded me of something that has been lurking in my queue of things-to-blog-about for a long time.

    On January 6, 1996, Washington Metrorail train T-111 departed the Rockville (MD) station northbound.  Operating under automatic control as was standard practice, the train accelerated to a speed of 75 mph, and then began slowing for a station stop at Shady Grove. The speed was still too great for the icy rail conditions, however, and T-111 slid into a stopped train at the station, killing the driver.

    What happened?  I think the answer to this question is relevant not only to the specific topics of mass transit and railroad safety, but also to the more general issues of manual and automatic operation in system design, and perhaps even to the architecture of organizations and political systems.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Human Behavior, Management, Tech, Transportation | 19 Comments »

    Book Review: That Hideous Strength, by C S Lewis

    Posted by David Foster on 24th June 2014 (All posts by )

    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, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 12 Comments »

    The Political Impact of Cultural Technology

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

    It was observed by Andrew Breitbart that politics is downstream from culture.

    Be sure to read this post by Daniel Greenberg on the use of cultural technology in the culture war.

    Related: this Grim’s Hall review of the movie Maleficent, a new version of Sleeping Beauty.  The reviewer connects the implicit cultural messages of the move with the reaction of the Obama administration and its supporters to the Benghazi debacle.

    Glenn Reynolds said today that “Personally, I don’t think we’ll fix America’s political problems until we fix its media problem.”

    See also my related post Metaphors, interfaces, and thought Processes.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Media, Politics, USA | 3 Comments »

    Heroism in America, Then and Now

    Posted by David Foster on 19th June 2014 (All posts by )

    Bookworm posts about America’s cultural journey from an age in which the heroism of Audie Murphy was widely recognized to one in which Bowie Bergdahl is referred to by a senior Administration official as having served with “honor and distinction.”  With references to George MacDonald Fraser’s excellent WWII memoir, Quartered Safe Out Here and thoughts about the Oprah-ization of America.

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, History, Human Behavior, USA, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    The Roboticization of Customer Service

    Posted by David Foster on 16th June 2014 (All posts by )

    (Ran into this 2006 post while searching for an old Photon Courier post, and realized it had never been posted on Chicago Boyz.  It is unfortunately still quite relevant.)

    Almost every day, one encounters some business that is attempting to micromanage the interactions between its employees and its customers.

    At lunchtime a couple of weeks ago, I was in the mood for bacon & eggs, so I went to a restaurant (part of a local chain) that has breakfast items all day long. The interaction went something like this:

    Waitperson: Welcome to Snarfers-by-the-Lake, my name is Linda, I’ll be your server today.

    Me: Hi, Linda. I’m kind of in a breakfast mood, so I think I’ll have the bacon & eggs.

    WP (looks confused, as if she’d never heard of this dish before): Bacon & eggs? I don’t think…Oh, that would be our “eggs any style.”

    Me: OK…style I like ‘em is over medium, with the bacon pretty crisp.

    WP: Over medium…and would you like bacon or sausage with that?

    Me: Bacon…pretty crisp.

    WP: And our soup today is cream of broccoli.

    Me: Soup with breakfast? That would be something different!

    WP: I know it’s silly, but they make me say it.

    I know it’s silly, but they make me say it. In how many consumer-oriented businesses could employees say the same thing?

    Also a couple of weeks ago, I had to call my local telco, always a dreaded experience. After I had finally gotten through the levels of the voice response menu and got a person, it was:

    CS Agent: Thank you for calling, how may I provide you with exceptional service today?

    How may I provide you with exceptional service today? You can bet the agent didn’t come up with this phrase all by herself. And I doubt if her management came up with it all on their own. No, I detect the fine hand of a consultant here–maybe the pointy-haired guy in Dilbert went into the CS consulting business.

    What imaginable purpose is there in requiring this phrase to be used in thousands of calls per day? Customers will decide if the service is “exceptional” or not based on what gets done or not done. You’re not going to convince them by using the word. And from the standpoint of the CS agents, this kind of thing can only breed cynicism.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Customer Service, Human Behavior, Management | 32 Comments »

    Nautical Book Review- Trustee from the Toolroom.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 12th June 2014 (All posts by )

    Trustee from the Toolroom By Nevil Shute

    This novel tells of a lifetime adventure by a man whose life had avoided adventure thus far. Keith Stewart spent the Second World War working as a “fitter” or machinist in defense industry. There he met his wife Katie and they bought a home in West Ealing, a suburb of London where Shute the author once lived and which he uses often as a setting. After the War, they settled down and Keith eventually quit his job and began a career as a technical writer for a small magazine that catered to hobbyists who made miniature machinery, like small steam engines. The magazine was called “Miniature Mechanic” and developed a world wide circulation and many devoted fans of Keith’s writing.

    Keith had come from an impoverished childhood in Scotland and had one sister named Jo. Jo had raised herself socially by marrying a Royal Navy officer who came from a noble family that was quite wealthy. They had a daughter, Janice, who, at the time of the novel is nine years old. Jo’s husband, John Dermott, has taken early retirement from the Navy and they want to emigrate to Canada. Post-war England is a dreary place, a theme in several of Shute’s novels. One problem of post-war England is that currency controls severely limit funds that may be taken out of the country even on holidays. As late as the 1960s, I remember friends of my in-laws who were dependent on their American friends for travel to the US. Jo and her husband, John, have decided to smuggle their assets out of the country to Canada by converting them to diamonds and secreting the diamonds in the keel of their small sailboat, which they will sail to Canada. Keith helps them, not knowing the purpose, by setting a jewel case into the keel for them. They tell him that this just contains a few of Jo’s jewels they want to take. While they are gone, a matter of six months or so, they will leave Janice with Keith and Katie who have no children of their own. They don’t like the fast life of John’s relatives even for six months and know that Keith and Katie will always be living in the same house and will provide a quiet place for their daughter until they can send for her.

    They leave England a bit later than they had planned because they had to get Janice settled and they want to visit Tahiti on the way. Small boat sailing does not follow a great circle course like a ship and Shute knows about sailing from his own experience with his sailboat before the war. A course from the Panama Canal to Canada could very well include Hawaii on the way. The side trip to Tahiti should add a month or so but is well within the capability of a small sailboat. The problem with the late departure is that they have gotten into hurricane season in the southern hemisphere. They encounter a hurricane in the vicinity of the The Tuamotus archipelago a very large group of small islands and atolls east of Tahiti. The islands are low, just above sea level and were a terrible hazard before GPS made navigation more exact. The description of the hurricane and how they deal with it is quite good. I have sailed a small boat (38 feet) through a small hurricane off Mexico. The one they encounter is much larger and it forces them down onto the lee shore of one of the Tuamotus islands. As they realize their predicament, they reassure themselves that Keith will take care of their daughter but then they also realize that all her inheritance is in the sailboat with them.

    Keith is notified of their loss by the solicitor who also learns that their assets have been sold. Keith discovers from him about the law banning asset emigration and has some serious thinking to do. He is the trustee and, once he gets more detail about the wreck, suspects that the keel and the diamonds are embedded in the reef that destroyed the sailboat. What can he do ? He has only a small salary and Katie has to work in a shop to support their frugal life. If the diamonds cannot be found and returned, Janice will have to go to the council school and get a job at age 15 like other girls in Keith’s circumstances. He discusses his situation with his publisher who offers a small advance on his salary, an inadequate proposal. He is unable to ask for help because the diamonds were smuggled out of the country and would be confiscated.

    He calls on a man he knows through modeling who works for a freight airline. They offer Keith a free trip to Hawaii as an engineer “under instruction.” That will get him half way to his goal and he decides to try it. Once in Hawaii, he finds there are no commercial passages to Tahiti except airline travel which he could not afford. His only possibility is to sail with an illiterate fisherman who has sailed from Oregon in a boat he built himself. Against all the advice of the people he knows, he decides he must do this. What follows is a sailing adventure as the “pasty faced” man with no sailing experience and in the condition one would expect with a sedentary occupation, must learn to sail and navigate while concealing the true purpose of his quixotic quest for his sister’s resting place. From this point it becomes a sailing adventure and then there is more engineering as others come to his aid. It is a very satisfying novel and has been criticized because the characters are unrealistically good and help each other but I find it reassuring when I think I am getting too cynical.

    Posted in Book Notes, Human Behavior | 11 Comments »

    “Government Employee” is Not a Synonym for “Saint”

    Posted by David Foster on 4th June 2014 (All posts by )

    A good piece by Glenn Reynolds at USA Today: Greedy Socialism.

    The reality, of course, is that government employees, be they cabinet officials or low-level clerks, are motivated by the same kinds of desires that motivate people in other walks of life: money, security, power over others, creativity, status, ego-feeding and public adulation, in addition to the satisfactions of doing good work and providing value to others…with the individuals weights of these factors of course varying from person to person. The principal-agent problem does not disappear just because the agent works for the government.

    I particularly like this passage from Glenn’s article:

    The absence of a bottom line doesn’t reduce greed and self-dealing — it removes a constraint on greed and self-dealing. And when that happens, ordinary people pay the price. Keep that in mind, when people suggest that free-market systems are somehow morally inferior to socialism.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Leftism, Political Philosophy | 2 Comments »

    A Compendium of Useful Reminders to be Consulted in Moments of Confusion

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 1st June 2014 (All posts by )

    Judging by what I see communicated by many of my longtime friends, there are a whole lot of confused people out there these days. Here is a helpful list for them:

    1. Only a small minority of projects, even in relatively successful organizations in highly competitive industries, deliver their promised scope, on time, within budget. A large majority are drastically scaled back, incur huge cost overruns, deliver years later than intended, or are canceled outright. Anything nefarious either fails or is publicized by whistle-blowers or investigators. There are no secret, vast criminal enterprises pulling the wool over the eyes of the populace, and the best-known entities in society, both public and private, can be astonishingly inept.
    2. Large publicly-funded initiatives, other than those intimately connected to the physical survival of the societies in which they are undertaken, are quite likely to be mainly for show, irrespective of their supposedly spectacular significance. The current American example is the ACA, which has not resulted (and almost certainly will not result) in either greater insurance coverage or lower costs, is notoriously not a fully government-operated, “single-payer” system, and has no pathway to lead to one. None of this matters; indeed, many of its provisions, if they ever go into effect, will do so only after the current Administration has departed from the scene. All that matters is that its perpetrators get to claim to have passed “historic” legislation ostensibly providing “universal” health care. For an example from an earlier generation, see the Space Shuttle, which was supposed to fly 50-60 times per year at $5.5 million per launch. The actual flight rate hovered around a tenth of what was promised, and each launch cost nearly a hundred times the original projection. Hilariously, President Obama is now being criticized for ending this, even though it was collapsing from its own weight and consisted mainly of workfare jobs in Republican congressional districts.
    3. Notwithstanding phenomena like the above, the United States is probably the most successful large-population country in the world due to its sheer realism, in particular the relative openness and process orientation of English common law, which (to quote myself) “rather than construct elegant theories and then shoehorn (or bludgeon) societies into an unchanging mold,” exhibits “a willingness to work with the world and human nature as it is.”
    4. Even ignoring the fantastic technological advances, quality of life in the US has improved immensely in the past two decades. Social pathologies have plummeted. The rates of some categories of crime are down 90%, to all-time recorded lows. There are now fewer abortions per capita than at the time of Roe v Wade. Probably three-quarters of Americans live in neighborhoods where violent crime is effectively nonexistent. And the worst labor market in 80 years has done nothing to reverse these trends.
    5. Large-scale, institutionalized technologies range from the very safe (electric-power generation [including nuclear] and transmission) to the so-safe-there-is-no-instance-of-recorded-harm (agricultural genetic engineering). The problem is that in much of the real (that is, Third) world, they are insufficiently available to provide the thoughtless, comfortable existence that pervades most of the West. Living “off the grid” / following a soi–disant “natural” lifestyle is a plaything of rich people who can slink away into town whenever they get tired of hewing wood and drawing water. Especially water with enterotoxigenic E. coli in it.
    6. Pharmaceutical companies are not trying to kill you, nor to provoke health crises to sell new drugs. They may in some instances be trying to convince you that your life depends on continuing to purchase their products, whether it actually does or not. Then again, so is the “health food” store down the street, and in all likelihood, what it’s pushing is far more dangerous.
    7. All religions are not equal. The general heuristic is to judge them by their effects, or at least by their efforts. Those prescribing global expansion through conquest and coercive displacement, and those (especially if they don’t refer to themselves as religions) prescribing the extermination of followers of other religions, are particularly problematic.
    8. Any conspiracy theory that mentions the Mossad, Rothschilds, etc, is every bit as viciously anti-Semitic as Mein Kampf and should be treated as such. Anyone expressing admiration for Marxist notions and personages is no better. Conspiracy theories involving the CIA quaintly ignore the NSA (which is ~6x larger) and, in any case, descend from Stalinist and Maoist propaganda during the early Cold War and the Korean War. Facile anger about the NSA, however, ignores its well-publicized activities with the analog wireline telecommunications of 30-40 years ago, as amply documented in Bamford’s The Puzzle Palace. The phenomena of Wikileaks and Snowden’s massive data theft are an existence proof that such activities can neither be kept secret nor have much influence on real-world events; as someone who read through the supposedly devastating Wikileaks cables remarked, “[American diplomats] sound like Canadians with better access.”
    9. No amount of “smart diplomacy” or supposed avoidance of provocation will protect a country from attack. Only a convincing ability to make an attack more trouble than it could possibly be worth can do that, and even such an ability may be insufficient to deter non-state actors and small groups. In combination with steadily declining costs of dual-use technologies, a more-or-less freelance WMD attack somewhere in the world seems inevitable. When it occurs, the greatest hazards to the immediate survivors will be 1) official overreaction, as by ordering the evacuation of a far larger area than was actually affected and 2) popular derangement, which in the worst-case scenario may create a conspiracy theory popular enough to put an extremist political movement in power, even in a large, democratic nation.

    Commenters are encouraged to provide additional examples and corollaries.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Anti-Americanism, Civil Society, Current Events, Energy & Power Generation, Health Care, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Management, Military Affairs, National Security, Organizational Analysis, Predictions, Religion, Society, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 17 Comments »

    Thoughts on Leadership and Command, From Two Writers and a General

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

    In my review of The Caine Mutiny, I mentioned that the happy-go-lucky protagonist, Willie, eventually becomes a captain, and apparently a good one, too:

    Even at anchor, on an idle, forgotten old ship, Willie experienced the strange sensations of the first days of a new captain: a shrinking of his personal identity, and a stretching out of his nerve ends to all the spaces and machinery of his ship.  He developed the apprehensive listening ears of a young mother; the ears listened in on his sleep; he never quite slept, not the way he had before.  He had the sense of having been reduced from an individual to a sort of brain of a composite animal, the crew and ship combined.

    Achieving this sort of “feel” for an organization is of course far simpler when the organization consists of a fairly small number of people, like the crew of a destroyer-minesweeper or a very-early-stage startup.  But it is challenging even in these circumstances, and many leaders of modest-sized organizations never really accomplish “a stretching out of their nerve ends” to all aspects of the organization.  When the organization is very large and complex–too many people to ever meet personally, many geographical locations, a range of activities beyond the detailed comprehension of any one human mind–achieving a true sense of what is going on is much harder–it is to a substantial extent a matter of creating effective organization structures, choosing the right subordinate leaders, and establishing measurement and incentive systems which tend toward encouraging useful behavior rather than useless or damaging behavior…in addition to personal attributes such as curiosity, realistic sense of life, and ability to learn and to listen.

    Whether the organization be large or small, the leader is far more likely to achieve the kind of depth understanding that Wouk describes if he has a strong sense of personal responsibility and interest in the organization, its people, and its mission.  I’m reminded of some thoughts expressed by General William Slim, who commanded British and allied forces in Burma during WWII, following his defeat by the Japanese:

    The only test of generalship is success, and I had succeeded in nothing that I had attempted…Defeat is bitter. Bitter to the common soldier, but trebly bitter to his general. The soldier may comfort himself with the thought that, whatever the result, he has done his duty faithfully and steadfastly, but the commander has failed in his duty if he has not won victory–for that is his duty. He has no other comparable to it. He will go over in his mind the events of the campaign. ‘Here,’ he will think, ‘I went wrong; here I took counsel of my fears when I should have been bold; there I should have waited to gather strength, not struck piecemeal; at such a moment I failed to grasp opportunity when it was presented to me.’ He will remember the soldiers whom he sent into the attack that failed and who did not come back. he will recall the look in the eyes of men who trusted him. ‘I have failed them,’ he will say to himself, ‘and failed my country!’ He will see himself for what he is–a defeated general. In a dark hour he will turn on himself and question the very foundations of his leadership and his manhood. 

    And then he must stop! For, if he is ever to command in battle again, he must shake off these regrets and stamp on them, as they claw at his will and his self-confidence. He must beat off these atacks he delivers against himself, and cast out the doubts born of failure. Forget them, and remember only the lessons to be learnt from defeat–they are more than from victory.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Education, Human Behavior, Management, Obama, Politics | 15 Comments »

    Geography and Entrepreneurship

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd May 2014 (All posts by )

    …an interesting discussion at Ricochet:

    Imagine a Republican governor slashed Pennsylvania’s regulations and taxes.  Imagine a Republican President and Congress slashed federal regulations and taxes.

    Would that do anything to ensure a tech boom in central Pennsylvania?

    No.

    Why? Go try to convince an Ivy League computer engineer to move to the near suburbs of NYC. No prob. Now try to pitch them on moving 3 hours from NYC to Amish country. Impossible. Charles Murray’s Super Zips win every time.

    Put another way: Rand Paul might be able to solicit Silicon Valley donor dollars to Kentucky, but he’ll never export Kentucky values to the Valley.

    RTWT, and the comments.

    Posted in Business, Human Behavior, Politics, Tech, USA | 45 Comments »

    Nautical Book Review: The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk

    Posted by David Foster on 20th May 2014 (All posts by )

    Just about everyone has seen the movie based on this book, featuring Humphrey Bogart’s famous performance as Captain Queeg.  The movie is indeed excellent–the book is even better, and contains a lot that is absent from the film.  And while the film ends basically after the court-martial scene, the book continue to follow the USS Caine and  key characters for the duration of the war.  In this review, I won’t worry about spoilers re plot elements that were included in the movie, but will try to minimize them as far as other aspects of the book are concerned. After summarizing the story, I’ll comment on some of the issue raised by the book. (A recent article, referencing The Caine Mutiny, refers to Wouk as “the first neoconservative.”)

    Lieutenant Commander Philip Queeg, a rigid and insecure man, is appointed during WWII to the command of Caine, a decrepit old destroyer-minesweeper…the ship and its slovenly-appearing crew are described as being part of the  ”hoodlum navy.”  This is Queeg’s first command, and he is desperately concerned to make it a success, deeply afraid of making a mistake which will lead to his failure.  Ironically, it is specifically this fear of failure and perceived need for perfection which is responsible for many, perhaps most, of his troubles. When Caine runs aground the first time Queeg takes her out, he fails to submit the required grounding report for fear of higher authority’s reaction. When the ship cuts her own towline while assigned to target-towing duty, Queeg cannot make up him mind whether or not to attempt recovery of the drifting target–and radios in for instructions.  Incidents like these do not inspire confidence in Queeg on the part of his superiors.

    The officers and crew of Caine also lose confidence in the captain as his obsessive-compulsive behavior becomes increasingly problematic.  As a result of several incidents during combat, there are also concerns about Queeg’s personal courage. While no one aboard Caine likes Queeg once they get to know him, the captain’s most vocal critic is an officer named Thomas Keefer, an intellectual who is an aspiring novelist. Keefer has a cynical attitude toward the Navy, which he refers to as “a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots,” and advises Willie Keith, a young officer who is his subordinate,  that “If you’re not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one.”

    The ship’s executive officer is Steve Maryk. In civilian life a commercial fisherman, Maryk now hopes to make the Navy his career. Maryk is a fine seaman and a good leader, but not a highly-educated man–he is somewhat in awe of Tom Keefer’s intellectual attainments.

    In repeated conversations, Keefer tells Maryk that the captain must be mentally ill, using psychological jargon and concepts that Maryk does not pretend to understand. Maryk is concerned enough about Queeg’s behavior that he begins keeping a “medical log” on Queeg, with the idea of presenting this to higher authority if necessary and possible. The time seems right when Caine shares an anchorage with the battleship carrying Admiral Halsey:  Maryk takes his log, takes Keefer in tow, and heads over to the New Jersey to see if they can speak with the Admiral.  But Keefer, at the last moment, chickens out, asserting that Halsey, with his experience aboard large well-managed ships, would never be able to understand the state of things aboard a hoodlum-navy ship like Caine, and that raising the issue with him would only get the two of them in trouble.  Feeling unable to make the case without support, Maryk gives up on talking to Halsey and the two officers return to Caine.

    But soon thereafter, the old ship encounters a typhooon. Fleet course is 180 degrees, due south–away from the wind–and Queeg refuses to adopt the safer course of heading into the wind even though communication with other ships, as well as radar contact, has been lost.

    An unbelievably big gray wave loomed on the port side, high over the bridge. It came smashing down. Water spouted into the wheelhouse from the open wing, flooding to Willie’s knees. The water felt surprisingly warm and sticky, like blood. “Sir, we’re shipping water on the goddamn bridge!” said Maryk shrilly. “We’ve got to come around into the wind!”

    “Heading 245, sir.” Stilwell’s voice was sobbing. “She ain’t answering to the engines at all, sir!”

    The Caine rolled almost completely over on its port side.  Everybody in the wheelhouse except Stilwell went sliding across the streaming deck and piled up against the windows.  The sea was under their noses, dashing up against the glass.  ”Mr Maryk, the light on this gyro just went out!” screamed Stilwell, clinging desperately to the wheel.  The wind howled and shrieked in Willie’s ears.  He lay on his face on the deck, tumbling around in salt water, flailing for a grip at something solid.

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    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Human Behavior, Management, Military Affairs, Transportation | 13 Comments »