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    Retrotech: An On-Line Discussion Board

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

    …in 1907

     

    Interesting that girls as well as boys were participants in this network

    Posted in History, Society, Tech, USA | No Comments »

    Theme: Totalitarianism and the Fully Politicized Society

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

    As Jonathan pointed out here, one problem with the blog format is that worthwhile posts tend to fade into the background over time, even when they might be of continuing value.  One approach I’d like to try is Theme roundups, in which I’ll select a number of previous posts on a common topic or set of related topics, and link them with brief introductory sentences or paragraphs.  At least initially, I’ll focus on my own posts.

    The posts in this first “theme”  roundup focus on the nature of the politically-dominated society, ranging from the effects of extreme political correctness in America and Europe today to the nature of life under absolutist totalitarianism.

    Stasiland.  Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, author Anna Funder traveled to the previous East Germany to interview both those who had lived under Communist oppression and the perpetrators of that oppression.

    The Nature of Dictatorships.  Thoughts from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, maker of the excellent film The Lives of Others, which is set in Communist East Germany.

    Prefiguring the Hacker…and the American Surveillance Society. A 1953 science fiction story, Sam Hall.

    Eric Hoffer on the destruction of individualism. “Even in the freest society power is charged with the impulse to turn men into precise, predictable automata. When watching men of power in action it must be always kept in mind that, whether they know it or not, their main purpose is the elimination or neutralization of the independent individual – the independent voter, consumer, worker, owner, thinker – and that every device they employ aims at turning man into a manipulatable ‘animated instrument,’ which is Aristotle’s definition of a slave.”

    Bitter Waters.  A Stalin-era Soviet factory manager writes about his experiences.  Describing the chaos into which the Russian lumber industry had been thrown by Soviet central planning:  “Such is the immutable law. The forceful subordination of life’s variety into a single mold will be avenged by that variety’s becoming nothing but chaos and disorder.”

    Rose Wilder Lane.  The author and political thinker describes a debate she had with a Russian village leader, back in 1919 when she was still a Communist, about the centrally planned society.   “It is too big – he said – too big. At the top, it is too small. It will not work. In Moscow there are only men, and man is not God. A man has only a man’s head, and one hundred heads together do not make one great big head. No. Only God can know Russia.”

    The mentality of the totalitarian revolutionary.  Thoughts from the Russian writer of Dr Zhivago, Boris Pasternak.

    Life in the fully politicized society.  Michelle Obama explains what Barack Obama wants to make you do, Sebastian Haffner writes about those 1920s and 1930s Germans who needed to have “the entire content of their lives…all the raw material for their deeper emotions”  delivered gratis by the public sphere, and Ayn Rand paints a vivid picture (based on personal experience) of the dreariness of living in a society in which everything is political.

    Life in the fully politicized society, continued.  Even Maureen Dowd may be finding limits as to how much politicization of art she wants to see.

    The bitter wastes of politicized America.  “The best way to hold a large group of people together is to make them feel as if everyone else is out to get them.  The most effective political adhesives are distilled from hatred and distrust.  People who disagree with your agenda are “attacking” you or “robbing” you…When the government controls everything, there is no constructive relief valve for all this pent-up tension.  It all boils down to a “historic” election once every couple of years, upon whose outcome everything depends.  They’re all going to be “historic” elections from now on.  That’s not a good thing.”

    “But would you want your daughter to marry one?”  Americans increasingly say they would be displeased if their son or daughter were to marry a supporter of the opposing political party.

    Deconstructing a Nazi death sentence.  The text of the justification for the sentence passed on three members of the White Rose resistance group provides useful insight into the totalitarian mind.  (The link to the transcript in the post doesn’t work anymore; use this instead)

    Defying Hitler. This important and well-written (but mis-titled) memoir deals mainly with the social environment in Germany prior to the Nazi takeover, but the latter part of the book demonstrates what life was like under a new totalitarianism that was rapidly tightening its grip. The section about the author’s father–who was given the choice of either endorsing political opinions he did not share or losing his pension and being reduced to destitution, along with his family–is painful to read and is unpleasantly reminiscent of certain recent events in America today.

    The party of paranoia, racial obsession, and totalitarian thinking. Link to a post by Daniel Greenfield, aka Sultan Knish, in which he explains the nature of today’s Democratic Party.

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Europe, Germany, History, Leftism, Politics, Russia, Society, USA | 15 Comments »

    Feminists – Doing It Wrong

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 18th November 2014 (All posts by )

    I have to say this about the sh*tstorm over what is being irreverently termed shirtgate – it’s the final and ultimate straw in moving me away from ever calling myself a feminist again … at least, not in mixed company. Ah, well – a pity that the term has been so debased in the last few decades. Much as the memory of very real repression and denial of rights in the persons-of-color/African-American/Black community has been diminished, overlaid, generally abused and waved like a bloody shirt by cynical operators (to the detriment of the real-life community of color/African-American/Black-whatever they wish to be called this decade), so has the very real struggle for substantive legal, economic, economic and social rights for women also been debased and trivialized. Just as the current so-called champions of civil rights seem to use the concept as an all-purpose cover for deflecting any useful discussion of the impact of welfare, the trivialization of marriage, and glorification of the thug-life-style in the persons-of-color/African-American/Black community, the professional and very loud capital F-feminists seem to prefer a theatrical gesture over any substantial discussion of the real needs and concerns – and even the careers of ordinary women. Women whom it must be said, are usually capable, confident, tough, and love the men in their lives – fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Diversions, Feminism, Human Behavior, Just Unbelievable, Personal Finance, Society, Space, Tech, That's NOT Funny | 66 Comments »

    Life in the Fully Politicized Society, continued

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

    In his memoirs, Russian rocket developer Boris Chertok (previously excerpted in my post here)  tells of his experiences while he was in Germany with Soviet occupation troops, right after the war.  One of his friends was an officer, Oleg, who was also a talented poet.  Irrespective of his military talents, Oleg’s prospects for promotion were not viewed as favorable, because his poetry was “very unsettling to the political department.”

    And why was Oleg’s poetry looked upon with disfavor?  It was not because the Red Army had any dislike of poets.  Nor was it even because his poetry contained criticisms of the regime–there were no such criticisms.  No, the objection was because of what the poetry didn’t contain.  As another friend of Chertok’s, Mira, explained the situation:

    The political workers consider his poems to be demoralizing and decadent.  Not once does he mention the Party or Stalin in them.

    Of course, something like that could never happen in the US…we are not a society where someone could have their career opportunities gravely limited because of their failure to engage in expected political cheerleading.  Right?

    I was reminded of the above Chertok comments by Stuart Schneiderman’s post here.  Apparently, the book/movie “Gone Girl” (which I’ve neither seen nor read), has a female protagonist who is a rather nasty piece of work, attempting to get revenge against men in her life by making two false charges of rape and one false charge of murder.  The film has been denounced by certain critics for portraying such a woman. For example, Rebecca Traister of the New Republic told Financial Times that  the movie’s depiction of “our little sexual monsters” traded “on very, very old ideas about the power that women have to sexually, emotionally manipulate men. When you boil women down to only that, it’s troubling.”  Apparently, in Ms Traiser’s view, there must not be even one character is one book or movie who departs from the image of womanhood that Traister and her like-thinkers believe should be standardized.

    Remarkably enough, Maureen Dowd (yes, Maureen Dowd!) comes out  in this case against the witch-hunters and in favor of artistic integrity:

    Given my choice between allowing portrayals of women who are sexually manipulative, erotically aggressive, fearless in a deranged kind of way, completely true to their own temperament, desperately vital, or the alternative — wallowing in feminist propaganda and succumbing to the niceness plague — I’ll take the former.

     and

     

    The idea that every portrait of a woman should be an ideal woman, meant to stand for all of womanhood, is an enemy of art — not to mention wickedly delicious Joan Crawford and Bette Davis movies. Art is meant to explore all the unattractive inner realities as well as to recommend glittering ideals. It is not meant to provide uplift or confirm people’s prior ideological assumptions. Art says “Think,” not “You’re right.”

    After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks pushed Socialist Realism, creating the Proletkult to ensure that art served ideology. Must we now have a Gynokult to ensure Feminist Unrealism?

    The politicization of American society has gone very far–see for example the comments from playwright David Mamet, cited in my earlier Life in the Fully Politicized Society post–and it is good to see even such a creature of the Left as Maureen Dowd starting to push back a little.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Film, Leftism, Media, Society | 7 Comments »

    The Comet and the Shirt.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 15th November 2014 (All posts by )

    Comet_aug3-copy

    Comet_from_40_metres_large

    The European Space Agency landed a probe on a comet this week.

    Unfortunately, there were a couple of malfunctions. In the first, the “harpoon” that was to anchor the lander malfunctioned allowing it to bounce around a bit.

    These revealed the astonishing conclusion that the lander did not just touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko once, but three times.

    The harpoons did not fire and Philae appeared to be rotating after the first touchdown, which indicated that it had lifted from the surface again.
    Stephan Ulamec, Philae manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center, reported that it touched the surface at 15:34, 17:25 and 17:32 GMT (comet time – it takes over 28 minutes for the signal to reach Earth, via Rosetta). The information was provided by several of the scientific instruments, including the ROMAP magnetic field analyser, the MUPUS thermal mapper, and the sensors in the landing gear that were pushed in on the first impact.

    The result of this mishap was that the lander, which was using solar energy to recharge batteries, was not positioned properly to absorb the very weak sunlight energy at that distance.

    But then the lander lifted from the surface again – for 1 hour 50 minutes. During that time, it travelled about 1 km at a speed of 38 cm/s. It then made a smaller second hop, travelling at about 3 cm/s, and landing in its final resting place seven minutes later.

    That is quite a move and the result has been a very limited experiment as the lander has now shut down due to low battery power.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Current Events, Energy & Power Generation, Europe, Science, Society, Space | 16 Comments »

    Peter Thiel on Political Correctness, Courage and the Corrosion of Conformity

    Posted by Lexington Green on 29th October 2014 (All posts by )

    “The core problem in our society is political correctness.”
     
    “We’ve become a more risk-averse society,” he said, “we’ve lost hope in the future.” The problem isn’t one of intelligence, but of character. “We live in a world in which courage is in less supply than genius.”

    “The Wisdom of Peter Thiel“, from First Things — RTWT.

    Incidentally, I recently read Thiel’s book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. It is very good.

    I see significant overlap between Thiel’s message and some of the themes in America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century-Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come. I hope to write more about this soon.

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Society, Systems Analysis, Tradeoffs | 8 Comments »

    “Why Partyism Is Wrong”

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th October 2014 (All posts by )

    This is one of David Brooks’s better columns.

    Politics is obviously a passionate activity, in which moral values clash. Debates over Obamacare, charter schools or whether the United States should intervene in Syria stir serious disagreement. But these studies are measuring something different. People’s essential worth is being measured by a political label: whether they should be hired, married, trusted or discriminated against.
     
    The broad social phenomenon is that as personal life is being de-moralized, political life is being hyper-moralized. People are less judgmental about different lifestyles, but they are more judgmental about policy labels.
     
    The features of the hyper-moralized mind-set are all around. More people are building their communal and social identities around political labels. Your political label becomes the prerequisite for membership in your social set.

    There is much to this, though I would disagree that “people’s essential worth is being measured” by their politics. It would be more accurate to say that among nonreligious people politics is becoming a substitute for religion, an idea not unfamiliar to readers of this blog.

    Where Brooks falls flat is in eliding the easily observable fact that the social politicization he discusses is much more characteristic of the American Left than of the Right. But there’s an election coming and the Democrats are set to lose big, so it’s time to anticipatorily attribute the outcome to societal problems rather than the policies of the losing party. Still, he makes good points and his column is worth reading.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Political Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Society | 8 Comments »

    Women, Islam, and the West’s Loss of Cultural Self-Confidence

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

    Young European women, as well as young European men, are joining ISIS, in numbers which–while not huge–are still large enough to raise concern.

    And in the United States,  more Hispanics are turning towards Islam, and  more than half of Miami’s 3,000 Hispanic Muslims are female.  One converted-Muslim Latina, who holds a masters degree, explained the appeal of the religion partly as follows:

    It defines their world on a clear grid of what’s permitted or ‘halal,’ and what’s prohibited which is ‘haram’. So they know exactly where they stand. So the Qur’an becomes this guidebook that tells you exactly what to wear, what to eat, how to wash, how to behave, when to pray.

    From the above-linked article about European girls converting to Islam and joining ISIS:

    The girls sought out IS fighters because the West seems weak and unmanly and they pine for real men who are willing to kill and die for what they believe in.

    Why? Europe’s got great health care, welfare, and lots of attractive young men and attractive women who, unlike the vast majority of women in the Middle East outside of Israel, are sexually available. So, why given a choice between a comfortable, if somewhat boring, life as a pharmacist in Hamburg, or fighting and dying in the desert, are thousands of Western Muslims opting for the latter?

    Because, for all the awesome social services and consumer goods it can offer, Europe has become incapable of endowing the lives of its citizens, Muslim or not, with meaning. A generation of young European Muslims are giving up their relatively easy lives in Malmö, Marseilles, and Manchester for the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, because Europe is devoid of values worth living—or dying—for. They are leaving for the same reason that Europe’s Jews are moving to Israel: Strength and a sense of purpose can be found elsewhere, whether it’s ISIS, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khameni, or the IDF.

    Karim Pakzad, of the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations, said some young women had “an almost romantic idea of war and warriors.  I think this has been true in many if not most places throughout the world and many if not most times throughout history…but today’s West, in many if not most of its subcultures, does not honor its own warriors very much these days.

    The motivations of the women referenced in these articles are similar though not identical to the motivations of Arthur Koestler’s protagonist Hydie Anderson, in the 1950 novel The Age of Longing.  (My review of the book is here.)  Hydie is a young American woman living in Paris, a former Catholic who has lost her faith.  She is not attracted to any of the American or European men she knows, but falls hard for a committed Russian Communist. Koestler makes it clear that Fedya’s sexual appeal to Hydie is due in large part to his cultural self-confidence:

    “Listen, please,” (Fedya) said. “We have talked about these matters often before. You don’t like that we make scientific studies of human nature like Professor Pavlov. You don’t like revolutionary vigilance and lists on the social reliability of people, and discipline and re-education camps. You think I am brutal and ridiculous and uncultured. Then why did you like making love with me? I will tell you why and you will understand…”

    “I am not a tall and handsome man…There are no tall and handsome men who come from the Black Town in Baku, because there were few vitamins in the food around the oilfields. So it was not for this that you liked to make love with me…It was because I believe in the future and am not afraid of it, and because to know what he lives for makes a man strong…I am not handsome, but you have felt attracted to me because you know that we will win and that we are only at the beginning–and that you will lose because you are at the end…”

    In my review, which was originally posted almost 5 years ago, I linked a British Muslim woman who said that ““Since 9/11, vast numbers of educated, privileged middle-class white women have converted to Islam”…she identified these converts as including women at “investment banks, TV stations, universities and in the NHS.” Her concern was not that they are converting to Islam…something I’d presume she would applaud…but that they were converting to “the most restricted forms” of the religion.

    In the review, I said:

    I don’t think Koestler’s protagonist would have been attracted to a fundamentalist Muslim in the way that she was drawn to the communist Fedya. The gap in values would have been far wider: while Communism is a bastard child of the Enlightenment, radical Islam is counter-Enlightenment, and does not make the kind of universalist, humanitarian, and secular promises that the Communists made–the cruelty is closer to the surface.But the loss of Western self-confidence has greatly accelerated since Koestler wrote, and today’s Hydies are unlikely to share the educational and religious depth of the woman Koestler imagined.

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, France, Islam, Philosophy, Society, Terrorism, USA | 24 Comments »

    Where ARE Those Space Aliens?….With Questions on Social Evolution

    Posted by David Foster on 14th October 2014 (All posts by )

    Don Sensing writes about Fermi’s Paradox:

    The universe is many billions of years old. Fermi calculated that an alien species smart enough to become spacefarers could reach any point in the galaxy in five million years. But we we have no scientific evidence that aliens beings have been here…So, Fermi asked, where is everybody?

    Standard answers to the Paradox involve emphasizing the vast distances involved, and the fact that “as far as our galaxy is concerned, we are living somewhere in the sticks, far removed from the metropolitan area of the galactic center,” as Edward Teller put it.  Another theory is that species which are sufficiently intelligent to achieve interstellar travel have a tendency to blow themselves up long before they reach anywhere in our vicinity.  But another possible explanation is suggested by Geoffrey Miller:

    I suggest a different, even darker solution to the Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don’t need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain’s ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels…ever so good.

    Reading the above, I was reminded of an old science-fiction story…I couldn’t remember the name or the author, but, amazingly, I was able to locate it online.  The story is called “Ambition,” and it was written by William Bade in 1952.  The idea is that a scientist working on space travel finds that he has somehow been brought by time-travel to an era hundreds of years in the future.  He is thrilled, because he assumes that the people of the future will have developed space travel to a high degree, and that he will actually be able to fulfill his dream of journeying to the planets.  “Somewhere, out there in the night, there must be men who had walked beside the Martian canals and pierced the shining cloud mantle of Venus…Surely, a civilization that had developed time travel could reach the stars!”

    And he finds that  the future civilization indeed has created vehicles that would easily be capable of such exploration…but they are used only as super-airliners.  Nobody has any interest in traveling into space, indeed, they can’t imagine why anyone would want to do such a thing.  A sympathetic woman explains to the protagonist that “this is the Age of Man.  We are terribly interested in what can be done with people.  Our scientists…are studying human rather than nuclear reactions.”   There appears to be no thirst for adventure in a form likely to be recognized by a 20th-century man.  (Indeed, it seems that the reason the future people chose the protagonist as a research subject is that they found his interest in going to the moon and beyond to be so bizarre as to be worthy of psychological investigation.)  The story’s subtitle is:

    To the men of the future, the scientific goals of today were as incomprehensible as the ancient quest for the Holy Grail!

    So…when a society reaches a certain level of wealth and sophistication, does the desire for adventure tend to die out?  I’m reminded of a passage from another SF story, this one by Heinlein, in which a Martian is asked why he and other members of his species just sit around all day, “growing together,” as they called it, never actually doing anything.  The Martian’s reply is:  “My fathers have labored, and I am weary.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Europe, Society, Space, USA | 17 Comments »

    “Culture Mapping” Essay by Jonathan Fletcher Applies Emmanuel Todd’s Analysis, Reaches Conclusions Consistent with America 3.0

    Posted by Lexington Green on 22nd September 2014 (All posts by )

    Jonathan Fletcher

    I strongly recommend that you read the excellent essay Culture-mapping: A framework for understanding international B2b decision-making, by Jonathan Fletcher who is the Group Managing Director of Illuminas. Mr. Fletcher’s expertise lies in part in “analysing and interpreting market research data.”

    In his paper Mr. Fletcher presents “a framework for understanding decision-making in different business cultures that will enable B2b researchers confronted with a new market to ask the right questions quickly and not waste time and money looking in the wrong places for the wrong things.” Mr. Fletcher finds that culture is “the hidden dimension” which has a “significant influence on economic and industrial behaviour and performance, but a large part of culture is implicit, unconscious and hidden from direct view.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Business, History, Society, USA | 4 Comments »

    Under the Radar

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th September 2014 (All posts by )

    I guess it must matter to the elite class who seem to manage and report in our established American national main-line media – that no one notice the very ugly and violent racial war which is breaking out. Unless, of course, it is a case of a white, or nearly white, or almost-sort-of white in a confrontation with a member of the black thug class; there, I said it – the black thug class. This is a totally different class from the striving and generally hardworking and patriotic black middle and working class. And this I know very well, as a veteran, and through residence in a working-to-middle-class Texas suburb; a fellow military veteran once quoted to me something which one of his military comrades had said – “There is black and there is white, and then there is just trash.” The comrade was black, and he was quoting his grandmother, a lady of certain years – years sufficient to permit a degree of blunt honesty regarding matters racial. There is black, and there is white, and then there is trash.

    The elite class appears to believe that anyone of Anglo pallor who points this out must therefore be a racist, especially if in reference to the unsavory, thuggish habits of the black variety of trash. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Human Behavior, North America, Society, The Press | 45 Comments »

    GE has sold its Appliance business

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

    …to Electrolux, for $3.3 billion.

    Today’s WSJ story on the sale began with the words “General Electric, which commercialized the electric toaster and self-cleaning oven”…sounds sort of trivial  Actually, household appliances have been an important factor in the liberation of human energies and in social change.

    Owen Young, who was GE’s chairman from 1922-1939, grew up as a farm boy.  To his biographer Ida Tarbell, he described what life had been like on each Monday–wash day:

    He drew from his memory a vivid picture of its miseries: the milk coming into the house from the barn; the skimming to be done; the pans and buckets to be washed; the churn waiting attention; the wash boiler on the stove while the wash tub and its back-breaking device, the washboard, stood by; the kitchen full of steam; hungry men at the door anxious to get at the day’s work and one pale, tired, and discouraged woman in the midst of this confusion.

    Posted in Business, History, Society, Tech | 16 Comments »

    The Next 40 years in Twelve Hundred Words

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

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

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

    .

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

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

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

    Below is a slightly edited version of my response:

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

    Read the rest of this entry »

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

    Picketty’s Introduction

    Posted by TM Lutas on 9th June 2014 (All posts by )

    Thomas Piketty has written a monster of a book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I find myself in strange agreement with Brad DeLong, that the collective conservative response is weak. I had a patch of time that left me twiddling my thumbs waiting for some pretty long database operations to finish over the past four days. So I went and decided to fisk the book. I just finished the introduction. It took four posts, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and overran the spare time I had available from a database import and indexing task by about 12 hours.

    Now I know why the criticism is so weak. Piketty is a target rich environment and doing a line by line analysis is simply exhausting. But it’s the only way to be sure.

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Economics & Finance, Public Finance, Society, Taxes, USA | 18 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 »

    On Survivalism

    Posted by T. Greer on 6th May 2014 (All posts by )

    NOTE: This blog post was originally published at The Scholar’s Stage on 2 January 2011. Its contents are relevant to the discussion started by Jay Manifold’s recent posts on national catastrophes and societal resilience. Now seems like a good time to resurrect the original post in its entirety.

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    I recently read a book by survivalist blogger James Wesley Rawles called How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It. This reading has prompted a few thoughts on the aims and validity of the survivalist movement that may be of interest to readers of the Stage.

    The raison d’etre of survivalism is a subject much discussed on this blog: the proper balance between between resilience and efficiency. Robustness and facility are two virtues fundamentally at odds, and all complex systems, be they organisms, economies, or militaries, are subject to the trade off between them. While the relation between specialization and efficiency was noted by both Xenophon and Ibn Khaldun centuries earlier, widespread acceptance of the “drag” redundancy places on a system’s productivity did not come until publication of Adam Smith‘s The Wealth of Nations. Mr. Smith uses the example of a pin factory to teach the general principle:

    …the trade of the pin-maker; a workman not educated to this business (which the division of labour has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of forty-eight thousand pins, might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and independently, and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day; that is, certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the four thousand eight hundredth part of what they are at present capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and combination of their different operations….. The division of labour, however, so far as it can be introduced, occasions, in every art, a proportionable increase of the productive powers of labour.

    Book I, Chapter 1, “Of the Division of Labour” 

    Mr. Smith does not present the primary drawback of this arrangement. With efficiency comes fragility. Ten men working by their lonesome produce a paltry number of pins, but the faults of one man do not destroy the efforts of another.  In contrast, if something happens to one of the ten factory men and; his equipment, no pins get made and the factory must shut down. One bad cog puts a stop to the entire machine.

    For the survivalist this is a problem pervading not only the pin factories, but all of modern society. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Society, Terrorism, Urban Issues | 40 Comments »

    How To Think About Catastrophe

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 4th May 2014 (All posts by )

    Many thanks to the commenters on my review. I won’t be agreeing with all of you, but I value your input for increasing my understanding of what others think. I have some related ideas on how to think about the issues raised specifically by Lightning Fall and generally by “preppers” and, indeed, anyone anticipating a societally disruptive crisis in the near future.

    NB: this is an essay in the original sense of “attempt.” It is unlikely to fully represent my thinking on these issues even a few years hence; and whether you agree with me or not, I encourage you to think these things through based on your own abilities and experience, and then act as your specific situation appears to require. Hayekian distributed local knowledge may save us. Central planning, as I hardly need admonish this audience, will not, and therefore any attempt by me to impose a uniform mental framework should (and undoubtedly will) be firmly rejected.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Current Events, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Markets and Trading, National Security, Predictions, Society, Systems Analysis, Terrorism, Tradeoffs, Urban Issues, USA, War and Peace | 8 Comments »

    History Friday – Plaza Mayor

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 25th April 2014 (All posts by )

    San Fernando Cathedral and the Plaza Today

    That is what they were called in towns and cities in Spain – the main plaza or town square, which served as the center of civic life, around which were ranged the important civic buildings, the biggest church; this the regular market place, the assembly area for every kind of public spectacle imaginable over the centuries. Every plaza mayor in every Spanish town is alike and yet different; different in size and shape, and in the confirmation of the buildings around it. Some are bare and paved in cobbles, and some have trees and gardens in them now.
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    Posted in Advertising, Civil Society, Entrepreneurship, History, Miscellaneous, North America, Recipes, Society | 5 Comments »

    “Lightning Fall” – Review

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 20th April 2014 (All posts by )

    While this will not be a uniformly positive review, I must immediately note that the purely literary quality of Bill Quick’s Lightning Fall (subtitled either “A Novel of Destruction” or “A Novel of Disaster,” depending on whether one is looking at the spine or the cover of the paperback edition) ranks it alongside Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon and comes within metaphorical striking distance of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer. It is a classic page-turner and a serious threat to a good night’s sleep; I began reading it after awakening shortly before 3:00 AM one morning, expecting to drift off in a few minutes, and eventually noticed that I was somewhere around page 250 and the time was after 6:00 AM. This sort of thing has not happened to me more than a handful of times in a half-century of reading, and I read a lot.

    Other reviews have included – well, not exactly spoilers, but more specifics about the events in the novel than I intend to provide here. I will mention three things that I think it useful for prospective readers to know, and then use the general thrust of the novel as a springboard for extended commentary of my own.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Human Behavior, International Affairs, National Security, Predictions, Society, Systems Analysis, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 16 Comments »

    SWOT, One Year On

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 15th April 2014 (All posts by )

    A year ago I was dispassionately composing my analysis. Today, when I left the Sprint campus and drove east on 115th Street to turn north on Nall toward I-435, there were TV news vans with telescoping antennae lining the street at the entrance to the Jewish Community Center.

    Coincidentally the number of dead is identical. There are, however, no (physically) injured survivors, and the motivation for the attack was similar only in that it was intended to draw attention to a cause. I fear that the perpetrator is cunning enough to succeed in that; his previous notoriety was due to legally forcing some radio stations to briefly carry Nazi ads during an election campaign season. Much has been made of the gentile – and indeed seriously committed Christian – identity of the victims, but I believe that was unimportant to him. What mattered was that he seize a mechanism for dissemination of conspiracy theories, and now, given the administrative blockheadedness of the American justice system and the puerile conventions of American journalism, we are all too likely to be subjected to many hours and tens of thousands of words of exceptionally vicious, totalitarian propaganda, varying portions of which will be heard by tens of millions of people. This guy knew exactly what he was doing.

    I could tell that from the video snippets of his arrest, just as I could tell, hours before it was officially confirmed, that he would turn out to have come from rural Missouri (Aurora is nearly a 3-hour drive from Overland Park; he had to have cased both facilities beforehand) and would turn out to be a southerner with prior Klan involvement. It was completely obvious from his accent, his tone of voice, and his attitude on camera. He is now operating inside the American institutional OODA loop. Our entirely proper determination to grant a scrupulously fair trial – when we’re not piling on the charges in order to ram a plea bargain through, that is – will be roughly equivalent to giving him not airtime for advertisements, but his own highly rated nationwide radio network.

    Fortunately, he is also sufficiently sui generis that copycat attacks are unlikely, at least in the immediate future. Should an American Dolchstoßlegende catch on, however, things may deteriorate sharply. The general case is to scapegoat a relatively small, easily-identified minority: it was the “1%,” or twenty-five guys on Wall Street, or the Koch brothers – or George Soros, or Obama/Pelosi/Reid, or the leftist academics on their Long March through the institutions – or (of course) Jews, or Latino immigrants or Asians stealing our jobs. If we just expropriate, or deport, or exterminate them, and everyone like them, the story goes, our country will be purified, and Utopia ensue. The ideology may be Nazi or Communist; either will do in a pinch, as Hayek wrote nearly three-quarters of a century ago: its adherents are uncertain, and know only that they hate Western liberal civilization.

    Just to make things more complicated, tolerance can definitely be taken too far. Interviews with the perpetrator’s neighbors in Lawrence County, Missouri, immediately elicit idiotic postmodernist comments to the effect that he seemed like a nice enough guy but had some opinions that they didn’t agree with. Great. Your assigned reading is here, you nitwits.

    So when blood ran in the streets of my city, did I follow my own advice in the ostensibly-uplifting conclusion to my analysis of a year ago, and immediately redouble my efforts on whatever it is I was supposed to be doing? Well, it was a Sunday, so there was somewhat less of that, although I tend to devise more projects for my spare time than I could possibly execute anyway. But in the event, whatever it may say about me, I felt tremendously violated, as though the murders had occurred in my driveway rather than six miles away. And what I actually did was drink rather more cheap boxed red wine than usual and break down a couple of times. I don’t have any particular aversion to weeping, but I don’t need to do so very often. Turns out I needed to on Sunday evening. The question of how I will react should much larger-scale events occur in even closer proximity remains unanswered.

    The problem, of course, is that this kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen here … which is a rather hypocritical sentiment in light of the actual statistics on violent death locally. A couple-three people a week get murdered in this town, three-quarters of them in an area covering only one-tenth of the municipality of KC, Mo., and a tiny fraction of the area of the entire MSA. Assuming that the said area (34 mi²) has the same population density as zip code 64130 (of which it largely consists), a moment with a calculator establishes that the homicide rate in question – the southwestern boundary of that area reaches to within two miles of my house – is nearly 80 per 100,000 per year, making it one of the most dangerous places in the Western world, and also as dangerous as Iraq before the Surge, which the media thoughtfully informed us at the time was the Worst Thing Ever. Gallivanting off to Haïti is all very well, but perhaps I should find a more local ministry to volunteer with while I’m at it.

    But it really isn’t supposed to happen here, and not just because Overland Park is a world away from the East Side. Side-by-side, indeed inextricably mixed, with the ongoing mayhem five minutes’ drive from my doorstep is a deep reservoir of peace and contentment. God damn it, we just want to listen to jazz and eat barbecue. In its best moments, there is no gentler place on Earth. The lives of those taken on Sunday bear witness to that.

    “The new thing — the thing which we had not known — the thing we have learned now and should never forget, is this: that a society of self-governing men is more powerful, more enduring, more creative than any other kind of society, however disciplined, however centralized.” – Harry S. Truman, Radio Report to the American People on the Potsdam Conference, 9 August 1945

    “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now.” – Harry S. Truman, to reporters, 13 April 1945

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, History, Judaism, Law Enforcement, National Security, Personal Narrative, Politics, Predictions, Quotations, Religion, Society, Terrorism, USA | 3 Comments »

    You Know, I Always Wondered …

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 11th April 2014 (All posts by )

    … about the egregious Al Sharpton, whom I will not dignify with the title of reverend, first because there is no record of the fat, illiterate, race-baiting rabble-rouser ever having attended a seminary of any sort, and secondly because … oh, good lord, just look at those old pictures of him from the 1970s and 80s; jheri-curled, velour track suit and gold pendant the size of a man-hole cover. People, trust me when I tell you that I require a smidge more dignity from those who hold churchly office in any denomination, a standard from which Al Sharpton fell so far that he would need a bucket-truck with a three-story-tall extension even to get close.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Diversions, Media, Society, The Press, Urban Issues | 22 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

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

    Seth Mandel: Brendan Eich, the Culture Wars, and the Ground Shifting Beneath Our Feet in Commentary:

    But forget about the Kochs for a moment. Forget, too, about the left’s major donors like Tom Steyer, who plans to spend $100 million in congressional midterm elections in support of Democrats. What about the guy who donated $1,000 to a state ballot initiative six years ago? Should he lose his job somewhere down the line because public opinion has shifted against an old ballot initiative? To the left, the answer is: Absolutely.
     
    This is part of why conservatives have been leery about the Democrats’ proposals to force disclosure of the kind of donors who give to Republicans (while exempting many of their own major donors). The left claims it wants full disclosure of political participation in the name of transparency and electoral integrity. We now know this isn’t remotely true. They want disclosure so they can extend the purge of heretics from private life and thus deter libertarian and conservative political participation. They want a permanent record of everyone’s political opinions to use against them at any time in the future. This is about disenfranchisement and blacklisting and nothing more. That should have been apparent before, but it’s crystal clear now.

    Posted in Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, Quotations, Society | 4 Comments »

    Education for America 3.0 – now

    Posted by leifsmith on 29th March 2014 (All posts by )

    Interview with Isaac Morehouse, co-founder of Praxis Institute, about their programs for (in my words) people who want to live in America 3.0. The interview is by Bill Freeza, Competitive Enterprise Institute, on Real Clear Radio. If you like America 3.0 you will think this is a great interview!

    blog.discoverpraxis.com/2014/03/04/praxis-interview-on-real-clear-radio

    Also posted on one of my own sites: http://www.scoop.it/t/freeorder

    Posted in Academia, America 3.0, Education, Entrepreneurship, Philosophy, Society | Comments Off

    2014 Midwest Business & Markets Conference

    Posted by Zenpundit on 9th March 2014 (All posts by )

    cross-posted to zenpundit.com

    The Union League Club of Chicago Building

    Yesterday, I attended the 2014 Midwest Business & Markets Conference at the historic Union League Club of Chicago. While business conferences are far afield from my usual interests, the main draw for me was seeing Lexington Green speak about the book he co-authored with James C. Bennett, America 3.0

     

    Michael J. Lotus (“Lex”)                       His book

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Business, Chicagoania, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, Illinois Politics, Internet, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society, The Press, USA | 9 Comments »

    Archive Post – Very, Very Bad Toys

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 17th December 2013 (All posts by )

    Ran across this little account of the Very Worst Toys Ever, and began to chortle. (It’s an oft-repeated article, apparently – this version is from earlier this year.) Not so much at the toys themselves, although my brother JP, sister Pippy and I were actually given at least one of the deadly worst and a couple of the others mentioned in subsequent comments.

    We, of course, emerged un-maimed, although Dad probably regretted to the end of his days that he didn’t give either one of us the atomic energy lab. Probably couldn’t afford it, as he was only a poor graduate student on the GI bill, round and about the time it was on the market. We did have loving and generous grandparents, though; how we didn’t ever get BB rifles like all the other neighborhood kids is a mystery. Mom probably put her foot down about that, believing that yes, you could put out an eye with them. Well, so could you with a ‘wrist rocket’. We had a pair of them, a sort of bent-metal sling-shot with a bottom end that braced against your wrist so that you could sling a bit of gravel at practically ballistic speeds. But they weren’t toys- we had them to chase the blue jays away from the house where they tormented the cats and dogs unmercifully. As far as I know, Dad was the only one of us who ever actually hit a blue-jay with a wrist-rocket impelled missile. Square in the butt, actually. It let out an enormous squawk and vacated the premises henceforth and forthwith and at a good speed.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in North America, Personal Narrative, Society | 30 Comments »