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  • Archive for the 'USA' Category

    Worthwhile Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Are you a White man? Is it funny when you die?

    Posted by Lexington Green on 17th April 2017 (All posts by )

    Democrats in a public, political meeting cheer and laugh at the mention of the increased number of white men committing suicide.

    The speaker says, maybe I should not say this in public, but when I heard more White men are committing suicide, I almost said “yeah, great!”.

    But he does say it, and the crowd likes it, as he knew they would.

    The speaker knows that he is talking about a group that has no organized capacity to oppose his despicable, dehumanizing, eliminationist hate speech. Attacking those who are not (yet) organized to resist is easy and fun.

    About which other ethno-cultural community is it permitted to laugh and clap when they die by their own hands in larger numbers?

    The despair that leads to this horrible increase in suicides is a gauge of the success of the policies the people in this video espouse. They are jeering over a defeated enemy. So for this crowd laughter and clapping is appropriate.

    Every other group in American life is now self-consciously tribal, and mobilized to respond to any grievance, real or imaginary.

    As noted elsewhere, liberal whites who believe themselves to be post-tribal cosmopolitans are merely a very wealthy and very powerful tribe, with their own rituals of recruitment and exclusion, who smugly believes themselves entitled to rule others.

    The last group to self-consciously form a tribe will be non-liberal, lesser-educated, lower status white males. This will happen, and is happening, out of self-defense. This is a very large group. They do not think it is funny when they and their friends, neighbors, classmates, military buddies, coworkers, sons, brothers, fathers, people like them, are reduced to hopelessness and commit suicide in increasing numbers.

    The younger members of this group, young white men, the generation aged 30 or so and under, are not easily shamed by accusations of political correctness. They see where this is going. This younger cohort is taking, and will take, the initiative.

    The balkanization of America is moving along at an accelerating rate. There is only one domino left. The groups which have been directing their animosity against an inert and un-reacting mass will probably be shocked when they have finally awakened something that can and will push back.

    Democrats who disagree with this kind of thinking and this kind of speech should insist that it stop. It is destructive, and it is even bad for their electoral prospects. But they won’t stop it. It is apparently intensely satisfying to enjoy the warmth of in-group solidarity, including expressing contempt for the disdained “other”, including laughing when they die in increasing numbers.

    Identity politics is the core of what the Democrats stand for now. It feels so good, to so many people, it is apparently even better than winning elections. It is sick that our politics is reduced to this level. FDR, HST, JFK and the patriotic, civic nationalist Democrats of bygone days are scowling down from that great smoke-filled room in the sky.

    Sad!

    Posted in Society, USA | 39 Comments »

    Worthwhile Visiting

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

    The National Museum of Industrial History is located on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel complex.  Most of the original buildings are derelict or partly torn-down, but the above array of blast furnaces and supporting equipment has been preserved.

    Suggested musical accompaniment for a visit to the place that was Bethlehem Steel…features a different company and a slightly different geography, but basically the same sad story.

    Posted in Business, Capitalism, History, Management, Tech, Unions, USA | 16 Comments »

    How to Sell NCR Cash Registers in 1917

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

    An interesting and well-done video

    Posted in Business, Marketing, Tech, USA, Video | 7 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

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

    Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan is, IMO, one of the more thoughtful of the financial industry CEO’s.  In his annual letter to shareholders, he devotes considerable space to the current situation of the United States–our assets, our problems, and potential paths for improvement.  The public policy section of the letter starts on page 32.

    My view of several issues is different from Mr Dimon’s, but I think the letter is well worth reading and thinking about.

    (Disclosure:  I’m a JPM investor)

    Posted in Business, Capitalism, Economics & Finance, Education, Entrepreneurship, Immigration, USA | 13 Comments »

    Freedom and the American Character

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

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

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

    Questions for discussion:

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

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

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

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

    Economic Growth and the Spirit of Debate

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

    Writing in the WSJ, Naftali Bennett takes on the question of what is the “secret educational ingredient” that accounts for Israel’s dramatic economic success.  While agreeing with others that good schools are a part of it, he also assigns credit to “a parallel education system that operates alongside the formal one.  This is where our children learn to become entrepreneurs.”

    And what are the components of this parallel education system?  He identifies three of them.  First, there is “our heritage of debate”…the study of the Talmud. “The meaning of complex texts is debated by students in hevruta–pairs–with a teacher offering occasional guidance..Since the Talmud is one of the most complex legal codes ever gathered, the idea of a verdict is almost irrelevant to those studying.  Students engage in debate for the sake of debate.  They analyze issues from all directions, finding different solutions.  Multiple answers to a single question are common.”

    Bennett identifies the second component of the parallel education system as the collection of youth organizations:  “Teenagers work closely with younger children; they lead groups on excursions  and hikes, develop informal curricula, and are responsible for those in their care.  As an 11th-grade student , I took fifth-graders on an overnight hike in the mountains.  Being given responsibilities at a young age helped shape me into who I am today.”

    The third component is the army:  “Consider a hypothetical 19-year-old soldier in the intelligence corps, analyzing aerial photographs or intercepted communications.  She must decide if the material in front of her indicates an impending attack or not.  This isn’t a rare occurrence. Thousands of Israeli soldiers experience it daily.”

    Just a couple of hours after reading the Bennett piece, I encountered this story about Wellesley College:

    In an email to fellow faculty yesterday afternoon, a committee of Wellesley College professors made several startling recommendations about how they think future campus speakers should be chosen. If implemented, the proposals by the faculty Commission for Ethnicity, Race, and Equity would have a profound impact on the quality and quantity of voices Wellesley students would be permitted to hear.

    FIRE has obtained the email, sent by one of the signatories to a faculty listserv, and republished it in full below.

    While paying lip service to free speech, the email is remarkable in its contempt for free and open dialogue on campus. Asserting that controversial speakers “impose on the liberty of students, staff, and faculty at Wellesley,” the committee members lament the fact that such speakers negatively impact students by forcing them to “invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers’ arguments.” 

    And here we thought learning to effectively challenge views with which one disagreed was an important part of the educational process!

    Meanwhile, at the University of Arizona, students who feel offended are being told to say “ouch”…and the student who made the supposedly-hurtful comment is supposed to respond with “oops.”  And these two universities are far from the only ones adopting such policies.

    So if a key part of Israel’s economic success is the training of kids in the skills and attitudes of debate…it would appear that many if not most American universities are doing the exact opposite.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Israel, USA | 14 Comments »

    Music Review: The Rose of Roscrae

    Posted by David Foster on 14th March 2017 (All posts by )

    This work by Tom Russell is a highly ambitious album:  a song-cycle, practically an opera, whose storyline extends from Ireland to the American West to the island of Molokai, where the priest Father Damien cared for outcast lepers.

    In the title song, Johnny Dutton tells of being beaten up by the father of the beautiful 15-year-old Rose (after being caught in the hayloft with her) and making his way from Ireland to the United States, where he planned to live out the dreams he had absorbed from cheap novels of the West.

    Johnny works for the legendary rancher Charlie Goodnight, but eventually turns to a life of crime.  He is caught and found guilty, but escapes.  He is pursued by his nemesis Augie Blood, US Marshal and evangelist, who travels in a prairie schooner (drawn by mules named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) with a cross on the sail and a saloon piano in the back on which he plays gospel tunes.

    Will Johnny escape Augie Blood?  Will he ever be reunited with the Rose of Roscrae?  Will his longing for Ireland ever take him back to the Old Country?

    A few of the songs:

    The Rose of Roscrae

    Doin’ Hard Time in Texas

    I Talk to God

    The Water is Wide / Overture

    He Wasn’t a Bad Kid When He Was Sober.  (Russell got a letter from “a rather well-known Western artist” who apparently wanted him to write a song based on “new information that Billy the Kid was a real hero of sorts. A true Irishman and a friend of the Mexican poor.”  This song is Russell’s answer)

    There are a LOT of performers on this album, in addition to Tom R himself, they include Johnny Cash, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Maura O’Connell, Ian Tyson, and Gretchen Peters.  There is even a Swiss Yodel Choir!

    When I first heard this album, I liked it but didn’t think it quite measured up to TR’s earlier song-cycle, The Man from God Knows Where (link goes to my review)  But The Rose of Roscrae grows on you.  An exceptional piece of work, well-worth buying and listening to many times.

    The album can be purchased at Amazon.  Also available is a bundle which includes the program guide / libretto as well as the album itself.

     

    Posted in History, Ireland, Music, USA | Comments Off on Music Review: The Rose of Roscrae

    Why does Germany do such monumentally stupid things?

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

    I was reading Arthur Herman’s column in the WSJ Decoding the Zimmerman Telegram, 100 Years Later and I began to think about all the really, really dumb things Germany has done. And it’s not as if the Germans are dumb. A look at the Nobel prize list makes it clear that there are many brilliant Germans. But if we go back in history and look at the political decisions Germany has made, it is a cavalcade of catastrophe. In the 19th century, Germany was the cradle of socialism, not all the ideas, but certainly the movement. Then it decided to unite Germany, not a bad idea in and of itself; but it then led to the idea that it should conquer Europe. In the process, it threatened the US with invasion by Mexico, bringing the US into the war and onto the world stage. And to top it, they put Lenin in a rail car and sent him to St. Petersburg launching the Soviet Union. Hitler then rekindled the idea of conquering Europe, including the incredible decision to invade Russia and then declaring war on the United States directly, creating an enemy that might have sat out the European war.

    After suffering a defeat as devastating to Germany’s people as the Thirty Years War, Nato was created to keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down. And for 70 years it was a success. Germany started well by establishing an economic powerhouse. It succeeded in reuniting Germany after the cold war was won by the US in spite of German handicapping. But since then it has made decisions with terrible consequences, not only for Germany, but for much of Europe. It has used the EU and the Euro to peacefully achieve, with American connivance, what it twice failed to do by violence. And the consequences have become deleterious at best for the rest of Europe. The Energiewende has been a catastrophe, leading to more pollution by increasing the coal and biomass burned to create energy and the highest electricity costs in Europe. Germany’s refugee policy has invited invasion by unassimilabe masses inimical to European culture and values. And a policy of minimal defense expenditures has led the Americans to consider getting out and the Russians getting back in. And now China has become Germany’s largest trading partner.

    I have long felt that the EUropeans were more than capable of defending themselves and we should pull out of Nato to force them to do so and to save money. Why should we allow them to freeload? But now with the Americans leaving, the Russians returning, and the Germans rising, I am having second thoughts as I consider the possible consequences.

    Posted in China, Europe, Germany, Miscellaneous, Russia, Tradeoffs, USA | 21 Comments »

    ENIAC Anniversary

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

    With all the current discussion about robotics and artificial intelligence, this seems like an anniversary worth noting:  the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator) was formally announced on February 15, 1946.  (Or maybe it was February 14.)  Originally developed to compute artillery trajectories, it was sufficiently general in its design that it could be programmed to address other kinds of problems as well.  The programming was originally done with patch cords, but soon a sort of stored-programming approach was developed wherein the patch cord layout remained the same and the program was entered via an array of rotary switches.

    See also Robot Mathematician Knows All The Answers, about the Harvard Mark I, a slightly earlier computer that was electromechanical rather than purely electronic in its operation, and a post about the Naval Ordnance Research Calculator, a ‘supercomputer’ of 1954.

    I wonder if these early computers would have made such a strong popular impression if they had not been so physically large.

    Posted in History, Tech, USA | 5 Comments »

    The Revolt Against the Experts

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th February 2017 (All posts by )

    ‘Trump makes sense to a grocery store owner’

    Economist-mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb contends that there is a global riot against pseudo-experts
     
    After predicting the 2008 economic crisis, the Brexit vote, the U.S. presidential election and other events correctly, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the Incerto series on global uncertainties, which includes The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, is seen as something of a maverick and an oracle. Equally, the economist-mathematician has been criticised for advocating a “dumbing down” of the economic system, and his reasoning for U.S. President Donald Trump and global populist movements. In an interview in Jaipur, Taleb explains why he thinks the world is seeing a “global riot against pseudo-experts”.

    Taleb has a typically thoughtful and contrary take on Trump’s electoral victory. Worth reading in full.

    (Via Peter Saint-Andre.)

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Society, Politics, Trump, USA | 13 Comments »

    The Ballpoint Pen as an Economic Case Study

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

    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has lamented China’s inability to “make ballpoint pens with a smooth writing function.” After five years of research, a state-owned steel company now says it can.

    WSJ notes that 80% of the world’s ballpoint pens are made in China…but that thus far, China has not been making all of the pen’s components.  Specifically:

    The tip of a high-quality ballpoint demands metal work involving high-precision machinery and very hard, ultrathin steel plates. So 90% of pens made in China have imported tips. China’s leaders want “self-sufficiency,” in pens as in semiconductors. Now they claim they’ll have it.

    This little story is interesting from at least three angles.

    First–as the WSJ story points out, China’s desire to control the entire ballpoint pen supply chain indicates that their leaders still value economic autarky, and that Chinese leadership denunciation of President Trump on grounds of his insufficient respect for free trade carry more than a whiff of hypocrisy.

    Second–the ballpoint pen example makes the point that the apparent simplicity of a product does not necessarily reflect the complexity or lack thereof involved in manufacturing it.  American economic commentators often fail to grasp this point when they assert that America’s future must lie in producing “advanced high-technology products.”

    Third–the example should also clarify the point that the highest value in a product supply chain does not necessarily lie in the assembly of the final product.  The final product assembly is usually the most visible part of the supply chain, but very often the creation of components that go into that chain involves more complexity and requires more skill than the final assembly process itself.  It’s considerably more difficult to make integrated circuits, for example, than to assemble those chips onto circuit boards and to assemble the boards into a plastic or metal case.

    Posted in Business, China, Economics & Finance, Tech, USA | 44 Comments »

    Fake News, today’s CJR edition

    Posted by TM Lutas on 18th January 2017 (All posts by )

    Here is an opinion piece written by Kyle Pope and arrogantly signed “The Press Corps” without actually soliciting any other signatures of journalists.

    What really gets me is his fifth point “We’ll obsess over the details of government” which is simply, objectively not true. If it were true, certain artifacts would have produced and an entire category of journalism would be common because a press corps that was obsessed over the details of government would use those artifacts to easily and cheaply create certain stories that they do not create.

    When you read about Flint, MI and its lead pipe problem on the web, did the site geolocate you, identifying your own water system, list out the lead pipes used there, the date when the last one is projected to be replaced, and give you the contact information of the office that can move that lead free date up? No, you didn’t because years before, nobody identified all the water systems and arranged a cheap way to regularly get their pipe inventory into a database along with the install dates and expected lifespans. That would be the mark of a press corps that was obsessed over the details of government.

    That would be journalism worth paying for and the kind of story that I would like to write and see written.

    Here’s what is missing to do that Flint story correctly.

    Comprehensive list of all governments that operate their own water systems with contact information
    List of the private water systems overseen by various government oversight bodies
    Each water system’s pipe inventory with install and expected replacement dates along with type/material of pipe.

    I really would love to not be building out these basic data structures. The established press, which does have the resources to do such a thing quickly, just is not interested so others have to step in.

    Posted in Media, USA | 6 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Opening Arguments Podcast on the Emoluments Clause, With Andrew Torrez and Thomas Smith

    Posted by Jonathan on 17th January 2017 (All posts by )

    Listen here.

    Posted in History, Law, USA | Comments Off on Seth Barrett Tillman: Opening Arguments Podcast on the Emoluments Clause, With Andrew Torrez and Thomas Smith

    Lex on Leadership

    Posted by David Foster on 16th January 2017 (All posts by )

    Neptunus Lex wrote about his “youngster” cruise as a Midshipman attending the Naval Academy.  This is the first of two cruises that a Midshipman takes: during the second cruise, your activities are those of an officer…

    But during youngster year, you sail as a Sailor. You wear dungarees, chip paint, sweep passageways and stand enlisted watches. You sleep in enlisted berthing, eat in the enlisted mess and attempt to get some sense of the men you are supposed to lead in three year’s time, and the lives they live. ..You are tempted to believe that this work is beneath you. You are a Naval Academy midshipman, the cream of the crop. You are special.

    and

    You spend some time in the engineering plant – in a gas turbine ship, an amazingly clean and quiet space. Totally incomprehensible. It resembles nothing at all like the wiring diagrams in your thermodynamics textbooks.

    But there’s a 23 year old Sailor who didn’t go to college, never read Thoreau, and who nevertheless understands it all. He patiently tries to teach you how it works. He speaks to you like one would speak to an elderly person in a nursing home, slowly, simply. You feel patronized, and worse: You realize that you do not entirely understand.

    You are beginning to learn – not about engineering. But about Sailors.

    and

    You’re heading home. Bridge watches now, under the tutelage of 20 year old quartermaster’s mates. Men from small towns that you’ve never hear of, in states you remember dimly from your grade school geography. From farming families, where no one went to college, and no one was expected to. Men who could fix your position to a hundred yards moving at 20 knots across the endless sea using only the stars, a stopwatch and a sextant. Men who could debate the finer points of Strauss and Engels. Men who play classical guitar to an appreciative audience in the 80 man berthing during their time off duty. Who have dreams of their own that they will tell you about, when no one else is listening. Men who would risk their lives to save yours in the midst of a flaming inferno, without hesitating for a moment to reckon the cost, to tally the odds. Men who would die for you, if they had to.

    And you begin to realize that you’re not special because of who you are, the grades you got in high school or where you’re going to college. You’re special because of who you’ve been selected to lead, when your time comes.

    And that, my friends, is the beginning of wisdom.

    Definitely read the whole thing.

    There was a general…can’t remember who it was…who remarked that you will can never be a good officer unless you like Soldiers. (And you can’t fake it for long, he added.) I think it is pretty clear that Lex liked Sailors.

    One way of evaluating any leader…military, political, business executive..is his attitude toward those he leads or wants to lead.

    Posted in Management, Military Affairs, USA | 9 Comments »

    An Odd Couple, or a Match Made in Heaven?

    Posted by David Foster on 13th January 2017 (All posts by )

    It is interesting that there is such a high overlap of political opinion between College Professors and Entertainers…the latter category not being known for their intellectual or scholarly tastes, on the average.

    Significance, if any?

    Posted in Academia, Film, Politics, USA | 33 Comments »

    What are the Limits of the Alexander Analysis?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The American Virtual Civil War

    Posted by David Foster on 29th November 2016 (All posts by )

    Musings on Cirque des Crazi, at Ricochet, was inspired by two long-time (since childhood) friends of the author and his wife…one a senior nun and the other a retired IRS manager…who have “been looney, angry, mean and distempered crazies before, during and since the election”…”Yes, they are Hilaryites. They are the scourge of (his wife’s) Facebook, showing no mercy or measure of humanity. Both use language that would make Trump blush.  Many people on Ricochet have reported similar insanity and we all watch the media created Cirque Des Crazi on the streets of blue cities and the academic child care centers formerly known as Higher Education.

    Read and discuss.

    Posted in Leftism, Politics, Trump, USA | 40 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: How The Recounts Pose A Risk To Mike Pence

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th November 2016 (All posts by )

    What are the Democrats up to in pursuing election recounts?

    Still if all 3 states fail to make a timely recount and fail to appoint their slate of Trump-Pence electors…then the presidential race will be thrown into the House where each State has one vote. Under Article II and the Twelfth Amendment, Trump has to carry a majority of state delegations (26 of 50). There is a separate quorum requirement: 2/3 of the States (34 of 50) must have one or more members present. Trump can probably meet this bar: 32 of the state delegations in the 115th Congress will have Republican majorities (albeit some are narrow majorities), and 11 other state delegations have 1 or more Republican members. So the Republicans should be able to reach a quorum of 34 States with one or more members present.
     
    However, if all three 3 states fail to make a timely recount and fail to appoint their slate of Trump-Pence electors…then the vice presidential race will be thrown into the Senate. Under Article II and the Twelfth Amendment, Pence will need a majority of the “whole number” of senators. The Republicans have such a majority. But the Twelfth Amendment also has a quorum requirement: “two-thirds of the whole number of Senators.” [2/3 is 67 of 100 senators, assuming all elected Senators are alive and sworn during the proceedings to select a Vice President.] The Republicans cannot meet this bar, at least not absent Democratic participation. By absenting themselves, the Democrats can block the narrow Senate Republican majority from selecting Pence.

    Read the rest.

    Posted in Current Events, Elections, Leftism, Politics, Trump, USA | 8 Comments »

    Attack of the Job-Killing Robots, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Armistice/Veterans Day Post and Summary of State & Local Election Results

    Posted by Jonathan on 11th November 2016 (All posts by )

    Staff of the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) who fell in World War I and World War II

    A Summary of the 2016 Governors Races, State Legislative Races, and State-level Death Penalty Referenda

    Posted in Anglosphere, Civil Society, Culture, Elections, History, Holidays, Politics, USA | Comments Off on Seth Barrett Tillman: Armistice/Veterans Day Post and Summary of State & Local Election Results

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 10th November 2016 (All posts by )

    Nigel Farage, commenting on the election of Donald Trump:

    “This is a big opportunity for all British business because once we’ve left that awful EU thing we can do our first trade deal with the United States of America. Isn’t that great?”

    Posted in America 3.0, Anglosphere, Britain, Business, Current Events, Elections, Europe, Politics, Tradeoffs, Trump, USA | 2 Comments »

    Sell Your Soul or Lose Your Livelihood

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

    Sebastian Haffner, whose memoir I reviewed here, describes what happened to his father–a civil servant under both Weimar and the Kaiser–following the Nazi takeover.  The elder Haffner, long-since retired, had considerable accomplishments to his credit:  There had been great pieces of legislation in his administrative area, on which he had worked closely. They were important, daring, thoughtful, intellectual achievements, the fruits of decades of experience and years of intense, meticulous analysis and dedicated refinement”–and it was extremely painful to him to see this work ruthlessly trashed by the new government.  But worse was to come.

    One day Mr Haffner received an official letter. It required him to list all of the political parties, organizations, and associations to which he had ever belonged in his life and to sign a declaration that he ‘stood behind the government of national uprising without reservations.’ Failure to sign would mean the loss of his pension, which he had earned through 45 years of devoted service.

    After agonizing about it for several days, he finally filled out the form, signed the declaration, and took it to the mailbox before he could change his mind.

    “He had hardly sat down at his desk again when he jumped up and began to vomit convulsively. For two or three days he was unable to eat or keep down any food. It was the beginning of a hunger strike by his body, which killed him cruelly and painfully two years later.”

    Haffner Senior was retired; he would surely have no chance for other employment if he crossed the new regime.  He could either violate his convictions and sign the document, or sentence his wife and himself to total impoverishment and possibly actual starvation.

    As recently as 10 years ago, it would have seemed unlikely that any American would have to face Mr Haffner’s dilemma.  But things have changed.  If current trends continue, it is very likely that YOU will have to foreswear your beliefs or face career and financial devastation.

    Plenty of markers along this dark path are already visible.  Things are worst in academia, it seems.  At Yale, lecturer Erika Christakis resigned after being vitriolically attacked for suggesting that people not get all stressed up about Halloween costumes.  Her husband, Nicholas, has also resigned from Yale.  Ms Christakis says that many of those were intellectually supportive of the couple were afraid to make their support public:  “Numerous professors, including those at Yale’s top-rated law school, contacted us personally to say that it was too risky to speak their minds. Others who generously supported us publicly were admonished by colleagues for vouching for our characters.”

    Just the other day, I ran across this article, which uncomfortably parallels the Haffner story.

    (Iowa State University) students are told that they must abide by the school’s policy against “harassment” of anyone in the university community. Students must complete a “training program” consisting of 118 slides online, covering the university’s non-harassment policies and procedures, and then pledge never to violate them.

    But what if a student thinks that the ISU policy goes way beyond preventing true harassment and amounts to an abridgement of his rights under the First Amendment?

    In that case, ISU reserves the right to withhold the student’s degree. So either the student agrees to abide by the policy even though it may well keep him from speaking out as he’d like to, or have his academic work go for naught. 

    Iowa State is going beyond ‘only’ requiring you to shut up about your opinions and will also require you to positively affirm beliefs which you may not share.

    The attack on individuals’ careers and finances due to their political/philosophical beliefs is by no means limited to academia.  There is the case of Brendan Eich, who was pushed out as CEO of Mozilla because of his personal support (in 2008) of a law which banned same-sex marriage in California.  There are multiple cases of small businesspeople subjected to large fines because of their refusal to violate their convictions by baking a cake or providing other services for a same-sex wedding.

    And don’t think that just because you support gay marriage…even if you support what you think is 100% of the ‘progressive’ worldview–that you are safe.  Deviationism can always be found, as the Old Bolsheviks discovered during the time of Stalin.  Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis, herself a self-defined feminist, was investigated by the university after complaints were made about an essay she published under the title “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academia.”  Kipnis writes:

    A tenured professor on my campus wrote about lying awake at night worrying that some stray remark of hers might lead to student complaints, social-media campaigns, eventual job loss, and her being unable to support her child. I’d thought she was exaggerating, but that was before I learned about the Title IX complaints against me.

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    Posted in Civil Liberties, Elections, Germany, History, USA | 6 Comments »

    Speculations, and Positions, for the Public Record

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 1st November 2016 (All posts by )

    One week out seems like a good time to put some stakes in the ground.

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    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Current Events, Elections, History, Immigration, International Affairs, Israel, Libertarianism, National Security, Personal Narrative, Politics, Predictions, Society, Terrorism, Trump, USA | 20 Comments »

    Two Posts from Seth Barrett Tillman

    Posted by Jonathan on 30th October 2016 (All posts by )

    From President James Buchanan, Chief Justice Roger Taney, Copperheads—and the Quakers:

    If our moral intuitions accord with the second view, if we credit the Quakers’ behaviour without regard to their religious inspiration, then why do our standard histories judge President James Buchanan and Chief Justice Taney so harshly?** Buchanan and Taney preferred the United States to go to pieces rather than maintaining it by war. They were unwilling to order or to support a war, and the deaths, which would undoubtedly follow. Yet very few today see Buchanan and Taney as heroes or as acting on moral principles akin to those of the Quakers. Why?

    ——-

    From Law of the Clinton Candidacy (Again):

    #1. If Hillary Clinton resigns as the Democratic Party’s candidate prior to the general popular election, what process does the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”) use to select a new candidate?
     
    [. . .]
     
    #8. If President-elect Clinton were sworn in, but subsequently became incapacitated prior to her appointing any cabinet members, can the Vice President succeed her, even temporarily? See Twenty-Fifth Amendment, Section 4 (“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments … transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.” (emphasis added)). Do acting heads of executive departments (i.e., senior high level civil servants not subject to presidential nomination and Senate confirmation) count for this purpose? Isn’t this a good reason for the members of President Obama’s cabinet to remain in office until their successors are actually nominated, confirmed, appointed, and sworn in?

    Both posts are worth reading.

    Posted in Current Events, Elections, History, Politics, USA | 11 Comments »