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  • Appalling, but Not Really Surprising

    Posted by David Foster on January 13th, 2015 (All posts by )

    Obama White House wants to persuade/encourage/pressure media to drop coverage that might upset jihadis or potential jihadis

    Last Thursday, I mentioned the administration’s 2012 criticism of Charlie Hedbo’s decision to publish “offensive” cartoons.  Comes now presidential spokesman Josh Earnest, defending that administration position and asserting that there will be more such presidential critiques directed toward noncompliant media in the future.

    This reminds me of something.  Oh, yes…

    In the late 1930s, Winston Churchill spoke of the “unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure…In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands” which “may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty.” A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. “Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.” (excerpt is from The Last Lion: Alone, by William Manchester.)

    Churchill’s concern was not just a theoretical one. Following the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, photographs were available showing the plight of Czech Jews, dispossessed by the Nazis and wandering the roads of eastern Europe. Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, refused to run any of them: it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended. (same source as above.)

    Obama’s desire to ensure that the media avoids antagonizing jihadis is of a piece with Chamberlain and Dawson’s desire to avoid antagonizing the Nazis.

    And I’m reminded of something else Churchill said.  In March 1938, he spoke of Britain and its allies descending incontinently, recklessly, the staircase which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad staircase at the beginning, but, after a bit, the carpet ends. A little further on there are only flagstones, and, a little further on still, these break beneath your feet.

     

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, Civil Liberties, Germany, History, Islam, National Security, Obama, Terrorism | 26 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on January 12th, 2015 (All posts by )

    What has changed for the Jewish people over the past 75 years isn’t that we have ceased to love the countries where we live. It is that we are no longer compelled to bet—with our lives—that our love will be requited.

    From: “Two Scenes From the Grand Synagogue of Paris: Netanyahu, the French national anthem, and what it all means” in Tablet Magazine.

    (Via William A. Jacobson)

     

    Posted in Europe, France, Israel, Judaism, Quotations | 1 Comment »

    Book Reviews – 2014 Summary

    Posted by David Foster on January 12th, 2015 (All posts by )

    Last year I reviewed quite a few books, including several that IMO are extremely important and well-written.  Here’s the list:

    The Caine Mutiny.  The movie, which just about everyone has seen, is very good.  The book is even better.  I cited the 1952 Commentary review, which has interesting thoughts on intellectuals and the responsibilities of power.

    To the Last Salute.  Captain von Trapp, best known as the father in “The Sound of Music,” wrote this memoir of his service as an Austrian submarine commander in the First World War–Austria of course being one of the Central Powers and hence an enemy to Britain, France, and the United States.  An interesting and pretty well-written book, and a useful reminder that there are enemies, and then there are enemies.

    That Hideous Strength.  An important and intriguing novel by C S Lewis. As I said in the review, there is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  So, by the standards now becoming current in most American universities, the book–and even my review of it–should by read by no one at all.

    The Cruel Coast.  A German submarine, damaged after an encounter with a British destroyer, puts in at a remote Irish island for repairs.  Most of the islanders, with inherited anti-British attitudes, tend toward sympathy with the German:  one woman, though, has a clearer understanding of the real issues in the war.

    Nice Work.  At Chicago Boyz, we’ve often discussed the shortage of novels that deal realistically with work.  This is such a novel: an expert in 19th-century British industrial novels–who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory.  Very well done.

    Menace in Europe.  Now more than ever, Claire Berlinski’s analysis of the problems in today’s Europe needs to be widely read.

    A Time of Gifts.  In late 1933, Patrick Fermor–then 18 years old–undertook to travel from the Holland to Istanbul, on foot. The story of his journey is told in three books, of which this is the first.  This is not just travel writing, it is the record of what was still to a considerable extent the Old Europe–with horsedrawn wagons, woodcutters, barons and castles, Gypsies and Jews in considerable numbers–shortly before it was to largely disappear.

    The Year of the French.  The writer, commentator, and former soldier Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century.”

     

    Posted in Academia, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Ireland, Islam, Management, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Terrorism | 7 Comments »

    The threat of radical Islam.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on January 11th, 2015 (All posts by )

    Some commentators talk about the threat of “terrorism” but it is coming from one source; radical Islam or “takfiri Islam” if you prefer.

    However, a growing number of splinter Wahhabist/Salafist groups, labeled by some scholars as Salafi-Takfiris, have split from the orthodox method of establishing takfir through the processes of the Sharia law, and have reserved the right to declare apostasy themselves against any Muslim in addition to non-Muslims.

    These people are the threat although the fact that most Muslims are unwilling to speak out against this group is worrisome. Today, the new Chairman of the Homeland Security said he expects more attacks like that in Paris last week.

    “I believe… larger scale, 9/11-style [attacks] are more difficult to pull off – a bigger cell we can detect, a small cell like this one, very difficult to detect, deter and disrupt which is really our goal. I think we’ll see more and more of these taking place, whether it be foreign fighters going to the warfare in return or whether it be someone getting on the internet as John Miller talked about, very sophisticated social media program then radicalizing over the internet,” McCaul said.

    Some of these are “lone wolf attacks” like the the 2002 LAX attack by a limousine driver from Irvine, near my home.

    The assailant was identified as Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, a 41-year-old Egyptian national who immigrated to the United States in 1992. Hadayet arrived in the United States from Egypt as a tourist.[citation needed]

    Hadayet had a green card which allowed him to work as a limousine driver. He was married, and had at least one child. At the time of the shooting, Hadayet was living in Irvine, California.

    A more devastating “personal jihad” attack was the Egyptair Flight 990 attack in 1999.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in France, History, Islam, Middle East, Politics, Terrorism | 23 Comments »

    History Weekend – The Iconoclast Brann

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on January 10th, 2015 (All posts by )

    If ever there were a 19th Century journalist more deeply wedded to the old mission statement of comforting (and avenging) the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable with energy and fierce enthusiasm, that person would have to be one William Cowper Brann. In the last decade of the 19th Century, he possessed a small but widely-read newspaper called the Iconoclast, a reservoir of spleen the size of Lake Michigan, and a vocabulary of erudite vituperation which would be the envy of many a political blogger today. Born in 1855, in Coles County, Illinois, he was the son of a Presbyterian minister. Upon losing his mother when barely out of diapers, he was placed with a foster family. At the age of thirteen, he ran away from the foster home and made his own way in the world, armored with a bare three years of formal education. He worked as a hotel bellboy, an apprentice house painter, and as a printer’s devil, from which he graduated into cub reporting. He and his family – for he did manage to marry – gravitated into Texas, settling first in Houston, followed by stints in Galveston and in Austin, working for local newspapers as reporter, editor and editorialist, and attempting to launch his own publication – the first iteration of the Iconoclast – terming it “a journal of personal protest.” For William Cowper Brann had opinions – sulfurous, vituperative and always entertaining, even for a day when public discourse not excluding journalism was conducted metaphorically with brass knuckles – and he despised cant, hypocrisy and what he termed ‘humbuggery’ with a passion burning white-hot and fierce.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Christianity, Civil Society, Diversions, History, Media, Religion | 10 Comments »

    Dear Microsoft, Google and Other Retail Software Developers…

    Posted by Jonathan on January 9th, 2015 (All posts by )

    [Update: These ideas apply to Web pages as well.]

    A few suggestions from a mere user:

    -Stop using script-based popup menus. Go back to old-style Microsoft-standard (c. 2003) clickable nested menus emanating from a static menu bar, with standard headings (FILE, EDIT, etc.) plus the unique headings needed for each piece of software. If you are using script menus as a workaround for complexity you should redesign your user interface. If you are using script menus for any other reason you should stop.

    -Knock it off with the icons. Use text buttons instead. The point of software it to economize on human effort, not to appear stylish. A trash-can icon is probably OK, but much more than that and users are forced to waste time mouse-hovering over your icons or (worse) looking things up in the online help.

    -Hire focus groups of 75-85 year-old occasional computer users and turn them loose on your products. They may not understand the fine points but they will tell you quickly if your products have any gross UI deficiencies that people like you who use software all day may be overlooking.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Customer Service, Deep Thoughts, Systems Analysis, Tech | 14 Comments »

    Department of Unintentional Irony

    Posted by Jonathan on January 9th, 2015 (All posts by )

    House Minority Whip: DC has undermined confidence for too many years:

    Congress has been undermining confidence among the private sector for too many years, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D.-Md.) said on Friday, referring to comments from former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers earlier on CNBC that confidence in and of itself is an economic booster.
     
    “For instance, [the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act] was allowed to expire. The good thing we did with over 415 votes was to approve it this week. Frankly, we could have done that six months ago, and we…

    Now he tells us!

    To which Party does Rep. Hoyer belong, and which Party has done more to undermine business confidence over the past decade by systematically increasing taxation and regulation as a matter of governing philosophy?

    Oh, and which Party is about to take control of Congress?

     

    Posted in Big Government, Economics & Finance, Political Philosophy, Politics, Quotations | 1 Comment »

    The Atrocity in France

    Posted by David Foster on January 8th, 2015 (All posts by )

    Yesterday, Claire Berlinski reported from Paris

    Obama, of course, “condemned” the attack. It’s important to remember, however, his administration’s response to earlier threats against the magazine Charlie Hebdo:

    In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.

    The quoted statement basically implies that people should use “judgment” to avoid saying or publishing anything that will offend Muslims. The video referred to is of course the one that the Obama administration blamed for the Benghazi attacks, going so far as to purchase newspaper ads to denounce the video. And Hillary Clinton, who was Obama’s secretary of state, told the father of one of the murdered Americans (Tyrone Woods) that “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.” Not “we’re going to destroy those terrorists,” but rather, they’re going to destroy a filmmaker. The Obama administration’s statements have acted not only to normalize that “thug’s veto” over all expressions of opinion, but even to put United States government power behind the thug’s veto.

    Time Magazine posted an article titled “5 Facts That Explain the Charlie Hebdo attack.” Can you guess what they were, and which one they left out? (Link) And numerous publications are censoring the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

    The staff of a humor magazine demonstrated far more courage than either Western governments or the bulk of Western media in standing up for Enlightenment values. I’m reminded once again of a passage in Sebastian Haffner’s memoir. Haffner was working in the Prussian Supreme Court, the Kammergericht, when the Nazi thugs came to the Court, demanded to know who was Jewish and who was not, and established totalitarian control over what had previously been an actual judicial process.

    As I left the Kammergericht it stood there, grey, cool and calm as ever, set back from the street in its distinguished setting. There was nothing to show that, as an institution, it had just collapsed.

    That evening, Haffner went with his girlfriend to a nightclub called the Katakombe. The master of ceremonies was a comic actor and satirical cabaret performer named Werner Fink:

    His act remained full of harmless amiability in a country where these qualities were on the liquidation list. This harmless amiability hid a kernel of real, indomitable courage. He dared to speak openly about the reality of the Nazis, and that in the middle of Germany. His patter contained references to concentration camps, the raids on people’s homes, the general fear and general lies. He spoke of these things with infinitely quiet mockery, melancholy, and sadness. Listening to him was extraordinarily comforting.

    In the morning, the Prussian Kammergericht, with its tradition of hundreds of years, had ignobly capitulated before the Nazis. In the same evening, a small troop of artistes, with no tradition to back them up, demonstrated the courage to speak forbidden thoughts. “The Kammergericht had fallen but the Katakombe stood upright.”

    CNN, MSNBC, Time Magazine, the White House, the Elysee Palace, 10 Downing Street may have all demonstrated a lack of resolution in the face of Islamist threats and violence, but at least Charlie Hebdo has stood upright.

     

    Posted in Civil Liberties, France, Germany, Islam, Obama, Terrorism | 40 Comments »

    Reprise Post from 2009 – See Here, Mohammed

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on January 7th, 2015 (All posts by )

    It appears that once again, Sgt. Mom has to bring out the Mallet of Loving Correction that she has shamelessly copied from John Scalzi, and explain the whole concept of ‘freedom of thought’ and its fraternal twin, ‘freedom of expression’ to the inhabitants of those (mostly but not always) quarters of the world usually known as ‘Islamic-run hellholes.’

    See here, we in the western world are known for a good many things – some of them good, some of them bad – but one of them is a sense of logic, and another is the freedom to speak our thoughts, suppositions and criticisms on any matter. Openly, freely, and through any medium available to us … without fear of prosecution by the forces of law and order. Unless, of course, we are inciting violence … umm, which to put it plainly, you guys seems to have a problem with. Actually, some of our own very dear Established and Housebroken Lapdog Media have a problem with that too, but that is an issue for another day.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Anglosphere, Civil Society, Diversions, Europe, Human Behavior, Internet, Islam | 18 Comments »

    No Submission

    Posted by Jonathan on January 7th, 2015 (All posts by )

    Muhammad

     

    Posted in Islam, Terrorism, War and Peace | 7 Comments »

    A Few Cautious Predictions About Our “Crisis Era”

    Posted by Jay Manifold on January 6th, 2015 (All posts by )

    The world weighs on my shoulders, but what am I to do?
    You sometimes drive me crazy, but I worry about you
    I know it makes no difference to what you’re going through
    But I see the tip of the iceberg, and I worry about you …

    – Neil Peart, Distant Early Warning

     

    But wouldn’t it be luxury to fight in a war some time where, when you were surrounded, you could surrender?

    – Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

     

    Reading through background material on the UN’s recent request for $16.4 billion in humanitarian aid in 2015, I find that the number of displaced people was already at its highest since World War II at the end of 2013, and has risen by several million since then. Nearly all are somewhere inside or on the perimeter of the Muslim world, with Ukraine the only sizeable exception. My sense, in which I am hardly alone, is that we are reliving the mid-1930s, with aggression unchecked and chaos unmitigated by morally exhausted Western institutions. That “low dishonest decade” ended in global war with a per capita death toll around 1 in 40. A proportional event a few years from now would kill 200 million people.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Americas, Anti-Americanism, Book Notes, China, Christianity, Current Events, Ebola, Elections, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, India, International Affairs, Islam, Latin America, Libertarianism, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Politics, Predictions, Society, Space, Systems Analysis, Terrorism, United Nations, USA, War and Peace | 31 Comments »

    Posted by Jonathan on January 6th, 2015 (All posts by )

    raise your IQ with Dew

    Visit Chicagoboyz for a 2-liter dose of stimulating ideas.

     

    Posted in Photos | 3 Comments »

    Some Key Technologies for 2015 and Beyond

    Posted by David Foster on January 5th, 2015 (All posts by )

    …as viewed by General Electric

     

    Posted in Business, Tech | 7 Comments »

    Today’s Israel-Bashers

    Posted by David Foster on January 4th, 2015 (All posts by )

    UAW Local 2865 (that’s UAW as in “United Auto Workers”) has voted to join the movement to boycott Israel.

    So, what kind of work do the members of UAW Local 2865 do, would you imagine? Do they work the line in an auto assembly plant? Are they involved in making components such as brake shoes or camshafts? Do they pack and ship spare parts in a distribution center?

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Academia, Israel, Leftism, Unions | 6 Comments »

    Islam needs a Reformation.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on January 4th, 2015 (All posts by )

    A speech by the new President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is a huge break with the usual rhetoric coming from public figures in Islam.

    The full speech is here, but the key phrases are:

    Among other things, Sisi said that the “corpus of [Islamic] texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years” are “antagonizing the entire world”; that it is not “possible that 1.6 billion people [reference to the world’s Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live”; and that Egypt (or the Islamic world in its entirety) “is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.”

    This is pretty strong stuff and might get him the fate of Anwar Sadat, at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. Making peace with Israel was a bridge too far for the Brotherhood.

    The Brotherhood’s stated goal is to instill the Qur’an and Sunnah as the “sole reference point for … ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community … and state.” The movement officially renounced political violence in 1949, after a period of considerable political tension which ended in the assassination of Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud an-Nukrashi Pasha by a young veterinary student who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    The renunciation obviously did not apply to Sadat who was assassinated in 1981.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Current Events, History, Iran, Islam, Middle East, Religion, Terrorism | 56 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on January 2nd, 2015 (All posts by )

    The conclusion of Progressives and Disorder, a WSJ editorial:

    The final two years of the Obama Presidency will thus be the most dangerous since the end of the Cold War as the world’s rogues calculate how far they can go before a successor enters the White House in 2017. A bipartisan coalition in Congress may be able to limit some of the damage, but the first step toward serious repair is understanding how Mr. Obama’s progressive foreign policy has contributed to the growing world disorder.

    Interesting times ahead.

     

    Posted in Leftism, Obama, Political Philosophy, Quotations, War and Peace | 20 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on January 2nd, 2015 (All posts by )

    A prehistoric village, found beneath the sea near Haifa

    A timelapse video of the Albuquerque balloon festival

    Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack assert that actually, the world is not falling apart: “Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times”

    Also, Richard Fernandez argues that the American can-do spirit continues to exist

    The allure of omnipotent explanations

    Is Washington the new Wall Street?

    Ideology and closed systems, at Grim’s Hall

    In France, criticism of Islam can get you prosecuted. Basically, we are seeing the return of laws against blasphemy–and not only in France–but with this difference: I don’t think ever before have governments forbidden criticism of a belief system that is not held by the majority of their citizens, or at least of their ruling classes

     

    Posted in Aviation, Europe, France, History, Islam, Leftism, Photos, USA, Video | 14 Comments »

    Happy New Year

    Posted by Lexington Green on December 31st, 2014 (All posts by )

    Anita Ekberg says Happy New Year

    Anita Ekberg joins me in wishing all of our contributors, readers, friends and families a healthy, happy, prosperous 2015.

     

    Posted in Holidays | 10 Comments »

    The Failure of State Sponsored Capitalism

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on December 31st, 2014 (All posts by )

    It is my assertion that over the last few decades since the fall of communism a lack of understanding of how markets actually work has become commonplace around the world. When it was capitalism vs. communism (or socialism, or even fascism), you generally knew where you stood. To wit:

    • Capitalism said that the free market would provide the best outcome for society, while communism / socialism felt that capitalism had to be tempered and / or that key assets should be owned by the state 
    • Capitalism said that government should be small, and stick to a few areas of logical focus such as security and foreign affairs, while socialism / communism celebrated government and government jobs as a way to employ the citizenry and achieve social goals

    Subtly, the growing attraction of jobs that were primarily in the government sector (environmental jobs, education jobs, health care jobs, and outright government work) and the basic thought that you could build a nice, steady career there with assured benefits and pensions while “doing right for the world” became commonplace. These jobs were often seen as “nicer” and “better” than the ruthless corporate jobs that are continually vilified or parodied on television (such as “The Office” or virtually any thriller set in business).

    On a parallel scale, the idea that “State Owned Enterprises” (SOE) could be a significant part of the world economy, and compete effectively with private sector companies, became widespread. Let’s leave aside the companies that fell into the US governments’ hands during 2008-9 like the banks and car companies; I am focusing on the world wide companies, often country “champions”, that are in our midst and whose performance has now been hit with the usual causes of failure of these sorts of entities, including:

    1. Politically motivated investment
    2. Forced government subsidies or protectionist behavior
    3. Corruption
    The “poster child” for this negative outcome is Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company, which is 64% owned by the state.  Petrobras was briefly the 4th most valuable company in the world after their 2010 IPO; now it is barely in the top 100.  Petrobras hits all these typical failure points with a vengeance.  The government forced them to purchase goods and services from inefficient Brazilian suppliers, subsidized their citizens with Petrobras funds, pushed them to invest in deep offshore finds which were risky relative to the company’s capabilities, and finally just engaged in simple corruption to fund their political party candidates.  All of these actions weakened the company and now a downturn in oil prices and a heavy debt load put the company in a seriously bad state.

    Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in Business, China, Crony Capitalism, Economics & Finance, Education | 20 Comments »

    Police Attitudes: Compare and Contrast

    Posted by Jonathan on December 31st, 2014 (All posts by )

      

    Gun owners fear Maryland cops target them for traffic stops

    vs.

    Nashville Police Chief Defends Decision Not to Crack Down on Police Brutality Protesters

     

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Law, Law Enforcement | 13 Comments »

    Movie Review: The Imitation Game

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

    I recently saw this film, which is based on the life and exploits of the mathematician, codebreaker, and computer science pioneer Alan Turing.  It is very well acted and definitely worth seeing; it’s good for more people to become familiar with Turing’s story and the accomplishments of the Bletchley Park codebreakers.  HOWEVER, the extremely negative portrayal of Commander Alastair Denniston, who ran BP, seems to have little basis in fact. Denniston was a real person, and his family is understandably upset at the way he was misrepresented in the film. Dramatic license is one thing, but if you want a villain, then make one up; don’t turn a real historical non-villainous individual into one.  There have been several articles in the UK press lately about the film and its portrayal of various individuals, especially Denniston:

    Bletchley Park Commander not the ‘baddy’ he is in The Imitation Game, family says

    Bletchley Park ‘villain’ was kind and dedicated, says ex-colleague

    The Imitation Game falsely paints Bletchley Park commander

    The film also could have done a better job at giving credit to the Polish mathematicians who pioneered machine methods of codebreaking, before WWII began.  Also, the film gives the impression that Turing’s friend Joan Clark was the only female codebreaker at Bletchley…this is not true, a very large number of women worked at BP, and some of them were in professional codebreaking roles.  One of these women was Mavis Lever; I excerpted some of her writing about BP at my 2007 post the Bombe runs again.  And it seems that the real Alan Turing, while he definitely came across as a bit of an odd duck, was more likeable than he is (at least initially) portrayed in the film; he has been called “a very easily approachable man” who did in fact have a sense of humor.  There’s a bit too much of “standard character type 21037–eccentric genius” in this version of Turing.

    The above critiques to the contrary, though, you should definitely see the film.  It does a good job of maintaining interest, even for those like myself who are already pretty familiar with the history The filmmakers could have avoided the above problems without harming the film’s impact as drama; indeed, I think there are accuracy-related changes that could have made the film more rather than less dramatic.

    This article compares several of the fictionalized Bletchley Park individuals with the real-life counterparts.  And this piece, by a woman who has spent a lot of time studying Turing and BP, is focused particularly on the character of Turing in real life versus in the film.  Probably makes most sense to see the movie first and then read these links for additional perspective. 

     

     

    Posted in Britain, Film, Germany, History, Society, Tech, War and Peace | 17 Comments »

    Can China Liberalize in Time? Keep Your Eyes on Shandong

    Posted by T. Greer on December 30th, 2014 (All posts by )

    This post was originally posted at The Scholars Stage on the 27th December, 2014. It has been re-posted here without alteration.

    Shandong is the red one. 


    Map by Uwe Dedering. Wikimedia.

    Things are looking up for President Xi Jinping. Arthur Groeber sums things up well in a challenge he recently gave China File readers: “Name one world leader with a better record.” [1] Mr. Groeber has a point. All those who predicted that the Hong Kong umbrella movement would prove an impossible crisis for President Xi have been proven wrong. The protestors are gone, but Xi is still around, signing energy deals with Russia, launching new international development banks, and even shaking Shinzo Abe’s hand. He has restructured the Chinese Communist Party’s most important policy bodies, and if the recently concluded 4th Plenum Communique is anything to judge by, more reforms are coming.  One domestic rival and crooked official after another has fallen to his anti-corruption campaign, which having felled 200,000 “tigers and flies” is now tearing into the once unassailable PLA. To top things off, sometime this summer Xi Jinping’s countrymen began calling him “Big Daddy Xi.”[2] The term is a compliment: President Xi is now the most popular leader on the planet.

    Aesop’s portrait of Xi Jinping

    “The Frogs Who Desired a King”
    Illustration by Milo Winter (1919). Wikimedia.

    For all of these reasons and more Xi Jinping is considered to be the most powerful leader China has seen since the days of Deng Xiaoping. Yet the real test of Xi Jinping’s power isn’t found on the foreign arena or in struggles to cleanse the party of graft.  Grand standing on the international stage and stoking up nationalist feeling is not hard for any leader–especially in China. The attempt to centralize the Communist  Party of China and purge the corrupt from its ranks is a much more impressive display, but in many ways this entire campaign is more a means than it is an end. What end? An obvious answer is that the good President pursues power for power’s sake, as leaders the world over are wont to do. But there is more to it than this. This man did not attain his high position through will-power alone. He was selected to accomplish a job that needs doing. And while the frogs may regret crowning the stork to be their king, it is worth our while to ask why the frogs desired a king in the first place. [3] In China’s case the answer is fairly simple: If Beijing does not want to see its own Japan-style “lost decade” then economic reform is needed, and it is needed urgently. Xi Jinping has been trusted with the power to reshape the Party because that is the kind of power that is needed to defeat the vested interests that stand in the way of economic liberalization.

    I won’t get into a full discussion of why reform is so urgent here–if you are curious I strongly recommend Michael Pettis‘ September essay, “What Does a ‘Good’ Chinese Adjustment Look Like?” which lays out the essential points in detail. More important for our discussion is the pace and scale that these reforms take. The 2013 Third Plenum was devoted to this question;  financial analysts have been abuzz ever since discussing how well the Plenum’s directives are being implemented. Of particular concern are the financial happenings at the county, city, and provincial levels. It was infrastructure spending by these governments that rode China through the recession, and that effort has left many of these governments over leveraged and left others liable for a host of non-performing loans. Reforming this system is necessary. It is also difficult, for it means slaughtering the favorite cash cows of powerful men and forcing China’s wealthy and connected to face the risk inherit in their poor investments instead of shifting losses to the state.


    Two views of China’s local debt, by province.

    Taken from Gabriel Wildau, “Half of Chinese Provinces deserve junk ratings, S&P warns,”
     Financial Times (20 November 2014)


     Any attempt to liberalize markets and end China’s financial repression must start here. By extension, any attempt to assess the power Xi Jinping has over the Party must also start here. We will know that Xi Jinping has the level of control over his country that everyone says he does when local government finances see substantive reforms. Read the rest of this entry »

     

    Posted in China, Economics & Finance | 8 Comments »

    The Dark of the Year

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on December 29th, 2014 (All posts by )

    The longest night, the shortest day, the turn of the year – and I think likely the oldest of our human celebrations, once our remotest ancestors began to pay attention to things. They would have noticed, and in the fullness of time, erected monumental stones to mark the progression of the sun, the moon, the stars, the seasons, the light and the dark and all of it. The farther north and south you go from the equator, the more marked are the seasonal differences in the length of day and night. Just north of the Arctic Circle in the year I spent at Sondrestrom Greenland, those mid-summer nights were a pale grey twilight – and the midwinter days a mere half-hour-long lessening of constant dark at about midday. It was an awesome experience, and exactly how awesome I only realized in retrospect. How my ancestors, in Europe, or even perhaps in the Middle East, would have looked to the longer days which would come after the turning of the year; the darkness lessening, sunlight and warmth returning for yet another season of growing things in the ground, and in the blessed trees, when the oxen and sheep, and other domesticated critters would bear offspring. And the great primitive cycle of the year would turn and turn again, with the birth of the Christ added into it in due time.
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    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Holidays, Human Behavior, Islam, Religion | 6 Comments »

    Black Lives Matter

    Posted by TM Lutas on December 29th, 2014 (All posts by )

    It should be a bipartisan truism that black lives matter both in word and in deed. Unfortunately neither party gets it right. The Democrat sin is to not act as if black lives matter. The Republican sin is not to speak as if black lives matter. All in all, I find the GOP error less disgusting and wrong but it is wrong.

    In 2013, 14,196 people were murdered or became victims of non-negligent manislaughter. Not all law enforcement forces collect racial statistics so out of the 12,253 murders with race of victim attached, 6,261 were black victims. This is the largest racial grouping of all. The US population is 13.2% black. 77.7% of the country is white.
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    Posted in Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Politics, USA | 26 Comments »

    Renting Vs. Buying

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on December 29th, 2014 (All posts by )

    In the 2007-9 real estate boom and debacle here in Chicago there was a wave of newly built condominiums that swamped the market in River North, River East, the South and West Loop, and even Downtown. For a while the new buildings could do no wrong and then that disappeared into a pool of foreclosures and difficult times for condominium associations as they had to deal with vacant units and those that refused or were unable to pay assessments.

    In the 2012-5 period, that same area of Chicago has seen an enormous influx in new buildings, but this time it is different – they all seem to be rental units. Everyone seemed to learn the same lesson; condominiums can be hard to unload in a down market and the prices are highly variable (units sold for fire-sale prices during the nadir and condominium developers lost their shirts if they were holding inventory during that time), so let’s go with renters instead, who derive consistent returns for the building owner and lender.

    For a bit I even thought I’d try to put my condo on the market since prices have gone up. I figured I’d just rent for a while and not be exposed to future downturns. But as I looked around for equivalent value to my current condo in terms of location, views, bedrooms and bathrooms, I noted that I’d be paying $4500+ / month for an equivalent space, if I could find it at all (inventory of larger condos in modern buildings in good walkable areas was in fact very low). That just seemed crazy.
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    Posted in Chicagoania, Real Estate | 10 Comments »