Worthwhile Reading

Cable news…past and future

The Golden Age of Substack.   Basically, a revitalization of long-form blogging.

Earth Day as a formal religious holiday?  (It strikes me that this fits right in with energy secretary Granholm’s call for electrification of all military vehicles by 2030.  This is so disconnected from any military or technical rationale that it can only be religiously motivated)

Absence of maternal warmth in childhood has some serious long-term implications.

The Golden age of Aerospace:

Aerospace is one of the deepest branches of humanity’s technological tree. It is a telling fact that more countries have produced a nuclear bomb than mass-produced a jet engine. Recent history illustrates how hard it is to build these capabilities. 

China is recruiting former air force pilots from the West.  And see this post about Jeffrey Katzenberg (Dreamworks), Joe Biden, and China.  More here.

Black Powder.  Still militarily important, though as an initiator for more-powerful explosives rather than as a primary explosive in its own right.  The US was dependent on one.single.factory to manufacture this substance.  It blew up.

Fiction as simulation:

Much like the way a differential equation can summarize the properties of a pendulum, fictional literature abstracts, summarizes, and compresses complex human relations by selecting only the most relevant elements. This abstracted level of comprehension also enables one to see how these principles apply elsewhere and how they may be generalized…Like mathematics, narrative clarifies understandings of certain generalizable principles that underlie an important aspect of human experience, namely intended human action.

16 thoughts on “Worthwhile Reading”

  1. Agree strongly on fiction as simulation, but with an enormous caveat.
    If you were going to write about the plight of some class of people in India, wouldn’t you be happy to settle on a representative individual of that group and tell her single story to stand for the whole? Of course. It just plain works. Similarly, if you were God and wanted to express to the world some understanding of yourself, wouldn’t you distill those down to individual stories – and add in the important factor of having some individuals actually live them out – moving in and out between stories of a tribe that stood for all tribes, and individuals that stood for all individuals? And when you came in the flesh, wouldn’t you you both enact and tell such stories in a super-distilled form as your teaching mechanism?

    It is the best method of teaching, yes.


    The fiction author can make the example do whatever he wants. He can lie from page 1-1000. NPR tells all its news from such anecdotal standpoints. “We asked Bah Sanh, who runs a bicycle repair shop in Bangkok, what he thinks about the new trade regulations…” If he doesn’t say what they want, they find a street vendor or restaurant hostess instead. It creates the illusion of many people.

    For the American novel/movie/drama: “Yes, the boy came back to her/abandoned her/murdered her/married her sister in the end, just as my philosophy of life suggests.” And “The resistance won the war/were all executed/became just as corrupt themselves/have been an inspiration unto the present day, just as I predicted.” The method is powerful but potentially dishonest.

  2. If I remember correctly, black powder factories have a long standing track record of blowing up. Who was the genius who thought we could save money by eliminating duplication?

  3. Frank….”If I remember correctly, black powder factories have a long standing track record of blowing up”….indeed. There’s a partly-restored DuPont powder mill on the banks of the Brandywine River, near Wilmington DE. The mills were designed with roofs that could blow off when there was a powder explosion, leaving the walls standing.

    The article said that the plant that recently blew up was a 5th-tier supplier and that DoD wouldn’t normally even be aware of a supplier that low in the supply chain.

    I wonder how many commercial companies know where their first-tier suppliers get their parts and materials, not to mention lower-level suppleirs.

  4. The aerospace article has a lot of good points but it suffers from a bad case of selection bias. There are the planes we remember developed in the ’50’s like the SR-71 and B-52, then there are the ones we don’t. A lot of those planes were unsuccessful, which usually meant they only killed one or two pilots. Then there’s the successful ones like the F-104. About 10% of them ended as large holes in the ground with a dismaying number of dead pilots. It was definitely a different time. Very few companies understand and fewer try to manage the amount of knowledge that walks in and out through the door every day and many, many are finding out just how much they lose as the boomers retire or die. Not that there’s anything they can do now. Don’t forget the gen Z’er that can text (illiterately) at a hundred words a minute and post a video to tiktok in his sleep can’t fix a toilet to save his life.

    This feeds into the sole source article. I expect the list of products that don’t have multiple similar bottlenecks is very short indeed. And those bottlenecks are going to get worse as people age out of the workforce. They were quick to say that no one there now, was there for the explosion. That means there’s likely no one there now that has ever made black powder and especially, no one there that has any experience with, undoubtedly, old, custom built, cranky and creaky machinery. They’re going to have a very long hot summer. By the way, I’d like the author to show me the black powder in an M16 cartridge, I’ve loaded a bunch and never seen any.

  5. the cable news article is worth reading. he argues that we can view CNN and Fox News as artifacts of a process of convergent evolution, where the ability to deliver news was greater than the amount of news to deliver and how they adapted and are now failing to adapt. their situation reminds me of Kodak and Digital Equipment Corporation, who couldn’t adapt to the new sources and consumers of their core products (image capture and computing).

    also, about the DuPont powder mills (N.B., mills) as David Foster says they were designed also to vent the explosion across the river, not towards its neighboring mill. those buildings were stone to the back and sides, the front facing the river was (presumably) wooden.

  6. I followed the “Earth Day as a formal religious holiday?” link through Powerline to the original article from Time. At first I thought it might have been satire, with Safina and Greenberg going on about the “considerations involved in correctly planting a tree” I was wondering if that means that the use of a pick axe was a sacrilege. Or was it as the banal equivalent of “Oregon football is my religion.” However they then mentioned that newly-married couples should think about the burdens children make on the environment and I knew they were for real

    I think Michael Crichton’s 2003 speech at the Commonwealth Club (https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~kw/crichton.html) still holds up well regarding environmentalism as a religious, as opposed to a conservation, movement. In fact if you apply his sociological analysis about of the universal longing for religion to give meaning to one’s life and shape his sense of the world then he has anticipated the impact of the post-modern and Woke movements pretty well.

    I will take it a step further and state the obvious that the 20th Century is replete with examples of religious movements masquerading as political ones; Nazism, Communism in its very forms all sought to eliminate religion in the name of “Science” but in fact were simply religious movements with their own dogmas and heresies. Science is a method, not an end, and a very ruthless one at that. However whatever its perfections, Science is ultimately practiced by humans and subject to all their imperfections.

    Ask someone in 1930s Soviet Union what would happen if they pointed out the obvious flaws in a system that revered the science of Marxism-Leninism, the best they could hope for would be a one-way ticket on the Irkutsk Express. Solzhenitsyn understood that moment explicitly when he stated in the The Gulag Archipelago “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart.” You can point to the people over there, those MAGA-types, and laugh a their Gods and their ways but ask yourself given the broken nature of humans(proven time and again by history) how are you any better?

    To paraphrase Baudelarie, the Devil’s greatest trick was to convince us that in a better world, religion did not exist. It does exist and in fact Crichton states that it must always exist. The question is in what form and its impact.

    To be overly simplistic, the root of Western civilization is rooted in the Judaeo-Christian precept of Man as created in the image of God, given the “divine spark”, and given dominion over the Earth. Note dominion does not have to mean exploit as much as custody or “care of” and it is not incompatible with Christian dogma to practice conservation activities. However that is different than what seems to be driving much of the environmental movement these days which is a rejection of the special place of Man in favor of something more akin to pagan animism where we are placed not above nature in our relationship with God but as part of a larger cycle of life Lynn Townsend White points to Christianity as a prime driver for environmental destruction. In fact her effort to rewire the Christian special relationship to God to one of all living things can be seen as gutting Christianity and using it as a skin suit for paganism.

    There is a Christian basis for conservation as being custodial for all of God’s creation. However this environmentalism as religion isn’t about that, it’s about knocking Man off his preeminent perch and placing him on par with the rest of nature. You can see elements of this in our public debate both in explicit statements as well as the rather curious absences of proper planning (how renewable can sustain a modern civilization); we have in a sense already begun to operate in the advanced form of environmental/pagan religion.

    Yes history is replete with stories of the effects of religious crusades and the crushings of heresies, but even that bloody past has nothing on the 20th Century where the individual was reduced from someone created in the image of God to a mere cog in the wider scope of History. You can imagine what will happen when the ascendancy of environmental/pagan religion, a doctrine that places man on par with nature as well as a destroyer of it, is complete.

  7. @AVI,

    NPR did not used to be so bad. In fact, I vividly remember some examples where they went with the interview and interviewee they got, and it was fascinating unexpected journalism.

    I will never forget, back in (1998?), anyway the height of the Monica Lewinsky Bill Clinton scandal, NPR went to interview people about it. The totally neutral and non-partisan location they chose was … outside a Christian bookstore in Tennessee. I can only guess they were hoping for some crazed yokels out of “Mississippi Burning” to rant and reassure their liberal base that liberals are good and all other people are horrible.

    What they got, and what to their immense credit they broadcast, was rather different. It was an indelible bit of audio forever burned into my brain:

    [NOTE: This was in January and the audio was rather wind-blown, hence the local guy repeating the question each time….]
    REPORTER: [Female, white, generic broadcast voice] What do you think about the scandal in Washington?

    LOCAL: [White, male, ~35-40, solid TN acccent] What do I THAAIIIINK about it? Well, I don’t laaiiiike it … But, of course, God knows *I* cain’t go chunkin’ no rocks.

    REPORTER: What about Bill Clinton, President Clinton?

    LOCAL: Bill Clinton? Well, I wouldn’t vote for him. But I pray for him.

  8. AVI…indeed, fiction can be a very effective means for implicit propagation of propaganda. I think it is far more effective when the fiction is in the form of video…or even video games…than when it is produced in written form. See my post Metaphors, Interfaces, and Thought Processes:


    The Diplomad said in 2016:

    “In fact, I would say that the majority of what passes for “Progressive thought” is derived from the Hollywood version of history that they have running in an endless video loop in their heads”


  9. I actually think that the entire emphasis on stories is not that useful.

    It does hook you up with those who think in stories, but if everything is some kind of narrative about something or other, then it can be difficult to get to the centre of any problem you might be addressing.

    It is part of why so many countries have delusions about reality.

  10. as my three references above, story telling is a quintessential part of the human experience, that predates the written words, now narratives are something else, the late donald kagan described how thucydides was very much like the modern military memoir settling scores, (pericles comes out good, cleon and nicias, not so much,

    plutarch and tacitus were allied with the Roman senate, so their portraits of the emperors specially claudius might be biased in the byzantine era, procopius painted two distinct images of justinian and theodora, one hagiographic, one well almost demonic, some thirty years later,

    moving further down the line thomas morton, was the tudor propagandists who colored the depiction of the plantaganets, machiavelli painted borgias opponents with a grey pallet, something only recently discovered

  11. Most western people think in pictures/stories. So its attractive to have a narrative. I think more like orientals, who tend to think in the abstract. I discovered this by eating far too much acid.

    One of the reasons the Chinese are regarded as inscrutable. ;)

  12. I have read Anderson’s statement several times, the most mild reaction I have is: What the hell does he read in terms of fiction? The essence of good fiction is the distortion or obfuscation of reality, relationships, motives and intent. Every murder mystery can be “abstracted” to: “so and so did it.” Not going to make many royalties off that. Trying to abstract some sort of “scientific” truth through layers of authorial imagination, and intent is insane.

    As an example, take Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure”. The main characters range from eccentric to homicidally psychotic. I completely fail to see what is usable in terms of reasonably normal people. On the other hand, throughout the book, Hardy does a brilliant job portraying the changes to working class British society by the increase in mobility and opportunity with the advent and expansion of the railroads. Certainly better than spending any number of hours pouring over tables of statistics.

    I think the most important part of good fiction is to get the background right, you can then get away with just about anything as far as your characters.

  13. One other note on conservation vs. environmentalism as religion,,,

    I was on the East Coast on business and made a quick detour to DC during which I was drafted into chaperoning a bunch of kids at the National Zoo. I’m not much into zoos, I’m pretty sure the cheetahs and elephants I saw there aren’t much into zoos as well, and there was only a few piranhas. The panda was amusing but I suspect as it was only the front-man to distract us while the CCP hacked our cell phones.

    What struck me was the contrasting images of environmental outreach. Of course being a zoo, there were signs and displays in every nook and cranny pushing the conservation line, how habitats were being destroyed, and how the various species we saw were being pushed to extinction. The other image was over by the ape house in the form a mural of hundred of honeybees titled “The Good of the Hive.” https://www.thegoodofthehive.com/

    “Honey bees within the hive ‘think’ collectively. They are hard-wired to understand that their immune system is collective. Their health is based on the health of the hive, not the individual bee. A personal experience with a honey bee in 2008 sparked a paradigm shift for Matt. He realized that human and planetary health are collective, although we rarely act like it. COVID is a reminder that we are truly all connected more deeply than we realize. The global hive Matt is painting is a metaphor for the connectedness of all things. The bees are a symbol for humans, trees, animals, pollinators, water, soil and everything in between.”

    Okay it’s not some paper delivered at an dreary symposium on intsersctionality, it’s a mural at zoo. However that’s some prime real estate given over to a hive metaphor and our place in it. I mean when I think of the human individual created in the image of God and his connections to the other creations of the world, the first thing I think about is swarms of mindless bees. Yuck.

    Oh yeah… and the zoo had no actual bee hives just some murals. What a tease.

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