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    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 28th February 2021 (All posts by )

    Vitaliy Katsenelson writes worthwhile content for those interested in investing, art, classical music, and philosophical thoughts about life in general.  See his recent post about coveting and envy.

    Doggedness, canine and human.

    A piece about skateboarding and flying, with thoughts from St-Exupery.

    Speaking about flying, TxRed the Cat Rotator writes about some of her aerobatic experiences.

    Projecting (simulated) 3D images onto your plate.

    Doctors and state borders.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Aviation, Economics & Finance, Medicine, Music, Philosophy, Sports | 5 Comments »

    The Computer Age Turns 75

    Posted by David Foster on 21st February 2021 (All posts by )

    In February 1946, the first general purpose electronic computer…the ENIAC…was introduced to the public.  Nothing like ENIAC had been seen before, and the unveiling of the computer, a room-filling machine with lots of flashing lights and switches–made quite an impact.

    ENIAC (the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was created primarily to help with the trajectory-calculation problems for artillery shells and bombs, a problem that was requiring increasing numbers of people for manual computations.  John Mauchly, a physics professor attending a summer session at the University of Pennsylvania, and J Presper Eckert, a 24-year-old grad student, proposed the machine after observing the work of the women (including Mauchly’s wife Mary) who had been hired to assist the Army with these calculations. The proposal made its way to the Army’s liason with Penn,  and that officer, Lieutenant Herman Goldstine,  took up the project’s cause.  (Goldstine apparently heard about the proposal not via formal university channels but via a mutual friend, which is an interesting point in our present era of remote work.)  Electronics had not previously been used for digital computing, and a lot of authorities thought an electromechanical machine would be a better and safer bet.

    Despite the naysayers (including RCA, actually which refused to bid on the machine), ENIAC did work, and the payoff was in speed.  This was on display in the introductory demonstration, which was well-orchestrated from a PR standpoint.  Attendees could watch the numbers changing as the flight of a simulated shell proceeded from firing to impact, which took about 20 seconds…a little faster than the actual flight of the real, physical shell itself.  Inevitably, the ENIAC was dubbed a ‘giant brain’ in some of the media coverage…well, the “giant” part was certainly true, given the machine’s size and its 30-ton weight.

    In the photo below, Goldstine and Eckert are holding the hardware module required for one single digit of one number.

    The machine’s flexibility allowed it to be used for many applications beyond the trajectory work,  beginning with modeling the proposed design of the detonator for the hydrogen bomb.   Considerable simplification of the equations had to be done to fit within ENIAC’s capacity; nevertheless, Edward Teller believed the results showed that his proposed design would work. In an early example of a disagreement about the validity of model results, the Los Alamos mathematician Stan Ulam thought otherwise.  (It turned out that Ulam was right…a modified triggering approach had to be developed before working hydrogen bombs could be built.)  There were many other ENIAC applications, including the first experiments in computerized weather forecasting, which I’ll touch on later in this post.

    Programming ENIAC was quite different from modern programming.  There was no such thing as a programming language or instruction set.  Instead, pluggable cable connections, combined with switch settings, controlled the interaction among ENIAC’s 20 ‘accumulators’ (each of which could store a 10-digit number and perform addition & subtraction on that number) and its multiply and divide/square-root units.  With clever programming it was possible to make several of the units operate in parallel. The machine could perform conditional branching and looping…all-electronic, as opposed to earlier electromechanical machines in which a literal “loop” was established by glueing together the ends of a punched paper tape.   ENIAC also had several ‘function tables’, in which arrays of rotary switches were set to transform one quantity into another quantity in a specified way…in the trajectory application, the relationship between a shell’s velocity and its air drag.

    The original ‘programmers’…although the word was not then in use…were 6 women selected from among the group of human trajectory calculators. Jean Jennings Bartik mentioned in her autobiography that when she was interviewed for the job, the interviewer (Goldstine) asked her what she thought of electricity.  She said she’d taken physics and knew Ohm’s Law; Goldstine said he didn’t care about that; what he wanted to know was whether she was scared of it!  There were serious voltages behind the panels and running through the pluggable cables.

    “The ENIAC was a son of a bitch to program,” Jean Bartik later remarked.  Although the equations that needed to be solved were defined by physicists and mathematicians, the programmers had to figure out how to transform those equations into machine sequences of operations, switch settings, and cable connections.  In addition to the logical work, the programmers had also to physically do the cabling and switch-setting and to debug the inevitable problems…for the latter task, ENIAC conveniently had a hand-held remote control, which the programmer could use to operate the machine as she walked among its units.

    Notoriously, none of the programmers were introduced at the dinner event or were invited to the celebration dinner afterwards.  This was certainly due in large part to their being female, but part of it was probably also that programming was not then recognized as an actual professional field on a level with mathematics or electrical engineering; indeed, the activity didn’t even yet have a name.  (It is rather remarkable, though, that in an ENIAC retrospective in 1986…by which time the complexity and importance of programming were well understood…The New York Times referred only to “a crew of workers” setting dials and switches.)

    The original programming method for ENIAC put some constraints on the complexity of problems that it could be handled and also tied up the machine for hours or days while the cable-plugging and switch-setting for a new problem was done. The idea of stored programming had emerged (I’ll discuss later the question of who the originator was)…the idea was that a machine could be commanded by instructions stored in a memory just like data; no cable-swapping necessary. It was realized that ENIAC could be transformed into a stored-program machine  with the function tables…those arrays of rotary switches…used to store the instructions for a specific problem. The cabling had to be done only once, to set the machine up for interpreting  a particular vocabulary of instructions.  This change gave ENIAC a lot more program capacity and made it far easier to program; it did sacrifice some of the speed.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, History, Science, Tech, War and Peace | 20 Comments »

    Some Actual Data on the Texas Electrical Debacle

    Posted by David Foster on 18th February 2021 (All posts by )

    Here is the overall generation mix from February 11–17.  The upper light brown line is gas-fired generation.  The brown line starting at about 10,000 is coal.  Green is wind, the yellow is solar, as is apparent from the daily pattern, and the almost-straight line starting at about 5,000 is nuclear.

    Source is EIA…they have a lot of useful data, but you have to poke around a bit to find it.

    Posted in Current Events, Energy & Power Generation, Tech | 54 Comments »

    A Sadly Revealing Story

    Posted by David Foster on 13th February 2021 (All posts by )

    A Houston physician named Dr. Hasan Gokal had a limited quantity of the Moderna covid vaccine to distribute.  The vial had been opened, and the vaccine would expire in six hours. He could either find 10 qualified people to administer it to, or just throw it away.  He chose the former course, rounding up 10 people, some of whom were acquaintances and others strangers.

    For that, he was fired from his job and criminally prosecuted.

    Officials maintained that he had violated protocol and should have returned the remaining doses to the office or thrown them away. According to Dr Gokal,  one of the officials startled him by questioning the lack of “equity” among those he had vaccinated.

    So, if he had just thrown away this scarce and valuable vaccine, he would have been just fine.  Because he used his judgment and took action, he lost his job and was prosecuted…the judge threw the charge out for its ridiculousness, but the prosecutor, whose name is Kim Ogg, has vowed to present the matter to a grand jury.

    We seem to be moving to a point in America today where the less you do, the better off you are: don’t use your individual judgment, don’t take action without bureaucratic approvals, don’t conduct informal conversations and don’t tell jokes.

    I am reminded of the Spanish naval official (see my post here) who in 1797 wrote a plaintive essay on the topic: Why do we keep losing to the British, and what can we do about it?

    An Englishman enters a naval action with the firm conviction that his duty is to hurt his enemies and help his friends and allies without looking out for directions in the midst of the fight; and while he thus clears his mind of all subsidiary distractions, he rests in confidence on the certainty that his comrades, actuated by the same principles as himself, will be bound by the sacred and priceless principle of mutual support.

    Accordingly, both he and his fellows fix their minds on acting with zeal and judgement upon the spur of the moment, and with the certainty that they will not be deserted. Experience shows, on the contrary, that a Frenchman or a Spaniard, working under a system which leans to formality and strict order being maintained in battle, has no feeling for mutual support, and goes into battle with hesitation, preoccupied with the anxiety of seeing or hearing the commander-in-chief’s signals for such and such manoeures…

    Thus they can never make up their minds to seize any favourable opportunity that may present itself. They are fettered by the strict rule to keep station which is enforced upon then in both navies, and the usual result is that in one place ten of their ships may be firing on four, while in another four of their comrades may be receiving the fire of ten of the enemy. Worst of all they are denied the confidence inspired by mutual support, which is as surely maintained by the English as it is neglected by us, who will not learn from them.

    I think Don Grandallana would recognize many of the behavior patterns in America today as being the same kind of thing that were so destructive to his country’s chances in battle.

    Note that Dr Gokal was questioned about a lack of ‘equity’ in his distribution of the vaccines. “Are you suggesting that there were too many Indian names in that group?” he asked.  Exactly, he was told.

    Time available for the vaccine distribution was strictly limited; Dr Gokal probably contacted patients and other people he knew and many of them were Indian.  Was he supposed to get demographic data for his county and ensure that the people he contacted matched the average statistical profile?

    I am also reminded of something written by historian AJP Taylor about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, cited in my post here:

    The appointment of every school teacher, of every railway porter, of every hospital doctor, of every tax-collector, was a signal for national struggle. Besides, private industry looked to the state for aid from tariffs and subsidies; these, in every country, produce ‘log-rolling,’ and nationalism offered an added lever with which to shift the logs. German industries demanded state aid to preserve their privileged position; Czech industries demanded state aid to redress the inequalities of the past. The first generation of national rivals had been the products of universities and fought for appointment at the highest professional level: their disputes concerned only a few hundred state jobs. The generation which followed them was the result of universal elementary education and fought for the trivial state employment which existed in every village; hence the more popular national conflicts at the turn of the century.

    We are now at the point in America where every possible decision and situation, down to the time-critical administration of vaccines, must be looked at through ethnic lenses. We may be heading for the same kind of creaky and rather dysfunctional society as was Austria-Hungary…and it’s quite possible that the actual outcome will be something much darker.

    Lead and Gold cited Sir John Keegan on British impressions of American GI’s who arrived in that country during WWII:

    Americans did not defer; that was the first and strongest of the impressions they made. European travelers to the United States had made that observation even in the eighteenth century, and it was made wholesale by British observers of the GIs. In a society which worked by deference, there were many who were shocked by the upstandingness of the individual American soldier. Enlisted men did not know their place, and their officers seemed unconcerned by the free-and-easy ways of their men. Many of the British, who had been taught their place well, found they liked the Americans for their casualness and admired a system of discipline which worked by getting things done. American energy: that was the second impression. 

    In America today, we seem to have lost much of that spirit.  Can we get it back?

     

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Organizational Analysis, Society, USA | 50 Comments »

    “You Play with My World Like it’s Your Little Toy”

    Posted by David Foster on 7th February 2021 (All posts by )

    Watching a series of European bureaucrats…pompous, arrogant, and extremely unattractive European bureaucrats…asserting the need for a global ‘great reset’, I was reminded of the above line from Bob Dylan’s song.

    In America, too, of course, we have politicians and bureaucrats demanding a Great Reset.  And Dylan’s song, of course, was directed at armaments manufacturers, not at world-resetting politicians and their operatives. Nevertheless, I think the phrase captures well the arrogance of those who believe they have the knowledge, insight, and authority to reorganize the lives of everyone on the planet.  And in their view of things, there isn’t any ‘my world’ for the individual; there is no sphere of individual autonomy and agency which is not to be made available for their interference.  It’s all their world.

    In 1931, a book titled The Conscription of a People was published by Katherine, Duchess of Atholl.  It was “a blistering, well-documented indictment of the savage collectivization of life in the Soviet Union.”

    The title of the book provides a perfect description of the worldview of the Resetters.  The entire population is to be drafted into an army, assigned to whatever battles and tasks their rulers..far beyond their ability to influence..think most fitting.

     

    Posted in Europe, Music, Political Philosophy, Russia, USA | 16 Comments »

    Narrowing Horizons

    Posted by David Foster on 31st January 2021 (All posts by )

    William Shirer, on his experiences in Germany during the early Nazi era:

    I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for the truth, said they were.

    Even though Shirer had plenty of access to outside news and information sources, and was well aware of Nazi lies, he still found it difficult to escape psychologically from the effects of the stiflingly-constrained information environment.

    Many of us have wondered how intelligent people–some of whom we may know personally–can fall so completely under the spell of the Democrat worldview, as it exists in its present ‘woke’ state…a worldview which is replete with ‘the most outlandish assertions,’ to use Shirer’s phrase.  But consider: if one gets one’s news from CNN, MSNBC, and even the traditional networks, and from newspapers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times and their imitators…and one’s entertainment from mainstream movies and musical groups…and one works for a company, university, or ‘nonprofit’…then one is living within a highly uniform information and opinion environment. Yes, you might be exposed to the occasional dissident opinion on social media or directly from friends and acquaintances, but you will develop ‘antibodies’, inculcated by the approved sources, which lead you to dismiss such opinions as conspiracy theories, brainwashing by Trump, or something similar.

    It is, of course, much easier to find dissenting voices in 2021 America than it was in the time and place of which Shirer wrote.  (Shirer does say that ‘in those days, in the Thirties, a German listener could still tune his dial to a score of foreign radio stations’ without taking much risk…but most didn’t, evidently, or chose to disbelieve what they heard from outside sources.)

    The psychological drive to conform reinforces the controlled information environment and discourages explorations outside of it.  In my post Oxytocin and Conformity, I cited some research on how the ‘cuddling and belonging’ hormone oxytocin affects public and private conformity, and recalled one of the episodes of the TV series The World at War in which a German man spoke about the temptation to conform.  He had been strongly anti-Nazi, but admitted that he had felt a strong emotional pull to join the rallies and be a part of the the movement.  (He said it much more eloquently than the foregoing sentence would suggest)  I also cited a blog post whose author, after critiquing the craziness of the extreme “progressives,”  went on to say:

    I’m going to be very real with you for a moment, and take off my hat has a blogger, an author, and whatever else I may be, and just speak to you as a man.

    This could have been me.

    Does that surprise you? There was a time I skirted so close to falling under this spell, it would shock you. I felt the guilt, the social pressure, the desire for conformity. Despite the terrible weight such ideology carries on the mind, it is absurdly easy to fall into it. Every day we are assaulted by the agitprop. It is so easy to just say “yes, it’s all my fault, I will submit and obey.”

    It will bring momentary relief, because you will no longer have to fight a narrative that is bombarded upon you 24 hours a day. That mental effort is, itself, rather exhausting on the mind. But if you accept the chains, that is a far greater weight, one that will destroy you. The chains are seductive. They call, because of the enormous weight of social power behind them.

    The pressure is both great and subtle. Imagine a conversation about the weather, innocent enough on its own. A friend might say “wow, that global warming sure is kicking in today!” You’ve a few choices here. You can challenge him, but the immediate counter is likely to be something like “well, 99% of scientists agree, sooooo….” The implication, of course, is that you are stupid for disagreeing with 99% of scientists (whether or not there is any truth to that claim, either). You could remain silent because it’s easier. Or you could just give in, regardless of the truth of the matter, because it’s easiest. Meanwhile, if you counter your friend successfully, you may be down a friend by the end of the night.

    So whether or not a lot of folks believe this thing, soon consensus is reached, as much to peer pressure as anything else. Then it is, further, easier to agree on welfare, tax policy, affirmative action, black lives matter, social justice, etc… Each one has a superficial rhetorical argument which sounds nice, and which has enormous media programming and social pressure behind it.

    A thousand such chats happen every day, both in the real world, and the social media world. The sum total of which is designed to move you, via peer pressure and Weaponized Empathy, toward self-hatred, and intense personal guilt for things which you neither did, nor were capable of preventing.

    Soon a man might find himself agreeing with lunatic propositions that all Republicans are literal Nazis, and Donald Trump is worse than Hitler because… well, nobody really knows the reasons.

    Submission is always the easier short-term choice. Long-term, however, it just destroys a man’s soul.

    I am not asserting that the present-day Democrat belief system is identical to Naziism (although there are indeed some disturbing similarities as well as differences), or that the control of the information environment is as tight as what existed in mid-1930s Germany…but still, when you step back and look at all the ways in which a consistent worldview is being promulgated and views from outside that worldview are being suppressed, then the information horizons–especially for those people who don’t have a particularly strong need to think for themselves or willingness to challenge accepted beliefs–are narrowing at a pretty frightening rate.

     

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Science, Society, USA | 52 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading, Viewing, and Listening

    Posted by David Foster on 25th January 2021 (All posts by )

    Smiling Victorians…a photo essay

    A tour of the Atlanta Hartsfield air traffic control tower

    Speaking of ATC…a controller at Boston Center and a Delta pilot on her frequency discover that her grandfather was the man who hired him, back in 1981.

    The transistor:  a documentary from 1954.

    Tonight being Burns Night, here’s a song I like from Robert Burns...musical setting by Ludwig Beethoven, oddly enough.  Some 19th-century musical entrepreneurship was involved in the Burns-Beethoven connection. Lyrics, including modern-English translation, here.

    Think I’ll pass on the kilt and the haggis, though.

    Posted in Aviation, History, Music, Photos, Poetry, Tech, Transportation | 14 Comments »

    Comm Check

    Posted by David Foster on 20th January 2021 (All posts by )

    When the First World War broke out, a British cable ship set sail with orders to cut the German undersea cables.  Given the British control of the seas, the cables could not be repaired during the course of the war, and this led to a British dominance of communications with neutral countries–especially the United States.  While Germany was not totally cut off from the world–they had a powerful radio transmitter at Nauen–communication from the Allied Powers was more convenient and subject to British influence; war correspondents, for example, tended to file their reports from Britain.  In the opinion of many writers (here, for instance), this gave the Allied Powers a considerable advantage in propaganda.  (Also in message interception for purposes of espionage, of course)

    Availability of communications is of great importance in conflicts of all kinds. “Congress can make a general, but only communications can make him a commander,” is how the American general Omar Bradley put it.

    We have seen in recent how control of communications can influence political outcomes, with, for example, the playing down and outright banning of the Hunter Biden story perpetrated by both traditional and social media.  How many people would have voted differently had they been aware of this matter?  One survey suggests that the number would have been quite significant.

    And is it beyond the realm of the possible that certain ‘tech’ and infrastructure companies might go beyond the blocking of political communications with which they disagree and…actively or passively…block government operational communications that they don’t like?  See this post:

    The Department of Defense uses software created, delivered, and maintained by many of the same high-tech companies now engaged in shutting down online speech. If the titans of tech can pull the plug on public communications tools people have come to rely on, some observers fear, they might do the same to the Pentagon in response to a military action deemed unacceptable by San Franciscans.

    Something along those lines already happened with Project Maven, a major Pentagon initiative using Google algorithms to identify drone targets. The software was well under way when, in 2018, thousands of Google’s workers protested their company becoming a defense contractor. 

    Could companies, acting on their own opinions or in order to placate key groups of employees, really get away with refusing to supply urgently-needed capabilities to the government?  From the article:

    The Hudson Institute’s Clark says that if a tech giant withdrew access to services it had agreed to provide to the military, it would likely have to pay penalties for breach of contract. Such fines might make little difference to the bottom line of Big Tech. But the loss of cloud capabilities in the middle of a conflict could be disastrous for warfighters.

    During the Iraq War, the Swiss company Swatch refused to supply parts for the JDAM missile.  I don’t know whether litigation was filed by the DoD to recover damages. But the consequences of such refusals could well involve lives as well as money.

    (Gregory Sanders, a fellow at the Defense-Industrial Initiaves Group) says the Pentagon could always invoke the Defense Production Act “if a company pulled out of a service provision in a crisis environment in a non-orderly manner.” As the Congressional Research Service puts it, the act “allows the President to require persons (including businesses and corporations)” to “prioritize and accept government contracts for materials and services.”  But that isn’t a guaranteed strategy for success. “The quality of work you get when compelling an objecting vendor wouldn’t necessarily be the best, so DoD wouldn’t want to invoke those authorities needlessly.”  It’s well-known that ‘working to rule’ can greatly slow things down in activities of all kinds; much more so, surely, where creative thinking is a big part of the work to be done.

    H G Wells’ 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come posits the emergence of the Air Dictatorship: global rule established by a technocratic group that begins with the imposition of a monopoly over global trade networks and especially control over the air.  Benevolent, rule, of course, as Wells saw it.

    Are we in danger of de facto rule by a Communications Dictatorship, or at least a Communications Oligarchy?

     

    Posted in Aviation, Business, Civil Liberties, Tech, Transportation, USA | 27 Comments »

    Feudalism in America?

    Posted by David Foster on 13th January 2021 (All posts by )

    Veronika Kyrylenko believes that we may be headed for a new era of feudalism in this country. I don’t completely agree with her analysis, but it’s a thought-provoking piece.

    See also my 2018 post Coupling, which makes the point that the expansion of connectivity–geographically and otherwise–has downsides as well as upsides. The downsides may well lead individuals to seek security and protection, even at the cost of autonomy and freedom.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Society, USA | 35 Comments »

    Book Review: Year of Consent, by Kendell Foster Crossen

    Posted by David Foster on 5th January 2021 (All posts by )

    Year of Consent, by Kendell Foster Crossen

    —-

    This is a pulp SF novel from 1954, which has uncomfortable relevance to our present era.

    The story is set in the then-future year of 1990.  The United States is still nominally a democracy, but the real power lies with the social engineers…sophisticated advertising & PR men…who use psychological methods to persuade people that they really want what they are supposed to want.  (Prefiguring “nudging”)  The social engineers are aided in their tasks by a giant computer called Sociac (500,000 vacuum tubes! 860,000 relays!) and colloquially known as ‘Herbie.’  The political system now in place is called Democratic Rule by Consent.  While the US still has a President, he is a figurehead and the administration of the country is actually done by the General Manager of the United States….who himself serves at the pleasure of the social engineers.  The social engineers work in a department called ‘Communications’, which most people believe is limited to such benign tasks as keeping the telephones and the television stations in operation.  Actually, its main function is the carrying out of influence operations.

    One approach involves the publishing of novels which are fictional, but carry implicit social and/or political messages…via, for example, the beliefs and affiliations of the bad guys versus the good guys. Even the structure of novels is managed for messaging reasons: romance-story plots should not be boy gets girl…loses girl…gets girl back, but rather boy gets girl, loses girl, gets different girl who is really right for him.

    Some methods are more direct, although their real objectives are not stated.  One such objective is population control: If the fertility rate is running a little low, advertising is ramped up for a pill called Glamorenes, which are said to create the “rounded, glamorous figure of a TV star…remember–it’s Glamorenes for glamor.”  Actually, the real function of Glamorenes, which is top secret, is to increase a woman’s sex drive and expand the fertility window.  On the other hand, if the birth rate is running too high, the ad emphasis switches to Slimettes for women and Vigorone for men, both of which have a contraceptive effect.  The book’s protagonist, Gerald Leeds, is one of the few who is in on the secret, and when he hears a Glamorenes ad, he realizes that this is the real reason why his girlfriend, Nancy, has been acting especially affectionate lately.

    Few people, even at the highest levels of government, realize just how powerful the Communications Department really is.  “Even the biggest wheels only know part of it.  They think the Communications Administrative Department exists to help them–and not the other way around.”

    The computer known as Sociac (‘Herby’) accumulates vast amounts of data on individuals, including such things as shopping, dining, and vacation preferences. “Thus, when the administration wanted to make a new move, they knew exactly how to condition the people so that it would be backed. Or they knew exactly what sort of man to put up to win a popular election.” Telephone calls are tapped, but are rarely listened to directly by government agents; rather, they are fed directly to “a calculator” (perhaps a front-end to Herbie) and added to “the huge stock of intimate knowledge about the people.”

    Those individuals who resist the conditioning and are found to hold unapproved opinions–or find themselves to hold unapproved opinions–are said to have “communications blocks,” and good citizens will act on their own to request treatment for such blocks. The first level of treatment is the Psychotherapy Calculator, an interactive system which will help the patient change any objectionable opinions and behavior.  But in some cases, the PC determines that stronger methods are necessary, and in those cases, the patient is referred for a lobotomy.  The escorting of patients for mandatory psychotherapy and lobotomy procedures is done by a white-uniformed police force known as the Clinic Squad.

    Citizens are, of course, expected to report any instances of unapproved beliefs or actions.  When the protagonist’s girlfriend Nancy overhears one of her colleagues expressing sympathy for a man who is in serious trouble, she reports the girl immediately. (“For the moment I disliked Nancy,” says Gerald.  “Then I felt sorry for her.”)  Nancy herself is concerned that there may be something wrong with her, and has considered reporting herself for voluntary automated psychotherapy.  “If I did have (something wrong with her), I’d want to be purged of it quickly before it could make me do something awful like that poor Mr Shell”…Gerald notes that her hand was shaking as she lifted her glass to finish the drink.

    Gerald, the protagonist, works within the Communications Department…unknown to his superiors, he is a member of a resistance organization which aims to overthrow the existing system of government and to restore individual liberty. He must feign agreement when his immediate boss talks about how wonderful the system is and how misguided are those who oppose it:

    Never has there been more freedom anywhere than in America today.  We’ve done away with police and even prisons.  Crime has been almost wiped out since we recognized it as a social disease.  We’ve done away with poverty. There are fewer restrictions on people than ever before in the history of mankind.  For the first time they’re really free.

    Gerald reflects:

    Even if it hadn’t been dangerous, I wouldn’t have argued with him.  He believed what he was saying. His faith was the faith of a Torquemada backed by science.  There was no way to make him see that the social engineers had taken away only one freedom, but that it was the ultimate freedom–the right to choose.  Everything…was decided for them and then they were conditioned to want it.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Russia, Tech, USA | 16 Comments »

    New Year’s Eve, 2020/21

    Posted by David Foster on 31st December 2020 (All posts by )

    A thought from the late and very great Neptunus Lex:

    “I’ve often wished that you could split at each important choice in life. Go both ways, each time a fork in the road came up. Compare notes at the end, those of us that made it to the clearing at the end of the path. Tell it all over a tumbler of smokey, single malt.”

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Holidays | 36 Comments »

    4284 Characters

    Posted by David Foster on 29th December 2020 (All posts by )

    A description of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine and how it works.

    Source code for a vaccine?  Well, as Glenn Reynolds likes to say, this is the 21st century.

    Posted in Health Care, Medicine, Science, Tech | 23 Comments »

    Christmas 2020

    Posted by David Foster on 24th December 2020 (All posts by )

    Newgrange is an ancient structure in Ireland so constructed that the sun, at the exact time of the winter solstice, shines directly down a long corridor and illuminates the inner chamber. More about Newgrange here and here.

    Grim has an Arthurian passage about the Solstice.

    Don Sensing has thoughts astronomical, historical, and theological about the Star of Bethlehem.

    Vienna Boys Choir, from Maggie’s Farm

    Snowflakes and snow crystals, from Cal Tech. Lots of great photos

    In the bleak midwinter, from King’s College Cambridge

    The first radio broadcast of voice and music took place on Christmas Eve, 1906. (although there is debate about the historical veracity of this story)

    An air traffic control version of  The Night Before Christmas.

    O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, sung by Enya

    Gerard Manley Hopkins

    A Christmas-appropriate poem from Rudyard Kipling

    I was curious as to what the oldest Christmas carol might be:  this Billboard article suggests some possibilities.

    The story of electric Christmas tree lights

    Mona Charen, who is Jewish, wonders  what’s going on with the Christians?

    The 2017 Christmas season, in combination with the Churchill movie Darkest Hour, reminded me something written by the French author Georges Bernanos:  A Tale for Children.

    Here’s a passage I’ve always liked from Thomas Pynchon’s great novel Gravity’s Rainbow.  The setting: it is the grim winter of 1944, just before Christmas. The military situation in Europe is not good, and WWII seems as if it will never end. London is under attack by V-2 rockets and V-1 cruise missiles (as they would be called today.) Roger and Jessica, two of the main characters, are driving in a rural area in England and come upon a church where carols are being sung. They decide to go inside.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Christianity, History, Holidays, Miscellaneous, Music, Poetry | 5 Comments »

    Living in the Hate of the Common People

    Posted by David Foster on 9th December 2020 (All posts by )

    Someone at a social media site, who I will not dignify with a link, wrote:

    I think we need to find a way to stop the working class from voting altogether.

    This individual, who is in the UK and is obviously a furious anti-Brexiter, also wrote:

    Idiots and racists shouldn’t be able to ruin the lives of people who do well in life by voting for things they don’t understand. The problem in this country boils down to low information morons having the ability to vote.

    The above attitude reminds me of something written by that great historian and social analyst Harry Flashman, describing how people of his aristocratic class viewed the workers of the Chartist movement, circa 1848:

    You have no notion, today, how high feeling ran; the mill-folk were the enemy then, as though they were Frenchmen or Afghans.

    There are people in the US who have similar views of politics, only with reference to Trump voters rather than to Brexit.  Many Democrats, and especially ‘progressives’, assume and assert that Trump voters are ignorant people who are failing economically.  It is difficult for them to credit that there are quite a few Trump voters who are educated and thoughtful, and who in some cases are quite successful in career/economics terms…if such people exist, it is assumed that they must either be an insignificant minority or devious malefactors who are manipulating the ignorant masses in their own self-interest.

    An example of this attitude appeared on MSNBC back in August, with anchor Chris Hayes and Washington Post writer Dave Weigel avidly agreeing with one another about the characteristics of Trump supporters (of whom they don’t approve)…men without a college degree who have enough income to buy a boat (Hayes qualifies it as *white* men).  Personally, I tend to *admire* people who have managed to do ok or very well for themselves without the benefit of a college credential. (And anyone believing that a college degree necessarily implies that an individual has acquired a broad base of knowledge and thinking skills hasn’t been paying very good attention of late.)

    The snobbery we are seeing today is partly income-based. it is partly based on a faux-aristocratic contempt for people who work with their hands, and it is…more than any other single factor, I think…credential-based.

    Indeed, education-based credentials seem increasingly to fill the social role once filled by family connections.  In his outstanding autobiography, Tom Watson Jr of IBM mentions that in his youth he was interested in a local girl, but her mother forbade her to have anything to do with him because he didn’t come from an Old Family…the fact that his father was the founder of IBM, already a successful and prominent company, evidently wasn’t a substitute.  Such ‘really, not our sort’ thinking would today be more likely based on the college one attended than based on family lineage.

    Those expressing such attitudes exist in the Democratic Party in parallel with those who talk about their great concern for Working People. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, talked just recently about how physically tiring her work as a bartendress had been…and I don’t doubt that this was so…and asserted that Republicans don’t tend to have any experience doing such jobs.  Yet this same AOC posted a picture of her staring angrily at Joe Manchin–who one might think she would have considered as a possible ally on behalf of Working People–because he dared to question any Defund the Police policy.  And this same AOC helped ensure that Amazon, with the jobs it would have brought for those Working People, was not made welcome in her district.

    It appears that a lot of those to whom the we-care-about-working-people message is targeted aren’t believing it.

    (I’m not fond of the term ‘working class’, btw, it implies a fixed social structure and lack of mobility which is alien to American ideas.  The fact that Class terminology has become so common is a worrisome indicator.)

    Discuss, if so inclined.

     

    (classic song reference in the title)

     

    Posted in Academia, Britain, Education, Europe, Leftism, Society, Trump, USA | 134 Comments »

    If the Battle of Waterloo was Won on the Playing Fields of Eton…

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd December 2020 (All posts by )

    ….as the Duke of Wellington has been quoted as saying, then what battles are being won and lost at Eton College today?

    See also:

    A petition from some of the boys at Eton in defense of their teacher.

    The video itself, which I have not yet watched.

    Posted in Britain, Education, Feminism, History, Quotations | 28 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading and Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 26th November 2020 (All posts by )

    It’s been a while since I posted a link collection, so here are quite a few…

    The highest-resolution snowflake photos ever captured.  

    The real kind of snowflakes, not the metaphorical kind.

    Stella’s best leaf jumps of all time.

    A lot of enthusiasm

    Spot, the Robot Dog, goes to work on an oil rig.

    Bet Spot can’t do what Stella can do.

    The recent discussion of port congestion reminded me of this very interesting website, which shows the world’s maritime traffic in real time or very close to same.

    And on a more somber note:  November 10 marked the 45th anniversary of the Great Lakes ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald, an event memorialized in song by Gordon Lightfoot.

    Still on the subject of transportation: the implementation of Positive Traffic Control for US railroads, which has been a huge and complex project, is almost complete.

    I’m not sure that this mandate really represented the best possible safety-return-on-investment for the money expended.

    Turkish trash collectors built a library for abandoned books.

    Visiting cards and actual visits, as a Facebook equivalent in 1800s Russia.

    Reminds me of a passage in one of Fielding’s novels, in which a woman takes great pleasure in going through the visiting cards of people who called on her, which made me immediately think of like-collecting of Facebook.

     

     

     

     

    Posted in Dogs, Human Behavior, Photos, Russia, Tech, Transportation | 3 Comments »

    Advanced Degrees and Deep Resentments

    Posted by David Foster on 24th November 2020 (All posts by )

    The Assistant Village Idiot links an Economist article and summarizes:

    People with advanced degrees who are not prospering are often deeply resentful, certain that something must be wrong with “The System”*. I have worked with them for years, MSWs who believe that in a just world they would be entitled to the salaries that other people with their number of years of education get.  Other measurements, such as relative value to society, difficulty of the task, level of risk, and the like do not factor in…That they may have been lied to by the educational establishment or their upper-middle-class expectations (“For a good job, get a good education”), that they may have made poor economic decisions due to Following Their Dreams™, or that they may have chosen one of the easiest of Master’s degrees to pursue does not occur to them. It is largely political, cultural, and attitude training.  

    I don’t like the title of the Economist piece…”Can too many brainy people be a dangerous thing?”…which confuses intelligence with credentialism, but I think the point about highly-degreed and resentful people is spot-on.  I was reminded of a comment by Francis Bacon, who wrote 400 years ago that that one cause of mutiny and sedition in any polity is breeding more scholars than preferment can take off.

    And 50 years ago, Peter Drucker noted that:

    Individually he (the knowledge worker) is an “employee”…but the knowledge worker sees himself as just another “professional,” no different from the lawyer, the teacher, the preacher, the doctor, the government servant of yesterday.  He has the same education. He has more income. He has probably greater opportunities as well…This hidden conflict between the knowledge worker’s view of himself as a “professional” and the social reality in which he is the upgraded and well-paid successor to the skilled worker of yesterday underlies the disenchantment of so many highly educated young people with the jobs available to them.

    Drucker was talking about people who are frustrated by their lack of status even though they are well-paid, as with the Silicon Valley protestor who complained that ‘tech workers are workers, no matter how much money they make.’  As I said in my post TechnoProletarians, as any field becomes a mass employer, it is likely that a substantial number of the people working in that field will feel that they are not getting the high status and rewards that they should have.  And the frustrations about which Drucker writes are surely greatly exacerbated when large numbers of people in a field are concentrated in the same geographical area.

    And these frustrations are become extreme when the ‘knowledge workers’ in question are not highly paid…PhD-holders working as low-paid adjunct professors with no real hope of promotion, for example, or increasingly, tech workers facing downward salary pressures from H1B visa holders and the offshoring of programming work.

    The media and authority figures that these individuals were exposed to them in their formative years were almost unanimous in the view that get a good college credential and everything else will pretty much take care of itself.  Consider this poster:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Education, Human Behavior, Leftism | 32 Comments »

    Learning from Experience, Not

    Posted by David Foster on 21st November 2020 (All posts by )

    A high-school friend had a father who worked in a factory.  He had a story…it seems there was this guy who got his left arm caught in one of the machines and horribly mangled.  He was out for months, and when he came back, the other workers crowded around him, asking “How did it happen?”

    “Like this,” he said, demonstrating with the other arm.

    Maybe just a made-up story…but I’m reminded of it a lot, these days.

    We have a century of evidence of what happens to a society when it falls into the traps of centralized economic planning, suppression of free speech, and the categorization of people–especially ethnic categorization.  But an awful lot of people, including powerful and influential people, seem to want to go in these directions.

    I can have some sympathy for people who became Communists and/or advocates of world government back in the 1920s.  The theory of centralized economic planning is very seductive (see this, for the actual practice), and the slaughter of the First World War led people to grasp at any possible way of avoiding such horrors in the future.

    I have a lot less sympathy for people who have refused to learn from a century of experience.

    In Walter Miller’s great novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, a global nuclear was has devastated everything.  Over a period of centuries, civilization has been gradually rebuilt…and, once again, nuclear war threatens.  The abbot of a monastery speaks plaintively:

    …“Brothers, let us not assume that there is going to be war…We all know what could happen, if there’s war.  The genetic festering is still with us from the last time Man tried to eradicate himself.  Back then, in the Saint Leibowitz’ time, maybe they didn’t know what would happen.  Or perhaps they did know, but could not quite believe it until they tried it—like a child who knows what a loaded pistol is supposed to do but who never pulled a trigger before.  They had not yet seen a billion corpses.  They had not seen the still-born, the monstrous, the dehumanized, the blind.  They had not yet seen the madness and the murder and the blotting out of reason.  Then they did it, and then they saw it.”

    “Now—now the princes, the presidents, the praesidiums, not they know—with dead certainty.  They can know it by the children they beget and send to asylums for the deformed.  They know it, and they’ve kept the peace.  Not Christ’s peace, certainly, but peace, until lately—with only two warlike incidents in as many centuries.  Now they have the bitter certainty.  My sons, they cannot do it again.  Only a race of madmen could do it again—”

    And we today, know, with what should be dead certainty, where Communist and Fascist approaches to the organization of society lead.  We have seen the hundreds of million corpses, the suppression of spirit, the needless impoverishment.  Surely, only a race of madmen could do it again…

    Posted in Book Notes, Current Events, Human Behavior, Leftism | 37 Comments »

    Hope and Fear

    Posted by David Foster on 15th November 2020 (All posts by )

    I saw a bumper sticker yesterday that said “Liberals vote with their hope, conservatives vote with their fear.”  Of course the same car was also decorated with a Biden-Harris sticker.

    I think that the sentiment on the hope/fear bumper sticker was, if not 180 degree wrong, at least 170 degrees wrong.

    Take K-12 education, for example:  Conservatives see hope in a more open system with more options and more competition, providing not only hope for those kids attending the new alternative schools, but also hope for the public schools via the improvement sparked by competition.  Liberals and ‘progressives’, in the current meaning of those terms, seem happy to maintain the current institutional structure, which no serious person can believe will yield meaningful improvement regardless of how many dollars are dumped into it.  Their fear of changing the institutional arrangements that exist dominates any hope for possible improvement.

    Take manufacturing.  Conservatives, or at least the Trump flavor of same, see hope for reinvigoration and growth.  Liberals, generally speaking, do not.  More generally, ‘progressives’ tend to see the entire American economy–and America’s position in the world–in terms of managing the decline.

    Or take free speech.  As repeatedly documented here and elsewhere, there is growing hostility to free speech on the left.  And anti-free-speech views tend to be strongly associated with generalized fear.

    Peter Drucker (I think it was) wrote that before World War I, socialism was largely about hope, afterwards, it was about envy. He was talking about European socialism. In America, I think that the relative amount of hope in the overall “progressive” mix is a lot lower than it was in the FDR era or the JFK era.

    Regarding fear, I’ll note that it is a lot easier to disclaim certain kinds of fear–such as the fear of crime–when living certain neighborhoods (like the high-income area where I saw the bumper sticker) than in others.  Similarly for many other kinds of fear.

     

     

    Posted in Civil Liberties, History, Leftism, Society, USA | 15 Comments »

    Networks Calling Elections: How it Began

    Posted by David Foster on 11th November 2020 (All posts by )

    Surely the most famous case of morning-after newspaper reporting of an election was the Chicago Tribune’s Dewey Defeats Truman headline of November 3, 1948.  But the era of television was just beginning, and the tradition of televised and near-real-time election calls began with a corporate PR stunt.

    In 1952, the Eckert-Mauchly computer corporation, which had recently been acquired by Remington Rand, suggested to CBS News that their Univac computer might be used for election-night projections. Univac, the first computer to be ‘mass-produced’ (46 were eventually sold and installed) was already becoming famous.  It was an awesome machine, weighing 8 tons and incorporating 5000 vacuum tubes.  Its internal memory capacity was a then-impressive 1000 words, or about 12 KB.  Price was about $1 million, in 1952 money.

    Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson was considered the favorite to win, although the election was expected to be close.  But at 8:30 PM, with only 5% of the votes counted, Univac issued its initial prediction:  100-to-1 odds for Eisenhower, with 438 electoral votes to Stevenson’s 93.  The CBS news director thought the prediction was ridiculous, and it was not aired.

    Meanwhile, Eckert-Mauchly’s statistician (Max Woodbury) was entering data to reflect new returns as they came in….he may have also tuned the algorithm to give less-extreme results, though this is not clear.  At 9PM, Univac issued another prediction:  8-7 odds for Eisenhower…and this prediction was announced.

    But then, Woodbury  discovered that he had added an extra zero to the Stevenson numbers for New York state.  After this entry was corrected, the machine gave the same answer as before: 100-to-1 odds for Eisenhower, with 438 electoral votes to Stevenson’s 93.  I can’t determine whether or not this revised forecast was televised or not, but the final result was an Eisenhower victory, 442-89 electoral votes.

    Late at night, CBS correspondent Charles Collingwood made an embarrassing confession to millions of viewers: Univac had made an accurate prediction hours before, but CBS hadn’t aired it.

    This election-night affair certainly helped solidify the idea that Univac was the name in computers…a nice PR win, though it didn’t seem to help the company very much in the end…and made computers and algorithmic predictions a regular feature of election-night reporting.  Today, of course, such predictions are a commonplace from media of all types.  And some of these media organizations seem to have developed a rather…exalted…opinion of their role.  In a tweet sent out on election day, 2020…and soon withdrawn..the New York Times asserted that:

    The role of declaring the winner of a presidential election in the US falls to the news media.

    Such ‘declarations’, of course, have no legal standing: they are merely estimates, as much as the varying 1952 CBS estimates were, and the NYT’s tweet was an assertion of arrogance and privilege, surprising only in that it was so out in the open.

    Some links:

    https://www.vice.com/en/article/78x79z/the-election-night-debut-of-commercial-computing-almost-wasnt

    https://www.wired.com/2010/11/1104cbs-tv-univac-election/

    http://ds-wordpress.haverford.edu/bitbybit/bit-by-bit-contents/chapter-five/5-10-univac-part-ii-commercialization/

    Posted in Elections, Holidays, Media, Tech | 14 Comments »

    The Multi-Front Attack on Free Speech (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 10th November 2020 (All posts by )

    (I don’t usually rerun posts that are less than a year old, but in this case…)

    Free speech…free expression generally…is under attack in America and throughout the Western world to a degree not seen in a long time. I think there are some specific phenomena and (partially-overlapping) categories of people which are largely driving this attack–I’ve written about this subject previously, here, but the situation has gotten even more serious since that post, and some of the important factors were underemphasized.  Here are the current fronts, as I see it, in the war (not too strong a word, I’m afraid) on free speech.

    The Thugs. As I pointed out in my post The United States of Weimar?, illegal actions against political opponents, ranging from theft of newspapers to direct assault and battery, have in recent decades become increasingly common on university campuses, and now are well on track to being normalized as aspects of American politics. Incidents of political thuggery are reported almost daily: just the other day, pro-Trump women at an upscale DC hotel were verbally attacked and apparently physically assaulted by members of a wedding party that was heavy on Democrat attendees; including, reportedly, some top officials from the DNC. A pro-free-speech film was reportedly interrupted by two men wearing masks. Interruption of movies they didn’t like was a tactic used by the Nazis prior to their obtaining official censorship powers. The film “All Quiet on the Western Front” was plagued by Nazi disruptions when released in Germany in 1930. And attempts to shut down dissident speakers on college campuses, such as this, have become so common as to now be almost the default expectation.

    The Assassins. These individuals go beyond the level of violence practiced by the Thugs, and make credible death threats they attempt to carry out against those whose actions or believe they view as unacceptable. The majority of threats and attacks falling in this category have certainly been the doing of radical Muslims; however, some of the more extreme ‘environmentalist’ and ‘animal rights’ groups have also demonstrated Assassin tendencies. At present, however, it is those Assassins who are radical Muslims who have been most successful in inhibiting free expression. Four years in hiding for an American cartoonist. But see also Ecofascism: The Climate Debate Turns Violent, how long until this justification and practice of violence reaches the level of justifying and carrying out actual murders?

    The Enclosure of the Speech Commons. Whereas the Internet and especially the blogosphere offered the prospect of political expression and discussion unfiltered by the traditional media, the primary social-media providers have taken various levels of controlling attitudes toward free speech; Twitter, in my opinion, is especially bad. Partly this is ideological; partly, it probably reflects their ideas about protecting their brands. Yes, there are plenty of ways to communicate online outside of the social media platforms, but their growth has been so rapid that a large proportion of the potential audience is not easily reached outside their domains. Note also that conversations that one would have been private friends talking at home, or over the telephone are now semi-public and sometimes made fully public. Plus, they become part of an individual’s Permanent Record, to use the phrase with which school officials once threatened students.

    The Online Mobs. The concerns of the social media providers about providing online “safe spaces” does not seem to have in the least inhibited the formation of online mobs which can quickly make life unpleasant for their targeted individuals, and even destroy the careers of those individuals. Decades ago, Marshall McLuhan referred to the technology-enabled Global Village; unfortunately, it turns out that this virtual village, especially as mediated through the social media platforms, has some of the most toxic characteristics of the real, traditional village. See my post Freedom, the Village, and the Internet.

    And the mobs do not limit themselves to attacks on the target individual: they frequently attack other individuals who fail to participate in the shunning of that target person. As an example:

    A few weeks ago, shortly after I left my magazine gig, I had breakfast with a well-known Toronto man of letters. He told me his week had been rough, in part because it had been discovered that he was still connected on social media with a colleague who’d fallen into disfavour with Stupid Twitter-Land. “You know that we all can see that you are still friends with him,” read one of the emails my friend had received. “So. What are you going to do about that?”

    “So I folded,” he told me with a sad, defeated air. “I know I’m supposed to stick to my principles. That’s what we tell ourselves. Free association and all that. It’s part of the romance of our profession. But I can’t afford to actually do that. These people control who gets jobs. I’m broke. So now I just go numb and say whatever they need me to say.”

    Increasingly, it’s not just a matter of limiting what a person can say, it’s also a matter of edicting what they must say.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Education, Environment, Feminism, Media, Society, Tech, Terrorism, USA | 22 Comments »

    “Learn to Code”…Still a Dem Thing

    Posted by David Foster on 8th November 2020 (All posts by )

    In early 2020, Joe Biden advised coal miners facing unemployment to learn to code, saying:

    Anybody who can go down 3,000 feet in a mine can sure as hell learn to program as well… Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for God’s sake!

    I critiqued this ridiculousness in my post Shovel That Code.  (Does Biden think that coal miners stoke furnaces?…That stoking furnaces is a big factor in today’s job market?)

    Comes now Obama associate Rahm Emmanuel, with precisely the same advice to unemployed retail workers.

    There’s going to be people, like at J.C. Penney and other retail [outlets]. Those jobs are not coming back.  Give them the tools, six months, you’re going to become a computer coder. We’ll pay for it, and you’ll get millions of people to sign up for that.

    There is not an infinite demand in the US for entry-level programmers.  Much offshoring of programming work is taking place…see my post about telemigration…and automation of programming work, which has been happening since the introduction of assemblers and compilers in the mid-1950s, is ongoing.

    In my post about Biden’s learn to code comment, I said:

    Can you imagine what these people would do to the economy if they ever achieved the degree of power that they so avidly seek?

    We may find out, although hopefully the Senate will provide some degree of sanity check.

     

     

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Tech | 38 Comments »

    American Weimar or American Habsburg?

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd November 2020 (All posts by )

    Aaron Sibarium has an interesting article on the Weimarization of America thru the normalization of political violence and intimidation…it is a trend I’ve raised concerns about in the past, for example, here:  The United States of Weimar?  An article by Dominic Green, though, argues that Weimar is less of a threatening precedent for American today than is the Habsburg monarchy of Austria-Hungary:

    The Habsburg monarchy was riven with ethnic division, but:

    Where the Hapsburgs had nationalism, we have ‘identity’. Like the Hapsburgs, we have racialized nationalism within an imperial framework. The result is what English-speakers call ‘Balkanization’. You need only look at the history of the Balkans in the half-century before 1914 to see where our current path leads.

    I was reminded of a quote from historian AJP Taylor:

    The appointment of every school teacher, of every railway porter, of every hospital doctor, of every tax-collector, was a signal for national struggle. Besides, private industry looked to the state for aid from tariffs and subsidies; these, in every country, produce ‘log-rolling,’ and nationalism offered an added lever with which to shift the logs. German industries demanded state aid to preserve their privileged position; Czech industries demanded state aid to redress the inequalities of the past. The first generation of national rivals had been the products of universities and fought for appointment at the highest professional level: their disputes concerned only a few hundred state jobs. The generation which followed them was the result of universal elementary education and fought for the trivial state employment which existed in every village; hence the more popular national conflicts at the turn of the century.

    Taylor also noted that the ethnic conflicts were exacerbated by the government dominance of economic life. “There were no private schools or hospitals, no independent universities; and the state, in its infinite paternalism, performed a variety of services from veterinary surgery to the inspecting of buildings.” The present-day US doesn’t have that level of government dominance, certainly, but the degree to which many nominally-private activities are now government-funded (universities, healthcare)–combined with the extreme politicization of everything from coffee to football–is helping to drive those same behaviors of intergroup squabbling.

    Also from Dominic Green:

    Above all, the typical affluent young American, the sort who in a more stable time might have thrown in his or her lot with the bureaucracy or a management job in the Mittelstand, the corporate heart of the economy, now resembles no literary figure so much as Ulrich, the protagonist of Robert Musil’s 1913 novel The Man Without Qualities.

    Ulrich is a forerunner of our college-educated millennials: morally enfeebled, sexually frustrated, professionally stunted. He has acquired enough sophistication to see through the forms of politics and social life — ‘critical thinking’, as the imposters of our schools call it — but not enough conviction to act in a way that might improve his life by bringing him into authentic contact with ‘reality’, which he knows is somewhere out there but cannot touch.

    I’m reminded of some comments by the deposed German Kaiser and by the writer Goethe, 94 years apart…not sure how directly relevant these points were to the Austria-Hungary of the time, but they are relevant to America today:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Education, Europe, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Leftism, Society, USA | 16 Comments »

    Is Free Speech Too Exhausting?

    Posted by David Foster on 25th October 2020 (All posts by )

    A group of Duke Law students, demanding the disinvitation of visiting speaker, used the phrase ‘we are tired.’  Jonathan Turley remarks:

    Those three words sum up a great deal of the anti-free speech movement growing on our campuses. Students and faculty have grown tired of free speech. Opposing views are now treated as threats and intolerable for students.

    It does seem that a lot of people these days–especially, perhaps, people of college age–find it incredibly wearying and even threatening to be presented with any views that contradict their own.  Reading the above, I was immediately reminded of a remark that a young woman made (to writer Ida Wylie) during the Nazi era:

    We Germans are so happy.  We are free from freedom”

    There definitely seems to be a reaction against free expression going on in America today…how strong it is and how deep it goes remains to be seen.  But as one indicator, a survey by YouGov shows that 43% of those who identify as Liberals favor firing an executive who *privately* donated money to Trump, and 22% of those who identify as Conservatives favor firing an executive who privately donated to Biden…the numbers are 50% and 36% for *strong* liberals and conservatives respectively.

    What are the causes for the apparently-growing hostility toward free speech in the US?  Part of it, perhaps, is a hankering for security.  David Brooks suggests that:

    The values of the Millennial and Gen Z generations that will dominate in the years ahead are the opposite of Boomer values: not liberation, but security; not freedom, but equality; not individualism, but the safety of the collective; not sink-or-swim meritocracy, but promotion on the basis of social justice…Distrustful people try to make themselves invulnerable, armour themselves up in a sour attempt to feel safe… start to see threats that aren’t there.

    I’m not generally much of a fan of Brooks’ analyses and conclusion, but even a stopped (analog) clock is right twice a day.  Perhaps he has a valid point here?

    Another factor, I suspect, is changes in family structure.  Kids who are put in a day-care situation at a very early age may develop a lifelong or at least long-term tendency to identify with the group…whatever that group might be…more than those who are raised in a traditional family situation, and especially so if there is only one parent in the home.  As one data point, here’s an interesting article by someone who was raised in a collective situation in an early Israeli kibbutz.

    And perhaps the threats and realities of Islamic terrorism have also had an influence…for 20 years now, there has been a constant (if low-level) sense that ‘if you say anything that the radical Islamists don’t like, they may kill you.’  Has this led to a habit of speech-guarding that has been generalized into many aspects of life?

     

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Israel, USA | 38 Comments »

    A Very Revealing Bidenism

    Posted by David Foster on 16th October 2020 (All posts by )

    In an interview which has received surprisingly little attention, Joe Biden talked about the Democratic Party’s political strategy:

    Well, look what’s happened. Look what started to seep in, beginning and probably even with candidates during our administration. We stopped showing up at the Polish American club. We stopped showing up, and we all went to you, the really smart people. We had a new kind of coalition we were putting together. College-educated women and college men and boom, boom, boom and so on.

    One could conclude from this that Biden doesn’t see people of Polish descent as being among the ‘really smart people’.  I guess he probably never heard of Frederick Chopin, Marie Curie, Nicolaus Copernicus, Stanislaus Ulam, or the Polish cryptologists who made the first breakthroughs in deciphering the Enigma code. And Biden’s remark is another example at the way he jumps at the categorization of people…furthermore, he wants to ensure that people stay within expected roles of the categories into which he assigns them.  (“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.”) And this kind of categorization-obsession is characteristic of today’s entire Democratic Party.

    Back in 2011, I quoted AJP Taylor on the combination of the ethnic divisions and excessive centralization in the Austro-Hungarian Empire:

    The Austrian state suffered from its strength: it had never had its range of activity cut down during a successful period of laissez-faire, and therefore the openings for a national conflict were far greater. There were no private schools or hospitals, no independent universities; and the state, in its infinite paternalism, performed a variety of services from veterinary surgery to the inspecting of buildings. The appointment of every school teacher, of every railway porter, of every hospital doctor, of every tax-collector, was a signal for national struggle. Besides, private industry looked to the state for aid from tariffs and subsidies; these, in every country, produce ‘log-rolling,’ and nationalism offered an added lever with which to shift the logs. German industries demanded state aid to preserve their privileged position; Czech industries demanded state aid to redress the inequalities of the past. The first generation of national rivals had been the products of universities and fought for appointment at the highest professional level: their disputes concerned only a few hundred state jobs. The generation which followed them was the result of universal elementary education and fought for the trivial state employment which existed in every village; hence the more popular national conflicts at the turn of the century.

    The combination of the Dems’ categorization and their drive for government control would likely push the United States in the same direction–and already has, to some extent–although with even more fragmentation and resulting harm than with the case in Austria-Hungary.

    Not content with insulting Poles, Biden also said:

    All white guys are just basically, they don’t give a damn about women.

    …not clear why he restricted it to only white guys, but he also says “The people that don’t like equal pay are the people at the top of the heap,” so maybe he conflates “white guys” with “people at the top of the heap,” in a way paralleling his famos assertion that ““poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”  The pattern is that Biden has a very strong need to put people into demographic slots as their primary identities…and to keep them there…and in that, he mirrors his party.

    Biden’s remarks also demonstrate how focused the Dems have become on people who think they are really smart, and whose self-perceived smartness is a core part of their personal identities.  In his rambling and rather confused statement, he seems to also be saying that this has gone too far, that this focus is costing them votes and that there actually are some smart people out there among the great unwashed.  But the reality is, the Dems have indeed focused their brand on college-educated and upwardly mobile individuals, and people are going to be rightly suspicious of any sharp turns in this brand identity.  Especially given Biden’s refusal to grasp (or at least to admit) the seriousness of the economic competition from China, which a lot of people identify as having cost themselves, or at least their friends, their jobs.

    Writing in the WSJ, William Galston draws an analogy between the present political conflicts and the 1896 election between William McKinley and Williams Jenning Bryan:

      (Bryan) championed the interests of debtors against creditors, and of agriculture and small towns against industrial capitalism and big cities.  In his famous ‘Cross of Gold speech to the 1896 Democratic convention, he intoned: ‘Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again; but destroy our farms, and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.’  This Jeffersoniasm on steroids was a last stand against industrial production as the core of the US economy–and against the rise of cities as the center of American life.

    Galston continues: “Bryan’s defense of the countryside against the cities was focused and coherent, but it backfired.  He drove swing voters into the arms of the Republican Party.”  He argues that Donald Trump may turn out to be the William Jennings Bryan of our time, that “his relentless focus on his white working class base may short up Democratic support among minorities and drive suburban swing voters and college-educated women into the Democratic coalition…Over time, Americans with college degrees will increase their share of the electorate…When McKinley defeated Bryan, more than 40% of Americans worked on farms.  Today, even though farm production and exports have soared, only 1.5% of the workforce is in agriculture.  Manufacturing employment, which constituted more than 30% of the US workforce, in the 1950s, has declined to 8.8%, even as rising productivity allows industry to produce more with fewer workers…A new economy more focused on information and services is coming for reasons largely unrelated to public policy.”

    It’s an interesting analysis, but there are some problems with it.  For starters, it is quite inaccurate to assert that Trump has had a relentless focus on the white working class; he has focused on jobs and improved incomes for people of whatever ethnicity.  And I’d assert that the great increase in the share of Americans who have college degrees is not a future thing, but has already happened, and indeed has probably gone too far–there is beginning to be a reactions against the you-will-be-a-failure-without-college thinking, and a larger number of people are beginning to see that there are other respectable and reasonably lucrative career paths.  Similarly, the transition to an economy more focused on ‘information’ and ‘services’ has already happened to a considerable degree, and has resulted in too little emphasis on the manufacturing and resource segments of the economy…with dangerous implications, as indicated by a Chinese newspaper’s warning that China can  ‘plunge America into the mighty sea of coronavirus,’ by denying us pharmaceuticals and ingredients thereof.  And, as I pointed out in this post, we are also seeing offshoring in those information and services segments of the economy, and will undoubtedly be seeing more…with obvious impact on US employment in those segments. Galston also fails to note that the increasingly-obvious failure of Democratic approaches to governance and education, as seen major cities throughout the country, will surely have a long-term effect on political behavior of many people.

    Key points:

    –“Progressive” Democrats generally focus on putting people in demographic buckets as their core identities and keeping them there, and Biden reflects this view totally.

    –Democrats have long self-defined as the party for highly intelligent people, where ‘intelligent’ is defined largely in terms of educational connections, and this brand identity does set some limits on their appeal.  But Republicans, too, have a related issue which is limiting their appeal; there has to be more communication on why there are indeed highly intelligent people who choose to vote Republican and indeed for Trump.

     

     

     

     

    Posted in Leftism, Trump, USA | 42 Comments »