Shall It Be Sustained?

As a July 4th tradition, I’ve posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem Listen to the People.  The title I originally used for these posts was It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet’s poem.

Narrator:

This is Independence Day,
Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
Whatever happens and whatever falls
Out of a sky grown strange;
This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
The day of the parade,
Slambanging down the street.
Listen to the parade!
There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
The Fire Department and the local Grange,
There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
There are the veterans and the Legion Post
(Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
Good-humored, watching, hot,
Silent a second as the flag goes by,
Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
All of them there and all of them a nation.
And, afterwards,
There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
By somebody the Honorable Who,
The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
Will read the declaration.
That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
That’s our fourth of July.

And a lean farmer on a stony farm
Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
And walked ten miles to town.
Musket in hand.
He didn’t know the sky was falling down
And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
By kings or any such.
A workman in the city dropped his tools.
An ordinary, small-town kind of man
Found himself standing in the April sun,
One of a ragged line
Against the skilled professionals of war,
The matchless infantry who could not fail,
Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
But first, and principally, since he was sore.
They could do things in quite a lot of places.
They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.

He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces

The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here.

Benet’s poem ends with these words:

We made it and we make it and it’s ours
We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained

But shall it?

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Technologies Old and New

A roundup of stories/posts/videos I found interesting:

The Jacquard Loom is historically important,  not only for its direct impact on the textile industry but also for the inspirational role that it played in the emergence of punched cards and computers.  Jacquards are still very much a live industrial technology, although the warp threads are now lifted by computer-controlled solenoids or hydraulic cylinders rather than by direct mechanical linkage.  Several attempts have been made to create affordable Jacquard looms for home use, but they have foundered on the cost of purchasing and installing a solenoid for every warp thread.  Here is a very clever way around that problem.

Also, an explanation of how a traditional Jacquard works.

Speaking of the textile industry, I wrote a couple of years ago about attempts to automate apparel manufacturing, especially the work of an Atlanta company called Softwear Automation and their product Sewbot.  So I was interested the other day to see this piece about apparel automation in Bangladesh.

See also this report from McKinsey on Nearshoring and Automation in the Apparel Industry.

Reviving manufacturing in Singapore, with the aid of robotics.

Are electronic medical records actually a detriment to knowing the patient?

Outgrowing Software…Benedict Evans suggest that when everything is a software company, then the important questions are somewhere else.

Also from Benedict Evans: Are You a Seal?  (If you are, watch out for Amazon!)

Constructing a bridge in Praguein 1357.

Speaking of construction: Automation in the Construction Industry

 

(An earlier version of this post was published at Ricochet; member feed only)

 

Abuse of Authority

If you are a teacher or professor, you have a legitimate sphere of authority concerning teaching methods, classroom discussion, grades, etc.  But you do not have legitimate authority to focus class time on selling students on your own personal political or social views–still less do you have authority to assign grades based on compliance with those views.

If you are Chairman or CEO of a publicly-traded corporation, you have a legitimate sphere of authority concerning organization design, business strategy, financing, people-selection, and many other things.  But you do not have legitimate authority to devote corporate resources–of which you are not the owner–to promoting your personal political views.

If you are an Intelligence Officer employed by the federal government, then certain things fall within your legitimate sphere of authority.  One thing that does not fall within your legitimate authority is using your position to influence US domestic election outcomes.

The whole concept that spheres of authority are and should be limited seems to be under assault in America today.  Not only do many people reject the idea of any limits on their own authority; many people object to the idea of limits on the authority of institutions. Indeed, here is a law school dean who seems to reject the principle that courts should be constrained by laws.

I also observe that there are plenty of people in leadership positions who, while showing very poor performance in their own jobs, are insistent that people outside their sphere of authority do things to solve their problems…a prime example being governors and mayors who blame  the skyrocketing crime rates in their jurisdictions on lack of (what they consider) proper gun control in adjacent states, when there are plenty of things they could do within their own scopes of authority and influence to address the problem.  Similarly with education–tolerate increasingly-awful performance on the part of the schools and malevolent interference on the part of the teachers unions, while blaming the problem of uneducated graduates entirely on Systemic Racism…so those politicians are off the hook because Somebody Else does something, or some set of things.

Your thoughts?

 

 

Life in a Realm of Scarce and Expensive Energy

In one of the Hornblower novels, set in the early 1800s, the protagonist is staying in a hotel. Thinking about the bill he is going to have to pay on checking out, he realizes that there is going to be a significant item for ‘light’…ie, candles.  I believe this is historically accurate–candles were expensive enough that they could not just be given away free with the room.

Whereas for most of the last 100 years in America, you could just turn on the lights in your hotel room without worrying about what the added charge on your bill was going to be.  And–much more significantly in terms of energy use–you could adjust the heater or air conditioner to suite your temperature preference, again without worrying about added charges.

With the unrealistic energy plans of the Biden administration and of most European governments, such luxuries may soon be a thing of the past.  I doubt that you will actually have to pay extra for keeping the lights on, but it’s entirely possible that you may have to pay extra if you want it cooler than, say, 78 degrees in summer or warmer than 64 degrees in winter–perhaps with those thresholds adjusted according to the balance of total grid power demand and availability, so that an extreme air-conditioning surcharge kicks in at 88 degrees on an especially hot and windless day.

And not just in hotels. It’s likely that stores, restaurants, etc will get significantly cooler in winter and warmer in summer.  And unless you can afford to not worry about your electricity bill very much, you will likely have to adjust your home temperatures to fit the current supply/demand profile on the grid–indeed, in some jurisdictions, it may be prohibited to violate the required limits no matter how much you are willing to pay.  (With likely exceptions for certain ‘public servants’.)

Above and beyond the impact on individual citizens and families, you can expect that many kinds of energy-dependent businesses, especially manufacturing businesses, will become increasingly uncompetitive in the US.  Again, there will likely be an exception for certain politically-well-connected businesses. But overall, expensive US energy will likely drive a new wave of offshoring.

And I haven’t even talked about transportation.

The above is not carved in stone, of course, there is still a good chance to escape it, as people begin to perceive (from experience) the realities behind all the idealistic talk, theories, and harangues.  But it will be a close-run thing.

Classics and the Public Sphere

From a WSJ op-ed: “As Tennessee expands possibilities for new charter schools, critics are assailing classical education. Some of these schools teach students about the sages and scoundrels of ancient Greece and Rome.” In The New Republic, a public school teacher from New York seems concerned that classics-focused schools promote “retreat from the public sphere” along with sundry bad things such as “nationalistic exaltation of Western civilization.”

Now, a little thought and historical reading will demonstrate that study of the classics is entirely consistent with participation in the public sphere, including participation at very high levels–in the US and in other countries as well. But the issue is more fundamental than this.  Is participation in the public sphere–which I read in this context to largely mean political activism–really the only thing that matters in life?

In his superb memoir, the Russian rocket developer Boris Chertok mentions a friend who was a Red Army officer and was also an excellent poet. It was understood that he would never be promoted. Why–did the Red Army have something against poetry? By no means.  Did this man write poems that criticized the regime?  No–he did not mention Stalin, did not mention political affairs at all.   And that was his offense.  Writing good poetry was not sufficient, every poet had to sing the praises of Stalin and of the regime.  Unfortunately, we have people in America today who believe that every subject, whether poetry, history, science, or music, must be viewed only through the lens of an endless group-against-group struggle for power.  And education in these–and all–subjects should focus on that power struggle and on what is perceived as the urgent need to put everything in a form that will be ‘relevant’ to the daily lives of students and to whatever are the hot topics and issues of the time.

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